UCLA student court hears case against students who accepted Israel trips


The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) campaign against UCLA’s pro-Israel movement became even more heated last week as the school’s undergraduate judicial board heard arguments in a case brought by SJP against two members of UCLA’s student government who had taken sponsored trips to Israel.

Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh, neither of whom is Jewish, traveled to Israel in 2013 — Rogers with Project Interchange, a project of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and Singh with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

SJP filed a complaint in April alleging those trips created a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof, for the two students, and asked the judicial board to consider nullifying votes by Rogers and Singh last February against a resolution that had called upon UCLA to divest from Israeli companies that do business in the West Bank.

The divestment resolution, which both Rogers and Singh opposed, was defeated 7-5.Sunny Singh defending himself against an SJP complaint.

The May 15 hearing, which was held in a classroom, was entirely devoid of the passion and anger that has accompanied so many of the campus political debates surrounding the Israelis and Palestinians.

Aside from the informal dress of the participants, the 4 1/2-hour hearing felt like a court case. Each side made opening statements and was granted time for cross-examination — of Rogers, Singh and witnesses — before offering closing statements.

SJP’s main student legal representative, Dana Saifan, grilled Singh about the contents of a liability clause ADL asked him to sign before his trip, questioning why he didn’t submit into evidence his entire ADL trip application. Singh said that his application was filled out on an old laptop that he no longer had in his possession.

From left to right: Sunny Singh, Katie Takakijan, and Ian Cocroft watch as SJP's Dana Saifan cross-examines Lauren Rogers.

The court further questioned Singh about a gala he attended and who the attendees were, trying to establish if connections he made there could have created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Laila Riazi, the other SJP member who argued in front of the court, said that the issue at hand was whether there was actual conflict of interest, or even merely a perceived one. “It is about limiting the perception of conflicts of interests,” she said, adding though, “The council member may have felt obliged to pay them back.”

Chief Justice Matt Satyadi repeatedly challenged SJP’s legal representatives, Saifan and Riazi, asking how a quid pro quo would work, given that Rogers and Singh had both voted by a secret ballot. “How they voted doesn’t matter,” Satyadi said. Because Rogers and Singh cannot be compelled to reveal their votes on the divestment resolution, it’s doubtful that the court could invalidate their votes even if it determined there was a conflict of interest.

Satyadi also questioned SJP’s suggestion that Singh’s free invitation to an ADL gala could cause a conflict of interest.

“Just because he gets a dinner doesn’t mean he has to vote for that person,” Satyadi said.

Katie Takakijan, Singh’s and Rogers’ main legal representation, warned the judicial board that SJP’s complaint could entirely change the dynamic of student trips abroad.

“What does that say to future students? Don’t apply for any educational programs abroad,” Takakijan said. “Don’t try to serve your student body by applying to be a member of USAC [student government]. Don’t do both together because you could have your entire reputation slandered and sit in a judicial board hearing and be crucified.”

Counsel for both Rogers and Singh called as witnesses ADL regional director Amanda Susskind and immediate past national board chair of Project Interchange Robert Peckar in an effort to establish that ADL and AJC did not expect Rogers and Singh to vote a certain way on divestment as a result of their involvement. 

SJP’s counsel cross-examined Susskind and Peckar, attempting to show that there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

On May 16, the day after the hearing, Saifan said on Twitter, “Pretty much just took the Israel lobby to court. Bye bye ADL and AJC.” 

This hearing is only the latest in a flurry of legislative and judicial actions by SJP’s many campus branches in California, some of which have been victories, all of which have thrown the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the campus spotlight.

Last week, 18 of 30 candidates for positions in UCLA’s student government signed a pledge not to take trips to Israel that are sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the ADL and Hasbara Fellowships. 

UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin, added that an additional four candidates did not sign the letter but said they would not attend such trips. 

The May 9 elections for the student government’s 13 open positions (10 contested) saw the Bruins United Party take six seats. Each of the party’s candidates refused to sign the pledge.

Five student groups had a hand in drafting the pledge: SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim Student Association, the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association. 

On May 16, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement insisting that although the pledge falls “squarely within the realm of free speech,” he is troubled that it could “reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints” by only targeting AIPAC, ADL and Hasbara.

UC President Janet Napolitano issued a similar statement on the same day, echoing Block’s concern that sponsored trips to Israel are being selectively targeted and criticizing students who circulated the pledge for violating “the principles of civility, respect and inclusion.”

William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell University, has followed the anti-Israel campus movement for years, documenting it on his blog, legalinsurrection.com. He said that the tack SJP is taking at UCLA is different from anything he’s seen thus far around the country.

“Because sponsored trips are such a big part of the Jewish educational experience, particularly for college students, this will make people who want to go into student government hesitant to take such trips,” Jacobson said, adding that he thinks SJP’s ultimate goal is to “alter the composition of student government” by intimidating students who don’t want to be singled out for supporting Israel into not running at all.

On May 8, the student government at UC Davis debated a resolution that would have called on university administrators to divest from many companies that do business in Israel. That resolution ended in a 5-5 tie, and therefore failed to pass.

In late April, student governments at San Diego State University, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside (UCR) all held similar votes. Only UCR’s resolution passed. In 2012 and 2013, divestment resolutions passed at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. 

In February, after a contentious all-night debate, UCLA’s student government voted 7-5 against a divestment resolution. The fate of that resolution would be in question if the judicial board invalidates Rogers’ and Singh’s votes.

The five student judges are required to issue their decision by May 29. As of press time, no decision had been made.

Moving and Shaking: Irwin Field honored, Rabbi Ari Segal elected, Breed Street Shul Project ceremony


Irwin Field

Former Jewish Journal publisher and board chair Irwin Field was honored by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles on June 25 with the organization’s Tocqueville Legacy Award. The honor from  the local division of the anti-poverty organization came during its 25th Alexis de Tocqueville Awards, held at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The ceremony featured a performance by actress and musician Tia Carrere and remarks from Tocqueville member and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.

Field, who remains a Journal board member and is CEO of Liberty Vegetable Oil, helped initiate the Tocqueville Society at United Way of Greater Los Angeles in 1988 while serving as board chair of the latter. According to the nonprofit’s Web site, the Tocqueville Society was created “to deepen individual understanding of, commitment to and support of United Way’s work.” The society acknowledges individuals who contribute a minimum of $10,000 to United Way and has raised more than $350 million since its inception. 


Mid City West community council board members includes new appointee Rabbi Ari Segal of Shalhevet School (second from right). Courtesy of Steven Rosenthal.

Rabbi Ari Segal, head of school at Shalhevet High School on Fairfax Avenue, was recently elected to the Mid City West (MCW) Community Council as a religious representative. Board members unanimously elected Segal during a June 12 meeting at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles council house.

The MCW council helps give neighborhoods a voice in policymaking and influence over city government, according to its Web site. 


From left: Stephen Sass, board president of the Breed Street Shul Project; husband-and-wife Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky; East Side Jews' Jill Soloway; and Uri Resnick, deputy consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. Photo by Joel Lipton.

The Breed Street Shul Project honored Jill Soloway and Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky during a ceremony last month. The June 23 event, “Praise for Our Past, Raise for Our Future,” took place at the Autry National Center. The evening included a private showing of the ongoing Autry exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.”

A writer-director whose first feature film, “Afternoon Delight,” screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Soloway is a founding member of East Side Jews, a nondenominational collective of Jews on Los Angeles’ East Side that holds monthly events at unlikely venues. 

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has served as an elected official for more than 35 years and is well known for his social-action activities on behalf of Soviet Jews and other Jewish causes. He has decided to leave public office at the end of his term in 2014.

His wife, Barbara, an ardent activist devoted to community and civic engagement, has lent her expertise to organizations such as the Zimmer Children’s Museum and Koreh L.A. and has participated in Latino-Jewish dialogue efforts. 

Established in 1999, the nonprofit Breed Street Shul Project has overseen the rehabilitation of the Boyle Heights-based Breed Street Shul. It works to bring together Jewish, Latino and other communities in Los Angeles. 


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Jewish War Veterans honor more than 20 World War II veterans in Culver City on Sunday, June 23. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) last month joined the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America (JWV) at the latter’s 75th annual statewide convention, where more than 20 World War II veterans were honored. The event took place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Culver City on June 23.

Lisa Zaid, Western region major gifts associate at USHMM, delivered a message of gratitude and hope to the World War II Jewish veterans on behalf of the nation’s living memorial to the Holocaust. Zaid also presented specially designed USHMM commemorative pins to each veteran. 

JWV provides nonsectarian assistance to veterans and advocates on behalf of Jewish issues. The USHMM in Washington, D.C., celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It hosts programs, lectures, traveling exhibitions and more in Western cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and Shaking: Chris Silbermann, Morton Schapiro and Lawrence Trilling honored


From left: Saban Free Clinic CEO Jeffrey Bujer, producer Andy Friendly, ICM Partners founding partners Chris Silbermann and Bob Broder and producer David Friendly. Photo by Christianne Ray. 

The Saban Free Clinic, a medical clinic for the underserved, honored Chris Silbermann, founding partner of talent agency ICM Partners, during its 18th annual Golf Classic last month. 

The tournament was held at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana on June 3. It is one of the largest fundraisers for the clinic, which has raised nearly $230,000 in funds this year and more than $3.5 million to fund medical, dental and behavioral health services since its inception.

Event chairs and co-chairs included music industry executive Irving Azoff, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chairman Rob Friedman, producers Andy Friendly and David Friendly, entertainment lawyer John Frankenheimer, NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert and Marcia Steere.


Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro addresses Valley Torah High School's annual trustees dinner. Photo by Yehuda Remer.

Valley Torah High School honored Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro with its inaugural Education Leadership Award last month, in recognition of Schapiro’s encouragement of religious tolerance and sensitivity on the Evanston, Ill., campus.

Under his leadership, “Northwestern has changed its climate, attitude and atmosphere … and is attracting more high school graduates from Jewish communities throughout America,” Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, Valley Torah’s dean, said in a statement.

Schapiro received the award during the Valley Torah annual trustees dinner on June 6, which took place at a private home in Valley Village. The dinner featured Schapiro addressing “The Role on Faith in Secular Universities.” Valley Torah alumni Rabbi George and Lisa Lintz chaired the dinner, which also promoted a scholarship fund of the Valley Village Orthodox school.

Recently, the mainstream media has spotlighted Valley Torah graduate Aaron Liberman, who played on Northwestern’s basketball team last year as a freshman. The team has accommodated the religious practices of Liberman, who is Orthodox. Lenard Liberman, Aaron’s father, was in attendance at the Valley Torah dinner.


Bend the Arc honoree and board member Lawrence Trilling with wife Jennifer Kattler Trilling and children, Jonah, Lyla, and Dahlia. Photo by Amy Tierney.

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice honored television producer Lawrence Trilling (“Parenthood”) during its Pursuit of Justice gala last month.

Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle. Photo by Amy Tierney.

Appearing at the June 9 dinner at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Trilling — a board member of the social justice organization — described himself as “a storyteller who tries to ennoble the people portrayed in stories and expand the capacity for empathy in people watching them. Those are Jewish values, and tonight I’m honored to be in a room full of people who live those values.” 

Trilling’s TV credits also include “Alias,” “Felicity,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Damages.” 

A nonprofit, Bend the Arc advocates for progressive positions on issues such as immigration, tax reform and more. 

Approximately 400 supporters of Bend the Arc turned out for the event. Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle and Serena Zeise, Bend the Arc’s new Southern California regional director, delivered remarks. 

In addition to celebrating Trilling, the gala recognized the California Domestic Workers Coalition, which has fought for fair labor standards for the state’s domestic workers since 2006. Bend the Arc is a partner of the coalition. 


Julia Cosgrove, joined by her family, submits Pages of Testimony to Debbie Berman, manager of the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project. Courtesy of Remember Us. 

During a visit to Israel last month, Los Angeles teen Julia Cosgrove submitted pages of testimony memorializing her grandfather’s family members who died in the Holocaust to the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims’ Name Recovery Project.

Organized by the Jerusalem-based institute, which is devoted to the research, documentation and education of the Holocaust, the worldwide project is part of an effort to recover the names of millions of Holocaust victims that remain unidentified.

Cosgrove’s grandfather, Gabriel Legmann, lost his three brothers and mother in the Shoah. Only Legmann and his father survived. The family was from Reteag, Romania.

Cosgrove, a student at the Harvard-Westlake School, is a participant of the Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project. Run by Los Angeles nonprofit Remember Us, the project involves boys and girls remembering lost children from the Shoah during their b’nai mitzvah. Additionally, it has partnered with Yad Vashem to advance the work of the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project in Los Angeles.

Cosgrove becomes a bat mitzvah this August, at Sinai Temple.    


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

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.


Run

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 ryant@jewishjournal.com

Rabbi David Hartman’s learned students remember their rebbe


An Advocate for Divine Honesty

David Hartman was sui generis; he was a unique individual who was very excited about ideas and at the same time pragmatic. Who believed that believing is best expressed in behavior. To believe is to behave.

This is very clear in his latest book, “The God Who Hates Lies.” It was his opportunity to express the great hope that he had for a renaissance of Jewish life in the State of Israel, and his frustrations at the people who were returning to an ideological, self-centered kind of life that was very disillusioning to him.

His great teacher was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and he told me as he was working on this book, “I have to break with Soloveitchik.” In his treatment of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Soloveitchik said this was the glory of a divine absurdity; the act of being about to do something that is against logic itself. 

Hartman chastised Soloveitchik for this. He said that this is not what we need; we need divine truthfulness and honesty.

He literally gathered hundreds of rabbis, gathered them together and enabled them to speak together without any of their insularity — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist were able to speak, to present, without hostility and without denigration.

He had a remarkable, charismatic approach to the teaching of Judaism. When he was on, it was sheer idealism and enthusiasm. From my point of view, it’s a monumental loss in the Jewish community. He was able to see within Orthodoxy a liberation. 

— Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, as told to Susan Freudenheim


‘The crown has fallen from our head’ — Lamentations 5:16

There was a man and he is no more.

A thinker, a teacher and a lover of humanity. My teacher and friend, Rabbi David Hartman.

He was larger than life: a dynamic force; a public figure with an international following. But when you became his student, he attached himself to you; he became your rebbe. I was privileged to be one of his students for almost 35 years. He was my rebbe. He was my mentor. He shaped my thinking, and he touched my soul.

My mother passed away just over a month ago. Losing David Hartman feels like I’ve lost my intellectual and spiritual father. 

What made David Hartman so special was that he was a yeshiva bocher who gained enlightenment but never stopped being a yeshiva bocher. And so he was at the same time both critical and loyal. He encouraged us to boldly challenge the tradition but never stop loving it. He gave us the greatest gift that a teacher can bequeath: the freedom to inquire, to ask, to probe and to speculate. He accompanied us on the journey — he wrestled with us — all the while reminding us that our personal growth was bound up in a collective responsibility. He so loved the Jewish people. And he loved humanity.

