Graduation: Shining stars – our list of outstanding graduating seniors


Each year, we profile a group of outstanding high school seniors, culled from the many nominations sent in by you, our readers. And each year, we find it almost impossible to choose among the many extraordinary leaders, givers and enormously talented graduating teens.

But, choose we did. And, once again, the members of this year’s group know no limits in their quests for excellence and impact. They have given tirelessly of their time as mentors, tutors and sports coaches; helped families transition out of homelessness and poverty; participated in building a school in Sierra Leone; worked to prevent genocide; organized interfaith picnics; and founded an advocacy project to prevent drunken driving. They found their passions — drama, music, writing, languages, politics, business — and harnessed them to inspire others.

Just imagine what they’ll do as adults.

Sheridan Pierce
Taking her role(s) seriously


Quinn Lohmann
A song in his soul


Jason Aftalion
It’s all about the kids


Katherine Bernstein
Sometimes, less is more


Corinne Kentor
A real page-turner


David Shalom
Building a diplomatic resume at home, abroad

Marissa Meyer
Healing others, and herself


Leah Gluck
Working toward ‘never again’


Brian Hertz
Turning tragedy into prevention


Leila Miller
Finding common ground


Jacob Cohen
Giving himself a sporting chance


Eeman Khorramian
Dual identity yields an international outlook

Orthodox Students Thrive at Milken


Barbara Schloss had gone to Orthodox day schools her whole life. When it came time for high school, she figured, why change?

But the science-oriented teen soon felt dissatisfied with her choice of classes and electives, and saw her brother, Nate, doing things at Milken Community High School that she could only dream about. Two weeks into her freshman year, she asked her parents if she could transfer.

“She was bored, academically, at her old high school. She felt she was not being challenged and the extracurricular activities didn’t fit with her strengths,” recalled Barbara’s mother, Lenny Schloss. “She was getting jealous — she saw Nate doing tech theater and robotics and science research, and she was like, ‘I want to do all that!’”

Nate and Barbara are part of a growing group of Modern Orthodox students opting to leave the traditional Orthodox school system for a high school career at Milken. Parents say the school offers educational and extracurricular opportunities students often can’t get at smaller Orthodox institutions.

Over the last three years, Milken’s Orthodox student population has gone from zero to about 15 to 20 kids, said Head of School Jason Ablin. 762 students attend Milken.

Kids can get a “catered,” highly personalized academic menu at Milken that schools with more limited resources might not be able to provide, Ablin said, such as the science research program Nate Schloss is in at the school’s Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology. The eight-year-old academy has drawn in several students who had previously attended exclusively Orthodox schools, as have Milken’s programs in drama and art.

“These are very high-end kids in terms of their academic abilities and their interests,” Ablin said. “Milken has the kind of resources to be able to provide them with what they need, so parents are turning to us as a solution.”

At Milken, the Schloss kids have blossomed academically. Both of them were on a team that placed third in the 2009 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards, which challenges students to create products using science and technology.

Nate, a senior, was first drawn to Milken for its renowned Mitchell Academy, and is now captain of the school’s robotics team. In April, he led the team in competition at the national FIRST robotics championships in Atlanta. The school placed 23rd out of some 300 high school teams from across the country.

Between robotics, science research and his semester in Israel through the Tiferet Israel Fellowship — a Milken program allowing sophomores to spend a semester studying in Hod HaSharon — Nate said he’s “definitely” happy with his high school experience.

“I haven’t been able to find an extracurricular activity that other schools have that Milken doesn’t,” he said. “Milken just has so many more choices.”

That’s why the Schlosses decided not to limit their options when it came time to hunt for high schools for their kids. Although Nate and Barbara had only gone to Orthodox day schools from preschool through eighth grade, the family even looked at secular schools such as Harvard-Westlake and Windward School to make sure the teens got the curricular rigor they craved.

Dina and Michael Glouberman did the same for their daughters, both of whom will be Milken students this year after attending Yavneh Hebrew Academy from preschool to eighth grade. Dina Glouberman said she was happy with the education Yael, a sophomore, and Dani, a freshman, got at their old Orthodox school, but she wanted to broaden her daughters’ academic opportunities at the high school level.

