Food, money and Jews

The issue of all issues in the nonprofit world must surely be how to attract donors to your cause. Every day, thousands of good causes vie for the attention of those with big hearts and the capacity to give.

There are countless ways of getting funding — foundation grants, federations, private donors, personal connections, revenue-driving programming, fundraising galas, crowdfunding and, of course, a rich uncle. It’s not an exact science. Raising money in the Jewish world can be one big wonderful mess.

Into this mess have jumped Gila and Adam Milstein, with a dose of Israeliness.

Adam is co-founder and national chairman of the fast-growing Israeli American Council (IAC); Gila is president of Stand By Me, an organization that supports Israeli-American cancer patients and their families in Los Angeles. They are co-founders of the Milstein Family Foundation, which supports a wide range of pro-Israel organizations.

The Milsteins live and breathe the nonprofit world, so they should know what’s missing. A year ago they saw an opportunity, and with the help of friends started The Donor Forum, a private, flexible and efficient model to connect pro-Israel donors with pro-Israel causes.

About once a month, a group of donors gets together over lunch to hear pitches from representatives of select causes. It’s great if you have a short attention span — the pitches last less than 15 minutes and direct solicitations are not allowed. The idea is to make connections and let the parties follow up.

Forum members commit to giving a minimum of $10,000 annually to the organizations featured. A steering committee of prominent local philanthropists selects the causes, recommends new members and contributes a minimum of $25,000 annually to those causes.

Why do I say this funding model is like a dose of Israeliness? It’s not just because my friend Adam and I frequently use that term when talking about what the IAC has brought to the Jewish community. Adam didn’t specifically refer to “Israeliness” when he brought up the forum, but he didn’t have to. It clearly applies.

One reason is the speed and simplicity — it’s chik chak, you’re in and out. There’s no yearlong process of cultivating donors and building relationships so you can eventually make an ask. Here, the connections get made instantly. It’s all about the quality of the idea and the people making the pitch, and you see it all in one shot, face to face.

The other sign of Israeliness is the kind of causes the Milsteins pick — feisty with significant potential. Some of the groups that already have made pitches to the forum include JLens, Reservists on Duty, The Lawfare Project, Heroes to Heroes and My Truth.

Here, the connection gets made instantly. It’s all about the quality of the idea and the people making the pitch, and you see it all in one shot, face to face.

At the forum’s most recent luncheon a few weeks ago in Westwood, I saw two pitches — from the Haym Salomon Center (HSC), a news and public policy group; and Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel grassroots movement on college and high school campuses. HSC is involved in something like guerrilla hasbara, or public relations. It creates all kinds of original content — news stories, commentary, analysis, opinion pieces — that it disseminates throughout the mainstream media to benefit Israel and the Jewish community.

At the luncheon, the HSC’s presenter showed his hand right away: We must transform the culture if we want to influence the views on Israel, and the best and quickest way to do that is through the mainstream media, he said.

He showed examples of how media stories can be biased against Israel while being completely accurate. He also showed how a headline slanted against Israel can easily be fixed. Then he rattled off the obligatory metrics — more than 1,200 articles and media mentions published online and in print, bylines in prestigious publications, and so on — and where new money would go to help them grow.

After about 10 minutes, donors had the key information they needed.

Representatives of the second group, Students Supporting Israel (SSI), were definitely feisty. The two presenters who run the organization said they were all about “boots on the ground,” and showed how they have mobilized students on more than 40 campuses to open SSI chapters and advocate for Israel using creative techniques built on unabashed Zionist pride. Of the examples they showed, I think my favorite was a huge blowup doll of Pinocchio right next to an Israel apartheid wall.

They also rattled off metrics, which included victories against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiatives and the passing of pro-Israel resolutions. They showed their budget and how much money they were looking for to accelerate their growth. Every funding item was fully detailed.

It was clear to me that both the donors and the causes at the forum were vetted to be passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel. After the lunch, there was plenty of happy schmoozing and sharing of contact information, which will undoubtedly lead to donations.

The only Israeli things missing were the Turkish coffee and a little more arguing.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

From left: Israeli actress Sapir Azulay, Israeli-American film producer Avi Lerner, talent agent Adam Berkowitz, Israeli actress and producer Noa Tishby, IsraFest founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein, “House” creator David Shore and Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul (in front) attend the IsraFest luncheon. Photo by Pal Photography.

Moving and Shaking: IFF holds annual luncheon, synagogues collect items for refugees, Saban on Walk of Fame

Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the Isra-Fest Foundation, which brings Israeli films to Los Angeles each year as part of the Israel Film Festival (IFF), knows how to thank his supporters. Several months before each festival, he invites them to a luncheon at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Fenigstein made aliyah with his family three years ago after residing in Los Angeles for many years. He continues to run the IFF from his new home in Israel and through frequent visits to L.A.

This year, the luncheon honored David Shore, creator of the television show “House” and a board member at Save a Child’s Heart, with the IFF Visionary Award; Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency, who has been instrumental in selling numerous TV shows, including “Seinfeld” and two Israeli series, “The Greenhouse” and “Fauda,” with the IFF Career Achievement Award; and Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Max Webb with the IFF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Webb delivered the most moving speech of the event, recounting his 12 years in labor camps and six concentration camps, and the promise he made to himself, his mother and to God. “I made a vow that if I get out of this hell, I’ll help others in need, the Jewish people and Israel,” Webb said.

After building a real estate empire in California, he kept true to his promise and donated millions of dollars to charity organizations, hospitals and the State of Israel.

During the event, Webb celebrated his 100th birthday (his actual birthday is March 2) and blew out candles on a cake presented to him by Fenigstein, while guests sang “Happy Birthday.”

IFF will take place Nov. 7-22 at various Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego.  Photo by Tyson Roberts.

Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego. Photo by Tyson Roberts.

What began as a partnership between Temple Beth Am and B’nai David-Judea to collect household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego grew into a community-wide effort involving six local Jewish organizations, with a daylong collection effort on March 16 dubbed “Project Hope.”

A rented truck driven by Beth Am member Tyson Roberts began to make its rounds at 7 a.m., stopping at private homes as well as multiple synagogues. Community members donated furniture, toiletries and other everyday necessities. The following day, Roberts delivered the donations to Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFSSD), which helps resettle refugees from around the world. By March 17, some of the items collected already had furnished apartments for two Afghan families, JFSSD said.

Temple Beth Am’s Refugee Taskforce led the collection drive, partnering with Camp Gilboa. Roberts’ daughter, Shoshana Roberts, spearheaded Camp Gilboa’s involvement as her bat mitzvah project, working with the camp’s executive director, Dalit Shlapobersky.

The other Jewish institutions involved were IKAR, Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice and Kehilat Israel in the Pacific Palisades.

The effort collected dining sets, sofas, armchairs, toaster and microwaves ovens, a crib and more. It was the second iteration of Project Hope, following a previous collection last August.

Tyson Roberts said he hopes to hold a third donation drive this summer. “A lot of people, as I was loading the truck, were like, ‘Wait, I still have stuff!’ ” he said.

More information and a list of items requested by the JFSSD can be found online at

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Haim Saban with a star on the Walk of Fame in front of the Egyptian Theatre at 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Lionsgate, the film studio behind “Saban’s Power Rangers,” now in theaters, nominated Saban, an Israeli-American media producer, businessman and philanthropist, for the honor.

Saban, the creator of the “Power Rangers” television show, expressed his gratitude to Lionsgate during the March 22 ceremony “for your belief in the ‘Power Rangers’ franchise, and for your unconditional support for the launch of the ‘Power Rangers’ movie … [which,] Baruch Ha-Shem, with God’s help, will be a resounding success.”

The fee for installing a star on the Walk of Fame is $40,000 and the sponsor of the nominee is responsible for the cost. The money benefits the nonprofit Hollywood Historic Trust.

Attendees included Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leron Gubler, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, musician David Foster and former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell.

Saban is a member in the Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2017 in the Television category, joining Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor and George Segal.

Bill and Hillary Clinton congratulated Saban for receiving a star on the Walk of Fame in a letter that was published on the website of Variety. “This well-deserved honor is not only a testament to your decades of groundbreaking contributions in the entertainment industry,” the letter from the former U.S. president and his wife, the former senator and presidential candidate, says, “but to your enduring generosity and efforts to advance good causes across America and around the world.”

Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Feb. 5 Israel solidarity event titled “Israel 200” — which aimed to draw 200 student attendees — attracted 120 teenage students in grades 8 through 12 to Chabad of North Ranch. The event featured workshops, a buffet lunch and discussions that included “Israel — Why Should I Care?”

Organizers were Rabbi Mendy Friedman and Mushka Friedman, co-directors of CTeen Conejo.

“We may be thousands of miles away [from Israel], but the events going on there are of utmost importance to Jews and people of conscience all over, including teens,” Mushka Friedman said in a statement.

Speakers were from StandWithUs, the Jewish National Fund and other organizations, including Israel Defense Forces (Ret.) Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, founder of Our Soldiers Speak. Additionally, students participated in a boot camp training that “pushed them to discover inner strengths and the ability to go beyond themselves,” a press release said.

CTeen Conejo describes itself as “a community organization under the auspices of Chabad that is dedicated to encouraging teens to make the world a better place.”

From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

More than 1,000 people attended the ninth annual Israeli American Council (IAC) gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel on March 19.

Guests included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, whose support has helped the IAC open 12 regional offices across the United States since a group of Israeli-American leaders founded the organization a decade ago in Los Angeles.

IAC has grown steadily since its establishment, holding community events such as the Celebrate Israel festival and operating a variety of programs, including Eitanim, which connects high school students to Israel as they prepare for college and develop professional skills.

IAC National Chairman Adam Milstein discussed the importance of the organization for the future generations of Israeli Americans.

“As I think about the future and look 10, 20, 50 years down the line, I’m not sure if I will be here, but I know the IAC will be. We are creating a grass-roots movement that will last for generations for Israel, for America and for the Jewish people,” he said.

Additional speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was introduced as the city’s first Jewish mayor; radio host and Journal columnist Dennis Prager; and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, who was the gala honoree in recognition of his philanthropy and passionate involvement with many organizations that support Israel and Jewish life.

Wiener told his heart-wrenching story of survival, saying, “The best day of my life was the day the State of Israel was established.”

Mentalist Lior Suchard emceed the evening. During his performance, he guessed correctly the name of one woman’s first love, one of his many mind-reading tricks.

During the fundraising portion of the evening, attendees pledged more than $2 million in support of the organization, including IAC board member Naty Saidoff’s pledge of almost $600,000.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email n

Calendar: February 17-23, 2017

FRI | FEB 17


These two icons, part of the famous Peter, Paul & Mary trio, will share the stage and sing many of the group’s classic hits. Peter, Paul & Mary helped transform folk music with their music that spoke to and inspired people during a time of social change. 8 p.m. Tickets starting at $41. The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 449-2787.

SAT | FEB 18


This installment of the Shabbat Morning Speaker Series at Knesset Israel of Beverlywood explores the topic of local day schools with Sara Smith, a doctoral candidate in education and Jewish studies at New York University. 9 a.m. davening; 11 a.m. speech. Free. Knesset Israel of Beverlywood, 2364 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-4962.

SUN | FEB 19


Join Young Adults of Los Angeles’ Running Cluster for a few laps around the one-mile path circling beautiful Echo Park Lake. Brunch at Mohawk Bend (2141 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles) to follow. 9:30 a.m. Free. Echo Park Lake at Park Avenue and Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles.


The Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles and Valley Beth Shalom present Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour and internationally acclaimed pianist Steven Vanhauwaert in a recital of classic and modern masterpieces. It will include music by Mozart, Sibelius, Harberg and Franck. 2:30 p.m. $15. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

MON | FEB 20


The Zimmer Museum will be open exclusively for use by children with special needs. Enjoy playtime, arts and crafts and a kosher lunch. All family members are welcome. 10 a.m. $5; $25 maximum per family. Must RSVP to or (866) 287-8030. The Zimmer Museum, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8984.



cal-berlandWriter-in-Residence Dinah Berland will read from her book of poetry “Fugue for a New Life.” Berland is a widely published poet and book editor with a background in art. 6:30 p.m. Free; RSVP (required) to Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica. (310) 458-4904.


Frank M. Bush, the general manager and superintendent of building for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, will give a presentation to the Israeli American Council Real Estate Network members. He will discuss what it takes to build an American metropolis. 7 p.m. $50. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills.


Jewish communities across Europe have experienced a revival in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The revival has reached across cultural and geographical borders and has brought a new sense of meaning and community. Join special guest Polly Zaharieva, who is visiting from Sofia, Bulgaria, to taste Bulgarian cuisine and learn about the sights and sounds of Bulgarian-Jewish culture through interactive activities. Tickets include special hors d’oeuvres and a liquor tasting. Additional drinks available for purchase. 7 p.m. $15; $20 at the door. B/G/A (Bar & Garden Annex), 6142 Washington Blvd., Culver City.


cal-umanskyJoin Ellen Umansky as she discusses and signs “The Fortunate Ones.” This debut novel moves from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles, connecting two women who are generations apart. A special Chaim Soutine painting binds these two women. In 1939 Vienna, Rose Zimmer’s parents send her to live with strangers in England in a desperate attempt to remove her from a war zone. When the war finally ends, Rose is alone in London, searching for the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished. Many years later, the painting finds its way to the United States. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein is at a crossroads in her life. The Soutine painting, which had provided lasting comfort to her after her mother’s death, has been stolen. The painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.


cal-garth-masseyGarth Massey, the founder of Military Leadership Methods and a Marine Corps veteran currently serving as an infantry battalion commander, will teach strategies to become a better leader and succeed in your career. The workshop, organized by the Jewish young professionals group Atid, will help improve your efficiency and decision-making tactics. Limited to the first 50 people to register. Atid events are intended for Jewish professionals ages 21 to 39. 7:30 p.m. $10; tickets available at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

WED | FEB 22


Join the Jewish Studies and Catholic Studies programs at Loyola Marymount University for a film screening of “The Jewish Cardinal” and an interfaith discussion with John Connelly (UC Berkeley) and Rabbi Mark Diamond (Loyola Marymount University).  The movie tells of how a priest named Jean-Marie Lustiger — born Aaron Lustiger to Polish-Jewish immigrants in France in 1926 — survives the Holocaust in hiding with a Christian woman and fervently converts to Catholicism at age 14, even as his mother dies in Auschwitz. Lustiger goes on to be ordained a priest in 1954, rising swiftly through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, to be named a cardinal in 1983.  Kosher reception offered. 6:30 p.m. Free. Ahmanson Auditorium, University Hall 1000, Loyola Marymount University. (310) 338-7664.



In honor of Purim, the Jewish holiday of topsy-turvy fun and games, Worthy of Love, which hosts monthly birthday parties for homeless children, is throwing a carnival for children living at Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission. A full 100 percent of registration fees will go to buying presents for the children at the mission. 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and available at Union Rescue Mission, 545 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles.


Join Emet, Young Adults of Los Angeles’ network for legal professionals, and the Tech Network for a discussion about the laws and debates surrounding self-driving cars, video games, artificial intelligence and more. 7 p.m. $10 through Feb. 21; $15. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100, Los Angeles.

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years

In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.

Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.

Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.

Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.

Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!

Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills


[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.

Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.

Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader


Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.

Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center


My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.

Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.

Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.

Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles


Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.

Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.

Kosha Dillz


kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.

Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at


I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.

Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  

Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.

Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.

Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.

David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA



I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.

Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.

Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.

Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.

Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?

Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.

Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.

Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.

Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.

Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?

Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.

Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

Teens turn CEO for a week to learn about Israel and tech

Ten startups recently took the stage at American Jewish University (AJU) to pitch their ideas for how to implement Israeli water technology in the United States at an event hosted by the Israeli-American Council (IAC).

Within the supercharged, high-tech world of Los Angeles, it would have been a perfectly unremarkable event — except that many of these entrepreneurs were not far removed from their bar and bat mitzvahs.

The June 30 Demo Day showcase, coming on the heels of a five-day boot camp, was the culmination of the first year of a new IAC youth program called Eitanim, a leadership seminar series that took place in seven U.S. cities, including Los Angeles. The youth series grew out of Mishelanu, the IAC’s college outreach wing.

“We got the notion that we need to meet those kids earlier,” said Tali Brauman, IAC’s director of NextGen Engagement.

Starting in February, Eitanim engaged 120 high school students from across the country in monthly, three-hour, project-based learning sessions that cover entrepreneurship topics such as branding and gamification. 

Then, on June 26, just more than 100 youngsters — about half were participants in the monthly seminars, while others were recruited by word of mouth — gathered at AJU’s hilltop campus overlooking the 405 Freeway for a “hackathon,” where they were divided into 10-person teams that acted as “mini-startups,” Brauman said.

Each team designated a CEO and developed a product to pitch at the Thursday evening event to a panel of judges — Israeli tech entrepreneurs who also acted as mentors throughout the hackathon. The teenagers stayed in the AJU dorms for the duration of the five-day program.

The products they came up with included an app to measure water flow from household appliances, a video game where players use Israeli technologies to bring a parched society back from the brink, and a website that shows farmers how much they could save by switching to drip irrigation.

One startup, an e-commerce site for water-saving gizmos, went so far as to offer the audience (mostly parents) a stake in its company: 8 percent at $250,000, valuing their company at just over $3 million.

The four winning teams will present their products at the IAC’s September conference in Washington, D.C., to an audience of about 2,500. They were the doomsday game, the water usage app, a social platform for sharing water-saving tips and a website to connect water innovators with investors.

“Some of the presentations here could really raise a lot of money in Silicon Valley,” said Amir Shevat, one of the mentors and the Israeli-born director of developer relations at the messaging company Slack.

Shoham Nicolet, a co-founder of the IAC and its current CEO, concurred. “Some of the companies here, if you look at real life, are companies that really could make millions,” he said.

Before the pitch event, high school students roamed the campus, nervously preparing for their presentations by delivering pitches to the air in front of them. Others gathered in circles to shake their limbs and spout nonsense words — a technique they learned during the boot camp for dispelling stage fright. 

Once onstage, they were all well-manicured professionalism, standing in neat semicircles around a projector screen.

“The connection of Israeli chutzpah and American proficiency creates a really great combination,” said Shevat, who traveled from the Bay Area and stayed in the AJU dorms to participate in the program.

The IAC’s mission is to unite the Israeli and American Jewish cultures, using Israeli Americans as a “living bridge” between the two communities. The students who took part in the program were selected to be a mix of second-generation Israeli Americans and non-Israeli American Jews.

Eitanim was launched in response to what Nicolet called “a growing gap between young Jewish Americans and the State of Israel,” which he described as a “huge threat” to both.

Nicolet said the program was inspired by a summer youth camp he attended in 1992 in Israel that tasked youngsters with developing water solutions to the drought that plagued the country at the time. He said that experience “changed my life” by helping him to develop “soft skills” such as organizational communication.  

The Eitanim course was designed around a learning-by-doing model: “Instead of teaching them about Israel, give them a task to teach about Israel,” he explained.

It got its name from Nicolet’s commander in the Tzanhanim (paratroopers) division of the Israeli military, Maj. Eitan Belachsan, who was killed during the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1999. Nicolet said he hopes the teenagers will carry away Belachsan’s legacy of “ultimate giving.”

Pnina Tofler, a 13-year-old from Los Angeles, said she was nervous upon learning on the first day of the conference that she would be the CEO of her group.

“I found this news extremely daunting,” the ninth-grader told the audience of the prospect of managing a group of kids, some of whom were older than her.

Soon, though, she was put at ease.

“Then the second day came, and I had an epiphany. I realized my group actually knew what they were doing,” she said. After that, she said, “The rest of this conference was a breeze.”

“We formed lasting friendships and bonds and had the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “I hope that the IAC continues this program and I can see you all next year.”

As for their tech careers, Yarden Efraim, a 17-year-old from New Jersey, was confident that the boot camp was just a beginning.

“This isn’t the end,” he said at the Demo Day. “The past few days were just a taste.”

Celebrate Israel Festival seeks to engage, expand partnerships

With a precision flyover, a Moroccan henna party, a fairy hunt, an exhibition honoring 75 years of Bob Dylan and officials paying tribute to the Jewish state, the annual Yom HaAtzmaut Celebrate Israel Los Angeles festival is set to take place this Sunday at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (Rancho Park).  

The Israeli American Council (IAC), organizer of the annual event, hopes to draw a crowd of more than 10,000 to the festival, which features live Israeli music for all ages, including a kids stage, kids activities, a 21-and-older bar that will be sponsored by various young professionals’ organizations throughout the day and more, all in celebration of Israel’s 68th birthday. 

“I think the strongest message right now when BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] is happening in Europe is we need to show in America it’s different and we carry the Israeli flag with pride as Jews,” IAC Regional Director Erez Goldman said in a phone interview.

This year’s festival also features pavilions celebrating the Jewish people’s connections to Ethiopia, Morocco and Eastern Europe, a world marketplace, kosher food and more. 

More than 75 local organizations and businesses, including the Jewish Journal, will be represented with booths at the festival. There also will be 25 artists’ booths, 13 food vendors, all kosher, and a variety of pavilions, including one for Magen David Adom, where a blood drive will be held to support Bikur Cholim.

All this hasn’t come easy: The IAC spends approximately $700,000 to produce the festival, including for high-level security, marketing and equipment rentals, according to Dikla Kadosh, senior director of the IAC community center and events.

The Los Angeles office of the IAC, which oversees nine regional offices, is spending $100,000 of its annual $3 million Los Angeles budget on the festival. Philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff, as well as corporate sponsors, vendors and ticket sales make up most of the difference. Tickets cost $10 online and $15 at the festival (cash will not be accepted for admission at the door).

A Salute to Israel Walk organized by StandWithUs precedes a previous Israeli American Council Celebrate Israel festival. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

This year marks the fifth consecutive year the IAC has held its Celebrate Israel festival in West Los Angeles. The IAC took the reins of the festival in 2012 after financial concerns by the previous organizer, which held the celebration in the San Fernando Valley, caused it to be canceled in 2011. The Saidoffs have been instrumental in bringing the festival to the Westside and keeping it an annual event.

Goldman, for his part, said he hopes the organization can spend less than $700,000 on the festival in future years. He hopes other organizations will become more involved partners in making the festival possible. 

“I think more organizations definitely need to take part in Celebrate Israel,” he said. 

The theme of this year’s festival is “Israel: A Mosaic of Jewish Cultures.”

The mainstage musical headliner is Israeli-Iranian singer Rita, a veteran performer known for singing in Hebrew, English and Farsi. Goldman said he expects her performance to be a “big production.”

Other entertainment includes Lokchim et Hazman (“Taking Your Time”), which includes Roni Dalumi, the 2009 winner of Israel’s version of “American Idol,” along with Israeli performer Lee Biran and Israeli actress Eliana Tidhar. Goldman described the act as the “hottest family show going on … they play a string of Israeli music from all of Israel’s history. They do it in a cool way. Someone who is 45 years old can enjoy it with their kid who is 15 years old.”

If the goal is to appeal to as large a demographic as possible, Goldman believes they’ve achieved that.

“I think we were able to, kind of music-wise and culture-wise, create the biggest tent we can have,” Goldman said. “I think we were successful in that.”

The IAC, which was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles as a resource for empowering and organizing the Israeli-American community here — the largest Israeli community in the United States — has grown to become a national organization through significant support from philanthropist and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in recent years. The IAC’s Los Angeles office continues to serve as its headquarters, even as offices open in eight more cities outside of L.A. IAC Celebrate Israel festivals are also taking place this month in Boston, Florida, New Jersey, Las Vegas and New York, among other locations.

Goldman, an American-born Jew who made aliyah to Israel, served in the Israel Defense Forces and has been running the regional office of the IAC for the past seven months. He said he plans to attend the festival with his children and his parents. 

“My perfect picture would be a father with a kid on his shoulders,” he said, “and they’re both enjoying the music.”

The annual festival begins at 11 a.m. and concludes at 6 p.m., with an official Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony at 3:15 p.m. For more information, visit

Israeli-American group creates new lobbying arm

From national conferences to a planned community center in Woodland Hills, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) seems to make a big move every few months — and it’s still one of the younger organizations in the Jewish and pro-Israel world.

And in January, the Israeli Americans behind the IAC made their latest move, creating the Israeli-American Nexus (IANexus), an IAC partner organization and lobbying group that will advocate for Israeli-American interests with lawmakers on the federal, state and local levels.

In an interview with the Journal, IANexus chairman and IAC co-founder Shawn Evenhaim said the lobbying group is still working on a budget, and its only employee — for now — is Dillon Hosier, a former senior political adviser at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. Evenhaim added that all current funding is coming from the four members of the board, which also includes Adam Milstein, Isaac Shepher and Danny Alpert.

Evenhaim envisions IANexus not as a substitute for groups like AIPAC and other mainstream advocacy groups for Jews in the United States, but as a complementary group that can reach a large swath of Israeli Americans, who are thought to engage with the mainstream Jewish community at relatively low rates. 

Even as Evenhaim insists that IANexus’ focus will go beyond what is perhaps the most talked-about topic in pro-Israel circles — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — IANexus’ first action was to send 2,500 unique letters from Israeli Americans to members of Congress in support of the Combating BDS Act of 2016, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Feb. 25. IANexus has also advised state Rep. Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) in his effort to get an anti-BDS bill through the California legislature, and Evenhaim said IANexus will aim to make anti-BDS bills the law in all 50 states.

In an interview, which has been edited for length, Evenhaim muses on IANexus’ goals, what it will add to the pro-Israel community, and where it’s headed from here.

JEWISH JOURNAL: What will IANexus do that the existing cocktail of Jewish and pro-Israel lobbying groups doesn’t do?

SHAWN EVENHAIM: It adds because we believe that we have access, and we know we have access, to the Israeli-American community, which most other organizations do not have access to that community. That’s our goal: engaging and bringing that community to the whole other pro-Israel community and making sure we supplement the great work the other organizations are doing.

JJ: How big a role will BDS play?

SE: Last week, with very short notice and very short time of the organization’s existence, we sent 2,500 letters from the Israeli-American community to the two houses [of Congress]. … Our purpose is not just to fight BDS. Our purpose is much wider — [like] the agreement we recently helped facilitate about stem cell research. We will do many things in the local and state level. There is a void there because there’s a lot of great work on the federal level, but there’s not a lot of work on the local and state level.

JJ: Is water cooperation on the plate?

SE: Yes, for sure. Everything is on the plate. Anything we can do. These are two great countries with great initiatives and innovations, and we want to make sure that these two countries do as many things as possible together. We are not just pushing issues that are against Israel. We are pushing issues that are against any ally of the United States. Today, it’s Israel. Tomorrow, it can be another country. We want to make sure that as Americans we don’t allow people to come and do things that will harm our allies.

JJ: In terms of domestic policy, what are some specific things you want to accomplish?

SE: We’re working currently on some other things that we shouldn’t talk about now because they’re in progress. It’s not just about BDS, although BDS is the biggest problem out there today.

JJ: Will IANexus develop its own network or use IAC’s?

SE: They’re partner organizations, but a separate affiliate, so it will develop its own. But the community is the community. There are no two communities. They will tap into the same community, supplement a lot of the things the IAC has been doing anyhow. The IAC, when it started from Day One, has done advocacy. There are things the IAC should not be dealing with, and that’s when a group of us thought it would be instrumental to start another organization.

JJ: What shouldn’t the IAC be involved in?

SE: We always said the IAC should not deal with lobbying, and it should not. 

A new home for Israeli-American engagement

The sign on the futuristic white building, located on Winnetka Avenue just north of Pierce College, will welcome visitors to the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) Shepher Community Center. But the family whose $3.6 million donation made the center possible envisions the site as having an even more profound purpose than simply a place to meet for a book club or take an arts and crafts class.

“This is your home,” businessman and philanthropist Isaac Shepher told the more than 200 people who gathered Jan. 10 in Woodland Hills for the grand opening preview of the Shepher Center. “Our community, our children, our elderly, our moms and dads, young professionals looking for engagement … we all have a home. If you are Israeli American, this is your home. If you are Jewish American, this is your home.”

“We’re going to be doing good things for ourselves, for our children, for our community and for the State of Israel,” added Shepher’s wife, Miri, the IAC Los Angeles council chairwoman. “This is our mission.”

Administrators from the 8-year-old IAC said that prolific growth within their organization and in the national Israeli-American population made it a necessity to establish a community center that could also serve as a hub for agency operations. Established in Los Angeles in 2007, the IAC now operates nine offices throughout the United States, and the agency hopes that similar new community centers will spring up all over the country as well.

The Woodland Hills facility will occupy what had previously been the rehabilitation center for the Crippled Children’s Society, designed in 1979 by renowned architect John Lautner. The building had once been slated for demolition. Instead, beginning this spring, it will fill a distinct social and cultural need, according to Adam Milstein, IAC national chairman. 

“We have recognized that there are 1 million people [in the United States] who have an Israeli-American identity, who want to have an active part of our movement,” Milstein said. “We feel we are the bridge between American and Israeli people.”

Currently, the unusual Space Age-looking building with a pie slice-shaped floor plan features a series of rooms, including a stage. Before long, officials expect the Shepher Community Center to provide a range of offerings — from dance classes and Hebrew-language films to mother-and-baby classes and senior citizen activity groups. There’s also the promise of exhibitions that focus on Israeli-American life, culture and history, as well as recreational facilities that include a gym and a basketball court. 

In addition to running the existing 11,000-square-foot building formerly owned by the nonprofit AbilityFirst, the IAC will build an additional 30,000 square feet of office space, which is slated to be completed in two years. The new building will house the IAC headquarters and space will be available to rent by partnering nonprofits that promote Israeli and Jewish values, according to IAC leaders. 

IAC administrators envision the center as a place for the next generation of Israeli-American and Jewish leaders to continue to learn about and promote diplomacy and pro-Israel advocacy. 

“We’re going to try to encourage activism,” said Naty Saidoff, an IAC national board member. “For something bad to happen, all you need is a bunch of good people not to take action. Apathy is the enemy, and so we all have to get engaged.”

IAC administrators say the Shepher Center steps into the breach left by the closing of numerous area JCCs and similar facilities throughout the city over the years. (In the San Fernando Valley, it will join the Valley Jewish Community Center, also located in Woodland Hills.) Programming will be based to some extent on community need, said Erez Goldman, IAC regional director. 

