12 plaintiffs join $380 million sex-abuse suit against Y.U.

Twelve former students joined a $380 million lawsuit against Yeshiva University for covering up sexual abuse at its high school.

The new plaintiffs’ names came out in court papers used in a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., according to the New York Daily News, and bring to 31 the number of plaintiffs in the case.

Rabbi George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, former staff members at Y.U.’s High School for Boys in Manhattan, as well as a youth volunteer, Richard Andron, have been accused of sexual abuse. Some of the cases allegedly took place as far back as the 1970s.

Finkelstein left the high school in 1995 and took a post at a Jewish school in Florida before moving to Israel. Gordon also lives in Israel and until recently was a teacher at the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center. Both men deny the charges. Andron has not issued a statement on the accusations.

The suit also names top members of Y.U.’s former administration, including Norman Lamm, its former president and chancellor.

Although the statute of limitations has passed on the cases, the alleged cover-up could negate the restrictions, according to Kevin Mulhearn, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Student beaten outside Ozar Hatorah school in Paris

A Jewish boy reportedly was beaten outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Paris by youths shouting anti-Semitic epithets.

The incident occurred Monday outside the school, which the 12-year-old victim attends. He was not seriously injured.

The attack came a week after a gunman opened fire on the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, killing a rabbi and his two young sons, and the daughter of the school’s principal.

The boy in Paris reportedly was beaten about 100 yards away from the school, out of sight of police who have been guarding the school since last week’s attack in Toulouse.

Jewish student suing UC Berkeley for civil rights infringement

A student has brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of California, Berkeley, saying the university did not protect her from being attacked because she is Jewish.

Lawyers for Jessica Felber, 20, say the case, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., on March 4 against the university, the regents of the University of California and their ranking officials, is the first of its kind.

Her suit alleges that Husam Zakharia, a fellow student and the head of Students for Justice in Palestine, rammed into her with a metal cart because of the pro-Israel sign she was holding during a pro-Israel demonstration on the Berkeley campus on March 5, 2010.

The rally, organized by the student Zionist groupTikvah, was a counter to anti-Israel events being held that same week as part of Israel Apartheid Week.

Felber was treated for her injuries, and Zakharia was arrested for battery but later released.

The complaint alleges that the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, another pro-Palestinian group on campus, harass and attack Jewish students, and that the university knows about it and has not taken sufficient steps to protect its Jewish students.

The complaint further charges that university officials have tolerated “the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses” that violates the rights of Jewish and other students “to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.”

The suit calls for damages and a jury trial.

Pro-Israel and anti-Israel students have clashed before on the Berkeley campus. In November 2008, Zakharia was one of three student cited for battery in a physical altercation over displaying the Palestinian flag at a pro-Israel event.

Spirit and Chocolate Top Temple Emanuel Installation

There was chocolate and music last week when Sue Brucker was installed as president of Temple Emanuel’s board of directors at Shabbat Unplugged. Amid the singing and Shabbat rituals, Brucker was applauded for her talents as a leader, and her commitment and dedication to getting any job, no matter the task, accomplished.

The services were filled with those who enjoy the upbeat Shabbat melodies of singing and celebration Temple Emanuel has become famous for. Known as a “go-to person,” Brucker is always the first to achieve any goal, take on any task and commit to any cause. Brucker, along with her mother-in-law Rita Brucker, will be honored at the Women of Sheba Achievement luncheon later this month and is the immediate past president for the Beverly Hills High School PTSA. She also received the Humanitarian of the Year from Amie Karen Cancer Society. Her husband Barry is on the Beverly Hills City Council and was the former president of the Beverly Hills School Board.

Big Fun in Big Apple

Leaving Los Angeles and spending a month at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York this summer was a fun and rewarding experience for five Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles (YULA) students. The teens met and mingled with other Orthodox students in New York City, taking in the sights and enjoying the Big Apple. The five students, Michael Bank and Jesse Katz of Los Angeles, Marlon Schwarcz of Beverly Hills, Joel Shuchatowitz of Tarzana, and Netanel Zilberstein of Encino stayed in dormitories on YU’s Wilf Campus in Washington Heights.

Students spent mornings studying Jewish topics, and in the afternoons chose between “The World of Finance and Investment,” a practical experience establishing and analyzing a portfolio of investments and working with traders, financial planners and entrepreneurs; “Explorations in Genetics and Molecular Biology,” a laboratory experience introducing students to the theory and techniques of molecular biology; and political science/pre-law, which exposed students to politics and law through the lens of current issues and by taking trips and hearing from speakers around New York City.

The YULA students toured the area attractions, including a Broadway show; the Museum of Natural History; Six Flags Great Adventure; a Mets game; a double-decker bus tour; a visit to the World Trade Center site; and a tour of YU’s campuses.

“It was great to have an opportunity to feel the YU experience,” said Zilberstein, the first of his siblings to go to college.

He said spending the month at YU took some of the mystery out of the college experience: “You get to feel like you are a college student, taking real college classes.”

Students also spent several days in the Washington, D.C. area, visiting the Capitol building, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Spy Museum and spending Shabbat in Silver Spring, Md.

“Many of the students are interested in YU, but want to see more than they would if they just came for a tour,” explained Aliza Stareshefsky, program director.
For more information about next year’s program, e-mail summer@yu.edu.

Rabbi on Board

The Olympia Medical Center recently added Rabbi Karen L. Fox to its board of governors. The group is comprised of 15 community leaders and business executives, and recommends and implements hospital policy, promotes patient safety and performance improvement while helping provide quality patient care.
“We are honored to have someone with Rabbi Fox’s prominence join our board of governors,” board chairman Dr. Sharam Ravan said. “I know that she will be an asset to Olympia Medical Center as we grow to meet the needs of the community.”

Fox, who has served at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for nearly 20 years, graduated from UCLA in 1973. She earned a master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and received her ordaination there in 1978. She earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology as well as a doctorate of divinity from Pepperdine University, and is a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist. She published a user-friendly guide to Jewish holidays title “Seasons for Celebration” and has authored numerous articles about women’s experiences and Jewish thought.

Kids Raise the ‘Roof’

The Children’s Civic Light Opera (CCLO), one of the Los Angeles area’s original and longest-established performing arts programs for youth, ages 7-17, celebrated its 19th year with a stellar production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Parents and friends shepped naches as 40 talented and dedicated kids rehearsed for eight weeks to present the Broadway-style production complete, with professional sets, costumes, sound, lighting and a live orchestra. Their show was a treat for theater-goers who sat awed by the kid’s spirited performances.

“‘Fiddler’ is a rare and beautiful gift,” CCLO’s founder and artistic director Diane Feldman Turen said. “It is an incredibly powerful piece of theater overflowing with an abundance of learning opportunities on multiple levels. Its universal themes allow us to address and examine the opposing forces that drive our lives and it’s wonderful that our ensemble can apply what they’re learning on the stage and off.”

Promoting Jewish Learning

On a recent Friday afternoon, the chapel bells at Duke University chimed “Shalom Aleichem” as about 1,300 educators gathered for the 31st annual conference of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE).

Billed as “Jewish Literacy: A Learned Community and a Community of Learners,” CAJE 31 was a raw, messy, creative affair, with 20 sessions held every hour for five days on such wide-reaching topics as “God Shopping,” “The Jews of Sing-Sing,” “Assessing Our Relationship to Israel” and “Jews as Global Citizens.” Many of the sessions focused on teaching methodology, text-based learning and creative approaches to Judaism. Participants also met for in-depth discussions on every Jewish theme imaginable, all with the goal of energizing teachers and students for the coming year.

Teachers, storytellers, dancers, rabbis and teenagers training for future leadership positions ran through the southern heat across the sprawling campus looking for classrooms, some of which were buried two floors underground. They also browsed through Duke’s Bryan Center and an array of vendors displaying items such as teaching materials, custom-made crossword puzzles, jewelry and handmade Jewish arts and crafts.

Most of the sessions and evening keynote speeches addressed the issue of Jewish literacy, focusing on how being Jewishly literate means familiarity not just with texts, a bar mitzvah portion, Israeli history or Jewish dance, but with a stew of all those elements and much more.

In a session on adult learners led by Betsy Dolgin Katz, North American director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, one participant said, “Something that changed my life was learning to read Torah at age 40.”

The session also focused on how much emphasis is placed on children’s preparation for b’nei mitzvah and becoming full participants in Jewish life, while parents might not have had an equivalent education and may feel left behind.

Cherie Koller-Fox, a founder of CAJE, held a session on the challenges young teachers face when deciding whether or not to enter the field of Jewish education at all. She encouraged them to assert themselves when asking for the salaries and support they would need to make a career in Jewish education work for them, and urged them to take the reins of CAJE for a new generation.

“CAJE looks old and decrepit, but it needs to be yours,” she told them. “You desperately need it, but it desperately needs you.”

A special session was held each night where teachers and community leaders discussed how to teach the war in Lebanon in the upcoming school year and shared personal feelings about Israel. Some educators stressed the importance of promoting a connection between children and Israel. One participant said, “They should identify with Israel like it’s their own home being bombed, because it is their home being bombed.” Another participant grew pensive over the thought that peace in the Middle East would truly not be achieved in his lifetime.

A few teachers worried that children would grow up with negative impressions of Israel due to media coverage or bias, while others expressed happiness that some of the myths about Israel as only a heroic nation might dissipate.

The war in Lebanon aside, some educators, especially from small communities, were happy to be surrounded by so many fellow travelers.

Ellen Ben-Naim, a teacher at Los Alamos Jewish Center in New Mexico that draws much of its congregation from the nearby research laboratory, said that in her school of 20 students, 7,000 feet up a mountain, even the rabbi is also a full-time physicist.

“This is like a mecca for me. Well, maybe that’s not the right word,” she said, adding that the diversity of Jewish life exhibited at CAJE astounded her. Back home, she said, “there is only one tent in town for everybody.”

Lynne Diwinsky, a teacher at the New City Jewish Center in New City, N.Y., enjoyed CAJE as a prelude to the school year.

“I see [CAJE] as a renewal. It happens right before Rosh Hashanah to get ready for the coming year,” she said. “I love the interchange with other professionals.”

Eliot Spack, CAJE’s outgoing executive director, said, “CAJE provides a recharging of their batteries,” referring to the educators who attend.

He called the conference “a celebration of Jewish teaching: “CAJE has inspired people not in a manipulative or proselytizing way, but it’s helped people come to grips with their own Judaism.”

Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council and longtime CAJE-goer, said that making connections and being able to access new materials is important for educators.

“West of the Hudson River, where are people going to get this plethora of books and materials?” she asked.

Avraham Infeld, outgoing president of Hillel, delivered a fiery keynote address on the topic of Jewish identity. He said out of five legs of Judaism — memory, family, Sinai, the people and land of Israel and the Hebrew language — each Jew should learn three. That way, everyone would have at least one Jewish connection in common.

Infeld also mentioned a phrase his late father used to repeat that subtly echoed the conference’s theme: “A Jew has to know more today than he did yesterday.”

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Week.


The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Spectator – Spin-Doctors of the Revolution

Rachel Boynton, director of the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis,” was excited when she first learned that American political consultants export their work globally.

While a student at Columbia School of Journalism, she saw a film about the history of 20th century nonviolent conflict that included a segment on how American consultants had gone to Chile in 1990 to produce TV ads for a successful campaign to end Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s long autocratic presidency.

“I thought to myself, ‘There’s my movie. I want to follow an American who is trying to run an ad campaign to oust a dictator,'” Boynton said in a telephone interview. “It seemed to epitomize a lot of things I think of as being fundamentally American — optimism, hubris, political idealism and the profit motive all wrapped up in one event.”

Raised by her Jewish lawyer mother, Esther, after her parents divorced when she was 9 months old, Boynton had already lived in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Ann Arbor and Paris by the time she was in graduate school. Her film’s subject also dovetailed with her undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University.

After five years of work on “Crisis,” Boynton, 32, has finally completed her movie, which opens in Los Angeles on April 14. But it didn’t turn out as originally planned.

She documents the campaign waged by the liberal firm of Greenberg Carville (as in James Carville) Shrum (GCS) on behalf of the unpopular but reformist millionaire, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (a.k.a. “Goni”), who was attempting to return to office as president of Bolivia.

“I liked GCS because they were very idealistic about what they did,” Boynton said. “Most people expect to see political consultants being very mercenary. This firm professed to be idealistic about their work.”

Essentially the firm’s strategies for advertising, focus groups, polling and image-shaping worked in Bolivia. “Goni” won in 2002. But the rifts caused by the spirited election set in motion a bloody uprising that forced him to flee from office in 2004.

The turn of events left the firm’s Jeremy Rosner and Stan Greenberg — captured by Boynton in post-revolt interviews — feeling melancholy and disappointed. A revolution was not part of their plans.

“They had this American attitude because we live in a place that’s stable,” Boynton said. “That is not necessarily the normal course of things all across the world. We need to recognize our perspective is not universally shared.”

“Our Brand Is Crisis” opens April 14 at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For showtimes, call (323) 848-3500.


Cartoon Tension at UC Irvine

The showing of three cartoons of the prophet Muhammad at a conference last week on radical Islam at UC Irvine attracted a near-capacity crowd of about 400, including leaders of some local Jewish groups, while protesters demonstrated outside.

A palpable tension descended on the audience at the unveiling of the three cartoons, including one that depicted a bomb in a turban on the prophet Muhammad’s head. The printing of these cartoons — and several others — in a Danish newspaper prompted some Muslim religious leaders and governments to incite violent protests, which have sometimes turned deadly. The display at UC Irvine also included three anti-Semitic cartoons that have run in the Arab press.

The conference’s co-sponsors, the College Republicans and the conservative United American Committee, said they wanted to affirm the First Amendment and to stimulate an important discussion about the growing threat of radical Islam.

“We believe unfettered speech is the only way we can come to a better understanding of what’s going on in the world,” said Francis Barraza, treasurer of the College Republicans. “Things that are obscene, things that are crazy, things that are uncomfortable should be exposed. And they can’t be exposed if they’re shrouded.”

The Muslim Student Union vehemently complained to university officials about the showing on the grounds that the cartoons are an affront to Islam. Instead they held a raucous protest outside, where more than 350 Muslims prayed and carried signs against hate speech and in praise of Muhammad.

“As a civilization and a society, we speak of spreading world peace, democracy and compassion,” said Osman Umarji, a former Muslim Student Union president who now advises the group. “Inciting religious hatred goes against that and only seeks to polarize a world in which we need more understanding and compassion.”

No violence was reported, although a Muslim heckler and another audience member nearly came to blows during the panel discussion.

Some of the Jews in attendance accused the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of hypocrisy. They asserted that, over the years, the MSU has invited speakers to campus — over the objections of Jewish students and groups — whose attacks on Zionism crossed the line into anti-Semitism. The Muslim group has denied the charge, saying it opposes Israel and its oppression of Palestinians — not Judaism.

Jewish leaders called that a double standard.

“When hate speech is aimed at Jews, it’s OK,” said Gary Ratner, executive director of the local chapter of the American Jewish Congress. “But when they perceive hate speech aimed at Muslims, it’s not OK.”

