Moving and shaking: City Hall Passover, Shalhevet School crowned champs, Beit T’Shuvah runs

Los Angeles City Hall held its first-ever Passover celebration, which was organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The March 19 festivities took place on the City Hall forecourt, adjacent to the Spring Street steps. It brought together city leaders and clergy, including Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; L.A. City Council Members Jan Perry, Paul Krekorian, Dennis Zine, Bill Rosendahl and Joe Buscaino. Rabbi Joshua Hoffman of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) led the ceremony. Jonathan Freund, interim executive director of the Board of Rabbis; Rabbi Judith HaLevy, of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, who is president of the Board of Rabbis; Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El; Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue; and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also participated. Cantor Phil Baron of VBS led a chorus of sixth-graders from VBS Day School, and additional music was performed by kindergarteners and transitional-kindergarteners of Beth Hillel Day School.

Ryan Dishell. Photo courtesy of BBYO, Inc.




Pacific Palisades teenager Ryan Dishell, a student at Crossroads School, has been elected to serve as the international vice president of programming of the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) leadership program and high school fraternity, Aleph Zadik Aleph. Dishell, who was elected to the board of the worldwide pluralistic teen movement during BBYO’s international convention this past February, will hold the post for a yearlong term beginning in July.

Shalhevet School's Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University's annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams. Photo courtest of Yeshiva University.

After beating the Frisch School Cougars of Paramus, N.J., 62-53, in a basketball game on March 11, the Shalhevet School’s Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University’s annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams.


Beit T'Shuvah resident Noah Mann completes the L.A. Marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 26 seconds. Photo courtesy of Beit T'Shuvah.

Culver City’s Beit T’Shuvah, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, participated in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 17. As part of team Run to Save a Soul, 54 runners, including Beit T’Shuvah residents, board members and alumni, completed the 26.2- mile race. This is the fourth year that Beit T’Shuvah has participated in the marathon, with residents training for six months leading up to it. As of March 22, the rehab center’s team had raised $125,500, surpassing its goal by $500, to help fund the cost of care for residents of Beit T’Shuvah.

Michel Jeser. Photo Courtesy of Marvin Steindler Photography.



Michael Jeser, executive director of Hillel at USC, will move to become executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW) in mid-June, USC Hillel Foundation board chair Howard Schwimmer announced on March 20. Jeser will replace JWW interim director Lois Weinsaft. JWW was founded in 2004 to fight genocide, and its education and advocacy work is done through a coalition of synagogues, churches, individuals and partner organizations. JWW’s ground-breaking solar cooker program has helped women in the Sudan and Congo to cook without having to leave their camps to search for firewood, which had previously left them vulnerable to rape and assault.

Suzy and Stephen Bookbinder and Leora and Gary Raikin were honored March 17 at Kadima Day School’s annual gala, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. Suzy Bookbinder, president of the school’s board of trustees, is chief development officer for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, while Stephen is a senior high-definition video editor at Technicolor. Leora Raikin has a passion for African folklore embroidery and lectures, exhibits and teaches workshops throughout the United States, while Gary is a CPA. A Special Lifetime Achievement Award from the school, which is now in its 42nd year, went to Ronit and Amnon Band.

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more. Got a tip? E-mail it to

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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JCRC’s Schwartz-Getzug picked to head Jewish World Watch

Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, a longtime Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles executive and director of the organization’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), has been named executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of synagogues, schools and Jewish community members working to combat genocide around the world.

Schwartz-Getzug plans to leave the Community Relations Committee, which is one of the prominent faces of The Federation in the non-Jewish world, in November and begin her new position in early December. The committee has not yet announced her replacement.

Schwartz-Getzug, who is also The Federation’s senior vice president of public affairs, said she has mixed feelings about leaving the “epicenter of the local Jewish communal world” after six years of service. Still, the opportunity to head a small up-and-coming organization outweighed her misgivings.

“This was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” said Schwartz-Getzug, a 44-year-old mother of three. “This felt like an opportunity to branch out.”

“Tzivia will definitely be missed,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Schwartz-Getzug will help the two-year-old nonprofit raise money, market itself to the community, oversee the creation of a strategic plan and help determine which issues the group should spotlight, said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW president and acting executive director.

Schwartz-Getzug was selected from 40 applicants for the top spot at JWW. Schwartz-Getzug said she plans to work closely with JWW’s board and other leaders to determine how to grow the organization.

The Community Relations Committee programs have grown in scope and importance under Schwartz-Getzug’s direction, observers say. Among them is KOREH L.A., a well-regarded reading mentoring program, which offers literacy programs to children as young as 3 and 4. Schwartz-Getzug also increased the number of JCRC-sponsored trips to Israel for California legislators, a program that helps increase political support for the Jewish state and for Federation social services.

Recently, she oversaw the creation of a new coalition that has brought together more than 80 local Jewish staff members from congressional, county supervisor, City Council and other political offices. Schwartz-Getzug hopes the new group will reach out to other ethnic and religious coalitions to network and figure out ways to collaborate.

Still, Schwartz-Getzug, like other JCRC directors in the past decade, has had a hard time leading the JCRC to take public stands on controversial political issues. In mid-May, for instance, the JCRC board approved a pro-immigrant rights statement that some members hoped would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community. The approval process was so slow, however, that the statement appeared several weeks after the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in the country, a reflection of the JCRC’s, and, by extension, The Federation’s, cautious approach.
A lawyer by training, Schwartz-Getzug’s career has taken “a lot of left turns” over the years, she said. After practicing law for four years as a litigator, she joined the Anti-Defamation League to become civil rights director for the Western Region. She moved on after six years to become community liaison at DreamWorks SKG, principally working on “The Prince of Egypt” and its prequel, “Joseph: King of Dreams.” Schwartz-Getzug joined The Federation in 2001.

“It is clear from my career choices that I am most happy and passionate working in the Jewish community,” she said. “And I look forward to continuing to play an important role in it.”

L.A. gets ready to be the center of Jewish universe

In just three weeks, more than 3,000 leaders of the international Jewish community, including the prime minister of Israel, are coming to Los Angeles.

What, you hadn’t heard?

This season’s best-kept secret among L.A. Jews seems to be that the 75th annual General Assembly (GA) of the United Jewish Communities is being held in Los Angeles — the first time in 26 years this city will host one of the largest annual gatherings of Jews in North America.

“This is a great opportunity for Los Angeles to participate in this national convention, where we don’t always have a critical mass participating,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “More importantly, we have some extraordinarily talented Jewish human resources and some extraordinarily creative programming in L.A., and this will be an opportunity for us to highlight those individuals and programs.”

But while some locals have already signed up, and hundreds have volunteered, a mention of the GA is more likely to elicit a blank stare than an excited nod in most Jewish circles.

“Never heard of it,” said Marlene Kahan, a teacher who lives in Beverlywood. “But it sounds interesting. I’d love to read about it and find out what happens there.”

The GA is one of the largest Jewish events on the North American calendar (the Reform movement’s biennial conference surpasses the GA, with about 5,000 attendees), with thousands of lay and professional leaders from hundreds of communities gathering to explore the state of the Jewish world, and to set a vision for the year to come.

The United Jewish Communities represents 155 Federations and 400 independent communities, and the four-day conference, Nov. 12-15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown, brings together Federation machers as well as other organizations and activists from around the world. Anyone who wants to be a player in the Jewish community is at the GA.

The powerful bloc of participants attracts an impressive roster of leaders, scholars and experts to run daily plenaries and a menu of hundreds of sessions on topics from global anti-Zionism to new trends in Jewish education to savvy solicitation techniques.

Anyone can register as a delegate. Southern Californians are offered a local’s discounted rate of $275 (non-residents pay $525), and people who have volunteered to help out for a few hours can attend the conference on that day (volunteer slots have been filled). All events — including a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Monday, Nov. 13 — are open to registered delegates and volunteers only.

But word has been slow to trickle out to the far-flung L.A. Jewish community.

While a call for volunteers went out to synagogues and organizations months ago, full-page ads have only shown up in the last few weeks, and the UJC Web site didn’t post program details — such as speakers and session topics — until early October.
There are currently 425 local delegates signed up, along with about 300 to 400 student delegates, some of them at Southern Californian schools, signed up through Hillel. About 750 Angelenos have also volunteered to staff the convention, which is estimated to attract 3,000 delegates and an additional 1,000 exhibitors, organizers and staff, according to Judy Fischer, who is the Los Angeles Federation staff GA director. Fischer is working with lay host community chair Terri Smooke to organize the event.

Organizers admit publicity has been slow because the program was revamped following the war in Israel.

“The focus was transformed in light of what happened over the summer, and particularly in light of the implications of the war for Israel and for the Jewish people in our communities and across the world,” said Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Chicago Federation, and head of programming for the GA. “There is a strong sense of connection with Israel, and recognition that as much as this means as a single war, it wasn’t just that. It has a deeper meaning.”

The theme chosen over the summer was “On the Frontlines Together: One People, One Destiny,” meant to encompass the war’s implications regarding the Israel-Diaspora connection, global Jewish security, Israel’s identity, its military, its leadership and how that reverberates out to Jewish communities across the world.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to deliver the keynote on Tuesday evening (though in the past prime ministers have often ended up canceling or speaking through video feed). A record four Knesset ministers are also scheduled to address the group, including foreign minister Tzipi Livni, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s ministers of education and tourism.

During and following the war, federations from across the country funneled $330 million dollars to Israel through UJC.
“In some ways this was kind of a breakthrough in the recognition of the centrality and significance of the UJC Federation system,” Kotzin said. “The prime minister wants to be able to come and participate to express his appreciation and to advance ties between Israel and the North American Jewish Community. The GA exists at a moment where we can really keep up with what is going on and move things forward.”

Other speakers include Canadian Parliament Member Dr. Irwin Cotler; Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi.

A plenary on “The Jewish Future” will feature a panel with Norman Cohen, provost of the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Insitiute of Religion; Arnie Eisen, chancellor-elect at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of the Orthodox Yeshiva University.

But all other conference-wide sessions will focus on Israel, as will more than half of the smaller sessions.
It is a shift that not everyone is thrilled with.

“As someone who lives in Israel and is a Zionist, I think it is unfortunate and actually speaks to the lack of an overarching vision for the future of the Jewish people,” said Yossi Abramowitz, founder of Jewish Family and Life, who now blogs daily at

Abramowitz has attended around 20 GAs, and moved to Israel this summer.

Large-Scale Israel Solidarity Rally Planned for Sunday

In an effort to demonstrate solidarity with Israel, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other Jewish groups are organizing a major community rally to take place in front of the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters this Sunday, July 23 at 4 p.m.


The Federation

Board of Rabbis

Wiesenthal Center Hosts 900+ for Pro-Israel Rally

Simon Wiesenthal Center

United Jewish Communities (UJC)

Planners hope to attract 10,000 supporters.

“This is an opportunity for a broad cross-section of our community to come together for the people of Israel at this difficult time,” Federation President John Fishel said.

The Federation and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California are coordinating the rally, which will include the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among other organizations. Fischel said The Federation will work with public agencies to ensure participants’ safety.

First Federation Rally

Sunday’s event is the first major pro-Israel rally organized by the Federation since 2001, Fischel said. That year, the nonprofit organization held a rally in support of Israel just after the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

To publicize the rally, many local rabbis are emailing congregants and will speak from the pulpit on Shabbat about the demonstration’s importance, said Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Mark Diamond.

“The rally will send a clear message to American politicians, the U.N. and to world leaders that the people of Los Angeles stand with Israel,” Diamond said. “I think the world needs to be reminded over and over again what started this war, and that Israel is a sovereign state that has a right to defend its people.”

The attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas represent nothing less than the latest step in radical Islam’s quest for world domination, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Standing up to the threat, whether on the frontlines of Israel or the streets of Los Angeles, is a needed challenge to the forces of darkness.

“Their first step may be the state of Israel, but it is not the last stop in their international Jihadist journey,” Hier said. “This is an historical moment for the state of Israel. And Israel is doing what the world should be doing: confronting terrorists.”

Wiesenthal Center Plans Screenings

As part of its attempts to educate the public about the roots of the current crisis in the Middle East, the Wiesenthal Center has plans to screen three films, beginning July 25. “The Long Way Home,” discusses the story of Israel’s creation; “In Search of Peace” details the conflict from 1948 to 1967; and “Ever Again,” Hier said, spotlights the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, the Federation has established an Israel in Crisis Fund. One hundred percent of all monies raised will go toward sending Israeli children living in northern communities under attack to summer camp in safer areas.

The Federation’s emergency campaign is part of an initiative among U.S. and Canadian federations to raise $1 million weekly for the summer camp program.

As a measure of its support, the L.A. Federation announced that it had donated $100,000 to the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for 155 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America.
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Toronto have had or will also hold rallies to show solidarity with the Jewish state.

The upcoming Los Angeles event comes less than a week after a Chabad-sponsored pray-in and two weeks after an emotional rally at the Wiesenthal Center.
On July 17, Chabad held a pro-Israel prayer rally at Rabbi Schneerson Square in Los Angeles. The lunchtime gathering attracted about 1,000 people, including 500 children from local Chabad camps and youth groups.

“Whenever the Jewish people are threatened, our special weapon is the prayers of our beautiful children who now cry to the Almighty for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad.

Four days earlier, about 500 supporters of Israel attended the last-minute gathering. The two-hour ceremony included speeches from Wiesenthal Rabbis Hier and Abraham Cooper, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarsolavsky, L.A. Consul General to Israel Ehud Danoch, Judea Pearl (father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) and The Federation’s Fishel.
“This operation will not end until we make an end to Hezbollah,” Danoch said. “Israel is strong. The government is strong. The Jewish people are strong, and we will last an eternity.”

Religion Editor Amy Klein contributed to this report.

Let There Be Yiddish

“Gut Shabbes.” Synagogue vice president Donna Groman stands at the door, warmly greeting each guest. Inside, a samovar sits on a white-clothed table alongside temptingly arranged platters of homemade kugel and apple cake for the oneg.

Tonight is a Yiddish service, Zol Zahn Shabbes — literally, we should have Shabbat — and it’s happening at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), founded in 1972 as the world’s first synagogue for lesbian and gay Jews.

It’s a meeting of two seemingly incongruous worlds — an almost extinct 1,000-year-old Eastern European language and culture and a progressive and now well-established congregation of 180 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual families. And the Pico Boulevard synagogue is expecting a big crowd.

The sanctuary begins to fill. The congregants, young and old, male and female, are respectfully but comfortably attired. Many hug or kiss as they claim their chairs. All have varying allegiances to Yiddish.

Member Rebecca Weinreich, with daughters Shoshanah, 8, and Ashira, 4, is a celebrity this evening. Her grandfather, scholar Max Weinreich, founded the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilna, Poland, in 1925. Escaping from the Nazis in 1940, he re-established it in Manhattan.

“Do you speak Yiddish?” I ask Weinreich.

“Not in public. The expectations because of my name are too high,” she says.

“Shalom Aleycheim.” The lights dim as cantorial soloist Fran Magid Chalin welcomes everyone.

