How to run a gala


It started with a corned beef sandwich shipped across the world — from Los Angeles to Paris.

Before Stanley Gold, president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings, concluded a trans-continental journey in Paris in spring 2013, Bet Tzedek — a local pro bono legal firm — had a plan to woo their hoped-for honoree for their upcoming gala in March at the Hyatt Century Plaza. David Bubis, Bet Tzedek’s vice president of development, knew that Gold has soft spot for corned beef.

“We paid for the shipping of two corned beef sandwiches to be delivered to Stanley’s hotel in Paris, and that sealed the deal,” Bubis said.

In a recent interview in his 14th floor Wilshire Boulevard office, Bubis detailed to the Journal the ins and outs of how his nonprofit group plans and executes its successful gala, year in and year out. 

Few people are more qualified than Bubis in the nonprofit world to discuss galas. He has been in fundraising and nonprofit management for nearly three decades — a career that includes work on more than one campaign that topped $100 million.

Any successful gala starts, Bubis said, with choosing the best person to honor —meaning most effective at inspiring donations — a process that usually begins shortly after the completion of the last gala. 

“I think the toughest thing is finding the right honorees,” Bubis said. “Recruiting them to get them to say yes and agreeing to help us raise money.”

Based on who it is, Bubis and his team estimate a “very conservative” expectation for how much money they think the event could raise.

“We sit down and we say, ‘Who’s the honoree this year?’ ” he said. “It’s a guess: ‘Oh this person will bring in $200,000, or this person might bring in half a million.’ ”

And even when they’ve settled on a candidate, it’s hardly a sure thing: “It sometimes takes years to get an honoree,” Bubis said.

Once the honoree is on board, local organizations like Bet Tzedek and the Anti-Defamation League begin focusing on the next, most important job — tapping into that person’s network.

“What we hope for is that the people who are in their circles — whether it is professional or personal or through other charitable or philanthropic efforts — that they have, that they will be willing to share with us lists of people,” said ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind.

In May, the ADL honored Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, at its annual entertainment industry dinner, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. 

The evening, which brought in $1.1 million for ADL, included that most crucial of social and networking events, the cocktail hour. Susskind said that’s the moment when she focuses on closing the deal on some final donations, personally asking major industry figures to open their checkbooks during the event.

This year, among those she spoke to, was Ryan Kavanaugh, founder and CEO of Relativity Media. “I pulled him aside before the thing,” Susskind said, asking that he chip in when the event organizers would later ask the crowd to spontaneously give. 

“’We would love it if you would stand up and get the ball rolling,’” Susskind remembers suggesting to Kavanaugh. 

During dessert, when ADL employees circulated through the room identifying those who had raised their hand to give, Kavanaugh donated $25,000, beyond the $10,000 he had already given to be an event sponsor.

Asked whether Kavanaugh’s and others’ generosity was truly spontaneous, or a pre-planned performance, Susskind said, “That was a little spontaneous, what you are seeing when we do a pitch on the spot. If we are lucky, maybe we’ll raise another $100,000.”

ADL’s regional chapter, which has an annual budget of around $3 million, generally expects its larger, annual gala to bring in about $2 million. This year, the event will take place in December, honoring local philanthropists Tom and Barbara Leanse (see related story on the Leanses on p. 47).

Bet Tzedek’s cocktail hour is also, Bubis said, a major networking opportunity for local power players in business and law. “We deliver a very significant group of people to our gala every year,” he said.

One thing that both ADL and Bet Tzedek utilize on the night of the gala is, essentially, a healthy dose of guilt, asking people who came but who may not have yet made a personal donation, to financially support values they believe in.

Honorees and other guests, Susskind said, are often welcome to “bring friends who haven’t paid anything.” After dinner is served, she added, she encourages those who brought others to remind the guests that they will soon have an opportunity to give.

Bet Tzedek, which has a $7.3 million annual budget, draws between 1,100 and 1,300 people to its gala every year. The group’s dinner committee is able to deliver about $1.3 million annually “like clockwork,” Bubis said, regardless of the honoree.

The price per table, most of which are filled by local law firms, ranges from $4,000 to $100,000. Bubis estimates that Bet Tzedek’s gala costs about $200,000 to put on — or, to put it another way, the price of two top-of-the-line tables.

Bubis said that most of the attorneys who come to represent their firms didn’t personally pay a dime to attend — their firm covered their ticket. So, he said, a few years ago, he and his fundraising team realized, “We are leaving money on the table.”

So Bet Tzedek came up with a way to invite everyone to participate, using technology — namely, the text message.

After showing a short, well-made video that details its mission, Bubis said, “When people hopefully have been moved, we ask people to take out their cell phones and we put instructions up on the screens,” on how to give instantaneously.

“If you’re moved by our mission and you believe in what we are doing, we ask you to join us in becoming a financial supporter tonight,” the crowd is told. 

Each of the last two years, texting has brought Bet Tzedek some $50,000 that might otherwise not have come in.

For both Susskind and Bubis, among the logistics of the event — hotel, security, catering — the biggest challenge is keeping the gala tightly run, in terms of time.

“The dinner is over, meaning over, 9 o’clock, out the door,” Bubis said firmly.

Susskind agreed, saying efficiency can be forward thinking: “Most of the people in the audience want to shmooze with each other and enjoy the meal,” she said. “If we can keep it short and sweet and get you home at a reasonable hour, we think it’s more likely that you’re going to want to come back.

Family keeps tzedakah tradition going with funds


When Osias “Ozzie” Goren turned 90 last year, he and his wife, Dorothy, were moved that their grandchildren donated $900 — $90 each — to a Head Start preschool for low-income families that the Gorens supported for many years.

After all, it was right in line with the way the philanthropist couple from Pacific Palisades have lived their whole lives. When they expressed their desire that their grandchildren continue to carry on these practices, sons Jerry and Bruce remember it giving them an idea.

“If you’re really interested in trying to make them charitable, why don’t you provide them with the means of doing that?” they asked.  

And the Gorens did. 

Announced this spring, the Gorens made an initial allocation of $48,000 from their family foundation to create 13 donor-advised funds through the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCF) that will allow all 10 grandchildren and the Gorens’ three children to discover what causes they are passionate about and donate to them. Each child’s fund received $10,000, with each grandchild’s receiving $1,800. They will be increased by those same amounts every year, according to Bruce Goren.   

Dorothy, 90, said the object of creating the funds was to “infect” their grandchildren with the  “idea of giving to the community” and to interest other people with foundations to do the same with theirs. (Several other Jewish families in Los Angeles have since established similar funds.) 

 “L’dor v’dor [‘from generation to generation’] is exactly what we are doing,” Ozzie added during a conversation with the couple in his Westwood office. “We are inculcated with the business of tzedakah, of giving, in our lifetimes. We want to make sure it goes on and on.” 

An attorney since 1962, Ozzie went on to pursue the investment, development and management of commercial real estate. His resume includes time spent as the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Dorothy is a former president of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and was the first woman in a major city to chair a United Jewish Welfare Fund campaign. The couple created the Goren Family Foundation in 1986 through the JCF, which counsels and manages charitable assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. 

The new donor-advised funds, they said, are about more than the money they put into them. Ozzie and Dorothy said they hope the funds eventually grow from donations their family members each independently contribute, thereby sustaining them well beyond the couple’s lives. 

Jerry Goren described the funds as a vehicle that ensures the Gorens’ grandchildren are thoughtful about giving, because they now have the means to do so at some small level.  

In fact, even though the funds were created less than a year ago, they are already making a difference, as the grandchildren can recommend donations go to virtually any organization they choose (although the foundation has the final say). 

Bruce Goren said that his children, who are all in their 20s, are now concretely thinking about “what they want to be passionate about and what they think is a worthwhile cause.” Because they now have charitable funds with which to work, it “puts the onus on them to do something,” he said. 

Cole, Jerry Goren’s 13-year-old son, said that in particular he is now concerned with the homeless population in Los Angeles, and that he appreciates how his family is sharing this legacy of giving together.  

When Ozzie and Dorothy Goren’s children and grandchildren start donating — they can make recommendations immediately and independently — they will continually remember the values that once prompted the funds’ creation and share them with the Jewish community, said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the JCF, who oversaw the organization of the Gorens’ donor-advised funds.

Schotland, who has known Ozzie and Dorothy Goren for almost 25 years, said his first impression of the Gorens was they have a “deep and abiding love for their family. They also have a deep and abiding love for the Jewish community and Jewish traditions and values.” 

Together, Ozzie and Dorothy Goren have held just about every major volunteer position in the Los Angeles Jewish community, and they continue to support organizations like JFS and Federation. They helped smuggle needed items into the Soviet Union to assist refuseniks and assisted in the relocation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. They also supported efforts to get black South Africans to Israel during the apartheid era.

The couple attributes their philanthropic nature to their Eastern European parents, who all immigrated to New York, and to living through the wake of the Great Depression, the Holocaust, World War II and the beginnings of the State of Israel. As a result, they said, they believe in a responsibility as Jews to improve the world for everyone.

“We care for each other, and for the outside community,” Dorothy Goren said about the Jewish community as she welled up with tears.  “On the total community, on the world.  We care a lot.”

Her husband cut in, “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? But if I’m only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” referring to Hillel’s aphorism from the Mishnah about one’s relationship to the world.

The Gorens have tried to pass down this legacy of tzedakah and tikkun olam (repairing the world) to their children and grandchildren, who serve turkey dinners to 100 families every Christmas, a tradition Ozzie Goren started 57 years ago through the Los Angeles Urban League.  

For as long as he has been a grandfather, Ozzie Goren has referred to his family as his “immortality.” He and his wife alluded to this term in the conclusion of a letter they sent to their whole family this past spring to unveil their plans about the donor-advised funds.  

 “The art of giving is one of the great Jewish traditions, and we hope that what we are doing will help immortalize that tradition through you, from generation to generation, l’dor v’dor,” they wrote. “Giving to those not as fortunate as ourselves not only makes them smile, but makes you smile and feel good as you continue in our family’s multigenerational tradition of charitable giving.”

Richard Sandler: A philanthropic life


In 2007, when philanthropist Stanley Gold was asked to become board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, he knew he would need an effective partner to accomplish the reinvention of Federation he envisioned. 

Gold met with Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, and though the two men had known each other only in passing before, and though Sandler wasn’t yet actively involved in Federation, Gold knew he had his guy. They agreed that the old model of “give because it’s Federation” was dying, that they needed to reinvigorate both its lay and its professional leadership and that Federation needed to find new ways to connect with the community and its donors to say relevant in the 21st century.

And Gold saw in Sandler not only the know-how, but also the steady demeanor to offset his own more strident style. 

“I am more confrontational, and Richard is more collaborative,” said Gold, president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings and Federation chair from 2008 to 2009. “And if you look at our terms together, in the beginning we needed to be confrontational to break the logjam and to turn things around, and in the end we needed collaboration to rebuild.”

Gold, with Sandler as vice chair, shook things up during his tenure — he restructured both how money is collected and how it is allocated and hired a new president and CEO in Jay Sanderson, whom many viewed as an unconventional choice because his success was with Jewish Television Network and not the Federation system. Sandler, who took over as chair in 2010, has expanded and solidified the changes Gold set in motion, but in a thoughtful, vision-driven manner that has earned him a reputation as a leader who is not only supremely effective, but also kind.

Last year, the board voted to amend Federation’s bylaws to allow Sandler to serve two consecutive two-year terms. At 64, Sandler is now about to complete the first year of his second term.

“Richard came in at time when there had been a lot of upheaval,” Sanderson said. “There was a new executive, the board has been pared down from 145 to 45, and a lot of the agencies in the community were angry or felt disconnected from Federation. Just by Richard being in the room, and being in conversation, he helped turn things around.” 

Sanderson said he trusts no one in the Jewish community more than Sandler. 

“I’ve never met anyone like Richard. He’s thoughtful; he can consider all points of view, but when necessary he’s decisive,” Sanderson said. 

Sandler, a native-born Angeleno and attorney, is fit with smile lines set deep into his face. His even drawl, perhaps a hint of his father’s Oklahoma upbringing, gives an air of reliability when he serves as the public face of the organization.

Sanderson asserts that Sandler has made Federation more Jewish, while also affirming its role as an effective force locally and nationally, and upping the institution’s professionalism. He has reached out to young people and begun a deliberate transformation of how Federation connects to its donors and constituents. 

These changes are all in service of Sandler’s overriding mission: To help Jews choose to be Jewish.

Sandler said he is dismayed by how many Jews are opting out of Jewish lives, because he understands the meaningfulness Jewish connection can offer.

“I believe that our value system teaches us responsibility to make this world better, to give back, to do the best you can do while you are here,” Sandler said. “And those are values that come from the Torah, and that is what drives me in doing this job. I believe we have to take those values and teach them to our children, so they can decide who they are and where they are going.” 

He believes Federation is best situated to leverage community resources to create as many pathways as possible to Jewish meaning. When he talks to donors or to constituents, he is not just selling Federation, but his commitment to his passion for the Jewish mission.


Richard Sandler’s role with the Milken Family Foundation includes visiting Jewish day schools as part of the Jewish Educator Awards. Photo courtesy of Richard Sandler

“It isn’t about Federation is the only way to go; it’s about Jewish continuity is the only way to go,” said Julie Platt, chair of the Federation’s strategic initiative on Ensuring the Jewish Future. “So he is willing to use his leverage and to partner with whoever it is who will move forward his mission to have more people choose Jewish.” 

Sandler spends between 10 and 40 hours a week on Federation business. He lives in Brentwood with Ellen, his wife of 42 years, and the two have dinner together every night. He works out regularly and plays golf on the weekends. He talks to his three children every day, and spends time with his three grandchildren. 

Sandler’s father, Raymond, was the son of Latvian immigrants who came to Oklahoma when his father was 6. 

“My grandfather was a very devout Orthodox Jew who studied every day, but he taught my father that it was more important to live by Jewish values than to follow all the ritual requirements of Judaism, because he felt in the United States you might not be able to do all of that,” said Sandler, the second of four brothers.

Sandler’s parents moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1950, where his father was a founder of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, which Sandler still attends and where he served as board chair before turning his focus to Federation. His parents were involved in Federation and American Jewish University (then University of Judaism), and Richard Sandler is on the board of that institution as well. 

He also supports the University of California, Berkeley Foundation, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and is a strong backer of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox outreach organization that he believes is highly effective in bringing Jewish values and inspiration to people previously untouched by Judaism.

Sandler’s mother, Helen, ran a backyard camp for neighborhood kids for years. Among those children were two boys, Lowell and Michael Milken. Lowell and Richard met in first grade at Hesby Street Elementary School, and they continued together through Portola Junior High, Birmingham High School, UC Berkeley and UCLA Law School. 

After partnering with his father in a law firm for 10 years, in 1983 Sandler formed a financial consultancy service that primarily advised Lowell and Michael Milken in their investments. In 1986, Sandler was suddenly thrust into the position of being a white-collar criminal defense attorney when Michael Milken was charged with insider trading and securities fraud. 

Eventually, Michael Milken pleaded guilty, but Sandler said he does not believe he ever committed a federal crime.

“I grew up believing that if our government was investigating something, there must be a good reason for it, and at the end of the day they were seeking truth and fairness and justice. I came to learn that that is not true at all,” Sandler said recently. 

Sandler said he saw young prosecutors who wanted to boost their careers and scared colleagues who gave in to their pressure. 

“A lot of people I knew were put into positions they never thought they would be in in their entire lives — including myself. It was interesting to see those people who just did the right thing and told the truth, and those people who were trying to protect themselves and didn’t necessarily do the right thing.”

Today, Sandler runs day-to-day operations at the Milken Family Foundation, which supports Jewish, medical and educational initiatives. He also sits on the boards of the other nonprofits and for-profits that operate out of the Milkens’ building on Fourth Street in Santa Monica, and he is a partner in Maron and Sandler, a small law firm.

Lowell Milken said he admires his close friend’s integrity and ability to bring people together.

“I always value his guidance. We’ve been through some of the most satisfying and productive times, and we’ve been through some of the most difficult and challenging times, and his loyalty and advice has always been incredibly valuable throughout. When you find yourself in challenging circumstances, he is ultimately the person you would want to stand side-by-side with,” Milken said.

Sandler said his involvement with the investigation helped him develop a levelheaded determination that has served him well at Federation.

“It made me understand what is really important and what loyalty means,” Sandler said. When issues erupt at Federation, Sandler is known for keeping his cool. “I know what real aggravation is, and this isn’t it. These are all people who care about something, and that is a good thing. Then it’s just a question of how do we get people to channel that energy in a positive way.”

Sandler tapped into that equanimity early on in his tenure at Federation, when he made clear to lay leaders that it is the professionals who run the organization, and lay leaders must support that work. 

“In the past, lay leaders would be the driving force, and staff were more administrators than partners,” said Lori Tessel, senior vice president of major gifts at Federation.

Tessel said, Sandler has been “an ambassador” for staff. He often attends working meetings and knows her staff and committee members by name. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever served under someone who has been so clearly appreciative of what I’m doing,” said Platt, a volunteer.

Some lay leaders initially felt shunted by Sandler’s emphasis on professionalism, but Sandler smoothed the transition by responding to every phone call and e-mail and took countless meetings with lay leaders of all levels to explain the changes, according to Sharon Janks, campaign co-chair.

Sandler required lay leaders to bring professionals on fundraising calls — a system Janks says gets more information, and provides more connection, to donors.

“The donor sees that we care enough about their gift, that we want to educate them and make them feel good about what they give to Federation,” Janks said. 

This year the campaign hopes to raise $50 million and is about 75 percent of the way there, she said.

New donors are being cultivated, and long-time donors are being turned on to whole new areas of activity to invest in. It’s all part of Sandler’s approach of building a connection that goes beyond the once-a-year solicitation.

“Because, at the end of the day, this is an awesome responsibility. If the Federation is as important as I say it is — and I believe it is — and if we’re bringing in more than $40 million in community money, we’re responsible for that. That is a lot of responsibility. But it’s a good responsibility.”

For Adelson, political and Jewish giving are all of a piece


Call it the Adelson conundrum: What happens when the guy who acts as if he owns the room really does?

In March at TribeFest, the annual gathering of young adults organized by the Jewish Federations of North America at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson walked in on a surrogate debate between Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, and his counterpart at the National Jewish Democratic Council, David A. Harris.

Adelson, who owns the Venetian, was the first to ask a question. He went on to berate Harris for six minutes, describing President Obama as a “crybaby” who should be in diapers, according to several people in the room, including an organizer.

The organizer, speaking on background, said the time Adelson used and his tone were luxuries that would not have been afforded anyone else. The difference, as the organizer said, is that Adelson “owned the room, literally.”

That same sense of entitlement could be driving the 79-year-old Adelson’s conversations with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

This week, the Daily Beast/Newsweek reported that Adelson was pressing Romney to speak out publicly in favor of the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, to commit to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and to declare the Palestinians as unwilling to make peace. Romney, the report said, is resisting.

Through political action committees, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have funneled $10 million toward Romney’s election effort. Adelson has said he’s willing to spend up to $100 million to defeat Obama.

Those close to Adelson say politics are a small part of what makes him tick.

“He is passionately committed to Jewish life and living, and to Israel,” said Elliot Karp, the director of the Las Vegas Jewish Federation. “And he is no more or less polarizing than anyone else who gives his opinions.”

Adelson has given nearly $100 million to Birthright Israel, the program that brings Jews ages 18-26 to Israel for free. He revived the fortunes of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with a $25-million gift in 2006. He has established a $4.5-million Jewish studies center in his name at the Shalem Center, a right-leaning think tank in Jerusalem. His relatively smaller donations have helped bolster groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Israel Project.

“The true story is that the amount of money he spends on politics is dwarfed by what he gives to philanthropy,” Brooks said. “They are the single most important philanthropists in the Jewish community, in terms of Birthright, Yad Vashem and medical research,” he said of the Adelsons.

Adelson is the 14th richest man in the world, according to Forbes, with an estimated worth of almost $25 billion.

The confluence of Adelson’s three major interests — Jewish philanthropy, Republican politics and the casino business, which is how Adelson became one of the world’s richest men — has become one of the preeminent narratives of this election campaign.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman slammed Romney in a July 31 column for “abasing” himself before Adelson during a Jerusalem visit last week.

“Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas?” Friedman wrote.

Some frustrated Jewish Democrats believe the Jewish community is unduly influenced by its single largest donor.

“It’s very intimidating,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a leading public relations consultant to Jewish and Democratic causes, speaking of Adelson’s influence. “Where he’s given money, he’s given extraordinary amounts of money, and I’ve seen it firsthand.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, did not return multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Adelson is unapologetic about using his money to influence policy. 

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes in February. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades,” he said, referring to the left-leaning financier George Soros, who also is Jewish.

Democrats scoff at the comparison, noting that Soros in this election cycle has pledged $2 million to help Obama’s re-election — one-50th of the amount that Adelson has said he’s willing to spend.

The admixture of Adelson’s politics and charitable giving is not new. In December, addressing a Chanukah gathering in Israel of hundreds of Birthright participants, Adelson championed Newt Gingrich after the then-Republican candidate for president said the Palestinians were an “invented people.” At the time, Adelson was the single biggest backer of Gingrich; he and his wife gave $16.5 million to the ex-House of Representatives speaker’s effort.

Birthright did not return a request for comment for this story.

In 2007, Adelson broke with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over its support for a congressional letter calling for a massive increase in funding for the Palestinian Authority. Adelson previously had been one of AIPAC’s major backers, helping to fund its new Washington headquarters.

Fred Zeidman, a major Romney backer in this election and the former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Adelson’s objections were par for the course for major donors.

“You don’t just write blank checks,” Zeidman said. “You don’t have to agree, but don’t ask him to give money to something he doesn’t believe in.”

Adelson said in 2009 that his criteria for giving were “whatever is good for the Jewish community and whatever is good for the State of Israel.”

He has a reputation as a nitpicker: The staff of Freedom’s Watch, which Adelson founded before the 2008 election to champion President George W. Bush’s Iraq War policies, said Adelson’s day-to-day micromanaging caused the organization to founder. Freedom’s Watch no longer exists.

And Adelson can also hold a grudge. He fired Shelley Berkley, his legislative director in the 1990s, over keeping the unions he reviles at the casinos. Berkley went on to become one of Israel’s most strident defenders in Congress and the Nevada Democrat is now running for the U.S. Senate, but Adelson’s opposition to her has not waned. He and his wife have maxed out donations to her opponent, incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican.

But Adelson can also be forgiving. Despite repeated clashes with the Las Vegas Jewish Federation in the past decade over what he perceived as its wastefulness, he is now its biggest donor, matching every new donation and every increase over the previous year’s donations.

“The Adelsons are front and center in the community,” said Karp, the federation director.

Zeidman says Adelson is a solid listener but knows when his mind is made up.

“He’s very strong willed,” Zeidman said. “He is truly blunt in terms of articulating his decisions once he’s made them.”

Japan disaster and Itamar killings put Jewish giving on the spot


Almost as soon as the catastrophe in Japan began unfolding last Friday, Jewish groups scrambled to figure out how to get help to the area.

In Israel, search-and-rescue organizations like ZAKA and IsraAid readied teams to head to the Japanese devastation zone. In Tokyo, the Chabad center took an accounting of local Jews and began organizing a shipment of aid to stricken cities to the north. In the United States, aid organizations ranging from B’nai B’rith International to local and national federation agencies launched campaigns to collect money for rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts in the Pacific.

But then Shabbat came, and with it the news that a suspected Palestinian terrorist had brutally murdered five family members in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Itamar, and the focus of the Jewish community seemed to shift.

“Not sure who to think about first,” Nadia Levine, a British Israeli event planner living in Jerusalem, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “The devastated remaining members of the Fogel family from Itamar, Gilad Shalit — 5 years in Hamas captivity — or the survivors of the Japanese tragedy and the dangers they may be facing.”

The Orthodox Union, which sent out a message last Friday calling on supporters to donate to the organization’s newly established earthquake emergency fund, sent out another urgent message two days later calling on donors to give money to the OU’s victims of terrorism fund.

As of late Monday, the totals collected by each fund were running neck and neck, the OU’s chief operating officer, David Frankel, said in an interview.

“We have an obligation to care for our own,” Frankel said, “but the enormity of the tragedy that happened in Japan is so extraordinary that for the Jewish community not to have an outpouring of support would not only be a denial of one of our primary obligations to care for everyone in their time of need,” he said, but also a missed opportunity to honor the memory of Chiune Sugihara — the Japanese consul general to Lithuania who in 1940 helped save at least 6,000 Lithuanian Jews from the hands of the Nazis by getting them transit visas to Japan.

“The Japanese community helped us in our time of need; this is our way to help them in their time of need,” Frankel said. “We can never repay the debt, but this is the right thing to do.”

By Tuesday, Israeli teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists had reached the suburbs of Tokyo, and they were in contact with aid workers in the northern part of the country where the tsunami hit hardest, according to Shachar Zahavi, chairman of IsraAid.

Several American Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation in Chicago and the American Jewish Committee, are funneling money to IsraAid for disaster relief in Japan.

In Tokyo, the Chabad center commissioned a bakery in Sendai, one of the cities battered by the tsunami, to bake bread for its residents and surrounding areas. The center also trucked several tons of food and supplies to Sendai, Chabad officials said. The officials estimated that Chabad’s relief in Japan is costing approximately $25,000 per day.

In the United States, Jewish humanitarian organizations reported that the money was coming in fast for mailboxes set up to receive donations for Japanese disaster relief.

“We are determined to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible and to work with our partners to provide support over the longer term as well,” said Fred Zimmerman, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Emergency Committee.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the main overseas partner for the Jewish Federations, said it had collected more than $100,000 over the first weekend.

What makes the Japanese situation a unique challenge for Jewish humanitarian organizations is the absence of relationships in a country that traditionally has been an aid donor, not a recipient.

Indeed, when the American Jewish World Service, which led the Jewish aid response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, was asked what its aid effort would be for Japan, the answer was none at all because AJWS has no partners in the country, spokesman Joshua Berkman said.

