6 revealing stats about Jewish nonprofits and the people who work for them


Jewish nonprofit workers are inspired, respected and challenged. They’re also stretched thin, lack regular feedback from their bosses and are itching to switch agencies.

Those are some lessons from “Are Jewish Organizations Great Places to Work?” a study released Thursday by Leading Edge, a partnership of Jewish foundations and federations aiming to draw talented employees to the Jewish nonprofit sector. The study, which interviewed more than 3,000 Jewish nonprofit employees at 55 organizations, painted a picture of an industry in flux — filled with passionate, yet transitory, staff members.

Here are the report’s key takeaways.

About one percent of America’s Jews works in a Jewish nonprofit

There are almost 10,000 Jewish nonprofits in the U.S., with more than 75,000 employees. The field spans anything from synagogues to federations to social service organizations and, according to a 2014 report by the Forward, has a combined budget exceeding $26 billion. By comparison, approximately 3.5 percent of Americans in total work at a nonprofit.

Many Jewish nonprofit workers are young women — and one in five isn’t Jewish

Two-thirds of Jewish nonprofit employees are women, and most employees are under 40. One in 20 did not specify a gender. Perhaps most surprising: 22 percent of Jewish professionals aren’t Jewish.

By 2023, almost all of today’s Jewish nonprofit directors will be replaced

Abe Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, stepped down from his post last year after nearly three decades at the group’s helm. But he’s the exception rather than the rule. According to the survey, Jewish groups have a high rate of turnover at the top. In addition, within five to seven years, 75 to 90 percent of Jewish nonprofits will have to replace their retiring CEOs.

Employees like where they work…

Here’s the good news for Jewish nonprofits: More than employees at the average U.S. nonprofit, Jewish nonprofit workers feel “motivated by the mission of their organization and understand how their specific job contributes to it.” Jewish nonprofit workers also feel, on average, 10 percent more respected and nine percent more challenged than nonprofit employees overall, according to the survey.

…but most plan to work somewhere else

Just because they like their work doesn’t mean employees will stay at their organizations. Compared to surveys of nonprofit employees overall, Jewish nonprofit workers feel like they’re not held as accountable and are not adequately staffed. Within the next five years, 60 percent plan to move to another organization — though most respondents plan to stay in the Jewish nonprofit sector for more than five years.

15 percent of Jewish nonprofit workers make under $30,000

The survey covered a range of salaries, starting with a handful of executives who earn more than $350,000. But the plurality of Jewish nonprofit workers earn $40,000 to $50,000. Not all are so lucky: approximately 15 percent of the field earns under $30,000 per year.

Taken together, the survey depicts a Jewish nonprofit sector whose backbone is formed by women who are driven by mission and earning relatively low wages, eager to serve but often frustrated by management.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failed Joshua Venture’s Serious Failings


 

Now that it has been “formally put to death and buried,” as one of its grantees told me, I feel free to speak out about the Joshua Venture, a supposed breakthrough organization, subsidizing the ideas of nonprofit professionals who will be leading the next generation of Jewish life.

I don’t know the intricacies of what happened that brought it to its final demise. I don’t even know all the details of how it worked when it was alive. I do know that when I dealt with its 14 20-30-something-aged grantees last year, it was the worst professional experience I have had since my company, Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes, began servicing the Jewish and nonprofit world.

The purpose of the Joshua Venture is something like this:

It was founded by several foundations in Jewish life to enable young social entrepreneurs (that means nonprofit start-ups) to receive funding and two-years of support, seminars, tools (that means training), mentoring and advice.

What I found out it basically meant is that they chose a group of creative and brilliant young Jews, many whom were committed to building edgy nonprofits in the Jewish world, who were coddled, handed monetary support on a silver platter, catered to, spoiled and allowed to believe that they were privileged and beyond socially acceptable behavioral norms.

I learned these realities the hard way. Initially, I was impressed and excited to be working with the grantees of the Joshua Venture. I already knew some of them. Several were great young people doing extraordinary new work in Jewish life.

There was the founder of J-Dub Records, bringing a new, hip style of Jewish music touching the lives of thousands of young, uninvolved Jews, opening a door for them into a Judaism from which they felt distant and alienated.

There was the founder of the Ayecha Resource Organization, an organization promoting the diversity of Jewish life, founded by a firebrand young Jewish woman who was a proud African American.

There was Sharsheret, supporting the needs of young, Jewish women dealing with breast cancer, founded by a young cancer survivor.

There were performance artists, filmmakers, political activists, intellectuals and others, forming an eclectic mix of dynamic personalities, committed to building their generation’s idea of a new Jewish world.

