From left: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Board Chair Julie Platt; Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman; Jewish Federation Valley Alliance Chair Jill Namm; and Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson come together at “It Takes a Woman,” an event for Federation supporters.

Moving & Shaking: JQ and Kadima galas; LAMOTH student film showcase

JQ International, an organization serving Los Angeles’ LGBTQ Jews, held its annual JQ Awards Garden Brunch May 7 at the Beverly Hills home of Angela and Jamshid Maddahi.

“It was a gorgeous day honoring three amazing role models who inspire each of us with their work advocating for the LGBTQ Jewish community,” JQ International founder and Executive Director Asher Gellis said in an interview.

The outdoor event honored community leader Courtney Mizel with the Community Leadership Award, Hollywood producer Zvi Howard Rosenman (“Father of the Bride,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) with the Trailblazer Award and image therapist Liana Chaouli with the Inspiration Award.

Presenting Mizel with her award, Esther Netter, CEO of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, called Mizel “a human in tune and a LinkedIn site all her own … she is fluid in her thinking and intensely present.”

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Jewish Journal President David Suissa presented Rosenman with the Trailblazer Award.

“I was a gay Jew before there were Jewish queers,” Rosenman said, sharing his story of what it was like growing up gay and Orthodox and how he made a name for himself in Hollywood.

From left: JQ International Assistant Director Arya Marvazy; JQ International honorees Courtney Mizel, Zvi Howard Rosenman and Liana Chaouli; and JQ International Executive Director Asher Gellis supported the LGBTQ community at the JQ Awards Garden Brunch. Photo courtesy of JQ International

Amanda Maddahi, JQ’s director of operations, presented the Inspiration Award to Chaouli, her aunt, after sharing moving remarks about growing up in the very house where the event was held.

JQ provides programs, services and education to Los Angeles’ LGBTQ Jews and allies. Its social programming and support services include the JQ Helpline, JQ Speakers Bureau, Inclusion Consulting and support groups.

“Together,” Gellis said, “we are changing hearts and minds, and making our Jewish community more inclusive for all.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Kadima Day School honorees Avi Kobi, Ami Fridman, Michaela Fridman and Sivan Kobi attend the day school’s annual gala fundraising event.

West Hills-based Kadima Day School’s April 2 gala at the Hyatt Regency Westlake in Westlake Village honored school supporters Michaela and Ami Fridman, and Sivan and Avi Kobi, and recognized longtime educator Sara Goren with the Excellence in Education Award.

Michaela Fridman and Sivan Kobi serve on the executive committee of Kadima Day School as Parent Teacher Organization co-presidents.

Goren is the Hebrew coordinator and a Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Kadima.

Attendees included businessman and philanthropist Naty Saidoff, who pledged $50,000 to the school; Shawn Evenhaim, namesake of the school’s Evenhaim Family Campus; and Scott Abrams, district director for U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), in whose district the school is located.

Kadima Day School operates a preschool, elementary school and middle school.

From left: Remember Us Director Samara Hutman; survivor Eva Nathanson; filmmaker Naja Butler and LAMOTH’s Rachel Fidler attended the “Voices of Hope” student film showcase. Photo by Ryan Torok

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) partnered with the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and Jewish World Watch in holding the April 30 student film showcase “Voices of Hope” at the LAMOTH campus at Pan Pacific Park.

The event featured the screening of 12 student films and immediately followed the Jewish World Watch Walk to End Genocide in Pan Pacific Park.

Attendees included LAMOTH Creative Programs Director Rachel Fidler, who led a panel with the student filmmakers after the screening; Naja Butler, director and star of one of the films, “An American Girl”; Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival Director Hilary Helstein; singer-songwriter, activist and educator Jaclyn Riva Beck; Samrina Vasani, an alumnus of a NewGround program bringing high school-age Jews and Muslims together; and Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us and The Righteous Conversations Project.

The museum received about 500 film submissions from students in sixth through 12th grades around the nation.

The screened films tackled “social justice issues and human stories that matter,” Fidler said in an email. The films addressed issues such as bullying in schools, challenges facing young American Muslims, the subverting of gender stereotypes, and the importance of storytelling in carrying on the memory of the Holocaust.

The gathering, attended by about 30 people, was held in the museum’s upstairs library.

From left: PJTC Rabbi Noam Raucher, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu; Rabbi Marvin Grossman and USC lecturer Peter Braun attended a presentation by Chu at PJTC. Photo courtesy of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.

The newly formed social justice committee of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC) kicked off its programming with an April 20 appearance at the synagogue by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), whose district includes Pasadena.

PJTC Rabbi Noam Raucher introduced the congresswoman to the approximately 300 temple members in attendance.

After Chu’s opening remarks, Peter Braun, a synagogue member and University of Southern California lecturer in leadership and management, moderated a Q-and-A session with the audience. Discussion topics ranged from Israel to tax policy and health care.

As the event concluded, Rabbi Marvin Gross, a former nonprofit director and chair of PJTC’s social justice committee, presented Chu with a sign reading “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome, We Must Not Stand Idly By … ”

The sign was part of a campaign launched by members of the social justice committee, who distributed 250 signs in Pasadena and the surrounding area.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

At The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ annual “It Takes a Woman” (ITAW) event on May 10, Olympic gold-medal gymnast Alexandra “Aly” Raisman discussed what it meant to represent the United States and the Jewish people in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

Federation’s Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy group at the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance organized the event at the Skirball Cultural Center, which drew more than 400 female attendees.

In an onstage interview with Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson, Raisman discussed her experiences at the two Olympics, the challenges of being a female athlete and how she is now using that experience to teach younger generations about confidence, kindness and positive body image.

Raisman, 22, is a two-time captain of the Olympic gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team and the second most-decorated American female gymnast in the history of the sport. She has earned six Olympic medals, including three gold.

ITAW is focused on introducing women to the work of Federation. Women are the fastest-growing segment of donors within Federation, with gifts made by women in their own names comprising 25 percent of its annual fundraising campaign, according to Federation’s website.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

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

Los Angeles Jewish Federation building

A deafening silence from the Jewish Federation

For at least the past half century, Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.

Today, that is not the case.

The Jewish community’s umbrella organization, the Jewish Federation, remains deafeningly silent on an issue that is high on the list of major concerns of most Jews—the actions and words of the Trump administration.

We know that if there is any group in society that should be wary of a leader who exhibits the traits of Trump, it is us. The history of the twentieth century sets off our antennae and ought to make action natural, reflexive and immediate. 

Over past decades, the authors of this piece were active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances that were meaningful benchmarks on the path to Los Angeles becoming the diverse, vibrant and accepting environment that it is. Avoiding tough issues, running from controversy, or fearing internecine backlashes were not how we operated.

Whether it was engaging minority communities in contentious, but civil, debates over affirmative action and preferences in the 1970s or reaching out to neighbors and allies to cobble together opposition to police abuse and the resurgent Klans and Aryan Nations in the 1980s and 1990s, or creating roundtables and coalitions with Muslims, Latinos and African Americans in the 1990s and 2000s—we knew that our fate was intertwined with those of others; parochial self-absorption was not the prevailing ethos, for us, or for others.

It was not without thought that in the early 90s, as Operation Desert Storm began, Jewish leaders (at a time when passions related to the war and Muslims were high) spoke out against potential hate that “might” be directed at our Muslim neighbors. Some in our community were unhappy (“what’s the need?”) but it was the right and proper thing to do and we did it; to remain silent was seen as an abdication of our leadership responsibility.

There is little doubt that were a politician to have surfaced over the past forty years who pilloried minority groups, maligned immigrants as racists and thugs, promoted conspiracy theories that historically were the stock-in-trade of racists and bigots, and scorned reason, data and facts—-protests from the Jewish community would have been thunderous in warning of the danger to our democracy, to the fabric of the community and to ourselves. The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition. 

Today, the absence of a unified Jewish community leadership protesting President Trump’s incendiary comments on myriad topics, including his targeting of minority groups and immigrants, is shocking.

The Jewish Federation in particular, the community umbrella, has remained appallingly silent on Trump’s order restricting the admission of refugees [ironically, they answer critics by pointing out what they did on behalf of Jewish refugees] and his manifest contempt for civility, reasoned arguments and facts.

Whether it is due to Trump’s perceived support for Israel’s prime minister, or a fear of angering conservative major donors, the silence is inexplicable (nearly ¾ of Jews supported Clinton nationally, considerably higher locally).

Leadership demands that one take a stand on vital issues that may not be perceived as essential to one’s mission—protesting on core issues is easy; that’s self-preservation, not leadership. Leadership asks that you recognize threats where others may not see them and then act, even if at a cost.

Where is the overarching community voice willing to condemn the blatant lying, paranoia, undermining of decency, consorting with bigots and bigotry, and targeting of minorities that will, ultimately, harm us all? Do we get lulled into indolence because we are not today’s target? Why are LA’s Jews compelled to start new grass roots organizations to protest Trump (such as Jews United for Democracy and Justice which garnered over 2,200 supporters in just a few weeks) when the armatures for action already exist?

The silence from “6505” is deafening especially in a week when three leading conservative pundits have all parted company with the prevaricator-in-chief and described him as either “irrational bordering on mental illness”(Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal), or as the “most reckless, feckless, and malevolent president in the country’s history” (Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine), or admonished Republicans to not “define lunacy down” (Michael Gerson, The Washington Post).

Stephens, Sullivan and Gerson all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nonetheless.

In Los Angeles there is no over-arching Jewish community voice speaking clearly and unambiguously about the all too obvious dangers, just a troublesome silence. The warning signs are everywhere, where is the leadership?


David Lehrer is president of Community Advocates Inc., a Los Angeles-based human relations organization, and headed the Anti-Defamation League in L.A. from 1986 to 2002. George T. Caplan was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles president from 1988 to 1990. Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, headed Federation’s Community Relations Committee (CRC) from 1985 to 1995. Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, was director of the American Jewish Congress in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1994. Michael Hirschfeld headed the CRC from 1994 to 2003.

A rendering by Belzberg Architects shows the planned renovation to the Israel Levin Center on the Venice boardwalk. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Innovative Jewish center moves forward on the Venice boardwalk

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles plans to create an innovative Jewish space just steps from the beach in Venice after winning approval Feb. 8 from the California Coastal Commission.

The commission’s approval was the final hurdle toward redeveloping an underused senior facility on the Venice boardwalk, transforming it into what Federation expects to be a one-of-a-kind space for intergenerational encounters.

Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson said the organization plans to break ground before the end of the year on a project that will transform the aging Israel Levin Center into a modern, three-story complex that will include a kosher kitchen, rooftop deck and Moishe House youth living space.

“This is going to be an architectural masterpiece on the boardwalk unlike anything that’s there,” he said.

Sanderson told the Journal that the project reimagines the center as a place not only for senior programming, such as the regular Shabbat dinners held there, but also to bring young Jews into the orbit of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. The renovation seeks to capitalize on the increasing number of young Jews working in Venice’s burgeoning tech scene, he said.

Sanderson called the planned space, “a brand new model of Jewish engagement for Jews of all ages. Think of it as a Jewish community center for the 21st century.”

The task of developing that model falls to NuRoots, a grass-roots engagement program within Federation that seeks to create innovative spiritual and communal experiences for young Jews. As part of her role as assistant director of the NuRoots Community Fellowship, Jenn Green has shared coffee with hundreds of Venice-area young adults “on the outskirts of Jewish life.”

“A lot of them are telling me they feel untethered or they’re feeling lonely, they’re new to L.A., they’re working really long hours,” she told the Journal. “A lot of them want to do something meaningful and want to give back.”

Meanwhile, just blocks away from where these coffee dates are taking place, the seniors who frequent the Israel Levin Center are bursting with life advice to share and an eagerness to engage with the next Jewish generation.

“I would hear all the time from the seniors, ‘There’s no way young people want to come and hang out with us,’ ” Green said. “And that is absolutely not the case at all.”

Jason Leivenberg, vice president of NuRoots, said the organization is looking into unique gathering spaces in Los Angeles like the co-working space WeWork and the exclusive Soho House social club to learn how young people come together. He emphasized that NuRoots is just one of the stakeholders that would put on programming at the renovated Venice location.

Federation is looking to raise between $7 million and $8 million for the renovation and programmatic endowments, and already has raised about half of that, Sanderson said. He estimated the renovations will be completed before the end of 2018.

Though the building will be closed during renovations, Federation plans to offer an alternate site in the area for seniors to access services.

The planned renovation would add more than 1,000 square feet and more than double the height of the current single-story building.

A community room would occupy the bulk of the first floor, while the second floor would contain administrative offices and a sun deck, with a 1,300-square-foot residential space on the top floor.

The top-floor apartment will be administered by Moishe House, a Jewish co-living organization that offers reduced rents to young Jews, who host engagement programs in exchange. The two to three residents will host some programs, while the rest will be put on by Federation staff, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and members of the Venice Jewish community, according to Federation.

“[The building is] a brand new model of jewish engagement for Jews of all ages. Think of it as a Jewish community center for the 21st Century.”

— Jay Sanderson, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO

Sanderson said the space would be unique because it would be modular, with movable walls and furniture able to accommodate diverse needs.

“Most Jewish buildings and institutions, whether they’re [Jewish community centers] or synagogues, they’re built for specific purposes, but they’re not open model,” he said. “This is being designed as an open model.”

The center was built in 1927 as a cafe and then served as a dance hall and later an apartment house. It was deeded to a predecessor organization to Federation in 1964.

But by the time Federation filed for permits to renovate in 2015, a planning firm it hired wrote that “Jewish institutions in the area are minimally attended and the facilities available for Jewish community gatherings are out of date.” 

Federation estimates some 45 to 50 seniors visit the center each week.

Sanderson said he’s drawing on a previous experience renovating a residential drug rehab facility on the boardwalk five blocks south of the senior center, now called Phoenix House.

He imagines the Venice redevelopment as a starting point rather than the finish line.

“Our dream is to create places like this throughout the city,” he said.

A protest against President Donald Trump's immigration policy in New York City on Feb. 12. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Federation stays neutral on Trump refugee order, despite pressure

In the days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions to the United States, a long list of Jewish organizations authored fiery statements condemning the new measures. Notably missing from their ranks was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from taking a clear position on the executive order raised questions about whether it should make any political statements at all, hearkening to a similarly bitter debate about the Iran nuclear agreement. And while disagreements on that point simmered behind closed doors, the Federation has signaled that it would continue to abstain from taking sides on the day’s issues.

In a Feb. 2 email titled “Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson addressed the executive order without criticizing it: “I want you to know that we have heard your concerns and feel the anxiety of our community,” he wrote.

For some, Sanderson’s email fell short, failing to express solidarity with impacted communities and carrying a fundraising pitch some saw as tone deaf. Within the organization’s circle of stakeholders, volunteers and employees, many raised concerns privately over whether Federation should take a stronger stand on the issue.

In a private letter obtained by the Journal, 36 alumni of Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project strongly criticized Sanderson’s email for being too passive it its approach.

“We must express our profound disappointment — for some of us, even anger and shame — at ‘Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,’ ” they wrote, adding their voice to a chorus of donors and community members airing their grievances internally.

Addressing themselves Feb. 6 to Sanderson and Julie Platt, chair of Federation’s board of directors, the young leaders asked Sanderson to reconsider his statement. His email, they wrote, “neither specifies the policies against which so many Jewish leaders are battling, nor identifies by name the Muslim and immigrant communities with which we are standing together. In standing silently by, the communication betrays our values as Jews, as Americans, as Angelenos, and as civic ambassadors for the Jewish Federation.”

The authors noted that their “continued voluntary and philanthropic involvement” in Federation programs would be impacted by the response they received.

The letter prompted a Feb. 13 meeting between more than a dozen young leaders and top Federation officials, including Sanderson, Platt and Richard Sandler, chair of the board of trustees for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and former L.A. Federation board chairman.

Jay Sanderson

Jay Sanderson

The following day, the letter’s signatories and Federation leadership issued a joint statement to the Journal.

“While we don’t agree on everything, we all believe that we must continue to engage with each other honestly and openly and to find more ways to help those in need,” they said in the statement. “Working together in ways that reflect our shared Jewish values, we will find new and meaningful opportunities to stand with our community and with all Angelenos.”

According to those present, the meeting was a productive and cordial one.

“We had a group of very committed passionate leaders come, and we listened, and we talked about how we can be proactive,” Sanderson told the Journal on Feb. 14. Unlike other Jewish organizations, he said, “we’re not in the statement business.”

He stood by his Feb. 2 email, saying, “We’re a mission-driven organization that lets our work make the statement.” He made this point in the original note to the community: “Our Federation’s statement on immigration was made 104 years ago when we made the rescue and resettlement of immigrants — like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — a top priority,” he wrote.

He said that of the people who have responded to the email, the vast majority were positive responses.

“Oftentimes people in the community get fixated on statements,” he said, “and what I’ve learned in my career is the most successful advocacy oftentimes happens quietly, oftentimes happens behind closed doors.”

