Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Giving


Jewish philanthropies didn’t raise much more money last year than they did the previous year, but the American Jewish community remains numerically over-represented among America’s top charities, an examination of a recent ranking of philanthropies demonstrates.

Of the 400 top charities included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual “Philanthropy 400” list, a just-released who’s who of American nonprofits, some 26 were Jewish.

“The Jewish community raises a lot of money. Its philanthropic system is pretty strong,” said Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

If Jews make up 2.5 percent of the population, he said, “there should be no more than 10 Jewish organizations on this list.”

At the same time, Jewish groups that made the list did not see the same boost in giving in 2004 that general philanthropies did.

The Jewish groups appearing on this year’s list, which looks at fundraising in fiscal year 2004, raised more than $2 billion, about the same as in 2003. Two more Jewish groups appear on this year’s list than on last year’s — although this number is still two fewer than the 28 that made the list for fiscal year 2002.

Observers say this year’s rankings don’t offer a significantly different picture of the American Jewish philanthropic world than last year’s did.

“I think there’s no good news and no bad news here,” Tobin said.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization of Jewish federations, held on to its ranking as the top Jewish charity this year, having raised $251.9 million. The UJC finished 42nd overall, a drop in ranking from the 25th spot last year, as its fundraising went down by 26.9 percent.

The decline, UJC officials say, can be attributed to the fact that in 2003 the group was running its Israel Emergency Campaign, which brought in a large sum of money.

Although the UJC figures provided to the Chronicle of Philanthropy did not include money raised by local federations, some of the money reported did include funds from those federations and, therefore, essentially was double-counted. The UJC said that the total campaign of the federations raised $850-$860 million.

The other top Jewish groups are:

• The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which dropped from 54th place to 60th, although it raised 7.8 percent more private money;

• The Jewish Communal Fund, the New York group that manages the philanthropic funds of individuals and families, which finished in the 82nd spot, up from 103rd last year with a fundraising increase of 29.8 percent;

• The UJA-Federation of New York, which raised 1.4 percent less money in 2004 and went from the 74th spot in 2003 to 83rd this year; and

• The Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which landed this year in the 133rd slot, down from 86th, with a drop of 23.8 percent in funds raised.

Eleven other Jewish federations made the top 400 as well.

The American arm of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, a Chabad-led group working to revitalize Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, made the list this year for the first time, ranking 391 and raising $35.8 million.

“We have been working and developing our U.S. office in the last four years and many prominent Jewish philanthropists have come to recognize the mainstream work that we are doing for Jews across the former Soviet Union,” said Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, executive director of the federation in Moscow.

Over the past year, Berkowitz said, the federation has constructed $25 million worth of buildings.

Several Israel-related organizations made the list this year, including Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which was ranked 183; the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, which directs the distribution of funds to charitable organizations in Israel, at 229; the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at 247; and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science at 263.

On the whole, donations to American philanthropies shot up by 11.6 percent in 2004, the Chronicle said. That increase dwarfs the 2.3 percent increase between 2002 and 2003. The first part of this decade, they say, proved tough for many charities hit hard by the post-Sept. 11 economic downturn.

“Philanthropy in general had a banner year,” said Heather Joslyn, a senior editor at the Chronicle. “The economy is recovering, and the stock market has been recovering compared to two to three years ago. That’s a big thing. This is definitely good news.”

United Way of America was No. 1 in the overall rankings this year. Its 1,350 United Way groups raised $3.9 billion, up 0.4 percent from 2003. Next in line at No. 2 was the Salvation Army, down from the No. 1 spot last year, followed by Feed the Children, up from the ninth position last year.

For the first time since the survey’s inception, the American Red Cross did not finish in the top 10, although it is expected to appear among the first 10 next year, when it will report some $532 million raised for Asian tsunami relief.

While the Chronicle list shows no commensurate leap in Jewish philanthropies, Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, said the list doesn’t capture the full picture of Jewish giving. A large part of that giving, he said, goes to synagogues, day schools, Jewish community centers and even non-Jewish groups like the United Way.

 


Locals on the
Dollar List


by Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Two local philanthropies made the coveted Chronicle list. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles came in at No. 153, with more than $98 million raised, while the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles ranked No. 277, with nearly $53 million.