Joshua Ventures had contacted me about being one of their mentors. They asked if I could plan a full-day seminar for their grantees, teaching them the principles of marketing their causes for funding, advocacy and participation.

I was so excited to work with these people and help them further their ideas that I required my entire staff of 14 people to attend the seminar, positioning them to work as one-on-one mentors with each of the grantees. We prepared for weeks, working way beyond the hours for which Joshua Ventures was paying. I was happy to give the cause our time and a full day of 14 extraordinary professionals.

We arrived that morning to the seminar pumped up and ready to dive in with the grantees. I was prepared to work with them until midnight, if need be.

After an introduction from their professional, I stood up to convey our excitement at being with them and laid out the day’s schedule. Next, the head of our account service team, took the floor to begin the first part of the morning’s program.

He was just a few minutes into his presentation, when I noticed there was a buzz among the grantees. One young woman stands and says to me, “We believe your company is gender challenged. So far, we have heard from you and then another man. Why aren’t the women presenting?”

Not yet clued in, I nicely explained that there would be many women presenting, but that the way it worked out, the first two presentations were from men.

We continued, and then there was another buzz and interruption.

“We don’t like your methodology of presenting, as if you and your company are the center of knowledge. Your presentation model is outdated. You should be asking us what we know and then basing your presentation around our knowledge.”

I stopped and looked at their professional and their lay leader. Neither said a word. I waited to see if any of the other grantees would open their mouths to balance the critics. None did.

At the break, their professional informed me that the grantees tended to “eat up each professional that presented to them.” She further explained that this was par for the course.

(Today, as I recall this story, it reminds me of the report by Michael Jackson’s housekeeper telling the press how the kids at Neverland were allowed to run amok, without any supervision.)

The criticisms continued to fly. Finally, having reached my limit, I told them how excited we were to work with them, but as I listened to them, I was concerned about the values and behavior of the community they wanted to build. I then said that I believed through the grants they received that they had been empowered by the program and that they misconstrued this empowerment to feel entitled.

“You are taking away our safe space,” I was told by one of the grantees. “We’re supposed to be given safe space.”

As professionals, we stupidly continued to work with them through the entire day. We should have left. I should have publicly ripped up their check as a closing ceremony.

About two months later, I received a phone call from the professional, offering me a too-late and very weak apology. None of the funders, who had all heard about this fiasco, all of with whom I have worked very well over the years, ever called to ask about the experience.

The Joshua Venture raises many questions. There are numerous other programs in Jewish life, which are also handing the world on a silver platter to a new generation of Jews. The funders and their advisers have determined that free trips, free conferences, free hotel rooms, in addition to scholarships, fellowships, meetings with the rich and famous, study sessions with the brilliant, along with the awarding of cash, prizes and other untold privileges, not to mention the very deliberate creation of a new, selected elite class, are the methodology to perpetuate a vibrant and meaningful Jewish world.

And they may very well be right. But, several years into this new culture of privileged perpetuation, the late Joshua Venture is showing us that the methodology is also creating a sense of entitlement that is growing out of control.

I don’t believe that the programs should stop. But I do believe they must include some courses or sessions on values and humility, while demanding that the participants carry certain levels of responsibility. They must also include codes of conduct and expectations of gratitude, as well as an understanding that their participation does not place them above the community — or above amcha — the people.

The foundations of the Jewish world that fund these programs have stepped up to the plate to infuse Jewish life with a vibrancy and relevancy in a way the Jewish world has never worked before. They are to be thanked and praised.

But as they pursue the evaluations of their funding — as they all do, they must also question whether or not there is a critical issue of respect missing from the programs they are creating.

Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.

 

Federation Vows to Help Jewish Poor


Jews have long had a reputation as being among the most successful minority groups in the country. For the most part, they are. But as a new report from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles makes clear, not all Southland Jews live large. While some big machers tool around in BMWs and inhabit Beverly Hills and Brentwood mansions, thousands of less-fortunate community members struggle just to survive.

About one in five local Jews, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earn less than $25,000 annually. An estimated 7 percent live below the poverty line, compared to 5 percent nationally, according to a study titled “Alleviating Jewish Poverty in Los Angeles.” In greater Fairfax, an area with a high concentration of seniors and immigrants, an estimated one in three Jewish households lives in poverty.

“There’s an enormous number of Jews who live at or below the poverty line, and I think it will shock many members of our community to see how many people just scrape by,” Federation President John Fishel said.

