Boys in need of a ‘Big Brother’ face long waits


Three years ago, when her son, David, was 14, Alla Doner signed him up with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). Diagnosed with autism, David had withdrawn from the world. He had lost faith in humanity, his mother says, due to intense bullying he faced from his peers in middle school.

 “David stopped believing in people. He didn’t want to communicate, which was why it was important to us to find somebody who will be there for David — but not as a therapist,” Doner said.

JBBBSLA has paired children in need with mentors for more than 100 years. It was the right place for David, but it took a year before the organization found an appropriate mentor for him. It was then that David was matched with Douglas Shapiro, a man in his 60s, who became his “big brother.”

 “It was a year that David could’ve benefited, and he didn’t,” Doner said, adding that she is nevertheless appreciative of the organization.

The family’s situation illustrates a problem currently facing JBBBSLA, a one-to-one mentoring organization that pairs mentors, known as “Bigs,” with children, known as “Littles.” The organization is short on male volunteers, especially those qualified to work with special needs boys.

Currently, 40 children — 33 of them boys — are on the waitlist, according to JBBBSLA Director of Program Services Megan Koehler. The organization currently serves 200 children.

Disparities are not unusual. In the volunteer world, more women are interested in helping than men. And because most families prefer someone of the same gender as their child’s mentor, having to wait for a mentor is not uncommon, with more boys than girls in need. 

“Most single-parent headed households are headed by women,” said Koehler, a licensed clinical social worker. “If you have a mother with a daughter and a son, she is more likely looking for a same-sex role model for her son and is able to be there for the daughter.”

According to The New York Times, the first Big Brother chapter, founded in Cincinnati, was “predominately Jewish.” Its founder, Irvin F. Westheimer, a whiskey salesman and investment broker of German-Jewish descent who died in 1980 at the age of 101, described himself, as quoted in the Times, as an “American of the Jewish faith” who became interested in the plight of fatherless boys after seeing a boy and his dog rummaging through a dumpster in search of food outside of his office one Saturday morning. 

JBBBSLA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, is an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Currently serving 200 children, JBBBSLA is one of three Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations in the Los Angeles area — and not the only one facing a waitlist problem. 

Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters (CBBBS) in Los Angeles, which currently is serving 400 children, has nearly another 400 on its waitlist, 80 percent of whom are boys, said Rosario Di Prima, vice president of programs at CBBBS, a partner organization of JBBBSLA. While the Catholic organization is open to people of all faiths, JBBBSLA is Jews-only. 

The third group, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, currently serves approximately 1,700 children, with another 300 to 400 waiting, said Patti Johnson, the group’s director of marketing, adding, “The biggest waitlist challenges are definitely boys; between 70 to 80-percent of kids on the waitlist are boys.”

JBBBSLA serves children ages 6 to 18. The program is free, and the organization puts on activities at Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale. Mentors are responsible for paying the costs of other activities.

Mentors and their mentees meet a minimum of two or three times a month for two to three hours each time. 

All JBBBSLA mentors are Jewish, and the organization serves Jewish kids of all levels of religious observance. Orthodox boys are often difficult to pair up because they have less available time to meet, Koehler said. The organization has done outreach in the Pico-Robertson area, an Orthodox neighborhood, by placing signs in the area’s restaurants, advertising the need for volunteers. 

Meanwhile, siblings of special needs children who cannot get the attention they need from their parents due to the demands of their sibling’s disability make up a sizable portion of children served. Doner’s daughter, Emma, 12, became a JBBBSLA mentee five years ago, when the waiting time was only about two months. She recently was matched up with a new mentor — the average duration of a mentor-mentee relationship is one year — and the wait this time was nine months.

Currently, the average waits for girls and boys are three and six months, respectively.

Doner originally is from Ukraine. She immigrated to Israel in 1990, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, and settled in northern Israel, near Lebanon. Fed up with the frequent fighting, she left for the United States in 1997. 

David was born in Los Angeles and diagnosed with autism at age 3. 

During middle school, he faced his greatest challenges, with students calling him derogatory names and tying him up, Doner said, crying as she recalled these incidents. The teachers were of little help, his mother said, and he was pulled out of school. 

 “David felt betrayed by everybody,” she said.

The family decided to find a mentor for David, somebody cool and hip — somebody who could help David come out of his shell.

And today, he is verbal. 

“He’s weird-verbal, but he’s verbal,” Doner said. “If you want to talk to him about music, bands, he’s an encyclopedia. If you want to ask him, ‘What do you think about politics?’ he will say something like ‘Trump sucks.’ ”

Shapiro, 69, a resident of Tarzana and a reimbursement manager at a homebuilding finance company, expressed disappointment that there are not more volunteers who are interested in devoting their time to becoming mentors at JBBBSLA. 

“It’s  a sad state of affairs. There’s a lot of need and a lot of people just don’t want to do it,” Shapiro said. “It’s a sad thing.”

The divorced father of two, whose daughter motivated him to sign up, said working with David has brought him joy because he is making a difference in somebody else’s life.

“Some days are challenging but there are a lot of days that are enjoyable,” Shapiro said. “I can relate to him and do things with him that he canrelate to, too.”

David and Douglas go bowling, play soccer, have long chats over hot chocolate. Doner referred to Douglas as the “most incredible older gentleman.”

Given how successful the relationship has been, the wait, she said, was worth it.

“For our family, JBBBS[LA] — it’s not baby-sitting services. It’s lifelong friendship, mentoring and support,” Doner said. “Yes, it took David over a year to find the right match, but it was worth the wait.”

Boys in need of a ‘Big Brother’ face long waits


Three years ago, when her son, David, was 14, Alla Doner signed him up with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). Diagnosed with autism, David had withdrawn from the world. He had lost faith in humanity, his mother says, due to intense bullying he faced from his peers in middle school.

