Advice to grads: Go forth and create a masterpiece


Having recently attended the college graduation of our youngest child, I could not stop thinking about what I might say if given the opportunity to offer the commencement address. Five thoughts come to mind:  

Continue to learn and teach: At the moment you were born — whether conscience of it or not — all of you have been students. All of you were constantly learning from others, patterning and comparing yourselves to the world around you.

At the same time, you have always been teachers. Beginning with infancy, you taught your parents and family about the preciousness of life and the awe-inspiring responsibility of raising a child simply by your being born.  You’ve taught them about themselves, as they observed and raised you.

As you leave the womb that is the college environment, all of you become teachers. If not literal credentialed teachers, figuratively so. You are now college graduates. Teach and share what you’ve learned over the past four years. Don’t gloat over your degree or your school’s namesake.

Develop and maintain a humble soul: All of you feel a great sense of accomplishment; you’ve worked hard. But it’s expected that you worked hard and made sacrifices while in college. College is not summer camp. If anything, being in college is a supreme gift. Metaphorically, all of you stand on the shoulders of the generations that have come before you. All of you have benefited from those who built and maintained your school.

By now you should also know some students wishing to attend particular schools have been turned down for inexplicable reasons. Some students get accepted for reasons equally inexplicable.

A humble soul knows and a prudent mind understands that some things in life come about due to luck or randomness. Even if you worked diligently through grade school and did well on college entrance exams and got accepted to the school of your choice, you’re lucky to have had other things given to you allowing you to succeed. So, keep a humble perspective about what you’ve accomplished. You have been given at least as much.

[READ: OUTSTANDING TEEN GRADUATES 2015]

Include God/godliness in your life: College is a secular institution — it is not a seminary where you’d expect to grapple with such ideas. But with a notion of the transcendent, and the discipline of healthy religion, you will live a more balanced and enriched life.  You will handle failures better and you will understand and appreciate success more. With all the questions you posed while in college, ponder this:  The most important question one can possibly ask is whether God exists.

Don’t be fearful: Go out and take some risks. There is an obsession in our day with health and safety. You’ve been told to fear changes in the environment, certain types of food, strangers, and the economy to name a few. Enough! Go live. Some parents think their duty is to raise children.  That’s only partially correct.  The duty of parents is to raise adults.  So, become adults.

Arguably, you are at a point in your life where you are the most resilient. Take some chances — don’t be fearful. Learn how to fail and you’ll learn how to succeed. A successful person has failed many more times than one deemed a failure.  If not now, when?

Enjoy the journey: Life goes fast.  Notice I said life goes fast, not time. Time is a human convention. We’ve invented and formatted time to help us function and “navigate” through life. There is no such thing as time, per se. A waste of time is, more emphatically, a waste of life.

Don’t think of life only in terms of goals to be met, quotas to be filled and appointments to be kept. In your haste to get a job, choose a spouse, pay off a debt (including student loans), take a breath and reorient yourself; savor the journey as much as, if not more than, the goals you set out to achieve.

One last thought: Sadly, for many of you, college will be the high point of your life — I sincerely hope it is not. Like the Bible’s portrayal of the Seraphs wielding fiery batons at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, preventing man and woman from ever returning, you too can never return to your undergraduate days.  Don’t fret; that’s a good thing. 

The biblical depiction is an allegorical way of saying, “Get going — don’t even think of coming back.” And so it is with all of you — it’s now time to move on, to get going. 

Contrary to popular opinion, which holds college life is not indicative of the real world,  every occurrence we encounter is real. Life, wherever and however lived, is not an illusion. But college is only a few years in a lifetime of accumulated experiences, ongoing challenges and adventures.  So, go out and continue to learn and teach; develop a humble soul; include God; don’t be fearful; enjoy the journey, and in the process, make your life a masterpiece. 

Dual identity yields an international outlook


Eeman Khorramian could see himself entering the political world. The Palisades Charter High School senior has been highly active in school affairs and with the school’s student government since ninth grade. His leadership skills even earned him the position of student body president.

Following the Iran election protests in 2009, Khorramian co-founded a campus chapter of Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), a secular nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

Khorramian said being Iranian-American has made him internationally aware, and he confessed to having an addiction to world news.

