High School the Second Time

High School is a tough time. Kids can be mean and it is stressful to be both a leader and a follower. When my son started high school I was a mess. I worried about him every day. My son attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. It is located on the campus of California State University, LA. That posed an entire new list of worries as he would be surrounded by college kids, but was my 14-year-old baby. On top of all that, it was miles from our home and he needed to carpool or take the subway. Oy vey with this school!

My son has wanted to be an actor since he was five years old. He never wavered. He went to a performing arts middle school, then LACHSA, and is now a working actor who has just produced and appeared in his first movie with his best friend since childhood. He is talented beyond measure and I am proud of him. He takes his job seriously and I support his pursuit of his chosen profession. It is not easy, but it is all he has ever done, or wanted, so it is what it is. My son looks back fondly on high school and I am blessed as his mom to say I do too.

LACHSA is a very special place. It fosters independence and individuality. It nurtures talent and builds confidence. They taught my son to keep his feet firmly on the ground while reaching for the stars. There are a lot of people there who deserve thanks for helping me raise my son. It takes a village and when you are a single parent, sending your child off for hours every day, the people at school become important on a lot of levels. My son has his favorite people at LACHSA, as do I. Mr. Chris Krambo made my second high school life a pleasure.

This remarkable man passed away this week and it is devastating to a lot of people. Chris was funny, smart, devoted, talented, and focused on his students in a way that made me grateful he was helping raise my son while he was at school. This is a man who worked hard, used his own money to make costumes, never complained about being tired, or unappreciated by kids who were too young and inexperienced to understand everything he did for them. He was a wonderful man and I will miss him, but always smile when I think of him, which I will often.

I am sad we had not spoken in so long. I am thankful however that he knew how important he was to me and that I loved him very much. Everyone has a story to tell and Chris had many. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. If you have a teacher in your life who is making your time in high school as a parent better, tell them thank you. If you love someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while, reach out and say hello. Rest in peace Chris. Know that you mattered to a lot of people. Thank you for always keeping the faith.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Focus on Educators’ Qualities, Not Titles

Who should educate our children? 

As a head of school of a Modern Orthodox high school, I raise this issue because I fear we too often adopt a wrongheaded approach in answering that question.

This wrongheaded approach has, to my mind, been particularly on display during a recent — and largely manufactured — controversy at my own institution, Shalhevet High School, over the appropriate title for a newly hired, and female, member of my Judaic Studies faculty.

As is all too often the case, the controversy devolved into a discussion of what title to give the new faculty member, with some pressing my school to break with our current practice and use a clergylike title for a female faculty member. And while predictable volleys from outsiders were lobbed back and forth, the whole affair struck me as, by and large, a distraction.

My obligation when I wake every morning — not only as a head of school but also as a Jew and father — is to identify people with the right qualities to educate our children. Communally, we should focus less on what we are calling our educators and instead spend more time on ensuring we have educators who are following the calling of great education.

Communally, we should focus less on what we are calling our educators and instead spend more time on ensuring we have educators who are following the calling of great education

Limited school budgets, combined with preferred and more lucrative career options for prospective teachers, make Jewish education a tough sell to some of our best and brightest. But these challenges cannot serve as a crutch or an excuse.  Jewish education can — and must — provide our children with the right environment to become 21st-century Jews, leading lives infused with Torah values as well as both professional and personal satisfaction. To do that,  Jewish day schools must identify the right people to serve as the front line in this holy endeavor.

I raise this issue now because the challenge inevitably pulls us into hot-button topics like rabbinic authority and egalitarianism. But the truth is that even these weighty topics are, by and large, a distraction. If we are going to fulfill our communal responsibility, we must focus on the qualities of great Jewish educators.

So what are the essential qualities of a Jewish educator in a Modern Orthodox day school? It’s hard to narrow the list, and there are some really important qualities that I don’t have room here to mention. But if pressed, here are the three that I can’t live without: a love and passion for Torah and Jewish values; a constant and insatiable desire to improve as an educator; and a deep-seated love for our students.

Candidates with all three are hard to come by because attaining all three requires a range of personal experiences and professional training. But even that isn’t enough. I set aside a significant portion of my budget for professional development for each faculty member because I know that if I want faculty committed to professional growth, I need to put my institutional money where its mouth is and make that possible. All of this is a prerequisite to creating the educational environment that we desperately seek for our children.

But here is one thing that isn’t on my list: I’m not focused on what I’m going to call them. In recent years, I have hired an aspiring musician, an electrical engineer and a would-be lawyer. For each of them, the litmus test was not whether he or she had rabbinic ordination. To be sure, being a rabbi is a huge plus in that it is one of the best proxies for deep love and passion for Torah. But in the end, it is only a proxy. And as a head of school, I cannot become obsessed with proxies. There simply is too much at stake in Jewish education to abandon the ultimate objective — identifying educators with a deep knowledge of and passion for Torah, who are committed to refining their craft with unbounded love and care for our students.

Let me close with one last point. Lurking in the background of our perceptions about educators is an underlying assumption that non-rabbis are somehow second-class Jewish educators. And so when a particular Jewish educator isn’t called rabbi, there’s an unspoken assumption that he or she is lacking.

But here’s the truth: These clergy expectations are corrosive to Jewish education because they ask our educators to focus more on collecting a title than becoming a first-rate educator. And these expectations of our Jewish educators, in turn, serve to divide our community, pressuring Jewish educators to strive for clergylike titles and forcing educational institutions to make choices about those titles in a highly charged environment.

