A Shalhevet Response


 

“What’s Next for Shalhevet?” by Julie Gruenbaum Fax appeared in these pages on Feb. 4. Reactions of Shalhevet

parents, faculty, students, alumni, administrators and, indeed, even its rivals, have ranged from rage and outrage to tears and dismay.

From the beginning of the article where Jerry Friedman, Shalhevet’s founder and the owner of a Jaguar with “vanity plates,” “kvells” in a weekly school town hall meeting — Why does he kvell? What transpired in Town Hall to give him such pride? — and then leaves to “nail” a donation, the stage is set.

Shalhevet, like all Jewish schools, is forced to raise funds in order to survive. But fundraising isn’t the least bit sexy: it is arduous, time-consuming and, more often than not, frustrating. “Nailing a donor,” on the other hand, with its implication of something less than savory, is. And what of the Jaguar? Is Friedman better defined by the car he drives or by the fleet of such vehicles he could have purchased with the support he has given Shalhevet and other Jewish organizations throughout the years? Would there be comfort in having our philanthropists live humbly?

The article departs from Friedman and goes on to repeat a vulgar, slanderous term that had been used by a teacher in a feeder school to describe Shalhevet’s young women. The initial use of this slur constituted lashon harah (gossip); its gratuitous repetition in the body of the article constitutes not only lashon harah, but rechilus (slander) as well. It was this that elicited tears from many of our seventh- and eighth-grade girls and outrage from their high school counterparts. And while, as the article states, “a number of younger siblings of Shalhevet graduates have gone … to YULA,” a number of younger siblings of YULA graduates are in attendance at Shalhevet.

The article proceeds to quote or paraphrase dissatisfied parents, all of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity. What of the many satisfied parents who would gladly have allowed their names to appear? What of the parents who are elated that their children have found their voice, their love for Israel and their moral compass at Shalhevet? What of the parents of Shalhevet alumni whose children are in Israeli yeshivot or living as Jews on elite campuses throughout the United States? The parents of Shalhevet students who are recognized not only for their grades, but for their contributions to the community? The parents whose children write about Shalhevet in their graduate school applications? And what of the parents who have the vision and independence to be sending their younger children to Shalhevet next year and the year after that and the year after that?

Shalhevet is not perfect. Only 13 years old, the school is learning, and sometimes hurting, from its mistakes. Admissions criteria are more stringent and the financial aid process has been codified to meet the standards of other schools in the Los Angeles Jewish school system. We have changed our policy of relying upon Israeli rebbeyim, whose terms are necessarily limited in order to hire a permanent head of Judaic studies who will grow over time with the school. And Friedman, recognizing the increasing complexity of the school he founded, is seeking to share its governance with others who will perpetuate his superb vision. But Shalhevet has never been a “free-for-all.” Nor did Yale-bound senior Leor Hackel, chair of the school’s agenda committee, feel that he was fairly treated when, after an extensive interview, only a glib joke that he made toward the end was quoted in the article.

It would seem that Shalhevet should be inured to slights from The Jewish Journal. Several years ago, when the school dealt openly with a group of students who had used drugs, The Journal covered the school’s heroic responses fairly, but failed to recognize its leadership role in developing a plan of action for all schools in the Bureau of Jewish Education. All schools — were they to be honest — must deal with substance abuse among their students. Nevertheless, despite Shalhevet’s mature, professional response to the incident, The Journal predisposed readers to expect something else entirely by the article’s title — “Scandal” — scrolled across the cover in smoke. When, at the height of the Intifada, Shalhevet students spent their summer in Israel performing chesed (acts of loving kindness) with victims of terrorism, the caption under their photograph identified them as YULA students. Most recently, although Shalhevet students have mounted a major fundraising campaign to assist victims of genocide in the Sudan and even brought an escaped Sudanese slave to address the school community, other schools’ efforts were extolled in The Journal. Shalhevet’s were not.

Last week in the school’s town hall meeting, a student aptly stated that this paper is far more “Journal” than “Jewish” in its treatment of Shalhevet. This community needs The Jewish Journal; we need it to report fairly, objectively and Jewishly.

The bad news is that good news doesn’t sell papers. Sensationalized articles do. The good news is that Shalhevet is alive and well and ever changing for the better.