I peruse the 17-page booklet, which includes the evening’s program, a history of the Yiddish language and links to Yiddish resources. Even a nar (fool) could realize that this evening’s agenda is not just a kitschy visit to the alte velt (Old World).

Immediately the chorus begins singing, “O, Vee Gut un Vee Voyl Iz,” a Yiddish version of “Hiney Ma Tov.” They segue seamlessly into “Meer Viln Ale Nor Sholem,” which is “Heveynu Shalom Aleycheim.” People are clapping and singing along.

More people enter, and I count more than 100 guests.

After a break to greet one another, Chalin says, “Yiddish is the language that childproofed what parents said.”

Chalin herself studied German and, in her early 20s, sang in a Yiddish adult choir in Philadelphia. There, singing songs about the early labor movement, she felt electric, establishing a deep bond with the language. Later, after graduate school, she enrolled in a two-month Yiddish immersion class at Columbia University in New York.

“Many of us have this romantic relationship with Yiddish. It speaks to us about a time gone by,” she says. But she cautions that we can’t have a relationship if we relegate it to little pockets or little sayings.

The songs that Chalin has chosen for the choir quickly dispel any sense of romanticism. “Un Du Akerst, Un Du Zeyst” (“And You Plow and You Sow”), written in 1864 for the German Workingman’s Federation, taunts workers for how little they have to show for all their hard work. Others were written during the Shoah, giving comfort to the Jews in the same ways the Negro spirituals sustained the slaves.

Chalin introduces Lilke Majzner, Yiddishist and president of Los Angeles’ Yiddish Culture Club, founded in 1926. A native of Lodz, Poland, and a survivor of seven concentration camps, Majzner came to the United States in 1950 at age 17.

“I came without any script,” she says in a booming, confident voice. “I came to talk to you in English about Yiddish. That’s silly. That’s very silly.”

People laugh. But it’s clear that this diminutive figure, 84, professionally dressed in a beige suit and sensible shoes, isn’t here to entertain us.

She proves that further by reading a poem by Yiddish writer Malka Tussman. It begins, “You have a Jewish mouth, so speak Yiddish.” It ends, “Let there be Yiddish. That’s how I talk.”

How Majzner talks is even more emphatic: “I am shouting into your Jewish ears. Let there be Yiddish.”

And shouting she is. She educates us about the 1,000-year history of Yiddish — a history not just of words, of grammar and of curses but also of political parties, of freedom and of going on strike for Jewish and human rights.

And she exhorts us — passionately and convincingly — to take up the banner of her legacy, to learn Yiddish to make up for the 3.5 million Yiddish-speaking Jews who were murdered in the Shoah and to build a better world.

“And when you don’t feel the heaviness of the legacy, I will put some rocks in it,” she says.

She receives a standing ovation.

After services, a crowd gathers around Majzner, some speaking Yiddish.

I talk to Davi Cheng, a Chinese American Jew-by-choice. She grimaces as she describes the frustration of mastering the guttural sounds of Yiddish.

“There’s no ‘ch’ sound in Chinese,” she explains.

I also sit briefly with Chalin who tells me how, in her experience, she finds a disproportionate number of gays and lesbians studying Yiddish.

“In my classes at Columbia, we talked about how Yiddish doesn’t have a country and how often the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] community feels like a people without a country,” she says.

Chalin thinks many of those who desire to speak Yiddish fluently, like gays and lesbians, long for the notion of a secure community.

At evening’s end, as people leave, I notice the samovar is empty and the apple cake and kugel gone.

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.


The Lichtenstein Formula for a Jewish Paper

“The role of a Jewish newspaper is to connect the Jewish community, not to unify it,” said Gene Lichtenstein, founding editor of The Journal.

During his nearly 15-year tenure, which ended in 2000, Lichtenstein’s formula was to hire good, independent writers and columnists who could produce articles that raised the interest, and frequently the hackles, of both professional and peripheral Jews.

“I wanted stories that people would discuss and argue about the following day,” Lichtenstein said during a lengthy interview at his home near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This concept doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it went counter to the tradition of most American Jewish weeklies in decades past.

The purpose of those publications was precisely to unify their communities in material and moral support of their federations, which usually financed the papers, and other Jewish and Israeli causes. A basic rule was to avoid criticism and controversy.

In that sense, Lichtenstein was an odd, even risky, choice as editor, and his selection split the then Jewish Federation Council, he recalls.

When Lichtenstein visited Los Angeles in 1985 to court his future wife, Jocelyn, the city’s Jews had the unusual choice of three competing weeklies.

They were the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger, the maverick Heritage, both independently owned, and the Jewish Community Bulletin, the official Federation organ.

Much of The Federation’s leadership was dissatisfied with the coverage of all three papers and decided to explore a new format with a new editor to replace its own Bulletin.

At this point, Lichtenstein remembers, he was contacted by Ethel Narvid, a key player in Democratic and city politics, on behalf of a Federation committee appointed to find a new editor to shape a new paper.

Lichtenstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants, had a resume combining experience as psychologist, journalist and academic.

He had worked for The New York Times, Fortune, London Economist and as literary editor at Esquire, where his contributors included the likes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

On the academic side, he had served as chairman of the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island and taught courses in mass communications at USC and UC Berkeley.

Perhaps equally important for the position at hand, he had started a newspaper in the Boston area, the Jewish Journal of the Northshore.

As he recalls it, in his first interview with The Federation committee, chaired by attorney Richard Volpert, Lichtenstein outlined his concept for the new paper.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In addition, he would insist on good writing, and the contributions of columnists would be central to the paper.

After that presentation, Lichtenstein thought that his chances of getting the job were pretty slim, and he and Jocelyn went on a vacation trip to London.

To his surprise, “I got a midnight call from Volpert and he offered me the editorship,” Lichtenstein said.

Shortly afterward, Narvid gave a lunch at her home for some old friends, including Los Angeles Times labor editor Harry Bernstein and this reporter, to introduce Lichtenstein.

“Harry told me that I was kidding myself if I thought The Federation would let me put out an independent paper, and you backed him up,” Lichtenstein reminded me.

Despite the prediction, The Federation committee and larger Federation board of directors agreed, in the face of considerable internal opposition, to establish an independent Journal, to advance a $660,000 loan for its operation, and to pay a subsidy to mail the paper to each of its 52,000 donors.

There had been two other finalists for the editor’s job, Yehuda Lev, an outspoken, liberal journalist, and Marlene Adler Marks, a talented writer active in politics and feminist issues.

Lev and Marks were the first editor/reporters hired, soon joined by such early staffers as Tom Waldman, Sheldon Teitelbaum, Joe Domanick and Naomi Pfefferman.

The first slim issue of The Jewish Journal appeared on Feb. 28, 1986, with Volpert, whom the often-critical Lichtenstein praised for “a real standout job,” as the first publisher.

Early issues won kudos for lively writing, outraged criticism by some Federation leaders and Jewish organizations, and a weak response from advertisers.

Within one year, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded that in the future they approve all major stories and editorials. Lichtenstein refused and, in a committee vote, carried the day by a narrow margin.

However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of The Journal that The Federation invited Charles Buerger, publisher of six successful East Coast Jewish papers, to buy out The Journal.

Buerger made a “low- ball” offer, then raised the stakes, but “to my astonishment,” The Federation decided not to sell, Lichtenstein said.

Nevertheless, by June 1987, the paper had run through the $660,000 lent by The Federation and faced an early demise.

At his point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osiah Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, putting up their own money to repay the loan. The Journal lived to fight another day.

Brennglass took over as publisher for the next 11 years, the paper established a solid reputation and actually started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, became publisher in 1997.

However, by the year 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor-in-chief led to a parting point. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman.

Looking back on his 15-year tenure, Lichtenstein said he had “a wonderful time,” which included reporting trips to Israel, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.

“I think we put out a pretty good paper, though not as good as it could have been,” he reminisced. Part of the problem was a running conflict between himself and Federation leaders, which, he acknowledged, were partly his fault.

“I was really always an outsider, with one foot in the community, and one foot outside,” he said. In addition, “I believe that a Jewish weekly belongs to the editor and staff, and it is the editor’s job to make the staff realize that the paper belongs to them.

“That is hard for some organizational leaders to accept,” Lichtenstein added in an understatement.

His major contributions, Lichtenstein said, were to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists and insist, at all times, on good writing.

True to his initial inspiration, “I tried to put out a paper that was part of America and the world,” he said.

“I’ve met some Jews, very wealthy and powerful Jews, who embrace Jewish victimhood, who told me that you can never trust a gentile,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t champion that. I believe that the walls we build around ourselves are only in our minds.”

The “victim” mindset is encouraged by many Jewish organizations, Lichtenstein said, “which wave the flag of anti-Semitism to keep their members loyal and to raise funds.”

For Lichtenstein, there is a busy life after journalism. While he still writes, he has returned to his first profession as psychologist and is the director of mental health and social services for 26 clinics of the Aegis Institute, which specializes in the treatment of opiate addicts.

In addition, he has established a private practice, which includes family and marriage counseling.

He draws a distinction between core committed Jews, who go to synagogue and contribute to Jewish causes, and the “integrated” Jew on the periphery of the organized community.

“It is not the job of the American Jewish press to ‘convert’ the integrated Jew,” he said. “Our job is to open a dialogue with him.”


Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes

When former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine agreed to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), he hoped to infuse it with the passion and purpose of its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, the JCRC — which is one of the major voices and faces of The Federation to the non-Jewish world — was a high-profile entity. It took up the cause of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopia’s Jews. It was assertive locally, too, whether in denouncing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 or reaching out to non-Jewish communities in need.

But something has happened during the John Fishel era at The Federation.

Critics say that starting in the mid-1990s, the JCRC slowly began losing its voice and shirked a core mission: to be as visible and forthrightly active as possible.

As Levine saw it, the community relations committee could once again become a powerful voice by taking principled stands on controversial public policy issues, thereby strengthening coalitions with African American, Latino and other ethnic groups.

Levine’s appointment came at a time when JCRC staff morale was low. The committee had largely abandoned public policy advocacy in favor of its more traditional roles of ardently supporting Israel, reaching out to other religious and ethnic communities and lobbying for government dollars for social programs. Under Fishel, the JCRC has seen its influence, as well as staff and budget, shrink.

“John Fishel doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it,” said Howard Welinsky, a former JCRC chair. He said that Fishel constantly pushed to downsize the JCRC during Welinsky’s two-year term in the late ’90s.

But Fishel’s view is that the political climate simply evolved. The JCRC has “a unique function,” he said, but the community itself no longer always coalesces, through the committee, as one voice. There are no longer such issues of broad agreement, such as support for Soviet Jewry.

“I think it’s become much more difficult for the JCRC to define what becomes an issue of Jewish concern,” Fishel said.

To be sure, JCRCs across the country have seen budgets shrink as federations’ resources dipped. After the successful immigration to Israel of nearly 1 million Soviet Jews — a Herculean undertaking that community relations councils around the nation helped orchestrate — several JCRCs experienced periods of “searching for meaning,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York-based parent organization for 125 community relations councils nationwide.

Which is why the appointment of former Rep. Levine was so welcomed. Given his political connections in Sacramento and Washington and his energy and dedication, JCRC supporters believed Levine would restore the committee’s lost luster.

When the Israeli embassy contacted Levine, seeking JCRC public support for Israel’s planned withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza, he set about building consensus. Although Levine eventually succeeded in putting the JCRC on record as favoring the withdrawal — a position shared by the majority of American Jews — he said he felt frustrated that it took so long for The Federation to sign off on the public pronouncement. And by this time, The Federation was following the train of opinion shapers, rather than leading it.

Time was, the local JCRC, with The Federation’s blessing, took controversial stands on issues of the day, said Steven Windmueller, the committee’s director from 1985 to 1995. In those heady times, the JCRC opposed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and spoke out in support of abortion rights, he said.

Although those positions angered some Jews in the community, Windmueller said the committee’s views reflected those held by the majority of the Southland’s liberal-leaning Jews. The JCRC’s willingness to take those and other positions, Windmueller said, attracted scores of young people to the committee, which served as a gateway to the Jewish community for many. Some later went on to became Federation donors, he added.

About a decade ago, however, the L.A, Federation, like some others around the country, began discouraging the local JCRC from venturing into controversial public policy matters, Windmueller said. With competition for charitable dollars heating up, many federations concluded that the risk of alienating conservative donors outweighed the benefit of taking liberal stands. Increasingly, most JCRCs left political advocacy, whether liberal or conservative, to other groups.

In Southern California, that void was filled by the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), among others. Ironically, the PJA’s willingness to fight against sweatshops and the exploitation of hotel workers along with its boldness in embracing the sort of left-of-center causes once championed by the local JCRC has helped swell its ranks to 3,500. With half its members under 30, the alliance, which just opened a second office in the Bay Area, has succeeded in reaching a demographic coveted by Fishel’s Federation.

“What we find is that pursuing a positive, progressive Jewish response to the issues of the day is profoundly inspiring , especially to young people who one day will be our community leaders and donors,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Two of the nation’s most robust JCRCs are among the most politically liberal. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has a staff of 24 and a $3 million budget, while the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council employs 20, with a budget of $2.1 million. By contrast, the local JCRC has five full-time and two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Unlike Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco have taken bold policy stands recently, with San Francisco, for instance, coming out in favor of same-sex civil marriages.

A left-leaning JCRC wouldn’t fly everywhere, but the formula has consonance with liberal Los Angeles.

Levine had expected the L.A. JCRC to take positions on ballot initiatives, legislation and other political issues, provided he could build consensus. But The Federation’s new chairman of the board, Michael Koss, worried about alienating donors. Koss said he also thought the JCRC would benefit if led by someone who was not strongly identified with either liberal or conservative politics. Koss, who had the authority as Federation chair, did not reappoint Levine. The former congressman, for his part, said he had no interest in a second term given the lack of support.

“Losing Mel Levine for the JCRC or anyplace Mel puts his hat is a loss,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair.

Fishel said he respects Levine but added that Federation chairs make their own appointments. Fishel’s critics counter that it’s his job to show leadership.

Koss tapped corporate attorney Ron Leibow as Levine’s successor. Leibow, former chair of The Federation’s Planning and Allocation Committee, said he plans to revitalize the JCRC and has made reaching out to ethnic groups, especially Latinos, a priority.

Those involved with JCRC are determined to make a positive difference. Under new JCRC Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, the committee has added paid staff and seen its budget increase. Several JCRC programs have grown in importance. The Holy Land Democracy Project, for instance, has helped teach thousands of area Catholic high school students about Israel, while, simultaneously, tightening links between Jews and Catholics. The JCRC continues to take elected leaders on trips to Israel — to expose them to the Jewish state and to Jewish issues.

But a recent, tentative step back into the political fray was telling, when the JCRC encountered some Federation resistance and withdrew, for now, a pro-immigrant statement. The scenario unfolded in mid-May, when the JCRC board approved a statement saying that it supported better border security but opposed legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants. The statement also favored normalizing immigrants’ status, insiders said. JCRC members had hoped the resolution would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community, she said.

The Federation board, however, barely approved the JCRC resolution, so the JCRC has pulled back, while it develops new wording that could attract more support, Schwartz-Getzug said.

