The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education recognized Valley Torah Girls High School students Adina Ziv (third from left), Meital Shafgi (fourth from left) and Aviya Gaviel (fifth from left) on May 18. Photo courtesy of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education

Moving and Shaking: HUC benefit gala, Schoenberg and IKAR come of age


The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) fourth annual benefit gala, held at the Skirball Cultural Center on May 16, honored Peachy Levy, Rhea Coskey, Rochelle Ginsburg and other women leaders of the Western region.

Levy sits on the board of overseers of the HUC-JIR Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. Coskey became involved with HUC-JIR when her daughter, Laurie, entered rabbinical school, and she went on to mentor students and chair the school’s advisory board. Ginsburg is the chair of the HUC-JIR’s national school of education advisory council.

Sally Priesand, an HUC-JIR ordinee who in 1972 became the first woman rabbi to be ordained in America, was featured in the ceremonies.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion honored (from left) Peachy Levy, Rhea Coskey and Rochelle Ginsburg at its fourth annual benefit gala. Photo by Edo Tsoar

The more than 430 attendees included Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Laura Geller; Leo Baeck Temple Rabbi Ken Chasen; Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger; Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin and his husband, Temple Akiba Rabbi Zachary Shapiro; Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback; and Shana Penn, executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture.

“It was our biggest turnout ever,” HUC-JIR Public Affairs Associate Joanne Tolkoff told the Journal.

Proceeds from the event benefit HUC-JIR students and faculty.

Founded in 1875, HUC-JIR is a Reform seminary focused on academic, spiritual and professional leadership development, with campuses in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati and Jerusalem.


“From Generation to Generation,” a community celebration concert, was held May 25 at Sinai Temple on the occasion of Joseph Schoenberg becoming a bar mitzvah. Approximately 1,200 people attended.

His parents, Pamela and Randol Schoenberg, sponsored the event, which was held in memory of Joseph’s great-grandfathers, composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl.

Participants in the musical program included conductor Nick Strimple, associate professor of choral and sacred music at the USC Thornton School of Music and an expert on the works of composers persecuted by the Nazis. Strimple led the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale. Additional participants were Los Angeles Voices, the BodyTraffic dance company, and London-based pianist and organist Iain Farrington.

BodyTraffic, which included new addition Natalie Leibert, performed to liturgical works for chorus and organ by Schoenberg and Zeisl, and a newly commissioned work for chorus and organ by composer Samuel Adler.

Randol Schoenberg is an honorary director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. He is an attorney who has worked to retrieve artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, as was depicted in the film “Woman in Gold.”

Joseph, whose bar mitzvah was May 27, volunteered with Food Forward, which saves local produce that otherwise would go to waste, leading up to his bar mitzvah. He donated produce from his bar mitzvah weekend to hunger-relief agencies and, through the website reusablecenterpieces.org, had environmentally friendly centerpieces at his luncheon. 


celebration and fundraiser held in honor of the 13 years since the founding of the egalitarian spiritual community IKAR was held May 21 at Playa Studios in Culver City.

The “bat mitzvah” event raised about $370,000 and drew a crowd of more than 375 founders, members and supporters, including Richard and Ellen Sandler, Marvin and Sandy Schotland, and actress Lisa Edelstein.

The party had a 1980s theme, with music from that decade playing throughout the event. Attendees viewed a video retrospective on IKAR’s place in the community and were treated to a classic b’nai mitzvah-style candlelighting ceremony.

Attendees dressed in costumes that featured neon tights, blue eye shadow and other staples of ’80s fashion, with some guests invoking Ferris Bueller, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Mini Rubik’s Cubes, slap bracelets and centerpieces featuring jellybeans, malted milk balls, Reese’s Pieces and Good & Plenty candy adorned the tables. IKAR members Shelley and Steph Altman, who own Playa Studios, donated use of the venue, and Diana Kramer designed the interior theme, which featured full-size video game machines and other era-appropriate décor.

The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, director of clergy organizing with PICO National Network, the largest grass-roots, faith-based organizing network in the United States, offered words of welcome. “History is past, present and future all at the same time. We are all one people,” he said.

“It took a lot for us to get this thing off the ground, none of it with any assurance of success,” IKAR founding Rabbi Sharon Brous said. “Thank you for casting your lot with us. This is about fighting for civil society.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) West Region held community events on May 16 and 18 at the Westside Jewish Community Center.

On May 16, the CIJE Co-Ed Engineering Conference featured SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub as its keynote speaker. Addressing approximately 150 teenagers, Winetraub discussed how his organization is aiming to make Israel the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon. Additional speakers included Sari Katz, Western Region director for Rambam hospital in Israel. Katz announced a partnership between Rambam and CIJE that would provide a scholarship to students who develop an outstanding biomedical device in 2018.

Students from day schools in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle and Dallas attended.

“Nobody knows precisely what jobs will be around when you all graduate from college within the next eight to 10 years,” CIJE President Jason Cury told the students. “Which is why it’s so important to develop the skills which will be required, and to be prepared for whatever challenges and opportunities that present themselves.”

From Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine, students Mika Ben-Ezer, Zeke Levi and Julian Wiese received the Award for Innovation for their “Sonic Jacket,” which serves the visually impaired. Harkham-GAON Academy in Los Angeles students Aliza Leichter, Oze Botach and Shani Kassell won the Award of Social Value for designing a car seat that detects when a child is alone in the vehicle. And the Award for Best Visual Display went to Mendy Sacks, Aryeh Rosenbaum and Daniel Jackson from YULA Boys High School for a digital portable piano teacher known as “Teachapii.”

CIJE Vice President Jane Willoughby gave the closing remarks.

The May 18 Girls Engineering Conference drew students from YULA Girls High School and Valley Torah Girls High School.

In the keynote address, engineer Yvette Edidin discussed how “the different fields of engineering need and would benefit from more women,” a CIJE press release said.

Valley Torah’s Adina Ziv, Meital Shafgi and Aviya Gaviel were awarded Project of the Year for their sensor that detects when automobile drivers are getting sleepy and alerts them using a vibrating device.


At the 2017 ADL Entertainment Industry dinner, “Big Bang Theory” co-creator and ADL honoree Bill Prady (second from left) joins (from left) award presenter Wil Wheaton, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and event emcee Joshua Malina. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honored Bill Prady, co-creator and executive producer of “The Big Bang Theory,” at the 2017 ADL Entertainment Industry dinner on May 24 at the Beverly Hilton.

Actor Joshua Malina (“Scandal”) served as master of ceremonies and actor Wil Wheaton, a recurring guest star on “The Big Bang Theory,” presented the award to Prady.

“While preparing my remarks for this evening, I emailed Bill and asked him if it will be honest and accurate to tell you that Bill is an outspoken voice for the most vulnerable among us,” Wheaton said. “And Bill said, ‘There is no sentence that begins with, Bill has been vocal about — that is not true.’ ”

Prady, in his speech, talked about his childhood in Detroit.

“Anti-Semitism was a pretty abstract idea. I knew what it meant only from a distance,” he said. “I knew it from the punchline from a Woody Allen movie. Growing up in my Jewish Detroit suburb, I didn’t know anti-Semitism. And it’s not only that. For me, racism was something in social studies class. And hatred of immigrants? I never heard of such a thing. My world was filled with immigrants, so many that I thought that when you grow up, you have an accent. But I know all these things now. We hear it on the news, from our politicians, online.”

Prady explained why he is a supporter of the ADL, which was established in 1913 to combat hate and bigotry.

“After the election, I made a decision to change my personal focus from politics to the front line. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was battling the attack on freedom, and Planned Parenthood was fighting for women reproducing rights, but who was fighting to dig out the weed of hate that had taken root in modern technology? It was the Anti-Defamation League,” Prady said. “So I called them up and I asked what I can do to help. And they said to do this, and I said, ‘It’s going to be a pretty boring night.’ So, I called the Barenaked Ladies.”

The Canadian band, which wrote and recorded “The Big Bang Theory” theme song, provided the evening’s entertainment.

Additional speakers included An Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants and an ADL National Youth Leadership delegate.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

IKAR holds Kabbalat Shabbat at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills on the first Friday of each summer month. Photo by Scott Shulman

Here are 5 places you can pray outdoors this summer


What better place to find the Tree of Life than in nature? And what better spiritual guidebook than a siddur?

A number of congregations in the Greater Los Angeles area take Friday night services outside during the summer — singing nigunim on the sand in Malibu, shul-hopping on bicycles in Venice and picnicking before prayers at public parks. And if you’ve ever wanted to bring your dog to shul, this is probably your best opportunity.

Holding services outdoors has become a popular way for local synagogues to reinvigorate the prayer experience. With services stripped of the formality and physical constraints of a sanctuary, congregants can more vividly experience the wonders of God’s creation — or simply enjoy the Southern California weather in a Jewish context.

“Experiencing God in all the manifestations of nature, we find we are connected with the Creator,” said Cantor Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, which will meet at Westward Beach every Friday night from July 14 through Sept. 8.

The Friday night services with Gindlin include a live band, and usually more than 100 people attend, bringing picnics, blankets and beach chairs. The cantor begins at around 7, though many arrive earlier to set up and eat. “The dolphins show up when I sing ‘Shalom Aleichem,’ ” Gindlin said.

The Malibu congregation is not alone in taking advantage of the beach. Open Temple practices hitbodedut, a meditative form of prayer, at Venice Beach in August. The proceedings include traditional prayers, contemplative moments, and what Rabbi Lori Shapiro called “sound baths on the beach.” There’s also a gong.

Leonard Atlas, 54, said Open Temple’s outdoor programming is its most authentic.

“Being in nature is the purest form of prayer,” Atlas said. “With the sand under our feet, it feels like we’re in Sinai — but not quite in the desert.”

Open Temple also does a communal bike ride that makes stops at several area synagogues for different parts of the Friday night service. The riders sing nigunim on the road. This year’s Bike Shabbat Shul Crawl will be on July 21.

Other synagogues venture into the wilderness — or at least to the park.

On June 9 and July 14, Valley Outreach Synagogue will hold “Shabbat in the Park” at Oak Canyon Community Park in Agoura Hills. A crowd of 400 to 600 people, along with their pets, create a Hollywood Bowl-style amphitheater effect, says Rabbi Ron Li-Paz.

No beautiful sanctuary is as beautiful as the sky and the mountains and the trees,” he said.

Li-Paz also heralded the informality of the natural setting for its appeal to interfaith families. “A synagogue might be challenging for some families to walk through the doors, just as a church might be,” he said. The casual, kibbutz-like atmosphere of Shabbat in the Park can be more inviting to non-Jewish family members.

But the appeal of praying outdoors is universal, says Loren Witkin, 50. He and his family have come to Shabbat in the Park for several years. Witkin noticed that his sons, who had had difficulty connecting to Judaism in their early adolescence, enjoyed a more laid-back presentation of the religion.

“The kids — they’re building memories and an experience that will draw them back in,” he said. “It gives you optimism for the future because we know how disengaged [young] people are becoming from their congregations. Seeing all these young people having a good time together reinforces some sense that this is going to continue.”

The spiritual appeal of praying in nature goes beyond the pleasure of a good view. There are actual references to nature in the liturgy, explained Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva, a prayer community that meets once a month in Brentwood.

“We sing so many songs about nature [in regular prayers], but you say them inside a building,” Levy said. “The re-creation of each day, and seeing God in the heavens and the sky — to take all those prayers and put them where they were probably written, by someone who was in nature, experiencing the majesty of God in nature … [one can] really feel the power of the words.”

Nashuva holds services at the beach on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and in a Temescal Canyon meadow on the second day. There’s a band, and members are encouraged to bring their own instruments.

“It just feels like nature is waking us up from all the enclosures of our lives,” Levy added.

IKAR holds an outdoor service at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills on the first Friday of each summer month. An abridged Kabbalat Shabbat starting at 6:15 p.m. is preceded by a communal picnic (bring your own), followed by a group discussion led by Rabbi Nate DeGroot that is targeted for a young professional audience.

Convening outdoors eases a lot of the social pressures of praying that are inherent to more conventional settings, said Matthew Weintraub, assistant executive director at IKAR.

“When you walk into a room, it’s easy to look around and see who’s sitting where and who are the people who you know,” Weintraub said. “But when you go outside and people are socializing informally, laughing and connecting, and then going right into a service from [that place of] comfort, it prevents barriers to entry from forming. It doesn’t feel so closed off.”

The bottom line, as it often is in California, is the weather.

“People want to get out and enjoy the summer months and it being light outside for longer,” Weintraub said. “Being able to come in shorts and flip-flops and have a meal and a prayer experience — it just feels different.”

President Donald Trump displays an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty on May 4. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump acts on politics in the pulpit with executive order


President Donald Trump’s executive order to weaken a prohibition against religious and other nonprofit organizations from endorsing political candidates has driven a wedge between Jewish religious leaders. Some cite it as a victory for First Amendment rights while others view it as a threat to the separation of church and state.

The prohibition is a 1954 provision to the federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations from certain political activities.

On one side of Trump’s action are clergy, such as Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who argue that religious leaders should speak out on issues they support. Hier once was censured by the Federal Elections Commission for violating the prohibition.

“We should fully honor the separation of church and state, but that has nothing to do with giving a sermon,” said Hier, who led the prayer at the White House ceremony on May 4 when Trump signed the order and who spoke at the president’s inauguration. “When you’re a rabbi or a priest, and you feel strongly about an issue, you can name names! And you can say don’t vote for him! It wouldn’t be such an aveira,” he said, using the biblical Hebrew word for sin.

Other Jewish leaders and institutions, however, expressed dismay at the order, saying it sanctioned oppressive behavior and undermined the role of clergy as unifying figures. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), a social justice advocacy group representing 900 Reform congregations across the United States, called the order “dangerously broad.”

Rabbi Joel Simonds, the RAC’s West Coast director of policy and associate rabbi at University Synagogue, said that while the pulpit should be used to rally against injustice, “justice isn’t partisan.”

“There are plenty of organizations and communities that can be partisan and that can speak out,” Simonds said. “But we have a unique place in our society and in our community to not dehumanize the other … and to preserve that safeguard [between church and state].”

The Johnson Amendment is named for then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who later became vice president and president. It forbids nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates, contributing to election campaigns or otherwise influencing legislation with public statements. Violating organizations may see their tax-exempt status revoked — although the Internal Revenue Service has seldom enforced the rule.

It does not prevent religious organizations from expressing views intended to support one side of an issue.

The president’s executive order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” instructed the Treasury Department not to single out religious organizations for speaking “about moral or political issues from a religious perspective” when similar activity would not be considered a violation by a secular nonprofit.

The language used in the order was a relief for those concerned that Trump favored granting religious institutions even wider latitude. In February, he had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Only Congress can fully repeal it.)

For those who had anticipated a more drastic measure, there still was plenty to dislike about the president’s action.

“I’m concerned about what drove this executive order,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of the synagogue IKAR. “I believe that if this administration were really concerned about religious freedom, that this would not be the step that one would see.”

Brous pointed to the rising tides of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as issues of religious freedom that demanded action from the White House.

“There are actual vulnerable religious minorities in the country right now that need protection, and this executive order is a bit of a dance with the players who created the ‘War on Christmas’ in order to play to the [conservative] base, and to create the sense that we are getting the back of those religious figures,” she said.

The order also directs federal agencies to consider amending the mandatory inclusion of birth control in health insurance policies offered by private employers, a change widely sought by the religious right.

The Orthodox Union (OU), a national organization that supports the Orthodox Jewish community, applauded the order for giving people the right to incorporate personal religious views into workplace policy.

Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for policy, said supporting religious freedom had been a White House priority until Barack Obama took office in 2009.

“[President Trump] is reasserting religious liberty as a primary consideration for how the executive branch implements law and policy,” Diament said. “We don’t have as Jews the same view [as Christian groups regarding contraceptive coverage]. But we do believe religious freedom needs to be protected — and the Obama administration could have but chose not to.”

Diament added that the OU supported the Johnson Amendment and likely would not have supported the executive order had its language been more aggressive. “We’re concerned about rabbis in synagogues being pressured into taking political stances that they may not want to take and may divide their community,” he said.

Hier pointed out that clergy making political statements is already a fact of life, an assertion that Brous agreed with. Moreover, Hier said, if someone came along who really was threatening — a candidate who was anti-Israel or a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, leadero of the Nation of Islam, were his examples — there would be an obligation to speak out.

