No need to shame the Federation


This column is a response to a column posted March 17 at jewishjournal.com, “A Deafening Silence from the Jewish Federation,” taking the Los Angeles Jewish Federation to task for not speaking out against certain policies and statements of President Donald Trump. You can join a Facebook discussion on this issue here.

Our local Federation can do no right. When it took a public stand two years ago against the Iran nuclear deal—which many of us considered bad for Israel and America, and still do—it got reamed by local Jews who felt the Federation should not exclude the many Jewish voices who favored the deal.

Although I was against the deal, I had sympathy for that pushback, since politics in general is very divisive and the Federation’s role is to be as unifying and inclusive as possible. The Federation learned its lesson. 

But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, some of those same voices are taking the Federation to task for staying out of politics and keeping quiet. In a joint op-ed in the Journal by four prominent progressive Jews, the Federation is shamed for remaining “deafeningly silent” in the face of the outrageous words and actions from our new president.

This goes against a long local tradition, the authors write, where “Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.”

But the authors cite no precedent of past Federations taking on a president, or even a political cause. They use the loose term “Jewish leaders” without specifying if those were Federation leaders.

What they do suggest is that if anyone as bad as Trump would have become president over the past forty years, “The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition.” 

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way.

Fair enough, but here’s the problem with that position: I know a lot of Jews in Los Angeles who think Obama was pretty bad, too. They believe Obama increased the racial tensions in our country, did virtually nothing to stop the massacre of 500,000 civilians in Syria and the worst refugee crisis of the century, and tried to turn America into another failed, socialist European state.

Some of those Jews claimed Obama’s policies violated Jewish values, and that it was a Jewish value to oppose him. In fact, had progressive Jews mobilized to oppose Obama during the massacres in Syria, and implored the Federation to speak out in the name of Jewish values against Obama’s Syria policy, they might be getting a better hearing today.

Either way, I have no political dog in this fight. I’ve written columns urging Republicans to “dump” Trump and even wrote a piece calling him worse than a liar. Personally, I enjoy seeing the Trump opposition movement—it shows me our diverse community in action.

That long and noble tradition that the authors write about, of Jews being “active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances,” is alive and well. It reminds me of how much I cherish our freedom to protest and hold our leaders accountable, which I never take for granted.

But should that be the role of the Federation at the expense of further dividing our community? I don’t think so.

It’s interesting to note that when the authors try to strengthen their case by showing examples of prominent conservatives who had the guts to take on Trump, they cite three newspaper pundits. These pundits, they write, “all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nevertheless.”

Yes, but speaking out is the core role of a pundit. Pundits don’t have the duty to unify a community or help it heal. Federations do. Our Federation has made its share of mistakes over the years; I just don’t think that aiming for bipartisanship in tremendously divisive times is one of them.

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way. Instead of picking one voice, the Federation would convene multiple voices. Maybe really smart people will find a middle ground that can project Jewish values in a Trumpian world without dividing us any further.

As the Journal’s Esther Kustanowitz wrote on a Facebook post, “It’s easy to emerge as leaders, with a statement to rouse community to action, when everyone agrees. It’s when people disagree—when a community holds different beliefs in tension with each other—that emerging as a community leader gets difficult.”

If you ask me, any leadership move that can bring Jews together under the most divisive and stressful circumstances would be worthy of the highest Jewish value—Trump or no Trump.

Courtesy of Pexels.

Letters to the Editor: Daily Bruin Cartoon, David Friedman and ‘Kapos,’ Federation Stance


Misreading UCLA Cartoon

Cartoon by undergraduate political science major Felipe Bris Abejon in the UCLA student newspaper The Daily Bruin.

Cartoon by undergraduate political science major Felipe Bris Abejon in the UCLA student newspaper The Daily Bruin.

I disagree with my assemblyman Richard Bloom’s depiction of UCLA’s Daily Bruin cartoon as anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). The cartoon is not mocking the Jewish faith but mocking the prime minister of Israel for disgracing the foundational values of Judaism and other religions in his support for a law retroactively legalizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

As a newly elected California Democratic Party delegate in Bloom’s 50th Assembly District, I find public intimidation of the student journalists unsettling, particularly at a time when the far right of Israel is looking for cover to annex the entire West Bank and President Donald Trump is viciously attacking journalists.

In light of the most recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers, it behooves us all to focus on real anti-Semitism and not confuse the public or detract from ascendant hate speech and actions that threaten Jews, Muslims and people of color.

Marcy Winograd, Santa Monica

‘Kapos’ and David Friedman

With the current “kapo” controversy, I feel compelled to provide a clarification (“The Case Against David Friedman,” Feb. 17). It is understandable that Rob Eshman’s or David Friedman’s generation obviously had no exposure to actual kapos and only had diminished understanding of the actual facts.

As a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau-Buchenwald, I would like to make this correction: In Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most other concentration camps, kapos were German nationals. Almost all were German criminals serving life sentences. They were transferred from German prisons to the camps to empty many prisons in Germany. The vacancies were utilized for minor criminals with short-term sentences. Also other “undesirables” the Nazis could not afford to put into concentration camps because they could reveal the truth once they were released.

Jews were rarely trusted to execute the Germans’ commands, primarily because they did not speak or understand German. They also possibly were suspected to be too lenient.

Henry Oste via email

With the utmost respect, I beg to differ with Rob Eshman’s analysis of the case of David Friedman as our prospective United States Ambassador to Israel. Maybe we need another bulldog like Donald Trump in the guise of a hard-liner named David Friedman to be the solution.

I hope the readers of the Jewish Journal will continue to send in letters to the editor representing all spectrums of our diverse Jewish and non-Jewish community, and continue to donate to our great newspaper that glues us together instead of dividing us.

Richard Bernstein, Los Angeles

Federation Stance Ignores Teachings of Torah

I am both distressed and saddened by the report in the Jewish Journal that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has decided to remain quiet with regard to current immigration issues (“Federation Stays Neutral on Trump Order, Despite Pressure,” Feb. 17).

To run away from taking a position because of “politics” is absurd. For us, it should not be a political issue; rather, it is an issue of decency in a Jewish context.

Does our holy Torah not say 36 times to help the stranger? That’s more, incidentally, than any other single reference made as we read and study it each year.

Does our tradition also not say “silence is agreement”?

And so, with 65 million immigrants in the world, we cannot spare even a word of objection to the issue?

I know we can do much better because in past generations, we have.

Irving Cramer, Venice, Calif.

Cutting Edge Grants from the Jewish Community Foundation


The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has named nine initiatives the recipients of its annual Cutting Edge Grants program, intended to support creative thinkers, social entrepreneurs and innovative organizations in the local Jewish community. 

This year’s winners will use the funds to assist underserved communities, support Jewish organizations embracing technology and explore new models of synagogue leadership. Each initiative will receive up to $250,000 over three years for a total of $1.85 million — a 23 percent increase from last year. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded more than $13.2 million to 72 initiatives.

The largest grant recipient this year — and the only one awarded the maximum amount — is the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust, the first pooled special needs trust in the county, according to foundation officials. Under the fiscal sponsorship of Bet Tzedek, the initiative’s founders will launch a new nonprofit that will allow families — many of whom would not otherwise have the financial means to create independent trusts to care for their loved ones with special needs — to buy into a collectively invested fund. That money would then be carefully managed in order to support these children later in life.  

The trust hopes to be in business within nine months under the leadership of founding board Chairman Sandor Samuels, a former CEO of Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income individuals and families. Over the last few years, Bet Tzedek used funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to develop a business plan for the trust and to conduct a community-needs assessment. 

“We know there are potentially thousands of families that could benefit,” said Journal columnist Michelle K. Wolf, the trust’s founder and a special needs parent.

Another Cutting Edge Grant recipient is Custom and Craft (” target=”_blank”>haggadot.com. With a three-year $200,000 grant, Levinson will create a studio and media lab in Los Angeles to teach and assist Jewish organizations and individuals to improve their use of technology, design and social media. 

“A lot of what we are doing is based on the model of these YouTube networks. We want to train organizations to operate almost as online talent. Anybody who has a compelling voice can start their own YouTube channel or Instagram account,” Levinson said. “I want our most interesting Jewish organizations to learn how to do the same.”

In addition to consulting with organizations across the city, Custom and Craft’s studio will offer monthly public worships and drop-in sessions. 

The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America will receive $240,000 over three years to create learning modules to build bridges across Jewish constituencies and institutions, and the residential treatment center Beit T’Shuvah will use a $200,000 grant to develop the Elaine Breslow Institute for Jewish Clergy and Educators, which will train hundreds of Jewish educators to identify and support those suffering from addiction. 

Overall, this year’s winners each reflect a vision of innovation for the future of Jewish Los Angeles, according to Elana Wien, director of the Center for Designed Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation. 

“These grants are designed to meet diverse Jewish participants where they are, using creative and innovative strategies to most effectively address their needs,” she said. “The potential is here to make Jewish life in Los Angeles more vibrant, inclusive and engaging for all Jews.”

The remaining Cutting Edge Grants were awarded to: Chai Lifeline, for an afterschool program for children affected by the illness or death of a parent or sibling; Federation, for a rabbinic fellowship program; Shalom Institute in Malibu, for an expanded internship program on its Shemesh Organic Farm; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles and Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, to develop inter-congregational, neighborhood-based villages for elderly congregants who are interested in aging-in-place; and Theatre Dybbuk, to continue its arts education program.

Should Federation take sides?: Moving forward together


If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve heard me say, “I have the best job in the world.” I work with an incredibly talented and dedicated staff and with the most extraordinary group of lay leaders and donors. Together, we are supporting and sustaining this Jewish community and ensuring our Jewish future. These are not slogans or catchphrases. It is in our Federation’s DNA.

Los Angeles is the most dynamic, diverse and exciting Jewish community in the world. Our Federation is committed to working with our partners from every religious, ethnic, cultural and political perspective to accomplish our shared goals and realize our common dreams.

Having the best job in the world does not mean it is not complicated or that it is not messy.

As you can imagine with more than 600,000 Jews, there are many strong and differing opinions and many voices that want and need to be heard. From my first day, I have heard and listened to the many voices in our community.  

