L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move


A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.

Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.

BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.

But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.

The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.

“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.

But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.

Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.

Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.

“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”

Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.

“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.

Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.

The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.

“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people.  The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part.  But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”

Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.

“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”

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Jews Embrace Life in the Conejo Valley


It took me 15 years of living on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley to find what I was looking for — a Jewish lifestyle in Los Angeles fit for my family.

It has been seven years — although it seems a lot longer — since my family and I moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Conejo Valley. The Conejo Valley stretches from the hills of Calabasas in the West San Fernando Valley to the Camarillo grade, encompassing the cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park. It is part L.A. County and part Ventura County.

This area of Los Angeles is not that well-known by Jews on the Westside, but year after year, more and more Jews are migrating westward. Starting in Boyle Heights, then through Fairfax, Beverly Hills, the Westside and into the San Fernando Valley, Jews in Los Angeles have left a trail steeped in tradition, success and community involvement. And, now, as this westward migration continues through Woodland Hills and West Hills and into Calabasas and the Conejo Valley, we expect nothing less from our Jewish leadership.

At last count the Conejo Valley has two Reform temples, two Conservative temples, one modern Orthodox synagogue, five Chabad houses and a Jewish day school, a small JCC/preschool, a kosher makolet (grocery store), a glatt kosher pizza place, a glatt kosher restaurant and a Judaica store. A kosher bakery is on the way. If you’re a Reconstructionist, you will be accommodated with a 10-minute drive over the hill into Malibu. (We joined Temple Beth Haverim, a small temple in Agoura Hills housed in an industrial park that used to rent classrooms at the local public elementary school for Hebrew school. It turned out that, after school, at least five kids in my eldest son’s public school class walk down the hall into his Hebrew school class.)

Many Jewish organizations are now focusing their efforts on the West Valley and Conejo Valley. These organizations include some of Hadassah fastest-growing groups, the New Community Jewish High School located at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, and the Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills. Heschel West Day School — now located in a temporary location in Agoura Hills — is looking forward to moving into its new location, also located in Agoura Hills, the land for which has already been purchased.

The largest contingent of Los Angeles Hebrew High School this past year has come from the Conejo Valley (including Calabasas and parts West), accounting for more than 200 of the 500 students. So it is not surprising that next year’s Sunday campus of Hebrew High will be at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where they will have almost one-third more classrooms than their current home at the University of Judaism. Hebrew High will be busing the students from the Westside.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles conducted an extensive study in the early ’90s showing that the Conejo Valley is one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country. They could have saved some money by asking me. Living here, you really feel the migration of Jews to the area. You see the “for sale” sign going up around the corner. Then, a month later, you see the moving trucks, only to be followed days later by the comforting appearance of the mezuzah.

My family and I moved to the Conejo Valley for the typical reasons: safer neighborhoods, better schools and, yes, to be around other Jews like us. I consider that move to be the best thing I have done for my family. I have never met anyone who has made the move who regrets it. Yes, for those who work in downtown Los Angeles, it’s a bit of a shlep, but the rewards outweigh any of the downsides, by far.

On the behalf of the extended Jewish family of the Conejo Valley, I invite you to come join us in celebrating Jewish life and values in this thriving Jewish area called the Conejo Valley.


Peter Fehler is vice president of communications at Temple Beth Haverim and can be reached at communications@templebethhaverim.org.

Center Construction Moves Ahead Despite Shortfall


Though Irvine’s Samueli Jewish Campus is $2 million short of $20 million required to finish a community building, the project’s supporters are moving ahead to avoid the potential costs of delay.

Permits for the 123,000-square-foot building adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School were issued in March.

"We’re moving ahead as originally scheduled," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who is leading fundraising. In a communitywide appeal in May 2002, he promised a fiscally conservative stance: construction would start when financial goals were met.

"If it weren’t for potentially inflationary pressure, we wouldn’t have started," he said last month.

