Photo from Jewcer.

Fundraiser Launched For Marcus Freed

Say the name “Marcus Freed” and many Jews in Los Angeles and beyond know exactly who he is.

The 42-year-old British-born actor, teacher and author has been living in Los Angeles for several years now. He’s a regular staple at Pico Shul and he’s reinvigorated many Jewish lives by using his artistic talents to allow people to connect with their Judaism.

From his Bibliyoga classes to his Kosher Karma Sutra books, his one man show about King Solomon, his Shabbat services at Pico Shul, his Soul Revival sessions or a myriad of his other Jewish and artistic endeavors, Freed is a much sought after teacher and educator as well as beloved by Jewish communities around the world.

On Nov 3, Freed was on his way home from synagogue near Olympic and Shenandoah/Sherbourne when he was hit by a car traveling at about 10 miles per hour.

In shock, Freed asked the driver to take him to his friend Metuka Daisy Lawrence’s house a few streets away. He never asked the driver for his details.

Lawrence told the Journal, “Marcus knocked on the door and said, ‘Hi, I’ve just been hit by a car.’” Despite insisting he felt fine, Lawrence said, “I told him we should get him checked out by a doctor and walked with him the four blocks to his apartment to get his medical card.” But once there, Lawrence suggested they call Hatzolah (the Jewish emergency service). “They were there within 90 seconds,” Lawrence said, “and one of them realized right away that something was wrong.”

Freed was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center and underwent immediate brain surgery to stem bleeding in his brain. By Sunday morning he had been moved out of the ICU into a regular room. But on Tuesday morning he was back in surgery for a second attempt to stop the brain bleed. That surgery went well and if all goes to plan Freed could be out of the ICU within the next 12 hours.

Because Freed has only basic MediCal insurance, his close friend Audrey Jacobs, who is a crowd funder by profession, launched a campaign to raise $250,000 to cover Freed’s extensive medical costs. When Jewcer, the Jewish crowdfunding organization heard about Marcus’s plight they waived all their fees to host his fundraiser on their platform.

“I truly believe in the power of the crowd to fund ideas, to change people’s lives and help others in their time of need and I’m so grateful that Jewcer exists and did this for Marcus,” Jacobs said.

Within 48 hours almost $100,000 had been raised on the site. “That’s because people are truly inspired by who he is,” said Jacobs.

Throughout his ordeal, Freed has remained in great spirits and has been lucid. The nurses have been overwhelmed by how many visitors he’s received.

“It’s truly a miracle that he could have had two brain surgeries and be as lucid and charming as he always is  – joking and sharing his words of Torah – it comes from a real sense of gratitude from God,” Jacobs said.

Lawrence, who has known Freed for years, said of all Freed’s joking, “I told him ‘I know you love to perform, but you need to stop performing for your visitors so you can heal.’”

Following the accident, Freed’s parents – Jill and Barry – flew in from London on a one-way ticket and plan on staying here until Freed is ready to leave the hospital.

Speaking by telephone to the Journal from their son’s apartment – on a rare break from their hospital vigil – the couple said they are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support.

“I don’t know how we would have got through the last four days without the amazing Pico Shul community and especially Metuka [Lawrence] who was there through the darkest hours,” said Jill.

“She saved his life,” Barry said.

“And the wonderful care he’s receiving at the hospital,” Jill added.

They’re also in awe of how much money has been raised for Freed’s medical bills. “We are very humbled and totally embarrassed,” said Jill. “It’s not our style to ask for anything. My immediate thought was, ‘We’re going to have to sell our home, but as long as [Marcus] lives that was the main thing.’”

Barry choked up speaking of all the donations that have come through the Jewcer site. “We saw donations from everything from $10 to $5,000 but we also saw people that donated $1 and that was the most moving thing for me. People were giving whatever they could.”

Were the Freed’s aware of how much of an impact their son has had on the community?

“No,” said Jill. “However much one loves their children or how proud they are, you don’t expect this.”

The couple was here two years ago for Freed’s 40th birthday and said they met all his friends and realized that he would be fine. “He had a new family here in Los Angeles,” Jill said. “There are so many people I’d like to name: Audrey and Metuka and Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein and Rabbi Levin.”

For now, the Freeds are focusing on one day at a time. “We’re hoping he’ll be out of hospital sooner rather than later,” said Jill. “We just want him settled back home and to put him back in the safe care of his Pico Shul community.”

“Please God, he’ll make a full recovery,” Barry said. “And we want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts.”

To date, Freed’s prognosis is good but he has a long road ahead and the bills keep piling up. “We haven’t even got the ambulance bill yet,” said Barry.

You can donate to Freed’s recovery fund by going to

Lawrence is also asking everyone to pray for Freed. His Hebrew name is Harav Matisyahu Joel Baruch Ben Gitel.

“Pray for his speedy recovery,” said Lawrence. “Prayer really works.”

Betting on winners at benefit for autism

Within Ed Asner’s family, you don’t just play the hand you are dealt; sometimes you take risks. 

Asked his customary maneuver when dealt a hand of 15 in blackjack, Will Asner, the actor’s 14-year-old grandson, answers without hesitation: “Hit” — even though drawing a card higher than a six will result in an automatic loss.

“He’s aggressive,” said Will’s father, Matt.

Ed Asner, the family patriarch, likes the game of poker. Inspired by his close relationship with his grandson, who is on the autism spectrum, Ed Asner has gone all-in supporting a celebrity poker tournament and casino night that bears the Emmy-winning actor’s name. Proceeds from the fourth annual Ed Asner & Friends Poker Tournament — to be held Aug. 6 at USC Tower at South Park Center — benefit the Southern California chapter of the nonprofit advocacy group Autism Speaks. 