In January of 2010, two weeks after I started, my wife and I were at an event when an older man approached me and, inches from my face, started yelling at me in Farsi. While I did not understand what he was saying, I felt his anguish and pain.

Our Federation is not reactive, but we are thoughtful and driven by careful consideration and sound strategic thinking. The next day, I told our senior staff the story and we began to discuss the challenges facing our large Persian-Jewish community. We committed ourselves to broadening our outreach locally, and we reached out to our global partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to better understand the plight of the more than 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. We went back to the Persian community and we listened.

We may never know why that man was so angry but his outburst helped make positive communal change. This is how our Jewish Federation works.

We also listen to the tens of thousands of voices of those whose lives we touch and change together. Exactly a year ago, as rockets flew overhead, our deeply dedicated board chair, Les Bider, and I were sitting with traumatized Israelis in a bomb shelter not far from the Gaza border. We listened to their pain, and this summer we began providing critical psychological and social services to thousands of Israelis, including children and seniors, throughout Israel.

This summer, we also are listening to the hundreds of children enjoying camp at our growing number of amazing Jewish summer camps. Many of these children are at camp for the very first time and many come from financially challenged families.

Our reach covers every corner of our community, from the Conejo Valley to the South Bay. Our work has no boundaries.  We are working with thousands of young adults and have played an integral role in the creation and development of many of our community’s most progressive and inclusive enterprises, from East Side Jews/Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and JQ International to Moishe House and IKAR.  

We are working closely with our growing Orthodox community and we continue to provide much-needed financial aid to hundreds of day school students and their families.

We care and are concerned for the safety and security of our Jewish community and for the safety and security of the State of Israel.

We respect our communal organizations and the outstanding professionals and rabbis who lead them. We encourage those who agree and those who disagree to talk with us and with each other from a place of respect and work with us as we move forward together.

We understand that there are times when decisions we make and positions we take will be challenged and our Federation will come under fire. We ask that we all be respectful and civil. We are steadfast in our commitment to our mission and our work. These challenges make us stronger and our work more effective.

We should not be judged by any one thing. We should be supported for the impact we make each and every day in every corner of our community and in Jewish communities around the world.


Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Should Federation take sides?: A Rabbinic letter of support for the Iran agreement


On July 21, the Los Angeles Jewish Federation board sent an appeal to our community to urge Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, saying:

“The proposed agreement with Iran … impacts the security of the United States, the stability of the Middle East, the future of the State of Israel and the safety of every Jewish family and community around the world. This Iran deal threatens the mission of our Federation as we exist to assure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad and mobilize on issues of concerns.” 

The letter calls upon our community members “to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal.”

The letter gives the impression there is unanimity in Israel that the Iran agreement undermines Israel’s security and, consequently, there is only one way for those who care about Israel’s security to respond to the agreement: to oppose it. 

We strongly disagree. 

Here are three of at least nine published statements from leading Israeli security experts who offer a more nuanced view of the agreement, and while acknowledging that there are imperfections, believe this Iran agreement is an important step forward in enhancing Israel’s security.

Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet and former Navy commander-in-chief:

“[The agreement] is the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives. … In the Middle East, 10 to 15 years is an eternity, and I don’t believe that 10 or 15 years from now the world will stand by and watch Iran acquire nuclear weapons.”

The Peace and Security Association representing hundreds of Israeli security experts, IDF veterans, Mossad, Shin Bet and police:

“Although the agreement signed in Vienna between the world powers and Iran is not optimal, it should remove the immediate threat of an Iranian breakthrough leading to a nuclear military capability within a few months.”

Efraim Halevy, former Mossad director and former head of the Israeli National Security Council:

“Without an agreement, Iran will be free to act as it wishes, whereas the sanctions regime against it will crumble in any case … if the nuclear issue is of cardinal existential importance, what is the point of canceling an agreement that distances Iran from the bomb?”

Good, intelligent Jews who are committed to the welfare of the State of Israel will, of course, disagree. It is critical that the American public and our congressional representatives recognize there are strong, committed Israel supporters in the American-Jewish community and among its leadership who, guided by many in the Israeli security establishment, support this agreement. 

A poll published last week by the Jewish Journal revealed a majority of Los Angeles Jewry and American Jewry favor the agreement despite hesitations, fears and concerns. 

As rabbis, Zionists and ohavei m’dinat Yisrael, we support this agreement, even with its flaws.

Many political, security and diplomatic experts agree that should this negotiated agreement fail now as a result of a veto-proof congressional vote, no other agreement is realistically possible.

We fear then that only a military response will stop Iran in its march to nuclear capability. We are deeply worried that thousands of Hezbollah rockets will be launched against Tel Aviv, Haifa and everywhere in between, causing death and mayhem to our people and the State of Israel, and sparking regional conflagration. 

We believe that this agreement is the best alternative to that potential catastrophic outcome. 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Lewis Barth
Rabbi Sharon Brous
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben
Rabbi Ken Chasen
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Hillel Cohn
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Rabbi William Cutter
Rabbi Stan Davids 
Rabbi Marc Dworkin
Rabbi Lisa Edwards
Rabbi Anthony Elman
Rabbi Reuven Firestone
Rabbi Karen Fox
Rabbi Dara Frimmer
Rabbi Laura Geller
Rabbi Aimee Geracee
Rabbi Miriyam Glazer
Rabbi Susan Goldberg
Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Rabbi Judith HaLevy
Rabbi Jocee Hudson
Rabbi Jim Kaufman
Rabbi Zoe Klein
Rabbi Gil Kollin
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Rabbi Stan Levy
Rabbi Heather Miller
Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh
Rabbi Janet Offel
Rabbi Laura Owens
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Neal Scheindlin
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Rabbi Daniel Shevitz
Rabbi Ruth H. Sohn
Rabbi Dvora Weisberg

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


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


Ryan Dishell. Photo courtesy of BBYO, Inc.

 

 

 

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


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

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


Run

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

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


Michel Jeser. Photo Courtesy of Marvin Steindler Photography.

 

 

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


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


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

Local Birthright offerings feature niche trips


Registration began this week for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the program offering free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews ages 18-26 that was created to connect young people to their heritage. This year, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is co-sponsoring a variety of opportunities: With nine trips and room for 40 people on each, there are 360 spaces available, however many trips fill up quickly.

Designed to serve a cross-section of young adults in the local Jewish community, these trips are inclusive and “low-barrier” to join, said Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president. They cater to a wide variety of participants: Jews of all denominations, LGBT Jews, Iranian Jews and Jews in recovery from substance abuse.

L.A. Way —“the flagship program for L.A. community trips,” according to Michael Gropper, program director of Birthright Israel at Federation — includes visits to Masada, the Dead Sea, the Old City in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The original Los Angeles community Birthright trip, L.A. Way, offers two trips this summer, for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers of the same age will accompany the group for the entire 10 days. 

Another option, Tlalim-Israel Outdoors, is for the more adventurous soul, with treks across the Holy Land, visits to cultural and historical sites, and more. As with L.A. Way, IDF soldiers accompany participants for the entire 10 days. Three of these trips will be offered this summer — one for ages 18-22 and two for ages 22-26.

Niche trips that the Federation is involved with include the L.A. LGBT & Ally Trip. It takes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults as well as their friends and family — ages 22-26 — on an exploration of arts and culture of Israel’s LGBT community. Participants also learn about Israeli gay rights and visit classic Israeli sites, and the trip concludes with the Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade. JQ International, an LGBT Jewish movement, co-organizes the trip.

The LGBT trip “seeks to layer participants’ Jewish identities and LGBT identities in a whole new way with Israel as a setting for this process,” according to absolutelyisrael.com. 

Meanwhile, L.A. Way’s Recovering Israel trip, intended for individuals in addiction recovery, delves into programs helping Israelis who struggle with substance abuse. It also provides a drug- and alcohol-free environment in which to learn about Israel’s culture, history and politics. Beit T’Shuvah, the Culver City-based residential treatment center, co-organizes the trip, which is for ages 18-26.

Lastly, L.A. 2 Israel — Persian Style brings Los Angeles’ Iranian community on a tour of Israel’s most famous attractions. Inaugurated this past winter, the trip is run by provider Sachlav — also known as IsraelOnTheHouse — which has a reputation for appealing to the Iranian community. Its two trips are intended for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively.

Registration for Birthright trips began on Feb. 13, and many close within a week, according to a Birthright official. For more information or to register, visit birthrightisrael.com.

Federation officials hope that the trips are just one step in Birthright participants’ continued engagement with the Jewish community. It has two fellowships through which former trip leaders and participants organize and promote events that keep their Birthright peers connected long after the trips are over.

All of this is part of Federation’s goal of making Birthright more meaningful than simply a free trip to Israel, Sanderson said. 

“For us, Birthright begins when someone applies, and the experience doesn’t end,” he said. 

Israeli economics 101


Ofek Lavian has two passions: business and Israel, his native land.

What he felt that he was missing when he went to college at the University of Southern California was an opportunity to learn about his home country while interacting with people who shared his same interests in it.

“I found myself really struggling to find an organization on campus that was tailored to my passions,” said the 20-year-old, who moved to Silicon Valley when he was 4. “I found a lot that were related to Judaism were political, religious, and/or cultural. As a business major and an entrepreneur, I wanted to look at Israel through another lens.”

Then he heard about the TAMID Israel Investment Group, a multi-phased program on college campuses connecting American students with the Israeli economic landscape. It seemed like the perfect way to merge his interests and learn about them in a new way.

When Lavian, now a junior, helped start a chapter at USC in 2011, there were 25 members. By the end of this semester, the group expects to have 40. To set it up, Lavian received $3,500 in funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; now, all the funds are solicited from private donors.

The origins of TAMID date back to 2008, when a group dedicated to providing American students with access to Israeli businesses launched at the University of Michigan. Since then, it has expanded to eight other campuses across the country, including USC and the University of California, Berkeley. In the fall, a handful of others is expected to be added, one of which may be University of California, Los Angeles, according to Max Heller, TAMID’s executive director of business development.

The goal is to “further advance and strengthen the connection between the United States and Israel,” he said. “We pioneer the next generation of American commitment to Israel by reaching out by future leaders on campuses.”

