Budget crunch forcing schools to cut, become creative


Rabbi Samuel Levine has a problem—and it’s echoing throughout the Jewish day school world.

Levine, the head of school at Hillel Day School in Boca Raton, Fla., has seen an increase of more than 20 percent in requests for financial aid from the past year. In 2008-09, the school gave out about $1 million in assistance. This year the figure will be at least $1.25 million.

While the need for aid is rising, the school’s donors are giving less because of the recession, which has hit South Florida especially hard with blows to two of the region’s main industries, real estate and tourism. In addition to the drop in donations, the annual allocation that Hillel receives from the Jewish Federation of South Florida has been cut because its general fund-raising campaign is hurting.

To cope, the 21-year-old Orthodox school, which runs from pre-K through eighth grade, has had to slice $700,000 from its budget. That includes pay cuts of between 2 percent and 6 percent across the board, the elimination of non-essential staff and a cut in maintenance.

“It’s been very, very painful,” Levine told JTA. “We looked at every line in the budget and asked how can we pay less, how can we afford less, without affecting the programs.”

Hillel is not alone. From a story in The Jewish Star of Long Island focused on Orthodox families headlined “Tuition or mortgage: Choosing public school over homelessness” to the announcement that the Solomon Schechter Day School of Palm Beach County in Florida is closing because of budgetary problems, examples abound of day schools struggling at the start of the academic year.

As yet, there is no hard data on how much need is out there in terms of financial assistance. The groups that follow day schools are just gathering the information as schools are reporting it. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that the 20 percent or so increase that Hillel in Boca has experienced is about average.

“We saw families already participating in the financial aid program turn to schools for additional assistance,” said Marc Kramer, the executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network, a non-denominational umbrella group bringing together community day schools.

“We saw families who were non-financial aid students seek financial aid, families who had been paying tuition and making donations indicate they could make tuition but not donations,” he said. “And there was the most tragic subset of those who needed aid for the first time and did not apply but just dropped out.”

Amid the challenges, according to leaders of several organizations focused on day school development, a silver lining has emerged: Many of the suffering day schools have sought creative solutions to their problems that could help strengthen their economic foundations in the long term.

Kramer said the upsurge in such responses from philanthropists and schools attempting to cut costs has helped stave off a mass exodus of students leaving for financial reasons—a mounting fear since the 2008-09 school year ended, especially in non-Orthodox schools.

For example, in Phoenix, an elementary school (The King David School) and a high school (Jess Schwartz College Prep) decided to merge in order to save on overhead.

In the Cleveland suburb of Beechwood, the Agnon School increased tuition last year by 12 percent with an eye toward an upcoming budget crunch. Still, it had to cut $450,000 from its budget this year—about 10 percent. That included a wage freeze and the temporary suspension of certain programs that Agnon did not view as part of its core mission, such as the Mandarin Chinese course that had become mandatory in the middle school.

Schools across the country are working creatively, according to Rabbi Josh Elkin, the executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, an organization that consults with day schools on various issues.

“Along with the anecdotal stories of significant increases in requests for tuition assistance,” Elkin said, “we have heard probably an equal amount of extraordinary stories that significant numbers of schools have taken to find the resources to keep families in school and to bring in new families.”

Some local Jewish federations, including New Jersey’s MetroWest, New York and Chicago, have stepped up with significant multimillion-dollar gifts to help schools cope with their budget problems and growing financial aid needs. Foundations such as the Jim Joseph Foundation in San Francisco, the Helen Bader Foundation in Milwaukee, the Kohelet Foundation in Philadelphia, the Weber Family Foundation in Atlanta and the Legacy Heritage Foundation also have provided significant gifts to help schools, Elkin said.

The schools are looking at ways to raise money.

One approach involves attempting to diversify their donor bases: Instead of asking relatively few families for large donations, schools are reaching out to more families for smaller dollars, Elkin said. His organization is working with four schools in a pilot program to help them learn how to cultivate legacy gifts or bequests to help endow schools after a donor dies.

Northern New Jersey residents have launched an organization called Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools to collect small donations of $40 on average to help local schools. In July, the New Jersey Jewish Standard reported that the organization would distribute $250,000 this year.

There are even signs of schools working together across denominational lines.

