Behind the Bimah
In “Teaching Your Children About God,” Rabbi David Wolpe suggests taking our children to a sanctuary when services are not being conducted to give them a sense of the
I love this idea. I have been in my own sanctuary at odd hours, and even if I am there for “business reasons” — taking pictures for a new synagogue brochure, for example — I feel different in the sanctuary than I do in any other room.
Seeing the eternal light, knowing the Torah is sleeping inside the ark, gives me the feeling of being on holy ground.
But here’s a variation on Wolpe’s idea — let your children stand in awe in front of the bimah, but then take them behind the bimah. Raise the curtain and demystify the sanctuary. By doing so you help them feel comfortable.
Many of my adult friends still feel uncomfortable in synagogue. To them, it is a place where you have to go — where you have to sit still and say meaningless prayers in a difficult language, where you have to listen to lectures from a rabbi who you do not know personally and are, perhaps, a little intimidated by. No wonder they only attend services twice a year.
I was extremely fortunate as a child. My family “raised the curtain” for me. And they did so by doing two things.
The first is unique to my family — my uncle is Cantor Saul Hammerman, who is now cantor emeritus of Beth El in Baltimore. Before my parents affiliated with our Philadelphia synagogue, they would take us to Baltimore to be with our extended family for holidays. I remember sitting in Beth El, an imposing synagogue to anyone, but even more so to a little girl. I looked up at the enormous ark and wondered how anyone could ever reach the Torahs.
I listened to the brilliant Rabbi Jacob Agus, and wondered how old I would be when I would understand his sermons. And I listened to the chazzan — so imposing in his white robes and his big white hat with the pompom on top (oh, how my sister and I loved that hat). When he sang, his voice wafted over me — both beautiful and frightening in its power and passion.
But, then, during the Torah procession, something would happen. My sister and I would scramble to the end of the aisle to kiss the Torah, and as the procession passed the cantor would wink at us and flick his tallit so that the fringes brushed our cheeks. We would giggle, and the imposing chazzan would once again become our beloved Uncle Saul.
At other times, Uncle Saul took us to his office and even showed us where his robes hung and how he entered and exited the bimah. Those special visits made the synagogue seem less foreboding, but no less magical.
The second thing my parents did was be involved with our synagogue. Their involvement inspired my own. I remember being on the bimah with the choir, making macaroni in the kitchen between tutoring the younger students and waiting for my own evening classes to begin, and even raking leaves at my rabbi’s house during our Kadima “Rent-A-Rake” fundraiser. This involvement, this ownership, made synagogue a comfortable place.
And so, the very first thing I did when my husband and I joined our shul was to volunteer. I didn’t like the feeling of entering the synagogue and not knowing what it was like behind the bimah. By volunteering, I was able to feel at home. I did this for me and I did it for my children.
This is a gift every Jewish parent can give to her child. Not all families have an Uncle Saul, but everyone can volunteer. Synagogues desperately need lay leaders. It is so easy to get involved — just call and ask how you can help. And then? Well, you will have raised the curtain, you will learn that a synagogue is not run on some intimidating magic, but by people you know and care about. Synagogue will no longer be a frightening Oz, but rather a welcoming home.
Entebbe’s Message Resonates 30 Years Later
Last month, we airmen and veterans of Squadron 103, one of the oldest units of the Israeli air force, bid farewell to a comrade, Lt. Col. Moshe Naveh. His untimely death shocked us all, and as I drove to his funeral memories of our joint service came to mind.
It was on the third day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Since families were evacuated from the airbases, Moshe invited me to stay with him at his home. I returned from a long night flight, and when he opened the door his eyes were filled with tears: Just hours earlier, his elder brother Issachar, an F-4 Phantom pilot, was killed while trying to land his badly damaged aircraft.
Less than three years later, Moshe was part of one of the C-130 Hercules aircrews who flew to Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue the hijacked passengers of Air France flight No. 139. He never talked about it, but I felt that in his own silent way, he was proudly carrying on in the footsteps of his fallen brother.
Now Moshe is gone too. As I entered the graveyard, I saw his mother. I started to mumble my condolences when this old woman, a survivor of Auschwitz, gave me a stern look.
“Spare your words,” she said dryly. “It’s between me and God.”
