September 22, 2018

Moving & Shaking: NewGround Honors; Teens’ Relief Work

From left: NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan; NewGround honoree Sadegh Namazikhah; Muslim Public Affairs Council President Salam Al-Marayati and NewGround honoree David Myers attended the NewGround Trailblazer Award Dinner. Photo by Salim Lakhani

The nonprofit interfaith organization NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change honored David Myers, Sadegh Namazikhah, Julia Meltzer and the Zeno family during its Suzy Marks and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award Dinner on Feb. 13 at the Iman Cultural Center.

The honorees represented a cross section of the Muslim and Jewish world.

Myers is the president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History in New York City and a professor of Jewish history at UCLA. He is involved with the NewGround Change-Makers fellowship and teaches about anti-Semitism to participants of the program.

Namazikhah is the founder of the Iman Cultural Center and has supported NewGround since its inception.

Meltzer is an American-Jewish film director who partnered with Mustafa Zeno, a Syrian-American Muslim, on a film about members of Zeno’s family displaced by the Syrian conflict. The film, “Dalya’s Other Country,” which premiered on PBS in June, follows a Muslim teenager and her mother as they acclimate to life in the United States.

Attendees included former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; NewGround’s Executive Director Aziza Hasan and its Program Co-Directors Andrea Hodos and Tasneem Noor; Muslim Public Affairs Council President Salam Al-Marayati and Director of Policy & Public Programming Edina Lekovic; and Rabbis Jonathan Klein and Aryeh Cohen.

NewGround was established to improve relations between Muslims and Jews through a professional fellowship, high school leadership council and public programming. The Trailblazer Award is named after Suzy Marks and her late husband, Wally Marks Jr., who provided seed funding to NewGround when the organization was in its infancy.

From left: David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates; Temple Israel of Hollywood Senior Rabbi John Rosove; former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin; and former Congressman Mel Levine discuss “The Challenges of Trump’s America.” Photo by Robert Lurie

President Donald Trump is dangerous for American Jews, Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin said during a Feb. 20 appearance at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH).

“When I’m asked, ‘Is Trump so bad?’ Of course he is so bad,” Rubin said while participating on a panel titled “The Challenges of Trump’s America: A Conservative’s View on Trump.” “He has undermined the basis for American democracy and with that the greatest protection, the greatest support, the greatest freedom the Jewish people in the Diaspora have ever experienced.”

The panel also featured former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine and former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. TIOH Senior Rabbi John Rosove moderated the discussion, the third program in a series called Community Conversations.

Sponsors of the event included Community Advocates, the Jewish Journal, Jews United for Democracy and Justice, Stephen Wise Temple and Valley Beth Shalom.

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback was among those in the audience.

“Why is the Republican Party enabling this man to the extent they are doing it?” Levine said.

Rubin, a former TIOH member, was visiting L.A. from Washington, D.C., where she writes the Post’s “Right Turn” column. Her opinions could have come from Trump’s strongest critics on the left. She characterized the president as an authoritarian who “does not understand what America is about and what it means to be an American.”

“Without that basic understanding, without the appreciation of what America is and what defines America and what the Israel-and-America relationship is built on, we are in very, very deep trouble as Americans and as Jews,” Rubin said.

From left: Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) CEO Rabbi Dave Sorani, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and JGSI COO Rabbi Matt Rosenberg attend the Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Photo by Ari Praw

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) held its seventh annual Jewish Executive Leadership Conference on Jan. 28 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica.

The conference, which drew more than 360 Jewish graduate students and young professionals, featured keynote speaker Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, along with approximately 50 other top executive panelists from various industries. During the conference, the graduate students and young professionals learned from the industry leaders and exchanged contact information in the hopes of keeping in touch to help empower their careers.

“This year’s conference was undoubtedly our best ever,” said  JGSI Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Matt Rosenberg. “Each panel room was filled to capacity with standing room only, all of the speakers were fantastic, and we had hundreds of young Jewish professionals networking with one another throughout the day.”

Additional speakers included Scott Adelson, co-president and global co-head of corporate finance at Houlihan Lokey; Michael Kohn, general counsel at Dick Clark Productions; Doug Mankoff, CEO of Echo Lake Entertainment; Jana Winograde, West Coast president of business operations at Showtime Networks; and Lee Zeidman, president of the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. Live.
The conference also featured a networking hour showcasing nonprofits — including the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and Moishe House — whose representatives presented volunteering and leadership opportunities to conference participants.

“We are quite excited at the fast-paced growth of this conference,” said Rabbi Dave Sorani, CEO of JGSI. “It is the only event of its kind in the country. We see it growing bigger and bigger each year. And we are extremely proud of its success.”

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

Tzedek America’s teen disaster response team, including Avram Mandell, founding executive director of Tzedek America (back row, far left), deconstructs a house in Port Arthur, Texas. The house was flooded during Hurricane Harvey and the water rose to four feet high in the home. Photo courtesy of Tzedek America

Fifteen teenagers from Los Angeles traveled with Tzedek America to Houston and spent several days engaged in relief efforts benefiting Hurricane Harvey victims.