The JDC found itself in a similar situation.

“We had no programs in Japan prior to the earthquake; we just worked with the local Jewish community,” said Will Recant, an assistant executive vice president at JDC.

But almost immediately after the earthquake and tsunami hit, the JDC consulted with the Jewish community in Tokyo to identify local Japanese nongovernmental organizations working in the affected areas. By Tuesday, JDC had begun funneling money to JEN, a Tokyo-based organization specializing in shelter reconstruction, support of the socially vulnerable and emergency supply distribution that had managed to send personnel to the ravaged Japanese prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima.

As with other disasters, Recant said JDC will stick around to help with long-term relief, budget allowing. Only money raised specifically for Japan will be spent on disaster relief. There is no money in JDC’s budget for additional nonsectarian, humanitarian work, Recant said.

While Japan continues to reel from the triple disaster of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, a massive tsunami and a subsequent nuclear crisis, experts in Israel are trying to figure out what lessons from Japan can be applied to the Jewish state, which lies on two fault lines, the Carmel fault and the Dead Sea fault.

Israel experiences tremors every so often, but the last time a ruinous earthquake struck the area was in 1927, when the West Bank city of Nablus suffered serious damage. An 1837 earthquake destroyed much of the northern Israeli cities of Safed and Tiberias and left thousands dead.

Israeli building codes have been updated for better earthquake safety compliance, but regulations and enforcement still are said to lag behind places like California, which experiences larger and more frequent quakes.

“There’s still a lot that has to be done as far as building codes are concerned,” said professor Michael Lazar, a tectonics expert at the University of Haifa. “There’s an attempt to encourage people to renovate older buildings and make them earthquake ready, but it really hasn’t caught on.”

A scenario in which Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona, in the Negev Desert, would face the kind of meltdown scenario situation that Japan is seeing now is much less likely, Lazar said, because Dimona is far from the tectonic lines that cross Israel.

“But,” he cautioned, “it’s hard to tell how an earthquake would disperse.”

Japan earthquake relief: How you can help

Jewish Money


Give Bernard Madoff credit for one good deed: As much as his self-confessed Ponzi scheme revealed weaknesses in the Jewish world, it also laid bare many ofour strengths.

Trials and tribulations tend to do just that — bring to light the good, the bad, the ugly. When some people behave at their worst, others are forced to, or revealed to, behave at their humanly best.

That’s what any fair look at the Madoff scandal shows. The standard worry is that Madoff’s actions will give rise to a vicious anti-Semitic backlash. But I don’t see it, despite the fact that all the cretinous Jew-haters have come forward online, using this scandal as proof of Jewish financial perfidy.

Complete Madoff CoverageEarlier this week, when I entered the search terms “Madoff” and “Jewish” into Google, the top responses included JewishJournal.com and stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi Web site. That should alarm no one: The only people more obsessed than neo-Nazis with a famous person’s specific degree of Jewishness are Jewish journalists.

But anti-Semites never need a reason to hate Jews. They were penning their poison before Madoff, and they’ll be spreading it long after he’s gone. Madoff doesn’t make anti-Semites more rational, just more topical.

But will their spew gain more traction in the wider community? I doubt it.

It’s not just that Madoff’s victims were disproportionately Jewish. (That fact alone should give pause to the idea that we possess some super-Spidey sense of financial acumen.)

It’s that the list of victims reveals something truly remarkable about the Jewish world: its deep and far-reaching philanthropy.

What, for instance, does this partial list of Madoff-afflicted charities have in common: Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the Chais Family Foundation, the Wunderkinder Foundation, Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, The JEHT Foundation, Julian J. Levitt Foundation, Technion—The Israel Institute of Technology?

The answer is that they spend much, if not all, of their time and resources helping non-Jews.

Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation supports more than 75 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation. It gave generously to Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, two institutions founded by Los Angeles Jews that serve a largely non-Jewish population.

A much-loved anti-Semitic trope is that “tentacles” of Jewish power encircle Wall Street, the White House, the media. But the truth is that it is the tentacles of Jewish philanthropy that reach far beyond our small, numerically insignificant community.

Public radio? The Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation gave millions to WGBH in Boston. According to The Boston Globe, the Shapiro Foundation gave more than $80.3 million over the past decade to hundreds of schools, hospitals, arts groups and community-based nonprofits in the Boston area and beyond.

Human rights? The JEHT Foundation in Massachusetts gave millions to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, among many other organizations.

The arts? The Arthur I. and Sydelle F. Meyer Charitable Foundation of West Palm Beach, Fla., wiped out by Madoff, supported the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, the Norton Museum of Art and a downtown Palm Beach amphitheater, among others. Tentacles indeed.

The list is much, much longer: The money that Madoff lost had done incalculable good, saving lives, advancing art and science, making the world a better place.

In his Sunday column, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote that liberal Americans are less generous than conservative Americans. “Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad,” Kristof wrote, “yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.”

I don’t know if Jews, among the most liberal of voters, fall into the cheapskate category, or whether Jewish giving pushes up the liberal average. There is no comprehensive study of Jewish philanthropy to compare Jewish giving, whether to synagogues or for other purposes, to general American giving, according to Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

But if you scroll through the list of Madoff’s philanthropic victims, you’ll find plenty of evidence that even Jews who have shed every vestige of their ancient practice short of circumcision still resonate to the prophetic call to heal the wider world.

In the second volume of his “Code of Jewish Ethics,” (Bell Tower, 2009), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin traces the textual roots for this precept back to the Talmud.

“The Talmud ruled that, ‘we provide financial support to the gentile poor as well as to the Jewish poor,'” recounts Telushkin. “This ruling was issued at a time when the non-Jews among whom the Jews lived were usually idolators with values antithetical and often hostile to Judaism.”

Telushkin concludes: “If we donate only to Jewish causes or to individual Jews in need, we may stop seeing everyone as being equally created in God’s image and therefore worthy of our help. After all, we are all members of one race, the human race.”

That’s something the Madoff scandal makes clear Jews haven’t forgotten.

Pick a cause


When I was in eighth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. My grandmother being a holocaust survivor, I had learned much about the Holocaust and took an interest in it. At the Museum of Tolerance, however, I learned about other things as well.

At an exhibit called the Millennium Machine, the last stop, I was in shock at all the horrible things that are still happening to children today. I couldn’t believe that in the world I lived in, kids were being enslaved and starved. I had always been involved with community service, but at the sight of this exhibit I knew I had to do something to help these children.

It was only a couple of weeks later that I was shopping at a jewelry and clothing boutique, when the owner noticed my necklace — which I had made. She offered to sell it at the store. That very day I brought in a tray of my work, and my guitar-pick jewelry was an instant success at the store.

This was right before summer started, and before I knew it I would be spending my summer days making jewelry. When I realized how much money I could make, I remembered that exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance and how much those children needed the money — much more than I did.

So I decided to give all of my proceeds to these unfortunate kids, and I began looking up charities that benefit kids. The first charity I donated to was UNICEF, because I knew that the money I gave would directly help youths in other countries that I had seen in the video at the museum. Ever since, I have given all of my proceeds to various charities, amounting to about $10,000.

In addition to my business, I always take on the opportunity to help in my own community. I believe that it is important to help out whenever you can, whether it’s picking up trash at the beach or working at a charity benefit, as well as taking on new challenges.

I love art and jewelry making, but giving to charity is the heart of my business. I might not be making jewelry forever, but I know I will always be charitable, because I have a love for helping those less fortunate than I am. Since I am a creative person, I’m glad to know I can use my talents to help others.

I also realize how fortunate I am to live in a nice house and to have food to eat, something that is easily taken for granted. I have also learned that we fortunate kids hold the responsibility to help children who are in desperate need for simple things that we have an abundance of. I believe that one person can make a difference, and with my charitable business I would like other young people to see that they, too, can use their talents for a good cause.

Amanda Martin is a junior at Viewpoint School in Calabasas. Her jewelry can be purchased at www.pickmejewelry.com.


The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

To comfort me, first comfort yourself


People have been generous.

During the past two decades I have assisted in creating caring communities that extend themselves to people in their midst at
profound turning points.

These times of need include both times of tragedy and times of great joy. Baby namings, weddings, illnesses, communal catastrophes, and shiva minyanim, call forth different emotions. All of them have their share of anxieties. All of them take a village.

During these months of cancer treatment, I have been blessed with a village, giving me rides, food and comfort when I am in need, and respecting my privacy when I crave solitude.

“How can I help?” people ask. Aside from the practical help that is often needed, there is the less tangible assistance that often creates anxiety on the part of the ones who seek to help. People often stay away for fear that they will say the wrong thing.

That unease is unnecessary, to paraphrase the Torah, for the right thing is as near to you as breathing. If you help appropriately, you, and those you help, will benefit greatly.

The wisdom to help others is not privileged information. It is taught to all of us through our life experiences.

Hearts that are both caring and helpful, marry self-knowledge and the ability to attend to others. Therefore, when we seek to provide comfort, we look into our own lives for guidance.

I’d like to explore some of these deeper aspects of bringing comfort.

Bikur cholim is the sacred obligation of visiting the sick. Its principles apply to any outreach to people at vulnerable times.

Performing this mitzvah is not about helping the less fortunate.

It is not about doing a good deed.

It is a way of cultivating a relationship with the deep and rich nature of what it means to be human.

If you do this effectively and with compassion, it will help others. It will also make your life more meaningful. It will open your heart. You will live more fully. Ironically, the more you receive from your visits, the more skilled you become in the art of helping others.

A good visitor is more than a well-meaning person who comes with urgent good intentions, whose need to find just the right words can communicate anxiety more than care.

We all want to make things better. We want to do the right thing or find the phrase to transform the difficulties.

But guess what? We can’t fix it. We can’t take away the pain of loss. We can’t heal a chronic illness, bring back the dead or force family members to behave appropriately.

We can, however, make a difference.

A first step in learning to comfort suffering is to come to terms with our own powerlessness. Ironically, this relieves suffering. Struggling with this understanding gives us access to the paradoxically profound and simple skill of visiting. Understanding that we can’t do the impossible takes away some of the urgency. We can focus not on changing what can’t be changed, but on being present.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help. Knowing that caregiving has limits makes it less threatening for those who want to help but stay away in fear of not knowing what to say. We’re off the hook with regard to performing magic tricks of healing. All we can really do is to create a place where those to whom we offer comfort feel heard and protected.

The most important thing we offer as comfort is our own comfort. When we are fluent with some of life’s profound issues and communicate this either in words or in silence, we are helpful. We communicate that we are present and unafraid. The irony is that we become capable of serving in this way, by taking care of ourselves. We do this by cultivating our own soul and exploring our own relationship to life’s challenging questions.

Think back on your own difficult challenges. What helped you get through them? What did not help? Was there anything said that made it easier for you to get on with your life?

Over and over, I hear from people that what helped was not a cogent bon mot or profound piece of advice. It was the gift of compassionate attention with which someone validated the experience and provided presence and lack of judgment. This was offered without intruding into the person’s private world or forcing them to move beyond their comfort zone. It can happen in silence.

It can come with a light touch or the subtle expression of care. Above all, the feeling is communicated that the person being visited had permission to be exactly as he or she needs to be, be it tearful, angry, cheerful, silent, or confused. Rarely are these reassurances expressed verbally.

This kind of presence says more about whom the visitor is than about what he or she says, does or knows.

It reflects the visitor’s own work on the deep issues of his or her own life, which makes it possible to comfortably reach out to others.

That comfort gives comfort.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

The magic Spend/Save/Tzedakah Plan keeps kids thinking


“I know what I want for my birthday,” my first-grader announced upon returning from school today. “A PSP [PlayStation Portable].”

“Jake” I replied, intent on giving my son perspective on how much his request would cost. “Do you realize that you could go to the dollar store and buy 300 toys for the price of one PSP?”

“Really?” Jake asked, clearly pondering this revelation. “I guess I’ll just do that instead!”

It’s not that my son is inherently greedy. On the contrary, he’s compassionate and generous. It’s just that he is in a developmental place where it’s difficult for him to grasp the concept and value of money. In fact, the vast majority of grade-schoolers (up to age 11) are what cognitive psychologists call concrete thinkers. That means they have a tough time conceptualizing anything they can’t physically see or touch. Money — thanks to credit cards, checks, Internet PayPal accounts and the like — is a hugely abstract concept.

Through the eyes of my soon to be 7- year-old, the difference between $300, $30 and $3 is largely inconsequential. I know it seems hard to believe that this could be so, but that’s only because we adults have the ability to think abstractly. Trust me, after a decade and a half as an elementary school teacher, I can tell you that, with rare exception, the only way an early elementary-aged child is going to truly understand the quantitative distinction between these amounts is if he actually sees 300 $1 bills piled next to 30 $1 bills piled next to three $1 bills.

So how do we enlighten our concrete-thinking kiddies to the fact that — despite popular playground belief — money doesn’t grow in ATM machines? With the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan, of course! A superconcrete, positively priceless program that helps children the grasp the value of money, empowers them with financial smarts and encourages them to give back to their community, all in one fell swoop.

Here’s what you need to know to get it working for your little spenders.