What could I possibly say to this woman, who had lost all her family in the Holocaust, who married another Holocaust survivor, started a new chapter in Israel and gave birth to two sons — only to lose them as well as her husband, who died heartbroken after Issachar was killed?
Nevertheless, when my turn came to give a eulogy, I addressed Moshe’s mother directly.
“When you were in the death camp,” I said, “there were Allied bombers flying over your head, yet their navigators didn’t mark on their maps a target called Auschwitz. Jews were murdered, while no one cared enough to drop even one single bomb on the gas chambers to stop their massacre. However, less than 30 years later, Jews were in danger again, but this time there was a Jewish state, and there were Jewish airmen flying to save their brothers and sisters. And your son, Moshe, was one of them, with Entebbe boldly marked on his map.”
She took my hand and her eyes softened.
Indeed, the Entebbe raid, carried out 30 years ago on July 4, 1976, touched the raw nerves of every Jew.
When the Air France plane landed in Entebbe and the hijackers started to separate the Jewish passengers from the others, it brought back dark memories of the selection in Auschwitz, where Joseph Mengele singled out Moshe’s mother for life while sending hundreds of thousands to their death.
But times have changed, and Jews are not helpless anymore. With the creation of the State of Israel, they regained not only their sovereignty but also the capability to defend themselves.
In December 1942, Dolek Liebeskind, one of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in the Krakow Ghetto, led an attack on a German cafe.
“We are fighting a lost battle,” he told his comrades. “All we are fighting for is three lines in the annals of history.”
The Entebbe raid won its much-deserved lines in the history books, but it wasn’t a lost battle at all: It was the daring act of a self-confident Jewish state, determined to rescue Jews whenever and wherever they’re in trouble.
As these lines are being written, Israel has unleashed its army again to bring home a soldier — Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who was taken captive when Palestinian gunmen stormed an Israeli army base just outside the Gaza Strip.
The Entebbe raid, however, did more than just fill the heart of every Jew with pride — or, to use the saying after the 1967 Six-Day War, “make every Jew an inch taller.” It also highlighted the sensitivity embedded in the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.
When enemies of Israel are incapable of hurting her, they pick more vulnerable targets — Jewish targets abroad. Indeed, in 1994, after an Israeli attack in Lebanon, the Hezbollah terrorist group — likely with the assistance of Iranian intelligence services — took its revenge on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people in a bombing.
In other words, all of us Jews are in this together.
The Entebbe raid also set a high moral standard, and reminded us that military means should be used first and foremost for saving lives. Now that Jews are armed again, they should be very cautious in using their power. The means should never become ends in themselves.
Finally, the planes returning the freed hostages from Entebbe to safety carried a sad message as well: Liberty can’t be won without paying a price. In one of the aircraft lay the body of Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, commander of the elite unit, who was killed in the raid.
The best of us go while serving the Jewish cause: Yoni Netanyahu during the Entebbe raid; my friend Moshe Naveh 30 years later.
Uri Dromi flew in the Israeli air force between 1966-2003. Today he is director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Senior Moments – Great-Grand Marshal
As I walked through the grounds at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), I noticed a man in a wheelchair reading a magazine. It was called “Life Extension.”
I had to laugh. Someone must have strategically placed this magazine, like a prop, for the interview I was about to conduct. Talk about life extension! My subject, Sylvia Harmatz, could be the poster child. She’s 107 years old.
And for the sixth year in a row, Harmatz will be grand marshal of the Dec. 4 Walk of Ages, a 5K walk/run to raise funds for the JHA’s vital services.
She called JHA “a haven for people who have nowhere’s else to stay, like me. I sometimes wonder how in the world can they like so many people? They are so good to everyone!”
Since so many people seem interested in living forever, Harmatz is, of course, repeatedly asked: “What’s your secret?”
She smiles sweetly, showing great patience: “I don’t know.”
She doesn’t eat meat, but she does like candy, “because I need something to replace the meat.”
I told her my 14-year-old son would like that strategy. She laughed.
We sat a moment, and then Harmatz said, “You know, my husband lived to 104.”
In fact, Sylvia and Louis Harmatz were married for 80 years.
“He was very much in love with me,” she told me, with a smile.