When I first met R’ Duvid, as I fondly called him, he asserted that the most serious religious question that the Jewish people had to confront was how to rule over a minority as Jews. It was the critical question back in 1978, and it continues to be the most vexing moral issue that we face. 

That’s why I became David Hartman’s student, and that’s why he will always be my rebbe. 

— Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Executive Director, UCLA Hillel


The Holiness of Now: A Memory of David Hartman

Torah commands: “You shall follow after the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 13:5) So the Talmud asks: “God is a consuming fire! How is it possible to follow after God?” It answers: Follow the ways of God. My teacher David Hartman offered a different answer: Become the fire! Reflect God’s passion, God’s rage, God’s vision into the world. He was a blazing fire, and learning with Hartman was always an adventure. He thundered. He raged. He wept. Torah meant that much to him.

Hartman’s passion rose from his belief in the singular spiritual significance of this moment in Jewish history. For Hartman, our emergence from the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel initiated a new stage in the unfolding covenantal drama of the Jewish people. There was Sinai, the revelation of the Written Torah, expressed in the language of Mitzvah. There was Yavneh, the revelation of the Oral Torah, expressed in the language of Midrash. And now there is Israel, the revelation of a Living Torah, expressed in the textures and rhythms of Jewish life reborn in its land. Our return to sovereignty in Israel redefines the collective Jewish project. It reshapes our relationship to God. Israel redefines what it means to be a Jew. The holiness of this moment was his Torah. And his fire was our blessing, bringing new life to the soul of the Jewish people. 

— Rabbi Ed Feinstein


A Mensch

Rabbi David Hartman told it like it is. He didn’t mince words. He argued with Maimonides, as if he were living and shouting back.

When he spoke of his love for Israel and the challenges it faces, his words were strong and backed up through action — by educating the Israeli community and military. He didn’t hesitate to share his ambivalences with Orthodox Jewry as we know it; he welcomed women into the Bet Midrash at the Shalom Hartman Institute over 25 years ago. I’m so grateful to have studied with him every other year for those 25.  

A Man, a Mensch, a Visionary.

— Rabbi Karen L. Fox, Wilshire Boulevard Temple


Hartman and the Orthodox Discourse

Figures of great influence and authority within contemporary Orthodoxy, (such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on religious pluralism and Rabbi Yehuda Amital z’l on non-messianic Zionism) have shared ideas that Rabbi David Hartman had developed years earlier. His intellectual legacy is broad within Orthodoxy and his ideas are easy to find. But it is harder to find the voice of Rabbi Hartman himself. There is much to celebrate in his legacy after such a productive and rich life, but for the Orthodox community, the absence of Rabbi David Hartman from our communal discourse is a warning for the future.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton University. Excerpted from “Reflections on Rabbi David Hartman z’l.” The full text can be read on the Morethodoxy blog.


A Voice That Was Freed — and Now Is Silent

Rabbi David Hartman has gone to his eternal rest, but not before making a monumental contribution to Jewish life and Jewish thought.

Best known for his pioneering work as founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute,  an innovative and original think tank and teaching center of pluralistic religious Zionist thought and perhaps Israel’s leading institution for  teaching Torah to Diaspora leadership, both rabbinic and lay. In all its programs, and especially within teacher-training programs, it conveys the majesty of tradition, and its many texts [speak] to students often alienated from those traditions and put off by the parochialism of Israel’s religious establishment and by the extremism of some of the most vocal religious voices. It engages modern thought and contemporary thinkers, offering them the insights of traditional learning and engaging traditional scholars with the finest of contemporary thought. For that alone, David Hartman must be revered.

Yet Hartman never aspired to be an institution builder. He wanted most of all to be known as a Jewish philosopher.

For most of his career, he paid homage to his masters. His work on Maimonides was less a pristine work of scholarship than a work of dialogue between a 20th century thinker wrestling with 20th century problems and grappling with the ethos and the thought of the pre-eminent 12th century Jewish philosopher. His treatment of Yehuda Halevi was an extended essay on the Jewish encounter with history: Hartman in dialogue with Yehuda Halevi. His work on his own teacher conveyed the brilliance of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, mediated through the inquisitive mind of one of his most gifted pupils. A protector of his teacher’s honor, he defended his thought against all critics until … until he could no longer defend it.

As he approached 80, and as illness forced him to confront his own mortality, he began to speak in his own voice, accepting some basic categories of modernity, including the transformed role of women, the empowerment of the Jewish people in Israel, an acceptance of the dignity and decency of non-Jews and an overwhelming desire for a synthetic religious worldview. Unlike the Charedi world of his youth, he would not withdraw from the modern world. Unlike Modern Orthodoxy, which seems to want a faith untainted by modernity and a modernity untouched by faith, Hartman looked for integration between life and faith. And unlike Conservative Judaism, he did not make history paramount and push the halachic worldview to the side. A generation ago, he would have been heralded within his own community for that attempt at synthesis and harmonization. Not so today.

He continued to grow to the very end. One can only celebrate his achievements, yet deeply regret his untimely passing, for there was much that he left unsaid, once he was free to speak out.

Read the full text of this reflection.

— Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering  Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics, American Jewish University


Remembering David Hartman

As I enter the courtyard of the Hartman Institute, I am always moved first by the warmth and beauty of its welcoming presence and then by the excitement and challenge of its covenantal drama.   

Rabbi Dr. David Hartman was a master of haknassat orchim — welcoming and gathering countless Jewish — and non-Jewish — guests into his pluralistic beit midrash.

He was also a master of intellectual haknassat orchim.  With passion and drama and humor, he knew how to bring learners to the table so that they would “feel intellectually empowered to participate in Judaism’s ongoing interpretive tradition.”  

On the one hand, he championed the modern virtues of creativity, interpretive freedom and self-assertion, proclaiming: “A discussion concerning Jewish tradition is open-ended.”

On the other hand, in his beit midrash, you felt claimed by the voices and concerns of significant others, who engaged your own limited perspectives and challenged you to deepen your dignity and expand your covenantal responsibility.  

— Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Rabbinic Director, Milken Community High School

Stories of Jewish Conversion: Frank Siciliano


Hearing the name Frank Siciliano, you would probably not immediately think “Orthodox Jew.” But this Jew by Choice, who has lived in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for the past three years, is as passionate about his religion and his people as one can get. 

Siciliano, a 30-year-old insurance broker, is a born-and-bred Italian from New York. His family was Roman Catholic, and with that came trips to church every Sunday, and celebrating the religious aspects of the mainstream holidays. Christmas was about Jesus, as was Easter. There was “no real ‘pressure’ to keep the faith, as it is assumed you just will,” he said. “You went to church, [and] that was the end of it.”

However, Siciliano said, he never quite clicked with his inherited religion. “You don’t start your studies with the New Testament,” he said. “You start with Genesis, Exodus, etc. I couldn’t reconcile that if you started with all these books in the first half, why did God change His mind in the second half? If Christianity teaches that God is infallible, why would He have to adjust His rules in a whole new set of books?”

His lack of enthusiasm for Catholicism, and an ever-growing zeal for Judaism, emerged after college, when Siciliano began working at his uncle’s grocery store in the Five Towns of Long Island, where there is a strong presence of Orthodox Jewish life. “I learned that the delivery truck had to be loaded by 1 p.m. on Friday,” he said. “As my exposure to Judaism and frum communities grew more and more, I started to say to myself that this makes sense, and where I’m at does not. I wasn’t sure how to proceed with all of that, but I knew that was where I wanted to wind up.”

At the grocery store, Siciliano learned the rules of kashrut, which would help him later on. After he left the store and found a new employer, he met Kelila Green, a co-worker who lived nearly 3,000 miles away, in California. Green, as it turns out, was Jewish. He fell in love, packed his bags for the West Coast a year later, and moved to Wooster Street in West Los Angeles to be closer to his future wife. “I had been with a few girls, and they just weren’t right for me,” he said. “Kelila made sense. Judaism made sense. And, luckily I had a supportive enough community to make that happen.”

As Green and Siciliano’s relationship blossomed, the topic of conversion came up. “I wanted to make sure [Frank] was doing it for himself and not for me, so I didn’t really say much at the beginning,” Green, now a stay-at-home mom, said, adding that they “were planning on getting married whether he converted or not; we knew it would be difficult, but we also knew we were meant to be together. When I realized he was serious about converting, it was like a weight was lifted, and we both knew that a life together with kids was going to be much easier coming from the same beliefs.” 

While settling into his new neighborhood, attending his first Shabbat dinners and going through a full festival cycle, Siciliano decided to meet with Rav Yosef Kanefsky at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox shul, to discuss what he needed to do to convert. After a few meetings, Kanefsky became his sponsor and introduced him to Beit Din Los Angeles. The whole process was put into motion soon after he set foot on California soil, in March 2009, and by the end of the year he would be able to apply for conversion. “The L.A. beit din asked me how serious I was and why I was there,” he said. “They laid out a very detailed syllabus and told me what I needed to know. Conversion, I’ve learned, is not a finish line. It’s getting to the starting line.”

Daily exercises Siciliano was required to learn included saying the brachot (blessings), which Green taped to the walls; keeping kosher; and, of course, studying. He took private lessons and a course with Judaica teacher Adaire Klein. Early in the process, Siciliano and Green got into a car accident on Shabbat, which they interpreted as a sign to end their driving on the day of the rest. 

To this day, the act of wrapping tefillin still trips Siciliano up, he said, and Hebrew has been hard for him to grasp (along with any foreign language, for that matter, he said). Going from praying once a week for 45 minutes at church to praying every day was not easy to schedule at first, either. 

“Along the way, as anxious as I was to finish, and as important as I knew it was to take my time, the predominant feeling was, ‘This is right,’ ” he said. “Not once did I think I was headed in the wrong direction. I was determined to make this work. Every Shabbat, every yontif, every meeting with the rabbis was one step closer, and I’d take as many steps as was needed to get it right.”

During the conversion process, the rituals and practices became second nature, and Siciliano blended into the community. “You have to change a lot, and you want to get it changed in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “I put the cart before the horse many a time. Patience was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. I wanted to get it all done quickly, and that’s just not smart.”

As Siciliano grew into his newfound lifestyle, Green, for her part, was coming back to Orthodox Judaism. As a child she had attended an Orthodox day school, though she was raised in a Conservative/Reform household. “I remember many times learning something in school and being confused as to why we didn’t do that at home,” she said. “The Modern Orthodox lifestyle and beliefs always made sense to me; I just needed a push in that direction.” During the process, the couple learned from each other. Green’s strength was Hebrew, and Sicilano’s kashrut. 

They scheduled their wedding for Aug. 29, 2010 — that was, if everything went according to plan. “The mikveh was set for Aug. 24,” Siciliano said. “A successful conversion would have resulted in a wedding, and a failed one would have resulted in a funeral. Our families would have killed me if they had to come out to a wedding that wasn’t happening.”

On Aug. 24, 2010, Siciliano sat before the L.A. beit din and was tested and asked to respond to their questions. They could see that he was committed. Afterward, he went into the mikveh and came out a Jew.

Transitioning from the life Siciliano used to know into one of an observant Jew did not come without its difficulties. “My family was, daresay, apathetic about the whole thing,” he said. “Obviously, they weren’t in a celebratory mood. They were relieved I was still in a God-fearing position, and my dad reassured me that ‘there wasn’t going to be any garment rending’ over my conversion.”

However, Siciliano said he always feels particularly welcome when he and his wife visit his uncle’s home. “When we are back on the East Coast, my father’s younger sister, the wife of my uncle who has the store, is so on top of Shabbat that by the time we get to their house, the food that she bought from the glatt kosher joint in Cedarhurst is there. Kelila knows where her candles go. My aunt has cleared out a space for our stuff. It borders on convenient.”

Green said her parents were happy either way, as long as their grandchildren were raised in a Jewish household. But when she told them that her partner was converting, “They were overjoyed, especially knowing how much easier it would be for everyone. When I told them he was converting through the Orthodox beit din, I think they were still thrilled, but there have been some challenges that we have all had to deal with — mainly stemming from a lack of knowledge or understanding of the halachah (Jewish laws).” 

Of course, throughout the process, Siciliano’s biggest cheerleader was, and still is, Green. Today, they have one child, Yoella, who is 15 months old. They continue to attend B’nai David-Judea, and Siciliano, who calls himself “the guy with the hat” at shul, is just as, if not more so, excited about Judaism as he was when he first dove into the conversion process. “When you love your job, you feel like you never work a day in your life,” he said. “It’s kind of like that.”

LimmudLA honors founders


LimmudLA honored its founders, Linda Fife and Shep Rosenman, in an evening of dinner, music and study on Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.

LimmudLA is the local outlet of an international model of interdisciplinary, interdenominational, no-boundaries Jewish conferences and events. Founded in the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago, Limmud now conducts 60 conferences in 30 countries, all of them almost entirely run by volunteers.

Fife and Rosenman conceived of bringing Limmud to Los Angeles about seven years ago, after they participated in a Limmud conference in New York. They rallied volunteers and funders and five years ago held the first conference in Southern California over Presidents’ Day weekend, with close to 700 participants converging at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa. The conferences have continued there each February since then.

In 2013, however, LimmudLA plans to forgo its annual marquis conference, instead holding smaller, local events ranging from cultural to academic to family-oriented.

“We’re trying to be localized and organic to the communities where we’re doing different events,” said Yechiel Hoffman, executive director of LimmudLA, the only paid staff member. “Rather than taking people out to Orange County for an event, this gives us a way of being able to provide different options and different access points where people are.”

More than 400 volunteers have stepped up for LimmudLA since its inception. Hoffman said about 120 people are currently active volunteers. LimmudLA plans to hold a multi-day event next summer and is aiming to put on the full conference again in the winter of 2014. 

About 175 people came to honor Fife and Rosenman at what was LimmudLA’s first gala fundraiser. The organization met its goal of raising $75,000. 

The event featured music, text study and an examination of Jewish narrative. Rather than a plaque, Rosenman and Fife each received the newly published Koren Talmud, Tractate Brachot, and rather than a traditional acceptance speech, they staged a musical collaboration that had the audience responding to Rosenman’s “oom-pa-pas” and “ba-da-das.” Fife said it was, like LimmudLA, an example of volunteers stepping out of their comfort zones to produce something meaningful.

Jewish Home to expand to West L.A.


Challenged by an 18-month waiting list numbering 400 people, the Jewish Home of Los Angeles has announced that it will add another campus — this time on the west side of Los Angeles. On Sept. 7, the Jewish Home closed escrow on a 2.5-acre site in Playa Vista.

The Gonda Healthy Aging Westside Campus, as the senior care community will be known, will be located at The Village in Playa Vista. It will offer independent living, assisted living and memory care, supplementing the Jewish Home’s two existing campuses in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. 