Students studying business, entrepreneurship, economics and similar subjects are eligible to join TAMID when they are undergraduates. Those selected take one semester of education in the fall on general business principles and the relationship between the United States and Israel from an economic perspective. The education component is divided among member-driven presentations and lectures from venture capitalists, professors and individuals well-versed in Israel’s economic scene. 

Students showcase their research on certain aspects of business, and in the past they’ve hosted speeches on how the nuclear threat from Iran might affect Israeli businesses, as well as what changes might occur after the discovery of oil reserves in Israel. 

TAMID also gives students the opportunity either to invest in Israeli securities using money they raise from donors or do pro-bono consulting work for Israeli startups. 

During the summer, TAMID, which is based at the University of Michigan, hosts a fellowship trip to Israel. When it was first offered in 2010, five students went. There were eight in 2011, and last summer the number grew to 17. Students partook in internships in finance, energy sustainability and technology, and worked at various startups. Next summer, 40 fellows will have the chance to go and gain real world experience.

Although most of the students are Jewish, it is becoming diversified. Heller said that the larger a certain program grows, the more non-Jewish students get involved. The largest mix of students is currently at Michigan. 

“We pride ourselves on working with talented and motivated students,” Heller said.

Lavian started his own T-shirt business with a fellow fraternity brother called Campus Ink in fall 2010. But he wanted to meet other self-starters. Through TAMID, he’s accomplished this while learning about Israel’s contributions to alternative energy, medicine and technology.

Last summer, Lavian secured a venture capital internship in Tel Aviv and lived alongside the program’s other students from around the country. He also met with the entrepreneurs behind Doweet, which coordinates meet-ups with friends and event planning, and Peer5, a startup that focuses on helping video content providers deliver the best viewing experience. 

Now, USC consultants from TAMID are working with these companies. The students assist the startups with learning about the American economy and demographics, while they, in turn, have the chance to see what it takes to build a business. 

“[Since there are] 7 million people in Israel and [more than] 300 million in the United States, for any Israeli company to be successful, they need to have their target market be global or in the U.S.,” Lavian said. “A lot of them have the technology in Israel but they need to target the U.S. market. That’s where TAMID comes in.”

Avior Ovadya, 25, who came to America from Israel to attend college four years ago, has been in TAMID for one semester at USC. Unlike his classes, which focus on the U.S. market, TAMID meetings give him the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the Israeli business world. 

“Other than being a platform for students to learn about Israel, it’s also about understanding a little bit about what Israel is like, and why it’s such a pioneer in the technology field,” he said. “The group of people we have now is swell. They make our weekly meetings fun. We share everything from how our weeks were to our opinions on Israel.” 

Jared Fleitman, co-founder of USC’s TAMID program and current president, said his time spent with the group has been the most enriching he’s had at USC.

“I’ve met more contacts through developing the curriculum than through any of my coursework,” said Fleitman, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, economics and mathematics. “It’s very useful for me. It’s very positive and I feel like I am part of a special community here.”

Like Fleitman, Lavian said that he has learned more from the practical experience gained through TAMID than he ever did in a classroom. 

“Some things are really hard to learn in a classroom setting,” he said. “You need to get your hands dirty and your feet wet and do some hands-on learning. That’s exactly what TAMID does.” 

Federation re-evaluating Board of Rabbis


When Rabbi Mark Diamond was honored for his 12 years of service to the Board of Rabbis of Southern California during a farewell lunch a few weeks ago, colleagues from synagogues from across the city and spanning denominations hugged and chatted, catching up on everything, both personal and professional.

“One of the strengths of the Board of Rabbis is that people know each other,” said Rabbi Denise L. Eger, immediate past president of the region’s only cross-denominational rabbinic professional organization and spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. 

When Diamond left the Board of Rabbis in October to lead the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles chapter, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which fully funds the Board of Rabbis, took the departure as an opportunity to reassess the purpose and function of the board. 

Jay Sanderson, Federation’s president and CEO, said the re-evaluation is part of a larger process of reassessing all programs Federation has historically funded, seeing if they still advance its priorities and whether goals are being accomplished as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

“We are the only Federation in the country that fully funds a Board of Rabbis, so how do we make sure that it is the best use of our dollars? These questions haven’t been asked for a long time, and now we have to ask these questions with the rabbis at the table,” Sanderson said.  

In mid-December, Federation and the leadership of the Board of Rabbis agreed to appoint a task force to determine the future course of the Board of Rabbis. Meanwhile, Jonathan Freund, previously director of education and interreligious programs at the Board of Rabbis, has been named interim director. 

Some 320 rabbis from synagogues, communal organizations and chaplaincy positions throughout Southern California make up the membership of the Board of Rabbis, a 75-year-old organization. The Federation funds the Board of Rabbis’ $400,000-a-year budget and Diamond, who was the board’s executive vice president, was on Federation’s top management team. But Diamond reported to the president of the Board of Rabbis — not to a Federation supervisor.  

That chain of accountability and semi-autonomy are some of what is up for discussion, and that has caused some concern amongst the rabbis.

“Some of us worried whether there would be a Board of Rabbis at all, and some of us are still worried that there won’t be a Board of Rabbis with any independent voice at all,” Eger said.

Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, current president of the Board of Rabbis, said that in meetings over the last few weeks, rabbis and Federation leaders have heard one another’s concerns, in hopes of fully understanding the value each can add to the other.  

“We need to work in partnership with Federation and learn how to support Federation,” HaLevy said. At the same time, she said, “The rabbis need to feel supported. We need assurance, which we now have, that the Board of Rabbis will continue to exist and be strong,” HaLevy said.

Sanderson pointed to the creation of a new Synagogue Outreach and Partnerships department, staffed by a senior vice president, as evidence of Federation’s strong commitment to synagogues and rabbis.

In addition to being a place where rabbis with very different backgrounds can confer on common issues, the Board of Rabbis offers professional development through seminars on topics like chaplaincy, social media and its annual pre-High Holy Days sermon seminar. Rabbis study together bimonthly, and two or three times a year teachers from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem come to Los Angeles to teach the rabbis. In addition, the Board of Rabbis sends some members to study at Hartman each summer, and it sponsors fellows in a three-year program there.

The board also fields frequent calls from people looking for a rabbi and works closely with funeral homes to fill needs as they arise. It supplies chaplains to hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. Leaders of the Board of Rabbis often represent the Jewish voice to the wider Los Angeles community and are deeply involved in interfaith programming.

Sanderson said he would like to see the organization more fully represent the diversity of Los Angeles. While the board has some Orthodox members, mostly from Modern Orthodox circles, many Orthodox rabbis choose not to interact with the interdenominational body precisely because of its diversity. In addition, rabbis of some of the city’s largest synagogues have long been absent from active involvement in the board, Sanderson said.

The task force will examine how the Board of Rabbis might become better integrated into Federation’s work. For instance, Federation’s Engaging [in] Our Community department involves interfaith programming, an area in which the Board of Rabbis is deeply invested. And Sanderson would like to see synagogues more engaged in reaching out to the unaffiliated, a top priority for Federation.

How the board fits in with Federation’s newly created Synagogue Outreach and Partnerships department is another topic for the task force to explore.

Beryl Geber, the senior vice president who directs that area, said that while she works closely with rabbis, her department doesn’t cover some of the essential functions of the Board of Rabbis, such as professional development or offering chaplaincy. 

Geber has spent much of the last 10 months, since she was appointed to the position, talking with more than 50 synagogues to determine how Federation can best support their programs and endeavors, and thus reach more of the Los Angeles Jewish community. She is working to set up programs to improve operational issues at synagogues, including financial sustainability, administration, membership and leadership development. 

“It’s a matter of being the fulcrum around which things can happen in a collaborative way, across denominations and across the city,” Geber said. 

Her department, in collaboration with Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, has already implemented Caring Communities, which places social workers in synagogues. Each bar and bat mitzvah child in the city will receive a copy of “Israel Matters” by Mitchell Bard, thanks to the synagogue initiative, and earlier this year Federation sponsored 1,000 Shabbats, a citywide program to encourage people to have Friday night dinner together.

HaLevy says such programs could benefit from a more integrated approach with the Board of Rabbis. She hopes the task force will have completed its work and hired an executive director by the end of her term in May.

Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard of Adat Ari El in Valley Village is next in line to take over as president, and he said any goals he might have had likely will take a backseat to making sure the process is open and the transition is smooth.

“I’m excited about this process,” Bernhard said. “The meetings so far have given me a greater sense of the different possibilities that are out there and the different ways of working together. I’m very excited about what might unfold, even if I’m uncertain what exactly it is going to look like.”

LA leaders find inspiration at innovative special needs programs for adults in Israel


Eliza Wilson’s holy moment in Israel didn’t come at the Western Wall. Sure, the 21-year-old with autism was honored and moved to place a note in the Wall on behalf of the 40 people traveling with her on a mission to learn about Israel’s programs for adults with special needs.

But Wilson’s most intense inspiration came at Beit Issie Shapiro, an innovative nonprofit promoting disability inclusion programs for children and adults in Israel. There, Wilson visited the Snoezelen room, a multisensory Mecca of lights, textures, sounds and aromas meant to both calm and stimulate those with developmental disabilities.

“When the lights went on, it was like being at Disneyland. It was amazing. I was blown away by it,” Wilson said.

She spoke about the July mission at a meeting Nov. 5 at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for 140 parents, advocates and professionals who came to hear what members of the Federation-sponsored trip learned in Israel, and what could apply to Los Angeles’ rapidly growing population of young adults with special needs.

“I know that a lot of you were thinking we were going to come back and we were going to build a kibbutz over here in West L.A. — and we did think about that while on the trip,” said Judy Mark, an activist who co-chaired the trip.

But, she said, while the group saw many examples of innovative programs, what became most apparent was the need for a force to benefit the entire emerging field.

Mark and others on the mission outlined a list of goals centered around funding, advocacy, research and collaboration, and said they hoped to mobilize working groups quickly.