“I tend to follow BBC and international coverage rather than just American news, which focuses on domestic issues. I don’t just follow Iranian issues; the disaster in Syria and the Arab Spring really caught my attention, too,” he said.

The articulate 18-year-old said growing up Iranian and Jewish has been one of his biggest challenges so far.

“Being Iranian and Jewish has definitely been the hardest thing for me to figure out. It’s very difficult to be Iranian and proud to be an Iranian, and be Jewish and being proud of being a Jew. I’m very much in touch with both sides, and I am proud of both, and neither takes away from the other.”

Khorramian, who is graduating in the top 2 percent of his class, said studying subjects that allow him to put in his full effort is very important to him.

“I try to challenge myself in the subjects I choose, and my school has allowed me to have an interdisciplinary education,” he said. “I’ve also gotten the chance to work on leadership here.”

Khorramian is not getting sentimental about leaving high school for UCLA, but he does have a lot of praise for the education he received.

“I hear a lot of people talk about leaving in a negative sense, but I’m ready to leave,” Khorramian said. “I feel like my high school has given me everything I need to be ready for college, so I’m looking forward to this next step in my education.”

His credentials suggest a career in politics, but Khorramian isn’t rushing the decision. He’s put his major down as “undecided.”

“I’m just really looking forward to going to UCLA, and I feel like my education is just beginning,” he said excitedly. “I love biology, and I could see myself being a doctor. But I’m also fascinated by international relations. If I could find a way to merge the two as a career, that would be perfect.”

Finding common ground


Shalhevet journalism teacher Joelle Keene says that Leila Miller, editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Boiling Point, has set a high standard for journalism, integrity and optimism amid complex human relations.

“[She is] wise enough to know that real differences among people do exist, [but] she has set out on a personal mission to work through them to communities’ common humanity,” she said.

A Quill and Scroll award-winning writer, 17-year-old Miller has penned several stories about Jewish communities in other countries. She contacted Jewish sources in Japan last year to interview them about the earthquake and tsunami. She also published an article about the strategies and organizations that
Mexican Jews use to cope with violence in their country.

“It’s been really interesting meeting these people all over the world that I would not have been able to meet otherwise,” Miller said. “And I learned a lot about them.”

Miller’s writing also recognizes that geographic barriers are not the only obstacles to interaction between communities. She wrote an article about Muslim teenagers in Los Angeles and the difficulties they faced attending public schools—from balancing religion and heritage to interacting with misinformed classmates and teachers. She was happy to discover that the girls she interviewed had taped a copy of the article to the youth-group bulletin board at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

The ties Miller made while writing about the Muslim teenagers extended beyond the publication of her article when she decided to organize an interfaith picnic. In May 2011,

11 students from Shalhevet met with 33 teens from the Islamic Center’s youth group. The picnic was such a success that a second one was organized.

Miller said she hoped the picnics would help dispel the preconceptions between communities, which do not often interact. “They were primarily social events for kids to ask questions about each other,” she said.

Miller has experience balancing multiple cultures in her own life. Born in Argentina and fluent in Spanish, she has returned to Argentina every summer since she was young. She worked with the Tzedaká Foundation in Buenos Aires during the summer after her sophomore year, and the following summer she worked as an assistant teacher in English classes at Escuela Martín Buber.

Miller has played classical piano since she was 7, and is currently the accompanist for her school’s choir.

Miller plans to attend Oberlin College next fall. She wants to “keep an open mind and take a wide variety of classes,” but is considering studying English or creative writing, she said.

Keene said Miller is “a kind of ambitious humanist, someone who has never seen a challenge she doesn’t think can be solved by working harder, or a problem that can’t be solved by some dialogue and a smile.”

Working toward ‘never again’


Milken Community High School senior Leah Gluck is dedicated to raising awareness about genocide, even though it seems so distant and unsolvable.

“I think it’s an issue that really is very far away for a lot of people at my school … and I think that it’s important,” Gluck said.

Since her freshman year, the 18-year-old has worked with Jewish World Watch (JWW), a nonprofit that focuses on preventing genocide and mass atrocities across the globe as well as engaging individuals and communities to take action locally.

