Nessah president blazing trail for Iranian women


Dr. Morgan Hakimi has a variety of roles — psychologist, Jewish activist, wife and full-time mother. But it’s her position as president of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Beverly Hills that has captured the attention of the L.A. Persian Jewish community.

In this Persian Orthodox culture, where leadership is traditionally dominated by men, opposition followed Hakimi after she was first elected president in 2004. However, Hakimi’s recent reelection has inspired her to step up her challenge to other women to get involved.

“I have always felt that Nessah could be an incredible bridge for more women to participate in our community, for younger American Jews of Iranian descent to connect with her heritage and for American Jews to become more familiar with us,” she said.

Skepticism from critics has died down since her initiatives have led to a substantial increase in membership within the last two years. People are packing Nessah’s two sanctuaries during Shabbat services, and crowds of previously disenfranchised women — both younger Persian Jews and non-Persian Jews — are participating in greater numbers in center programming Hakimi developed.

She credits outreach to and inclusion of the larger Jewish community for the synagogue’s growth. Hakimi has turned to a more American model of running a synagogue — setting up a membership system, establishing support groups for single parents and adding more events for its younger congregants.

“My greatest asset is having a diverse staff of Iranians, Americans, Hispanics and African Americans that are not afraid to work together,” Hakimi said. “We purposefully chose a new executive director in Michael Sklarewitz and new program director in Robin Federman, who are American, in order to better serve our community and bring us closer to the greater American Jewish community.”

Nessah’s Rabbi David Shofet praised Hakimi’s outreach efforts to younger Iranian Jews and said he has noticed more women at the center since she took office.

“In my eyes, women are more important because they are the mothers of the next generation,” he said. “If they are committed to Judaism and are affiliated, they can hand it on to the next generation. Otherwise there will not be a continuity of Judaism.”

After Hakimi’s election two years ago, participation of women in religious services became a lightning-rod issue on both sides of the mechitza in the Orthodox congregation. Traditionalists sought to keep women out, and more liberated women demanded greater involvement. Hakimi has approached such situations with diplomacy in mind, talking with both sides to find acceptable common ground.

“I am not here to create a revolution. I’m here to bring awareness and understanding about a lot of issues in our community, including those involving women,” Hakimi said. “I was raised in an egalitarian family, so I’m not bitter toward men, and I don’t have an attitude of fighting when I approach the rabbis or men. That’s why they are welcoming of my suggestions to include everyone in our programs.”

Hakimi’s election as president set a precedent at Nessah, which she continues to build on slowly. Eight women now sit on the center’s board of directors, with more women serving in committee and staff positions. At the congregational level, young women are now welcome to celebrate a bat mitzvah by giving a d’var Torah during the daytime Shabbat service.

Nahid Pirnazar, a member of the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, said that Nessah could stand to have greater inclusion of women in religious services.

“But Dr. Hakimi has certainly helped [us] take a lot of positive steps toward greater participation of women,” she said.

Pirnazar, a UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history, said Hakimi is the first from her generation to achieve a leadership role in the local Iranian Jewish community, and that she shares good company with Jewish women in Iran who took leadership positions in the early 20th century.

Hakimi is also encouraging young women to develop their own programs at Nessah and to make their voices heard.”Dr. Hakimi has been an incredible mentor in my life in demonstrating to me the unique qualities women in leadership can bring,” said Rona Ram, a 22-year-old Nessah volunteer. “What we, as young females, have noticed is the overriding respect and appreciation the entire congregation gives her as she speaks.”

Hakimi said that when issues of change come up, she anticipates resistance. But she says her aim is to slowly press for greater involvement of women in community activities.

“The Iranian Jewish woman has a quiet strength that is only now coming to the surface. I’m here to say they can have it all, but it will take time _ it will not happen overnight, and they must show a desire and commitment to taking part in leadership roles,” Hakimi said.

For more information about the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, visit www.nessah.org or call (310) 273-2400.

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 www.ijwo.org.
 
— 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.

The Circuit 06-30-2006


All About Aviva
It was a night of stargazing…and trying unsuccessfully to spot any flaws on the amazing “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher, when Aviva Family and Children’s Services presented its annual Triumph of the Spirit Awards Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The evening sparkled as honorees recognized with Aviva Spirit of Compassion awards included Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment; actress Raven; restaurateur and architectural designer Barbara Lazaroff, president of Imaginings Interior Design and partner and co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck group of businesses; and community leader and philanthropist Susan Casden. Hatcher served as honorary dinner chair, Jeff Garlin emceed and Macy Gray and Melissa Manchester performed.

Aviva is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, multiservice agency that provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

For more information, visit

The Circuit


Kudos for Kuh

Los Angeles culinary expert Patric Kuh was honored recently in New York by the James Beard Foundation for his humanitarian efforts during the the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards.

Kuh won kudos in the Magazine Restaurant Review or Critique category for his work at Los Angeles Magazine.

A Clear Need

Bob Ralls and Linda Falcone accepted awards from Harold Davidson, chairman of the board for Junior Blind of America, at the nonprofit organization’s gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event was held specifically to recognize the contributions of the couple to Junior Blind of America, where they have served as president and vice president of development for more than 20 years. For more than 50 years, Junior Blind of America has offered unique programs and services to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent.

Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai

While many Jewish Angelenos gathered to do a mitzvah for Big Sunday or to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut at the Israel Festival, a group of almost 300 Wilshire Boulevard Temple staff and families gathered at the Irmas campus for a cause equally personal. The morning’s event was dubbed a “Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai,” who retired this year after 15 years as director of the Edgar F. Magnin and Gloria and Peter S. Gold Religious Schools.

“You’ve been an inspiration to our children. We can’t pay any person enough for that,” Rabbi Emeritus Harvey J. Fields told Ben-Ishai via a video message. Fields prerecorded a special goodbye message to Ben-Ishai, knowing he would be out of the country for the event. He said what would be missed most in Ben-Ishai’s absence would be her “poetic soul,” her storytelling, and her “care about each of us.” He also noted the excellence of the synagogue’s religious schools today “is your crowning achievement.”

Indeed, in the time Ben-Ishai served as Hebrew school director, the school grew from less than 400 students attending Hebrew school once a week at one campus, to close to 1,000 students attending three days a week at two different campuses.

The haimishe event, as one attendee described it, included many students, several of whom came with their parents. The day began with the tribute and was followed by Israeli dancing, children’s art projects and lunch, as well as a video station to record personal messages to Ben-Ishai and another station to “Write an Anat-o-gram.”

Students also participated in special art projects in their classes, as well as a video project, in which they bid Ben-Ishai farewell and told her they would miss her friendliness and her stories.

Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), acknowledged Ben Ishai’s leadership contributions over the years, stating that out of the five outstanding teachers recognized by the BJE last year, two teachers were from Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“Anat,” he told her, “you are truly a teacher of teachers.”

Ben-Ishai told those assembled that her greatest pride came from seeing her student’s independent participation in acts of tikkun olam and tzedakah.

The Anat Ben-Ishai Religious School Scholarship Fund was established May 3 in Ben-Ishai’s honor.

