Public money for Jewish schools: Free not-quite-but-sort-of Jewish education

At the Ben Gamla school in Hollywood, Fla., students can get kosher food in the cafeteria, and many wear kippahs to school. They engage in acts of chesed, they worry about speaking lashon hara, and they are taught to treat each other and their teachers with derech eretz. But administrators at the school say that using those Hebrew words to describe the universal values of kindness, not gossiping and respecting one another doesn’t make this a Jewish school. In fact, it is not allowed to mean students are getting a Jewish education, because Ben Gamla is a kindergarten through eighth-grade public charter school funded by the State of Florida’s taxpayers.

Ben Gamla is currently entering its second year, with 600 students enrolled and many more who didn’t get in. Ben Gamla is one of several nascent efforts to found Hebrew-language charter schools and has caught the attention of Jewish parents, including some in Los Angeles, who have begun to lay the groundwork for a school here.

Publicly funded Hebrew instruction is seen by some as an important component for the future of Jewish education, either as an alternative to a costly private Jewish education or as a way to reach the significant minority of Jewish children who are not getting any Jewish education at all. Others are simply excited about creating an academically excellent public school where children can graduate fluent in Hebrew.

The movement to create such schools got a high-profile bump last May when the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life in ALTTEXTNew York, the philanthropic entity behind some of this generation’s most innovative and successful programs, threw its backing behind a Hebrew charter start-up in Brooklyn.

But where some see innovation, others see a duplicitous and threatening end-run around the Constitution, trying to get the state to fund what almost amounts to a religious day school. Critics say enterprises like Ben Gamla, the first Hebrew-language charter school in the country, are a lose-lose proposition: If the school is teaching Hebrew stripped of its Jewish resonance, as required by church-state separation, the Hebrew language and Jewish education suffer. Conversely, if too much of the cultural context or flavor of Judaism seeps in, the school threatens to breach the church-state wall Jews have spent decades fortifying.

They also worry, with good reason, that free Hebrew schools — where not all, but most of the kids are Jewish and some Jewish culture is embedded in the curriculum — will threaten existing day schools and congregational schools.

The debate, while important in formulating a community approach, will not determine whether these schools are founded. Charter schools — paid for by school districts, but run privately — can be established by anyone with enough vision, energy and startup money to make it happen. Spanish and Japanese charter schools already are flourishing in Los Angeles, and Arabic, Greek and Chinese schools are among those succeeding elsewhere.

Now, at least two separate efforts by parents in Los Angeles have begun pursuing Hebrew charter schools.

“This is going to happen, whether we do it or someone else does it,” said Tanya Mizrahi Covalin, a former journalist for NBC News who is laying the foundation for a Hebrew language elementary school in Venice Beach. Covalin calls Hebrew an integral part of her identity; she grew up in Montreal and her husband is from Mexico City. Their three small children speak English, French and Spanish, and Covalin and her husband speak Hebrew when they don’t want the kids to understand.

“Talk about the American dream,” she said of the charter school process. “I can make the school I want for my kids. I can put in the elements I want and find amazing people to help make it happen.”

Covalin envisions a progressive, developmentally directed program with a strong Hebrew language component, located, most likely, in the Venice area. She doesn’t have a firm timeline, but has already paired up with some forward-looking educators to generate the vision and plans necessary for applying to the school board for a charter.

A separate group of parents, many of them day school parents, have been discussing for about a yearthe notion of a Hebrew language charter as an alternative to costly day school education.

Covalin doesn’t see her vision as a Jewish endeavor at all, and she has not attempted to engage Los Angeles’ organized Jewish community. But if the plans move forward, Covalin’s school will find itself at the center of an educational experiment that will most likely have a significant impact on existing Jewish institutions and Jewish families across the city.

“The leadership, lay and professional, of the Jewish community in Los Angeles and in any other places where they are building these schools should work together from the beginning to make sure they understand everything, make sure they work in a collaborative manner, not one against the other,” said Moshe Papo, executive director of the Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education in Broward County, Fla.,where Ben Gamla is located. “Work together to make sure it is suitable for your community, or you will wake up in the morning and find out it’s not good for you and it’s hurting your schools.”


Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;

L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

A Plan to Take Over Troubled School

A successful charter school operator will launch a campaign to take over the Los Angeles high school where racial tensions erupted into campus brawls earlier this year. The Journal has learned that Steve Barr, who runs Green Dot Public Schools will announce, later this week, his bid to assume control of troubled Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles.

The 45-year-old Barr, who is Jewish, makes a point of serving students in low-income minority communities, even though he knows his schools would enjoy a ready market and have access to considerable financial support in the heavily Jewish and more prosperous neighborhoods of the Westside and West Valley.

If the school board goes along — and Barr already has some civic and political support — Jefferson would be the first existing L.A. campus handed over to an outside company.

Private companies have taken over schools elsewhere in the country with mixed results. In Los Angeles, however, most of the recent charter schools have been “start-ups,” that is, new schools that begin from scratch hiring teachers and recruiting students. Charter schools operate independently of established school systems, although school districts typically sponsor and supervise them. A Los Angeles public school has never been converted to a charter because it is failing or floundering or futile — pick your adjective for Jefferson.

