This year, more Angelenos than ever get Passover aid from local agencies


This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.

During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.

Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.

The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos,  “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.

“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”

Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.

“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.

Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.

On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.

Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.

Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.

Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.

In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.

SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.

“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.

The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.

More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”

Dig, plant, grow, give — sharing the bounty of food


If there’s one thing Gabe Goldman wishes more Angelenos would do next spring, it’s get their hands dirty.

The American Jewish University (AJU) professor and director of experiential education is signing up students, synagogues and anyone else with a piece of land and a green thumb to plant small, personal gardens next March and donate their produce to local food pantries. The project, Helping Hands Gardens, aims to stock the shelves of overburdened Los Angeles pantries with organic fare as need across the region soars.

“I found out from food agencies that the number of people coming through their doors in the last six months has been overwhelming because of the economic downturn,” Goldman said.

Goldman brought his sophomore service-learning students to SOVA Food Pantry in 2007 to get a feel for what the agency, an arm of Jewish Family Service, does. They found that the pantry’s clients weren’t just unemployed adults anymore — they were often the children of families who can no longer make ends meet.

SOVA’s troubles sprang to mind as Goldman worked in the organic garden at AJU’s Brandeis-Bardin campus in Simi Valley last summer. After a bumper crop of tomatoes, he realized he and his students could help fill a need in the community. “I thought, boy, this would be a good time to take a portion of our food and start donating it,” he recalled.

In fact, he began to envision dozens of volunteer gardeners across Los Angeles doing the same. A small, 10-by-12-foot organic garden might only produce 20 pounds of food in a season, but a network of bite-sized food-growing operations could collectively help alleviate the strain on local food banks.

“One-hundred of these small gardens could produce more than a ton of food,” Goldman said. “These gardens are small, they don’t cost a lot, and they’re easy to take care of. Anyone with a backyard can do it.”

The project is a boon to SOVA Executive Director Joan Mithers, who has seen the number of monthly visits to the agency’s three pantries climb steadily since the economy began to sour last summer. In 2002, SOVA provided food to 2,500 clients per month. That number had risen to 5,000 by 2007. A record 6,200 L.A. residents lined up at SOVA locations this September. The agency has struggled to accommodate a 40 percent spike in client visits over the past year alone, between requests for food and financial service referrals, Mithers said.

“We have no indicator that it’s going to get better soon,” she said, noting that the pantry’s donations of surplus food from the USDA have been dwindling in recent years (the agency also receives food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Westside Food Bank and community food drives). “The common belief is that it will get worse before it gets better. With so many people, it would be great to have more food coming in.”

Goldman’s crop this summer at the AJU garden was a start. He and his students set aside a 50-by-50-foot portion of the one- acre plot for the Helping Hands Gardens project and ended up donating 200 pounds of food to pantries around Los Angeles, including SOVA and Simi Valley’s Care & Share food bank. The organic offerings featured zucchini and butternut squash, sweet corn, roma and beefeater tomatoes, onions and carrots.

Mithers said the project would improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of food at SOVA’s pantries.

“This is healthy food,” she said. “When people have limited income, they tend to have to buy the kinds of things that fill them up quickly and inexpensively, and those aren’t always the healthiest products. We want to provide our clients with healthy food, and you don’t get much healthier than fresh, organic produce.”

Studies have shown that the act of gardening also carries health benefits — and a sense of pride — for the gardeners themselves, according to Goldman.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” he said. “The people who are least able to afford organic food will have it provided for them. The students at our institution won’t just be learning about social problems; they’re taking an active role in the planning process — getting their hands dirty in the fields — and that changes them. Then the people in these agencies and schools who have these gardens get this tremendous sense of pride because they put a seed in the ground and helped it grow.”

Educators at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles have already seen this phenomenon in the two years since they planted a community garden at their religious school. Students there are no strangers to tikkun olam (healing the world) — they currently grow flowers to bring to patients at local hospitals alongside Passover herbs and Israeli plants.

“There is a glow in their eyes when they show me the dirt under their fingernails,” said Avram Mandell, education director at Leo Baeck. “There’s something about nurturing something from start to finish that you can’t teach out of a book.”

Next spring, the school will dedicate a portion of its garden to Helping Hands. Children in grades K-6 will care for the vegetables, harvest them, and donate them to help feed the hungry.

“We want students to connect to their community through the earth,” Mandell said. “This is an amazing opportunity to teach them about contributing to society.”

That’s how Rabbi Dara Frimmer feels about her young congregants at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles. The synagogue, whose unique Green Team encourages recycling and energy conservation, got on board with the Helping Hands project as a way to educate their 400 preschool students about sustainability.

“We want to teach our kids where food comes from,” Frimmer said. “We want them not only to have the pretty green plants in their courtyard, but also to teach them about having something they can use and work with and donate.”

Because of space restrictions on synagogue grounds, members will install several large planters around the property — namely in the playground area and in the preschool courtyard — so kids will interact with the gardens each day.

Until planting season begins in March, Goldman is reaching out to churches, synagogues, Hillels, senior centers and other potential participants to join the effort. Helping Hands Gardens will train AJU students to work with each facility as they set up their garden, which volunteer hosts will tend themselves. Goldman wants to see the project grow to a size where they can donate to food pantries throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“Every community in the country could have Helping Hands Gardens,” he said. “I am a firm believer that any social problem we create, we can solve. We have a lot of people and a lot of kids who need help now, through no fault of their own. We’re here and we can help them, so we should.”

Congregations help the homeless into homes — one family at a time


Sharon (not her real name) and her 4 1/2-year-old son have been in and out of shelters and temporary housing for the past several years, sometimes living on the streets. A recovering drug addict, Sharon now has a steady job working at a bakery but is about to reach her time limit in a transitional housing apartment.

But this time, she has a team of congregants from Leo Baeck Temple to help her not only find a place she can afford to live, but create and stick to a budget. They’ll help her furnish her apartment, will set up her transportation and will even baby-sit for her son so she can get an occasional break.

Leo Baeck connected with Sharon through Imagine LA, a program in its pilot year that aims to end homelessness among families by connecting Los Angeles’ 8,000 places of worship with the city’s 8,000 families who are on the verge of homelessness.

Three churches and Leo Baeck have signed on, and by 2009 Imagine LA hopes to have 30 families adopted.

Congregations make a financial commitment of $5,000 to adopt a family for two years. Most of that money is put into a donor-directed bank account overseen by the family, the congregation and case managers.

Imagine LA inserts itself into the problem of homelessness at a critical juncture: the exit from transitional housing. While case managers and psychologists help residents in transitional housing stabilize, many find themselves spiraling lower in the cycle of homelessness when the six-month to two-year limit there is up.

Imagine LA coordinators work with facility case managers and faith partners to determine the family’s needs and set up a plan for independent living. They might help a single mother get her high school equivalency diploma, help kids with homework or shuttle kids to sports programs. Sometimes, a mother needs to learn how to shop for and cook meals for a week, or sometimes she just needs moral support.

“The idea is to create a sustainable exit from homelessness, so they don’t just get into housing and get on the treadmill, but feel like they can grow and have some hope,” said Jill Govan Bauman, executive director of Imagine LA, an independent nonprofit founded in 2005 at the Bel Air Presbyterian Church.

The Leo Baeck team has met with Sharon once a week over the last month, since they signed on, and they’re hoping to have her in an apartment soon.

“Many of us here are socially active in many different ways, and there were enough of us who wanted to really do this hands-on,” said Scott Sale, a Leo Baeck member working with Imagine LA. He said the team bought into the idea of each faith-based organization in Los Angeles adopting one family to make a huge impact. “If we have to do it one at a time, that’s how we’ll do it. It’s just like the Jewish idea of saving one life is like saving the whole world.”

For additional information, visit http://www.imaginela.org/main/index.html.

September is a struggle for interfaith families


Months before the High Holidays arrive, Patrick Patterson requests the days off for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from his job as a firefighter/paramedic with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. A few days before, he reviews the entire High Holiday machzor, or prayer book, so that he feels familiar with the services and, especially, with the Hebrew prayers, which he reads in transliteration.

 
During the worship services themselves, which he attends at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air, he pays close attention, taking the prayers and the rabbis’ sermons to heart.

 
On Yom Kippur he fasts.

 
Patterson, 56 and living in Encino, is not Jewish and has no intention of converting. He can’t embrace Catholicism, the religion of his childhood, but he also can’t envision giving up saying prayers to Jesus. Nevertheless, he has openly and enthusiastically accepted the traditions of Judaism and has taken the Stephen S. Wise 10-week Holiday Workshop class.

 
“I have a strong sense of faith and a strong sense of family unity,” he said, referring to his Jewish wife, his three Jewish stepchildren and his own two children, whom he is raising Jewish.

 
But not all interfaith families incorporate the High Holidays into their lives so smoothly. For starters, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, unlike Chanukah and Passover, are not home-based holidays that can be celebrated creatively and confined within a family’s religious comfort zone.

 
“At Chanukah, you can delight in kindling the menorah, but the High Holidays are truly a full day of fixed liturgy that, the truth is, is a difficult one to follow even for many Jews,” said Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Culver City’s Temple Akiba, a Reform synagogue with a large percentage of interfaith families among their 300 or so family member units.

 
Plus, there are no equivalent holidays in Christianity, and the religious concepts of tefillah (prayer), teshuvah (repentance) and tzedakah (righteousness) are often foreign to the non-Jewish spouse. Additionally, a non-Jew is often uncomfortable asking for time off from work for the day for a holiday that is not his or her own, or unwilling to sit through a lengthy service, much of it in Hebrew. This is sometimes an even bigger issue when the Jewish partner rarely attends synagogue but is adamant about showing up to High Holiday services.

 
And sometimes the interfaith couple simply does not feel accepted.

 
Judi Brooks Johnson, 50, who identifies as a cultural Jew, would like to attend High Holiday services this year with her husband, an African American who was raised Christian, and their 10-year-old daughter. She has been visiting some synagogue open houses in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, but she is not optimistic.

 
“It’s difficult to find a place where we can worship when people are not welcoming of my husband,” the Burbank resident said.

 
For certain, she plans to join her extended family in Los Angeles for Rosh Hashanah dinner and Yom Kippur break-the-fast, and she and her husband will use those opportunities to talk about the holidays with their daughter and nieces. “My husband actually embraces the Old Testament, and he was taught well. We enjoy having wonderful discussions about values and teachings,” Brooks Johnson said.

 
Still, with intermarriage rates rising in the non-Orthodox Jewish community and with about 31 percent of all Jews who are currently married involved in interfaith marriages, according the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, Jewish synagogues and institutions are eagerly reaching out to interfaith families.

 
For the non-Jewish partner in an interfaith relationship, the High Holidays often feel like the flip side of the December dilemma, according to Arlene Chernow, regional director of outreach and synagogue community for the Union of Reform Judaism’s Pacific Southwest and Northwest Councils.

 
“They feel like the whole world is participating in something that they don’t understand,” she said.

 
Chernow refers the non-Jewish person to two resources which, she pointed out, are helpful even to those born Jewish. One is “Celebrations! A Parent’s Guide,” a booklet put out by the Temple Israel of Hollywood Outreach Committee. It’s targeted for parents of preschoolers but serves as a basic primer on holiday themes, rituals, foods and activities for all parents. Additionally, Chernow recommends “The High Holy Days” brochure created by the Outreach Committee of Phoenix’s Temple Chai.

 
At the University of Judaism, Rabbi Neal Weinberg devotes one four-hour session of his Introduction to Judaism class to the High Holidays, explaining the liturgy and customs. In this year’s class on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, held in early September, he explained the difference between the Christian concept of unconditional love, which mandates that people be automatically forgiven, with the Jewish concept of justice, which insists that individuals be held accountable for their actions.

 
“Jews don’t have love and hate,” he explained to his class. “We have love and injustice.”

 
Grenda Guilfoil, 42, who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment, struggled with the idea that you cannot forgive someone who does not ask to be forgiven. Still, she felt that the session was helpful, especially in terms of dealing with religious concepts and rituals, such as blowing the shofar. She plans to attend High Holiday services at Sinai Temple in Westwood with her Jewish significant other, Richard David, 47, who is taking the Introduction to Judaism class with her.

 
“But it’s not only going to services themselves. It’s the family rituals also, like lunch at Richard’s mother’s house, that add a whole other level of newness that I’m being introduced to,” Guilfoil said.

 
Michael Hudson, 51, a Jew-by-choice, has no extended Jewish family.
“I frankly have to make that commitment on my own,” he said. An African American, Hudson was raised United Methodist and, after a lengthy spiritual search, converted to Judaism in 1994. His wife is a practicing Catholic, as are his two young adult children.

 
Hudson’s Jewish family consists of friends from his job at the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he serves as a labor relations representative, and from his synagogue, Temple Akiba, where he sings in the choir and serves as vice president of religious practices. Hudson will participate in all Temple Akiba services as a choir member. He has no plans for Rosh Hashanah lunch or dinner, but he will attend a Yom Kippur break-the-fast at a friend’s house, where his family will join him.

Jewish Studies Bug Bites Parents, Too


Eighteen months ago, when Lenard Cohen’s 4-year-old daughter was enrolled in the family’s congregational preschool, the Philadelphia-area father of three decided to go back to school himself.

He signed up for the Florence Melton Parent Education Program, a Jewish adult education course for parents of preschoolers.

Raised as a Reform Jew, Cohen said he was on the “lower end” of the observance scale when he signed up for the course, which meets once a week, 30 weeks a year, two hours at a stretch, for two full years.

His goal, he says, was to “increase my knowledge of Jewish practice, Jewish history and Jewish ethics, and to be able to pass it on to my children better.”

The course has done that and more, he says, bringing together a group of parents with disparate backgrounds and experiences.

“We’re all there because we’re parents of preschoolers and we want to learn,” he says.

With a number of recent studies showing that preschools have a profound effect on the Jewish life of the entire family, and that greater linkage is needed between preschools and the rest of the Jewish educational and communal network, educators and philanthropists are engaging in new initiatives to bring parents of Jewish preschoolers into the process.

Some of those initiatives are formal, such as the Melton program, which operates in 15 cities, and some are more informal, involving interaction and greater outreach between parents and their children’s school.

“There’s a sense of fragmentation,” says Lyndall Miller, coordinator of the Jewish early childhood education certificate program at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa. “Parents don’t have models of how to parent. People don’t talk to each other about how they can build relationships with their children. Schools must become communities, and they don’t know how.”

Simply making the effort to reach out is a crucial beginning, educators say.

Ina Regosin, founding director of the Early Childhood Institute and dean of students at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., says that when she was director of a Jewish preschool 30 years ago, she’d routinely invite parents into the building when they dropped off their children, “to educate them, of course.”

The school sent home weekly newsletters for the parents to read, and held evening programs on Jewish holidays and other topics.

The best Jewish preschools today all engage in that kind of active outreach to parents, and try to make it part of the natural rhythm of family life.

“Whatever we do for the children we do for the adults,” says Helen Cohen, who 12 years ago founded a preschool at Temple Israel, a large Reform congregation in Boston. Teachers send home weekly newsletters on the Torah portion, with the Hebrew words translated and transliterated. They hold family Havdalah services, and send parents home with clear instructions on how to do the ritual themselves.

Taking part in a Jewish learning experience at their child’s preschool is a nonthreatening way for many parents with little or no Jewish education to increase their own knowledge and feel more at home with Jewish observance.

Sometimes preschools run separate, adults-only classes for parents to study Torah or learn Jewish parenting skills.

