Delijanis put historic theater district back in the spotlight


The classic Los Angeles Theater at Broadway and Sixth Street is not much to look at from the outside—situated alongside a host of busy retail shops, its sidewalk is lined with street vendors selling toys and trinkets. But upon entering the theater’s French Baroque-style lobby, with its 50-foot ceiling, grand staircase, plush red carpet, detailed fresco paintings, ornate marble fountain and crystal chandeliers, one is immediately transported to a bygone era of opulent, glamorous movie palaces.

Yet the newly renovated 2,000-seat Los Angeles Theater has come a long way after falling into disrepair over the decades and facing near demolition by its previous owner nearly 25 years ago. Luckily, the theater was saved from the wrecking ball in the early 1980s after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley asked the late Iranian-Jewish real estate magnate and philanthropist Ezat Delijani to purchase the historic property. Since then, Delijani’s Delson Investment Co. has gradually poured millions of dollars into renovating the Los Angeles Theater as well as purchasing and renovating three other historic movie houses—the Palace, Tower and State theaters—in downtown Los Angeles’ historic Broadway Theater District, the largest concentration of movie palaces left in the United States.

“My dad was always very grateful to this country for taking us in and giving him the opportunity to rebuild,” said Shahram Delijani, Ezat Delijani’s youngest son. “So, for him it was of the utmost importance to give back. The preservation of the Los Angeles Theater and our other theaters was one way in which he did.”

The Delijani family, which is private and typically avoids media attention, offered The Journal a rare and exclusive tour of the remarkable renovations they made to return the historic sites to their former glory.

“My dad knowingly and willingly made a great financial sacrifice purchasing, holding and preserving these theaters,” Shahram Delijani said. “He had the vision that these historic monuments would once again be used for something special, and we are seeing his vision coming to life with the transformation of Broadway.”

The Delijanis have also been actively involved in Los Angeles City Council member José Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway, a public-private initiative focused on revitalizing the historic Broadway district, located between Second Street and Olympic Boulevard, by 2018. At the same time, Ezat Delijani’s eldest son, Michael Delijani, along with other local properties owners, helped found the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) to fund street cleaning and increase security patrols in the Broadway Theater District, which features 12 movie palaces.

Since the Delijanis’ acquisition of the four theaters, the family has used them sparingly in an effort to maintain their prestige and beauty. In addition to permitting major television or film productions, including “Chaplin,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Cinderella Man” and “CSI: NY,” to use the sites, the family has also allowed select nonprofit organizations, such as the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, to host its events at the Los Angeles Theater.

Designed by Jewish architect S. Charles Lee (born Simeon Charles Levi) and built for independent theater operator H.L. Gumbiner in late 1930 and early 1931 at a cost of more than $1 million, the Los Angeles Theater was the most expensive and elaborate movie palace built at that time. When a lack of funds threatened construction, silent-film star Charlie Chaplin stepped in to provide the funding necessary to complete the theater in time for the January 1931 premiere of his film “City Lights.”

Three months after the theater’s opening Gumbiner declared bankruptcy, and the courts eventually transferred ownership of the theater to Fox Film Studios executive William Fox, who owned the land on which the Los Angeles Theater was built. After 50 years, the Fox family trust sold the historic building to Delijani’s Delson Investment Co.

The Palace Theater. Photo by Gary Leonard

The nearby 1,000-plus seat Palace Theater, also owned by the Delijanis, was built in 1911 as a vaudeville venue hosting famous performers, many of whom were Jewish, among them Harry Houdini and Sarah Bernhardt. Late last year, Delson Investment completed a $1 million renovation of the Palace Theater to bring the property back to its past glory. Restorations were made to the lighting fixtures, seating, massive wall murals, moldings, original tiles, carpets and wall coverings, Shahram Delijani said.

While final renovations to the Los Angeles and Palace theaters should be complete within the next six months, Shahram Delijani said more work is needed to properly restore the family’s Tower Theater, which is located two blocks north.

No major work is being done on the nearby State Theater, the fourth movie palace owned by the family. The property is currently occupied by the Iglesia Universal church under a lease signed by the building’s previous owners.

Prior to his death at age 83 last August, Ezat Delijani was able to see photos of the major renovations made to the historic theaters he had purchased during the last three decades, Shahram Delijani said.

Shahram Delijani said his family is proud to be involved in the preservation of the city’s historical landmarks and, more important, a part of the local Jewish community’s rich historical connection to downtown Los Angeles.

Local Iranian-Jewish businessmen first flocked to the downtown area in the late 1970s and early 1980s following their immigration to Los Angeles from Iran to work in the garment and jewelry districts. In addition to the Delijani family, nearly 40 Iranian-Jewish real estate developers have purchased or built buildings and other properties in downtown Los Angeles over the years, further solidifying the community’s influence in the area.

Many local Iranian Jews credit Ezat Delijani with not only transforming downtown Los Angeles’ different business districts but, more important, for his bringing a new sense of pride to Iranian-Americans of all faiths living in the city.

“Ezat Delijani defined what it meant to be a mensch and an honorable human being,” said David Rahimian, the Iranian-Jewish former special assistant to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “He tore down walls to give people a voice and gave many Iranian-Americans in our city the opportunity to earn a living through hard work and determination.”

Ezat Delijani was highly respected by the local Iranian-Jewish community for his philanthropy to Jewish causes and for helping to negotiate the purchase of Hollywood Temple Beth El in 1999 during his tenure as president of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. For his longstanding involvement in helping to transform the historic Broadway Theater District, Ezat Delijani was also honored in 2009 when the city named the intersection of Seventh Street and Broadway after him.

City officials have long praised the Iranian-Jewish community’s entrepreneurial efforts in the revitalization of various areas within downtown and, in particular, the Delijani family’s focus on saving the four theaters on Broadway.

The Los Angeles Theater’s lobby, as featured on the cover, includes a marble fountain, crystal chandeliers, fresco paintings and a grand staircase. Photos by Gary Leonard

“The Delijani family’s investment in preserving the historic downtown theaters demonstrates their clear sense of civic pride and responsibility,” Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel said. “Their acquisition and repair of the theaters not only contributes to the economic development in the downtown area, but also protects historic buildings which will be enjoyed and appreciated by visitors and residents for years to come.”

City officials also said an array of entertainment companies, high-end hotels and new restaurants are looking to join the Delijanis by setting up new businesses in the district’s properties.

For their part, the Delijani family has plans to offer their two newly renovated theaters in the Broadway Theater District for various live events, such as music concerts, plays and pared-down operas, as well as leasing some spaces within the theaters for high-end restaurants and bars. At the same time, the venues will also host live events produced by the Broadway Theatre Group, an entertainment company headed by Shahram Delijani.

“Our primary goal is to reactivate these theaters so that people can experience them regularly and be proud that such monuments exist in our city,” Shahram Delijani said.

With their substantial real estate holdings in Los Angeles, Shahram Delijani said his family has a tremendous amount of reverence for the four historic theaters and will continue to maintain the buildings in the best possible condition for the benefit of the entire city.

“The interesting thing about owning a historic landmark is that you never quite feel like you own it; you are just a steward for the next generation,” he said. “It’s very humbling when you think of all the effort that went into developing these treasures, and because of my dad’s efforts, they will live on for future generations.”


For more information about the life of Ezat Delijani, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog, Iranian American Jews.

PBS documents struggles and successes of U.S. Jewry


Jewish life in North America was nearly aborted before birth when the governor of New Amsterdam sought to expel 23 Brazilian Jews, who landed at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1654.

In a petition to his superiors at the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant urged “that this deceitful race … be not allowed to further infest and trouble the new colony.”

Fortunately for posterity, Stuyvesant was overruled, and how Jews and the United States changed each other over the following 353 years is the study of “The Jewish Americans,” a six-hour PBS series.

The series will air on three successive Wednesdays, Jan. 9, 16 and 23, from 9-11 p.m. on KCET.

Producer/director/writer David Grubin has packed enough historical data, anecdotes and sidelights into the series to impress the expert and astonish the layman, without ever losing the thread of the narrative.

Basically, the documentary traces the Jewish struggle, from colonial merchant to the most recent immigrant, to become a fully integrated and accepted part of American society, while still retaining ethnic and religious identity.

“In the broad sweep of history, the Jewish experience in America has been a remarkable success story,” said Grubin in a phone interview from his Manhattan office.

The beginning was hard, however, and colonial Jews readily adopted the old Diaspora strategy of being like everyone else on the outside, and like a Jew on the inside.

Even when Jews felt that they were well on their way to acceptance and equality, their sense of security could be shattered by Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia, an anti-Semitic Henry Ford and his Dearborn Independent or a Charles Lindbergh before World War II.

With all their hard-won self-confidence, today’s Jews can still be rattled when, for instance, Jewish neocons and Israel are blamed for pushing America into war with Iraq and confrontation with Iran.

But in prescreening the series across the country, Grubin said he found that while older Jews might express such concerns, they were hardly on the radar screen for younger Jews.

So especially for this younger generation, Jewish or not, the PBS series offers a striking lesson on how far America and its “Israelite” component have come.

Here, then, are some of the highlights in the vast panorama of Jewish characters and experiences:

“They Came to Stay” is the opening segment on the first evening (Jan. 9) and rapidly covers two centuries, from 1700 to the early 1900s. At the beginning of this era, New York City’s population of 5,000 included about 200 Jews, and in 1730 this tiny community consecrated its first synagogue, Shearith Israel.

