‘Moishe Houses’ provide post-Hillel hangout for 20-somethings


Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue, but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.

Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?
 
That’s what’s offered by Moishe House, a fast-growing network of subsidized homes for 20-something Jews committed to building Jewish community for themselves and their peers.
The project was launched less than a year ago by The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropy. The foundation’s executive director, David Cygielman, 25, says the goal was to give young activist Jews the financial freedom to focus on creative programming designed to reach other young, unaffiliated Jews.

To the people living in these houses, it’s a terrific gift.
 
“We were already having Shabbat dinners three or four times a month and then they came along and said, ‘We’re looking for people doing what you’re doing. Keep it up, and we’ll support you,'” said Jonathan Herzog, 29, who lives in the Seattle house with his sister Norah and two friends.
 
The project is a validation of these young Jews’ efforts to create a Jewish home for an age group they feel gets lost in the communal shuffle.
 
“After college there’s no more Hillel, and they don’t join the Jewish community until they have families,” Cygielman noted.
 
The first Moishe House opened last December in San Francisco. Seattle was next in February, joined quickly by houses in Boston and Los Angeles.
 
New ones are to open in October in Oakland, Washington, Uruguay and Nigeria, and the plan is to have 12 houses up and running by next year.
 
Except for the Nigerian house, which is a one-man outreach operation, they all follow the same formula: Three or four Jews in their 20s receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, along with $500 for programming, and are expected to become a communal hub for young Jews by hosting Shabbat meals, card games, Yiddish lessons, film nights, book discussions, neighborhood clean-ups and other social, intellectual and civic-minded activities.
 
Residents say the formula works because it lets young people organize events they themselves would want to attend, rather than having something imposed from above by a synagogue or JCC.
In many ways, it’s the bayit of the 21st century. But unlike those communal Jewish homes of the 1970s and ’80s, which usually were sponsored by Zionist youth groups, residents of Moishe Houses don’t subscribe to a particular ideology.
 
The focus varies according to residents’ interests: The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house is more involved in social action.
 
Houses have great freedom, Cygielman says, so long as they meet the minimum requirements: hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports, maintaining a Web site and reaching out to young people. Funding can be withdrawn if a house doesn’t perform.
 
“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong program or a right program,” Cygielman said. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”
 
Maia Ipp, 24, moved into the San Francisco house in June. She runs a women’s group and a cooking club that is working its way alphabetically through the world’s cuisines.
 
Her parents once lived in a bayit sponsored by Habonim, a Labor Zionist youth group, but Ipp prefers the Moishe House model.
 
“We’re not affiliated with a movement that has a belief system, which frees us to do new, fresh work and engage young adults in ways other movements and campus groups can’t,” she said.
 
One recent evening, the four young residents of the San Francisco house got together for their weekly meeting. They sat around the large table in the dining room, which opens onto a large patio they use for Shabbat dinners and holiday parties.
 
David Persyko, 25, started hanging out at the house soon after it opened.
 
“I found myself really attached to being part of a Jewish community again,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were from Camp Swig, and coming here, I felt that rush of support I hadn’t felt in 10 years.”
 
He moved in in June and now runs poker night, which draws a group of guys every three weeks to “vent about the women in our lives,” Persyko said.
 
Aaron Gilbert, 24, runs a book club. The books aren’t Jewish, but the participants are, and talking about the books leads to talking about other things.
 
“It’s really intimate. We hang out, catch up on each others’ lives,” he said.
 
The house holds a big Shabbat dinner once a month and sponsors a softball team called the Matzah Ballstars. But the events and programs are secondary to the real draw.
 
“At our core, we’re four people who live in a house and we’re inviting people over. That’s appealing to people like us. It’s not institutional,” said Isaac Zones, 24, national director of the Moishe House network and a founding member of the San Francisco house.
 
On a table in the corner is a silver-toned bust of Zones’ grandfather, a man who founded his business empire with money he won playing poker. Zones makes sure the statue is always there during games.
 
The Moishe House concept is still in its early stages, and some things need to be tweaked. For example, the Los Angeles and Seattle houses are trying to beef up their social action component, while the Boston house is being encouraged to offer more “fun events,” Cygielman said.
 
It’s all part of figuring out what constitutes a Jewish community, or even a Jewish event. Must it be something devoted purely to a Jewish ritual or Zionist goal? Or is it enough to bring together a bunch of Jewish people to shmooze and eat?

Class Notes


New Yeshiva Flying SCY High
Founding board members of the new Southern California Yeshiva High School (SCY High) for boys in La Jolla knew that with a history of failed yeshiva high schools in the area, they had to offer the community something new and innovative. So they, along with headmaster Kevin Cloud, developed a school that utilizes high-tech project-based learning to integrate all disciplines — from science to literature to Gemara.

The school, the only Orthodox boys high school in the San Diego area, attracted 17 boys in ninth and 10th grades last year, its first year of existence, and next year between 25 and 30 are expected to be enrolled in the ninth through 11th grades. One Los Angeles boy boarded with relatives, and next year several families are opening up their homes to students who want to board.

As a school starting from scratch, teachers were able to take novel approaches to study.

The ninth graders, for example, read Goethe’s “Faust,” then rewrote it as short film. They created sets — some using “South Park”-style puppets, some using stop-action dolls and action figures — set it to music, and filmed short movies. The 10th graders read Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” then rewrote a modernized version then studied and debated the moral implications of making Faustus Jewish.

“What you do in project-based learning is you take the ability the students have in one subject and you bring that enthusiasm into another subject,” Cloud said.

The students also get traditional instruction, but even there things tend to blend.

In Rabbi Moshe Adatto’s Gemara class, students had to present talmudic arguments in a PowerPoint flowchart. Each student is given a Dell laptop when they enter, and the school is wired for high-speed wireless Internet access.

To Adatto, who previously was a teacher at the Valley Kollel, it’s all part of making kids love school and love Judaism.

“We’re trying to create lifelong learners, and to me that has two components: They have to know how to learn, and they have to want to learn,” said Adatto, who organized Shabbatons and other events to build school spirit.

All but one student has reenrolled for next year, and an anonymous survey that all of the parents filled out brought back astonishing results for a Jewish school: No one — not one family — reported being anything less than satisfied.

For more information on SCY High School, contact (858) 658-0857 or visit www.scyhigh.org.

Follow the Fellows to Israel
Three Southern California teens were among 26 selected nationally to visit Israel on a five-week Bronfman Youth Fellowship this summer. Priscella Frank of Calabasas High School and Benjamin and Mitzi Steiner of Shalhevet were selected following a rigorous application process. They will participate in an intensive program of study and travel in Israel designed to develop leaders committed to Jewish unity.

The fellows participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbinic faculty and spend a week with a group of Israeli peers who have been chosen through Amitei Bronfman, a parallel Israeli program. Bronfman Youth Fellows are asked to complete 40 hours of community service when they return home at the end of the summer.

3 Books = 31 Flavors
Students at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy have another reason to pick up a good book — to satisfy their sweet tooth. As part of the Be a Star Reader program, elementary and middle school kids who read three books this spring were awarded a free ice cream cone at any Baskin-Robbins. Arna Schwartz, the school librarian, has run the Be a Star Reader program for several years, purchasing Baskin-Robbins gift certificates. This year, Robert Schwartz, who owns the Baskin-Robbins on Kinross Avenue in Westwood, offered to sponsor the program. Other Schools or youth organizations interested in participating in the Baskin-Robbins Reading Rewards Program can contact Robert Schwartz at (310) 208-8048.

To Bee or Not to Bee
More than 150 boys from Chabad schools across the world gathered in Los Angeles in April for a battle of wits on Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot. Cheder Menachem in Los Angeles was the host school of the chidon, or bee, which attracted 1,000 spectators to the finals held at Emerson Middle School. The girls’ competition was held the week before in New York. Local winners were Sender Labkowsky, first place, older division; Mendel Mishulovin, third place, older division; and Shmully Lezak, third place, younger division.

ADL Reaches 700,000 Students
As part of LAUSD’s Live Violence-Free Day, 35,000 teachers in the district were urged to use materials and activities they received from the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) A World of Difference Institute, impacting more than 700,000 K-12 students in one day. The activities and lesson plans were designed to assist educators in addressing issues of bias, discrimination, bullying and violence, and focused on empowering students to become agents of change on their campuses. For more information on ADL education programs, contact Jenny Betz at (310) 446-8000, ext. 233.

 

$61.8 Billion


Of the 50 wealthiest Angelinos, 27 are Jewish.

Each year, The Los Angeles Business Journal uses legwork and a little guesswork to discern who’s worth the most in Los Angeles. Once the list comes out, as it did this week, I like to run it through the old “Who’s a Jew?” detector.

I’m well aware that the only people who habitually do such things are the heads of Jewish charities and anti-Semites. The former do it to garner fundraising leads, the latter do it to “prove” a worldwide conspiracy. I do it because I have something I want to tell these people — my Sermon on the Count.

My count a few years back put the number at 25. This year there are two more, including Jamie McCourt (Jew), vice chairman of the L.A. Dodgers and listed with husband Frank McCourt (not a Jew). So it goes, this slightly unseemly business of sussing out religious affiliation on a list that reveals just net worth, business interests and a bit about philanthropic activities.

It’s, of course, on that last subject that I’d have the most to say. Adding up the numbers provided by the Business Journal, I get a combined net worth of $61.8 billion.

Three things struck me about this year’s list. The first is: wow. Jews make up barely 2 percent of the Los Angeles’ population, but more than 50 percent of city’s richest of the rich. There have been precious few times in history when Jews have been blessed with so much wealth, along with so much freedom. In a city of openness and opportunity, these men and women have made the most of their chances.

Despite their common membership in a rarified group, these folks are a diverse lot.

Most are L.A. — or even American — transplants, with roots in Canada (eBay’s Jeffrey Skoll); Israel (Alec and Tom Gores, Haim Saban) and elsewhere. Their backgrounds range from Holocaust survivor (Leslie and Louis Gonda) to able scions of family fortunes (Anthony Pritzker). Their political affiliations run the spectrum, from Hollywood liberal (DreamWork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg), to George W. Bush stalwart (Ameriquest’s Roland Arnall, now ambassador to Netherlands). Their religious practices range from observant to none of your business.

You might think with great wealth has come great assimilation, as previous generations of Jews often had to choose between asserting their religious identity and social acceptance. But another striking fact of this list is how many of these people are deeply involved in Jewish communal life and causes. Westfield’s Peter Lowy is chair of the University of Judaism. The Milkens, Michael and Lowell, are pillars of Jewish philanthropy. Biomedical innovator Alfred E. Mann gave $100 million to Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology last year. As for Spielberg, there’s a little something called the Shoah Foundation. By my estimate, most have given to Jewish causes.

And this is not to sniff at their non-Jewish philanthropy. Eli Broad (No. 4 on the list) has been at the forefront of efforts to improve education and art in Los Angeles. DreamWorks’ David Geffen donated $200 million to UCLA’s School of Medicine in 2002, the largest contribution ever to a U.S. medical school. For a man worth $4.2 billion, that’s almost real money.

At the same time, the larger picture is that L.A. County trails behind other places in terms of charitable giving. As reported in the Business Journal, a 2003 Chronicle of Philanthropy study of IRS tax returns concluded that L.A. County residents with incomes greater than $50,000 gave only 7.3 percent of their income, or about $4,000, to charity. New Yorkers gave 10.9 percent and Detroit residents, the national leaders, gave 12.1 percent. In California, San Francisco residents gave 9.3 percent, people in Long Beach 8.4 percent, and residents of the city of Los Angeles 6.9 percent.