Those wishing to contribute may call the school at (213) 388-2401. — Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer

Much About Maller

Hot dogs and happy memories were the recipe for the weekend as Temple Akiba, the Reform congregation of Culver City, honored Rabbi Allen Maller for 39 years of dedication and inspiration. The weekend was filled with events to bring the congregation together to celebrate and reflect on the Maller’s years as their leader.

Friday night a special service was held and representatives of California Assemblywoman Karen Bass and L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke presented commendations. Former Culver City Mayor Albert Vera and Culver City Councilwoman Carol Gross praised Maller’s contributions to the community — the City Council even designated April as “Rabbi Maller Month.” There was a “Potpourri of International Tastes” dinner Saturday night and an original musical review written by Barbara Miller that featured five temple members — performing a “shtetl-flavored” tribute to Maller and Temple Akiba.

Maller will leave Temple Akiba at the end of June. Rabbi Zach Shapiro will become new spiritual leader of the congregation.

Magbit FUNDRAISER

Nearly 800 donors, community leaders and public officials gathered May 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 17th annual Magbit Foundation gala to raise funds for interest-free loans for Israeli college students and to celebrate Israel’s 58th year of independence. Master of ceremonies and Magbit leader David Nahai, chair of the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, welcomed the guests and the contributions of the local Iranian Jewish community that started the Magbit Foundation.

Keynote speaker, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acknowledged Magbit’s nearly $3 million in loans given to almost 7,000 new immigrant Israeli university students during the last 17 years.

“The fact that you have provided a means for the talented students in Israel to get the education that will help better the world is truly remarkable,” Villaraigosa said.

Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch spoke about the uniquely strong sense of Zionism of Iranian Jews living in Southern California.

“My friends I have known many Jewish communities around the world, but I have grown to admire the Iranian Jewish community for your sense of Israel and love of Israel which is heartfelt,” Danoch said.

Guests also enjoyed the Middle Eastern dancing of the Sunflower Dancers and the singing of acclaimed Israeli Noa Dori. Also in attendance were Israeli Justice Ministry official Shlomo Shachar, and Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

The Sinai Century


Every Sunday morning, on Valencia Street in downtown Los Angeles, the Welsh Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles holds services in a sloped brick house of worship with stained glass windows picturing Stars of David.

The stars are Jewish stars, and the church organ is the one used in the Jewish services of the building’s former occupants, members of Congregation Sinai, or as it is known today, Sinai Temple. Formed in 1906 by a group of young men in their 20s and 30s, the Conservative synagogue remained at 1153 Valencia St. until 1925, when the congregation sold the property to the Presbyterians.

Now, two buildings and a handful of cantors and rabbis later, Westwood’s Sinai Temple is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.

How do you celebrate 100 years of history?

Sinai Temple began the party in December, with a communitywide Mitzvah Day, and has held events throughout the year. The celebration will culminate in two events: this weekend’s program featuring scholar-in-residence Elie Wiesel, and a June musical performance at the Wilshire Theatre combined with an evening dinner/dance at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Another way to celebrate 100 years is to start planning the next 100, according to David Wolpe, Sinai’s rabbi for the last nine of them. Wolpe suffers from no shortage of ideas: Eight years ago, he started Friday Night Live, a monthly musical service for 21-39-year-olds, which has been replicated at congregations around the world. And recently, he asserted in a speech and an essay that the entire Conservative movement, which is struggling and divided, ought to be renamed “Covenental Judaism” and thus redefined for the future. Under his leadership, the synagogue has embarked on a two-year, $36 million Sinai Centennial Campaign to expand the synagogue and its services. Some $14 million has been raised so far; donor levels are set from $10,000 to $5 million.

The money will be used to purchase additional property, renovate existing
facilities (including Sinai Akiba day school, which was founded in 1968 and
educates 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade) and create an adult education center, a parenting place and a counseling center.

“I would like to create a model of synagogue that will be able to help other synagogues figure out how to do this right,” Wolpe told The Journal. Los Angeles is “the most important city in the world,” in terms of influence, he said, and that also applies to Jewish life and to creating innovative programs.

How do you sum up 100 years of history? That’s the task of historian Florie Brizel, who was hired by Sinai two years ago to write the history of the shul. She just completed “Sinai Temple: A Centennial History,” a narrative that runs more than 200 pages.

The young adult immigrants who established Sinai in 1906 — incorporating it in 1908 — just wanted a synagogue that wasn’t exactly Orthodox, but was definitely not Reform.

“It was in response to the choices that were available, which was Orthodox, which didn’t suit a lot of those pioneers, and the new German Reform, which just wasn’t enough,” said Brizel, co-author of “Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events” (Prentice Hall Press, 2001). “For all intents and purposes, they wanted to be Orthodox, but not quite.”

There was mixed seating and an organ but traditional prayers.

In a way, the history of the temple and congregation is the history of Jewish Los Angeles, with the migration toward the Westside and the integration of diverse Jewish communities.

In 1925, the congregation moved to 3412 W. Fourth St., at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue, where it stayed for 35 years (the building is now used by the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian church). In 1960, Sinai moved to its current location in Westwood, on Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards.

“That big move was about maintaining the congregation,” Brizel said. “Everyone was moving west from the Boyle Heights area. They wanted Beverly Hills. Young people were not staying in the congregation so they said, ‘We’re going to have to stay where our members are.'”

Over the years, there were many rabbis, beginning with Jacob Kohn. Other rabbis have included David Lieber and Jacob Pressman.

Some of Sinai’s leaders influenced the path of Conservative Judaism, including Lieber, who headed the University of Judaism. Sinai was known especially for its music, with cantors such as Carl Urstein, Meir Finkelstein and Lieb Glantz.

One event that radically changed Sinai — and Los Angeles — was the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the influx of Persian Jews to Los Angeles.

“Up until the Iranian revolution in 1979, Sinai was traditional Ashkenazi,” said temple historian Brizel, even though there’d already been a handful of Persian members.

Jimmy Delshad came to Los Angeles in 1960 with his brothers from Iran (via Israel), and when he became a citizen in 1972, he and his wife wanted to join a synagogue. At first they tried Sephardic Temple, but the services were more Ladino — from the Spanish-Jewish tradition — than close to the Persian services he was accustomed to, or the Israeli ones familiar to his wife. They joined Sinai, in the end, because they enjoyed the rabbi’s speeches.

The influx of Persian Jews to Sinai Temple was “organic,” Brizel said. “On Shabbat, everybody would go to the synagogue to find out who was here. It was the trading space for information,” she said, noting that traditionally, synagogues were always meeting houses and especially for Persians during the Iranian revolution.

Friday nights was when the American Jews would come to shul, but the Persians, who traditionally worshipped on Saturday morning, would come to the synagogue Friday night mainly to socialize and to reconnect. Many left Iran with just the clothes on their backs, so they appreciated the food at the shul’s Kiddush on Saturdays.

Near the beginning of the Persian influx, some longstanding members decided to cancel the Kiddush one week because they said they felt outnumbered by the amount of Iranians. But the move provoked an outcry with others in the shul responding that Jews don’t do that to other Jews and they had to have an open-arms policy. They reinstated the weekly post-prayer fete.