Ed Asner has long been an advocate for and contributor to many autism-related events and organizations — one of his sons, Charlie, also is on the spectrum. Five years ago, when Matt gave up his career as a TV producer to become the executive director for the Southern California chapter of Autism Speaks, he dreamed up a creative way for his famous father to lend a hand.  

Matt Asner, director of corporate development for Autism Speaks, dreamed up a poker tournament fundraiser as a way for his father, Ed, to help the cause. 

“I thought about what does my dad like to do? He likes to play poker,” said Matt Asner, who is now the director of corporate development for Autism Speaks. “What better way of kind of celebrating him and making a contribution than a poker tournament?”

The tournament, now in its fourth year, started out small but has grown in number of players and dollars raised, with the 2015 event bringing in more than $50,000. For the Aug. 6 event, which also will feature silent and live auctions, Autism Speaks is hoping to break the $100,000 mark. Actors Dylan McDermott, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean and Rosie O’Donnell are among those confirmed to attend.  

Actor Don Cheadle playing in the Ed Asner & Friends Poker Tournament.

Ed Asner, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in Kansas City, Kan., fully expects a certain amount of this year’s proceeds to come out of his losings. 

“Probably by the third hand, I’m looking at about half of what I came in with,” he said. “People get so enchanted by the clumsy way that I lose.”

Because this is for a cause close to his heart, perhaps he might be losing not only creatively but maybe even deliberately? The 86-year old actor shot his interviewer a deathly stare at the suggestion.

“I’m not that stupid,” he said. “I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid.”

There is a certain amount of his TV character Lou Grant’s gruffness, bluster and salty language in a chat with Ed Asner. Non-family members might be intimidated, but, according to Matt Asner, young Will has long been able to negotiate the crankiness of the man he calls zayde.

“Will doesn’t take his [nonsense]. He hands it right back to him,” Matt Asner said. “He has this uncanny ability to know when my dad is joking and when he’s not. Will has a way of completely transforming him from that gruff, angry person to this soft teddy bear, and it’s a wonderful thing to behold.”

When the subject turns to autism, Ed Asner is both philosophical and humorous. Charlie — Matt’s half-brother — was diagnosed 21 years ago at age 8. At the time, Asner knew nothing about the autism, and battled to understand unusual elements of Charlie’s personality as he tried to find the right school environment and help for his son. Charlie eventually earned a college degree. He lives in Connecticut and is trying to find a steady job.

“There are hang-ups and there are piss-offs, but he’s a refreshing individual,” the actor says of Charlie. “And a frustrating individual. Refreshing and frustrating, the two ‘fr’ words.”

Where Charlie has found some educational success and can function in a work environment, Will — who is less high-functioning than his uncle — may face greater challenges. Ed Asner observes the boy interacting with his siblings and cousins and notices Will’s isolation. 

“While his cousins are roaring through the house creating mayhem, Will keeps his piety,” Ed Asner said. “He creates his own mayhem, too, but it’s not communal, and he’s alone. You see the alone. The alone is the state of the autistic, and that’s what kicks the [stuff] out of your heart.”

Matt Asner says that a long-term goal is for Will to get vocational training, and he is hopeful that Will eventually finds a partner to share his life. He frequently likens autism to an unending quest to find a key to a locked door. Once that door is opened, another locked door is revealed, and you have to try new keys. Will, who was diagnosed at age 4, is part of a blended family that includes two stepsiblings who also are on the autism spectrum. 

“The great thing about Will is that he has this incredible attitude about life,” Matt Asner said.  “Most of the time, he’s the wisest man in the room. He’s not an angry person. He’s just a sweet, gentle soul who is really kind of trapped behind some locked doors.”

After nearly 30 years of watching the outside world relate to people with autism, Ed Asner counsels patience and understanding.  

“The world is filled with people with quirks,” he said. “Most of them find a way to finally live with society, but many autistic people don’t know how to perfect it. Our job — I guess anybody’s job — is to make people realize how many quirks there are out there. We try to preach tolerance, and tolerance of autism and quirkiness is certainly one of the leading areas that can be improved upon.” 

For more information about the fourth annual Ed Asner & Friends Poker Tournament to support the Southern California chapter of Autism Speaks, click

Players have hoop dream to win money for Jerusalem hospital

Former USC basketball standout and Maccabi Tel Aviv star David Blu is headlining a team competing on behalf of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in a $2 million, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament that kicks off on Saturday. 

“Israel is like a second home for me, so, for me, once again, I am playing for Israel,” the Los Angeles native told the Journal in April, while seated on bleachers and applying ice packs to his knees after a team practice at Animo Venice Charter High School gymnasium. Sweat was covering the face of the 36-year-old, who wore a USC T-shirt and swapped his basketball sneakers for flip-flops. 

The 6-foot-7 Blu made aliyah after not being selected in the 2002 NBA draft and joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he went on to win two European championships. Now, he is captain of team Shaare Zedek in the TBT (The Basketball Tournament) five-on-five hoops event featuring 64 teams. 

Shaare Zedek’s first-round game is slated for July 9 at the Eagles Nest arena at Cal State Los Angeles (tickets are available at The championship game will take place Aug. 2 in New York City.

Blu’s team was convened by Adam King, community campaign director for the western region of American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center (ACSZ), the U.S.-based fundraising arm of the Jerusalem-based hospital. 

