Varied community/congregation at the Western wall

Two Jews, Three Opinions by Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan


Two Jews, Three Opinions by Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

There’s an old joke that underscores our almost impish impulse for our streams of Judaism to deviate no matter what: One pious Jew was stranded on a desert island and built two synagogues. When rescued, the crew members asked, “There was only you and your limited resources, so why two  places to worship?” The Jew answered, “One was for me to pray in. The other one I wouldn’t be caught dead in.” Hmm, maybe the “other congregation” had a different way of handling the Mourner’s Kaddish. I have been reciting it for my father who died last December. In some synagogues, only the mourners rise to recite it, while in others everyone stands and says it to support the mourners or to say it for those who passed but have no survivors to say it for them.

I have said this prayer in both kinds of congregations, and I have mixed feelings about each procedure. On the one hand, if a few other people and I rise to say it, I feel acknowledged that yes, I am stepping through the peculiar passage of my first year without my father. Anyone who still does not know I had lost an immediate family member can later ask who I am mourning for and potentially become an additional source of support. On the other hand, I feel self-conscious drawing such attention to myself, like a scarlet “M” has sprouted on my forehead.

In the “other” synagogue, I feel more protected and less vulnerable as mourners and non-mourners alike participate in this ritual. But I feel that this dilutes my feelings or minimizes them as they are “distributed” across the group. What do you non-mourners know about my feelings and those of the others grieving? The intention, of course, is fine, but it reduces the significance of the ritual for me. If everyone is carrying it out, then I am not doing anything special to mark my relationship with the deceased or to drive home yet again to myself the reality of the loss. I feel deprived of the power of this ritual.

If I and some other hapless survivors of another ship wreck had joined the Jew stranded on that desert isle, as a rabbi I would have instituted the following compromise: Everyone rises but only the mourners actually say the prayer.

But wait, I hear an objection from the Chair of the Board of Trustees: “That’s not the way to do it! Everyone recites, but only the mourners rise.” Alas, we will need two synagogues after all.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. For more details including reviews, you can go to the publisher’s page or to amazon.com. There is also an audio version of Encountering the Edge: the Audiobook. Comments to the author are welcome by email or via her blog, Offbeat Compassion. She has recently authored a second book, Curiosity Seekers which is gentle science fiction about an endearing couple in the near future (Paperback or Kindle).

___________

GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

____________________

Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

____________________

Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

_____________________

DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

___________

MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

_____________________

Words Matter…Dammit!


The violence in Charlottesville was scary, upsetting, vile and – unfortunately not surprising. 

The United States has become a country deeply divided by wealth, education, color, religion, opportunity and politics. It should not be surprising that people feel threatened by the stranger they do not know. The more separate we are from each other, the more fearful and suspicious we have become of the other.

It doesn’t help when our President spends so much time defining what is real and what is fake news, rather than condemning obvious hatred. He is better than this and this is a distraction we can ill afford. The stakes are too high for us to make a mockery of justice and the freedoms that our constitution guarantees us.

The book of Genesis teaches us to be like Abraham and embrace the stranger – whatever the price.

Our Jewish legacy is that we are a people of the book, a book that reminds us that words matter. The beginning of the book (i.e. Genesis) teaches us to be like Abraham and embrace the stranger – whatever the price. Today is the day to break down the boundaries between us and them.

When we started the Pico Union Project four years ago, I sensed it was time to bring multiple faiths and cultures together under one roof. I had no idea how critical it would be to create a space for people to get to know each other, without judgement or fear. This is what I’ve learned:

  • We can do better
  • Anything is possible.
  • We can say yay when everyone else is saying nay
  • It’s better to focus on service than ‘serve us’
  • Upward mobility is not just a dream, it’s achievable.
  • We are honored when we honor all of creation.

The American way – the Pico Union Project way, begins with YOU and includes all of US.  If you have yet to check us out, The PUP doors are always open -and our eternal light is always on!


Craig Taubman

The Pico Union Project is a multi-faith, multi-cultural center committed to living the principle to “love your neighbor as you want to be loved.” We recognize that in order to love, you must first get to know your neighbor.  We use spirituality, arts, and a deep commitment to community activism as tools to draw individuals together, deepen a sense of self-awareness, and open eyes, minds, and souls to the value and potential of our community.

 

Can we change the Swastika to mean something different?


Recently, I came across a commercial charging humanity to change the Nazi symbol into a symbol of peace by a T-shirt company called Teespring and KA Designs. They suggested this symbol we have come to know as a symbol which reflects hate, devastation, tragedy, and murder can be redesigned by repurposing it for a symbol of tranquility and love just by coloring it a multitude of pastel pink, green and blue colors and willing it so.

My first reaction to this suggestion was visceral. It was filled with pain and disgust. It felt like I was being manipulated versus inspired. I have learned that when I get that feeling that lives deep inside my gut, that feeling which tells me something is wrong or untrue, I should listen to it.

I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my negative reaction to this suggestion. After all am I not a self evolved person who has the ability to transform hatred into kindness if I wish it so? Am I not evolved enough to see this suggestion as a transformation versus a disfiguration? Is it really so bad that a group of folks want to redirect our thinking when seeing the Swastika to reflect peace versus hatred and murder? After all, the Nazis took an innocent Eastern symbol which originally meant “Good Fortune” in Hinduism and Buddhism, when turned clockwise, and twisted it to mean hatred and anti semitism.  Why can’t we turn this back around to a new meaning of peace and love? Isn’t it just a symbol, aren’t symbols what we choose to make them, and how we choose to give them meaning? Is it so radical to think we cannot rededicate the most radically perverted symbol in the world to mean something different- to mean love?

The way we communicate with one another is complex and nuanced. We use words, eye contact, gestures, body language and symbols to create tone and to tell our stories. Yes, a symbol is the meaning we dictate it. A symbol carries with it stories, lives, human narrative and communicates our deepest selves. A symbol showcases history and human connection. The suggestion that a symbol which stood for lives being broken, ended, gassed, burnt, wiped out and destroyed can suddenly be erased to mean something different is erasing the very stories affected by that symbol as well. We don’t transform ourselves because we change what that symbol means, we merely lose ourselves. Transformation is the ability to take something and change it, shift it, redesign it, not delete, obliterate or ERASE it.

The suggestion that the Swastika could represent love when it was designed to represent hatred is preposterous and not because of what it is asking from us, but because of what it is taking from  us. While I applaud those who want to switch the meaning, you cannot switch a meaning without erasing the first one. You are not asking us to transform, you are actually asking us to regress. By asking us to erase it’s original meaning, you are asking us to erase the stories that assembled because of and in spite of that symbol.

Essentially, you are asking us to forget. And that’s why my gut turned. Because you are asking too much. I imagine the Eastern originators of the Swastika symbol felt the same way- like their stories had been hijacked by a black cause that created suffering versus the enlightened meaning it was meant to inhabit. When the Nazis stole their symbol, they stole and erased their stories as well – just as you are asking to steal and erase ours.

You are insulting us by assuming evil could be erased. You are not asking us to redesign our thinking,  you are asking us to stop thinking, to stop communicating our stories and who we are because of- rather- in spite of that symbol. Because that symbol carries with it the stories of those times, and by erasing those stories, you erase those people, my people. You are asking us to forget them. You are asking us to discredit them.

A symbol carries the weight we associate to it. And in this case, it carries the stains that bleeds on it as well. If you want to change thinking, create a different symbol that carries with it a new weight and reflection of that communication of peace, don’t insult us to believe our stories associated with that horrid symbol can merely become erased just because we will it so.

The Nazis chose to steal this symbol. It was hijacked. It cannot be reinvented without hijacking the stories behind the symbol as well. You are asking us to have our truths stolen away, to have our history expunged, to have our records erased into oblivion. You are asking us to change the symbol’s meaning, which essentially pirates our stories just as the Nazi’s stole the originator’s stories.  The end doesn’t always justify the means. Changing the swastika meaning doesn’t change the result that occurs because the action is well intentioned. In this case, the result is  the feeling of having our narratives deleted, our truths and lives inconsequential all over again.

When healing from pain, we can’t negate it’s existence to become enlightened, we must acknowledge the pain first, then reposition ourselves around it, and redesign something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to reflect the lessons learned and the knowledge acquired out of the ashes. We don’t pretend the pain never existed by coloring it a pretty pink and willing it so.

Four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society


Betzalel Smotrich, perhaps the most right-wing member of the current Knesset, caused a storm when he endorsed the idea that Arabs and Jew should be segregated in Israel’s maternity rooms.

Smotrich was responding to a report on the Israel Broadcast Authority that several hospitals practice de facto segregation of maternity rooms — placing Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs. Such segregation is prohibited by law.

“There are mental gaps, and it’s more comfortable for both sides to be with themselves,” Smotrich, a member of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, tweeted on April 5. “It’s really not racism.”

In a subsequent tweet he wrote that it’s “natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby, who may want to kill her baby 20 years from now.”

Smotrich’s remarks were panned by lawmakers from left and right, including Naftali Bennett, the leader of Jewish Home. Responding to Smotrich, Bennett tweeted a rabbinic passage about man being created in God’s image, adding, “Every man. Jew or Arab.”

Jews and Arabs are afforded equal rights under Israeli law. But in many ways, the two sectors live in separate societies — attending different schools, living in different cities, reading different newspapers and espousing different political ideals.

Unlike the prescribed, top-down segregation supported by Smotrich, much of this separation stems from longstanding structural factors like language, culture and religion.  

“In most places, there’s no problem. The Arab population lives in totally Arab villages,” said Nachum Blass, a senior researcher at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

But the divisions between Israeli Jews and Arabs, who represent 20 percent of the population, have also contributed to economic disparities between them. And despite laws meant to prevent discrimination, Arabs point to studies showing persistent disparities in education, social services, income and political participation.

“There’s definitely discrimination in every aspect” of Israel’s education system, Taub said.

Nongovernmental organizations and government bodies have worked to promote a “shared society” in economic development, higher education and the labor market.

Here are four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society.

Jews and Arabs attend separate schools.

Israel’s schools are separated by both religion and race. Jewish students attend either secular, religious or haredi Orthodox schools, while the Arabs attend separate Muslim, Christian and Druze systems taught in Arabic. Of the 1.6 million total students in grades 1 through 12 last year, fewer than 2,000 attended the handful of joint Jewish-Arab schools.

The split education system, where students are taught in their own language and according to their own cultural norms, according to Blass, “answers the [Arab] community’s needs.” But it has also led to lower educational achievement among Arab Israelis.

In 2012, two-thirds of non-haredi Jews qualified for university, as opposed to less than half of Arab students. Israel’s universities are more integrated, but Arabs make up a low proportion of students. In 2012, Arabs made up only 12 percent of bachelor’s degree students, and 4 percent of doctoral students, according to Sikkuy, an organization that aims to foster Jewish-Arab coexistence.

Jews and Arabs live in separate towns.

In addition to studying separately, Israeli Jews and Arabs mostly live in separate cities. Two of the country’s largest cities, Jerusalem and Haifa, have substantial Arab populations, but even those cities are often separated by neighborhood. Nearly all of Jerusalem’s Arab residents live in the eastern half of the city.

Aside from a handful of other mixed Israeli towns, most of the country’s cities are more than 90 percent Jewish or Arab. Though Arabs make up nearly 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, Israel’s largest, is nearly 95 percent Jewish.

The Jewish-Arab division is also marked by economic gaps. Arab cities have higher poverty rates and, in general, worse municipal services than their Jewish counterparts. Eight of Israel’s 10 poorest towns are Arab. The richest 30 are Jewish.

“It’s not a problem in principle to live in different places,” said Rawnak Natour, co-director of Sikkuy. “There needs to be a possibility to live together, that there will be [cultural] symbols and the ability to encompass the different cultures.”

Their political leaders rarely work together.

Israel often points to its Arab-Israeli lawmakers as proof of the country’s democratic chops. Arabs hold 16 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and the body’s third-largest party, the Joint List, is Arab. Arabs have also risen to the top of other branches of government, including sitting on Israel’s Supreme Court.

But Israeli Arabs’ political leadership perpetually sits in the Knesset’s opposition, and few politicians in the government are Arab, such that the two communities’ agendas rarely align. The only Arab in Israel’s political leadership is the deputy minister of regional cooperation, Ayoub Kara, who is part of the Druze minority.

Arabs are barely present in Israel’s mainstream media.

Lucy Aharish, the young Arab co-host of a morning show on a leading Israeli TV station, speaks accent-less Hebrew, has gained admirers for her forthrightness and was even honored with a role at the country’s official torch-lighting ceremony on Independence Day.

But she’s one of the few Arab faces and voices Israelis will see and hear on their TVs and radios. Israeli Arabs have their own active press, but they are vastly underrepresented in mainstream Israeli media, comprising fewer than 3 percent of total interviews on leading Israel stations in January and February, according to a study by Sikkuy and the Seventh Eye, a media watchdog.

The number drops even lower when it comes to news segments not directly related to Israeli Arabs. Aharish’s Channel 2, for example, spoke to only 11 Arabs out of more than 5,500 total such interviews in January.

“You have low representation, and the moment you have it, it’s about specific topics and a very specific framing, which is crime and the conflict,” Natour said. “The way they’re interviewed is a negative framework that perpetuates the stigmas about the Arab population in the state.”

Ben Yehuda’s nightmare


In Israel, every crappy situation can be turned into an opportunity.  A gunman on the loose in central Tel Aviv allows me to spend several extra hours at home with my three kids, only one of whom demands to return immediately to the U.S., where the shootings in our neighborhood are typically of a drug-related nature–and we made sure to stay on good terms with those guys.  When my friend Rafi fell asleep in the middle of a sentence (mine), I could have taken offense or helped myself to the homemade kubeh his Iraqi mother supplied him with for the week.  Instead, I looked forward to the discussion I planned to initiate when he woke up, about the recent advances in neuroscience that have led to the ability to turn off our nightmares like a light switch, but at the cost of simultaneously snuffing out our dreams. 