Gluck recently co-created an exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” set in Milken’s beit midrash, spotlighting the genocide in Darfur and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Gluck planned the exhibition over the course of nearly five months and built the displays during a 15-hour marathon. Student docents led their peers through “From Darkness to Light,” which featured video interviews with victims, photographs of refugee camps, drawings made by children living in camps, and an “action center” where students pledged to become involved with JWW.

For the exhibition’s culmination, Gluck led an effort that consisted of Milken’s entire student body calling the White House at once to discuss Sudan. “That was super cool,” she said.

Gluck has put her design skills to use as head editor of Milken’s yearbook, serving as the point person for section editors and student staff members.

She also spends considerable time in the water, as a member of Milken’s water polo and swim teams. This summer, she plans to work as a lifeguard at Camp Ramah.

Outside of her JWW advocacy, Gluck gets her tikkun olam fix volunteering with KOREH L.A., an organization that helps young students develop their reading abilities, and she spends every Shabbat supervising young children of adult congregants at B’nai David-Judea, leading them in davening, play time and various activities.

This fall, Gluck will attend Washington University in St. Louis, where she might pursue her interest in psychology.

For now, she has enough on her plate to keep her busy.

“I’m just used to not getting home until 7,” she said.

A real page-turner


Corinne Kentor may be coming of age in the iPad and Kindle era, but she feels most at home surrounded by books. The more classic the volumes, the better. It’s “Candide” and “Don Quixote” that thrill this New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) senior, who lights up when she discusses the works of Shakespeare or the Brontë sisters.

“I wrote my college essay on why our house is like a library,” said Kentor, 17, who will leave her Bell Canyon abode this fall to study English literature at Yale University. “There’s a stocked section for each kind of literature.”

Kentor also traced her literary passion to influential teachers in San Fernando Valley public schools, including Round Meadow Elementary School librarian Carole Farhit. “She was this tiny woman, but with a deep, raspy English-accented voice—it was perfect for storytelling. I used to have lunch with her in the library.”

In her years at NCJHS, Kentor immersed herself in languages, achieving fluency in Spanish and studying Hebrew. At Yale, she said, she plans to continue her Hebrew studies and explore Arabic. She’s dabbled in English poetry and even attempted a novel as part of a “NaNo-WriMo” project—for National Novel Writing Month, in November. Spanish teacher Raquel Safdie and AP English teacher Michelle Lindner have called Kentor’s writing university-level work.

“I want to be an English professor someday,” Kentor said. “I also really want to be an author—I feel most at home in prose.” The senior honed her editing and coaching skills this school year by shepherding the young school’s first newspaper, The Prowler. She and her co-editor, Jason Tinero, helped boost the paper’s staff to 17 students and published five issues—all on extracurricular time.

“I’m really, really proud,” Kentor said. “The quality of the writing has changed and developed so much. I feel proud every time I get to hand out the paper—it reflects the spirit of the school.”

Kentor, who chose between Stanford University and Yale, credits her stellar grades to a deep love of school, “which I know is not that normal.” Never a procrastinator, she learned time management in elementary school when she balanced long practice hours for rhythmic gymnastics with homework.

An injury in eighth grade ended her gymnastics career but led Kentor to another graceful passion: yoga. “It gave me the physical stimulation without the competitiveness, which I hate.” She recently earned her teaching certification and started leading Hatha/Vinyasa flow groups at InnerPower Yoga in Woodland Hills. Kentor said she’s eager to join the “Yogis at Yale” group and continue teaching. “Yoga gives me a community wherever I go.”

And what’s a bookworm to do with her last West Coast summer? Her very creative family, including mom Adrienne, dad Eric and older sister Nikki—an intern with local circus troupe Dream World Cirque—are planning a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. To family and friends, Kentor may then quote the Bard: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Sometimes, less is more


In her junior year, Oakwood senior Katherine Bernstein spent two weeks in Sierra Leone with the North Hollywood school’s immersion program. Amid carrying buckets of cement for a new school and helping to paint a map of the world in its library, she was struck by a major difference between life in Southern California and the West African nation.

“I was expecting to go there and have some depressing, transformative experience. Like, one that makes you appreciate what you have. And it was transformative, but not in that way,” the 17-year-old said.