“We liked Milken because we could have a high level of academics and still have a Jewish education” for Yael and Dani, both of whom were valedictorians at Yavneh, Glouberman said. “We also liked the idea of an integrated community that appeals to all walks of life, including Orthodox.”

For Glouberman, the idea of her daughters learning alongside secular Jewish students is anything but a drawback — it “adds to their experience and makes them stronger in who they are,” she said.

But making the switch to non-traditional Jewish studies classes can be a jolt for students used to learning in an Orthodox environment.

Nate Schloss said he’s happy with his Jewish education at Milken — “for the most part.”

“I’m used to being taught in an Orthodox way,” he said. “It was interesting for the first time in my life being in a classroom with non-Orthodox kids who had very different beliefs than me. It took some adjusting to, but I feel like I have a much broader understanding of Judaism now, and I appreciate my own beliefs and practices more.”

Outside the classroom, kids and their families also have to get used to less stringent observation of Shabbat and kashrut on school trips and events. Parents said they have to pay extra attention to make sure food provided on field trips and athletic outings is kosher, and to see that activities take place on an “Orthodox-accommodating” schedule.

When Barbara Schloss was in Israel this spring on the Tiferet Israel Fellowship, her father, Hal Schloss, asked to have her excused from the scheduled Shavuot program in favor of “a more traditional Orthodox experience” at her aunt’s house in Ra’anana. On the weekend trip to the Pete Conrad awards in April, the Schlosses brought enough kosher food to feed the whole Milken team.

“The official school position is that everything should be kosher and shomer Shabbat, but then there is the reality of how some things turn out,” Lenny Schloss said. But school officials are mindful of their students’ needs, and on the Pete Conrad trip, Milken paid for all the food, Hal Schloss added. “The administration is very supportive and always wants to do whatever is necessary to make it work for us,” he said.

Having Orthodox students on campus has made the administration much more aware of how to cater to a pluralistic population, said Ablin, head of school, who added that Milken’s Orthodox population has been a boon to the student body.

“The kids who have come from the Modern Orthodox community have completely taken advantage of everything there is at the school,” he said. “Other students have gone to schools with these kinds of resources and have had things like video production before, but these students have not. They’re like kids in a candy shop.”

But while Ablin, who is himself Orthodox, said he would be “thrilled” if more Orthodox students joined the Milken community, he is also wary of altering the school’s goals.

“Parents in the Orthodox community come to me and ask, ‘When are you going to make Milken more Orthodox, or have an Orthodox track at the school?’ I tell them I’m never going to do that,” he said. “What I want to do is expand the pluralism at the school. Our mission is to have an expansive, pluralistic community. That should be able to include students from the Modern Orthodox community, and also kids who come from a completely secular background.”

This year, however, Milken is offering a new program that could appeal to more Orthodox families — a Beit Midrash-style track for freshmen and sophomores featuring longer hours of classes and more talmudic studies. But Ablin said the program is open to interested students of all denominations.

Overall, parents said the few “minor” inconveniences — and few thousand dollars extra per year — are well worth it for the educational benefits their kids get at Milken.

“It’s a really well-run place with excellent opportunities,” Dina Glouberman said. “Our daughters are happy, so we’re happy.”

Jewish and Muslim students at USC share dorm and friendships


The fact that the Taj Mahal was built by a Muslim Mughal is news to one Jewish student, who asked not to be named. The student and Asad Hasnat, a sophomore from Pakistan, have been talking about architecture in India during one of the weekly Monday Munchies socials put together for the Shalom-Muslim floor in USC's Parkside Apartments, where both live.

Theirs is a fairly typical exchange between students on a campus as large and diverse as USC's. But at a time when Jews and Muslims in other parts of the world aren't having much luck learning from one another, the conversation and the setting for it are both quietly revolutionary. Here Jewish and Muslim students live together in harmony.

