12 tips on how to donate; 12 tips on how to fundraise

I run a nonprofit called Big Sunday. The idea behind Big Sunday is that absolutely everyone has some way to help somebody else. As we like to say, “There are no haves-and-have-nots, just haves-and-have-mores. Everyone has something.” And we can get so much more done when we all work together. So, we connect people and nonprofits in all kinds of ways. I think this is a nice mission, and I believe in it, and it has worked well for us. But as a result, not a day goes by that I don’t ask somebody for something — time, talent, stuff, money or some combination of those. Truly, there is not a soul that I know who I have not asked for something. That includes my wife, my kids, my mother, my friends, my acquaintances, my lawyer, the woman who cuts my hair, the guy who cuts my lawn, my son’s guitar teacher, some guy who was sitting at our table at a wedding last year, another guy who we found sleeping on the sidewalk outside my office, and even an enemy or two.

At the same time, I am an alumnus of various places, I have three kids who have gone to a bunch of different schools, I support numerous charities, I have donated to various political candidates; I am on the board of three different organizations; I worry about everything from climate change to Ebola, I know lots of people who know that they’ve helped my cause, and I’m a soft touch for an underdog story. So, I am often asked to give, too. 

And now, here we are again, in the season of giving. So, it seemed like a good time to share my tales from the trenches, with my rules for better giving — and getting.

If you’re a donor:

Donate from your heart. At the end of the day, we’re just people giving our money to other people. To make it worthwhile — to you — find a cause you care about, be it literacy, hunger, cancer, the environment, or even pot-bellied pigs. Yes, there are organizations for all of them. And, while fighting hunger may seem … loftier … than fighting for pot-bellied pigs, the pigs need someone on their side, too. Pigs may speak to you for some reason, whether for their intelligence, their girth, their sloth, their resemblance to a beloved friend. For all I know, for their very treyfness. The truth is, there are abandoned pot-bellied pigs out there — really, we’ve sent volunteers to help them — and they need to be sheltered and fed (Hey! You’re fighting hunger, after all!), and your donation helps make that happen. It, too, is all good, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Use your head. So, you want to donate to pot-bellied pigs. Great! But first find an agency that you can feel you can trust. There are websites like charitynavigator.org and guidestar.org that can do your vetting for you. If the nonprofit you want to help is local, stop by wherever they do their work or go to one of their events. Also, most nonprofits have websites you can check out. Of course, these days anyone can have a slick website, but there are certain things to look for, such as the agency’s Internal Revenue Service identification number, which allows you to verify their legitimacy. Many nonprofits also post the names of their board of directors; check those out to see if you know anyone on the board. If it’s someone you like and respect, that’s a good sign. 

What’s the mission? Every nonprofit has a mission. It is usually a sentence or two that states clearly what the nonprofit is trying to do. Usually it is posted on the organization’s website. It’s good to read it because a) it shows whether the nonprofit is clear about its goal, and b) it lets you know if that’s something you want to support. I know this sounds pretty basic, but sometimes people can be disappointed by a nonprofit not delivering, even though the expectation was for something it never intended to do in the first place. An example: At one of our volunteer events, we were packing bags full of toiletries for homeless people. One well-intentioned yet slightly overeager volunteer started barking at the other volunteers: “You’ve got to move faster! We’re not here to have a good time!” Actually, we were there to have a good time. Sure, packing the toiletry kits was important, but if someone checked our mission statement, they’d see that bringing people together in the name of helping is a huge part of what we do, too.

Vetting. If you really want to get into it, many nonprofits post their budget online, too. And, if it’s not on their website, it’s still public information. A couple of years ago, I was sending our proposed budget to my board of directors for them to look over to approve. I sent the email late at night and accidentally sent it to the wrong group: Instead of sending it to our board, I accidentally sent it to the executive directors of about 100 of our nonprofit partners. Oops. But I learned a whole bunch of things from this experience. a) If you send an email you didn’t mean to send, and follow it up quickly with an email that says, “Oops! I sent that by mistake. Don’t read” that only encourages people to read it faster. b) Most of my fellow executive directors are nice and hard-working people who are still answering their emails late at night and felt my pain — and are able to read budgets quickly. c) If someone doesn’t want you to see their budget, that’s a problem. One executive director responded to my mistake with an email that read like a condolence note. I told him that it was no big deal. Sure, it was a mistake, but, after all, our budget is public information and, more to the point, I had nothing to hide. We never communicated again, and about a year later, I heard he’d left the agency he was running. (Just sayin’.)

Take the Ice Bucket Challenge. One day last summer, I woke up and innocently checked my Facebook page and was curious to find my friend Gary pouring a bucket of ice water over his head. On the same page, a fellow named Trip, who I hadn’t seen since high school (class of ’77) was pouring a bucket of water on his head. This led me to a video with no less than Ethel Kennedy, standing at the end of a long line of Kennedys, pouring a bucket over her head. This was  amazing for all kinds of reasons, starting with the fact that I didn’t realize that Ethel Kennedy was still alive. But clearly this was something that had touched people’s imaginations — quickly. Soon, everyone from Oprah to Bill Gates was pouring buckets of water on his or her head. And it was wonderful and raised great awareness and more than $100 million to fight ALS, a terrible disease. For many people, it was fun to be part of this phenomenon, and more power to them. And now, I’m sure that half the nonprofits in America are coming up with their own ideas in the hopes they’ll go viral — “The Jell-O Challenge,” “The Pogo Stick Challenge.” For my part, I figured that if Oprah and Bill were onboard, ALS didn’t need me, so I hoped against hope that no one would challenge me to pour ice water on my head (an embarrassing secret, please don’t tell anyone), and I’d give my money elsewhere. But that’s me. The fact is, there was a great lesson in it: Be open to learning about and supporting a new cause. 

Know what you’re giving to. I know, I know, that also sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised. There are a lot of organizations whose names sound alike. If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, “You guys are great! I just love Super Sunday!” I would have as much money as … Super Sunday — which is a terrific event run by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and which has absolutely nothing to do with us. (Note to our friends at Super Sunday: No, we haven’t gotten any of your donations. But if you’ve gotten any of ours, please give me a call! Thanks.)

If you don’t know what you’re giving to, at least follow the lead of someone you trust. Earlier this year, I went to a fundraiser. It was an amazing event, beautifully planned, with hundreds of people, all having a great time. Even better, it netted six figures for an excellent charity. And I will bet you six figures that at least half the people there had no idea what charity they were supporting. The event was put together by a large group of well-connected people who each got all of their friends to come. And the friends clearly took it on faith that if the friend who invited them was behind it enough to do all this hard work, it must be a good cause. And FYI: I am neither complaining about this, nor looking down my nose at these folks. They gave a lot of money for this “good cause,” whatever it may be. And, in truth, they learned a thing or two about that good cause during the evening. Perhaps they’ll get more involved in the years to come. Who knows? Maybe they’re writing another big, fat check right now. Mainly, I am just jealous that it was for that organization and not mine.

If you’re a numbers person, read the fine print. Metrics can be helpful. Yes, absolutely. But, when money gets tight, such as during the recession, people start looking for numbers as proof of something. Anything. And although numbers can be helpful, most numbers can be tweaked, massaged or, for that matter, invented to tell any story. Test scores rise when teachers teach to the test. Recidivism rates fall when the time frame being measured isn’t clear. Sometimes the definition of what is being measured is so complicated that no one really knows exactly what is being talked about. And some important things like happiness or self-esteem are much harder, despite our best efforts, to measure.