Tzedek America’s Teen Disaster Response Team organized the Feb. 15-19 trip.

“The trip was a huge success,” said Avram Mandell, founding executive director of Tzedek America, a Los Angeles-based Jewish gap-year and social justice program. “We gave over 350 hours of service to the cities of Port Arthur and Houston, Texas. The teenagers worked tirelessly without complaining and celebrated Shabbat with the Jewish community of Beaumont, Texas.

“At the conclusion of the five days, the teenagers said it was a great trip and they only wished they could have had more sleep,” Mandell added. “They are eager to do more service work. They feel that helping people is part of being Jewish, and being part of the Tzedek America Teen Disaster Response Team was a great way to do that.”

The teens spent two days demolishing two houses in Port Arthur and a day rebuilding a house in Houston. They represented three synagogues — Kehillat Israel, Leo Baeck Temple and Temple Israel of Hollywood — all of which are active in social justice work. Two of the teens were unaffiliated, Mandell said.

One of the partners on the project was Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster, which in February kicked off its rebuilding project in Houston.

“Just thinking about the fact that there are still tens of thousands of houses that stand in disrepair, almost all belonging to poor and elderly people with nowhere else to go, saddens my heart,” said one of the participants, Noam Ginsburg, a 17-year-old junior at Westview Academy. “But I am so grateful that Tzedek America was able to help me help others.”

A Feb. 10 gala at Shomrei Torah Synagogue honored Shomrei Torah Rabbi Richard Camras (second from left). He is joined by his wife, Carolyn (third from left), and flanked by their children, Talya, left, and Noah. Photo courtesy of Shomrei Torah Synagogue

Conservative community Shomrei Torah Synagogue honored its Rabbi Richard Camras on Feb. 10 during a “Hamilton”-themed gala at its West Hills campus.

“It was an overwhelming experience being honored and recognized for the 18-years-plus that I have served my community,” Camras said in an email. “While I know that I am deeply valued by the members of Shomrei Torah Synagogue, and together we have accomplished so much over the years, it was incredibly meaningful to experience and comprehend the deep appreciation the membership has for their rabbi.”

More than 475 guests attended — including gala chair Judy Groner; the synagogue’s Cantor Ron Snow, Cantorial Soloist Jackie Rafii and President Rob Schreiber; and Camras’ wife, Carolyn, and their children, Talya and Noah — to celebrate Camras, who has served as Shomrei Torah’s rabbi since 1999.

“In just 18 years,” Groner said, “Rabbi Richard Camras has experienced a rabbinic evolution, from taking on his first senior pulpit rabbinic position at Shomrei Torah to becoming a passionate, wise, religious leader, both within our congregation and in the greater Jewish community.”

Was Frank Lautenberg sufficiently pro-Israel?

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post berates AIPAC for what she calls its “fawning” remembrance of Frank Lautenberg, the longtime New Jersey senator who died yesterday:

As for Lautenberg, AIPAC’s fawning can be chalked up to the gradual lowering of the bar for Democrats in an era in which most are pro-Israel, except when inconvenient. They therefore chose to overlook Lautenberg’s support for anti-Israel Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and his demands for a unilateral settlement freeze by the Jewish state. It wasn’t so long ago (1988 to be exact) when he signed a letter to George Shultz lambasting publicly then prime minister Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on Israel’s negotiating posture. AIPAC, I suppose, chose to overlook Lautenberg’s muteness during this administration when the president “condemned” Israel for building in its capital.

“Fawning” suggests a transactional relationship. Rubin does not make clear what AIPAC derives, exactly, from praising the dead.

According to Rubin’s standard, the Republican Jewish Coalition also is lowering the pro-Israel bar:

Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American.

Lautenberg’s Israel record, as the RJC notes, predates his time in the Senate; As UJA chairman in the 1970s, he oversaw an increase in fundraising for — and concomitant growth in U.S.-Jewish identification with — Israel in the country’s dark post-Yom Kippur War years.

Some of the most earnest praise I’ve heard for Lautenberg, paradoxically, comes from Jews whose views are diametrically opposed to his liberalism. This is because his signature 1989 law, the Lautenberg Amendment, facilitating emigration from the former Soviet Union and Iran, flooded this country with Jews whose politics trend more conservative than those of the established community.

I don’t know if Lautenberg ever considered whether he was “undercutting” his natural Jewish constituency when he wrote the law, or whether he cared that its inadvertent end was the advancement of Rubin’s stated mission, which is to correct what she sees as the skewed liberal temperament of the American Jewish community. From what I knew, he championed the law because he believed in extending to others the freedom of political and religious choice that was his birthright.

UPDATE: Gil Hoffman, a longtime Israel correspondent at the New Jersey Jewish News, outlines Lautenberg’s Israel record for the Jerusalem Post — including more than 80 visits to the country. Hoffman goes into detail about how Lautenberg first heard of the Sept. 11 attacks while visiting Israel.

Joe Biden has started a kind of audio blog, “Being Biden.” Yesterday, he gave it over to his friendship with Lautenberg: