‘Prime Ministers’ author to speak in Beverly Hills


Ambassador Yehuda Avner, who served as a diplomat, speechwriter and prime ministerial adviser in Israeli governments from the 1950s to the 1990s, will speaking this weekend at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Avner wrote “The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership” (The Toby Press, LLC, 2010), a 700-page opus based on notes he took while serving as adviser or secretary to five prime ministers. The book, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards in 2010, is now being made into two motion pictures.

Avner will speak about “The Jewishness of Israel’s Prime Ministers” on May 19 at 11 a.m. during Shabbat morning services, which begin at 9 a.m. Israeli Consul General David Siegel will introduce Avner. A lunch with Avner is already sold out, but he will address the public again at 6 p.m., when Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance, will moderate a conversation with Avner about the U.S.-Israel relationship as seen through encounters between U.S. presidents and Israel’s prime ministers. All events take place at Beth Jacob, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd. Signed copies of “The Prime Ministers” will be available for purchase before or after Shabbat at Beth Jacob.

For more information, go to

At Party Time: Candy is dandy — charity is sweeter


I was struggling to secure a tiny satin kippah with a granny-sized bobby pin when it hit me like a ton of Pampers: One day (assuming we both survive the main event at the bris), this 8-day-old baby will be standing on the bar mitzvah bimah wearing a really big satin kippah!
Determined not to let this postpartum hormonal surge detract from my newborn’s Judaic debut, I tacked on the teeny beanie with some double-sided tape and reassured myself that 13 was still a jillion years away.

Then one day when my son was in fourth grade, I received a letter from my synagogue assigning him a bar mitzvah date. Surely they jest, I cajoled myself. They didn’t. In fact, by the time I’d made my way back from the mailbox the phone was ringing off the hook.

“We got our date, did you get yours?” panted a breathless voice I scarcely recognized as a friend of mine. “The party planner is booking three years out, so you have to call her right away.”

And just like that, a jillion years came to a screeching halt as I was thrown headfirst into the maelstrom of bar mitzvah planning.

As my son’s bar mitzvah day inched closer, I began to see the world in a whole different light — a disco ball light, to be exact — for as my child grew, so did his friends, officially putting us both on the b’nai mitzvah circuit.

And what an elaborately themed circuit it was. From were casino getups that could rival Caesar’s Palace to dance floors flanked with Harley Davidson motorcycles.

How did this happen? My fellow bar mitzvah circuiteers and I would wonder. How did the guests who came to witness our child take part in an age-old Jewish tradition end up playing blackjack and Texas hold ’em? How did our resolve to remain focused on what really mattered evolve into a custom-designed ice sculpture of Shawn Green?

The answer is not difficult. We got lost. Lost in intense societal pressure to follow up our child’s Judaic rite of passage with a killer party. Lost in a secular theme that somehow took on a life of its own. Lost in our child’s insistence that she’s “only been looking forward to having a candy-themed bat mitzvah for her whole entire life.”

But my daughter really has been looking forward to having a candy-themed bat mitzvah for her whole entire life, you may be thinking. We have it all planned out — “Samantha’s Candy Shoppe.” Every centerpiece will be inspired by a different type of candy; we’ll have an 8-foot chocolate fountain in the middle of the room, and the favors will be Hershey bars with all her vital bat mitzvah stats etched on the label in hot pink.

The trouble is that — despite honest parental intentions — following up a meaningful, religious milestone with a glitzy party focusing exclusively on Kit Kats and Jelly Bellies can undermine the entire point of our child having a bar or bat mitzvah in the first place.

That said, I’m not suggesting we bail on our kids’ secular dream themes altogether. I mean while it’s clearly not what the talmudic rabbis had in mind, I think it’s kind of sweet that the bar/bat mitzvah party has evolved into a celebration of the whole child. The trick is in keeping a fluid connection between the morning service and the evening celebration; between Jewish values and kid-defined rules of party cool.

One way to build this crucial bridge is to integrate tzedakah into our party theme.

We added depth to my son’s fun — but admittedly uninspiring — Super Bowl bar mitzvah theme by incorporating an overnight camp for children with life-threatening diseases that was desperately in need of sporting equipment. All the centerpieces were constructed from donatable sports gear, and there was a collection station set up at the entrance to the party room (Brandon had written his guests in advance explaining his cause and providing them a copy of the camp’s athletic supply wish list). The requisite football theme didn’t suffer a smidgen, and the charity received a U-Haul full of brand new sporting goods as a goody bag.

To help you infuse Jewish soul into your child’s dream party, here are some popular secular bar/bat mitzvah themes and sample tzedakah spin-offs:

Theme: Sports

Tzedakah: Jewish National Fund Project Baseball (‘ target=’_blank’>www.specialolympics.org)

Theme: Books (e.g., Harry Potter, Nancy Drew)

Tzedakah: KOREH L.A. (‘ target=’_blank’>www.njcl.net); Jewish Braille Institute of America ‘ target=’_blank’>www.jfsla.org); Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Los Angeles (‘ target=’_blank’>www.hazon.org); Tour de Cure for Diabetes (‘ target=’_blank’>www.livestrong.org).

Theme: Safari

Tzedakah: COEJL: Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (‘ target=’_blank’>www.treepeople.org); Los Angeles Zoo (‘ target=’_blank’>www.ecostation.org); Wildlife Conservation Society (‘ target=’_blank’>jfsla.org); MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (‘ target=’_blank’>www.projectchickensoup.org).

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids” (Broadway Books) will be published in 2007.

The kreme de la kreme of kosher kooking mix it up


When Michaela Rosenthal threw some leftover gefilte fish into her potato knish recipe, she never imagined it might be worth $20,000.

“I didn’t want to waste the one piece I had left,” said the Woodland Hills housewife and mother of two grown children.

It turned out to be a good move for Rosenthal, whose whitefish and potato knishes in lemon horseradish sauce took one of two first-place spots at the Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western semifinal at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa earlier this month.

The veteran of cooking challenges competed against nine other California amateur chefs at the last of three regional contests sponsored by the nation’s largest processed kosher food manufacturer.

She and co-winner Andrea Bloom of Long Beach, who earned accolades from the judges for her savory pea and fennel soup, will fly to New York in February to compete in the finals for a $20,000 grand prize package, including a GE Profile kitchen and cash.

The first-ever national kosher cook-off is intended to demonstrate to consumers the flexibility, speed and convenience of kosher cooking, while showcasing the Manischewitz label.

“When people think of kosher, they think of a slow process, like briskets,” said David Rossi, Manischewitz vice president of marketing. “We wanted to break that mold and give our core Jewish consumers new ideas about how to use our products.”

Thirty recipes were selected from more than 1,000 entries to compete in semifinals in New Jersey, Florida and Costa Mesa this fall. To qualify, recipes had to be original, kosher, limited to eight ingredients, including at least one Manischewitz product, and preparable in one hour or less. A panel of food experts, including Cooking Light magazine’s executive chef, Billy Strynkowski, selected the semifinalists.

Maintaining Manischewitz’s strict standards of kashrut for the multivenue event was no small task for the Secaucus, N.J.-based company.

“A lot goes on behind the scenes in a kosher cook-off,” Rossi said. “We essentially set up 10 kosher kitchens in the ballroom.”

“All stages of preparation for the event and the actual event itself were in accordance with traditional Jewish law,” said Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who supervises kashrut for Manischewitz.

Cook-off co-sponsor GE provided 10 stove-top ovens that were kashered and transported cross-country for the semifinals. New utensils and cookware were cleansed in a mikvah and labeled dairy, meat or pareve, and all ingredients were purchased and supervised by local mashgichim. Judges tasted the dairy offerings first and then the pareve and meat ones.

Inventiveness was on the menu, with offerings ranging from modern twists on traditional favorites, like almond milk-infused simcha sweet potato soup served up by Redondo Beach’s Terry Gladstone, to Mexican-influenced dishes, such as Los Angeles resident Ellen Burr’s “zesty Mexi chicken and matzah ball soup.” Organizers and judges got a literal and figurative kick out of the local zest.

“I love the spirit of the contestants and the creativity we’re seeing,” said Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the R.A.B. Food Group, which owns Manischewitz. “We’re seeing different flavors out here than we saw in other parts of the country, more heat, more jalape?os. ‘Zesty Mexi chicken soup,’ you don’t see that in New York.”

Another south-of-the border-inspiration was Lowell Bernstein’s “matzah-males,” a creative take on traditional tamales. The education consultant and only male competitor developed the recipe after mastering Mexican cooking, because he was looking for something “bready” to eat at Passover.

“I substitute matzah meal for corn meal and wrap it in a banana peel, instead of a corn husk. It’s glatt kosher and kosher for Passover. It’s where a matzah ball and a taco meet.”

Bernstein’s creativity was not lost on the judges.

“Tamales made of matzah is close to brilliant,” said OCR Magazines publisher Chris Schulz.

Joining Schulz on the panel was an eclectic group of foodies and nonfoodies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, including cookbook author and Jewish Journal contributor Judy Bart Kancigor. Some, like Cooking Light magazine’s Kyle Crowner, had limited experience with kosher cuisine but were impressed.

“This food is much lighter for the most part,” Crowner said, noting the consumer trend toward flavor without added calories. The contest was further proof that kosher cooking has become mainstream, she added.

While contestants said they had been making their recipes long before they knew of the cook-off, some admitted having tweaked their ingredients to feature more Manischewitz products.

“After I saw the ad for the contest, I added the lemon horseradish sauce,” Rosenthal said. “It went ‘click’ and all fit together. I’ll be serving it with the sauce from now on.”

Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western Semifinal Winning Recipes:

Michaela Rosenthal’s Whitefish and Potato Knish

2/3 cup instant mashed potatoes
2/3 cup boiling water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 can (2.8 ounces) french-fried onions
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 jar (24 ounces) Manischewitz whitefish, drained and patted dry
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 box (17.03 ounces) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 teaspoons Manischewitz fish seasoning
8 teaspoons Manischewitz creamy horseradish sauce with lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large, rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter. Place instant potatoes in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir to combine.

Measure two teaspoons of the melted butter and set aside. Add remaining butter to potatoes and mix well. Stir in fried onions and parsley.

Mash fish and add to potato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Remove both pieces of puff pastry onto a floured board. Unfold and cut along natural folds to form six equal rectangles. Remove two rectangles for another use. With a floured rolling pin, roll remaining four rectangles slightly to flatten.

Spoon one-quarter of potato-fish mixture onto each of the four rectangles and level to within half inch of the edges. Fold edges of dough and roll each piece into a log (like a jellyroll). Pinch seam lightly to seal. Trim unfilled dough ends.

ORT Ovation; Law and Laughter; Stand and Deliver


ORT Ovation

Education and life were celebrated at the Beverly Hilton’s Rodeo Gallery on Dec. 3 for the L.A. Chapter of American ORT’s 26th annual Chanukah Brunch honoring JDate and Sparks Networks founder Joe Shapira. A 1972 graduate of ORT Singalovski Institute of Technology in Tel Aviv, Shapira used his success to benefit ORT by sponsoring fundraising events as a part of ORT’s elite international donor group, 1880 Society. Emceed by KNX 1070 reporter Laura Ornest, the event honored supporters’ efforts over the past year and raised funds for the local technical school and elementary-, high school- and college-level institutions in 60 countries. Regional director Paul T. Owens applauded the L.A. chapter as the only one in 50 years to singlehandedly raise more than $650,000.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

Stand and Deliver

If anything points up the need for StandWithUs’ (SWU) efforts to spread the truth about Israel, it was a short comedy skit presented at its annual Festival of Lights dinner Dec. 3. In the skit, random people on Hollywood Boulevard were asked questions about Israel like, “What is Ramallah?” Most people answered it was cocktail food. Although presented in the “Jewish Way” through humor, it drives home the point like a sledgehammer. Committed to fighting ignorance and hatred through the dissemination of knowledge, the event honored Consul General of Israel Ehud Danoch, and Eshet Chayil Educational Award recipients Wendy Lewis, Roberta Seid and Shannon Shibata.

The dinner was chaired by Siona and Elie Alyeshmerni and Lonnie and Jimmy Delshad.
Roz Rothstein, SWU national director, said “it takes a village to create an organization that is able to accomplish the work of StandWithUs. We are thrilled at the outpouring of support we’ve received and the worldwide growth we’ve experienced in just five years. This is a clear indication that StandWithUs fills a need within the community.”

“We treasure our sponsors, activists and volunteers,” said Esther Renzer, SWU national president. “We were honored to be able to acknowledge Consul General Ehud Danoch and our three women of valor and pay tribute to their invaluable contributions to Israel advocacy.”

Kids Win by a KO

It was a knockout punch at the Beverly Hilton when the Oscar de La Hoya Foundation honored entrepreneur producer Sam Nazarian, actor Antonio Banderas and California Controller Steve Westly at the ninth annual “Evening of Champions” Dec. 6. The evening’s emcee, funnyman George Lopez brought the laughs and Macy Gray delivered a one-two punch with a crowd-pleasing performance.

As a surprise for Banderas, uber-producer Jeffrey Katzenberg presented the Spanish hunk with his award. A spirited live auction raised $80,000 to bring the evening’s total to more than $750,000 raised. The money provides athletic and educational opportunities to the children of East Los Angeles.

Law and Laughter

The Beverly Hills Bar As
sociation celebrated it 75th diamond anniversary in grand style with a black-tie gala Dec. 6, raising the bar with awards and laughter. Comedian Garry Shandling, who served as master of ceremonies, had the crowd roaring with his hysterical quips. The evening featured an elegant four-course gourmet dinner and dancing to the music of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Patti Austin and Motown legend singer/songwriter Lamont Dozier, whose numerous hits include “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)” and “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” entertained the appreciative crowd.

Special tributes — both humorous and moving — saluted all 32 of the association’s living past presidents, 25 of whom attended and were honored and presented with medallions. The event raised $175,000 to benefit the organization’s community outreach, pro bono and educational programs.

B’nai Brith’s new chief visits L.A.; ‘Messenger’ unites local readers


New B’nai B’rith Head Launches Term in Southland

The new president of B’nai B’rith International will make Los Angeles his first official stop of his presidency when he speaks at Sinai Temple on the evening of Dec. 7.Moishe Smith, a B’nai B’rith veteran with more than 30 years experience at the organization, said he is coming to the Southland to show his respect for and introduce himself to the community. At Sinai, Smith will discuss Israel and the Middle East, reflecting his interest in international relations. During his three decades with B’nai B’rith, Smith has held a variety of positions, including chair of the International Council, senior international vice president, and, most recently, chair of the executive.

Smith, a Canadian and the first non-American to lead 163-year-old B’nai B’rith, replaces Joel Kaplan. He will serve a three-year term.

Smith told The Journal that “making sure Israel is supported from every corner of the world” is a top priority. With the Jewish state under siege from Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and other enemies, Smith said B’nai B’rith and other Jewish organizations have an obligation to “speak out for Israel.”

Under his leadership, Smith said the organization will continue pressuring the United Nations to reform itself and shed its anti-Israel bias. Toward that end, Smith said organization leaders will “dialogue” with the democratic U.N. members and others.

B’nai B’rith has 100,000 members and donors in the United States and 150,000 worldwide. The organization calls itself a national and global leader in the area of U.N. reform, international affairs and Jewish identity, among other issues.

The event begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. For more information, contact Lyndia Lowy of B’nai B’rith at (310) 871-0847, or visit www.sinaitemple.org.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

‘Messenger’ Unites L.A. Readers

“One People One Book” usually refers to the Jews and the Torah, but the in Board of Rabbis of Southern California’s communitywide program it refers to a piece of literature participating synagogue members will read for the next six months.

On Dec. 13, “One People One Book: A Citywide Year of Learning,” will launch its second annual program, this time studying Eli Wiesel’s 1976 “The Messenger of God,” where Wiesel reinterprets biblical figures. Some 21 synagogues will participate.

Last year’s “One People One Book” program, which had 300 people attend the opening, which focused on “As a Driven Leaf” by Milton Steinberg, the novelization of the Talmud’s only heretic, Elisha Ben Abuya.

Why one book for six months?

“The notion is that we pick a book that lends itself to a year of learning,” says Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis. He said that last year’s book dealt with powerful themes such as secular vs. sacred, messianism, faith and practice.

For each book, the Board of Rabbis prepares a curriculum for readers to discuss, but there is no particular format to the “One People One Book,” program. Some people will meet in groups like a book club, others will discuss it with their rabbi in synagogue and some will learn with a partner. There will be an opening event on Dec. 13 and closing event on May 9.At the opening session, professor Menhaz M. Afridi and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky will discuss Moses in “The Passion of Prophet: Moses in the Torah and the Qu’ran.”

The opening session will take place at the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium, Dec. 13, 7-9 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive. For more information, call (323) 761-8600.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Students Weigh in on Education Improvements

Students shared ideas for improving education with a panel of public officials at the Museum of Tolerance on Nov. 30. Jasmin Ramirez, 17, took the stage first to present a proposal on behalf of about 100 students involved in the California Association of Student Councils, a student-led organization dedicated to cultivating leaders.

“There’s poor quality of food in our schools and a lack of variety,” said Ramirez, who recommended conducting a widespread survey asking students about the quality of food at school and testing their knowledge of nutritional health.