“Mr. Levy fell asleep,” I said when Rafi’s eyes opened.  A new immigrant to Israel with limited Hebrew, I knew the word for dream, but not nightmare. 

“Did you fall asleep too?” Rafi asked.

“I didn’t fall asleep,” I said, the conjugation of that tricky Hebrew verb nearly complete. 

So we had a grammar lesson instead of a science one, my thoughts of the day thwarted by the unavailability of a dictionary in the room.  I tried to convince myself that was simply a lateral move, and hoped that Rafi would stop accommodating his other friend Inbal’s Reverse Sleep Disorder schedule–which compelled her to stay awake at night and conk out during the day–and start paying more attention to mine.  But Inbal is a Sabra, and speaks in complete sentences.  On Rafi’s birthday she wrote him a card, while I gave him chocolates.     

When we lived in Virginia and my youngest son was in first grade, his teacher taught the class a poem which, had the gist of it been, We may have different colored skin, but inside we’re all the same, would have been bad enough.  But that wasn’t the gist; those were the actual words.  Until that bright idea, my son had never noticed different colored skin.  Now, suddenly, Adin’s friend Hector’s arms were decidedly brown.  I cursed all bad poetry that day, and when my own words fell short while stuttering something to Adin about the benefits of public school but the superfluity of first grade, I cursed those too.  

Last week I went to Jerusalem to visit an artist friend who is so absorbed by images, he can’t walk two steps without stopping to study something. (For most Jerusalemites, it usually takes three.)  After contemplating a nut that had fallen from a tree next to an ancient tomb on Alfasi Street, Ilan asked if I wanted to see his portfolio of furniture that he designed while studying at Bezalel.  What a question!

A new immigrant to Israel with limited Hebrew, I was looking forward to sitting in complete silence and letting my eyes feast on what I could not find the language to praise.  Encouraged by the widening of my pupils, Ilan spent the next half hour describing the structural frames of his chairs, the grain patterns on his coffee tables that folded into stools, the steam box he used to create waves in the wood for his kick-ass bookshelves.  Or something along those lines.  I can’t say for sure.  I was having a bad Hebrew day.

And then he grew quiet, and closed the portfolio.

“The last piece I designed was for a friend who replaced me when I was called up for reserve duty and couldn’t come in,” he said.  “It was during the Second Lebanon War.”

“And what did you make?”

“A prosthetic leg.”

It is known that Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, yelled at his wife when he overheard her crooning a Russian lullaby to their infant son.  “The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation,” he wrote in 1881, a statement I couldn’t agree with more.

Lucky for me, a new immigrant to Israel with minimal Hebrew, the people of this land are a restful, resourceful bunch, prone to extralingual communication and improvisation.  Give them a dead language, and they will write a dictionary to resurrect it.  Put them in a pickle, and they will fight their way out of it until they have discovered how to convert a table into a chair, a piece of metal into a leg that can later run marathons, which Ilan’s friend does every year.

There are some situations that require the aid of a dictionary, and some words that can’t be found in one.  Ilan and I went for a walk then, stopping outside a photography store that featured a blown up, black and white portrait of a Jewish family from Poland, where Ilan’s great-grandfather, a rabbi, perished for refusing to vacate his synagogue before it was set on fire.   

“Tistakli,” Ilan said.  Look.

Emergency room: A city, in all its cruelty and kindness


Mr. Twenty-Something is obviously in pain.  His face is contorted and his right shoulder doesn’t look like his left. He’s wearing a tank top, and the complex and colorful tattoos across his upper torso don’t conceal the deformity of the top of his right arm. Where the left shoulder had the expected dome of muscle extending from the edge of his collarbone, his right one is flat. Grimacing, he clutches his right hand to his body to prevent it from moving even a millimeter. 

As a gray-bearded emergency doctor, I recognize an anterior shoulder dislocation—while rushing past the open curtain on my way to see a 74-year-old woman with severe abdominal pain. It doesn’t take any longer than that; I have seen dislocations so many times by now. 

I used to love the mystery and intrigue of a challenging diagnosis. I thought it was thrilling to order X-rays and tests and use complicated maneuvers to arrive at the truth of what was ailing my patients. Not anymore. I am running my whole shift. I don’t have time to play House. At the county hospital in Salinas, California, that sort of self-gratification is a rare luxury. We are busy tonight; it is always busy. Very busy.  There are 20 patients waiting to be seen; crying babies in the hallway; prisoners surrounded by guards to my right; and a sweet, little old lady to my left who I know has kidney cancer. She does not know yet.  Neither does her frail little husband sitting nervously at her bedside. His eyes are flitting around the mayhem, not given privacy by a flimsy, open curtain. I will tell them when I get a chance.

Monterey County is a microcosm of the United States in 2015. You have on the coast Tiffany & Co. jewels, Pebble Beach, movie stars, and Rolls-Royces. There are services, order, and plenty. In Salinas, we have open-air drug markets, mass homelessness, multiple families living in tiny abodes, scabies, mentally ill people running into the street, and children who threaten and swear at their protectors and authorities.  

But we also have young parents literally breaking their backs stooped over in the fields working to improve their children’s lives. Community workers come into our emergency department in the middle of the night to counsel gunshot victims and show them the way to a better life. We have law enforcement officers risking their lives to protect the weak and innocent. We have agricultural leaders donating huge amounts of money for medical equipment rather than taking that money as profit. We have EMS workers running non-stop for 12 or 24 hours to save the lives of people who spit, vomit, and urinate on them (and sometimes take swings at them). We have fire fighters running into fires and toxic spills to haul out people they never met and who will never know their names. And we have young men with dislocated shoulders giving up their emergency department waiting-room chairs to pregnant women with small children.

Salinas is a crucible. We have the best and the worst of human experience. The heat and pressure generated by the poverty, deprivation, conflict, and abandonment separate the gold of human kindness from the filth of human evil, making each clearly visible.

To work in the emergency department in Salinas is to watch all the behaviors, the pure metal and the dirty dross, swirl around each other.

So, I really needed to get to this dude’s shoulder. He has a shot of pain medicine in him now, but he’s still in a world of hurt. The quick and easy way to get the arm bone back into the shoulder joint doesn’t work.  I write all the orders to get him sedated, fold up sheets to wrap around him to provide traction and counter-traction to his shoulder, and get him hooked up to the monitor. My awesome nurse and respiratory therapist are standing by.  Showtime…

Then an announcement blares out of the loudspeaker:  “CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 7.  CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 7.”  Damn! Sorry, shoulder guy. Gotta go.

As we scramble to pull on plastic gowns, shoe covers, face shields, and gloves, we hear from another nurse, “ETA 5 minutes.  Twenty-something male, motor vehicle crash, 100 miles-per-hour, ejected from open convertible, no seatbelt, unresponsive, EMS trying to get vital signs.” Gulp. Minutes later I am placing a breathing tube down the man’s throat when we here from the overhead again, “CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department —Room 6. CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 6.” And from the nurse, “It’s the driver from the same wreck. ETA 3 minutes.”

It is a Sunday evening in Salinas. The orange glow from the ambulance bay doors down the hall suggests another beautiful Pacific sunset. The other emergency doctor on duty with me has just been told by his methamphetamine-and-alcohol-intoxicated patient that he and his family will be murdered. I get back to the shoulder guy’s little slot. His is next to the little old lady now, everyone having been shuffled around to make room and order from chaos. She and her husband know about the kidney mass now.  He stares blankly at the floor. She flashes me a little smile as I dash past.

I say to Mr. Twenty-Something, “Sir, I am so sorry that you have had to wait so long!” 

He gives me a pained smile as he says, “That’s okay doc, I know those guys needed you more.”

Craig Walls is an emergency doctor in Salinas, California.

This essay is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and The California Wellness Foundation.

Ghosts in the classroom: A Yom Kippur message


There are ghosts in our classrooms.  Listen closely, and you can hear the generational echoes reverberating. 

The grandfather of a second grader struggling with math was a renowned professor at MIT. The child who dances at the Kotel on his eighth grade class trip remembers his grandmother’s stories of Theresienstadt. The nephew of a great composer plays in our school orchestra at the Israel festival. A first generation American learns that his daughter was accepted to the city’s most elite high school. The mother who chose Judaism listens to her son proficiently lead the Pesach Seder. The first grade teacher who struggled to read as a child helps her class unlocks the magic code of words and sounds. The ghosts are there, and our students feel their presence.  

Likewise, Yom Kippur is a sort of reckoning with our individual and communal ghosts. Sociologist Mircae Eliade researched religions’ understanding of sacred space and time and found that holy days are often an opportunity for us in the present to relive sacred moments experienced by our ancestors in the past. This is one reason that Yom Kippur’s confessional, the Vidui, is in the plural: it’s a communal acknowledgement of our mutual sins and the sins of those before us. We chant it together, we establish a spiritual connection with the past, and we hear the echoes of ghosts. 

In the educational landscape, those echoes are ever present, especially in the encounters between parents and teachers. As parents and teachers, our conversations are, as Sara Lawrence Lightfoot writes in The Essential Conversation, “shared by [our] own autobiographical stories and by the broader cultural and historical narratives that inform [our] identities, [our] values and [our] sense of place in the world.” (My daughter’s kindergarten teacher and I recently sat down to discuss my daughter. Thirty seconds into the meeting we found ourselves discussing our own childhoods and our conscious efforts not to project this narrative onto our children. And then we laughed, acknowledging the futility of this effort. Our autobiographies, of course, become intertwined with theirs.) 

The challenge is to acknowledge and honor the echoes of the ghosts while working collaboratively—parents, teachers and students—to build a better understanding of each other in the present. Jewish day school is, by design, an arena in which social and cultural dramas are played out and worked through. At our school, students practice democracy and citizenship; they grapple with the opportunities and challenges of being part of a culturally, economically, and religiously diverse community; and, they weigh the competing priorities of their families and the community as a whole. 

And while Yom Kippur is our annual reckoning with ghosts, the other effect of the plural Vidui and Al Chet is a reflection on the present community: the idea that we stand as one to share in each others’ shortcomings, failures, challenges and deepest desire to return to our true and best selves.

May the New Year and Yom Kippur bring you closer to the wisdom of our ancestors as well as to those around you in the present. If you ever need a little inspiration, stop by our school and listen to the ghosts of our collective past and the joyful voices of our hopeful future.

Gmar Hatimah Tovah.

SARAH SHULKIND, ED.D  HEAD OF SCHOOL, SINAI AKIBA ACADEMY

This Week in Jewish Farming: The community thing


Folks in the food scene love to talk about how farms build community. It’s a trope that always makes me roll my eyes a little, both because sardonicism is generally my default setting, but also because I’m skeptical that any kind of thick communal ties are likely to arise between people who happen to shop at the same farmers market or subscribe to the same Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. I also find it a bit depressing to think we now have to engineer something that for most of human history just happened.

Whatever it is, somewhere along the line, I started using this language myself. When my parents’ synagogue asked me to come give a talk about the farm, I went on a little riff about the sweet Jewish couple who ran the small family farm in Vermont and the epic Shabbat dinners they hosted for a motley crew of locals and random itinerants. I heedlessly issued invitations to come visit the farm with highfalutin talk about closing the “psychic gap” between field and fork. And I made much of the fact that running a CSA was a values decision, not merely a marketing preference.

I remain somewhat dubious that these kinds of bonds amount to something deserving of the title community, but it’s undeniable that there’s a gravitational pull to what we’re doing. When I decided to sell my members a weekly share of landlord Joe’s farm-fresh eggs, the shares sold out in hours. When I was looking for some worthy local nonprofit to whom I could donate my market surplus, a single phone call had a woman in an SUV at the farm the same day. Almost weekly, someone stops by the market stall to tell me they read my blog posts or met my parents somewhere or saw the article on me in the Hartford Courant. I’ve been invited to speak on panels and had my photo hung in a gallery of Connecticut Jewish farmers. Even as I’m writing this, an email popped up with a link to a blog post about a flower chat I had with a market customer last week.

There’s an energy around the farm right now that seems magnetic. I don’t know that all this equals the vaunted “community” we’re supposedly so hungry to build. My ties to these people, and they to the farm, are for the most part tenuous and thin. And maybe expanded connectivity is inevitable when you move to a new place and start a new business.

Either way, I’ve never had the experience of putting so many balls in the air, let alone seeing so many of them take flight. It has all felt so effortless — not farming, that part is really hard. But the connection part. That side has been a breeze. Perhaps it’s just easier to extend a hand when there’s something delicious to eat in it.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.

 

UCLA student court hears case against students who accepted Israel trips


The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) campaign against UCLA’s pro-Israel movement became even more heated last week as the school’s undergraduate judicial board heard arguments in a case brought by SJP against two members of UCLA’s student government who had taken sponsored trips to Israel.

Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh, neither of whom is Jewish, traveled to Israel in 2013 — Rogers with Project Interchange, a project of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and Singh with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

SJP filed a complaint in April alleging those trips created a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof, for the two students, and asked the judicial board to consider nullifying votes by Rogers and Singh last February against a resolution that had called upon UCLA to divest from Israeli companies that do business in the West Bank.

The divestment resolution, which both Rogers and Singh opposed, was defeated 7-5.Sunny Singh defending himself against an SJP complaint.

The May 15 hearing, which was held in a classroom, was entirely devoid of the passion and anger that has accompanied so many of the campus political debates surrounding the Israelis and Palestinians.

Aside from the informal dress of the participants, the 4 1/2-hour hearing felt like a court case. Each side made opening statements and was granted time for cross-examination — of Rogers, Singh and witnesses — before offering closing statements.