Levran and Hasnat are parked on the sofa in Alnatour's apartment. Nobody's watching the television, which flickers and hums in the background, and some of the guys are clumped around a counter loaded with ice cream and cookies like a pack of young lions taking their time with a fresh kill.

“Back then the Mughals ruled everything,” Hasnat said. “They were civilization in India.”

Levran nods, taking in the new information.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life at USC, says the name “Shalom Housing” came to her about a decade ago, when she was head of USC Hillel. Several students had sought her advice about finding a way to keep kosher while living on campus.

“None of the dining halls served kosher food,” Laemmle said, “and finding dorms with individual kitchens seemed like a good way to help observant students who still wanted to be part of campus life.”

Soon after Laemmle moved from her role at Hillel to become dean, a group of Muslim students enlisted her help with a similar project. Laemmle worked with Ken Taylor in USC's Office of Residential and Greek Life to find space to create a Muslim floor. As it happened, a wing of the residential hall where Shalom Housing had been established was available.

“The original concept was not a Jewish-Muslim floor,” Taylor said. “That was the creature of the [Resident Advisors] and the students themselves.”

Alana Bubis and Sahar Alnatour, the floor's RAs, are the unassuming but earnest current stewards of this legacy. Bubis, a junior majoring in business and film studies, is a California native, like most of the residents on the Jewish wing of the floor.

“The Muslim wing is more international,” she said, “and it has more guys. There are more girls on the Jewish wing.”

There are 50 students on the coed floor. Two men or two women share each room. A handful of students who are neither Jewish nor Muslim also choose to live on the floor.

“A lot of people keep coming back,” said Bubis, who's marking her second year as a resident.

It's year three for Alnatour, whose family moved to the United States from Kuwait after the end of the first Gulf War.

“As a freshman, you have something in common with the people who live around you,” Alnatour said, explaining why she was attracted to the floor. Although she laughs when she recalls her surprise at learning she would have Jewish neighbors, too.

“It's not very clear in the housing brochure that the Muslim and Jewish wings are together,” Bubis said.

The fact that USC's Shalom-Muslim floor has evolved both organically and unofficially means that, like Alnatour, many of the students who arrive on move-in day are surprised when they meet some of their neighbors.

Traditions like Monday Munchies and the floor's open-door policy — if your door's open, company's welcome — are designed to help newcomers quickly adapt to the novel environment.

And both the temperament of the current generation of students and the culture of the floor tend to discourage the kind of fiery debates over politics that would disrupt the mellow culture of the floor.

“Politics never comes up,” said Amir Yassai, a junior from Orange County. “I think it has to do with the fact that people my age are more open-minded.”

When he returned to school soon after last summer's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah had subsided, Yassai's Iranian-born parents asked him whether there was any tension on the floor.

“It was hard for them to believe it just isn't an issue,” Yassai said.

Still, some residents perceive an underlying tension on the floor — not between Jews and Muslims, but between the ardor that attracts students to the community and the tacit détente that helps to sustain it.

“It's true that people stay away from political conversation,” said Hasan Qazi, a biology major whose parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan. “But that doesn't mean that people don't hold deep political convictions. Everyone chooses to live here because they're passionate about their identity as Muslims or Jews.”

Laemmle describes this situation as “the elephant on the Shalom-Muslim floor.”

“Eventually I think students will find a way to engage each other at that level,” she said. “If you build a tradition of trust, political discussion can be safer.”

Bubis and Alnatour have already laid the foundation for what could become the next stage in the growth of USC's Shalom-Muslim Floor. Together they've successfully lobbied for a greater selection of kosher and halal food at a nearby dining hall. The precedent of that small collaboration could help other residents of this quietly revolutionary community find common ground in a passionate, ice cream fueled conversation on some future Monday.

If Laemmle's elephant analogy is apt, it's likely just a matter of time.

Teens, college students make their presence known


“Welcome to Los Angeles.”

“Welcome to the GA.”

