Left Coast peacemakers mourn 9/11 in many languages

Five years and 3,000 miles from the site of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the mournful strains of calls to prayer in Hebrew and Arabic open the Islamic Center of Southern California’s fourth annual commemoration of the attacks of Sept. 11.

The audience, dressed in saris, suits, skirts or slacks, bareheaded, or wearing head scarves, kippahs, kufis or turbans, gathered to pray together and to honor three religious leaders, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, who were to receive Peace Awards for their continuing work toward interfaith understanding.

One of the recipients, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica, told the group how terror had come close to his life.

Last July, he and his wife were awakened by a call from their teenage daughter to assure them that she was all right. She was in London and had gotten off a bus moments before it turned the corner and exploded.

Now a year later, the rabbi urged a recommitment to truly care for one another’s children, by walking together toward healing and understanding.

“If we can truly change the way we are with one another, we will create a world in which no one would consider dying for Judaism, Islam or any other religion and killing others in the process,” he said.

Comess-Daniels urged ongoing dialogue, a cause at the heart of the organizations that sponsored the Peace Award, the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and the Interreligious Council of Southern California.

Jihad Turk, the director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center, also presented Peace Awards to the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guilbord of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and Dr. Hassan Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California.

In the keynote address, Dr. Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center, denounced extremists’ twisted theology of death and destruction, while urging vigilance in the preservation of democracy — the protection of civil liberties and the Constitution.

“It would be sad if we save the buildings and lose the soul,” he said.
Rabbi Steven Jacobs, rabbi emeritus of Temple Kol Tikvah, offered the first prayer. “To stand in the ruins of New York or Beirut, or the desolated areas of Palestine is to know that what doesn’t happen in the Middle East is happening here. We are talking to each other.”

The service continued with prayers from a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Sikh and a Baha’i, and concluded with a musical offering from representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As the group adjourned for cheese, crackers, fruit and baklava, Turk explained that this memorial service is part of the Islamic Center’s mission.

“Muslim Americans are on the front line in the war against terror in that we are charged with making sure that our institutions do not become dens of hate speech and extremist rhetoric nor recruiting grounds for extremists, terrorists or anyone who would want to do this country harm,” he said.

As Turk was about to enter the prayer room, he was approached by Suzanne Rubin, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; they had traveled together in March on an Abrahamic pilgrimage, visiting sacred sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

She invited him and his family to a break fast after Yom Kippur.

“That’s during Ramadan, so we’ll be breaking fast as well,” he replied. “That should work.”

Ray of Hope

What will become of five Jccs?

The question has still not been answered, but by next week, a resolution will be definitively closer.

Five center must submit their business plans by next week to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles’ (JCCGLA) new transition committee for review. If the facilities can run on a budget-neutral basis, they can remain open.

On Tuesday, delegates from five JCCs centers slated for closure this summer attended a JCCGLA meeting at Valley Cities JCC in Van Nuys, where they had the opportunity make oral presentations on ideas to save their respective centers.

In the closed board meeting that followed, JCCGLA executives decided on next week’s deadline for business plans to be given to the Transition Committee. The committee, with the assistance of JCCGLA financial consultant Roni Fischer, will review and analyze the plans, and then decide by early February, on a case-by-case basis, the direction of each center and its programming.

JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi and Transition Committee chief Marvin Gelfand told The Journal that the deadline for a final decision regarding the centers must be made by early next month, so that parents who want to use the JCC’s early-childhood education services can make plans.

Representatives from the impacted centers (Bay Cities JCC, Silver Lake-Los Feliz JCC, Westside JCC, Valley Cities JCC and North Valley JCC) addressed 25 members of the JCCGLA council, headed by JCCGLA President Marty Janoll and Giladi. In their 10-minute statements, they described why their centers are vital to their community and detailed how to keep their facilities operating without interrupting key services.

"Our goal for the next year is to provide education for the 40 Bay City kids plus 20 kids from neighboring synagogues," said Bay Cities’ James Barner, accompanied by Dan Grossman.