I wonder if the Jewish billionaires on the list skew the averages in L.A.’s favor. I hope so.

The last thought to strike me as I reviewed this year’s list was how incomplete it is. The Business Journal stops at 50. But there’s serious wealth from 50 to 100, from 100 to 10,000, and loads more down the line. In short, there are many challenges this community faces, but lack of resources is not one of them.

Jewish professionals often complain to me that there just doesn’t seem to be enough money. But there is — and then some.

There is enough money, I suspect, to develop a social service program to help every one of the 7 percent of L.A. Jews who live beneath the poverty line.

There is enough money to build and sustain a network of first-rate Jewish camps and give every child a chance to attend one — and there are few better ways to instill Jewish values than camp.

There is enough money to pay Jewish communal workers a wage that enables them to participate fully in Jewish life.

There is enough money to provide significant scholarships for every child in need who wants to attend a Jewish day school and to improve the quality of public schools.

There is enough money to sustain a network of state-of-the-art communal centers — either Jewish community centers or synagogues — inviting, welcoming and affordable to the entire community.

Any one of these would revolutionize the face of Jewish Los Angeles for the better, and most could be accomplished just by upping our average giving to the standard set by … Detroit.

If only our vision were equal to our assets.

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, March 25

Hollywood Fight Club’s current production “A Lively … and Deathly Evening With Woody Allen” brings to the stage three written works by the Neurotic One. Woody Allen’s “God,” “Death Knocks” and “Mr. Big” all deal with existential dilemmas as only Allen can.

Through April 2. 8 p.m. (Saturdays), 8:30 p.m. (Thursdays), 3 p.m. (Sundays). $14. 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite No. 6, Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 465-0800.

Sunday, March 26

Jewish school spirit can be found in abundance on the USC campus this weekend. The Jewish Student Film Festival has coordinated a weekend of Jewish activities, which culminates in today’s film fest. Friday evening, attend Shabbat services at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion followed by Shabbat dinner at USC Hillel; Saturday, attend “Jewzika: A Night of Jewish Musicians” featuring Dov Kogen and the Hidden, SoCalled and the Moshav Band.

Film fest: Free (students), $5 (general). Jewzika: $10 (students), $12 (general). ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, March 27

“Minimalist Jukebox,” L.A. Philharmonic’s minimalism festival, gives us music by Steve Reich on March 25 and 26, including “Tehillim,” the composer’s music for Psalms. Then today, also in conjunction with the Minimalist Jukebox, California EAR Unit explores the theme with Lamon Young’s “Composition No. 7,” David Rosenboom’s “The Seduction of Sapentia” and other works.

Reich concerts: ” target=”_blank”>www.lacma.org or (323) 857-6010.

Tuesday, March 28

Those seeking romance and mystery look no further than the last place you’d think of. National Council of Jewish Women steams things up with “An Evening of Literature and Conversation” with romance authors Loraine Despres and Dora Levy Mossanen, as well as mystery writer Rochelle Krich. Jewish Community Library Director Abigail Yasgur moderates.

7:30-9:30 p.m. Free. 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-2930, ext. 512.

” border=”0″ alt=””>
Dora Levy Mossanen

Wednesday, March 29

Tonight it’s sex, drugs and a night at the Writers Bloc. Authors and cultural icons Erica Jong (“Fear of Flying”) and Jerry Stahl (“Permanent Midnight”) converse about writing at the Skirball.

7:30 p.m. $20. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>


Thursday, March30

Step inside to view the Getty Garden — as photographed by Becky Cohen — at the Persimmon gallery. Lovely permanent pigment prints from transparencies Cohen shot for the book “Robert Irwin Getty Garden” are on view through April 22.

310 N. Flores St., Los Angeles. (323) 951-9540.

Friday, March 31

“Methodfest,” the only film festival “dedicated to the actor,” opens tonight and continues through April 7. Count on panels, tributes, workshops, galas and plenty of self-importance. But you can also catch a few intriguing indie flicks, including tonight’s opening coming-of-age film, “Dreamland,” starring Agnes Bruckner, John Corbett and Gina Gershon, among others.

Woodland Hills and Calabasas. Prices vary. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Big Sunday Gets Big Boost From City


Big Sunday began in 1999 with 300 Jewish volunteers devoted to a day of good works. That was impressive in a city notorious for lack of civic involvement — but that was just the beginning.

What started as Mitzvah Day for congregants of Temple Israel of Hollywood gradually spread across the city and beyond the Jewish community, with 8,000 participants from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds working on 150 different projects last year. Now the event has taken another big leap — suddenly, Big Sunday is the business of the city of Los Angeles.

This year, Los Angeles assumes the headline role in sponsoring the May 7 event. The planning began officially last week at Temple Israel. About 170 attended, including about 30 representatives of city government, among them Larry Frank, deputy mayor of neighborhood and community services.

Frank said that the mayor’s office would “like to help the whole city do what you’ve been doing for the past seven years.”

“We want this to be as big as the marathon, as big as the Grammys,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to participate.”

This year, as a result of the city partnership, event founder David Levinson expects as many as 25,000 volunteers.

“Do the math,” he said at the planning meeting. “We had 8,000 last year. Mayor Villaraigosa’s citywide day of service in October drew 7,500. That’s already over 15,000.”

The variety of projects last year was diverse, ranging from bathing rescued basset hounds to furnishing apartments for the homeless. Some volunteers painted murals and planted a garden at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista, while another crew in the kitchen made casseroles to freeze and distribute to AIDS victims.

“My honest belief is that everyone wants to help and everyone can help,” said Levinson, a playwright and TV writer who still chairs the event.

“If someone says they can’t make it because they have a 1-year-old, I tell them to bring [the baby] to a nursing home. All she has to do is breathe, and she’ll make the residents happy,” Levinson said. “We had a blind theater group washing cars. At a party we threw for low-income seniors, one of the activities was making silk flowers for shut-ins at a nursing home.

“It’s not about the haves helping the have-nots,” he explained. “It’s about everyone working together.”

Last year’s participants hailed from more than 100 synagogues (all denominations from Reform to Orthodox to Reconstructionist), churches, schools, offices and clubs, as well as hundreds of individuals and families. They worked on almost 150 different projects from Acton to Anaheim.

As book captain, Racelle Schaefer, a Temple Israel member who has volunteered every year, spends months organizing book drives at schools.

“We also get donations of new children’s books from Houghton Mifflin,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 8,000 books throughout the city on Big Sunday.”

Corporate, private and organizational donors underwrite the day, including Temple Israel. The budget this year is $450,000. The city’s participation will include providing security, busing and street closures. Additional donors are both welcomed and needed, Levinson said.

“I have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay for it this year,” he added. “It’s a cliff-hanger, but we always figure something out.”

An improved Web site will make coordination easier. Volunteers can click on a listed project and get an automatic confirmation, map, contact person and any special instructions.

“I see Big Sunday as an appetizer platter for volunteers,” said Sherry Marks, vice chair and volunteer coordinator. “There are hundreds of worthy nonprofits that need our people. If you wanted, you could start at 7 a.m. and work at four or five different sites during the day.

“You could make meals at a shelter, take senior citizens out to tea or provide makeovers for women who are re-entering the work force,” she continued. “[The volunteering] often works as a catalyst, getting people to make an ongoing commitment to a particular organization.”

For more information visit www.bigsunday.org

 

Where the Boys Aren’t


The Chanukah party for Adat Ari El’s junior United Synagogue Youth group had all the elements the seventh- and eighth-grade members had requested: latkes, a gift exchange and a fierce board game competition. Yet, said, Julee Snitzer, the synagogue’s youth activities director, of the 13 who participated — only two were male.

Her experience is not unusual. Many of the informal Jewish education activities geared to teens in the greater Los Angeles area — such as camps, synagogue youth groups, school clubs and Jewish community centers — draw more girls than boys. The ratio in formal Jewish activities, such as Jewish high school and religious school, appears to be more gender balanced.

“Looking at what’s happening locally and nationally, we’ve found that fewer teen boys enroll in informal Jewish activities than they did in previous years,” said Lori Harrison Port, senior associate director for planning and allocations at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A survey done by her department showed that informal Jewish education programs generally attract 60 percent girls and 40 percent boys. The lack of participation among boys could lead to a weakening of their Jewish affiliation over time, some fear.

A special report analyzing results from the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01 indicates that participation in camping and youth groups may impact Jewish identity as much as or more than attending up to six years of supplementary religious school. The impact is directly linked to the length of involvement in those youth-oriented activities.

Last fall, The Federation and the Bureau of Jewish Education hosted a conference for Jewish youth professionals to explore the issue and generate ideas for cultivating greater male involvement in informal Jewish activities. Held at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, the program was an outgrowth of the bureau’s Youth Professional Advisory Council, which facilitates sharing of ideas and resources for those serving Jewish teens.

Keynote speaker Bob Ditter, a Boston-based psychotherapist who consults nationally with camps and other youth-targeted agencies, shared insights about boys’ development and led attendees in discussing how to design their programming and marketing to attract boys.

“The central [element] in boys’ development is task and action. Boys want to feel that they’re good at something,” Ditter said. “Boys develop friendships through the stuff they do. Girls develop friendships and then go do stuff.”

Ditter said that boys engage in activities — such as tossing a ball or comparing video games — as a way to connect. He suggested that youth group leaders and counselors allow boys to do an activity first before expecting them to sit and talk.

He also urged group leaders to recognize that boys initiate connection through a challenge or dare. For example, Ditter witnessed a teen participant make a sarcastic comment to his counselor at a camp’s opening campfire. Rather than feeling threatened or insulted by such remarks, leaders “need to hear the invitation [to engage] rather than the challenge” he said.

“It’s a myth that adolescents distrust or don’t respect adults,” he added. “They’re hungry for meaningful connections to adults they respect and feel respected by.”

The group also discussed the underlying pressures that children of all ages face to compete and excel, whether that means getting into the right preschool or taking the most Advanced Placement courses.

“At social events, they just want to hang out,” Ditter said. “They need to depressurize.”

Looking at how these factors might affect marketing to teen boys, the conference participants agreed that programs — and their promotional materials — must reflect teens’ reality and clearly state the benefits of participation, such as providing community service hours or leadership opportunities.

Ellie Klein, Wilshire Boulevard Temple youth director, noted that many students are attracted to participate in the synagogue’s Wednesday night program, which consists of dinner, a recreational elective and a Jewish-themed seminar, because there is excellent tutoring available through the program’s supervised study room.

Wilshire Boulevard bucks the norm by attracting more boys than girls at its programs. Klein said she’s baffled by the male-to-female ratio, although it helps that eight of her 11 staff members are men and one of the synagogue’s rabbis, Dennis Eisner, is popular with the youngsters and actively recruits participants.

“I’m not selling basketball,” she said. “I’m selling community and connection.”

Temple Sinai’s Sinai High, an educational program for eighth through 12th-graders that draws from the synagogue’s religious school graduates, also boasts a good ratio between boys and girls. Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei, who oversees youth programs, said programming is specifically geared to attract boys. As an example, he noted a popular series of classes that examined Jewish values as evidenced in “The Simpsons.”