Members of RAVSAK, the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter schools, the Reform movement’s Pardes and the Modern Orthodox Institute for University-School Partnership of Yeshiva University will hold a joint professional development conference in New York in January instead of having separate conferences.

RAVSAK’s Kramer says it adds up to a positive story behind what could be a very negative one.

“This is a vision of collaboration that is at once about being smart with dollars because we have to be,” he said. “But the recession has also given us permission to remember that all of us are ‘klal Yisrael.’ In many ways we perhaps have forgotten this.

“If everyone in the Jewish community puts our oars in the water and rows in same direction, we will get through this.”

After-School Kabbalah Comes to LAUSD Campuses


Along with homework time, crafts and supervised games, grade school students in several Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools this spring are getting something different at their after-school programs: spiritual awareness.

Dozens of San Fernando Valley children are enrolled in Spirituality for Kids (SFK), a program founded and run by officials of the Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles, whose curriculum teaches socially conscious behavior. Brought to the campuses of four San Fernando Valley public schools through a local after-school enrichment company, the program aims to help kids resist peer pressure, treat others with tolerance and build problem-solving skills.

The Kabbalah Centre has for years drawn the ire of critics claiming its popular version of kabbalah — made famous by such high-profile devotees as Madonna — is a sham.

Critics fear the program — which was founded by Kabbalah Centre International co-founder and co-director Karen Berg, and whose president, Michal Berg, is a Kabbalah Centre official and Karen Berg’s daughter-in-law — promotes concepts that echo the Kabbalah Centre’s teachings. Core terms in the SFK curriculum are also found in kabbalah, such as sharing “the light,” defined by SFK as a force of goodness in all people.

SFK staff, however, claim the program is not religious in nature. “It’s an empowerment program,” said Wanda Webster, director of curriculum for SFK. “We come at it asking ‘What tools would help children in life?’ We teach resiliency, meaning it gives them the tools to deal with the problems and issues they’re facing every day in school, or at home — anywhere they’re interacting with people.”

Webster defines the “spiritual” aspect of the program as “our connection to ourselves and to each other.”

“We don’t touch upon ‘the right thing to do’ — we just don’t go there,” she said. “We never use language like, ‘that’s right, that’s wrong,’ or ‘that’s good, that’s bad.’ What we talk about is, if you make this choice, will that get you what you want?”

A 2008 study by the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, found that students enrolled in SFK classes in Florida showed improved communication, leadership and study skills and decreased attention problems and withdrawal.

Founded five years ago, SFK now operates in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, London and Panama City, as well as in Israel, Mexico and Malawi. The program has been criticized by top rabbis in London, but has garnered praise from educators who say it helps at-risk youth make positive choices for their futures.

Most of what the curriculum — the same at each school — teaches is “social competence skills,” such as self-esteem, self-control and sharing, said Jody Myers, professor of religious studies at California State University Northridge (CSUN) and author of “Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America” (Praeger, 2007), which includes a chapter on SFK.

The SFK concept of the “true voice” versus the “opponent” echoes the Jewish concept of yetzer hatov (the tendency to do good) versus yetzer hara (the tendency to do bad), but is expressed in non-religious language, she said.

“They don’t teach worship, they don’t teach rituals or talk about God,” Myers said. “If you look at religion as belief in a higher power, they don’t use that language. The curriculum deals with conscience and emotion and intuition, but it’s not religion.”

Among the themes SFK explores are the causes and effects of reactive behavior and the relationship between physical objects and “spiritual powers” — happiness, love and excitement. A major part of the curriculum is the promotion of “caring and sharing behavior” over selfishness, Webster said.

Physical activities and games are included in the weekly 90-minute classes, such as a human knot game to illustrate the idea that “what we do affects others,” Webster said. According to the program literature, students are taught “rules to the game of life” — short adages including, “Take care of others and your needs will be fulfilled,” and “Share and make room for all life’s blessings.”

SFK classes are offered at Kester Avenue and Riverside Drive Elementary schools in Sherman Oaks, Nestle Avenue Elementary School in Tarzana and Tulsa Street Elementary School in Granada Hills through E3, an after-school enrichment program that operates in nine LAUSD elementary schools.