When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, Hier found himself in such a scenario. Jackson had referred to New York City as a “Hymietown,” using a derogatory term toward Jews.

“We condemned it and basically said that nobody should vote for him because it indicated to me the commitment to anti-Semitism,” Hier said.

Shortly thereafter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a nonprofit organization, received a warning letter stating that it had breached the Johnson Amendment. That encounter informs Hier’s opinion of the law today.

Brous agreed with Hier that clergy should not shy away from bad political actors. But she disputed the need to oppose them at the pulpit. “There’s a candidate that’s been trafficking in racism and bigotry and misogyny of all forms, and I did not need to stand up ever and say vote for this person or vote for the other person.

“It’s enough to say, this is about democracy versus authoritarianism, this is about decency versus indecency, this is about moral right versus moral wrong, without having to hold people’s hands and pull the lever in the voting booth.”

Still, Hier conceded, if Congress repealed the amendment, he doubted that a rabbi would have much influence over his congregants: “People don’t adopt policies based on what the rabbi says. That we have to leave for the time of the Messiah.”

He said that he would not weigh in on future elections from his station. But for those who don’t want to hear about politics when they go to pray, Hier joked “they shouldn’t join a shul.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at the "We Stand Together" event in Los Angeles on March 26. Photo by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

At a cemetery, leaders promote tolerance


The images of toppled headstones at Jewish cemeteries deeply saddened, even infuriated Aimee Ginsburg Bikel.

Thoughts turned to staging a protest, something intimate and “folksy” to make her point, that this is wrong.

“But then I realized that I didn’t want to protest against cemetery desecration,” Ginsburg Bikel told the Journal. “I wanted to affirm something, to show we are as one and to stand together.”

On March 26, she was overcome with emotion as all that came to fruition with the sight of nearly 400 people gathered at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in a showing of “unity, love and mutual respect.” The crowd, made up of elected officials, law enforcement, clergy and community members, was a kaleidoscope of people in headscarves, hijabs, yarmulkes, priestly robes and turbans.

“I wish all of you could see what I see,” Ginsburg Bikel said from a podium. “This is some view. It’s astonishingly beautiful. All of your faces look like flowers in a garden.”

Everyone joined together for her interfaith “We Stand Together” event to hear prayers, songs and speeches promoting tolerance and embracing diversity. It was held atop a hill overlooking most of Sinai’s lush 82-acre burial grounds nestled in between Griffith Park and the buzzing 134-freeway. The park is owned and operated by Sinai Temple.

The event was organized by Ginsburg Bikel, the widow of civil rights activist and film actor Theodore Bikel, along with Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica and Hazzan Mike Stein, cantor at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, under the auspices of the Theodore Bikel Legacy Project. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries also sponsored the event. 

Ginsburg Bikel drew on the words and experiences of her late husband to demonstrate to her audience the importance of standing together and being heard during times of peril.

“We know what happens when good people stay silent, [Theo] used to say often, alluding specifically to the occupation of his beloved Vienna when the Nazis took over in 1938 a few months after his bar mitzvah,” she said. “We celebrate Theo’s legacy here today by raising our voices now and not later asserting that the red lines have already been crossed and that we won’t allow it. We will stay united and we will build a world of peace together.”

Beneath Sinai’s “Heritage Mosaic,” a mural spanning 145 feet made of Venetian glass depicting a panorama of American Jewry, guests included local rabbis, imams, ministers, pastors, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh priests and representatives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Controller Ron Galperin and California Assembly member Laura Friedman were also in attendance.

The event wasn’t advertised to the general public for security reasons, according to Ginsburg Bikel.

Aimee Ginsburg Bikel speaks on March 26. Photo by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

Aimee Ginsburg Bikel speaks on March 26. Photo by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

In a ceremonial candle lighting ceremony, community leaders read aloud from works by such peace icons as Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama. LIFE (Love Inspiration Faith Everlasting), a gospel choir, performed a stirring rendition of Barry Manilow’s “One Voice”.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino delivered a fiery speech in which he drew parallels between Jewish cemetery desecration and a recent wave of hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, gays, transgender individuals and other minority groups.

“The woman who wears the Islamic head scarf and is assaulted on a New York subway by someone who tells her ‘Go back to your country’ is my sister, and she is my problem,” Feinstein said.

“If you can’t live in your own soul and in your own heart there’s no neighborhood in this land that will be home to you,” he added. “The narrative of otherness is what we’ve come to declare war against. We are one. We will be one. Only as one will we ever have peace.”

Garcetti, who told the crowd he has an uncle buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, had come straight from a celebration of Bangladeshi independence, to attend. Wearing a yarmulke, he said during difficult times he chooses to opt for hopefulness, focusing on how to continue building up the city as a beacon for diversity.

“It’s time for us to stop thinking so much about the most powerful person in this country and to start thinking again about the most vulnerable people in this country,” Garcetti said to applause.

Religious and elected leaders stand together. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

Religious and elected leaders stand together. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries

Joseph Schwartz, 51, heard about the event at IKAR, the synagogue he attends, and felt compelled to participate. He said the attendance of elected officials was both a highlight and encouraging.

“It was very good, very moving,” he said. “It shows that officials on the local and state level are truly committed to doing what is right.”

A unity pledge was available for all elected officials and clergy present to sign. Ginsburg Bikel said that she plans to display the pledge, a proclamation of unifying principles, at a different house of worship for several days at a time over the next year.

She told the Journal that she’s glad the event helped some in the community heal from a collective sense of sorrow in light of recent events. She said organizing more unity events might be in her future. 

“People have been telling me they feel inspired and refreshed,” she said. “They feel that they’re not in this alone and they now know they’re surrounded by like-minded people. They want to know what the next thing is. What are we doing next? That’s the response of elected officials, clergy and the public. I have to take it under advisement. I wasn’t expecting to start a movement.”

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy


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Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


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Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.


From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


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Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

To express solidarity with the Jewish community, a small group of Muslims joined the Friday night service at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills on March 10. Photo courtesy of Marium Mohiuddin.

L.A. Jews, Muslims show solidarity at Shabbat Services


In her Shabbat sermon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills on March 10, Rabbi Sarah Bassin spoke about “showing up.”

“We have all had the experience of someone showing up for us in a real way,” she said. “And, I would venture to guess, that we have all had the experience of someone failing to show up.  We remember what people do in our time of need.”

She directed her remarks to all her congregants, but especially to her Muslim friend Marium Mohiuddin, who sat with a small group of other Muslims as part of Mohiuddin’s eight-week initiative with help from the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) to bring Muslims to Friday night services at various synagogues.

Launched on March 3 at IKAR with 15 Muslims participating, the program continued a week later at Temple Emanuel, with four Muslim guests. In the coming weeks, Muslims have been invited to Friday night services at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Temple Beth Shir Shalom, Temple Beth Am, Beth Chayim Chadashim and Leo Baeck Temple, and, after Passover has concluded, on April 21 at B’nai David-Judea.

“I’ve been at marches my whole life since the 1990s,” Mohiuddin said, but until the recent protest at Los Angeles International Airport against the Trump administration’s travel ban, “I hadn’t experienced people showing up for me. This was so incredible, it moved me and reminded me how important this is.”

The travel ban signed by President Donald Trump is aimed at people from select Muslim-majority countries. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic activity has been rising in the United States, inspiring Muslims and Jews to show up to support one another. In one prominent example, a Muslim activist started a crowd-funding campaign that has raised more than $160,000 from Muslims and Jews for desecrated Jewish cemeteries. Also, some Muslim military veterans have offered to stand guard at Jewish holy places and places of worship. Online, people of all faiths have promised that if there were to be a registry of U.S. Muslims, they would sign up in solidarity.

And L.A.-area Jews are reciprocating. In the face of threats or attacks against the Muslim community, Jews have gone to the ICSC to support them during prayers.

The presence of Muslims attending Shabbat services in Los Angeles is an expression of support that echoes efforts in other cities to promote community unity after anti-Semitic activities that include bomb threats to Jewish community centers and defacings of synagogues.

“I really want the Jewish community across the country to know about this, especially where people don’t have these dialogues, [to] show them that this is what L.A. is doing,” said Mohiuddin, a consultant who formerly was the communications coordinator at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

As an alumna of a fellowship at NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, Mohiuddin has many Jewish friends and participates at Jewish events so regularly that it’s not unusual for people to ask her if she is considering converting to Judaism. (She isn’t.)

Through the fellowship, she met many rabbis who became her friends, and she reached out to them to join her solidarity initiative. Bassin was the first rabbi on her list, but the idea grew from there: Eight rabbis signed on to host Muslims at services. The Islamic Center, NewGround and the Pacifica Institute helped promote the program to the Muslim community.

For Mohiuddin, a Friday night service at Temple Emanuel was a perfect opportunity to show solidarity, she said, because it’s an important part of what it means to be Jewish.

“If you get to be 40 and you don’t know what Shabbat is, you’re missing a lot of fundamental information about Jews,” she said. “You’re missing this weekly tradition, and that’s not acceptable. Shabbat is such a beautiful service, and why can’t we reap the benefit of that time of reflection?”

Mohiuddin also expressed envy for the experience of Shabbat in a small community.

“I’ve always loved the idea that at the end of the week, you put everything to rest, that for 24 hours some people even put technology aside,” she said. “There’s so much beauty in it. I love seeing people walking in Pico-Robertson. … What if all my friends lived in the same neighborhood and we all went to the same shul?”

Participants receive an email explaining where to be and when. In some cases, a rabbi will meet the group a few minutes early to describe the upcoming service, what it means and how it is observed. Muslims who commit to all eight — or even four — of the Shabbat services emerge with a better idea of the styles of Jewish worship in Los Angeles and how they may differ from one synagogue to another.

“We see that the songs are the same but sung differently,” she said. “I didn’t realize you could put your own melody to the songs — that’s so creative. [Before the Temple Emanuel service] I hadn’t met a female cantor. I’m also understanding the power of women rabbis,” she said.

Mohiuddin said the program is not a typical interfaith dialogue. It’s about being there in a space with people. It’s about interfaith relations, but it’s also about showing up for people.” 

“For marginalized groups and groups that are targets of our current administration, there are few things that feel more important right now than recognizing our shared humanity and showing up for one another,” said Rabbi Nate DeGroot, rabbinic fellow at IKAR. 

“Having our Muslim brothers and sisters show up at Shabbat services felt incredibly meaningful,” said IKAR member Neil Spears. “The room felt so much more full, so much more safe and alive. This is such a scary time for Muslims, Jews, immigrants and so many others. Literally showing up for each other is a powerful way to resist, to say that we are in this fight together. If there is anything positive that’s coming out of these divisive times, it’s a new sense of partnership between Jews and Muslims.”

Not only is it a scary time for Jews, it’s a scary time for Muslims, too, Bassin said in her sermon, adding that this was a moment “when two peoples know what it is to feel uncertain and vulnerable, this moment when two peoples under threat feel a little bit stronger — knowing that someone else is there to show up.”

“My Jewish friends have shown up for me so many times,” Mohiuddin said. “But we need to show up, too. We all do.”

Members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church protest early on the morning of Feb. 27 outside Shalhevet High School. Photo by Oren Peleg.

Sharing love, lessons in the face of hate rally


Nine members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for hate speech directed at Jews and the LGBT community, staged a 30-minute demonstration early on the morning of Feb. 27 outside Shalhevet High School, a Modern Orthodox high school in the Miracle Mile neighborhood.

The protesters had flown to Los Angeles to hold a protest outside the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 26 in Hollywood. They also demonstrated outside the Islamic Center in Hawthorne over the weekend.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic hate groups, calls Westboro Baptist Church “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.” According to the church’s website, it has held  more than 59,000 demonstrations in 994 cities.

In an email to the school community several days ahead of the demonstration, Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s Head of School, said classes would start at 9:30 a.m., about two hours after the demonstrators were scheduled to be dispersed. He also said extra Shalhevet security, as well as Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, would be on hand and urged against any counterprotest, on advice from school security officials.

“This group is looking to incite a response. I strongly urge our entire community to not give them the satisfaction of an argument or a response,” he wrote.

The protestors — teens to middle-aged adults — gathered on a busy section of Fairfax Avenue directly across the street from Shalhevet’s gated parking lot entrance. With LAPD officers and Shalhevet’s armed security guards on alert, protestors played music on a stereo, sang along and held up signs, including those that said “Tranny Sin Dooms Nations” and “144K Jews Will Repent,” a reference to scripture, the protestors claimed. The group believes Jews to be ardent supporters of homosexuality and the murderers of Jesus.

Timothy Phelps, 53, the son of Westboro’s founder, Fred Phelps, was among the protestors, but he did not offer much of a reason for choosing Shalhevet over other Los Angeles Jewish schools. He cited its location near a busy intersection, saying the group would get to other Los Angeles Jewish schools, such as YULA, in due time. He went on to refer to Judaism as a “dead religion” and talked about how sin in various forms is synonymous with Judaism.

“Idolatry, adultery, sodomy, fornication, pride, all of those … it’s rampant in the Israeli culture, in the Jewish culture,” he said.

With some in the Shalhevet community calling for a counterprotest off-site, Principal Noam Weissman favored the idea of a special learning program as a response to “virulent anti-Semitism.”

“We didn’t want to give them the attention they were seeking,” Weissman said. “We thought: Why not respond from a Jewish perspective and use this hatred as a springboard to be more proud of our Judaism?”

Segal found a willing partner in Beth Jacob Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills, which offered use of its facility. Heads of three area Jewish high schools — de Toledo High School, YULA Girls High School and Milken Community Schools — expressed an interest in having their students participate in whatever Shalhevet planned. Approximately 60 students from the three schools joined nearly 240 Shalhevet students and some parents who gathered at Beth Jacob at 8 a.m. for a tefilah service and Torah learning centered around Purim.

“This brought out the best in so many people,” Segal said. “Whatever Westboro was hoping to do, they accomplished the exact opposite.”

Weissman added: “They preached hatred and we celebrated love, friendship and peace in a most incredible way.”

After the program, Shalhevet students walked the 40-minute route back to campus in what Segal and Weissman called “the peace and love march.”

Segal said the rest of the day went smoothly, though he called the day as a whole “one of the craziest” during his time there.

In response to the protest, IKAR, a Jewish community that holds prayer services inside Shalhevet’s gymnasium, sent an email to its community, urging donations to the Trevor Project, an organization that provides life-saving support for transgender youth and adults. IKAR also collected donations from its members for a separate fund that was used to purchase sweets that were delivered Monday afternoon to Shalhevet students.

Segal said he was touched by the support from colleagues and the students at other schools. However, he added that he hopes moving forward, Jewish schools can look to come together in a proactive way, rather than just in reaction to troubling circumstances.

“I spoke with the leaders of the other schools and we all agreed that it shouldn’t just be something negative that brings us together,” Segal said. “The schools coming together to do good things together shouldn’t just be a reaction to people coming to tear us down. It should also happen to celebrate something positive.”

Staff writer Eitan Arom contributed to this report.

President Trump in the Oval Office on Feb. 8. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

Trump’s immigration order elicits action from Jewish community


Jewish leaders around Los Angeles have begun speaking out —  some more forcefully than others — against President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. And many temple congregants are doing more than merely listening.

“People are stepping forward because they see a direct call to their Jewish values in this moment,” said Senior Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple. “The values in the Torah and rabbinic literature are clear, and they are now being threatened. [Activism] feels like a very organic way to live out our Jewish values.” 

Trump’s effort to restrict entry to immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran and Iraq, has touched off protests around the country and a legal war that is likely headed to the Supreme Court to determine if the ban is constitutional. One protest in New York this week led to the arrests of about 20 rabbis affiliated with the liberal group T’ruah, according to The New York Times.

No arrests have occurred in Los Angeles, but the ban and other Trump actions have sparked outrage among many Jewish groups.

More than 200 Leo Baeck congregants participated in the Women’s March in Los Angeles the day after the inauguration, and large numbers attended a pro-immigrant demonstration at Los Angeles International Airport the following weekend. Chasen said he’s taking calls daily from people who ask what they can do to get involved.

Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills said 65 congregations participated in the Women’s March, and last week, the synagogue hosted a class on immigration and refugees from a Talmud and Torah perspective. An American Civil Liberties Union representative talked to the group as well.

Bassin said she encourages her members to speak up and participate, even if she personally doesn’t have the same political views.

“I just gave a sermon on how we’ve channeled our civic engagement into yelling on social media and how that’s not civic engagement,” she said. “I don’t care where people are on the political spectrum as long as they responsibly and thoughtfully lend their voice into the public sphere from a place that’s motivated by Jewish values.

