Raising Christian money for Jewish causes, a star rabbi earns praise and scorn


The summer drizzle that soaked the French capital did little to dampen Yechiel Eckstein’s enthusiasm as he arrived recently with his wife Joelle at the city’s Great Synagogue for a private tour.

But a run-in inside with a local community leader moments later — typical, perhaps, of this Israeli-American Orthodox rabbi’s often strained relationships with the Jewish establishment — quickly changed the tone of the visit.

Raised in Canada and living in Jerusalem, Eckstein, 64, was in Paris in June to oversee a major initiative by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews — the philanthropy empire that he built starting in 1983, which now brings in $180 million annually in donations, mostly from Christian philo-Semites. According to its most recent annual report, 73 percent of its annual expenses goes to what the IFCJ calls “mission services,” including “worldwide programs to support relief, outreach, and solidarity with Israel and her people,” including food and clothing for impoverished Israeli children, basic necessities for needy Israeli soldiers and emergency provisions for Jews in Ukraine and other crisis-prone areas.

Reacting to the proliferation of anti-Semitic violence in France and the record-setting Jewish emigration it is generating, Eckstein’s fellowship this summer began bringing large groups of French Jews to Israel (450 have come so far) as part of his oft-repeated commitment to intervene anywhere Jews are threatened.

This activity was nothing new to Eckstein. His fellowship has already arranged the arrival of 4,000 Ukrainian Jews since it started in 2014 to handle Jewish immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from that war-torn country. And it has raised at least $170 million over the years to help bring about a million newcomers to Israel through the Jewish Agency.

But entering the epicenter of an established Orthodox Jewish community like the one in Paris is not routine for Eckstein — a maverick rabbi who is often shunned in Orthodox circles for his outreach to Christians and his study of other faiths, including Buddhism. The visit, to which Eckstein invited a JTA reporter, was a sign that Eckstein is finally gaining some acceptance in mainstream Orthodoxy.

The visit, however, did not go smoothly.

At the synagogue, Eckstein burst into an unsolicited cantorial performance from the ornate pulpit, triggering an angry dispute with a local community boss.

The singing interrupted an interview that Joel Mergui, a senior community representative, was giving inside the synagogue to a television crew from Israel’s Channel 10. Mergui believed, mistakenly, that Eckstein had arranged the crew to record the interview so Eckstein could elbow in on the background, and then use the footage for PR and fundraising purposes.

“It’s a trap!” a livid Mergui exclaimed, ending the interview abruptly. “I host you, advise you to keep a low profile and you use me as a prop for your commercials,” Mergui told the rabbi. The interviewers tried to explain they were not working for Eckstein, but to no avail.

As with countless previous tiffs over public recognition between Eckstein and would-be allies, the fight seemed rooted in suspicion toward Eckstein, and exacerbated by his temperament and easily bruised ego.

Eckstein is also a media presence who has produced infomercials, aired by the Fox network and Christian channels in the United States, promoting IFCJ’s projects around the world. In one video, which generated millions of dollars in donations, he is seen crying while talking to needy Jews in the former Soviet Union, where his fellowship spends $30 million annually on helping communities and promoting aliyah.

Eckstein’s intense emotional style is part of what made this Yeshiva University graduate an odd fit in Orthodox circles. But they are also what made him an instant hit with millions of Bible-loving Evangelical Christians, whose style of worship is considerably less inhibited than the norm in Orthodox synagogues.

“I realized that among the conventionally Orthodox, I would always be an oddball, a square peg,” Eckstein says in “The Bridge Builder,” his authorized biography, which was published last year.

A former professional singer — he used to perform at weddings to keep the fellowship afloat in its early years — Eckstein calmly denied Mergui’s accusation. A tall and broad-shouldered man who played basketball for Yeshiva U., Eckstein assumed a defensive yet non-aggressive body posture as he tried to mollify a much shorter but much angrier Mergui.

Eckstein apologized for his singing, explaining he “just wanted to check the acoustics.”

But Mergui’s reply hit a nerve. “I don’t want you on television singing here without rabbinical approval,” Mergui told Eckstein.

Getting rabbinical approval isn’t Eckstein’s forte.

In 2001, Israel’s then chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Avraham Shapira, published a letter condemning Eckstein’s use of Christian money to “expand Christian missionary propaganda.” Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, an influential haredi Talmud scholar, signed a letter forbidding cooperation with Eckstein, calling it “close to idolatry.”

“I see you’re so afraid of having your picture taken with me,” Eckstein snapped at Mergui. “If you’re so ashamed, maybe you’re the wrong person to be giving interviews.” Turning to his wife, Eckstein said: “Let’s go get some lunch.”

Eckstein, who says in the biography that his father often discouraged him and never really believed in him, has lost dozens of allies and friends in the Jewish mainstream over his insistence on recognition for himself and his donors.

This issue was part of the reason that in 2014 Eckstein cut the group’s $13 million annual donation to the Jewish Agency for Israel and started his own aliyah operation, which offers every new immigrant a $1,000 grant on top of benefits offered by the Jewish Agency — the body certified by the State of Israel to handle aliyah.

The Jewish Agency has accused Eckstein’s fellowship – a nonprofit with several dozen staff and offices in Chicago and Jerusalem — of acting irresponsibly by creating inequality among immigrants to generate PR for himself. Eckstein dismissed the critique as coming from disgruntled competitors.

In an interview with JTA, he said the decision to break with the Jewish Agency owed to what he perceived as incompetence, red tape and a lack of transparency on their part, as well as that body’s reluctance to acknowledge the fellowship’s contribution. The Jewish Agency, in turn, has denied any such reluctance and maintains that it has solved staff-readiness issues that occurred immediately after the surge in 2014 in aliyah both from France and Ukraine.

Ever sensitive about getting a “seat at the table,” Eckstein broke relations with the aliyah group Nefesh B’Nefesh, which he helped establish, over the recognition issue in the early 2000s, he said.

To Eckstein’s critics, this is indicative of an ego problem.

“In his megalomaniacal effort to supplant both the Jewish Agency and the Federation system, Eckstein has become the Donald Trump of Jewish philanthropy,” Sam Shube, a nonprofit consultant and former executive at Rabbis for Human Rights and the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish Arab Education, wrote in a lengthy comment on eJewish Philanthropy.

Jewish federations in North America support aliyah through allocations to the Jewish Agency.

Eckstein accepts the ego charge (“I’m sure I have a great ego, I don’t think anything is done without ego,” he told JTA) but says his insistence on recognition is not self-aggrandizing but aims to “show the donors we’re taking their money and we’re doing, we’re really bringing [Jews].”

He also insists that bodies that benefit from fellowship funding show gratitude not to him but to his donors, “who give sacrificially an average of $75 from their salaries, social security payments, giving up on vacations and cars to help Jews,” he said.

As the top professional at IFCJ, Eckstein is a recipient of some of that sacrifice. From 2002 to 2007, he made an average annual salary of $363,312, plus another $129,596 per annum in unspecified benefits for a total average compensation of $492,908 a year. According to the Forward’s annual salary survey, a dozen CEOs of Jewish not-for-profits, excluding university presidents, make more than that. 

But he earned considerably more after the institution of his pension plan: From 2008 to 2014, Eckstein earned an average annual salary of $464,229 from the fellowship, plus another $419,000 per annum in deferred payments to a pension plan that was instituted for him in 2008, according to the fellowship and a review of its tax-exempt filing. 

John French, the chairman of the fellowship’s board, said it determined Eckstein’s compensation based on annual reviews. The pay “is comparable to or less than that of heads of similar Jewish organizations,” he said. Towers Watson, a leading organizational consultant, ranks Rabbi Eckstein’s salary as average for heads of similar sized charities, French added. The Fellowship receives positive ratings from the Charity Navigator watchdog and has the Better Business Bureau’s seal of approval, according to French.

Eckstein, a workaholic with a packed schedule and no hobbies, has worked tirelessly to give Christians a chance to help what they believe is God’s Chosen People. The challenge, he says, has been to negotiate a path that would neither espouse proselytizing nor prohibit Evangelical Christians’ perceived duty to spread Christ’s message.

His concept for doing so is called “witnessing” – a vision in which Jews acknowledge that Jesus was “a force for good,” as Eckstein says in the biography, and in which Christians leave it up to God to achieve what they regard as salvation for Jews by having them accept Jesus as the Messiah. An IFCJ video assures donors that “You Can Help Fulfill Biblical Prophecy” by donating to the aliyah of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Despite ruptures and setbacks, this modus vivendi has allowed Eckstein’s fellowship to play a meaningful role in Israeli society and the Jewish world. But it came with a personal price. Eckstein has been boycotted personally by leaders from the haredi world, as well as some Christian zealots.

In 1989, a rabbi at his regular synagogue turned Eckstein away from the pulpit during the bat mitzvah of his oldest daughter, Tamar. He says in the biography that the humiliation he experienced then made it the worst day of his life. After his divorce from his first wife, he recalls in “The Bridge Builder,” he sank into a “dark, bottomless pit” for which he was prescribed an  antidepressant.

The setbacks and insults have made Eckstein stronger and more capable of taking on greater challenges, with greater success, he says. “Or, at the very least, they gave me a much, much thicker skin than I used to have,” he added.

L.A. welcomes Israeli Air Force for inaugural dinner


At dusk on May 26, in the courtyard of Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, smartly dressed Angelenos sipped scotch and swiped sushi from hors d’oeuvres trays. Two figures stood out: a pair of Israeli Air Force (IAF) personnel in powder-blue uniforms, mingling politely.

The two officers had flown in for the inaugural banquet of the IAF Center Foundation, the Beverly Hills-based fundraising arm of a civilian-military partnership called the IAF Center.

“I can feel the love for Israel in this room,” Lt. Neta Shinekopf, 25, an IAF Center youth instructor, told the guests after everyone had moved inside for the gala.

Framed photographs of Israeli aircraft hung from the ballroom balcony, where the $500-a-plate dinner was held. Before dinner was served, the photos were auctioned for as much as $3,000 apiece. 

Though the foundation wouldn’t disclose exactly how much was raised, a spokesperson said it was enough to sponsor 50 Israeli high schoolers to attend the center’s youth leadership training program, which includes a four-day boot camp.

“We’re able to build together a bridge between the force in uniform and the youth,” Brig. Gen. Uri Oron, director of IAF intelligence, who also traveled from Israel to attend the event, told the Journal.

Simcha Salach, executive director of the center, said it was founded some 16 years ago, when a group of air force veterans began looking for a way to give back to the institution responsible for securing Israel’s skies.

Visiting high schools, they began to understand the impact they could have simply by donning their uniforms and speaking with young people.

“We saw the admiration,” Salach said. “We saw how the younger generation are looking at the Israeli Air Force.”

Also at the gala was Lt. Ben (his last name was withheld because he is an active duty combat officer), an IAF fighter pilot originally from New Jersey. He knows firsthand the power of the uniform. 

He said a visit to his Hebrew school class by a group of uniformed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers when he was a child in the United States was a formative experience.

“Seeing a solider in uniform was very compelling and made me want to be the same one day,” he said in an interview at the IAF Center Foundation office, wearing the IAF uniform himself. 

The IAF Center handles various services, including bereavement support for air force families, and runs a think tank to grapple with questions from air force leaders. But its core function is to inspire leadership and Zionist values among pre-IDF youth.

“The main goal is to enhance the sense of Zionism and patriotism among youngsters, and to instill values, the culture, the history, the stories about the Israeli Air Force,” Shinekopf said.

Besides the heroics for which it is famous, the IAF holds a special status in Israel because of its centrality to the state’s security apparatus, Oron said.

“I cannot imagine almost a single major security issue that the Israeli Air Force is not involved [in],” he said. “So basically we have a very unique perspective.”

At the gala, Salach framed donations to the center as an “investment” in the future of the Jewish state.

“The State of Israel was a miracle, but it took leaders with vision to bring us back to the land that was promised to us,” she said.

In the interview, Salach said the job of nurturing leaders was once taken up by widespread youth movements similar to the Boy Scouts (she was a member of two separate movements growing up). But now, she said, a deficit in leadership looms. 

The IAF Center’s youth training program seeks to remedy that. It culminates with an actual flight experience, where trainees see the country they’re defending spreading out beneath them.

Salach added, “The idea is not only to experience flight, but to see Israel from above.”

Callers and donors come through on Super Sunday


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles raised more than $1.3 million in pledges Feb. 21 at its annual phonathon, Super Sunday, surpassing last year’s total by about $100,000, according to Federation spokesman Mitch Hamerman.

But despite receiving 2,650 distinct commitments over the course of a single day, Andrew Cushnir, Federation executive vice president and chief development officer, said the event was about more than the money. 

“Super Sunday is a day when we rally hundreds of members of the community to reach out to thousands of members of the community to support the Jewish Federation’s work in Los Angeles, Israel and around the world,” he said. “The goal is to reach as many people as we can and raise as much money as we can, but we don’t think in terms of a specific dollar goal. We think in terms of reaching as many people we can with stories about the good work of the Federation.”

Cushnir spoke to the Journal from the organization’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, one of two sites transformed into call centers where volunteers phoned longtime Federation supporters as well as first-time donors and requested support. The other location was Federation’s Valley Alliance office in Woodland Hills. 

Super Sunday has been taking place for more than 30 years, according to Cushnir, raising money for the umbrella organization for Jewish life in Los Angeles. Federation provides grants to dozens of Jewish organizations across the city, operates programs that send locals to Israel, assists low-income Holocaust survivors and more. Its three areas of focus are caring for Jews in need, engaging the community and ensuring the Jewish future. 

Approximately 500 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds turned out to the organization’s two makeshift call centers, according to Federation leadership. One such caller was Stan Weinberg, 73, a certified public accountant from Westchester. He said he has been volunteering at Super Sunday for the past 15 years, and so he took first-time volunteer Diane Ring, who was seated next to him, under his wing. He said he enjoyed “reaching out to the local Jewish community” on behalf of the local Federation.

As with previous years, a number of elected officials turned out to show support for Federation’s work. This year, they included L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Councilmen David Ryu and Paul Koretz, state Rep. Richard Bloom and state Sen. Ben Allen.

“The reality is the work of the Federation could not happen without a lot of people contributing and giving of themselves and their money,” Galperin said. “We know the money will be well used by the Federation, as it has for generations.”

Federation allowed volunteers to use their own cellphones but lent some to those who did not want to use their personal cellphones to make calls. Hamerman, Federation senior vice president of campaign management and communications, interrupted phone calls about every hour to announce the updated fundraising totals. He also announced raffle-ticket winners of an assortment of prizes. 

Mark Meyer, a 43-year-old urban planner who volunteered for the second consecutive year on Super Sunday, praised Federation’s work — and the fundraiser.

“It’s a great organization. I did it last year and it was so much fun,” he said. “The Federation does a lot of important work. It’s a great day and I am honored to be here.”

Over the sound of volunteers ringing bells to alert their peers about successfully receiving a pledge, Federation Board Chairwoman Julie Platt said the energy of the event appealed to her.

“I just love standing here and listening to the buzz in the room. Everybody is on the phone,” she said. “People understand what we do better than they ever have before and you can see they are trying to share that on the phones.”

Jewish community professionals turned out to help, as well, including JQ International Executive Director Asher Gellis and Theatre Dybbuk Artistic Director Aaron Henne, both of whom lead organizations that are beneficiaries of Federation funds.

Super Sunday was also, for some, a family affair. Attendees included Sheilah Miller — who traveled to Israel when she was 17 with the help of an organization partially funded by The Jewish Federations of North America — her 9-year-old granddaughter Abigail Fischler, and Miller’s daughter Rachel Fischler, Abigail’s mother.

“This makes me feel good,” Miller said. “I’m doing something constructive.” 

Sanders raises $3 million in 24 hours after Iowa caucuses


After virtually tying with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Iowa Democratic caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $3 million in a 24-hour period, a record for the insurgent presidential candidate.

Sanders, I-Vt., who has abjured raising money from major givers, scored the amount from small donations online in the 24 hours after Monday’s vote, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.  Clinton, long the presumed front-runner, claimed victory in Iowa, the first state to hold a vote, with a razor-thin margin.

Sanders and Clinton also agreed to add debates to what has been criticized as a sparse schedule of six for the Democratic candidates. A a newly scheduled debate will be held Thursday in New Hampshire.

With the advantage of being from neighboring Vermont, Sanders is heading into the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday with a substantial lead in the polls over Clinton. Combined with the strong showing in Iowa, a victory there could build on his momentum.

On the debates, the Sanders’ campaign, along with that of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who dropped out after Iowa, had complained that the Democratic National Committee had scheduled only six, including some on Saturday night, when viewership is low, because its chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is aligned with Clinton.

Heading into the campaign, Clinton had a reputation of being uneasy on stage stemming in part from her failed 2008 bid, when Barack Obama prevailed in the debates. She has fared well, however, in this campaign’s debates, and her advisers have urged her to more forcefully confront Sanders as his bid gains traction.

Fundraising program for day schools meets goal


Five local day schools have collected more than 21 million ways to make Jewish education more affordable in Los Angeles.

A multiyear program to raise cash endowments and focus on tuition assistance called the Los Angeles High School Affordability Initiative finally met its goal last month. That’s when New Community Jewish High School, Milken Community Schools, Shalhevet High School, YULA Girls High School and YULA Boys High School announced they had collectively raised $17 million, a sum to which the Simha & Sara Lainer Day School Endowment Fund added $4.25 million.

The initiative was kick-started by the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation in 2008, with help from Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, to help connect more youths with local schools and — it is hoped — Jewish futures. 

“Research tells us that day school education, successive summers of residential summer camping and immersive Israel experience lead to a commitment to Jewish life individually and communally,” explained Chip Edelsberg, Jim Joseph executive director. “It was a natural fit for us.” 

Bruce Powell, head of school of New Community Jewish High School, said the $4 million his school raised for its endowment is going to be matched by Lainer with $1 million. With the 5 percent interest it expects to make on the fund, the school will be able to award $250,000 in tuition assistance to the middle-income families who need it. 

Shalhevet raised an equal amount, and received $1 million from the Lainer fund. Milken collected $5 million and got an additional $1.25 million from the Lainer fund, while each of the YULA schools raised $2 million, plus $500,000 from the Lainer fund.

To help middle-income families with this money, officials first had to define the group. Miriam Prum Hess, director of donor and community relations at BJE, said that she and her team found research from the California Budget & Policy Center indicating how much money it took to support two working parents and two children in Los Angeles (more than $70,000 at the time). Then they factored in the additional expenses of Jewish life.

These families were the ones who needed the most help in making the transition from Jewish middle schools to Jewish high schools, which can come with a 40 percent jump in cost. Higher-earning families could afford the tuition, and lower-earning families were already receiving assistance.