In light of the stark findings, The Federation plans to make fighting Jewish poverty an even bigger priority, Fishel said. The agency has already allocated funds to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to hire new employees to focus on the need of the working poor. Around the country, Jewish agencies have undertaken several ambitious programs. In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Jewish Family Service helps poor clients pay outstanding utility bills. In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has built four buildings for the elderly poor with federal funds.

Jews in Southern California have a harder time eking out a living than their counterparts in other U.S. cities. Los Angeles ranks only behind San Francisco and New York as the nation’s most expensive city. Skyrocketing rents, health care and other costs mean poor Jews can afford little beyond the basic necessities, the report said. And the situation appears to be getting worse. The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in most Jewish neighborhoods is $900 to $1,200 per month, putting it beyond the reach of the poor and many working poor.

Based on the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) poverty study, the disabled account for 48 percent of the Jewish poor, refugees and immigrants make up 22 percent, non-college educated are 12 percent, seniors older than 65 comprise 9 percent, single-parent homes are 8 percent, and 1 percent is classified as other.

Ironically, some local Jews working for Jewish nonprofit organizations fall into the ranks of the Jewish poor. At a time when executives at the L.A. Federation and other agencies earn upward of $200,000, plus benefits, nearly 20 percent of the 450 full- and part-time unionized workers at Jewish Family Service (JFS), the Federation and five other Jewish agencies earned less than $20,000 as of the beginning of 2004. Many Jewish day school teaching assistants also make less than $20,000.

In preparing its poverty report, the L.A. Federation collected no new data locally. Instead, the agency based its findings on a Jewish population study commissioned in 1997 and a 2000-2001 survey by the NJPS. That the L.A. Federation conducted no recent random samples undermines the credibility of its study, said Pini Herman, a demographer and author of the 1997 L.A. Jewish Population Survey.

“It looks like they grabbed their numbers out of thin air,” said Herman, who was not consulted for the new survey. “The data fails to account for mortality, migration and movement up and down the economic ladder. I think it is intellectually dishonest.”

Fishel said he stood behind The Federation’s study, adding that he thought information from the 1997 data was still relevant.

The increased patronage of SOVA by local Jews reflects how much tougher things have become for them, said Paul Castro, executive director of JFS, the food bank’s operator. About 1,000 Jews visit SOVA twice monthly for free groceries, a 15 percent increase from last year and a 100 percent hike since 2002, he said.

“From the street level, the economy doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” Castro said. “It’s getting worse.”

At JVS, demand for job training and job placement services by poor Jewish refugees and immigrants has jumped by about 10 percent annually over the past four years, said Vivian Seigel, JVS chief executive and president.

A scholarship program for Jewish men and women in L.A. County living at or below the poverty line has also experienced a surge in interest. This year, about 500 young men and women applied for the higher education stipends, up from 350 last year, she said. Skyrocketing tuition costs, combined with surging rents and insurance costs, have placed a heavy financial burden on poor aspiring college students.

“They’re being pushed down,” Seigel said.

The poor are not the only Jews experiencing financial hardships. The report said an ostensibly middle-class family of two working adults and three school-age children must earn $79,750 to cover living and Jewish community expenses, which include religious school, two weeks of day camp and one month of residential camp. Parents wanting to send their children to Jewish day school would have to come up with another $20,400 per year.

“There are significant numbers of Jews in Los Angeles who can’t make ends meet because of the high costs of living [here] and often find that the costs of Jewish affiliation is beyond their reach,” the report said.

JCC Director to Leave Before Project Finish


Part of the team readying O.C.’s Jewish Community Center for its planned relocation and expansion next year in Irvine is not staying to see the result.

Gerry Buncher, 53, the JCC’s executive director since 1999, is resigning at the end of his current contract, effective Dec. 31.

“I decided it’s time to be closer to everybody,” said Buncher, who intends to relocate east in closer proximity to his two adult children and 88-year-old mother, hospitalized twice in the last year. He intends to seek a similar center job in the New York area.

Orange County and Long Beach are among seven communities currently recruiting top executives among the nation’s 275 centers, which have 1 million members, according to the Web site of the Jewish Community Center Association, the group’s national office.

Buncher’s successor will inherit a significantly larger job in a facility described as state-of-the-art. The JCC’s current $2.8 million annual budget is forecast to grow by more than 50 percent in its new location, predicted to open in September 2004, said Maryann Malkoff, the center’s president. The new director will also be responsible for expanding the center’s senior staff, such as new positions that will supervise programs in aquatics and cultural arts.

Future staffing levels will depend on programming, Malkoff said. “We’re still six months away,” she said, from needing to hire middle managers.