The Jewish Community Foundation’s performance was particularly strong. The grant-making group jumped an impressive 216 spots over 2003, when it placed No. 369. The Foundation’s credibility in the community, improved marketing and ability to land new donors helped account for its fundraising prowess, Chief Executive and President Marvin Schotland said.

“We’re delighted that the Chronicle of Philanthropy has taken notice of our significant growth,” Schotland said.

L.A. Jewish Federation dropped 28 places compared to its standing in 2003. Federations representing smaller Jewish populations, including San Francisco (No. 215), Detroit (No. 237) and Boston (No. 238), each raised more money than the L.A. group.

Still, the numbers tell only part of the story, at least when it comes to federations, L.A. Federation President John Fishel said. Whereas the Los Angeles group only reports the proceeds from its annual campaign, other federations often count that along with funds generated by community foundations, which is “a little like comparing apples and oranges,” Fishel said.

The L.A. Federation would have placed second behind New York among American federations if the funds raised by the L.A. Jewish Community Foundation were included in its total.

In recent years, the L.A. Federation has seen an uptick in annual fundraising, Fishel said, adding that the positive trend should continue this year. Still, “I always think there’s room for improvement,” he said.

A Thaw in Relations


Who says that Israelis and Palestinians can’t work together?
On New Year’s Day, a group of Israelis and Palestinians embarked on a 35-day
expedition to Antarctica that culminated in the scaling and naming of an
unexplored mountain.

The group, Breaking the Ice, was honored this month for
diplomacy through sport by Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to conflict resolution.

“[I] felt paralyzed not being able to do anything,” said Heskel
Nathaniel, an Israeli living in Germany who launched the project in order to
make a contribution to peace. Nathaniel teamed up with an Israeli climber
friend, Doron Erel, to assemble the expedition.

Through their connections, including Israeli journalists
working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they found four Israelis and four
Palestinians willing to sail from the southern tip of Chile through the  Drake
Passage to Antarctica. They also organized an eight-person support crew,
including a physician, mountain guides and cameramen to produce a documentary.

The hikers included an Ethiopian Israeli who had lost most
of her family trekking across Sudan en route to Israel, a Palestinian from Jerusalem
who had been jailed for attacking Israeli troops with Molotov cocktails and a
lawyer who served in an elite Israeli army commando unit. Despite their
differences, members of the team knew how to “treat each other as human
beings,” said Olfat Haider, an Israeli Arab from Haifa.

But the expedition had plenty of rough spots. Crossing the
Drake Passage, which Nathaniel calls the “largest ships’ graveyard in the
world,” meant enduring waves nearly 50 feet high and winds up to 80 mph. Almost
everyone became seasick and two participants suffered bruises as the boat was
tossed around.

There also were political battles, like the one that
occurred when Nasser Quass, the Palestinian who had been in an Israeli jail,
said Jews have no claim to the Temple Mount.

“We were completely insulted,” Nathaniel said.

Avihu Shoshani, the Israeli lawyer who often butted heads
with Quass, was furious. Haider began to cry.

The parties separated, avoiding each other until the next
evening, when they had to continue navigating, Nathaniel said.

Now, with the trek behind them, Breaking the Ice leaders are
working to turn the event into an annual program — though not to Antarctica.
The next trip, slated for March 2005, will be a camel trek across the Sahara Desert
for Jews and Arabs from several countries.

The group also hopes to inspire children with the example of
bold adventurers who will symbolize a “new kind of hero,” Nathaniel said. He
explained that the group plans ultimately to create programs to instill
friendship among children from countries of conflict.

For more information about the program
and to read a diary of the trip, go to 

Vocal Musicians Make a Joyful Noise


Human voices converge on the same note, echoing a haunting harmony — arousing complicated emotions.

This has been the buzz surrounding an award-winning Jewish a cappella group, Shir Appeal, a group of college students from Massachusetts, who will bring their hypnotizing harmonies to Orange County’s Temple Bat Yahm (TBY) for Shabbat evening service, Jan. 16. The group was named after Tufts University’s mascot — Jumbo the Elephant. The Hebrew phrase shir hapeal means "song of the elephant."

