What are you thinking about this Rosh Hashanah?


“I’m actually thinking about changing my behavior with my brother — he’s 7 — because I’ve been pretty mean to him. I can be a little more nice, even if he annoys me…. I learn a lot during the holidays. You learn about how to react, and what you should do and how you should be, like you can’t be rude to people. And you have to ask forgiveness for all the stuff you’ve done and make it a new start, like you’re starting all over again.”

 
— Brandon Ross, 10, Canfield Elementary School and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I’m going to set the table for Rosh Hashanah with a tablecloth and lots of food…. I like the challah. My dad always buys chocolate chip challah because it’s my favorite.”

 
— Lexi Shafa, 6, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

 

“I think we need to have a cleaner world so people can live longer and not get diseases, like lung cancer. We need to do a better job of throwing away trash and recycling. I think we don’t need to cut off as many trees as we do. We should find a new way to make paper than just cutting down trees. I had a chance to go to Costa Rica and see the rain forest, and I saw how many stumps there were and it was really sad. I think the High Holidays is a time to pray and to thank God for all the beautiful stuff that we have, like good health, and a good education, and a roof over our heads; and it’s a good time to be with family and to enjoy yourself.”

 
— Teddy Sokoloff, 9, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious
 

“I’m going to go buzz buzz like a bee, and go round and round and round like a challah and dip the apple in the honey.”

 
— Moses Bar-Yotam, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

 

“I like some holidays, and some holidays I feel sad. I like Passover and I like Rosh Hashanah — I like a lot of them. I feel happy at the sound of the shofar. It’s a holiday when my family comes together.”

 
— Ariana Garrotto, 7, El Rodeo School and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I’m going to daven for the Beit Hamikdash [Jerusalem Temple] to come back, and for all my aveirot [sins] to leave and that we should have a happy year. I’m going to work on lashon hara [gossip] and give tzedakah so everybody has a house and money to live.”

 
— Evan Teichman, 7, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

 

“My aunt got really sick and then she got better, so I’ll be thinking about how she keeps getting better. I’ve been thinking about my dancing a lot — I’m a hard-core ballet dancer. My family has been spending a lot of time together, so I can’t really say I want to spend more time with my family because we are spending as much time together as possible. If we wanted to spend any more time together we would have to stay up all night!”

 
— Tess Levinson, 10, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“On Rosh Hashanah my cousins are coming to my grandma’s house, because I’m having Rosh Hashanah at my grandma’s house. We used to have it in my house, but now it’s at my grandma’s.”

 
— Liv Berg, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

 

“I think about what I might have done this past year to hurt someone or to help someone, and I think about whether I want to repeat it. My sister and I get into fights, and sometimes the fights are bigger, and I really hurt her or she really hurts me, and I feel bad and I don’t want to do it again.

 
“I had my bat mitzvah in April, and now I feel more obligated to do the High Holidays, because now I’m part of the adult Jewish community. For my bat mitzvah, I helped an organization called, Turn Purple; it helps homeless kids. In April, everyone who is involved wears purple, and they have a petition that people sign to get a bill so we don’t have homeless kids.”

 
— Shoshana Young, 13, Beverly Vista School and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I’m trying to work on teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah [repentance, prayer and charity]. I’m kind of excited and I don’t know if I’ll be judged as bad, in the middle or good. I want to be good; I’m trying to work on that. I’m trying to be nicer to my friends and stuff, because they’ll be happier and nicer to me if we work things out together.”

 
— Lorien Orpelli, 9, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy

 

“As a school, [Temple Emanuel] really makes the High Holidays great because everyone comes together and sings songs, and it’s a lot of fun. There is no other holiday where you learn about your religion as much as on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You learn about your religion and you come closer to your religion and get more of the meaning of it — you say, ‘I’m Jewish and I should be doing this or should be doing that and helping the community.’ I think the High Holidays are the most important holidays because it’s about finding your mistakes and saying you can do better the next time.”

 
— Max Shapiro, 11, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious School

 

“I am going to be a better fire-truck driver and be a firefighter when I get big.”

 
— Nathan Nassir, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

yeLAdim


Thank You!

The Navon family — Rebecca, Ariella, Eitan, Elisha and Asaf — gave us our pick for our new name: YeLAdim, which means children in Hebrew. The large L and A are in honor of where we live (good thing we aren’t in New York or it wouldn’t work). Thank you to all the kids who sent in ideas for a new name — you are really creative!