JCC membership of 1,200 units, which could be singles, families or couples, has remained stable for at least five years, said Jeanette Lewin, the center’s finance director. In September, the center will employ 38 people in full- and part-time positions. That includes 25 who work in the preschool, which has about 150 students. Staffing doubles in summer to 70 because of teen councilors hired for a day camp, she said.

Initially, the JCC board will consider prospective candidates exclusively from those recruited through the JCCA. “Why not exhaust the best resource first?” Malkoff asked. With a new facility, she predicted little trouble attracting potential job seekers.

Instead of the Jewish Federation, which currently manages the Costa Mesa campus, the JCC and its top executive will also assume day-to-day management responsibilities of the 120,000-square-foot Irvine campus, including its pool and gymnasium. Other Jewish agencies, such as the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Federation and Jewish Family Services, are to be tenants of the Orange County Jewish Campus, a recently incorporated nonprofit entity.

Between Pittsburgh, Columbus, Houston and Costa Mesa, Buncher has spent 26 years in center jobs. The new facility will be improved aesthetically because of insights he’s gleaned on how members use centers, such as eliminating fixed tables in work rooms rearranged for different uses.

“I would feel more guilty about leaving if this was the first year,” he said. “But they’re ready.”

Boot Camp Hones Leadership Skills


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redirecting high-powered volunteers is sometimes a prickly task.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even so, not every organization jumped at the opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Genealogy Help Off the Net


Joanna Rubiner, a 33-year-old actress from Los Feliz, sits in front of a microfilm reader that is likely older than she is. With a turn of the hand crank, she slowly scrolls through page after page of a ship’s manifest hoping to find the name of an elusive ancestor who immigrated to America.

Rubiner, who started collecting family stories at her grandfather’s funeral in 1986, has been coming to the Mormon-run Family History Center for more than a decade to pore over records. The information she’s seeking is not available online, and if it were she’d still want to track down the original document to confirm its accuracy.

“Sometimes I think a seance would be easier,” Rubiner said, referring to the decidedly low-tech medium of microfilmed records.

With software packages like Family Tree Maker and the growing availability of genealogy databases online, family-tree research is being marketed to consumers as an easy, accessible hobby. According to a 2000 Maritz Research poll, nearly 60 percent of people surveyed expressed an interest in genealogy, a 15 percent increase from 1995. This growing interest has spawned the PBS series, “Ancestors,” and the Museum of Tolerance’s new exhibit “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves.”

But the rose-colored picture sold to consumers of tracking down great-great-grandparents via the Internet in 30 minutes or less typically falls short. While the availability of records on the Internet is growing, public expectations still outstrip the reality of what’s out there. Most databases have been rushed and are rife with errors, especially when it comes to records with Jewish names. The end result has been a boon for Jewish genealogical societies and online resources, which are increasingly called on to help novice genealogists navigate resources on and off the Internet.

Recently, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation
(www.ellisisland.org) joined with the
Mormon Church to make available the passenger records of 22 million people who
entered America through the Port of New York and Ellis Island from 1892-1924.
According to JewishGen.org  editor Warren Blatt, the database has a 40-percent error rate.

“If you’re a Mormon in Salt Lake City, you’re not going to know how to translate the name Yitzhak,” said Blatt, who will be speaking to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles (JGSLA) about Jewish given names and JewishGen’s databases on Monday, April 21 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Blatt, 40, said that JewishGen has set up its own Ellis Island database — one of 50 the nonprofit makes available to the public — which takes into account spelling variations of Jewish names to help narrow a search.

“The Internet is a way to jump-start your research, but for serious research you need to consult the original documents,” Blatt cautioned.

Cyndi Howells of CyndisList.com, an index to online genealogical resources, echoed Blatt’s view. She said that the information entered into most Internet databases is about as accurate as a game of telephone.

“You should always be trying to get back to that original document. There’s too much room for error in transcription,” she said.

Tarzana residents Annette and Joe Corn recently joined JGSLA to get help researching their family tree. The 70-something couple received a copy of Family Tree Maker as a gift from a relative but has been unable to make headway with online research.

“I tried filling out as much as I could,” said Joe Corn, who was at the Family History Center learning how to find relatives on the U.S. Census. “I’ve been frustrated with the results on the Internet.”

The need to do research offline has led to a membership increase for groups like JGSLA, which has seen a 20 percent growth in the last few years.

“The person-to-person contact is invaluable to people,” JGSLA President Sonia Hoffman said.

The society itself works directly with the Los Angeles Family History Center and helps augment the center’s holdings by purchasing books and microfilmed records of interest to the Jewish community. But the group’s alliance with the Mormon Church does make some members uncomfortable.