This auspicious event was followed shortly by the beginning of the perennial intermarriage problem, when the upper-class Abigail Levy Franks cut off her daughter for marrying a Christian.

In the 1820s, German and East European Jews arrived, working initially as walking peddlers. Within a generation, they had graduated from the “Harvard School of Jewish Business” by acquiring a horse, later a wagon and then opening a store.

In the Civil War, 7,000 Jews fought for the Union, 3,000 for the Confederacy, and Charleston, S.C., had the largest Jewish population in the country. Judah P. Benjamin, as the Confederacy’s secretary of state, was the first Jew to rise to high office, and when the South, lost he was scapegoated as Judas Iscariot.

The evening’s second part, “A World of Their Own,” opens in the first decade of the 20th century, when some 500,000 immigrant Jews were packed into New York’s Lower East Side and soon dominated the garment industry as owners and sweatshop employees. Further uptown, the German Jews of “Our Crowd” formed their own high society.

Jews organized labor unions, hospitals, philanthropic institutions and Yiddish theaters which drew 2 million ticket buyers a year.

It was “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times” in the second two-hour part (Jan. 16), roughly spans the period from World War I through the end of World War II.

Irving Berlin and George Gershwin wrote the nation’s songs; Hank Greenberg batted for the Detroit Tigers; Louis Brandeis became the first Jewish Supreme Court justice; Molly Goldberg was everyone’s favorite radio mother; and America’s future top comedians honed their skills at Catskills resorts.

But in parallel, anti-Semitism rose across the nation, country clubs, private universities and corporations largely barred Jews and one could encounter signs with the subtle message “Hebrews, Consumptives and Dogs Not Allowed.”

The Depression hit the Jewish community twice, as economic victims and as scapegoats for the country’s miseries. Jews rallied behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served in World War II, but were conflicted about how far to push in trying to help their desperate European brethren.

The third part of the series (Jan. 23) picks up in the mid-1940s and brings the ever-evolving story up to the present.

The era started on a note of triumph as Bess Myerson became the first Jewish Miss America, and continued as old restrictions and prejudices slowly faded away.

Jews found a new pride in the birth of Israel and the Six-Day War victory; fought for black civil rights; moved to the suburbs; largely sparked Hollywood’s and Broadway’s golden ages, and invented new forms of religious and spiritual expressions, up to Chasidic rapper Matisyahu.

Yet, the old insecurities were never completely buried. Jews and their organizations were profoundly shaken by the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as atomic spies, and quickly went about purging their own radicals during the McCarthy period.

After six hours of words and images, the last sentences wrapping up the series belong to Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom. He concludes that at this point, freed largely of outside antagonisms, Jews are at liberty to decide what it means to be a Jew and how to express their Judaism.

“We are all Jews by choice,” he says, “and to embrace that choice is to enlarge Judaism.”

Books: The bible and history — facts or truth?


“From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible,” by Eric H. Cline (National Geographic, $26).

Consider with me the following curious intellectual position: Religions make spiritual claims, such as “God cares for me,” and insist, quite rightly, that science cannot pronounce on that claim. But they also make historical claims, such as “Jericho was destroyed by Joshua” or “600,000 men, plus women and children, crossed the desert from Egypt to Canaan,” and insist that historians and archeologists cannot evaluate those claims either. To make a historical claim, however, is to invite the scrutiny of history.

The position becomes more curious. When a historical discovery is made that validates a biblical claim, traditionalists are rightly jubilant. Yet when a discovery is made that contradicts the Bible, the reaction is too often angry or dismissive. This is inconsistent with a tradition that teaches “God’s seal is truth,” and we ought not be caught espousing such intellectual inconsistency that can too easily shade into intellectual dishonesty.

Across the world there are serious scholars who work on ancient biblical history. Serious means they read the cognate languages, are familiar with archeological finds and publications, read and comment on each other’s work. Eric H. Cline is among their number and he has written a book, “From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible,” which brings the interested reader up to date on the state of the field in some of the Bible’s most intriguing mysteries.

Cline’s book considers the location of the Garden of Eden; whether Noah’s Ark exists; the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; the truth of the Exodus story; whether Joshua indeed fought at Jericho; the location of the Ark of the Covenant; and the fate of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.

Cline lays out the biblical account and the history of each issue. For example, since 600,000 men would mean some 2.5 million people in total, forming a line 150 miles long if they marched 10 across, could that really have been the state of the Israelites for forty years? If not, could the word alef — usually translated as “thousand” — mean “family” or “clan,” thereby making the numbers more manageable? And if so, can the other difficulties with the Exodus story — the absence of evidence in the desert and the absence of settlement evidence in Israel itself — be explained?

For each of these areas there is a tantalizing hint, but no certainty. Is the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia? Cline makes it quite clear that this is a fantasy — an appealing one, but still a fantasy. Has anyone come close to discovering Noah’s Ark? Once again, Cline sifts through the evidence, and proves that the pseudoscience, the DVD mavens and the credulous seekers are simply ignoring the contrary evidence. For those looking for answers, Cline does provide some, for example the fate of the 10 lost tribes. He contends, convincingly, that they were never really lost.

In reading such a book the primary question is what the reader makes of the Bible. There are roughly three possible positions. One assumes that everything in the Bible is literally true and therefore such a book serves no purpose. It does not matter what the evidence says or suggests; unless it reinforces the biblical account, it is of no interest. The second position is the other extreme, which sees the Bible as special pleading, unlikely to be true; this is the position of the minimalists, who concoct outlandish theories about the Bible having been written in the Persian period and suggesting that David and Solomon never existed. No scholar in Israel, and I am tempted to say no scholar, takes such claims seriously.

The third position is that the Bible contains a great deal of history but is not intended to be history the way we conceive of it. So the Exodus, for example, has a real historical memory behind it, but the telling of it was not constrained by literal adherence to the facts. For the intent of the Bible is a spiritual history, not a factual recounting. Thus the Bible is not factual; instead, it is true.

This third position, as some readers may know, was the position I sketched out in a sermon several years ago about the Exodus. It is the position I still hold and one that seems to me, as the years go by, more and more self-evidently true. That God speaks through the Bible, I do not doubt; but that it is a human story and therefore filled with rhetoric, imagery, exaggeration, hope, hyperbole and the imperfections of memory, I also do not doubt. Increasingly Jews are learning about this approach, which is both modern and traditional.

Cline’s book is a dispassionate recounting of the central issues that preoccupy scholars and pseudoscholars of the biblical text.

Closing the book, one understands that some things can be proved or disproved and many must simply be taken on faith. There are, of course, questions that no historical investigation can ever prove. Archeology may one day tell us how Solomon’s Temple was constructed and when Jericho was destroyed. What happened at Mount Sinai, however, is the summit of spiritual history. Here the investigation stops. Here we stand as Jews to declare that God is One and that we seek to do God’s will in this beautiful but benighted world.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple. His column on books appears monthly in The Journal.

Fate of Santa Monica apartment building embroils rabbi and residents in legal battle


One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

“I was courageous,” he said. “I had the purpose to save Jewish children.”

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of the Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.

Today, Illulian, a rabbi active in the Los Angeles Persian community, finds himself embroiled in a different kind of revolt. It’s taking place in the normally laid-back city of Santa Monica. And while the two factions aren’t lobbing Molotov cocktails or overturning and burning cars, emotions are running at a fever pitch, and angry accusations are being vehemently fired off in both directions.

On one side are the residents and supporters of the Teriton, a 28-unit, three-story garden apartment building designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd. It is around the corner from Ocean Avenue, across the street from Palisades Park and the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.




Built in the midcentury Modern Vernacular style, with a flat roof and smooth stucco exterior, it actually consists of two low-rise buildings surrounding an L-shaped landscaped courtyard. It was sold for an estimated $10.5 million last April.

On the other side is Or Khaim Hashalom, a nonprofit religious organization, whose name means Living Light of Peace, and which was incorporated last January. It allegedly purchased the building.

The members want to evict the existing tenants, tear down the building and replace it with 40 units, plus a synagogue and possibly a day care facility for refugees from the Middle East, according to real estate and land-use attorney Rosario Perry, the group’s spokesperson and lawyer. Illulian identifies as the organization’s spiritual leader.

In this current confrontation, as opposed to the life-threatening danger he experienced in Tehran over 30 years ago, Illulian appears less confident. “I didn’t know it was going to be such a thing,” he said.

On its face, this “thing” — first brought to light in a series of stories on The Rip Post, a blog and Web site written by veteran Los Angeles journalist Rip Rense — is a typical battle between developers and tenants, between advocates of free enterprise vs. supporters of slow or no growth.

But ever since a “notice for pending demolition permit” sign was posted without prior warning on the Teriton’s lawn on Nov. 10, 2005, both sides have mobilized forces and escalated the battle, invoking what many say are self-serving interpretations of city and state laws. The demolition sign was posted in November at the time of a sale that ultimately fell through.

Particularly perplexing is the role of Illulian. He is a rabbi so observant that he doesn’t eat or drink anything outside a kosher sukkah during the entire eight-day harvest festival. He is a rabbi so revered that Iranians he rescued in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Los Angeles attorney Philip Nassimi Alexander, utter accolades like, “He’s a great man, a truly great man.”

Yet as the rabbi of Or Khaim Hashalom, his new nonprofit organization, he is so vague and seemingly dismissive of what should be an exciting and worthwhile venture, that many people suspect its true mission may be less than magnanimous.