“I think Judaism has deeply woven into it the connection between politics and faith,” she added. “It’s very important that people have a safe space to articulate their values.”

“I think Judaism has deeply woven into it the connection between politics and faith.” – Rabbi Sarah Bassin

Rabbis Lisa Edwards and Heather Miller of Beth Chayim Chadashim are infusing their sermons and prayer commentaries with news and have added a weekly prayer for the country.

Edwards attended two meetings for interfaith clergy at the Islamic Center of Southern California, “aimed at what our communities can do in particular to help support Muslims and undocumented immigrants” and at the Holman Methodist Church, organized by Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice-Los Angeles and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She learned that, “People are afraid and anxious. Anxiety is the more operative word than fear. People feel very aware about possible deportations.”

IKAR’s founder and Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous is also collaborating with other faith communities. The weekend of the inauguration, she organized events involving congregants from her synagogue as well as those from the Islamic Center mosque and All Saints Church in Pasadena.

“We have very robust and growing multi-face community relationships we work on and continue to prioritize right now,” Brous said. “We’re much more effective when we join together with mosques and churches.”

Brous, who spoke at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., said the history of Jews as immigrants should prompt action.

“Our sacred texts demand that we stand up and fight for the most vulnerable people in our midst,” she said. “This is not about political preference. This is about moral imperative.”

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, distributed a letter by email in which he did not take a position for or against the president’s executive order, but detailed Federation’s work with Jewish immigrants and refugees. The letter said that since 1973, Federation has helped more than 27,000 refugees.

Other Jewish leaders made their feelings known through letters to their congregants.

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and his fellow clergy at Stephen Wise Temple indicated that “… because our Torah calls upon our Jewish people to be a moral light unto the nations, we feel it necessary to voice our profound protest to the President’s recent executive order that has the effect of banning people from certain Muslim majority countries, as well as all refugees for a period of 120 days, from entry into this nation.”

They reminded members of the temple’s namesake and his work for compassion and social justice: “We proudly commit ourselves to advocating for a society that embodies the teaching of our Torah: ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love the stranger as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

For the past year and a half, Temple Beth Am has had a refugee task force. In a letter to his congregants, Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld said Trump’s executive orders “trouble me, to say the least.” But he acknowledged the complexity of the issues: “No country willy-nilly flings its doors open to anyone who wants in. There are reasonable fears regarding how the wrong immigration policy could enable terrorism, as some recent events in Europe have sadly shown. We have to take it seriously. Deal with it in some meaningful way. But we cannot let it paralyze us.”

Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom found inspiration for his letter by imagining his zayde confused, sitting in a detention cell at LAX. He called Trump’s order “destructive” and said we must be inclusive and “welcoming to those seeking the freedoms we cherish.”

Representatives of four religious groups — the Academy for Jewish Religion, California; Claremont School of Theology; University of the West; and Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school — collaborated on a statement, saying, “As interreligious partners, we live the dream of inclusion, understanding, and compassion. We know there is a better way — better than building walls and banning human beings based on religious beliefs or country of origin.”

Without addressing the ban or taking sides in his letter to congregants, Senior Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple encouraged people to volunteer with the Karsh Family Social Service Center and to help build houses for the poor.

“Although I will not assume the role of political pundit, upholding the extremely high value Jewish law places on Shalom Bayit — maintaining a peaceful home and community — is a role I cherish,” he wrote.

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

geller2

[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

glaser-patty-hi-res

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

brian-greene

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

hutman

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

Rapper

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 Groknation.com

esther

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

myers

 

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.

IKAR’s progressive Shavuot learning experience


IKAR, a politically liberal Jewish community with a focus on social justice, went progressive in another sense during a June 11 Shavuot Torah study program. That’s when about 130 participants started at one member’s home and, over the course of the night, walked to the backyards of two other IKAR members to continue studying. 

At each stop of the IKAR Shavuot Street Crawl, attendees basked in the warmth of heat lamps, consumed vegetarian chili and mini-desserts of the brownie and cheesecake variety, and got down to studying source sheets with some of the community’s leading teachers. 

Upon arrival at each location, guests were asked to wear a sticker that answered a question; these were then used as icebreakers. For instance, at the first stop — the home of Steven Rubenstein and Laura Spitzer — people were asked whom their dream dinner date would be: Barbra Streisand, Moses, Larry David or Ruth Bader Ginsberg (whose stickers disappeared quickly).

To launch the evening, IKAR Cantor Hillel Tigay and his trusty guitar led the assembled in a rousing Havdalah marking the separation between the holiness of Shabbat and the holiness of Shavuot, the day which commemorates the Jewish people’s receipt of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Under slightly cloudy skies, participants took seats in dozens of folding chairs all over the backyard, some of them adjacent to rosemary plants that filled the air with their distinctive fragrance.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at American Jewish University, launched the learning with an exploration of the kabbalistic sefirot, the 10 attributes or emanations of God, charging participants to consider which sefira — crown, wisdom, understanding, power, love, beauty, splendor, eternity, foundation or presence — best described the manner in which they received their own personal Torah. Artson also guided participants through texts that explored the relationship between God and the Jewish people.

Tigay provided musical transitions between elements of the evening, playing diverse tunes like “Norwegian Wood” and “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” as people took their seats or availed themselves of refreshments.

Stop No. 2 was the home of Amy Slomovits and Jeremy Goldscheider, where the arrival stickers featured favorite inventions — like telephones, the internet and ice cream makers — and the presenting rabbis stood in front of a wooden swingset as they spoke. 

IKAR Associate Rabbi Ronit Tsadok charged attendees to think about a time when they were absolutely convinced that they had all the right information, only to discover that they were absolutely wrong, and discuss it with a partner who had the same sticker; some conversations focused on information that comes over social media and is widely distributed, only to be proven to be false later. 

Then Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of the Miller Introduction to Judaism program at American Jewish University, led the group in identifying anxieties about participation in prayer, including not knowing the prayers, the tunes, the language, the expectations of the community. Greenwald suggested, based on an idea by writer Anne Lamott, that there are three ways that everyone can pray: “help,” asking for something that’s needed; “thanks,” acknowledging the things for which we are grateful; and “wow,” an expression for something amazing in the world. 

For the 50 or so people with the stamina to last beyond midnight, the final stop of the night — with stickers asking guests to designate a “spirit animal,” an animal with which they felt a particular affinity, like a mouse, a unicorn or a giraffe — was at the home of IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous and David Light. 

As chocolate-covered strawberries made the rounds, guests paired up (designated by finding another person with the same sticker) to study some formative texts about Moses: his birth and extraction from the Nile; his encounter with the Egyptian beating a Hebrew; and his involvement in defending the daughters of the priest of Midian.

After Brous concluded, the group dispersed, and while a few stalwart students (and a few of the teachers) made their way to Temple Beth Am for all-night study, most returned to their homes for some well-deserved rest, having brought in the holiday with both study and sweets.

Jewish campus organizations offer students support after UCLA murder-suicide causes campus lockdown


In the wake of an apparent murder-suicide that claimed two lives on Wednesday at UCLA, the UCLA Jewish campus organization Hillel at UCLA is offering counseling to UCLA students in need of assistance.

“[We will] find out where students are at,” Hillel at UCLA Executive Director Rabbi Aaron Lerner said in an interview at his office Wednesday. “I don’t want to put anything on them and say they must be traumatized, but there’s also the possibility this brings out real stuff, real trauma.”

Hillel, which serves approximately 1,500 students on campus, went into lockdown in response to the incident, as did all of the buildings on the sprawling West Los Angeles campus.

“Our job is to be there for them,” Lerner said of the students served by Hillel.

The shooting occurred at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Boelter Hall. The shooter and one victim died in the incident, according to the UCLA newsroom’s webpage.

Chabad of UCLA is also making itself available to students in need of support.

“Just please know that we are here for you and whatever emotional, mental, or spiritual needs you may have, whether it may be counseling, discussing the event, venting, praying or just being together and hearing the words of encouragement,” a statement at chabaducla.com reads.

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous was participating in a meeting at Hillel at UCLA at the time of the incident. In an interview Wednesday afternoon, she denounced the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

“There’s really no place we’re safe from gun violence in this country,” Brous said.

Life at the UCLA campus appeared to return to normal by around 12:45 p.m. Students were walking on campus, discussing the day’s events and boarding buses at the intersection of Hilgard and Westholme avenues, across the street from the Hillel at UCLA campus and more.

Jen Pierre, graduate student, was among those walking on campus after the conclusion of the lockdown.

“We heard an active shooter was at the engineering building; we went into lockdown,” Pierre said. “I’m thankful I’m still alive,” Damien, a musicology student who asked to go by his first name only, told the Journal outside of the university’s law school building.

Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) was among local elected officials to respond to today’s tragedy.

“My thoughts and prayers – and those of my entire staff – are with those affected by today’s tragic events at UCLA,” Lieu said in a statement. “My office stands ready to assist in any way.”

Thriving indie Jewish communities join forces to create rabbinic fellowship


In the summer of 2011, Lizzi Heydemann returned to her native Chicago to establish a Jewish community loosely modeled on Ikar, the Los Angeles congregation where she had spent two years as a rabbinic intern.

She set about harvesting email addresses and putting out the word on social media. Heydemann called her community Mishkan – the Hebrew word for the mobile sanctuary built by the ancient Israelites from communal donations.

Heydemann’s first Shabbat service, held in someone’s living room, drew 65 people. The numbers snowballed from there – 90, 120, 150 for the monthly service. Mishkan’s first High Holiday service, in 2012, drew 600 people. The following year, it was 900 – among them Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his daughters. Last year, the service had 1,400 worshippers, comparable to what many large and established synagogues draw on the High Holidays.

“Synagogues just haven’t been doing it for the vast majority of Jews in America,” Heydemann said. “And that means there are a lot of really thirsty people out there.”

At a time of communal hand-wringing over declining rates of Jewish identification and synagogue membership — evident most recently in the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews — a handful of independent rabbis like Heydemann have demonstrated a consistent knack for drawing large numbers of mostly younger and mostly unaffiliated Jews to religious services.

Now seven of those rabbis are joining together in an effort to share their methods of connecting with this elusive cohort, which the institutional Jewish community has spent millions trying to reach.

The Jewish Emergent Network — a new partnership of communities widely hailed for their innovative spirit and proven success in attracting the young and unaffiliated — announced last month that it was establishing a fellowship for early-career rabbis. Modeled on the fellowship Heydemann did at Ikar, the program will place the seven rabbis in each of the participating communities for two years, during which they will receive mentorship and other training. Funded by the Jim Josephs Foundation and the Crown family of Chicago, the fellowship will begin in June.

The participating communities — in addition to Ikar and Mishkan, the group includes Lab/Shul and Romemu in New York, The Kitchen in San Francisco, Kavana in Seattle and Sixth & I in Washington, D.C. — are among the most successful young congregations in the United States.

They are led by rabbis routinely named to various annual lists of the most influential Jews and top American rabbis. Two of the seven showed up on the website Jewrotica’s lists of the sexiest rabbis. They use buzzwords like “high-content Judaism” and “DIY Judaism.” They have “spiritual directors” instead of rabbis and “live entertainment managers” in place of cantors. Their services tend to be lively and musically oriented, and they are explicitly committed to welcoming all comers, regardless of level of religious practice or sexual orientation — or even whether the participants are Jewish.

And even though none of these communities are affiliated with the major denominations and most don’t have a regular space, let alone their own building, they are consistently able to draw hundreds to weekly Shabbat services and thousands on the High Holidays. The vast majority of attendees are under 40 and unaffiliated with traditional synagogues.

“People in the network are simply doing R&D in the trenches,” said Amichai Lau-Lavie, the director of Lab/Shul, a 3-year-old “everybody-friendly” and “God-optional” community that drew more than 2,000 people to High Holiday services last year. “I think by the nature of things, the seminaries will catch up. The seminaries will always be behind people in the trenches.”

Though the individual communities differ somewhat in their particulars, they share a conviction that declining synagogue affiliation rates are not evidence that Jews have lost interest in Judaism. Rather, members suggest that traditional synagogues are largely unable to speak to the Jewish masses — either because they are too rigid and dogmatic, or because they have watered things down to the point where Judaism fails to inspire.

“The secret sauce is some kind of combination of being radically accessible and welcoming on the one hand, and raising the bar on engagement [on the other],” said Ikar leader Sharon Brous, who was named America’s top rabbi in 2013 by The Daily Beast.

“At Ikar we strive for an environment that really welcomes and embraces everyone – including folks who are ambivalent, atheist or just cynical about community, ritual, even God,” Brous said. “And at the same time, we don’t lower the bar for them. If we did, they’d walk in and run out.”

Whatever it is, the approach appears to be working. Noa Kushner, the fourth-generation Reform rabbi who leads The Kitchen, drew 1,000 people to High Holiday services last year in the most secular major metropolitan area of the country. A self-described “religious start-up,” The Kitchen is experimenting with a range of Silicon Valley-esque products, from a Pause app to create space daily for awe and gratitude to a deck of Passover cards to help newbies run their first seder.

“We don’t check pedigrees at the door,” Kushner said. “We have radical access. Anyone can stand up and say Kaddish. If you want to roll up your sleeves and do Jewish, we want you there.”

The Jewish Emergent Network came about through informal discussions among the communities over the past two years. So far it has raised $4 million toward a projected budget of $6 million that would fund two fellowship cohorts over four years.

Participants hope the fellowship will help spread their methods and thinking to other communities and, more broadly, that the network will help strengthen communities doing similar work. Beyond the fellowship, they are unsure where their partnership will lead, but they are certain where it won’t: For a group whose independence from the constraints of denominational affiliation has been their calling card, they are careful not to become what they have rebelled against.

“Some people have suggested, you’re building a movement. And I say, God forbid,” Brous said. “I have no interest in creating new institutional spaces with national conferences that people will roll their eyes at going to.

“My interest is in supporting each other, lifting the American Jewish community out of the demographic free fall and inspiring creative work.”

IKAR gets $3 million to support national rabbinic fellowships


The Jim Joseph Foundation has granted more than $3 million to IKAR for a rabbinic fellowship program that will involve a national coalition of seven spiritual communities known as the Jewish Emergent Network.

The fellowships will target rabbis early in their careers, mentoring them to be community builders who can bring Jews in underserved populations closer to their heritage. 

“We want to contribute to the reanimation of American-Jewish life and we believe that strengthening leadership is one of the best ways to do that,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of IKAR. 

The network will launch its program in June by sending one rabbinic fellow to each participating community for two years. Then, in 2018, a new group of fellows will be dispatched. Participants, along with IKAR, include Romemu and Lab/Shul in New York, Sixth & I in Washington, D.C., Chicago’s Mishkan, The Kitchen in San Francisco and Seattle’s Kavana.

The total cost of the program over four years — including pay for the rabbinic fellows and a project manager — is expected to be more than $6 million, according to Melissa Balaban, executive director and founding president of IKAR. That means the Jim Joseph Foundation grant of about $3.2 will cover more than half of it; the network has to raise the rest by reaching out to other organizations. (The Chicago-based Crown family has contributed $400,000 to the effort as well.) 

Brous said this program is important because of the dwindling participation in Jewish life among some of the Jewish population. 

“Over the course of the past decade in the American-Jewish community is the trend of diminishing affiliation in non-Orthodox circles,” she said. “There is a lack of engagement and affiliation, particularly among young people.”

Brous referred to the 2013 Pew Research Center study that found that 22 percent of Jews in the United States describe themselves as having no religion. 

“At the same time, there is a burst of innovation and a renewed interest that has emerged in a number of small pockets around the country,” she said. 

The participating synagogues of Jewish Emergent Network each offer unique approaches to community involvement and Jewish life. Romemu is an egalitarian shul in New York City that practices yoga alongside prayer. Kavana in Seattle promotes farming and community-supported agriculture, which supplies customers with organic produce from local farms. 

IKAR itself encourages members to volunteer by feeding the homeless and hosts monthly house parties that highlight spiritual practices such as kashrut and tzedakah. The synagogue, which was established in 2004, serves more than 570 member households and hosts Shabbat services at Shalhevet High School.

Over the new program’s four years, the two sets of rabbinic fellows will work in their congregations, and then meet once every six weeks at one of the institutions.

“After two years, they will not only have the experience of a deep immersion in one of the seven communities, but they will also have real exposure to all seven communities,” Brous said. 