“Our families are so assimilated, a lot of them are not comfortable with the rituals,” says Shelley Smith, preschool director at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Portland, Ore. “We create a safe zone for them to learn from the ground up, together with their children.

Sending kids home on Friday with “Shabbat boxes,” which typically include candles, transliterations of the blessings and challah baked by the child that day in class, is popular at many preschools.

“Who won’t hang the mezuzah your child made on the bedroom door?” Smith says. “Who on Friday night won’t stick candles in the Shabbat candlesticks your child made out of Play-Doh?”

At the Osher Marin JCC preschool in San Rafael, director Janet Harris stands in her front lobby every morning to greet the children and their parents. She shakes their hands and personally invites them to the school’s family programs.

The Osher Marin preschool is one of 12 schools involved in a pilot project by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, which was launched in 2004 to develop models of preschools that bring the entire family into the project of Jewish learning.

Mark Horowitz, the initiative’s executive director, says that each school receives funding and coaching to deepen the Jewish and developmental content in the classrooms, and to build strong relationships with the parents.

Next year, the program will add 10 to 20 new preschools to the project.

“If we can create communities of Jewish families around these preschools, then they will want to continue their connection with Jewish education and institutions,” he says. “We will have created a craving for Jewish life. It might mean congregational affiliation, or membership in Jewish Community Centers, or Jewish day school — some meaningful way to continue the communities in which they have been flourishing.”

The Melton Parent Education Program is one of two formal initiatives to emerge in recent years. The program, based at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and run out of its North American office in Northbrook, Ill., is modeled after the successful Florence Melton Adult Mini-School curriculum.

“We promote pluralism, text-based study and interactive learning,” says Mitch Parker, director of the program for preschool parents.

“We encourage the parents to realize that what they learn in class is relevant to Jewish family life, and to take the lesson home. We don’t teach the how-tos, but the whys of Judaism and the importance of it.”

This spring, 450 parents are enrolled nationwide. And it’s having an impact.

More of those parents are enrolling their children in day school — the stated goal of the Avi Chai Foundation, which subsidizes tuition for the program. The program is also, in some cases, open to parents of children in the younger grades of day school.

And, Parker says, “We definitely see behavioral changes” among the parent-students. “They admit that after two years, they are doing more Jewish things.”

Deborah Bradley of Walled Lake, Mich., outside Detroit, is in her second year of the program. Her three children all went to a Conservative congregational preschool. The two oldest are now in day school, and the youngest will start next year. The decision to put her kids in day school “evolved,” she says, as she and her husband saw how much they were learning in preschool.

She decided to take the Melton program “not only because of my love of studying, but to be able to delve into topics my children were getting introduced to in Jewish day school.”

Her 10-year-old had been asking difficult questions about Jewish beliefs regarding afterlife, cremation and where she stood on abortion.

“I came in with good knowledge, but getting Tanach references was helpful,” she says, referring to the Bible. “It helps me communicate better with the kids.”

Another formal education program operates in the Boston area and western Massachusetts. Ikkarim, an adult learning program for parents of 1- to 5-year-olds, is run by Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. The Ikkarim program operates at several local synagogues. Focusing on Jewish text study, it targets parents of preschool-age children in its exploration of how Jewish values apply to contemporary family relationships.

Regosin of Hebrew College says that it’s critical to offer this kind of outreach to young Jewish parents, because they’re at the point in their lives when they’re making decisions that will affect the Jewish nature of their home for years to come.

“You’ve got families that are so open at this point, especially when it’s their first child,” she says. If the preschool experience is good, they’re more likely to continue that child’s Jewish education, and to send their younger children to preschool as well.

“When a young family makes that choice and walks through the door, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” she says. “If you have teachers and directors committed to strong Jewish education, they can have tremendous impact.”

 

Playing Favorites


When I was a kid, I was a very important person in shul. My dad was not at all prominent in the greater society — he merely worked for his brother, selling toys and stationery as a wholesaler in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, starting his workday at 7 a.m. and working through 7 p.m. every day, including Sunday. (Sabbath-observant, he got to leave midafternoon on Fridays.) But at shul, he was well liked, even loved, and was the vice president of the local Young Israel. He was very important there, and I got treated great.

Then he died — cut down by leukemia at age 45. At his funeral, everyone from shul attended and promised to love our family, to remain close. In time, though, the bonds loosened. There were fewer visits on Shabbat to our home; fewer invitations to others’ homes. And then it happened. One Shabbat, amid 20 talking boys, I was singled out to be chastised — to be quiet. That had never before happened to me.

Never when dad was alive. I suddenly learned that, if some kid had to be made an example, had to be chastised for the noise, it was best to sanction the orphans. Kids with living fathers were protected. Their dads paid dues.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we are warned so clearly to enact justice fairly: “Tzedek tzedek tirdof” — Pursue justice in heated pursuit. Do not pervert judgment. Do not play favorites in judgment by recognizing certain faces over others. Do not take bribes because bribes blind the eyes of even the wisest judges and pervert the integrity of the words of even the most righteous people. (Deuteronomy 16:19-20).

For many of us, these Torah mandates seem pretty easy to align with — forbidding bribery, requiring unperverted justice, commanding strict fairness in court. But howzabout us, in everyday life? Do we play by these rules?

When we meet someone wealthy, alongside someone of humble means, do we accord dignity to the modest as the rich guy pushes ahead of him? The modest man is telling of his daughter’s tragedy, her victimization at the hands of a man who has harassed her out of her Jewish religious faith and practice, but suddenly the rich guy pushes in to tell a joke. Who among us dares to say: “Excuse me, we were just speaking about this man’s — and his daughter’s — tragedy.”

Tevye sings it because we know it: “And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong. When you’re rich, they think you really know.”

That indeed is what they think.

It is easy to overlook the orphan, the widow — or, in today’s society, the divorced and the young single in her 40s — because, well, they don’t fit into the “model of success.” If we hang around them, we might catch whatever they are carrying. In time, if not immunized, we might be renting a condo instead of owning a house.

Do we hear them? When they ask our help to find a match for life? When they ask for Shabbat home hospitality? Do we approach the boy and girl whose father or mother has died, or whose father is not Jewish, or the married man who merely works for his brother? I don’t think so. Not in my experience.

Listen to someone of modest means at a Shabbat hotel program lament a theft of $500 cash from his room, and who among us thinks of taking up a collection to salvage that family’s oneg? Instead, we have grist for a new mill — table conversation at lunch.

“Did you hear about the family that was robbed?”

“Yeah, it was $500, I heard.”

“Should we help them out?”

“Naaaah. They were stupid. They should have put their cash in the safe.”

Maybe that is why the Torah commands us in a strange, double command: Tzedek, tzedek — justice, justice shall you pursue. Because, amid a smug sense that no one can bribe me, that I am above being perverted in justice, that I surely would exact only pure justice if I were a judge of the Superior Court, the reality is that I — and the vast majority of us — never become clothed in the black judicial robes of the bench. But we do indeed sit in judgment of people every day of our lives. At work. At play. At home.

We legitimately encourage our kids to play with — and later to marry — approved kids from approved families. We legitimately protect them from bad elements in society. Yet we also cast our net of judgment wider, writing off so many good people, little people, the financially less successful, the children of the unimportant, just on the fringe of society’s excellence, qualified to enter yet desperately trying to gain admittance. The singles. The divorced. The boys and girls without a parent, whether missing one due to death, divorce or simple parental apathy.

Do you take bribes? Think about it.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a member of the Rabbinical Council of California, is rav of Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine and an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School.

 

Acts of Faith – Farewell Service


After World War II, two Jewish GIs returned to Los Angeles and founded a synagogue in Westchester. Beth Tikvah, as it was called, finally found a permanent home in 1959 on the Westchester bluffs.

But last month, the Conservative congregation — known since 1968 as B’nai Tikvah after merging with the nearby B’nai Israel in Baldwin Hills — held its last service at the historic Westchester building, with its 204-seat sanctuary. On Aug. 20, about 100 people showed up for a final Havdalah service to say goodbye.

Because of dwindling membership and a lack of Jewish families in the area, the congregation decided to sell the property and look for a new location on the Westside.

“We got well over the appraised price, and about a half a million over the asking price,” said Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, or “Reb Jason,” who did not disclose what the congregation received from a real estate company that plans to build condominiums.

At its apex in the 1960s, B’nai Tikvah had some 400 member families, said Rabbi Marvin Bornstein, who served as its leader from 1953-1984.

“It was humming day and night there,” he told The Journal.

But then white flight happened, and Jews began leaving Westchester and the nearby neighborhoods of Inglewood and Ladera Heights. The airport also needed more land and started buying up property.

“They cut our membership in half just by expanding the airport. It reduced us to maybe 150 families,” Bornstein said. “That was a big blow.”

But things are not over for B’nai Tivkah, said Van Leeuwen, who had been brought in a year ago to drive up membership.

The congregation will move its religious and nursery schools to the site of the former Montessori school at 8820 Sepulveda Eastway in Westchester, and will hold most services at the adjacent Westchester Christian Church. In addition, the congregation will share a location with Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista, which has about 60 families.

Van Leeuwen said he hopes in the next three to five years to increase membership, cultivate a donor base and find a new site.

Bornstein delivered the keynote speech at the goodbye ceremony.

“I told them that the spirit of a synagogue is not expressed in the building that they have. It’s expressed in the hopes and dreams of the congregation, and that I hope they will continue to dream and rebuild. And someday, I hope they will invite me to put a mezuzah on their new building.”

“It must have been a pretty emotional speech,” he said, “because for the first time in my life, I got a standing ovation.”

For more information on services, schools or the Festival of Faith ceremony on Sept. 18 at 1:30 p.m. with the Westchester Christian Church, call (310) 645 6262.

100 Shofars to Sound

Michael Chusid was 10 years old when he first tried to blow a shofar, the traditional ram’s horn sounded on the High Holidays.

“I did not have a teacher, so I huffed and puffed until my cheeks hurt without getting even a small toot,” he said.

It was so difficult that he did not touch a shofar again for 30 years.

“During that time, I would go to synagogue on the High Holidays, but I felt alienated from what was going on there. When I would hear shofar during the services, I noticed everyone around me was excited, but I could not feel any connect with the ritual.”

But Chusid has come a long way. These days he is such an expert in the art of the horn that he teaches classes around the city for other amateurs who were once like himself.

How did he come so far?

In 1994, he began attending Makom Ohr Shalom, a Jewish Renewal temple in Granada Hills. There he discovered how to participate in all aspects of worship — including blowing the shofar, which was accomplished by many members of the congregation instead of just one leader.

“The sound they made was on a whole different magnitude, both acoustically and spiritually, from anything I had experienced before. When I heard the shofar, I felt a great relief, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from my spirit.”

Chusid went out and bought himself a shofar, learned how to play it — and started teaching others. Now, this Rosh Hashanah (Oct. 3, 4 and 5), he expects to hear the sound of 100 people blowing shofar at Makom Ohr Shalom. That’s a twist on the tradition that Jews are meant to hear 100 blasts of the Shofar throughout the holiday.

For anyone who wants to participate — or learn for their own synagogue — Chusid is teaching workshops this month around the city on the art and spirituality of shofar-blowing.

He compares it to “blowing raspberries,” except that the lips have to be curled over the teeth and pressed together. The sound is made by the buzzing of the lips, and when you force air through the pursed lips, they vibrate and make a sound.

“Many people know the shofar as a battle cry, like at Jericho,” Chusid said, noting that it can also be used to call the end of war, for teshuva or repentance, as well as a wake-up call for tikkun olam, the obligation to help repair the world.

“When I blow the shofar, I visualize my blast creating a vibration that travels throughout the community and around the planet to wherever healing needs to take place.”

Free shofar blowing classes: Monday, Sept. 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 788-6000, www.vbs.org. Friday, Sept. 16, 7:10-8 p.m., prior to Shabbat services, Makom Ohr Shalom, 5619 Lindley Ave. (at Burbank Boulevard), Tarzana, (818) 725-7600, www.makom.org. To schedule classes, contact Michael Chusid at (818) 774-0003 or send an e-mail to shofarot@gmail.com.

 

A Race Against Time and Floodwaters


Stepping up to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, Jewish day schools opened their doors to evacuees, families welcomed strangers into their homes, Jewish rescue squads searched through the storm’s wreckage and Jewish organizations raised millions of dollars for those whose lives were turned topsy-turvy by the deadly storm.

Houston has quickly become a major haven for victims who have been left, for the moment at least, without homes. The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston quickly jumped into action to aid the beleaguered evacuees, Jew and non-Jew alike.

“We have mobilized our community around all the areas that seem to be current and potential needs,” said Lee Wunsch, the federation’s CEO. “There’s a lot of activity. People are very generous with their time. Our phones have not stopped ringing.”

Approximately 15,000 Louisiana evacuees were being housed in the Astrodome, the city’s covered sports stadium, after conditions in the New Orleans Superdome grew unbearable. Houston is hosting tens of thousands of evacuees, including an estimated 5,000 Jews.

The federation has joined an interfaith coalition taking responsibility for feeding the refugees in the Astrodome for the next 30 days, a service that the federal government is not providing, Wunsch told JTA. The effort will require 700 to 800 volunteers each day and is expected to cost between $7 million and $8 million.

“We’re trying to raise the money to make a sizable contribution to that,” Wunsch said.

In the first 24 hours when the fund was opened last week, the federation raised about $75,000 in online donations. Donations are coming in so quickly that by the beginning of this week, the federation had decided to hold off calculating the total until a quieter time.

The Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Inc. announced it would be donating $1 million to help relieve survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Funds will be allocated as $500,000 grants to both United Jewish Communities (UJC) and Catholic Charities USA.

On Tuesday, UJC said it had raised nearly $4 million, including the Weinberg Foundation grant. The UJC also said that the local federations directly affected by the hurricane were overwhelmed and had asked that those with questions or seeking to make donations contact the UJC directly.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Jews may be among those still trapped in water-inundated homes or missing in the Gulf region, said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, Chabad-Lubavitch’s spokesman based in New York.

Chabad rescue teams, comprised largely of New York-based medics and others with relevant expertise, have rescued 32 Jews from their houses over the last several days, he said. The teams are operating both on foot and in boats.

Some elderly Jews resisted leaving their homes, as did one woman who was reluctant to leave her pets behind to fend for themselves. The teams were able to convince some victims to evacuate their homes; others stayed put.

The Hurricane Relief section of Chabad’s Web site asks anyone who knows of people still missing or trapped to provide details through the site (www.chabad.org.).

As of Tuesday, the official death toll in New Orleans was 71, and in Mississippi it was 161. However, those figures were expected to climb into the thousands as floodwaters begin to recede, revealing the true toll of those lost.

Hunger and fear of disease in affected areas engendered anger and disbelief as the federal government’s handling of the crisis garnered sharp criticism. President Bush toured the battered region Monday, comforting victims and vowing to do what is necessary to aid them. In a visit to the area last week, Bush said relief efforts to that point were “not acceptable.”

Jewish organizations in the hard-hit region and beyond pitched in to help those whose lives have been disrupted by Katrina.

Israeli universities are opening their doors to college students whose schools have been shut down by the storm. Tulane University in New Orleans announced that it will not hold classes for the fall semester. Loyola University is also closed though January, and Dillard University is examining its options for the immediate future. The two schools are also in New Orleans.