“The jump from middle to high school tuition was about 40 percent, and often families were not able to pay that extra amount,” Prum Hess said. “We wanted this to be a way to retain families that were in day school.”

Edelsberg said one of the reasons that the Jim Joseph Foundation supported the initiative was because “families in the middle get cut out. That’s what Los Angeles demonstrated to us. That’s not healthy, and it’s not the kind of student body you want.”

The initial program began in 2008, when Jim Joseph granted $12.7 million to BJE through Federation. That money was used mostly for tuition assistance for 600 families; the rest went toward funding the ability for schools to strengthen development staff, retrieve marketing materials, and train staff and school leaders about endowments and fundraising. BJE oversight was also factored into the grant. 

Typically, Jewish day schools do not have significant endowments, according to Edelsberg. Through the Los Angeles High School Affordability Initiative, Jim Joseph hoped to modify that, as well as teach these schools about the importance of endowments and having funds for tuition assistance. 

“For at least six years, those [$12.7 million in] funds can be used to continue to support the enrollment of high school-aged young men and women in middle-income families. All the schools are moving toward taking that term of six years and making it permanent.” 

Now that the schools expect the funds to be there, Edelsberg said, they will continue to raise money on their own. 

“The effort was one of changing the culture of the schools. We wanted to give them the support to secure endowment money within their own micro-communities at the schools.” 

The official website for the initiative (

“Chocolate Bar” and genetic disease research


A campaign started quietly by a couple of first-graders two years ago to help find a cure for a rare genetic disease passed the $1 million mark in late December, with donations streaming in from all 50 states and 60 countries across the globe.

The million-dollar achievement was celebrated in reports by major television networks as the perfect feel-good story, but the trigger for this global effort was a somber diagnosis at the birth of Jonah Pournazarian.
The playful, red-haired youngster was born weighing 4 pounds and with an extremely rare metabolic malfunction, known as glycogen storage disease (GSD).

Glycogen is a stored form of glucose, or sugar, which the body’s metabolism breaks down and converts into energy. Enzymes play a crucial part in this process, and when they malfunction, as in GSD, the metabolic process slows or shuts down completely.

GSD is predominantly a children’s disease, targeting different parts of the body and classified into 14 categories. Jonah’s case is identified as type 1b, in which glucose is stored in the liver and “can’t get out,” his doctor said. (Type 1a of the disease affects mainly Jewish kids of Ashkenazi descent.)

Type 1b of GSD is so rare — fewer than 100 children in this category have been identified in the United States — that medical researchers and potential grant-givers have long ignored it.

However, there was one person who decided to break through the indifference. His name is Dylan Siegel, who was Jonah’s best buddy when both were first-graders at the Wise School, affiliated with Stephen Wise Temple, a large Reform congregation in West Los Angeles.

One day two years ago, Dylan heard his mother talk about an effort to raise money among the temple’s members to support the work of a leading GSD researcher, and Dylan said he, too, wanted to give some money.

As Debra Siegel recalls, “I suggested to Dylan that he set up a lemonade stand, but he said he wanted to write a book.” She took her son’s plan as a childhood fantasy, but the next day Dylan presented his parents with the finished product.

The cover of the richly illustrated, 14-page booklet reads “Chocolate Bar by Dylan Siegel” and the tone is set in the first entry, which reads, “I like to go to Disneyland. That is so Chocolate Bar.”

Other “Chocolate Bar” (read: “awesome”) experiences recalled by the author-illustrator include going to the swimming pool, aquarium, bowling alley and so forth, ending with “I like to help my friends, that is the biggest Chocolate Bar.”

As with almost every first-time author, writing the book was just the beginning, but Dylan kept pushing the project. He drafted his father, a marketing consultant, for the production phase of the project. His dad ordered an initial print run of 200 copies of the book.

At the synagogue’s Mitzvah Day, the two boys and their respective parents sold enough autographed books, at $20 each, and $5 chocolate bars (donated by a neighborhood food market) to raise about $7,000.

Augmenting the sales force were the boys’ two teachers, Orlee Raymond and Kimberly Snyder, sporting two-of-a-kind T-shirts, with the legend “1st Grade Is So Chocolate Bar.” (Full disclosure: Raymond is this reporter’s daughter and tipped me off to the story.)

In late 2012, the Jewish Journal ran an article about Jonah and Dylan and their mission to help find a cure for GSD.

The article came to the attention of a producer for NBC, who asked Chelsea Clinton, then doing feature segments for NBC, to look into the story.

She did. Clinton showed up at the Wise School, and the story aired on the national NBC evening news a short time later.

Amid the media’s generally gloomy string of disaster news, the Chocolate Bar segment resonated with viewers.

Other major TV networks, newspapers and social media spread the story across the globe with added interviews of Dylan, now 8, and Jonah, 9, and still closest of friends in third grade. The results have been spectacular.

By early December 2014, David Siegel, Dylan’s father and pro bono coordinator of the project, could report the sale of 25,000 Chocolate Bar books. Support for the project came from some 10,000 people, most of them mailed-in donations in the $20 range.

Outside the United States, letters and money came from 60 countries, ranging alphabetically from Argentina to Uruguay, including India, Kuwait, Nigeria, Slovakia, Mongolia, United Arab Emirates and Thailand.

Every Chocolate Bar dollar supports the GSD research of Dr. David A. Weinstein, initially at the Harvard Medical School and now at the University of Florida in Gainesville,  where he directs the largest GSD treatment and research program in the world.

The disease was almost always fatal, until researchers developed the first effective therapy for GSD in 1971. A major breakthrough came a decade later with the discovery of a simple “medication” in the form of corn starch, injected through a surgically implanted feeding tube.

However, the prescribed doses have to be administered every three hours, without fail. Missing just one dose can lead to a hospital stay or even death. It’s a grueling cycle for Jonah’s parents, Rabin and Lora Pournazarian, but, as the mother put it, “This [schedule] has become our way of life.”

Weinstein’s research, entirely underwritten by the Chocolate Bar campaign, has been able to extend the intervals between feedings, and his aim is to give his patients (and their parents) full nights of uninterrupted sleep.

In the long run, Weinstein is looking toward gene therapy as the cure for GSD, which has been successfully administered in dogs, which also get the disease. He hopes to start trials on humans when the federal Food and Drug Administration gives the green light.

Weinstein, who visits Israel frequently on a collaborative project at Israel’s Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan, is upbeat about Jonah’s future. “Our treatment is working,” he said, “and I expect Jonah to do very well.”

For full information on Jonah’s and Dylan’s GSD campaign, visit

12 tips on how to donate; 12 tips on how to fundraise


I run a nonprofit called Big Sunday. The idea behind Big Sunday is that absolutely everyone has some way to help somebody else. As we like to say, “There are no haves-and-have-nots, just haves-and-have-mores. Everyone has something.” And we can get so much more done when we all work together. So, we connect people and nonprofits in all kinds of ways. I think this is a nice mission, and I believe in it, and it has worked well for us. But as a result, not a day goes by that I don’t ask somebody for something — time, talent, stuff, money or some combination of those. Truly, there is not a soul that I know who I have not asked for something. That includes my wife, my kids, my mother, my friends, my acquaintances, my lawyer, the woman who cuts my hair, the guy who cuts my lawn, my son’s guitar teacher, some guy who was sitting at our table at a wedding last year, another guy who we found sleeping on the sidewalk outside my office, and even an enemy or two.

At the same time, I am an alumnus of various places, I have three kids who have gone to a bunch of different schools, I support numerous charities, I have donated to various political candidates; I am on the board of three different organizations; I worry about everything from climate change to Ebola, I know lots of people who know that they’ve helped my cause, and I’m a soft touch for an underdog story. So, I am often asked to give, too. 

And now, here we are again, in the season of giving. So, it seemed like a good time to share my tales from the trenches, with my rules for better giving — and getting.

If you’re a donor:

Donate from your heart. At the end of the day, we’re just people giving our money to other people. To make it worthwhile — to you — find a cause you care about, be it literacy, hunger, cancer, the environment, or even pot-bellied pigs. Yes, there are organizations for all of them. And, while fighting hunger may seem … loftier … than fighting for pot-bellied pigs, the pigs need someone on their side, too. Pigs may speak to you for some reason, whether for their intelligence, their girth, their sloth, their resemblance to a beloved friend. For all I know, for their very treyfness. The truth is, there are abandoned pot-bellied pigs out there — really, we’ve sent volunteers to help them — and they need to be sheltered and fed (Hey! You’re fighting hunger, after all!), and your donation helps make that happen. It, too, is all good, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Use your head. So, you want to donate to pot-bellied pigs. Great! But first find an agency that you can feel you can trust. There are websites like charitynavigator.org and guidestar.org that can do your vetting for you. If the nonprofit you want to help is local, stop by wherever they do their work or go to one of their events. Also, most nonprofits have websites you can check out. Of course, these days anyone can have a slick website, but there are certain things to look for, such as the agency’s Internal Revenue Service identification number, which allows you to verify their legitimacy. Many nonprofits also post the names of their board of directors; check those out to see if you know anyone on the board. If it’s someone you like and respect, that’s a good sign. 

What’s the mission? Every nonprofit has a mission. It is usually a sentence or two that states clearly what the nonprofit is trying to do. Usually it is posted on the organization’s website. It’s good to read it because a) it shows whether the nonprofit is clear about its goal, and b) it lets you know if that’s something you want to support. I know this sounds pretty basic, but sometimes people can be disappointed by a nonprofit not delivering, even though the expectation was for something it never intended to do in the first place. An example: At one of our volunteer events, we were packing bags full of toiletries for homeless people. One well-intentioned yet slightly overeager volunteer started barking at the other volunteers: “You’ve got to move faster! We’re not here to have a good time!” Actually, we were there to have a good time. Sure, packing the toiletry kits was important, but if someone checked our mission statement, they’d see that bringing people together in the name of helping is a huge part of what we do, too.

Vetting. If you really want to get into it, many nonprofits post their budget online, too. And, if it’s not on their website, it’s still public information. A couple of years ago, I was sending our proposed budget to my board of directors for them to look over to approve. I sent the email late at night and accidentally sent it to the wrong group: Instead of sending it to our board, I accidentally sent it to the executive directors of about 100 of our nonprofit partners. Oops. But I learned a whole bunch of things from this experience. a) If you send an email you didn’t mean to send, and follow it up quickly with an email that says, “Oops! I sent that by mistake. Don’t read” that only encourages people to read it faster. b) Most of my fellow executive directors are nice and hard-working people who are still answering their emails late at night and felt my pain — and are able to read budgets quickly. c) If someone doesn’t want you to see their budget, that’s a problem. One executive director responded to my mistake with an email that read like a condolence note. I told him that it was no big deal. Sure, it was a mistake, but, after all, our budget is public information and, more to the point, I had nothing to hide. We never communicated again, and about a year later, I heard he’d left the agency he was running. (Just sayin’.)

Take the Ice Bucket Challenge. One day last summer, I woke up and innocently checked my Facebook page and was curious to find my friend Gary pouring a bucket of ice water over his head. On the same page, a fellow named Trip, who I hadn’t seen since high school (class of ’77) was pouring a bucket of water on his head. This led me to a video with no less than Ethel Kennedy, standing at the end of a long line of Kennedys, pouring a bucket over her head. This was  amazing for all kinds of reasons, starting with the fact that I didn’t realize that Ethel Kennedy was still alive. But clearly this was something that had touched people’s imaginations — quickly. Soon, everyone from Oprah to Bill Gates was pouring buckets of water on his or her head. And it was wonderful and raised great awareness and more than $100 million to fight ALS, a terrible disease. For many people, it was fun to be part of this phenomenon, and more power to them. And now, I’m sure that half the nonprofits in America are coming up with their own ideas in the hopes they’ll go viral — “The Jell-O Challenge,” “The Pogo Stick Challenge.” For my part, I figured that if Oprah and Bill were onboard, ALS didn’t need me, so I hoped against hope that no one would challenge me to pour ice water on my head (an embarrassing secret, please don’t tell anyone), and I’d give my money elsewhere. But that’s me. The fact is, there was a great lesson in it: Be open to learning about and supporting a new cause. 

Know what you’re giving to. I know, I know, that also sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised. There are a lot of organizations whose names sound alike. If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, “You guys are great! I just love Super Sunday!” I would have as much money as … Super Sunday — which is a terrific event run by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and which has absolutely nothing to do with us. (Note to our friends at Super Sunday: No, we haven’t gotten any of your donations. But if you’ve gotten any of ours, please give me a call! Thanks.)

If you don’t know what you’re giving to, at least follow the lead of someone you trust. Earlier this year, I went to a fundraiser. It was an amazing event, beautifully planned, with hundreds of people, all having a great time. Even better, it netted six figures for an excellent charity. And I will bet you six figures that at least half the people there had no idea what charity they were supporting. The event was put together by a large group of well-connected people who each got all of their friends to come. And the friends clearly took it on faith that if the friend who invited them was behind it enough to do all this hard work, it must be a good cause. And FYI: I am neither complaining about this, nor looking down my nose at these folks. They gave a lot of money for this “good cause,” whatever it may be. And, in truth, they learned a thing or two about that good cause during the evening. Perhaps they’ll get more involved in the years to come. Who knows? Maybe they’re writing another big, fat check right now. Mainly, I am just jealous that it was for that organization and not mine.

If you’re a numbers person, read the fine print. Metrics can be helpful. Yes, absolutely. But, when money gets tight, such as during the recession, people start looking for numbers as proof of something. Anything. And although numbers can be helpful, most numbers can be tweaked, massaged or, for that matter, invented to tell any story. Test scores rise when teachers teach to the test. Recidivism rates fall when the time frame being measured isn’t clear. Sometimes the definition of what is being measured is so complicated that no one really knows exactly what is being talked about. And some important things like happiness or self-esteem are much harder, despite our best efforts, to measure.

If you’re a people person, read the fine print. A tear-jerking story — or video — can be persuasive, too. But make sure there’s some sizzle with the steak. Being a raconteur is a gift, as is making an effective video. Take a few minutes to see what the nonprofit is really doing. How many people are in their programs each year? Is the heartwarming story the exception or the rule? Does the nonprofit have any kind of measurable goals, and have they been met? 

If 100 percent of a charity’s donations are going directly to programming, that is not a good thing. Sure, we all like to think that a charity is maximizing our donation. And the best ones do. But if an organization is run only through volunteers and donations, how is that sustainable? (It’s not.) People who work at nonprofits bring a wide variety of skills and talents and are performing all kinds of necessary jobs, just like those working in the for-profit world, except they do it for a cause. Sometimes, however, donors seem to expect people in the nonprofit world to be saints or nuns. (We’re definitely not, except, of course, for the actual nuns, who are great, but they can speak for themselves.) Aside from the necessary evils of overhead — like rent and insurance — a nonprofit needs to pay its employees to do the hard work that you are supporting. And if you’re supporting it, you should want good employees to do the work so that the job is done well. The first person we ever paid was our Web guy. He was a sweet and sincere guy, and when I offered him a (lousy) stipend, he was insulted; he said he’d helped us out of love. I told him that I wasn’t paying him for his sake, but for mine. We’d been an all-volunteer organization, and it wasn’t working anymore. We were growing fast and were dependent upon our website. Since he was a volunteer, juggling it with a real job, every time I needed something, I was asking him for a favor. It had gotten so that I had to steel myself every time I talked with him. If he became a paid employee, I didn’t have to feel bad telling him I need it Tuesday. And, while people in the nonprofit world know they will not be making nearly as much money as their peers in the for-profit world, they do like to eat and, in fact, deserve halfway decent compensation. That makes for happier people, doing better and more sustainable jobs, and, ultimately, making the most of your generous donations!

Emergencies. When something happens — a tsunami, a hurricane, some devastating event — we all want to help. Usually the newspaper or a search engine has suggestions on where you can donate. Find an organization you’ve heard of. If it’s important to you to directly help the victims of the disaster, make sure your donation is going to that, and not the agency’s general fundraising. Often, new organizations spring up to help local victims. These are almost always started with the best of intentions; however, I’d recommend against them. Starting a nonprofit is challenging under the best of circumstances. Better, I’d say, to not start sending money to a nonprofit that’s trying to get up and running and making a difference all while fighting some kind of disaster.

Feel good. There is no shame in feeling good about the money you are giving away. You’ve worked hard for it, and it’s awfully nice of you to give it away. And that’s true whether it’s $1 or $1 million. You know what makes you feel good about your donation. It could be knowing that one child fewer is going to bed hungry. It could be seeing your name on a plaque on a wall. Maybe it’s a combination. Or maybe it’s something else. Think hard — and honestly — about why you want to give money away. You don’t have to share the reasoning with anyone else. But you should know that any of the reasons are OK because, at the end of the day, it’s your money and you’re using it in a way that is meaningful to you to help someone else and to make the world a better place. And if you get some pleasure out of that, so much the better. After all, if you enjoy giving your money away this time, you’re that much more likely to give it away again — and you’ll help that many more people.

If you’re a fundraiser:

It’s not a donation, it’s an opportunity! I know, it sounds like a line — and yeah, I’ve used it — but  it’s true. When someone makes a donation, they are fighting for a cause. Causes need money, whether to raise awareness, build a building, or create or sustain programs. People can give their money to all kinds of places, whether it’s the American Cancer Society or Bloomingdale’s. When someone gives away their money to a charitable endeavor, in whatever amount, they are doing their part to do what they can to make the world a better place. They can do this in addition to donating their time and their talent, or instead of it. Many donors, large and small, are looking for a way to help. Your job as a fundraiser is not to take their money, but to show them where they can make a difference. 

It’s not an adventure, it’s a job! As I said at the outset, there is no one I’ve met whom I haven’t asked for something. I sometimes worry that I’m the biggest nuisance this side of the Mississippi. I once said to someone, “Sometimes, I worry that when people see me coming, they’re going to cross the street,” to which someone in the room replied — “Too late, David. They already do.” Ah, yes. In any case, when I ask someone for a donation, I do sometimes remind them — between apologies for asking them for yet one more thing — that I am simply doing my job as the executive director of a nonprofit. And I urge development directors to do the same. In fact, even if you’re a volunteer raising money for your house of worship or your child’s school, you’re doing your job. Feel free to remind the person you’re asking that that is what you’re doing, that you take your job seriously, and that you’d be neglecting your responsibilities if you didn’t. They will understand. (And then they have to do their job: Say yes or no.)