The reality is that our schools need educators more than they need clergy. Of course, it goes without saying that every Orthodox Jewish day school needs to have first-rate rabbis to provide halachic direction for  students and the school community. But the focus on rabbinic titles puts all the wrong pressures on our educators and distracts them from developing the tools they need to make our schools successful.

It is high time that we stop focusing on what our educators are called and start a far more thoughtful discussion about who we want our educators to be. Ultimately, if we stop worrying so much about what we are calling our educators, we’ll have more time to focus on education’s calling.

RABBI ARI SEGAL is head of school at Shalhevet High School.

Hillel 818 Salutes Educators

Hillel 818 held its ninth annual dinner celebration at Valley Beth Shalom on Jan. 28, honoring professors Donald Bleich, Zev Garber and Rita R. Werner with Distinguished Educator Awards. The dinner centerpieces, filled with needed school supplies, were donated to Community Build, an organization that helps at-risk youth. Hillel 818 represents more than 8,000 Jewish students at Pierce and Los Angeles Valley colleges and CSUN.

Seminaries getting $12 million boost to train educators

Three Jewish seminaries across the denominational spectrum will receive a total of $12 million to help train new Jewish educators.

The Jim Joseph Foundation announced Tuesday that it will distribute the grants over a five-year period to the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University.

Financial aid for students who are pursuing careers in education at each of the seminaries will get the first round of grants.

The foundation will give the institutions $700,00 for each of the next five academic years for scholarships for future educators, as well as $563,000 for Yeshiva University, $221,900 for the Jewish Theological Seminary and $212,110 for Hebrew Union College in the 2009-10 term.

The institutions must collaborate to develop innovative best practices and technologies for advancing Jewish teaching, the foundation stipulated.

“Our commitment is to Jewish education, and the partnership now established with these three institutions through these grants should contribute greatly to advancing this cause,” Al Levitt, the president of the foundation, said in a news release. “It is an exciting development for all who care about improving the quality of Jewish life. We’re simply playing our role in helping these institutions, and the educators they educate, reach their full potential and positively shape the lives of Jewish youth.”

A summertime find — future Jewish leaders

As a camper, Max Kates was full of energy, soaking up everything Camp Ramah in Ojai offered. He loved sports, singing, his friends and Shabbat. When the summer arrived for him to join the staff, he immediately applied to participate in Ramah’s counselor leadership-training program. In his first year as a counselor, Max was placed in a unit I supervised, and I watched with pride as he developed valuable skills in problem solving, public speaking, teamwork, program design and assessment.

Six years later, Max is a unit head working with veteran staff and counselors-in-training, and, as the camp’s assistant director, I support and guide him. While my path ultimately led to Jewish education, Max is now in medical school. He could sense his growth during his summers as a counselor, but was unaware that the same skills conquered then would be put to use as a medical student.

During the summer, teenagers and young adults like Max are presented with a plethora of options — summer school, jobs in retail, internships, travel programs and more. Choosing work as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp helps young people gain skills as leaders in any setting, while securing their commitment to the future of the Jewish people — and it is an option that our community must make a priority.

At Camp Ramah, as at other camps, young counselors — about 18 years old — inherit enormous parental responsibility. In helping campers become stronger individuals by creating a safe, fun and educational experience, counselors hone skills often found in highly experienced teachers, customer-service agents, social workers, nurses and spiritual leaders. In the process, counselors themselves transform into Jewishly literate young adults who serve the community in leadership roles beyond the summer experience.

The counselors we hire at Ramah are charged to be role models and educators at an age when they, too, are growing more independent. The results are outstanding. Not only do our counselors check for brushed teeth, comfort the homesick and cheer campers on during basketball games, but they also model Jewish values, use Hebrew, lead prayers and teach mitzvot, such as tikkun olam (repairing the world) through activities that take advantage of the natural surroundings at camp. Through their training in both skills and content, counselors absorb values and practices that stick with them for a lifetime. They commit to Jewish practice and values, such as Shabbat observance, Israel and continued Jewish education.

Recent research reveals a higher percentage of commitment to Jewish values in young adults who work in Jewish summer camps than in those who only attended as campers or never attended at all. For example, when surveyed in college, 34 percent of camp counselors expressed a commitment to supporting Jewish organizations, compared to just 22 percent among those who have not worked at camp. Further, 71 percent of counselors at Camp Ramah observe the laws of kashrut, compared to 36 percent who were only campers and 17 percent with no camp experience.

Young applicants who worry that they are “giving up” a summer that could be used to intern, take classes or travel should be assured that working at a Jewish summer camp develops skills that universities and employers will value. Developmentally, 18-year olds are ready to reach outside of themselves to lead and care for others in the world. They desire the adrenaline rush that comes from a feeling of accomplishment and are eager to accept leadership roles that allow them to express their opinions and develop marketable skills. Camp provides this very opportunity.

At Ramah we offer a counselor leadership-training program for first-year staff, in which counselors spend much time in the field with campers, along with hours each week in the classroom acquiring leadership skills in communication, youth development, crisis management, program planning, Judaics and other areas. Most importantly, camps give staff members — first year and after — a unique opportunity to exercise their creative abilities under a strong watchful eye and with more feedback than these young adults will receive in future jobs. At the end of this most recent summer, one counselor who completed our training program remarked, “Being a first-year counselor changed me. I took all my energy and channeled it into the right places. I felt so happy with the work I was doing and the impact I made on kids, whether through planning a program or leading a cheer.”