The Jewish Agency for Israel, MASA — the Gateway to Long-Term Israel Programs and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life have forged a coalition of the five major Israeli universities with study-abroad programs to allow displaced students — Jews and non-Jews — to quickly continue their studies.

Meanwhile, Jewish day school networks across the United States and across the denominational spectrum are working to absorb Jewish students and their families, offering everything from free tuition and school supplies to employment opportunities for parents and living accommodations.

“Jewish day schools across the streams walk the walk and talk the talk,” said Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network.

The UJC and local federations throughout the United States and Canada have also established funds to aid those in need. Numerous other Jewish organizations, both national and local, are also offering help — raising money, coordinating housing and looking into specific medical and religious needs of refugees in their communities.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has composed a special prayer for the victims.

“In the path of Katrina’s destruction, let the good in humanity rise to the top of the flood,” it reads, in part. “Give us strength to console those who have lost family, friends and neighbors. Give us the courage to provide hope to those who despair. Provide us with the guidance to heal those who ail, both in body and in spirit.”

At Beth Am Israel, a Conservative congregation in Penn Valley, Pa., congregants are preparing backpacks full of school supplies for young Katrina evacuees who will shortly be enrolling in the Houston public school system.

Each school bag is being filled with grade-appropriate supplies in accordance with Houston school guidelines — younger students may get crayons and markers while older pupils will receive items like graph paper and protractors.

“In terms of rallying the community, it was really wonderful,” said Gari Julius Weilbacher, who is coordinating the synagogue’s effort. “It’s giving people something to do besides writing really, really vital checks.”

Weilbacher said that she expects more than 150 backpacks to come in, and some congregants are writing checks to pay for postage, while others are donating boxes in which to pack the bags for shipment.

The Houston federation is working feverishly to meet Jewish evacuees’ needs.

A number of New Orleans families are now living with families in Houston, Wunsch said, and local day schools are allowing students from New Orleans to enroll for free. The Maimonides Society, a group for local Jewish doctors, has been mobilized to help those evacuees with medical concerns, and several local rabbis are coordinating an effort to ensure that their Jewish religious needs are met.

Synagogues in the Houston area are providing free Shabbat meals and are expected to open their doors to evacuee families, both in the immediate future and during the High Holidays.

At Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston, members are making room in their homes for those with no place to go and have prepared welcome packages of toiletries, snacks and beverages. The synagogue was also arranging kosher meals for those who want them, and sent about 250 volunteers to the Astrodome this week.

The community response has been swift and overwhelming, say those involved in coordinating area relief efforts.

“I’m 150 e-mails behind,” said Adam Bronstone, who fled New Orleans on Aug. 27 and has since been working at the Houston federation office and living with a friend. “There’s one guy here answering four phones at a time.”

The situation, Bronstone said, is “crazy, it’s surreal, it’s loving, its warm. It’s the worst of times — but it’s also the best of times.”

Hurricane damage in the region was staggering. The full extent of damage to sites of Jewish concern remained uncertain. West Esplanade Avenue in Metarie, La., is home to about five Jewish institutions.

Rabbi Yossie Nemes, who rode out the storm at his home there with his family and four others seeking refuge, saw downed trees, power outages, some damage to roofs and up to two feet of water.

Those with knowledge of New Orleans geography said that based on news reports about damage to particular neighborhoods, they suspected that some other buildings, including a Jewish museum, were badly damaged or destroyed.

As Nemes, his wife, seven children and four house guests sat on the second floor of his home — winds howling outside, water rising on the bottom level, rain pelting the sturdy brick home’s protective hurricane shutters — they prayed and played board games.

“We weren’t worried for our lives,” he recalled on Tuesday from Chabad’s offices in New York, where he had arrived by car in the morning after three days in Memphis. “But it was very, very nerve-wracking. We were hoping and praying for the storm to end.”

Things grew more tense, he said, when some of the city’s levees broke. At that point, Nemes had no idea how his neighborhood would fare. In the end, the power went out and his house took in about two feet of water — but everyone got out safely.

“All the appliances and furniture are damaged,” he said. “It’s dirty, bacteria-filled water. There’s extensive damage, but I don’t believe it’ll be condemned.”

In addition to those who landed in Houston, Jews also ended up in Birmingham, Ala.; Nashville; Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Dallas; cities in Florida; and elsewhere.

Many also fled to Memphis. The Orthodox Union (OU) dispatched Rabbi Chaim Neiditch on a fact-finding mission to Tennessee.

“They’re living Jewish lives as best as they can,” said Neiditch, the director of the southern region of the OU’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth. They are attending prayer services and eating kosher food, he said, but there is a real fear that the community, stretched to its limits by the influx of evacuees, will run out of kosher food.

“There is a sense of despair and worse — every single possession is lost, jobs gone,” he said. “They are separated from family and friends. They have no means of communicating with each other. It is beyond comprehension what is going on.”

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Southland Responds to Relief Needs


Prominent rabbis have been urging their congregations to give generously to Hurricane Katrina relief funds, the most prominent being one set up by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which had raised more than $500,000 by early this week.

The scope of the disaster is reaching Southland Jews through media reports and other sources. At Rancho Park’s Reform Temple Isaiah, Rabbi Zoe Klein received an Aug. 31 e-mail from a congregant worried about her relatives stuck in a New Orleans hospital.

“There is nine feet of water outside the hospital where they are staying,” the message read. “They have their two children, a friend’s child and my sister-in-law’s two blind parents with them…. The generators have run out of fuel.

“They think they will be evacuated by boat to a dry area and then hope to drive out of town if they can find a car…. Would you mind saying a prayer and exercising whatever pull you have with G-d….”

In Westwood, Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe told a Sept. 3 Shabbat audience of more than 900 that “the best way to insure both the decency and the safety of the human community is, when we are the lucky ones, to give a model of what it means to have open hands and open hearts.”

At Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, Reform Rabbi Steve Jacobs said the hurricane’s aftermath is something that “has exposed the great poverty in America.”

Among the many temples collecting donations is the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City. “We’re going to send one check in the next few weeks,” said Rabbi Elazar Mushkin. “You do not read this [hurricane] as a judgment of God. Planets are formed, tectonic plates shift, earthquakes occur and sometime innocent people die.”

Some Sept. 3 bar and bat mitzvahs included hurricane donations, rabbis said.

Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge has collected more than 15,000 articles of clothing for shipping to Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge, La. B’nai Israel is providing shelter for 200-plus evacuees and requested clothing and baby items for immediate distribution.

Heading into the hurricane’s devastation zone were two leaders of the L.A. chapter of the emergency-response volunteer group, Hatzolah. Rabbis Tzemach Rosenfeld and Chaim Kolodny arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on Labor Day to help out for at least a week, bringing with them a suitcase loaded with kosher food.

“We never know who we’re gonna bump into,” Kolodny said.

By early this week, the situation seemed to have improved for Jewish residents and other hurricane victims who’d survived. Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel sent out an e-mail stating that most Jews appear to have been evacuated.

In addition, he had instructions for families attempting to reunite. “Any New Orleans evacuees can report their whereabouts to adam@jewishnola.com,” he wrote. “There may be students from the affected areas studying here in Los Angeles. If so, they are asked to contact Hillel.”

Fishel added that New Orleans’ Jewish leaders are asking Jews elsewhere to avoid contacting either the New Orleans or Houston federation staff directly, but “to do so through the L.A. Federation.”

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Evacuees Face Life of Uncertainties


Shlomi Tabach was trying to pry the bronze mezuzah off his front doorpost with pliers, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Look at that. The mezuzah doesn’t want to leave. It wants to stay in Gush Katif,” said Tabach’s mother-in-law, Yaffa Michaeli, referring to the main Jewish settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip, where the family had lived for 16 years — until last week.

With one more yank, the mezuzah finally came off.

The Tabach family left the settlement of Gadid last week, ahead of the Israeli withdrawal. Settlers who hadn’t evacuated as of Monday were given 48-hours notice to leave, on threat of eviction.

However, the Tabach family left a few days before the evacuation got under way, rising at dawn to pack final boxes with their toddler son’s toys, taking down lace curtains and lighting fixtures. Their sand-swept front yard was crammed with furniture, plastic crates and boxes as they waited for the moving van.

Tabach, 30, and his wife, Ravit, 26, both accountants, have lived in a small one-story house in Gadid for two years.

Ravit Tabach was 10 when she moved to the settlement with her family from the southern Israeli town of Ofakim. Shlomi Tabach, who grew up secular in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon, met Ravit during their accounting studies and followed her to Gaza.

By last Sunday, the Tabachs had moved into a mobile home in Nitzan, a temporary housing project off the highway leading from the Gaza Strip north to Tel Aviv. Nitzan was designed to absorb the bulk of those evacuated from Gush Katif.

With its rows of mobile homes planted on a huge plot, Nitzan looks a bit like one of the transit camps erected in the early days of Israel to absorb the massive flow of new immigrants. Unlike a transit camp, however, these mobile homes have parking spaces, air conditioning and a bit of space. Reflecting those amenities, they’re not called caravans, the Israeli term for mobile homes, but caravillas.

At the Tabachs’ new home, one enters a spacious kitchen with a small adjacent living room. A hallway leads to four comfortable bedrooms and two bathrooms. The windows, however, look directly into the rooms of the family next door.

Last Sunday, just before the formal evacuation began, Nitzan looked nearly deserted. Most of the expected evacuees hadn’t arrived yet, staying behind in Gush Katif for the final showdown with soldiers coming to evict them. The Tabachs were among the few families who already had settled in.

“On the face of it, everything is all right,” Shlomi Tabach said, “but our entire life is under a question mark. We don’t know how many of our friends will join us here. Ravit’s parents have moved to Ashdod, and we still don’t know whether our one-and-a-half-year-old, Nevo, will have a kindergarten to go to.”

It was getting darker, and Tabach turned on the sprinklers to water carpets of grass newly planted near the mobile home, a marked change from Gush Katif’s greenery.

“We are willing to give up many things, as long as we have peace and quiet,” Tabach said, “but it doesn’t look like we will. I know the Arabs, and I know that their only wish is to see us evaporate away,” and Israeli Prime Minister “Ariel Sharon helps them out. And for this, he will be doomed to eternal disgrace.”

The younger generation’s trauma, however, is marginal compared with that of their parents, the people who built Gush Katif a generation ago. Having finally settled down, with private homes, successful farms and the time to enjoy their children and grandchildren, they were forced to leave.

They find themselves in new neighborhoods, with an unhappy present and an uncertain future.

“The whole thing seems unreal to me. I don’t believe I’m here,” said Michaeli, Ravit Tabach’s mother, referring to Ashdod. “I feel that in just a little while I’ll go back to Gadid.”

But the life that the Michaelis enjoyed in Gadid is no more.

“I used to hand the keys of my $40,000 car to my Palestinian worker to go and have it washed. I trusted him completely,” said Yaffa Michaeli’s husband, Salim, 55. “It was a different world.”

Salim Michaeli spoke of Gadid as if he had just been exiled from the Garden of Eden, ignoring the frequent terrorist attacks that settlers endured during the five-year-old Palestinian intifada. Leaning back on the uncomfortable kitchen chair at his newly rented home in Ashdod, he stared at the world with weary eyes and sighed deeply.

“It was an empire,” he said. “We have left an empire behind.”

Their empire included a 2,500-square-foot, five-bedroom house on a half-acre plot; 15 acres of hothouses, where the Michaelis grew tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; a 6,500-square-foot packing house; two trucks; a restaurant in the nearby settlement of Neveh Dekalim; and a crew of Palestinian labor.

Before the intifada began in September 2000, the Michaelis employed 33 Palestinians and 11 Thais. Even though that number had dwindled in the past five years, “when we handed out their last salaries on Friday, they cried,” Salim Michaeli said.

The Michaelis rented the house in Ashdod for $1,200 a month, not wanting to cram into one of the narrow caravillas in Nitzan. Their new residence lies on a narrow, crowded street, where a neighbor’s music can be heard blaring loudly throughout the area. Gone are the days of isolated homes near Gaza’s expansive sand dunes.

One of the Michaelis’ sons — Dudu, 22 — stayed behind in Gadid for the final confrontation with evacuating forces. Another son, Naor, 17, is staying with the Tabachs. Only Neriya, the Michaelis’ 8-year-old, is currently with them in Ashdod.

Yaffa Michaeli, who operated the family restaurant and catering services in Neveh Dekalim, is thinking of opening a restaurant in Ashdod or its vicinity, though there is a lot of competition. But her husband Salim is less optimistic.

“My entire life project is collapsing, and I only receive $400,000 in compensation,” he said. “I would need at least half of it to build a new home. And what about living expenses? Who will employ me at age 55?”

“We had an empire,” he said again. But the Gush Katif empire has fallen.

 

Getting Kids Into Charity Pays Off Big


Start talking to wealthy families about the benefits of getting kids involved in philanthropy, and they’ll tell you the biggest beneficiaries are the kids — and their families. They say even young children who get involved learn the value of money, the limits of resources and the need for tough decisions. It also helps sheltered youths meet and understand people who are less fortunate and provides a values-based structure for bringing families together year after year.

But getting kids involved with giving isn’t just for wealthy families. On the contrary, middle-class kids tend to have much more than they need — and can benefit from the values and insights they will get from charitable activities. It’s up to parents to get them going, and to figure out the best structure for the entire family’s charitable activities.

Either way, decisions about giving will have to take account of what you can afford, what you believe, and what you hope to accomplish, both for your family and for the beneficiaries of your largesse. The outcome is likely to be a stronger family, as well as a better world.

Perhaps the most basic question from clients is: At what age should kids be engaged in philanthropy? The overwhelming answer from those with experience boils down to one word: young.

“As soon as you hear them say the word ‘mine,’ it’s time,” said Claire Costello, director of Citigroup Private Bank’s philanthropic-advisory service in New York.

Teaching children the right lessons about giving is a job that only families can do. In part, that’s because most high schools and colleges do little to teach young people to handle money, said Susan Crites Price, author of “The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others” (Council on Foundations). It’s especially easy for affluent kids to avoid learning about delayed gratification, establishing a budget, or making hard spending choices. Unfortunately, Price laments, parents often fail to talk to their kids about wealth. An allowance can help, but the lessons of an allowance should include the lessons of philanthropy.

“I think that’s really critical,” she said.

If you give your kids an allowance, consider starting with the old three-jar rule: one for spending, one for saving and one for giving. For an incentive, parents might offer to match what the kids donate. As the children get older, they can be given a modest pot of money, as little as $100 each, and then be asked how they might want to make the world a better place. Do they care about libraries? Animals? People with no place to live? If there are several children, they can meet to decide what causes to support. And when a cause has been identified, they can be taken to visit the potential recipient. Parents who donate their time to a philanthropic effort should have their children accompany them. These occasions are an opportunity to teach kids not only about giving but also how they should treat people.

Parents who don’t get involved in philanthropy themselves can’t reasonably expect the kids to get involved, said Douglas Mellinger, vice chairman of Foundation Source, a provider of foundation services.

“You need to exemplify it,” he said.

And active parents need to communicate their involvement.

Said Price: “I’ve talked to families whose kids said, ‘I didn’t even know my parents were philanthropic until I read in the newspaper that the new hospital wing was being named for them.'”

One of the benefits of getting the kids involved is that family members start talking about the things they care about, which can help build trust and lower the level of any conflicts over money. Greg Kuhn, a family business consultant, said the biggest problem he sees is a lack of trust among family members, which inhibits succession planning if there is a business. Family giving, he said, is one way families can build trust concerning money. The younger generation gets valuable experience, and the older generation gets reassurance.