Sandler told the Journal he supported the L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from issuing a statement on the executive order.

“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said, adding that political statements inevitably upset some Federation donors.

Some Jewish Federations decided to weigh in anyway, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which submitted an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking it to uphold a lower court’s ruling that blocked Trump’s executive order. But JFNA, the umbrella organization for all North American Federations, remained silent on the issue.

Sandler praised Sanderson’s Feb. 2 email as “very measured” adding that “it talks about what Federations do: that we don’t ignore these issues but we’re not going to get involved in the debate.”

The conversation around Sanderson’s letter mirrored an earlier one, from July 2015, when a Federation statement opposing the Iran nuclear agreement met with backlash from community members who supported it. The Iran deal statement raised similar questions over when, if at all, it is appropriate for a body catering to the entire L.A. Jewish community to make political pronouncements.

“That statement was a learning process for us.… It made us look at who we are and what our role in the community is, and our role in the community is to be out front and doing the work,” Sanderson told the Journal.

Protocols in place now require a statement to be reviewed by the L.A. Federation’s board prior to being released. Since Sanderson’s email was not a statement, but rather a regular bi-weekly update to community members, those protocols did not apply, he said.

But one notable difference has been the full-throated opposition with which the organized Jewish community met the refugee order, while opinions on the Iran deal straddled both sides. The letter from young Federation leaders noted “the broad consensus we have already seen from Reform and Orthodox Jews” on the refugee order and which, in theory, would have given Sanderson political cover to come out in opposition.

“This was a case where I thought you’d have fairly strong unanimity of thinking here,” said Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an expert on Jewish political life.

Sanderson said the L.A. Federation will continue to abstain from political debates.

“We’ve been asked to make public policy statements in the last month five times, including positions from the right and positions from the left,” he said. “We would be a whirling dervish if we reacted to all those things.”

Moving and Shaking: ‘Laughing Matters’ fundraiser, Nick Mermell retires and more

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ fifth annual “Laughing Matters” event on Nov. 1 at the Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip raised nearly $70,000 for the agency’s efforts to assist homeless families as well as battered women and their children.

Performers included comedienne Rita Rudner, a regular on the Las Vegas circuit; comedian Michael Kosta; and 14-year-old Southern California singer-songwriter Molly Bergman.

In a joint statement, event co-chairs Linda Levine and Wendy Silver described the evening as a success: “We are grateful to everyone who supported ‘Laughing Matters’ not only to see a great comedy show, but to help survivors of domestic violence.”

Rosenfeld meet in front of Chabad of Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple

When Nick Mermell retired after four decades at Sinai Temple, this is how he did it: He came to my office and handed me a note. It read: “Moses served forty years and so have I. Thank you and Sinai for everything.” Then Mermell, who at 89 was Sinai’s longest-serving and oldest employee, left without allowing even a farewell party, slipping quietly into his home life with Margaret.

That combination of modesty and humor explains why, each year, Evan Schlessinger organizes a group from the Sinai minyan to make an annual pilgrimage to Chabad of Beverly Hills to daven with Mr. Mermell and take him to breakfast. Now 97 years old, celebrating 66 years with Margaret, this survivor of several camps is still vigorous and funny. He was born in Munkatch, in Czechoslovakia, and was taken by the Nazis for two years, mostly digging trenches before being liberated by the Russians.

The most painful memory of that entire time, he told me, was “coming home and seeing an empty house.” His parents and siblings were murdered, except for one sister who died a few weeks ago at 100 years of age.

Mermell first went to Israel, then Canada and finally to Los Angeles, where he applied for the job of shammes, or ritual director, at Sinai. Also certified in air-conditioning repair, for some years he did both jobs.

Mermell brought a friendly but also formal touch to the minyan, and was deeply loved. I remember the first day I came there in my shirt and tie. “Rabbi, did you leave your jacket in the car?” he asked. No, I answered, it is in my office. “May I get it for you?” I got my jacket and wore it to every minyan with Mr. Mermell from that day forward.

He still goes to minyan every morning, but now it is closer to where he lives, at Chabad of Beverly Hills. There, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman greeted us all and with a smile explained, “These are the bodyguards from Sinai for Reb Nick.”

For 40 years as shammes, he taught and comforted and was a symbol of our shul. For a generation, “minyan” meant Mermell. We remember very well, and are very grateful.

—Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple 

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Beth Kean (second from left) is also serving as the museum’s interim executive director until a permanent executive director is hired. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

​Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Beth Kean has been appointed interim executive director of the museum in the wake of the departure of Samara Hutman, who was hired as executive director in 2013.

“Ms. Hutman is leaving the museum and returning to the Remember Us organization where she served as executive director before joining LAMOTH three years ago,” an Oct. 31 statement on the LAMOTH website says.

Hutman told the Journal: “I’m really, really excited to be reconnecting with the core work of Remember Us, because that’s my love.” 

Kean, a third-generation Holocaust survivor, has been serving as interim executive director since August. She said the work of the museum would not be affected as its leadership conducts a search for a permanent executive director.

“Our mission is still the same: commemoration and education about the Holocaust, providing free Holocaust education to all our visitors and thousands of students who come through,” Kean said. “We have a rich collection of artifacts and a variety of programs we offer to a very diverse group of students. In that sense, nothing has changed.”

From left: Michelle Moreh, director of academic affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; gap year fair student speaker Ethan Youssefzadeh; Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs at Stand With Us; Phyllis Folb, executive director of the American Israel Gap Year Association; and student speakers Aliza Benporat and Sarah Katchen.The American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) held its fourth annual Los Angeles Israel Gap Year Fair at B’nai David-Judea on Nov. 17. The fair is sponsored by Masa Israel Journey and endorsed by the American GAP Association. Photo courtesy of American Israel Gap Year Association

More than 400 public- and private-school students and parents from across the denominational spectrum attended the event, which featured more than 50 Israel program representatives of a variety of gap year cultural and educational experiences.

The gap year, also known as the “bridge year,” is the year between the completion of high school and the first year of college.

“The goal of AIGYA is to advocate for the gap year to be reidentified as a ‘bridge’ and solidifying factor of the student’s post-secondary-school Jewish education. Experiencing Israel’s strength and challenges as a resident, not just as a tourist, builds a deep relationship to Israel and one’s Jewish identity,” AIGYA Executive Director Phyllis Folb said.

Folb explained that colleges are starting to encourage students to take a gap year as it makes them more likely to finish college in four years, more likely to stay at the same school at which they begin their collegiate career and more likely to achieve overall levels of academic success.

“It’s really exciting,” Folb said. “There are countless programs for these students to choose from, from traditional learning to internships, to arts programs and army service programs. It allows them to find their own niche and take ownership of their Jewish identity in both traditional and nontraditional ways.”

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer

BDS on campus: A response to Jay Sanderson

Last week, I was driving through La Verkin, Utah on my way back to Los Angeles after three peaceful days of hiking and camping in Zion National Park. We turned a corner and my phone lit up, buzzing and beeping after being disconnected. Amid the text messages and emails, a headline caught my eye about a Jewish leader in Los Angeles who had criticized the the Israeli government’s approach to combatting BDS on campus.

I read through the article and tried to make sense of it. Jay Sanderson’s comments, detailed by Haaretz columnist Judy Maltz, did not fit the impression that I had of the conservative-leaning Los Angeles Jewish community. I was encouraged to see a Jewish leader speaking out about his disagreements with the Israeli government, and calling for pro-Israel advocacy that includes the questions and visions of students.

As soon as I got home, I drafted a response to Mr. Sanderson, thanking him for his leadership and for speaking candidly about the polarizing debates over BDS that many students experience on campus. I was disappointed to see that Sanderson later regretted his initial comments, following them up with remarks that put him more in line with the same non-nuanced Israel advocacy he initially criticized. While he insists that his comments were taken out of “context,” it’s hard to believe that Haaretz would have printed his comments inaccurately. I’m left wondering what caused such a significant shift in Sanderson’s position from the first article to the second.

Initially, Sanderson rightly pointed out that efforts against BDS on campus have only helped to “stoke the fire” of the polarized debates over BDS and drive young Jews away from Israel and the Jewish community altogether. As an alternative, he called for less noise and more nuance in conversations about Israel. His comments are an important call to action to create more space for young people, like Sanderson’s own 22-year-old daughter, who returned from trips to Israel with many concerns about the direction of the country, to ask questions.

Like Sanderson’s daughter and many other Jewish college students, I have serious questions about the direction that Israel is headed and the policies of the Israeli government. Thousands of young people across the country see continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank threatening the viability of a two-state solution, and we are worried for Israel’s future. We see that the occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has gone on for almost fifty years, and we feel deep concern for the rights of Palestinians.

Our questions and principles have led us to Israel advocacy rooted in support for diplomatic solutions and opposition to policies and rhetoric that perpetuate and escalate the conflict. And they have led us to oppose the BDS movement on campus, because of its failure to advocate for a practical solution that would address the needs of both peoples.

I was so heartened to read that Sanderson recognized that our community needs to find more meaningful ways to engage young people. But he should have gone farther. The truth is, an obsession with “combating BDS” is often a distraction from the real issues in front of us and from our real questions. BDS fights often serve to reinforce the non-nuanced dialogue against which Sanderson initially spoke out.

Traditional approaches define “pro-Israel” on campus as simply opposing BDS resolutions and reading off pre-approved talking points – leaving out any commitment to working to support solutions and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we want this to change, we need help from our communal institutions.

Unfortunately, these institutions have largely been failing us – advancing an unhelpful, overly combative and one-sided approach. It’s true the hard-line messaging against BDS advocated by the Israeli government is, to some extent, responsible for driving students away from the Jewish community. But the Federations should also take responsibility for themselves.

There are many ways that Jewish Federations and other important communal institutions around the country can move forward positively. They can heed J Street U students’ call to ensure that their policies and practices recognize the Green Line, a vital component of showing true support for a two-state solution. They can make clear that they do not support the settlement enterprise and the ideology of those who work towards permanent Israeli control of the West Bank. Most importantly, they can listen carefully to students’ questions and take our concerns into account.

In the past few years, important voices throughout our community have begun to speak out about the dangers of occupation, and to call for a broader conversation about Israel that can honestly and successfully engage concerned young people. These include leaders from the Reform movement, which I am proud to call myself a part of.

I was pleased to see Sanderson taking a step in the right direction. But this is not the first time an American Jewish leader has expressed concern over the flight of young people from our community – and it won’t be the last.

We need more than just words. These concerns must followed up with real action – and a real willingness to improve upon strategies that are not working.

Lizzie Stein is a senior at Occidental College and is the Vice President for the Southwest on the J Street U National Student Board.

Point: What work must be done on our college campuses?

Over the past few days, I have done a great deal of soul-searching, and would like to share with you some of my feelings and in a public way reintroduce myself to you. 

I will start by saying my interview with Haaretz was a mistake. Haaretz ran a headline that distorted what I was saying and enraged many readers, and the article missed the context of my comments. Combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been and continues to be a priority of mine and of our Federation. We work closely with our partners on college campuses, at City Hall, in Sacramento and across our city and country to do this critical work. We have and will always support a strong and safe Israel.

My interview never intended to criticize the government of the State of Israel. Rather, I was asking that this newly public government initiative consider that our campus leaders know our campuses and our students and their challenges best.

I talk to my colleagues a great deal about “context,” and clearly “context” was missing from my interview. I rarely make our very important work about me, but the results of this interview have done exactly that. This has become about me, and clearly without context the concerns that I tried to express have become lost by many.

I took this job more than 6 1/2 years ago because I am deeply committed to Israel and the Jewish community. I believe that from my first interview, the leadership of our Federation saw that commitment and also saw that I am passionate and that I have a voice. I have loved and supported Israel and been a highly committed Jew my entire life. Permit me to tell you a little about myself so I can put my personal commitment in context.

My father died unexpectedly before my fifth birthday, and my very strong mother moved us to be closer to my grandparents. Until I graduated from high school, we lived as the only Jewish family in a rough housing project outside of Boston. My grandparents were immigrants from Russia and Hungary. They were religious, so I had an Orthodox upbringing. As you can imagine, I was not a popular kid in my neighborhood. I experienced anti-Semitism in a very real way almost every day of my adolescence, and not long after my bar mitzvah, three older kids dug a hole and buried me alive. I laid there screaming for many hours until finally someone heard me and saved my life.

My rabbi thought that I needed to find a new way to feel good about the Judaism that had become so challenging for me to express, and so I received a scholarship from the Boston Federation. I was accepted on a Jewish Agency-sponsored high school trip to Israel. On the trip, I realized that not only did the community take care of me, but the Jewish Agency softened the rules and allowed me to participate even though I was a year younger than the required age.

My first trip to Israel changed my life. For the entire summer, I felt free as a Jew, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was home. One morning, four of the hundreds of kids from around the world were chosen to have breakfast with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. I had never felt chosen before and was overwhelmed by being selected. As we were leaving our breakfast, I felt an arm pulling me away from the group. It was him. He looked at me and said, “Take care of Israel for me.”

Several years later, I was a college student at Syracuse University. I, like many of my friends, was focusing on everything but Judaism. I tried Hillel but just couldn’t connect. As a film student, I learned about a nearly completed documentary, “The Palestinian,” produced and narrated by actress Vanessa Redgrave. It was 1978 and I felt like I needed to do something, so I started a group called Israel on Campus. With a dozen students, we began an organization that set up student-led picketing of the film on campuses across the country.

There are many who believe this was the first pro-Israel advocacy effort on college campuses.

In 1984, I found a way to combine my media experience and my love for Israel and became the head of the Jewish Television Network (JTN) and JTN Productions. I created hundreds of hours of television and web content seen by millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world. During the summer of the Second Intifada, I lived in Israel, spending weeks with families whose lives were shattered by suicide bombings, and produced a powerful documentary, “No Safe Place.” I also produced the PBS series “The Jewish Americans” and the film “Worse Than War,” which put an exclamation mark on “never again” by documenting genocide in our time.

Six years ago when I began here at Federation, I made combatting BDS both a local and a national priority. I am proud of my leadership role in the creation of the Israel Action Network, a national grass-roots initiative. I’m equally proud of the work my staff is doing locally, especially at UCLA after the incident last spring, engaging and empowering the students on that campus to be leaders.

So now that you know me and my “context” a little better, you understand how this work is deeply personal to me.

I have found it very challenging to be a Jewish leader and have a voice during this increasingly polarizing time. I understand the issues now surrounding my recent Haaretz interview and take full responsibility for the concerns it has raised.

I know that both those who have commended me and those who have challenged me share a deep love for and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.

For me, the last paragraph was what I truly want us to grapple with. It relates to an ongoing conversation I am having with my 22-year-old daughter, a recent college graduate. She, like me, loves Israel, but she does not feel considered or heard, and worse, she, like thousands of her contemporaries, feels alienated.

We need to take a step back and look at the whole campus picture as we do our anti-BDS work. There have been great successes on college campuses led by highly impactful organizations even as the battles rage on. What will we accomplish if we don’t prioritize our young people and their individual and collective Jewish journeys? Can’t the growing number of organizations doing this work sit together and look at how we can consider those young people as we do this work in a more collaborative, strategic way?

I never intended to criticize any advocacy organization or minimize the challenges posed by the incendiary BDS movement. I believe we can bring our young people closer to us and to Israel if we do a better job of listening to them and considering engaging their Jewish journeys with Israel as a key component, but not the only component. We can bring them closer to us and truly ensure Israel and our Jewish community’s future.

I continue to be committed to this work. Thank you for your understanding and continued support. 

Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A plan to make Jewish life flourish on Venice Beach

The stretch of boardwalk in front of the Israel Levin Senior Center is fairly unremarkable. Tourists and locals amble by, the air smelling of sea salt and marijuana smoke. Across the pavement, an emaciated dog dozes on a sand bank, its leash looped around an office chair that has seen some dewy nights.

The low-slung building itself is equally nondescript. By the standards of colorful Venice, the deep hues of the Marc Chagall-inspired wraparound mural fit in.

But a planned renewal by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles aims to transform the concrete beach-front building — which is owned by Federation and operated by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles — into a one-of-a-kind Jewish destination.

“Our vision for this renovation is to create a true, multigenerational space — a contemporary beach house that will be one of the most compelling destinations for Jewish life in Los Angeles,” Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president, wrote in an emailed statement.

A large hall with white tiles takes up most of the square footage, adjoining a stage and office. It is home to regular Friday dinners. There are few windows to let in the warm Venice sunshine during the daytime, though.

That could change, thanks to plans submitted to the Los Angeles Office of Zoning Administration, which show a sun-drenched space that includes a rooftop deck, a kosher kitchen and a residential unit for on-site building managers. The planned renovation would add more than 1,000 square feet to the beach-front site.

A rendering of the renovated center. Courtesy of Belzberg Architects

Sanderson said in the statement that in addition to the senior services currently offered at the site, it would play host to community events, such as workshops, yoga, lectures, media exhibitions, holiday celebrations and volunteering.