Dawne Bear Novicoff, assistant director at the Jim Joseph Foundation, said it awarded the grant to the network because the program will ultimately help connect young people to Judaism. 

“Our interest is in finding and investing in opportunities that will encourage young Jews to live dynamic Jewish lives,” she said. “Folks in their 30s and young families are finding it hard to identify ways to engage in opportunities around their Judaism. We see this as a way to help cultivate that field and develop further opportunities for engagement.” 

According to Bear Novicoff, the grant will be doled out throughout the four years of the program’s lifespan. “It’ll taper from Year 1 to Year 4,” she said. “There is still funding to be raised in each of the four years by the network and by the individual communities on their own.” 

The idea for the Jewish Emergent Network was originally inspired by Brous’ own time as a rabbinic fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. She said the opportunity transformed her. “I’m not sure I would have started IKAR without that experience,” she said. 

Now she’s excited about the opportunity to help others have the same experience.

“On the basis of my personal fellowship in New York and the IKAR program, we feel really confident that it’s a profound way to have an impact in the Jewish community and that intensive mentoring can change the trajectory of the rabbinate. That’s why we feel so excited about this funding and the opportunity to have that impact.”

After tragedy, Muslims and Jews join in prayer


It was with a healthy dose of ambivalence that I approached a joint Muslim-Jewish prayer experience on Dec. 6, where 150 local co-religionists convened to declare, “We Are Not Enemies.”

This was just days after two radicalized Muslims slaughtered 14 people in San Bernardino and injured many more. Paris was still fresh in the collective consciousness. Stereotypes and certainties about Islam dominated international discourse. 

I couldn’t find myself in one camp or another. My intellect was split in violent opposition: I refuse to demonize all Muslims, but I also refuse to exonerate Islamic jihad. Approaching the interfaith love-fest, I thought, I want to love Muslims, BUT.

The group assembled included participants from B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica and IKAR, along with Muslims from diverse communities. They came together both in spite of — and because of — the terrible act of carnage that tore a nearby California city apart. It was as urgent a time as ever to affirm their belief that interfaith friendship matters. 

The question is: Does friendship make any difference? 

Organized by the Southern California Muslim-Jewish Forum, a 2-year-old group of imams, rabbis and religious activists who seek to build “communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews” in Los Angeles, the event was part of a larger initiative launched by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), which promotes Muslim-Jewish relations in more than 20 countries. 

It’s a noble effort, and perhaps a necessary one, as xenophobia toward the Muslim-American community is on the rise in response to a radical Muslim minority whose cruel theatrics in the Middle East and elsewhere have captivated and terrified an international audience. Just one day after the local Muslim-Jewish kumbaya, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

“Even at this time, this terrible time, when terrible things are happening, it’s time to come together and build communication and friendship and trust,” Walter Ruby, FFEU’s director of Muslim-Jewish relations, said Sunday.  

Interfaith events often characterize themselves as “bridge-building,” sometimes over very treacherous waters. They have long been popular (or politically expedient) among Jews seeking to “build bridges” with Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Blacks or Latinos — the list goes on. But there is perhaps no relationship more fraught, more fragile or historically entwined for Jews than their relationship with Muslims. 

All the more reason, some might say, to come together in peace and in prayer. Introducing the holiday of Chanukah to the Muslims in the room, Rabbi Laura Owens of Congregation B’nai Horin prayed for miracles — “which might be just what we need right now.” 

A spokeswoman for MECA — Muslims Establishing Communities in America — called for “dialogue, heartfelt connections and building relationships.”

Following the series of sentimental speeches, the organizers asked audience members to partner with someone of the other faith to answer a series of questions: “Why are you here today?” “What value or belief in your faith tradition really speaks to you?” The goal was for participants to feel “excited” and “frustrated” that they didn’t have longer to engage with one another.

I was sitting next to Karim Gowani, who identified himself as a member of the Ismaili Muslim community, a Shia sect whose Harvard-educated leader, his Highness the Aga Khan, is considered a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. I skipped the shmaltzy list and got straight to it: If Islam is a religion of peace, why do some Muslims commit terrible acts of violence in the name of Islam?

“In Islam, we believe that if you’re killing one person, you destroy the whole community,” Gowani responded. 

That’s funny, I told him. “In Judaism, we believe that if you save one life, you save a world.” It was weird to find commonality so quickly.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve wondered whether it’s unfair to single out Islam as a potentially “dangerous” religion, when the Torah also calls for some pretty medieval punishments: slaying the first-born sons of Egypt, wiping out the Canaanites upon entering the Promised Land, death for those who break the Sabbath — to name just a few. 

“There is anger in every tradition,” Beth Shir Shalom’s Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels reminded the crowd. “This week, we had an event that, for Muslims and Jews who work together, hurt particularly, [one that threatens] to take us miles backward. … Today is a day we must say to each other, ‘Your children are my children; my children are your children.’ ”

Some people believe gatherings like this one have the potential to open hearts and minds, or even create deep bonds. And perhaps that is true. But it is also true that the people who come to such events are probably already open-hearted and open-minded, so do they really change anything? Or anyone? 

It’s easy to be sweet in discussion, but can it be sustained? What happens when someone’s relative is killed or injured in the next war with Gaza? 

There was a very awkward moment toward the end of the afternoon, when the organizers introduced the prayer session. Jews and Muslims were asked to retreat to the back of the room and pray from their own traditions, side by side. Explaining the liturgy of Judaism, one Jewish organizer had to offer a clarification regarding a line about God and Israel, “meaning, the people [Israel], not the country,” she said. 

Muslim women pray during a joint Muslim-Jewish prayer at an event organized by the Southern California Muslim-Jewish Forum

While everyone else was praying, I contemplated my opposing beliefs: 

Some Muslims want to kill in the name of Islam; some Muslims want to get together with Jews on a Sunday afternoon for conversation and prayer.

Interfaith dialogue can be pointless and naive … interfaith dialogue can be the first ripple in a sea change

Maybe we still secretly hate each othermaybe this is what peace between us actually looks like. 

At the back of the room, Muslim and Jewish children were dancing together to chants of “Allahu ahad” — God is one. Sound familiar? It was beautiful and powerful to see Muslims and Jews murmuring their ancient prayers together, bowing, prostrating, calling and responding, side by side.  

God knows it’s easier to “not be enemies” here. But what of the relationship between Jews and Muslims in Israel? Or in France? Our friendly local efforts are not yet formidable enough to impact the Middle East or the rest of the world — and maybe they never will be. 

But maybe this is where we start.

Moving and shaking: Janet and Jake Farber honored; Aziza Hasan appointed by Obama and more


The inaugural Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award Gala honored Janet and Jake Farber on Oct. 1 at the Skirball Cultural Center. The award was in recognition of their setting the “highest bar for philanthropy and leadership in our community,” according to a Federation statement. 

Jake Farber, a World War II veteran, is a former Federation chairman, and his wife is a former president of Builders of Jewish Education in Los Angeles. Their daughter is Federation Valley Alliance Chairwoman Rochelle Cohen

The event raised approximately $1.2 million for Federation’s new L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative, a figure that includes a dollar-for-dollar matching grant courtesy of the Jim Joseph Foundation, according to Mitch Hamerman, Federation senior vice president of campaign management and communications.

Among the evening’s 450 attendees were Federation leaders Jay Sanderson, CEO and president; board Chairman Les Bider, who presented the award to the Farbers, and Julie Platt, general campaign chairwoman. Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard of Adat Ari El, where the Farbers are members, was on hand as well.

Laurie Davis Gray and Steven Gordon; Amy and Harold Masor; Jill and Steven Namm; Virginia and Frank Maas; and Sharon and Leon Janks co-chaired the evening.  

Next year’s honorees will be Dorothy and Ozzie Goren, according to Federation.


Los Angeles interfaith pioneer Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, has been appointed to President Barack Obama’s third Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, according to a Sept. 24 White House statement. 

Aziza Hasan Photo courtesy of Aziza Hasan

“It is an honor to serve in this capacity,” said Hasan, who is Muslim, in a Sept. 25 email. She works to bring together Muslim and Jewish teenagers through NewGround, the award-winning organization she co-founded.

Hasan said she learned it is possible for people of different faiths to work together during her childhood.

“In many ways, my upbringing prepared me to join a team of change-makers to collaborate in building NewGround into the incredible organization that it is,” she said. “Striving to build a future where Muslims and Jews transform communities through the power of lasting partnerships.” 

The president’s council is charged with advising the government on issues related to “the work of faith-based and neighborhood organizations” according to whitehouse.gov. Currently, there are 18 members on the council, including Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

In a statement, Obama said all of the appointees would work together to affect positive change: “I am confident that these outstanding men and women will serve the American people well, and I look forward to working with them.”


About 60 people, including members of the Latino community and members of the egalitarian congregation IKAR, turned out to Proyecto Jardin, a community garden in Boyle Heights, for a festive Aztec-influenced Sukkot celebration Oct. 4. 

“It’s a wonderful thing to see different people participating,” said Alisa Schulweis Reich, co-chair of the IKAR Green Action team, which is part of the IKAR Minyan Tzedek program and which co-organized the event. “It just has morphed in three years of doing it from an exercise in cultural diversity to feeling like a family coming together.”

Marcia Brous, mother of IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous, blew a shofar at the event, which also featured live dancing by Danza Tlaltekuhtli. Other activities included creating Sukkot decorations, reciting blessings in English, Spanish and Hebrew, and the passing around of the lulav and etrog. 

Marcia Brous blows a shofar Oct. 4 at a festive Aztec-influenced Sukkot celebration. Photo courtesy of IKAR Green Action team

Erica Huerta, captain of the Danza dance team and a Mexican Jew, discussed traditions and values shared by both Jews and Aztecs, such as a commitment to “social justice, equality and care of the earth,” Schulweis Reich said in an email. 

Other attendees included Devorah Brous, Rabbi Brous’ sister, who is founding executive director of food justice organization Netiya.

IKAR is a synagogue that emphasizes social action. The synagogue’s Green Action team and Proyecto Jardin are frequent collaborators, according to Schulweis Reich. 


Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) President Randy Schoenberg offered a crash course in genealogy research Oct. 11 as part of an event organized by 3G @ LAMOTH. 

L.A. Museum of the Holocaust President Randy Schoenberg leads a recent genealogy workshop. Photo by Ryan Torok

Schoenberg, an attorney who won a famous case involving a Gustav Klimt masterpiece that was stolen by Nazis from a Jewish family during World War II, addressed a crowd of approximately 50 people and reviewed a variety of genealogy websites that help people build family trees. The websites include geni.com, ancestory.com, geshergalicia.com and more. These sites offer assistance to those interested in discovering their roots in Poland, Hungary, Russia and elsewhere. 

Among those in the audience were Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director, and Jordanna Gessler, director of LAMOTH education programs. Gessler, a third-generation survivor, serves as co-chair of the 3G executive board. 

The event kicked off with sushi and wine in the museum’s atrium, with attendees gathering underneath the permanent exhibition, “Tree of Testimony,” which hangs on the wall in the lobby. Schoenberg’s lecture followed and lasted about an hour.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Atheism as my path to High Holy Days enlightenment


Not long ago, I was having lunch with a colleague and we got around to the almost-always-perilous subject of religion. He asked me how I define myself, and I said, “I’m Jewish. And an atheist.” He laughed and said, “No, really, what are you?”  

For my colleague, a non-Jew, one is either religious or an atheist. Even more baffling to him was when he learned that, as a totally nonreligious Jew, I helped found a synagogue (IKAR), am married to IKAR’s founding president and executive director, revel in the study of Talmud, celebrate Shabbat dinner every Friday night, attend services almost every Shabbat morning, and regularly vacation with my rabbi and her family. The fact that atheism hasn’t diminished my deep connection to the Jewish tradition, people or even practice seemed utterly incongruous to him. But hardest of all for my colleague to understand was how my evolution into atheism has actually enhanced my enjoyment of Judaism over the years. 

For most of my life, I comfortably identified as agnostic. God never made much sense to me on either a scientific or ethical level, yet I felt that to be an atheist implied a degree of arrogant certainty that I preferred to reserve for my strident politics. Nevertheless, opening the prayer book as an agnostic was a maddening and fundamentally alienating experience because I believed that, to be a good agnostic, I was compelled to remain open to the possibility of God. I would stand in the midst of earnest, shuckling Jews, searching the words of the Amidah, for example, for meaning: 

Blessed are You, Lord our God … the great, mighty and awesome God, exalted God, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His Name.

The only meaning I could discern was that God was an insecure narcissist who doesn’t seem to merit the required exaltation — as evidenced by the dismal state of the world. All that forced love and fawning praise seemed like a theology of rigid obeisance to a needy and ineffectual deity, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to flee. Invariably, I’d put the book down and retreat to the lobby where the scotch (and politics) flowed liberally.  

At some point, however, my agnosticism evolved into full-blown atheism. This was not the result of a single epiphany but was, rather, the consequence of my accumulated experience of the state of the world and my deeper understanding of the science underlying the world. 

The effect of this evolution (or devolution, depending on whom you ask) has been nothing short of miraculous. No longer feeling that it was incumbent upon me, as a Jew, to find a way of embracing God, I am finally able to enjoy Judaism. And beyond that, once I liberated myself from the impenetrable language of the prayer book and its force-feeding of praise for a reckless and imperious deity, I was able to see something pure and, yes, even holy, in the communal engagement characteristic of great and compelling services. 

Rabbi Sharon Brous has often said that religion, at its best, is a call to allow oneself to experience awe. While I have no doubt that belief in God can be a catalyst for the appreciation of awe, awe can be experienced in a myriad of ways. And, for me, experiencing the power of a community rooted in and fueled by the ethical imperative embodied in the Jewish tradition has become one of my greatest sources of awe.     

With that in mind, services became a vehicle through which I could experience community in the purest sense, a space to share sorrow, gratitude and fear; a place to find fortitude, moral clarity and hope. The inevitably huge turnout of the High Holy Days only magnifies the intensity of that experience, especially when combined with the powerful call for self-examination and rededication to personal and communal responsibility that are the hallmarks of the holidays. 

I am galvanized and humbled by the extraordinary passion and possibility of a committed and intellectually serious community — so much so that it doesn’t even bother me anymore that some of my closest people and fellow IKARites are true believers. Indeed, I’m grateful that IKAR is strong enough to allow space for both the God-inspired and the godless.

Now, with God out of the picture, I’m finally able to have a truly religious experience.

Adam F. Wergeles is a Los Angeles technology lawyer and a co-founder of IKAR.

Rabbis’ High Holy Days sermons to emphasize spirituality, not politics


Over the last several weeks, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul and Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation have been gathering signatures from rabbis across the country opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement. So far, more than 1,200 have signed on. 

Bookstein has blogged about the deal, filled his Facebook followers’ news feeds with critiques and even hosted Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a fierce opponent of the agreement, at his synagogue to discuss it with his youthful congregation during a recent Shabbat service. 

When the High Holy Days arrive, however, the Orthodox rabbi said he will take a break from talking about the topic that has dominated conversations throughout the Jewish community. Instead, he plans to return to his principle of not mixing politics with preaching, discussing instead the broader issue of engaging in spiritual activism.

Bookstein said he will  address “the mandate to make the world a better place, help our fellow who is in need and stand up for the Jewish people — as opposed to just focusing on the current Iran situation.”

Rabbis across all denominations and political leanings have been wrestling with the question of whether — and how — to speak about the Iran nuclear deal as they prepare their High Holy Days sermons this year. The debate over the agreement, which was announced in July, has monopolized conversation in the Jewish world. As the Sept. 17 congressional deadline to vote draws close, rabbis who strongly oppose the agreement, and those strongly for it, have not been shy about making their opinions known. They have participated in rallies, lent their names to petitions and advertisements, held lectures and debates in their synagogues and sermonized on the deal from the pulpit.

Judging from interviews with numerous area rabbis, local clergy will be responding to the issue in a multiplicity of ways during the High Holy Days.

At Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, the leadership sent a mass email to congregants, letting them know that upcoming services will be an Iran-free zone, in an effort to avoid acrimony during this season of repentance and awe. “Looking forward to the High Holy Days, we know that this issue will still be looming large; yet, you will not be hearing about this issue from your clergy team on the bima,” it stated.

Senior Rabbi Laura Geller, who said she supports the deal, said the letter to her congregants was a way to set expectations for people in her community before they come to synagogue.