Mark Frazin, and Cary and Renee Fox of North Valley JCC, want to improve marketing and planning to build their center back to its original 550-family membership.

Silver Lakers Jane Schulman, Devra Weltman and Andrew Thomas painted their facility as the sole Jewish representation in their neighborhood. Weltman –herself a product of North Valley JCC and a decade of JCC’s summer camp — told the room that she bought a home in the area while eight months pregnant because of Silver Lake’s JCC.

"I knew what the philosophy would be and where I wanted my child to be," Weltman said.

Michael Kaminsky, Helene Seifer and Deborah Schmidt evoked their successful $119,000 fundraising drive to keep Westside JCC open in the short term, and Mike Bresner, accompanied by Marla Abraham, hope to raise $240,000 to keep Valley Cities operational through 2003.

Members from all five centers at the meeting told The Journal that they were optimistic that a solution could be reached.

"I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t," North Valley’s Andrea Goodstein said.

JCCGLA has already taken proactive measures to avoid a future financial crisis, which has put five of seven sites in jeopardy and has led to the layoff of 49 employees.

On Jan. 11, JCCGLA announced its plan to revamp its bookkeeping with the hiring of Century City accounting firm Licker+Ozurovich. The firm’s founding partner, Andy Ozurovich, will serve as JCCGLA’s chief financial officer, overseeing payroll administration, budget preparation, and bookkeeping. JCCGLA hopes to save $200,000 annually.

"What a long way we’ve come since November," said Gelfand, who cited a groundswell of community outcry and media coverage as prime reasons that JCCGLA’s moribund status has segued into serious discussions on salvaging JCC facilities and programs.

Gelfand pointed to fundraisers underway by various centers to raise money, including an upcoming Westside JCC fundraiser featuring musician Peter Himmelman and proceeds from a "Fiddler on the Roof" production.

In what Giladi deemed is still a "fluid situation," the JCCGLA executive commended the community’s drive to keep JCCGLA thriving.

"The Jewish Community Centers are an entry-point to the Jewish community," Giladi said, evoking Schulman’s speech. "For many people it’s not their only entry point but for many it’s their sole affiliation."

Part of the JCCGLA’s plan to keep its centers alive will center around upcoming fundraising events. Gelfand and Giladi also announced that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will offer its entire mailing list to JCCGLA so that the JCCs can execute a direct mail financial support campaign next month.

According to Gelfand, JCCGLA’s position mirrors situations that have occurred throughout the 275-center Jewish Community Centers of North America system.

"JCCs do not operate at a profitable basis anywhere in the country," Gelfand said. "Federations throughout the country have helped JCCs. We need to improve our independent fundraising abilities and mechanisms."

The JCCGLA executives said that they have no current plans to solicit donations from the 1,000 JCC of North America members coming to Los Angeles in April for a biennial convention. They question whether it would be an appropriate move.

"I think that right now our community feels energized," Giladi said. "This is a very exciting time. You’re talking about an organization that last month was considered dead. So from that perspective, to have the biennial in L.A., I think, ‘Wow, what a great opportunity,’ because everyone knows that L.A. was in crisis, and we’re building to the future. What could be better than that?"

"We all believe very strongly," Gelfand added, "that the JCCs are here to stay and to grow."

Bunny vs. Rabbi

Lindsey Vuolo, Playboy bunny, met her match last month: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

The two squared off in front of an audience of more than 150 people — about three-quarters of them men — at Makor, a Jewish cultural center in Manhattan geared toward 20- and 30-something Jews.

The talk show-like event included a lot of back-and forth between Vuolo and Boteach, who met when the media-hungry rabbi interviewed Vuolo for a Web site called Belief.net.

Miss November spoke like a poster girl for Jewish continuity.

"My biggest fear is that because I’m not as religious as maybe I should be, I won’t be able to conduct High Holidays in my home," Vuolo said, her voice cracking with emotion.