“I have already been approached by people who served with the Israeli veterans who have said, ‘Let’s start a group,’ ” Goldman said. “The IAC’s national offices are running engagement programs where we say to the community, ‘Tell us what you need and we’re at your service. We’ll give you the house and we can host whatever the community needs.’ ”

The grand preview opening drew IAC supporters as well as city and state legislators who presented the IAC with certificates and commendations. IAC honored Naty Saidoff and wife Debbie, who — along with the Shephers — led the capital campaign to acquire the property from the Crippled Children’s Society, which changed its name to AbilityFirst in 2004.

L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, whose District 3 includes the west San Fernando Valley, said he expects the Shepher Center to greatly enhance the community. 

“It’s wonderfully important, not only because this is my council district, but also because it is a center for the Jewish community and for the Israeli-American community, and we haven’t had that for a very long time,” said Blumenfield, who worked with the IAC and the city to help move the project forward.

“This is going to be a place that will enliven the community, and I think will create stronger bonds within the Israeli-American community and in the larger Jewish community,” the councilman added. “So I’m just ecstatic that this is happening.”

Israeli American Council plans Los Angeles facility

The Israeli American Council plans to create a major hub for Israeli-Americans and American Jews in Los Angeles.

At an event Sunday at the group’s Shepher Community Center, the council announced plans to build an office building on an existing structure for Israeli cultural programming, along with offices, a gymnasium and space for collaboration with nonprofits that promote Israeli and Jewish values.

“Creating a physical gathering space will advance the IAC’s mission to engage and unite Israeli-Americans — and contribute to the broader Jewish community,” Miri Shepher, the council’s Los Angeles chairwoman and benefactor of the center, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that it will be the first center of many around the country.”

New app to help users ‘advocate smarter’ for Israel

For those who are connected to “The Israel Conversation,” every event in the Holy Land — and every criticism that follows — can send shockwaves through our world. 

Now a new app called Talk Israel hopes to help the pro-Israel community “advocate smarter,” as its App Store description promises, by providing a personal stream of “digital content from dozens of sources tailored to your personal preferences and interests.” The app (available at

At Israeli-American Council’s second national conference, more people and less politics

As about 1,300 Israeli Americans convened from Oct. 17-19 in Washington, D.C., for the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) second annual national conference, anxiety and anger over the recent wave of Palestinian stabbings in Israel was a much-discussed topic during a weekend that was otherwise less flashy, less political and more formal than the group’s flashy inaugural conference a year ago.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, gave the opening remarks on Saturday evening, with a message that Israeli officials have consistently sent over the past few weeks — that the torrent of stabbings of Israeli Jews is a result of incitement in Palestinian culture, and not something that would change even if Israeli policy toward the Palestinians changes. This was in sharp contrast with Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks at a Harvard event, where he blamed the stalled peace process and “a massive increase in settlements” for “this violence, because there’s a frustration that is growing.”

Dermer told the receptive crowd, “If the international community would focus on Palestinian incitement one-tenth as much as they focus on building apartments for Jews in Jerusalem, the situation might be very different.” And on Sunday evening, Israeli cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz offered a similar message, saying, “This violence is only about incitement.”

Dermer, like many in attendance, was born in the United States to an Israeli parent. Receiving numerous rounds of applause and a standing ovation from much of the crowd in a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton, Dermer said, “What my ima [mother] passed on to me, you can pass on to your children,” encapsulating one of the IAC’s primary goals — to foster a strong connection to Israel among first- and second-generation Israeli Americans.

At last year’s conference, which drew 500 fewer people and was held in a much smaller ballroom at the Hilton, headlines in major media outlets focused on big political names who addressed the IAC crowd, among them 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and billionaire rival political kingmakers Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, who participated in a lively and entertaining onstage discussion during which they talked (or joked) about teaming up to purchase The New York Times and Washington Post, in order to ensure that those two outlets would cover Israel more favorably, Saban said at the time.

At this year’s conference, the IAC’s VIP list and topics of discussion were much tamer — no presidential candidates, no senators, and an even split of Democrats and Republicans, all strong supporters of Israel and all opponents of President Barack Obama’s signature diplomatic nuclear agreement with Iran. They included California Congressmen Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).

Sherman, who spoke Saturday evening after Dermer, sharply criticized, to loud applause, the idea that Israeli settlements factor into the recent stabbings.

“They did not die because there were protesters who were concerned about settlements,” Sherman said. “[They] died at the hands of terrorists who are motivated by a racist ideology that calls upon its adherents to expel all Jews from the Middle East.”

Notably missing from this year’s conference was Saban, who recently ended his support of the IAC and of Campus Maccabees, a new task force he helped create last summer with Adelson to fight the growing on-campus Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has successfully passed dozens of resolutions in student governments targeting boycotts of Israeli goods and companies that do business with the Israeli government. Although it was rumored that Saban’s withdrawal of support from the two groups stemmed from differences he has with Adelson, his team has said he left in order to focus on other philanthropic efforts for the time being. Adelson has given millions of dollars to the IAC and is the group’s largest donor, having given $12 million to the group at its March gala and fueling its national expansion in 2013.

Adelson was notably lower key when he spoke Monday than he often is when in front of friendly audiences and reporters, mostly using the opportunity to praise one of his biggest philanthropic benefactors, Birthright Israel, for its impact on young American Jews. In his discussion with Barry Shrage, who heads the Boston Combined Jewish Philanthropies, among the largest Jewish Federations in the country, political observers in the room were closely watching Adelson for hints as to which Republican presidential candidate he’ll support for the 2016 election, but Adelson didn’t touch at all on politics. In fact, the most notable comments from the discussion, the last event of the conference, came from Shrage, who called on Jewish Federations across the country to work closely with the IAC and help integrate it into local Jewish communities.

“We insist that IAC become an integral [part] of every community,” Shrage said. In Los Angeles, home to the IAC’s national office and to the largest number of Israelis and Israeli Americans in the United States, the IAC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have shared a cool relationship since the IAC’s inception in 2007, working together on very few initiatives. Shrage also criticized leading Jewish-American figures on the left, such as author and commentator Peter Beinart, “who would love us to believe that the best way to alienate our next generation is to engage on Israel issues.”

“That would be a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy, which is what I think some of those people actually want,” Shrage said.

The structure of the breakout sessions, offered in English and Hebrew, included topics such as “From the Frontlines: How to Defeat BDS,” “The Israeli Entrepreneur: What’s the Secret Sauce” and “Israel on Campus: Perception vs. Reality.” The conference felt similar in topics and structure to annual national conventions held by groups such as AIPAC and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), albeit with more emphasis on issues relevant to Israeli Americans.

And between breakout sessions, hundreds of people, ranging from college students and young professionals to veterans of the Jewish and Israeli professional world, chatted and networked over coffee, Bamba and Bissli, schmoozing and taking advantage of face time with pro-Israel and Israeli-American professionals who they more often communicate with via email and phone during the rest of the year.

The content of the major speeches and the groups represented during the breakout sessions indicated that the IAC, although currently active in seven cities nationwide, has quickly joined the professional mainstream Jewish-American pro-Israel community, which includes much larger groups such as AIPAC, the JFNA, and Birthright. And although Jewish groups such as the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” JStreet were absent from the conference, Israel’s center-left opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, who lost handily to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March elections, was received warmly by the crowd when he spoke onstage with Udi Segal, a journalist for Israel Channel 2.

As Adelson, who supported Netanyahu in the Israeli elections, sat only feet away, Herzog joked, “Unfortunately Sheldon and [wife] Miriam did not support me.”

“To say that it’s hopeless and therefore we should stay forever, wherever we are with no answer, leads us directly to the fact that we’ll be a one-state solution,” Herzog said to moderate applause.

Throughout the conference, people were constantly checking their phones for updates from Israel. News of several stabbings and attacks by Palestinians occurred over the weekend, and the grim news on the other side of the world was never far from the surface at the largest gathering of Israeli-Americans in the country.

“It makes me feel guilty that I am here talking about Israel and not actually supporting my family and friends who are in Israel,” said Niran Avni, an Israeli from suburban Tel Aviv who currently lives in Los Angeles. “But I like that we get to talk, and talk how we can influence from here what’s happening over there.”

One of the ways the IAC hopes to support Israel from the United States is by mobilizing teams of social media professionals to “defend Israel online” when conflicts break out. There were social media workshops and, in an area called “The Situation Room,” tables were set up with about two-dozen laptops where anyone could peruse the various ways that pro-Israel groups are using social media to advocate for and defend Israel online. The IAC also revealed a new partnership with IDC-Herzliya, in which the two groups will share resources and knowledge to assist Israel on social media.

Adam Milstein, an IAC co-founder who recently was named the group’s chairman of the board, said he believes the IAC offers Israeli-Americans a vehicle through which to support Israel from abroad. “Now that we have this organization, we have this identity, we have this movement. Part of it is to be advocates for the State of Israel.”

In addition to supporting cultural and Hebrew-language programs, and supporting Israel through social media and grants to pro-Israel groups, the IAC is also set to launch a lobbying arm that will be aimed at state and local governments, and maybe even the federal government. The group recently hired Dillon Hosier, former political adviser to Israel’s consulate in Los Angeles, to head the IAC’s statewide lobbying efforts, which Milstein said could include passing resolutions against BDS and for cooperation with Israel, and possibly become involved with Title VI anti-discrimination statutes at the federal level.

“We want to actually accomplish alliances in counties and municipalities,” Milstein said. “We want to be engaged in legislation that’s taking place on the federal level.”

Haim Saban quietly pulls out of Campus Maccabees and IAC

Just four months after speaking at a closed-door summit at Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Venetian Resort Hotel Casino marking the creation of Campus Maccabees, a new campus pro-Israel, anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) group, mega-donor Haim Saban has quietly ended his involvement with the group, as first reported by the Forward, as well as withdrawn his support from the Israeli-American Council (IAC), at least for now. Both groups are heavily supported by Adelson, and Saban’s pullback may indicate a potential (although not confirmed) break with Adelson, one of the nation’s top pro-Israel and Republican donors.

Saban is a major supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, while Adelson, who has not yet named his favorite presidential candidate in the 2016 race, was among the largest donors in 2012 of Republican presidential candidates.

The two men first teamed up to support Israeli causes in 2013, when Adelson’s money fueled IAC’s nationwide expansion. Saban had been an IAC donor since 2008, when the group was still small (its annual budget is now about $18 million), and at its gala in Beverly Hills last March, he announced that he would add $1.2 million to Adelson’s $12 million raised that night.

For two years, the duo played the consummate political odd couple, sharing similar positions on Israel but on little else, supporting bitterly opposed political parties in the United States, yet sharing the stage to benefit the Jewish state, as they did last year in Washington, D.C., at the IAC’s inaugural national gala.

Now, however, both Campus Maccabees and IAC have confirmed, without further explanation, that Saban is no longer involved.

David Brog, director of Campus Maccabees and the former head of Christians United for Israel, said on Oct. 1 that he was surprised by Saban’s departure but that he believes it had nothing to do with the direction of Campus Maccabees, which is set to launch in the near future and hopes to combat the growing BDS, anti-Israel movement on American and Canadian campuses.

“I can state 100 percent, Saban did not leave us because he had any problem with our plans or our direction,” Brog said. “They have expressed no concerns whatsoever about the direction of Campus Maccabees. They were very much involved in setting that direction.”

Shawn Evenhaim, an IAC board member and the group’s former chairman, released the following statement to the Journal:

“The IAC is very proud that Haim Saban has been a champion and major supporter of our organization since its inception. In the near term, Mr. Saban is focusing all his efforts on the FIDF [Friends of the Israel Defense Forces] and the Saban Forum. We look forward to continuing our work with him.”

Spokespersons for Saban and Adelson did not respond to requests for comment. The Forward reported that a Saban spokesman said in a statement, “Haim Saban is focused on a range of philanthropic activities to promote pro-Israel advocacy and tackle efforts to delegitimize Israel. In the near term, Mr. Saban is also concentrating on the Friends of the IDF and the Saban Forum, both of which have major events in the next few months.”

Sheldon Adelson. Photo by Reuters

Smiling in a side-by-side interview on Israel’s Channel 2 News in June, Saban and Adelson introduced Israelis to their anti-BDS campus initiative, and said they were in sync on all issues Israel. 

“You can take a wild guess that come 2016, Dr. Miri Adelson and Sheldon Adelson and [my wife] Cheryl and I are going to vote for a different president,” Saban said. “With that said, when it comes to Israel, we are absolutely on the same page. Our interest is to take care of Israel’s interests in the United States. Period, over and out. So when it comes to this, there is no light between us at all.”

“He’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican — there’s really very little to do with it. We can use our influence, to the extent that both of us have any, with anybody that we know in the administration or in Congress for the betterment of the relations between the U.S. and Israel,” Adelson said.

But on Aug. 13, one month after a deal was reached between Iran and the United States and other world powers to lift many economic sanctions and weapons embargoes on Iran in return for a temporary curb on its nuclear weapons program, Saban told The New York Times that the deal is a “fait accompli” and that the U.S. and Israel “should focus on the day after and cooperate to make sure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons.” Days earlier, he told Israeli journalist Ayala Hasson-Nesher that it was “a bad deal,” and that he opposed it.

Since then, U.S. participation in the deal was assured when Senate Democrats filibustered Republican opposition, preventing the Senate from voting on the foreign policy agreement.

Clinton, currently the Democratic frontrunner, has announced that she supports the deal and, while serving as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, had laid the groundwork for negotiations between the United States and Iran. 

Although Adelson didn’t comment publicly on the deal, he’s a major donor for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which lobbied and purchased advertising opposing the deal, and in a 2013 panel at Yeshiva University, he suggested to moderator Rabbi Shmuley Boteach that the U.S. should drop a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert as a warning against progressing with the country’s nuclear weapons program. Adelson rarely speaks with the media, but his controversial statements are much-repeated — at the IAC’s 2014 gala in Washington, D.C., he and Saban engaged in what sounded like a mixture of banter and business negotiation as they discussed on stage what it might take to purchase The New York Times and Washington Post.

Boteach, who was reached on Oct. 4, said that he was with the Adelsons last week to watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations, but he said he didn’t discuss either Campus Maccabees or Saban with Adelson. Boteach spoke at the Campus Maccabees’ Las Vegas summit and told the Journal, “We absolutely want to work with them.” 

The IAC’s operations are unlikely to be greatly impacted by Saban’s departure, even if the departure is permanent. Adelson remains the group’s top donor and the group has a wealthy donor base. At its March gala in Beverly Hills, IAC raised $23.4 million and announced the purchase of a $10 million property in Los Angeles that will serve as a community center for Israeli Americans. Its second annual national gala will be in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 17-19. Not unexpectedly, the Adelsons are listed as speakers, but Saban is not. 

Any potential negative impact of Saban’s departure on Campus Maccabees is less clear. The group doesn’t yet have a website, and Brog wasn’t specific about the group’s plans, although it is expected to operate as a sort of umbrella group to help coordinate many of the pro-Israel campus groups in the United States.

“Despite the good work already being done, our efforts to fight BDS could benefit from more funds, more cooperation,” Brog said. At the Las Vegas summit, groups in attendance included more than two dozen pro-Israel organizations, mostly Jewish affiliated, including StandWithUs, AEPI, the Jewish Federations and Christians United for Israel. 

Adam Milstein, IAC’s chairman and co-founder and one of the Las Vegas summit’s organizers, said in June to Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper owned by Adelson, that if leading pro-Israel groups work together, Campus Maccabees will help them get the money they need. “You no longer have to worry about financing and fundraising. You just need to be united,” Milstein said.