King, a Pico-Robertson resident with a flair for the bold and ambitious — he ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Congresswoman Karen Bass in 2014 because he believed Bass wasn’t pro-Israel enough — attempted to turn the team’s practices themselves into community-building events that increase awareness about the work of Shaare Zedek Medical Center. He invited supporters and potential supporters of the hospital to the practices to watch the team play from the sidelines, and he spoke about the work of the hospital to the team’s members, many of whom were unfamiliar with the hospital before joining the team. 

“The whole thing circles around the hospital,” King said. “It’s about giving back to the hospital.”

Shaare Zedek is a hospital in Jerusalem that operates the country’s largest maternity ward, treats 70 percent of the country’s victims of terrorist attacks and maintains a partnership focused on emergency preparedness with the Israel Defense Forces.

Paul Jeser, national director of major gifts at ACSZ, is excited about the potential of this tournament to increase exposure of the work of the Israeli hospital, especially since ESPN will broadcast the championship game. 

“If we make it to the round that’s televised, it’s a way to tell our story we couldn’t tell otherwise,” he said.

The team’s players include Cory Reader, a 7-foot center originally from Australia who played collegiately at Brigham Young University and who appeared in NBA preseason games for the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers (he is currently a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley); Nigeria-native Chidi Ajufo, a power forward who played at UC Santa Barbara and in the British Basketball League, and who now works as an actor and stuntman; and shooting guard Bracin Skywalker, who played for American River College in Sacramento. 

“Basically, it’s a bunch of athletic basketball players all across the U.S. competing for $2 million … the idea for us, anyway, is to win $2 million for Adam’s charity,” Ajufo said.

For Skywalker, competing for charity was an easy decision: He “met the guys, the vibe was cool” and decided it was for a “good cause,” he said — after taking his driver’s license out of his wallet to prove to this reporter that his legal name is, in fact, Bracin Skywalker.

Not only are the players not playing for any money, members of the team contributed to the cost of renting the gym, King said. But, for Blu, having a place to play every week, in a city where it is difficult to find a good game of pickup basketball, is worth it. 

“It’s just a lot of fun to play pickup basketball,” he said. 

Taking the Super Sunday pledge plunge with Federation

One week after the Super Bowl, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was celebrating its own Super Sunday — its major fundraising event of the year where volunteers sit at banquet-style tables and make cold calls to potential donors. 

I attended with one goal in mind: to be the best caller Federation has ever seen.

This was my chance to live out my lifelong dream of being a call center representative. (We all have our dreams; don’t judge!) Monies raised — in this case, more than $1.2 million — help fund Federation initiatives such as the Nu Roots program for young professionals, the launching of the Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center for adults with special needs, and Israel advocacy programs.

Upon arrival at the Skirball Cultural Center Feb. 8, I immediately was handed a phone and a “placemat,” which was basically a rundown for callers, equipped with a calling script and resolutions to potential snafus — should they arise. 

Attempting to shmooze with my fellow phone-calling counterparts, I immediately struck up a conversation with a guy sitting alone at a table. “What brought you out here today?” I asked. He ended up being Federation vice president of planned giving and endowments, Joshua Karlin, and my mentor for the next couple of hours. 

At the center of each table were two baskets: one for “yes” pledges and one for its more popular counterpart, “no” pledges. Karlin said if I got a yes pledge, I should ring the bell (like one you’d see at a concierge desk in a hotel lobby) stationed at the center of the table. Every so often, a melody of bell chimes would sing at once. People would hoot and holler, some would clap, and in some instances, the person who sealed the pledge would rise from his or her seat triumphantly. 

I had visions of being Super Sunday’s star caller, bringing in pledges left and right. In reality, most calls went straight to voicemail. The time I did finally get a person, the woman immediately regretted picking up the phone and said she was in the middle of something.

“Remember,” Karlin said, “there are half a million Jews living in Los Angeles and the Federation has about 15,000 donors.” 

Basically, he was sending me to the battlefield with a reality check, advising me not to be disheartened by the odds. Regardless, I felt like I was letting everyone down. Why didn’t I get a pledge and experience the exhilaration of ringing that bell?

I decided to cruise the crowd and pick up some pointers. Sitting just two tables down was a mother-daughter duo, first-timer Miriam Watenmaker and her daughter, Michelle, a fourth-year Super Sunday veteran who attends Pierce College. Miriam experienced what her daughter called beginner’s luck — she got a yes pledge ($136) after her first phone call, but didn’t get any after that. Michelle said she’s accustomed to getting a thousand no’s, “but that one yes makes it all worth it.”

“It takes time and a bit of luck,” she continued, adding that what keeps her coming back is the welcoming environment.

Meanwhile, her mother kept making calls: “Hello Matthew, my name is Miriam,” she said in a pleasant, sing-songy voice. Then she went into her shtick, saying she’s calling on behalf of the Federation and that all monies pledged are helpful “so we can continue to support the community …” 

Then her voice trailed off. “Hello? Hello?” she asked. Matthew had hung up. Unfazed, she went on to the next pledge.

Before sending me on my way, the Watenmakers shared some trade secrets, advising me to ask for people by their first names, to make the conversation personable and to not read the script verbatim — “less machine-like and more personality.”

Another mother and daughter pair was Emma and Alla Doner. Only 10 years old, Emma was too young to make phone calls, so she was stuffing envelopes. As someone who attends Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles’ Camp Max Straus, she wanted to give back to Federation, which provides grants to campers.