A cappella, Italian for "in the style of the chapel," is a term used to describe a type of music composed of entirely human voices.

A student-run organization, Shir Appeal receives no funding from their student government, and sustains their costs with CD sales, which feature Jewish folk songs, Israeli pop songs and liturgical music.

This year marks the group’s return to TBY in Newport Beach, also home of operatic cantor Jonathan Grant. The 15 members of Shir Appeal have been invited to stay with TBY congregants and will sit in a place of honor among the temple’s choir.

"Where ever there’s a sizable Jewish population [at a college], you’re bound to find an a cappella group," said Rebecca Bromberg of Shir Bruin, UCLA’s Jewish a cappella ensemble, who also co-founded a Jewish a cappella group in 1997 at Emory University in Atlanta.

Bromberg cites Columbia University’s Pizmon, which formed in 1987, as popularizing American Jewish a cappella on college campuses. As secular a cappella gathered steam in the 1990s, marked by the formation of major a cappella societies, Jewish a cappella also became more popular, especially among youth on college campuses. Techiya of MIT formed in 1994; Shir Appeal in 1995; Shircago, of the University of Chicago, in 1996; as well as a slew of others on university campuses whose participation waxed and waned over the decade — including Harvard, Brandeis and Boston and New York universities.

During the spring of this year, the University of Chicago hosted "Striking a Chord," the first-ever, all-Jewish Midwest a cappella festival, attracting groups from around the Midwest.

The San Francisco-based Contemporary A Cappella Society, a loose association of amateur, semi-pro and professional a cappella artists, recognizes groups that have produced a commercially available body of work with a Contemporary A Capella Recording Awards (CARA). Like the mainstream recording industry’s Grammy Awards, a CARA is given to artists in many categories. Groups with limited distribution also qualify for recognition, said Jessika Diamond, former vice president of the Contemporary A Cappella Society, however, they are less likely to have the resources to create a recording with high production values.

"This year is the first time in the history of the CARA competition that any religious group did as well as Shir Appeal," Diamond said.

Shir Appeal took home the award for "best collegiate song" and runner-up for "best collegiate album."

This year, approximately 60 volunteer a cappella aficionados judged the CARAs. Among them was the society’s representative, Greg Bowne, of Massachusetts.

"[Shir Appeal] used their voices in such a great way that really conveyed power and emotion in the song," Bowne said.

After the competition was over, Bowne said he kept listening to their recording, impressed with the group’s strong sound.

Two of the group’s songs were also featured on the "Best of College A Cappella" CD, a production of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), which Diamond directed from 1999 to 2003. The ICCA attracts a cappella groups worldwide and encourages them to submit recordings of their best songs for a competition. Out of thousands of submissions, 18 songs are selected for a compilation CD, "The Best of College A Cappella," released every year. Shir Appeal won coveted spots on the 2000 and 2003 collections.

Before their Newport Beach appearance, Shir Appeal performs in Los Angeles with Shir Bruin, the Scattertones and another UCLA-affiliated a cappella group on Jan. 11.

Cantor Grant said he expects the group to sing a 17th-century selection by Solomone Rossi, called "Eftach Nai S’Fatai" (God Please Open My Lips), and a unique arrangements of "Shalom Aleichem" and "Shalom Rav."

"I also look forward to the Israeli popular selections they will sing at our Shabbat dinner program," he said.

For information about the Jan. 16 appearance at Temple Bat Yahm, call (949) 644-1999.

Does Buddhist Hold Mideast Peace Key?


While news of the Geneva accords hit the headlines, a group of Palestinians and Israelis were trying to make a different kind of peace — with the help of Buddhists in southern France.

Thich Nhat Hanh — Vietnamese Zen master, poet and Nobel Peace Prize nominee — has been inviting groups of Palestinians and Israelis to his practice center, Plum Village, in an effort to show them that Buddhist meditation can lead to inner peace as well as nonviolence between nations. The trips are largely underwritten by an American Jewish businessman.

Nhat Hanh preaches nothing less than personal transformation as the road to peace.

