Once dreaming of a Hebrew charter school, now only Mandarin is offered


When the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEA) opened in August 2010, part of the draw for parents was the chance for students at the Santa Clarita charter middle and high school to study Hebrew. 

Since then, AEA backers have submitted petitions to set up elementary schools in the Newhall School District, Los Angeles Unified School District and Ventura Unified School District, without success. In August 2012, a revised version of its twice-rejected petition for an elementary charter was submitted to the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita. Among the changes in the newest version was eliminating offering Hebrew at the school, at least initially. 

“We will offer only one second language at the beginning; it will be Mandarin,” Shannon Perches, the principal and lead petitioner for the proposed elementary school, told the Saugus district’s board of governors at a well-attended public hearing on Sept. 19. 

In denying an earlier version of the charter petition, the board expressed concerns about the proposed school’s financial plan and its ability to accommodate students with special needs, as well as those whose first language is not English. 

As for teaching a second language, a central element of AEA’s unique curriculum, the board’s objection wasn’t to offering Hebrew, per se. 

The board’s concern was focused on how the proposed elementary school would go about teaching multiple foreign languages. 

“The AEA petition fails to state how students would be assigned to either Hebrew or Mandarin instruction, or whether there would be any consideration of the child’s ability to learn either language,” states a report by the Saugus district staff adopted by the board when it rejected the second version of the charter petition in April 2012. 

Hebrew may yet return to the proposed school’s curriculum, according to Jeffrey Shapiro, the executive director of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEALAS) Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization designed to support and develop AEA schools. 

“In future years, we intend to add additional languages,” Shapiro said. 

Other public schools in California teach Hebrew, including public charter elementary schools. At the AEA high school, 80 students are enrolled in Hebrew classes this year, the vast majority of them new learners of the language, and not all of them Jewish. 

“It’s like a miracle,” said Nehama Meged, head of the school’s Hebrew department. On the wall in her classroom are half a dozen framed photographs of her students on a school trip to Israel taken after the end of the 2011-12 academic year. 

Twenty students traveled through Israel on an itinerary that featured both Jewish and Christian historical and holy sites; five of the students were not Jewish, Meged said. 

“The kids, who had zero knowledge not just about the language, but the place, the people learned so much, and they care about Israel,” she said. 

Taking Hebrew out of the AEA Saugus elementary petition is just the most recent step in a long process that has dramatically reduced the prominence of Hebrew language instruction in AEA schools. 

In order to get the high school’s charter petition approved by the William S. Hart Union High School District, the backers of the AEA high school dropped a curriculum that would have offered Hebrew-immersion instruction. That change led the Hebrew Charter School Center, the leading organization dedicated to developing Hebrew-language charter schools, to cut ties with AEA. The school also abandoned their plan to locate in a newly planned Jewish community center building.

The school was, from the first, the vision of Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, and Blazer spoke publicly to parents, officials and the media during that initial AEA charter approval effort. He has since taken a much lower profile, though he remains president of the board of the AEALAS Foundation. Blazer attended the Sept. 19 hearing but left before the proceedings began.

Proposed Albert Einstein Elementary charter to get a new hearing


The Saugus Union School District is set to hold a third hearing on Sept. 19 regarding a petition to establish an Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts & Sciences (AEA) charter elementary school in Santa Clarita. 

If approved, the school would be the second in the AEA family of charter schools, along with a charter high school in Santa Clarita that started its third year in August. It would also be one of a handful of charter schools on the West Coast where Hebrew is taught as a second language. Classes in Mandarin would also be offered. 

The Saugus Union district’s five-member governing board rejected two earlier petitions for the same AEA elementary school, voting unanimously in March 2011 and on a 4-1 vote in June 2012. In the past two years, petitions to establish AEA elementary charter schools have also been denied by three other school districts.

In its latest denial, the 37-page staff report adopted by the Saugus board found that the AEA petition presented an “unsound educational program for the pupils” and that the “petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.” 

Jeffrey Shapiro, executive director of the AEALAS Foundation, a nonprofit entity designed to develop and support AEA schools, said that a modified petition, submitted to the district on Aug. 27, addressed “each and every one” of the concerns raised in the June staff report. 

Faced with what it called “a complicated and sometimes frustrating process of seeking approval for a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade charter school in the Saugus Union School District,” the AEALAS Foundation has launched a concerted public relations effort in support of its petition for a Santa Clarita elementary charter school. 

An “Approve the Einstein Charter” Facebook page was established in August; as of Sept. 11, the page had garnered 274 “Likes.” Earlier this month, California State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) wrote a public letter in support of an AEA elementary school charter. 

The AEA high school in Santa Clarita first opened its doors in the fall of 2010 with 200 students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades. As of this fall, AEA high school has 375 students enrolled in grades seven through 11. In early 2012, the high school received a five-year renewal from the William S. Hart Union High School District, and a three-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

The proposed AEA elementary charter school aims to eventually enroll 500 students. According to Shapiro, 1,000 families have expressed interest. If the current modified petition is approved, the elementary school will begin classes in August 2013. 

The governing board is not expected to vote at next week’s public hearing; according to Shapiro, votes are typically taken approximately 30 days later.

Shalhevet looks for financial security in property sale


Shalhevet high school is close to finalizing a deal to sell more than half of its 2.4 acres to a property developer who plans to build an apartment complex on the lot at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard.

The plan will put Shalhevet on firmer financial footing, head of school Ari Segal told the Boiling Point, Shalhevet’s school newspaper. The school currently carries heavy debt and has limited funds for capital improvements and programming, Segal said. 

The school plans to either renovate or completely rebuild the structures on the remaining half of the property, starting after this academic year. The contract stipulates that the buyer will not take possession of the property until construction of a new school building is complete, so Shalhevet can use the other side of the facility during construction, the Boiling Point reported. 

“We have a lot of time,” Segal told the Boiling Point. “It will be a year before we need to move out of our side of the building — until then we will have 12 months to fundraise.”

Segal said the sale would mean capping enrollment at 240 students. There are 162 students enrolled this year.

“But to be perfectly honest, I love the idea that we should focus on having 200 students,” Segal told Jacob Ellenhorn, editor of the school paper. “Part of what makes the school unique is that every single student has a voice, and every member of the community really knows each other. I find that once you get past 200, and certainly past 240, you lose that intimacy.”

Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s widow to attend school renaming event


Rona Ramon, widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, will join in a festive event on March 25, marking the renaming of a Jewish day school in her husband’s honor.

Also participating will be relatives of two of Ramon’s crew mates, William McCool and Kalpana Chawla, as well as Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut who is Jewish.

The event is sponsored by The “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and the renamed Ilan Ramon Day School in Agoura Hills, formerly the Heschel West Day School, established in 1994.

The Columbia space shuttle disintegrated during entry into the atmosphere, and its seven-member crew perished, 16 minutes before its scheduled landing on Feb. 1, 2003.

Ilan Ramon was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and one of eight F-16 pilots who bombed and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.

Of the four children of Ilan and Rona Ramon, son Asaf was killed at 21, while flying on a routine air force mission.

The sold-out event will be held at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Anti-Semitic flags found near Milken Campus


A Milken Community High School official reported the discovery of anti-Semitic renderings of the Israel flag in front of and near its middle school campus on March 1.

The two small flags featured a painted swastika in place of the Star of David. One flag was found in front of David and Hillevi Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School, while the other was discovered 1 mile west of the campus, at the intersection of Calneva Drive and Mulholland Boulevard.

Milken Head of School Jason Ablin said that a Milken parent found one of the flags — approximately 4 by 6 inches in size — stapled onto an L.A. Department of Water and Power sign next to the middle school’s exit gate early Thursday morning.

The LAPD and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were notified about the incident.

Milken’s security service reported that the alleged perpetrator drove a “dark-gray SUV” and is a “young-looking male, light-skinned, dark hair, about 5 feet, 4 inches,” Ablin said.

ADL Associate Director Matt Friedman, who saw photographs of the flags, said they looked like “stickers or a notecard.”

Friedman noted the connection between the signs and this week’s Israel Apartheid Week, a series of events in cities and college campuses across the United States that portray Israel as unjust occupiers of the Palestinian people.
“I don’t know if there’s any linkage there, but I was thinking that,” Friedman said.
Ablin assured parents that Milken considers students’ well being to be of utmost importance. “The first thing I did was inform the parents. I sent an announcement to parents this morning because obviously the first thing on everyone’s mind is safety and I wanted to make everyone aware of what happened, so rumors weren’t spreading around and so parents knew we were taking security very seriously,” Ablin said.

A teacher’s slur roils La Cañada School District


In October, Cindy Wilcox, then a member of the La Cañada Unified School District’s (LCUSD) Board of Governors, made public that she had filed an official complaint against a teacher at the district’s high-performing public high school. The public reaction was mixed, immediate — and intense.

The complaint alleges that Gabrielle Leko, a tenured math teacher at La Cañada High School, made bigoted remarks during the 2011-12 school year to students in her ninth-grade honors geometry class, including calling a Jewish student “Jew boy.”

Wilcox, who earlier this month stepped down after two four-year terms on the LCUSD board, said in a recent interview that some who live in La Cañada Flintridge, a wealthy city in the San Gabriel Valley, have thanked her for speaking up.

“But other people,” Wilcox said, “said this should never be public.” One particularly blunt letter published in the La Cañada Valley Sun, a local weekly newspaper, began with the sentence, “Cindy Wilcox should be ashamed of herself and leave La Cañada!”

Wilcox filed the complaint in June after hearing reports from parents of Leko’s students. But because none of those parents would attach their names to her official complaint, Wilcox decided to go public in October in the hope of finding a parent or student who might corroborate firsthand, on the record, the allegations against the teacher.

Speaking with The Jewish Journal in November, Wilcox said her complaint referenced a number of biased comments allegedly made by Leko, including remarks targeting an Armenian student, female students and a student with a stutter, in addition to allegedly calling one unnamed Jewish student “Jew boy” and “my little latke.”

Unbeknownst to Wilcox, Debra Archuleta and her daughter, Alyssa Stolmack, now a 10th-grader at La Cañada High School and a student in Leko’s 2010-11 class, also had complained about Leko’s remarks. In February and March 2011, Archuleta had contacted Jackie Luzak, the school’s principal, and Stolmack also attempted to raise the issue with a counselor at La Cañada High School.

Despite their efforts, nothing happened, Archuleta told a packed LCUSD board meeting on Nov. 15. It was only when Archuleta learned of Wilcox’s complaint in an article in a local newspaper that she and her daughter decided to become the public face of the case against Leko.

“There has not been one other parent in this town that has been willing to do what my daughter and I have been willing to do, and I think it’s frankly shameful,” Archuleta said at the November meeting.

For Jews who live in La Cañada Flintridge, the situation has raised questions about anti-Semitism.

“Pasadena, San Marino, La Cañada — these have historically been kind of unwelcoming to minorities,” said Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. “All these areas had quotas on Jews.”

Grater estimates that at least 25 member families of his synagogue’s 520 live in La Cañada, which has no synagogue of its own.

Rabbi Rick Schechter of Temple Sinai of Glendale, which also draws families from La Cañada, said that in six years on the pulpit he has heard a few stories about anti-Semitic comments being made in area schools.

“Of the three instances that come to my mind,” Schechter said, a number that includes the Leko case, “two involve people of authority working for the school systems. It’s not a large number, it’s not an epidemic, but it’s certainly shocking.”

Still, many Jewish parents of LCUSD students or graduates say they don’t see anti-Semitism as a pervasive problem in the area.

“I have never encountered any signs of anti-Semitism or bias based on our ethnicity [Jewish] or country of origin [Israel],” Avi Zirler, a manager for a major Southern California utility company who has lived in La Cañada for 16 years, wrote in an e-mail. “Our kids, both graduates of LCUSD, do not bear scars of anti-Semitism either.”

As for Leko, Zirler called her “an equal opportunity offender.”

Leko declined to be interviewed for this article and is still teaching in the classroom.

An investigation conducted by an LCUSD assistant superintendent found Leko had “made inappropriate comments containing gender and ethnic bias during exchanges of banter with students during class time,” according to a Nov. 12 memorandum published by La Cañada Flintridge Patch.com. The memo directed Leko “to participate in individualized sensitivity and diversity training” and said the board could take additional disciplinary action.

The LCUSD board met in closed session before and after its Dec. 6 meeting, but did not announce any actions. Before the meeting, two newly elected board members were sworn in, one of them Andrew Blumenfeld, a 20-year-old student at Princeton University who is Jewish.

The board is scheduled to meet again in closed session on Dec. 21 to discuss the Leko matter.

Wind closes synagogues, schools


Gusts that peaked at 97 miles per hour whipped through the Los Angeles area Wednesday night, downing trees and power lines and leaving some synagogues and Jewish schools with minor damage and no power.

Hardest hit was the Pasadena area, where the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, B’nai Simcha Community Preschool in Arcadia and the Weizmann Day School all remained closed on Thursday. The mayor of Pasadena declared a state of emergency for the area.

The unusually fierce Santa Ana winds sent a tree crashing through the bedroom of the home of a Mount Washington member of Chabad of Pasadena, but the family was not hurt, according to Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Chabad of Pasadena. Trees branches and debris were scattered around the Chabad building, but Hanoka did not detect any damage to the building, though he saw danger in live wires that dangled over some streets on Thursday. Many fires were reported in the area.

[Photo by Rabbi Joshua Grater

At Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), large tree limbs and branches littered the grounds, roof shingles had been lifted off, and a chain-link fence came down.  The window in the school principal’s office was blown out, but no structural damage occurred.

The synagogue lost power around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, it leader, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, said that if power were not restored by Friday morning, he would be forced to cancel Shabbat services.

“We were supposed to have a big Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, but now we have 15 pounds of chicken rotting in the refrigerator,” Grater said.

A 60-foot tree in front of Grater’s home was completely uprooted, he said.

The Weizmann Day School, an independent Jewish elementary school with an enrollment of 67 children that rents space from PJTC, informed parents Wednesday night that the school would likely be closed the next day, according to principal Lisa Feldman. At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, another message – sent via a room-parent phone tree, as well as texts, Twitter, emails and Facebook – confirmed that the school would be closed Thursday. A teacher stood outside the school at drop-off time just in case some without power didn’t get the message, but no parents showed up, Feldman said. Pasadena public schools and about 10 other school districts in the area also were closed Thursday.

Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Hanoka of Chabad said he had delivered food to several families who were without power and were trapped in their homes by toppled trees.

Around 300,000 Southern California residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

In Los Angeles, large trees splayed across several streets in the Pico-Robertson area. Maimonides Academy had a felled tree in its yard, and no power in the half of the school that resides in West Hollywood, while the half of the building on property in the City of Los Angeles had power.

Eitan Trabin, executive director of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said he is grateful that there was no serious damage to the temple and no one was hurt, especially seeing what had occurred around the neighborhood.

Trabin said, however, that he is bracing for more winds forecast through Friday.

