Menchie’s: CEO of yogurt chain reveals secret to his success

Perhaps it was a Michael J. Fox movie about a plucky corporate mailroom worker in New York City who works his way to the top that put Amit Kleinberger on the road to business-empire success.

Or maybe it was the time he spent honing his leadership skills in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Then again, it could have been Kleinberger’s parents, whose insistence on living by Jewish values and doing good in the world planted in him the seeds of an effective entrepreneur. 

Whatever it was that set Kleinberger on his career path, today he has undoubtedly reached a pinnacle. At just 36 years old, he’s the CEO of Encino-based Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, which is among the world’s largest self-serve frozen yogurt franchises, with more than 530 locations around the globe. 

His résumé includes building three other companies from scratch: a chain of cellphone accessory stories, a glass distributor and an assisted living facility for seniors. Most recently, Kleinberger embarked on another new business: He’s launching a chain of dine-in pizza restaurants called MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza.

“Ever since I can remember, I found business fascinating,” Kleinberger said in a recent phone interview. “When I was a kid, I remember that even watching movies, business movies, to me were just fascinating. The whole idea of commerce, I just found it very intriguing.” 

Born in Jerusalem, Kleinberger spent his childhood in Israel and South Africa, where his parents moved for a time because of job obligations. His father is an engineer, and his mother worked as a teacher and later as principal at a large high school. Kleinberger said he grew up in the Reform Jewish tradition, but also learned from his parents to respect people of all backgrounds and faiths.

Kleinberger was drawn to the world of business early on. At about age 10, he remembers getting hold of a copy of the 1987 movie “The Secret of My Success.” In it, a young college graduate played by Michael J. Fox works his way up from the mailroom to head of a company. Kleinberger watched the movie endlessly.

After working various part-time jobs through his teenage years, Kleinberger entered the military. He served three years in the IDF, and graduated from commander and sergeant schools. Along the way, he said he learned invaluable lessons that later would help him in the business world.

“The military is probably the most instrumental piece in my leadership. There’s three things that I’ve taken from the military: leading by example, appreciating people and humanity, and the discipline and ethic of hard work and perseverance,” he said. “You take those values — things that are well, well instilled in the military — those are probably the things I use the most.” 

In his early 20s, Kleinberger moved to the United States to pursue what he thought was his dream — becoming a defense attorney. He enrolled in Santa Monica College, but quickly dropped out after he realized his passion lay elsewhere. With what little money he’d saved, he opened his first business, a cellular equipment store. He built that business into a chain of 26 locations.

After selling the stores, Kleinberger started and later sold two other businesses. First came a window products distribution company, then an assisted living facility, for which he said he obtained an administrator license from the California Department of Social Services.

Then, in 2008, he met Menchie’s co-founders Danna and Adam Caldwell through mutual friends. At the time, the Caldwells had just one store, located in Valley Village. But Kleinberger saw potential in the couple’s emphasis on providing not just good frozen yogurt, but an uplifting and fun experience for the customer. He agreed to form a business partnership with the couple, and the rest is history. (Danna Caldwell remains as president of Menchie’s and her husband is COO.)

Kleinberger, who lives in Encino with his wife, Carrie, an Agoura High School teacher, said Menchie’s is successful because it combines quality frozen yogurt (made from hormone-free milk) with good service and ambience, creating a total experience for the customer. The brand, much like Disney, is instantly recognizable when you encounter it, he said. 

Kleinberger also credits the franchisees and the people who work at Menchie’s for the company’s success. He said he learned to pay more attention to what happens on the frontlines of the business after he starred in two episodes of the television series “Undercover Boss.” On the CBS show, he worked in stores without letting on that he was the chief executive officer, serving yogurt, and cleaning restrooms and machines. He even spent a day at a dairy farm assisting with the birth of a calf.

“It was probably one of the most interesting experiences of my life,” Kleinberger said with a chuckle. “I didn’t see that coming. I was raised in an urban environment, not so much a farming environment. Seeing a calf pop out is probably something I won’t forget.” 

Looking back on his wildly varied business career, Kleinberger divides its trajectory into two phases. During the first phase, his focus was trying out new business ideas, which often came to him through coincidence, he said. Later, with the senior care facility and now Menchie’s and MidiCi — which currently has one location in Sherman Oaks, with plans for more nationwide — he sought something more meaningful: to honor and celebrate people. 

The goal at Menchie’s, with its swirly-headed mascot, multiple flavors and wide variety of toppings, is to make people smile, he explained. MidiCi’s is centered around the idea of bringing together friends through dining. (Its name means “you tell me” in Italian and refers to the customized approach to pizza and the restaurant’s social environment.)

“I’ve decided to dedicate my focus to only businesses that have a purpose, a focus on making the world better. I’m not interested in owning businesses for the sake of just owning them,” he said. “The financial piece of it is not where I see the value in business. My belief is that, when you do great things, the financial thing comes along, but when you focus only on the financial … it’s not nearly as fulfilling.”

Genesis Philanthropy Group names Ilia Salita as new CEO

Ilia Salita was appointed the new CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which funds Jewish identity-building efforts for Russian-speaking Jews around the world.

The Genesis Philanthropy Group is a consortium launched by wealthy Jewish businessmen from the former Soviet Union, including Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven and German Khan.

“We are confident that Genesis Philanthropy Group’s management team under the leadership of Ilia Salita will expand and deepen the organization’s impact on Russian-speaking Jewish communities around the world,” Fridman, co-founder of Genesis Philanthropy Group, said in a statement released Thursday.

Salita is currently the organization’s North American executive director. He replaces co-founder Stan Polovets, who has served as the group’s CEO since its founding seven years ago.

“I look forward to working with our exceptional team, our partners, our grantees and our constituency – the multilingual and multicultural Russian-Jewish community around the world – in ensuring that this community is an integral part of the wider Jewish landscape and a vibrant contributor to a successful and innovative Jewish future,” Salita said.

