Congregations help the homeless into homes — one family at a time

Sharon (not her real name) and her 4 1/2-year-old son have been in and out of shelters and temporary housing for the past several years, sometimes living on the streets. A recovering drug addict, Sharon now has a steady job working at a bakery but is about to reach her time limit in a transitional housing apartment.

But this time, she has a team of congregants from Leo Baeck Temple to help her not only find a place she can afford to live, but create and stick to a budget. They’ll help her furnish her apartment, will set up her transportation and will even baby-sit for her son so she can get an occasional break.

Leo Baeck connected with Sharon through Imagine LA, a program in its pilot year that aims to end homelessness among families by connecting Los Angeles’ 8,000 places of worship with the city’s 8,000 families who are on the verge of homelessness.

Three churches and Leo Baeck have signed on, and by 2009 Imagine LA hopes to have 30 families adopted.

Congregations make a financial commitment of $5,000 to adopt a family for two years. Most of that money is put into a donor-directed bank account overseen by the family, the congregation and case managers.

Imagine LA inserts itself into the problem of homelessness at a critical juncture: the exit from transitional housing. While case managers and psychologists help residents in transitional housing stabilize, many find themselves spiraling lower in the cycle of homelessness when the six-month to two-year limit there is up.

Imagine LA coordinators work with facility case managers and faith partners to determine the family’s needs and set up a plan for independent living. They might help a single mother get her high school equivalency diploma, help kids with homework or shuttle kids to sports programs. Sometimes, a mother needs to learn how to shop for and cook meals for a week, or sometimes she just needs moral support.

“The idea is to create a sustainable exit from homelessness, so they don’t just get into housing and get on the treadmill, but feel like they can grow and have some hope,” said Jill Govan Bauman, executive director of Imagine LA, an independent nonprofit founded in 2005 at the Bel Air Presbyterian Church.

The Leo Baeck team has met with Sharon once a week over the last month, since they signed on, and they’re hoping to have her in an apartment soon.

“Many of us here are socially active in many different ways, and there were enough of us who wanted to really do this hands-on,” said Scott Sale, a Leo Baeck member working with Imagine LA. He said the team bought into the idea of each faith-based organization in Los Angeles adopting one family to make a huge impact. “If we have to do it one at a time, that’s how we’ll do it. It’s just like the Jewish idea of saving one life is like saving the whole world.”

For additional information, visit

Evangelicals Slate Pro-Israel Lobbying

Some 2,000 extremely pro-Israel community and religious leaders will meet in Washington on July 19, fan out across Capitol Hill and, in effect, tell their legislators: If you want our political backing, you must support the Jewish state — no ifs or buts.

There won’t be a single Jew among the citizen lobbyists. They will all be evangelical Christians, mainly ordained and lay pastors, embarking on the first major public action of the newly formed Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

The founder and leader of the group is the Rev. John C. Hagee of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, Texas, and a televangelist whose broadcasts reach millions in the United States and 120 other countries.

In 1978, in the first of his 21 trips to Israel, “I went as a tourist and returned as a Zionist,” Hagee said.

Last week, Hagee visited Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego to enlist support for his 4-month-old organization –both among fellow evangelicals and in front of generally enthusiastic, but occasionally skeptical, Jewish audiences.

Addressing the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at the L.A. Jewish Community Building, Hagee outlined two major projects, in addition to the July summit in Washington:

  • Expand the existing “rapid response network” of 12,000 pastors, who can mobilize their congregations instantly to flood the White House and Congress with e-mails on any legislation affecting Israel’s security and well-being.
  • Institute an annual “Night to Honor Israel” in every major American city to assure Israel and Jews everywhere that “you do not stand alone.” The emotional event is already a fixture in large Texas cities and in other Southern states.

Hagee and his followers have given a total of $8.5 million to Israeli causes, including an orphanage and for absorption of Russian immigrants, he said, but the major impact of CUFI is likely to be on the political scene.

The pastor didn’t spell it out, but his associates made clear that they view CUFI as a kind of super American Israel Public Affairs Committee, representing some 50 million evangelical Christians. This constituency, in sharp contrast to the Jewish community, shares the conservative social outlook of the present administration and represents its hardcore political base.

This kind of influence cannot be ignored by U.S. Jews, said Shimon Erem, founding president of the Israel-Christian Nexus, who introduced Hagee.

“We don’t have too many friends; we cannot prevail without them,” said Erem.

CUFI’s purpose, according to its official brochure, is “to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to biblical issues.”

The last six words may sound vague, but they are key to the evangelicals’ deeply rooted advocacy for Israel. As unquestioning believers in the inerrant truth of Scripture, Hagee and his followers are convinced that every inch of the God-given land belongs to the Jews alone and forever.

Hagee insists that he never interferes in the decisions of the Israeli government, but his opposition to the withdrawals in Gaza and the West Bank, for instance, gives concern to liberal Jewish organizations.