“My favorite part of the day is that I’m helping out kids who don’t really have the money to go to camp or have supplies that they need. I think that’s the coolest part about being here,” Emma said. 

“Are you coming back next year?” I asked them. Without a moment’s hesitation, Emma responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

The day started at 9 a.m. with a campaign launch and a community rally to pump up the volunteers, and the day stretched out until 6 pm. Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb was there, too, sporting her trademark cat-eye glasses as she serenaded a mosh pit of nearly a hundred toddlers dressed in their best superhero duds, not to mention a handful of Disney princesses. (That was to support Federation and its educational outreach program, PJ Library.)

Andrew Cushnir, who started as a volunteer at Federation and is now the executive vice president, said the morning’s events “really got the room going, and the people who were making the calls felt in their guts what the Federation is doing.”

It must have worked for Megan Kanofsky, Federation’s program director for Jewish campus life who had a bin packed with yes pledges. 

“Although not everyone is answering their phones — which is to be expected, you’re not going to get all of them — but we’re getting a lot of young adults giving for their first time, which is cool,” she said.

Her secret to success is simple, so simple it’s written at the top of each caller’s placemat: “Remember to smile.” 

Nice Jewish guys finish first

Adam Cohen is in the business of nice Jewish guys.

Back in 2009, Cohen (who considers himself a nice Jewish guy) was sick of seeing bulging pecs gracing calendar covers and finally asked, “Why does it always have to be chiseled firemen?”

The Santa Monica man addressed his  frustration by creating a 12-month pin-up calendar featuring a dozen “nice” Jewish bachelors. That first year, he sold around 1,000 calendars. Now, the calendar is a best-selling sensation, available at trendy chains Urban Outfitters and Kitson. This year’s version features a guy on the cover wearing a plaid shirt and quirky glasses, snuggled up on a couch.

Cohen unveiled his 2015 calendar on Dec. 4 at Kitson’s North Robertson Boulevard location as part of a fundraiser that would do Sadie Hawkins proud: Three guys from the calendar were auctioned off for dates to the highest female bidders.

“For the first time in my life, the woman is buying me a first date,” gloated Mr. November, Rhyan Schwartz, 25. 

By the end of the night, the auction raised more than $600 for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. 

“We auctioned off three guys — all nice, young Jewish guys ready and willing to go on a dinner date with any of the ladies who were bidding,” explained auctioneer Jason Pickar, a 2015 Nice Jewish Guy and rapper who goes by the stage name Chozinn.

“I’m February, the most romantic month of the year,” Pickar told the Journal. “It’s also the shortest month of the year, which I try not to dwell on.”

Pickar said he opted to be the auctioneer because he’s currently in a committed relationship. 

Out of all the guys auctioned, the most expensive bachelor was Jason Lockhart (Mr. May, fondly referred to as “Jason the Indie Film Director” throughout the night), who went for $325. Schwartz, an actor/musician/comedian, was auctioned off for $275, and baby-faced Ryan Lefton (Mr. March), who was the first guy up for auction, went for $175.

“They [the bidders] were just warming up,” explained his mother, Sally Lefton-Wolfe. (Living up to nice Jewish guy expectations, Lefton brought his mother to the event.)

“This is every Jewish mother’s dream,” Lefton-Wolfe continued while holding a Kitson shopping bag. “And you have to see this. I went into Kitson and bought him this: It’s a shirt that says, ‘Nice Jewish Boy.’ ”

In the calendar, Lefton posed with a yarmulke while reclining against a pew. In another picture, he held an open siddur and smiled at the camera — “like they just caught me studying for my bar mitzvah,” he told the Journal.

As part of his strategy during the auction, he said, “I tried to pose a little bit just to hike it up. I unbuttoned one of my shirt buttons just to show a little bit of my chest — despite the lack of hair.” 

Lefton and his date will dine at RivaBella in West Hollywood.

“Now I want him to meet a nice Jewish girl,” his mother said in typical Jewish mother fashion.

During the evening, Cohen, a married TV producer with children, scouted potential Nice Jewish Guys for his 2016 calendar, conducting quick interviews with 15 hopefuls. He said he’s definitely picking at least one, if not more, of the prospective nice guys; casting decisions will be made in February or March.

Already, Cohen has sold approximately 10,000 2015 calendars. He’s confident in his formula — putting personality first.

“When it comes to Nice Jewish Guys, physicality comes second,” he said.

In fact, every nice guy’s headshot is accompanied by a short biography, whether it boasts an accomplished violin player who can perform the national anthem via “hand farts” (“Joel,” aka Mr. January), a medical professional who loves water polo (“Sam,” aka Mr. June) or a pilot who’s afraid of heights (“Max,” aka Mr. September). It’s about the story, more than the face.

“It’s really taking on a life of its own,” Cohen said, “and I should really be capitalizing on that more.” 

Cohen gets lots of requests, specifically from people asking him to start a dating website (to which he responded, “I’m working on it!”) or throwing nice Jewish girls into the mix.

“A couple of years ago, we tested it out and had a couple of months for nice Jewish girls, and people were just lukewarm about it,” Cohen said. “I don’t know why it didn’t really catch people’s attention as much as the guys.”

But regardless, he’s found a goldmine with this particular niche. 

“Plus,” Cohen added, “it’s making a lot of Jewish moms happy.” 

Super Sunday raises $1.3 million

More than 400 volunteers, including 300 phone bankers, helped The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles raise an excess of $1.3 million this month on Super Sunday, the phone-a-thon that marks the beginning of its annual fundraising campaign. 