In 2012, the Genesis Philanthropy Group started the Genesis Prize Foundation, a separate entity that awards an annual $1 million prize to an inspiring Jewish individual. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire, accpeted the inaugural Genesis Prize at a ceremony in Jerusalem earlier this year.

Polovets will continue to serve as the prize foundation’s chairman and CEO and will oversee a number of new initiatives for the prize, planned together with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Met Council taps N.Y. finance chief Frankel to replace Rapfogel

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is bringing in New York City’s finance chief, David Frankel, to succeed the fired William Rapfogel as executive director and CEO.

The Met Council announced the appointment of Frankel, who has been the commissioner of the Department of Finance since 2009, on Monday. His department collects more than $30 billion in revenue for the city.

“Met Council’s work has improved the lives of many thousands of New York’s neediest people for more than 40 years, and I am honored and excited by the opportunity to lead such a respected and vital institution,” Frankel said.

Frankel will officially join the Met Council on Sept. 30.

Rapfogel, who headed the organization since 1992, was dismissed earlier this month after an internal investigation discovered financial malfeasance related to the company’s insurance policies. He is under investigation by the New York State attorney general and comptroller.

Met Council is one of New York’s largest human services agencies, providing services to 100,000 New Yorkers annually.

“We are proud and delighted to welcome David to Met Council,” said Steven Price, president of the social services agency board. “His integrity, passion for public service and understanding of the importance of our work will be extremely valuable resources for Met Council and our employees, volunteers, donors and partners as we work together to address the problem of poverty in New York.”

Prior to the Department of Finance, Frankel was a managing director at Morgan Stanley from 2004 to 2009, and he was the head of global operations for the AIG Trading Group from 1992 to 2004.

He also served as deputy commissioner of New York City Housing and Preservation and as special counsel to the commissioner for the Department of Correction. From 1978 to 1988, he practiced law at two New York firms.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Frankel “commanded the respect of anyone who worked with him because of his commitment to fairness.”

“Over the past four years,” the mayor said, “he has been dedicated to leveling the playing field for all New Yorkers by going after individuals and businesses that don’t play by the rules and protecting the ones that do.”

Autry president W. Richard West Jr. embodies American complexity

W. (Walter) Richard West Jr., the new president and CEO of the Autry National Center, believes that a key job of this country’s museums is to interpret the complexity of the American heritage, and he embodies this mission both in his work and in his personal background.

West spoke to a reporter as the opening of the museum’s massive exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic” approached, the Autry’s first major project to open since his arrival last December.

The founding director for two decades of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., West had formally “retired” before being convinced to lead the Autry, whose Western focus originated with the late cowboy film actor, Gene Autry, and Autry’s wife, Jackie. West’s background in American Indian culture adds new depth to a collection that now houses the former Southwest Museum’s holdings.

While West brings extensive museum experience, and a depth of knowledge of American Indian culture to his new position, he also has a special appreciation for the Jewish contribution to this city and country, rooted both in his own work and outlook.

[Related: How the Jews changed Los Angeles]

Born in in 1943 in San Bernardino, but raised in Muskogee, Okla., West is the son of a master Cheyenne painter, the late Walter Richard West Sr. His mother, Maribelle McCrea West, the daughter of missionaries, was of Scottish-American Protestant descent.

During his law career in Washington, D.C., West identified closely with his father’s ethnic and cultural heritage, representing numerous American Indian tribes.

He also received significant insight into the Jewish tribal culture while working as an attorney and partner in the Washington office of the predominantly Jewish law form of Fried, Frank, Harris Shriver & Jacobson, and he remembers the association warmly.

“I attended my first seder in 1973,” West recalled during an interview in his Autry office. “The evening held a special resonance for me, and I loved it.”

He also learned about the finer distinctions within the Jewish community, and that it shared one common concern with his own Cheyenne tribe. “Both worry about their children intermarrying,” he observed.

Drawing on his own personal and professional experiences, West spoke of his formula for a museum’s primary mission.

“An American museum, including the Autry, must serve as a touchpoint between the country’s various cultures and explore the points of engagement among them,” he said. “That’s not how histories are usually told.”

Putting it another way, West spoke of lateral or horizontal connections between different cultures and ethnicities through “crosshatching” and “stitching together” different communities through economic, political and civic ties.

Beyond that, West views museums as “civic centers for discussions” and “safe places for unsafe ideas.”

A graduate of the University of Redlands, Harvard and Stanford Law School, West remains trim and fit at 70. He is married to Mary Beth Braden West, formerly with the U.S. State Department.

The couple has two adult children, Amy, a clinical psychologist and medical school professor, and Ben, a screenwriter.

World Jewish Congress names Robert Singer to top post

Robert Singer was named secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, the organization's most senior professional position.

“All of the WJC executives who have met Robert have been impressed with his professionalism, insight and vision, and they look forward to working with him in strengthening the WJC’s position as the preeminent representative body of world Jewry,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement issued Sunday. 

Singer since 1999 has served as director general and CEO of World ORT, an education and vocational training nongovernmental organization. Previously he had worked in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office for 12 years. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army.

The choice of Singer, who lives in London, is expected to be ratified at the 14th WJC plenary assembly in Budapest in May.

‘Sacred Housekeeping’: Reflections of a soul saver

Sporting a blond wig and slinky dress, Beit T’Shuvah’s whippet-thin Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer sat on Harriet Rossetto’s knee and parodied Marilyn Monroe’s famous, breathy “Happy Birthday” crooning to JFK. 

Then the 250 or so people at Beit T’Shuvah — all of them fans of the Jewish rehab clinic/halfway house/synagogue in Culver City and Rossetto, its founder and CEO — joined in the singing.