With Saban’s departure, Campus Maccabees may be exposed to similar criticisms about partisanship that pro-Israel groups have recently received, particularly concerning the Iran deal, which was overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, Israelis and pro-Israel groups in the United States. Brog, however, said Campus Maccabees “will be very much within the mainstream of the pro-Israel community.”

“The only people who will object are those who think that BDS is a legitimate critique of Israel instead of the illegitimate singling out of Israel that it really is,” he said.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, gave one of the first presentations at the summit. She said on Oct. 2 that StandWithUs submitted a proposal about a legal strategy to combat certain actions taken by anti-Israel students on campus (such as when a UCLA student was nearly denied a student government position by other students because she’s Jewish), but she said she hasn’t yet heard back from Campus Maccabees.

“Still looking forward to hearing from them when they’re ready,” Rothstein said. “The sense was that perhaps there would be some coordination, better coordination, which is always great. The other side that’s constantly attacking Israel on campus has more of a lockstep mentality.”

Rothstein said she has no inside information about why Saban left, but she had recently spoken with the Sabans and Adelsons and said, “It seemed like there was going to be collaboration across the political spectrum.”

“I’m sure they’ll still push forward,” Rothstein said. “It’s really unfortunate — I’m sad that Haim is not involved. He’s a good guy. I like him very much.”

Moving and shaking: AFHU award dinner, TRZ Yom HaShoah event and fire safety at B’nai David-Judea

New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) celebrated its upcoming name-change to de Toledo High School — which goes into effect July 1 — during the school’s annual gala at the Skirball Cultural Center on May 17. 

The event honored members of the de Toledo family: Alyce and Philip de Toledo and the couple’s sons, Benjamin, who graduated from the school in 2014, and Aaron.

The family made a gift of an undisclosed amount last year to the school — the impetus for the school’s name change — that will fund an endowment to offset tuition costs, and which has supported renovations to the school in West Hills. NCJHS purchased its 100,000-square-foot campus, where nearly 400 students will be enrolled in the 2015-16 academic year, from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The school opened at the site in 2013. 

Approximately 700 people turned out at the Skirball, including American Jewish University President Rabbi Robert Wexler, Skirball President Uri Herscher and NCJHS founding Head of School Bruce Powell. Musical theater/drama and dance students performed during the event. 

Also honored during the evening was Linda Landau, who serves as vice president of community affairs on the school’s board. She received the Nita Hirsch Community Service Award. 

Businessman Sheldon Adelson (left) joins Adam Milstein at Milstein’s home on May 14. Photo by Moshe E. Elgrably

Members of the pro-Israel community gathered at the home of Adam and Gila Milstein for a fundraising gala on May 14 in support of the Birthright Israel Foundation. 

The event, co-sponsored by the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, featured remarks from radio host and Journal columnist Dennis Prager, and a keynote address from business magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

During his comments, Prager appealed for a need to bring youth back to the Jewish faith, and to give them the tools to combat leftism. “There’s an antidote,” he said. “One of those antidotes, the biggest one right now, is Birthright — sending Jewish kids to Israel.”

Adelson told the 240-person crowd about his upbringing, and how the seeds were planted that grew into his love for Israel: “My father is the main reason [my wife] Miriam and I got involved in Birthright. When Israel was born, he said, ‘One day I will go,’ but he never had any money. When we finally made some money and tried to send him, it was too late.”

Adelson pledged to match every dollar given to Birthright over the next three years, up to $50 million a year. “We want to go from 40,000 kids to 75,000 a year on Birthright. We won’t rest until that happens,” he said.

Miri Belsky, deputy CEO at the IAC, told the audience that Birthright made her abandon her medical aspirations for a career in Jewish leadership. Other speakers included the Milsteins; Richard Sandler, immediate past chair of Federation, and Steve Fishman, a member of the Los Angeles regional council of the Birthright Israel Foundation. Comedian Mark Schiff provided entertainment for the evening.

According to a press release, a portion of the $1.5 million raised at the event was specifically earmarked for the IAC’s new Shelanu program, which offers Birthright trips to Israeli-Americans.

— Aron Chilewich, Staff Writer

At Temple Beth El in San Pedro, activities at a daylong groundbreaking ceremony that drew more than 200 attendees included writing messages on construction lumber. Photo by David Feldman

Carrie Glickstein recently recalled having her bat mitzvah at San Pedro’s Temple Beth El synagogue in 1965. After a bit of nostalgia, however, the 63-year-old’s thoughts moved forward in time during a May 31 groundbreaking ceremony for the Reform congregation that is undergoing major renovations and undertaking a $5 million capital campaign. (Nearly $4.5 million has been raised so far.)

“I love that the community is so vibrant and looking toward the future,” Glickstein said in an interview about Beth El, which was established in 1922 and is home to about 260 families.

Debi Rowe, the synagogue’s director of education and programs, told the Journal in a phone interview that the goal is “revitalizing the current campus.” Already covered in plastic sheeting and yellow caution tape in the lobby, the synagogue is renovating its entire lobby and social hall, reconfiguring one of its classrooms, and, if it raises enough money, turning its library into a hybrid beit midrash/library. It will add a handicapped-accessible ramp to its front entrance and emergency sprinklers to its sanctuary as well, according to Sandi Goldstein, who is serving as a consultant for the capital campaign.

Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin and Congress member Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) were among those who attended the groundbreaking ceremony, during which congregants wrote their names on pieces of lumber that will be used in the upcoming construction. Approximately 250 people attended the event, which raised $35,000, according to Goldstein.

Beth El clergy includes Cantor Ilan Davidson and Rabbi Charles Briskin, who told the Journal that the synagogue holds particular importance in San Pedro. Here people rely on the synagogue for “vibrant Jewish life,” Briskin said. George Mayer, chair of a 24-person committee that has been conducting the capital campaign, echoed the rabbi’s remarks.

Glickstein’s father, Seymour Waterman, 92, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy, donated more than $1 million to the campaign, according to Goldstein. Waterman said he joined the congregation when he was 6 or 7 years old and continues to be involved with it. 

“I’m happy for the community, and I’m doing as much as I can,” he said at the recent ceremony.

Construction is slated to be completed in February. The synagogue will remain open during construction, although its religious school and High Holy Days services will be held offsite.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

TIMELINE: A history of the Israeli-American Council

2006 — Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles Ehud Danoch invites two local prominent Israelis, Danny Alpert and Eli Marmour, to foster an Israeli-American community in Los Angeles, in part to show support and solidarity during times of war in Israel.

2007 — The Israeli Leadership Club (ILC) is formed with $30,000 in seed funding and the vision of a national organization.

The Israeli-Americans: Who they are, what they want, where they’re headed, why they matter

Last November, a group of ambitious Israeli-Americans captured the inside-the-Beltway limelight for a weekend with a large, flashy conference at the Washington Hilton. Among the highlights were billionaire businessmen and political donors Sheldon Adelson, a Republican, and Haim Saban, a Democrat — who had an animated, moderated onstage discussion — as well as appearances by former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The conference was staged by the Israeli-American Council (IAC), which formed eight years ago in its home city of Los Angeles and has an expanding nationwide presence. Its conference served, in part, to brand and highlight the existence in the United States of an Israeli-American community that has a unique character, unique needs and unique ties to Israel. The conference, which often felt more like a party, sent a message to its 800 guests, as well as to the scores of Jewish- and Israeli-Americans who heard about it: The IAC is a serious, driven and very, very well-funded force on the Jewish and pro-Israel stage in America. 

And it’s growing at a startlingly rapid clip.

[TIMELINE: Sagi Balasha, the IAC’s outgoing CEO, plans to return to Israel this summer with his family. Photo courtesy of the IAC

The mission is to build a strong Israeli-American community, and strengthen the American-Jewish community and the State of Israel. 

Of course, this mission faces challenges, as well as some internal quandaries. The group is Israeli, but it’s also American. It wants to re-create some of the best things about Israel here, but not so much so that Israeli immigrants who had planned to return decide they can actually stay Israeli in, say, Tarzana. The group wants to connect with and impact the American-Jewish community, although Israeli-Americans more often like to create their own institutions and avoid membership in ones the American-Jewish community has used for generations. 

What drives the IAC?

Two distinct IAC offices occupy one floor of an office building in a cookie-cutter corporate office park in Woodland Hills, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, where the majority of L.A.’s Israeli-Americans reside. One office houses the organization’s L.A. regional staff, the other its national staff. Both spaces display Hebrew-language magazines and pamphlets on the counters, and pictures of different Israeli cities and of Israeli soldiers on the walls.

The ambience is Israeli-casual — people are dressed in jeans or Dockers and a few of the women wear skirts. Staffers generally speak among themselves in Hebrew, and there are the ever-present sounds of ringing phones and buzzing email alerts. Five of the IAC’s seven founders still serve on its 13-member board. Three are successful real-estate developers — Milstein, Shawn Evenhaim and Naty Saidoff; Danny Alpert owns a jewelry company called Oro Alexander; and Yossi Rabinovitz is the owner of JMR Electronics. As they tell it, in the summer of 2006, around the time of Israel’s war with Hezbollah, then-L.A. Consul General Ehud Danoch encouraged them to create an organization that could unite the large yet uncounted number of Israelis living in Los Angeles to help support Israel, particularly in times of war.

The guiding mission of what was first called the Israeli Leadership Club (ILC) — shortly thereafter becoming the Israeli Leadership Council — quickly expanded to creating a more formally cohesive Israeli-American community that could both nurture and perpetuate a sense of Israeli identity for Israelis and their offspring in America, as well as bridge the gap between Israeli-Americans and the institutions of the Jewish-American community. The reasons behind that gap stem from the days when yordim — those who “descend” as opposed to “ascending” in making aliyah — was still the default characterization for Israeli emigres. As a result, Michigan State University sociologist and Israeli Diaspora expert Steven Gold said, Israeli immigrants were seen as “marginal” to much of the Jewish-American community.

“They weren’t supposed to go abroad [from Israel], so they were kind of embarrassed,” Gold said. “Israel wasn’t supportive of them, and the American-Jewish community, which wanted to help Israel, didn’t reach out a lot.”

Israelis who have lived in the United States for decades remember well when, in a 1976 interview televised in Israel, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin derisively called Israelis who had left Israel “nefolet shel nemushot”— “fallen weaklings,” people not tough enough to make it in Israel.

Israeli and American-Jewish attitudes toward Israeli emigres changed in the 1990s, following the influx of more than 1 million Jewish immigrants into Israel from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, according to author Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. With these new citizens, the “old Israeli anxiety about demographics began to ease,” Halevi said. Israelis who left were suddenly somewhat tolerable to the Israeli psyche, and, over the years, they began to be viewed as potential assets to the Jewish state, as evidenced by Danoch’s request to Israeli expatriates in Los Angeles.

From left: Sheldon Adelson, Israeli-American Council Chairman Shawn Evenhaim and Haim Saban at the IAC’s first national conference in Washington, D.C., in November 2014. Photo by Shahar Azran

Since its founding, the IAC has had one big factor in its favor: wealthy backers, and lots of them. Its co-founders together are worth many millions of dollars. Saban (net worth $3.5 billion) was an early backer, along with Beny Alagem, the owner of the Beverly Hilton and the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills. Both gave $250,000 at the IAC’s first major fundraiser, in 2008. With the 2013 addition of Adelson (net worth $30 billion), the IAC’s pockets don’t seem to have a bottom. 

At its seventh annual Los Angeles gala, which took place March 8 at the Beverly Hilton, the group announced it had raised $23.4 million, including $12 million from Adelson and $1.2 million from Saban. “Sheldon is 10 times richer than me,” Saban quipped to the crowded hall of 1,100 dinner guests, “I said to Sheldon, ‘Listen, whatever you give, I’ll give one-tenth.’ ” Less than one year earlier, in May 2014, Adelson and Saban together contributed $3.5 million of $6.5 million raised at a fundraiser at Milstein’s Encino home for the creation of a Birthright program specifically for Israeli-Americans.

At the March gala, the IAC also announced the purchase of a $10 million property in Winnetka, just east of its current San Fernando Valley offices, which it plans to use as a community center for the Israeli-American community and as the new headquarters of the IAC. The group may also offer office space for other Israeli organizations.

The vision for this community center, although not fully formed, sounds something like an Israeli-American version of a Jewish Federation combined with a traditional Jewish community center — a physical structure open to community professionals, families and individuals. It’s primed to be a major physical and figurative landmark for a community that notoriously “sits on its suitcases,” as Balasha put it.

“People come here with the intention to go back, and that creates a special psychology,” he said of Israeli immigrants. “You will not really try to be part of a Jewish community; you will not try too hard to integrate into American society; you will not spend your money on sending your kids to Jewish day schools, because you’ll just speak Hebrew at home.”

Instead of integrating into mainstream Jewish structures, Israelis in Los Angeles and around the country long have tended to create their own medley of after-school programs, nursery schools, social programs and lecture series, maintaining some mix of both Israeli and Jewish identity independent of traditional American Jewry. 

“They were just individuals around this country, and there was nothing that united them — they were not part of any community,” Balasha said. “Until now.”

Preserving what many at the IAC call “Israeliness” is one-third of the IAC’s mission. For all ages, from young children to working professionals and seniors, the IAC runs and funds dozens of programs that are infused with Israeliness. 

“To identify with Israel [in America] is a challenge, it’s a struggle, and you need to work a lot,” Balasha said. “You want to celebrate with your kids Halloween and Thanksgiving, but you want for them to feel that Pesach and Sukkot and Chanukah are as much theirs — and Yom HaAtzmaut, maybe more than any other holiday.”

For the IAC’s children’s programming, there’s Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which mails Hebrew children’s books and music to 15,000 Israeli-American homes in the U.S. once a month at no charge, according to the IAC’s chief programming officer, Shanee Feig. In June, the IAC will offer Machane Kachol Lavan, a Hebrew-language sleep-away camp in Running Springs, Calif., and Barryville, N.Y. It will mark the camp’s second year in California and its first on the East Coast.

College students have Mishelanu, which sponsors get-togethers and events on more than 30 campuses nationwide, said Nirit Hinkis, the program’s coordinator for the Southern California and Las Vegas regions. And the IAC’s Tzav 8 is a communication system with about 50,000 phone numbers and email addresses that the group uses to quickly organize rallies and demonstrations to support Israel during crises like the war with Hamas last summer. Balasha said the IAC has used this network four or five times to mobilize rallies, most recently in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Las Vegas.

There’s also the IAC’s largest and most expensive program, Celebrate Israel, which brings together tens of thousands of American and Israeli-American Jews to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. About 10,000 Jews (a number the group hopes to increase) have attended the Sunday event each year in Rancho Park, enjoying Israeli food, music, arts and culture on the heavily Jewish Westside of Los Angeles. The IAC’s operating cost for the Los Angeles festival is about $700,000 annually. 

This year, Balasha said, a Celebrate Israel festival in Miami on May 3 drew about 9,000 people, and one in Las Vegas on May 10 drew 3,600. The IAC’s regional offices in New York and Boston plan to have simultaneous Celebrate Israel festivals on May 31. Balasha said the group expects its five festivals this year will collectively draw a total of about 50,000 people.

In addition, the IAC also awards grants to dozens of Jewish and Israel-focused organizations and programs, including the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema and the Phoenix Israel Center, as well as StandWithUs and Taglit-Birthright Israel. 