 “David stopped believing in people. He didn’t want to communicate, which was why it was important to us to find somebody who will be there for David — but not as a therapist,” Doner said.

JBBBSLA has paired children in need with mentors for more than 100 years. It was the right place for David, but it took a year before the organization found an appropriate mentor for him. It was then that David was matched with Douglas Shapiro, a man in his 60s, who became his “big brother.”

 “It was a year that David could’ve benefited, and he didn’t,” Doner said, adding that she is nevertheless appreciative of the organization.

The family’s situation illustrates a problem currently facing JBBBSLA, a one-to-one mentoring organization that pairs mentors, known as “Bigs,” with children, known as “Littles.” The organization is short on male volunteers, especially those qualified to work with special needs boys.

Currently, 40 children — 33 of them boys — are on the waitlist, according to JBBBSLA Director of Program Services Megan Koehler. The organization currently serves 200 children.

Disparities are not unusual. In the volunteer world, more women are interested in helping than men. And because most families prefer someone of the same gender as their child’s mentor, having to wait for a mentor is not uncommon, with more boys than girls in need. 

“Most single-parent headed households are headed by women,” said Koehler, a licensed clinical social worker. “If you have a mother with a daughter and a son, she is more likely looking for a same-sex role model for her son and is able to be there for the daughter.”

According to The New York Times, the first Big Brother chapter, founded in Cincinnati, was “predominately Jewish.” Its founder, Irvin F. Westheimer, a whiskey salesman and investment broker of German-Jewish descent who died in 1980 at the age of 101, described himself, as quoted in the Times, as an “American of the Jewish faith” who became interested in the plight of fatherless boys after seeing a boy and his dog rummaging through a dumpster in search of food outside of his office one Saturday morning. 

JBBBSLA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, is an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Currently serving 200 children, JBBBSLA is one of three Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations in the Los Angeles area — and not the only one facing a waitlist problem. 

Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters (CBBBS) in Los Angeles, which currently is serving 400 children, has nearly another 400 on its waitlist, 80 percent of whom are boys, said Rosario Di Prima, vice president of programs at CBBBS, a partner organization of JBBBSLA. While the Catholic organization is open to people of all faiths, JBBBSLA is Jews-only. 

The third group, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, currently serves approximately 1,700 children, with another 300 to 400 waiting, said Patti Johnson, the group’s director of marketing, adding, “The biggest waitlist challenges are definitely boys; between 70 to 80-percent of kids on the waitlist are boys.”

JBBBSLA serves children ages 6 to 18. The program is free, and the organization puts on activities at Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale. Mentors are responsible for paying the costs of other activities.

Mentors and their mentees meet a minimum of two or three times a month for two to three hours each time. 

All JBBBSLA mentors are Jewish, and the organization serves Jewish kids of all levels of religious observance. Orthodox boys are often difficult to pair up because they have less available time to meet, Koehler said. The organization has done outreach in the Pico-Robertson area, an Orthodox neighborhood, by placing signs in the area’s restaurants, advertising the need for volunteers. 

Meanwhile, siblings of special needs children who cannot get the attention they need from their parents due to the demands of their sibling’s disability make up a sizable portion of children served. Doner’s daughter, Emma, 12, became a JBBBSLA mentee five years ago, when the waiting time was only about two months. She recently was matched up with a new mentor — the average duration of a mentor-mentee relationship is one year — and the wait this time was nine months.

Currently, the average waits for girls and boys are three and six months, respectively.

Doner originally is from Ukraine. She immigrated to Israel in 1990, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, and settled in northern Israel, near Lebanon. Fed up with the frequent fighting, she left for the United States in 1997. 

David was born in Los Angeles and diagnosed with autism at age 3. 

During middle school, he faced his greatest challenges, with students calling him derogatory names and tying him up, Doner said, crying as she recalled these incidents. The teachers were of little help, his mother said, and he was pulled out of school. 

 “David felt betrayed by everybody,” she said.

The family decided to find a mentor for David, somebody cool and hip — somebody who could help David come out of his shell.

And today, he is verbal. 

“He’s weird-verbal, but he’s verbal,” Doner said. “If you want to talk to him about music, bands, he’s an encyclopedia. If you want to ask him, ‘What do you think about politics?’ he will say something like ‘Trump sucks.’ ”

Shapiro, 69, a resident of Tarzana and a reimbursement manager at a homebuilding finance company, expressed disappointment that there are not more volunteers who are interested in devoting their time to becoming mentors at JBBBSLA. 

“It’s  a sad state of affairs. There’s a lot of need and a lot of people just don’t want to do it,” Shapiro said. “It’s a sad thing.”

The divorced father of two, whose daughter motivated him to sign up, said working with David has brought him joy because he is making a difference in somebody else’s life.

“Some days are challenging but there are a lot of days that are enjoyable,” Shapiro said. “I can relate to him and do things with him that he canrelate to, too.”

David and Douglas go bowling, play soccer, have long chats over hot chocolate. Doner referred to Douglas as the “most incredible older gentleman.”

Given how successful the relationship has been, the wait, she said, was worth it.

“For our family, JBBBS[LA] — it’s not baby-sitting services. It’s lifelong friendship, mentoring and support,” Doner said. “Yes, it took David over a year to find the right match, but it was worth the wait.”

My Little Brother — and yours


I was 23 years old, living in New York City when I was matched with my first Little Brother, Jeremy. He was 11. Fast forward 32 years. I am now 55 years old, and I was recently matched with 9-year-old Noam, here in Los Angeles, through Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). The legacy continues.

In 1984, I was living the single life in New York City. I saw a story on TV about being a Big Brother, and, on impulse, I picked up the phone and called Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York, a mentoring program for children ages 6 to 18. These children come to the program because they’re in need of an additional role model: Many are being raised by single moms or grandparents, some have experienced the death of a parent.