That the JCRC still hasn’t come out with a statement weeks after one of the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in U.S. history reflects the committee’s — and, by extension, the Federation’s — cautious approach. Critics might go farther, arguing that this reluctance to take a public stand on immigration illustrate that those institutions no longer speak for the local Jewish community.

“If the Federation isn’t going to take a position on something as important to the Latino community as immigration, even after the huge marches all over the nation, then what in the world do they have to say to the Latino community?” commented Michael Hirschfeld, formerly the top JCRC staff member. Hirschfeld was himself the focus of an earlier JCRC furor: His unexpected 2003 dismissal, after 24 years with the JCRC, generated a firestorm of criticism, and a few calls for Fishel’s resignation.

Levine believes that until Fishel’s Federation either allows the JCRC to become independent or have more autonomy, the committee will serve as little more than an administrator of such programs as KOREH L.A, a well-regarded tutoring program.

“The CRC and Federation are no longer a meaningful political force in the structure of Los Angeles,” said Levine, now a partner in international law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “That’s unfortunate.”


Views Differ on Role in Centers Crisis

The news stunned John Fishel. In the fall of 2001, the L.A. Federation president learned that the city’s Jewish community centers were in crisis. If The Federation didn’t act quickly, some or all of the JCCs would have to shut down.

Fishel had every right to feel upset. He and other Federation leaders had allocated millions to support the JCCs over the years, with the expectation that the money was well spent, with proper oversight. In the late 1990s, for instance, The Federation had forgiven $1 million in loans to the parent organization running the centers.

Now, not only were the Jewish centers’ futures at stake, but also nearly $3 million in additional loans advanced by The Federation.

The financial troubles at the local JCCs were by no means unprecedented. Years earlier, difficulties flared up in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. In those instances, the local federations acted quickly to bail out troubled centers. They forgave loans, made emergency cash infusions and hammered out long-term strategic plans.

Other cities saved their JCCs because they saw them as invaluable community resources. They not only provided valuable services to Jewish families but also strengthened or even established connections between individual Jews and the Jewish community. In Los Angeles, JCCs also were known for serving the larger non-Jewish community.

But Fishel did not act as though preserving the centers was a community necessity. His approach to the problem was markedly different than in other cities.

“It all became: How are you going to pay back the money? When are you going to pay back the money? What interest rate will there be for this accrued debt?” said Nina Lieberman Giladi, former executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). “I would have expected The Federation, as leader of the organized local Jewish community, to have taken a different, more collaborative tone.”

A former Federation executive close to the parent organization corroborated her account, as does documentation. The Federation brought an attorney to the first post-crisis meeting between group executives and representatives of the centers’ parent organization. Many in the community began to see Fishel as intent on liquidating the centers to get the Federation’s money back. Fishel did little to dispel that perception by opining that perhaps the JCC model was antiquated and megasynagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions might fill the void.

Eventually, The Federation restructured the debt and agreed to some loan forgiveness. But Fishel created no special fundraising campaign. He didn’t hold a fundraiser dinner. And the repayment terms virtually guaranteed that most of the JCCs would be shuttered, with their land sold to repay The Federation.

His actions suggested that he had lost faith in the mission and relevance of some of the city’s JCCs, especially the smaller ones.

Within three years, the venerable Bay Cities JCC in Santa Monica went out of business; the small Conejo Valley JCC shut down, and the JCCs’ parent organization sold the North Valley JCC. Although the property’s new owner has permitted North Valley members to continue operating on the site, the number of families participating at the center is off nearly 80 percent from the late 1980s.

And in Silver Lake, it was a Christian cleric — not The Federation — who partnered with the local community to purchase the land under the Silverlake Independent JCC. Otherwise, that profitable center would have closed because of a debt that it did not create. Most of the proceeds went to The Federation to repay a secured loan.

All this occurred against the backdrop of a JCC movement that is booming nationally. Close to $700 million in construction is planned, under way or has recently been completed, said Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCC Association of North America, the umbrella organization for the nation’s 200 full-service JCCs and other community properties, including Jewish camps. In coming years, Las Vegas; Boulder, Colo., and Naples, Fla., are expected to have new state-of-the-art facilities.

So what happened in Los Angeles, a city with such an affluent Jewish community? For one thing, the JCC parent organization mismanaged its finances and never raised enough money to maintain and improve the centers as Federation funding began declining in the 1990s, said attorney Ron Leibow, a vice chair of the national JCC Association. Leibow ultimately helped negotiate a final settlement between The Federation and the JCC parent organization, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

The local Jewish community, unlike those in other cities, neither supported most existing centers nor clamored for the types of state-of-the-art facilities that have proven so successful elsewhere, he added. As for Fishel, Leibow said, he erred in initially taking an intransigent stance.

“There’s lot of blame to go around,” Leibow said. “I blame The Federation. I blame the JCC system. And I blame the community.”

Fishel, supporters argue, did much more for the local JCCs than he’s given credit for. In 2001, at the height of the crisis, Federation grants, loans and advances to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles totaled $3.3 million, or nearly one-quarter of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation. (That figure included a $1.1 million emergency loan, with interest.)

“I can assure you John did all he could,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair who worked closely with Fishel on the JCC issue. “This caused him a great deal of pain and agony.”

The Federation, Hochman added, has increasing demands on its finite resources and simply lacked the money to prop up the entire system.

Given the mismanagement at the JCC parent organization, Fishel could be excused for not rushing to throw new money at the problem.

But to critics, Fishel and The Federation seemed to be choosing with their funding which Jewish communities were worth fighting for.

In the end, those JCCs considered worthy were the state-of-the-art New JCC at Milken in the West Valley; the Westside JCC (near the Fairfax district), which has raised millions for a planned renovation, and the often-struggling Valley Cities JCC. They have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federation support.

“Without John Fishel and all the lay and professional support we’ve gotten from The Federation, we wouldn’t be here — period,” said Mike Brezner, president of Friends of Valley Cities JCC, which operates the center. “They got us over the hump.”

Fishel’s unwavering support, Brezner added, allowed Valley Cities to rebuild programs, attract new members and gave it time to find an anonymous donor who paid off the Valley Cities outstanding debt. More than 1,000 visitors per week now come to the center.

No such luck with Fishel for the Silverlake Independent JCC, which arguably was more successful than Valley Cities. The Federation, in recent years, gave nearly nothing to Silverlake.

A boisterous 2004 protest held by Silverlake supporters at Federation headquarters brought out television crews and put Fishel and The Federation in a negative glare. Afterward, when Silverlake formally requested a grant, Federation officials asked for audited financial statements. Silverlake executives said they couldn’t afford to pay the audit fee.

“In my estimation, [the Silverlake leadership] chose not to go through the route we recommended,” Fishel said curtly.

In April 2005, just as Silverlake appeared on the verge of closing, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, stepped in to assume a 49 percent ownership stake on behalf of the local Episcopalian diocese. The Silverlake group retained 51 percent control. The center, which operates in the black, now offers ballet, gymnastics, yoga and other classes. Its preschool has a waiting list.

“I was stunned when we ultimately received no help from the organized Jewish community,” said Janie F. Schulman, president of the Silverlake Independent JCC. “I kept thinking that at the end of the day, they would come through for us.”

For a city its size, Los Angeles now has a relatively weak JCC system. Whereas metro New York has 26 full- or part-service JCCs and Chicago has seven, Los Angeles has five.

“I don’t feel the JCC model is necessarily outmoded,” Fishel said, “but we have a different community today than we did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Fishel Facts

Name: John Fishel.

Position: President of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — 1992 to the present.

Age: 57.

Salary: $332, 000 (according to 2004 federal tax documents).

Birthplace: Cleveland.

Education: B.A. in anthropology from University of Michigan; M.A. in social work from University of Michigan.

Family: Married for 31 years to Karen, preschool teacher at Temple Isaiah; daughter, Jessica, 19, freshman at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Hobbies: Reading, international adventure travel, music, especially jazz and blues.

Super Sunday Aims at Aiding Programs

In 1999, Alexander Khananashvili left behind his prosperous life as a Moscow doctor to immigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters, hoping for a better future. He came with little money, no job prospects and no knowledge of English.

With the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Khananashvili and his family quickly found their footing. Within two days of their arrival, the former doctor and his wife met with a social worker from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a Federation beneficiary agency.

The social worker spoke to them at length about life in America, giving them information on everything from opening a bank account to enrolling in a medical plan. Within a few weeks, Khananashvili had several job leads, courtesy of JVS, while his wife enrolled, for free, in an English-language class offered by the agency.

Subsequently, The Federation awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars to enroll the Khananashvili daughters in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps, which, Khananashvili said, has helped cement their Jewish identities.

“The Federation improved our lives,” said Khananashvili, now a 48-year-old social worker and Beverly Hills resident. “They gave us our start here and protected us under their shield. We’re very grateful.”

During the past 30 years, The Federation has helped 30,000 Jews from around the world settle in the greater Los Angeles area. On Feb. 26, The Federation will hold its annual Super Sunday megafundraiser to support its 22 beneficiary agencies, including the Refugee and Resettlement Program that helped the Khananashvilis, as well as myriad other programs.

For the fundraiser, an estimated 1,900 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff phones at three sites: The Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Torrance Marriott. They will be making calls to potential donors, with the goal of raising $4.7 million.

Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development, said he hopes this year’s Super Sunday fundraising will break its record by $200,000 over 2005. He said he feels optimistic, because many local Jews have profited from the sizzling real estate market, enabling them to give more generously. In addition, The Federation has identified and plans to contact the growing population of Jews in the West Valley, including West Hills, and in such South Bay cities as Manhattan Beach and Torrance.

Still, “the needs are always going to outweigh what we can raise,” Prizant said.

That’s especially true for Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), two Federation beneficiary agencies that have been particularly hard hit by cuts in government funding.

The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter, for instance, has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit, according to Paul Castro, the agency’s executive director. The 57-bed homeless shelter, which, Castro said, “seems to be chronically at risk,” has managed to stay afloat only because JFS has filled the gap with private donations. However, because of the government shortfall, JFS has not been able to expand the existing programs or introduce needed new ones at a time when demand for services has skyrocketed, Castro said.

In this age of budget deficits, JFS and other local nonprofits increasingly rely on funds generated by Super Sunday and other private-sector initiatives to maintain present service levels, Castro said.

“When you look at what’s happening with government funding, you’re seeing a bigger expectation that private donors will take a greater responsibility for meeting the safety net,” he said. “And Super Sunday is an important example of how this community is working toward that reality.”

JVS also has seen demand for its services outstrip resources to provide them. In 2002, for instance, the agency’s staff included eight full-time job developers tracking down leads for clients. Today, JFS has one full-time and one part-time employment developer.

Reduced funding has forced JVS to move away from individual sessions for resume writing and interviewing. Instead, said Vivian B. Seigel, JVS chief executive, much of the training is now done in a group setting.

In light of those realities, she said, Super Sunday’s importance to JVS should not be underestimated.

“We look at the money generated by Super Sunday as extremely important,” Seigel said. “It has enabled us to reach out to families we know are living below the poverty line and to offer important services, ranging from help in finding jobs that pay a living wage to college tuition scholarships.”

Among those calling prospective donors will be the Khananashvilis, who, in addition to making pitches, will make their own donation, just as they have every year since coming to America.

“We like being able to give back,” Khananashvili said. “In the beginning, it was only $10, but $10 for us was maybe more than $1,000 now. It was a lot of money.”

To volunteer for or make a donation to Super Sunday, call (866) 968-7333.


Awards Appreciate the Unappreciated


Sitting in a roomful of teachers and the people who love them in a Bel Air hotel on a recent Thursday afternoon, you could almost forget that Jewish educators are inexcusably underappreciated, underhonored and underpaid.

The Jewish Educator Awards luncheon, hosted by award sponsors the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) and the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of Greater Los Angeles, is a yearly fest of pride, love and admiration for the wide swath of Jews who belong to Los Angeles’ day school world.

Beyond being a chance to recognize five outstanding educators, the day is, at heart, a wider celebration of Jewish education and those who dedicate their lives to it, from the Mormon math teacher at the Orthodox boys school who pronounced “Yeshiva Gedolah” like an Eastern European zayde, to the principal of a Reform day school that has doubled in size under her leadership over the last decade.

“If we are going to assure a quality education for our children, it is absolutely essential that we have quality educators in the classrooms,” said MFF executive vice president Richard Sandler. “Thank you for doing all you do for the next generation.”

That thank you is backed up by a $10,000 purse, no small change for a teacher at a Jewish school (though not quite as much as the $25,000 award that goes to the 100 winners a year of MFF’s National Educators Award, not restricted to Jewish day schools. But no one else is doling out such nice gifts to Jewish teachers, so whose complaining?).

The goal of the awards is not only to appreciate the specific recipients — 75 teachers and administrators have been recognized since the award’s inception in 1990 — but to enhance the status of the profession in general. By giving teachers incentive and appreciation, and by showing the wider community that Jewish educators are not taken for granted, MFF has handed the profession a classy and dignified opportunity to pat itself on the back.

MFF does its best to make a production of the whole thing.

Leaders from across the spectrum of Los Angeles Jewry were at the luncheon, including Federation President John Fishel and other federation officials. Leonard Nimoy, who hosts a radio series for Milken’s Jewish Music Archive, was present to honor Eileen Horowitz of Temple Israel of Hollywood, where he is also a member. Former Rams lineman/pop singer Rosie Greer, a MFF trustee, sat at the table with Nimoy.

But the festivities began long before the luncheon.

Over two days in October and November, members of the BJE and MFF appeared at school-wide assemblies to surprise the five educators — Publishers Clearing House style — with notification of the award.

A video, followed by a slide show narrated by Sandler, brought those days to life for the 275 people — from black-hatted rabbis to women in kippot — at the Luxe Summit Hotel Bel-Air in early December.

Rabbi Mordechai Dubin, described as the “soul of Maimonides Academy,” led the school in song and dance minutes before he was tapped as the award winner, with the children screeching and cheering in his honor.

Rick Hepworth worked for 25 years to build up the secular studies at Yeshiva Gedolah, and the emotion and disbelief showed through the deep blush, set off by his yellow hair, as he became the school’s first MFF Jewish Educator Award recipient.

Horowitz, head of school at Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, quipped at the luncheon that her dad always wanted her to be a famous actress, and there she was that day accepting an award on a Hollywood stage — a bimah to be precise.

Hugs from teachers and students alike awaited Pamela Kleinman, a fifth-grade teacher at Heschel West, when she was told of the award at an outdoor assembly, where American and Israeli flags flapped in the cold morning wind coming of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Inez Tiger, a life-skills facilitator and middle school counselor at Pressman Academy who has helped dozens of pre-adolescents learn to deal with emotions, could not stop her own tears when the award was given to her.

The element of surprise found its way into the Luxe Summit as well, when Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of MFF, made an unwitting Gil Graff, executive director of the BJE, the first ever recipient of an honorary Jewish Educator Award for his years of service to the Los Angeles community.

“If you combined the wisdom of Solomon, and the patience of Job and the teaching of Hillel, you might very well end up with Dr. Gil Graff,” Milken said, noting that under Graff’s tenure not only the number of students, but the quality of the education, had risen dramatically.