Jefferson High gained notoriety when a series of campus melees erupted starting in mid-April. In many of the fights, black students squared off against Latinos. Officers arrested two-dozen students; three students were hospitalized and dozens suspended or transferred. Hundreds more stayed away from campus. The situation was disturbing enough that Mayor-Elect Antonio Villaraigosa visited the campus to plead for calm. Even before the unrest Jefferson had problems enough, with a high dropout rate and poor student achievement.

The move represents a gamble for Barr, the founder of Green Dot. He has never assumed operation of an existing school, especially one where academic achievement has lagged for decades. Barr’s first five charter high schools, all created over the last six years, have impressed many observers. His first school, in Lennox, which is south of Inglewood, has graduated 90 percent of its first two classes of students, said Barr, all of whom completed the coursework required to attend the University of California. L.A. Unified, by contrast, loses about half of its students as dropouts.

The Journal confirmed Barr’s intentions with several sources familiar with his plans. Barr declined to be interviewed prior to Thursday’s anticipated announcement, but confirmed the basic details. The plan has been in the works for weeks, but not widely known. In fact, late last week, one of the top aides to L.A. schools Superintendent Roy Romer was unaware of what was afoot. The superintendent’s office has since been alerted. Barr was tentatively scheduled Tuesday to meet with and brief Mike Lansing, the school-board member who represents Jefferson.

If allowed to run Jefferson as he does his other schools, Barr would divide the campus into eight or nine schools. Teachers would lose tenure protection, but could not be fired without “just cause.” Teaching staff also would have a central role in planning curriculum and purchasing instructional materials. The staff would not belong to United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful L.A. teachers union, but could instead join the independent union that represents faculty at Barr’s other schools. Teacher salaries would be 10 percent higher. Parents would be required to volunteer at the school. Staff currently at Jefferson, including the principal, would be invited to reapply for their jobs.

Barr plans to circulate petitions calling for the charter among teachers and residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Jefferson. He’d also need the support of four of seven board members. Unfortunately for him, he can’t rely on board member David Tokofsky, because Tokofsky, a charter-school enthusiast, works part-time for Green Dot. Per board policy, Tokofsky cannot vote on a matter affecting Green Dot, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Two other board members, Julie Korenstein and Jon Lauritzen are generally more skeptical about charter schools. Barr has already met with school-board President Marlene Canter, who represents the Westside and who would be a key vote for him.

Barr would have to move quickly to make a changeover possible by next year. In the meantime, L.A. Unified is pursuing its own remedies at Jefferson. Officials have reduced the number of students attending Jefferson by sending many of them to a newly completed high school. And a well-regarded administrator, Juan Flecha, agreed to move from Eagle Rock High School to Jefferson.

Drugs? NIMBY


Two drug-related incidents occurred in the American yeshiva community in Israel last week, which may give all parents pause.

A 19-year-old American boy from Encino who was studying at a yeshiva in Israel died from a heroin overdose (see story, page 15). Also, four American yeshiva students in Israel were arrested on suspicion of selling drugs to other American yeshiva students.

Most people who have been to yeshiva for a year in Israel in the last decade or so were not surprised by the news. A lot of people were suprised this hasn’t happened sooner. When 18-year-olds raised in somewhat strict environments are on their own in Israel for the first time, many of them will use this opportunity to party — at least at first. The hope is that after a few raucous weeks the students will settle down to their learning and experiencing of Israel, and will return home model students and upstanding members of their communities. Tragically, at least one student will not.

Upon learning the names of the yeshivas in Israel that the five boys attended, many people will say, “Well, of course, it happened there. X Yeshiva is known for troubled students.” True, true. Even I — who attended Machon Gold 15 years ago but have been out of touch with year-in-Israel programs for a while — know the reputation of some of these schools. But this Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) attitude is what has let the problems go on for so long in the first place.

On Internet postings following the boy’s death, some writers castigated these last-resort schools for accepting the so-called high-risk Orthodox youth and blamed the schools themselves. But others wrote in to defend these schools and credited them with saving their lives.

“I am currently 22 years old and I am a recent college graduate. I myself … was once considered one of these ‘high-risk’ students,” Dave Serano wrote on the Jerusalem Post Web Site. “I wonder in amazement at the look of surprise on our Jewish communities’ faces as they read and talk about what awful yeshivot these are, and how these boys should not have gone to Israel to solve their drug problems. How wrong and sadly misled these people are.”

He wrote that the yeshivas and its rabbis have saved “hundreds, if not thousands” of lives, like his own, in a way that a drug counselor could not.

No question that these “high-risk” schools do more good than harm, and that the kids who end up there are probably better off there than in some college in the middle of America — without parental or rabbinical supervision.

But to name the schools is beside the point. The real point is: there’s a problem and it has to be dealt with. Now.

Parents send their children to 12 years of day school, Sunday school or temple classes, hoping to inculcate values and ethical behavior somewhere along the way. But the truth is, no matter where you send your child to school, they are not immune to the problems of the outside world: Drugs, drinking, sex and worse.

Some parents hope Israel will do the trick; that a year in the Holy Land will magically cure their children. They depend on that year in university or yeshiva in Israel to “straighten the kids out.” And while there are certainly many qualified educators in Israel, and many great programs, problem kids weren’t just dropped from outer space at 18.