Security was tight, with metal barriers separating protesters from those lined up to enter.

Inside, the commentary was hardly all about conciliation. The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president and founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, repeatedly called Islam an “evil religion,” although he said Muslims weren’t. Homeless activist Ted Hayes seemed to blame Muslims for selling Africans into slavery during a heated exchange with an audience member.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) declined an invitation to participate, citing the sponsorship by the United American Committee, which it finds objectionable, said CAIR spokeswoman Sabiha Khan.

Besides Ratner, other politically active Jews in attendance included Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition; Roz Rothstein, executive director of the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, and Allyson Taylor, associate director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region.


MATCH Puts Giving in Students’ Hands

Learning about the importance of giving tzedakah is a basic tenet of any Jewish education.

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“It’s not just about giving away money,” said Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller. “It’s about teaching young people how to be responsible Jews when it comes to giving tzedakah. It’s not something you should do instinctively. You have to do it thoughtfully.”

The program, now in its second year, is called MATCH — short for Money and Teenagers Creating Hope. It started with an anonymous gift to the Temple Emanuel Endowment of $125,000, which the congregation was obliged to match. MATCH students use the interest earned from those funds to make philanthropic donations to a variety of organizations of their own choosing.

“They model what it means to be grown-up Jews,” Geller said. “Many of the kids in our synagogue are children of privilege, and some of them will have the opportunity to manage their own family foundations some day. All of the children in this program are learning about what it means to be a thoughtful philanthropist.”

Last year, the students, who range from eighth to 12th grade, gave away $5,000. This year, the program is divided by age into two distinct boards with 36 students currently participating. Having raised all the necessary matching funds, Temple Emanuel can now provide each group with $5,000 to give away.

Over three sessions last year, the students analyzed Jewish texts about tzedakah, heard from local philanthropists and engaged in heated discussions about where the money should go. They also learned practical skills, such as how to read an organization’s 990 tax form and how to use various Web sites to research charities on the Internet.

“I would wager that most people who give charity don’t have a clue about that,” Geller said.

Ultimately, the young participants decided to give $750 to the Make a Wish Foundation, $1,000 to AIDS Health Care, $1,000 to Camp Harmony and $1,000 to Friends of Israel’s Disabled Veterans.

One requirement of the original endowment gift is that 25 percent of the money the students donated should be directed to a project within the temple itself. Geller said she was particularly touched by the teenagers’ discussion of where those funds should go, and by their conclusion last spring to return that portion of the money — $1,250 — to the temple’s endowment for use by future generations.

“One kid said, ‘Our grandparents made sure there was an endowment for us. We need to make sure that it’s there for our grandchildren,'” Geller recalled. “It’s interesting to see what areas the kids feel are important for Jewish organizations to be funding, how they think Jews ought to be giving their money.”

Justine Roach, a 16-year-old from West Los Angeles, is participating in the program at Temple Emanuel for the second year. Last year, she headed the team that investigated inner-city youth, which ended up supporting Camp Harmony.

“It felt so good and empowering, especially being a teenager and getting to make these kinds of decisions,” Roach said. “I gained responsibilities and it felt really nice. I think we’re about the right age to be making these types of decisions. In the future I’m going to be dealing with these issues, too.”

In addition to the practical experience MATCH provides, Geller said it has been a wonderful way to keep teenagers engaged in the life of the congregation after their bar and bat mitzvahs.

Geller said she had been thinking about creating such a program for a long time, and when a donor approached her looking for a program to fund, she jumped at the chance.

“This is a game that you can play — simulating a family foundation and asking kids to decide where they would give the money,” Geller said. “I had done that in confirmation classes and it always worked really well because it gave the kids the chance to think about something real, and I thought wow, what if we could really do it?”

Now it is not a simulation game, it’s the real thing. And students are even more engaged, Geller said. “It is a lot of money to them. None of them gives away $5,000 a year on their own, and they have the sense of working together and giving away a lot more money. It was very exhilarating to sit with the 10th-12th-graders this year, and to hear them wrestle with what it means to be a responsible citizen in this world.”


B’nai Mitzvah for the Young at Heart

Last February, a class of 17 retirees jumped at the chance to pursue a Jewish rite of passage bypassed in their youth by circumstance or cultural rigidity.

One student was 90; the youngest, 63. One is a Holocaust survivor; another uses a wheelchair. Since sessions commenced, one student died, another was stricken by cancer and a third dropped out after an extended vacation.

The 14 who persevered conducted an unusual joint b’nai mitzvah service on Aug. 14 at Laguna Woods’ Temple Judea, near the retirement community where they all reside. Proudly intending to wear their newly earned fringed trophies to High Holiday services this month, most anticipate experiencing the holiest days of the Jewish year with a new sense of entitlement. For others, their achievement yields a palpable connection to previous generations that eluded them over a lifetime.

Entering synagogue used to feel like a foreign experience to Roslyn Fieland, 76, a lifelong New Yorker who moved to Leisure World five years ago.

"I felt I was in a place I didn’t belong, an immigrant," she said. "Without a doubt, the holidays will be more meaningful. I’ll have much more understanding than I’ve ever had before. Now, I’m comfortable."

Fieland’s formal Jewish education ended at age 9 when she and her sibling were expelled from religious school. She had grabbed a ruler from a teacher, who had slapped it across her brother’s face, still tender from surgery.

Her single mother arranged for a Hebrew tutor, but just for her brother.

"Girls didn’t matter," Fieland said. She retained that meager schooling and ended up tutoring some classmates in the b’nai mitzvah class because of her ease relearning Hebrew.

"Here, I have a closeness to my religion I never felt before," Fieland said.

After learning and rehearsing the proper delivery of transliterated Hebrew, the class was divvied up into foursomes that took turns at the pulpit, reciting their selection of the morning Sabbath service in unison. Laura Feigenbaum, 63, dutifully attends High Holiday services. But she expects to absorb a different spiritual pitch this time. She can picture herself at services draped with a hard-earned tallit.

"Now, I’ll feel like I’m a bigger part of it," said Feigenbaum, who suggested the b’nai mitzvah class to the chair of Temple Judea’s religious committee, Ed Fleishman. The last b’nai mitzvah class at Judea — a multidenominational synagogue of 1,000 members, whose average age is 68 — was offered in 1995. Their instructors were congregants Rachel Jacobs and Jack Falit, the Torah reader at the synagogues’ Monday and Thursday minyans.

Feigenbaum, née Levitt, was raised in the Toronto home of her grandparents, whose level of observance included cutting toilet paper before Shabbat. As a child, she learned Yiddish in an after-school class. Although when Hebrew was introduced, she was banished. As an adult, she felt a similar sense of exclusion at the synagogues where her children were enrolled.

"I always felt like an outsider," she said.

Her hunger for Jewish rituals began in Judea’s welcoming environment.

"When we came here," she said, referring to her husband, Paul, "we were taken in like family."

Faithfully rehearsing her prayer portion even while vacationing this summer in Europe, Feigenbaum said becoming a bat mitzvah intensified her Jewish identify and fulfilled an unrealized longing to belong.

"Now, I feel part of the religion," she said. "I’m going to start Hebrew classes next. That’s the last link in the chain. I think we need it."

Toby Weiner, 66, also never felt at home in synagogue.

"I felt like I didn’t belong because I didn’t understand," said Weiner, who quit attending temple out of anger over the death of her husband, Harold, in 1986. Her own family was secular.

Thrilled at the opportunity to at last learn the sanctuary rituals, she is looking forward to the High Holidays with new pride in her own traditions.

"The reason we do rituals, I’m learning why and asking questions I never did before," Weiner said.

The class’s only male member was Arthur Oaks, who dropped out of religious school at age 13, the same year his grandfather died. His mother thought continuing would be disrespectful to his grandfather’s memory. Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia, Oaks recalls feeling he missed a milestone. As an adult, he’s been called to the Torah many times since.

"At age 76, I’m finally coming of age," said Oaks, who read directly from the Torah during the b’nai mitzvah service, which is more traditional. "I never thought I would have the opportunity. When they announced the class, I jumped at the chance."

Maryan Feingold, 90, suffered a stroke six months ago and was told she wouldn’t walk again. Defying the dire forecast, Feingold ascends the bimah with unsteady legs and pronged cane in hand. She said: "I’m taking the class to thank God I’m walking and talking again."

Family Put Bruin on the Right Track

Jeremy Silverman’s strength on the field is only matched by
his strength of character. A shot put and discus thrower for UCLA, the
21-year-old student athlete has a kind, grounded quality.

Silverman grew up in Annville, Penn., a town with one
stoplight and a gas station. As a member of the only Jewish family at a very
small high school, Silverman bore witness to some anti-Semitic attitudes.
Still, he celebrated the Jewish holidays.

“Passover and Chanukah were my favorites because they seemed
to bring the family together,” Silverman said.

Silverman is extremely close to his father, Robert, who
flies cross-country to watch his son compete in eight to 10 meets a year.

“He’s amazing, he’s so supportive,” said Silverman, who notes
that track parents who live in California don’t attend as many events. “I hope
someday to be as good of a father as he is to me.”

Silverman began throwing at age 8.

“It was a family thing,” Silverman said. “My older brother
and sister were doing it, so I decided to try it. It was just for fun, but I
ended up being pretty good.”

It may have started as a just another fun activity, but
throwing came to play an important role in Silverman’s adolescence.

“It sounds cheesy, but track and field changed my life,”
said Silverman, who weighed 320 pounds after his freshman year of high school.
“You know how high school kids can be; there was a lot of social pressure on me
to lose the weight.”

Motivated by his sport, he spent three months on the Atkins
diet and dropped 65 pounds. When his weight crept up to 280 his junior year,
Silverman lost another 50 pounds with a low-calorie diet and a high-cardio

“Throwing was my inspiration. I lost 100 pounds between my
freshman and senior years, and people looked at me differently,” said
Silverman, who is now 6-foot-3, 257 pounds. “I not only looked better, but I
saw positive results on the field.”

In his senior year, Silverman broke the Pennsylvania high
school shot put record, became the state shot put and discus champion, and was
ranked fourth in the nation in his sport.

Silverman dreamed of attending UCLA. “It was the palace of
throwing and the coach, Art Venegas, was the throwing guru,” he said.

But after a mediocre season his junior year of high school,
Silverman signed a letter of intent with Virginia Tech. Before Silverman’s
college orientation, the Virginia Tech coach announced he was leaving, which
gave Silverman a window to be re-recruited. Based on his stellar senior year
performance, UCLA came knocking.

“As soon as I met Art and saw the school, I knew I wanted to
be here. It was fate,” said Silverman, who placed 13th overall at the 2003 NCAA

A psychobiology major, Silverman works hard to juggle his
academic and athletic ambitions. Track and field is a year-round sport.
Silverman competes in indoor and outdoor meets and practices from 2-6 p.m., five days a week. His rigorous practice schedule often conflicts with required
major classes and professors’ office hours. He pre-enrolls to ensure a spot in
morning classes and takes required three-hour lab courses over the summer.

“It’s hard to stay on top of the curve, especially during
finals week,” said Silverman, who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and
attend dental school.

“I’m working toward throwing after college,” said Silverman,
who called the Olympics his pie in the sky, “but there has to be something
after sports, something to take me through the rest of my life.”

Silverman can be seen competing April
8-10 at UCLA’s second annual Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational.
For ticket information, go to

Murky Borders

For the great majority of Jews living in Los Angeles, anti-Semitism is a lot like clean air: We know it exists elsewhere, we just haven’t encountered much of it ourselves.

That inexperience is one reason why so many of us have a problem defining the border between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. When does honest criticism of Israel bleed into ethnic prejudice? When is an Israel basher a Jew hater? And, more to the point for us all, will anti-Semitism that masks itself as anti-Zionism grow and spread beyond the Arab world, beyond Old Europe and eventually reach our shores?

A case in point arose earlier this month after an Oxford professor turned down an Israeli student’s request for a fellowship by e-mail.

Amit Duvshani, who is completing his master’s degree in molecular biology at the University of Tel Aviv, e-mailed Andrew Wilkie, a geneticist at Oxford University, asking to work in Wilkie’s lab to continue his research into HIV.

Wilkie’s e-mailed response has since seen the world via the Internet. He rejected Duvshani’s request on the grounds that the young man served in the "oppressive" Israeli army, as is compulsory for all Jewish Israeli men.

"I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level," Wilkie wrote, "but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army."

L’affaire Duvshani would not be so distressing were it unique. Last December, Paris VI University adopted a motion calling for the suspension of scientific cooperation agreements with Israeli academics. In April, more than 100 academics in England signed a letter proposing a boycott of Israeli scholars to protest Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

Shortly thereafter, the editor of an academic journal on translation fired two Israeli members of the editorial board.

The good news is that these academic blacklists are being met with muscular opposition from Jews and non-Jews. Oxford University put Wilkie under investigation for possible violations of the university’s anti-discrimination rules, and made him issue a public apology.

Even before that, a group of leading Oxford University scientists condemned academic boycotts based on nationality, as did the British Medical Journal and the Royal Institution, Britain’s oldest independent research body.

The bad news is that such nonsense has easily leapt the pond. Rutgers University will reluctantly provide a venue to an Oct. 13 conference hosted by New Jersey Solidarity, a virulently anti-Israel group. According to a report in The Jewish Standard, this will be the third annual National Student Conference held by the Palestine Solidarity Movement; the other two were at UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The conferences called for an end to "apartheid" in Israel and for divestment from Israeli companies.

Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin list many of the defenses anti-Zionists offer to the question of whether they are, in fact, anti-Semitic in "Why the Jews: The Reason for Anti-Semitism," a clear and mostly cogent text, first published in 1983 and soon to be reissued in a revised and updated version. The authors assert that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are of a piece.

The fact that a major publisher felt it was time to reissue "Why the Jews?" is depressing enough commentary on our times. The new version includes an introduction titled, "Is It 1938 Again for the Jews?" that provides ample evidence of "an astonishing eruption of international anti-Semitism."

At its best, the book provides clear refutations of the classic anti-Semitic and anti-Israel canards and deserves to be packed into every Jewish freshman’s steamer trunk this fall.

Yet the book suffers from overstatement and oversimplification — perhaps a function of aiming for a concise, mass-market paperback. The authors underplay the support Jewish communities around the world have received from non-Jews in response to anti-Semitism. The glass may not even be half-full, but it is certainly not empty. And sentences like, "In America, the greatest threat to Jewish security now emanates from the secular left," is a claim that few professionals in the world of Jewish defense organizations would agree with. The last two violent attacks on Jews in Los Angeles were committed by a right-wing militia member and a Muslim fundamentalist, not by breakaway cells of Sen. Barbara Boxer supporters.

But when Prager and Telushkin write that, "Zionism, whose major aim was to end Jew-hatred through the establishment of a Jewish State, has produced the most hated state in the world," they are not far off the mark.

It may take a more delicate scalpel to tease apart anti-Israel comments from base anti-Semitism — a lot of anti-Israel criticism comes from knee-jerk liberalism, ignorance and biased media reports, not Jew-hatred.

