Opinion: The lessons of the Beren accommodation


On the morning of Feb. 28, 2012, Alyza Lewin of the law firm Lewin & Lewin invited me to participate in a conference call to discuss a burgeoning controversy involving the basketball team of the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish School in Houston, Texas.  Alyza and her father, the venerated constitutional lawyer Nathan Lewin, had been informed the preceding evening by Etan Mirwis, whose son is the Beren team captain, that Beren was on the verge of forfeiting eligibility for a Texas state championship slotted to be played over the upcoming Shabbat.  In 2009, I had enlisted the Lewins’ help to secure a scheduling accommodation for members of the mock trial team at the Maimonides School of Brookline, Mass., to participate in the National High School Mock Trial Championship (NHSMTC).  The Beren situation would mirror the Maimonides experience in many ways, with the Lewins ultimately instituting legal action that enabled the Beren basketball players to be accommodated.

Many are proud that Beren competed, but the school publicly declared opposition to the legal action.  In 2009, Maimonides was also against a legal challenge.  In other words, both schools thought it inappropriate to pursue a forceful response, preferring only to make respectful requests but not to demand an accommodation.  Both schools recognized that, without the legal option, the students would not participate because the associations administering the competitions would not alter schedules — even minimally — unless ordered to do so.  The schools were, nonetheless, content, proud that their students had been taught to sacrifice for a worthy principle.  Although the students had worked hard and rightfully deserved to compete, the schools reasoned that forfeiting was a noble act of kiddush HaShem (sanctifying God’s name), accentuating that nothing — certainly not a game or competition — should compromise Shabbat.

In both situations, however, the parents spearheading the accommodation campaigns focused as well on an additional value. Like Mirwis’ tireless efforts at galvanizing support for Beren, it was the father of the Maimonides team captain, Dr. Jeffrey Kosowsky, who spent countless hours energizing interest in the Maimonides story.  Both Mirwis and Kosowsky, successful graduates of well-regarded Modern Orthodox schools, deemed it imperative not just that the students appreciate Shabbat’s sanctity but that they internalize the lesson of inclusiveness fundamental to this country’s purpose.

Mirwis and Kosowsky appreciated that others outside the Jewish community had been affected by the discriminatory policies and that change would be effected only through a forceful challenge. The mock trial controversy was a multiyear battle resulting in states, such as New Jersey and North Carolina, withdrawing from the national competition precisely because the national organization formally voted not to accommodate Saturday Sabbath observance.  Consequently, for a number of years, no school in those states — Jewish or otherwise — could compete in the national championship.  Because of the Lewin & Lewin legal strategy, not only did Maimonides compete, but the NHSMTC organization ultimately reversed its policy to allow for scheduling changes, and New Jersey and North Carolina rejoined the competition.

Likewise, it was not just Beren or Jewish schools that were harmed by the intractable no-accommodation stance of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS).  The Burton Adventist Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school, was excluded from competing in the TAPPS basketball championship three times because of Saturday Sabbath observance.  The former Burton players and coaches remained disappointed, wondering what could have been had they been able to compete.  They encouraged Beren to challenge TAPPS and were even willing to join a lawsuit. Mirwis would celebrate Beren’s semi-final win in the TAPPS championship while sitting together with new friends from the Burton Academy.  And it is Mirwis who is most eager to help TAPPS in the future adopt an accommodation policy.  TAPPS has, in fact, now issued a statement, seeking such assistance and acknowledging that: “[o]ur state is becoming more diverse.  Because of that, we are reaching out to leaders around the state.  We want to listen to hear their concerns, and most of all to hear their ideas.” 

While Beren, Maimonides and other Modern Orthodox schools are right in emphasizing to students that religious observance necessarily involves sacrifice, we may be doing our children a disservice if we do not responsibly challenge discriminatory behavior that only we have the opportunity to fix.  In both the Beren and Maimonides cases, there was no compelling reason for NHSMTC and TAPPS not to accommodate, and the accommodations did not affect the competition or other contestants.  Indeed, in both, other teams were amenable to the accommodations.  Our children must appreciate that they are fully a part of an inclusive society, one that values their contributions and skills and that needs them to speak up when an imperfection must be rectified.  It is not being pushy or unbecoming to demand that this great country benefit from the wisdom and talents of all its citizens; it is a civic duty to press the case.

In the early-morning hours of Feb. 29, 2012, as Beren resigned itself to forfeiting its rightful place in the TAPPS championship, I sent an e-mail to a friend, who is also a leading Beren administrator, encouraging the school to accept the Lewins’ guidance.  I wrote:  “As a lawyer, I can tell you that legal proceedings are serious business and deciding whether to pursue them should not be taken lightly.  But I can also tell you that sometimes legal proceedings are necessary, sometimes they right a wrong.”  I added: “Yes, we are proud and principled Jews.  But we are also proud and principled Americans and our boys and girls must understand that, where there is no compromise of religious observance at stake, they can and should participate in American society.  If you do not challenge, you teach them a lesson that they are not fully American and do not have the same rights as other citizens.  That would be a tragedy.”