Despite local support, some red tape stands between the upgraded community center and its current reality. In November, the renovation plan received unanimous approval from the Venice Neighborhood Council, but it appears to have languished for months at Los Angeles City Hall.

In December, Dana Sayles, a representative of the planning firm hired by Federation, wrote to a zoning administration official that the plan “has been sitting on a shelf in ZA’s office since June.”

“Given that the community has been so supportive of this, we are anxious to move this project forward,” she wrote.

She noted it would still require a review by the California Coastal Commission after winning approval from the city.

The official, associate zoning administrator Jack Chiang, wrote in response that the office would aim to schedule the project for a formal hearing this month.

In its application to the city for a permission called a “coastal development permit,” the planning firm, three6ixty, wrote that the project would help vitalize Jewish life on the beach front as well as the boardwalk itself.

“The Jewish institutions in the area are minimally attended and the facilities available for Jewish community gatherings are out-of-date,” it wrote. “This renovation will create a state-of-the-art facility, available as a community center for all of Venice.”

According to the permit documents, the building was originally built in 1927 as a cafe, serving for some time as a dance hall and an apartment house.

In 1964, Israel Levin gifted it to the Jewish Community Council of the Bay Cities, which later merged with Federation, under the condition that the building “consider the benefit and welfare of senior citizens as its primary purpose.”

Today, it’s flanked by a bike shop and beach-front apartments.

Kirsten Hudson, the managing director of Open Temple in Venice, said she hopes the new space will be a boon for local synagogues — but also draw in the community at large.

“Those congregations represent the people that live here and for whom it would be a much more meaningful space,” she said. “But I hope it’s something also that greater Los Angeles is interested in.

“The beach sort of has that universal appeal, and is sort of universally used in the way that other places are not,” she added.

On that point, Sanderson was optimistic: “We intend to create a space that our community deserves, in one of the most exciting areas of L.A.”

The Forward’s CEO salary survey: Good statistics, questionable economics

Are the salaries of Jewish nonprofit CEOs too high, too low or just right? Is there gender discrimination when it comes to the salaries of female CEOs of Jewish nonprofits?

Each year, The Forward newspaper surveys the salaries and gender composition of the CEOs of some of the nation’s largest and most impactful Jewish nonprofit organizations, and when Matt Brooks. Photo by Republican Jewish Coalition

Jay Sanderson of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was listed as earning a salary of $460,870, and as being overpaid by 600 percent.

After these numbers had already zinged around the Internet for a few hours and sparked discussion and anger in online comment forums, The Forward corrected the glitch back to its original assessment of overpayment to 125 percent for Brooks and 6 percent for Sanderson. 

The larger and more important issue, however, and separate from the website glitch, is whether The Forward’s two key conclusions are accurate. The report — assembled by Eisner, Forward research editor Maia Efrem and University of Pennsylvania statistician Abraham Wyner — states that many CEOs of Jewish nonprofits are overcompensated (The Forward uses the term “overpaid”), and says many of these nonprofits discriminate against women in terms of position and pay.

These judgments are very serious accusations against the boards of many of the Jewish community’s premier nonprofits. The Forward asserted, for example, that the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier (2014 salary: $784,155) is “overpaid” by 103 percent; that Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America ($440,440) is “overpaid” by 53 percent; and that, overall, female CEOs are paid just 80 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Rabbi Marvin Hier. Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage

“Their analysis looks kosher — very kosher,” said sociologist Steven M. Cohen, a research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who has analyzed several other polls and studies for the Journal. The Forward’s formula showing a correlation between CEO salaries and the budget and staff size of a corporation is statistically sound, he said. That the output (salary) correlates with those two inputs (budget and staff size) among The Forward’s sample nonprofits is a mathematical fact.

But the economics, and the inputs and variables used for The Forward’s studies, may not be fair. UCLA economist Lee Ohanian cautioned that CEO salaries of businesses, whether nonprofit or for-profit, depend on a multitude of factors, and to determine what a salary should be based solely on the company’s budget and staff size would be simplistic.

Even Wyner, in a ” target=”_blank”>2005 study.

“Women are indeed concentrated in smaller organizations,” Wyner noted in his 2013 analysis, and “were leading organizations with average expenses of less than half” of large organizations. “Women’s pay seems to be converging with men’s, and will hopefully reach parity in the very near future,” Wyner wrote.

“If you look more broadly at issues like women’s compensation levels or women’s earnings relative to men’s, you get numbers like 80 cents on the dollar. The more adjustments you make, the more those numbers come in line,” Ohanian said in terms of the broad policy debate regarding the wage gap, referring to adjustments such as the number of hours worked, industry and the trade-off between working full time or part time and raising children.

In other words, the statistics and the number-crunching provoke a useful conversation, but the lack of inputs makes the topics of those conversations far from clear-cut.


Correction (Dec. 16, 11:40 a.m.): This article previously stated that the formula The Forward used to estimate its judgment of overpayment was flawed, which resulted in a glitch showing percentages of overpayment as 100 times what they should have been. It was in fact a temporary computer coding error — not a formula — that led to the inflated estimation of overpayment.

The future of Federation takes the stage

At 33, London-born Ben Winston, the executive producer of “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” is the youngest showrunner in the history of late-night television. 

He is charming, quick-witted and has ties to One Direction — the full package. But what keeps things running smoothly outside of work for a man succeeding in such a cutthroat industry? 

“Growing up, my father worked long hours in a laboratory. But no matter what, he was always home for Shabbat. That type of consistency really grounded us,” Winston told over 400 Jewish young professionals who packed the Fonda Theatre on Dec. 1. “I still observe Shabbat to this day. It makes my life better. It makes my marriage better. 

“We think in this business we’re the most important people in the world. But when I turn off my phone on Friday, I’m not thinking about the business. I’m with my wife and our dog. We don’t have kids yet.”

Winston joined an impressive lineup of speakers from the entertainment and high-tech worlds as part of MainStage 2015, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ first fundraiser for 20- and 30-somethings. 

Speakers included Mitch Hurwitz, creator of the TV series “Arrested Development”; Sean Rad, founder and CEO of the dating app Tinder; Susanne Daniels, head of original content at YouTube; Ben Silverman, former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment; and Ben Maddahi, a music manager/producer behind the hits of some of the world’s biggest pop stars. Comedian Ben Gleib, who emceed proceedings, quipped about being the least successful Ben onstage. 

Jay Sanderson, Federation president and CEO, told the Journal the event represented an evolution in the organization.

“This is the Federation of today. This isn’t your grandfather’s Federation of yesterday,” he said. “One of our top priorities is engaging young Jews in Jewish life. We want events associated with the Federation to be cool for young people.”

The event’s price tag, with tickets starting at $75, didn’t deter the noticeably youthful crowd, dispelling the notion that millenials don’t give back — $50 of each ticket went directly to Federation. Event chairs Shahrad Nahai and Marlyse Phlaum spoke to the crowd about the group’s work to provide scholarships for teens to visit Israel, home and health care assistance for Holocaust survivors, and Federation’s work locally with the Black and Latino communities. 

Mitch Hamerman, Federation’s senior vice president of campaign management and communications, said the event netted $20,000 in donations from ticket sales. “Our current mindset is to do it again next year,” he said.

Silverman, the first speaker of the night, was visibly touched by the turnout and spirit of the event. “The Federation has been such a huge part of so many of our lives. It’s so great to see people here to give back,” he said. 

One of the key creative forces behind hit     NBC shows such as “The Office,” Silverman captivated Dunder Mifflin fans by detailing the iconic comedy’s path from initial conceit all the way to air. He concluded his time onstage by imploring storytellers in attendance to not shy away from their Jewish heritage in their work. 

“We wrote the oldest book in the history of the world and now we find ourselves losing our narrative. I mean, who will write and make the next ‘Exodus’?” Silverman asked of the crowd, referencing the 1958 Leon Uris novel, eventually adapted into the 1960 film starring Paul Newman.

The evening had special significance for Gleib, a frequent contributor on “Chelsea Lately,” who now has his own show called “Idiotest” on GSNTV. 

“Tonight was really cool for me — just honored to be asked to be here,” the normally dry, sarcastic comic told the Journal. “I’m someone who normally likes to operate separate from religion. This was one of the first times I’ve really felt like a part of the Jewish community. Besides, all those guys who were onstage with me are doing stuff I love and want to do one day. It was pretty awesome.” 

Chanukah gets hip

On the night of Dec. 6, the group known as NuRoots is kicking off the Chanukah party to end all Chanukah parties: 35-plus events taking place over eight days all over the Los Angeles region, from Venice to downtown to Woodland Hills. 

And while there will be latkes and candle lighting — the name of the event, after all, is Infinite Light — the festivities will bear little resemblance to your bubbe’s celebration. Instead, think dinner by the L.A. River, a holiday-themed alternative comedy performance, an evening of yoga to nourish participants’ inner light and even a glow-themed party at a Pico Boulevard tavern where, according to the Infinite Light website (, “You might leave with fluorescent body paint.”

This is by far the most ambitious event ever hosted by NuRoots, which focuses on engaging young adults in their 20s and 30s and is part of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — the hippest part, you might say. In the past, NuRoots has offered up smaller, more intimate events, such as a meditation workshop for the Jewish New Year. But Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson thought it was time for the 2-year-old program to do something big, according to Scott Minkow, vice president for NuRoots Grants and Partnerships at Federation.

A scene from a Rosh Hashanah dinner held in the courtyard of a NuRoots fellow’s apartment complex in West Hollywood. NuRoots is expanding its reach with “Infinite Light.”

“Jay’s concept was we have dozens of organizations that we bring together for a monthly NextGen Engagement Initiative breakfast, a network of over 70 organizations and individuals who work with young adults,” Minkow said. “We have this successful fellowship program. What could we do that is NuRoots flavored?”

Over the summer, Sanderson, Minkow and half a dozen or so of NuRoots’ core partners, including representatives from the spiritual communities IKAR and Open Temple, sat down to brainstorm what that might be. They talked about doing something for Sukkot, but Chanukah bought them a bit more time and, ultimately, made more sense. 

“Young adults are looking for opportunities to get out and do something fun during the holidays,” Minkow said. “Every young-adult group around town does their own Chanukah event. What if we gave an incentive [to participating organizations] and curated a festival that highlighted all the opportunities around town? What if we shine a spotlight? What does that spotlight look like? It’s about light, miracles, wonder. We decided to title it Infinite Light.” 

In fact, the word Chanukah doesn’t even appear on the Infinite Light home page. Nor is it on the cover of the 5,000 brochures that have been distributed in synagogues, yoga studios, coffee houses and juice bars. This was a deliberate decision to make the event more universal and to appeal to an audience that wants to “create their own Jewish experience … and chart their own course,” Minkow said, adding that “we also know that people bring their friends who are not Jewish.”  

Once the group decided on the Infinite Light name, the NuRoots leaders put out an appeal to their partners. They offered micro-grants of up to $2,000 to organizations whose events made the cut to offset the costs of hosting the events. Minkow had figured they’d have 15, maybe 18 events in the end. But the response was tremendous, with organizations submitting event ideas well into November. 

Some of the events on the Infinite Light calendar are carryovers from past years. For example, Temple Beth Am’s latkes and vodka potluck is an annual event. And last year, the Louis & Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University (AJU) joined forces with Worthy of Love, which hosts blowout monthly group birthday parties for the youth residents at Union Rescue Mission downtown, to throw a Chanukah bash. 

According to Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of the Miller Program at AJU, partnering with Infinite Light for this year’s Chanukah party gave them “the chance to think bigger and more creatively,” as well as “broadcast to a broader audience.” This is exactly what NuRoots intended.

“The idea behind putting this all under one umbrella … is that every event will rise in profile because of the sheer mass of people looking at it. Everyone will get more attention,” Minkow said. 

“We have inspired more than 15 events to take place that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” he said. These include a Tunisian-style Shabbat dinner hosted by YALA (Young Adults of Los Angeles) and Petit Takett; a fashion show starring regular folks modeling outfits they have purchased at the National Council of Jewish Women thrift stores; and a miracles-themed “Kinda-Jewy Holiday Show” courtesy of Mortified, which regularly hosts riotous storytelling performances in which adults share their very real and very embarrassing diary entries, love letters and poems from childhood.

Infinite Light’s official launch event on the first night of Chanukah, Dec. 6, at Sambar in Culver City, is organized by Dinating, which does ticketed dinners at local foodie favorite eateries and donates a portion of funds. Dinating usually supports SOVA, but on this night, 100 percent of the $50-per-person cover will go to “Federation programs that support the most vulnerable and needy,” Minkow said. The menu, by Sambar chef-owner Akasha Richmond, is a mash-up of Indian and Jewish dishes and includes vegetable pakoras (a fried snack), sweet potato and butternut squash latkes, and Baghdadi Jewish biryani (Basmati rice with vegetables, golden raisins and pistachios). There will also be specialty cocktails — some inspired by chocolate gelt and others made with
etrog liqueur.

Many of the events, including two in conjunction with PJ Library and aimed at families, are free. Some cost between $10 and $20. NuRoots is also offering an all-inclusive festival pass for $100 per person. But Minkow expects most attendees to go the à la carte route. All events require an RSVP.

Not surprisingly, given the target audience for the bulk of Infinite Light events, social media have played a big part in getting the word out. “So excited for this super RAD Shabbat Dinner,” reads the Facebook page for the Tunisian feast.

“We’re asking all our partners to participate,” Minkow said. “Their agreement gives them a social media guide. You should be tagging, Instagramming, linking. And one of our partners, Eastside Jews, is running an Instagram scavenger hunt.”

Minkow said the barometer of success for Infinite Light will be organizations seeing new faces at its events — “folks who are not their core constituency.” Also: “Are people experimenting and trying new things? Some people will be able to tell via social media. Are people tagging? What are [attendee] numbers for these events? And, really, do our partner organizations feel positive about the experience? Are we providing a range of options for people to experience Chanukah? And I think we already are giving new attention to a holiday that can often be about lighting a candle and eating a latke, showing people there are a variety of ways to celebrate, that L.A is diverse. 

“We want it to be a positive experience for everybody. Just thinking about the potential to ignite and partner with a variety of organizations gives us real excitement.”

Should Federation take sides?: Moving forward together

If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve heard me say, “I have the best job in the world.” I work with an incredibly talented and dedicated staff and with the most extraordinary group of lay leaders and donors. Together, we are supporting and sustaining this Jewish community and ensuring our Jewish future. These are not slogans or catchphrases. It is in our Federation’s DNA.

Los Angeles is the most dynamic, diverse and exciting Jewish community in the world. Our Federation is committed to working with our partners from every religious, ethnic, cultural and political perspective to accomplish our shared goals and realize our common dreams.

Having the best job in the world does not mean it is not complicated or that it is not messy.

As you can imagine with more than 600,000 Jews, there are many strong and differing opinions and many voices that want and need to be heard. From my first day, I have heard and listened to the many voices in our community.  

In January of 2010, two weeks after I started, my wife and I were at an event when an older man approached me and, inches from my face, started yelling at me in Farsi. While I did not understand what he was saying, I felt his anguish and pain.

Our Federation is not reactive, but we are thoughtful and driven by careful consideration and sound strategic thinking. The next day, I told our senior staff the story and we began to discuss the challenges facing our large Persian-Jewish community. We committed ourselves to broadening our outreach locally, and we reached out to our global partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to better understand the plight of the more than 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. We went back to the Persian community and we listened.

We may never know why that man was so angry but his outburst helped make positive communal change. This is how our Jewish Federation works.

We also listen to the tens of thousands of voices of those whose lives we touch and change together. Exactly a year ago, as rockets flew overhead, our deeply dedicated board chair, Les Bider, and I were sitting with traumatized Israelis in a bomb shelter not far from the Gaza border. We listened to their pain, and this summer we began providing critical psychological and social services to thousands of Israelis, including children and seniors, throughout Israel.

This summer, we also are listening to the hundreds of children enjoying camp at our growing number of amazing Jewish summer camps. Many of these children are at camp for the very first time and many come from financially challenged families.

Our reach covers every corner of our community, from the Conejo Valley to the South Bay. Our work has no boundaries.  We are working with thousands of young adults and have played an integral role in the creation and development of many of our community’s most progressive and inclusive enterprises, from East Side Jews/Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and JQ International to Moishe House and IKAR.  

We are working closely with our growing Orthodox community and we continue to provide much-needed financial aid to hundreds of day school students and their families.

We care and are concerned for the safety and security of our Jewish community and for the safety and security of the State of Israel.

We respect our communal organizations and the outstanding professionals and rabbis who lead them. We encourage those who agree and those who disagree to talk with us and with each other from a place of respect and work with us as we move forward together.

We understand that there are times when decisions we make and positions we take will be challenged and our Federation will come under fire. We ask that we all be respectful and civil. We are steadfast in our commitment to our mission and our work. These challenges make us stronger and our work more effective.

We should not be judged by any one thing. We should be supported for the impact we make each and every day in every corner of our community and in Jewish communities around the world.

Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Hillel 818 starts anew following Federation-led transformation

On Sept. 3, 2014, Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, met with the board of Hillel 818 at the home of a Hillel board member and gave an ultimatum:

Fire yourselves and allow Federation and Hillel International to help select new board members and a new director or Federation won’t fund Hillel 818 for the upcoming school year.

As Hillel 818’s largest single donor, Federation annually supplied about $215,000 of Hillel 818’s nearly $300,000 budget, according to Tal Gozani, senior vice president for young adult engagement at Federation. To lose that would be financially crippling for a Hillel that serves Jewish students at CSUN, Pierce College and Valley College — a four-year university and two two-year community colleges, with an estimated combined population of 8,000 Jewish students.

One month earlier, on July 31, Hillel 818’s director Judy Alban had resigned only a few months after being promoted by her board from the post of interim director. She left when she learned the reason Federation wasn’t approving any of her grant requests was because Federation officials disapproved of her promotion and had decided they wouldn’t give Hillel 818 any more money until she departed.

Faced with the prospect of Hillel 818 losing its biggest donor just before the start of a new school year, Alban resigned, and, despite the hesitation of some board members to go along with Federation’s plan, the board agreed to dissolve in September, with Federation allowing only a few members to join the new board. 

Among those who remained on the board after the turnover is Jody Myers, a Jewish studies professor at CSUN and coordinator of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program. She confirmed in a phone interview what Alban told the Journal via email, that Hillel 818’s transformation — which began with Alban’s resignation and reached another milestone last week with the hiring of a new director — was orchestrated by Federation and assisted by Hillel International. 

Myers said she saw no good reason for Federation to force out Alban, who she said collaborated well with key groups at CSUN, including the university’s administration, the Associated Students group (which controls much of CSUN’s funding for student groups), and Chabad. “She was honest, hardworking, and liked and respected by students,” Myers said. “She raised funds; she sought advice from experts. There was no misbehavior. There were no mismanaged funds. There was no crisis.”

But Sanderson said in an interview on Jan. 22 that Hillel 818 was mismanaged, couldn’t support itself financially and was not serving nearly enough of the approximately 8,000 Jews from the combined colleges in the Valley.

“For many, many, many years, those students did not get adequate support,” Sanderson said. “There’s not one person who can tell you that that was an effectively run Hillel.”

Hillel 818’s annual budget has been about $300,000, according to Rabbi David Komerofsky, who served as Hillel 818’s interim director during the six-month transition. He believes it should be three times as much.

The bottom line from Sanderson and Federation was, according to Myers, that “the board was told ‘you need to fire yourselves.’ And so we did. We didn’t have a choice.”

Myers said Sanderson warned at the Sept. 3 meeting that Federation would establish its own alternative leadership if Hillel 818’s board didn’t disband.

“[We were told] by Jay Sanderson that Hillel 818 will be shown more generosity by Federation in the future if you do this,” Myers said. But even after the summer turnover, Hillel didn’t receive any money from Federation until December, when it got $60,000, and then another $60,000 in January, in addition to the $30,000 that Federation paid Hillel International for Komerofsky’s services and travel expenses. Hillel 818 had to run only on whatever was already available in the meantime. “We had money left over, because Judy Alban actually raised some money and ran a very tight ship,” Myers said.

Komerofsky, who lives in San Antonio and is Hillel International’s associate vice president for advancement, has traveled to Los Angeles about once every two weeks since September. On Jan. 22 Hillel 818 announced David Katz as the new executive director. Katz is finishing his tenure as the assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Hillel. Komerofsky will continue in a part-time role until Katz arrives in April.

“This past semester has been difficult without a permanent on-site executive director; there wasn’t the kind of stability for success,” Komerofsky said. “There were events and activities, but they were not reaching enough people.”

According to students who work at Hillel 818, since the beginning of the spring semester at CSUN, attendance already has markedly increased, with at least 30 students attending most events, significantly more than the average attendance at fall semester events, perhaps a promising sign of things to come.

Emma Collosi, a CSUN senior and a student representative on Hillel 818’s board, said she was surprised when she was informed last summer of Alban’s departure, but believes Federation’s involvement will ultimately help the organization. “I feel like we’re bouncing back from the loss of Judy, and we’re coming back stronger.”

But for the first half of the school year, the story was different. Hillel 818 was staffed only by an Israel fellow, a few interns and 23-year-old program director Kevin Gobuty, who had come to Hillel 818 in January 2014 and was thrust into the position of de facto day-to-day director after only a few months on the job. Gobuty declined to comment for this story.

He resigned on Jan. 21, the day before Katz was introduced as the organization’s new executive director. Katz previously served as assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillel, where he also worked with Jewish students at two other universities in Pittsburgh, a similar dynamic to what he’ll face in trying to engage Jewish students from the affiliated commuter schools across the San Fernando Valley.

Rob Goldberg, Hillel International’s vice president, said that Hillel International had worked “hand in glove” with the L.A. Federation since early 2013 in planning the transformation of Hillel 818. “It’s been an extraordinary model of cooperation between Federation and Hillel in terms of how we strengthen Jewish life on campus,” Goldberg said in a phone interview.

Although Hillel International has helped transform other campus Hillels, including those at Cornell, Pennsylvania State and Tulane universities, Goldberg said that in-depth cooperation with a local Jewish Federation is less common.

“This one at 818 went faster than almost any that I’ve seen or been a part of,” Goldberg said. “I think it’s because of the model. Jay [Sanderson] and [Hillel International CEO] Eric [Fingerhut] were in sync.”

In the last semester, though, without a director and with acting staff, Hillel 818’s programming at CSUN was far below normal levels. 

“The whole leadership change, in general, put a lot of stress on the staff, and it wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been,” said Zohar Achiasaf, a sophomore and an intern at Hillel 818. She said that, over the last several months, Federation has worked on-site at CSUN through Megan Kanofsky, Federation's campus activities coordinator. Kanofsky attended many events and helped by collaborating with students and staff.

Myers characterized the previous semester as a “crisis” created by the leadership gap that Federation imposed on Hillel 818.

“All sorts of things have not been happening, even though we get Federation help and Hillel International help,” Myers said, listing a number of items that had fallen through in the fall semester. There was supposed to be a Birthright trip in January, but that didn’t happen; Shabbat dinners were less frequent than normal; the website and server were down for weeks at a time; and the Facebook page was rarely updated.

Goldberg said that Hillels in transition often experience a temporary slowdown in terms of programming, but that he prefers to take the “long view.”

“The long view is let’s strengthen the infrastructure, let’s get the right personnel, let’s make sure there’s financial stability, let’s put together a group of volunteer leaders to serve as a board who will help advance the organization,” he said. “The program will follow. It all really rests on having a great director.”

Sanderson said he took what he called an uncharacteristic “personal interest” in overseeing the changes at Hillel 818, discussing with Hillel International’s Fingerhut throughout the process how to move forward. He said, however, that “the board of directors at Hillel 818 chose to reconstitute itself and recognized that they did not have appropriate professional leadership.” 

“I feel like the leadership needed to come from the top,” Sanderson said of his involvement.

Sanderson said Hillel 818’s previous leadership “did not understand the needs” of its students. He did not explicitly name Alban, but rather cited “personnel doing the job” as not succeeding in reaching Jewish students at three commuter schools. Alban said she did not recall ever speaking with or meeting Sanderson.

“We have partnerships with organizations, and we’re responsible for donor money, and we’re responsible for the community,” Sanderson said. “So we don’t invest in places where we question how the organization is being run.”

“Hillel 818 has been underfunded,” Komerofsky said. “It’s kind of a cycle that you can’t reach enough students because there’s not enough money to hire the staff to be able to reach them, and then, conversely, there’s not that compelling story to talk about how you’re able to reach so many students — that raises more dollars.”

“We’re trying to get Hillel 818 off of that treadmill.”

Myers said some of Hillel 818’s troubles in raising enough money to support a larger program stem from the fact that CSUN is a commuter school, and the majority of its students do not come from wealthy families.

“People give to the Hillels where their kids are students,” she said. “Well, CSUN has a student population whose parents typically do not have those excess funds.” And with that handicap, she said, Federation’s policy of “not sufficiently” supporting “core” operating expenses, like salaries and overhead, only makes things harder.

The ideal, Myers said, would be for Hillel 818 to be able to raise more money from parents of current students and from alumni, but she said that, at least this year, that’s not a feasible way to raise the money it needs.

Sanderson said Hillel 818 should rely more on alumni and less on Federation, and he hopes that, in 20 years, the group will have developed the types of relationships it needs with alumni.

Myers, though, countered that building an alumni donor base is made difficult when there isn’t money to pay for employees whose primary job is to fundraise.

“Who’s going to pay for the fundraiser or for the person in the office to reach alumni? Who’s going to do that? That’s an operational expense,” Myers said. 

Until about four years ago, local Hillels were funded by the Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), a now-defunct group that gave Hillels core, lump-sum donations — as opposed to grants for specific programs, in large part through Federation support. 

Between 2008 and 2010, every dollar of Federation’s $2.7 million in campus funding went to LAHC. That dissolution overlapped with a major transition in how Federation funds Jewish groups, a transition process completed by the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year that now requires groups to apply for grants for specific programs in line with Federation’s goals. 

Although the new grant policy creates a method for innovative and new programs to find capital, Myers said that it nevertheless makes it difficult to fund good programs that don’t need change, as well as to raise money for more staff that could, for example, focus on fundraising.

Myers emphasized that she looks forward to working with Katz, the new executive director, and to “seeing more generosity” from Federation, which she said Sanderson promised in September. 

Still, what she’s seen since summer 2014 concerns her: “Does the Federation know enough to engineer our specific campus programs? It’s the job of the new director and the Hillel 818 Board to do that, with the support of the community.”

And while she’s hopeful about Hillel 818’s potential for future growth, she regards this past fall semester as a sort of lost one, and one that didn’t serve the needs of Jewish students at Hillel 818’s three main campuses.

“I feel really badly for our students,” Myers said. “I think they deserve more.”


For the record: 

A previous version of this story implied that David Komerofsky's trips to L.A. ended upon the hiring of Hillel 818's new executive director, David Katz. Komerofsky will in fact be continuing in a part-time role as interim director until Katz begins in April.

-Hillel 818's significant increase in program attendance is since the beginning of spring semester in mid-January, not since the beginning of fall semester.

-Kevin Gobuty started at Hillel 818 in Jan. 2014, not Jan. 2013.

Q&A with Federation head Jay Sanderson

At the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly (GA), held this year in National Harbor, Md., Nov. 9-11, thousands of Jewish professional and lay leaders filled a conference center and hotel to listen to famous and powerful Jews, including two Supreme Court justices and the Israeli prime minister (via telecast), sit through breakout sessions and, most important, network with one another and share ideas that have been tested at Jewish Federations across the country.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson came here this year with seven staff members and 17 lay leaders; for him, this year’s GA caps a year in which the L.A. Federation’s leadership predicts it will reach its fundraising goal of $50 million and its outreach goal of 20,000 donors by Jan. 1.

In two interviews with the Journal during the GA, Sanderson spoke with his usual candor about what the GA does and doesn’t offer, about the L.A. Federation’s successes and shortfalls in 2014, and his frustration at the inability of Israeli Americans in Los Angeles and the local Federation to create a partnership that will help further integrate Israeli Americans into the local Jewish community.

Jewish Journal: What do you see as the goal of the GA?

Jay Sanderson: This is the one time that the Federation system can tell its story to national and international lay and professional leaders.

JJ: What’s the story?

JS: There’s no organization in the world like the Federation system. There just isn’t. There hasn’t been. You’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. You’re talking about the establishment of the State of Israel, the rescuing of Soviet Jews, of Ethiopian Jews. That’s done through the Federation collective.

JJ: Is Federation losing relevance as Jews become increasingly disengaged from Jewish communal life?

JS: There are more Jews involved in Federation in L.A. today than there were 10 years ago. OK? That’s factually correct, not anecdotal — based on number of donors and number of people in leadership, and meaningful leadership. Those are things you can measure, and we have a dramatic, and growing, increase in engagement and involvement. 

Now that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of Jews are not — in your generation for sure — are not disengaged; they are disengaged from institutional life, not Federation life. They are disengaged from synagogues, they are disengaged from the Anti-Defamation League and [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] — they are disengaged. We have a majority of Jews disengaged in institutional organizational Jewish life. That is a communal challenge, that’s the Pew [Research Center] report. 

I can say in Los Angeles that we are focused on addressing that. I’d say most organizations say it, but we have strategies to do it. So the GA is — right now you’re going to meet mostly the people who drank the Kool-Aid, some of the people who make the Kool-Aid, some of the people who bathe in the Kool-Aid. You’re not going to see a lot of people here who think there’s too much sugar in Kool-Aid.

JJ: Changing topics: 2014 is almost done. What’s a goal L.A. Federation has accomplished that you’re proud of, and what’s an area where you came up short?

JS: One accomplishment was we wanted to make the Federation a better place to work. We’ve started all these programs for people to feel more engaged, and we’ve given a lot of people opportunities to do other things. So there’s been a lot of people that work at the Federation that are moving into new opportunities within the building. 

JJ: Where have you come up short in 2014?

JS: NuRoots, our initiative for young adults, is behind — timing-wise — where it should be. I thought we’d be further along in NuRoots. We launched the fellows program, we had four engagement fellows working in the community, building micro-communities in four geographic locations, and we are moving in other directions. But I think we are six to nine months [behind] where I thought we would be now. It’s gone slower than I had hoped in terms of development of the project. 

I wish we were further along in our relationship with the Israeli-American community in Los Angeles. We’ve had a lot of fits and starts trying to work with the [Israeli-American Council], and they are growing nationally and they are very successful, but I feel like there’s not the kind of partnership with the Jewish community that I was hoping for when I started this job. I think some of it is cultural challenges between the two institutions, and I don’t think it’s a big enough priority.

JJ: For either side?

JS: Maybe for either side. I think it needs to be a bigger priority for both sides.

Sultan’s new Sharia laws prompt Jewish groups to shun Beverly Hills Hotel

Some of Southern California’s largest Jewish organizations plan to stay away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, suspending future events at the landmark venue owned by the state-run Brunei Investment Agency.

Their boycott was spurred by recent Sharia additions to the tiny Muslim country’s penal code, including the threat of execution of homosexuals, adulterers and anyone who insults the Quran or Muhammad.

The pink stucco luxury hotel is owned by the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel operator that belongs to Brunei’s government, and is therefore an asset of Hassanai Bolkiah, the sultan and absolute ruler of the tiny, oil-rich, South Asian country. Dorchester also owns the Hotel Bel-Air, a smaller luxury hotel in nearby Bel-Air.

At the same time, one Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, announced that it will continue its relationship with the hotel. The Orthodox synagogue has held Shabbat and holiday services in the hotel for the past 15 years.

A popular location for high-end dinners, fundraisers and galas, the Sunset Boulevard hotel last week faced protests and announcements that it will be shunned by many local nonprofits and associations as well as celebrities.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los 

Angeles, told the Journal on May 7 that the Federation will not plan any events there.

“The values of the owner of that hotel and the country in which he has power goes against everything we believe in as Jews and as Americans,” Sanderson said, adding, though, that he is not calling for a general boycott. “It’s one of these situations where, right now, given the public stand, I think it would be very difficult for any community organization to do an event there.”

Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist Pacific Palisades synagogue, has relocated a large May 20 event that would have been at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire. Mike Lurey, Kehillat Israel’s president, wrote in an email to the congregation that the event had to be moved “if we are to be true to the values upon which our synagogue was founded,” even at the risk of losing the synagogue’s nearly $100,000 deposit. 

Protesters outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

“That is a small price to pay for the importance of taking a firm stand against such atrocities,” Lurey wrote.

Aviva Family and Children’s Services already has announced that it also will change  the venue of its May 31 gala from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire, posting on its website that it made the decision “in light of recent reports concerning the decision to adopt Sharia Law by the property’s owner.” 

The Jewish Free Loan Association announced that its June 11 gala will move from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Luxe Hotel, just a few miles west on Sunset Boulevard.

Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray said in a statement that widespread event cancellations would hurt the Beverly Hills Hotel’s 650 employees, saying that the hotel has already lost $2 million in canceled events and alleging its employees could lose about $8 million in gratuities from functions held at the hotel.

“We question why the Beverly Hills Hotel is being singled out,” Cowdray’s statement said, pointing out that many Muslim governments that impose Sharia have interests in American brands.

Although the sultan announced the new legislation in October 2013, its first stage was implemented on May 1, introducing fines and jail terms for offenses such as pregnancy outside marriage and failure to attend Friday prayers. The second phase, which will be rolled out in one year, will impose whipping and amputations for theft and alcohol consumption by Brunei’s Muslim citizens.

By 2016, Brunei’s citizens could be subject to execution for adultery and for insulting the Quran or Muhammad. Although 80 percent of Brunei’s 400,000 citizens are Muslim, many of the sultan’s decrees will also apply to the country’s substantial Christian and Buddhist minorities, in particular a prohibition against proselytization.