The Mormon Church, which requires its followers to research their own family trees and submit the names of non-Mormon ancestors for baptism by proxy, recently came under fire for posthumously baptizing Jews, especially Holocaust victims. Church leaders pledged to end the practice last December.

“Some people’s attitudes are, ‘What do we care?’ Other people get offended,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman added that JGSLA’s relationship with the Mormon Church has been very good. When a Jewish name periodically appears in the church’s online International Genealogical Index, she said that the society is able to get it removed.

For Rubiner, a five-year JGLSA member, the records offered by the society and the Family History Center are an invaluable resource. She said the details on the shipping manifest can tell her a lot about the relative she’s researching, like how much money they were carrying at the time, who traveled with them, where they departed from and where they were going.

Researching one relative can take anywhere from hours to weeks, but the allure of discovering details about a person’s life through vital records makes her regular trips to the center worth the effort.

“You get obsessive,” Rubiner said. “It’s never-ending.”

Warren Blatt, editor-in-chief of JewishGen, will speak
at the Skirball Cultural Center on Monday, April 21, at 6:30 p.m. For more
information, visit www.jgsla.org .

Match Lights Way for Terror Victim Aid


Israeli soldier Monique Goldwasser was not expected to live
after a Palestinian bus driver deliberately struck her and other soldiers while
they waited at a bus stop on Feb. 14, 2001.

“I thought, ‘If Monique lives, I’ll become the voice and
face of all victims of terror in Israel,'” her mother, Sharon Evans, vowed.

Evans founded Adopt-a-Family, a project of the Coalition
Against Terror, a nonprofit organization that matches Jewish organizations
worldwide. As terrorism in Israel reaches an all-time high, Los Angeles
communities have found that adopting victims of terror and their families has
allowed them to support Israelis both financially and emotionally.

Stephen S. Wise’s Young Congregation raised thousands of
dollars for Goldwasser’s recovery and has kept in touch with her. After 17
operations, the former dancer, whose left leg is paralyzed, came to Los Angeles
with Evans to tell her story and walk in the 5K Walk (3.3-mile) portion of the
Los Angeles Marathon on March 2 with her benefactors.

Members of the Young Congregation and StandWithUs, a
pro-Israel advocacy group, joined her in the walk.

While her limp is noticeable, Goldwasser’s radiant smile,
sparkling eyes and positive outlook downplay her handicap. “I never thought I’d
be able to do something like this walk,” she said.

Around the city, communities treat their adoptees like one
of their own.

Rifka Ben Daniel, director of Judaic studies at Abraham
Joshua Heschel Day School West in Agoura, contacted the Adopt-a-Family program
last year; the school raised nearly $20,000 last April through a jog-a-thon and
was able to adopt three Israeli families. Throughout the academic year,
students send gifts and cards to the families and call them on their birthdays.
Ben Daniel is in contact with all three families, offering emotional support
whenever it is needed.

“It empowers the children to think that they can help
somebody in Israel,” said Ben Daniel, who met all three families when she visited
Jerusalem last December.

Across town, students at Maimonides Academy in West Los
Angeles adopted the Hadad family, who lost their wife and mother in a bus
bombing in Haifa. The students raised $5,000 so that the father could buy a car
to take his two young children to school.

“We were hoping [the students] would feel connected to some
of the victims in Israel and know they are directly helping these children,”
said Marlene Kahan, one of the school’s PTA presidents. To reinforce the
emotional connection, the school raised money to fly the father and the two
children to Los Angeles for Passover this year. While they are here, they will
spend time with different Maimonides families.

The Young Israel of Century City was the first shul in the United
States to participate in Adopt-a-Family. Rabbi Elazar Muskin and his
congregation raised more than $40,000 for the Har-Sinai family in Susiya.
Muskin has led three missions to Israel to visit the Har-Sinais, whose husband
and father was murdered by terrorists.

“When you meet with [the family] in person and they know who
[you] are, it makes an emotional connection,” he said.

Rick Fishbein, the unofficial Los Angeles coordinator of
Adopt-a-Family, helps the 20-30 Israeli families adopted by Los Angeles
residents communicate with their benefactors.

Through the Wexner Heritage Foundation, a nationwide Jewish
leadership group, Fishbein and his Los Angeles Wexner counterparts have adopted
a family whose teenage daughter was injured in the Ben Yehuda Promenade
bombing. In addition to supporting the family, Fishbein spends two to three
hours each week talking to various Israeli adoptive families by telephone.

“It’s very therapeutic for the victims to talk to someone
who is not a part of the drama,” he said.

For more information on Adopt-a-Family, e-mail info@cat2002.org or contact Rifka Ben Daniel at (818) 707-2365.