I said maybe it was love, not a special diet, that contributed to their longevity.
“I think so,” Harmatz agreed. “We were very close. He wanted to be with me all the time. He never walked with me that he didn’t hold my hand. He was afraid I was going to run away from him, because I always walked so fast!”
The couple, who met at a dance in Brooklyn, married in 1921. They continued to love dancing and had a chance to waltz together after they moved to the JHA in 1994.
“We were always together,” Harmatz recalled. “He used to get up at night and cover me [with a blanket], to make sure I wouldn’t catch a cold. He took care of me. And I don’t know why, because I was always very strong and independent. I guess he noticed that I needed to be taken care of. When he passed away, I reassured him that I wouldn’t be long, that I’d be coming to meet him soon. But it hasn’t been that way.”
Harmatz laughed, but looked a little sad.
Born in Hungary in 1898, her earliest memories are of her father, a rabbi.
“He took me everywhere with him,” she said. “And I remember him teaching the children who couldn’t speak Hungarian, so they could learn too. I loved to sit and listen to him.”
Harmatz had her fourth birthday on board the ship to America.
Life was hard in this new country, says Harmatz, but she has fond memories of her parents’ relationship.
“My mother was very beautiful and they were very much in love. I used to know when they were going to have relations because [my father] used to leave his yarmulke on the bed.” Harmatz said with a laugh. “He was telling my mother, ‘Don’t forget, I’ll be there tonight!'”
Her father died at 42, leaving his wife with nine children. Harmatz started working at 13 to help out, then went to night school to become a nurse.
After marriage, she became a homemaker, raising the couple’s two daughters. There are now five grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.
In 1935, Sylvia and Louis decided to come West, and settled in Hollywood. “I used to go downtown for seven cents on the Red Car!” Harmatz said.
Her political involvement as an avid Democrat goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt. “Politics was my piece de resistance!” said Harmatz, who would go door-to-door seeking donations. “I knocked at a door once and [asked for] a dollar. The woman says, ‘No I’m a Republican.’ So I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, all you have to do is change your affiliation!'”
One thing that pleases Harmatz about being the grand marshal is riding in a convertible. In fact, last year when it rained on the parade, someone suggested they put up the top, but Harmatz wanted it left down.
“I’m not a fussy person, but I do like a red convertible,” she said, laughing. I asked her if red is her favorite color. “Yes, I like red. In fact, I’m going to be buried in a red dress with polka dots.”
Harmatz has been interviewed by CNN, local newspapers and radio stations. I asked if she likes being a celebrity.
“It’s not important to me,” she said. “I like it because it’s helping the Home. I want the Home to have everything they need. They asked me, ‘What do you want for all your trouble?’ I said, ‘I want a little plaque that says: You too can be involved.'”
For registration and sponsorship for Walk of Ages VI, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org.
Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at email@example.com and www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.
A Swiss Family Bind — No Hotel Heirs
In Switzerland, resorts like St. Moritz and Arosa are second only to chocolate and cheese fondue in popularity. But these two disparate destinations, more easily accessible by train than car, both offer something rarely found in other Swiss mountain retreats — kosher hotels.
The Hotel Edelweiss in St. Moritz and the Hotel Metropol in Arosa are Jewish sanctuaries for observant tourists, offering everything from kosher dining and space for simchas to daily religious services and snow-melt mikvahs. They are family-run havens that inspire fierce loyalty in their guests, sometimes drawing generations of families from countries like England, Israel and the United States.
As the hotels prepare for the big Pesach rush that marks the end of the winter season, the couples that run the Edelweiss and Metropol are looking forward to returning home to Zurich. But they are also wrestling with doubts about the future of these kosher hideaways, and one question looms: Who will take over the family business?
In glitzy St. Moritz, women don fur coats as they window shop stores like Gucci and Armani, and the ski instructors suit up in Prada-designed uniforms. People flock to the town’s spas and nosh in its tea rooms, or they turn to funicular-accessible Corviglia for skiing and hiking.
A short walk from the central area of St. Moritz-Dorf brings guests to the Hotel Edelweiss, a family affair that has served kosher-conscious consumers since 1883. Leopold Bermann grew up in the hotel, which catered to Jewish American soldiers after World War II. He is the third Bermann to run the Edelweiss, having taken over for his father at 22 in 1953. His British-born wife, Rita, has worked alongside “Poldi,” as his family calls him, since 1960.