Three Little Piggies

The basic premise of the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan is to have our kids regularly divide their allowance into three distinct sections — one for personal spending, one for saving and one for giving. Deciding how to allocate the money (i.e. 60 percent spending, 30 percent savings and 10 percent tzedakah) is a personal family choice, but it’s important to make sure kids stick to their designated amounts every week.

Spending

For the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan to work its magic, children should be required to use their personal spending money for all nonessential purchases other than birthday and Chanukah gifts. That means our kids pay for their own popcorn at the movies, Power Ranger popsicles from the ice cream man and fruitless attempts on the “try-to-pick-up-a-stuffed-animal-with-a-metal-claw” machine.

Still doubtful? Consider the following scenarios:

Shopping at Target without the Spend/Save/Tzedakah Plan:
Child: “Can I get that Hot Wheels car?”
Parent: “No”
Child: “Please? It’s only $1.29, and I’ve really been wanting that one.”
Parent: “I said NO.”
Child: “But, it’s a Hummer Hot Wheels — with real monster truck wheels!”
Parent: “How many times do I have to tell you? No means no!”
Child: “Please? PLEASE? PLEEEEASE?”
Parent: “OK, fine. Just put it in the cart and stop whining.”

(Epilogue: The same scene plays out the next day only this time the kid wants a pair of $70 Heelys roller sneakers.)

Shopping at Target with the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan:
Child: “Can I get that Hot Wheels car?”
Parent: “Sure. You can use your spending money any way you’d like.”
Child: “Well, I don’t really need it. I’d rather save my money for those Heelys roller sneakers.”

On Saving

Just to clarify. The kind of savings we’re talking about here is the kind you put away for a long-term goal — like going to college or spending a high school semester in Israel — not an exorbitantly priced toy or an overpriced outfit. The key here is to help our children move beyond the instant gratification mentality toward understanding that some things cost so much money it takes years to save and pay for them.

Finally, it’s important for children to have a concrete representation of their savings progress. Have them place a sticker on a chart each time they surpass a $10 increment, or enroll them in a kiddie savings program that requires no minimum balance and provides monthly statements. We parents will be as excited as our kids to see how much money they are putting away for their future!

Tzedakah

Our kids’ lives largely exist within a vacuum. They have their families, their friends, their schools, their neighborhoods and their material possessions. They often don’t consider the needs of those less fortunate, not because they don’t care but because they are not used to thinking outside their familiar worlds.

By putting a small portion of their allowance toward tzedakah each week, our children will begin to appreciate their responsibility as Jews and human beings to share their resources with the community.

They’ll come to recognize that many of life’s most precious gifts come without a barcode. And that — in the scheme of things — a PlayStation Portable isn’t really that important after all.

For a piggy bank perfectly designed to fit the Spend/Save/Tzedakah plan, check out the Learning Cents bank at

Class Notes


Get Packing
It was weeks before camp started, but on Sunday, June 11, Gear Up for Camp Day brought 1,700 people — including 500 campers and their families — to The Federation’s Camp Max Straus, run by Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Campers filled laundry bags with camp necessities — sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, socks, towels — most donated by local businesses. Federation staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Camp Max Straus, helped distribute the goods.

This was the first time the event was held at the nonsectarian overnight camp in Glendale, giving parents a chance to see where their kids would spend the summer. The day also featured carnival rides, live entertainment and food.

The Federation is helping 1,100 underprivileged kids go to camp this summer, including those who will attend Max Straus — which offers one- and two-week stays to at-risk youth from the L.A. area — and some Jewish children, mostly immigrants from Iran and Russia, who will attend Jewish camps on Federation scholarships.

For more information, call (323) 761-8320.

Arts in L.A. Gets a Push
Arts Education in L.A.-area public schools is getting a boost from the Jewish community, as the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation recently announced support for Los Angeles County’s Arts for All initiative. Adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Arts for All seeks to restore arts education slashed with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

The Jewish Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, launched the Arts in Schools Giving Circle to try to raise $100,000 from individual donors by the end of 2006.

The Giving Circle hopes to provide matching grants to fund more than 150 arts residency programs serving approximately 4,000 K-12th grade students in 14 Los Angeles County public schools.

Seeded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Giving Circle is the first opportunity for individual donors to participate in the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a consortium of foundations and corporations.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation announced a $100,000 gift to the Pooled Fund in May. Of this, $50,000 will support the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s plan over the next three years to hire an arts coordinator and to develop arts curriculum and arts education training for district teachers. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation supports initiatives involving healthcare, access to college, Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and established a chair in Israel studies at UCLA.

For further information about the JCF Giving Circle, call program officer Amelia Xann at (323) 761-8714 or axann@jewishfoundationla.org. For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit www.lacountyarts.org.

Birthright Reaches 100,000
This month, the 100,000th 18- to 26-year-old will participate in a free, educational trip to Israel, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, a 6-year-old program supported by United Jewish Communities, the Israeli government and 14 philanthropists.

Internal research has shown that the program is meeting its goals of solidifying participant’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel, and has also generated more than $182 million in revenue for the Israeli economy.

But the program might be a victim of its own success: This summer, 15,000 applicants were turned away, when a record 25,000 youth applied for just 12,000 spots.

For information, call (888) 994-7723 or visit www.birthrightisrael.com.

Teens on the Beltway
Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood accompanied the synagogue’s confirmation class to Washington D.C., to participate in the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism last month.

The study and action program was attended by 250 students, who culminated the conference by meeting with congressional staffers to advocate on behalf of issues such as Darfur, immigration and the death penalty.

Also attending were teens from Temple Beth Torah of Ventura, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood.

 

Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek


As a young summer associate with a Los Angeles law firm, Jeffrey Sklar looked forward to attending his first Justice Ball. He wanted to see ’80s icon Billy Idol do the “Rebel Yell” live. He wanted to hang out with other young attorneys and law students. He wasn’t going for any high-minded motives.

Back in 2000, Sklar, like most of the 20- and 30-somethings who go to the annual Justice Ball, had only the vaguest notion of what Bet Tzedek, the event’s sponsor and a local Jewish legal-aid outfit, does. That would soon change.

Sklar, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP, went to the Ball and partied with friends. He also listened as Bet Tzedek executives briefly took the stage and talked up their organization and its need for dedicated volunteers to help society’s most vulnerable achieve a degree of justice. Their message resonated with Sklar, who, as a young boy, remembers dropping coins into his family’s tzedekah box. Now, six years later, Sklar is a regular legal volunteer, he’s helped recruit other lawyer friends to volunteer time, and he’s helping to plan this year’s event, which will take place July 8 at the Hollywood Palladium, featuring the Go-Go’s.

Founded in 1997, the Justice Ball has grown into one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit fundraisers/parties targeting young professionals, Jews and non-Jews alike. Over the past nine years, more than 16,000 attorneys, financiers and others have attended the soirees, and scores of them have gone on to become Bet Tzedek contributors and volunteers. Some, like Sklar, have gone on to serve on Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball planning committee and even on to the board of directors, making the event more than just a fundraiser — it’s an important gateway to the organization.

“The Justice Ball is absolutely a good way for young blood to get involved,” said Bet Tzedek board member Brette Simon, a law partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP whose first exposure to the legal aid society came from attending the mega-parties.

To date, Justice Balls have raised more than $3.2 million in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, said Randall Kaplan, the Justice Ball’s creator and cofounder of high-tech giant Akamai Technologies, Inc. Last year’s event raised $425,000, or nearly 8 percent of Bet Tzedek’s $5.5 million budget, Executive Director Mitch Kamin said. This year, the 10th anniversary gala is expected to be even bigger. Hopes are the popular L.A. Go-Go’s will draw more than 3,000 revelers and raise as much as $500,000, Kamin said.

“Everyone in the philanthropic world is puzzling over how you engage the truly young generation of professionals who haven’t been necessarily taught by their parents that giving is part of their religious or social responsibility,” Kamin said. “This is a chance for us to introduce ourselves to them, give them initial exposure to Bet Tzedek and raise their consciousness.”

Bet Tzedek’s success at reaching the coveted demographic of young Jewish professionals comes as other Jewish organizations are struggling to do the same. Faced with the growing competition from non-Jewish nonprofits, Jewish charities are grappling with a generation that, because of intermarriage and assimilation, often considers itself more American than Jewish, experts said. With young Jews standing to inherit billions over the next 20 years, finding a way to appeal to their generosity is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by Jewish charities.

In Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek is not alone in its success in appealing to this group. Young leadership initiatives at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, including its Young Leadership Division and the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, now account for about $5 million, or nearly 5 percent of The Federation’s annual campaign, said Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development.

Still, The Federation’s strong showing appears to be the exception rather than the rule in the organized Jewish world. Simply put, the stodgy chicken-dinner fundraisers favored by so many Jewish philanthropies fail to bring young movers-and-shakers to the table. The MTV generation would rather rock ‘n’ roll all night long.

The Justice Ball gives them a chance to do just that, along with learning a thing or two about Bet Tzedek’s mission of offering free legal aid to the poor, sick, elderly and homeless.

Soon after his first Justice Ball, Sklar joined the group’s planning committee. Like others touched by Justice Balls before him, he went on to volunteer his legal services to Bet Tzedek, including assisting a Holocaust survivor obtain restitution from the Hungarian government.

“As a lawyer, you make a decent living. You get to sit up here in real tall buildings with a real nice view. You get to drive a real nice car,” he said. “So the bottom line is you need to give back, you have to get back. This is a great way for me to do so.”

For more information on the Justice Ball, visit www.thejusticeball.org.

 

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help


 

At 6:30 p.m. on a chilly Wednesday night in December, more than 30 young Jewish professionals gathered on the corner of Sycamore Avenue and Romaine Street in West Hollywood to feed homeless people waiting in line for a hot meal.

There on behalf of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, the volunteers looked with surprise at the growing line of nearly 200 people waiting for food — a sight already familiar to Jennifer Chadorchi, the young Persian Jewish woman who had single-handedly recruited the evening’s volunteers.

“The turnout of volunteers was amazing that night,” said Chadorchi, who regularly organizes volunteer groups for the Coalition. “It makes me feel so great to share the experience of helping others by bringing them in to volunteer.”

For the last eight years, Chadorchi, a Beverly Hills resident in her 20s, has become a rare jewel in the Persian Jewish community, quietly mobilizing a small army of friends, family members and local students to respond to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles.

“Her compassion and her actions are contagious,” said Lida Tabibian, a volunteer recruited by Chadorchi. “She not only changes thousands of lives, but she’s also inspiring a whole generation to be leaders for this cause.”

Chadorchi’s journey in aiding the homeless began when she was 16, when, on a rainy night while driving in her brand-new car, she spotted Coalition volunteers serving food to the homeless.

“What caught my eye was the long line of these people just standing in the pouring rain with only newspapers over their heads,” Chadorchi said. “It didn’t seem fair to me that I had so much and they had nothing, so I decided I had to help.” Since 1987, coalition volunteers have been handing out excess food donated by Los Angeles area hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers. In 2000, the coalition joined forces with UCLA medical students, who offer medical aid to sick, homeless individuals gathering at the street corner.

Chadorchi’s efforts also have included raising funds for the coalition, and she has organized clothing drives in her Beverly Hills neighborhood. She was also instrumental in organizing Project Feed, a campaign allowing Beverly Hills school district students to donate food and time to the coalition in exchange for school credit.

“She has had a tremendous impact on our organization. What she did was build a bridge between our group and Beverly Hills, especially the Iranian Jewish community,” said Ted Landreth, one of the coalition’s founders. “Without her I doubt we could have made these important connections.”

Those familiar with Chadorchi’s volunteer efforts said they wished she would enter the public sector and work with local government officials to help alleviate Los Angeles County’s difficulties with the homeless.

“I’ve known Jennifer since she was a junior at Beverly Hills High School. I think she is one of the most dedicated, incredible and passionate young people out there,” said former U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. “The people working out there [L.A. city officials] are doing alright, but if she was in charge of the homeless problem in Los Angeles County, I promise you’d see some real changes.”

Chadorchi said she is frequently approached by Jews in the community who question her for helping a non-Jewish cause like the coalition.

“It is our duty as Jews to heal the world one person at a time — tikkun olam,” Chadorchi said. “I’m here to let people out there know that one person can really make a difference.”

Individuals interested in joining Chadorchi’s efforts can contact her at (310) 288-0090.

Jennifer Chadorchi

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai


 

“Our rabbis speak of yetzer hara and yetzer hatov, man’s dual inclination toward evil and toward good, and what you make of your life depends on which you follow,” Saul Kroll observes.

Kroll is a firm believer in yetzer hatov, and the 87-year-old Westside resident translates it into practice six days a week as an emergency room volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Although “retired” for almost 20 years, Kroll puts in a full workweek doing whatever needs to be done.

“People come into the treatment area and I greet them, help them fill out forms, check what rooms are available and help them undress,” he said in a phone interview.

“I always try to encourage them, to tell them that they are in the best of hands, to lift their spirits,” he said. “That’s the greatest mitzvah.”

Sometimes the work is physically difficult for an octogenarian, as when “you push a 250-pound woman going into labor up a ramp in a wheelchair,” he said.