Listening and taking notes were state Senate majority leader Gloria Romero; Democratic state Assemblymembers Mike Feuer, Paul Krekorian and Kevin de Leon; local district Superintendent James Morris; and Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for Education Ramon C. Cortines.

The officials advised students to think about the costs associated with the proposed survey and consider what would be done with the results. They also commended Ramirez and her peers for thinking creatively about how to solve a real problem.

“What you and the students have done today is absolutely brilliant,” de Leon said.Next, Chris Delgado, 16, suggested that teacher quality could be improved if students were involved in the teacher evaluation process.

“Be careful that your approach is not taken as an attack on teachers,” de Leon cautioned.Cortines added: “I don’t think you realize how powerful you are. I think it’s time that you mobilize yourself and visit with teachers unions.”

After the two proposals were presented and discussed, legislators and students mingled. Feuer congratulated his son, Aaron, who orchestrated the event.

“It was a success,” said Aaron Feuer, 15.

— Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer

Jewish Book Month’s Table of Contents


With fall comes the annual harvest of books (and authors) to hit town for Jewish Book Month, Nov. 15-Dec. 16, with fare ranging from politics to social commentary to humorous memoir.The autumnal visitors will include David Mamet at the Central Library, Harry Shearer at Temple Beth Israel of Pomona and children’s book writers at the Jewish Community Library.Here’s just a sampling of dozens of other events that will reap food for thought around town:

Host: The Jewish Book Festival, presented by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, Nov. 2-Dec. 3

Author: David Brog, Nov. 30
Book: “Standing With Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State”
Scoop: This Capitol Hill insider says evangelical Christian Zionists are Israel’s friends, not foes
Info: At Sinai Temple of Glendale: (818) 246-8101 (the event is sponsored by The Jewish Journal)

Author: Sandy Tolan, Dec. 3
Book: “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East”
Scoop: True story of the friendship between a Holocaust survivor whose only son died in a terrorist attack, and a Palestinian whose relatives were killed by an Israeli missile
Info: At Beth Shalom of Whittier: (562) 941-8744

Host: The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles

Author: Michelle Markel, Nov. 19
Book: “Dreamer From the Village: The Story of Marc Chagall”
Scoop: Portrait of the artist as a shtetl kid who worked hard and made good
Info: At the Jewish Community Library: (323) 761-8644

Host: ALOUD at Central Library

Author: David Mamet, Nov. 8
Book: “The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews”
Scoop: The Pulitzer Prize winner will dish on his scathing new tome with Los Angeles Times Book Review Editor David L. Ulin
Info: At the Central Library downtown; for reservations: (213) 228-7025 or www.aloudla.org

Author: Steve Wozniak, Nov. 30
Book: “Iwoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon — How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple and Had Fun Doing It”
Scoop: Geek sheds his low profile to tell all about how he masterminded the most globe-altering invention of this past century
Info: See above

— Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Synaplex’s membership tip: put spirit back in Shabbat


The shades were drawn in the classroom at the Skirball Cultural Center. Lights dimmed. A white cloth anchored by softly glowing candles covered the center of the room. Sitting cross-legged on the floor or on straight-backed chairs, a group of men and women kicked off their shoes and closed their eyes as Rafael Harrington guided them in meditation.

At the same time in adjoining rooms, Mike Mason was leading a circle of fervent drummers, while Naomi Ackerman conducted a series of theater games focusing on Jewish identity.

These workshops, presented as possibilities for enhancing Shabbat offerings, were part of an afternoon organized by Synaplex, an initiative of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and the Samuel Bronfman Family Foundation.

About 150 people, including rabbis, cantors, lay leaders and staff from 40 congregations representing all denominations — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Renewal — attended the Oct. 25 event, which was also sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.
The capacity turnout — some congregations got no farther than the waiting list — was a clear indication that Synaplex, with its promise to help build membership participation through innovative Shabbat programming, is addressing a need.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, STAR’s executive director, emphasized that most people are not currently happy with their Shabbat observance.

“We don’t want to lose the minority who are satisfied, but we have to add to what we’re offering, so more people have rewarding experiences,” he said. “We know there is no magic bullet.

“People have all kinds of yearnings,” Herring continued. “Some are looking for God, some for prayer and meditation, some for community. I don’t want to impose my definition of spirituality on anyone else. We all go through different stages; what fits us today might not fit us tomorrow. If you think of Shabbat as the destination, Synaplex provides many paths to get there. Synagogues take what we have to offer and imbue it with their own creativity and energy.”

Ready to expand beyond the 120 congregations it now works with throughout the country, Synaplex offered the afternoon as an opportunity for interested congregations to sample a variety of activities, as well as to hear from veteran participants in the program.

“Synaplex gave us the scaffolding to create an expanded Shabbat community,” said Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Judea in Tarzana and West Hills, which has been involved in the program for three years. “We were interested in bringing in groups that weren’t participating in Shabbat. During our monthly Shabbats, we now have a Saturday luncheon for seniors that draws 50 people and a Shabbat romp for 30-45 families with small children.

“We’ve created a fusion service on Friday nights. We’ve gone from an average of 75-100 participants to well over 200. During a Synaplex Shabbat, there’s always something going on. We initially had simultaneous offerings, but the congregation didn’t like missing any of the activities, so our events are now sequential.

“Synaplex provided us an opportunity to experiment and explore and suggested new ways to create a sacred community,” Moskovitz reported. “In a sense, it’s completely transformed our service. Our Synaplex Shabbat was like a stone dropping on a calm pool of water. The ripple effect continues to reverberate in a positive and profound way across our temple community.”

Rabbi Laura Geller, describing the four years of evolution of Synaplex at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, said, “There are many different doors to Judaism. For some it’s spiritual, for some it’s cultural, for some it’s community, for some it’s learning, for some it’s social justice,” and the genius of Synaplex is that all those doors open onto Shabbat.

“Our Shabbat Unplugged Services were our most successful, but we wanted to add to that,” she said. “We wanted to bring in the most underserved segments of our population — families with young children, singles and older people. From the beginning, the project had a playful quality as we began to imagine new kinds of programs.”

Geller described a typical Synaplex Friday, which might have 300 people in attendance (the regular Friday night services draw 70-100.) There is a Tot Shabbat and a healing service, as well as dinners for families and empty nesters and a wine-tasting for young adults, followed by the Shabbat Unplugged Service. The evening concludes with a festive oneg, complete with cappuccino cart, and a program that might include a guest speaker, film or music.

“There’s tremendous energy,” she said. “That energy makes people proud to be connected to Temple Emanuel. It’s still a work in progress. Shabbat was created to let people take a deep breath. Our Synaplex Shabbat reminds us how important a connection to a synagogue can be. It can be a connection of joy.”

Elana Centor, STAR’s marketing consultant, had the task of convincing the audience that the language of marketing and branding is not just appropriate but necessary for the revitalization of synagogues. Acknowledging that many in the group might not have the most positive feelings about “marketing,” she urged them to think of it as a “process of exchanging something of value for something you need.”

Her confidence in the efficacy of her approach and the importance of emotional connections appeared to melt most resistance, even for those who weren’t quite ready to think of their congregation as a “brand.”

When a congregation signs on to Synaplex, she assured them, they’d have access to the experience and resources of those who have been working successfully with the program for several years.

As the afternoon wound down, many lingered for a summing up. Sandy Calin, president Temple Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills, reflected the enthusiastic consensus, saying, “We have a small congregation, about 250 families. We need both to grow and to revitalize ourselves. Synaplex provides an enormous variety of ways to participate.”

Needed: Rational Discussion


When David Lauter, the deputy foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, began speaking to a crowd of about 400 at a Women’s Alliance for Israel program last
week, it was clear that most of the audience was out for his scalp, and not even the yarmulke he was wearing could save him.

Lauter was on a panel discussing news coverage of Israel’s battle against Hezbollah. I was also on the panel, seated next to Lauter, who is a friend and was a longtime colleague when I worked at the Times.

He is a highly intelligent, soft-spoken, logical man who thinks before he speaks. He is also an observant Jew.

That meant nothing to this crowd. Neither did his intelligence and logic. They booed when he tried to explain his paper’s coverage. When they weren’t booing, they talked among themselves, paying no attention to Lauter. To this bunch, the world outside their own community was a vast and hostile conspiracy against them and against Israel.

I’ve spoken to many groups all over Los Angeles during extremely volatile times. I’ve never seen such rudeness, narrow mindedness and just plain boorishness.

Nothing Lauter said warranted such a response. He told how the coverage began, with him and the foreign editor, Marjorie Miller, organizing the Times foreign correspondents the day the conflict began.

The regulars needed help. A couple of the correspondents were already arranging their transportation to Israel. Miller and Lauter dispatched more to deal with the unexpected story.

This crowd wasn’t interested in these details. Nor did they want to know of the courage of these correspondents, who willingly head into danger — and stay there. This crowd probably had no idea of how many correspondents have been killed in Iraq. These deaths are a clear warning that the same thing could happen to some of the reporters in Lebanon or Israel.

The questions were unrelentingly hostile. They weren’t questions, in fact. They were attacks. And when Lauter tried to answer them, there were more boos.
When he sat down, I told him that this bunch was out for blood. Later, he said felt there was a hard core of haters, “but I don’t think they were the majority.”

I don’t know about that. Hostility seemed to extend through the room, back to the far edges where my wife and cousin were seated.

And at the end of the program, Lauter announced to the crowd that he would stick around and answer more questions.

“Several people came up to me and said they appreciated my being there, but they said so quietly, not exposing themselves to the crowd,” Lauter told me later.
Not blessed with Lauter’s patience, I left angry and stayed mad all the next day.

In the first place, the Times’ coverage is excellent. It’s fair. The reporters and editors strive for balance in the writing and editing of stories and the placement of the stories and the powerful pictures.

This does not mean it is perfect. Putting out a daily paper is an imperfect business. Think about putting that thing together every day with deadlines. I did it for years, the last three as city editor of the Times. When I went home at night, I wondered how we did it. In the process, mistakes are made. Reporters get things wrong. Editors make bad choices. Journalists live — or should live — in constant awareness of their fallibility.

But the Women’s Alliance for Israel event illustrates a bigger issue that extends far beyond the reliability and honesty of the Times coverage: Why can’t we have a rational discussion of Israel and the war in Lebanon?

In my modest presentation — I thought it best to bore these people rather than anger them — I noted that never before in history was so much information available in so many forms of media.

In the morning, I read three papers called the Times — the Los Angeles, New York and Financial. When writing, I take breaks to read Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and the DEBKA Report, all from Israel, plus take a look at the Guardian to check out the anti-Israel thoughts of the British left wing. All that, plus my lifelong support of Israel, shapes my opinions.

With this information overload, sometimes it is hard for me to make up my mind. Sometimes, I actually have to think.

I would have enjoyed a rational discussion of the media, in general, and the Times, specifically. I have talked to many anti-Times audiences. People hear me out, argue and exchange ideas. They concede a point. I concede a point. We all leave the room better informed.

This group did not want to be better informed. They preferred to get their information from e-mails circulated by like-minded friends, interest groups and, of course, by watching Fox. Any mention of this network, by the way, got a lot of applause.

But as this war continues, we’ve got to reach out and talk to people who don’t agree with us. If we won’t listen to fellow Jews, particularly those as well informed as Lauter, how can we convince anyone of the rightness of our cause?

Bill Boyarsky’s monthly column on Jews and civic life returns this week. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Large-Scale Israel Solidarity Rally Planned for Sunday


In an effort to demonstrate solidarity with Israel, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other Jewish groups are organizing a major community rally to take place in front of the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters this Sunday, July 23 at 4 p.m.


RELATED LINKS

The Federation

Board of Rabbis

Wiesenthal Center Hosts 900+ for Pro-Israel Rally

Simon Wiesenthal Center

United Jewish Communities (UJC)

Planners hope to attract 10,000 supporters.

“This is an opportunity for a broad cross-section of our community to come together for the people of Israel at this difficult time,” Federation President John Fishel said.

The Federation and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California are coordinating the rally, which will include the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among other organizations. Fischel said The Federation will work with public agencies to ensure participants’ safety.

First Federation Rally

Sunday’s event is the first major pro-Israel rally organized by the Federation since 2001, Fischel said. That year, the nonprofit organization held a rally in support of Israel just after the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

To publicize the rally, many local rabbis are emailing congregants and will speak from the pulpit on Shabbat about the demonstration’s importance, said Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Mark Diamond.

“The rally will send a clear message to American politicians, the U.N. and to world leaders that the people of Los Angeles stand with Israel,” Diamond said. “I think the world needs to be reminded over and over again what started this war, and that Israel is a sovereign state that has a right to defend its people.”

The attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas represent nothing less than the latest step in radical Islam’s quest for world domination, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Standing up to the threat, whether on the frontlines of Israel or the streets of Los Angeles, is a needed challenge to the forces of darkness.

“Their first step may be the state of Israel, but it is not the last stop in their international Jihadist journey,” Hier said. “This is an historical moment for the state of Israel. And Israel is doing what the world should be doing: confronting terrorists.”

Wiesenthal Center Plans Screenings

As part of its attempts to educate the public about the roots of the current crisis in the Middle East, the Wiesenthal Center has plans to screen three films, beginning July 25. “The Long Way Home,” discusses the story of Israel’s creation; “In Search of Peace” details the conflict from 1948 to 1967; and “Ever Again,” Hier said, spotlights the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, the Federation has established an Israel in Crisis Fund. One hundred percent of all monies raised will go toward sending Israeli children living in northern communities under attack to summer camp in safer areas.

The Federation’s emergency campaign is part of an initiative among U.S. and Canadian federations to raise $1 million weekly for the summer camp program.

As a measure of its support, the L.A. Federation announced that it had donated $100,000 to the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for 155 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America.
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Toronto have had or will also hold rallies to show solidarity with the Jewish state.

The upcoming Los Angeles event comes less than a week after a Chabad-sponsored pray-in and two weeks after an emotional rally at the Wiesenthal Center.
On July 17, Chabad held a pro-Israel prayer rally at Rabbi Schneerson Square in Los Angeles. The lunchtime gathering attracted about 1,000 people, including 500 children from local Chabad camps and youth groups.

“Whenever the Jewish people are threatened, our special weapon is the prayers of our beautiful children who now cry to the Almighty for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad.

Four days earlier, about 500 supporters of Israel attended the last-minute gathering. The two-hour ceremony included speeches from Wiesenthal Rabbis Hier and Abraham Cooper, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarsolavsky, L.A. Consul General to Israel Ehud Danoch, Judea Pearl (father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) and The Federation’s Fishel.
“This operation will not end until we make an end to Hezbollah,” Danoch said. “Israel is strong. The government is strong. The Jewish people are strong, and we will last an eternity.”

Religion Editor Amy Klein contributed to this report.

Spectator – Teens Band Together in Music Battle


There is nothing like a battle to bring a people together.

At least this is the hope of Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC), as he plans the Los Angeles area’s first citywide Jewish Battle of the Bands.

“I believe that there needs to be a place where Jewish teens from various schools and denominations can gather … music is a way that that can happen,” he said.

The Nov. 4 event, which Greene describes as “an effort to make the Westside JCC a relevant part of Jewish teen life in Los Angeles,” is scheduled for 7 p.m., at the community center.

Any bands with Jewish members are encouraged to submit demos before Sept. 1 in order to be considered for the battle lineup. The event is geared toward embracing any and all forms of “the musical expression of Jewish teens,” Greene said.

Competing bands will be evaluated by a panel of judges expected to include music industry insiders, and winners will be awarded prizes including Sam Ash music merchandise gift certificates. Sam Ash Music Corp. is sponsoring the event, along with the Jonathan and Faye Kellerman Foundation.

Greene has motives that go beyond the music: He hopes the battle will bring together teens from all denominations and schools, fostering the kind of Jewish unity that the JCC has already kindled in its preschool and senior citizen patrons.

“Teens by their nature are not denominational,” he said. “I hope [this concert] is creative way to spark an interest among teens as to this being a place that can host events for the teen community.”

Similar citywide musical battles have met with much success in the Jewish communities of Vancouver and Miami, among others. Such an event, though, seems tailor-made for Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.

So grab a microphone — and rock on.

The event will be held Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. $5. Only five bands will be able to compete. Send demos to: Battle of the Bands c/o Westside Jewish Community Center 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.myspace.com/wjccbattleofthebands.

 

Class Notes


Get Packing
It was weeks before camp started, but on Sunday, June 11, Gear Up for Camp Day brought 1,700 people — including 500 campers and their families — to The Federation’s Camp Max Straus, run by Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Campers filled laundry bags with camp necessities — sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, socks, towels — most donated by local businesses. Federation staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Camp Max Straus, helped distribute the goods.

This was the first time the event was held at the nonsectarian overnight camp in Glendale, giving parents a chance to see where their kids would spend the summer. The day also featured carnival rides, live entertainment and food.

The Federation is helping 1,100 underprivileged kids go to camp this summer, including those who will attend Max Straus — which offers one- and two-week stays to at-risk youth from the L.A. area — and some Jewish children, mostly immigrants from Iran and Russia, who will attend Jewish camps on Federation scholarships.

For more information, call (323) 761-8320.

Arts in L.A. Gets a Push
Arts Education in L.A.-area public schools is getting a boost from the Jewish community, as the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation recently announced support for Los Angeles County’s Arts for All initiative. Adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Arts for All seeks to restore arts education slashed with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

The Jewish Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, launched the Arts in Schools Giving Circle to try to raise $100,000 from individual donors by the end of 2006.