In a recent essay, author Rabbi Shmuely Boteach says British academics like Wilkie are not anti-Semites, just stupid and ill-informed.

"We debase the seriousness of the allegation [of anti-Semitism] through misuse," he writes, adding that many of these academics can be countered with clear and consistent rebuttal.

The same, I believe, goes for academics and students here. Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz announced this week he will go to Rutgers and engage organizers of the anti-Israel conference in argument.

"The good news is that if the students just know the facts they can devastate the arguments on the other side," he said.

In the end, the border between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism may be — like the air in Los Angeles — murky and gray. But let’s give unclear minds the benefit of the doubt, and present our side with accuracy and forthrightness.

"The best answer to falsehood is truth," Dershowitz said, "and the pro-Israel community should never be afraid."

ADL Takes UCI Newspaper Chief to Israel

Abel Pena, editor-in-chief of UC Irvine’s campus newspaper, New University, was among a group of U.S. college newspaper editors on a Anti-Defamation League (ADL)-sponsored trip to improve understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is the 10th year the ADL has sent student editors to visit cultural, religious and historic sites in Poland, Bulgaria and Israel. Along the way, students heard first-hand briefings on developments in the crisis when meeting high-ranking government ministers, diplomats, policymakers, historians and journalists.

Pena was accompanied by Joyce Greenspan, the ADL’s regional Orange County director. Also along were student editors from six other colleges.

Students visited Auschwitz in Poland and met government and Jewish leaders in Bulgaria.

Surveying ‘America’s Jewish Freshmen’

When Adam Bergman researched colleges toward the end of his senior year at Milken High School, he looked very closely at the quality of their soccer teams and not so closely at the size of their Jewish populations.

"I don’t consider myself religious at all. I have never chosen a faith," said Bergman, the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. As he approaches his freshman year on the soccer team at UC Santa Cruz, Bergman is not looking to have a Jewish experience.

Bergman, however, is not alone in his religious neutrality. "America’s Jewish Freshmen," a survey recently released by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, reveals a surprisingly low level of Jewish identification among students raised in interreligious families. The study, which asked incoming college freshmen to identify their religious preference, found that 40.2 percent of students raised in families where only the mother was Jewish identified their religion as "none," and 40 percent raised in families where only the father was Jewish identified their religion as "none." Of the students who were raised by two Jewish parents, only 6.2 percent claimed "none" as their religious preference.

"America’s Jewish Freshmen" profiles this rapidly growing segment of the student population who, like Bergman, have never chosen a faith, but have at least one Jewish parent. The study labels this category of students NR/JP (no religious preference/at least one Jewish parent), and compares them to self-identified Jewish students in areas such as their academic and family backgrounds, degree and career aspirations, and leisure activities. The study also compares Jewish and non-Jewish students in the same categories.

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life sponsored "America’s Jewish Freshmen," in hopes of assisting Jewish educators to address student needs.

The study was conducted by Linda J. Sax, director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at UCLA, and is based on data from CIRP’s Freshmen Survey, which has tracked more than 10 million students at more than 1,600 baccalaureate institutions for the past three decades. "America’s Jewish Freshmen" represents the first analysis of the CIRP survey’s Jewish sample, both by analyzing the 1999 CIRP Freshmen Survey and comparing it to the past 30 years of data.

"There’s a lot of stereotypes about Jewish students, but I wanted to see in reality how they compare," Sax said.

The study compares the responses of 8,000 Jewish students, 232,000 non-Jewish students, and 2,000 NR/JP students. It gives insight into one finding of the CIRP Freshmen Survey, which shows that while 5.4 percent of the student population identified themselves as Jewish in 1970, the figure dropped to 2.6 percent in 2001.

Among other things, "America’s Jewish Freshmen" found that NR/JP students were more often raised in homes where their parents were divorced or separated, compared to Jewish students. NR/JP students were also more likely to earn B averages in high school and less likely to earn A averages. They were more likely to aspire toward doctorate or masters in education degrees, but were less likely to aspire toward medical degrees.

"This is one category that Hillel will try to engage on campus," said Jay Rubin, executive vice president of Hillel. Rubin emphasized the importance of Jewish Campus Service Corps fellows reaching out to this group of students in particular, rather than waiting for them to come to Hillel. The survey notes that "although NR/JP claim to have no religious affiliation, Hillel looks to engage them in Jewish campus life because they have at least one Jewish parent and have not affiliated with any other religion." Additionally, despite differences, NR/JP students typically resembled Jewish students more than they resembled non-Jews.

"These students lack a traditional Jewish home life. We have an important opportunity, maybe an obligation, to provide them with the Jewish experiences that they failed to get at home and to provide them with a warm environment that will inspire them Jewishly…. We have to create programming with that in mind," said Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel.

"We’re at the beginning stages of learning what the research tells us," Rubin said. He does, however, offer several suggestions for program implementation based on some of the statistics, which he derives mainly from the part of the survey comparing Jewish and non-Jewish students. For instance, Jewish students have a stronger intention to participate in community service while in college. Rubin suggests "alternative spring breaks," such as one where students from USC Hillel helped build health clinics in Uruguay and Buenos Aires.

Additionally, the study found that Jews are more likely than non-Jews to be interested in business, medicine, law and the arts. Rubin suggests Hillel internship and mentor programs and highlights several arts programs, including an a capella choir.

While the survey will undoubtedly be a valuable tool in aiding efforts of Jewish educators, Sax emphasizes that the data does not represent college students, but rather students who are about to enter college. She hopes that the study is a steppingstone to follow-up studies. "The ultimate goal is to see how they [Jewish students] develop throughout college," Sax said.

The Faces Behind Fairfax

Ask Boris Dralyuk about his student days at Fairfax High School and the impish young man with startlingly blue eyes will mockingly compare himself to one of the great anti-heroes of literature. “I know about the experiences of Saul Bellow’s Augie March and the little Jewish kids growing up in tough urban areas, but Los Angeles is not one of those places. There is very little in common between the Lower East Side and Los Angeles. It’s not a battle to grow up here. It is not a struggle.”

While he may not have to brave New York winters in Los Angeles, Dralyuk has seen a fair amount of struggle in his time. He came from Odessa, Russia, in 1991 with his mother, Anna Glazer, while his father went to Israel where he eventually died of heart failure brought on by alcoholism.

Dralyuk’s experience at Fairfax was especially unique, as he was selected to be one of 12 students profiled in the PBS documentary series “Senior Year.” David Zeiger, the creator of the series, and a Fairfax alumnus himself, chose Dralyuk less because of the student’s Judaism than because he was an immigrant.

“It was very important for us to follow a really smart, driven kid in public school,” Zeiger said.

“He had come from Russia and it was kind of interesting to me that he had picked up English and become an intellectual with tremendous range,” Zeiger explained. “Boris reflected a big reality. My agenda in ‘Senior Year,’ was to show public school in a positive light in the diversity it provides its students, and Fairfax is one of the most diverse places in the country. You can’t have that diversity of kids outside of a public school situation. It’s a real strength of Fairfax.”

The students were followed by filmmakers who were USC and UCLA graduate students and not too far removed from their subjects ages.

Zeiger came back to his alma matter for the 1999-2000 school year to see what had changed in the neighborhood. While Zeiger found that the classic dramas of adolescence have remained the same, the background against which those dramas are played out against has changed dramatically. When Zeiger graduated in 1967, he estimates the school was 98 percent middle-class Jews. “I think we had two African American students in the entire place.” Now only 13 percent of Fairfax’s 2,700 students are classified as white, non-Hispanic — nearly 90 percent of whom are Eastern European Jewish immigrants, like Dralyuk.

Dr. Carolee Bouge, Fairfax’s dean of students said, “In the ’60s, it was mostly white and the most diversity we had were the two Jewish populations — Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Now the school is really a microcosm of the world picture. We have over 62 countries represented at the school, and 35 languages spoken.”

So how did a school in the traditional heart of Jewish Los Angeles come to only have Jewish students who were immigrants? The flight of Jewish students from Los Angeles public schools has stepped up dramatically in the 1990s with 70 percent of Jewishly identified children in the Fairfax district attending private schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish. According to Bruce Phillips, a professor of sociology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, “When L.A. High was destroyed in the 1971 earthquake, they shipped those kids over to Fairfax. No one was prepared for the influx, and that began to contribute to the decline of Fairfax as a neighborhood school.”

Seniors from Fairfax still excel, with two students attending Harvard from the graduating class last year, 22 going to UCLA, 15 to Berkeley and three to USC, according to Kay Ochi, the school’s college advisor. Thirty percent of the students do attend four-year colleges, and 55 percent attend two-year colleges. However, over 15 percent of the senior class still does not graduate.

The diversity of student accomplishments is perhaps a reflection of the various socio-economic groups the school pulls from, and may explain why a school that sends its graduates to the top universities in the country also qualifies as a Title 1 school.

Bouge tells stories of Korean children brought over by their parents and left alone to live in rented rooms in the district to give them an American education. “These kids obviously need a lot of support from their school,” Bouge said. If anything, the diversity of students and their academic accomplishments might be testimonial to how vivid the American dream is for many immigrants.

Dralyuk was able to navigate the tricky twists and turns at Fairfax and not only survive, but thrive. Currently a sophomore at UCLA where he is studying Russian Literature, Dralyuk clearly cherished his time at Fairfax. “What I took away from Fairfax was the value of having so many people coexisting together without becoming homogenous, and even celebrating their diversity by teaching one another who they really are.”

“Senior Year” airs every Friday night at 10 p.m. on
KCET. The series will be preempted March 1, 8 and 15, but returns Friday, March
22. For more information, visit the Web site at www.pbs.org/senioryear .

Being Greene

Brian Greene thinks of himself as a product of the University of Judaism (UJ).

Since 1983, when he left his native Vancouver to pursue a UJ undergraduate degree, he has largely remained connected to the university, as a student first and then as a faculty member in the school of education. In 1994, he was named executive director of Camp Ramah in California, which operates under UJ auspices.

But his UJ days are now behind him. Greene has moved to Washington, D.C., where he’s taken over the reins of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO).

Founded in 1924, BBYO is America’s oldest and largest Jewish youth organization, offering social activities, summer camps and Israel trips to some 20,000 high school students from across the Jewish spectrum. It also has branches in England, France, Eastern Europe, Israel and Australia.

Though Greene admits that BBYO has lagged in popularity in recent years, he sees the group as poised for growth. His appointment comes as BBYO is in the process of gaining autonomy from B’nai Brith International, in the same way that Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League have separated from this same parent organization in recent years. As international director, Greene reports to a new governing board entirely focused on BBYO concerns.

Under Greene’s leadership, Camp Ramah has offered year-round programming, including retreats and specialty weekends. But the heart of the operation has always been Ramah’s summer camp. Closely affiliated with the Conservative movement, it accommodates close to 1,300 children each summer, along with a staff of 225, in an environment that combines outdoor fun with prayer and Jewish learning. Ramah veterans speak of the camp’s warm familial atmosphere, which encourages both campers and staff to return year after year.

Though well-aware of what he leaves behind, Greene said welcomes the challenge of working on the national and international level. He’s particularly intrigued by the fact that BBYO is committed to a nondenominational approach:

“It really is all about klal Yisrael [the unity of the people of Israel],” Greene said, noting that “almost 50 percent of Jewish teenagers today have no Jewish connection in their lives. BBYO is a very welcoming organization for a Jewish teenager who has very little knowledge or background.”

It has long served a particularly vital role in parts of the country where the Jewish population is small. Greene would like to increase its appeal in cities where denominational youth groups offer stiff competition.

Given that he considers himself a Jewish educator, as well as an administrative expert, Greene hopes to bolster the Judaic content in BBYO social activities. At the same time, he plans to continue the BBYO mandate of providing “a chance for Jewish teens to build networks, connect to each other and develop Jewish leadership skills.” Youth-led activities have always been a BBYO tradition, and many of today’s Jewish leaders first discovered their calling while planning BBYO events.

Jake Farber, chairman of the board at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, headed the Camp Ramah board during Greene’s tenure. Farber praises Greene’s organizational skills, which have helped him handle both a major Ramah construction project, and the recent huge surge in Ramah’s popularity. This past fall, only a week after applications were sent out for summer 2002, nearly every slot was filled.

“It’s a great loss for us, but a great opportunity for him,” Farber said.

The New Face of the UJ

Sitting in his sunny Bel Air hilltop office, the president of the University of Judaism (UJ), Dr. Robert Wexler, is in a cheerful mood.

A high-profile lecture series of top American and Israeli personalities is generating national attention and an unexpected financial bonanza. The university’s continuing education arm is innovating new programs and drawing close to 10,000 participants. Enrollment in the young rabbinical school is running higher than anticipated.

Granted, there are also some nagging problems. As always, the fluctuating fiscal health of the institution is worrisome. The uncertain impact of the Sept. 11 attacks and a sliding economy has Wexler "holding my breath," he says. Undergraduate enrollment remains low. And some critics charge that the UJ has forsaken its responsibility as the flagship of Conservative Judaism on the West Coast.

The evolution of the University of Judaism and its 50-year-old president are closely intertwined. The UJ was founded in 1947, and Wexler was born three years later. In 1968, fresh out of high school, Wexler took his first UJ course during the summer session.

After receiving a doctorate in Near Eastern studies at UCLA and his ordination as a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), followed by a lectureship at Princeton University, Wexler joined the UJ in 1978 as assistant to the dean of students.

In 1992, he followed the highly respected Dr. David Lieber as UJ president.

The institution Wexler took over was co-founded by the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education and by the JTS in New York, the rabbinical training and academic center of the Conservative movement. UJ’s guiding philosophy, however, was formulated by the great Jewish educator and thinker Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, author of the path-breaking "Judaism as a Civilization."

"Kaplan viewed the role of the Jewish university as a multicentered institution, in which the teaching of the liberal and fine arts was of equal importance to the training of rabbis," Wexler says.

The founding lay leaders of the UJ, men like Dore Schary and Milton Sperling, came from the Hollywood film industry and shared the view that the UJ should give equal emphasis to culture and to religion.

As to his personal outlook, Wexler says, "I am an observant Jew, but I feel just as comfortable with a social-action Jew or a cultural Jew."

He acknowledges that UJ administrators may not have consistently clarified their philosophical viewpoint, leading later to criticism among some Conservative synagogues.

In practice, Wexler interprets the UJ’s "general educational mission to the community" and "eclectic approach to Judaism" broadly enough so that it easily accommodates a lecture series featuring former President Bill Clinton (Jan. 14); former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Feb. 11); political strategist James Carville (March 11); and Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (April 22).

Spearheaded by a massive advertising campaign — including full-page ads in the Western editions of Time and Newsweek featuring the slogan, "If the University of Judaism can bring today’s leaders to L.A. — imagine what it can bring to you," — the lecture series has been met with a public response that has even stunned its organizers.

The lectures were originally booked for the 3,000-seat Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, but as the wave of ticket requests rolled in, they were quickly transferred to the Universal Amphitheatre, which seats 5,000 in the orchestra level, and 1,200 in the mezzanine.