Here’s what’s happening (See timeline below for specific dates):

The tenants and their supporters are claiming that the Teriton is eligible to be designated a Santa Monica city landmark. If this occurs, residents such as 85-year-old Kit Snedaker, a former food and travel editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, who is retired and living on a fixed income and selling items on eBay to make ends meet, could remain in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her cocker spaniel, Joe. So could Louis Scaduto, an architect who spent five years on a waiting list before he moved into the Teriton in 1997. Nathalie Zeidman, 91 and suffering from cancer, could also stay, as well as about 50 others, young and old, retired and working, some paying current market rates, others living in lower-cost rent-controlled apartments.

Building Battle Timeline

Nov. 10, 2005

“Notice for pending demolition permit” is posted on the Teriton’s lawn. K. Golshani and Asan Development are listed as the applicants. Because a building older than 40 years old is slated for demolition, it is automatically placed on the next city of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission meeting agenda.

Nov. 14, 2005

The Landmarks Commission, in its monthly meeting, reviews the Teriton’s eligibility. Chair Roger Genser requests the item be returned with more information. The demolition permit is subsequently withdrawn.

Jan. 30, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom files with the California Secretary of State’s office as a religious nonprofit corporation.

April 2006

Tenants receive notice that Or Khaim Hashalom has purchased the Teriton and that rent checks should be made payable to Pacific Paradise Realty, the new management company. Kathy Golshani is listed as the contact.

July 2006

Landmarks Commission places Teriton on its July 10 meeting agenda.

July 7, 2006

Rosario Perry, attorney representing Or Khaim Hashalom, sends a letter to the Santa Monica city attorney declaring that under state law, Government Code Sections 37361 and 25373, the Teriton cannot be designated a landmark because it is owned by a religious nonprofit.

July 10, 2006

Representatives of both sides speak at the Landmarks Commission meeting. Barry Rosenbaum, senior land-use attorney for Santa Monica, points out that Or Khaim Hashalom has not yet held a mandated public forum but that the City Attorney’s Office will examine the statutes. Meanwhile, Landmarks Commissioners approve a motion to obtain more information on the Teriton property.

Aug. 11, 2006

Or Khaim Hashalom holds a public forum at the Gateway Hotel in Santa Monica to explain why the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation and to allow the public to respond.

Sept. 11, 2006

The Landmarks Commission unanimously votes to nominate the Teriton for landmark designation, pending further study. Perry announces that if the Teriton is approved as a landmark, he will file a lawsuit on behalf of his client.

Nov. 13, 2006

Landmarks Commission, on the basis of a more detailed historical assessment, as well as a recommendation from the Santa Monica Planning Division staff, will make a decision regarding the Teriton.

Landmark or Historic District Designation Criteria:
http://www.qualitycodepublishing.com/codes/santamonica/view.php?topic=9-9_36-9_36_100&frames=on

California Code Section 37361(c):
http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/code/code.html?sec=gov&codesection=37350-37364

— JU

The Teriton, as a building more than 40 years old and slated for demolition, is automatically being evaluated for landmark status. That process began in November 2005. But whether it meets at least one of the six criteria necessary for landmark designation — from exemplifying elements of the city’s cultural history to representing a significant example of a notable architect’s work — is questionable.

An impartial preliminary historical assessment, prepared by an outside consultant selected by the city and presented at a Sept. 11 Landmarks Commission meeting, states: “Nonetheless, because of its lack of individual historical and architectural merit, the property does not appear eligible for local landmark designation and, therefore, no further investigation into its historical and/or architectural significance is warranted nor recommended at this time.”

Despite that, the Landmarks Commission nominated the Teriton for landmark status, pending a more detailed report, as well as a recommendation from the city Planning Department. Commission chair Roger Genser defended the decision, noting that the commission also relied on a 1983 report by noted architectural historian Paul Gleye, which points to the Teriton’s significance as part of the San Vicente Courtyard Apartment Historical District.

Concurrently, Or Khaim Hashalom, through lawyer Perry, is claiming that the Teriton is exempt from landmark designation under California law, because it is owned by a nonprofit religious entity. The statute (Government Code Section 37361(c)), which allows religious organizations to alter or destroy historic buildings, was passed in 1994 in response to a decision by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco to close nine parish churches that had been damaged in an earthquake. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2001. The law has been used only once previously in Santa Monica, on behalf of the First Church of Christ Scientist, a pre-existing religious establishment, at Fifth and Arizona streets.

In a mandatory public hearing Aug. 11, Or Khaim Hashalom laid out its case. Perry, flanked by what he introduced as the organization’s executive committee — Illulian, another bearded rabbi in full Chasidic garb and five other kippah-wearing men — claimed economic hardship and an inability to pursue the nonprofit’s religious mission if the Teriton isn’t demolished and a larger building constructed.

Perry told the residents in attendance, “You are giving up your homes so people can come here, but we feel that you are more able to re-adjust to new housing than refugees from the Middle East.”

He entertained inquiries and comments from the audience. However, in response to specific questions about Or Khaim Hashalom, including its history, purpose and standing as an actual synagogue, Perry answered, “We are not here to answer questions about our organization.”

That’s the frustration. No one connected with Or Khaim Hashalom is forthcoming, and no factual and consistent information about the organization is available.

Various legal documents list three different addresses for Or Khaim Hashalom: Perry’s office, Illulian’s office and a lighting company on Jefferson Boulevard. On one deed of trust, Perry is listed as both the president and the secretary. On another, Rouhollah Esmailzadeh, the owner of the lighting company, signed as president. Illulian himself, after some hesitation, said he thought Or Khaim Hashalom’s president was “A.J.,” referring to Esmailzadeh’s son. He added, “I don’t know the technicalities. You have to ask Rosario [Perry].”

Many, like Teriton resident Scaduto, believe that Or Khaim Hashalom is “a blatant case of fraud.”

Rabbi Illulian’s response to this accusation was: “I think it’s unfair, just because people want to stay in this building and pay the price they paid 20 years ago. We’re doing everything within the system … legally, with God’s help.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Marx of Santa Monica Synagogue, who attended the hearing, was affronted by what he saw as a display of black-hatted rabbis paraded out to make a clear business venture look like a pious endeavor.

“Do they think everyone is an idiot?” he asked.

What about the claim of bringing in refugees? Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, “There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America.”

But in 1982, Illulian moved to Los Angeles, married and changed his focus. He became rabbi of Chabad Persian Synagogue in Westwood. Later, about six or seven years ago, he recollects, he founded and moved to JEM, Jewish Educational Movement, which is located in the former YMCA building Beverly Hills and which hosts a synagogue, as well as sports, educational and arts programs and camp experiences for youngsters. He is currently JEM’s rabbi.

Illulian is no longer affiliated with Chabad. According to Rabbi Chaim Cunin of Chabad of California, “He was dismissed some 10 years ago for personal reasons, which were not made public.” Cunin refused to elaborate. Illulian said he believes he was not dismissed.

Illulian has eight children ages, 14 to 24, and lives in Beverly Hills.

While he has worked in his family’s former furniture business in the past, he says he is a full-time rabbi. Still, he maintains an office in a medical building on Wilshire Boulevard near Crescent Heights Boulevard. Records from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office show he purchased a commercial office building on Wilshire Boulevard in December 2005 for $4.4 million.

When questioned about his new plan to bring in refugees, Illulian is vague. But according to Rezvan Armian, a social worker at Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles who oversees Iranian immigration, individual people cannot resettle immigrants; it must be done through HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the U.S. Department of State.

“Hertzel Illulian resettle? There is no way,” she said.

Illulian, however, claims he is helping small numbers of Jews escape from Iran and has been quietly doing this work since 1982. “I can’t say exactly what I’m doing, because I can’t endanger the lives of Jews in Iran,” he said.
So how are these ventures being financed? Who is paying for the claimed refugee rescue work? Who is funding the purchase of the Teriton? How does Or Khaim Hashalom expect to cover demolition and construction costs?

According to Illulian, the backers are supporters of Or Khaim Hashalom who wish to remain anonymous. Because it’s a religious nonprofit, the organization does not have to make its financial records public.

The building’s seller, Erwin Mieger, president of Teriton Investors LLC, said the buyer of the Teriton was a single individual. He also confirmed that the person who was trying to buy the building in November, when the notice of pending demolition sign was erected and before Or Khaim Hashalom was incorporated, was the same person who purchased it in April.

Dennis Golob, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Mieger’s company in the transaction, identified that buyer as Rouhallah Esmailzadeh, listed on one document as Or Khaim Hashalom’s president. Golob said he was unaware of the involvement of any religious organization. When told about Or Khaim Hashalom, he replied, “That’s really, really interesting.”

Or Khaim Hashalom, however, is the name listed as the owner in documents at the Assessor’s Office and the Recorder’s Office.

A number of roads also lead to a building on Westwood Boulevard. That’s the address of Novin Kathy Golshani, a real estate broker and owner of Pacific Paradise Realty, who represented the buyer in the transaction. She also requested the demolition permit, according to Santa Monica records.

Two people listed as local partners on Golshani’s Web site are also involved. An attorney at the same address, Douglas Weitzman, also represented the buyer. The name of a contractor, Asan Development, owned by Sasan Samimi, was also listed on the demolition permit request.