Erika Levy and Alie Kussin-Shoptaw, seniors at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, easily spotted in their bright orange volunteer vests, stood by the escalators at the Los Angeles Convention Center, greeting arriving United Jewish Communities General Assembly (GA) attendees and directing them to meeting rooms, halls and hospitality suites.

“We have to be like Abraham and reach out and greet everyone, even if it’s a little uncomfortable for us,” said Kussin-Shoptaw.

The girls, both 17, were part of a cadre of teen volunteers brought together by Sulam, the Center for Jewish Service Learning, part of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE). The group included 15 students from New Community Jewish High School, 20 from Shalhevet High School, 11 from the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and 20 from United Synagogue Youth.

The students, already committed to the Jewish community, learned about the mitzvah of greeting, instructed by Phil Liff-Grieff, BJE associate executive director, and Dan Gold, director of Sulam, before being dispatched for a three-hour volunteer shift. Afterward, they were free to attend sessions, visit the marketplace or hang out in the teen volunteer lounge.

“These kids think it’s so cool to be part of this,” Gold said.

For those students from the JSU, an organization that provides ways for Jewish teens in public high schools to become more Jewishly involved, the GA was an extension of a leadership weekend held on Friday and Saturday.

“This is a great opportunity to learn for ourselves, as well as help others,” said Mike Ghalchi, 17, a senior at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills and president of the school’s JSU chapter. He added it was particularly valuable, because “going to public school, we’re not exposed to religion every day.”

For 20 members of United Synagogue Youth (USY) from Los Angeles-area chapters, the GA was also the culmination of a long regional leadership weekend at Camp Ramah.

These young people, many of whom had stayed up till 4 a.m., traveled from Ojai on Sunday morning in time for the opening plenary session, where, among other speakers, they heard speeches by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as Karnit Goldwasser, wife of captured soldier Ehud Goldwasser.

“This supports everything they’re doing in USY,” said Merrill Alpert, director of youth activities for USY’s Pacific Southwest Region. “These kids are our future Jewish leaders.”

While Sulam targeted those who will ideally work in the Jewish community, Do the Write Thing hosted a group of 30 college students and recent graduates who will possibly be reporting on the Jewish community.

“We introduce them to the concept that Jewish journalism is a profession,” said Leni Reiss, former managing editor of the Phoenix Jewish News and American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) liaison for 16 of the program’s 17 years. “Here they get a sense of the living, breathing, organized Jewish world.”

Through this program, which is cosponsored by The Jewish Agency, the Hagshama department of the World Zionist Organization and AJPA, students attended workshops, including one on “Covering Israel in the American Jewish Press.”

Additionally this year, for first time, they were given assignments, asked to fan out into different sessions each day and bring back quotations for the GA Daily, distributed to attendees. They are also expected to write an article about the GA for their school or community paper.

For Ayli Meyer, 21, a University of Judaism student from Houston, the GA is an opportunity to gain some real-life experience. She serves as editor of the school newspaper, the Casiano Chronicle, but, she said, “there are not enough journalism classes at school.”

Another participant, Erin Kelley, 23, a Reno resident who attends Truckee Meadows Community College, is hoping to make aliyah in a year.

“I want to combine my knowledge of Israel and my writing skills,” she said.
Elon Shore, the Hagshama Mid-Atlantic regional director, believes that having Israel as a central theme helps these young people connect with the Jewish community. He referred to studies demonstrating that an Israel experience is effective at connecting young adults to Judaism.

Students also respond very well to social concerns, according to Jeff Rubin, Hillel’s associate vice president for communications, citing a Hillel report.

This year, new to the GA, Hillel sponsored Just for a Day, a day of social action where 300 Jewish students from universities across the United States and Canada, who had come for entire GA conference, joined together on Sunday with another 700 college students, mostly from Southern California.

Just for a Day encompassed projects sponsored by six different organizations. These ranged from Project Angel Food, where students delivered hot meals to home-bound patients with AIDS, to Jewish World Watch, where, at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, students learned about advocating for Darfur. At all locations, students were joined by local celebrities, including “West Wing” actor Josh Malina and comedian David Brenner.