After the change of venue, the idea was to restrict seating to the lower level, but as demand continued, the upper level was opened up as well. By early this week, all but a hundred of the mezzanine tickets had been sold, and it’s almost certain there will be a full house by the time Clinton takes the podium.

"I had no idea this series would be so popular," Wexler says, even though all four speakers have been closely involved in American-Israeli relations "I guess people, especially after Sept. 11, want direct access to those who have been in power. It’s different from seeing them on TV," he adds.

The financial payback on the lecture series is equally impressive. Assuming the mezzanine is also filled, a total of 6,200 tickets will have been sold.

Of these, 120 tickets went for $2,500 each, with the holders entitled to a private dinner with each of the speakers. That’s a total of $300,000.

Next, 400 people bought tickets at $400 each, entitling them to attend post-talk receptions for the speakers. That’s another $160,000.

That leaves 5,680 general reserved seats for the series, going at $180 each, totaling $1,022,400.

The grand total thus comes to $1,482,400.

What about the expenses? Both Wexler and the Harry Walker Agency in New York, which represents Clinton and Barak, declined to discuss the speakers’ fees.

However, inquiries to other booking agencies and to professionals familiar with the process yielded a fairly close consensus on the following going rates:

President Clinton: $100,000-$125,000, plus expenses for three people and transportation by private jet.

Albright: $50,000-$70,000, plus first-class plane fare.

Barak: $50,000 and first-class fare from Israel for himself and party of two. (Since Barak is scheduled for other appearances in the United States in April, the transportation expenses might be shared.)

Carville: A bargain at $20,000, plus first-class airfare.

So, fees alone for the four speakers range between $220,000 and $265,000, not including airfare. Even doubling this figure, and more, for rental at Universal, transportation, advertising, extensive security, first-class hotel accommodations and dinners, the UJ should end up with a very handsome profit, which Wexler says will go for scholarships.

Not everybody is cheering for the lecture series. Wexler says he has received about 20 messages objecting, some quite forcefully, to the democratic and liberal orientation of the speakers.

Others charged that Clinton and his advisers "have aided and abetted the foes of Israel," in the words of one writer. And one or two notes alluded to Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"We have previously received similar messages, from the other side, when we had conservative speakers like [talk show host] Dennis Prager," Wexler says. "We are not honoring or endorsing any speakers, but we will continue to present them as long as they are respectable and we can learn from them."

The lecture series was the brainchild of Gady Levy, the 32-year-old dean of UJ’s department of continuing education, whom Wexler credits with reinvigorating and expanding UJ’s sizable outreach and extension program.

Close to 10,000 people annually participate in a diversified program of classes, tours, lectures, seminars, forums and special events, mainly held in the evenings and on Sundays.

Levy also launched Yesod ("foundation" in Hebrew), an intensive two-year biblical and Jewish studies program, held in partnership with 10 Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues.

Now in the works is a videoconferencing program, linking UJ faculty with adult students in Palm Springs and San Jose.

Innovative projects are under way in other parts of the campus. At the Whizin Center for the Jewish Future, director Ron Wolfson is working toward formation of a Jewish Teacher Service Corps, modeled on the Teach for America program.

He hopes to alleviate the shortage of qualified teachers in Jewish day schools and synagogues by enlisting alumni of Birthright Israel and other Israel-centered programs, as well as recent college graduates in Jewish studies, for one- to two-year stints as teachers. (For more on visiting lecturer Mimi Feigelson, see page 52.)

Seminars and workshops for teachers and parents, directed by Risa Munitz-Gruberger, are emphasizing the key role of family education.

The university’s performing arts program hosted the world premiere of the full-scale musical "Haven," and Wexler is looking toward edgier projects, such as staging translated Israeli plays and readings of the works of younger Jewish writers.

"We have all this Hollywood talent here, and we want them not just as donors, but as participants," he says.

On the construction front, the current project is the Auerbach Student Center, which will serve as a combination fitness and student union center, with an adjoining Olympic-length swimming pool, soccer field and basketball court.

The UJ does not field any athletic teams, but under consideration is formation of a debating team, which should be a natural at a Jewish liberal arts college.

Visitors — impressed by the attractive UJ campus, the diversity of its activities, and frequent media attention — are often startled to learn that only 223 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled on a regular, year-around basis.

The College of Arts and Sciences teaches 103 undergraduates, well below its earlier peak. The master of business administration program, designed for future administrators of nonprofit organizations, has 36 students. The Fingerhut School of Education, which grants master’s degrees in education and behavioral psychology, has 20 students.

The one branch of the academic program that is exceeding enrollment projections and is on the soundest financial footing is the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, with 64 future rabbis enrolled in the five-year study program.

"When we started the Ziegler school in 1996, we thought we’d take 10 new students each year, for a total of 50 at all five levels, because there wouldn’t be enough jobs for any more," Wexler says.

But since then, rabbinical job opportunities have greatly expanded beyond the usual congregational pulpits, especially in the fields of education and community service.

"Now even The Jewish Federation has a rabbi in residence," Wexler marvels. "Who would have thought of that 30 years ago, when The Federation barely tolerated its Board of Rabbis."

Plans now call for the annual admission of 20 new students in the rabbinic school, and a total student body of 100.

The UJ also co-sponsors two programs in Israel. A one-year program for high school graduates, conducted jointly with Young Judea, is currently dormant, in light of the intifada and the Sept. 11 attacks. However, a third-year program for rabbinical students, a joint venture with the JTS, remains on course.

Among some Conservative synagogue members, particularly those who have been part of the Conservative movement from childhood on, criticism is being leveled at the UJ and Wexler administration on both philosophical and practical grounds.

"I used to think of the UJ as the center of the Conservative movement on the West Coast, but now the only thing Conservative about it consists of the Ziegler rabbinical school, Camp Ramah and the Introduction to Judaism classes," says Michael Waterman, vice president of finance at Valley Beth Shalom.

As it stands now, "the UJ has marooned the Conservative movement and left it without a focal point," says Waterman, adding, "If the Conservative movement is to survive, it can’t be a loose confederation of synagogues, with each rabbi or board of directors making their own rules. There has to be a central authority."

His criticism is reinforced by Jules Porter, a former member of the UJ board of directors and past president of both the university’s Patrons Society and Sinai Temple.

"I am disappointed that the UJ has been turned into a generic cultural and community institution, whose ambition seems to be to become the Princeton of the West Coast," Porter says.

Wexler acknowledges these criticisms as a "fair statement," but believes that the critics are nostalgic for a type of institution that never really existed.

The UJ has never aimed to be the flagship of Conservative Judaism or the interpreter of Conservative religious doctrine, Wexler argues. "Our rabbinical school is Conservative. The rest of the university is basically nondenominational."

Doctrinal interpretations lie partially within the purview of the JTS in New York, but mainly with the Rabbinical Assembly, the worldwide association of Conservative rabbis, Wexler says.

"When the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards rules, for instance, that it’s OK to drive to the synagogue on Shabbat — but only to the synagogue — or that openly homosexual rabbis cannot become members of the Rabbinical Assembly, then Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson [dean of the Ziegler school] has to comply with these rules, regardless of how he feels about them personally," Wexler notes.

A second criticism by Waterman and Porter, more immediate and emotional than philosophical differences, turns on the UJ’s past and planned actions in "evicting" other Conservative organizations and school classes from its campus.

The West Coast offices of the United Synagogue, the umbrella organization of Conservative congregations, and the United Synagogue Youth, were asked to find other quarters some time ago.

But what brings the critics’ blood to a boil now is the UJ’s demand that the Los Angeles Hebrew High School move its Sunday classes off campus.

Currently, the school’s seventh- to 12th-graders meet twice a week at seven different synagogue locations, but the 400-500 students study together on Sundays for three and a half hours in 25 UJ classrooms. The UJ space was provided free until last June, when the school was asked to hold its Sunday classes somewhere else. When Hebrew High objected, the UJ asked for $100,000 for a year’s extension, says Waterman, an attorney who teaches ethics classes at the school. The parties ultimately agreed on a $50,000 payment, with the matter to be reopened next June.

One result of the friction between some Conservative synagogues — with VBS in the forefront — and the UJ, is that VBS has changed the beneficiary of its annual fundraising breakfast. Formerly, all the proceeds went directly to the UJ. Now money is specifically earmarked for the Ziegler rabbinical school, although, Waterman says, the Ziegler school is already well-endowed, while the 54-year-old UJ as a whole is running in the red.

Waterman readily concedes that his criticism of the UJ represents a minority viewpoint among Conservative synagogue leaders.

More typical are the opinions of Elaine Berke, also a VBS member and a past president of The Jewish Federation’s Valley Alliance, who serves on the board of UJ’s think tank, the Center for Policy Options.

"I wasn’t brought up in the Conservative movement, so I don’t have a particular ax to grind," she says. "Every institution has to grow up and assume its own identity. It may be a good thing that the UJ has become nondenominational."

Wexler says that the contentious Hebrew High issue simply comes down to a matter of space, and that organizations not part of the UJ have to go to make room for the university’s expanding continuing education and cultural programs.

While Wexler regrets any loss of financial support, he notes that the UJ is relying less and less on synagogue donations and more on contributions by individuals.

While he would not cite specific figures on the UJ’s financial situation, he observed "We are subject to ups and downs. Like any corporation, in flusher periods we upsize, and in leaner periods we downsize.

"We are holding our breath now to see how the events of Sept. 11 and the downturn in the economy will affect us. We’ll know better by the end of the calendar year."

One of the more drastic downturns confronted the UJ in 1997, when, facing a $2 million deficit, the administration terminated the jobs of 14 of its 100 faculty and staff.

Another below-the-surface indicator of fiscal problems has been the "unnaming" of the College of Arts and Sciences. In the 1980s, it became the Lee College, in honor of British philanthropists Norman and Sadie Lee, presumably after a large donation.

Two years ago, the "Lee" name was dropped, following "a confidential understanding with the Lee family," Wexler says.

The university is now looking for a new sponsor, one bearing a hefty endowment. One report — that if no such philanthropist is found the college may have to close down — was firmly denied by Wexler, who says that there are "no plans whatsoever" to discontinue the college.

Toward the end of the nearly two-hour interview, Wexler turned toward the future of the 54-year old university"All our programs are directed toward one goal, and that is to make a real impact on the shape and direction of American Judaism," he says. "We are very much a California institution, which means that we will always be innovative, that we will always look forward."

A War of Words

Students, faculty and staff members at CSUN were up in arms last week regarding an exhibit sponsored by the university’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). The "Museum of Intolerance" exhibit, part of planned activities for the campus’ Islam Awareness Week (Oct. 21-27), showed photographs of Muslims under attack in several nations including what it called Palestine, with prominent pictures of Israeli soldiers and of Palestinian Arabs throwing rocks.

The exhibit, put together by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, appeared at numerous locations on campus during the weeklong event, which was billed on the MSA’s Web site as intended "to dispel any confusion, misconceptions and anger towards Islam and Muslims."

"We wanted to say clearly what Islam said and where we stand regarding the events of Sept. 11," said MSA President Husnain Mehdi.

Several Jewish students and faculty members, as well as Hillel director Rabbi Jordan Goldson, confronted Muslim students at the display. "Things got very heated," Goldson said.

In addition to conflicts at MSA’s table, Goldson said he also heard from Jewish students that anti-Israel remarks were made during an Oct. 24 lecture in the CSUN Student Union titled "The Truth About Islam."

Marc Reichman, a 21-year-old junior, was very upset by the exhibit.

"It basically ridicules and degrades Simon Wiesenthal’s Museum of Tolerance," he said.

Sandy Struman, a staff employee at CSUN, said she, too, found the exhibit appalling.

"I attended the Islamic exhibit believing mistakenly that it was intended to promote peace and understanding," Struman said. "But what I saw was a photograph mounted on the exhibit with a slogan underneath that stated ‘Zionism is Nazism’ which is the antithesis of peace and understanding."

Struman was told there was nothing to be done when she spoke to campus management.

"It was a horrendous thing to have on campus, but it all falls under freedom of speech," she said. "I respect that, but there’s a fine line between freedom of speech and inciting hatred, and I don’t know where one starts and the other stops."

"The intention wasn’t to make people confrontational, but to raise awareness as to what’s happening [in Israel] and other countries," Mehdi said. "Just because it’s controversial doesn’t mean it should not be brought up."

The MSA exhibit came as no surprise to Sharon Kupferman, a junior studying child development and leader of CSUN’s Student Israel Public Affairs Committee. Kupferman said she was approached about a joint program by MSA student leaders following the Sept. 11 tragedies.

"They seemed interested but then they changed their minds," she said. "I also went to their lecture the week after [Sept. 11] and it was very anti-Israel, anti-American. So when I heard about the intolerance museum I wasn’t surprised."

Kupferman said Jewish student groups are working on a response to the incident, including setting up their own tables on campus to show support for Israel. Arrangements are also being made to provide interested students with training sessions to learn to respond to anti-Israel sentiment on campus according to Aaron Levinson, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Valley office.

Reichman said he plans to get active promoting pro-Israel sentiment on campus.

"We don’t want people just to be exposed to the Arab viewpoint," he said.

Cool Jews on Campus

College can be a time for Jewish students to further explore their Judaism — religiously, socially and politically. The following is a compilation of resources available to Jewish students and a summary of what these groups are doing on campus.


UCLA is the largest college campus in Los Angeles, with a Jewish population of about 3,000 students, constituting 7 percent of the student body. The largest Jewish group at UCLA is Hillel, which offers a range of student activity from Shabbat services to political advocacy and social action.

UCLA’S Hillel has been in existence for more than 65 years. This year, Hillel is expanding greatly and has hired many new leaders in order to cater to the very diverse Jewish population on campus and in anticipation of Hillel’s move to a new building, the Hillel Center for Jewish Student Life.

Uri and Julie Goldstein, new to Hillel, will become religious leaders, organizing programs and leading services for Orthodox students on campus, in addition to the programs led by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Hillel director.

This year, Hillel at UCLA has become one of only eight Tzedek campuses, meaning it has been given a $10,000 grant to get involved in the entire community of Los Angeles through social action and community service. Tzedek had its kickoff fair this month, when organizations from around the city came to educate students and help them become politically aware.

“Our goal is to transform Hillel into a social service and political advocacy center on campus,” said Rabbi Mychal Rosenbaum, Hillel’s associate director for Jewish student life.

Hillel at UCLA is also the umbrella organization for many student-led groups on campus, including Bruins for Israel, which will be educating other students about Israel and combating anti-Zionist sentiment on campus. Bruins for Israel is currently planning a weeklong campaign called Pro-Israel week, to provide information about Israel’s history.

University of Southern California

There are about 1,500 Jewish undergrads at USC, representing between 8 and 10 percent of the undergraduate student body. Hillel at USC serves as the only Jewish group on campus, having incorporated all other groups into it a few years ago. Services there are led by Rabbi Jonathan Klein. Hillel sponsors 13 student groups in a roundtable, each chaired by someone on the Hillel student board. These groups include ones for students interested in theater, a capella singing, social action and Jewish films. There is a group for freshmen; for Persian students; a Greek group for Jews within the Greek system; a pro-Israel advocacy group, the progressive Jewish Student Alliance, and groups for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox students.