She was surprised to find that people seemed happier there than they are here, despite the lack of electricity and indoor plumbing.

The people she worked with in Sierra Leone focused on people rather than things, Bernstein said, and she was taken aback by how much attention the people she visited with in Sierra Leone gave to her when she spoke, making her realize how distracted people often are in the United States.

Children followed Bernstein’s classmates wherever they went and got excited when the American students learned to count to 10 in their language, Mende. The children also made toys out of water bottles or whatever else they could find, Bernstein said.

“I think people here have an expectation of having things. I remember in middle school, people used to break their phones to get news ones. It’s never enough,” she said.

Bernstein graduates from Oakwood with a 4.42 grade-point average, having taken four AP classes in the past year: human geography, physics C, English and Spanish. She refers to her number theory and cryptology classes as “really cool.”

Judaism’s emphasis on education has had a large impact on her. “There’s an attitude in my family about education—that it’s very important to know about the world,” she said.

Bernstein will attend Stanford University in the fall, and she is considering studying medicine.

Outside of school, Bernstein has volunteered with L.A. Family Housing for several hours every week since middle school. This organization aids families in transitioning out of homelessness and severe poverty. As a volunteer, Bernstein helps the children in the program with art projects and homework.

A piano player for most of her life, she taught one boy piano through the program and is now trying to collect musical instruments and compile a music library for the center.

“I love working with kids,” Bernstein said. “I probably want to do something with kids in the future. I really like spending my time that way. I feel like I’ve developed over the years as a teacher.”

It’s all about the kids


When his late grandmother was first diagnosed with terminal cancer three years ago, Jason Aftalion was moved by the volunteers who visited her at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “I was so touched by how they talked to her and spent time with her, so she wouldn’t be lonely,” said Aftalion, a Persian-American senior at Milken Community High School.

Aftalion was inspired to sign up as a volunteer, drawing on “the Jewish values of tikkun olam, or repairing the world,” he said. After a six-month application process, the then-15-year-old was assigned to work at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. He still spends four hours visiting patients each Saturday.

Aftalion, 18, still remembers a young heart patient named Michael who loved pirates. He delivered a toy pirate ship to the boy and spent an hour and a half playing with the delighted child. “He was going through more than I’ve ever been through in my entire life, and he could still have fun,” Aftalion said, marveling at the boy. “It meant so much for me to see how excited he was.”

For his summer-school project at USC’s business school, Aftalion co-founded a nonprofit organization, curechildren.org, which aims to buy a breathing machine for a children’s hospital, among other goals. He kick-started the fundraising by working as a private children’s sports coach, drawing on expertise gleaned as a captain and “most valuable player” on Milken’s basketball and track and field teams.

Back at school, he helped rekindle Milken’s waning Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, quadrupling student volunteers. As a mentor himself, he said, he’d “try to give advice and moral perspective. It was amazing when kids really opened up and talked about their lives.”

For all of his activism, Aftalion has been honored on a “Cool Kids” segment on KABC and on “The Young Icons” program on KTLA; he’s also received a $1,000 scholarship and a citation from the Los Angeles mayor’s office. This fall he’ll attend USC and hopes eventually to combine his passion for kids and business by serving as the president of a children’s hospital. “My Jewish values will help me to become the person I want to be,” he said.

A song in his soul


Quinn Lohmann closes his eyes and tilts his head slightly. His fingers find their place between the frets of his guitar, and his voice rings out, soft and crystal clear.

“We all got a life to live. We all got a gift to give. …”

Lohmann stops mid-strum. “I need to tune,” he says, as he twists the keys on the head of his guitar.

Lohmann, who has autism, also has perfect pitch, and he knows when the sound is just right.

“Open up your heart and let it out,” he continues.

Lohmann’s mother, Kathy Finn, said he started playing tunes on the piano by ear when he was 3, so she started him on music therapy, and he quickly excelled at piano and, later, guitar. Finn decided to have Lohmann, who had some severe behavioral issues, study for a bar mitzvah, and with the help of Cantor Steven Puzarne, founder of Vision of Wholeness, Lohmann led the entire service and chanted the whole portion at his bar mitzvah at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.