One summer on the job, however, is not enough. In order to maximize this potential, Jewish summer camps must retain counselors from season to season, so that young adults can build on their skills and deepen their allegiance to Jewish leadership. Camps must offer salary and training packages that are competitive with summer internship and travel alternatives available to young adults. Fortunately, some in the camping movement are working hard to design such packages. The Foundation for Jewish Camping’s Cornerstone Fellowship Program aims to retain senior counselors for at least a third summer of work by bringing cohorts of counselors to a national conference on Jewish camp counseling skills, helping them take on leadership roles during the summer and paying a generous stipend on top of their base salary. This fellowship program is one answer to a retention problem that will need many solutions.

From medical school, Max recently expressed appreciation for his experiences on staff at Camp Ramah. He described a moment when his anatomy professor broke students into groups and requested that they make team guidelines and expectations. Max led his group to create goals and discuss how they would work together as a team throughout anatomy, perhaps the most intense course in medical school. Max stated, “And that’s about when I realized it: The skills and experiences we all share at camp do not occur in some vacuum — separate from the world outside. They transfer directly to everything we are doing right now.”

Zachary Lasker, a doctoral candidate in education at UCLA, is the assistant director for Camp Ramah in California and a clinical instructor in education at the American Jewish University.

Retaining Educators No Easy Assignment

Last year, Deena Messinger considered leaving her job as a kindergarten teacher at Sinai Akiva Academy in Westwood to teach at a secular private school or a public school. While Sinai pays well relative to other day schools, she said, a switch would mean higher salary and better benefits, such as a vision and dental plan. As Messinger and her husband look down the line to having children, paying for day-school education on their salaries — Sinai Akiba’s tuition is now “pushing $12,000,” she said — seemed daunting.

In the end, Messinger chose to stay at Sinai.

“It wasn’t just about money. What kept me at my school was that I do really like teaching Jewish kids,” she said. “Any choice you make in your life has trade-offs. There’s no perfect place. But it’s worth it. I love what I do and I think that’s pretty rare.”

Dedicating oneself to Jewish education, and then feeling underpaid and undervalued for doing so, is a chronic problem among Jewish educators — especially those who teach the youngest children.

When Jewish early childhood educators were asked in a recent survey what had attracted them to the field, only 1 percent said it was the money. Asked what factors most contribute to keeping them in the field, just 3 percent mentioned their salaries.

And when the same group of teachers from Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida was asked what would most improve their jobs, 76 percent said increased salary would help, and another 34 percent mentioned better health insurance.

Those findings aren’t surprising, given that the average salary of an early childhood Jewish educator in the United States hovers somewhere around $18,000 a year, and low salaries across the spectrum of jobs in Jewish education remain a problem, observers say.

“Early childhood Jewish education is where people are generally paid the worst and receive the worst of everything, and it can be a crucial component of the Jewish education system,” said Steven Kraus, director of day school, congregational and communal education initiatives at the Jewish Education Service of North America. The Jewish community, he added, needs to understand the importance of early childhood education and support those “who are on the front lines.”

A new pilot project now operating in Florida aims to do just that.

Project Kavod: Improving the Culture of Employment in Jewish Education, a program conducted by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education through a grant from the Covenant Foundation, is investigating ways to better recruit and retain qualified teachers.

Project Kavod, a three-year pilot program, is working with four Miami institutions: the David and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center; the Conservative Bet Shira Congregation; the Reform Temple Beth Sholom; and the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy, whose student body is largely Orthodox.

In addition, Project Kavod — the Hebrew word for “respect” — is working with the Miami-Dade Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

The program has begun by gathering fiscal data on the four sites. The result is 45 items that potentially could improve the culture of employment in early childhood education.

One fundamental challenge is informing the public about the importance of early childhood education.

“There still needs to be an important education/advocacy piece,” said Kraus of the Jewish Education Service. A few “generations ago some people would have seen early childhood education as glorified baby-sitting. We’re way beyond that in many places.”

Further, said Patricia Bidol-Padva, the Project Kavod coordinator in Florida, Jewish parents need to learn about “what the salaries are and to make a commitment to doing something about it.”

Project Kavod is producing a manual of “change-management tools” for early childhood education institutions and a publication with answers to three perennial questions: Why is Jewish education important; how should Jewish educators be treated; and what’s the obligation of Jewish educators to the communities they serve?

“There’s a long way to go,” Bido-Padva said. Still, teachers’ salaries could be significantly improved if the JCC raised $100,000 more a year, said Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, director of Jewish life and culture at the Dave and Mary Alper JCC.