When Miss November 2000 spoke about her "amazing" high school trip to Israel as part of an exchange program called Ambassadors for Unity, she choked up again.

Boteach, author of the relationship guide "Kosher Sex," said he respects Vuolo, particularly for her commitment to the Jewish people and for saying she wants to raise Jewish children. But he was critical of her choice to pose for Playboy.

At one point he told Vuolo that by posing in Hugh Hefner’s magazine she had turned herself from "extraordinary" to "ordinary." Vuolo hardly reacted.

When Boteach spoke, Vuolo at times grimaced or arched her eyebrows to show her disagreement. Members of the audience alternately booed, hooted and cheered — particularly for Vuolo, who seemed to have the crowd’s sympathy.

And audience members weren’t shy about taking shots at either the rabbi — short, bearded, in a dark suit — or the buxom bunny, who was dressed in a fashionable and sexy style that wasn’t too revealing.

Yet it appeared the audience wanted to bury the controversial Boteach.

Boteach was criticized for his long-windedness and for his friendship with pop star Michael Jackson. He also was called a hypocrite for publishing an excerpt of "Kosher Sex" in Playboy.

"Where am I going to put this, the synagogue newsletter?" Boteach responded. "I’m going to put this in the place where it’s most important to be read."

Articles courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

From Three to One?

Can one Jewish Community Center (JCC) serve a population as vast as that of the San Fernando Valley?

That is the question facing Jewish communities from Burbank to Calabasas, and so far, the answer is a resounding no — even from some of the people who launched the idea in the first place.

“I don’t think the goal is to have one site for the entire Valley, nor do I think Westside can serve all of the city,” said Nina Lieberman-Giladi, executive director of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). “But we can’t do a good job [anywhere] until we can do so in [a] fiscally responsible manner.”

Granted, the JCC singled out for this honor is not your typical center. Dubbed the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, better known as the West Valley JCC, the facility houses the Ferne Milken Sports and Youth Complex, completed in 1999.

The sports complex includes a teen center (unstaffed because of recent cutbacks), two workout rooms and a 12,000-square-foot auditorium/basketball court. The $4.5 million sports complex was built with separate funds raised by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.

The Milken Campus is also home to the offices of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, as well as the Valley offices of the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Family Service and a host of other agencies, thus making it the hub for the organized Jewish community in the Valley.

The idea of one center is supported by some statistics: namely, membership numbers from the centers. The number of household units, which comprises both individual members and family memberships, has declined.

At North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, membership units dropped from 275 to 200. At Valley Cities in Van Nuys, membership dropped from 200 to 170 units. Although the West Valley JCC also experienced a precipitous drop of approximately 500, at 1,000 household units, it still outdistances the other centers.

Yet proponents of keeping the other two Valley centers open argue that there are equally solid reasons why the Milken Campus cannot substitute for locally grown centers.

According to Pini Herman, former Federation planning and allocations research coordinator and currently with Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, a 1997 survey performed for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles revealed that of the 248,000 Jewish families living in the San Fernando Valley area, about half had at least one member who visited or participated in a program at their local Jewish community center in the prior year.

“That’s about 120,000 people … who used the centers. Of course, not everybody uses [the Milken Campus] at the same time, but what if there’s a special event? It’s an inadequate facility when you’re talking about a midsize city showing up for even one day of the year,” Herman said.

Herman noted that the San Fernando Valley area also contains more Jews of middle and lower incomes than elsewhere in Los Angeles.

“What we found in the survey is the Valley was the only area where the median income did not increase but remained stagnant or even below every other area of the city of Los Angeles [compared with prior surveys],” he said.

“Jewish community centers provide middle-income families, the predominant families in the Valley, with affordable Jewish services like camp and preschool they may not be able to afford otherwise,” Herman said. “That’s why the Valley has been disproportionately hit” by the centers’ impending closures, he said.

