From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy


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Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


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Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.


From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


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Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Moving and Shaking: Israel Film Festival, Tour de Summer Camps and more


Choking back tears, Israel Film Festival (IFF) founder and director Meir Fenigstein thanked the 500 guests who attended a gala event Nov. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel marking the 30th anniversary of the annual festival in the Los Angeles area.

“Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined how far this event would come. This festival has now brought over 1,000 Israeli films and hundreds of filmmakers to reach over 1 million people here in the United States,” he said.

Fenigstein recalled how he started the festival in Boston with only six Israeli films over four days. Today, the festival screens more than 30 Israeli films, including features, documentaries and students’ films and runs close to two weeks, ending this year on Nov. 23. The festival previously took place in other U.S. cities as well but has been only in Los Angeles the past few years. 

At the gala, a day after the presidential election, actress Natalie Portman accepted the Israel Film Festival Achievement award. Israeli-born Portman, who is pregnant with her second child and who supported Hillary Clinton, discussed the election without mentioning the winner, Donald Trump, by name.

“Let’s look into each other’s hearts, express our own and use our curiosity against future simplification and fanaticism. Fanatics have no sense of humor and very seldom are they curious. Tonight, let’s celebrate these curious artists exercising, in the words of Amos Oz, ‘the moral virtue of curiosity,’ ” she said.

Portman also talked about her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on the autobiography of Israeli author Oz. Portman also wrote the script and starred in the film.  

Actress Sharon Stone, the recipient of the IFF Career Achievement award, spoke of her friendship with the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, with whom she co-founded the YaLa young leaders’ peace movement, a global online organization. Peres “was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met and I’m truly going to miss him,” she said.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, received the Community Leadership award.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in L.A., with fellow riders at the Tour de Summer Camps fundraiser. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

Despite a brief bout of inclement weather, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted its fourth annual Tour de Summer Camps cycling fundraiser on Oct. 30.

The community-wide event raised $1.2 million to provide youngsters with scholarships to Jewish summer camps. The goal is to provide children with an opportunity to make lifelong friends and build a strong connection to Judaism through their camp experience.

More than 560 registered riders chose one of the four routes, which began at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley. The routes were 18 miles, 36 miles, 62 miles and 100 miles in length. Among the riders this year was Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of Federation, said in a statement, “Sunday was a once-in-a-lifetime experience as we set the record in raising money for scholarships to send kids to Jewish summer camp. We couldn’t have predicted the [rainy] weather — but in the end, the rain combined with the excitement of the riders made for an unforgettable day. This was our most successful Tour de Summer Camps to date. The community truly came together for an important cause.”

The $1.2 million raised by the event is enough to provide 1,500 children with camp scholarships.

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer


From left: Philanthropist Claude Mann at the L.A. Sephardic Film Festival with Sephardic Legacy Award recipient Jeannine Sefton, SEC director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Cinema Sephardic Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Enrico Macias, SEC president and film fest co-founder Neil Sheff and film fest co-founder Sarita Fields. Photo by Michelle Mivzari

During the recent 13th Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, three honorees received the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) awards. 

The Maimonides Leadership Award went to Rae Cohen, community activist and past president of the Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging (LASHA); Jeannine Sefton, founding member of the SEC, received the Sephardic Legacy Award; and French singer Enrico Macias received the Cinema Sephardic Lifetime Achievement Award.

Algerian-born Macias, who fled to France following the Algerian War of Independence in 1961, gave an emotional speech. “You are my family, my people,” said the 77-year-old chansonnier. “Whenever I come to Los Angeles, I feel like I come home because I have friends here who accept me with lots of love.” 

Macias talked about his desire to see an end to the conflict between Jews and Muslims: “I want to have peace between all the people, no more wars, no more conflicts, only friendship and love. I also don’t want to see separation between Sephardic and Ashkenazi [Jews]. Our people had suffered and known tragedies throughout our history and I want to reunite them all to be stronger and united.”

Attorney Neil Sheff, SEC president, who helped create the film festival, and Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, SEC director, gave each honoree a golden menorah. 

“Being a Sephardic Jew in this day and age is no longer an ethnic definition — it’s open to Jews of all backgrounds, whether they are Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Reform or Orthodox,” Bouskila said.

Macias performed some of his signature songs: “Je quitte mon pays” and “Le millionnaire du dimanche” to the delight of the audience, which sang along with him in French. 

The SEC, an international nonprofit education and cultural organization, was founded 36 years ago and has a campus in Jerusalem. The weeklong film festival, which ended Nov. 20, featured 10 films about Jewish and Middle Eastern communities in Greece, Italy, Australia and Israel, and was held at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills. 

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Members of the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund gather with JVPF-LA grantees from ITIM, Jewish Women International and TRIBE Media Corp. Photo by Jonathan Gerber

At a Nov. 10 dinner in Brentwood, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund–LA (JVPF-LA) awarded a total of $175,000 in investment grants to the nonprofits ITIM, Jewish Women International and TRIBE Media Corp., parent organization of the Jewish Journal.

JVPF-LA, which was founded in 2003, is an independent giving circle of individuals who pool their financial resources to fund innovative programs consistent with Jewish values. 

More than 30 JVPF-LA members gathered at the home of Steve and Julie Bram to celebrate the three final awardees, which were selected from a pool of 73 applicants. “Our JVPF awards dinner is hands down my favorite night of the year,” said Julie Bram, “We shine a light on remarkable organizations doing great work.”

ITIM helps people in Israel navigate the religious bureaucracy, providing Israelis with information and free advocacy services in order to simplify processes like conversion. JVPF-LA granted ITIM a $60,000 challenge grant to fund a conversion program for Russian Jews. 

Jewish Women International received $50,000 from JVPF-LA to expand one of its flagship programs, the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), to Los Angeles. YWLN helps  Jewish professional women in their 20s and 30s grow as leaders in their workplaces, communities and personal lives. 

TRIBE Media Corp. received $65,000 to significantly increase and expand video content. “This grant will enable us to bring our editorial vision and award-winning journalism to one of the most transformative and important mediums of our time” Journal Editor-in-Chief/Publisher Rob Eshman said. As a result, the Journal will be able to “dramatically increase the number of people we connect, inform and inspire on a daily basis, thus deepening connections to the Jewish community and understanding of the issues and events that shape our lives,” he added. 

“ITIM, Jewish Women International and the Jewish Journal serve diverse populations with different needs in the Jewish community,” said Gary Braitman, co-chair of JVPF-LA. “By investing in these three particular grantees, we are staying true to our mission to contribute to the strengthening of the entire Jewish community.” 

— Julia Moss, Director of Community Engagement


ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and Shaking: FIDF gala, Mike Burstyn honored, David Suissa named Humanitarian of the Year


Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Nov. 4 raised a record $38 million from supporters such as GUESS founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who donated $5 million, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who donated $6 million.

The high point of the gala came when the event’s chairman, Haim Saban, took the microphone and conducted the fundraiser. At times, the fundraising sounded like a bidding war at an auction, with guests taking turns at outbidding others, although there were no prizes to bid on.

As it does at each year’s gala, the FIDF flew in several soldiers whose stories helped open the guests’ hearts and checkbooks. Allison Bressand, a soldier from France, left her family behind when she enlisted in the IDF. Bressand served as a squad commander in the Israeli border police and was responsible for stopping a terror attack last year. She had moved to Israel to fulfill her late father’s dream of returning to the Jewish homeland. Bressand’s mother, who had not seen her daughter for nearly a year, was flown into Los Angeles from France to surprise Bressand onstage. The emotional reunion managed to move even Robert De Niro, one of the event’s celebrity guests.

Mike Burstyn and his wife, Cyona, celebrate after Burstyn accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th Silicon Valley Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Mike Burstyn 

Mike Burstyn, the talented, multilingual actor and West Los Angeles resident, was honored on Oct. 27 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th Silicon Valley Film Festival in San Jose. Two nights later, the festival reprised Burstyn’s Israeli comedy hit “The 2 Kuni Lemel” to mark the film’s 50th anniversary.

With his wife, Cyona, at his side, Burstyn accepted congratulations from far and wide, including a message from Michael Oren, deputy minister of diplomacy in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “(Burstyn’s) contributions to the performing arts — and especially Jewish arts — are legendary,” Oren wrote. “In Israel and throughout the world, he has enriched countless lives and brought joy to millions.”

Burstyn is now prepping for his solo show, “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen” (Raisins and Almonds), to be performed on Nov. 13 at Sinai Temple in Westwood.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor 


David Suissa (third from left) attends the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) Red Star Ball with his five children (from left): Tova, Shanni, Noah, Eva and Mia. Suissa, president of the Journal, was named the AFMDA Humanitarian of the Year. Photo by Ryan Torok

More than 1,000 philanthropists, clergy members, elected officials and others came together Nov. 1 for the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) fourth annual Red Star Ball in Beverly Hills, which honored Jewish Journal President David Suissa as Humanitarian of the Year; Stanley Black with the Lifetime Achievement Award; and Zach Zalben, Black’s grandson, with the Next Generation Award.

Such events “remind us how much we need one another and how much the community would be nothing without the character trait of generosity,” Suissa said, accepting his award from Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman. “All of you here tonight are givers.”

Co-chaired by philanthropists Dina and Fred Leeds, and hosted by Adele and Beny Alagem, the event at Beny Alagem’s hotel, the Beverly Hilton, raised more than $14 million toward the construction of the National Marcus Blood Services Center, an underground blood bank in Israel, and other initiatives. Attendee and philanthropist Maurice Kanbar, creator of Skyy Vodka, donated $5 million; Lynn Shall, a congregant of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, whose husband, Allen, died in 2015 after being struck by a bus, donated $125,000 toward the purchase of an intensive care ambulance in her late husband’s memory.

“It [the ambulance] will go all over Israel and his name will live on — and to me it’s really important,” Shall said. “He was a Jew’s Jew.”

Entertainer Diana Ross performed a medley of hit songs, much to the delight of Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin. “She’s fabulous,” Galperin said, snapping selfies at the foot of the stage. “I want be like her when I’m 72.”

Ross’ performance aside, the focus of the event was the work of Israel’s primary ambulance, blood service and disaster relief organization, which does not receive government funding.

“The work that Magen David Adom does is essential,” said Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. “They’re on the front lines with incredibly fast reaction times, both for civilian emergencies and even for our soldiers once they’re over the line in our territories. And the work they do is saving lives.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer  


From far left: Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and his wife, Julia, actor  Jason Alexander and musician Todd Schroeder attend the Friends of Sheba Medical Center gala. Photo by Kyle Espweleta

Friends of Sheba Medical Center held its 46th annual gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Oct. 30 and commemorated the work of Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, Israel. Titled “The Hero Gene,” the evening drew approximately 700 attendees.

The gala, hosted by Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”), honored Arnon Adar, a member of the organization’s board of directors, with the inaugural Professor Mordechai Shani Lifetime Achievement Award, and Hadar Greenberg-Almog, a Friends of Sheba supporter and volunteer, with the Laurel of Leadership award.

Throughout the evening, Friends of Sheba chairs, board members, volunteers, doctors and a patient highlighted the hospital’s MSR (Hebrew for “Mercaz l’Simulatzia Refu’it”), the Israel Center for Medical Simulation. The simulations at MSR provide training for civilian and medical personnel in real-life scenarios, without human and medical errors.

The goal of the simulation center is to reduce the number of medical errors that occur at the hospital and beyond, according to Adina Hepner, director of development at Friends of Sheba. In the United States, medical errors are the third leading cause of death, and at least 60 percent of these cases are considered preventable, according to the British Medical Journal. Each year more than 15,000 people are trained or tested at MSR, and the demand is on the rise, Hepner said.

The proceeds raised by the gala — topped with a $1 million gift by The Nazarian Family Foundation — totaled $3.2 million. The funds will go toward growing the facility.

“Sheba Medical Center is the best that Israel has to offer and showcases the incredible lifesaving work that Israel offers the world,” Hepner said. “It is essential that we spread this message and raise the funds necessary for this hospital to continue its unique and heroic mission.”

— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and shaking: FIDF YL Gala; Persian New Year; Matisyahu; and more


The Friends of Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership’s (FIDF YL) ninth annual gala on March 12 at Hotel Alexandria raised approximately $500,000, according to FIDF YL president and gala vice chairman Zach Zalben.

Emceed by comedian Dan Ahdoot, the evening drew more than 1,100 attendees to the downtown hotel, which was decked out to celebrate the theme of the night, “Roaring ’20s Old Hollywood.”

In an interview following his performance, Ahdoot said the evening marked the sixth year he has emceed the event. He called the gala the “only one he will do for free.”

Throughout the night, the crowd kept busy at blackjack tables raising additional funds for the organization, at the open bars and on the two dance floors occupying different levels of the venue.

Ari Ryan, co-chairman of the organization, was among the speakers.

The event honored the legacy of late FIDF supporter Zev Karkomi.

Additional attendees included gala committee members Leeor Alpern, president emeritus of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles; Camila Seta, director of public relations at the Israel Ministry of Tourism; and Jessica Shaouli, an interior designer and 2004 Milken Community Schools graduate.

FIDF YL is the young-professionals arm of FIDF and aims to forge “everlasting bonds between FIDF young leaders across the country and the incredible IDF soldiers,” according to the FIDF website.

The party went on, thanks to daylight savings, until 3 a.m. At the end of the night, the weary attendees formed a line outside the hotel at Spring and Fifth streets, waiting for their Uber rides.

Panelists preparing before the standing-room-only “Out of Iran and Out of the Closet” panel, from left: Arya Marvazy, Roya Kianmahd, Mastaneh Moghadam, Sepideh Tehrani, Shervin Khorramian and Roxana Soltanzadeh. Photo courtesy Arya Marvazy

Two hundred people attended a celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, hosted by Jewish LGBTQ group JQ International on March 16. The event at The Spice Affair featured many parents and siblings joining family members in celebrating Persian and LGBTQ identity in the same space. 

“After a year of JQ placing Persian engagement and support at the top of its priority list, culminating in March’s Persian Pride month, we have seen the efforts pay off,” Asher Gellis, JQ’s founder and executive director, said. 

He said that the organization has been aided in these efforts by support from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Such support for LGBTQ individuals wasn’t always the case in the Persian-Jewish community, L.A. native and JQ member Arya Marvazy said. 

“For so many years, the concept of living our authentic lives amidst friends, family, and the larger community alike was a distant dream,” he said. “We couldn’t ever have imagined celebrating a cultural event like Nowruz in this way. Yet here we were, celebrating our new year with close friends, allies, and even some of our mothers … this reality far surpassed any dream we could ever have imagined.”

The Nowruz event came on the heels of “Out of Iran and Out of the Closet,” the previous week’s standing-room-only panel of seven gay, lesbian and transgender activists at the City of West Hollywood’s council chambers, which, Gellis said, “addressed real and heart-wrenching realities of what it means to be LGBTQ and Persian.” 