Waiting for the till to fill would incur extra costs from disbanding the building’s construction team, an expected hike in steel prices and bid escalation due to a predicted surge of postwar construction, Stern said. Known costs alone amounted to $500,000, said Irving M. Chase, of Irvine, a member of the capital campaign committee.

"This is one way to protect the bids we had," Stern said.

Adequate funds have been pledged for the $6.5 million first phase, which includes grading, utilities, a foundation and steel-support structure. Stern hopes to raise the remainder by July, as the initial construction nears completion.

An anonymous donor and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli provided two-thirds of the project’s total $60 million cost. Jewish agencies now in Costa Mesa anticipate relocating next spring.

Reality For Campus Ills


During the past year, if you were to mention the campus to anyone involved in Jewish life, you would surely elicit a response that was a mixture of anxiety, contempt and anger.

Headlines screamed with assertions that our universities were hotbeds of anti-Semitism and that Jewish students were front-line troops in a war to defend Israel. San Francisco State, Berkeley and Concordia — all of them scenes of belligerence, hateful expression and anti-Jewish violence — became code words denoting the rise of a vicious strain of worldwide anti-Semitic bigotry.

In fact, the events at these institutions appear to have revived the dormant anti-anti-Semitism industry and infused Jewish survivalists with new vitality and with a dose of ethnic pride. The message that these survivalists are disseminating is that we are a community in peril, that the college campus is an intimidating environment for young Jews and that the very survival of Israel is at stake.

But most campus professionals, who are certainly disturbed by the well-publicized anti-Jewish confrontations at a handful of particularly volatile universities, see little evidence of a widespread increase in anti-Semitism at their institutions. In fact, the most recent Anti-Defamation League survey (June 2002) supports this perception statistically with its finding that "anti-Semitism on college campuses is virtually non-existent" (3 percent of college undergraduates are in the most anti-Semitic category, as compared to 17 percent of the national population).

It turns out that contrary to the dominant dogma, "tolerance is more prevalent on college campuses than elsewhere in America."

However, the perception of Jewish students is that they are being victimized, and, notwithstanding the above analysis, their sense of siege requires strategic responses. So, what can be done to improve the atmosphere and buttress the position of Israel supporters on campus?

1. Sponsor speakers who offer healing messages of hope and coexistence, rather than contentious polemicists who project a future of hopelessness and endless confrontation. It is especially important that we maintain our focus on the ultimate goal — peace — and that we consistently affirm that the citizens of Israel are willing to accept a two-state compromise, but that there is no partner in our quest.

Furthermore, it is vital to admit our mistakes and engage in genuine self-criticism. Remember, it is our capacity to recognize our flaws that is one of the keys to our creative survival as a people. What’s more, if you are always right, you lose.

2. Build coalitions with moderate Arabs and Muslims. What is entirely missing from the agenda of the advocacy experts, who represent various communal agencies, is a program for nurturing campus coexistence. This is absolutely vital for the well-being of Jews, Arabs and Muslims, the entire campus community and for the social and political future of America.

My experience has taught me that the vast majority of Arab and Muslim students do not wish to pursue a path of discord and conflict and if approached in a sensitive manner, will agree to enter a dialogue. We simply have to learn how to break through the artificial wall of separation that prevails.

As a result of our efforts at UCLA, we successfully organized a course that was co-taught by myself and a Palestinian graduate student titled, "Voices of Peace: Perspectives on Confrontation and Reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict."

Just recently, we held the second annual Ramadan break-the-fast, co-sponsored by Hillel, the Progressive Jewish Student Alliance and the Muslim Student Association. One could argue that these activities have contributed to the relative calm at UCLA.

3. Raise funds to endow academic chairs, programs and graduate fellowships in Israel studies. By far, the most important long-term proposal that I can suggest is creating professorships in the field of Israel studies. This addresses an essential educational lacuna, or gap, at our universities that has been generated, to a large extent, by the chilling impact of Edward Said’s polemics on Middle East Studies programs.