The truth is that kids in public school use drugs, kids in private schools use drugs and, yes, kids in Jewish schools use drugs. NIMBY? Maybe, as a parent, you think it’s not your kid, not his school, not her friends, but that’s probably what the parents of the boys arrested selling drugs thought.

Pretending something isn’t a problem doesn’t make it go away. Sending your kids off somewhere doesn’t make it go away. What will make it go away? A healthy attitude from all educators and parents to admit that there might be a problem, and they might have to deal with it. It may mean calling in therapists or drug counselors or adopting a 12-step program. But as the Jewish tradition teaches about parenting and educating, when the left hand pushes a child away by rebuking him, the right hand should draw him close — meaning, we should not excommunicate our problems, but help fix them in a loving manner.

There are a number of programs and people here in Los Angeles, in New York and in Israel who deal quietly with the problem children. Who try to help them when no other resources are available. The Orthodox Union is even putting together a drug task force to deal with the problem in high schools around the country.

Drugs? They are in our backyard. But they don’t have to be.


The Circuit

A True Best Friend

A hero of last fall’s destructive brushfires in San Bernardino was 5-year-old Duke, a miniature spaniel trained since 2000 to serve as a “co-therapist.” At one evacuation center during the weeklong siege, without prompting, Duke snuggled up to a 10-year-old boy who refused to talk after losing his cat and home. Slowly, the boy began telling Duke his story.

Duke’s owner, Dr. Lois Abrams, a Los Alamitos psychiatrist uses her dog as a tool to work with kids who have been exposed to trauma. She was soon able to take the boy to the proper people for assistance.

Abrams and Duke, who volunteer with a group that offers emotional support during disasters, were honored in April by the O.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Abrams is a member of Westminster’s Temple Beth David.

O.C. Honors Israel

Nearly 3,000 people attended the community Israel celebration in May. The turnout earned an estimated $2,500 profit, said Mali Leitner, of Villa Park, who organized the event for O.C.’s Jewish Federation. Her goal was seed money for next year’s affair.

Nearly 100 booths were filled by Jewish merchants of goods and ideas, a stronger than anticipated show of community cooperation and vitality.

Francie Rosen created a festive mood on stage with a balloon arch.

Leitner’s volunteers were helped by the Young Judea youth group and Tzofim, the local chapter of the Israeli scouts.

Landau Bon Voyage

Nearly 300 people packed a farewell party also on June 6 to give a heartfelt send off to Rabbi Joel Landau and his wife, Johni, leaving Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation for Israel after 11 years.

Nonagenarian nachas

Reuben Kershaw will celebrate his 90th birthday July 11 with a family reunion party at Mission Viejo’s city library. Kershaw was president of the foundation that was instrumental in replacing the cramped county branch facility with the modern, spacious one that opened in 1997. The gardens at the library are named in his honor.

Bar None

Stuart P. Jasper of Mission Viejo received the prestigious Harmon G. Scoville award from the O.C. Bar Association on May 14. The award is presented annually to honor a local member of the bar whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession and who has significantly contributed to the group. Jasper, who has a business litigation practice in Irvine, is president of the local chapter of the American Inns of Court. Its monthly programs help lawyers become more effective advocates with a keener ethical awareness.

Jasper’s son, Todd, graduated in June from Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine and plans to attend George Washington University in the fall.

Bowling Over

Mert Isaacman, 57, of Irvine, the top lawn bowling player in the country for the last two years, was named to a five-man U.S. team that will compete July 23-Aug. 8 in Ayr, Scotland, for the lawn bowling world championship.

Held every four years and coinciding with the Olympics in Athens, the tournament draws competitors from 40 countries. Teams are selected based on cumulative scores of 21-point games over four years. Last November, Isaacman won a silver medal in the singles division of an international tournament in Brisbane, New Zealand. The year before in Australia — where 600,000 players play the sport and spectators scream like their at a Lakers game — Isaacman became the first American medal winner in singles, considered the premier event. Just 20,000 players compete in the United States.

Isaacman, a real estate developer, is one of Beth Jacob Congregation’s many South African expatriates. He took up the sport seriously in 1986 after an embarrassing beginning. His introduction had come 10 years earlier in a bet over a game with his late father, who spotted him a 15-point lead.

“I never scored a point,” he admitted, and also lost the $100 bet. =

The Champions

The fifth- and sixth-grade teams from Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School earned first place finishes when they competed in the “National Current Events League” in May.

The competition consists of four “meets” where classes independently take tests that cover an array of topics in the news over the previous two months. Results are tabulated after the fourth test and overall winners announced.

Morasha’s fifth-graders went up against 115 schools,
outscoring their nearest competitor by 10 points. The sixth-graders had a bigger
field of 139 competitors, outscoring the nearest rival by 47 points. Student Ben
Cohen was the only individual who received a perfect score; classmates Dillon
Katz, Lauren Shapiro and Ari Mor were also top scorers.

Conejo Valley Hit by Growing Pains

Rabbi Gary Johnson is overjoyed. There’s no other way to describe it.

His bliss over the new home for his congregation, Temple Beth Haverim, is so obvious that he practically dances around the building as he takes a visitor on a tour of the site. Not surprising for a man who for the past 15 years has been forced to lead services in a tiny, rented space in an Agoura industrial park.