In fact, Lohmann continues to chant Torah at Temple Akiba in Culver City, as well as at other congregations, and at Nes Gadol, the Jewish studies program at Vista Del Mar that he has been a part of for many years.

He’s also a song leader at Nes Gadol, and fills that role at Camp Ramah in the summers, as well.

For many summers Lohmann attended Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer, where he thrilled in enjoying a typical summer with typical kids. He loves to play baseball, basketball—and at a lanky 6-foot-2, he’s pretty good on the court—ride his bike and swim. He went on a NFTY Reform youth group Israel trip without additional support.

Lohmann, who is 19, graduated Village Glen School last year, but stayed on for a yearlong transition program where he worked at the school cafe, and learned job and life skills.

Next year, he’ll be attending Pathway, a program at UCLA Extension where adults with special needs take classes at the university and learn to live independently.

Lohmann would like to continue with his music, perhaps studying to be a cantor or a song leader in a synagogue.

While Lohmann’s conversation and social skills are somewhat stilted—he mostly responds to questions with short answers—the song he chooses to sing tells the story for him.

It is “B’tzelem Elohim,” “In God’s Image,” by Dan Nichols, and Lohmann learned it at camp.

“We all got a peace to bring. We all got a song to sing.

Just open your heart and let it out. …

We all got a mountain to climb. We all got a truth to find.

Just open your heart and let it out. …”

Taking her role(s) seriously


Disguised as an elderly woman in czarist Russia, Sheridan Pierce took the stage at Brentwood School. As the bright lights touched her face and the character took over her body, Pierce poured her heart into her role, and she realized that she was meant to act. 

The play was “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Pierce, a ninth-grader at the time, was playing Yente the matchmaker. The significance of the role, she said, was her connection with the character on a more personal level. “Deep in my soul, I’m already a little old Jewish lady,” she joked.

With leading roles in 12 of her 15 school plays, a role in a film directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) and performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and most recently at Lincoln Center with Brentwood’s Concert Singers, Pierce is certainly an accomplished performer. “I really like to become a character,” she explained.

Pierce also fosters a passion for improvisation and stand-up, participating in The Second City Teen Troupe and The Groundlings. Focused on her desire to make people laugh, Pierce has set her eyes on her ultimate goal: to someday be on “Saturday Night Live.”

Pierce also contributes comedic essays to one of the three Brentwood publications she writes for, and writes Spanish poetry for a foreign-language publication.

Pierce combines her acting and writing career with a commitment to community service. Working tirelessly with organizations such as the Special Olympics, SOVA, Operation Gratitude, TreePeople and the Los Angeles Public Library Teen Council, Pierce has received numerous awards for her service. Pierce’s interest in bettering the community, she said, is motivated by her love of “working together with a lot of people for one goal.”

Despite the additional challenge of a strenuous course load, Pierce managed to find time in each of the last four years to hold positions in student government. “I just wanted to make a difference in my school, and I knew that was the best way to do it,” she said.

She has continued to strive for more responsibility, ultimately landing the highest elected position at her school, that of prefect, during her senior year. She has also earned the positions of arts chair, homecoming/assembly chair, technology liaison and charity coffeehouse chair/host, as well as a seat on the Honor Board.

Talking to Pierce is like watching a Ron Popeil infomercial—at the end of every sentence you find yourself thinking, “But wait, there’s more!” And after a conversation with Pierce, one thing becomes clear: She is always driven to act. Whether on stage as a character or within her community as a leader, Pierce pours her heart into every role she takes on.

“I’m definitely not a lazy person,” she joked. “I like to set a lot of goals for myself, and there is so much I want to do in my life. I just really get inspired to do the most that I can at an early age.”

Touro L.A. to Open Doors for Orthodox


Attention young Orthodox high school graduates: Planning to attend college this year on the East Coast? Why not do something really radical: Stay in Los Angeles?

That’s the message currently going out to the local Orthodox community to encourage its high school graduates to attend Touro College Los Angeles, which will open its doors this fall. It’s no secret that the Orthodox community has been searching for some time now to find a way to staunch the flow of its best and brightest to the East Coast.

“The way of our [Orthodox] world is that most of our students following high school feel they have to go to the East Coast to college,” said Esther Lowy, the college’s newly appointed dean. “And then they usually end up staying on the East Coast.”