Kein v’ Lo:

Vashti

This section of the page will be a way for you as kids to sound off on an issue. This month’s kein v’ lo (yes and no) is about Queen Vashti. Is she, in the 21st century, a role model for women?

The Kein Side:

  • She stood up for what she believed in by refusing to dance in front of her drunk husband and his friends — wearing only her crown — during the royal feast. Even under penalty of death she stood by her convictions.
  • In earlier verses, she is referred to as “Vashti, the queen.” When she tells the king she won’t come, she is called “Queen Vashti,” to show that she has a mind of her own. The king’s advisers feared Vashti would start a trend. One adviser in particular (who some identify as Haman) told Ahashsuerus that he should issue a decree that women should obey their husbands, which he did.

The Lo Side:

  • She hosted a separate feast just for the women, but the sages say she held it in the same palace so the women would have a chance to flirt with the men. Some say she was incredibly vain and didn’t want to dance because she had a skin disease.
  • She was the great-granddaughter of the villainous King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who had destroyed the sacred Temple. On Shabbat, she would summon Jewish women and children and force them to work and do humiliating tasks.

We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line Vashti. We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim. And whether you like poppy seed or cherry filling in your hamantaschen

— Happy Purim!

About…Purim

“Purim is when we celebrate Jews being free to have their way of life and live peacefully. It teaches fairness and kindness, because it said Haman needed to be kind to people that were not like him, and that Esther was very fair in how she got him to stop.

“But the most important thing about Purim is that it’s a lot of fun. You eat yummy foods and have a big carnival. For Purim, I plan to attend my religious school’s Purim carnival and hear the Megillah.” — Mimi Erlick, 10, Farragut Elementary School, Culver City, and Adat Shalom Religious School.

Do you want to share your opinion about something? Just e-mail kids@jewishjournal.com and put About…(your topic) in the subject line. We’ll print as many as we can.

 

Juvenile Offenders Taste Teshuvah


The slightly built, 13-year-old Latino boy sitting in the Starbucks near downtown Los Angeles didn’t know much about teshuvah, the Jewish notion of repentance.

But it lies at the heart of L.A.’s Jewish Community Justice Project, and it kept this scared kid with the tremulous smile from a likely stint in juvenile boot camp for throwing rocks at a police car.

Instead of going before a judge, the boy was brought face-to-face with the policeman whose car he’d damaged, and in a two-hour meeting facilitated by two trained mediators, he had to tell the cop he was sorry.

Then he had to pledge to make restitution by working a set number of hours for his parents and a local gardening firm to pay $200 for a new car window.

“I felt nervous in that room,” the boy admitted. “I told him I was stupid, and not thinking about what I was doing at that moment. He was kind, he was a good person. He told me to thank my parents for raising me.”

It was the first time the boy had worked for money, and his mother said he was tempted to keep the first $50 he made.

“But I told him, ‘You have to take care of your responsibilities first,'” she said.

The Jewish Community Justice Project is a partner of the Centinela Valley Juvenile Diversion Project, which has been running a victim-offender restitution program in Los Angeles since 1992.

Four years ago, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles funded the joint project between Centinela and two L.A.-based Jewish groups, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish recovery program.

According to the agreement, the PJA trains volunteers to mediate in cases forwarded by local law enforcement and juvenile courts. There currently are almost 60 Jewish volunteer mediators.

“The alliance with PJA has been so exciting because they’ve recruited motivated, dedicated volunteers,” said Steve Goldsmith, Centinela’s executive director. “The religious component, the education of teshuvah, really keeps the people motivated.”

The mediation project is based on the legal concept of restorative justice, according to which offenders must take personal responsibility for their crimes and make restitution directly to those they have offended.

Participants say it dovetails neatly with the Talmudic notion of teshuvah, which specifies that one must seek forgiveness from those one has wronged before asking God’s forgiveness, something Jews are meant to do every year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“Part of teshuvah is attending to what one did, and turning to the person who was hurt or offended to see whether you can come back to an open relationship with that person and their family,” said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Levy helped create the Jewish part of the curriculum — eight hours of Jewish text study on justice and forgiveness — for the volunteer training program.

Daniel Sokatch, director of the PJA, said he brought his organization into the program in 2002, when Los Angeles became the nation’s murder capital.

“We realized that most of the murders were in the 310 area code, home to most of the Jews who don’t live in the Valley,” Sokatch said.