“That’s not, on the scale of things, an unrealistic aspiration,” he said. “The program is really helping us to build a case. ”


Learn to Remember

Skip Aldrich signals a student to turn down the lights and flips on the projector. An image of a gaunt concentration camp inmate hunched over a workbench evokes a collective gasp from the 10th-grade world history class at John C. Fremont High School in South Los Angeles.
“What do you see in this picture?” Aldrich asks his students, all of them Latino.
“Sadness,” says a student, and others repeat the word, nodding their assent.
“No hope,” says another.
“Despair,” others agree.
Aldrich’s students are two weeks into their three-week unit on the Holocaust. Like all students in California public schools, these teens will learn about the genocide and its context as part of the state’s mandated social science curriculum. These teens have the added benefit of learning about it from Aldrich, a leader in a growing network of educators who have learned how to teach the Holocaust and who are helping other teachers to do the same.
As more states, including California, have mandated Holocaust education, Holocaust organizations have made teaching the teachers a priority. The goal is to produce a cadre of teachers who can more effectively teach an entire generation of students how to apply the lessons of modern history’s greatest man-made atrocity. Although some Holocaust scholars worry that the Holocaust could become overly universalized or sanitized for mass consumption, nearly all agree that educators must build a bridge to a future when there are no longer Holocaust survivors to tell their own stories.
Building that bridge has become a personal mission for Aldrich.
Students in this class spend several minutes analyzing each slide, all the while, Aldrich drills the students on the causes, events and effects of the Shoah. The kids know their stuff, calling out in the darkened room the keywords he’s looking for — “isolation,” “dehumanization,” “Christian anti-Semitism,” “Nuremberg laws.”
Aldrich, an L.A. public school teacher for 26 years, says the Holocaust is the most important subject he covers, with its implications of how tolerance and individual choices can affect lives. It’s also the historical event that grabs and keeps the kids’ attention the most — an assessment confirmed by nearly everyone who teaches the subject.
Aldrich, 50, is the church-going Protestant son of a history teacher. He grew up with Holocaust survivors in the Fairfax area and became fascinated with the history of World War II. In 1997, he traveled to Europe with Warsaw Ghetto uprising leaders Benjamin and Vladka Meed. He later participated in a teaching fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. Last January, Aldrich was one of 17 teachers nationwide to join the museum’s Regional Educational Corps.
“My guess is I’ve taught about 6,000 students by now,” said Aldrich, who teaches in Fremont’s magnet program, which offers accelerated academics with a particular emphasis on math and science. “I’m just one teacher. Imagine how many people you can reach over time.”
Thousands of teachers nationwide have participated in Holocaust workshops, but many thousands more have not. While more than half the states mandate Holocaust education, few pay for teacher training, leaving teachers on their own to master a topic that can be overwhelming. Online resources abound, but so do Web sites put together by Holocaust deniers. And if a teacher is uninformed or uninterested, the Holocaust unit is more than likely to get lost amid the history curriculum’s mountain of names and dates.
California required public schools to teach the Holocaust in the mid-1980s, primarily in world and U.S. history classes in high school. A 2002 Assembly bill, sponsored by Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), established the California Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance at California State University, Chico. The center trains teachers and has a model curriculum for fitting the Holocaust into state academic standards for each grade. It also has created a bank of resources and lesson plans.
State lawmakers have extended the life of the center to 2007, but cut state funding. The center now operates with private support.
The center’s director says his tiny agency plays an essential role in the appropriate teaching of the Holocaust.
“It is not enough that the state has mandates and standards, it is critical to be able to get content out to teachers, and to motivate them to use the material,” said Sam Edelman, a professor of Jewish studies who is the Cal State Chico Center’s director.
Other organizations have a similar agenda. The USHMM has nearly 200 graduates of its intensive summer fellowships and almost 3,000 teachers have gone through its training programs, such as a three-day seminar at CSUN in March that attracted 200 teachers.
About 110,000 students a year visit the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, which provides classroom materials to teachers. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been running teacher seminars for 22 years and, in February, teamed up with the Cal State Chico Center, the Wiesenthal Center and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust for a four-session seminar in Los Angeles that pulled in 55 teachers. ADL also partners with USHMM and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., to train Catholic school educators in the Bearing Witness program.
Facing History and Ourselves, a Massachusetts-based organization dedicated to making history — particularly Holocaust history — come alive for teachers and their students, has 1,500 teachers in its Los Angeles network.