Having their cake and eating it, too?

“There was one woman who told me, ‘The community is so amazing here that I feel less of a need to go visit Israel,’ ” Dikla Kadosh, regional director of the IAC’s office in Los Angeles, said. Kadosh said she thought at the time, “Oh my God, no, that’s not the intention. We don’t want to re-create Israel so much, so realistically, that people stop going to Israel.”

In Los Angeles, though, Israel doesn’t always feel so distant, particularly because of the climate, the Israeli-style restaurants and the concentration of Israelis in certain neighborhoods, and also because of what the IAC has built.

“Especially as our community strengthens here, there’s a lot less of that guilty feeling of, ‘What am I taking away from my children? What risk am I taking by being here? That my children will not be Jewish, that my children will not speak Hebrew, that my children will not have a connection to Israel,’ ” said Kadosh, who was born in Israel, moved here at 6, and has lived in L.A. for most of her life, with many trips back. She said she feels neither fully Israeli nor American, but comfortably identifies with the Israeli-American term the IAC has helped brand.

“I have been told by people who live in the Valley, in the center of all of this, that living here is like the best of Israel, because they can replicate the life that they had there in terms of easy access to the food and the culture and the people, within all the niceties of living a Southern California lifestyle,” said Miriam Alpern, who runs the IAC’s marketing and communications.

IAC board member Adam Milstein, right, with Sen. Robert Menendez at the IAC’s national convention in Washington, D.C., in November 2014. Naty Saidoff, another board member, is pictured in the background.

No one really knows how many Israeli immigrants and first- and second-generation Israeli-Americans live in the United States or in Los Angeles. The IAC says about 250,000 Israeli-Americans live in Los Angeles and between 500,000 and 800,000 in the United States. In an email to the Journal, the Israeli Consul General’s Office in Los Angeles wrote, “There isn’t an official number, but we estimate there are 250,000 Israelis living in L.A.” 

Most demographers and sociologists who have studied Israeli immigration to the U.S. believe those numbers are far too high. Ira Sheskin, a geographer and demographer at the University of Miami, is director of the Jewish Demography Project, which released in 2010 what may be the most recent and reliable study on Israeli-Americans in the United States. Using data from the American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample — a sort of annual mini-census the U.S. Census Bureau conducts by contacting more than 3 million households — Sheskin estimated that in 2008 about 329,000 Israeli-Americans lived in the United States, 136,000 of whom were born in Israel.

Asked where some estimates of up to 800,000 Israeli-Americans in the United States and 250,000 in Los Angeles come from, Sheskin said, with a laugh, “Their tuchis.”

“It’s like if you ask an Orthodox Jew how many Orthodox Jews are there in the area — these are always going to be overestimates. Everybody does that. If you ask a Nicaraguan in Miami how many Nicaraguans are in Miami, you’re going to get a number that’s higher than in the U.S. Census,” Sheskin said.

At a certain point, though, the real number doesn’t matter; what matters is that Israeli-Americans comprise a significant percentage of Jews in the United States, and they’re trying to create an Israeli-American identity while working outside of traditional American-Jewish structures, while still infusing the American-Jewish community with some measure of “Israeliness,” as board member and co-founder Saidoff said.

Saidoff moved to California in the mid-1970s at 21. He said he felt like so many Israeli emigres when he left — that he had “turned my back” on Israel, even when he decided he wanted to live in the United States for good. 

“I feel like I’m paying my dues the best way I can,” Saidoff said in a recent interview. “I think the best way to be a Zionist is to live in Israel, and since I don’t, the second-best way is to be an activist and donate money and do what I do now.”

Miri Shepher, another board member and president of Life Alert Emergency Response, said she still feels guilty 40 years after choosing to leave Israel. She was born in Tunisia but moved to Israel with her family when she was 2. She then came to America with her husband in 1975, intending to stay only a few years, but like so many Israelis, she eventually acknowledged that it wasn’t a one-way ticket.

 Forty years later, her guilt eased somewhat when Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told her at the IAC’s 2014 gala, “You guys can help more sitting here than making aliyah to Israel.”

“It was the first time somebody gave me that good feeling,” Shepher said. “Maybe he’s right.”

Preserving an ethnic cultural identity for future generations is a fundamental aim of many immigrant groups in the United States. To that end, organizations with some programs and resources similar to the IAC have popped up among Chinese, Italian, Korean and Mexican immigrants, to name just a few. But unique to the IAC, as Gold said, is the “explicitness and self-consciousness” with which the group promotes Israeli culture and the State of Israel.

For example, the group supports organizations such as Israel Scouts and lone soldier support programs, which celebrate and offer help to American Jews (many of them first- and second-generation Israeli-Americans) who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and often make aliyah.

“The goal is to have the Israeli-American second generation grow up here and have such a strong connection to Israel that they visit frequently, that they speak Hebrew like an Israeli,” said Kadosh, whose husband is Israeli and who said her 3-year-old son speaks Hebrew but barely any English. “Their identity is so strong that it doesn’t matter whether they ever lived [in Israel] — they still identify as Israeli-Americans.”

Israeli-Americans and American Jewry

Of the IAC’s three main missions, the one proving the most difficult to achieve, at least in Los Angeles, is its desire to strengthen connections to the American-Jewish community. In Boston, the IAC’s regional office seems to have a close working relationship with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP), the name for that city’s Jewish Federation. But in Los Angeles, the relationship has been next to nonexistent since Israelis began moving here in large numbers in the 1970s.

“We have been courting the Israeli community in Los Angeles from the very beginning,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said. “It’s an important goal to engage a large and growing segment of the Jewish community that has not really engaged in the general Jewish community.”

“I think the best way to be a Zionist is to live in Israel, and since I don’t, the second-best way is to be an activist and donate money and do what I do now.” — Naty Saidoff, IAC co-founder and board member

Balasha and Kadosh, however, expressed disappointment at what they described as Federation’s failure to pursue a relationship with the IAC, particularly when it comes to the city’s annual Celebrate Israel Festival, which Federation doesn’t sponsor or promote.

“To us, it’s a big barrier to being partners. Getting the Federation to be a part of it is a stamp of approval,” Kadosh said. Becoming a partner in the festival, she believes, would send the message: “Israeli-Americans are a top priority in our community.”

“[It’s] an open sore for us and I think for our entire community,” Kadosh said.

Whether a relationship in Los Angeles between the IAC and Federation develops “all depends on the Federation,” Balasha said. “There are Federations, like in Boston, where we work so closely together.”

Sanderson, though, said, “To expect the Federation to work with them in the way they want, on the projects they want, on the time frames they want, is not realistic.”

He said Federation’s mode of operating, unlike the IAC’s with Celebrate Israel, is not to put “a lot of investment into one event,” but to work on long-term engagement strategies, as they have done with young Russian-American Jews in Los Angeles.

“We think the Celebrate Israel Festival is a great event, but it’s not as high a priority for us as it is for them,” Sanderson said. “I do not judge the IAC for their decision to prioritize this event, and I hope they will not judge us for our lack of prioritizing the event.”

Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s CJP, said he could not speak to the IAC’s relationship with the L.A. Federation, but did say that when the IAC first expanded to Boston last year, they asked for his help in reaching Israeli-Americans and Jewish-Americans in the area.

“No Federation has done great in involving Israelis in the work of the Federation, so I thought this would be a great way to make a bunch of new connections to the Israeli community,” said
Shrage, who was present at the opening of the IAC’s Boston office. “It would’ve been extraordinarily stupid for us to say no.”

Sanderson said that Federation wants to use what it has learned from its work with young Russian-American Jews in possible future engagements with young Israeli-Americans, and that his team has had discussions with the IAC to that effect. “We’ve had these recent conversations with the IAC about creating a similar model with young adults that we have with the Russian community,” Sanderson said. “[But] one of the big differences between the Russian-Jewish community and the Israeli-Jewish community is the Russian community doesn’t have an IAC — a well-funded organization with strong leadership.”

In Los Angeles, Israelis have their own community institutions, including, for example, the Mati Israeli Community Center, which was established in 2007 and provides Israeli cultural events and activities for people of all ages. For Hebrew school, there’s the AMI School. And as the Israeli-American version of America’s Boy Scouts, there’s the North American version of Israel’s Tzofim, which connects its membership of primarily second-generation Israeli-Americans with youth in Israel. Many Israelis are not accustomed to the structure of synagogue life in the United States — in part because Israel’s Conservative and Reform movements are tiny and largely unknown as compared to their counterparts in America. Balasha said most Israeli-Americans also don’t want to pay the required membership fees for synagogues here. And while many Orthodox synagogues in the U.S., as in Israel, are very loose with membership policies, a large number of Israelis here — many who tend secular — feel those congregations are “too Charedi.”

Separateness, though, according to the IAC’s and Federation’s statements, is not the goal. “If both parties are of good will and are not judging each other, we will find a way to make this work,” Sanderson said. “I’m hopeful — they need to be hopeful, too.”

‘The IAC will be involved in some lobbying’

At the IAC’s inaugural national conference in November 2014 and at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference in March, the IAC displayed the relationships it has built with several prominent politicians, including Romney, Menendez, Graham and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who spoke at a private IAC event for pro-Israel college students at AIPAC’s conference.

The IAC is currently searching for a director for its recently formed Washington, D.C., council, which Balasha said will be just like any of its other regional operations in providing services for Israeli-Americans. But he said the group also hopes to have a clear picture by October of how it might want to influence policymakers on Capitol Hill and in state capitals.

“The IAC will be involved in some lobbying, like any other big organization,” Balasha said. “But it’s not going to be our focal point. We may have one representative that’s working to represent the Israeli-American community on the Hill.”

What Israelis (who know about the IAC) think

Aya Achimeir, CEO of Debby Communications Group in Tel Aviv, has the IAC as a client, and her job is to get Israeli media outlets to cover the group’s activity in the United States.

She contrasted Israeli-Americans, who she said “never call on people to leave Israel,” with Israelis in Berlin in 2014 who fueled the “Milky” protest, which was sparked by Naor Narkis, an Israeli who lived for a time in Berlin and who encouraged Israelis to move to Germany as a gripe against the high cost of living in Israel. In October 2014, he posted on Facebook the German equivalent of Milky, a popular Israeli chocolate pudding, and said it cost the equivalent of only one shekel in Germany — one-fourth its cost in Israel. Narkis reportedly returned to Israel late last year.

Unlike Rabin’s view in the 1970s, Achimeir said Israel now sees Israelis in the United States as “ambassadors” and “advocates.” Evidence of this is Netanyahu’s meeting with the IAC’s leadership and board when he visited Los Angeles in March 2014. 

“His main message to the IAC was, ‘You’re an asset to the State of Israel. We need you on the frontlines of BDS,’ ” Balasha said, referring to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Netanyahu said the group received similar messages from former President Shimon Peres, as well as head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett.

David Siegel, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, is a regular attendee of IAC community events and said that while his and the Israeli government’s natural desire is for Israelis and Jews to live in Israel, they realize the Israeli Diaspora is a fact.

“The question is: Is it organized or not?” Siegel said. “The natural preference is that it is organized in terms of advocating for Israel, but also connected to Judaism. You can’t do that without a community that’s organized.”

He also said he hopes that the IAC’s success can be emulated in other large Israeli Diaspora communities. “You don’t see that independent organization in Europe, for example,” Siegel said. “[The IAC] could be a model.”

Some Israelis also hope Israeli-Americans can “pick up some of the slack” at a time when relations are strained between the U.S. and Israeli governments as well as between many liberal American Jews and the Israeli government, as Halevi, the American-born Israeli author, put it. 

“Israelis are becoming more anxious about the state of our relations with the world generally, and with America in particular,” Halevi said. “The emergence of a strong, nonambivalent pro-Israel lobby run by Israeli-Americans is something that I think is going to be noted here and appreciated.” Perhaps, he said, Israeli-born Americans and American-born Israelis, as the only two groups of Jews with a “deep experience” of both American and Israeli Jewry, can serve as “bridges” for American Jews and Israeli Jews.  

A mission with a time limit?

The “elephant in the room,” Kadosh said, is whether it’s possible to nurture an Israeli identity among Israeli-Americans in the third generation and beyond.

“That’s the big puzzle,” she said. “We haven’t really addressed [it].” 

In fact, said Evenhaim, whenever the board has retreats, they inevitably revisit and re-evaluate their mission. “We say we need to make changes, and then after a whole weekend we rip the mission apart and rebuild it — we have the same mission,” he said.

Although Kadosh said “it’s almost impossible” to keep an ethnic or nationalistic identity as far down the line as the third or fourth generation, she believes the IAC will endure, in part due to the “revolving door” of Israeli immigration to the United States. “We might move back to Israel,” she said of her own family. “My kids might grow up in Israel and later on, in adulthood, come back.” 

She predicts that in two generations, Israeli-Americans still will be coming and going from the United States on a regular basis.

The truth — and this is the other side of Israeliness — is that even among its leaders, the IAC doesn’t seem to agree about what the future will hold. Kadosh says one thing; Evenhaim sort of agrees; Balasha disagrees — he thinks the third and fourth generation “definitely will not be Israeli-Americans” yet hopes they’ll be active in the Jewish-American community. 

Saidoff thinks the IAC will “morph somewhat,” and didn’t elaborate, but did point out a major cultural divide he sees between mainstream American Jews and Israeli-Americans: “Americans are all about process; Israelis are about getting it done.” He conceded, though, with a laugh, that Israelis “don’t listen much” to outside advice.

Milstein, meanwhile, thinks that in two or three decades, Israeli-Americans will be integrated into the Jewish-American community and will no longer be a distinct entity. “We will not exist as Israeli-Americans 20 or 30 years from now,” Milstein said. “But the Jewish people of America will be by us, and will not be the Jewish-Americans that you have today.” 

Asked how Israeli immigrants in one generation will be active in an Israeli-American community if they integrate into mainstream American Jewry, Milstein said he thinks that by then, Jewish-American institutions will have learned how to integrate Israeli immigrants.

About Israeliness, Evenhaim said, “Some would say, ‘Why would you need it? Why not just have your kids become Jewish-Americans?’ ”

“Because,” he said, answering his own question by saying Israeliness can help Israeli-Americans remain Jewish, “we all know the problems of assimilation with the young generation [of Jewish Americans] — a lot of them just don’t remain Jewish.”

What the IAC will look like in two, three or four decades, clearly, is anyone’s guess. But for now, the group is in the planning stages of its second Washington, D.C., conference, which the IAC will hold later this year and hopes will draw twice as many people. 

For Americans though, what may prove most interesting about the future of the Israeli-American community, and of the IAC, is how one of the country’s newest immigrant groups will make its mark in the United States, and how it will navigate the challenges faced by all immigrants, such as, generations ago, the Irish and Italians, and, more recently, the Koreans and Latin Americans. How this will play out is probably impossible to predict.

The promise and the unknown stem from something Milstein said at the IAC’s national gala last year: “We’re different.”


Correction: May 18, 2015

A quote in which Adam Milstein said “We don't feel American” was not given the proper context and has been amended to read, “We don't feel [100 percent] American.”

IAC goes to Washington … and plans to stay

On the evening of March 1, just before a private Israeli-American Council (IAC) event for college students at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., it was difficult for two of IAC’s co-founders, Shawn Evenhaim and Adam Milstein, to walk more than a few feet without being approached by attendees.