The most affected neighborhoods weren’t those where many Jews live, Sokatch said, but “it’s still our city, and in the words of Jeremiah, you must work for the welfare of the city where you live and there find your own well-being.”

Cases involving murder aren’t eligible for mediation. Most of the what comes to Centinela involves petty theft, vandalism, bullying and similar crimes.

One of the hardest parts of the program is making sure that appropriate cases are referred to them. There were 45,000 youths arrested last year in Los Angeles, Goldsmith said, yet Centinela received only 600 to 700 referrals.

To address that problem, Sokatch said, the next volunteer training program in early 2006 will include a separate, less-intensive track for volunteers, who will learn how to schmooze intake cops, “visit them every week, bring doughnuts and coffee and review the docket with them” to ensure that fewer juvenile offenders slip through the cracks.

Jordan Susman, a former television writer and filmmaker, was in Sokatch’s first group of volunteer mediators.

“I felt that’s what a Jewish organization should do,” said Susman, who is now a third-year law student. “It appeals to my Jewish point of view. The juvenile justice system is beyond broken — once you’re in the system, you learn how to be a better criminal. This is about breaking that cycle.”

Keren Markuze, a documentary television writer, has mediated about a dozen cases since her training last year.

“Jewish law is very big on giving people chances,” she said. “Let’s do everything we can to make sure the punishment is appropriate, especially when we talk about children.”

Jewish law also takes intention into consideration when looking at crime, Markuze noted. She described one case she mediated in which a boy stole pants, a shirt and shoes from a department store.

During the mediation, the boy confessed in tears that his mother was laid off and couldn’t afford to buy him a new school uniform, and he was tired of being humiliated by the other kids at school for his clothes.

“That’s an issue of economic justice,” Markuze proclaimed. “Of course, he had to learn that stealing is not a solution, but for him to end up in the conventional justice system would have been tragic.”

Restorative justice programs exist in many cities around the world, according to several Web sites devoted to the topic. And it’s not about feeling sorry for kids — statistics show that such programs work.

According to the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, recidivism rates are lower following mediation than following traditional punishment. Approximately 80 percent of young offenders who participated in mediation complete their restitution to their victims, compared to just 58 percent of offenders who were ordered to do restitution by the courts, but who did not sit face-to-face with those they had wronged.

“When you go to court, you’re not sitting across from your victim, forced to look them in the eye and hear what they have to say to you,” Markuze said. “It’s very powerful.”

Susman said he has his young offenders “do the math” to figure out the number of jobs lost because of crimes like theirs every year in Los Angeles. When they realize it’s their parents and friends who are losing those jobs, it “really affects them,” he said.

In the L.A. mediation project, Goldsmith said, about 70 percent of juvenile offenders complete their restitution pledges. He pointed to a study done by California’s Supreme Court that found the re-arrest rate was half that of young criminals who did not go through mediation.

“It helps divert kids from the court system, and it actually shows a pretty good success rate of keeping kids out,” said Michael Nash, presiding judge of L.A. County Juvenile Court. “Not every kid needs to be brought into the court system if there’s another way they can be

held accountable, make restitution to the victim and develop a sense of responsibility.”

The mediators take away something from it as well. For Susman, who said he and his wife are “always looking for ways to incorporate more Judaism” into their lives, acting as a court mediator “is where my Judaism is expressed existentially through the actions I do.”

Markuze said she often “feels ambivalent” after a mediation, “because there’s so much more we as a society could be doing.”

Sometimes she feels the juveniles “aren’t really contrite.” But overall, she said, “I feel good I’ve given someone a chance to make amends.”

The next volunteer mediator training session will be held in the spring. For information, contact www.pjalliance.org.

 

Kids Page


RUTH, A TRUE FRIEND

On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth. Even though Ruth’s husband died, she decides not to desert her mother-in-law, Naomi, who has lost her husband and two sons. Ruth leaves her home in Moab to accompany Naomi back to Israel. She cares for Naomi and goes to work in the fields of her relative, Boaz. Ruth later marries him, and lives, I suppose, happily ever after.

This book is about friendship, loyalty and compassion. In fact, the rabbis say that Ruth’s name comes from the Hebrew word for friendship — Re’ut. That is why it is so important to read this book on the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah. All the laws and commandments of the Torah would be worth nothing if we did not, before anything, know how to be a good friend.