True to form, a shocked but composed Graff was able to present off the top of his head a perfectly crafted d’var Torah, replete with quotes from that week’s Torah portion, to express his gratitude for the surprise presentation.

That Graff, whose educational, academic and personal credentials stand out in the world of Jewish professionals, was honored on this day honoring Jewish education itself was only appropriate.

“I can’t imagine any audience to better appreciate the brilliance of this educator who has devoted his life to the academic, moral and spiritual enrichment and growth of our children,” Milken said.

He knew he was talking to an audience that gets it, because they do it, and today, at least, that was worthy of recognition.


Buy It Now

It continues to baffle me why anybody who cares about the future of Jewish communal life in Los Angeleswould seriously contemplate closing the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC).

Here is a vibrant center, serving about 1,000 people each week, in the midst of a large and growing Jewish population eager for center services, on a piece of highly desirable real estate that has been bought and paid for. We should be arguing over how much to expand Valley Cities JCC, not whether to close it.

The center is slated to be shut and sold by June 30 so that its owner, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), can get its financial house in order. The organization owes The Jewish Federation $2.2 million, and the agency must make good on $1 million in its special fund and owes banks $450,000.

JCCGLA already sold off Bay Cities JCC, holds the ax over the head of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and is itself facing dissolution.

From the very beginning of the centers crisis, the debate has never veered far from the bottom line. I understand the logic. I’ve heard eloquent voices argue the case for fiscal responsibility, but precious few powerful voices argue the case for more communal generosity on the JCC’s behalf.

One can argue that the Jewish community is moving west, and that it is time to abandon the old neighborhoods and cut our institutional losses. Such steps were necessary in the past. The shuttering of the Menorah Center near Boyle Heights in 1953 provoked outrage over an action that, in retrospect, looks visionary.

But East San Fernando Valley isn’t dying. Driving along Burbank you pass busy kosher markets and Israeli-owned restaurants, and run into the massive campus of Adat Ari El synagogue and the thriving Orthodox neighborhoods of North Hollywood.

A needs and assessment priority report prepared for Valley Cities JCC determined that the center sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000-40,000 people. It is made up of American as well as Israeli, Russian and Persian Jews, many of whom are recent immigrants. About 60 percent of the children enrolled at Valley Cities are Israeli American. They are eager for a Jewish home away for home, a way to integrate into the larger Jewish community, a Jewish place for their children and seniors to play and learn.

I’ve never been convinced that the philanthropists who raise and allocate the bulk of the Jewish communal charitable dollars in this city, and the leadership they speak with, truly believe in the future of the JCC movement. They, along with a few rabbis and others, have told me they believe centers are over — although many of these people themselves usually came to Jewish life through involvement in a JCC.

The evidence contradicts the naysayers.

Across the country JCCs are booming, even in cities where they face competition from mega-synagogues, health clubs and public after-school programs. JCCs reach 1.7 million Jews, 28 percent of the entire U.S. Jewish population, according to a new report for the JCC Association of North America. That’s more than the Reform movement itself can claim. Are L.A. Jews that different? Of course not. A successful Jewish community has many doors of entry.

The JCC Association, which is on the cusp of a major national ad campaign to strengthen the centers, also found that successful communities teamed JCCs with other organizations — federations, synagogues, agencies — to collaborate on programming and services. Closing the actual JCC buildings then renting other facilities to deliver JCC-ish services seems ingenious and synergistic now, but would inevitably weaken the sense of a Jewish “home away from home” that is at the heart of the center movement’s appeal. Better all parties synergize now to work hard with potential donors, bankruptcy attorneys, bankers and agencies to figure out a way to buy Valley Cities from JCCGLA.

I spent last Tuesday morning at Valley Cities, saw its classrooms and playgrounds filled with children, its auditorium the site of a large gathering of local seniors debating anti-Semitism in Europe.The local demand for center services, despite repeated threats of imminent closure, has actually increased. Members have raised $30,000 in mostly small donations since the troubles began — Valley Cities Director Marla Minden won’t cash the checks until the center’s survival is assured — and have organized bake sales, carnivals and letter-writing campaigns (including to The Journal).

More importantly, a younger and more astute leadership has come on board, and shows the kind of acumen that given a chance could turn the place around.

The folks at Valley Cities are not sophisticated fundraisers. Not one of their members sits on the board of The Federation, and none of them are lunching or golfing where the big money is raised. (They hadn’t even thought to turn to the Jewish Community Foundation, with its $470 million in assets.) This particular JCC serves a less-affluent Jewish population, many of whom are among the 16-20 percent of Los Angeles’ poor Jews. Last year Valley Cities gave out a good chunk of its budget in scholarships.

“Just because Jews don’t have money doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these services,” Valley Cities President Michael Brezner said. “There will be a huge void in this community if and when this center disappears.”

A member of the center sent me a postcard that echoes Brezner’s feelings.

“The Jewish Center gave me a very good childhood. And they also helped my family pay to send me and my brother to camp while my mother was in the hospital,” the 14-year-old boy wrote me. “It would be very sad if the JCC closed.”

Sad, yes, and short-sighted.

Hello, Israel Calling

Phones will be ringing in at least 5,000 Jewish homes around Orange County on March 14, when volunteers pitch in to help raise money for O.C.’s Jewish Federation, the umbrella fundraising organization that helps support a dozen Jewish agencies.

This year, though, Super Sunday dialing will be divvied up between about 75 local volunteers punching numbers in the morning from the Costa Mesa campus and Israelis, who will take the afternoon shift from across several time zones.

"It’s very special to get a call from Israel," said Marc Miller, who is campaign chair for the Federation, which develops programs to foster ties between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. "I think it will change the dynamic of conversation."

"There is a substantial cost savings between using the Israel call center and renting extra lines for the Federation," campaign director Alissa Duel said. Several other federations have also tapped the call center provided by the IDC Corp., which is based in Newark, N.J. The 14-year-old company provides international phone service at a flat rate.

"Here’s an innovative way to build bonds with Israel" and give support to its ailing economy, Miller said.

Miller’s fundraising goal is to surpass last year’s record $2.25 million Federation campaign by 10 percent.

Revitalizing the Core

We live in an extraordinarily diverse and pluralistic city. It is in our Jewish DNA to want to participate in making the world a better place. It is also in our self-interest to live in a place where the societal needs are being adequately addressed. That is why The Jewish Federation must aggressively reposition itself as a compelling player in the field of community relations with a strong Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). To do so at a time when financial resources are limited is a challenge, but it is certainly doable if we tap into the abundant creative energy in our community.

The Federation is committed to a strong and vibrant JCRC.

Engaging residents of our community to impact the "urban agenda" is the objective. But the agenda of the organized Jewish community must be redefined in a thoughtful, targeted and strategic way to successfully mobilize human resources beyond the core of active, identified Jews. This important core must be supplemented with participation from the scores of involved, but often assimilated Jews. The opportunities for leveraging individuals who burn with a passion for tikkun olam (healing the world) is not only possible but necessary.

Last week we began to engage people about what a future JCRC will look like.

The Federation will work to build a community relations agenda that enhances the decades of intergroup and interfaith activity that has made the JCRC so vital an institution to the organized Jewish community. It is a portal through which Jews will walk if they feel it can make a difference. Thus, it is vital for the JCRC to become a more active outlet for a broader group of volunteers.

The JCRC has a base of strength from which to grow. KOREH L.A., the Jewish response to illiteracy, is a magnificent example of volunteer action. With the continuing generosity of the Winnick Family Foundation, KOREH L.A. has become the largest volunteer children’s literacy project of its type in Los Angeles, helping children in our public schools learn to read. Through the support of the Jewish Community Foundation, The Holy Land Democracy Project is working with children in Catholic schools to educate them about Israel.

So why stop there? Let’s consider a range of other programs directed at children in schools. This would provide a compelling example of the Jewish community’s engagement in an area of concern to all. We can, with planning and action, build extraordinary bridges to the Latino and other ethnic communities around issues of this type.

The extraordinary government-relations work of the Los Angeles JCRC in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento has led to the granting of funds for California’s first Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), has staved off Medi-Cal cuts for some of our local agencies’ critical programs and has led to the adoption of stronger hate crime legislation.

Beyond the critical service we provide in maintaining public support for essential programs of our agencies, we can engage these agencies in the creation of the new JCRC agenda.

Jewish Angelenos participate in disproportionate numbers as leaders in organizations addressing public education, health, welfare and even the environment. Our goal is to engage these activists so that they see that the JCRC is relevant to their interests. We live in a place where people do not always communicate or cooperate with others who care deeply about the same societal goals. The JCRC must reach out to a broader base of influential Jews to exchange ideas, successes and failures and to strategize about the communal urban agenda.

Where are the opportunities to engage more volunteers? Virtually every synagogue has a social action committee. Let’s create a mechanism to tap into these powerhouses. And how about a plan to take the younger leaders of our community and broaden their involvement? The College Campus Initiative, a collaboration of the JCRC, Hillel and the Shalom Nature Institute, provides college students on seven local college campuses with exciting social action opportunities, as well as training in Israel advocacy. The New Leaders Project gives Jewish young professionals an opportunity to learn about the broader Los Angeles community and to develop leadership skills. These are great examples of the good works of the JCRC. Let’s figure out the tactics to use the graduates of these training programs to be the leaders of the JCRC today.

Last week we met with members of the JCRC to discuss its future. They reminded us of the proud history of JCRC in protecting our interests and serving as the leading framework for the voice of Los Angeles Jewry to the broader community. The opportunities to once again revitalize and expand with meaningful action exist. The recent work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force of this Federation recognizes the need to narrow the focus of our activities in order to ensure impact, while bringing resources to those activities. Let’s make the urban agenda of this organization the centerpiece of the new JCRC. And let’s create a positive force for substantive action. I believe that the resources to implement that force, human and financial, will be a communal priority.

John Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

How to Fundraise in the 21st Century

More than a century ago, Jewish federations served the needs of tightly knit Jewish communities around the country. Centralized, bureaucratic and occasionally paternalistic, these charitable organizations were highly efficient fundraising and money-dispensing machines in an era when Jews were marginalized members of a WASP-dominated society.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they have a changed. Today, Jews are among the most educated and affluent minority groups in the United States. Attitudes toward them have evolved to such an extent that an Orthodox Jew, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), is considered a front-runner for the Democrat Party’s presidential nomination.

As these tectonic shifts in American Jewish life occurred, federations, like dinosaurs trapped in tar pits, seemed stuck. As Jews became more secular, assimilated, geographically dispersed and willing to give to universities, museums and other non-Jewish causes, federations focused on the same handful of rich donors and trotted out their same tired fundraising campaigns.

Not surprisingly, they have found it increasingly difficult to engage their supporters in recent years. The nation’s federations raised $851 million in their annual campaigns in 2001, only 18 percent more than the $719 million in 1991, according to the United Jewish Communities (UJC), an umbrella group for 156 federations in North America and 400 independent Jewish communities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles performed slightly worse than the national average, raising 3 percent less in that period, excluding other money-raising campaigns.

To maintain their relevance and polish their images, several federations are making sweeping changes in the way they operate, raise money and define their mission. From Los Angeles to Philadelphia and from Atlanta to Denver, these philanthropic bodies are looking at ways to boost fundraising, strengthen communal bonds and fund programs and agencies that resonate best with Jewish communities. In many instances, the UJC is providing consultants to help.

"We’re going to reinvent ourselves," L.A. Federation President John Fishel said. "We must; we will."

However, federations face myriad challenges that might prove difficult to surmount. Scores of Americans have lost faith in big institutions, said Mary Joyce, Gianneschi professor of nonprofit marketing at California State University Fullerton.

Joyce said that in the wake of United Way scandals in the 1990s and more recent corporate malfeasance at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and Global Crossings Ltd., "people have become cynical of big business or anything that mimics big business. So when you have a big organization or charity that touts its ability to serve a big constituency, they’re now seen as suspect by many."

On Aug. 20, the L.A. Federation’s board will meet to consider a series of policy recommendations that would radically overhaul the organization from top to bottom. The fruits of eight months of intensive labor by a group of 25 local Jewish leaders — including Allan Cutrow, former chair of the Jewish Community Foundation; Frank Maas, The Federation’s former chair of planning and allocations; and Michael Koss, former chair of the United Jewish Fund — the proposed changes would "permit The Federation to remain as the central body in meeting the educational and social welfare needs of Los Angeles," said Irwin Field, head of the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

The L.A. Federation’s initiatives come at a period when it has fallen on tough times. In December, the organization posted a $1 million budget shortfall that was covered by reserves, said Field, who is also chair of The Jewish Journal’s board.

With annual campaign fundraising relatively flat over the past five years and workers’ compensation insurance costs tripling since 1999, the nonprofit organization expects to lay off some employees in coming weeks. Morale has flagged because of the uncertainty, said Jeff Rogers, president of the AFSCME, Local 800, which represents 84 of The Federation’s 145 employees.

In this difficult economic climate, other local Jewish agencies have also taken a hit. Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a nonprofit that offers employment services, has lost $500,000 in government funding since October and recently laid off five workers. The cuts have led, in some instances, to a 10-day wait for career counseling, JFS Chief Executive Vivian Seigel said.

Jewish Family Service (JFS), in an attempt to balance its budget, recently eliminated the equivalent of seven of the agency’s 421 full-time positions. Jewish Free Loan Association has experienced a dramatic jump in loan requests without a corresponding bump in fundraising.

At The Federation, the task force has come up with 12 policy recommendations, subject to final board approval. Among the proposals:

  • Federation staff members should increasingly focus on high-end donors to raise more money, although the organization continues to have a commitment to the broader community.

  • All Federation personnel should help with fundraising in some way.

  • All allocations to national bodies must be consistent with The Federation’s strategic priorities.

  • All unanticipated or unbudgeted costs must be offset by additional revenue.

  • The Federation should partner more closely with such Jewish organizations as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Skirball Cultural Center and synagogues to create programs, among other initiatives.

  • The Federation should strategically allocate its money to accomplish measurable goals.

Some activists in the community have taken a wait-and-see approach. Gerald Bubis, a former Federation vice president and board member, said he hopes the philanthropic entity will play a more active role in Jewish life in the future.

"Unless and until a federation thinks of doing community building alongside fundraising, it’s going to have a very, very hard time," he said.

The L.A. Federation isn’t the only one getting a facelift.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has just unveiled its road map for the 21st century. With its 2003 annual campaign off by nearly $2 million compared to last year, the organization has decided to sharpen its focus to build "an inspired, caring and connected Jewish community," President Harold Goldman said.

The organization plans to focus on the Jewish elderly, Jewish education and on strengthening ties between Philadelphia’s Jews and the larger community abroad. That means less funding for underperforming agencies.

At the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, fundraising for the annual campaign has jumped more than 10 percent to $9.5 million this year. That’s largely due to the recent launch of Total Choice Tzedekah, a program that allows givers of more than $50 to decide where their money goes, said Doug Seserman, federation president. Hebrew schools and synagogues are among the new aid recipients of the directed giving, he said.