That figure represents a dip from last year, when the Federation brought in more than $1.9 million. Jay Sanderson, Federation president and CEO, said that’s no reason to worry, however, because of the event’s focus on reaching out to new donors this year.

“For the old model for Super Sunday, we would be calling anybody and everybody no matter what size the gift they had given us. … We don’t do that anymore,” he said. “Super Sunday for us is calling new donors and new donors who have maybe stopped giving. The total amount raised was from new donors, and it’s actually the most money from new donors ever, so it’s a huge success.”

Volunteers, working out of the Skirball Cultural Center on Feb. 9, solicited 1,568 donors during the event that lasted from 10 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., according to Federation Senior Vice President of Marketing Mitch Hamerman.

This was the first time that Super Sunday was held at a central location. In past years, simultaneous phone-a-thons took place on the Westside and in the Valley.

This year, to emphasize that the Federation is about bringing the Jewish community together, the organization opted to consolidate the sessions into a single setting that would be geographically convenient to all. 

“The Skirball Cultural Center has established itself as a center of Jewish life in Los Angeles,” Sanderson said.

Participants included community members, clergy, Federation staff, members of the Federation group YALA (Young Adults of Los Angeles) and even elected officials, such as Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz.

“I always come out to Super Sunday because the Jewish Federation does so many important things — particularly for the Jewish community both here and in Israel, and for the greater community, and I want to do everything that I can to help every year,” Koretz said as he made his way to the entrance of Skirball’s Herscher Hall, where the Super Sunday phone-a-thon was held.

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin; L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer; and former L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, who has announced that she will run to replace Rep. Henry Waxman, were among those making phone calls and filling out pledge cards.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, said he loves Super Sunday because it is an opportunity to explain the mission of the Federation, which includes ensuring the Jewish future, engaging the community and serving Jews in need.

“I must say when I call people, and I share some of those reasons … they enjoy hearing about what their money is going for, all the really important things that the Federation does, and why someone who has never given money for the Federation should give,” he said in an interview.

Super Sunday entails outreach to two groups: donors who have previously provided sums to Federation, and people who haven’t donated to Federation before. Therefore, volunteers do more than ask for contributions. They take time to educate about the Federation mission. 

“Super Sunday is an opportunity for the [already-engaged] community to come together and reach out to the broader community, to engage them in the work of the Federation and ask for their support. … For us, because I believe the job of the Jewish Federation is to build the Jewish community, this is a community-building day,” Sanderson said.

Appropriately enough, the day was about more than just phone calls. Approximately one-fourth of the day’s participants — 100 volunteers — participated in a diverse selection of community service projects across the city. This element of tikkun olam was incorporated into Super Sunday several years ago.

At the Westside headquarters of Friendship Circle Los Angeles, dozens of volunteers excitedy participated in activities that serve the Chabad-sponsored organization’s clientele: special needs children. They stocked mishloach manot gift baskets that the kids will receive on Purim, made decorations for the organization’s upcoming Purim carnival and hung bulletin boards in the center’s hallway.

There, Shelly Brami, 35, colored in a banner that read “Happy Purim” with her two daughters, Shani, 6, and Daniella, 7. Brami, who is of Israeli descent, said that the Federation’s commitment to helping non-Jews appeals to her.

“I understand that they just don’t help Jewish people, but they also help others,” she said.

In Agoura Hills, volunteers joined the anti-hunger organization Food Forward in harvesting oranges from fruit trees, according to the Federation. The group was one of several non-profits that partnered with Federation in hosting service projects. Heal the Bay took volunteers to a beach cleanup effort in Santa Monica, and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles led individuals in assembling care packages for the needy at the Zimmer Children’s Museum. P.J. Library and the Shalom Institute also offered programming.

What do Bush and Pew have in common?

I am often asked if Jews for Jesus missionaries are still a problem. Since most people don’t see them handing out religious tracts on street corners and college campuses, the way they did in the 70’s and 80’s, they assume that they are no longer a concern. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Missionaries like Jews for Jesus and “Messianic Jews” have migrated to the web where they reach our children in the comfort of their home and dormitory room.

Additionally, these missionaries regularly launch crusades in major Jewish populations worldwide and are growing in Israel, with dozen of missionaries canvassing the country and placing ads in newspapers like Ha’aretz and on the side of Egged buses.

Two recent news items dramatize this phenomenon.

The Pew study claims 34% of Jews think you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is the messiah.  Additionally an article in Mother Jones reported that President George W. Bush will be the keynote fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains evangelical Christians from the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Jews for Jesus and the “Messianic Jews” have fought for 35 years to achieve acceptance in society. These news items prove that they have been successful. Today, most Christians don’t think twice about the oxymoron of being Jewish and Christian simultaneously. Additionally, the messianic Jews have gained acceptance by riding on the coattails of evangelicals who support Israel financially and politically.

A number of years ago I was asked to attend a Jewish Federation meeting to hear a well-known evangelical pastor. During the Q&A I expressed my concern about the deception of “Messianic Jews” who wear Yarmulkas and light Shabbat candles. The pastor did not see the hypocrisy of Jews who have accepted Christianity using rabbinic traditions to masquerade as traditional Jews.

This misconception is rampant among the Christian community and George Bush is just another victim of the ploy of thinking it is all right to be Jewish and Christian at the same time.