However, it is mainly Orthodox spokesmen, who otherwise agree with Hagee’s social and biblical views, who have publicly questioned whether the pastor’s underlying motive is the conversion of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

The Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox rabbis and congregations, has officially protested the Israeli government’s license to Daystar, the second largest Christian network in the United States, to broadcast 24/7 over an Israeli satellite network.

Hagee, a major Daystar supporter and on-air personality, has consistently affirmed that he will not proselytize Jews, although the network’s lineup also includes “messianic” Jews with long pro-conversion records.

When Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, head of the anti-cult Jews for Judaism, raised this issue with Hagee at the Los Angeles meeting, the pastor did not respond directly, but his genial Southern folksiness took on a harder edge.

“If rabbis would put more emphasis on putting Jewish kids into Jewish schools, young Jews would never want to become Christians,” Hagee said.


Rural Shuls Make Do Without Rabbis

There’s been a Jewish community in Muskogee, Okla., since 1867, when furrier Joseph Sonderheim opened his import-export business.

In 1916 the first synagogue was dedicated, Congregation Beth Ahaba, a lay-led Reform congregation that served a tight-knit Jewish community of merchants and professionals.

“As Oklahoma grew and prospered through the 1920s, so did our congregation,” said Nancy Stolper, 77, who moved to Muskogee 50 years ago.

Beth Ahaba reached its height of 75 families in 1929 but dwindled to 40 families during the Depression, as stores shut down and people moved away to find work.

Since then, Beth Ahaba’s fortunes have declined steadily. Its young people, including the Stolpers’ four children, grew up and moved away.

Its last student rabbi left 15 years ago.

“We’re now just a group of frail senior citizens,” said Stolper, noting that only eight to 10 members are still able to get to synagogue.

Three months ago they gave up their monthly Friday night services, and this High Holiday season, she fears, will be their last.

“My children have invited us to spend the holidays with them, but I can’t do that, you understand?” Stolper said, crying quietly. “What will we do with our beautiful little building? And our Torah? We haven’t forced ourselves yet to make those decisions. But we know the inevitable is in sight.”

Beth Ahaba’s story is playing out across America, from the mining towns of upper New York state and Pennsylvania to rust-belt factory towns in Michigan and Illinois, sweeping across old Civil War communities like Vicksburg, Miss., and Jonesboro, Ark., and following the pioneer trail into Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

As local fortunes headed downward in these towns, so did their Jewish communities.

“It’s very often a function of changing demographics,” explained Rabbi Victor Appell of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). “The vast majority of these places had congregations that have grown smaller over the years.”

Rabbi Lawrence Jackofsky, director of URJ’s Southwest region, relates the story of Ardmore, Okla., a once-booming oil town that now has just two or three Jews left.

“The guy who was running services at the end told me, ‘I looked out one day, saw two Jews and 10 Catholics in the room, and said, it’s time to move on.'”

Some of these historic congregations were able to support rabbis and even cantors in their heyday.

Others like Beth Ahaba never could, but survived from the beginning on the strength of their lay leadership.

“A lot of dying congregations exist simply because they’ve always been there,” said Jay Weiner of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).

The Reform and Conservative movements, which represent most of the country’s lay-led congregations, try to provide support through a variety of means, including student rabbis, visiting rabbis and lay leadership training courses.

Yvonne Youngberg, a fifth-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, directs the school’s student-run rabbinical student placement service, which sends students to small Conservative congregations that ask for help. She said about half of the fourth- and fifth-year students have regular pulpits.

“Twice a month is the norm, but it’s increasingly common for students to split a pulpit,” she said.

Youngberg shares her gig in Watertown, N.Y., with a cantorial student, so each of them makes the six-hour drive just once a month.

“It’s better for our schedules, and the congregation gets to hear my services and her davening,” she said.

Many congregations are served by visiting rabbis from the movements’ regional offices.

In his 13 years with the USCJ, Rabbi David Blumenfeld visited more than 170 of the 200 smallest Conservative congregations. He’d show up on Friday, lead services, answer questions, advise them on fundraising and youth work, even coach members suffering burnout.

“In these congregations, you have a core of people who are always doing everything,” he said.

Blumenfeld focused on congregations in the most geographically remote areas. He’s given impromptu sermons in Yiddish to a congregation of Russian-speakers, and he’s mushed through snowstorms outside Reno, Nev.

Everywhere he went, Blumenfeld said, he saw ingenuity and spirit.

He asked one Texas congregation how they got a minyan every week. A member pointed to a nearby street lamp and said when they need another Jew on Fridays, he makes the light blink during the evening rush hour.

At one North Carolina synagogue, the lay leader showing him around couldn’t find his keys to the building.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry I can get a key from any congregant,'” Blumenfeld recalled. “I said, ‘What, all 40 of them have keys to the synagogue?’ And he said, ‘Why not, it belongs to them.'”

The Conservative and Reform movements both run summer training programs to help lay leaders learn the basics of running a service, read Torah, teach Hebrew school, perform baby-namings, even conduct funerals.