“So many buildings are torn down all the time, and there is no noise about it. I don’t know why this is such a big deal,” said Golshani, whose Web site promises, on its list of 10 commandments of real estate, “We shall walk away from any illegal and unethical transaction.”

Ultimately, the Teriton’s eligibility for landmark status will be decided by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission at its Nov. 13 meeting. A determination on whether Or Khaim Hashalom fits the definition of a religious entity and meets the requirements necessary for landmark exemption will be decided separately by the City Attorney’s Office.

According to Barry Rosenbaum, city senior land-use attorney, “There are serious unresolved questions of whether the property owner is entitled to the protections of the statute.”

As for Illulian, he strongly prefers to focus on his early work in the late 1970s and early 1980s and on the thousands of Persian Jews whom he helped resettle both directly and indirectly and who are now living in Los Angeles. He sees himself as the man behind the extraordinary growth of “Tehrangeles.”

Illulian refers to the tumult surrounding the Teriton as “a little thing.” He said, “That’s not the important part of my life. I’d rather forget about it.”



Teriton resident Kit Snedaker, 85, with Cocker Spaniel Joe in her two-bedroom apartment in the Teriton. She has lived there since 1979.

Huizar Proposal Would Close Razing Loophole


An order to investigate the demolition of a historic Jewish Community Center (JCC) building in Boyle Heights is now on the agenda of the Los Angeles City Council.

Under a motion introduced March 22 by Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, municipal departments would be ordered to explain why they greenlighted the razing of the structure without requiring a demolition permit notifying neighborhood organizations and officials.

The motion would also require the city’s Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety to review current ordinances and close any loopholes to prevent a similar fate for other cultural and historical landmarks.

At an outdoor news conference Wednesday, adjoining the historic Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, Huizar said, “I am deeply concerned by the loss of the Jewish Community Center, and I am here today to call for action that will help ensure that this community — and this city — protect what remains of our cultural heritage.”

Huizar said he would instruct the appropriate departments to survey all of Los Angeles to identify similar sites that may not have been officially designated as historic landmarks. Currently, some 800 such landmarks are registered.

The new burst of activity was triggered by a report in The Journal that the former Soto-Michigan JCC building, later known as the Eastside JCC, had been razed by a developer without public notice or demolition permit.

The building was of architectural, as well as historical, significance. It was designed by Raphael Soriano, who helped pioneer the architectural style known as California Modernism.

Dedicated in 1939 to keep Jewish kids off the street and away from “potentially demoralizing influences,” the building became the All Nations’ Center in 1958, as the community became increasingly Latino.

After the structure was razed in late February by a private San Diego developer, The Journal learned that the developer would erect a new structure to be leased to the U.S. government for a Social Security office.

The federal government does not have to comply with city regulations, such as obtaining a demolition permit. However, one gray area Huizar intends to probe is whether the exemption rule applies when a private company takes over and then leases the property to a federal entity.

Huizar was joined at the news conference by Latino community leaders and by Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Stephen Sass, president of the regional Jewish Historical Society; and Ken Bernstein, director of preservation with the Los Angeles Conservancy.

The JCC and similar sites are “a reflection of what was, and what can be again, an opportunity for our diverse citizens to create a future that intersects in meaningful ways,” Schwart-Getzug said.

Sass, who was instrumental in preventing the destruction of the Breed Street Shul in 1988, said that efforts are under way to renovate the impressive shul’s structure as a multicultural community center.

Bernstein pointed out that only 15 percent of Los Angeles has been surveyed for possible cultural and historic landmarks.

“Some 85 percent of the city is a blank slate,” he said.

Also on hand was Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and lifelong Boyle Heights resident, who told The Journal that she recalled her former Jewish neighbors fondly.

“I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes,” she said. ” I had a nice neighbor who always called me a ‘shayne maidele’ [pretty girl].

“In those days, I used to be a Mexican-American, now I’ve turned into a Chicana.”

 

Spectator – Fiddle Dee Dee and Oy Vey!


Like any good Southerner, Brian Bain eats moon pies and punctuates his sentences with “y’all.” But Bain is also Jewish, which colors his experience as a third-generation Southerner in a unique way.

In his documentary film, “Shalom Y’all,” Bain set out to explore exactly what being both Jewish and Southern actually means. Bain travels through the buckle of the Bible Belt, stopping in small towns where once-thriving Jewish communities have now dwindled to single-digit populations, and he juxtaposes these with flourishing communities in places like Atlanta. He visits genteel mansions still occupied by aging Jewish Southern belles and explores the legacy and the part Jews played in historical Southern milestones, including the Civil War and the Civil Rights era.

“Truthfully, my grandfather really was the catalyst for the journey,” Bain said in a phone conversation from Dallas, where he relocated after his New Orleans home was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. He was referring to Leonard Bain, a retired traveling hat salesman and silent film editor who was 99, in 2002, when the film was made. The elder Bain has since died at the age of 101.

“Growing up, I remember him telling us stories about his travels through the South and spending the Sabbath away from home with Jewish merchants, and how he had this interesting connection with other Jews from the South. I really wanted to get my grandfather on film and just talking to him reminded me of the bigger story of the Jewish South.”

“Shalom Y’all” explores issues of identity and submersion into a larger culture. It is, in many respects, a quirky documentary filled with characters and incidents that might be at home in a Christopher Guest film. In Natchez, Miss., there is Zelda Millstein, who still dresses in Antebellum hoop skirts, and Jay Lehman, a grocery store owner who sells pickled pigs feet and who, as a younger man, participated proudly in the Natchez Confederate Pageant — a homage to the pre-Civil War era. Then there is the older Natchez couple whom Bain interviews sitting in the pews of their synagogue, which once boasted 200 families. Now they get five people for Friday night services.

“Except when the student rabbi comes,” says the husband. “Then we get eight.”

Bain hopes to return to New Orleans as soon as his home is habitable, and he says he has high hopes for the future of the Southern Jewish community.

“Young people have left and found new opportunities, and my parents’ generation is pushing toward retirement, but I think it is going to be interesting period of rebuilding for the Jewish community” in the South, he said. “I am optimistic because the community is strong and tight knit, so I have no doubt that it will persevere.”

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring is screening “Shalom Y’all” on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at 1525 S. Robertson Blvd. For more information, call (310) 552-2007, or visit

Vienna Glories in Past and Present


Sixty years after the end of World War II, Vienna has reclaimed its roots as a city of culture. Not the culture of stoic monuments to faded glory or landmarks illuminated by historical plaques, but in a living, breathing, heart-still-pumping way. Grand-yet-graceful music, art and architecture are the lifeblood of this city and those fortunate enough to live here.

Strolling along the wide pedestrian mall of the Kartnerstrasse, you cannot help but feel swept up in the art and culture of this elegant city. The impressive architecture rises up and surrounds you as the beauty of the city embraces you.

As the sun sets on the Kartnerstrasse, Viennese girls window shop Euro chain stores for platform shoes and designer scruff denim, shadowed by elegant palaces that line the cobbled street. A girl plays Strauss on a grand piano. Down the street, a man plays a symphony on crystal glasses of water, as students in black tie and spiked hair saunter past with cellos. The street comes to life with people who seem to not be in a hurry to go anywhere in particular.

Music is at the heart of Vienna, and since 2006 is being celebrated as the Mozart Year in Austria, the most rewarding Mozart experience is the city that inspired him. By all means, visit Mozart’s statue and the house he lived in, but to really experience Mozart’s Vienna, wander the cobbled lanes like the Blutgasse, where Mozart lived and worked. While away a morning by lingering over café and strudel in a plush coffee house (complete with charmingly polite tuxedoed waiters).

The best way to discover Mozart here might be a night at the Vienna Opera. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “The Magic Flute” during my visit, which was sponsored by Austria Tourism. This was classical Mozart through and through in terms of the music, but the performance was strikingly modern.

A minimalist industrial set was the backdrop for bearded ladies painted blue and dressed in 18th-century industrial corsetry, while the priests of Sarastro were done up in white, minimalist hazmat suits. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll concede, but that completely sums up a city that glories in its past but revels in its modernity.

Lets remember that Mozart was cutting-edge cool in his day. It’s fitting that this city still pushes the artistic envelope while embracing its artistic history. Vienna is a place where the elegant Hofburg Palace can stand alongside stunning Hundertwasser House.

Vienna’s influence as a cultural center also drew such Jewish composers as Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander Zelimsky, in addition to numerous Jewish writers, actors, artists and doctors. And while the city’s Jewish history has been a tumultuous one — only 2,000 of the city’s pre-World War II population of 183,000 Jews survived the Shoah — Vienna today boasts a very active community of about 7,000 Jews.

The city features 15 synagogues (including a Sephardic congregation), a yeshiva, a Jewish museum and an office of Jewish Welcome Service. Most of Vienna’s Jews live in the city’s Second District, where you’ll find kosher supermarkets, butchers and restaurants.

The other must-see on any Austrian Mozart tour is the quaint city of his birth, Salzburg, where the Hohensalzberg fortress looms over the Salzach River, and the pastel shades of the shops in the Aldstadt are undeniably photogenic.

In Salzburg, you’ll have the opportunity to see the house where Mozart was born and visit the Mozart museum, which struggles to understand the composer’s genius. Both are worth a look, but the truly hot ticket in Salzburg is the Marionetten Theater, which regularly stages Mozart’s operas.

Appreciating the preservation of a centuries-old art is the key to enjoying Salzburg, a town that seems content to linger in its past. And provided that a look into a time capsule is all you expect, you may not be disappointed.