Social awareness among children often suffers because of a gap in “life skills” education in public schools, E3 director Linda McManus said.

“We’re sensing that our kids need more,” McManus said. “They’re getting enrichment, but there wasn’t much addressing life skills at this age.”

In September, E3’s entire staff trained with a team from SFK in the program’s terms and principles. McManus said she hoped the training would help her employees with classroom management and discipline.

E3 offers parents and their children alternative programming during class times SFK is offered, for those who don’t want their children in the 10-week program, McManus added.

Many parents say the program is a boon to their children — or at least an acceptable pastime during the after-school hours.

Maria Tapia of Van Nuys said her daughter seems to enjoy SFK at Kester Avenue Elementary School, where the program is geared toward third- to fifth-graders. “She says she enjoys it. Sometimes I come to pick her up and she says she wants to stay more,” Tapia said of Jennifer, a fourth-grader.

Jennifer Bahat of Encino said both her children had already taken SFK classes at the Kabbalah Centre last year, and her daughter, Shani, 6, is now enrolled again in a course for first- and second-graders at Nestle Avenue Elementary School.

“I love the program,” Bahat said. “Kids learn a lot of useful things. It’s natural for kids to be selfish and only think about what they want. As parents, we’re always teaching them to think of other people. Here they learn to be more thoughtful and considerate.”

Bahat said she has also taken kabbalah classes through the Centre before, and believes spirituality is a beneficial part of childhood education. Since starting SFK classes, Shani has become more aware of the consequences of her actions, Bahat said.

SFK isn’t the first educational program with ties to a controversial religious organization to draw criticism locally. The New Village Leadership Academy in Calabasas, founded by actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith last year, generated buzz for its use of “Study Technology” developed by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. School publicists have said the facility does not teach Scientology.

An LAUSD spokeswoman said the school district contracts with several enrichment companies, some of which bring in programming with known religious affiliations.

“The Los Angeles Unified School District accepts and supports having programs such as Spirituality for Kids on LAUSD campuses,” said Sharon Thomas, assistant general counsel to the district, in a statement. The district must abide by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by maintaining “strict neutrality in religious matters,” she said, and any program is acceptable as long as it does not run afoul of that.

But some still question whether the Kabbalah Centre is a legitimate religious institution.

“The Kabbalah Centre is to true kabbalah what Jews for Jesus is to true Judaism,” said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder and director of the anti-missionary and anti-cult center Jews for Judaism. “It’s making it look like it’s Jewish, but it’s not.”

In general, kabbalah is viewed as too “weird” or “out-there” for most mainstream Jews, said Myers, the CSUN professor. But while the Kabbalah Centre’s brand might not hew to the holy tradition on which it is based, it has nevertheless become a ubiquitous part of the religious landscape.

“Little bits and pieces are coming into normative Judaism,” Myers said. “Kabbalah is out of the bag.”

5th District Plays Big Role


The Los Angeles elections on March 3 turned out to be more interesting than most of us had expected, especially the role of the Fifth Council District.

The Fifth, which is a mixture of Westside (think Fairfax) and Valley (think Encino) is also the “Jewish district.” In a city that’s about 6 percent to 7 percent Jewish, the Fifth is perhaps 35 percent to 40 percent Jewish. It’s the best-educated district, and one of the most affluent. It has tremendous voter registration and high turnout year after year.

Of the city’s nearly 1.6 million registered voters, 167,668 are in the Fifth, more than 10 percent of the total. On March 3, the Fifth cast around 12 percent of all city votes, with only 7 percent of the population.

The Fifth played a pivotal role in the rise and dominance of the Tom Bradley coalition, as its voters provided massive support to Bradley. Combined with the African American community, the Fifth and other white liberal districts consistently outvoted white conservatives. The Fifth is one of the few council districts that bridges the divide between the Valley and the rest of the city, joining more liberal Westsiders to more moderate Valley residents.

Winning the Fifth District’s council seat is a big achievement, because there are lots of talented and ambitious people ready to run and mount effective campaigns in those two parts of the city, and anyone who wins becomes a prospect for bigger things. Think Roz Wyman, Ed Edelman, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Feuer and now Jack Weiss, who is in the runoff for city attorney against Carmen Trutanich.