It took several weeks for the application to be processed, then a few weeks later, I heard from my point-person at the JBBBSNY office. We scheduled a meeting among Jeremy, his mom and me. Although I was very nervous — as I suspect Jeremy and his mom were — we all got through it. Jeremy and I were “matched.”

Jeremy’s story was similar to other kids in the program: His parents divorced when he was quite young, and his father was not involved is his life. Jeremy and his family — mom, older sister, younger brother, and a magnificent Holocaust survivor bubbe — lived on the Upper West Side, and were Orthodox, both of which worked well for me. Coincidentally, the principal at his yeshiva — Manhattan Day School — was, years earlier, my principal in yeshiva in New Jersey. Small world.

From the start, Jeremy and I got along beautifully. He was (and still is) a big-hearted, appreciative, fun person to be with. 

Our first outing was to a New York Rangers hockey game. Some helpful information for those of you not familiar with Rangers fans: They’re just a wee bit passionate about their team. (Think: rabid pack of wild dogs.) Well, Jeremy, is a proud New York Islanders fan, the team that is the arch enemy of the Rangers, so he decided to root against the Rangers. Not smart — not smart at all: I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he wouldn’t make it to 12 years of age if he kept cheering for the visiting Philadelphia Flyers. He finally understood my point when he witnessed a Flyer fan being beaten up during the third period. 

Another time, I took him bowling at the Downtown Port Authority, only to have the police come through ordering us to immediately vacate the building: There was a bomb scare. We wound up walking around Manhattan in bowling shoes. We did look stylish.

For his bar mitzvah, I took Jeremy to Grossinger’s resort hotel in the Catskills. Grossinger’s was like a cruise ship that never left land. Besides eating a ridiculous amount of food, we got to go skiing, which neither of us had ever done. He loved skiing, and I loved not killing myself. It was a great weekend.

As the years went by, Jeremy’s mother remarried and moved to Skokie, Ill., and I got married and moved to Los Angeles. But the distance didn’t stop us from continuing what we had: Jeremy was all too happy to leave Chicago during the winter for the warmth of Los Angeles, and I was excited about the chance to visit him in Illinois.

As Jeremy approached the age of 16, his mother asked me to teach him how to drive. During a visit to Skokie, I took him out for a couple of memorable lessons in my rental car. To the people of Hertz, all these years later: I’m sorry, I’m really sorry for the condition of that Mazda’s clutch. 

As the years rolled past, Jeremy got married to a lovely woman, and I was there. And then they had triplets — three boys. I begged him and his wife to name them Moe, Larry and Curly. I was rebuffed, although I was there for the bris. The boys’ bar mitzvah was a couple of years ago — yes, I was there — and it was magnificent to be a participant.

As a career, Jeremy decided to go into kosher catering. I feel somewhat responsible for that, as I like to think the weekend at Grossinger’s had something to do with his choice. He’s done very well for himself. When I needed a caterer for my younger son’s bar mitzvah, guess who I called? My Little Brother, Jeremy.  

As I look back upon these 30-plus years, I have a love for Jeremy that’s developed and grown over time to the point that he’s like my third son. He knows he can talk to me about anything — he knows I’ll always be there for him. And as he’s become an adult — I know the reverse is also true. It’s been wonderful to see his growth as a person — to see him morph from being a somewhat timid 11-year-old into a self-assured 42-year-old — a responsible adult, a husband and father of three. Besides the love, I feel a lot of pride, not because I did the heavy lifting in raising him, but because I was able to be a conduit to help get him through some challenging years. I believe that’s the core goal of being a Big Brother or Big Sister: to be there to help get the child across to the other side. 

This past spring, I discovered that there were more than 50 Jewish children wait-listed at JBBBSLA. It broke my heart. And so, I did something I never thought I’d do again: I signed up to be a Jewish Big Brother. 

In a city the size of Los Angeles, 50 children awaiting volunteers is unacceptable. These single parents have done the right thing — they’ve signed up their child for a Jewish Big Brother or Big Sister, trying to give their child some mentoring, some friendship, possibly some love — and this city has largely responded with a yawn. I just wrote that it is “unacceptable.” I take that back: It is shameful. 

 I often get asked about being a Big Brother — people are curious about the program. Most people seem shocked that the time commitment is only 2 to 3 hours every two weeks for one year. Yes, in that amount of time, you have the ability to impact a child’s life. The time with my new Little Brother, Noam, has flown by. He’s an extremely smart 9-year-old, we share a love for sports and we both greatly enjoy our outings. Fortunately, he’s not an avid New York Islanders fan, so he should make it to his next birthday. As for teaching him how to drive — well, I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. 

There are few precious things in life that will reward you like being a Big Brother or a Big Sister. You can help make a difference in a young person’s life. And they can have an impact on your life. Yes, you can always write a check to an important cause — it will never be turned down — but here’s a cause that doesn’t need your money: It needs your attention, it needs your concern, it needs your heart. Don’t sit by, don’t let 50 children wait for “someone else” to volunteer. Be 1 of 50. Make a difference. You’ll never regret it. And you will continue a legacy of your own in our community.


Barry Oppenheim is a businessman in Los Angeles. He can be reached at barry@boppenheim.com. For information on volunteering with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, visit jbbbsla.org or call (323) 456-1155.

Moving and Shaking: Foundation for Camp Bob Waldorf, Nashuva, Open Temple and more


“Brunch and Family Day” at Universal Studios in Hollywood on Oct. 9 raised $220,000 for the Foundation for Camp Bob Waldorf, which supports the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) nondenominational, residential summer camp for underserved children.

