Community Briefs

They All Hallelued

When the creators of Hallelu picked Oct. 20 as the date for the concert celebrating the Jewish spirit, they might not have realized that the day fell on the eighth anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Yet, when Carlebach’s daughter, Neshama, pointed out that fact during her performance, the coincidence sat well with the nearly 5,000 people who filled the Universal Amphitheatre. The celebration of sacred community, prayer and song seemed the perfect tribute to the memory of the man who changed the way Jews pray and sing.

Hallelu, produced by Craig Taubman of Craig ‘n Co. and sponsored by Synagogue 2000, “exceeded all expectations,” said Ron Wolfson, co-founder of Synagogue 2000, a transdenominational effort to bring renewed spirit, structure and study to shuls. At the University of Judaism the next day, more than 100 synagogue and community leaders attended a conference and created a task force to explore how to bring Synagogue 2000 to Los Angeles. Hallelu’s goal of bringing 45 synagogues together as one community seemed to have succeeded, as each of the dozen or so acts that took the stage had the audience swaying, singing and dancing along.

Rick Recht brought the crowd to its feet with “Od Yavo Shalom,” (Peace will Still Come) and Theodore Bikel brought in a note of nostalgia withhis Yiddish ballad from the Soviet Jewish underground. A choir of local cantors expressed the sense of mutual gratitude between synagogue professionals and congregants with its Mi Sheberach, and chains of dancing women took to the aisles for Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song.” The only false note came from some well-intentioned dramatic performances that fell flat amid the real attraction — some of the best Jewish music and most talented performers around today.

By the time the glowsticks came out for the final ensemble performance of the signature “Hallelu,” a choir of 5,000 filled the amphitheater with a sound and sight that will linger for some time. For more information on Synagogue 2000, visit — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Mofaz Comes to Town

Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, former chief of the General Staff Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was honored by the Western Regional Office of the Friends of the IDF on Oct. 10 at Sinai Temple. The organization paid tribute to Mofaz’s 36 years of military service and promoted support for the IDF among the Los Angeles Jewish community.

“When you take an active role in supporting the IDF you are supporting Israel itself,” Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel, told an audience of some 800 people.

Mofaz said that they brought with them representatives of all the families who have made the ultimate sacrifice. “Together we have a special obligation to the families of these soldiers. We share the pain, their legacy. We bare their scars — we must continue the fight war after war.”

Mofaz expressed support for a U.S. war against Iraq. “If Saddam is allowed to continue amassing weapons of mass destruction, the security and stability of our world will be shaken,” he said

Mofaz was also certain about Israel’s future. “We will win the war against terror, and our goal is to bring back the Palestinians to the negotiation table. Negotiations will take place when the Palestinians will fight successfully against terrorism and will choose a different leader who will take them in a different direction,” he said. — Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer

The Water Boys

The L.A. chapter of Jewish National Fund (JNF) is adopting a water reservoir in Livnim in northern Israel. Lou Kestenbaum and Dr. Jamshid Maddahi will co-chair the yearlong $1.5 million campaign. The pair — to be honored by JNF on Oct. 27 — will kick off their fundraising effort at this year’s “Tree of Life” gala here in Los Angeles.

Established in 1901, JNF has planted more than 220 million trees, built more than 120 dams and reservoirs, developed more than 250,000 acres of land and created more than 400 parks. Once completed, the Livnim Reservoir will help 13 northern Israel farming communities, including several Israeli Arab villages.

“We’re talking about recycled waste water,” said Sam Perchik, director of JNF’s L.A. branch. “So many times a year the reservoir will be replenished without getting fresh rainwater. The idea is to furnish the farmers with recycled waters, this way it relieves water for domestic use.”

Israelis consume 528 million gallons of water a year, derived from two aquifers and the Sea of Galilee. However, the water supply currently hovers at about 423 million gallons, according to Perchik.

Seventy percent of Israel’s water goes to agriculture, but the government cut the supply to farmers by 60 percent, even as a drought continues.

Both local chairs share a deep kinship with Israel. Originally from Tehran, Madahhi, professor of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, Nuclear Medicine and Radiology Science at the UCLA School of Medicine, trained Israeli physicians while working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (1977-1990). “My affinity with Israel goes back to my childhood,” said Madahhi. “I remember even from my first visit in the early 1960s [at age 10] that all of the conflict in the region was about water. I think water is important to peace in Israel. The foundation for the peace with Jordan was centered around water.”