Editor’s Note: The balanced portrayal of the school as put forth in the article gave a fair picture of the many positive attributes of the school and its students, the challenges facing the school and the actions it is taking to meet those challenges. Our intention was never to hurt or offend Shalhevet students, and we apologize if any students, parents or administrators took accurate reports of these inane and widely known comments as anything other than a sorry reflection on their originators. The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax continue to believe that Shalhevet is a vital and valued part of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Beatrice Levavi is director of admissions for Shalhevet.

 

The Circuit


Juniors Rule!

Rachel Firestone and Michel Grosz, both juniors at Milken Community High School, were among the 26 teenagers across North America to receive 2003 Bronfman Youth Fellowships that entitled them to spend five weeks in Israel this summer. Firestone and Grosz were chosen from 197 applicants. The fellowships were started by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress.

Ladies First

AMIT Los Angeles Council held its annual Mother and Daughter Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The event was co-chaired by Gertrude Fox and Janice Fox-Kauffler. (From left) Sondra Sokal, AMIT national president; honoree Renee Firestone; presenter, Oscar-winning movie producer Branko Lustig (“Gladiator,” “Schindler’s List”); and honoree Klara Firestone.

Kol Rockin’

Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform synagogue, honored Howard Bragman, Marianne Lowenthal and Steve Tyler at a Beverly Hilton gala. (Back row, from left) Rabbi Denise Eger, Alexandra Glickman, Bruce Vilanch, Andrew Ogilvie and Cary Davidson. (Front row, from left) Judith Light, Lowenthal, Tyler and Bragman.

Garden Groove

(From left) Marilyn Ziering; Hanna Khoury, AICF violin scholarship recipient; and Janet and Max Salter. AICF is a privately funded financial supporter for talented Israeli youngsters and cultural institutions.

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation’s (AICF) Los Angeles Chapter held its annual fundraising event at a Beverly Hills garden party and dinner in honor of Max and Janet Salter.

East Coast Represents

Rabbinical students Michoel Lerner, 21, of Brooklyn, and Shmuel Cohen, 20, of Montreal, spent three weeks at a Chabad center in Thousand Oaks training to distribute Jewish resources.

Heavy Medals

A scene from Aviva’s 2003 Triumph of the Human Spirit Award Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (From left) Honoree Wallis Annenberg, Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and honoree and Olympic gold medalist and UCLA softball coach Lisa Fernandez.

Funky Cold Medina

Hashalom, which offers free Jewish education for children in public school, held its third annual banquet. Israeli singer Avihu Medina (“Al Tashlicheni”) and local crooner Pini Cohen performed.

Chai Note

Chai Lifeline’s 4-year-old West Coast office will now be known as the Sohacheski Family Center, in honor of benefactors Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski. (From left) Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski receive a plaque from Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline, and Randi Grossman, West Coast regional director.

Boat Trip

Some 75 singles strapped on their sea legs for Aish Los Angeles’ sunset cruise aboard the RegentSea, one of FantaSea Yacht Club’s sailing vessels. The four-hour Marina del Rey cruise featured games and a dinner under the stars.

Ink Tank

This year, Jewish journalism’s big night took place in our own backyard — make that backlot.

The Grill at Universal Studios served as backdrop for the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) annual conference’s 2003 Awards Banquet, where the prestigious Simon Rockower Awards were presented. This was the first Los Angeles visit of the AJPA conference, with The Journal welcoming 140 editors and journalists — representing Jewish newspapers nationwide — to the Beverly Hilton for industry-related symposiums.

“It’s been a wonderful year,” said Mark Arnold, the newest publisher of the 26-year-old Jewish Journal of North of Boston.

The conference offered some charged discussions. Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderated “Screen Shots: Pop Culture, Hollywood and The Jews,” a lively exchange between entertainment industry liaison Donna Bojarsky; screenwriter Andrea King; Endeavor Agency partner and former Jewish Federation Entertainment Division Chair David Lonner; and “Sex & The City” creator Darren Star. Panelists discussed the paradoxal tightrope of working in a Jewish-built, Jewish-dominated business that tends to shun Jewish culture in favor of other ethnic stories.

“The Jewish community is completely separate from the Hollwyood community,” observed Bojarsky on Jewish Los Angeles’ divide.

Lonner blamed Tinseltown’s “narcissistic society” as the reason why many Hollywood Jews do not explore or support issues pertaining to Israel.

“It’s just not as important in their day-to-day world,” Lonner said. “It’s all Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.”

Star joked that Hollywood Jews are “too busy getting behind France like Woody Allen,” then observed, with seriousness, “as much as they’re Jews, they do not want to be defined by their Jewishness.”