With the implementation of Touro L.A., Lowy — who has had three of her eight children attend school at Touro New York — said she hopes it will eventually put a halt to the mass exodus.

It has taken two years of planning, but Touro College Los Angeles, based on the Touro College New York model, received official accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges at the end of February.

Touro L.A. will provide young Orthodox men and women with a four-year college degree at a recognized, accredited institution, allowing them to pursue both secular and Judaic studies. Core secular courses will be provided leading to either a bachelor of science in business administration or a bachelor of arts in psychology and education.

Touro College began in 1970 in New York, when the current president, Dr. Bernard Lander, established an independent college focusing on Jewish core values, heritage and continuity. Today, Touro has 19,000 students at 29 campuses worldwide.

But will it work in Los Angeles?

Lowy believes so because Touro L.A. will mirror Touro N.Y., and the two programs will be interchangeable, allowing students to study at both colleges if they wish. She also believes Los Angeles’ weather will be a huge boon for prospective students, many of whom, she said, have great difficulty adapting to winters on the East Coast.

The college has also secured rental housing in the heart of one of the city’s Orthodox strongholds at Mogen David Synagogue on Pico Boulevard and Beverwil Drive. Mogen David is currently undergoing extensive renovations to upgrade its classrooms in time for the September opening, which aims to have approximately 50-60 students (30 men and 30 women who will be taught separately).

“I’ve had so many inquiries from prospective students,” Lowy said. “Not just locally but also from the Midwest.”

With a May 30 deadline for final applications, Lowy has been busy advertising in local papers, as well as in San Diego and as far away as Denver. She also visited women’s seminaries in Jerusalem at the beginning of the year to talk to girls who will be returning to the United States to continue their studies. In addition, she’s been speaking with principals of the various Orthodox high schools across Los Angeles.

“We’ve also been holding open house meetings, and we’ve been getting a great turnout,” Lowy said. “People are saying they can’t believe that there’s finally going to be a college here for them to attend.”

Lowy said she is confident that they may already have the 30 men they need to begin this year. A lot of that she said has to do with the huge response from the post-high school program at Beit Midrash Ner Aryeh in the Valley.

As far as the women are concerned, Lowy said she is targeting those who would normally attend Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University’s women’s program or Touro in New York, and even those who might otherwise attend UCLA, Santa Monica College or CSUN.

“I’ve had girls approach me and say they’ve chosen to go to Touro N.Y. because they have no options here,” Lowy said. “But now they do.”

Lowy also has another secret weapon that she believes will help keep the students in Los Angeles: Generous financial aid, which will be granted to students — both needs-based and academic-based. Unlike government financial aid, which takes the parents’ income and divides it by the number of students in college, Touro divides it by the number of students in the family.

“We understand that many Orthodox families have many children, and they have been paying tuition since nursery school,” Lowy said. “And while our fees are only $12,000 per year — very reasonable for a private college — we understand that many of our families simply can’t afford to pay that much.”

Lowy concedes that it is difficult to get people to risk sending their children to a new school, yet she is confident that as an identical model to the New York school, that will allay many fears.

“The small classes will also allow us to provide individual attention and to tailor classes to the students’ needs,” she said.

She believes it’s just a matter of time before Touro L.A. makes its mark on the local Orthodox population.

“I think [Touro L.A.] is going to take Los Angeles Orthodoxy to the next level,” she said. “And it’s going to provide us with a level of higher education that we haven’t ever had here before.”

For more information on Touro L.A., contact Esther Lowy at (310) 556-8100.

High Time


For the past three years, in meetings that often go toward midnight, a handful of local parents, educators and community leaders have been coming together to plan Los Angeles’ next non-Orthodox Jewish high school.

Now it has come to pass. Late last month, the Core Group, as the parents call themselves, announced the September 2002 opening of the New Community Jewish High School in the West Valley.

Against a background of world tragedy and looming recession, organizers see the school as a sign of communal growth and vibrancy. “The Jewish community is moving westward,” said school co-chair Howard Farber. “There are enough spaces at our elementary schools, like Kadima, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom, Heschel, and so on, but there are not enough Jewish school spaces for our graduates. Milken [Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple] is great, and they have been wonderful to us. But our community needs more schools.”

