Classnotes: Milken High School rededicates Torah scroll


A Torah scroll that twice survived extinction was ushered to its new home in the Lainer Beit Mirdash of Milken Community High School on Oct. 19.

The scroll was rescued from Eastern Europe by Shlomo Bardin, founder of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. In October 2005, the scroll survived a brush fire that struck Brandeis. Over the past year, faculty, parents, staff, alumni and every current student participated in restoring the scroll by sponsoring and penning letters on the parchment, under the guidance of scribe Neal Yerman.

At the dedication ceremony, Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Milken Upper School rabbinic director, passed the Torah along a line made up of upper and middle School students, faculty, administration and clergy.

“Our Torah of Milken is integrated and pluralistic, connecting Jewish learning and values to the wisdom of the broader world — to science and literature, history and technology, arts and basketball,” Rabbi Bernat-Kunin told the audience of more than 800 made up of students and faculty. “It is a Torah of passionate machloket, spirited dispute, bearing at least 70 faces, if not more.”

The ceremony included three aliyot: one for Stephen S. Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Eli Herscher and education director Metuka Benjamin; one for parents and temple leadership; and a final one for the school’s department chairs.

Three students — Maytal Orevi, Judy Reynolds and Marci Blattner — read from the Torah during the aliyot.

For more information visit www.wisela.org.

Grants for Growth

Eight Southern California day schools received grants from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) to aid in capacity building, increasing enrollment and striving for excellence.

Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills and Orange County’s Morasha Jewish Day School and Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School received School Improvement Journey challenge grants. In the first year of the two-year grant, the schools will undergo institutional assessment by a national firm, followed by expert coaching to build a business plan from the assessment. The second year helps schools begin implementing plan.

“Receipt of the grant means several things to Kadima,” explained Dr. Barbara Gereboff, Kadima’s head of school. “That we will have the benefit of a national cadre of experts to guide our planning for the future; that our entire Kadima community will have the chance to really pause and reflect over a two-year period about our future direction, and that we will be given the tools needed to move our school to higher levels of excellence.”

The Jewish Community School of the Desert in Palm Desert and Valley Beth Shalom Day School in Encino both received Pipeline Grants that provide the schools with coaches to help increase recruitment and enrollment from early childhood programs into elementary grades.
The Southern California Yeshiva High School in La Jolla, a two-year-old boys’ high school, received a New Schools Grant for operational expenses and to fund a coach to work with the board and head of school on mutually agreed upon priorities.

For more information visit www.peje.org.

Acting Classes …

The Jewish Children’s Theater is offering Sunday acting and drama classes at the Westside Jewish Community Center, starting this month, for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The classes are taught by Deena Freeman Brandes, who played April Rush on TV’s “Too Close for Comfort.”

Freeman Brandes teaches through acting exercises, theater games, improvisation and a commercial workshop. Over the summer one of her students shot his first TV commercial, and several were cast in plays and student films. For information call (310) 556-8022 or (310) 497-0437 or e-mail dbrandes@pacbell.net.

… And the Production

The Kol Neshama Performing Arts Conservatory for girls will premiere the first episode in its Camp B’nos Yisrael DVD series at a benefit reception on Nov. 6 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. Founded seven years ago by television and theater director Robin Garbose, Kol Neshama offers Orthodox girls an opportunity for artistic expression in a traditional yet professional setting.

This past summer about a dozen girls filmed “Inner Nature Hike” at Topanga State Park as a follow up to last year’s pilot of “Together as One,” a Wizard of Oz-esque saga at Camp Bnos Yisrael.

The benefit, open to women only, will honor Kol Neshama teacher and actress Judy Winegard, a former Broadway performer.

For more information, visit www.kolneshama.org or call (310) 659-2342.

Ignorant No More

This month, tenth graders at New Jewish Community High School (NCJHS) became the first Jewish day school class to participate in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) workshop, “Confronting Anti-Semitism.”

“The ADL program had a strong impact on me and my friends, because we were still talking about it after we left the classroom. We couldn’t believe that things like Holocaust denial and questioning the right of Israel to exist still happens in our world,” said 10th grader Molly Williams.

The first part of the program explores the roots and history of anti-Semitism through to what anti-Semitism looks like in the post-Holocaust era. A follow-up workshop deals with how to face the anti-Semitism of today.

“The class made me realize that a huge cause of anti-Semitism is ignorance, and the easiest way to combat it is through education,” said 10th grader Simone Zimmerman.

