September 22, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Bet Tzedek Justice Ball, Movable Minyan Anniversary

Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek.

Legal aid agency Bet Tzedek’s New Leadership Council held its 22nd annual Justice Ball on July 14 at Poppy in West Hollywood. The Justice Ball raises funds to support the work of Bet Tzedek, which provides free legal services for those in need.

A sign reading “Bet Tzedek Justice for All” was displayed on the wall of the packed nightclub as more than 700 young professionals danced the night away to the sounds of the electrofunk DJ duo Chromeo.

Attendees included Bet Tzedek President and CEO Jessie Kornberg, Vice President of External Affairs Allison Lee and Development Operations Coordinator Zoe Engel; 30 Years After President Sam Yebri; and JQ International Assistant Director Arya Marvazy.

Kim Chemerinsky and David Mark are co-chairs of the New Leadership Council, a volunteer group consisting of young professionals dedicated to supporting the work of Bet Tzedek.

The law firms of Alston & Bird and Seyfarth Shaw and Skadden, as well as Beach Point Capital Management, served as the evening’s top sponsors.

Based in Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek was founded in 1974 as an all-volunteer agency fighting for Holocaust victims. Today, the organization provides free legal services for low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles.

From left: Author Howard Kaplan, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa, writer/director Daniel Zelik Berk and L.A. Jewish Film Festival Director Hilary Helstein enjoyed the L.A. premiere of “Damascus Cover” at the Museum of Tolerance. Photo courtesy of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival.

The Los Angeles premiere of the film “Damascus Cover,” a political thriller, was held July 12 at the Museum of Tolerance.

The program featured Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa moderating a discussion with Daniel Zelik Berk, the film’s writer and director, and Howard Kaplan, author of the 1977 novel on which the film is based.

The event was organized by the Jewish Journal, the Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, whose director, Hilary Helstein, was in attendance.

Set in late 1989, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Damascus Cover” follows a Mossad operative attempting to smuggle a Jewish chemical weapons scientist out of Syria. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars in the film as Mossad operative Ari Ben-Zion. The film’s co-stars are the late John Hurt, who gave his final screen performance as Ben-Zion’s boss at the Israeli intelligence agency, and actress Olivia Thirlby, who plays an American photographer.

The film opened in theaters on July 20.

Gabrielle Birkner, co-founder and executive editor of Modern Loss, delivered the keynote lecture on Tisha B’av at Temple Beth Am. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

Members of Temple Beth Am, IKAR, B’nai David-Judea and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills gathered on July 22 for prayer, learning and song in commemoration of Tisha b’Av, the Jewish holiday marking the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history.

“We are creating a space first as a community and then inviting God into that place,” Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn of B’nai David-Judea said in her welcoming remarks. “The partnership between the Jewish people and God is what will bring that comfort.”

Thomas-Newborn introduced keynote speaker Gabrielle Birkner, co-founder and executive editor of Modern Loss, an online community and content platform geared to young adults living with loss.

After Birkner’s father and stepmother were murdered in a home invasion, she found that “grief found a way to make itself known,” she said.

“Jerusalem is a fitting metaphor for how to explain grief,” Birkner said in her speech. “When the worst has happened, we build communities of caring.”

The event included breakout sessions that focused on different aspects of grief, comfort and consolation. Matt Shapiro, interim associate rabbi at Temple Beth Am, spoke on “The Spirituality of Giving and Receiving Comfort.” Temple Beth Am Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld explored “The Deep Meaning of the Root ‘Nachem.’ ” And Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, engaged her group in a discussion of grief stages, Jewish texts and personal stories in “Seven Weeks of Comfort: When Prophets Stop Chastising.”

In addition to the four participating synagogues, the Our House Grief Support Center was a sponsor of the event.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Members of Movable Minyan celebrated the volunteer-led congregation’s 30th anniversary on July 15 at the Institute for Jewish Education. Photo by Edmon Rodman.

The Movable Minyan celebrated its 30th anniversary on July 15 at the Institute for Jewish Education, where the group meets for services.

Thirty people turned out to commemorate the occasion, including five who were present at the volunteer-led congregation’s inaugural Shabbat, on Dec. 19, 1987, in the living room of Edmon and Brenda Rodman.

“Over the years, we have laughed, prayed, celebrated and mourned together as a community, and we have become close friends,” Edmon told the Journal.

The event was titled “A Night of Lameds.”

Living up to its name, Movable Minyan, over the course of three decades, has met at 49 locations. It has held nearly 700 Shabbat meetings, given out 3,300 aliyot, raised more than $300,00 and davened for 28 high holy days. The anniversary celebration marked these accomplishments and more.

The self-described “small cooperative synagogue” convenes on the first and third Shabbat morning of every month for a participatory, musical service and Shabbat dairy potluck lunch and on the fourth Friday of each month.