“A year ago, it would have been hard to have found two speakers willing to be this vulnerable and visible,” Gellis said. “But after a year of dedicated focus, we had seven strong and proud speakers and a room busting at the seams with families and community members ready to take the steps to bring about a revolution of thinking about sexual orientation and gender identity in the largest community of Iranians outside of Iran.” 

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Anti-Defamation League Deborah Awards dinner host and civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, honoree Mónica Gil, honoree Carol Cheng-Mayer, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and honoree Jill Black Zalben. Photo courtesy of ADL.

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 21st annual Deborah Awards Dinner was held March 3 at SLS Beverly Hills hotel. 

The event raised $300,000 for ADL programming, which combats anti-Semitism and bigotry.

Honorees were Carol Cheng-Mayer, senior vice president of Bel Air Investment Advisors; Monica Gil, senior vice president and general manager, multicultural growth and strategy at Nielsen; and Jill Black Zalben, partner at Black Equities Group and director of the Joyce and Stanley Black Family Foundation. 

The event’s co-chairs were Faith Cookler and Sharyn Nichols

Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom emceed. 

The approximately 300 attendees included former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; businessman, philanthropist and father of honoree Black Zalben, Stanley Black; and ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind

The ADL Deborah Awards recognize “extraordinary women of achievement,” according to ADL.

Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa board of directors president Mark Howorth. Photo courtesy of Liz Bar-El

Historic Labor Zionist youth camp Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa has undergone a leadership transition, with Mark Howorth being named president of the camp’s board of directors.

The change became effective Jan. 10, according to Liz Bar-El, Howorth’s predecessor, who led the organization since 2009.

Bar-El, for her part, is currently serving as president of Adat Shalom synagogue.

Under Bar-El’s leadership, Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa purchased a new campsite in Big Bear, Calif.

Howorth, whose two sons attended the camp and have since become camp leaders, is current chief operating officer at Panavision, a provider of motion picture cameras and lenses. He is a former board member of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach.

“Howorth … is excited about the challenge of growing Camp Gilboa over the next few years,” Bar-El said in a statement, “and is already working hard toward increasing registration for the 2016 sessions that run between June 26 and Aug. 7.”

Matisyahu performs at The Wiltern alongside fans he invited onto the stage for the evening’s encore. Photo by Ryan Torok

Matisyahu’s Chasidic days are over, but his music remains spiritual and his fan base Jewish as evidenced on March 2 at the Wiltern, where the musician headlined a concert billed as “An Evening with Matisyahu.”

Clean-shaven, his grayed hair tied into a ponytail, dressed in a baggy plaid shirt and skin-tight jeans, Matisyahu began the well-received performance with a song off his latest studio album, “Akeda,” with lyrics that, much like the artist himself, blurs the biblical and the contemporary.

“Moses is on his way downtown,” Matisyahu sang at the Koreatown venue during a performance that blended reggae, rock and hip-hop with ambient sound textures.

The two-set concert included memorable tunes such as “Jerusalem,” “King Without a Crown” and “One Day,” but for the most part featured more obscure numbers from the artist’s now decade-long career.

The communal vibe was underscored by Matisyahu inviting Los Angeles rapper Kosha Dillz and Pico-Robertson singer Yehuda Solomon of the band Moshav onstage late in the evening, the two joining Matisyahu and his four-piece touring band, composed of guitarist Aaron Dugan, drummer Tim Keiper, keyboardist Rob Marscher and bassist Stu Brooks

Spotted in the pit was actor Kevin Weisman (“Alias,” “Hello Ladies”). Those seen in line outside the venue and inside the lobby just before the concert began included Friends of ELNET California director Jonathan Boyer, educator Batsheva Frankel and L.A. Russian Jewish Young Adult Network leader Eric Fihman.

About 100 Sephardic Jewish community members, leaders and others attended the March 6 installation of Rabbi Raif Melhado at Kahal Joseph Congregation.

“It is a very special community. It’s my honor and pleasure to be able to be working with them,” the 33-year-old Modern Orthodox rabbi, who began last August, said in a phone interview. 

Melhado was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) in 2015. Prior to coming to Kahal Joseph Congregation, he served as a rabbinic intern at Hebrew Institute of White Plains in New York. 

The evening program featured remarks by Melhado; Kahal Joseph Rebbetzin Jessica Melhado; de Toledo High School Jewish studies department chair Rabbi Devin Villarreal; Hebrew Institute of White Plains Rabbi Chaim Marder; YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin; and Kahal President Ronald Einy.

A dinner reception followed the installation, featuring a concert by Sephardic band Bazaar Ensemble’s Asher Levy (vocals, oud), Yoni Arbel (guitar) and Sean Thump (saxophone).

Among attendees were Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center, and Kahal Joseph Congregation Senior Chazzan Sassoon Ezra.

Kahal Joseph Congregation is a Sephardic Orthodox community with Iraqi and Syrian founders serving approximately 300 member families. The synagogue is located in Century City.

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America Bay City manager Rabbi Joshua Ladon. Photo courtesy of Shalom Hartman Institute

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America has hired Rabbi Philip Graubart as West Coast vice president and Rabbi Joshua Ladon as Bay City manager, according to a March 10 announcement.

The hirings mark the continued expansion of the organization’s West Coast operations. The two join Michelle Stone, SHI North America’s Los Angeles city manager, and Rachel Allen, SHI West Coast program coordinator, to complete the SHI West Coast presence, according to a press release.

Launched in 2010, SHI North America is a self-described “leader in sophisticated dialogue and study on major Jewish questions,” according to a press release. 

“With the addition of these two professionals, the broad expansion of SHI programs and initiatives on the West Coast will continue to flourish,” the release said. 


“Moving and Shaking” highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and shaking: Rick Santorum, Brad Sherman, L.A. Dodgers and more


Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential hopeful, spoke for an hour on foreign policy, Iran and radical Islam at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills on Aug. 27 to a small but overwhelmingly sympathetic audience. 

Sporting a black kippah and accompanied to the Modern Orthodox shul by his son, Daniel, Santorum was introduced by Rabbi Kalman Topp and then gave a brief history lecture on Islam and the Shia-Sunni split. He was very critical of the Iran deal. 

“The president has negotiated a deal that has given Iran everything they wanted and more, [and] has not accomplished anything that he set out at the beginning of negotiations,” Santorum said. “We gave in on things that they didn’t even want to negotiate at the beginning, which is the removal of the arms embargo.”

Santorum wrapped up after about 20 minutes of Q-and-A from the audience and made a last pitch to the crowd to help support his campaign. Afterward, he hung around in the lobby for 30 minutes to chat with attendees.

— Jared Sichel, Staff Writer


Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and the Iranian-American-Jewish organization 30 Years After came together Aug. 27 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills during an event that underscored their mutual opposition to the controversial Iranian nuclear deal.

Congressman Brad Sherman (far right) presents 30 Years After leaders Sam Yebri and Shanel Melamed with an American flag. Photo by Ryan Torok

Sherman said that there are many reasons to oppose the nuclear deal, with one of them being that it fails to prevent Iran from building centrifuges after 10 to 15 years. “Under the agreement, the lifting of the sanctions are permanent, so why not the limitations on centrifuges?” Sherman said while addressing a crowd of about 90 people.

Sounding almost defeatist as he discussed the chances Congress has in passing a resolution against the Iran deal when it votes later this month, Sherman said President Barack Obama will continue to devote energy toward ensuring that the U.S. keeps up its end of the deal.

“The president loves the deal. … He doesn’t think this is an OK deal; he thinks this is a spectacular deal for America; he thinks this is a spectacular deal for Israel,” he said.

The evening event also featured a panel that addressed topics such as human rights violations against the LGBT and Baha’i communities in Iran. The panel, which preceded Sherman’s appearance, included West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch and Iranian-American Baha’i community member Mona Iman. Thirty Years After Executive Director Shanel Melamed and President Sam Yebri moderated the panel. 

The event was one of at least two local community events about the Iran deal 30 Years After has held. Sherman, for his part, said he hopes the Los Angeles community continues to show an interest in the topic even after the important vote in Congress.

“This issue doesn’t end in September or October,” he said. “I want to keep every one of you informed as things develop.”


Actor Joe Mantegna (“Criminal Minds”) served as the auctioneer of two Israeli Tavor assault rifles on Aug. 23, raising approximately $4,000 for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. It was all part of an event organized by the Orange County-based shooting club Bullets & Bagels, which drew 125 people to the Raahauge’s shooting range in Corona. 

Actor Joe Mantegna appeared at a Bullets & Bagels event in Corona. Photo by Ryan Torok

Israeli Weapons Industries donated the rifles for the event, with Michael Kassnar in attendance on behalf of the company. Rachael Kogen, wife of Fred Kogen, a mohel and founder of Bullets & Bagels, said she was pleased that the event was able to express support for Israeli troops. 

The event began at 10 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., with people coming and going throughout the day and practicing their shooting at the outdoor range with the help of instructors. Attendees noshed on bagels, sandwiches and even gelato between their turns at the range.

Bullets & Bagels aims to provide a safe and haimish space for pro-gun members of the Southern California Jewish community. Fred Kogen said the club hopes to expand in the coming year to create chapters in other states and increase membership to 250 people. The club will be holding its inaugural gala in Los Alamitos in the near future, he said.

Mikey Szabo, 16, a student at YULA Boys High School, and his father, Howard Szabo, were among those who took part in the event. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” Mikey said of visiting the shooting range, the sound of gunfire ringing in the background. “It’s more of a sporting thing than anything — gun safety and sporting.”


Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bats fell silent during a no-hitter at the hands of the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 30, the local Jewish community managed to make its voice heard as part of Dodgers Jewish Community Day.

From left: Rabbis Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul and Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom enjoyed an evening at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 for Dodgers Jewish Community Day. Photo by Ryan Torok

Orthodox Westwood Kehilla Rabbi Avi Stewart sang the national anthem, calling it “a dream come true,” in a statement.

Jason Stern, president of the Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) men’s club, said in an email before the game that Jewish groups had purchased approximately 1,000 tickets to the game, which is “a nice increase from last year.”

“Putting on an event where everyone has a great time is what I enjoy the most,” he said in a follow-up after the game.

He was joined at the game — a 2-0 loss — by Jewish fans that included Rabbi Noah Farkas of VBS and Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul. There also was Jeff Rohatiner, owner of the Pico-Robertson-based Jeff’s Gourmet Kosher Sausage Factory, which earlier this summer began selling kosher hot dogs at the stadium regularly. Many fans lined up for the hot dogs while wearing T-shirts with “Dodgers” written in Hebrew.

Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, who is Jewish, received a particularly warm welcome from many in the stands.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

More attorneys’ fees ordered in Hotel Shangri-La case


The Hotel Shangri-La and one of its owners must pay a total of more than $400,000 in additional fees to the attorneys for a group of young Jews the hotel illegally discriminated against in 2010, a trial judge ruled on July 28. 

A jury ruled in 2012 that the hotel and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, had violated California law in 2010 when Adaya ended a party the plaintiffs were holding at the hotel’s pool. 

Platinum Events had organized the party at the Santa Monica hotel for the Young Leadership Group of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). The plaintiffs said Adaya became incensed when she discovered the purpose of the party, and directed her security to inform attendees that they were not allowed to use the pool. During a confrontation, the plaintiffs also alleged that Adaya told the hotel’s then-assistant food and beverage director that she wanted the “f—ing Jews” out of the pool. Adaya denied the claims.

In December 2014, an appellate court upheld the jury’s ruling, but found that the trial court had erred in its apportioning of punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. The appellate court ordered the lower court to review the method it had used to determine attorneys’ fees attributable to Platinum Events, the one commercial plaintiff in the case, which was ineligible to receive damages related to a civil rights violation. California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, religion, and a variety of other traits and conditions.

On remand, the trial court ruled that Platinum’s causes of action were “inextricably intertwined” with the civil rights causes of action brought by the individual plaintiffs, and awarded the relevant legal fees — more than $70,000 — to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The trial court also awarded an additional $340,000 in attorneys’ fees against the defendant for losing on appeal. 

On top of statutory damages of more than $1.1 million, the plaintiffs’ attorneys have now been awarded a total of more than $2.5 million.

Moving and shaking: FIDF, AJC and more


More than 15 Los Angeles residents returned home on Nov. 21 after participating in a weeklong, sold-out national leadership mission to Israel organized by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). The mission brought together 160 FIDF members from 58 American cities, including the Los Angeles-based contingent, to check out Israeli military sites and speak with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel in hopes of garnering new perspective on military proceedings transpiring on the ground. 

Participants on the trip heard from IDF soldiers serving on the front lines, toured an Iron Dome missile battery in southern Israel, visited wounded soldiers and met with beneficiaries of FIDF programs such as Lone Soldiers, which provides assistance to those in the IDF without parents in Israel, and recipients of IMPACT! Scholarships, an effort to contribute financial aid for higher education to former Israeli soldiers.

Abraham Stein, 78, took part in the mission, searching for insight into the experience of Israeli soldiers and a potential cause to which to donate.

“To see the faces of the soldiers, to look into their eyes, you see they’re just children. We see many things from over here, but once there, you see the dedication, the passion, the assertiveness and the sense of calm,” he told the Journal. “It was striking. I always wanted to donate to Israel and have that be a part of my legacy. Now, after seeing what the IDF does and where my donation would be going, I can make it.” 

Traveling with Stein were Ana Mancia, Adam Bess, Ludmila Bess, Leo David, Igal Elyassi, Carol and Michael Erde, Michael Flesch, April Hardy, Elliot Megdal, Janet and David Polak, Ari and Rebecca Ryan and Adam Sher.

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer 

 


The American Jewish Committee Los Angeles’ (AJC-LA) annual Chanukah celebration drew 150 attendees to The Mark for Events on Dec. 17. AJC members, community leaders, diplomats and elected officials, including AJC-LA director Rabbi Mark Diamond, led a candle-lighting ceremony, in which “each candle represented one of the eight elements of American-Jewish values: democracy, global peace, unity, diversity, learning, tradition, Israel and hope,” according to an AJC-LA press release. Diamond also discussed the importance of defending Jewish rights and democratic values here in the United States and across the world.

From left: AJCLA Vice President Ira Handelman; L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and AJCLA Director Rabbi Mark Diamond participate in a candle-lighting ceremony. Photo by David Medill

From left: AJCLA Vice President Ira Handelman; L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and AJCLA Director Rabbi Mark Diamond participate in a candle-lighting ceremony. Photo by David Medill

 

AJC is an advocacy organization that focuses on Israeli matters, domestic issues and more. Its Los Angeles chapter is one of 22 regional offices in the U.S. 

Participants in the lighting ceremony last month also included Assemblymembers Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and Matt Dababneh, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, the Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Randolph Dobbs of the Los Angeles Baha’i Center. 

AJC-LA President Dean Schramm “addressed the audience about living the lessons of Chanukah,” the press release said. AJC-LA Vice President Ira Handelman also took part in the festivities.


California State Sen. Robert M. (Bob) Hertzberg has joined the government and regulatory law practice group of the law firm Glaser Weil, according to a Nov. 5 press release, and will serve as Of Counsel.

