It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.

Finally, A Bat Mitzvah

Growing up in Iran, Soraya Nazarian felt she was missing something at synagogue. “I wanted to know what we were studying, what we were reading, what the rabbi was teaching… but it was so crowded back in the women’s section, all I could hear was ‘Shh, shh.'”

But this full-time volunteer for Hadassah and mother of three college-age children is not easily shushed. Moving to Los Angeles before the 1979 revolution, Nazarian and her family joined Sinai Temple. She soon became the first Persian on the executive board. There her childhood dream was rekindled.

“As a board member… they gave me an aliyah, and after I said the blessing, one of the gabbais, [Sid Burke] said, as a joke, ‘Soraya, have you ever been bat mitzvahed?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Now you have.'”

The punchline, however, was Nazarian’s. In 1998, when her Hadassah education committee was brainstorming for programs to unite its scattered Southern California women, Nazarian proposed an adult bat mitzvah class. The others were skeptical. She recalls them saying, “‘Leave it alone.'”

But Nazarian would not be silenced. She flew to Miami to observe a bat mitzvah performed by National Hadassah. Inspired by a sermon, she proposed a new spin: a bat mitzvah centered on the emerging women’s holiday of Rosh Chodesh. “They loved it,” recounts Nazarian.

Within months, 28 women –Persian, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Israeli, ages 30-75, from as far away as Long Beach and Palm Springs — were practicing their first-ever Torah portions. Each would also learn a portion of the service, write a drash for a class book, and design a fabric square for a communal huppah that all would enter under on the day of their bat mitzvah.

By year’s end, all 28 had passed under the huppah, before a standing-room only crowd at Sinai Temple.

Nazarian had come a long way. “As a Persian Jew, I was always eliminated. I could never be the one who received the Torah, because we were always separated. Here I got the feeling that yes, I am a Jew, I am a human being. I can read the Torah.”

And on making her dream a reality for the other 27, she adds, “‘God, thank you for letting me share this feeling with others.'”

Finally in Hebrew

Debby Wasserman was excited. She was taking her grown daughter Vicki Feldman to Israel, where most of her family still lived, for the first time. Wasserman was born there when it was Palestine.

But Feldman was distressed — by her lack of Hebrew. “What if my Mom wasn’t here anymore? I’d have to go back to Israel and wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone.”

Wasserman grew up speaking Hebrew, but her daughter only had a brief flirtation with Hebrew school. After Feldman had kids, she set out to find her own Jewish experience. She joined synagogue after synagogue, but always felt there was something lacking.

So when Wasserman invited her daughter to become bat mitzvah with her, Feldman was enthusiastic.

“I really didn’t have time in my life to make that commitment,” says Feldman, director of the child care center at Warner Elementary. “I said yes… just because my mom asked me to do it.”

Wasserman wanted to take the class because, “There’s a lot more to becoming a bat mitzvah besides Hebrew. There’s history, culture, everything.” Plus, her classmates were “wonderful people.”

The book that we used is fabulous,” says Feldman. “Even if you don’t know every letter, you’re able to read soon.” Although Feldman couldn’t attend the daytime class, her mother kept her on track by telephone.”

And at the actual ceremony, both women communed about one shared trait. “Neither of us sing… at all,” laughs Feldman. “We had some women in our group with really beautiful voices, and we’d kind of sing along.” Wasserman agrees: “We’d try to stay in the background.”

Another thing they agree on is their desire to continue learning.

“[The bat mitzvah] has importance, but it’s not the end,” Wasserman says. Her daughter nods: “It should be the beginning.”

A Mind-Boggling Accomplishment

Nicole Flier calls herself many things. USC graduate. Vice-president at a major industrial contractor. Multi-sport athlete. But until last year, there was one thing she couldn’t call herself: a bat mitzvah.

Flier, 27, is the only alumna of Hadassah’s program who could have been bat mitzvahed sooner. But, as she recalls, “My head was more into sports than going to Hebrew school three times a week… And, unfortunately, I prevailed.”

Her father has been active in UJF, and her mother, a regular volunteer at a Jewish retirement home for over 20 years. “I grew up knowing about my people and knowing it was important to give,” she says.

It was at that home that Flier’s maternal grandfather became more religious. “My Mom and I joked and called him ‘Super Jew.'”

But Flier was moved by her grandfather’s transformation. When she saw an ad for the bat mitzvah class, she wondered, “Why didn’t I do this when I was 13? I felt like I was missing something, like I didn’t feel complete.”

Although Flier and her mother signed up together, her mother had to drop out when her father was diagnosed with leukemia. “That was my first turning point when I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” says Flier.” Furthermore, with no background in Hebrew, Flier struggled mightily to keep up. “It was like looking at hieroglyphics… it was horrible.”

Flier had to cope with her grandfather’s passing a few months later. But it also fuelled her determination. “It was really hard, but I couldn’t drop out, because I knew he was up there saying, ‘You gotta finish. You gotta do it.'”

Having finished, Flier urges other women to follow her path. “If it’s important to you, just like anything in life, do it. It doesn’t matter how hard it is or how challenging, but when you’re all done, it’s mind-boggling what you’ve accomplished.”

For more information about classes for the 2000 Adult Bat Mitzvah program, contact Bobby Klubeck or Linda Stillson at Hadassah Southern California by calling (310) 479-3200.