Jewishly speaking, Salzburg never fully recovered following the Holocaust. Only about 100 Jews inhabit the city, which features a single synagogue at Lasserstrasse 8. But despite its anti-Semitic reputation, the city was host to such Jewish luminaries as dramatists Max Reinhardt and Carl Zuckmayer, who were drawn to its Salzburg Festival and its cultural scene.

However, Mozart himself preferred the energy and vibrancy of cosmopolitan Vienna. Like a deep breath of fresh air, it’s a city that will make you sigh.

 

Letters


Taps for Hatikvah

It has been sad indeed to see the slow death of all things Jewish along our Fairfax stretch over the last few years (“Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze,” Oct. 21).

Before we are relegated to yet another historical reference on the Canter’s mural, let’s hope the community mobilizes to at least make enough of an effort to slow down the gentrification of the area.

The latest casualty appears to be the imminent demise of the Hatikvah Music store. Hatikvah Music goes back to the ’50s. It was the only Jewish music store I knew where many aspiring pop artists entered the music business as part-time sales helpers when Fairfax High was on holiday.

Lately, it had become the only store you could visit in person to get the greatest selection of Jewish music in the West (perhaps in the whole country).

Sad, sad indeed,

Ed Marzola
Los Angeles

I am one of the artists whose CDs have been sold by Hatikvah. This is one of the few places left that specialize in the promotion of grass-roots groups like ours in a menschlikhkeit and heartfelt way.

If in fact the rent increases prohibit the existence of this wonderful shop, I question the priorities of the landowner. It is a shame to lose the most important venue left for the distribution of cultural heritage on the West Coast. I’m very sorry for this development.

Josh Horowitz
Founding Member
Veretski Pass

Inappropriate Cover

Please choose titles for The Journal that we can be proud of. Your choice of covers is often embarrassing and hurtful, and could lead to anti-Semitic responses from people. “An-Jew-Linos,” the title of the Sept. 30 paper, was not appropriate and quite offensive.

We don’t want letter carriers, postmen, store owners, patrons at the library, non-Jewish readers and anti-Semites reading disgusting titles like that. We don’t want people calling Angelenos, “An-Jew-Linos.” What were you thinking? Are you trying to create problems for our community?

Be very careful what you write on the covers of The Journal. It is seen and read by many people, not just Jewish people.

Anna Kleinman
Tarzana

Nostra Aetate

Thank you for Michael Berenbaum and Jane Ulman’s comprehensive and thoughtful coverage of the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (“Nostra Aetate” and “What Happened When Jews Stopped Being Jesus’ Killers,” Oct. 21). The story of Los Angeles’ role in developing Catholic-Jewish dialogue deserves to be known more widely.

The reality is that Catholics have spent a great deal more time and effort learning about Jews and Judaism than Jews have in learning about Catholics and Catholicism, let alone Christianity in general. Our community’s conversion fears must not remain stumbling blocks to knowledge and understanding.

Leadership must come not only from organizations like the American Jewish Committee but also from our educational institutions and spiritual leaders. Here in Los Angeles, for example, Milken Community High School and the University of Judaism’s undergraduate college have made progress in teaching not only Christianity, but also Islam and Asian religions.

Still, of the major rabbinical seminaries across the United States, only Philadelphia’s Reconstructionist Rabbinical College requires a comparative religion course of its graduates — and some still don’t even offer them as electives. But every priest in formation has to study the Tanakh — in Hebrew.

It is said that he who knows one religion knows none. Ignorance of the other is no excuse.

Shawn Landres
Research Director
Synagogue 3000

Valley Cities Thriving

I read your article about the West Valley JCC with keen interest. However, your statement about Valley Cities JCC gave the impression that we are just barely existing (“Milken JCC Thrives With Dollars, Sense,” Oct. 21).

I would like to inform you that Valley Cities has a thriving Early Childhoom program, and an after-school program that services 10 public schools; an LAUSD education program two days a week; Israeli and ballroom dancing; a teen center; an exercise program for seniors; play readings, bagel brunches with excellent speakers; and a kosher kitchen.

Valley Cities JCC services the East Valley community in the same way as our companion West Valley JCC services the West Valley community. For all your readers in the East Valley, come by and partake of our services as they are there for your use and enjoyment.

Marcia Mirkin
Vice President
Friends of Valley Cities JCC

‘Painful Holidays’

At the end of her article, “The Painful Holidays” (Oct. 7), Michele Herenstein bravely writes what I’ve only thought about saying to the Jewish community. As a Jewishly involved 30-something single myself, invitations to join others for Shabbat and holiday meals are painfully few and far between.

I can’t help but feel that, all too often, the community at large and specifically the synagogue-going community easily loses sight of those of us who have not yet made our own families, just when we need them the most.

Like Herenstein, I ask the community to keep your eyes out for those of us who are single. In your planning, please consider those of us single men and women who may not have anywhere else to return to after shul, except for an empty apartment.

Ellen Kiss
Los Angeles

False Use

Constantly accusing all critics of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitic is the false use of the race card meant to silence dissent (“Teacher Class on Mideast Stirs Doubt,” Oct. 7). Accusing organizations like the American Friends Service Committee of anti-Semitism risks isolating the Jewish community from the larger human rights discourse.

The Anti-Defamation League should stop monitoring human rights organizations and instead enter into real dialogue based on universal principles of social justice. There are well-meaning people who have serious, legitimate concerns with Israeli policy and Zionism, with no malice toward the Jewish people, these concerns stemming from a global understanding of the principles of justice and human rights that should be applied to everyone. To have a different policy toward Israel would be hypocritical and indefensible.

Your article raised concern regarding conference coordinator Linda Tubach’s affiliation with Cafe Intifada, which, as you correctly reported, supports Palestinian cultural programs, such as arts, educational, labor, community and human rights organizations, all essential parts of any dynamic democracy which Israel and its defenders claim it to be. Why then, the concern with our organization?

You incorrectly reported that Tubach no longer serves on our advisory board and that it has been disbanded. It is the pen pal program that has been discontinued, not our advisory board. We are grateful for Linda’s continued participation.

Emma Rosenthal
Executive Producer
Andy Griggs
Advisory Board Member
Cafe Intifada

Major Problem — Women

I read with interest Rob Eshman’s editorial (“The Conversation,” Oct. 21). Had I been along for the ride to Colorado, I would have said that one major problem in the Jewish community is that many women are not satisfied with their roles in Judaism.

This is most likely because they do not understand that they are not required to put on tefillin, have a quorum (minyan), wear tallisim, etc. So they use their secular-oriented mentalities and vie for opportunities to participate as men, “equal rights.”

This notion of equal opportunities is irrelevant to real Judaism. In fact, it is this lack of understanding and a lack of acceptance by more secular, assimilated Jews that gave rise to the perverse concept of women “rabbis.”

What do such women dismiss as irrelevant laws that they permit themselves to touch the Torah during times of their individual menses cycle, for example? Looking for halachic loopholes for women to carry the Torah as is done at B’nai David-Judea (Orthodox), undermines women converts to Orthodox Judaism who are satisfied with their specific obligations and do not need to vie with men for such newly created opportunities.

This is the demise of real Judaism! The advent of an era of new and perverted religions that are an offshoot of Judaism, albeit embracing many other Jewish ideals and reaching out to embrace like minds who need a religion of convenience.

Zvi-Hersch Blum
Los Angeles

‘Useful Idiot’

What do you call a “useful idiot” a whole generation later? You would think after the Venona files were released and documented that the people who were prosecuted under the “red scare” were prosecuted for what they did, not what they thought, that objections to McCarthy would wane (“Ed Murrow: What’s in a Name,” Oct. 21).

Today, the parallels are clear. If the Cold War is over and Edward Rampell is still on the wrong side, why should we trust him about the war on terror?

Janet and Albert Fuchs
via e-mail

 

Historically Sacred L.A.


Robert Berger is a third-generation Angeleno who dares to do the unthinkable in Los Angeles.

He actually gets out of his car and studies old buildings.

Berger, an architectural photographer with Berger/Conser Architectural Photography, is interested in historic Los Angeles. Previously, he photographed all the old movie theaters and published them in a book: “The Last Remaining Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown.”

He then turned his attention to historic buildings of a different kind: places of worship.

Over a three-year period, Berger visited 300 churches, synagogues, and temples in Los Angeles and photographed them. Some he discovered through research; others he found just by driving around. Often, when photographing the spaces, he started in early evening and worked until dawn. Berger judged 54 of the buildings to be the most historically and architecturally significant places of worship in Los Angeles, and he published those photographs in a book, “Sacred Spaces, Historic Houses of Worship in the City of Angels.” (Balcony Press, 2003). In August, Berger’s photographs will go on display at the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball Cultural Center.

“My family has been in Los Angeles for 100 years, but how often is it that you go to Vernon, Lincoln Heights or Boyle Heights?” said Berger, referring to his photographic expeditions. “It was fascinating — it gave me a great feel for the city.”

The elegant photographs of “Sacred Spaces,” and the accompanying text by architectural historian Alfred Willis, tell an interesting story of Los Angeles and the various demographic shifts that took place in the city over the last 150 years. For example, several of the churches photographed, such as Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mid-Wilshire, or the Welsh Presbyterian Church downtown, were once synagogues. Other synagogues, like the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, sit deserted and abandoned, as their congregations moved, and the neighborhood changed.