"Up until now, we were in an industrial park, sort of tucked away and invisible," Johnson said. "It’s a maturation of our community to realize we’re landowners. It’s been a major undertaking."

Temple Beth Haverim made the official move to its new home at the end of February. The property is nestled against Ladyface Mountain in Agoura Hills and has space for multiple buildings, plus an open area that Johnson hopes to use for the temple’s Shabbat Under the Stars program this summer.

Although the main sanctuary has not been built yet, the small sanctuary will be adequate for the present time to serve the congregation’s 440 families. According to Johnson, the synagogue must raise an additional $6 million to build the main sanctuary, for an estimated total of $12 million when the facility is completed.

The temple’s preschool and religious school buildings are finished. The preschool, which opened in September, is full and has a waiting list for most classes.

Temple Beth Haverim is just one example of the growth of the Jewish community in the Conejo Valley. Over the past two decades, the area has experienced a migration of Jewish families heading west, similar to what occurred in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s. It’s been a more difficult birth, however, in part because of an entrenched group of no-growth proponents, and in part because the Conejo’s Jewish population remained a quiet minority for a long time.

Another example of growth in the community is the Conejo Jewish Day School. Operated under the auspices of Chabad of the Conejo, the school opened in September 2000 and has since increased its student population from 38 to 64. It will add a fifth-grade class in the fall.

According to day school principal Rabbi Menachem Weiss, the school draws families not only from the Conejo and Simi Valley areas but also from as far away as North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks. The individual attention afforded to students in the small school is one factor in its attraction. Weiss said the rural environment also has its appeal.

The school currently operates on rustic property owned by Gateway Church, which is used in the summer by a popular local day camp.

"It’s very kid friendly," Weiss said. "When kids come to school, it should look like a school, not an office building."

The relatively unscathed landscape of the Conejo Valley is part of the area’s allure. Its slightly more affordable homes also make it attractive to families. The Conejo stretches from the western edge of Calabasas to Thousand Oaks and includes the communities of Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Newbury Park.

With the exception of Calabasas, these bedroom communities have never been seen as particularly Jewish neighborhoods. However, local leaders point to the many examples of flourishing Jewish institutions in the area as strong evidence of the Conejo Valley’s transformation into a major Jewish center.

The Conejo includes two Conservative synagogues. Besides Beth Haverim, there is Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks. There are also two Reform congregations: Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas.

In addition, there is a large Chabad network, with a main site in Agoura and several satellite sites in surrounding areas, plus a Jewish Federation office. Also, there is an Agoura Hills Jewish Community Center, which primarily serves as a preschool, as well as an active bikur cholim group that visits patients at Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.

"It’s a very cohesive Jewish community," said Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Adat Elohim. "There are many events co-sponsored by most, if not all, of the congregations, such as Chanukah events and speakers series"

"There’s a lot of harmony," he continued. "The clergy meet together, we speak well of each other and it comes from a sincere place. We’re just very pleased and proud of the quality of the Jewish community here."

Growing a new community is not always smooth. Among the problems the Jewish community of the Conejo has experienced are a lack of affordable space in some areas and the controversy surrounding Heschel West Day School.

Seeking to expand, the school purchased 70 acres near Agoura High School five years ago but has not been able to overcome resistance from neighbors and begin building. The school opponents — both Jewish and non-Jewish, referred to in the local papers as coming from Old Agoura — believe that the project would negatively impact the already narrow traffic corridor running near the high school, making it dangerous in case of an earthquake or other emergency.

Johnson said the heated debate over the controversy has been discouraging for his congregation, which includes people on opposite sides of the issue.

"The Old Agoura Jewish residents say to me, ‘Rabbi, we want Heschel West in our community, but that is the wrong area, because of access and egress,’" he said. "They say, ‘God forbid there is a fire, and we have to get the kids out of Heschel West and residents out of Old Agoura, there’s only one two-lane road, one lane in each direction. This isn’t anti-Semitism, it’s a traffic issue.’"

"And then I have my Heschel West families, who say they will address those safety issues," Johnson continued. "It’s very passionate on both sides."

Founders of the Conejo Jewish Day school are watching Heschel West’s fight as an indicator of what they can expect when they, too, seek a new location.

"What happens with them [Heschel] will affect us," said Leora Langberg, the day school’s president. "If public opinion is for keeping day schools out, it’s really going to hurt us."

Although demographic evidence of the area becoming "more Jewish" is difficult to compile — most synagogues have experienced a significant increase in members, but there could be reasons other than more Jews moving to the area — anecdotal evidence indicates that growth has been steady and will continue.

Yuval and Ronit Golan are betting on a steady increase. The couple, who own Sam’s Bakery & Doughnut in North Hollywood, will open a second store in Westlake Village later this month. The shop joins an Agoura Hills kosher butcher-grocer, pizza parlor and kosher restaurant catering to the observant Jewish community in the area.

"There’s no kosher bakery out in that area, and we want to expand our business," Ronit Golan said. "We’re looking forward to serving everyone in the Conejo Valley."

Overall, it does not appear that much can prevent the transformation of the Conejo into a center of Jewish life comparable to the San Fernando Valley.