“Our goal is to be spread geographically so that we can serve both in the Valley and West L.A.,” Molly Forrest, president and CEO of the Jewish Home, said on Sept. 11. “Some people would like to stay at home. Others will need skilled nursing. We are trying to present in West L.A. an opportunity to serve almost 600 seniors in a variety of settings.”

Now in its centennial year, the Jewish Home cares for more than 1,000 seniors in-residence, and it assists 1,600 more through community-based programs. Half of those waiting to get into the Jewish Home live on the Westside.

The expansion is being funded in large part by the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Foundation and the Saul Brandman Foundation. At its core will be the Gonda Campus, with a 176-unit continuing care community for independent seniors and 24 units dedicated to assisted living and memory care. Forrest said the goal is to open the campus within four years.

This is part of a bigger plan. Forrest said that the Jewish Home aims to purchase a skilled nursing facility in the area and find a Westside site for a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The federal program, known at the Jewish Home as the Brandman Centers for Senior Care, provides a full range of health-care services for seniors living independently in the community in order to allow them to remain in their homes. This can include anything from meals and therapy to medical care and transportation.

Forrest said the move to West L.A. reflects the Jewish Home’s aspirations to serve 5,000 people by 2015. Already, it is the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles.

“It’s a huge step forward for us,” Forrest said.

Chabad Telethon raises $4 million


Hollywood stars and dancing rabbis came together for the 32nd annual Chabad “To Life” Telethon on Sept. 9. Held for the first time at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, the high-profile fundraiser raised approximately $4 million for Chabad of California.

“At Chabad, there’s no greater joy than the joy of giving,” declared Larry King, whose hosting duties and interviews were recorded days earlier at KCET in Burbank and shown on screens straddling the stage.

KTLA Morning News’ Sam Rubin, “Good Morning Arizona” anchor Stella Inger and comedian Elon Gold co-hosted the event live, playing to a small studio audience at the Art Deco theater.

The three-hour telethon aired locally on KTLA 5, from 8 to 11 p.m., and was carried nationwide by cable and satellite providers, as well as stations in San Diego, San Francisco, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.   

Actor Jon Voight, one of the evening’s main celebrities, remains an active supporter of Israel and Chabad, having appeared in multiple telethons. 

“I’ve had many major roles in motion pictures, but one of my favorite roles is taking part in Chabad’s” yearly telethon, he said. 

Onstage throughout the evening, Voight was in good spirits, surrounded by a house band, a rotating crew of people working the phone banks and an active tote board. He danced with black-suited Chabadniks young and old. “I’m learning new steps every day,” Voight said. 

Then, catching his breath, he delivered his spiel, asking viewers to call the phone number that appeared on the bottom of their television screens and donate what they could. 

In addition to Voight, speakers included actors Tom Arnold, David Arquette and Howie Mandel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and philanthropist Stanley Black.

Among the featured performers were 11-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, Chasidic rock-and-pop duo the 8th Day and Chasidic singer and composer Lipa Schmeltzer. 

The $4.03 million raised on Sunday — last year’s telethon raised $4.2 million — will benefit the international Chasidic movement’s social services and programs, including summer camp scholarships, support for children with special needs, community outreach centers, crisis intervention and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. 

Seated near L.A. Clipper forward Trey Thompkins at the phone bank, actor-comedian Arnold made his pitch for Chabad. Never shy, Arnold highlighted his past as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict when requesting donations in support of Chabad’s drug rehabilitation services.

“They do wonderful work there and they help everybody,” Arnold said.

Highlights from the Chabad “To Life” Telethon: 

7:58 p.m.: Backstage, two minutes until showtime, production assistants scramble to prepare performers, including Voight and dancing rabbis, for their cue. 

8 p.m.: A message from King segues into Bortnick’s piano performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The rabbis follow — young men grab one another’s hands or shoulders, kicking up their feet as they dance in circles. 

8:12 p.m.: Dressed in black sneakers to match his suit, comedian Gold warms up the crowd: “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the Chabad Telethon, but it helps,” Gold says.

8:55 p.m.: King interviews Arquette about what it took to get sober. Building “a connection to God” and learning how to manage self-critical thinking both played a role in his road to sobriety, Arquette says. 

9:10 p.m.: Consul General Siegel, City Councilman Koretz, County Supervisor Yaroslavsky and philanthropist Black share the stage with Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad. Black announces his own pledge for $250,000.

9:35 p.m.: Looking out at the theater’s numerous empty seats, Arnold quips from the phone bank, “How about a hand for all of Clint Eastwood’s chairs out there,” referring to Eastwood’s controversial speech at the Republican National Convention.

9:40 to 10 p.m.: Entertainment attorney and Chabad Telethon co-chairman Marshall Grossman pledges $25,000. Television producer Kevin Bright (“Friends”), who was not in attendance, pledges $180,000 and Ralphs supermarket representative Jose Martinez hands over a jumbo-check for $20,000.

10:10: An interview between King and TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal president David Suissa is screened. “Chabad means ‘love’ more than anything,” Suissa says.

10:55 p.m.: The tote board jumps to more than $4 million for the evening’s final total. The rabbis return for a final dance — until next year.

Community Profile: Gerald Bubis


Gerald B. Bubis is 88, and he knows there are things he’ll never do again.

He’ll never travel to Israel again, for one, and after 46 trips, that’s a tough one to swallow. Then there’s the fact that this author and/or editor of 12 books and 200 articles on serving the Jewish community now has a tremor in his hand that prevents him from putting pen to paper. He also can’t drive anymore, and he can’t stand up long enough to wash dishes.

Despite all this, he’s not frail, and the clarity and wisdom he still possesses have provided him the blessing of being able to ponder how he wants to approach this late stage of life.

“I think of this more as a condition than as a stage,” Bubis said, sitting in an armchair in the living room of his Beverlywood condo. “This is the first time in your life you’re confronting the fact that this is really the end of the physical stage, and that’s different. Because there is this notion of it being Dec. 25 on the calendar, and it’s a matter of saying how will you spend that last week of your life.”

It’s a scenario the High Holy Days imposes on all worshippers, but for Bubis, as it is for many seniors, the question of what has filled his book of life and how it will close is not abstract, but an everyday reality.

He has made the decision that he will not allow himself room for regrets — neither about the past nor about what he can no longer do. Rather, he focuses on what he has accomplished and what he still can do. 

Bubis is the founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and was an early and ardent advocate for peace with the Palestinians. He is recognized nationally as an elder statesman, both in the peace camp and in the world of Jewish professionals.

In his earlier years, Bubis, who is still a broad 6 feet tall, was probably called strapping. Now, his hearty eyebrows and booming voice both have taken on the qualities of old age, and he moves slowly, with a walker. His health issues are profound: He takes two dozen pills a day to deal with legs that barely work, heart trouble, high blood pressure and episodes of pain on one side of his face that are so debilitating the condition is referred to as suicidal neuralgia. He’s had three bouts with thyroid cancer, and a serious car accident in February exacerbated issues with his legs and left vision in one eye impaired.

But Bubis is well aware of the tendencies of his age cohort, so to a genuine query of, “How are you?” Bubis will begin his answer by setting himself a time limit to update the essentials, and he promises that he will then move on to more interesting conversation.

 “You can either sink into a morass of depression or feeling sorry for yourself, or you say it is what it is, it can’t be any different,” Bubis said. “The people I admire most are the people who confront their limits and cope with them in ways that say, I still have my life, and I still have my pleasures. I still have my challenges, and if one part of my body is diminished or extinguished or involves some kind of coping or adjusting, so be it. I can’t do anything about it, but what I will do about it is, I will say ‘hineni,’ here I am, and how do I go forward?”

Jerry and Ruby, his wife of 64 years, still go to concerts and lectures regularly; they get together with friends often, and they are close with their two children and three grandchildren. They study and socialize with a chavurah they have been part of for 35 years, and have been members of Valley Beth Shalom for decades, but their once weekly attendance has become more sporadic since the car accident.

And Jerry still works. He mentors and consults with Jewish professionals several times a week and reliably holds court at Pat’s on Pico, where the lunch waiters know to pack up half his salad at the outset and to bring him biscotti with the bill.

Because he can no longer write, he is considering looking for funding to hire someone to help him transcribe his words into articles.

He has volumes of anecdotes to share, and while he is careful about his listeners’ time and patience, it doesn’t take much goading for him to unleash dependably gripping stories about camping in Yosemite or personal encounters with King Hussein.

Bubis says he is at peace with where he is now, because he allows himself the satisfaction — but not the fiction — that his life has been lived well.

“To me, it’s a nourishing thing to know that this stage has grown from all those other stages. I have been lucky enough to go through all the stages there are — by way of love and marriage, children, professional fulfillment and accomplishment and recognition,” Bubis said.

That’s not to say it’s been perfect. He’s got an ego, and he can get angry, he said. He said he was for too long married to his work, and didn’t always give Ruby or the children the time he should have.  

“My regrets are of my failing as a father and as a mate in the early days of our marriage,” he said. Today he has a strong relationship with his son, David, who is vice president for development for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and his daughter, Deena Libman, a development officer at the San Diego Jewish Federation. Both David and Deena were Bubis’ students in graduate school at HUC-JIR, and, like their father, both also were awarded honorary doctorates from HUC-JIR. 

Dwelling on what wasn’t accomplished is a sure road to unhappiness, Bubis advises.

“Making peace with what you have accomplished, and not judging yourself for what you didn’t accomplish, is to me a very important attribute, which I believe a lot of people never acquire, but rather they have this restless dissatisfaction, and maybe in some cases depression, about what they wished would have happened that didn’t happen,” Bubis said. “But you can only be what you are capable of being at the time that you are that.”

Jerry and Ruby built their life from modest beginnings.

Bubis grew up in Winnipeg, and his parents divorced when he was 11, after his father fled to the United States after being caught embezzling. Jerry, his mother and his sister moved to Minnesota, where they lived with his mother’s parents, Orthodox immigrants from Minsk. 

As a teenager, he split his time between the Talmud Torah at the Jewish community center and loitering around the streets, shoplifting and pulling pranks. He had a lot of anger, he admits, and says he once went at his mother with a butcher knife and tied his sister up in the closet.

But his maternal grandfather was a true role model. He was a quiet and kind small property owner who established a synagogue and Jewish free loan in Minnesota, and during the Depression he would secretly leave food and coal for his tenants.

“I’ve always had two birds on my shoulder — my father and my grandfather, and each influenced me in his own way,” Bubis said. “As a result of my father, I vowed that I would try to be a person with a good name. And as a result of my grandfather, I had a model of a person who had a good name.”

Bubis enlisted in the Army during World War II as a combat engineer and was trained to remove land mines. He was about to be deployed overseas when he was plucked from his unit and sent back to the camp in Oregon to train other soldiers. A few months later, his entire unit was killed in Italy.

With injured feet, Bubis was discharged with a disability pension that paid his way through college and social work school. Two months after he left the military, he met Ruby at a Manitoba-Minnesota Hillel event and was smitten immediately.

“Having the luck of having a mate, a partner, for so long is in itself an incredible gift, because we grew up together,” Bubis said, looking across the room, where Ruby sat on a loveseat that, like most of their furniture, is a family heirloom. “The love, for me, grows and grows, and it grows even as the nature of how we relate is different than when we were young. And, for me, having the luck of a person who is on the one hand always my supervisor and a goad for keeping me focused, and on the other hand has kept me from ballooning up about myself and puffery about myself, that to me has been a tremendous help.”

Ruby, also a social worker, helped resettle refugees after World War II and later helped settle Soviet Jews in Los Angeles. Jerry worked as a camp director and a Federation executive before he founded the School of Jewish Communal Service and then became a professor at HUC-JIR.

After his recent car accident, which left Bubis laid up for months, he was stunned at the love that began to flow from across the globe and from those close by — people stepped in with meals, rides and visits.

“This has just been a shower of love and support from places I never, ever would have expected — e-mails and calls from former students all over the world. And it has been a tremendous experience to have the equivalent of my hesped [eulogy] while I’m alive — the equivalent of what people will say at my funeral. To me that is remarkably lucky.”

It is the knowledge that he has affected so many people that gives him peace now. 

“You never know what time is going to be. I live as if there will be time to get to our grandson’s smicha [ordination], which will be in two years. My wife comes from a long-lived strain of people. I believe she could live until 100. I have no relatives who lived past 87, so I’ve already passed them. And I’m at peace with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the future and wondering what will happen, but I really do feel peaceful.”

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 9-13, 2012


SUN | SEPT 9 

“ARTHUR SCHNITZLER — BEING JEWISH”
A renowned writer and dramatist whose favorite topics were anti-Semitism, love, sex and death, Arthur Schnitzler chronicled turn-of-the-century Vienna. A Getty staged reading of Schnitzler's journals and correspondence portray a conflicted Austrian Jew who is not afraid to ask difficult questions. Held in conjunction with “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line,” a panel discussion with filmmaker Peter Schnitzler, Schnitzler's grandson, and Schnitzler expert Lorenzo Bellettini follows. Sun. 4-7:30 p.m. Free (reservation recommended). Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu.

CHABAD “TO LIFE” TELETHON
Television icon Larry King hosts the 32nd annual Chabad telethon, featuring celebrity guests and, of course, dancing rabbis. Proceeds benefit Chabad of California's programs and institutions, including schools, summer camps, community outreach centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, crisis intervention and support for children with special needs. Sun. 8-11 p.m. KTLA. tolife.com.


MON | SEPT 10 

“SONGS FOR A BRIS”
Actor-singer Ben Goldberg's one-night-only musical exploration looks at the biggest decision every infant Jewish boy never got to make. The performance features music by Meat Loaf, U2, Cole Porter, Hootie and the Blowfish, and many others. Mon. $10. Rockwell, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163. rockwell-la.com.

MACCABIAH MASTERS TENNIS TRYOUTS
Interested in representing the United States at the 19th World Maccabiah Games next summer in Israel? Maccabi USA is holding masters-level tennis tryouts today for men and women, ages 35 and older, at Mountain Gate Country Club. Buffet lunch included. Mon. 9 a.m. (arrival, check-in), 10 a.m. (tournament begins). $40 (application fee), $50 (participation fee), $30 (additional guest). Mountain Gate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. (215) 561-6900. maccabiusa.com.


WED | SEPT 12

KCET HIGH HOLY DAYS
The community television station honors the High Holy Days with four documentaries during the month of September, including “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” a story of how a family stays spiritually and physically connected through tradition; “The New Beginning,” which examines the ancient origins, evolution, symbols and traditions that have come to define the High Holy Days; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre,” which tells the story of the most sacred prayer in Judaism through the tales and anecdotes of those who have been touched by it; and “Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps,” which looks at Hitler's largest concentration camp designed for women. Wed. Through Sept. 20. “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”: Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m.; “The New Beginning”: Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m.; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre”: Sept. 16, 4:30 p.m.; “Where Birds Never Sang”: Sept. 20 at 10:30 p.m. For additional airing times, visit kcet.org.