Schuldenfrei said the trend of females outnumbering males is not limited to the teen realm. Sinai’s ATID group for young professionals in their 20s and 30s struggles to attract a male audience. For Sukkot, ATID held a Sukkah Sports Night, offering a televised game and beer, as well as a holiday teaching under the sukkah, and was rewarded with more male participants than normal. Schuldenfrei said that programming “needs to speak to males, as well as females.”

This advice may apply throughout the age spectrum. “In liberal communities,” said Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, “60 percent to 70 percent of people participating in adult education are women.”

 

Abramoff Linked to Jewish Ventures


Reading the indictment against Jack Abramoff, one might not know that he was prominent in Washington Jewish circles. But in coming months, his ties with Jewish and Israeli organizations may emerge as a prominent piece in the lobbyist’s web of questionable activities.

Last week, Abramoff pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts in Washington and Miami as part of a settlement in which he agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their ongoing government corruption probe. In the Washington case, the 46-year-old lobbyist admitted defrauding at least four Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars, enticing government officials with bribes and evading taxes. In the Miami case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats.

While Abramoff is best known as a political wheeler-dealer, he also was a player in the Jewish community of the nation’s capital, starting several short-lived, money-losing ventures to fill what he perceived as religious gaps in the city’s Jewish world.

He also used his largess to further Israeli businesses and charities that appealed to his conservative worldview. Some of these activities have come to light in connection with the cases outlined in the federal indictments.

Specifically, Abramoff allegedly using money from a Washington charity he oversaw to fund military-style programs in the West Bank. Indian tribes donated money to tax-exempt charities, believing they were supporting anti-gambling foundations, but the money was redirected to help a “sniper school” in the West Bank, operated by a friend of Abramoff.

According to congressional documents, Abramoff sought night-vision goggles and a vehicle for the sniper-training facility.

Abramoff also allegedly worked on behalf of an Israeli firm that sought to wire the Capitol for cellular phone use. While leading cell phone manufacturers in the United States settled on JGC Wireless to install antennas in repeaters in House buildings, an Israeli company with ties to Abramoff, Foxcom Wireless, ultimately won the bid.

The switch is allegedly linked to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, who accepted numerous favors from Abramoff over the years, and placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff’s ventures.

Foxcom didn’t pay Abramoff to lobby for the House job, but it did donate $50,000 to the Capitol Athletic Foundation, an Abramoff charity, the Washington Post reported.

Foxcom has changed its name to MobileAccess and moved its headquarters to Virginia. A spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Abramoff also has been tied to two rabbis, the Lapin brothers from South Africa, who aided his political and personal ventures. David Lapin was hired to run a Jewish school Abramoff created in suburban Maryland to teach his children and others.

Lapin also received close to $1.2 million to promote “ethics in government” to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of Abramoff’s clients. Officials on the island said Lapin did little for the money.

His brother, Daniel Lapin, is president of Toward Tradition. Abramoff allegedly asked him to create an award to bestow upon Abramoff to help his acceptance into Washington’s Cosmos Club. Abramoff suggested he could be a “scholar of Talmudic studies” or a “distinguished biblical scholar.”

Lapin said yes, according to e-mails obtained by congressional investigators, and asked whether Abramoff needed a letter or a plaque. Lapin told the Washington Post he meant the exchange to be tongue-in-cheek and never produced an award for Abramoff.

Two other Abramoff aides moved to Israel last year as investigators continued their probe. Sam Hook and his wife, Shana Tesler, both worked at Abramoff’s law firm and had been cooperating with investigators before moving to Israel in July, according to The Hill, a Washington newspaper. The Orthodox Jews had long planned to move to Israel, their attorney said last year.

Abramoff also made contributions to several Jewish lawmakers, among numerous congressmen Abramoff and his associates help finance. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) donated $7,000 — the amount he received from Abramoff — to charity last week.

A spokesman for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) did not respond to questions about his own donation from Abramoff — in the amount of $1,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In Washington, Abramoff was well-known for the idiosyncratic use of his money. He shunned other religious schools in the area, choosing to open Eshkol Academy specifically for his children’s education.

The school closed within two years, and several teachers say they are owed back pay. David Lapin, the school’s dean, was not an active administrator, former teachers said.

Abramoff also opened several kosher restaurants that failed quickly. Stacks, a deli, was welcomed by the city’s Jewish community, but never made money. A more formal restaurant upstairs, Archives, never stayed open for more than a few weeks at a time.

Some Jewish professionals found it noteworthy that the Abramoff that appeared outside a Washington courthouse Jan. 3 — with a long, double-breasted black coat and black hat — resembled a devout Jew on his way to Shabbat services. In a New York Times interview last year, Abramoff compared himself to the biblical character Jacob, saying his involvement in lobbying was similar to Jacob’s taking the identity of his brother, Esau. A spokesman for Abramoff later told JTA his client was misquoted.

 

Hillel Readies Plan of Attraction


The Jewish college student of today is likely to be more interested in discussing religion than in practicing it. Therein lies a challenge and an opportunity, and Hillel, the college Jewish organization, says it’s ready to respond.

It was in the summer of 2004 that Hillel began work on a five-year plan to attract the two-thirds of Jewish college students who say they don’t go to Hillel activities. That troubling statistic has been one of the most talked-about findings from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS).

To find out more about the mindset of today’s Jewish college students, researchers culled current literature on “the millenials,” people born since 1982. They looked at studies, including the NJPS, Linda Saxe’s 2002 “Jewish Freshmen” study and the recently released “I-Pod Generation.” They also consulted executives from Jewish federations, Hillel staff and lay leaders; ran focus groups on six campuses, and analyzed responses from 603 Jewish undergraduates who answered a random survey.

Hillel President Avraham Infeld discussed the group’s findings at the General Assembly of Jewish organizations this week in Toronto, and Hille’s strategic pla will be released in 2006.

Millenials, both Jewish and non-Jewish, “tend to be very focused on accomplishments,” said Julian Sandler, chair of Hillel’s strategic planning committee. “They’re very capable, they have high regard for the values of their parents, they’re hypercommunicative and they tend to shun denominational labels.”

On religious attitudes, they have a more individualized worldview, a lack of interest in traditional institutions and an interest in diversity. Which translates to that preference for discussing religion than practicing it.

Above all, they are constantly multitasking. As one expert put it to Sandler, “They may have multiple windows open simultaneously to their identity, and being Jewish is just one of those windows.”

The Hillel team also concluded that Jewish students in the survey “were more likely to self-identify as Jewish by ethnicity, rather than by religion,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s director of strategic resource management.

At the same time, students say they feel proud of their Jewish identification and are willing to publicly identify as Jews by displaying Jewish objects in their rooms, such as menorahs, mezuzahs and Israeli posters, and by wearing Jewish items, such as chai necklaces, Stars of David and T-shirts with Jewish slogans. (Wearing a kippah was not included in the survey’s list of Jewish items.)

Perhaps the most interesting data to emerge from the study, Sandler and Hoffman said, is what students described as the top barriers to their involvement with Jewish life on campus. Hoffman noted that an overwhelming number of Jewish students said they want Hillel to be “more welcoming,” a finding that validates increased efforts to be inviting, while also hinting at a need for further tweaking.

“Hillel has always been home to a certain group on campus, those who come with strong Jewish identification and strong Jewish values,” Sandler said. “We need to find those who are proud of their Jewishness, curious about their Jewishness, but not sure how to translate that into making their Jewishness an integral part of their lifestyle.”

One strategy has been to offer non-Jewish-specific activities or Jewish activities that also are open to non-Jews. Hillel at the University of Washington co-sponsored an outdoor showing of the film, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” during this fall’s welcome week.

And then there’s “hookah in the sukkah,” a program where Hillel builds a sukkah in the middle of a campus and invites all students, not just Jews, to join them for a meal.

 

AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying


 

As some 1,250 delegates gather in Los Angeles under the banner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to celebrate the deepening ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen those ties through political activities, I am mindful of two who will not be there.

Two former AIPAC staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, will be back in Washington preparing for their January trial, which could be completed on the eve of AIPAC’s National Policy Conference in March. The timing is ironic given the loyal, instrumental roles that Rosen and Weissman played for AIPAC, and given the extent to which AIPAC has deserted them both.

These two individuals, in fact, deserve the unqualified support of both AIPAC and the Jewish community for their service to Jews and Israel — and also because they are, to all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing. The current criminal indictment arises out of nothing more than law enforcement entrapment. But even putting that aside, the former AIPAC staffers still acted in a logical, defensible and ethical matter. Jews should be rising to their defense, but there is, so far, only a shameful silence.

Rosen, a longtime Washington lobbyist, was the chief of AIPAC foreign-policy staff. Weissman was a specialist on Iraq. No one who knew Rosen would argue that he was the soul of AIPAC or its most visible public face, but all who came close to the organization swiftly understood that Rosen was its brains.

It was he who shaped the concept of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States, refashioning American support for Israel from that of a big brother assisting a poor relation to a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

It was he who shifted AIPAC from an organization that was solely centered on Congress to one that also lobbied the president, his officers and his advisers — in Democratic and Republican administrations alike — as well as the think tanks and policy wonks.

Rosen recognized that he ruffled too many feathers to be out front. So he groomed protégés to assume that role. He mentored one so well that he became the head of AIPAC; another became the first Jew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

One cannot overestimate his importance to the organization and his contribution to it over the past two decades.

One did not have to agree with his politics or AIPAC’s — as I certainly did not — to recognize the genius: While everyone was focusing on Iraq, he was concerned about Iran and North Korea. Anyone in his position traffics in information, seeking to understand what is known, attempting to fathom what is on the mind of government officials both in the United States and abroad.

What happened with Rosen and Weissman is simple enough. They were set up.

They are victims of a sting operation that relied on government analyst Lawrence Franklin, a compromised source who was in trouble for allegedly keeping unauthorized classified information at home. In order to win a more lenient sentence, he carried out an FBI plan to tell Rosen and Weissman about “secret information” that Israeli operatives were to be attacked in Iraq. Lives were seemingly at stake. Real lives, Jewish lives of people allied with the United States and presumably working in Iraq with the knowledge and consent of the United States, in alliance with the United States. Remember, this information came from a U.S. government analyst. And they had every reason to presume that he was giving them information both with permission and for a purpose.

Not surprisingly, Rosen and Weissman tried to check this information out. At one point, they apparently sought to see what a journalist covering Iraq knew. They also warned Israeli officials of the clear and immediate danger to their operatives. We now know that Franklin’s information was false and manufactured, with the specific goal of ensnaring Rosen and Weissman.

Of course that wasn’t the impression created when CBS broke its sensational account on Aug. 27, 2004, courtesy of a leak from either the FBI and/or Department of Justice.

Elements of the evidence remain shrouded in secrecy — the defendants are currently challenging the government’s attempts to conceal their own statements made on wiretaps.

Why would the U.S. government obstruct the defense in this way?

One plausible explanation is that Rosen and Weissman will recognize the circumstances in which their words were recorded and hence understand the scope of the federal surveillance — not just of them but also of those with whom they were in contact. One wonders: Does the U.S. typically spy on Israeli diplomats or diplomats of other countries?

We shall soon learn whether the government will drop the charges rather than reveal its evidence. The surveillance apparently lasted for five years and yielded such meager results that the defendants had to be entrapped into committing an alleged crime. If they were really up to something, investigators should have found it without the FBI having to engage in a Hollywood-style stunt — fictionalizing a scenario and manufacturing a crime.