A week after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., USC Hillel was part of an interfaith service held in the middle of campus. Jewish students at the service raised over $1,600 for relief funds.

The Israel advocacy group, which is associated with AIPAC, is working to educate students about Israel and help them become more politically aware. “Students are not educated enough to combat anti-Israel sentiment,” said Matt Davidson, associate director. “We need to educate students and become more proactive, as opposed to reactive.”


At CSUN, 8 percent of the student body, or 3,500 students, are Jewish. CSUN’s main Jewish group is Hillel. This year CSUN’s Hillel has become a Hamagshimim (fulfillment) organization, meaning it has received funding from Hadassah for the purpose of Israel programming. With this money, Hillel sponsors a monthly Israel culture night and has begun a student political advocacy group called SIPAC, or Student Israeli Public Affairs Committee, which is attempting to raise the political awareness on CSUN’s traditionally apolitical campus. SIPAC recently held a forum on the Sept. 11 attacks and how they affect Israel.

CSUN Hillel also offers Shabbat dinner and services, led by Rabbi Jordan Goldson, at least three times a month, and maintains a Rosh Chodesh group and a group for freshmen.

Feeding the Hungry

“We have slaves to help,” Jerry Rabinowitz, the Friday co-captain of the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, announces. “We Jews know something about slaves.”

The “slaves” this morning are my sons Gabe, 13, and Jeremy, 11, who have a day off school. They are fulfilling part of a community service requirement from Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. They are also fulfilling the Jewish commandment to feed the hungry.

Jerry, who has been there at 6 a.m. every Friday for the past 15 years, gives my sons a tour of the pantry, located in a small building belonging to First Christian Church of North Hollywood. The foods to be distributed are already packed, double brown paper bags filled with pasta, beans, rice, applesauce, canned fruit, canned vegetables and cereal. A Ziploc bag of frozen chicken legs, precooked, is added to each order.Jerry explains the procedure, “When a client comes, hand him one of the bags,” he says. “And ask if he’d like extra bread and a sack of vegetables.”

The bread is donated by Ralphs, Vons and Brown’s Bakery. Volunteers from the Encino B’nai B’rith pick it up seven days a week. The vegetables come from the wholesale produce mart downtown.

“One young man travels downtown twice a week, at 5 a.m., to bring back surplus vegetables for us,” Jerry explains. “Another lady brings us three 40-pound boxes of bananas every Friday, which she buys herself.”

“Here,” he says to the boys, “put two of these bananas in every bag, till we run out. And if you do a good job, we’ll increase your salary by 20 percent after the first hour.”

“I wish that would happen with my allowance,” Gabe answers.

But there are no salaries or raises at the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry. It is run strictly by volunteers, about 150 of them, from seven churches and two synagogues in the East San Fernando Valley. The pantry falls under the auspices of the Valley Interfaith Council, part of a coalition of 19 food pantries spread across the Valley.

“There is a big poverty problem in the San Fernando Valley,” says Eileen Parker, assistant director of community support services for the Valley Interfaith Council. “The homeless and unemployed are only a small percentage of the people we serve. Most are working poor, people trying to make ends meet on a minimum-wage job, sometimes two and three minimum-wage jobs. Or senior citizens or the disabled who are living on fixed incomes.”

The North Hollywood Pantry hands out approximately 180 bags of food every Friday and 120 every Monday, which feed a total of 4,000 people each month. About 12 percent of those bags are distributed to the homeless and include only ready-to-eat items, plus extra drinks and personal hygiene items.

“The average person really needs what we give him,” says Sarah Alexander, the other Friday co-captain, who’s in charge of all the government paper work.

“We never say no. We are not judges,” Jerry adds.

While the food is distributed at First Christian, it is warehoused, sorted and packed into bags in the basement of Temple Beth Hillel. There, primarily on Friday mornings, a group of 15 mostly retired men, ranging in age from 54 to 83 – who could be playing softball, tennis or golf – unload and stock about 25,000 pounds of nonperishable food per month, which translates to 600 to 1,000 cases of canned goods. Of this group, Jerry Rosenstock holds the longevity record of 14 years. “Life in these latter years has been good to my wife and me. We feel fortunate and would like to help people, especially children, hungry children.” Ted Field, the newest recruit, is starting his fifth week. “The rabbi [Jim Kaufman] shamed me into it,” he confesses.

The food comes from a variety of sources – the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Yom Kippur food drive at the two synagogues, the Post Office food drive, and donations from nearby public and private schools, including Grant High School, Millikan Middle School, the Oakwood School, Campbell Hall and Laurence 2000. Additional food is purchased with monetary contributions.

After unloading and stocking the food, the men gather in the Temple’s music room for coffee, sweet rolls and conversation. They begin with a prayer, which, this week, Fred Bender offers. “I want to thank God for this nice fellowship and for the opportunity to serve men and women. And for the health that enables us old-timers to work.”

The group worries about each other’s health and celebrates each other’s simchas. Today is Stan Goldman’s birthday, evidenced by a cake with two candles. “One for yesterday and one for tomorrow,” Stan explains. They also solve the world’s problems, assigning specific discussion leaders each week. Today, naturally, the topic is the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Co-leader Harry Gibson begins: “This is a hot topic. Where do you start?” But they have no trouble, giving their opinions as they go around the table in order, in an impassioned and occasionally feisty pro-Israel discussion.

The food pantry’s smooth operation also depends on other dedicated volunteers. Stella Kornberg and her group of helpers regularly pack the grocery bags. Volunteers from the churches cart the bags from the temple to the food pantry twice a week. One family supplies a truck and driver once a month for large pickups from the L.A. Regional Food Bank.

The North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry first opened its doors in March 1983, founded as an outgrowth of the Valley Interfaith Council’s Task Force on Community Emergency Needs and in response to the 1982-83 recession. The five founding religious institutions include Adat Ari El, Temple Beth Hillel, First Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church and St. Michael’s & All Angels Episcopal Church. Marge Luke, a founder and member of First Presbyterian, says, “We thought the recession of ’82-’83 was a temporary thing and that people would figure out a better way to distribute canned goods.” She pauses. “But the need never ended.”

And never has her involvement. Her position is community contact, which she defines as “doing the things other people hate to do.” She adds, “I’m 80 years old.”

“Go outside to that van and carry in those grocery bags,” Jerry Rabinowitz says to his “slaves” toward the end of their Friday morning shift. They get a physical workout lugging the additional 20- to 25-pound bags that have arrived from the temple.

“What happens if you run out of bags of food?” Jeremy asks.

“We go to the temple and pack more,” Jerry answers. “And if the temple ever runs out, which it hasn’t, I’d go to Ralphs and buy food.”

His answer impresses my sons.

“My father had a candy store in Brooklyn, and we lived and ate in the rear,” he explains. “I remember as a little child that most evenings my father would take a person off the street and bring him home to dinner. That person had to be fed before my father ate. That’s why I do this.”

Sharing Hope for Peace

On Nov. 9, five years after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Milken Community High School students reached across 7,563 miles and 10 time zones to their sister school, Tichon Chadash, in Tel Aviv.

The 500 American students connected ostensibly via the modern – and, that day, slightly temperamental – miracle of transcontinental video technology. But, in truth, the connection goes back 3,500 years to Abraham, who, as Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise Temple pointed out, was promised a land by God. “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).

The connection was intensified three years ago, with an exchange program between the two schools that has deepened the American teenagers’ attachment to the land and, even more important, to the people. The program, sponsored by the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, pairs groups of 10th graders who spend three months in Los Angeles in the fall and three months in Israel in the spring, experiencing each other’s lives.

But on this day – the 11th of Cheshvan, Rabin’s yahrtzeit – the students, along with their teachers and many parents, gathered in the Margolis Theatre at Milken and the library at Tichon Chadash to honor Yitzhak Rabin. They gathered almost at the exact hour of Rabin’s death, dressed in white shirts, as Dr. Rennie Wrubel, Milken’s head of school, remarked, “to remember together, feel together and exchange ideas together.”

They traced Rabin’s legacy from decorated war hero to dedicated peacemaker, offering prayers, songs, testimonials and readings. They listened as Rabbi Herscher said, “Rabin knew Abraham’s vision. He understood the dangers of standing still, and he understood the risks of moving forward. Also, he understood that there was no alternative but to move forward.”

Rabin had reiterated this vision in his last speech, at the peace rally where he was murdered. “Peace entails difficulties. For Israel there is no path devoid of pain,” he said. “But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war… for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.”

The memorial served as an opportunity for the teens to voice their fears about this painful path, about the violence that has erupted between the Israelis and Palestinians and about the peace process that lies in shambles.

Roni Milo, Israeli minister of health, former mayor of Tel Aviv and a graduate of Tichon Chadash, speaking from Tel Aviv, tried to allay those fears. “We in Israel are trying very hard to achieve peace. We have plenty of strength to handle all these problems. We are going to have peace.”

But the American students didn’t seem mollified by his words. Penny Marmer asked, “If the violence in the Middle East continues, what are you going to do?”

“We shall overcome the difficulties, and we shall live in peace,” Milo answered.

There was talk about how American Jews can help. Israeli teenager Tal Goldenberg, who came to Los Angeles as an exchange student in 1998, asked, “How do American Jews feel about the situation in Israel, and what do you think you could and should do?”

Milken student Joshua Richmond answered the first part. “We all feel strongly that we don’t like the violence,” he said.

Yoav Ben-Horin, Milken teacher and director of the exchange program, responded to the second part. “What American Jews can do, and what American Jews do best, is not only direct support of Israel but, just as important, intense activity within this great nation that leads to wider interest in and support of Israel.”

But nowhere was there wider support of Israel than that demonstrated by the Milken students themselves, who visibly transmitted their love and concern to their Israeli friends. They clearly understood that they, in solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters, were continuing the difficult journey which Abraham began 3,500 years ago and for which Yitzhak Rabin, five years ago, sacrificed his life.

Majoring in Courage

These are tense days for the Los Angeles parents of Jewish students studying at Israeli universities and yeshivas. Their sons and daughters are among some 4,000 Americans studying in Israel this year in a wide range of programs. Major universities, yeshivas, kibbutzim, the Israel Defense Force are just a few of the institutions that offer American students programs in Israel. According to the Israel Aliyah Center, there are l00 students from Los Angeles currently studying in Israel.

With the escalation of violence engulfing the Palestinian territories, the parents of these children worry and ponder issues of safety and security while maintaining close daily contact with their sons and daughters by phone and e-mail. When the crisis intensified, it was expected that many students would return to their homes in the U.S. Instead, 97 percent of the students from the L.A. area have elected to stay in Israel, maintaining their studies and offering their moral and physical support to the embattled Jewish state.When it became clear that the cease-fire was not holding in the conflict, and alerts were issued to the students by the State Department, Dana and Gary Wexler told their daughter Miri, who is 20 and studying at Hebrew University, that they wanted her to return home.

“We have been very concerned for her safety,” Dana told The Journal. “We trust her judgment, but you never know when you might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ” But Miri chose to stay.”She loves Israel,” Dana said. “She’s thrilled being there. She knows the language. She took the ulpan and is very fluent.”

“This crisis brought me face to face with all the issues of my Jewish and Zionist ideology, of what would I do,” said Gary. “Would I take my child out if push came to shove? And I realized I would. My first priority as a Jewish parent is the concern for my child’s safety, not my responsibility to Zionist ideology. But my daughter chose on her own to stay.”

Asked how he felt about his daughter’s decision, Gary replied, “I’m frightened, I’m jittery. On the other hand, I’m proud of what Miri has chosen to do while she stays. She went and got herself a job at the YMCA kindergarten, which is a coexistence kindergarten of Jewish and Arab kids. Because she really believes that they need to learn to live together.”

Gregg and Merryl Alpert’s daughter, Sarra, 20, is also studying at Hebrew University and has also decided to remain in Israel. A literature major, Sarra won a national essay contest prize from Masorti, the Conservative movement in Israel, for an essay in which she wrote about her relationship to Israel.”We feel our primary job has been to support her in how she has worked through this decision,” Gregg said.

“We told her, of course, we’re concerned for her safety. But this was a decision she needed to make. We were there to advise her and to help her think it out and offer her whatever support she asked for. We wanted to make sure she knew she had our permission to get on a plane and come right home if she wanted to. I was proud of how she thought it through.” he said.

In Sarra’s prize essay, which was titled “The Lizard’s Tail,” she described the tension between the desire to seek the richness of life and the knowledge there are really frightening situations in the world. “And now, in Israel, there’s a classic example of that situation,” said her father.

Sol and Pearl Taylor’s son, Benjamin, 23, is studying at Darche Noam, a yeshiva in West Jerusalem. Benjamin graduated from UC Santa Barbara, majoring in political science, and had previously spent his junior year at Hebrew University. “We keep in touch daily,” Sol said. “I would prefer he be here, but if he feels he’s comfortable there, it’s okay.”

Sol described how Benjamin developed a strong feeling for Israel. “We come from an orthodox background,” Sol said. “Benjamin started going to an Orthodox shul, Shaarey Zedek, becoming shomer shabbos. He’s similar to his grandparents.They were founding members of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights.”

While Sol emphasized his family’s support for Israel, he too cited the Palestinian conflict as a source of unease. “Those Jewish settlements in Gaza: who would want to live in such a Godforsaken place? And they’re just another thorn in the side of the Palestinians living there.”

Yael Weinstock, who is 18 and planning to become a rabbi, is studying in Jerusalem on a program called Nativ, a United Synagogue project of yeshiva study for Conservative youth. Her parents, Alan and Judy Weinstock emphasize that Yael’s choice to stay in Israel was “her own decision.”

“We’ve been quite calm about it,” Alan said. “We have only asked her once if she felt a desire to come home. She said no. Each family has to make their own decision.”

For the Weinstock family, as for so many others, the Holocaust remains a cornerstone of their love of Israel and their belief in its importance. “My parents are survivors from Poland,” Alan said. “So when my daughter went to Israel, she could meet family and friends of my parents for the first time, people she’d heard about for many years. They were the real chalutzim of the country. So for my daughter, that connection to Israel is very strong.”

“We’re proud of her all of her life,” Alan continued. “She’s a very special young lady.”

Depicting Issues

Some 30 delegates to the Democratic National Convention took time out from politicking to participate in a hands-on workshop in democracy and diversity, initiated by a Jewish institution. The workshop was based on the youTHink program, in which public school students use the arts to grapple with social issues and then act out their new awareness to initiate projects that will further responsibility and tolerance in their schools and communities.

Progenitors of youTHink are the Zimmer Discovery Children’s Museum of the Jewish Community Centers and the Center for American Studies and Culture, an educational think tank. During a two-hour session, the delegates of diverse ethnic, social and geographical backgrounds were first shown a photo blowup of the Statue of Liberty and then one of five people climbing a “career ladder,” with a middle-aged white male on top.