In the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, strict Islamic law also governs many elements of society, but Brunei is the only South Asian country to have adopted the criminal element of Sharia.

Beverly Hills Hotel employees during a public hearing where the Beverly Hills City Council voted on a resolution to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel in Beverly Hills on May 6. Photo by David McNew/Reuters

Bolkiah, 67, has been Brunei’s absolute ruler since 1967. Head of an oil-rich country that is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter of natural gas, he was named by Forbes in 2007 the world’s wealthiest royal, worth $22 billion. He is, all at once, Brunei’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister and head of religion.

A British protectorate until 1984, Brunei joins a long list of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, that impose brutal punishments such as amputations for theft and execution for adultery and homosexuality. 

Brunei’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was among recent protesters in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and his presence helped the issue go viral. Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne had previously announced on Twitter that they would not stay at either of the sultan’s local properties until his new laws are repealed. Then, last weekend, the Feminist Majority Foundation canceled its planned May 5 annual event at the hotel, instead leading a protest across the street, holding the event later that evening at the Hammer Museum.

Leno’s wife, Mavis, chairs that foundation’s campaign for Afghan women, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Taliban. Appearing alongside protesters on May 12, Jay Leno said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We get so upset when a team owner says something inappropriate,” referring to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Here are people being killed, stoned to death … it’s just a matter of priorities.”

Activist Dolores Huerta, left, protesting Brunei's new strict Sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Feminist Majority Foundation Executive Vice President Katherine Spillar told the Journal in an interview on May 8 that she does not support a general boycott of the hotel, and said the sultan’s Los Angeles properties are just the current target in the group’s broader fight against anti-female laws in nations such as Brunei, Afghanistan and Iran. She termed the new laws in Brunei as “Taliban-like,” rather than as Sharia.

“We don’t have an issue with the hotel,” Spillar said. “We have an issue with the Sultan of Brunei.” Although the Feminist Majority Foundation won’t be holding any events at the hotel in the foreseeable future, Spillar expressed her gratitude to the hotel for refunding the group’s $70,000 non-refundable deposit for the event.

Jewish groups that have canceled their events told the Journal they are still in discussion with Beverly Hills Hotel about refunds.

Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union that has butted heads for years with the formerly unionized Beverly Hills Hotel, also participated in the picketing. Shortly after its purchase by the sultan in the late 1980s, the hotel closed down and renovated, reopening in 1995, with a non-unionized staff.

Charlie Carnow, a research analyst with the union, said that, in addition to raising awareness about laws forbidding homosexuality and condoning marital rape, Local 11 has previously raised red flags surrounding the sultan’s relationship with Iran, his refusal to recognize Israel and his support of Iran’s nuclear program.

“We are calling for a boycott of both properties,” Carnow said of the Dorchester Collection’s two local hotels. “The best way forward is for these hotels to be sold so they can be returned to be properties that people feel comfortable going to.”

The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

On May 6, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a legally non-binding resolution urging Brunei’s government to “divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.” Hotel staff attended the meeting in uniform and opposed the council’s resolution, highlighting how a boycott of the hotel could hurt their livelihoods.

One local Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, a congregation led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin, a Chabad rabbi, plans to continue its weekly Shabbat services inside the hotel, which they have held there for more than a decade.

“Never will you feel uncomfortable in that hotel as a practicing Jew,” Cunin said. “They do a terrific job for travelers all over the world who come to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel who are shomer Shabbos

“We have had our shul there for more than 10 years,” Cunin continued, “and have had nothing but respect and cooperation from the hotel.”

Federation’s Sanderson also conceded that the situation is not simple when considering the local impact.

“It’s not so black-and-white when you have our neighbors who work in the hotel,” Sanderson said. “It’s a business in Beverly Hills, and it employs people. It’s a very complicated problem.”

Local Birthright offerings feature niche trips

Registration began this week for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the program offering free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews ages 18-26 that was created to connect young people to their heritage. This year, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is co-sponsoring a variety of opportunities: With nine trips and room for 40 people on each, there are 360 spaces available, however many trips fill up quickly.

Designed to serve a cross-section of young adults in the local Jewish community, these trips are inclusive and “low-barrier” to join, said Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president. They cater to a wide variety of participants: Jews of all denominations, LGBT Jews, Iranian Jews and Jews in recovery from substance abuse.

L.A. Way —“the flagship program for L.A. community trips,” according to Michael Gropper, program director of Birthright Israel at Federation — includes visits to Masada, the Dead Sea, the Old City in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The original Los Angeles community Birthright trip, L.A. Way, offers two trips this summer, for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers of the same age will accompany the group for the entire 10 days. 

Another option, Tlalim-Israel Outdoors, is for the more adventurous soul, with treks across the Holy Land, visits to cultural and historical sites, and more. As with L.A. Way, IDF soldiers accompany participants for the entire 10 days. Three of these trips will be offered this summer — one for ages 18-22 and two for ages 22-26.

Niche trips that the Federation is involved with include the L.A. LGBT & Ally Trip. It takes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults as well as their friends and family — ages 22-26 — on an exploration of arts and culture of Israel’s LGBT community. Participants also learn about Israeli gay rights and visit classic Israeli sites, and the trip concludes with the Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade. JQ International, an LGBT Jewish movement, co-organizes the trip.

The LGBT trip “seeks to layer participants’ Jewish identities and LGBT identities in a whole new way with Israel as a setting for this process,” according to 

Meanwhile, L.A. Way’s Recovering Israel trip, intended for individuals in addiction recovery, delves into programs helping Israelis who struggle with substance abuse. It also provides a drug- and alcohol-free environment in which to learn about Israel’s culture, history and politics. Beit T’Shuvah, the Culver City-based residential treatment center, co-organizes the trip, which is for ages 18-26.

Lastly, L.A. 2 Israel — Persian Style brings Los Angeles’ Iranian community on a tour of Israel’s most famous attractions. Inaugurated this past winter, the trip is run by provider Sachlav — also known as IsraelOnTheHouse — which has a reputation for appealing to the Iranian community. Its two trips are intended for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively.

Registration for Birthright trips began on Feb. 13, and many close within a week, according to a Birthright official. For more information or to register, visit

Federation officials hope that the trips are just one step in Birthright participants’ continued engagement with the Jewish community. It has two fellowships through which former trip leaders and participants organize and promote events that keep their Birthright peers connected long after the trips are over.

All of this is part of Federation’s goal of making Birthright more meaningful than simply a free trip to Israel, Sanderson said. 

“For us, Birthright begins when someone applies, and the experience doesn’t end,” he said. 

Super Sunday’s fundraising and activism

More than 450 people took part in fundraising and community service activities Feb. 10 as part of Super Sunday, during which The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance raised $1,942,736 as part of its annual fundraising campaign.

“Super Sunday was an enormous success,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an e-mail sent out to the Los Angeles community. “Together we raised [nearly $2 million], which will make a significant impact on our Federation’s work caring for Jews in need, engaging with the community and ensuring the Jewish future.”

A yearly tradition, this installment of Super Sunday represented several firsts, including one new location, a more targeted phone-banking strategy, greater transparency, more experienced fundraisers and the use of cell phones instead of landlines. 

Still, the basics of Super Sunday — phone-a-thons in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to raise funds for The Federation — did not change.

“We like to tell people: You’re not raising money for [people like] yourself, you’re raising money for the people The Federation helps,” said James Felton, Valley Alliance campaign co-chair. “And it’s easy to fundraise when you’re thinking about those people.” 

Approximately 225 individuals signed up to be callers this year, said Mitch Hamerman, senior vice president of marketing at The Federation. 

Money raised during Super Sunday benefits Holocaust survivors, college students needing tuition assistance, the elderly, the hungry and others. It also funds programs that fall under the auspices of The Federation’s initiatives related to engaging the community, ensuring the Jewish future and caring for Jews in need.

Federation volunteers picked more than 3,500 pounds of fresh produce for donation to local food pantries.  Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As usual, the event extended across the city, with Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters serving as a venue for an all-day phone-a-thon. For the first time, Temple Judea in Tarzana served as the Valley site with phone-banking taking place in the sanctuary. Super Sunday in the Valley used to be held at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, but The Federation sold that property to New Community Jewish High School.

In the past, Federation reports of how much it raised on Super Sunday included money that had been donated to it throughout the year. This year, The Federation’s figure was limited strictly to what was raised exclusively on the one day. This was meant to increase transparency about Super Sunday, Sanderson said.

Additionally, phone-bankers limited calls to first-time donors and those who have contributed less than $5,000 in the past. As for those who have donated more than $5,000, The Federation will take the time to develop personal relationships with them, Sanderson said. 

Making calls from a new location did not appear to hinder Valley volunteers. Spirits high, volunteers such as Joel Volk placed calls from their cell phones and made their pitches.

“Are you interested in supporting The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles? It’s really about having a cohesive community here in Los Angeles,” the Thousands Oaks resident said to one of the dozens of people he called on Sunday. 

Cell phones were used instead of telephones because it was not cost-effective to bring the phones in, Sanderson said. Phone chargers for all kinds of cell phones were available to volunteers; donated cell phones were on hand for those who did not have their own, and volunteers who preferred to keep their phone numbers private dialed a special code before making each call.

Federation volunteers spruced up Friendship Circle’s new campus and helped prepare for its upcoming Purim party. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rhonda Seaton, communications director at the Valley Alliance, said Super Sunday has taken a quality-over-quantity approach over the past couple of years, reaching out to fewer — albeit more experienced — volunteers to make phone calls. This year’s phone-bankers included Federation lay-leaders and members of Federation networking and philanthropic groups, such as Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA), Jewish Business Leaders and the Sylvia Weisz Women’s Campaign.

Volunteers used Instagram, an online photo-sharing tool, to take photographs of themselves placing calls, and they updated their Twitter feeds throughout the day.

“We want to connect with people in every way possible,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson traveled back and forth between the Wilshire Boulevard and Valley sites. Around 1:30 p.m., he and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of The Federation, arrived at Temple Judea just as David Melnick and Marcy Tajkef, co-chairs of the Valley Alliance Super Sunday, announced Valley phone-bankers had raised $346,693. The highest fundraisers will receive tickets to a taping of “American Idol,” an Amazon Kindle and other prizes, the co-chairs said.

The phone-a-thon is just one part of Super Sunday. This was the third consecutive Super Sunday that included a service component, and it is critical to The Federation’s mission, said Neuriel Shore, community and government affairs manager at The Federation.

“What’s The Federation there for? It’s there as a convener; it’s there to bring together the Jewish community in a way that community services does,” Shore said.

In the morning, Shore said he was expecting 250 people to participate in community service projects organized by The Federation throughout Los Angeles County. At one of these projects, volunteers, under the guidance of Food Forward, picked oranges at a grove adjoining a private residence in Agoura Hills. The nonprofit harvests the fruit on homeowners’ trees and donates the bounty to food pantries and food banks. 

Jeff Silverman, a 47-year-old sales manager from Woodland Hills, was happy to participate. As opposed to something insular — like “knitting yarmulkes for young Jews in Brooklyn” — Food Forward helps a broad population, he said. It also helps create community. Growing up in Highland, Ind., Silverman was the only Jewish student at his high school. Days like these help him connect with Jews in Los Angeles, he said.

Community service projects appealed to a variety of interests. Volunteers helped the Friendship Circle, an organization for families with special-needs children, prepare for its Purim party and beautify its new campus on Robertson Boulevard; others took a bus to a military base in Los Alamitos, where they prepared lunch for and shared a meal with military personnel; and in celebration of Purim and Presidents Day, YALA created patriotic-themed mishloach manot (“sending of portions”) to give to Jewish veterans.

Additionally, more than 200 high school students gathered at Temple Judea to do arts projects, assemble bags of food for Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program and learn about global issues. Sherut L’Olam, which provides environmental and social justice education to teenagers, led the initiative.

Super Sunday may be about soliciting donations, but it is also about letting people know The Federation is there for them, Melnick said. When he spoke to someone on the phone who was unemployed, he told him about Federation programs that might be able to help. Given that he was doing this inside of a sanctuary, Melnick said it felt like “sacred work in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.”

LaunchBox: Federation releases tool kit for Jewish journey

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has released LaunchBox, the winner of its Next Big Jewish Idea contest in 2011, the first in an effort to garner community ideas to strengthen Jewish life. LaunchBox was one of more than 300 submissions to the contest. 

Federation awarded $100,000 in funding, plus office space, mentoring and support services at the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters to the winner, Los Angeles educator Batsheva Frankel, who created the winning tool kit intended to help people on their Jewish journey.

Families with teens and young adults are the intended audience for the first LaunchBox installment, titled “Life: What’s the Big Idea?” which contains games, a comic book, music and prompts for creating an ethical will. 

“We tried to speak to them [teens and young adults] in a language they’re participating in, which is games, a comic book, music as well as the more heavy stuff,” Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson said. 

Frankel will continue to work at Federation offices until June 2013, further developing her concept, and, during that time, one more box will be released. The theme of the next box has yet to be determined, but it will likely be geared toward a similar age group, according to Scott Minkow, vice president of Partnerships and Innovation for Federation.

The contents of the current box explore such topics as the afterlife, ethics, the meaning of existence – big topics on the minds of teens and young adults, Sanderson said.  According to Federation leaders, conversations, testing and focus groups helped determine what should be in the box, and ultimately the box’s content is intended to engage topics “that have direct connections to Judaism and our faith,” Sanderson said. 

One thousand boxes were produced and are available for free by signing up on Federation’s Web site, 

Contained in a cardboard box, the LaunchBox includes the Competing High Priorities Game, a chips-and-card game that asks players to respond to real-life predicaments by determining which priority — such as family, stability or love — should be considered when dealing with a particular predicament; a five-page comic book that discusses the afterlife; a CD compilation of songs about life, legacy and the afterlife by Jewish songwriters; and more. The official LaunchBox Web site,, includes online companion material. 

Federation expects to send out all of its boxes, but Minkow said it will measure the project’s success based on how the boxes are used, not just on how many are distributed. 

To get the feedback it needs, the Federation is asking everyone who signs up for a box to fill out an online survey. “I think success looks like people are engaging in types of conversation that they’re not normally having,” Minkow said.

This is Federation’s first effort to directly create a curriculum for Jewish learning. Federation also has been helping Frankel plan how to make LaunchBox sustainable beyond the summer of 2013.

“We believe in her and believe in the project,” Sanderson said.

From Madoff to Sandy and on eve of GA, federations retool when crisis hits

The national headquarters of the Jewish Federations of North America could not have been in a worse location when Sandy struck.

Except, maybe, if it were located on the Jersey Shore.

The Jewish Federations’ building in lower Manhattan lost power amid Hurricane Sandy’s winds and the surge of seawater that inundated the neighborhood. For nearly 48 hours last week, the organization’s servers were down, its email, computers and phones offline and inaccessible.

The organization's annual General Assembly, scheduled for Nov. 11-13 in Baltimore, was less than two weeks away. Worse, the head office of the country’s largest aid and welfare network was out of commission at a time of crisis for New York, the nation’s largest Jewish community.

But then the Jewish Federations came back.

First using Facebook to communicate and later shifting to texts, emails and phones once server access was restored, the organization kicked into action, opening a hurricane relief fund that raised more than $68,000 by week’s end.

Farther uptown, the federation system’s largest member, UJA-Federation of New York, announced a week after the storm that it was making available $10 million in emergency relief aid to its network agencies and synagogues in the New York area.

“In times of crisis — whether after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Israel’s North or this — federations are able to mobilize resources to respond in bold ways,” said John Ruskay, the CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. “While everyone extends themselves in the ways they can, federations are uniquely positioned.”

Four years ago, Jewish federations were facing a much different sort of crisis.

The U.S. economy was in a tailspin. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme had dealt a crippling blow to a host of Jewish foundations, agencies, donors and even universities. The need for aid was rising rapidly, fundraising dollars were in decline and federations were struggling with how to offer additional help while tightening their belts.

So federations began changing the way they did business. Staffs were downsized. Programs were cut. Two federations in New Jersey merged. Fundraising became even more tailored to donors. In some cities, overseas funding was sacrificed in favor of local welfare programs.

Four years on, these changes are still reshaping the federation landscape even as federation fundraising and programming are coming back.

“All of these are important changes and practical changes that the economic collapse didn’t necessarily lead to, but created the momentum that led to them finally being made,” said Louis Feldstein, former chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and now the CEO at Dynamic Changes Solutions, a management consulting firm.

“The key question is are they major changes or just dancing around the edges. The challenge is that you can’t cut yourself to growth, particularly in the nonprofit sector.”

In Los Angeles, where the recession saw a spike in Jewish poverty, the federation has recalibrated toward serving a more Jewish clientele rather than a nonsectarian one. The federation also has focused more on vocational services.