If you’re a people person, read the fine print. A tear-jerking story — or video — can be persuasive, too. But make sure there’s some sizzle with the steak. Being a raconteur is a gift, as is making an effective video. Take a few minutes to see what the nonprofit is really doing. How many people are in their programs each year? Is the heartwarming story the exception or the rule? Does the nonprofit have any kind of measurable goals, and have they been met? 

If 100 percent of a charity’s donations are going directly to programming, that is not a good thing. Sure, we all like to think that a charity is maximizing our donation. And the best ones do. But if an organization is run only through volunteers and donations, how is that sustainable? (It’s not.) People who work at nonprofits bring a wide variety of skills and talents and are performing all kinds of necessary jobs, just like those working in the for-profit world, except they do it for a cause. Sometimes, however, donors seem to expect people in the nonprofit world to be saints or nuns. (We’re definitely not, except, of course, for the actual nuns, who are great, but they can speak for themselves.) Aside from the necessary evils of overhead — like rent and insurance — a nonprofit needs to pay its employees to do the hard work that you are supporting. And if you’re supporting it, you should want good employees to do the work so that the job is done well. The first person we ever paid was our Web guy. He was a sweet and sincere guy, and when I offered him a (lousy) stipend, he was insulted; he said he’d helped us out of love. I told him that I wasn’t paying him for his sake, but for mine. We’d been an all-volunteer organization, and it wasn’t working anymore. We were growing fast and were dependent upon our website. Since he was a volunteer, juggling it with a real job, every time I needed something, I was asking him for a favor. It had gotten so that I had to steel myself every time I talked with him. If he became a paid employee, I didn’t have to feel bad telling him I need it Tuesday. And, while people in the nonprofit world know they will not be making nearly as much money as their peers in the for-profit world, they do like to eat and, in fact, deserve halfway decent compensation. That makes for happier people, doing better and more sustainable jobs, and, ultimately, making the most of your generous donations!

Emergencies. When something happens — a tsunami, a hurricane, some devastating event — we all want to help. Usually the newspaper or a search engine has suggestions on where you can donate. Find an organization you’ve heard of. If it’s important to you to directly help the victims of the disaster, make sure your donation is going to that, and not the agency’s general fundraising. Often, new organizations spring up to help local victims. These are almost always started with the best of intentions; however, I’d recommend against them. Starting a nonprofit is challenging under the best of circumstances. Better, I’d say, to not start sending money to a nonprofit that’s trying to get up and running and making a difference all while fighting some kind of disaster.

Feel good. There is no shame in feeling good about the money you are giving away. You’ve worked hard for it, and it’s awfully nice of you to give it away. And that’s true whether it’s $1 or $1 million. You know what makes you feel good about your donation. It could be knowing that one child fewer is going to bed hungry. It could be seeing your name on a plaque on a wall. Maybe it’s a combination. Or maybe it’s something else. Think hard — and honestly — about why you want to give money away. You don’t have to share the reasoning with anyone else. But you should know that any of the reasons are OK because, at the end of the day, it’s your money and you’re using it in a way that is meaningful to you to help someone else and to make the world a better place. And if you get some pleasure out of that, so much the better. After all, if you enjoy giving your money away this time, you’re that much more likely to give it away again — and you’ll help that many more people.

If you’re a fundraiser:

It’s not a donation, it’s an opportunity! I know, it sounds like a line — and yeah, I’ve used it — but  it’s true. When someone makes a donation, they are fighting for a cause. Causes need money, whether to raise awareness, build a building, or create or sustain programs. People can give their money to all kinds of places, whether it’s the American Cancer Society or Bloomingdale’s. When someone gives away their money to a charitable endeavor, in whatever amount, they are doing their part to do what they can to make the world a better place. They can do this in addition to donating their time and their talent, or instead of it. Many donors, large and small, are looking for a way to help. Your job as a fundraiser is not to take their money, but to show them where they can make a difference. 

It’s not an adventure, it’s a job! As I said at the outset, there is no one I’ve met whom I haven’t asked for something. I sometimes worry that I’m the biggest nuisance this side of the Mississippi. I once said to someone, “Sometimes, I worry that when people see me coming, they’re going to cross the street,” to which someone in the room replied — “Too late, David. They already do.” Ah, yes. In any case, when I ask someone for a donation, I do sometimes remind them — between apologies for asking them for yet one more thing — that I am simply doing my job as the executive director of a nonprofit. And I urge development directors to do the same. In fact, even if you’re a volunteer raising money for your house of worship or your child’s school, you’re doing your job. Feel free to remind the person you’re asking that that is what you’re doing, that you take your job seriously, and that you’d be neglecting your responsibilities if you didn’t. They will understand. (And then they have to do their job: Say yes or no.)

Know when to fold ’em. So, you’ve asked someone for a donation. And it went well. They seemed enthusiastic. Excited even. And they needed to think about it. Fine. You followed up with an email. Then another. Then a call. No answer, no response, you got their voicemail. Weeks go by. Now what? Here’s my rule: If it’s someone you have a personal relationship with — a friend, neighbor, person you just know, parent at your child’s school — drop it. They don’t want to give or maybe they can’t swing it now. Whatever. It happens, and it’s probably nothing personal. And they’re probably uncomfortable or embarrassed to just tell you, or they keep meaning to let you know but never quite want to. Just let it go. (And a note to that donor: Just say no. Please. It’s fine. Really! I never — ever! — get upset or annoyed when someone says no. I so get it. But I do get a tad frustrated if you leave me hanging and wasting my time calling and emailing and trying to track you down so I can know where I stand and make a plan.) However, if it’s a corporate ask, and you have made your request to the corporate gatekeeper, keep sending those emails and making those calls. A few years back, I met with a fellow who handles donations for a large corporation. He’s a nice guy. We had a friendly meeting. I gave him my rap. He seemed interested. And I never heard from him again. Not for lack of trying. He just stopped answering my emails. Or taking or returning my calls. Clearly, he doesn’t want to give me money, and that is certainly his prerogative. But at what point was I supposed to figure that out? Besides, isn’t that, um, his job? My job is to ask him for money. I did my job; the least he can do is his. Postscript: I keep emailing the guy. Still. Of course, he’s not going to give me money. I just do it out of spite. (I told you that people who run nonprofits aren’t saints!)

Art, science, common sense and the truth. A few years back, we were hosting a big event at a low-income school. We were cleaning classrooms, painting murals, giving away clothes, bringing in an endangered-animal show, having a picnic and even hosting carnival games. It was a way to fill some needs at the school and, more than that, to get the whole community involved — kids, teachers, parents, neighbors — with a school that was really struggling. It became basically a school fair. If we didn’t do it, no one would. I asked a nice, intelligent, well-to-do woman if she’d underwrite it. She asked me, “Will it raise test scores?” Um, probably not. I was sorry to have to break this news to her. (Heck, I wanted the donation!) But I did. Yet, I said, it would fill some important needs (in addition to things like the clothes being given away, the school would look much better when we were done; among other things, it had virtually no custodial service) while building community. For many parents, it was the first time they’d have the opportunity to help out at their kids’ school while being welcomed in a friendly and non-threatening way. There is, I believe, great value in this. My donor agreed and wrote me a generous check. She’d been, I think, so nervous about asking the “right question” that she asked the wrong one. Then again, she gave me an opportunity. I was able to tell her what was unique about our program and what we were trying to do. She’d go for it or not. The fact is, I think asking for money — and donating — is an art, not a science. And your best bet is to present the big picture, answer any and all questions, and always tell the truth.