In the South, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta recently outlined a series of goals it hopes to reach in five years. The organization wants to double its endowment to $200 million and increase its annual campaign nearly 50 percent to $25 million by 2008. Federation task forces are currently coming up with a strategy to implement it.

Despite predictions of their untimely demise, federations are actually in better shape than many might imagine, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco. Although annual campaigns no longer generate much excitement and attempts to reinvigorate them are likely to fall short, federations have proven quite adept at raising hundreds of millions for capital campaigns, endowments and special initiatives, including funds for Jewish victims of terror and indigent Argentine Jews. To cite but one example, the L.A. Federation raised $18.6 million last year for its Jews in Crisis Campaign, money not counted in its annual campaign.

"In terms of creating new vehicles for raising money and managing money, there probably hasn’t been any greater success story in the Jewish community in the past 15 years than federations," Tobin said.

Boot Camp Hones Leadership Skills

Boot camp for Jewish leaders? While typically only the wealthiest nonprofit organizations have adequate resources to professionally hone the skills of future volunteer leaders, last year the Jewish Federation of Orange County started the Jewish Leadership Network to season volunteer board members.

Facing a looming leadership shortage within its own ranks, it started the boot camp on a $10,000 shoestring budget and invited some 30 synagogues and Jewish agencies as well.

“Let’s create a resource we all can share in,” said Phil Kaplan, explaining what led to the year-old Jewish Leadership Network, which he co-organized with fellow Federation board member, Marc Miller.

One of the most popular topics at Reform movement conferences is how to organize an internal leadership training program, said Dale A. Glasser, synagogue management director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Participation in these programs generates prestige and sharpens skills useful outside the synagogue, Glasser said, adding, “That’s one of the carrots to dangle.”

Volunteers often feel unprepared to shoulder the authority and responsibility of board membership. Also contributing to the dearth of leaders is a syndrome common to fragile organizations: volunteer burnout.

Miller and Kaplan’s solution was to develop a curriculum similar to a graduate school management seminar, which would demystify the subject by relying on real-world case studies as its text. Topics, more applied than academic, included volunteer recruiting, evaluating compensation, nonprofit finance, team building and running a meeting. Presenters included organizational professors, consultants and professionals who offered their expertise without charge.

“It gave us real life experiences at no risk, so you are better prepared to handle them when you do,” said Paul Vann, a financial planner and veteran board member, who in April became president of Irvine’s Congregation Beth Jacob.

Scenarios ranged from a leader publicly belittling a team member to firing a volunteer.

“When one person came up with a good answer, someone else would come up with another one,” said Cecily Burke, 54, of Newport Beach. A newcomer to the Jewish Family Service board and chair of its fundraising, she said she gleaned insights about board culture from her fellow participants.

Having worked for Jewish organizations as both a volunteer and a professional, Bunnie Mauldin, the Federation’s executive director, can attest to the value of network sessions devoted to identifying personality types.

Redirecting high-powered volunteers is sometimes a prickly task.

“They do try to bring what has made them successful professionally, and I’ve had to tailor that,” she said. The decision-making traits of an executive are ill-suited to a committee chairman, Mauldin said. “They don’t understand the value of consensus building. They get bored. They cut off discussion.”

The network also helps fulfill a secondary Federation mission of building community. Its genesis was a common security need by Jewish organizations after the 1999 shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

“No one was talking to each other or working with each other,” Mauldin said. “It was such a duplication of effort.”

The intifada spawned another common goal. The Federation mobilized local agencies and synagogues that support Israel into the Israel Solidarity Task Force, which brought honey to Israelis and Israeli merchants to Irvine.

Mauldin saw the Federation was not alone in its leadership predicament.

“Many leaders in synagogues or agencies are not willing to take the presidency,” she said. “I attribute that to misconceptions. We’ve tried to show them how to work smarter not longer.”

Even so, not every organization jumped at the opportunity.

“We had a little bit of a sales job to do,” Miller said.

Some agencies were hesitant to burden their board members with another task. Other groups questioned whether the Federation would cherry-pick their plum volunteers. By May, Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El had started its own program, chaired by a former president and board member, Cindy O’Neill and Susan Shalit, respectively.

Among those sharing expertise with the leadership network was Doris Jacobson, development director of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. She wears a second hat as president of Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet.

Already, network organizers believe their efforts with the first 13-member class are paying off.

“Every single person is stepping up their involvement with their organization,” Kaplan said.

“Right in front of your eyes you see a group coalescing and see people talk about ways to work with agencies in a collaborative way,” Miller said.

Planning to double enrollment next year, Kaplan and Miller have already received expressions of interest from members of Hadassah and the Jewish Community Center.

Finding a Role for Woznica

David Woznica was anything but a model Hebrew school student. At Congregation Adat Ari El in North Hollywood, his exasperated teachers often made him sit alone on "the bench" as punishment for interrupting them with jokes and whispers.

Fast forward 35 years. On a recent Friday night, Rabbi David Woznica, the 48-year-old executive vice president for Jewish affairs at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, returned to Adat Ari El, for the first time in decades, to deliver a speech before a sold-out audience of 250 on how to feel the presence of God by living as a committed Jew. His voice rising, he admonished the crowd to invite a lonely Holocaust survivor over for dinner, to help those less fortunate and to pray for their children on Shabbat.

"You don’t need a Ph.D. in Judaism or even know an alef from a bet," Woznica said. "All you have to do is put your hands on their heads and touch their souls with yours. Think of that. Think of how easy that is, yet how meaningful it is. They will remember it forever."

With his days of Jewish rebellion long behind him, Woznica has won a legion of devotees with his passion for Judaism. Since returning to Southern California in mid-2001, Woznica has spent the past two years at The Federation putting together lectures and courses. With the fervor of a missionary, he sees his role as nothing less than to spread the word about the beauty of Judaism and to help Jews see their religion’s relevance to their daily lives.

From 1991 to 2001, Woznica served as director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where he oversaw thousands of hours of adult Jewish education and 35 high-profile lectures per year.

The rabbi’s work has taken him across the globe. Over the years, he has talked about God with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, and moderated discussions with Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, Rabbi Harold Kushner and author Amos Oz, among others. He recently interviewed presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and his wife, Hadassah, discussing politics, religion and social issues. C-SPAN aired the event.

"I like him as a person and as a rabbi to his students," Wiesel told The Journal. "Whatever he does, he does with all his heart and soul. He speaks well, understands well. He possesses all the qualities a good rabbi has."

Plaudits like those led Federation President John Fishel and former Chairman Todd Morgan to aggressively pursue Woznica, beginning in 2000, for a post at The Federation. The decision to hire him has earned kudos along with some criticism. Woznica’s ability to touch people has generated enthusiasm among many local Jews. However, a few observers wonder whether those talents are being put to satisfactory use. They question how Woznica — hired at a six-figure salary less than six months before the organization laid off several employees for budgetary reasons — has earned his keep, especially since he has worked under the radar of many Southland Jews, with the exception of donors and Federation employees.

"It is not apparent to me that The Federation, on any level, has a strategy for using him as a speaker, strategizer, educator, spiritual force or inspirer in any major, public way," said Gerald Bubis, a former Federation vice president and board member. "His talents are underutilized, and, as a result, I think the community is undeserved."

Indeed, The Federation has just put together a special committee to come up with ways to find "more opportunities for putting him in front of people," said Morgan, now a Federation board member.

Fishel said his organization had hoped to replicate the 92nd Street Y’s success when it brought Woznica on. Initially, The Federation had wanted to open a community center on a property adjacent to the now defunct Bay Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC). There, Woznica could have offered classes and sponsored high-profile talks as he did in New York, Fishel said. But the JCC’s financial problems and the soft economy forced The Federation to delay those plans indefinitely. Also, crises in Israel and Argentina demanded the organization’s attention, which meant Woznica "was a little slow to get traction at first," Fishel added.

Nonetheless, Fishel said that he thought Woznica is a valuable addition to The Federation, and plans to renew his contract. One idea bandied about is for the rabbi to hold events at the West Valley JCC in West Hills or the Westside JCC on Olympic Boulevard on a regular basis in the near future.

"I’d like to bring him to the masses in a thoughtful way, and am still jazzed about the prospect of having something parallel to what the 92nd Street Y does," Fishel said. "I think if you can get people to think Judaically and see Judaism in their lives, they’re going to see the importance of Federation and other Jewish organizations."

One benefit of such connections could be increased donations to The Federation, which raises money to fund 15 recipient organizations, including Jewish Vocational Service, Jewish Family Service and Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. For the past decade, giving to The Federation’s Annual Campaign has been relatively flat, hovering around $40 million. Fishel and others hope that an offshoot of Woznica’s heightened visibility could spark a flow of dollars into the organization’s coffers from enthusiastic, re-engaged Jews.

It worked in New York. Daniel R. Kaplan, former president and chairman of the 92nd Street Y, said Woznica’s work helped attract new donors to the organization, where 1,200 people regularly attend the rabbi’s High Holiday services.

"David would travel and lecture everywhere, bringing joy and increasing the Y’s image," Kaplan said. "Fundraising is partly image, and David certainly enhanced our image. No question about that."

One common question among critics is why The Federation hired Woznica when it already employs Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. They ask: Why does the organization need two rabbis?

Fishel said both men make important — but different — contributions. Diamond helps with interfaith activities and works with area rabbis in rabbinical associations. Woznica infuses The Federation and the community with Jewish values.

To help boost The Federation’s profile, Woznica said he has worked tirelessly since coming on board. In one week in early May, he held a study session on the Ten Commandments with young attorneys and gave four speeches, including one at UCLA for Israel Independence Day. He has also given a series of lectures in the Conejo Valley about what makes Judaism beautiful and worth perpetuating; he has overseen a 10-week course on Jewish leaders, including Moses, and Jewish ethics for The Federation women’s lay leadership; and he held a dialogue with Weisel in February at a Federation dinner for large donors. "I want to reach Jews across the board," he said.

Woznica said he hoped to hold more high-profile dialogues here with major public figures, as he did in New York. He also wants to offer a course for newlyweds on Jewish insights on marriage, parenting and family.

"I feel so busy and torn in so many directions but in a good way," he said in an interview at his book-lined office. "I always feel I can do more, and I would hope I can make as significant a contribution to the L.A. Federation as I did to the 92nd Street Y."

Woznica grew up in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from Grant High School in 1973. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA. It was around this time that future author and radio talk show host Dennis Prager entered his life, exposing the future rabbi to the power and pleasure of Judaism, Woznica said.

Prager, then director of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, challenged him to think about the religion, its mission and its responses to contemporary moral and spiritual questions. Inspired by Prager and others, Judaism became an integral part of Woznica’s life, informing his decisions, actions and world view.

"I saw immediately in him this rare combination of conscientiousness, goodness and a fine mind," Prager said.

Woznica later enrolled in the rabbinical program at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. In 1987, he headed east to study at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York, which ordained him in 1990.

Woznica said his love of Judaism and desire to share its beauty led him to the rabbinate. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, though, he conceded other forces might have also played a role.

"Is the Shoah part of my motivation for being Jewish? Yes," he said. "Why? Because other people suffered so much for the principle I have the privilege of living."

In 1990, Woznica, fresh out of HUC-JIR, landed a coveted position running a Jewish outreach program at the 92nd Street Y. Kaplan said that his earnestness, decency and knowledge so impressed executives that they promoted him one year later to head the newly created Bronfman Center. Despite Woznica’s relative inexperience, he beat out 11 highly qualified candidates for the position, Kaplan added.

Under Woznica, Jewish education flourished at the 92nd Street Y and a cavalcade of major religious and political figures dropped by to give speeches. The rabbi, his wife, Beverly, and their two young sons were quite happy in New York. Woznica found the city’s intellectual environment stimulating and enjoyed his work. Beverly Woznica, a fundraiser, worked as director of the Wall Street division at UJA-Federation of New York. Under her directorship, the division grew from $20 million to $30 million in five years.

So when Fishel and Morgan began pursuing him, Woznica was in no hurry to leave the Big Apple. But after a year of wooing, he eventually took the job at The Federation. Woznica said he came to that decision, because he thought he could have a big impact. He also wanted his children to be close to their surviving grandparents.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Woznica should successfully transplant some of that New York magic to the Southland.

"The Jewish community and the L.A. Federation are very lucky to have a person like him," said Hier, who spoke at the 92nd Street Y during Woznica’s tenure. "He reaches out to everyone in the community, and his agenda is to foster understanding and unity among Jews. He’s very effective at it."

Stanley Hirsh, Journal Publisher, Dies at 76

Stanley Hirsh, the imposing philanthropist, real estateinvestor and garment manufacturer as renown for his blunt-spoken style as hiscontributions to Jewish and political causes, died at his Studio City homeMarch 22 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was 76.

The mourners who gathered at his funeral at WilshireBoulevard Temple and Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries on Wednesdayremembered Hirsh as a man of contrasts: tough but fair, prickly butcompassionate.

“This was a really opinionated, obstinate guy,” said FrankMaas, secretary of The Jewish Federation. “And yet, he was the most generousman when he saw a person in trouble.”

“He was a taskmaster, but he cared about social justice,”said Rabbi Harvey Fields, who officiated at the funeral. “He felt aresponsibility that I think grew out of his Depression-era childhood ofexperiencing need and others in need.”

During Journal interviews, others described Hirsh as a manwho could be relentless in pursuing business and charitable goals, but whoserved as confidante and counselor to his employees, some of whom he helpedstart their own businesses.

A tall, muscular chain-smoker with fiercely intelligent blueeyes, Hirsh, a Jewish Federation past president, was also a maverickphilanthropist. “He was a doer, and he didn’t always worry about the communalniceties,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Arthur Laub, honorary vice president of Jewish FamilyService (JFS), described how his close friend Hirsh used to telephone JFS’sexecutive director at the end of each fiscal year. “He’d say, ‘Are you short?’and they were always short, and then he’d give them the money, whether it was$40,000 or $100,000,” Laub, 84, said. “Stanley got things done, and he did themhis way.”

Bronx-bred Hirsh, the son of a gas station owner, demonstratedthat independent streak early on. “He wasn’t the easiest candidate for his barmitzvah,” said his wife, Anita, Hirsh’s partner in philanthropy. “His Orthodoxrabbi threw him out, and his parents had to find a rabbi who could wranglehim.”

When that clergyman gave him a pushke to collect money forsettlers in then-Palestine, a philanthropist was born. “I took one of thoselittle blue cans and walked around the Bronx,” he told the Los Angeles Times in1992. “It was my first taste of going out and raising money — nickels and dimesand pennies…. They just asked that you bring the box back full.”

As a teenager, Hirsh dropped out of school and went to workto help support his family, which relocated to California when he was 14. Hecarried bricks and mortar at a Long Beach shipyard “until they found out he wasunderage,” Anita Hirsh said. Eventually, he finished high school while servingin the Navy, where his fellow recruits’ anti-Semitism “clinched his being a Jewforever,” his wife said.

After his stint in the military, Hirsh signed on as anassistant store manager for the women’s clothing manufacturer House of Nine;eight years later, he began his own apparel manufacturing company with apartner.