From left: Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of Chabad at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Chabad on Campus Executive Vice President Rabbi Yossy Gordon; Supreme Council of ZBT International President Norman Waas; ZBT Executive Director Laurence Bolotin and Rabbi Mendy Fellig of Chabad at University of Miami attended a gala honoring Chabad on Campus. Photo courtesy of Chabad on Campus.

Chabad on Campus International received the Richard J.H. Gottheil Award from the Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternity on July 14 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Gottheil Award is presented to individuals and groups that have advanced human understanding among all people. The award is named for the late American scholar, Zionist and founder of ZBT, the world’s first Jewish college fraternity.

Chabad on Campus was named the winner of the award based on its work that gives Jewish students a place of belonging. Chabad on Campus engages college students in Jewish life and serves the needs of the campus community on a social, educational and spiritual level.

Chabad on Campus International Executive Vice President Rabbi Yossy Gordon, who accepted the award from Supreme Council of ZBT President Norman Waas, credited the work of the organization’s 264 campus centers.

“Chabad’s approach to living is about intellectual awareness,” Gordon said. “To make a decision based on an understanding, a clarity, and to be able to know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and inspire others to make a decision based on thinking rather than emotionally reacting.”

Attendees included Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel from the Chabad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rabbi Mendy Fellig of the Chabad at the University of Miami in Florida and ZBT Executive Director Laurence Bolotin.

Rudderless Until Redemption

"Under Radar" by Michael Tolkin (Atlantic Monthly Press, $23).

Recently, I heard Michael Tolkin speak at Temple Beth Am about "Under Radar." Pacing frenetically, he explained that midway through the writing he had stalled and shelved the manuscript. During that time, slipping on his own spiritual path — parallel to the novel’s — he had ransacked various synagogues for answers and had succeeded only in worrying his wife.

Tolkin has regained his footing, and in this magnificent novel, so has his main character, Tom Levy. Best-known for his screenplay of "The Player" (based on his first novel) and for scripts like "Changing Lanes," Tolkin writes characters who move through a mire of moral and spiritual ambiguity. Like their creator, they don’t have an easy time of it.

"Under Radar" chronicles one such man’s journey to redemption. Tom — bourgeois, bored, banal, prone to fantasizing — always selects a woman to mentally focus on while vacationing with his wife and two daughters. During a Caribbean vacation, unable at first to find anyone appealing, Tom finally settles on an attractive, short-haired mother with a rotund, silken-tongued husband. After a small slight, Tom casually commits an act which rightfully lands him in a Jamaican prison for life. There, he does not melt into the boredom, as he expected he would, but changes.

The novel effortlessly unfolds in thirds: the family vacation, Tom’s prison time and unexpected escape, and his years of sailing the seas with a couple he meets on the Jamaican docks. His travels land him for a crucial time in Fiji, where Tolkin returns to his interest in evangelicals.

A married couple who own the beachfront hotel undergo their own spiritual crises, triggered by their teenage son, who turns out to be at odds with their murderous preparations for the End of Days. The son fiercely unravels his parents’ world by removing some pages from a Stephen King novel and other popular books. How he manages this is too fiendishly fun and brilliant to reveal here.

What’s engaging, too, in this short novel is that everywhere, with quick deft strokes, Tolkin takes his characters the extra distance, to reveal both inner life and irony. For example, in bed after Tom finally selects the object of his obsession, his wife, Rosalie, says, "You’re finally relaxing." To which he responds, "Yes. It always takes me a while. I’m sorry." Rosalie continues, "That’s why vacations last a few weeks. You work hard, you need a lot of time to find yourself."

Like many of us, Rosalie sees the world the way she needs it to be. "Under Radar" seems to refer to that part of our lives that are lived under our view, or awareness.

A long story told to Tom by a condemned prisoner fills the prison pages of the novel. It is detailed, elegantly erotic — and I don’t have a clue what it’s about. Which I believe is part of the point, as is the message in a famous Jewish story that Tolkin quotes later in the novel: it’s the telling and the passing on that matters. It reminds me of "The Tell" in the "Road Warrior" films, where post-apocalyptic children in search of their promised rescuer completely mangle their generation’s oral history. The truth is not there, however, but in the telling.

In the end, Tom passes this prison story on. Rosalie says when she hears it, "I don’t expect that any of us fully understand your story, but I don’t think we have to, right away." Tom responds, "No, it takes time." This is the only dialogue between them here, and it says a lot.

The finale avoids tidy clichés. Tom uses his prison knowledge and a sizable sacrifice to reconstitute his world with his family, and achieves something significant both for them and for himself. This unexpected forfeiture, which leaves his continued life with them richer, is what makes this novel so original and moving.