Of course, there was no tragedy, only great joy.  The Beren basketball players, some who are likely to become leaders in our community, savored the blessings of living in a country that wants them to realize their promise and potential while staying true to their personal religious beliefs.


Daniel D. Edelman is a lawyer in New York City.

Historian charts L.A. reform academy’s future


When he took over as dean of the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in July 2010, Josh Holo, already a professor at the college, brought with him a few photographs of 11th-century letters to hang on the wall behind his desk. Among the letters is one that mentions a major problem for the Jewish communities in Egypt at the time: how to raise funds to redeem fellow Jews who had been taken captive by pirates.

Getting people to support HUC-JIR, the Reform movement’s preeminent academic institution on the West Coast, doesn’t have the urgency of freeing hostages from the clutches of pirates — at least not anymore.

But just two years ago, it looked like two of the four HUC-JIR campuses might have to close due to financial difficulties, including the one in Los Angeles. “We entered crisis mode,” Holo said.

Then-dean Steven F. Windmueller helped shepherd the local branch of HUC-JIR through those challenging months. “We lived through a period of testing the mettle,” Windmueller remembers. “We’re certainly in a stronger and more secure place than we were several years ago.”

That is due at least in part to a $10 million gift from the Skirball Foundation, for HUC-JIR’s endowment (see sidebar). The L.A. campus was renamed on Feb. 6 in honor of Jack Skirball, an HUC–JIR-ordained Reform rabbi. 

Holo is glad the school has put that tumultuous period behind it. “We’re back doing our work rather than worrying about our work. We are getting our house in order. We have a plan,” Holo said. “We’re either at or ahead of the plan, and that allows us to feel like we’re being responsible, and we can put our nose back to the grindstone and do what we do — which is studying and learning and training our professionals.”

L.A. HUC-JIR campus named for Skirball

At a midday ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 6, the Los Angeles branch of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion officially became the Jack H. Skirball Campus. The decision, triggered by the Skirball Foundation’s recent $10-million donation to HUC-JIR’s endowment, recognizes Skirball’s role as a founder and consistent supporter of the Reform movement’s West Coast academic home.

Skirball was ordained as a Reform rabbi at the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR in 1921 and served as spiritual leader to two congregations in the Midwest before moving to Los Angeles where he became a film producer. Skirball later became a successful real estate developer but is today perhaps best remembered for his philanthropic support of HUC-JIR and the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Skirball Cultural Center, which opened in 1996, started out as the smaller Skirball Museum on the campus of HUC-JIR in 1971. Founded by Uri Herscher with Skirball’s support, the cultural center was initially conceived as a vehicle for HUC-JIR to reach a broader audience. The cultural center had a long-term lease on the land in the Sepulveda Pass; in 2010 it bought the underlying property and its core collection from HUC-JIR making it, for the first time, fully independent of the institution that served as its first home. 

Those who addressed the crowd of about 100 on Sunday afternoon included leaders from both HUC-JIR and the Skirball Cultural Center.

It’s clear that these are the parts of the job that Holo enjoys most. “I love to teach,” Holo, 39, said. “I love my administration, and I don’t mind the fact that my administration takes me away from teaching, as long as I get to teach — and I do.” Upon becoming dean, Holo established a policy that will ensure that all of the future Reform rabbis and Jewish educators being trained at HUC-JIR will take one class with him during the time they are enrolled. “I want them to see the dean as a practicing scholar,” Holo said.

Holo’s scholarly work focuses on medieval Jewish history, and the photographs of letters hanging on his office wall are also included in his book, “Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy” (Cambridge, 2009). Before becoming dean, Holo was already wearing an administrator’s hat along with his scholar’s cap. He was director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, which serves as the undergraduate program in Jewish studies for University of Southern California, whose campus is adjacent to HUC-JIR’s.

He is only the second non-rabbi to serve as Los Angeles campus dean. The first was Windmueller, his predecessor, an experienced Jewish communal professional turned professor. Holo’s job is to chart a course for HUC-JIR in Los Angeles so that it can best prepare future rabbis to lead the Reform movement in the future.

“Generation Xers are really coming into their own, and Generation Yers are right behind them,” said Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, who has close relationships with both Windmueller and Holo as friends and congregants. A self-described “aging boomer,” Rosove said the experiences that impacted him growing up — the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the three major Israeli-Arab wars between 1948 and 1973 — are similar to those that shaped Windmueller, who is 68.

But for Holo — and even more so for Holo’s students — those events are the stuff of history. “They don’t have any personal memories of any of these things, and their experience of Jewish identity will necessarily be very different,” Rosove said. “I’m kind of excited to see what their generation will bring to the American Jewish community going forward.”

Holo’s personal upbringing wasn’t in the Reform movement. The Southern California native grew up attending a Conservative synagogue and a non-denominational day school. He often views the future of Reform Judaism through the lens of his expertise in medieval Jewish history.

“One of his great skills is to understand the nature of the challenges that confront the contemporary Jewish community in light of the historical sweep of the entire Jewish panorama,” Rabbi David Ellenson, president of HUC-JIR, said of Holo. “He brings the perspective of the Jewish past to the present.”