The panel acknowledged a palpable stigma surrounding telling Jewish stories. King could see why Hollywood does not find Jews courting Jews romantic comedy fodder.

“As a writer,” she said, “I can see how it’s more interesting to have two characters on ’30-Something’ having the Christmas tree/menorah debate rather than two people making latkes together.”

A Jewish-Latino relations panel found writer Gregory Rodriguez walking his Jewish audience through issues affecting Latinos via the prism of the Mexican American immigrant experience. Beginning with the mestizo (“mixed heritage”) origins of Mexicans, Rodriguez compared and contrasted his group with the Jewish community.

“Jews are the most highly organized ethnicity in America,” he said, before expressing his frustration with polite, pro forma Jewish-Latino dialogues, and Los Angeles’ Jewish elite as power players reluctant to own up to its profound socio-political influence.

“If we can’t discuss Jews honestly,” he said, “that does a disservice to everybody.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency Editor Lisa Hostein presided over the Rockowers with Awards Committee chair Neil Rubin. Up-and-coming comedian Joel Chasnoff kept the audience plotzing. Keynote speaker Alvin Shuster, senior consulting editor for banquet sponsor, the Los Angeles Times, was “definitely impressed by this cross section of talent.” AJPA President Aaron Cohen won the Joseph Polakoff Award and a raffle prize. Among 2003’s multiple winners was The Journal — congratulations to Managing Editor Amy Klein (“Sin”); contributing writer Gaby Wenig (“Jerusalem Mayor Visit Sparks Snub”); and Art Director Carvin Knowles, whose cover designs won first place in the “Excellence in Illustration” category.

A Buttons-Down Affair

Comedian and Oscar-winning actor Red Buttons with Ruta Lee at the annual fundraiser for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center support group, The Thalians, which also included Debbie Reynolds, Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor.

Students Score

Downey B’nai B’rith Lodge 1112 awarded Al Perlus scholarship awards of $50 to five outstanding area high school students: Edith Moreno of South Gate High School, Carlos Avelar of Bell High School, Juan Pasillas of Huntington Park High School, Roselyn Ithiratanasoonthorn of Downey High School and Franchesca Gonzales of Warren High School. n

Love, American Technion

A total of 44 American Technion Society supporters took part in the organization’s annual mission to Israel. Among the participants pledging a total of $6 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at its Mount Carmel campus in Haifa: Inga Behr of Pasadena, Rodica and Paul Burg of Palos Verdes Estates, Chuck Levin of Beverly Hills, and Sherry Altura and Rita and Steve Emerson of Los Angeles.

Medical Mission

Dr. Lawrence Libuser of Marina del Rey was among a group of doctors and volunteer medical personnel sent on a mission to aid refugees in Ghana. The United Nations-run refugee camp has over 50,000 people, most natives of Liberia. The medical envoy will treat as many of these refugees as possible during their summer mission.

Wise Guys

Youth volunteers from the Stephen S. Wise Temple Summer Camps volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission. (From left) Lily Tash, Loren Berman and Alex Alpert.

A Syn’s Big Win

Shomrei Torah Synagogue of West Hills won the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) Solomon Schecter Award for Excellence. The award will be presented at a USCJ convention to be held in Dallas in October.

Bank’s Boost

From left) Dan Meiri, regional director of Bank Leumi USA-California, celebrates with Bank Leumi supporters Jan Czuker and Max Webb the American subsidiary’s second quarter upswing — a yield of $9.5 million in net income; an increase of 2.2 percent from 2002’s second quarter.

Flag Day Fete

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary dedicated a monument with Jewish War Veterans (JWV) in honor of Flag Day. Participating (from left) Jerry King, color guard; Ralph Leventhal, past JWV department commander; Lt. Col. Rabbi Alan Lachtman of Temple Beth Torah of Temple City; Steve Rosmarin, past California JWV commander; Mark Freidman, CEO of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary; California JWV Commander Odas Flake; and Mel Margolis, color guard.

A WINNICK-WINNICK SITUATION

Donors Gary (far left) and Karen Winnick (second from right) congratulate the first researchers to receive the Winnick Family Clinical Scholar title at the naming of the Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Daniel Cohn, PhD, (second from left), an expert in the genetic causes of dwarfism, bone development and short stature; and Kidney Transplant Program Director Stanley Jordan, MD, (far right). The third Winnick Clinical Scholar, human autoimmune disease specialist Sandra McLachlan, PhD, is not pictured. The Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai is primarily engaged in translating human genome research into treatment against a gamut of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.