“The High Holy Days [are] a time for us to focus on our own spiritual work and yet to connect ourselves to the larger Jewish community,” she told the Journal. “It is not the time to take a stand about an issue like this that might be divisive. That’s not what the High Holy Days are for. The conversation needs to take place, but to take place in a multiplicity of voices. In a High Holy Days sermon, there is no multiplicity of voices.” 

By contrast, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad West Coast, said he has no choice but to speak about the topic directly from the bimah. An opponent of the agreement, he plans to bring up Iran during the High Holy Days when he leads services at Chabad West Coast headquarters in Westwood. 

“It’s not politics, it’s [about] the life of our people,” Cunin said.

At Temple Israel of Hollywood, Senior Rabbi John Rosove, who has expressed support of the deal in these pages and elsewhere, plans to reiterate that support only briefly in a sermon he will deliver on Rosh Hashanah morning titled “Fighting for the Soul of the Jewish People.”

 “I’m not arguing the Iran deal; that’s not what my sermon is about. I am arguing the larger issue of the state of the Jewish community vis-à-vis the State of Israel and what we’re doing as a people, what the state of our people is vis-à-vis each other,” he said. 

Whether they feel the Iran deal represents an existential threat to Israel or the best agreement available, many rabbis are opting not to speak about it. Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah said doing so would only take away from the purpose of the occasion.

 “The main thing I talk about is moral and spiritual well-being, how to live well with others, how to solve struggles, spiritual wholeness,” said Finley, who opposes the deal. “If I start advocating positions, if I start saying positions, I alienate people who need to hear other things I want to say.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, one of the synagogues that has sponsored discussions about the Iran deal, said his sermon will express his dismay over the lack of respectful discourse in the community in the wake of the uproar over the agreement.

“What I am going to talk about on the holiday is how Jews argue,” said Feinstein, who has not taken a position on the deal. “What disturbs me the most about it is how divided and vicious this conversation has become, and I think the community has forgotten its core values — why community matters, why solidarity matters, and why you don’t sacrifice Jewish community solidarity and respect no matter how serious the issues we’re debating. That’s what I want to address.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous of the egalitarian spiritual community IKAR supports the deal, but she, like many other rabbis, will focus more on the community’s response to the proposed agreement. 

“I would be shocked if we don’t hear a lot of people in the community talking about growing divisiveness in the community and how dangerous that is,” Brous said.

Conservative Sinai Temple will hold breakout conversations on Yom Kippur, at one of which Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, will talk about how we disagree with one another, especially how we can do so without character assassination. Artson, who is leading services during the High Holy Days in Sinai Temple’s Barad Hall, said he is deeply concerned about the problem of discourse.

“As in a marriage, the important thing isn’t if you fight or not, but if you speak to each other during the fight in a way that makes it possible to hold each other after the fight is over,” he said. “I would like Jews to speak to each other in a way that they could embrace after the fight is over.”

Artson also said that it is difficult to imagine a political sermon about Iran having any of the “rabbinic value” that is essential for any High Holy Days sermon. 

“I have strong personal opinions, but there is nothing of rabbinic value in those, so what I try to do is mobilize Torah wisdom,” he said. “If there are things people can say that enhance people’s lives or help them develop questions for things they need to develop opinions about, I would focus on those.” 

Others concerned about the divide in the community — as evidenced, for example, by the backlash to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ July 21 statement of opposition to the deal, encouraging all in the community to lobby Congress against it — include Congregation Kol Ami’s Rabbi Denise Eger. She plans to lead a prayer of unity on Kol Nidre. 

“Mostly, we will be saying we have permission to pray together with those who support and those who oppose and to try to create one community. That is the only reference I will make to [Iran] during the holidays. It will not be in a sermon. It will be in a prayerful meditation at the beginning of worship on Kol Nidre,” said Eger, who, as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest organization of Reform rabbis in North America, signed a letter that declined to take a position on the agreement. 

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback said he will give a nod to people’s passion about the deal without offering his own opinions. (The Reform temple’s leadership issued a statement on Aug. 19 that declined to take a position.)

 “I think there is a difference between going into the nuts and bolts of the deal and mentioning that moment, and even praying for that moment. Whatever you feel about the deal, whether you are in favor or against or ambivalent, [saying], ‘We join in prayer, with hopes that our elected officials …’ — that kind of conversation — it is referencing the deal and talking about the deal without going into, [for example], the five reasons I am concerned,” Zweiback said. “Because I am going to address it, but not in an ‘I favor’ or ‘I am against, and here is what we should do’ fashion.”

Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said he understands rabbis’ obvious aversion to tackling the difficult topic head-on, but he said he thinks it is possible for a rabbi to deliver a sermon that addresses the issue without demonizing those who may disagree — as long as the rabbi knows the audience.

“I can absolutely see both sides of the argument, and I think rabbis need to know their communities, and they need to understand what their communities can tolerate in terms of discourse and have to really make a thoughtful judgment about that,” he said.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, who spoke at a July 26 “Stop Iran” rally at the Federal Building in West Los Angeles, said he will not deliver a High Holy Days sermon about Iran because he has already made his feelings known in writings and during public appearances. 

“My position is already well known. I have spoken and written about it and … it’s the High Holy Days. It’s not a time, to me at least, for political mobilization [but a time] for people to learn Torah and understand their souls better,” he said. “As important as the issue is, I think both the synagogue, and also I, have done what we need to do, and these are the High Holy Days.”

Still, Wolpe said he is unable to resist discussing broader topics related to the controversial topic.

“Without giving you too much detail,” he said in a recent phone interview, “I am going to talk about the Jewish root of the way we talk about Israel and the debate about Israel. So it has implications for the discussion about Iran, but it’s going to be Torah, not nuclear throw-weight.”

In other words, he continued, “It’s not going to be about reactors. It’s going to be about Torah.”

IKAR announces its move to Shalhevet


Egalitarian spiritual community IKAR announced on Aug. 26 that it is relocating to Shalhevet High School’s new building near Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, following its 11 years operating out of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC). 

“We are thrilled to announce that as of Sept. 5, 2015, all IKAR Shabbat and holiday services and Limudim will be held at Shalhevet High School’s beautiful brand new building, just down the street from the JCC. The IKAR offices will remain at the JCC for the time being,” said a statement signed by IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, executive director Melissa Balaban and board chairwoman Karen Hogan.

The final IKAR Shabbat service and bat mitzvah at the JCC was Aug. 29. That’s when Brous told a crowd of about 300 people, “Sometimes space is holy because holy things happen in it.” 

Services wrapped up with the congregation singing and swaying together as the IKAR clergy led them in a rendition of the Beatles’ “In My Life.” 

Afterward, a ceremonial Torah walk to Shalhevet was followed by singing and dancing. As the congregants walked on the busy L.A. streets from one campus to another, IKAR Hazan Hillel Tigay led them in another Beatles song — this time “Hello Goodbye.”

It was a bittersweet chance to say goodbye to one space and be introduced to another, Balaban said in a phone interview.

“The JCC has really been our Jewish home. Our kids grew up in this place; we all grew up in this place [and] IKAR grew up in the JCC. We will have a lot of nostalgia. I think we will miss it,” she said. 

The statement by IKAR clarifies that the synagogue community is still hoping to eventually purchase a building of its own.

“As many of you know, our long-term goal is to build a Jewish center for social innovation — a laboratory for experimentation in all aspects of Jewish expression: spiritual, ritual, political, cultural and social. The move to Shalhevet is an interim step as we lay the groundwork for a capital campaign,” the statement said. 

Balaban told the Journal that IKAR signed a two-year lease with Shalhevet on Aug. 26.

IKAR is a nondenominational community of about 600 member units, while Shalhavet has more than 180 students and identifies as Modern Orthodox. Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal said the new arrangement benefits both communities.

“What makes us a good match is that our schedules are essentially mirror images. Sharing our space with an organization that has different religious viewpoints does not require relinquishing our own opinions; renting to an organization with different religious beliefs does not equate to religious relativism.

“It helps generate income to support the ongoing operations of the school, programmatic and curricular investments, and our increasing financial aid budget — and that is hugely important to us,” Segal added.

IKAR’s announcement coincides with Shalhevet concluding construction of its new $12 million campus at 910 S. Fairfax Ave., less than a half-mile from the JCC. 

Last year, Shalhevet began the ambitious effort of selling off half of its property, demolishing the other half and building a brand-new campus. During construction, Shalhevet moved to the Westside JCC, where it became acquainted with IKAR. The two organizations developed a mutual respect during their time of sharing the tight JCC quarters, according to Balaban. 

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with their administration and their faculty. It was very tight when we were all in the building at the JCC, but I enjoyed them being here,” she said. “They added a life to the building.”

Over the next two years, IKAR will conduct its services in the Shalhevet gymnasium, only holding services on Shabbat and on holidays, which are times when Shalhevet will not be in session. An IKAR weekday morning minyan takes place once a week at its early childhood center, which is run offsite. IKAR’s Hebrew school program, Limudim, is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays and will take place after the Shalhevet school day is over. 

As for parking, Balaban said that the amount of parking spaces available at Shalhevet is comparable to the amount of parking that was available at the JCC.

Aside from the logistics working out well, the IKAR leadership said the beauty of the new Shalhevet campus was part of what convinced IKAR that it would make a great home for the shul. 

“We just feel incredibly fortunate to be able to rent space in such an inspiring, beautiful and light-filled space,” Balaban said.

Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside JCC, had only positive things to say about the time JCC and IKAR spent together.

“It has been a terrific 11 years of growth for both organizations, and we wish IKAR continued success,” he said in an email. “Looking back at where both organizations were a decade ago, I think we can all be very proud of our achievements.”

IKAR announces it will move to Shalhevet


Egalitarian spiritual community IKAR announced yesterday that it plans to relocate temporarily to Shalhevet High School’s new building near Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, following its 11 years operating out of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC).

“We are thrilled to announce that as of Sept. 5, 2015, all IKAR Shabbat and holiday services and Limudim will be held at Shalhevet High School’s beautiful brand new building, just down the street from the JCC. The IKAR offices will remain at the JCC for the time being,” said a statement signed by IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, executive director Melissa Balaban and board chairwoman Karen Hogan.

The final IKAR Shabbat service at the JCC will be Aug. 29. It will include a bat mitzvah ceremony and a ceremonial Torah walk to Shalhevet, making it a special, if bittersweet, day, Balaban said in a phone interview.

“The JCC has really been our Jewish home. Our kids grew up in this place; we all grew up in this place [and] IKAR grew up in the JCC. We will have a lot of nostalgia. I think we will miss it,” she said. “Our last service is this Shabbat here at the JCC. We are hoping a lot of people will come, and we will ceremonially walk the Torah from the JCC over to Shalhevet, to give people a chance to say goodbye and be introduced to the new space.”

The statement by IKAR clarifies that the synagogue community is still hoping to eventually purchase a building of its own.

“As many of you know, our long-term goal is to build a Jewish center for social innovation — a laboratory for experimentation in all aspects of Jewish expression: spiritual, ritual, political, cultural and social. The move to Shalhevet is an interim step as we lay the groundwork for a capital campaign,” the statement said. 

Balaban told the Journal that IKAR signed a two-year lease with Shalhevet on Aug. 26.

IKAR is a nondenominational community of about 600 households, while Shalhavet has more than 180 students and identifies as Modern Orthodox. Despite the denominational differences, Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal said the school is excited about the arrangement.

“It helps generate income to support the ongoing operations of the school, programmatic and curricular investments and our increasing financial aid budget — and that is hugely important to us,” Segal said.

IKAR’s announcement coincides with Shalhevet concluding construction of its new $12 million campus at 910 S. Fairfax Ave., less than a half-mile from the JCC. 

Last year, Shalhevet began the ambitious effort of selling off half of its property, demolishing the other half and building a brand-new campus. During the construction effort, Shalhevet moved into the Westside JCC, where it became acquainted with IKAR. The two organizations developed a mutual respect during their time of sharing the tight JCC quarters, according to Balaban. 

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with their administration and their faculty. It was very tight when we were all in the building at the JCC, but I enjoyed them being here,” she said. “They added a life to the building.”

Over the next two years, IKAR will conduct its services in the Shalhevet gymnasium, only holding services on Shabbat and on holidays, which are times when Shalhevet will not be in session. An IKAR weekday morning minyan takes place once a week at its early childhood center, which is run offsite. IKAR’s Hebrew school program, Limudim, is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays and will take place after the Shalhevet school day is over. 

As for parking, Balaban said that the amount of parking spaces available at Shalhevet is comparable to the amount of parking that was available at the JCC.

Aside from the logistics working out well, the IKAR leadership said the beauty of the new Shalhevet campus was part of what convinced IKAR that it would make a great home for the shul. 

“We just feel incredibly fortunate to be able to rent space in such an inspiring, beautiful and light-filled space,” Balaban said.

Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside JCC, had only positive things to say about the time JCC and IKAR spent together.

“It has been a terrific 11 years of growth for both organizations, and we wish IKAR continued success,” he said in an email. “Looking back at where both organizations were a decade ago, I think we can all be very proud of our achievements.”

Moving and shaking: Taste of Summer in Santa Monica, Peter Beinart at IKAR and more


The sun was gradually setting when nearly 600 people dressed in cocktail attire arrived at the fourth annual Taste of Summer event on July 25 in Santa Monica. 

DJ Mark Chill and DJ Matt Urbano supplied the tunes as young professionals sampled palatable offerings from local eateries, sipped colorful libations and, if they so desired, got their hair braided and makeup done by beauty-to-your-door app beGlammed. 

Hosted by the Fulfillment Fund Leadership Council, a nonprofit that helps high schoolers from educationally and economically under-resourced communities attend college, the event drew CEO Kenny Rogers (not the Kenny Rogers), who stood on the patio of The Victorian, a 19th-century mansion, with a rosé champagne in hand. After clinking glasses, Rogers, 50, asked, “College should be the norm, right?” 

The Fund currently serves 2,700 students in Los Angeles, helping pave the path to college by offering scholarships, mentoring and college trips. 

“Our vision,” said Rogers, a congregant of Temple Isaiah, “is that one day all kids in Los Angeles will have the opportunity to go to college.” This particular summer soiree brought the Fund closer to that goal, raising more than $90,000.

Behind Rogers, a red carpet made the perfect photo-op for honorary chairs upon entrance, including former “Top Chef” contestant Nyesha Arrington and confectioner Valerie Gordon — each of whom attracted crowds when they conducted cooking tutorials during the evening — and KABC food reporter Lori Corbin.

Meanwhile, a silent auction lured bidders who sipped cocktails. Fare included drinks from microbreweries, progressive California cuisine fare and Sprinkles cupcakes (not to mention, chicken-and-waffles-flavored saltwater taffy from Dylan’s Candy Bar). As the night progressed, the crowds grew thicker.

As people continued sifting in, former Fund beneficiary Mario Urbano, 35, bumped into his mentor Sherry Banks, director of program partnerships at the Fund, after not being in contact for years. Urbano, who started with the nonprofit 20 years before and went on to graduate from Cal State Long Beach, said that the Fund helped him attend college. The two embraced like long-lost friends.

“They made the whole process of going to college easier, and I hope to give back and mentor,” he told the Journal.

Tess Cutler, Staff Writer


The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE), which works with more than a dozen Los Angeles-area Jewish schools, has named Yossef “Yossie” Frankel as a technology specialist, a new position for its West Coast school program. 

Yossef “Yossie” Frankel.

Frankel is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educator who previously served as the director of the Consortium for Information and Academic Technologies, an international group that helps Jewish day schools integrate 21st-century education philosophy. 

“I am so excited to be joining the CIJE team,” Frankel said in a statement. “CIJE offers an outstanding and unique curriculum that is similarly aligned with my longstanding vision and focus of experiential STEM education.”

Frankel also has served as IT director at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles and director of academic technology at Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School in Irvine, where he taught STEM robotics courses. He was nominated twice for Disney “Teacher of the Year” earlier in his career for his innovative teachings in middle school science.

“Yossie’s passion is helping Jewish schools the world over discover what a ‘21st century education’ really means and how it affects our children — the future of the Jewish people,” CIJE President Jason Cury said in a statement. “We look forward to his involvement in growing the CIJE program in California and ensuring excellence in California CIJE programs.”

CIJE partners with more than 160 American-Jewish day schools to provide them with the tools for a successful education, including an engaging curriculum, teacher training and advanced technology. Since 2001, CIJE has built 100 computer labs and 25 state-of-the-art science labs. 