“I have lived through two wars in Vietnam, and I know what a war is. There is fear, anger, despair and if you don’t know how to manage these feelings, you will not survive,” he told his audience of 300, including 30 Israelis and Palestinians.

For businessman Amin Bara of Nablus, the palpable peace at Plum Village was an inspiration. “You walk at night, and no one asks you where you are going. You sleep peacefully with no trouble. I feel I love life more. I feel a change in my body and my spirit to be stronger in my work for peace.”

Anael Harpaz of Rosh Pina came home with a broken heart after listening to the stories told by Palestinians, especially the sister of a suicide bomber, who revealed the difficult and tragic circumstances leading to the act.

“We fell into each other’s arms afterward. There’s no denying the love we felt for one another,” Harpaz said of the young sister of the suicide bomber. “It’s very sad for me what’s happening to the Palestinians and to our soldiers. We’re all victims.”

Harpaz appreciated what Nhat Hanh is trying to do, saying, “He comes from a place of much suffering, and he chose the nonviolent way, and he’s trying to teach us this. I’m sure it looks like complete nonsense to people who are not on a spiritual path. But I know how much peace being on a spiritual path and returning to my breath has brought to me.”

The Israelis and Palestinians, fresh from the tension of the Middle East, practiced eating, walking and working mindfully — following their breath and keeping their minds focused among the 150 monks and nuns — before meeting together at the end of the week for “deep-listening” sessions.

Eastern meditation has been gaining in popularity in Israel, especially since post-army trips to India and the East have become de rigueur. A few Palestinians are beginning to show an interest, and a Palestinian-Jewish sangha, or meditation group, made up mostly of those who have been to Plum Village, meets one day a month. The style — slow, meditative, gentle — contrasts sharply with the vociferous, combative style of the local population, and many see it as a needed breath of fresh air.

As with many peace gatherings, Nhat Hanh, in a sense, was preaching to the converted. Nearly all the participants had been involved in peace efforts and dialogue before. What might have been new to some was his stance that only when we achieve peace within — and with our loved ones — can we hope for peace between nations. Thus, he began several of his talks with advice for making marriages more harmonious.

Because of trouble with visas and permits, the West Bank Palestinians arrived at Plum Village late. They were thrown right into the dialogue without having had a chance to “practice” beforehand. Two Palestinians were turned back at a Jordan bridge.

Issa Souf of the West Bank village of Hares, formerly a physical trainer, came in a wheelchair with his brother and nephew. He had been shot, he said, by an Israeli soldier as he was attempting to get his family back into the house and away from tear gas. Souf said he believed his stay at Plum Village confirmed for him that he is on the right path — the path of nonviolence.

“I really, really, really feel — and I tell my Palestinian friends all the time — that it’s not a solution if we kill half the Jewish people, and it’s not a solution if they kill three-quarters of the Palestinians,” Souf said. “Both peoples have to oppose the policies that throw us into this situation.”

However, Souf, as well as other Palestinians, believed that Nhat Hanh lacked sufficient information about the Mideast conflict.

When both sides met together, speakers were exhorted to use “loving speech,” without blame or condemnation. Listeners were told to listen deeply, following their breath, and to be aware of their reactions without responding verbally. The idea was for each side to open its heart to the other side and to be able to acknowledge that the other side suffered, too. From this, Nhat Hanh said, compassion would flow.

After septuagenarian Kochava Ron told of her family losing five members to the conflict over 70 years, the group did a bit of walking meditation around the large hall, and Bara, the Arab businessman, walked with his arm around Ron.

But many participants were not able to take Nhat Hanh’s advice to speak gently, personally and from the heart.

Some of the Israelis made speeches about peace, and several of the Palestinians spoke passionately and angrily about the “Nazi” occupation, Sharon’s “fascist” government and the “apartheid” separation wall being built by Israel. But personal meetings between sessions were friendly.

While the Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs present were more familiar with Nhat Hanh’s teachings — he led two weekend retreats in Israel seven years ago, and groups of meditators throughout Israel follow his teachings — it was the West Bank Palestinians’ first encounter with Buddhist practice. “They don’t know where they’ve landed,” said one of the Israelis.