This quality was very much on display during a recent interview. Even when Holo was ostensibly talking about relatively recent trends in the Jewish community — Reform Jews who are incorporating the traditional practice of keeping kosher, for one — the patient and soft-spoken historian consistently referred back to the distant past. At one point, he explained in depth the medieval-era schism between Karaites and Rabbinites. Today, every major Jewish denomination — including Reform Judaism — comes from the Rabbinite tradition. Karaites, whose practice is derived from the Bible alone, have all but disappeared. The citation, which seemed like a digression at first, turned out to be completely integral to Holo’s explanation. It was easy to understand, yet not oversimplified.

It’s no wonder then that Holo’s favorite perk as dean is being able to ask the researchers on campus to meet with him and talk to him about their current work. “It’s not a tenure checkup or anything like that,” he said.

“I’m in this building with this incredible brain trust, and I get to have an hour and a half with them and just get plugged into this world of Jewish learning,” Holo said. “It’s such a privilege.”

Mock trial team wins merely by competing


The record book will say that the Maimonides School finished 20th out of 40 teams at the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Atlanta, winning two trials and losing two.

But that doesn’t include the team’s huge victory even before last weekend’s competition had started allowing the suburban Boston Jewish day school just to participate.

After repeatedly rejecting requests to alter the tournament schedule so the Maimonides team would not have to compete on Shabbat, tournament officials were finally forced to relent less than two days before the competition began thanks to a small group of determined activists working 20 hours a day over the past few weeks—as well as a Maimonides team that was prepared to forfeit its chance at a championship rather than compromise its beliefs.

“You always wonder what’s going to happen if religiousness gets in the way” of something you want to do, said team co-captain Michael Kosowsky, 17. But “we weren’t talking at all about violating Shabbat. We were pretty strong in our principles.”

“This educates the public,” said fellow co-captain Leah Sarna, 17. “Shabbat is not at all voluntary and not something you can compromise on.”

The 27-member Maimonides team, of which eight competed last weekend, learned about the Shabbat conflict in early April, not long after it won the Massachusetts state mock trial championship qualifying them for the national event.

Maimonides hoped that instead of having to compete in the customary two trials on Friday and two trials on Saturday, the mock trial organization would make an exception for the school and move its Saturday trials to Thursday, when all the competitors already are in attendance and practicing at the competition site, or add additional trials for Maimonides on Friday.

The organization argued that altering the schedule affected the fairness of the competition because matchups in later rounds are determined by the results from earlier rounds. The results, its officials said, cannot be utilized properly if Maimonides is participating in its fourth trial while nearly all the other squads have participated in only two.

There was precedent for the request: In 2005, the local sponsoring organization for the competition, the North Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, made a similar rescheduling to accommodate a New Jersey Jewish day school, the Torah Academy of Bergen County. Pressured by the lawyers’ group, the mock trial organization acquiesced after initially refusing the request, then passed a resolution saying it would not allow similar accommodations for Sabbath observers in the future.

As a result of that decision, the New Jersey and North Carolina mock trial groups resigned from the national organization and formed their own group that does not hold competitions on Shabbat.

So Jeff Kosowsky, Michael’s father, and Daniel Edelman, a Maimonides alumnus who was familiar with the issue because his wife is an English teacher at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, enlisted Washington lawyers Nathan and Alyza Lewin, who specialize in religious discrimination cases.

Working pro bono, the Lewins got the Justice Department to issue a letter to the administrator of the Georgia courts, warning that entities that receive federal funds cannot administer programs which discriminate on the basis of religion. The competition was scheduled to be held in the Fulton County Courthouse, which receives federal funds.

The Lewins, Kosowsky and Edelman also tried to convince the local host sponsor, the Georgia Bar Association, to take action, but the assocation said that while it was sympathetic, claimed its contract with the national mock trial organization tied its hands.

The Maimonides’ backers also alerted the media, with articles appearing on the situation in a major Atlanta legal publication and The New York Times.

It worked.

On May 6, after one member of the Georgia Bar had resigned in protest, Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Doris Downs told event organizers that they would not be able to use the Fulton County Courthouse for the competition unless they made accommodations for the Maimonides team. The organizers then decided to schedule a Thursday trial and three Friday trials for the Bostonians.

Michael Kosowsky said the three trials on Friday were “a little tiring,” but the team was pleased where it finished, considering it was its first trip to the national championship.

The schedule change was popular among the other teams in Atlanta, as well.

Michael Kosowsky said that on the day the Maimonides team arrived, a number of competitors noticed their kipot and told them, “We’re really hopeful you get the accommodations.”

The other teams were “very, very supportive,” Sarna said. “It really meant a lot to us.”

Both said it made perfect sense that their fellow mock trial competitors would be so interested in their plight.

“It’s a competition about the legal system,” Sarna said. “They’re the type of people who would care about this.”

Those involved in the mock trial effort say they hope that the mock trial organization will make a permanent Shabbat accommodation policy, either by changing the days of the week that the tournament is held or, minimally, having a rescheduling option when Sabbath observers—Jewish or Muslim—qualify for the competition.

The mock trial group doesn’t appear ready to change: On its Web site, the 20th-place finish of Maimonides is accompanied by an asterisk that notes the team’s “deviation from typical team advancement.”