SJP’s main student legal representative, Dana Saifan, grilled Singh about the contents of a liability clause ADL asked him to sign before his trip, questioning why he didn’t submit into evidence his entire ADL trip application. Singh said that his application was filled out on an old laptop that he no longer had in his possession.

From left to right: Sunny Singh, Katie Takakijan, and Ian Cocroft watch as SJP's Dana Saifan cross-examines Lauren Rogers.

The court further questioned Singh about a gala he attended and who the attendees were, trying to establish if connections he made there could have created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Laila Riazi, the other SJP member who argued in front of the court, said that the issue at hand was whether there was actual conflict of interest, or even merely a perceived one. “It is about limiting the perception of conflicts of interests,” she said, adding though, “The council member may have felt obliged to pay them back.”

Chief Justice Matt Satyadi repeatedly challenged SJP’s legal representatives, Saifan and Riazi, asking how a quid pro quo would work, given that Rogers and Singh had both voted by a secret ballot. “How they voted doesn’t matter,” Satyadi said. Because Rogers and Singh cannot be compelled to reveal their votes on the divestment resolution, it’s doubtful that the court could invalidate their votes even if it determined there was a conflict of interest.

Satyadi also questioned SJP’s suggestion that Singh’s free invitation to an ADL gala could cause a conflict of interest.

“Just because he gets a dinner doesn’t mean he has to vote for that person,” Satyadi said.

Katie Takakijan, Singh’s and Rogers’ main legal representation, warned the judicial board that SJP’s complaint could entirely change the dynamic of student trips abroad.

“What does that say to future students? Don’t apply for any educational programs abroad,” Takakijan said. “Don’t try to serve your student body by applying to be a member of USAC [student government]. Don’t do both together because you could have your entire reputation slandered and sit in a judicial board hearing and be crucified.”

Counsel for both Rogers and Singh called as witnesses ADL regional director Amanda Susskind and immediate past national board chair of Project Interchange Robert Peckar in an effort to establish that ADL and AJC did not expect Rogers and Singh to vote a certain way on divestment as a result of their involvement. 

SJP’s counsel cross-examined Susskind and Peckar, attempting to show that there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

On May 16, the day after the hearing, Saifan said on Twitter, “Pretty much just took the Israel lobby to court. Bye bye ADL and AJC.” 

This hearing is only the latest in a flurry of legislative and judicial actions by SJP’s many campus branches in California, some of which have been victories, all of which have thrown the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the campus spotlight.

Last week, 18 of 30 candidates for positions in UCLA’s student government signed a pledge not to take trips to Israel that are sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the ADL and Hasbara Fellowships. 

UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin, added that an additional four candidates did not sign the letter but said they would not attend such trips. 

The May 9 elections for the student government’s 13 open positions (10 contested) saw the Bruins United Party take six seats. Each of the party’s candidates refused to sign the pledge.

Five student groups had a hand in drafting the pledge: SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim Student Association, the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association. 

On May 16, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement insisting that although the pledge falls “squarely within the realm of free speech,” he is troubled that it could “reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints” by only targeting AIPAC, ADL and Hasbara.

UC President Janet Napolitano issued a similar statement on the same day, echoing Block’s concern that sponsored trips to Israel are being selectively targeted and criticizing students who circulated the pledge for violating “the principles of civility, respect and inclusion.”

William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell University, has followed the anti-Israel campus movement for years, documenting it on his blog, legalinsurrection.com. He said that the tack SJP is taking at UCLA is different from anything he’s seen thus far around the country.

“Because sponsored trips are such a big part of the Jewish educational experience, particularly for college students, this will make people who want to go into student government hesitant to take such trips,” Jacobson said, adding that he thinks SJP’s ultimate goal is to “alter the composition of student government” by intimidating students who don’t want to be singled out for supporting Israel into not running at all.

On May 8, the student government at UC Davis debated a resolution that would have called on university administrators to divest from many companies that do business in Israel. That resolution ended in a 5-5 tie, and therefore failed to pass.

In late April, student governments at San Diego State University, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside (UCR) all held similar votes. Only UCR’s resolution passed. In 2012 and 2013, divestment resolutions passed at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. 

In February, after a contentious all-night debate, UCLA’s student government voted 7-5 against a divestment resolution. The fate of that resolution would be in question if the judicial board invalidates Rogers’ and Singh’s votes.

The five student judges are required to issue their decision by May 29. As of press time, no decision had been made.

A taste of summer camp for young Jewish Russians


Several agencies are coming together in the hope that Russian-speaking children will begin their journey of Jewish self-discovery at Camp Gesher, a new overnight camp that caters to what it perceives to be a unique community.

Gesher — an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) and Genesis Philanthropy Group, a grant-making organization that aims to develop Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide — advertises itself as the “only overnight camp on the West Coast designed specially for kids ages 9 to 14 who come from Russian-speaking Jewish families.”

Time is running out to apply, though. As of press time, more than half of the 60 available openings in the camp had been filled, with additional applications being processed, according to Jenny Gitkis-Vainstein, a regional representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The camp’s inaugural — and only — session this summer will take place July 30 through Aug. 10 at JBBBSLA’s Camp Max Straus in Verdugo Hills. 

The cost of attending Camp Gesher (jbbbsla.org/campmax/campgesher) is $690. 

Gitkis-Vainstein, who develops programming for Russian Jews, told the Journal that the camp faces a number of challenges in balancing Judaism and this audience.

Rooted in the former Soviet Union, where religion was distrusted and persecuted, Russian Jews tend to be averse to programs that emphasize religious observance. So, despite offering Jewish content, the camp’s practices will be decidedly non-religious, Gitkis-Vainstein explained.

“Russian-Jewish families usually doesn’t send kids to Jewish camp … usually they are afraid of religious propaganda and brain-washing. For them, in America, Judaism is less about religion and more of a cultural experience and an understanding or a philosophy, so they don’t feel safe sending their kids to a regular Jewish camp, and they also don’t see value in it,” she said. “When they [the parents] were young, they didn’t have a Jewish camp, so for them the whole value is not exactly clear.”

Camp Gesher (“bridge” in Hebrew) aims to change that mentality.

Camp Max Straus assistant director Eric Nicastro said in an interview that part of the camp’s mission is bringing Russian kids closer to the Jewish community. The session will run simultaneously with the general overnight camp, Kibbutz Max Straus, and some activities will bring campers from both camps together. This mission inspired the name of the camp, Nicastro said.

“The goal is that [the Russian campers] will matriculate to [non-specific] Jewish summer camps,” Nicastro said. “Every report talks about Jewish engagement in the community and how Jewish summer camp is still a heavy-hitter that keeps them engaged. This is that bridge for the community.” 

Gitkis-Vainstein said that Camp Gesher is essentially a program of Kibbutz Max Straus. She described it as “a camp within a camp.”

Meanwhile, helping to keep the cost of camp affordable, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has provided approximately $30,000 in subsidies for Camp Gesher camperships as part of a larger grant that it provides to Kibbutz Max Straus.

Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president of Federation, expressed excitement about a summer camp that builds Jewish identity in the Russian community.

“We’re thrilled that this new opportunity is coming for Russian Jews in L.A….This is our sweet spot because it’s two things [engaging Russian Jews and summer camp] that we care deeply about,” Cushnir said.

Gitkis-Vainstein said reaction so far has been very positive and parents from all over California are signing their kids up for the new camp.

“What is good about this, a West Coast camp, is that there will be kids from L.A., Silicon Valley, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County,” she said. “We hope to have kids from all over the West Coast.”

Moving and Shaking: Irwin Field honored, Rabbi Ari Segal elected, Breed Street Shul Project ceremony


Irwin Field

Former Jewish Journal publisher and board chair Irwin Field was honored by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles on June 25 with the organization’s Tocqueville Legacy Award. The honor from  the local division of the anti-poverty organization came during its 25th Alexis de Tocqueville Awards, held at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The ceremony featured a performance by actress and musician Tia Carrere and remarks from Tocqueville member and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.

Field, who remains a Journal board member and is CEO of Liberty Vegetable Oil, helped initiate the Tocqueville Society at United Way of Greater Los Angeles in 1988 while serving as board chair of the latter. According to the nonprofit’s Web site, the Tocqueville Society was created “to deepen individual understanding of, commitment to and support of United Way’s work.” The society acknowledges individuals who contribute a minimum of $10,000 to United Way and has raised more than $350 million since its inception. 


Mid City West community council board members includes new appointee Rabbi Ari Segal of Shalhevet School (second from right). Courtesy of Steven Rosenthal.

Rabbi Ari Segal, head of school at Shalhevet High School on Fairfax Avenue, was recently elected to the Mid City West (MCW) Community Council as a religious representative. Board members unanimously elected Segal during a June 12 meeting at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles council house.

The MCW council helps give neighborhoods a voice in policymaking and influence over city government, according to its Web site. 


From left: Stephen Sass, board president of the Breed Street Shul Project; husband-and-wife Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky; East Side Jews' Jill Soloway; and Uri Resnick, deputy consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. Photo by Joel Lipton.

The Breed Street Shul Project honored Jill Soloway and Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky during a ceremony last month. The June 23 event, “Praise for Our Past, Raise for Our Future,” took place at the Autry National Center. The evening included a private showing of the ongoing Autry exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.”

A writer-director whose first feature film, “Afternoon Delight,” screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Soloway is a founding member of East Side Jews, a nondenominational collective of Jews on Los Angeles’ East Side that holds monthly events at unlikely venues. 

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has served as an elected official for more than 35 years and is well known for his social-action activities on behalf of Soviet Jews and other Jewish causes. He has decided to leave public office at the end of his term in 2014.

His wife, Barbara, an ardent activist devoted to community and civic engagement, has lent her expertise to organizations such as the Zimmer Children’s Museum and Koreh L.A. and has participated in Latino-Jewish dialogue efforts. 

Established in 1999, the nonprofit Breed Street Shul Project has overseen the rehabilitation of the Boyle Heights-based Breed Street Shul. It works to bring together Jewish, Latino and other communities in Los Angeles. 


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Jewish War Veterans honor more than 20 World War II veterans in Culver City on Sunday, June 23. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) last month joined the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America (JWV) at the latter’s 75th annual statewide convention, where more than 20 World War II veterans were honored. The event took place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Culver City on June 23.

Lisa Zaid, Western region major gifts associate at USHMM, delivered a message of gratitude and hope to the World War II Jewish veterans on behalf of the nation’s living memorial to the Holocaust. Zaid also presented specially designed USHMM commemorative pins to each veteran. 

JWV provides nonsectarian assistance to veterans and advocates on behalf of Jewish issues. The USHMM in Washington, D.C., celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It hosts programs, lectures, traveling exhibitions and more in Western cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and Shaking: Chris Silbermann, Morton Schapiro and Lawrence Trilling honored


From left: Saban Free Clinic CEO Jeffrey Bujer, producer Andy Friendly, ICM Partners founding partners Chris Silbermann and Bob Broder and producer David Friendly. Photo by Christianne Ray. 

The Saban Free Clinic, a medical clinic for the underserved, honored Chris Silbermann, founding partner of talent agency ICM Partners, during its 18th annual Golf Classic last month. 

The tournament was held at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana on June 3. It is one of the largest fundraisers for the clinic, which has raised nearly $230,000 in funds this year and more than $3.5 million to fund medical, dental and behavioral health services since its inception.

Event chairs and co-chairs included music industry executive Irving Azoff, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chairman Rob Friedman, producers Andy Friendly and David Friendly, entertainment lawyer John Frankenheimer, NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert and Marcia Steere.


Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro addresses Valley Torah High School's annual trustees dinner. Photo by Yehuda Remer.

Valley Torah High School honored Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro with its inaugural Education Leadership Award last month, in recognition of Schapiro’s encouragement of religious tolerance and sensitivity on the Evanston, Ill., campus.

Under his leadership, “Northwestern has changed its climate, attitude and atmosphere … and is attracting more high school graduates from Jewish communities throughout America,” Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, Valley Torah’s dean, said in a statement.

Schapiro received the award during the Valley Torah annual trustees dinner on June 6, which took place at a private home in Valley Village. The dinner featured Schapiro addressing “The Role on Faith in Secular Universities.” Valley Torah alumni Rabbi George and Lisa Lintz chaired the dinner, which also promoted a scholarship fund of the Valley Village Orthodox school.

Recently, the mainstream media has spotlighted Valley Torah graduate Aaron Liberman, who played on Northwestern’s basketball team last year as a freshman. The team has accommodated the religious practices of Liberman, who is Orthodox. Lenard Liberman, Aaron’s father, was in attendance at the Valley Torah dinner.


Bend the Arc honoree and board member Lawrence Trilling with wife Jennifer Kattler Trilling and children, Jonah, Lyla, and Dahlia. Photo by Amy Tierney.

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice honored television producer Lawrence Trilling (“Parenthood”) during its Pursuit of Justice gala last month.

Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle. Photo by Amy Tierney.

Appearing at the June 9 dinner at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Trilling — a board member of the social justice organization — described himself as “a storyteller who tries to ennoble the people portrayed in stories and expand the capacity for empathy in people watching them. Those are Jewish values, and tonight I’m honored to be in a room full of people who live those values.” 

Trilling’s TV credits also include “Alias,” “Felicity,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Damages.” 

A nonprofit, Bend the Arc advocates for progressive positions on issues such as immigration, tax reform and more. 

Approximately 400 supporters of Bend the Arc turned out for the event. Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle and Serena Zeise, Bend the Arc’s new Southern California regional director, delivered remarks. 

In addition to celebrating Trilling, the gala recognized the California Domestic Workers Coalition, which has fought for fair labor standards for the state’s domestic workers since 2006. Bend the Arc is a partner of the coalition. 


Julia Cosgrove, joined by her family, submits Pages of Testimony to Debbie Berman, manager of the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project. Courtesy of Remember Us. 