There are few institutions that can boast of a Middle East scholar whose sympathies lie with Israel. Such scholarly appointments will not only engender academic balance, but will provide a permanent presence on campus of an instructor who will contribute to the public discourse regarding the conflict, who will function as a resource to colleagues and to students and who, as a regular member of the faculty, will touch the lives and influence the minds of countless number of students by introducing a positive educational approach to the subject.

This is a far more effective utilization of our scarce funds than the current rush by the survivalists to produce propaganda brochures of questionable utility. This is the priority.

Returning to the Ramadan program, what was most moving was that a Jewish participant stood before the crowd of 100 Muslim and Jewish students and faculty and read a poem advocating peace in Arabic, while a Muslim student read a prayer for peace in Hebrew.

When I told the Muslim representative that the prayer had been adapted by Abraham Joshua Heschel, he said, "That’s amazing! I read everything written by Heschel that I can find."

And I thought to myself: "Only on campus."


Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is director of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA and an instructor in sociology and Jewish studies at UCLA.

Community Celebration


A massive gathering on a construction site overlooking Orange County didn’t celebrate the Jewish community’s newest school, community center, office building, art gallery, fitness center, swimming pool or theater.

It celebrated all those things.

Some 1,000 Orange County Jews came together Aug. 25 to tour the future site of the Samueli Jewish Campus, a $65 million, 20-acre site that, upon completion, will be home to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, the Jewish Community Center of Orange County, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and numerous Jewish agencies and organizations. “This is the catalyst for the center of Jewish life in Orange County,” said Henry Samueli, the Broadcom Corp co-founder who, along with his wife Susan, donated the land for the campus. “So, 20 years from now, you could open a travel book and here it is. This is a place for everybody in the Jewish community to come.”

The day officially marked the dedication of the recently completed Tarbut V’Torah Upper School. “It is mind-boggling how quickly they put it together,” Samueli said.

Guests toured the spacious new school, which includes state-of-the-art science and computer labs, a professional-quality performance center, a lecture hall for 175 and — across from a massive playing field — a high-tech rock-climbing wall. The school has seen enrollment grow by 60 students to a total of 570 this year.

After a series of speeches, guests donned plastic hardhats and toured the future site of the Jewish Community Center, which will share a commanding overlook of Orange County with Tarbut V’Torah on a breezy hill off Bonita Canyon Road in Irvine. Construction on the second part of the campus will start when the Samueli Campus Committee finishes collecting the necessary $20 million. Since spring, 72 families have pledged $11 million.

“This is the single defining point in the development of the Jewish community in Orange County,” said Federation president Lou Weiss. The new campus will house the Federation and its affiliated agencies, as well as a full-service Jewish Community Center.

Tantalizing, full-color renderings of the future site sat beside what is now a flat, dusty building pad. The new JCC will include two swimming pools, a 50,000-square-foot fitness center, a 500 seat theater, expanded programs for children from infancy through preschool and the teen years, kosher kitchens and space for weddings and celebrations for more than 300 people. It will serve an estimated 2,500 people per day, according to JCC president MaryAnn Malkoff. “This is our future and it’s all about to happen,” Malkoff said.

According to one official, Samueli’s lead gift came about when Tarbut V’Torah leadership informed him that the school might lose its option to buy the acreage adjoining the school. The Samuelis were introduced to the school by Irving Gelman, the Holocaust survivor who founded it. “We are very selfish in doing this,” joked Susan Samueli during the ceremony. “We have daughters who will be graduating from this school.”

A cross section of community leaders and activists were on hand for the event, including speakers Ralph Stern, chairman of the Samueli Campus Committee, school president Ed Heyman, the Samuelis, Weiss, Malkoff, event co-chair Adam Muchnik, and Tarbut V’Torah upper school principal Howard Haas.

“What makes this special is the relationship between the JCC and Tarbut, and between JCC and Federation, and between Tarbut and Federation,” said Malkoff, echoing the day’s spirit. “Having a campus where we can all work together is extremely meaningful.”