“It was a difficult adjustment, just like when any other new group comes in,” said Ed Kaminer, a dentist, lawyer and general contractor who was president of the temple from 1969-71. “Each group looks at them, ‘How dare they come into our shul?’ It wouldn’t matter if they were Russians, Romanians.”

Sinai’s longtime members, especially older ones, worried about having to give up customs and being supplanted.

“It takes a while,” Kaminer said. “The younger ones find it easier. It takes a generation or two.”

Added Brizel: “It took several rabbis chastising the congregation and it still takes some work. Some people left. It took years before the congregation really settled down and started to behave properly.”

She noted a “cultural disconnect.” For example, in Iran, Jews didn’t pay membership dues. It was more of a pay-as-you-go institution. Volunteerism was also a Western concept.

“My wife promoted volunteerism. She helped me figure out that volunteerism is a good thing to do,” Delshad said. The mentality in other countries is more “why do I have to do that?” he said.

Delshad also recalled a night, long ago, when he looked at the bimah and remarked on the men who stood up there beside the rabbi and the cantor.

“Who are they?” he asked his father-in-law.

The temple’s president and vice president, he was told.

“You don’t have to worry about it,” his father-in-law said, because you needed 20 years of service to the synagogue, you had to give a lot of money and Delshad was Persian.

“That will never happen in your lifetime,” his father-in-law told him. “This is an Ashkenazi shul,”

“Something cracked in my head that night [and I decided] I will change that attitude,” said Delshad, who was named Sinai’s man of the year in 1990.

It took Delshad, currently a Beverly Hills’ city councilman, 12 years — not 20 — but from 1999-2001 he became the first Persian Jew to serve as president of Sinai. Delshad, along with others, like Wolpe, have worked to integrate the Ashkenazim and Persians, whose numbers are split about 50-50 in the 1,900-member synagogue.

Today, the synagogue has other pressing challenges, some related to local matters — like whether his younger congregants can afford Westside real estate; others related to wider issues involving Judaism.

“We have all the problems of Westside Jews,” Wolpe said. He has recently spoken on such topics as the value of parents saying no to children — not because parents can’t, but because they won’t. He also spoke last month about the importance of treating hired help — which is mostly Latino — with respect, as Los Angeles’ Latino mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, stood by his side.

“The biggest single problem is continued education and connection to Jewish life,” Wolpe said. “To raise kids who still feel passionately about Jewish life in America.”

The proposed new facilities and programs should help. Through the new parenting and the counseling centers, Wolpe hopes to inculcate Jewish values and modern psychology to newlyweds and parents. And he plans to maintain and build on Sinai’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning, its adult education center.

“Nobody 100 years ago could possibly have any idea what Jewish life would be like now. Just as we have no idea what it will be like in 100 years,” Wolpe said. “But I believe that powerful, active institutions make the difference.”

For more information on events at Sinai Temple, visit www.sinaitemple.org.

 

Community Briefs


Czech President Speaks at Yom HaShoah Service

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus spoke to about 700 Jewish schoolchildren, diplomats and Holocaust survivors at a Yom HaShoah service at the Museum of Tolerance April 25, at which Gilberto Bosques, a Mexican diplomat who saved thousands of French Jews, was honored.

“We must never forget how it started, who did it,” Klaus said during a California visit, in which he also met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The same fate was being prepared for all the Czechs.”

Bosques’ grandson, Tijuana businessman Gilberto Bosques Tistler, accepted the honor on his late grandfather’s behalf. A museum offical told the story of the Mexican consul serving in Vichy France. The diplomat saved about 40,000 Jews, artists and other refugees by issuing travel visas. The visas allowed thousands of Jews to escape to Mexico.

“I hope someone in Israel will say Kaddish for Gilberto Bosques,” said Ruben Beltran, Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles. Beltran is a descendant of Spanish “converso” Jews, who were forced to become Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition.

The speech by the Czech president, as well as those by Mexican, Israeli and Austrian diplomats, supported the memorial service’s tribute to survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who recently died in Vienna.

“For many young Austrians, this fragile, stubborn, modest old man has become a hero,” Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss said. “You don’t need many heroes in your life; you just need to choose them carefully.”

YULA High School junior Ariela Gindi, 16, and others noted that they had never heard Bosques’ story before. “You always hear about Schindler, who saved all the Jews, but you never hear of a Mexican consul personally saving Jews,” Gindi said.

After rescuing Nazi victims in World War II, Bosques served as Mexico’s ambassador to Cuba from 1953 to 1964. During that time, he witnessed the Cuban revolution in which strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown and communist dictator Fidel Castro rose to power.

Bosques Tistler said his grandfather first protected hunted communist insurgents fighting Batista’s rule, and then, after the 1959 revolution, he hid Batista’s allies fleeing Castro’s regime.

“He arrived into Cuba before the Castro revolution,” Bosques Tistler told The Journal. “Before the revolution, he helped Castro’s people, and he gave asylum at the embassy. Then came the revolution, and he gave asylum to the Batista people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Iranian Community Honors Memory of Shoah Victims

Nearly 1,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered Sunday, April 23, at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

The event, broadcast via satellite to Iran by Persian-language television stations in Southern California, was considered especially important this year in the wake of recent comments by Iran’s president denying the existence of the Holocaust. Keynote speakers included Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Abbas Milani, professor of Iranian studies at Stanford University.

“Many in the world don’t understand why Jews are so obsessed with commemorating the Shoah,” Hier said. “We must remember because we paid a dear price for allowing the world to be silent when it was going on more than 60 years ago.”

Audience members became emotional several times during the event when special prayers were chanted for those killed in the Shoah and when anti-Semitic programming from Iran’s state-sponsored television stations was shown.

Other officials in attendance at the Nessah gathering were Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Holocaust Survivors Take Part in Hospital Memorial Event

Toni Green, 82, and her sister, Selma Konitz, 80, both of West Los Angeles and formerly of Auschwitz, Poland, were the only ones of eight siblings to survive the Holocaust. They were sent to separate concentration camps and found each other the day after liberation.

To commemorate Yom HaShoah and remember the 6 million who died, the sisters joined other local survivors in a recent candlelighting ceremony at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Program chair Dr. Joel Geiderman, the hospital’s co-chairman of emergency medicine, as well as vice chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told the audience that quite a few survivors come to Cedars, and he urged the residents in attendance, who were from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, to listen to their stories while there’s still an opportunity.

Keynote speaker for the 22nd annual gathering, Dr. Susan Bachrach, curator for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, spoke on “Nazi Medicine and Eugenics.” Her talk mirrored the Holocaust Museum’s current exhibition — the most successful in its history — “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

Through a slide show and video testimonials, Bachrach traced the path of Nazi medicine, stemming from Sir Francis Galton’s philosophy of eugenics, which he defined as the improvement of human hereditary traits through intervention. She noted it was practiced by well-known, respected doctors and moved from forced sterilization and unethical experiments to mass murder to genocide.