“Whatever progress they make now in repairs and cleanup might be set back with the winds tonight,” Trabin said.

Pepperdine offers Israel-based internships


JERUSALEM —  When Courtney Bryant, a senior at Pepperdine University in Malibu, decided to participate in an Israel-based internship offered by her school’s Judaic studies program, she hoped to gain hands-on experience in broadcasting, her major.

To her delight, Bryant, a vivacious 19-year-old from Los Angeles, has spent the last couple of months researching and reporting stories for the Israel Broadcasting Authority News, Israel’s only English-language TV news show.

“I’ve gotten to do a lot of reporting,” Bryant said in late July over a dinner in Jerusalem with the program’s eight other interns. “I’ve worked on stories related to the fishing industry, the Syrian uprising, the Turkish elections.  This internship’s given me a much greater understanding of the Middle East, which is what I wanted.”

Pepperdine University, which describes itself as “a Christian university that is committed to Christian values,” launched the internship program last year.

Offered by the university’s Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies, the internship’s goal is to increase the student body’s exposure to, discussion of and awareness of Judaism, Jewish studies and Israel, according to the program’s Web site.

By working in Israel, Pepperdine students “get to know Israel not through tourism but through experiencing the life of an Israeli,” said Michael Helfand, the Glazer Institute’s associate director.

Prior to moving to Israel in late June, the interns underwent a “rigorous” interview process to nail down their professional goals and maximize their professional development, Helfand said.

Depending on their workplace, the participants live either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv but have met frequently for joint activities.

Helfand emphasized that the internship program “has no political agenda” and that the interns work at a diverse range of institutions, from the politically right-of-center NGO Monitor to the left-of-center Peres Center for Peace. 

“They go home at night and talk about what they’re doing. It fosters great discussions.”

Thomas Bundy, a 39-year-old law student, discussed his work on behalf of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Bundy, from Los Angeles, spent his internship working for a prominent Israeli law firm, which asked him to draft an international law brief it will soon file before the Israeli Supreme Court.

“The brief calls on the Israeli government to cut off all tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority until Shalit is released,” Bundy explained.

In June, Bundy attended a meeting with Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, and four U.S. Congressmen.

“It’s funny to think I may have peaked in my career the first summer after law school,” Bundy quipped, referring to his high-level Israeli internship.

Doug Tyson, a 26-year-old graduate student in public policy with an interest in international relations and economics, read hundreds of articles related to the Arab-Israeli conflict during his internship at NGO Monitor, an organization that scrutinizes pro-Palestinian nongovernmental organizations.

“I came here to learn about the conflict because I’m focusing on conflict zones,” the Wisconsin native said. “I’m now writing a Wikipedia page on the delegitimization of Israel.”

Like the other interns, Brittni Ping, who recently graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in international studies and French,  said her internship supervisors have given her much more responsibility than she expected.

“When I interned at Coca-Cola, every move I made had to go through my supervisor. Here I’m expected to work much more independently. There’s no hand-holding, and that’s given me a lot of confidence. I’m putting my international studies to use.”

For his internship at the Peres Center’s division of business and economic development, Odinakachi Anyanwu researched how the growth of tourism in Israel and the Palestinian territories could impact both.

Among other things, Anyanwu, an African-born 23-year-old graduate student in public policy, helped plan a workshop for Israeli and Palestinian professionals.

“One of the things I love is the cooperation I’ve seen in meetings every day between Israelis and Palestinians.  I haven’t seen any animosity. Instead, I’ve seen people who very much want to work together to encourage peace-building,” Anyanwu said.

Bobby Amiri, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, said he feels close to his colleagues at Biological Signal Processing, a company that has developed technology to more accurately diagnose heart disease.

“The group is very tight-knit, and I feel like I’ve been challenged by my assignment, which is directly related to what I want to do with my career,” Amiri said.

Throughout his internship, Amiri, who is 29 and from Palo Alto, conducted market research and strategy. He reported directly to the CEO, “who brought out the best in me, who allowed me to take it a step further,” he said.

Amiri praised Israeli society’s emphasis on religion-based values and the importance of the family.

“I’ve grown so much socially and morally. I feel there’s an adherence to religious practices.”

He noted that on Shabbat, the cities “shut down and there’s time to reflect and spend time with family.”

Amiri, whose Muslim father was born in the Middle East, said the three hours he was scrutinized by Israeli border guards before being permitted to re-enter Israel from Jordan did not dampen his appreciation of Israel.

“It was unpleasant, but as far as the people here, I feel very welcome.”

By working with ordinary Israelis, visiting their homes and seeing the country, the participants said they now have an infinitely greater understanding of the headlines and life behind the headlines. 

By working with people from both sides, Anyanwu said he discovered “a lot more depth to the conflict” than what is presented by the news media. “I found a great diversity of viewpoints in Israel alone.”

Without this background, Anyanwu said, “It’s easy to take sides without having a full understanding of what’s happening.”

After anti-semitic vandalism, life goes on at Calabasas High


Read more on this story here.

On April 27, just hours after three Calabasas High School students had been arrested in connection with the anti-Semitic and racist graffiti scrawled on their school’s campus late on the night of April 22, life at this well-groomed, suburban public school seemed to be back to almost normal.

When school employees arrived in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 23, they found the paved walkway between the 11th-graders’ parking lot and the school campus covered with swastikas, along with various other walls and lockers. But by nightfall that same day, the only evidence that remained was a few spots of faded concrete.

On April 26, three male 11th-graders, who have been described as “4.0 students,” confessed the vandalism to investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Their names have not been released because they are minors. After their arrests, the three were released into their parents’ custody.

A spokesman said that the Sheriff’s Department will push for hate crime enhancements in addition to felony vandalism charges against the alleged vandals, which are expected to be filed shortly, once the investigation is completed.

Local news outlets have devoted significant coverage to the incident. A TV news van sat parked in front of the school for much of the afternoon on April 27, right beside the site of the school’s new $18 million performing arts center, which is expected to be completed by next year.

But while some on campus expressed anger at the students believed to be behind the graffiti, by the afternoon of April 27, a calm atmosphere prevailed at Calabasas High School. For every angry student or parent, Jewish or otherwise, there seemed to be equal numbers who seemed unfazed.

Alan Bell, a Jewish father of an 11th-grader, sat in his pickup truck, waiting in the carpool line. “I think she was concerned, but I don’t think she was bothered,” Bell said of his daughter.

“This has happened before,” Bell added, referring to a January 2010 incident when a Jewish student at Calabasas High School found a swastika carved into the hood of his car. Nobody was found in connection with that case.

“As a student body, we’ve really come closer together,” Josh Levin, an 11th-grader who was recently elected student body president, said of the aftermath of the vandalism.

“There was a point when students were very angry,” Levin said. “There were petitions online to have physical retribution and things like that, but there were a bunch of student leaders who said this isn’t a good idea. It’s not good to fight violence with violence.”

Alan Levy, a Jewish 11th-grader, seemed more surprised than distressed. “It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know why anybody would do this.”

The “why” question remains mostly unanswered.

Principal C.J. Foss said that the students who vandalized their school were angrier with the school in general than they were at members of one specific ethnic or religious group. “They felt like they had been mistreated, that they had been insulted, and they wanted to hurt back the school,” she said.

The graffiti included racist remarks against blacks and Latinos, and swastikas, which are often considered to be equal-opportunity offenders. Nevertheless, the scrawlings — which included the names of four Jewish students in the 11th grade as well as the names of two 11th-grade teachers — appeared to have been particularly anti-Semitic.

Foss said that was due to Calabasas High School’s large Jewish population. Estimating that at least 60 percent of the school’s students are Jewish, Foss said that the alleged vandals focused their anger on “high-profile” Jewish students.

“One of them said he didn’t even know one of the boys” whose name was included in the graffiti, Foss said, “but he knew that he was the president of the Jewish club. And if the perception of the school is that this is a Jewish school, and you want to hurt them, I think that’s why they chose the Nazi flag and those symbols.”

Members of the media, law enforcement and school administration have said nothing publicly about the three 11th-graders. But on April 27, rumors were circulating among the students at Calabasas High about which of their classmates had confessed to the vandalism.

“My kids are saying that by next week we’ll know who they are, because we’ll know who isn’t showing up,” Sheri Salimi, the mother of two Calabasas High School students, said.

According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, when the three alleged vandals confessed, they told investigators that the students whose names they had scrawled across the walkway had been “picking on” them throughout the school year.

But those who knew the students whose names were mentioned in the graffiti didn’t believe that was the case.

“I know many of the kids personally, and to say that they were really harassing other students or things like that would be the biggest shocker in my mind,” Levin said.

Levin was sitting in the outdoor lunch area at Calabasas High School on April 27, taking a short break from his late-afternoon class in broadcast media. Behind him, a dozen girls on the school’s dance team huddled around a picnic table eating a pizza, laughing.

“There’s going to be a high school bully anywhere you go,” Levin said. “I guarantee you, all the students named on that list are not the typical high school bully.”

Principal Foss sees this as a reminder of how important engaging students on the fringes can be. “We all spend a lot of time on the campus,” she said, “and I purposely try to go up to the kid that’s sitting by himself, engage him in a conversation. It’s something I’m very concerned about and spend a lot of time with.”

Considering how some disaffected students at other schools have expressed their frustration in recent years, Foss said she has thought that Calabasas got lucky in at least one way: The students used cans of spray paint instead of guns to send their hate-filled messages.

“It has occurred to me,” Foss said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “And I have heard that comment from students.”

NCJHS to move to larger, permanent West Hills campus


“We now have a ‘makom’ — a sacred space in which to house our values,” said Bruce Powell, head of school at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS), shortly after the deal was announced that NCJHS may have finally found a permanent home — at the site of its first home.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced Dec. 13 that it has agreed to sell the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills to the school for an undisclosed price. The property, which houses the JCC at Milken, was where NCJHS was founded in 2002.

The deal won’t be finalized until the school receives permits from the city necessary to house a school on the property, but officials said they are confident the bid will go through. “This facility will help us to further the things that we’ve been doing for the last nine years, to enhance the programs that help to build our values,” Powell said.

Moving into the campus will let the school grow its musical theater program, strengthen its science department with state-of-the-art labs and give its 400 students more breathing room than they currently have at the school’s rented quarters at West Hills’ Shomrei Torah Synagogue, said Mike Greenfeld, president of the NCJHS board of trustees.

Plus, the school would no longer have to bus its student athletes to sports practice at the JCC’s gymnasium, where NCHJS has for years been running its 22 sports programs. Making the gym their own would be more convenient and give students a greater sense of ownership, Powell said.

School officials hope to complete renovations to the site and move in by 2012 or 2013.

The school will share space with the JCC, which will continue to operate on the campus.

The JCC won’t have to cut or downsize any programs due to sharing the campus, JCC executive director Paul Frishman said. The center’s pool and swim school will stay open, along with its early childhood programs, sports leagues and activities for seniors. Next summer, the center plans to partner with Malibu’s Camp JCA Shalom to expand its summer camp options, as well.

“We feel there will not be a major impact” upon the JCC’s 1,200 members, Frishman said. “We look at it as a positive thing that will allow the JCC to thrive.”

Having the school on the property could precipitate a membership boost for the JCC, Frishman believes, by exposing more students’ families to JCC programming. It would also alleviate some of the financial pressure the JCC had faced as the primary tenant of the campus.

The Jewish Federation, which OK’d the parcel’s sale, sees the deal as a “win-win-win” situation: The school will acquire more space to grow, the JCC can attract more people to its programs, and The Federation will have an expensive piece of property taken off its hands.

Much of the four-acre Milken campus wasn’t being used as efficiently as possible, according to Richard Sandler, chairman of The Federation’s board. It had been costing the agency more than $100,000 per month to operate the site, he said.

“There’s a lot of space out there that does not get fully utilized,” Sandler said. “The JCC won’t be getting squeezed out. I’m hopeful that the property will be utilized to a higher degree than it is now.”

The property had for years been a weight on The Federation’s books. Bought by the West Valley JCC in 1976 and later deeded to The Federation, the campus cost $15 million to build in 1987 and even more to refurbish after its buildings were damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Tense talks between JCC and Federation officials over sharing the campus’ operating costs led to the JCC’s pool closing in 2007. Those talks ended in early 2009 with an agreement that the JCC would pay a rising percentage of the campus budget, up to 65 percent by 2013. That deal was supposed to guarantee the center’s status as the foremost occupant of the property.

But sharing space with NCJHS would be a boon to the JCC, which has chronically struggled to stay out of the red. The center would benefit from extensive campus renovations the school must make as part of its purchase agreement. And it would renegotiate its rent with the school, from which it would now lease space.

NCJHS leadership had long dreamed of returning to the Milken campus, where the school was founded with 40 students in 2002. The school outgrew its space within two years and moved to Shomrei Torah, but they knew they would eventually need a permanent facility of their own.

School officials first approached The Federation about buying the campus five years ago, but a deal never materialized, said Greenfeld. They made another bid in early 2010 and hammered out the deal in meetings throughout the year.

“We always had this place in the backs of our minds,” Greenfeld said. “It’s the right size, and it’s not out-of-the-way for our student base. We felt it would be the right home for us.”

Now the school must get building permits from the city and reconfigure some of the buildings for classes. Plans are also on the table for new classrooms and a faculty center. Powell, the head of school, said his mind is spinning with ideas for new learning spaces and programs they could create.

Moving to the Milken campus would take the school’s square footage from 35,000 at Shomrei Torah to about 100,000, tripling the amount of space the school has to work with, Powell added.

While officials won’t estimate how much the move will cost, they say it will take a few years to raise all the funds needed. The school has already begun receiving donations from its community, Greenfeld said, and they’re confident they will cover their costs. Tuition will not be affected by the move.

Greenfeld believes having an expansive new campus will allow the school to grow its student base. Rented quarters are “not what people usually envision when they think of a high school,” he said.

“Right now, we have a nice facility, but not a state-of-the-art facility. We’ve done an amazing job with what we’ve got; imagine the possibility of what we can do when we have a place of our own.”

With so much activity slated for the Milken campus, ideas for joint programming are already in the works.

Powell envisions giving NCJHS students community service opportunities at the JCC by having them run after-school arts and crafts for nursery school children, or keeping the seniors company during their activities.

“Our goal is to create programming side by side with the JCC — to make this a real center of community,” he said.

One challenge the site faces is parking. With only 275 spots, competition will heat up for spaces when the school moves in.

But officials said they will work together to see the transition through.

“This allows us all to coordinate our efforts to create a strong Jewish campus, that includes both the school and the JCC,” said Frishman, the JCC director. “The community is coming together to do what’s best for everyone.”

Schools go to war with Nazi-insignia clothing company


Will T-shirts and other items bearing logos and designs resembling World War II Nazi insignia become the latest fashion trend in an Inland Empire school district?

Clothes by the Irvine company Metal Mulisha are currently banned by the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, but the company wants back in.