During a visit to Israel last month, Los Angeles teen Julia Cosgrove submitted pages of testimony memorializing her grandfather’s family members who died in the Holocaust to the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims’ Name Recovery Project.

Organized by the Jerusalem-based institute, which is devoted to the research, documentation and education of the Holocaust, the worldwide project is part of an effort to recover the names of millions of Holocaust victims that remain unidentified.

Cosgrove’s grandfather, Gabriel Legmann, lost his three brothers and mother in the Shoah. Only Legmann and his father survived. The family was from Reteag, Romania.

Cosgrove, a student at the Harvard-Westlake School, is a participant of the Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project. Run by Los Angeles nonprofit Remember Us, the project involves boys and girls remembering lost children from the Shoah during their b’nai mitzvah. Additionally, it has partnered with Yad Vashem to advance the work of the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project in Los Angeles.

Cosgrove becomes a bat mitzvah this August, at Sinai Temple.    


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and shaking: City Hall Passover, Shalhevet School crowned champs, Beit T’Shuvah runs


Los Angeles City Hall held its first-ever Passover celebration, which was organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The March 19 festivities took place on the City Hall forecourt, adjacent to the Spring Street steps. It brought together city leaders and clergy, including Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; L.A. City Council Members Jan Perry, Paul Krekorian, Dennis Zine, Bill Rosendahl and Joe Buscaino. Rabbi Joshua Hoffman of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) led the ceremony. Jonathan Freund, interim executive director of the Board of Rabbis; Rabbi Judith HaLevy, of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, who is president of the Board of Rabbis; Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El; Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue; and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also participated. Cantor Phil Baron of VBS led a chorus of sixth-graders from VBS Day School, and additional music was performed by kindergarteners and transitional-kindergarteners of Beth Hillel Day School.


Ryan Dishell. Photo courtesy of BBYO, Inc.

 

 

 

Pacific Palisades teenager Ryan Dishell, a student at Crossroads School, has been elected to serve as the international vice president of programming of the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) leadership program and high school fraternity, Aleph Zadik Aleph. Dishell, who was elected to the board of the worldwide pluralistic teen movement during BBYO’s international convention this past February, will hold the post for a yearlong term beginning in July.


Shalhevet School's Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University's annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams. Photo courtest of Yeshiva University.

After beating the Frisch School Cougars of Paramus, N.J., 62-53, in a basketball game on March 11, the Shalhevet School’s Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University’s annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams.


Run

Beit T'Shuvah resident Noah Mann completes the L.A. Marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 26 seconds. Photo courtesy of Beit T'Shuvah.

Culver City’s Beit T’Shuvah, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, participated in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 17. As part of team Run to Save a Soul, 54 runners, including Beit T’Shuvah residents, board members and alumni, completed the 26.2- mile race. This is the fourth year that Beit T’Shuvah has participated in the marathon, with residents training for six months leading up to it. As of March 22, the rehab center’s team had raised $125,500, surpassing its goal by $500, to help fund the cost of care for residents of Beit T’Shuvah.


Michel Jeser. Photo Courtesy of Marvin Steindler Photography.

 

 

Michael Jeser, executive director of Hillel at USC, will move to become executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW) in mid-June, USC Hillel Foundation board chair Howard Schwimmer announced on March 20. Jeser will replace JWW interim director Lois Weinsaft. JWW was founded in 2004 to fight genocide, and its education and advocacy work is done through a coalition of synagogues, churches, individuals and partner organizations. JWW’s ground-breaking solar cooker program has helped women in the Sudan and Congo to cook without having to leave their camps to search for firewood, which had previously left them vulnerable to rape and assault.


Suzy and Stephen Bookbinder and Leora and Gary Raikin were honored March 17 at Kadima Day School’s annual gala, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. Suzy Bookbinder, president of the school’s board of trustees, is chief development officer for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, while Stephen is a senior high-definition video editor at Technicolor. Leora Raikin has a passion for African folklore embroidery and lectures, exhibits and teaches workshops throughout the United States, while Gary is a CPA. A Special Lifetime Achievement Award from the school, which is now in its 42nd year, went to Ronit and Amnon Band.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com

Rabbi David Hartman’s learned students remember their rebbe


An Advocate for Divine Honesty

David Hartman was sui generis; he was a unique individual who was very excited about ideas and at the same time pragmatic. Who believed that believing is best expressed in behavior. To believe is to behave.

This is very clear in his latest book, “The God Who Hates Lies.” It was his opportunity to express the great hope that he had for a renaissance of Jewish life in the State of Israel, and his frustrations at the people who were returning to an ideological, self-centered kind of life that was very disillusioning to him.

His great teacher was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and he told me as he was working on this book, “I have to break with Soloveitchik.” In his treatment of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Soloveitchik said this was the glory of a divine absurdity; the act of being about to do something that is against logic itself. 

Hartman chastised Soloveitchik for this. He said that this is not what we need; we need divine truthfulness and honesty.

He literally gathered hundreds of rabbis, gathered them together and enabled them to speak together without any of their insularity — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist were able to speak, to present, without hostility and without denigration.

He had a remarkable, charismatic approach to the teaching of Judaism. When he was on, it was sheer idealism and enthusiasm. From my point of view, it’s a monumental loss in the Jewish community. He was able to see within Orthodoxy a liberation. 

— Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, as told to Susan Freudenheim


‘The crown has fallen from our head’ — Lamentations 5:16

There was a man and he is no more.

A thinker, a teacher and a lover of humanity. My teacher and friend, Rabbi David Hartman.

He was larger than life: a dynamic force; a public figure with an international following. But when you became his student, he attached himself to you; he became your rebbe. I was privileged to be one of his students for almost 35 years. He was my rebbe. He was my mentor. He shaped my thinking, and he touched my soul.

My mother passed away just over a month ago. Losing David Hartman feels like I’ve lost my intellectual and spiritual father. 

What made David Hartman so special was that he was a yeshiva bocher who gained enlightenment but never stopped being a yeshiva bocher. And so he was at the same time both critical and loyal. He encouraged us to boldly challenge the tradition but never stop loving it. He gave us the greatest gift that a teacher can bequeath: the freedom to inquire, to ask, to probe and to speculate. He accompanied us on the journey — he wrestled with us — all the while reminding us that our personal growth was bound up in a collective responsibility. He so loved the Jewish people. And he loved humanity.

When I first met R’ Duvid, as I fondly called him, he asserted that the most serious religious question that the Jewish people had to confront was how to rule over a minority as Jews. It was the critical question back in 1978, and it continues to be the most vexing moral issue that we face. 

That’s why I became David Hartman’s student, and that’s why he will always be my rebbe. 

— Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Executive Director, UCLA Hillel


The Holiness of Now: A Memory of David Hartman

Torah commands: “You shall follow after the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 13:5) So the Talmud asks: “God is a consuming fire! How is it possible to follow after God?” It answers: Follow the ways of God. My teacher David Hartman offered a different answer: Become the fire! Reflect God’s passion, God’s rage, God’s vision into the world. He was a blazing fire, and learning with Hartman was always an adventure. He thundered. He raged. He wept. Torah meant that much to him.

Hartman’s passion rose from his belief in the singular spiritual significance of this moment in Jewish history. For Hartman, our emergence from the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel initiated a new stage in the unfolding covenantal drama of the Jewish people. There was Sinai, the revelation of the Written Torah, expressed in the language of Mitzvah. There was Yavneh, the revelation of the Oral Torah, expressed in the language of Midrash. And now there is Israel, the revelation of a Living Torah, expressed in the textures and rhythms of Jewish life reborn in its land. Our return to sovereignty in Israel redefines the collective Jewish project. It reshapes our relationship to God. Israel redefines what it means to be a Jew. The holiness of this moment was his Torah. And his fire was our blessing, bringing new life to the soul of the Jewish people. 

— Rabbi Ed Feinstein


A Mensch

Rabbi David Hartman told it like it is. He didn’t mince words. He argued with Maimonides, as if he were living and shouting back.

When he spoke of his love for Israel and the challenges it faces, his words were strong and backed up through action — by educating the Israeli community and military. He didn’t hesitate to share his ambivalences with Orthodox Jewry as we know it; he welcomed women into the Bet Midrash at the Shalom Hartman Institute over 25 years ago. I’m so grateful to have studied with him every other year for those 25.  

A Man, a Mensch, a Visionary.

— Rabbi Karen L. Fox, Wilshire Boulevard Temple


Hartman and the Orthodox Discourse

Figures of great influence and authority within contemporary Orthodoxy, (such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on religious pluralism and Rabbi Yehuda Amital z’l on non-messianic Zionism) have shared ideas that Rabbi David Hartman had developed years earlier. His intellectual legacy is broad within Orthodoxy and his ideas are easy to find. But it is harder to find the voice of Rabbi Hartman himself. There is much to celebrate in his legacy after such a productive and rich life, but for the Orthodox community, the absence of Rabbi David Hartman from our communal discourse is a warning for the future.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton University. Excerpted from “Reflections on Rabbi David Hartman z’l.” The full text can be read on the Morethodoxy blog.


A Voice That Was Freed — and Now Is Silent

Rabbi David Hartman has gone to his eternal rest, but not before making a monumental contribution to Jewish life and Jewish thought.

Best known for his pioneering work as founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute,  an innovative and original think tank and teaching center of pluralistic religious Zionist thought and perhaps Israel’s leading institution for  teaching Torah to Diaspora leadership, both rabbinic and lay. In all its programs, and especially within teacher-training programs, it conveys the majesty of tradition, and its many texts [speak] to students often alienated from those traditions and put off by the parochialism of Israel’s religious establishment and by the extremism of some of the most vocal religious voices. It engages modern thought and contemporary thinkers, offering them the insights of traditional learning and engaging traditional scholars with the finest of contemporary thought. For that alone, David Hartman must be revered.

Yet Hartman never aspired to be an institution builder. He wanted most of all to be known as a Jewish philosopher.

For most of his career, he paid homage to his masters. His work on Maimonides was less a pristine work of scholarship than a work of dialogue between a 20th century thinker wrestling with 20th century problems and grappling with the ethos and the thought of the pre-eminent 12th century Jewish philosopher. His treatment of Yehuda Halevi was an extended essay on the Jewish encounter with history: Hartman in dialogue with Yehuda Halevi. His work on his own teacher conveyed the brilliance of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, mediated through the inquisitive mind of one of his most gifted pupils. A protector of his teacher’s honor, he defended his thought against all critics until … until he could no longer defend it.

As he approached 80, and as illness forced him to confront his own mortality, he began to speak in his own voice, accepting some basic categories of modernity, including the transformed role of women, the empowerment of the Jewish people in Israel, an acceptance of the dignity and decency of non-Jews and an overwhelming desire for a synthetic religious worldview. Unlike the Charedi world of his youth, he would not withdraw from the modern world. Unlike Modern Orthodoxy, which seems to want a faith untainted by modernity and a modernity untouched by faith, Hartman looked for integration between life and faith. And unlike Conservative Judaism, he did not make history paramount and push the halachic worldview to the side. A generation ago, he would have been heralded within his own community for that attempt at synthesis and harmonization. Not so today.

He continued to grow to the very end. One can only celebrate his achievements, yet deeply regret his untimely passing, for there was much that he left unsaid, once he was free to speak out.

Read the full text of this reflection.

— Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering  Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics, American Jewish University


Remembering David Hartman

As I enter the courtyard of the Hartman Institute, I am always moved first by the warmth and beauty of its welcoming presence and then by the excitement and challenge of its covenantal drama.   

Rabbi Dr. David Hartman was a master of haknassat orchim — welcoming and gathering countless Jewish — and non-Jewish — guests into his pluralistic beit midrash.

He was also a master of intellectual haknassat orchim.  With passion and drama and humor, he knew how to bring learners to the table so that they would “feel intellectually empowered to participate in Judaism’s ongoing interpretive tradition.”  

On the one hand, he championed the modern virtues of creativity, interpretive freedom and self-assertion, proclaiming: “A discussion concerning Jewish tradition is open-ended.”

On the other hand, in his beit midrash, you felt claimed by the voices and concerns of significant others, who engaged your own limited perspectives and challenged you to deepen your dignity and expand your covenantal responsibility.  

— Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Rabbinic Director, Milken Community High School

Union workers celebrate at Dodger Stadium


LAX workers were the first to begin the cheers.

“Obama! Obama! Obama!”

It didn’t take long for others to follow when the news broke out at Dodger Stadium on election night that Barack Obama had been re-elected president. That’s where hundreds of supporters gathered as part of a party organized by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”

The crowd at the Stadium Club, a bar and dining area that overlooked the lit-up stadium, looked up eagerly at flat-screen TVs to take in the news. Union workers, community leaders and Obama supporters didn’t have to wait long to get worked into a frenzy. News outlets called the election for the incumbent just 15 minutes after the party started at 8 p.m.

Then Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, addressed the group, speaking from a podium and denouncing “the super rich and powerful.”

“Their money is nothing compared to the power of firefighters, teachers … and truck drivers, and nurses,” she said.

What Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, expected to be a long night ended rather quickly. He tipped his hat to Florida Jews, saying that Obama carried Jewish counties in Florida by huge margins.

“Jewish voters by-and-large stood with the president,” he said. “This is a great victory for us today.”

Still, when Bauman took the stage later he reminded the crowd that the presidency wasn’t the only important contest up for grabs.

He didn’t have to tell Lowell Goodman, director of communications for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents 80,000 public employees in Southern California, including librarians, nurses, social workers and trash collectors.

Goodman said he had been out since 1 p.m. knocking on doors to mobilize people to vote against Proposition 32, which proposed reforming California’s campaign finance rules and banning the use of employee payroll deductions for political purposes. Union leaders opposed it, arguing it would limit their ability to participate effectively in the political process.