Some thanked them for their support (both Milstein’s family foundation and the IAC have helped sponsor many students’ trips to AIPAC), others sought advice on Israel advocacy and on their careers, while the rest seemed simply to want to talk.

The post-dinner gathering was an opportunity for various pro-Israel campus activists from across the nation not only to meet one another and share tactics and vision, but also to hear from a few Capitol Hill lawmakers and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens. 

Coming less than four months after IAC’s big November inaugural conference just a few miles away, and two days after Milstein and Evenhaim announced that the IAC had decided to launch a Washington, D.C., chapter (its eighth nationally), the message was clear: IAC — the largest, if not the only, national educational group in the nation geared toward Israeli Americans — is entering the Beltway and plans to put some of its resources toward creating a federal advocacy arm.

In a March 2 interview at the 12th-floor M Club at the Marriott adjoining AIPAC’s conference center in downtown Washington, Milstein and Evenhaim said IAC’s D.C.-area branch will play two roles. 

First, like its branches in other cities — including ones in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Boston — the D.C. branch will serve as an educational, religious and cultural resource for Israeli Americans in the area. The group says it has reached about 150,000 people through this programming, and its state branches already work with state and local officials on a range of issues.

Second, the D.C. office will be an advocacy arm for Israeli-American interests on Capitol Hill. Evenhaim, the group’s chairman, said IAC’s advocacy activities in Washington will not constitute lobbying. Without elaborating, Milstein and Evenhaim referred to visa laws and education as two issues that particularly concern the nation’s Israeli-American community, which, IAC says on its website, numbers more than 500,000 people.

“Our target is much wider than Congress,” Milstein said, emphasizing that the D.C. branch will be more than just a policy arm for domestic issues important to Israeli Americans. “We feel that we have the natural knowledge to be the ambassadors for Israel.”

And that’s where AIPAC came in. IAC sees its membership as assets for AIPAC, and Israeli Americans who are at AIPAC as assets for IAC. Even when IAC got its start as the Israeli Leadership Council — a group of Israeli-born businessmen formed the group in Los Angeles in 2007 and it was officially renamed the IAC in 2013 — the mission was to bring delegations and sponsor student trips to Washington.

At the March 1 evening event for Mishelanu, IAC’s on-campus arm, pro-Israel college students took the stage one after the other, discussing the challenges they face defending Israel on campus and learning from one another’s successes. Two of the speakers were Jewish students from UC Davis who had successfully appealed to that school’s student judiciary to overturn a recently passed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) bill, on the grounds that it was primarily political and thus violated the student senate’s obligation to focus on student welfare.

And perhaps most exciting for the students Sunday night — and a second early indicator of IAC’s networking abilities on Capitol Hill — Congressmembers Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) stopped by to give remarks.

“I’m here tonight because of the efforts of this organization to rally Israeli Americans and Jewish Americans to support this incredibly decisive effort to stand up on the university campuses,” Royce said.

At IAC’s inaugural conference in November, some of the group’s draws included former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, and billionaire rival political kingmakers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson, who are both major supporters.

Asked what he anticipates will be the balance in the D.C. branch between its normal work within that region’s Israeli-American community and its advocacy efforts in Washington, Evenhaim didn’t offer specifics but said it will operate similarly to how IAC’s other offices operate.

Evenhaim anticipates the D.C. branch to be “fully operational” within three months.

Israelis in the U.S.A.

When your ancestors yearned for 19 centuries to return to their homeland of Israel, and you were fortunate enough to be born there but still decide to move to America, it’s natural that somewhere deep inside, you might feel a little guilty. How could you not? Regardless of how happy or comfortable you might be in America, how could you not miss the Israeli streets that make you feel so at home, the country you fought to defend, the place that moves your spirit like no other?

It would be an insult to Israel for Israelis to feel perfectly OK about not living there.

This emotional dynamic has contributed to a complicated relationship between Israeli-Americans and their adopted country. Traditionally, the rap against Israeli-Americans is that they have been reluctant to fully engage and integrate with the local community — and I can understand this reluctance.

Many Israelis cope with the guilt of not living in Israel by telling themselves they’re in America only “temporarily.” Fully engaging with the local established community would only make their decision to live in America feel more permanent. It would be like making yourself feel at home in a place that deep inside your soul doesn’t really feel like home.

That’s why I felt something very poignant when I attended the inaugural national conference of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) last weekend in Washington, D.C. This was the big coming-out party for the IAC, which was founded seven years ago by a small group of successful Israeli-American entrepreneurs living in Los Angeles. The conference attracted prominent speakers from across the political, diplomatic, academic, media and philanthropic worlds, as well as more than 700 Israeli-Americans from across the country.

There was plenty of buzz at the conference, which meant the Twitter world had a field day. Two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama on his approach toward Iran. Mega machers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson shared the stage with IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim and tried to out-hawk each other on Israel. Politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reminded an adoring crowd of America’s undying support for Israel. Actress Noa Tishby and other entertainers added some glitter.

Beneath all the buzz, however, there was some serious business. The IAC’s mission, as stated in its program, is to “build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens our next generations, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel.”

We were offered a Limmud-like smorgasbord of sessions led by scholars, experts and community leaders, dealing with issues such as: “Israeli-American Double Identity: Comfort vs. Conscience?”; “Models of Israeli-American Communities: What Works?”; “Our Stand Against BDS”; “What Is Our Role in the Future Leadership of the Jewish-American Community?”; “How Can Israeli-Americans Strengthen the U.S.-Israel Bond?”; “Social Media: The Ultimate Force Multiplier”; “What Can Israeli-Americans Learn From the American-Jewish Community?” and “Israel in 2048: How Can Israel’s Economy Become One of the World’s Top 10?”

As you can imagine, there were plenty of heated discussions. If Jews in general like to argue and debate, then Israeli Jews take it to the next level. At several sessions I attended, when it came time for questions and answers, all we got from the audience were answers — and nobody complained. Usually, an audience is reminded: “Please, no speeches, just questions.” Here, it was more like: “OK, go ahead and make your speech. We know we can’t stop you anyway.”

But after all the buzz, debates and big statements of the conference, it was a statement that no one uttered that had the most impact on me.

This was the collective statement that seemed to hover above the conference and that no one needed to spell out: “We are madly in love with Israel, and we miss it terribly. Yes, we still feel a little guilty that we left. But let’s stop pretending that we’re going back tomorrow. We’re not. We’re here in America, and we’re not leaving anytime soon. That stings a little, but let’s make peace with that and fully engage with our adopted country. Above all, let’s be grateful we’re still able to do so much to help the Jewish world and Israel — and we can do it in our own Israeli way.”

As much as anything, the IAC conference was a statement on the greatness of America — a country that allows its citizens the full freedom to promote the cause of their choice, even when that cause includes helping another nation.

That is also worth waiting 19 centuries for.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Israeli-American Council jumps onto national stage with a splash

At the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) three-day inaugural conference in Washington, D.C., last weekend, nearly 800 attendees and Washington journalists witnessed the high-profile entrance on to the public stage of what was, until recently, a quietly expanding and well-funded Los Angeles group created with the comparably modest vision of providing educational, cultural and religious resources for Southern California’s large Israeli-American community.

The IAC’s first foray into the national spotlight — and its ability to attract top politicians from both parties and their donors — points to a group on its way to becoming the go-to resource for Israeli Americans across the country and their political voice in Washington.

“We will be a growing community in the United States. We will rise to national recognition and will influence the Jewish community,” said Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American businessman and philanthropist, and a founding IAC board member.

Milstein said that the group’s goal in holding its inaugural conference in the heart of the nation’s capital was to make Israeli Americans a “brand name community in the United States and to make sure that Washington notices.” On the latter point, it undoubtedly succeeded: Political correspondents for top news outlets filled the press section to cover the IAC’s prominent speakers, including former (and possibly future) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and billionaire rival political kingmakers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban and Israeli American Council Chairman Shawn Evenhaim at the IAC Conference in D.C. Photo by Shahar Azran

That Friday evening, as a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton enjoyed Shabbat dinner, Romney told his former foreign policy senior adviser Dan Senor, in an onstage discussion, that President Barack Obama has been “divisive and dictatorial and demeaning to our friends,” and also that Democrats were routed in the recent midterm elections partly because voters felt the Democratic candidates had been disingenuous in distancing themselves from Obama’s policies.

Meanwhile, Senor and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman both strongly suggested they would like to see Romney attempt another presidential run: “It would be doubly refreshing to hear your voice in the public debate going forward,” Senor told Romney as he concluded their discussion.

The following night’s plenary, while modest by comparison, saw Graham threaten to cut off funding to the United Nations if it “turns into the most anti-Semitic force on the planet,” and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer — who was a frequent and vocal guest on cable news during the recent Gaza war — joked that the key to a happy marriage between an American and an Israeli is for the American to “preemptively concede the argument to the Israeli spouse.”

“Then you’ll actually have a chance of having your way,” Dermer said to an admiring crowd. “Now what that means for diplomacy and U.S.-Israel [relations], I’ll leave it to all the sharp reporters in the room to figure out.”

The conference’s first two plenaries, though, were only the starter for the weekend’s highlight: the first-ever public discussion between billionaires Saban and Adelson, two of the country’s most sought-after, and generous, political donors for Democratic and Republican politicians, respectively. While their conversation, which was moderated by IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim, at times sounded like a debate, Saban stole the spotlight when Evenhaim asked him what he would do if he were in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes and Western powers signed a nuclear agreement with Iran that risked Israel’s security.

“I would bomb the living daylights out of those sons of bitches,” Saban said to thundering applause, striking a tone starkly to the right of Adelson, who only spoke in general terms of Israel needing to “take action” and “not just talk.” Earlier, Saban said that if such a deal is signed, he would come to the “full realization we are screwed, baby.”

Adelson, for his part, provided his own memorable remarks, sharply criticizing journalists in general and particularly The Forward’s Washington correspondent Nathan Guttman. He also cast doubt on the importance of Israel remaining a democracy and called the Palestinians “an invented people.”

Saban, a media mogul, and Adelson, a casino tycoon, then engaged in what sounded like either banter or an impromptu investment strategy session, discussing how to influence mainstream American media outlets when it comes to coverage of Israel, which Saban called “very left-wing” except when it comes to “maybe a bit the Wall Street Journal and definitely Fox News.”

“I wish that [ CEO] Jeff Bezos didn’t buy the Washington Post,” Saban said. “It would have been nice if you and I could have bought it, Sheldon.”

“For $250 million — bupkis!” Saban continued, as the audience laughed.

Adelson responded: “I wish I had known it was available,” then asked Saban, again to raucous applause, “Why don’t you and I go after The New York Times?”

Saban said he has tried to purchase the news giant, but that “it’s a family business” and would not sell. Adelson, sharing some corporate takeover advice with the audience, told Saban that the only way to get The New York Times would be to bid more than its worth and count on the family shareholders rejecting the offer, which would give minority, non-family shareholders a right to sue for a sale.

While marquee attractions such as Saban and Adelson provided the bang for IAC’s weekend, mornings and afternoons were filled with speakers from across the Jewish and pro-Israel world who talked about sensitive topics, especially for a group seeking to tow the line between American and Israeli and Jewish identities—such as the dilemmas facing a possible “double identity” and how to integrate Israeli Americans into the American-Jewish community.

Evenhaim, in a telephone interview following the conference, said he wants Israeli Americans to integrate within America’s broader Jewish community, but said that integration has not been a priority of the organized American-Jewish community, in Los Angeles and across the United States.

“If the Jewish-American community put that as a priority for them, there probably wouldn’t be an IAC,” Evenhaim said.

At the same time, though, IAC’s goal is to help foster a unique Israeli identity among not just Israeli expats, but their American-born children and grandchildren, too.

“We don’t want to become just Jewish Americans,” Evenhaim said. “The Israeli message is important to us, and it’s important to give to the next generation.”

To that end, the IAC runs programs including Celebrate Israel festivals across the country every year and Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which sends free Hebrew-language children’s books and music to Israeli-American families.

“Israel is our homeland,” Milstein said, when asked to discuss the vision of IAC in the context of America’s historical success in assimilating immigrants. “Our relationship with Israel is more unique than Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans — we are different.”

He said the IAC plans to become a “catchall” group for Israeli Americans, focusing not just on Israel advocacy, but eventually seeking to influence national policy on things like access to charter schools and Jewish education.

“Our community has issues that are important to them, and it will be our mandate to advocate for those issues in Washington,” Milstein said.

Formed as the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) in 2007 at the request of Ehud Danoch, the Israeli consul general of Los Angeles at the time, the ILC rebranded itself two years ago as the Israeli-American Council when its leadership realized the need to be viewed not as Israelis or as Americans, but as “Americans of Israeli descent,” as Milstein wrote in the Times of Israel one year ago. Until then, he wrote, “The State of Israel labeled us as yordim [a derisive characterization for Israelis who leave]. Americans saw us as U.S. citizens, and our children definitely didn’t want to be perceived as kids of foreigners.”

Now viewed as a potential asset by top American politicians as well as the Israeli government — as evidenced by the presence last weekend of numerous Israeli politicians and diplomats — the IAC plans to open four to six new regional councils in the next year, in addition to the existing five, and has its eyes on a 2015 conference, which Milstein said will likely again be in Washington, D.C., and, he predicts, will attract two to three times as many people.

Israeli-Americans Get Their Own Birthright Trip

When Eden Bennun — who had to give up on plans to attend a Birthright Israel trip this summer because of a job — heard about a new trip aimed specifically at Israeli-Americans, she thought: “It must be fate.”

Both of her parents were born in Israel, and, although she grew up in Los Angeles, almost every summer she boarded an El Al airliner to visit faraway family.

“I look forward to getting to meet more people like me, who are connected to the culture and language, and are ready to become young Jewish leaders,” said Bennun, a third-year psychology student at American Jewish University.

The new Taglit-Birthright Israel program, offered in conjunction with the Israeli American Council (IAC), will be called “I think it’s important to educate other people so they don’t have to go through what I went [through] and disconnect, and then connect again,” he said.

Amidst cease-fire calls, Yuval Steinitz says IDF prepared to ‘recapture Gaza’ if necessary

Even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intensified efforts for an immediate cease-fire, top Israeli minister and Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said Thursday that Israel’s army is prepared to dramatically expand its ground operation in the Gaza Strip and even “recapture Gaza in its entirety” if Hamas’ rocket fire and cross-border tunnel attacks cannot otherwise be stopped.

Speaking from Israel on a conference call hosted by the Israeli American Council (IAC), the minister of strategic and intelligence affairs said that Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8, may be nearing the beginning of its “third stage,” which reports indicate would involve Israel's military targeting Hamas military assets throughout Gaza.

Since Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip on July 17, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it has discovered 31 tunnels used by Hamas to enter Israel. On July 17, 13 Hamas operatives emerged from an underground tunnel leading from Gaza to the outskirts of Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa.

Four days later, Israeli troops were surprised by the sight of 10 Hamas terrorists dressed in Israeli army uniforms emerging from below just a few hundred feet from Kibbutz Nir Am. The ensuing firefight left four Israeli soldiers and the 10 Hamas members dead.

Although international pressure for a cease-fire has increased amid the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, Steinitz indicated that Israel is not prepared to accept a situation in which Hamas is left largely intact and able to rearm itself for the next outbreak of violence.