The Giving Circle hopes to provide matching grants to fund more than 150 arts residency programs serving approximately 4,000 K-12th grade students in 14 Los Angeles County public schools.

Seeded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Giving Circle is the first opportunity for individual donors to participate in the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a consortium of foundations and corporations.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation announced a $100,000 gift to the Pooled Fund in May. Of this, $50,000 will support the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s plan over the next three years to hire an arts coordinator and to develop arts curriculum and arts education training for district teachers. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation supports initiatives involving healthcare, access to college, Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and established a chair in Israel studies at UCLA.

For further information about the JCF Giving Circle, call program officer Amelia Xann at (323) 761-8714 or axann@jewishfoundationla.org. For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit www.lacountyarts.org.

Birthright Reaches 100,000
This month, the 100,000th 18- to 26-year-old will participate in a free, educational trip to Israel, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, a 6-year-old program supported by United Jewish Communities, the Israeli government and 14 philanthropists.

Internal research has shown that the program is meeting its goals of solidifying participant’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel, and has also generated more than $182 million in revenue for the Israeli economy.

But the program might be a victim of its own success: This summer, 15,000 applicants were turned away, when a record 25,000 youth applied for just 12,000 spots.

For information, call (888) 994-7723 or visit www.birthrightisrael.com.

Teens on the Beltway
Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood accompanied the synagogue’s confirmation class to Washington D.C., to participate in the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism last month.

The study and action program was attended by 250 students, who culminated the conference by meeting with congressional staffers to advocate on behalf of issues such as Darfur, immigration and the death penalty.

Also attending were teens from Temple Beth Torah of Ventura, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood.

 

The Circuit 06-30-2006


All About Aviva
It was a night of stargazing…and trying unsuccessfully to spot any flaws on the amazing “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher, when Aviva Family and Children’s Services presented its annual Triumph of the Spirit Awards Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The evening sparkled as honorees recognized with Aviva Spirit of Compassion awards included Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment; actress Raven; restaurateur and architectural designer Barbara Lazaroff, president of Imaginings Interior Design and partner and co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck group of businesses; and community leader and philanthropist Susan Casden. Hatcher served as honorary dinner chair, Jeff Garlin emceed and Macy Gray and Melissa Manchester performed.

Aviva is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, multiservice agency that provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

For more information, visit

Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek


As a young summer associate with a Los Angeles law firm, Jeffrey Sklar looked forward to attending his first Justice Ball. He wanted to see ’80s icon Billy Idol do the “Rebel Yell” live. He wanted to hang out with other young attorneys and law students. He wasn’t going for any high-minded motives.

Back in 2000, Sklar, like most of the 20- and 30-somethings who go to the annual Justice Ball, had only the vaguest notion of what Bet Tzedek, the event’s sponsor and a local Jewish legal-aid outfit, does. That would soon change.

Sklar, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP, went to the Ball and partied with friends. He also listened as Bet Tzedek executives briefly took the stage and talked up their organization and its need for dedicated volunteers to help society’s most vulnerable achieve a degree of justice. Their message resonated with Sklar, who, as a young boy, remembers dropping coins into his family’s tzedekah box. Now, six years later, Sklar is a regular legal volunteer, he’s helped recruit other lawyer friends to volunteer time, and he’s helping to plan this year’s event, which will take place July 8 at the Hollywood Palladium, featuring the Go-Go’s.

Founded in 1997, the Justice Ball has grown into one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit fundraisers/parties targeting young professionals, Jews and non-Jews alike. Over the past nine years, more than 16,000 attorneys, financiers and others have attended the soirees, and scores of them have gone on to become Bet Tzedek contributors and volunteers. Some, like Sklar, have gone on to serve on Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball planning committee and even on to the board of directors, making the event more than just a fundraiser — it’s an important gateway to the organization.

“The Justice Ball is absolutely a good way for young blood to get involved,” said Bet Tzedek board member Brette Simon, a law partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP whose first exposure to the legal aid society came from attending the mega-parties.

To date, Justice Balls have raised more than $3.2 million in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, said Randall Kaplan, the Justice Ball’s creator and cofounder of high-tech giant Akamai Technologies, Inc. Last year’s event raised $425,000, or nearly 8 percent of Bet Tzedek’s $5.5 million budget, Executive Director Mitch Kamin said. This year, the 10th anniversary gala is expected to be even bigger. Hopes are the popular L.A. Go-Go’s will draw more than 3,000 revelers and raise as much as $500,000, Kamin said.

“Everyone in the philanthropic world is puzzling over how you engage the truly young generation of professionals who haven’t been necessarily taught by their parents that giving is part of their religious or social responsibility,” Kamin said. “This is a chance for us to introduce ourselves to them, give them initial exposure to Bet Tzedek and raise their consciousness.”

Bet Tzedek’s success at reaching the coveted demographic of young Jewish professionals comes as other Jewish organizations are struggling to do the same. Faced with the growing competition from non-Jewish nonprofits, Jewish charities are grappling with a generation that, because of intermarriage and assimilation, often considers itself more American than Jewish, experts said. With young Jews standing to inherit billions over the next 20 years, finding a way to appeal to their generosity is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by Jewish charities.

In Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek is not alone in its success in appealing to this group. Young leadership initiatives at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, including its Young Leadership Division and the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, now account for about $5 million, or nearly 5 percent of The Federation’s annual campaign, said Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development.

Still, The Federation’s strong showing appears to be the exception rather than the rule in the organized Jewish world. Simply put, the stodgy chicken-dinner fundraisers favored by so many Jewish philanthropies fail to bring young movers-and-shakers to the table. The MTV generation would rather rock ‘n’ roll all night long.

The Justice Ball gives them a chance to do just that, along with learning a thing or two about Bet Tzedek’s mission of offering free legal aid to the poor, sick, elderly and homeless.

Soon after his first Justice Ball, Sklar joined the group’s planning committee. Like others touched by Justice Balls before him, he went on to volunteer his legal services to Bet Tzedek, including assisting a Holocaust survivor obtain restitution from the Hungarian government.

“As a lawyer, you make a decent living. You get to sit up here in real tall buildings with a real nice view. You get to drive a real nice car,” he said. “So the bottom line is you need to give back, you have to get back. This is a great way for me to do so.”

For more information on the Justice Ball, visit www.thejusticeball.org.

 

John Fishel


On Feb. 26, more than 150 volunteers gathered early at the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for the annual Super Sunday megafundraiser. Having filled up on conversation, coffee and bagels, the enthusiastic, well-dressed men and women sat side-by-side at tables holding banks of telephones.

In 12 hours, 1,700 volunteers at three locations knew they had to raise almost 10 percent of The Federation’s entire annual campaign. Super Sunday can set the tone for the year. And with government funding shrinking, The Federation’s 22 aid agencies counted on this day as never before to help them meet the growing demand for their services. The Federation is a like a Jewish United Way; it acts as a single central source for donations, which it then distributes to various worthy causes. More specifically, The Federation supports Jews in need and programs that reflect on Jews here in Los Angeles, as well as around the world.

Before things kicked off, with so much at stake, the assembled got a final pep talk, but Federation President John Fishel, the man who holds possibly the single most important Jewish job in Los Angeles, didn’t deliver it. On this, the most important money-raising day for The L.A. Federation, where was Fishel?

Over the past 14 years, Fishel, a young-looking 57, has quietly, firmly and steadily led the Jewish philanthropic organization, determined to somehow unify the Southland’s geographically dispersed and largely unaffiliated Jewish community. In a city that prizes glitz and glamour, Fishel has shunned the spotlight, the backslapping and the glad-handing, preferring a low-key, almost professorial approach that places a premium on methodical problem solving. Whether attending the 50th anniversary party for the Westside Jewish Community Center, lobbying politicians to loosen the purse strings for Jewish nonprofits or taking a potential donor on a tour of Beit T’Shuvah, a Federation beneficiary agency that treats addiction partly through Jewish spirituality, Fishel routinely works six- or seven-day, 70-hour weeks.

“He’s the James Brown of the Jewish community, the hardest-working man in L.A. Jewry,” Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss said. “I see him everywhere.”

Although in some ways, Fishel is everywhere but nowhere. A bearded, slender man with a direct gaze, the shy Fishel seems to prefer keeping his own counsel. He sometimes materializes at events in his well-tailored suits and then slips away after talking to but a handful of folks.

Like Howard Hughes, The Federation president keeps his private self private. It is unlikely that many in the community know that the buttoned-down Fishel once sported long hair and promoted blues festivals in the early ’70s, or that he has never had a bar mitzvah.

Still, Fishel has left a notable mark in the Jewish world. He holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Michigan and once considered becoming an academic, and he has earned praise for his efforts on behalf of Jews abroad, especially in Israel. An internationalist in a largely domestic job, Fishel helped create the successful Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership and has put the plight of Ethiopian Jews on the North American Jewish agenda.

Closer to home, his calm, analytical demeanor has allowed him to react effectively during crises, from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake to Hurricane Katrina. When others might panic, he coolly devises a plan of action for bringing far-flung members of the community together.

Fishel has fared less well on some of The Federation’s bread-and-butter everyday challenges. On his watch, several Jewish community centers have shut down and the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) has lost influence and standing (see stories on page 17). Most important, The Federation’s annual campaign, has grown sluggishly at a time when community needs have exploded.

So where was Fishel?

On this year’s Super Sunday, he was just where you’d expect: at The Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. In keeping with his low-key persona, though, Fishel stayed in the background, while others delivered inspiration to the volunteers.

Arriving at 7:30 a.m. — a full hour and a half before the fundraiser officially began — he greeted participants with a smile and expressions of thanks. Fishel spoke with Federation staff members to ensure that everything was under control. Then, he called potential donors and gave an interview to a KTLA reporter: “It’s wonderful to see people who live in different parts of the community, with different backgrounds and different ideologies, come together in a unified manner,” and chatted with bigwigs, including Councilman Weiss.

Fishel was just getting started. Around 11 a.m., he and a couple of Federation lay leaders left headquarters for the phone banks in the Valley. Later, he made his way to the Super Sunday fundraiser in the South Bay. That night, The Federation president returned to Wilshire Boulevard to mingle with the last shift of volunteers, mostly college students. He finally left The Federation to return to his Cheviot Hills home sometime after 10 p.m. — logging more than a 14-hour day.

This year’s Super Sunday raised about $4.4 million, about $100,000 less than last year, but still a solid financial foundation. And those involved included young and old, the religious and nonreligious, Israelis, Persians and Russians — an unprecedented rainbow of Southland Jews.

FEDERATION MATTERS

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is the central address for the local Jewish community, from helping to underwrite the cost of Jewish burials to subsidizing free groceries for the poor, The Federation is involved in myriad vital facets, big and small, of Los Angeles Jewish life.

“If we didn’t have The [L.A.] Federation, we would have to create it,” said Steven Windmueller, director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. “Ultimately, a community needs an infrastructure for prioritizing, organizing, programming and crisis management.”

Federation initiatives include literacy programs for elementary and preschool students, a venture philanthropy fund that invests in fledgling businesses that benefit the Jewish community and, most recently, a program that coordinates services to Jewish children with developmental or severe learning disabilities.

The Federation most often makes its presence felt through 22 beneficiary agencies. Federation dollars help subsidize the SOVA Food Pantry Program for the hungry, pay for job training offered by Jewish Vocational Service and support the Jewish Free Loan Association, which offers Jewish couples interest-free loans of up to $10,000 for fertility treatments, among other programs.

“There are old people, children, homeless people, the disenfranchised and other people who constantly need help,” said Terry Bell, a former Federation chair who headed the search committee that recommended hiring Fishel. “We do extremely important things that people aren’t even aware of that wouldn’t get done without The Federation.”

The Federation’s reach goes well beyond Southern California. In times of crisis, The Federation has raised millions to help struggling communities around the world, most recently in Argentina. Federation allocations support everything from sending local college students to Israel to subsidizing Jewish day schools. Overseas, Federation dollars have helped support the renaissance of Jewish life in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

In some ways, The L.A. Federation is flourishing as never before. The charity’s international programs are stronger than ever. Under Fishel, the organization has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to respond to emergencies both at home and abroad, despite the bureaucratic nature of the federation system. The Federation has raised millions for special campaigns for Israel, Soviet Jews and other causes, and has an endowment of $67 million.

Locally, KOREH L.A., a literacy program that is reaching more students than ever, has burnished the Jewish philanthropy’s reputation, introducing scores of volunteers and clients in need to The Federation and its mission. Moreover, at Fishel’s prodding, The Federation increased its annual allocations to the Bureau of Jewish Education by $1 million, funding scores of scholarships for Jewish day school students and capital improvement projects at their schools.

But The Federation’s annual campaign, its lifeblood, has grown anemically during the Fishel era. In particular, The Federation has been largely unable to reach Hollywood money or attract huge donations from affluent Jews not already involved. A shrinking and aging donor base poses a real threat to future giving. And there’s the looming challenge of appealing to younger Jews, a group more attracted to non-Jewish causes than past generations.

Graph

WHO ARE YOU?

Federation supporters know surprisingly little about the person most responsible for The Federation’s current and future prospects.

Ask board members, even those who consider Fishel a friend, and a steady stream of generic adjectives tumbles out: “Kind,” “brilliant,” “committed,” “thoughtful” and “hard-working,” come up most frequently. A JDate profile would provide more than that.

What about anecdotes?

Bell, the former Federation chair, said she and her husband hosted Fishel; his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Jessica, for one week at their home, back when Fishel was undergoing a second round of interviews for his current job. The Fishels, Bell said, were “easy to feed, easy to be around,” she said. “They didn’t demand anything.”

And what about John Fishel? What’s he like?

He’s well-read and interested in “everything under the sun,” conversant about art, politics, food, music and wine, Bell said.

Another Federation board member said he once saw Fishel materialize late one Saturday night at a jazz club clad in a leather jacket. They exchanged pleasantries.

Who is John Fishel?

He’s someone who wants to reveal the answer to that question on only a need-to-know basis. Through The Federation’s spokeswoman, Fishel turned down a request to trail him for the day during Super Sunday or to spend a large block of time watching him in action. Nor would he agree to a lunch or dinner appointment. Near the end of a second recent formal interview — and after years of contact — Fishel opened up, a little.

He was born in Cleveland in 1948. His late father, Richard, owned a company that manufactured sweaters. His late mother, Adelee, stayed home to care for John and younger brother Jim. His family belonged to a local Reform synagogue, where Fishel was confirmed but never bar mitzvahed.

At a young age, Fishel decided that he wanted to venture into the larger world. Even then, other cultures fascinated him. He majored in anthropology at the University of Michigan and later began, but never completed, an anthropology master’s program there.

Leaving the university, Fishel parlayed his interest in blues and jazz into a turn as a music promoter in the early 1970s, partnering with his brother, Jim. John Fishel promoted shows featuring B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and went on to produce the famed Ann Arbor Blues Festival. He developed enough of a reputation that Rolling Stone once quoted him.

Tiring of the hectic life of a promoter, Fishel decided to become a social worker. Graduating from the University of Michigan in 1972 with a master’s in social work, he soon landed back in Cleveland as a caseworker in the Welfare Department. A year later, he headed to Africa for an extended backpacking adventure.

His Jewish journey began a few years later, when Fishel took a position doing community work for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. There, he began to consider issues of Jewish identity and, on his own, studied Judaism and Jewish history. In effect, he began applying his anthropological training to his own roots. Fishel soon became an activist in the Soviet Jewry movement.

Two years after arriving in Philadelphia, he moved on to became director of the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, which has helped Jewish and other immigrants coming to the United States for more than 100 years. Through his new job, Fishel developed a deepening appreciation for the plight of Jews around the world, especially those fleeing post-revolutionary Iran and the Soviet Union.

Years later, after becoming executive vice president of the Jewish Federation in Montreal, Fishel finally made his first trip behind the Iron Curtain. In 1986, he visited Moscow and Lithuania. He came armed with hard-to-obtain Judaica and blue jeans that he gave to local Jews. He also secretly met with Refuseniks, Jews denied permission to emigrate.

In Lithuania, Fishel joined a group of Refuseniks who, in a park near the capital city of Vilnius, placed homemade Jewish Stars, fashioned from cardboard, where Nazis had executed Jews.

“I was really scared,” Fishel said. “But you want to know something? I figured, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? They’ll detain me and then let me go. I’m an American citizen. Those guys were stuck there. They were truly courageous.”

THE GOOD; THE NOT SO GOOD

Fishel never visited Israel until after he turned 40, but he has since traveled to the Holy Land more than 50 times, spending time with prime ministers, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants and fellow leaders in the Jewish communal world.

“I happen to believe that Israel is our Jewish state,” he said. “I think that the centrality of Israel as a focal point of Judaism and Jewish life historically and in contemporary times is very unique and very special.”

Fishel has played a major role in the successful Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, a 9-year-old program that fosters cooperation and connections between local Jews and Jews in Tel Aviv in education, health, culture and economics.

Under the multifaceted partnership, 18 Tel Aviv and 18 local schools have been “twinned,” sharing programming and lesson plans and frequently interacting via video conferencing and e-mail. In addition, curators from museums in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, including the Getty and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, have participated in institutional exchanges. Federation and other community leaders also successfully lobbied Israeli politicians to allow Tel Aviv to become the first Israeli city to issue municipal bonds (the proceeds funded a parking garage). The list goes on.

The Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership is “a jewel and an unusually creative and innovative approach to relating to Israel in a new way,” said Gerald Bubis, a former Federation vice president and the founding director of Hebrew Union College. “That is, as a partnership rather than the old liberal, colonial way of sending money to a benighted people.”

More than that, participating local residents have gained a greater appreciation of the larger Jewish world, their own Jewish identity and the importance of The Federation, experts said. The Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership later spawned the successful Federation-sponsored Los Angeles-Baltics Partnership.

The Tel Aviv program might never have been birthed without Fishel’s dedication. Originally, the Jewish Agency, which called on federations across the United States to fund regional development in Israel, wanted The L.A. Federation to link with either Galilee in the north or the Negev in the south. Fishel, with the support of the lay leadership, rejected those options. Instead, he chose Tel Aviv, a large metropolis more appealing to local Jews because of its accessibility, sophistication, cultural life and large pool of potential individual and institutional partners.

Fishel’s willingness to defy the Jewish Agency, the bedrock of the Jewish communal establishment, reflects his ability to think, in his words, “out of the box,” especially on international issues. The Federation president would again employ that out-of-the-box thinking for the Jews of Ethiopia (see sidebar) and for Argentina’s Jewish community.

In December 2001, Argentina’s economy crashed. Almost overnight, the country’s middle class was plunged into penury; families lost their life savings. The crisis hit the Jewish community hard, with an estimated one-third of Argentina’s Jews falling into poverty.

Diana Fiedotin, a member of The Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee, viewed the economic collapse firsthand while visiting the country in February 2002, to attend a wedding.

After Fiedotin returned to the United States, she started the Lifeline to Argentina with local Rabbi Sherre Z. Hirsch of Sinai Temple. Fishel suggested that Fiedotin expand her fundraising to synagogues across the city. The Federation president put Fiedotin in touch with Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Fishel later made an unsolicited gesture that floored Fiedotin: The Federation would offer a matching grant of up to $1 million to Lifeline to Argentina. The campaign eventually reached that target and, thanks to Fishel and The Federation’s generosity, Lifeline contributed $2 million to alleviate the suffering.

“He’s always open to new ways of raising money and creative ways of bringing different elements of this community together,” Fiedotin said. “I never could have done this without John. I and the Jewish community of Argentina owe him.”

Fishel’s international efforts, dating back to his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry, have won him widespread respect from colleagues, said Bob Aronson, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “We turn to him for advice and guidance,” he said.

Still, some in the community think Fishel focuses on overseas issues at the expense of a domestic agenda. Carmen H. Warschaw, a longtime Federation board member and former Southern California chair of the Democratic Party, said Fishel’s international emphasis meant less money for such important beneficiary agencies as Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service.

“There has to be more of a balance, with more of an emphasis on things in our front and backyards,” Warschaw said.

Fishel said he believes The Federation allocates its resources well to ensure that the nonprofit meets both local and international needs. He makes no apologies about helping Jews in need wherever they are.

“I’m very committed to the concept of Jewish people-hood,” Fishel said.

About 70 percent of every dollar the local Federation raises in its annual campaign supports domestic programs. Thirty percent goes for overseas programming and relief.

COOL IN A CRISIS

Fishel receives consistently high marks, even from detractors, for his ability to bring the community together in times of crisis.

Within 48 hours of the devastating Northridge Earthquake, The Federation president had overseen the production of a manual containing names and numbers of the agencies victims could call for counseling, health care, shelter and other services, said Irwin Field, a Federation Executive Committee member and past Federation chair.

“He was the one who really got everything rolling, made things happen and saw them through to the end,” said Field, who also chairs the board of L.A. Jewish Publications, publisher of The Jewish Journal. (The Journal is not affiliated with The Federation.)

At the same time, Fishel had to ascertain whether The Federation staff would have to leave the 6505 Wilshire headquarters because of earthquake damage. After experts concluded the structure had become unsafe, Fishel oversaw the evacuation and move into temporary quarters. He later helped raise $22 million to renovate and retrofit 6505, said Herb Gelfand, former Federation board chair.

After the 1999 shooting spree by a white supremicist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, Fishel quickly showed up on the scene. The Federation helped arrange counseling for traumatized victims and took measures to improve the center’s security.

Fishel recently again displayed his knack for quick response. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Fishel contacted Jewish federations and other agencies in Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Miss., and Houston to find out what evacuees fleeing to those cities needed. In just a few days, the L.A. Federation had raised $600,000 to help the Jewish and non-Jewish refugees.

The philanthropic group also brought local Jewish agencies together to provide therapy, job training and other services to homeless Katrina victims who made their way to the Southland. In addition, The Federation rented about a dozen trucks that transported clothing, canned food and other supplies collected by area synagogues to the Gulf Coast.

The Federation, at Fishel’s behest, also gave Hillel $20,000 to help underwrite the costs of sending students from USC and Cal State Northridge to the Gulf Coast to help with rebuilding efforts, said David Levy, executive director of the Los Angeles Hillel Council. The Federation’s generosity, he said, has improved its image among many Jewish college students, a demographic the philanthropic organization desperately wants to reach.

“John may be at his best when things are at their worst,” said Gelfand, the former Federation chair.

But some community leaders offer a more mixed assessment when it comes to issues not so clear-cut as providing emergency aid. One such complicated task is community building, which embodies the challenge of raising and distributing money, while simultaneously fostering Jewish identity.

The Boston Federation oversees two innovative adult Jewish education programs that have touched the lives of more than 2,700 area Jews and, in the process, strengthened ties to The Federation.

Me’ah (which means “100” in Hebrew) is a two-year, 100-hour intensive learning program that includes immersion in core Jewish texts, including the Hebrew Bible and rabbinics. More than 1,800 Bostonians have graduated from the course, which is heavily subsidized to maintain the low tuition price of $500 per person. The Boston Federation and Hebrew College also offer Ikkarim (“essence” in Hebrew), which provides Jewish education (and free child care during classes) for the parents of preschoolers.

“We want people to think it’s just as important to know Maimonides and love the Torah as it is to love Plato, Homer or Shakespeare,” said Barry Shrage, a leader of the effort and president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

The Boston Federation’s investment has probably already paid off. From 1995 to 2006, the annual campaign of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies increased by 57 percent to $34.2 million in a city of 200,000 Jews, growing at a significantly higher rate than the nation’s federations as a whole.

In contrast, a high-profile community-building effort in Los Angeles proved a bust.

In 2001, Fishel’s Federation lured Rabbi David Woznica to come West from New York City’s prestigious 92nd Street Y. In New York, Woznica oversaw thousands of hours of adult Jewish education and 35 high-profile lectures per year. More than 1,200 Jews regularly attended his High Holiday services. His travels and lectures around the world enhanced both his and the Y’s reputation.

In Los Angeles, Woznica was hired at a six-figure salary on the eve of Federation layoffs.

Then, critics said, The Federation never maximized Woznica’s talents by establishing forums for him to reach large numbers of Jews. So adrift was The Federation that it formed a special committee months after hiring Woznica to figure out how to best use him. The respected rabbi ended up becoming The Federation’s best-kept secret; he spent much of his time offering private tutorials to well-heeled donors and Federation executives. He left The Federation in 2004 for a rabbi’s position at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

“Fishel never really followed through,” said Pini Herman, a demographer and former Federation research coordinator who was laid off. “You would have thought that he would have paved the way for the success of a high-value personnel acquisition like Woznica, but he didn’t. Fishel left him kind of twisting in the wind.”

Woznica could not be reached for comment for this article. In the past, he has said he worked tirelessly at The Federation to help elevate the role of Judaism there and throughout the community.

Fishel responded that, in time, The Federation would have figured a better way to expand Woznica’s community visibility and impact.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Fishel has the challenge of raising money in a wealthy but difficult market. Failing in this task literally would mean fewer free meals for the hungry, the elimination of job-training programs or even the shuttering of homeless shelters.

On a macro level, federations, including Los Angeles, are “very healthy institutions, when you include all their assets, including endowments,” said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.

But there’s reason for concern. The nation’s federations raised a total of $859.5 million in their 2004 annual campaigns, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That’s up only 4 percent from 2000.

Time was, federations received the lion’s share of Jewish charitable giving. In a world with virulent anti-Semitism and constant threats to Israel, federations were seen as the protector and exemplar of Jewish values and interests.

That began to change, though, as Jews became more assimilated. Hospitals, symphonies and universities that once shunned Jews not only began to accept their money but appointed them to their boards. That mainstream acceptance led Jews to give less to federations and more to secular institutions. Suddenly, the federations’ pull on Jewish giving began to wane.

“If you used to ask somebody about their Jewish giving, they would tell you about a nonprofit that had the word Jewish or Israel in its title,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, which represents more than 1,000 Jewish family foundations. “Now, especially with younger donors, they talk about charities that reflect their Jewish values, which could be a gift to a local food pantry or an environmental organization, rather than to a Jewish organization.”

Over the past eight years, the number of Jewish family foundations has exploded, jumping from about 2,500 to 8,000. Those foundations, Charendoff said, control an estimated $30 billion in assets and give to a variety of causes, ranging from AIDS research to education. They have undoubtedly siphoned money away from federations, which some megadonors see as distant, unresponsive bureaucracies.

Another problem is that L.A.’s Jewish community is geographically dispersed, lacking the traditional powerful machers who enforce community giving elsewhere. Recently, competing Jewish institutions such as the Wiesenthal Center and the Skirball Cultural Center have appeared on the scene, further complicating things.

And surveys show that Californians, including Angelenos, give less per capita than Americans in many other places. They also volunteer less, said Donna Bojarsky, a Jewish Community Relations Committee board member and a Democratic Party public policy consultant who advises such celebrities as Richard Dreyfuss.

“L.A. is a particularly hard nut to crack,” she said.

Fishel’s Federation has made some noteworthy attempts at trying.

In response to donor demands for more control, The Federation helped create the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles. Over the past four years, this self-funded group of youngish entrepreneurs and professionals has raised and awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to start-up and existing nonprofits that benefit Jews, including the teen magazine, JVibe, and a Jewish Vocational Service program that targets Jewish Russian and Iranian immigrants for training as certified nurses.

Several Venture Philanthropy participants, each of whom has contributed at least $10,000, were first-time L.A. Federation donors, said Andrew Cushnir, vice president of planning for The Federation and staff head of the Venture Philanthropy Fund.

“John has been a major champion of the fund,” Cushnir said. “He has been more than willing to let the fund experiment, learn and grow.”

The Federation has also greatly improved outreach to young Jews — tomorrow’s big givers. The Federation replaced a money-losing leadership program with the apparently more successful Young Leadership Division, which, unlike its predecessor, places more emphasis on Jewish education and spirituality, although a social component still exists. The Federation also funds Taglit-birthright israel, the New Leaders Project and young leadership groups within its women’s, real estate and entertainment campaign divisions.

Federation-supported programs have touched the lives of thousands of young Jews, said Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development. That outreach has more than paid off, he added. “On a yearly basis, our young leadership initiatives are now raising about $5 million, or nearly 5 percent of our annual campaign.”

Not good enough, say critics. In 2005, The Federation’s annual campaign raised $47.3 million. (Overall, The Federation raised $55 million, when one-time gifts, special campaigns and other targeted giving are included.) Although last year’s annual campaign total represented a 6 percent increase over 2004, that’s only 2 percent more than the $46.4 million raised in 1990.

“I think at this point we ought to be around $60 million or $65 million,” said Leo Dozoretz, an ex-Federation board member and former president of the Valley Alliance, The Federation’s San Fernando Valley operation. “We’re the second largest community in the world behind New York. Los Angeles even has more Jews than Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.”

Dozoretz doesn’t hold Fishel responsible for The Federation’s middling performance. A weak lay leadership, among other factors, has contributed, he said.

Others are less understanding. They point to Fishel’s lack of charisma, The Federation’s alleged indifferent treatment of donors who are not megarich and Fishel’s inability to entice Hollywood Jews and other potential megadonors.

Former President Bill Clinton meets John Fishel
Former President Bill Clinton meets John Fishel.

In Southern California, charisma counts. An actor, director or producer with a megawatt smile and engaging personality can get farther than an equally talented but bland counterpart. What’s true for Hollywood can also hold for the corporate and nonprofit worlds. That partly explains why a gregarious charmer like Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal center can so easily coax big donations out of supporters, said a former high-ranking L.A. Federation fundraising executive.

Fishel, by contrast, often fades into the background, appearing ill at ease at social gatherings. He lacks “star power,” said the fundraiser, who asked not to be identified.

Fishel’s low-key, no-nonsense manner might serve him well in a down-to-earth place such as Minneapolis or Milwaukee but is no asset in Southern California, the land of Botox and BMWs. “Look, people live next door to movie stars here. They want entertainment value,” the fundraiser said.

Fishel responded that he’d prefer being perceived as honest, ethical and committed, rather than as Mr. Personality.

Another former Federation fundraising executive said he thought the organization treated donors giving less than $25,000 with indifference. Sure, a $10,000 donor might get invited to a special dinner or to participate on a mission to Israel, but Federation officials, he said, make little effort to make that person feel special. That absence of a personal touch has turned off some givers, leading them to give elsewhere, the ex-fundraiser said.

“The attitude some donors have is that you come to me once a year, you get my money and you come back when you want more,” he said. “And, in between, I’m not really thought of a great deal.”

Fishel said The Federation tries to be accessible and engaged with the broadest base of donors, although, given the number of contributors, that can sometimes prove a challenge. Still, Fishel said, he personally calls or has the appropriate staff member phone all donors — and non-donors — who contact him for assistance.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

Critics say that one of Fishel’s greatest failings has been his inability to tap into Hollywood. Imagine, they ask, how much bigger the annual campaign would be if such Jewish entertainment royalty as Barbra Streisand, David Geffen and Michael Eisner began writing million-dollar checks? Supporters counter that Hollywood is a narcissistic world unto itself, virtually deaf to appeals by anyone outside its small circle of players.

Some of the industry’s Jewish titans are “self-hating Jews,” said Lynn Pollock, a Federation board member and a former vice president at Paramount Pictures. Others have long identified more with “American Protestant” traditions, she said, rather than Jewish ones in their films and in their lives.

“How in the world is John supposed to accommodate these types of whimsical people, who are used to getting whatever they want and living in a kind of la-la land?” Pollock said.

Former Federation Chair Gelfand remembers his own brush with Jewish Hollywood and its unhappy ending. In the late 1980s, he persuaded two powerful entertainment executives to co-chair a major fundraising campaign for Soviet Jewry. The co-chairs — one a former studio head, the other a former talent agency bigwig — hoped to attract $10 million from their Jewish colleagues. After just three weeks, the pair resigned, having raised a grand total of zero dollars, Gelfand said.

Not everyone gives Fishel a pass. Movie producer Scott Einbinder said The Federation missed an opportunity to engage young, Jewish Hollywood when it unexpectedly pulled its sponsorship from Vodka Latka, a party/fundraiser he co-founded, which raised money for Jewish nonprofits. Vodka Latka also increased young Hollywood’s awareness about The Federation and funneled dozens of new members to the Jewish philanthropic organization, he said.

“Vodka Latka was definitely meant to be a bridge to The Federation, to show young Jews in the entertainment industry that The Federation could be more than an organization that just asks for money,” Einbinder said. “We wanted to help The Federation compete with sexier philanthropic organizations around L.A., organizations that are considered cooler and have more celebrities involved.”

After the 2002 event, which attracted more than 1,000 revelers to the Hollywood Palladium, The Federation bowed out. At the time, Federation executives said Vodka Latka demanded too much staff time. Fishel suggested the event was terrific but on the verge of becoming stale. The Progressive Jewish Alliance now holds the Vodka Latka soiree.

In the entertainment business, as in some other industries in town, Fishel said, “there’s no clarity in terms of what makes them want to be engaged Jewishly.”

The same apparently goes for potential new donors among the megarich, said Bubis, the former Federation vice president who has such praise for Fishel’s international work. The Federation president, Bubis said, has failed to provide an overarching vision that would inspire those givers.

Last year, The Federation received no million-dollar gifts for its annual campaign. The organization has made going after large donors a bigger priority going forward, Federation executives said.

And there’s some good news on that front. Earlier this year, an anonymous donor made a $3 million unrestricted gift, sources confirmed.

So has Fishel done a good enough job making The Federation attractive to donors?

Fishel himself believes more needs to be done.

“When need outdistances the means to do all of the good things brought to The Federation for support, you always want to raise more,” he said.

Fishel took the helm of the L.A. Federation in 1992, during a period of great uncertainty. The Southland’s recession had taken a bite out of the annual campaign; the institution was in turmoil. Fishel righted The Federation’s finances through spending cuts and layoffs.

Besides restoring stability, he also worked on inclusiveness, several Federation leaders said. Over the years, Fishel reached out to Persian, Israeli and Russian Jews, said attorney David Nahai, a Federation board member.

Fishel has received mostly positive marks from Federation watchers, despite much dissatisfaction over the handling of the Jewish community centers and the Jewish Community Relations Committee. Tobin of the Institute for Jewish Community Research called him “one of the most thoughtful and really analytical executives in The Federation field.” UJC President and Chief Executive Howard M. Rieger called Fishel “one of the best we’ve got.”