THU | SEPT 13

“10Q: NO REGRETS”
Time magazine columnist Joel Stein hosts an evening of confessions. Just in time for the New Year, comedians, writers, celebrities and audience participants reveal their biggest regrets in an attempt to clean the slate. Folk-pop duo the Wellspring performs. Co-sponsored by Reboot and the Jewish Federation's Young Adults of Los Angeles. Thu. 7-10 p.m. $15 (advance ticket), $18 (door). Acme Comedy Theater, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8324. yala.org.

ITZHAK PERLMAN
The Israeli-American master violinist performs Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto.” One of the world's most renowned classical musicians, Perlman has won more than a dozen Grammy awards, taken part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama and played with every major orchestra. Conductor Bramwell Tovey leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the final classic concert of the season with Johannes Brahms' “Hungarian Dances Nos. 10, 4, 5,” Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto” and Antonin Dvorák's “Symphony No. 8.” Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. hollywoodbowl.com.

MICHAEL CHABON AND AYELET WALDMAN
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” appears in person to read passages from his new novel “Telegraph Avenue.” Set in Berkeley at the end of the summer of 2004, record store co-owners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe and their midwife wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffee, face personal and professional problems that test the strength of their relationships and businesses. Writer Mona Simpson (“My Hollywood”) leads a post-reading discussion and Q-and-A with Chabon and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman (“Red Hook Road”). Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu.

Rabbi’s use of discretionary funds spurs new policies


In response to the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 and the Carmel forest fires in Israel in December 2010, members of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay, like so many others, wanted to donate money to help the victims. So, many of them directed donations through Rabbi Isaac Jeret’s discretionary fund.

But their money never made it to organizations working on the ground in Haiti and Haifa.

Jeret, who led the 500-member Conservative congregation in Rancho Palos Verdes for seven years, allegedly not only did not send the money where he was supposed to, but instead he is believed to have taken money from his discretionary fund to make political donations to congressional campaigns across the country, according to Timothy Weiner, the synagogue’s treasurer from September 2009 through June 2012, who participated in an internal investigation of the matter.

Discretionary funds, common in most synagogues and churches, typically empower clergy to discreetly assist the needy and to support other charitable endeavors. Jeret’s case, while an aberration, could prompt other synagogues to asses their own balance between, on the one hand, trusting their rabbi and keeping the confidentiality of recipients, and, on the other, providing greater oversight and accountability for how the funds are dispersed.

The board of Ner Tamid accepted Jeret’s resignation on May 24, following an investigation initiated by the board last February that uncovered evidence indicating that Jeret had used somewhere around $10,000 from his discretionary fund to support political candidates going back several years, according to attorneys leading the investigation. The investigation is not yet complete, so a final number is not available.

Use of synagogue funds for political purposes could have potentially threatened the synagogue’s tax-exempt status, an outcome Congregation Ner Tamid has worked to head off. The IRS has not contacted the synagogue, and attorneys do not expect the federal agency to get involved.

“Given the congregation’s swift and decisive action in investigating Rabbi Jeret’s conduct, accepting his resignation once that investigation was completed, and implementing more robust corporate governance and oversight procedures to prevent any similar issues from arising in the future, the congregation has best positioned itself to address any future IRS concerns,” said attorney Nathan Hochman, a partner with Bingham McCutchen in Santa Monica, who is assisting the synagogue pro bono. Hochman headed the tax division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2008-2009.

Jeret declined to comment.

Jeret’s attorney, Nancy Kardon, said the rabbi left the synagogue on a medical leave of absence in February 2012.

“After that time, on behalf of Rabbi Jeret, we worked diligently to assist CNT in its effort to reconcile any purported misuse of the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund. Rabbi Jeret has since paid back to CNT all monies for which it sought reimbursement, and, as of May 2012, formally resigned from CNT, due to his medical condition. The Rabbi offers his thanks and prayers to those who have stood by him in this trying time,” his attorney, Kardon, wrote in an e-mail to The Journal. Kardon declined to elaborate on Jeret’s medical condition, and attorneys for the synagogue also declined to elaborate.

Rabbi Joel Rembaum, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Am on the Westside, has agreed to lead the congregation on an interim basis; a search for a new rabbi will commence in the fall. Cantor Sam Radwine delayed his retirement and canceled a two-month sabbatical in Israel this summer to stay with the congregation.

Debra Schneiderman, president of the 51-year-old congregation, says Ner Tamid is well positioned to move forward.

“At Congregation Ner Tamid, we share in each other’s joys and comfort one another in our sorrows. Our community, always strong and vibrant, has rallied together in the last few months and is looking forward to building upon that strength in the coming year, when we will have the honor and privilege to be led by Rabbi Joel Rembaum and Cantor Sam Radwine.”

While Jeret was on medical leave in February 2012, board members received statements from his discretionary account, and that is what tipped them off that something was awry, Weiner said. Ner Tamid then placed Jeret on administrative leave and hired an accounting firm to begin an investigation. Board member and attorney Laura Abrahamson and Hochman headed the investigation, both offering their time pro-bono.

The investigation took a comprehensive look at all spending Jeret was involved in.  The political contributions from the discretionary fund were the most significant instances of wrongdoing, according to Abrahamson.

Weiner, who was involved in the investigation, said Jeret made the political donations privately and then used the discretionary fund to reimburse himself.

Public records indicate that Jeret made campaign contributions totaling $6,500 in 2008 and 2010. Another $6,000 came from a Rabbi Leslie Jeret; Jeret’s full name is Leslie Isaac Jeret. It is not clear which, if any, of these donations were reimbursed from the discretionary fund.

Jeret has supported both Republican and Democratic congressional candidates from a broad geographic range.

Hochman said the synagogue has already taken all the actions the IRS would require if it were to investigate. In addition to accepting Jeret’s resignation, the synagogue has revamped how it oversees the discretionary fund. Lay leaders have contacted donors who made directed gifts that were not fulfilled and offered to reimburse them or donate the funds to the intended recipients, Weiner said.

While many rabbis can tell stories of discretionary fund misuse — colleagues paying for their own child’s bar mitzvah, leasing a car or simply writing checks to oneself — it is believed that cases like Jeret’s are few and far between, said Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of rabbinic placement of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

“When you consider how much money goes through discretionary funds on an aggregate basis for several thousand synagogues, remarkably little of it is misused. The money is used for positive and productive purposes,” Henkin said.

The size of funds varies widely from synagogue to synagogue, ranging anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Donations to honor the rabbi, pushkes (collection boxes) and honorariums for lifecycle events typically fill the funds.

More often than outright abuse, the funds are the subject of misunderstanding, rabbis say.

“There is a lot of confusion on the part of rabbis and congregations about discretionary funds — what is appropriate use for them and what is not appropriate. We have tried over the years to provide some clarification for congregations and rabbis,” Henkin said.

A few years ago, the CCAR updated its discretionary fund guidelines. Ellen Aprill, a professor of tax law at Loyola Law School and a past president of Temple Israel of Hollywood, helped craft the guidelines.

Aprill cautions that if rabbis use the fund for personal benefit — even mixed personal-professional benefit, such as attending a conference — the IRS could consider the entire fund personal taxable income for the rabbi. (The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly guidelines allow for conference fees).

In addition, for congregants to take a tax deduction on their donation, the money must go to charitable purposes.

Congregants also can’t earmark a donation for a specific family, because that would essentially be laundering a person-to-person gift through a tax-exempt body. A congregant can, however, suggest a recipient to the rabbi, as long as the gift is not conditional, Aprill said.

And, of course, the disbursement must comply with the synagogue’s nonprofit status.

Aprill said while the IRS could theoretically go after Ner Tamid for influencing a political campaign, it typically doesn’t pursue cases if the nonprofit is addressing the situation.

Before this incident at Ner Tamid, the rabbi’s and cantor’s contracts stipulated that they must administer their respective discretionary funds according to Rabbinic Assembly (RA) guidelines, but no one checked regularly to make sure that was happening, said Weiner, a deputy attorney general for the state of California.

The new policy requires the board’s financial secretary to review the ledgers quarterly, and the financial secretary will also be a signatory on the account with full access to records. In alternating years, an outside accountant will review the rabbi’s and cantor’s funds, and the clergy will present to the membership an annual general breakdown of the fund. Direct reimbursement from the fund to personal accounts will not be permitted, according to Weiner.

10 groups awarded for fostering inclusion of disabled in Jewish community


The Ruderman Family Foundation announced its ten inaugural Ruderman Prize in Disability winners, for fostering full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community.

The foundation, which initiated the prize this year, received more than 150 applications representing seven countries. The winning organizations receive $20,000.

“Awarding the prizes is the genesis of a legacy that we believe will support and promote new opportunities for people with disabilities in the Jewish community,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said Tuesday in a statement.

“These ten award winners offer a vision of a world with full inclusion, where people with disabilities have the same opportunities for employment, education, religion, and enjoyment of their communities as those without disabilities. These grants will nourish and nurture that vision.”

Recipients include organizations that pair professional dancers with the disabled in Israel; work for the inclusion of the disabled into Mexico’s Jewish community; integrate the developmentally disabled into the Israeli Defense Forces; and create a more welcome environment in synagogues for the disabled.

The winners are the Vertigo Dance Company; SHALVA: The Association for the Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel; Norwood Ravenswood; MetroWest ABLE; Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center of San Diego; Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston; Kadima; Jewish Family Center Adain Lo; Reishit School; and ASKIM Israel: National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: May 12-18, 2012


SAT | MAY 12

“OVERLOOKED SUSPECT”
What if O.J. Simpson didn’t do it? The Journal invites you to the L.A. premiere of a documentary that examines that very question. Explore the evidence with private investigator William Dear, whose ongoing investigation into the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman comes to a conclusion that has yet to be explored. A panel discussion and Q-and-A follow, featuring Dear, Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson and criminal defense attorney James Blatt. Journal president and columnist David Suissa moderates. Must be at least 17 years old to attend. Sat. 7-10 p.m. $12. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (800) 838-3006. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/245443.

TUE | MAY 15

ERIK LARSON
The master of narrative nonfiction appears in conversation with David Kipen, founder of the Boyle Heights used bookshop Libros Schmibros. They discuss Larson’s bestseller, “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin,” which follows U.S. Ambassador William Dodd, who arrives in Hitler’s Germany in 1933. Glamorous Germany soon reveals its true colors, but the State Department shows indifference to Dodd’s reports of Jewish persecution. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $20. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. writersblocpresents.com.

ANDY COHEN
The out-and-proud executive at Bravo, who oversees development of shows like “Top Chef” and “The Real Housewives” franchise, discusses and signs copies of his new memoir, “Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture,” which recounts how he became the first openly gay late-night talk show host, an Emmy winner and network head. Wristbanded event. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. Barnes and Nobles at The Grove, 189 Grove Drive, Suite K 30, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270. barnesandnoble.com.

WED | MAY 16

SUISSA VS. BEINART
Journal president and columnist David Suissa debates Peter Beinart, author of the controversial book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Rabbi John Rosove moderates the discussion on the lack of progress in peace talks — Beinart acknowledges acts of violence on the Palestinians’ part but faults Israeli policies; Suissa ascribes blame to the Palestinian Authority’s use of incitement against Jews. Wed. 7 p.m. Free. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org

“WAR ON WOMEN”
The National Council of Jewish Women holds an educational program advocating for reproductive freedom and addressing the current pushback against feminism. Actress and activist Tyne Daly (“Judging Amy”); American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) staff attorney Maggie Crosby; Serena Josel, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles; Linda Long, vice president of California National Organization for Women; and Kaya Masler, a USC student and political organizer, participate in a panel discussion. Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks moderates. Light refreshments served. Wed. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Free. NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. RSVP (323) 852-8503. ncjwla.org.

“HATIKVA—A HYMN IS BORN”
Israeli musicologist and pianist Astrith Baltsan’s concert reveals the surprising origins of Israel’s national anthem, which has its roots in an ancient Sephardic prayer, classical music by Mozart, Chopin and Smetana, and a Romanian immigrant folk song. Presented by Mati and the Consulate General of Israel. Cocktail reception included. Wed. 7:30 p.m. (cocktails), 8:30 p.m. (program). $50 (advance), $60 (door). Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (323) 351-7021. maticenter.org.

THU | MAY 17

“PROJECT MAH JONGG”
The new Skirball exhibition explores how a Chinese game became an American Jewish tradition, influencing fashion, style and cultural identity. Mah jongg-inspired contemporary works by Isaac Mizrahi, Bruce McCall and Maira Kalman accompany mah jongg sets and rulebooks, newspaper articles and vintage photographs. Visitors are encouraged to play at tables set up throughout the Skirball. Included with museum admission. Thu. Through Sept. 2. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday, Sunday). $10 (general), $7 (seniors, students), $5 (children, 2-12), free (members, children under 2). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

DAN RATHER AND MARTY KAPLAN
The veteran “CBS Evening News” anchor discusses his new memoir, “Rather Outspoken: My Life in News,” with Journal columnist Kaplan, the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. writersblocpresents.com.

Opinion: Put Russian-speaking Jews on community’s radar


With the contemporary music world buzzing about Regina Spektor’s upcoming album nearly a month before its release, I cannot help but think about the young musician’s rise in the context of Russian-speaking Jewry. Spektor, who came to the United States with her parents when she was a young girl, still identifies deeply with the Russian-speaking Jewish community and has been an outspoken defender of Israel. And she is not an exception.

Even though — perhaps because — many Russian-speaking Jews were deprived for years of a Jewish education or the ability to affiliate with other Jews, the strong emotional connection that many Russian-speaking Jews have with their Jewishness and to Israel and the Jewish world at large is tribal. This stands in contrast to the majority of North American Jews who define their Jewishness as a religious identity.

While the Russian-speaking Jewish community, particularly the second generation, has gained much success in commerce, the arts, technology and medicine, I am concerned about its third generation. Without even a faint memory of life behind the Iron Curtain, my children’s children will need more than an ethnic sense of connectedness if they are to choose being Jewish. And unless the organized Jewish community can figure out how to tap into the potential of what is undeniably a vast infusion of energy, passion and creativity, we are looking at an epic failure of recognizing and addressing a game-changing opportunity.

Twenty percent of the Jewish world is Russian-speaking, but it occupies only a small percentage of our thinking as an organized Jewish community. While the members of an emerging generation of Russian-speaking Jews worldwide are connected to one another and feel a strong kinship with Israel, their strong identity is decidedly not reflected in affiliation with organized Jewish life.

Perhaps a million Jews remain in the former Soviet Union, but most are highly assimilated, and it is estimated that our outreach efforts are only reaching 8 to 15 percent of them. The majority of the 1 million Russian-speaking Jews who are now making a tremendous impact in Israel remain disconnected from the Jewish communal milieu. More than 200,000 Russian-speaking Jews now live dispersed across 180 communities in Germany, where a generation without great knowledge or practice of Judaism has no Jewish community to seek.

And in North America, where Google, PayPal and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) would not exist if not for Russian-speaking Jews, synagogues and federations — the core institutions of Jewish communal life — barely register on the Russian-speaking Jew’s radar.