“It is inconceivable how that became accepted behavior,” she told the audience, discussing the campaign to cleanse German society of those deemed “biological threats,” to the Nordic (“ideal”) race.

Bachrach concluded that “no straight path led from eugenics to Nazi medicine to the Holocaust. It was a twisted route, with many steps along the way. The cumulative, step-by-step choices of thousands and tens of thousands of persons, added up to genocide.” — Melissa Maroff, Contributing Writer

Youths Stage Rally Against Genocide in Darfur

Young people in Los Angeles are actively engaged in the fight to save Darfur, as witnessed by a recent Sunday afternoon gathering at the Federal Building in Westwood. The rally, organized by Teens Against Genocide (TAG), attracted about 300 supporters, including some bearing signs urging, “Honk if you’re opposed to genocide.”

“It was cool to see it all come together,” said TAG founder Shira Shane, a New Community Jewish High School senior, who started the group earlier this year. “This was a communitywide effort, not just the Jewish community.”

Shane said the event was a collaboration of students from high schools throughout the Los Angeles area. TAG membership “exploded exponentially,” according to Shane, who said more students signed up at the rally.

“This is a spectacular group of kids and the most successful aspect of our organization,” noted Janice Kamenir-Reznik, executive director and co-founder of Jewish World Watch (JWW), who mentored TAG and co-sponsored the rally.

Participants included area rabbis and ministers, representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Dr. Bruce Powell, New Community Jewish High School headmaster.

“Even though it’s a cold day, it can’t penetrate our warm hearts,” the Rev. Cecil Murray told the crowd. “These young people are giving up their time and talents, and with so many pulls, are prioritizing something as huge as genocide.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) stopped by to say “thanks” when she noticed tents set up by the organization, Camp Darfur. “It was a pleasant surprise to find teens against genocide,” said Waters, who told the rally that she had recently been to Sudan, and it was more horrible than they could imagine.

“They’re not just talking tikkun olam (heal the world); they’re seeing it, and they’re teaching their parents,” said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Jewish World Watch co-founder. “These kids crave idealism, which reminds me of the spirit of the ’60s. There’s a difference in learning history and making history. They’re making history.” — MM

Iranian Muslims Brush Up on Shoah


The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted more than two-dozen representatives from local Iranian Muslim news outlets this month to provide them with information about the Holocaust that they can, in turn, use to educate their readers, listeners and viewers.

“We are looking to introduce the Iranian media to the Wiesenthal Center and to respond to the hatred of Jews in Iran,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said in remarks to the group. “We want you to expose the lies and hatred coming from the Iranian government.”

Cooper was referring to recent statements by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has implied that the Holocaust is a myth; on another occasion he asserted that Israel should be obliterated and that a homeland for Jews could be located instead in Europe or America.

Ahmadinejad’s comments have recently energized the Southern California-based Persian-language media to support Israel publicly and to speak out against anti-Semetic remarks made by Iranian government officials for the first time in the 26 years since the Islamic revolution. A pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions last November.

At the weekend gathering, Iranian journalists talked of a duty to learn more about the Holocaust so they could properly relay the full extent of Nazi atrocities to their audiences.

“It is our responsibility to give people in the Iranian community the correct information about this issue,” said Parviz Kardan, a Persian-language media personality and host of the radio program “A Spoonful of Sugar” on KIRN 670 AM. “We must be a window for young Iranians everywhere to show history in the proper light.”

Those in attendance were given an electronic card with the name and photograph of a child who lived during the era of the Holocaust. At the end of the tour, they discovered what happened to that child.

“I was aware of the Holocaust, but not to the extent of what I learned from this visit,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian-language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news into Iran and worldwide. “In Iran we have a dictator like Hitler who is behaving like him and speaking like him.”

The journalists’ tour guide was Holocaust survivor Peter Daniels, who had his own perspective on Ahmadinejad.

“We’ve dealt with Holocaust deniers for years,” Daniels said. “The president of Iran is not anything new. It’s a way for them to be heard and get attention. I try not to take it personally.”

In a question-and-answer period following the tour, Cooper noted that Ahmadinejad’s statements may be an attempt to divert attention from Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But he urged the Iranian media representatives to respond to them nevertheless.

“The average American thinks the president of Iran speaks for all Iranians,” Cooper told them. “They don’t know the region well, so you need to have a core message.” He also urged them to reach out to U.S. elected officials “to voice your concern for the safety of your friends and family in Iran.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders George Haroonian and Bijan Khalli were involved in setting up the Museum of Tolerance event. They said they felt a responsibility as Jews to inform their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots about the truth of the Holocaust.

“Forgetfulness about the Holocaust is like committing a crime,” Haroonian told the crowd of Iranian journalists in Persian. The Iranian government is “trying to teach hatred for Jews. We hope this tour will be a step to awaken the Iranian people.”

 

‘Top Gun’ Lawyer Aims to Aid Likud


The latest, and certainly most colorful, addition to the ranks of the local Likud leadership is Beverly Hills lawyer Myles L. Berman.

He is better known to citizens facing drunk driving charges — and to connoisseurs of advertising slogans — as The Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney, but these days, it’s the defense of Israel that is uppermost on his mind.

Last June, fed up with what he considers the failure of established organizations to involve the American Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities, he founded the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Friends of Likud.

So far, he has recruited 11 upscale families, drawn primarily from the Iranian Jewish community, to which his wife, Mitra belongs. The members make up in financial clout what they lack in numbers, with a combined worth of over $1 billion, according to Berman.

Born into a strongly Democratic family but later a founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Berman, at 51, is a man of strong physique and opinions.

“I am fed up with intermarriage and with rabbis who reach out to gay and intermarried couples,” he said during an interview in his spacious Sunset Boulevard office.

A member of Sinai Temple, Berman fears that “to some extent, rabbis and lay leaders are unable to instill Jewish identity” into their constituents.

Currently, Berman is focusing his considerable energies on two primary issues:

One is to assure the election from America of a large pro-Likud slate for the upcoming quadrennial Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), dubbed “The Parliament of the Jewish People,” and his own election to the No. 5 spot on the slate.

He is concerned, he said, that so few American Jews realize the importance of June elections for the WZO Congress, which plays a major role in determining relations between Israel and the Diaspora, the running of the Jewish Agency and the dispersal of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Berman’s second immediate goal is to persuade the Israeli government and Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote in Israeli elections.

“It matters to both Israel and American Jewry what the expatriates say and do,” he observed.

Berman has “grabbed [the two issues] in my teeth,” he said. With Berman that means putting his money and advertising savvy behind the effort. Indeed, his penchant for publicity elicits knowing smiles even from fellow Likudniks.

Berman is laying out $50,000 of his own money to place his messages on Israeli cable TV programs popular with Israeli expats, and in the Anglo-Jewish and Hebrew-language press in the United States.

“I hope the efforts will further my ultimate aim of bridging the gap between Israeli leaders and American Jews,” Berman said.

Any Jew over 18 is eligible to vote for delegates to the Congress of the World Zionist Organization online or via mail by Feb. 15. For details, go to www.azm.org or phone (888) 657-8850. The Congress will meet June 19-22 in Jerusalem.