Clients can also build a sense of togetherness by weaving the act of charitable giving into family traditions, Kuhn said.

“Create any kind of family ritual around giving,” Kuhn said, suggesting holidays and birthdays as occasions for philanthropic activity.

Do the kids really need such an avalanche of presents, or would greater satisfaction come from a little giving, along with all that getting?

It doesn’t take much legal advice or other expertise to help young children get used to giving. But over the long run, even prosperous middle-class families may want a more formal structure for giving that suits their needs, their pocketbooks and their preferences. That’s where advisers have a natural part to play. The main choice is between establishing a family foundation or relying on a donor-advised fund. Each has benefits and costs. The good news is that the expenses and headaches associated with both choices have fallen in recent years, to the point where neither is any longer solely the province of the rich.

A family foundation puts clients in the driver’s seat. The family gets to control the foundation’s assets, set policy and name board members. Having family members on the board can deepen familial bonds, and the foundation, at least theoretically, can exist in perpetuity.

“As a family, it’s brought us much closer together,” affirmed Sara Barrow, whose foundation involves her father, stepmother, husband, brother and his wife. “We meet four times a year and talk all the time about this.”

Barrow, who is also program officer for Family Philanthropy Advisors, a foundation services firm, says she’s also raising her own children to be involved in philanthropy. Her example illustrates an important point made by Citigroup’s Costello: “Philanthropy is a platform for family unity.”

Get the cousins working together, said Diane B. Neimann, president of Family Philanthropy Advisors.

Teach them which questions to ask, see that they actually get out and visit charities, and hold everyone accountable.

“Make sure there are more requests than funds, so the kids learn to say no,” she added.

On a practical level, family foundations can reimburse trustees for travel expenses to attend meetings and can pay the trustees “reasonable” fees for their work, so, in a sense, the foundation can underwrite family gatherings to discuss doing good deeds. And donations to a foundation are tax-deductible.

“The family foundation is an extremely good vehicle when the family wants to be very much involved,” Neimann said.

But some of the advantages of a family foundation can also be disadvantages. It can take a lot of everyone’s time, for example. And all that control comes at a price; it can be expensive in terms of legal fees and other costs, including an excise tax on foundation earnings. Annual tax returns are required and become public records, which might matter to donors who prefer anonymity.

Costello said that traditionally $2 million was considered the minimum necessary to make a family foundation worthwhile, but she believes this rule of thumb is no longer the case.

Mellinger agreed: he said Foundation Source, for instance, is glad to service foundations with less than $250,000 in assets for a fee of $2,000 per year plus three-tenths of 1 percent of assets. That covers all compliance and paperwork plus a secure Web site allowing foundation officers and directors to conduct their business. At those rates, a foundation with $100,000 in assets would pay $2,300 a year. Foundation Source will set up the foundation, including legal work and government filing fees, for just $4,750, Mellinger said.

If you want simplicity or have less money, go for a donor-advised fund. Sometimes operated by a community foundation, such as the Toledo Community Foundation that Georgia Welles has used for some of her Granny funds, a donor-advised fund can be established without a large initial outlay. Families typically can open a donor-advised account with just $10,000, but many community foundations will let donors start with less, making these vehicles ideal for the young. Also, most community foundations will give the money to pretty much any charity your client wants, as long as the Internal Revenue Service recognizes it as a legitimate charitable organization.

With no board of directors or tax filings, donor-advised funds save headaches. And as public charities, donor-advised funds offer attractive tax advantages. Cash gifts to such a fund are deductible up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income, whereas gifts of securities are deductible up to 30 percent. For a family foundation, the maximum allowable deductions are just 30 percent of adjusted gross income for cash donations and 20 percent for securities. Another advantage: The investment income of a donor-advised fund is free of the excise tax that foundations must pay on their earnings, noted Jon Skillman, president of the more than $2.7 billion Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.

Skillman’s outfit, which claims more than 32,000 donors and the most assets of any donor-advised fund, strives to offer a level of convenience that parallels what Foundation Source offers to foundations. Though clients need $10,000 to open an account, outbound donations don’t have to be big; Fidelity allows donations to any IRS-approved charity in amounts of $250 or more. If you use its Web site (www.charitablegift.org), Fidelity will even save you the trouble of writing a check or licking a stamp. The site also offers help in choosing a charity, including detailed third-party reports on thousands of them.

Client funds on deposit at Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund are invested in pools of Fidelity mutual funds (there are four such pools to choose from, varying in aggressiveness), and Skillman says total expenses, including administrative and fund fees, range from 1.42 percent to 1.84 percent annually. For an account worth $10,000, that translates to perhaps $150 per year — and that covers money management in addition to administrative services.

Donor-advised funds also have their disadvantages. Although Fidelity offers unlimited succession, many community foundations will allow only one or two generations to succeed the donor, after which donor influence is discontinued. Foundations make it easier to carry on a family legacy generation after generation. A foundation gives a family a sense of ownership earned through personal involvement. It forces families to lay out their values and goals and to face one another on the board. With a donor-advised fund, it is easier for family members to “phone it in.” And for most families, phoning it in is precisely what’s not wanted. That’s why so many experts recommend giving kids some money of their own to allocate.

Mellinger tells of a Brownie Girl Scout troop in Denver that raised a little more than $100 and, with some adult guidance, embarked on a serious discussion of how to give it away. Some of the girls advocated an organization devoted to animal welfare, and soon the Brownies were debating whether it was more important to help animals or people.

As David Welles Jr. said of his own family, “The real fun is to watch how engaged our kids get.”

Skillman says children can be amazingly creative in putting charitable funds to use: “We had a young donor, 11 years old, who awarded a grant to a Braille printing company so blind kids could enjoy ‘Harry Potter.'”

Still, getting — and keeping — adult children involved can be a challenge if the older generation fails to take account of the children’s values, which often differ from their parents’.

Neimann observed that the older givers tend to focus on museums, colleges and other institutions, often in the community where the family has roots. Young adults, she said, are more mobile and more international in outlook. Their interests run more toward environmental causes, civil rights and community development.

“The hard thing is to reconcile these differences,” she said.

Parents have to allow room for the philanthropic passions of the young to differ from their own. The good news, she added, is that older clients seem more aware than they used to be that they can’t run a foundation forever.

Said Neimann: “People no longer want to control as much from the grave.”

That can open the door to some creative solutions. For example, if the older folks want to fund a museum and the young ones care about education, perhaps all can agree to fund the museum’s arts-education program. Or money can be divided up so there is some for the founder’s passions and a portion for those of the new generation. Or there can be a separate fund for the young to give as they wish. “You have to get the generations talking to each other,” Neimann said. “I think they find that a rich experience.”

Daniel Akst is a novelist and essayist living in New York’s Hudson Valley. He contributes to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe, among other publications.


Getting Kids Into Giving

• Do get them started young.

• Do model philanthropic behavior. Make it part of family activities and celebrations.

• Do give teenagers money that they can decide how to donate.

• Do volunteer and take the kids along.

• Do encourage the kids’ school to make teaching service and giving a priority.

• Do choose an appropriate vehicle, whether a coffee can for loose change, a donor-advised fund, or a full-blown family foundation.

• Don’t make your children’s giving decisions for them. But insist they do the research to support their own choices.

• Don’t expect teenagers to act charitably when you never have. Be an example.

Bebe and Me


A lot of people my age feel pressure from their families to get married, but I think my not being married is the only thing keeping my grandmother alive. Bebe often tells me she just wants to live long enough to see my wedding. I’ll say “I do” and then she’ll immediately keel over. It’s a lot to bear.

Bebe likes to pretend she’s open-minded and doesn’t care if I date non-Jewish women. I should point out that I am technically Jewish — both my parents were born Jews. I never went to Hebrew school but we did celebrate Chanukah — until the year we couldn’t find the menorah. Then that was that: Bring on Christmas!

People see my freckles and last name and are surprised to find that I’m Jewish. They say something like, “Come on, Dutch Jews?” I remind them of a book by a girl named Anne Frank and tell them the reason there aren’t too many Dutch Jews is because of a little thing called the Holocaust. I pretend to be offended, they feel horribly guilty; it’s a win-win. But honestly, I mostly embrace my Judaism as a party trick.

But to Bebe it’s important. I’ll call her to tell her I’m dating someone and she’ll go on her Semitic fact-finding mission.

“What’s her name?” she asks. Sometimes I like to mess with her.

“Christian,” I say. “Christian Hitler.”

“Oh.” A pause. “Is she nice?”

Bebe is in incredible health. She’s 87 years old but you’d never believe it to look at her. She swims laps three times a week at the Jewish Community Center and still rides the ancient stationary bike in her guest room. None of this prevents her from preparing for death.

The last several trips I’ve made to see her, she’s handed me blank labels and asked me to put my name on any items in her house that I’ll want when she’s dead. I refuse to do this; I think it’s morbid and tacky (and besides, how do I know which macramé throws will go with my future settee?). My sister and uncle have embraced this though — their names are on way too many things. I’m talking napkin rings and liquor bottles, and not even good ones. My other grandmother had her kids do the label thing before she died and I think it just ended up confusing her. She had Alzheimer’s and thought the coffee table was named Becky.

I guess if I were 87 I wouldn’t exactly be thinking about my 20-year plan, but I would try to leave my heirs out of it. Bebe is constantly asking me what my father is going to bequeath me. I’m not sure if it’s so she can try to outdo him, or if she just wants to make certain that I don’t end up with two chafing dishes.

Of course, for Bebe, mortality is a longtime companion.

She’s outlived every important relationship you can have in life: two siblings, two husbands, two parents, a child, a best friend. What’s left? Six grandchildren, alive and well and unmarried. Maybe that’s why she worries so much for us.

Whenever Bebe dies it will be the end of an era. She’s not the kind of lady who would have her portrait hanging over a fireplace, but she’s a matriarch nonetheless. She leads this family with the iron fist of guilt in the velvet glove of worry. How do you paint that?

When my mother, died, Bebe became my advocate, often the only voice of reason to counter my father’s short-tempered resolve. Even though she lived an airplane trip away in Louisville and was no longer his mother-in-law, my father knew better than not to listen.

Through the years Bebe and I have bonded over our two common enemies: depression and my father. Our relationships with both have gotten much better, and in a weird way I miss how we’d struggle through them together, comparing strategies, medications, and, ultimately, successes.

If I get a gig, it doesn’t count until Bebe’s seen it. Every time I’m on a set, I make sure to get a Polaroid of me in costume to send to her. Open the cigar box in the top drawer of her rickety highboy and you’ll see square photos of me in all my Hollywood glamour: as Waiter, Ticket Taker, Game Show Host, Usher, Man No. 2 — proof that I did a TV job she may never see.

Another thing she may never see is my wedding.

I don’t know if Bebe will be around long enough to experience the shock of me getting married. If so, I hope she can at least hold out until the reception. Incidentally, Bebe’s been single longer than I have, but I don’t give her a hard time about who she dates. I’ll have to mention that next time I talk to her.

J. Keith van Straaten is a writer and performer who currently hosts “What’s My Line? — Live on Stage” every Wednesday in Los Angeles. For more information, visit

Behind the Kvetch


A guy gets a Labrador and he can’t wait to show him off to his neighbor. So when the neighbor comes over, the guy calls the dog into the house, bragging about how smart the little guy is. The dog quickly comes running and stands looking up at his master, tail wagging furiously, mouth open in classic Lab-smile position, eyes bright with anticipation. The guy points to the newspaper on the couch and commands: “fetch!”

Immediately, the dog sits down, the tail wagging stops, the doggie-smile disappears; he hangs his head, looks balefully up at his master and says in a whiny voice, “Oh! My tail hurts from wagging so much. And that dog food you’re feeding me tastes absolutely terrible. And it’s so hot in here. And you’re not giving me any treats. And I can’t remember the last time you took me out for a walk….”

The neighbor’s jaw drops.

“Ah,” the dog owner explains, “he’s a little hard of hearing. He thought I said ‘kvetch!'”

Jews have a reputation for kvetching. It’s a type of catharsis for many of us — a release valve built into a gene pool that has weathered the worst of the human condition. Many people think that this only indicates that many Jews are pessimistic doomsayers, and that we’re just waiting for the next pogrom to surface. This, they say, proves that Jews tend to see the cup not half-full, but half-empty. I say otherwise.

Our Torah portion this week spends just 11 verses on all the blessings that will befall our people if we follow God’s mitzvot. The bulk of the portion, however, graphically details all of the terrible retribution that will befall us if we fail to hearken unto the Lord. Why is this? Shouldn’t God be keeping up with modern psychology that tells us to accentuate the positive? Why isn’t God offering us more positive incentive, instead of terrifying us with all the calamities that will befall us if we don’t listen?

The simple explanation is that, despite conventional wisdom, negative incentive is far more effective than positive incentive. If I want to make sure my little 4-year-old won’t run into the street, I stand a better chance of success by threatening her with a serious penalty than if I promise to buy her a toy for staying on the sidewalk. When it comes to the really important, life-and-death issues — gloom and doom works.

Because God realizes how vital the Torah is to our lives, he uses scare tactics more than rosy guarantees. God, more than anyone, knows that our flawed, human nature is most influenced by negative incentives.

But I think there’s another reason why there are so many more curses than blessings in the Torah. Consider all the blessings that we already have: our health, our families, food on the table, a roof over our heads, all the things we tend to take for granted. God comes into the picture and says: If you listen to me, not only will I let you keep everything you already have, I will increase the blessings in your life from an 80 to 100. But, if you don’t listen to me, here’s a list of all the things that you already enjoy that I will now take away from you, and you’ll go from an 80 to a zero.

It’s thus no surprise that the list of things we stand to lose is much longer that the list of things we stand to gain, for the simple reason that our list is already so long. We’ve just forgotten how rich our lives already are. The list of curses in the Torah is only there to remind us how blessed we are, and how much we stand to lose if we don’t appreciate the Giver of those gifts.

Maybe the Jewish stereotype of kvetching stems from the Torah’s emphasis on the negatives in life. But that emphasis is only there to remind us how rich our lives already are. Kvetching is good if, after a good whining session, we then finish off by saying, “But, kenahora, I still have my health,” or, “I still have my spouse,” or, “I still have my family,” or, “I still have my _____.” Putting life into this perspective allows us to sit back and enjoy the overlooked blessings of life.

May we be blessed to recognize what we’ve already been blessed with, and enjoy those blessings everyday.

Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin is spiritual leader of Kehillat Yavneh.

 

The Circuit


 

SHoshanim Celebrates

Shoshanim, a magazine for Jewish teenage girls, is celebrating its fifth year in publication with a newly designed Web site, new features and an upgraded layout. Based in Los Angeles, the magazine geared for Orthodox teenagers has 5,000 subscribers. It is the Bais Yaakov girl’s answer to Seventeen Magazine, with advice columns on things like good baby-sitting techniques and “Ask Rebbetzin Rochel.” Along with columns on arts and crafts, a Jewish law corner, and personality profiles of pious people, the magazine gives readers a chance to have their own short stories, poetry, and art published.

Visit Shoshanim at www.shoshanim.net (articles not available online) or call (800) 601-4238.

Don’t Stare — Just Talk

Students at Conejo Jewish Day School had a visit from the Kids on the Block, a troupe of puppets both able and disabled who teach children to appreciate differences.

This program, endorsed by the Bureau of Jewish Education, enables students to openly discuss the differences in others and the importance of caring for others and being aware of everyone’s feelings.