Instead of hand-wringing over the limited number of non-Orthodox Jewish high schools, concerned parents devoted hours to starting a new one. “It is an incredible group of people,” Farber said. “When we sit in meetings, there’s not one person who wants to leave early, or cut it short. There is a level of energy and creativity and cooperation that is just nice to see.”

The energy paid off. Elana Rimmon Zimmerman, who works as program director at Valley Beth Shalom and is the mother of two children in day schools, co-chairs the group with Farber. “I always think the opportunity to be part of something new is exciting,” Zimmerman said. “How often during our lives do we get to be part of something at the very beginning?”

Open House

While they have no permanent site yet, the school will use the Bernard Milken Campus in the West Valley as its temporary location when it opens next fall.

From their office suite in Tarzana, school planners are sending out brochures to spread the word. They have consulted with a consortium of San Fernando and Conejo Valley day school principals — administrators whose own student populations will be key feeder schools to the new campus. They have three open houses scheduled for this fall and winter, and are offering a tuition discount to families of the very first group of freshman, the Class of 2006.

School planners are reluctant to quote exact rates, emphasizing instead that significant assistance will be available.

Even in stronger economies, tuition has been a major challenge facing parents and day school administrators. The New Community School organizers say their approach to it was guided by a bedrock commitment to Jewish education. “A Jewish school should not be a commodity,” Powell said. “It should not be a luxury item — you can afford it, you buy it. It should be like a birthright, a community entitlement. What that means, ultimately, is that every family who wants a Jewish education for their child should be able to have one. We have a two-page brochure for families that goes over our tuition assistance policies. We want to be able to accept people who cannot afford to pay the full price. That’s why endowment is so important. That is our central challenge.”

The Core Group may be pioneers of a sort, building a 9th through 12th-grade school from scratch, but taken together, they are not lacking for established contacts or professional support. Both Farber and Zimmerman have a long record of involvement in local Jewish community organizations. “This is hardly a case of some parents getting together and with no experience, deciding they’re going to start a school,” Zimmerman said. “We are hardly neophytes. We have some of the most professional and experienced people participating as our guides, every step of the way.”

The group consults with a 30-member rabbinical cabinet composed of local pulpit rabbis. They’re assisted by the AVI CHAI Foundation, The Jewish Federation Council, the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), and other organizations. The connections run deep: Farber’s mother, Janet, is president of the BJE, and his father, Jake, is the incoming chairman of the board of The Jewish Federation. Farber himself is a graduate of the Wexner Fellows Program.

The new school’s National Advisory Board includes historian-author Deborah Lipstadt, Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Rabbi Daniel Landes, the director of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

The Headmaster

Still, even with the impressive roster, there will be parents who are skittish about the prospect of placing their student in the first class of a new school, preferring instead to wait out the first few years until a school becomes a tried and tested commodity. To those who hesitate, Farber says the answer is simple: Dr. Bruce Powell.

Powell is well-known in education circles as a committed and experienced educator at the high school level and as someone who can bring a considerable resume along to meetings with parents and potential donors. After heading up the general studies department at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles, Powell ran the school at Stephen S. Wise, which later became Milken High School. After a successful 10-year stint as head of school at Milken, where three of his own children graduated, he has continued as an educator and consultant, working closely with Jewish high school start-ups nationwide. At a time when most Jewish institutions across the board are suffering from an acute shortage of qualified Jewish educators and administrators, the new school is given a considerable boost with Powell as the head administrator.

Under his direction, the school’s four-year curriculum will offer courses in Jewish ethics, text and Hebrew language, along with a slate of Advanced Placement classes, (chemistry, music theory, macroeconomics, etc.), and a host of arts and multicultural electives like drama, dance, African American Studies and Modern Israeli Literature.

Why a Jewish High School?

In an interview with The Journal, Powell crystallized the philosophy of a school whose founders have already devoted, in Zimmerman’s words, “countless hours” to discussing vision, purpose and moral education component.

“I’m the last person to sit here and say that Jewish school is some kind of all-purpose panacea,” Powell said. “Nothing is. But it’s critical that our children know who they are, not just to enrich our homes, but to connect with the fabric of the country.