This won’t happen if Rabbi Barry Ulrych, a child of Holocaust survivors, can prevent it. His 80-family synagogue, B’nai Chaim of Murrieta, was founded in the 1970s by Jews living near Murrieta Hot Springs, many of them Holocaust survivors. The congregation is located in the middle of the school district, and many of the congregation’s children attend district schools.

Designs on the clothing line, including shirts, caps and belts, show, among other things, a human skull wearing a helmet resembling those worn by German soldiers during World War II.

On the company’s logo, the “S” in “Mulisha is represented graphically by a lightning bolt that resembles the double lighting bolts insignia of the German Schutzstaffel, the “SS.”

“People say it’s just a fashion — it’s more than that — it’s an identity,” Ulyrch said. “These symbols are not as neutral as one might think. Symbols can hurt, and some symbols are intimidating.

“With this symbolism, they are glorifying the Nazi past. You can’t go through life being ignorant of symbols,” he added.

According to Karen Parris, a school district representative, in September the district received a letter threatening a lawsuit from lawyers representing MM Compound Inc., the licensee for Metal Mulisha.

In the letter, the company claims the ban to be a violation of its Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression and strongly urges the “schools to revoke the applicable provision of the dress code.”

The letter goes on to say that on an individual level, “Metal Mulish founders and riders are devout Christians, espousing those values prized in the religious community … Metal Mulisha members and apparel stand as positive reinforcement to students interested in motocross …”

However, Parris cited the district’s responsibility to create a “safe place for students to learn” as the rationale for Murrieta’s dress code policy.

The district’s policy covers “clothes that have any offensive content, hate or defiance, and garments that students may find intimidating or offensive, including Nazi or neo-Nazi symbols,” Parris said.

“Even if a student is unaware that what they are wearing is Nazi or neo-Nazi, it could still cause a fight,” she added.

Metal Mulisha officials did not respond to multiple attempts for comment. The company’s legal representatives maintain in their letter that the district’s “implied association” of their name with “neo-Nazism or racism” is “unfounded and defamatory.”

According to the First Amendment Center’s Web site, “Many school districts have turned to dress codes and uniforms to promote a better learning environment. They argue that these policies decrease tensions, reduce socio-economic differences and enhance safety.”

The company’s letter presented that Metal Mulisha’s apparel “does not interfere with the schools’ work or the rights of other students to be secure and to be left alone.”

“The district should be able to ban certain fashions or dress that could hurt feelings,” Ulrych said. “There are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors in the school district.” 

The apparel line got its start in 1999, inspired by a free-style motocross team, some of whose members have medaled in the X Games; it describes itself on its Web site as speaking “the language of nonconformity with distinctive apparel.”

The clothing and licensed products are sold at PacSun, Sport Chalet and Toys R Us, including locations in Los Angeles.

Since the story was reported in the Los Angeles Times, Parris said, the district “has received e-mails and phone calls in support of its position.”

Nevertheless, Parris said, “Faced with a potentially expensive lawsuit, the district lawyers are now negotiating with the manufacturer in an attempt to resolve the issue.”

At a time when the district is facing major budget cuts, “It could cost hundreds of thousands to defend this in court,” she said. 

“Some of the images might touch a nerve,” said Joanna Mendelson, California investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League, who has seen Metal Mulisha’s line. “The images are not replicas, though they are edgy, and one might perceive them as promoting Nazi imagery.”

Adding to the sensitivity toward the imagery is the area’s recent history.

“Murrieta has had a history of white supremacist activities,” Mendelson said, “and the Inland Empire in general is a hotbed for hate.”

“We see references to Metal Mulisha online on white supremacist message boards, as well as tattoos,” she said.

Ulrych noted the good quality of the area’s school system and the increasing number of young families who have moved to the area in recent years.

“A school should not take lightly the symbols that walk its grounds,” he added.

The Eulogizer: Soldier who found Hitler’s will, Southern lawmaker, Israeli English broadcaster


The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”eulogizer@jta.org” title=”eulogizer@jta.org”}. Find previous editions of The Eulogizer here.

American soldier who found Hitler’s will
Arnold Weiss
, a German-born U.S. counterintelligence officer in World War II who found Hitler’s last will and testament, died Dec. 7 at 86.

In December 1945, Weiss and his counterintelligence team tracked down a Nazi military aide who was stationed at Hitler’s bunker during his final days but had left as a courier with an important envelope shortly before Hitler killed himself. The aide, Wilhelm Zander, took Weiss to a farm on the outskirts of Munich, where he had hidden the envelope at the bottom of a dry well. Inside the package was a document headed “Mein privates Testament,” signed by Hitler the day before he died, as well as the marriage certificate of Hitler and Eva Braun.

Toward the end of the war, even before finding Hitler’s will, Weiss said he and his team left Nazi prison guards at the gates of refugee settlements for “additional debriefing.” Weiss claimed never to know what happened to the German soldiers.

Weiss was placed into a Jewish orphanage as a child in Germany in the early days of Hitler’s reign. He was hoisted once to a lamppost and flogged by Hitler Youth members.

“You lived from day to day and tried to roll with the punches,” Weiss said.

“While generally being a pretty miserable place, the orphanage wasn’t all bad. You always had someone you could play with and talk to. You had companionship. The beatings were unpleasant, but you learned to cope.”

Weiss fled Germany after his bar mitzvah and made his way to the United States. He ended up in Milwaukee after a foster family failed to meet him in Chicago.

Weiss, a lawyer by training, lived and worked for decades in the Washington, D.C., area, as a senior official in U.S. financial agencies and then in a private investment firm that funded international development projects. He told his law school alumni association that his work in that field was fueled by the destruction he saw in Europe during World War II:

“I think it’s the war that changed me more than anything else. I decided I wanted to build rather than destroy. In Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Germany … there was so much destruction. I knew there was a better way of doing things.”

Pioneering female lawmaker in South Carolina
Harriet Keyserling
, a self-proclaimed “New York Jewish liberal” who became a political force in South Carolina for decades, died Dec. 10 at 88.

Keyserling was a “feisty Democrat” who went against the status quo “as a liberal Yankee in the world of good-old-boy conservative Southerners.” Among other accomplishments, her efforts led to a statewide recycling program, a state energy office and the shuttering of a landfill that accepted radioactive waste from across the United States.

Her son, Billy, who took over her seat in the Legislature and is now the mayor of Beaufort, S.C., said his mother defeated the Legislature’s practice of all-night filibusters by keeping a journal that recorded just how legislators wasted time.

“I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of great leaders in my public and private life, but not one have I respected more than Harriet Keyserling,” said former Soth Carolina Gov. Dick Riley.

Keyserling, a graduate of all-female Barnard College in New York City, moved to tiny Beaufort from New York after marrying Herbert Keyserling, a Jewish, Southern, small-town doctor. The women of the small Jewish community there took her in, taught Sunday school together and put on synagogue suppers.

“I believe we had a more direct and energetic approach, probably considered aggressive at the time, to the projects we undertook,” she wrote in her 1998 autobiography, “Against the Tide: One Woman’s Political Struggle,” in which she also describes her life and her husband’s as Jews in the South in an era of anti-Jewish prejudice and the Ku Klux Klan.

Her hometown paper said Keyserling attempted to re-create the intellectual stimulation of New York in her adopted hometown by co-founding a concert series, and by hosting Saturday-evening dinners with “sophisticated conversation by Harriet and her guests.”

Bud Ferillo, a Columbia, S.C., public relations executive and longtime Democratic political worker, referred to Keyserling as his “Jewish mother.”

Israel Radio English broadcaster
Anita Davis Avital
, one of Israel Radio’s original English language broadcasters and a mentor to several generations of women, died in October at 86.

A native of London, Davis was working in Yugoslavia in 1947 for the United Nations when she met a convoy of Jewish orphans on their way to Israel. Upon her return to Britain, she became involved with aliyah groups and made her way to the newly declared State of Israel shortly afterward.

After a stint working at the Iranian embassy, Davis Avital became one of the first employees of Israel’s nascent English-language shortwave radio service, originally called Kol Zion Lagola, the Voice of Zion to the Diaspora. The station later joined the government broadcasting authority with domestic programming, as well.

Sara Manobla, herself a veteran of English-language broadcasting in Israel, described Davis Avital in a lovely tribute as “a prominent and engaging figure in Anglo circles in Jerusalem of the 1950s and ’60s.”

Chevra kadisha revival noted
The New York Times notes the renewed interest in chevra kadisha groups and practices, with links to organizations and synagogues active in promoting traditional Jewish burial practices.

U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke

The passing of diplomat Richard Holbrooke is being covered extensively in the media. JTA’s coverage makes extensive references to Holbrooke’s Jewishness.

Florida school sues over Kohl’s Cares contest


A school in Florida that finished just out of the money in a national online contest sponsored by Kohl’s has sued two Florida Jewish day schools that did win one of 20 prizes.

Abi’s Place in Coral Springs filed a lawsuit against the Hebrew Academy Community School and Bais Chaya Inc. in Broward County, where all the schools are located, saying they reneged on their promise to help Abi’s win votes, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Abi’s Place, a school with 10 special-needs children, finished in 21st place in the Kohl’s Cares Facebook contest that ended Sept. 3. The school alleges in its lawsuit that it paid $3,750 in expenses to the two Jewish schools in a joint vote-getting effort but did not receive assistance.

The Hebrew Academy Community School and Bais Chaya were among 12 U.S. Jewish day schools that finished in the top 20 of the contest, each receiving a $500,000 prize. Eleven of the top 20 were Chabad-affiliated, according to the Lubavitch.com website. Three schools eventually were disqualified for voting irregularities.

One of the disqualified schools, Yeshiva Achei Tmimim Academy in Worcester, Mass., announced this week that it would file complaints against Kohl’s with attorneys general offices in all 49 states where Kohl’s operates, according to the newspaper.

Groups praise child nutrition law, with qualms


Jewish groups praised the renewal of a law funding school meals, but expressed concern that it was financed in part by money designated for food stamps.

The approval in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act means the bill—which had been subject to some last minute wrangling—is ready for enactment by the president.

The bill extends for another ten years funding for school lunches and breakfasts for children from families that depend on the meals, estimated at 4.2 million households.

The passage “is an important achievement that will improve the lives of millions of children,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella for the Jewish community.  “This bill is an acknowledgement that in a nation as bountiful as ours, no child should worry about when their next meal will be.”

The JCPA was at the forefront of an interfaith coalition lobbying for passage.

Other groups that had sought the bill’s passage included the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the National Council for Jewish Women.

All three groups in their statements praising passage expressed regret that some of $4.5 billion in funding was drawn from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp benefits.

“By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help,” the RAC said. “Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization. We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018.”

$10 million in scholarships helps day school flourish


The start of the new academic year at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School (TVT) ushered in what could be a new era in its outreach to Orange County’s Jewish community. This fall, administrators began disbursing the first installment of a $10 million gift from an anonymous donor for scholarships to new and returning students at the county’s only independent K-12 Jewish day school. The gift is payable at the rate of $1 million annually.

It’s a step toward increasing TVT’s enrollment, bringing it closer to its 1,000-student capacity, up from the 585 students who now attend. More importantly, acting head of school Derek Gavshon said, the infusion of cash is intended to eliminate finances as an impediment to a Jewish education.

“Between three Jewish day schools in the county, we should be able to capture a lot more kids than we have,” Gavshon said. “The main reason why we cannot is financial.”

About 25 percent of the school’s 377 families receive financial aid, previously capped at half of the annual tuition of $14,000 to $17,000. Gavshon hopes that removing the aid cap, as the donor requested, will help the school attract new students and provide relief for current families struggling with economic hardship.

Tuition aid of that magnitude is rare in the pricey world of Jewish day schools. Still, the gift complements TVT’s mission to make Jewish education accessible to children who would otherwise have no opportunity to be attached to their religion or cultural roots.

Perched high on the hills in Irvine’s sprawling Samueli Jewish Center, TVT’s $18 million, 21.5-acre campus is a far cry from the converted Costa Mesa warehouse where several dozen elementary students first met in 1991. Relocating the school to its permanent site in 1998, alongside the bustling Merage JCC, the Jewish Federation and other community organizations placed it in the hub of the county’s rapidly developing Jewish communal activity.

“The concept of the Samueli Jewish Center enabled a lot of Jews to come out of the woodwork,” said Gavshon, a South African-trained attorney and the school’s former business manager who took over as chief administrator 17 months ago. “Suddenly, they had a place go and their kids had a place to go, which heightened their awareness of their Judaism.”

“With the Jewish community’s focus being here, the focus is on Tarbut as well,” he added.

Drawing predominantly from Irvine, Newport Coast, Tustin and Laguna Niguel, TVT attracts a diverse student population, at least half of which is unaffiliated with a synagogue or religious movement. The wide range of backgrounds, from observant to traditional to nonpracticing, can be challenging, Gavshon said, especially when it comes to tefilah (prayer), where Orthodox, Conservative and Reform practices diverge greatly. The school provides students with a range of observance options, including an Orthodox minyan with a mechitzah along with a mixed-gender service, allowing students to practice where they feel spiritually comfortable.

A staff of 131 delivers the school’s project-based, hands-on curriculum, which is roughly 65 percent secular and 35 percent Judaic. Emphasis is placed on teaching by demonstration, with students actively applying their knowledge to practical situations. A nine-to-one student-teacher ratio at the elementary level and 14-to-one in the middle and upper schools creates a caring environment where teachers attend to their students’ individual needs. That is a comfort to many parents turned off by the vast number of students in the public school system and the implications that has for education.

“There is a whole culture of friendliness and communication at Tarbut,” said Mike Natelson, whose oldest daughter, Danielle, graduated in June 2008. “We decided on Tarbut because we had such a good feeling of caring. Danielle blossomed in kindergarten, and her first grade teacher felt like an extended member of the family working with our kid.”

For Natelson, a former Los Angeles public school teacher, and his wife, who works in the Tustin Unified School District, enrolling their younger daughter, Gabrielle, now a 10-grader, in TVT’s more intimate kindergarten class three years later was a no-brainer.

Middle-schoolers will be housed in their own unit this year for the first time. Administrators hope that separating the middle-school students from their older peers will allow them to explore the host of puberty-induced identity issues in a pressure-free environment.

“The learning process is different, so the school needs to be different; the layout of the class and access to teacher must be different,” Gavshon said.

To encourage students to bond with teachers and each other, they spent the fall’s first three days of school off-site at “middle school boot camp.” Without their cell phones, PDAs and other means of contact to the outside world, students engaged in trust-building and relationship-developing exercises intended to foster camaraderie and to prevent bullying from becoming a problem during the year.

That ethos of caring is extended beyond the school’s majestic Jerusalem-stone walls to the larger community. Tikkun olam — repairing the world — has become the fourth “R” of TVT’s rigorous curriculum, as students are taught to integrate their Jewish experience into everyday living. Ideas for community service projects flow freely in a collaborative exchange between students, faculty and parents that supports student initiatives and encourages creative thinking.