I believe the Pew study also missed the point. If it had asked if you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is God I think the response would have been dramatically lower than 34%.  Simply believing Jesus is a human messiah is often a convenient compromise for many intermarried Jews. It would be more uncomfortable for them to accept the Christian belief that Jesus is divine.

As we approach Chanukah, we must take to heart the message of not losing our precious Jewish identity through assimilation and apathy. Let’s commit to continue the battle of the Maccabees and say no to being a Jew for Jesus.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz founded Jews for Judaism International and celebrating 28 years at their December 10th Gala. For information visit

George W. Bush to headline fundraiser for Texas proselytizing group

Former President George W. Bush will headline a fundraiser in Texas for a group that seeks to convert Jews to Christianity.

Bush is scheduled to appear Nov. 15 in suburban Dallas to raise funds for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a Texas-based group that says its mission “is to bring Jewish people into a personal relationship of faith with Yeshua the Messiah, knowing their acceptance will eventually mean life from the dead.”

Tickets for the event at the Irving Convention Center start at $250 and rise to as high as $100,000.

According to Mother Jones, which first reported the fundraiser, the $100,000 tickets include a VIP reception with Bush and a tour of Israel guided by the institute’s president, Wayne Wilks.

Moving and Shaking: AJC gives 2013 Community Service Award, Taste of Summer raises $87,000

Rabbinic Leadership Institute graduates include Rabbis Denise Eger (second row, third from left), Ken Chasen (third row, third from right) and Stewart Vogel (front row, fourth from left). Rabbi Joshua Aaronson not pictured. Photo by Yonit Schiller

Rabbis Joshua Aaronson of Temple Judea in Tarzana, Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air, Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood and Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills were recently named senior rabbinic fellows at the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI), following the rabbis’ completion of the institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative.

The elite three-year program of study, reflection and professional development at SHI trains rabbis to transform Jewish life in North America. Participants spent a month each summer and a week each winter studying at the institute’s Jerusalem campus.

During a ceremony in Jerusalem on July 7, Yehuda Kurtzer, president of SHI of North America, praised the rabbis, calling them “teachers, students [and] visionaries.” Other speakers at the July gathering included MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of Israel’s Yesh Atid Party. 

Eger, who was among those in attendance, acknowledged the program’s rigorousness. “It wasn’t always so comfortable; we had to stretch,” she said.

Fred Stern. Photo by Michael Aurit

American Jewish Committee of Los Angeles (AJC) awarded Fred Stern its 2013 Community Service Award in June. Stern is on AJC’s national board of governors and the L.A. board of directors. 

The June 18 reception in honor of Stern, who works as a financial adviser to Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, took place at the Beverly Hills home of Debbie and Naty Saidoff. David Harris, executive director of AJC’s national office, delivered the evening’s keynote speech. More than 125 guests and AJC leaders attended.

AJC backers Madeline and Bruce Ramer co-hosted the event.

Tom Tugend

Steve Greenberg

The American Jewish Press Association has awarded Tom Tugend, Journal contributing editor, a first-place Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism for his feature story “A Legacy in Harmony,” published by Hadassah Magazine, and a first-place Rockower to Steve Greenberg, Journal editorial cartoonist, for “Greenberg’s View.”

Tugend’s article described how Ruth and Judea Pearl have turned their private grief into public good in the decade since their son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Greenberg’s winning cartoons skewered 2012 former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s desire to win the Jewish vote, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel rhetoric and the international community’s response to Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. 

Fulfillment Fund Leadership Council member Todd Hawkins with chef Eric Greenspan, honorary event co-chair. Photo by Matt Sayles, Invision Agency by The Associated Press.

The second annual Taste of Summer, a food, wine and beer festival held at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica on July 13, raised $87,000 for the Fulfillment Fund.

The college-access organization makes college “a reality for students growing up in educationally and economically under-resourced communities,” according to the Fulfillment Fund Web site.

Chef and Fulfillment Fund honorary chair Eric Greenspan co-hosted the gathering. Known for his cooking at The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire, Greenspan expressed support for the Fulfillment Fund in a statement: “I’ve always viewed my most cherished and important role as a chef is to be a teacher, so education is very important to me.”

Vendors included The Roof on Wilshire, Wolfgang Puck Catering, Whole Foods, Stone Brewing and others.

During the event, more than 400 attendees enjoyed bites, drink, music and silent auction – all just footsteps away from the beach.

From left: Floyd Glen-Lambert, president of Jewish Labor Committee's western region; Assembly Speaker Emeritus and honoree Bob Hertzberg and former City Controller Wendy Greuel. Photo by Beth Dubber.

The Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) Western Region’s annual awards brunch held last month marked the 79th anniversary of the organization, as the national group’s New York headquarters and Los Angeles office were established in 1934.

The event also honored Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union-United Long Term Care Workers; Tom Walsh, president of Unite Here Local 11; and Assembly Speaker Emeritus Robert Hertzberg.

The July 14 ceremony in honor of JLC — which describes itself as the “Jewish voice in the labor movement, and the voice of the labor movement in the Jewish community” — took place at Loews Hollywood Hotel.

Butler, Walsh and Hertzberg received the Elinor Glenn Leadership Award, the Henry Fiering Union Advocacy Award and the Abe Levy Chaver Award, respectively.

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

Romney’s peace pessimism draws muted response from Jewish groups

Mitt Romney’s pessimistic take on Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects drew some headlines in the press but not much noise from centrist Jewish groups.

The revelation this week of Romney’s remarks, in which he suggested that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved at present and that the best that could be done was to “kick the ball down the field,” was greeted quietly by centrist Jewish organizations. Only groups on the right and the left ends of the communal spectrum issued statements in response, respectively praising and strongly condemning Romney's comments.

