Balancing Acts of Faith and Pork

The question: How Jewish vs. how democratic should the Jewish State of Israel actually be?

That was really the question before Israel’s Supreme Court.

More than a legal question, it led to serious and heated debate. The answer would be a defining factor in the very nature of the state itself. It came to the fore as the court was asked to decide if three cities, Jerusalem included, could ban the selling of pork.

The ruling: That cities cannot outright forbid the sale of pork and should respect communities that are predominantly religious but may sell pork in other areas of the city.

Israel is unlike the United States when it comes to the separation of religion and state. In the United States, the separations are fiercely guarded. So much so that there are raging, obsession-driven debates even over the issues of the role of God in the Pledge of Allegiance — one of the holiest of holies for America’s citizens — and the inclusion of the word “God” on currency.

Things are simpler in Israel. There is a fluid boundary between religion and state. In Israel, the balance is not between religion and state, it is between religion and democracy.

The creation of a Jewish — democratic — state, with each element given equal weight (i.e., Israel) is best viewed as a laboratory experiment. The effort to blend the Jewish and the democratic into a state is a constant balancing act, a tug-of-war, a struggle between the more Jewishly inclined and the more democratically inclined elements of the society.

The Supreme Court ruling is certainly not the end of a long story, it is merely another chapter.

For those Israelis who are in favor of banning the sale of pork products, the argument is more about symbols than it is about religion. Historically, that was true and it is still true today.

The Romans, for example, threw pork into the Temple in order to desecrate it. During pogroms, Jews were held down as pork was forced into their mouths.

Playing the music of Wagner in Israel, as world renowned and acclaimed as it is, is another such example and subject of debate. The notes on the page do not resonate with music but with memories of Nazi Germany, Nazi culture, Nazi racism, the Nazi reign of terror.

As Western as Israel is and Israelis try to be, Israel is still Jewish. Saturday, not Sunday, is the Sabbath — the official, not just religious day of rest. Holidays are set by the religious, lunar calendar, not the solar or secular calendar. English is spoken and almost everything is translated into English (even more than in Arabic), but Hebrew is the official language.

All of these were choices — reasoned, thought out, deliberate choices made by the founding, primarily European-born, fathers of the state. The choices were made for a reason — to recreate a Jewish existence in the biblical, ancestral homeland of Israel.

The founding fathers of Israel were staunchly secular, and yet they understood and encouraged the role of religion for a Jewish state. They provided for deeply Jewish, religious and cultural trappings within the society. They realized that it was the Jewishness of the state that would frame its character and inform its democratic attitudes.

The founding fathers of the United States, in contrast, were staunchly religious. Yet, they were skeptical of the role of institutional religion, because they understood the role that religious culture would play in the formation of their state.

By examining the blend of religion and state in the democratic and cultural experiment called Israel, we can better understand worldwide developing democracies of today. Even more, the only chance for reforming and democratizing Arab states will be through a blend of religion and democracy, just as seen in Israel.

Remember, in Arabic, there is no language for even simple pleasantries that does not invoke the name of God, of Allah. A simple “how are you?” or “good morning” is always answered with “praise God” or “thank God.” Even the most secular of all Arabs respond that way, they have no alternative.

The West has high hopes for reforming Iraq and other countries of the Middle East. In order for those hopes to be realized, it is essential that Westerners realize that whatever is created, it will be a blend of each country’s religion alongside democracy.

Israel’s Supreme Court understood. Western lawmakers and leaders must understand, as well. Not to understand is to doom any and all reform to failure.

Micah D. Halpern is a political and social commentator and author of “What You Need to Know About: Terror.”

Friends Found a World Away

Every other year, our congregation travels to a different part of the Jewish world to meet and, if necessary, help our fellow Jews. Having traveled to Israel, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union many times, as well as Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Argentina and Brazil, our experiences have mostly been with communities under political, demographic or economic siege. This trip was different.

Imagine this scene: We’re in Sydney, Australia, in a neighborhood known as The Rocks, where in the 18th century exiled British prisoners disembarked and experienced their new home. Most were convicted of petty crimes — poor people who stole a loaf of bread — and some were political prisoners whom England feared. After 1776, the penal colony in Georgia was no longer available, so convicts were sent to Australia, both to get rid of them and for future colonization.

In Australia, one’s yichus is enhanced by being descended from an exiled British convict. Everyone, if lucky enough, brags about it. Even in shul, on Shabbat, before we asked someone how long his family has been in Australia, a macher proudly kvells and shares his imprisoned family tree.