As a seventh-grader, Jaclyn Singer, now a freshman at San Diego State University, started a food drive to assist Marine families at Camp Pendleton. The experience, said her mother, Jill Singer, left a lasting impact

“The event changed all of our lives,” said Singer, of Laguna Hills. “Since that time, our family continues to assist Marine families through Orange County-based Moms4Marines.”

“Jewish life values [and] a deep and treasured understanding of Jewish history and law have created a rich foundation for Jaclyn to live her life,” she added. “She is empowered by her Judaism because she understands it and cherishes it.”

“We emanate a commitment to our core values,” lower school principal Jean Oleson said. “We’re creating global and economic awareness and connection.”

That awareness led sixth-graders to donate 2,000 books to the budget-stricken Orange County Educational Arts Academy in Santa Ana last year and to paint the school library. TVT was recently named an “O Ambassador,” in a program run by Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network and Free the Children. The program promotes awareness of poverty, education and sustainable development in struggling countries and promotes fundraising programs for development projects overseas. TVT students will raise funds for an African elementary school throughout the year.

Gavshon brimmed with excitement as he showed off the school’s high-tech facilities, including a TV studio, where students can learn production skills while staging a live weekly news program. The music room is home to Tarbut’s very own five-student garage band as well as choral and other musical programs. The lower school is built in five self-contained “villages,” complete with classrooms, teacher workrooms and an open-concept computer lab.

Last year, the school inaugurated a college-counseling center, where full-time counselors help students navigate the application process.

“We have the luxury of being able to look at each child and see what their potential is,” Gavshon said. “We must tap into that and extract the fullest potential so that each student will defend Judaism, be solid in themselves and be prepared for life. The first question we ask alumni is ‘Were you prepared?'”

They seem to be. The nationally recognized Blue Ribbon school boasts a college matriculation rate of more than 98 percent and SAT scores well over the national average.

“[TVT’s approach] stems from an innate love and passion for children and learning,” lower school principal Oleson said. “We see learning through the eyes of children and we share in the excitement of learning.”

I’m ready to take the wheel


I turned 16 on June 26. After so many years of impatiently waiting, and six months of misjudging left turns and getting away with some pretty serious traffic violations while my mother sat horrified in the passenger seat, I am finally eligible for my driver’s license. Sayonara, learner’s permit. I can, in theory, do as I please, whenever I please. I am, in short, free.

I had been looking forward to getting my license for so long, because you need to be able to drive yourself in Los Angeles, right? Isn’t it necessary to show off your car to your friends, to finally give your parents a break from chauffeuring you everywhere, to get from Point A to Point B? Isn’t that what driving is all about? As I thought about this milestone, I realized that driving is symbolic of something much greater.

In Los Angeles and at my school, Harvard-Westlake, driving has become a deplorable status symbol, and I fell into the trap. I used to gaze in admiration at the juniors and seniors rolling onto campus in their shiny cars. They all noticed the mesmerized faces of the underclassmen, but they always maintained an air of nonchalant coolness. I could practically read their minds: “I am so awesome because I drove to school. I even picked up a latte on the way here.” Those people were my heroes. I used to think that when I turned 16, my moment in the spotlight of the school driveway would arrive, and I was going to milk it for everything it was worth. I, too, wanted to be awesome and put lattes in my cupholders.

When I finally got behind the wheel of a car myself, conceit and self-importance set in. If ever I saw someone with that familiar awe-struck gape staring at my car during one of my innumerable driving lessons, I would think, with a shameful amount of pride, “I am cooler than you because I am operating a motor vehicle right now.”

Now that I actually am 16 and will soon be taking my driving test, I realize how arrogant I was as I pondered the significance of getting my license. Driving isn’t about showing off or feeling cool. To me, driving represents the freedom I have been given to choose how I want to live my life.

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said that with great power comes great responsibility. I say that great responsibility comes with great freedom. Driving, in a way, is my platform to make an impact on my own in the world. I now choose what to do with my time, but too much independence too soon can be overwhelming. The laminated card entrusted to me by the Department of Motor Vehicles gives me the opportunity to pick a side in the epic battle of right and wrong. Like the aforementioned web-slinger, I want to use my newfound powers for good.

Before I turned 16, I would often use my inability to drive as an excuse for laziness. If I was sitting at home watching television on a Saturday morning instead of feeding the homeless, I could justify it. “My parents don’t have the time to drive me there,” I told myself. “I don’t want to inconvenience them.” At 16, my inactivity is no longer defensible. I now have the option of either driving to the mall to have fun or driving to an animal shelter or a food bank to volunteer my time and have a rewarding experience. It seems obvious, but I’m not a saint, so I plan to find a balance between serving myself and serving the community. I expect the choices I will have to make about where I will drive to be a source of some serious angst — I’ve never had to make these kind of decisions for myself before, but I’m ready to take the wheel.

I used to wonder why you had to wait until you were 16 to get a driver’s license. I now realize that an incredible amount of responsibility is involved in being in the front seat because of what driving means. Driving shouldn’t be a method of flaunting yourself, but it shouldn’t just be about reaching your destination either. For me, driving means having a choice about what to do and where to go and, at 16, I’m ready to choose for myself.

Derek Schlom will be a junior at Harvard-Westlake this fall. He is interning at The Jewish Journal this summer.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the August issue is July 15; Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Pluralistic rabbinical court seeks new funding; InterfaithFamily.com marks 200th issue


Pluralistic Rabbinical Court Seeks New Funding

The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California, a local pluralistic religious court dealing with conversions, went on hiatus Jan. 1 due to lack of funding.

The beit din was founded in 2002 by George Caplan, in memory of his wife, Sandra Caplan. When Sandra Caplan, a Jew-by-choice, was dying, her husband promised her that he would work toward a unified conversion process for the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

Since 2002, Caplan, a former Jewish Federation president, has been the primary funder of the beit din, along with some of his friends. Caplan recently announced the court should seek funding elsewhere, according to Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, the beit din’s secretary.

“He feels he’s guided it through the first years to make it all possible — and he’s right,” Goldstein said.

Caplan will continue to fulfill his promise to his wife and is investigating funding for a communitywide mikvah, or ritual bath.

Rabbi Richard N. Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies on the Los Angeles campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism (UJ), helped found the organization and serve as its co-chairs. As the beit din gained momentum, two-dozen rabbis from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements joined the court. To date, the Sandra Caplan Bet Din has trained 96 dayanim, rabbis who can perform conversions.

Since its founding, the beit din has overseen the conversions of 107 people.

Goldstein and Rabbi Dan Shevitz, the av bet din, or the head of the court, insist the court is not closing, but is instead seeking other funding and structuring opportunities. They hope the court will be operational at the end of the month.

“There are fewer and fewer things that the denominations can do cooperatively with one another. The Jewish community has become splintered to an unacceptable degree,” said Shevitz, who is the rabbi of Mishkon Tephilo in Venice. “Therefore it’s incumbent upon us for whatever we can do together we should do together. Welcoming converts not to one denomination or another but to the totality of the Jewish people — if we can do it, we have to do it.”

For more information, visit scbetdin.us.

InterfaithFamily.com Celebrates 200th Issue

Do the terms “interfaith family” and “interfaith outreach” seem to be everywhere you turn these last few years?

If so, that’s not only due to the rise in intermarriage, but perhaps because of the popular Web site catering to issues for this growing population, at InterfaithFamily.com. The Web magazine, published biweekly since November 1998, will post its 200th issue on Jan. 16.

“InterfaithFamily is a nonprofit that provides resources and services to couples with one Jewish partner and one non-Jewish partner,” said Micah Sachs, the publication’s online managing editor.

The Web magazine, which has 20,000 unique visitors per month, primarily features original personal narrative articles on topics of interest to interfaith families and couples, focusing on holidays, birth ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, weddings and mulitcultural relationships. It also features articles from other publications of interest to interfaith families.

The Web site provides a database of programs that are friendly to interfaith families, and does advocacy in the Jewish community to be more welcoming to interfaith families. This year they will host a conference of “outreach professionals” in Pennsylvania, and create a rabbinic resource on the subject of interfaith marriage.

Although the mission of InterfaithFamily.com is to “encouraging Jewish choices,” Sachs said, “by the same token, we’re very accepting of interfaith families where they are.

We advocate to the Jewish community to be more welcoming to interfaith families regardless of where they’re at. When you close the door to someone who’s on the fence you have no chance of influencing their decision.”

OU Offers $20,000 Award for Best Unaffiliated Outreach

The Orthodox Union (OU) is offering a grant of up to $20,000 to a member synagogue that can create an outreach program targeted at unaffiliated Jews with minimal or marginal synagogue involvement. The program should be able to be replicated by other communities.

The initiative, made possible through the OU’s Department of Community Services and the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, comes at a time when the assimilation rate in the North American Jewish community is hovering at 50 percent or above, and there are a large number of unaffiliated or marginally affiliated Jewish individuals and families, according to the OU press release.

The award is intended to support a variety of activities in the area of outreach, including discussion series, multifaceted conferences, symposia, public forums, and hands-on learning experiences, among other initiatives.

This is not the first time the OU has made a large grant available for synagogue programming. Last year, the OU awarded grants of up to $20,000 for unique programs having a positive impact on their communities and synagogues. The programs included Israel action; education for children and adults; and lay leadership development, among others.

“Last year’s grants program was so successful that the OU was determined to bring it back,” OU President Stephen J. Savitsky said. “While last year’s programs touched on many aspects of Jewish life, given current Jewish population statistics the OU decided to dedicate the new initiative solely to outreach.”

“Outreach is one of the ways we show our care and love for our fellow Jews,” OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb said. “With this grant, the OU is proud to encourage our synagogues to think of creative new approaches to involve more people in Jewish life.”

Applications are due at OU headquarters by March 1, 2007. Applicants will be notified by letter on or before March 29, 2007.

For an application more information, visit ou.org or call Frank Bushweiz at (212) 613-8188.

Betty Neymark: Second Career From a Second Language


Betty Neymark

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

“Why isn’t Temple Judea doing something like this?” Betty Neymark’s daughter, Nancy, asked her more than 19 years ago, referring to an English as a second language program at a nearby church. That was all the push Neymark needed.

She and her daughter, along with friend and reading specialist Evelyn Stecher, promptly began a program at their Reform synagogue in Tarzana.

On the first day of registration in January 1990, Neymark thought no one would show up. Instead, she encountered a line of people stretching past the Temple’s driveway. Fifty students registered, and Temple Judea’s all-volunteer ESL program was born.

Today that program boasts 150 students, 25 volunteer teachers and five administrators, including Neymark. While her daughter has begun a new career and Stecher has moved away, Neymark remains.

“I just love it. I meet wonderful people. It enhances my life,” said Neymark, who previously worked as a human resources administrator in two school districts.

Those “wonderful people” include the students, primarily from the former Soviet Union, Iran and South America. Most are 50 or older, and they are both Jewish and not. Many are new immigrants. A few have lived here as long as 20 years.

Neymark also has great affection for the teachers, who range in age from 21 to 89. Only two are new this year, and 18 of them have been with program 10 years or more.

The classes are small, with four to seven students. They meet for two hours twice a week, from September to June. In addition to English, students learn about American culture.

“Students come in with no English and then are able to function in society and make their lives better,” said Neymark, noting that many go on to become citizens and to vote.

Temple Judea provides the classroom space. The program is free; students pay only for their textbooks. Donations and a corporate grant cover other expenses.

“I call myself a coordinator,” said Neymark, a 47-year temple member who won’t reveal her age. She registers new students, evaluating their English proficiency and placing them in one of six homogeneous classes, ranging from beginning to conversational English. She also arranges for new teachers to receive 12 hours of training each fall.

Additionally, she publishes a newsletter twice a year for the teachers, holds two faculty meetings a year and organizes the annual faculty party.

Neymark is reluctant to take credit for program’s accomplishments.

“It runs itself,” she said, emphasizing that it’s a team effort. She also refers to her husband, who does all her computer work, as her “secret weapon.”

Hilda Fogelson, a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who has taught in the program for 16 years, said, “Betty is very organized and very professional. That’s why the program is so successful.”

Neymark feels a responsibility to continue to support Temple Judea and the Jewish community.

“I’m not going to fade away any sooner than I have to,” she said.

Jewish and Muslim students at USC share dorm and friendships


The fact that the Taj Mahal was built by a Muslim Mughal is news to one Jewish student, who asked not to be named. The student and Asad Hasnat, a sophomore from Pakistan, have been talking about architecture in India during one of the weekly Monday Munchies socials put together for the Shalom-Muslim floor in USC's Parkside Apartments, where both live.

Theirs is a fairly typical exchange between students on a campus as large and diverse as USC's. But at a time when Jews and Muslims in other parts of the world aren't having much luck learning from one another, the conversation and the setting for it are both quietly revolutionary. Here Jewish and Muslim students live together in harmony.

Levran and Hasnat are parked on the sofa in Alnatour's apartment. Nobody's watching the television, which flickers and hums in the background, and some of the guys are clumped around a counter loaded with ice cream and cookies like a pack of young lions taking their time with a fresh kill.

“Back then the Mughals ruled everything,” Hasnat said. “They were civilization in India.”

Levran nods, taking in the new information.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life at USC, says the name “Shalom Housing” came to her about a decade ago, when she was head of USC Hillel. Several students had sought her advice about finding a way to keep kosher while living on campus.

“None of the dining halls served kosher food,” Laemmle said, “and finding dorms with individual kitchens seemed like a good way to help observant students who still wanted to be part of campus life.”

Soon after Laemmle moved from her role at Hillel to become dean, a group of Muslim students enlisted her help with a similar project. Laemmle worked with Ken Taylor in USC's Office of Residential and Greek Life to find space to create a Muslim floor. As it happened, a wing of the residential hall where Shalom Housing had been established was available.

“The original concept was not a Jewish-Muslim floor,” Taylor said. “That was the creature of the [Resident Advisors] and the students themselves.”

Alana Bubis and Sahar Alnatour, the floor's RAs, are the unassuming but earnest current stewards of this legacy. Bubis, a junior majoring in business and film studies, is a California native, like most of the residents on the Jewish wing of the floor.

“The Muslim wing is more international,” she said, “and it has more guys. There are more girls on the Jewish wing.”

There are 50 students on the coed floor. Two men or two women share each room. A handful of students who are neither Jewish nor Muslim also choose to live on the floor.

“A lot of people keep coming back,” said Bubis, who's marking her second year as a resident.

It's year three for Alnatour, whose family moved to the United States from Kuwait after the end of the first Gulf War.

“As a freshman, you have something in common with the people who live around you,” Alnatour said, explaining why she was attracted to the floor. Although she laughs when she recalls her surprise at learning she would have Jewish neighbors, too.

“It's not very clear in the housing brochure that the Muslim and Jewish wings are together,” Bubis said.