Ethics Plan Would Raise Sanctity of Business


An observant Jew was once brought before the judge on counts of tax fraud. Seeing the kippah-wearing Jew before him, the judge innocently asked, “Mr. Schwartz, you are clearly a God-fearing man. How do you explain your immoral behavior?”

Not missing a beat, Mr. Schwartz pointed his finger in the air and defiantly declared, “Your honor, religion is one thing, but business is business!”

Alas, we’ve witnessed several “Mr. Schwartzes” over the last few years, and each new headline evinces new winces of pain from our community. Rabbis have been beside themselves; for years, we’ve preached about the need to carry one’s Torah observance into the business place. Shockingly (as if), not all our parishioners were listening.

What’s more, an environment in certain industries seems to have developed where illegal business activity has not only been condoned but even considered the norm. The Jewish work ethic — what up until recently was the proud hallmark of pristine honesty and integrity — became tarnished.

L.A.’s Jewish community is the second largest in the country. We have much reason to be proud; we have established every imaginable organization or endeavor to dole out kindness and charity to those less privileged. Jews comprise a huge demographic of the righteous of our city.

At the same time, it’s been observed that life is like trying to make a bed using a fitted sheet that’s just a bit too small for the mattress. You pull one end of the sheet over one mattress corner, and the other end of the sheet pops off the opposite corner.

We all tend to focus on what we consider the important things in our lives at the expense of others. For some Jews, a focus on social action comes at the cost of Jewish literacy and ritual. For other Jews, a focus on ritual and Torah study comes at the cost of translating all that knowledge into action in the workplace.

Yet, the Talmud (T.B. Shabbat 31a) emphatically states that the first question a person will be asked when he or she ascends to heaven will not be, “Did you eat kosher food?” but rather, “Were you faithful in business?”

A group of rabbis and lay leaders, seeing this wound on an otherwise exemplary community continue to fester, felt that it was no longer enough to talk the talk. In order to really bolster awareness and education within the community, we needed to do something demonstrative that would raise awareness not only when in shul but also while shopping and doing business.

The Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative is nothing new. Several years ago, a group of Modern Orthodox Jews in Israel founded an organization called, Bema’aglei Tzedek (On Paths of Justice), with the mission of addressing the moral and socioeconomic challenges facing Israeli society (you can learn more at their Web site, http://www.mtzedek.org.il/). One of their main projects is Tav Chevrati, which recognizes those businesses in Israel that provide minimum wage and other basic benefits to their employees. After launching an impressive marketing campaign, the Tav now boasts over 350 businesses that have the Tav seal hanging in their windows.

Using the Tav Chevrati model — with small modifications for the American business arena — our group realized that were we to attempt to redress all business ills we would be biting off more than anyone would be willing to chew. Under the direction of a team of attorneys, we instead chose to focus on the one area of business that has the most significant human impact, the area of labor law.

Peulat Sachir offers a covenant agreement to any business owner who complies with the six basic areas of labor law as required by the state of California: (1) minimum wage, (2) payment of overtime wages, (3) provision of meal and rest breaks, (4) leave policy, (5) workers’ compensation insurance and (6) discrimination/harassment policies.

Additionally, Peulat Sachir will host regular seminars on ethical business practices, which will be open to the general public.

Of course, one could argue: What’s the point of an attestation that someone is just obeying the law? In today’s world of Bernard Madoff rip-offs, kosher production scandals, subprime mortgage meltdowns and corporate greed, plenty. The simple public affirmation that I as a business owner comply with dina d’malchuta (the law of the land) is an important step toward the reformation of an unhealthy business culture.

One might also argue: Why focus so narrowly on this one area of business ethics? What about tax law? Immigration law? Clearly, there are many legal areas within the complex world of business that could and should be addressed.

For one thing, we’ve got to start somewhere. But it’s more than that; we believe that raising awareness about one area of ethics will positively spill over to others.

The employer who respects the law by meticulously paying overtime is more likely to report accurately on his tax return; someone who proudly procures workers’ compensation insurance for his minimum-wage employees is more likely to care about the needs of other underprivileged members of society.

The Peulat Sachir mission statement is thus twofold: To engender a new culture for Jewish businesses — one of commitment to the highest ethical and moral standards in all aspects of business — and to raise awareness of what we in the religious community expect from our vendors and, ultimately, from ourselves.

Those who appreciate what Peulat Sachir is trying to do will want to preferentially patronize those establishments that have signed a covenant. Those who don’t, won’t.

Peulat Sachir in no way penalizes or blacklists businesses that can’t or won’t sign on to the concept. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide the success of the Peulat Sachir initiative.

Who knows? Maybe Peulat Sachir will become a model for other communities. And just maybe, by elevating the sanctity of our businesses, we and our assets will all be blessed in the process.

If you are a local business owner and would like to receive more information, contact Peulat Sachir at info@peulatsachir.net.

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh Hebrew Academy, director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region and a community mohel.

Academy for Adult Jewish Studies to Open


A pilot academy that would give adult students in Orange County certificates of graduation for completing three years of Jewish study expects to accept its first students in September.

The Orange County Academy of Jewish Growth and Learning received funding approval for half its start-up budget from the county’s Jewish Federation in January, after several months of delay.