This is not the Jonathon Pollard Affair redux. Pollard was a paid agent of the Israeli government who transmitted classified information to Israel. And unlike with the legal principle at stake in the Valerie Plame case, there was no possibility that lives would have been endangered by this leak; no sources were compromised. Unlike Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, Rosen and Weissman wanted to save lives, not weaken political opponents.

Yet AIPAC has run for cover; so have too many Jews. Some members of AIPAC’s own leadership are under the impression that the organization has actively defended its former employees. The word on the street, however, is that Rosen and Weissman have been hung out to dry. AIPAC bylaws require that the organization cover their legal defense, yet Rosen’s lawyers and Weissman’s lawyers have not been paid in many months. A reporters committee has come out against the indictment; a scientific group has challenged the secrecy provisions. But unless I’ve missed something, American Jewish organizations have been virtually mute.

We should be outraged by the setup!

We should be outraged by the selective prosecution — Rosen and Weissman are the first to be charged under the provision of the law being cited. Maybe it’s truly AIPAC and the vaunted American-Israeli alliance that is on trial or that is the actual target.

So why the hushed, muted tones of organizational leaders?

I leave it to their able lawyers to make the legal case for Rosen and Weissman, but the moral case also is compelling. From the standpoint of Jewish principles and tradition, the saving of human lives is an essential.

The Bush administration — or at least some within it — seems determined to crack down on the dissemination of government information, even if it impedes the public’s right to know or the right of citizens to participate in the process.

The Jewish community should not be timid in taking a different view. We dare not be sidelined.

Michael Berenbaum is adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, whose mission is to explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.

 

 

 

 

 


All About AIPAC


How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife

Teshuvah for Tots Sets Right Tone


The concept of repentance is hard enough for grown-ups to get, so how do educators make the central themes of the High Holidays real for children?

While projects like tempera-painted honey dishes and party-whistle shofars are de rigueur, preschool and elementary school teachers take seriously the idea of having the High Holiday message of personal accountability set the tone for the whole year.

The Jewish Journal spoke with a few educators to get their thoughts.

Preschool

Nettie Lerner, director of Chabad’s Garden School preschool on Pico Boulevard, teaches about God’s closeness during this time of year through analogy:

“We teach them the story of the king in the field. The king is in his palace the entire year, and once a year he comes out of his palace to meet with all the different people, to get to know them and see how they are doing. He does this for a month all around the kingdom and then goes back to his palace and feels like he knows how to be a more effective king,” she said.

The Garden School also uses the High Holidays to establish rules of engagement among the kids.

The school practices conflict resolution, where a teacher stops the offending action and has each child articulate feelings and establishes empathy. Then, together the children and teacher come up with a resolution.

“We do this over and over, and that’s how we’re able to bring this concept of teshuvah to a preschooler,” Lerner said.

Kindergarten-Second Grade

At Stephen S. Wise elementary school, director of education Metuka Benjamin encourages teachers to use project-based activities around the High Holidays to emphasize Jewish peoplehood.

“First and foremost, we want to help children understand that being Jewish means they are part of a community,” she said. “This community has a shared history, ancestry and value system. We want them to understand that there are Jews all over the world, yet there is a connected spirit that ties us together. At this early age, understanding community is critical to helping them acquire a sense of pride about their backgrounds, while also feeling tied to Jewish friends and family here and around the world.”

Third-Fifth Grade

Rivka Ben-Daniel, director of Hebrew and Judaic studies at Heschel West in Agoura, has the whole school — and parents — blowing shofar every morning leading up to the High Holidays.

She concentrates on the idea of cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. The word “chet,” Hebrew for sin, comes from the root of deviate — indicating that someone has missed a goal they set.

Ben-Daniel has students break into small groups to write a personal and communal “Ashamnu” confessional prayer, focusing on wrongdoings the class may have done as a group, and, privately, what they have done as individuals.

“We put them on paper and then we go to Malibu Creek Canyon, one grade at a time, and we read out loud the class sins, and we say goodbye to the sins and promise to start anew and welcome a new year by promising to strive to be better for the coming year,” Ben-Daniel said.

Teachers

Ben-Daniel goes through a similar exercise with teachers, asking them to account for their wrongdoings with students, teachers and parents.

“We ask the teachers to acknowledge what they have done wrong and to ask for forgiveness, to forgive other people, and to forgive yourself for what you have done wrong,” she said.

In addition, teachers are asked to write goals for themselves “in an area where they want to improve in their educational lives.”

 

Give Some Honey to Apples of Your Eye


The High Holiday Hustle. We know the steps well. It starts with a tireless trek to the mall in search of that stylish synagogue suit. Next comes the culinary juggling act, simultaneously preparing Aunt Sophie’s tzimmes, Bubbe’s killer kugel and a 22-pound turkey, dressed and trimmed. The last step is grooming an entire family and shuffling the whole gang out the door and into the synagogue in under an hour.

The entire dance sequence — minus the shopping — is generally repeated the following day. Scrambling through the better part of October, it’s easy to forget that the true meaning of the High Holiday season can’t be found in Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s or Aunt Sophie’s tzimmes, but in appreciating and giving thanks for life’s sweetest blessings. So steal a few moments from the holiday hoopla to remind the true apples of your eye just how delicious they are. Even the simplest acts can send children a message, as loud and clear as the shofar, that they’re loved and cherished. The following sweet suggestions will help you show your children the honey this Rosh Hashanah and every other day of the brand new year.

Rosh Hashanah Honey for Kids

\n

• Take them to a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop and decorate Kiddush cups, apple plates or honey bowls together.

\n

• Leave Hershey’s Kisses on their pillows on erev Rosh Hashanah, along with a note wishing them a sweet New Year.

\n

• Celebrate the birthday of the world with a family nature hike.

\n

• Give the world a birthday present by planting a tree together.

\n

• Have a honey cake baking party.

\n

• Let them design the Rosh Hashanah tablecloth and challah cover using fabric crayons or markers.

\n

• Make a Rosh Hashanah hunt by giving children clues that lead them to different places in your home — i.e., go to the place where you rest your rosh (head) every night. Have a new clue waiting at each stop and a bag of holiday treats at the final destination.

\n

• Take a family excursion to an orchard for apple picking.

\n

• Bake a round challah together.

\n

• Visit ” target=”_blank”>www.babaganewz.com, where little techies can find Rosh Hashanah games and activities.

\n

• Have a Tashlich ceremony by a lake or river, so children can cast their sins away and start out the year with a fresh, clean slate.

\n

• Turn an apple on its side and cut it in half to reveal a star in the middle. Dip the fruit in washable paint, and let your little stars stamp away.

\n

• Steal some time to read a High Holiday picture book together — even if they say that they’re too old to listen to a story. Some noteworthy choices are “Gershon’s Monster: A Story for the Jewish New Year” by Eric Kimmel (Scholastic, 2000), “The World’s Birthday: A Rosh Hashanah Story,” by Barbara Diamond Goldin (Harcourt, 1990), “Sophie and the Shofar” by Fran Manushkin (Urj, 2001) and “How the Rosh Hashanah Challah Became Round” by Sylvia Epstein (Gefen,1999).

Year-Round Sweet Stuff for Kids

\n

• Flip through photo albums and baby books, and tell them stories about when they were little.

\n

• Have lunch with them at school (note: disregard in case of preadolescence).

\n

• Have a campout in the living room. Roast marshmallows over candles and tell ghost stories by flashlight.

\n

• Give them a coupon that they can redeem for something priceless, like going to a movie with mom or a ballgame with dad.

\n

• Plan a family game night once a week. TVs, cellphones and computers not invited.

\n

• Have an unbirthday party — complete with a cake — for everyone in the family who does not have a birthday that day.

\n

• Take them on a “mystery trip” to a place you rarely go, like an amusement park, sporting event or children’s museum.

\n

• Proudly display their finest schoolwork.

\n

• Transform your family room into a movie theater, complete with tickets and popcorn.

\n

• Send them comic books, baseball cards or other goodies in the mail.

\n

• Create a new family tradition like a weekly pizza-making night.

\n

• Do something completely out of character, like starting a pillow fight.

\n

• Pack dinner up in a picnic basket and eat at the park.

\n

• Watch cartoons with them.

\n

• Make up a secret signal together for saying “I love you.” (Little ones will love being sneaky; older children will be thankful to save face in public.)

\n

• Arrange with the teacher to read a book to their class.

\n

• Host special dinners to celebrate their every day accomplishments, like losing a tooth, scoring a soccer goal or getting an “A” on a science test.

\n

• Slip a joke into their backpacks.

\n

• Ask them for advice about something they know well.

\n

• Tell them you love them — even if they roll their eyes when they hear it — every morning and every night.

L’Shanah Tovah to you and your honeys.

Sharon Estroff is a syndicated Jewish parenting columnist with graduate degrees in education and child psychology.

Holiday Frivolity for Young at Heart


 

Offering the chance to parade in costume as Queen Esther or King Ahasuerus, shake groggers at the mention of Haman’s name and feast on hamantaschen, Purim is the perfect holiday — for our kids’ grandparents and great-grandparents.

At every age, we must be connected to life’s fun side, and Purim, the boisterous and tumultuous holiday that begins this year at sundown on March 24 and celebrates the triumph of the Jews in ancient Persia over enemies determined to destroy them, gives us that opportunity.

But far more than the kids, today’s elders — many of whom are contending with the death of a spouse, poor health, loneliness and dwindling finances — need the frivolity that Purim brings. Of the 35 million Americans who are 65 and older, up to 7 million suffer from some form of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That age group also claims the nation’s highest suicide rate, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

“Laughter is the best medicine,” said Faye Sharabi, activity director for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Valley Storefront, an adult day health-care center in North Hollywood. For the entire month leading up to Purim, Sharabi provides a variety of fun-filled activities, all part of the five-day-a-week program of physical and occupational therapy and socialization for the Storefront’s elderly, physically disabled and/or memory-impaired clients, who range in age from 40 to 99.

“The megillah is a fascinating story that is not just for kids,” said Sharabi, who stresses Queen Esther’s positive outlook and ability to inspire the Jewish people. She arranges a Queen Esther “makeover” for the female participants as well as a beauty pageant, with everyone designated a queen.

“When you’re elderly, you’re still beautiful,” she said.

The highlight, however, is Purim morning, when the king and queen, selected by lottery beforehand, are crowned and feted with flowers, a fiddler playing Jewish songs and a parade.

In addition, costumed second-graders from nearby Adat Ari El Day School come to sing, dance and share hamantaschen that they baked the previous day. They also bring sequins, feathers and other art materials to help the revelers make Mardi Gras-style masks.

“The older people love the kids,” said second-grade teacher Soli Friedman. “They see that the kids care about them and that they are not left alone.”

Other older adults are less interested in intergenerational activities.

“We have too much fun ourselves,” says Paula Fern, director of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Pico-Robertson Storefront and Holocaust Survivors Program.

Her group is Café Europa, a social and support group for Holocaust survivors that was founded in 1987 by social worker Dr. Flo Kinsler, which has spread to other U.S. cities.

In Los Angeles, Café Europa’s Purim celebration, funded by the Claims Conference, is expected to draw approximately 150 survivors. Fern explains that the March 22 event is a party, a catered luncheon with singing in a variety of languages, dancing and feasting. Many of the members, who observe a range of religious practices, attend Megillah readings and carnivals with their families.

For some survivors, the festivities provide an opportunity to recall memories of a happy Jewish childhood in prewar Europe.