At the February conference, the presenters included Marilyn Lubarsky, a social studies teacher at Upland High School, who explained how to make the most of the 10 54-minutes periods allotted to the Holocaust in world history class. When she started teaching the Holocaust 18 years ago, Lubarsky said, she used “Night and Fog,” the seminal 1955 French documentary that shows piles of bodies being bulldozed and buckets full of skulls. Lubarsky, who has since studied in an intensive fellowship program at the Washington museum, no longer shows the film. Instead, she’s developed an interactive, contextualized unit that moves her students without devastating them.
For Lubarsky and others, the key is to make the history both personal and contextualized. Lubarsky gives her students a photo of a teenager from that era, and then asks them to pick a caption for it from Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a semi-autobiographical account of a teenager’s life in the camps.
Aldrich, in his class, has students research a pre-war photo, then compare it to a picture of themselves in similar circumstances — at the beach, on a picnic, at a family dinner.
Both teachers allow for discussion and ask students to keep journals, and also to think about how choices and circumstances faced by Holocaust perpetrators, victims and bystanders relate to their own lives and to contemporary human rights atrocities.
Lubarsky includes in her unit “The Enemy has Surrounded Upland,” an exercise in which students consider choices they would make under Nazi-like circumstances. She gently prods them to be thorough. If they decide to run to the hills, would they take their frail grandmother? What would they eat?
Carol Edelman, who with her husband, Sam Edelman, runs the Chico Center, cautions against taking such activities too far.
“It is impossible to simulate what the victims went through, so don’t even try because often it ends up traumatizing the kids,” she said.
As an alternative, teachers can use case studies of actual victims or perpetrators, or even better, bring in a survivor — one of the most powerful educational tools available.
“One of the subliminal messages a survivor gives is, ‘You don’t have to be shaped by your history,'” said Michael Berenbaum, director of the University of Judaism’s Sigi Ziering Institute on the Holocaust.
Having it bad “doesn’t mean you have it bad forever and ever,” Berenbaum said, adding that the message is one high school students, with their own dramas both real and imagined, need to hear.
Berenbaum lamented that survivor visits to schools are getting scarcer, but is heartened that so much recorded testimony is available to teachers through the USHMM, the Shoah Foundation and the Wiesenthal center, among others.
The Chico Center, too, helps to make these resources available for students of all ages, while vetting Web sites for reliable and appropriate material. Center materials also help teachers imbed information about the Holocaust in learning activities encompassing everything from literature to art. Even in kindergarten, teachers can include a Holocaust rescuer in a unit on heroes, for instance.
Most organizations are cautious about using graphic images, even in high school. On one hand, teachers find that students already have been desensitized to violent and gruesome images. At the same time, they’re concerned that overly explicit photos can distract from what’s being taught.
“The more graphic stuff can sometimes get in the way of the analysis that needs to take place,” said Bernie Weinraub, program associate for the L.A. office of Facing History and Ourselves. But losing too many of the images might dilute the impact.
“Essential to the arc of the American narrative is hope — we all came from somewhere and reconstructed our lives with decency,” Berenbaum said. “Unless we can tell the story with integrity, and that means to use all the power of its bleakness, we run the risk of sanitization.”
The Museum of Tolerance, where children under 12 are not allowed, uses images to tell a story that words cannot.
“The material is very graphic and the exhibits are deliberately powerful and they need to be in order to make a strong impact,” museum director Leibe Geft said.
Making the experience relevant is driving a rethinking of old Holocaust taboos. For one thing, educators are increasingly willing to compare other atrocities to the Holocaust, a practice that was once thought to diminish the uniqueness of the Shoah. And the Holocaust no longer seems to be taught as history for history’s sake or tragedy for tragedy’s sake, but as a living lesson in tolerance, personal responsibility, and the fragility of a free society.
“A generation ago we were teaching the Jewish tragedy, something that made the Jews bearers of a particular legacy,” Berenbaum said. “That is no longer the case. The event is particular but its implications are universal. And unless you see the implications in a universal way, you don’t quite reach the students in the same way.”


For More Infomation

These sites all contain links to other vetted Web sites.

www.ushmm.org The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, with a vast database of photos, survivor testimony and primary sources.
www.csuchico.edu/mjs/center California Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights, and Tolerance at California State University, Chico, with model curriculum imbedded in the history-social science standards of the State of California.
www.adl.org The Anti-Defamation League, including sample lesson plans and resources for students and teachers.
www.facinghistory.org Facing History and Ourselves, with lists of teacher seminar dates and locations and teaching resources.
www.remembertoteach.com/museum.htm The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, with listing of traveling exhibits available for classroom use.
www.museumoftolerance.com Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, with a multi-media learning center, exhibits, and downloadable resources for teachers.
www.shoahfoundation.org Steven Speilberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which develops products and programs using Holocaust-related archives.

Giving Adult Students Credit They Deserve

A group of local Jewish educators are seeking funding to start a novel adult-education academy that would grant a certificate of recognition to students who complete its requirements over three years.

The Orange County Academy of Jewish Growth and Learning is envisioned as a way to impose a quasi-academic structure on an array of existing courses offered by local synagogues, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Community Scholar Program.

Around the country, administrators of similar nonacademic Judaic studies programs are also trying to elevate their curriculum with professionalism. For instance, the continuing legal-education requirements of three state bars now accept for credit an ethics class offered by the Jewish Learning Institute, a fast-expanding program established by the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement. Chabad is seeking similar approvals in six other states, including California.

Behind the shift toward formality is the perception that to boost participation in Judaic studies, adults require a greater inducement than spiritual satisfaction.

"It may motivate people to take more classes by being part of a larger experience," said Arie Katz, chairman of the Community Scholar Program and who is involved in the academy’s organization.

"We want to validate the study in the community and honor the people who do," said Joan Kaye, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education, who also supports the academy’s formation.

Even without formal accreditation, an academy certificate would accrue some economic value. A national teacher licensing board for Jewish schools already accepts such informal studies as partially meeting licensing requirements.

"The motivation is to create opportunity for serious Jewish learning," said Michael Mayersohn, who resigned as rabbi of Westminster’s Temple Beth David in August. Mayersohn would serve as the academy’s part-time dean and sole employee. He hoped to start his duties this month.

However, the academy’s request for $20,000 in start-up funding from the Jewish Federation of Orange County was postponed in September and put off for a month, along with other allocation requests.

The academy’s five required areas of study would accept courses regardless of denomination and will rely on an honor system. A proposed $50 annual academy fee does not include individual class fees. Mayersohn would offer assistance in helping students plan a program that suits their interests.

"For the average person, it’s possibly daunting," said Reuven Mintz, rabbi of Chabad Center of Newport Beach. "But for people looking for something deeper, this will please them," he said, still maintaining that too few learning opportunities exist for adults.

"I feel there is a thirst in this community," Mintz said, pointing out that four local Jewish Learning Institute sites drew 200 students weekly last year. Kaye, he said, had been skeptical about JLI’s chances for success. "Commitment-based education had failed in Orange County," he remembers being told.