While the voters in the Fifth District are disproportionately Democrats, they can be very unpredictable on one local issue, and that is growth. When Bradley experienced a lot of political trouble in the 1980s, it was over growth, development and traffic, and much of this agitation was in the Fifth. The proliferation of billboards and city hall’s weakness in regulating them has energized another neighborhood rebellion today.

The race to succeed Weiss generated six strong candidates who split votes so evenly in the primary that the percentages looked like a box score on a night that the Lakers have everybody in double figures. Weiss has lots of defenders and lots of enemies in his own district on the hot-button issues, and he was charged with being too pro-development.

The two candidates who made it into the runoff, Paul Koretz and David Vahedi, are both critics of development and billboards. They are each likely to further activate the voters who are fighting growth.

With his early lead in fundraising and endorsements, Weiss contested the open seat for city attorney as if he were the incumbent. While he was able to preempt other strong candidates from challenging him, he also inevitably became the target of the anti-city hall sentiment that in this low-turnout election made its will known by apparently (pending the counting of some remaining ballots) defeating Proposition B, the solar power measure.

He came in first, but with only 36 percent of the vote, and he will face a tough runoff. And because the Fifth District is also going to have a heavily contested runoff, its turnout will likely affect the citywide result.

Ironically, Weiss’ best chance of winning is to expand his appeal beyond his own council district, where he has lots of active opponents, and draw on organized labor and other communities. He has to broaden the issues beyond development. If he does, he stands a good chance of winning. He did, after all, finish first in all but the 15th District, which represents Trutanich’s San Pedro home base.

Weiss’ best showing was in the three predominantly African American districts (Eighth, Ninth and 10th), where he polled 43 percent, 44 percent and 45 percent, respectively. He also polled 45 percent in the Latino and working-class First District.

These are pro-labor areas, where Measure B did well, winning 71 percent in the First and 71 percent, 75 percent and 67 percent, respectively in the Eighth, Ninth and 10th districts. He received only 37 percent in his own Fifth District.

The last Fifth District councilman to run for city attorney was Mike Feuer, in 2001, and Feuer’s situation was quite different. He was exceptionally strong in his own district, and he piled up a huge edge among Jewish and other white voters. But while Feuer had major labor support, Rocky Delgadillo pulled off the upset by linking Latino voters to a majority of African Americans.

Delgadillo also was bolstered by a late endorsement from Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters. This time, a number of African American elected officials are behind Weiss, while Waters endorsed Trutanich. It’s all consistent with the mix-and-match coalition politics of today’s Los Angeles.

Much of labor is in Weiss’ camp, as are the mayor and Police Chief William Bratton. Having apparently been beaten on Measure B, labor is likely to want to win a big one citywide to go along with the re-election of Villaraigosa and the election of Wendy Greuel as controller.

Trutanich has the endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News, both of which might be influential in a low-turnout election, and Sheriff Lee Baca.

There are two types of Los Angeles electorates, the one that appears in partisan, statewide elections in even-numbered years and the one that appears in odd-year municipal races. The May 19 runoff election is scheduled to be held in tandem with a special statewide election with ballot measures negotiated as part of the state budget deal.

Labor may or may not have some big horses in this race. So this election is a kind of hybrid, maybe bigger than a quiet municipal runoff but less noisy than a true statewide partisan battle. Most likely, the election will be decided not just by how people vote, but by who votes.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at Cal State Fullerton.

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A District Divided


As the City Council begins it consideration of Redistricting Commission-drawn district maps, a conflict between Valley activists and Jewish interests seems to have been resolved. But as proposed districts are scrutinized and rescrutinized block by block, the question of whether the 5th City Council District will contain three core Orthodox neighborhoods remains open.

Council District 5 has historically contained core Jewish communities on both sides of Mulholland, including the Chandler corridor and the Fairfax and Pico-Robertson areas. A push to include five districts wholly within the San Fernando Valley and only one district split between the Valley and city threatened to separate Valley Jewish communities from their city counterparts, diminishing a strong Jewish influence in the City Council.

For the first time, wrangling over Council district lines was conducted in open hearings this year, with the new city charter creating a special Redistricting Commission composed of 21 members appointed by the City Council, mayor and city attorney.