At the same time, the Federation has invited the mission’s leaders, as well as a targeted group of Jewish professionals and lay activists in the field, to a planning meeting at the end of this month to chart a comprehensive communal approach for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“This has become a priority for the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, and we are very proud to partner with so many of you in this room and to see how we can go forward and make a difference and meet the needs,” Lori Klein, the Federation’s senior vice president in charge of Caring for Jews in Need, told the meeting.

The move toward comprehensive planning comes at time of heightened focus on helping adults, and not just children, with developmental disabilities. In addition to the Israel mission, lay activists locally are working on creating a pooled trust, so that parents can set up communally monitored private accounts to fund long-term care for their adult children. Etta Israel, an advocacy and service program for individuals with special needs, has just merged with Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, a social service organization in New York, raising its profile and programming expectations. Various parent groups are experimenting with independent living models, and Bet Tzedek legal services is spearheading a task force focused on the elderly with disabilities.

Federation and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles together run HaMercaz, an information clearinghouse and communal umbrella group for families of children with special needs. But HaMercaz is not yet equipped to meet the exploding needs of adults with special needs. 

In the next few years, the population of adults with autism is expected to rise by 500 percent. Parents need to plan for the long term by finding not only stable living situations, but programs that will enable their children to have meaningful daily activities, friends, jobs and romance, said Michelle Wolf, who co-chaired the mission to Israel. 

The goal was to bring home ideas from successful Israeli programs.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, a film showed highlights of the trip and members of the group described visiting Kibbutz Harduf, where residents with developmental disabilities grow their own organic food and serve it in a cafe they run, and where they create pottery and handmade paper. The film showed Kishorit, a village where residents live mostly in private quarters and participate in the village’s industries — making toys, breeding champion dogs and raising horses, goats and free-range chickens.

The group also visited other models, where those living in private apartments in the community receive enough support services and job opportunities to live independently. 

They visited inclusive playgrounds that are being replicated across the world and a deaf/blind theater ensemble.

“It exemplified how they are bringing out the best in each person,” said Elaine Hall, director of Vista Del Mar’s Vista Inspire programs, which bring art and spirituality to children with developmental disabilities. “We can do the impossible because it’s being done every day in Israel.”

While Israel still has some work toward becoming a fully inclusive society, mission-goers were inspired by a man with Down syndrome who works at an army base, and by parent advocates who work to bring together government and private funding to get their needs met.

Mark said the group was most inspired by the collaborative model at Beit Issie Shapiro, a model she can see replicating in Los Angeles, and, she said, Beit Issie Shapiro is committed to helping Los Angeles lay the groundwork.

While Beit Issie Shapiro creates programs, facilities and therapies, Mark said she is more interested in the advocacy aspect of its work, which supports widespread innovation and brings different groups together. 

“I see at least a half-dozen of you sitting here today who are building something of some sort, and most of you don’t know each other. One of the best things we as a group can do is to introduce you to each other,” Mark said. 

That collaboration is one of six goals Mark and others outlined at the meeting. In addition to bringing cooperation and communication where before there was competition, they hope to raise inclusion awareness, advocate for more government and private funding and provide families with thorough, accessible information. They also hope to fund research into quality of life issues, and then to use that research to fund the most effective programs. 

While expressing gratitude for Federation support, Mark cautioned that the needs of the community are too urgent for bureaucratic slow down.

“I think we have to figure out the balance between being inclusive and getting as many voices as possible heard, and moving forward as quickly as we can, because we’re in an urgent situation,” Mark said. 

Klein responded that the understandable sense of urgency has made this process evolve faster than anticipated, and Federation is eager to organize the various strands.

“We are not holding this up for the sake of holding it up, but there are things to consider. Every time we have a conversation, everyone has their own priorities, whether it’s about housing or a resource center or a pooled trust. Everyone has what they want, and we believe it is our role to say we’re going to take the lead on this and figure out what are all of the communal needs, and how are we going to prioritize those,” Klein said.

Federations’ Lions of Judah pledge $27 million at conference


Female donors raised $27 million for Jewish federation causes at the biennial Lions of Judah conference.

The Lions, a federation sisterhood of sorts for female donors who give at least $5,000 per year to their federations, pledged the money Wednesday at the close of their three-day conference in New York. The sum represented a $9 million increase over the last Lions of Judah conference, in New Orleans in 2010.

“I have never been more proud to be a Lion of Judah and stand in solidarity with so many incredible, accomplished and generous women,” said Gail Norry, chairwoman of women's philanthropy at the Jewish Federations of North America. “We are stronger as a people because women today are more committed to repairing and sustaining our Jewish community.”

In all, women’s philanthropy comprises roughly 23 percent of federations’ annual campaigns, and women’s campaigns are the fastest-growing type of federation campaigns, according to a spokesman at the Jewish Federations. Lions of Judah has 17,500 members; about 1,700 attended this week’s conference, which was held at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the group.

“More than just an anniversary, it really attests to a steadily growing, incredibly successful initiative that involves multiple generations of women — sometimes in one family — that raises huge amounts of money for Jews around the world and shows no signs of slowing down,” Jewish Federations spokesman Joe Berkofsky said.

Israel Action Network reaches out to 5,000 rabbis


The Israel Action Network is reaching out to 5,000 rabbis during the High Holy Days season as part of an ongoing campaign to counter the de-legitimization of Israel.

The network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, announced the initiative Sept. 10, which will include sermon inserts and a resource guide for educating congregants that will promote peace between Israel and its neighbors.

Among the rabbinic organizations partnering in the distribution of materials are the JFNA Rabbinic Cabinet, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.

Why counting counts: Who knows who L.A.’s Jews are?


Susan Goldberg, rabbi of Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, grew up in nearby Echo Park.

“There were no Jewish families around when I was growing up,” Goldberg, 38, said. Now that these neighborhoods are being gentrified, and a young, creative crowd is moving in, the Jews are coming, too.

Some five years ago, Temple Beth Israel, a nearly 90-year-old congregation, counted 30 individual members. Today, she said, “We’re bursting at the seams with young families, parents in their 30s and 40s who are living here, in Mount Washington, in Highland Park, in Eagle Rock,” Goldberg said.

But for all the anecdotal evidence that Jews are moving eastward, no one knows exactly how many Jews comprise this trend.

“We know they’re out there, because when we have events, they come,” Goldberg said. “But it would be so, so tremendously helpful to know where they are, who they are, how many there are.”

Los Angeles hasn’t done a Jewish community survey since 1997, and with nothing concrete in the works, organizations are “flying blind,” in the words of one demographer.

“No other large Jewish community has been without a study for such a long period of time,” said Jacob Ukeles, president of Ukeles Associates Inc., a firm that helped conduct New York’s recently released survey.

And that can have serious implications for how effectively a community responds to needs.

“We need to know who lives where, what they do Jewishly, what diversity exists among Jews, what needs they have, what resources they have and what they think on a variety of issues,” said Sarah Bunin Benor, associate professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. “That’s my take on it, from the perspective of somebody who wants to help Jews have a better life.”

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said conducting such a study is “rising to the top of our agenda.”

“We really need to do it. We know we need to do it, and I believe we will do it. We have to figure out the resources and how we’re going to pay for it,” Sanderson said in an interview.

A study of Los Angeles’ Jews, who are believed to number between 500,000 and 600,000, would likely cost somewhere around $1 million. In most cities with large and medium-sized Jewish populations, Federation pays for a survey once a decade. Los Angeles conducted community surveys in 1950, 1958, 1968, 1979 and 1997.

When Sanderson took office in 2010, no study was in the pipeline, and he said he had initially hoped to launch one quickly. But as the impact of the recession became more severe, Sanderson said, funds continued to be redirected to such programs as the Emergency Cash Grants, which has provided more than $2.6 million in relief to 5,350 recipients since 2009.

“Now, with everything we’re doing, we’re still trying to put a survey on the front burner,” Sanderson said.

Federation hopes to launch the process in the next year, Sanderson said — if he can figure out where the money will come from.

But the more time that goes by without a survey, the less efficiently the community is spending its dollars, demographers say.

“If you have a Federation that says they are the planning body of the community, where are they getting their information?” asked Pini Herman, a principal at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. Herman was the L.A. Federation’s research coordinator for the 1997 survey; he has also worked on surveys in San Francisco, Houston and Seattle.

“The longer you don’t have a survey, the more you have to guess, and basically you’re snatching ideas and data out of thin air. And without any community study, there is no way to confirm or refute what they say,” Herman said.

Community leaders say they are eager to have current data.

“Synagogues call all the time, wanting to know where the Jews are moving. Are they moving into our area? Out of our area? Are we losing members because Jews are leaving this area, or for some other reason?” said Bruce Phillips, a principal, with Pini Herman, at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research and a professor of sociology and Jewish communal studies at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. Phillips has conducted or published research on more than 20 Jewish community surveys.

Other questions in Los Angeles also need answering. How many Iranian Jews live here, and what is there economic profile? Their Jewish identity? Their integration patterns?

What areas are people moving to and away from? Are nearby cities that are experiencing growth, such as San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas, doing so at the expense of Los Angeles, or along with Los Angeles? How many French and Latin American Jews have moved into the area, and are they being served? Has the Orthodox population increased, and if so, in what sectors?

Anecdotal evidence about subpopulations can be deceiving, Phillips said, as it’s easier to count visible Jews who are frequent users of community resources — for instance, the Orthodox, or immigrant populations. The unaffiliated are more likely to go undetected if you rely on visibility or data from Jewish organizations.

A topic open to debate is how many Israelis are in Los Angeles. While some estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Israelis in Los Angeles, Herman says his own research points to a number closer to a maximum of 25,000, a figure corroborated by the official Israeli count of how many people have left their country.

The Los Angeles Jewish population, once concentrated on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, is migrating toward the East Side and north to areas such as the Conejo, Santa Clarita and Simi Valleys.

Several organizations are investing both money and resources in the East Side, including Federation, which has funded a new staff person at East Side Jews, a nondenominational Jewish community that has attracted hundreds of young, hip Jews to its irreverent monthly holiday celebrations and social events. East Side Jews recently became part of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, an organization that is on a short list to receive significant Federation funding for a renovation and expansion project.