Robert M. (Bob) Hertzberg, Photo courtesy of Glaser Weil

 

The recently elected Democrat who serves the 18th District will “advise [Glaser Weil clients] on local issues, matters in other states, and on international projects,” the release said. Hertzberg will “not advise clients on matters that may come before the legislature or state agencies,” according to the release.

He is working at Glaser Weil with Thomas Levyn, former mayor of Beverly Hills, and Timothy McOsker, former chief deputy city attorney for Los Angeles and chief of staff to former L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn. The firm describes itself as one of the “nation’s premier midsized law firms, with approximately 100 attorneys.”

“We are honored to have Bob join our firm,” Glaser Weil Managing Partner Peter Weil said in the release. “His 35 years of experience as a lawyer, work-ethic, dedication and vast knowledge will contribute to the continued growth of the firm.”

“Bob will be an excellent addition to our firm,” Partner Patricia L. Glaser echoed in prepared remarks.

Hertzberg has been a partner at Mayer Brown, LLP for the past 12 years. He previously served on the board of the Public Policy Institute of California and as chairman, twice, for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. He is currently a member of the board at USC’s Price School of Public Policy and Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy.

Meanwhile, Hertzberg added a familiar face to his public office’s staff. Barri Worth Girvan, who previously served as The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ director of community engagement programs and government affairs, is now serving as Hertzberg’s district director in the San Fernando Valley, having joined the team on Dec. 18.


Fredi Rembaum, assistant vice president for institutional advancement of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), was celebrated Dec. 8 during a retirement lunch at the Reform seminary’s Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles.

Among those who feted Rembaum were Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, HUC-JIR president; Joshua Holo, dean of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus; and Steven Windmueller, a longtime faculty member and former dean of the L.A. campus. Her husband, Rabbi Joel Rembaum, former senior rabbi of Temple Beth Am, led haMotzi.

Before coming more than 10 years ago to HUC-JIR — which she also has served as director of development for the Western region — Rembaum worked for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for 20 years in a number of capacities, focusing on fundraising and community development. 

From left: Joshua Holo, dean of HUC-JIR’s L.A. campus; Sue Neuman Hochberg, chair of the Western region board of overseers; Fredi Rembaum, assistant vice president for institutional advancement; and Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, HUC-JIR president, at Rembaum’s retirement lunch on Dec. 8. Photo courtesy of HUC-JIR

 

She will not be replaced at HUC-JIR. Instead, officials said, her work will be continued by the team of Cathee Weiss, director of development for the Western region, and Aaron Herman, assistant director of development. Rembaum planned to work through the end of December.

— Ryan E. Smith, Associate Editor

 

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Hotel Shangri-La appeal largely upheld


An appellate court has upheld a jury’s ruling against Tehmina Adaya and Santa Monica’s Hotel Shangri-La, of which Adaya is part owner, in the case of an anti-Semitic episode directed at members of the local chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) during a pool party in July 2010. 

The 2nd District Court of Appeal found Dec. 29 that the defendants’ numerous claims of procedural error were either unsubstantiated or did not significantly affect the jury’s ruling. However, the court did reverse — and in one case, send back to the lower court — aspects of the case related to the apportioning of monetary damages, indicating that punitive damages were excessive and that attorney fees must be re-examined. Those were originally set at $1.6 million and $2.1 million, respectively.

Ari Ryan, chairman of the FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles executive board and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he was pleased with the decision.

“When I found out … the one word that could summarize my experience was proud. I was very proud that the court affirmed the unanimous decision of the jury. I was extremely proud of all of the plaintiffs. I am proud that we stood up for equal rights and against discrimination,” he said. 

“This wasn’t a monetary case for me,” he continued. “This case was about shining a light on the fact that this type of behavior and these feelings still exist, and that they can’t go unchecked.” 

On the first page of his ruling, the court noted that the standard of review forces the court to review the facts “in the light most favorable to the judgment, giving Plaintiffs the benefit of every reasonable inference and resolving any conflict in the evidence in support of the judgment.” The court’s decision Dec. 29 upholds all rulings related to the facts of the case.

The incident took place at an FIDF pool party at the Shangri-La arranged by Platinum Events. Attendees had installed a pair of FIDF banners inside a cordoned-off area of the deck, and they were displaying promotional literature. 

Adaya allegedly became incensed when she discovered the party’s purpose, directing her security to inform the party that they were not allowed to use the pool, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere that caused the party to leave the hotel early. During the confrontation, Adaya, who was born in Pakistan and is Muslim, allegedly told Nathan Codrey, the former assistant food and beverage director at the hotel, that she wanted to get the “f—–g Jews” out of the pool and away from the hotel. 

On Aug. 15, 2012, after six days of deliberations, the jury ordered Adaya and the Santa Monica hotel to pay the plaintiffs and their lawyers approximately $3.7 million. The defendants submitted a post-trial motion requesting a new trial, and when that was denied, they appealed the ruling. 

In response to the defendants’ claim that the plaintiffs did not “prove intentional discrimination,” the threshold required under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, the court ruled that “Adaya’s poolside conduct and speech clearly establishes that Defendants intentionally deprived Plaintiffs of the hotel services because they were Jewish.”

The court did determine that the lower court was in error to allow the plaintiffs to collect punitive damages on top of the statutory damages awarded under Unruh. The act allows statutory damages to be awarded in any amount up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage, but in no case less than $4,000. 

Pointing to a 1998 case in which the court expressly referred to the treble damages allowed under Unruh as “a punitive award,” the court ruled that “emotional distress punitive damages awarded in phase two of the trial must be reversed” on the grounds that they amount to a “duplicative recovery of punitive damages.” These secondary damages ranged from $25,000 to $80,000 for each of the 11 individuals. The court also ruled that the lower court must re-examine attorney fees.

One of Adaya’s attorneys, Marcellus McRae of law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, declined to comment. 

For Americans aiding Israeli soldiers, rules of engagement vary


When the season’s first snowstorm descended on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights a few weeks ago, it didn’t take long before M, a career sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces, received a phone call from Leon Blankrot.

“What do you need to keep warm?” asked Blankrot, executive director of Yashar Lachayal, an organization that aids Israeli soldiers and is funded by donations from American Jews.

A couple of days later, a shipment of hats and neck warmers arrived for M and the soldiers under his command.

“The army provides winter clothing, but there are things the IDF does not supply, like neck warmers and other things civilians wear,” said M, who asked that his name not be published because the army had not authorized him to speak to the media. “That’s where Leon comes in.”

Yashar Lachayal is among the efforts to help Israeli soldiers that are funded by Jews living stateside. The initiatives range from large, well-established organizations — most notably Friends of Israel Defense Forces, or FIDF — that are supported indirectly by U.S. taxpayers (because, as 501(c)3 nonprofits, the donations they receive are tax deductible) to tiny start-ups run by individuals and operating without any formal oversight.

Sending U.S. Jewish aid to Israeli soldiers can be a touchy subject. U.S. law bars sending weapons or combat equipment to foreign armies without U.S. government authorization, and the Israel Defense Forces has rules about what sort of material soldiers are permitted to accept from outside groups (for example, soldiers may wear only IDF-issued boots). The IDF, which declined to be interviewed for this story, also does not want to be seen as a charity case.

But like U.S. soldiers who went into combat in Iraq without armor-plated Humvees, which could have offered better protection against rocket-propelled grenade attacks and improvised explosive devices, Israeli soldiers don’t always get everything they want or need.

“Sometimes I’m the guy that comes through faster or when they don’t have recourse,” Blankrot told JTA. “If there’s a base on the Egyptian border and they have five broken air conditioners, by the time they get a technician to fix them it can take months. I can get it to them in two to three days.”

The Israeli army supplies soldiers with plastic canteens, but Yashar Lachayal offers them CamelBak-style water backpacks that can keep water cold for hours. During last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza, Blankrot spent weeks shuttling to the Gaza border from his home near Jerusalem handing out toiletries, Styrofoam thermoses filled with ice and travel pillows for combat soldiers heading into Gaza. He found laptops with special voice-recognition software for injured soldiers unable to use their hands and bought orthopedic beanbags for soldiers with shrapnel wounds who needed to recover before they could have surgery. In one case, Blankrot paid to widen the front door of a soldier’s home that was too narrow for his wheelchair.

The biggest and best known of the IDF support groups is FIDF, a $70-million-a-year organization with chapters throughout the United States that backs capital projects like cultural centers for soldiers; enrichment programming such as educational seminars and Jewish identity tours; university scholarships for IDF veterans; prosthetics for injured soldiers; bereavement support; and aid to indigent soldiers, including winter wear. It does not provide combat or tactical gear.

FIDF relies heavily on lavish galas and splashy events for fundraising, including golf outings, casino nights and black-tie dinners. At the organization’s national gala last March at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, FIDF raised $20 million from a dinner that featured IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and a satellite address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some 1,400 guests attended the 1,000-a-plate event.

The organization has 13 regional U.S. chapters and divisions for real estate professionals and young leaders.

FIDF, which has 501(c)3 status, raised $68 million in 2012, the last year for which public data are available. About two-thirds of the money, $39 million, was spent on grants; salaries and expenses ran in excess of $16 million. FIDF officials declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.

By contrast, Yashar Lachayal — Hebrew for “straight to the soldier” — is a $500,000-a-year organization founded during the 2006 Lebanon War that operates under the pledge that every penny donated (via the group’s tax-deductible American fundraising arm, Friends of Yashar Lachayal) goes directly to soldier aid.

What little overhead there is — a salary for Blankrot and one other staffer, plus some expenses — is covered by the Moskowitz family of Miami Beach. The ailing family patriarch, Irving Moskowitz, is known both for supporting controversial Jewish housing projects in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and for myriad philanthropic causes in Israel and the United States. (Moskowitz, a physician, made his fortune managing hospitals and securing a lucrative bingo contract with the city of Los Angeles.)

The biggest chunk of Yashar Lachayal’s funds comes from the Moskowitz family, with the remainder raised through parlor meetings in American Jewish communities and solicitation campaigns by American family members of “lone soldiers” without family in Israel.

“We’re not the dinner kind,” Blankrot said. “We’re more grassroots.”

U.S. Jewish federations, which collectively raised $50 million in an Israel Emergency Campaign this summer, support Israeli soldiers primarily through programs operated by the Jewish Agency for Israel. For example, $350,000 from the federations’ summer campaign went to Wings, a Jewish Agency program that provides crisis support, mentoring, and personal and career guidance to lone soldiers. (The bulk of the $22 million disbursed thus far from the emergency campaign has gone to assistance for hard-hit Israeli towns, trauma support, respite days for children, aid to the elderly and support for businesses affected by the conflict.)

Then there are the start-ups.

When tensions erupted this summer around Gaza, the first thought to hit Jeremy Nye, a 31-year-old American immigrant who recently finished his IDF service, was: What can I do to help?

With Israeli troops mobilizing, Nye jumped on his motorcycle and rode to the Gaza frontier to deliver pizzas to his former unit in Givati, an IDF combat brigade. His effort echoed the work of PizzaIDF, a group established in 2002 that sends pizzas, small gifts and holiday food to Israeli soldiers on the front lines.

Almost immediately, Nye started hearing about other needs from his army buddies, so he launched a crowdfunding-based campaign online that he dubbed Gear Up Our Soldiers. Within a week he had collected $3,000. Starting with flashlights and pizza, Nye soon expanded to tactical gear, including bulletproof vests, knee pads, combat gloves and headlamps.

Nye says he has delivered more than $40,000 worth of food, supplies and gear, using Facebook and word of mouth to raise money. In recent weeks he also began handing out pepper spray to Israeli civilians. Nye’s effort is not registered as a nonprofit in Israel or the United States, nor is it formally recognized by the IDF.

“A lot of regular units don’t have the finances for specialized gear,” Nye said. “Officially the army can’t ask for donations. A lot of soldiers pay to upgrade their own gear. I’m just providing it to people who aren’t able to buy it.”

Blankrot says soldiers on the receiving end of U.S. Jewish aid are appreciative not just of the material support but of the morale boost that comes with it.

“I tell the soldiers these donations come from Jews who care about you, who pray for you,” Blankrot said. “I tell them you’re not by yourself, you have American Jewry behind you.”

 

Moving and shaking


More than 1,000 people attended the fourth annual Shabbat at the Ford with Craig Taubman and the Pico Union Project on Aug. 29. 

Rabbis, cantors, pastors, guitarists, back-up singers, a choir and even a sign-language interpreter participated. The event kicked off at 6 p.m. with people picnicking in the theater’s courtyard.

During the evening at the Ford Amphitheatre, Taubman wore many hats — in addition to the kippah on his head of silver-gray hair. As he led the two-hour service with an acoustic guitar strapped on over his white, button-down shirt, he played host, bandleader and musician. Red, yellow and blue lights bathed the outdoor stage as liturgical songs and pop tunes appeared in the same setlist.  

Leeav Sofer, front-man of klezmer-revivalist band Mostly Kosher, believes Shabbat at the Ford is an important part of the patchwork of events that occur in the Jewish community.

“It reminds us that Judaism’s a pretty cool culture and there are ways of keeping it progressive, new and alive,” Sofer, 23, told the Journal. 

At 8 p.m., attendees moved from the courtyard to the amphitheater. Appearances by rapper Kosha Dillz; Israeli singer Shany Zamir; Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein; Cantor Yonah Kliger and Rabbi Jonathan Aaron of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple; and songwriter Martin Storrow followed.

Feinstein delivered a sermon, which recalled an African-American nurse named Charles, who sat at his bedside for 10 nights while he was in intensive care. 

“Tonight we celebrate angels, because it’s been a terrible summer,” Feinstein said, listing violent tragedies that have plagued the world for the past three months. “Let’s go be an angel.” 

Pico Union Project partners, including Pastor Omar Perich and the trilingual Pastor Abraham Chung, who speaks Korean, English and Hebrew, participated in the services. Victory Outreach DTLA, a church comprising rehabilitated gang members and drug addicts, also participated. Perich took a moment to introduce them toward the end of the night.

Additional performers included vocalist Dale Schatz and guitarist James Fuchs; poets Rick Lupert and Andrew Lustig; and the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble.

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer


Fans of dance fitness and Israel teamed up on Aug. 24 for the first-ever Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) “Zumbathon,” a large-scale Zumba class aimed at raising funds to support Israeli soldiers.  

Zumba Instructor Marisa Schor at the FIDF “Dance for Peace Zumbathon” event on Aug. 24. Photo by Rob Goldenberg

Molly Sobaroff, director of Young Leadership at FIDF, worked with four Zumba instructors with strong ties to Israel — Marisa Schor, Orly Star Setareh, Sara Tanz, and Samantha Reiss Goldenberg — to put on the event, which was held at the Westside Jewish Community Center. 

Zumba, a popular type of high-impact dance fitness, was the main draw for the 100-plus participants. Each paid $40 to attend the special 90-minute class. Zumba is primarily known for using Latin dance moves and music, but for this particular event, the instructors incorporated some Israeli folk dance. 