Know when to fold ’em. So, you’ve asked someone for a donation. And it went well. They seemed enthusiastic. Excited even. And they needed to think about it. Fine. You followed up with an email. Then another. Then a call. No answer, no response, you got their voicemail. Weeks go by. Now what? Here’s my rule: If it’s someone you have a personal relationship with — a friend, neighbor, person you just know, parent at your child’s school — drop it. They don’t want to give or maybe they can’t swing it now. Whatever. It happens, and it’s probably nothing personal. And they’re probably uncomfortable or embarrassed to just tell you, or they keep meaning to let you know but never quite want to. Just let it go. (And a note to that donor: Just say no. Please. It’s fine. Really! I never — ever! — get upset or annoyed when someone says no. I so get it. But I do get a tad frustrated if you leave me hanging and wasting my time calling and emailing and trying to track you down so I can know where I stand and make a plan.) However, if it’s a corporate ask, and you have made your request to the corporate gatekeeper, keep sending those emails and making those calls. A few years back, I met with a fellow who handles donations for a large corporation. He’s a nice guy. We had a friendly meeting. I gave him my rap. He seemed interested. And I never heard from him again. Not for lack of trying. He just stopped answering my emails. Or taking or returning my calls. Clearly, he doesn’t want to give me money, and that is certainly his prerogative. But at what point was I supposed to figure that out? Besides, isn’t that, um, his job? My job is to ask him for money. I did my job; the least he can do is his. Postscript: I keep emailing the guy. Still. Of course, he’s not going to give me money. I just do it out of spite. (I told you that people who run nonprofits aren’t saints!)

Art, science, common sense and the truth. A few years back, we were hosting a big event at a low-income school. We were cleaning classrooms, painting murals, giving away clothes, bringing in an endangered-animal show, having a picnic and even hosting carnival games. It was a way to fill some needs at the school and, more than that, to get the whole community involved — kids, teachers, parents, neighbors — with a school that was really struggling. It became basically a school fair. If we didn’t do it, no one would. I asked a nice, intelligent, well-to-do woman if she’d underwrite it. She asked me, “Will it raise test scores?” Um, probably not. I was sorry to have to break this news to her. (Heck, I wanted the donation!) But I did. Yet, I said, it would fill some important needs (in addition to things like the clothes being given away, the school would look much better when we were done; among other things, it had virtually no custodial service) while building community. For many parents, it was the first time they’d have the opportunity to help out at their kids’ school while being welcomed in a friendly and non-threatening way. There is, I believe, great value in this. My donor agreed and wrote me a generous check. She’d been, I think, so nervous about asking the “right question” that she asked the wrong one. Then again, she gave me an opportunity. I was able to tell her what was unique about our program and what we were trying to do. She’d go for it or not. The fact is, I think asking for money — and donating — is an art, not a science. And your best bet is to present the big picture, answer any and all questions, and always tell the truth.

Naming opportunities, giving anonymously and everything in between. I know, I know — some people consider anonymous giving the highest form of charity. And I applaud people who do. Plus, I understand that there are all sorts of reasons for it — whether it’s a religious ideal or just the hope that they can buy themselves a few more minutes of peace and quiet from people like me who will see how much they’ve given some other organization and come around asking for some for mine. (Apologies, belatedly and in advance.) Some people might worry that they or their children will be preyed upon. All good reasons. On the other hand, when a nonprofit is able to publicize someone’s support — whether on the side of a building or on a list of donors — it tells the world that that person (whether an individual, a corporation or a foundation) believes in this nonprofit and is supporting it. They have become a seal of approval. Not too shabby. Actually, quite flattering. And if you are on your toes, you can leverage that donation and turn it into more money to help support the important cause you are working hard to help. Tell the donor. They will be pleased not only that their gift will be paid forward, but that they are donating to an organization that is thinking ahead. However, if they choose to remain anonymous, absolutely, positively honor that. 

Tchotchkes. Ah, yes. The tchotchke question. Some donors like an acknowledgement of their gift, whether it’s a Plexiglas knick-knack or a canvas tote bag. Others take umbrage at the idea that their donation could in any way go to pay for a tchotchke, rather than fulfilling the mission of the organization. It’s a dilemma for the nonprofit, which is trying to please all its donors. (Trust me.) My suggestion: Compromise with what my grandmother would call “a little something” — a plaque, a certificate, a mug, a T-shirt. (No one gets out of my office without a T-shirt. Aside from everything else, it’s great advertising for us, plus the year’s major sponsors’ names are on the back.) Further, let people know how little you spent on these things, and remind them, like I just did, that it’s a great way to get your name out there. For that matter, let them in on the trade secret of this dilemma. Ask them what they think you should do. They’ll feel your pain. Finally, use it as an opportunity to once again sincerely tell your donor how much you appreciate their support, how you couldn’t do what you’re doing without their help, and fill them in on what’s really important: your organization’s latest accomplishments and the fulfillment of your goals. Full disclosure: I don’t like tchotchkes and usually give them out only because I sometimes feel I have to. Fuller disclosure: Last year I went to a fundraiser and grumbled irritably about the gift bag they handed me as I left and what a waste it was. Until I opened the gift bag and discovered all this great stuff inside. Delicious chocolates, a nice book, a bottle of wine. All in a reusable tote bag! It was fantastic! Plus, the stuff was probably all donated! Next time that nonprofit has a fundraiser, I’m in!

Celebrities. Yeah, yeah. I like celebrities as much as the next guy. And for sure, many celebrities have done wonderful things for all kinds of causes — Elizabeth Taylor and AIDS, Princess Diana fighting landmines, Brad Pitt building houses in New Orleans. Celebrities can bring attention to a cause, and, of course, money, too. But don’t be blinded by a celebrity just because they’re a celebrity. Or worse, someone in the role of a “celebrity.” I was once at a fundraiser that honored a “celebrity.” I know from celebrities, and honest to God, I don’t know who this woman was or how many other celebrities the group had approached before they got to her. Anyway, one thing I do know is that she was — how can I say this nicely? — an idiot. It was for a group that helped runaway teens, and when this “celebrity” got up to accept her award — she had no trouble with tchotchkes — she admitted that she knew almost nothing about the organization (two points for honesty, I guess) and told some story about how she was once supposed to go to a party to help these teens but got called out of town for a photo shoot and felt really, really bad. That’s it. Oy. In truth, her presence was belittling to the nonprofit, its clients and the people there to support it. Everyone’s time would have been better spent learning more about the nonprofit and what we can do to help. Sure, every group wants Angelina Jolie or George Clooney. But they’re not always available. So, rather than go way down the food chain, have faith in your organization, your cause and your supporters, and let your story and your hard work speak for itself. 

The touch and the table. You’ve gotta know who you are and what you’re comfortable with. For instance, someone once told me that there’s a rule that you’re supposed to have a certain number of “touches” — meaning the number of times you see a potential donor — before you ask him or her for a donation. You take ’em out to lunch, or give ’em call, or show ’em what a great guy you are. Then you hit ’em up. Hmm. To me, in that world, everyone is a mark, and your relationship to the world becomes one of manipulating someone to get something out of them. It might be a good way to raise money, but I think it’s a rotten way to live, so I don’t do it. Similarly, I’m willing to “leave money on the table.” I know I shouldn’t, and please don’t tell anyone. And yes, some people don’t leave anything behind, and more power to them. Truly, I admire them. Envy them, even. But it’s just not my style. Anytime I try, I fail miserably. Besides, the way I figure, presumably that table’s still going to be there next year, and if I leave the donor feeling good, he or she will be more likely to have me back to it. Here’s the thing: Know the methods that work for you — and the ones that don’t. 

A special word about big donors. A while back, I was introduced to a potential big donor. I suspected she was a potential big donor, and then I pulled up to her house. Then I knew she was a potential big donor. She’s a lovely person, and after she heard my shpiel, she said, “So, what are you going to ask me for?” To which I replied, “I don’t know. I just met you. What are you interested in?” You see, I didn’t want to just ask her for money. I wanted to ask her to support something she was invested in. This wasn’t just to get as much money as I could out of her. It was because I liked her. She’d invited me into her house and spent time with me; the least I could do is take the time to figure out what she’d like in return. So, she told me what she cared about, and a week or two later, I proposed a program to address that interest. She said yes, and that program has gone on to be one of the most popular and successful things we do. It was a terrific situation, because it was a program we’d wanted to do for a while, but the funding hadn’t been available. These days, many people say they want to “start a nonprofit” when what they really want to do is start a program at a nonprofit. I, like many nonprofit executives, am always open to new ideas and suggestions. Most nonprofits are. And, if you meet someone who has the means, you should take the opportunity to try to bring a big idea to life. For sure, we would never take on a project that does not fit our mission, and we would recommend against any nonprofit that would. But a good  nonprofit can use its know-how to take a donor’s good idea, come up with a plan, maximize it and do the heavy lifting to help make the donor’s vision a reality. Working with big donors in this way, you can give each other a big bang for their buck. 

A special word about small donors. We all know that small donors can make a huge difference. The Obama presidential campaigns were certainly game-changers in this regard, but now there are all kinds of crowdfunding resources (just Google “crowdfunding”) that can help you raise a lot of money for many good causes. (Note: Some of these are nonprofits; some are for-profit.) These can be especially beneficial for organizations that target a younger demographic and/or have a quick, compelling story to tell (everything from victims of a natural disaster to Karen the bullied bus driver, just check YouTube — you’ll give, trust me). Always remember that some person’s $5 is someone else’s $5,000. Money may be a significant factor in these people’s lives — after all, they may not have a ton of it whether because they’re starting out, don’t have much to spare or are on a fixed income — and their decision to support you is quite meaningful and flattering. Plus, of course, you never know who is taking your nonprofit for a test drive, who knows who, and which of today’s small donors will be tomorrow’s internet billionaire. Besides, many small donors can help your nonprofit in all kinds of other ways, too.

Urge people to see your work in action. I’m always trying to get our donors to see their donation in action. Oh, I don’t care if they’re out there painting or cleaning or breaking a sweat. I’m proud of what we do, and I just think that their donation will resonate more for them if they can see the payoff. I think most nonprofit leaders feel the same. I’ve even told donors, “Don’t come. Just do a drive-by and see what you’ve helped create. No one even has to see you!” The fact is, for many people, writing the check is enough. And if it’s enough for them, it’s enough for me. Then again, if I have pictures, or a video, or some testimonials, I’ll take the liberty of sending them along with an extra word of thanks.

What’s the dream? Earlier, we talked about mission. That is the goal of the nonprofit. But what’s the dream? Where does the nonprofit want to be in a year, or two years, or 10 years? This is a big-picture question. A nonprofit is on a path, and any donation, large or small, is going to help it get there. (OK, a large donation may help it get there faster.) And, for sure, the dream should be in service to the mission. But if anything were possible, what would you want? To provide permanent housing for 50,000 people? To replicate your nonprofit’s model in 10 different cities? To cure an awful disease? It’s exciting for people to buy into a dream and to help make it come true. Make sure, though, that the dream — no matter how extravagant — has some way to get there. For instance, if you’re running an afterschool program and the dream is to create a college scholarship program for five kids in five years, after you ask someone to write a check, they might ask you: How will you make this happen? A good answer: “It will cost about a quarter of a million dollars. I think I can get the first $100,000 from three different donors. I have a list of 20 more people, where I’m hoping to get $5,000 to $10,000 apiece, and here are six foundations that support this. We’ll need to start that process now. If we start a small annual fundraiser, that should help make up the difference. I’d love to do it in four years, but realistically we’re looking at five.” Great. You know what you need, and what it’ll take to get there. A bad answer: “This is so important to me, and the kids need it so badly. Yesterday, this boy was in my office crying because he wanted so badly to go to college. And I am not going to rest until he does!” Impressive and moving, for sure. And it would be great to sit near you at a dinner party. But you’re not necessarily someone I’d want to write a big check to.

One last thing: Whether you’re donating or fundraising, keep your eyes on the prize. Remember, this isn’t about money; it’s about fighting for a cause. Curing cancer. Fighting hunger. Finding a home for a pot-bellied pig. Whoever you are, whatever you do, however much money you have or don’t have, there is some way that you can help somebody else.

Thank you for reading this far. And thank you for being someone looking to share their wealth to make the world that much better.


David T. Levinson is the founder and executive director of Big Sunday (bigsunday.org) and the author of “Everyone Helps, Everyone Wins: How Absolutely Anyone Can Pitch in, Help Out, Give Back and Make the World a Better Place.” He is also a philanthropy adviser.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: How do you raise $120 million?


Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s newly renovated sanctuary has been cleaned and fully restored. An extended bimah is more accessible for the first time. Photo © Tom Bonner 2013

Ask Rabbi Steven Z. Leder what the mission of Wilshire Boulevard Temple is, and he’ll tell you, “We make Jews.” The temple started making Jews two centuries ago, in 1862, when the country stood divided, engaged in Civil War, with Abraham Lincoln as the president of the United States. Then known as Congregation B’nai B’rith, it was located first at Temple Street and Broadway downtown, and then moved to a larger space at Ninth and Hope streets. Eventually, in 1929, the synagogue — now the oldest in Los Angeles — moved into its third historic home, on Wilshire Boulevard between Harvard and Hobart boulevards, dominating its portion of the city’s spine. 

Since its grand opening, the congregation has played a central role among Los Angeles’ Reform Jewish community, but over the years, the building’s façade and interior eroded, becoming dilapidated and outdated. When a legally blind congregant, Bea Boyd, called Leder to tell him the sanctuary’s bathrooms were disgustingly dirty, and when a 10-pound chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling in the middle of the night, Leder knew he had to take action. The result is a $160 million project, to be done in three phases, to restore the sanctuary to its former glory and, along the way, to add all sorts of new attributes to an expanded campus. 

Before he got started, however, Leder visited three respected and highly successful Los Angeles leaders, asking for advice. First, he went to Steven Sample, president of USC from 1991 to 2010, during which time he raised $3 billion for a school located in an area of Los Angeles that, as Leder put it, “No one believed in.” Second, Leder talked to Richard Riordan, mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001, because, Leder said, “He truly understands where Los Angles is heading.” And finally, Leder visited Uri Herscher, a rabbi and founder of the Skirball Cultural Center, who, according to Leder, is “one of the best rabbi fundraisers I have ever known.”

Through the encouragement of these three men, Leder gained confidence to move ahead. He brought on the renowned architect and congregant Brenda Levin to repair and enhance the neglected architectural gem, with its Byzantine dome and beautiful history-telling murals by Hugo Ballin that were commissioned by Warner Bros. studio chief Jack Warner. One of the congregation’s concerns, however, was the future of the neighborhood: Were there enough Jews in the Eastside area to sustain such a substantial investment? Leder said the guidance from Sample, Riordan and Herscher reaffirmed his belief that a resurgence was already taking place in the area and, more importantly, that if the passion and relationships established by the temple are real, the temple will succeed. 

Leder admits he never would have raised the more than $118 million that he has so far without his already strong and longstanding relationships with congregants. At the 2005 High Holy Days services, Leder announced the plans for the project in his sermon. His main message was that the sanctuary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple is at “the center of the center of the center.” In other words, the sanctuary is the core of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and it sits in a vital and diverse neighborhood essential to Los Angeles, which has the second-largest Jewish population in the United States. 

“We are the luckiest Jews to have ever lived,” Leder said. Yet he maintains this privilege and freedom comes with responsibility. He asks, “What will we do with this good fortune?” 

His answer: making Jews in various venues throughout the renovated Erika J. Glazer Family Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The newly refreshed and glowing sanctuary will be unveiled to the congregation at Erev Rosh Hashanah services on Sept. 4 and throughout the Days of Awe. The temple plans to finish the remaining two phases of the project by 2020. Phase two entails a large-scale Tikkun Olam Center, staffed by professionals and congregants, which will provide the surrounding communities with a variety of social services, rooftop gym facilities, new courtyards for celebrations and other gatherings, the renovation of the temple’s two school buildings and a large parking garage. Phase three includes an office building with conference rooms, administrative offices, meeting places, an events center, a mikveh, cafe deli on site and a kosher kitchen. 

The temple’s renovation and transformation of an entire city block wouldn’t have been possible without the temple’s approximately 7,500 congregants; to date, an estimated 520 people among them have donated to the project at various levels.

For this article, the Journal had space to profile only a small selection of those donors, and this selection, all of whom gave generously, also gave graciously of their time to talk about their philanthropy and motives. There is an extensive list of other congregants who contributed significant sums to the temple’s new effort. Perhaps foremost among them is Erika Glazer, daughter of shopping mall developer Guilford Glazer, who will give a total of $36 million, $6 million for the Early Childhood Center and $30 million over 15 years to help cover the debt payments on the tax-free bond financing the next phase of the project. She also gave her name: What was formerly known as the Wilshire Boulevard Temple campus is now officially renamed the Erika J. Glazer Family Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in honor of her gift. (Glazer was traveling and unavailable to speak with the Journal at this time.) Among the other major donors are Larry and Allison Berg, Janet Crown, Stephen and Peggy Davis, Marshall Geller, Uri Herscher, Bruce and Lilly Karatz, Tom and Barbara Leanse, Yehuda and Liz Naftali, past president of the board Rich Pachulski and wife Dana, Ellen Pansky, Larry Powell and wife Joyce, Rick and Debbie Powell, Reagan Silber and many more. A particularly fervent donor is Sandy Post, who entered kindergarten at Wilshire Boulevard some 83 years ago and remains a temple member today. 

Leder’s fundraising total so far is believed to be the largest amount of money any rabbi has ever raised in the United States. Leder says his success is all due to the community, and he refers to the donors as the “finest, most generous, visionary human beings you will ever meet.”



Bram Goldsmith
Restoration of Sanctuary’s Ark

Bram Goldsmith, who served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of City National Bank and City National Corp. from 1975 to 1995, was raised in a middle-class Orthodox home in Chicago. His father immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1916 and, soon after, brought over Goldsmith’s mother and two older sisters. Goldsmith himself was born in the United States in 1923, and he remembers from his childhood the family’s staple pushke box, a tin can for alms, in their home. Although not wealthy, the Goldsmiths always put a portion of what they had into the pushke to be picked up by the Jewish National Fund and sent to Israel.

With that box, young Bram was taught early the importance of giving back, and philanthropy became a guiding principle throughout his life. 

“My personal work ethic starts with the issue of integrity and includes taking personal responsibility, being helpful to others, by being charitable with your contributions and your personal involvement,” he said during an interview at his City National Bank office in Beverly Hills. 

In keeping with this mission, Goldsmith has donated $1 million for the restoration of the ark in the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s sanctuary, which he sees as the heart of the temple. The donation was made through the Goldsmith Family Foundation, which was established in 1960.

For 25 years, Goldsmith served as president and chief executive officer of Buckeye Realty and Management Corp., the largest privately owned commercial real estate development company in Southern California at the time. He then took over City National Bank and guided the company’s growth, increasing assets from $600 million to $3.3 billion. Now, City National Corp. has assets of $27.4 billion and operates in more than 70 locations around the country.