Dorit Shippin, the organizer of the Israeli delegation, was not disappointed, saying she got a lot of strength from the week.

“I didn’t expect loving speech from the Palestinians,” she said. “They weren’t there long enough. But [he] planted seeds. You never know how or when they will sprout.”


Ruth Mason is a writer from Los Angeles now living in Israel.

Human Atonement or Animal Cruelty?


Early morning on the day before Yom Kippur, groups of Jews will be gathering to hold squawking chickens by the feet and twirl them over their head while chanting a prayer. After the twirling, the chickens will be ritually slaughtered and given to the poor.

Kaparos, literally atonements, which has been performed in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Chabad House and at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, is one of the strangest-looking customs in Jewish liturgy. It is done to inspire repentance and to impress upon its adherents the seriousness of Yom Kippur. However, the practice has inspired the ire of animal rights groups, who consider it cruel to the chickens, and many are urging that Jews who practice this custom do so using money instead, which is an acceptable substitute.

Kaparos is not a mitzvah but a post-talmudic minhag (Jewish custom). It originated sometime during the middle ages. The idea was that since the Hebrew word for man (gever) and rooster were the same, a man’s sins — and his punishments — could be symbolically transferred to the rooster, in the same way that during the times of the Temple, people bought animal sacrifices as penance for their sins. Therefore, while slinging the chicken during kaparos, the person chants, "This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken shall go to its death, and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace."

Today, some people perform kaparos by swinging a bag of money over their head and then donate that money to charity.

Yet, kaparos is not a substitute for repentance, and it should not be assumed that someone could achieve penance and absolution by having a chicken take the rap for all their transgressions.

"The chicken does not replace me," said Rabbi Shneur Zalman Schmukler, a shochet (ritual slaughterer) who arranges kaparos with chickens at Yeshivat Ohr Elchonon Chabad. "The chicken is an innocent chicken. The chicken will not take the sin away from me, but what the chicken does is impress upon me, that what is happening to the chicken [should be] happening to me and this will arouse in me feelings of teshuvah [repentance]. Watching the chicken get slaughtered awakens you to the physical gravity of Yom Kippur."

Schmukler said that using chickens for kaparos is a deep and mystical kabbalistic custom, that combines the maximizes the forces of chesed (lovingkindness) in the world.

"Early morning is a time when God’s middos hachesed [kind attributes] shine, and the reason we slaughter the chicken is to oppress the powers of gevurah [restrictions]," he said. "Blood is a symbol of anger, because when you are angry the blood goes to your face, and when we take the blood out a chicken, we make a tikkun [spiritual correction] and sweeten the energies of the world. This is what kaparos is on a spiritual level."

But animal rights activist feel that kaparos produces particularly sour physical energy. Los Angeles kaparos locales are often the site of protests and demonstrations against the way the chickens are handled. These activists say that the chickens are cooped up in cages that are too small, without enough air or water, and that chickens are often harmed before they are slaughtered in the general chaotic atmosphere of the kaparos ceremony.

"Typically, we get a whole lot of letters [protesting kaparos] from grass-roots animal-rights groups at this time of year," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles (SPCA), a law-enforcement organization. "The theory is if you swing the chickens around, then you can use the chickens to eat. But if the swinging around causes them injury and suffering, then they are no longer qualified for kosher slaughter…. People have found suffering chickens with their necks broken but still alive. We wish that it would stop. While we are constantly assured that they are swung gently, it doesn’t preclude accidents."

Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns (UPC), a Virginia- based organization that, according to their Web site, is "dedicated to the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl," said that her organization has been lobbying the SPCA and rabbis for years to intervene and require some basic humane treatment of kaparos birds.

"It is great if people choose a compassionate alternative, and instead of twirling a chicken they toss up a coin instead," said Matt Prescott, campaign coordinator for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

But Schmukler says that the really proper way to do kaparos is with chickens, and that the protesters are wasting their time.

"People slaughter and eat chickens all over the city," he said. "What is the difference [between us and them]? They should go to packing houses and demonstrate there."

Kaparos with chickens will take place at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, 7215 Waring Ave., Los Angeles, on Sunday, Oct. 5, 6 a.m.-noon. For more information, call (323) 937-3763.