In addition to the entry fee, the Zumbathon raised money through community sponsors, a raffle and silent auction, making a total of $5,500. Schor called the event a huge success. 

“We are very proud of our event’s results and want to share with our community that we put our two sweaty cents in to help Israel.”

The money will be used by FIDF to buy care packages for Israeli soldiers, a show of solidarity and support that is especially important to the event organizers, considering the current situation in Israel. As well, children who attended the Zumbathon had the opportunity to write cards for soldiers to express gratitude for their service. 

— Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer


The Valley Jewish Community Center (VJCC) officially has a new home in Woodland Hills. Its grand opening on Aug. 24 attracted more than 200 people and included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the hanging of a mezuzah

The new location at 20350 Ventura Blvd. includes an office for Executive Director Jerry Wayne and a large activity room. This new acquisition makes it the sole Jewish center in the San Fernando Valley.

The VJCC has been using free spaces at synagogues and elsewhere since the early 2000s, when a developer purchased its former Granada Hills campus. Through fundraising efforts and a three-year grant from JCC Development Corp., they were able to rent the new space. 

“It’s finally a place where we have roots again,” Steve Levine, VJCC vice president and chair of the grand opening committee, told the Journal. “We have a place to hang our hat and have club meetings. It’s a positive move. It’s the first of a few satellite locations we hope to open somewhere down the line in the Valley.”

Among those who attended the opening, aside from Wayne and Levine, were Los Angeles Councilmember Bob Blumenfield; Rabbi Ron Li-Paz of Valley Outreach Synagogue; Bill Bender, VJCC immediate past president; Elaine Fox, past president and current secretary and board member of the VJCC; Steve Rheuban, member of JCC Development Corp.; and representatives of a number of elected officials.

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer


YULA Girls High School graduates Sophia and Emily Levine, 19 and 22, and Sarah and Elizabeth Mandelbaum, 21 and 18, recently organized a fundraiser that collected more than $5,000 in support of American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate.

“Being that I’m religious and can only imagine how important God comes into play during a war, I figured that helping religiously was crucial,” Sophia Levine told the Journal by email.

An Aug. 11 fundraiser for IDF soldiers took place at SoulCycle in Beverly Hills. Photos courtesy of Sophia Levine

The Aug. 11 event in Beverly Hills spinning studio SoulCycle drew approximately 50 people and underscored the creative ways community members have been raising funds for the Israel Defense Forces this summer. The women advertised the event as a “cardio party.” 

The Levine sisters and Sarah Mandelbaum traveled to Israel Aug. 14-24 and gave out “IDF Is in Our Soul” T-shirts to wounded Israeli soldiers. 

“Israel’s really an important place to us all,” Sophia Levine said.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Shangri-La lawyers ready for another day in court


Four years after a group of Jewish partygoers accused a hotel owner of anti-Semitic discrimination — and two years after a jury found in favor of the group — the case is about to return to court. 

Did Hotel Shangri-La owner Tehmina Adaya, on July 11, 2010, instruct her staff to “systematically — and successfully — shut down” a party organized by a group of young supporters of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), despite the event’s having been prearranged to take place on the hotel’s pool deck? Or was she simply enforcing the hotel’s “policies and procedures … that members of the FIDF violated”?

The poolside, where the party took place.

Were the hotel staff’s actions that day — removing the banners, tables and towels that had been arranged for the partygoers’ use and instructing the FIDF supporters to stop collecting donations, to remove their commemorative T-shirts and to stay out of the pool — intended to cause “severe emotional distress” to the partygoers? Or was Adaya acting within her rights in shutting down a party that had been organized by a promoter and authorized by an onsite vendor — but apparently had never been approved by the hotel’s staff?

And did she actually say — as one former employee testified — “I don’t want any f—ing Jews in the pool,” or didn’t she?

These questions were at the heart of the 2012 case, the outcome of which was a jury ordering Adaya and the Santa Monica boutique hotel owned by her family to pay approximately $3.7 million to the plaintiffs and their lawyers— the only court-confirmed case in recent memory of discrimination against Jews in the United States.

But this fall, likely in September or October, when oral arguments take place in the California Courts of Appeal, those same questions are not expected to be the focus of the arguments presented by Adaya’s new legal team, from the highly esteemed firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. 

“The court’s limited in an appeal as to what they can actually review,” said Jason C. Dineros, an attorney at Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett, and an adjunct faculty member to the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona in hospitality law and labor law in the hospitality industry. “The court can’t review the facts again. If the jury determined — as a matter of fact — that the racial slurs or racial remarks were directed at the plaintiffs, the appellate court cannot overrule that.” 

Based on the verdict, it would seem that the jury did not believe Adaya when, testifying at trial, she denied having made the remarks. Instead, it appears the jury relied upon the testimony of the one person who claimed to have heard Adaya’s comment directly — despite his not having appeared in court in 2012. That lone witness, Nathan Codrey, was a food and beverage manager at the hotel that day, and was fired shortly after the incident, in 2010. Codrey’s earlier sworn deposition was read into the record for the jury. (See sidebar) 

Rather than rehash the ground covered in the first trial, Marcellus McRae and his colleagues from Gibson Dunn — the fourth set of lawyers to represent Adaya and the hotel since the plaintiffs filed their complaint in 2010 — are challenging what they call errors in law made by the court and internal inconsistencies in the jury’s verdict. Among the key assertions made by the appellants: 

Nobody other than Codrey claimed to have heard Adaya herself make the “f—ing Jews” remark; therefore, it is impossible for Adaya and the hotel to have intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the plaintiffs with her words. 

Moreover, by allowing other witnesses to testify to having heard Adaya’s words relayed to them by Codrey — or by a person who had heard the secondhand report from Codrey — the trial court “manifestly abused its discretion” by “allowing into evidence double and triple hearsay statements.” 

Adaya and the Shangri-La cannot be held accountable under the Unruh Civil Rights Act for their actions because they acted in the service of legitimate business purpose, and nothing that the plaintiffs presented to the trial court demonstrated that they acted with discriminatory intent.

The jury found that Adaya and the hotel inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiffs both intentionally and negligently, through the same set of actions — which is legally impossible. 

Dineros said this last argument is particularly interesting. 

“What the appellants creatively did was look at the inconsistency of the verdicts,” he said, “and the fact that the jury found both an intentional and a negligent element appears contradictory in itself.”

Despite numerous inquiries, the lawyers from Gibson Dunn declined to respond to questions for this article. In a statement sent to the Journal, McRae said that Adaya and Indus Investments, the parent company that owns the Shangri-La, are appealing the judgments and awards of the trial court based on “an array of legal and evidentiary challenges” set out in the brief. 

Jim Turken and his colleagues from Dickstein Shapiro, the law firm that has represented the plaintiffs — who are now called respondents — since the start of this case, rejected the appellants’ arguments. In their response brief, they write that almost every issue raised by the appellants — from their questions about what Adaya did or did not say to arguments about whether the hotel actually had policies and practices and whether it enforced them in a nondiscriminatory fashion in July 2010 — are “questions of fact for the jury,” and should not be subjected again to a court’s scrutiny. 

“As the evidence established, and the jury found, there were no such policies and practices,” the lawyers wrote in their brief filed in March 2014, “and, in any event, the purported policies were never enforced until after Adaya found out there were Jews attending a Jewish event.”

It’s hard to overstate just how atypical the path through the legal system has been for this controversial and closely watched case. For one, most cases like this never make it to trial, let alone get heard by a jury. And according to attorneys, pretrial settlements are particularly common in discrimination cases, as they typically pit cash-poor individuals against a business that would rather pay a lump sum than risk damage to its reputation. 

Yet this case, officially known as Paletz et al. v. Adaya et al., went all the way to trial, and it ended with Adaya and the Shangri-La being ordered by the jury to pay $1.6 million in damages to the plaintiffs and $2.1 million in fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Now Adaya and the Shangri-La are about to go to a higher court, something that only 3 percent of the losing parties in big-ticket civil cases (involving damages of $25,000 or more) attempted during the 2011-12 year, which is the most recent one for which data is available. And they’re doing so in the hopes that theirs won’t be among the vast majority of those cases upheld on appeal. (In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the higher court upheld 87 percent of lower court rulings.) 

The length and litigious intensity of this fight has to be chalked up, at least in part, to the inherent ambiguities involved in what happened on July 11, 2010, which were subjected to significant scrutiny during the initial trial. 

It’s also worth noting that this fight almost certainly would never have gone this far without the two sides being able to marshal remarkable legal firepower. 

For Adaya and the Shangri-La, bringing in McRae, an accomplished litigator (who is Jewish and black), hints at the significant funds she and her family have at their disposal. (Adaya and the hotel reportedly used attorneys provided by the hotel’s insurer for the initial trial, a decision that Adaya came to regret. If the brief from the respondents is any indication, there are at least half a dozen different points on which the strategy pursued by the trial lawyers was defective in ways that may make their appeal more difficult.) 

And for the respondents, their ability to pursue this case (and to defend it on appeal) is entirely due to Turken’s willingness to invest more than 4,500 hours of staff time on a case and a cause in which he wholeheartedly believes. A member of Sinai Temple in Westwood, Turken is a managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro, runs the firm’s California offices and has spent more than 450 hours of his own time on this case. Had the firm lost, it would not have received compensation for that time. But for attorneys who successfully prove that their clients were discriminated against, the Unruh Civil Rights Act provides for the payment of fees. The trial court awarded Turken and his firm a whopping $2.1 million — an award that, like the award to the plaintiffs, is currently being held in escrow, pending the decision on this appeal. 

To McRae and his associates, that bill looks inflated. According to their brief, Turken and his associates ran up the tab unnecessarily by assigning multiple attorneys to conduct certain trial-related tasks. What’s more, they also structured their sizable bill in a way that made it impossible for the trial court judge to determine which tasks the defendants should be on the hook for (i.e. the ones related to the Unruh Act claims) and which they should not have to pay for (everything else). 

Consider one day in the working life of Amy Rubinfeld, a partner at Dickstein Shapiro who clocked 1,435 hours on the case, more than any other member of the legal team. According to the firm’s billing, Rubinfeld spent most of Aug. 3, 2011, working on the case — making a phone call to one of the plaintiffs, exchanging emails with others, paying “further attention” to scheduling mediation, and attending a “meeting with N. Codrey in connection with upcoming deposition[.]” Rubinfeld billed 5.10 hours that day — total cost $3,111.00. Some sizable chunk of that time must have been spent with Codrey, as Turken also billed for that time — itemizing it as 2.50 hours to “meet with Nathan Codrey and A. Rubinfeld in downtown Los Angeles concerning his deposition.” 

If the judge’s award of fees to Dickstein Shapiro is allowed to stand, that meeting — a lengthy lunch that took place at The Palm restaurant — will cost Adaya and the hotel $3,200. 

And McRae, in his appeal brief, positively bristled at his clients being forced to pay for the time Turken spent speaking about the case with reporters. In the weeks before the start of the jury trial, multiple members of Turken’s team worked with the Los Angeles Times on a story that appeared in the paper before the trial. Because Dickstein Shapiro used a “block billing” method on its invoice that only subdivides tasks on a daily basis, it’s impossible to say how much time Turken spent on July 18, 2012, on “telephone calls with the L.A. Times,” nor can it be determined from the bill how many minutes or hours Rubinfeld spent the next day sitting in on an interview with the same reporter. On July 21, Rubinfeld billed for “review[ing] e-mails with L.A. Times reporter,” and when the article came out on July 22, Fawn Schanz, an associate in the business litigation department, billed for what she described as “review L.A. Times article regarding case and forward to team.” 

“Media relations work is not ‘reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation,’ nor is $15,525 (at least 23 hours of fees at the average rate of $675 per hour) for non-legal work reasonable,” the appellants’ lawyers write in their appeal brief. 

But in spending his time speaking to the media, Turken appears to have been following a playbook well-known to many attorneys who bring discrimination lawsuits: Show the defendants the kind of bad press they’ll face if they lose and thereby persuade them to agree to a favorable settlement. 

For Turken, the opinions of Adaya’s attorneys about his fees are not significant. 

“Their problem is that a judge looked at everything and determined that the defendants should pay for the time,” Turken told the Journal earlier this year. 

In the lead-up to and the aftermath of the first trial, the reaction of local and national Jewish defense groups to the case has been notably muted. The groups that are most vocal on issues of anti-Semitism all but avoided involving themselves in the situation. 

When asked about their hands-off approach, leaders from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) simply said they hadn’t been asked to do anything — not by the plaintiffs, nor by anyone else. 

And ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind said in a recent interview that once a case goes into litigation, the ADL typically leaves it to the lawyers. 

“We don’t comment on cases; we don’t get involved,” Susskind said. “But we’re interested. We’re following it.”

Even the hardline Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) — which planned a public protest outside the hotel in the wake of the verdict — quickly backed off after Adaya made donations to two pro-Israel charities and offered the group the chance to hold a party at the hotel, free of charge. At that party, a Purim-themed festival at which prominent anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller received an award, one ZOA national board member told a reporter he had come to doubt the accuracy of the jury’s verdict against the Shangri-La. 

Whether the appellate court judges share that doubt will soon become clear. During the as-yet-unscheduled oral arguments, which are expected to last between just 20 and 30 minutes, the questions the three judges ask may offer insight as to which direction they’re leaning. The final decision will be rendered within a few months of the oral arguments. 

Further, the appellate judges will have just three choices for their ruling: to uphold or strike down the lower court’s verdict (either wholly or in part), or to send the case back for a retrial. No matter which they choose, Paletz et al. v. Adaya et al. will still stand out as one of the most unusual discrimination cases brought in recent years. After all, it’s very rare to hear allegations in court of anti-Semitic discrimination against Jews in a place of public accommodation in 21st-century America. 

“I can’t even remember a case that I’ve heard of in the last decades, really,” David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, said. “It’s certainly uncommon to have an actual public accommodation — not a private club or a country club or something like that — an actual hotel or restaurant that says, ‘We don’t want Jews here.’ I’m not saying it never, ever happens. It’s very, very unusual.” 

L.A.’s Iranian Jews stand with Israel during war


During the war between Israel and Hamas, local Iranian Jews have taken a two-pronged approach to supporting the Jewish state: raising substantial dollars on behalf of humanitarian causes in Israel and speaking out on Farsi-language media outlets based in Southern California. 

“We need to be the voice of Israel, the voice that upholds, uplifts and supports Israel, our home country, and our brave IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers who bravely, tirelessly and selflessly stand in our defense. … If we don’t, who else will?” said Simon Etehad, president of the Beverly Hills-based Iranian Nessah Synagogue.

Nessah is one of a dozen local Iranian-Jewish groups raising money for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), having collected more than $100,000 on its own since July 12, according to Etehad. 

The West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) joined with more than a dozen other Iranian Jewish groups — including Nessah — on July 23 to raise nearly $1 million for the FIDF. IAJF President Susan Azizzadeh said the money her organization raised was matched by Hollywood mogul and Israeli philanthropist Haim Saban. 