“Yes on 32 silences the voices of our 80,000 members, and what it says is the only ones who should have a voice in politics in California are the 1 percent,” he said.

Goodman, whose children attend preschool at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, lives near the stadium in Angelino Heights in Echo Park. Asked if he was going to walk home, he answered:

“If it’s a good night, I’ll stumble home.”

Etta Israel Center gets help from new partner


When the Etta Israel Center was hit by the recent economic downturn, its leaders weren’t satisfied with simply surviving the crisis, as they sought to provide services, including group homes, to local people with special needs. They wanted to grow.

Now, thanks to a recent merger with the East Coast nonprofit OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, the North Hollywood-based organization hopes to do just that.

“We could open up homes for at least another 100 people tomorrow. We have that many people waiting,” said Sharon Levine, co-president of the new joint board of directors that will oversee Etta. “Now, together, we can go to certain funding sources … and now that we’re a national organization, they’re interested in us. Before, they were not interested in us.”

On Nov. 14, officials from both organizations will gather at the California Science Center for Etta’s annual gala dinner to celebrate the merger, which was completed Sept. 18, and to honor the group’s cohort of young professionals. The joint board will have its first meeting the following day.

Now 19 years old, Etta is the only Jewish agency providing group homes for people with special needs in the Los Angeles area, according to Dr. Michael Held, founding executive director.

It operates four homes — the most recent of which opened in August — that serve 24 residents. Etta also provides adult case management, a summer day camp and year-round programming. It runs a self-contained classroom for students with learning disabilities and has an outreach program targeting the local Iranian community.

Its new partner is much larger in terms of scale and services. OHEL, which means “tent” in Hebrew, is based in New York and has offices in New Jersey and South Florida. Founded as a foster-care agency in 1969, it has grown to include help for senior citizens, mental-health patients and, like Etta, individuals with developmental disabilities and other special needs, said CEO David Mandel.

The two organizations were brought together when Etta became frustrated in its efforts to expand and began searching for help.

“There’s a long waiting list of people who contact us on a regular basis looking for a solution. … To me, that’s a crisis. It may not be so much of a crisis when the individual is 21, but it becomes a crisis when that person is 40, because, correspondingly, the parents are aging,” said Held, who has a doctorate in psychology. “The question that we came to experience is how do we keep growing? Four years ago, we realized that we kind of hit a wall.”

The country’s economic meltdown and cuts in government funding didn’t help, while the need for services continued to mount. What began as a consultation with OHEL grew, over the course of a year, into the decision to merge, Held said.

For Etta, a $2.5 million agency, it meant access to a bigger, more experienced organization with a knowledge base and infrastructure that could help in government relations and other important areas.

“They have a lot of expertise where we lack expertise,” Held said. “They’re the largest in the country, so they understand scale. They understand what it’s like to work with people who are in residential care over a lifetime.”

For OHEL, which operates a camp on a national level, the merger offers an entree to the West Coast and a chance to collaborate with another lay-driven organization that shares the same values, desire for growth and dedication to serving those with disabilities, Mandel said.

“We have been approached over the years by numerous organizations with the concept of consultation or a merger or to co-brand with OHEL,” he said, adding that the idea of a merger was never really entertained until now. “This made sense. It was an organization that had a vision that was similar to ours [and] provided some services that we have been providing.”

The new board, with co-presidents representing each organization, is structured to include seven members selected by Etta and eight by OHEL. However, if the question of changing Etta’s name or selling its property ever came up, any decision would require the approval of a majority of the Etta board members, Levine said.

Both sides agree that there is no plan at the present time to expand the scope of what Etta does to match OHEL’s.

“In the short term, what’s most important is to continue Etta’s focus on its current population,” Mandel said. “We certainly are not looking to bring services that are not Etta’s current focus or that in any way will diminish what its current mission is.”

Instead, Etta remains focused on pursuing proposals now pending approval by the Westside Regional Center and the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center. They would enable Etta to become a vendor for providing customized, independent living skills and supportive living services to adult clients. That could mean anything from helping them use transportation and navigate the community to teaching them how to bank or do chores. 

There are secular programs that take on similar challenges, but it’s not the same as making it a Jewish undertaking, Held said.

“It’s really identical or parallel to the same way the Jewish community has invested huge sums of money in Jewish day school education and Jewish camping,” he said. “Being part of Jewish programs, or programs under Jewish auspices, is something that builds identity, builds self-worth and adds value to the Jewish community.”

Levine said the merger has re-energized and rejuvenated many aspects of Etta, strengthening it for a long and promising future.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I feel like this is what’s actually going to ensure the longevity of the organization. With the backing of OHEL, we are absolutely here to stay. … Now we have the assurance that we will definitely be able to keep those homes open until every single resident doesn’t need them anymore.”

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder fights money in politics


Wearing a T-shirt that read “Stamp Money Out of Politics,” Ben Cohen, co-founder of ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, unveiled a grass-roots campaign in North Hollywood on Oct. 11 denouncing the influence of money in politics.

The campaign, Stamp Stampede, encourages supporters to participate in the guerrilla tactic of stamping currency with messages that argue against money’s use in politics.

“Stamping money is petitions on steroids,” Cohen said. “It’s people saying what they want. … For individuals, this is a way for people to make their money talk.” 

The campaign is a collaboration between Cohen, a member of the steering committee of the Movement Resource Group — which has served as a liaison between funders and the national Occupy movement and is now refocusing its attention on getting money out of politics — and Move to Amend, a national coalition dedicated to amending the U.S. Constitution to say that corporations should not have human rights and money is not free speech.

The move comes in response to a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in particular the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has allowed corporations an increasing role in influencing the electoral process, thereby reducing the power of ordinary voters, according to Ashley Sanders, a community organizer and member of the Move to Amend executive committee.

The Stamp Stampede campaign’s Web site is selling stamps, at cost, with messages such as, “Money is not free speech,” “Not to be used for bribing politicians” and “The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed.” The hope is that people will stamp and then spend the currency, thereby spreading the message. 

The tactic of money-stamping is legal, according to the Stamp Stampede Web site, as long as it does not ruin or deface bills to the extent that they are unrecognizable. 

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sept. 29 – Oct. 5, 2012


[SAT SEPT 29]

MUSEUM DAY LIVE!

Smithsonian magazine hosts a free day at participating museums, including the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, The Grammy Museum, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Autry National Center. Zimmer Children’s Museum, which is closed on Saturdays, will be open for Museum Day on Sunday, Sept. 30. Sat. Free (registration required, ticket information on Web site). Various times, locations. smithsonianmag.com/museumday.


[SUN SEPT 30]

 SUKKOT PICNIC

Join the Israeli Leadership Council, MATI and Mitchabrim — organizations dedicated to strengthening the Israeli-American community — at this folksy Sukkot festival. Arts and crafts, Israeli folk dancing, sukkah decorating, kids’ activities and more make it a can’t-miss event for the entire family. Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free. Warner Center Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 466-6454. jewishla.org.

11TH ANNUAL WEST HOLLYWOOD BOOK FAIR

West Hollywood’s celebration of the written word features more than 220 authors and artists. Speakers include “Saturday Night Live” alum Rachel Dratch (“Girl Walks Into a Bar”) and comedy writer David Misch (“Funny: The Book”); Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky (“Inventing L.A.”); political commentators Robert Scheer (“The Great American Stickup”) and Nancy L. Cohen (“Delirium”); novelists David Brin (“Existence”), Seth Greenland (“The Angry Buddhist”), Tod Goldberg (“Living Dead Girl”), Gregg Hurwitz (“The Survivor”), Stephen Jay Schwartz (“Beat”) and Jerry Stahl (“Pain Killers”); and children’s writers Amy Goldman Koss (“Side Effects”) and Eugene Yelchin (“Breaking Stalin’s Nose”). Attend writer’s workshops, poetry readings and performances, and peruse more than 75 exhibitor booths featuring publishers, booksellers and writing groups. Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free (includes admission, shuttle and parking). West Hollywood Library and West Hollywood Park, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood. westhollywoodbookfair.org.


[MON OCT 1]

“VOICES UNITED”

Comedian Sarah Silverman joins actor Russell Brand and singer-songwriters Catie Curtis and Mary Gauthier in headlining this Americans United concert in support of church-state separation. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $25 (standing room), $50 (rear orchestra), $100 (front orchestra). El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. au.org/voices-united-la-tickets.


[TUE OCT 2]

MAC MILLER

YouTube clips of the Pittsburgh native effortlessly freestyling are viral classics, and his records — including debut album “Blue Slide Park” — showcase Miller’s knack for lacing his rhymes with humor. The 20-year-old rapper makes a stop in Los Angeles as part of his Macadelic Tour. Hip-hop act Travis Porter and rapper YG also perform. Tue. 8 p.m. $30-$35. Nokia Theatre, L.A. Live, 777 Chick Hearn Court, Los Angeles. (213) 763-6030. nokiatheatrelalive.com.


[THU OCT 4]

“IS ALTRUISM A WONDER DRUG?”

David Levinson, Big Sunday executive director and author of “Everybody Helps, Everybody Wins,” joins bioethicist Stephen Post (“The Hidden Gifts of Helping”) and Stanford University School of Medicine neurosurgery professor James Doty in a discussion about the latest in medical science and altruism. They draw on recent studies that found that frequent volunteering among older adults led to reduced risk of an early death, and that nonvolunteers were more likely than volunteers to experience a major illness. Moderated by Lisa Aliferis, editor of KQED health policy and public health blog “State of Health.” Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. zocalopublicsquare.org.

“RECOVERED VOICES”

L.A. Opera music director James Conlon’s concert series restores two generations of composers that were wiped off the map by the Third Reich. Tonight’s chamber music concert features performances of lost works by Austrian composers Alexander von Zemlinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schreker; and Czech composer and pianist Erwin Schulhoff. Pacific Trio and friends accompany Conlon. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $37-$65. Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.com.

 

“UNAUTHORIZED: THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN PROJECT”

Documentarian Barry Avrich’s latest film offers an unflinching portrait of Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of the Weinstein Co. and Miramax Films. Avrich turns to Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, John Irving and others to examine the influence that Weinstein holds in Hollywood. A post-screening Q-and-A with Avrich follows. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $10 (general), $7 (LACMA members, seniors, students). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000. lacma.org.

Stories of Jewish Conversion: Frank Siciliano


Hearing the name Frank Siciliano, you would probably not immediately think “Orthodox Jew.” But this Jew by Choice, who has lived in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for the past three years, is as passionate about his religion and his people as one can get. 

Siciliano, a 30-year-old insurance broker, is a born-and-bred Italian from New York. His family was Roman Catholic, and with that came trips to church every Sunday, and celebrating the religious aspects of the mainstream holidays. Christmas was about Jesus, as was Easter. There was “no real ‘pressure’ to keep the faith, as it is assumed you just will,” he said. “You went to church, [and] that was the end of it.”

However, Siciliano said, he never quite clicked with his inherited religion. “You don’t start your studies with the New Testament,” he said. “You start with Genesis, Exodus, etc. I couldn’t reconcile that if you started with all these books in the first half, why did God change His mind in the second half? If Christianity teaches that God is infallible, why would He have to adjust His rules in a whole new set of books?”

His lack of enthusiasm for Catholicism, and an ever-growing zeal for Judaism, emerged after college, when Siciliano began working at his uncle’s grocery store in the Five Towns of Long Island, where there is a strong presence of Orthodox Jewish life. “I learned that the delivery truck had to be loaded by 1 p.m. on Friday,” he said. “As my exposure to Judaism and frum communities grew more and more, I started to say to myself that this makes sense, and where I’m at does not. I wasn’t sure how to proceed with all of that, but I knew that was where I wanted to wind up.”

At the grocery store, Siciliano learned the rules of kashrut, which would help him later on. After he left the store and found a new employer, he met Kelila Green, a co-worker who lived nearly 3,000 miles away, in California. Green, as it turns out, was Jewish. He fell in love, packed his bags for the West Coast a year later, and moved to Wooster Street in West Los Angeles to be closer to his future wife. “I had been with a few girls, and they just weren’t right for me,” he said. “Kelila made sense. Judaism made sense. And, luckily I had a supportive enough community to make that happen.”

As Green and Siciliano’s relationship blossomed, the topic of conversion came up. “I wanted to make sure [Frank] was doing it for himself and not for me, so I didn’t really say much at the beginning,” Green, now a stay-at-home mom, said, adding that they “were planning on getting married whether he converted or not; we knew it would be difficult, but we also knew we were meant to be together. When I realized he was serious about converting, it was like a weight was lifted, and we both knew that a life together with kids was going to be much easier coming from the same beliefs.” 

While settling into his new neighborhood, attending his first Shabbat dinners and going through a full festival cycle, Siciliano decided to meet with Rav Yosef Kanefsky at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox shul, to discuss what he needed to do to convert. After a few meetings, Kanefsky became his sponsor and introduced him to Beit Din Los Angeles. The whole process was put into motion soon after he set foot on California soil, in March 2009, and by the end of the year he would be able to apply for conversion. “The L.A. beit din asked me how serious I was and why I was there,” he said. “They laid out a very detailed syllabus and told me what I needed to know. Conversion, I’ve learned, is not a finish line. It’s getting to the starting line.”

Daily exercises Siciliano was required to learn included saying the brachot (blessings), which Green taped to the walls; keeping kosher; and, of course, studying. He took private lessons and a course with Judaica teacher Adaire Klein. Early in the process, Siciliano and Green got into a car accident on Shabbat, which they interpreted as a sign to end their driving on the day of the rest. 

To this day, the act of wrapping tefillin still trips Siciliano up, he said, and Hebrew has been hard for him to grasp (along with any foreign language, for that matter, he said). Going from praying once a week for 45 minutes at church to praying every day was not easy to schedule at first, either. 