The pressures of running The L.A. Federation have sometimes gotten to Fishel. A few years back, he briefly considered leaving The Federation after other Jewish organizations expressed an interest in him, including the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. These days, though, Fishel insisted that he couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve had 30-plus years working in Jewish communal life. I’ve had a lot of really amazing experiences meeting some extraordinary people here in this country and around the world, ” he said. “I love what I do.”

 

Wandering Jew – The Hit Parade


Here it is: 5,000 years after Moses wandered the Sinai, his people have finally found a home in Reseda, no less, at the Jewish Home for the Aging, the largest continuing residential care facility for the elderly in the Western United States. Yet while these Jews are no longer wandering, they are today wondering when the big simchah begins.

“We’re so excited!” says Mimi Kolmer. “We’ve been waiting for this all year!” In her mid-70s, she is one of close to 1,000 residents here at Eisenberg Village, most past their 90th birthday, and here they are today, watching guys in their 30s and 40s playing softball.

“What’s this about?” I ask Doug Gellerman, and he tells me this is the Spring Classic Event sponsored by the Synagogue Softball League.

“The league consists of 32 teams,” he says, “made up of 620 guys from temples all over the San Fernando Valley and West L.A. Four years ago we decided to give something back to our Jewish community, and each year it’s gotten bigger. We raise money for the home and bring our families so the kids and elders experience each other.”

Gellerman points to a kid about 10 years old talking with an old guy on a bench: “It’s a mitzvah for the kids to learn about giving back.”

“Is this your grandfather?” I ask the kid.

“Yeah,” he says. “He’s telling me about when he was a kid, but he can’t remember. He thinks maybe he has old-timer’s disease.”

“It’s Alzheimer’s, not old-timers,” Gramps says. “Maybe you have young-timers disease?”

Then he grabs his grandson and kisses him hard on the cheek.

Next event is senior softball, and I watch a bunch of elders swatting a whiffle ball with a big plastic bat, with pitching and fielding handled by the kids. The pitcher, who looks like he’s ready for his bar mitzvah, throws Morton Symans a soft pitch, and he misses.

“Hey kid!” yells Symans, who’s 85 years old. “I might be a senior citizen but don’t throw me no soft pitch! The road ahead of you is not the road that I’m on. It’s not a soft road. So toughen up!”

The kid shrugs, winds up, throws with all he’s got, and Symans slams the ball over everyone’s heads.

“Smart kid,” Symans says. “He’ll do just fine.”

Hilda Foodman, 72 years old and a self-proclaimed tomboy, is up next.

“I’ll tell you a wonderful story that happened to me,” she says, “but you must promise not to tell.”

“Hilda,” her friend interrupts, “you’re telling a reporter!”

“Oy!” says Hilda, and grabbing the bat, hits everything pitched her way.

Up next in a “Be Cool” T-shirt is Shelly Balzac. At 78, he walks with a cane but he swats a long one.

“Any relation to the writer?” I ask.

“Balzac was married in the Ukraine,” he says, “and my parents were from Kiev.”

“So that makes Balzac…”

“Dead.”

A kibitzer. Everyone here is a kibitzer.

Next event is the talent show. First up is Bill Mednick. A youthful 82, he wails, “Some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger….”

Well, for most residents, the hearing isn’t what it used to be, so the PA is set very, very loud. Good-natured Ida Greenbaum, the accompanying pianist, is like a city bus in that she tends to slow down and speed up unexpectedly, which obligates Bill to turn to her pleading, “Where are you?”

Bill concludes, and master of ceremonies Ellis (“Not the Island!”) Simon introduces Muriel Tuckman. She finishes to loud applause but not as loud as her singing: “There’s a somebody I’m longing to see…someone to watch over me….”

“And who would that be, dear?” I ask. “George Bush?”

“That louse,” says Simon, and everyone agrees.

“When I was in the Marines,” he says, “a G.I. called me ‘a dirty Jew’ so I kicked his ass.”

Simon now asks us to show some love for “The Bird Lady” — and up steps Mildred Cadish, wearing a long, red feather boa. Looking like a bird, she takes the mike, puckers her lips and makes so many high-pitched squeals, some of the residents begin sprouting feathers. “I’ve been chirping 79 years,” she announces to great applause.

Muriel is a hard act to follow, but here’s Howard Hersh, 85, marauding his way through “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Amazingly, each note Howard sings is in a different key.

Give it up now for Lee Miro, who while disavowing any relationship to the surrealist painter, nonetheless presents a surrealistic performance sitting in her wheelchair and belting out in an operatic voice, “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

“We thank you all for being with us today,” she tells the appreciative crowd, while Adam, a lad of 14, takes the stage and juggles oranges. He tosses one under his leg, and the room roars.

“Maybe he’ll wind up a produce man at Ralphs,” says Mimi Kolmer, who then asks me what temple I’m from.

I tell her Shirley Temple and she smiles.

“This is the most outstanding place,” she says. “I have lots of friends. And everyone has a smile or a greeting. I’m very lucky.”

But not as lucky as those of us now being pummeled by Al Heyman, “singing” a little ditty that was popular around the time Noah built his ark. “Because, you come to me, with naught save love, and hold my hand and lift mine eyes above….”

As Al hits his last note, I can hear corneal implants shatter.

“Every time he sings,” Simon tells the crowd, “my hernia kills me. Next week he’ll sing ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and your head will explode!”

The talent show now ends with Simon himself singing “My Way.”

“If it wasn’t for Frank Sinatra,” he says, “I would have been famous!”

Someone yells, “Ellis, was your family rich or poor?” And without missing a beat, Simon tells the room “You know, my family was so poor, if I hadn’t been a boy, I’d have had nothing to play with.”

Gellerman now hands out checks totaling $3,300, money raised by the softball teams to be used by the home for the residents. Before he leaves, Gellerman asks Ellis to “return the money.”

Jewish humor.

On my way out, as I head for my nearest Beltone dealer, I run into Symans, the guy who told the kid to toughen up.

“Old people are like Don Quixote,” he says. “They think they’re still independent but they wind up tilting at windmills. I accept what I have and who I am — so I try to help others adjust.”

And then suddenly, from the PA, comes one last announcement, the one proclamation that bridges all senior politics, religion and age: “Bingo will begin in the library in 15 minutes!”

“Gotta run,” Symans says. “Zey gezunt!”

Wandering Jew – Spiritual Headliners


Dozens of young giggling girls dressed in their finest skirts and blouses crowded the front of the Universal Hilton ballroom, which was hot and stuffy and filled to standing-room only capacity with women in anticipation of the big event.

When the music started all the girls and women jumped to their feet and started clapping, beatific, expectant smiles on their faces.

It could have been a rock concert — perhaps the debut of famous boy band — but it was not that kind of music and these were not that kind of girls. For most of the 3,000 men and women — seated in separate rooms, with a video screen for the women — the happening was one of the most important ever in Los Angeles and in the lives of these ultra-Orthodox Jews.

These members of Los Angeles’ ultra-Orthodox community had come together for an asefa, a spiritual gathering, to see and hear two of Israel’s greatest rabbis speak words of Torah and offer spiritual reinforcement to this far-flung Diaspora community.

These were gedolei hador, luminaries, leaders of the generation and the heads of the two separate — and often divided — factions of the ultra-Orthodox communities. Rabbi Yakov Aryeh Alter, known the Gerrer Rebbe, represents the Chasidic faction, and Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman leads the Litvak, or Lithuanian (non-Chasidic) faction.

To the outsider, the sea of black hats might look monolithic, but these were worlds among worlds gathered in the room. The Chasidim, with their long curly peyos (sidelocks), furry streimel hats and shiny black kaputa coats, came from a long tradition that began in the 17th century, one that emphasizes spiritual joy in addition to academic Torah study.

More austere in trim beards and black suits were the Lithuanians, or Mitnagdim, literally meaning opponents to Chasidism. But today the word usually refers to black-hat non-Chasidic Jews who have a more analytic approach to learning, as practiced in their yeshivas.

It was like the Jets and the Sharks coming together. In the men’s section, a three-level podium contained a veritable who’s who of the Los Angeles rabbinical world: Rabbi Avrohom Union of the Rabbinical Council of California, Rabbi Meyer May of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Sholom Ginsberg of Toras Emes, Rabbi Eleazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, Rabbi David Toledano of Adat Yeshurun Sephardic Congregation, Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik (an actual Gerrer Chasid). There, too, standing out in a black hat and startlingly royal blue tie, was Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

To start things off, a number of rabbis spoke leading up to the two luminaries. They explained the significance of the evening.

“How could we be zocheh [meriting] for two gedolei hador to come here?” Rabbi Baruch Yehuda Gradon, from the Los Angeles Kollel, asked in that English-Hebrew-Yiddish mixture so prevalent in the ultra-Orthodox community.

“It’s hard to believe we’re on the West Coast of the United States,” he said.

Rabbi Ginsberg took pride in the growth of the community in this nonheavenly city.

“We in Los Angeles, we are not Eretz Yisroel [Israel], we are not New York, we are not even Lakewood,” he said, referring to the New Jersey community where the men learn full-time in Kollel yeshivas.

But, he said, this city has its own network of Kollels, yeshivas and outreach institutions.

In recent years Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest Jewish community, has become a stop for visiting Jewish dignitaries — especially politicians, hoping to tap into the fundraising network here. The visit of these two luminaries — together for the first time — also put Los Angeles on the map as an up-and-coming spiritual center. And perhaps, this appearance also was a testing ground for such an unusual pairing, an event that might get out of hand in a community as big as New York or New Jersey or Israel.

The occasion was also an effort to show unity between the two factions.

“There is no division between a Chasid and a Mitnaged, between Ashkenaz and Sephard, and between a businessman and yeshiva man,” Rabbi Ginsberg said.

There were some divisions, of course, with the men and women in separate rooms. According to the Israeli press, the two rabbis chartered a special El Al flight with no women stewardesses and no women in first class — and without movies. But this is de rigueur for a community accustomed to segregation (especially the Chasidic community).

The main purpose of the evening was to offer a lifeline of spiritual support to the Los Angeles community — a soulful community in a city of soul-seekers and religious innovators.

Rabbi Steinman, 93, clutched the podium, his face pale as paper, flanked on each side by rabbis for support. He spoke for 20 minutes in Yiddish. The Gerer rebbe, Yakov Alter, a more robust man with white hair and peyos and heavy lidded eyes, delivered a short, one-minute speech from his chair.

Both men’s words were translated by Rabbi Usher Weiss in a crisp, booming European-accented English.

“If all we would do here tonight is look and listen, then this effort would be in vain and this trip would not have achieved its goal,” he said to the rapt audience, some of whom were taping the remarks on their PalmPilots and other electronic devices.

Weiss was mostly translating the words of Rabbi Steinman, but he seemed to intersperse his own comments, as well: “A person must feel every day that our worship of yesterday is not enough. Every day is a new responsibility. The angels are great but they have no tests. For us it’s all about [personal] growth.”

“What matters is not how big you are but how much you grow,” said Weiss in his translation/commentary.

It was no accident that this gathering fell on the holiday of Lag B’Omer, a celebration in the middle of a mourning period, the 49 days of counting the omer. Jewish groups around the city made traditional bonfires to mark the holiday, which, by some accounts, marks the end of an ancient plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students.

At the Universal Hilton, Weiss spoke of Rabbi Akiva, whose most famous teaching was love thy neighbor as thyself.

“Mutual respect, this is the lesson we have to learn on this day,” he said.

He blessed the rabbis and the audience, his voice ringing out loud and clear: “I am confident that each of the participants will remember this day to the last of his days.”

 

The Sinai Century


Every Sunday morning, on Valencia Street in downtown Los Angeles, the Welsh Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles holds services in a sloped brick house of worship with stained glass windows picturing Stars of David.

The stars are Jewish stars, and the church organ is the one used in the Jewish services of the building’s former occupants, members of Congregation Sinai, or as it is known today, Sinai Temple. Formed in 1906 by a group of young men in their 20s and 30s, the Conservative synagogue remained at 1153 Valencia St. until 1925, when the congregation sold the property to the Presbyterians.

Now, two buildings and a handful of cantors and rabbis later, Westwood’s Sinai Temple is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.

How do you celebrate 100 years of history?

Sinai Temple began the party in December, with a communitywide Mitzvah Day, and has held events throughout the year. The celebration will culminate in two events: this weekend’s program featuring scholar-in-residence Elie Wiesel, and a June musical performance at the Wilshire Theatre combined with an evening dinner/dance at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Another way to celebrate 100 years is to start planning the next 100, according to David Wolpe, Sinai’s rabbi for the last nine of them. Wolpe suffers from no shortage of ideas: Eight years ago, he started Friday Night Live, a monthly musical service for 21-39-year-olds, which has been replicated at congregations around the world. And recently, he asserted in a speech and an essay that the entire Conservative movement, which is struggling and divided, ought to be renamed “Covenental Judaism” and thus redefined for the future. Under his leadership, the synagogue has embarked on a two-year, $36 million Sinai Centennial Campaign to expand the synagogue and its services. Some $14 million has been raised so far; donor levels are set from $10,000 to $5 million.

The money will be used to purchase additional property, renovate existing
facilities (including Sinai Akiba day school, which was founded in 1968 and
educates 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade) and create an adult education center, a parenting place and a counseling center.

“I would like to create a model of synagogue that will be able to help other synagogues figure out how to do this right,” Wolpe told The Journal. Los Angeles is “the most important city in the world,” in terms of influence, he said, and that also applies to Jewish life and to creating innovative programs.

How do you sum up 100 years of history? That’s the task of historian Florie Brizel, who was hired by Sinai two years ago to write the history of the shul. She just completed “Sinai Temple: A Centennial History,” a narrative that runs more than 200 pages.

The young adult immigrants who established Sinai in 1906 — incorporating it in 1908 — just wanted a synagogue that wasn’t exactly Orthodox, but was definitely not Reform.

“It was in response to the choices that were available, which was Orthodox, which didn’t suit a lot of those pioneers, and the new German Reform, which just wasn’t enough,” said Brizel, co-author of “Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events” (Prentice Hall Press, 2001). “For all intents and purposes, they wanted to be Orthodox, but not quite.”

There was mixed seating and an organ but traditional prayers.

In a way, the history of the temple and congregation is the history of Jewish Los Angeles, with the migration toward the Westside and the integration of diverse Jewish communities.

In 1925, the congregation moved to 3412 W. Fourth St., at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue, where it stayed for 35 years (the building is now used by the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian church). In 1960, Sinai moved to its current location in Westwood, on Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards.

“That big move was about maintaining the congregation,” Brizel said. “Everyone was moving west from the Boyle Heights area. They wanted Beverly Hills. Young people were not staying in the congregation so they said, ‘We’re going to have to stay where our members are.'”

Over the years, there were many rabbis, beginning with Jacob Kohn. Other rabbis have included David Lieber and Jacob Pressman.

Some of Sinai’s leaders influenced the path of Conservative Judaism, including Lieber, who headed the University of Judaism. Sinai was known especially for its music, with cantors such as Carl Urstein, Meir Finkelstein and Lieb Glantz.

One event that radically changed Sinai — and Los Angeles — was the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the influx of Persian Jews to Los Angeles.

“Up until the Iranian revolution in 1979, Sinai was traditional Ashkenazi,” said temple historian Brizel, even though there’d already been a handful of Persian members.

Jimmy Delshad came to Los Angeles in 1960 with his brothers from Iran (via Israel), and when he became a citizen in 1972, he and his wife wanted to join a synagogue. At first they tried Sephardic Temple, but the services were more Ladino — from the Spanish-Jewish tradition — than close to the Persian services he was accustomed to, or the Israeli ones familiar to his wife. They joined Sinai, in the end, because they enjoyed the rabbi’s speeches.

The influx of Persian Jews to Sinai Temple was “organic,” Brizel said. “On Shabbat, everybody would go to the synagogue to find out who was here. It was the trading space for information,” she said, noting that traditionally, synagogues were always meeting houses and especially for Persians during the Iranian revolution.

Friday nights was when the American Jews would come to shul, but the Persians, who traditionally worshipped on Saturday morning, would come to the synagogue Friday night mainly to socialize and to reconnect. Many left Iran with just the clothes on their backs, so they appreciated the food at the shul’s Kiddush on Saturdays.

Near the beginning of the Persian influx, some longstanding members decided to cancel the Kiddush one week because they said they felt outnumbered by the amount of Iranians. But the move provoked an outcry with others in the shul responding that Jews don’t do that to other Jews and they had to have an open-arms policy. They reinstated the weekly post-prayer fete.

“It was a difficult adjustment, just like when any other new group comes in,” said Ed Kaminer, a dentist, lawyer and general contractor who was president of the temple from 1969-71. “Each group looks at them, ‘How dare they come into our shul?’ It wouldn’t matter if they were Russians, Romanians.”

Sinai’s longtime members, especially older ones, worried about having to give up customs and being supplanted.

“It takes a while,” Kaminer said. “The younger ones find it easier. It takes a generation or two.”

Added Brizel: “It took several rabbis chastising the congregation and it still takes some work. Some people left. It took years before the congregation really settled down and started to behave properly.”

She noted a “cultural disconnect.” For example, in Iran, Jews didn’t pay membership dues. It was more of a pay-as-you-go institution. Volunteerism was also a Western concept.

“My wife promoted volunteerism. She helped me figure out that volunteerism is a good thing to do,” Delshad said. The mentality in other countries is more “why do I have to do that?” he said.