For more information about the Conejo Jewish Day School call Rabbi David Lamm (818) 879-8255. For information on Kids on the Block go to www.KOTB.com or call (800) 368-5437.

New News for New Jew

You may be hearing a lot more from the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) soon. The West Hills school, which was founded three years ago, was recently awarded an Avi Chai marketing grant for recruitment and publicity.

“New Jewish high schools often begin very small, without the necessary funding to successfully market themselves,” said Lauren Merken, a member of Avi Chai’s board of trustees. “It is the foundation’s goal to help schools like New Community Jewish High School, reach out to the community effectively.”

Of course, recruitment doesn’t seem to be a weak point at New Jew: It opened in 2002 with 40 kids in the ninth grade. Next year, as it welcomes its first 12th-grade class, NCJHS expects a total enrollment of 250 students.

For more information on NCJHS, call (818) 348-0048 or visit www.ncjhs.org.

Change the World

Seven students took home $500 prizes in Chapman University and the “1939” Club’s sixth annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest in March. Students from 75 schools submitted essays, poetry and art on the topic of “To Change Our World: Legacy of Liberation,” which invited students to tie the history of the Holocaust to a current situation of injustice. The first-prize winners in the middle school categories were Art: Monique Becker, Lakeside Middle School (Irvine); Essay: Gabriella Duva, St. Anne School (Laguna Niguel), and Poetry: Kim Ngai, Fulton Middle School (Fountain Valley).

In the high school category, two entries tied for first place in Art: Steven Vander Sluis, El Toro High School (Lake Forest) and Marisa Moonilal, Mater Dei (Santa Ana); Essay: Irina Dykhne, University High School (Los Angeles), and Poetry: Matthew Adam White, University High School (Los Angeles).

For more information on the contest or Chapman University in Orange, call (714) 997-6620.

And More Winners

After a rigorous application process, four Californians are among the 26 youths from across the country selected to participate in the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel this summer. Rachel Cohen of Goleta, Alexander Kaplan of Pacific Palisades, Alex Schatzberg of San Rafael and Juliana Spector of Piedmont will spend five weeks traveling throughout Israel to participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbis and leaders. They will also spend a week with Israeli peers who are part of a parallel program for Israelis. The program was founded by Edgar M. Bronfman and is funded by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

For more information, call (518) 475-7202 or visit www.bronfman.org.

Open Your Home

If international cooperation and understanding is best achieved through personal ties, then imagine having someone from a foreign country live in your home. AFS Intercultural Programs and Pacific Intercultural Exchange are looking for families in the L.A. area to host high school students who are studying in America for a year or a semester.

For more information contact AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly American Filed Service) at (800) 237-4630 or www.afs.org/usa; or Pacific Intercultural Exchange at (800) 631-1818.

 

What Bergen-Belsen Taught Us


 

On Sunday, April 17, hundreds of Holocaust survivors from around the world, along with their children and grandchildren, gathered on the site of the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen to observe the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. I was privileged to participate in the commemoration beside the Jewish monument my father had inaugurated in the midst of mass graves in April 1946. Because my parents are no longer alive, I spoke in their stead, on their behalf, hearing their voices in my mind.

It is from Bergen-Belsen that the horrors of the Holocaust first permeated the consciousness of humankind. Long before Auschwitz became the defining term of the Shoah, the films and photographs taken by British soldiers and journalists in April 1945 of both the dead and the survivors of Bergen-Belsen — shown in newsreels throughout the world — awakened the international community to the genocide that had been committed against the Jews of Europe.

In her memoir, “Yesterday: My Story,” which she finished writing just before her death, my mother, Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, described April 15, 1945:

“It was Sunday, a very hot day. It was strange; there was nobody to be seen outside the barracks. The camp seemed to have been abandoned, almost like a cemetery…. Suddenly, we felt the earth tremble; something was moving. We were convinced that the Germans were about to blow up the camp…. We all believed that these were the last moments of our lives. It was 3 p.m. We heard a loud voice repeating the same words in English and in German. ‘Hello, hello. You are free. We are British soldiers and have come to liberate you.’…. We ran out of the barracks and saw a British army vehicle with a loudspeaker on top, driving slowly through the camp.”

But almost immediately, my mother recalled, a new reality set in: “There was joy, yes. We were free, the gates were open — but where were we to go? The liberation had come too late, not only for the dead, but for us, the living, as well. We had lost our families, our friends, our homes. We had no place to go, and nobody was waiting for us anywhere. We were alive, yes. We were liberated from death, from the fear of death, but the fear of life started.”

At Belsen, the British found themselves in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. More than 10,000 bodies lay scattered about the camp, and the 58,000 surviving inmates — the overwhelming majority of whom were Jews — suffered from a combination of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, extreme malnutrition and other virulent diseases. Confronted with the emaciated, tormented survivors moving, walking, speaking in the midst of corpses, the liberators must have asked themselves not “Can these bones live?” but “How can these bones live?’’

My father, Josef (Yossel) Rosensaft, was also liberated here. For more than five years following the liberation, he headed both the Jewish Committee of the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp and the Central Jewish Committee in the British Zone of Germany. I am one of more than 2,000 children who were born in Bergen-Belsen between 1946 and 1950.

We, the children and grandchildren of the survivors, were proud to be at Belsen on that Sunday alongside our parents and grandparents. We know that we were given life and placed on earth with a solemn obligation. Our parents and grandparents survived to bear witness. We, in turn, must ensure that their memories, which we have absorbed into ours, will remain as a permanent warning to humanity.

Sixty years after the liberation of Belsen, anti-Semitism remains a threat, not just to the Jewish people, but to civilization as a whole, and Holocaust deniers are still allowed to spread their poison.

In France, Great Britain and the United States, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has increased markedly during the past year. The same weekend that we were in Belsen, several American white supremacist groups were scheduled to celebrate Hitler’s birthday with concerts in Michigan and New Jersey. Earlier this year, right-wing members of the state parliament of Saxony in Germany disrupted a tribute to the victims of Nazism; and the mayor of London saw fit to compare a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

Sixty years after the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau stopped burning our families, innocent men, women and children are murdered in a horrific genocide in Darfur; and government-sponsored terrorists continue to seek the destruction of the State of Israel, which arose out of the ashes of the Shoah.

Thus, we do not have the right to focus only on the agony and suffering of the past. While the Germans were able to torture, to murder, to destroy, they did not succeed in dehumanizing their victims. The ultimate victory of European Jews over the Nazis and their multinational accomplices was firmly rooted in their human, ethical values.

The critical lesson we have learned from our parents’ and grandparents’ tragic experiences is that indifference to the suffering of others is in itself a crime. Our place must be at the forefront of the struggle against every form of racial, religious or ethnic hatred.

Together with others of the post-Holocaust generations, we must raise our collective voices on behalf of all, Jews and non-Jews alike, who are subjected to discrimination and persecution, or who are threatened by annihilation, anywhere in the world. We may not be passive, or allow others to be passive, in the face of oppression, for we know, only too well, that the ultimate consequence of apathy and silence was embodied forever in the flames of Auschwitz and the mass graves of Bergen-Belsen.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. This column is courtesy of JTA from a speech Rosensaft gave at Bergen-Belsen.

 

New Berlin Memorial a Sign of Hope


 

Each year our congregation travels to a different corner of the Jewish world, and last Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating persecutions and destructions that have befallen the Jewish people, we found ourselves in Berlin.

We entered Germany’s gleaming, dynamic capital with ambivalence, eyeing its people, especially those over age 75, wondering what they did during World War II. We sat and watched, discussing our reluctance to be there, but acknowledged that nearly 60 years have passed and accepted the fact that most contemporary Germans had nothing to do with the Shoah.

And while we felt haunted during our stay, we enjoyed Berlin as a lively and lovely city, and took comfort in the numerous Holocaust monuments we saw.

The newest memorial, Peter Eisenmann’s Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, will be officially unveiled May 10, two days after ceremonies mark the 60th anniversary of World War II’s end.

The memorial’s opening comes nearly six years after the Bundestag originally passed a resolution for its construction, and almost four years after the official opening of the city’s Jewish Museum.

Situated in a five-acre field near the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin, The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe is made up of 2,751 concrete blocks, emulating gravestones of varying heights. Visitors can enter the memorial from all four sides and can walk through the narrow paths between the blocks. Its wave-like design is haunting in its simplicity, and the unevenness intentionally evokes a sense of being disoriented and lost.

An information center is located beneath the memorial, supplying biographies of individual victims and their families.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum is the city’s second most visited site and is well complemented by the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by architect Daniel Liebiskind, who is now creating the World Trade Center Memorial, the museum teaches its mostly non-Jewish visitors about the Holocaust, but it also explores the pivotal role that Jews played in Germany over the last 800 years.

Architects often say their buildings tell a story. The Jewish Museum is no exception. Its Holocaust spaces evoke feelings of fear and claustrophobia with slanted floors that disorient, mazes that confuse and confined spaces that make escape just out of reach. Never have I seen architecture used more effectively, especially in the Garden of Exile.

When Germans walk by the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (since 1999, once again the seat of Germany’s Parliament) or the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, purposely left partially destroyed, they are reminded of the past.

Located just outside of the Wittenbergplatz subway station, in the center of town, a large sign lists the names of extermination camps, urging passersby never to forget the horrors. It rests a few yards from where one of our synagogue members lived as a child. And at Levetzowstrasse, where another member was deported to Riga, there are powerful sculptures depicting horrors of the Shoah and plaques that mark where synagogues once stood.

One synagogue still standing is The New Synagogue. Built in 1867, with 3,000 seats and modeled on the Alhambra, the synagogue is now a glorious museum of Berlin’s Jewish religious past, from traditional to liberal.

While there, we joined our cantor, Ruti Braier, in singing “Mah Tovu,” with music written by the New Synagogue’s former Cantor Moshe Lewandowski. For a moment, present and past were joined.

We wanted to see how Jews in Berlin live, so we visited the Jewish Community Center, which is built on the site of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, where another of our members sang in the children’s choir on High Holidays. All that is left of the original building is an arch over the center’s main door.

So much of Berlin’s Jewish life is like that — the void is more powerful than what exists.

And, yet, Germany’s Jewish population is growing to fill the void left by the Shoah. Before the Holocaust there were 535,000 Jews in Germany; after, only 15,000. Today the country’s Jewish population is more than 110,000, many whom are from former Soviet countries and have a minimal religious background. As part of its reparations, Germany admits Jewish refugees, providing them with welfare benefits and, ultimately, if employed, citizenship after eight years.

We saw other signs of hope around Berlin. There were long lines for a wonderful Chagall exhibit in artist Max Liebermann’s home, next to the Brandenberg Gate, where six decades earlier Hitler drew adoring crowds. In Pottsdamerplatz, where 60 years before, both blacks and Jews were considered undesirable “untermenschen,” the Klezmatics and American gospel singers performed together, with young Germans singing, clapping and dancing.

Dealing with one’s past — personal and communal — is always a path to healing pain and facing the future more openly. Sixty years later, the situation isn’t black and white. There are many shades of gray. But hate, anger and avoidance aren’t as constructive as engagement and discovery.

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi of University Synagogue in Irvine.

 

A Four-Part Fight


 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is picking a fight with longtime powers in Sacramento instead of trying to be everybody’s pal, raising a question of whether he can bring voters along with him who are torn by their desire for good government but angry over mounting partisanship.

Voters, according to a recent Mervin Field California Poll, are open to the governor’s four reform ideas heading into a probable November special election, even though voters don’t personally approve of Schwarzenegger as much as they once did.

The California Poll shows about half of Californians support his four reforms — basing teacher raises on merit, changing state worker pensions to a 401(k)-like system, creating an independent panel of retired judges to draw voting districts and instituting automatic budget cuts when California’s treasury runs low. Smaller numbers of voters oppose the reforms or don’t have an opinion yet.

Perhaps Schwarzenegger’s toughest sell is the least sweeping: reforming government pensions that, according to the state Department of Finance, guarantee a state secretary hired today who works 20 years and retires at age 60 will receive a $1 million payout if living to full life expectancy. These exploding costs are increasingly borne by taxpayers. Schwarzenegger’s plan, authored by state Assemblyman Keith Richman, a Jewish Republican from the San Fernando Valley, faces vociferous opposition from the powerful 140,000-member California State Employees Association.

Schwarzenegger fares better in the California Poll on his idea to give raises to teachers based on merit rather than solely on seniority. He has yet to flesh out the details, but a hefty 60 percent like the idea, likely to involve giving raises to teachers who outperform a statewide sample of teachers whose students match their own kids both economically and racially.

Although rising partisanship has hurt Schwarzenegger, some observers say he can still attract liberal Jews and others who are not natural allies but who want government to be more effective for those in need.

Ben Austin, political strategist for liberal Democrats, notes that, “because the governor has two very different constituencies he needs to speak to, the governor is in a difficult but not untenable situation. Conservatives want to see these reforms as vehicles for making government smaller and more efficient. For liberal Jews and other progressives, he needs a language to discuss his ideas in the context of making government better but not smaller: more able to serve those who progressives believe need help — children, the elderly and others.”

Not surprisingly, Schwarzenegger is working to appeal to liberally oriented groups associated with good government. He’s found some unexpected non-Republican allies.

A case in point is Common Cause, which supports an end to the “safe seats” gerrymandering scheme in California that currently allows incumbents to use computers to divide voters into bizarrely shaped voting districts specifically designed to return incumbents to office. Last fall, “safe seats” guaranteed that not a single one of California’s 173 legislative and congressional seats changed party hands.

Another group that does not typically align itself with causes led by Republicans is Education Trust-West, which concerns itself with achievement among urban and especially black children.

While not endorsing merit pay for teachers, Education Trust-West recently spoke warmly about Schwarzenegger’s idea for bonus pay for talented teachers who agree to work in inner-city schools — an idea intensely ridiculed by teacher unions.

Jews offer a bellwether into whether the governor can sell his ideas to voters who, while skeptical of Schwarzenegger, aren’t happy with the public schools, state deficits and gerrymandering.

Political analyst Pat Caddell, a former pollster for President Jimmy Carter, says it is possible Schwarzenegger has already poisoned the well with liberals, including Jews, by raising enormous sums of money — roughly $73,000 per day — to fight the well-monied status-quo groups who oppose these changes.

“If Arnold just acts like the pro-business candidate and Democrats are summed up as the anti-reform unions and special interests, I think that really fails to involve the citizenry who are affected by all this,” Caddell said. “Arnold can’t fly alone on this or he will be in big trouble. He has to reach out to the middle-class voters, such as parents who always get left out of education reform.”

Republican Jewish voters, largely thrilled with the governor’s bold strokes, believe he still has the ability to appeal to liberals.

Eva Nagler, a Republican Jewish Coalition board member and a professor of political science, notes that “because Arnold still transcends politics as usual — with Republicans saying he is too liberal — he’s still more palatable to liberal Jews than other Republicans. Arnold’s not a threat to their traditional issues of separation of church and state, environmental protection. He still has an opening.”

If approved, the four key reforms would directly affect millions of people –voters, families with children and taxpayers. Austin said that while the fight will be furious, “The governor’s ability to communicate means it’s not impossible. There is a path out of the forest.”

So get ready for the greatest test of Arnold’s communication powers so far. His real challenge is to convince Californians that while he can’t be everybody’s best friend, he’s striving to do what’s right.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

East of Western — a Kosher Cornucopia


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President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”

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Briefs


 

OU Reaches Out to Deaf Community

The Orthodox Union’s deaf outreach came to Long Beach for a Shabbaton gathering of the deaf and their families, a small event that meant a lot to the often-isolated Orthodox deaf community.