To be fair, some of the more visionary leaders do get it. In 2011, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles launched an initiative for young Russian adults that includes a community leadership development program as well as additional programing; L.A.’s Federation also funds programs overseas that involve Jewish renewal as well as caring for Jews in need. In New York, in partnership with UJA-Federation of New York, the Wexner Foundation, which identifies young, talented and committed Jewish leaders from across the professional spectrum and trains them in contemporary Jewish leadership, has launched a cohort exclusively for Russian-speaking Jews. Unless such models are scaled and replicated by federations across North America, the impact will be negligible. We need a cadre of Russian-speaking Jewish lay-leaders in every major city.

The second issue is directly related to the first. Once these talented and motivated people are ready to lead, they will need to be continually engaged. There is a severe lack of first- and second-generation Russian-speaking professionals in the Jewish communal arena who, through shared history and personal experiences, can harness the energy of potential leaders and keep them involved. In North America, there are less than a few dozen trained Russian-speaking Jewish communal professionals to work with a population of 500,000. Building a platform to sustain the engagement of networked lay and professional leaders should be a top priority.

The third challenge is more deeply rooted in the psyches of many Russian-speaking Jews: the notion of “collective” response. Not surprisingly, the idea of centralized giving and planning does not sit well with a population that associates collectivism with identity suppression, corruption and inefficiency. To many it is what they were all too happy to leave behind.

We need to explore models by which Russian-speaking Jews do not feel threatened but rather empowered to innovate, and where there is flexibility for them to direct their philanthropy in accordance with their own ideas as Jews.

At The Jewish Agency for Israel, we’ve found that the high-profile visibility of Israel’s struggle can be a powerful window of opportunity for mobilizing their support. A recent Brandeis University study of Birthright Israel applicants and alumni, focusing on those with at least one Russian-born parent, showed their emotional attachment to Israel and global Jewry to be much higher than that of their American peers, despite a weaker knowledge of Judaism. Given the positive backdrop with which to work, but cognizant of the dangers looming if these Jews are not brought into the broader communal framework, this is indeed the time to act.

But this is not just the work of The Jewish Agency. There is too much to do; the entire Jewish community must make up for lost time. Today, with assimilation rates in the general Jewish community reaching alarming levels, and given the high percentage of Russian-speaking Jews in the overall Jewish population, we must recognize that a strong Jewish future requires that they be a significant part of it.


Misha Galperin is the president and CEO of international development at the Jewish Agency for Israel.

SLIDESHOW: Shimon Peres meets Hollywood


Israeli President Shimon Peres visits DreamWorks Animation on March 9.

Click “i” to view photo captions

Diplomat challenges U.S. Jewish views on France


Francois Zimeray, France’s ambassador-at-large for human rights, was in Los Angeles recently, and during a two-hour breakfast of croissants and assorted fruits, shared two observations:

First, though Israel has real enemies in the world, it also has a lot of friends, and not everybody wants to put down the Jewish state.

Second, while there are anti-Semites in France, France is not an anti-Semitic country.

Neither of these statements appears particularly controversial, but, he said, given the mail he regularly receives from American and other Jews, he is either blind or indifferent to the dangers facing both Jews and Israel.

Zimeray got an early start in politics. At 27, he became France’s youngest mayor at 27, and then a youthful member of the Chamber of Deputies on the Socialist Party ticket.

In 1999, he was elected to the European Parliament, where, to the annoyance of his party colleagues, he pushed for an investigation into how the Palestinian Authority spent the monies afforded it by the European Union.

Now 50 and looking like a casting director’s pick to portray a suave French career diplomat, Zimeray has been serving as his nation’s human rights envoy for seven years.

He travels constantly and covers a lot of bases. His jurisdiction includes general human rights, women’s rights, Holocaust issues and anti-Semitism, areas that are assigned to four different officials by the United States.

Before coming to the West Coast, Zimeray had spent considerable time in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), where the reigning junta seems to be easing its pressure on the political opposition.

A regular item on his agenda is the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and during regular visits to the Middle East, he tries to persuade both parties to “put yourself in the shoes of the other side,” admittedly a challenging political exercise.

Speaking personally, rather than as a government official, Zimeray said he believes most Israelis, regardless of ideology, hold three interconnected viewpoints: The world doesn’t understand us; the world doesn’t like us; and nothing we can do will change these attitudes.

Zimeray speculates that Israelis’ perceptions are rooted in a survivor mentality, believing they are on their own and cannot rely on outside friends.

Whatever the causes, and even granting some validity to Israel’s fears, Zimeray believes that such views are counter-productive and that the Jewish state indeed has more friends than it realizes.

If one of Zimeray’s jobs is to assure Israel that it does not stand alone and that France is fully committed to the Jewish state’s survival, another is to allay Arab suspicions of Israel.

One Paris-based program toward that end is the international Aladdin Project. Working through French embassies and consulates, Aladdin staffers translate and distribute in Arab countries the writings of such authors as Primo Levi and Anne Frank, invite Muslim religious leaders to visit
Auschwitz, and “counter the Arab perception that the Shoah didn’t happen,” Zimeray said.

The French diplomat attributes part of his concern for human rights to his Jewish family background. “We were not religious, but we were infused early on with the concept of tikkun olam” [healing the world] and were taught that “indifference is a crime without forgiveness,” he said.

Among the critical letters and e-mail Zimeray receives, anti-Semitism in France is perhaps even more of a cultural hot-button issue than the Middle East conflict.

Given the emotions surrounding this topic, Zimeray scheduled two days in Los Angeles on his way to a conference in San Francisco, specifically to talk to the Jewish media here.

Our conversation on this topic ranged from the century-old Alfred Dreyfus affair, in which a French-Jewish military officer was framed on a treason charge, to the collaborationist Vichy regime of World War II, and to present-day France with its large Muslim immigrant population.

France, Zimeray said, has a Jewish population of some 600,000, which is about the same as metropolitan Los Angeles. While Zimeray acknowledged “anti-Semitism has not disappeared,” he added that this “is only part of the story.”

Not unlike changes in American society over the past half century, anti-Semitism no longer gets a free pass and is no longer accepted as the social norm in France, Zimeray argued.

“Anti-Semitism is condemned by our courts, our education on the Holocaust is exemplary, and society in general gives no indulgence to anti-Semitism,” the French diplomat said.

While anti-Jewish attacks by young Muslims are a reality, the majority of the Muslim community has two goals — integration into French society and peace in the Middle East, Zimeray noted.

On balance, he believes that “France is one of the less-anti-Semitic countries in the world,” and his conclusion is backed by Shimon Samuels, who heads the European Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Samuels, on a flight between Iraq and Moscow, e-mailed that compared to the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and even Germany, “anti-Semitic discourse is much lower in France.”

Nevertheless, Samuels noted the rise of anti-Jewish violence by “black African alienated youth” under Iranian influence, and boycott brigades trashing the kosher shelves of supermarkets.

There have also been a number of high-profile incidents, among them the 1980 bombing of the rue Copernic Reform synagogue in Paris, which killed four pedestrians. The killing led to the creation of the Jewish Community Protective Service by CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.

The most notorious case since was the 2006 torture-murder of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew of Moroccan descent, by a self-styled “Gang of Barbarians.” The young thugs, mainly children of African Muslim immigrants, were motivated by both anti-Semitism and a hoped-for large ransom.

According to statistics by the Protective Service over the last decade, anti-Semitic incidents in France peaked in 2004, during the fighting in Gaza. During that year, there were 974 incidents. From this high, the figure has been dropping from year to year, reaching a low of 466 in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. Of this number, 36 percent consisted of graffiti scrawlings, 24 percent of verbal threats or menacing behavior, 12 percent physical violence, and one homicide attempt.

Even with the decline, and factoring in different population sizes, the 2010 rate of anti-Semitic incidents in France was roughly double that of the United States.

La Cañada’s young school reformer


It’s easy to conjure up images of the folks pushing education reform in districts where students are obviously struggling.

Think of Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the embattled public schools in Washington, D.C., who instituted reforms like variable pay for teachers based upon student achievement. Or consider Steve Barr, who founded the Green Dot group of public charter schools in response to the low graduation rate in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But who is Andrew Blumenfeld, and why is he pushing a reformist agenda in the high-performing schools of La Cañada Flintridge?

“We know we do well on standardized tests,” Blumenfeld said in an interview last month. “Do we use that as a reason to pat ourselves on the back and not do much more? Or do we use it as an opportunity?”

Blumenfeld, who is just 20 years old and halfway through his junior year at Princeton University, last Dec. 6 officially became a member of La Cañada Unified School District’s (LCUSD)Board of Governors, the district from which he’d so recently graduated.

He did so by winning a hotly contested election in November, campaigning while still in school and beating the incumbent by just 10 votes on his platform of school reform.

The primary plank in Blumenfeld’s platform was to ensure that every classroom in the district would be staffed by a well-qualified teacher. Blumenfeld, who graduated from La Cañada High School (LCHS) in 2009, says he experienced “unevenness” among teachers in the schools himself — like many students in this small, wealthy city in the San Gabriel Valley, Blumenfeld opted to take certain classes in a private learning center instead of in the public high school.

He heard similar complaints from parents while on the campaign trail.

“People felt … that their student would have an award-winning teacher one period of the day, and a real challenge in another period of the same day,” Blumenfeld said.

Blumenfeld’s focus had been on education reform for some time before he decided to run for the school board. As a Princeton freshman, he co-founded the campus group Students for Education Reform, which has expanded in two years to 40 campuses across the country.

When Blumenfeld starts to talk about the gritty details, as he frequently does, he can sound a bit, well, wonky. He eschews such descriptions; then again, he did help initiate a course in college about education policy, and chose the collective bargaining agreement between LCUSD and its teachers’ union as his research paper topic.

“He knows more about the teacher contract and its implications than most of the sitting school board members,” said Cindy Wilcox, a former LCUSD board member who was also a co-chair of Blumenfeld’s campaign.

Between the time he filed his candidacy in August and Election Day, Blumenfeld held more than 35 events, mostly in people’s living rooms. Sometimes that meant flying back and forth between New Jersey and Los Angeles.

But his campaign was driven by his platform, and his focus on the “dud” teachers in La Cañada’s high-performing schools and the protections granted by collective bargaining agreements to all teachers couldn’t have been better timed.

In October, Wilcox told a local reporter about an official complaint she had filed against an LCHS geometry teacher back in June. As reported in The Jewish Journal, the teacher is alleged to have made comments betraying ethnic, religious and gender bias to students in her classroom, including calling one Jewish student “Jew Boy.”

Blumenfeld, who is Jewish, says he sees his religious identity more as part of his upbringing than of his day-to-day life. He called Wilcox’s involvement with both his campaign and the complaint “a coincidence,” and said he first learned about Wilcox’s complaint in late September. He added that he didn’t learn about the specific details until he read about it on Patch.com, a local news Web site.

“I had no idea it was going to be a public issue until it was a public issue,” he said.

For her part, Wilcox said she wasn’t thinking about how the news about the complaint might affect Blumenfeld’s campaign when she approached the reporter.

“It’s hard to say whether that was a positive or negative on Andrew’s campaign,” she said. “The campaign was the last thing on my mind.”

Nevertheless, the story seemed to illustrate perfectly the issues Blumenfeld was trying to highlight, and some of those involved in his school board bid later became very committed to tracking the progress of the complaint.

Through his campaign, Blumenfeld said, “We engaged a lot of people in the policy-level questions of our district — and then there was a very interesting policy-level question in our district.”

Public meetings of the board — including one on Dec. 6 at which Blumenfeld was sworn in — have been contentious, featuring heated discussions of how student and parent complaints should be addressed by schools’ administrative staff and district board members.

The school board met twice in closed sessions last month to discuss what actions should be taken against the teacher, who has remained in the classroom with an administration-appointed observer.

According to a statement released on Dec. 26, the board unanimously voted to direct its lawyers to pursue a settlement agreement with the teacher “that would result in [her] separation from the district.” Students enrolled in her classes would be allowed to transfer at the start of the new semester, the statement said.

Blumenfeld said he has been satisfied with the board’s deliberative process on this matter so far, and he’s been making progress in other areas. One of his signature campaign proposals — a district-wide teacher evaluation survey, the results of which would be reported directly to the board — appears to be moving forward. A superintendent’s committee has been established, with the goal of circulating a survey and getting results by June.

“I think these surveys are a long time coming, so it would not be the end of the world to me if we had to wait until the first quarter of the next [school] year to do it,” Blumenfeld said.

By that time, Blumenfeld, who has promised to be in La Cañada at least four days each month to fulfill his duties as a board member, will be in his last year at Princeton. He’s already weighing his options for after graduation — graduate school or the Teach for America program are possibilities — as long as they allow him to come back to La Cañada for the remaining two years of his term.

For now, just one month into his tenure, Blumenfeld said he feels energized by his work with the board and is looking forward to “getting things done.”

“It is all becoming very clear to me how that happens,” he said. “It’s not just this amorphous thing where I feel kind of powerless.”

Promoting men’s Jewish engagement


Rabbi Charles Simon, a recent visiting lecturer at American Jewish University (AJU), asked rabbinical students how they would deal with a future intermarriage. One young rabbi-to-be said he’d welcome the couple … then tell them that, unfortunately, he couldn’t marry them. Simon, clearly taken aback, answered quickly: “No, don’t tell them that. Don’t ever approach things from a negative point of view, especially with a couple who want to be part of your synagogue. … We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re a diverse community united in a common goal — to find meaning in Jewish life.”

Simon is executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC), an auxiliary arm of the Conservative movement, and he talked about intermarriage because it’s a key element of his overriding concern: how to increase men’s involvement in synagogue life, including men who are intermarried. Simon, who’s 62 and lives in Manhattan, became head of FJMC more than 30 years ago, after receiving his rabbinic ordination from New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

During his recent swing through Southern California, in addition to talking with AJU students, Simon also met with several rabbis and their staffs, discussing the changing nature of men’s place in society, the effects of that change on Jewish institutions, and offering his suggestions about how to try to reverse what to him is a worrisome trend. In a monograph called “The Diminishing Role of Jewish Men in Jewish Life: Addressing the Challenge,” Simon’s conclusion, based on studies as well as anecdotal evidence, is that “Jewish boys and Jewish men are drifting to the fringes of the organized Jewish community and are beginning to disappear on its borders.”

Simon points out that the decreasing role of men in Jewish life parallels what’s happening in American secular life, and it’s “not an encouraging picture.” Women are more engaged in academia than their male counterparts. They “study longer and harder [than men] and … are becoming more successful in the workplace. Women study [while] men play video games. Men are rapidly becoming the second gender.”

Synagogues are experiencing a parallel phenomenon: a growing gender imbalance, as evidenced by the declining rate of male volunteerism in synagogue institutions. He urges synagogue leaders to take steps to try to correct that situation, such as by getting men to join a synagogue-affiliated men’s club in order to “engage men more actively in Jewish life.” 