"The challenge of the community is to keep up with the needs," said Greenbaum of Adat Elohim. "As [Temple Beth Haverim and Chabad] complete their building process, that will mark a critical turning point for the Jewish community here, because we will all have finished our minimal building campaigns and will have to look beyond our individual synagogues toward, say, building a Jewish Community Center. That will be an exciting time for the Jewish community."

Collaborating on Education

“It may be on the smaller side, and we do have a long way to
go, but we definitely have a day school movement,” said Rabbi Josh Elkin,
executive director of Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

The audience of 600-plus day school advocates responded with
thunderous applause during the joint luncheon, which brought together attendees
from both the PEJE’s Donor Assembly and the Leadership Assembly at the Park
Hyatt Hotel in Century City on Feb. 3.

Elkin touched on some of the problematic issues facing day
schools: affordability, teacher retention, donor and student recruitment. The
way to overcome these difficulties, he said, is through collaboration.

Like college graduates looking to make career contacts, many
of the professional and lay day school leaders, major philanthropists, Jewish
Federation leaders and Jewish endowment fund representatives attending the PEJE
Leadership Assembly portion, the first of its kind in the United States, took
time out to network.

The cross-denominational Leadership Assembly brought
together people from various aspects of the national day school community to
promote cooperation between religious movements and address universal
challenges. While much of the conference consisted of lectures and workshops,
many participants admitted that networking was a key reason for their

“For the most part, the conference has confirmed things I
know,” admitted Carl Mandell, head of school for Solomon Schechter Day School
in West Hartford, Conn., who attended the leadership portion. “The most
valuable components came after the workshops because I had opportunities to
meet people from other schools.”

Dana Gibson, president of the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy
board of trustees in Overland Park, Kan., said he often feels alone in his
quest to improve and maintain day school education.

“Kansas is isolating,” he said. “We need this contact with
other [advocates] because we’re facing the same issues.”

Like those who share his passion in big and small cities
alike, Gibson said that the Reform movement’s lack of interest in developing
day schools is a key challenge. Conference workshops offered suggestions on how
to make a case for day schools, techniques the educator hopes use in his
hometown. Meeting experts like Richard Lewis from the Schusterman Foundation’s
Small Communities Program from Vestal, N.Y., also provided him with a sense of

Marcy Goldberg, the development chair of a new day school
opening in Chicago next fall, came to the conference to learn about the
fundraising her school will need to embrace during its first year and beyond.
Goldberg says that the sessions gave her the opportunity to learn about some
innovative fundraising techniques — and meet others who have found them

Ilene Reinfeld, principal of Adat Ari El Day School in Valley
Village, sat in the hotel lobby, relaxing after a day of intense workshops
amid the hustle and bustle of cross-country attendees rushing to the airport.

“It’s been a long time coming for an event like this,” said
the educator, commenting that the encouragement for collaboration is greatly

In addition to hopefully coming up with viable solutions,
Elkin feels the conference sends out a message.

“The way that this meeting is cross-denominational makes a
statement that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” he said.
“Working together with their federations and endowment funds, day schools can
have a deep interaction and confront the greater challenges on the day school

Your Letters

Who Should Pay?

While Sharon Schatz Rosenthal’s cover story notes that dayschools are costly, it fails to address cost efficiency (“Who Should Pay?” Jan.31). I believe the Jewish community’s limited funding can be more effectivelytargeted at bolstering supplementary secondary schools. A good example is theLos Angeles Hebrew High School (LAHHS), which Dr. Samuel Dinin established(“Legacy in Motion,” Jan. 31).

LAHHS serves more than 500 teenagers who concurrently attendsecular high schools. With more than three dozen distinguished faculty members,its educational program is on par with the best full-time Jewish high schools.Yet, tuition is around one-tenth the cost.

Leonard M. Solomon, LAHHS Board of Trustees Los Angeles

There’s another reason some of us are unable to send ourchildren to Jewish day schools — the lack of after-school care at most of theschools. Catch 22: We work to be able to afford Jewish day school tuition, butstill can’t send our children there because the schools are not willing toaccommodate working, two-parent families.

Name Withheld Upon Request, Woodland Hills

The truth of the Jewish community is that the vast majorityof non-Orthodox students attend supplementary schools and will continue to doso.

I take particular issue with the article’s innuendo that theLos Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education could be more financially supportive ofday schools. That may be, but they are more supportive of supplementary schoolsthan most, striving to raise the quality of teachers and the esteem of thework.

It is my hope that when we talk about Jewish education, wecan engage in discussion about communal goals and the myriad options that areand could be available.

Cheri Ellowitz Silver, Education Director   Congregation NerTamid of South Bay


I am unable to comprehend Rob Eshman’s logic regardingPresident Bush’s State of the Union address (“Ich Bin ein Missourian,” Jan.31). Saddam will never comply with the U.N. resolutions that demand hiscooperation to reveal what he has done with the weapons of mass destruction. Noamount of inspection is going to find what he has hidden.