But Kroll believes in putting his aches and pains, including spinal injuries, aside.

“Either you let your medical problems control you, or you control them,” he philosophizes.

To Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chair of the hospital’s emergency department, Kroll’s dedication “is unbelievable. He never asks anything for himself. He is selfless, truly one of the righteous.”

While the typical Cedars-Sinai volunteer puts in four to eight hours per week, Kroll’s norm is between 35 to 40 hours. Barbara Colner, director of the medical center’s almost 2,000 volunteers, has calculated that Kroll has worked 24,400 hours since starting his stint in 1987. She isn’t sure whether or not this represents an all-time record.

When Kroll does miss work, it’s often to drive a 90-year-old neighbor with breast cancer to her medical appointments.

He is just as conscientious in his religious observances. “I’ve gone to shul three times a day since my bar mitzvah,” he said, and during High Holiday services at the hospital he is the unofficial greeter, kippot and tallit dispenser, and also chants the memorial prayer.

“Saul is amazing, he conducts his life with the energy of a 20-year old,” noted Rabbi Levi Meir, the hospital’s chaplain.

Kroll also unfailingly shows up at the daily morning minyan at nearby Temple Beth Am.

“He is one of our stalwarts and we take great pride in him,” commented the temple’s Rabbi Joel Rembaum.

The one period during which Kroll missed his minyans was World War II, when he served with a B-29 bomber squadron in the Pacific. But even there, he organized High Holiday and Passover services for Jewish servicemen on Guam.

Kroll was born on the day following the World War I armistice, Nov. 12, 1918, grew up in a small town near Pittsburgh, and started managing a sporting goods store at age 17.

After the war, Kroll went to work rebuilding auto engines and, in the 1950s, he and a partner opened an automotive and body shop.

His wife, Selma, died in 1994. Kroll proudly cites the professional careers of his two children and four grandchildren.

His parting advice: “Don’t tell someone, ‘OK, call me if you need any help.’ Just go on over and help.”

Saul Kroll

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Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Who’s Up, Who’s Down in Giving


Jewish philanthropies didn’t raise much more money last year than they did the previous year, but the American Jewish community remains numerically over-represented among America’s top charities, an examination of a recent ranking of philanthropies demonstrates.

Of the 400 top charities included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual “Philanthropy 400” list, a just-released who’s who of American nonprofits, some 26 were Jewish.

“The Jewish community raises a lot of money. Its philanthropic system is pretty strong,” said Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

If Jews make up 2.5 percent of the population, he said, “there should be no more than 10 Jewish organizations on this list.”

At the same time, Jewish groups that made the list did not see the same boost in giving in 2004 that general philanthropies did.

The Jewish groups appearing on this year’s list, which looks at fundraising in fiscal year 2004, raised more than $2 billion, about the same as in 2003. Two more Jewish groups appear on this year’s list than on last year’s — although this number is still two fewer than the 28 that made the list for fiscal year 2002.

Observers say this year’s rankings don’t offer a significantly different picture of the American Jewish philanthropic world than last year’s did.

“I think there’s no good news and no bad news here,” Tobin said.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization of Jewish federations, held on to its ranking as the top Jewish charity this year, having raised $251.9 million. The UJC finished 42nd overall, a drop in ranking from the 25th spot last year, as its fundraising went down by 26.9 percent.

The decline, UJC officials say, can be attributed to the fact that in 2003 the group was running its Israel Emergency Campaign, which brought in a large sum of money.

Although the UJC figures provided to the Chronicle of Philanthropy did not include money raised by local federations, some of the money reported did include funds from those federations and, therefore, essentially was double-counted. The UJC said that the total campaign of the federations raised $850-$860 million.

The other top Jewish groups are:

• The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which dropped from 54th place to 60th, although it raised 7.8 percent more private money;

• The Jewish Communal Fund, the New York group that manages the philanthropic funds of individuals and families, which finished in the 82nd spot, up from 103rd last year with a fundraising increase of 29.8 percent;

• The UJA-Federation of New York, which raised 1.4 percent less money in 2004 and went from the 74th spot in 2003 to 83rd this year; and

• The Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which landed this year in the 133rd slot, down from 86th, with a drop of 23.8 percent in funds raised.

Eleven other Jewish federations made the top 400 as well.

The American arm of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, a Chabad-led group working to revitalize Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, made the list this year for the first time, ranking 391 and raising $35.8 million.

“We have been working and developing our U.S. office in the last four years and many prominent Jewish philanthropists have come to recognize the mainstream work that we are doing for Jews across the former Soviet Union,” said Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, executive director of the federation in Moscow.

Over the past year, Berkowitz said, the federation has constructed $25 million worth of buildings.

Several Israel-related organizations made the list this year, including Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which was ranked 183; the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, which directs the distribution of funds to charitable organizations in Israel, at 229; the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at 247; and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science at 263.

On the whole, donations to American philanthropies shot up by 11.6 percent in 2004, the Chronicle said. That increase dwarfs the 2.3 percent increase between 2002 and 2003. The first part of this decade, they say, proved tough for many charities hit hard by the post-Sept. 11 economic downturn.

“Philanthropy in general had a banner year,” said Heather Joslyn, a senior editor at the Chronicle. “The economy is recovering, and the stock market has been recovering compared to two to three years ago. That’s a big thing. This is definitely good news.”

United Way of America was No. 1 in the overall rankings this year. Its 1,350 United Way groups raised $3.9 billion, up 0.4 percent from 2003. Next in line at No. 2 was the Salvation Army, down from the No. 1 spot last year, followed by Feed the Children, up from the ninth position last year.

For the first time since the survey’s inception, the American Red Cross did not finish in the top 10, although it is expected to appear among the first 10 next year, when it will report some $532 million raised for Asian tsunami relief.

While the Chronicle list shows no commensurate leap in Jewish philanthropies, Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, said the list doesn’t capture the full picture of Jewish giving. A large part of that giving, he said, goes to synagogues, day schools, Jewish community centers and even non-Jewish groups like the United Way.

 


Locals on the
Dollar List


by Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Two local philanthropies made the coveted Chronicle list. The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles came in at No. 153, with more than $98 million raised, while the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles ranked No. 277, with nearly $53 million.

The Jewish Community Foundation’s performance was particularly strong. The grant-making group jumped an impressive 216 spots over 2003, when it placed No. 369. The Foundation’s credibility in the community, improved marketing and ability to land new donors helped account for its fundraising prowess, Chief Executive and President Marvin Schotland said.

“We’re delighted that the Chronicle of Philanthropy has taken notice of our significant growth,” Schotland said.

L.A. Jewish Federation dropped 28 places compared to its standing in 2003. Federations representing smaller Jewish populations, including San Francisco (No. 215), Detroit (No. 237) and Boston (No. 238), each raised more money than the L.A. group.

Still, the numbers tell only part of the story, at least when it comes to federations, L.A. Federation President John Fishel said. Whereas the Los Angeles group only reports the proceeds from its annual campaign, other federations often count that along with funds generated by community foundations, which is “a little like comparing apples and oranges,” Fishel said.

The L.A. Federation would have placed second behind New York among American federations if the funds raised by the L.A. Jewish Community Foundation were included in its total.

In recent years, the L.A. Federation has seen an uptick in annual fundraising, Fishel said, adding that the positive trend should continue this year. Still, “I always think there’s room for improvement,” he said.

The Circuit


QUEENS OF SHEBA

Boutiques lined the halls leading to the dining room at the Four Seasons recently, where a crowd shopped before the Women of Achievement Awards event at the Friends of Sheba luncheon. This year’s awards honored two distinguished community leaders: Dr. Ellen Klapper and Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

Klapper is a physician and co-director of transfusion medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She is also an associate clinical professor of pathology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

Kamenir-Reznik is an attorney specializing in environmental real estate law for the firm of Reznik & Reznik. She serves in a variety of Jewish community leadership roles.

Serving as mistress of ceremonies was the Rhea Kohan, comedy writer, raconteur and author of everyone’s favorite girlfriend tome, “Save Me a Seat.” A special tribute, the Queen of Sheba Award, was presented to Beverly Cohen for her devoted service as president of the Women of Sheba for five years. Making the presentation in song were luncheon co-chairs Judy Shapiro and DeeDee Sussman.

Event proceeds will help fund the Center for Newborn Screening at Sheba Medical Center, which will test every baby born in Israel (approximately 150,000 annually) for more than 20 genetic diseases. Major gifts for the project come from special donors to the Sponsor-a-Child Campaign.

Professor Mordechai Shani, director general emeritus of Sheba Medical Center, the largest, most comprehensive hospital in the Middle East., reported on the progress of the newborn screening fundraising at the hospital.

For information about Friends of Sheba, call associate director Pam Blattner at (310) 843-0100.

PRO-CHOICE BACKERS

The Bel Air home of Bronya and Andrew Galef was filled with NARAL Pro Choice America supporters and stars recently, when the group held a fundraiser and awareness evening to support efforts to retain women’s right to choose.

Reacting to the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, Christine Lahti, Diane English, Amy Madigan and Ed Harris joined community activists to solicit funding and spread the word about protecting women’s rights.

Award-winning journalist and best-selling author of “The Price of Motherhood,” Anne Crittenden, addressed the small but involved group. She vowed to continue the battle to keep pro-choice an option for women.

Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro Choice California, urged the attendees to vote against Proposition 73, which, if passed, would require a physician to notify a parent or guardian 48 hours before performing an abortion on a female younger than 18. It exempts young women who obtain a judicial waiver or face a medical emergency.

“This is an end run to abolish an existing law, which will greatly weaken Roe v. Wade,” Everitt said.

A PLACE CALLED HOME

Philanthropist Dawn Ostroff, Grammy Award-winning recording artist LL Cool J and private investor Bruce Newberg were honored by A Place Called Home (APCH), the groundbreaking youth enrichment center for at-risk kids in South Central Los Angeles, at its 12th annual Gala for the Children on Oct. 25, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Ostroff, the president of UPN, was honored with the Humanitarian Award presented by supermodel and television talk-show host, Tyra Banks.

Newberg received the Angel of the Children Award, and LL Cool J was presented with the Children’s Inspiration Award.

“These are three individuals whose generosity has really helped make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth,” said Robert Israel, gala chair and head of the board of APCH, which was founded by Debrah Constance in 1993. “LL Cool J, Dawn Ostroff and Bruce Newberg continually strive to impact the community and its children.”

Ostroff is responsible for all creative aspects of UPN’s operations and has been listed among the 100 most powerful women in entertainment by The Hollywood Reporter for two consecutive years. Prior to her position at UPN, Ostroff served as president of development for 20th Century Fox, and under her leadership, she raised Lifetime, the sixth-highest-rated cable television network, to No. 1 in primetime.

In addition, she has devoted herself to numerous philanthropic organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, which brings international relief to victims of hate and bias.

Newberg and his wife, Nancy, established the Bruce and Nancy Newberg Fund, administered by the Jewish Community Foundation for charitable giving. He serves on the boards of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs, Phase One, and A Place Called Home.

A MUSICAL SEASON

“Seasons of Songs” celebrated Cantor Ilan Davidson’s 10th anniversary at Temple Beth El in San Pedro. The evening featured Jewish music, opera and Broadway tunes.

Participating were the cantor and his friends. Dr. Noreen Green, musical director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, led the Kohelet Choir and Orchestra in the anniversary celebration. Joining them were Cantor Sam Radwine of Ner Tamid, Palos Verdes; Cantor Patti Linsky of Temple Ahavat Shalom, Northridge; and Cantor Jonathan Grant of Temple Bat Yahm, Newport Beach.

 

Give Some Honey to Apples of Your Eye


The High Holiday Hustle. We know the steps well. It starts with a tireless trek to the mall in search of that stylish synagogue suit. Next comes the culinary juggling act, simultaneously preparing Aunt Sophie’s tzimmes, Bubbe’s killer kugel and a 22-pound turkey, dressed and trimmed. The last step is grooming an entire family and shuffling the whole gang out the door and into the synagogue in under an hour.

The entire dance sequence — minus the shopping — is generally repeated the following day. Scrambling through the better part of October, it’s easy to forget that the true meaning of the High Holiday season can’t be found in Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s or Aunt Sophie’s tzimmes, but in appreciating and giving thanks for life’s sweetest blessings. So steal a few moments from the holiday hoopla to remind the true apples of your eye just how delicious they are. Even the simplest acts can send children a message, as loud and clear as the shofar, that they’re loved and cherished. The following sweet suggestions will help you show your children the honey this Rosh Hashanah and every other day of the brand new year.

Rosh Hashanah Honey for Kids

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• Take them to a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop and decorate Kiddush cups, apple plates or honey bowls together.

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• Leave Hershey’s Kisses on their pillows on erev Rosh Hashanah, along with a note wishing them a sweet New Year.

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• Celebrate the birthday of the world with a family nature hike.

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• Give the world a birthday present by planting a tree together.

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• Have a honey cake baking party.

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• Let them design the Rosh Hashanah tablecloth and challah cover using fabric crayons or markers.

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• Make a Rosh Hashanah hunt by giving children clues that lead them to different places in your home — i.e., go to the place where you rest your rosh (head) every night. Have a new clue waiting at each stop and a bag of holiday treats at the final destination.