Creating a Sacred Space


In 1978, when I first applied to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to study as an undergraduate. I left the space blank on the college application form where I was supposed to indicate an intended major. Someone in the admissions office, based on my grade point average and my achievement test scores, took the liberty and placed me in a major called leisure studies.

At that time, there was a prominent belief that people would soon be working fewer hours each week due to technological advancements. Machine and computers would soon do much of the work that people were doing. As a result, the five-day work week would lessen to four or perhaps three days. What were we supposed to do with all of that free time? By majoring in leisure studies, I would be qualified to help assist people fill that time gap in their lives.

For many people today, the opposite has happened. Work has become even more of an obsession. As a result of technology, and a variety of other factors, many of us spend more hours per week at work, not less. Consequently, we often find ourselves with less time to devote to the things that are truly important in life. Many people on their deathbed express regrets about the life they lived. Many of the regrets people express deal with not spending enough time with family, friends and those that they loved. Rarely does a person express regrets about not spending enough time at work.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish theologian and civil rights activist, in his book "The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man," writes about two realms to human existence: space and time.

Under the category of space, a number of key words come to mind: property, material objects, money, status, prestige and power. In the realm of space, we try to acquire more and more of these items. We often do this by eliminating or controlling the elements of nature.

Under the category of time, other words come to mind: sacred moments, prayer, reflection, meditation, nature, history, acts of kindness and tikkun olam, meaningful human relationships. In the realm of time, we become aware and at one with the awe and wonder of nature and creation. We recognize and celebrate key transitional moments in our lives. We learn and commemorate history. We engage with other human beings, in what Jewish philosopher Martin Buber calls "I-Thou" relationships. We perform acts of kindness, care and compassion. In the realm of time, we try to create sacred moments in our lives.

In the contemporary world in which we live, our natural inclination is to sacrifice more and more of our time in order to acquire more and more space. What we should do, in order to live a more meaningful spiritual life, according to Heschel, is the opposite. We should sacrifice more of our space in order to elevate and sanctify time.

I would contend that this message from Heschel’s "The Sabbath" speaks to the hearts and minds of many people today just as strongly as it spoke to the generation that first read this classic literary work over 50 years ago when the book was first published. Work (and what we obtain through work) can easily become, if we are not careful, the idol that we worship in our lives.

Heschel’s message in "The Sabbath" also has something important to say about the longevity of Judaism and the Jewish people. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed close to 2,000 years ago. For most of the past two millennia, Jews have not had a country that they could call their own. The Greeks, the Romans and many other civilizations in history (civilizations that had had vast amounts of territory, that had expanding empires, that possessed huge military might, that built grand monuments and edifices) have come and gone. The Jews have remained.

To Heschel, Judaism and the Jewish people have survived, continued and prospered because of an emphasis — an emphasis in Judaism as a way of life that places the importance of time over space. The Sabbath, where we attempt to retreat from the world of space, and try to create a temporary palace in time (as Heschel puts it) is an embodiment, the ideal that we can strive for of this principle.

In Exodus, the building of the Mishkan, a portable sanctuary that accompanied the Israelites on their journey from Mt. Sinai through the Promised Land, is described in exhaustive detail.

In the middle of the Mishkan, in the holiest part of the sanctuary, stood an ark. In this ark was housed not an idol or an icon, not a monarch or a priest, but originally the decalogue, the two stone tablets of the Covenant that had written on them the Ten Commandments. Later in our history, an entire Torah scroll came to occupy residence in this sacred space.

Access to God in Judaism is gained not by worshipping idols that represent the pantheon of gods, nor by worshipping particular human beings who were viewed as gods or as intermediaries to the gods. God, in Judaism, is one. The Torah and its commandments represent access to the one God.

When we read, study and interpret Torah, and when we attempt to live a life of Torah by applying its lessons to our lives and by observing its commandments, we have an opportunity as Jews to establish a relationship with God. We have an opportunity to come to know the Divine in our lives.

Paganism was the religion and way of life of the ancient world. There was a great seductive lure to engage in the pagan cult. There was often material benefit and physical security showing allegiance to the pantheon of gods.