The intent is to impose a quasi-academic structure on the existing but disparate array of Jewish study already taking place in synagogues, at Bureau of Jewish Education classes and Community Scholar Program (CSP) seminars.

"One quality adults are looking for is some communal recognition that they have engaged in a serious program of Jewish learning," said Rabbi Michael Mayersohn, who will serve as the academy’s dean and sole employee. His job will include advising students on study topics and available resources.

Although the academy’s certificate would not be recognized by accredited institutions elsewhere, the novel approach received much interest last month at a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., conference of Jewish educators. The 350 educators, administrators and communal professionals, along with education-minded philanthropists, met to devise plans to bring new respect and rewards to the Jewish teaching profession.

"Several were interested in pursuing this," said Joan Kaye, executive director of the bureau, who attended. "No one’s ever done anything like this."

Besides the Federation, the academy will be supported financially by the bureau, CSP and private donors.

For registration information, call (714) 336-0904.

Giving Adult Students Credit They Deserve


A group of local Jewish educators are seeking funding to start a novel adult-education academy that would grant a certificate of recognition to students who complete its requirements over three years.

The Orange County Academy of Jewish Growth and Learning is envisioned as a way to impose a quasi-academic structure on an array of existing courses offered by local synagogues, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Community Scholar Program.

Around the country, administrators of similar nonacademic Judaic studies programs are also trying to elevate their curriculum with professionalism. For instance, the continuing legal-education requirements of three state bars now accept for credit an ethics class offered by the Jewish Learning Institute, a fast-expanding program established by the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement. Chabad is seeking similar approvals in six other states, including California.

Behind the shift toward formality is the perception that to boost participation in Judaic studies, adults require a greater inducement than spiritual satisfaction.

"It may motivate people to take more classes by being part of a larger experience," said Arie Katz, chairman of the Community Scholar Program and who is involved in the academy’s organization.

"We want to validate the study in the community and honor the people who do," said Joan Kaye, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education, who also supports the academy’s formation.

Even without formal accreditation, an academy certificate would accrue some economic value. A national teacher licensing board for Jewish schools already accepts such informal studies as partially meeting licensing requirements.

"The motivation is to create opportunity for serious Jewish learning," said Michael Mayersohn, who resigned as rabbi of Westminster’s Temple Beth David in August. Mayersohn would serve as the academy’s part-time dean and sole employee. He hoped to start his duties this month.

However, the academy’s request for $20,000 in start-up funding from the Jewish Federation of Orange County was postponed in September and put off for a month, along with other allocation requests.

The academy’s five required areas of study would accept courses regardless of denomination and will rely on an honor system. A proposed $50 annual academy fee does not include individual class fees. Mayersohn would offer assistance in helping students plan a program that suits their interests.

"For the average person, it’s possibly daunting," said Reuven Mintz, rabbi of Chabad Center of Newport Beach. "But for people looking for something deeper, this will please them," he said, still maintaining that too few learning opportunities exist for adults.

"I feel there is a thirst in this community," Mintz said, pointing out that four local Jewish Learning Institute sites drew 200 students weekly last year. Kaye, he said, had been skeptical about JLI’s chances for success. "Commitment-based education had failed in Orange County," he remembers being told.

A decade ago, little attention was paid to adult Jewish education by the national movements. A shift is underway as new and established national programs, such as JLI, Meah at Hebrew College of Boston, Chicago’s Melton Adult Mini School and the JCC association’s Derech Torah, are rapidly expanding.

Paul Flexner, chair of the Alliance for Adult Jewish Learning, an educators’ group, said, "People are seeking meaning in their lives and looking to find ways to spend leisure time in a meaningful way. "

Shalom Leases


An announcement last week by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that it will not renew leases for its West San Fernando Valley properties will have an impact on two Jewish institutions: Kadima Hebrew Academy and the Rabbi Max D. Raiskin West Valley Hebrew Academy.

However, the announcement, which first appeared in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 9, may not be the last word on the subject, according to LAUSD spokeswoman Stephanie Brady.

"The Times article may have been premature," Brady said. "The closed-school policy for the district remains under review. There should be a recommendation to the Board of Education within the next month."

Although Kadima Hebrew Academy has only been a resident for 10 years, it seems that it has always been a fixture on the green and busy corner of Shoup Avenue and Collins Street in Woodland Hills. However, the reported decision by LAUSD to not renew its lease, which ends in July 2002, means that while the school will continue to exist, its address for next fall is yet to be determined.

Fortunately, the district’s decision was not unexpected. In September, Kadima’s administrator, Barbara Gereboff, and its president, Cheri Mayman, sent out a letter to parents alerting them that, "for a variety of reasons, LAUSD has decided not to lease its Valley schools beginning in Fall of 2002, which happens to coincide with the end of our 10-year lease." The letter noted that the school’s board of directors is seeking a permanent site for the future, as well as a temporary site for the next school year. A later letter, mailed in December, informed parents that a new site had been found but that the location would remain confidential in order to avoid a potential fight with neighbors over the required conditional-use permit.