But in interviews with JTA, some centrist Jewish communal leaders stressed that the pursuit of peace should not be postponed, although they were not inclined to criticize Romney.

“To let it fester is not in the best interests of Israel,” said Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, adding that he believed the Republican candidate for president “meant well” in his remarks at a May 17 fund-raiser in Boca Raton, Fla.

Israel’s government “wants to pursue peace and they want to believe there is a partner,” Foxman said, citing the little noticed but successful ongoing security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. “It's not in Israel's interest to kick it down the road, not only in terms of self-interest but in terms of its relationship to the civilized world.”

Without directly criticizing Romney, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the Union of Reform Judaism’s new president, said that U.S. leadership required action in the short term, not just the long term.

“We need to do concrete things every day, not naively and not with sacrificing the safety and security of Israel — although safety and security for Israel means two states,” Jacobs said. “Our tradition requires us to do difficult things in the world. There is no benefit to delaying.”

Jacobs said that even when peacemaking was stalled, there were incremental actions the parties could undertake.

“When it is not the right time, you can put things in place to move it to the right time,” he said.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee declined to comment on Romney's remarks.

Some have noted that the Republican nominee did not rule out the possibility of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace in the future. The initial portions of Romney’s remarks that were released by Mother Jones magazine, which had obtained the secretly recorded video from the Florida fundraiser, were truncated. The full video was released shortly thereafter and included what could be seen as Romney’s vision of how the U.S. can foster the conditions for an eventual peace by being a resolute ally of Israel.

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, 'There's just no way,'” Romney said in the remarks as first released at the $50,000 a plate dinner.

“And so what you do is you say, 'You move things along the best way you can,'” Romney continued. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

Left out of the original reporting was his conclusion to the thought: “So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we’re trying to force peace on them. Then it’s worth having the discussion. So until then, it’s just wistful thinking.”

While opponents to a two-state solution within the Republican Party have grown louder, Romney is not considered to be among their ranks. Romney’s surrogates worked successfully to prevent language calling for two states from being pulled out of the Republican Party platform.

Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International’s executive vice president, said that he understood Romney not to mean that he was abandoning peacemaking but that he was acknowledging that other crises had superseded its importance in the Middle East.

“Events have pushed the issue to the outside,” said Mariaschin, citing Iran’s acceleration of its nuclear program and the unrest in much of the Arab world, particularly Syria. He noted renewed Palestinian plans to push for statehood recognition at the United Nations that have frustrated the Obama administration as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

“As long as the Palestinians are not fighting to get back into the circle” of peacemaking “the prospect for intensifying the process is not there right now,” Mariaschin said.

Romney's remarks on the peace process, however, were criticized by Democrats.

“This guy wants to be president of the United States?” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, told JTA.

“There are problems between Jews and Muslims and this Mormon throws a Hail Mary?” said Ackerman, who is retiring this year and has excoriated all sides — the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians — for not seizing opportunities for peace.

In a series of interviews with media outlets, Dennis Ross, the former Middle East adviser to President Obama and the administration’s most frequent interlocutor with Israel, seemed to suggest that Romney’s remarks were not helpful.

“I'm a big believer in not creating a false set of expectations, but I'm also a believer in that if you think something is stuck, you come up with an approach and try to change the dynamic,” Ross, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Huffington Post. “If you basically just say it's all hopeless, you just make hopelessness a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

But a fellow veteran U.S. Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller, struck a more sympathetic chord.

“To me, the idea that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement may not be possible is simply an acknowledgement of reality,” Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told The Huffington Post. “In my view, the emperor has been seen to have no clothes on this issue for quite a number of years.”

Miller said that he thought Romney, if elected, would tend toward the low end in the spectrum of U.S. engagement with the issue, “what I would call benign neglect” — but that “even Romney would have to find some way of management.”

While centrist Jewish groups have not issued statements in response to Romney’s remarks, groups on the left and right were not so reticent. Americans for Peace Now and J Street, which have pushed for aggressive U.S. action to advance a two-state solution, were strongly critical of Romney’s remarks.

“In dismissing the possibility of achieving peace and expressing readiness to simply sit back and wait for the conflict to resolve itself, Romney has articulated a view that is fundamentally anti-Israel,” APN’s president, Debra DeLee, said in a statement. “‘Pro-Israel’ means being committed to the achievement of peace for Israel, no matter how difficult it may be to achieve or how distant a solution may appear.”

She called on him to “repudiate” his remarks.

But the Zionist Organization of America said that it agreed with Romney’s premise.

“Governor Romney's remarks indicate that, were he to be elected president, he might be willing to do what President Obama and his predecessors, Republican and Democratic, have not done — to act on the realities of the Palestinian situation and apply real, sustained pressure on the Palestinian Authority to change its ways,” the ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein, said in a statement.

Palestinians insulted by Mitt Romney’s comments

Just eight weeks before the American presidential elections, Palestinians are furious over comments by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The private remarks were made in May to wealthy donors but released only now.

Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel,” Romney said, adding that prospects for a two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel were dim.

“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this going to remain an unsolved problem, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that, ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

According to Mother Jones magazine, which posted the video clip of Romney’s comments on its website, the former Massachusetts governor made the remarks at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser at Boca Raton, Florida. Boca Raton has a wealthy Jewish community, although it was not clear how many Jews were at the Romney fundraiser.