“All of our children have been married here,” said Leopold Bermann, referring to his four daughters and one son.
Now 73, Bermann continues to operate what he says is the world’s oldest-operating Jewish hotel, but he has no clear successor. Only one of his five children, Shoshana, still lives in Switzerland, and while his son, Josef, bought the hotel a few years ago, he leaves the management up to his parents. His son has expressed no interest in returning to Switzerland from Israel, so the Bermanns are pinning their hopes on the grandchildren.
Their 20-year-old granddaughter from Jerusalem, Rachel Bitton, spent her first season working at the hotel this winter. She’s looking forward to starting a family, but she’s not sure if she wants to do it in Switzerland.
“For now, I still want to live in Israel,” she said. “I’m really connected to the hotel, and I feel like I need to be here, but I don’t know.”
Rita Bermann, who left London to be with her husband, hopes Bitton will make a similar choice to carry on the family tradition.
“She’s the best to take over,” she said.
A half-day rail trip shared by the Glacier Express and Rhätischen Bahn takes travelers through Graubünden’s glacial valleys. It’s clear when arriving in Arosa that the resort is the polar opposite of St. Moritz.
“St. Moritz is high society. Here is a place where everyone is welcome,” said Marcel Levin, owner of Arosa’s Hotel Metropol.
One main street is the focus of all activity in this sleepy hamlet, where parents take their bundled-up babies out in sleds rather than strollers, and couples snuggle ensconced under thick blankets in horse-drawn sleighs.
Levin, 52, was born and grew up in Arosa. He talks glowingly of non-Jewish friends carrying schoolbooks for him on Shabbat and putting up a sukkah in more than a foot of snow. His father purchased the Metropol in 1949, and Levin took over the hotel in 1975, one year after he married his Israeli wife, Lea.
Levin happily shmoozes in the dining room, talking with guests as they eat, while his wife works behind the scenes with the staff. But this jovial man turns serious when he talks about the Metropol’s future. Jewish tourism is changing in Arosa, he said, and more people are starting to rent homes, turning to his hotel only for religious services and meals. It’s a sentiment echoed by the Bermanns in St. Moritz.
“Everything is going to private apartments, so we’re a bit scared,” he said.
Levin said none of his six children have expressed interest in taking over the hotel, but he still has some time on his side before he retires. “Maybe one will take it over,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
In the meantime, Marcel and Lea Levin say they still take full advantage of their seasonal stays in Arosa. A few times a week at noon, they walk to the Weisshorn and take a tram to the halfway point, the Mittlestation, to enjoy the view of towering snow-covered peaks and take in the crisp mountain air.
“We’re new people after half an hour,” Levin said.
For more information about the Hotel Edelweiss, call 011-41-(0)81-836-5555. For more information about the Hotel Metropol, call 011-41-(0)81-378-8181 or visit www.levinarosa.com.
For Swiss travel information, call (877) 794-8037 or visit www.myswitzerland.com. Switzerland Tourism paid the writer’s travel expenses.
Irvine Campus Set for Grand Opening
The Bermans and Michaels expect their daily routines and social lives will alter substantially mid-August because of membership in the county’s greatly expanded Jewish Community Center (JCC), relocated in Irvine.
"I’m looking forward to that sense of community, of running into people and they are not in their cars," said Jackie Michaels, of Irvine, whose family of six were JCC devotees elsewhere.
"It’s exciting for us to have everything so central to us," added Mark Berman, 37, of Newport Coast, whose first JCC experience was at the Costa Mesa facility’s preschool where his wife, Sharon, volunteered. Their third son is among 230 preschoolers who will be the first to swarm over the center’s pristine playgrounds and classrooms.
Four years after its genesis, the community building for the JCC and six other Jewish agencies officially opens Aug. 15. It is the centerpiece of the nearly $70 million Samueli Jewish campus, a symbol both of the community’s maturation and a hoped for renaissance of Jewish cultural life.
Met initially with skepticism by many of the community’s leaders, the project’s principal champion gradually won support for an envisioned Jewish neighborhood.