At the same time, Temple Beth Israel’s Goldberg said, Jews in the area remain underserved. When she needs to refer people for social services, she is often told that Jewish agencies don’t extend out to her part of town. In addition to leading Temple Beth Israel, Goldberg serves as rabbi-in-residence for East Side Jews, a position co-supported by Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which is also interested in being part of the East Side Jewish renaissance.

Indeed, Wilshire Boulevard Temple is in the middle of a $150 million project to restore and revitalize its historic sanctuary and campus in Koreatown. Before embarking on that project, the congregation commissioned its own demographic study of the area — roughly from West Hollywood on the west to Eagle Rock and Pasadena on the East, stretching from Adams Boulevard on the South up to Studio City and Glendale.

“I intuitively felt that young Jews were moving eastward, but intuition is not always right,” Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Steven Leder said.

Their study, which cost them about $25,000, found around 30 percent growth in the area over the last 10 years, with the most significant increases in the population of childbearing and -rearing age. That information convinced the synagogue’s leadership to buy up the rest of their square block to make room for more parking, an expanded day school, religious school and social service center.

Having data has also made it easier to approach donors, Leder said.

“It’s important to know that there is hard data to support your assumptions when you’re trying to raise money,” he said.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s study was based on Jewish surnames in voter registration listings — a method that may have left out Jews who have a non-Jewish parent or who are married to non-Jews, a population that, anecdotally at least, accounts for much of the growth on the East Side.

After barring anti-Islam activist, Federation reconsiders events policy


In the aftermath of its June 24 decision to bar conservative blogger and anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller from delivering a speech at its Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is crafting a new policy for non-Federation-sponsored events at the building.

In addition to considering the “procedural” question of how Federation staff will oversee the approval of such events, Chairman of the Board Richard Sandler said Federation leadership will also engage a second, more “substantive,” question about “the criteria you use to decide whether or not this is an appropriate event to go on in this particular building.”

The process will necessarily involve serious consideration of core questions about Federation’s role in serving Los Angeles’ Jews.

“I look at things from the point of view of what is our goal as a Federation?” Sandler said. “What is our mission? What is our responsibility to the community?”

The Geller event was sponsored by the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a tenant at the Federation building only since late 2011. Following current policies, ZOA executive director Orit Arfa reserved a board room in the building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. for the Sunday morning event, titled “Islamic Jew-Hatred: The Root Cause of the Failure to Achieve Peace.” She did so on June 6, almost three weeks in advance of the event. ZOA also arranged for an announcement of the ZOA-sponsored event to be posted on The Federation’s official Web site.

The criticism of Geller’s scheduled appearance at Federation’s headquarters from Muslim civil rights groups that, together with other faith-based groups, issued a joint statement condemning Federation came just one day before the event was to take place. Hours before the event was to begin, Federation officials informed ZOA that Geller would not be allowed to enter the building, citing concerns about the possibility of protests and counter-protests at the building on Sunday morning right at the time when the Zimmer Children’s Museum has its greatest amount of traffic.

When the revocation of Geller’s invitation to speak was announced on Sunday morning, the approximately 30 would-be attendees protested outside the building, accusing Federation of stifling free speech. The event was later moved to The Mark on Pico Boulevard.

Although it appears to have fallen into disuse, Federation did at one time have a policy governing the kinds of speakers who would be invited to speak at its headquarters, according to Steven F. Windmueller, professor emeritus of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who led the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) from 1985 to 1995.

“We created guidelines for appropriate conversation,” Windmueller said, adding that among the factors the JCRC considered when determining whether a particular speaker would be invited to speak at Federation were “respect for other communities’ religious beliefs.”

“There were certain boundaries that we set on what were acceptable and not acceptable voices that we want to engage,” Windmueller said.

The policy was particularly valuable in minimizing the severity of disputes about Israel among Jews on the left and right, in part because it pre-empted the objections of those who disagreed with it.

“Meir Kahane was considered off-limits, and that was pretty well known,” Windmueller said, referring to the controversial founder of the Jewish Defense League, which the FBI considered to be a terrorist organization. “Whether his supporters liked that or not, they at least knew from the beginning.”

Los Angeles is not the only Federation to have had sanctions against Kahane. Rabbi Douglas Kahn, executive director of the JCRC of the Bay Area, recalled a meeting that took place between Kahane and Earl Raab, then head of the JCRC.

The Bay Area Jewish Community Federation had decided that Kahane, who had announced his plan to visit in advance, would not be allowed to enter the building, so Kahane and Raab met in a location off-site, Kahn said, “which I actually believe was Earl’s old Dodge parked very nearby, no doubt while [Earl was] smoking a cigar. And I think they spent about an hour talking in the car.”

More recently, the Bay Area JCRC helped to devise a formal set of guidelines for “potentially controversial Israel-related programming.” The guidelines, which apply to all organizations funded by the Bay Area Federation, were created in 2010 in response to an event in conjunction with the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival that roiled many in the local Jewish community.

For a screening of a documentary about the activist Rachel Corrie, who died in 2003 while protesting Israeli demolition of Palestinians’ homes in Gaza, Corrie’s mother was invited to speak. The decision, and the absence of a forum for the expression of other points of view, set off a firestorm of criticism, directed first at the festival and later at The Federation, which sponsored the event.

The guidelines, adopted in February 2010, state that the Bay Area Federation will not fund organizations that hold events or partner with organizations that “(1) endorse or promote anti-Semitism, other forms of bigotry, violence or other extremist views; (2) actively seek to proselytize Jews away from Judaism; or (3) advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in whole or in part.”

“I think it has had a really positive effect with respect to calming the community, clarifying general terms where reasonable boundaries lie, not stifling the broad range of opinion and helping providing guidance to those organizations that receive funding from Federation,” Kahn said.

Kahn called the controversy over the Corrie film “an educable moment,” and Sandler said Los Angeles’ Federation is aiming to respond to the Geller incident in a similar way.

“You learn from every situation,” Sandler said, “and because this happened, it is good that we will be able to put processes in place to make sure it does not happen again.”

Former S.F. federation head Brian Lurie becomes NIF chief


Rabbi Brian Lurie, the former CEO of the San Francisco-area Jewish federation, has become president of the New Israel Fund.

Lurie succeeds Naomi Chazan as head of NIF, a nonprofit that funds liberal Israeli groups as well as a few Israeli Arab organizations.

Chazan, a former left-wing member and deputy speaker of the Knesset, faced controversy during her four years leading the NIF, including a 2010 campaign that targeted her personally from Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Israeli nonprofit.

Lurie, who formerly served as NIF’s vice president of North America, was named to the position last year and will hold it for three years, according to San Francisco’s j. weekly. He served as the executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties for 17 years.

Letters to the Editor: Young Jewish hipsters, struggling with God


Keeping the Community Young and Vibrant

We applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for the wonderful cover story “Fueling the jFed Generation” (June 1). We commend The Jewish Federation and its leadership for their tireless efforts to engage young adults in Jewish life. The Federation’s new Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) initiative and its collaborations with dozens of young adult organizations are instrumental in ensuring the future vitality of our community. This undertaking is a direct result of the synergy between the Jewish Community Foundation’s Cutting Edge Grants Initiative and the Jewish Federation’s elevating young adults to a top priority.

Lorin M. Fife
Chair

Marvin Schotland
President and CEO

Jewish Community Foundation
Los Angeles

Holy Hipsters! The pursuit of the hip, rather than informed planning, is characteristic of our current local “organized” Jewish community.

Only a decade since L.A. Jewish Federation forced the closure and began the sell-off (for pennies on the dollar) of most of our Jewish community centers, Federation is announcing a multimillion-dollar initiative to rediscover the wheel and call them “hubs” or small-c centers.

Most of the communal real estate of Los Angeles’ JCCs is gone. New Jewish Community High School is the proud new bargain owner of the West Hills site of Milken JCC, the Help Group now occupies the former Valley Cities JCC, the North Valley JCC Granada Hills campus was sold to an Orthodox trade school, Bay Cities JCC was sold for $3.3 million and is now 44 units of affordable housing built by the Community Corp. of Santa Monica. The then “hip” Shalhevet High School occupying the corner of Fairfax and San Vicente, now over-housed and heavily mortgaged, was the failed suitor of the remaining, still thriving, Westside JCC.

Call them Jewish hubs, small-c centers or whatever you will. If the L.A. Federation had saved the JCCs and their skilled professionals with a proven century of successful Jewish communal service for a mere $2 million in 2001, it likely wouldn’t be planning to spend tens of millions of dollars now on trendy “social entrepreneurs” to fill the Jewish vacuum it created.

Pini Herman
Carthay Circle

Your “Holy Hipsters!” could have been a report issued from the fabled Chelm, where learned decisions did not stand the test of common sense.

All this money, you report, is being spent to attempt to capture a lost generation. To ensure a Jewish future? Why doesn’t even one writer look at the reality? 

Why not see what happens when you apply real-world statistics? I refer to the current fertility, education and other factors of known demographics: Today, the average fertility rate among Jewish American women is a shocking .9 children per Jewish mother. And post-pubescent Jewish education after bar or bat mitzvah for secular/liberal Jewish children is close to nonexistent, except for summer camp and the handful of confirmation students.

Unless fertility and Jewish education rates change significantly and immediately, it makes not the slightest difference if the community pours $100 million on the unaffiliated young Jews who then tikkun the world to pieces. What counts is whether anyone can influence them to average no fewer than three children per Jewish mother and that they will pay for all of them to have a liberal day school Jewish education through high school. The chances of that happening are virtually nil. 

Thus, all these wonderful programs and expenditures, as brilliant as any from Chelm, will have no effect at all on mitigating the future demise of the American secular/liberal Jewish community and all their institutions within two generations. Reality: It is only the Orthodox who, without much help from The Federation, are truly ensuring the Jewish future of Los Angeles with both their birth rates and expenditures on yeshiva education though high school or beyond.

Gary Dalin
Venice

Atheists Struggle With God, Too
I was pleased to read Dennis Prager’s article about struggling with God (“Israel Means ‘Struggle With God,’ ” June 1). Unlike him, though, I would say that atheists very much struggle with God. How much emotion is present to deny the One of which one is part? Everyone, the secular included, struggles every day with God.