“There wasn’t a big turnout, but I think that it’s really necessary; when you have a deaf child who’s Jewish, there’s a smaller population,” said Jo Cooperman, who drove up from San Diego County with her 3-year-old deaf son, Jadyn Avram. “He always comes back really, really happy from these things. It has a wonderful effect on his self-esteem and his identification with Jews, with deaf Jews.”

Long Beach’s Congregation Lubavitch hosted about 30 deaf adults and children and their families at the OU’s Jan. 7-8 “Our Way” Shabbaton. Long Beach attorney Allen Sragow, who put up about 10 “Our Way” attendees at his house, sponsored the small Orthodox Union agency’s fourth annual Southern California gathering. Organizers said last weekend’s heavy rain cut into the attendance level.

“It’s always a fresh perspective for me to see the Jewish deaf, how they’ve come to understand their interaction with Jewish life,” said Jan Moore, a North Hollywood optometrist who has two deaf sons. His teenage daughter, who can hear, came to Long Beach with two of her Valley Torah High School classmates so the trio could support deaf children and their hearing siblings.

Flying into Los Angeles to lead the “Our Way” Shabbaton was Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, who is not deaf, but is the son of deaf parents and lives in Brooklyn with his own six children – including deaf daughters Lida, 13, and Toby, 18. Both have cochlear implants allowing them to hear.

Lida Lederfeind told The Journal in a telephone interview, “I feel like I’m part of everything.”

Every two months, Lida’s father travels to Orthodox deaf enclaves around the country to conduct an “Our Way” Shabbaton.

“More and more deaf youth are Orthodox. They should be able to mainstream in a shul,” said Lederfeind, who oversaw the “Our Way” group’s spirited – and at times humorous – deaf dialogue about Israel in the Lubavitch shul’s small study.

When Lederfeind asked what was the sign language gesture to describe the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, someone jokingly responded: “It’s a sign that you can’t use in public.” – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Israel ‘Line of Fire’ Program Comes to UJ

An armed Israeli attack helicopter spots a Palestinian ambulance on the road below. Aware that such ambulances have been used to transport terrorists and weapons, the pilot checks with his ground controller whether to strafe and destroy the vehicle. Pilot and controller talk back and forth, weighing whether the ambulance is more likely to carry weapons or sick people. When the vehicle finally pulls up to a hospital, they decide to give it the benefit of the doubt and call off the attack.

The dramatic, real-life incident, with actual footage of the chase taken from the cockpit, will be a highlight of the Jan. 20 event, titled “Air Force in the Line of Fire.”

Israeli and American helicopter fighter pilots will discuss the moral choices facing them during combat missions in the airspace above Israel and Iraq.

Panelists will also speak about the dangers and fears of combat, new weaponry, Israeli-American military cooperation and the future of the Israeli air force. A Q-and-A period will follow.

Speakers will include reserve Maj. Gen. Nehemia Dagan, founder of Israel’s attack helicopter strike forces; two other veteran Israeli combat pilots; and Col. Bill Morris of the Pentagon, former assault helicopter commander in the 101st Airborne Division.

The event, in English, will start at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism, sponsored by the Council of the Israeli Community (CIC) and 12 other local organizations. The CIC is a support organization for the State of Israel and the estimated 100,000 Israelis living in the Los Angeles area, said Chaim Linder, the group’s first vice president.

General tickets for the Jan. 20 event are $10 (CIC members) and $12 (general); reserved seats, $25; reception with the pilots and one reserved seat, $50.

For reservations and information, call (818) 342-7241. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Court: NVJCC Familes Can Sue Gun Companies

Three families, whose children were shot in the 1999 attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), can pursue their lawsuit against the companies that made the weapons used in the shooting spree.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 10 let stand a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the suit could go to trial and declined to hear an appeal for dismissal by two gun manufacturers and two distributors.

The suit grew out of the Aug. 10, 1999, attack by Buford O. Furrow, Jr., a self-avowed anti-Semite and white supremacist on the NVJCC in Granada Hills, which left three teenagers, one adult and three children wounded.

Lead plaintiff in the suit is the mother of Joseph S. Ileto, a Filipino-American postal carrier, who was killed by Furrow the same day in a separate attack.

Last May in San Francisco, the full 26-member appeals court, in a split decision, confirmed that the case could be tried. At the time, Donna Finkelstein, whose then 16-year-old daughter Mindy suffered two gunshot wounds to her leg, told The Journal, “I am so elated that we are finally moving forward.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Alan Stepakoff and Loren Lieb, whose then 6-year-old son, Joshua Stepakoff, was also shot in the leg.

Also participating in the suit are Eleanor and Charles Kadish, whose son Benjamin, then 5, was the most seriously injured, with gunshots to his stomach and legs.

Among the large cache of weapons found in Furrow’s car were an Austrian-made Glock 9-mm handgun and a 9-mm rifle, made by North China Industries, both manufacturers are defendants in the suit.

In filing the original suit more than four years ago, attorney Joshua Horwitz of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence said that Furrow, a convicted felon with a history of mental instability, should not have been allowed to build an arsenal of assault-style weapons.

“It is not enough to let guns go out of your factory door and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t know where they’re headed,'”Horwitz said.

The case will now return to the U.S. district court in Los Angeles for trial.

Congressional legislation which would have barred lawsuits targeting the gun industry failed last spring. – TT

 

Jewish Groups Join Quake Relief Efforts


For thousands of young Israelis, the sun-drenched archipelagos of Southeast Asia were the perfect destination to forget the rigors of military service.

But this week, that post-Zionist nirvana became a nightmare. The tsunami that swept India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands on Sunday plunged hundreds of Israeli families into a frenzy of worry over relatives feared lost while touring.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that witness testimony suggested that at nearly 70 of the approximately 500 Israeli tourists still unaccounted for in hard-hit Southeast Asian nations may have been swept out to sea and drowned. At least 33 Israelis are receiving treatment in hospitals in the region, the Foreign Ministry said.

For thousands of families living in or visiting the Indian Ocean region, Sunday’s catastrophe confirmed their worst fears: At least 45,000 people were killed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, mostly in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

A Belgian Jewish couple reportedly lost their 11-month-old son in the disaster. According to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Matan Nassima’s body was found Tuesday near the Thai resort where his family had been vacationing.

Details were not immediately known, but it also was believed that members of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities were missing.

Immediately after the tragedy, Israel and Jewish groups swung into action. Israel’s Foreign Ministry set aside $100,000 in aid for each of the countries hit by the tsunami. Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts but said it would accept a smaller team.

North American Jewish groups also were participating in the relief efforts. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was expecting to send its first shipment of medicine Tuesday to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It has been coordinating with 23 partner organizations in the region to assess needs on the ground. The group is hoping to receive donations to cover the cost of emergency supplies.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with its office in Bombay and elsewhere to coordinate relief efforts. The organization is hoping to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Chabad of Thailand responded to the crisis by dispatching a rabbi to Phuket to aid rescue efforts and turned the three Chabad Houses of Thailand into crisis centers where survivors can call home, get a free meal or receive funds for new clothing and medical help.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a Southeast Asia Relief Fund. To contribute, call (323) 761-8200, or send a check payable to The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 and write Southeast Asia Relief Fund on the memo line.

For families of potential victims, the waiting for news was excruciating.

At Erez Katran’s home in Haifa, a 24-hour vigil was set up next to the telephone in hopes that he would call. His family hoped Katran’s silence was due to the fact that he was incommunicado while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Katran was among the Israelis who remained unaccounted for Tuesday, despite urgent Foreign Ministry efforts to track them down.

In addition to delivering bad news, the Israeli communications industry pitched in with the search efforts. Every major Web site set up a page where pictures of missing tourists could be posted in hope that someone would report their location, and one cellphone company offered its Israeli customers in Southeast Asia 10 minutes of free air time to call home.

JTA staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Relief Donations Sought


The following Jewish organizations are seeking funds to assist in the relief effort:

• American Jewish World Service, ” target=”_blank”>www.jdc.org, (212) 687-6200, ext. 889.

• B’nai B’rith, www.bnaibrith.org or by mail to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St., NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

• Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200; www.chabadthailand.com. For U.S. tax deductibility, checks should be made out to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand.)

Teens Gear up for Bicycle Tzedakah


 

With their hands all but frozen, lips blue and feet soaking, nearly 50 South Bay teens and a large handful of adult volunteers braved the storm on Sunday, Dec. 5, to devote their afternoon to testing, cleaning and repairing bicycles.

The second of four Arachim programs, this event focused on tzedakah. Taking over the entire parking lot behind the Palos Verdes Bicycle Center, the volunteers worked on more than 125 bicycles that had been donated by community members for distribution to children at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Care Services and several other local agencies.

“This ended up being a great community event,” said Robin Franko, director of the Jewish Federation/South Bay Council. “We had more bicycles donated than we could have dreamed of and amazing support from local businesses.”

Steve Bowen, Palos Verdes Bicycle Center owner, said, “We had been looking for ways to get involved in the community, to be good citizens. This project made us feel like we were helping out in a big way.”

Bowen provided the space, tools, training and expertise that allowed the volunteers to refurbish the bicycles.

The goal of the Arachim program is to help teens discover the opportunities that exist in their neighborhoods and communities, where their contributions make a significant difference in the lives of other people. The unique project is being observed by numerous synagogues and may serve as a model for communities trying to develop similar programs.

Franko developed Arachim with five South Bay synagogues. Jewish teenagers in eighth and ninth grades meet youngsters from neighboring congregations, while learning about the obligation of mitzvot.

“The South Bay has an incredibly vibrant Jewish community,” Franko said, “and one of my objectives as director for the past year has been to develop programs that will build cohesion and unity within this relatively large geographic area.”

The South Bay encompasses about 35 miles, stretching along the Pacific from Westchester to San Pedro, and is home to nearly 40,000 Jews. It is estimated that only 20 percent are affiliated with South Bay synagogues. Franko said that programs such as Arachim help bring the unaffiliated together and give them a sense of the larger Jewish community.

Teens from B’nai Tikvah in Westchester; Congregation Ner Tamid (CNT), Palos Verdes; Congregation Tifereth Jacob, Manhattan Beach; Temple Beth El, San Pedro; and Temple Menorah, Redondo Beach are expected to be the primary participants, however, students from other synagogues or those unaffiliated with a synagogue are being encouraged to participate.

“We have a very dedicated group of synagogue educators planning these events,” Franko said. “They’ve worked extremely hard to spread the word that kids from all over the South Bay are welcome to participate in these projects.”

Many of the religious schools’ teachers attended the event, fixing bicycles and supervising their students.

“This was an important activity for my class,” said Adam Allenberg, a ninth-grade teacher at Congregation Ner Tamid and a rabbinic education student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “In our last session, we discussed the meaning of tzedakah so that the kids would understand the context of the tradition.”

The point was not lost on the students.

“This was one of the highest forms of tzedakah,” said Mickey, one of Allenberg’s students. “We don’t know who will get the bikes, and the kids who get them don’t know who gave them.”

After the bicycle repairs were completed, Jeff Catania, Vista Del Mar vice president of development, spoke to the group about the children and teenagers who live at Vista Del Mar and the circumstances that brought them to the group home.

In October, more than 40 students gathered at Congregation Ner Tamid, which is located between a nursing home and a residential care facility, for the first Arachim program. Participants were provided an opportunity to perform two mitzvot: bikur holim (visiting the sick) and hiddur p’nei zakein (honoring the elderly).

“This program tapped into the kindness of our students,” said Cheri Ellowitz-Silver, CNT education director. “The children were comfortable and compassionate, and the residents were visibly moved and delighted by their visit.”

Prior to the event, the students participated in a classroom discussion about what these mitzvot mean, and why they are such an important tenet of Judaism.

“It was really neat,” said Adina Knell, an eighth-grader from Manhattan Beach. “It made me feel good to help people in my own community, like I was making a difference.”

Afterward, the students walked back to Ner Tamid for pizza and a social hour, before returning by bus to their area synagogues.

“The social aspect of these events is significant,” Franko said, “and will be a part of all four projects. Again, the purpose of our program is twofold: to give these kids the opportunity to perform meaningful mitzvot and, equally as important, to provide them with a fun and comfortable atmosphere where they will develop strong friendships with other Jewish teens.”

Two more Arachim activities have been scheduled for next year. On Jan. 30, teens will learn about teshuvah (repentance) and sh’mirat ha-guf (respect for one’s body). The students will visit Beit T’Shuvah in West Los Angeles, a residential treatment facility and an agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Beit T’Shuvah provides emotional and spiritual healing to Jews with addictive and behavioral disorders.

On April 17, the students will perform their final mitzvah for the school year, ma-achil r’ayvim (feeding the hungry). They will work at the Project Needs food bank in Redondo Beach, helping to stock shelves and prepare Passover baskets for Jewish families in need of assistance.

The Arachim program is open to all eighth- and ninth-grade students, regardless of synagogue affiliation. For more information or to become involved as an adult volunteer, call Robin Franko, (310) 375-0863.

 

Where Will a Teen’s Schooling Continue?


 

When Amy Cohen graduated from Adat Ari El’s day school in 2003, her family faced a decision: Where would she continue her education?

While eighth-graders at Orthodox day schools generally continue on to Jewish high schools, graduates of Conservative, Reform or community day schools matriculate to any number of school settings, including Jewish, public, magnet and private secular.

At this time of the year, parents and students face the task of setting priorities and examining realities that will determine where a Jewish teen’s education will continue.

As the Cohens discussed options, “It became clear that she didn’t want to continue in a religious setting,” recalled Amy’s father, Dennis Cohen. “She wanted to sample the wider world.”

The Studio City family briefly considered public school for Amy, but decided that she would be better served in a private school that could offer small classes and individualized attention. Amy was accepted into Pacific Hills, a private school in West Hollywood. Cohen says his daughter enjoyed the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the student body and quickly adjusted to her new setting.

Similarly, Cohen’s son, Geoffrey, now 18, left Adat Ari El after fifth grade to attend the gifted program at Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood. There, Cohen said, his son enjoyed “getting lost in the crowd and having a bigger social circle.”

Although Cohen said he would have been happy to send his children to a Jewish high school, he did not object to their preferences.

“You try to lay the foundation for their Jewish observances at home … and you hope it takes root,” he said. “Eventually, they’re going to go into the secular world.”

Although neither of his children is continuing with formal Jewish education, Cohen said that their synagogue remains a central part of the family’s life.

It’s difficult to determine the exact number of families like the Cohens who are choosing to leave the Jewish day school world after the elementary years. Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, said that one might conclude that fewer students are making the transition from Jewish elementary schools to Jewish high schools, given that last fall there were 685 eighth-graders in day school, and only 621 entering high school students this fall. That number also includes some who enter Jewish high school after attending a secular middle school.

At the same time, Jewish high school enrollment is substantially higher today than five years ago. According to Graff, there were 502 ninth-graders enrolled in Jewish high schools in 1999, compared to the 621 today.

With annual private high school tuition averaging from $18,000 to the mid-20s, the option is beyond the means of many families.

Debbie Gliksman sent her three children to Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. But when it came time for her eldest child, Lianna, to start high school, “our options were limited,” she said. Gliksman would have liked to send her daughter to Milken Community High School, but “it’s a very, very expensive proposition to send three kids there,” she said.