The Dec. 29 celebration was not only for Rossetto’s 75th birthday; it also marked the debut of her first book, “Sacred Housekeeping: A Spiritual Memoir,” an enlightening and funny look back at her life before and during her time at Beit T’Shuvah.

When people come to Beit T’Shuvah, they’re usually in need of being saved from their own addictive behavior. At any one time, there are about 150 men and women of all ages in residence, nearly all of them Jewish, often with a criminal record. Some are repeat offenders remanded there by the courts as a last-ditch attempt to detour a dead-end life. Some are professionals whose lives, fueled by substance abuse, have spiraled out of control. Some are lost children, “nice” Jewish kids gone astray.

As part of the festivities, Rossetto received many grateful, emotional tributes. People stood and thanked her, referring to her as a “saver of souls,” something she’s made her life’s work.

One of the tributes to Rossetto was from a middle-aged man who talked about how Beit T’Shuvah had saved him. Then he echoed the gift-giver’s clichéd lament: “What do you give to the woman who has given you everything?”

Perhaps a young woman’s comment to Rossetto summed things up best: “[You created] this amazing organization because you believe in throwaway people. I came here when few people believed in me.”

At one point during the celebration, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Rossetto’s husband and partner at Beit T’Shuvah, waved toward the crowd. 

“Look what you’ve done, Harriet. You brought out all these people. They’re here because you touched their lives. Everyone here lives a better life for having met you. You’re not just a soul saver, you’re a soul enricher.”

Rossetto, wearing a glittery blouse with the text “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” in sequins, took the accolades in stride. She described Beit T’Shuvah’s long, strange trip: How she met Borovitz when he was in jail; how, after getting out, Borovitz came to Beit T’Shuvah in its early years, looking for a way to get his life on track; how he and Rossetto joined forces and became a couple at work and in life.

There were less-serious moments, too. She read aloud from “Sacred Housekeeping,” a chapter called “Rogue Rabbi & Rebel Rebbetzin,” mentioning that Borovitz, as far as she knows, is the only one who went from being a criminal to being a rabbi. She paused and added, “Usually it’s the other way around,” drawing a loud laugh.

Rossetto also talked about how Borovitz’s decision to study for the rabbinate — at the University of Judaism’s (now American Jewish University) Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies — put strains on her cravings to go to Costco on Saturday or have coffee before Shabbat services.

In her book, Rossetto wrote about what led her to start Beit T’Shuvah: “Something drove me to live outside the lines, always eager to stretch rules and limitations. I hated bureaucracy. And rebellion? It was the quality I most admired in myself and others. For me, every rule had an exception, which I believed kindled the spirit of Beit T’Shuvah and was a crucial agent in the healing of exceptional people.”

After the celebration, Rossetto talked with the Journal about her own personal conflict, which she also wrote about in “Sacred Housekeeping.”

“All my life, I’ve wanted to do good in the world,” Rossetto said. “That part of me has always fought with the part of me that wants to stay in bed and do nothing.”

Rossetto emphasized that her empathy for addicts and alcoholics comes from seeing those conflicting tendencies in herself. To drive the point home, Rossetto told a story. 

There was once a rabbi, she said, who ministered among thieves, drunkards and prostitutes. His talmudic disciples asked him how such a holy man could so easily understand the problems of “those kinds of people.”

The rabbi, Rossetto said, answered this way: “When I listen to them and look into their eyes, I discover that their weaknesses are reflections of my own. It is not that I have done what they have done; but I sense within me their lusts, their desires, their weaknesses, their temptations.

“If I listen to someone confessing his transgressions, whatever he’s done, whoever he is, and I don’t see myself, then I know I haven’t looked deeply enough. I know I must be hiding something within myself of which I’m not fully conscious.”

Rossetto said that for the last quarter century, while running Beit T’Shuvah, she’s looked deep into herself and seen the darkness that addicts and alcoholics have inside them. It’s that recognition of the darkness within herself, she said, that has given her the tools and the ability to help desperate people become whole.

New Fishel Fellowship

John Fishel says one of his favorite parts of his 17-year tenure as president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was visiting communities around the world, where he could tap into his background as an anthropologist and social worker to determine how Jews in Los Angeles could have a global impact. 

Now, in Fishel’s honor, Federation has announced a new two-year fellowship for a young leader interested in serving the Jewish community both locally and globally. Using $350,000 raised at a dinner to honor Fishel when he left Federation in 2009 and an additional $150,000 from Federation, the Fishel Fellowship will pay a stipend to a 21- to 25-year-old Jewish college graduate from Los Angeles who shows promise and creativity in impacting global humanitarian issues. The funding will support three Fellowship cycles.

The Fishel Fellow will spend the first summer with American Jewish World Service’s Volunteer Summer Program in South America, Africa or Asia, learning about local challenges and working on hands-on, intensive projects in the context of a Jewish curriculum. The Fishel fellow will then spend the academic year in a Jewish community abroad working with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Global Jewish Service Corps, followed by a summer in Israel working on Federation-sponsored projects.

The following year, the fellow will come back to Los Angeles for a paid position at Federation working on a project that stems from the international experience of the previous year and is in keeping with Federation’s mission. 

Fishel, who now consults with private family foundations, will be part of the selection committee and hopes to mentor the fellow. After the first fellow, Federation hopes to continue the program.

Fishel said his travels “formed my world view and I’m hoping the candidate who participates in this fellowship will begin to have the opportunity to have those life experiences that I think are as important as educational background.”

Applications for the Fishel Fellowship are due Jan. 15. 

For more information, visit 

Limmud appoints new executive director, chair

Limmud, the international network of Jewish learning conferences, appointed a new director and a new chairman.

Shelley Marsh, currently the director of informal education for the United Kingdom’s United Jewish Israel Appeal, will become Limmud’s executive director following Sukkot, according to a Limmud news release. Marsh succeeds Raymond Simonson, who ran Limmud for six years and is the CEO designate of the London Jewish Community Center.