And while local Iranian-Jewish organizations have not openly criticized the Iranian regime for its involvement in supporting Hamas, more than two dozen Iranian-Jewish activists in Southern California on July 29 penned a three-page letter denouncing both Hamas and the Iranian regime for their reign of terror on Israeli civilians.

Sam Kermanian, a senior adviser to the IAJF, said the majority of Iranian Jews have strong reasons to support Israel. They consider the creation of the Jewish state as a type of redemption, with Israelis as heroes for the Jewish people worldwide. 

“Our community has always supported Israel to the best of their abilities. In fact, more than two-thirds of Jews of Iranian origin currently live in Israel,” he said. “There are no Iranian Jews anywhere in the world who do not have direct family ties to Israel, which is only topped by their religious and cultural ties to that land.”

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a Los Angeles-based Iranian-Jewish nonprofit group, said the community’s strong affinity for Israel can also be traced to painful experiences of fleeing Iran more than 30 years ago due to the country’s radical Islamic regime.

“Iranian-American Jews feel a deep connection to Israel as our Jewish homeland and as the Jewish people’s safe haven, especially given our experience in Iran,” Yebri said. “More importantly, the anti-Semitism that emerged internationally and the mischaracterization of Israel as committing ‘war crimes’ in some media outlets and at local rallies made it crystal clear that we must do our part to support Israel, as Americans and as Jews.”

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-based Committee For Minority Rights in Iran, said some locals have increasingly tried to focus public attention on the major role the current Iranian regime has played in its sponsorship of Hamas’ terrorism. 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has been the major instigator for this war and for quite a while they have been complaining about why ‘Palestine’ has been forgotten because of the ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and the Ukraine conflicts,” Nikbakht said. “They have been pushing Hamas for offensive tactics and massive kidnappings of Israelis. The Iranian regime’s commanders thus revealed that they have indeed been behind the kidnapping and tunnel strategy.”

Last week on Iranian state-run television, Mohsen Rezaei, a senior adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Iranian regime had already provided Hamas with missile-building technology being used in fighting the IDF in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani last week said Iran “had no hesitation in its coming to the aid of Hamas and other militant groups fighting Israel.”

Many of L.A.’s Iranian-Jewish activists have countered by appearing on Farsi-language radio programs and satellite news programs. One such example came last week when local Iranian-Jewish businessman and community activist Bijan Khalili appeared on KIRN 670-AM, a Studio City-based Farsi-language radio station. Khalili offered his insights to the majority Iranian-Muslim listeners during the station’s news program about Israeli military objectives to defend its citizens from Hamas rocket attacks.

“The tragedy of this war is that Hamas, a terrorist organization that is well funded and armed by the Iranian regime, clearly does not value Palestinian life nor Israeli life, and as a result both sides have suffered,” Khalili said on the radio program. “This war was begun by Hamas rockets fired at Israeli citizens. What would you expect your government to do but to protect your children and family from terrorists trying to kill them?”

While Iranian Jews living in the United States have been voicing strong support for Israel during the latest war with Hamas, leaders of the Jewish community in Iran have publicly denounced Israel. Homayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, the leader of the Jewish Committee of Tehran, denounced Israel on Iranian state-run news television broadcasts last week. Additionally, the only Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, recently compared Israel’s government with that of Nazi Germany. 

Community activists in the U.S. argue that this is the result of pressure from the Iranian regime. Kermanian said Moreh Sedgh’s comments about Israel are not shared by the 10,000 Jews still living in Iran and that Moreh Sedgh has no credibility among Iranian Jews in Iran or the U.S.

“First and foremost, Moreh Sedgh’s own history indicates that far more than being the representative of the Jewish community in the Iranian parliament, he is a hand-picked representative of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence for representing that community in accordance with the wishes and propaganda guidelines of the Iranian regime,” Kermanian said. “Secondly, considering the regime’s policies toward Israel and the fear and intimidation that the Iranian-Jewish community faces inside Iran, he might wrongfully think that he is serving the interests of that community by selling himself out to the regime.” 

For more than three decades, many Iranian Jews living in America have been hesitant to voice their opposition to the Iranian regime for fear that their comments may have negative repercussions against their Jewish brethren still living in Iran. Kermanian said the Iranian regime has tried to utilize this retaliatory fear to silence Iranian Jews living in the U.S. but that there are limits to the strategy’s effectiveness.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran needs to be aware that there are certain red lines beyond which our community abroad will not go, and certain issues on which it will not keep quiet, regardless of cost, “ Kermanian said. “The safety and security of Jews and the State of Israel are two such issues.”


To read more about the Iranian regime’s involvement in the current Gaza war, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

Protesters arrested after ‘die-in’ at Friends of IDF office [VIDEO]


Nine protesters against Israel’s Gaza operation were arrested inside the Manhattan offices of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Some two dozen protesters gathered for the “die-in” at FIDF’s New York office on Tuesday. The incident was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say NO, groups opposed to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Twelve of the protesters entered the offices and began reading aloud names they said were Palestinians killed in Gaza.

“The employees became upset and eventually called the police,” said Lizzie Busch, one of the JVP protesters.

Busch and two other protesters left the office when police arrived and ordered them to vacate, according to Donna Nevel, a JVP board member. The remaining nine protesters, including JVP’s executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, were arrested.

Some reporters were on hand to witness the incident. FIDF declined to comment.

Moving and shaking


Etta Ohel celebrated its 20th anniversary at its annual gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that honored a number of local contributors to the organization that provides services to people with special needs.

Michael Baruch, founder of Baruch Enterprises, received the Visionary Award in recognition of his longtime support for Etta. Michelle Wolf, a special needs parent activist, nonprofit professional and Journal blogger, was honored with the Professional Leadership Award at the Dec. 17 event. 

Additional honorees included Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance, and her husband, Ivor, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cardiologist. They were named Etta’s Champions. 

Moishe Bienenfeld, a young man who is diagnosed with autism, was honored with the Young Leadership Award.  

State Assembly members Richard Bloom and Adrin Nazarian, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. County Democratic Party chair Eric Bauman and state Senate candidate Robert Hertzberg were among the attendees. Comedian Mark Schiff served as emcee.

Hollywood talent manager David Lonner has been named to the board of Friends of Yemin Orde (FYO). The organization raises money to support the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, which is home to more than 500 children from around the world, and Yemin Orde Educational Initiatives.

“By giving children a connection to their roots and a safe and loving place to be educated and nurtured, Yemin Orde has produced exemplary citizens for the State of Israel,” Lonner said in a statement on the FYO Web site. 

Lonner, founder of management and production company Oasis Media Group, was voted unanimously to the lay leadership post during the FYO December 2013 biannual board meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. 

He brings experience working with Hollywood power players, including J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”), along with a passion for Israel, to the position. Lonner’s past efforts on behalf of the Jewish state include co-financing programs with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles taking Hollywood professionals there on trips. 

Friends of Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership regional board member Michele Stone and regional president Aaron Leff. 

Last month, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) drew hundreds of young professionals to its seventh annual Young Leadership gala and raised nearly $300,000 in the process. 

The Dec. 14 event at the Park Plaza Hotel drew FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles chairman Ari Ryan; FIDF Los Angeles founder Leo David; FIDF Western Region Executive Director Miri Nash and FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles president Aaron Leff. Additionally, David Siegel, the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, attended. 

Established in 1981, FIDF supports Israel Defense Forces soldiers currently serving in the military as well as the families of fallen soldiers. The Young Leadership division of FIDF Western Region helps with that mission, organizing programs for young professionals. 

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

Young friends of the IDF


As the black SUVs pulled up to the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy on West Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills, a star-struck reception began. More than 500 students waved miniature Israeli flags and sang “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem.” Twelve Israeli soldiers, in their olive and powder-blue uniforms, entered the campus under a wreath of blue and white balloons. They were quickly rushed by children who wanted hugs and high-fives from the soldiers, and to pose for pictures with them.

“This is a very special moment for our kids,” said Chevi Rimler, a staff member at the school, which includes pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The soldiers were at the school as part of a weeklong visit to Los Angeles sponsored by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), a U.S.-based nonprofit that provides an array of social, educational and economic services to soldiers and their families. Besides a whirlwind of kosher dinners, private parties and school appreciation days for all grade levels and across the region, the main purpose of the soldiers’ L.A. trip was to be honored at the FIDF’s Western Region gala on Oct. 22 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

It was an emotional first visit to America for Anastasia Bagdalov, a 21-year-old deputy commander medic from Tel Aviv. The trip offered some respite from the tension Bagdalov faces on duty. She recalled how, two years ago, she and fellow soldiers survived a terrorist attack on an army bus at the Israel-Egypt border. Bagdalov subsequently received military commendation for assisting wounded passengers and for saving the life of a badly injured soldier.

“When I come to places like this … I am speechless,” she said, seeming to be overwhelmed by the school’s warm reception. The soldiers ate lunch with students, and the youngsters presented them with challahs they had baked. 

Among the excited students at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy on Oct. 24 was 13-year-old Avi Weinreb. He spoke at his school’s presentation about his bar mitzvah project to raise money for FIDF’s Lone Soldiers Program, which aids foreign-born soldiers with no immediate family in Israel. “I wanted to help in whatever way I could to help these volunteer soldiers have an easier time while defending our homeland. It was the least I could do to show my gratitude,” Avi said.

The Lone Soldiers Program is one of the many programs provided by the FIDF. Founded in 1981 by Holocaust survivors, the FIDF finances scholarships; offers soldiers vouchers for basic necessities; helps to pay for prosthetics for wounded veterans; and provides educational training, recreational retreats, spiritual services and more. The FIDF also hosts programs for bereaved families and builds facilities such as housing, sports centers and synagogues. 

“The FIDF does not supply the IDF with arms; the State of Israel does that. We take care of them,” said Miri Nash, the group’s Western Region executive director. The Western Region gala, attended by 1,100 people, was the culmination of a yearlong national campaign that raised more than $20 million, Nash said. 

Also in the delegation visiting Los Angeles were L.A.-born Tamir Lerner, 22, and brother Addee, 19, who came as a secret and surprised their parents when they appeared at the gala. Tamir Lerner, a corporal combat solider stationed on the Gaza border, said he feels like a tourist in his own hometown. “I haven’t been in L.A for a year and four months, and we get on the 405 freeway, and I’m getting excited,” he said. 

He described his appreciation to FIDF for giving soldiers “things to brighten our day,” while on duty, including towels, neck warmers and chocolates. Another member of the delegation, who has served as a drone pilot captain for seven years and who cannot be named for security purposes, said he also felt grateful for contributions made by the FIDF.

“It’s wonderful to see that some people were thinking about you, care for you,” the captain said. 

During the assembly, Harkham Hillel Academy students asked the soldiers how often they got to see their families, what food is like on base, what they do for fun and if they were nervous when they first joined the army. 

Shira Razi, 13, later said she was inspired by the soldiers’ visit. “I didn’t know they were so passionate about their jobs and so happy in protecting Israel,” she said.

Moving and Shaking: Jewish leaders celebrate Yom HaZikaron, Milken students discuss Yom HaShoah


Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel Photo by Orly Halevy

Leaders from Los Angeles’ Jewish and Israel communities came together to celebrate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terror, on April 14 at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air. The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles organized the evening ceremony, which took place on the eve of the holiday. Speakers included Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel. Miri Nash, executive director of the Western Region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), laid down a wreath to commemorate the dead. Established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors, the FIDF provides for the well-being of the men and women who fight in the Israel Defense Forces and for the families of fallen soldiers


Milken students meet with Holocaust survivors and husband and wife Arnold and Isolde Schwartzman. Photo courtesy of Remember Us: The Righteous Conversations Project

During the week of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), teenagers from Milken Community High School discussed that time in history with several survivors. During a four-day workshop held April 8-11 at Milken’s campus in Bel Air, 15 students, four filmmakers and four teachers met with four Holocaust survivors to engage in conversation about the impact and responsibility of communal memory. The event was part of the Righteous Conversations Project, which facilitates dialogue between survivors and teens. At the gathering, posters from “Voices & Visions,” a poster art campaign involving quotes from notable Jewish thinkers, added a layer to the workshop’s exploration into the role of media messages in today’s world. Attendees included Los Angeles filmmaker and “Voices” artistic director Arnold Schwartzman, who served as the workshop artist-in-residence, and his wife, Isolde.


Dan Friedman

The Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC) has named Dan Friedman as its program director. The New Jersey native, who was hired in mid-February and will oversee community programming implemented by the SIJCC and East Side Jews, previously served as producing director at the
Greenway Arts Alliance and as the program director at the Sholem Community. “I am excited about working in this position,” Friedman said. “The vibrant, unique people and energy that makes up the East Side of Los Angeles is packed with creative voices and people excited to engage in discourse and build a community.”


This month, the West Coast Region of American Friends of Ramban Hospital named Steven Karash as its new director. The former executive vice president of advertising and marketing for the Jewish Journal, Karash spent the majority of his career on the staff of the New York Times Media Group in Los Angeles, where he held sales and management positions.

Pink Floyd’s Waters takes some credit for Wonder’s decision to skip FIDF event


Pink Floyd's Roger Waters took partial credit for Stevie Wonder's decision to pull out of performing at a Friends of Israel Defense Forces event.

In an interview with Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian media outlet, Floyd said he was one of several dignitaries who wrote to Wonder in an effort to dissuade him from playing at the Los Angeles gala in December.

“I wrote a letter to him saying that this would be like playing a police ball in Johannesburg the day after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a great thing to do, particularly as he was meant to be a U.N. ambassador for peace.”

He said South African leader Bishop Desmund Tutu also sent Wonder a similar message.

During the interview, Waters compared Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the treatment of blacks in South Africa under the apartheid regime and argued sanctions against the Jewish state were the most “effective way to go.” Waters has endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

“I think that the kind of boycott that was implemented against the apartheid regime in South Africa back in the day is probably the most effective way to go because the situation is that the Israeli government runs an apartheid regime in Israel, the occupied territories and everywhere else it decides,” Waters said. “Let us not forget that they laid waste most of Lebanon around the time I started getting involved in this issue. They destroyed airports, hospitals, any public buildings they could.”

Waters, the creative force behind the progressive rock band, complained that the media in the U.S. had intentionally ignored covering his protests against Israel in recent years, speculating it was “under instructions from somewhere not to report these things to the American public, on what grounds I cannot guess.”

The two Israels: Balancing Israel of War and Israel of Peace


There’s been a lot of talk in our community lately about this notion of “balance,” particularly around the question of whether Israel supporters should balance their support for Israel with empathy for the enemy.

This is an important subject — balancing the love for our own people with our concern for the world at large. In times of war, as we’ve seen, this search for balance can get quite emotional and tricky.

But while we’ve been focusing so loudly on this particular balancing act, there’s another balancing act that I don’t think we’ve heard enough about.

This one is more introspective and inner-directed, and deals not so much with our enemies as with Israel itself.

It’s the balancing act between the Israel of War and the Israel of Peace. 

Between the Israel that is forced to fight to defend itself and the Israel that wants to live in peace and enjoy life.