"That was my motivating factor," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who shouldered the task of raising the center’s $20 million tab, defining how it would run and reshaping its staff.
Since 2000, Stern, who runs a dental financing business, seized every business trip as a chance to scrutinize other JCCs. Such an undertaking didn’t faze the center’s president, either. Mary Ann Malkoff develops buildings for religious clients. (A tribute lunch for Malkoff is scheduled Sept. 12 as new JCC board members take office.)
The center’s catalyst was the constraints on growth at nearby Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. Its founder, Irving Gelman, coveted six adjacent acres for expansion. As the landowner refused to subdivide the parcel, industrialist Henry Samueli bought the adjoining 20 acres and an anonymous donor agreed to underwrite the upper-school expansion, a combined gift of $40 million.
"It’s the kind of opportunity you can’t let go by," Stern said.
Since he likens philanthropy to investing, Samueli said the community building is already a success. "It’s rallied so much support; the community has really stepped up. To contribute time and money, you know they all believe in it," he said.
A month of special events will follow to showcase the sort of services possible. A full fall programming catalog is to be distributed in August and most programs would start next month. Sampler programs include pilates, chamber music, a mitzvah camp, swim teams and a triathlon.
Also new is the hiring of Rabbi Rebecca Schorr as the center’s director of Jewish education, a move that initially raised territorial hackles by some pulpit rabbis. Allaying competitive concerns, Schorr said she’s focused on one-day adult education topics, preschool Judaica and serving as the staff’s pastoral counselor.
Despite higher annual fees that upset some members of the former Costa Mesa facility, more than 760 "units," comprised of singles or families, were committed as of mid-July. The tally includes 100 seniors, 40 of whom took advantage of scholarships, said Dan Bernstein, the center’s executive director.
Bernstein hoped for 500 members as of Aug. 1. His first year target is a 1,000-unit average, which he predicts will be reached by August 2005 as the roster ascends to 1,300 units.
"Nobody doesn’t come here and go ‘wow,’" said Bernstein, hired in December for his know-how opening a similar sized facility around an aging JCC in Sarasota, Fla.
With characteristic reserve, Stern is not yet popping celebratory corks.
"The feeling of exhilaration, I haven’t felt it yet," he said. Several loose ends remain, such as delivery of a $15,000 Holocaust monument. "When you have 25 of those details, there is still a lot of work to be done," he said.
Some gifts toward a $3 million endowment for the center’s overhead are still to be finalized, Stern said, though one significant piece recently fell into place. The former Jewish campus, a gift from Sandy and Allan Fainbarg and Ruth and Arnold Feurstein, was sold for $5 million to a developer. Proceeds will fund the center and the agencies’ transition costs, Stern said.
Even before the doors open, Michaels can anticipate a sense of entitlement: "It’s a place where you know you belong."
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.
Calm But Profitable
It may not seem like much — $26.67 in change — but ‘tweens
Alex and Miles Beard proved that it’s the thought that counts at The Jewish
Federation’s Feb. 23 Super Sunday phone-a-thon, during which 2,000 volunteers
raised more than $4 million from Federation sites in Los Angeles, West Hills,
At The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, Alex, 12, and
Miles, 13, arrived at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus with about $27
in coins collected from the family’s tzedakah box, earmarked just for the
Although they might not be “major donors,” the pride with
which the children handed over their contribution rivaled that of any big
macher bestowing a six-figure check. And the Beard brothers did not stop there.
They raised nearly $4,000 more on the phones.
“This will go to help Israel and to help families here so
they can get some food,” Alex said.
The Federation raised more than $4 million this year on
Super Sunday, $1 million less than last year’s $5 million tally. But organizers
say that a new fundraising strategy this year has rendered the single-day total
According to Craig Prizant, senior vice president of
campaign and marketing, the Federation’s telemarketing campaign — which
traditionally follows Super Sunday — started on Feb. 1, well before the
phone-a-thon. As a result, about $300,000 in gifts, which in previous years
would be closed by volunteers on Super Sunday, were secured before Super Sunday
2003 began. That totals $4.3 million, which, Prizant claimed, could be measured
against last year’s total because, in years past, donations reaped from the
Federation’s King David Society (for donors who contribute $25,000 and above)
were also folded into the Super Sunday figure. Since this year’s King David
Society dinner was scheduled for Feb. 27 — after Super Sunday — monies raised
from this important fundraiser could not be factored into the Sunday figure.