“People see my work and say ‘I have driven by that church many times, but I would never have thought about looking inside,'” Berger said. “I want people to get out of their cars and look at things they wouldn’t normally go to, and experience the street life and the history [of Los Angeles].”

“Sacred Spaces: Historic Houses of Worship in the City of Angels” is on display at the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles from Aug. 11-Nov. 27. Free. For more information, call (310) 440-4500 or visit

‘Food Maven’ Saves Endangered Recipes


 

“Jewish Food: The World at Table” by Matthew Goodman (HarperCollins, $29.95)

When the El-Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia was bombed by Al Qaeda in 2002, the fragile remnant of a once thriving Jewish community was even further shattered.

“The Tunisian Jewish community is one of the oldest continuous Jewish communities in the world,” said Matthew Goodman, author of “Jewish Food: The World at Table,” from his home in Brooklyn, “and the site of El-Ghriba was one of the most ancient, going back, I believe, to the fifth century B.C.E. As of 1948 there were 100,000 Jews in Tunisia. Today there are fewer than 2,000.”

As the “Food Maven” columnist at The Forward, Goodman used his reporting skills to search out diverse cuisines of far-flung, once vital centers of Jewish life, some now on the brink of extinction.

“What I tried to do with this book was to locate and preserve food traditions from communities around the world that are today endangered because the communities themselves are endangered,” he said. “So many of them weren’t able to survive the 20th century or survive only in the most attenuated form.”

More than 170 recipes, some of which have never before been written down, document the rich and varied Jewish culture of 29 countries, linked by law and ritual, yet distinguished by unique customs, traditions and celebrations, the history of a people told through its food.

But what is Jewish food? Can it even be defined?

“There are very few dishes that are shared by all Jewish communities around the world,” Goodman noted, “only two or three, and only one shared ingredient, matzah. You couldn’t define a cuisine based entirely on matzah. Jewish food is food that has been made by Jewish communities through the centuries and sustained by them, wherever they happened to be.”

Both Ashkenazic and Sephardic cuisines and cultures are celebrated, so you see the Sabbath stew, one of the few dishes shared by all Jewish communities — charoset is another — in the Solet of Hungary and the Moroccan Dafina.

“Jewish Food” is an exciting read, filled with fascinating history. Did you know the mother of King Ferdinand of Spain was a converso, that Yemenites were the only people on earth who used Hebrew for communication before it became the official language of Israel and that the earliest borscht was made not from beets but from parsnips?

Nestled among the recipes are essays on selected ingredients, dishes and communities, deepening our understanding of their historical context.

“Food is kind of a repository of a community’s history,” Goodman observed. “You can see the wanderings of people over time. You can see the influence of conquest, of poverty, of travel. Food becomes a history lesson on a plate.”

As an example, he cited the use of pine nuts and raisins in Roman Jewish cooking, as in the Italian Matzo Fritters with Honey Syrup.

“These ingredients were brought to Sicily by the Arabs where the Jews learned how to use them. Then when they got kicked out of Sicily during the Spanish Inquisition, they brought them when they moved up to Rome. The cinnamon and honey sauce, giulebbe, you find in a lot of Roman Jewish desserts. You can see the history of these people in this dish.”

And what would Passover be without macaroons? But, if you’ve tasted only the store-bought variety, you’re in for a treat.

“The same way that gefilte fish has gotten a bad name because most people think it comes out of a jar, macaroons got a bad name because they think they come in those metal tins,” noted Goodman. “Macaroons you make yourself are so much better and just phenomenally simple to make.”

The Pistachio Macaroons are made with rosewater, “a very common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking, as are pistachios, and used a lot by Syrians,” he said. “They’re a nice alternative for people who want something a little different than the typical coconut macaroons.”

Sadly, some recipes are irretrievable, Goodman said.

“There are so few of these dishes left,” he said. “It’s really like an extinct species. So many generous people shared their recipes with me. Some in the New York area would invite me to their home and let me cook with them in their kitchen. It was just an amazingly moving experience for me. But with each recipe they’d give me, they’d say, ‘I wish you could have tried these other two that so-and-so used to do, but she died.’ That dish is gone forever.”

Pizzarelle Con Giulebbe (Italian Matzah Fritters with Honey Syrup)

Syrup
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Fritters

5 matzahs, broken into small pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher for Pesach vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 egg whites
Vegetable oil for deep frying

1. Make the syrup: Combine the honey, water and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil, then uncover, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into a serving bowl.
2. Make the batter: Place the matzah pieces in a bowl of cold water and soak until soft but not falling apart, one to two minutes. Drain in a colander and squeeze out any excess water. In a large bowl, mix together the matzah pieces, sugar, vanilla, salt, raisins, pine nuts and egg yolks.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the matzo mixture.
4. Make the pizzarelle: In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, heat at least 2 inches of oil to 375 F on a deep-fat thermometer. In small batches, drop heaping tablespoons of the matzah mixture into the oil. Fry in batches, turning as necessary, until they are a deep brown on all sides, about five minutes total. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied by the honey syrup.
Makes about 25.

Pistachio Macaroons

3 cups (about 1 pound)
shelled pistachios
1 cup sugar
3 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.
2. Grind the pistachios with the sugar in the bowl of a food processor, leaving some chunks for texture; transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
3. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold them, with the rosewater, into the pistachio mixture.
4. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls in balls onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch between. Bake until lightly browned, 17 to 20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes about 30.

For more recipes, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.cookingjewish.com

 

Zucky’s Counter Culture


 

There was weeping and gnashing of teeth when Zucky’s Deli in Santa Monica, mecca of pastrami sandwich and borscht lovers far and wide, abruptly closed its doors on Feb. 16, 1993.

“We were like family,” one tearful waitress recalled in an old Los Angeles Times story. “We had elderly customers, who left their homes only to come to Zucky’s.”

Now the venerable eatery, boarded up for 12 years, is in the news again.

A new building owner, John Watkins, is about to remodel and reopen the place at Wilshire Boulevard and Fifth Street as a retail store, and some nostalgic citizens are battling to retain the ex-deli’s distinctive architectural features.

Heading the effort is Adriene Biondo, chair of the Modern Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy, who hopes that Zucky’s might be designated as an historical landmark.

“Zucky’s was designed by Weldon Fulton as a prime example of the Googie or California Coffee Shop Modern architectural genre,” Biondo said. “In any remodeling, we want to preserve the main Zucky’s signboard, exterior ceramic tiles and stonework, the diagonal treatment along Fifth Street, and the brick wall and window sills.”

Biondo has talked with Watkins, the new owner, and said that he has been very forthcoming to her requests. The city of Santa Monica architectural review board is now considering the case.

The original Zucky’s was opened in 1946, facing the former pier at Pacific Ocean Park, by the late Harry “Hy” Altman. He named the deli in honor of his wife, born Wolfine Zuckerman, but always addressed as “Zucky.”

In 1954, the deli moved to its Wilshire location after a difficult search.

“The city fathers didn’t want Jewish merchants. Santa Monica had one Jewish merchant, a dress shop, and they said one was enough,” Zucky Altman, 86, reminisced in a recent interview with Marcello Vavala, a volunteer member of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica conservancies.

Once established, the deli soon attracted a faithful clientele of movie stars, UCLA football players, stockbrokers and dentists.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were regulars, Altman said. So was everyone from Gold’s Gym, including a body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“We were also friendly with the nearby churches,” Altman recalled. “Preachers would say, ‘No one here leaves until I finish my sermon. Then we’ll all go over to Zucky’s.'”

“The girls [waitresses] didn’t have to ask customers what they wanted, they just knew,” Altman continued.

After their retirement in 1977, Hy and Zucky Altman endeared themselves to the needy and elderly of the Jewish community by launching SOVA, the free kosher food pantry.

The end of Zucky’s Deli came suddenly, after Health Department inspectors demanded extensive renovations costing more than $500,000. The then-owners decided to shut the place down on a few hours notice to customers and employees.

In an “obituary,” The Times noted mournfully, “It was not easy to find another deli with the same mélange of counter camaraderie, lean corned beef and devoted waitresses.”

 

Medieval Me


What books must every Jew read? What books are critical to informing your understanding of your faith, your culture, your people? With this issue, The Jewish Journal introduces a new weekly column: My Jewish Library. We’ve asked rabbis, scholars and thinkers to each pick the one book that was essential to their Jewish life. They will discuss the book and its impact, and explain why you need to add it to your Jewish library. You can join the discussion in our online forum. You can also purchase the book for yourself by clicking the link below.

For the rest of this year, My Jewish Library will replace the weekly Torah portion. Readers (and b’nai mitzvah students) in search of the weekly Torah portion will find several years worth archived and easily accessible at

“>Click here to discuss this book

“The King’s Persons” by Joanne Greenberg. (Henry Holt, 1963).

It is 1963. I am a 12-year-old ignoramus.

I am wandering around in a used bookstore in Brooklyn. I see a paperback with a lion and Magen David on the cover. A Jewish book! I inhale books, especially novels and I’m always looking for something to read on the long Shabbos afternoons.

I plunk down 25 cents for the book.

Twenty-five cents has irrevocably changed my life.

This was Joanne Greenberg’s first novel. She gained some fame and a spot on the best-seller list a few years later with “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” Practically everyone I know has read “Rose Garden” or seen the movie. I have never ever met one person who has read, much less heard of “The King’s Persons.”