The fact that USC's Shalom-Muslim floor has evolved both organically and unofficially means that, like Alnatour, many of the students who arrive on move-in day are surprised when they meet some of their neighbors.

Traditions like Monday Munchies and the floor's open-door policy — if your door's open, company's welcome — are designed to help newcomers quickly adapt to the novel environment.

And both the temperament of the current generation of students and the culture of the floor tend to discourage the kind of fiery debates over politics that would disrupt the mellow culture of the floor.

“Politics never comes up,” said Amir Yassai, a junior from Orange County. “I think it has to do with the fact that people my age are more open-minded.”

When he returned to school soon after last summer's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah had subsided, Yassai's Iranian-born parents asked him whether there was any tension on the floor.

“It was hard for them to believe it just isn't an issue,” Yassai said.

Still, some residents perceive an underlying tension on the floor — not between Jews and Muslims, but between the ardor that attracts students to the community and the tacit détente that helps to sustain it.

“It's true that people stay away from political conversation,” said Hasan Qazi, a biology major whose parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan. “But that doesn't mean that people don't hold deep political convictions. Everyone chooses to live here because they're passionate about their identity as Muslims or Jews.”

Laemmle describes this situation as “the elephant on the Shalom-Muslim floor.”

“Eventually I think students will find a way to engage each other at that level,” she said. “If you build a tradition of trust, political discussion can be safer.”

Bubis and Alnatour have already laid the foundation for what could become the next stage in the growth of USC's Shalom-Muslim Floor. Together they've successfully lobbied for a greater selection of kosher and halal food at a nearby dining hall. The precedent of that small collaboration could help other residents of this quietly revolutionary community find common ground in a passionate, ice cream fueled conversation on some future Monday.

If Laemmle's elephant analogy is apt, it's likely just a matter of time.

Milken School head gets the surprise of her life


Rennie Wrubel had no reason to suspect.

The board members, the 800 students on bleachers, the officials from the Bureau of Jewish Education and private foundations — they had come to Milken Community High School to hear Gen. Shaul Mofaz, minster of transportation and deputy prime minister of the state of Israel.

Right?

Mofaz, as it turns out, was a decoy. The surprise honoree was Wrubel herself, who received the Milken Family Foundation’s Jewish Educator Award for her work as Milken’s head of school for the last 10 years.

“I just have one question,” a stunned but composed Wrubel asked when she was finally able to lift herself off her seat. “Is that really Mofaz?” (It was.)

The annual Jewish Educator Awards, with a $10,000 prize, is awarded in conjunction with the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) to five Los Angeles day school teachers or administrators annually.

“I want to recognize and celebrate a person whose intelligence, whose leadership, whose commitment and compassion have made a profound difference in our community, a person who has positively impacted thousands of young people’s lives,” said Lowell Milken, chairman of the Milken Family Foundation, which gave the naming gift and maintains close ties to the high school.

As Milken stood at the dais to announce the award, Wrubel wondered why he was talking about appreciating excellence in education, when the assembly was about Israel. Colleagues whispered that perhaps the digression was to recognize the school as a whole, since Wrubel surmised that he couldn’t be presenting a Jewish Educator Award, because she would have been informed of that.

Then Milken asked for “the envelope.” The school orchestra went into a drum roll and an audible wave of anticipation passed among the students. When he announced that Dr. Rennie Wrubel was the recipient of a Jewish Educator Award, Wrubel slumped in her seat, open mouthed — and the gym exploded.

That kind of reaction, and its ripple effect through the wider community, is what Milken Foundation officials are going for with the dramatic presentation of the awards.

“The surprise element evolved as the best way to get everyone’s attention and to make it most memorable to the students and to other people in the room,” said Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation. “We’re trying to get the community behind teaching, behind educators, and trying to get kids to understand that educators are recognized and appreciated and that kids should consider this as a profession.”

Sandler and a caravan of BJE and Milken Foundation officials presented the four other awards in one packed day in late October. Videos of those emotional assemblies will form the centerpiece of an awards luncheon in Bel Air on Dec. 14.

At Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, second- and third-grade teacher Beverly Yachzel received her award in an intimate gathering of the student body and teachers at the small school.

Tami Rosenfeld, a fourth-grade Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles, didn’t know her family was hiding out in the back of the sanctuary for the occasion.

Rabbi Simcha Frankel, a teacher at Cheder Menachem Elementary School in Los Angeles, at first demurred from coming to the stage, but the cheering boys coaxed him up.
Bluma Drebin, Bible department chair and teacher of mathematics at the YULA girls’ high school, elicited whoops and hollers from the girls.

But even by the Milken Foundation’s standards, the ruse around Wrubel’s ceremony was unusual.

The elaborate scheming behind the assembly was the work of Metuka Benjamin, director of education at Stephen S. Wise Temple, the parent organization for Milken Community High School.

Benjamin arranged for Consul General Ehud Danoch to come to the school, under the pretense of recognizing the school’s ambitious new Tiferet Israel Program, where 40 tenth graders will go to Israel for four months this winter and spring.

Then, three days before the assembly, Benjamin got a call from Mofaz saying he would be in town.

She jumped at the chance, and pulled off the last-minute schedule change for Mofaz to speak to the students.

Mofaz and Danoch both addressed the students, congratulating them on their continued commitment to fostering the bond between Israeli and American teens.

For several years, Milken Community High School has participated in an exchange program with its sister school in Tel Aviv, sending delegations each year to live with families.
This year a larger delegation will live in dorms, continue their Milken education and learn Jewish history and heritage both in the classroom and on field trips to the places they learn about.

In 11th and 12th grade, the same group of students will continue to have special classes aimed at teaching them to be advocates for Israel, and they will become part of the Israeli Consulate’s speaker’s bureau.

The fact that the assembly honoring Wrubel ended up being so focused on Israel was appropriate, Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise, said, since one of Wrubel’s strongest passions is for connecting the kids to Israel.

For information on the awards visit www.mff.org.

Top Ten Jewish silver screen landmarks


Some film historians claim that the Jews invented Hollywood, and so it’s only fitting that so much of Los Angeles’ Jewish life has been captured on film.

Many local landmarks have played significant parts in TV series (memorably, Brentwood’s University Synagogue in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), but it’s only when an institution appears in a feature film that it achieves a certain level of silver-screen immortality.

Like the faces of character actors whose names you don’t know, these 10 L.A. Jewish locations are instantly familiar from their celluloid incarnations:

1. Breed Street Shul, Boyle Heights: This East L.A. landmark, and future home of a museum, plays “The Jazz Singer’s” (1980) New York City shul, where Cantor Laurence Olivier is surprised by his pop star son Neil Diamond chanting “Kol Nidrei” on Erev Yom Kippur. “One of the great community myths is that the 1927 Al Jolson ‘Jazz Singer,’ was shot here,” Los Angeles historian Stephen J. Sass said, “but that appears to be a location bubbemeise.”

2. Old Sinai Temple Site, Koreatown: Sinai’s second incarnation (1925-1961) is located at Fourth Street and New Hampshire Avenue. Although it’s now the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church, the domed structure still retains many of its original features, including the stained-glass windows seen in the Danny Thomas version of “The Jazz Singer” (1952), according to location manager Ned Shapiro.

3. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Mid-City: A 1929 landmark, built by Hollywood’s golden-age moguls, features biblical-themed murals designed by famed artist and studio director Hugo Ballin. The synagogue is featured in Diane Keaton’s eccentric 1995 drama “Unstrung Heroes,” with Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards and Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis.

4. Museum of Tolerance, Pico Boulevard, Beverlywood: This brick-and-glass educational outreach complex, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hosts regular entertainment-related events and screenings. It was a location for the upcoming Paramount Pictures tolerance-themed drama, “The Freedom Writers” (opening in January 2007), with Hilary Swank as a high school teacher working with at-risk students.

5. Fairfax Avenue Bakeries: Here you’ll find classic old-world bakeries specializing in everything from rugellach to chocolate babka. In the 1968 comedy “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!,” groovy Beverly Hills lawyer Peter Sellers claims that the movie’s infamous hash brownies come from a “small bakery on Fairfax.” At the film’s end, runaway bridegroom Sellers flees down Fairfax Avenue, past the film’s screenwriters Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker (in cameo appearances) and the old Famous Bakery building.

6. Canter’s Deli, Fairfax: This 24-hour restaurant and cocktail lounge dates back to 1931 in Boyle Heights and is beloved by rock stars, night owls and celebrities. Canter’s is where screenwriter Walter Matthau meets with daughter Dinah Manoff in Neil Simon’s “I Ought to Be in Pictures,” where D.C. attorney Will Smith meets with informant Lisa Bonet in Tony Scott’s thriller “Enemy of the State,” and where agent Vince Vaughn meets with hit man Robert Pastorelli in “Be Cool.” The deli is also featured in an episode of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with Larry David, Moon Zappa and Paul Mazursky.

7. Brandeis Bardin Institute (BBI), Simi Valley: The famed Jewish retreat center consists of the old Maier’s Ranch and an adjoining parcel donated by actor James Arness (star of TV’s “Gunsmoke”). In Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” a T-Rex chases Jeff Goldblum’s and Laura Dern’s jeep through the Brandeis riverbed, according to BBI’s Ken Hailpern. Brandeis’ futuristic-looking House of the Book is Camp Khitomer, the setting for a peace conference in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” where William Shatner foils an assassination attempt.

8. Mishkon Tephillo, Venice: Built in 1948, this egalitarian Conservative synagogue is across the street from trendy industry hangout Chaya Venice. The landmark shul features a Gothic revival, columned entrance and front steps where an elderly man identifies fugitive Richard Gere in the 1983 remake of “Breathless.”

9. Israel Levin Center, Venice: This senior citizen center played a prominent role in Lynne Littman’s 1976 Oscar-winning short “Number Our Days” and Jeremy Kagan’s “The Big Fix” (1978) where private detective Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss) visits his radical communist aunt; its mural “Chagall Comes Back to Venice Beach” can be seen in “Falling Down” (1993), with Michael Douglas and Barbara Hershey.

10. Pacific Jewish Center (PJC)/Shul on the Beach, Venice: The last of the original Venice Beach synagogues is where Sacha Baron Cohen led the priestly blessings at Yom Kippur last year. Its compact 1940s building is glimpsed in Paul Mazursky’s “Down & Out in Beverly Hills” with Richard Dreyfuss as well as the Greg Kinnear comedy “Dear God.” “Toklas'” Sellers visits hippie brother David Arkin outside the shul, while Neil Diamond’s “Jazz Singer” beach pad is farther south on the boardwalk, at 28th Street and Ocean Front Walk.

On Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2 p.m., Harry Medved will sign books and show historic film clips at Book Soup on 8818 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, followed by a free walking tour of infamous Sunset Strip movie locations as seen in the clips.

Harry Medved is the co-author of “Hollywood Escapes,” a travel guide to Southern California’s filming locations.


The Breed Street Shul

Rabbi Carron brightens prisoners’ darkest days


Daniel, a blue-eyed 24-year-old who was a few credits shy of finishing his undergraduate degree at UCLA last spring, is now an inmate in unit 131 at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.

When Rabbi Yossi Carron arrives for his meeting with Daniel — not his real name — an unseen guard in a concrete and black glass bunker releases the latch on the sliding steel door that connects the youth’s dorm pod to the unit’s deserted common area.

On the far side of a thick glass wall, other inmates sleep in their bunks or drift aimlessly beneath the harsh white lights overhead.

Daniel looks awkward in his pale green prison outfit. He has gained 20 pounds since he was convicted three months ago on a charge of dealing methamphetamine, and he’s clearly uncomfortable in his skin.

Carron wraps Daniel in a quick but firm embrace.

“How’s it going?” Carron asks with one hand on Daniel’s slumped shoulder and another on his cheek.

The pair settle into plastic chairs at the corner of a table decorated with a stenciled checker board. From his pants pocket Daniel pulls a small ziplock bag that holds a pencil stub and two sheets of paper covered front and back with Daniel’s dense, neat handwriting. With guidance from Carron, Daniel is working through the recovery movement’s Fourth Step: making a “fearless and searching” inventory of his life.

As Carron scans the sheets of paper, Daniel hunches forward, his elbows on his knees.

“I’ve really had to look at my relationships — friendships and sexual relationships — in this step,” Daniel says. “It’s kind of shocking to see how much I’ve needed other people to feel complete.”

Carron lays the sheets of paper on the table and gives Daniel his full attention.

“It’s still hard, though,” Daniel says, turning his gaze up to meet Carron’s. “I mean, none of my friends have come to see me.”

Carron leans toward Daniel.

“You’re an extraordinary guy, all by yourself,” he says. “I don’t show up for any other reason than I want to.”

Daniel blushes but doesn’t look away.

“Chances are a lot of these people are connected to the parts of your life you want to change,” Carron says. “Am I right?”

Daniel looks down at his hands and nods slowly.

Sitting up, Carron drums a finger on the pages to draw Daniel’s attention to his inventory.

“This is going to be the greatest Rosh Hashanah of your life,” Carron says, “because you’re sober and you’re not lying to yourself or anyone else.”
Daniel sits up and looks squarely at Carron. He takes a deep breath and says, “You make me feel very special.”

With any luck, Daniel will be spending Rosh Hashanah on the outside. It’s likely he’ll soon be making the transition from jail to the recovery program at Beit T’Shuva, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.

For the members of Carron’s patchwork prison shul who are still behind bars come next week, however, there will be a holiday Shabbat at Men’s Central Jail, across the street from Twin Towers. Most of the Jewish inmates who participate will be bussed in from one of the five additional jails Carron serves in Los Angeles County. Some of the 70-odd men in Carron’s shul will have to stay away, however, in lock-down or solitary. Others are considered too high-risk to move.
“We’ll have between 20 and 40, including volunteers,” Carron says. “All things considered, that’s a pretty good turnout.”

Carron, a former bandleader at the Beverly Hilton, might seem an unlikely host for such a party.

A decade ago, Yossi Carron was called Jeff. He was a successful 40-something musician with a daughter in grade school, plenty of money in the bank and a nagging sense that something was missing in his life.

“It was all good, but I just wasn’t having fun anymore,” Carron says over braised tofu at a Chinatown restaurant the day before his meeting with Daniel.

The lightbulb over Carron’s head began to flicker when he was asked to serve as the first cantor at the then newly formed Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. The job was a good fit for Carron, who has an impressive voice to match his musicianship. Still, he’d never paid much attention to the flow of services before. But as he threw himself into his new role he began to realize he was feeling deeply fulfilled by the experience.

“I was sticking Post-Its in my siddur,” he says. “Pretty soon I needed to know more, so I started taking classes at Hebrew Union [College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR)].”

As he continued to follow the thread of his curiosity, Carron’s enthusiasm began to blossom into a calling.

One day Rabbi Denise Egger at Kol Ami told Carron, “You should be on the bimah.”
In May 2003, Yossi received his ordination from HUC-JIR.