A decade ago, little attention was paid to adult Jewish education by the national movements. A shift is underway as new and established national programs, such as JLI, Meah at Hebrew College of Boston, Chicago’s Melton Adult Mini School and the JCC association’s Derech Torah, are rapidly expanding.

Paul Flexner, chair of the Alliance for Adult Jewish Learning, an educators’ group, said, "People are seeking meaning in their lives and looking to find ways to spend leisure time in a meaningful way. "

Israel on the Agenda

When Jewish educators from around the country met for a five-day institute this summer at the University of Judaism, leaders at the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life did the only thing they could for their daylong slot of teaching. They scrapped their usual plenaries and workshops on topics such as the power of ritual in family or educating Jewish parents and spent the day talking about how educators could help families in America deal with the situation in Israel.

"It was very heavy and yet an uplifting, spiritual day — spiritual and educational. It reverberated throughout the week," said Ron Wolfson, a vice president at the University of Judaism. "We knew as a staff that to ignore the situation would have been a terrible mistake."

Over the past two years, Israel has replaced nearly all other issues as the center of Jewish concern, whether at a family simcha, singles events or adult education classes. High Holiday worshippers can expect to hear at least one, if not more, sermons on Israel and for prayers to focus on healing and peace for the Jewish State.

It is a significant change for American Jewry, which over the past decade had trained its communal lens on domestic issues. At the same time, the decline in the numbers of people visiting Israel — especially youth — is sure to have long-lasting effects on this generation’s commitment to Judaism and Israel.

Now, as the two-year anniversary of second intifada nears, what were once seen as emergency measures and temporary shifts are proving to be more permanent alterations of the American Jewish landscape.

In this High Holiday season of cheshbon hanefesh, accounting of the soul, professional and lay leaders are asking how the crisis has changed our communal personality, what the long-term effects will be on our programs and institutions, and what we can learn from our own reactions.

To some, it may seem frivolous to consider the effect the matzav, the situation, is having on the faraway cousins of the true victims — the Israelis themselves, who have been battered physically and emotionally. But it is akin to the long-term illness of a family member, where the rest of the family’s physical and spiritual health must be maintained, so that they in turn can provide the support their ailing loved one needs to survive.

"We can’t really have a community that is going to be connected to Israel in times of need unless it is a community that identifies with its Jewishness and with Israel," said Beryl Geber, director of the UJ’s graduate program in nonprofit management and national chair of the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) renaissance and renewal division.

Community leaders are working to find the right balance between doing everything possible to support Israel and not ignoring ongoing needs within American Jewry.

"I think the crisis in Israel has really catalyzed a lot of attention on Israel that was probably somewhat dissipated over a number of years," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. He noted that throughout the ’90s the continuity agenda focused community attention on local issues such as revitalizing synagogues and strengthening Jewish education for youth and adults. "The domestic agenda has been to some extent subordinated in terms of the urgency with which issues can be dealt with. It’s a question of resources — human and financial," he said. That is not to say that community development has halted, Fishel noted. He points to the New Community Jewish High School in the West Valley that opens this week with 37 students. The school started its development process two years ago, simultaneously with the second intifada.

But while some programs continue, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that community creativity has slowed.

"I do feel that a lot of very important issues are completely off our agenda — which is right, since we do need to focus all of our energies on supporting Israel every way we can," said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Congregation B’nai David Judea. Kanefsky said that tikkun olam programs like bringing groups to sing at nursing homes and a tree-planting project on Pico Boulevard have been "squeezed out of people’s attention." Board meetings are now dominated by talk of Israel action programs and shul security.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel and a lifelong Zionist, has seen the success of the continuity agenda on campus. He fears what will happen if the community reverts to focusing on victimhood and anti-Semitism, rather than promoting positive Judaism.

"People are going to start questioning if having innovative Jewish arts programs is important when the chief focus is survival. We cannot afford to lose programs intended to sustain a rich Jewish life," he said.

"The physical survival of the Jewish people has been assured," Seidler-Feller added. "The real question is, will the spirit of the Jewish people survive? Will the values of the Jewish people survive? Will a meaningful expression of Judaism that captures the imagination of the Jewish people survive?"

David Myers, professor of Jewish History at UCLA and an Israel activist, said there may be some benefits to the interruption of the continuity agenda, leaving time for reassessment and striking a balance.

"The crisis in Israel leads to a rechanneling of the stream of support back to Israel," he said, after the last decade, when it was funneled toward strengthening U.S. Jewry. "It may well be healthy to have constant movement back and forth between these two sources of support, rather than remaining static."

Myers sees an additional benefit in that the crisis has forced involved and committed Jews to reassess a relationship with Israel that he believes was one-sided and too often taken for granted.

A relationship where American Jews sent money to Israel and sometimes visited, and where Israelis had no real interest in American Jewry or their opinions proved to be weak and insufficient.

"There can’t be a sustained and deep commitment to Israel unless it rests on the principle of partnership, in which there is reciprocity," Myers asserted. "American Jewry needs to be a proactive partner with its own ability to say what is best for Israel, as a close relative would do."

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills sees the crisis as "a moment of opportunity, because the American Jewish community suddenly realizes how important Israel is to it."

Geller just returned from a summer in Israel at the Hartman Institute, where she spent days in chevrutah, study partnerings — a metaphor she would like to see extended to the Diaspora-Israel connection.

"We could imagine ourselves as a chevrutah, locked in this intimate relationship where each of us is different because of that relationship, and the tradition is different because of the relationship."