Madahhi was instrumental of establishing the first Israeli Positron Emission Tomography (PET) center at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem. Through UCLA, Madahhi continues to train Israeli doctors. He is also director of Nuclear Cardiology and Clinical PET at the Biomedical Imaging Institute in Los Angeles

Kestenbaum and his wife Trudy are Holocaust survivors. They came to Pittsburgh in 1947, where Kestenbaum became a developer. In 1962, Kestenbaum moved to Los Angeles, where he started a very successful flexible packaging business. Now retired, Kestenbaum devotes his time to Jewish causes, including Shelters For Israel, and Los Angeles’ JNF, where he chairs its board of directors.

“JNF is a particularly special to me,” said Kestenbaum, “because of their objectives. They’re nonpolitical, and it benefits all of Israel.”

The Jewish National Fund’s “Tree of Life” Dinner will be held on Oct. 27 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. For information, call (323) 964-1400; for information on planting trees in Israel, call (800) 542-8733. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Hadassah Comes to L.A.

Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of Hadassah Medical Center, visited Los Angeles on Oct. 4-6 as part of a weeklong tour of North American Hadassah chapters, including Hadassah Southern California. The Los Angeles stop was part of a capital campaign effort for a new state-of-the-art hospital building, which will be equipped to counter biological and chemical threats. The 60-bed facility will cost $30 million.

“During the terror attacks of the last two years, we have treated 2,000 people, which is more than 50 percent of all the victims of terror in Israel,” said Mor-Yosef, 51, who oversees the operation of Hadassah’s two Jerusalem-area hospitals.

Because of the intifada, security at the hospital has become a prime concern. “We can’t shield the hospital,” Mor-Yosef said. “It’s not an army base. There are 20,000 people — Jews, Arabs — passing through the hospital each day. But we’ve increased our security budget up to $1 million in the last two years.”

Hadassah Southern California and National Hadassah Organization will hold its annual Women of Distinction Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Nov. 3. For information on the gala, call (310) 479-3200. — MA

Synagogues to Fly on Wings of Song

The real measure of success for Hallelu will not be whether the Universal Amphitheatre is filled to capacity on Sunday, Oct. 20, or whether the audience leaves humming the songs performed by an unprecedented gathering of Jewish musical talent for what is essentially a giant kumsitz.

The important test will come the next day. That is when lay and professional synagogue leaders from across Los Angeles will gather on Oct. 21 with leaders of Synagogue 2000, a national initiative to revitalize synagogues, for the kickoff of what may be a long and systematic process of channeling Hallelu’s energy back into the community.

“If the concert really works, it will be inspiring in a way that is almost unimaginable going in,” said Marvin Schotland, president of the Jewish Community Foundation, which gave a grant to Synagogue 2000 for Hallelu. “I think the real challenge will be how to harness the energy in a systematic way, which will allow the implementation of a program we don’t currently have.”

Synagogue 2000 is a highly structured journey of introspection aimed at infusing synagogue life with spirituality, warmth and dedication to study and social action. The program, founded seven years ago by Ron Wolfson, a vice president at the University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles, and Rabbi Larry Hoffman, a professor at Hebrew Union College in New York, has been transformative for the handful of cities where it has been or is currently being implemented.

But while there are some isolated Synagogue 2000 projects in Los Angeles, and while the program enjoys significant support from Los Angeles funders, such as the Whizin Center for the Jewish Future at UJ, it has not yet been implemented on a communitywide level in Los Angeles.

“There’s a kind of energy that gets created when a number of synagogues from across the denominations come together for the purpose of envisioning the future of synagogue life,” Wolfson said. “It could help a very diverse or spread-out Jewish community to come together in a significant way.”

The idea for Hallelu was conceived three years ago. The aim of Hallelu is to use the concert and Shabbat events taking place at synagogues locally on the weekend of the program to raise the profile of Synagogue 2000 in an effort to jump-start it here.

“The event itself is designed to be a celebration of the spirit and of synagogue life,” Wolfson said. “We put a very high premium on getting people to sing together, since so much of the doorway to engaging people spiritually seems to happen through music.”

The show, with 4,500 of the 6,000 seats already sold, promises to be a uniquely uplifting event, sponsors said. It will feature some of the top artists in Jewish music, who have never before performed together at the same time. Debbie Friedman, Theodore Bikel, Neshama Carlebach, Danny Maseng and Alberto Mizrahi headline the show, which is produced by Craig Taubman, who will also perform.

Audience members will receive a CD with some of the music in advance of the concert, so that they can sing along with the performers. Transliterated lyrics will be projected on large screens.