Naming opportunities, giving anonymously and everything in between. I know, I know — some people consider anonymous giving the highest form of charity. And I applaud people who do. Plus, I understand that there are all sorts of reasons for it — whether it’s a religious ideal or just the hope that they can buy themselves a few more minutes of peace and quiet from people like me who will see how much they’ve given some other organization and come around asking for some for mine. (Apologies, belatedly and in advance.) Some people might worry that they or their children will be preyed upon. All good reasons. On the other hand, when a nonprofit is able to publicize someone’s support — whether on the side of a building or on a list of donors — it tells the world that that person (whether an individual, a corporation or a foundation) believes in this nonprofit and is supporting it. They have become a seal of approval. Not too shabby. Actually, quite flattering. And if you are on your toes, you can leverage that donation and turn it into more money to help support the important cause you are working hard to help. Tell the donor. They will be pleased not only that their gift will be paid forward, but that they are donating to an organization that is thinking ahead. However, if they choose to remain anonymous, absolutely, positively honor that. 

Tchotchkes. Ah, yes. The tchotchke question. Some donors like an acknowledgement of their gift, whether it’s a Plexiglas knick-knack or a canvas tote bag. Others take umbrage at the idea that their donation could in any way go to pay for a tchotchke, rather than fulfilling the mission of the organization. It’s a dilemma for the nonprofit, which is trying to please all its donors. (Trust me.) My suggestion: Compromise with what my grandmother would call “a little something” — a plaque, a certificate, a mug, a T-shirt. (No one gets out of my office without a T-shirt. Aside from everything else, it’s great advertising for us, plus the year’s major sponsors’ names are on the back.) Further, let people know how little you spent on these things, and remind them, like I just did, that it’s a great way to get your name out there. For that matter, let them in on the trade secret of this dilemma. Ask them what they think you should do. They’ll feel your pain. Finally, use it as an opportunity to once again sincerely tell your donor how much you appreciate their support, how you couldn’t do what you’re doing without their help, and fill them in on what’s really important: your organization’s latest accomplishments and the fulfillment of your goals. Full disclosure: I don’t like tchotchkes and usually give them out only because I sometimes feel I have to. Fuller disclosure: Last year I went to a fundraiser and grumbled irritably about the gift bag they handed me as I left and what a waste it was. Until I opened the gift bag and discovered all this great stuff inside. Delicious chocolates, a nice book, a bottle of wine. All in a reusable tote bag! It was fantastic! Plus, the stuff was probably all donated! Next time that nonprofit has a fundraiser, I’m in!

Celebrities. Yeah, yeah. I like celebrities as much as the next guy. And for sure, many celebrities have done wonderful things for all kinds of causes — Elizabeth Taylor and AIDS, Princess Diana fighting landmines, Brad Pitt building houses in New Orleans. Celebrities can bring attention to a cause, and, of course, money, too. But don’t be blinded by a celebrity just because they’re a celebrity. Or worse, someone in the role of a “celebrity.” I was once at a fundraiser that honored a “celebrity.” I know from celebrities, and honest to God, I don’t know who this woman was or how many other celebrities the group had approached before they got to her. Anyway, one thing I do know is that she was — how can I say this nicely? — an idiot. It was for a group that helped runaway teens, and when this “celebrity” got up to accept her award — she had no trouble with tchotchkes — she admitted that she knew almost nothing about the organization (two points for honesty, I guess) and told some story about how she was once supposed to go to a party to help these teens but got called out of town for a photo shoot and felt really, really bad. That’s it. Oy. In truth, her presence was belittling to the nonprofit, its clients and the people there to support it. Everyone’s time would have been better spent learning more about the nonprofit and what we can do to help. Sure, every group wants Angelina Jolie or George Clooney. But they’re not always available. So, rather than go way down the food chain, have faith in your organization, your cause and your supporters, and let your story and your hard work speak for itself. 

The touch and the table. You’ve gotta know who you are and what you’re comfortable with. For instance, someone once told me that there’s a rule that you’re supposed to have a certain number of “touches” — meaning the number of times you see a potential donor — before you ask him or her for a donation. You take ’em out to lunch, or give ’em call, or show ’em what a great guy you are. Then you hit ’em up. Hmm. To me, in that world, everyone is a mark, and your relationship to the world becomes one of manipulating someone to get something out of them. It might be a good way to raise money, but I think it’s a rotten way to live, so I don’t do it. Similarly, I’m willing to “leave money on the table.” I know I shouldn’t, and please don’t tell anyone. And yes, some people don’t leave anything behind, and more power to them. Truly, I admire them. Envy them, even. But it’s just not my style. Anytime I try, I fail miserably. Besides, the way I figure, presumably that table’s still going to be there next year, and if I leave the donor feeling good, he or she will be more likely to have me back to it. Here’s the thing: Know the methods that work for you — and the ones that don’t. 

A special word about big donors. A while back, I was introduced to a potential big donor. I suspected she was a potential big donor, and then I pulled up to her house. Then I knew she was a potential big donor. She’s a lovely person, and after she heard my shpiel, she said, “So, what are you going to ask me for?” To which I replied, “I don’t know. I just met you. What are you interested in?” You see, I didn’t want to just ask her for money. I wanted to ask her to support something she was invested in. This wasn’t just to get as much money as I could out of her. It was because I liked her. She’d invited me into her house and spent time with me; the least I could do is take the time to figure out what she’d like in return. So, she told me what she cared about, and a week or two later, I proposed a program to address that interest. She said yes, and that program has gone on to be one of the most popular and successful things we do. It was a terrific situation, because it was a program we’d wanted to do for a while, but the funding hadn’t been available. These days, many people say they want to “start a nonprofit” when what they really want to do is start a program at a nonprofit. I, like many nonprofit executives, am always open to new ideas and suggestions. Most nonprofits are. And, if you meet someone who has the means, you should take the opportunity to try to bring a big idea to life. For sure, we would never take on a project that does not fit our mission, and we would recommend against any nonprofit that would. But a good  nonprofit can use its know-how to take a donor’s good idea, come up with a plan, maximize it and do the heavy lifting to help make the donor’s vision a reality. Working with big donors in this way, you can give each other a big bang for their buck. 

A special word about small donors. We all know that small donors can make a huge difference. The Obama presidential campaigns were certainly game-changers in this regard, but now there are all kinds of crowdfunding resources (just Google “crowdfunding”) that can help you raise a lot of money for many good causes. (Note: Some of these are nonprofits; some are for-profit.) These can be especially beneficial for organizations that target a younger demographic and/or have a quick, compelling story to tell (everything from victims of a natural disaster to Karen the bullied bus driver, just check YouTube — you’ll give, trust me). Always remember that some person’s $5 is someone else’s $5,000. Money may be a significant factor in these people’s lives — after all, they may not have a ton of it whether because they’re starting out, don’t have much to spare or are on a fixed income — and their decision to support you is quite meaningful and flattering. Plus, of course, you never know who is taking your nonprofit for a test drive, who knows who, and which of today’s small donors will be tomorrow’s internet billionaire. Besides, many small donors can help your nonprofit in all kinds of other ways, too.

Urge people to see your work in action. I’m always trying to get our donors to see their donation in action. Oh, I don’t care if they’re out there painting or cleaning or breaking a sweat. I’m proud of what we do, and I just think that their donation will resonate more for them if they can see the payoff. I think most nonprofit leaders feel the same. I’ve even told donors, “Don’t come. Just do a drive-by and see what you’ve helped create. No one even has to see you!” The fact is, for many people, writing the check is enough. And if it’s enough for them, it’s enough for me. Then again, if I have pictures, or a video, or some testimonials, I’ll take the liberty of sending them along with an extra word of thanks.