My path most would designate as Hindu. For 50 years, I have practiced India’s yoga culture, associating closely with its scholars and saints to imbibe their wisdom and love. Although there is only one God, all have their unique relationship with Him. As the relationship (yoga) becomes more intimate, so do the arguments.

Sectarianism is ignorance. Those who enact blasphemy laws or laws forbidding conversion are themselves the greatest blasphemers and the most faithless. Feeling impotent in the free market of religious ideas, they hate God’s handiwork of variety and free will. A suicide bomber wants to kill God’s arrangement and make others submit to his own.

As Einstein commented, “Atheists are fanatics.” The uninterested are just uninteresting, not considering worlds beyond their own. A true rabbi is one who knows God speaks in many languages, passing constant tests of love, including acceptance that He may become more intimate with others in religions other than his own.

Roy Richard
Culver City

JDC CEO Steven Schwager stepping down


The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s CEO is stepping down.

The JDC announced Friday that Steven Schwager would step down as CEO at the end of June and will retire from the organization in January 2013.

Schwager has served as CEO since 2002 and has been with the Jewish international humanitarian assistance organization since 1989.

“Following careful soul-searching, I concluded that after nearly 23 years serving this marvelous organization, it was time for me to retire,” Schwager said in the press release. “I do this with the deepest of pride, knowing that the work we have done together has helped ensure that Jews around the world face their future a little less hungry, with deeper connections to their Jewish identity, and with the profound hope to build a better tomorrow.”

Biggest federation trip to Israel in years brings more than 700 from Miami


From afar it appeared to be a luminescent snake, twinkling in the dusk that was just beginning to cloak the desert mountains framing the Dead Sea.

Upon closer inspection it turned out to be hundreds of Jews from South Florida bearing glow sticks making their way down Masada’s snake path in an Israeli Independence Day celebration.

They were part of the biggest federation mission to Israel in at least a decade, organized by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Shortly before their trek down the snake path, the hikers had participated in a ceremony atop Masada that included a prayer for the State of Israel, the singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, and the release of 130 doves. Earlier in the day, many of the participants had been in the Negev development town of Yeruham singing, dancing and partying with the locals from Miami’s Israeli sister city.

“Having a mega-mission enables us to produce events that have a tremendous wow factor,” Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Miami federation, told JTA in a telephone interview. “I’m watching this church-like parade down a Roman ramp. You can’t do that with a little mission.”

The 700 participants on the April 22-May 1 mission include both first-time visitors to Israel and federation mission veterans, with participants ranging in age from 22 to 88.

Each day of the mission has its own theme – Jewish peoplehood, tzedakah, tikkun olam, leadership and federation values, to name a few – and the trip includes everything from visits to federation-funded projects supported via the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel to a scheduled April 29 meeting with Israel’s president, Shimon Peres.

There is no Palestinian component to the trip, although some participants are doing site visits to Israeli-Arab projects supported by the federation system, according to Solomon.

Before the trip, about 140 of the participants spent several days in Poland at the site of the Nazi concentration camps.

With such a large group, the Miami mega-mission presents numerous logistical challenges. It took two years to put together, and on the ground in Israel involves 16 buses, 26 staffers and one charter plane (which brought approximately 400 of the participants). Each bus has its own itinerary, and the whole group comes together about half a dozen times during the 10-day trip for so-called mega events.

“The scale is pretty impressive, even for me,” Solomon told JTA.

The purpose of the trip, Solomon said, is to foster community.

“Nothing builds community like a mission,” he said. “The point is to inspire people, to touch people, to engage them. Clearly there is a fundraising objective. But there’s also a human resource dimension that’s equally important. Past mission goers have become campaign chairs, board chairs. We did it as an investment in the future of our community.”

$20 million gift to L.A. Federation is its largest ever


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has received its largest gift ever — a $20 million bequest from Geri Brawerman to create a scholarship and fellowship program for needy Jewish college students from Los Angeles. Brawerman is a Westwood resident who, along with her late husband, Richard, has long been a major force in funding educational initiatives.

The Geri and Richard Brawerman Leadership Institute each year will fund 10 undergraduates who show both financial need and leadership potential. The students will receive $10,000 a year toward tuition and expenses at a four-year university. Fellows will participate in summer and midyear retreats focused on community service and Jewish values, and will be paired with mentors throughout the school year.

“The idea of this program is to help deserving young people get a quality education, and to do it with a sense of Jewish values and purpose, with the goal of engaging them in the Jewish community when they graduate,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Federation.

Federation is currently accepting applicants from students entering college in 2012.  Four students will be accepted for the first year as Federation gradually rolls out the program, eventually hoping to handle 40 students at a time.

This is the largest gift ever promised to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and one of only a few donations of this size to federations across the country. It is among Brawerman’s largest legacy gifts, according to her business manager.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has long been an important part of the giving portfolio of Geri and Richard Brawerman. Richard Brawerman, who died in May 2009, was an attorney and a captain in the U.S. Army during World War II.  He has two children from a previous marriage, and he and Geri, a hands-on philanthropist who was raised in Chicago, were married for 24 years.

“If Richard were here, he would be thrilled to know that his legacy now includes a program that builds leadership and ensures the Jewish future by both supporting the educational goals of Jewish high school students and giving them the experiences and skills they’ll draw upon as future stewards of Jewish Los Angeles. It is my dream that the students we empower today will lead the community tomorrow,” Brawerman said.

The bulk of the funds are an endowment bequest, payable when Brawerman, who would not disclose her age, dies. But she has put seed money into the Leadership Institute to kick off the program while she can still be involved.

The Brawermans had previously funded a nursing institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and are the named founders at the elementary school at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s west campus, as well as at the elementary school that opened this fall at the temple’s historic Wilshire Boulevard building. They created an ambulatory care center at City of Hope and have been significant supporters of the Walt Disney Concert Hall at the Los Angeles Music Center, Jewish Free Loan Association and the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

Federation leaders worked with Brawerman for a year to find the intersection of her passions and Federation’s needs, Sanderson said.

“We look to collaborate with our donors and with our agencies,” Sanderson said. “Would we have gone in this direction now, without Geri’s gift? Probably not. Do we want to be going in this direction? Absolutely. This was a collaborative idea based on Federation’s priorities and our donor’s desire.”

Andrew Cushnir, chief program officer at The Federation, notes that the program fits into Federation’s priority areas — caring for Jews in need and ensuring the Jewish future. Federation has already hired a part-time administrator for the program.

A curriculum has not yet been set for the summer and winter seminars, but it will focus on Jewish values. Students are expected to participate in Birthright Israel trips and will also engage in service-learning opportunities in the United States during winter break. The program will also include a summer institute in Israel.

During the school year, students will be paired with local mentors who can teach them effective leadership and guide them through their Jewish journey. Federation plans to nurture a strong alumni network for the Brawerman Leadership Institute.

The scholarships will be need based, and the not-yet-formed selection committee will determine need on a case-by-case basis.

Cushnir said the scholarship is intended for those truly in need, and he hopes the $10,000 will open up opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach.

Among students who qualify in terms of need, the Brawerman Leadership Institute will be looking for students who are Jewishly involved and demonstrate potential for leadership.

Applications are due May 11. For more information, visit

Security group asks U.S. Jewish groups to be on alert


The security arm of the U.S. Jewish federations asked Jewish officials to remain vigilant in the wake of a deadly attack on a French Jewish school, citing the possibility of copycat attacks.

“While this event initially appears to be localized, we are always concerned about the possibility of copycat attacks,” a spokesman for the Secure Community Network, the Jewish Federations of North America’s security initiative, told JTA. “We’ve been in contact with our European partners and are continuing to monitor the situation.”

Four people—a teacher and three students—were shot dead Monday outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. A man riding a motorbike reportedly opened fire outside the Ozar Hatorah School, where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day.

The shooter then entered the building shooting at students and teachers before fleeing on his motorbike.

Louisville federation launches fundraising drive for tornado victims


The Jewish Federation of Louisville has opened a fund to help victims of tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest.

Federation officials said they were eager to help donors who wanted to help those affected by the storms, which claimed dozens of lives and cut a path of destruction across several states.

“Our hearts go out to our neighbors in Southern Indiana who are suffering tremendously in the wake of last week’s powerful storms,” Stu Silberman, the Louisville federation’s president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday. “We are honored to play a role in helping restore lives by coordinating relief efforts from Jewish communities around the country.”

Other Jewish groups also have responded to the storms. NECHAMA, a Jewish disaster relief organization, is set to begin a cleanup operation in two communities, and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains also will deploy chaplains to affected areas.

The storms did not have a direct impact on any Jewish communities.

Hundreds of volunteers help Federation kick off ‘Super Week’


On Feb. 12, more than 700 volunteers convened at sites from Manhattan Beach to the Conejo Valley for a day of community service projects and fundraising to support The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

But unlike last year, when at the close of Super Sunday, Federation knew how much it had raised for its annual campaign, the sum total of the more than 1,000 pledges made last Sunday still hadn’t been added up on Feb. 14, when The Jewish Journal went to press.

This year, Federation has changed what was a one-day affair into a “Super Week” of fundraising efforts.

The week started on Sunday, when about 300 volunteers gathered in Federation offices on Wilshire Boulevard and in the West Valley to make fundraising phone calls to Jews across greater Los Angeles. At the same time, more than 400 other volunteers took part in community services projects, all of which were part of Federation’s current month-long campaign to ensure that Jews with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of Jewish life.

This year, for the first time, the fundraising didn’t end at the conclusion of the first day. As of Monday evening, about 50 volunteers had signed up to make phone calls on the evenings of Feb. 13-16, in a move Federation hopes will result in a broader cross-section of the Jewish community supporting its work.

In another change from previous years, donors who have made larger gifts to Federation in the past were not among those on the call lists handed to volunteers. Those higher-level donors will instead be approached by Federation staff over the course of the year.

In 2011, Federation raised $47 million from 14,000 donors for the variety of programs it runs and supports. About 10 percent of that sum — $4.6 million — was pledged on Super Sunday.