So, here we were, at The Rocks, chanting Havdalah, singing and swaying outdoors, with arms around each other, gazing at the incredible beauty of Sydney Harbor, proud and free as Jews. We were even joined by locals George and Adele who, though Jewish (at least George), hadn’t seen a Havdalah service in quite a while. When we finished, a woman approached and asked from where we were visiting. When we answered "Irvine, California," she asked: "Do you know Natalye and Howard Black, because I’m their machatenester [in-law]!"

"Not only do we know them, but we brought them," we answered, "and they’re right over there!"

It’s a small Jewish world, much less than "six degrees of separation." A day before, the waiter at Doyle’s Restaurant was curious about another couple on our tour, the Hemplings, and when asked by them what kind of fish does he recommend, the waiter answered: "Do you, by any chance, like gefilte fish?"

Voila — another landsman!

Although there are only 100,000 Jews out of a population of 18 million, we managed to meet many of them in both expected and unexpected places.

Of course, our synagogue visits were delightful. For our first Shabbat in Sydney, we visited Temple Emanuel, a liberal congregation, whose rabbi, Jeffrey Kamins, is from Los Angeles. A week later in Melbourne, we met Rabbi Fred Morgan born in Syracuse, N.Y., who showed us his synagogue’s incredible stained-glass windows that portrayed holidays and history. They were created by the foremost stained-glass artist in Australia.

At both synagogues, the services were familiar, albeit more formal. We were delighted that we chose liberal congregations, since most tourists only visit Orthodox synagogues since they’re in the oldest parts of the inner city and tour guides can get to them more easily. The problem is, however, that tourists, who are usually non-Orthodox, rarely meet and worship with their religious peers.

At the Jewish Museum in Sydney, we were impressed by the beautiful Star of David design in the floor, ceiling and walls. Most moving, however, was Lotte, a Holocaust survivor from Bratislava, who spoke to us and emphasized what is now too familiar a story — how a majority of European Jewish children perished. By killing them first, the Nazis hoped to put an end to future generations of Jews.

She spoke painfully , as if it were yesterday, of being called a "Jewish pig" and how ashamed she was, as a teenager, of having to undress in front of and be shaved by male Nazi officers.

Although she and other Jews generally feel safe in Australia today, they remember how only one group boldly advocated saving the Jews of Europe 64 years ago. It was a few weeks after Kristallnacht when the Aborigines League protested to Hitler’s consul in Melbourne. A few weeks before we arrived in Australia, the Aborigines were honored for their heroism by the Jewish community at Melbourne’s Holocaust Museum; Jews are now in the forefront of advocating on behalf of aboriginal land rights, including placing markers on Jewish buildings naming the aboriginal owners of the land.

Australia’s Sept. 11 was Oct. 12, 2002, when its tourists were murdered by Islamic terrorists in Bali. Australians are strong supporters of the United States in its fight against terrorism and are worried about the J.I. (Jemaah Islamiah), an Australian Islamic organization that aims to create an Islamic state in Australia "even if it takes 100 years."

When we visited the U.S. consulate in Sydney, we were briefed in regard to Australia’s strong support for the United States, as well as its ambivalence about our nuclear policy. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that Aussies genuinely like Americans, without wanting to become like us. Their culture is slower, more laid back and easy going, in part due to an amazing amount of physical space — only 18 million people on land the size of the United States.

Physically, Sydney looks like Vancouver, and Melbourne like Chicago, and each feels its rivalry with the other. Jewishly, Sydney is comparable to Tel Aviv with its cafes and nightlife, while the more staid Melbourne is like Jerusalem — especially with the largest day school in the world (2,500 students) and a more observant population.

Historically, Jews were quite instrumental in the intellectual and economic development of Australia — no surprise to us — founding museums and universities, establishing newspapers and large businesses and finding prominence in the legal profession.

No trip to Australia would have been complete without cruising on a boat in Sydney Harbor, visiting the Opera House and strolling through urban parks, gardens and charming neighborhoods. Wherever we went, the food was delicious and plentiful, even in modest restaurants, and people were incredibly unpretentious, gracious and friendly, with a lovely self-deprecating humor.

Of course, another not-to-be-missed visit was to an animal sanctuary, where we held and watched baby kangaroos hop in and out of pouches and where we fed koala bears. The animal and plant life of Australia is vividly colorful and fascinating in its diversity.