What’s the dream? Earlier, we talked about mission. That is the goal of the nonprofit. But what’s the dream? Where does the nonprofit want to be in a year, or two years, or 10 years? This is a big-picture question. A nonprofit is on a path, and any donation, large or small, is going to help it get there. (OK, a large donation may help it get there faster.) And, for sure, the dream should be in service to the mission. But if anything were possible, what would you want? To provide permanent housing for 50,000 people? To replicate your nonprofit’s model in 10 different cities? To cure an awful disease? It’s exciting for people to buy into a dream and to help make it come true. Make sure, though, that the dream — no matter how extravagant — has some way to get there. For instance, if you’re running an afterschool program and the dream is to create a college scholarship program for five kids in five years, after you ask someone to write a check, they might ask you: How will you make this happen? A good answer: “It will cost about a quarter of a million dollars. I think I can get the first $100,000 from three different donors. I have a list of 20 more people, where I’m hoping to get $5,000 to $10,000 apiece, and here are six foundations that support this. We’ll need to start that process now. If we start a small annual fundraiser, that should help make up the difference. I’d love to do it in four years, but realistically we’re looking at five.” Great. You know what you need, and what it’ll take to get there. A bad answer: “This is so important to me, and the kids need it so badly. Yesterday, this boy was in my office crying because he wanted so badly to go to college. And I am not going to rest until he does!” Impressive and moving, for sure. And it would be great to sit near you at a dinner party. But you’re not necessarily someone I’d want to write a big check to.

One last thing: Whether you’re donating or fundraising, keep your eyes on the prize. Remember, this isn’t about money; it’s about fighting for a cause. Curing cancer. Fighting hunger. Finding a home for a pot-bellied pig. Whoever you are, whatever you do, however much money you have or don’t have, there is some way that you can help somebody else.

Thank you for reading this far. And thank you for being someone looking to share their wealth to make the world that much better.

David T. Levinson is the founder and executive director of Big Sunday (bigsunday.org) and the author of “Everyone Helps, Everyone Wins: How Absolutely Anyone Can Pitch in, Help Out, Give Back and Make the World a Better Place.” He is also a philanthropy adviser.

Germany donating $80 million to maintain Auschwitz

Germany has committed to a donation of $80 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, for the preservation and restoration of the memorial at the site of the Nazi concentration camp.

Germany’s contribution will be split between the federal government and the states, and will be disbursed in five annual installments, according to the German Foreign Ministry.

The contribution is by far the largest to the foundation, which was established in 2009 with the aim of securing long-term financing for the upkeep of the memorial.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement Wednesday that the commitment underscored Germany’s “historical responsibility to keep the remembrance of the Holocaust alive, and to convey [this remembrance] to future generations.”

More than 1 million people, most of them Jews from across Europe, were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, starting in 1942. The camp was liberated by Red Army soldiers on Jan. 27, 1945.

According to reports, many original structures are badly in need of repair.

The foundation aims to establish a $160 million capital stock fund. The United States is contributing $15 million, and several European countries have pledged to contribute as well.

Tikkun Olam


When it comes to helping victims of the Southeast Asian tsunami, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is taking the adage, “teach a man how to fish,” quite literally.

As part of its long-term relief efforts for victims of the Dec. 26 tragedy, the group is working with its partner organizations in the region, including the Sanghamitra Service Society in Andhra Pradesh, India, which helps local fishing communities with sustainable development and disaster preparedness. The philosophy behind the group’s post-tsunami effort is the same as that behind general AJWS operations — long-term efforts through collaboration with groups in the region.

“We don’t just go in and leave. We go in and we develop,” said Ronni Strongin, a spokeswoman for AJWS, which already has raised more than $2 million in online contributions alone for tsunami victims.

The AJWS isn’t alone in its approach: While not ignoring immediate needs, other Jewish groups also are planning aid that addresses the long-range needs of areas affected by the tsunami, which is believed to have claimed at least 150,000 lives. (For how to help, see sidebar, page 21.)

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which has raised more than $1.7 million, is taking a similar approach.

“Everybody comes in to provide emergency relief, and then they all leave and there’s nobody left behind to help rebuild the infrastructure,” said Steven Schwager, JDC executive vice president. “While a portion of our money will go for short-term emergency relief, a larger part of our money will go for infrastructure to leave something behind that the Jewish community can get credit for.”

That approach is likely to influence the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, an umbrella of North American Jewish organizations, expected to convene next week at the JDC’s request. The group provides a central address and decision-making process for disbursement of Jewish relief aid.

Until then, the JDC plans to allocate funds it has raised to local agencies on the ground, like the International Rescue Committee in Indonesia. In India, it will send funds to the local Jewish community.

Nearly 40 Jewish federations are soliciting funds for the tsunami victims and plan to donate the money directly to JDC, according to the United Jewish Communities, the coordinating body of the federation system. The JDC is an overseas partner of the federation system. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has so far collected about $150,000, a portion of which will go to the JDC, and the remainder to an international aid organization.

Like other groups collecting relief money, Jewish organizations report that donors have responded quickly.

“The response has been very good,” said Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, which has collected more than $200,000 so far.

For its part, the Union for Reform Judaism announced that it is donating $100,000 to organizations helping tsunami victims. Further allocations from the union’s aid fund, which so far has taken in more than $300,000, will be made in coming weeks, the union announced.

Israel also is pitching in. Over the weekend, a 70-ton shipment from Israel arrived in Sri Lanka fromthe Israeli charity organization Latet, “to give” in Hebrew. The $300,000 airlift includes the most urgently needed equipment: 250,000 water purifying tablets, 1,000 water containers, medical equipment and medication. According to Sri Lankan sources, it is the largest aid thus far from civilian organizations. In addition, volunteers with ZAKA, the Israeli organization that collects victims’ body parts after terrorist attacks, have been identifying bodies in Thailand.

The aftermath of the disaster has allowed for a breakthrough of sorts for Israel’s chief relief agency. Magen David Adom officials have been involved in discussions with the International Red Cross on providing aid. That’s a first for the Israeli group, according to Daniel Allen, executive vice president of American Red Magen David for Israel, which raises funds for the Israeli group.

The International Red Cross has excluded Magen David Adom from such discussions in the past, and has forced the Israeli group to wear different uniforms. But Magen David Adom intends to build a self-standing field clinic in the disaster zone, and this time its workers will be able to wear their uniforms, adorned with a red Jewish star, when they arrive in the region next week.

In addition to increased collaboration between the American Red Cross and its Israeli counterpart, and pressure by the American Red Cross on Israel’s behalf, “no one was going to deny anybody the opportunity to help,” Allen said.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, also is soliciting funds to allow Hadassah medical staff in Israel to travel to the region to offer their services.

Chabad has also provided a variety of services in Thailand. Among its efforts, the local branch of Chabad paid for ZAKA volunteers to go to the resort island of Phuket to identify both Jewish and non-Jewish victims, and the three Chabad Houses in Thailand have served as crisis centers for Israeli survivors of the disaster.

On New Year’s Day, Chabad also sent five victims — four to Israel and one to Britain — home for burial.

Here in Los Angeles, Jewish institutions also are stepping up to the plate by sending aid, raising money, holding benefit concerts and educational and religious ceremonies.

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles has been working with the Sri Lanka consulate here to send aid. After Gamini Pemasiri,Acting Consul General of Sri Lanka in Los Angeles, made an urgent call for assistance to Ehud Danoch, the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, they arranged for an El Al cargo plane loaded with over 3,000 pounds of locally donated baby food, medicines and other emergency supplies to leave to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to be transferred to the hardest hit areas of Sri Lanka.