In the Christian year of 1182, Jews held a unique position in English society. Forbidden to own property, they were “the king’s persons,” whose lives were under his protection, and whose fate and fortune belonged to him and him alone. To support themselves, therefore, many Jews turned to moneylending, which was illegal but tolerated by the king for its contribution to the national economy. And indeed, for a short while this arrangement worked well; in York, Christians and Jews lived together harmoniously. When economic conditions began to deteriorate, the already overtaxed Christian nobles looked for a scapegoat. On the coronation day of Richard the Lion-Hearted, the London crowd erupted in mass attacks on Jews, which spread rapidly northward and culminated in the massacres at York.

Against this richly evoked background, the author, at the height of her powers, portrays the experiences of everyday people of the time: Baruch of York, the Jewish moneylender; his sensitive and questioning son, Abram, in love with their Christian servant, Bett; and the young monk Simon, Abram’s best friend. The lives of Christian and Jew alike are twisted and changed, and we come to understand the myriad subtle forces at work as we see neighbor rise against neighbor in an irrational onslaught of hate. But what is most powerful, apart from the historic drama, is the elegant manner in which the author exposes the motives of the human heart with such insight that only compassion and sorrow are left.

Since childhood I have been a voracious reader, but no book has ever captured my imagination like this powerful and beautifully written novel. The fiction that is championed by the intellectual elite never spoke to me. I read Philip Roth, Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow. Mysteriously, they are labeled Jewish novelists, but I feel nothing genuinely Jewish in their work. All I sense is an ugly nihilism that has nothing to do with the Judaism as I live and experience it; these are fashionable novelists who are blind to the rich and multilayered Yiddishkayt that has flourished in my America. Their work is stylish and so very polished — but at the core it is void of any authentic Jewish spark.

Even now, as I read “The King’s Persons” I weep for Bett, perhaps the most vividly etched character in the book. A Christian child, she is sold by her blunt peasant parents as a kitchen maid to Baruch of York’s family. Over the years, she has learned to read and write Hebrew in a society where most women are illiterate. So thoroughly has Bett been saturated in the laws, customs, thoughts and feelings of her Jewish family that no Christian man will marry her. She is alienated from her own parents. They sense that she is … different. Living with Jews has made her too fine, too smart and too verbal.

“Bett,” says her confused father, “ye thinks too much for a common female.”

And, finally, when the king proclaims that no Christian will be allowed to work for a Jew, Bett realizes that the world no longer holds a place for her.

“Perhaps I, too, must be afraid,” she said.

Faithfully, I sit down once a year and read “The King’s Persons.” I still have the same dog-eared paperback that I bought for 25 cents. I do not so much read the words as breathe them in. I continue to marvel at the perfection of language, the totality of vision. I read the novel and I look around and I understand that this book, this story, these fully realized characters changed the course of my life. And just as surely as I am who I am because of who my parents are, because of who my wife and children are — I am a screenwriter and a novelist — because more than 40 years ago, “The King’s Person’s” gripped my soul, set my heart and mind aflame, and allowed me to follow a path that otherwise I never would have imagined.

Robert J. Avrech is an Emmy award-winning screenwriter. His first novel, “The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden” will be published by Seraphic Press for Chanukah. Photo of Robert Avrech by Hallie Lerman

Trial of King David Sabotages Lessons


I chose not to attend Tarbut’s trial of King David. Billed as “the people against King David,” it promised to be a trial that was “3,000 years in the making.”

I considered going when I read of the legal minds involved in the trial. Justice Sheila Sonenshine is an outstanding jurist; professors Laurie Levenson and Erwin Cherminsky are two first rate lawyers who I would want in my side of the courtroom in a case.

I passed when I read that the organizer, Fountain Valley attorney Alan Thaler, told The Jewish Journal that “it was a remarkable historical parallel between Clinton and Lewinsky.”

There is no need for a trial. It might be good theater, but Jewish tradition has already rendered judgment.

There is no question that King David made a terrible blunder in his involvement with Batsheva thousands of years ago. Jewish tradition records David’s admission of sin, explores in detail if he was guilty of adultery or not.

The Talmud analyzes the case in depth, giving a clear disposition of the case. Technically, he was not legally culpable, since Batsheva received a get — a bill of divorce — before her husband left for war. Still, the Torah chastises King David for his action, which should have been beyond reproach.

We are told of David’s broken heart and profound remorse. His repentance is accepted by God. David asks God to make it known that his repentance is accepted.

The Talmud relates, “During your lifetime I will not make it known that your repentance is accepted, but I will do so in your son Solomon’s lifetime.”

The Divine sign came at the dedication of the Temple that Solomon built in the Jerusalem. All the Jewish people had gathered for this momentous occasion.

Solomon is unable to place the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whose gates remain shut. He prays to God, and there is no response. Finally, he beseeches God that the gates should open in the merit of his father, David.

The gates open, a sign that David is viewed with Divine favor. At that moment, the Talmud recalls “the faces of David’s enemies turn black with humiliation like the bottom of a pot.”

To come some three millennia later and second guess Jewish tradition throws the sanctity and validity of that tradition into doubt. This effort sabotages the important lessons of David: the message of repentance, his piety and scholarship, his gift of prophecy that radiates in the Psalms, a holy and noble Jewish king, whose descendant is promised to be Moshaich.

There is a second pitfall. The frame of reference being used to judge David. Jewish tradition is being replaced by contemporary values of Western culture. Instead of Torah teaching us direction and morality, we are using modern culture to judge Torah. In the process, we are telling the next generation, the ones that Tarbut is mandated to teach, that secular contemporary values trump ancient Jewish ones.

Finally, the Jewish courts are structured fundamentally different than modern American ones. Jewish courts are not adversarial in nature.

While both sides of a case are represented, the most crucial element is to discover the truth and render true justice. Juries are not part of the Jewish system. Cases are judged by qualified judges, as practiced in Israel today.

To be a member of the Sanhedrin, the ancient supreme Jewish court, you had to be immersed in Jewish scholarship, beyond reproach and have knowledge of languages. Judging by the vote of an audience is not Jewish tradition. The tradition is for qualified pious judges to deliberate, seek the truth and use as a guidepost the 3,000 years of Torah, the codes of Jewish law and the millennia of Jewish case law. OJ would never have bamboozled a Jewish court.

King David was one of the greatest Jewish leaders. He established the Jewish monarchy. He was a spiritual giant whose prophetic teachings, such as the Psalms, are a legacy of devoutness that has uplifted the hearts of minds of untold numbers.

Even thousands of years later, one of the most popular Jewish songs is “Dovid Melech Yisroel” (David, King of Israel). Still he was flawed; he sinned, suffered greatly and repented. It is not our task to put him on trial but to learn from his example of piety, repentance and scholarship.


Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi of Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen-Chabad and can be reached at rabbi@ncchabad.com.

Secrets of the Cryptic Scripture


Is the Torah an ancient set of laws or a divinely coded document that, if read correctly, provides clues to all major historical events? That’s the question the History Channel documentary “The Bible Code: Predicting Armageddon” wants to answer.

While many might think of the codes as a modern phenomenon, people have been searching for codes in the Torah since the 12th century.

In the late 20th century, Bible code scholars counted letters at various intervals to see what words appeared, and later, they used computers to lay the text out on a grid, or matrix, and counted some more. Noting when certain words materialized next to each other on the grid, scholars say they found clues to — among other things — the 1929 stock market crash, World War II, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the L.A. earthquake of 1994.

While most of these clues were found after the fact, Bible code proponents point out that they were able to predict the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin before it happened, and they tried to warn the Israeli government to no avail. (Though presumably, if the Torah is divine, then it is unlikely a little warning would derail God’s plan.) They also predict another major earthquake in Los Angeles in 2010 and Earth’s possible destruction by a comet in 2012.

Opponents of the codes interviewed in the documentary say that they can be found in any text, and point to experiments run on “Moby Dick,” where letters counted at equal distances revealed Princess Diana’s death.

Matthew Asner and Danny Gold, the two Reform Jews who wrote, directed and produced the documentary, say that while they don’t necessarily believe in the codes, they find them interesting.

“If you totally believe in the codes you’re a fool, but if you dismiss them completely then you’re a fool, too,” Asner said. “But let’s just say that in the last part of 2009, I will be getting earthquake insurance.”

“The Bible Code” premieres on The History Channel,
Sun.,’ Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. www.historychannel.com .

Helpful Hints for Dad


Assuming a father already possesses his children’s love, honor and respect, what more could he wish for? How about the power of persuasion? Sure, the little critters might love us, but how can we get them to obey us?

In this quest, fathers of the English-speaking world will find a new book quite helpful — even inspiring. "Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events," by Richard Greene with Florie Brizel (Alpha Communications), offers the annotated text of modern history’s most memorable spoken words. How did Winston Churchill get the free world to gird itself for battle with a much stronger German foe? How did former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo fire up Democrats at their 1984 convention? What did Ronald Reagan say to comfort a nation and convince its people to support future space travel following the Challenger disaster?

The book collects those speeches, as well as oratory from Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt and Lou Gehrig, among others. Yitzhak Rabin’s call for peace is here, as is Anwar Sadat’s. Finally, there is President Bush’s post-Sept. 11 address to the nation — and we forgot just how effective a speech that was.