It’s a Full Plate in Nourishing the Sick


Bob S. insists that his mother back in Virginia made the best chicken soup ever, but he’s willing to admit the homemade version delivered to his Van Nuys apartment is a close second.

The delivery is part of the mission of Project Chicken Soup, an all-volunteer group that cooks, packages and personally delivers kosher meals twice a month to patients living with HIV and AIDS. It might be a chicken breast or a casserole, along with the soup, salad, fruit, dessert or even a protein drink.

Bob, who’s 61 and lives alone, said the food is crucial for him, but it goes deeper than that. “If it wasn’t for Project Chicken Soup, there wouldn’t be a connection to the Jewish community for some of us, and I wouldn’t be cooking for myself,” he said. “I don’t have the energy or the interest or the desire to eat.”

For Project Chicken Soup President Rod Barn, whose client list has grown steadily from 20 in the early ’90s to more than 100, the task of meeting a growing demand when charitable donations and grants are harder to secure is a never ending challenge.

“So far, we haven’t had to turn anyone away, and we don’t want to,” Barn said. “A lot of our clients say when they get our food, it reminds them of better times. They smell the chicken soup, and it brings them love and warmth, and that’s what we’re about.”

It’s a similar story elsewhere, from small programs to large, as medical advances mean more people are living better and longer with AIDS and HIV. Whether it’s Project Chicken Soup; Aids Service Foundation (ASF) Orange County, with its 1,500 clients; St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels, which serves 50 to 75 HIV and AIDS patients a day out of 1,650 clients; or Project Angel Food, which cooks and delivers 1,200 meals daily, they have to do more with less.

Larry Kuzela of ASF Orange County said this “has always been a struggle and continues to be. We’ve never had a waiting list, and we’ve never turned anyone away, but we have a reserve fund, and we’ve had to dig into our reserves.” Sister Alice Marie of St. Vincent’s was only half joking when she said, “I pray a lot” to make sure there is enough money.

At Project Angel Food, considered a model for this type of service nationally, Executive Director John Gile said, “We’ve added 800 new clients in 2002 alone, yet we have over 20,000 donors, with the average gift being $38. We always seem to get the gift when we need it most.”

“Since we’re based in Hollywood, we have strong support and generosity from the entertainment industry, which this year alone will help us raise a half-million dollars,” he continued. “We’re proud to say that if you call Project Angel Food today, you get a meal tomorrow”

On the other side of the table, groups that give grants and funding to AIDS service providers would like to do more, but they also must compete for donations. For example, MAZON, A Jewish Response to Hunger, which receives the majority of its donations from individuals, plans to give away approximately $3.4 million to 250 organizations nationwide in this fiscal year. Project Angel Food and Project Chicken Soup, which is under the umbrella of Jewish Family Service, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, are among the grant recipients.

Grants Director Mia Johnson said, “The sense or urgency is not as strong as it was in the ’80s and ’90s, so it’s a challenge for these organizations to make sure people understand their ongoing needs and the evolution of those needs”

The nutritionally balanced meals that are provided can literally make the difference between life and death for those struggling to stay healthy, and that’s why Steven F. of Santa Monica, said of Project Angel Food’s work: “It’s very crucial. Every day, I think of it as a gift. It is something I look forward to, and it provides me with good, cooked food that I wouldn’t and couldn’t do for

myself.”

For more information about Project Chicken Soup, call
(323) 655-5330 or visit “>www.angelfood.org; for MAZON, call (310)
442-0020 or visit

Networking for Jobs


It’s been nearly two years since David Lorch had a job. Currently, the former pricing analyst for an Orange County high-tech firm attends networking events near his home in Laguna Hills, does volunteer work for his shul, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, and tries to maintain his hope.

With the job market showing little or no signs of improvement, Lorch is hoping to start a new networking group through his synagogue that is focused specifically on helping unemployed Jews find work. Such organizations have taken off at a handful of congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the dismal job market is already considered a crisis in the Jewish community. Lorch is hoping to draw from the experiences of his peers in Silicon Valley in crafting a network of his own.