“Everything except officiating at weddings,” said Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, director of worship, music and religious living for URJ.

Wasserman said about half of this year’s participants in the Reform movement’s synagogue associate course come from lay-led congregations. The others want to learn skills to help support their clergy.

One Texas congregation sends people every year, she said.

“They have a rabbi but can’t afford a second clergy, so they are building up their lay leadership,” she noted.

But it’s the lay-led congregations who really benefit, she said.

“It’s amazing the difference it makes in their congregational life,” she said.

Last year, Temple Kol Shalom, a Reform congregation with 47 families in Placerville, decided to send Dale Wallerstein, a chiropractor who had been acting as a cantorial soloist for years.

The temple had been hiring visiting rabbis and student rabbis. Finally, Wallerstein said, “we looked at continuity and consistency issues and the cost, and decided it would be good if I learned how to give dvar Torahs,” or interpretations of the Torah, “do funerals and provide pastoral care.”

After completing the two-year course, which meets for two weeks each summer, and attending a winter session on Jewish education, Wallerstein said she is “thrilled” with what she’s learned.

Even more than actual skills, she said the course has “given me confidence, which adds to my credibility,” and showed her “how to access areas I hadn’t know about, so I can direct our adult education to a different place.”

Blumenfeld, now retired from his visiting rabbi days, said larger congregations and their rabbis have a lot to learn from small, lay-led groups.

“Every rabbinic student should spend time in one of these congregations,” he said. “They have such heart.”


Rabbi Revolution

Picture major rabbinic leaders of Los Angeles gathering to discuss the future of synagogue funding. Now, instead of seasoned rabbis with well-earned wrinkles and gray hair, picture a group of energized new leaders in their 30s and 40s.

With the retirement this year of several prominent senior rabbis, youthful faces have come to occupy the majority of Westside pulpits and others throughout the city, a confluence of vitality that has the potential to herald the beginning of a new era for the wider Los Angeles Jewish community.

Along with the try-anything spirit of youth, these rabbis bring a refreshingly unladen approach to working with each other and a determination to quicken the momentum of outreach and spirituality that characterized the last decade. In many cases, however, this freshman class lacks a local track record to back up its innovations and represents a loss of communal memory and an attenuated commitment to that which the previous generation held dear.

All the young rabbis expressed admiration for the older generation of rabbis who built the community, and now they have set out on a path that falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between evolution and revolution.

Just how things fall into place will affect not only the style and substance of synagogue life, but the entire Los Angeles Jewish community.

"Ultimately, the synagogue has the opportunity to inspire, to teach, to create a sense of community and connectedness and to enhance Jewishness," said Marvin Schotland, president and chief executive of the Jewish Community Foundation, who, along with Jewish Federation President John Fishel, co-hosted the meeting with rabbis this month.

Among those sitting around the table were Rabbi Steven Leder, 43, who on June 1 becomes senior rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, when Rabbi Harvey Fields retires; Rabbi David Wolpe, 44, who has been rabbi at Sinai Temple for six years; and Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who at 47 and with 17 years of service at Young Israel of Century City, is the most senior rabbi among Orthodox congregations on the Westside.

In the past year, Rabbi Morley Feinstein, 49, became senior rabbi at University Synagogue in Brentwood, after Rabbi Allen Freehling became rabbi emeritus; Rabbi Ken Chasen, 37, will be arriving from Westchester, N.Y., this summer to become senior rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple, where Rabbi Sanford Ragins will become emeritus.

While other rabbis are retiring — Gilbert Kollin at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, Eli Schochet several years ago at Shomrei Torah in Woodland Hills — the generational shift is especially concentrated on the Westside.

"There is an opportunity for the generation of rabbis coming into this community to create a glorious future together, not just making Shabbos for ourselves, but creating a wider Jewish community that is strong and vibrant," said Feinstein, who has won many admirers in his first 10 months at University Synagogue.

While all the new senior rabbis are men, Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills doesn’t think that point should be overblown.

"The fact that there aren’t women at this moment stepping up as senior rabbis in major congregations doesn’t mean for a moment that there isn’t an extraordinarily rich and talented group of women colleagues who in time will, I’m sure, have open to them all of the different choices that the American rabbinate has to offer," she said.

In fact, some of those women — Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh at Temple Israel of Hollywood, Rabbi Sherre Hirsch at Sinai Temple — have been mainstays in the interdenominational cooperation that is emerging as a hallmark of this generation of Los Angeles rabbis, many of whom are close friends and expressed an interest in working together.

"Without a lot of the baggage of interdenominational squabbling that was really a main characteristic of the generation above us, we have been able to define a new era in interdenominational relationships," said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, 39, of B’nai David-Judea Congregation.

The Jewish Community Foundation has opened the question of whether the new era demands a new model of funding. It has suspended its program of seeding individual programs at synagogues — a total of $100,000 last year — as it examines whether that money might be better spent on a communitywide endeavor in the model of Synagogue 2000, a revitalization program to bring fresh ideas and energy to congregations.