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• Take a family excursion to an orchard for apple picking.

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• Bake a round challah together.

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• Visit ” target=”_blank”>www.babaganewz.com, where little techies can find Rosh Hashanah games and activities.

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• Have a Tashlich ceremony by a lake or river, so children can cast their sins away and start out the year with a fresh, clean slate.

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• Turn an apple on its side and cut it in half to reveal a star in the middle. Dip the fruit in washable paint, and let your little stars stamp away.

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• Steal some time to read a High Holiday picture book together — even if they say that they’re too old to listen to a story. Some noteworthy choices are “Gershon’s Monster: A Story for the Jewish New Year” by Eric Kimmel (Scholastic, 2000), “The World’s Birthday: A Rosh Hashanah Story,” by Barbara Diamond Goldin (Harcourt, 1990), “Sophie and the Shofar” by Fran Manushkin (Urj, 2001) and “How the Rosh Hashanah Challah Became Round” by Sylvia Epstein (Gefen,1999).

Year-Round Sweet Stuff for Kids

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• Flip through photo albums and baby books, and tell them stories about when they were little.

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• Have lunch with them at school (note: disregard in case of preadolescence).

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• Have a campout in the living room. Roast marshmallows over candles and tell ghost stories by flashlight.

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• Give them a coupon that they can redeem for something priceless, like going to a movie with mom or a ballgame with dad.

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• Plan a family game night once a week. TVs, cellphones and computers not invited.

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• Have an unbirthday party — complete with a cake — for everyone in the family who does not have a birthday that day.

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• Take them on a “mystery trip” to a place you rarely go, like an amusement park, sporting event or children’s museum.

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• Proudly display their finest schoolwork.

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• Transform your family room into a movie theater, complete with tickets and popcorn.

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• Send them comic books, baseball cards or other goodies in the mail.

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• Create a new family tradition like a weekly pizza-making night.

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• Do something completely out of character, like starting a pillow fight.

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• Pack dinner up in a picnic basket and eat at the park.

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• Watch cartoons with them.

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• Make up a secret signal together for saying “I love you.” (Little ones will love being sneaky; older children will be thankful to save face in public.)

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• Arrange with the teacher to read a book to their class.

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• Host special dinners to celebrate their every day accomplishments, like losing a tooth, scoring a soccer goal or getting an “A” on a science test.

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• Slip a joke into their backpacks.

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• Ask them for advice about something they know well.

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• Tell them you love them — even if they roll their eyes when they hear it — every morning and every night.

L’Shanah Tovah to you and your honeys.

Sharon Estroff is a syndicated Jewish parenting columnist with graduate degrees in education and child psychology.

Q & A With Wilda Spalding


Open Wilda Spalding’s “little black book,” and you’ll discover a code of ethics — written in part by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Spalding, who will be at the University of Judaism on Oct. 26, has been a human rights activist at the United Nations in Geneva for more than 30 years. She has campaigned for indigenous people, children, the disabled and others and founded the International Human Rights Consortium, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the spirit of the Universal Declaration by honoring human rights advocates. Spalding is a member of congregation B’nai Horin, which holds services outdoors in gardens.

Jewish Journal: What will you speak about at the University of Judaism?

Wilda Spalding: The title of the talk is “Powerful Pixels of Peace: The Individual, the Nation and the United Nations.” Your screen on your computer or your television is made up of pixels. If one of them isn’t on, your television or your computer doesn’t work. That’s how important each one of us is. I want [listeners] to get really connected with themselves and the pretext of the individual and the different forms that can take — individual couples, individual communities, individual nations. One of the forms is the United Nations. I want them to go away feeling their beauty, their specialness, their uniqueness and their power.

JJ: Do Jews have a particular interest in human rights?

WS: A Jew is a living human rights Universal Declaration. By the covenant with Hashem — by the act of creation — they’re called to be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the beginning, the declaration was born from the horrors of World War II.

JJ: How did you get involved with the United Nations?

WS: My mother was in San Francisco at the time of the signing [of the United Nations Charter in 1945], and I was in her womb. Through the amniotic fluid, I heard it, and I went, “Yes! This is for me.” For me, it’s about purpose and enabling people to feel their full dignity and respect. This is a place where people gather to try to do that.

JJ: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has said, “The U.N. Human Rights Commission promotes anti-Israel, anti-Semitic resolutions.” Do you agree?

WS: I’m in the Commission and have been for many, many years as a senior NGO [nongovernmental organization] participant. Israel as a nation is one thing, and Israel in what it’s doing in other areas of the world in terms of humanitarian work, in terms of being involved in HIV/AIDS, in its work in Senegal [is another thing]. Israel is doing a lot of very exciting and wonderful things. And that does show up in other places.

JJ: In September 2001, the United Nations hosted in Durban, South Africa, “The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” The conference was called anti-Semitic and the United States government boycotted it. Do you think it was anti-Semitic?

WS: It was not anti-Semitic in the sense that it was not anti-Islam. No, it was anti-Israeli. And the fact that, that came through was really indicative of the pain that the world community is feeling and may be turning on the United States in a very similar way.

JJ: Peter Hansen, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), recently said in an interview that UNRWA in Gaza knowingly hires members of Hamas. Israel has called for Hansen’s resignation. Do you think Hansen should resign?

WS: When there is an organization or a club, which is all the U.N. is — it’s a dues-paying club — if you’re not a member of that club, you may not want to join that club, you may not like that club. You may want to criticize that club’s rules. But then how do you get that club to go to the ethical place you’d like it to? By being angry at it? By criticizing it? By not joining it?

If people want UNRWA to be different, then they need to start working at UNRWA.

Is it better that you have the people working for you, so that you can keep an eye on them and integrate them into something positive, or is it better to leave them alone, giving them 10 hours a day to make a bomb?

JJ: What’s something practical that the Los Angeles community can do to improve the state of human rights?

WS: The community is made up of individuals. The first thing all of us have to do is go inside ourselves, clean out the fear. Why are we always pitting ourselves us against them? Why do we fall into the trap of dualism? Is God two? No. God is echad [one].

We have tremendous capacity within ourselves, no matter our situation. Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ask yourself, if you had all the money and all the staff in the world, what one thing would you do?

Wilda Spalding will speak Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 10:45 a.m. after a 10 a.m. reception at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. $10. For more information, call (310) 440-1283, ext 283.

Alternative Invitation to a Simcha


After canceling a bat mitzvah trip to Israel for their daughter, Danielle, Tricia and Mark Rauch decided that if they couldn’t bring their family to Israel, they would bring Israel to Houston. But when Tricia and Danielle began shopping for Israel-themed bat mitzvah invitations, they got very upset.

“We couldn’t believe how expensive invitations had become since my last daughter’s bat mitzvah two years ago,” Tricia said. “I said to Danielle, ‘If we’re going to be spending this kind of money, at least let’s try and find a way to also make it benefit Israel.'”

Tricia called Jewish National Fund (JNF) to find out if she could plant a tree in Israel for each guest invited to Danielle’s bat mitzvah. “It turns out JNF has exactly such a program set up already,” Tricia said. “The tree certificate is the actual invitation. We had the choice between a number of different bar and bat mitzvah-themed tree certificates and even one for water to help JNF alleviate Israel’s water crisis. We wrote the text to appear on the certificates, and now Danielle has a garden in Israel made up of trees planted in honor of each of her 550 bat mitzvah guests.”

Trends show that religious celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs are more lavish than ever, with the standard expense costing the equivalent of one year’s college tuition (Forward “‘Today I Am a Master Card’: Bar Mitzvahs Break the Bank,” Feb. 22, 2002). For most people, though, it is not just a question of how much money they are spending but how they are spending it. Whether planning a big blowout or a more modest affair, invitations that give to charity infuse any simcha with greater significance.

Roni and Arthur Tillem of Atlanta used JNF’s Simcha Invitation Program for both their daughters’ bat mitzvahs. As members of an Orthodox synagogue where women are not called to the Torah, the Tillems wanted to celebrate their daughters’ rites of passage in a way that still had religious and spiritual significance. For Nicole, who just had her bat mitzvah in October, the Tillems planned a family weekend for Parshat Noach at which Nicole gave a dvar Torah based on her studies of the parsha. The theme of the weekend was about choices and Nicole spoke about how it is the ability to make rational choices that distinguishes humans from God’s other creatures.

“The tree certificates with doves on them that we used as invitations fit in perfectly with the theme of the weekend,” Roni said. “First of all because of the role of the dove in the story of Noach, and second of all, and more important, because they illustrated the choice of giving tzedakah. Given the circumstances in Israel, for the same money you would spend on invitations anyway, why not support Israel in a way that’s tangible for your kids, yourself, your friends and your kids’ friends.”

Both the Tillems and the Rauchs reported on the overwhelmingly positive feedback they received from their unique choice of invitations.

“So many people called and even sent me thank-you notes about what a meaningful and beautiful way to start off the celebration of Danielle’s Jewish coming-of-age,” said Tricia Rauch. “People were so moved that they in turn bought trees in honor of Danielle.”

Roni Tillem mentioned a similar phenomenon: “A number of people took Nicole’s initiative and gave trees back to her as gifts. She loved the idea that she had inspired people to give tzedakah and I think she really took away from it a sense of the power of making good choices as well as the feeling that she had been able to do a personal mitzvah for Israel.”

“When Danielle goes to Israel she will see what a special thing she did and understand how proud she should be,” said Tricia. “Her bat mitzvah didn’t just end with a party that had Israeli dancing and a backdrop of the Western Wall, but will always be something living in Israel –there is perpetual significance to her moment of passage from childhood to accepting the responsibilities of adulthood.”

To find out more about JNF’s Simcha Invitation Program,
call (800) 700-1312 ext. 136 or e-mail simchas@jnf.org .

An Experience Worth the Price of Admission


When it came time to talk about the high price of High Holiday tickets, The Jewish Journal thought there would be no better person to chat with than Ron Wolfson. He’s spent more than 28 years with the University of Judaism (UJ), both as dean of the school of education and director of the UJ’s Whizin Center for the Jewish Future, studying Jewish ritual and the place it plays in everyday life (he’s even written a series of four books on the subject called “The Art of Jewish Living.”)

Wolfson is also a co-founder of Synagogue 2000, a national, interdenominational project that’s working to help synagogues beef up their role as spiritual centers through prayer, study and social justice.

So what is his expert opinion when it comes to those $100 and $150 price tags on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur seats? Are the charges really necessary? Is the cost too high?

Wolfson’s take: looking at the issue in these terms misses the point. The controversy over High Holiday tickets isn’t about the rights and wrongs of paying to pray, or about marginalizing people who can’t afford the “high price tag on Jewish life,” as he calls it. What the ticket debate is about, at its heart, is securing the future of the synagogue as a center of Jewish life.

Jewish Journal: Why do synagogues charge for High Holiday tickets?

Ron Wolfson: The basic reason is that it’s a good time of the year to solidify membership. Synagogues could not survive without in some way linking membership to the High Holiday experience. It’s a huge motivation for people to sign on the dotted line, if you will — to make their annual commitment to synagogue life, to synagogue membership.

What’s unfortunate about it — and I think any rabbi in town would agree with this — is that nobody likes the idea of “charging” for High Holiday tickets. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on is that people want to be in a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, and there’s such a demand for seating that most synagogues need some way to manage it. And that’s where the ticket idea comes in.

JJ: The tickets we’re talking about here are sold to people who aren’t synagogue members, right? Or do some synagogues also require members to pay?

RW: Most synagogues distribute tickets for the High Holidays because it’s a way to manage the crowd. At Valley Beth Shalom, which is my synagogue, my guess is that there are going to be at least 5,000 people going to services. So they, and most major synagogues, will use tickets in order to assign seating and manage the crowds — for members and for nonmembers. There are other synagogues for whom this is anathema. For them, it’s first come, first served. Which is much more egalitarian on the surface of it, I guess. But then, you know, there’s a challenge.

JJ: Someone who’s a regular could end up running a little late and not get a seat.

RW: That’s right. And your regulars, who are giving the bulk of the financial support, I think do deserve to have a place to sit. [Laughs] Forget about a good place to sit.

I don’t think anybody likes the system. I really don’t. I think that it’s just a fact of life. There routinely are critics who come into the synagogues and say, you see, this is what I don’t like about synagogues. But that’s really unfair, because the synagogue is wide open for any spiritual seeker — member or nonmember — to come to services, most of the time.

JJ: How many people is it in Los Angeles who are unaffiliated, who’d be looking for a seat on the High Holidays? Do you have an estimate?

RW: My understanding is that well under 20 percent of the Jews of Los Angeles belong to a synagogue. It could be under 15 percent. Nationally, it’s a little higher, but Los Angeles is a place where a lot of Jews don’t belong to synagogues, or any Jewish institution.

There are large numbers of people who don’t make a commitment to any Jewish organization, and that’s the big challenge for us. There’s a huge number of people who seek out a synagogue for the High Holidays, and they either end up at the overflow services that some of the synagogues offer to nonmembers, or they go to services run by independent contractors — cantors and rabbis who hire a hall and offer services, no membership required to come, all you have to do is buy a ticket at a very low fee. It’s a way for people to fulfill their High Holiday needs. But I would prefer that people join a synagogue. I think they’re missing out on the opportunity to connect with a sacred community.