“I thought I’d have a normal shul,” Carron says. “You know — with ladies organizing bake sales and that sort of thing.”

But not long after his ordination, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California offered Carron a part-time job as a chaplain in the Los Angeles County prison system. The task seemed thankless — the job’s responsibility covered three jails and two hospitals, but there was only enough money to pay for a chaplain’s services one day a week.

“It was frustrating for the person who had the job before me, and I could tell it was going to frustrate me,” Carron says. “But for some reason I wanted it, and I’m the kind of person who pushes to get what he wants. So finally the board came up with the funding for a second day, and then the job seemed do-able to me.”

Carron’s daughter was in high school by that time, and he didn’t want to have to uproot her to take a job somewhere else. So Carron said yes.

After School Is Prime Game Time for Kids of All Needs


Kathryn Gaskin’s blonde braid bounces against her sweatshirt as she rounds second base under the afternoon sun. The 12-year-old’s obvious enthusiasm is not for her own athletic pursuits but for those of Angeline, a teen with Down syndrome, whom Gaskin coaches in an after-school program called Prime Time Games.

When the batter hits a grounder, Gaskin gently prompts a beaming Angeline to run. The excited youngster, clad in pink sweats and a T-shirt, jogs down the softball field and plants herself firmly on third base. She looks back at Gaskin, who claps and whoops. The two share a smile.

“I wanted to be a coach because I like sports,” said Gaskin of her involvement with the Prime Time Games program.

The Pacific Palisades resident initially took on the responsibly to fulfill an outreach requirement for her bat mitzvah last spring. The experience has satisfied more than a ceremonial obligation.

“I feel good because I’m helping other people,” Gaskin said.

Gaskin is among a group of preteens and teenagers who serve as peer sports coaches for Prime Time Games, a program of the Los Angeles-based Team Prime Time. Most of the coaches are at-risk children from low-income areas of the city, taking part in Team Prime Time’s intervention programs that combine academics, athletics and leadership training. Prime Time Games was created a year ago to include students with special needs. While the athletes clearly get a chance to shine in group sports, the young coaches thrive, as well.

“The coaches are truly responsible — with the knowledge that adults are there to support them — for the total experience of another child, and they are treated with respect and acknowledged for what they accomplish,” said executive director Peter Straus. “We have yet to figure out who benefits more, coach or athlete.”

While the majority of Prime Time Games coaches are at-risk kids from the Daniel Webster Middle School in West Los Angeles, a Title I school where the weekly after-school program is held, a small percentage are Jewish children fulfilling the community service portion of their bar and bat mitzvah requirements. The respectful interaction between the athletes and coaches is also reflected in the interaction between the Webster students and their Jewish co-coaches.

Straus, a veteran teacher and sports coach at various L.A. schools, also runs a summer camp called Prime Time Sports Camp. He noticed the void in after-school programs for at-risk kids at the middle school level and in 2001 created Team Prime Time to do something about it.

“The emphasis is not on the outcome of the games,” said Straus, adding that no one keeps score. “It’s the interaction of the kids. They bring out the best in each other.”

Prime Time Games began attracting the pre-bar mitzvah crowd as Jewish kids filtered through Straus’ summer camp. Other coaches discovered the program because of their siblings’ participation.

Adam Sperber-Compean, who will become a bar mitzvah in September, learned about the program when his autistic brother became involved. “I’m here for him, and he listens to me,” said Adam, on coaching his younger sibling.

Some of the coaches know one another from Straus’ summer camp and others attend the same school. Straus attempts to pair together coaches with these commonalities. When that’s not possible, Straus is optimistic.

“With the focus being on sports and the kids you’re helping, it breaks down barriers pretty quickly,” he said.

When the program resumes in October, coaches and athletes will meet one afternoon a week at Webster School. The coaches will attend a training program, where they will learn about working with special-needs children.

Mady Goldberg’s daughter, Elena, an 8-year-old with motor and processing issues, has blossomed in the program.

“She loves it,” said Goldberg, a Pacific Palisades resident. “She’s had the opportunity to play team sports, and in any typical scenario, that would be difficult for her.”

Goldberg said that practicing her skills in a supportive environment has helped Elena progress physically. In addition, she developed a close bond with her two coaches. As a result, Elena’s self-esteem has soared.

Jonah Gadinsky, 12, who has volunteered since December, vows to continue coaching after his bar mitzvah in November. “I definitely see how lucky I am do to be able to do the things that others can’t do,” said Jonah, a Westwood resident who is starting seventh grade.

After working almost exclusively with Bobby, a budding basketball player, Jonah is hooked.

“I feel really good for kids when they make a basket, just seeing their faces light up,” said the young coach.

Prime Time Games will resume in October.

Students Draw on Movie for Tolerance Mural Inspiration


Oscar de la Hoyer Animo Charter High School

In a hallway of Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter High School in downtown Los Angeles, a three-part canvas mural covers a wall, portraying the transformation of society from one plagued by hate to one free of it.

The mural’s creators are at-risk Latino high school students who spent their Saturdays envisioning a better world, and then painting it.

The students participated in a mural workshop based on a simple principle: Art can change the world.

The engineer of the workshop is Kids for Peace, a children’s art program initially begun to help combat terrorism in Israel by providing artistic and creative guidance to youngsters.

Gayle Gale started Kids for Peace after she returned to Los Angeles from a series of trips to Israel as a visiting artist at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba in 1994 and 1995. With assistance from the local Israeli consulate and a grant obtained with help from the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity from the Jewish Community Foundation, she set out to teach youth about Israel through artistic means. In the years since, Gale has found herself doing much more.

Gale has traveled around the world conducting Kids for Peace workshops, working with groups to create artworks for all variety of venues, including the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where kids made a mural to commemorate the celebration of the 50th anniversary of human rights in 1998. In 2001, Gale received the Fete d’Excellence gold medallion for Youth from the coalition of nongovernmental organizations that are a part of the United Nations.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Gale expanded the Kids for Peace focus beyond terrorism and Israel to include issues of hunger, gang violence and AIDS, depending on the location of the workshop and the most relevant issue in the part of the world she was attempting to reach. In the process, Gale sought to avoid making Kids for Peace a politically charged initiative.

“I don’t consider this a political project,” she said. “I consider it a way of bringing people together using the creative process for harmony and to make social statements that educate people because I believe that we’ll have peace when there’s education.”

Run in conjunction with Barnsdall Arts, which has worked with Kids for Peace since 2003, the Oscar de la Hoya workshop allowed 20 students to create a series of murals to adorn their campus in the Los Angeles World Trade Center.

After viewing a documentary called “The Devil’s Miner,” about a young Bolivian boy forced to work in a mine to support his family, the students agreed upon the images they sought to portray after performing yoga and participating in a discussion of social justice led by Gale, who routinely uses such methods to get students thinking and feeling. Then they get painting.

The particular focus of the workshop was the importance of education to the achievement of peace.

When Gale discovered the “The Devil’s Miner” at a special screening at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood in April, she realized it was a tool she could use to further emphasize the relationship between education and peace in her workshops. Its protagonist dreams above all of saving enough money to one day attend school.

“I thought that if kids in America could see this film, they would appreciate what they have, and they would take their educations more seriously,” Gale said. The students at Oscar de la Hoya Animo devoted three Saturdays in May and June to working on the murals.

Gale and her patrons are hoping that it will be the first of many “Devil’s Miner” workshops she will conduct.

“My goal is just to travel around the world and keep doing workshops,” Gale said.

Sderot’s Kids Living in Fear


Eleven-year-old Shir Lazmi says she loves going to school. Why? Because she’s not really allowed to go anywhere else.

That’s because Shir lives in Sderot, where months of intense rocket fire by Palestinians from the nearby Gaza Strip have all but confined schoolchildren like her to the few places where they have both adult supervision and close proximity to a room with a reinforced roof, strong enough to keep a Kassam rocket from breaking through.

“I’m less scared in school,” Shir says after a Bible competition marking the last week of the school year. “I can’t go out with friends. I can’t go to the pool anymore. But I can see my friends here at school.”

Years of Kassam rocket fire at Sderot have shattered the sense of normalcy in this desert town. The fire has become so intense in recent weeks — often three or four rockets a day — that daily life here has come to a virtual standstill. Real estate values in town have plummeted, businesses have closed, people are moving away and nearly everyone says they live in constant fear of sudden death from above.

Sderot’s schools have been particularly hard-hit, and not just by the Kassams that have fallen on kindergartens, classrooms and schoolyards. The schools also have been trying to cope with the challenges of maintaining the routine of education in a place that has become a veritable war zone — all the while trying to convey a sense of normalcy for Sderot’s children.

With summer vacation starting, many parents say they don’t know what they’re going to do with their kids all summer.

“Our job at school, that we’re trying to accomplish within all of this, is to maintain routine,” says Dina Hori, principal of Sderot’s Torani Madani elementary school. “You have to project security, community, the sense that everything is OK.”

Like most of Sderot’s schools, Torani Madani is sponsored and administered by AMIT, the Orthodox Zionist educational organization.

Hori confesses that it’s hard to project normalcy when the Red Dawn emergency system goes off and the kids have no more than a few seconds to rush into reinforced-roof classrooms before a rocket lands somewhere in town with a loud boom.

The children have learned to huddle under their desks and put their hands over their heads, in a scene reminiscent of the 1950s United States. The difference is that the feared Soviet nuclear attack against the Americans never came, while in Sderot, the rockets are raining down.

Just two weeks ago, a rocket hit AMIT’s yeshiva high school in town. Nobody was injured.

But the damage in Sderot has been far more than physical: The rockets have terrorized an entire city and, in the process, transformed life here.

“Everyone gets scared,” Shir says. “Sometimes I cry. I went to the psychologist together with my mother. They taught us how to deal with the Kassams. They told us when we’re afraid to count to three and take three deep breaths.”

Teachers at Hori’s elementary school often whip out guitars and try to get the kids singing after an attack, in a bid to distract them and revive their spirits.

Nevertheless, many students appear to be developing psychological problems, insisting on sleeping near their parents at night, experiencing frequent bouts of panic and easily bursting into tears.

The long-term psychological effects of the attacks, which have been a presence here since 2001 but have intensified since Israel’s Gaza Strip withdrawal last year, remain unknown.

“The nation of Israel is sick with a spiritual sickness,” laments Rabbi Yoel Bar-Chen, who teaches in one of Sderot’s centrist Orthodox schools. “The nation of Israel does not respond. It does not fight. When they fire upon us, we must respond.”

“This is the worst lesson to the kids: defeatism,” Bar-Chen says. “They learn that we’re weak. It’s a very deep wound that can’t be measured with simple psychology.”

Perhaps most difficult, teachers and students say, is that families are moving away. That means that those who remain are losing their friends, too.

“My best friend is moving to Rosh Ha’Ayin. I’m very sad he’s leaving. I blame only the Arabs,” Ben Harari, 11, says. “Even my uncles are scared to visit us.”

School officials here estimate that the student population has fallen by at least 15 percent over the past year. Some parents have sent their children to live with relatives in safer cities. Others have pulled their kids out of school and insisted on keeping them home. A few have moved away — even though there are practically no home-buyers to replace them.

“Life here has been completely overturned,” says Arie Maimon, representative of the AMIT network of schools in Sderot. On Sunday, Maimon met with a representative from the prime minister’s office to explain that Sderot schools need additional funding for reinforcing roofs and walls against rockets, additional psychological counseling for students and teachers and more field trips out of town.

But no amount of funding will stop the rocket attacks, he says.

“Money doesn’t solve everything,” Maimon says. “You sit here like a duck in a shooting gallery and wait for a miracle. That’s all.”

Since the rocket attacks intensified, Ben says he hasn’t been allowed to stay home alone, play outside or wander around on his own. Once, he says, when the Red Dawn siren sounded at 3:30 a.m., he tripped down the stairs and hurt himself trying to rush to his home’s safe room.

Still, children in town say they don’t want to leave.

“I don’t want to leave because my friends are here,” Shir says. “I love my house. I love my school. I love everything in Sderot.”

 

Class Notes


New Yeshiva Flying SCY High
Founding board members of the new Southern California Yeshiva High School (SCY High) for boys in La Jolla knew that with a history of failed yeshiva high schools in the area, they had to offer the community something new and innovative. So they, along with headmaster Kevin Cloud, developed a school that utilizes high-tech project-based learning to integrate all disciplines — from science to literature to Gemara.

The school, the only Orthodox boys high school in the San Diego area, attracted 17 boys in ninth and 10th grades last year, its first year of existence, and next year between 25 and 30 are expected to be enrolled in the ninth through 11th grades. One Los Angeles boy boarded with relatives, and next year several families are opening up their homes to students who want to board.

As a school starting from scratch, teachers were able to take novel approaches to study.

The ninth graders, for example, read Goethe’s “Faust,” then rewrote it as short film. They created sets — some using “South Park”-style puppets, some using stop-action dolls and action figures — set it to music, and filmed short movies. The 10th graders read Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” then rewrote a modernized version then studied and debated the moral implications of making Faustus Jewish.

“What you do in project-based learning is you take the ability the students have in one subject and you bring that enthusiasm into another subject,” Cloud said.

The students also get traditional instruction, but even there things tend to blend.

In Rabbi Moshe Adatto’s Gemara class, students had to present talmudic arguments in a PowerPoint flowchart. Each student is given a Dell laptop when they enter, and the school is wired for high-speed wireless Internet access.

To Adatto, who previously was a teacher at the Valley Kollel, it’s all part of making kids love school and love Judaism.

“We’re trying to create lifelong learners, and to me that has two components: They have to know how to learn, and they have to want to learn,” said Adatto, who organized Shabbatons and other events to build school spirit.

All but one student has reenrolled for next year, and an anonymous survey that all of the parents filled out brought back astonishing results for a Jewish school: No one — not one family — reported being anything less than satisfied.

For more information on SCY High School, contact (858) 658-0857 or visit www.scyhigh.org.

Follow the Fellows to Israel
Three Southern California teens were among 26 selected nationally to visit Israel on a five-week Bronfman Youth Fellowship this summer. Priscella Frank of Calabasas High School and Benjamin and Mitzi Steiner of Shalhevet were selected following a rigorous application process. They will participate in an intensive program of study and travel in Israel designed to develop leaders committed to Jewish unity.

The fellows participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbinic faculty and spend a week with a group of Israeli peers who have been chosen through Amitei Bronfman, a parallel Israeli program. Bronfman Youth Fellows are asked to complete 40 hours of community service when they return home at the end of the summer.

3 Books = 31 Flavors
Students at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy have another reason to pick up a good book — to satisfy their sweet tooth. As part of the Be a Star Reader program, elementary and middle school kids who read three books this spring were awarded a free ice cream cone at any Baskin-Robbins. Arna Schwartz, the school librarian, has run the Be a Star Reader program for several years, purchasing Baskin-Robbins gift certificates. This year, Robert Schwartz, who owns the Baskin-Robbins on Kinross Avenue in Westwood, offered to sponsor the program. Other Schools or youth organizations interested in participating in the Baskin-Robbins Reading Rewards Program can contact Robert Schwartz at (310) 208-8048.