“For nearly 80 years, Camp Bob Waldorf has been their safety net and thanks to the Foundation our kids know that we will always be there,” Randy Schwab, CEO and president of JBBBSLA and the Foundation for Camp Bob Waldorf, said in a statement.

The event, which drew more than 225 community leaders, camp supporters and families, honored Joey Behrstock, “who has supported Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus and Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles as a board member, camp committee member, and Big Brother since 2003,” according to a JBBBSLA statement.

Attendees received admission to the Universal Studios theme park for the day, photo ops with Minion characters from the “Despicable Me” films, face-painting, balloon animals, food from Wolfgang Puck Catering and more.


Nashuva congregants (from left) Evan, Kimber, Alex and Avery Sax, and Michelle, Rosie, Jeff and Asher Bader display drought-fighting buckets donated to the congregation through a grant from the Metropolitan Water District in partnership with TreePeople. Courtesy of Nashuva

At its second-day Rosh Hashanah service in Temescal Gateway Park on Oct. 4, the Nashuva spiritual community provided congregants with water-collection buckets and information about the California drought as part of its partnership with the nonprofit organization TreePeople and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“A substantial amount of water is wasted when we turn on our showers each day and wait for the water to warm up,” said TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis, a Nashuva congregant. “By using these water-collection buckets, we can gather the water from our showers before we step in and then use this water for plants in our houses, trees in our yards or our neighborhoods.”

—Jewish Journal Staff


From left: Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro, Alexa Schwartz, Leonard Atlas, Becca Grumet and Kate Berman attended Open Temple’s inaugural “The Dunk.” Photo by Ryan Torok

On the night before Kol Nidre, about 15 people of the Open Temple community in Venice used the Pacific Ocean as a mikveh in an event called “The Dunk.”

“This is the original mikveh,” Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro said while still wrapped in a towel after emerging from the ocean on Oct. 10. “The bathhouse is something that is an innovation of society. The mikveh, in its essence, is mayim hayim — living waters.”

Open Temple describes itself as an “emerging community” in Venice “for the Jew-ishly curious and those who love us.”

One of its members, Leonard Atlas, a retired floral decorator and father of two teenage girls, participated in the event, which was clothing-optional and co-ed — although no one ventured into the water nude.

“It’s getting out of your comfort zone, doing something you wouldn’t normally do but you’ll never forget and you’ll remember and cherish,” Atlas said. “And doing it with a group of people, or kehillah, made it special. It’s a bond I will have with these people I will always remember.”

The group met at 8 p.m. where Washington Boulevard meets the beach. Shapiro led attendees to the water, singing “Return Again.” The group formed a circle on the beach and, after a brief discussion, stripped down — some to their swimsuits, others to their underwear — and headed into the water.

“It was good — surprisingly warm,” said Kim Schultz, 27.

Alexa Schwartz, program assistant at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles, has been involved with Open Temple since July and said cleansing in the ocean felt like “freedom — because I was with a community of other people who wanted to be free, too.”

Open Temple was not the only community to use the ocean as a mikveh over the recent High Holy Days. Members of IKAR’s Men’s Circle came together at Santa Monica Beach on Oct. 11, hours before Kol Nidre.

“I think everyone felt like they were energized for Yom Kippur, for Kol Nidre that night,” Scott Fields, an IKAR congregant and organizer of IKAR’s Men’s Circle, said following the mikveh event, which drew about 15 people. “It’s just kind of a cleansing experience to go into the ocean, say these prayers and then feel invigorated to go into the holiday.”


Moti Kahana. Courtesy of Moti Kahana

Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts’ Yom Kippur services at the Saban Theatre drew a variety of guest speakers, participants and musicians.

Among those speaking were Greg Krentzman, a Culver City resident and a survivor of July’s terrorist attack in Nice, France; Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman and founder of the nonprofit Amaliah, which aids Syrian refugees; and Holocaust survivor Leo Melamed.

Kahana discussed Jewish resilience as well as the goal to create a safe zone in Syria.

Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron led the service, appearing before an enlarged reproduction of a Marc Chagall work that served as the backdrop to the bimah.

Also appearing were businessman, film producer and philanthropist Steve Tisch; harpist Corky Hale, who performed “Over the Rainbow” with cellist Michael Fitzpatrick; Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, Yiddish performer Mike Burstyn and others.


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

Moving and shaking: Alpert Jewish Community Center, Temple Beth Am and more


Alayna Cosores, assistant director of early childhood education at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, is among the 19 early childhood educators from across the country to be named Fellows in JCC Association’s first Sheva-Covenant Directors Institute.

The three-year program is designed to keep participants current with regard to the latest educational practices as well as provide concrete skills in order to grow as leaders in the field. Funded with a $230,000 Covenant Foundation Signature Grant, it includes in-person retreats, distance learning and a study tour to Israel. 

“This is an exciting opportunity to shape the field of Jewish early childhood education,” Mark Horowitz, JCC Association’s vice president for early childhood education and family engagement, said in a statement.

Cosores said she feels honored to be selected and excited about the opportunity. “I am going to be working and learning with other people who are just as passionate about helping children develop while instilling a Jewish identity that they will carry with them all of their lives,” she told the Journal.

The Fellows also will work on a national director’s credential, Aim4Excellence, through the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University in Chicago.

One reason for the program is to train a new group of educational leaders as others retire. Recent JCC Association research determined about 40 percent of active JCC early childhood education directors will retire over the next five to seven years. 

“By educating and preparing leaders in this field, we are ensuring positive growth,” Cosores said. 

— Zoe Shirken, Contributing Writer


A Temple Beth Am gala on June 14 that attracted more than 300 community members also concluded the synagogue’s annual giving campaign, pushing the shul’s yearlong fundraising total to more than $1 million.