 

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help


 

At 6:30 p.m. on a chilly Wednesday night in December, more than 30 young Jewish professionals gathered on the corner of Sycamore Avenue and Romaine Street in West Hollywood to feed homeless people waiting in line for a hot meal.

There on behalf of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, the volunteers looked with surprise at the growing line of nearly 200 people waiting for food — a sight already familiar to Jennifer Chadorchi, the young Persian Jewish woman who had single-handedly recruited the evening’s volunteers.

“The turnout of volunteers was amazing that night,” said Chadorchi, who regularly organizes volunteer groups for the Coalition. “It makes me feel so great to share the experience of helping others by bringing them in to volunteer.”

For the last eight years, Chadorchi, a Beverly Hills resident in her 20s, has become a rare jewel in the Persian Jewish community, quietly mobilizing a small army of friends, family members and local students to respond to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles.

“Her compassion and her actions are contagious,” said Lida Tabibian, a volunteer recruited by Chadorchi. “She not only changes thousands of lives, but she’s also inspiring a whole generation to be leaders for this cause.”

Chadorchi’s journey in aiding the homeless began when she was 16, when, on a rainy night while driving in her brand-new car, she spotted Coalition volunteers serving food to the homeless.

“What caught my eye was the long line of these people just standing in the pouring rain with only newspapers over their heads,” Chadorchi said. “It didn’t seem fair to me that I had so much and they had nothing, so I decided I had to help.” Since 1987, coalition volunteers have been handing out excess food donated by Los Angeles area hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers. In 2000, the coalition joined forces with UCLA medical students, who offer medical aid to sick, homeless individuals gathering at the street corner.

Chadorchi’s efforts also have included raising funds for the coalition, and she has organized clothing drives in her Beverly Hills neighborhood. She was also instrumental in organizing Project Feed, a campaign allowing Beverly Hills school district students to donate food and time to the coalition in exchange for school credit.

“She has had a tremendous impact on our organization. What she did was build a bridge between our group and Beverly Hills, especially the Iranian Jewish community,” said Ted Landreth, one of the coalition’s founders. “Without her I doubt we could have made these important connections.”

Those familiar with Chadorchi’s volunteer efforts said they wished she would enter the public sector and work with local government officials to help alleviate Los Angeles County’s difficulties with the homeless.

“I’ve known Jennifer since she was a junior at Beverly Hills High School. I think she is one of the most dedicated, incredible and passionate young people out there,” said former U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. “The people working out there [L.A. city officials] are doing alright, but if she was in charge of the homeless problem in Los Angeles County, I promise you’d see some real changes.”

Chadorchi said she is frequently approached by Jews in the community who question her for helping a non-Jewish cause like the coalition.

“It is our duty as Jews to heal the world one person at a time — tikkun olam,” Chadorchi said. “I’m here to let people out there know that one person can really make a difference.”

Individuals interested in joining Chadorchi’s efforts can contact her at (310) 288-0090.

Jennifer Chadorchi

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Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Rabbi David Shofet to Serve as Iranians’ Spiritual Leader


Nearly 90 religious and social leaders from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community have formally and unanimously recognized Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Cultural Center as the community’s new spiritual head.

While Shofet was not elected, the leadership from leading Iranian Jewish organizations signed a resolution approving him to serve as their primary religious leader. The pronouncement was made at a community gathering Sept. 29 at the Olympic Collection in West Los Angeles.

For more than 25 years, Shofet worked alongside his father, Hacham Yedidia Shofet, the community’s longtime spiritual leader, who died last summer.

“The resolution was an expression of confidence that Rav David was the best person to follow in the footsteps of his father, Hacham Yedidia, as our community’s leading spiritual leader,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation.

The event was hosted by Dr. H. Kermanshachi, past chairman and founder of the Iranian Jewish Federation.

 

The Circuit


Founder Farewell

Jonathan Jacoby, who helped found the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) in 1993, will move his primary residence from New York to Los Angeles in October and, shortly thereafter, step down as IPF’s executive director. Jacoby has been a leading participant in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict for the past 20 years. The announcement was made, with “regret,” by Seymour D. Reich and Marvin Lender, president and board chair, respectively, of IPF, the organization that advocates an active American engagement in bringing about Israeli-Arab peace. It has its headquarters in New York and an office in Washington, D.C.

Reich and Lender have formed a committee to seek a new executive director and said Jacoby will continue to serve in that position until his replacement begins, at which time his IPF role on the West Coast will be determined.

A Sure Bet

More than 300 young Iranian Jewish professionals attended Eretz-SIAMAK’s second annual Casino Night held at its Tarzana cultural center on Saturday, July 23. Guests enjoyed the easy-going sounds of a live jazz band while gambling at the poker, craps and roulette tables. A portion of the evening’s proceeds was donated to Cure Autism Now, a national nonprofit organization seeking to find a cure for autism.

“We wanted to raise awareness and funds for autism research because it has really impacted the Jewish community but hasn’t received much attention” said Alan Fakheri, chair of the Eretz-SIAMAK Young Professionals Committee.

Federation Feast

South Bay women feasted on a generous serving of warmth and humor as well as a delicious lunch at The Federation’s South Bay Council annual Women’s Division fundraiser. The Heart and Spirit Event, held in May at the Depot Restaurant in Torrance and hosted by comedian chef extraordinaire Michael Shafer, raised more than $73,000.

Shafer’s performance was part cooking class, part stand-up comedy. Those who weren’t laughing too hard learned how to prepare a delicious, kosher Shabbat dinner. Event co-chairs Zvia Hempling and Iris Lee Knell were delighted with the ladies’ enjoyment of their day as well the overwhelming success of the fundraising effort.

“This was definitely among the South Bay Jewish community’s most successful events ever,” said Robin Franko, director of the South Bay Council. “I could not be more excited about the support, encouragement and dedication of our close-knit community.”

Beth Labelson, Suzan Waks and Leslie Werksman were recognized at the event for their generosity and each received the Lion of Judah pin, which is awarded to women who make a minimum gift of $5,000 to The Federation’s annual campaign.

For more information on South Bay programs, call (310) 375-0863 or visit www.jewishla.org. — Julie M. Brown, Contributing Writer

Young Fighters

The young professionals of Los Angeles recently turned out to support the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leader’s Committee annual Summer Soiree to reaffirm their commitment to leadership in their battle against hated and prejudice.

The party mood didn’t deter for one moment the seriousness of efforts to curtail the ever-present ravages of anti-Semitism and bigotry.

These young professionals believe in securing fair and just treatment for everyone and are shaping the future of this important effort through leadership roles in the agency’s many human relations, community service and civil rights programs.

They invite others to become involved as a donor, board member, committee volunteer or Salvin Leadership Institute participant. This annual fundraiser was designed to not only raise funds but awareness.

The evening featured food, dancing and an opportunity to win prizes and to name a martini.

All proceeds benefited the ADL’s fight against anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.

For more information, call (310) 446-8000.