"It’s one thing to have a general group, but I think a focused group of Jews helping Jews could be more powerful, more beneficial," Lorch said. "So far, the standard stuff hasn’t worked."

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto said his Conservative synagogue was a natural place for out-of-work congregants to base their support and networking activities. Their 1-year-old Project Full Employment, holds two monthly meetings and maintains an e-mail group for job leads that has attracted more than 300 members.

"I think in a community like a synagogue, we have a deep stake in each other’s welfare," Lewis said. "If we’re not ready to act in a time like this, then when?"

Lewis, a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley, said the current economic downturn is the worst he has ever seen. At Kol Emeth, a congregation-wide appeal for job leads was part of the Yom Kippur services this year.

"I’m still finding out about people in the congregation who have been quietly facing this challenge. There are even families in which two bread-winners are unemployed together," Lewis said. "The toll is immense. I’ve seen tensions in marriages, drained self-esteem and the loss of hope."

Jill Kulick lost her job as a vice president of human resources when her Silicon Valley start-up company folded more than a year ago. Now, in addition to looking for a job, she organizes the networking group at Congregation Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Los Altos Hills, at which an estimated 8 percent of adult congregants are out of work.

"It’s very lonely to be out there without a job," she said. "The common thread is that all of us are professionals who three years ago were in great demand. You go from a feeling of true competency and professionalism to where people don’t give you the time of day."

Like Kulick, many unemployed Jewish professionals find structure and a sense of purpose by getting more involved in their synagogues. For example, when Congregation Beth Am’s vice president of finance needed some help, Kulick knew of three unemployed chief financial officers she could call on. "I said here are our people, and they all said great, we’d love to get involved."

After a year of setting up guest speakers for the synagogue’s job networking group, Kulick and fellow organizers have shifted their focus toward establishing more personal connections between the 1,800-family congregation’s unemployed members and their fellow congregants who are in the position to help them make contacts and find job leads.

A recent dessert reception at Beth Am brought about 50 out-of-work congregants together with more than a dozen "movers and shakers" from the congregation’s own ranks. After each person briefly told their story, the group split into smaller networking units and shared resumes and suggestions.

"They got to meet with a whole constituency who never had come together as a community before," Kulick said.

Muslim Messages


Amid the profusion of billboards along Southern California freeways, motorists are being startled by a new one. It features seven smiling faces of various ethnicities, with one, a woman wearing a black headscarf, holding a small American flag.

Underneath, in bold letters, are the words, "Even a smile is Charity — a message from your Muslim neighbor." The sponsor of the soft-sell ad is the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the billboards are indicative of its increasing sophistication in presenting the benign and nonthreatening face of Islam.

The cost of each billboard rental ranges from $5,000 to $8,000 per month, and so far, only three carry the "smile" message. One is located near LAX and the other two are in Orange County.

But if they are deemed effective, similar signs are planned for other American cities, said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper in Washington.

The concept was developed by the Southern California chapter of CAIR, whose public relations coordinator, Sabiha Khan, said the slogan was based on a saying by the Prophet Muhammad, "Your smile for your brother is charity." Different positive messages will be posted each month, she said.

The higher profile comes even as CAIR weathers criticisms that it has served as a platform for people and groups that support terror against Israeli citizens. CAIR denies the charges — and keeps smiling.

Over the past year, and especially since Sept. 11, CAIR has evolved into an effective voice of the Muslim and Arab communities in the United States. Taking a leaf from Jewish defense organizations, any real or perceived slur or discriminatory act against a Muslim is instantly met with protests and barrages of news releases to the media.

One of a Kind


The Shivyon Minyan may be a 4-year-old prayer group of about 65 people that meets at a hotel once a month, but it has many of the assets that older, more established synagogues recognize are requirements for success: strong lay leaders and a grass-roots base of committed members, the capacity to meet needs that are not being met elsewhere, and a history of challenges and struggles that have strengthened the group’s character.

Founded at Congregation Mogen David, then a Traditional congregation on Pico, the Shivyon Minyan — Shivyon is Hebrew for equality — is an egalitarian prayer, study and social group committed to providing a comfortable, intimate setting for Shabbat.