At schools around the city and Valley, teachers and educators talked to their students about the disaster that occurred over the holiday break. “Today is the first day of school since the tsunami disaster of one week ago…. What shall we say to our children?” Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, education director at Pressman Academy, wrote to parents. He said that teachers will address the tsunami and talk about pikuah nefesh, saving a human life. Others, he wrote, will talk about the idea of refuah, healing, and how we are obligated to help others in need. All teachers will talk about tzedakah, the need to give charity, and to do the right thing. They will also collect tzedakah each morning for the victims.

“Please give your child an opportunity to earn some money of his or her own, so that he/she can bring his/her own contribution,” the letter stated. And if a parent is making a donation online or writing a check, Malkus advised, “invite your children to watch so that they can learn the mitzvah of Tzedakah from their most important teachers.”


A Berry-Bursting Celebration

When my daughter was born, I walked the floors of our Atlanta home night after night, day after day, holding her while she slept or when she cried, stopping always in front of the wall of backyard windows framing a forest of trees. As I grew into my unexpected role of single motherhood, I watched the bare trees bend, and sometimes break under the weight of silver winter icicles. Then, as if reborn, I saw the same trees stretch tall and proud with tight spring blossoms of white, pink and lavender, before expanding, under the summer rains, into a lush landscape of green. Finally, these magnificent trees transformed, as if to colored music, into passionate reds, singing oranges and dancing yellows of fall, just as we packed our boxes and moved away.

In our cozy Portland apartment, my daughter and I would often sit by a tall living room window and look at the plump, round bushes bouncing under the rain and the rows of healthy trees hovering over the parking lot, filling the surrounding hills in a green mist.

After exhausting, frenetic days of unpacking in our apartment in Los Angeles, I finally sat down at my desk positioned in front of a window to write. But all I could see were white stucco walls, black wires and, only if I leaned forward and looked up, the long, skinny necks of two distant palm trees. Right then I understood how profoundly trees define place. I prayed to find a way to embrace this one.

Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees, emphasizes the nourishing, even spiritual, relationship between man and trees.

"For a human is like the tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19), the kabbalists believed. So, in addition to donating money to plant much-needed trees in Israel, there is — according to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in "Jewish Literacy" (William Morrow, 1991) — the Tu B’Shevat seder, which kabbalists began in the 16th century. The kabbalists believed eating a variety of tree-born fruits during a seder ritual — such as olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, apples, walnuts, carob, pears and cherries — was a tangible way of improving our spiritual selves. So I decided to honor Tu B’Shevat by making a fruit and nut sauce I could eat every day.

I started by toasting some chopped walnuts and adding three different fruit juices. Then I cut up some plump medjool dates and added fresh cranberries. As I stirred the softening fruits over a flame, I recalled the urban shock I went into after our move to Los Angeles, and how on long walks with my daughter, I recovered my balance through observing the trees.

First, I discovered a tree leaning over our mailbox that grows tiny white peaches perfect for summer pies. And then, I noticed just above head-height branches at the end of our walkway, dangling, sun-glistening lemons close enough to touch. And each fall, as we passed the Japanese-style garden on the way to my daughter’s school, I watched the green leaves of one sculptured tree open up to blossoming persimmons.

As the cranberry walnut date sauce thickened to a velvet red, I remembered the squished berries that used to stick to our shoes, until my daughter and I learned which sidewalks to walk on and which ones to avoid, when the trees in our neighborhood dropped their inedible red fruits.

Unfortunately, I haven’t learned to love the urban view from my Los Angeles apartment. But from my desk over the last five years, I have looked above the city walls at those skinny palms and watched them stand ghost still against a summer cobalt sky, tussle playfully in a spring breeze or lean desperately, without breaking, in fierce winter winds. From those two trees, I have learned how to be in a place that is not yet home — to be still, to play and to bend, when necessary, without breaking.

Cranberry Walnut Date Sauce

This sauce has a wonderful bright taste that I love with my bowl of fruit and yogurt in the morning. Because of its full texture, it is also delicious as a spread on a thick slice of date nut bread. And the majestic red color and sweet aroma of these cooked berries is guaranteed to make you grateful for fruit bearing trees every time you make it.

1¼2 cup walnuts, chopped

1¼2 cup orange juice

1¼4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice (from 20-ounce can)

1¼2 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks, sliced small (from can)

1¼4 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

1¼3 cup sugar

1¼4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1¼2 cup fresh medjool dates, chopped

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed well

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir walnuts constantly until aromatic and toasted, approximately one to two minutes. Add remaining ingredients to walnuts, stirring well. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer uncovered until most berries pop open and liquid thickens, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure to stir every few minutes and if necessary, add 1¼4 cup of water to keep ingredients moist but not watery. Sauce thickens as it cools. Transfer to medium bowl to cool. Refrigerate until use.

Servings: Two and a half cups

Serving Suggestions: As a side to meats, a sauce for yogurts or a spread on breads.

Lisa Solomon’s food articles have been seen in several publications, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.

Community Briefs

Financial Institutions Waive Fees forSurvivors

More than 100 of California’s largest financial institutions have agreed to waive wire-transfer fees charged Holocaust survivors and their families for reparation and restitution payments from abroad.

These payments, mainly from Germany, average $350 per month, and with banks up to now charging a $10-$40 handling fee per transfer, such fees can subtract up to 10 percent of the modest monthly checks.

The announcement that 108 California banks, credit unions, savings and loans and broker-dealers had pledged to eliminate the fees was made by State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who earlier had sent letters to 170 leading financial institutions requesting the voluntary waiver.

Some 140 of these institutions engaged in more than $70 billion worth of transactions with the state treasurer’s office during the last fiscal year.

Much of the impetus for the waiver campaign came from Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. The free legal service organization has represented close to 2,000 indigent Holocaust survivors, said Mitchell Kamin, its executive director.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 survivors live in California, the second largest such concentration in the United States, of whom some 6,000 to 8,000 receive restitution payments. Among the latter, about 40 percent live in poverty, said Kamin.

Angelides and Kamin spoke at a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 4, in San Francisco, held at the offices of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which assists more than 1,000 survivors each year.

A list of cooperating banks and other financial institutions can be found on the Web at www.treasurer.ca.gov/holocaust. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Sharsheret Head Honored for Fight Against BreastCancer

Rochelle Shoretz, founder and executive director of Sharsheret, an organization linking young Jewish women fighting breast cancer, was recently named a Yoplait Champion in the Fight Against Breast Cancer.

Yoplait will donate $1,000 to Sharsheret, and Shoretz will be recognized in the October issue of Self Magazine and at a two-day awards ceremony in New York City in September.

Since she founded Sharsheret two years ago while in chemotherapy at the age of 28, Shoretz, a former clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has received national recognition for her efforts to forge one-on-one supportive relationships between young Jewish women who have survived breast cancer and those fighting it.

The transcripts from two medical symposiums Sharsheret hosted, “How Do We Care For Our Children? Issues for Women and Men Facing Breast Cancer,” and “Breast Cancer and Fertility” are available at www.sharsheret.org.

For information on setting up a link or supporting Sharsheret, or for organizations wishing to partner with Sharsheret to raise awareness about the issues affecting young Jewish women fighting breast cancer, call (866) 474-2774. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Israel Consul General Rotem BecomesAmbassador

Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles is no longer The Honorable Yuval Rotem. His character is as upright as ever, but from now on diplomatic protocol calls for addressing him as “Your Excellency.”