Jonathan Schachter, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote in a July 12 email to the Journal that such a “time-out” is not Israel’s endgame. That note came when Israel’s military activity was mostly limited to air strikes.

Steinitz said during the conference call that ground forces still need several more days to destroy all the tunnels that Israeli intelligence identified, adding his disapproval of public figures and media outlets that claim support for Israel’s operation, but choose to focus instead on the civilian casualties caused by many of its air strikes and shelling.

“The duty of self-defense doesn’t disappear if the terrorists choose to attack you from civilian neighborhoods,” Steinitz said, alluding to Hamas’ strategy of operating out of homes, hospitals, schools and United Nations buildings in order to both dissuade Israeli attacks and, Steinitz said, sacrifice innocent Gazans “if it serves their purpose.”

Steinitz said that even taking into consideration the U.S. Army’s wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, the IDF is doing more than any other democratic country to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza.

Prepared to “enlarge the ground operation” in a “dramatic” manner in order to destroy the rest of Hamas’ military infrastructure, Steinitz showed no indication that Israel is prepared to let up, particularly if Hamas continues to fire dozens or hundreds of rockets a day.

Steinitz’s comments were preceded by those of David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, and IAC Board Chair Shawn Evenhaim. They came just hours after multiple explosions killed at least 16 Palestinians at a UN school in Gaza. Although initial reports blamed Israel for the incident, The New York Times reported that a UN official in Gaza could not be sure whether it was Israeli or Hamas munitions that struck the building.

The nearly three-week conflict has taken the lives of about 750 Palestinians — 200 of them Hamas members — and 35 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Although Steinitz said that demilitarization of Gaza is the only solution that would guarantee lasting calm, he did not discuss how that could be accomplished or why Hamas, which aims for Israel’s destruction, would agree to disarm itself.

If Israeli political and military leaders ultimately decided that reoccupation of Gaza would be the only way to maintain quiet on its southern border, it would mark a drastic shift from the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision in 2005 to unilaterally withdraw from the territory, evicting nearly 9,000 Israelis who were living in settlements.

That withdrawal set the stage for the ascendancy of Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006 and then violently routed the Palestinian Authority — also known as Fatah — from the Gaza Strip in 2007 in its successful attempt at de facto control of the coastal enclave.

If Israel does decide to retake Gaza or destroy Hamas, one listener asked during the conference call, who will govern the territory and its nearly 2 million inhabitants?

“If we will decide, finally, to recapture Gaza and topple this terrorist machine, I assume Abu Mazen will take over,” Steinitz said, referring to the Arabic name of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

A poll released July 23, though, by the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research & Development, indicated that nearly twice as many Palestinians in the West Bank support Hamas over Fatah.

Violence at pro-Israel rally underscores passion over Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A sea of bodies jumped up and down to the beat of Israeli dance music. Tiny Israeli flags flapped in the sky. 

On July 13, an Israel solidarity event organized by Stand With Us and the Israeli American Council (IAC) drew between 1,200 and 2,000 people — depending on who’s counting — who showed up in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood to demonstrate their support for Israel. 

Across the street, on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard, some 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered for a counter-protest. 

At around 5:30 p.m., 90 minutes into the pro-Israel rally, violence overshadowed the festive atmosphere when a clash broke out between pro-Israel demonstrators and a group of pro-Palestinian men driving a pickup truck eastward on Wilshire, where Israel demonstrators lined the north-facing sidewalk.

According to eyewitnesses, everything started innocently enough. 

“Cars were going very slowly on Wilshire, most of them had Jewish flags and music playing, and it was almost in a way like a festival — we were responding to them and singing with them, and it was very relaxed,” eyewitness and Beth Jacob Congregation member Batia Zimmerman said in an interview with the Journal. “Once in a while, a [pro-]Palestinian car would drive by, and we would yell at each other — we’d say, ‘Am Yisra’el Chai’ — and they’d look at us, and they’d yell something at us” but nothing more.

“And there is one car, and it’s a truck, they have a large Palestinian flag hanging out of their car, so of course, somebody [on the pro-Israel side] was boiling … something angered them [the pro-Palestinians in the truck] and … in a split second this happened, they all jumped out of their car waving … sticks and lunging at us.” 

“When police became aware of the situation, they came to the front line. Security came in and got smacked two to three times with a wooden pole, and everybody was screaming and running and people were moving back,” Barry Poltorak, an off-duty Los Angeles County deputy sheriff who witnessed the incident, said in an in-person interview minutes after the incident occurred. “I moved up to back up the security guy.”

Jennifer Sabet, who identified herself in an email to the Journal as a “46-year-old Jewish woman, pro-Zionist,” said she witnessed the pro-Israel side starting the fight after someone grabbed a Palestinian flag from the truck and began stomping on it.

“The reason the [pro-]Palestinian men got out of their truck in the first place was in direct response to a pro-Israel supporter running up to their vehicle on Wilshire and taking one of their flags from out of their hands, and throwing it on the asphalt, repeatedly stomping up and down on it in front of them,” Sabet wrote in an email. 

Amid the chaos, the pro-Palestinian men returned to their vehicle. According to Poltorak, a law enforcement official grabbed the back of the pickup truck. 

“When [the pickup truck] … gained speed, the police officer could no longer hang on,” Poltorak said. 

The officer ordered the men to stop, but they kept driving, and the officer fired at the truck, he said. 

Shortly after the incident, authorities pulled over the pickup truck and arrested four pro-Palestinian demonstrators, Mostadafa Gamaleldin Hafez, 19; Haddah Mustapha Kreidieh, 41; Mohammed Said Elkhatib, 35; and Fadi Ali Obeidallah, 38; who now face charges of assault with a deadly weapon, according to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department news release. Authorities released the men on July 14 after they each posted a $30,000 bond, the release said.

Meanwhile, the still-to-be-identified Federal Protective Services (FPS) officer who fired his weapon has been put on paid leave as a result of his action. His firearm has also been taken into custody.

“An FPS law enforcement officer on-site attempted to stop the four male suspects who were attempting to flee the scene in a vehicle, and discharged one round from his service weapon,” FPS spokesperson Jacqueline Yost said in a statement.

FPS requested an ambulance for a girl who allegedly was struck by the four males, Yost said. There were no other serious injuries, witnesses said. 

As for the gunshot, Edmon Rodman, a Jewish Journal contributor who was at the rally, said he was surprised by the officer’s decision to fire, “given how close the crowd was.”

“The people around didn’t have any strong reaction. I am not sure if they understood what had just happened,” he said in an email.

The pro-Israel rally took place as violence was escalating in the weeklong conflict between Israel and Hamas-run Gaza in the wake of the killing of three Israeli teens and one Arab boy. Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to missiles from Gaza. As of early this week, more than 100 Palestinians have died as a result of the operation. Israel has suffered only one casualty, attesting to the effectiveness of the country’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. 

At the rally, many high-profile speakers addressed the crowd. Israeli actress Noa Tishby directly addressed Israel’s critics who have pointed to the imbalance in casualties. “What is a ‘proportionate response’ to [hundreds of] rockets being launched on you?” she said.

Lihi Shaar, the aunt of one of the teens whose murder sparked the current conflict, spoke to the crowd, as did Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel; Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz; L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer; Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier and other leaders from the Los Angeles community. StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein served as moderator of a speakers’ program. 

Attendees crowded the lawn at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, and many stood on platforms to see above the crowd and catch glimpses of the speakers. 

A festive tone was struck, as well, by musicians brought in by the IAC, one of the co-organizers of the event. When the DJs spun high-energy music, which blared from large speakers next to their booth, the crowd went wild: At times, the day resembled a dance party more than a community rally in the face of war.

Pro-Israel demonstrators lined the edge of the north-facing sidewalk, their bodies pressed up against banners, hands holding high their pro-Israel signs. At times, they appeared engaged in a competition with the counter-protest across the street over who could chant the loudest. 

After the fight that led to the gunshot, several law enforcement agencies worked together to shut down Wilshire Boulevard from Sepulveda Boulevard to Gayley Avenue.

Dozens of law enforcement personnel, including some wearing riot gear, arrived on the scene after the incident, but the rallies did not end right away. Authorities escorted the Israeli rally to the Federal Building parking lot, but not before law enforcement broke up a much smaller scuffle that erupted on Veteran Avenue, across the street from the parking lot where authorities were escorting pro-Israel demonstrators to their cars.

Authorities cleared out both rallies by 7 p.m.

Because the incident occurred as the pro-Israel rally’s speakers program already was underway, many event organizers did not know about the fight until after the rally was over. The sound of the gunshot was drowned out by the music, the speakers’ amplified voices, and the cheering and chanting of the crowd. 

Community members from across the city attended the rally.

Aimy Zodieru, a paralegal and a member of Nessah Synagogue, said the State of Israel faces tough choices in determining how to respond to the rocket fire from Gaza. 

“I think what they’re doing is the best decision they can make, considering the circumstances in Gaza. I just feel really badly for the families in Sderot and the innocent civilians in Gaza,” she said, wearing a tiny
Israeli flag tucked behind each ear. 

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe also attended the rally. During a phone interview, Wolpe said that the fight shows how polarizing the conflict can be, even thousands of miles away from the action. 

“It’s just frightening, and this is in the most peaceful possible setting — in Westwood, in Los Angeles,” he told the Journal.

Moving & Shaking: Hallelujah Global Jewish Singing Contest, Zane Buzby honored, Aish L.A. Gala

The Hallelujah Global Jewish Singing Contest had its North American semifinal competition on June 17 at The Mark, an event space in Pico-Robertson. Ameet Kanon of Tarzana and Max Subar of Los Angeles tied for first place and will be heading to the finals in Israel in December. 

The final contest is broadcast on national television in Israel and includes 30 winners of semifinal competitions from across the world. The overall winner receives $8,000 and a recording of his or her own single in Israel, according to the competition’s website. 

The Israeli American Council (IAC) funded, sponsored and produced the semifinal event in Los Angeles, which was attended by 500 people. Twelve contestants from across the United States took part. 

Dikla Kadosh, director of community events and volunteering for the IAC, who produced the semifinal competition, said the IAC had been working on the event since September. “It was one of our biggest events of the year,” she said.

At left, from left: Hallelujah founder and producer Eitan Gafni, musical director Tomer Adaddi, IAC community events director Dikla Kadosh, winners Ameet Kanon and Max Subar, and emcee Mike Burstyn.

But it was the quality of the participants that made the evening truly special, she said.

“If the singers aren’t amazing, it all falls apart; it doesn’t matter how hard you work to put it together,” Kadosh said. “It all just came together perfectly. I sat in the audience behind the judges and watched, and I was just amazed.”

The competition featured 12 local judges who, Kadosh said, “had a very strong background in music or who are representative of our community.” The panel included chair of the IAC board Shawn Evenhaim, musicians Misha Segal and Craig Taubman, and Kelly Shepard, department chair of performing arts for grades 9-12 at Milken Community Schools. Mike Burstyn, an actor with a long career in Yiddish theater, served as emcee. 

Israeli music producer Eitan Gafni founded the contest in Israel in the early 1990s to create a stronger connection between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. This year’s event was the first North American semifinal competition. After this year’s success, Kadosh said, “It’s almost certain that we’re going to have two semifinals in the United States next year, probably in Los Angeles and New York, and we will be sponsoring and producing those two events.

“It wasn’t just an entertaining evening, it was a moving evening, because the list of songs are classic Israeli songs. And you see these young people — they’re all between the ages of 18 and 30 — bringing their own interpretation to these classic songs, and the audience was singing along with them. It gave me goosebumps.”

— Cora Markowitz, Contributing Writer

Zane Buzby. Photo courtesy of CNN 

A local hero’s work is getting a global spotlight. Last month, CNN heralded Hollywood director and philanthropist/Holocaust survivor advocate Zane Buzby as part of its 2014 CNN Heroes television special.

Buzby is the founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project (, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that has provided 2,000 Holocaust survivors across Eastern Europe with financial assistance, friendship and more. Survivors in eight countries, including Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia, Slovakia and parts of Russia, are currently receiving assistance from the organization.

“The saddest thing for me is future generations will look back at 2014 and kids are going to say, ‘You mean, there were Holocaust survivors still suffering 75 years after the start of the war?’ And we are going to have to say, ‘Yes, there were, but when we found out about it, we helped,’ “ Buzby told the Journal.

The cable network included her as part of a feature that highlighted 12 Americans doing good works helping others. The honorees are  “everyday people changing the world,” according to

A successful television director, Buzby was inspired to action after a 2001 trip to Eastern Europe in search of her grandparents’ birthplace. The excursion into the shtetl-like neighborhoods of Belarus brought her face to face with poverty-stricken, elderly survivors of the Shoah. Since the trip to Belarus, she has spent years donating her own money and collecting funds to send to Eastern European survivors. The organization became a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2009. 

Providing emergency aid to survivors for essentials such as food, heat and medication is just one of many elements of the organization, according to Buzby. By writing personal letters with the help of volunteer translators, her organization also tries to mitigate the loneliness that so many in that community suffer through.

CNN debuted the video segment about Buzby on June 6 and published an accompanying piece, titled “For Holocaust survivors, letters are lifesaving,” on its website on June 11.

From left: Jewish Women’s Initiative associate director Sharon Shenker, Aish Los Angeles honorees Sheri Levy and Phyllis Shinbane, and Jewish Women’s Initiative director Chana Heller. Photo courtesy of Aish LA 

The annual Aish Los Angeles Gala celebrated programs and distributed awards that focus on connecting Jews to Judaism and to each other at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 21.

Jack and Linda Nourafshan, Kambiz and Lily Babaoff, and Roy and Nahal Rayn were honored for their date-to-marry singles program, Soul Search, which provides a way to meet other singles and create healthy marriages.

Sheri Levy and Phyllis Shinbane received the Leadership Award for the award-winning cookbook “Try It, You’ll Like It,” which they created with other Jewish Women’s Initiative members, and which raised approximately $25,000 to fund the scholarship program that sends mothers to Israel “to bring Jewish wisdom, morality and ethics into the home,” according to Rabbi Aryeh Markman, executive director of Aish LA.

The event attracted 950 attendees, including 300 singles under the age of 35 who were part of the young professional programs MyAish, Aish Ignite and NextGen, according to an Aish statement. Producer and writer Saul Blinkoff emceed the event. 

Markman spoke of the Aish Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israel campus activism program whose trips to Israel for students recently became the subject of controversy at UCLA. In May, a letter was circulated asking candidates for positions in the university’s student government not to be part of such trips.

The evening ended with keynote speaker Charlie Harary, CEO of H3 & Co., an advisory and investment company in
New York.

Aish’s goal is to get Jewish people involved on their own terms. The organization hosts classes and programs for different age groups to promote Judaism, leaving the level of engagement up to the participant.

— Michelle Chernack, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

‘Hallelujah’ brings Israeli song to the American stage

For a country less than a century old, Israel has produced a remarkably deep trove of popular music.  From the pre-statehood years of Shoshana Damari and Moshe Vilensky to the post independence music of Naomi Shemer and Sasha Argov, up to the present where acts like Idan Reichel and Hadag Nahash have found success in Israel and abroad, Israel has always been a musical land.  Israelis have never been shy about competition either, winning the Eurovision contest on three occasions, and it's in that proud tradition that the Hallelujah Global Jewish Singing Contest is searching for the next generation of Jewish music stars.  On June 17th, Hallelujah will hold a semifinal in Los Angeles to decide which of twelve competitors will go on to represent the US at the contest in Israel this summer.