Community leaders are hoping that pooled resources will go far in giving the current generation of spiritual seekers the fulfillment they are looking for, perhaps even winning back the many Jews who have left the fold in the past several decades.

"The younger rabbis coming in now are facing in a sharper and more intense fashion the dislocation and erosion of the Jewish community," said Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, who at 78 brings some of the most cutting-edge ideas and programs to the community. "It is much more difficult to be a rabbi in the 21st century."

The current generation has been reared on new ideas about spirituality, egalitarianism, social justice and tikkun olam (repairing the world) and is equipped with — and challenged by — new modes of communication.

It is also a generation of rabbis and congregants who are grappling with a growing distance from the drama that shaped the modern Jew — the immigrant experience, the Holocaust, the creation of Israel. Population surveys depict rapidly declining numbers of Jews and dissipating affiliation.

Schulweis lays some of the blame on his colleagues, who he said neglected to address the growing desire for spirituality and the big questions people had about Judaism.

"There is a lack of philosophical and theological response to people’s needs," he said. "Normally unspoken, not articulated, there are questions of God, of evil, of conflict with scientific outlook…. You just scratch the surface and you’ll see it there."

While older rabbis had to retool their thinking midcareer, rabbis in their 30s and 40s are more prepared for moderating interactive Torah study in place of formal oration, delivering sermons that focus on individual spiritual growth and intellectually challenging an educated core. Text study has become more central to these rabbis, whose ordination process required a year of study in Israel.

But some older rabbis fear that the renewed spiritual quest and the desire for more meaningful Jewish rituals and observance may come at a cost.

"There is an excessive interest in finding satisfaction in religion rather than challenge," said Ragins, who has served Leo Baeck Temple since 1964. "People want religion to make them happy, and I don’t think that is the job of religion. I think the job of religion is to help us deal with life, and sometimes that means things have to upset us."

Ragins and several other senior rabbis worry that the focus on Jewish continuity has left little interest in interfaith dialogue and building bridges to other ethnic communities.

"If all of this means that there is a withdrawal from the larger community, and if that means there is going to be a sense of provincialism and a lack of contact and interaction with others, that will work as a detriment to the welfare of the larger community in which we all live," said Freehling, who is currently the executive director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission.

Whether youth is the key ingredient necessary to deal with these new challenges is yet to be determined. In this younger-is-better age of botox and Tiger Woods, presumptions abound.

"You find that, contrary to the conventional belief, younger people can be very conservative and fearful of change," Schulweis said.

"The rabbinate, like so much else in the Jewish mind, is so linked to the bourgeois temperament and the corporate structure of the way life is organized that it is not a ground in which creative thought can always take root," warned Rabbi Leonard Beerman, founder of Leo Baeck Temple, who retired 16 years ago.

Some wonder whether young rabbis will have the same fundraising clout as their older colleagues. Leder, who has been at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for 16 years (see box below), has already begun pulling his weight in that area, said Bruce Friedman, incoming president at the synagogue.

"People tend to gravitate to people in their generation, and we’re already seeing that" in involvement and contributions from younger people, Friedman said.

The younger rabbis recognize the limitations of not having the life experience of an older rabbi.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, who 10 years ago became rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood when he was 28, said the first funeral at which he officiated was the second funeral he had ever attended.

"Until I experienced, about six years ago, the death of my mother, I had no idea what I was doing at a funeral," he said.

In the Orthodox community in the Pico-Robertson area, nearly every one of the pulpit rabbis is in his 30s or 40s — a situation that leaves some with mixed feelings.

"It is both liberating and at times frightening," Kanefsky said. "There are moments of self-doubt that would be clarified if there were a grand scholar figure who would help define the center of gravity for the community."

On the other hand, the open slate has been a breeding ground for creativity, and the lack of a firm hierarchy among colleagues has led to friendship and cooperation.

Rabbi Jonathan Muskat, 33, came to Congregation Mogen David last year, and Rabbi Steven Weil, 37, took over for Rabbi Abner Weiss at Congregation Beth Jacob two years ago.

Joining them this summer will be Nachum Kosofsky, a 33-year-old rabbi who will lead Congregation Shaarei Tefilah in Hancock Park.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, 39, founding rabbi at Kehillat Yavneh in Hanock Park, echoes other young rabbis in recognizing that what is being built now is only possible because of the infrastructure built and nurtured by the previous generation of rabbis.

"We have to be respectful of the achievements of rabbis who have been here so many years and helped build this community," Korobkin said, "and at the same time, try to identify those areas where there is room for greater achievement for the community."

The Frozen Chosen

Although my rabbinic colleagues will always go the extra mile to serve their communities, I believe I actually cover the most miles in my commute: Every other month or so, I start my journey at 4:30 a.m. in the North Valley and end it some 10 hours later in a small airport in Juneau, Ala. Outside the gate, a member of the Juneau Jewish Community (JJC) smiles and waves to me — a weekend of serving the Frozen Chosen begins.