She sees The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership as a good example of that reciprocity, where students, professionals, leaders and artists from each city visit the other to build connection and learn from each other.

She also plans to shore up Israel education.

"This is a moment for people to really try to understand why Israel is important to them, to really take responsibility for educating themselves about Israel and really understanding its history, so that every American Jew has a sophisticated understanding of what is going on," she said.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City said that despite the growing interest in Israel and the successful fundraising, the crisis has exposed just how weak the connection to Israel is for many Jews.

"I believe that Israelis feel that American Jewry has abandoned Israel in its time of need," said Muskin, who this summer canceled a tour he was leading in Europe and instead led a mission to Israel. "It’s not enough just to fundraise. They need to see us there and to feel that we are part of the experience."

While some youth programs continue with diminished numbers and several shuls, including Young Israel, Sinai Temple, Beth Am and B’nai David, are sending or have sent missions, many Americans have opted to stay out of the Jewish State.

But if Israel’s economy and morale suffer now from that withdrawal, it is American Jewry — specifically today’s teenagers and college students — that will suffer later.

"We have a number of cohorts of kids who are not going to be familiar with Israel and are not going to have the opportunity to experience it and enjoy it," said Beryl Geber of the UJC’s renaissance and renewal commission. A part of this generation will miss out on "the idea of a worldwide Judaism, of historical context and continuity in time and space. I don’t think it’s shattered, but it’s attenuated, and the more cohorts that we have that don’t develop that connection, the more fragmented we become as a community."

John Fishel said Federation has been exploring what to substitute in place of the Israel trip to inspire and connect young people.

"We’re committed to putting energy, as well as time and money, into things that will help solidify bridges in the long term," he said. "We’re trying to look beyond the present situation, and saying we can’t just assume that when this crisis is past we’ll pick up and start to run with it where we left off."

Part of what Fishel hopes to capitalize on is the sense of unity the crisis has inspired. The Jews in Crisis Campaign — among other campaigns to support terror victims in Israel — has raised money from all segments of the community. He points to a meeting of a diverse group of leaders held with the Los Angeles Times editors as an example of an unusual willingness to work together. But others worry that the galvanizing force of crisis mode cannot be sustained indefinitely.

"This mentality of crisis that we’ve built up has to give way to a different mentality of a long process," said Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom. "The problem is that crisis is like a drug, and when the drug leaves, you have withdrawal, and you come crashing down just as quickly as you went soaring upward."

That leaves people with bitterness and despair — a dangerous state of mind, Feinstein said.

"It leads you to say, ‘Let’s get rid of these Arabs’ … or it leads you to a utopian, messianic mentality of ‘Let’s give them everything they want and maybe they will stop hurting us.’ One is immoral, and the other irresponsible," Feinstein said.

Feinstein, like many rabbis, will use these holidays to offer congregants messages of hope in a depressing moment of Jewish history.

"I feel that everybody is confused and heartbroken and distraught in some way, and as a rabbi I need to be able to both acknowledge their pain and fear and bring it into a spiritual context, even if the only answer I have is that it’s really important never to give up hope and never to disconnect from the one web of the Jewish people," said Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Syangogue.

Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob said he has been encouraging his congregants to utilize a bad situation as an opportunity.

"Once the world defines us as Jews and as Zionists, lets take that brand of being a Jew and find the positive. What does a Jew stand for? What does a Jew represent, and how does a Jew think? How does a Jew relate to God? How does a Jew relate to humanity?" he said.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky said he encourages congregants to view the entire scope of Jewish history, which is filled with a cycle of despair and redemption.

"Jewish literature is filled with the call not to give up and not to despair. In the whole trajectory of Jewish history, we are promised ends with great glory and joy. We need to remind ourselves as often as possible that we are a big-picture people, and our hope and our faith in a brighter day is unshakable," Kanefsky said. "We have to be able to step out now and then, and hold on to his larger vision."


The Circuit

ADL Satisfies Medavoyeurs

About 60 people came to West Hollywood’s Wyndham Bel Age Hotel for an evening with Mike Medavoy. The Oscar-blessed movie producer and former studio chief — behind such hits as “Rocky,” “Annie Hall,” “10,” “Platoon,” “Philadelphia,” “Hoosiers” and “Silence of the Lambs” — waxed philosophical about the entertainment industry. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “An Evening With Mike Medavoy,” in support of Medavoy’s book, “You’re Only as Good as Your Next One,” was moderated by Variety’s Write Stuff scribe Jonathan Bing.

Medavoy shared many anecdotes spanning his 38-year career, during which time he formed Orion Pictures in 1978, became the head of Tri-Star in 1990 and founded his present production house, Phoenix Pictures, in 1997.

The former talent agent, who once represented Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, shared memories of how Kirk Douglas launched his producing career by giving him the film rights to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (Medavoy’s first Oscar-winner and still his personal favorite), of the chaotic force majeure production of “Apocalypse Now,” of his days as a casting agent on “Dragnet” and how writer-producer-star Jack Webb, who made Medavoy accompany him on his drinking binges, coaxed the future mogul into meeting with Lew Wasserman of Universal. The Universal chief asked Medavoy what he wanted to do, to which Medavoy replied, “‘I really want your job.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to have to wait a lot of years.'”

Medavoy also took the opportunity to refute his reputation of making message films.

“The movies were done because they were good movies,” Medavoy said. “Sam Goldwyn was right: ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union.'”