Michael Brooks, West Hills

Interfaith Families

As a Catholic Latino married to a Jewish woman, I havelearned that many Jews consider interfaith marriage a terrible threat to thesurvival of the Jewish people (“Jews Must Draw in Interfaith Families,” Jan.24). I understand this concern, but I would argue that the threat is notnecessarily mixed marriage, but rather the Jewish community’s treatment ofmixed families. My wife and I are committed to raising our children as Jews.Sadly, while we’ve belonged to a Reform congregation for many years and havetried to become part of the temple community, we’ve had very limited success.Typically, we have been treated with reactions ranging from indifference tosuspicion. We are politely tolerated, but feel relegated to a marginal status.

In contrast, the church I attend supports a group ofCatholics married to Jews. The parish seems to welcome these families, fullyintegrating them in the church community. Although we as a family are notchurch members, we have developed closer relationships with this group than wehave with families at our temple.

Over the years, the few mixed families we’ve encountered atthe temple have gradually drifted away. We have also started looking foranother congregation. We’ll continue trying to find a Jewish community where wefit in. However, I often wonder how my children will feel about Judaism if theyare always kept at the margins.

R. Hernandez, Los Angeles

Gay Rabbis

Although I am a traditional Jewish man with traditionalideas, I support the idea of allowing gays and lesbians to become Conservativepulpit rabbis (“A Conservative Challenge,” Jan. 17). The Conservative movementshould reconsider its position and at least discuss the issue. Why should anyJewish person be excluded from fulfilling his or her dreams because of personalpreferences? The Conservative movement allowing women to become pulpit rabbisin 1985 was a great decision and helped fortify the views of ConservativeJudaism.

Israel Weiss, Agoura Hills


In Rabbi Michael Beals’ letter to the editor (Jan. 31), TheJournal incorrectly added the translation “repentance” next to the word teshuvot,which here meant “a rabbinic response to a query, based on halacha (Jewishlaw).” We regret the error.

Tzedakah for Chanukah

The Chanukah wish lists of six needy local Jewish families
will be filled by generous families from Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha
Jewish Day School.

“These families have been financially disadvantaged for a
long time,” said Charlene Edwards, social services director for Jewish Family
Service of Orange County. “They asked for things our children take for

On Dec. 4, in time for Chanukah, Edwards was scheduled to
collect gift baskets filled with wrapped toys and clothing, along with gift
certificates for groceries, movie tickets and haircuts. The cumulative
contributions from students, parents and faculty likely tallies $1,500, said
Robin S. Hoffman, the school’s Jewish studies coordinator. “We’ve been
inundated in the last week.”

The Chanukah effort is one of the first outcomes of
Morasha’s involvement with a three-year national research project of Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Its Rhea Hirsch
School of Education selected eight schools to participate in Jewish Day Schools
for the 21st Century, a project to demonstrate how schools can serve as a
Jewish learning catalyst for an entire community, said Eve Fein, Morasha’s

As part of the project, a 25-parent panel, which has met
regularly over the last year, settled on enhancing certain Jewish values.
Morasha’s parents chose tzedakah (charity).

“So often, kids never see the end result,” said Kathleen A.
Canter, of Aliso Viejo, a panel participant who has two children in the school.
“We wanted the whole school community involved. It’s powerful when it’s visible
to all.”

End of an Era at Harkham Hillel

The news was not good. Abraham Anidjar would have to stay in Los Angeles for a prolonged period to receive treatment for his liver condition. His wife and four children would accompany him from Israel. But where would they stay? What about the children’s schooling? How would they pay for the treatment?

The answers to the questions, it turned out, all rested with Rabbi Menachem Gottesman, dean of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills. Not only did Gottesman make sure all the children were settled at Hillel, but he opened his own home to the family for an extended period. In addition, the rabbi spoke with hospital administrators to lower the fees and with community members to donate funds.

“We were four children who where scared and saddened by all these events,” wrote Camila Anidjar, the oldest daughter, now in high school. “Rabbi Gottesman welcomed us at the school with a lot of happiness and love.”

“Slowly we became once again happy children full of confidence,” she said in her letter. “We go to school every day, happy because we know that our angel is always with us, Rabbi Gottesman — our ray of light.”

Camila Anidjar wrote the tribute on the occasion of Gottesman’s retirement from Hillel after 42 years at its helm. While her story represents an extreme example of Gottesman’s beneficence, there are untold others who agree that Gottesman’s contribution to each student, and to the community as a whole, has been enormous.

“I love my job, and I have loved every minute that I was here,” said Gottesman, 72. “The school has so much potential, and there are a lot of challenges that can be met if we can find somebody who is full of energy and full of knowledge and feeling of how to run a Jewish day school.”

Founded in 1949 by Rabbi Simon A. Dolgin, Hillel is the oldest and largest Jewish day school in the Western United States, with 750 students in preschool through eighth grade, up from 160 when Gottesman joined the operation in 1960. Over the decades, the school has developed a reputation for academic excellence and has remained true to its vision of giving students a modern Orthodox education infused with a love for Israel and a commitment to developing strong values and character traits.

Gottesman shaped the school with his attention to every aspect of the operation. His commitment to provide every child in the school with a Jewish education, no matter from what background, has transformed the lives of many who might otherwise have left traditional Judaism.