In building the Mishkan, our ancestors attempted to reject paganism, to assert their belief in the God of Israel, and to live a life in covenant with that belief. A generation of former slaves seems to take that covenant very seriously. According to the Torah, they gave "willingly and generously" from their meager possessions in order to build the Mishkan.

Stylistically, the Torah emphasizes the importance of what the Mishkan represented by the manner in which it describes its construction. In the very beginning of the Torah, in the Book of Genesis, it takes 32 verses to describe God creating the world. In the Exodus, it takes 64 verses to describe the construction, by human hands, of the Mishkan.

The Mishkan had a nickname. It was also called in Hebrew, hechal, which means in English "a palace." Heschel describes the Sabbath in his book as a "temporary palace in time." In calling Shabbat a palace, I can not help but think that Heschel is making, in his mind, a connection between these two great Jewish institutions. That there is a connection between the Mishkan and what it represented to our ancestors, and the Sabbath and what it can represent to us today.

Community Briefs


Israeli ‘E’ Ring Uncovered?

Police believe they have broken a major Ecstasy ring, allegedly led by Israeli nationals, with the arrest of 15 suspects and the seizure of more than $8 million worth of the hallucinogenic drug. Capping a two-month investigation centered in the San Fernando Valley, police described the suspects as members of three interlocking circles. Detective Martin Vukotic of the Torrance Police Department’s major narcotics unit identified six of those arrested as Israelis, with an additional one listed as a fugitive.

Four members of the first circle are charged with conspiracy to transport and sell the bulk of the seized drugs, between 350,000 to 400,000 tablets, and are being held in lieu of $5 million each, according to Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. Three of the four were identified by Vukotic as Israelis, brothers Sami Atias, 24; Nery Atias, 28, and Kobi Amsalm, 31. The fourth member is Portuguese.

Police seized a smaller haul of 26,000 Ecstasy tablets from a second circle of seven members, whose individual bail has been set between $200,000 to $270,000. Rafi Shotland, 34, was identified as an Israeli member, with a second, Mordechay Amado, being sought as a fugitive. The nationalities of other members are listed as American, Ukrainian American and Kuwaiti Canadian. A third circle of four members, described as wholesale buyers of Ecstasy, pulled out guns and tried to rob some of the dealers during a transaction gone wrong. Charged with armed robbery and other counts and held on $3.5 million bail each are Israelis Tal Brisman, 27, and Moshe Matsri, 35, along with two American citizens.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a synthetic stimulant and hallucinogenic that induces a euphoric high and heightens sensory sensations. Use of the drug can result in long-term brain damage, organ failure and death. One Ecstasy pill costs about 50 cents to manufacture in illegal labs, many located in Holland, and can sell for $20 on the street in Los Angeles and up to $40 elsewhere.

Since making its appearance at all-night rave parties of the 1990s, Ecstasy has gained in popularity across the United States. The illegal market is largely dominated by Israelis, say Vukotic and other law enforcement officers, paralleling the Colombian domination of the U.S. cocaine market.

Last year, Sean Erez, an Israeli Canadian, made headlines in New York when he admitted to running an Ecstasy-smuggling ring, in which he employed Chasidic yeshiva students as couriers. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Davis to UC, CSU: Combat
Anti-Semitism

Gov. Gray Davis has asked the heads of the University of California and of the California State University to take immediate action against anti-Semitic incidents on their campuses and prevent their recurrence in the future. He proposed a seven-point plan of action in a letter to President Richard Atkinson of the nine-campus UC system and Chancellor Charles Reed of the 23-campus CSU system.

He pointed in particular to incidents at or near the UC Berkeley campus, including an attack on two Orthodox men, vandalism at the Hillel House, an illegal sit-in at Wheeler Hall by pro-Palestinian demonstrators and a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti.

Pro-Palestinian groups at San Francisco State University disrupted a pro-Israel observance, posted blood libels and used their Web site for Holocaust denials. The timing of the letter by Davis, who is running for re-election, puzzled some observers, since the incidents occurred from March through May and the campuses have been fairly quiet since.