“The numbers are actually pretty comparable to last year,”
Prizant said of Super Sunday 2003. “These are real numbers. Last year, more
high-end donor solicitations that were taken on that day. This year, they have
yet to take place.”
Add some other varying factors — one less fundraising
session at 6505; longer phone discussions; a drive to raise donations of
returning donors — and The Federation, Prizant said, is pleased with the
results of Super Sunday 2003. He added that this year’s King David dinner, at
200 attendees, will include 50 more donors than last year’s gala.
As a result of the strategic changes, organizers decided to
have 2003’s tote board reflect the Federation’s combined 46 day
campaign-to-date numbers instead of the traditional single-day totals. Thus,
the goal was to push the overall campaign to $16 million, which actually occurred
by 6:35 p.m. — well before the 9 p.m. last call, when it surpassed $17 million.
Prizant said combining the single-day totals with the
overall campaign numbers provided a more accurate fundraising picture.
“It’s a simplistic way to look at it [by comparing Super
Sunday figures],” Prizant said. “The goal is the level of commitment and the
level of the gift. Card for card, it’s actually up from last year. Overall, I’m
thrilled at where we’re at.”
Israel, Argentina and Los Angeles’ impoverished communities continued
to be fundraising priorities for Super Sunday 2003. At the Valley Alliance, the
morning was quieter than previous years, with a handful of dignitaries showing
up, including City Councilman Alex Padilla, who made the first “official” call
and persuaded people — as only a politician can — to increase their gifts by
Across town at the Federation’s 6505 Wilshire Blvd.
headquarters, Mayor James Hahn and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo presented
contributions to Federation President John Fishel.
Super Sunday Director Rachel Kaufman, site coordinator
Jeffrey Prince and United Jewish Fund’s Carol Levy kept 6505’s stations —
including a Russian-language room — adrenalized with good cheer and Hershey’s
Anja Vyas, The Federation’s longtime director of donor
services, was energized by 6505’s young adults session, where Entertainment
division co-chair Scott Einbinder, and a Birthright Israel group, led by
Council of Jewish Life’s Sara Myers, made calls.
First-timer Meredith Fisher Bushman volunteered because,
since moving from New York last year, Federation agencies Jewish Vocational
Service and Jewish Family Service have provided her with assistance. An hour
after the young adults mixer in the Zimmer Children’s Museum, an apprehensive
Bushman was confidently manning the phones.
“It’s so easy,” Bushman said. “I was a phone donor manager
for KCRW. We raised more in an hour here today than we did there in a day.
People are so generous.”
Recent Cleveland transplant David Gitson, who now lives in
Orange County, said that Jewish Los Angeles is similar to the 80,000-member Jewish
community he left behind.
“It’s been frustrating,” Gitson said. “I’ve only gotten
three [donations]. I think the evening shift is a lot tougher because of the
Grammys, it’s Sunday night, people don’t want to be disturbed.”
But Gitson would rather be making mitzvahs than making pizza
bagels and jeering Eminem.
“It’s great to see so many people here tonight,” Gitson
“We want to deepen our involvement,” said Danielle Swartz,
who participated with husband Michael Swartz.
It was fundraising as usual, as Monica Lozano joined her
fellow female professionals at Kolot’s phone banks because, “I like to do as
much as I can.”
Harold Ginsburg, Super Sunday chair, was hopeful that
tzedakah would prevail.
Federation Chair Jake Farber remained optimistic, noting
that The Federation raised $42.5 million for the capital campaign and $20
million for Jews in Crisis during the fiscally dismal 2002.
More than money, it is the act of helping others that Super
Sunday is really about, and Padilla commended Los Angeles’ Jewish community for
having “one of the best organized efforts, not only in terms of fundraising,
but in terms of the quality of the programming.
They are filling needs that city and state government aren’t
“You hear a lot about Los Angeles not being a connected
community,” said Federation Young Leadership Director Jonathan Shulman. “I
don’t really see that at all. Today proves that.”
A Wish Is Granted
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish
Family Service (JFS) have received the first federally funded grant in California
for so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), places where
a majority of the population is over 55.