“Rabbi Dolgin believed that a Jewish education should be available to every Jewish child, regardless of financial ability or religious observance, as long as they were willing to commit themselves to becoming more religious,” said Benny Adler, Hillel board chairman and a 1965 graduate, whose wife and four children also graduated from the school. “Over the years, that investment has paid tremendous dividends, as we have thousands of graduates all over the world who are Jewishly active because the rabbi [Gottesman] and [his wife] Leiba took them in and gave them the opportunity to get a Jewish education.”

It is that commitment to tolerance that hangs in the balance as Gottesman leaves. As competition among area day schools has increased over the last five years, some families have opted to go to schools with more exclusionary policies, preferring an all-Orthodox student body, where non-kosher birthday parties or conflicting values are not a threat to a Torah-observant environment. That, in addition to other factors, has led to a drop in enrollment at Hillel to 750 from its peak of about 850 just a few years ago.

Hillel leaders said that the board and search committee are committed to adhering to the longstanding philosophy of tolerance, but there will be an effort to increase the ratio of Orthodox to non-Orthodox students. They also pointed out that changes in the wider community have provided more options.

When Gottesman came to Hillel, there were 1,000 students in seven day schools — all Orthodox. Today there are 10,000 student in 35 schools, 14 of them non-Orthodox.

“Hillel still stands by its philosophy,” Adler said. “The fact that there are alternatives means we do not have to accept every single student, we can be somewhat more selective. But it is still our basic philosophy, and we’ve attempted to live by that since it is something we believe in.”

Leiba Gottesman, the rabbi’s partner in building the school, is proud of the many students who became more religious under Hillel’s guidance. However, she worries that the community is moving away from the chance to bring more families to an Orthodox lifestyle.

“I see students who went to Hillel and benefited by the school taking them in when their parents were not shomer Shabbos [Sabbath observant], and now our school isn’t good enough for them,” Leiba Gottesman said. “And it hurts. Where is the appreciation for something done for you? There was a time to receive, and now it’s time to give.”

By all accounts, both Gottesmans, who have five children and many grandchildren, gave selflessly to the school. In the early years, the rabbi fixed broken furniture, operated the mimeograph machine, even drove to school children who lived far away. Leiba Gottesman has been a teacher for several grades, adviser to the oldest girls, a bookkeeper, host and chef for countless parties and Shabbatons and is still active on the PTA and dinner committee.

The Gottesmans have also taken many students into their own home — children from broken families, others who just wanted a warm home for Shabbat or children from the neighborhood who came to study and nosh on Shabbat afternoons.

The rabbi is considered by many to be a master fundraiser, having perfected the personal pitch to the many community members with whom he has longstanding relationships.

One of the many educators Gottesman has mentored is his own son, Shlomo, who founded the Mesivta of Greater Los Angeles in Calabasas, an Orthodox boys boarding school now in its sixth year.

“My parents taught me that the first step in working in education is appreciating the good that is done around you,” Shlomo Gottesman said.

Now that he is retiring, the elder Gottesman said he will spend some time helping his son expand the Calabasas school. In addition, he and his wife plan to spend a portion of the year in Israel. Gottesman said he will always be on standby to help out at Hillel.

Meanwhile, the search committee is collecting resumés.

“I think it’s going to take two people to do what he used to,” said Hillel alumnus Alan Schoenfeld, the school’s president. “We need someone to work with the administrators, teachers and students, and someone else to work PR and fundraising.”

The board, Schoenfeld added, will also have to play a more active role in fundraising and school policies.

Gottesman’s departure, while leaving a major gap, also provides an opportunity for Hillel to define itself for a community that has changed greatly since he started started there 42 years ago.

“Our schools have grown in number and grown in assets, but they are all a necessary part of the tapestry,” said Gil Graff, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education. “Each one has its own unique culture, and I suppose the challenge [for the Hillel leadership] will be defining what the unique vision for Hillel is to be marching forward.”

Rabbi Menachem and Leiba Gottesman will be honored at the Hillel Scholarship Banquet on Sunday, Dec. 22 at the Century Plaza Hotel. For more information, call (310) 276-6135.

The Musical Sound of ‘Lights’

Not all Chanukah music is kiddie music — even when it’s played by kids. On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the West Coast premiere of Russell Steinberg’s suite, "Lights On!" Steinberg will conduct the Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra, a group of 70 youngsters ages 9 to 18 from throughout greater Los Angeles, who attend more than 40 public and private schools.

The second half of the program will be Steinberg’s "Symphony No. 2," titled, "What Is a Jew?" featuring narration by actor Ed Asner, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom.

"Lights On!" gives a symphonic twist to eight traditional Chanukah tunes. After beginning in darkness, the musicians add one melody after another, with the light increased for each tune, until they finish in a blaze of light and a complex intertwining of sound — a musical chanukiah on the eighth night of the holiday.

"I didn’t like most Chanukah music," Steinberg told The Journal, speaking from a residency at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire. That disaffinity, he said, "gave me a blank canvas," and the piece wound up being "a lot of fun to write."

Steinberg, 43, who holds a doctorate in music composition from Harvard University, was hired at Milken Community High School four years ago to teach music. He created a conservatory at the school that gradually expanded to younger children. The youth orchestra is an outgrowth of the conservatory.

"We’re reaching out to the whole community, not just Jewish kids," Steinberg said.