“Along the way, as anxious as I was to finish, and as important as I knew it was to take my time, the predominant feeling was, ‘This is right,’ ” he said. “Not once did I think I was headed in the wrong direction. I was determined to make this work. Every Shabbat, every yontif, every meeting with the rabbis was one step closer, and I’d take as many steps as was needed to get it right.”

During the conversion process, the rituals and practices became second nature, and Siciliano blended into the community. “You have to change a lot, and you want to get it changed in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “I put the cart before the horse many a time. Patience was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. I wanted to get it all done quickly, and that’s just not smart.”

As Siciliano grew into his newfound lifestyle, Green, for her part, was coming back to Orthodox Judaism. As a child she had attended an Orthodox day school, though she was raised in a Conservative/Reform household. “I remember many times learning something in school and being confused as to why we didn’t do that at home,” she said. “The Modern Orthodox lifestyle and beliefs always made sense to me; I just needed a push in that direction.” During the process, the couple learned from each other. Green’s strength was Hebrew, and Sicilano’s kashrut. 

They scheduled their wedding for Aug. 29, 2010 — that was, if everything went according to plan. “The mikveh was set for Aug. 24,” Siciliano said. “A successful conversion would have resulted in a wedding, and a failed one would have resulted in a funeral. Our families would have killed me if they had to come out to a wedding that wasn’t happening.”

On Aug. 24, 2010, Siciliano sat before the L.A. beit din and was tested and asked to respond to their questions. They could see that he was committed. Afterward, he went into the mikveh and came out a Jew.

Transitioning from the life Siciliano used to know into one of an observant Jew did not come without its difficulties. “My family was, daresay, apathetic about the whole thing,” he said. “Obviously, they weren’t in a celebratory mood. They were relieved I was still in a God-fearing position, and my dad reassured me that ‘there wasn’t going to be any garment rending’ over my conversion.”

However, Siciliano said he always feels particularly welcome when he and his wife visit his uncle’s home. “When we are back on the East Coast, my father’s younger sister, the wife of my uncle who has the store, is so on top of Shabbat that by the time we get to their house, the food that she bought from the glatt kosher joint in Cedarhurst is there. Kelila knows where her candles go. My aunt has cleared out a space for our stuff. It borders on convenient.”

Green said her parents were happy either way, as long as their grandchildren were raised in a Jewish household. But when she told them that her partner was converting, “They were overjoyed, especially knowing how much easier it would be for everyone. When I told them he was converting through the Orthodox beit din, I think they were still thrilled, but there have been some challenges that we have all had to deal with — mainly stemming from a lack of knowledge or understanding of the halachah (Jewish laws).” 

Of course, throughout the process, Siciliano’s biggest cheerleader was, and still is, Green. Today, they have one child, Yoella, who is 15 months old. They continue to attend B’nai David-Judea, and Siciliano, who calls himself “the guy with the hat” at shul, is just as, if not more so, excited about Judaism as he was when he first dove into the conversion process. “When you love your job, you feel like you never work a day in your life,” he said. “It’s kind of like that.”

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.

Jewish Home to expand to West L.A.


Challenged by an 18-month waiting list numbering 400 people, the Jewish Home of Los Angeles has announced that it will add another campus — this time on the west side of Los Angeles. On Sept. 7, the Jewish Home closed escrow on a 2.5-acre site in Playa Vista.

The Gonda Healthy Aging Westside Campus, as the senior care community will be known, will be located at The Village in Playa Vista. It will offer independent living, assisted living and memory care, supplementing the Jewish Home’s two existing campuses in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. 

“Our goal is to be spread geographically so that we can serve both in the Valley and West L.A.,” Molly Forrest, president and CEO of the Jewish Home, said on Sept. 11. “Some people would like to stay at home. Others will need skilled nursing. We are trying to present in West L.A. an opportunity to serve almost 600 seniors in a variety of settings.”

Now in its centennial year, the Jewish Home cares for more than 1,000 seniors in-residence, and it assists 1,600 more through community-based programs. Half of those waiting to get into the Jewish Home live on the Westside.

The expansion is being funded in large part by the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Foundation and the Saul Brandman Foundation. At its core will be the Gonda Campus, with a 176-unit continuing care community for independent seniors and 24 units dedicated to assisted living and memory care. Forrest said the goal is to open the campus within four years.

This is part of a bigger plan. Forrest said that the Jewish Home aims to purchase a skilled nursing facility in the area and find a Westside site for a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The federal program, known at the Jewish Home as the Brandman Centers for Senior Care, provides a full range of health-care services for seniors living independently in the community in order to allow them to remain in their homes. This can include anything from meals and therapy to medical care and transportation.

Forrest said the move to West L.A. reflects the Jewish Home’s aspirations to serve 5,000 people by 2015. Already, it is the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles.

“It’s a huge step forward for us,” Forrest said.

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.”

LimmudLA honors founders


LimmudLA honored its founders, Linda Fife and Shep Rosenman, in an evening of dinner, music and study on Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.

LimmudLA is the local outlet of an international model of interdisciplinary, interdenominational, no-boundaries Jewish conferences and events. Founded in the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago, Limmud now conducts 60 conferences in 30 countries, all of them almost entirely run by volunteers.

Fife and Rosenman conceived of bringing Limmud to Los Angeles about seven years ago, after they participated in a Limmud conference in New York. They rallied volunteers and funders and five years ago held the first conference in Southern California over Presidents’ Day weekend, with close to 700 participants converging at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa. The conferences have continued there each February since then.

In 2013, however, LimmudLA plans to forgo its annual marquis conference, instead holding smaller, local events ranging from cultural to academic to family-oriented.

“We’re trying to be localized and organic to the communities where we’re doing different events,” said Yechiel Hoffman, executive director of LimmudLA, the only paid staff member. “Rather than taking people out to Orange County for an event, this gives us a way of being able to provide different options and different access points where people are.”

More than 400 volunteers have stepped up for LimmudLA since its inception. Hoffman said about 120 people are currently active volunteers. LimmudLA plans to hold a multi-day event next summer and is aiming to put on the full conference again in the winter of 2014. 

About 175 people came to honor Fife and Rosenman at what was LimmudLA’s first gala fundraiser. The organization met its goal of raising $75,000. 

The event featured music, text study and an examination of Jewish narrative. Rather than a plaque, Rosenman and Fife each received the newly published Koren Talmud, Tractate Brachot, and rather than a traditional acceptance speech, they staged a musical collaboration that had the audience responding to Rosenman’s “oom-pa-pas” and “ba-da-das.” Fife said it was, like LimmudLA, an example of volunteers stepping out of their comfort zones to produce something meaningful.

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.

Community Profile: Gerald Bubis


Gerald B. Bubis is 88, and he knows there are things he’ll never do again.

He’ll never travel to Israel again, for one, and after 46 trips, that’s a tough one to swallow. Then there’s the fact that this author and/or editor of 12 books and 200 articles on serving the Jewish community now has a tremor in his hand that prevents him from putting pen to paper. He also can’t drive anymore, and he can’t stand up long enough to wash dishes.

Despite all this, he’s not frail, and the clarity and wisdom he still possesses have provided him the blessing of being able to ponder how he wants to approach this late stage of life.

“I think of this more as a condition than as a stage,” Bubis said, sitting in an armchair in the living room of his Beverlywood condo. “This is the first time in your life you’re confronting the fact that this is really the end of the physical stage, and that’s different. Because there is this notion of it being Dec. 25 on the calendar, and it’s a matter of saying how will you spend that last week of your life.”

It’s a scenario the High Holy Days imposes on all worshippers, but for Bubis, as it is for many seniors, the question of what has filled his book of life and how it will close is not abstract, but an everyday reality.

He has made the decision that he will not allow himself room for regrets — neither about the past nor about what he can no longer do. Rather, he focuses on what he has accomplished and what he still can do. 

Bubis is the founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and was an early and ardent advocate for peace with the Palestinians. He is recognized nationally as an elder statesman, both in the peace camp and in the world of Jewish professionals.

In his earlier years, Bubis, who is still a broad 6 feet tall, was probably called strapping. Now, his hearty eyebrows and booming voice both have taken on the qualities of old age, and he moves slowly, with a walker. His health issues are profound: He takes two dozen pills a day to deal with legs that barely work, heart trouble, high blood pressure and episodes of pain on one side of his face that are so debilitating the condition is referred to as suicidal neuralgia. He’s had three bouts with thyroid cancer, and a serious car accident in February exacerbated issues with his legs and left vision in one eye impaired.

But Bubis is well aware of the tendencies of his age cohort, so to a genuine query of, “How are you?” Bubis will begin his answer by setting himself a time limit to update the essentials, and he promises that he will then move on to more interesting conversation.

 “You can either sink into a morass of depression or feeling sorry for yourself, or you say it is what it is, it can’t be any different,” Bubis said. “The people I admire most are the people who confront their limits and cope with them in ways that say, I still have my life, and I still have my pleasures. I still have my challenges, and if one part of my body is diminished or extinguished or involves some kind of coping or adjusting, so be it. I can’t do anything about it, but what I will do about it is, I will say ‘hineni,’ here I am, and how do I go forward?”

Jerry and Ruby, his wife of 64 years, still go to concerts and lectures regularly; they get together with friends often, and they are close with their two children and three grandchildren. They study and socialize with a chavurah they have been part of for 35 years, and have been members of Valley Beth Shalom for decades, but their once weekly attendance has become more sporadic since the car accident.

And Jerry still works. He mentors and consults with Jewish professionals several times a week and reliably holds court at Pat’s on Pico, where the lunch waiters know to pack up half his salad at the outset and to bring him biscotti with the bill.

Because he can no longer write, he is considering looking for funding to hire someone to help him transcribe his words into articles.

He has volumes of anecdotes to share, and while he is careful about his listeners’ time and patience, it doesn’t take much goading for him to unleash dependably gripping stories about camping in Yosemite or personal encounters with King Hussein.

Bubis says he is at peace with where he is now, because he allows himself the satisfaction — but not the fiction — that his life has been lived well.

“To me, it’s a nourishing thing to know that this stage has grown from all those other stages. I have been lucky enough to go through all the stages there are — by way of love and marriage, children, professional fulfillment and accomplishment and recognition,” Bubis said.

That’s not to say it’s been perfect. He’s got an ego, and he can get angry, he said. He said he was for too long married to his work, and didn’t always give Ruby or the children the time he should have.  

“My regrets are of my failing as a father and as a mate in the early days of our marriage,” he said. Today he has a strong relationship with his son, David, who is vice president for development for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and his daughter, Deena Libman, a development officer at the San Diego Jewish Federation. Both David and Deena were Bubis’ students in graduate school at HUC-JIR, and, like their father, both also were awarded honorary doctorates from HUC-JIR. 

Dwelling on what wasn’t accomplished is a sure road to unhappiness, Bubis advises.

“Making peace with what you have accomplished, and not judging yourself for what you didn’t accomplish, is to me a very important attribute, which I believe a lot of people never acquire, but rather they have this restless dissatisfaction, and maybe in some cases depression, about what they wished would have happened that didn’t happen,” Bubis said. “But you can only be what you are capable of being at the time that you are that.”

Jerry and Ruby built their life from modest beginnings.

Bubis grew up in Winnipeg, and his parents divorced when he was 11, after his father fled to the United States after being caught embezzling. Jerry, his mother and his sister moved to Minnesota, where they lived with his mother’s parents, Orthodox immigrants from Minsk. 

As a teenager, he split his time between the Talmud Torah at the Jewish community center and loitering around the streets, shoplifting and pulling pranks. He had a lot of anger, he admits, and says he once went at his mother with a butcher knife and tied his sister up in the closet.

But his maternal grandfather was a true role model. He was a quiet and kind small property owner who established a synagogue and Jewish free loan in Minnesota, and during the Depression he would secretly leave food and coal for his tenants.

“I’ve always had two birds on my shoulder — my father and my grandfather, and each influenced me in his own way,” Bubis said. “As a result of my father, I vowed that I would try to be a person with a good name. And as a result of my grandfather, I had a model of a person who had a good name.”

Bubis enlisted in the Army during World War II as a combat engineer and was trained to remove land mines. He was about to be deployed overseas when he was plucked from his unit and sent back to the camp in Oregon to train other soldiers. A few months later, his entire unit was killed in Italy.

With injured feet, Bubis was discharged with a disability pension that paid his way through college and social work school. Two months after he left the military, he met Ruby at a Manitoba-Minnesota Hillel event and was smitten immediately.

“Having the luck of having a mate, a partner, for so long is in itself an incredible gift, because we grew up together,” Bubis said, looking across the room, where Ruby sat on a loveseat that, like most of their furniture, is a family heirloom. “The love, for me, grows and grows, and it grows even as the nature of how we relate is different than when we were young. And, for me, having the luck of a person who is on the one hand always my supervisor and a goad for keeping me focused, and on the other hand has kept me from ballooning up about myself and puffery about myself, that to me has been a tremendous help.”

Ruby, also a social worker, helped resettle refugees after World War II and later helped settle Soviet Jews in Los Angeles. Jerry worked as a camp director and a Federation executive before he founded the School of Jewish Communal Service and then became a professor at HUC-JIR.

After his recent car accident, which left Bubis laid up for months, he was stunned at the love that began to flow from across the globe and from those close by — people stepped in with meals, rides and visits.

“This has just been a shower of love and support from places I never, ever would have expected — e-mails and calls from former students all over the world. And it has been a tremendous experience to have the equivalent of my hesped [eulogy] while I’m alive — the equivalent of what people will say at my funeral. To me that is remarkably lucky.”

It is the knowledge that he has affected so many people that gives him peace now. 