JJ: I was reading an interview about ticket sales with a synagogue administrator in a different city who referred to unaffiliated people who buy High Holiday tickets as “people who don’t want to take the time to commit, who don’t want to have the soul to commit, who simply want to use the synagogue as a drive-through window for their own needs.”

RW: I think it’s true. And I think it’s unfortunate, because I think those people are missing an opportunity to have a deeper connection to what we would call a kehillah kedoshah [a sacred community]. Actually, I think that this is true not just for the High Holidays, but also when people use the synagogue as a fee-for-service operation.

That’s not how you build sacred communities. There needs to be a deeper relationship built, which says when I pay dues to a synagogue or when I get engaged through a High Holiday service, I’m there to try to find a spiritual home — and not just to satisfy my needs for the moment. I think the synagogues want to do that with their members, but we have to change the culture of expectation of the relationship between the members and potential members and the synagogue itself.

JJ: How do the High Holidays fit into changing that culture?

RW: I think it’s an opportunity to say to synagogue members and potential members that we love you being with us today, but don’t forget that as much as this is a spiritual high moment in the Jewish calendar, it’s only one of many high moments.

We’re here all the time. We’re here for Shabbat. We’re here for the other holidays. We’re here for adult education. We’re here for social justice projects. We’re here to be a healing place for you when you’re in need of comfort and in need of support.

At Temple Israel of Hollywood, which is one of the Synagogue 2000 pilot sites in Los Angeles, they did something remarkable last year to send this message to the people who are coming just once or twice a year. They knew that they’d have hundreds of people lined up trying to get in to Rosh Hashanah services, so they went out on the street on Hollywood Boulevard and instead of letting the people just stand there, they spread out through the line. They sang songs and they served apples and honey, the traditional Rosh Hashanah treat. It was all an attempt to diffuse the uncomfortableness of waiting to get into the service. Greeting people and welcoming people is the first step in creating a warmer, sacred community.

JJ: What kind of results did they get in terms of people coming back?

RW: People loved it. They loved it.

Fed Campaign Ends on High Note


Propelled by a tide of last-minute contributions in the final weeks of its annual campaign, the Jewish Federation of Orange County raised a record $2.3 million, a 9 percent gain over last year, outpacing national results by the United Jewish Communities.

“We attribute the increase in the campaign to deliberate relationship building,” said Bunnie Mauldin, Federation executive director.

Each of the Federation’s various support groups increased its giving, though the 39 percent increase by the young professionals’ network was the largest. Gifts ranged from $5,000 to $100,000 or more.

Nearly 90 percent of the Federation’s contributors gave $500 or less, or 16 percent of the total.

“That is pretty much in step with what most philanthropy’s experience: 90 percent of the money comes from 10 percent of the donors,” Mauldin said.

In June, the Journal incorrectly reported the 2003 results as slightly down based on incomplete figures that did not reflect the final campaign push.

The Federation fell short of an ambitious $3.2 million target, but should be considered a success since other communities experienced meaningful declines, Federation President Lou Weiss, noted in the group’s annual report.

This year’s campaign exceeded last year’s level by $235,000, Mauldin said.

How to Fundraise in the 21st Century


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unorthodox View of Who’s Orthodox


Who knew that an article on Jewish love would generate a little debate?

A while back, I wrote a piece titled, "Shut Up, I Love You!" (Feb. 14) about how Jews are great at giving to each other but lousy at taking from each other. I suggested you honor your fellow Jews by taking or learning something from them. This makes every Jew feel needed and important, and encourages the unifying dynamic of reciprocity.

Well, what do you know? I received numerous responses, some of them quite challenging. In particular, I want to respond to my observant friends who have asked me to answer this question: What can they take from a Jew who doesn’t believe the Torah is the word of God and who feels no need or obligation to follow His commandments? What can they take from that "truth"?

This is perhaps the toughest question on the subject, and if a godly answer could be found, it might unlock the secret to Jewish unity.

So let me start with this: There is no such thing as a nonobservant Jew. When a secular Jew visits a sick person in the hospital, at that moment he’s not secular, he’s Orthodox. He is performing the all-important mitzvah of bikur cholim (visiting the sick) whether he calls it that or not.

Similarly, I have a lifelong colleague who is a Reform Jew and who goes to synagogue once or twice a year. In the parlance of the day, he can be labeled "nonobservant." But when it comes to the critical commandment on lashon hara (guard your tongue from speaking evil) he’s a fanatic. In fact, on that mitzvah, he’s more observant than many Orthodox people I know.

Conversely, when an Orthodox Jew transgresses — whether by doing lashon hara or getting angry or anything else — at that moment he is nonobservant. The fact that his beliefs are Orthodox does not make his actions Orthodox.

And isn’t it an accepted Orthodox view that Judaism is more a religion of action than of beliefs? If that’s the case, then we can even say that all Jews are Orthodox or even ultra-Orthodox — it just depends on the time of day.

Now imagine if the Orthodox Jews of the world would reach out to the non-Orthodox and actually validate their good deeds as manifestations of halacha (Jewish law)?

I don’t use the word halacha loosely. For example, picture a Reform Jew who is actively involved in social or environmental causes, like feeding the hungry or fighting against pollution. Those causes are also commandments from God. They are bona fide mitzvahs that do something all Orthodox Jews love to do: create "Kiddush Hashem" (sanctifying the name of God). That’s not just a good idea, that’s halacha.

To take this dream even further, imagine if observant Jews would take or learn a few mitzvahs from the nonobservant: like a group of ultra-Orthodox demonstrating for the revival of the Los Angeles River, because the river’s desecration is destroying Hashem’s creation, or kippah-wearing Jews setting up a soup kitchen on Skid Row, because we are "our brothers’ keepers" and God wants us to do just that.

Was there ever a greater "Kiddush Hashem" than when the Orthodox Abraham Joshua Heschel marched in the 1960s with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to fight for blacks’ civil rights?

If a Jew does something that creates "Kiddush Hashem," is that mitzvah any less valid or important than, say, putting on tefillin? The Torah offers many ways to honor the name of God and create a dwelling place for Him.

So here’s a challenge to Torah scholars: Study the good deeds of nonobservant Jews and see if there is a Torah or halachic rationale for these good deeds. You might find that there are more frummies among us than you ever dreamed of.

The central idea here is that we should all take a step back and stop trying to change each other, which doesn’t work. What might work better is a two-way relationship in which we exchange good deeds, judge actions rather than people and recognize that not only are all Jews created equal, but all mitzvahs are created equal.

If we started on this more open road, we could create a new dynamic in Jewish life. By celebrating the holiness in each other, we’d be building not a patronizing or superficial unity but a unity of need, in which every Jewish soul contributes to the common destiny. We would not be accepting the status quo, we’d be making it holier.

Perhaps most beautifully, we would be inviting more reciprocity, which would ignite more mitzvahs. If you’re an Orthodox Jew, for example, and your mission is to make Jews more observant, by acknowledging the mitzvah of a nonobservant Jew, you’d make it more likely that he’d repay the favor and open his heart to Shabbat, tefillin, kashrut, mikvah, etc.

In other words, by exchanging, we can all win. And in a true loving relationship, when real unity reigns, everybody wins — even God.

David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising, and founder/editor of OLAM magazine and the activist site OLAM4Israel.com. He can be reached ateditor@OLAM.org.

Realty’s Fealty for Jewish Los Angeles


Jewish philanthropy in Los Angeles can be summed up in three words: "Location, location, location."

"Real estate gives far more with respect to Jewish causes," said Mark Karlan, chairman of the Real Estate and Construction (REC) Division of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which will honor real estate philanthropist Charles Boxenbaum at its annual Tribute Dinner on May 29.

Karlan and other successful Jews in the business believe that realty’s fealty to Jewish causes lies in factors unique to the nature of the business, which is driven by a generation profoundly connected to Jewish values and impacted by the Holocaust and the creation of Israel.

If The Federation is an accurate reflection of philanthropic patterns in Jewish Los Angeles, it may be telling that the REC is, by far, the nonprofit’s most successful professional division, according to Federation staffers. In 2001, the REC raised $4.8 million toward the general campaign, increasing its gift in 2002 to $5 million, plus an additional $2.5 million toward the Jews in Crisis $20 million campaign. In both years, REC provided just over 12 percent of the total Federation campaign.

Most prominent real estate philanthropists in Jewish Los Angeles belong to the 65-year-old United Jewish Fund (UJF) division, which includes developers, investors, contractors, lawyers and property managers among its 800 donors. In addition to Boxenbaum, significant Federation supporters include Holocaust survivors Jona Goldrich, of Goldrich & Kest, and Max Webb; Stanley Black of Black Equities; Arden Realty CEO Richard Ziman; and Bram Goldsmith, who, in the late 1990s, provided the lead gift toward The Federation’s $20 million retrofitting of its 6505 Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer, who owns the New Mart building in downtown Los Angeles’ fashion district, has been a prominent contributor to and participant in Federation causes, as have past REC gala honorees Herb Gelfand, Larry Weinberg, George Smith and the late Stanley Hirsh.

Ziman sees the connection between real estate and Jewish philanthropy as an extension of an affinity with Jewish history and values that was very profound for the generation before his.

"They grew up in an environment surrounded by the aftermath of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel," he said.

For Jews of the Holocaust generation, whether they experienced the Shoah firsthand — such as Goldrich — or not (e.g., Black and Hirsh), they felt it. They were moved by the Holocaust and the drive to create Israel.

For this generation, it’s a dyed-in-the-wool connection to Jewish history and values. While Black’s father, Jack, was not in the real estate field, the elder Black, who led the UJF’s Textile Division, transmitted a deep sense of tzedakah and other Jewish values before he passed away when Stanley was 21.

"My father was incredible," Boxenbaum said. "When the state [Israel] was being founded, arms for Israel went to the bank and withdrew $5,000, which was a fortune. He couldn’t afford it."

Los Angeles’ Jewish real estate machers have established Jewish institutions beyond the confines of their profession. Hirsh, who owned such properties as the Cooper Building before he died in March, helped found The Jewish Journal. Black founded ORT Los Angeles, and Goldrich made the $3 million Los Angeles Holocaust Monument in Pan Pacific Park happen. Goldrich and Black were also founders of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

From 1966 until his retirement last year, Boxenbaum was the chair/CEO of National Partnership Investments, a syndicator asset manager in the apartment housing field that manages 60,000 units. On March 30, he and wife, Kharlene, attended the inauguration of the $4 million Boxenbaum Family Aish Outreach Center, the main headquarters for Aish HaTorah Los Angeles. The project, to which Boxenbaum contributed $1 million in seed money, is the latest in a lifelong commitment to Jewish causes that began in 1948, when he moved to Israel’s Western Galilee to become a founding member of Kibbutz Gesher Haziv.

In 1953, upon returning from Korean War duty, Boxenbaum served as chairman of the junior division of the United Jewish Appeal. He later chaired the REC (1978-1979) and served as general chair of the UJF campaign in 1990, the first year of the Operation Exodus fundraising effort. His leadership helped raise $75 million, with $25 million reserved for Operation Exodus — the best campaign year in The Federation’s history. Boxenbaum achieved this even as he lost one of his sons to kidney disease in 1988.

But is the era of philanthropy drawing to a close?

"Stan Hirsh and Irwin Goldenberg were two giants in this community. Who is going to replace them?" Boxenbaum asked. "Younger Jews are giving to a lot of other causes — Save the Whales, private schools. As the big givers die off, you have more and more competition from more secularized organizations — City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center — reduced donor base, greater competition from [more Jewish organizations]."

"It’s an inevitable dilution…. A lot of it is generational," Boxenbaum said.

The Federation is intent on keeping that next generation: Last year the REC created its own Young Leadership Division, chaired by Brian Weisberg.

"It’s a great place for the young guys to network," said Ryan Yatman, who joined REC seven years ago when he was 23. Yatman, now 30, looks up to active REC members a generation ahead of him, such as Mark Weinstein, past chair of the REC division.

The young generations who are carrying the torch in the community say they owe a lot to the example set by the Goldriches and the Goldsmiths, the Blacks and the Boxenbaums.

"A lot of the older guys want to mentor and they make themselves freely available," Yatman said.

For the time being, a significant dip in real estate’s contribution to Jewish philanthropy remains to be seen.

"It’s as good as it’s every been," Ziman said, "and it’ll suffer as we lose the [Holocaust] generation. But hopefully, it will pick back up."

The Jewish Federation’s Real Estate & Construction Division will honor Charles Boxenbaum at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on May 29. For more information, call (323) 761-8316.

Stanley Hirsh


I first met Stanley Hirsh in 1984 when he stopped by tovisit an after-school program in Jerusalem where I was working as a counselor.The kids and I were playing a game of basketball on a cracked blacktop court.

After watching from the fence for a while, Stanley called meover and introduced himself. I assumed he was going to congratulate me forhelping the indigent immigrant children of Israel.

“How can someone as tall as you,” he asked, “stink so bad atbasketball?”

