The Circuit

Tu B’Shevat Time

All over Los Angeles, Jewish groups were finding innovative ways to commemorate Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, which is the New Year for trees.

At Adat Ari El Early Childhood Center’s community garden, the preschoolers got down and dirty and planted citrus trees. The teachers at the Valley Village school use the garden to teach the children about the agricultural meaning behind many Jewish holidays, and as a source of learning about horticulture and growth, recycling and composting, and the Earth’s relationship to and reliance upon plants. Next up at the garden — growing horseradish and parsley for Pesach.

At the Westside Jewish Community Center (Westside JCC), hundreds flocked to their Feb. 8 festival, which featured a moon bounce, tree planting, kosher hot dogs and fresh roasted corn. The Gilbert Table Tennis Association, which is now housed at the Olympic Boulevard center, offered free lessons and playing time on its many professional tables. The Westside Symphonette gave a free concert, where world-renowned pianist Vivian Florian played “classics to klezmer.”

“This was a great day,” said festival co-chair Beatrice Germain, a former Westside JCC nursery school parent and current Westside JCC board member. “We are thrilled about the wonderful diversity of people from the community who came together for this event and the enthusiastic audience for the concert. It’s great to see the community together again — and our new lemon tree looks really nice in the courtyard.”

Over in Malibu, the Shalom Nature Center had 2,000 people show up at its festival, its biggest turnout ever. They even ran out of parking spaces! Different organizations came to work with the Nature Center staff, including groups from Temple Adat Shalom, Temple Ramat Zion, Congregation B’nai Brith in Santa Barbara, Temple Judea, Heschel West Day School, Temple Beth Am, Young Judaea and Beth Chayim Chadashim. Altogether, people planted more than 300 native plants and a few coastal live oaks at the event.

As fun as it is to celebrate Tu B’Shevat in one place, the Jewish Agency for Israel decided to do something more daring; to have a worldwide Global Tu B’Shevat seder using the wonders of interactive technology. Hagar Shoman-Marko, the Israel education emissary for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles oversaw the event on the West Coast, which included 120 students from Milken Community High School, Shalhevet Middle and High schools and Sinai Akiba Academy, who joined their peers around the world by participating in the seder. They sat around tables with offerings of fruit, sang songs, recited blessings and interacted with their peers in Jerusalem, New Jersey, Atlanta and Toronto. A sedar highlights was a tree-planting ceremony at which students in Jerusalem planted trees on behalf of the participating schools in the Diaspora. A moving moment occurred when Sinai Akiba dedicated its tree to David Wolpe, wishing him a refuah shlema (a complete recovery), and teens all over the world responded with amen.

Hello Cello

On Feb. 8, Netivot held a desert reception at the home of Jason and Sari Ciment. Netivot is Los Angeles’ first and largest center of women’s Torah learning, and it has programs that encourage women to channel their artistic talents in a spiritual direction. The event honored Netivot’s teachers for strengthening women’s learning in Los Angeles, and it featured a performance by the renowned cellist, Alexander Zhirov.

Cheder Chic

On Jan. 26, Cheder Menachem Lubavitch held its second annual trustees dinner at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel. At the beginning of the school year, the cheder went through a financial crisis, and the school was uncertain whether it would have enough funds to open again. The trustees took it upon themselves to ensure that the cheder continues teaching Torah to the young boys of Los Angeles.

The trustees banquet was a sumptuous affair with enormous and lavish flower arrangements on every table and a gourmet dinner that put those rubber-chicken evenings to shame. Rabbi Josh Gordon of Chabad in the Valley emceed the event, and 5th District L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss spoke about how much the Waring Avenue school is contributing to the community.

Cheder Menachem is one of the few old-style Jewish learning institutions in Los Angeles. The boys elementary school teaches students Chumash and Gemara (Talmud) like they did in cheders of old. Most of the day is dedicated to learning Torah, with the boys repeating every Hebrew phrase after their teacher in a singsong voice. The school is also big on positive reinforcement. At Cheder Menachem, reprimands aren’t caustic. Instead, they are encouraging invitations to do better next time around.

More than 200 trustees attended the event, including Motti and Mechal Slodowitz, Yerachmiel and Danielle Forer, Carmen Tellez, Rabbi Chaim Nochum Cunin and Yocheved and Reuven Sherman.

Recycle Mania

We all know that it is better for the planet — and ultimately ourselves — if we separate our plastics and our paper. Yet, sometimes we need a little push to keep us on the recycling track. At Emek Hebrew Academy second-grade boys teacher Marci Lewis and assistant Shawn Moritz decided to get the students excited about recycling with an innovative project. For two weeks, students brought recyclable materials to class, and were assigned to create original inventions out of them, which they displayed in an “Inventors Showcase.”