Briskin at the Beach

Entering the next chapter of its 83-year history, Temple Beth El and Center of San Pedro is excited to welcome Rabbi Charles Briskin as its new spiritual leader. He brings youthful energy and a passion for learning, worship, social justice and community building to Temple Beth El.

“Temple Beth El has a wonderful history and reputation,” Briskin said. “It is known to be a community of genuinely caring and friendly families, served by a solid group of devoted lay leaders and an excellent team of talented and well-established professionals.”

Briskin, his wife, Karen, and toddler son, Ezra, come to Temple Beth El from the San Francisco Bay area. There, Briskin served as the associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where he worked with Rabbi Janet Marder, a national leader in the Reform movement.

Temple Beth El serves Reform Jews from the Beach Communities, Torrance, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Harbor Area in its two locations: the main synagogue building in San Pedro, and the Temple Beth El Peninsula Family Center in Torrance.

For more information on upcoming events to welcome Briskin, call (310) 833-2467.

 

Circuit


Cardinelli Couture Shines

Fashionistas noticeably gasped as each model paraded down the runway recently at the incredibly perfect United Hostesses’ Charities luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The annual fundraiser for the cardiac unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center featured a spectacular fashion show of vintage designs from Marilyn Lewis, who worked under the name Cardinelli. Lewis’ new book, “Marilyn, Are You Sure You Can Cook? He Asked,” is a memoir of her illustrious career when everyone from Nancy Reagan to Marlo Thomas donned her exquisite creations; Thomas even selected Lewis as her designer for her classic “That Girl” television series.

Each design was more beautiful than the one before and the sighs were audible as it became more and more apparent Lewis was eons ahead of her time as the styles reflected the au courant look of fashion today. Sumptuous fabrics, silks and drop-dead designs only brought home her incredible genius.

Fashion icon and Giorgio owner Fred Hayman, who featured Lewis’ sportswear in his chic Rodeo Drive Giorgio boutique, sang her praises.

“She is a timeless and magnificent designer of couture whose designs have passed the test of time and are still relevant and exquisite today,” Hayman said.

The room, decorated to perfection by floral designer Yonelli, was the ideal backdrop for the stunning runway show.

United Hostesses President Marilyn Gilfanbain, unfortunately under the weather, nevertheless outdid herself this year, and everyone turned out to enjoy this wonderful effort including Nancy Sinatra, Eva Marie Saint, Simone Friedman, Michelle Kaye and former Beverly Hills Mayor Donna Garber.

Glickman’s Pix at UCLA

The Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel held a reception to celebrate the opening of Judy Ellis Glickman’s photography exhibit titled “Resistance and Rescue in Denmark.”

The event featured Dr. David Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

The exhibition, sponsored in part by the Royal Danish Embassy in Washington, D.C., the German Consulate General in Los Angeles and Villa Aurora, features Glickman, whose photography has been an integral part of her life since early childhood. Her father, Irving Bennet Ellis, was a recognized early California pictorialist photographer of the 1930s and 1940s. Glickman has been photographing and exhibiting extensively since the late 1070s. Her work has been shown in over 100 exhibitions nationally and internationally since 1992. In January 1993, Judy Ellis Glickman was honored as a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, the highest honor bestowed by this prestigious organization.

The show will run through June 30 at UCLA Hillel, located at 574 Hilgard Avenue. For more information, call (310) 208-3081, ext. 125.

New Young Professionals

A new nonprofit for young professionals held its inaugural soiree May 14 at a private estate in Beverly Hills and raised $40,000 for three Jewish charities.

The Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP), an organization that targets professionals between 21 and 40, attracted 475 revelers to its fundraiser gala. Guests made a minimum donation of $150 a ticket to feast on sushi and other delicacies, quaff their thirst at an open bar and take in the Latin beats of The Gypsy Boys and the sounds of indie rockers Paramount. A DJ spun hip-hop and dance beats until 5 a.m.

“We definitely met our expectations,” said SYP founder and president Elishia Shokrian, a recent graduate from Cornell’s Hotel School who now works at Califco Inc., a real estate development and management company in Beverly Hills.

Although not a Jewish organization, all 22 of The Society of Young

Philanthropists’ current founding committee are Jews, including some Israelis, said Jessica Kimiabakhsh, media relations director. Leveraging their personal and professional networks for financial and other support, the group chose to donate the proceeds from its first event to three Jewish causes: Magbit Foundation, which provides interest-free loans mostly to Israeli university students; IMA Foundation, a nonprofit that gives money to poor Israelis and for relief efforts; and Beit T’Shuvah, a rehabiliation center for Jewish ex-criminals and addicts. Future beneficiaries of the SYP’s largesse could include other Jewish charities as well cancer research, orphanages and tolerance education.

Going forward, the SYP plans to hold equally high-profile, trendy and enjoyable fundraisers. Among the ideas under consideration is a battle of unsigned bands or a fashion show, Kimiabakhsh said.

“We want to create really fun and appealing events. Young people already spend so much money on entertainment, and it just makes sense to raise money for important causes at the same time.,” Kimiabakhsh said. “We feel that is the best way to motivate this age group.” – Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

A Tribute to Tolerance

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance held its annual National Tribute Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 4. The evening honored Bob Wright, chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal and vice chairman and executive officer of General Electric. Wright was presented with the center’s highest honor, its Humanitarian Award, for his lifelong dedication and commitment to philanthropic efforts.

“The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno served as master of ceremonies, Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx provided the entertainment for the evening and “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams delivered tribute remarks to Wright. Chairmen for this year’s dinner were Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, DreamWorks SKG’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and NBC Universal Television Chairman Jeff Zucker.

The Wiesenthal Center also presented Medals of Valor for individual acts of heroism, which included Pastor Carl Wilkens, who remained behind after the forced evacuation of Americans from Rwanda, and is responsible for saving hundreds of lives; Devorah Schramm, an Israeli woman, who transcended the bitter divide of the Middle East conflict to teach music to a blind, autistic Palestinian girl; the untold story of a young Jewish lieutenant, Jerome Shapiro, who arrested Hitler’s second in command, Hermann Goering (the last surviving member of the platoon, Alfred Frye, accepted the medal); and Japanese American veterans of World War II who, as members of the most decorated unit in the history of the Army – themselves victims of discrimination in the U.S. – liberated the Dachau concentration camp death march.

Museum of Tolerance board of trustees chair Larry Mizel thanked the entertainment community for its support at the dinner, which raised $1.5 million.

Bicyclists Raise Funds

Five men from Southern California took part in Riding4Reform, a five-day, 300-mile bike ride through the Negev to Jerusalem, raising more than $40,000 in funds for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Reform movement in Israel.

Howard Kaplan, executive director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles; Cantor Evan Kent, Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles; Charlie Niederman, president of Temple Beth David, Westminster; Mickey Rosen, Los Angeles; and Rabbi Ron Stern, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Los Angeles, were joined by 25 other riders from the United States, Canada and Israel. Together they made the trek from Reform Kibbutz Yahel to Jerusalem, stopping to visit with other Progressive communities in Ashkelon, Modi’in, and Tzur Hadassah along the way. Rabbi Ron Stern decribed the ride as “a terrific trip-by far one of my best experiences in Israel.”