So, too, when we traveled to the Great Barrier Reef, we were mesmerized by the bluish green clarity of the water and the fantastic fish. Some of us also met Golan Ayalon, one of the few Jews and the only Israeli in Cairns, one of the towns near the reef. He’s one of the major distributors of Aboriginal art and a friendly hippie type who liked Cairns, because it reminded him of his hometown of Eilat — full of water sports, muggy and relaxed. In Cairns, we also met a Jewish couple from Kentucky; the man’s brother belongs to a Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia.

When we visited the Aboriginal village of Kuranda, we passed through forests and by waterfalls galore, captivated by birds and butterflies of every imaginable hue. We walked through rainforests, learned about making fire, listened to Aboriginal folklore and playing of the didgeridoo.

The sad history of the indigenous people of Australia was truly heartbreaking. Like our own Native Americans, they were pushed further and further inland to make way for "civilized Europeans." Then, as a "favor," they were converted to Christianity, but still treated in a segregated, second-class way. Disease and violence destroyed too many lives and families and there was forced separation of children from parents in order to "educate" them. It has left permanent societal scars. (The 2002 film, "Rabbit Proof Fence," details this misery through a true personal story describing an arrogant social policy that only ended in 1970.)

The xenophobic anti-immigration policy of Australia, only modified in recent decades, created a smug, racially insensitive and insular society that many Australians now realize was a mistake. The challenge to Australia today is accepting that, over time, it will continue to become a more Pacific Rim, less Eurocentric country, with diverse religions and races, and seeing this development as a strength.

In our closing circle, at the end of our 16-day journey, many spoke of the incredible physical beauty of the land, the vastness of each country and the genuine warmth and kind humor of the people. We shared a deep feeling for the importance of meeting Jews from all over the world — especially in these less visited Jewish communities — and how instantly we bonded with our fellow Yidden. Even more, we understood the time-honored Jewish maxim that "all Jews are responsible for one another."

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi of University Synagogue in Irvine.

When It’s Federal Aid, Pork Isn’t Treif

When it comes to politics, even the Jews want pork. American Jewish communities and some national organizations have become well versed in getting their share of millions of dollars available for social service programs, medical research or other community essentials.

A search of the 2004 omnibus spending bill under consideration in Congress this month found 37 earmarks with the word "Jewish" in the name, amounting to $9,973,000 in appropriations. If you include the terms "Hebrew" and "Sephardic," it climbs to 41 appropriation earmarks and $10,723,000. Many other projects of importance to local Jewish communities may not have identifiable names and could be buried in the vast spending document.

Getting funding for a project takes massive time, energy and, often, money. Many Jewish communities send representatives to Washington to make the pitch directly to their lawmakers, as well as members of congressional appropriations committees. Some hire Washington lobbyists to make the necessary introductions for them.

Next week will be an important one for the budget process. In its first session of the year, the Senate will vote on the omnibus spending package for 2004, because it did not pass all 13 spending bills before the end of last year’s session.

The omnibus bill lumps all appropriations that were not approved by Congress into one piece of legislation, and contains $328.1 billion in discretionary spending. It passed the House Dec. 8 by a vote of 242-176.

President Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20 will launch the budget process for 2005. The president will lay out his fiscal priorities in the speech, before officially submitting his budget proposal early next month.

Garnering money for one’s local Jewish community depends in large part on the influence of local congressmen. Five of the Jewish appropriations next year are in Pennsylvania, amounting to $950,000, in part because Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Jewish officials bristle when they hear the projects described as "pork," a term used to describe pet projects in a lawmaker’s congressional district.

"One man’s pork is another’s essential program," said Reva Price, the Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

For example, the Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC) in suburban Detroit received $500,000 in 2003 for its facility for people with developmental disabilities. It is likely to receive an additional $150,000 this year.

Joyce Keller, JARC’s executive director, said her program provides an essential service and shouldn’t be lumped in with more frivolous appropriations. She cited one notorious example of Washington pork, a study on the sex lives of fireflies.

"These are the needs of people that are not being met by whatever states have to offer," she said of her patients.

Keller’s organization began pursuing a federal appropriation because Michigan’s state mental health funds were not properly funding its patients, many of whom are mentally disabled. It hired a Washington lobbyist, met with Michigan congressmen and both senators and hoped for the best.

"We had no idea, and we were very ecstatic that we were successful," Keller said. "We knew it was a gamble."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) last month touted six Jewish community projects that were funded in the appropriations process. Among them were allocations to the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn and two allocations for the Sephardic Bikur Holim Center in Brooklyn.