"We’re moving ahead on another property, although we’re still unsure of the outcome for this property," Gereboff said, adding that Kadima had made a prior offer on the site several years ago but it was declined.

Until it is able to ascertain LAUSD’s intentions regarding the site, Kadima’s board continues its preparations for a possible move, including fundraising. Already, the school has a commitment from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a $50,000 grant to use toward new development, and officials are also looking into applying for a loan through the Avi Chai Foundation, which provides funding to Jewish day schools throughout the country.

Kadima, a Solomon Schechter day school affiliated with the Conservative Movement, was founded in 1970 and has since built a reputation for incorporating a solid Hebrew language and Judaic-studies curriculum within the framework of a secular education. The school is also known for attracting students from a wide spectrum of the Jewish immigrant community, a factor which Gereboff regards as one of its greatest strengths.

"We want our kids to be proud of their diverse backgrounds and even rewrote our mission statement to reflect that," she said. "It’s a part of what makes our school unique."

With enrollment at 300 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, Gereboff said she anticipates continued growth, particularly for the middle school, which feeds into the new Milken Community High School currently in its first year at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy, also a kindergarten to eighth-grade school, has experienced similar growth in the past year, although at 150 students, it faces fewer challenges to moving from its present location on Oso Avenue. The school is affiliated with Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills, which owns a large piece of property on Fallbrook Avenue that is already zoned and licensed for a day school although it still needs a city permit for any expansion, said Alan Shapiro, the congregation’s president.

"We do already utilize our campus on Fallbrook; we’re just going to have to use it more," Shapiro said, adding that school officials have been prepared for an announcement of this sort. "We all have leases and [LAUSD] made it clear that the lease was for 10 years and never promised to renew, although there’s always the hope and the thought they would."

Shapiro said West Valley actually has a little more time than Kadima, because the former’s lease expires in 2003.

"We would appreciate an extension of the lease because it would give us more time [to raise funds] for the expansion," Shapiro said. "Especially because of Sept. 11, which set back our fundraising campaign for the new campus by about a year."

Shapiro anticipates the eventual move will be a positive one for several reasons, among them a higher profile in the community and greater security for the school itself.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy is run by Rabbi Zvi Block, founder of the Aish HaTorah Institute (now named Beis Midrash Toras HaShem) in North Hollywood.

No Guests Allowed


Three little words.

That’s what makes the difference between a religious school and a synagogue, as recently defined by the Los Angeles Central Area Planning Commission.

The five-member Planning Commission, responsible for zoning decisions in Hollywood, Hancock Park and other neighborhoods, made its decision Aug. 28 in a hearing regarding Yavneh Hebrew Academy.

In April, Yavneh had submitted an application for a number of changes to the K-8 school’s zoning conditions, including adding a ninth grade for girls and allowing prayer services Saturday mornings. In June, after consulting with nearby residents, traffic consultants and architects, Associate Zoning Administrator Dan Green approved all but one of Yavneh’s proposed changes. The request “to authorize Saturday prayer for students, parents, relatives and other guests” was denied.

“I have no objection to immediate families…[but] ‘and other guests’ means open to the general public,” Green told the Planning Commission. “The school requested changes not necessary for the educational instruction, making it more like a synagogue.”

Allowing the public to worship at the school, he said, would require a separate application, though with a religious institution like Yavneh, “it’s probably a fair assertion that there’s some gray area here,” he said.

Religious institutions often run into problems when they seek to offer prayer services to the public. In Yavneh’s own Hancock Park neighborhood, the tiny Congregation Etz Chaim, a shteibel, has fought for years for the right to offer services in a single-family home purchased for that purpose.

But the solution for Yavneh has been easier. Since the June denial of the request for Saturday services, Yavneh eliminated the three words, “and other guests,” from its application for the appeal. Proponents of the school’s request argued that, as a religious Jewish school, prayer is a regular part of the curriculum, and prayer on Saturday is an extension of the curriculum, rather than the legally different “additional use.”

“It is ironic that we begin our day each weekday with prayer, but on Saturday, the Sabbath … we are not allowed to hold prayer,” Rabbi Moshe Dear, headmaster at Yavneh said.

Neighbors’ concerns focused largely on additional noise and traffic that might be caused by services. These issues were adequately addressed by the school, since no one attending a service at Yavneh would drive on Shabbat.

Hancock Park resident Ed Kazir, speaking in opposition to the request, told the Planning Commission that with “seemingly innocuous words, Yavneh has sought to convert the school into a school and synagogue.”

But James Wolf, president of the Hancock Park Homeowners’ Association, later emphasized, “This is a land use issue, not a neighbors issue.” The Homeowners’ Association supported the school’s request for religious services on Saturdays, once the “other guests” phrase was removed from the request.

Following the hearing of neighbor’s concerns, Planning Commission vice president George Luk made a motion that Yavneh’s revised application be accepted. The motion passed.

B.J. Kirwan, a lawyer from the firm of Latham & Watkins, representing the Yavneh, succinctly explained the situation: “Yavneh’s original request was to include invited guests. The neighborhood thought that sounded like opening a synagogue. So Yavneh scaled back its request to only Saturday morning services for family. As a school, it is important to meet the neighborhood at least halfway.”