Along with the NCJHS students, 40 Israeli students were there through the Federation’s Tel Aviv- Los Angeles partnership.

For more information, visit www.adl.org or call (310) 446-8000.

Persian Shul Adopts Membership System


For many Jews, the High Holidays and membership drives go together like apples and honey. But for communities newer to America, the thought of paying an annual fee to "belong" to a house of worship is a foreign concept.

For centuries, Persian Jews have traditionally raised funds for religious activities by auctioning off or bidding on aliyot, the bringing out of the Torah and other rituals during Shabbat and holiday services. But after 25 years in Los Angeles, Persian Jews are beginning to embrace the concept of membership.

At the forefront of this push has been the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills, which became the first Persian synagogue in California to offer a membership program last year.

"The torch at Nessah has been passed to a new generation of younger people on our board of directors who decided that we needed membership in order to create a sense of belonging in the community," said Dr. Morgan Hakimi, Nessah’s newly elected president.

Isaac Eshaghan, chairman of Nessah’s membership committee, said Nessah’s approximate 1,400 members have primarily been drawn to join Nessah because of the synagogue’s English and Persian services.

"Last year, three weeks before Rosh Hashana, we were sold out because we offered membership according to the number of seats we had," Eshaghan said. "Our membership is in an affordable range and on average costs less than $1,000 per family."

According to Nessah membership records, membership dues for married couples between the ages of 18 and 30 are $500, with $650 for couples 31 to 64 and $500 for couples over 65. Likewise, singles 18 to 30 are $150, singles 31 to 64 pay $350 and singles over 65 pay $250. Children under 7 are free, while it is $50 for children 8 to 11 and $125 for children 13 to 17 years old.

Nessah’s membership program is gaining acceptance due to the community’s familiarity with membership requirements at local Ashkenazi synagogues such as Stephen S. Wise and Sinai Temple, Eshaghan said.

"Joint membership with American temples is common with our members because their children go to day schools at these temples and membership is required there," he said.

Nessah’s leadership will gradually phase out the traditional auction method of fund raising in the coming years.

"Everybody [on the board of directors] was in favor of not announcing the large sums of money donated during services because it takes a lot of time and is annoying to people who hear the shouting when they’ve come to temple to pray," said David Pourbaba, chairman of Nessah’s ritual committee.

Rather than bidding on them during temple services, Pourbaba said Nessah congregants have agreed to call in their donations beforehand in order to receive aliyot and participation in other rituals.

"We’ve gotten some resistance from the older generation," said Pourbaba, who added that the change has impacted the synagogue’s income, "but in the long run this is the best direction to go."

Hakimi, who earlier this month became the first female president of any Persian synagogue in the United States, said additional funds available from membership dues collected have enabled Nessah to offer new programs and workshops to its members.

"Nessah is proud to welcome all groups from different levels of religiosity and income," she said. "We will be offering support groups, a new teen center, book club, self-help classes, yoga classes and a business networking group."

Just as Nessah has drawn a large following of Persian Jews, so has Sinai Temple with nearly 700 to 800 Persian Jewish families among its members, said Sinai’s Rabbi David Wolpe.

"As a rabbi, I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to come to the temple at a time when Iranian Jews have settled in our community because it enriches Sinai Temple beyond belief," Wolpe said.

Michael Nazarian, Sinai’s vice president of membership, said Iranian Jews have flocked to Sinai because of the synagogue’s school and the warm reception they’ve received from Sinai’s leadership over the years.

Sinai Temple has also developed the ATID program to draw in teenagers and young adults with lectures, workshops and other events. Also, the temple is courting Jews between the ages of 23 and 35 by offering them memberships for as low as $180.

"The atmosphere we have at Sinai is very friendly between Ashkenazim and Iranians," said Nazarian, who is also on Sinai’s executive board of directors. "We have a number of Iranians on our board of directors, in our committees, and of course our past president Jimmy Delshad was also Iranian."

However, Wolpe and Persian members of Sinai Temple acknowledged that some Persians have not renewed their memberships with the synagogue after their children complete the b’nai mitzvah program.

"It is a problem in general with synagogue membership with many Jews across the country. What we try to do is educate them that there are benefits to keeping their connection with the temple," Wolpe said.

Your Letters


Scandal

As a Milken [Community High School] senior, I had several qualms with your article (“When Bad Things Happen to Good Institutions,” July 11).