Through many years of rabbinic traveling and teaching, I’ve been blessed to serve congregations from Long Island to Maui and from Canada to Australia. I’ve prayed in shuls from Transylvania to Argentina, and I’ve discovered that in all the world Juneau’s community is unique. The fusion of Alaskan life and Jewish tradition never ceases to amaze me.

The JJC presently has about 40 core households and no permanent building. We often pray in local senior centers, churches or members’ homes.

I began learning about Alaskan customs during my first Shabbat morning service in spring of 2001. I sat in a cozy, rustic living room, and as I prepared to sing an opening nigun, I looked around the crowded room and realized I was surrounded by a circle of smiling faces and wiggling toes — I was the only one wearing shoes. I then noticed the mountain of rubber shoes and winter boots piled near the door.

"It’s always snowy, slushy or just plain muddy in Juneau," the president said. "We don’t wear shoes in our houses."

So I quickly added my black dress heels to the pile, and now know how to lead home-based services in stocking feet.

Jews initially arrived in Alaska in the mid-19th century as whalers and traders. Eventually, Jews began to settle in the territory, teaching their traditions and learning about native ways. Over time, Jews married natives and Jewish family names are not uncommon among native peoples. An unexpected name emerged among the natives of a Northwestern tribe, which resides in the area around Bethel. The tribe is known as the Yupiks, and numerous marriages have occurred between Yupiks and Jews. The offspring actually call themselves "Jew-piks," proud of each culture and welcome in Bethel’s small Jewish community.

Of course, Juneau is Alaska’s capital; this year, when the legislative session began, the Jewish population swelled, because four Jewish legislators and their families joined the JJC. Juneau is a very political little town, and many JJC members serve the government in some capacity. Before one of my last visits, one of the members unexpectedly arranged for me to open a session at the state House of Representatives. Although I was ambivalent at first, because of church-state issues, I realized that my participation was important to the Jewish community.

"A rabbi hasn’t opened a session in years," they told me, "and most legislators have never even heard of a female rabbi."

With some hesitation, I accepted the honor, viewing it as a unique opportunity to teach and to offer a context for making the decisions of governing. Careful to avoid explicit reference to God and phrases such as "let us pray," I offered these words to open the legislative session on Jan. 27:

"In ancient days, the sages of the Talmud — who compiled Jewish law and lore — taught that ‘every deliberation conducted for the sake of heaven will … have lasting value.’ As it is said in the ancient tongue: Kol machloket she’he l’shem shamayim, sofah l’hitkayem. (Pirke Avot 5:19)

"May your deliberations, in these honorable halls, truly be for the sake of heaven. May your discussions genuinely be for the sake of the men and women who depend on you, as well as the innocent children and the wild creatures whose care is entrusted to you. Through your debates, may you honestly pursue the best interests of those who dwell in the cities, towns, villages and untamed places of this great state. May you also fulfill your sacred obligation to protect this precious land itself.

"May you continue to be a privileged partner with the Eternal Holy Source of Life to protect and promote the well-being of those you serve — and may all your deliberations truly be of lasting value. Cain y’hi ratzon, so may it be."

While remarkable opportunities like addressing the House make serving in Juneau exciting, unexpected daily activities and conversations make it unforgettable. In the winter, it was amazing to sing "Shechecheyanu" as congregants and I stood beside an iceberg that had frozen in Mendenhall Lake in front of Mendenhall Glacier. An equally memorable moment occurred on an earlier visit, as I discussed a bar mitzvah project with a 12-year-old Alaskan student; he wanted to make a shofar.

"Great," I said, "what kind of horn will you use?"

He replied "Dahl sheep — they’re all over."

"And how will you get the horn?" I asked.

"Well," he said matter-of-factly, "Dad and I will go hunting."

Only in Alaska, I laughed to myself, feeling, again that the commute is always worthwhile.

Sheryl Nosan is rabbi of Temple Beth Torah of the San Fernando Valley in Granada Hills. She will be returning to Alaska on May 30.

Domestic Violence: A Jewish Issue, Too

During Jewish holidays and festivals, many of us recite the
familiar blessings for our loved ones. As a Jewish communal professional for 30
years and a synagogue member for 23 years, I wonder why congregations don’t devote the
same time and attention during religious services to discussions of Jewish
family issues as we give to prayers for the Jewish family. The former might
make the latter more meaningful.

One of these issues is domestic violence, in all its
virulent forms and varieties. Jews, despite their reputation as a peaceful and
family oriented ethno-religious group, are not immune from domestic violence.

Nevertheless, there is a prevalent myth that Jewish men don’t
beat or sexually abuse their wives and children. When there is a publicized
incident involving a Jewish family, Jews gasp in horror and disbelief. After
all, these things don’t happen in the Jewish community.