Delshad also recalled a night, long ago, when he looked at the bimah and remarked on the men who stood up there beside the rabbi and the cantor.

“Who are they?” he asked his father-in-law.

The temple’s president and vice president, he was told.

“You don’t have to worry about it,” his father-in-law said, because you needed 20 years of service to the synagogue, you had to give a lot of money and Delshad was Persian.

“That will never happen in your lifetime,” his father-in-law told him. “This is an Ashkenazi shul,”

“Something cracked in my head that night [and I decided] I will change that attitude,” said Delshad, who was named Sinai’s man of the year in 1990.

It took Delshad, currently a Beverly Hills’ city councilman, 12 years — not 20 — but from 1999-2001 he became the first Persian Jew to serve as president of Sinai. Delshad, along with others, like Wolpe, have worked to integrate the Ashkenazim and Persians, whose numbers are split about 50-50 in the 1,900-member synagogue.

Today, the synagogue has other pressing challenges, some related to local matters — like whether his younger congregants can afford Westside real estate; others related to wider issues involving Judaism.

“We have all the problems of Westside Jews,” Wolpe said. He has recently spoken on such topics as the value of parents saying no to children — not because parents can’t, but because they won’t. He also spoke last month about the importance of treating hired help — which is mostly Latino — with respect, as Los Angeles’ Latino mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, stood by his side.

“The biggest single problem is continued education and connection to Jewish life,” Wolpe said. “To raise kids who still feel passionately about Jewish life in America.”

The proposed new facilities and programs should help. Through the new parenting and the counseling centers, Wolpe hopes to inculcate Jewish values and modern psychology to newlyweds and parents. And he plans to maintain and build on Sinai’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning, its adult education center.

“Nobody 100 years ago could possibly have any idea what Jewish life would be like now. Just as we have no idea what it will be like in 100 years,” Wolpe said. “But I believe that powerful, active institutions make the difference.”

For more information on events at Sinai Temple, visit www.sinaitemple.org.

 

When Faiths Jam


At the Southern California Islamic Center last Saturday night, only Shawn Landres dared utter a four-letter word. That word was, “kumbaya.”

Yes, the evening brought together about 150 Jews, Muslims and Christians for a night of prayer and music at the center, which had never before hosted such a gathering.

And yes, it began with a drum circle.

But if the faithful had one thing in common, underneath their kippahs and collars and hijabs, it was that not one of them wanted this night confused with those circa-1970-“Free to Be You and Me” warm and cuddly attempts at interfaith dialogue. No, this was Faith Jam 2006.

And the biggest difference between those previous attempts at ethno-religious harmony and this one? This one seemed to work.

Musician and community organizer Craig Taubman had wanted such an event to be part of the weeklong “Let My People Sing” celebration. The Passover-themed musical happenings took place in synagogues and community centers throughout L.A. An interfaith component, he told me, fit the theme: “Passover is about liberation, and we’re enslaved by our hatreds.”

Organizing took finesse. Taubman tapped Landres, director of research at Synagogue 3000, to use his ample interfaith Rolodex. He brought on 16 Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups as co-sponsors, including Abraham’s Vision, IKAR, Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

The Islamic Center came on board enthusiastically, according to its religious director, Jihad Turk. But there were conditions: grape juice, not wine, for Havdalah; no dancing; appropriate dress; and no overt mention from the Christians of Jesus as God or the messiah. The center vetted the gospel choir’s songs, and in the program its name, The Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church Choir, became COR A.M.E.

Another concern was overloading the event with Jews, a drawback of interfaith dialogues past. Landres compiled three R.S.V.P. lists and cut off the Jewish respondents in order to ensure equivalent amounts of Muslims and Christians. By 8 p.m. the place was full, the drumming had stopped, and Turk quieted the crowd with the traditional, piercing Muslim call to prayer.

The evening had three acts. First came ritual. Taubman and Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva, another co-sponsor, lit the traditional Havdalah candle, woven together from three wicks.

“This night and nights like this are so long overdue,” Rabbi Levy said. “Tonight we pray to come together to celebrate our differences and treasure our oneness.” (The rabbi also happens to be my wife, but no person of any faith seemed to hold that against her.)

The Rev. Wilma Jakobsen of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena gave a brief sermon, urging the audience members to work within their faith traditions to help the poor and oppressed.

Then Turk invited everyone to shed their shoes and join the center’s men and women for the traditional evening prayers, or isha, men shoulder to shoulder in front, women behind them. “We hope to get a better understanding of who the Other is,” Turk said.

Several Jews migrated over to the prayer room and lined up as the prayer leader led the worship. It was the full-on experience — standing, kneeling, bowing — just what you see on the evening news but with, yes, some Jews and Christians sprinkled in. I mentioned to a woman standing nearby that the young man leading the prayers, Abdelwahab Ben Youcef, was almost unnaturally handsome.

“Oh, he’s an actor,” she said. “He played one of the Palestinian terrorists in ‘Munich.'”

After the ritual came the main program: the music. The Christ Our Redeemer gospel choir lit up the room, followed by Ani Zonneveld, a Muslim recording artist and head of the co-sponsoring Progressive Muslim Union. Then came the Yuval Ron Ensemble, whose Middle Eastern music, with its organic blending of Muslim and Jewish roots, enthralled the crowd (their CD table did brisk sales) and MC Rai, a Tunisian-born Muslim hip-hop artist. Two comedians, the Jewish Beth Lapidus and the Muslim Maz Jobrani provided comedy breaks.

And afterward came the mingling.

Why was this night different from all other attempts at interfaith dialogue?

First, the crowd skewed young. Because the agenda was largely musical, the night brought out young Jews and Muslims, the demographic that wanted a fun night out, not a lecture.

Second, the ritual wasn’t dumbed down. People who knew their stuff conducted Havdalah and the Muslim evening prayer, without abridgment or reinterpretation. I asked Landres why that was — and that’s when he said the word.

“We’re not doing ‘Kumbaya’ where we all get together and hug,” he said. “This is the way a new generation does dialogue.”

What Landres seemed to mean was: There was no dialogue. We didn’t have to sit in a circle and look into the Other’s eyes and tell him how we feel. No one led a pointless discussion about Mideast peace — as if we have any say in it.

“It’s just breaking the ice,” Turk told me, “and music goes beyond words.”

Actually, I noticed only a modest amount of real mixing. Most people hung with their own, enjoying the music, baklava, mint tea and enhanced bottled water beverage. The reviews were positive.

Islamic Center members Nadim and Gita Itani — he’s Lebanese, she’s Iranian — pronounced it good.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Nadim, a 30-something architect. “And it’s about time.”

The apparent success of the enterprise gave him hope.

“It’s foundational,” he said. “Singing beside a Jew as we close the Sabbath, that’s when you get goose bumps.”

A young Palestinian American who only wanted to give his name as Muhammed — “I work in the entertainment industry,” he explained — said the Havdalah ritual he witnessed touched him, too.

“We have to all get together,” he said. “People who are opposed to this kind of night, they shouldn’t even be in this country.”

Now that kind of intolerance? It’s a beautiful thing.

 

The Circuit


Built to Last

Team Mortorq from Beverly Hills High School won two prestigious awards recently at a robotics competition: The Entrepreneurship Award and the Autodesk Visualization Award for animation.

The Entrepreneurship Award recognizes a team which, since its inception, has developed the framework for a comprehensive business plan in order to scope, manage and obtain team objectives. The team should also display entrepreneurial enthusiasm and the vital business skills for a self-sustaining program.

The Autodesk Visualization Award for Animation recognizes excellence in student animation that clearly and creatively illustrates the spirit of the first Robotics Competition.

The Beverly Hills High team also was scheduled to compete in Las Vegas.

Sherman Speaks

Nearly 200 visitors, community leaders and members of the local Iranian Muslim media gathered at the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills March 26 to hear speakers address the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation, were panelists at the event.

Sherman, a member of the House International Relations Committee, discussed upcoming measures Congress will be taking to combat Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“It is unlikely that we can stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Sherman said. “Iran is subject to economic pressure and we must use our maximum economic and diplomatic steps to slow down and stop their ability to get these weapons.”

Kermanian’s discussion focused on the beliefs and core goals of Iran’s current regime to impose its fundamentalist Islamic ideologies on the West by use of force. Following their speeches, both speakers answered questions from the audience concerning Iran. Also in attendance was Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Ain’t That a Kick?

Gold and silver were the colors of the day for New JCC at Milken’s Kenshokan Martial Arts Academy last month. The American Judo and Jujitsu Federation held its national convention and freestyle championships in San Ramon recently and in the youth division, Tyler Mclean came away with second place. Program instructor Gregory Poretz, who came back from a stunning upset in 2005 in last place was able to make a clean sweep of the black belt division and take the gold.

Sensei Poretz, Mclean and the rest of the Kenshokan will be training to defend their titles in 2007 in Santa Rosa.

For more information, visit

The Circuit


Speak Up, Speak Out

Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills hosted an overflow crowd of 600 guests for a community conversation about Jihad, the riots in France and the threats to Israel posed by Hamas and Iran. Sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition L.A. Chapter and the Israel Christian Nexus, the program featured unique insights from noted columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson, former PLO terrorist and anti-radical Islam activist Walid Shoebat, and French journalist Philippe Karsenty, who revealed the fraudulent story that young Muhummad Al Dura was killed by Israelis at the start of the second intifada.

The speakers proclaimed deep concern about European anti-Semitism, Arab militarism and the failure of liberal minds in the West to recognize the dangers of Muslim tyranny.

Hanson detailed the twin threats of U.S. oil addiction and nuclear proliferation in Iran; Shoebat explained that he runs a security risk due to his revealing the nature of Palestinian terrorism, to which he was committed as a youth, and Karsenty said that the riots in France continue, but the French government and media hide the nature and effects of Islamic radicalism in Europe from the French people. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Love From Hate

About 200 police officers, federal agents and community leaders attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Feb. 16 Sherwood Awards luncheon at the Skirball Cultural Center, honoring local law enforcement agencies’ hate crime investigations.

“When my wife and I started this, we thought we’d run out of bad guys, but apparently there’s still a lot to go around,” said family patriarch Joseph Sherwood, who with his wife, Helene, created the award to highlight hate crimes-focused police work in the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region.

The U.S. attorney’s public corruption and civil rights section was honored for building federal indictments against four Highland Park Latino gang members who assaulted African Americans. Last June also saw federal indictments against an L.A. man for allegedly mailing out 52 syringe-filled manila envelopes to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a congressional office in Lakewood, a federal customs office in Georgia and randomly selected L.A. home addresses with traditionally Jewish last names.

“Typically the letters started with the words, ‘Die Jew Die,’ in red and black letters,” said Los Angeles Police Department First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell before presenting the Sherwood award to civil rights section chief Tom O’Brien and U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang.

Also honored were the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and arson and hate crimes tasks force comprised of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, FBI, Riverside Police and Fire departments and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Those Inland Empire task forces successfully coordinated the felony arrests of 18 white supremacists and a separate arson investigation of a targeted mosque and a church.

The ADL prize’s reputation among police is growing. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke on “Hate Is an Emotion as Old as Mankind.” There was a large contingent of Riverside sheriff’s deputies who, after the ADL luncheon, posed with their Sherwood medallions. Also at the event was Marianne, the ATF L.A. field division’s bomb-sniffing black Labrador. — David Finnegan, Contributing Writer

Tiffany’s Love Match

The recent kickoff reception and official unveiling of The Billies Award, which reccognizes media excellence in women’s sports and physical activity, took place at Tiffany & Co. Beverly Hills.

 

The Circuit


Good as Guild

Lunch and laughter was on the menu when The Beverly Hills Theatre Guild honored two pioneer workers for their service to the Guild and the community. Civic leaders Sooky Goldman, founding president, and Janet Salter, president for the past 10 years, were recipients of the Spotlight Award for their years of service. Goldman’s award was presented by actress Anne Jeffreys Sterling and show biz legend Jayne Meadows presented Salter’s award.

Host extraordinaire Monty Hall, served as emcee, presenting a program featuring Jack Carter, Norm Crosby, Sally Struthers, Pepper Edmiston and Stan Freberg. Hall and Rabbi Jacob Pressman did their version of vaudevillians Gallagher and Sheen, as a humorous tribute to the honorees.

Also on the program were the recipients of the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild/Julie Harris Playwright Award, presented by Fay Kanin. The Janet & Maxwell Salter first prize went to David Hoag; second prize, by the Salters, was given to Hugh O’Neill; and the Dr. Henry and Lilian Nesburn third prize was awarded to Philip Ardell. The Irma and Louis Colen Musical Theatre Award went to Robert Freedman and Steve Lutvak, accompanied by a performance of one of the songs by Lutvak.

Proceeds from the event will enhance and enrich theatrical experiences for children and seniors in the community.

Techy Talk

Martin Kellner, past president of the American Technion Society (ATS) national board introduces incoming ATS national president Joan Seidel. The announcement took place at an ATS Einstein Circle dinner held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Feb. 8.

The Candidate

Community activist Rona Ram became the first female and youngest Iranian Jewish candidate to run for this summer’s World Zionist Congress international conference being held in Jerusalem.

Ram, 22, a former UCLA Hillel student leader and activist for Israeli soldiers, said she decided to run on the Dor Zion party’s slate in order to represent the nearly 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Southern California who have rarely been politically active in the past.

“To me the World Zionist Congress is an embodiment of a shift — it’s a realization that with our success as Persian Jews comes a recognition and responsibility, that we are key players in an international world,” Ram said.

For nearly two months, Ram and her siblings have tried to energize younger Iranian Jews in the community to register online as members of World Zionist Congress and vote for her. Other Iranian Jewish candidates running for spots on the Dor Zion slate include local attorneys David Nahai and Simon Pouretehad. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

At the Mic

USC graduate student Debra Marisa Greene received the Radio Television News Association Jim Zaillian Memorial Scholarship on Jan. 21 at the Universal Hilton. Nearly 400 journalists were present for the ceremonies, which featured the 56th Annual Golden Mike Awards. KTLA news director Jeff Wald and KTLA nighttime news anchor Hal Fishman were Golden Mike winners.

Greene, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from UCLA, is currently a master’s student at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. She is pursuing a career in both broadcast and print journalism. The Jim Zaillian Memorial Scholarship was named for the late KNX-AM radio news director who had a special interest in the education of broadcast journalism students.

Girardi’s Friends

Celebrated trial attorney Thomas Girardi was honored by American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) for his outstanding legal and philanthropic work. The AFHU, which provides support for The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, bestowed Girardi with the Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award at its annual Law Society Dinner.

“It is extraordinary to receive an award named after someone who has done so much. I only hope I can do a small percentage of what he did,” Girardi said.

Nationally syndicated radio host Larry Elder emceed the event at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

The Torch of Learning Award was named in honor of Harvey Silbert, an acclaimed humanitarian, who sustained a long-standing involvement in regional, national, and international philanthropic causes until his death in September 2002.

Girardi is the president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Going to Bat

Eighty-year-old Dorothy Delmonte, who also serves as the local head of the Red Hat Society, which celebrates women 50 and over who embrace age with “enthusiasm, verve and humor,” was recently bat mitzvahed. Rabbi William Gordon performed the rarely seen service at The Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging/Eisenberg Village. Delmonte said her goal in being bat mitzvahed was “to be closer to God.”

 

Disputed Film Draws Muted Response


For Rabbi Marvin Hier, suicide bombings are the modern-day plague. The founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center so condemns these acts of terror that he spoke to the late Pope John Paul II, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the chancellor of Austria to enlist their support in passing a U.N. resolution condemning suicide bombings as a crime against humanity.

Given Hier’s passion, one might expect him to denounce loudly the film, “Paradise Now,” as a work of propaganda. The movie, which seeks to humanize two would-be Palestinian suicide bombers dispatched by operatives to murder innocent Israelis, recently won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and received an Academy Award nomination in the same category.

Despite the subject matter of “Paradise Now,” Hier, himself a member of the academy, has yet to see the film, although he said he soon planned to and “didn’t feel good” about the movie’s premise.

Like the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League has no plans to protest the nomination of the controversial film. In fact, no large mainstream Jewish organization has called for a boycott.

In a measure of the acclaimed movie’s respectability in some quarters of the local Jewish community, the University of Judaism recently sponsored a screening of and panel discussion on “Paradise Now” that featured the film’s director, Hany Abu-Assad. The sold-out audience of nearly 500 clapped at the movie’s conclusion, which ends with a rage-filled Palestinian bomber getting ready to blow himself up on an a bus crowded with Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Abu-Assad said at the University of Judaism event that he opposes all suicide bombing attacks, even against soldiers. However, the director added that he came to understand how bombers can commit such acts after Israeli authorities detained him, without cause, he said, for three hours in the hot sun at a checkpoint.

To be sure, some conservative Jewish organizations have condemned the movie as an attempt to sanitize and justify a hateful terrorist act. They complain that “Paradise Now” seeks to blame for the proliferation of suicide attacks solely on Israel’s occupation, ignoring the dangerous grip of Islamic fundamentalism and the steady diet of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian schools and media.

“I’m surprised that major Jewish organizations have not studied this film more closely, if at all, and taken it more seriously as an effort to normalize suicide bombing as an acceptable response to poverty and depression,” said Roz Rothstein, executive director of Los Angeles-based StandWithUs, an international pro-Israel educational advocacy group, who has seen the film twice.