Eva David, who grew up in Transylvania, remembers her mother covering every available surface of their house with freshly baked cakes.

“Mother would put each cake in a cloth napkin, and we would take them to the neighbors,” she said. “What a memory. The whole street was filled with Jewish children carrying cakes.”

But other survivors remember that they were being rounded up into ghettoes or concentration camps or were hiding, fleeing or living under false identities when they should have been celebrating Jewish holidays.

John Gordon, born in Budapest, Hungary, and president of Los Angeles’ branch of Child Survivors of the Holocaust, was only 2 when restrictions against the Jews were enacted. His family’s Purim celebration, fresh cookies and a Megillah reading, was confined to their home.

So Café Europa’s parties — “as many as we have funding for,” Fern says — help compensate for survivors’ lost childhoods.

But for all older adults, Purim, the holiday that celebrates the survival of the Jewish people, provides an opportunity to reflect, to recapture childhood memories and to create new ones.

“It’s fascinating that Purim, which is so easily dismissed as a holiday for young children, becomes actually a serious adult-oriented holiday,” said Elon Sunshine, rabbi-in-residence at Heschel Day School.

And a serious time for fun.

 

Reach Out and Touch Faith


 

When Elizabeth Cobrin goes to Israel this winter break with Birthright Israel, she and her friends have devised a plan to find each other when participants in all the different Birthright trips get together.

They are going to sing their camp songs really, really loudly, until they hear each other and can sing together.

Remembering the songs won’t be hard, since Cobrin will spend a week before she goes to Israel in Winter Camp at JCA Shalom in Malibu, her summer home for five years.

Cobrin, a freshman at CSUN, says that her experience at camp, from camper to counselor, has been central to her Jewish identity, and that it stays with her year-round.

“Now that I am a counselor and I’m teaching kids about Judaism and can influence them, it is an even more central part of camp for me,” Cobrin said.

For many kids and counselors who attend Jewish summer camps, these winter months bring a Diasporic separation from a source of spiritual and social life. Camp gives a 21st century context to Judaism, cements Jewish identity and perhaps, most importantly, introduces children to lifelong friends, colleagues and even future spouses.

E-mail, instant messaging and weekend cell phone minutes now play the role that stationery and stamps used to in sustaining relationships. Many camps hold weekend reunions or winter camps, and, of course, some campers return together as counselors to continue spending summers on the same hallowed grounds.

The trick seems to be to weave the threads of camp life into the cloth of daily existence. Jill Zuckerman Powell, director of admissions at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, has no trouble keeping in touch with her friends from Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley more than 30 years ago.

“I’m related to them!” she laughs, explaining that her husband, brother-in-law, pediatrician and veterinarian are all camp pals. “I see them all the time, so it’s easy to stay in touch.”

Jewish camps are known to be one of the best tools of a Jewish education, with their emphasis on multidimensional teaching of values, Hebrew language, culture and religious customs. Young Judaea, a Zionistic youth organization with six camps across the United States, reports in a 1998 survey that 59 percent of alumni light Shabbat candles as compared to 20 percent of the whole Jewish community polled in a 1990 National Jewish Population Study.

The Limud Report, a research project conducted by an independent firm concerned with Jewish life at summer camps, found that 85 percent of Jewish camps conduct Friday night services and that campers cite it as the No. 1 source of spiritual and personal satisfaction in the camp experience. Many recall the magical feeling of standing with the entire camp dressed in white for Shabbat, and walking hand in hand to Friday night services.

For Cobrin, Shabbat services are the most powerful factor in building unity among campers.

“My favorite Jewish activity is Havdalah,” she said. “I think that after such a busy week, it is nice to get the whole camp together in one place…. Knowing that [it] could be the first time all week all the age groups are together and participating in the same program.”

A former camper notes that whether or not you enjoy services, you are there with everyone else with the single purpose of honoring Shabbat.

But it might be the informal weaving of Judaism into day-to-day activities that provides camp’s most powerful impact. Powell points to Alonim’s dancing, music and games that all have elements of Jewish culture. In this way, the construction of kids’ Jewish identity is not even conscious. It is not until they have time to think about all they have learned in the week or the summer that they notice the change in themselves.

“All my identity as a Jew is through camp. Hebrew school and Sunday school were negative experiences for me, as I think they are for many kids,” Powell said.

She met her husband at camp, has sent her two daughters to camp and recommends the experience for every child.

“I wanted to give my children that love,” Powell said, emphasizing camp’s pivotal role in fostering attachment to a Jewish heritage.

She has a tradition that started when taking her 8-year-old daughter to camp:

“You turn off the radio when you get there. It’s almost a spiritual experience, driving down the road to camp.”

And it is that experience that lives on throughout the year. Even in the darkness of winter, campers reach to reconnect with spiritual roots that lie dormant, knowing that the warmth of summer, though a few months away, never really recedes.

 

Teens Gear up for Bicycle Tzedakah


 

With their hands all but frozen, lips blue and feet soaking, nearly 50 South Bay teens and a large handful of adult volunteers braved the storm on Sunday, Dec. 5, to devote their afternoon to testing, cleaning and repairing bicycles.

The second of four Arachim programs, this event focused on tzedakah. Taking over the entire parking lot behind the Palos Verdes Bicycle Center, the volunteers worked on more than 125 bicycles that had been donated by community members for distribution to children at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Care Services and several other local agencies.

“This ended up being a great community event,” said Robin Franko, director of the Jewish Federation/South Bay Council. “We had more bicycles donated than we could have dreamed of and amazing support from local businesses.”

Steve Bowen, Palos Verdes Bicycle Center owner, said, “We had been looking for ways to get involved in the community, to be good citizens. This project made us feel like we were helping out in a big way.”

Bowen provided the space, tools, training and expertise that allowed the volunteers to refurbish the bicycles.

The goal of the Arachim program is to help teens discover the opportunities that exist in their neighborhoods and communities, where their contributions make a significant difference in the lives of other people. The unique project is being observed by numerous synagogues and may serve as a model for communities trying to develop similar programs.

Franko developed Arachim with five South Bay synagogues. Jewish teenagers in eighth and ninth grades meet youngsters from neighboring congregations, while learning about the obligation of mitzvot.

“The South Bay has an incredibly vibrant Jewish community,” Franko said, “and one of my objectives as director for the past year has been to develop programs that will build cohesion and unity within this relatively large geographic area.”

The South Bay encompasses about 35 miles, stretching along the Pacific from Westchester to San Pedro, and is home to nearly 40,000 Jews. It is estimated that only 20 percent are affiliated with South Bay synagogues. Franko said that programs such as Arachim help bring the unaffiliated together and give them a sense of the larger Jewish community.

Teens from B’nai Tikvah in Westchester; Congregation Ner Tamid (CNT), Palos Verdes; Congregation Tifereth Jacob, Manhattan Beach; Temple Beth El, San Pedro; and Temple Menorah, Redondo Beach are expected to be the primary participants, however, students from other synagogues or those unaffiliated with a synagogue are being encouraged to participate.

“We have a very dedicated group of synagogue educators planning these events,” Franko said. “They’ve worked extremely hard to spread the word that kids from all over the South Bay are welcome to participate in these projects.”

Many of the religious schools’ teachers attended the event, fixing bicycles and supervising their students.

“This was an important activity for my class,” said Adam Allenberg, a ninth-grade teacher at Congregation Ner Tamid and a rabbinic education student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “In our last session, we discussed the meaning of tzedakah so that the kids would understand the context of the tradition.”

The point was not lost on the students.

“This was one of the highest forms of tzedakah,” said Mickey, one of Allenberg’s students. “We don’t know who will get the bikes, and the kids who get them don’t know who gave them.”

After the bicycle repairs were completed, Jeff Catania, Vista Del Mar vice president of development, spoke to the group about the children and teenagers who live at Vista Del Mar and the circumstances that brought them to the group home.

In October, more than 40 students gathered at Congregation Ner Tamid, which is located between a nursing home and a residential care facility, for the first Arachim program. Participants were provided an opportunity to perform two mitzvot: bikur holim (visiting the sick) and hiddur p’nei zakein (honoring the elderly).

“This program tapped into the kindness of our students,” said Cheri Ellowitz-Silver, CNT education director. “The children were comfortable and compassionate, and the residents were visibly moved and delighted by their visit.”

Prior to the event, the students participated in a classroom discussion about what these mitzvot mean, and why they are such an important tenet of Judaism.

“It was really neat,” said Adina Knell, an eighth-grader from Manhattan Beach. “It made me feel good to help people in my own community, like I was making a difference.”

Afterward, the students walked back to Ner Tamid for pizza and a social hour, before returning by bus to their area synagogues.

“The social aspect of these events is significant,” Franko said, “and will be a part of all four projects. Again, the purpose of our program is twofold: to give these kids the opportunity to perform meaningful mitzvot and, equally as important, to provide them with a fun and comfortable atmosphere where they will develop strong friendships with other Jewish teens.”

Two more Arachim activities have been scheduled for next year. On Jan. 30, teens will learn about teshuvah (repentance) and sh’mirat ha-guf (respect for one’s body). The students will visit Beit T’Shuvah in West Los Angeles, a residential treatment facility and an agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Beit T’Shuvah provides emotional and spiritual healing to Jews with addictive and behavioral disorders.

On April 17, the students will perform their final mitzvah for the school year, ma-achil r’ayvim (feeding the hungry). They will work at the Project Needs food bank in Redondo Beach, helping to stock shelves and prepare Passover baskets for Jewish families in need of assistance.

The Arachim program is open to all eighth- and ninth-grade students, regardless of synagogue affiliation. For more information or to become involved as an adult volunteer, call Robin Franko, (310) 375-0863.

 

Sweet Days of Summer at Day Camps


Local synagogues, Jewish centers and other cultural organizations are holding day camps throughout the summer months that expose children to Jewish culture, popular culture and even pre-Columbian culture.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Orange County operates two camps in two different locations that cater to different interests and age groups.

For 2- to 4-year-olds, JCC’s Camp Yeladim offers a playful and creative environment in five sessions, with activities including water play days, cooking, sing-alongs, messy art play, puppet shows, family activities, science, oceanography and Judaic exploration.

Each week, Camp Yeladim has a different theme to help the young children experience the world through travel. The themes are: “Traveling America,” “Traveling and Camping,” “Traveling to Hawaii,” “Traveling to the Circus” and “Traveling and Tasting the World.”

Camp Yeladim is held at the JCC at 250 Baker St., Costa Mesa. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays; half days from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The cost for a week is $350 a for members and $455 for nonmembers, or $240 for members and $315 for nonmembers for three days.

For more information contact Roberta Deutschman at (714) 755-0340, ext. 113.

Camp Haverim for kindgerarten children through ninth grade is offering four weekly summer sessions on the grounds of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine. Younger campers can participate in field trips, overnights, beach and swim days, sports, arts and crafts, music, drama, nature, dance, Jewish theme weeks and Shabbat programs.

The older campers have the same programs, but there will be extra activities, including amusement park outings and camping trips. Campers also may choose a one-week specialty sports or theater camp, where they receive coaching by sports experts or rehearse and perform “The Music Man.”

Camp Haverim’s hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with costs ranging from $240 to $400 for members and $340 to $560 for nonmembers. Kosher lunches, Dippin’ Dots, T-shirts and camp pictures can be purchased for additional fees, and scholarships are available to qualified campers.