“We’re doing our work differently and focusing far more on serving Jewish clients because there are so many more to serve,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In New York, the federation established seven regional centers as part of a new program called Connect to Care that partnered with synagogues and other Jewish community institutions to provide everything from vocational counseling to emergency loans.

Like many federations, however, fundraising is still down in New York. While its annual campaign has picked up in the last couple of years, it’s still bringing in less than before the recession.

“We’re on the road back, but we’re not quite back where we were,” Ruskay said.

At the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland in Oregon, fundraising is still down about 25 percent from pre-2008 levels, even though it has grown by 8 percent in each of the last two years. Last year the federation raised about $3.3 million, down from a high mark of $4.2 million before the recession.

“The storm lasted longer than people thought it would,” said Marc Blattner, who became president and CEO of the federation two years ago. “We kept with the mindset that we have to ride this out and stay focused and on message.”

Sanderson says the upcoming General Assembly is a good time to retool and refocus.

Jewish Federations says it expects some 3,500 people in Baltimore for the GA — assuming that the continuing fallout from Sandy doesn't keep too many New Yorkers from getting the trains or gasoline they need to get there.

“We did the best we could to maintain momentum and keep everything moving,” Susan Sherr-Seitz, associate vice president, special projects/GA at Jewish Federations, told JTA after the storm. “A lot of things are out of our control here. We really are hoping that everyone is doing OK and will be able to come.”

The GA has a special message to convey in this time of challenge, Sherr-Seitz said: “Come together, celebrate together getting through the storm, feel together and feel the power of community.”

Federation Shabbat initiative gets grand response

Last year, on a Friday night, Margy Feldman was in her backyard when she heard her next-door neighbors singing “Shalom Aleichem.” 

“It was unbelievably moving. It felt like Israel,” said Feldman, vice president of development at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. 

It’s the kind of community-wide engagement with Shabbat that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is hoping its latest initiative, 1000 Shabbat Celebrations, will accomplish. On Oct. 26, thousands of people in the greater Los Angeles area will celebrate Shabbat as part of this Federation project, which asks individuals, families, synagogues and organizations to host Shabbat dinners simultaneously.

The Federation is providing a box of Shabbat-related items to each registered participant, the contents of which include a one-of-a-kind challah cover, candles, a book of Shabbat prayers, recipes, inspirational writings and a tzedakah box.

“Basically what we’re saying to people is celebrate Shabbat everywhere you want, anywhere you want, any way you want, and we’re going to give you a little bit of a map if you want to use it,” Federation president and CEO Jay Sanderson said. 

Approximately 1,100 Shabbat dinners have been registered with the Federation as of Oct. 18, and approximately 25,000 people will be celebrating Shabbat as part of this organized effort, Sanderson said.

Federation artist-in-resident Will Deutsch designed the challah cover, which portrays stressors of the workweek, including freeway traffic and cell phones, separated from illustrations of Shabbat (e.g., a woman covering her eyes while reciting the blessing) to show the distinction between daily frustrations and the respite of the Sabbath.

Synagogues, organizations and even country clubs, including Brentwood Country Club and Hillcrest Country Club, are hosting larger celebrations. Between 40 to 70 people will turn out at social service agency Vista Del Mar’s Shabbat, Feldman said. Approximately 20 families will attend Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue’s event, Rabbi Judith HaLevy said.

“The one thing that unifies us, clearly, is Shabbat,” HaLevy said.

This will be the second consecutive year that the Federation has led such an initiative. In 2011, the Federation facilitated 100 Shabbats as a way to celebrate its centennial. More than 600 people participated, which motivated the Federation to do it again — and make it bigger, Sanderson said.

An upcoming Federation program, also revolving around Shabbat, brings a celebrity to the table. On Nov. 9, actor-comedian Bob Saget will have Shabbat dinner with the winners of a current Federation contest. Individuals who donate to the Federation’s latest fundraising drive will be entered for a chance to join the former “Full House” star. 

Ultimately, both initiatives attest to the power of Shabbat to bring people together, whether you’re Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

“No matter what our form or level of Shabbat observance, we can all find a place to daven and take a breath and do it together with our families and our communities,” HaLevy said.

Federation’s Sanderson one of few L.A. Jews on Forward 50 List

Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, made it onto this year’s The Forward 50, an annual list of sometimes unexpected people who the judges believe most helped shape the past Jewish year. The list represents “a snapshot in time, an impressionist picture of the American Jewish story during a given year,” Forward Editor Jane Eisner wrote.

Sanderson, who took on the leadership role at Federation in January 2010 after running the Jewish Television Network for two decades, was feted for “shaking up America’s second-largest Jewish federation in important ways,” the paper notes. In paying tribute to his “belief that federations must find new paradigms for identifying and funding worthy causes,” the paper cited his launching of the “The Next Big Jewish Idea,” an online voting competition that in June awarded $100,000 in start-up costs to LaunchBox, a kit meant to bring Jewish ritual to the unaffiliated. It also cited his commitment to aiding Jews in need in the faltering economy.

Sanderson, 54, “is part of a wave of new Federation leaders who are replacing an older leadership cohort now heading toward retirement,” the Forward says.

This year, Los Angeles was seriously underrepresented on the New York-based newspaper’s list. The only other representatives were Natalie Portman, a Hollywood actress, and Richard Morgenstern, the enigmatic member of the Morris Morgenstern Foundation who has kept in secretive art storage George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., in which the first president of the United States vowed that the fledgling nation would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Morgenstern has homes in Los Angeles and Boca Raton, Fla., according to the Forward.

Poet Laureate Philip Levine, singled out for special profile in the Top Five, lives in Fresno. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook in Silicon Valley, is also among this year’s 50.

The absence of Angelenos this year is a repeat of last year, when Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva was the only Angeleno. In 2009, however, the left coast was represented by JumpStart’s Shawn Landres, Jewlicious’ Yonah Bookstein, director Steven Spielberg and Rep. Howard Berman.

Rabbi Sharon Brous made the list in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky and Denise Eger have made past appearances, among others.

L.A. Jews connect in Israel

JERUSALEM — Of the 400 Jewish community members who traveled to Israel on a week-long trip in late October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, many had already visited the country dozens of times, although some had never set foot on Israeli soil.

A diverse mix of participants from the L.A. region, whose ages spanned several decades, toured the country in 14 separate groups with different, albeit sometimes overlapping, itineraries. While everyone on the mission became acquainted with the many worthy Israeli projects supported by the L.A. Federation, some groups focused on Jewish identity; others were more directed toward philanthropy or social action.

The groups linked up for special events, including the dedication of a new community center at Ayalim Village, a project designed to build and strengthen Israeli communities in the north and south regions of the country. The evening included a barbecue under the stars at the student-run village in the Negev.  

“There are 400 people here of all ages. We have a Birthright bus, a bus of young Russians, major philanthropists,” Federation president and CEO Jay Sanderson enthused as he gazed at the crowd at the mission’s closing event, which featured remarks by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

What united the groups, Sanderson said, was the desire to connect with Israelis and to learn from them, as well as from one another.

For the older, established community members, the mission “also showed our commitment to engage young people,” both in Israel and the United States, Sanderson said.

The social action track was especially popular among younger participants.

“We tried to go to places most tourists don’t go, places that show how Israelis use innovation to tackle difficult problems,” said Dan Gold, who led the group. This included spending a day visiting south Tel Aviv social-service agencies that assist poor Israelis, foreign workers and refugees. They also visited a solar thermal plant, helped remove litter from a valley and picked beets for Leket, Israel’s largest food bank.   

Alicia Harris, 34, a teacher at Crescenta Valley High School, was on the social action trip. Harris said she was inspired by her visit to the Bialik-Rogosin School, where dozens of refugee children are being educated and nurtured.  

“Kids are kids everywhere, but when you hear what these kids have gone through, it’s amazing,” said Harris, a first-time visitor to Israel. “I’d like to come back and volunteer there.

“I was probably the most detached Jewishly of anyone in my group,” she said, “but Shabbat services, the Western Wall, dinner in the desert were poignant moments. Now, I feel a desire to be connected with other Jews once I get back to L.A.”

Harris related how, when she asked her fellow group members where she could find an uplifting prayer service in Los Angeles similar to ones she experienced in Israel, “Someone said, ‘Come with me next week!’ ”

As a result of the trip, she said, “I feel more of a desire to be connected.”

Although Cindy Feit, 28, had visited the Jewish state several times in the past, and even lived in Israel for 10 months, she said there was “something special” about exploring the country with fellow Angelenos.

“Before, I was always with groups of people from all over the place. This time, the benefit is that we can maintain the connections we’ve made on the trip back home.”

Feit said her group is already planning an L.A. reunion Chanukah party.

Cindy Wu-Freedman decided to come on the mission not only to see Israel for the first time, but to strengthen her husband’s connection to Judaism.

“I want to have a sense of God in my own home,” Wu-Freedman, a Jew by Choice, said, noting that her Jewish husband, Jason, had almost no tangible connection to the Jewish community until she began to study the religion.   

“It’s been hard to convince my husband to go to synagogue, and it’s hard to be Jewish on your own,” she said.   

“I’ve been pretty much a non-practicing Jew. I took being Jewish for granted,” Jason Freedman admitted. “But Cindy’s conversion sparked a renaissance in my life.”

Coming to Israel for the first time “has completed the puzzle somehow,” he said. “I’d definitely like to be more active in the Jewish community in L.A. Going to shul, seeking out opportunities to meet more Jews and to be proactively pro-Israel.”

Several mission participants already engaged in full-time Jewish community work back home said they felt recharged by the enthusiasm of those on their first-ever trip to Israel.  

“Our group had a very high percentage of first-timers,” noted Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Reform congregation. “It’s been personally gratifying to see old sites through new eyes.”

Ani Ma’amin, I believe

I was raised in a world of great Jewish ideas. At our seder table, everyone’s questions were welcome. No one was labeled “wicked” or “simple,” and no one was silenced. My atheist brother, my socialist aunt, my Orthodox cousin, my Labor Zionist parents, even our Catholic neighbors — all had a voice at the table. It was noisy, but it was vital. There were arguments, but there was dialogue and listening. It was passionate, and it was loving. That’s the kind of Jewish community I cherish.

Ours has always been a culture of ideas, big ideas. But today, we find ourselves so immersed in the issues and calamities of the moment, so preoccupied with the community, the State of Israel, the direction of America, the condition of the world, we never have a moment to ask, What for? Because of this, we share a deep sense of crisis, but little collective direction. We have great energy but little shared vision. We are a community yearning for great ideas.

In the 1950s, the renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow solicited brief statements from people across America, great and ordinary alike, in a project called, “This I Believe.” Murrow believed there was no greater need in the America of his time than for assertions of principle and conviction. Recently, NPR renewed Murrow’s project. Our Jewish community shares the same predicament. So I suggested to The Jewish Journal editors that they initiate a project called “Ani Ma’amin, I Believe.” Together we have invited a number of Jews from the community to share a statement of their core beliefs. And we invite you to join them.

A few are printed here. We want to publish more on a regular basis in The Journal and online at Instructions on our format and how to submit are on that Web site. For now, immerse yourself in your neighbors’ core beliefs.

Welcome to “Ani Ma’amin, I Believe”! I’m glad you can join us at this noisy, vital, loving Jewish table!

— Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom

Click here to find out how to submit to our Ani Ma’amin collection.

I believe the world should be Fair

by Adlai Wertman

“What’s the matter, Adlai – did someone, somewhere, tell you that life was supposed to be fair?” That is what my investment-banking boss said to me in 1986 after we just lost a deal to a competitor who I didn’t think earned it. Over the next 25 years – and through two major career shifts into nonprofit work and academia – that line always stayed with me. Because I actually do believe that life should be fair – but it really isn’t. For the past decade, I have devoted my career to making the world a little bit fairer – not for investment bankers (life is quite fair for them) – but for the poorest people in our society. For them, life is not in any way fair.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice you shall pursue. The imperative is clear to me – but in real life, the notion of pursuing justice is quite challenging. In my mind, the call for justice reaches outside the courtroom and into society at large. So what, then, does it mean to create a just and fair society?

The injustice that seems the most glaring to me is poverty. We live in a world where there is an ever-growing chasm between the wealthy and the poor. All statistics show that the rich continue to get richer as the poor get poorer. This can’t be just and truly isn’t fair. And, very important for me, it runs afoul of a multitude of Jewish (and general moral) tenets — too numerous to cite. I believe that narrowing this divide is an important way of pursuing justice — and charity isn’t the only way.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe in capitalism. I had my undergraduate degree in economics, an MBA in finance and 18 years of experience as an investment banker before I began spending my life in the pursuit of “economic justice.” The free capitalist system is theoretically inherently fair. Anybody has the ability to succeed. All it takes is hard work, ingenuity and perseverance. Capitalism depends on free markets – the market for labor, the stock market and consumer markets, to name a few. If our economic system offers equal access to these markets, it is hard to argue that any results aren’t fair.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have equal access – which results in poverty for too many members of our society without it. The possible barriers are numerous and include lack of a stable family growing up, race or gender prejudice, health challenges or, unfortunately, poverty itself. In fact, growing up poor is, in itself, the greatest cause of being poor as an adult. This is most evident in education – those students attending schools in the poorest neighborhoods have little to no chance of getting an education that would allow them equal access to capitalism as an adult. This endless cycle of poverty cannot under any definition be fair.

I believe that it is incumbent upon me — whether following biblical and talmudic prompts or simply out of secular morality — to work to create a society where everyone truly has equal access to economic success. That success would, in and of itself, lead to better education, stronger families and a narrowing of our country’s growing divide. That would be fair, and that is my personal pursuit of tzedek.

Adlai Wertman is professor of clinical management and organization, and founding director of the Society and Business Lab at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

I believe in Ponies

by Zane Buzby

My grandfather promised me a pony. Poppy (my grandfather, not the pony) arrived in the United States in 1907, running from the czarist regime, dreaming of America with its endless possibilities. He was from Odessa, a city of humor and storytelling, so it was only natural that he was gut-bustingly funny and a master storyteller. He had seven grandchildren and was a larger-than-life presence to all of us. He smoked cigars and married us repeatedly with cigar bands he saved on the rabbit ears of his console TV, in a ceremony he conducted in Russian gibberish. He worked hard, laughed hard and taught us that the best laugh was one that left you gasping for breath. He played a mandolin festooned with ribbons, believed that everyone should play a musical instrument, go to college and eat ice cream every day exactly at 3 p.m. He proved that one could be unconventional and unique in an age of conformity.

This was the man who promised me a pony.

On the day that the pony was to arrive, Poppy announced that he had just come from the train station, but the pony was nowhere to be found. We’d have to wait for the next train, or the next. Months passed. The train station was “called,” freight cars “checked.” No pony.

Eventually came the good news: The pony would arrive tomorrow! Poppy said the coming day would be so wonderful that we had better “sleep fast” in order to get up quicker and experience it all. Life was not to be missed. Who but my grandfather could get away with telling little children: “You’ll sleep when you’re dead”?

That morning, we rushed to the station to pick up the pony, but the train car was empty. Pointing to bits of hay and a broken rope that he had somehow planted, it was “clear” that the pony had been there, but had gotten loose and run away. We’d have to find another one. And the process would start again. This would go on for weeks, years, generations.

For me and my father before me, and probably all my cousins, waiting for the pony taught us that the best was always ahead of us, and anything was possible if we stayed optimistic and enthusiastic. It meant there was always hope, and so our days came alive with excitement and anticipation of a wonderful thing just about to happen. We came to have an unshakable belief in an extraordinary and bright future, where next time the pony will come.

Poppy was a shining example of someone living his dream — in this New World that he had so longed for and struggled so hard to reach. Where disappointment or discouragement never meant “game over” or “stop trying.” Where the challenge was always to find another way when the road ahead was blocked. He infused me with excitement, energy, enthusiasm and, above all, an insatiable appetite for life. He sent me on my way with my head full of dreams and the ability to make those dreams come true.

This is his legacy to me: this positive frame, through which I learned to view the world and my own life experiences. I believe this is a key element of who I am.

There are those who wait for Godot and those who wait for the Messiah. Me, I happily wait for the pony.

Zane Buzby is a television director and co-founder of The Survivor Mitzvah Project.

I believe in Caring

by Dr. Bruce Powell

In July 1960, while attending Camp Alonim, I heard Shlomo Bardin talk about his life in Zhitomer, Russia. He told us of a community of Jews within a large city who “cared.” He talked about how the community ensured that everyone who wished to marry was able to do so. He explained how the Jewish burial society (chevrah kadishah) handled each body as a sacred vessel, with dignity, with an understanding that that person had made a contribution to God’s world in some profound way, and how the community could now honor that contribution with the ultimate mitzvah of a dignified burial.

And Bardin told us the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis: “To be good Americans, we must be better Jews.”

In those moments at Camp Alonim, sitting in a barn-like room on Shabbat where Bardin explained that it was “we” who make the barn holy, that it is our obligation to “care,” to build our nation through Jewish values, my 12-year-old soul was shaken to its core.

