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.