Brett Heimov, Nadler’s Washington chief of staff, said the office receives 15 to 20 requests from the Jewish community each year and forwards them to the appropriators.

"In 11 years here, I’ve seen maybe a dozen projects that are just stupid," he said. "Most are worthwhile."

Heimov said appropriators, who have the final say on what projects receive money, prefer programs that already are advanced in their development, giving a better sense of how the money will be spent.

A lawmaker touting a project may go it alone or may seek additional support when he sends a letter to members of the appropriations committee. Eight lawmakers signed a letter in October to the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee seeking $543,375 for the Center for Jewish History in New York’s archival preservation project. The center was allocated $328,000.

While some Jewish organizations seek money individually, others group their requests. The United Jewish Communities (UJC) helped win $4,320,000 for 19 Jewish communities for naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, which seek to assist elderly living independently in areas with large aging populations.

Robert Goldberg, UJC’s assistant legislative director, said the organization is able to serve as a conduit between the local communities and lawmakers who know the value of NORCs.

"We are the ones that have done the legwork with the appropriations committees and educated them on NORCs as a community-based service," he said.

Jewish communities in big cities often need less assistance, because they have more resources and are more familiar with the process.

The need for federal appropriations is growing in the Jewish community. Budget crunches in many states, as well as decreases in social service block grants that give federal money to the states to distribute, have led to a decrease in the availability of other public funding sources, Price said.

It is hard to pin down some of the ingredients for a successful bid for funds. Communities with Republican lawmakers may be served better, because the Republican leaders of the divided Congress have been reticent to provide funds for Democratic districts, Jewish officials said.

Some suggest that having a Jewish lawmaker in one’s district helps. Others say that Jewish lawmakers, concerned about a backlash, try not to have too many Jewish projects funded in their districts.

One Democratic aide said he believed Republicans may be working to give more assistance to Jewish communities as part of their efforts to court the Jewish vote in 2004.

Price said Jews do no better or worse than other interests lobbying for pork.

"Not everything asked for is gotten," she observed.

JCC Director to Leave Before Project Finish

Part of the team readying O.C.’s Jewish Community Center for its planned relocation and expansion next year in Irvine is not staying to see the result.

Gerry Buncher, 53, the JCC’s executive director since 1999, is resigning at the end of his current contract, effective Dec. 31.

“I decided it’s time to be closer to everybody,” said Buncher, who intends to relocate east in closer proximity to his two adult children and 88-year-old mother, hospitalized twice in the last year. He intends to seek a similar center job in the New York area.

Orange County and Long Beach are among seven communities currently recruiting top executives among the nation’s 275 centers, which have 1 million members, according to the Web site of the Jewish Community Center Association, the group’s national office.

Buncher’s successor will inherit a significantly larger job in a facility described as state-of-the-art. The JCC’s current $2.8 million annual budget is forecast to grow by more than 50 percent in its new location, predicted to open in September 2004, said Maryann Malkoff, the center’s president. The new director will also be responsible for expanding the center’s senior staff, such as new positions that will supervise programs in aquatics and cultural arts.

Future staffing levels will depend on programming, Malkoff said. “We’re still six months away,” she said, from needing to hire middle managers.

JCC membership of 1,200 units, which could be singles, families or couples, has remained stable for at least five years, said Jeanette Lewin, the center’s finance director. In September, the center will employ 38 people in full- and part-time positions. That includes 25 who work in the preschool, which has about 150 students. Staffing doubles in summer to 70 because of teen councilors hired for a day camp, she said.

Initially, the JCC board will consider prospective candidates exclusively from those recruited through the JCCA. “Why not exhaust the best resource first?” Malkoff asked. With a new facility, she predicted little trouble attracting potential job seekers.

Instead of the Jewish Federation, which currently manages the Costa Mesa campus, the JCC and its top executive will also assume day-to-day management responsibilities of the 120,000-square-foot Irvine campus, including its pool and gymnasium. Other Jewish agencies, such as the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Federation and Jewish Family Services, are to be tenants of the Orange County Jewish Campus, a recently incorporated nonprofit entity.

Between Pittsburgh, Columbus, Houston and Costa Mesa, Buncher has spent 26 years in center jobs. The new facility will be improved aesthetically because of insights he’s gleaned on how members use centers, such as eliminating fixed tables in work rooms rearranged for different uses.