Both Israels were on display the other night in front of an overflow crowd at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel.

On the surface, you’d think the night would be all about the Israel of War.

(In fact, in my case, the “war” started even before I entered the hotel, as I was greeted on the street by anti-Israel demonstrators shouting charming questions like: “Are you going to the war-crimes dinner?”)

Most of the evening, naturally, was dedicated to the IDF. We saw videos of heroic exploits on the battlefield and heard live and moving speeches from those very heroes. (One of the speakers lost an arm in an enemy attack and re-enlisted for combat duty after a long period of rehabilitation.)

Perhaps the most moving speaker of the night was an Israeli mother who lost two sons in combat. It wasn’t only her unspeakable grief that held the crowd. It was her unbroken spirit.

She embodied the two Israels.

Her unbroken spirit and defiance embodied the Israel that must defend itself in order to survive.

Her overwhelming grief embodied an Israel that longs for a day when Israeli mothers won’t have to hear the knock of army officials coming to announce tragic news.

Both Israels seemed embedded in the soldiers, as well. They were warriors, but they were also grudging warriors.

From the humble way they spoke, from their obvious love of life, what came across was that they fought because they had to, not because they wanted to.

It was timely that the event coincided with the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, which also can be said to embody the two Israels.

As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, the Chanukah story began as a simple story of a military victory, with the stunning success of Judah Maccabee and his followers as they fought for their religious freedom.

But after the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, there were rabbis who thought the holiday should be abolished. Why celebrate a freedom that had been lost?

Because, as Sacks writes, “Freedom may have been lost but hope was not yet lost.”

That’s how the miracle of the oil lasting eight days became the central narrative of Chanukah.

This is a narrative that was born in war and was reborn in light. 

It’s hard not to see the connection with modern-day Israel, a country born in war that has tried desperately to be reborn in light. 

The Israel of War has always made a lot of noise, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Israel is a tiny nation surrounded by enemies with no mercy, and it has to fight like the Maccabees just to survive.

But it’s fascinating to see how, despite all the wars, the Israel of Peace — the one that loves to celebrate life and help the world, the one that embodies the hopeful light of Chanukah — still hangs in there, trying to make noise of its own.

It’s that very Israel we saw near the end of the FIDF dinner, when a female Israeli soldier, backed by Hollywood impresario David Foster, got up to sing an American pop song that brought the house down.

As she sang, I couldn’t help thinking that this same girl might be fighting in a war soon, or might already have fought in one. There on stage was the living contradiction represented by the Israels of War and Peace — a singing soldier.

Maybe, then, this is the balancing act that American supporters of Israel should spend more time reflecting on. It’s a balancing act that is done not in America but in Israel, by a people trying to balance the need to fight with the love to sing, and the pain of grief with the will to live. 

$14 million raised without Stevie Wonder at FIDF gala


Despite a stormy week of protest and provocation following music icon Stevie Wonder’s last-minute pullout from the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region dinner, the Dec. 6 gala went off without a hitch, raising a record $14 million for Israeli soldiers. 

Approximately 1,450 Israel supporters filled the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in Century City for the annual gala hosted by Haim and Cheryl Saban, including a who’s who of Los Angeles’ Israeli and Jewish communities.  

But for the approximately 130 protesters outside the hotel, the fact that Wonder would not appear made the moment a cause for celebration.

“We are here to celebrate our brother Stevie Wonder for standing up on a principle, the principle that the Palestinians of today are the South Africans of yesterday,” said Shakeel Syed, a member of the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. “He had the courage and principle to defy the oppressors and defend the oppressed.”

As FIDF guests drove past, the protesters shouted, “Shame on you!” “Stop killing children!” “Israel is a racist state!” 

Inside, during cocktail hour, Israeli news crews clamored for interviews with celebrities, including Israeli-American business and entertainment giants Avi Arad, head of Marvel Entertainment, film producer Avi Lerner, real estate developer Izek Shomof, Oracle business magnate Larry Ellison and the Israeli-born actress-producer Noa Tishby.

The four-and-a-half hour evening, emceed by “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander, was filled with moving firsthand accounts of the Israeli experience during wartime. Active-duty soldiers flown in from Israel for the event shared personal stories, softening hearts and loosening pockets before Haim Saban personally conducted a live-auction-style fundraiser from the stage.

Businessman and producer David Matalon made the night’s only mention of Wonder, when he pledged $8,000 to the FIDF and, “In honor of Stevie Wonder, another $2,000.”

Saban was quick with a rejoinder: “I’ll have him call you to tell you he loves you,” he quipped.

When Wonder backed out a week before the gala, organizers and sponsors were mostly silent, and speculation varied over the reasons given for Wonder’s decision. 

Many articles focused on the thousands of signatures on a letter and online petitions urging Wonder not to appear. The FIDF’s initial explanation for Wonder’s cancellation mentioned that some individuals associated with the United Nations had pushed Wonder, who was appointed a U.N. Messenger of Peace in December 2009, to drop out.

But in addition to these efforts, voices from within the African-American community in Los Angeles and beyond also put significant pressure on Wonder to abandon his planned appearance.

“The first level, which has been popularized, is the petition campaigns,” said Dedon Kamathi, a producer of Freedom Now, a weekly KPFK radio show about “pan-African political and cultural” subjects. “I think that the real, within-the-family pressure came from a number of black community organizations.”

Kamathi, who first heard about Wonder’s planned appearance from Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman from Atlanta, said leaders within the black community told Wonder’s staff that if he didn’t drop the FIDF benefit appearance, they would picket in front of KJLH, the Los Angeles-based r&b and gospel radio station owned by Wonder, as well as at Wonder’s annual “House Full of Toys” benefit concert at the Nokia Theater in L.A. later this month.

“We take personal responsibility for people like Bob Marley, people like B.B. King, people like Stevie Wonder, people like Public Enemy,” Kamathi said, standing on the sidewalk outside the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel about an hour before the FIDF gala was scheduled to start. “We gave them life; they live in our communities.”

A similar intimate bond applies to the America-Israel relationship, which is bolstered mainly by American and Israeli-American Jews. For many in that group, the FIDF gala is a unique opportunity to support the young soldiers who risk their lives to defend the Jewish state.

Nevertheless, it came as a surprise when, in lieu of hearing the traditional refrain of uncritical and unequivocal support for Israel, emcee Alexander shared some unusually candid remarks about the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a lengthy and serious address, he talked about his love for both Israelis and Palestinians and his work with the organization One Voice, which has exposed him to nuances on both sides of the conflict.

Speaking of his engagement with Israeli and Palestinian civilians, he concluded: “This conflict continues because of the inability of leaders to break through this impasse and find a way to peace.” 

Nevertheless, Alexander was careful to balance his remarks. The most vigorous applause came when he referred to the Jewish state as the most “maligned, underappreciated and hardest challenged nation on the planet” and expressed admiration for its soldiers.

“I believe that the men and women soldiers that defend [Israel] are among the most honorable and noble soldiers the world has ever seen,” Alexander said, though he added that sometimes “they have made mistakes.”

That rationale — that Israel’s military sometimes exercises undue power — seems a plausible explanation as to why Wonder, an avowed peace activist, feared he might compromise his image as a neutral figure by appearing. Although the protesters were quick to claim Wonder as a fellow activist for their cause — one man held a sign with Wonder’s face and the words, “Thank You!” painted on it — in a statement posted on the KJLH Web site, Wonder did not choose sides.

“Given the current and very delicate situation in the Middle East, and with a heart that has always cried out for world unity, I will not be performing at the FIDF Gala on December 6th,” Wonder said in the statement. “I am respectfully withdrawing my participation from this year’s event to avoid the appearance of partiality. As a Messenger of Peace, I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere. In consistently keeping with my spirit of giving, I will make a personal contribution to organizations that support Israeli and Palestinian children with disabilities.”

Inside the ballroom, several Israeli soldiers took to the podium to share stories, all of them heart-wrenching reminders that even with its military might, the IDF has suffered profound losses. Yoni Asraf, an American who enlisted in the IDF, told the crowd how he had lost a limb in a mortar attack during the 2008 incursion into Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead. In a feat of stunning courage and perseverance, he refused to relinquish his post after his loss and spent years rehabilitating himself in order to rejoin his unit.

A Moroccan-born mother who immigrated to Israel to raise a family in peace recalled for the crowd the dreaded knocks on the door — once on the first night of Passover — informing her she had lost a child. Two of her sons died in combat. “I am not broken,” she nevertheless told the group. “You cannot break a spirit.”

After her emotional speech, host Cheryl Saban embraced her, while her husband looked on with misty eyes.

Haim Saban used his pulpit time to talk about the values of the IDF, portraying an army of ideals, of “courage, compassion, strength and sacrifice.”

After millions of dollars in pledges were collected, Grammy-winning musician and producer David Foster orchestrated some light entertainment, with performances by “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard and Chaka Khan, the Grammy-winning “Queen of Funk-Soul,” who sang the hit “I’m Every Woman.”

Friends of IDF expresses ‘regret’ for Wonder quitting fundraiser gig


The head of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces expressed his regret that Grammy-winning singer Stevie Wonder has pulled out of performing at a fundraiser for the group.

Wonder was scheduled to headline the Friends of the IDF annual gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 6. The event raises millions of dollars to support the Israeli military.

According to a news release from group's public relations firm issued Thursday, Wonder's representatives cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given his involvement with the U.N. Wonder is a “Messenger of Peace” of the world body,

“We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers,” Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, national director and CEO of Friends of the IDF, said in the release sent by Puder Public Relations of New York. “FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.”

Wonder's agent at Creative Artists Agency did not return a request for comment.The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general also had no comment on the matter.

The United Nations does not impose restrictions on its goodwill representatives. Wonder most recently performed at a U.N. concert commemoratiing its 67th anniversary. Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust memoirist who is also a staunch defender of Israel, also is a U.N. Messenger of Peace.

Wonder had come under intense social media pressure to pull out of the event. An online petition calling on him to cancel his performance had garnered more than 3,600 signatures.

The petition was launched more than a day ago on the change.org website.

“You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African Apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel,” the petition reads. “Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel’s Apartheid is worse than South Africa’s — will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser.”

A second petition, launched by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, calls on Wonder to “(p)lease continue your legacy of speaking out for the oppressed. Please be a 'full-time lover' of justice by standing on the right side of history and canceling your performance for the Israeli army.”

Wonder performed at a 1998 gala honoring Israel's 50th anniversary.

Stevie Wonder cancels performance at Saban-Chaired FIDF Gala for IDF Soldiers


Legendary pop musician Stevie Wonder has cancelled his performance scheduled for the Dec. 6 FIDF Gala in Los Angeles saluting IDF Soldiers. The event is sponsored by philanthropists Haim and Cheryl Saban.

The 25-time Grammy winner was to appear for an expected 1,200 FIDF supporters, including dignitaries from the U.S. and Israel, at the FIDF Western Region Gala, which is also scheduled to feature Grammy Winner David Foster & Friends with “Seinfeld” Veteran Jason Alexander as Emcee.

According to a press release issued on the morning of Nov. 29:

“Representatives of the performer cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given Wonder’s involvement with the organization.  FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon: ‘we regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers. FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.’”

[Related:

The story behind the Hotel Shangri-La anti-Semitism trial


It was late in the afternoon on Aug. 15, a Wednesday, when the jury delivered its verdict to a Santa Monica courtroom. The discrimination case that had been brought against the oceanfront boutique Hotel Shangri-La by a group of young Jews had been going on for nearly four weeks, and the jurors had taken five full days for their deliberations. It was so late in the day, in fact, that James Turken, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, and some of his clients who were still standing by, had to be let into the locked courthouse building in Santa Monica by a security guard.

And even though Turken was already hopeful that the jury’s prolonged deliberation might mean good news for his side, it wasn’t until the attorney took a seat in the courtroom that he found out for certain just how overwhelming their victory was.

A court employee had already begun reading the jury’s verdicts for each of the 18 individual plaintiffs, and, with each additional decision, the message became increasingly clear: The jury firmly believed Turken’s clients’ allegations that the hotel and its president, CEO and part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, had illegally discriminated against them, solely because they were Jewish.

The total amount in damages and statutory payments awarded to the plaintiffs on that day added up to about $1.2 million. On the following day, because the jury found the defendants had acted with “malice, oppression and fraud” against most of the plaintiffs, they would also impose a fine on Adaya and the hotel of $440,000 in punitive damages — bringing the size of the total penalties to more than $1.6 million.

But Turken was already elated on Wednesday.

“Home run,” Turken whispered to this reporter. “Home run.”

This story dates back to two years before, to July 11, 2010, when the plaintiffs, most of them affiliated with the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), all attended a pool party organized by the group at the Shangri-La.

The group had made arrangements for the event through an event promoter, Scott Paletz, who had been bringing people to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant since March of that year. Starting at 11 a.m. on that Sunday, the FIDF group had been allotted a cordoned-off area on the pool’s deck, where members had installed a pair of banners announcing their presence. At a check-in table in the courtyard, a blue shirt was displayed with the word “Legacy,” the FIDF program the group was fundraising for that day. It’s a program that brings the young relatives of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty for a month-long stay at a summer camp in the U.S.

Adaya, 48, a Pakistani-born Muslim, was also at the pool that day, there to watch the World Cup final game in her cabana. After examining some of the FIDF group’s promotional literature, Adaya instructed members of her staff to take a number of actions against the group — including forcing the FIDF group to take down its banners, literature and other evidence of the organization’s presence. Many of the plaintiffs testified to seeing hotel security guards inform some of the FIDF guests, all easily identified by the blue promotional wristbands they were wearing, that they were not allowed to swim in the pool, or even dangle their feet into the water. The plaintiffs also alleged they heard from a hotel employee that Adaya had made comments about wanting to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the hotel or the pool.

The hotel staff did not forcibly kick out the attendees of the FIDF party, but their actions, the plaintiffs said, ruined the party. Though it had been expected to last into the evening, the day ended when the plaintiffs left the hotel, around 5 p.m., according to testimony during the trial.

Many of the plaintiffs (most, but not all, of them Jews) also testified that they could not believe they were experiencing discrimination of this sort, at a chic hotel in Santa Monica, in 2010. But that’s precisely what they came to believe had happened, and they were able to convince the jury that Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a far-reaching California state law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

The law entitles all Californians to “the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever,” and though it was adopted in 1959, a time when the most egregious forms of discrimination were directed against African Americans and other people of color, the statute clearly applies to religious groups, as well.

None of the legal experts interviewed for this article could point to a previous case in which the Unruh Act had been used to affirm the rights of Jews in the way that it was in the Shangri-La case, however. (One case, Sinai Memorial Chapel v. Dudler, had been brought in 1991 by a Jewish plaintiff and cited the Unruh Act, but in that instance the plaintiff was accusing other Jews of discriminating against her because she came from Russia.)

“I don’t think it makes new law, because it simply affirmed that there was a violation of existing law,” Turken said of the Shangri-La victory. “But do I think the case is important? Yeah, I think it’s important. My clients wanted the defendants held up to the world and found liable — and that happened.”