Instead, her daughter enrolled this fall in the humanities magnet program at Hamilton High, her local school.

“There’s a big difference [between private and public],” Gliksman said.

She and other parents recommend that families who may want to send their children to a magnet school begin accruing points as early as possible. (For more information about points, visit www.lausd.k12.ca.us/welcome.html and click on “FAQs” under the “Discover LAUSD” tab.)

For other families, only a Jewish high school will do. In June, Maureen Goldberg’s son, Joshua, will graduate from Abraham Heschel Day School in Northridge. Goldberg said her family had been “struggling for the last couple of years” over the issue of where he should go next.

Several weeks ago, she said the family “came to an epiphany” while attending an open house for a secular private school they were considering. The school had put out an extensive buffet, and as Goldberg approached the tables and saw the ham and cheese.

“My heart sank,” she said.

She turned to her son and said, “I don’t think I can go back.” And he responded, “I don’t think I can, either, mom.”

“It crystallized for us that we weren’t ready to give up the Judaic experience,” said Goldberg, who added that she considered it even more important for adolescents than younger children to learn Jewish values. “He might get that at a secular school, but I know he’ll get it at Milken.”

Goldberg also said she was disappointed that although 75 percent of her son’s class went on to private schools, only three chose to go to a Jewish one.

Like many other parents sending their children to private school, Goldberg said the family had to sacrifice to afford the steep tuition.

“I’d rather live in the smallest house in the worst neighborhood and send my kid to a private Jewish day school, than live in the largest house and go to public school,” she said. “The sacrifice is worth it. I have a really menschy, kind kid, and he got a lot of that from Heschel.”

 

Yeladim


TAKE A LOOK, IT’S IN A BOOK
On Sunday, Nov. 14,
come to the second annual
Jewish Children’s Bookfest
from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.,
at the Triangle, Mount Sinai Memorial Park
(6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley,
exit the 118 West at Yosemite).
Children and their families are invited to celebrate: “350 Years of Jews in America” with their favorite authors and entertainers, and participate in fun workshops.
You’ll get a free gift if you complete the following puzzles and bring it to Debra at the Jewish Journal workshop.
For more information on the Bookfest, call (866) 266-5731 or visit www.jewishchildrensbookfest.org.
350 YEARS OF JEWISH ACHIEVEMENT

“Tiby” Eisen will actually be at the festival.
1) “Tiby” Eisen’s given name is:
a. Martha
b. Thelma
c. Louise
2) The movie based on her team’s experiences is called:
a. A League of Their Own
b. Ladybugs
c. Quarterback Princess
3) From 1946-1953, she played professional:
a. Soccer
b. Football
c. Baseball
Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to kids@jewishjournal.com. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next time!

Rocket Threat Casts Shadow on Kibbutz


Kibbutz Nir’am, which is slightly closer to the Gaza Strip than Sderot, seemed dead that morning. The air was hot, harsh and still. Hardly anybody was outdoors.

Ofer Lieberman, whose office and van are plastered with stickers for Guinness, the beer he soaks up at the kibbutz’s Green Pub, had shown us the yard-wide, four-inch-deep crater in a road near the fields where the Kassam rocket landed the previous morning.

Sitting in his cramped office upstairs in the kibbutz garage, the laconic, goateed Lieberman, who runs Nir’am’s farm and handles the kibbutz’s media relations, was complaining about how Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had visited Sderot the previous day but, typical for an Israeli politician, had canceled his scheduled stop at the kibbutz.

It was the day before Sukkot, two days before Dorit Aniso, 2, and her cousin, Yuval Abebeh, 4, were killed by a Kassam in Sderot. At 10:55 a.m., a muffled boom sounded in the near distance and rattled the windows.

“That,” said Lieberman, perking up and pointing in the air, “was a Kassam.”

As we hustled down to his van, he got a call on his cellphone from the contractor building his new house. The contractor said that the Kassam had fallen nearby. But when Lieberman pulled up to the construction site, he found no sign of a rocket, so he called the contractor.

“I don’t see anything,” he told the contractor.

But there had been a misunderstanding.

“It fell near the house I live in?” Lieberman asked.

Cursing, he floored the van’s gas pedal. Nobody was at home, but three of his four daughters were in the school right near their house.

A crowd had already gathered, staring at the scorched, broken-off wings and engine of the Kassam sticking out of the dirt about 25 yards from Alon Elementary School. The school had already started the holiday, but about 30 children were there for activities. Another dozen preschoolers were in kindergarten nearby.

Shrapnel from the Kassam had flown through the windows of a cottage used as a sewing room and over the head of a seamstress sitting inside, leaving her unharmed. Many children in the school and kindergarten had screamed, cried and run out the door, but physically they were untouched.

Lieberman stood with his daughters and watched as soldiers trotted past, police cordoned off the missile site, parents hugged their children and everyone was buzzing about where they’d been and what they’d been doing when that ugly metal thing crashed on the ground.

“We were playing right over there,” said Aviv Revivo, 12, standing with two friends and pointing to a spot on the nearby lawn. “The Kassam from yesterday I saw in the air before it landed. I heard the whistle, and I looked up and I saw it flying over my house.”

Since the Kassams started shooting out of Gaza nearly two years ago, more than 100 have landed on Kibbutz Nir’am — almost as many as have fallen on Sderot. Nobody has been physically injured at the kibbutz, although one Kassam destroyed a trailer that, luckily, was unoccupied at the time, and another landed near a preschool. Now there was this latest close call.

The psychological toll has been heavy on both parents and children, who number about 300. Kassams land in their midst and Israeli army helicopters blast away at Gaza from over their heads.

“Nobody knows what’s going on here,” Lieberman said. “The press and the politicians are only interested if there’s blood. They all go running to Sderot, and not one single Cabinet minister has visited Nir’am since the Kassams started,” (On the following Sunday, Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim made up for Mofaz’s cancellation.)

“If that Kassam had fallen 30 yards away, and we’d had three dead children and 30 injured at the school,” Lieberman added, “the whole government would have shown up by now.”

Inside the school, the children were seated in a circle around Tali Simchi, who had come to the class that day, planning to lead a drama lesson, at the insistence of her daughter, Michal, 9, who was still scared from the Kassam the previous morning.

“We’re trying to make peace with the Palestinians,” Simchi told the children, “but everywhere there are extremists, and now we’re facing Hamas, who think God gave them the right to all of the land, and that’s their goal, to take it all, and that’s why they fire those missiles at Nir’am.”

“And our job, as people who live on the border,” she continued, “is — that’s right — to live with it, to live with the fear, which is natural, and to talk about how we’re afraid and to keep believing that all this will pass.”

A middle-age soldier in red paratrooper’s boots came in the door.

“Look who’s here,” Simchi told the children, grinning extra widely for effect.

It was Col. Itzik [commander of the 101 Paratrooper Battalion].

“What heroes you are,” he told the children with a similar large grin. “Everybody OK? I’m going to bring all my soldiers here to learn from you how to be heroes. Keep on protecting us, and we’ll keep on protecting you.”

“Well, I came here to give encouragement, and I leave here encouraged,” the colonel said and strode out the door.

I asked Michal how she slept at night.

“Not so well,” she said. “I’m afraid the Kassams will fall on me all the time.”

When this latest Kassam fell, she said, “All I saw was like gray in front of my eyes.”

Completely unashamed, Tom Ben Odiz said, “I cried. I’m 13, but I cried.”

When the Kassam fell, a birthday party had been in progress. Or Rabin, 9, had her arms around the birthday girl, Neta Amar, who was turning 7.

Like the other children, Neta had spoken with her parents. She didn’t seem to want to talk.

“She was in shock at first,” Or said, “but now she’s started to cry.”

Other kibbutzim near Gaza have been hit by Kassams, but none so badly as Nir’am. The kibbutz is broke; it hasn’t paid its bank debts for two years, and the water utility has threatened to cut off its water.

Like most kibbutzim, it has been struggling financially for many years, and now the Kassams have driven away its weekend bed-and-breakfast trade and summer campers, as well as many of its outside pupils and cutlery works customers.

Yet Nir’am has not been granted “confrontation-line” status such as Sderot was in July, which means it gets none of the financial breaks, like a 13 percent income tax reduction, that go to residents in that town a few hundred meters away.

Following the Kassam deaths of the young cousins, the prime minister’s office announced an aid package for Sderot neighborhoods, schools and businesses. Nir’am wasn’t mentioned.

“Everybody talks about Sderot, Sderot,” said Arianna Amar, an assistant teacher at Nir’am’s kindergarten. “I live in the Mem 3 neighborhood, the [most badly hit neighborhood] of Sderot, but the Kassams haven’t fallen here any less.”

When this last one fell so close by and the children started screaming and crying, Amar put on a brave face, hugged them and said that even though the floor had shook, the missile had actually landed far away in the fields. But she was shaking herself and tears were falling.

“I wanted to go home, but it’s no better there,” she said, adding that if there was anyway of selling their apartment, she and her family would already have moved far away from the Gaza border.

This has also been on the mind of Emma Segev. Now 31, she came to Nir’am as an 18-year-old volunteer from Brighton, England, met a young kibbutznik named Gil and married him. Now he’s an agronomist on the farm; she’s head of purchasing at the cutlery factory. They have two sons — Yuval, 5, and Ben, 2 — and today, Segev said, was “too much already.”

Standing outside the cow shed near the factory, her arms folded as if for protection, comfort or both, Segev reflected on the day and the days before.

She said, “I saw the [factory] manager go white while he was on the phone. ‘Where? It was next to the kindergarten.’ My knees buckled, I welled up. I phoned the kindergarten teacher, whose voice was shaking with fear. I heard the kids’ voices. Yuval said it had made him jump.

“Today,” Segev continued, “it went way beyond saying everything’s OK now, and going back to normal. It became so clear to me that I really feel quite irresponsible for being here with my kids. I couldn’t concentrate any more; I couldn’t get any work done. I was thinking about what we’re going to do, because I don’t think we can go on like this.

“And it absolutely breaks my heart when we hear the helicopters firing into Gaza,” she said. “I can’t imagine what a mother there is going through. I’d go back to England tomorrow, but my husband’s an Israeli — he’d agree to live in England if it wasn’t for the weather. So I think the thing to do is find a quieter, more peaceful place somewhere in Israel. Tonight we’re going to stay with Gil’s brother in Ashkelon.

“Enough,” she said, “enough for one day.”

During the nearly two-year onslaught of Kassams, none of Kibbutz Nir’am’s families had moved out. But on the Friday after the Kassam landed by the school and after another Kassam killed the two cousins in Sderot, the Segevs informed the kibbutz that they had leased a house in a desert moshav and would be moving in a week

or so.

They were taking a year’s leave of absence; after a year, they’d see if it was safe to go home.

Synagogue Perks Entice Unaffiliated


What does $1,000 buy you these days in Jewish life?

Maybe, if you’re lucky, a full-year family synagogue membership. But what exactly does that mean? Two tickets to High Holiday services? Free parking? Entree to Kiddushes?

At a time when families have limited time and money and so much competing for it, synagogue leaders are realizing the need to offer more to potential and existing congregant.

The Journal surveyed a number of synagogues in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to find out what membership brings these days. Remember: Membership has its privileges.

No. 1: The "Come Join Our Synagogue So You Can Enroll in Our Day School" Model

A family membership at Temple Beth Am (www.tbala.org) costs $1,925. The price might seem a bit steep, but not only does the membership come with two High Holiday tickets, but it also gives members the privilege of sending their children to Pressman Academy, the synagogue’s affiliate day school. Pressman Academy is named after Rabbi Jacob Pressman, Beth Am’s rabbi emeritus, and, according to its Web site, it teaches students "to be serious and committed Jews and responsible American citizens." The only way you get to send your kids to Pressman is if you are a Beth Am member.

If those are not enticements enough, then Beth Am also has a social coordinator who helps members meet each other by organizing havurahs, or social groups. The havurahs are grouped together according to age, and they that meet various times throughout the year for different activities, like going out to dinner and to the park.

No. 2: The "Join Our Synagogue So You Can Get a Discount on Our Other Institutions" Model:

With 2,500 members, Wilshire Boulevard Temple (www.wilshireboulevardtemple.org) is one of the largest synagogues in Los Angeles, and it requires you to be a member of the synagogue (cost of family membership: $1,728, includes High Holiday tickets) before you can enroll your children in its religious school. But if you are wanting more religious education for your children than what a secular school can offer, you can enroll them in the temple’s nursery or elementary school. Both are open to members and nonmembers, but members get a substantial discount and get bumped up the waiting list.

"It makes financial sense to be a member in order to get in," Wilshire Boulevard Executive Director Stephen Breuer said. "Our schools are subsidized by the congregation, and the day school tuition for a member is substantially cheaper than for a nonmember. Our schools are part of the total synagogue experience — they are not stand-alone businesses that we operate."

Breuer said that in addition to the schools, the synagogue offers everything from children’s services on Shabbat to grief counseling.

No. 3: The "Come Join Our Synagogue So You Can Send Your Kids To Our Religious or Nursery School" Model.

Most synagogues are not fortunate enough to have a day school attached to them, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about Jewish education. A good number of synagogues offer an afternoon or Sunday religious school program for children attending non-Jewish schools. Many also have nursery schools attached to them.

At most of these synagogues you need to join before you can enroll your children in its religious school.

Temple Aliyah (www.templealiyah.org) in West Hills charges $1,950 for a family membership, which includes High Holiday tickets for parents and children younger than 18 and the right to send children to its religious school. Temple Aliyah also offers a children’s program during High Holiday services.

No. 4: The "Join Our Synagogue Because We Make Religious Life Easy For You" Model

Beth Jacob (www.bethjacob.org) in Pico-Robertson is the largest Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, and while it can’t offer its members anything in the way of affiliate schools, it does offer a full range of religious services that are designed to fit into any schedule. Membership at Beth Jacob is $1,000 for a family, which includes two High Holiday tickets, but throughout the year that membership entitles you to your choice of three Shacharit minyanim every morning, as well as a large range of Torah classes throughout the week.

No. 5: The "Our Shul Needs You" Model

Unlike other congregations, Aish HaTorah Los Angeles (www.aishla.com) says its primary mission is not building a congregation, but outreach to unaffiliated Jews.

"We are looking for people who want to be part of that commitment," said William Gross, chair of the Aish Hatorah Los Angeles Community. "Our membership is not just for the synagogue — we are packing it together with the outreach organization as well. If we sell $1,000 worth of tickets to the High Holidays we have failed, but if we get 10 people to help us achieve our mission [we have succeeded]."

Therefore, a family membership at Aish is $1,800, but built into that membership is not only two High Holiday tickets, but also two tickets to Aish HaTorah’s annual banquet, which supports its outreach activities.

There are other membership models, too. Shuls like Beth Shir Sholom (BSS) in Santa Monica which want 2 percent of your gross income as membership, with a suggested minimum of $1,500, which excludes anyone earning less than $75,000 a year (in fairness, a spokesperson for BSS said that people needing to pay less than $1,500 "could work it out with the executive director.")

There is a shul in Pico-Robertson, which offers a $600 family membership that includes High Holiday for all family members, but they don’t want to publicize it because "we don’t want people who are just going to come for the High Holidays and not come the rest of the year."

Despite the secrecy, that shul has managed to boost its membership from 100 families to 210 families within one year.

But the good news for those seeking synagogue memberships is most of the synagogues that The Journal spoke to, in many different parts of Los Angeles, said that they would not turn away any Jew because of financial problems. In other words, getting Jews to be religiously affiliated is more important than money in the bank.