Limmud is an umbrella group for pluralist, multi-disciplinary conferences around the world on a range of Jewish topics. During Simonson’s term, Limmud has grown to include 60 conferences in 25 countries.

Kevin Sefton, a Limmud executive board trustee for four years, will become the organization’s chairman at the end of the year. Sefton runs a management consultancy firm and has helped organize Limmud conferences in five continents.

Marsh in the news release called Limmud “a unique organization” and said she strongly identified with its vision and values.

“I’m inspired by what they have achieved in recent years,” she said, “and I look forward to working closely with Kevin to support the volunteers as they continue to build.”

Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, is replaced as CEO

Shai Agassi, the Israeli-American founder of Better Place, which is bringing electric car charging stations to Israel, was ousted as the company's CEO.

Agassi will remain a member of the Better Place board, the company said Tuesday. He is being replaced by Evan Thornley, who now heads the company's Australia unit.

Better Place, based in Palo Alto, Calif., raised more than $750 million in investments since it was founded in 2007. During that time, the company has lost $490 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The company provides charge spots and battery-switch stations for the electric car Renault Fluence ZE, which recently went on sale in Israel.

“It is almost five years to the day since Shai launched Better Place and a natural point in the company’s evolution to realign for its second chapter and for the challenges and opportunities ahead,” Idan Ofer, chairman of Better Place, said in a statement.

In a statement, Agassi said, “Five years ago, I followed my passion to make the world a better place and founded a company to materialize that vision. Very few people are blessed to see such a grand vision become a proven reality within a relatively short time frame.”

Wayne Firestone stepping down as CEO of Hillel

After seven years as the chief executive at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Wayne Firestone will be stepping down from his post in June 2013.

Firestone, who has worked at Hillel for more than a decade and served as its CEO since 2005, spent Thursday and Friday informing the organization’s top board leaders and staffers about his decision to resign as the head of the international campus organization. He took over Hillel after the much-heralded tenure of Richard Joel, who left to become president of Yeshiva University.

“The organization is poised to grow to a new scale, in order to accommodate the rapid growth in student participation in the United States that we have driven over the past several years (from 33 percent to 45 percent student involvement from 2005 to 2012, according to a formal study),” Firestone said in a statement to Hillel leaders and staff. “This effort will require strong senior leadership and new financial resources.”

Firestone said he is not sure what he will do next but that he wishes to remain active in Jewish affairs.

In recent years, Firestone has pushed for more programming aimed at Jewish students who don't venture into their campus Hillel buildings, with an emphasis on peer-to-peer outreach, and organizing and supporting activities at other venues.

Firestone’s tenure coincided with the rise of the pro-Palestinian campaign to get universities to divest from Israel and paint its government as an apartheid regime. Arguing that exposure to Israel and Israelis is the most effective response to efforts to demonize the Jewish state, Firestone has attempted to position Hillel as an unapologetic defender of Israel’s democratic character and of Israel's vital importance to the Jewish people. At the same time, he has argued for the need to provide students with space to engage in open and critical dialogue about Israel and Israeli policies, and warned that today’s students would reject efforts to indoctrinate them on how to think about Middle East issues.

Thomas Blumberg, chairman of Hillel's board of directors, praised Firestone’s support for innovative programs, but he said that this moment is an appropriate time for transition.

“By every measure, the innovative peer-to-peer approach he championed has resulted in higher student involvement with Hillel than we have seen in decades, and in many more students seeking to deepen their Jewish identity and skills,” Blumberg said in a statement. “Wayne led Hillel during a period of extraordinary innovation. Now that much of that innovation has borne fruit, we will — following the roadmap in our recently passed five-year strategic plan — move to a phase of bringing the new engagement approaches to more campuses and students and deepening them where they have already succeeded.”

Edgar Bronfman, a one of Hillel’s leading philanthropic supporters, was also quoted as praising Firestone.

“He has led nothing less than a historic transformation,” Bronfman was quoted as saying in the Hillel statement.

Abramson 5th on Forbes list of powerful women

Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times and first woman to lead the paper, was named the fifth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine.

Abramson was ahead of first lady Michelle Obama, who was ranked seventh, and below philanthropist Melinda Gates and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the 2012 World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list released Wednesday.

Several other Jewish businesswomen also joined the list including Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, at 10; CEO and chairman of Kraft Foods Inc. Irene Rosenfeld, at 13, down from number 2 last year; senior vice president of Google Susan Wojcicki at 25; and CEO of the Home Shopping Network Mindy Grossman at 96.

[Related: Jill Abramson, world’s most powerful Jewish woman?]

Fashion designer Diana Von Furstenburg made the list at 33 along with Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, who came in at 51.

Other Jewish women on the list include: Chairman of Sony Pictures Amy Pascal, at 36; Oracle CFO Safra Katz, at 48; heiress, businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison at 65; U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Schapiro at 65, down from 17 last year; Cable TV executive Bonnie Hammer at 73; and Rockefeller Foundation head Judith Rudin at 98.

Bend the Arc’s leader speaks about group’s goals

With tax reform on his mind, Alan van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, came to Los Angeles to talk with young professionals during an Aug. 1 house party about what sets his social justice organization apart.

“We are now the only Jewish social justice nonprofit that has a lobbying arm in Washington that doesn’t touch the State of Israel as an issue,” Van Capelle said. There are a lot of groups working on Israel, and we only work on domestic issues.”

Emerging out of last year’s merger between Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ), Bend the Arc hopes to continue those organizations’ legacies of fighting for economic and social justice as a progressive and Jewish voice. But it’s also carving its own identity, and in July launched Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC and its lobbying arm Bend the Arc Jewish Action.

“We don’t want to be a group that just issues press releases,” said Van Capelle, who traveled from New York to Los Angeles to attend the Aug. 1 event in Century City.