There is also the simple problem of geography. On the best day with no traffic, it takes 20 minutes to get from Van Nuys (home of Valley Cities JCC) to West Hills, where the Milken Campus is located, and 35-40 minutes from the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills.

Even that assumes people are only driving from center to center. It does not take into account the people already commuting to North Valley or Valley Cities from areas like Santa Clarita.

The situation is especially tough on working parents who rely on the JCC for their preschoolers and to provide after-school care for children of all ages.

“I live in Northridge and work in Studio City, yet they want me to take my kids to [school] in Woodland Hills? It just wouldn’t work,” said Andrea Goodstein, a television news producer and an active North Valley JCC member.

Goodstein is the leader of the movement in the North Valley to retain the site and its services. A mother of two children under the age of 6, she said that the JCC holds a unique position: “Where else would I send my daughter to camp? There are no camps for 2-year-olds.”

A Valley Cities parent, Nelly Neben, echoed Goodstein’s sentiments: “So many Jews and non-Jews come to the center for after-school care because it is safe and wholesome. The children take on a sense of community and belonging, and there are no other places that provide that. For the growth of the children, they need a place like the center.”

Even if the West Valley JCC was conveniently located for the entire Valley, there is the issue of capacity: the preschool is full and the after-school program is close to full, according Ronda Wilkin, outgoing center director.

So what is the solution? According to Marty Jannol, JCCGLA president, the time has come for “thinking outside the box” and looking at alternatives.

“Across the country Jewish community centers have operated from a central location and served the community in ‘centers without walls,'” Jannol said. “Who’s to say we can’t rent space for a preschool and run it so Jewish parents who want to send their children to a Jewish nursery school can do so?

“One of the resistance points in the community is that we’re wedded to a way of doing business that may not be effective. It’s our desire to provide more programming, not less, but if we’ve learned anything it’s that the community doesn’t want to be tied to a facility that is undermanaged and in poor condition,” she said.

Jannol also said that in the future, centers will need to take a different approach in order to attract more members.

“For example, Valley Cities is located in a very stable Jewish population,” she said. “There are large Israeli and Orthodox communities in the area, and neither are being sufficiently served. If research supported it and if we rebuilt the building on that piece of real estate, we could have a very viable center, a two-story building with perhaps separate facilities for men and women.”

Supporters of the two centers facing closure say they will not give up without a fight. North Valley JCC members have formed an advisory board and are discussing their options. Valley Cities’ advisory board will hold a fundraiser Jan. 9. Each group hopes for a reprieve similar to that granted the Westside JCC.

Richard Rosett, a past president of the Valley Cities board, said he hopes the effort does not come too late.

“For years we heard from The Jewish Federation that is was not for the centers to go out and do major fundraising,” Rosett lamented. “I’m not here to go to battle with The Federation; we want to be able to work together.

“For whatever reasons, this difficulty is happening, and now the centers need to go out and start getting the … Michael Eisners to make annual donations to the centers. We have to get the people within our community in Los Angeles to step up and assist.”

Here is what is happening at the four JCCs in the San Fernando and Conejo valleys:

The Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus will remain
open. Teen services at the Milken Campus are suspended indefinitely. Ellen
Glutner, chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los
Angeles, moved her offices to the West Valley JCC on Jan. 2 to help oversee the
Milken site.

The preschool at the Conejo Valley JCC will remain

Supporters of the Valley Cities JCC will hold a “Save
the Center” rally on Wednesday, Jan. 9, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the center, 13164
Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys. Entertainment and child care will be provided. For more
information call (818) 786-6310.

The North Valley JCC has formed an advisory board that
hopes to develop a plan to save the center. For future updates, check the Web
site: www.savethejcc.org.