Built in 1939, the Art Deco Hotel Shangri-La is situated on the corner of Ocean and Arizona avenues, with a pool set in an interior courtyard, protected from any winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. The clean, white exterior of the 71-room facility glistens in the Southern California sunshine.

Tehmina Adaya’s father, Ahmad Adaya, purchased the hotel in 1983. Reading a March 2010 post on her blog, tamieadaya.com, one might imagine the Shangri-La to be the Santa Monica equivalent of the Chateau Marmont.

“I had the privilege of growing up in and around an LA institution that as Hollywood’s ocean front hotel had a long history of being a hideaway for high profile figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, Diane Keaton, Madonna and Sean Penn,” Adaya wrote, not long after a $35-million renovation of the Shangri-La was completed in 2009.

But if the hotel does, in fact, aspire to a degree of exclusivity, some of the evidence presented in court appeared to belie that aim. When Adaya took the stand as a witness on Aug. 1, Turken asked her if a formal policy exists as to who is allowed to use the hotel’s pool. Adaya responded that a sign now stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool.

Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”

Attorneys defending Adaya and the Hotel Shangri-La maintained throughout the trial that the FIDF group had not made a formal arrangement with the hotel to hold its party there, and therefore the hotel and Adaya were justified in their actions.

Yet in cross-examination on the witness stand, Adaya retreated from some of her previous allegations about the plaintiffs. Adaya acknowledged that, contrary to the report prepared by the hotel’s head of security, the FIDF group was not behaving in a raucous manner. And when Turken asked Adaya about a lawsuit she had filed against his clients, in which she alleged that they had posted libelous and defamatory comments on various Web sites about her hotel following the ill-fated event, the hotel owner admitted that she had no evidence that it was Turken’s clients who posted the comments.

“But their friends did,” Adaya said.

Whether it was Adaya’s own apparent uncertainty about the Shangri-La’s policies — including those governing the relationship between the hotel and the separate company that in 2010 was running the hotel’s food and beverage concessions — that impacted the jury’s verdict, it is impossible to say. At the close of the trial, before jury deliberations, Adaya declined to speak to this reporter. Adaya also was not present in court when the verdict was announced, nor, despite a request by the court, did she appear to hear the additional penalties read on the following day. Follow-up requests for an interview with Adaya for this article, submitted to her representatives, were declined.

A number of members of the hotel staff were present in the courtroom representing her, accompanied by a recently hired communications counselor with a specialty in crisis communications. They spoke in her defense, saying she intends to appeal the ruling.

Ellen Adelman, chief business development officer at the Shangri-La for the past two years, said she had spoken to Adaya that morning, who, Adelman said, was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“I’ve worked for Tehmina Adaya for over two years, and I have always received the utmost respect from her,” Adelman, who is Jewish, said. Adelman described her boss as one of the “most open people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” and said that the hotel employs staff from “over 12 countries” and welcomed guests from “over 21 different countries” in July.

Standing next to Adelman was Miles Lozano, the hotel’s director of public relations and marketing. Lozano, too, is Jewish, a fact he also made sure to note in a conversation during the morning recess.

“I went to Crossroads School with [Adaya’s] children, her children attended my bar mitzvah,” said Lozano, who declined to state his age but appeared young enough that his bar mitzvah might not be such a distant memory. “I’ve always known Tehmina Adaya to be amazingly open-minded as far as religion or anything like that.”

As for the plans to appeal the ruling, Adelman said that Adaya “firmly believes in the judicial system, and she will appeal this.” Defense attorney Philip Black, meanwhile, wrote in an e-mail to this reporter on the day punitive damages were assessed that he was “mystified, perplexed and extremely disappointed in the jury.”

“Appeal expected,” Black added.

Israeli, Jewish Clothing Designers Highlight FIDF Fashion Show [VIDEO]


Flanked by two large flags — one Israeli and the other American — fashion models strutted down a long, white catwalk, showing off versatile fashions by local Israeli and Jewish designers during a fashion show at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on May 12, held in celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut.

“What a wonderful, fashionable way to celebrate Israel’s 63rd birthday,” said Illana Shoshan, a former Miss Israel who emceed the event along with actress Shirly Brener.

Organized by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), an international nonprofit that provides educational, cultural, social and recreational support for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and their families, the fashion show highlighted the IDF’s struggles in defending Israel and their role in humanitarian efforts, including disaster relief in the aftermath of the recent Japan earthquake.

The invitation-only show featured 34 models wearing dresses by 10 Los Angeles-based designers, all either Israeli American or Jewish, including Bar-el, Gypsy 05 and Natalia Romano. Approximately 350 people attended the show.

Of the nearly three dozen models featured, the majority were women. They were escorted down the runway by some 10 men wearing IDF uniforms.

In addition to celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, which took place May 10, the fashion show marked the launch of a new T-shirt campaign by FIDF, the IDF Humanitarian World Tour Tee, with the slogan “Make a Difference,” for $36. The shirts are available on the FIDF Web site, and proceeds will help raise additional funds for FIDF.

“We want to communicate to IDF, ‘Let’s all of us make a difference for the IDF soldiers, because they make a difference every day for us,” Richard Mahan, deputy director of the FIDF Western region, said. “And they make a difference every day for people around the world through all the humanitarian efforts that they undertake, as evidenced [by] Japan, Haiti, Kosovo and many, many more [places],” he added.

Mahan was in attendance at the fashion show, along with Miri Nash, executive director of the FIDF Western region. Four IDF soldiers, currently active, were also at the show, flown to Los Angeles by FIDF for the event.

Of the many dresses and fashions featured, one new dress was created by each designer specifically for the show and inspired by the blue and white of Israel’s flag.

“It’s a great reason — Israel, independence,” Bar-el said of why she participated in the show. “I mean, what else could we do for the community? Come on!”

IDF support ensures bright future for Jews worldwide


The future of world Jewry and that of the State of Israel are inextricably bound. Today, this notion no longer enjoys the luxury of residing in the intellectual domains of the ideological or the philosophical. It reflects a sobering realism to which Jews worldwide ought to awaken hastily and with conviction, and it merits a call to action on behalf of Israel’s security, both for Israel’s sake and for our own, for reasons that are both obvious and otherwise.

Whether to strengthen Israel’s defense, to help maintain its ability to protect or rescue Jews at risk beyond Israel, to support the vitality and success of Israel’s next generations or to promote Jewish identity among our own youth and young adults, it is imperative that our efforts to ensure Israel’s future and our own include an essential commitment on our part, as Jews who live outside of Israel, to the welfare of the young men and women who serve as soldiers in the IDF — Israel’s Defense Forces.

Why so? Consider some of the major challenges and vulnerabilities that Jews living in Israel and elsewhere must face together today and for the foreseeable future.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionIn our era, Israel’s Jewish population has become the world’s largest, and it is the only one in the world with a positive birthrate. As North America’s Jewish population grows older on average and decreases in number, Israel’s continues to grow younger and increases in number.

Jews throughout the world will experience Israel evermore in the generations to come as the center place of the Jewish experience, due to this population shift alone. Therefore, our investment in Israel’s next generation becomes, more so than ever, one of our most important investments in the Jewish future. Moreover, if our own youth and young adults connect to Israel, they will be more likely to connect to the more vibrant expressions of Judaism in the decades to come.

I do not at all mean to suggest that anyone should give up on Jews and Judaism outside of Israel. But we would be wise to ensure that the IDF remains capable not only of defending Israel, but of fostering and encouraging healthy generations to come of the largest Jewish population in the world.

After all, by sheer necessity, due to the large number of young adults and reservists required for Israel’s protection at any given moment, the IDF is one of Israel’s largest social service agencies, it is one of Israel’s most important educational agencies for the purposes of teaching Jewish history and the history of the State of Israel to Israeli youth, and it is often the training ground for technical or professional careers for Israeli men and women who contribute after their IDF service to one of the world’s most advanced workforces and economies or go on to study in some of the world’s finest universities.

In supporting the humanitarian welfare of the IDF, we can help to ensure that Israel’s future is a bright one and that our own children and grandchildren will have meaningful partners in Israel with whom they can collaborate for decades to come in the development of every facet of Jewish life and otherwise.

However, as vulnerable as we are in North America to the population challenge, Israel has its vulnerabilities, as well — some of them equally existential in nature. Iran’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons is a cause for serious alarm; its training and arming of Hezbollah and Hamas with rockets and missiles enables each alone to threaten the normalcy of daily life throughout all of Israel.

Add to these the challenges posed by a conventionally re-armed and nuclear-aspiring Syria and the lack of any reasonable signs of the emergence of a sincere partner for peace among even the “moderate” Palestinian Authority, and it is clear that Israel lives in a neighborhood at least as rough as it has always been.

Israel’s vulnerability to a nuclear-armed foe is compounded by the fact that two-thirds of Israel’s roughly 5.5 million Jews live within a 3,500-square-mile area on the Mediterranean coastline. Iran’s ruler, the Ayatollah Khameini, has therefore posited quite publicly that one nuclear weapon dropped on Tel Aviv would, for all practical purposes, destroy the State of Israel.

Israel’s need to ensure its military superiority is a foregone necessity, given all of the above. Israel cannot afford to spend one dime less than it must spend on its defense, for a mistake worth even a dime could cost the entire country.

Given what the IDF must spend on training, planning, arming and maintaining its personnel, it relies heavily upon the generosity of individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors — both in Israel and beyond — to fund the humanitarian welfare of its soldiers. A great many of Israel’s young men and women serve not only in defense of Israel but with an ever-present awareness that they are serving on behalf of every Jew everywhere in the world.

Their strength gives us strength. Their courage inspires our own courage. Not only are they a source of enormous Jewish pride for so many of us in their decency, humanity and dedication, but they deserve our own support for that which they extend to us every day.

I have met and spoken with literally thousands of Israeli soldiers, ages 18-21, over the years, and I have yet to encounter even one of them unready or unwilling to protect or rescue a Jew in distress anywhere in the world and at a moment’s notice. Our support for their humanitarian welfare is the least that we can do for those who embody and exhibit such extraordinary commitment to the Jewish people and to our homeland.

There are yet other existential threats, some of them growing and deepening, to which Jews in Israel and all of us elsewhere are increasingly susceptible. Advocates for Israel’s demise urge the world toward a normative view that Zionism is an imperialist, colonialist and racist ideology. The campaign to discredit Israel and challenge its very right to exist is organized and energized.

The vast majority of those involved in perpetrating this big lie cloak their anti-Semitism with the veil of anti-Zionism. They manipulate public opinion to affect the foreign policies of countries that have enjoyed cooperative relationships with Israel, including our own, suggesting the “Zionists” dominate the press or unduly influence legislators.

Similarly, they work to isolate Israel, to ban its scholars and products and to tie its hands when attacked by terrorists. Increasingly, Israelis and other Jewish academicians and diplomats are challenged to prove their lack of bias in favor of Israel by repudiating their Zionism and even renouncing their Israeli citizenship.

Of course, we were just reminded by the gruesome attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai by Islamic terrorists that the treachery of anti-Semitism does not differentiate between Israeli Jews and Jews of other nationalities. When it comes to anti-Semitism, all Jews sail in the same boat, and we are seaworthy only to the extent that we remain united.

When the world perceives Israel to be strong and willing to act as it needs to do so, either in its own defense or to deter aggression against itself or Jews anywhere else, and when it is clear that Jews worldwide stand likewise behind Israel’s soldiers both in spirit and otherwise, Jews throughout the world are the safer for it.

Our strong support for the humanitarian welfare of Israel’s young men and women serving in the IDF is an absolute necessity toward this end, as it allows the IDF to focus on its daunting but surmountable job in defense of Israel and the Jewish people, while it supports and boosts the morale of troops who give so much of themselves, knowing they may be called upon to give even more.

Israel’s security rests upon the shoulders of the men and women of the IDF. As do Jews from other countries today, our children will need Israel and Israelis as primary partners for their development and deepening of their Jewish identities. As well, existential threats shared by Jews in Israel and around the world will be addressed in partnership by both together.

However, let’s remember who the young men and women of the IDF are: They are our children, too. They are our sons and daughters, our boys and girls. They are family. They need us. And, they know, at least as much as we do, that we need them.

Both our present and our future are indeed inextricably bound by a sacred trust, and it is up to us to ensure that this trust is never broken.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. Among his various communal involvements, he serves currently as the chair of the National Rabbinic Cabinet of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), as the vice president of the L.A. chapter of FIDF and as a member of FIDF’s national board.

Meet the IDF: Zina Milstein, 19, Infantry Unit 500, Infantry Instructor


A self-described “girly-girl” who loves dressing up, wearing jewelry and painting her nails, Zina Milstein surprised her family and friends when she insisted on going into an important Israel Defense Forces unit.

“A lot of people said that I couldn’t do it because the girls in these roles are really tough,” she said, laughing at the irony. “But I didn’t make aliyah by myself and enlist in the IDF to sit around guarding a peaceful border and making coffee for my superiors.”

Born and raised in New York, Milstein attended Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School until the eighth grade and then went to a public high school in Westchester. The youngest child and only daughter, Milstein has one older brother and four older step-brothers.

The summer before her senior year in high school, she went to Israel on the Chetz V’Keshet (Bow and Arrow) program, which gives tours to groups of Israeli and American youngsters interested in volunteering in the IDF or making aliyah. Milstein knew she wanted to make aliyah and wanted to serve, but she didn’t hear about the Garim Sabach program until that trip.

“It’s mainly for kids who have one Israeli parent, but there were a few other Americans like me, too,” she said. “We just had to work a lot harder to learn Hebrew.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionThrough the program, Milstein was able to spend her first three months on a kibbutz, taking intensive Hebrew courses in the morning and working in the orchards in the afternoons. Although she had a fair knowledge of Hebrew, she couldn’t speak the language well enough to serve in a regular IDF unit.

“I did my testing for the army on the kibbutz, and I didn’t score high enough to be in a combat unit because I’m allergic to bees, and I have asthma and scoliosis,” she said. “But I refused to take no for an answer.”

On her quest, Milstein visited at least 10 different doctors until she could raise herself up to a physical profile score of 72 — high enough to be in a unit that supports combat soldiers like the one in which she now serves.

“I was very Israeli about it, and once I got my profile score up enough, I went to the tryouts and passed the other tests,” she said.

In July 2007, Milstein was officially inducted into the infantry instructors’ unit. The first six months involved hard training.

“We have to understand what they’re going through and how they feel, so if the combat soldiers have to do 30 of something, we do only 15,” she said. “We know what’s it’s like to go for a week without showering and having to carry your pack until you’re exhausted.”

Last summer, after seven months of rigorous training, she began officially teaching soldiers how to be snipers.

“I got mixed reviews,” she said, regarding her family’s response to her IDF position

Training a sniper, according to Milstein, is different than any other weapons-training course. “You have to teach a person how to think, breathe and act like a sniper,” she explained. “It’s not about just knowing how to use a weapon.”