 

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer


Author and columnist Peter Beinart delivered an impassioned 20-minute lecture about why Israel and the United States don’t see eye to eye on Iran, as well as on the threat Israeli settlements in the West Bank pose to Israel’s democratic character and other topics after IKAR’s Friday night services on July 17. 

Known for his criticism of Israel, Beinart, author of 2012’s “The Crisis of Zionism,” appeared in front of a large crowd of worshipers at the egalitarian synagogue, which congregates every week at the Westside Jewish Community Center. 

He echoed an argument he made in a July 15 column in Haaretz, titled “Face It: U.S. and Israel Don’t Have the Same Interests.” Essentially, he said, the reason the United States and Israel have differing views about the dangers posed by the recent Iran nuclear deal — in which Iran agreed to halt its nuclear development program for at least 10 years in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions — is that American leaders believe terrorist organizations such as ISIS pose a greater threat to the U.S. than Iran does, unlike Israel.

Beinart, a New York-based contributing editor for The Atlantic and National Journal, stressed the need for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and, while denouncing Palestinian terrorism, said that Israel threatens its own existence by providing subsidies to Israelis who are living in the West Bank. He bemoaned how Israeli laws treats Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank differently, how Israelis in the region are treated as full citizens under the law and how their Palestinian counterparts are not afforded those same rights. 

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous, who also has expressed criticism of Israel’s settlement policies, had words of praise for the visiting speaker. 

“You don’t have to agree with everything he writes to recognize he is incredibly wise and extremely knowledgeable and has a profound sense of moral clarity in whatever he writes,” she said while introducing Beinart. Attendees at the event included actor Theodore Bikel (who died July 21 at age 91), Bikel’s wife, Aimee Ginsburg; and Steven Windmueller, former dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Los Angeles campus.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

A plethora of Purim parties


Never in a million years did I think I’d be spending Purim pedaling away on a stationary bicycle, dressed as Indiana Jones, in order to power a DJ playing “Bubble Butt” by Major Lazer.

But that’s what I did recently at IKAR. 

There were parties all over town last week as the Jews of Los Angeles got a little crazy — and creative — in their Purim celebrations. My party-hopping over two nights took me from IKAR’s decidedly unorthodox Purim Justice Carnival to a hot-and-heavy dance party that could have been straight out of Tel Aviv.

But one tip before attempting such an adventure: Be sure to wear all the pieces of your costume at all times, even when they might be a little uncomfortable. Otherwise, some local rabbinical student like Aviva Funke might mistake your Indiana Jones costume for the much more dated Danny Zuko of “Grease.” 

I learned this the hard way March 4 during the IKAR carnival, after taking off my itchy Jones hat and walking around with only a leather jacket. Problem is, Zuko also wears a jacket and, without the archaeologist-adventurer’s hat, well, you get the picture. 

Still, Funke did not put me in too much of a funk. My spirits were high during IKAR’s festivities, held at the Westside JCC. The event kicked off with a reading of the Scroll of Esther that parodied everyone from Stephen Colbert to Taylor Swift and concluded with Cantor Hillel Tigay’s straight rendition of “Hey Jude.”

“Now, let’s party like it’s 5775,” Rabbi Sharon Brous said to the crowd, which numbered approximately 300 people, signaling it was time for the carnival to begin. 

Inside the adults-only party — a separate kids-only party coincided — the crowd mixed drinks with tikkun olam. Adam Wergeles, husband of IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban, beckoned me to his booth to help make peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the homeless. I made two — then hit the nearby food line to purchase some grub of my own. (Curry-flavored french fries — yum! )

Then, IKAR volunteer Beth Edelstein, dressed as a Boy Scout, asked if I would fill the 9:30 p.m. slot on one of three stationary bicycles that were delivering electricity to the nearby DJ booth, the evening’s source of Motown oldies, contemporary hip-hop and groovy pop music. When it was my turn, I took one last sip of my bourbon and pedaled at a leisurely pace.

Later, on the dance floor, I acted as though I wasn’t offended when Brous came over and teased me for standing in place and doing little more than tapping my toes. Still, it would have been tough to compete with the arm-waving, clapping and boogying Brous. Dressed as Medusa in a black dress and an elaborate leafy headpiece, she was joined by her husband-cum-dance partner, David Light, who was dressed up as a piñata.

The theme of the night, the Justice League, was a celebration of the IKAR commitment to social justice work. Many attendees wore costumes inspired by the D.C. Comics superhero team of the same name, including IKAR board member Scott Minkow (Robin, the Boy Wonder) and his partner, Bill Deliman (Batman).  

“This is where justice happens,” Deliman told me when I asked him what he was doing there. 

Balaban and her husband dressed as a pair of a different sort. She was Cruella de Vil of “101 Dalmatians,” hair dyed with silver streaks, and he was dressed up as her Dalmatian, large black spots decorating his white, hooded sweatshirt. And in a risqué, “50 Shades”-like touch, Balaban was walking Wergeles on a dog leash.

“It’s hard to get my husband to dress up,” Balaban told me, “but he does it for Purim.” 

I empathized with the pressure. I donned my Indiana Jones costume again March 5, the next night of partying, keeping my hat on all night so as to avoid any confusion with you-know-who. 

My first stop was at Rabbi Yonah Bookstein’s party, which drew approximately 50 partygoers to Pico Shul. There they drank wine, beer and whiskey and ate hamantashen while Bookstein played Matisyahu’s “One Day” on acoustic guitar, using Rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein’s credit card as an unlikely guitar pick. 

Afterward, a friend, Eliyahu Abramson, and I drove to Hollywood for Aviel Altit’s TLV Productions’ club night held at the Emerson Theatre. Hundreds showed up, a line snaking across the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard as people waited to go inside. I waited with them, feeling silly in my Indiana Jones hat as those around me looked like they were ready for a regular night on the town.   

In a phone interview before the event, Altit, 28, CEO of TLV Productions, said he planned the Purim event as a way to recapture the energy of the Tel Aviv party scene, which is drastically different from how it is here in the U.S, he said. 

“I grew up in Tel Aviv. The parties over there are different — all the people who go for Taglit [Birthright Israel] who visit Israel, they love the parties over there,” he said. “It’s a different style.” 

Numerous organizations co-sponsored the event, including the Israeli-American Council and Israeli House, he said.

At the front of the line, a pair of women with identical Batman face-paint crossed my name off the guest list as I arrived, and pulsating electro beats awaited me inside. I was a good sport, made my way to the center of the dance floor, found a place among the throngs of Israeli girls dressed in skimpy outfits that barely passed for clothes — let alone Purim costumes — and danced with my eyes closed. 

Not a bad day at the office. 

Women rabbis at forefront of pioneering prayer communities


A decade ago in Los Angeles, two organizations opened their doors with a call to prayer — or they would have if they had any doors to open.

Ikar, led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, and Nashuva, led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, were conceived separately. But when they launched in 2004, both offered a novel, and in many ways similar, approach to Jewish spirituality and community — regularly scheduled, rabbi-led services that were not affiliated with any movement or institution, that met in rented space, and that were avowedly not synagogues.

“We were trying to walk into the conversation about Jewish identity and community and ritual without preconceived ideas about where we would land,” Brous told JTA, describing the beginnings of Ikar. “What we were trying to do didn’t follow any model that already existed.”

Since then, however, the format pioneered by Nashuva and Ikar has become its own recognizable model, and similar spiritual communities with a noticeably common style have sprung up in a number of other cities across the country. Prayer is designed to be heartfelt and arouse the spirit. Often there is clapping, dancing and singing without words. Worshipers tend to skew young, informal and hip. The groups don’t own buildings; typically they meet in up-and-coming or already desirable neighborhoods. The communities are led by charismatic rabbis who stress innovation and outreach to Jews who feel alienated from existing Jewish institutions. They are nondenominational. They often don’t know exactly how to describe themselves.

And most, but not all, have one more common element: They were founded, and are still being led by, women rabbis.

In 2006, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum launched The Kavana Cooperative in Seattle. In 2011, Rabbi Noa Kushner opened The Kitchen in San Francisco and Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann initiated Mishkan Chicago in the Windy City. In 2012, Rabbi Lori Shapiro started Open Temple in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice.


The celebratory mood at Mishkan Chicago services. Photo courtesy of Mishkan)

This new paradigm represented a sharp break with the past and has found a receptive audience among a younger cohort.

As noted by David Myers, the chair of the history department at the University of California Los Angeles, 20th-century American Judaism was defined in large part by building brick-and-mortar institutions. But the new rabbi-led communities are part of a 21st century spate of innovation outside the the established boundaries of Jewish institutional life.

“[Younger] people feel that it’s much more important to find their spiritual voice than to build up an institution for the institution’s sake,” Myers told JTA.

Thus, these communities founded by women are part of a much broader landscape.

A number of male rabbis also have formed and led innovative spiritual communities. Two are in New York: Rabbi Andy Bachmann founded Brooklyn Jews in 2003 and later folded it into the borough’s Temple Beth Elohim, and Rabbi David Ingber started Manhattan’s Romemu, a Jewish Renewal shul, in 2006.

Other models have proliferated, too.

Manhattan’s Kehillat Hadar, founded in 2001, helped launch a movement of independent, lay-led minyanim that formed in cities throughout the country to pray without clergy or professional staff. The 6th & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, restored and relaunched in 2004, is now among several organizations housed in former synagogue buildings that host a combination of prayer services and community events.

Well-established synagogues also have experimented with prayer services featuring nontraditional music, looser structures and an emphasis on a warmer, more communal feel. In Denver, for example, Rabbi Bruce Dollin of the Hebrew Educational Alliance synagogue instituted a second service — with drumming and a “davening team” to help lead worship — that took a page from independent spiritual communities.

But rabbi-led spiritual communities, unaffiliated with a movement and untethered to a single home building, have become one part of the Jewish world where female rabbis have not only found a foothold but have taken the lead as pioneers and innovators.


Rabbi Naomi Levy and the Nashuva band drum playing on the beach. Photo by Phyllis Osman

It hasn’t been easy. The women who founded these communities have struggled to build organizational structures from scratch, to scrape together funds to rent space and pay salaries, and to connect with a target audience that often is disconnected from the normal channels of the Jewish communities.

Some have even had to bypass roadblocks set up by existing Jewish institutions and colleagues who have seen them as rivals.

“It’s a double-edged sword because on the one hand, the excitement of creating something from nothing is that you don’t have to deal with, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way,’ ” Levy told JTA.  “The frightening part is not having any structure. When we started Nashuva, we had no money, we had no staff, we had no people. There was no community.”

Yet the enormous challenges also provide the opportunity for women to revolutionize spiritual and institutional life.

“Many women aspire to leadership, but they also aspire to change how leadership is offered,” said Shifra Bronznik, founding president of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting female professionals in the Jewish world. “That’s actually easier to do if you’re building from the ground up.”

As noted by a number of the rabbis, as well as a number of Jewish communal professionals, traditional Jewish institutions — and the lead roles in them — have been shaped largely by men. Thus, the increasing prevalence of female rabbis opens up the space to rethink certain patterns.

“By definition, having a woman rabbi in your community means you’re not going to do things the way they’ve been done for the last 2,000 years,” Ikar’s Brous, 41, told JTA. “That creates a space for fluidity in organizational life.”


The Kitchen celebrating Sukkot at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco. Photo by Elizabeth Waller

Some of those changes involve aspects of organizational life with a gendered component to them — for example, the role of a rabbi as the traditional male “breadwinner,” with a wife to take care of the family.

“There’s an old-school model where the rabbi is married to the congregation,” said Nussbaum, 38, of Kavana. “That’s the rabbi’s first priority, and the role is sort of boundless around that.”

In other ways, that sense of reimagining can also penetrate approaches to the religious texts as well.

“Women need to reinvent Judaism in order to see themselves reflected in the Jewish narrative,” said Bronznick, who has worked with several of these rabbis on issues related to women’s organizational leadership.

“They’re creating something that never was, which is a Jewish narrative authored in the voice of woman,” she said.

Strikingly, many of the innovative female rabbis come from the Conservative movement, the most recent of the denominations to ordain female rabbis, in 1985. Levy, Brous and Nussbaum all were ordained by Conservative Judaism’s flagship Jewish Theological Seminary, while Heydemann, 33, attended the movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Kushner, 44, ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, is a Reform rabbi like her father, Lawrence Kushner, who is also an author, while Shapiro, 43, was ordained at the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles.

Not all of the female-led communities have broken the mold in the same way. Thus, for example, Ikar and Nashuva, the two early innovators in the field, have taken somewhat different paths.

Levy, 52, describes Nashuva as “a spiritual outreach community” aimed squarely at Jews who feel disconnected from Jewish life. Nashuva operates on a shoestring budget, with a payroll consisting only of Levy and the members of its eight-piece band, and most of the year meets just twice a month — for Friday-night services at the Brentwood Presbyterian Church and on a Sunday for a community service event.

This is precisely as Levy wants it — she says she has no desire to open a religious school, expand her staff or institute any kind of membership model. Instead, Nashuva raises money only through voluntary contributions, including a suggested donation of $350 for the High Holidays.


A Kavana Cooperative neighborhood meet-up. Photo courtesy of Kavana

Although Nashuva remains nondenominational, Levy has retained close ties to the Conservative movement. A member of the first class of women admitted to the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinic program, she served on the executive council of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, and she travels regularly to speak at synagogues about how they incorporate some of Nashuva’s innovations into congregational life.

Ikar, by contrast, has expanded rapidly. Brous is now one of two full-time congregational rabbis, along with a permanent staff of 14, plus seasonal and teaching staff, and Ikar operates a preschool and religious school. It offers tiered membership plans and charges non-members for High Holidays tickets. (This reporter has been a member of Ikar since 2009.)

In certain ways, Ikar also has served as the mother ship of the rabbi-led spiritual community movement and helped create a mentoring network among several of the congregations.

When Nussbaum left her suburban Seattle congregation to start Kavanah, she sought out Brous for advice. And when Kushner decided to start The Kitchen, she spoke to Nussbaum and Brous. Heydemann, in turn, served as a rabbinic fellow under Brous at Ikar, and already had known Kushner at Stanford University while she was an undergraduate and Kushner was the Hillel rabbi.

Each of these communities, in turn, has developed its own distinctive shape and culture.

Kavana is based on a cooperative model in which members are expected to take an active volunteer role in helping to put together and run events, and are encouraged to attend at least one community event per month.

The Kitchen has embraced an experimental, start-up ethos. The founders partnered with a design firm, IDEO, to help think through not only a design aesthetic for the community’s materials (modern typefaces, no Judaica motifs), but also the service itself from the ground up. As befits its name (chosen to suggest an open, familiar place to experiment and try things out), The Kitchen has also made a point of partnering with trendy local restaurants for Shabbat meals.

Mishkan Chicago has established itself as a younger-skewing congregation particularly focused on singing and prayer.

Open Temple, founded to reach out to Jews with very little Jewish background, has focused on education, and on community-building through events celebrating major holidays and b’nai mitzvot. The community already has a Hebrew school and b’nai mitzvah program, and is preparing to introduce regular Shabbat services in the coming year.

Open Temple holding its family Rosh Hashanah service. Photo by Jordan Teller

Several of the communities are moving toward affiliating with one another in a more formal way.

In May, Brous, Kushner, Nussbaum and Heydemann — along with Romemu’s Ingber, Amichai Lau-Levie of Lab/Shul in Manhattan and Rabbi Scott Perlo (a former rabbinic intern at Ikar) from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue — met at the Leichtag Ranch north of San Diego to discuss ways to work together more closely and potentially articulate a common vision. The group’s participants, who jokingly call themselves the G7, said the discussions had not yet turned into anything concrete, but suggested that something more definite would be forthcoming in the coming weeks and months.

They all stressed that they were not looking to form any sort of movement.

The innovative communities and their rabbis are increasingly being cited as models for the Jewish future. Several were honored in the Slingshot Fund’s newly issued directory of innovative Jewish organizations, and Levy says she travels on a monthly basis to speak to synagogues about spiritual outreach and creativity.

How precisely these communities will evolve remains an open question. And in certain ways, they already have — adding new services as the congregations grow and as members’ needs and desires change. Kavana has created a Hebrew immersion preschool and religious school, and has added adult education programs as its cohort of older congregants grows. The Kitchen’s “Shabbatify” program organizes Shabbat dinners of 12 to 20 people in participants’ homes, and the community is in the process of opening a store to sell its self-designed prayer books and a Passover game.