Perhaps the most notorious incident in recent memory was the
1988 story of Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum, an upper-middle class Jewish
couple in New York City. Steinberg was an attorney who systematically beat his

Both Steinberg and Nussbaum beat their 6-year-old adopted
daughter, Lisa, and it was Steinberg who struck the blow that killed her. When
this violence was discovered and during the subsequent trial, this family was
headline news in this country. How could a Jewish couple be so physically
violent? Yes, Jews commit acts of domestic violence, like our gentile

It is estimated that 2 million women in the United States
suffer as victims of spousal-partner abuse each year, and that between 3,000
and 4,000 battered women in this country die each year from physical abuse.
Equally tragic is that 2,500 abused children in the United States die each year
from abuse. Figures show that 95 percent of the perpetrators of domestic
violence are men.

The incidence of domestic violence in the Jewish community
approximates the incidence in the general community. Domestic violence is an
equal opportunity phenomenon. It transcends racial, religious, ethnic,
geographic, sexual orientation and socioeconomic boundaries. Children who are
victims of abuse often become abusive as adults, abusing their children and
spouses or partners.

In Jewish homes, there is an intensified shame and stigma
associated with family violence. When there is violence in the Jewish family,
both victims and perpetrators go through great pains to conceal it from their
friends, employers, clergy and other segments of their social and community
life. Jewish victims tend to go to family and friends for shelter and financial

What can the Jewish community do?

Spokespeople in the Jewish community, such as rabbis,
educators and other Jewish communal professionals, should learn the following:

1. Signs and symptoms of victims, as well as perpetrators.

2. Mandatory reporting requirements, with respect to child
and elder abuse.

3. Local community resources, such as the community’s Jewish
Family Service. The staff there can provide many direct services and refer the
calling party to other important resources, such as domestic violence shelters,
law enforcement agencies, other social service agencies, legal assistance,
medical care and financial assistance.

4. Rabbis and other congregational leaders should talk about
domestic violence at religious services, in children’s classrooms and in
adult-education programs. Domestic violence issues should be on the curriculum
for all age groups, as prominent as Torah study. Identify religious and sacred
texts and traditions that are the foundations for the sanctity of life and
teach them to all congregational members.

While we are talking here primarily about physical abuse,
let’s remember that relationship abuse can also be economic, emotional, verbal
and sexual. All forms of abuse are seriously damaging to individuals and

If you know someone who is being abused, be supportive and understanding.
Help the victim develop a safety plan and assist the victim in securing
assistance to ensure survival, safety and recovery.

If our religious traditions believe that human life is
sacred, then domestic violence is wrong in any form and under any
circumstances. We have a collective responsibility to educate ourselves about
the problem and to do everything possible to prevent domestic violence and
reach out and help victims and perpetrators alike. Â

Mel Roth is executive director of Jewish Family Service of Orange County.

Congregational Directory

The listings below are for Jewish congregations within the geographic area of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Congregations in areas adjacent to Los Angeles Federation can be found by calling neighboring federations:

San Gabriel Valley: Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys at (626) 967-3656;

Southeastern Los Angeles County: Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County at (562) 426-7601, ext. 1314 or 1008;

The Internet is a great tool to use in screening synagogues. Many, many congregations have Web sites, as do the national offices of the major Jewish movements (which have links to those synagogues with Web sites). Also, local movement offices may be able to help you find a congenial synagogue:

Chabad Lubavitch West Coast Headquarters (310) 208-7511;

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (323) 933-7491;

Union of American HebrewCongregations (Reform) (323) 653-9962;

Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (310) 229-9000;

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (818) 986-0907;

Key to denominations:

A denominational label means that a congregation is formally affiliated with a Jewish religious movement OR that it generally follows the philosophy and worship style of that movement.

(R) Reform

(C) Conservative

(O) Orthodox

(T) Traditional (Orthodox-style service without separation of men and women)

(S) Sephardic, including Persian and Middle Eastern congregations

(Rec.) Reconstructionist

(Ren.) Jewish Renewal

(I) Independent

Westside South

Adat Shalom (C) Rancho Park area: (310) 475-4985;

Temple Akiba (R) Culver City: (310) 398-5783;

Temple Beth Torah (C) Mar Vista: (310) 398-4536

Bais Chabad of Simcha Monica (O) Santa Monica: (310) 829-5620

B’nai Horin (Ren.) West Los Angeles: (310) 559-0587;

Chabad of Cheviot Hills (O): (310) 837-8083;

Chabad of Marina Del Rey (O): (310) 578-6000

The Chai Center (O): (310) 391-7995;

Temple Isaiah (R) Rancho Park: (310) 277-2772;

Kahal Joseph (S) Westwood area: (310) 474-0559

Kehillat Ma’arav (C) Santa Monica: (310) 829-0566;

Cong. Mishkon Tephilo (C) Venice: (310) 392-3029;