Bend the Arc is planning two campaigns that have already garnered media attention. During the last two weeks of August, the organization plans to hold a bus tour targeting the 10 wealthiest members of Congress who oppose allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire. The organization’s second campaign entails finding 613 Jews who earn more than $250,000 annually who are willing to ask for their tax cuts to be repealed.

Other speakers included Eric Greene, Southern California regional director of Bend the Arc, and New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch, who previously served as PJA’s executive director.

Hosted by attorneys Alex De Good and Nancy Solomon, the party drew attendees with affiliations to progressive synagogues IKAR and Nashuva, Jewish environmental groups Wilderness Torah, Netiya and Hazon, left-leaning Israel organization J Street and Bend the Arc’s young adult leadership-training Jeremiah Fellowship.

Among those mingling in the crowd was 26-year-old employment litigator Michael Frieman, who said his admiration of human rights and of energy advocate Van Jones, whom Bend the Arc honored in May, led him to the organization.  

Coming from a background steeped in labor as well as gay and lesbian rights, Van Capelle said his role as CEO of Bend the Arc, which he assumed in January, is a perfect fit.

“Here is the first time that I have been able to be Jewish and out and progressive,” he said, “and do it all in the same place.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews Respond: Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women

“The US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a huge victory for women and families across the country. This ruling means that women, seniors, children, young adults, the poor – in fact, the vast majority of the population—will reap the benefits of ACA and this historic ruling for years to come. NCJW fought hard to win enactment of the ACA and joined two amicus briefs in support of its legality. We are deeply gratified to see it upheld by the court.

“The court’s ruling means insurance companies may not charge women higher premiums than men. It means a wide range of preventive services important to women will be provided without co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses, including mammograms, Pap tests, a wide range of prenatal screenings, well-woman visits, the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, lactation consultations and supplies, and domestic violence screenings.

“Those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be denied insurance coverage – a provision with special significance for women, who have been denied coverage because of a previous Caesarean section or because they have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault and received related treatment.

“The decision also preserved the expansion of Medicaid to millions of poor families, though states will have the option to implement it. NCJW is optimistic that state lawmakers will understand the value of providing critical health coverage to low-income women and families and will choose to expand coverage accordingly.

“The Affordable Care Act means that no family will suffer bankruptcy due to high medical bills, and that all families will have access to routine, chronic, and emergency health care. Perhaps most important, it means that no one will die for lack of health insurance, as did an estimated 40,000 people every year prior to ACA’s enactment.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews react: Jewish Family Service CEO

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles CEO Paul Castro lauded the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision this morning to uphold President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, saying it will benefit JFS’s target population.

“For our clients, who are on the poorer end, we’re hoping that there is going to be greater accessibility to health coverage,” Castro said.  “We see many clients who have no coverage, and they come to us because they need help trying to get coverage.”

In fact, some of the law’s provisions already are in place in California, he said. “California has already been ahead of the game in terms of state opportunities for coverage, through programs for children and others, and our hope is this will allow it to expand beyond children, to adults who don’t have access to health insurance.”

JFS is already part of the process of moving forward on initiatives spawned by Obama’s health care act, Castro said. The act includes funding for innovations in streamlining care, a process California has already begun.

“With the support of the Federal government, the state has been moving folks out of siloed programs into a more integrated system through Medi-Cal managed care,” Castro said. JFS can help in figuring out how to make that transition in a way that does not outstrip the levels of Federal reimbursement, and has already been working with the managed care plans in Los Angeles County charged with making the transition.

“These are high utilizers of medical care, and if not appropriately managed in the transition to a new system, it can be a large cost item. Not only does JFS know the business, but we know these clients and we know what keeps them out of higher levels of care,” Castro said.

But, he added, “Our major concern is that, in the effort to get streamlined and integrated, our most frail and vulnerable clients are not the casualty of an attempt at efficiency.”

Given that Federal funding and state programs are intricately linked, Castro said he worries about the permanence of the state budget Governor Brown signed this weekPu. JFS programs that serve vulnerable populations –people who are poor, elderly, abused, mentally ill and disabled – were left intact in this budget. But, the new budget relies on voters passing a tax increase in the November elections – an initiative JFS supports.

“If that initiative doesn’t pass, there is immediately an additional hole in the budget, in which case I would suspect the governor would then put the legislature into emergency session and there will be large cuts across the board,” Castro said.

At the same time, he is not fully rejoicing over the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I can already see the opposition lining up with talking points about it being a tax, so I can see how energy is going to coalesce around opposition and an effort in congress to if not repeal it, minimize things that they see as onerous.”

Still, he believes the court’s decision keeps the topic on the table.

“I’m happy the decision was upheld because it keep the whole conversation about having affordable heath care open. We can debate about whether it’s enough, or if it’s too much, but the court has said ‘we’re out of it now,’ and this is your conversation.”

JDC appoints Darrell Friedman interim CEO

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee named Darrell Friedman as interim CEO following the abrupt resignation of longtime CEO Steven Schwager.

Schwager, who had been at the helm of the JDC for 10 years, announced last Friday that he’d be stepping down as CEO effective June 30.

Friedman, a Jewish organizational consultant, has been working with the JDC for the past nine years as an inhouse senior consultant to Schwager, according to the JDC. He will start his interim position on July 1. Friedman had served for 17 years as the CEO of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“Darrell’s proven leadership and expertise, along with his years of experience with JDC, will be of great value to our organization over the coming months as we continue to address the critical challenges faced by Jews worldwide,” JDC’s president, Penny Blumenstein, said in a statement Tuesday.

Friedman also will serve as an adviser to the JDC board’s international search committee for a new CEO.

Steven Schwager: The (pre-) exit interview

Steven Schwager, the CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, is stepping down from the helm of the JDC on June 30.

One of American Jewry’s largest charities, the JDC spends almost all of its charity dollars overseas, providing Jewish welfare, education and identity-building in the non-U.S. Diaspora, and boosting welfare and education in Israel.