Goldsmith’s first act of philanthropy occurred rather spontaneously, in 1942, when he was a young man in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago. At a dinner for the United Jewish Welfare Fund that he attended with his father-in-law, Goldsmith pledged $100, an amount so large  for him at the time, it took him six months to pay it off. But it was the beginning of a commitment, and, he said, since moving to California in 1953, he has been “involved with the major Jewish philanthropic organizations in the community” here. Among them, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Wallis Annenberg Cultural Center Foundation, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles United Jewish Fund Campaign, the United Jewish Appeal and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

As another Wilshire Boulevard Temple donor, Stanley Gold, put it, “Bram is the epitome of giving back to this community. In my opinion, he is the senior mensch in town.”

“I set a standard that all of us must encourage and respect every human being and do the right thing,” Goldsmith said.

A temple member since 1965, Goldsmith has been part of his five grandchildren’s bar and bat mitzvahs at Wilshire Boulevard and heard his granddaughter sing at Yom Kippur services. Goldsmith has seen the temple grow and change over almost 50 years, and has watched its role evolve in the Jewish world and Los Angeles at large. 

“I think that today, the temple has achieved a new level of respect and leadership in the community,” he said.

“The restoration of this facility to service the needs of Reform Judaism in greater L.A. is very critical,” he said. “A spiritual sanctuary, with thousands of members, represents a very strong foundation for the future education of kids, whom I consider to be most valuable.”

From putting a few cents in a pushke box to renovating Wilshire Boulevard’s sanctuary, Goldsmith continues to build upon his family’s tradition of giving.



Alan Berro
Bimah Accessibility Ramps

The lasting impact of a trip to Israel can be hard to measure, but for Alan Berro, Capital World Investors senior vice president and portfolio counselor, the experience went beyond connecting to the Jewish state. On a Wilshire Boulevard Temple trip there in 2007, Berro deepened his ties to his now-18-year-old son, Bailey, as well as to the synagogue’s Rabbi Steven Z. Leder and the 30 other congregants on the trip. In traveling the 7,000 miles to Israel, Berro discovered his community back home. 

The connection inspired Berro to become more involved in the congregation, which led to his underwriting the new ramps leading up to the bimah, enabling, for the first time, accessibility for all — young, old and the disabled. 

A member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple since 2000 and a current board trustee, Berro said, “Being Jewish is just part of who I am, and I’m proud of that. I really like being a member of a Reform congregation that’s more open and more inclusive.”

A Laguna Beach native, Berro moved back to Los Angeles in 1991 after living in Boston for seven years, arriving just in time for the Rodney King verdict riots in the spring of 1992. The chaos and destruction of neighborhoods during that time, which hit especially hard the Koreatown neighborhood surrounding the temple, made a deep impression on Berro. He has felt motivated ever since to play a part in community building.  

In 1998, Wilshire Boulevard Temple solidified the congregation with the addition of a new campus on the Westside, but Berro saw the importance of rehabilitating the historic location on Wilshire Boulevard and reinvesting in that neighborhood, as well. 

Berro said he especially supports the temple’s efforts to create the Tikkun Olam Center, which will serve people from the diverse surrounding neighborhood of all ages and denominations. 

“L.A. has been through some difficult times,” Berro said, adding, “I think the people who can afford to should try to help all parts of the city. We’re all here together; we’re not very far apart. This is just one more step in that direction.”

Berro attended UCLA as an undergraduate and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked at Fidelity Investments before joining the Capital Group.  

Berro has served on the board of Inner-City Arts since 1998 and as chairman of the board of that skid-row arts education project for three years. He also has donated money to the California Science Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and in 2012 he joined the board of directors of the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation at UCLA. Berro said he tries to extend his giving over a wide variety of areas, focusing on health, arts, education, religion and community.

Berro also said he views his contribution to Wilshire Boulevard Temple from a businessman’s point of view: “I see Wilshire Boulevard Temple as a pillar of the Jewish community in Los Angeles,” he said. “We’re really investing in a good place. … The fact we’re making a community and educational center will give a big return to the community.” 

“I hope my son becomes a member,” Berro said, “and that for each generation, hopefully, the cycle continues. I think we have a rich a beautiful history, and I’d like to keep it going.”


Every part of the temple’s exterior was repaired, including bringing back the original color. Photo © Tom Bonner 2013


Fred Sands
Sanctuary’s Triple Lancet Window

Los Angeles real estate mogul Fred Sands hesitates, on the verge of tears, as he explains his emotional connection to the Jewish people and religion. “I’m not aware I lost any relatives in the Holocaust, but the Holocaust is right here,” he said pointing to his heart. “It doesn’t go away.”

For Sands, the spiritual tie he feels to Judaism often remains inexplicable. To him, the important thing is how he responds to this deep-rooted connection. 

The persecution of his Jewish ancestors and the survival of the Jewish people despite the odds spur him to give back, and inspired his donation of $500,000 to Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s renovation of the sanctuary’s triple lancet window. 

“Rabbi Leder says you have to be a good ancestor. You’re not doing this for yourself; you’re also doing this for your heirs, future generations,” Sands said. 

A temple member for 10 years, Sands often has lunch with Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, seeking his advice. In this instance however, it was the rabbi who came to Sands for guidance. According to Leder, Sands was the fourth person he consulted before starting the restoration project .

Sands has lived in Los Angeles since the age of 7, and in 1969 he created Fred Sands Realtors, now California’s second largest and the United States’ seventh largest independent real estate company. After selling the company to Coldwell Banker in 2000, he formed the investment firm Vintage Capital Group. He now serves as chairman of Vintage Real Estate, LLC, and Vintage Fund Management, LLC. 

Many people encouraged Leder to sell the temple building, citing the large move of the Jewish population to the Westside. Sands, however, advised against that. He cited the increase of Jewish families and young couples living in Hancock Park, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and, more recently, an increasingly gentrified Echo Park — all neighborhoods close to the temple. 

“In urban planning, you discover when you study cities, a city starts at the core and works its way out. Ultimately the core rots, and then it starts all over again,” Sands said.

This is the evolution that is occurring in Los Angeles today, Sands said. Where Wilshire Boulevard Temple was once at the city’s core, and then was not, now that core is being rebuilt again, and the temple can play an integral part in the revitalization. 

“There’s a saying, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ They’ll be there,” Sands said. “The place is beautiful; people gravitate toward places like that. That’s a very vibrant community. No question, there’s going to be a resurgence.”

Sands even compares the temple’s rebirth to his own work with Vintage Capital Group, which buys rundown or underperforming shopping centers to improve them, and also focuses on turning around distressed companies and bankruptcies.   

For him, the artistic component is important, too. Sands is a founder, vice chairman and trustee of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art and also serves as chair of the museum’s Investment Committee. He also serves on several boards, including those of the Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles Police Foundation and Chrysalis, an organization that aims to rehabilitate the homeless.Sands said he believes any type of renovation, whether for a city, temple, commercial mall or company, requires a kind of generosity and kinship. 

“We’re all in this together, rich and poor. It’s the right thing to do,” Sands said. “We’re supposed to be good people, to help other people. It’s part of life, giving back.”



Stanley Gold
Preschool Play Yard for Future Generations

Stanley Gold sits relaxed and content in his Beverly Hills home as he explains his involvement in Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s renovation plan. The Shamrock Holdings president and CEO — and recent chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — leans back, chewing on a cigar after finishing a summer salad for lunch, and describes his personal connection to the temple and his thoughts on its role in the greater Los Angeles community. Jocular and loquacious, Gold doesn’t hold back as he also describes his overall philosophy on philanthropy. 

He says Wilshire Boulevard Temple means so much more to him and his family than simply a historically and architecturally significant monument. For Gold, the 100-foot-by-100-foot sanctuary holds poignant memories of his son’s bar mitzvah and daughter’s bat mitzvah, and is the place where he’s established important friendships with the temple’s members, as well as its clergy. For the Gold family, Wilshire Boulevard is both a place of worship and a compassionate community. Gold and his wife, Ilene, have both served as members of the congregation’s board at various times during their four decades of membership. 

 “For the most part, we have given to places that have improved and bettered our lives. … Wilshire Boulevard fits that role perfectly,” Gold said. “They have helped us grow as a family, helped us raise our children and answered difficult questions.” To that end, the Golds have donated $2 million to help pay for and name a new play yard for the nursery school, which will be built later.

And while he acknowledges a strong personal connection, Gold said his reasons for donating also go far beyond that tie — he wants to support the temple’s role as a strong leader within the Jewish community as well as a gateway to the non-Jewish community. 

“I think we have a responsibility within the community. We need to be supportive of our neighbors and the non-Jewish world. I think the temple does that in a big way,” he said. 

Gold has seen the temple grow with changes in leadership, the building of the Audrey and Sidney Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles, and now the renovation of the new Erika J. Glazer Family Campus.

Gold said that with the expansion, he hopes the temple will continue to attract young, dynamic, growing and important families.

“We should never forget, as great as our buildings are, we are a People of the Book, not of the building, and that means we need to have new, interesting people to interpret that book and how it goes forward. I’m hoping the new facilities will attract such people,” Gold said. 

Gold added that he thinks all Jewish people have a responsibility to serve the rest of society, a viewpoint he himself tries to live by. 

Gold is a graduate of UCLA; he also has a degree from USC and completed postgraduate work at the University of Cambridge. He worked for the Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown law firm before becoming the president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc., which is Roy E. Disney’s private investment company. He served on the Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors for more than 15 years, and donates money and gives his time to numerous Jewish and educational organizations. He served as chairman of the board at USC for six years, as chairman of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of religion for six years and chairman of Federation for two years.

 “I think the Jewish people have an important contribution to make to this society,” Gold said. “I think our values, our outlook on life, our goals are consonant with the American dream. … We improve the quality of society.” 

For Gold, this responsibility to contribute doesn’t only apply to Jews. 

 “I think it’s the job of everybody who’s on the earth to make the world a better place while you’re here,” he added. “Giving to organizations whose main focus is to enrich people and broaden people and show them opportunities is a way to make this place better. I give to those kinds of organizations,” he said. “I think I’m fulfilling what is my real duty for being here.”


The sanctuary’s ornate ceiling culminates in an oculus outlined by the words of the Shema. Photo © Tom Bonner 2013


Jonathan Mitchell
New Central Walkway

Jonathan Mitchell likes to crane his neck backward as he sits in the sanctuary of the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple, taking time to look 100 feet upward at the omnipotent Byzantine dome, with its centerpiece oculus outlined by the words of the Shema. As the rest of the congregation closes their eyes in prayer, he likes to gaze above, in honor of the memory of his now-deceased mother, Beverly Mitchell.

When Mitchell was a boy, his mother would soothe him to sleep by chanting the Shema. That prayer evokes the memory of her comforting voice, especially, during the High Holy Days services in the resplendent sanctuary. Mitchell fixates on the words above, remembering as well how his mother would surreptitiously point at the dome when they went to services together. This clandestine moment between mother and son established a personal tradition amid the sea of fellow temple members whose eyes remained closed, unaware of what had transpired. 

This ritual, as well as the community he has found at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, inspired Mitchell to support the temple’s renovation and expansion project. Indeed, his family’s connection to the congregation reaches back generations: Both sets of his grandparents belonged to the temple, the temple confirmed both of his parents, the longtime stalwart Rabbi Edgar Magnin presided over the marriage of his parents and assisted in officiating Mitchell’s own bar mitzvah. Mitchell’s mother was also the first female member of the board.

Mitchell now heads the Edward D. and Anna Mitchell Family Foundation, named for his grandmother and for his grandfather, founder of the Beneficial Standard Life Insurance Co., and it was through the family foundation that he donated $1 million to build the campus’ new central walkway, which will be completed by summer 2016. The walkway will act as a main artery extending between the parking pavilion and sanctuary. 

“We had a tradition of going there on the High Holy Days,” Mitchell said during a conversation at his home in Beverly Hills “It was kind of a special time for the family to all be together; I always looked forward to it from that standpoint.”

Mitchell was born and raised in Los Angeles, and he now oversees his family’s investment portfolio and serves as president of the family foundation. He has also been a committed and generous supporter of organizations benefiting education and Israel. The Mitchell Family Foundation donated a major gift to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and established the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology at the Milken Community High School. He has also given time and financial support to the Anti-Defamation League, Cedars-Sinai, the Music Center, Goodwill Industries, Sheba Medical Center and the Technion, to name a few. He also has served as a national officer and board member of AIPAC, ultimately becoming chairman of its Political Education Program, from 1995 to 1997, encouraging the building of relationships among government leaders and members of the Jewish community. 

“The keeper of the Jewish traditions is Israel. It’s the heart and soul of the Jewish people,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell first realized the importance of helping Jews in 1968, on a trip to Israel and Eastern Europe sponsored by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). At the former Jewish ghetto in Eisenstadt, Austria, he met the only living Jew from among those who stayed there after World War II. When Mitchell asked why he hadn’t left the ghetto, the man explained that if he moved, Jewish life in Eisenstadt would come to an end. 

Mitchell especially remembers that moment, and how Rabbi Herbert Friedman, then the executive director of the UJA, sparked in him a drive to live by and support Jewish traditions: “Rabbi Friedman said it doesn’t matter how many Hitlers come and go. All of them put together cannot destroy the Jewish people. The only thing that can destroy the Jewish people is if we forget our traditions,” Mitchell recalled. 

This notion, Mitchell says, has governed his entire life and was the motivation behind donating to the synagogue. 

“I don’t want the end of the Jewish religion to ever happen in Los Angeles, and having an institution that’s substantial, financially strong, that makes a strong statement in the community, like Wilshire Boulevard Temple — that helps to keep the Jewish tradition alive in Los Angeles,” Mitchell said. “And I would like to see that continue forever.

“I believe that in the end people will look back and say we did the right thing.” 

And this year, with the dome fully restored and newly glowing up above, Mitchell might not be the only one craning his neck back to read the words of the Shema prayer.



Martha Karsh
Tikkun Olam Center

“Sharing just feels like the right thing to do.” Martha Karsh, a philanthropist and attorney, said as she reflected on why she chose to donate to Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s renovation and expansion plan. Karsh said she and her husband, Bruce Karsh, were particularly moved by the temple’s plan to reach out with social services for its surrounding neighborhood, practicing the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam — repairing the world. 

Karsh admits she didn’t need a lot of convincing to show her support. She said that along with the temple’s altruistic efforts, the preservation of the temple building “just spoke to us.”

Before the restoration began, Karsh toured the 1929 building and saw firsthand its neglected state, including portions of the ceiling in the main sanctuary that had fallen to the ground. Karsh described her emotional reaction to seeing the extraordinary structure eroding in front of her eyes.

“I’m really an architecture and preservationist buff,” she said. “I love that temple building.” 

Once the renovation of the sanctuary is completed, Wilshire Boulevard Temple plans to build the Tikkun Olam Center, which will provide a variety of free or low-cost services, including medical, dental, legal and food assistance, as well as mental health counseling and English classes, for anyone in need living in the greater Koreatown area — a multicultural neighborhood that includes many low-income residents. The Karsh family has given $5 million to fund the center in hopes of improving the quality of life for both Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors. 

Karsh said she and her husband felt most passionate about this particular outreach programming because of their ardent belief in helping others. Their three children have worked for the food pantry that the temple has operated for more than 25 years. 

“I feel like my Judaism is very much a part of me,” Karsh said. “Many of the things that guide the work I do are really governed by both democratic and Jewish principles. Tikkun olam, for example — you heal the world, you help others that are less fortunate than you,” Karsh said. “Those are things that are really a part of the fabric of our lives.”

Martha and Bruce Karsh met at University of Virginia School of Law in 1978. The couple moved to Sacramento in the early 1980s for Bruce to work as a clerk for now-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Bruce later transitioned into money management, ultimately becoming president and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, in 1995, which as of December 2012 managed $77.1 billion. Martha practiced law as a business litigator and counseling attorney. She also lectured at UCLA and volunteered at the Office of the County Counsel’s Department of Children and Family Services, earning volunteer-of-the-year in 1987. In 2009, she formed an architecture and design firm, Clark & Karsh, with architect Brad Clark. 

Even as they were working and raising their three children, the Karshes also created the Karsh Family Foundation, which has donated more than $120 million to a variety of philanthropic organizations, mostly ones involving education. 

Their philanthropic focus has been primarily on education, including giving to Duke University, University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, Teach For America and the Knowledge Is Power Program, and Martha Karsh said she believes education is key to bringing people together. She sees the Tikkun Olam Center as working to promote that goal, as well. 

“When you reach out to your neighbors, you build bridges — bridges of understanding and bridges of sharing. Those are the kind of bridges we need to have more of in the world,” Karsh said.

 “Part of the Jewish values, and just our personal values, are that you help people who are not as well off,” Karsh said. “What you’re doing is paying it forward. That’s why we’re doing it. That’s why it resonates with us.”



Audrey Irmas
The Irmas Family Courtyard

Well-known as among Los Angeles’ most important art collectors and arts philanthropists, Audrey Irmas discovers beauty wherever she goes — whether it’s a Roy Lichtenstein painting in her apartment or the artwork that adorns the walls of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple sanctuary.

Indeed, the sanctuary, built in 1929, is a work of art unto itself, with its audacious dome, resounding organ, delicate stained glass and more. However, for Irmas, one attribute in particular stands out: the Hugo Ballin murals. 

Irmas said she loves to look at, in particular, a portrait of Ruth Dubin, the wife of past Rabbi Maxwell Dubin. Draped in blue, Ruth poses on her knees, as if offering up something, but it’s a mystery as to what she’s offering. “I always kind of say hello to [Ruth] when I go. I feel very much at home,” Irmas said. “There’s something so beautiful and welcoming about the temple. I love it very much.” 

Irmas and her late husband, Sydney Irmas, are the third generation of the Irmas family to be members of the temple, and Irmas’ grandchildren constitute the fifth generation to belong to the congregation; indeed Audrey’s name, along with that of her husband grace the temple’s Westside campus, which opened in 1998. Now she has donated $5 million to create the Irmas Family Courtyard, which will include benches designed by the American artist Jenny Holzer.

When Irmas — who was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended Fairfax High School — was just a 20-year-old newlywed, she said, she took her first steps into the Wilshire Boulevard synagogue with her in-laws, when Sydney was out of town. She embraced the temple, sending her children to Sunday school there and attending services with her family — always sneaking a glance at the image of Ruth Dubin. 

It was in 1948, while a student at UCLA, that she met Sydney, who went on to become an attorney and investor. By 1983, the couple had formed the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation, and since her husband’s passing in 1996, Irmas said, she has tried to address local, national and global problems through the foundation, as well as focus on women’s and children’s issues. The foundation also has donated money to USC, created the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Los Angeles Youth Center and the Sydney M. Irmas Therapeutic Living Center. Audrey Irmas also has served as president and chair of the board of the Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art and as chair of the Los Angeles Family Housing Corp. 