From left: Temple Beth Am Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum, Temple Beth Am executive director Sheryl Goldman and Temple Beth Am Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld. Photo by Steve Cohn Photography

The evening celebrated the Conservative synagogue’s executive director, Sheryl Goldman, for the 20 years she has served in that role, and honored the memory of Lou Colen, who died at the age of 100 shortly before the gala. “It was a bittersweet occasion for our community,” Goldman said in an email to the Journal. The synagogue renamed its Ma’ayan Hamitgaber Legacy Award the Lou Colen Ma’ayan Award in Colen’s honor. The synagogue had planned to present the award to Colen before he died.

Attendees of the event, held at the temple’s campus on South La Cienega Boulevard, included Beth Am Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Beth Am Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum and congregants Dvorah Colker and Marilyn Ziering.


Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles’ (JBBBSLA) Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus’ charity golf event took place June 22 at the Valencia Country Club and raised more than $210,000 toward funding affordable camp experiences for underserved children.

From left: Businessman and philanthropist Bob Waldorf and Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles CEO Randy Schwab. Photo by Vince Bucci

There were 120 competitors at the 20th annual John W. Carson “18 Pockets of Joy” golf event, which also marked the recent renaming of Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale, formerly known as Camp Max Straus.

Attendees included businessman, philanthropist and camp namesake Bob Waldorf; event co-chair Joey Behrstock; the mentoring organization’s CEO Randy Schwab; and vice president of development Laurie Feldman.

“I’ve had the pleasure of not only organizing the golf classic for the past three years, but also playing in it. All of the participants share a common love for golf as well as a desire to give back to children in the community,” Feldman said in a press release. “This event helps directly impact the lives of so many children in need, and also ensures that Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus continues to make a difference and serve even more children for years to come.”


University Synagogue Rabbi Joel Simonds has been named the associate program director for the West Coast branch of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC). Simonds’ responsibilities will include increasing the RAC outreach to the West Coast, a June 30 press release said.

Rabbi Joel Simonds. Photo courtesy of University Synagogue

The RAC is the self-described “social action office” of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), an umbrella organization of more than 900 synagogue congregations across North America and representative of more than 1.5 million Reform Jews.

Simonds has made social justice a part of his purview as an associate rabbi at the Brentwood synagogue for the past six years, working to create partnerships with other Reform congregations around immigration reform and educating young professionals about the need for such reform. He also is a founding member of the social justice initiative Reform California. 

Simonds said in a statement that the RAC has long meant something to him and to his family. He began at the RAC on July 1. 

Meanwhile, he will continue to serve in a limited capacity as an associate rabbi at University Synagogue, he told the Journal in an email.  

“Even though I have taken on this new position, I will remain connected to University as associate rabbi, but my responsibilities will be scaled back,” he said.

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

Moving and shaking: Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, AFKMC and more


Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) celebrated its centennial and the renaming of its nonsectarian Camp Max Straus during a Feb. 21 event at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel that drew more than 700 attendees and raised $760,000 for the mentoring organization.

The evening also honored Bob Waldorf (Legacy Award), Brian Appel (Inspiration Award), and Gelena and Keith Wasserman (Spirit Award), for their commitment to JBBBSLA, which was founded in 1915.

Camp Max Straus, which helps underserved children, will now be named Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, in recognition of his lifetime commitment and a significant donation by the Waldorf family. The name change for the camp — which has helped more than 60,000 children since its inception in 1938, according to a press release — takes effect immediately. 

Waldorf, a former board president of the organization, once attended the camp and was a Little Brother at age 8. Later, he became a Big Brother and board member.

Situated on more than 100 scenic acres in the Verdugo Mountains and at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet residential neighborhood, Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus serves a primarily non-Jewish population of low-income and disadvantaged youth ages 7-12.

“We are not just celebrating the fact that JBBBSLA has been helping serve the community for a century,” JBBBSLA CEO Randy Schwab said in a statement. “We are celebrating the opportunity to help so many more children over the next century.”


American Friends of Kaplan Medical Center’s (AFKMC) inaugural event on the West Coast on Feb. 22 introduced locals to the lifesaving work of its beneficiary, an Israeli hospital based in the southern Israeli city of Rehovot.

From left: Lou Balcher, national director at American Friends of Kaplan Medical Center (AFKMC); Jacob Segal of Southern California-Israel Chamber of Commerce; Jacob Yahav, CEO of Kaplan Medical Center; and Yishay Aizik, executive director at Merage Institute. Photo courtesy of Lou Balcher

Kaplan Medical Center is a smaller and more obscure operation than many of Israel’s major hospitals — it has 550 hospital beds, compared to Hadassah Medical Center’s 1,000 beds — but still “serves a population of more than 1 million,” according to its brochure. 

The medical center treated Israelis during last summer’s war in Gaza and also helped 10 wounded Ukrainian pro-democracy protesters who had been airlifted to Israel last year.  

 “The reason I am with Kaplan Medical Center is that I like underdogs,” Jacques S. Abramowicz, AFKMC’s chairman, told a crowd of approximately 90 people in Long Beach. “Very few people know about them.”

The event, at the Long Beach home of Molly and Israel Weinberg, featured Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel as the keynote speaker. He told the crowd that recent terrorist attacks inside Israel, upheaval in surrounding countries and the Iran nuclear issue pose threats to Israel’s security. 

“It is the mounting of burdens and the challenges that is mind-numbing,” the Israel consul general said.

Professor Jacob Yahav, CEO of Kaplan Medical Center, and Haim Danon, chairman of the board of directors of the Israeli Friends Association of Kaplan Medical Center in Israel, also delivered remarks.

Among those in attendance was Shelly Korenboim, Jewish Agency for Israel fellow to Beach Hillel, which serves Long Beach and surrounding communities. 


The California Association for the Gifted (CAG) recently presented Wise School, formerly Stephen S. Wise School, with the Five Star Award for Gifted Education. The school is one of only four schools to receive the award this year; this is the first time a Jewish day school has been chosen as the recipient of the award. 