Along with the Jewish Agency for Israel, the JDC is one of the two principal overseas partners of the Jewish Federations of North America, which provides the JDC with the bulk of its budget. As funding from the Jewish Federations has fallen in recent years, the JDC has adapted by raising an increasingly large share of its budget on its own. Under Schwager’s tenure, the JDC’s budget has grown from $243 million per year in 2002 to $362 million this year, its largest-ever budget.

On Friday, the day Schwager announced his retirement, he took a few minutes to talk to JTA about why he is leaving the JDC after 23 years—the last 10 of them at its helm.

Uriel Heilman: Why are you leaving?

Steven Schwager: I’m here 23 years. I’ve been the exec for 10 years. I’m almost 65. My father died at 69 from a heart attack and worked till the day he died. I had my heart attack a year and a half ago. I can look back with pride at what I’ve done. It’s time to move on.

Heilman: What were the pillars of your vision for the JDC?

Schwager: My vision for the JDC was to—on the one hand—ensure that it continues to be and always was and always will be the 911 of the Jewish world. Wherever there is a Jew hungry, in need or in danger, the JDC would be there. Today I can say we can reach any Jew anywhere in the world through the organization and staff we have, and so that goal was fulfilled.

Two, to ensure a Jewish future in those communities without Jewish history. By that I mean the former Soviet Union, where we built all of these JCCs that have become the hubs of Jewish life. The only thing that’s missing at the moment is more money to do more programming, but all the facilities and the bases are there.

Three, to reach the next generation of American Jews, we put in place a next-gen program that started with one part-time employee three and a half years ago, and now has 14 employees and a budget of $3 million per year. And we’re reaching thousands upon thousands of Jewish young people in this country.

When I looked at all these things, I concluded it was time to go.

Heilman: When the Union for Reform Judaism’s longtime president, Eric Yoffie, announced his retirement in 2010, he gave the URJ two years to find a successor. Your announcement leaves the JDC fewer than two months. Why the abrupt departure?

Schwager: I’d been talking to Penny [Blumenstein, the lay president of the JDC, whose term began in January] for a while.

Given that they wanted to do a full search with a lay committee, I didn’t want to be a lame duck, so I concluded that it was best for me and best for the organization that I step aside. I’ll be here doing transition work with whoever the new CEO is—either the new full-time CEO or the interim one. I will be here to help the organization. [After he steps down as CEO on June 30, Schwager will continue working for the JDC until the end of the year].

Heilman: What does your family have to say about your decision?

Schwager: They’re thrilled to death that they don’t have to share me. I’ve got five grandchildren and a sixth on the way. They’re all making plans for me to come and spend time with them. When it comes time to change a diaper, I just hand them back to their parents.

PJA head Sokatch leaving to helm S.F. federation

Daniel Sokatch, leader of one of Los Angeles’ most high-profile Jewish organizations, has been named CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (JCF). He will start at the JCF on July 15.

Sokatch, 40, is the founding executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a Los Angeles-based organization founded in 1999 with a commitment to educating, advocating and organizing on issues of peace, equality, diversity and justice. Sokatch has helped grow the organization from 250 members to more than 4,000 people today, with a million-dollar budget, a dozen staff members and offices in Los Angeles and, since 2005, San Francisco.

It was partly PJA’s work in the Bay Area that attracted the JCF to Sokatch.

“I wasn’t looking to leave PJA. I have loved my job every day,” he said.

When the Federation first approached him, Sokatch said, he just thought “it was flattering,” but the more he spoke with leaders there he realized the two organizations — JCF and PJA — had similar shared similar goals and perpsectives. “The values of the San Francisco Jewish community are fairly progressive,” Sokatch said.

Sokatch acknowledged that there is a difference between running a “consensus-based” organization rather than an “advocacy and activist” organization. But, he said, “I am who I am and they know exactly who I am.”

JCF has not had a steady CEO in almost five years. The organization interviewed some 50 candidates for the position in hopes of finding a dynamic CEO to increase the federation’s vibrancy and relevancy to Bay Area Jewish life and connect with younger donors and community activists.

“Daniel combines energy and charisma with intelligence, Jewish wisdom and a compelling vision for the future of the Jewish community,” JCF President John Pritzker said.

Sokatch, who will relocate to the Bay Area this summer with his wife Dana and their two children, will helm an organization with a staff of 105 and four satellite offices in the Bay Area and Israel.

JCF serves a Jewish population that numbered at least 228,000 people in 2004, according to the 2004 Jewish Community Foundation Study. The study also claims that the Bay Area is the third largest Jewish metropolis behind New York and Los Angeles. The study also found that half the married couples in the Bay Area include a non-Jewish partner, and “as many children are being raised by one Jewish parent as are being raised by two.”

The JCF and the Jewish Community Endowment Fund allocated more than $200 million toward funding social services, educational and cultural programs in the Bay Area, the United States, Israel and around the world in 2007 fiscal year.

“For me, the Bay Area Jewish community, with its profound commitment to tzedek [justice], tikkun olam [repairing the world] and to a vibrant and thriving Jewish culture and community is the perfect place” to build a federation for the 21st century, Sokatch said.

Sokatch said he is sad to leave PJA – and Los Angeles – but he is certain the organization will continue to grow without him, even as he helps them find his replacement. “PJA is an incredibly strong and vibrant organization that is much bigger than one person,” he said.

To Sokatch, the fact that the JCF contacted a self-described progressive public figure involved with IKAR, a progressive new synagogue, and Reboot, an outreach and activist organization for younger Jews, also means that organizations once considered out of the mainstream are making an impact on the Jewish community. “Instead of seeing us as irrelevant, they see us as part of the answer,” Sokatch said. “It’s a great compliment to everyone working in these Jewish projects.”