“I just feel that I am so fortunate. It’s just part of my background to give back. That’s just part of the family tradition,” she said.

She recalls, as a young girl during the Depression, witnessing her parents give $15 to charity. That donation, from more than 70 years ago, still influences her today, as she remembers how difficult times were for her family financially. 

She said there was no question that she would be a donor to the temple’s rebirth. She reflects back on the times she spent at the temple with her in-laws and said she is comforted by her children’s continuation of the tradition.

“We’re a clan. Jews are a clan, [and] I’m a member of that clan,” Irmas said. “Everybody is so excited about the new temple and the campus. It has reinvigorated the congregation.”

Irmas said she believes the temple’s project will rejuvenate what is already a thriving and tight-knit community. The High Holy Days services, in particular, are a time when she is reminded of the support and kindness she has received from the people who make up the congregation.  

“Usually, once a year, I’m invited to sit on the bimah and participate in the holiday readings. I love looking out to see all my friends from high school and my early marriage. We’re all sitting there together and worshiping. And it’s the temple that brings them together, that brings us together,” she said.


An early model of the campus expansion shows a preliminary vision for a Tikkun Olam Center on Sixth Street, at rear.

SpaceIL: Israel’s race to the moon


One day in 2015, a small Israeli spacecraft will land on and reconnoiter the moon, joining the United States and former Soviet Union in the world’s most exclusive extraterrestrial club.

That vision is not fantasy or chauvinistic braggadocio, but the sober prediction of Israel’s most experienced engineers and space scientists.

According to the leaders of the SpaceIL (for Israel) project, the unmanned micro-spaceship will pack more instrumentation into a smaller and lighter capsule than ever achieved before.

During a visit to Los Angeles in mid-February, Yariv Bash, founder and CEO of SpaceIL, and Ronna Rubinstein, the chief of staff, outlined the genesis, scope and anticipated impact of the moon mission.

In late 2010, Bash heard about the Google Lunar X competition, which offered awards up to $30 million for the first team to land a robotic craft on the moon that would perform several complex missions. For one, the craft had to move 500 meters (1,640 feet) from its landing site to explore the moon’s surface – or send out a search vehicle to do so – and beam high-definition videos back to earth.

Bash, an electronics and computer engineer, said that SpaceIL will traverse the distance in one spectacular jump. SpaceIL, by the way, is only an interim name and when the time comes will be replaced with an official designation.

Initial names suggested by the project staff include Golda, for the former Israeli prime minister, Ramon, for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Columbia shuttle disaster, and Hatikvah, Hebrew for “hope” and the title of the Israeli national anthem.

As soon as Bash absorbed the details of the Google competition, he posted one sentence on Facebook, asking, “Who is coming with me to the moon?” Among the first respondents was Rubinstein, a lawyer who now oversees the project’s organization, marketing and fundraising.

The total estimated cost for the project will be $30 million, of which $20 million has been raised so far, primarily from industry and private contributors. The Israeli government has allotted funds for 10 percent of the total cost, the maximum a government can put up under the contest rules.

Shimon

Israeli President Shimon Peres visits SpaceIL. Photo courtesy SpaceIL

According to Israeli statistics, the government money will be well spent, since for every $1 invested in Israel’s 10 satellites and other high-tech research, $7 are returned in civilian and commercial applications.

The prize for the winning entry is $20 million, with another $10 million available in bonus prizes for accomplishing different aspects of the mission.

But it’s not the prize money that is driving the 11 full-time staff members and some 300 professionals who are volunteering their services evenings and weekends, after finishing their regular day jobs. In any case, any money won will go to schools to enhance math and technology programs.

“What counts for us is the impact the moon landing will have on Israelis and Jews around the world, to show what Israel is and what it can do,” Bash said.

Most important is to instill both pride and scientific curiosity in Israeli youngsters, Bash added. Together with the Weizmann Institute of Science, the project has launched a nationwide program of high school visits, which so far has involved 27,000 students.

Plans also call for lectures and exhibits in Diaspora communities, and Bash and Rubinstein will address a plenary session at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC during the first week of March.

Other key partners in the project are Israel Aerospace Industries, Tel Aviv University, Technion, Israeli Space Agency, Ramon Foundation and private companies like Rafael and Bezeq.

The Israeli spacecraft, whatever its final name, will compete against 24 other entries, of which 11 will be launched by various U.S. teams. Other competitors will come mainly from Europe and some from South American countries, but none from China, or, for that matter, Iran.

Early favorites are entries from the United States, Israel and Spain, Bash said.

Israel’s main strength, he noted, “lies in its nano-miniaturized technology, and SpaceIL will be the smallest craft ever sent into space.”

At liftoff, it will weigh 120 kilograms (264 pounds), but on landing, after burning off its fuel, it will weigh less than 40 kilograms (88 pounds). To get into orbit, SpaceIL will piggyback onto a commercial rocket, either American or Russian, at a cost of between $3 million to $5 million.

To Israelis watching the moon landing from 239,000 miles away, “it will be the most exciting reality show of all,” Bash hopes.

The impact on Israelis, especially young people, would be similar to that created in 1969 by astronaut Neil Armstrong as he descended from the Apollo spacecraft to the moon’s surface, proclaiming, “That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Israeli supporters of SpaceIL already have their own inspirational motto, taken from Theodor Herzl’s words as he prophesized the future creation of a Jewish state.

“Im Tirzu Ein Zo Agada” – “If you will it, it is no dream.”

For additional information, visit www.spaceil.com.

Super Sunday’s fundraising and activism


More than 450 people took part in fundraising and community service activities Feb. 10 as part of Super Sunday, during which The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance raised $1,942,736 as part of its annual fundraising campaign.

“Super Sunday was an enormous success,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an e-mail sent out to the Los Angeles community. “Together we raised [nearly $2 million], which will make a significant impact on our Federation’s work caring for Jews in need, engaging with the community and ensuring the Jewish future.”

A yearly tradition, this installment of Super Sunday represented several firsts, including one new location, a more targeted phone-banking strategy, greater transparency, more experienced fundraisers and the use of cell phones instead of landlines. 

Still, the basics of Super Sunday — phone-a-thons in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to raise funds for The Federation — did not change.

“We like to tell people: You’re not raising money for [people like] yourself, you’re raising money for the people The Federation helps,” said James Felton, Valley Alliance campaign co-chair. “And it’s easy to fundraise when you’re thinking about those people.” 

Approximately 225 individuals signed up to be callers this year, said Mitch Hamerman, senior vice president of marketing at The Federation. 

Money raised during Super Sunday benefits Holocaust survivors, college students needing tuition assistance, the elderly, the hungry and others. It also funds programs that fall under the auspices of The Federation’s initiatives related to engaging the community, ensuring the Jewish future and caring for Jews in need.

Federation volunteers picked more than 3,500 pounds of fresh produce for donation to local food pantries.  Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As usual, the event extended across the city, with Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters serving as a venue for an all-day phone-a-thon. For the first time, Temple Judea in Tarzana served as the Valley site with phone-banking taking place in the sanctuary. Super Sunday in the Valley used to be held at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, but The Federation sold that property to New Community Jewish High School.

In the past, Federation reports of how much it raised on Super Sunday included money that had been donated to it throughout the year. This year, The Federation’s figure was limited strictly to what was raised exclusively on the one day. This was meant to increase transparency about Super Sunday, Sanderson said.

Additionally, phone-bankers limited calls to first-time donors and those who have contributed less than $5,000 in the past. As for those who have donated more than $5,000, The Federation will take the time to develop personal relationships with them, Sanderson said. 

Making calls from a new location did not appear to hinder Valley volunteers. Spirits high, volunteers such as Joel Volk placed calls from their cell phones and made their pitches.

“Are you interested in supporting The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles? It’s really about having a cohesive community here in Los Angeles,” the Thousands Oaks resident said to one of the dozens of people he called on Sunday. 

Cell phones were used instead of telephones because it was not cost-effective to bring the phones in, Sanderson said. Phone chargers for all kinds of cell phones were available to volunteers; donated cell phones were on hand for those who did not have their own, and volunteers who preferred to keep their phone numbers private dialed a special code before making each call.

Federation volunteers spruced up Friendship Circle’s new campus and helped prepare for its upcoming Purim party. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rhonda Seaton, communications director at the Valley Alliance, said Super Sunday has taken a quality-over-quantity approach over the past couple of years, reaching out to fewer — albeit more experienced — volunteers to make phone calls. This year’s phone-bankers included Federation lay-leaders and members of Federation networking and philanthropic groups, such as Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA), Jewish Business Leaders and the Sylvia Weisz Women’s Campaign.

Volunteers used Instagram, an online photo-sharing tool, to take photographs of themselves placing calls, and they updated their Twitter feeds throughout the day.

“We want to connect with people in every way possible,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson traveled back and forth between the Wilshire Boulevard and Valley sites. Around 1:30 p.m., he and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of The Federation, arrived at Temple Judea just as David Melnick and Marcy Tajkef, co-chairs of the Valley Alliance Super Sunday, announced Valley phone-bankers had raised $346,693. The highest fundraisers will receive tickets to a taping of “American Idol,” an Amazon Kindle and other prizes, the co-chairs said.

The phone-a-thon is just one part of Super Sunday. This was the third consecutive Super Sunday that included a service component, and it is critical to The Federation’s mission, said Neuriel Shore, community and government affairs manager at The Federation.

“What’s The Federation there for? It’s there as a convener; it’s there to bring together the Jewish community in a way that community services does,” Shore said.

In the morning, Shore said he was expecting 250 people to participate in community service projects organized by The Federation throughout Los Angeles County. At one of these projects, volunteers, under the guidance of Food Forward, picked oranges at a grove adjoining a private residence in Agoura Hills. The nonprofit harvests the fruit on homeowners’ trees and donates the bounty to food pantries and food banks. 

Jeff Silverman, a 47-year-old sales manager from Woodland Hills, was happy to participate. As opposed to something insular — like “knitting yarmulkes for young Jews in Brooklyn” — Food Forward helps a broad population, he said. It also helps create community. Growing up in Highland, Ind., Silverman was the only Jewish student at his high school. Days like these help him connect with Jews in Los Angeles, he said.

Community service projects appealed to a variety of interests. Volunteers helped the Friendship Circle, an organization for families with special-needs children, prepare for its Purim party and beautify its new campus on Robertson Boulevard; others took a bus to a military base in Los Alamitos, where they prepared lunch for and shared a meal with military personnel; and in celebration of Purim and Presidents Day, YALA created patriotic-themed mishloach manot (“sending of portions”) to give to Jewish veterans.

Additionally, more than 200 high school students gathered at Temple Judea to do arts projects, assemble bags of food for Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program and learn about global issues. Sherut L’Olam, which provides environmental and social justice education to teenagers, led the initiative.

Super Sunday may be about soliciting donations, but it is also about letting people know The Federation is there for them, Melnick said. When he spoke to someone on the phone who was unemployed, he told him about Federation programs that might be able to help. Given that he was doing this inside of a sanctuary, Melnick said it felt like “sacred work in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.”

At one-film-a-year pace, Woody Allen not slowing down


Funny, serious, and controversial, Woody Allen’s films evoke many emotions—but his Jewish upbringing sticks out in them like a matzo ball in chicken soup.

With Allen’s new movie, “To Rome With Love,” opening this summer and his “Bullets Over Broadway” set for a musical theater adaptation, this 76-year-old American filmmaker is not slowing down and remains at the top of his game.

According to Leonard Quart, professor emeritus of cinema at the City University of New York Grad Center and contributing editor of Cineaste, Allen’s comic style and vision differ significantly from other Jewish filmmakers like Mel Brooks.

[The Woody Allen Israel Project: Help #sendwoody to Israel for his next film]

“Allen, in his middle period, was the more controlled, stylistically rich, and gifted director,” Quart told JNS.org. “His works then seamlessly combined the comic and pathetic, with characters who had internal lives, and weren’t merely cartoons. Brooks is the more manic and anarchic, and he can provoke belly laughs that Allen rarely does. Both engage in social criticism, though Brooks’ use of pop culture makes his work broader and less subtle. For a time, these two Brooklyn products, who did stand-up comedy and wrote for Sid Caesar, were, albeit in different ways, the two best American directors of comedy.”

Born Allan Konigsberg in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn (the son of Nettie, a bookkeeper at her family’s delicatessen, and Martin Konigsberg, a jewelry engraver and waiter), Allen’s parents were born and raised on the lower east side of Manhattan and his grandparents were German immigrants who spoke Yiddish. He pays homage to New York City in many of his films, including the critically acclaimed “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Bespeckled, diminutive, and neurotic, Allen makes many short lists of the most important comedy directors of all time. A writing, acting and directing triple threat, he has received 15 nominations for Academy Awards, winning three.

For years, Allen has managed to release one film annually, oscillating between brainy comedies and stark dramas, full of funny wordplay and incisive characterizations. According to Foster Hirsch, author of Love, Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life: The Films of Woody Allen, Allen carved out a unique place for himself in American movies, becoming our national auteur as well as the most prolific director in the country, and creating a singular world with each film released since his first in 1969.

Hirsch said he was drawn to Allen’s films when he saw “Annie Hall.” “Something about that film struck a nerve,” he told JNS.org. “In my work I usually avoid comedy but something about his New York Jewish humor I respond to. It’s very fresh.”

Allen’s Jewish background has a total impact on his work, Hirsch said.

“Everything he writes and acts and films has direct roots in a New York Jewish sensibility, which he presents to the world, and he then becomes an ambassador of that sensibility,” Hirsch said. “In literature Philip Roth would be a good equivalent. What does that mean? There are a litany of complaints, grievances, family trauma, the over-possessive mother and the distant father, the feelings of exclusion and inferiority. All of the angst associated with being Jewish is transformed in Woody Allen and lit by his radiant humor.”

Allen is typically inspired by European filmmakers.  When “To Rome With Love” opened in June, he told Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times how profoundly Italian filmmakers influenced him.

“They invented a method of telling a story, and suddenly for us lesser mortals it becomes all right to tell a story that way,” Allen told Itzkoff. “We do our versions of them, never as shockingly innovative or brilliant as when the masters did them.”

Always serious about his art but never self-involved, Allen’s best work, like the masters he idolizes, touches deep human issues. Although rooted in a Jewish sensibility, his subjects are universal. For example, in Hirsch‘s favorite film, “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the universal issue of self-forgiveness resonates.

“It’s about a person forgiving himself for committing a horrendous crime,” Hirsch told JNS.org. “This is the one film of his that has continuing resonance for me. I cannot get the Martin Landau character out of my mind.”

Additionally, Allen’s “schlemiel” character—the outsider, apparent loser, underdog, and person not part of the dominant culture—is indeed imprinted on our collective consciousness.

“With his figure of the schlemiel, Woody Allen has made a permanent contribution to the history of American film,” Hirsch said. “His artistry is inseparable from his Jewishness.”

 

New York’s UJA-Federation sets event fundraising record


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

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

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

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

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

Oakland day school raises $1 million in 10 months


The Oakland Hebrew Day School in California has raised $1 million in 10 months to match a grant from an anonymous donor.

The $2 million will be used to provide need-based scholarships for students to attend the Modern Orthodox day school, the Bay Area school announced Tuesday.

The donor, who remains anonymous, also pledged another $100,000 for the school to find new donors to support the school’s long-term scholarship funds by Dec. 31.

The school is marking its 20th anniversary this year.

“We saw participation ranging from $15 to over $100,000 and donations from every part of our community,” said Rabbi Yehudah Potok, the head of school. “We also had nearly 100 percent parent participation.

Study: Giving to Israel down 16 percent between ‘06 and ‘09


Giving to Israel decreased by 16 percent between 2006 and 2009, exhibiting the same trends as overall American giving, a study found.

“American Friends: U.S. Philanthropic Support for Israeli Nonprofits,” a study published last week by the EHL Consulting Group, found that American giving to Israeli causes exhibits the same trends as American giving overall, but in a much more exaggerated way, with higher peaks and lower troughs.

The study examined the trends of philanthropic support from 2006 to 2009 for 80 U.S.-based nonprofit organizations that fundraise in the U.S. to support services in Israel, typically focused on a specific organization. While giving to the organizations decreased by 16 percent, U.S. giving overall to those four sectors—arts and culture, education, health, and human services – decreased by only 1.5 percent from 2006 to 2009. Giving overall bottomed out in 2008 and began to recover in 2009, but American Friends giving continued to decline, creating the large disparity in the figures.

Giving to American Friends organizations continued to grow in 2007 but plummeted in 2008, indicating that the recession was in fact a major cause of the decline, not a long-term decrease in interest in giving to American Friends organizations.

Giving to Israeli religious organizations such as synagogues and religious academies were not included because it is not as comparable to giving in the U.S., according to the study’s authors.

This was the second study published on this topic by EHL Consulting, which is based in suburban Philadelphia. The previous study, published in 2008, examined 80 American Friends organizations in four sectors, comparing their performance from 2001 and 2006 with that of U.S. organizations by sector. That study concluded that from 2001 to 2006, giving to American Friends organizations outperformed parallel giving to U.S.-based nonprofits.

Most of the organizations, 75 percent, were headquartered in New York State, with most in New York City. The rest were scattered in other states such as New Jersey, Maryland and California.

Mazon doling out $3 million in grants to fight hunger


Mazon said it has awarded more than $3 million in grants for 2011 to agencies dedicated to fighting hunger.

The grant recipients announced Tuesday by the Jewish nonprofit organization included about two dozen organizations from around the world, including Israel, South Africa, Ethiopia and Haiti, and several hundred from more than 40 states in America.

“Our grants help agencies rise to the challenge of feeding their hungry neighbors, and expanding access to government safety-net programs that shield families from some of the worst effects of the recession,” Mazon grants director Mia Hubbard said in a news release.

Religious and secular organizations, including Christian and Jewish charities, received grants.

The latest awards bring the total amount that Mazon has doled out in grants to more than $53 million, the release said.

Jewish federations see a slight dip in fundraising


North American Jewish federations generated nearly $2.5 billion for program needs in 2010, according to their umbrella group.

The Jewish Federations of North America raised about $925 million last year in its 157 federated and 300 network communities, down from the 2009 campaign totals of $938 million. JFNA spokespeople attributed the dip to the continued economic downturn. In 2008, the annual campaign raised $1.04 billion.

Fundraising in 2011 is “looking up,” a spokesman told JTA.

An additional $1.5 billion was generated in 2010 in endowment funds for specific charitable projects in North America, Israel and dozens of other countries, totaling more than $2.4 billion for global needs in 2010. Jewish Federations’ philanthropic endowment portfolio is worth $13.5 billion and currently yields approximately $1.5 billion in yearly earnings.