“You never know what time is going to be. I live as if there will be time to get to our grandson’s smicha [ordination], which will be in two years. My wife comes from a long-lived strain of people. I believe she could live until 100. I have no relatives who lived past 87, so I’ve already passed them. And I’m at peace with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the future and wondering what will happen, but I really do feel peaceful.”

Waxman faces Bloomfield in redrawn 33rd


Sitting in his recently rented campaign office on West Third Street in Los Angeles one afternoon in late August, Rep. Henry Waxman listed — one by one, from memory — some of the coastal and South Bay neighborhoods and cities that are included in the newly redrawn 33rd Congressional District where he’s running for reelection in November. 

“El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, part of Hawthorne — and then there’s the whole Palos Verdes Peninsula,” Waxman said.  

Waxman is on unfamiliar ground this year, literally and figuratively. The district where he’s running stretches from Malibu all the way down the coast, incorporating a few inland neighborhoods along the way, including the chunk of the Westside where his campaign office sits. It’s a big change for Waxman, who used to represent a lot more of the Westside, including West Hollywood, Beverlywood and Pico-Robertson. By his count, 45 percent of the voters in the newly drawn 33rd District are people he’s never represented. 

And this year, Waxman, the fifth-most senior Democrat in Congress and dean of the chamber’s Jewish members, who has won his last five elections with at least 65 percent of the vote, faces a challenger unlike any he’s faced before. 

Bill Bloomfield, an independent, is a retired businessman who has never held public office and was, until relatively recently, a lifelong Republican. 

At a time when Congress has an all-time-low 10 percent approval rating, Bloomfield’s reform-minded campaign slogan — “He’ll fix Congress” — should have at least some impact. Bloomfield spent more than $1 million in the run-up to the June primary, coming in second in a field of eight candidates, with about 24.6 percent of the vote. He said he’s willing “to spend what is necessary … and not a dollar more” in order to get out his message of reform — a pledge that anyone with a mailbox in the district probably believes. 

Waxman, meanwhile, spent about $200,000 leading up to the primary and took 45.3 percent of the vote in June. But even though he expects to be outspent in the race — as of June 30, he had just over $1 million in cash on hand — Waxman is confident that he can beat Bloomfield, especially since registered Democrats, who make up 44 percent of the district’s voters, outnumber both Republicans (29 percent) and independents (22 percent). 

“I just have to make sure that he doesn’t outspend me so much that I don’t get my message out,” Waxman said. 

Waxman’s message focuses on a legislative record that stretches back nearly four decades. Since he first began serving in Congress in 1975, Waxman, now the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has passed legislation addressing the problems of air pollution, preserving safe drinking water and cracking down on the marketing of cigarettes aimed directly at minors, among other matters. He’s also been a staunch Israel supporter throughout that time. 

Waxman is determined to continue serving in Congress, in part to pursue new legislation — he’d like to address climate change, perhaps by instituting a tax on carbon emissions — but also because House Republicans lately have made efforts to roll back existing laws protecting the environment. 

“This past year, the Republicans in the House voted to repeal most of what’s in the Clean Air Act by trying to stop regulation of pollution in a number of different areas,” said Waxman, who was one of the primary authors of the reauthorized Clean Air Act in 1990, which for the first time addressed air toxins, acid rain and ozone depletion.

With Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, Waxman said he knew such efforts would not succeed. “I worry a great deal what will happen in the next couple of years if we don’t have President Obama and have Republicans in control of the Congress,” he said.

Bloomfield, for his part, professed having great respect for Waxman and said he would never let his opponent’s signature piece of legislation be overturned. 

“I like clean air,” Bloomfield said. “I like the fact that the Santa Monica Bay is cleaner than it was.” 

Instead, Bloomfield is running a campaign that focuses less on replacing Waxman in particular and more on reforming Congress in general. 

“I am not running because of how liberal he [Waxman] is, although he’s a lot more liberal than I am,” said Bloomfield, who is a co-founder of No Labels, a two-year-old nonpartisan organization that aims to reform Congress. “I’m running because of how partisan he is, because the institution is not working.” 

Partisanship, for Bloomfield, is the problem in Washington — yet until recently, his own record of campaign donations appeared to be that of a devoted and generous adherent to the Republican Party. 

Bloomfield spent a year working as an unpaid volunteer with Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and has been a major contributor to Republican candidates. 

In the two years leading up to the 2010 election, Bloomfield donated $140,000 to the California Republican Party, more than $50,000 to Republican gubernatorial candidates and another $39,000 to other Republicans seeking statewide office, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. 

He also donated at least $24,000 to individual Republican House and Senate candidates outside California and $30,400 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

But in March 2011, Bloomfield switched his registration, becoming an independent. He said he didn’t know that he’d be running for Congress when he dropped out of the GOP (which he now calls “my former party”), and Bloomfield explained his decision to reregister as a reaction to the frustration with Congress’ “hyper-partisanship.”

“You’ve got people in congress who basically think that their job is to politick 24/7,” Bloomfield said. “The hyper-partisanship is causing the gridlock.”

In a video posted on his Web site, Bloomfield calls Waxman “10 times more partisan than the average Democrat.” But Waxman contends that he has worked across the aisle many times over his long career. 

“I believe in compromise,” Waxman said. “Unfortunately, we have the extreme right wing in the Republican Party right now in control and everybody else in the Republican Party is so co-opted that they think compromise is a bad word and something that should be avoided at all costs.”

If Waxman blames Republicans for Congress’ dysfunction, Bloomfield assigns roughly equal measures of responsibility to both parties. 

“It takes two to fight,” the former Republican said. 

There’s a double irony to Bloomfield’s running as a reformer. Not only did Waxman himself get elected as part of a crop of reform-minded “Watergate babies” in the wake of Nixon’s resignation in 1974, but Bloomfield’s current bid is a direct result of two recent reforms to California elections he has backed financially. 

He gave a combined $150,000 to support two ballot measures in 2010: One took control over drawing California’s congressional districts away from elected officials and handed it to an independent commission; the other established the “top-two” system of primary elections, in which all voters are given a ballot with every candidate on it, regardless of party. 

Both passed, and as a result, the 33rd Congressional District, as drawn by the independent redistricting panel, is more competitive than Waxman’s former district, and the new so-called “jungle primary” system is far friendlier to independent candidates, especially those with deep pockets. 

But if Bloomfield makes clear his aim is to reform Congress, it’s unclear how he’d vote on specific issues, should he manage to unseat Waxman. 

During an hour-long interview with the Journal, Bloomfield avoided picking sides on a number of issues that have divided Congress over the last two years. On the fiscal front, Bloomfield praised the Bowles-Simpson debt-reduction commission, whose conclusions were rejected by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and were not fully embraced by the Obama administration. He bemoaned the Democrats’ passing the Affordable Care Act without any Republican votes, but also assailed Republicans for wasting time passing legislation repealing Obamacare, knowing that such efforts wouldn’t move in the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

Asked what he would have done had he been a member when the health-care reform bill came up before the House, Bloomfield declined to say how he’d have voted, saying only that he wanted “to improve it.” 

Bloomfield also declined to say who he’d be voting for in the presidential race this fall. 

“The problem with answering that question is I get labeled,” said Bloomfield, who in early 2011 donated a combined $7,500 to Republican nominee Mitt Romney and a pro-Romney PAC. “I will support whoever the president is when I think he’s right, and I will be totally against him when I think he’s wrong.”

The growth in the numbers of “decline-to-state” voters and the shrinking number of Californians who are registered Republicans, coupled with the top-two primary, gives moderate Republicans like Bloomfield an incentive to run as independents. 

“The party label ‘Republican’ in California — and especially in a district like Henry Waxman’s — is absolutely toxic,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles and a Jewish Journal columnist. 

Bloomfield qualifies as a moderate Republican — he drives a Prius, believes that climate change is caused by human activity and voted against the ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in California — and as such, he’s “much more threatening to a Democrat than conservative Republicans are,” Sonenshein said. 

Still, Sonenshein added, “I’d be beyond shocked if Waxman lost.” 

Waxman isn’t resting on his laurels. Waxman’s campaign manager recently held a conference call with leaders of about half a dozen synagogues around the South Bay, looking to plan ways for the congressman to reach out to the community. The South Bay could take on an outsized importance in this campaign, particularly as two candidate debates already scheduled will both take place in Palos Verdes. 

In the parts of the 33rd District that are new to him, Waxman might have some ground to make up. Rabbi Yossi Mintz, the director of Chabad of the Beach Cities in Redondo Beach, said he’d received many Bloomfield campaign mailers in the recent months but hadn’t gotten anything or seen any signs pushing voters to choose Waxman. 

Mintz said he’d met Bloomfield once, and that although he hadn’t yet met Waxman, Mintz said he knew the congressman’s reputation. 

“I know about his support for Israel, which is very important to me,” Mintz said. “He’s a person that other people look up to on how to vote. That’s a very powerful thing.”

In August, with the election less than three months away, the Waxman campaign office didn’t yet have the lived-in feeling of Bloomfield’s larger, more well-worn headquarters in Manhattan Beach. A neat stack of “Waxman for Congress” signs sat in the entryway.

Waxman said he was working the phones that day, soliciting donations from supporters in a way he hadn’t done in years past. 

“I’m calling people, telling them that I’ve never asked for their help in the past,” he said, “and this is a time when I really need it.”

Chabad Telethon raises $4 million


Hollywood stars and dancing rabbis came together for the 32nd annual Chabad “To Life” Telethon on Sept. 9. Held for the first time at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, the high-profile fundraiser raised approximately $4 million for Chabad of California.

“At Chabad, there’s no greater joy than the joy of giving,” declared Larry King, whose hosting duties and interviews were recorded days earlier at KCET in Burbank and shown on screens straddling the stage.

KTLA Morning News’ Sam Rubin, “Good Morning Arizona” anchor Stella Inger and comedian Elon Gold co-hosted the event live, playing to a small studio audience at the Art Deco theater.

The three-hour telethon aired locally on KTLA 5, from 8 to 11 p.m., and was carried nationwide by cable and satellite providers, as well as stations in San Diego, San Francisco, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.   

Actor Jon Voight, one of the evening’s main celebrities, remains an active supporter of Israel and Chabad, having appeared in multiple telethons. 

“I’ve had many major roles in motion pictures, but one of my favorite roles is taking part in Chabad’s” yearly telethon, he said. 

Onstage throughout the evening, Voight was in good spirits, surrounded by a house band, a rotating crew of people working the phone banks and an active tote board. He danced with black-suited Chabadniks young and old. “I’m learning new steps every day,” Voight said. 

Then, catching his breath, he delivered his spiel, asking viewers to call the phone number that appeared on the bottom of their television screens and donate what they could. 

In addition to Voight, speakers included actors Tom Arnold, David Arquette and Howie Mandel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and philanthropist Stanley Black.

Among the featured performers were 11-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, Chasidic rock-and-pop duo the 8th Day and Chasidic singer and composer Lipa Schmeltzer. 

The $4.03 million raised on Sunday — last year’s telethon raised $4.2 million — will benefit the international Chasidic movement’s social services and programs, including summer camp scholarships, support for children with special needs, community outreach centers, crisis intervention and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. 

Seated near L.A. Clipper forward Trey Thompkins at the phone bank, actor-comedian Arnold made his pitch for Chabad. Never shy, Arnold highlighted his past as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict when requesting donations in support of Chabad’s drug rehabilitation services.

“They do wonderful work there and they help everybody,” Arnold said.

Highlights from the Chabad “To Life” Telethon: 

7:58 p.m.: Backstage, two minutes until showtime, production assistants scramble to prepare performers, including Voight and dancing rabbis, for their cue. 

8 p.m.: A message from King segues into Bortnick’s piano performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The rabbis follow — young men grab one another’s hands or shoulders, kicking up their feet as they dance in circles. 

8:12 p.m.: Dressed in black sneakers to match his suit, comedian Gold warms up the crowd: “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the Chabad Telethon, but it helps,” Gold says.

8:55 p.m.: King interviews Arquette about what it took to get sober. Building “a connection to God” and learning how to manage self-critical thinking both played a role in his road to sobriety, Arquette says. 

9:10 p.m.: Consul General Siegel, City Councilman Koretz, County Supervisor Yaroslavsky and philanthropist Black share the stage with Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad. Black announces his own pledge for $250,000.

9:35 p.m.: Looking out at the theater’s numerous empty seats, Arnold quips from the phone bank, “How about a hand for all of Clint Eastwood’s chairs out there,” referring to Eastwood’s controversial speech at the Republican National Convention.

9:40 to 10 p.m.: Entertainment attorney and Chabad Telethon co-chairman Marshall Grossman pledges $25,000. Television producer Kevin Bright (“Friends”), who was not in attendance, pledges $180,000 and Ralphs supermarket representative Jose Martinez hands over a jumbo-check for $20,000.

10:10: An interview between King and TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal president David Suissa is screened. “Chabad means ‘love’ more than anything,” Suissa says.

10:55 p.m.: The tote board jumps to more than $4 million for the evening’s final total. The rabbis return for a final dance — until next year.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 9-13, 2012


SUN | SEPT 9 

“ARTHUR SCHNITZLER — BEING JEWISH”
A renowned writer and dramatist whose favorite topics were anti-Semitism, love, sex and death, Arthur Schnitzler chronicled turn-of-the-century Vienna. A Getty staged reading of Schnitzler's journals and correspondence portray a conflicted Austrian Jew who is not afraid to ask difficult questions. Held in conjunction with “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line,” a panel discussion with filmmaker Peter Schnitzler, Schnitzler's grandson, and Schnitzler expert Lorenzo Bellettini follows. Sun. 4-7:30 p.m. Free (reservation recommended). Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu.

CHABAD “TO LIFE” TELETHON
Television icon Larry King hosts the 32nd annual Chabad telethon, featuring celebrity guests and, of course, dancing rabbis. Proceeds benefit Chabad of California's programs and institutions, including schools, summer camps, community outreach centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, crisis intervention and support for children with special needs. Sun. 8-11 p.m. KTLA. tolife.com.