“We’ve intensified our reach-out to our clubs and encourage the men’s clubs to hold what we call ‘Hearing Men’s Voices’ sessions,” Simon said in an interview. In these events, topics have included men’s spiritual lives, their health issues, men’s role in the Jewish family, and the place of work in men’s lives.

“While one of our primary goals is to service and build men’s clubs in Conservative synagogues,” Simon said, “we’re beginning to serve as the voice of Jewish men.” Simon added that FJMC now has 350 men’s clubs, with some 30,000 men participating.

Simon believes synagogue leaders need to “engage men at any age, whether married and with infants, or whether they have adult children who are no longer living at home.”

He listed some ways to reach out to men at these different stages. The father of a young toddler often feels the urge to put the child over his head and throw him or her around. “The mother’s instinct,” Simon said, “is to say, ‘Don’t do that, you’re going to drop them.’ ” But, Simon said, the father’s behavior is not only wired into men’s DNA, it’s also useful. “When a toddler is picked up, what the father is teaching the child is how to become comfortable with their bodies and how to take risks.”

Simon’s point is that when a wife warns her husband about holding a child aloft, this shouldn’t necessarily be the cue for him to stop the activity, but rather an opening to engage his wife in a discussion. “The husband can say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop her.’ ”

This kind of advice is normal in any men’s group — Jewish or not — where men assure one another that their male instincts, in spite of what women may say, are natural and healthy. Whether this strategy draws men into synagogue life remains to be seen.

Another example has to do with men who have adult children. “I have a bunch of 50-, 60-year-old men right now, who six months ago started texting their adult sons and daughters, adult children living all over the place, ‘Shabbat shalom’ on a regular basis. Never did this in their entire life, and all of a sudden, they’re getting responses. And when the kids say, ‘Why are you doing this, Dad?’ And they say, ‘Because this is important for me,’ at that point the fathers realize that they still have influence in the Jewish decisions that their children will make.

“The connection of Jewish men to Jewish life is loosening,” Simon said. In the future, “There is an increasing risk of fewer men identifying Jewishly.” By using the men’s clubs to provide men with helpful strategies, with welcome information about important issues like intermarriage, with a forum where their voices can be heard at every stage of their lives, Simon hopes to “alter the current trend of diminishing male involvement.”

FJMC’s current outreach initiative, Simon said, “is really in the start-up stage. For years, people have been saying, ‘Where are the men? What’s going on with the men?’ But no one’s come up with a constructive way to understand what’s going on with the men, generally, and how to motivate and attract and engage men so that they can make more conscious decisions in a Jewish way at any stage in their lives.”

Holy Land interfaith peacemakers offer ‘Jerusalem hug’


The smallish man, an observant Jew named Eliyahu McLean, smiled impishly at the crowd who’d come to listen to his stories of trying to create interfaith peace in the holy land. “We gathered around the walls of the old city, arm in arm, and it just grew,” he said. “Arab shopkeepers joined in, so did religious Christians on their way to Via Dolorosa. Even a female Israeli soldier in uniform danced with joy.” McLean, 42, bearded, wore a tight-knit kippah and embroidered vest. His payot looked like dreadlocks.

“The first time we did the Jerusalem Hug, five years ago,” McLean said, “some participants told us they weren’t used to an event like this, because we weren’t protesting against anything. Instead, we were positively for something: peace. Now it’s become an annual event, five years in a row. The last time we did the Jerusalem Hug, we had more than 400 people.”

McLean, who’s lived in and around Jerusalem for 13 years and is director of a group called Jerusalem Peacemakers, is on a North American tour with Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, a 43-year-old Muslim who lives in Nazareth and heads an Islamic center “promoting tolerance and interfaith dialogue.” On Dec. 8, they appeared at Pasadena’s All Saints Episcopal Church and talked about their attempts to create a “network of religious leaders and grass roots peace-builders in Jerusalem and the holy land.” Their organizations have generated many events bringing together Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews.

All Saints is a large, beautiful church well-known for its progressive politics, and the 60 or 70 people who showed up gave McLean and Manasra a warm welcome.

Manasra, studious-looking, dressed in slacks and long-sleeved shirt, spoke first and told a story about a Sufi sheikh and disciple walking in the desert. The disciple asked the sheikh about the importance of truth, and the sheikh replied that there is something more important than truth: reconciliation. “You cannot have truth before you have reconciliation,” Manasra concluded.

As a child in Nazareth, Manasra attended Catholic school, then later Hebrew University. He talked about interfaith projects he’s begun, projects involving “Jewish and Arab families.”

Manasra talked about being invited to a brit milah at the home of a rabbi in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox section. “I went with Zizi, my daughter, who was 7 at the time,” Manasra said. “Zizi speaks no Hebrew; the rabbi’s young daughter speaks no Arabic. Between the two little girls, there was no fear, no ego. They communicated beautifully, without a common language. … We need to do more than talk, we need to do things together, children and parents together, so the children will have positive experiences they’ll remember when they get older.”

When McLean spoke, he traced his personal path to interfaith peace work. He was born in California to parents — mother Jewish, father not — who’d met each other during the Summer of Love. McLean didn’t step into a shul until he was 13, and it was like “coming home.” As a student at UC Berkeley, he was a pro-Israel activist, then he studied with Chabad, then later with Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, who gave McLean his rabbinical smichah and named him “Rodef Shalom,” pursuer of peace.

McLean said his projects for the last dozen years have involved “healing the wounded family of Abraham. The history of the three Abrahamic faiths has a strong tradition of cooperation. In Spain, during the Middle Ages, when the three faiths cooperated, there was a flourishing of science and art and mathematics and learning of all kinds. Because of the current political reality in the holy land, the Abrahamic faiths have forgotten their tradition of cooperation.”

But sometimes, McLean said, he sees and feels real change take place. Several years ago, he heard about the death of someone he knew, Alon Goldenberg, killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. McLean went to see the family while they were sitting shivah. Shlomo Goldenberg, the father, a Yafo fisherman, asked McLean what he was doing. McLean told him he was working on interfaith projects, and he felt a certain stiffness in the father’s reaction.

“A year later, at the cemetery, I saw the father again. Shlomo put his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘Eliyahu, ani somech aleicha.’ I’m counting on you.” 

McLean has a realistic perspective on the large-picture effectiveness of his and Manasra’s work as peacemakers. “You cannot ignore political reality,” McLean said, “it’s always there. But what you can do is create an alternate holy space. It’s not easy to do this work in the holy land. Occasionally, it’s dangerous. Sometimes we feel like a hummingbird bringing a drop of water to a huge lake: Does it make any difference at all?”

You taught us well — Now it’s our turn


Dear Los Angeles Jewish community who raised us,

First of all, I want to say thank you. Thank you for giving us opportunities, education and the chance

to be whomever we want to be. We grew up in a privileged environment, and we really do appreciate it.

You taught us so much about the world, and for a long time whatever you said was all that mattered. You gave us a Jewish education through Jewish day school, camp, Hebrew school, temple and family Shabbat dinners that taught us how to braid challah, read Torah and love Israel. Yes, we learned to love Israel.

We went to Israel on exchange programs, youth-group trips, family vacations. We climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea and had unforgettable experiences at the Western Wall. We visited family, learned Hebrew and made friendships that will last a lifetime. We found our second home.

We went off to college and you told us to learn — learn to think critically, write a research paper, explore new interests, befriend people from other cultures. As much as you may think we don’t listen, you may be surprised to find that we aren’t sullen teenagers anymore. We listened. We are studying at 2 a.m., joining clubs, making new friends and, most of all, thinking critically. About everything. Including Israel.

Here is where we have reached a contradiction in our education. You see, you always told us to be the change we wish to see. To make a difference. To ask questions. To not stand idly by. Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof — seek justice, and pursue it. So we have. We were the leaders of the community service clubs, volunteered at SOVA, and lobbied our government to fight against discrimination and social injustice in the United States. 

When we got to college, we realized that our second home is also in need of some social change. Even though we were warned, it was shocking to find out that just as we grew up loving Israel, some of our classmates grew up hating it. You prepared us to fight these people and to defend Israel at all costs. Yet, it was confusing for a while, realizing that Israel, a place physically so far yet emotionally so close, is not perfect. Israel has a troubled education system, a troubled economy, a government [its people] can’t always trust, and yes, discrimination. Inequality. Social injustice.

We want to address that, too, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love Israel anymore. We think it means that we love Israel even more, just as a parent continues to love his or her child who makes mistakes, but still hopes to see the child improve. We are so connected to our second home, and that connection is far from broken. We just want Israel to be the best it can be with a little tikkun atzmi — self-healing — and we think it’s our responsibility to make that happen. You wanted us to fight — we want to progress, to converse and to redefine the term “pro-Israel.”

We are finding our place in this Israel debate, and we are starting to ask questions. We are exploring progressive movements, new political organizations and solutions that can take us into the future. We are trying to have real conversations on campus with our Jewish peers who are scoffing at us and our Arab peers who are wary of us. You told us that we are the future, and when we were 14 we rolled our eyes. But, now we know it’s true even more than you do.

So please respect us. Listen to our voices, have mature arguments about our contrasting opinions, and trust that we, too, read the news. Stop claiming that your opinion is the only one, the right one. Two Jews, three opinions — remember?

We are doing our best to be the people that your generation raised us to be: people who are willing to take a stand and fight for what we believe in, who are proud to walk in the footsteps of generations of Jews who have fought toward the goal of tikkun olam. We need you to continue to support us as we transition into adulthood.

Sincerely,

Your loving, progressive, Zionist children

A Jewish vote?


The election to replace the termed-out Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa isn’t until March 2013, but already candidates are out raising cash, taking meetings, locking up supporters. I’ve run into City Controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel at so many pro-Israel banquets, you’d think she was making aliyah. 

In fact, the L.A. mayor’s race is shaping up to be like a verse in Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song: full of familiar names you never knew were Jewish. 

Greuel is not Jewish, but her husband is, and her family is involved in the community. There’s City Council President Eric Garcetti, whose father is of Italian and Mexican heritage, but whose mother is Jewish. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who declared her candidacy during a meeting last February in my office, is African-American and Jewish. Investment banker Austin Beutner turns out also to be Jewish, though even colleagues who’ve worked with him for years were unaware of the fact. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has yet to declare, has been active in the Jewish community since he taught Hebrew school at Stephen S. Wise Temple many decades ago. I should know: I was one of his brats. I mean, students.  

Developer Rick Caruso and radio host Kevin James, the other two declared candidates, are not Jewish. As far as I know. 

The fact that in a city that is a scant 6 percent Jewish so many candidates identify as Jews might lead one to assume that there is a piñata called “The Jewish Bloc” just waiting for the right man or woman to strike it open and collect all the votes inside. I can understand the temptation: As our columnist Raphael Sonenschein, newly appointed executive director of the Pat Brown Institute, has pointed out, Jews account for 20 percent of the municipal vote. More than that, they make up a significant portion of the activists, volunteers and funders.  

But if Los Angeles ever truly had a “Jewish vote,” that is no longer the case. The cliché that all politics is local was likely more apt before the advent of mass media and the Internet. Its corollary, the notion that politics is mostly tribal, collapsed when assimilation and acculturation lifted ideology and interest over ethnicity.  

The conventional wisdom is that in order to win the mayor’s race, a candidate has to assemble a coalition along ethnic or geographic lines. Tom Bradley, the city’s first black mayor, reached office through the combined support of blacks and liberal Westside Jews. Mayor Richard Riordan won by pulling together Latinos and conservative San Fernando Valley Jews. Villaraigosa knitted together labor, Westside Jews and Latinos.

But these examples also point to a flaw in the conventional wisdom. Jews vote less as an ethnic bloc and more along ideological, or even geographical, lines. Riordan earned the support of more suburban Jews; Villaraigosa won the Westside Jews, but not so much the Valley Jews.

A liberal Westside Jew may vote less like a conservative Valley Jew and more like an east-side union member. Class and professional interests, political causes and personal networks matter more than tribal affiliation. The appeal to ethnic loyalty in and of itself will no longer work.

In the upcoming race we will see the fault lines even more clearly. There are so many Jewish candidates, they will necessarily split the Jewish vote six ways to Shabbos. In the small town of city politics, we will see that the fact that you’re a Jew matters less than whether I like the way you handled some zoning battle or another. I once pointed out to a peeved neighbor that his city council representative at the time was a fellow Jew. “I claim her,” my friend said, “and I blame her.”

This fractured vote reflects the growing diversity of Jewish identity. Since the late 19th century through most of the post-World War II boom, the Jewish community of Los Angeles was white, Ashkenazic, liberal, more secular than religious. Since the 1970s, Israelis, Russians, Persians, Sephardim, newly Orthodox, converts and adoptees have rendered L.A. Jewry almost as diverse as the city it calls home. If you could say about the majority of the current candidates, “Funny, they don’t look Jewish,” that’s because the same is true of L.A.’s Jewish community today. 

Likewise, they no longer vote a single ideology. Jews have a huge stake in the success of this city, home to the world’s third-largest Jewish population. The mayoral candidates will fall over themselves to profess love for Israel, but municipal elections don’t swing on international relations. I suspect that what will sway the majority of Jewish voters is a track record for effective government and management, and good ideas for moving Los Angeles forward.

I love L.A., but the more I travel, the more I feel that my city is falling behind. New York City, for instance, with twice the size, just seems to work better: less crime, fewer students per classroom, more bike-friendly, and 15,000 fewer homeless. And don’t get me started about Los Angeles International Airport, which J.D. Powers ranked 18 out of 19 in customer satisfaction. Among major world cities, L.A. seems to be running in place.

The reasons are numerous, and not just the fault of whomever is mayor.  But the otherworldly traffic on the 405 North allows me hours of time to sit and stew about which candidate has what it takes to win Jewish votes.

Lumping together the rich vein of Jewish voters (and funders) as a single ore is a fallacy. There is no singular “Jewish vote,” and no candidate on the horizon who could possibly please them all. A smart candidate will resist the temptation to think there is one way to the heart of Jewish L.A., or just one mayoral candidate who can win it.

I mean, besides Michael Bloomberg.

Wind closes synagogues, schools


Gusts that peaked at 97 miles per hour whipped through the Los Angeles area Wednesday night, downing trees and power lines and leaving some synagogues and Jewish schools with minor damage and no power.

Hardest hit was the Pasadena area, where the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, B’nai Simcha Community Preschool in Arcadia and the Weizmann Day School all remained closed on Thursday. The mayor of Pasadena declared a state of emergency for the area.

The unusually fierce Santa Ana winds sent a tree crashing through the bedroom of the home of a Mount Washington member of Chabad of Pasadena, but the family was not hurt, according to Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Chabad of Pasadena. Trees branches and debris were scattered around the Chabad building, but Hanoka did not detect any damage to the building, though he saw danger in live wires that dangled over some streets on Thursday. Many fires were reported in the area.