Dikla Kadosh, the director of community events at the Israeli American Council (IAC), which is co-sponsoring the Los Angeles event with Marvin Markowitz, of The Mark, is excited that Hallelujah chose Los Angeles as the city to stage its American finals.  Hallelujah's “existed for over twenty years, and it took a long, long hiatus, and now it's back,” said Kadosh recently at the IAC's offices in Woodland Hills.

Hallelujah was founded by Eitan Gafni, a longtime Israeli music producer who's worked with artists like Mati Caspi  and Sholomo Artzi, among others.  He founded Hallelujah in 1992, and it ran for three years, but was canceled after that due to a lack of funding.  The competition restarted in 2011 and has been running ever since.

According to Kadosh, Hallelujah is not simply an American Idol or The Voice knockoff, it's something special.   “It's not just another singing competition, the whole point is to bring Jews from all over the world and to get them familiar with Israeli culture and the Hebrew language.”

The Los Angeles competition will be held on June 17th at 7pm at The Mark in Pico Robertson.  The twelve contestants, many of whom are locals, but some of whom are being flown in from the East Coast for the competition, will each perform a song in Hebrew which will be judged by a panel of twelve judges that includes musicians Craig Taubman and Misha Segal, as well as people like Ofer Mazar, a consular official from the Israeli Consulate.  The judges will secretly score each contestant after their performance, and the winner will be given a free trip to Israel to compete in the world finals.

Kadosh says the Israel trip will be a special experience for the American winner.  The trip is nearly three weeks long, but according to Kadosh, “they're not just sitting and rehearsing for 19 days,” the contestants will visit Yad Vashem, meet with Israeli artists and officials, and get to visit other sites of interest in the country as well. 

The organizers hope to get a crowd of at least 500 people for the Los Angeles competition and they have priced the tickets cheap at $5 in hopes of making sure everyone who wants to come and see the show has a chance to get in. 

Kadosh says the Israeli consulate has been fully behind the effort.  “They think it's a great idea.  It's a great way to bring people together.  It's a great way to use Israeli culture as a connector.” Though she was quick to add that “This event has no political agenda, no religious agenda.”

Kadosh hopes that people who come will see the amazing artistry and musical history that Israel has produced and that they will perhaps feel more connected to the country.  “Israel's working really hard to get publicity out about the good things we have to offer,” said Kadosh, who thinks the Hallelujah semifinals won't just be a good time, they'll be a great time.

For tickets to the Hallelujah Semi-Finals, visit

Noam Shalit relives his son’s traumatic kidnapping

Everyone knows the story of Gilad Shalit, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier kidnapped by Hamas in Gaza in 2006 and freed five years later. But what about his family?

The former captive’s father, Noam Shalit, told a crowd of more than 100 people on May 21 that the drawn-out ordeal made him disenchanted with the Israeli government, finding politics came before the welfare of his son. His speech was part of an Israeli American Council (IAC) event in Tarzana.

Shalit said that a turning point in the negotiation process for his son’s release arrived after the Shalit family began relying on grassroots activism to raise awareness for their cause. Still, he did praise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making the prisoner-exchange deal that ultimately led to the release. 

Today, Shalit said, Gilad Shalit, 27, is trying to live like any other 20-something. He is studying at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, avoids the media and has a girlfriend.

“He knows his life will never be the same, but he is reclaiming the life he lost for five years,” Shalit said at the event.

The story did not always seem like it would have a happy ending. Several prime minister-appointed hostage negotiators failed to make any progress on the case, including one that could not read a map of the Gaza Strip, where Gilad Shalit was being held captive, according to Noam Shalit. And there were many distractions — including a war with Lebanon and Netanyahu succeeding Ehud Olmert as prime minister — that slowed progress.

All the while, the Shalit family couldn’t help but remember what had happened to Ron Arad, an Israeli air force navigator who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and taken prisoner. According to Shalit, Arad’s family told him that the Israeli government asked them to remain quiet and let the government work toward Arad’s release.

Arad hasn’t been heard from in more than 25 years, according to media reports.

The Shalit family decided not to let that happen to their son. In 2010, they organized a much-publicized protest march including a group camped outside Netanyahu’s home, which garnered the participation of thousands of Israelis. The support of the Israeli people, Shalit said, was a big deal.

From left: On May 21, Gilad Shalit’s father, Noam Shalit (fourth from left) is joined by (from left) Israeli American Council (IAC) board member Yossi Rabinovitz, IAC chairman Shawn Evenhaim, IAC board member Danny Alpert, IAC director of community events Dikla Kadosh and IAC CEO Sagi Balasha. Photo by Ryan Torok

“The feeling that the country was behind us was overwhelming. … What started as a lonely crusade turned into a mass movement,” he said. 

Shalit struck a decidedly calm and grateful tone throughout the course of the evening in Tarzana, which took place at the home of Mirit and Yossi Rabinovitz. The latter is an IAC board member. 

The evening, one of many engagements Shalit is making as part of a speaking tour throughout Jewish communities in North America, consisted of a reception, a brief introductory video, remarks by the speaker and a Q-and-A moderated by Dikla Kadosh, director of community events and volunteering of the IAC. Several in the crowd were Israeli-American parents of “lone soldiers,” enlistees who come to Israel to serve in the IDF. 

Woodland Hills resident Rami Ben Moshe, whose daughter, Karen, traveled to Israel and served in the army, said the incident with Gilad Shalit did not deter him from allowing his daughter to join.

“I don’t think any Israeli would not send their kid to the army because of that. It’s like asking an Israeli if they would not eat at a restaurant because of terrorist attacks. … Of course, as parents, we always worry,” he said. 

Moshe, who is  Israeli, said he had attended the event because the story is “very close to all of us, all of our [Israeli] hearts.” 

He added that Shalit’s occasionally anti-government tone was surprising. 

“I can understand the pain. It was a very challenging situation for the government, and in the end, the results speak for themselves,” he said. 

Kadosh, who organized the event, told the Journal that all Israelis feel closeness with the Shalits. 

“There are very few Israelis anywhere in the world who don’t know the name Gilad Shalit,” she said, adding that she would always remember where she was on the occasion of his release. 

“It’s one of those things — unfortunate things, like the JFK shooting,” she said. “People will always remember where they were when Gilad Shalit came home. For Israelis, it’s that big of a deal, absolutely.”

Flavors of Jewish homeland savored at Celebrate Israel Fest

Israeli-American Council expands to Las Vegas

The Israeli-American Council has established an office in Las Vegas as part of a drive to expand from its Los Angeles base to U.S. cities with major concentrations of Israeli expatriates.

Miriam Adelson, born in Haifa and the wife of billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, is chair of the new IAC Las Vegas regional council established this week.

Inauguration of the Las Vegas office comes on the heels of similar openings in Miami and Boston.

“The Israeli-American Council is changing the landscape of the Jewish community in America … through the full spectrum of educational, cultural, traditional and social programming,” Miriam Adelson said of the inauguration. “We are always thinking of strengthening the Jewish and Israeli identity of future generations and their endless support for the State of Israel.”

IAC’s three-fold mission is to support Israel, strengthen Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and enhance communication between the Israeli-American and the more established Jewish-American communities.

An estimated 10,000 Israeli expatriates live in Nevada, primarily in the Las Vegas area, and one of the new office’s first projects is to promote the community celebration of Israel Independence Day.

The IAC was founded in Los Angeles in 2007 by a group of Israeli-American businessmen as the Israeli Leadership Club. Last year it changed its name to Israeli-American Council. It had a presence at this year’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington.

Among its major programs are the Israel Independence Festival; Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which distributes Hebrew children’s books throughout the United States; Mishelanu, setting up leadership groups on college campuses; and Tzav 8, which organizes activists to participate in demonstrations and pro-Israel activities.

Estimates of the number of Israelis and their children in the United States vary widely, from 500,000 to IAC’s figure of 800,000.

Amir Eden, a veteran educator and community activist, has been named regional director of the new IAC office for Nevada.

IAC to aid community seders

The Israeli American Council (IAC) is seeking volunteers for its IAC-Care program to assist with several upcoming community seders.

The area seders will be held at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services in West Los Angeles (March 30), B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Pico-Robertson (March 30), Westside JCC in West Los Angeles (April 11) and Chabad of Northridge (April 15).

“We look for organizations that are already hosting seders for a variety of different populations,” said Dikla Kadosh, director of community events and volunteering for the IAC. “We are bringing our volunteers to help facilitate it, lower the cost, bring some good cheer, some Israeliness to those seders.” 

Volunteers can be age 12 and up. Those who register to take part (which can be done at will help set up, serve, clean up and socialize. They might also receive free tickets through a drawing to attend the Celebrate Israel Festival at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (Rancho Park) on May 18. 

Kadosh said the mission of IAC-Care is to encourage tikkun olam (healing the world) through monthly programs.

“We’re sort of a broker to help push people to tikkun olam,” she said. “We try to really cover a large range of subjects.” 

The IAC’s goal, according to its Web site, is to “build an active and giving Israeli-American community throughout the United States in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community.”

Israeli-American Council expands to Miami

The Los Angeles-based Israeli American Council (IAC), which sponsors activities targeted for the Israeli-American community, has expanded to open an office in Miami as part of a “national growth plan” first previewed in September.  Florida, and particularly the region around Miami, is home to an estimated 30,000 Israelis, according to the IAC.

“The IAC was approached by community leaders, activists and volunteers in Miami, who were willing to donate their time and make financial contributions to form a local IAC regional council, in order to build an Israeli American community in Miami, bring IAC programs and support existing activities and programs in their community,” Shawn Evenheim, IAC national chairman, said in a press release.

The IAC also aims to build bridges between Israeli and Jewish Americans. Its Los Angeles community programs have included an annual Yom HaAtzmaut festival at Rancho Park in Los Angeles, which draws thousands of attendees.

‘Israeliness’ may be the answer for secular American Jews

The recent Pew survey of American Jews caused a flutter in the organized Jewish community.

The survey raises a number of questions about the efficacy of Jewish institutions, leaving professionals and donors alike in a position of uncertainty regarding their investments in the Jewish future. But while traditional American Jewish organizations regroup, a growing movement in the community remains largely overlooked.

In major metro areas across the United States such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Boston, Israeli-American organizations are popping up and growing in popularity. Programs centered on Israeli culture and Jewish identity for families, young adults and children have swelling appeal.

Participation in these Israeli-American organizations is increasing rapidly, and not only among Israeli expats and their children. American Jews join Israeli programs related to Hebrew language, Jewish education, and creating connectedness to Israel through the arts, music, literature, and tradition.

The American way of practicing Judaism is largely based on attending synagogues and affiliating with religious congregations across the denominations. What it does not offer are substantial alternatives for Jewish involvement in a secular way. The phenomenon of growing Israeli communal life in the United States offers a new model for American secular Jews to express their Judaism without needing to belong to a synagogue or religious institution.

In Los Angeles, the Israeli American Council (IAC) reached more than 50,000 members of the Israeli-American community last year with its Israeli-tailored programming. The organization’s flagship event, the Celebrate Israel festival — now the largest Jewish festival in North America — turned out about 15,000 people, half Israeli-Americans and half American Jews.

Other Israeli-style holiday festivals with a focus on family activities, Israeli performances, and Israeli or Jewish customs attract thousands and reflect a similar demographic split.

The trend continues through the young professional program BINA, targeting the age group of American Jews who are least connected to Judaism according to the Pew report. The IAC’s success, in fact, led to its recent expansion across the United States.

American Jews in New York have also recently been showing a growing interest in Israeli educational programs, such as “Israeliness” at the 92nd Street Y, among others.

Upon a closer look, perhaps these developing programs, which are almost entirely secular in nature, are the new avenue for secular American Jews to connect to their Jewish identity.

The Pew results revealed that 70 percent of American Jews feel very attached or somewhat attached to Israel, and more than 60 percent believe Judaism is about culture, ancestry and identity. What better environment to cultivate those feelings and transform them into strong connectedness to one’s Jewish roots than among secular Israelis?

Although Israelis living in the United States may have left the Jewish nation state, many maintain their deep love of Israel. And they do everything they can to ensure their children will inherit that love through Hebrew culture, Jewish knowledge and political awareness. As Israeli expats strive to instill a secular Israeli identity in the next generation, many American Jews find themselves relating. Perhaps it is the “Israeliness” rather than the Jewishness of this community that attracts them, making organized cultural Judaism accessible in a new and relevant way.

American Jewish leaders have responded to the Pew survey with a number of calls, including alternative venues for Jewish identity.

Well, look no further. The Israeli-American community may just be the answer.

Miri Belsky is the chief operating officer of the Israeli American Council ( Copyright Religion News Service. Reprinted with permission. 

Sukkot celebration goes global

Some 2,000 people gathered at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills on Sept. 22 to celebrate Sukkot by building solar-powered race cars, creating sukkah decorations and belly dancing — all while eating global cuisine.

The second annual event, Sukkot Around the World, was organized by the Israeli American Council (IAC) and featured a food court with delicacies from a variety of countries in tapas-style portions, including Persian kabobs, Japanese sushi, Italian pasta, Israeli falafel, Mexican burritos and French pastries.

“The reason behind doing this event toward the evening is to give families the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of having a meal in the sukkah,” said Dikla Kadosh, IAC’s director of community events and volunteering. “The two large sukkot are designated just for eating so that the community can enjoy dinner together under the stars.”

Numerous other sukkot represented various Jewish communities from countries around the world, such as Israel, the United States, France, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Yemen, the Netherlands, Spain and India, with each providing an educational activity. Visitors were able to build a solar-powered racecar — and take it home with them — learn how to belly dance with a private instructor and take photos wearing hats from around the world. There were soccer games, edible sukkot and henna tattoos. 

Among the crowd was the Rifkin family of Woodland Hills, who said that Sukkot is one of their favorite holidays, reminding them of Thanksgiving and being grateful for things like the outdoors. 

“Having these types of events is important, especially how these events tie into the Jewish community,” parent Fran Rifkin said. “The craft activities are relevant to the holiday, and they help reinforce Jewish concepts and Judaism, and meaning of the events. Crafts speak to young children better than just trying to tell them [about a holiday] — it’s more hands-on, and I like that.”

Yonit Harounian of Los Angeles enjoyed the Yemen booth and creating golden hamsa souvenirs to bring home. With two children, 3 and 7, Harounian said she appreciated the many opportunities for her children to work creatively and hands-on with things related to Israel and the holidays.

“I love the fact that they are able to have fun and be kids at an event like this,” she said. “I love that they integrate everything — learning about the sukkah, learning about holidays — it brings everything together.”

Entertainment at the festival included dancers and two singers, Meshi Kleinstein, who is the daughter of Rita and Rami Kleinstein — two of Israel’s most famous singers — and Gilat Rapaport, an Israeli-American singer who is from the local community. Other performances were from the Los Angeles Israeli Dance Company of Milken Community High School under the direction of David Dassa, who performed dances from three different cultures. 

The festival was co-sponsored by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, Shevet Chen, the Shalom Institute, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Kadima Day School, the Israeli consulate, Hebrew Discovery Center and MATI, the Israeli Community Center. 

Next year, Kadosh said, the festival is expected to move to Woodley Park in Van Nuys, which is a bigger, more centrally located park.