Milken JCC to close in June


The JCC at Milken in West Hills announced this week that it will shut its doors permanently as of June 30. The 42-year-old center will also close its Early Childhood Center, which has 80 preschoolers, on June 15.

In a Feb. 1 e-mail, Milken JCC chair Steven V. Rheuban announced that the board was abandoning its search for a new location following the sale of the building that houses the center.

“It is with a heavy heart that we must tell you all that after an exhaustive and in depth search for a new home, without success, the Board of Directors of The JCC at Milken has had to make a most difficult decision,” Rheuban wrote.

The JCC at Milken survived the wave of Jewish community center closures that began in 2002, in part, because its property, Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, was owned by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles rather than the centers’ parent organization, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles. While the center struggled with debt and a loss of membership, its leadership was able to strike a deal with Federation in 2009 to remain on the campus.

A deal between New Community Jewish High School and The Federation to purchase the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus for an undisclosed amount was confirmed last October, following nearly a year of negotiations. The high school is expecting to relocate to the renovated property from its current home on the property of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in September 2013.

The West Hills center had been hoping to permanently move its Early Childhood Center to a new location, and temporarily move its senior services to a different site in June while the New Community Jewish High School began reconstruction at the Milken campus.

The JCC at Milken’s closure follows that of the Valley Cities JCC, a 50-year-old institution that shut its doors in June 2009, less than a year after moving from its longtime Sherman Oaks site to one in Van Nuys. North Valley Jewish Community Center, which continues to offer programming at various locations despite losing its Granada Hills property during the centers crisis, would be the only Jewish community center left in the San Fernando Valley. 

In addition to its preschool and senior programming, the JCC at Milken is home to arts and fitness programs, after-school programs, sports and summer camps, and Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games.

In his letter, Rheuban wrote that the center’s board and staff would be compiling a list to help its members find similar programs within the Jewish community.

Related:

Israeli parody of Taglit-Birthright Trips [VIDEO]


This season of “Eretz Nehederet,” Israel’s version of “Saturday Night Live,” features a running parody of a Birthright trip to Israel that mocks American Jews for their enthusiasm and naivite (and obesity and JAPpiness, of course) and Israelis for their gold-digging and trigger fingers. Chuckle along:

Federation’s Sanderson one of few L.A. Jews on Forward 50 List


Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, made it onto this year’s The Forward 50, an annual list of sometimes unexpected people who the judges believe most helped shape the past Jewish year. The list represents “a snapshot in time, an impressionist picture of the American Jewish story during a given year,” Forward Editor Jane Eisner wrote.

Sanderson, who took on the leadership role at Federation in January 2010 after running the Jewish Television Network for two decades, was feted for “shaking up America’s second-largest Jewish federation in important ways,” the paper notes. In paying tribute to his “belief that federations must find new paradigms for identifying and funding worthy causes,” the paper cited his launching of the “The Next Big Jewish Idea,” an online voting competition that in June awarded $100,000 in start-up costs to LaunchBox, a kit meant to bring Jewish ritual to the unaffiliated. It also cited his commitment to aiding Jews in need in the faltering economy.

Sanderson, 54, “is part of a wave of new Federation leaders who are replacing an older leadership cohort now heading toward retirement,” the Forward says.

This year, Los Angeles was seriously underrepresented on the New York-based newspaper’s list. The only other representatives were Natalie Portman, a Hollywood actress, and Richard Morgenstern, the enigmatic member of the Morris Morgenstern Foundation who has kept in secretive art storage George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., in which the first president of the United States vowed that the fledgling nation would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Morgenstern has homes in Los Angeles and Boca Raton, Fla., according to the Forward.

Poet Laureate Philip Levine, singled out for special profile in the Top Five, lives in Fresno. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook in Silicon Valley, is also among this year’s 50.

The absence of Angelenos this year is a repeat of last year, when Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva was the only Angeleno. In 2009, however, the left coast was represented by JumpStart’s Shawn Landres, Jewlicious’ Yonah Bookstein, director Steven Spielberg and Rep. Howard Berman.

Rabbi Sharon Brous made the list in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky and Denise Eger have made past appearances, among others.

New York’s UJA-Federation sets event fundraising record


A record $44 million was pledged at the inaugural event of UJA-Federation of New York’s 2012 annual campaign.

“In a time of great economic uncertainty, such loyalty and generosity is astonishing and inspiring,” Jerry Levin, president of UJA-Federation, said at Monday’s launch event at the . “This is a terrific start for this year’s annual campaign.”

Levin thanked the donors for “stepping up when our community needs you most.”

It was the 25th year of the campaign launch event, which brings together philanthropists from the New York Jewish community. Alan “Ace” and Kathy Greenberg have hosted the event since its inception.

UJA-Federation works with more than 100 network beneficiary agencies, synagogues and other Jewish organizations around the world to address humanitarian crises and economic, educational and community issues.

Time to write a check to Federation


The period from the end of the Jewish holidays (i.e. now) till the end of December (the end of the tax year) is peak season for non-profits raising money. That’s no less true for Hazon than anyone else: we’re doing important work on a relatively shoe-string budget, and we need your help. Despite that, this email isn’t a request to write us a check: it’s a request that you write one to your local Jewish Federation. That’s especially true if either A. you’ve never written a check to Federation before or B. it’s a few years since you last did so and you got out of the habit. In this email, I want to say why I think this is important, and I especially want to address critiques that are made of the system in relation both to Israel and to issues of diversity, democracy, and inclusion.

The Jewish Federation system accreted gradually over time. The first push was in the late nineteenth century; then again around the First World War; and then a different high-water mark happened in 1967 and 1973 around the time of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. At each point the central argument was that A. we were needlessly replicating ourselves, and needed to be more efficient, and B. that the whole was in some sense more than the sum of the parts.

In terms both of inflation-adjusted dollars raised, and the total number of donors, 1973 was probably the peak. In all sorts of ways, the system has been declining for at least the last decade and in most places longer.

It’s right to adjust to changing times. I don’t use a Sony Walkman any more. The three legacy national TV networks are in secular decline. I don’t wear a dark suit when I go to work. Life goes on. The Jewish community, like America itself, is more fragmented than it was a generation ago, and fragmented also means – in this case – more diverse, more inclusive, more varied, more vibrant. Geological monoliths erode over time and so too do their cultural analogues.

But the erosion of the Federation system is not inevitable, and even if it were inevitable it’s not good. On the contrary, those of us who most believe in the evolution of America’s cultural ecosystems, including its Jewish community, should be putting our weight, individually and institutionally, behind the renewal of the Federations. Here’s why:

First, there’s no other entity that’s capable of doing the range of good that a Federation does, with one single check. Hazon is part of a cohort of groups that have been involved in renewing Jewish life in powerful ways in the last decade. Hadar, JDub, Storahtelling, the Six Points Fellowship, Moving Traditions, Dor Chadash, Panim: all of whom have received material UJA-Federation support. Creating healthier and more sustainable communities, within and beyond Jewish life? Jewish Farm School, Teva, Eden Village Camp, Adamah, Jewish Greening Fellowship, Wilderness Torah. A tremendous number of the key innovators have received significant support from their local federation – and that includes in the Bay Area and LA, and elsewhere. (Kayam, doing incredible work, is supported by the Associated in Baltimore.)

(Double disclosure: yes, Hazon receives support from the Federations in New York and in San Francisco, and now also in the East Bay and in Portland, OR. But in New York we applied five years running for a multi-year grant, and five years running we were rejected. I feared we’d go bust before we ever got a penny from the Federation. We finally received that grant in year 6. In San Francisco we talked to Federation – and tried to apply for money – for about four years and only recently received a multi-year grant for the first time. We aresupported by the Federation system, and/but we have had our share of frustrations with Federations along the way. But here’s the key thing: despite imperfections, I understand what they’re trying to do, I know that they’re important, and I empathize with their challenges. My respect for the system has only increased over time – and not only, and perhaps not even, because Hazon has subsequently been funded, especially by UJA-Federation of New York, in significant ways.)

But the world that Hazon is most part of is only a tiny part of the system.  Separate from the organizations involved in renewing Jewish life or creating a more sustainable world for all, is a whole different set of organizations: day care centers, senior homes, programs for those in need. A slew of anti-poverty initiatives. The Kosher Food Net. The All in Need Kosher Food Pantry. The Passover Food Outreach Program. The Village Temple Soup Kitchen. Community advocacy. The disabled. People with AIDS. Spiritual Care as Part of Oncology Supportive Care. Many of us pay lip service to these sorts of needs, but America today is more and more unintegrated. There’s hidden poverty in our midst – but it is often hidden. There’s a whole universe of people and institutions at Federation that I don’t know, don’t overlap with, don’t see socially, don’t work with. But when I write a check to Federation, I’m supporting all of them, and rightly so.

And then so too with Israel, and Jewish people around the world. We’ve gone full circle on all this. For a century or more Jews in this country worked hard for Jewish people in need around the world. In recent years that’s somehow, in certain circles, become blasé or uncool, or too particularistic, or maybe less cool than supporting non-Jews in need. These of course are not either/or – I write a check to AJWS also, and to New Israel Fund as well for that matter. But I do care about Jewish people around the world – in Israel and elsewhere. The Gilad Shalit story is about the sheer wonderful irrationality of treating a member of one’s people as being also a member of one’s family. His redemption – at extraordinary and painful cost – makes no sense unless we accept an extended notion of family, and I absolutely do.  It’s a similar wonderful seeming irrationality that has led the Federation system to start to put resources behind supporting Israeli Palestinians (languaged by most Federations as “Israeli Arabs”) – since we care about Israel, we’re serious about Israel being an inclusive democracy, and so Jewish peoplehood resources stretch in new and to some unexpected ways. One perspective sees this as tokenism and argues we should do more; another would say, why do Federations do this at all? You can argue both positions, but if you do so, argue l’shem shemayim – believing in the renewal of philanthropic endeavors, and the complexity of the world we live in.

So: writing one check to your local Federation does incredible good, locally, nationally, and internationally. It does it at low-cost (as large organizations, their fundraising costs are proportionately lower than most other non-profits), and with strong infrastructures and deep systems of lay/professional partnership and transparency. So how come they’re on the ropes in so many ways?