Hirsh was several handfuls of human being. He belonged to avanishing generation of Jewish philanthropists, self-made men (they were mostlymen) whose drive, talent, luck and brazenness made them rich. They were tough,sometimes even gruff, and yet exceedingly generous. Their philanthropy arosefrom the same impulse as their wealth. They wanted to make the most, and givethe most.

Stanley’s involvement with The Journal came toward the endof a long life of achievement and giving. But he showed great, youthfulenthusiasm for this paper. He shared a vision of a newspaper that could serveas a kind of hub for an increasingly diverse and far-flung community. Hesupported decisions that greatly increased The Journal’s size and distribution.He supported editorial content that was tough, fair and compassionate.

We at The Jewish Journal mourn his loss, and extend our deepestcondolences to his family. 

Eight Crazy Delights


1. No Nostalgia for Waxing

This Chanukah, there is no more scraping, boiling water, melting with a hair dryer or freezing to remove wax drippings from your menorah because Wax-Off prevents wax from sticking to any candle-holder surface. Visit www.wax-off.net or call (800) 334-9964 for more information.

2. Fiddler-mania!

Question: What would your Chanukah be without your hand-painted “Fiddler on the Roof” Figurine Music Box ($45), “Fiddler” Chess Set ($300), “Fiddler” Chip n’ Dip Set ($50), “Fiddler” Teapot ($36) and set of “Fiddler” Shmear Spreaders ($45)? And the answer: Much less expensive. (www.jewishsource.com ).

3. A Big Blow to the Jewish People

Hebrew Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum Box of 100 ($10.95). If you can’t read Hebrew, don’t sweat it — the comic strips are probably funnier when you don’t understand the gags (www.jewishsource.com).

4. Rabbi Said Knock You Out!

Boxing Rabbi Puppet ($9.50). Finally, a way to one-up your neighbor’s Fighting Nun Puppet (www.mcphee.com ).

5. Ark for Ark’s Sake

The Ark of the Covenant ($11.95). Indiana Jones nearly lost his life searching for his. So why not pick one up for yourself and see what all the hubbub is about? (www.mcphee.com ).

6. Giving You Plaque

Gefilte Fish Plaque ($5.95). A Jesus plate parody for your car. In all honesty, this plaque probably tastes better than the fish that inspired it. Unclear whether it comes packed in jelly. (www.mcphee.com ).

7. When the Golem

Gets Tough…

Share with your children the legend of the Prague protector with a copy of “Golem,” an award-winning children’s book by David Wisniewski. (Clarion Books, $17) (www.amazon.com ).

9. Winnie the Jew

Winnie the Pooh in a yarmulke with dreidel in hand. Nobody saw this one coming, but then again, the lovable bear perhaps makes a more convincing Jew than a boy named Christopher Robin. ($8.50). (The Disney Store. For locations visit disney.store.go.com ).



Bonus Shamash Gift: The Jewish Version of The Spinners?

The Draydelettes, a chorus line of Chanukah tops created by designer Susan Fischer Weis, grace a light set ($19.95) and mug ($7.95) (www.jewishsource.com ).

Jewish Giving is Still Looking Good


When the stock market entered bear territory last month, individual investors weren’t the only ones taking note. The continued softening of the market can also have a major effect on nonprofit organizations, many of which have benefited greatly from an exceptional run during the past five years.

While it’s still too early to tell how the recent changes will affect Jewish nonprofits in Los Angeles, fundraisers at some of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations say they’re not worried yet.

The Jewish Federation’s annual United Jewish Fund campaign is "off to its best start in seven years," according to William S. Bernstein, Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development. He said giving has already increased 15 percent, and the campaign reached the $26-million mark — more then half its goal — a month and a half earlier than it did last year.

Not suffering either is the American Jewish Committee (AJC). "We are right on schedule," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the AJC. The organization is "raising about the same as last year, which was our best year ever — over $2 million in Los Angeles," he said.

Likewise, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is having a "banner year," with 100 new synagogues having joined its Passover campaign, said H. Eric Schockman, MAZON’s new executive director. Organizations that emphasize planned giving — like the American Society for Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles — say they are also performing strongly this year.

One factor making these Jewish organizations hopeful is that the last several years weren’t just good, they were very good. During the three years from the start of 1997 to the end of 1999, the nation’s largest charities experienced double-digit percentage increases in giving, according to a September 2000 report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"There’s been huge growth in private foundations that give to Jewish causes," said Evan Mendelson, executive director of the Jewish Funders Network, an organization that brings together Jewish donors across the country to collaborate on their giving. In 1998, she said, there were 3,000 U.S. private foundations that gave to Jewish causes, and today there are 5,000, and that doesn’t even count the supporting foundations and donor-advised funds that are run by individual Federations and community foundations. The accumulated assets of these funds topped $6.2 billion in 1998, although the percentage given to Jewish organizations varies.

"There is a tremendous amount of new money that’s secured into foundations," said the AJC’s Greenebaum. "They may not be making the same interest rate that they were … but those foundations will be giving in perpetuity."

A February survey in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, however, found that nearly half the country’s largest foundations expected giving to remain flat in 2001. Slightly more said their assets shrank over the last year. In Los Angeles, it’s too early to predict what will happen to the local foundations, the stock market and the economy overall, said Marvin I. Schotland, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, a $325-million endowment that helps Jewish donors with tax and estate planning and philanthropic giving. What he and other leaders say is that during times of financial uncertainty, people give more strategically; they think about which organizations are best equipped to fulfill the passions they believe in.

"Passions and commitments don’t come and go based on economic circumstances," Schotland said. "They’re based on what you feel deep down in your heart or your gut. Economic circumstances merely allow you to fulfill those commitments."

Schockman agrees that donors are more selective when the economy sags. But he points to the tradition of tzedakah and says that, when it comes to giving, "Jews behave differently…. If the economy bottoms out, Jews will still give. I think they will give to organizations they feel comfortable with, who have good track records, whose administrative overheads are within guidelines of nonprofit management and who they trust." Most leaders agree that a nonprofit’s best protection against an economic downturn is planning, a clearly defined mission and a good track record. A large endowment doesn’t hurt, either.

"The next couple of years are going to be challenging for charitable organizations," Schotland said. "The better-run organizations and those whose missions resonate will come through the process more easily and with less trauma than those that are not."

"It’s a little like the pharaoh’s dream — there are the fat cows and the skinny cows. Part of fundraising is to do as well as you can in good years and as well as you can in the not-so-good years," said Greenebaum of the AJC. "I think people are not convinced that the economy is, long-term, so unhealthy that it has completely altered how people are giving right now. Many, many, many people are vastly better off than they were 10 years ago, so they may still be giving at a higher rate."

The Federation’s Bernstein agrees. "Although the economy and market have declined somewhat in the last year, the accumulated wealth of the community … still leaves contributors with significant flexibility in terms of how they wish to spend their charitable dollars," he said.

While a large amount of money has been created, it would be a mistake to believe that everyone has benefited. "There’s 31 million people who go to bed hungry every day, and 12 million of them are children," said Schockman. "Stock market or no stock market, there’s an epidemic out there of hungry people. We have not seen a diminution, even in the good times."

While tzedakah inspires giving, so do tax deductions. One tax of concern to fundraisers is the estate tax, sometimes called the death tax, which enables people to reduce the taxable value of their assets when they die by leaving a portion of it to charities. The tax encouraged the creation of many major foundations, such as Hughes, Mellon, Ford, and MacArthur.

If the Bush administration eliminates the estate tax, nonprofits stand to lose a large incentive for giving. Like the economy, the future of the estate tax remains an unknown. But a cause that speaks to donors’ hearts and checkbooks is the best protection against the hazards of both.

"The longer you’ve been involved with a cause, then the stronger you feel about it," said Diane Siegel, executive director, Western region, of the American Society for Technion. "It becomes part of your life and something you want to do, regardless of tax benefits."

Let there be light


As the rabbis asked, what is Chanukah? It’s the darkest time of the year. One might easily believe that it will never be light and warm again. Natural history proves us wrong. The miracle of the seasons is the evidence.

There’s darkness in many parts of the world. One could almost believe that it will never be light and warm for some people again. Jewish history proves us wrong. The miracle of caring is the evidence. We are in the light business. Zot Chanukah — this is Chanukah.

This Chanukah, plan on increasing the light in the world with special gifts — the gifts of yourselves.
Before Chanukah, play a family game of “Light Up The World.” Make the longest list you can of ways you can brighten up the world. It’s a game that every family member can play.

The 3-year-old can turn on the lights with kisses and crayoned pictures; the teen can visit with an elderly relative or drive a lonely person to your synagogue for a class or activity. All children can share their plenty — from warm clothes to the warmth of a gesture of friendship in an invitation to join the lunch table or the extension of a helping hand.

Hang your list in a central location, like the fridge, as a reminder that the world can always use some extra light.

Here are a few suggestions for special gifts:

  • Make certain that all adults in your family have registered with your local bone marrow registry — www.giftoflife.com. We can save lives in many ways. The most direct and dramatic is with the gift of bone marrow. Don’t miss the opportunity to save a life, and make certain that your children know you are registered. When you give blood, take your children along to watch. Celebrate with a major ice-cream event on the way home!

  • If your post-teen is going out into the “real world” and leaving childhood behind, make that professional haircut into a gift of new life. Locks of Love accepts donations of unprocessed hair, 10 inches or longer. Donations are made into wigs for children who are experiencing long-term medically induced hair loss. For more information, go to www.locksoflove.com.

  • Got a clown in the family? Clowning is serious business. It brings life to the ill and lonely. Find out about projects that train “mitzvah clowns” from “Sweet Pea” and “Buttercup” — a k a Mike and Sue Turk — at
    bipamima@aol.com.

  • Is there a teen on the phone in your house? Contact your local school district or senior citizen program. Find out if it runs a phone contact program for children who are home alone after school or lonely senior citizens. Turn your teen-talker into a mitzvah-doer.

  • Are there animal lovers in your family? Contact your local animal shelter and ask for ways your family can help. You might have some four-legged company on your family’s walks. If you are ready for a major animal-related mitzvah, contact your local organization that provides guide dogs for the visually impaired and find out about raising a puppy for their use.

As you bask in the warm glow of the menorah, plan ways of bringing light into our world.
Zot Chanukah — that’s Chanukah!

The Only Choice We Have


Sometimes the same thing that got you into trouble can get you out of it. Take for example the fact that in last week’s Torah portion, our ancestors used their gold jewelry to fashion a golden calf. For this act of idolatry and faithlessness, thousands were killed as God’s anger poured down upon them like a river of fire.

This week, just one parashat later, the people donate more gold jewelry, this time for building the Tabernacle; the act and the place that ultimately lead the people to a true sense of religious faith. Last week, it was gold; this week it was gold. Last week, disaster; this week, triumph. It’s not the gold itself that determined the outcome for our ancestors, it’s how they use it.

The same is true for a lot of things in life — especially sorrow. I see a lot of pain in my line of work; all rabbis do. Sometimes it’s a lost job, sometimes a marriage, sometimes a life. What I’ve learned time and time again is, like gold in the hands of our ancestors, it’s not the tragedy itself that determines the outcome, it’s how we use it. For some, adversity marks the end of joy and meaning; it makes them hard and cruel. But there are others to whom trouble comes just as sharp, deep and dark, but who somehow find a way to turn their ache into sympathy, their sadness into love.

Here is a true story about just such a person. It was a miracle witnessed by a clerk in a cemetery office.

Every week, for several years, the mild little man received an envelope from a woman he did not know. The envelope always included a money order and note instructing him to put fresh flowers on her son’s grave. One day, a chauffeur came into the clerk’s office to speak to him.

“The lady outside is too ill to walk,” he explained. “Would you mind coming with me to speak with her?”

The shy clerk walked over and looked into the car where a frail, elderly woman with sad eyes sat in the back seat. A great bundle of flowers was in her arms.

“I am Mrs. Adams. Every week for years I’ve been sending you a money order.”

“For the flowers!” the clerk exclaimed. “I’ve never failed to place them on your son’s grave.”

“I came here today myself because the doctors have told me I have only a few weeks left. I’m not sorry really. I have nothing left to live for. But before I die I wanted to take one last look at my son’s grave and to put the flowers there myself.”

“You know, ma’am, I was always sorry you kept sending the money for the flowers.”

“Sorry?”

“Yes, because the flowers last such a short time and no one ever gets to see them or smell them. You know there are thousands of people in hospitals and nursing homes that love flowers, and they can see them and smell them. But there isn’t anybody in that grave. Not really.”

The old woman did not answer. She sat for a while and left without a word. The clerk was afraid he had offended her. But a few weeks later he was surprised with another visit. This time there was no chauffeur. The woman sat at the wheel, driving herself.

“I took the flowers to the people myself,” she said to the clerk with a smile. “You were right, it does make them happy. And it makes me happy. The doctors don’t understand what’s making me well. But I do.”

It’s a simple, true story about the same woman using the same money to buy the same flowers for a different purpose, not unlike our ancestors and their gold. It’s a simple, true story about the fact that sooner or later tragedy, sorrow and error come to us all — it’s part of what it means to be human and alive. Often, we have no choice but to experience pain. The only choice we have is how to use it.


Steven Z. Leder is rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.