“I would feel more guilty about leaving if this was the first year,” he said. “But they’re ready.”

Backlash Threat

As some 20 teens beat 18-year-old Rashid Alam with golf clubs and baseball bats in Yorba Linda on Feb. 22, they allegedly yelled “White Power!” The attack, which Alam’s friends said was unprovoked, left the recent high school graduate hospitalized with a fractured jaw and broken bones in his face.

Unable to speak because his jaw is wired shut, friends and family despair that he might have suffered permanent brain damage from the 65 blows he endured.

Police call the attack a hate crime, but have said that it began as a face-off between two rival groups that had fought in the past. Others said it was fueled solely by ethnic hatred.

Ahmed Alam, publisher of the Arab World newspaper in Anaheim, said his son’s beating underscored the vulnerability now felt by many Arab Americans.

“After Sept. 11, the average American thinks we’re all the same, all like Saddam,” said Alam, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Lebanon in 1971. “They don’t know the difference between an Iraqi, a Lebanese and a Syrian.”

As war with Iraq continues, both the Arab American and Jewish communities must brace themselves for a possible backlash.As the body bags mount and U.S. forces get bogged down in the desert, extremists might vent their rage by beating or even murdering Arab Americans, as they did after Sept. 11.

Similarly, hate mongers, who have long painted Jews as communists, money-grubbing internationalists and peddlers of Hollywood immorality, might soon brand them as fifth columnists more loyal to Israel than to the United States. Rep. James P. Moran’s (D-Va.) recent speech to an anti-war group, accusing the Jewish community of pushing the United States into an ill-advised conflict, is but the most recent example of this blame-the-Jews mentality, experts said. Moran has since apologized.

With Arab Americans and Jews both under siege, these minority groups appear to be developing a measure of empathy, if not sympathy, for one another. Views on the Middle East still divide them and hard-liners on both sides continue to spew out invective, but voices of reason appear to be cutting through the shouts.

In the aftermath of Rashid Alam’s brutal beating, several rabbis contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to express their outrage at the crime, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the group’s Southern California chapter.

Rabbi Allen Krause of Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo is among those who stood alongside the council. Krause, who has participated in several local interfaith events with Muslims and Christians, said he has long preached tolerance from his Orange County pulpit. The rabbi thinks that Jews, themselves victims of discrimination, should become more vocal in supporting American Muslims.

“The Torah doesn’t say Jews were made in God’s image. It says all humans were made in God’s image,” he said. “We are our brothers’ keeper.”

That’s not to suggest that relations between Arab Americans and Jewish groups have warmed considerably since the second intifada broke out in Israel more than two years ago. They have not. But the chill that plagued them seems to have begun to thaw ever so slightly.

“We oppose any kind of anti-Semitism,” said Jean Abinader, managing director of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group. “One, we’re Semites. Two, any kind of bigotry against somebody because of their religion or ethnicity is an act against humanity.”

Even before a single shot was fired in Iraq, hate crimes committed against people, institutions and businesses identified with the Islamic faith have skyrocketed, with 414 now under investigation by the FBI.

Already, some Muslims have grown fearful about speaking Arabic in public. Others have “Americanized” their children’s names to Sam from Osama or to Mo from Mohammed, said Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“There’s a lot of anxiety and worry,” he said. “Now, it’s almost commonplace these days for Muslims to be subjected to verbal abuse, especially men with the beards and women in head scarves.”

Some Arab American leaders have criticized the Bush administration for helping to create a hostile environment. They are especially angry that federal agents have imprisoned, without formal charges, scores of Muslims initially suspected of terrorist activities but later deported for minor visa infractions.

Activists complain of discrimination against Arab Americans on domestic airlines, with several dark-skinned passengers being asked to leave planes without cause. The groups also grouse about right-wing Christian evangelicals demonizing Islam.

A growing number of American Jews also are under attack. Hate crimes against Jews, both nationally and locally, jumped significantly last year, according to a report soon to be released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “I’m worried about people targeting synagogues and having hateful feelings about Jews,” said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s regional director in Los Angeles.

As delicate as the situation is for Jews, it is arguably worse for American Arabs.

In a reflection of their potentially dire situation, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller recently met with leaders of national Arab American, Muslim and Sikh organizations. (Sikhs are neither Arab nor Muslim. But Sikh men wear turbans and have been attacked by extremists who mistake them for Middle Easterners.) Among other issues, they spoke about possible vigilante attacks against the groups and the need to continue working with the FBI.