What meanings do the pictures convey to you, asked Esther Netter, the children’s museum’s executive director and workshop leader with Bernie Massey, president of the American studies center. The question raised deeply felt passions about gender and race discrimination, the struggles of immigrants, the meaning of American freedom, and the pros and cons of genetic engineering.

After an hour of free-wheeling discussion, the “class” was assigned its own art project, starting with a small white box, scissors, paste, crayons and popular magazines with lots of illustrations to cut out.

One New Hampshire delegate created a white picket fence home on the outside, while on the inside sat a little black child adopted by the family and facing its own struggles in a lily-white New Hampshire town. A Tennessee lawyer dedicated her box to domestic violence, showing abused adults on the outside who produced abused children on the inside.

Other creations showed the box in the shape of a pistol to condemn gun violence, while another doubled as Pandora’s box, with troubles ready to fly out.

Delegate Linda Garush of Manchester, N.H., interrupted her project to comment that “any vehicle that helps us to understand each other, how we all fit together, is important.”

Garush said she would try to get her church to adopt a similar youTHink program.

Annette Shapiro, who as chair of the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles had been involved in launching the project, said she appreciated getting delegates’ viewpoints from states across the country. The youTHink program began almost three years ago and has received a $1 million grant from the State of California Arts Council. Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation has just announced a $100,000 grant for a youTHink teacher training program.

So far, some 30,000 students in second to 12th grades have participated in the program. Netter hopes to double that number next year.

The Class of 2000

In this era of school violence and body piercing, teenagers, never the most applauded demographic segment of our society, have been getting some amazingly bad press. To hear the media tell it, adolescents who aren’t destroying themselves or others are just too lazy and apathetic to be bothered.And if Jewish teens aren’t filling up juvie hall, they’re not filling up the synagogues, either. After Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we’re led to believe, you never see them again. Why would Jewish kids hang out at shul when they can be cruising around in their parents’ Beemers, downloading porn from the Internet, turning their brains into Swiss cheese with drugs?

Are you scared yet?
Well, take a deep breath and relax. As the poet says, it ain’t necessarily so.Remember, bad news always drives out good; that’s why the evening news opens with murders and natural disasters. Hostile, alienated Jewish teenagers are much more fascinating than good, focused kids who do their homework, serve their communities, and go off to college, strong Jewish identities intact.The saving remnant is alive and well, and part of it is about to graduate from high school.

Concerned and committed
The 18-year-olds you’re going to read about are not Everykid, or even EveryJewishkid. They were contacted for interview through college counselors and the Hebrew high school programs run by the Conservative and Reform movements, so they skew toward youngsters who are bright, ambitious, bound for four-year colleges, and committed to Jewish learning and practice. But if you think of them as future Jewish leaders, well, we could do worse.

For one thing, they are not apathetic. The list of social and political issues that concern them includes racism, gun control, capital punishment, gay rights, homelessness and hunger, school prayer and human rights worldwide, to name just a few. “There are too many people walking around today who fail to care about anything, and it is not only degrading to them, but to the whole world,” said Millicent Marmer, a member of Milken Community High School’s chapter of the Junior Statesmen of America, a political debate club.

For most of the students, their interest is personal. “As a Jew growing up in a very Christian society, especially my area, I am very sensitive to the issue of church and state,” said Jackie Bliss, who is graduating from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach after organizing a Jewish Cultural Club at her school. “I do not believe that prayer of any kind belongs in a public classroom& and think that it is imperative that the separation be upheld.”

Beverly Hills senior Shelly Rosenfeld has a grandmother who lost her family in the Holocaust. Now Rosenfeld is a volunteer guide at the Museum of Tolerance. “I am driven by the awareness that the generation that can give a firsthand account of the Holocaust is diminishing in numbers and memory,” she said.

Rosenfeld sees her mission as larger than educating people about the Shoah, however. “Our society is a human kaleidoscope of color and culture,” she added. “The important factor is that one sees the differences as opportunities not to segregate others but as occasions to learn from one another.””There are many issues that concern me, but the ones that affect me the most are the shootings at schools, such as Columbine,” said Yevgeny Plotkin, a senior at Fairfax High School. “As a Jew I’ve been taught from birth the importance of trust and responsibility, and it hurts me to see how many teenagers have now lost this trust from parents, teachers, media, and others.”

No need to get a life – they’ve got them
The students also showed a high level of awareness about events in Israel and other Jewish issues. “Last summer, I went to Israel, which had a tremendous effect on me,” said Reina Slutske of Westlake High School. “My opinion is that my Bat Mitzvah never happened until I went to Israel.& I’m always concerned about Israel, because when I went, I adopted it as my home.”

“Israel does concern me in the way it is covered [by the media],” said Sam Rosenthal, who is graduating from Valley Torah High School, a yeshiva in North Hollywood. “I’m continually seeing Israel holding the red trident and & Palestinians repainted as downtrodden underdogs.”

“I think assimilation concerns me the most, because so many Jews have become High Holiday Jews, or they do not have any Jewish identity besides a Jewish mother,” said Melissa Orkin, a senior at Calabasas High School. Slutske concurs: “I think living in American culture makes you assimilated, and [you] forget who you are in the melting pot.”

These kids aren’t nerds. Many are involved in sports, from water polo to track to baseball. Jackie Bliss surfs, “although not as often as I would like.” Orkin has participated in the Maccabi Games. Jeremy Monosov, who is graduating from Calabasas High School, got his pilot’s license in December. “Flying, in my opinion, is the cure-all for anything from anxiety to depression to stress,” he said. “As you lift off the ground you leave all your problems on the ground for a couple short hours.”

Hanging out with friends and listening to music are also high on the list for these almost-graduates. “Almost all my friends whom I’ve grown up and gone to yeshiva with are into hard rock,” said Valley Torah senior Eli Julian.

Far from the stereotype of kids who don’t have two words to say to their parents, many of these teens expressed a close relationship with their folks. And they’re not rootless; most of them appeared to have lived in the same communities and gone through school with the same kids since way before high school.Maybe that’s why so many of them have mixed feelings about leaving high school and (as most of them are doing) leaving home to attend college. “Leaving school is an oxymoron: happy sadness,” said Plotkin, who was born in Belarus and plans to pursue a joint engineering program at Occidental College and Caltech. “Externally I’m excited, but inside I’m sad, because I’ll be leaving everything I worked so hard to get used to.”

“I worry that I won’t fit in or I won’t make friends or that I’ll shrink all my clothes and turn them pink,” Orkin said of her imminent shift to USC.

“I’m excited because I feel I have earned the opening of a new chapter in my life, and I can’t wait to see what I’m going to do with my life,” said Emily Rauch, a Harvard-Westlake senior who will attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., this fall. “But I’m scared because the safety net – my house, my parents, my routine – won’t always be there.”

Ready to share their blessings
From all appearances, the teenagers who contributed their insights and opinions to this story (and the accompanying sidebars) are a lucky bunch of Angelenos. Few of them, in their comments, so much as hinted at trauma, grievous loss, or even serious disappointment. Blessed with brains, supportive families, and, for the most part, relative to absolute affluence, headed for some of the nation’s best universities, they have a leg up on the ladder of success. And many of them expect to be successful; no fewer than three mentioned that they’d like to be named to the Supreme Court.

Yet very few come off as spoiled, self-centered, or self-congratulatory. If they’re skittish about leaving home, it’s because they value their parents’ involvement in their lives. Many of them said they want to make the world a better place. There’s little sense of entitlement; they seem to understand how lucky they are. Their hopes for personal happiness and success are rooted in hard work, self-respect, and respect for other people.

They are Jewish kids with Jewish values, and they give every indication of carrying a conscious, active Jewishness into their adult lives. There’s a message here for parents of younger children: What do parents need to do for their kids to turn out like these kids, to have the same optimism, the same work ethic, the same tolerance for the rights and opinions of others, the same com
mitment to Judaism?

True, these teens may not be representative of all American Jewish adolescents, but they are not unique. There are many more like them in Southern California, west of the Mississippi, across the country. If they represent the best of our people’s future, we probably have a future.

Meanwhile, Solomon Mizrahi, graduating this month from Valley Torah, has summed up their anxieties, their dreams and their confidence. “Right now the world seems too big for me to leave a mark, let alone a difference,” he said. “I know, however, that the world conspires to help [people] in their endeavors, so whatever I choose to do, all I need do is work hard and work diligently, and I will succeed.”

Tribal Loyalties

Some Jewish teens are willing to interdate, but a Jewish home and Jewish kids are nonnegotiable.

With intermarriage rates a matter of paramount importance to American Jews concerned with Jewish continuity, Jewish leaders, parents and teens are trying to balance two conflicting dynamics: commitment to Judaism on the one hand and a universalist ethic of tolerance and respect for diversity on the other.Not surprisingly, interdating isn’t even a blip on the radar for Orthodox teens. “Dating a non-Jewish girl is something completely foreign to me,” one Valley Torah student said. “It saddens me to think that it is already so commonplace among Jewish teens that you would have to ask the question.”

Among the other 12th graders who contributed insights, attitudes toward interdating ranged from a firm stand against, at least for themselves, to a willingness to date people from all cultures, usually in the name of experimentation and commitment to multiculturalism – and because they don’t see the dating they do now as serious.

“Yes, I date non-Jews. I don’t think about it; I just do it,” said Milken senior Cynthia Glucksman. “I feel I can learn a lot from non-Jewish people.”

“It’s hard to be raised knowing that all races and religions are equal and simultaneously reject romantic relationships based on religion,” said her classmate, Millicent Marmer.

“I am currently dating a beautiful, sweet Jewish girl and have always dated Jewish girls,” said Jeremy Monosov, who grew up Conservative. “However, I am not against dating a non-Jew.& Our different backgrounds might add fire and substance to the relationship and would encourage my growth as an individual.”

Melissa Orkin says she’s never dated a non-Jew, in part because she’s in a Jewish environment – which includes her public school, Calabasas High – so much of the time. “I guess part of what attracts me to a guy is that he is Jewish,” she said. “It is one of the things that I look for. I’m not against other people interdating, but up to this point in my life, it has not been a possibility for me.”In an interesting twist, Reina Slutske, a graduating senior at Westlake High, said, “I believe that unless you are confident in your Jewish identity and in who you are and where you are going, you can’t date non-Jews, because it’s too strong of an influence and would possibly end up in intermarriage.”In fact, almost all the respondents, from the most to the least observant, said they want to marry Jews, and the majority ruled out intermarriage as an option. And for every single respondent who dealt with this question, the creation of a Jewish home and the rearing of Jewish children in the future was nonnegotiable, even if he or she could entertain the notion of a non-Jewish spouse.

“When you’re young you have to experience the world and all different kinds of people,” said Rebecca Lehrer of Harvard-Westlake, who dates gentiles now. “But I am going to marry a Jew. I just know that’s something important to me. I want to raise my kids Jewish, and I think having a Jewish spouse makes that a lot easier.”

“My religion and its continuity are important, so I would only make a life commitment to someone who understood the importance of my religion and the importance of raising any children we were to have as Jews,” Lehrer’s classmate, Eric Rosoff, said. “I think it is important to distinguish between someone who is Jewish and someone who understands the need to continue Judaism.”Jackie Bliss, a Mira Costa senior, grew up with a non-Jewish dad, and although he participated fully in the Jewish life of their home and finalized a conversion to Judaism last year, she doesn’t see herself following her mom’s path.

“I would love to say that you should marry whomever you fall in love with and you can overcome any problems,” Bliss said. “But if you truly want to raise a practicing Jewish family, you have to have a Jewish husband or wife. Some people are willing to take that risk, but I don’t think I will. My mom overcame a lot of obstacles to raise my sister and me with a strong Jewish background, and I don’t intend to end it with my family.”

Keeping Faith

Not all teens flee Jewish life after Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

In contrast to the conventional wisdom that most teens make a quick exit from Jewish life at age 13, almost all the students interviewed for this story have active Jewish lives, most of them on the institutional level. Even the respondents who aren’t temple-involved said being Jewish plays an important role in who they are.

Rebecca Lehrer, a Harvard-Westlake senior who will attend Columbia University, hasn’t spent much time in synagogue since her Bat Mitzvah at Temple Israel of Hollywood, but her extended family has Shabbat dinner together every Friday night. “Just because I didn’t go to Hess Kramer [summer camp] has nothing to do with my Jewish identity. I strongly identify with being Jewish, and I think my peers identify me that way too.” Like many of the students interviewed, she said she intends to get involved in a Jewish organization such as Hillel once she’s at college.For the students graduating from Orthodox schools, of course, traditional observance is a given. Many will move on to yeshivot in Israel or in U.S. cities. Sam Rosenthal, who will spend a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, said he’ll start a Chabad unit at whatever college he attends for his B.A. if there isn’t one there already.

One yeshiva student credits his school with putting him back on the right path. Reared “strictly Orthodox” in Brooklyn, he went through a rebellious spell starting in eighth grade and “decided that I didn’t like religion, not really because of any deep questions or the like, but because it just was a pain and I didn’t want to bother.”

After flunking most of his sophomore classes and getting thrown out of summer camp for smoking marijuana, he asked his father for a change of scene, and his dad arranged for him to live with his grandmother in L.A. “[My school] has been the best thing for me,” he said. “I’ve gotten back into religion, haven’t touched a cigarette or even thought about smoking a joint in two years. I understand much more about Judaism, which has allowed me to really want to be religious, instead of pushing it away.”A Valley Torah senior, Solomon Mizrahi, is bucking the trend by going straight to UC Irvine this fall, but he believes it’s the right choice for him. “Going to a university that doesn’t have the greatest Jewish social opportunities will not detract from my level of religiosity or spirituality,” he said. “My connection with the secular world is important. In some ways it helps me improve my spiritual devotion to God.”

Most of the non-Orthodox students mentioned participation in Jewish youth organizations, Jewish educational programs for senior high schoolers, and involvement opportunities in their synagogues. Lisa Feigenbaum, Harvard-Westlake’s valedictorian, has read Torah at Stephen S. Wise Temple’s High Holy Days services since her Bat Mitzvah. Her classmate, Eric Rosoff, is a madrich (teacher’s aide) at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, working with religious school students, while Judith Spiro, graduating from Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, plays a similar role at Temple
Isaiah in Rancho Park. Jackie Bliss works three days a week at her temple, Congregation Tifereth Jacob in Manhattan Beach.

“Becoming active in USY [United Synagogue Youth] was the best thing I ever did,” said Melissa Orkin, a regional board member and president of Temple Aliyah’s chapter, who also spent six summers at Camp Ramah. “By attending USY events I was able to keep in touch with friends from camp and to make new friends. Spending weekends with other Jewish teens like myself was a great experience.& USY enabled me to stay involved in the Jewish community religiously and socially.”

That doesn’t mean these kids never ask questions, of course. Santa Monica High senior Rachelle Neshkes, who grew up at Adat Shalom on the Westside and just graduated from L.A. Hebrew High School, has been a bit alienated of late. “The void in spirituality hit me much later than most because I was always the most observant, and the most into it growing up,” she said. “But seriously, I don’t know a single Jew who is completely strong in [his or her] faith.& The faith has just seemed to roll out from beneath us.