But Myers, an Ikar member from its early days, says that as the communities grow and evolve, those that wish to survive in the long term will inevitably need to develop their institutional forms and find new ways to generate and harness energy.


Ikar celebrating Havdalah to close out Yom Kippur. Photo courtesy of Ikar

“Ironically, the way to marshal and galvanize that new energy is probably to get a building,” he said.

Indeed, Ikar for the past several years has been looking into buying or constructing its own building. That would represent a profound symbolic move from its early days.

“Ikar,” Myers says, “was the anti-building form of spiritual community.”

But ultimately, the rabbis argue, the measure of their success or failure has nothing to do with buildings, denominations or labels. Rather, staying true to their mission involves not differentiating themselves but staying relevant.

“I don’t think I’m re-creating Jewish world,” Kushner told JTA. “I’m doing my part for my generation. These ideas of trying to bring immediacy, relevancy, meaning — these are not brand new ideas. They’re ideas that every good rabbi struggles with.”

Finding solutions to reducing teen stress


Every weekday at around 6:30 a.m., Henry Muhlheim hits the snooze button a few times before getting up and driving from Hancock Park to Harvard-Westlake School, one of the country’s top private high schools.

The 17-year-old junior then winds his way through a grueling schedule of seven classes: Middle East studies, AP U.S. history, AP physics, calculus honors, English honors, lunch, design & data structures honors and AP Chinese. Most days of the week, he attends swim practice for a few hours after school, then works on homework until midnight or so. On Sunday mornings, he’s an assistant teacher at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

One night a week, Muhlheim volunteers at Teen Line, a teen-crisis hotline run by Cedars-Sinai, where he offers help on “everything from, ‘my parents don’t understand, my girlfriend broke up with me,’ to things like, ‘I’m dealing with suicide and rape and child abuse,’ ” Muhlheim said. Often, though, teens talk about their stress related to college applications and social relationships.

“With classes and extracurriculars and stuff gearing up toward college, it’s getting crazy,” Muhlheim said.

For 16-year-old junior Ella Swimmer, life is equally complicated. Her day starts at 7:30 a.m. and often ends at 2 a.m. During that time, she takes classes at Santa Monica High School, goes to dance rehearsals, does her homework and helps her younger siblings with their homework. She’s also co-president of her synagogue youth group, Santa Monica Reform Temple Youth, and participates in other Jewish activities for teens.

“I’m constantly stressed out, constantly trying to, like, think hours and days in advance of how I’ll manage my time, how I’ll have time to eat and sleep in between all the homework and activities,” she said.

Adolescence has always been a challenging time of life. School, social obligations and hormones all make it especially hard to navigate. But some Jewish educators and clergy members have become worried that parents and teachers have reached a breaking point of piling on to kids’ lives.

“Most synagogues are ignoring that problem,” said Isa Aron, a professor of Jewish education at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of

Moving and shaking: American Friends of Magen David Adom, Breed Street Shul and more


It was the emotional highlight of the night — in fact, it would have been the emotional highlight of any night. During American Friends of Magen David Adom’s (AFMDA) star-studded Red Star Ball on Oct. 23, two victims of Hamas rocket attacks were reunited with the Magen David Adom (MDA) paramedics who saved their lives.

The reunions, kept as surprises for the survivors, happened live onstage following the premiere of a short film recounting their harrowing stories. Yarin Levy, 16, of Ashkelon, was reunited with MDA’s Einav Asulin and Neomi Zvi. Jehan Berman, 31, of Nahal Oz, was reunited with MDA’s Dr. Oren Wacht, a volunteer paramedic who teaches emergency medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Yarin Levy hugs Neomi Zvi, the MDA medic who saved his life, during the AFMDA Red Star Ball. Photo by Michelle Mivzari  

If those were the emotional highlights of the black-tie dinner at the Beverly Hilton, there were plenty of entertainment high points as well. Guests were treated to a rousing musical performance by legendary singer-songwriter Paul Anka. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by Scott Hoying of the a capella group Pentatonix, and Israel’s national anthem  was performed by the Rev. Robert Stearns. Honorees included Holocaust survivor David Wiener, Dr. Bill Dorfman and Gina Edwards.

Jay Leno hosted, quipping, “I guess there are no Jewish comedians.” After the former late-night talk-show host pledged his own $10,000 to the cause, he said, “We need to get more non-Jews to donate!”

The evening raised $6 million for MDA’s new national underground blood center in central Israel. MDA, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, has a mandate to serve every Israeli regardless of background, though it receives no government funding. The new center is expected to cost $100 million. The $6 million raised on Oct. 23 eclipses the record set by last year’s AFMDA Los Angeles Gala, which generated $4 million.

AFMDA’s West Coast Region Chairman Paul Guerin works the crowd at the Red Star Ball as Jay Leno looks on. Photo by Noam Chen

“We’ve been so fortunate to count on the L.A. community’s support of MDA and its medics who are on the front lines during times of war and peace,” said AFMDA Western Region President Dina Leeds, who was honored at last year’s gala, along with her husband, Fred Leeds. “After all, Israel relies on two critical agencies to save lives: the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and Magen David Adom. And now that Angelenos have met some of these MDA heroes in person, we hope that support will only grow.”

Industry titans in finance, business and entertainment lent support to the evening, including singers Toni Braxton and Pat Boone, actor and motivational speaker J.R. Martinez, actress Amy Paffrath, and pediatrician/talk-show co-host Dr. Jim Sears. Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel opened the event. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) presented MDA Director General Eli Bin with an award and an official American flag that once flew atop the U.S. Capitol. Both items will be located in the new blood center once it’s built.

“The reunions between the Israeli civilians and their MDA lifesavers was one of the purest displays of human emotion and joy I have ever seen,” said AFMDA Western Region Chairman Paul Guerin, who chaired the event with his wife, Vera, and Beny and Adele Alagem. “We owe it to MDA’s heroes to show Americans what MDA does in Israel every single day. And supporting these incredible medics and building them a new MDA national blood center is the least we can do.”

— Staff report


Westside egalitarian congregation IKAR and Boyle Heights sustainable community garden Proyecto Jardin came together for an Aztec-Jewish Sukkot Harvest Festival on Oct. 12.

The event at Proyecto Jardin in Boyle Heights “blended the sukkah, lulav and the etrog … with the conch shell, feathered costumes, face painting and aromatic censer animating the Aztec danzas, or dance prayers,” Alisa Schulweis Reich told the Journal in an email. Reich is a co-chair of IKAR’s Green Action Minyan Tzedek social justice group. 

“In addition to sharing our beautiful and dramatic harvest rituals, the two communities celebrated the striking similarities of Jewish and Aztec agricultural wisdom: reverence for the Earth as a divine gift and for the Creator’s intention that we share its fruits fairly,” Schulweis Reich said. “Perhaps most significant, the festival brought together neighborhoods from all over the greater Los Angeles area.”

More than 75 members of IKAR turned out. Among the others who were there were Proyecto Jardin executive director Irene Pena and Erica Huerta, captain of the Danza Tlaltekuhtli dance group. 

A $5,000 ChangeMaker Challenge grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles supported the event. 

A stone throw’s away on the same day, more than 100 community members attended “Boyle Heights Heroes Talk About Music,” a community event at the Breed Street Shul. Legendary music producer Lou Adler, who grew up in Boyle Heights and had his bar mitzvah at the Breed Street Shul, reflected on his memories of the synagogue, the community and how growing up in the multicultural neighborhood affected the music he was exposed to and the influences it had on him.

Music legend Lou Adler, Chicano musician Martha Gonzalez, Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra artistic director Suzanne Gindin, and USC communication and journalism professor Josh Kun at Breed Street Shul. Photo courtesy of the Breed Street Shul Project

Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of the Grammy-winning band Quetzal, which specializes in Chicano music, also participated. Gonzales is also an academic at Scripps College in Claremont, where she is an assistant professor in the Chicano/Latino Studies department. 

Additional panelists included Suzanne Gindin, artistic director and founder of the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra. Josh Kun, associate professor of communication and journalism at USC, moderated.

The event kicked off with a walking tour of the area and discussion of its Jewish past, led by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. For many, the shul is a symbolic reminder of the Jewish community that once thrived in the neighborhood. It is the last remaining Jewish synagogue in the area and today functions as a neighborhood community center for the neighborhood’s Latinos.


Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker, philanthropists whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, opened their Beverly Hills home to more than 250 people for the American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) Los Angeles Region’s Bel Air Affaire on Sept. 13. The annual event raised nearly $900,000 for student scholarships at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

From left: Torch of Learning Award honorees Steven and Bari Good with AFHU Regional Chairman Richard Ziman. Photo courtesy of AFHU 

Bel Air Affaire co-chairs Renae Jacobs-Anson and Helen Jacobs-Lepor told guests the mission of the evening was supporting Hebrew University students, who, they said, are on the front lines of the academic world.

AFHU L.A. Region Chairman Richard Ziman and AFHU L.A. Region Vice Chair Patricia Glaser presented Bari and Steven Good and Ronda and Barry Lippman, respectively, with Humanitarian Torch of Learning awards. This award recognizes leading men and women who have influenced the course of higher learning in the United States and Israel.

The Goods were recently recognized as Guardians on the Wall of Life during the Hebrew University’s 77th board of governors meeting for their philanthropic leadership. Bari is a former president of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Los Angeles office, and her husband is the founding president of the Santa Monica Synagogue and an AFHU national board of governors member.

The Lippmans have helped AFHU in their mission for nearly three decades. Barry is a Hebrew University governor, a member of AFHU’s national board and previously served as president of the Los Angeles Region board. He is a past president of the Ambassadors of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and JNF’s Los Angeles region. Among Ronda’s leadership activities, she serves as a board member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. 

AFHU is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and support for The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel’s most comprehensive institution of higher learning, according to the website afhu.org.

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer


American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA) has named a new assistant regional director, Siamak Kordestani. He began working at AJCLA in August. He succeeds Michael Aurit. 

Born in Tehran, Iran, Kordestani grew up in Los Angeles. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University. 

AJCLA Assistant Regional Director Siamak Kordestani. Photo courtesy of AJCLA 

He joins a staff of 10 that includes AJCLA Regional Director Rabbi Mark Diamond. 

Kordestani previously worked as a staff associate for the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the U.S. House of Representatives. 

At AJCLA, Kordestani handles public policy, communications, issues concerning Iran and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. He also staffs the international relations program along with AJCLA Associate Regional Director Gosia Weiss and AJCLA Assistant Regional Director Anna Prager.

“AJCLA’s mission is to enhance the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and advance democratic values in the United States and around the world,” according to ajcla.com. 

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

How to Shmita in California


Shmita, the Torah-mandated break that refreshes every seven years, and which is observed in the coming new year, 5775, is being reinterpreted in Los Angeles.

The key concepts of shmita, which means “release,” are found in the Torah portion Mishpatim in Exodus (“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow)” and in the portion Re’eh in Deuteronomy (“Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts”). Though the first commandment is believed to apply only in Israel, the second can have an impact on Jews anywhere.

In modern Israel, though some working in agriculture strictly observe, others use a sale permit called heter mechira, which allows Jewish landowners to temporarily sell their fields and orchards to a non-Jewish party so that the land can continue to be cultivated during the shmita year. A similar legal instrument for debt, called a pruzbol, makes it possible for lenders to continue collecting on loans.

In the United States, because the farming restrictions of shmita do not apply, other than in study, shmita has not received much attention. But this year, Hazon, an nonprofit whose goal is to create healthy and sustainable communities within a Jewish context, has initiated a Shmita Project, which asks: “What might this shmita year look like in a modern context? In Israel and beyond?”

In area synagogues, schools and Jewish summer camps, the seeds of an answer are beginning to push up from California’s drought-parched soil.

“We want to revitalize the ideas of shmita,” said Devorah Brous, founding executive director of Netiya, a Los Angeles Jewish nonprofit that promotes urban agriculture through a network of interfaith partners. Brous sees in shmita “the broad connections between land and people,” and she wants to apply that connection “to advance notions of sustainability” as well as to “promote resilience,” she said.

Brous, a gardener whose backyard garden in Sherman Oaks is filled with trees yielding pears, oranges, pomegranates and apples, vegetable beds green with kale, chard, tomatoes, herbs and even chickens, sees the system of food production in America as “having broken parts,” and the year of shmita as a time to begin fixing it.

To begin that process, a recent Netiya leadership retreat in San Diego featured Rabbi Yedida Sinclair, who translated and wrote an introduction for “Rav Kook’s Introduction to Shabbat Ha’Aretz” (Sabbath of the Land). First published in 1909 as a preface to “Shabbat Ha’Aretz,” the book presents new halachic approaches to shmita. “The old will be made new, and the new made holy,” Kook wrote.

“Shmita affords us an opportunity to take a break from what we are doing day-to-day,” said Brous, who sees shmita as a metaphor for slowing down and trying to see if “our reactions to problems are actually holistic and comprehensive,” she said.

The retreat gave her time to rethink the model of food justice, Brous said. “We need to step outside of the current model of doing canned food drives and move toward teaching people how to grow their own food,” said the community organizer, who lived in Israel for 15 years.

In rethinking how to help the city’s hungry, Brous has been asking congregations of all faiths to open up 10 percent of their land to grow food, she said.

“We need to help the folks who come to every one of our congregations,” she said, including those she has seen after Shabbat services putting food “into plastic containers and sticking it into their purses so they can have dinner that night.”

Though she has yet to find any takers for the 10 percent plan in the Jewish community — where she has been told even a parking spot is too valuable to give up —  11 congregations and Jewish groups have already devoted parts of their acreage to community gardens, including Temple Judea, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood and IKAR, as well as camps Ramah and JCA Shalom.  

A garden in Highland Park, Brous said, is a product of a combined effort of All Saints Episcopal Church, which supplied the land, and neighbor Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, which contributed the funding via a grant from the Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, with members from both congregations supplying labor.

In a few weeks, Netiya also plans to help install a “shmita-ready” garden at the New Community Jewish High School in West Hills.

“During a shmita year, you cannot plant in the ground, but you can plant in raised beds,” Brous said. “In the garden, they are going to practice shmita. Three of the beds will be for planting and one fallow.”

Others in L.A.’s Jewish community want to get in on the planting, too.


All Saints Episcopal Church collaborated on a communal garden with neighbor Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock on a plot of land in Highland Park in 2014. Photo by Lisa Friedman

Among some in the Orthodox community, there’s a rush to plant — in Israel. On the website Israeltrees.org, which is run by Zo Artzeinu — complete with a shmita countdown clock — there’s a rush to plant thousands of fruit trees in Israel. 

“Next Opportunity in 7 Years!” the site reminds.

In the field of kosher food supervision, the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), which also provides assistance with personal matters including marriage, divorce and conversion, the coming shmita presents an atmosphere of business as usual and nothing rushed.

For Rabbi Avrohom Union, rabbinic administrator of the RCC, the impact of products coming to Los Angeles from Israel will not hit until later this year, he said. In the coming months, the RCC will be watching to make sure that producers have adhered to the laws of shmita. “It’s highly technical and depends on the crop,” Union said, whose organization also “watches the wines.”

On the RCC site, there is also a pruzbol form. Pruzbol is a halachic innovation — today under rabbinic authority — from the time of Hillel the Elder that allows those holding loans to turn them over to a rabbinical court for a year.

Intended to help the poor, Hillel created the contract because he observed that in the time before the shmita year, potential lenders, fearing they would not be paid back, were reluctant to make loans.

According to Union, the forms can be completed any time before the end of the shmita year. Chabad interprets the deadline differently, he said, calling for the pruzbol to be completed before shmita begins.

Though acknowledging that shmita can make some Jews feel “more aware of ecology,” for Union, shmita is more about the “holiness of the land of Israel.”

Brous, however, feels that in her new interpretation she is not acting in “total disregard for shmita,” pointing out that after three years of drought in California, “The land is thirsty, but it’s also hungry for compost.

“This shmita year, we can restore,” she said.

Hipster guide to the High Holy Days


” target=”_blank”>atidla.com.

 

3 places to get great local honey

” target=”_blank”>Jewels of Elul: Craig Taubman’s gathering of short stories and anecdotes to help us reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days. 

” target=”_blank”>My Jewish Learning: A clearinghouse of handy information about Jewish holidays, culture, beliefs, etc. Think of it as an interactive “Jewish Book of Why” —with more pictures.

” target=”_blank”>10Q: 10 days, 10 questions. Answer each one and next Rosh Hashanah you’ll have your answers sent back to you, so you can reflect on how much you have (or haven’t) changed.