After marrying Anita, a clothing designer, in 1961, hisbusiness expanded rapidly; eventually the couple purchased six commercialbuildings in the downtown garment district, including the landmark CooperBuilding.

Steve Hirsh, 48, recalled how his father, an avid amateurplumber and electrician, did much of the initial work on those buildings, earlyLos Angeles skyscrapers, himself. “He’d go down with a screwdriver in hand andfix things,” he said.

On weekends, Hirsh’s four children were expected to helpwith chores at their Studio City home and 6-acre ranch, where Hirsh lovedtinkering with his yellow Case tractor. “We all held the flashlight while dadwas fixing things, and that’s how we learned,” his daughter, Jennifer, 33,said.

While Steve Hirsh hated the chores as a teenager, “therecollections are now sweet,” he told The Journal. “In retrospect, they seemlike some of the most important times I spent with my father.”

Stanley Hirsh’s pro-Israel activities date from 1967 and theSix-Day War, which “really got me off my butt,” he told the Times.

Four years later, his political involvement began when,dissatisfied with governance while serving on a homeowner’s group, he ran forthe Los Angeles City Council. He lost.

“But he was the first to endorse me during the runoffs,”former City Councilman Joel Wachs said. “Thereafter, he served as my campaigntreasurer and he was my best supporter for 30 years…. But he never soughtpublic attention for what he was doing; he worked behind the scenes.”

Along the way, Hirsh entered the world of large-scale politicalgiving, including organizing a 1976 fundraiser for Howard M. Metzenbaum, then aDemocratic Senate candidate from Ohio, according to the Times. Hirsh went on tosponsor events for 1988 vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. CarlLevin (D-Michigan) and others who often shared his liberal, pro-Israel ideals.

“He could pick up the phone and call 20 senators,” Rep.Howard Berman (D-28th District) said. “He was viewed as an important resourcenationally.”

Hirsh was also viewed as an important resource in Israel,where the mayor of Tel Aviv once took him to an impoverished community calledAjami in the mid-1980s. When the mayor said the area wasn’t receiving attentionbecause it was predominantly Arab, the Hirshes put up the money to build anearly childhood development center.

Back at home, Hirsh served as Federation president andUnited Jewish Fund general campaign chair (1984-1985), and “he set a precedentby becoming the first half-million dollar giver,” according to Laub.

When The Federation’s kosher meals program for seniors wasjeopardized by problematic outside caterers around 1992, Hirsh again steppedforward. “He said, ‘Look, I’m going to build you a kitchen,'” JFS ExecutiveDirector Paul Castro recalled. A $650,000 initial grant helped build thestate-of-the-art Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen on Fairfax Avenue, which providesmeals to homebound seniors and to 12 senior meal sites around Los Angeles.

According to Anita Hirsh, one of her husband’s favoriteroles in recent years was serving as publisher of The Jewish Journal of GreaterLos Angeles. Hirsh took on the position after the 1997 death of previousJournal publisher Edwin Brennglass.

“He was a good steward, because the newspaper is bettertoday than it was when he became the publisher,” said Irwin S. Field, chairmanof the board of Los Angeles Jewish Publications, the corporation that owns TheJournal. “Our move toward Conejo, the West Valley and Orange County was theresult of the thinking process that he brought about, which was to reach morereaders in Southern California.”

“The Journal grew significantly under Stanley’s leadership,”said Robert Eshman, The Journal’s editor-in-chief. “He wanted a paper that wastough, fair and compassionate — the same mixture of qualities he displayed.”

As Maas said just before Hirsh’s funeral, “Stanley could betough, but if there was a human issue, he was on it.”

Stanley Hirsh is survived by his wife, Anita; his children,Steve (Pam), Adam, Jennifer and Liz (Yehuda) Naftali; four grandchildren, andthree nieces and nephews and their spouses: Cathy and Larry Ross, Karyn andJason Newman, and Jeff and Beth Cohen and their children.

The family requests that donations in Hirsh’s memory be madeto Jewish Family Service. Mail to Jewish Family Service, attention: PaulCastro, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite. 500, Los Angeles, CA 90048. For questions,call (323) 761-8800. 

Calm But Profitable

It may not seem like much — $26.67 in change — but ‘tweens
Alex and Miles Beard proved that it’s the thought that counts at The Jewish
Federation’s Feb. 23 Super Sunday phone-a-thon, during which 2,000 volunteers
raised more than $4 million from Federation sites in Los Angeles, West Hills,
and Torrance.

At The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, Alex, 12, and
Miles, 13, arrived at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus with about $27
in coins collected from the family’s tzedakah box, earmarked just for the

Although they might not be “major donors,” the pride with
which the children handed over their contribution rivaled that of any big
macher bestowing a six-figure check. And the Beard brothers did not stop there.
They raised nearly $4,000 more on the phones.

“This will go to help Israel and to help families here so
they can get some food,” Alex said.

The Federation raised more than $4 million this year on
Super Sunday, $1 million less than last year’s $5 million tally. But organizers
say that a new fundraising strategy this year has rendered the single-day total

According to Craig Prizant, senior vice president of
campaign and marketing, the Federation’s telemarketing campaign — which
traditionally follows Super Sunday — started on Feb. 1, well before the
phone-a-thon. As a result, about $300,000 in gifts, which in previous years
would be closed by volunteers on Super Sunday, were secured before Super Sunday
2003 began. That totals $4.3 million, which, Prizant claimed, could be measured
against last year’s total because, in years past, donations reaped from the
Federation’s King David Society (for donors who contribute $25,000 and above)
were also folded into the Super Sunday figure. Since this year’s King David
Society dinner was scheduled for Feb. 27 — after Super Sunday — monies raised
from this important fundraiser could not be factored into the Sunday figure.

“The numbers are actually pretty comparable to last year,”
Prizant said of Super Sunday 2003. “These are real numbers. Last year, more
high-end donor solicitations that were taken on that day. This year, they have
yet to take place.”

Add some other varying factors — one less fundraising
session at 6505; longer phone discussions; a drive to raise donations of
returning donors — and The Federation, Prizant said, is pleased with the
results of Super Sunday 2003. He added that this year’s King David dinner, at
200 attendees, will include 50 more donors than last year’s gala.

As a result of the strategic changes, organizers decided to
have 2003’s tote board reflect the Federation’s combined 46 day
campaign-to-date numbers instead of the traditional single-day totals. Thus,
the goal was to push the overall campaign to $16 million, which actually occurred
by 6:35 p.m. — well before the 9 p.m. last call, when it surpassed $17 million.

Prizant said combining the single-day totals with the
overall campaign numbers provided a more accurate fundraising picture.

“It’s a simplistic way to look at it [by comparing Super
Sunday figures],” Prizant said. “The goal is the level of commitment and the
level of the gift. Card for card, it’s actually up from last year. Overall, I’m
thrilled at where we’re at.”

Israel, Argentina and Los Angeles’ impoverished communities continued
to be fundraising priorities for Super Sunday 2003. At the Valley Alliance, the
morning was quieter than previous years, with a handful of dignitaries showing
up, including City Councilman Alex Padilla, who made the first “official” call
and persuaded people — as only a politician can — to increase their gifts by

Across town at the Federation’s 6505 Wilshire Blvd.
headquarters, Mayor James Hahn and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo presented
contributions to Federation President John Fishel.

Super Sunday Director Rachel Kaufman, site coordinator
Jeffrey Prince and United Jewish Fund’s Carol Levy kept 6505’s stations —
including a Russian-language room — adrenalized with good cheer and Hershey’s

Anja Vyas, The Federation’s longtime director of donor
services, was energized by 6505’s young adults session, where Entertainment
division co-chair Scott Einbinder, and a Birthright Israel group, led by
Council of Jewish Life’s Sara Myers, made calls.

First-timer Meredith Fisher Bushman volunteered because,
since moving from New York last year, Federation agencies Jewish Vocational
Service and Jewish Family Service have provided her with assistance. An hour
after the young adults mixer in the Zimmer Children’s Museum, an apprehensive
Bushman was confidently manning the phones.

“It’s so easy,” Bushman said. “I was a phone donor manager
for KCRW. We raised more in an hour here today than we did there in a day.
People are so generous.”

Recent Cleveland transplant David Gitson, who now lives in
Orange County, said that Jewish Los Angeles is similar to the 80,000-member Jewish
community he left behind.

“It’s been frustrating,” Gitson said. “I’ve only gotten
three [donations]. I think the evening shift is a lot tougher because of the
Grammys, it’s Sunday night, people don’t want to be disturbed.”

But Gitson would rather be making mitzvahs than making pizza
bagels and jeering Eminem.

“It’s great to see so many people here tonight,” Gitson

“We want to deepen our involvement,” said Danielle Swartz,
who participated with husband Michael Swartz.

It was fundraising as usual, as Monica Lozano joined her
fellow female professionals at Kolot’s phone banks because, “I like to do as
much as I can.”

Harold Ginsburg, Super Sunday chair, was hopeful that
tzedakah would prevail.

Federation Chair Jake Farber remained optimistic, noting
that The Federation raised $42.5 million for the capital campaign and $20
million for Jews in Crisis during the fiscally dismal 2002.

More than money, it is the act of helping others that Super
Sunday is really about, and Padilla commended Los Angeles’ Jewish community for
having “one of the best organized efforts, not only in terms of fundraising,
but in terms of the quality of the programming.

They are filling needs that city and state government aren’t
filling,”Padilla said.

“You hear a lot about Los Angeles not being a connected
community,” said Federation Young Leadership Director Jonathan Shulman. “I
don’t really see that at all. Today proves that.” 

Pumping Up the Bottom Line

On Sunday, Feb. 23, 800 volunteers from across the Southland
will staff the phones from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to raise money for the Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles. They will try to coax extra money out of
existing donors and recruit new ones to the cause of Jewish giving.

Just a year ago, Super Sunday, as the single-day
extravaganza is known, raised $5 million to help the Federation underwrite the
15 recipient organizations it funds, including Jewish Vocational Service,
Jewish Family Service and Jewish Big Brothers.

This year, with the economy softening and the drums of war
beating ever louder, the charity faces an even greater challenge in making
Super Sunday 2003 super.

“These are difficult times for nonprofit organizations as
they try to build support for their programs,” said Eugene R. Tempel, executive
director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Many fundraisers
are having to work harder to raise the same amount of money as last year.”

In 2002, the Federation’s Annual Campaign brought in nearly
$42.5 million. That’s slightly 3 percent – $1 million – more than in 1997. (The
Federation raised an additional $20 million in 2002 for the Israeli Emergency
Campaign.) This year, the Federation expects to match or slightly exceed last
year’s Annual Campaign results.

The local Federation’s fundraising woes parallel those of
similar organizations across the country. The United Jewish Communities (UJC),
an umbrella group representing 156 community federations, raised about $851
million in 2001, nearly a 20 percent increase compared to 1996. At the same
time, the number of donors dipped by more than 58,000 to 651,000, a 9 percent

Federation giving has stalled nationally partly because
Jewish charities have focused too much time and attention on wealthy donors at
the expense of the larger community, UJC President Stephen Hoffman said. Also,
intermarriage and a low birthrate have shrunk the American Jewish population,
along with the potential donor base, by an estimated 250,000 over the past
decade to 5.25 million today, he added.

On the other hand, federations have successfully raised
millions in emergency campaigns for Israel and other causes and from
contributors earmarking their giving for specific causes, so-called
donor-advised funds, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish
& Community Research in San Francisco.

Still, “federations are not the central address for Jewish
givers that they once were, and it’s not going to change,” he said.

What has changed, said Tobin and others, is the nature of
Jewish philanthropy, and federations find themselves having to adapt quickly to
new trends and expectations.

Federations’ fundraising problems notwithstanding, American
Jews are more philanthropic than ever. It’s just that many now embrace a more
personalized approach to giving, experts said. Simply put: Givers increasingly
want direct control over how their dollars are spent and are willing to bypass
federations altogether to ensure that happens.

To that end, an enormous network of Jewish family
foundations have sprung up over the past five years, from about 2,500 to up to
8,000 today. These foundations control an estimated $25 billion in assets, said
Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, a 12-year-old
organization representing Jewish family foundations and independent givers.

Those foundations, which fund a variety of causes ranging
from education to the environment to AIDS research, have undoubtedly siphoned
money away from federations. And as wealth is transferred from aging
philanthropists to their children, the importance and number of Jewish
foundations is expected to rise, he said.

Many of those freshly minted givers probably won’t be giving
to traditional Jewish causes.

“Younger funders are far more likely to define Jewish giving
as a reflection of their Jewish values than giving to a cause with Jewish or
Israel in its name,” Charendoff said.

Obviously, that could hurt federations across the country.

Closer to home, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
faces several hurdles – some beyond its control – hampering its ability to
significantly boost donations.

Unlike Detroit, Boston and other older cities, the Jewish
community here is geographically dispersed and lacks cohesion, making it
difficult to reach. Wealthy Hollywood insiders have largely shunned federation
and other Jewish giving in favor of higher profile charitable causes like the
environment and animal rights. Jewish charities that attract large Hollywood
contributions, like the Simon Weisenthal Center and the American Friends of
Hebrew University, tend to have more of a single focus. Until recently, the
Southland’s large Russian Jewish and Persian Jewish immigrant populations
segregated themselves and gave little to Federation.

Still, the Federation bears some of the blame for its
problems, experts said.

Federations, including Los Angeles, have come under attack
for operating like remote bureaucracies more interested in filling their
coffers with cash from a handful of wealthy donors than in addressing the
spiritual and educational needs of the community at large.

“A federation should be more than just a fundraising
machine. It should be a Jew-making machine,” said Gerald Bubis, a former Los
Angeles Federation board member and founding director of the School of Jewish
Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
“Unfortunately, ours is a fundraising machine.”

Federation executives said fundraising is only a small part
of what the organization is all about and that it is working to tighten its
bond to the public. The organization recently formed a committee to examine how
it could improve operations and fundraising, and better serve the Jewish

The Federation’s campaigns are “not fresh or new or
interesting. It’s the same stuff regurgitated about the poor and elderly
needing help,” said Irwin Daniels, a former board member. To dress up its
message and increase its relevance, the organization should hire an outside
marketing firm, he added.

Bill Bernstein, executive vice president of financial
resource development at the Federation, said the organization can only afford
to spend $1 million annually on advertising and marketing. He admitted that
financial constraints have hindered getting the word out.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know about us, and we’d
love to have more resources to convey our message and educate people on what we
do,” he said.

The local Federation’s efforts to cultivate future leaders
and donors among the community’s youth has fallen short over the past decade,
said a former fundraising executive at the Federation. The ex-employee, who was
laid off last year and asked to remain anonymous, said the organization has
failed to generate enough excitement among young Jews or clearly explain its

In an attempt to address that, the Federation recently
inaugurated the Young Leadership Program. Designed to increase cooperation
among young Jews in the Federation’s entertainment, law and real estate
divisions, among others, it replaces Access Program, which fell short of
fundraising goals. Young Leadership’s strategy is still being formulated, but seminars,
dinners and concerts are planned, said Jonathan F. Shulman, directory of the
Young Leadership Program.