Progressive Jewish Alliance

Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties



The Circuit

Special Prayers

Approximately 80 people attended a memorial service July 13 at Beth Jacob Congregation to remember the two Israeli Bnei Akiva counselors murdered in Hebron, in the Gaza Strip, by Fatah terrorists on June 24. Avihai Levy, 17, and Aviad Mansour, 16, were walking in the southern Hebron Hills area of Beit Hagai when they were shot to death.

“Open your own wallets and look at your kids and grandchildren,” said Roz Rothstein, national director of the Israel advocacy and education group, StandWithUs, which co-sponsored the memorial with Beth Jacob Congregation and Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles.

Rothstein, joined at the bimah by StandWithUs National President Esther Renzer, noted that “as a child, I belonged to Bnei Akiva, too. As a teen, I was a madricha, a counselor, and then I became a local chapter leader. Good Zionist youth movements like Bnei Akiva teach responsibility for Israel and give real meaning to the phrase, ‘If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem.’ I credit Bnei Akiva for making this connection in my own life. A little bit of each of us has been lost when these two teens were murdered.”

A large, color photo of each young man framed the Orthodox synagogue’s bimah. Seated in the audience was Yaron Gamburg, the new deputy consul general at the Consulate General of Israel. Eulogizing the slain teenagers were Beth Jacob Rabbi Steven Weil and Bnei Akiva’s West Coast representative Dani Yemini.

“Violence is not our way, violence will not help, not in London, not in Netanya, not in New York,” said Yemini, who was followed by short speeches by teenagers Amanda Lazar and Ben Greenfield, then music and prayers by Cantor Avshalom Katz.

Eat for a Cause

If you feed them they will come … and if you add charitable endeavor to the list they will come in droves. This was the case Saturday night when the Concern Foundation held its annual tasting fundraising event on Paramount studios backlot. Hordes of happy people wandered about selecting from the delicious array of foods, pastries and beverages. The event for the Concern Foundation, which benefits cancer research — and the donations — keep growing every year.

Appointment Time

The North Hollywood – Valley Community Clinic (VCC), a longtime local provider of free and low-cost health care, has named Paula Wilson its new top executive, succeeding veteran CEO Ann Britt.

Wilson, VCC’s current vice president of planning and development, has served in various fundraising capacities for the clinic since 1992. Earlier this year, she served as CEO pro-tem during Britt’s California Wellness Foundation-awarded five-month sabbatical.

Wilson will spearhead the growth of youth and pediatric services at VCC and oversee its new standing as a community clinic designated to receive federal dollars.

A resident of the San Fernando Valley for more than two decades and a wife and the mother of a school-age son, she is a member of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County and the California Primary Care Association, as well as local chambers of commerce.


Stuart D. Buchalter

Stuart D. Buchalter, a prominent Los Angeles corporate and securities attorney and philanthropist, died Jan. 7 at the age of 66.

Buchalter, of Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger, mentored numerous attorneys and was a dedicated teacher of the law to all around him.

A Los Angeles native, Buchalter received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and attended Harvard Law School. He served on the boards of directors for numerous public and privately held corporations, including City National Corp. and the Warnaco Group. Buchalter served as chairman of the board and CEO of Standard Brands Paint Company in Torrance from 1980 to 1993 and served as chair and CEO of The Art Stores.

Active in community affairs, Buchalter served as president of the Jewish Community Foundation from 1993 to 1996. He was also a past member of the Los Angeles City Fire and Police Pension Commission and director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation. A patron of the arts who amassed an expansive contemporary art collection, Buchalter served as a member of the Los Angeles Area County Museum of Art and as chair of the board of trustees of the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

Buchalter is survived by his wife, Gail; children, Stephanie, Michael, Douglas and Melissa; grandchildren, Amanda and Erin; and sister, Susan (Burton) Sunkin.

The family requests that donations, in lieu of flowers, be sent to the Gail and Stuart Buchalter Library Endowment Fund for Contemporary Art at UC Berkeley, the Otis College of Art and Design or the Jewish Community Foundation.

Planning the Holocaust

Kenneth Branagh, dapper in his SS costume, his blond hair neatly slicked back, coldly spat out the words during production of the HBO film "Conspiracy": "Dead men don’t hump. Dead women don’t get pregnant. Death is the most reliable form of sterilization."

He was sitting on a soundstage that was an exact reproduction of the luxurious Wannsee villa where 15 high-ranking Nazis, over lavish food and drink, matter-of-factly planned the Final Solution on Jan. 20, 1942. Branagh, the Oscar-nominated actor-director, was playing SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, who led the brief, top-secret meeting like a ruthless CEO. His fellow actors sipped liquor and puffed cigars as Branagh, feeling revolted, completed the scene. "It was very claustrophobic, very smoky, because once those set doors were closed, all the actors were in there all the time," said Branagh, who is best-known for directing and starring in film adaptations of Shakespearean plays. "That meant that at the end of every take, you rushed out of the room, peeled off your SS uniform, and took a breather from that creepily atmospheric place."

Branagh, who suffered sleepless nights as a result of the material, actually fled the set in the middle of one scene. He was reciting the dialogue where Heydrich refers to the gas chambers and advises: "The machinery is waiting. Feed it."

"I had to go outside for a little while," he confided. "I just felt the cumulative weight of it all. At all times I was reminded that this happened: It was not a fiction. It happened in a room like this, and it took only 90 minutes, and this man, this fantastically intelligent man Heydrich, was at the heart of it. I just felt this underlying revulsion at what happened and at the man himself. I didn’t want to say the lines. It was the most disturbing experience of my 20-year acting career."

"Conspiracy" is the brainchild of &’9;director Frank Pierson, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Dog Day Afternoon" and the director of HBO’s "Truman" and "Citizen Cohn." He labored for eight years to bring "Conspiracy" to the screen.