[Photo by Rabbi Joshua Grater

At Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), large tree limbs and branches littered the grounds, roof shingles had been lifted off, and a chain-link fence came down.  The window in the school principal’s office was blown out, but no structural damage occurred.

The synagogue lost power around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, it leader, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, said that if power were not restored by Friday morning, he would be forced to cancel Shabbat services.

“We were supposed to have a big Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, but now we have 15 pounds of chicken rotting in the refrigerator,” Grater said.

A 60-foot tree in front of Grater’s home was completely uprooted, he said.

The Weizmann Day School, an independent Jewish elementary school with an enrollment of 67 children that rents space from PJTC, informed parents Wednesday night that the school would likely be closed the next day, according to principal Lisa Feldman. At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, another message – sent via a room-parent phone tree, as well as texts, Twitter, emails and Facebook – confirmed that the school would be closed Thursday. A teacher stood outside the school at drop-off time just in case some without power didn’t get the message, but no parents showed up, Feldman said. Pasadena public schools and about 10 other school districts in the area also were closed Thursday.

Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Hanoka of Chabad said he had delivered food to several families who were without power and were trapped in their homes by toppled trees.

Around 300,000 Southern California residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

In Los Angeles, large trees splayed across several streets in the Pico-Robertson area. Maimonides Academy had a felled tree in its yard, and no power in the half of the school that resides in West Hollywood, while the half of the building on property in the City of Los Angeles had power.

Eitan Trabin, executive director of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said he is grateful that there was no serious damage to the temple and no one was hurt, especially seeing what had occurred around the neighborhood.

Trabin said, however, that he is bracing for more winds forecast through Friday.

“Whatever progress they make now in repairs and cleanup might be set back with the winds tonight,” Trabin said.

Holiday packages for Jewish service members


Bel-Air may be a long way from Afghanistan, but the distance seemed a little closer on a recent rainy Sunday. At the home of Joan Rimmon, a cadre of volunteers was assembling care packages for Jewish servicemen and -women deployed abroad. Although Thanksgiving was just days away, these packages were geared for Chanukah.

Each box would contain a menorah and chocolate Chanukah gelt, as well as a CD of Jewish music. They would be lovingly filled with handwritten letters of thanks, and hand-knit kippot and scarves. Also jammed into the 8.5-by-11.5-by-5-inch boxes would be a variety of personal care items and snacks — all certified kosher, of course.

The story of how Rimmon’s house was taken over by Project MOT began with her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah in 2004. The child was born on Flag Day and wanted do a patriotic activity for her mitzvah project. The family arranged for guests to help pack 250 care packages for Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends more than 100,000 care packages annually to military personnel around the globe.

Rimmon was impressed and began to volunteer for Operation Gratitude, first completing customs forms for packages and then taking over as supervisor for greeting cards (the group sends blank cards for soldiers to use). She and another volunteer, Marsha Roseman, were asked by the program’s founder, Carolyn Blashek, to reach out to Jewish service members, and Project MOT was born.

“It’s kind of taken over our lives,” Rimmon said.

Project MOT’s first shipment — to 20 recipients — went out for Passover 2008. The group now sends packages three times a year: at Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah. That Sunday’s shipment will reach about 150 individuals in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Kosovo and Djibouti. A contact in Germany will disburse boxes to Special Operations personnel.

About 40 volunteers showed up to help assemble the packages. Some, like Susan and Stanley Kolker, had learned about Project MOT after meeting Rimmon at Operation Gratitude. They and other congregants from Valley Outreach Synagogue had volunteered with Operation Gratitude on Mitzvah Day, and the Kolkers continue to volunteer at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, where supplies are gathered year-round. Others were members of TOLA — Tikkun Olam Los Angeles — a new Jewish volunteer group geared to Jews between 18 and 30 years old.

Project MOT receives some items from Operation Gratitude, as well as from individuals and groups. They are always looking for donations including letters and cards of thanks to the troops, kosher snacks and candy, small games and puzzle books, and personal-size hygiene items. Financial donations are also appreciated. Rimmon, who is already starting to collect for the Passover 2012 shipment, asks that people who have Jewish friends or family deployed abroad contact her with names so they can receive packages.

“My uncle was in the Air Force in World War II. My cousin recently retired as an admiral, and his son is a captain in the Navy. I even had a relative who fought in the Civil War,” she said. “I just feel that these guys … whatever their jobs, they’re away from their families, and the least we can do is tell them thank you and that we haven’t forgotten them.”

Judging by a scrapbook filled with thank-you notes, the message has been received.

“Everything was so thoughtful and will ensure the best Passover possible far away from home,” wrote one sergeant serving in Tal Afar, Iraq.

“It is so wonderful to know people care about us as we serve our country far from home,” wrote another service member.

After receiving last year’s Chanukah packages, a rabbi, writing from Afghanistan said, “I cannot begin to tell you how much your generous care packages have raised the morale of our soldiers here in Afghanistan. Everyone who has received something from you has been smiling from ear to ear.”

For more information or to donate to Project MOT, visit this article at jewishjournal.com.

Germany doubling its funding to Jewish community


Germany will double its funding to the Central Council of Jews in Germany to about $13 millon.

The decision, which broke last week in the mainstream news before being publicly announced, follows negotiations that began a year ago with the election of Dieter Graumann, a businessman based in Frankfurt, to head the council.

The German federal government will raise its allocation to the Central Council to 10 million euro, or about $13 million, from about 5 million euro, or $6.7 million.

The contract is reportedly to be signed in the coming days. Graumann confirmed the allocation in an interview Saturday with Domradio, a Catholic radio news service.

Speaking with young Jews at a youth congress in Weimar over the weekend, Graumann, 61, said he hopes especially to use the new funding to help the younger generation. He said that despite Europe’s difficult economic climate, the timing was evidently right—with the current government of Chancellor Angela Merkel still in power—to ask for additional help.

Graumann said the council represents 110,000 Jews who are members of communities. According to the council, another 140,000 people who identify as Jews do not belong to communities. The great majority—some 85 percent—came to Germany from the former Soviet Union after German unification in 1990.

Germany’s Jewish population is more than five times as large as before fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Before Hitler came to power in 1933, there were about 500,000 Jews in Germany.

In 2003, the German government signed its first contract with the Central Council, putting it on a legal par with the Catholic and Protestant communities. At the time, the government pledged 3 million euro, or about $4 million, per year to help the Jewish community meet its infrastructure needs, before raising the allotment to its current levels in 2008.

In recent years, as the community has grown, there have been increasing demands on the council to fund additional programs, such as those that train teachers and rabbis for communities.

Graumann has said his main concern as head of the council is to promote the continuity of Jewish life in Germany, with a special focus on youth and on the integration of former Soviet Jews in the communities.

The Jewish youth congress in Weimar marked the first time that the event has been held concurrently with the meeting of the Central Council board. Participants had the chance to ask questions of the president in a special forum, and on Sunday they were to be represented at the board meeting.

Jewish groups rally in sukkah at Occupy Los Angeles


As part of the Occupy Los Angeles movement, hundreds of Angelenos have been living in tents outside downtown’s City Hall for several weeks. On Oct. 16, Jewish groups rallied in a sukkah alongside these temporary shelters.

“I think of a sukkah as a structure that’s full of vulnerability,” said Elissa Barrett, chief of regional operations for Progressive Jewish Alliance and Jewish Funds for Justice (PJA & JFSJ), a participant in the demonstration. “It forces us to look at what’s happening in the world around us.”

In solidarity with the protestors of Occupy Los Angeles — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street and similarly anti-corporate — several Jewish clergy, community organizers and rabbinical students came together to organize the protest in the sukkah, billed as “Not Just a Sukkah: A JUST Sukkah at Occupy L.A.” 

The collaborators included Rabbi Jonathan Klein of CLUE-LA (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice); Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen of Temple Ner Maarav; Lauren Henderson, a rabbinical student at American Jewish University (AJU); Rabbi Aryeh Cohen of American Jewish University; Charlie Carnow, a CLUE-LA board member; and Maya Barron of PJA & JFSJ. 

Around 1 p.m., approximately 100 people, with many more filtering in and out, gathered around the 10-by-10-by-8-foot sukkah located, as it happened, in the “anarchist section” of Occupy L.A., Klein said.

Participants recited chants, sang, danced and broke off into chevruta groups to study texts about Sukkot from Leviticus and the Mishnah. 

Approximately 300 tents have been erected as part of Occupy Los Angeles, and most house several people. On Oct. 15, the Occupy Los Angeles movement reached its greatest number of participants, with nearly 15,000 people taking part in a march from Pershing Square through the financial district and back to the Occupy site at City Hall, according to news reports.

Planning for the Occupy Los Angeles sukkah began earlier this month.

“Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen calls me and says, ‘We’ve got to do a sukkah down at Occupy L.A.,’ and I immediately thought of some of the people who would really get into that idea,” Klein said in an interview outside the sukkah. “Voila! A week-and-a-half later, we have a sukkah with over 100 people, probably 200 people, here learning Torah and learning about foreclosures and learning about the plight of tomato growers.”

Story continues after the jump

Throughout the day, Henderson and fellow AJU rabbinical student Joshua Corber — who said they planned to sleep in the sukkah that night — answered questions from passers-by about what, to many, looked like a strange, but welcoming, structure. Etrogs, lulavs, challahs and handouts about the day’s program covered a table, the only furniture in the sukkah. 

“The food hanging [from the ceiling] makes it look like it’s raining plentiful food. I think it’s great,” said Shane Portman, 31, who, with his fiancée, stopped to visit.

The sukkah builders didn’t need a permit, but Occupy Los Angeles organizers requested that the sukkah be approximately 10 feet by 10 feet, in accordance with city regulations; a height requirement wasn’t specified, Klein said.

Early that day, Klein and the others showed up with their materials. “It was wonderful … we parked across the street in a no-parking zone, and five guys with tattoos and lip piercings and everything ran across the street, pulled all the stuff, brought it over here, and we created our sukkah,” Klein said.

Prayer sessions were planned to take place each evening and, provided there are enough people, minyans in the mornings.

The “Just Sukkah” event participants hailed from numerous Jewish organizations, among them Habonim Dror, IKAR, the Sholem Community, PJA & JFSJ, The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring and the Jewish Labor Committee.

Members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (the latter advocating for the rights of farm workers) — neither of which is a Jewish group — also attended the rally in the sukkah. Beverly Roberts, a South Los Angeles resident and a member of ACCE, discussed her financial problems, her inability to get a loan from the bank and the possibility that she will face foreclosure on her home.

Barrett said the Jewish presence at Occupy L.A. did not automatically indicate her organization’s support for the movement. Because part of the mandate of being Jewish is to ask questions, she said, PJA & JFSJ came to learn more about what’s been happening on the ground.

“We’re happy to have people engaging in the conversation. This isn’t about validating or invalidating,” she said.

Klein, meanwhile, threw his full support behind the Occupy Los Angeles demonstrators. “It’s purely around the question of economic justice …  So, from a CLUE perspective, we’re completely on board.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR weighed in on the motives of the people behind the movement.

“I think many people are driven here for a lot of different reasons — some of which I agree with, and some of which are much more challenging for me personally,” Brous said. “But what I think is great is there is a rising of voices in this country and around the world calling for economic justice, for more opportunity, for more possibility and for a better future … I think that’s a very good thing.” 

What redistricting could mean for Jews, Asian-Americans


The redistricting process going on at the state, county and city levels is a major signpost of changing power for Jews and Asian-Americans in the Southland. While nearly twice as many Asian-Americans as Jews live in the City and County of Los Angeles, Asian-Americans have had a much more difficult time gaining political representation. Jews have tended to win political seats out of proportion to their numbers, although they now find their base narrowing and their safe seats imperiled. As the state and county redistricting processes wind down, and the city’s advisory commission starts its work, how will Jews and Asian-Americans fare?

Pressure on the city’s advisory redistricting commission (and on the council and mayor who will make the final decision) will come from several sources. The Latino population continues to be a force around the city, and there are calls to create a third Latino council seat in the San Fernando Valley. Valley activists also want to have more seats that are fully in the Valley, and this might mean taking away the Valley sections of the Westside’s 5th and 11th Districts.

In this context, the continuing narrowing of “Jewish seats” is possible.

Once upon a time, Jewish elected officials were plentiful on the city council. At one time, there were six, in districts stretching from Hollywood through the Westside to the ocean and into the Valley. Now there are three: Paul Koretz; Council President Eric Garcetti, whose mother is Jewish; and Jan Perry. But only in Koretz’s district, the 5th, is a Jewish candidate extremely likely to be elected. In Perry’s 9th District, the next council member is almost certain to be either African-American, which Perry also is, or Latino. The 5th District remains the city’s most Jewish, with its population at least one-third Jewish. And perhaps a third of the city’s Jews live in the 5th. When the 5th was expanded to the Valley after the 1990 census, it picked up a portion of the Jewish population in the southern tip of the Valley. Taking that Valley portion away from the 5th could offer the chance for a second Jewish council member based in the Valley, along the lines of the Joy Picus/Laura Chick seat in the 3rd. Or it could place the Valley’s Jewish population into a Latino-majority district, where the election of a Jewish candidate would be less likely.

But all is not bleak for Jewish political success. As the Jewish community has become more widely dispersed, Jewish candidates continue to win seats in districts that are not dominated by Jewish voters. For the foreseeable future, beyond the 5th District, Jewish candidates could also win in the other districts that are not historically black or majority Latino. And citywide office still is accessible, with open seats for mayor and controller in 2013 (and, if Carmen Trutanich is elected district attorney in 2012, for city attorney, a race in which former 5th District Councilman Mike Feuer has expressed interest). Greater Los Angeles is still home base for the California Jewish community, both in political candidacies and in campaign fundraising for local, state and national Democrats.

There is perspective to be gained from contrasting the political standing of Jews in Los Angeles to that of Asian-Americans. In the history of Los Angeles, only one city council member has ever been elected from the Asian-American community — Mike Woo, who from 1986 to 1993 represented the 13th District. And Woo’s position would not have survived even one year, but for Mayor Tom Bradley, who vetoed a council redistricting plan in 1986 that would have eliminated his newly won seat to enable the city to comply with a court decision to create a second Latino seat. Warren Furutani, currently a city council candidate for the 15th District seat vacated by Janice Hahn, was elected to the school board. This low representation comes while Asian-Americans constitute roughly 10 percent of the population of Los Angeles. That’s about 380,000 people.

The Asian-American shutout in Los Angeles not only contrasts with L.A. Jews, but with Asian-Americans outside Los Angeles.

In fact, the Asian-American caucus in California’s state legislature is quite large, comprising 11 members (eight in the Assembly, three in the Senate). The current mayor of San Francisco is Asian-American (appointed to fill a vacancy left by Gavin Newsom’s election as lieutenant governor), and four major Asian-American candidates are running in this year’s San Francisco mayoral election, including the incumbent. Four of San Francisco’s 11 county/city supervisors are Asian-American. In fact, Asian-Americans are now a much bigger force than Jews in San Francisco politics.