The new title goes with Rotem’s new personal rank of ambassador, an unusual distinction for an Israeli career diplomat. At any one time, no more than 20 professionals in Israel’s foreign service can carry the permanent title and, at age 43, Rotem is the youngest Israeli career ambassador in the world.

Rotem’s promotion was recommended last February by then-Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and went into effect on Sept. 1.

No citation or encomiums accompanied the upgrade. After considerable urging, Rotem allowed that “they must have reviewed my accomplishments and decided to make me an ambassador” and reluctantly acknowledged that the new rank “was a source of satisfaction.”

Among his new perks are a raise in pay and pension benefits, but Rotem sees the most immediate benefit in elevating the status and clout in Israel of the local consulate, whose territory includes Southern California, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Rotem vetoed any celebration of the promotion by his staff but noted that “my mom and dad in Israel sent me some nice flowers.”

Since assuming his present post three years ago this month, Rotem had greatly expanded the involvement and outreach of his office, not only within the Jewish community, but also among the Southwest’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. He is scheduled to leave next summer, but his next assignment is unknown.

So far, Rotem wears his new distinction lightly. When a reporter closed an interview by congratulating “your excellency,” Rotem pleaded, “Come on, get off it.” — TT

Survivor Descendant Convention to be Held in LosAngeles

“Living The Legacy: Los Angeles,” a convention gathering descendants of Shoah survivors and their families, will take place locally for the first time on Sept. 14.

The daylong event will offer symposiums and workshops dealing with survivor offspring issues, such as marrying into a descendant/survivor family, intermarriage and interfamily dialogue.

This year marks the second annual “Living the Legacy: A Gathering of Descendants of Survivors of the Shoah and their Families” convention dedicated to outreach to the Holocaust offspring community. The event is cosponsored by Jewish Family Service (JFS), The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Metro Western Region of The Jewish Federation, and The Morgan Aging with Dignity Fund of The Jewish Federation. The first “Living the Legacy” took place in Chicago in July 2002.

According to organizer Darlene Basch, “Living the Legacy 2003” will expand on the first gathering’s breadth, offering more panels, two art workshops, a returning memoir writing course, a glatt kosher lunch, and the event’s first awards ceremony.

This year’s “Legacy” will also honor Dr. Florabel Kinsler and Dr. Sarah Moskovitz, two Holocaust survivors who each worked extensively in Los Angeles with survivors and their descendants for more than 30 years.

Kinsler, a social worker and psychotherapist, founded and spearheaded the JFS Holocaust Family Project from 1981 to 1993. Kinsler pioneered the founding of the JFS group outreach to children of Holocaust survivors, forming intergenerational dialogues and survivor groups from 1976 to 1993. In 1987, Kinsler began Cafe Europa, a child Holocaust survivors support group.

Moskovitz, professor emeritus of human development and counseling in the department of educational psychology at CSUN, is the author of “Love Despite Hate: Child Survivors of the Holocaust And Their Adult Lives” and writes poetry in English and Yiddish. Earlier this year, she was awarded a grant from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to translate Yiddish poetry in the Ringelblum Archives.

Kinsler and Moskovitz have led more than 25 groups for child survivors under the aegis of JFS, and they believe that such conventions as “Living the Legacy” provide survivors and their offspring with a necessary outlet.

“It’s the value of community,” Moskovitz said. “Any meeting where they can get together and talk, support, eat together and even fight with each other, is like extended family.”

“Living the Legacy: Los Angeles,” takes place on Sept.14, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.For more information, contact Darlene Basch at (323) 937-4974 or via e-mail atdbasch@aol.com . — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Federation Gives $100,000 to Bus BombingVictims

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles transmitted $100,000 in grants to two Jerusalem hospitals treating victims of the Aug. 19 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus, which killed 21 people.

The funds are earmarked for the pediatric unit of Hadassah Hospital, and for emergency aid and specialized equipment for Sha’arei Tzedek hospital.

“We have immediately contacted our representatives in Israel to help in any way that we can,” said Jake Farber, chairman of the Jewish Federation, “and we will do our best here in Los Angeles to support the victims devastated by this horrendous incident.”

The Federation adamantly condemned the Sept. 9 double bombings in Israel. “The continued slaughter of innocent Israelis by Palestinian terrorists must end,” Farber said. Speaking on behalf of Los Angeles Jewish community, Farber continued: “As every political, academic and right-minded individual knows, the continuing attacks on Israelis by Palestinian terrorists only makes getting back to the negotiating table that much more difficult. It is only at the negotiating table that this decades-long conflict will be resolved.”–TT

Dude, Where’s My Kabbalah?

It’s official. The Kabbalah Centre has usurped the Church of Scientology’s status as Hollywood’s hottest creed of choice. These days, it seems like every celeb looking to add meaning to his or her glittering but empty life of fame and fortune is joining the red-string-wearing, holy-water-selling, quasi-Jewish group.

Earlier this week, the New York Post reported that Madonna — fresh from French kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Music Awards — was seen with Rosie O’Donnell and an unnamed "Kabbalah Centre crony" at The Box Tree, New York’s most expensive kosher restaurant. This just after the Material Girl and husband Guy Ritchie reportedly donated about $3.5 million to buy a London house for the controversial organization, of which they have been longtime supporters.

This week, the center got something even more important — a figurative Tiger Beat seal of approval when hunky obsession-of-the-moment Ashton Kutcher ("My Boss’s Daughter," "Dude, Where’s My Car?," "That ’70s Show") went with his much older, recently rejuvenated girlfriend Demi Moore to the Kabbalah Centre on Robertson Boulevard, where they bought a $78 poster of the names of God.

Billy Phillips, a spokesperson for the center, said that the study of Kabbalah has attracted celebrities for centuries, pointing out that 2,000 years ago philosophers Plato and Pythagoras studied kabbalah.

Phillips wouldn’t give any details of Kutcher’s visit to the center (and a call to the center’s bookstore had the clerk asking "Who is Ashton Kutcher?") but Phillips did say that the most popular course for newcomers like Kutcher is the ten-week "Power of Kabbalah Course," which is taught on Wednesday nights.

"For the first time in history we are seeing people from all walks of life studying Kabbalah, which is the way that it is meant to be," Phillips said. "But it is the celebrities who make the newspapers."

Ariel Avrech

Ariel Avrech died of complications from severe pulmonary fibrosis on July 1. He was 22.

“He was incredibly learned,” said Avrech’s father, Emmy-winning screenwriter Robert Avrech (“The Devil’s Arithmetic”). “I always learned from him. Our roles were reversed. He was also very funny and had a very dry, ironic sense of humor.”

A Pico-Robertson resident, Avrech was in dire need of a living lobar lung transplant. Unfortunately, a worldwide organ search, facilitated by Jewish Healthcare Foundation Avraham Moshe & Yehudis Bikur Cholim, was unsuccessful.

Avrech’s first brush with a life-threatening disease came at age 14, when he endured massive chemotherapy to eradicate a brain tumor. In early 2002, the Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles graduate was walking up a hill at Baltimore’s Ner Yisroel campus, where he was continuing his studies, when he experienced difficulty breathing. By May 2002, doctors learned that the chemotherapy that conquered his cancer left him with severe pulmonary fibrosis.

Avrech’s condition worsened in the last year. In recent months, he could only breathe with the assistance of an oxygen tank. He also took steroids to stabilize his condition, which deteriorated drastically by April, when he was not emitting enough carbon dioxide. Avrech spent his last three months hospitalized on a respirator in intensive care.