Given the increased competition for charitable dollars and
the Federation’s relatively flat fundraising, the organization must reinvent
itself to maintain its relevance.

“We better start thinking in a very radical sense about how
to engage more people in what we do,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Toward that end, The Federation has recently undertaken a
series of initiatives designed to broaden its donor base and heighten its role.

Fundraisers are now encouraged to go out and meet face to
face with donors. The visits serve to educate givers on what the Federation
does, get feedback and “make donors feel valued,” Fishel said.

To tap into the business community, the organization has
established the CEO Leadership Forum, which meets quarterly to discuss topics
of interest, including Jewish business ethics. The Federation’s Bernstein, who
has also begun soliciting gifts from big local corporations, said he hopes to
turn many of the 200 participating executives into givers.

One initiative that has borne fruit is the Los Angeles
Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund (LA-JVPF). Founded last year by Jewish
professionals in conjunction with the Federation, the self-funded group has
raised $250,000 and plans to award grants to new or existing nonprofits that
benefit Jews.

Although LA-JVPF members make the final decision on how to
earmark their funds, an example of the more hand-on approach to giving, the Federation
has benefited from its involvement: Several LA-JVPF participants have become
first-time Federation donors, having contributed more than $100,000 so far,
Bernstein said.

Its efforts notwithstanding, some consider the organization
a vestige of the past.

Its advocates are not so willing to write off an
organization that still ranks among larger charities in the city. Fishel said
the Federation is moving in the right direction and remains a vibrant,
important part of local Jewish life. If not for the Federation, Fishel asked,
then who would fund burials for indigent Jews or support poor pensioners in the
former Soviet Union?

Indeed, other federations have launched programs that have
become among the most-cutting edge in the nation.

The Boston Federation heavily subsidizes intensive adult
Jewish education to build a community of “Torah, tzedek [justice] and chesed
(kindness),” said Barry Shrage, president of the Boston Federation. Many Jews
participating in the program have increased their donations, he said.

The Boston Federation’s Annual Campaign jumped to $28.5
million last year, up nearly 24 percent since 1997.

In the Midwest, The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit gives $500,000 annually to area synagogues and $2.5 million to local
Jewish day schools for scholarships, Chief Executive Bob Aronson said.

By contrast, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
gives about $100,000 to local temples and $2.35 million to day schools.

The Detroit organization is also seriously considering
giving Jewish newborns vouchers for free trips to Israel to “make a connection
between the Federation and family in a very personal way,” he said.

With a Jewish population of 80,000, or just 15 percent of
that of greater Los Angeles, it raised $30.6 million in last year’s Annual
Campaign, or 72 percent of the amount collected locally (Overall, Detroit
raised $20 million more than the Los Angeles’ Federation when adding the Israel
Emergency and other campaigns.)

The Detroit Federation’s attempts at community building
appear to have paid off, Aronson said.

“The more you can make yourself relevant to the community
and what people are doing in Jewish life,” he said, “the more you can get them
to contribute.”  

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.”

Valley Secession: Better for Jews?

For the Jewish community, like the rest of Los Angeles, the issue of Valley secession boils down to one key question: Will we be better off after secession than we are now?

Some officials predict that secession would actually make very little difference to the Jewish community. In terms of services, secession of the Valley and Hollywood would have only a minimal effect, according to Jewish Federation representatives. Miriam Prum Hess, vice president of planning and allocations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that of all the agencies only Jewish Family Service would be significantly impacted.

The bulk of the Federation’s funding for 2001 — a total of $39.6 million — came from state and federal sources; only $12 million was derived from local sources, primarily from Los Angeles County. Of city and county funds combined, Jewish Family Service received the largest portion, about $1.7 million.

Jewish Family Service representatives declined to comment on the possible ramifications for the agency, but Jack Mayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, said even if secession were to pass, The Federation and its agencies would find a way to continue their funding.

"We’re a service delivery organization, so we would work with whatever government structures are appropriate," Mayer said. "The organization of the Jewish community is not dependent on the organization of the City of Los Angeles.

"We work with elected officials throughout the area and would continue to have strong and positive relationships with elected officials, no matter how they are organized. Even in the Valley Alliance we work with a number of different cities: Calabasas, Burbank, all the way to Thousand Oaks. We’re not limited in that sense," he said.

Most community leaders agree that the Valley secession’s primary impact on the Jewish community would be more psychological and political than financial. Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has spent the past year participating in a special task force of the Council of Religious Leaders (CRL) exploring the moral issues surrounding secession. He said it doesn’t take a genius to see that secession will not be helpful to the Jewish community.

"I happen to live in the Valley and work in the city and get to travel all around, and this is a very big issue," Diamond said. "It is already hard for people in the Conejo and San Fernando valleys to feel a part of the greater Jewish community. This is part of life in Los Angeles, that we do not seem as unified as the Jewish communities of Chicago or Detroit or Baltimore.

"It troubles me because there’s an intrinsic bond between Jews all over the world and if a Jew living in the San Fernando Valley doesn’t feel a connection to a Jew living in Hancock Park, let alone Argentina, we’ve got real problems," he said.

Diamond said there are some positive effects of raising the issue of secession.

"In our seminars, studies and investigation over the past year [the task force has] learned there are a lot of disenfranchised people out there and to bring that to the fore is very important," he said. "First, people feel they do not have the access to decision making in their community. Second, some people have the erroneous belief that this is a bunch of rich, white people wanting to break away from the poor city, and that is not true. One of our most enlightening days was a tour we took of Pacoima and parts of Van Nuys, where we saw there were real areas of need in the Valley."

Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who along with Diamond is serving on the CRL task force, said another factor to consider in examining secession is its effects on relationships between Jews and other minorities on both sides of the hill.

"Politically, secession would dilute the power of the Jewish community both in their representation in the city and in the Valley. It would really impel the Jewish community to form broader coalitions with a variety of groups," Henkin said.

The need to establish such coalitions could make for an interesting shift in the political landscape, said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University Fullerton who specializes in racial and ethnic politics.

"The Jewish community is like the Latino community geographically, in that they both straddle the north-south divide with the Latinos on the Eastside and in the East Valley and the Jews on the Westside and in the southwest Valley," Sonenshein explained. "Not everyone is divided that way; the African American community, for example, is not. But Latinos and Jews are likely to be the pivotal voters in how the decision is made."

Sonenshein said what may also be at stake is the broader role Jews have played in government in Los Angeles.

"Even during the Riordan period, the Jewish community remained very active at City Hall and still is today," he said. "But if we actually had secession carry through, it would have a whole different dynamic."

Longtime Los Angeles City Council Member Ruth Galanter has had to fend off two secession attempts in her district, one in Venice and one in Westchester. She said that if people in the Jewish community are committed to improving their relationships with non-Jews, they are better off working as a cohesive whole.

"To the extent that anti-Semitism exists, it doesn’t make sense to be separate," noted Galanter. "It’s better to be part of one large community and reach across the greater Los Angeles community to build relationships."

Galanter also said that if the Jewish community wants a more representative government, secession is not necessarily the way to go.

"There is a rhetorical bandwagon out there crying that the government [in the City of Los Angeles] is not responsive, but that is not necessarily true. Council members spend all day long responding to things in their district," she said. "The danger in the kind of rhetoric I’m hearing is that it just obscures the issue of learning to be close to [the representatives] who can fix things in your neighborhood."

But former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a secession supporter, disagrees.

"If we have more districts representing fewer people, those areas that are more Jewish might have better representation because we have always had a disproportionate number of Jewish people on the City Council," he said.

Overall, it is difficult to predict the effect of secession on the Jewish community of Los Angeles. In many ways, the current situation in Los Angeles reflects the split within our community itself, between those in the city and those in the Valley areas. As embodied in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Valley Alliance, that "split" has been successful only to the extent both sides recognize that they are on the same team.

"I think it strengthens the community to have people from different parts of the community with different perspectives," said Mayer. "The Federation weaves us together."

Were the city of Los Angeles to discover a similar common denominator, perhaps secession would be unnecessary. But the polls paint a different picture: the latest numbers from a Los Angeles Times survey this month show 55 percent of Valley residents in favor of secession and other areas of the city almost evenly split on secession. Clearly, many Valley residents do feel that they would be better off as an independent city.

In the next article in this series, The Journal will explore whether the Jewish community’s feelings reflect those of Los Angeles overall.

JCCs in Jeopardy

In what appears to be a critical juncture for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), the organization is devising a structural overhaul to prevent severe cutbacks in services and the potential closure of several centers.

For decades JCCGLA has offered Jewish Los Angeles a broad spectrum of community services that include Jewish enrichment, day care, summer camp and athletic facilities, and the reduction or cancellation of these services would affect thousands in the community.

JCCGLA has entered into negotiations this week with their primary benefactor, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Officials of both organizations expressed hope that a resolution can be reached to rescue the ailing Centers

"Right now, the agency is in a very critical situation," JCCGLA’s Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman-Giladi told The Journal between meetings with Federation executives on Nov. 28. "We are experiencing very tough economic times. There are changing needs in the community."

When asked to define the "critical situation" and "changing needs," Giladi said: "At this time we are operating in a manner where our expenses exceed our revenue and we need to identify a responsible plan where we can continue to provide our services to the community."

Giladi did not directly address the November resignation of Chief Financial Officer Gail Floyd, a reflection, according to some sources, of a long history of mismanagement that has beleaguered JCCGLA in the years preceding Giladi’s installation this past July. The sources were quick to note that Giladi, who has worked in the JCCGLA system for five years, is doing a formidable job in her new position and has her work cut out for her.

"It is fair to say that the goal of our agency, moving forward, is to create a [financial] model that is different than the one that existed," Giladi said. "There is more competition with services — Jewish preschools, health and fitness services. Charitable donations have dropped because of the climate we’re in right now. Our job right now is to look to all of those factors and cooperate in a fiscally responsible manner. Of course it’s my greatest hope that the JCC system will grow and serve this community in the future."

"We’ve had very intensive discussions with concerning the future of their programming," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. "Everyone is taking this very seriously. Our primary interest remains to the clientele. The situation is complex; it takes a lot of ingenuity, flexibility and creativity to find solutions. The fact that we are a service system helps us to explore issues in a thoughtful manner. The good news is that other affiliated bodies have stepped up to help find solutions."

These Federation affiliates include Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service.

Todd Morgan, who will complete his two-year term as the Federation’s chairman of the board next month, has been among the Federation brass involved in JCCGLA-Federation board discussions.

"Corporate America has changed," Morgan said. "It’s the first severe recession we’ve had in a decade. There’s a lot of restructuring going on around across the country, all over the world. It is no different for The Federation and the JCCs than other institutions being affected by the recession and Sept. 11."

Morgan emphasized that while The Federation, which allocates more than $3 million a year to JCCGLA, is "playing a financial role, but we’re not involved in running it."

But most likely, new Federation moneys toward the JCC system will come earmarked with more restrictions. When asked whether The Federation will have a stronger hand in shaping the JCC’s direction and programming, Fishel responded, "We want to be a very active collaborator" with JCCGLA, which he said has always been "a large and important constituent."

"That was the good news," Fishel continued, "in terms of sitting with colleagues and talking about the economy, and how do we collaborate rather than duplicate. I felt good coming out of that discussion this morning."

On the potential of an expanded Federation role in JCCGLA governorship, Giladi said, "The Federation has always had the responsibility to identify how to provide allocation to agencies to meet the needs of the community. We fall in this criteria."

The tradition of a Federation bailing out its city’s JCCs is not exclusive to Los Angeles. JCCs in cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis and Toronto have enjoyed a robust rebirth after their respective Federations came to the rescue. However, a JCCGLA insider observed that "The Federation is a champion of the JCC. But why should it be responsible? In a perfect world, the JCC should be autonomous."

Several sources echoed the sentiment that other institutions — synagogues with day schools and after-school care; educational facilities, such as University of Judaism and the Skirball Cultural Center; and 24-hour health clubs — have all encroached on the key services offered by JCCGLA. The sources also believed that L.A. Jews, unlike closer-knit communities in Detroit or Cleveland, suffer from a lack of cohesion due to geographical and demographic situations unique to our city.

Morgan does not want to lay the JCC’s problems at the feet of the community that it services.

"It’s one of several factors, but I don’t blame the community because they need a tune up," Morgan said. "But for the next generation, we need to do more which means more funding to bring up the current standards that other cities have."

Years ago, the JCC system’s purpose and function in the community was sharply defined. In the 1880s, the national JCC system was created to facilitate the acculturation of Russian Jewry. In the 1930s, JCCs kept juvenile delinquents off of the streets and put them into boxing clubs, which became an incubator for many of the great Jewish boxers. By the 1950s and 1960s, suburbia crept in and the JCCs occupied prime spiritual real estate in the Jewish community. Since then, the gradual blurring of the line between community centers and synagogues, which have come to offer day schools and other educational and child-care services.

Resurrection of the JCC and its raison d’etre seems to be a common chorus from those in the know.

"They’re going to have to restructure it," Morgan said, "It’s going through this painful period so that they can come back in the next few years."

One person close to the JCCs suggested that if the JCCGLA is intent on surviving, it must revise its game plan drastically. The source believed that the organization should perhaps even go so far as to eliminate membership, in order to cultivate attendance.

"Institutions like Hillel and Hadassah," observed this source, "they recognized that they were becoming stale and they’ve changed with the times. They’ve repackaged themselves. The problem is, nobody wants to look at the hard facts, that maybe the concept is just passé."

Morgan is saddened by the current state of L.A.’s JCC system, but he emphasizes that he has not lost faith in the enterprise as a viable community outlet. In fact, he has been a main proponent of a $40 million capital campaign for a brand new JCC headquarters on the Westside.

"It got board approval, but we put it on the back burner because of the economy and Sept. 11," Morgan told The Journal, adding that the Federation went so far as to enter talks with prominent Jewish families who would help endow the project.

"One of our biggest contributions that we make is to the JCCs," Morgan said of The Federation. "I want this to be a world-class JCC where we can ensure continuity in our community. We get young families to use the athletic facilities, to go there for coffee, to attend events. That’s my dream. It’s been postponed."

Giladi was reluctant to comment on this project.

"When we have dealt with the current situation to the best of our ability in the most humane and responsible manner than we’ll think of building bigger and greater toward the future," she said.

For now, discussions over the direction of the JCCGLA system will continue. Fishel predicted that "a formal plan of action" will be finalized and announced within 1-2 weeks.

"A lot of it will become apparent when we move forward," Fishel said. "We have an immediate situation and then we look forward to long term solutions."

Giladi’s primary focus right now is to maintain the key services for the "several thousand members" of L.A.’s JCC system.

"There are many people in the community who entered the JCC doors, and that was the beginning of their engagement with Jewish life," Giladi said. "The JCCs do play a significant role in Jewish life. Fishel was optimistic that The Federation and JCCGLA will construct a practical solution to improve the long-ailing system and better serve its constituents.

"There are a lot of examples where creative solutions have helped revive institutional life and Jewish life in the community," Fishel said. "What’s becoming more apparent to everyone is that we are all one system. We need to think collaboratively. We’re a community that’s changed dramatically, but together, working as a system, we will find a solution."