Specific requests by Davis to Atkinson and Reed included:

A thorough review of all anti-Semitic incidents on all campuses and actions taken so far in response.

Assessment of planned steps to prevent such incidents in the future.

Review of campus policies governing demonstrations to ensure that free speech does not escalate into violence.

Promotion of such values as civility, tolerance and understanding within the academic community.

A review of course descriptions to ensure “that they are forums for intellectual inquiry and not vehicles for discrimination, intimidation and hate.”

Responding for UC, Michael Reese, assistant vice president for strategic communications, told The Journal that Atkinson was troubled by a rise in hate crimes at universities across the country and was working diligently to eliminate such incidents at UC in the future. — T.T.

LAX Victims Mourned

More than 200 people attended a July 21 memorial service for Victoria Hen and Yaakov Aminov, who were murdered at the Los Angeles International Airport El Al terminal on July 4. The memorial, which took place at the Stephen S. Wise Temple, included speeches by Rabbi Mark Diamond, Federation President John Fishel and Deputy Consul General Tzvi Vapni. The commemoration ended with the singing of the Israeli folk song “Al Kol Ayleh,” led by Cantor Linda Kates. — Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer

‘Muslim’ Shooter Jewish?

Preliminary hearings scheduled for July 17 in the case of Jansha Cohen have been postponed while investigators reexamine the evidence. LAPD Detective Jim Willis, who has been investigating the July 3 shooting at Cheviot Hills recreation center for which Cohen was arrested, said “the facts are quite different than they were July 3,” and the case is “turning diametrically upside down from where it started.”

Cohen, 25, is being held on $2 million bail for the attempted murder of 19-year-old Farzad Sinai, who has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home. Among the discoveries since the shooting and arrest: Cohen originally having been suspected of belonging to a Muslim pride group, “We know now from sources that [Cohen is] Jewish,” Willis said, noting “the city is taking it very seriously,” using the resources of three LAPD divisions, the district attorney’s office and the FBI. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

CSU Might End Israel Trips


Two Cal State University (CSU) students spending their junior year on a foreign campus are enthusiastic about their experience. Ayelet Arbel loves the beautiful campus setting, the nearby beaches, the unique cultural exposure and the vibrant city life. Adam Ascherin is most impressed by the philosophy and outlook of the local people and their ready acceptance of strangers into their extended national family.

The good news, says their resident advisor Norma Tarrow, education professor at Cal State Long Beach, is that her two charges have quickly integrated into life at Haifa University and enjoy mingling with students from Europe, Canada and the East Coast states, as well as with local Arab and Druse classmates. Tarrow was among CSU faculty, who, together with the Jewish Public Affairs Committee, persuaded the administration to reinstate its overseas program in Israel after it was canceled following the outbreak of the intifada in September of 2000.

The bad news, she says, is that there are only two students from Cal State, and unless at least eight to 10 students enroll in the Israel program for the fall semester, the Cal State administration — which pays for her salary and heavily subsidizes the program — will probably have to cancel it for budgetary reasons.

Tarrow acknowledges that some applicants may have dropped out because they wanted to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University. The two locations were vetoed by Cal State, which deemed Haifa — though it had two attacks with loss of lives in November — the safest major city in Israel.

Nevertheless, Tarrow is disappointed that there was not a single Cal State enrollment from the populous Jewish community in Southern California, and little time is left to turn the situation around. "By April, we will have to notify our students whether or not we will have a program in Israel for the coming fall semester," she says.

Tarrow lauds the support of Haifa University’s overseas program, which is headed by Dr. Hanan Alexander, formerly dean of students at the University of Judaism.

The two CSU students chose to enroll at the University of Haifa at a time when many other American students — and tourists — have been scared off by the continuing unrest and violence in Israel.

Not that Arbel and Ascherin are blind to the situation.

"We have been told to avoid public transportation, not to go to Jerusalem without telling our adviser and we have agreed to stay away from the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods," says Ascherin, 26, who arrived from his home campus in Chico.