With nine months of compulsory service left, she has no regrets and plans to stay in Israel after the IDF to study dance and psychology. A former dancer, she’d like to eventually go into dance therapy.

“I wanted to do something in the army, not just sit around,” she said. “I get phone calls from soldiers after missions calling to tell me they killed a terrorist and to thank me for the good training. It feels good to know I’m making a difference.”

Meet the IDF: Ido Niv, 21, Maglan Elite Combat Unit


Ido Niv grew up in a typical Israeli home. A second-generation sabra, he comes from a long tradition of military service.

His grandfather was a Holocaust survivor in Poland who made his way to Israel after World War II and later served in the Golan Heights. Niv’s father served in a tank unit in the Israel Defense Forces.

In 1998, Niv’s older brother, Lior, began his compulsory military service in a paratrooper unit near the Lebanon border. On the night of Jan. 31, when Lior was 21 years old and serving as a first sergeant, his IDF post was attacked. The station Lior was guarding that night was bombarded by heavy fire and rockets, and he and two others were killed instantly by a missile.

“I’ll never forget the day they knocked on the door to tell us Lior had been killed,” said Niv, who was 12 at the time. “It was just me and my mother at home. It changed our lives forever.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionFour years later, Niv announced to his parents that he wanted to serve in a combat unit. According to Israeli law, any bereaved young soldier who commits to serve in a combat unit is required to have his parent’s approval, as well as the state’s.

“My parents didn’t want me to do it, and it took a while to convince them,” he said.

For two long years, he fought for the right to enter a combat unit.

“I had the option of taking a light service next to home, getting coffee for the commanders,” he explained, “but I wanted to serve my country. It was a strong feeling for me.”

Eventually, Niv’s parents capitulated and allowed him to take the rigorous physical and mental exams required by the IDF to enter an elite combat unit. In 2005, he was accepted into the Maglan unit, where he completed his compulsory three-year service in November.

“I wanted to be in Maglan because it’s one of the best units,” he said. “But the army basically decides where you go. You don’t have a lot of choice after you pass the exams.”

A day never passes for Niv without thoughts of Lior and what he has lost, but for Niv, serving his country is the most natural thing in the world.

“It changed our lives forever, but when I went into the IDF, the wound was no longer fresh,” he explained. “It becomes a part of you, and you always wonder what he [Lior] would have done after the army, if he would have married and had children, but you learn to live with it.”

During his service, which he is under strict orders not to discuss, Niv often thinks about his brother and what he experienced.

“He was my age now when he was killed,” Niv said, his bright blue eyes shining.

Today, dressed in a white T-shirt and a pair of baggy blue jeans, it’s hard to imagine him as a highly trained soldier, carrying a gun and defending his country.

“I opted to stay for another year in the same unit,” said Niv, who had just completed his compulsory service.

When asked what that will entail, a big smile crossed his face and he replied, “Pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing up until now, but with a lot better pay.”

After an extra year as a “career soldier,” Niv plans to travel throughout South America with friends and then return to Israel to study.

“I don’t really know what I’ll study yet,” he said. “I’ll come back from the trip in a few years and see what happens.”

Meet the IDF: Shimon Siso, 23, Golani Infantry Brigade


Born in Nahariya, a few kilometers from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Shimon Siso dreamed of one day being a soldier in the Golani infantry brigade.

“Everybody in school wanted to be in that unit because it’s the best. I wasn’t the only one,” he said, taking his weapon off his shoulder and placing it gently on the floor.

Dressed in the traditional olive-colored uniform with two stripes on his shoulders and wearing a pair of black boots, he looked younger than his 23 years.

“I was named for my uncle,” Siso said, explaining that his mother’s brother was killed in 1982 by Hezbollah while serving in the Golani. “He was a captain, and he was the only one who stepped out of the tank to look and was killed. Because of that, my mom didn’t want me to serve in this unit, but she eventually agreed.”

In November 2004, Siso was accepted into the Golani’s basic training program. “It’s a difficult unit, because for the first year, every four months they kick people out who aren’t suited for it,” he said.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionAfter eight months in an officer training program, Siso was sent to serve in the Gaza Strip, where he was a commander for seven and a half months. One night under cover of darkness, he and the soldiers in his unit were sent to infiltrate the home of a wanted terrorist and take him into custody.

“The terrorists send missiles into Israel from schools in highly populated areas, so we have to go into their homes to get them without hurting innocent passersby or children,” he said. “We usually succeed in our missions, but we sometimes have to give up the lives of our soldiers in order to do it.”

By the time the Golani unit under Siso’s command had captured the terrorist, the sun had come up. They were waiting inside with him until night fell again to leave, when three terrorists came to one of the doors of the house’s lower level. The terrorists surprised them by firing an anti-tank missile into the room. Siso was upstairs on the second level when the explosion erupted below, stunning the soldiers under his command.

“I ordered all of my soldiers to come upstairs. Most of them were in shock and lightly wounded,” he remembered. “Then I heard the medic call out that he has a serious injury, so I went downstairs.”

He sent the medic and the heavily wounded soldier upstairs and decided to go around the building alone to stop the terrorists, even though he had no idea how many there were or what other weapons they had.

“They were shooting into the building through the second door, so I knew where they were,” he said. “I came around the side and killed them.”

His act of bravery saved the lives of the remaining soldiers in the house that day, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor, which he proudly wears on his uniform. “It has an olive branch over a sword to signify that Israel wants peace, but we are ready to go to war,” he said.

Siso, who is currently a lieutenant, went to New York last October with a group of fellow soldiers to tell his story, thank the Jewish federations for their support and explain to young Jewish Americans what it’s like to serve in the IDF.

“I want to say thank you to the American groups that support us,” he said. “We just spent a week in Ashkelon at a hotel with a pool relaxing, and one federation sent us gym equipment and a Torah. Their support helps.”

Siso lost one soldier in the Gaza operation, and his best friend in the Golani was killed when a group of Hezbollah terrorists fired a missile at their base. Partially because of the people he has lost, he decided to serve another five years in the army, two of which will be spent in classes and the remaining three he will serve as an officer.

“I will probably serve five more after that,” he said, a wide smile lighting up his big brown eyes.

“I have a mother and a father who go to work every day, and I have two younger brothers and a younger sister who go to school freely. I do what I do so that they and my children and grandchildren can live in peace as Jews in Israel. I’ve lost friends who gave up their lives for this. This is my path.”

Leo David: From Israel soldier to soldiers’ friend


Leo David likes to think big.

Shortly after he founded the Western regional branch of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in 1981, he started planning for the initial dinner gala and scouted for some appropriate entertainment.

He flew to Las Vegas, twisted the arm of Sammy Davis Jr. and for good measure, also enlisted Bill Cosby.

The party on the 20th Century Fox lot was a big success.

For David, the idea of making the lives of Israeli combat soldiers a bit more pleasant wasn’t much of a stretch. All he had to do was to think back to his own service as a 22-year-old in the War of Independence.

“I fought in a tank unit, though we didn’t have any real tanks in the beginning,” he reminisced during an interview in his well-appointed condo in a Westwood high rise. “So we got some trucks, attached some armor plating and called them tanks.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionToward the end of the fighting in 1949, David sustained a severe foot wound.

David came from a relatively affluent family, which had left Germany in late 1933, but most of his comrades, like most Israelis at the time, were quite poor.

“They had no money for recreation or an evening off base, so once a month, I’d take them all out for a kumsitz [the Israeli combination of bull session, sing-along and barbecue],” he recalled.

During his 82 years, David has lived through quite a slice of history, has made a lot of money and has given a lot of it away.

“I’ve never worried too much about money, because I thought I could always make more,” he said.

David was born in Dusseldorf in western Germany, the youngest of three sons of a prosperous shoe factory owner.

Unlike many other German Jews, the father immediately recognized the danger signals when Hitler came to power in 1933. He left with his family later that year for Holland and in 1934 moved to Palestine, where he bought a farm and orange grove.

Young David studied at a religious school, but in 1943 the adventurous 16-year-old joined the Palmach, the elite unit of the nascent underground army.

“It was training all the time, with nothing else to do,” David said, so after four months, he switched to Lehi, also known as the Shtern Group, to see some action.

Although David was not particularly interested in politics, the switch meant a move from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum then. Lehi was the most militant and extremist of the Jewish underground forces, battling the British mandatory authorities relentlessly and, in turn, hunted down by the police.

In 1948, when Israel declared its independence, David and his fellow Lehi fighters became part of the country’s regular Haganah forces.

With the war over, David studied to become a diamond cutter and, with the family’s resources behind him, became the owner of a diamond factory.

However, by 1956, he was ready to move again. Describing himself as “politically on the right,” David “didn’t like Israel’s ‘socialist’ government,” sold his Israel diamond factory and started a new one in New York.

There he met and married his lifelong partner, Ruth. Together they moved to Los Angeles in 1959. He studied home construction and soon became a major builder of homes and apartments.

When the industry took a downturn in 1963, he switched again to manufacturing cassettes and speakers for car radios. From that base he established a chain of Leo’s Stereo stores.

In 1978, he put up some money to open a Los Angeles office for the Friends of the IDF and pledged to underwrite all the organization’s office and administrative expenses.

“In the beginning, we had 10 board members, all Israelis, but now our region is active from San Francisco to San Diego, and we are training a new generation of leaders,” he said.

Asked whether he was now retired, David bristled.

“I currently run 10 different businesses,” he said, including developing shopping malls, manufacturing electronic equipment, real estate, making and distributing clothes and, as a true Angeleno, producing TV commercials and movie features and trailers.

ALTTEXTAll that activity leaves him little time for his hobby, golf, but he makes it a point of visiting Israel once or twice a year.

The trips to Israel give him a chance to inspect some of the facilities supported by Friends of the IDF and to meet with a new generation of Israeli soldiers and airmen.

“We first got involved when the commanding officer of the Ramon Air Force base asked whether we could help support a small sports club where the men could work out in their free time,” David recalled.

From there, the program expanded to other bases and to such facilities as libraries and auditoriums for movies and live performances.

Since most Israeli men and women start their military duties right after finishing high school, they need to learn civilian skills after their army discharge. To help them, Friends of IDF subsidize college costs by providing for their living expenses during their studies.

“What we need to understand is that most of the youngsters in the service come from relatively poor homes and that the army provides them only with food and uniforms,” David said. “There are no extras or luxuries.”

Photo: Leo David with IDF soldiers during Friends of the IDF 60th Anniversary Mission last May. Photos courtesey Leo David

Friends of the IDF (FIDF) gala to honor 30 soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces


ALTTEXT

When the local Friends of the Israel Defense Forces join for a gala dinner on Dec. 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the guests of honor will not be a few major donors or civic dignitaries but 30 Israeli soldiers.

“We never honor an individual, only a group of soldiers,” said Leo David, founder of the organization’s Western regional branch.

The soldiers, male and female, serve in different combat units, and each has lost a relative in war or through terrorist attacks.

They will be hosted for a week by Friends of the IDF (FIDF) as part of its Legacy Program, one of the national organization’s many activities to provide some enjoyment and recreation for Israel’s defenders.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionWith Israeli resources strained to assure quality training and equipment for the army, navy and air force, the mission of the FIDF and its Israeli counterpart, the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, is to provide the extras and comforts to relieve the daily pressures of combat service.

The projects include building recreation clubs, sports centers, synagogues, swimming pools, theaters and libraries. In addition, there are scholarships for veterans, packages for wounded soldiers, financial aid and summer camps for families of fallen soldiers and wide-ranging cultural programs.

Friends of the IDF is the American partner of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, an independent, non-profit organization that supports social, educational and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel.

The Association is the outgrowth of the Committee for the Welfare of Soldiers, founded in 1942 by David Ben-Gurion. The committee’s first order of business was rounding up donations of blankets for the pre-state settlement’s fledgling Jewish Brigade.

The association is not subsidized by the government, the Israel Defense Forces or any other body.

Through Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, the association receives funding and other support to carry out its programs. FIDF support includes building, maintaining and operating 17 modern and sophisticated facilities, establishing and renovating hundreds of clubrooms and fitness rooms on IDF bases, and caring for IDF soldiers through a variety of programs.

The Wounded Soldiers Program assists hospitalized soldiers, wounded during terrorists’ attacks, operational activities and other circumstances.

The soldiers receive help with such items as personal kits, laptops, cable television, personal and hygiene items, access to armored ambulances, medical simulators, medical transportation vehicles and respiratory devises.

According to FIDF, there are between 14,000-20,000 hospitalized soldiers every year in 15 hospitals in Israel.

The SPIRIT Program provides rest and relaxation facilities to Israel’s combat battalions and units. Combat soldiers spend a week at these FIDF-funded facilities, which offer all-inclusive meals and snacks, Air-conditioned rooms with cable TV, swimming pools and saunas, interactive games and dance halls, movies, internet and live performances.

Over 13,500 soldiers benefited from the SPIRIT Program in 2007.

FIDF programs also include mobile gyms, which allow Israeli soldiers and sailors to stay in shape.

Recently initiated is the Adopt a Battalion program, in which an individual or group supports one of the IDF’s 130 combat battalions for a three-year period.

At a cost of $25,000 a year, the program underwrites special breaks in the training and fighting routine, such as fun day at a recreational facility, sports day, or a celebration marking the end of the 18-month training period.

Other special events honor outstanding soldiers or marking Rosh Hashanah and Passover observances.

Donors receive regular reports and photos on the progress of the adopted battalion, opportunities to meet with soldiers, and, after three years, a plaque certifying the donor as an honorary member of the battalion.

The Lone Soldier program provides hospitality and support services to the thousands of Israeli soldiers who have no family in Israel.

The FIDF also provides services to the families of soldiers who have fallen in defense of Israel — nearly 3,000 bereaved individuals benefit from these programs, according to the organization.

Since the state’s founding, some 22,500 Israeli soldiers have died in line of duty, and the Legacy for Fallen Soldiers program tries to lighten the burden of the bereaved families.

The program provides vacation and recreation weeks for the widows and children, summer camps for kids, trips to the United States, and special help for bar and bat mitzvah celebrations.

Legacy offers the bar and bat mitzvah age children of fallen soldiers a 10-day visit to the United States, where they are hosted at local summer camps and travel around the United States. FIDF sponsors all costs, including flights, camp fees, accommodations and entertainment.

Soldiers who continue to serve their country while overcoming the loss of a family member killed in action can also participate in FIDF’s Legacy program, which brings both male and female active-duty soldiers to the United States for a period of 10 days. The soldiers can have fun, relax, visit major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, and connect with local Jewish communities. They also have the opportunity to interact with other group members who have also experienced the loss of a family member.

And 30 of these Legacy program soldiers will be the honored guests at FIDF’s Dec. 11 gala.

The event will also include music by David Foster, featuring Lionel Richie, Katharine McPhee and Charice, with media mogul and philanthropist Haim Saban, and his wife, Cheryl, serving as dinner co-chairs.

For more information, contact FIDF Executive Director Miri Nash at (310) 305-4063 or e-mail california@israelsoldiers.org.

Photo: Women of the IDF