“What’s the point of this movie?” asked Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, headquartered in Washington, D.C. “We should be shining a light on the horrors of [suicide bombing] and the victims, rather than humanizing these heinous acts.”

Brooks has not seen “Paradise Now.”

A few Jewish groups have done more than simply verbally attack the film.

The American Jewish Congress (AJC), Pacific Southwest Region, hopes to take out an ad in the Hollywood Reporter to “make Academy members think twice before voting,” said local AJC Executive Director Gary Ratner. Israel Project, an international educational advocacy group, has helped an Israeli father of a 16-year-old suicide bombing victim place an article critical of “Paradise Now” in American newspapers, including the New York Daily News. The goal: to make sure “the voice of the victim is heard,” said Calev Ben-David, director of the project’s Jerusalem office.

In the opinion piece, Yossi Zur writes: “Nominating a movie such as ‘Paradise Now’ only implicates the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the evil chain of terror that attempts to justify these horrific acts.”

Liberal Jewish leaders, on the other hand, tend to share the critics’ consensus that the film is complex, nuanced and “an examination rather than a justification,” in the words of David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., an L.A.-based human relations organization. They argue that “Paradise Now” questions the morality and efficacy of terror attacks through a pivotal character named Suha, a female Palestinian human rights activist who condemns bombers for perpetuating the cycle of violence, behaving as immorally as the Israeli occupiers and for hardening the Jewish state’s resolve.

“I think it’s a credit to our community that institutions like the University of Judaism have held showings and that the community response has been thoughtful rather than reactionary,” said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a Jewish social justice organization with offices in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “I think most Jews who see the movie realize that it’s not about Jews in America or Israelis but an interesting insight into the bubble of Palestinian society.”

Perhaps the muted reaction from the American Jewish community stems from the fact that so few Jews have actually seen the film. Confined largely to art houses, “Paradise Now” earned a paltry $1.1 million from its late October release until its Oscar nomination.

Jewish groups might now also temper their reactions because of the lessons learned from “The Passion of the Christ.” The controversial and, some argued, anti-Semitic film about the last hours of Jesus’ life saw its box-office surge after Jewish critics began attacking it.

Boycotting “Paradise Now,” said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, “will only bring more publicity to this type of movie.”

Marc Ballon was moderator for the discussion following the University of Judaism’s screening of “Paradise Now.”

 

‘Design’-ing Woman Comes to Town


“Kosher by Design,” (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, $32.99) “Kosher by Design Entertains” ($34.99) and “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” ($22.99) by Susie Fishbein.

With the frenzied anticipation generally reserved for the appearance of a rock star — or at the very least, Oprah — the Orthodox community of Los Angeles is abuzz with excitement: Susie is coming!

“Susie” is Susie Fishbein, the effervescent author of the “Kosher by Design” cookbooks, who has turned kosher cooking on its proverbial ear. And no wonder she bubbles over. According to Gedaliah Zlotowitz, Mesorah’s vice-president of sales and marketing, more than 160,000 copies have sold with no end in sight.

Fishbein will be making three exclusive appearances this month in Los Angeles (see box), and those lucky enough to get a reservation will watch, kvell and sample as their idol cooks.

“Susie Fishbein has done for Jewish cooking what [rabbi and author] Aryeh Kaplan did for beginning Judaism,” said Rabbi Shimon Kraft of the 613 Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard. “They’re buying her cookbooks en masse. She’s a genius at editing and putting everything all together.”

“Our patrons are meshugah for her books,” echoed Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. “We have over 30,000 resources here, and the most precious part of our collection is Jewish cookbooks. Hers circulate so robustly. They’re fabulous.”

Just what is this revolution in kosher cooking that Fishbein has spawned? As food columnist, cooking instructor and dinnerware designer Debby Segura explained, “Lots of people used to feel tied to a few kosher cookbooks, but so much has happened in kosher food over the last 20 years that just wasn’t being reflected, and if it was, it was too complicated. Susie gives you food styling, kosher tips, kitchen tips. But the big deal about Susie’s recipes is they work.”

Risa Moskowitz, who chairs the event for Emek, added, “When I booked the event, everyone said, ‘Oh my gosh, I live by her cookbooks!’ There wasn’t one person who said ‘Who?’ People who aren’t kosher don’t realize what’s possible for us now, the variety of foods and the way to prepare them. They think kosher means dried-out, salted meat. Her books have had a tremendous impact.”

Toras Emes chair Sara Leah Beinstock agreed: “These are the ultimate kosher cookbooks. There’s nothing close to them on the market. Her recipes are easy to follow, and the food is appetizing and delicious. It’s very exciting to have gourmet Jewish cookbooks.”

Fishbein, an Orthodox Jew and mother of four children ages 3 to 11, understands that today’s observant Jews want to prepare many of the same exciting dishes found on restaurant menus and serve them with style. Those who grew up on Grandma’s Shabbos brisket now embrace her Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce.

“Kosher food doesn’t have to be simple or bland,” noted Fishbein by phone from her New Jersey home. “Just about every ingredient is available out there kosher.”

The luscious table settings and presentation ideas that party planner Renee Erreich and Fishbein created for these books — and that photographer John Uher shot — fairly leap off the pages. But everything is doable.

“The food looks intimidating, but the recipes are not,” Fishbein said. “It’s not about putting on a show. These are recipes the family will want to eat over and over.” And they do. So popular are these dishes that guests recognize them on each other’s Shabbat tables.

Routinely dubbed the Jewish Martha Stewart, Fishbein squirms at the comparison.

“I’m flattered, but it’s not really accurate,” she said. “Martha Stewart is all about a lifestyle. If you want beautiful flowers, you plant them and this is how you do it. We’re busy. We have kids. We have jobs. We’re in and out of the kitchen trying to make fabulous meals. I take shortcuts she would never take. I’m about cutting to the chase to accomplish our goals.”

Beloria Fink, whose sister will be driving from San Diego to join her for the Emek event, observed, “Susie can take a simple recipe and it looks extravagant and elegant, like you’ve really knocked yourself out. She’s taken the bland, traditional Shabbos meal and turned it into elegant cuisine. She shows you how to set a beautiful table for each holiday so you can create a legacy for your own children.”

“Kosher by Design” marries food to holiday traditions in new ways that resonate with those seeking a deeper Jewish experience for their families.

“When I think back to Passover in my childhood,” Fishbein reflected, “I remember my cousin Jeff scrubbing the maror, my aunt cutting sheets of egg noodles and Grandma Mollie making chremslach, because 10 minutes shouldn’t go by without her feeding us something. These memories are like yesterday. It’s a happy place for me. I want that for my kids.”

To accomplish this Fishbein went way beyond “It’s Rosh Hashanah, let’s have honey.” Case in point: Pomegranate Chicken. “I tell my kids, ‘You know why I made this dish, you guys? Pomegranate has 613 seeds corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.’ Maybe it’s not my grandmother’s chicken, but it’s incredibly appropriate.”

Similarly, envelope-shaped Won Ton Wrapped Chicken appetizers for Purim are edible reminders of the lots (purim) Haman drew to select the date for the Jews’ extinction.

For Simchat Torah she incorporates the tradition of eating rolled foods to mimic Torah scrolls.

“I thought stuffed cabbage was overdone,” Fishbein noted, “but I’ve got this awesome Chicken Negemaki. Chicken is rolled around scallion and red pepper strips and tied like a scroll with a blanched scallion. True, God never told us to eat Chicken Negemaki, but he didn’t tell us to eat stuffed cabbage either.”

With “Kosher by Design Entertains,” Fishbein moved on to celebrations — a housewarming, dinner for two, an engagement party — nine in all, with spectacular menus and extravagant serving ideas along with the simple, yet elegant recipes she had become famous for.

Now “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” offers the dishes kids like to eat — and cook — clearly explained, beautifully photographed and coded for difficulty with one, two or three chefs hats (see story p. 49).

How does Fishbein herself explain the hoopla surrounding her books?

“I think I hit a nerve in the community,” she said. “People clearly have had a creative passion in them that was waiting to be unleashed. I’ve unleashed their inner cook.”

Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce

From “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried minced thyme
2 shallots
2 racks of baby lamb chops, 8-9 chops per rack; have butcher French the bones
1 cup port wine, divided
8 fresh Mission figs or 6 dried figs, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450 F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and shallots 30-45 seconds or until thick paste forms. Rub herb paste into lamb.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet. Add lamb, fat side down, and cook over high heat 5 minutes. Turn lamb and cook an additional minute so that both sides are brown.

Add 1/2 cup port to skillet. Place skillet in the oven and roast 18 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven. Place lamb on a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Add remaining 1/2 cup port and figs to skillet. Bring to a simmer. Use a spatula to loosen brown bits from pan. Add stock and simmer 3-4 minutes. Sauce will thicken to a nice amber color. Pour sauce over lamb and serve.

Makes four servings.

Additional recipes can be found at ” target=”_blank”>www.cookingjewish.com.

Susie Fishbein will appear in private homes on:

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Messianics Gather for National Meeting


A Christian megachurch whose clergy has worked with local Jewish leaders in recent years to support Israel gathered last weekend to celebrate Jews who proclaim Jesus as the messiah.

About 1,100 people attended the Jan. 20-21 Road To Jerusalem conference, which took place at megachurch at The Church on the Way in Van Nuys. Christian Zionists bonded with Messianic Jews who maintain Jewish traditions but believe in Jesus.

The major national conference came at a time when Jewish leaders like Anti Defamation League head Abe Foxman have challenged the wisdom of Jews aligning with the Christian right solely because of its strong support of Israel.

Christian Zionists see the existence of modern Israel as a precondition for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which they believe will be marked by the violent death of millions, including the ingathered Jews. Those who survive the Apocolypse will embrace Jesus.

Jewish defenders of the Christian Zionists say Christian support for Israel outweighs any concerns about end-time theology. But critics point to support for groups like Messianic Jews as proof that these groups pose a threat to Jewish continuity.

“It’s kind of like they have placards that say ‘Israel – yes’ on one side, but ‘Judaism – maybe’ or ‘no’ on the other,” Rabbi A. James Rudin, inter-religious affairs adviser for the American Jewish Committee, told the Associated Press.

Among the conference’s Saturday afternoon speakers was Don Finto, the longtime pastor of Nashville’s Belmont Church. Standing before an audience of more than 900, he said, “I want everybody to sit down except those who are Jewish by birth.”

About 80 people remained standing.

“Your destiny is to bless the nations,” Finto said. “You Jewish people are meant to bless us; we need your blessing, but you need ours. Let’s bless each other.”

These Messianic Jews, often seen as an aberration if not a threat by the Jewish community, have been embraced by evangelical Christians.

Those same Christian leaders are, in other local settings, welcomed by mainstream Jewish leaders for their Christian Zionism. Among those walking the line between the two worlds is the Rev. Jack Hayford of Church on the Way, who has spoken eloquently about Israel at Stephen S. Wise Temple, the Reform congregation in Bel Air. Hayford has brought busloads of his congregants to events sponsored by the Israel-Christian Nexus, which seeks to strengthen Christian and Jewish support for Israel. At the Road to Jerusalem event, Hayford spoke of, “helping the church understand what God’s doing among Jews today and how to relate to it.”

Despite their theological differences, Hayford’s mainstream Jewish friends include Reform Rabbi Steven Jacobs of the Woodland Hills synagogue Kol Tikvah. He holds High Holiday services at Church on the Way.

“Jack Hayford is no Pat Robertson, that’s the best way I can put it,” Jacobs told The Journal. “And you have to discern who you can live with theologically, and Jack Hayford is a person of integrity and never has pushed my buttons in terms of salvation. He respects the Jew for who he and she is.”

The Road To Jerusalem conference was organized by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, founder of the 1990s Promise Keepers movement for Christian men. As Promise Keepers rallies became smaller, in 2004, McCartney and the Rev. Raleigh Washington, a prominent African American pastor, developed Road to Jerusalem events to create Christian Zionist support for Israel and Messianic Jews.

“We believe according to God’s holy word, the Torah and the New Testament, that when a Jewish person recognizes that Jesus is his messiah, he becomes a Jew who has now found his messiah,” Washington said. “The Jew who believes that Jesus is the messiah believes that the messiah has come. The Orthodox Jew who does not believe Jesus is the messiah, he’s still waiting for messiah. So both believe in the messiah; the question that has to be answered is Jesus really the true messiah?”

Most attendees at the event were Christians, although it was dominated by images of Israel, as well as Jewish-themed vendors, kosher food and men wearing kippahs.

Performing at the conference was a dance troupe from the Messianic Jewish congregation Beth Emunah in Agoura Hills. The troupe’s leader said that out of her 15 dancers, eight were Jewish. Similarly, Messianic Rabbi Eric Carlson’s said he has 280 people in his congregation in Newport News, Va., but that out “of that 280, 100 are Jewish.”

David Chernoff is the son of a Messianic rabbi. He now runs his own Messianic congregation in Philadelphia and is prominent in the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

“We love our gentile brethren, but we knew we had to stand on our own two feet,” Chernoff said, recounting early Messianic movement growth in the 1970s. “I never imagined that we in Messianic Judaism would have friends such as this.”

The Rev. Mike Bickle of Kansas City, Mo., spoke at the conference about end-of-times predictions about Israel; in a passing comment, he used the phrase, “unsaved Jews,” and said a Satan-like leader, “will be required to exterminate the Jewish race.”

Messianic Jews at the conference complained about being harassed in Israel for their beliefs and facing immigration problems over Israel’s right-of-return law for Diaspora Jews. When asked about this while speaking at a separate event in Los Angeles last weekend, Israeli politician Natan Sharansky said, “If you change your religion, you don’t have a right to become a citizen by law of return … the change of religion means change of nationality.”

‘One People’ Adopts Novel Plan on Book


Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei knew his congregants at Westwood’s Sinai Temple loved reading when about 20 of them braved the evening rush hour last November for an event at the University of Judaism (UJ) celebrating the 1939 talmudic novel, “As a Driven Leaf.”

“This was sandwiched in between two major adult learning weekends,” said Schuldenfrei, still amazed two months later.

The novel by the late Rabbi Milton Steinberg is currently being read at two dozen local synagogues in the new “One People/One Book” program, an attempt to broaden Jewish communal learning by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. It joins other Jewish book group gatherings at the Skirball Cultural Center and Orange County’s Bureau of Jewish Education.

The “One People/One Book” plan is for synagogue members to meet and discuss “As a Driven Leaf” in small groups at least four times between last November’s opening at the UJ and a closing event on May 24 at Milken Community High School.

“Every synagogue is sort of coordinating this in a different way,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, the board’s executive vice president. “In some synagogues, it’s just lay people studying.”

Steinberg’s well-received book is a fictionalized portrait of Elisha ben Abuyah, a dissident talmudic scholar in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. The “One People/One Book” study guide mixes the book’s ideas with Torah texts.

“This book lends itself to so many profound themes,” Diamond said. “Modernity vs. tradition, forgiveness and repentance.”

The board’s president, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Pico-Robertson’s Orthodox B’nai David Judea Congregation, worked last year to develop “One People/One Book” with Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh of the Reform congregation, Temple Israel of Hollywood. The new learning program came after the board held annual interdenominational “Meeting in Torah” study nights for six years, but interest in that waned.

“For the first couple of years, it was very novel,” Kanefsky said. “Over the course of years, it became one part of the landscape.”

The new “One People/One Book” program replaces the one night of annual “Meeting in Torah,” with its opening and closing gatherings and smaller synagogue discussion groups.

“This way, we have two of those everyone-coming-together events and the four study groups in between,” Kanefsky said.

At Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation, people are absorbing the book in clusters.

“We are reading the book in different settings around the congregation,” Senior Rabbi Laura Geller said. “Two different classes are including it in their reading, so it’s happening all around the congregation.”

Geller said she feels that her 50 to 60 congregants who are reading Steinberg’s book together are gaining “a deeper understanding of rabbinic Judaism. It’s putting flesh and blood on names. I also think that they are finding themselves in the book.”

Schuldenfrei said Sinai Temple will start discussing “As a Driven Leaf” in March, with the Conservative synagogue currently busy marking it its centennial anniversary.

Beyond “One People/One Book,” the Jewish community has other ongoing book groups.

The Skirball Cultural Center’s book group has an “Echoes of the Past” theme set around five novels and nonfiction books to be discussed at monthly meetings through June. The first meeting, on Feb. 14, will examine Australian writer Anna Funder’s “Stasiland: True Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall” (Granta Books, 2003).

Skirball book lovers in March will read Brian Morton’s “A Window Across the River” (Harcourt, 2003), followed in April by Edwidge Danticat’s “The Dew Breaker” (Vintage, 2005). In May, the book group will read James McBride’s “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” (Riverhead Trade, 2001) and in June Andrea Levy’s “Small Island” (Picador, 2005).

In Orange County, the Bureau of Jewish Education is in the midst of 30 weeks of Tuesday morning book club meetings around the women-driven theme, “Foundations: Making Our Wilderness Bloom.”

The bureau’s Web site lists six books anchoring the theme: Haviva Ner-David’s “Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination” (JFL Books, 2000); “A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey” (State University of New York Press, 1999), by Merle Feld, and Kim Chernin’s “In My Mother’s House: A Daughter’s Story” (Harper Perennial, 1994).