“We have this incredible treasure of a heritage sitting there, and our kids can’t access it or participate in it if they’re ignorant of it. We say things like ‘Jewish continuity,’ but these are empty phrases if there is no content. Why perpetuate something if you don’t know what it’s about? Jews have made a unique contribution to the world and to this country, a contribution grounded specifically in Judaism. The founding forefathers of this country knew Torah. There was a time when to be admitted to Harvard, a student had to know Latin, Greek and biblical Hebrew. Half the world uses our book as a basis for their civilization, and we don’t read it enough.”

Most of the faculty for the school is already lined up, Powell said — this despite what experts say is a severe shortage of Jewish educators nationwide. Powell acknowledged the shortage, but found ways to work around it. “We just have to think creatively,” he said. “There are pulpit rabbis, for example, with a deep background in Judaica, who might take a small cut in salary if it meant having Shabbats and holidays off in order to have a life with their families. There are veteran educators who are excited by the prospect of being in on something from the beginning.”

That excitement is palpable speaking with Farber, Powell and others involved in the project. What began as an idea will soon be another part of the city’s growing Jewish-education system, another institution to make good on one generation’s promise to the next. Powell is certain that alone will draw parents and students to join the endeavor.

“There is a tremendous appeal in truly being a founder of something,” Powell said. “Parents who will be with us from the outset have that this opportunity, and so do the students. It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids to blossom and to lead.”

The New Community Jewish High School will be holding open houses on Nov. 14, Nov. 19 and Dec. 2, at the Bernard Milken campus, 15580 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. For reservations or additional information, call (818) 344-9672.

A Fresh Crop


A delicious breeze wafted through the white tent erected on the brand-new, football field-sized parking lot of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) on May 14, cooling gowned graduates, faculty, and alumni — plus a bevy of proud relatives and friends — as the school awarded degrees to a group of freshly minted Jewish educators and communal service professionals and a clutch of rabbis-to-be.

The students were all smiles as they
received scrolls, academic hoods and congratulations from Rabbi Lewis M. Barth, dean of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles school, and Rabbi Norman J. Cohen, acting president of the four-campus system, along with the leaders of the various academic schools at the local campus.

Cohen outlined the remarkable growth of the Los Angeles campus, which has added faculty and programs in recent years and will ordain its first class of rabbis next spring. Twelve of the students honored May 14 were rabbinic students, nine earning master of arts degrees in Hebrew letters, who will be ordained two years from now; the other three completed their rabbinic studies in Los Angeles and were headed to New York for ordination on May 20.

The school also awarded five master’s degrees in Jewish communal service and 11 in Jewish education. Three other students, including commencement speaker Jordanna Cooper, earned joint degrees in both disciplines.

In her address, Cooper pointed out that trends in American Jewish life tended away from communal activity and toward idiosyncratic practice.

“If Jews want to define Judaism for themselves in their own homes and are not interested in being part of a community, should you and I be afraid for our very new jobs?” Cooper asked her fellow graduates. “What are you going to tell [people] … when they ask us, ‘Why should I be Jewish?’ ‘Why should I be active in the Jewish community?’ We have to come up with something to tell them, and it’s gotta be good.”

Ruth Weisberg, dean of USC’s School of Fine Arts, gave the commencement address, underscoring HUC-JIR’s close relationship with its larger neighbor. Weisberg was awarded an honorary doctorate, as was Sister Karen Kennelly, president emerita of another HUC-JIR neighbor, Mount St. Mary’s College.

During a morning worship service, 17 HUC-JIR alumni — not only rabbis but educators, communal service workers and a cantor — were awarded honorary doctorates on the 25th anniversary of their having graduated from the college. Among the local honorees were Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, Rabbi Jerald Brown of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, and Rivka Dori, longtime Hebrew professor at HUC-JIR.

The commencement exercises came three weeks after the college’s 125th anniversary celebration on April 22, which was a day of study, song and schmoozing during which L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a proclamation honoring the school’s long presence in the city.

Graduation ended with a bountiful dessert reception, a sweet ending to a happy day for the L.A. Jewish community as well as the new degree-holders.

In this, the Jewish Journal’s seventh annual honor roll of high-school graduates, we find that our f


Cover Story.

+