To Bee or Not to Bee
More than 150 boys from Chabad schools across the world gathered in Los Angeles in April for a battle of wits on Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot. Cheder Menachem in Los Angeles was the host school of the chidon, or bee, which attracted 1,000 spectators to the finals held at Emerson Middle School. The girls’ competition was held the week before in New York. Local winners were Sender Labkowsky, first place, older division; Mendel Mishulovin, third place, older division; and Shmully Lezak, third place, younger division.

ADL Reaches 700,000 Students
As part of LAUSD’s Live Violence-Free Day, 35,000 teachers in the district were urged to use materials and activities they received from the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) A World of Difference Institute, impacting more than 700,000 K-12 students in one day. The activities and lesson plans were designed to assist educators in addressing issues of bias, discrimination, bullying and violence, and focused on empowering students to become agents of change on their campuses. For more information on ADL education programs, contact Jenny Betz at (310) 446-8000, ext. 233.

 

School Risked Fiscal Peril for Its Students


Esther Nir knew she wanted her daughters to have a Jewish education. Although she and her Israeli-born husband, Ofer, were living in a decidedly secular kibbutz, Nir had attended yeshiva as a young girl in Brooklyn.

“I wanted my children to learn Torah and decide for themselves what they wanted to do when they got older,” she said.

But when the family moved to the United States from Israel in 1990, Nir was shocked by the cost of day school education. None of the Orthodox day schools she approached could give the family a financially viable offer.

“If a school cost $12,000 per year, they would go down by $2,000…. It was still out of reach,” Nir recalled.

One school implied that the family was not observant enough to be accepted.

Discouraged, the couple sent their three daughters to public school.

Four years later, Ofer Nir saw an article in a Hebrew-language newspaper about Perutz Etz Jacob Academy, an Orthodox day school reaching out to families of all religious levels, economic abilities and nations of origin. He looked up from the paper and said to his wife, “I think we’ve found the school we’re looking for.”

Located in a nondescript building on Beverly Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue, Etz Jacob is not glamorous. The furniture is worn, the walls need a paint job and the outdoor play area is tiny.

The Nirs were undaunted. The following year, they enrolled their three daughters: D’vorah in eighth grade, Ayala in sixth grade and Kesem in second grade. Based on the family’s financial situation, tuition was initially set at $100 per child per month.

Etz Jacob prides itself on accepting children who would not otherwise get a Jewish education. Rabbi Rubin Huttler of Congregation Etz Jacob founded the school in 1989 as a haven for new immigrants flooding into Los Angeles from Russia and Iran.

“Other schools weren’t accepting these children,” he said. “So we decided to take on that mitzvah.”

Over the years, immigration slowed, but Etz Jacob continues to take students who have not been able to find a home at other Jewish schools for a variety of reasons. Some, like the Nirs, are struggling financially. Others have learning disabilities or emotional issues. A few have experienced discipline problems at other schools.

“We see the potential in the child, not what he’s doing now,” said Rabbi Shlomo Harrosh, the school’s principal. He believes it’s never too late to begin learning.

“Rabbi Akiba started studying the alphabet at the age of 40, and he became one of the greatest rabbis in history,” he said.

Only 5 percent of Etz Jacob’s students pay full tuition of $8,000, with the rest paying on a sliding scale. According to Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles, 40 percent of all day school students in L.A. receive need-based financial aid. However, Graff noted, “Other schools with a high percentage of scholarships tend to have a support base that can sustain them from year to year.”

This is not the case with Etz Jacob. The school’s liberal admissions policy jeopardized its very existence. Over the years, Huttler and Harrosh struggled continuously to keep the school afloat. Over time, debt mounted. Last summer, Etz Jacob Academy owed an entire year’s rent. Huttler reluctantly concluded that he would have to close the school.

Enter Aron Abecassis. A go-getter who prospered in real estate, Abecassis had supported the school when he first heard it was having troubles making ends meet eight years ago. Then in 2004, when he learned of the impending bankruptcy, Abecassis took the school on as a personal mission. Although his three children were enrolled at nearby Maimonides Academy, Etz Jacob’s plight touched a chord: Abecassis himself had once been a poor immigrant in search of a Jewish education.

In 1970, his family fled Morocco because of the increasingly hostile climate for Jews. “We left everything behind,” said Abecassis, who was 9 years old at the time.

The family went to Canada, but when his father tried to find a Jewish day school for his three children, “they came up with all kinds of excuses not to admit us,” Abecassis recalled. “I always felt I missed the structure and foundation of a Jewish identity that comes through Jewish education.”

In addition to donating his own funds, Abecassis created a business plan to save the school. He enlisted rabbis throughout the community to appeal to their congregants for help. He solicited individuals to provide $10,000 student sponsorships.

“We’re Jews. And Jews all help people in need,” Abecassis said.

When Abecassis approached L.A. Jewish Federation President John Fishel about Etz Jacob’s financial plight, Fishel provided the school with a $50,000 emergency gift. The gift came with two conditions: That the school undergo accreditation and that it strengthen its leadership structure.

“Providing this support to Etz Jacob is consistent with the Federation’s aim of ensuring that a Jewish education is accessible to every Jewish child who seeks one,” Fishel said.

Regina Goldman, a former principal of Melrose Avenue Elementary now on Etz Jacob’s board, oversaw the accreditation process. The school just received accreditation approval from the prestigious Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which gives the stamp of approval to both secular and religious schools. It is in the process of applying for accreditation the Bureau of Jewish Education. Nancy Field, previously of the Harkam Hillel Hebrew Academy, has been hired as Etz Jacob’s general studies principal.

In what Abecassis describes as “a rescue effort by the Jewish community,” 17 local synagogues and foundations, including the Jewish Community Foundation, have provided funds to the school. In addition, 47 individuals have sponsored student scholarships averaging $10,000 each. Approximately $600,000 has been raised, enough to cover not only this year’s operating expense, Abecassis said, but also — for the first time in its 17 years of existence — Etz Jacob is now free of debt.

Ultimately, Abecassis hopes the school will be able to build a permanent facility that would allow it to double or triple its current 100-student capacity. He’d like to break ground within three years.

As for the Nir family, who found a haven at Etz Jacob 10 years ago, they grew more observant and eventually became baalei teshuvah. Two daughters now live in Israel, and the youngest is enrolled at Bais Yaakov School for Girls in Los Angeles. The Nirs say they are grateful for the impact the school made upon their family and heartened to hear that Etz Jacob’s future finally seems secure. “Torah is more important to them than money or a fancy building,” Esther Nir said. “The most important thing to them is giving a Jewish education to a Jewish child.”

 

Middle-Class Squeeze


In the past six years, Diane Demetras and her husband, Marcel Indik, have taken one low-cost vacation and have dined out only on rare occasions. They don’t buy themselves new clothes, they drive old cars and rent movies rather than go to them because weekend activities have been whittled down to what is cheapest.

They’ve done this — willingly and without regrets — so they could afford to send their two children, Emile and Olivia, to Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, where they feel their kids are getting a great education, a grounding in Jewish tradition and a sense of belonging to a values-based community.

The Demetras-Indiks are solidly middle class. She is an academic adviser at USC and he is a successful commercial photographer. They co-own the fourplex they live in, and, if not for the $30,000-plus a year they spend on their kids’ school and camp (that’s including a few thousand dollars in financial aid), they would be considered comfortable in the Southern California economy.

But it is families like theirs who are feeling the squeeze of the upward crawl of day school tuition over the last several years, which has brought the average tuition for elementary and middle school to about $12,600 and for high school to as much as $20,000. Those numbers are about 30 percent above what a year of schooling cost four years ago and nearly double 10 years ago.

To be sure, at secular private schools tuition has risen just as sharply, and often far more so, but non-Orthodox Jewish schools are competing on two fronts: with the lure of fancy private secular schools for many who can afford to pay whatever it takes, on the one hand, and with the tuition-free option of public schools, particularly the gifted magnets or other specialized programs for those who are struggling to make ends meet, on the other. Neither socio-economic group is willing to compromise educational standards, which means Jewish schools have to maintain a high academic bar, but also give the added value of a Jewish education — making the latter a convincing selling point to those who might opt for just Sunday school enrichment.

Most of the 10,000 students in Los Angeles’ Jewish day schools come from families with too much income to qualify for significant financial aid, but many are not wealthy enough to easily absorb such a significant hit on their budget. And there are also those who do not see themselves as “scholarship families,” and who choose therefore to send their kids to public schools rather than open their financial records for the aid applications.

About 14 percent of school-age Jewish children in Los Angeles are enrolled in day schools, the majority of them in Orthodox schools.

In the past 15 years, day school enrollment across the country has boomed. Between 1992 and 1998, enrollment jumped by 25,000 students, and from 1999 to 2004, another 20,000 students enrolled, bringing the total to 205,000 nationwide. Much of the growth occurred in non-Orthodox schools, new schools and in high schools.

While Los Angeles has generally mirrored that growth, in the past five years the number of students enrolled in L.A. day schools declined by about 400 students. Last year saw a turnaround, however, with an increase that brought the number close to its 1999 peak of 10,000 students.

But the decline has educators concerned, and while they know that cost is not the only factor — there was also an overall economic downturn and demographic dip in school-aged children — tuition increases certainly don’t help.

Over the past 11 years, Temple Israel has seen its enrollment increase from 82 children to 200, but the school has had losses, too. Like many families, the Demetras-Indiks had to make a tough choice. Tuition at Temple Israel Day School went from $9,500 four years ago to $12,170 for the next school year. So come this September, Emile will be attending public school for the sixth grade.

“We couldn’t handle the cost anymore,” Demetras said.

Diminished day school enrollment — or enrollment from a narrow socioeconomic stratum — hurts the entire Jewish community. Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism, and to educate their own kids Jewishly. Day school graduates, in a sense, boost the knowledge base of the entire community.

“We have learned so much about what keeps kids Jewish in this world that is always pulling at them, and the day school movement is such an important contributor to the Jewish people. To not be able to make a day school education affordable for people who want it is an awful alternative,” said Rennie Wrubel, head of school at Milken Community High School.

Over the past decade, with increasing sophistication, schools are looking to sources other than tuition to make ends meet. They are setting up endowment funds, ramping up marketing both to potential parents and donors, and nurturing new supporters — from alumni and grandparents to people and foundations previously unconnected to day schools.

“If we believe in this, and we believe in how powerful it is — and some of us do — then we have got to have the whole community get behind all of our efforts,” said Bruce Powell, head of school at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills. Powell believes a massive communal endowment — $1 billion — needs to be set up to cover the cost of Jewish education.

Lisabeth Lobenthal couldn’t agree more. Lobenthal is a synagogue director who put her son, Aaron, at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy for kindergarten. A single mother who does not receive child support, Lobenthal was making $48,000 a year when she applied for financial aid. She tried to make do with the $2,500 break on the tuition of about $9,000 — she was told it was the maximum she could receive and never asked for more — but once she paid for tuition, rent, basic bills and groceries, she was, literally, penniless.

“They called me for a donation for a pizza party, and I couldn’t give them the $10,” Lobenthal said.

She pulled Aaron out in first grade and put him in public school, where he’s been happy, but his Jewish identity has suffered. Now 11, Aaron hates Hebrew school.

“I’ll be happy if I can get him to have a bar mitzvah,” Lobenthal said.

Currently, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), a Federation agency, allocates $2.35 million to Los Angeles’ day schools. For the past two years, the wheels have been turning to set up a $20 million endowment fund for day school education. The Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation have each pledged $1 million to the fund, and are working with BJE to secure lead donors. The interest from the endowment — about $1 million annually — would leverage endowment dollars raised in the schools at a rate of 25 cents to the dollar. So if a school raised $1 million for its endowment, the fund would then pay the school an additional $250,000, according to Miriam Prum-Hess, the director for day school operational services at BJE. That approach, rather than, say, discounting every child’s tuition, works for a city the size of Los Angeles. With nearly 10,000 students, a community fund to discount tuition by $2,000 per child would cost $20 million. With this model, schools have incentive to raise their own money, and then can use the money however best suits the particular schools.

Other communities have managed to generate large gifts in the last two years. In late 2004, three philanthropists gifted $45 million to Boston’s 16 day schools, and other communities have seen numbers between $13 million and $20 million.

“I have found a great willingness among major Jewish philanthropists to invest tremendous amounts of capital in models of Jewish education that work,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

Elkin also believes that with the right training, technology and motivation, the 759 day schools that serve 205,000 students nationwide can double their annual giving to cover the gap between tuition revenue and what it costs to run a school.

In Los Angeles, while some schools have to make up about 10 percent of their budget in fundraising, others find themselves with gaps of 40 percent or more. And with a huge jump in insurance — particularly workman’s comp — and increased security costs since Sept. 11, as well as the pressure to keep teachers’ salary and benefits on par with public schools, raising tuition is a tempting way to make up the shortfall.

But Prum-Hess, who moved into her position at BJE after serving as vice president of allocations for The Federation, hopes that schools can hold the line on tuition by tapping into unrealized revenue potential.

This year, as part of a national Match Grant program, she helped 13 schools raise a combined $1 million from new donors, which earned the schools an additional $500,000 from the Jewish Funders Network and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. Schools also brought in $1 million in homeland security grants, with Prum-Hess’s help (see sidebar).

She wants to see schools think more strategically, setting up endowments and seeking bequests.

“I think the biggest problem that day schools have is that many live hand to mouth and it’s very hard to think beyond the immediate when that is the way you operate,” she said.

Change is coming slowly. A handful of schools have already started endowments.

Emek, an 824-student Orthodox school in Sherman Oaks, last year set up the Emek Heritage Endowment Fund, asking every family to contribute $200 a year. Now at the end of its second year, the fund garnered 100 percent participation and has $70,000, and administrators hope to reach $1 million within 10 years.

But long-term planning isn’t going to help the Katz family (they asked that their real name not be used to protect their privacy). Jennifer is a social worker; David is in the allied medical field. Both have advanced degrees and good jobs. But between the housing market in Los Angeles and the cost of day school — even with financial aid — they have made the decision to move to Cleveland this summer. There they can trade up from their two-bedroom duplex to a four-bedroom house that costs $250,000, and they will pay $11,000 less than they do now to send their three children to an Orthodox day school.

“We’re just not getting ahead,” Jennifer said. “We can’t take trips that we want to take to see our family on the East Coast. We’ve got three kids living in one bedroom. We work too hard for our money to have nothing to show for it.”

Prum-Hess calculates that to send two kids to day school and live decently in Los Angeles, a family has to earn about $160,000 annually.

“Part of the message that we need to give is that you might be earning $150,000 and saying ‘I’m earning a great salary and I can’t pencil out what is wrong,’ and we say we know you’re not making ends meet, and you need to apply for a scholarship,” Prum-Hess advises.