Arbel, 20, from the San Jose campus, agreed to the same restrictions, but couldn’t resist visiting relatives in Jerusalem.

Ascherin and Arbel both come from Northern California and from different backgrounds.

Ascherin was raised as a Mormon, though "not diligently," he says. After viewing an exhibit on the 1936 "Nazi Olympics," he started reading about the Holocaust and became intensely involved.

After working as a personnel manager for Wal-Mart for five years after high school graduation, he enrolled at Chico State, majoring in business administration and in Jewish-Israel studies under Professor Sam Edelman.

He decided to spend his junior year in Israel to learn more about Judaism and to use the Holocaust archives at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He shares a dormitory with Israeli students, is close to mastering conversational Hebrew and downplays security concerns.

He is now weighing whether to convert to Judaism. "I am still searching, trying to find an amalgamation," Ascherin says. "But I am discovering that there is much in Judaism that I have always believed."

Arbel has had an easier time fitting in than most American students. She was born in Israel and came to California with her parents when she was 8 years old.

She speaks Hebrew fluently, which allows her to take the regular classes with Israeli students in art and art history. She also shares a dorm with five Israeli girls.

"It’s a very warm feeling here," Arbel says. "The whole culture is very open and accepting, and I already feel half an insider."

Arbel plans to return to San Jose State for her senior year, but the rest of her future is up in the air.

"I may return to Israel for a graduate degree," she says, "or just decide to live there."

Collecting an Unpaid Debt


Campus organizations often go overlooked or get taken for granted by students and alumni alike. Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges has those problems — and then some. Try serving thousands of students on multiple campuses with a small staff and a smaller budget. And from an office in a strip mall, no less. That’s precisely what Nomi Gordon does as director of the Pierce and Valley Hillel.

“The Hillel at the community colleges nurtures the Jewish students who go on to be effective leaders at their future campuses,” Gordon said. “Many of our students transfer to CSUN or UCLA and continue to build on the foundation we’ve given them. That’s why our presence is so important, especially as more students see the benefits of beginning their [post-high school] education at a two-year college. And in order to be a better presence, we need to be raising more funds.”

To that end, the organization will host its biggest fund-raiser of the year, Comedy Nite ’99, at Pierce College’s Performing Arts Theater, on Saturday, Jan. 30. Director and actor Richard Kline, best known for his role as “Larry” on the ABC sitcom “Three’s Company,” will be honored for his contributions of time and talent to Stephen S. Wise Temple and Milken Community High School. The evening will also feature comedians Wendy Kamenoff and Steve Mittleman, as well as a silent auction and raffle.

Currently, Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges is housed in Corbin Village, a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. The corner office is deceptively spacious, with offices for Gordon and a part-time office manager, another for a student intern, a library/conference room, a kosher-style kitchen and a large room that doubles as a meeting hall and sanctuary. In addition to Gordon and the two part-time employees, the organization also employs a rabbinic intern.

Together, the small staff works to serve a combined population of 3,500 Jewish students from the two campuses (plus an additional 500 at Moorpark College) on a shoestring budget of $150,000 a year. In comparison, UCLA Hillel has an operating budget of $540,000 for 5,000 students, according to Eitan Ginsburg, associate executive director for the Los Angeles Hillel Council. Of that total, UCLA Hillel is able to raise about $365,000 on its own, while the Pierce/Valley Hillel ekes out about $16,000 through donations, relying mostly on grants from the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.

“UCLA Hillel has the advantage of being attached to a prominent university,” Ginsburg said. “It is also the largest and oldest campus organization, with a well-respected leader, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, who has been there for 23 years.

“Students at Los Angeles community colleges have different needs than at a four-year university. Still, we would like to see all of our units grow. There isn’t a single staff at any campus, including UCLA, that is at full capacity right now, and that’s purely a function of budget.”

According to Gordon, raising funds at the community college level is made more challenging by the surrounding universities.