The Movable Minyan (I): (310) 285-3317

Nessah Educational & Cultural Center (S/O) Santa Monica: (310) 453-2218

Cong. N’vay Shalom (I): (323) 463-7728, (310) 535-1617

OhrHaTorah (I) Rancho Park area: (310) 278-9049, (818) 769-8223;

Pacific Jewish Center (O) Santa Monica: (310) 392-8749;

Sha’arei Am (R) Santa Monica; (310) 453-4276:

Sholem Community (I) Culver City: (818) 760-6625

Society for Humanistic Judaism (I): (213) 891-4303;

Westwood Kehilla (O); (310) 441-5288:

Young Israel of Santa Monica (O): (310) 314-3888

Young Israel of Venice (O): (310) 450-7541

Westside North

Beth Shir Shalom (R) Santa Monica: (310) 453-3361

Chabad of Bel Air (O): (310) 475-5311;

Chabad of Brentwood (O): (310) 826-4453

Chabad on Montana (O) Santa Monica: (310) 394-5699

Chabad of Malibu (O): (310) 456-6581

Chabad of North Beverly Hills (O): (310) 859-3948

Chabad of Pacific Palisades (O): (310) 454-7783

Temple Emanuel (R) Beverly Hills: (310) 274-6388;

Kehillat Israel (Rec.) Pacific Palisades: (310) 459-2328;

Leo Baeck Temple (R) Bel Air: (310) 476-2861;

Magen David of Beverly Hills (S/O): (310) 285-9957

Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue (Rec.): (310) 456-2178;

Sephardic Jewish Center/Persian Chabad (S/O) Beverly Hills: (310) 855-0555; (310) 275-6920

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (S/T) Westwood: (310) 475-7311

Sinai Temple (C) Westwood: (310) 474-1518

Stephen S. Wise Temple (R) Bel Air: (310) 476-8561

Synagogue for the Performing Arts (I): (310) 472-3500

University Synagogue (R) Brentwood: (310) 472-1255;

Westwood Village Synagogue (O): (310) 470-0080

Young Israel of North Beverly Hills (O): (310) 203-0170;

Hollywood/ L.A. East

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park (C): (323) 255-5416

Chabad of Greater Los Feliz (O): (323) 660-5177

Chabad of Mt. Olympus (O): (323)650-1444

Chabad Russian Synagogue (O) West Hollywood: (323) 848-2999

Creative Arts Temple (I): (323) 656-6685

Hollywood Temple Beth El (C) and Iranian American Jewish Center (S) West Hollywood: (323) 656-3150

Temple Israel of Hollywood (R): (323) 876-8330;

Temple Knesset Israel of Hollywood (C): (323) 665-5171

Cong. Kol Ami (R) West Hollywood: (310) 248-6320;

Shir Hadash (R) Mid-Wilshire: (310) 456-5323

Wilshire Boulevard Temple (R) Mid-Wilshire; (213) 388-2401


Aaron David Cong. (O): (323) 933-1411

Ahavas Yisroel Syn. (O): (323) 937-1247

Cong. Bais Naftoli (O): (323) 931-2476

Cong. Bais Yehuda (O): (323) 936-7568

Cong. Bet Elazar (O): (323) 857-0577

Bet Midrash (O): (323) 939-0298

Cong. Beth Israel (T): (323) 651-4022

Chabad of Hancock Park (O): (323) 954-8381

Chabad Mid-City Center (O): (323) 655-9282

Etz Jacob Cong. (O): (323) 938-2619

Jewish Learning Exchange (O): (323) 857-0923;

Kehilas Yaakov (O): (323) 935-8572

Midrash Od Yosef Hai (S/O): (323) 653-5163

Cong. Ner Israel (O): (323) 933-3405

Cong. Ohel David (O): (323) 651-3594

Cong. Ohev Shalom (O): (323) 653-7190

Cong. Shaarei Tefila (O): (323) 938-7147

Temple Shalom for the Arts (I): (310) 858-1100

Tifereth Zvi (O): (323) 931-3252

Torah Ohr (S): (323) 939-6763;

Cong. Torah V’Chesed (O): (323) 653-5083

Yismach Moshe Cong. (O): (323) 939-2681

Young Israel of Hancock Park (O): (323) 931-4030

Young Israel of Los Angeles (O): (323) 655-0300


Aish Los Angeles (O): (310) 278-8672;

Anshe Emes Synagogue (O): (310) 275-5640;

Temple Beth Am (C): (310) 652-7353;

Cong. Beth Chayim Chadashim (R): (323) 931-7023;

Beth Jacob Cong. (O): (310) 278-1911;

Temple Beth Zion (C): (323) 933-9136;

B’nai David-Judea Cong. (O): (310) 276-9269;

Congregation Bais Bezalel (O): (310)282-0444

Chabad Israeli Center (O): (310) 271-6193

Kehillat Hashalom (O): (310) 652-9014;

Cong. Knesseth Israel of Beverlywood (T): (310) 839-4962

Midrasho Shel Shem (O): (323) 935-6081

Cong. Mogen David (T): (310) 556-5609

Ohel Moshe Cong. (S): (310) 652-1533

Torat Hayim Synagogue (S/O): (310) 652-8349

Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle (I): (310) 552-2007;