“We are incredibly proud that thanks to our generous donors and the hard work of federation professionals and lay leaders, the Jewish Federations continue to help enrich and sustain Jewish life around the world,” Kathy Manning, JFNA’s board chair, said in a written statement.

Jewish fund calls for grant proposals


The Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles (JVPF), in collaboration with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is currently seeking grant proposals. Any local, national and Israel-based Jewish nonprofit can submit a request for funds.

Grant proposals are due by 5 p.m. March 7.

JVPF is a group of 25 business leaders who contribute $10,000 annually, and each has an equal vote on which organizations to fund. JVPF expects to issue grants totaling $250,000 this year.

In determining grant recipients, the organization looks for innovative groups whose efforts are needed by the Jewish community, are in a position to grow, have potential for a large impact and are sustainable, according to the JVPF Web site.

“It’s always helpful if there’s a specific L.A. impact,” said Scott Minkow, The Federation’s vice president of partnerships and innovation.

Since its founding in 2002, JVPF has distributed $1.2 million to Jewish organizations, such as Moishe House and jewcy.com.

For more information, visit jewishla.net/jvpf-la.

Temple bingo — a gamble if it’s a good way to raise funds


The social hall at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks undergoes a major transformation every Thursday night. Television monitors and a flashing scoreboard are mounted on the walls, and a sea of cafeteria-style tables cluttered with small computer monitors, game cards and good-luck charms take up most of the room.

The Thursday nightlife at this Conservative congregation is all about bingo.

“It’s an excellent fundraiser,” said Michael Roberts, an Etz Chaim board member and the synagogue’s former bingo trustee. “[The players] are noncongregants, and they enjoy bingo like you can’t believe.”

Typically associated with American Legion halls, Elks clubs and churches, the sedentary game that caters to seniors is not often associated with Jewish houses of worship. But a few synagogues across the Southland have offered weekly bingo nights as temple fundraisers for decades.

While some shuls embrace the idea of opening their doors to the local bingo crowd, others are adamantly opposed to the idea of the increasingly popular game because of its gambling stigma.

Bingo’s origins can be traced back to 16th century European lotteries, but its modern equivalent was inspired by a carnival game called Beano, which was adapted by New York salesman Edwin Lowe in 1929. When Lowe organized a game for his friends, one of the players is said to have become so excited that she yelled out “bingo” instead of “beano” and the name stuck.

While the game is frequently looked upon as a fundraising tool for religious and charitable organizations, the proliferation of Native American-run casinos over the last 20 years has enabled commercial bingo halls with higher stakes to spread out beyond the state of Nevada. The new generation of players seeking bigger jackpots now comes armed with special markers, called daubers, and other paraphernalia in bingo bags that double as seat cushions.

Television has taken notice of bingo’s boom. In March, cable channel GSN launched “Bingo America” with host Patrick Duffy, a successor to ABC’s 2007 “National Bingo Night,” in which two contestants compete to win up to $100,000, and viewers at home can play along to win money.

For many, bingo remains a social game. The roughly 150 players — mostly female and above retirement age — who file into Temple Etz Chaim each Thursday night find time spent at the synagogue is a opportunity to visit with friends and share the hope of winning big.

Etz Chaim’s bingo fundraiser has been run entirely by synagogue volunteers for the last 23 years, and it generates about $100,000 a year for the congregation, with all proceeds going toward the temple’s preschool and religious school.

Roberts sees bingo as a win-win situation for the congregation and the community.

“It’s a community service, in a way,” Roberts said. “We’re providing a service of running games and helping students.”

He added that the games also help the surrounding non-Jewish community get to know the congregants and the shul. “They realize that we’re nice people,” he said.

At the synagogue level, Etz Chaim says it also enjoys greater involvement from congregants, because many of its bingo volunteers go on to participate in other synagogue committees and events.

But at a time when many synagogues and Jewish agencies hold casino-themed fundraisers, not everyone thinks gambling and shuls mix.

“I’m very ambivalent about a synagogue providing a regular gambling opportunity, especially for the population that tends to frequent bingo,” said Rabbi Rick Brody of Temple Ami Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in West Covina that halted its own bingo fundraiser three years ago. “At least from what I was seeing, [the players are] people who, to one degree or another, are addicted and are focused on wining as much money as they can, and I don’t think that that is what a synagogue should be focusing on.”

Brody was relieved when his temple did away with its bingo program due to poor revenue and lack of volunteers. But even if profits were higher, the rabbi doesn’t “think it really helps the spiritual bottom line of what the congregation is supposed to be about.”

Brody is not alone. In fact, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference for American Rabbis adopted resolutions advising rabbis and shuls to discourage their congregants from using gambling as a fundraiser.

Rabbi Ted Riter of Temple Adat Elohim, a Reform congregation in Thousand Oaks, believes that a bingo fundraiser would conflict with his synagogue’s identity.

“Our vision of where we’re going and who we are is that we try to heal the world and open up paths for spirituality and draw community together,” Riter said. “Gambling doesn’t seem to fulfill any of those directions.”

A few Adat Elohim congregants, like Mitch Schwartz of Newbury Park, disagree.

“Why not get money out of the community at large if you can, instead of nickel-and-diming the congregation?” said Schwartz, a former Adat Elohim Brotherhood ways and means chair.

Schwartz said that if the temple adopted bingo, the shul wouldn’t have to raise membership dues on a yearly basis.

But without support from a core group of dedicated volunteers, many bingo fundraisers fail. Weekly volunteer positions include game sales, bankers, callers, game verifiers, food vendors and computer rental salesmen.

At Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Whittier, bingo volunteers are broken up into four teams of eight people, each of whom rotates their services. Temple Etz Chaim relies on 15 people a week.

While it’s hard to argue with the monetary gain (Temple Beth Shalom also made close to $100,000 in a year), many people feel that bingo fundraisers do not add much to the shul community itself, besides the friendships forged between volunteers.

Among the synagogues interviewed, only Etz Chaim had one bingo player affiliate with the synagogue.

And even some congregants at Etz Chaim are not entirely comfortable with game. Over the years, Roberts said a few board members and other active shul members have questioned the validity of the fundraiser.

“We said if you can think of another way to make this much money, we’ll close bingo,” Roberts said. “No one’s ever come up with another way.”

For more information, visit Bingo America.


Briefs: Newsweek ranks the rabbis, ‘Passover in a Box’


Los Angeles wins again on Newsweek’s two new top rabbi lists (“Is Your Rabbi Hot or Not?”) with locals heading the 25 Top Pulpit Rabbis in America (No. 1: Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai) and the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America (No. 1: Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for the second year in a row).

No surprise there as the list makers — Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Television Network and JTN Productions; Michael Lynton, chair and CEO of Sony; and Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of News Corp — are all Angelenos.

Which also might be why five out of the 25 top pulpit rabbis hail from Los Angeles: In addition to Wolpe, there’s Sharon Brous, Ikar, (9); Yosef Kanefsky, B’nai David-Judea, (11); Ed Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom, (20); and Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah, (24).

And why 13 out of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis are also from Los Angeles: Hier, (1); Robert Wexler, president of American Jewish University, (3); Uri D. Herscher, founder and CEO of Skirball Cultural Center, (6); Yehuda Berg, Kabbalah Centre, (11); Wolpe, (12); Harold M. Schulweis, Congregation Valley Beth Shalom, (19); Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center, (25); Brous, (30); Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, (31); Elliot Dorff, American Jewish University, (35); Nachum Braverman, Aish HaTorah, (38); Naomi Levy, Nashuva, (41); and Steven Leder, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, (49).

Wolpe and Brous are two of the eight rabbis that appear on both lists. Of the 10 new additions to last year’s inaugural list of 50 Most Influential Rabbis, three are from Los Angeles (Brous, Leder and Artson).

No doubt there are many other ways to analyze the lists (denomination, gender, other regions) and no doubt in the year to come, many rabbis and their followers will try.

‘Passover in a Box’

Rabbi Pearl Barlev will ensure that patients at UCLA Medical Center have the opportunity to celebrate Passover.

Barlev, who is in her first year as Jewish chaplain in the hospital’s multifaith Spiritual Care department, along with volunteers, will distribute 50 units of “Passover in a Box” to patients during bedside visits.

“Passover in a Box” is this holiday’s version of “Shabbat in a Box,” which Barlev developed and distributes each week to some 20 patients (there are more Jewish patients, she said, but that’s all her limited resources allow). Each Shabbat box contains a set of electric candles, challah, grape juice, a wine glass and a copy of the traditional blessings in Hebrew and English.

“It serves different needs for different patients — some need it to actually practice Shabbat, while for some it pulls on an emotional memory,” Barlev said. “It’s a way to touch base and to enhance for those who want to observe.”

The Passover box will include enough matzah for the first two nights of Passover, kosher macaroons and a Passover information sheet (including a haggadah). Barlev said she hopes the boxes will “help patients feel as though they’ve had a relationship with the holiday.”

Jewish teachings can be meaningful for patients struggling with illness, she said, and she turns to these as she prepares her written texts.

For the Passover box, Barlev wrote about Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for Egypt whose root means “narrow places.”

“While in the hospital, we may be in our most narrow places, but the story contains inspiration that I hope people can gain.”

To volunteer or donate to the “Shabbat in a Box” program, contact Barlev at (310) 794-0542.

— Anita K. Kantrowitz, Contributing Writer

A While for Weil

Steven Weil, senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, has been offered the position of executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), which serves as the education, outreach and social service organization for Orthodox synagogues.

As of press time, Weil had not yet decided whether he was going to accept the position, which would require relocating his family to New York by June 2009, when the OU’s current executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, leaves the position to continue on as emeritus for three more years.

This week Weil will be negotiating with OU officials before making his decision.

Ohr HaTorah Moving to Mar Vista?

Ohr HaTorah synagogue is trying to raise $3.8 million in the next 45 days in order to purchase a building in Mar Vista as its new home, congregation officials announced April 10.

The nondenominational synagogue, which was founded in 1994 by Rabbis Mordecai and Meirav Finley and a small group of families, now has 300 member families. It currently meets in the Faith Tabernacle Church in West Los Angeles; the church recently decided not to renew the synagogue’s lease.

The building, located on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Barrington Avenue, was the home of Beth Torah, a Conservative congregation that recently merged with Adat Shalom of Westwood. Although the original asking price of the facility was $4.75 million, Ohr HaTorah was able to reach an agreement price of $3.8 million — with the added bonus that the land already is zoned for religious use.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to provide a much needed home for Jewish life in the south Santa Monica/Venice/Mar Vista area,” the memo said.

Briefs: Special needs kids program needs help; Singles and greening become Big Sunday specialties


Special-Needs Program in Jeopardy

A program for kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities is in danger of closing before the end of this school year if it does not come up with new sources of funding.

Kol Hanearim runs self-contained classrooms in day schools for kids who have been diagnosed with conditions such as Aspergers syndrome, juvenile bipolar disorder or severe attention deficit. One of the original sources of funding has run dry, and Kol Hanearim is currently conducting an emergency appeal through synagogues to make payroll for its two part-time and one full-time teacher, four aides and administrator.

“What is really sad is that the program is thriving, the host schools are thriving, the kids are doing great, but somehow the community has not responded,” said Manette Cogan, one of a small group of parents who founded the program three years ago.

Kol Hanearim addresses a hole in the city’s Jewish educational structure by following a model that has worked well in other cities. Existing day schools each take an age cohort of students with special needs and carry them through first through eighth grade.

Host schools supply the classrooms, Kol Hanearim supplies the teachers, and the two work together to find mainstreaming opportunities, whether that is recess and lunch or a Bible and math class.

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills has hosted kids, currently in fifth through eighth grade, for three years; Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood has had first- through fourth-graders since last year.

Eight children are currently enrolled, and Cogan says the program is built for more than 20 students, with proper funding.

Kol Hanearim spends more than $30,000 annually per student, more than parents can pay in tuition. The program needs about $180,000 to be able to keep the doors open through the end of the year.

But, Cogan said, it’s often a difficult message to sell. Many potential donors feel they have fulfilled their special-needs obligations by donating to other programs, such as the Etta Israel Center, which deals primarily with developmental disabilities.

Emotional and behavioral disabilities are often more difficult for donors to grasp, since the kids look fine and many do stay in day schools, though they suffer academically and socially.

“It’s hard for people to understand that the diagnoses from which [these kids] suffer have internal, invisible ramifications that are very painful and debilitating and keep them from functioning anywhere close to their capacity,” Cogan said.

Without such a specialized program like Kol Hanearim, kids can end up feeling awkward and unable to keep up with a curriculum not designed with their specific diagnoses in mind. Often, the kids end up getting kicked out of day schools and feel rejected by Judaism.

“The place where they should feel nurtured and wanted, and where their siblings feel nurtured and wanted, becomes a place of great pain because it’s a place of rejection,” Cogan said. “It ends up being a great loss to the child, to the family and to the community.” Kol Hanearim can be reached at (323) 761-8771, khkids@gmail.com–Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Singles and Green Become Big Sunday Specialties

Big Sunday, the ever-expanding Southern California annual volunteer weekend, announced plans for Big Sunday ’08 Thursday night at the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church.

The event, which last year drew more than 50,000 volunteers to work at 300 venues, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. David Levinson, a screenwriter and playwright who at Temple Israel of Hollywood founded the project as a Mitzvah Day and has expanded it exponentially, serves as executive director. On Thursday, Levinson announced two new facets to this year’s Big Sunday: Singles Sunday, with projects designed for the unattached, and Green Sunday, an environmental initiative.

Singles Sunday will include volunteer opportunities designated “For Singles,” in the hopes that through them volunteers will meet that special, philanthropic someone. So far, two projects are marked as such, with the expectation that more will follow.

Green Sunday will also be in its first year and will focus on environmental volunteer work, including beach cleaning, tree planting and gardening. Among its main goals, however, will be to recycle all the plastic water bottles discarded by Big Sunday volunteers. Green Sunday organizers are hoping to spread an environmental message as well, that change can be incremental and even small gestures count.

Finally, the other big news in 2008 is that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this year will no longer be a full partner in Big Sunday. Since the focus of the mayor’s office has by its very nature been with the City of Los Angeles, whereas Big Sunday runs projects all the way from Orange County to Ventura County to the Inland Empire, after two years of collaborating the mayor and Big Sunday together made the decision for the split, which Levinson called “mutual and amicable.” Additionally, Big Sunday organizers felt that the move echoed the need to keep Big Sunday apolitical.

The mayor’s office will still be running a “day of service” in Chatsworth.

Big Sunday organizers hope that this year’s weekend will be the biggest yet.

“There’s something for every age, passion and talent,” Levinson said. “Everybody has a way to help somebody else.”

Beginning April 1, volunteers can sign up for projects at www.bigsunday.org. Organizations wishing to participate, or to make a contribution, can contact Big Sunday now via the Web site.

— Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer

Interest-Free Loans Offered to AJU Students

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) unveiled last week a new program for students at American Jewish University (AJU).

The Ziering Family Student Loan Fund will provide an average of $3,000 in interest-free loans to qualified undergraduate and graduate students.

“JFLA is committed to meeting the changing needs of the community, and we know students at the American Jewish University will benefit from the expanded assistance JFLA can now provide,” CEO Mark Meltzer said in a statement.

The association, a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, offers various loans to members of all faiths.

For more information, visit www.jfla.org or call (323) 761-8830.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Bet Tzedek benefit gathers lawyers and money


Bet Tzedek Draws Legion of Lawyers

A legion of lawyers in dark suits and ties, pencil skirts and high heels walked the rain-slicked streets of Century City to the Hyatt Regency. Inside, barristers filled the ballroom to celebrate Bet Tzedek and the people who devote themselves to public service and social justice.

More than 1,000 of Los Angeles’ most talented and generous lawyers pooled $2.3 million for “The House of Justice” during the 20th annual Dinner Gala on Jan. 22. They demonstrated their support for an organization that annually provides myriad legal services free of charge to 10,000 Los Angeles residents in need.
One of its founding members, Rabbi Stanley Levy, delivered opening remarks, oft quoting Einstein, and urged the crowd to consider the words, “We are here for the sake of others.”

Bart Pachino, Bet Tzedek board member and vice president of asset management for KB Home, said the organization provides many lawyers with meaning and fulfillment.

“You know, when you’re involved in the corporate world, the world of transactions, it’s easy to forget why you got involved in law in the first place,” he said. “This is a steady reminder.”

Mitchell Kamin, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek, said, “I believe Bet Tzedek’s work can affect the way children see the world.”

He shared a personal and passionate story about a conversation he had with his young son, who was attending the annual dinner for the first time.
“How do you tell a 9-year-old boy that slavery exists in Los Angeles, California in 2008?” Kamin asked.

He discussed the case of a Peruvian woman named “Elena” who suffered terrible abuses at the hands of a human trafficker who promised her opportunity in the United States. After a concerned neighbor suggested a terrified and withdrawn Elena contact Bet Tzedek, a devoted lawyer worked tirelessly to help her earn back her freedom.

“I believe that this world can be one of compassion, caring and responsibility, that we can have faith in our legal system and faith in humanity,” Kamin said.
Each year, more than 700 volunteers donate more than 35,000 hours of their time for pro-bono cases.

Representing the best of those involved were honorees Anna Burns, O’Melveny & Myers LLP and entertainment lawyer Kevin S. Marks, who was feted with the high prize of the evening — the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award — and a special performance by client Tom Waits, along with an appearance by Hollywood couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

The evening was a powerful reminder of how lawyers do work for the common good. Beyond the prestige of a high-powered firm, a multimillion-dollar settlement, company cars or a steep expense account, Bet Tzedek proves the greatest power of law is in exemplifying its core philosophy: to serve the public interest and actively seek justice for all.

SCENE AND HEARD…

Liz and Martin Nachimson
Liz and Martin Nachimson were feted by the Ben Zakkai Honor Society (BZHS), an alumni society of NCSY, the popular youth program of the Orthodox Union. The North Hollywood couple was presented with the Enid and Harold H. Boxer Award on Jan. 6 for their role in establishing an OU presence on the West Coast. Martin Nachimson currently serves as chair of the OU’s board of governors. The BZHS functions as a fundraising arm for summer programs in the United States and Israel.

Federation aids Jewish food agencies’ hunger needs


It all started with powdered milk.

Last April, SOVA Community Food & Resource Program, which operates three food pantries and resource centers in Los Angeles, ran out of powdered milk, so the directors decided to solicit directly from their support network. They sent out a memo to local synagogues and schools asking for powdered milk donations.