Celebrating Israel’s50th


The peace process is stalled, pluralism issues remain unresolved and the Netanyahu government is in turmoil. But organizers of a major, star-studded 50th anniversary tribute to Israel later this year are focusing their attention on celebration, not contention. Indeed, a rare in-gathering of major Hollywood celebrities, Jewish communal officals and organizational leaders has come together to mark Israel’s first half century. &’009;

First among the planned events is “America Salutes Israel at 50,” scheduled to take place April 14 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The producers of the Academy and Emmy awards shows, Gil Cates and Don Mischer, respectively, are teaming up for the first time to produce what is promised to be a Hollywood-style, entertainment extravaganza that will be broadcast on CBS April 15 to millions in the United States and around the globe. Hosted by actor Kevin Costner, it will feature other well-known stars — for the moment unannounced. The Jewish Federation and Simon Wiesenthal Center have joined together in the effort to make the event a resounding success.

During a kickoff sales meeting last week at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, speakers did not completely ignore the troubled state of current Israeli politics. Extravagant plans for an official jubilee celebration in Israel have been stymied by lack of funds and internal wrangling.

But in Los Angeles, organizers are more sanguine about the festivities. “We all know what is going on in Israel,” said honorary co-chair Lew Wasserman, former chairman of MCA Universal and a major Jewish philanthropist. “I think it’s vital that people in Israel know that they still have the support of the rest of the world.”

“With all the things that separate the Jewish people, we can use a 50th anniversary to bring us together in celebrating the accomplishments of the Israeli state,” added Herb Gelfand, president of the Federation and the other honorary co-chair of the Los Angeles at 50 celebration.

“It’s important to remind ourselves what Israel has done for world Jewry,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Details of the evening at the Shrine are somewhat sketchy. Costner, who isn’t Jewish, is expected to have a crossover appeal to non-Jews. “M*A*S*H” creator Larry Gelbart is the show’s head writer. The lineup of stars isn’t set yet and won’t be for a while, said Mischer, whose credits include the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Olympic Games and gala events surrounding the hand-over of Hong Kong last year. Mischer said the show’s roster would include major names in film, television and music. “It should be an All-American show.”

Other plans for the two-hour event include: a satellite link-up with Israel, film clips of highlights from Israel’s first 50 years and possibly a pre-taped musical performance from Masada. “We’re going to party for Israel,” added Cates, who has produced seven Academy Awards shows and more than 25 films. “It’s going to be a very emotional event that should make us feel proud to participate and to be Jews.”

Two other Hollywood veterans, Merv Adelson and Marvin Josephson, are overseeing the CBS special and many other events in conjunction with Israel’s 50th. Both were appointed to serve as international co-chairs of the 50th celebration, at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but have denied that politics is a factor in their involvement. “I didn’t give a single shekel or dollar to Bibi, the Likud or Labor,” Josephson, chairman of the powerhouse talent and literary agency, ICM, told The Jerusalem Report recently. “I am not Likud or Labor. I’m interested in Israel.”

“I truly believe this will be the most important event of the 50th outside of Israel,” said Adelson, speaking via speaker phone to the Four Seasons gathering. The show transcends politics and “who is on the left and who is on the right,” added the former chairman and CEO of Lorimar Pictures. “This is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the greatest friend America has.”

The overall budget for the event is about $6 million. CBS is paying $3 million for the broadcast, with the other $3 million being raised by the jubilee committee, headed by Adelson and Josephson. Los Angeles’ share is about $1 million, which is expected to be raised by sales of the 6,000 Shrine seats and to the gala that will follow, as well as by sales of ads in the tribute journal. The Wiesenthal and Federation have agreed that any extra dollars raised will be used to send children to Israel.

The tribute book, expected to run over 50 pages, will include decade and “mega-event” pages outlining key moments in Israel’s history, as well as personal eyewitness accounts of people who played a role in that history. The pages will be sponsored at $5,000 per page, with $10,000 as the price for the two-page decade and mega-event spreads. Eyewitness tales of Israel’s first 50 years are being sought.

Tickets to the Shrine event will range from $18 (block sales only), $25 and $100 general seating (available through Ticketmaster) to $1,000 for VIP tickets which will entitle the ticket holders to sit in a special area, and admission to a gala reception after the show. The reception menu will be created by Jewish cookbook author Judy Zeidler in partnership with Terry Bell, former Federation president and general campaign chair. Since the event occurs in the middle of Passover, the meal will include a charoset tasting and a variety of other Pesach entrees and desserts.


Gearing Up for 50


The peace process is stalled, pluralism issues remain unresolved and the Netanyahu government is in turmoil. But organizers of a major, star-studded 50th anniversary tribute to Israel later this year are focusing their attention on celebration, not contention. Indeed, a rare in-gathering of major Hollywood celebrities, Jewish communal officals and organizational leaders has come together to mark Israel’s first half century. &’009;

First among the planned events is “America Salutes Israel at 50,” scheduled to take place April 14 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The producers of the Academy and Emmy awards shows, Gil Cates and Don Mischer, respectively, are teaming up for the first time to produce what is promised to be a Hollywood-style, entertainment extravaganza that will be broadcast on CBS April 15 to millions in the United States and around the globe. Hosted by actor Kevin Costner, it will feature other well-known stars — for the moment unannounced. The Jewish Federation and Simon Wiesenthal Center have joined together in the effort to make the event a resounding success.