“Judaism would keep more Jews if only it didn’t project such a, shall we say, outdated image,” said Neshkes, who is interested in Jewish mysticism. “Can’t we keep the Hebrew, and our traditions, and our beliefs, without being 19th-century Poles?”

“I spend Shabbat with my family and friends, keep kosher and celebrate all of the holidays,” said Milken senior Millicent Marmer, who attends Stephen S. Wise Temple. “However, I am also constantly challenging and questioning Judaism, not in a rebellious manner, but simply so that I can practice with kavanah [spiritual intention].”

“Too many Jewish people are only Jewish by culture, and they know nothing about their religion,” Eric Rosoff said. “I have a Jewish soul, and I know this only because I learned about Judaism.”

What’s the Jewish Stake in LAUSD?

Helen Burnstein, the former president of the United Teachers of Los Angles, used to argue, “Teachers want what students need.” Many Jewish educators and parents feel the same way about Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). “Jews want what LAUSD needs.” Educational excellence, higher standards, and more enrichment activities have become the mantras of educational reformers.

But de facto segregation seems to have returned to LAUSD despite court- ordered busing, and the Belmont and South Gate fiscal disasters have done little to alleviate the widespread perception that the opaque complexity of LAUSD’s bureaucratic structures are wasteful, counter-productive, and scandalous.

Board of Education members Valerie Fields and David Tokofsky, along with other board members, have been shaking up LAUSD, hiring a new interim superintendent, announcing bold programs and discussing splitting LAUSD into 11 subdistricts.

Amidst the chaos and numerous educational disappointments inside LAUSD, an awkward question has re-emerged. “What’s the Jewish stake in LAUSD?”

LAUSD, established in 1855, remains the second largest school district in the nation, serving over 680,000 students and employing approximately 36,521 certificated personnel as regular kindergarten through 12th grade teachers. In addition, the district employs 27,728 non-teaching personnel, totaling more than 64,249 regular employees. The $7.5 billion dollar educational institution also stretches over 708 sq. miles.

“The monster is too big,” says Jayne Murphy Shapiro, a candidate for 41st Assembly seat and founder of KIDS SAFE, representing the conventional wisdom of many Jewish residents in the San Fernando Valley. “Smaller is better.” Shapiro, a 23 year Valley resident, has made educational reform and breaking LAUSD into smaller, more manageable districts a cornerstone of her candidacy.

But a breakup of LAUSD could be seen as another suburban gesture of noncommitment to Los Angeles inner-city residents. Whether by accident or design, the sharp social and geographical separations seem likely to increase. Educational and social concerns seem to be gaining the upper hand over civic pride in a strong urban school district.

Over the last 40 years, LAUSD has experienced a huge demographic shift. The latest figures show that only 10 percent of LAUSD students are white. Further, approximately 65 percent of students are Hispanic and 20 percent of students do not speak English in their home.

If Los Angeles County has become the “new Ellis Island,” then LAUSD has become the major force for introducing immigrants to American society. The focus on a multicultural curriculum and bilingual education, often grounded in racial classifications, might have increased the alienation of some Jewish families, say observers

“People don’t understand the classroom situation,” sighed a Jewish high school social studies teacher with 14 years experience with LAUSD school in a poor neighborhood. “We’ve got 15-year-old kids who come here speaking no English from rural Mexico who haven’t gone to school in years. Juan might read at the third-grade level by his senior year, but that’s up from zero. We’ve helped Juan — and yes, he’s below the national grade level. Shock, shock.”

The Master Class

Not all of them were Jewish, but they were definitely the chosen people — five Los Angeles and 33 Israeli film students brought together for a two-week “master class” in screenwriting at Tel Aviv University. Held under the auspices of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles partnership, the class was designed to give a boost to Israel’s film industry by improving the capabilities of Israel’s future scriptwriters. A further aim — a subtext, to use the screenwriting term — was to strengthen sympathy for Israel among American film professionals.

The “master class” consisted of two weeks of all-day classes, nearly as many contact hours as two semesters. Aimed at “teaching writers to write,” the class was taught by two Emmy Award winners from Los Angeles, Alan Armer of Cal State Northridge , who created and wrote the TV series “The Fugitive” and “The Untouchables,” and David Howard, founder of the USC screenwriting department, whose writing credits include “My Friend Joe” and the animated series “Rugrats.” The overall project was organized and coordinated by Dr. Judy Marlane, chair of the Radio, Television and Film Department at Northridge and author of the newly published, “Women in Television News Revisited.”

Does Israel’s film industry need big brothers in Hollywood? It certainly couldn’t hurt. Israel’s film industry is small and produces few feature films — only seven or eight a year, estimates Israeli director Eli Cohen, who has collaborated on projects with American filmmakers. Typical budgets for Israeli films are well under $1 million, a fraction of what most Hollywood films cost. And these films do poorly at the box office, even in Israel, says Tammy Glaser, another observer of the local film scene.

The scripts for Israeli feature films, Glaser adds diplomatically, “leave a lot of room for improvement.” Israeli-based Glaser, a former Angeleno who produced “It Was a Wonderful Life,” the story of six middle-class, homeless women, also noted that lack of money, an emphasis on documentaries and the appeal of television, make it “virtually impossible to get a feature film made here.”

With that in mind, the 33 aspiring Israeli screenwriters knew they were storming the battlements. Consequently, they were thrilled to learn that the half-dozen best scripts to come out of the class — as well as attached writers — will be brought to Los Angeles. The writers will have a chance to work on their projects under the supervision of leading Hollywood professionals.

They might also find, suggests Cohen, that in Israel, their most likely market is not in feature films after all, but in television. Calling the idea of the master class “very valuable,” Cohen suggests that it would give a boost mostly to Israeli TV, which is constantly hungry for good writers for documentaries, soap operas and dramas.

For all participants, the class was an exercise in culture-jumping. The Israelis, all majors in screenwriting at local universities, constituted a diverse group that included Tel Aviv cosmopolitans and kibbutznikim, Jews from the Galilee and the Negev, and even a Maronite Christian woman from an Arab village near Safed. For the American students and faculty, culture shock was even greater. After they were set down jet-lagged into foreign territory, they had the challenge of integrating with or teaching students whose background and training was unfamiliar to them.

But by the end of the first week, all initial apprehensions had been set aside. After American students were paired with “adopting” Israeli students, the group came to feel itself as an integrated whole, and everyone was working hard. Things were going so well, in fact, that students, faculty and coordinators were developing plans for a second master class.

For next year, participants see a need for smaller groups and more teachers, since, they all agree, writing cannot be taught effectively in a lecture format. Another necessary improvement will be better and quicker translation. Although all the Israelis spoke English, they wrote in Hebrew, creating a logjam in preparing their assignments for class use and evaluation. It was also too bad, participants felt, that the American students had no background in Israeli films and filmmaking (the Israelis knew American films quite well), and that none of the teachers came from the Israeli industry. Nonetheless, everyone agrees, this was a pilot project that is likely to take off.

The five Los Angeles students who participated in this year’s master class were Maria Berns (UCSD); Robert Davenport (UCLA), winner of the UCLA Screenwriters Showcase Award in 1997 and 1998; Fullbright scholar Tony Kellam (UCLA); Beverly Neufeld (UCLA), head of the Drama department at the Compton Magnet High school for the Visual and Performing Arts; and Jaime David Silverman (UCLA).

The Tel Aviv-Los Angeles partnership is sponsored by the L.A. Jewish Federation and the Municipality of Tel Aviv.

School’s Out — Forever?

At a time when many Jewish day schools in the area are bursting at the seams and new ones move closer to opening their doors, Temple Isaiah Day School is making plans to go out of business.

The formal decision about the fate of the school has just been handed down by the Reform congregation’s board of directors, who concluded that their membership can no longer afford to underwrite the school’s operations. According to the timetable laid down by the board, the school will cease to exist at the end of June.

Temple Isaiah, a K-through-6 school founded a decade ago, has always struggled in its effort to build a student population. While Westside day schools at Temple Emanuel, Beth Am, and Sinai Temple each attract more than 300 students, Isaiah has not had the same success; its student body currently numbers 76, down from 80 a year ago.

Concerned observers have long noted that graduates of Isaiah’s popular preschool tend not to feed into the day school. In fact, in recent years, Isaiah’s preschool parents have largely reversed the familiar trend of preferring a private education for their children.

Susie Leonard, who heads the preschool, confirms that among 60 children who moved on to kindergarten last year, only 25 opted for private schools of any sort. Of these 25, a mere four entered Jewish day schools. Two of the graduates would probably have joined a sibling at Isaiah’s day school, but were apparently scared off by the school’s enrollment woes.

Isaiah’s decision to end its day school does not sit well with parents. They have nothing but praise for Director Sari Goodman and for a school they see as exemplifying the best in Jewish family values. Many are also angry at what they regard as the temple’s insensitivity; they believe that the letter they received in December, warning of a possible closure, did not give them time to take constructive action.

A parent active in the movement to keep the school open argues that Temple Isaiah has never made the strong commitment needed to shore up the school’s finances. He questions the dedication of the congregants to the school’s existence — “the school and the congregation are pretty well divorced” — and cites the lack of money and personnel for recruitment efforts as a reason the school has floundered.

Parents plan to attend this week’s temple board meeting en masse, bearing their own proposals for making the school viable. Among their ideas is a scheme to affiliate with other congregations that have preschools, in hopes of incorporating them into a feeder system for Temple Isaiah Day School.

Isaiah’s senior rabbi, Robert Gan, disputes the parents’ contention that the school has been underfunded from the start. He insists that there has always been “a heroic and enormous commitment on the part of the temple to sustain this school.” But the consistently low enrollment figures, coupled with the fact that fully 40 percent of the school’s students attend on scholarship, have pushed the temple into the reluctant decision to pull the plug.

Gan argues that parents have long known about the school’s precarious situation, and that the letters sent in December were a responsible way to warn them to pursue other alternatives for next fall.

Countering the accusation that Temple Isaiah devalues Jewish education, Gan points to a flourishing religious school, with more than 400 children enrolled. He also mentions a new family life center, now on the drawing board, that will serve the educational needs of congregants of all ages.

Reaching for Torah

Julia Celia Canhi Moreno remembers when 6-year-old Daniel would stand up at the Teva, the Ark, at Sephardic Temple, and reach for the Torah from his special foot bench.

Back then, she called him “Daniel the Prince.” Today, the 90-year-old great-grandmother addresses him as Rabbi Bouskila, the all-grown-up leader of the synagogue she has been a part of for 53 years.

It is the 34-year-old rabbi who is now giving Moreno a boost as she reaches for the Torah.

Moreno is one of about 35 students in Bouskila’s new adult bat mitzvah class at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. She joins young Hebrew-school moms, career women and retirees.

“Many women in our community never had a bat mitzvah for the simple reason that, in the Sephardic community, there was no such thing,” Bouskila says.

But even more than the formal bat mitzvah ceremony, what many women are missing is a basic Jewish education, says Bouskila.

While many in the class have spent decades running traditional Jewish households, most missed out on a formal education, and some don’t even read Hebrew. “Every time I asked my grandfather for an explanation, he would say, ‘You’re a girl; you don’t need to know,'” says Moreno, who grew up in Brooklyn with her Orthodox Turkish family.

Now, Moreno is finally getting some of those answers. The course that Bouskila designed is an intense overview of Jewish history, literature, Bible, law, philosophy and prayer. The class will also delve into Sephardic traditions through a study of the holidays and Shabbat.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to increase the level of Jewish education in our synagogue by giving women an opportunity to come and study in a forum which would lead to a formal ceremony,” Bouskila says.

The bat mitzvah ceremony will be held after the regular service on a Friday night this winter. The women will present readings in Tanach (Bible) and sing parts of the prayers and zemirot, songs for Shabbat. Each woman will be presented with a certificate and gifts of Jewish books.

In his six years at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood, Bouskila has done much to bring women closer to ritual life. That has taken some ingenuity, since the synagogue is nonegalitarian.

“We deal with the tensions of being a traditional Sephardic synagogue influenced by the modern world,” Bouskila says. “We do our best to maintain tradition but accommodate the ideas of a modern society.”

That is the philosophy Bouskila worked with when he decided to update how girls celebrated bat mitzvahs at the largest Sephardic synagogue on the West Coast.

Before he arrived, girls celebrated on Friday night by leading parts of the service and then chanting the next day’s haftarah. While having any bat mitzvah ceremony was cutting-edge for a Sephardic congregation, Bouskila wanted to find something more relevant to the girls.

He eliminated the Friday-night haftarah chanting and instead helps the bat mitzvah girl prepare a portion of the Bible that has relevance to her. At Saturday-morning services, during the time when the rabbi usually delivers his sermon, the girl chants the portion she has prepared, then teaches it to the congregation, in addition to delivering a formal bat mitzvah address.

Bouskila faced some opposition from temple activists in introducing these innovations as well as others, such as giving women a Torah scroll to dance with on Simchat Torah.

“Clearly, [those who objected] felt that this meant that women would participate in the service, which is something we don’t do,” Bouskila says of the opposition to the adult bat mitzvah class. “But the moment they realized the ceremony is something that wouldn’t impact the prayer service, but be independent of it, they had no objections.”

Besides, Bouskila says, he views the ceremony as somewhat secondary to the educational aspect of the class, an idea many of his students also expressed.

“The bat mitzvah will be fun because of the camaraderie of women being together,” says Sarah Treves, a past president of the sisterhood. “But the ceremony doesn’t mean much. I’m going for the education.”

Esther Cohen, a 58-year-old in the fine arts business, says that the class gives a clearer picture of the religion than what she was offered growing up.

“Many women for a long time wanted to know more or would like to ask questions, and sometimes they were put off not so much by clergy but by other people saying we can’t do that, or you’re not allowed,” says Cohen. “We are finding that while you had a grandfather who said, ‘You can’t do that,’ you can learn and you can really enjoy.”

Cover Story

The recent revelations about the South OrangeCounty Community College District’s desire to offer a course that, inpart, blames the Mossad and the Anti-Defamation League for theassassination of President John F. Kennedy read something like a badclipping from the area’s far-right past.

Even as the county continues to emerge as anincreasingly cosmopolitan, high-tech region, it appears that theregressive gene, with its racist and anti-Semitic characteristics,remains all too embedded in the county’s public policy. Despite thecancellation of the course (due to various outside pressures), theelected head of the board of trustees, Steven T. Frogue, continues tospew out the right-wing conspiratorial line, which, in other parts ofSouthern California, has thankfully receded into history.

Indeed, despite rapid demographic and economicchange, the county still is bedeviled with a significant, highlyvisible group of people whose views seem more in line with the MiddleAges than the Information Age. Of course, such views do not representanything like a majority in Orange County, notes UC Irvine’s MarcBaldassare, the region’s leading pollster. By his estimation, no morethan 20 percent of Orange County residents share the kind of”hard-right” politics that produces leaders such as Frogue. Evenwithin the Republican Party, Baldassare believes, the vast majoritytend more toward a libertarian, fiscally conservative but sociallymoderate philosophy.