Adam Sieger, one of the second-graders at Emek, said, “Recycling is important, and it helps the environment because the less trash we throw away, the cleaner the world will be.”

It’s a Kosher World Out there

If you keep kosher, any new kosher product that you see on the supermarket shelf is likely to give you a slight thrill. That is why the Kosher World Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center was such an exciting three-day event. There were aisles of new kosher items that were free for the sampling. Yummy treats included the nondairy Jackie Mason cheesecakes, Campbell’s new kosher vegetarian vegetable soup, Jerusalem 2 Pizza and the Old City Cafe Burritos. The expo had 3,380 attendees from 18 countries and 25 states.

The expo gave a lot of the smaller exhibitors a chance to expand their business. Event organizers set up meetings with the exhibitors and the buyers from big supermarket chains like Ralphs and Gelson’s, which proved to be a godsend for businesses trying to get a toehold in the market.

“We are a small company, in business for less than two years, and we needed an opportunity to bring our products to the attention of some major buyers,” said Sandy Calin of Debbie & Sandy’s Homemade. “We really wanted to add one major market to our distribution. Not only did we receive an actual order, in writing, from Gelson’s at the show, but we also got commitments from Ralphs and Albertsons.”

Ambassadors for Israel

The emissaries of the education department of the Jewish Agency for Israel have been busy these days.

On Feb. 10, the agency held a mini-Israel festival at The Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. The event opened with a memorial ceremony for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. It intended to expose secular and religious Jewish teens to Israel, and show them that the Jewish state is a democracy with a rich cultural and art-oriented society that has a world-class high-tech sector. More than 100 teens participated in the event.

At the end, the teens proclaimed that they would be “advocacy ambassadors for Israel” in their schools and youth groups.

An Unkosher Affair

“Enjoy your dessert,” Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra Maestro Zubin Mehta told benefactors at a dinner following a performance at Disney Concert Hall last month, “although I’m sure it will be pareve.” Mehta assumed that after a meal serving meat, a non-dairy dessert would follow, according to the laws of kashrut.

“It’s not pareve!” someone called out from the audience.

“It’s not?” Mehta said.

Mehta might not have been so surprised if he had attended more Jewish functions in Los Angeles, where many Jewish organizations are inconsistent at making their official functions adhere to the laws of kashrut.

Just this week, at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) luncheon for combating hate, held at the Skirball Cultural Center, a reporter was told the luncheon was kosher and later found out it might not have been.

To go kosher or not to go kosher — it doesn’t seem to be a major question for Jewish organizations here in Los Angeles.

While there are plenty of Jewish groups in the city that have a policy to only serve kosher food at their events — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Home for the Aging, the Los Angles Hillel Council and American Red Magen David for Israel, to name a few — there are others whose policy regarding kosher is an irresolute one. The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, B’nai B’rith and Hadassah all say they endeavor to make the majority of their events kosher, but they will still hold events in venues that do not have kosher caterers and will not accommodate outside food being brought in. At such events these organizations serve dairy, or kosher-style food — in other words, no pork or shellfish, but nothing that a rabbi supervises.

Why not serve kosher at a Jewish event? Some organization leaders cite cost as a factor. In some venues, like the Millennium Biltmore Hotel where The Federation is going to be holding its “The Return to Passion: A Call to Action” young leadership conference this weekend, kosher food is available, but it costs significantly more than the kosher-style continental breakfast and lunch that the conference organizers chose to keep the cost down.

At the Skirball Center, events with rabbinical supervision, which need to be specially requested, cost $8 more per head. Nevertheless, these organizations will provide a strictly kosher meal at a non-kosher event if someone requests it.

Others cite venue as a factor. For example, country clubs — which are not kosher — do not allow outside catering.

Community leaders say that this inconsistent approach to kashrut marginalizes those who are strictly kosher.

“Serving ‘kosher style’ is like serving a Hindu a hamburger with an OU on it. It means absolutely nothing,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of Project Next Step. While serving non-kosher food might be expedient or cost-effective, it also may backfire in the face of organizations that hope to attract and serve the entire Jewish community.

“I was seriously considering going to the ‘Return to Passion’ conference until someone told me that it was not going to be kosher,” said Yechiel Hoffman, 25, an entertainment consultant who lives in Pico-Robertson. “By not arranging kosher food to be available for the entire conference, The Federation is telling the Orthodox community that they are outside of Federation interests, that we are not their constituency. For a leadership conference, it is very sad that they seem to be saying that they don’t want our future leaders to come from the Orthodox community.”

Craig Prizant, the senior vice president for financial resource development at The Federation, said that The Federation tries to be inclusive.

“We always strive for our events to be kosher; we always try to be inclusive of everybody,” he said, “but those [events] that aren’t kosher are dairy.”