 

 

(by Sinai Temple’s Rabbi Jason Fruithandler)

 

1. It’s long for a reason — the liturgy tries to give as many opportunities for connection as possible.

Over the course of the High Holy Days, there are special extra prayers, special extra Torah readings, and even a whole extra book of the Tanakh — Jonah — is read. The length and diversity of the liturgy is an expression of the tension between the need for communal strength and individual reality. Each of us stands before God (however you define God) with our own set of deeds and misdeeds. Each of us needs a different kind of encouragement or support to embrace our broken, imperfect selves and make a plan to try to be better. Our prayer services offer a community of people reflecting on the year, medieval piyutim (liturgical poems) on the core nature of death, uplifting music about the possibility of being better, stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs doing the best they can, and many other entry points into the themes of the High Holy Days. Each year, I try to find one access point, one theme, one idea, one song to connect to and carry with me into the coming year.

2. Most of the High Holy Days liturgy is written by poets trying to understand the themes of the holidays.

The early rabbis laid out an outline of what themes the prayer leader should touch on. There were no siddurs for the community. There were traveling professionals who had beautiful singing voices and were masters of the Hebrew language. They would take the themes of that outline and elaborate. The siddur represents a collection, made over the course of 2,000 years, of the best work of those prayer leaders. Do you have a favorite poem? Is there a scene from a movie or TV show that moves you? Add your own to create your personal siddur.

3. The sound of the shofar counts as its own prayer.

Maimonides writes that an entire prayer is in his mind each time he hears the shofar. The powerful sounds of the shofar are meant to stir our souls. The content of that private prayer is going to be different for each person, yet the strength of the prayer is amplified — for all are sharing that moment together. The contrast between the short and long blasts gives us a chance to be individuals together in community.

4. Kol Nidre was extraordinarily controversial.

The early rabbis tried for centuries to abolish or at least to adjust the Kol Nidre service. In many ways, it seems to undermine the halachic (Jewish legal) system. Kol Nidre as a service either annuls all of the vows (promises that invoke God’s name) from the previous year or the coming year. It is possible to annul vows in Jewish law, but you need a rabbinic court. During the Kol Nidre service, we make a pretend court out of three Torahs held by three individuals. There is no halachic standing for such a thing. In addition, it seems to completely alleviate the responsibility of making promises. However, every synagogue in the world has a Kol Nidre service. The people overruled the rabbis. People love the moment of Kol Nidre — not because of its legal standing, but because it transitions us into Yom Kippur. What better way to start a day of forgiveness than by facing the fact that we don’t live up to the promises we make to ourselves and others? More than that, we forgive ourselves for those failings. That forgiveness becomes the foundation of an entire day of admitting all of our shortcomings.

5. Rosh Hashanah is the more somber of the two holidays.

It is the day God is our jury and we are found guilty. Yom Kippur is the “happy fast” — God serves as our sentencing judge, and our sentence is commuted. We have another year to try again.

 

 

7 places to “just do your own thing in, like, nature

 

” target=”_blank”>Instructables.com for a guide to building a free-standing DIY sukkah out of PVC pipes. ” target=”_blank”>Sukkot.com offers wood-frame or steel-tube sukkah kits, along with wall materials, bamboo roofing, decorations, and even a lulav and etrog. ” target=”_blank”>SiegerSukkah.com also offer easy-to-assemble sukkahs, but be prepared to shell out a few hundred dollars.

3. Go to a Home Depot or Loews with a budget in mind and the dimensions of your back porch or yard, and channel your inner Tim Allen.

4. Team up with some fellow Jews and build a communal sukkah. There’s no better way to break the Yom Kippur fast than with a nosh among friends under the stars.

 

 

Putting the “high” in High Holy Days – 7 “medical” marijuana strains we’d like to see

 

– Dread Lox

” target=”_blank”>Om Shalom Yoga

” target=”_blank”>Pre-High Holy Days Yoga Unwind & Detox at Sinai Temple, Sept. 21, 11 a.m.-noon.

– The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles ” target=”_blank”>israeliparties.com.

Rosh Hashanah Party, Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m., at The Victorian, 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. There’ll be mingling, music, dancing, appetizers and a festive party spirit. 

Apple Meets Honey Young Professionals Lounge at Sinai Temple, a place for folks in their 20s and 30s to stop by during or after services at Sinai for light bites (Rosh Hashanah only) and mingling. The lounge will be open on Rosh Hashanah Day 1 (Sept. 25), 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., and on Yom Kippur (Oct. 4), 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Rosh Hashanah Apple Extravaganza Party, Sept. 18, 8 p.m., at Moishe House LA,110 N. Harper Ave., Los Angeles. There’ll be delicious apple cider, apple pie, caramel apple dipping, and a discussion on what Rosh Hashanah means to young Jews.

 

 

6 best places to get round challah

 

Got Kosher?: 8914 W. Pico Blvd. (get the pretzel challah!)

  

6 places to do tashlich

 

” target=”_blank”>Creative Arts Temple, at Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, Sept. 26, 10 a.m.

” target=”_blank”>“Down to the River,” East Side Jews, at Marsh Park on the Los Angeles River, Sept. 27, 6:30-9:30 p.m., $40, includes food, drink and transformation. 

” target=”_blank”>IKAR, at Santa Monica Beach, Lifeguard Station 26. Sept. 28, 4:30-7:30 p.m. 

 

 

” target=”_blank”>hearingshofar.blogspot.com.

Self-described “jazz comedian” David Zasloff also offers private lessons. Zasloff has staged shofar shows such as “Shofar-palooza,” and on Oct. 18 at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, he will perform on the shofar all the Christian songs written by Jews.

Jews and Jim Crow


After Shabbat services two weeks ago, I nearly quit my job.

That reflex came after a community discussion on Michelle Alexander’s 2011 book “The New Jim Crow,” about racial injustice and inequality in America; I found it impossible to fend off very dark thoughts urging me to expand my mind, my work and my life. What could be more meaningful, more purposeful than devoting oneself to stamping out institutionalized racism?

On the way home, I passed a badly aging apartment building I knew to be inhabited by several black families. I lingered in the doorway, listening to the echo of voices, peering up into shaded windows, paralyzed by curiosity as I imagined interviewing someone in the building. I could knock at a random door, all investigative-reporter-like, and begin writing a series on race in L.A.

After all, these are our neighbors.

That I often leave shul incredibly agitated and deeply inspired, morally challenged and not the least bit perturbed that I have to spend the rest of Shabbat rethinking the purpose of my existence is one of the reasons I love it. As my writing idol Leon Wieseltier, “Is conscience in such fine shape in our time, is compassion so sturdy, that we may all wander off to the satisfactions of private experience? I like that being in shul roils my insides, discomfits the status quo, exhilarates and depresses me all at once. It’s like alcohol, only less toxic.

On that Shabbat, I sat transfixed, as if in a wine-soaked stupor (only I’d drunk nothing but grape juice) as a group of Jews engaged in a public discussion about social justice issues. Many shared their responses to the book itself, but just as many shared stunning personal encounters echoed in its content — experiences with and of the black community, encounters with racism and the impact of racial politics on our country. In the 1980s, Rabbi Brad Artson, now dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, served as a legislative aid to Democratic politician Willie Brown, who later became San Francisco’s first African-American mayor. Who knew?

For days afterward, I agonized. Not only does this work matter to me, it matters. But what on God’s beautiful, burning Earth can I do? The pain in this world is overwhelming; I’m about to complete a yearlong fellowship of global justice training with American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which exposed me to a whole other realm of misfortune; and moments before this writing, the Israeli government confirmed our worst fears that the three kidnapped Israeli youth — Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel — had been murdered.

But as AJWS’ Ruth Messinger often says, “We cannot resort to the convenience of being overwhelmed.”

When I was in high school, my mother (z”l) worked as a counselor for “severely emotionally disturbed” teenagers at an inner-city school in Overtown, Miami (Google “Overtown, Miami” and the second item that comes up is “Overtown Crime”). Every Friday at the Shabbat dinner table, she’d regale us with that week’s horror story — someone’s infant sibling had drowned in a bathtub from parental neglect; a cocaine-addicted mother beat the child who worked the night shift at a supermarket to help her pay the rent; a girl was raped by her father — it was endless. Every week, we’d hear about parents in prison, gang violence, kids forced into the drug trade just to survive.

Shabbat became a real bummer; a few times, my mother even risked her job to bring her students home with her. She feared that if they went “home,” she’d never see them again, so she offered up our guestroom. That was my mother’s response to feeling overwhelmed. 

Years later, working at another high school, she was assigned a 16-year-old Congolese refugee named Aime Kalangwa, who’d watched as Laurent Nkunda rebels slaughtered both of his parents and nine of his 10 siblings. “As a way of killing my father, they plucked his eyes out, cut out his tongue and cut off his two arms. They then threw him into a drum of oil and boiled him alive,” Kalangwa wrote in an unpublished account called “Struggles in Life.” It’s sickly absurd suggesting what they did to his mother was worse. On the front of the packet containing his memoir — which my mother gave to me because she thought it should be turned into a movie — it says, “Don’t cry when reading this story.”

Walking home from a morning coffee the other day, I was contemplating a world on fire. Violence in Congo, Syria and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the Global South, the streets of American cities. What is an adequate response to deep and systemic suffering? Is any response truly adequate? Where does it begin?

It’s hard enough, I thought, being consistently kind and compassionate  — our best selves — with those closest to us, with those whom we love. The seeds of dignity, empathy and civility are sown at home. It is hardest to do your best with the people who know your worst.

In college, after watching a documentary about the privatization of water in impoverished South American communities, I turned to a classmate in the film lab who was not nearly as unnerved by it as I was. “How are you OK?” I pleaded. “How do you not throw your arms up in despair amidst all the brokenness that needs mending?!”

My classmate’s name was Ruth. And for as long as I live, I shall never forget what she taught me. “I can’t make the whole world good,” she said. “But I can live everyday as an emanation of goodness.”

Remembering that advice may have saved my job.

Sukkot Calendar 2013


SUN | SEPT 22

SUKKOT FAMILY FUN DAY

Get your harvesting on in Malibu! The Shalom Institute is offering a day filled with organic gardening, ziplining, nature walks and music. Families can also indulge in arts and crafts and meet animals in the Pinat Chai Animal Center. Kosher lunch and snacks provided. Sun. 10 a.m. $10 (general), Free (Ages 6 and under). Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500. ” target=”_blank”>templejudea.com.

FIESTA DE COSECHA/SUKKOT

Proyecto Jardin and IKAR’s Green Action invites you to garden, make crafts, decorate, eat and dance with lulavs and etrogs. All ages are invited, and all materials and foods are provided. Please RSVP. Sun. 1 p.m. Proyecto Jardin, 1718 Bridge St., Boyle Heights. (323) 634-1870. ” target=”_blank”>israeliamerican.org.


MON | SEPT 23

BEND THE ARC SUKKOT PARTY

What’s Sukkot without a little bit of justice? Come mix and mingle with the director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action to discuss your role in creating a more just world. Of course, you will also get to engage in some noshing. Mon. 7 p.m. Free. RSVP. Temple Sinai, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. SUN | SEPT 24

YALA IN THE VALLEY

It’s dinnertime for you Valley boys and girls. The CEO of the Federation’s Valley Alliance hosts dinner in her sukkah! Join Carol Koransky for an evening of food, drinks, games and quality conversation. Everyone is invited, but Valley folk encouraged! Tue. 6:30 p.m. $15-$25. Private Residence. (323) 761-8247.

High Holy Days: What’s NEXT for Birthright


High Holiday map screenshot. Courtesy of NEXT.

On Aug. 5, the Birthright Israel alumni organization NEXT launched its 2013 High Holy Days initiative. It features an interactive, nationwide map of services and events — including learning opportunities, dinners and break-the-fasts — as well as a first-time offering of resources and small subsidies for people willing to host Rosh Hashanah meals and Yom Kippur break-the-fasts. 

“Taglit-Birthright participants have returned from their summer trips — joining the hundreds of thousands of alumni from past years — with a personal connection to Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people. Now is the time to build on that connection and help make Jewish opportunities and communities more accessible,” Morlie Levin, CEO of NEXT, said in a statement. 

“We’ve found that Birthright Israel alumni are particularly interested in celebrating holidays with their friends, and the High Holy Days initiative offers them the opportunity to both create these experiences themselves and connect to community events they find meaningful.”

Based around the idea that there are ways to keep participants of Taglit-Birthright’s free 10-day trips to Israel interested in Judaism and the Jewish state after they return home, NEXT helps connect alumni through events, subsidized Shabbat meals and other programs. The organization has an alumni community of more than 300,000 individuals, according to its Web site.

While the High Holy Days map is in its third year, it has some new features this time. For example, it now allows users to filter events based on their preferences, whether they are seeking services that are egalitarian; LGBT-friendly; interfaith-friendly; English-heavy; or Reform, Orthodox or Conservative. 

As of press time, several Los Angeles-area congregations — including Nashuva, Stephen S. Wise Temple, IKAR and Congregation Shir Chadash in Lakewood, Calif. — have listed their services on the map. More are expected to join during the two weeks leading up to the holidays.

The NEXT map was produced by San Francisco- and New York-based 10x Management, a talent agency that represents freelance programmers and other technology professionals. The map relies on GPS technology and enables users to tweet and share on Facebook which events they plan to attend.

As with the online map, NEXT also designed the meal subsidy program, the other part of the 2013 initiative, to encourage alumni and young professionals to participate in and engage with the most important holidays of the year.

Hosts will be reimbursed up to $10 per guest for up to 16 guests, and NEXT has made resource materials available on its Web site to help enrich the experience. These include recipes, dinner ideas, holiday videos and much more.

The program was inspired by the longstanding NEXT Shabbat program, which covers the cost of Shabbat meals — a host simply provides receipts and photos as proof that they hosted one.

“We understand one of the most effective ways toward a deeper understanding of Jewish learning is to have the opportunity to [sit around a dinner table] with a large circle of friends,” Levin said.

For more information on the High Holy Days initiative, including the interactive map and the subsidy program, visit birthrightisraelnext.org/highholidays.

Mayor Garcetti calls on fellow Jews to help


Mayor Eric Garcetti said his close ties to the Jewish community will not only enable him to respond better to communal concerns, but also spur him to draw on the community for its help in addressing some of the city’s pressing needs.

The new mayor spoke to about 150 invited guests at an Aug.4 reception in his honor, sponsored by the Jewish Federation.  Representatives of numerous synagogues and Jewish institutions, as well as Israel Consul General David Siegel, greeted the mayor at the sprawling Brentwood estate of Bill and Cece Feiler.

In her opening benediction, Rabbi Sharon Brous of the IKAR congregation, which Garcetti attends, urged Garcetti to continue his focus on the poor and underserved in the city.

“I want to bless you with urgency. We are here to help you, and to utz you,” Brous said, using the Yiddish word for “push.”

Garcetti opened his remarks with a humorous take on his place in L.A. Jewish history.

“I’m not the first Jewish mayor of this city,” he said.  “There was a guy named Bernard Cohn in the 1800s, who was appointed mayor and promptly died.  So I’ve already outlasted him.  I am the longest serving, elected Jewish mayor in L.A. history.”

Garcetti’s mother, Suky Roth, is the daughter of Harry Roth, a successful clothing merchant.  His father Gil Garcetti’s family is of Italian, Mexican-Catholic background. 

The rebirth of the original Sinai Temple in Pico-Union as a multi-faith community center, and the Jewish community’s revival of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights are emblematic of the way he—and the Jewish community—can use history to shape the future,  Garcetti said.  He said his maternal grandparents used to pray at Breed Street Shul, while his Latino paternal grandparents lived in the neighborhood.

“It’s our roots that somehow guide our future,” the mayor said.  “When we reconnect with where we come from we become not only more fully realized in terms of who we are as human beings, but as Jews as well,” Garcetti said.


Garcetti urged the Jewish community to help him address all of L.A.’s issues. “How many of you, if I just fixed traffic on Sunset, dayenu?” Garcetti said, using the Hebrew expression for “that would be enough.”

The crowd laughed—and many raised their hands.  But Garcetti continued to speak about a broader agenda.

“We’re the Jewish mayor,” said Garcetti, “what sort of opportunity do we have first for folks to come and let me know what we need as a community, but secondly for me as a mayor to say this is what I need from the community, on immigration, poverty, literacy, schools, on traffic.  We can lead the way.”