Same-Sex Marriage Poses Key Questions


I can’t prove that allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for society.

Of course, people terrified of global warming can’t even prove it exists, but that doesn’t stop former Vice President Al Gore from delivering a grave warning on the coldest day of the year.

If he can speculate, so can I. So why might someone oppose same-sex marriage?

My first question would be, is marriage important? Important, that is, to society. Most proponents of same-sex marriage seem to think it’s not, that it’s the grownup equivalent of going to the prom — if boy-girl couples can go, why not boy-boy or girl-girl couples?

To them, marriage is just another form of self-expression. This is evident in the overused question: How does so-and-so’s same-sex relationship threaten your marriage?

That question regards marriage as purely personal: You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. What’s missing is any sense of marriage as a social institution.

Because if marriage isn’t important, if it’s just a way for couples to show their love to the world, then denying it to anyone would be cruel and pointless. So how do we answer the question? How do we know if marriage is important?

Because every human society, ancient or modern, religious or secular, Jewish or Christian or secular has had the institution of marriage. I guess I’m a Darwinist: If every society has evolved an institution, then I’m reluctant to tamper with it, just as even if I had no idea what the heart did, just the fact that every animal has one would make me very, very cautious about cutting into it.

A society’s evolution is for survival just as much as an organism’s is. Compare marriage to friendship, for example. Society lets us form friendship without a ceremony and dissolve it without going to court. Why? Because while my relationship with my buddy may be very important to the two of us, it’s just not all that important to society, unlike my marriage to my wife.

What does marriage do for a society? I can think of two things.

The first benefit is often discussed: Marriage seeks to provide the ideal situation for raising children, a stable household with a father and a mother. To say that two men — or two women – can raise a child just as well is to say that mothers — or fathers — are irrelevant, a dangerous message when studies suggest that boys raised without a father are more than twice as likely to end up in prison, and girls raised without a father are more than four times as likely to get pregnant as teens.

The other benefit of traditional marriage, little-discussed even by opponents of same-sex marriage, is society’s huge interest in curbing the aggressive energy of men and channeling it into productive activities. In segments of society with an overabundance of unattached men, we see crime, promiscuous sex and fatherless children.

Marriage channels male energy into things like raising children and supporting families and away from things like crime: Unmarried (heterosexual) men are more than five times as likely to end up in prison as married men.

Maybe allowing men to form marriages with other men could help society by stabilizing their relationships. But why, then, didn’t marriage evolve that way in the first place, as a union of any two people?

Because society’s idea of marriage has always been to tame men, not by hooking them up with someone but by hooking them up with women. Women bring a different energy, a different point of view to marriage, and it’s their energy that tames men, domesticates them, if you will. Without that domestication, society is in big trouble.

Finally, advocates argue that allowing same-sex marriage might not help society, but it would leave the benefits of opposite-sex marriage in place. After all, the vast majority of men will still marry women, excepting only gay men who — in this day and age — wouldn’t marry women anyway. I don’t think so.

Allowing the unimportant will dilute the important. Allowing men to marry men and women to marry women will make marriage more like simple friendship. Because of the importance or raising children and taming men, society is wounded whenever a traditional marriage breaks up. But if two married men were to divorce, society would suffer no more than when two friends call it quits.

If we allow same-sex marriage, there won’t be two sets of rules: All marriages will have to be treated the same. The traditional marriages that are so vital to society will be treated like the same-sex marriages that are not. It would become less important.

We didn’t build our society. We’re like people who have inherited a house built long before we were born, and every now and then we walk around and decide we want to change something — the décor is old-fashioned or it fails to reflect our unique style.

Right now we’re thinking about working on the wall called marriage, but before we do we should ask an important question: Are we just repainting or are we tearing down a structural wall that’s holding the building up?


Sandy Frank, a former Wall Street lawyer and Emmy-winning comedy writer, is still waiting for his invitation to join the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Back to the Desert


Modern Jews must possess an ancient collective memory to stay out of the desert. I only had enough vacation days saved up for the Memorial Day weekend, not enough for 40 years of wandering.

But Arie Katz, founder of Orange County’s Community Scholar Program, which sponsored this second annual retreat, promised that we would be on schedule. And I have learned to never doubt Arie. So we loaded up the car and headed for the desert.

Arriving at La Casa del Zorro Desert Resort, we unpacked into our beautiful luxury room overlooking one of the five swimming pools. This four-diamond resort is located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in the contiguous United States. It covers more than 600,000 acres of rugged, pristine and diverse terrain with spectacular canyons, sand dunes and desert mountains. And now this panoramic but forbidding place was the temporary home of 40-plus Orange County Jewish families. I thought to myself, “How can anyone learn anything in this heat?”

I was wrong.

Rivy Kletenik, our weekend scholar-in-residence, writes and teaches on topics of Jewish interest throughout the world. Taking a cue from the western tableaux, her lively weekend discussions centered on the theme of “Wild Stories of The Talmud & Midrash: the Thin Precipice Between Life and Death.”

A graduate of Pittsburgh’s Hillel Academy, Jerusalem College for Women, Hebrew University and Touro College, Rivy was also recently selected by the Covenant Foundation to receive the Covenant award for outstanding Jewish educators.

Rivy’s lectures were the icing on the cake of an extensive schedule complete with religious services, lectures, gourmet meals and separate activities for younger children. Before we began each morning, Josh Lake, our tribe’s in-house naturalist, offered a sunrise desert walk to help us better appreciate our surroundings. (Confession: I never woke up in time to join the hike. Maybe next year.)

Shabbat was a beautiful sight: 120 Orange County Jews in the desert, from a dozen different congregations, shvitzing and celebrating Shabbat together as a unified community. Congregation B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Elie Spitz led Shabbat services, as well as master songleader Dale Schatz to focused our ruach (spirit).

Our 4-year-old daughter, Adina, loved it. She quickly made friends with all of the other children and fell in love with the weekend’s teen counselors. Her two favorites, sisters Jaclyn and Elena Bendroff, played with Adina during Shabbat free time and babysat her each night.

The weekend was spectacular, not only from an intellectual standpoint, but as a Jewish parent and communal professional. It was refreshing to see so many generations of Jewish families — some with children, some without — learning together, singing together and laughing together.

At the end of the weekend, everyone agreed to meet back in the desert again next year. And, just as Arie promised, the retreat ended as scheduled.

I’ve already put in for my vacation during Memorial Day weekend next year. Wanna join us?

To receive information about the CSP or sign up for next year’s annual desert retreat, visit

Three Rabbis to Pursue Diverse Sabbaticals


Three of Orange County’s senior rabbis have decided to take a sabbatical. While the three have decided on their own to take a respite from the 24/7 demands of being a rabbi, their congregations are taking a different approach to temporarily replacing an absent spiritual leader.

The most unique arrangement is that at Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek. Taking the pulpit in the place of Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein beginning Oct. 15 will be his daughter, Rabbi Rebecca Yael Schorr, who grew up in the congregation founded for her father in 1976.

Nepotism wasn’t a factor, they say. Schorr, along with other more seasoned candidates, submitted to interviews by a search committee, which made its recommendation to the congregation’s full board. Einstein and Cantor Linda Ecker, who knew the candidate as a teen, excused themselves from the final selection process in April.

In truth, Einstein thinks Schorr did have an edge over the other candidates. She, like her father, possesses a compelling personal trait, which congregants of B’nai Tzedek have come to expect of clergy.

“She is different from me,” said Einstein, 58. “The part that’s the same is being fully present in the moment. Every week people come up to me and say, ‘You really mean it, don’t you?’ It makes me sense that’s not what takes place elsewhere.”

“My dad’s gift is he connects with people,” said Schorr, 33, who served as an assistant rabbi at Long Beach’s Temple Israel for six years, which included an internship. She was ordained in 1999.

“I’m flattered to fill in for one of the great rabbis of his generation,” she said.

Schorr will get a trial run conducting four Shabbat services this summer, a time when her father enjoys sampling the sermons of colleagues.

Like the biblical instruction to leave fields fallow in the seventh year, clergy and academics are among a few professions that routinely grant long-term paid absences after seven years of service.

“It’s for the same reason as in the Bible — to give a rest,” said Einstein, who has a lifetime contract from the Reform congregation, now at 425 families. “We can have a day off, but if there’s a crisis, that’s the end of that.”

Einstein and his wife, Robin, plan to divide their time between the East Coast and Spain. He doesn’t have a specific goal to accomplish during his third sabbatical, other than a possible congregational tour of Israel around Purim.

“Each time when I came back, I was raring to go,” said Einstein, who is also a chaplain for the police department, involved with an interfaith council and teaches three on-going adult education courses and one semester a year at Cal State Fullerton.

Einstein recalled that a rabbinical career appealed to him, because he naively believed rabbis spent their time studying and reading. He knows better now.

“A sabbatical allows me to get back to that idealism,” he said.

In January, Allen Krause, rabbi of Temple Beth El for 20 years, will also begin his third sabbatical. He received a fellowship from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies, which chooses a single recipient annually.

Although the fellow is only required to study, Krause, 64, proposed reworking his master’s thesis into book form. His topic was Southern rabbis who participated in the U.S. civil rights movement. Revisiting their stories will return Krause to an epiphany that powerfully influenced his own career.

Through his research, Krause came to realize that congregational respect for clergy gives rabbis the buoyancy to support unpopular positions and not suffer career harm. One of his subjects, Rabbi Charles Mantindand of Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, Miss., was a vocal advocate of integration, a position much of his congregation opposed.

“He’s the one I’m most in awe of,” said Krause, who has openly criticized actions by Israel’s government, despite his congregation’s generally pro-Israel views. “I strongly believe a rabbi has to take moral stands.”

Krause’s research, ground-breaking in its time, underpins publications by several other authors who gained access to his initial 400-page work through Cincinnati’s Jewish American Archives.

“This is truly my own contribution,” said Krause, who intends to update his research. His wife, Sherrie, will accompany him.

“If it weren’t for sabbaticals, I’d never get anything done,” said Krause.

Beth El will hire a temporary pulpit replacement, who will work alongside Johanna Hershenson, returning as the congregation’s assistant rabbi beginning July 1 (see story below).

Elie Spitz, in his 17th year as rabbi of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel will depart after Yom Kippur for the remainder of the academic year.

One option he is considering is traveling the globe with his wife, Linda, and home-schooling their three children. Another is trading housing for teaching in a foreign locale. Returning to Israel is a third option.

“Rabbinic families have a great deal of stress,” said Spitz, describing a high burnout rate among clergy, who often end up working seven days without days off. “The job is to be a teacher and a visionary. To do both, you need a break to engage in intense study to provide a hiatus for perspective.”

Six years ago, Spitz took his family on sabbatical in Israel, where he was able to write a book about reincarnation.

“The first sabbatical was a magical year,” he said. “There is no substitute for a block of uninterrupted time.”

As a substitute for Spitz, the Conservative congregation of 495 families will count on willing lay volunteers, who will help fulfill ritual functions, along with Cantor Marcia Tilchin, hired subsequent to Spitz’s earlier sabbatical break.

Teens Aid Russian Children


Knowing little about Judaism, 11 Russian immigrant families in the Los Angeles area began meeting in 1991, holding Shabbat dinners together and learning Jewish teachings from their children, many of whom were enrolled in Jewish day schools.

Among them was Olga Belogolova’s family, which had emigrated from Kiev and settled in Irvine. Last year, one of the havurah’s teens learned that a 9-year-old cousin, Alona, hospitalized with pneumonia in St. Petersburg, was going untreated because her parents lacked money for medicine.

Together, the families pooled $3,000, and forwarded the funds to St. Petersburg’s rundown Children’s Hospital No. 19. Just $500 was needed for Alona’s recovery. The havurah’s generosity was acknowledged with a long list of supplies purchased by the hospital. Antibiotics for an ear infection, for example, cost $3.

“We realized we could help more people than just the family friend,” said Belogolova, 17, co-founder and president of the CureKid Foundation, established last year to assist one ill-supplied Russian hospital. Her mother, Alla Korinevskaya, teaches math at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School; her father, Igor Belogolov, is a programmer.

The teenager and her friends identify with the plight of Russian children. For the last year they have been sharing their cause at community events, such as the recent Israel fair, and also organize fundraisers, such as an arrangement last month with a local restaurant that agreed to contribute a percentage of one night’s receipts.

“I always tried to find a community service,” said the Woodbridge High senior. “I never found anything that interested me.”

Information about the foundation can be found at

Court: JCC Parents Can Sue Gunmakers


Three families, whose children were shot by a white supremacist in an attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), can pursue their lawsuit against the makers of the weapons used in the shooting spree.

The May 28 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was greeted with relief by the three families and by the mother of postal carrier Joseph S. Ileto, who was slain by the same gunman in a separate attack.

The suit grew out of the Aug. 10, 1999 attack by Buford O. Furrow Jr., a self-avowed anti-Semite and white supremacist, on the Jewish center in Granada Hills, which left three children, one teenager and one adult wounded.

"I am so elated that we are finally moving forward," Donna Finkelstein told The Journal. Her daughter Mindy, then a 16-year-old counselor at the JCC, suffered two gunshot wounds to her leg.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Alan Stepakoff and Loren Lieb, whose then 6-year-old son, Joshua Stepakoff, was also shot in the leg.

Also participating in the suit, which seeks unspecified damages, are Eleanor and Charles Kadish, whose son Benjamin, then 5, was the most seriously injured, with gunshot wounds to his stomach and legs.

Eleanor Kadish said that the legal decision was "something of a victory" and she was optimist that the gunmakers would ultimately be held accountable.

She described her family life as "pretty much back to normal, but the trauma always comes back to you."

Among the large cache of weapons found in Furrow’s car were an Austrian-made Glock 9-millimeter handgun and a 9-millimeter rifle, made by North China Industries. Both manufacturers are named in the suit.

Furrow, who is now serving five life terms in prison, without possibility of parole, was a longtime member of the Aryan Nations. The Idaho-based group proclaims that all Jews are descendants of Satan.

When he turned himself in to the FBI in Las Vegas, Furrow told agents that he had shot up the Jewish center the day before as "a wake-up call to Americans to kill Jews."

He added that he had shot and killed Ileto because he was non-white and worked for the federal government.

Before the shooting rampage, Furrow had checked out the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Skirball Cultural Center and University of Judaism, but had found security too tight. He described his choice of the NVJCC as "a target of opportunity."

In filing the original suit almost four years ago, attorney Joshua Horwitz of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence said that Furrow, a convicted felon with a history of mental instability, should not have been allowed to build an arsenal of assault-style weapons.

"It’s not enough to let guns go out your factory door and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t know where they’re headed,’" Horwitz said.

Commenting on the current court ruling, Horwitz said that "When the actions of gunmakers and distributors put public safety at risk, they must be held accountable."

Friday’s ruling by the full 26-member appeals court upheld the same ruling by an earlier three-judge panel, which had been appealed by the Glock company.

However, eight of the 26 judges dissented, warning that the ruling could threaten many non-gun manufacturers and seriously damage the state’s economy.

Attorneys for the gunmakers said they had not yet decided whether to request a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

One outgrowth of the JCC attack has been the Million Mom March, a national gun control initiative, with much of the initial impetus coming from Jewish Valley women, including Finkelstein and Lieb.

Finkelstein, and her husband David, were active participants in the 2004 march, held last month in Washington, D.C.