The speeches are annotated paragraph by paragraph by Greene, an L.A.-based public speaking coach, who dissects how each address achieved its maximum impact, word by word, image by image. The authors also provide archival photos, historical background and — perhaps best of all — each book comes with a two-CD compilation of the speeches as they were delivered (though actor James Gandolfini stands in for Gehrig, and Edmund Morris for Teddy Roosevelt).

At $50, "Words That Shook the World" may be a splurge, but if it helps dad finally get his way, it’s worth it.

Richard Greene will sign his book at Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 1 p.m., Sat., June 14.

Classic ‘Nathan’ Takes Modern Turn


In Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s "Nathan the Wise," now at the Lillian Theater, a bloody war ravages the Middle East. Jerusalem is the flashpoint.

But the setting isn’t modern-day Israel; it’s the Third Crusade in 1192.

If Lessing’s 18th-century German classic feels contemporary, it is because the tension among Jews, Muslims and Christians resonates in today’s political climate, according to producer Alan Friedenthal.

The founder of the fledgling Southern California Jewish Repertory Theatre, he said he chose "Nathan" to kick off his debut season because, "we wanted to make a statement with something topical."

Lessing’s drama, adapted by Richard Sewell, revolves around a virtuous Jewish merchant, his adopted Christian daughter, a fanatical Christian patriarch and a benevolent sultan leader. In the most memorable sequence, the merchant Nathan tells a parable of three rings given to three sons, one of them real, the others clever fakes.

"That serves as a metaphor for the three religions, with no way of knowing which is the one true faith," Sewell told The Journal. "It’s a profoundly modern play because the message is that whatever one’s convictions, one’s first obligation is to one’s humanity. That transcends the transcendence of religion."

In fact, current events have caused the play — seldom performed outside Europe — to enjoy several recent American revivals, including a 2002 run at New York’s Pearl Theater and a public television version.

In the acclaimed Lillian Theater production, perhaps the first ever in Los Angeles, the present-day angle is enhanced by costumes combining historical and contemporary elements. The Sultan’s sister wears a suit by Yves Saint Laurent, for example, while the Knight Templar sports chain mail and gray leather.

"My goal was to show that nothing has really changed in 1,000 years," director Pavel Cerny said. "There’s still a lack of tolerance among the religions, and the terrorism we’re seeing today is a part of that."

If "Nathan the Wise" feels both timely and timeless, it is because Lessing was a man ahead of his time, according to Cerny. The son of a preacher, he surprised his parents with letters proclaiming that religious beliefs should not be blindly inherited from one’s family. His 1747 drama, "The Jew," angered observers by depicting a virtuous Jewish character amid less-than-noble Christian ones. "Nathan the Wise" — modeled after his friend, Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn — elicited even more public criticism.

Almost two centuries later, the piece was banned by Hitler; it was among the first plays staged in Berlin after World War II. "The production took place in a bombed-out theater with many concentration camp survivors present," Cerny said. "It must have been very powerful."

The journey of "Nathan the Wise" to Los Angeles began with Friedenthal, a Superior Court judicial officer who had long dreamed of founding his own Jewish theater. He said he was encouraged to do so by his mentor, the late great Broadway producer Arthur Cantor ("The Tenth Man"), for whom he had served as an attorney on productions such as "Beau Jest."

Friedenthal often visited Cantor in his vast apartment in Manhattan’s famed Dakota. When he mentioned he was founding the Southern California Jewish Repertory Theatre, Cantor made a "significant" contribution toward its debut production, the attorney said.

While Friedenthal’s theater joins several other Jewish companies in Los Angeles, including the West Coast Jewish Theater and Los Angeles Jewish Theater, he hopes to stand out by offering a season of fully staged, Jewish-themed productions in a 99-seat house.

He had already discovered "Nathan the Wise" in a theater anthology when Cerny mentioned it as a possibility to launch the season. The only problem was that existing translations were old-fashioned and lacked the poetry of Lessing’s blank verse.

The issue was solved when Friedenthal read about Sewell’s new adaptation in The New York Times last year; Cerny went on to cast the play with ethnically varied actors "because we wanted to mirror the friendship that develops among the diverse characters in the play."

Audience members have burst into applause at several points during the show, Cerny said.

"They recognize that the plea for brotherhood is as much about today as about the 12th century," he said.

Lillian Theater, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. For tickets and information, call (323) 293-7257.

Israel in the Classroom


“Before [the crisis], our approach to teaching Israel was just positive and idealistic. It was all about kibbutzim and how Israel is so beautiful and we all want to go there,” said Ellen Goldberg, the principal of Temple Isaiah Religious School. “We want [the children] to love Israel, but they hear people saying that people are doing bad things there. We have to find way to make them care about it and love it anyway so they will have that connection.”

While the war in the Middle East continues, teaching Jewish children about the historical and current significance of Israel proves to be a challenge for religious schools and day schools alike. The dilemma has forced educators to find creative ways to help students understand and appreciate the Jewish homeland. In Judaic studies programs in Los Angeles, teachers have risen to the challenge.

At Temple Isaiah, fourth- and fifth-graders participated in debates on how to solve the crisis in Israel and wrote letters to Israeli soldiers. They also raised money to purchase an ambulance and medical equipment for Magen David Adom (Israel’s National Emergency Service). Goldberg believes that the key to teaching students about Israel is staying informed. “You don’t really know what’s happening in children’s minds, but you do need to be prepared for anything they ask, so one of my roles is to give them as much information as possible,” she explained.

Goldberg stays in close contact with the Bureau of Jewish Education for new developments. “We want [students] to have the facts as opposed to rumors,” she said.

At Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino, fundraising efforts for Israel are both educational and helpful in providing a sense of community. In December, students, parents and congregants worked together to raise money to buy an ambulance for Magen David Adom. On the fourth night of Chanukah, the Student Council encouraged the day school students to ask their parents to donate money for the cause in lieu of giving gifts. The vehicle was delivered to the school playground during a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration. “I think what’s unique to our school this year is how we have celebrated Israel in light of what’s going on,” said Tamar Raff, director of studies-Judaic at Valley Beth Shalom.

In addition, Rabbi Edward Feinstein spoke to the students about the difficulties of making peace. “He challenged the kids to go home and the next time they got in a fight with a sibling, to say they were sorry, instead of trying to figure out who was right or wrong,” Raff said. “A couple kids came back and said that the rest of the family went into shock!” she said laughing, but pointed out that the exercise helped children to understand the Middle East crisis.

Fourth-grade students created an Israel museum, collecting items from home, including books, coins, postcards, toys and pictures. All of the students, from kindergarten through sixth-grade, visited the display. “[We want] our children to feel like Israel is our country. Not a place to visit, like France, but ours,” Raff said.

At Maimonides Academy, an Orthodox day school in Los Angeles, Rabbi Karmi Gross strives to find the balance between sharing the harsh reality and focusing on the positive. “The fear is that if we build up how dangerous the situation is and relay every single incident, the students will think Israel is a dangerous place to go. We don’t want to overdo the danger, but we want students to feel very connected with what’s going on,” Gross said.

Through Project Kesher, the school has adopted a family that lost a loved one in a suicide bombing. In addition to raising money for the family, students also write letters to the children in the family. “[The experience] is making it personal for them since it’s something that’s happening very far away,” Gross said. “[The situation] is something we care deeply about, but we also tell our students that Israel’s a thriving, beautiful country and children play in the streets every day just like you do.”

The Almanac: What is Purim?


What it is:

As told in the biblical Book of Esther, the Purim story recounts how Haman, the chief minister to King Ahasuerus, plotted to destroy the Jews of Persia. In Shushan, capital of Persia, Haman cast lots (purim) that fixed the date of the Jews’ doom to 13 Adar. Esther, the king’s Jewish wife, was spurred on by her cousin Mordechai to intercede on the Jews’ behalf. The Jews were saved, Haman hanged and Purim became a festival for rejoicing.

Reality Check:

Ahasuerus has been identified with Xerxes I, who ruled Persia from 486 to 465. The first observance of Purim dates from the Hasmonean period, but scholars have long debated the historical basis for the Purim story.

What to do:

Attend synagogue services on Purim eve (March 8) for
the raucous reading of the Book of Esther from a handwritten scroll, or
megillah.

Enjoy one of the numerous Purim carnivals around town.
Eat a festive meal.

Give mishloach manot. According to Jewish law, we give
a gift consisting of food items to at least one friend, and at least two gifts
of charity to the poor.

Tools:

Groggers: Noisemakers used to drown out the name of
Haman during the reading of the megillah.

Costumes: Children from 2 to 92 traditionally dress up
as characters from the Purim spiel or in other outlandish get-ups.

Groggers, masks and costumes are available at Jewish gift stores.

Food:

Hamantaschen: Triangular fruit-filled pastries, called
“Haman’s Ears” in Hebrew. Make your own (see recipes on page 50) or stop by any
Jewish bakery.

Liquor: It’s customary for Jews to drink on Purim until
we can’t tell the difference between evil Haman and good Mordechai. Enjoy in
moderation, and don’t even think of driving afterward.

What it’s all about:

Purim celebrates Jewish survival. Its plot and characters can be seen as archetypes for the persecuted and persecutors of all ages.

Fascinating:

Nowhere in the Book of Esther is God mentioned. Some scholars believe the book itself is a kind of Purim joke.

Learn More:

“The Harlot by the Side of the Road” by Jonathan Kirsch is an exploration of Esther’s racier side.

“The Jewish Way” by Irving Greenberg.

“Purim: Its Observance and Significance” by Avie Gold.