Also listed are the Rebecca Goldstein novel, “Mind-Body Problem” (Penguin, 1993); Anzia Yerzierska’s, “Bread Givers: A Struggle Between a Father of the Old World and a Daughter of the New World” (G. Braziller, 1975), and Gina Nihai’s “Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith” (Washington Square Press, 2000).

In addition, the Santa Monica Public Library is exploring Jewish books with its program, “Between Two Worlds: Stories of Estrangement and Homecoming,” meeting the third Tuesday of each month. It will start on Feb. 21 with Eva Hoffman’s “Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language” (Penguin, 1990), followed March 21 by a discussion of Saul Bellow’s “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” (Penguin reissued edition, 2004). Scheduled for April 18 is the Andrea Aciman memoir, “Out of Egypt” (Riverhead Trade, 1996).

 

The Circuit


Leaving a Legacy

Fariba Nourfshan of Beverly Hills and Holli Rabishaw of Tarzana were among 22 young women selected to participate in Hadassah’s recent Young Women’s Legacy Mission to Poland and Israel. The program was designed to connect young women with their Israeli heritage and the numerous projects of Hadassah.

Chair for Thomas

It was standing-room-only when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s President and CEO Thomas M. Priselac was named the inaugural recipient of the Warschaw Law Endowed Chair in Health Care Leadership, a permanent academic research chair devoted to furthering leadership, research and education in healthcare public policy and management. Officials and physicians who joined in the festivities following the ceremonies included L.A. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who were among the speakers. Carmen Warschaw, a life trustee of the Cedars-Sinai board of directors, and her son-in-law, John C. Law, Cedars-Sinai board chair, along with Law’s wife, Hope, endowed the chair.

“With Tom Priselac’s depth of expertise and passion for quality health care, this endowed chair will advance health care policy and delivery in California and the nation,” Law said.

Priselac began his association with Cedars-Sinai Health System more than two decades ago, serving as executive vice president until 1994 when he was appointed president and CEO. Priselac also serves as an adjunct faculty member of the UCLA School of Public Health. He is a past member of the American Hospital Association board of directors, chairs the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Health Committee and is a member of the board of trustees of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

“The endowment will allow me to continue supporting the well-being of patients through the development of policy initiatives, new research and education, which I hope will ultimately lead to improved health care coverage in California,” Priselac said.

Rabbi in the House

A special family dinner and concert was held Jan. 21 at Temple Beth El of San Pedro featuring Jewish composer and musician Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin, who is known for his teaching and appearance each summer for “Hagigah” at the Union for Reform Judaism’s camps Swig, Kutz and Newman. Schachet-Briskin, who is cantor at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, appeared in honor of the installation and consecration for Rabbi Charles Kahn Briskin, as spiritual leader at Temple Beth El.

Saluting Soldiers I

More than 850 people, including many of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community, gathered at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills to honor the brave men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Friends of the IDF Western Region held the event to raise funds for an auditorium, library and synagogue at the soon to be built new REIM Base in the Negev.

The gala dinner was co-chaired by Cheryl and Haim Saban and included a live satellite hook-up with soldiers stationed near Gaza. The evening’s special guest speaker was Avi Dicter who recently retired as head of Shin Bet. By the end of the evening, the gala dinner had raised nearly $4 million — with many additional pledges and commitments under discussion — for recreational facilities at a new army base in the Negev, reported the group’s director Miri Nash.

Even in Beverly Hills, it’s not every day that someone gets up to pledge $1 million to a good cause, to say nothing of two successive million-dollar donors. It happened at the 25th anniversary celebration, when the Saban and his wife announced their gift, almost as a throwaway line.

Not bad for an ex-corporal in the IDF, who was surrounded by a platoon of respectful Israeli ex-generals.

Next in line was Leo David, former chair of the Western Region, who proclaimed that anything Saban could do, he could do and added another million bucks.

Dichter, a rising star in Israel’s Kadima Party, warned that the “terror states” of Iran, Syria and Lebanon had not given up on their hopes to destroy the Jewish state. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Saluting Soldiers II

The Chanukah e-mail from an American Jewish soldier in Iraq put it succinctly: “We have a hard time getting things here,” wrote Army Staff Sgt. David T. Silcox.

He was thanking Jewish community volunteers in Los Angeles and Connecticut for the Chanukah gift packages sent to Jewish troops in Iraq as well as soldiers in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar through Operation Far From Home.

“We also sent little gifts for the soldiers, so they can send those to their children,” said Jewish community activist Adeena Bleich, who created Operation Far Home last Passover with her parents, Linda and Phil Bleich, who live in New Haven, Conn.

“Jewish solders need to know that we’re here and we’re thinking of them,” Linda Bleich said.

Operation Far From Home has received 500 Jewish music CDs from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, plus donations from former California state Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), as well as support from several L.A. area shuls and schools. One seventh-grader at Hillel Hebrew Academy wrote to the troops: “I admire what you are doing for our country.”

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City said he likes Operation Far From Home because, “it’s our responsibility to support our soldiers overseas who are defending democracy for us.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

 

Iranian Muslims Brush Up on Shoah


The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted more than two-dozen representatives from local Iranian Muslim news outlets this month to provide them with information about the Holocaust that they can, in turn, use to educate their readers, listeners and viewers.

“We are looking to introduce the Iranian media to the Wiesenthal Center and to respond to the hatred of Jews in Iran,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said in remarks to the group. “We want you to expose the lies and hatred coming from the Iranian government.”

Cooper was referring to recent statements by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has implied that the Holocaust is a myth; on another occasion he asserted that Israel should be obliterated and that a homeland for Jews could be located instead in Europe or America.

Ahmadinejad’s comments have recently energized the Southern California-based Persian-language media to support Israel publicly and to speak out against anti-Semetic remarks made by Iranian government officials for the first time in the 26 years since the Islamic revolution. A pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions last November.

At the weekend gathering, Iranian journalists talked of a duty to learn more about the Holocaust so they could properly relay the full extent of Nazi atrocities to their audiences.

“It is our responsibility to give people in the Iranian community the correct information about this issue,” said Parviz Kardan, a Persian-language media personality and host of the radio program “A Spoonful of Sugar” on KIRN 670 AM. “We must be a window for young Iranians everywhere to show history in the proper light.”

Those in attendance were given an electronic card with the name and photograph of a child who lived during the era of the Holocaust. At the end of the tour, they discovered what happened to that child.

“I was aware of the Holocaust, but not to the extent of what I learned from this visit,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian-language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news into Iran and worldwide. “In Iran we have a dictator like Hitler who is behaving like him and speaking like him.”

The journalists’ tour guide was Holocaust survivor Peter Daniels, who had his own perspective on Ahmadinejad.

“We’ve dealt with Holocaust deniers for years,” Daniels said. “The president of Iran is not anything new. It’s a way for them to be heard and get attention. I try not to take it personally.”

In a question-and-answer period following the tour, Cooper noted that Ahmadinejad’s statements may be an attempt to divert attention from Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But he urged the Iranian media representatives to respond to them nevertheless.

“The average American thinks the president of Iran speaks for all Iranians,” Cooper told them. “They don’t know the region well, so you need to have a core message.” He also urged them to reach out to U.S. elected officials “to voice your concern for the safety of your friends and family in Iran.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders George Haroonian and Bijan Khalli were involved in setting up the Museum of Tolerance event. They said they felt a responsibility as Jews to inform their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots about the truth of the Holocaust.

“Forgetfulness about the Holocaust is like committing a crime,” Haroonian told the crowd of Iranian journalists in Persian. The Iranian government is “trying to teach hatred for Jews. We hope this tour will be a step to awaken the Iranian people.”

 

The Circuit


Shining Lights

The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division put a cool spin on Chanukah with “Latkes and Blackjack” at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. The usually dark alternative music club had a cheery holiday makeover as dreidels and chocolate gelt were spread across tables in the main room, as well as in the neighboring Alterknit lounge.

The continuous shouts of “yes” from 20- and 30-somethings at the seven blackjack tables — who were wearing everything from jeans and sneakers to suits and “little black dresses” — added to the spirit of the event.

Young Leadership member Jeff Kay said events like “Latkes and Blackjack” are more likely to draw him than other types of events: “The more social, the better.”

That’s exactly what the division’s staff had in mind.

“We find that it is really important for us to have festive occasions for people to participate in,” said Sandy Levin, Young Leadership Division director, who added that recent reports about the disconnect of young people from the Jewish community are “troubling.”

“I think at this age there are so many people not affiliated to anything,” she said. “We’re trying to make an impact and help people connect in our own small way.”

Since Young Leadership is about giving back to the community, each candle on the enormous menorah, brought in for the event, represented a different group assisted by The Federation.

“We want them to enjoy Chanukah, but we also want them to understand more about what the Federation does,” said Heather Greenberg and Yael Irom, Young Leadership Division co-chairs.

Causes honored by the candles included Jewish Family Service (JFS), SOVA Food Pantry and the Bureau of Jewish Education. “Anybody at any stage of their life might need a service of The Jewish Federation,” Levin told the Circuit. “And if they don’t need it today, they may need it down the road.”

When all the blackjack chips were cashed and all the latkes were eaten, Young Leadership had raised more $81,000, to provide assistance to the elderly, children and others in need in Los Angeles, Israel and around the world. They also collected more than 50 toys for JFS Gramercy Place Shelter. — Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer

Fulfilling Dreams

It was truly the “children’s hour” when The Fulfillment Fund held its Annual Holiday Party for young children with disabilities. The well-attended event entertained several-hundred students, ages 3-9, from the Los Angeles Unified School District for a memorable day of festive fun.

The event is hosted by Fulfillment Fund students and their mentors, and college scholars from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The Lucky Brand Foundation provides a generous grant each year to help make this incredible event possible.

More than 30 years ago, the Fulfillment Fund began with a similar holiday party, and has since grown into one of the most effective college access organizations in Los Angeles, having served thousands of young people throughout the years.

FESTIVAL of Advocacy

Lighting up the night, more than 450 people filled the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium for its “Festival of Lights” concert/fundraiser for the Israel advocacy and education group StandWithUs on Dec. 11.

“Giving is easy when it doesn’t cost us anything,” said Century City attorney and StandWithUs board vice president Marty Jannol, a festival honoree along with his wife and fellow board member Susan Jannol.

“Few of us here tonight have any fundamental material needs,” he said. “May our giving be doubly blessed by causing us to make the right choices about our material lives.”

Honors for Estrin

Israel’s high-tech industry, a mainstay of the country’s economic, military and scientific strength, honored its engineering “father” recently, when it bestowed the Israel Software Industry Pioneer Award on UCLA proffessor Gerald (Jerry) Estrin.

Estrin and his wife, Thelma, also a computer engineer, left Princeton in 1954. With a small team at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Estrin hand-built the WEIZAC, the first computer in the Middle East.

Additional honors were conferred on Estrin, a Santa Monica resident, by the Weizmann Institute and the worldwide Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for his and Israel’s roles in the global information revolution.

An extensive story on Estrin’s work was published in the Jewish Journal on Dec. 3, 2004, and can be found on the Journal Web site. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

 

Food for Thought


The only thing worse than going to most luncheons is having to write about them — blow-by-blows of well-meaning, well-deserved appreciations and thank yous and speeches that go on too long.

So on my way over to the Luxe Summit Hotel in Bel-Air last month I decided I wasn’t going to write more than a brief about this year’s Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educators Awards luncheon.

But here’s the thing: This event really is one of the most inspiring afternoons on the local Jewish calendar.

Maybe it’s because teachers are so notoriously underappreciated. And the event, which focuses solely on teachers and principals in our day schools, makes everyone in the room want to pump their arms and let out a big “Woo-hoo!”

The luncheon is well produced, featuring videos of the surprised recipients learning of the honor during assemblies at their own schools. These films of celebrating, table-banging kids — and shocked and teary-eyed teachers, getting drawn out hugs from colleagues — are the centerpiece of the luncheon.

And then after lunch we got to hear from the five recipients themselves; each received a $10,000 prize. In their allotted two minutes they did what they do so well: teach.

Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, principal of Yeshiva Rav Isaacson-Torath Emeth Academy, told about the troublemaker kid who got called into the principal’s office for the 50 billionth time. But this time, after the same lecture, he came out, changed his ways and within months became a model student.

What did it?

During the principal’s ranting and raving, the secretary buzzed in with a phone call. And the principal told her, “Sorry, I’m meeting with somebody very important now. I’ll have to call back.”

Somebody important. That’s all the kid heard.

Next up was Vivian Levy, who has taught third grade at Sinai Akiba Academy for 30 years. She told of the bearded fellow who approached her recently and said, “Don’t you remember me?”

And then she did. He was the kid who couldn’t sit still, whose hyperactivity had made school unbearable for him.

“You believed in me,” he said to her. “And you helped me to believe in myself. I was a handful in third grade, and you encouraged me and told me I could do it.”

Today, he is an emergency-room physician.

“What a perfect match for his learning style,” Levy said.

Chaya Moldaver, the beloved second-grade teacher at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, analyzed the patriarch Jacob’s trait of wanting blessings for his descendants. That, she said, is what inspires teachers to pass the heritage from one generation to the next.

Robin Solomon is up to her second generation of students at Adat Ari El Day School — and she hopes to retire before the third starts arriving. She said her decades as a kindergarten teacher have taught her that teaching is not magic — it’s simply about loving children, and helping them love Judaism.

And then there’s the educator I will always think of as Dr. Powell. Twenty years ago, Bruce Powell was my principal at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, the first of three high schools he helped establish in Los Angeles. He also was founding principal of Milken Community High School, and four years ago founded The New Community Jewish High School, which has gone from 40 students to 270.

Back when Dr. Powell was my principal, he taught us that when you give a speech, you always grab the listeners with a good joke or a story. So I was a bit surprised when he opened with a potentially dry episode in which the sages of the Mishnah try to distill Judaism into pithy bullet points. But then came his own distillation: “It’s really all about lunch.”

Which was his way of saying so much more. How Judaism is about community (sharing lunch), tzedakah (providing lunch), nurturing others (making lunch) and standing up for your identity (matzah sandwiches for lunch) — and being willing to ask for a major donation (over lunch) for something other than yourself.

And this event — this lunch — lunch epitomized the common denominator of Jewish community through education.

Where else would you end up with a tableful of black hats right next to a table with a woman rabbi?

They eat the same food. They nod at the same words of Torah. They bentsch (say the blessing after meals) together.

Go find that anywhere else — and I mean anywhere.

And here’s a fitting postscript. One of last year’s recipients, Maimonides Academy Rabbi Mordechai Dubin, who teaches fourth graders and music, used his $10,000 award to produce a CD for kids. Its title is “I Made This World for You”; each of the 14 songs is based on a portion in the book of Genesis. This selection, along with the follow-up song, “I Believe,” based on Maimonides 13 principles of faith, have become hits in day schools across the city, and even the country. As a result, children as young as 3 are now quoting from Genesis and Maimonides.

So great teaching begat recognition, which begat more great teaching. And more recognition. And in the world of teaching, where recognition is not always easy to come by, that’s worth writing about.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, DECEMBER 31

“Auld Lang Syne” it with the Santa Monica Playhouse this year, as it presents its New Year’s Eve dinner theater event, “Sing Sholom Aleichem.” Highlights from the playhouse’s repertoire of Jewish musicals will be featured in two cabaret performances. Price of admission also includes buffet dinner, champagne, sparkling cider, hats, noisemakers, tiaras and leis.

6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $39.50-$49.50. 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 394-9779, ext. 1.

Sunday, JANUARY 1

Celebrate the eighth day Yiddish style with the Workmen’s Circle. This afternoon, it presents its “Last Night of Khaneke Party,” complete with latkes, menorah lighting and klezmer music by the 17-member Arbeter Ring and Sholem Community Klezmer Project.

3 p.m. $8-$12. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.

Monday, JANUARY 2

Artist Jules Blaine Davis invites viewers back into the womb with her new interactive exhibition, “Inside.” The by-appointment-only show offers visitors a multisensory experience. Entering the space, you’ll hear a heartbeat and, Blaine Davis hopes, feel reconnected “with this universal experience we all share.”

Risk Free Press Gallery, 8533 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 219-4911.

Tuesday, JANUARY 3

Give one more gift today. Temple Kol Tikvah hosts a Red Cross Blood Drive. Worldwide disaster relief efforts have depleted California blood supply reserves, and the holiday season can also be a time of greater need. Your donation alone can save three lives.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

Wednesday, JANUARY 4

Brush up on the mother tongue today. Israeli author, poet and correspondent for Yediot Aharonot Amalia Argaman-Barnea discusses her books, “Mine Enemy” and “Hom Camus,” at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. The lecture will be in Hebrew only.

7 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8644.

Thursday, JANUARY 5

Sweet and wicked all at once, vaudeville chanteuse Janet Klein is back with her Parlor Boys this month at the Steve Allen Theater. Together, they’ll perform pop, Yiddish and novelty tunes from the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s.

8-10 p.m. $15. 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 960-7785. www.cfiwest.org/theater.

Friday, JANUARY 6

Billy Crystal’s one-man autobiographical piece, “700 Sundays,” opens today at the Wilshire Theatre. Tickets have already gone fast, but there are still a few left to see the actor-comedian’s most personal performance, in which he becomes the characters that have influenced him the most in his life.

Jan. 6-Feb. 18. Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (213) 365-3500. www.BroadwayLA.org.