For more information call (714) 755-0340 ext. 126 or go to www.jccoc.org.

Silver Gan Israel offers a combination of Jewish life and culture, along with summer activities such as sports, arts and crafts and nature hikes. The camp is offered in two locations: the Hebrew Academy at 14401 Willow Lane, Huntington Beach, and Morasha Jewish Day School, 30482 Avenida de Los Banderas, Rancho Santa Margarita.

Both camps are open to children entering kindergarten through seventh grade and have a counselor-in-training program for students 13 to 18.

The camp’s focus is Jewish heritage and instilling appreciation for Jewish culture. Weekend Shabbatons, Israeli dancing, challah baking, stories and contests will be overseen by Jewish counselors brought to the camp from all over the world.

“All of our counselors come from working with children or in children’s programs within their local Jewish community in different parts of the world,” said co-director, Bassie Marcus. “Jewish spirit and identity is very important to every counselor with Silver Gan Israel.”

About 200 campers are expected to enroll at both locations. The camp schedules three two-week sessions, and campers can attend either all five days or just three days a week. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.

For campers in fourth grade or higher, an overnight and getaway trip to Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains is offered in early August.

Cost per session is $350 for five days and $260 for three days. There are extra fees for T-shirts, baseball caps and tote bags.

For more information contact Joelle at the Morasha camp office at (949) 770-1270 or Rabbi Yossi Mentz at the Hebrew Academy campus office at (714) 898-0051.

Morasha is also offering a summer camp program for preschool-age children who can attend two-, three- or five-days a week for full- or half-day sessions. Activities include art, music, drama and storytelling, daily water play in an inflatable pool, weekly themes and Shabbat every Friday.

“Each week is a different theme like bubbles, circus, sand and red, white and blue that includes art, music and stories that go with that week’s theme,” said program director Lin Goldman.

Camp hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with an hour of quiet time after lunch. The program lasts eight weeks and costs $155 a week, $100 for three days and $75 for two days.

For more information contact Goldman at (949) 459-6330.

Congregation B’nai Israel holds Camp B’nai Ruach at the synagogue, 2111 Bryan Ave., Tustin. The camp’s programs are designed to teach Jewish heritage to grade schoolers.

The camp is divided into five age groups: kindergarten, first- and second-graders, third- and fourth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders. Seventh- through ninth-graders serve as counselors-in-training.

The camp meets weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in six one-week sessions. Campers go to the beach on Tuesdays, cool off at the pool on Wednesdays and take a field trip Thursdays related to the week’s theme. Field trips range from the Los Angeles Zoo to Carlsbad’s Legoland.

Cost for Camp B’nai Ruach is $195 a week for synagogue members to $225 for nonmembers. There is a $10 discount for extra children per week and additional costs for registration fees and camp T-shirts.

For more information on Camp B’nai Ruach contact Barbara Sherman at (714) 730-9693 or go to www.cbi18.org.

Temple Beth Sholom operates Camp Sholom at 2625 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana. Camp Sholom offers daily activities integrated with Jewish values. Campers’ grades are kindergarten to sixth, while seventh- to ninth-graders take part as counselors-in-training.

“All of our activities are based on Jewish living 24/7,” said camp director Rabbi Heidi Cohen. “We dedicate all day Friday to Shabbat at the temple, and at the end of the day, we imagine lighting candles and drinking from our Kiddush cups in observance of Shabbat.”

Every day is opened with Jewish songs and morning blessings, and Hebrew is used continually in the camp. Campers refer to staff members in Hebrew as madrichim meaning leaders, and each group is given a Hebrew name like rishonim, which means the “first ones”; chalutzim, “pioneers”; and habonim “builders.”

Sholom campers can attend camp five or three days a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are off-campus days, with trips to the beach or local theme parks; Wednesday afternoons are for swimming. Camp hours are weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended morning hours from 7:30 a.m. and evening hours to 6 p.m.

Camp Sholom costs $194 for members and $221 for nonmembers for the first session; $184 for members and $210 for nonmembers for the second session; and $168 for members and $194 for nonmembers for the third session. Prices are less if parents choose only three days a week per session. One T-shirt will be provided with the cost of camp, and there is a $30 nonrefundable registration fee for each camper.

For more Camp Sholom information contact Rabbi Cohen at (714) 628-4600 or go to www.tbsoc.com.

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana offers a day camp through its Kidseum that introduces children to foreign cultures. Kidseum offers seven weekly sessions for children 6 to 8 years old and 9 to 12. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours available for an extra charge.

Each session has a distinct theme or explores a different culture. Themes include a “Historical Journey,” “Pacific Rim Odyssey,” “Art of the Pioneers,” “Art of the American Indian,” “The Americans,” “Pre-Columbian Art Adventure” and “African Safari.” All programs include visits to the Bowers’ galleries, theme-oriented art projects and interactive music and dance periods.

Kidseum has space for only 30 campers each session. Cost per session is $165 for nonmembers and $150 for members.

For more information contact Genevieve Barrios Southgate
at (714) 480-1522 or go to

Back to the Desert


Modern Jews must possess an ancient collective memory to stay out of the desert. I only had enough vacation days saved up for the Memorial Day weekend, not enough for 40 years of wandering.

But Arie Katz, founder of Orange County’s Community Scholar Program, which sponsored this second annual retreat, promised that we would be on schedule. And I have learned to never doubt Arie. So we loaded up the car and headed for the desert.

Arriving at La Casa del Zorro Desert Resort, we unpacked into our beautiful luxury room overlooking one of the five swimming pools. This four-diamond resort is located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in the contiguous United States. It covers more than 600,000 acres of rugged, pristine and diverse terrain with spectacular canyons, sand dunes and desert mountains. And now this panoramic but forbidding place was the temporary home of 40-plus Orange County Jewish families. I thought to myself, “How can anyone learn anything in this heat?”

I was wrong.

Rivy Kletenik, our weekend scholar-in-residence, writes and teaches on topics of Jewish interest throughout the world. Taking a cue from the western tableaux, her lively weekend discussions centered on the theme of “Wild Stories of The Talmud & Midrash: the Thin Precipice Between Life and Death.”

A graduate of Pittsburgh’s Hillel Academy, Jerusalem College for Women, Hebrew University and Touro College, Rivy was also recently selected by the Covenant Foundation to receive the Covenant award for outstanding Jewish educators.

Rivy’s lectures were the icing on the cake of an extensive schedule complete with religious services, lectures, gourmet meals and separate activities for younger children. Before we began each morning, Josh Lake, our tribe’s in-house naturalist, offered a sunrise desert walk to help us better appreciate our surroundings. (Confession: I never woke up in time to join the hike. Maybe next year.)

Shabbat was a beautiful sight: 120 Orange County Jews in the desert, from a dozen different congregations, shvitzing and celebrating Shabbat together as a unified community. Congregation B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Elie Spitz led Shabbat services, as well as master songleader Dale Schatz to focused our ruach (spirit).

Our 4-year-old daughter, Adina, loved it. She quickly made friends with all of the other children and fell in love with the weekend’s teen counselors. Her two favorites, sisters Jaclyn and Elena Bendroff, played with Adina during Shabbat free time and babysat her each night.

The weekend was spectacular, not only from an intellectual standpoint, but as a Jewish parent and communal professional. It was refreshing to see so many generations of Jewish families — some with children, some without — learning together, singing together and laughing together.

At the end of the weekend, everyone agreed to meet back in the desert again next year. And, just as Arie promised, the retreat ended as scheduled.

I’ve already put in for my vacation during Memorial Day weekend next year. Wanna join us?

To receive information about the CSP or sign up for next year’s annual desert retreat, visit

Transition to New Center Under Way


The transition by Orange County’s Jewish Community Center (JCC) to an expansive $20 million facility in Irvine this summer is already underway with the hiring, effective March 1, of an expanded management team.

On the job only a few months, Dan M. Bernstein, the JCC’s executive director, is also moving swiftly to tidy up a homegrown, informal culture and instill more professionalism in the organization. Besides reassigning staff and making new hires, Bernstein is pushing to establish more rigorous policies about membership and community use at the new facility.

At least Bernstein can avoid wrestling with the threat of court-imposed restrictions on hours of operation, as neighboring homeowners in January dropped a lawsuit seeking such limits. To allay noise concerns by residents, both sides agreed to restrict usage in the gymnasium to 10 p.m., said James W. Kauker, a board member of the Sierra Bonita Homeowners Association and president of Irvine Residents for Responsible Growth, which helped pay for the litigation. The gym is closest to the Turtle Rock neighborhood.

Still unresolved is paying for landscaping to obscure the multistory building, uphill from homes on Sierra Lago Road. The forest of mature trees on the homeowners’ wish list would cost $700,000, Kauker said, while the JCC has agreed to an additional $100,000 worth of plantings. Residents intend to ask city government to fund the difference.

"We’re hoping the city will do the right thing," Kauker said, because city officials failed to adhere to development notification rules when issuing permits for the campus.

The facility still under construction in Irvine is expansive and includes an infant-care facility, preschool, fitness center and gymnasium large enough to accommodate two basketball games. There are areas designated for workout classes, adult education and massage. When completed, there will be lockers for swimmers, space for an art exhibit, playground and Holocaust memorial.

In addition, the JCC will have a cafe, poolside snack bar and kosher kitchen to prepare hot food, which is partially for the use of high school students on the neighboring campus of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. The center’s multipurpose theater will seat 500.

Typically, the fitness center and athletic facilities are what 70 percent of JCC members seek, Bernstein said, noting that the current 30,000-square-foot JCC in Costa Mesa was inadequate to offer more typical amenities.

"A normal JCC has teen activities, a parenting center, athletic activities," he said. "Outside of preschool and camp, we didn’t have 90 percent of what a normal JCC does." The director predicted that the new 120,000-square-foot JCC will support a program guide an inch thick.

"We have to change the way we do business," Bernstein said. "I know what it takes to open this building. It’s going to be very expensive to run this building."

A new emphasis will be placed on boosting JCC membership, which had not previously been mandatory, even for board members. Contracts are under review, too, with independent contractors, such as those who for years have offered Krav Maga self-defense classes and Israeli folk dancing on JCC premises.

"They will be our programs, on our terms," Bernstein said.

His goal is to increase a current membership of 900 units to 1,000 in a year and to double that in three years. In addition, he hopes to standardize fees, which now vary by category.

Among the new staff starting this month are some familiar faces in unfamiliar roles. The current 12-member staff is expected to more than double — up to 30 — when the new facility opens, now expected in September.

Sean Eviston, hired as director of health, recreation and physical education, worked as fitness coordinator at the Westside JCC in Los Angeles.

Sheila Witzling, who volunteered her marketing skills to JCC projects, such as the "Three Tenors" concert, accepted a staff position as director of marketing and membership. Witzling most recently worked for the Identity Group, an Irvine marketing firm. She is also president of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel.

Wendy Miller of Aliso Viejo will return to the JCC as special events and fundraising coordinator. Jason Meyers, who developed the JCC’s after-school sports program and Sunday leagues, was named director of a new JCC sports camp.

Bernstein also mined his former employer in Sarasota, Fla., hiring two former employees to serve as the JCC’s camp director and teen coordinator. Wendy Fogel will succeed outgoing camp director Sari Poremba. Audra Martin will take on the new position of teen and tween program supervisor, charged with developing after-school, weekend and summer youth programs.