Annette Berman, who with her husband Abe founded the minyan, described for the Journal some of the minyan’s basic principles: being open and friendly, greeting newcomers, giving beginners a place to try out new skills. Every service is followed by a free catered lunch, since Berman believes the meal, with the singing and conversation it includes, is essential to the Shabbat experience.

And at the foundation of it all is the commitment to having women be full participants and leaders in a traditional service.

“I’ve been a shulgoer my whole life, and I never had the opportunity to lead services or be called up to the Torah,” said Cynthia Tivers, who has been a Shivyon member since its inception. “I led the Torah service one Shabbat, and that was a very big deal for me, and it was new and exciting,” she said.

Berman realized there was a need for such a service at her 60th birthday celebration six years ago, when she held a women’s Shabbat service and asked her friends to participate. Many ended up reading from the Torah, leading prayers or having an aliyah for the first time, after going to great lengths to acquire the necessary skills.

“It was quite an important day in quite a few people’s lives,” Berman said.

About two years later, Berman saw an opening for setting up a permanent venue at Congregation Mogen David, where she had been a member for nearly 50 years and had just received a service award.

Mogen David — which just last month became Orthodox — was confronting an aging and dwindling membership. And as the neighborhood grew more and more Orthodox, young families were choosing shuls that met their ideological needs, which did not include Mogen David’s services, which used an Orthodox prayerbook, but also used microphones and had no mechitzah separating men and women.

Rabbi Yisroel Kelemer, who was then the rabbi, decided to allow alternatives to help get people through the door. He oversaw the establishment of an Orthodox mechitzah minyan and six months later, with Berman’s prodding, the Shivyon Minyan.

“At the time they came into being, I felt that we wanted to give everyone a chance to give expression. We could be the all-purpose shul, with a mechitzah minyan, the Shivyon Minyan and the Traditional minyan in the main sanctuary,” Kelemer said.

The board agreed, thinking the auxiliary minyans would bring more people through the doors and attract more members.

But while the Shivyon Minyan was successful in attracting people — up to 40 or 50 at the monthly Shabbat service, 85 to one shabbaton on Sukkot — many participants, like their counterparts in the mechitzah minyan, didn’t join Mogen David.

At the same time, political infighting intensified as conflicting ideological factions tried to gain control over the future of the shul.

“As the Orthodox element got stronger and stronger, pressure was put on us that if this is going to become an Orthodox shul, we can no longer have the Shivyon Minyan,” Kelemer said.

And so 18 months after Shivyon Minyan began, it was terminated, along with the mechitzah minyan, and soon afterward Berman was removed from the shul’s board. The mechitzah minyan was restarted at Mogen David a few months later and eventually became the primary service when Mogen David erected its mechitzah in the main sanctuary. Shivyon met for a while at the Berman home, then found space another minyan had just vacated at the Holiday Inn Select on Beverly Drive just north of Pico Boulevard.

“It was a traumatic time, but I think there was a recognition by those involved that this was something that transcended location,” said Rabbi Tracee Rosen, who was then a rabbinic intern at the Shivyon Minyan. The minyan got prayerbooks from nearby Conservative Temple Beth Am and a Torah scroll from Temple Emanuel, a Reform shul in Beverly Hills, and members still sponsor a lunch each time the minyan meets.
Rosen, who is now a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, says that smaller services like Shivyon are becoming more and more attractive to worshippers. Even large congregations are setting up smaller alternative minyanim to meet that demand.

“People want a growing sense of community, of being able to participate, not having it be just about the big lifecycle events and wanting to do a little bit more singing, a little bit more learning and a lot more participation,” Rosen said.

And with nearly all of the shuls along the Pico corridor being Orthodox, Shivyon offers a liberal alternative. It also reads the full Torah portion each week, unlike many other liberal services, which read a fraction of the portion of the week on a triennial cycle.

Berman hopes that the minyan, with its strong core community and target audience, will continue to thrive, despite the rocky past.

“We’re grateful to Mogen David,” she said. “They gave us our start. If we hadn’t had a home for 18 months, we would not have been able to develop the core group that continued on.”

For more information about Shivyon Minyan, call (310) 556-2744.