The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism oversees 25 Reform congregations, 46 preschools, the Noar Telem youth movement, the Young Adult Leadership Forum and the Mechina post-high school/pre-military leadership program in Israel.

For more information, call Mandy Eisner at (818) 907-8740, ext. 28, or e-mail meisner@urj.org.

Magbit Celebrates Israel

More than 500 guests, including local and state government officials and Iranian Jewish leaders, celebrated Israel’s 57th Independence Day at Magbit Foundation’s annual gala event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 22.

Beverly Hills City Councilmember and outgoing Magbit President Jimmy Delshad welcomed some of the evening’s guests, which included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Beverly Hills Vice-Mayor Steve Webb and California State Assemblymember Paul Koretz. Newly installed Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch praised the Magbit’s directors and contributors for having provided nearly $5 million in interest-free loans to Israeli university students in the last 16 years.

“Over the years, Magbit has given a new hope to the students of Israel that would otherwise not had a chance to receive an education,” he said.

The event’s keynote speaker, Walid Shoebat, a former Palestinian Jihadist turned Christian Zionist, surprised those in attendance with his inspiring tale of leaving the hate-filled environment of the Palestinian Authority and speaking internationally in support of Israel. Guests at the event also enjoyed the performance of up-and-coming pianist William Joseph and award-winning Israeli magician Amos Levkovitch. – Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

 

Splintered Persian Groups Merge


Long troubled by infighting, the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community is working toward less conflict as three prominent Iranian Jewish organizations recently merged with the hope of speaking with one voice.

The Iranian-American Jewish Association (SIAMAK), Eretz Cultural Center and the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation came together under the banner of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center on Feb. 21 in Tarzana.

The merger of the three groups signifies a desire within the Iranian Jewish community for greater participation in the larger Jewish community and a desire to attract Jewish youth to its cause. After more than two decades in the Southland, Persian Jews are organizing to present a united front for their community.

“This is actually a historical event. I do not remember anything like this happening before, and I truly believe that this is a bridge to the future of our community,” said Manizheh Yomtoubian, founder of the Neria Yomtoubian Foundation.

SIAMAK co-founder Dariush Fakheri said he first approached Yomtoubian and Ruben Dokhanian, co-founder and president of Eretz Cultural Center, after he realized the true growth potential of the three separate organizations. The three leaders said that while they have encountered a variety of challenges from logistics to reorganizing their volunteer base in the merge, their primary desire has been to generate more interest in the Tarzana center.

“We have numerous volunteers who give their time, money and effort for the betterment of the community,” said Fakheri. “But we need new members who want to come along with us as we go through this transformation.”

Fakheri said it’s taken a long time for Iranian Jewish organizations to unite because the community has been trying to adapt since its arrival in Southern California nearly 25 years ago.

“You have to look at our situation from so many angles. We are the survivors of a revolution,” Fakheri said. “Our main goal was to survive, so we did whatever we had to do to reach that goal. Now our situation is way different than even a decade ago so we can do more by putting our resources together.”

Lisa Daftari, an editorial intern for SIAMAK’s monthly magazine, The Iranian Jewish Chronicle (“Chashm Andaaz”), said Yomtoubian is the ideal 21st century Jewish activist since she has preserved the memory of her late husband, Neria, by engaging in various activities that encourage young Jews to embrace their Jewish identities.

“Through the creation of Eretz-SIAMAK Center, Manizheh is now determined and able to fulfill both her dreams and Neria’s,” Daftari said. “Her commitment and optimism regarding this project is genuine and unmistakable”.

Yomtoubian has also been very active over the years in an effort to feed nearly 100 Iranian Jewish families living in poverty in Los Angeles by gathering food for them on a weekly basis, Daftari said.

Fakheri said that in the last decade, Yomtoubian has collaborated with SIAMAK — the oldest Iranian Jewish group in Los Angeles — to subsidize food, medical and educational expenses for these needy Iranian Jewish families.

Most notably in 2000, SIAMAK and the Council of Iranian-American Jews were at the forefront of bringing to the world’s attention the plight of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime on false charges of treason and were in danger of being executed, Fakheri said.

SIAMAK has also had an international presence, donating $20,000 last year to the Jewish community in Argentina, sending medical aid to earthquake victims in India and Iran, as well as providing humanitarian support to Muslim refugees in war-torn Bosnia during the recent Balkan wars.

Several Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles said they were surprised at the bold move by the three Iranian Jewish groups merging, especially since in-fighting is commonplace among many Iranian Jewish groups.

Fakheri and Yomtoubian said that despite differences of opinion among the diverse local Iranian Jewish groups, the new Eretz-SIAMAK organization will continue to reach out to all Jews in order to be more proactive in community and Israel causes. The group will host a variety of Jewish-oriented programs, including adult and youth Hebrew classes, marriage workshops, yoga classes, singles Shabbatons and cooking classes.

Fakheri said he was particularly looking forwarding to collaborating with as many other local American Jewish groups as possible.

“I would like to see a greater intermingling of Iranian-born Jews and other Jewish communities in the U.S.,” Fakheri said. “We can collaborate more with one another and contribute a lot to each other because of our common Jewish bonds.”

For more information about Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center, call (310) 843-9846.

A Persian Artist’s Crowning Moment


Yosef Setarehshenas wants to revive and introduce Jewish Persian art to the world.

And on the Jewish New Year of 5764, he plans to do it through a unique Persian calendar that will incorporate four different calendars: The Hebrew (Jewish); the Persian (Solar); the Arabic (Lunar) and the English (Christian), with complete explanations of Persian Jewish events for the past 126 years.

"Even the dates Jewish soldiers were killed in the Iran-Iraq war are mentioned," Setarehshenas said.

The calendar will be published by Iranshahr Association, a subsidiary of Sherkat Ketab, the biggest publisher of Persian books and text in Los Angeles. The calendar will be shipped to Persian communities in New York, Europe, Iran and Israel — and Reseda’s Ben David synagogue has ordered nearly 500 copies, said Setarehshenas, 41.

Art — and Iran — are in Setarehshenas’ blood: He only arrived in Los Angeles two and a half years ago. The eldest of five children, Setarehshenas’ mother, Malek Molayem, played the tar, a Persian instrument, and she took up the hobby of rug weaving.

From a very young age, Setarehshenas has been involved in writing and drawing; his short stories appeared in children’s newspapers in Tehran.

"Art is endless," he told The Journal. "Life without art is like heart without love."

Setarehshenas obtained a graduate degree in industrial design, and in his spare time he wrote poetry and played guitar.

Setarehshenas started to use his talents to serve the Jewish community. He designed copper plates of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and donated several of them to the Iranian Jewish community to honor Persian students. His name, which means astrologist in Farsi, got him interested in the subject of calendars, which is the subject of one of his books, "Conformity of Seconds" (he penned other Jewish books such as "Haftara Treasures," a review of Jewish history, culture and philosophy).