MON | SEPT 10 

“SONGS FOR A BRIS”
Actor-singer Ben Goldberg's one-night-only musical exploration looks at the biggest decision every infant Jewish boy never got to make. The performance features music by Meat Loaf, U2, Cole Porter, Hootie and the Blowfish, and many others. Mon. $10. Rockwell, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163. rockwell-la.com.

MACCABIAH MASTERS TENNIS TRYOUTS
Interested in representing the United States at the 19th World Maccabiah Games next summer in Israel? Maccabi USA is holding masters-level tennis tryouts today for men and women, ages 35 and older, at Mountain Gate Country Club. Buffet lunch included. Mon. 9 a.m. (arrival, check-in), 10 a.m. (tournament begins). $40 (application fee), $50 (participation fee), $30 (additional guest). Mountain Gate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. (215) 561-6900. maccabiusa.com.


WED | SEPT 12

KCET HIGH HOLY DAYS
The community television station honors the High Holy Days with four documentaries during the month of September, including “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” a story of how a family stays spiritually and physically connected through tradition; “The New Beginning,” which examines the ancient origins, evolution, symbols and traditions that have come to define the High Holy Days; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre,” which tells the story of the most sacred prayer in Judaism through the tales and anecdotes of those who have been touched by it; and “Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps,” which looks at Hitler's largest concentration camp designed for women. Wed. Through Sept. 20. “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”: Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m.; “The New Beginning”: Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m.; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre”: Sept. 16, 4:30 p.m.; “Where Birds Never Sang”: Sept. 20 at 10:30 p.m. For additional airing times, visit kcet.org.


THU | SEPT 13

“10Q: NO REGRETS”
Time magazine columnist Joel Stein hosts an evening of confessions. Just in time for the New Year, comedians, writers, celebrities and audience participants reveal their biggest regrets in an attempt to clean the slate. Folk-pop duo the Wellspring performs. Co-sponsored by Reboot and the Jewish Federation's Young Adults of Los Angeles. Thu. 7-10 p.m. $15 (advance ticket), $18 (door). Acme Comedy Theater, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8324. yala.org.

ITZHAK PERLMAN
The Israeli-American master violinist performs Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto.” One of the world's most renowned classical musicians, Perlman has won more than a dozen Grammy awards, taken part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama and played with every major orchestra. Conductor Bramwell Tovey leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the final classic concert of the season with Johannes Brahms' “Hungarian Dances Nos. 10, 4, 5,” Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto” and Antonin Dvorák's “Symphony No. 8.” Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.

MICHAEL CHABON AND AYELET WALDMAN
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” appears in person to read passages from his new novel “Telegraph Avenue.” Set in Berkeley at the end of the summer of 2004, record store co-owners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe and their midwife wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffee, face personal and professional problems that test the strength of their relationships and businesses. Writer Mona Simpson (“My Hollywood”) leads a post-reading discussion and Q-and-A with Chabon and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman (“Red Hook Road”). Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu.

Putting the brakes on runaway shopping carts


On a recent Friday afternoon, Mariz Mosseri went shopping for groceries, as she does on most Fridays. She trolled the aisles of Elat Market and Glatt Mart, Pico-Robertson’s two largest kosher supermarkets, which sit side-by-side on Pico Boulevard. 

Mosseri bought meat, vegetables, sliced bread and other necessities for Shabbat, and when she finished at the checkout, she pushed her black-metal shopping cart, brimming with plastic bags, out into the street and continued with it down the alley that runs behind the markets, and then turned onto Wooster Street. 

After speaking to this reporter, she headed home with her cartful of goods. Twenty minutes later, the cart was sitting empty in the driveway in front of her apartment. 

“They have a truck, they pick it up,” Mosseri explained. 

These days, Mosseri’s actions are standard practice in the neighborhood. 

But talk to the grocers, who typically spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars each month retrieving carts from around the neighborhood, and also shell out even more to replace dozens that go missing each year, and you’ll learn that they wish they could find a way, perhaps using technology, to keep those same carts from leaving their stores’ premises at all. 

These stores face a problem that larger groceries do not — parking is seriously limited in their lots. So they’ve tolerated the practice of people walking off with the carts — and paid dearly — to accommodate their customers.

In May, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance sponsored by Councilman Tony Cardenas mandating that no new stores will operate the way these stores do. The ordinance requires that all newly built and significantly remodeled stores with six or more shopping carts implement a retention system to keep them on site, and a spokesperson from Cardenas’ office said the city plans to study whether and how to expand the law to include existing stores as well. Such a plan could force the Pico-Robertson markets to change their shopping-cart usage policy. 

For now, however, well-dressed people pushing shopping carts up and down sidewalks, and leaving those carts on the streets, are as common a sight in this densely populated and very Jewish neighborhood as the temporary booths that will pop up on lawns when Sukkot arrives in October. 

The carts get picked up quickly, so what in other neighborhoods might immediately become unwelcome urban blight, in Pico-Robertson is more likely a potential hazard to a parked car’s paint job.

What for regular customers at the four major kosher grocery stores in Pico-Robertson is a welcome convenience is, for the owners, one more cost of doing business. New shopping carts go for about $100 apiece, and the owners know what the current “release and retrieve” system is costing them. 

“This is the biggest problem we have in the store,” said Kevin Novin, who has managed Elat Market since it opened more than 25 years ago. He estimated that over that time he has spent more than $1 million for carts, and that he spends about $100,000 a year just on cart retrieval. 

The owners of the other supermarkets in the heart of the neighborhood — Glatt Mart, Livonia Glatt Market just a few blocks to the west, and Pico Glatt Mart, which is about a mile away — told much the same story. 

“I’m supposed to have 40 [carts], but every six months, I usually have to purchase 20 more,” said Farzad Kohanzadeh, owner of the 2,300-square-foot Livonia Glatt Market. 

The missing carts often don’t turn up — Kohanzadeh said he once saw an unfamiliar truck come through the neighborhood late at night, picking up carts off the street, never to return. 

But when missing carts do reappear, it can be in very unlikely locations. 

“We have people who call us from the Hollywood Hills, ‘Come and pick up your shopping cart,’ ” Glatt Mart owner Meir Davidpour said. “We had one by Dodger Stadium.”

For now, the “one-way rental” of a store’s shopping cart has proved popular among customers, so much so that all four of the stores have hired an independent contractor to retrieve the carts from around the neighborhood, at a cost of $2 a cart. 

On a Tuesday afternoon, a beat-up truck pulled up to the driveway of Elat Market laden with carts collected from driveways, alleyways and doorways, as well as sidewalks, front lawns and street curbs. The carts sat on the truck’s wide, low flatbed, held in place by a mixture of straps and chains. 

The driver pulled the carts off the back of the truck, one by one. 

“Twelve,” he called out to Mordechai when all the yellow-handled carts were on the pavement. 

Mordechai, who gave only his first name, manages the market’s loading dock (which doubles as rear entrance) on a part-time basis; he made a note on a sheet of paper, and the truck, which also unloaded a couple of Glatt Mart’s red-and-black carts, turned back into the street, away from Glatt Mart, to continue its rounds. 

All the stores’ regulars know about the cart-collecting truck. 

Mermell Nicholas, 93, travels by bus from his apartment in Beverly Hills to shop at the kosher markets twice a week. On a Tuesday afternoon, he was sitting on a bench near a bus stop at the intersection of Pico and Robertson. Next to him was a Glatt Mart cart with a few bags inside. 

He said he’d seen the cart-collecting truck the previous week, and said that watching the workers lift the heavy steel carts onto the truck’s flatbed was “amazing.” 

“You push it down, the back wheels, and the front end flies up,” Nicholas said. 

Of course, not everybody likes the truck — or the carts it collects. 

“The only time we have peace is Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Other than that, you park your car at your own risk,” said Lisbeth Caiaffa, who has lived three doors down from the Elat Market parking lot since 2003. “It’s a war zone during the week.”

Spotting a reporter taking notes, a few neighbors stopped for a moment in front of Caiaffa’s lawn. 

“They’ve hit my car,” a broad-shouldered man wearing a baseball cap said, before continuing down Wooster. “Those trucks are wide.” 

But if the trucks and the carts are an annoyance to some, the biggest complaints from the neighbors relate to parking. Caiaffa expressed frustration at having to compete for street parking with the customers from Elat Market and Glatt Mart. 

Some will even park a cart in the street, “as a strategy to block off a parking space,” Caiaffa said. 

She is just as annoyed with customers who idle in their cars in the middle of the street, waiting to make the turn into the Elat or Glatt parking lots. 

“The LAPD needs to come down here and start ticketing people for blocking the street,” said Brooks Thomas, who lives on Wooster. 

Paul Neuman, director of communications for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the district, said that some neighbors have contacted the office. 

“There have been some constituent calls and comments, but they have lessened a bit as of late,” Neuman said, adding that the markets had increased their staffing of their parking lots recently. 

The new city ordinance doesn’t apply to existing stores — although the city has instructed its planning department to conduct a study on how to apply the requirement to keep carts on grocery properties. And, if that requirement were implemented, it could require the owners of the Pico-Robertson markets to hire additional staff to escort every shopping cart that went out their doors, no matter whether the customer wanted assistance or not. 

The stores already do some of this, to varying degrees. Moreover, in addition to paying the independent cart collector for his services, the groceries’ owners also periodically instruct their staff to pick up any carts left outside in the area immediately surrounding their stores. 

But the other “containment systems” — physical barriers and electronic wheel-locking mechanisms — aren’t options for these grocers. 

For one, all four stores have parking lots that are not immediately adjacent to their buildings, which means customers must cross city-owned or private property — streets and alleys, for example — so erecting a physical barrier to prevent the carts from leaving the stores would also cut off customer access to the parking lot. Furthermore, according to Elat Market’s Novin and Glatt Mart’s Davidpour, the city will not allow the grocery store owners to install the electronic perimeters that are necessary to run a wheel-locking system that would cross those city-owned sidewalks or alleys. 

And as for the truck that currently trolls the streets in Pico-Robertson, that wouldn’t satisfy the new ordinance as written. 

“That’s not a containment system. That’s a retrieval system,” said Tom Rothmann of the Los Angeles City Planning Department. “The point is to not let them go off the site.”

Rothmann said that the future for Pico-Robertson shoppers might look something like other cities, where folding carts — “granny wagons” — are sold at the register “for a nominal fee.” 

“People in New York walk more than half a block with their groceries,” he said. 

“We would love to set up barriers,” Glatt Mart’s Davidpour said. He and his co-owners also own Cambridge Farms, a kosher grocery store in Valley Village, and there they use a wheel-locking system for the store and its adjacent lot, Davidpour said.

“We have about 300 shopping carts and we haven’t lost a single one in the last four years,” Davidpour said.  

According to a leading manufacturer of cart-retention systems, what Los Angeles won’t allow has already been done in other cities in California, including Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach. 

“It’s a matter of what the particular design calls for — where the perimeter stopping point is to be placed — and what are the city’s proclivities,” John French, the founder and CEO of Carttronics, said. His San Diego-based company has installed 3,000 cart retention systems in 35 counties. “In the case of L.A., I would think that they would be willing to be accommodating.”

In the meantime, many customers appear to be doing what they can to make sure that the carts don’t go missing. One Friday afternoon, I saw a woman heading toward Pico Glatt Mart pick up a cart on her way to the store and push it down the block, into the store. 

And it turned out that Mermell Nicholas, the 93-year-old on the bench at the neighborhood’s eponymous intersection, wasn’t waiting for the bus that stops on the south side of Pico. He got up, took his bags out of the shopping cart and carried them across the street to the stop for the bus that heads north on Robertson. 

Nicholas explained that pushing the cart across Pico would make it more difficult for the cart to make it back to the store. 

But was it really necessary to take the cart down the block in the first place? 

Nicholas — who was carrying 20 pounds of fruit and vegetables, not to mention eggs, soup mix, and some other items — put it this way.

“Every bit helps.”

L.A. Teens Win More Than 70 Medals at Maccabi Games


Team Westside’s luggage was a little heavier on its return flight from the Maccabi Games in Houston last month. Athletes won a combined total of 18 medals in three sports at the annual competition, which took place Aug. 5-10.

The boys’ 16-and-under basketball team took home the gold medal while one of the two Team Westside boys’ 14-and-under squads took silver. Team Westside, which sent 65 athletes total, won five medals in tennis events and swam away with 11 medals in various individual and team swimming events. 

Although the majority of the week was spent in competition, all of the athletes at the Maccabi Games engaged in a community service day as part of “JCC Cares.” On Aug. 7, Team Westside athletes created art projects with inner-city youth in a partnership with a local YMCA.  

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Maccabi Games, which is organized by the Jewish Community Center Association. 

Though the competition is only once a year, Westside JCC Assistant Executive Director Ronnel Conn said that the Team Westside athletes would engage in social and bonding activities throughout the year, including group Shabbat dinners.

“At Westside JCC, we stress that this is not just a one-week competition,” he said. “The Maccabi Games are a yearlong experience.”

Meanwhile, Team Milken, which participated at Maccabi Games in Rockland, N.Y., and in Memphis, Tenn., also claimed a hefty number of medals. In Memphis, Team Milken took home 60 medals, including 40 in track and field events and 16 in swimming. In Rockland, Team Milken recorded 32 more medals, with 25 in swimming.

After the closing of the Milken JCC in West Hills earlier this year, Team Milken competed in the 2012 Maccabi Games under the auspices of the Westside JCC. Team Milken sent 115 athletes to the two venues.

“We had a fantastic year,” said Philip Benditson, who chairs the Milken delegations. “Our athletes had a fantastic time, and we’re very blessed to be this athletically talented.”

+