“It’s political illiteracy – has he even ever read a book about Palestine?” Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the president of the PASSIA think tank in east Jerusalem fumed to The Media Line. “On one level Palestinians are laughing at this, but on another level it will be very serious if this man has any say in our future.”

The comments come as the latest polls show a close race between Romney and President Obama. Although American Jews account for only two percent of the population, they represent significant voting blocs in important swing states like Florida. Polls show that more than two-thirds of Jews who plan to vote will cast their ballot for President Obama, although many believe he is not as supportive of Israel as were some of his predecessors.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the putative seat of Palestinian government, Palestinians reacted angrily to Romney’s comments.

“He’s buying votes,” 27-year old Morad Al-Siory told The Media Line. “How can you judge Palestine if you haven’t seen both sides? I’m right here and I see it with my own eyes.”

Al-Siory said he had come to Ramallah to visit his family. His father, Mohammed, who owns a falafel stand, agreed with his son’s comments.

“How can you swim if you don’t get wet?” he asked. “I’d love to see American policy in the Middle East change.”

He also said, however, that he was frustrated with President Obama’s policy and that there was only a slight chance that he might do something different than Romney if re-elected.

“In the last four years he’s done nothing” Al-Siory said. “He fooled the Arabs and the Muslims with his speech in Cairo.”

He was referring to the speech that President Obama made in Egypt soon after taking office in which he called for “a new beginning” in relations between the US and the Arab world. It was seen at the time as an effort to reach out to the Arab world.

Palestinian officials also responded angrily to Romney’s comments.

“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief negotiator Sa’ib Ariqat told the Reuters news agency. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”

But other Palestinian analysts said the statements had to be seen in context — as part of the election campaign, where Jewish donors and voters play an important role.

“Palestinians have learned through experience not to take statements made during election campaigns seriously,” Ghassan Al-Khatib, a professor of contemporary Arab studies at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “When you compare what we hear during the campaign and what presidents do in the future, you don’t see the connections.”

At the same time, Khatib said the statements further reinforced previous Palestinian attitudes toward the Republican candidate, who is perceived to have little foreign policy experience.

“This is not a surprise for the Palestinians,” Khatib said. “The impression is that Romney has been extraordinarily hostile and negative towards Palestinians all along.”

Romney: Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‘unsolvable’ [VIDEO]

[JTA] Mitt Romney told fundraisers in a private meeting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “unsolvable” and that his strategy would be to “kick the ball down the field.”

“I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, 'There's just no way',” Romney said at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton hosted by Marc Leder, a private equity manager.

A video of the private $50,000 a plate event was released this week by Mother Jones.

“And so what you do is you say, 'You move things along the best way you can',” Romney continued. “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

Romney and his surrogates have otherwise striven to defend the two-state outcome within the Republican Party, and rebuffed an effort in August to have it removed from the party platform.

Another passage in the fundraising video, in which Romney says 47 percent of voters would vote for President Obama because they feel “entitled” to health care, food and housing, and that these voters do not pay income tax, has dominated headlines, and has led Romney to stand by the comments, while acknowledging they were not “elegantly stated.”

In the video, Romney also says that his team of political consultants includes some who have worked for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[REUTERS] On the West Bank, Palestinians said Romney was wrong to accuse them of not seeking peace.

“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”

Romney plans Jerusalem fundraiser

The Romney campaign has invited donors to a fundraiser in Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the fundraiser would take place on July 29 in Jerusalem and would cost $60,000 a plate.

A donor who has been invited confirmed the fundraiser to JTA, although the Romney campaign formally had no comment. The donor was not aware of the $60,000 minimum.

The July 29 date is the first indication of when Romney would be in Israel. His plan to visit was announced earlier this month.

Ethan Bortnick: Child prodigy, entertainer, mega-fundraiser

Ethan Bortnick was just 6 when he first appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” playing snippets of piano works by Bach, Mozart and Scott Joplin. He even performed his own composition, “The Tiger Ran Away at the Zoo.” By that age, he had already raised $12 million for Miami Children’s Hospital. Since then, he has performed for the Chabad Telethon and the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, among other charities.

Now 10 and having just embarked on his longest tour to date, the accomplished entertainer is, naturally, excited. The 20-city tour of “Ethan Bortnick and His Musical Time Machine” began Jan. 20 in Nashville, Tenn., and stops at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 5, before continuing on until March, when Ethan returns home to Hollywood, Fla.

Speaking by phone from Florida, Ethan recalled his debut on “Leno.”

“That was very long ago, like four years ago,” Ethan said, noting that he’s been on the show three times since, most recently in 2009. He’s also appeared on “Oprah.”

He said his interests are wide. “I love all kinds of music — classical, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, the Beatles. I love Jewish folk songs. I’m not working on one kind of music. I do everything at the same time.”

Even over the phone, Ethan’s irrepressible energy and impressive focus come through. He displayed a disarming candor about a potentially painful subject.

“My brother, Nathan, is 5 years old, but when he was born, we were told he was missing two out of the four chambers from his heart,” Ethan said. “He had half a heart. But at Miami Children’s Hospital, they saved his life. I really wanted to help the hospital, which I did. At the last event, we got Beyoncé, Smokey Robinson and Gloria Gaynor to come. It was amazing.”

Ethan explained how he and his management team arranged a Children’s Miracle Network fundraising event in Orlando, Fla., so they would be at Disney World for his brother’s birthday. “They’re an amazing team that raises money for children’s hospitals. I wrote [the song] ‘It’s a Miracle’ for them.”

Story continues after the jump.