From left: Ashley Van Noppen, Wise School second-grade teacher;  Karen Anderson, Wise School director of curriculum and instruction; Deborah Hazelton and Anna Williams, CAG awards committee members and past presidents. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple and Wise School

“It’s a validation of the work that we’ve been doing in terms of generalizing the tenets of gifted pedagogy to a diverse population of learners,” said Karen Anderson, Wise School’s director of curriculum and instruction. “We believe that all children have the ability to learn deeply and be creative and experience wholeness in order to figure out ways to make the world a better place. 

Anderson accepted the award, along with second-grade teacher Ashley Van Noppen, at the annual CAG conference Feb. 27 in Palm Springs.

Wise’s head of school, Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, and its principal, Tami Weiser, said the award recognizes the hard work that the school accomplishes daily.

“When an outside, independent organization like CAG, with so much experience in gifted instruction, names you a Five Star gifted school, it validates what you see every day,” Zweiback said. 

Weiser added, “Walking through the hallways, you see evidence of a different kind of thinking by the work on the wall, and you hear the evidence through conversations among students and between teachers.”

Founded in 1977, Wise School has an early childhood center with 157 children and an elementary school that goes up to sixth grade with 314 students.

— Leilani Peltz, Contributing Writer

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

Moving and shaking


Friendship Circle of Los Angeles celebrated its annual Walk 4 Friendship LA at Rancho Park on Sept. 14. Under a scorching sun, with highs in the mid-90s, completing the 3K was a definite feat for the more than 400 participating families.

Instead of a foghorn, Friendship Circle founder Rabbi Michy Rav-noy blew the shofar to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and to commemorate the start of the walk, which raised more than $160,000 for the nonprofit that provides programs and support to the families of individuals with special needs.

As fist-pumping techno music blasted through four QSC speakers, participants started checking in at 11:30 a.m. and received their uniforms: purple cotton shirts with the words “Walk With Your Heart” on them. During the opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m., Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz spoke of how he knows about Friendship Circle, as some of his dearest friends are parents of special-needs students.

Chanie Lazaroff, Friendship Circle’s Hebrew schoolteacher and recruitment director, gave a speech about how volunteers are responsible for the organization’s success. She later told the Journal that she has two daughters, ages 17 and 7, and a 12-year-old son, Tani, who has special needs. 

“Everybody in the family is involved, including my son who has special needs. He thinks he’s staff,” she said with a half-smile. “Not only do I work for Friendship Circle, but I’m also a client.”

Forty-five minutes after their departure, flush-faced walkers started trickling back to the festival’s lawn, where they were greeted by performers on stilts, a train, kosher barbecue, popcorn and cotton candy, a puppy-petting area, a rock-climbing wall, a shofar factory and more.

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer


Katsuji Tanabe, chef at Mexikosher and winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking competition, has partnered with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). 

Katsuji Tanabe, founder and executive chef of Mexikosher, L.A.’s only strictly kosher Mexican restaurant, is shown with Bryan Zlotnikova, a camper from Kibbutz Max Straus, on Aug. 7. Tanabe conducted a demonstration-based cooking class and lunch with teen campers attending the summer sleep-away camp, which is operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The social services provider recently announced a new cause-marketing partnership with Tanabe, who will advocate mentoring programs for observant Jewish youth.

On Aug. 7, Tanabe hosted a cooking demonstration and workshop for in-residence tweens (ages 7 to 15) at the JBBBSLA-sponsored sleep-away summer camp Kibbutz Max Straus, located in the Verdugo Hills. Although Tanabe is not Jewish (he’s of Japanese and Mexican descent), he’s a prominent figure in the kosher world and now a leading advocate for JBBBSLA, which pairs Jewish boys and girls ages 6 to 18 with upstanding Jewish men and women, respectively, for semimonthly outings and mentorship. 

Tanabe, who was born in Mexico City and runs the only glatt kosher Mexican restaurant in town, hopes his Pico-Robertson restaurant can serve as a go-to hangout for JBBBSLA participants. Mexikosher will host Monday Mentor Meet-Ups, where “littles” (youths aged 6-18) and “bigs” (adult volunteers) can convene. 

Tanabe even will concoct special menu items for mentors and mentees, using local produce grown in the greenhouse at JBBBSLA’s Camp Max Straus. The menu items will change according to available produce.

Tanabe’s efforts are particularly aimed at the shortage of mentors for Orthodox Jewish boys. Randy Schwab, CEO of JBBBSLA, said, “Chef Tanabe was undaunted by culinary naysayers, and he is equally undaunted by this latest challenge — finding more Jewish mentors for children within the Orthodox community. We are thrilled to have him join our cause.” 

As a father, Tanabe said he understands the importance of being a role model.

“Parenting and cooking are all about nurturing,” the chef said. “That’s what JBBBSLA’s mentoring programs do as well.”

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer


Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada veteran Rabbi Menachem Hecht has been named the first executive director of Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, effective Sept. 1. 

“Bnei Akiva of L.A. is in an exciting and dynamic growth stage that I am thrilled to be a part of,” said Hecht, 32.

He was formerly the assistant director of the national office of Bnei Akiva, helping to manage new initiatives and programs such as the opening of Moshava Ba’ir day camps in New Jersey and Toronto, the local Moshava Malibu overnight camp and two gap-year programs in Israel, Yeshivat Torah v’Avodah and Midreshet Torah v’Avodah, for boys and girls, respectively. 

Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada is one of the largest religious Zionist youth movements, running camps and educational programs for Jewish youths across the continent.

“I think the No. 1 challenge that the Jewish community collectively faces is how do we engage our youth to become passionate, inspired, committed,” Hecht said.  “Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles is uniquely poised to become a national model for how to make this work — how to build really outstanding year-round, informal educational programming that engages and inspires our youth to grow into committed Jews and Jewish leaders.”