JFS, which collaborated with the Federation in a year-long
lobbying effort to land the money, will use the $500,000 to provide support
services to clusters of seniors living in the Fairfax area and West Hollywood.
“This is a significant victory for the community, especially
in these tough economic times,” said Paul Castro, JFS executive director.
As their physical and mental capabilities diminish, many
seniors living at home must grapple with myriad problems, ranging from balancing
their checkbooks to flipping their mattresses to finding a ride to the
Often to frail to adequately take care of themselves, they
nonetheless continue living in their homes after the children leave for fear of
losing their independence and ending up in nursing homes. Even healthy seniors
generally prefer staying among friends in their old neighborhoods as long as
NORCs have cropped up around the country, with an estimated
5,000 now dotting the U.S. As the population grays — an estimated 75 million
Americans will be over 55 in 2010 — the number of NORCs is expected to jump,
said Andrew Kochera, senior policy advisor at AARP in Washington.
To better provide services for the people residing in them,
the federal government has awarded 18 grants worth nearly $10 million to 15
Jewish Federations in the past seven months. And in late February, The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles and JFS were awarded their grant.
“This is really the wave of the future for senior care,”
said Jessica Toledano, the Federation’s director of government relations.
“There’s a huge need for this.”
JFS, which the Federation partially funds, will spend the
grant money to improve the lives of local seniors. JFS plans to identify what
seniors might most benefit from NORC support services and then begin providing
them within six months, said Castro, agency executive director. Programs under
consideration include home-delivered meals, transportation to and from doctor
offices and grocery stores and taxi vouchers.
All seniors living in JFS-designated NORCs in the Fairfax
area and West Hollywood, regardless of income levels, would qualify for support
JFS has a proven record of providing vital services to needy
seniors, said Perri Sloane Goodman, director of state programs for the agency.
The Multipurpose Senior Services Program has, since 1980, provided frail,
indigent elderly men and women with an array of services ranging from taxi
vouchers to home-meal preparation to keep them out of nursing homes.
A growing number of politicians favor funding NORC support
services partly because of economics, said Diana Aviv, vice president for
public policy at the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for
the nation’s federations. She estimates that nursing home care costs $55,000
annually per person, while senior housing with special services is $20,000. By
contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000, Aviv said.
One of the reasons why the UJC has become involved in
seeking funding for NORCs is because of demographic trends in the Jewish
community. Whereas 11 percent of the general population is 65 or older, 19
percent of Jews are, Aviv said.
UJC will continue going after NORC funding “as long as our
communities are interested in it,” she added.
Funding for NORCs dates back nearly two decades, although
federal support is still relatively recent and small.
The first support services for NORCs began in New York City
in 1986. Less than a decade later, in 1994, the New York State Legislature
supported 14 NORC programs. Five years later, the City Council in New York City
allocated millions of dollars to expand the program.
In the Big Apple, services for the elderly inhabiting NORCs
ranged from social worker home visits to cat sitting and plant watering for
wealthy seniors near Lincoln Center, said Fredda Vladeck, director of the
United Hospital Fund’s Aging in Place Initiative.
Last August, the federal government got into the act by
allocating $3.7 million to five Jewish federations, including Baltimore,
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Seven months later, the government awarded 13
grants totaling almost $6 million, including the stipend to Los Angeles.
Each federation receiving federal funds individually lobbied
legislators for money. Among others, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif), Sen.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Howard Berman
(D-Los Angeles) championed local NORC funding, the Federation’s Toledano said.
The Boston, New York and Richmond, Va. Federations all failed in their bids to
land NORC money.
Do Jewish Schools Make Good Neighbors?
Every Jewish school should have a neighbor like Scott Meller of Feldmar Watch & Clock Center.
The Pico-Robertson business, which has been around for over 40 years, is located directly across from the Chabad educational institutions on Pico Boulevard (Bais Chana School for Girls, Bais Rebbe Junior High and Bais Chaya Muska Elementary School). "They’re great," said Meller, whose family owns Feldmar. "It’s nice because the whole area is affected by the fact that the schools are there. It brings people to the neighborhood so the property value increases. They’re good as neighbors."