Virtual Schmooze

We all hear rumblings about a global community, but a global schmooze? That’s just what the Jewish Community Centers of North America, in conjunction with the 92nd Street Y in New York City, propose to execute. Starting on Sun., March 11, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles will host an innovative new lecture series through Kallah — a program sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and supported by the Charles and Dora Mesnick Cultural Arts Fund — by bringing such speakers as Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel and Anne Roiphe to you live, via satellite. The lectures will be broadcast from the 92nd Street Y in New York City directly to JCCs across the nation, allowing participants to ask questions to their lecturers in real time for what is being termed a "virtual gathering."

The nation will be linked with the stage in New York via e-mail and fax, so that while the speakers hold the stage in Manhattan, members of the audience, regardless of geographic location, can participate as if they were sitting in the first row. Scheduled during the Hebrew months of Elul and Adar, a traditional time of gathering and Judaic study, the programs are designed to experience and celebrate Jewish learning and create community despite geographic divides. "Jewish education should take advantage of modernity to reconnect the Jewish people with their Jewish heritage," said Jonathan Fass, the Jewish education specialist for the JCCs of Greater Los Angeles.

Radio personality Dennis Prager, who is currently broadcasting on KRLA and who will be participating in the March 11 event, said the format is appealing because "when you have Jews in public life who have very different positions on issues, it’s a good and rare opportunity to hear them confront each publicly." The national format is especially appealing because "none of the issues are geographically specific, so it’s good to give them a national format," he added.

Fass explained the JCCs’ desire to participate as being motivated by a desire to innovate Jewish education. "Kallah is innovative because all of North American Jewry can participate in Jewish learning together, each community can learn from its neighbor community, and the Los Angeles Jewish community can connect with the greater North American Jewish community."

Participating in the event is also a way in which the JCC hopes to redefine itself. "The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles is redefining itself as an Jewish organization with a renewed commitment to the Jewish growth of Los Angeles," Fass said. "Our agency recognized Jewish education is a fundamental component of Jewish growth. We believe Kallah is an adult Jewish education opportunity with widespread appeal to the entire community, and so we joined other Jewish community centers throughout North America in supporting the program."

Fass added that there are also technical challenges to the broadcast. "In Los Angeles, we will be receiving the broadcasts with the assistance of Globecast, a national communications company. The Jewish community centers have never used technology like this before in community programs, but we are confident that these programs will run smoothly."

"The Future of North American Jewry" will be led by law professor Alan Dershowitz, radio personality Dennis Prager, author Anne Roiphe and Rabbi David Woznica on Sun., March 11, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the West Valley Jewish Community Center. Additional events will be held at the Museum of Tolerance: Tues., March 20, "Great Jewish Thinkers," 6-8 p.m.; Sun., March 25, "An Evening with Elie Wiesel," 4:30-6:30 p.m. Each event is $6. For tickets or more information, contact the Westside JCC at (323) 938-2531 x 2207 or the Museum of Tolerance at (310) 772-2452.

Beach Blanket Bar Mitzvah

In a city where most people go to the beach on Saturday mornings, a new center has opened in an effort to connect the local Jewish community with its heritage.

The center, run by the Lubavitch movement, includes two synagogues — one with 400 seats and another for weekday services — a library and separate mikvahs for men and women.

The seven-story center also houses a large ballroom with a kosher kitchen for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, a youth center and a preschool.

Local politicians joined Jewish officials for Sunday’s inauguration ceremony, held in Leblon, the city’s most upscale neighborhood.

Rio, with a Jewish population of 30,000, has synagogues in older neighborhoods, but many are unable to gather a minyan for Shabbat services.

The new center was designed for a Jewish population that has moved from poorer areas of the city to the Leblon district as members of the community grew wealthier.

For the past 10 years, Lubavitch activities were held in a two-story house in Leblon. As time passed, it became evident that the house was too small to house gatherings — but there was no place to move to.

Help came from Rio Mayor Cesar Maia, who donated a piece of land, and the center was built with contributions from the community.

To show its gratitude for the mayor’s gesture, the community also collected funds to build a public library in a poor section of town.

The center will host its first simcha for cariocas — as Rio’s residents are known — when a wedding is held Sunday in its ballroom.