This article was not newsworthy. It dealt with issues that passed, were dealt with properly and need to be put in the past.

These “scandals” dealt with minors who face the harsh repercussions of their actions. By rehashing these issues, you do not resolve the problem but create pain.

Your newspaper must deal with compelling communal issues, not issues that open wounds and make vague references to the “serious issues, such as snobbery, cliques and harmful pranks.”

The concept of teshuvah [repentance] may never be achieved if we continue to recount painful stories based on erred judgment. The Jewish community must encourage young adults to repent for what they have done, not recount the tragic details.

At Milken, we value students’ integrity above their entertainment value. We need to be reminded that in sensitive situations, students must be treated with dignity and be given the opportunity to change.

Miri Cypers, Encino

Myth of Uniformity

Your “culture of welcoming” column highlighted one of our more aggravated situations (“Myth of Uniformity,” July 11).

What persistently clouds the whole issue, and shouldn’t, is the concept of uniformity. We should strive for unity, yes. But unity is not uniformity.

A black Jew davens with me frequently in a Chabad shul on Shabbos morning. We know we don’t look alike, so what? We are blessing the same day with the same prayers. And those who choose Judaism from other backgrounds should be no less welcome.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon, Los Angeles

I very much appreciated your argument for recognition of diversity among contemporary Jews. To be sure, there are many Jews-by-choice among us, and they do come from a variety of different backgrounds.

Not so long ago, many Jews in America experienced the freedom of religion to mean that they could abandon their Judaism. Now we see that America’s religious freedom encourages many non-Jews to admire and even join the Jewish people. They are a precious complement to our people.

Introduction to Judaism programs are the major avenue through which non-Jews learn the basic essentials for conversion. Although the intro program of the Conservative movement is offered at the University of Judaism, it is the Pacific Southwest regional office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) — not Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — that offers the Reform movement’s intro program.

About 15 temples in Southern California and Arizona host the UAHC intro courses. Five-hundred students enroll in the courses every year. Hundreds go on to become Jews, although I do not know the exact number, because of Reform Judaism’s decentralized conversion process.

You can hear wonderful stories of Jewish spiritual discovery from the students of our intro courses. Their journeys are truly inspiring for Jews-by-birth.

Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein , Director UAHC Introduction to Judaism Pacific Southwest Council

The Davis Recall

In “Recall Tarnishes Golden State’s Shine” (July 11), former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg would have us believe that the forthcoming recall of Gray Davis would yield disaster, and real solutions for California’s ills could be found in his ill-defined idea of “structural reforms.” Too bad Hertzberg doesn’t give us the whole story.

No one could doubt the governor’s absolute failure and betrayal of the public confidence and trust. But California cannot afford to wait three years until he is termed out to be rid of him. He is a poison, a cancer that must be cut out as soon as possible.

Enter the recall, a gift of progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson early in the last century. The recall is the tool, a very extension of democracy instead of an affront to it, with which the citizens of this state may expeditiously remove an elected official.

As for “structural reform,” Hertzberg was certainly referring to an effort by his allies to lower the legislative threshold for passing a state budget — and the tax hikes and spending sprees included therein — from two-thirds to 55 percent. This “reform” is cleverly hidden in a currently circulating initiative to withhold legislators’ pay until a budget is passed.

Alex Burrola , Montebello

I’m a Democrat who voted for Gray Davis. I have tremendous respect for Bob Hertzberg and share his belief that adherence to the results of the political process is an essential protection against tyranny. I also suspect the recall effort is fueled, at least in part, by wealthy Republicans intent on delivering California for George Bush, and it galls me.

But Hertzberg’s arguments against a recall are just wrong on so many points.

Here in California, recalls, initiatives and referenda are part of the total voting package. They are the heart of our democratic system. It’s worth noting that Article 2 of the California Constitution — the section that deals with recalls — begins with the words: “All political power is inherent in the people.”

Abe Rosenberg, Marina del Rey

After reading Bob Hertzberg’s denunciation of the Davis recall effort, I have to wonder: Why do people who oppose the recall think we should be tolerant of an incompetent governor? Why did we tolerate Pete Wilson’s incompetence? Why do we tolerate anything that’s improper? Do we live in a dictatorship?

The American people seem to have an obsession with acceptance, whether good or bad, whether a bad public official or a recurring headache. After all, it’s the norm. Too much trouble to deal with it.