All Jewish schools have scholarship programs, with a wide range of giving levels and procedures for how parents can access than money.

At Milken, tuition and fees for the 600 students is about $24,000 each. The school gave out $1.2 million in scholarship money. New Community Jewish High School, where tuition and fees run about $22,500, has allocated more than $1 million for the 320 kids it has coming in next year.

Pressman Academy, a Conservative K-8 school where the bottom line comes to more than $12,000, gives out $340,000 to its student body of 367. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Reform elementary school, allocated $200,000 to its 210 students last year to defray the $14,000 price tag. In the school’s seven years of existence, the temple has kicked in more that $1.5 million to the school’s budget.

The Reform Temple Israel of Hollywood parcels out $77,000 annually among its 200 students, but caps aid at 30 percent of tuition so the school can help more families. On the few occasions where families who apply aren’t able to afford the day school, Temple Israel guides them toward the religious school, where no child is turned away for financial reasons.

“It’s a very difficult situation for all of us who are passionate about Jewish day school education,” Temple Israel Day School head of school Eileen Horowitz said. “We want to be able to help as many families as we can.”

Other Reform and Conservative synagogue schools acknowledge that while they only rarely have to turn students away, they don’t often see those families that truly can’t afford the education. It is an economically self-selected group that even applies.

That is not the case in the Orthodox community, where a day school education is seen as mandatory, even when a family has six, seven or eight kids. Schools that serve the Modern Orthodox population give out about 30 percent to 40 percent of tuition revenues in scholarships every year, compared with 10 percent to 20 percent in non-Orthodox schools.

At the YULA boys high school, last year $1 million was distributed among 195 boys to help cover the $19,000 tuition.

“There is no such thing at YULA as a student unable to attend because of inability to pay tuition,” said boys’ school principal Rabbi Dovid Landesman. “At the same time, we will put as much pressure as we can on parents who can pay. It has to be their most important priority — they can’t say ‘we prefer a Jewish education, but not at the expense of a nice car or going to Puerto Rico for Pesach.'”

The “no child turned away” policy finds extreme expression in the ultra-Orthodox community, where in some schools as much as 80 percent of the student body receives financial assistance, including some who pay only a nominal amount.

At Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes, the two principals, Rabbi Berish Goldenberg and Rabbi Yakov Krause, handle financial aid personally. Last year, the school allocated more than $2 million in tuition subvention. Goldenberg estimates that only 350 to 400 of his 1,100 students are paying full tuition, which added to fees comes to about $12,000 a year for the first child (as at most schools, there is a sibling discount and teachers get an automatic break).

The parent body includes many teachers at other schools, as well as rabbis and Jewish communal professionals who serve the wider community. Many of them have large families.

Toras Emes is currently phasing in a minimum tuition requirement of $3,500, so that every family is paying something. (Goldenberg expects exceptions to that minimum, too.)

Like most yeshivas, Toras Emes functions in the red, constantly begging and borrowing to make payroll and pay bills.

“This yeshiva exists on miracles, and you only see it when you sit behind this desk,” Goldenberg said. “Somehow Hashem [God] takes care of us.”

“God will provide” is also the mantra at Chabad schools, which have an open-door policy for anyone who wants a Jewish education.

Rabbi Baruch Hecht, director at the girls’ elementary and junior high schools Bais Chaya Mushke and Bais Rebbe, allocates about half his budget toward financial assistance.

“There is no point sitting in my chair if you are not prepared to do what we do,” he said. “If you are going to run a Jewish day school, then part of that process is knowing you are going to be handing out scholarships — a lot of them — because your mission is to make sure every child has an opportunity for a Jewish education.”

But for now, most middle-class families either aren’t willing to ask, or don’t qualify for much help. Instead, they make lifestyle choices to support their educational goals for their children.

Joanne Helperin went back to work full time when her daughter was 2 so her two kids, now 7 and 4, could attend Maimonides Academy, an Orthodox day school in West Hollywood.

“And I feel guilty about it every day,” Helperin says of the need to work full time.

Helperin is a journalist, the senior features editor at Edmunds.com. Her husband, Robby, is the owner and bandleader of Spotlight Music and the Simcha Orchestra. Business is booming, but with the high cost of living in Los Angeles combined with day school tuition, they find it hard to refuse the offer of tuition help from the grandparents.

“And the question is, will I be able to do that for my grandchild? And what about college? I think we’re going to have to work longer and retire later,” Helperin said.

Tuition assistance programs that have sprung up in small communities across the country over the past five or six years are aimed at precisely this demographic. In Morris County, N.J., tuition was automatically capped at $5,500 for families who earn less than $120,000, and those who earn more can qualify, too.

In the Bay Area, the Levine-Lent Family Foundation set a goal of doubling the number of day school students in Northern California by the year 2010. In 2002, the foundation gave every child enrolling in the newly opened Kehilla Jewish High School a $9,000-a-year tuition voucher for four years, and the following year entering students were offered $7,000 vouchers. The school had expected 18 students in its first class; 34 enrolled, and half of those students had not gone to a Jewish elementary school.

But with 10,000 students at 37 schools, a similar endeavor in Los Angeles would cost tens of millions of dollars — a daunting figure.

The Avi Chai Foundation, a leader in promoting day school education, launched a pilot program in 1998 in day schools in Atlanta and Akron, Ohio. Students were given $3,000 vouchers, but analysts concluded that while the vouchers did help attract and retain students, more important factors were the child’s happiness and the quality of the education.

“The cost of education is not the only challenge the day school world has,” said Elkin of Boston’s PEJE. “We have to market Judaism. We have to market the quality of the education, we have to deal with concerns about ghettoization, concerns that that the schools are too narrow and that kids will be socially crippled when they get out of school. There is a whole range of selling we have to do. There is no silver-bullet panacea for the day school world.”

In Los Angeles, where the non-Orthodox day schools compete for students not just with public schools, but also with other private schools — which cost more and are often perceived as offering more than day schools — competition has increased among the Jewish schools, which is one of the reasons tuition has gone up. Schools vie for the best teachers and pay for extras to attract kids who might end up at Harvard-Westlake or Buckley.

“We want great teacher-to-student ratios, and great science labs and great sports,” said Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “We want an orchestra and computers and art and dance and music — and, and, and. It costs a lot of money and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of that fact. It simply needs to be made a priority and we need to go out and raise it,” he said.

Powell of New Community Jewish High School agrees. “How can we do any less 60 years after the Holocaust, when we have not even replaced the 6 million? How can we turn Jewish kids away from Jewish school, kids who want to learn how to live a joyful Jewish life?”

 

O.C. Incidents Raise Anti-Semitism Fears


The president of a Los Alamitos high school’s Jewish students’ club came out to the school parking lot last October to find swastikas and “Jew Bitch” scrawled on her car. Across the county, a San Clemente high school student was harassed last year with anti-Jewish slurs to the point that she transferred out of the district.

These two instances in which Jewish students from Orange County were targeted by peers coincide with a broader rise in anti-Semitism, including in schools. Local Jewish groups have sounded an alarm, while the reaction of local school officials has varied.

“There has been a significant rise in the past four years in anti-Semitism generally and on school campuses,” said Dr. Kevin O’Grady, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach Region. O’Grady’s office recorded 43 cases of harassment and vandalism last year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2003; one-third of these involved public schools.

In its 2004 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the ADL documented 1,821 cases of harassment, threats, assault and vandalism against Jews nationwide — up 17 percent from the previous year. This jump was due in part to a spike in reports of anti-Jewish harassment in American middle and high schools.

These incidents have included defacing lockers with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti and name-calling, bullying and intimidation in hallways and Internet chat rooms. Incidents tend to be spread evenly throughout the county, although Los Alamitos and San Clemente have the most reported cases, according to ADL research. In the northwest corridor, skinheads, with their white supremacist ideology, are actively recruiting teenagers in schools, said ADL regional director Joyce Greenspan.

School administrators are responding to these incidents with varied intensity. In some cases, their actions have been resolute. One Costa Mesa middle school principal notified police and suspended 18 students after a girl was harassed on the Web site, My Space, O’Grady said. In San Clemente, a high school principal met with Jewish leaders following reports of several incidents, and ran tolerance programming for the student body, said Rabbi Mendel Slavin of the Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente, who attended the meeting.

At Los Alamitos High School, administrators banned clothing bearing an iron cross and other paraphernalia associated with white supremacy.

Districts have also adopted zero-tolerance policies for ethnic-based intimidation and offer sensitivity and diversity training programs to prevent problems before they arise.

“When you see that firm and clear response, you see a drop in anti-Semitic incidents,” ADL’s Greenspan said.

Other schools deny the presence of anti-Semitism on their campuses, even in the face of some evidence to the contrary.

Parents of a Tustin-area 10th-grader perceived the administration’s response to be deficient after reporting that their daughter was being continuously harassed by a fellow student.

“He’d walk by and sneeze and say ‘a Jew,’ and say ‘shalom’ and laugh,” said the 15-year-old girl, who asked to be identified only as K. “In class, I’d hear him talking and I’d hear the word ‘Jew’ and [my name] and I knew he was talking about me. He actually called me a ‘kike’ one time.”

The boy described himself as a Nazi and would talk about how Jews killed Jesus, according to K., who said she felt scared and intimidated.

She reported the harassment to a counselor and was instructed to document the incidents in a statement to the vice principal. Because she was afraid to confront the boy and his parents in a face-to-face meeting, she was told that he could be disciplined only if caught in the act.

When the abuse continued, K.’s parents met with the vice principal, who allegedly said that he would direct teachers to send the boy to the office if he made offensive comments. Not all teachers followed this instruction, according to K. In the face of the boy’s unrelenting taunting, the distraught parents removed their daughter from the school.

“What I’m most upset with are the teachers and the way they allowed it to happen, and the way that the vice principal, after receiving such a powerful statement from K., just did not respond,” said K.’s mother. “I feel that they allowed it.”

Tustin Unified School District officials denied knowledge of this incident, but stated that they do not tolerate racial or religious harassment.

“The safety and security of our campuses is our first priority,” said Ron Heape, Tustin Unified’s district administrator for child welfare and attendance. “We are not timid at all about going after these kids.”

Peer-to-peer anti-Semitism is not limited to high schools.

“Our most recent phone calls have been third- and fourth-grade related,” said the ADL’s O’Grady. In one case, a fourth grader was called “dirty Jew” by two classmates, who then wrote the word “Jew” on a piece of paper, circled it and drew a line through it.

“This is what we do to Jews,” Grady says they said.

ADL officials suspect that only a small percentage of incidents gets reported.

“The numbers are staggering,” agreed Robyn Faintich, director of the Orange County Board of Jewish Education’s (BJE) youth education program. Faintich recounted that at a recent gathering of 110 public school 10th graders, more than 90 percent said they had been targets of anti-Semitic comments, vandalism or other encounters.

“Schools are not mandated to collect data [on hate incidents] so there is no global perspective,” said Georgiann Boyd, student services coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

For that matter, many incidents never leave the school yard. Fear of being further ostracized prevents some students from reporting confrontations to school or community officials.

“We are aware that there is anti-Semitic activity in the schools,” said Orange County Human Relations Executive Director Rusty Kennedy. “Each year we learn of at least a half-dozen incidents in schools that we’re concerned with, and I’m sure there’s more.”

He said that while the number of cases is too small to indicate a trend, he believes that school-based anti-Semitism is comparable to hate acts in the adult community, in which Jews, African Americans and gays and lesbians are most frequently targeted.

“These things that are happening at an early age are concerning, because this is a taught or learned behavior,” said Heather Williams, director of gang victim services at Community Service Programs, Inc. “These children are learning to be anti-Semitic by their parents and people who they’ve been around for a long time.”

 

Letters


One Proud Teacher

I’m a teacher at Shalhevet Middle School. I’ve been teaching the Holocaust to my eighth-grade students for the past three years.

Over a two-month period we tackled questions such as: “How was it possible for Hitler to gain such power?” “Where were the American Jews?” “Would Israel be in creation today had the Holocaust not happened?” and much more. My students also write a 10-page research paper on a topic relating to the Holocaust and become mini-experts on their topics.

I’m writing to you in order to thank you for publishing Adam Deutsch’s article “Fading Numbers” (Tribe, April 7) regarding Holocaust education. After reading the article, I realized that I could do even more. I went to my principals and proposed that next school year, instead of teaching eighth-grade history four times a week, I teach regular eighth-grade history three times a week, and a class on the Holocaust once a week. I told them about your recent article and that Holocaust education will become more prominent in the schools over the next few years. They were thrilled with the idea!

So, I just wanted to let you know of the difference that your article is already making. You should feel proud.

Ilana Zadok
Shalhevet Middle School

Miss Israel

I love Israel and its many beautiful places and people. I feel proud when The Journal has a cover story on Israel (“Beautiful Israel,” May 5). But if you want to be a community newspaper, then have some sensitivity and do not put an immodestly clothed woman on your cover so Orthodox Jews are uncomfortable bringing the paper into their homes. I somehow feel you could have saluted Miss Israel and Yom Ha’Atzmaut in a more tasteful way for all in the community to enjoy and be proud.

Pearl Taylor
Sherman Oaks

The Poland Scoop

Your article “The Shadows of Another Time” (April 21), states that Rachel Kadish went to Poland to reclaim real estate owned by her family. According to the report, her last look at Poland was in 2001. Then she published her original piece claiming that there are no Jews in Krakow, only non-Jews trading in Jewish merchandise. It appears she does not speak the language and does not seem to have made a real effort to make contact with the Jews of Krakow. Those Jews today number in the thousands.

If the Jews in Poland depend on the support of Catholic Poles, this is in some measure due to the fact that the international Jewish community has largely ignored the existence — and therefore the needs — of Jews living in Poland.

I would like to extend to Kadish an invitation to come to Poland again and feel the renewed spirit of Jews in Warsaw, in Lublin and in Krakow. I promise her that she will leave better informed and reassured that Judaism in Poland is alive and well. Then her report might appear in an anthology with a different title: “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Optimism.”

Severyn Ashkenazy
Beit Warszawa
Warsaw, Poland

Mixed on March

Theodore Bikel complains of the “tunnel vision” of American Jews. which prevents them from appreciating the “scores” of young Jews in Poland who are rediscovering Jewish culture (Letters, April 28). While one, of course, appreciates the small communities that have been established in Poland and elsewhere, it is sad beyond words to remark the difference between these communities and what was destroyed. The March has placed the emphasis where history has mandated that it be placed.

Stephanie London
Beverly Hills

More on Munich

Three words for [“Munich”] are powerful, powerful, powerful (“Weisz Gets Gold; ‘Munich’ Out in the Cold” March 10). [Steven] Spielberg should be given a medal for bringing this piece of history to the screen. Too many people today have no knowledge of that tragedy. It needed to be documented on film. Stop nit-picking.

Barbara Sommer
Los Angeles

To read more letters this week, visit www.jewishjournal.com.THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684