First: people accuse Federations of being unrepresentative. I don’t think that’s fair. They’re a money-weighted and sweat-weighted democracy. People who are actively involved have a bigger say than those who are peripherally involved, and those who write bigger checks have more say than those who write smaller checks. You know what? –  that’s true at Hazon also, and it’s true in almost any non-profit you could care to name. The biggest check doesn’t give you the right of veto, and the smallest one (especially if you work hard, and you have good people skills, and you’re smart) doesn’t mean that your voice won’t be counted. Attacking Federations for being undemocratic is about 180 degrees off: they’re often slow-moving because they’re so participatory, and over time they’ve evolved complex governance cultures. If in doubt: volunteer in good faith, be patient, and I think you’ll find that most Federations would love to involve you in their work.

That leads me to my next point: let’s stop using Federations as a punchbag on Israel. In 1967, and even more so in 1973, the unifying secular religion of American (and British) Jews was “support for Israel.” Rightly or wrongly that’s not so today. We know it’s not so, and we see evidence of it every place we look. As the central structure of American Jewish life, Federations across the country support Israel, and a range of projects that connect in some way with Israel, in a staggering number of ways. That’s as it should be. My own views on Israel will be slightly different than yours; and yours from his, and his from hers. Yes, we should care, and yes we should express our views. But – and this is a key but, in the year 2011 – we need to have the maturity to support the system even if, in some particular respect, it does something that’s not exactly in accordance with our own views.

Do I have criticisms of the Federation system? Of course I do. My main one is a relatively unusual one: I think Federations have made an understandable but nevertheless significant mistake in focusing on dollars-raised to the exclusion of number-of-people-donating. Federations are very focused on numerical targets, especially dollars raised. I think a clear public goal needs also to be established of raising the number of people who donate to Federation, year-on-year, for at least the next decade. That’s a scary number for a Federation to focus on, because it looks like it’s fighting against the tide, and thus bound to fail. But I think it’s important in two different ways. First, the number of donors adds to the moral legitimacy of a Federation – and the diminution of that number is correspondingly problematical over time. And secondly, looked at through a different lens, I think that focusing on increasing the number of donors would actually help Federations tell their stories better – it would focus them, systematically and culturally, on moving outwards in various ways, including publicly.

Here’s the last image I want to share with you: it’s the photo over my desk; a photo, given to me by Andy Blau, of Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Of all the photos I might have put there, I chose this one because of the famous words of Bobby Kennedy: some see what is and ask why; I dream of what might be, and ask why not? The word Hazon means vision, and that photo most sums up for me the possibility of bringing new vision to fruition in the world. But in this context it means something else as well: it means imagining what American Jewish life, and the future of this country and of the Jewish community, would be like, if we didn’t have a Federation system. It would be more chaotic, more expensive, less representative, less coordinated, less thoughtful, and it would expose many of the weakest in our communities even more than they presently are. It would damage central connective tissue in our communities, and it would remove a central support for innovation. And I make this observation in the week of parshat vayera. It’s the beginning of the story of Jewish responsibility and, yes, acceding to larger calls to give of ourselves in profound ways, and, clichéd though it may sound, the next chapters of that story are written by each of us, this day and this week.

So as I say: if you want to write a check, here are some links to help you find your local federation.

We gratefully acknowledge support from the Federations in New York, San Francisco, the East Bay, and Portland, ORFind your local Federation, anywhere else in the country.

Nigel Savage is Executive Director of Hazon.

L.A. Jews connect in Israel


JERUSALEM — Of the 400 Jewish community members who traveled to Israel on a week-long trip in late October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, many had already visited the country dozens of times, although some had never set foot on Israeli soil.

A diverse mix of participants from the L.A. region, whose ages spanned several decades, toured the country in 14 separate groups with different, albeit sometimes overlapping, itineraries. While everyone on the mission became acquainted with the many worthy Israeli projects supported by the L.A. Federation, some groups focused on Jewish identity; others were more directed toward philanthropy or social action.

The groups linked up for special events, including the dedication of a new community center at Ayalim Village, a project designed to build and strengthen Israeli communities in the north and south regions of the country. The evening included a barbecue under the stars at the student-run village in the Negev.  

“There are 400 people here of all ages. We have a Birthright bus, a bus of young Russians, major philanthropists,” Federation president and CEO Jay Sanderson enthused as he gazed at the crowd at the mission’s closing event, which featured remarks by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

What united the groups, Sanderson said, was the desire to connect with Israelis and to learn from them, as well as from one another.

For the older, established community members, the mission “also showed our commitment to engage young people,” both in Israel and the United States, Sanderson said.

The social action track was especially popular among younger participants.

“We tried to go to places most tourists don’t go, places that show how Israelis use innovation to tackle difficult problems,” said Dan Gold, who led the group. This included spending a day visiting south Tel Aviv social-service agencies that assist poor Israelis, foreign workers and refugees. They also visited a solar thermal plant, helped remove litter from a valley and picked beets for Leket, Israel’s largest food bank.   

Alicia Harris, 34, a teacher at Crescenta Valley High School, was on the social action trip. Harris said she was inspired by her visit to the Bialik-Rogosin School, where dozens of refugee children are being educated and nurtured.  

“Kids are kids everywhere, but when you hear what these kids have gone through, it’s amazing,” said Harris, a first-time visitor to Israel. “I’d like to come back and volunteer there.

“I was probably the most detached Jewishly of anyone in my group,” she said, “but Shabbat services, the Western Wall, dinner in the desert were poignant moments. Now, I feel a desire to be connected with other Jews once I get back to L.A.”

Harris related how, when she asked her fellow group members where she could find an uplifting prayer service in Los Angeles similar to ones she experienced in Israel, “Someone said, ‘Come with me next week!’ ”

As a result of the trip, she said, “I feel more of a desire to be connected.”

Although Cindy Feit, 28, had visited the Jewish state several times in the past, and even lived in Israel for 10 months, she said there was “something special” about exploring the country with fellow Angelenos.

“Before, I was always with groups of people from all over the place. This time, the benefit is that we can maintain the connections we’ve made on the trip back home.”

Feit said her group is already planning an L.A. reunion Chanukah party.

Cindy Wu-Freedman decided to come on the mission not only to see Israel for the first time, but to strengthen her husband’s connection to Judaism.

“I want to have a sense of God in my own home,” Wu-Freedman, a Jew by Choice, said, noting that her Jewish husband, Jason, had almost no tangible connection to the Jewish community until she began to study the religion.   

“It’s been hard to convince my husband to go to synagogue, and it’s hard to be Jewish on your own,” she said.   

“I’ve been pretty much a non-practicing Jew. I took being Jewish for granted,” Jason Freedman admitted. “But Cindy’s conversion sparked a renaissance in my life.”

Coming to Israel for the first time “has completed the puzzle somehow,” he said. “I’d definitely like to be more active in the Jewish community in L.A. Going to shul, seeking out opportunities to meet more Jews and to be proactively pro-Israel.”

Several mission participants already engaged in full-time Jewish community work back home said they felt recharged by the enthusiasm of those on their first-ever trip to Israel.  

“Our group had a very high percentage of first-timers,” noted Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Reform congregation. “It’s been personally gratifying to see old sites through new eyes.”

Netanyahu cancels GA appearance


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to address the Jewish federations’ annual General Assembly.

“The Prime Minister hoped to go to the GA, but unfortunately he will have to be in Israel during that week,” the Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement Monday, less than to weeks before this year’s GA launches in Denver.  “The Prime Minister and his staff made considerable efforts to adjust his scheduling to allow for a visit to the GA, but in the end, this turned out to be impossible.”

Sources said Netanyahu pulled out because the GA conflicted with planned commemorations of the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys Federation launches cultural arts program


Synagogues and Jewish community centers are among the traditional paths to connect with the Jewish community. But The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys is taking a different approach to outreach to local Jews with the launch of its new Cultural Arts Program.

“There is a new definition of what it means to affiliate in the Jewish community now,” Federation Executive Director Jason Moss said. “People are finding their way into the Jewish community in different ways. People are feeling connected in ways that never existed 20 to 30 years ago.”

The new program started as a collaboration between Moss, Cantor Judy Sofer, who is now the Cultural Arts Program coordinator, and Stuart Miller, chairman of the Federation’s Cultural Arts Committee. They then sought more input through a larger community discussion.

Among the handful of activities already in the works for the Cultural Arts Program are plays, a youth choir, a youth string orchestra, a challah-baking club and a series of coffeehouses to highlight local musicians and artists.

The program’s public kickoff will be the Oct. 15 debut performance of “Working: The Musical” at the Federation’s headquarters in Arcadia. The musical, based on Studs Terkel’s book “Working,” explores the American workday and features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell”).

Sofer said one reason she chose “Working” was because it could have a large cast. The musical already has more than 30 participants, with more interest still brimming, she said.

“There are so many talented people out there, and now we’re able to bring them together,” Sofer said.

Although “Working” does not have a Jewish theme, Schwartz’s music gives it the tie-in the program needs.

“I wanted the show to be in a Jewish theme or that somebody who wrote it or did the music is Jewish,” Moss said, adding that he didn’t want to do the standard performance of “Fiddler on the Roof.” “I wanted to expand out beyond traditional Jewish theater.”

Community donors are supplying the funding for the Cultural Arts Program, which is overseen by the Federation’s Cultural Arts Committee. While program organizers say they have received significant contributions, they hope to find long-term sponsors.

“Finances are a concern,” Miller said. “Once we can show some concrete examples of what we’re doing and be successful there, we hope that … monetary interest will develop.”

Moss hopes the cultural arts programming will reach Jews in the area and provide a new entry point into the organized Jewish community.

“Ultimately, my hope for the programs we run is to raise awareness of this Jewish community,” Moss said, “so people are no longer asking the question, ‘There are Jews here?’ but reframing that question to be, ‘Did you hear what the Jews in the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys are doing?’ ”

“Working: The Musical” will run Oct. 15 and 22 at 8 p.m.; and Oct. 16 and 23, at 2 p.m. at The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, 550 S. Second Ave., Arcadia. To purchase tickets or learn about other cultural arts events, call (626) 445-0810 or visit jewishsgpv.org.