"Right now the biggest challenge is how to address the need of our membership," Giladi said. "It’s a very difficult process, it’s a sad process, and there is no greater goal than to work to meet the needs of our families."

Personal Touch

Michal Amir prefers "a Jewish conversation."

Entering her second year as co-chair of a donor support program called Face-to-Face, Amir believes the phrase is a more accurate description of the Super Sunday tradition aimed at strengthening ties between big donors ($1,000 or more) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

This year, Amir and freshman co-chair Renee Katz will oversee a group of about 20 interviewers who will conduct the one-on-one sessions on the second floor of the Federation’s 6505 Wilshire building. Working with them will be Scott Minkow, assistant director of the Federation’s Metropolitan and Western regions. Last year, he supervised the Sawtelle location’s successful Super Sunday drive.

The interviewers meet in person with the donors, answer questions about the Federation, its agencies, its staff, fundraising and allocation practices — whatever is on their minds. The by-appointment-only Jewish conversations last anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Interviewers will conduct as many as 20 personal discussions throughout Super Sunday.

"For me, Face-to-Face is the best part," said Minkow, 29, who first conducted the Valley Alliance version two years ago while completing his masters program at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Minkow anticipates that this year’s Face-to-Face will be very successful thanks to Amir and Katz, both successful 30-something professionals. Amir is a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, while Katz is a clinical psychologist with a Beverly Hills practice. But both are equally accomplished on the community level.

Amir is the daughter of Holocaust survivors from the Hungarian part of Czechoslovakia and a self-described "goal-oriented Virgo doctor." She was raised in Beverly Hills, where she still resides, and attended Cornell and Columbia universities. An active Federation participant, Amir is a staff volunteer for Jewish Family Service and a member of the Federation’s Medical Division Cabinet and its executive committee. On the national level, she is a member of the Young Leadership National Cabinet, composed of adults in their 30’s and 40’s.

"My favorite part of Face-to-Face," Amir said, "is that you actually get to make the connections with people. Everybody likes to feel that they are a member of the community. In a big city like L.A. it’s so easy to feel lost. I get to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise get to know. I love to meet strangers and develop a bond with them. It helps to bond me closer to the community."

Katz had attended a few Federation functions in the past, but nothing really sparked her fancy until she attended the United Jewish Communities’ Washington 11 Conference. That drew her in.

"I met some of the most incredible people who inspired me," Katz recalled. "Now I feel like I can’t do enough."

Katz now spends several hours each week volunteering at Beit T’Shuvah, an experience she confirms is "a completely different feeling doing it as a volunteer as opposed to professionally."

Katz, a Brentwood resident who grew up in Beverlywood, studied at Scripps in Claremont, got her master’s at Harvard and completed her studies at California Graduate Institute. In her nearly two years of active Federation involvement, Katz, chair of the Ben-Gurion Society for young adults, has attracted many to the outreach organization’s fold. Her positive experiences already include a recent Federation mission to Lithuania.

"It actually keeps getting better," Katz said of her Federation participation. "I feel a sense of purpose and connection."

Katz finds a good fit between her professional training and Face-to-Face.

"There’s such an emphasis on money instead of an emotional or spiritual connection," Katz told The Journal. "I pride myself on being vulnerable and open. What’s key as a psychologist is to listen to them, acknowledge their feelings, make them feel validated."

For his part, Minkow finds his face-to-face interaction with Katz and Amir among Super Sunday’s greatest rewards. "They are the future of this Federation," he said.

Beyond the Glass Ceiling

When word got out last week that Janet Engelhart had been named executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island – making her the only woman professional at the helm of one of the 40 largest federations – she received a flood of phone calls.

Most were colleagues and friends offering congratulations. But more than five – and the ones that Engelhart found most touching – were from young women professionals at Jewish organizations asking her to be their mentor.

As Engelhart’s sudden popularity illustrates, female role models are in short supply, both in the Jewish federation world and at the highest tiers of other Jewish organizations.But a new initiative – the first effort launched by a new federation system offshoot, the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy – is seeking to change that.

With a $1 million seed grant from Barbara and Eric Dobkin, New York philanthropists known for their support of Jewish feminist causes, the project aims to help the organized Jewish community “identify, attract, recruit, advance and retain women in management and executive positions.”

The initiative – called Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community – capitalizes on another concern that has seized the attention of leaders throughout the Jewish world: the growing shortage of qualified Jewish communal professionals.

By recruiting women more aggressively, the reasoning goes, the pool of candidates will effectively double.Jewish organizations, say the initiative’s proponents, have trailed the business world and other nonprofits in advancing women and have created a climate in which mid-level women professionals believe they must leave the field in order to advance.

“Virtually every profession and industry has moved more quickly and more effectively on opening opportunities to women at top levels than the Jewish communal world,” said Louise Stoll, chief operating officer of the federation system’s national umbrella, United Jewish Communities (UJC).

Hired in 1999, Stoll is the first woman to hold so high a position in the federation world.

Shifra Bronznick, a consultant who helps facilitate change at not-for-profit organizations and is widely credited with designing the new initiative, points out that women hold 51 percent of all CEO posts at foundations and are growing more visible in the corporate world.

In contrast, only two of 40 major national Jewish organizations, excluding women’s organizations, are run by women, according to Bronznick.

Before Engelhart’s hiring in Rhode Island, only one other woman had held a top position at a federation of that size, and it is believed that a woman has never been the top executive at any of the 19 largest federations in North America.

The new initiative seeks to persuade leaders of national, regional and local Jewish organizations to make hiring women a greater priority.

Specifically, it will create a talent bank to identify potential women candidates from within and outside the Jewish community, assist organizations seeking to recruit women, track which organizations are more successful than others at hiring and retaining women, and establish a training program for both male and female senior management candidates.

It is not clear why women are so poorly represented in top Jewish professional circles.

While there is much talk of glass ceilings and some talk of old boys’ networks, few blame the inequity on overt sexism. Indeed, many Jewish organizations say they would like to hire more women but have difficulty finding enough qualified female candidates.

However, UJC’s Stoll said that “resistance has been very strong” to accommodating women at top levels and that it is common to hear comments such as, “I can’t send a woman to deal with that solicitation. He’ll do better with a man.”

But some women in the field – while supportive of the new initiative – suggest that it is not necessarily discrimination that dissuades women from seeking top positions.

Shula Bahat, acting executive director of the American Jewish Committee, which she said has made recent strides in recruiting women for top lay and professional roles, said she knows of several situations where women were considered for executive jobs but took their hats out of the ring to leave more time for family.Ironically, the concern about the dearth of women in top posts comes at a time when other Jewish spheres are reporting a shortage of men.

A recent study found that with the exception of the Orthodox world, women participate more in adult Jewish learning than men. Another study – on Jewish teens – found that boys are less likely than girls to join youth groups or attend religious school while in high school.

Some have speculated about a “feminization” of Jewish life, saying that as Judaism has become more open to women, it is being devalued by – and abandoned by – men.

The new initiative’s backers say they are not worried this will happen in the upper echelons of Jewish organizations.

“I think that when wonderful leaders head up institutions, everyone wants to be a part of them,” Bronznick said.

Answering the Call

Anne Roberts is passionate about the idea of tzedakah, a concept she has diligently instilled in her son Spencer Nieman.

A second-grader who is not quite 8 years old, Spencer has managed to save up $120 this year and will donate it in a small ceremony that has become an annual tradition on Super Sunday, the biggest single day of fund raising for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ United Jewish Fund each year.

Spencer is following the example set by his older brother, Mitchell, who died 3 1/2 years ago at age 6.

“Mitchell understood our job was to take care of people in need,” his mother said. “On Super Sunday, he would go on stage to share his gift. This is something that Spencer has continued to do year after year.”

As have many of the 5,000 volunteers who will spend this Sunday making phone calls, licking envelopes and doing person-to-person solicitations in an attempt to raise as much money as possible for the UJF.

Super Sunday, which will take place at four locations scattered across Los Angeles, reaches more than 50,000 people and raises about one-tenth of the annual total contributions to the UJF. Last year, $4.45 million was added to UJF coffers. This year’s goal is to increase that figure to $5 million.

Most of the funds go to benefit the Federation’s 17 beneficiary agencies, which combat hunger, disease, disabilities, family violence, alcohol and drug addiction in Los Angeles, as well as provide educational services, legal and psychological assistance, recreation programs and avenues to strengthen Jewish commitment. A third of the money is spent overseas to support Israel and Jews in 58 countries.

Part of the pitch that volunteers will make when they dial for dollars will be: About 10 percent of the 519,000 Jews in the Federation’s service area are living in poverty, according to the Federation’s recent demographic report, and many elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union are near starvation.

“The need is always urgent. There’s never enough money,” said David Aaronson, 1999 Super Sunday chair, who added that possibly as many as 200,000 Jews in the former Soviet Union are living in poverty.

“We often don’t have a clue how many ways we give to people through the United Jewish Fund,” said Roberts, who is chairing volunteer training this year. “What Super Sunday does is allow us, by making one gift, to help Jews in Los Angeles and also hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the world who would starve without our help.”

In honor of Roberts’ late son, Mitchell, a number of Westside religious schools have raised tzedakah money and will come to the Westside Super Sunday site to deliver the proceeds to the Mitchell Nieman Fund. The goal is to teach kids to incorporate tzedakah into their lives, Roberts said.

This year, the Orthodox presence on the phone banks may be larger than usual. Volunteers from Young Israel of Century City, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Sha’arei Tefila and Yavneh Hebrew Academy, among others, will make calls on Super Sunday.

“We’ve made a commitment for more participation of our synagogue in the Federation,” said Young Israel’s Gary Naren.

Orthodox involvement in Federation has often been limited in the past, since many members of the Orthodox community believe that the umbrella agency doesn’t pay enough attention to their needs, Naren conceded. But, in the long run, this may be self-defeating, he said.

“The only way the Federation is going to reach out for the involvement of the Orthodox community is to have more people involved in the Federation who are Orthodox.” — Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

A Call for Support

Few people look forward to being asked for money. But Super Sunday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ largest single day of fund raising each the year, is the exception.

“It’s the one time of the year when people say, ‘I was waiting for your phone call,'” says David Eshaghpour, community campaign director for the Federation and Super Sunday director.

Super Sunday, which will take place at four locations scattered across Los Angeles, reaches more than 50,000 people through phone calls, mailers and personal solicitations, and raises about one-tenth of the annual total contributions to the Federation’s United Jewish Fund. Last year, $4.45 million was added to UJF coffers. This year’s goal is to increase that figure to $5 million.

The money goes to benefit the Federation’s 17 beneficiary agencies, which combat hunger, disease, disabilities, family violence, alcohol and drug addiction in Los Angeles, and to help Jews in Israel and 58 countries.

Many staff and lay leaders of the UJF’s beneficiary agencies show up to make phone calls on Super Sunday, along with scores of families, teens, young singles and couples, and seniors. There are specially equipped phones for the hearing impaired.

“Super Sunday brings together generations working for a common cause,” says David Aaronson, who is chairing Super Sunday for the second year in a row.

For parents of small children, free baby-sitting is available. Youngsters also can take part in Mitzvathon, a day of making art projects and participating in other activities that help those in need; the children will also learn more about their Jewish heritage.

At the “megasite,” the Westside Jewish Community Center, costumed Power Ranger characters from the Fox-TV Network will show up to amuse the kids.

To volunteer or to contribute, contact one of the following locations: Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., (323) 761-8319; Valley Alliance Milken Jewish Community Campus, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills, (818) 464-3200; South Bay Council Jewish Community Building, 22410 Palos Verdes Blvd., Torrance, (310) 540-2631; Jewish Federation West Los Angeles Office, 1950 Sawtelle Blvd., (310) 689-3600.

6505: Home for the Next Generation

For Federation executives and board members, 6505 Wilshire is more than just another building. It is a monument to years of memories; an edifice awash in nostalgic value. But does the Miracle Mile area headquarters hold any meaning for the new generation of Federation leaders? And what will it mean to these up-and-comers who will no doubt steer the future of Jewish outreach in Los Angeles?

As chair of the Leadership Development Council, Andrew Cushnir oversees all lay divisions involving the 22-45 age group. Cushnir has an extensive personal history with the building, which goes back to his late ’80s stint with the Anti-Defamation League. And while he has high hopes for the revamped 6505 and its state-of-the-art facilities, Cushnir does not discount the Westside’s growing significance as an epicenter for local Jewry. He believes that, ultimately, a headquarters combined with a Jewish Community Center would be great.

“It would make it more of a true community center as opposed to a corporate headquarters,” says the Leadership Development Council chair.

Continues Cushnir, “There are a lot of people — myself included — who wish that people would build a West L.A. campus, based on the model of the Milken campus. And it’s a dream we keep. But for now [6505] will be great.”

Jackie Shelton, who served as the chair of the Federation-based Access from 1996-98, feels that 6505 consolidates a literal and symbolic community presence for the Federation.

“I look forward to having that as the central location,” says Shelton. “It seems to me that the Jewish population is moving in different directions. Working to develop a place that will meet the Jewish community’s needs will be a great thing. Now is the opportunity to do it.”

Shelton’s husband, Vice Chair of Access Craig Miller, also believes that 6505 — in tandem with a Westside location — will best serve its constituents and enhance the Federation’s visibility.

“The Jewish community clearly has moved west and north,” says Miller, “but I think the Federation has done a good job accommodating those people. With the building comes a lot of history, which is important… Staying in the neighborhood where the Jews are is important.” Miller and Shelton may be reflective of that notion — the couple, who currently reside near the 6505 location, met through Access and are looking forward to vice chairing the next Super Sunday in February 2000.

Beth Comsky Raanan, who helped oversee last year’s Super Sunday drive and will co-chair again next year, likes what she sees so far. A working architect, Raanan is pleased with the conceptual designs she’s come across in Federation literature.

“It looked very nice, at least from the rendering,” says Raanan. “Certainly an improvement. It had a nice, clean, modern look.”

She does, however, have her qualms about 6505’s inherent interior shortcomings.

“The building has a very small floorplate,” says the architect. “I like the idea of the temporary space they’re in now because it allows for more interaction [between departments and agencies]. I hope they are able to maintain that communication between departments… Whenever you’re in a high rise building with an elevator, you have to work harder to maintain [those ties].”

Regardless, Raanan believes that, from a lay perspective, the Federation’s decision is a smart one.

“Fiscally, it’s the responsible thing to do,” says Raanan. “I appreciate the fact that as much of the money as possible gets spent to where they want to. And I think from a historical perspective, people have a connection with that building. So it will be kind of nice to go back to 6505.”

Stephanie Steinhouse — who staffs the Leadership Development Council as assistant director of Human Resources for the Jewish Federation — also welcomes the change of address as an emblem of continuity.

“As long as I’ve been a Jewish Angeleno…I remember that building,” says Steinhouse. She adds that both of her parents and her grandmother were employed at that very building.

“To me, it’s a larger issue than how to get there,” says Steinhouse. “It’s a nice tie to my community.”

Other Stories on the Federation’s return to 6505:   A new Jewish Federation headquarters is rising at 6505 Wilshire.
   The $20 million campaign.
   The Federation building: past, present and future.