Yeshiva of Los Angeles Beis Midrash (O): (310) 553-4478 ext. 296

Young Israel of Beverly Hills (O): (310) 275-3020

Young Israel of Century City (O): (310) 273-6954;

San Fernando Valley West

Temple Ahavat Shalom (R) Northridge: (818) 360-2258;

Temple Aliyah (C) Woodland Hills: (818) 346-3545;

The Ami Havurah (C) Woodland Hills: (818) 884-6042

Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills (O): (818) 712-0365

Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf (R) Tarzana: (818) 363-5580

Temple Beth Torah (R) Granada Hills: (818) 831-0835;

B’nai Ami Syn. (C) Chatsworth: (818) 700-0492;

Chabad of Encino (O): (818) 784-9986

Chabad of Northridge (O): (818) 368-3937

Chabad of Tarzana (O): (818) 758-1818

Eretz Cultural Center (S/T) Reseda: (818) 342-9303

Temple Judea (R) Tarzana: (818) 758-3800;

Kol Tikvah (R) Woodland Hills: (818) 348-0670

Makom Ohr Shalom (Ren.) Woodland Hills: (310) 479-0559;

Temple Ner Maarav (C) Encino: (818) 345-7833

Temple Ramat Zion (C) Northridge: (818) 360-1881;

Sephardic Cohen Syn. (O) Tarzana: (818) 705-4557

Shomrei Torah Syn. (C) West Hills: (818) 346-0811;

Valley Beth Shalom (C) Encino: (818) 788-6000;

Valley Outreach Syn. (R): (818) 348-4867

Young Israel of Northridge (O): (818) 368-2221

San Fernando Valley East

Adat Ari El (C) North Hollywood: (818) 766-9426;

Adat Yeshurun Cong. (O) North Hollywood: (818) 766-4682

Bais Medresh Ohr Simcha (O) North Hollywood: (818) 760-2189

Beis Midrash Toras Hashem (O) Valley Village: (818) 980-6934

Bet Midrash Mishkan Israel (S) Sherman Oaks: (818) 901-1598

Temple Beth Emet (R) Burbank: (818) 843-4787

Temple Beth Hillel (R) Valley Village: (818) 763-9148

Cong. Beth Meier (T) Studio City: (818) 769-0515

Cong. Beth Ohr (I) Studio City: (818) 773-3663

Temple B’nai Hayim (C) Sherman Oaks: (818) 788-4664

Burbank Temple Emanu El (C): (818) 845-1734;

Chabad of Glendale (O): (818) 240-2750

Chabad of North Hollywood (O): (818) 989-9539

Chabad of Sherman Oaks (O): (818) 789-0850

Em Habanim Cong. (S/O) North Hollywood: (818) 762-7779

Shaarey Zedek Cong. (O) North Hollywood: (818) 763-0560

Temple Sinai of Glendale (R): (818) 246-8101

Valley Beth Israel (C) Sun Valley: (818) 782-2281

Valley Mishkan Israel Cong. (O) North Hollywood: (818) 769-8043

Yad Avraham (O) North Hollywood: (818) 766-6736

Conejo Valley/Santa Clarita

Temple Adat Elohim (R) Thousand Oaks: (805) 497-7101;

Temple Beth Ami (R) Santa Clarita: (661) 255-6410

Temple Beth Haverim (C) Agoura Hills: (818) 991-7111;

Beth Knesset Bamidbar (R) Lancaster: (661) 942-4415;

Cong. Beth Shalom (C) Santa Clarita: (661) 254-2411

Cong. B’nai Emet (R) Simi Valley: (805) 581-3723;

Chabad of Agoura Hills/Chabad of Conejo/Chabad of Oak Park (O): (818) 991-0991;

Chabad of Santa Clarita Valley (O): (661) 254-3434

Chabad of Simi Valley (O): (805) 577-0573

Temple Etz Chaim (C) Thousand Oaks: (805) 497-6891;

Cong. Or Ami (R) Agoura Hills: (818) 880-6818;

South Bay

Temple Beth El (R) San Pedro: (310) 833-2467;

B’nai Tikvah Cong. (C) Westchester: (310) 645-6262;

Chabad of the Beach Cities (O) Redondo Beach: (310) 372-6879;

Chabad of Palos Verdes (O): (310) 544-5544;

Chabad of the South Bay (O) Lomita: (310) 326-8234

Temple Menorah (R) Redondo Beach/Torrance: (310) 316-8444

Cong. Ner Tamid of the South Bay (C) Rancho Palos Verdes: (310) 377-6986

Temple Rodeph Shalom (R) El Segundo: (310) 390-3242;

Southwest Temple Beth Torah (C) Gardena: (310) 327-8734

Cong. Tifereth Jacob (C) Manhattan Beach: (310) 546-3667