Meller doesn’t bat an eye when discussing the big hole in the ground across the street — otherwise known as the future Bais Sonya Gutte campus — where an additional school building is under construction. When it’s completed, it will house the high school, junior high and elementary students, as well as the children at the Gan Israel/Garden Preschool, whose facility is down the street. Traffic is a concern, Meller conceded, but on the whole he wasn’t bothered.
"We’ve always had a nice relationship with the neighborhood," said Rabbi Danny Yiftach, the school’s administrator. When local residents expressed worries about traffic and parking, they decided to build two subterranean floors in the new building for extra parking, Yiftach said.
Local schools are anything but a deterrent for those interested in the community, said Meredith Michen of Landmark Realtors, which services the Pico-Robertson area. "Most of the people who move to that area think it’s a good thing to have the schools there," said Michen, adding that Pico-Robertson real estate prices are affected by demand, not by the schools in the area.
But not all Jewish schools are as fortunate. For Jewish parents, who often seek out a particular neighborhood just to be closer to a day school to send their children, sometimes there is such a thing as too close. Issues such as construction, noise, traffic, parking and environmental concerns cause residents to wonder: do Jewish schools make good neighbors?
Currently, the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West campus sits on a rented hillside property in Agoura Hills. In a plan to expand the school, Heschel West purchased 70 acres off of Chesboro Road in Agoura Hills five years ago. Throughout the permit process, the school board received concern from local residents who live in an area known for its open space and semirural environment.
Jess Thomas, president of the Old Agoura Hills Homeowners Association, is opposed to the project, because he said that the scope of the project has increased over time. "They said they were going to build a smaller school in the back of the canyon and away from the homes and the number of students they were talking about didn’t seem like a problem," he said. Because of the large number of additional students, Thomas feels that the amount of traffic will overwhelm the streets’ capacity in the surrounding area.
"We’ve put a fair amount of time into addressing the neighbors’ concerns," said Brian Greenberg, Heschel West’s school board chairman. Greenberg plans to stagger school hours so as not to overlap with traffic from other local schools. In addition, Heschel West has changed their proposed placement of the new school’s entryway three times to accommodate the neighbors’ preferences.
Over in West Hills, the New Community Jewish High School opened its doors this September inside the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Center. Head of School Dr. Bruce Powell, who was responsible for opening both Yeshiva University Los Angeles High School and Milken Community High School, said that local residents were supportive.
Powell, who owns a consulting company, Jewish School Management, which helps open Jewish schools around the country, is only too familiar with neighborhood complaints. "Neighbors see the word ‘school’ and think the [students] are going to be rowdy like any other high school kids," said Powell, who has broken up only two fights in his 23 years in the field. "First of all, [these students are] at a Jewish school. They care about education. We’ve got ninth-graders here taking 10 classes. They’re serious, college-bound kids." Powell feels the school has a responsibility to educate the neighborhood as such.
Before Yavneh Hebrew Academy moved into their Hancock Park neighborhood four years ago, finding a home in the former Whittier Law School building on Third Street, locals filed lawsuits with worries of noise and traffic — but that was then. "Our neighbors have thanked us," said Headmaster Rabbi Moshe Dear, who attributes the positive relationship to mutual cooperation. Making accommodations like quiet hours and rules for carpooling to ease traffic problems has earned Yavneh respect.
While there are some people who feel that living near a school is a drawback to community living, others find a sense of security in education. Ira Sherak, 32, said that when he decides to purchase a house in Los Angeles someday, he does not want to live within a one-block radius of a public high school. When it comes to Jewish institutions, the Brentwood renter is less wary. "A Jewish school is a private school, so you know it’s not that bad," said the New Jersey native. "[The students] are not generally hanging out and looking for trouble."
Above all, local Jewish educators seem to agree that developing good neighbor relationships means practicing what one preaches. "As a Jewish school we want to teach good values and mitzvot," Dear said. "And part of that means we should be good neighbors."
Heschel West’s administrators expressed similar sentiments. "Our philosophy is commitment to Jewish learning and internalizing Judaic values. Part of our community outreach is to go out in the community and befriend them," said principal Jan Saltsman. Greenberg agreeed. "My sense is that since we’re a religious school, we’re going to be more sensitive to being good neighbors."