Though Pierson is not Jewish, he felt close to the material. As a scholarship student at a posh New England prep school in the late 1930s, he befriended two Jewish classmates who were refugees of Nazi Germany. The boys, who were outcasts at school, didn’t like to talk about their experiences. Pierson learned something of what they had gone through when he avidly read about the Shoah after the war.

Cut to the mid-1990s, when Holocaust refugee Peter Zinner, a film editor, gave the director a tape of the subtitled 1984 Austrian-German drama "Die Wannseekonferenz."

"I can’t say I enjoyed it," said Pierson. "But I watched it like I was seeing a terrible auto wreck. I couldn’t take my eyes away."

He hoped to remake the movie "to elicit in viewers a kind of tenderness for the thin veneer of civilization that keeps us all from savaging each other to death." He hired screenwriter Loring Mandel to write the script, based on the 15-page Wannsee "protocols" and meticulous historical research (see sidebar below).

Pierson’s goal was to engage audiences by "making them feel as if they were in that room at Wannsee, as if it were a live event," he said. To that end, he "kept the cameras always at eye-level, so viewers would imagine that they were sitting at the table." To allow the actors to feel they were really at Wannsee, he shot 10-minute takes at a time and used 16mm cameras, which are relatively small, so he could fit two on the set without having to pull out a wall.

During a Journal interview, Branagh, 40, confided that he had known no Jews while growing up in a working-class Protestant home in Belfast in the 1970s. He did know something about bigotry and ethnic strife; when he was 9, his family fled the strife between Protestants and Catholics by relocating to Reading, England.

There, Branagh’s thick brogue made him the object of taunts by school bullies; as solace, he lost himself in 25-cent paperback copies of Shakespeare’s plays. By the age of 24, he had been accepted to the Royal Shakespeare Company; over the years, he made his mark with film versions of "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet."

But nothing quite prepared him for the challenge of playing Reinhard Heydrich in "Conspiracy," he said. Branagh accepted the role, he said, in part "because I felt myself to be reasonably well-informed about the Holocaust, but was shocked to discover I knew nothing about the Wannsee Conference." He dutifully visited Holocaust museums and read biographical material, only to find that Heydrich’s inner life remained an enigma. Screenwriter Mandel tried to help by typing up a psychological profile of Heydrich, a talented musician known for his brute courage and bullying manner. "We were looking for elements that would lend to an understanding of his behavior, whether it be a childhood trauma or some physical or mental disability, but nothing seemed to make psychological sense," Branagh said.

"My previous experience of playing somebody quite so dark and evil was Iago in [the Castle Rock film of] ‘Othello,’" he added. "And yet, inside that part are many motivations — sexual jealousy, thwarted ambition — that you might regard as human, however unappealing. But I didn’t find that with Heydrich. It was very difficult to discover what was human inside him."

In the end, the key to Heydrich "was just that he relished power, his ability to judge and be ruthless with people," Branagh said. "I didn’t even think he had any deep-rooted hatred against the Jews. I think that if he had been asked to get rid of 11 million tennis players, he would have done it with exactly the same efficiency and skill."

The casual tone of the Wannsee meeting was as shocking to Branagh as the concentration-camp photographs he perused while researching his role. To cope with the difficult subject matter, the cast played a movie trivia game between takes "with a mad zeal that I have never encountered before," Branagh said. "We threw ourselves at the banal and the silly and the superficial in a hysterical way."

At the end of the Journal interview, the actor said he was flying off to Greenland to live on an icebreaker while making a movie about legendary British Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. "He was a man who valued life and was awash with compassion," the actor said. "It will be healing to play him. He was the exact opposite of Heydrich."

"Conspiracy" airs May 19, 9 p.m. on HBO.

Marlene Canter

Public schools remain a central part of civic life, the linchpin through which the middle class remains committed to the city. On June 5, Westside/Valley voters have the opportunity to bring fresh ideas to the board. I am endorsing Marlene Canter for District 4.

An experienced educator and a successful CEO, as well as a parent, Marlene understands that Los Angeles parents, teachers and administrators must act as one to reform and improve our schools. Over many years, her company designed programs for the training of teachers, especially in the difficult area of classroom performance and decorum. As a former special-education teacher, she brings up-to-the-minute understanding of teaching methodologies and student issues to the table. She understands that students learn in different styles and modes and is committed to bringing this understanding — which is now commonplace in private schools — to all of our children. She is committed to continued reform, especially to improving the all-important middle schools.

This school board runoff election is critically important to our community. More than 100 new schools must be built in the nation’s second-largest school system. The travesty of students lacking textbooks and basic supplies must end. We must recruit new teachers, encourage parent participation and make sure that students throughout the city get the active support of administration. We must hold our schools to high standards. In short, we need to bring efficient management experience to our common problems. Marlene brings a well-modulated personal style, substantial business experience and a deep commitment to our neighborhoods and to these tasks.

Marlene Canter began this race as the outsider, but she has won the endorsement of virtually every Los Angeles area newspaper, including the Los Angeles Times, Daily News, LA Weekly and La Opinion. She is beholden to no group but is committed to the exploration of the most effective ideas to improving Los Angeles education. She will help bring change and mature leadership to an institution bogged down in politics and rhetoric.

Marlene Canter will be a thoughtful, responsible and responsive steward of Los Angeles’ public schools. Our children and our communities deserve nothing less. I hope you will join me in supporting her candidacy; she will be a superb member and reform leader of our school board.

Brave New Shul

What can Home Depot possibly have to do with Jewish spirituality?

Everything, according to Ron Wolfson.

“Now, I don’t know a thing about grouting tile,” Wolfson recently told the CEO of Home Depot, whom Wolfson cornered after a conference at the University of Judaism. “I walked into the store feeling nervous, and one of your people immediately put me at ease, showed me what I needed to have, demonstrated how to do it, and never made me feel like I was asking a stupid question.”

And if you can do it at Home Depot, Wolfson reasons, you can do it at Beth Anywhere.