“He was never confronted with the fact that there was no hope,” said Avrech’s mother, Karen Avrech. “He lapsed into unconsciousness.”

“He really suffered horribly in the last few months,” she continued, “but he never complained. He always maintained that he would make the best of what had happened to him. He was very hopeful and very grateful to his parents and to his doctors.”

Karen noted that her son had a passion for many subjects: physics, cosmology, cooking, history, literature and, especially, politics. Avrech enjoyed listening to KABC radio personality Larry Elder, who visited Avrech at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in May.

Most of all, Avrech was deeply committed to his faith and his community.

“One of the remarkable things about Ariel was that he was able to bridge the boundaries that normally separate the religious community,” Robert said. “Ariel was very close with the Orthodox, but also close with the modern Orthodox.”

In November, Avrech told The Journal that he maintained a positive mental state by studying Torah with a study partner.

“When I go for a day without it, I feel like I’m not living a real life,” he said.

Services for Avrech were held at Young Israel of Century City. Avrech is survived by his parents, Robert and Karen; and sisters, Leda and Aliza.

The Avrech family has formed the Ariel Avrech Foundation. Donations in his memory should be made out to “G’mach Fund Young Israel Century City.” For more information, contact (310) 273-6954. For information on organ donation, visit Halachic Organ Donor Society at www.hods.org .

The Gift of Thrift

T-shirts $2. Jeans $7. Handwritten signs point to bargains galore at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) Council Thrift Shop.

More than simply the promise of finding the great find, thrift stores offer their patrons the opportunity to connect with history and community, as well as beauty. The mission statements of Jewish thrift stores are admirable, including assistance to refugees and empowerment of women. Dependent on a community that values philanthropy, Jewish thrift stores look to donations to drive the aid to needy people.

One person’s donation can prove to be another’s treasure. Armed with a $50 budget and mandated to find a fabulous outfit at Jewish thrift stores about town, I began my quest at the Council Thrift on Fairfax near Canter’s Deli. Rummaging through bargain bins and haggling over price are inimical to my sensibilities. I was not confident that I could achieve my mission.

I couldn’t have asked for a better initiation to thrift store shopping than that provided by the Council Thrift. Clothing organized by category would prove to be a luxury that most other thrift stores eschew. A white faux fur coat that Liberace would have envied beckoned me as soon as I walked in, but it was much too early in the game to spend $35, a decision I now regret as I dream about what could have been the funky find of the century.

Because of my limited budget, I passed over lovely pieces, such as a long, black linen dress ($18) and a pair of gray suit slacks ($15). Instead, I opted for bargains that would make up part of the head-to-toe ensemble that I imagined for myself — a pink print skirt ($5) and a pair of black boots ($6). $39 left.

On the flip side of the thrill of finding a unique item is the impossibility of satisfying a friend’s need to buy the same thing. Edith Goodman, who has worked for Council Thrift since 1993, says that some days the young Hollywood hipster comes away empty-handed, and on other days she will walk out with an armload of bargains.

But what is consistent is the presence of beauty.

There is little challenge in spotting some designer’s idea of what is desirable, marketed and hermetically sealed in pretty packaging at department stores. But such as in life, there is a special society of people who search for, and find, beauty in its myriad incarnations in the less obvious places in the world. “Last week I found a brand-new designer jacket,” said one shopper with obvious pride. “My friend couldn’t believe it.”

The strength of community ties is apparent at Council Thrift. Many seniors come to spend time engaged in an inexpensive form of entertainment, as well as healthy competition over finding treasure more fantastic than the one before.

The effort to build strong community is an important mission of the NCJW/LA.

I met a woman at Council Thrift who had picked out a navy suit, a black skirt and cream-colored ruffled blouse for a job interview. She told me about a program that provides free clothing to people in need. Called Women Helping Women Services (WHWS), a nonsectarian community service of the NCJW/LA, this organization works to empower women to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of their children. The WHWS Emergency Survival Fund provides food and clothing vouchers. While the woman declined to be named for the article, she said, “I am thankful for it.”

There is a similar program at the Hadassah Thrift Store in Santa Monica, which provides needy people with clothing. It is a small shop, but one that is lovingly kept by Nena Reyes and Tita Aspiras.

I spent a good two hours trying on clothes that I couldn’t believe were donated: a little black cocktail dress, a floral summer dress, a sexy knit sweater. Perhaps my eyes had sharpened to finding nice things. More likely, it was the magic of Nena and Tita who pulled things off racks for me to try that I never would have picked out for myself. Their enthusiasm and dirt-cheap prices were able to make this conservative person tread outside her fashion comfort zone and go on an adventure. I felt like Mick Jagger’s little sister trying on satin pajama pants and a suede jacket worthy of a rock star.

These thrift stores are treasure troves for those who have the appreciation for things beyond superficial beauty — the connection to humanity, the appreciation of the many definitions of art, the desire for community, the heart for philanthropy. In these shops, beauty is transcendent, defined by no one person, neither by price nor by season. It belongs to all who search for it and see it wherever they look.

When something is beautiful, it calls out from among the ranks and inspires people to act.

Rhoda Weisman, chief creative officer of Hillel International and avid thrift shop patron, said, “How one lives one’s life is an art, and it should be beautiful.” Inspired by her new Vermeer print in gold frame ($20) and old-fashioned tea table etched with Victorian flowers ($5), Weisman rearranged her bedroom at midnight.

Beauty moves us in truly wondrous ways.

Should you wish to donate, please contact:

National Council of Jewish Women/Los

543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles

(323) 651-2930

For free pickup seven days a week, call

(323) 655-3111 or (800) 400-NCJW (toll free)

NCJW/LA Council Thrift Shop

Locations/Donation Centers

11571 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

(310) 477-9613

455 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (323) 651-2080

1052 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (323) 938-8122

7818 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

(323) 654-8516

18511 Sherman Way, Reseda (818) 609-7618

14526 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys (818) 997-8980

Women Helping Women Services

(323) 655-3807

(877) 655-3807 (toll free)

Hadassah Southern California

1452 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica

(310) 395-3824 (store)

(310) 479-3200 (main office)

There’s No Time Like the Present

In my family, death and funerals seem to inspire joking. Maybe it’s discomfort, but it also seems to be a lack of concern and heaviness about the whole thing. No one in my family does much visiting of graves, and burials are apparently not deemed necessary.

My mother wants her body cremated and her ashes scattered at her camp in Maine. I imagine my sister and I will someday combine sharing our grief with a nice trip to New England.

My father, after years of making jokes about his postmortem plans, suddenly informed us that he wants to donate his body to the Northeastern Medical College in Ohio. (His only concern is that some of his former psychology students might recognize him.)

My grandparents also gave their bodies to medicine. My father recalled how some men from the medical school carried my grandmother out in a body bag. Did it bother him? “Well, they looked just like the men who came to fix the television,” he joked.

But it is a serious subject, and a necessary one to discuss — well before the time comes, in order to avoid extra emotional stress and expense.

Yet only 35 percent of the funerals in the Los Angeles area are preplanned through mortuary arrangements, says Steve Espolt, director of sales at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. This means that someone — a spouse or a child perhaps — not only has lost a loved one, but also has to make arrangements for the person’s body while grieving.

Planning a funeral is not unlike planning a wedding, Espolt says. For both events, you need clergy, a location, flowers and probably some meaningful comments. But “a wedding is usually planned over six months to a year and is the happiest day of your life. A funeral has to be planned in 24 hours and might be the worst day of your life,” he says.