“We work with students for only about two years, and then they move on,” she said. “By and large, their allegiance is to the school where they get their four-year degree. I would love to be able to establish a better connection with our alumni because so many of them grew through their involvement [in Hillel], and now they could have the opportunity to give something back.”

Last year, Hillel at Pierce and Valley Colleges raised almost $9,000 with Comedy Nite. This year, it hopes to surpass that figure, according to Scott Svonkin, chair of development for the organization and a member of the Los Angeles Hillel Council board.

Svonkin said that there is still room for donations to the event’s silent auction and for sponsors.

For more information or to obtain tickets, call (818) 887-5901.


How Do We Egage Teens?


There are more than 30,000 Jewish teen-agers in Los Angeles — how do we engage them?

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago while visiting the Bern-ard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills. The occasion was a happy one, the ground-breaking for a new youth and sports complex at the Jewish Community Center on that site. What really struck me was the enormous potential for our Federation programs to reach out beyond the traditional young users of our communal services and actively engage as many Jewish teens who live in greater Los Angeles as possible.

Among the dozens of programs and services located at the Milken campus is the JCC’s Teen Services unit. Its highly specific mandate is to reach Jewish high school youth, and its goal is quite simple: begin to Jewishly engage a group of youngsters whose options for leisure time are endless and whose future Jewish identities are being formed. These are kids who could easily drift out of the Jewish community or worse, never really involve themselves at all.

Browsing through the JCC’s Teen Services newsletter, you begin to get a sense of how complex it is to reach an age group whose members are still searching for an identity. Since one size does not fit all, the efforts to reach teens must be multifaceted and creative. This is where the Teen Services unit comes in. They are the glue that cements diverse initiatives citywide. Working together with representatives of a range of other Jewish youth organizations and involving those groups from the synagogues and Zionist movements, they are using a wide range of approaches, including educational programming, cultural activities and social-action opportunities to reach our youth. Teens can help feed the hungry at SOVA, help build a Habitat for Humanity or assist someone with AIDS through Project Chicken Soup. These projects reach the young communal activist with a message of tikkun olam.

But that might not be enough. So how about outreaching to Jewish kids in public and non-Jewish private schools? That’s where the majority of Jewish teens are found. Almost 500 Jewish teens from 18 public and private schools, including Fairfax, Van Nuys, Santa Monica and Granada Hills, meet weekly to hear speakers, celebrate Jewish holidays, practice community awareness, have fun and hang out. With collaborative efforts from BBYO, United Syn-agogue Youth of the Conservative movement, the North American Federation of Temple Youth of the Reform move-ment and the National Council of Synagogue Youth of the Modern Orthodox movement, our communal efforts are maximized to reach more teens. For many, these initiatives are their only contact with Jewish communal life, so it takes on a special importance.

So while some teens are engaged by entering a Jewish creative writing contest or participating in a weekend retreat program of the Bureau of Jewish Education, others are attracted by taking a course in CPR or learning about Jews in film. The list is almost endless. With the new technology of the Internet, we have another way to reach teens.

But what really turns on a Jewish teen? How about speaking to their needs? Since so many teens in high school are actively thinking about college, what about a program to expose them to college life? We have it. Together with the Los Angeles Hillel Council, the JCC conducts a program to explore colleges in our own backyard. The teens might visit a campus, sleep in a dorm, and learn about Jewish college life at USC or UCLA.

Since not every teen wants to stay in Los Angeles, why not help them think about attending college elsewhere? We do it. By offering a program to visit campuses in Arizona, Northern California or even Boston, we reach teens by addressing their needs.

Additionally, the annual Hillel FACETS Conference, which assists local teens in decisions about college, drew more than 500 teens and their parents to this year’s event at UCLA.

The Jewish Federation, with the support of the United Jewish Fund through its constituent agencies and lots of associated groups, is engaged in fashioning a vision for a Jewish community of the future. What we see has great hope and potential, if we can continue to secure the financial and human resources to accomplish our communal goals.


John R. Fishel is executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.