One parent forwarded the notice to a reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News, which published a story last week about a shortage at food pantries affecting agencies across the country, including SOVA. At a time of economic uncertainty nationally, these agencies are facing shortages of many essential items, including powdered milk, peanut butter and other proteins and healthy essential staples for families in need.

The article turned out to be the first notice John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles had of the crisis, he said. The Federation provides funding to Jewish Family Service (JFS), the agency that runs SOVA. Fishel said he immediately called SOVA to find out about the shortage.

“Once I saw the problem existed, it was very clear that we had to respond expeditiously as a Federation,” he said.

Last Thursday, he announced that The Federation would give $50,000 in emergency funds to the agency. JFS is asking for an increase in next year’s budget; the details are to be determined.

“I’m glad our community is generous enough to raise the funds to address a situation as critical as this one,” he said. “Obviously, poor people have to have something to eat.”

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Leslie Friedman, director of SOVA, of the emergency grant.

In 2007, the Federation gave $250,000 to JFS for SOVA. In November 2007, the pantries fed 5,249 people, of which 853 were first-time visitors. (In November 2006 they served 5,086 people, 721 of them first-timers.)

Friedman attributes the current shortage to two factors: “The need for food assistance has skyrocketed, and the availability of food from our generally reliable sources has diminished,” she said. According to Friedman, government cuts to the farm bill means farmers have less of a surplus to donate to hunger relief agencies, such as SOVA.

But the causes of the food and funding shortage go deeper, said Paul Castro, executive director of JFS, which inherited the SOVA program in 2002 from the flailing Jewish Community Centers.

“If your perspective is that government needs to be smaller, then it’s up to the private sector to pick up the slack — and they don’t have the ability to do it,” he said.

In recent years, cuts in government funding of social services affect the poor in all areas, especially when it comes to food.

“It’s larger than SOVA, JFS and the government can do,” Castro said, adding that more than 100,000 people in Los Angeles are in need of help to obtain food every year.

“The whole issue of hunger is a growing problem,” he said, noting that it’s not just an issue of funding, but a growing demand due to economic conditions. “It’s hard to estimate what the demand will be — it’s a trickle-down approach,” he said. The high cost of living — rent, gas, food — all affect the hunger crisis. For example, the current subprime mortgage-lending crisis may affect the number of needy people.

“People who come to our pantries are not homeless, they’re working poor. They just don’t have money at the end of the week to put it all together,” he said. “A person might ask, ‘Do I pay my mortgage, keep my car or buy food?’ and then end up coming to a food bank.”

Others have also seen shortages: Valley Interfaith Council (VIC), which includes seven churches and two synagogues (Temple Beth Hillel and Temple Adat Ari El), has had more people coming to their doors for a weekly bag of groceries.

“In the last two years, the homeless and the senior population have been increasing,” said Jerry Rabinowitz, a VIC board member who volunteers at the pantry on Fridays. There has also been an increase in the number of children. The group used to get three or four kids a month, but now about 45 to 50 often come with their families and parents.

VIC serves some 4,000 people a month, but despite the increase in demand they do not run out of funds. That’s because they do not have a payroll.

“We do not pay rent,” Rabinowitz explained.

Their network operates on a budget of $65,000 to $70,000 a year — 100 percent from donations — with 160 volunteers from synagogues and churches who buy the food, pack it, bring it to the First Christian Church and distribute it to the needy.

SOVA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2008, operates on a $1.5 million budget, with a staff of nine full-time and seven part-time workers and hundreds of volunteers. In addition to a bag of groceries, they also provide legal counseling from Bet Tzedek, vocational counseling from Jewish Vocational Service, food stamp enrollment and nutritional counseling.

Targeted food drives — like the one for powdered milk in April — are helpful.

“The idea of handing over a can of food makes it very real — it’s food coming from them to another individual,” Friedman said. “It creates a very deep feeling of caring and sharing and helping another person,” she said.

But funding can be even more helpful, as it allows SOVA to buy essential products in bulk.

Which is why SOVA recently hired a part-time director of development, Jane Zuckerman, formerly executive director of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“We need to help the community understand that SOVA is more than a place to give canned food, but [also needs] funds to buy the products that don’t come through food collections,” Friedman said.

With the holidays and winter season approaching, many people are attuned to the issue of hunger and the needy. Both SOVA and VIC have room for volunteers, either on a one-time or long-term basis.

“The need exists every month of the year,” Friedman added.

For information and to contribute, go to:

Sova

Diane Linder

SOVA Administrative Office

16439 Vanowen Street

Van Nuys , CA 91406

Phone: (818) 988-7682

Fax: (818) 988-7683

SOVAinfo@jfsla.org

Valley Interfaith Council (VIC)

10824 Topanga Canyon Blvd. ‘7

Chatsworth, CA 91311

(818) 718-6460

FAX: (818) 718- 0734 Email: info@vic-la.org

Charity fulfills dreams of young Israeli cancer patients


The small group inched forward through the dark walkway, clinging to one another. They giggled as they glanced nervously around at the bloody limbs strewn on the floor and thick cobwebs covering the walls. A ghastly creature lunged at them from a dark corner, and the terrified bunch shrieked. They finally made it out of the House of Horrors at Universal Studios, thanks to the guidance of a slightly annoyed teenage employee.

The mixed group of children and adults emerged wearing matching white T-shirts with rainbow-colored graphics, baseball hats and backpacks. They looked like any other organized outing, except that one of the kids was in a wheelchair and another had a plastic brace on his elbow.

Also, all of the nearly two dozen children are battling cancer.

The Larger Than Life group arrived in Los Angeles on Oct. 11 for an all-expenses-paid “West Coast Dream Flight” adventure. The two-week trip from Israel included 22 cancer-stricken Israeli children and 10 supervising adult volunteers — three of whom were medical professionals — on a fantasy-fulfilling itinerary: a helicopter tour of Los Angeles, Cirque du Soleil at the Wynn in Las Vegas, Disneyland, Sea World, Venice Beach, bowling and barbecues with local families.

Larger Than Life, or Gdolim Mehachayim in Hebrew, was founded 10 years ago in Israel by a father whose infant son was diagnosed with cancer. The nonprofit’s mission is to improve the quality of life for children with cancer living in Israel, irrespective of their religion, race or ethnicity. They embrace hundreds of Jewish, Arab, Druze and Bedouin children and teens in the oncology wards of hospitals across Israel.

Often compared to the U.S.-based Make-A-Wish Foundation, Larger Than Life is actually much broader in scope, explained CEO Lior Shmueli.

“This two-week trip is only the cherry on top of the cream,” he said, sitting outside the Universal Studios Hilton after a long day of haunted houses, 4-D “Shrek” movies and Jurassic Park rides. “It’s not just by making wishes come true that we help these kids. We go deeper than that.”

Gavriel Shapira, an extremely articulate 12-year-old from Mevaseret Zion who bravely led the way through the House of Horrors, begged to go on the stomach-turning Revenge of the Mummy ride twice and eagerly volunteered to participate in a special-effects demonstration.

“I want to be an inventor,” he said as he waited in front of the Terminator 2: 3-D attraction. “I want to design electronics. Maybe robots or weapons.”

Gavri speaks fluent Hebrew and Russian and is impressive in English. He’s clearly a bright kid but modest and subtle about it. He explained the process of turning a penny into a pressed souvenir coin to another kid with pleasure and patience and a complete lack of condescension.

“I spent seven months in the hospital,” Gavri said nonchalantly. He had cancer in his elbow and now wears a plastic brace over it. “Compared to others, that’s not a long time.”

Gavri finished treatment, but many of the children on this Larger Than Life trip still have a tough chemotherapy schedule ahead of them and a few terminally ill children have only several months to live.

Larger Than Life attempts to ease the children’s suffering on a daily basis by building bright new recuperation rooms in hospitals, sending patients on family getaways to Eilat, organizing an annual Purim “Train of Smiles” trip from Haifa to Be’er Sheva and funding medications not covered by Israel’s socialized health care system. For the drained and troubled parents, Larger Than Life offers support groups, financial assistance for parents who have left their jobs to care for their sick children, as well as short pampering vacations for moms.

Independent of the Israeli government, Larger Than Life relies entirely on the good will and generosity of donors in Israel and the United States. A dedicated and passionate group of volunteers run Larger Than Life’s programs and fundraising efforts. All of the directors in Israel are parents of children with cancer, and they use their personal experiences to constantly expand the organization and improve its effectiveness.

Four years ago, L.A. couple Rakefet and Arie Aharon were inspired to throw a fundraising gala for Larger Than Life, after hearing about a friend’s 12-year-old daughter who was battling cancer in Israel. The first event raised $50,000 and became the starting point for Larger Than Life: Los Angeles Family.

The fledgling organization so far has drawn most of its financial support from the Israeli community in Los Angeles. Nearly all of the board members are Israeli transplants who have reached out to their own circles of friends for donations, so Larger Than Life has yet to register on the larger American Jewish community’s radar. Izek Shlomoff, chairman of the board, said that reaching the larger Jewish population is crucial, especially since the organization’s next goal is to fill a $1 million annual gap in the money that is needed to provide Israeli children with the medication they need.

“We’re working on a strategy right now, but we certainly need help on that,” Shlomoff said.

Larger Than Life: Los Angeles Family says it has succeeded in raising $500,000 annually since its inception. A large chunk of that money is used to bring Israeli children to Los Angeles on the “West Coast Dream Flight.”

The kids are selected each year through recommendations from doctors, interviews with Larger Than Life staff and health assessments determining which children are well enough to withstand the high-energy trip and which children should be given priority based on their diagnosis.

When the children arrived in Los Angeles, they didn’t have the appearance one might expect of cancer patients — bald, pale and fragile — after undergoing chemotherapy. Between rounds of chemotherapy treatments, patients are pumped full of steroids to build up muscle and fat.

“Most of these kids are in between treatments,” said Shmueli, who took over as Larger Than Life: Los Angeles Family CEO less than six months ago. “That’s why they have hair and some are a little heavy.”

Key questions can answer donation motivations


I opened my mailbox to find several letters, a few bills and a host of requests for donations from various organizations that I have supported over the years. Because I am a stickler for organization, I sort the letters, place the bills in a folder marked “Look at me soon!” and the appeals for donations in one marked “Save the World.” Between the needs of my local community, the Jewish community, our country and the world at large, I am seriously thinking about renting a storage unit for the hundreds of requests I receive annually.

I don’t know how others consider charitable giving, but I am honestly confused about it. Year after year, questions continue to gnaw at me like: What is the right amount for a gift? Should I support Jewish organizations first and then donate to other charities, like my alma mater, only after I have made my Jewish gifts? Why am I giving in the first place? Does it need to hurt for my gift to be meaningful? Am I willing to give up something — a dinner out, theater tickets, a trip — to make a more substantial contribution this year?

Tzedakah, the Jewish commandment to give, has been a quintessential Jewish value since the beginning of Jewish time. The Torah teaches: “If there is a needy person among you, any of your brethren in any of your cities in the land that God has given you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against him. Rather, you shall open your hand and lend him whatever he is lacking” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

Tzedakah is the counterpart to tikkun olam, the Jewish obligation to repair the world. Both affirm our responsibility to distribute a part of what we have in order to take care of others who are less fortunate. Both are grounded in the idea that individual wealth is neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged, as agents of God, to care for the world in which we live.

These obligations operate in concentric circles — originating within our own home and family, extending out into the Jewish community and then the world. Jewish law specifically recognizes that any needy person who lives in peaceful coexistence with us is a worthy charitable recipient. The Talmud teaches that we should help support the poor, even outside our own community, because of the “ways of peace” (Gittin 59 b).

Jewish law is fairly specific in its answer to the question of what we should give. Ideally, we are expected to give what is needed to help restore a poor person to his or her former position. If a man has lost all of his clothing in a fire, we should help him purchase clothes. If he has lost his job, we should provide him with employment either directly or indirectly by helping him find work.

The Jewish sage Maimonides established specific parameters for giving, with the average acceptable gift as 10 percent and the ideal gift as 20 percent of our possessions. Jewish law is both practical and realistic in its demands, because it never requires us to become lacking or poor ourselves as a result of giving.

The critical questions we each need to answer are: Why do I give? What makes me want to give? Is it because of peer or professional pressure, social recognition or a genuine commitment to the cause?

I am inspired by the words of Moses when he told the Israelites to bring gifts to build the Tabernacle, saying: “Take from among you gifts to the Lord: everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them….” (Exodus 35:5). When we give, Jewish tradition asks that we open, rather than harden, our hearts — because it is from our hearts, not our heads, that we are more inclined to see the needs of others and give willingly, meaningfully and generously.

During our lives we will have times when our resources and income may be limited. Some of us will struggle more than others. An unexpected tragedy or illness can make it nearly impossible to give. But Tzedakah is an equal opportunity mitzvah and applies to everyone, no matter how great or small our portion.

If we are unable to give of our money, we can give of our time, talents and wisdom. Our sages assured us that we are all capable of giving, even one who receives tzedakah, when they said: “To the one who is eager to give, God provides the means.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

Can nonprofits rake it in with raffles?


This December, some lucky soul out there will win a million-dollar home in West Hills, and Kadima Hebrew Academy will pocket $1 million to benefit the school.

Maybe.

Actually, probably not. The more likely scenario is that the grand prize winner of Kadima’s first stab at a mega-raffle will take home a six-figure prize, and Kadima will net the same, depending on how many more of its 18,000 available tickets it sells. As of last week, Kadima had sold more than 4,000 tickets at $150 each, and was projecting more than doubling that number by the final drawing on Dec. 30. The deadline had originally been set for Nov. 22, but Kadima extended the raffle and has added more prizes as incentives.

Even with the extension, it seems unlikely that Kadima will reach the 15,000 tickets necessary to give away the house, as stipulated in the rules. Still, the pre-kindergarden through-eighth-grade school considers this first try a success: Many winners will walk away with the dozens of hefty cash prizes, the school will bring in money to support operations and scholarships, and the foundation will be set for a possible rerun next year.

“Once you put time and energy and effort into getting folks interested, then you have a brand,” said Brian Hersh, the consultant Kadima hired to run the effort. “Now that we’ve gotten started, we’ll do better next year.”

A growing number of nonprofits are looking toward raffles with huge prizes — generally a house, or a cash alternative — as a way to bring in large sums of money. A sold-out home raffle would bring in more than $1 million for a nonprofit.

In 2001, a change in the California Penal Code made it legal for nonprofits to hold these kinds of mega raffles. The Palos Verdes Art Center ran the first home raffle in 2003, and has had one every year since then, this year giving away a $1.5 million cash prize, in addition to two BMWs and cash prizes ranging from $25,000 to $300 to more than 100 winners.

This year, Hersh estimates about two dozen nonprofits in Southern California are running home raffles, including the Irvine Public Schools Foundation, the Greater Los Angeles Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Pacific Film Institute.

The first Jewish organization to try it out, the Conejo Jewish Day School, last year held a million-dollar home raffle, but sales were low and the grand-prize winner took home $50,000.

As it turns out, in most cases the house ends up being little more than a gimmick.

Most first-year raffles don’t sell enough to give away the house, and even when organizations sell all the tickets, in most cases the grand-prize winner opts for cash rather than the house. A real estate prize can be a complicated acquisition, even if the house’s location and layout fit in with the winner’s lifestyle.

The value of the house would be taxed as regular income, at 35 percent for federal taxes, according to Jonathan Gerber of Gerber and Company, an accounting firm in Century City. Throw in state taxes, and the winner can be looking at a tax payment of more than $400,000 due that year. For most people, that would mean taking out a mortgage to pay the taxes, plus potentially cashing in on a bit more of the home’s equity to make mortgage payments, pay property taxes and see to the upkeep of the house.

A cash prize, simpler because it is liquid, requires the school to withhold 25 percent of the cash for taxes, and the prizewinner would pay their remaining tax obligation from their winnings.

And yet, it is the idea of winning a dream house that draws people in.

The most successful raffles are those where the it-could-be-me factor kicks in — when the house is in a neighborhood like Beverly Hills, or even better, on the beach.

“I have a suspicion that it’s all about the dream,” said Hersh, who has run the sold-out Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum raffle for two years and got Kadima started this year.

Most mega raffles use the formula of selling 18,000 tickets at $150, bringing in $2.7 million. Of that, $500,000 or more gets spent on expenses and prizes, about $1 million goes to the grand-prize winner (in cash or real estate), and the nonprofit takes in the rest. If all the tickets aren’t sold, the nonprofit and the grand-prize winner go 50-50 on the after-costs take.

State regulations require that 90 percent of the gross — after prizes are paid for, according to most interpretations — go directly to the nonprofit. Nevertheless, Hersh estimates that expenses, including a massive advertising campaign, administrative costs and consultants, can run up to $300,000 to $500,000, which goes well beyond the limit allowed to cover costs. That means the nonprofit has to have other funds available to back up the expenses of running the raffle.

There are also complex State Department of Justice regulations to follow, some of which are still being interpreted to apply to this new field of real estate raffles.

Hersh emphasizes that the school or other organization’s board has to be behind the effort, both to assume the financial risk and to mobilize the community to generate ticket sales. And, an organization has to be prepared to continue traditional fundraising efforts to cover the annual budget and capital costs for the school, while running the raffle.

Kadima’s raffle, like most raffles, is offering early-bird giveaways, meant to spike sales as deadlines approach. It has already given away more than $50,000 to about a dozen winners, all of whom are still eligible for the grand prize. People who buy more than one ticket are entered into a drawing for a BMW Z4, and a $25,000 cash prize was added when the raffle was extended. With only a few-thousand tickets sold, the odds are pretty high to win a significant prize. The next early-bird deadline is Nov. 28.

But the big draw is still the grand prize — $800,000, or a million-dollar house.

Chabadmania, Ed Asner, Jewish Big Brothers and Sisters


The Chabad Telethon. You’ve heard of it, you’ve seen the banners all over town, you recognize the dancing rabbi image, maybe you caught snatches of the televised event, and maybe you even picked up the phone and made a pledge. But if you’ve never been to the studio during the taping of the six-hour fundraising extravaganza, you haven’t really experienced it.

I spent two hours at KCET studios on Sunday, Sept. 9, and if I hadn’t had to be somewhere else that evening, I would have gladly stayed longer. The atmosphere burst with infectious energy. The lounge teemed with smiling rabbis, happy sponsors and jovial performers.

Televisions displayed the celebration of life going on in the building next door and the crowd alternated between watching, commenting, socializing and eating (there was a fully catered kosher(!) meal of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes).

The stage buzzed with fervent activity, and not just between acts. I expected the place to grow quiet during the taping, with the small audience sitting in a respectful hush, the crew moving about soundlessly. But not at the Chabad Telethon.

People moved in and out of their seats in the separated women’s and men’s sections. A hodgepodge of presenters, performers and spectators crowded around the sets, chattering. Everyone conversed, and not in whispers.