Many organizers of the events say that they have little incentive to change their policy and make everything kosher because their constituents do not demand it. In Los Angeles, some American Jewish Committee (AJC) events are kosher style, because that is all their constituents require. In New York, however, all AJC events are glatt kosher, because those members call for it.

In Los Angeles, spokespeople from B’nai B’rith and the ADL told The Journal that they would reconsider their kosher-style policy if enough people complained about it.

“We would hope that [our kashrut policy] would not prevent strictly kosher Jews from joining the ADL,” said Alison Mayersohn, associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region. “But if kosher was becoming a consistent issue, then we would re-address our policy.”

Still, many say that for Jewish organizations to be truly inclusive, kosher needs to be a necessity, not an adjunct.

“If you go to these [nonkosher] events and receive a different meal, you feel like a second-class citizen, an afterthought,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “There are many Jews who keep kosher and they are not all strictly Orthodox-observant Jews, and you are excluding them as soon as you serve nonkosher. You are making a statement that the dietary laws of our faith are not important.

“I promote and encourage [my congregants] to be totally committed and involved with the [wider] community,” he continued. “But if the community doesn’t want to accommodate them — then what should they do? Not everyone can eat nonkosher, but everyone can eat kosher.”

The Circuit

Dollars for Access

The Jewish Community Foundation awarded a $7,500 grant to the Access Center of OPCC (formerly the Ocean Park Community Center). The money will be dedicated to maintaining the project’s critical core programs to assist homeless youth, adults and families. The Access Center opened in 1963 and it is often the first port of entry for homeless individuals and families seeking services. In addition to providing emergency services such as food, clothing and shelter to approximately 275 clients daily, the center assists homeless men, women and children in developing individual plans to identify strengths and goals in order to return to a life of stability and self-sufficiency.

Pint-Sized Philanthropists

It is never too early to start giving tzedakah (charity) in a very adult kind of way. On Jan. 6 the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls at Emek Hebrew Academy Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks presented a $30,473 check to Randi Grossman, the West Coast regional director of Chai Lifeline, a charity that provides services to families who have children with special needs. The girls raised the money by organizing parlor meetings for the women in their respective synagogues, having bake sales, tabling outside kosher markets in the Valley, holding fund-raising parties and basically asking everyone they knew for money.

“All the kids expressed how good it felt to raise the money — they said it felt good for their neshamas [souls], knowing that they were helping to bring a smile to a sick child,” said Debbie Eidlitz, the Emek teacher who oversaw the fund-raising. “A lot of the shyest kids forced themselves to go out there and raise the money, and they all felt that they grew tremendously from the experience.”

School Banquet Season

On Jan. 11 Samuel A. Fryer Yeshivat Yavneh held its annual banquet at which the school honored the J. Samuel Harwit and Manya Harwit Aviv Charitable Trust for its support and dedication to Jewish education. Rabbi Yissocher Frand, a teacher at the Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore, was the guest speaker at the banquet.

Yavneh, located in Hancock Park, is one of the largest Orthodox elementary schools in the city. It aims to educate students to be firmly committed to Torah, Judaism and Israel and the principles and values that are a part of American life.

Another large Orthodox elementary school, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, also held its banquet recently. On Dec. 21 at the Century Plaza Hotel, supporters of Hillel gathered to honor Robert and Rosina Korda at the academy’s 55th annual Scholarship Banquet. At the banquet, Hillel also honored Joel and Roslyn Linderman, who jointly received the Dor L’Dor Award, and Dr. Benjamin Rosenberg, who received the Alumni Award.

On Nov. 25 Valley Torah High School held its annual communitywide Scholarship Banquet at the Hilton Universal City and Towers. The school’s dean, Rabbi Abraham Stulberger, presented awards to Eliezer Jones (Alumnus of the Year) and Eli and Sandra Eisenberger. A number of new developments were announced at the dinner, including the opening of a new girls’ school, Beis Malkah V’Sara Esther later this year.

Loen’s Lights

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, a program of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, recently honored Masha Loen at the first Festival of Lights cocktail party and silent auction, which was held in December at the museum. Loen was honored on her retirement for a lifetime of dedication and service.

Forest for the Trees

The U.S.D.A. Forest Service hosted a special guest in January — Jewish National Fund (JNF) forester Adi Naali of Israel. Naali has worked for the JNF for the past six years supervising new tree plantings and recreation areas, and taking part in forest and land-use planning teams. He was a member of the Alexander River Rehabilitation Project, which won the Australian River-Price Competition, one of the most prestigious ecological restoration competitions in the world.

As part of his visit, Naali toured Southern California and Arizona to view the devastation to the national forests caused by fires.