Bernstein believes JCCs play a vital role in maintaining Jewish identity and solidifying the Jewish community. His 84-year-old father is still a dues-paying JCC member. When Bernstein asked why, his father told him, "Because my picture is on the wall," referring to a dated team photograph.

"I want everyone who comes through the door to see their face [on the wall]," Bernstein said.

Turkish Jews: We’ll Carry On


The recent bombings of two Istanbul synagogues won’t end the tradition of openness in Turkey’s Jewish community — and it could even make the community more cohesive, leaders say.

At the same time, the attacks are unlikely to force Turkey to retreat from its alliances with Israel and the United States, according to analysts. It could even push the secular state away from the Muslim world and further toward the West.

Standing Sunday near the entrance to the rubble-strewn street that leads to Istanbul’s bombed Neve Shalom synagogue, a leader of Turkey’s Jewish community looked out on the scene of destruction illuminated by the glow of police investigators’ emergency lights and television spotlights.

Only a few months before, the community had opened synagogue doors in Istanbul’s Galata district as part of an annual Europe-wide day celebrating Jewish culture. There were musical performances in Ladino and photo exhibits inside the different synagogues. Overflow crowds — mostly non-Jews — turned out for the events.

Despite the security concerns brought on by Saturday’s nearly simultaneous bombings of Neve Shalom and of the Beit Israel synagogue, located several miles away, the community will put on the same program next year, the leader said.

“We patch our wounds and go on,” said Lina Filiba, the community’s executive vice president. “We want life to continue like before. The synagogues have to stay open. Life has to go on.”

A group linked to Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks. Given the sophistication of the bombings, Turkish and Israeli officials are inclined to believe the claim.

The bombings killed 24 and injured more than 300 people. At least six Jews were killed and some 60 Jews injured.

If Al Qaeda indeed is involved, it may be difficult for the Jewish community — and Turkey itself — to return to life as it was before.

“The big question mark is, who did it and who were their local collaborators?” said Rifat Bali, a Jewish historian who has written extensively about Turkeys’ Jews. “For sure there were local collaborators, and that makes it much worse. That means you have a nucleus of local terrorists who are targeting you and who are here permanently.”

In recent years, the normally insular community has started reaching out to the general public and making itself more accessible. The process began with the mostly Sephardi community’s gala celebrations in 1992 to mark the Jews’ arrival in Turkey from Spain 500 years before.

For many community leaders, the standing-room-only crowds at the recent Jewish cultural events were another sign that the new policy was having a positive impact on Jewish life in Turkey.

But the synagogue bombings may put a halt to the Jewish community’s openness, Bali said.

“Now the community’s worst fears have been realized, so there may be people who will ask why the community is opening up,” he said. “This will mean that on a community and individual level, people will close upon themselves.”

Some members also fear that the attacks will force the community to temporarily curtail its own internal activities. For example, some parents of students at Istanbul’s Jewish high school already have expressed fears about sending their children to the school, which is visibly Jewish.

Now “we will always worry about getting together, about having meetings, and community life will be much harder,” said Viktor Kuzu, 25, who works in an advertising agency and volunteers as an editor at Salom, the Turkish Jewish newspaper.

“We were expecting something like this, we just didn’t know when it would happen,” he said. “Now it happened, and we’re wondering what will happen next.”

While people are afraid, Kuzu said he doesn’t feel the attacks will cause Jews to pull away from the community.

“Maybe there’s an opposite effect,” he said. “Maybe it will make people understand what it is to be Jewish; they will understand what it is to be a community. I can tell you that this event will bring the Jewish youth much closer together.”

In the aftermath of the bombings, Turkey’s Jews are facing immediate questions about rehabilitating the injured and rebuilding the damaged synagogues.

Community psychologists are visiting hospitals and the homes of those who lost relatives in the attack.

“It’s a community and it’s our duty to help our people — not only our people, but anybody who was wounded,” Filiba said.

A team also is conducting surveys of the two attacked synagogues to assess the damage. According to a community official, Neve Shalom, Istanbul’s central synagogue, escaped major structural damage but will need to rebuild its eviscerated entrance.

The Beit Israel synagogue in the Sisli neighborhood was damaged more seriously and will require extensive rebuilding, the official said.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups from elsewhere around the globe have come to Turkey to help. A team from the Jewish Agency for Israel came with psychologists, and the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC), which has set up a fund to help rebuild the damaged synagogues, is meeting with community leaders to assess the needs.

“In my opinion, the community has the ability to get over this. They have a strong leadership,” said Amir Bergman, the JDC official responsible for Turkey. “I’m sure this community is strong and is standing up nicely to this crisis, and will mange to organize during this tough time.”

“At this point we need to sit with the community and find out what they need and then come to their help, not to pile up on them with help they don’t need,” he added.

As the community contemplates the road ahead, the government is confronting what could be a stark new reality for Turkey.

Sami Kohen, a political analyst and veteran columnist with the Turkish daily Milliyet, said the attacks could push Turkey toward closer cooperation with the United States and Israel in the fight against terrorism.

“Turkey is now included in the war-on-terror front,” Kohen said. If the bombers wanted “to force Turkey to change course, to take a cooler attitude toward Israel or the West, that’s not going to happen.”

Israeli intelligence and explosives experts joined Turkish officials Sunday in investigating the bombings. Also on Sunday, Israel’s foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, paid a visit to the two devastated synagogues, laying wreathes of chrysanthemums in the rubble.

Shalom later met with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul.

The attacks show that “terror is at work everywhere, and not necessarily in one specific country or another,” Shalom said. “I think that the operation here shows both Turkey and other countries in the world that no place is immune to terrorism.”

While the probe continues, Turkish officials have begun to release more details about the attacks. Turkey’s interior minister, Abdulkadir Aksu told The Associated Press that he is “more than 95 percent” sure that the attacks were the work of suicide bombers.

According to Turkish police officials, the attacks were carried out by an identical pair of Isuzu delivery trucks, each packed with some 880 pounds of explosives, a mix of ammonium sulfate, nitrate and compressed fuel. The explosives had been put into containers wrapped in sacks and hidden among containers of detergent. Though directed at the synagogues, the attacks killed and injured mostly Muslims who were working near the buildings or passing by. Funerals were held Sunday for many of the Muslims killed.

The Jewish community will hold funerals for its members on Tuesday.

As investigators continue to sift through the rubble, Turkish analysts said the two bombings could have significant domestic implications for Turkey.

Turkey is ruled by the Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, a new political party that traces its roots to Turkey’s political Islamic movement. Party leaders have distanced themselves from their Islamist past, but the country’s entrenched secular establishment has remained suspicious of them.

If Turkish Islamist groups are found to have participated in the attacks, it could heat up the simmering conflict between the AKP government and the secularists, political scientist Ali Carkoglu said.

“If the secularists can show that there has been a linkage with a domestic pro-Islamist group that hasn’t been properly followed or acted against, then the domestic implications could be very severe,” he said. “I have no expectations that [the AKP government] will try to protect these groups; that would be foolish, and I don’t think they have sympathy for them. But the way this country works, people will ask inflammatory questions and that will cause headaches.”

Milliyet’s Kohen said that if Turkey finds out that foreign terrorist groups had made inroads in the country and found local recruits, the reaction would be swift.

“The Turks are quite determined on one thing, and that is the fight against terrorism,” Kohen said. “The Turkish government, any Turkish government, is not going to yield to pressure when it comes to terrorism. If anything, it would strengthen its resolve.”

Cal State Bridges Culture Gap


The Los Angeles campus of California State University hardly seems fertile ground to introduce studies on Jewish culture and history.

Located five miles east of the downtown Civic Center, Cal State L.A. has some 21,000 students, of whom more than half are Latino, almost a quarter Asian American and 8.4 percent African American.

Among the 15.7 percent non-Hispanic whites, Jews make up such an insignificant portion that no statistics, or even good guesstimates, are available.

It is precisely because of this lopsided ethnic minority makeup that Carl M. Selkin is working hard to add a Jewish component to the curriculum.

"Our students, who are tomorrow’s public school teachers, have no connection with Jews in their lives and studies," said Selkin, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. "Many are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and they need to know about the Jewish contributions to American society and the building of Los Angeles."

The campus site is near Boyle Heights, once home to a vibrant Jewish community before and during World War II. But by the time the campus was opened in 1956, almost all Jews had departed for the Fairfax area and the Westside.

That means that few students have had any regular contacts with Jews, leaving only a residue of anti-Semitic stereotypes and myths.

The Jewish studies program will start out fairly modestly next year (2004) by expanding present courses to reflect Jewish contributions in a given field. Selkin expects that the first such courses will be in the history of the film industry and in American literature.

As the program — and financial resources — grow, he hopes to add Jewish-oriented lectures by visiting experts, research projects, scholarships and special events.

These studies and activities will be part of the university’s American Communities Program, which has received challenge grants form the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation.

However, to put the Jewish program on a sound financial footing, Selkin is seeking an endowment of $200,000 from Jewish community organizations and individuals.

The obvious question remains whether Latino, Asian and black students will have the interest, and time, to study about American Jewish culture, history and the immigrant experience.

Spare time is a factor since most students commute to campus, hold part-time jobs, and frequently are older men and women preparing for second careers.

Nevertheless, there are "lots of possibilities for the program to make an impact, if carefully planned," said professor Peter Brier, who taught English on campus for three decades.

"Many students are curious about Jews, beyond the myths and stereotypes," he said. "There is a growing interest in religious studies, including Judaism and Islam."

Brier also thinks that the current students, drawn largely from East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, may show a historical interest in the Jewish immigrants who preceded them in their communities.

Rabbi Michael Perelmuter, who worked with the now defunct Hillel Extension program on campus, believes that many Christian students, especially among Asian Americans, will wish to explore the Jewish roots of their faith.

"It will take an effort, but it is important to keep Jewish culture and history on the radar screen," he said.

One plus factor is the relatively large number of Jewish faculty members on campus. Seymour Levitan, who served as chairman of the psychology department, recalled that, in the 1960s, roughly one-quarter of his 100 full- and part-time academic staff was Jewish.

Although the number has declined as the older Jewish professors retire and are largely replaced by non-Jewish faculty, there still remains a sufficient core who could serve as instructors and supporters of a Jewish program, if they are willing.

Cal State L.A. has never approached the Jewish activism and presence found at the top American academic institutions, private and public, with their large and largely affluent Jewish enrollment and attractive Hillel centers.

On the other hand, the L.A. campus has been largely immune to pro-Palestinian demonstrations and confrontations.

"These issues don’t really interest our student body," Brier said.

However, there was a time, from the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s, when Cal State students regularly met for Shabbat dinners and Passover seders at off-campus homes, Perelmuter recalled, and there was even a short-lived Aish HaTorah campus chapter in the 1960s.

Between 1975 and 1991, Perelmuter served as the "itinerant" Hillel Extension rabbi for Occidental College, Caltech and Cal State L.A., until the extension program was axed for lack of funds.

"We weren’t all that large, but we had up to 50 Cal State students signed up with Hillel, we had speakers and cultural programs and some excellent interfaith dialogues," said Perelmuter, who is now director of interreligious affairs for the regional American Jewish Committee.

For more information on the Jewish studies program at Cal State L.A., contact Dean Carl M. Selkin at (323) 343-4001. Tax deductible contributions can be sent to Selkin, College of Arts and Letters, Cal State L.A,. 5151 University Drive, Los Angeles, CA, 90032-8100. Checks should be made payable to "The CSLA Foundation/Jewish American Endowment."