During a kickoff sales meeting last week at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, speakers did not completely ignore the troubled state of current Israeli politics. Extravagant plans for an official jubilee celebration in Israel have been stymied by lack of funds and internal wrangling.

But in Los Angeles, organizers are more sanguine about the festivities. “We all know what is going on in Israel,” said honorary co-chair Lew Wasserman, former chairman of MCA Universal and a major Jewish philanthropist. “I think it’s vital that people in Israel know that they still have the support of the rest of the world.”

“With all the things that separate the Jewish people, we can use a 50th anniversary to bring us together in celebrating the accomplishments of the Israeli state,” added Herb Gelfand, president of the Federation and the other honorary co-chair of the Los Angeles at 50 celebration.

“It’s important to remind ourselves what Israel has done for world Jewry,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Details of the evening at the Shrine are somewhat sketchy. Costner, who isn’t Jewish, is expected to have a crossover appeal to non-Jews. “M*A*S*H” creator Larry Gelbart is the show’s head writer. The lineup of stars isn’t set yet and won’t be for a while, said Mischer, whose credits include the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Olympic Games and gala events surrounding the hand-over of Hong Kong last year. Mischer said the show’s roster would include major names in film, television and music. “It should be an All-American show.”

Other plans for the two-hour event include: a satellite link-up with Israel, film clips of highlights from Israel’s first 50 years and possibly a pre-taped musical performance from Masada. “We’re going to party for Israel,” added Cates, who has produced seven Academy Awards shows and more than 25 films. “It’s going to be a very emotional event that should make us feel proud to participate and to be Jews.”

Two other Hollywood veterans, Merv Adelson and Marvin Josephson, are overseeing the CBS special and many other events in conjunction with Israel’s 50th. Both were appointed to serve as international co-chairs of the 50th celebration, at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but have denied that politics is a factor in their involvement. “I didn’t give a single shekel or dollar to Bibi, the Likud or Labor,” Josephson, chairman of the powerhouse talent and literary agency, ICM, told The Jerusalem Report recently. “I am not Likud or Labor. I’m interested in Israel.”

“I truly believe this will be the most important event of the 50th outside of Israel,” said Adelson, speaking via speaker phone to the Four Seasons gathering. The show transcends politics and “who is on the left and who is on the right,” added the former chairman and CEO of Lorimar Pictures. “This is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the greatest friend America has.”

The overall budget for the event is about $6 million. CBS is paying $3 million for the broadcast, with the other $3 million being raised by the jubilee committee, headed by Adelson and Josephson. Los Angeles’ share is about $1 million, which is expected to be raised by sales of the 6,000 Shrine seats and to the gala that will follow, as well as by sales of ads in the tribute journal. The Wiesenthal and Federation have agreed that any extra dollars raised will be used to send children to Israel.

The tribute book, expected to run over 50 pages, will include decade and “mega-event” pages outlining key moments in Israel’s history, as well as personal eyewitness accounts of people who played a role in that history. The pages will be sponsored at $5,000 per page, with $10,000 as the price for the two-page decade and mega-event spreads. Eyewitness tales of Israel’s first 50 years are being sought.

Tickets to the Shrine event will range from $18 (block sales only), $25 and $100 general seating (available through Ticketmaster) to $1,000 for VIP tickets which will entitle the ticket holders to sit in a special area, and admission to a gala reception after the show. The reception menu will be created by Jewish cookbook author Judy Zeidler in partnership with Terry Bell, former Federation president and general campaign chair. Since the event occurs in the middle of Passover, the meal will include a charoset tasting and a variety of other Pesach entrees and desserts.

Spectator


Paying Tribute to Israeli Films

By Tom Tugend,

Contributing Editor

Yoram Ben Ze’ev, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, left,and Meir Fenigstein, festival founder/director.

The 14th annual Israel Film Festival formally raised the curtainlast week on its two-week program of 50 feature movies,documentaries, TV films and golden oldies with an opening-night galaat the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With American-Israeli actor Mike Burstyn as master of ceremonies,a roster of dignitaries ascended to the podium to laud the artisticstrides made by the Israeli film industry over the last 50 years andto pay tribute to the festival’s founder-director, Meir Fenigstein.

Plaques of appreciation were presented to Naftalie Alter, generalmanager of the Fund for the Promotion of Israeli Quality Films, andto indestructible producer Menahem Golan.

Noting the many Israelis who have made their names in Hollywood,Golan called on the expatriates to follow his example and return hometo contribute their talents to the growth of the Israeli filmindustry.

Director Yossi Sommer was on hand to introduce his “The Dybbuk ofthe Holy Apple Field,” a powerful film that transports the classictale of faith and star-crossed love to the present-day ferventlyOrthodox enclave of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.

Sommer dedicated his film to “my Jewish passion and Israeliheritage.”

For ticket information and a confirmed screening schedule, callLaemmle’s Music Hall at (310) 274-6869 or Israfest at (213)966-4166.