A self-described "Valley boy," Steinberg said he came late to an interest in Jewish music, which was sparked by his involvement with Milken and through association with Noreen Green, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Attending Shabbatons at Brandeis-Bardin Institute, he said, also brought him into Jewish life.

"I realized [music] was a wonderful way for me to explore Judaism," Steinberg said. "It’s a journey I never would have imagined taking."

The Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra will perform Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $8 (Skirball members), $10 (nonmembers). For tickets call (310) 440-3500 ext. 3344.

Completing the Revolution

When last we en-countered the Los Angeles Unified School District, it was in the midst of a revolution. The April 9 primary election swept out two incumbents and replaced them with reformers, Caprice Young and Mike Lansing. With the re-election of board member David Tokofsky, it was a stunning victory for Mayor Richard Riordan, who raised $2 million to replace the law of the jungle with the law of the marketplace: the state’s largest school system, with 700,000 students, will itself be graded by such indices as drop-out rates and standardized test scores. The question left pending until this Tuesday’s run-off between incumbent Barbara Boudreaux and challenger Genethia Hayes is, will Tokofsky get to command a new majority?

Hayes, former executive director of the L.A. branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference won the 1st District race with a 424-vote lead last month. The Jewish vote figures prominently in the district, which extends almost to La Brea and Pico on the east and to Palms on the West. The race is a close call.

Boudreaux, an ethnocentrist best known to this readership for her call to make ebonics an accepted dialect, has the endorsement of virtually every black incumbent leader, though on her watch school scores have reportedly declined. A potential last minute infusion of as much as $20,000 from Rep. Maxine Waters could help Boudreaux strengthen her ties to the middle-aged black female voters who are slowly giving Hayes a hearing.

More surprising is the endorsement for Boudreaux by City Attorney James Hahn, the leading announced candidate for mayor. Hayes’ backers, including those who would back either Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky or Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa against Hahn, urged me to make Hahn’s endorsement of Boudreaux better known. What would his father, the late beloved supervisor Kenny Hahn, make of this support? Hahn fils is shoring up his black community through Boudreaux, but will it cost him white liberals?

A final unknown is the impact of the run-off next week between veteran incumbent City Councilmember Nate Holden and challenger Rev. Madison Shockley in the 10th District, which overlaps sections of the above school board seat. Holden was only a few votes shy of 50 percent in April, and Shockley’s 21 percent is no cause for optimism. I’ll remind you that Holden accused Mike Feuer and Laura Chick of behaving like a “Westside Ku Klux Klan” when they called for council member Mike Hernandez to step down after drug charges. And I can tell you that years ago, Shockley and I engaged in a cogent conversation on the issues raised for his community by “Schindler’s List.” He’d be a great councilmember, if it could come to that. Those who favor the status quo with Holden might be disinclined towards Hayes’ school board challenge.

Even without the future mayoral election as a subtext, there is considerable interest in this race among Jewish activists. Genethia Hayes is an impressive candidate: strong, outspoken and a former teacher to boot. As might be expected, she is committed to the kind of ethnic bridge-building that is crucial to peace on campus, especially in a post-Columbine environment. She has support from both City Councilmembers Mike Feuer and Jackie Goldberg, who rarely agree on anything. At a recent Westside fund-raiser, Feuer and Goldberg rushed to praise Hayes as a real hero and a friend.

As an example of Hayes’ moderate style of political engagement without rabble-rousing, I asked her about the recent ruckus at Hamilton High School, where some black parents had made charges of racism against several school teachers. Hayes immediately understood that the larger problem was not racism but resources, the have-nots fed up with special handling for the haves.

Why, she asked, were there so few magnet schools in the inner city, and so many on the Westside? And why, she asked, did magnet schools attract so much more money and resources than other schools? It’s no wonder that parents get jealous at the inferior opportunities offered their children, especially when the elite magnet schools are right next door, as at Hamilton.

“Every school should be a magnet school,” she told me, at least in terms of dollars spent. Every child should have a way of developing his or her skills without having to be bussed across town, she argued.

The problem of magnets vs. regular schools indicates the kind of competitive pressure on the board. Even now, when money is coming back to public education for the first time in decades, rivalry between schools and districts threatens civil discourse.

The LAUSD is committed to building 100 new schools, with $2.4 billion from Prop. BB, but every school is a potential landmine. Last week, I attended part of a high-level two-day meeting of planners and architects at the Getty Museum. The symposium, “New Schools, Better Neighborhoods,” led by Steven Soberoff (another mayoral hopeful) and David Abel, leaders of the BB oversight committee, allowed its participants to dream of low-density tree-lined campuses in the center of thriving communities. But without civility, and leaders who know how to compromise, such campuses will remain only dreams.

The point needs to be repeated, that although the percentage of Anglo students in the district is down to 11 percent, concern for the fate of LAUSD among the Jewish community remains strong.

We can’t let our students fail. We can’t give up on the city, even if we have the resources to walk away. If we have been embarrassed by our leaders, and regard the last 15 years of neglect of our schools with shame, the time to show interest is now.

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, will appear on “The Spiritual Seeker” on KRLA 1110 AM Sunday at 8 p.m.

Marlene Adler Marks is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press).

Her website is

Her e-mail address is Her book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through