It was in that “barn” that the seeds of my beliefs, and my entire career in Jewish education, took root. It was in the summer of 1960, where, to a 12-year-old, all was possible, that my current work at New Community Jewish High School was born.

As I grew and ventured into my career, I was almost possessed by Bardin’s vision. I wondered if it were really possible to create a community where the core ideals centered on “caring,” “active kindness,” “contribution” and the fulfillment of American ideals through a Jewish values lens.

Upon finishing my doctoral work, my belief in Bardin’s vision was not only complete, but fully supported by empirical data. One could actually build a school based not upon “measuring,” but upon “meaning and values and contribution.” We could be better Americans by being better Jews. We could create a community where two core Jewish values might meet: being an or l’goyim (light unto the nations); and b’tzelem elohim, where every person regards one another as if he or she were created in the image of God.

And, perhaps most importantly, and personally, I came to believe that one could build a life upon these values and visions. It wasn’t easy to really understand what it meant to serve as a role model, or to treat every person as if they carried the spark of Godliness. Could one’s values at work and at home become seamless? Could one find a life partner and raise children based upon these core beliefs and ideals? Was I a raving idealist?

Thirty-seven years into our marriage, four adult children raised, having helped to establish Jewish high schools in Los Angeles, this I now believe:

I believe that I must strive at being a role model (often failing); I believe I must regard each person as divinely created (often failing); and I believe that God demands of me contribution to our community and to our nation.

Dr. Bruce Powell is head of school at New Community Jewish High School.

I believe that the path to wholeness (holiness), wholeheartedness, begins with embracing our imperfections as a gift from God (yetzer tov tov – yetzer hara tov me’od)

by Harriet Rossetto

This belief liberated me from shame, freed me from the seesaw of hope and despair, grandiosity and self-loathing that kept me stuck. I had inherited a polarized consciousness. You are good or bad, right or wrong, winner or loser. I struggled to be perfect, to fit the script I was handed. Brené Brown once said in a lecture, “The difference between fitting in and belonging is that fitting in requires you to become who others want you to be; belonging is bringing your whole self and being accepted as you — the divine spark that is your essence.” I wanted to fit. I hid the parts of me that didn’t “fit” the group that I wanted to belong to. I couldn’t keep up the act for long, the “real,” authentic, unappreciated me would leak out, confirming my worst fears about myself, sending me back to bed. I believed I was inherently defective. I thought I was the only one.

My 25 years living and working with addicts, the families of addicts and the many pre-addicted families I know has convinced me that the source of our collective discomfort is shame and the facades of perfection we construct to defend against the shame of our imperfections. The majority of people I meet are addicted to appearances, the family photo albums of every event, which project the family we want others to see, concealing the family we are. Unfortunately, protecting ourselves from shame also “protects” us from connection and intimacy. Intimacy requires vulnerability, transparency and authenticity. We can only connect in truth.

Shame, not disobedience, was the original sin of Adam and Eve. When God called, “Where are you?” they hid and blamed each other. Had they not been taught about teshuvah? Did they not understand that their disobedience was also Divine?

I’ve often wondered if the story had told of Adam and Eve owning up to their “sin” (missing the mark) and making amends and growing from their experience, would we have developed without shame?

I still struggle with the opposing twosomes inside of me … yes, I can/no, you can’t … judgment/acceptance; blame/responsibility; compassion/vengeance; fear/love; blessing/curse; life/death.

At Beit T’Shuvah, the path to wholeness is one of struggle. We struggle out loud, revealing our “shadow” selves, practicing acceptance, connecting through our brokenness. We struggle to take the next right action, no matter what we feel, strengthening our spiritual muscles, moving closer to “walking in God’s ways.”

Harriet Rossetto is the CEO, founder and clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah.

Letters to the Editor: Ashot Egiazaryan, Richard Goldstone and Jay Sanderson

Ethnic Armenian Denies Anti-Semitism Charge

Peter Zalmayev (“Hiding in Beverly Hills,” March 9) suggests I am a racist bigot. Yet he does not present a shred of evidence to support this inflammatory rhetoric for the simple reason that there is none.

For the record, I condemn anti-Semitism.  As an ethnic Armenian, I am all too familiar with the history of pogroms in Russia and the bigoted attitudes in Russia today toward people from the Caucasus region.

Mr. Zalmayev makes unfounded assumptions about my views through my association with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). Contrary to what he says, I am not a member of the LDPR, but a nonparty candidate nominated to its parliamentary group. As such, I am neither bound to the LDPR’s party program nor the decisions of its leadership, much less to personal views expressed by its individual members.

The important question that I cannot address in a 200-word letter for the print edition of The Jewish Journal is why Mr. Zalmayev seeks to label me as an anti-Semite.

Mr. Zalmayev identifies himself as director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, which he holds out as an organization “dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and xenophobia.” I invite readers of The Journal to visit the Web site of Eurasia Democracy Initiative. It does not carry a single example of its “fight against anti-Semitism.” In fact, there is no mention of this aim at all. Interestingly, Internet searches do not flag up any associations between Peter Zalmayev and opposition to anti-Semitism beyond this single article in The Jewish Journal.

Your readers are probably also unaware that Mr. Zalmayev appears to offer “human rights advocacy services” on a commercial basis. According to Radio Liberty, the Kazakh political refugee Rakhat Aliyev has maintained that he hired Mr. Zalmayev to support his cause, but when Mr. Aliyev refused to renew their agreement, Mr. Zalmayev began to actively lobby against him. As evidence, Mr. Aliyev has posted to his Web site copies of an agreement and invoice issued by Eurasia Democracy Initiative for “PR and lobbying services” amounting to $180,000 payable to the bank account of a Mr. Peter Zalmayev.

Mr. Zalmayev has claimed that all the documents exhibited by Mr. Aliyev are fabrications.

Whether or not these documents are real, it is clear to me that Mr. Zalmayev is doing someone’s bidding, and I suggest that it is not anyone who is motivated by concerns about anti-Semitism. 

In my case, Mr. Zalmayev apparently advocates my removal from the United States but makes no mention of the circumstances preventing my return to Russia: My family and I have been subjected to all manner of attacks, including death threats, as a result of litigation I recently brought exposing the corruption of high-placed officials in Russia. Indeed, on Dec. 7, 2010, one of my relatives in Russia was brutally murdered shortly after he informed my cousin that he had refused an overture from one of the defendants, Russian billionaire senator Suleiman Kerimov, seeking to enlist his assistance against me.

Mr. Zalmayev is entitled to express his opinions, including about me. However, there are two types of opinion: those based on an evaluation of facts, and those driven by bias.  Mr. Zalmayev’s article is an example of the latter, and has been used to mislead readers of The Journal.  It is no coincidence that Mr. Zalmayev’s opinion piece was immediately posted to a fraudulent Web site whose sole purpose is to attack my reputation.

Ashot Egiazaryan
via e-mail

Did Goldstone Lead by Example?

It is admirable for Richard Goldstone to try and correct the damage done to the State of Israel, its leaders and people in his initial report (“Never Mind: What Does Richard Goldstone’s Change of Heart Mean for Israel?” April 8). In fact, there is a certain courage and nobility to his actions, which have been notably absent with Israeli leaders that have never admitted that Oslo was a well-intentioned error, and that the destruction of Gush Katif was a bad mistake that empowers Hamas, and that the abandonment of Lebanon and our Christian allies has led to wars and the ascendancy of Hezbollah.

It would be refreshing to see similar admissions of guilt by these leaders.

Alan Stern
Treasurer, The Jewish Journal
Los Angeles

Communal Professionals Deserve Respect

As a proud graduate of the School of Jewish Communal Service (now School of Jewish Nonprofit Management), chair of the SJNM Alumni Association and a member of the Los Angeles Jewish community, I am deeply saddened by [Jay] Sanderson’s disappointing and appalling remarks (“Jay Sanderson Pushes for Change,” April 1). Most specifically, about the preparedness — in his words, the lack thereof — of Jewish communal professionals entering the field.

If Sanderson shows no faith in, nor respect for, these passionate, well-educated, committed professionals — with whom does he plan to partner and continue the important work of this community?

With so much work to be done, my sincere hope is that Sanderson recognizes his behavior and his words are causing irreparable damage. My humble advice: less LeBron James and more Phil Jackson.

Esther Cohen
Los Angeles

Letters to the Editor: Jay Sanderson’s first year, David Suissa

Reflecting on Federation CEO’s First Year

As the chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I obviously read with great interest the recent article about Jay Sanderson written by Julie Gruenbaum Fax in the April 1 edition of The Jewish Journal (“Jay Sanderson Pushes for Change”). Jay Sanderson has been working tirelessly for this community to accomplish the goals set for him by our board when he was hired as the chief executive officer. It is a daunting task to make significant changes in an organization that has existed for 100 years. Jay has proven, over the past 14 months, that he has the talent, the knowledge and the commitment to be successful in this endeavor.

Federation has a unique and important role in our community. It is the only organization that can partner with everyone else. It must identify the most pressing issues that face the community, determine who is doing the best job in addressing those issues and allocate resources in those areas where it can be most effective. In that way, The Federation is part action tank, part grant maker and part fundraiser. I say “action tank” rather than “think tank” since it is our goal to both think of the most pressing issues and solutions and to then take action to address them.

As the article correctly points out, Jay has been successful in making the necessary changes and evolving the mission of The Federation while, at the same time, maintaining the many positive features and excellent work that has existed at The Federation for many years.  Jay has refined the focus of The Federation by creating three strategic areas: Caring for Jews in Need, Ensuring the Jewish Future and Engaging in our Community. Jay has met with hundreds of donors, agencies and organizations during his first year, often convening meetings of groups that have never before worked with The Federation. Jay has further interacted with his counterparts in many cities, such as John Ruskay in New York, as the article states. 

It is as a result of these activities that The Federation is now addressing issues referred to in the article, such as focusing on the expansion of Jewish camping, examining possible connections with interfaith families that include a Jewish husband or wife, and working with organizations to serve the 15,000 Birthright Israel alumni we have in Los Angeles. It is also why The Federation has convened diverse organizations to look at Israel education and advocacy on campuses. And it is further why we are working with the agencies to make sure we continue to allocate as many resources as we can to serve Jews in need.

I applaud The Jewish Journal and Ms. Fax for reporting on these tremendous accomplishments of Jay Sanderson in just one year as the CEO of The Federation.

Certainly no one is above criticism, though I felt the emphasis on so-called personality traits of Jay was overstated and unfair. It is unfortunate that there are so many negative comments by individuals who are hiding behind their anonymity. I have probably worked more closely with Jay Sanderson than any other member of the community over the past 14 months. I can state unequivocally that he cares deeply about our community, that he is interested in doing the best job that he can, and represents the best values of our religion. Jay is quoted in the article as stating that at times he had said things that he has regretted and that he is learning, since he has never run a company with this many employees before. Jay has requested that I critique his performance on an ongoing basis and is very receptive to comments that I and others make. I have seen the changes in his style of operation based upon feedback. He is better at his job today than he was a year ago, and I am sure he will be better a year from now than he is today. Those are the qualities of a true leader, who is never satisfied with his own performance and is always striving to do better. 

Jay was given a task and told to take the steps he needed to be successful. Nobody enjoys dismissing employees or taking actions that make them unpopular. Leaders make tough decisions and are constantly reviewing their decisions. We are constantly assessing the changes we make to make sure that this organization serves our community in the most effective way.

We have a job to do, and Jay is doing that job well.

Richard V. Sandler
Chairman of the Board
The Jewish Federation of Greater
Los Angeles

Editor’s Note: Though The Journal nearly always avoids citing unnamed sources, we did so five times in this story (one instance very positive) to reflect a much larger number of lay leaders and professionals who said they believed speaking on the record would jeopardize current or potential jobs.

I’ve been trying to figure out what Jay Sanderson meant by his remark that “most people coming out of (Jewish communal service programs) are round pegs in round holes.”

Unless I’m missing something, isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing … ensuring that the professionals coming out of our program are able to address the complex needs of the Jewish community and its myriad organizations? Perhaps he was complaining that our graduates, as well as the graduates of our sister schools at AJU, Brandeis and NYU, are too focused on serving the Jewish community as it is and are not shaping the community that might be. However, if Jay would bother to take a look, he would see that we are in fact cultivating professionals who can not only work in the community as it is, but who can also provide transformational leadership both to Jewish start-ups and to venerated agencies such as The Federation itself.

Earlier this year, Jay unilaterally suspended Federation’s support of graduate student interns at key Los Angeles-area Jewish organizations. It is regrettable that Jay does not feel that it is Federation’s job to help guarantee that the Jewish community has the trained, creative, passionate and Jewishly knowledgeable professional leaders that it needs. It is appalling, however, that he never brought this funding decision before a committee of lay leaders, lest they decide that supporting these students might actually be good for the community and an appropriate priority for The Federation that presumably wants to “ensure the Jewish future.” Important decisions are being made and significant funds are being given out in the name of the L.A. Jewish community by an unchecked individual who is beholden to no one, and the community’s leadership is not paying attention.

Richard Siegel
Director, HUC-JIR School of
Jewish Nonprofit Management

We are proud to be part of the new Federation, led by Jay Sanderson, and are all working to be instrumental in increasing its efficiency and power to “do good” on behalf of those we serve.  From our perspective inside The Federation, we are extremely disappointed in [the April 1] cover story. While portions of the article regarding our Federation’s new initiatives and goals for the community under Jay’s leadership are accurate and positive, they are buried within a character attack on a man who leads by example in working countless hours each and every day to strengthen The Federation and enhance the central role of Jewish values in everything we do. We applaud his efforts to institute greater accountability within our organization while maximizing fiscal responsibility for communal resources. It’s unfortunate that the majority of the story is unbalanced, questioning Jay’s relationship with staff and featuring primarily anonymous quotes, rather than acknowledging the groundwork he has quickly laid for our Federation to achieve its primary mission of ensuring a strong Jewish future. We are happy to be on record in our support of Jay’s leadership, and we know that many other current and former staff members share our feelings. 

Cyndie Ayala, Andrew Cushnir, Carol Koransky, Ivan Wolkind
Executive Management Team
The Jewish Federation of Greater
Los Angeles

I have been an active supporter and lay leader within the Jewish Federation locally and nationally for much of the last 10 years. I have seen and experienced firsthand the work that Federation does, here and abroad. I am extremely proud that our Federation is even still operating in the wake of the worst economic times since the Depression of the 1930s. These are tough times and every enterprise has been forced to make difficult decisions. The Federation is no different in most respects, except for one: Despite how bad the times are, it has not strayed from its mission. Rather, it has succeeded in supporting those in need more than ever before.  It has done so with dignity and objectivity, care and diligence.  To suggest that it or its leaders compromise Jewish ethics is simply an insult.

Steven J. Geller
Agoura Hills

On behalf of the leadership of the Women’s Board of The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, we would like to respond to the April 1 article on Jay Sanderson by Julie Gruenbaum Fax. Our Women’s Campaign raises a significant portion of funds for Federation. We are extremely proud of the work we do and have, in fact, spent hours planning, recruiting and fundraising so that Jews here, in Israel and around the world will be taken care of. We believe firmly that it is our responsibility and our privilege to do so, and it is shameful that a story, such as the one on Jay, will have some negative impact toward diminishing our success.

There is, of course, a much bigger story here. Under the scrutiny of a microscope, any organization, including The Jewish Journal, faces similar internal issues to those raised in your article during a period of major change. Often, under these circumstances, the top leader effecting it bears the brunt of the resistance to that much-needed change.

We get it; controversial stories are easier to sell. What may be less “sexy” is The Federation’s quiet 100 years of devoted and dedicated commitment to our community. The L.A. Federation, as The Journal well knows, is celebrating its centennial. That’s 100 years of caring, nurturing, rescuing and uplifting this community. That’s the story you should have published. That’s the story we look forward to seeing.

Jill Namm, Women’s Department President
Ellen Brown, Women’s Campaign chair
Lynette Brown, Valley Alliance
Campaign co-chair
Yona Goldberg, past chair, National Women’s Philanthropy

Editor’s Note: For an article about The Federation’s centennial celebrations, which ran in The Journal on Jan. 21, visit

I recently received a letter from The Federation’s Community Engagement Department asking for my expert professional assessment and perhaps renewed voluntary involvement resulting from my outdated 1996 research on hunger and other needs of the L.A. Jewish community that The Federation hasn’t found the resources to update these past 15 years.

I could not now imagine, in good conscience, volunteering and going to evening volunteer committee meetings staffed by “exempt” Federation staffers who get home late in the evening, after a long day in the office and then are forced, by executive fiat, to be at their desks early the next day. This is a “sweat shop” atmosphere, and The Jewish Federation has existed 99 years quite successfully without it. Our dedicated Jewish professionals don’t deserve this degrading of Jewish organizational culture, and our community doesn’t deserve this.