Against this backdrop, the ADL has forcefully condemned violence against American Muslims, especially since Sept. 11. The human rights advocacy group will “continue to be outspoken on the issue,” national spokesman Todd Gutnick said. “We think attacks against Muslim Americans is wrong and un-American.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he detects no hostility toward Arab Americans. If extremists begin to harass them, though, the center will “publicly urge people to focus on the enemies of the United States and not on innocent Muslims living in America.”

On the eve of war, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo joined Hier, Cardinal Roger Mahoney and other religious and community leaders at the Museum of Tolerance to oppose hate crimes and discrimination. Delgadillo said his office would prosecute all perpetrators of such acts to the fullest extent of the law, adding that some good might emerge from these uncertain times. “I’m hopeful that all of L.A.’s diverse communities can unite and rise to the occasion.”

Kahal Joseph’s New Beginning

When Joseph Dabby arrived in America from Iraq in 1972, and found his way to Kahal Joseph Congregation in Los Angeles, he was shocked. "It was like being back in the Old Country," he said.

"It was full of people who didn’t even speak the same language; they were very far removed [from their roots] but they maintained everything the same — the same melodies and the same traditions," said Dabby, now 56 and president of the congregation.

Kahal Joseph is a Sephardic melting pot of a synagogue; a shul whose members — and whose 25 Torah scrolls — come from places as remote as China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Iraq. Yet as disparate as all these locales are, all Kahal Joseph members share a common heritage, the Jewish Baghdadi tradition.

Baghdad, or Iraq, has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Jews have lived there since the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE.

"We are called Babylonians because we trace ourselves back to the destruction of the first Temple, when Babylonia’s [King] Nebuchadnezer destroyed the Temple and brought the cream of Jewish society to be slaves in Iraq," Dabby said. "That is when they built the hanging gardens, and they were the top singers and top astronomers in Iraq."

This was also the time that the Jewish Baghdadi customs started to develop: soulful, emotional melodies that, having survived thousands of years, are still sung today, and a tradition of Jewish learning that had its apotheosis with the publication of the Babylonian Talmud in the third century.

Yet the board of Kahal Joseph is finding that a reliance on ancient traditions is not enough to ensure the survival of a synagogue.

"We need to bring in young families here," Dabby said. "Now we get them here because of loyalty, because of their parents, but when they [the young families] have children, their children go to school and become more intellectual; if we don’t provide the proper services, then they go away and we lose them. And if we lose them, then we lose the synagogue, because they are the next generation. We are really looking for almost like a new beginning now. To rejuvenate young members who are starting new families, to have the synagogue give them something so they can keep it going rather than move to other synagogues."

The new beginning is coming in the form of a new rabbi, Rabbi Haim Ovadia from New York.

Ovadia, 36, was born in Jerusalem and raised in an Iraqi family, allowing him knowledge of the Baghdadi traditions. He is also college educated and in the middle of pursuing a Ph.D. in Jewish history at New York University. Dabby and his board are hoping that young families find this mix enticing.

"Rabbi Ovadia is very intellectual, and very open-minded," Dabby said. "And we really have big hopes that he will make a big difference for us, that he will be able to question things, and bring in our young people — who are really the ones who question things. My generation may go by faith and accept things. But the new generation is talking about things like organ transplants, and coming out of the closet — many issues which our old rabbis don’t know how to deal with. We hope that this rabbi will be able to be more current."

Ovadia will begin his tenure at Kahal Joseph on Rosh Hashana, when he will officiate alongside Kahal Joseph’s two cantors, Chazan Aryeh Ovadia (no relation), and Chazan Sassoon Ezra. While the cantors will be singing the melodies from the Old Country, Rabbi Ovadia will be working to make the service more user-friendly by explaining the services in English.

"We did not have that before, and we are very happy about it, because we need it," Dabby said. "There are a lot of people who grew up reading Hebrew, knowing the prayers, but not knowing what we are doing — so we are very excited that the rabbi is going to explain everything as we go along."

For Rabbi Ovadia, this move to Los Angeles presents him with a challenge. "I hope to be able to create a sense of unity in the shul," he said in a phone interview from New York. "I want to be able to unite the people around the central theme of being an Orthodox, modern Jew in the 21st century, and in order to do that we have to maintain the Iraqi traditions, with modern ideas. I hope to make the shul into a really active, dynamic place, where everyone can feel that they belong."