“We don’t ask to be born, and we have nothing to say about when it’s our time to be called,” says Ira J. Polisky, sales manager at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. Making arrangements and having them paid for ahead of time, Polisky asserts, “is the greatest expression of love within a family.” Eden offers seminars at temples and fraternal groups for the purpose of bringing the facts of life about funeral arrangements out in the open.

“After 20 years in this business, I’ve seen prepared and I’ve seen unprepared,” Espolt says. “Prepared is better.”

Both Polisky and Espolt mentioned payment plans they offer to encourage families to be prepared. “A small deposit is made,” says Polisky of Eden’s plan, “and then the necessary items are paid off over a seven-year period, which locks in the prices.” This way, one isn’t forcing a new widow to start writing checks at the painful time of loss.

If it’s practical and relatively easy to make arrangements, why are so few people prepared?

“Most people don’t like to think about their own mortality, so they don’t like to talk about what will happen to them after they die,” says Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuary.

“Many people take the ostrich approach,” Polisky says. “They pretend that nothing will happen to them, that they will have as much time as they want.”

According to Espolt, men are worse than women, because more men don’t want to admit they’re going to die. Now they are having to deal with their parents’ arrangements, and they don’t like that either. So, they avoid the subject.

Saltzman, a former therapist and executive vice president of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has seen stress explode when funeral arrangements are not made ahead of time. “Families come in with old wounds and battles that they’ve had over the years,” Saltzman says. “The stress causes them to become more agitated, rather than bringing them together, and as they’re trying to reach these decisions they haven’t made already, they get into arguments.”

One result is “emotional overspending.” Espolt describes a situation where a recently widowed man asked the son of his deceased wife to choose whatever he wanted for his mother, since she hadn’t made her wishes known. “The son picked the most expensive casket available, which made the widower uncomfortable, partly because he knew his wife wouldn’t have wanted anything so extravagant, but he’d made the offer and felt he had to live with it.”

Parents frequently make a decision to just let their kids take care of funeral arrangements when the time comes. “This places an undue burden on children,” Saltzman says. “If the parents won’t talk about it, their children should try to initiate discussion. It will make things easier when the time comes.”

To encourage discussion, Saltzman has created a brochure called “The Right Words,” which offers advice on how to broach this awkward subject. Mount Sinai has also launched a campaign that includes pins that say, “Let’s Talk.”

Espolt says Hillside is also keeping its services in the front of people’s minds with a recent community service ad offering 20-year yahrtzeit memorial calendars to anyone who calls and asks for one.

After speaking with these professionals, I feel relieved that I know what my parents want for themselves after they die. It will be difficult enough to be feeling their loss without trying to imagine what they would have wanted.

Hopefully, it’ll be many years before I need to think about it again.

Ellie Kahn is an oral historian, freelance writer and the owner of Living Legacies Family Histories in West Los Angeles. Her e-mail address is elliek1@earthlink.net.

The Circuit

Vodka Latka

On the fifth night of Chanukah, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles gave to us the third annual Vodka Latka. Some 600-plus Federation agency staff, guests, donors and a gaggle of celebrities packed the El Rey Theater for the multipurpose evening of celebration and fundraising for The Federation’s agencies that deal with addiction. The Federation estimates pledges at more than $130,000 for the evening. Hosted by The Federation’s Entertainment, Fashion and ACCESS (Young Adult) divisions, the party brought out the best in many looking for a chance to dance.

Jaron Lowenstein, one half of the twin rock group Evan and Jaron, knew just what time he arrived: "It’s time to celebrate the miracle. Having a big party, making a big splash, that’s what Chanukah’s all about."

After much noshing on platters of sufganiot and tiny gourmet latkes (with caviar!), busy celebs and hard-working Federation staff took care of some Chanukah shopping at the silent auction, where actor Joey Slotnick bid on a $500 Jimmy Choo gift certificate. Actress Mili Avital already had her shopping done — she donated to the Federation’s Victims of Terror Fund in honor of friends and family, because "we don’t need tchatchkes anymore."

Time came to light the candles, and Slotnick, Avital, Jonathan Silverman, Dana Daurey, Lori Heuring and David Schwimmer stepped up to each light a candle. After Lowenstein said the blessing over his candle and claimed, "My brother bailed" — though Evan did show up later — each star got to light one in honor of some of the programs and people of The Federation: one for KOREH L.A., one for those who fight addiction, for the hungry, for those who live in poverty and the victims of terror at home and abroad.

As the actors stepped off the stage, models strutted in, (barely) wearing clothes from Sharon Segal at Fred Segal, prompting Schwimmer to declare it his favorite part of Chanukah. But the entertainment had only just begun, and once the fashion show ended the band took the stage, with Sheila E behind the drums. Pooped from dancing, shopping, schmoozing, raising funds and giving thanks, most Vodka Latka-ers headed to bed before Eric Schwartz (aka Smooth-E, aka Dr. Dreidel) came out to rap up the evening. The comic-turned-rapper offered his rendition of "Tradition," then hip-hopped home with the rest of the partygoers to prepare for another night of Chanukah. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

It’s a Little Tricky

Once again we are faced with the annual dilemma of what to doabout Halloween. Should we let the kids “trick or treat” or not? Weknow that Halloween is not a Jewish holiday; that is not the problem.We celebrate Thanksgiving and Presidents Day, both American holidayswhich reflect good values. Halloween, on the other hand, does notreflect a value system that we would like to pass on to our children.It focuses on taking, greed and violence, not to mention theconsequences, a nasty trick, played on those who refuse to give.

My children attend a Jewish day-school where no attention is paidto the holiday. But we still experience the holiday in our suburbancommunity where party stores are transformed into haunted houses,street corners are dawned with pumpkin patches and everyone istalking about what they are going to be on Oct. 31.

In our home, where we believe the influence on values isstrongest, we play it down. No pumpkins or carving, no decorationsare displayed and very little attention is placed on costumes. Weeven relate the collecting of candy to the value of tzedakah(righteousness) by having the kids donate ten percent of their candyto a charity.

To counterbalance, we make a huge deal of all other Jewishholidays, particularly Purim. While we will spend money on a Purimcostume, anything laying around the house will have to do forHalloween. We give gifts, have lots of treats and host Purim parties.

Another subtle message is found in the garage. There, you can finda box designated for each Jewish holiday filled with paraphernalia.The boxes overflow; Passover and Hanukkah require two boxes each. Themessage is clear: we have a Purim box, but there is no box forHalloween.

And yet, we still struggle. I admit, although we move closer andcloser to our yiddishkeit, we are still assimilated.

This year presents us with something that can compete withHalloween — Shabbat! The perfect solution. The children loveShabbat. It’s our favorite time of the week — family, friends, goodfood, yummy desserts! What could be better? They’ll never missHalloween. So here is the plan: We are having a Shabbat Party. Theinvitation goes like this:

It’s a Shabbat Party

You’ll want to be there

But, regular clothes you mustn’t wear

Come dressed in a costume

be creative and fun

At the end of the dinner

We’ll pick the best one

The theme is of course JEWISH

be it hero, holiday, or food

Base your costume on your mood!

We’ll do the dinner, dessert,

treasure hunt, the whole thing

there’s just one thing you can bring —

A can for SOVA

will make us all smile

So come on October 31st

and party a while!!

At 5:30 p.m…

please knock on our door

We’ll light candles and a whole lot more.

Well, the response so far, a big hit! They can’t wait. My8-year-old daughter has announced she wants to dress as Hava, thedaughter in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Would this have been her firstchoice for a Halloween costume? It took Shabbat to help us through.

Risa Munitz-Gruberger is associate director of The WhizinInstitute.