Though the final redistricting plan will be decided by the City Council, the Redistricting Commission collected and helped implement public input. On average, Los Angeles’ 15 Council districts encompass 246,000 people each. The Council will approve a final map by June 30.

Redistricting commonly pits myriad interests against each other. Part of the difficulty in keeping the Chandler corridor in the 5th District derived from unrelated disputes between neighboring districts.

Valley activists like Richard Close, chair of the secession group Valley VOTE, wanted five Council districts entirely within the Valley to better represent concerns specific to the Valley.

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the 5th District, and chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting (composed of five councilmembers) says, "It’s interesting to see how the overheated desire of those who want to split the city apart almost directly conflicted with the representative needs of an important constituency."

Weiss adds that, unlike pro-Valley secession activists, he approves of the Valley-City districts. "I think it is good for the City of Los Angeles to have districts that straddle Mulholland. It forces officials to be less parochial," he says.

Close was appointed to the Redistricting Commission by former 2nd District City Councilman Joel Wachs. For Close, keeping Jewish neighborhoods together takes a back seat to ensuring proportional Council representation for the Valley. "There were drafts discussed without [the Chandler corridor] in the 5th District," he explains. "The problem is, the 5th District is probably the longest district. We understand that Jack Weiss wanted the Fairfax district as well as the Chandler-Burbank area. Many ethnic groups came to us and testified to their interests. But if you have one ethnic neighborhood down in San Pedro and another in Chatsworth, you just can’t draw that into a district. The big problem we had was compactness was not consistent with some community interests.

"When we do districts, we’re supposed to be blind to race, religion and ethnicity," Close says. But the commission does consider the needs of "communities of interest." Commissioner Ron Turovsky, appointed by Weiss, says the ties that bind a community of interest can be a "whole range of factors," including ethnic or religious groups as well as distinct neighborhoods.

Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek Congregation was among those voicing concern that Los Angeles’ Orthodox community would be split. "We do see ourselves as a single entity," he says. "You’re talking about a very large Jewish community that is very unified — which can be very advantageous." Together in the same council district, says Tendler, "We have shared issues and shared support."

The Jewish community and Valley representation controversies were only a small part of the litany of issues faced by the Redistricting Commission over the course of 11 public hearings since November 2001.

The map of the 5th District that the Redistricting Commission has sent to the City Council includes the Chandler corridor area, attached via Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the main body of the district, which includes Bel Air and Westwood and extends east as far as Highland Avenue.

Close is pleased that the plan, as proposed, includes the five Valley districts, but says, "The real question is, is the City Council going to meddle in the process?… Was the Redistricting Commission just a façade?"

At the final hearing on March 26, Ruth Galanter, whose 6th District has been moved from Venice to Van Nuys, told the commission, "Of course we’re going to meddle with the lines you decide."

At the same meeting, 13th District City Councilman Eric Garcetti called the redistricting process "intensely imperfect." That process, now nearly completed with the finalization of the commission’s proposals, is still subject to tinkering. But Weiss believes the Jewish communities of the 5th District will stay together.

"We’re talking about a community that has made their interests known," Weiss says.

East Ventura Bound


If you’re looking to move into a new home in Los Angeles, good luck. Last month, the median sale price for an L.A. home jumped 10 percent to $213,000, setting an all-time record for L.A. County.

But if you’re looking to move into a new home in Oak Park, say your prayers. Finding a home in this Conejo Valley suburb will take all the luck and all the money you can get. The median price in September for a Ventura County home, which includes the unincorporated community of Oak Park, was $268,000, but the increase of sales was only 0.8 percent, due to a tight inventory of homes available.

Oak Park, which has just recently received its own postal code, is situated in eastern Ventura County, at the base of Simi Peak. Bordered on the west by the North Ranch neighborhood of Thousand Oaks, on the south by Westlake Village and Agoura Hills, and on the north and east by the Santa Monica Mountains, Oak Park is a compact community of only 2,600 acres.

What makes Oak Park so special is a combination of factors, least of which is the quality of the air and greatest of which is its excellent school district, which has received the reputation of being one of the finest school systems, private or public, anywhere in California. Two of the elementary schools, Brookside and Red Oak, have been designated California distinguished schools; a third, Oak Hills, is a blue-ribbon school. The middle schools, Medea Creek and Oak Park High School have been named blue-ribbon schools as well. The alternative high school, Oak View, is a California model school.

Realtor Bev Ovdat has been working the area of Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Calabasas and Westlake for 20 years. Along with her husband, Saul, the Ovdats are considered one of the strongest real estate teams in the area. If anyone understands the draw of Oak Park, it’s Bev Ovdat.

“In 1978, Oak Park broke away from the Simi Valley School District and created its own school district.” Ovdat said. “In 1990 [during the height of the recession], Oak Park implemented a parcel tax to improve schools, built two new elementary schools, giving it three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. With this money, it was able to reduce class size. People had the perception, real or perceived, that because there was a better teacher-to-student ratio, the schools were superior. And what Jewish family doesn’t want a good education for their child?

“People began to move from the San Fernando Valley and L.A., where kids were being bused; the impetus was that children could attend local schools and stay close to home. Safetywise, it was a throwback to the ’50s and ’60s, when children could walk to school and play on the street. That didn’t exist anymore in the Valley,” Ovdat continued. “In Oak Park, you could find safe, old-fashioned, traditional neighborhoods with lots of stay-at-home moms. There was a wonderful feeling of safety and good values – that’s why people fell in love with Oak Park and the area.”

That feeling of safety, coupled with excellent local schools, is the reason Oak Park is now one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in Southern California, reports Mark Moskowitz, Realtor for Century 21 in Westlake Village.

“We have a certain client that only wants Oak Park because of the school system,” says Moskowitz. “Most good homes on the market are sold within a week to 10 days, if the seller isn’t asking too much.”The high demand, plus the shortage of homes on the market, makes Oak Park one of the hottest areas around.

“It’s all supply and demand,” says Moskowitz. “In the last two years, what was the [least] expensive home is now very expensive.”

A typical 1,600- to 2,000-square-foot Oak Park home ranges in price from $280,000 to $375,000, while a 2,000- to 2,400-square-foot home ranges from $375,000 to $475,000. Newer homes, such as those in upscale Morrison Ranch and Sutton Valley, range from $475,000 to $800,000 and beyond. Interestingly, there are no gated communities.

But given the lack of available homes and the high interest rates, a lot of people are being pushed out of the market, says Moskowitz.

“Some decide to rent or settle in a different area, like Agoura Hills. But some decide not to move out at all.”

Carey and Yehuda Fried, two of Moskowitz’s clients, decided to rent. Newlyweds in 1998, they were living in L.A. and hating it. Both Frieds were working in Agoura Hills and spending every available minute commuting.

“The commute was tough and we had no life,” says Carey, Director of Education at CalSource in Agoura Hills. “We knew we wanted to be part of a community where we would have an impact and where we could grow and help others grow, too. That wasn’t happening in L.A.”

Friends encouraged them to “live where they worked, work where they lived.”

With that in mind, they visited friends last year during Sukkot and attended the Chabad House in Agoura Hills. They liked the area, and the people were friendly, but they were still unsure of making the move.Then Moskowitz found them a townhouse in Oak Park, which they loved. They moved in March and have never looked back.

“You pay for the quality of life here, for safe neighborhoods, the beauty of nature. On Shabbat, we walk to the Oak Park Chabad on a nature trail right across from our house. About half the people we pass say, ‘Shabbat shalom.’ Everyone is amazingly friendly.”

“We’ve reduced our whole life to a 10-mile radius,” Carey says. “There are kosher shops out here, the Kosher Connection, and the local Albertsons and Ralphs carry kosher foods. And [the Oak Park Chabad] is building a day school, to open in 2001.”

Carey has grown to love the open feeling, the quiet and the beauty, the children playing in the streets; so much so, that she and her husband are on a mission to get their friends to move out, too.

“We tell everyone to move out here,” Carey laughs. “Every weekend we’re home we have quests from L.A. They all love it. We want to put Oak Park on the map.”

Their only reservation is that one day they have dreams of moving to Israel. But who knows, maybe the allure of Oak Park is that it’s the next best thing.

“We’re in a very good place here, and we’re part of the growth of the community. I love the people, I love the community. And when we walk through the park, my husband and I say, ‘It smells like Israel, it looks like Israel, and it feels like Israel.'”