Want things to get better? Then change.

Aric Z. Leavitt, Los Angeles

Weil and Bush

Leadership that leads in the wrong direction should not be applauded. I refer to the comments attributed to Rabbi Steven Weil, as part of his invocation for a fundraiser for President Bush (Weil Delivers Bush Invocation,” July 11).

Yes, it is true that our president has provided strong leadership regarding the war in Iraq and other international issues before and after Sept. 11, but I, like many others, believe he is leading us, this country and the world in ways that have not and will not bring justice or peace.

Ben Tenn , Northridge

Eternally Gay

Concerning “Eternally Gay” (June 27), the first paragraph reads: “In spite of numerous reports that secular Jews are leaving Jerusalem in droves, Israel’s capital held its second annual Gay Pride parade on June 20. I’m not sure why there is a connection being made between gay Israelis and secular Jews. I hope the implication is not that all gay Israelis are secular.

Contact the Jerusalem Open House (hagai@joh.gay.org.il) to get more information on gay Israelis who identify as Jewish and observant. There are more than you may think.

Jeff Bernhardt, Valley Glen

Piece of the Pie

I was amazed to read the letter in your July 4 edition from the man who said that the 6 percent that Jews give to charity is too much, as it may support the stereotype among gentiles that Jews are clannish (referring to “Why Aren’t Jews Giving to Jews?” June 27). I’m wondering if this man ever asked himself how much gentiles give to Jewish charities. I doubt that the figure would even register as a percentage point.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of the tzedakah I give goes to Jewish causes, and I intend to keep it that way. Rather than worrying how those with anti-Semitic tendencies are going to perceive us, he should instead ask himself how we can help our own, as this is what it comes down to in times of crises like these.

After all, in the words of Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

Tzipporah Saunders, Encino

Shinui Weighs In

Tommy Lapid claimed that if Israel does not agree to release Palestinian prisoners, it would put an end to the peace process (“Shinui Weighs In on Releasing Prisoners,” July 11). How so?

The first sentence of Phase I of the “road map” requires that “the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence.” If terrorist groups unilaterally decide that an Israeli refusal to release Palestinian murderers from prison will void their temporary truce, it is they who have put an end to the peace process.

Deborah Koken, Costa Mesa

Race Rulings

I do not disagree with [David] Lehrer and [Joe] Hicks that we need to look deeper for the solution to minority achievement gaps that necessitate diversity programs in college admissions (“Court’s Race Rulings Raise Deeper Issues,” July 11). However, we will need to look beyond simplistic “solutions,” such as vouchers, and must be prepared to make the investments, both familial and governmental, to yield satisfactory results.

We will also have to examine the inherent biases in standardized testing that once benefited WASPS at Eastern colleges and are now excluding certain minority groups.

Access to higher education is also a question of class as well as caste. At the University of Michigan, consideration was given to children of alumni, students who lived in the Upper Peninsula, students who took more rigorous classes or who attended schools known for their academic programs.

According to Goodwin Liu, who wrote the “Causation Fallacy,” it was more likely that plaintiffs Gratz and Grutter were excluded because of these factors, not because of the race of the applicants.

Shirley J. Wilcher ,.President Wilcher Global, LLC Accokeek, Md.

Rise in Aliyot

Two of my daughters are committed to living in Israel. Sarah, who recently completed aliyah, moved there two years ago and lives in Jerusalem with her husband and their infant son. Leah has been a resident for four years, also in Jerusalem, and is currently engaged in the aliyah process.

Both girls have experienced numerous problems in dealing with the Israeli bureaucracy. It is a testament to their fortitude and resolution that they didn’t let Israel’s bureaucrats discourage them from seeing the process through to fruition. The scuttlebutt is that government workers there make it particularly difficult for Americans to immigrate.

When I spoke at Sarah’s wedding last year here in the states, I stated that “more than money, more than rhetoric, Israel needs Jews.” Those words were met with a round of applause, the loudest of which came from Israelis who flew in for the occasion.

The comments that Israeli minister of immigrant absorption, Tzipi Livni, makes about immigration, further support that statement (“Rise in Aliyah Rates From Frum,” July 4). She is quoted as saying “her ministry needs to finds ways to make the country more attractive to potential immigrants.”

A good place for her to start looking is within her own organization.

Leonard M. Solomon, Los Angeles