Valley Festival Draws Thousands


It was a sunny day in Woodland Hills — perhaps a little too sunny — but the heat did not stop the 11th biennial Los Angeles Jewish Festival from creating some heat of its own.

"More booths, more vendors, more of everything" is how festival co-chair Nancy Parris Moskowitz described this year’s gathering, sponsored by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and a host of Jewish organizations and corporate sponsors, which attracted a multiethnic group of some 30,000 people throughout the day. Moskowitz also welcomed the festival’s return to the Pierce College campus, where attendees benefited from "good parking, lots of access and lots of shade."

Ken Warner, Valley Alliance president, was proud that the festival’s $125,000 price tag "is not costing The Federation any money. We did this by asking businesses to contribute."

In keeping with this year’s social action theme, "World Jewry," Becquie Kishineff, who went on a mission to Argentina last November, enlisted the graphic art services of an unemployed Argentine Jew she had met for a special Jewish unity-themed jigsaw puzzle project sponsored by the Valley Alliance.

"He spent hundreds of hours working on it but he didn’t want to accept any money," Kishineff said. "There are people out there who still want to give."

And the festival gave its all in reflecting the diversity of Jewish Los Angeles. Among those occupying booths: Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); organizations and nonprofits of every stripe from the Anti-Defamation League to StandWithUs and Million Mom March; Yiddish and Jewish culture societies; and grass-roots clubs, such as the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework.

"Part of our mission is to have a visible presence in the community," said Bill Rice of GaySantaBarbara.org, which hosted the Gay Cafe alongside food kiosks Klassic Knishes and Kosher Connection.

Judaica and art vendors ranged from a Shop for Israel shuk to local artists. The Main Stage showcased live music all day long, and kids had plenty of activities to choose from — everything from rock-climbing and Family Stage entertainment, to the Temple Beth Torah of Mar Vista booth, which offered kids a respite from the heat with some storytelling. Keith Levy, director of programs at Congregation B’nai Emet of Simi Valley, showed children such as Abby Leven, 10, of West Hills, how to play the shofar just in time for Rosh Hashanah.

Abby’s father, Paul Leven, who also brought his wife, Saralyn, and 12-year-old son, Aaron, summed up the festival’s appeal: "We like to see our friends and to check out the booths."

Listening to Needs


When kids from Sinai Temple celebrate Chanukah with the members of Temple Beth Solomon (TBS) in Tarzana on Friday night, Dec. 6, they’ll notice that the service is slower and streamlined, but that the singing is performed with every bit as much gusto as a “Friday Night Live” service. And the kids themselves will be able to join in, having learned how to sign the “Shema” when TBS members paid a visit to Sinai.

Building bridges between the deaf and hearing communities is the goal of programs like those of TBS and the group Our Way, which is aimed at observant Jews. More than ever in history, deaf Jews are looking to connect with their heritage and trying to overcome the frustration of a hearing Jewish community that, while well-meaning, still doesn’t seem to “get it.”

For example, a number of people — like the producers of the “Hallelu” concert held Oct. 20 at the Universal Amphitheatre — are attempting to make their programs more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing by providing interpreters. While the deaf community appreciates the gesture, TBS administrator Jan Seely believes it misses the point.

“You could have someone sign the music but it’s not the same experience,” she said. “There is something in the music you will never get through an interpreter. You’ll get lyrics, you might get rhythm, but you’re not getting the essence.” Not only that, but as TBS lay leader Roz Robinson points out, there is a large constituency of older Jews who missed out on having a Jewish education because they attended residential schools for the deaf. As a result, they lack the basics that most rabbis and teachers take for granted when giving a lecture and are unable to appreciate what is being signed to them in temple services and sermons.

“If the material of the sermon is over their heads and nothing they can relate to, the deaf would be lost even with an interpreter, because an interpreter doesn’t explain anything,” Robinson said. “The interpreter only translates what is being said into sign language. The Hebrew portion of any service is also a problem. Most interpreters will only sign, ‘speaking Hebrew.'”

In general, there are numerous problems for the Jewish deaf, which probably never occur to those who can hear. If you are trying to follow an interpreter and your attention wanders, you may not be able to find your place again in the service. And what if the lighting is poor or there are other visual obstructions? At one Orthodox service that hosted deaf visitors, the mechitza made it almost impossible to follow the service when seated in the women’s section.

Even participating in Jewish communal and social activities presents a challenge.

Robinson, the only deaf person in her family of four, expressed frustration with the fact that she has never been able to fully participate in the sisterhoods at either of the hearing shuls her family joined. Although she is a very animated talker and speaks clearly enough to be easily understood, Robinson said the few times she attended Jewish communal events she never spoke up, fearing that by the time she jumped into the conversation the others would have already moved on to another topic — and she would be left looking and feeling foolish.

“Large group discussions are impossible for deaf people to follow and participate in, even with an interpreter, because people talk in random order and because the deaf are always one step behind whatever is happening,” she said.

“I can’t really see any temple providing full access for the deaf except for our temple, because it is designed by and for deaf people,” Robinson said. “We understand all the pitfalls and can meet individual needs in our small group.” However, TBS is affiliated with the Reform movement. For more observant Jews, Our Way may provide a more fitting alternative, helping its members integrate into hearing Orthodox congregations.

Our Way is a New York-based national organization run by Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, the hearing son of two deaf parents who has two deaf daughters among his six children.

When Lederfeind became observant as an adult, he noticed “there were certainly clubs for the Jewish deaf but it was not the same as having a real level of observance and commitment.”

He began working with deaf Jewish teenagers and gradually expanded the program to include family Shabbatons, programs teaching Torah via e-mail and a sports program for deaf children with separate gyms for boys and girls. The organization even has a matchmaking service, the Jewish Deaf Singles Registry (www.jdsr.org).

Lori Moore, a North Hollywood mother of two boys and a teenage girl, leads the Our Way chapter in California. Her sons, Jason, 20, and Andrew, 12, are both deaf. She said the family’s involvement with Our Way has helped her children to integrate better into their community. She recently helped plan a Shabbaton hosted at Shaarey Zedek that drew participants from across the country. “The Shabbaton was a good eye-opener,” she said. “People could see how the deaf are really excluded from the community. Even when we want rabbis to come speak to the Our Way group, they are apprehensive. I really wish, with all the money the shuls raise, that they would give some to Our Way to help people stay in touch with their Judaism.”

Jason Moore, reached in New York, said there have been difficulties (“In middle school, I wasn’t exactly welcomed among my peers”), he wrote in an e-mail, but that there have been certain advantages to having a hearing loss, including the strength of the deaf community.

“It’s amazing how much the deaf look after their own,” he said. “Also, I can shut off my hearing aids when conversations start to annoy me.”

His challenges as a religious Jew who is also deaf are more complex. They include issues like not being able to hear the shofar being blown and questions from others about whether he is “able to be Yoseh under someone else’s bracha” — in other words, whether halachically he is able to perform a mitzvah on behalf of other people, like reading the Megillah, if he cannot hear it and therefore cannot fulfill the mitzvah for himself.

Still, while some deaf Jews remark that they would characterize themselves as deaf first and Jewish second, Jason Moore disagrees.

“I am a Jew; deafness is secondary,” he said. “Deafness only applies in this olam hazeh [this world] whereas being Jewish applies in this world and the next.”

“Being a religious Jew overtakes any ‘defect’ a person might have, because whatever your defect, you are always Jewish,” Moore said.

The Moore family and Robinson, while on very different ends of the religious spectrum, do agree on one thing: hearing and deaf communities should continue to strive for greater inclusion, on both sides.

“TBS is open to all,” Robinson said. “Our services are completely voiced in addition to signed, so that anyone can follow along with us.”

The Lure of Extremism


As these words are written, Irv Rubin, the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) lies in a coma, the apparent victim of self-inflicted wounds.

Having known Irv and the activities of the local JDL for over a quarter-century, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what animated someone like Irv to expend his prodigious energies in what were often pointless and counterproductive activities. For a man who was rational, and with whom one could discuss cause and effect and the logic of doing things one way (the non-inflammatory way) as opposed to another, it always amazed me how he would invariably choose the wrong path.

Whether choosing to picket the home of Tom Metzger in rural Fallbrook, when Metzger was a candidate for Congress in the early 1980s or choosing to defy the desires of the local community (Jews and non-Jews) by physically confronting a march of the pathetic remnant of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho in the mid-90s, Irv was usually less concerned about the effect of what he did than the act of doing it and the publicity that ensued.

In following that modus operandi, Irv betrayed an attitude and world view that could only be described as extremist. Irv felt good picketing in front of Metzger’s home and got attention; Metzger was, after all, a bigot and head of the California Ku Klux Klan. But, as I remember asking Irv at the time, in trying to dissuade him from demonstrating, how many votes did he think that his presence would generate for Metzger? A 6-foot-plus Jewish militant coming down from Los Angeles and harassing a neighbor was hardly a political adviser’s recommendation on how to defeat Metzger’s bid in rural north San Diego County.

Irv understood — but he went and did his thing anyway. He had a different agenda than actually impacting the vote in the Metzger election. That same conflicted set of priorities played itself out time and time again.

In the days after Buford Furrow’s attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center and his murder of Joseph Ileto, there was an unprecedented rally against hate attended by thousands of Angelenos. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno, Gov. Gray Davis, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and representatives of virtually every ethnic, racial and religious community were there. The only disruptive voice was Irv’s. He screamed and yelled while the governor and attorney general spoke, complaining about gun control legislation. How ironic that in a setting of unity and harmony — and in the wake of profound tragedy — his would be the lone voice of disharmony.

A review of Irv’s public life reflects his inability to free himself from the lure of extremism and the attention that it generates. Other than a brief period two decades ago when he ran for the Republican nomination for the Assembly and thought that, with some moderation, he might actually get elected, his career was one that had a disturbing symbiosis with extremism.

In every group, perhaps minority groups more than others because of the legitimate grievances that they often have, there is a constituency for a leader that brooks no compromise and offers "in your face" rhetoric to the rest of the world.

Whether Louis Farrakhan for the African American community, Meir Kahane and Irv for the Jews or the leaders of the hate-filled Nation of Aztlan in the Latino community, there is a small-but-solid core of folks who relish a militant leader who tells them, "I’m standing up for you and I don’t give a damn what they think." The "they" changes, but the tone, intensity and message don’t.

Irv played to that constituency in the Jewish community with occasional success. To the extent that other organizations in the Jewish community were seen as vocal — even militant — and effective, it cut into his audience. No wonder that he spent a significant amount of his energy attacking Jewish defense organizations — he had to discredit his perceived competition.

As Irv’s constituency got smaller, his need to act out and demonstrate his continued vitality and usefulness became even greater. No wonder that the crime of which he recently stood accused happened at the end of his career when his following was, literally, microscopic. He desperately needed to prove his relevance, no matter the manner.

The tragedy of Irv’s career is that his energy could have been put to useful purpose. The hours of picketing and harassing and the thought given to one enterprise after another might have borne fruit had they been directed toward positive ends. Perhaps a lesson for us all.

The Friends of Irv Rubin are organizing a prayer vigil for him at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at County-USC Medical Center, 1200 N. State St., Los Angeles. Those coming should bring a candle.


David A. Lehrer is president of Community Advocates Inc., a newly formed human relations organization in Los Angeles with former L.A. Mayor Richard J. Riordan as its chairman and Joe R. Hicks as its vice president.