Hecht’s experience includes time as a rosh moshava (Hebrew for “head counselor”) at the Orthodox Jewish summer camp Camp Stone in Sugar Grove, Penn., and as a rabbi and co-director of the Julian Krinsky Yesh Shabbat program in Philadelphia. He also taught Judaic studies at the Frisch School, a co-ed Jewish high school in Paramus, N.J.

Hecht received his doctorate in education and Jewish studies from New York University and studied for smicha (rabbinical ordination) at Yeshiva University. 

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer


Upward of 180 Angelenos flocked to The Phoenix Bar in Beverly Hills on Sept. 7 to partake in Mitzvahs and Martinis, a
fundraiser and end-of-summer mixer benefiting wounded Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. 

Attendees — largely a lively cohort of young Jewish professionals — came together for drinks, to enjoy one another’s company and to donate to the cause, raising a total of $3,000. Israeli-born Orly Star Setareh, the event’s organizer, worked in conjunction with the New York-based Dror for the Wounded foundation, a grass-roots nonprofit founded by Dror Dagan, to put on the event.

A former IDF soldier, Dagan sustained serious injuries requiring extensive surgery after apprehending a Hamas terrorist in 2004. After his experience, he realized the difficulties faced by the wounded and vowed never to leave a soldier behind. 

Setareh, an Israeli dance teacher by day, worked tirelessly to make the night a memorable one. After tapping in to her dancing roots and throwing a Zumbathon in August that raised $5,500 for IDF care packages, Setareh wanted to try something new. 

“I wanted to create a different fundraiser that was more social and attracted different people,” she said. 

From left: Jenny Applebaum, Orly Star Setareh, Desiree Goldbahar.

She enlisted the help of friends Jenny Applebaum, Desiree Goldbahar, Shelly Kamara, Helen Rosen and Jason Hecht

The first 50 guests to arrive at the trendy Beverly Hills watering hole received a free CD, a mix of Israeli music prepared by Setareh herself. A raffle was held for all those who donated. The prizes included a Pizza Rustica gift card, wine from Gil Turner’s and a fresh new pair of Ray-Bans donated by the office of Dr. Jack Rosen.  

“I’m honored to be a part of such a caring, generous community and beyond thrilled to have created an event for a great cause that was embraced by so many,” Setareh told the Journal. Although the event is over, donations are still being accepted at drorfoundation.org/mitzvahmartinis. 

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

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

A taste of summer camp for young Jewish Russians


Several agencies are coming together in the hope that Russian-speaking children will begin their journey of Jewish self-discovery at Camp Gesher, a new overnight camp that caters to what it perceives to be a unique community.

Gesher — an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) and Genesis Philanthropy Group, a grant-making organization that aims to develop Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide — advertises itself as the “only overnight camp on the West Coast designed specially for kids ages 9 to 14 who come from Russian-speaking Jewish families.”

Time is running out to apply, though. As of press time, more than half of the 60 available openings in the camp had been filled, with additional applications being processed, according to Jenny Gitkis-Vainstein, a regional representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The camp’s inaugural — and only — session this summer will take place July 30 through Aug. 10 at JBBBSLA’s Camp Max Straus in Verdugo Hills. 

The cost of attending Camp Gesher (jbbbsla.org/campmax/campgesher) is $690. 

Gitkis-Vainstein, who develops programming for Russian Jews, told the Journal that the camp faces a number of challenges in balancing Judaism and this audience.

Rooted in the former Soviet Union, where religion was distrusted and persecuted, Russian Jews tend to be averse to programs that emphasize religious observance. So, despite offering Jewish content, the camp’s practices will be decidedly non-religious, Gitkis-Vainstein explained.

“Russian-Jewish families usually doesn’t send kids to Jewish camp … usually they are afraid of religious propaganda and brain-washing. For them, in America, Judaism is less about religion and more of a cultural experience and an understanding or a philosophy, so they don’t feel safe sending their kids to a regular Jewish camp, and they also don’t see value in it,” she said. “When they [the parents] were young, they didn’t have a Jewish camp, so for them the whole value is not exactly clear.”

Camp Gesher (“bridge” in Hebrew) aims to change that mentality.

Camp Max Straus assistant director Eric Nicastro said in an interview that part of the camp’s mission is bringing Russian kids closer to the Jewish community. The session will run simultaneously with the general overnight camp, Kibbutz Max Straus, and some activities will bring campers from both camps together. This mission inspired the name of the camp, Nicastro said.

“The goal is that [the Russian campers] will matriculate to [non-specific] Jewish summer camps,” Nicastro said. “Every report talks about Jewish engagement in the community and how Jewish summer camp is still a heavy-hitter that keeps them engaged. This is that bridge for the community.” 

Gitkis-Vainstein said that Camp Gesher is essentially a program of Kibbutz Max Straus. She described it as “a camp within a camp.”

Meanwhile, helping to keep the cost of camp affordable, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has provided approximately $30,000 in subsidies for Camp Gesher camperships as part of a larger grant that it provides to Kibbutz Max Straus.

Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president of Federation, expressed excitement about a summer camp that builds Jewish identity in the Russian community.

“We’re thrilled that this new opportunity is coming for Russian Jews in L.A….This is our sweet spot because it’s two things [engaging Russian Jews and summer camp] that we care deeply about,” Cushnir said.

Gitkis-Vainstein said reaction so far has been very positive and parents from all over California are signing their kids up for the new camp.

“What is good about this, a West Coast camp, is that there will be kids from L.A., Silicon Valley, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County,” she said. “We hope to have kids from all over the West Coast.”