“An Evening With Mike Medavoy” capped off the ADL’s third annual Ralph Tornberg Lecture Series 2001-2002 — a monthly series held over four months.

People of the Book Awards

The Association of Jewish Libraries announced its 2001 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners for outstanding books of Jewish content for children.

“Sigmund Freud: Pioneer of the Mind” by Catherine Reef (Clarion) won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers, while “Rivka’s First Thanksgiving” by Elsa Okon Rael and illustrated by Maryann Kovalski (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster) was the winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers. Rael won previously for “When Zayde Danced on Eldridge Street” (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Eric Kimmel won Honor Book for Younger Readers for his book, “A Cloak for the Moon,” illustrated by Katya Krenina (Holiday House).

For information on the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners, visit www.jewishlibraries.org. The books can be borrowed from Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. Call (323) 761-8644.

Viva Chanukah!

Thirty members of the Hispanic-Jewish Women’s Task Force gathered with their families at Alice and Joe Spilberg’s home for a multicultural holiday celebration. Guests shared Jewish and Christian holiday traditions: singing songs, enjoying latkes and tamales, and lighting Chanukah candles.

Ahead for Fred

Variety reports that Fred Savage, the lead voice of the Nickelodeon cartoon “Oswald” recently profiled in The Journal, has landed back-to-back roles in George Clooney’s directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” based on game show host Chuck Barris’ pseudo-autobiographical account of his secret life as a CIA operative; and in director Jay Roach’s third “Austin Powers” comedy.

Shalom and Yo!

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited AMIT’s Gilo while on a recent trip to Israel. AMIT cares for 200 at-risk children.

Land of Milken Honey

Five outstanding Los Angeles-area Jewish educators were presented with 2002 Jewish Educator Awards at a Loews Santa Monica gala that attracted 300 people. The awards, presented by Milken Family Foundation and the Bureau of Jewish Education, included an unrestricted $10,000 award and public recognition for the recipients’ work. The five awardees: in Los Angeles, Frida Eytan, Judaic studies teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy ; Carol Goldman, math specialist at Stephen S. Wise Day School ; Vered Hopenstand, Hebrew teacher and program coordinator at Shalhevet School; Rabbi Shmuel Jacobs, Jewish studies teacher at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn; and in Agoura Hills, Jan Saltsman, lead teacher at Heschel Day School.

Community Briefs

New CSUN Hillel Leader

Rabbi Jordan E. Goldson will become the director of Hillel at California State University at Northridge. Goldson, currently the director of public relations of Kiryat Shemona College of Advanced Jewish Studies in Israel, will begin his new appointment in July.

This position marks the first time Goldson has worked for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Previously, he has served as rabbi of Temple B’nai Tikvah, a 250-family congregation in Calgary, for 12 years before moving to Israel in 1999.

Ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, Rabbi Goldson holds an undergraduate degree from Tulane University and a master’s degree from Hebrew Union College of Los Angeles.

From 1994 to 1996 Goldson was president of the Canadian Region of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and has acted as the chairman of the Calgary Rabbinic Council. An active member of the community, Goldson has served on the boards of ARZA-Canada, B’nai B’rith of Calgary, Calgary Rabbinic Council, Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, the Community Relations Committee, the Alberta Council of Christians and Jews and Jewish Family Services.

Goldson and his wife, Rebecca, have two children, Tali, 11, and Gabriel, 9. — Staff Report

Educators Return From Israel

Eighteen local Jewish educators recently returned from a four-day visit to Israel intended to help them bring Israel into their classrooms in a more vital way. The group included teachers and administrators from across the Jewish spectrum, representing supplementary schools and day schools. It was arranged and subsidized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The travelers met with politicians, academics and victims of terrorist attacks. They made a memorable visit to Jaffa’s Arab-Jewish Center to gain a fresh perspective from members of Israel’s Arab minority. Many of the educators now hope to use modern technology to link their own classrooms with Israeli counterparts.

Keith Miller, Hazzan and education director for Kehillat Maarav’s religious school, came home with renewed determination to integrate Israeli issues into his students’ curriculum. He now plans to circulate daily news updates, as a way of showing youngsters “what happens to Israel affects everyone in this school.” — Beverly Gray

UCLA students also see Israel

More than 30 Los Angeles university students have spent the last three weeks in Israel, touring the country and learning about their heritage in Jerusalem educational programs.

The majority are students at UCLA and members of the campus organization Jewish Awareness Movement (J.A.M). Rabbi Benzion Klazko, J.A.M. chapter head at UCLA, led the tour. Activities on the summer trip included touring Jerusalem’s Old City, Masada and the Golan Heights; visiting archaeological digs; rappelling and kayaking; and daily classes at Aish Hatorah and Neve Jerusalem – Jewish Discovery programs in Jerusalem.

The students also spent one afternoon volunteering their time at Ezer Mizion — a nonprofit health support organization. Others pitched in for the “Meals on Wheels” program preparing sandwiches for families of the sick and hospitalized. About 150 Israelis benefited from the students’ efforts.

Maya Zutler, a political science major at UCLA, said doing the volunteer work actually enhanced her vacation.

“People always assume Jews help other Jews, but what I saw firsthand really opened my eyes,” she said.

Most students said that any security concerns they had evaporated once they had the opportunity to tour the country and see how it functions.

“Israel has been under siege for 53 years,” said Jeremy Schwartz, a junior at UCLA. “If you say you’ll wait until there’s no conflict, you’ll never see the place.” — Staff Report