“It’s the ideal concert,” Taubman said. “You’re not just a passive visitor, but you are an active participant, where you are as much a part of the process as the performers on stage.”

The concert will cost about $175,000 to produce. Tickets at an $18 suggested donation figure can be purchased through synagogues, or for $20 at the door. Hallelu boasts a long list of sponsors, including Disneyland, Los Angeles Family Magazine, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, The Jewish Journal and a host of Jewish and Hollywood institutions.

Along with the headliners, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale will perform, as will a choir of 50 cantors assembled for the event. Taubman enlisted top Hollywood talent to put together a video on what synagogue means.

Local singer Sam Glaser, bandleader Rick Recht and Jewish reggae artist Alan Eder will also join the performance, along with the Keshet Chaim Dancers.

The dancers and some of the other performers will be outside the amphitheater at 3 p.m., warming up the crowd. The 4:30 p.m. concert, which Taubman said will also have surprise celebrity appearances, was scheduled early enough in the day so children could attend.

“We really want to give people the opportunity to feel different during this process, and afterward to go back to their synagogues and be invigorated to try new things,” Taubman said.

“It is an opportunity to really look at yourself,” said Rabbi Robert Gan of Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, one of 16 pilot sites nationwide that started the program in 1996. “In the past, we had done a lot of things by rote, and [the program] helped us examine what we do and how it affects people.”

Gan said that while he had always pushed his congregation to be creative and innovative, Synagogue 2000 “gave us more opportunity and a structured way to open up those issues.”

Synagogues that participate in the program, which recently changed from a two-year to a four-and-one-half-year commitment, choose a team. Members of the team meet monthly to reevaluate every aspect of the synagogue, ranging from its underlying vision to the physical structure, and from the prayer service to how the board functions and whether people feel welcome when they walk in.

Aside from the monthly meetings, the program includes conferences and consulting services, and helps each congregation implement the basic principles of the program in a way that best suits the character of the congregation.

“For our congregation, it was a very positive experience, and one that invigorated a large number of people,” said Rabbi Ron Shulman of Ner Tamid of the South Bay, another pilot site located in Rancho Palos Verdes. “It spiritualized a lot of the business and process part of synagogue life.”

He said it also brought some changes to the service, and to how congregants related to newcomers and to each other.

“The process opened up a dialogue between the clergy and the membership that allowed us to experiment and feel safe with each other in opening up issues,” Shulman said.

For Temple Isaiah, Synagogue 2000 had a major influence on a redesign of the sanctuary that was already in the works. For example, Synagogue 2000’s sacred space specialist helped the Reform congregation think about the entrance to the main sanctuary.

“How do you design the area outside the sanctuary so people can anticipate they are entering a holy space?” Gan said. “That was something we never thought about — you couldn’t tell the doors to the sanctuary from the doors to the social hall. Nothing signaled you were entering a holy place.”

Out of that discussion grew a distinct entryway that guides congregants into the sanctuary, he said.

While these Los Angeles-area synagogues were pilot sites, and Temple Israel of Hollywood is participating in the program through a group sponsored by the Reform movement, Los Angeles has yet to sponsor a large communitywide body.

Synagogue 2000 usually works by enlisting 10 to 20 synagogues in one geographic area. Local federations, foundations and participating synagogues are expected to make significant investments in the project.

The cost of the program varies, depending on how much of the organizing Synagogue 2000 does. The group in Westchester, N.Y., with 21 synagogues and about 500 people at the conferences — including one coming up in November — will cost under $2 million over four years. The group in Detroit, with 12 congregations and more community-level organizing, will cost about $450,000.

So far, Synagogue 2000 has generated significant interest at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which has a long history of collaborating closely with synagogues through the Council on Jewish Life, and at the Jewish Community Foundation, which gave the grant for Hallelu. The grant was made on the condition that it be used to also set up a task force to explore getting Synagogue 2000 started in Los Angeles.

“I think the Jewish Community Foundation, either with discretionary resources or donors who could be encouraged to be interested, or through a combination of both, would certainly be interested in participating once we saw a plan that looked realistic,” Schotland said.

Getting started on developing a workable plan for Los Angeles will be one of the challenges addressed at the planning conference the Monday after Hallelu. Synagogue leaders will spend the day at a mini-Synagogue 2000 conference, getting a taste of what it is like to be part of the process. Wolfson also expects to set up a task force to get Synagogue 2000 going in 2003 in Los Angeles.

“I am very excited personally and professionally to see how the community responds to this,” Schotland said. “I think the talent coming is top quality and inspiring. But the show is just the beginning — not the end.”