Pini Herman
Los Angeles

Israel and Apartheid

David Suissa writes that Israel is not apartheid and its enemies are, but contradicts this with examples (“Murdering Israel’s Name,” March 25). I was going to ignore this, but it ended with the words, “You must fight this injustice,” so I do.

“Apartheid,” an Afrikaans word meaning “separateness,” referred to South African law requiring individuals, even of the same skin color, to live in separate cities based on minor differences in ethnicity. The element of enforced geographic separation, not the degree of suffering, was fundamental to apartheid. In the Holocaust, the requirement to live in concentration camps was apartheid, but the 6 million murders were not.

Government that “totally forbids” Judaism nationwide is not apartheid, because it does not separate the country into places with and without Jews. Other human rights violations, even if worse than apartheid, are not apartheid if they do not involve geographic separation.

However, he notes that Arab Israelis, unlike Palestinians, are allowed to live in Israel and serve in the Knesset and on the Supreme Court; this enforced separation between Palestinian and non-Palestinian Arabs is precisely what “apartheid” actually describes.

Ironically, by ignoring the true meaning of the word, and instead relying only on the definitions adopted by the U.N. and others opposed to Israeli presence in the “Palestinian territories,” Suissa may be playing into the hands of Israel’s enemies.

Stephen Weinstein

At 100, Federation’s goal is $100 million

The existence of a State of Israel or the notion of raising $100 million would have boggled the minds of the founders of the Federation of Jewish Charities in 1911. But as the 100th anniversary celebrations of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles launched this month, Israel is not only a fact, but also a draw for a proposed 1,000-person trip to Israel, and the founding of a $100 million community endowment seems imminent.

Federation president Jay Sanderson, who just completed his first year on the job, sees the centennial as an opportunity to help the community understand Federation’s evolving role.

“The idea is to use this not only to celebrate 100 years and raise a whole lot of money, but to bring the whole community together,” Sanderson said.

In 1911, an estimated 12,000 Jews lived in Los Angeles when seven Jewish social service agencies decided to unite their fundraising efforts into a central body. They set an initial budget of $30,000, and in 1912 raised 30 percent more than the separate entities had the previous year, according to Karen Wilson, guest curator/historian of “Life in the Mosaic: 160 Years of Jews in Los Angeles,” scheduled to open at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park in 2012.

The model evolved over the years as various organizations formed and merged into what is today The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which now has a nearly $50 million annual budget and collects and allocates funds to hundreds of communal organizations serving Los Angeles’ 600,000 Jews.

But over the past 10 years, fundraising has been flat or declining at Federation, which, like umbrella charity organizations nationally, is struggling to reach out to donors who prefer more directed giving. The decades-long notion that giving to Federation is a mandatory community tax doesn’t speak to today’s Jewish community. While Federation’s 2010 campaign eked out a slight increase over last year’s in the last quarter of the year — coming in at $47.2 million — Sanderson wants to make the centennial’s message an articulation of Federation’s future as much as a celebration of past accomplishments.

Jewish Family Service’s SOVA food bank.

“The model of Federation [set up] 99 years ago … worked really well for our grandparents and not too badly for our parents, but for us and our kids — they’re looking for a direct connection and they want to know where their money is going. They are looking for a different kind of value proposition,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson hopes to position Federation as setting communal priorities and using its leverage to coordinate and enhance the offerings of the myriad Jewish organizations that serve the Los Angeles community.

And he is hoping to use centennial events to focus attention on innovation, community service and Israel, all with an underlying theme of uniting L.A.’s sprawling Jewish landscape.

Before Sanderson took office, Federation had already started a $100 million centennial endowment campaign. Around $50 million is already pledged, Sanderson said, and several major donations are nearly finalized that will assure the $100 million goal is met.

Among the programs, front and center is the search for the Next Big Jewish Idea, an online contest for an innovative program or initiative that would galvanize Los Angeles Jewry, with an eye toward taking the idea national after it is piloted in Los Angeles.

Sanderson Unveils His New Model for Federation

Six months after he took office promising to transform The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Federation President Jay Sanderson is implementing changes he said will dramatically increase Federation’s efficacy in caring for those in need and building Jewish connection.

“When I took the job, one of the things that I knew was that we needed to tell our story more effectively, and what we’ve learned in the past six months is that we need a more effective story to tell,” Sanderson said.

“The model of the Federation as an umbrella is gone,” he said. “The community doesn’t need an umbrella. What the community needs is a hub, a center, and you can only be a center if you are appealing to everybody, which means you have to work with everybody.”

Last month, Sanderson presented to The Federation board a plan that would alter both how Federation raises money and how it invests the money it raises. The board is expected to vote on the restructuring later this month and meanwhile has expressed support for Sanderson’s direction.

Sanderson said he and Federation chairman Richard Sandler spent the last several months meeting with community leaders and members to identify what those outside and inside the organization believe Federation’s role can be.

Sanderson and Sandler concluded Federation should focus its resources and leverage on three priorities: caring for Jews in need, ensuring the Jewish future and engaging the wider community.

By strategizing around these three areas, Sanderson believes Federation can coordinate community efforts for greater impact and at the same time broaden Federation’s base of donors.

Engaging the community, for instance — through volunteerism, social justice advocacy and serving the wider Los Angeles and world community — is known to appeal particularly to the younger generation, and Sanderson said refocusing Federation on those efforts can bring people in.

At the same time, a major priority always has been helping Jews in need — in Los Angeles, Israel and around the world — through programs that address and fight poverty, serve the elderly and provide more resources for people with special needs.

Sanderson said he is particularly excited about the focus on ensuring the Jewish future, which will encompass all formal and informal education, create a deeper relationship with synagogues, nurture Israel-Diaspora relations and coordinate leadership development.

“One of the most pressing needs is the accessibility and affordability of Jewish life, and nobody is addressing this, no organization or individual,” he said. “Every conversation eventually comes to that. And we believe as a Federation that is something we should be focused on.”

Sanderson is also convening an Israel Advisory and Oversight Committee.

“They will work with me and Richard Sandler on formulating our philanthropic strategy in Israel, evaluating Israel’s needs and our work there in accordance with our strategic priorities,” Sanderson said. “The goal is to greatly enhance our deep commitment in Israel.”

To crystallize and achieve communal goals, Sanderson has already begun to convene different organizations with overlapping agendas to brainstorm about how the community can best use its resources.

“Two weeks ago, three agencies came in and said, ‘We want to partner with you.’ But all of them meant the same thing. They wanted us to give them money,” Sanderson said.

“In the past we’ve written a check and walked away, or been way too involved in some places. We need to end up in a place where people we fund see us as partners,” he said.

Rather than having organizations come before a Federation committee to sell a program, Federation will convene roundtables of people interested in common issues to devise broader strategies, he said.

“We’re one of the most serious investors in Birthright in the country, and we want to make sure the alumni’s Jewish life doesn’t end with their Birthright experience,” Sanderson said. “So we’re going to bring together all the organizations, traditional and nontraditional, to figure out how we can collaborate and partner. Instead of funding this or that program, we’re going to say ‘How can we partner in a meaningful way so we can create a communitywide effort to deal with this issue.’ ”

Instead of giving many small grants, Sanderson would like to see greater sums go to fewer organizations.

“In the past we’ve given money to hundreds of organizations, and it will definitely be fewer going forward,” Sanderson said. “We want to do more meaningful things in specific areas, and you can’t do meaningful work when you give everyone $10,000. We’ve made a lot of investments that have been positive, but they may not have moved the dial.”

He said that organizations will no longer be able to count on history as a guide for allocations.

Jay Sanderson Named New Federation President

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has named as its next president Jay Sanderson, CEO and executive producer of Jewish Television Network (JTN), a nonprofit producer and distributor of Jewish-themed television programming.

Sanderson, 52, replaces John Fishel, who served 17 years as Federation president and resigned last January, effective next Dec. 31.

“I’m extremely excited and feel deeply privileged,” Sanderson said in an interview Tuesday morning at the home of Stanley Gold, The Federation’s board chair. “I’m surprised. It’s such a big, important job I wasn’t sure I was going to be the person that they chose, especially given the quality of the other candidates.”

In the final week of a three-month process, the selection committee had narrowed an initial field of some 20 candidates down to four: Sanderson, former City Councilman Jack Weiss, former William Morris COO Irv Weintraub and Joshua Fogelson, executive director of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

Gold and Richard Sandler, The Federation’s incoming chair, informed Sanderson of the decision on Tuesday at around 9 a.m.

“All of our candidates were very, very qualified, and in that regard it’s a good decision to have to make, because we have good people,” said Sandler, an attorney who works closely with Michael Milken and the Milken Family Foundation. “Jay has the knowledge of the community, he has the skill set, and he has certainly accomplished a tremendous amount as head of JTN.”

Sanderson has been professionally active in the Jewish community for two decades, primarily in Jewish media. Since 1989, he has led JTN, during which time, among other accomplishments, he created and served as executive producer of the PBS series, “The Jewish Americans,” and the upcoming PBS documentary on modern genocide, “Worse Than War.”

Along with JTN board member Michael Lynton, chair and CEO of Sony Pictures, and News Corp. Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg, Sanderson also created Newsweek’s annual list of “America’s Top Rabbis,” published by the magazine for the past three years.

Prior to joining JTN, Sanderson, a graduate of Syracuse University, was an independent producer of films and documentaries.

Sanderson says he will leverage his experience in communication to help The Federation expand its membership and fundraising base, and build the Jewish community.

“My No. 1 goal is to really return to being central in the community, and in doing that we have to reach out to the whole community,” Sanderson said. “It has to be a convener and a collaborator. There are thousands and thousands of Jews who want to be involved in Jewish life who need to be engaged in The Federation.

“The community is so diverse, and there are so many more organizations than there have been in the past, we have to assert ourselves in terms of outreach,” he said.

Sanderson pointed to the kinds of grass-roots organizing efforts that helped make Barack Obama president — Internet technology, e-mail, networking — as tools that could help The Federation reach and inspire a new generation of Jews.

“There’s a lot of Jews out there who are not engaged but not disinterested,” he said.

Sandler agreed. “Federation has been around a long time,” he said. “But people under 50 years old really don’t know what Federation does.”

The Federation has traditionally raised funds and distributed them across a variety of social service, educational and advocacy agencies, in Los Angeles, Israel and elsewhere. It has also created and run its own programs and activities.

“A lot of people see Federation as this big organization, but they don’t see the small, important things it does,” said Sanderson, pointing to the KOREH LA literacy program as one example. “It does amazing things on the ground to help people.”

Sandler, who will take over as board chair on Jan. 1, joined Sanderson in saying that engagement also means more outreach and collaboration with existing Jewish organizations and synagogues. Sanderson promised “a whole other level of engagement” with synagogues and major locally-based Jewish organizations like the Skirball Cultural Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and American Jewish University.

This Rosh Hashanah, The Federation will launch one such collaboration — a communitywide effort to raise money to fight local hunger and to distribute the funds through a variety of organizations and synagogues.

“Every synagogue has participated,” Gold said.

Sanderson takes the reins of the nonprofit, headquartered at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., at a difficult economic time, when donations to federations around the country are down. Gold said The Federation’s annual campaign will be down between 10 percent and 12 percent from the $50 million it raised in 2008.

“I’m not one of those people who recognizes this as a more challenging time,” Sanderson said. “Every period in philanthropy has its ebbs and flows. If The Federation is successful in reaching out and really telling its story in a way that’s powerful, new donors will come in.”

To assist in the search for Fishel’s replacement, The Federation hired Development Resource Group, a nonprofit headhunting firm based in New York. Estimates put the cost of the search at around $250,000.

“It was as thorough and fair and democratic a process as I’ve seen,” Gold said.

Sanderson, who lives in Encino with his wife Laura Lampert Sanderson, a psychologist, son, Jonah, and daughter, Isabelle, said he is looking forward to working with his new Federation co-workers, the lay volunteers and the larger Jewish community.

“I can’t do this alone,” he said. “Stanley Gold did a fabulous job, as did John Fishel, leading Federation to this point, and my job is to take what they’ve done and build on it. We’re all really excited about the future.”

If you stream Kol Nidre, they will watch


When Rabbi Naomi Levy conducted Kol Nidre services this year, her congregation numbered 200,000, stretching from Canada to Colombia and from Japan to Norway.

Watching online on their computers were a student group at a Dartmouth College dormitory, Jews and non-Jews in small isolated communities across the United States, the bedridden and terminally ill, disaffected young Jews who never go to shul and single mothers who couldn’t afford the cost of High Holy Days tickets.

The Kol Nidre service was transmitted from the Brentwood Presbyterian Church via the broadband channel of the Jewish Television Network , and the response stunned Jay Sanderson, CEO and executive producer of JTN Productions.

“This must have been the single-largest Jewish religious service ever,” Sanderson said, and he is still sorting through the more than 400 enthusiastic, at times ecstatic, e-mails he has received from all over the world.

Among the most involved viewers was Ruth Levy, the rabbi’s mother, who was bed-bound in a Boston hospital.

The service itself was as unusual as the global online outreach, and as Nashuva, the live congregation that overflowed the seats and courtyard of the Brentwood church.

Levy founded Nashuva, which translates as “We Will Return,” four years ago after a successful career as a Conservative congregational rabbi and author, not to mention wife of Jewish Journal editor-in-chief and mother of two.

“While I was on my book tours, I kept meeting these incredible people, deeply spiritual Jews, who had turned away from communal Judaism,” she said. “They weren’t atheists, as I had expected, but they just couldn’t fit in. They would come to a bookstore to hear me, but not to a synagogue.”

With eight people sitting around her kitchen table, Levy founded the “post-denominational” Nashuva as a community that would mesh spirituality with social action.

“Every Shabbat service is followed by an action day, for adults and kids, be it working with at-risk people in the inner city, planting trees, participating in an AIDS walk, visiting a home for the aging or holding a candlelight vigil for Darfur,” Levy said.

The services themselves are characterized by the same energy as the social action, with a heavy infusion of musical styles, from reggae to klezmer, performed by a four-piece band.

Prayers are traditional, but with new translations by Levy, who also delivers all the sermons with lots of soul and a leavening of humor.

Nashuva has grown, purely by word of mouth, to some 300 at Shabbat services and 500 at holiday services, with a database of more than 1,000 names. The demographics are predominantly on the young side, with a fair number of intermarried couples, complemented by baby boomers and seniors.

Nashuva has no membership dues or charges for holiday tickets and carries on through voluntary donations and some foundation grants.

Sanderson was an early member of Nashuva and, combining prayer with business, started recording and transmitting an occasional Shabbat service.

The response by viewers across the country and the continents was encouraging, and this year he broached the idea of transmitting the Kol Nidre service.

“We’ve created a virtual congregation of 200,000 people who weren’t attending synagogues,” he said. “In my 20 years on the job, this has been my greatest contribution.”

That’s quite a statement for Sanderson, who was a key producer of the three-part PBS miniseries “The Jewish Americans” and is completing a two-hour film on global genocides for PBS, based on Daniel Goldhagen’s forthcoming book “Worse Than War.”

Also on his agenda for next year is a global online Passover service.

Levy is now getting calls from various parts of the United States, asking for advice on replicating Nashuva-type congregations in other cities.

Her general answer is that basically you need 10 dedicated people to get started, and she is ready to share her prayer book, music and business model with interested persons.

Levy also advises would-be founders to follow her example and talk extensively with rabbis in their area before going public.

“I called the rabbis in the Los Angeles area and assured them that I was seeking out the unaffiliated and would not try to poach members from their congregations,” she said. “All the rabbis I talked to gave me their blessings.”

With enough dedication and energy by volunteers, the Nashuva prototype can be emulated in any other city, Levy said, adding, “If you build it, they will come.”

Channeling Success

“I’ve been pushing this rock uphill for 10 years, and I won’t stop until I reach the top,” says Jay Sanderson.

The “rock” Sanderson is edging upward is the Jewish Television Network, and it’s been grunt work most of the way.

Founded in 1981 with a minuscule $75,000-a-year budget, JTN was barely breathing when the former commercial film writer and producer took over a decade ago.

Since then, the annual budget has risen to $1 million to cover production of some 300 hours of programming. While some of Sanderson’s ambitious goals — such as a 24-hour national Jewish cable network — remain elusive, JTN’s year-end report reflects solid achievements and promising prospects.

  • In Los Angeles, 10 different JTN programs air weekly over all local cable systems during nightly (except Friday) one-hour time slots.

  • JTN has expanded from its home base, and selected programs can now be seen in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, South Florida, the Bay Area, San Diego and Washington.

  • In a recent major breakthrough, JTN has leaped beyond its cable confines by signing a deal with Public Broadcasting Service stations, including KCET in Los Angeles and KOCE in Orange County, to air some of its programs.

  • JTN is launching a number of new programs, including “Jewish Celebrity Profiles,” hosted by veteran writer-producer Saul Turteltaub; “New Jewish Cuisine,” a gourmet kosher cooking series with chef Jeff Nathan; and “The 92nd Street Y Presents,” with shows originating at the famous New York cultural and community center.