“The whole right-wing social agenda, ‘familyvalues’ thing does not play well here,” Baldassare says, noting thatin the 1996 elections, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole wononly 50 percent of the Orange County vote and moderate DemocratLoretta Sanchez upset far-right (but not anti-Semitic) incumbentCongressman Bob Dornan. “I don’t think there’s a vast undercurrent ofracism or anti-Semitism here at all. That conflicts with theprevailing sense of personal rights and responsibility.”

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of University Synagogue inIrvine essentially shares these views, suggesting that the region’sJewish community, estimated to be between 70,000 and 100,000 strong,has little to fear from anti-Semitism from its non-Jewishneighbors.

Life in Orange County may be plagued by a kind of”Stepford Wives” suburbanite conformity, but not by rabidanti-Semitism. “People like Frogue are exceptional,” Rachlis says.”When you go out to soccer practice, it’s white, Gentile andconservative, but not a bunch of Birchers and skinheads.”

Perhaps so, but having Frogue entrenched as anelected official still should give pause to Jews in Orange County andthroughout Southern California. For one thing, Frogue’s anti-Semiticpolitics are not a new development on the other side of the OrangeCurtain.

Since the 1920s, racist, anti-Semitic and nativistsentiments have surfaced repeatedly in Orange County politics.Indeed, back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan gainedpolitical power in cities such as Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea and LaHabra; the rabidly anti-Semitic group was hardly on the fringe. Asone scholar noted later, most Klansmen were considered “civicallyactive, substantial citizens.”

Nor did the extremist element die with the demiseof the Klan in the 1930s. Although Jews, African-Americans andAsian-Americans were only a tiny proportion of the county’spopulation — itself nearly 75 percent white Protestant — the racistculture continued to exist in Orange County’s fertile soil. Into the1960s, extreme right-wing politicians, such as James B. Utt,represented the southern end of the county, even proposing aconstitutional amendment that called for official recognition of “theauthority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations.” TheJohn Birch Society also found its strongest California base in OrangeCounty.

As the county grew in population and economicpower, far-right anti-Semitic and racist elements still found succorwithin prominent institutions, such as Knott’s Berry Farm. In thiscase, recalls marketing consultant Bob Kelley, it may have been morea matter of indifference and ignorance than outright activeanti-Semitism. Walter Knott, Kelley says, was himself not ananti-Semite and even had Jewish secretaries, but he tolerated afundamentalist-run bookstore that openly sold anti-Jewish tracts.Eventually, Kelley and other advisers persuaded Knott to shut downthe bookstore.

But Kelley, my own longtime personal friend and aprominent adviser to many Orange County high-tech companies, believesthat the region is now at a crossroads between its far-right,intolerant past and a more cosmopolitan future. The bulk of OrangeCounty’s increasingly high-tech and trade-oriented businessleadership remains politically conservative but far from racist orexclusive. Indeed, Kelley points out, some of the county’s leadingbusiness figures — such as Quicksilver Software’s Bill Fisher,Westec’s Michael Kaye and Toshiba Information Systems’ Paul Wexler –are themselves Jews.

“In the high-tech and medical world that I dealwith, it’s pretty Jewish these days,” Kelley says. “In that world, Inever encounter anti-Semitism. But, sometimes, when I was dealingwith car dealers and with insurance brokers, well, some of themclearly came from wherever rednecks are minted.”

In other words, Kelley and other business leaderssuggest, Orange County’s new, and buoyant, economy, increasinglydominated by Asians and Latinos, has no room for bigots — even ifonly in its own self-interest. To compete for educated workers,capital and media attention against Silicon Valley or other high-techregions, Orange County must purge itself as much as possible of itsugly regressive genes. It may be blind optimism to believe this willhappen, but I’m betting that it will.

Joel Kotkin is the John M. Olin Fellow at thePepperdine Institute for Public Policy.

The Chief of Staff


Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he prayed for one thing: the giftof wonder. He prayed for astonishment, for the capacity to besurprised. As he wrote, “I try not to be stale. I try to remainyoung. I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendouslysurprised at life and at ideas. This is to me the supreme Chassidicimperative.”

Heschel asked for surprise, and he gave surprise to the world. Hesurprised his faculty peers at the Jewish Theological Seminary; hesurprised his students and his friends.

What in the world was this man, named after his grandfatherAbraham Joshua Heschel, the Apter Rav, the last great rebbe ofMezvisch in the province of Podolia, Ukraine, doing, marching inSelma alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. RalphAbernathy and the Rev. Andrew Young?

What in the world was this Jew from Warsaw, whose life was sodeeply immersed in Chassidism and whose last two volumes, written inYiddish, on the life and thought of Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, doingin a march from Selma to Montgomery on behalf of the civil rights forAfrican-Americans?

What was this Jewish scholar, immersed in kabbalah, doing, leadinga delegation of 800 people into FBI headquarters in New York? Whatwas this bearded rabbi, surrounded by 60 police officers, doing,presenting a petition of protest against the brutality of the policein the South?

What was this pietist doing, heading a national Committee ofClergy and Laity Against the Vietnam War?

Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, the distinguished Protestant clergyman,told me how important Heschel’s anti-Vietnam War protests were andhow his theological views impacted Catholics and Protestants alike,including the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, who referred to Heschel as”Father Abraham.”

Heschel was severely criticized by Jewish leaders because anobsessive President Johnson had not too subtly threatened Jewishleaders that opposition to his war on Vietnam would adversely affectthe cordial relations between his administration and the State ofIsrael.

What was Heschel, whose father was buried next to the Baal ShemTov, doing, flying repeatedly to Rome during the deliberations ofVatican II, negotiating with Cardinal Bea, urging the elimination ofits mission to convert Jews? What was he doing, trying to affect theschema on the Jews and the mythic charge of deicide — the murder ofChrist by Jews?

Here again, Jewish leaders criticized him. They told him that itwas not dignified for him to fly back and forth to Rome. They saidthat they did not believe he would be successful. Heschel’s response:”What right have you not to believe and, therefore, not to attempt?”Heschel tried and succeeded. Heschel is the only Jewish thinkerquoted by a pope in this century. The pope was Paul II. AfterHeschel’s death, the Catholic publication “America” devoted an entireissue to his memory.

Heschel the Jew knew his place. His place was alongside King andwith the hounded marchers who were surrounded by the furious whitemobs.

Heschel the rabbi knew his place. After the march, he wrote, “WhenI marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” And with characteristichonesty, he added: “I felt again, as I have been thinking about foryears, that Jewish religious institutions have again missed a greatopportunity: namely, to interpret a civil rights movement in terms ofJudaism. The majority of Jews participating actively in it aretotally unaware of what this movement means in terms of the prophetictradition.” That was an important critique. Judaism is not areligious faith that can stand idly by as history passes. Judaism hassomething to say today to America and to the world, just as it did tothe Canaanite and Moabite and Amorite in the times of the Bible.”

The single deepest influence upon Heschel was the Jewish prophet.The prophet was his doctoral dissertation. The prophet drove his lifeand teaching. It was as a Jewish prophet that he addressed theConference on Religion and Race in Chicago in 1963. Before anaudience of blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, he started inthis manner: “The first conference on religion and race took place inEgypt. The main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses said,’Thus saith the God of Israel, “Let My people go.”‘ And Pharaohanswered, ‘Who is the Lord that I should heed His word? I will notlet them go.’

“The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end.Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began, but it is farfrom being complete. It was easier for the children of Israel tocross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain universitycampuses.”To understand Heschel, one has to understand his prophetictheology. Heschel’s God was not like the conventional God of thephilosophers or the theologians, including those of Judaism, such asPhilo or Moses Maimonides. Their philosophic conception of God waslogical, analytic and refined. Their God was modeled after Greekphilosophy, after the likeness of the God of Aristotle and Plato.

The God of the philosophers is perfect, by which they mean that Heis immutable and unchangeable — omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.God has it all. God has no needs — no need for human affection, noneed for sacrifice or prayer.

This Hellenistic philosophy converges with much of Hindu andBuddhist viewpoints. The Hindu doctrine of karma, the law ofconsequences, operates inexorably, automatically. The deepestspiritual wisdom of karma counsels us to escape this wretched world,full of struggling and endless craving. Its wisdom counsels us toblow out the candle. Extinguish the self. Tear out the roots ofdesire.

Heschel sees God differently.

He sees God and human suffering through the eyes of the Jewishprophets. Judaism loves life and appreciates the desires of the heartand celebrates its Joy. It does not deny that there is suffering, butit does not remedy its pain by escaping from this world: Yes, thereis suffering, and we have an obligation to relieve suffering, tospread balm upon the wounds of the human being, to use science andcompassion, and to beautify life here in this world.

Unlike the Indian philosopher, the prophet declares: Do not blowout the candle of desire. Do not paralyze yourself with theanesthetic of nirvana. Recognize the pains and trials of life. But donot deny or abandon its reality. Transform it. Repair it. Mend it.While you emphasize the transmigrations of your past life, youforsake the holiness of opportunities in the present here and now.

Contrary to the Hellenistic theological point of view, Heschelsees God as anything but neutral or indifferent, cool or remote.Heschel understands God as caring, as being concerned, as needingfriends, as needing people, as entering into covenants with Israeland with humanity.

We are raised with the God of the philosopher. But this impassiveGod Heschel denies. God did not create the universe and humanity andthen resign from the world and from man. Heschel, deeply influencedby the Jewish mystical tradition, contends that God needs man, Godneeds allies, God needs help. Heschel’s God is marked by pathos,rachmonis. God feels; the prophet feels. The God of the prophets isangry at justice. The God of the prophets is moved to tears by theoppression of the weak. He is outraged by the humiliation of theweak.

For the classical theologians, God is concerned with eternalessence, with definitions and proofs. But the Jewish prophet’s God isconcerned about widows, and orphans, and poor people, and pariahs,and strangers, and aliens, and the submerged and the beaten. TheJewish prophet’s God is angry at the corruption by kings, priests andunscrupulous entrepreneurs. God is not aloof. God cannot standslavery, humiliation, oppression. He condemns it whether it comesfrom Jews or non-Jews.

The prophet is not the philosopher. The prophet feels fiercely.Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony of voice,to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. TheJewish prophet is not tranquil. He is no Zen master beyond humanstress and tears. He is filled with agitation and
anguish, andrefuses to acquiesce and accept. The prophet cannot sleep, and hegives no sleep to those he addresses.

The Jewish prophet hates bribery and ritual deceit. God will notbe fooled by sacrifices and incense. Listen to the voice of Jeremiah:”Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incenseto bow and go after other gods that you have not known and then comestand before Me in this house which is called by My name and say, ‘Weare delivered.'”

So, what was this man, this rabbi, this Jew, doing in Selma and inRome and in Vietnam? He was there because he was a serious Jew whotook the prophets seriously. He was in Selma, Rome and Vietnam, justas Abraham was at Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet refuses to be mute.

Heschel’s critics have derided his theology as filled withanthropomorphisms, images that are taken from human beings. Thecritics may be right: Heschel’s God is morally all too human. Butthere is something that is deeply persuasive in Heschel’s God ofmoral pathos. He may not be right about how God feels or reacts, butis he not right about the attributes of God that are revealed in theconscience of the prophet? We may have philosophic quarrels aboutHeschel’s conception of God, but not with his morality. The propheticexperience of God as a Being filled with pathos, must be behaved byhuman beings. Men and women who believe in God behaviorally cannot beindifferent. For, as Heschel writes, “the opposite of good is notevil but apathy.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right), Ralph Bunche,Martin Luther King Jr., and Ralph Abernathy in 1965 on the Selma toMontgomery march.

How did such a friendship develop between Martin Luther King Jr.and Abraham Joshua Heschel? How is it that on the occasion of the60th birthday of King, Heschel said, “The whole future of Americawill depend upon the influence of Dr. King.”

And it is King who described Heschel as “one of the great men ofour day…a truly great prophet…. All too often, I have seenreligious leaders amid the social injustices that pervade our societymouthing pious irrelevancies. But Rabbi Heschel is one of those whorefuses to remain silent behind the safe security of stained-glasswindows. He has been with us in many struggles. I remember marchingfrom Selma to Montgomery, how he stood by my side.”

Heschel knew where his place was as a Jew.

Heschel marched because it is not only important to protest but todo so in public, in the sight of men and women.

Heschel was able to reach out to non-Jews, to Christians of allcolors and of all creeds, because he understood that, while we maypray in different languages, our tears are the same. That profound,deep, Jewish theological humanism and universalism is needed todaymore than ever.

“What do we need to attain a sense of significant being?” Heschelasked. He answered, “Three things: God, a soul and a moment.” Thesethree are always here. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live isholy.

Saluting Heschel

Celebrate the life and work of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. at these events:

Jan. 16

* Temple Israel of Hollywood

7300 Hollywood Blvd.

(213) 876-8330

Excerpts of Heschel’s theology (Part 1) at the Family ShabbatService, 7:30 p.m.

* Kol Tikvah Congregation

20400 Ventura Blvd.

Woodland Hills

(818) 348-0670

Rabbi Steven Jacobs and Dr. Clinton A. Benton of the CalvaryBaptist Church of South Central Los Angeles will hold a jointcelebration of Heschel and King at the Sabbath services, beginning at7:30 p.m. Cantor Caren Glasser and the Calvary Sanctuary Choir willparticipate. The service is open to everyone.

Jan. 17

* Excerpts of Heschel’s theology (Part 2) at Temple Israel’sShabbat Service, 10:00 a.m.

Jan. 18

* Temple Israel’s Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh teaches a class onHeschel’s theology

* Rabbi Laura Geller will teach three seminars on Heschel and Kingat the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Yom Limud at Taft High School.For times and information, call (818)587-3250.

Jan. 23

* Temple Emanuel

Beverly Hills

(310) 288-3742

The seventh- and eighth-graders of the temple’s day school willlead a special Erev Shabbat service honoring Heschel and King at 8p.m. Guest speaker will be Genethia Hayes, executive director of theSouthern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and aleading African-American educator.


Highlights from a Life

Jan. 11, 1907: Born in Poland to distinguished Chassidicfamily. Educated at the University of Berlin and in Talmud andkabbalah.

1937: Appointed by Martin Buber as his successor at aJewish college in Frankfort am Main.

1938: Deported to Poland by Nazis, then immigrated toLondon, where he created the Institute for Jewish Learning. Hismother and several other family members are killed by Nazis.

1940-45: Professor at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.He marries Sylvia Straus.

1945: Professor at Jewish Theological Seminary.

1963: Heschel meets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago.

1965: Marches beside King from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

1965: Co-founds Clergy and Laymen Concerned to oppose theVietnam War.

1966: Meets with Pope Paul VI and becomes involved inSecond Vatican Council.

Dec. 23, 1972: Dies in his sleep in New York City.

Major Works:

“Man Is Not Alone” (1950)

“The Sabbath” (1955)

“God In Search of Man” (1955)

“Israel: An Echo of Eternity” (1969)

“The Prophets” (1962)

Source: “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays ofAbraham Joshua Heschel,” edited by Susannah Heschel (Farrar StrausGiroux) *