Setarehshenas began in earnest to revive Jewish traditional works of art. He designed and prepared a silver pair of rimonim — the crowns that adorn the Torah scroll sticks — for a Sephardi Torah decoration. It took him almost nine months to produce both one-pound crowns made out of 90-carat silver. Each are adorned with beautiful Persian silverwork, as well as a small Stars of David, combining Persian and Jewish art.

"I have had the best Persian artists make these rimonim," Setarehshenas told The Journal. "Some parts have been done by the best silver-making firms in Isfahan."

"In Iran when I wanted to start making the rimonim or other religious works of art, I would explain the Jewish meaning of the object to the Muslim workers and artists who were going to do the job … they did the job with great appreciation and respect. Even when they wanted to put a piece of work down, they considered it a holy object and would do it very carefully," Setarehshenas told The Journal.

Setarehshenas came to Los Angeles in 2001, joining his wife, Hayedeh, and their two children, Shahrooz and Caroline. He runs a business in the Valley, and still spends much time in art and writing — including contributing to various Persian publications in Los Angeles.

He wants to use the same style of the rimonim to make more traditional Jewish silver objects such as mezuzahs and wine jugs. His latest work, inspired by his mother, was a Persian rug using the copper plate sketch of the figure of Moses holding the Ten Commandments on the rug.

He will stop at nothing to produce Jewish Persian art.

"I want to introduce Persian Jewish culture to those who do not know about it. My wish is to keep the rich Iranian Jewish heritage alive and pass it on to the next generations," he said.

Suspect Arrested in Arson Attacks


An Iranian Jewish immigrant has been arrested as a suspect in a string of arson attacks that targeted three synagogues, a church and a Baha’i center, and which had spread fear of hate crimes and even terrorism throughout the San Fernando Valley.

Farshid Tehrani, 40, who apparently suffered from depression, was arrested early Friday by police, which had been tracking him for a day after receiving a tip linking him to the five arson incidents in Encino.

During three successive days last week (May 5-7), incendiary devices, described by some as Molotov cocktails, were hurled at the Baha’i Faith Community Center, the Iranian Synagogue, Da’at Torah Educational Center and Valley Beth Shalom, one of the leading Conservative congregations in Los Angeles.

About 10 days earlier, a similar attack on the First Presbyterian Church of Encino caused $75,000-$100,000 in damage, according to The Los Angeles Times, which had assigned eight reporters to the story. Damages at the other locations were relatively minor and there were no injuries.

Investigation of the attacks was conducted through one of the largest local law enforcement mobilizations in recent history, with more than 150 police, fire department, FBI and other federal investigators working on the case. These included 65 detectives from the anti-terrorism division of the L.A. Police Department.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, told The Jewish Journal that his community, as "one of the targets of these attacks, had been extremely concerned that they were hate or terrorism-related."

George Haroonian, president of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, said, "It is disturbing that an Iranian Jewish immigrant is believed to be the perpetrator, but I understand that he had psychological problems. You will find this in every community and it tells us that we must try to identify such problems early on."

Haroonian said that there were two major and about eight storefront synagogues patronized predominantly by Iranian Jews in the San Fernando Valley alone. He praised the work of the authorities and local legislators, who had met with community and congregational leaders to advise on security matters.

Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, urged government agencies to channel grants directly to the Iranian Jewish community to enable it to deal more effectively with mental and other health problems.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel said that the situation is not representative of any particular community but that it is an interpersonal problem.

"It’s important when incidents do occur that we are aware," he said, "but also that we don’t necessarily make sweeping generalizations that every time something occurs to the Jewish community that it is always related to anti-Semitism or some kind of base prejudice."

Police said there was no evidence linking Tehrani to any terrorist groups or causes, while one official described him to the Times as a firebug with serious personal problems.

"We probably saved a lot of lives in this one," the unnamed official said. "He was heading to something bad."

On Tuesday, the L.A. County district attorney’s office charged Tehrani with 12 counts of arson, terrorism and vandalism for attacking five houses of worship in Encino.

During the arraignment in Van Nuys Superior Court, a not guilty plea was entered on Tehrani’s behalf. He is being held on $750,000 bail and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May 28.

If convicted on all counts, Tehrani could face a maximum state prison term of 22 years.

According to his immediate family, Tehrani came to the United States about 16 years ago and worked hard in his jewelry business in downtown Los Angeles, until a "depressive disorder" forced him to give up most of his work two years ago.

His younger sister, Sheena Tehrani, described her brother, who is unmarried, as "a kind, caring man who just got burned out. There has to be some mistake. He is not that type of person."

Rabbi Moshe Hafuta of the Da’at Torah Educational Center, said Farshid Tehrani had once come to pray with members of the small congregation, which includes Persian, Israeli and American Jews.

Hafuta also told the Times that he had been involved in a dispute over an apartment he rented from Tehrani, and that a blaze, apparently set with lamp fluid, broke out at the apartment in late April.

The Times investigation also reported that the State of California had filed two tax liens against Tehrani, who, in turn, had tried to sue two judges who had ruled against him.

The fears engendered by the arson attacks motivated congregations and people of all faiths to come closer together through meetings and gestures of support.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom noted that when the Molotov cocktail heaved through a sanctuary window at 6:30 a.m. and landed a few feet from the ark, the Hispanic Catholic custodians rushed in to save five Torah scrolls. Schulweis added that the loyalty and altruistic behavior of the five custodians will be recognized in a gathering of the synagogue’s congregation and board of directors.

"I think we have learned a deep lesson: not to allow hatred to embitter our souls. While we must be vigilant, we must seek out the rescuers and those who love life," he said.

On Thursday night, May 8, worshipers, including various elected officials and religious leaders of many faiths, gathered at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church in Encino to show their solidarity.

"What was impressive was the kinship of fear and the resolution to be for each other," Schulweis said. "I’ve been to many interfaith gatherings where there’s a very noble rhetoric expressed, but never a greater degree of urgency and passion. The lesson derived is that hate is indiscriminate and in order to counter one has to have an ecumenical embrace of love and concern."

Ironically, at the same time (May 5-7) that the hate crimes were being committed in Encino, a conference was being held at USC in the name of religious solidarity. Over the three days, nearly 200 clergy, activists, academics, non-profit workers and lay people from all faiths attended "Beyond Violence: Religious Sources of Social Transformation," a three-day conference intended to "find ways for the religions of the world to work together for peace and justice." In response to the irony, the Rev. James L. Heft, president and founding director of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, said "Our conference was called ‘Beyond Violence,’ but we were not so naive to think that we would be able to remove all violence. Anytime violence is used it is destructive of human dignity…. People commit acts of violence out of frustration, ignorance, malice and hatred. Whatever the reasons, it must be denounced and opposed."

Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Southwest Regional office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), called the arson incidents "alerts."

"It’s certainly a time to refresh your vigilance in terms of security at your institution," Susskind said, noting that the ADL has scheduled a community forum on security for institutions in the ecumenical community on June 2. "It’s like when there’s an earthquake and afterward you kind of evaluate what your earthquake preparedness is. It’s a good reminder to [exercise] safe practices within the community."

Staff Writer Rachel Brand contributed to this report.

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