But the constant buzz did not detract from the main event unfolding on the colorful set before us. Long-time Chabad friend and avid supporter Jon Voight stumbled to find his words and to find the right camera to face, but then he delivered a heart-felt plea for donations to support the many incredible services Chabad provides to the Los Angeles community.

Host Elon Gold made a few funnies. Dennis Prager lent his words of wisdom. Six-year-old prodigy Ethan Bortnick sang a charming tune he wrote about birds of the world, and little vest-clad Yakov Gerstner performed with astonishing passion a duet with Mordechai Ben David.

Viewers pledged close to $7.2 million to Chabad, compared to last year’s $6 million. I bet the rabbis were dancing up a storm when they tallied that figure!

— Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer


Scene and Heard …Ed Eisner
Outspoken activist and prolific actor Ed Asner received an Emmy nomination for his role in “The Christmas Card.” The romantic tale focuses on a U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan whose life changes when he receives a holiday greeting from a mysterious woman in California.

Although he did not win the Emmy on Sept. 16, during the broadcast he did join his “Roots!” castmates for a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking miniseries (Asner played the slave ship’s captain, Thomas Davies).

To date, Asner has won a whopping seven Emmys and five Golden Globes and is almost as well known for his political views as he is for creating the legendary role of Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Mazel tov!


It’s a musical world — from the bimah to the stage — and learning to chant trope may be the new Hollywood ticket. During the High Holy Days of her youth, Lizzie Weiss was a cantorial soloist divinely inspired by Jewish music. Encouraged by her mentor, Cantor Yonah Kliger, Weiss led the New Emanuel Minyan, an intimate and musical alternative service at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. This week, the Los Angeles native stars as the brainy Martha Cox in a Toronto stage production of the mega-success “High School Musical.” As reported in Canada’s Jewish Tribune, Weiss credits her Jewish roots and cantorial training for launching her professional singing career. But her newfound success comes at a price. With eight performances a week under her belt, Weiss says she’s missing leading High Holy Days services at home, but she hoped to make it to synagogue despite her rigid schedule: “This will be the first time in eight years that I won’t be on the bimah singing.”

Chabad of the Conejo celebrated a historic groundbreaking Sept. 9 — the beginning of construction for the long-anticipated New Chabad of the Conejo Community Campus on Canwood Street in Agoura Hills. They plan to build a bustling Center for Jewish Life and then demolish their current home, laying the foundation for a new synagogue that will take its place. Rabbi Moshe Bryski, the Chabad’s executive director, hopes fundraising efforts will continue while the project is under way.

“The critical thing now is for us to get the word out with greater urgency and have this campaign generate the excitement it needs and deserves,” he said in a statement. “We’ve come a long way over the past 28 years, but the greatest days for Chabad of the Conejo are yet to come.” From his mouth to God’s ears …


Margy Feldman is a gal who’s still breakin’ the glass ceiling. Honored for her achievements in business, the CEO and president of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles was chosen as the nonprofit executive director of the year for Women in Business (WIB). The WIB Awards recognize individuals who contribute to the economic vitality of Southern California.

School to raffle off million-dollar home


Kadima Hebrew Academy is hoping to raise funds through one of the latest tools — a million-dollar home raffle. Kadima is selling 18,000 tickets at $150 each to give away a furnished and landscaped five-bedroom, four-bathroom, newly constructed home in West Hills.

“A few years ago, we adopted Kadima Hebrew Academy because of their mission to teach children to be caring and compassionate human beings with solid and moralistic values. It is our goal to make a difference in the lives of children,” said Kadima supporter Shawn Evanhaim, owner of California Home Builders, which is constructing the home.

Kadima is hoping to raise $1 million.

In addition to the home, Kadima is giving away thousands of dollars at early bird drawings and more cash prizes at the final drawing.

Early bird deadlines are Aug. 22 and Sept. 19. Winners of the early bird drawings will still be eligible for the grand prize at the Nov. 4 drawing.

To enter or for more information, call (818) 444-4068 or visit http://www.valleyhomeraffle.com or http://www.kadimaacademy.org.

She paints for the animals


Feast With The Beasts

Safari attire adorned bodies this steamy summer night when The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) raised more than $1.2 million for wildlife conservation. Hosted by Emmy Award-winning actress Betty White, nearly 1,000 guests casually perused the park and visited with furry friends. “Animal walkabouts” allowed guests to get up close and personal with a diversity of creatures and participate in feedings of the zoo’s beautiful-but-beastly giraffes, tigers, bears and hippos. Nickelodeon executives were honored for creating the popular preschool show “Go, Diego, Go!” about children who engage in scientific thinking and investigative strategy to help animals in trouble.

Actor/comedian Albert Brooks and his wife Kimberly Brooks have recently become active in the organization, thanks to the encouragement of GLAZA trustee Angela Janklow, a sometime writer for Vanity Fair and currently in the employ of the Dolce & Gabbana company.

Kimberly Brooks’ hand-painted “Randa’s World,” a portrait of the zoo’s own rhinoceros, was donated to the live auction. Now that’s beastly-licious!

And Justice For All

This was not Cinderella’s ball. For one, there were more pedestrians than carriages — roughly 4,000 scenesters — and the red carpet was really a stairwell through the garage, but it opened onto the sprawling studioscape of The Lot in Hollywood. There was little couture but ample California chic; no classically contained Mozart but the shimmering riffs of The Violent Femmes; no celebrities but the sexiest press in town (Los Angeles magazine called it one of the “top ten coolest thing to do in July”). In other words, if you weren’t at The Justice Ball on July 28, where were you?

Those who attended can congratulate themselves on helping to raise more than half a million dollars for Bet Tzedek, “The House of Justice,” a brand-name nonprofit that provides free legal services to more than 10,000 Angelenos in need, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.

“It was spectacular,” Matthew Scelza, director of marketing and development said. “It’s grown into a full-blown festival — it’s not just a concert, there’s a karaoke lounge, a VIP section and casino tables and 3,000 people dancing in front of the stage.”

Many people danced so hard, their feet hurt. By the time the Violent Femmes finished singing their smash “Blister in the Sun,” piles of designer shoes had accumulated beside the dance floor, and although the pumpkin hour was set for 1 a.m., at that point guests were just getting started.

The Justice Ball is the second-largest fundraiser of the year for Bet Tzedek — their annual dinner gala in January trumping the ball as the primary giving event, yet this much hyped-and-headlined event is lucrative to the organization for other reasons. Not only does it fundraise a significant portion of their yearly operating costs, but it has become the premier means of gaining exposure with young, talented attorneys. Bet Tzedek is always on the lookout for new benevolent blood and this event has helped generate buzz for brand-building. Working there does not pay the starting salary a Harvard law-school grad could procure from a snazzy corporate firm, but accruing professional experience at a prestigious nonprofit is both unusual and distinguished. The ball also generates countless volunteers who dedicate themselves to continued involvement.

Of the almost $550,000 solicited thorough this event, approximately 40 percent will defray vendor costs for the event, primarily disbursed for use of the venue, band, non-kosher food and lighting. But not to worry — Scelza promises Bet Tzedek received “sweetheart deals” from contributing vendors and sponsors that significantly reduced the overall expense of an event many people are quite passionate in supporting. Hopefully next year, they’ll be able to afford a few pareve items for the buffet.

Scene and Heard …

  • Real-estate development king Jerry H. Snyder, best known for The Water Garden project in Santa Monica and The Crescent in Beverly Hills, was honored by the American Jewish Committee at a swanky Beverly Wilshire Hotel event with special guests Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Councilmember Tom LaBonge.
  • The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute thinks art is the most profound catalyst for social change and thus created a glossy 16-month planner featuring the work of 16 feminist artists, including Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, as well as international rising stars, Swiss Israeli Ariane Littman-Cohen and Indian Jewish Siona Benjamin, artists who work in a variety of media (from corten steel sculpture and needlework to sprayed acrylic on canvas to public art made with recyclable materials). Beverly Naidus designed a quilt image for the cover titled, “Half-Jewish.” The calendar “Creating Art, Promoting Change: Works by Jewish Women” is available for purchase at http://www.brandeis.edu/hbi or by calling (781) 736-8114.
  • What do forestry activist Tzeporah Berman and superstar Leonardo DiCaprio have in common? He’s the producer of a new documentary film featuring Berman, titled “The 11th Hour,” which screened Aug. 9 at the Harmony Gold Theatre in Hollywood. The film describes how Canadian forests are essential for staving off global warming; Berman, founder of ForestEthics, said Canada’s forests are major carbon storehouses that are threatened by Canada’s logging industry.

Technion group fetes two, magic makeover mitzvah, Brad Garrett helps M.A.W.


Terrific Technology

These days, money is not merely for the material but the technical. The contributions of two local residents, Robert A. Davidow of Los Angeles and Janey Sweet of Malibu, to the American Technion Society (ATS) have resulted in groundbreaking achievements in water technology, cancer research and vascular biology studied at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Davidow was awarded an honorary doctorate June 11 in recognition of “his prominent role in enlisting major support for the Technion … his active leadership in Jewish and Los Angeles civic life … and in acknowledgment of his exceptional dedication to the welfare of the State of Israel and the future of the Jewish people.”

In his tenure as benefactor, he created the Davidow Faculty Recruitment Fund and was a major donor to the Jean and Sol Davidow Experimental Testing Laboratory. He has served on the Technion International Board of Governors and acts as the ATS national co-treasurer.

Sweet was awarded an honorary fellowship on June 10 for financial support and leadership. She and her husband, Al, built the Janey and Albert Sweet Experimental Testing Laboratory in the Polak Center for Cancer Research and Vascular Biology. She was also recognized for her hospitality to Technion students, faculty and dignitaries who have visited the United States.

Recently, she co-chaired an ATS mission to Israel and Berlin, where a group of 140 participants, 21 of whom reside in Los Angeles, explored the Jewish heritage of Berlin and its rebirth as a center of post-Holocaust European Jewry. The trip concluded in Israel with a visit to the Technion campus and tours of historic, spiritual, cultural and architectural sites throughout Israel.

Attendees Blair Berk, Elaine and Hy Chase, Edie Fischer, Joan and Arnold Seidel, Bill Norris and Jane Jelenko, Joan and Ephraim Sales and Emily Blysma, among others, were so moved by the travel experience that they collectively pooled a $25 million gift to the Technion. As always, Israel inspires.

Technion is a leading science and technology university and home to many of Israel’s Nobel Prize winners in science. The cutting-edge institution pioneers research in the fields of nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water resource management, aerospace and medicine.

The generous contributions of people like Sweet and Davidow have allowed for recent innovations, like that of architect Joseph Cory and his colleague, Eyal Malka, who devised a low-tech way to collect moisture from the air and convert it into fresh water. The award-winning “WatAir” system is capable of converting even polluted air into an unlimited supply of fresh drinking water — a life-altering prospect for millions around the world.

Makeover Magic

One of the most prized experiences in a young woman’s life is getting ready for her high school prom. Thanks to the kindness of mothers and daughters from Congregation Or Ami, 50 foster girls between the ages of 15 and 18, housed by the Department of Children and Family Services, were prepped, primped and poised to attend that historic night.

“Prom Prep 101” transformed ordinary classrooms into “glamour stations,” where young women were equipped with a mother/daughter team of stylists to help them select the perfect dress, shoes, handbags and jewelry. Professional stylists, makeup artists and photographers created a culture of celebrity for the young women as they were adorned and photographed before a runway fashion show exhibiting the transformation from schoolgirl to starlet.

Congregation Or Ami President Susan Gould, along with Rabbi Paul Kipnes, helped organize Or Ami’s collaboration with Children and Family Services.

The mitzvah experience benefited both the foster children and the young girls of Or Ami. Joanna Gould acknowledged in her bat mitzvah speech that the experience created lasting relationships in her life, and 7-year-old Carly Feinstein explained, “We were like fairy godmothers getting Cinderella ready for the ball.”

Music For A Maestro

The music of Hollywood, Broadway and Mozart converged for a star-studded evening at the Walt Disney Concert Hall honoring Ernst Katz. To celebrate his 70th anniversary as founder and conductor of the Junior Philharmonic Orchestra on June 10, alumni from seven decades and different continents gathered to recognize the music maestro.

Current Junior Philharmonic concertmaster Gary S. Greene opened with Mozart and Schubert, before celebrities performed a 70-year retrospective highlighting the most memorable motion picture and Broadway musicals.

Jan and Mickey Rooney belted out their rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” followed by Dick Van Dyke’s urging the crowd to “Put On a Happy Face” from “Bye Bye Birdie.” Academy Award-winner George Chakiris brought the gangs of “West Side Story” to downtown L.A. with a revue of that classic tale and Van Dyke reminded the crowd that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, as he sang selections from “Mary Poppins,” while its composer, Richard Sherman, conducted his score.

Katz founded the Junior Philharmonic in 1937, supported by his philosophy of giving young musicians a chance to be heard. Over the years, more than 70,000 people have auditioned for the orchestra, and more than 10,000 talented musicians, ages 12-25, have received free orchestral training and membership.

Women In The Workforce

Everybody in this town wants to have an impact and influence. In an effort to achieve greater visibility in the community, the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles (NCJW) has hired Andrea Kune as its communications and outreach director. Kune has an extensive background in public service and held posts in former Gov. Gray Davis’ administration as deputy director of management relations for the California Department of Industrial Relations and then in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration until the spring of 2004.

True to her femininity, she appears to have a vested interest in fashion, serving on the board of directors for the Fashion Industry Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and having lectured on economic and international trade at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, among other institutions. But this is not surprising about someone who has studied in both Milan and Paris.

Now, Kune looks forward to bringing the organization further into the civic sphere so the community can participate in the NCJW’s mission to use Jewish values to improve the quality of life for women, children and families. You go, girl!

Teens tackle tzedakah dollars


Courtney Teller knows all about giving. The high school sophomore won the community service award at Archer School for Girls, and her grandmother, Annette Shapiro, is a legendary volunteer and philanthropist in the Los Angeles Jewish community.

But it was the parking situation at a playground for the disabled that gave Courtney a new appreciation for the potential impact of tzedakah.

As part of her participation in the Community Youth Foundation — a program of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles where teens allocate $10,000 in grants — Teller and her friends visited Shane’s Inspiration, a West L.A. playground for the disabled. While she was moved by the hordes of kids, both abled and disabled, playing on the rubber-padded, accessibly designed equipment, the fact that it took her 30 minutes to find parking signaled to her that demand had outpaced supply.

“It was a Saturday afternoon and it was packed — you couldn’t get near it,” Teller said. “It was important to me that I saw where we could really make a difference.”

It was her impassioned plea, in part, that convinced the group of 11 teens to award Shane’s Inspiration a $1,000 grant to support their expansion of similar projects.

Teller and her peers are among a growing number of teens getting involved in the giving — not just doing — end of community service. Youth foundations and individual teen endowments across the country are empowering teens of all economic levels to make values-based and technically informed decisions about what is worthy of their support.

Jewish teens have given away an estimated $1 million dollars — most of it community money, a token amount of it their own — since these philanthropic training camps began to emerge in scattered Jewish communities about 10 years ago.

In the last year energy has been building, and there are about 50 such projects. Last spring, the Jewish Funders Network co-sponsored the first-ever Jewish Youth Philanthropy conference in Denver, after about five years of informal networking among teens and professionals. The conference attracted more than 150 teens, and a follow-up conference for professionals this spring attracted dozens. A Web site launched at the first conference, jphilanthropy.com, run by Jewish Family and Life Media, received 200,000 hits in its first year.

After the youth philanthropy conference last spring — which overlapped with the high-powered Jewish Funders Network conference — several donors backed the establishment of the Jewish Teen Funders Network to serve as a central address for these programs. This year, the network is considering proposals to award 10 communities matching grants of $30,000 to set up new youth foundation programs.

“I think a very strong motivation behind these programs is the idea of providing a hands-on, values-driven educational opportunity for teenagers that provides an alternative to Hebrew school,” said Stefanie Zelkind, who runs the Jewish Teen Funders Network, an arm of the Jewish Funders Network. “The general area of service learning and tikkun olam resonates a lot with teenagers, and this is a program that really engages teens very seriously and gives them a lot of responsibility.”

The experience also demands serious work from the teens.

Teller and her peers spent three Sundays learning the mechanics of giving — how to read the financials of a nonprofit, how to conduct the research and what questions to ask to assess an organization’s efficacy and the impact of a potential donation.

“We were the ones doing everything,” Teller said.

This is the fourth group of teens — all of them children and grandchildren of philanthropic families associated with the Jewish Community Foundation — that the Community Youth Foundation has entrusted to disburse $10,000.

They begin by brainstorming about problems and organizations that can achieve solutions. They each research several organizations, and then narrow the list down to organizations worthy of site visits — an important step for a generation that relies heavily on the web for information.

After the visits, the teens gather to debate each organization’s comparative merits, and negotiate with each other to choose who will receive grants.

The only limitation is that half the money must go to Jewish causes. Beyond that, teens decide not only which organizations around the world to give to, but to how many and at what level, an exercise that opens up deep discussion on Jewish traditions of giving.

“The kids really learn how complicated it can be to conduct effective philanthropy,” said Susan Grinel, who runs the Community Youth Foundation for the Jewish Community Foundation. “It’s really a maturing process.”

Aside from Shane’s inspiration, Teller and her peers awarded $5,000 to Jewish World Watch, which is working for humanitarian aid and political awareness in Darfur, and $4,000 to L.A. Youth Network, which works with homeless kids and teens.

The fact that the kids decided to give to programs that are not specifically Jewish is typical not only of their generation, but of gen-Xers as well — a trend some baby boomers and their parents find disconcerting. Grinel says the Jewish Community Foundation set up the youth program in response to concerns about generational disparities that kept coming up among foundation donor families.

“When the younger generation says I want to give to Darfur, and the older generation says this Jewish community in Los Angeles is what gave me my start and I think we should focus here, how do you begin to bridge that gap and let people talk on common ground?” said Grinel, who also runs the Family Foundation Center for the Jewish Community Foundation.

Grinel has found that focusing discussions on core, motivating values usually reveals a smaller gap than initially perceived, and unpacking those values can be educational for everyone involved.

“I think these programs present the Jewish community with a serious opportunity to listen and to learn from these teenagers,” said Zelkind of the Jewish Teen Funders Network. “The best of these programs are being used in that way rather than in guiding the teenagers to make the kinds of decisions that their community leaders and parents would like them to make.”

It is that interplay between adults and teens that makes these programs attractive — kids are handing out large sums of money, and the adults who want that money, or who want to see that money disbursed intelligently, must treat teens seriously whether on site visits, at the dinner table, or in the board room. Kids, in turn, learn how to behave in adult milieus.