In addition, Jean Quan was elected mayor of Oakland in 2010, and four of the state’s Supreme Court justices are Asian-American. John Chiang has made a big impact as state controller. In fact, given all this, it would not be surprising if California elected an Asian-American governor before another Asian-American becomes a city council member in Los Angeles.

Outside Los Angeles, Asian-Americans fare better, even in Southern California. Asian-American state legislators have been elected both from the South Bay and the San Gabriel Valley. Judy Chu won a congressional seat in a Latino majority district in the San Gabriel Valley. In Orange County, Republican Van Tran nearly upset Democrat Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in 2010. It’s just in Los Angeles that the absence is so surprising.

Not surprisingly, Asian-Americans don’t have a county supervisor seat, largely because their 13 percent of the county’s population is spread out over districts of 2 million people each. But in the City of Los Angeles, with Koreatown and Chinatown, and with smaller electoral districts, what’s the problem? Some of it is that Asian-Americans are not a cohesive group, compared to Jews or even to the largely Chinese-American community of San Francisco. Citizenship and voter participation fall below their population share, in contrast to Jewish voting, which far outstrips the community’s population. Unlike in hyper-diverse San Francisco, where Asian-Americans now constitute the most dynamic bloc of voters, Asian-Americans in Los Angeles are trying to find their way in a community of highly established political communities — first white Protestants, then the Bradley coalition of African-Americans and Jews, and, finally, Latinos.

New data prepared for the city redistricting commission indicate that the Asian-American population is between 10 percent and 21 percent in eight of the 15 council districts. Asian-American candidates have to be crossover candidates in order to win anywhere. Koreatown is too small to dominate the 10th District, which has historically been African-American and now has a Latino population majority. (The district was once more evenly contested. When Tom Bradley was elected mayor in 1973, his seat was very nearly won by a major Asian-American activist, “Star Trek” star George Takei.) Asian-American candidates probably have their best chances in white or highly diverse districts (like the Hollywood 13th and the Harbor 15th), the same areas where Jewish candidates have as good a chance as anybody else. What they don’t have is the equivalent of a 5th District, a home base that provides security for wider crossover politics. On the other hand, Asian-Americans have some protection as a minority under the Voting Rights Act, which does not apply to the Jewish community.

In order to have better representation, Asian-Americans can make a case that the redistricting commission, the city council and mayor should examine the maps with the intention of making the election of an Asian-American somewhat more likely, looking for any districts that could be 25 percent or 30 percent Asian-American, for example. Once a significant Asian-American victory is possible, greater mobilization will follow.

Some structural reforms also would help in the long run. In 1999, Los Angeles city voters approved a new city charter but resoundingly defeated two companion measures to expand the size of the council to either 21 or 25 members.

With a larger council, there could have been at least one, and maybe two, districts where Asian-Americans could have dominated. Should such measures ever get back onto the ballot, Asian-Americans might find allies in the Harbor that would get its own district, and among African-Americans who opposed the reform in 1999 fearing a decline in their representation but now might find that more seats fit their declining population. Jews and other white liberals voters supported it then and might back it again.

As the Jewish base narrows in Los Angeles, and Asian-Americans continue to seek political representation, conversations between the two groups would be in order. Both Jews and Asian-Americans will need to reach out to other groups and win elections in districts without a secure majority of their own group. But, so far, neither group understands how similar its problems and worries are to the problems of the other group. Jews and African-Americans made history together in Los Angeles during the Bradley era, and there are serious efforts afoot to prevent electoral competition from obstructing a positive relationship between Jews and Latinos. An exploration of the potential for mutual benefit between Jews and Asian-Americans could well pay dividends that have not been fully appreciated until now.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration, and Justice at California State University, Fullerton.

Jewish organization honors Catholic surgeon


Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes, a top cardiothoracic surgeon in Los Angeles, was recently honored by Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and the fact that Starnes is a Catholic being recognized by a Jewish organization made the occasion that much more meaningful, the doctor said.

“Unlike a lot of things, medicine transcends boundaries. … Everyone who comes through my doors is equal, and I enjoy that. I try to deliver to all people, without regard to their religious belief or their color, or, oftentimes, whether they can pay,” he said.

Starnes is the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and chair of the department of surgery at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. He is one of the country’s experts in repairing heart defects in newborns and infants, often enabling them to go on to full recovery — results that were unattainable 20 years ago. He was a pioneer in using live-donor lung transplants to treat young people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that disproportionately affects Jews.

“God’s messengers come in all different races and religions,” said Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of Bikur Cholim. “Our concern, and Dr. Starnes’ concern, is making sure people get the best care possible so they thrive and are well.”

Bikur Cholim provides support services for those suffering from serious illnesses, including case management, crisis intervention and financial support, and it has a bank of medical equipment it lends out free of charge. Founded in 1918, the organization runs educational programs and operates one of the largest blood drives and direct donor blood and platelet programs in greater Los Angeles. It has a special fund dedicated to the medical and daily needs of indigent Holocaust survivors, and has a cadre of volunteers who deliver homemade challah and chicken soup to the ill and elderly. Bikur Cholim House, a 10-unit apartment building in Hancock Park, also houses patients and their families, free of charge, when they come to Los Angeles for medical treatment. Patients in hospitals can access Bikur Cholim’s Shabboxes, which have all the items necessary to celebrate Shabbat in the hospital, and it arranges for home and hospital visitations, as well as transportation to medical appointments.

The Sept. 25 dinner also memorialized Bikur Cholim supporter Lillian Grossman, a Holocaust survivor who died this year. Her children, Maureen and Dr. Lawrence Eisenberg, and Felice and Aryeh Greenbaum, and husband Harry Grossman, accepted the honor.

Jewish, Latino leaders gather for summit


Local Jewish and Latino community leaders convened at UCLA on Sept. 22 for “Common History, Shared Future: A Summit for Leaders of the Latino and Jewish Communities in Los Angeles,” a meeting that featured closed-door discussions on topics such as “Israel,” “The Impact of Global Anti-Semitism,” “Empowerment and Engagement in Economy, Media and Politics” and “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

Held at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall, the daylong event drew 60 community leaders — 30 Jewish and 30 Latino participants, representing 12 organizations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) organized the meeting with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the National Council of La Raza and the New America Alliance, an American Latino business initiative.

ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind said the timing of the summit was tied to the Los Angeles mayoral race.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was unable to attend the event, steps down in 2013 due to term limits. Three of the eight candidates currently in the race are Jewish: L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, whose mother is Jewish and whose father is of Mexican descent; Austin Beutner, first deputy mayor and economic policy chief for Villaraigosa; and L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who converted to Judaism almost 30 years ago.

The Latino and Jewish communities share a connection to Boyle Heights, and coalitions between the two groups date back more than 60 years. In 1949, Los Angeles’ Latino-Jewish coalition helped elect Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’ first Latino city councilman.

More recently, Latino leaders in Los Angeles have participated in delegations to Israel; ADL and AJC programs have paired Jewish and Latino leaders in Los Angeles; and Israel’s previous consul general in Los Angeles, Jacob Dayan, worked with Villaraigosa on a number of city events, including the raising of the Israeli flag outside the Israeli consulate on Wilshire Boulevard.

During a press conference that followed the discussions, Israeli Consul General David Siegel said that like Israel, Los Angeles’ Latino population absorbs immigrants and holds language and culture in high regard.

“We should embrace diversity and find pragmatic solutions to problems of mankind,” he said, referring to the Jewish-Latino partnership.

Maya Entertainment CEO Moctesuma Esparza agreed: “We both have communities that are in tremendous Diaspora. We look to build a future that is based on human values, tolerance and embracing our differences.”

Esparza said that media networks Univision and Telemundo can help increase awareness about Israel in the Latino community by offering more in-depth coverage of events there, as opposed to “30-second sound bites.”

The consensus among attendees was that the summit was productive and that another one would likely happen in the future.

“We dug deeper,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “It was not about platitudes.”

10Q Project: Answer life’s big questions online … Then reread next year


It might seem odd that 10Q, a project bent on promoting deep personal reflection and penetrating spiritual insight, would engage Joel Stein, a somewhat nihilistic humor columnist, as one of its endorsers.

“I find it hard to believe that anyone in our present society needs to spend any more time thinking about themselves,” said Stein, who writes for Time magazine, about the 10-day online journal exercise that is taking place this year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, asking participants to answer “life’s big questions.” 

“All I do is write about myself — maybe that’s why I’m less interested,” Stein said.

The 10Q project was conceived and organized through Reboot, a countercultural network of artists and innovators, and is, in its essence, an online version of cheshbon ha-nefesh, the ritual “accounting of the soul,” that Jews undergo each year during the 10 days of repentance. This iteration, however, is organized around 10 major questions, the answers to which are submitted electronically, then are secured in an online vault for one year, to be returned to participants on the eve of the following High Holy Days. It is also, the organizers say, designed for a universal audience (Reboot strangely employs the term “ecumenical”). To that end, Reboot has been promoting the project through bicoastal events and, yes, even celebrity Tweets, promising to deepen High Holy Days reflection beyond 140 characters, the Twitter limit.

Stein was part of an L.A. contingent that gathered to promote 10Q on Sept. 22 at M Bar in Hollywood. A live show, themed With Regrets, featured performances by actors, writers and other artists, and paralleled a sister show scheduled to take place in New York City the day before Rosh Hashanah. This year, “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof promulgated his big regret for 10Q posterity: “I wish I had been more charitable in action, not just donation,” Lindelof wrote, according to a press release. “While it’s always been important to me to donate money to noble charities, this past year I feel that I used those donations as an excuse to not actually DO anything.” Lindelof added that he hopes to use the coming year to engage in more action-based charity.

Though the project is focused on reflection, not action, some say that mental recognition is a necessary precursor for change. “There’s that old adage that the unexamined life is not worth living,” Emily Ziff, a 33-year-old television and film producer, said. “Any opportunity to look at the things you believe, the experiences you’re having — that’s only going to enrich what comes next. I think it’s a way of charting a course for the next year.”

Half of what 10Q ponders is focused on past-year reflection (“Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?”), and the other half encourages forward thinking about the year to come (“Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?”). Questions are methodically broad-based and secular-minded, focusing on self-improvement, fears and significant life events. One, however, asks participants about a spiritual experience, though the word “spiritual” is broadly defined to accommodate artistic, cultural or natural leanings.

“I wouldn’t describe 10Q as a spiritual experience,” Ziff said. “I’d describe it as an existential exercise in stopping and evaluating where you are in your life. It’s really focused on matters of existence above all.”

Though it makes some participants more comfortable not to think of 10Q as religiously based, it is clearly Jewishly inspired. Founders Nicola Behrman, a screenwriter and playwright, and Ben Greenman, a contributing editor at The New Yorker, conceived the project at a Reboot retreat in May 2008. “We really ran with the idea of wanting to create time to capture experience, where people could reflect on their lives,” the L.A.-based Behrman, 33, said during a phone interview. With the support of Reboot acting executive director Amelia Klein, the project was launched the next fall, because the Days of Awe seemed like “the perfect container.”

“A lot of people are yearning and searching, but the answer isn’t for them in organized religion,” Behrman, who grew up Orthodox in London but is no longer observant, said. “I love the concept of taking a Jewish ideal and riffing off of it and taking something from it that anyone in the world can enjoy. For me, that’s the meaning of tikkun olam; we’ve created something rooted in the very beautiful Jewish tradition but that didn’t exclude anyone from being able to have the experience.”

In its first year, 1,000 people participated in 10Q, mostly by the invitation of the founders. Last year, the project’s third, counted 12,000 participants. The project caught national attention through advertisements on the Times Square Jumbotron and giant video screens projected on the Las Vegas strip. According to Reboot, the 10Q Web site received 80,000 visitors in 2010, some of which can be attributed to celebrity endorsements, including from “Glee’s” Jane Lynch, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, spiritual guru Deepak Chopra and “Harry Potter” star Tom Felton, who Tweeted about 10Q to his nearly 1 million followers.

According to a series of questions asked of 10Q-ers at sign-up, participants come from around the world and various religious backgrounds, or none at all. One year, it was reported to the organizers that a group of death row inmates had participated in 10Q.

Being forced to carve out time to explore one’s inner life can be cathartic, but so can the process of rereading your answers one year later. “It’s just a huge rush,” Behrman said. “You literally feel like you’re visiting with your last year’s self. It’s the closest thing we have to a back-to-the-future experience.”

Sometimes epiphanies occur: “I realized, reading my answers, that there were things I was hoping to achieve, that by the time I got my answers back, I’d achieved them. But I never felt particularly wonderful about having achieved them, because they happened so gradually.”

For others, confronting their answers can be a brutal reminder that there is work remaining undone. “It reminds me of how repetitive emotionally I am,” confessed Christopher Noxon, a writer who has participated in Reboot. “I’m just playing the same freakin’ tune over and over again. I have my hang-ups and my quest and my anxieties – and every year they feel fresh and new, and yet, it’s the same old stuff in new language and new characters. The exercise is great, because it’s a message in a bottle.”

“I think what struck me this year was the extent to which we really do create our own reality,” Ziff said. “So much of what I had hoped or predicted for this coming year has really come to pass. My life at this moment does not feel arbitrary in relationship to what I had to say a year ago; where you put your attention and energy is a lot of what your life ends up being.”

Some, however, have said they find the process narcissistic. And, like many in the breed of trending start-ups that claim to reinvent or reclaim Judaism for the young and hip, the irreverent tone can feel self-satisfied, even snobbish.

“I think it’s quite satisfying to feel like you’re involved in a kind of Jewishly guided narcissism,” Stephan Altman, a film and television composer, said sardonically. Noxon agreed: “Yes it feels chin-strokey, yes it feels navel-gazey, but hopefully it doesn’t stay there,” he said. “Hopefully, after you spend some time examining the precious contents of your navel, you can move on to what you’re gonna do next and how you’re gonna live a better life.”

After all, the reflection can motivate a better High Holy Days experience. “It’s like homework, and when you go into synagogue, it’s like going to class; when you’ve done your background reading, you can have a richer experience of the class,” Altman said. Even though the project does not advertise itself as Jewish, Altman said he tries to hear the questions filtered through the prism of his rabbi.

“I like the way, in America, Jews are strong enough to have a service like this, which is very sacred to them but also awesome enough that you want non-Jewish people to participate,” the British born Altman said. “American Jews are confident enough to say, ‘Gentiles, you should do this!’ ”

Surely one of 10Q’s gifts is to offer everyone access to Jewish traditions. In capturing the evolution of souls over time, it is the embodiment of the central message of the High Holy Days: that change is not only inevitable, but possible.

Michaela Watkins, an actress who has been 10Q-ing for three years, said it has transformed her life. “There are so many people who do so much of this kind of thing, going to therapy, talking for an hour. And some people call that navel gazing. I say it’s the only way we can evolve. I say that’s the map forward.”

To participate in 10Q, go to doyou10q.com.