Moving and Shaking: 12th annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, Rabbi David Baron honored


The 12th annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, honoring the life and legacy of the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002, was held on Feb. 23 at UCLA. Samantha Power, United States ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the lecture and spoke out against the longtime exclusion of Israel from U.N. regional groupings. The diplomat was introduced to the audience of some 600 listeners by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The United States firmly opposes any boycotts of Israeli institutions and products “as disruptive of the peace process,” Power declared. (Her complete remarks on BDS are at jewishjournal.com.)

She went on to hail the Jewish state’s admission earlier this month to the U.N.’s JUSCANZ group of 15 democratic countries, including the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand.

Her generally non-controversial talk drew some unexpected media attention when she tweeted afterward that “Daniel Pearl’s story is a reminder that individual accountability and reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”

The tweet drew puzzled or indignant responses instantly, with some asking whether Power believed that Pearl himself was responsible for his own death.

Early Feb. 24, Power posted a correction, which explained that her reference was to the global outreach of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, established by the slain journalist’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl.

Power added, “As I said last night, the men who murdered Daniel Pearl did so because he was an American and, most of all, because he was a Jew.”

Although the Irish-born Power came to her U.N. job with a reputation as a feisty journalist, author and academic, as President Barack Obama’s chief representative to the international body, she delivered her remarks on current world problems with considerable circumspection. She did become visibly moved while describing the civil war in Syria as an unmitigated human disaster.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


 


From left: Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) CEO Randy Schwab with JBBBSLA honorees Weston Cookler, Shoshana Kline, John Shane and Aaron Levy.  Photo by Vince Bucci

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) honored John Shane, Weston Cookler, Aaron Levy and Shoshana Kline on Jan. 30 at the Beverly Hills Hotel during an evening dubbed “The Big Event.” 

Shane, a recipient of the organization’s Spirit Award and a member of the organization’s board of directors, has funded JBBBSLA camperships and more. He practiced law for more than 20 years and also has worked as a real estate developer. He previously served as chairman of the board of the JBBBSLA non-denominational Camp Max Straus.

Cookler, Levy and Kline were named the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Year.

Cookler, who joined the JBBBSLA board in 2013, has served as a mentor for the organization since 2008. He is vice president of Avalon Investment Co.

Levy serves on the organization’s board of directors, the scholarship committee and on the match activities committee. He became a JBBBSLA mentor in 2008 and is a manager at Lodgen, Lacher, Golditch, Sardi, Saunders and Howard.

Kline began mentoring in 2010. Her efforts include aiding adults with special needs. She is director of operations at Irmas Financial Holdings.

“The mission of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles is to assist children and young adults in achieving their full potential through innovative, impactful programs,” according to the organization’s Web site.



From left: Meir Fenigstein and Bob and Greg Laemmle. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

The 28th Israel Film Festival honored Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts; Laemmle Theatres co-owners Robert and Greg Laemmle; and Israeli actor Sasson Gabai during a luncheon on Feb. 12. The event was held at the London West Hollywood and raised funds for the coming festival, which will take place f Oct. 23-Nov. 6. 

IsraFest, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit and organizer of the annual film festival, recognized Baron’s leadership of a synagogue that serves members of the entertainment industry with the IFF Community Leadership Award. It honored the Laemmles with the IFF Community Partnership Award for running a company that, among other things, exposes audiences to Israeli films. The IFF Career Achievement Award celebrated the career of Gabai, whose work includes the acclaimed film “The Band’s Visit.” 

The event also spotlighted a milestone for the Laemmle Theatres. Last year, the theater chain celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The Israel Film Festival “has grown to become one of the most important Israeli cultural events in America and the largest showcase for Israeli films in the United States,” according to its Web site. Los Angeles is one of three cities that host it every year. The others are New York and Miami. For more information about the festival, visit israelfilmfestival.com.



From left: Jane Zuckerman and Jeffrey Popkin. Photos courtesy of ETTA.

ETTA announced this month that it has brought on Jane Zuckerman to be the organization’s director of development. Zuckerman is the nonprofit’s first employee to hold this position.

Zuckerman’s work experience includes serving as executive director of Temple Israel of Hollywood, director of resource development at Temple Beth Am and development director for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ SOVA Community Food and Resource Program.

In a press release, Zuckerman expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with ETTA, which provides support to people living with special needs.

“ETTA is a vital agency to our city — no one else provides the range and type of services they do for our Jewish population,” Zuckerman said. “I am very excited to be a part of this team and help the organization grow.”

Additionally, the organization has taken on veteran special-needs professional Jeffrey Popkin as its new director of operations. Popkin, whose hiring became effective Feb. 10, said that ETTA’s track record of meeting a diverse set of needs for an oft-neglected community makes him excited to be joining the organization.

“I look forward to be beintg part of the ETTA team, which is meeting the goal of providing additional quality, community-based living arrangements,” he said.

Popkin previously served as associate director of Kern Regional Center, which coordinates services for Californians with developmental disabilities. 



From left: L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, Ryan E. Smith, Susan Freudenheim, Wendy Coleman Levin, Armin Szatmary, Leon Shkrab, Sidonia Lax, Stephen M. Levine, Councilman Paul Koretz. Leslye Adelman.  Photo by Paul  Michael Neuman

The Jewish Journal and subjects of its 2014 Mensch List were honored at Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 14. A plaque was presented to the Journal’s editorial staff on behalf of the City of Los Angeles by L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz.

The community newspaper’s annual Mensch List profiles volunteers who do great — often unheralded — work on behalf of others. Representing the publication at the ceremony, which took

place in the council’s chambers, were Susan Freudenheim, executive editor, and Ryan E. Smith, associate editor. 

Members of Los Angeles City Council and honorees from this year’s 10-member Mensch List were present as well.


Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors, simchas and more. Got a tip? E-mail ryant@jewishjournal.com.