At the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, located downtown, more than 100 students helped unpack cartons of donated canned and packaged foods and sorted them for Thanksgiving distribution.

“I think a lot of people look at college students as lazy,” said Nicole Landa, a USC junior. “As you can see here, students really do care.”

From the University of Arizona in Tucson, 60 students piled into vans after the school’s homecoming Saturday night and drove nine hours to participate in Just for a Day, according to U of A student Michelle Miller.

Half the group worked at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row, distributing hygiene packs that they had preassembled, and on Skid Row. The other half worked at the Downtown Women’s Center.

Then, after attending a concert that evening at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, where Guster, an alternative rock band, and The LeeVees, a Jewish holiday music band, entertained Hillel participants, they climbed back into their vans for the nine-hour return trip.

According to Hillel President Wayne Firestone, volunteer days such as this are effective ways to unite Jewish students across the denominational spectrum to work together under the banner of tikkun olam (healing the world).

“We feel that everywhere we go we should leave our mark,” he said.

Collegians do the ‘Write Thing’ at GA


College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are
covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as
members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place
in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or
secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and
participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to
sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of
what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama
department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated
by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to “fulfillment,” explains New York-based fulfillment’
and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is
through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to
be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish
leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants
will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in
sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt,
publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor
of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in
the American Jewish Press.” Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops
with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the
agenda.

For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a
professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the
Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press
officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein,
who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a
producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of
writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by
Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The
Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved
to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who
were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam
says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT
confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and
personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is
nothing like it,” she says.

Jewish day schools short-change kids with special needs


Adam is pushing the strings of his tzitzit through a small hole on the side of his desk.

“If you don’t want to finish your work now, that’s OK,” his teacher, Chau Ly tells him. “You can do it later.”
“It’s easy. I just don’t feel like it,” answers Adam (not his real name).

He looks at the language arts workbook open in front of him, then flips it to examine the bar code. He wants to tell Ms. Ly about the cat next door. Ms. Ly, sitting right across from him, tells him he can do that when he finishes his assignment.
She begins to read him the next question.

He pulls at some rubber on his sneaker and says, “I don’t need help, it’s easy.”

Ms. Ly sits back. Adam, an 11-year-old with learning and emotional disorders, begins to work quietly.

Finally, he finishes his assignment. Ms. Ly adds up the points he’s earned for doing things like getting his head into the assignment and working independently, and sets the timer for his break.

He chooses to spend his time exchanging cat stories with Ms. Ly.

Adam is one of 12 students in Kol Hanearim, an organization that sponsors small classes in three local day schools for children with learning disabilities and emotional disorders such as attention deficit, oppositional behavior, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. The kids spend part of the time in their own classroom and part of the time mainstreamed in regular classes. They also join their grade level for lunch, recess, art, PE and other activities.

The classes were founded last year by mothers of kids who had been either asked to leave a Jewish day school, or who chose to leave on their own. Their decision to stay and make something new is part of a slowly emerging trend toward integrating diverse learners into the Jewish day school milieu — a move that everyone agrees has been too slow in coming, and has hardly begun to reach the students who need it.

For years, resources for kids with special needs have been scarce in Los Angeles’ day schools.

While supplemental Jewish education programs — camps, Hebrew schools, Shabbatons and parties — have provided wonderful Jewish experiences to the region’s special needs kids during the last 10 to 20 years, other cities seem to be making greater strides with their day school populations.

Parents who want their special needs children immersed in a Jewish environment on a daily basis often have to fend for themselves with minimal school support. Those able to afford it have hired tutors and shadows, which has not always been a successful solution. More often, parents have had to make the difficult choice to take the kids out of Jewish schools.

For parents in the Orthodox community, the decision to pull a kid out of day school means not only forfeiting a vital environment and education, but has social consequences, as well. Since the majority of Orthodox children attend day school, the child will be excluded from social circles, further marginalizing him or her.

With the explosion of day school attendance in the non-Orthodox sectors over the last 15 years, that decision is equally painful for Conservative and Reform parents who hoped to solidify a child’s identity with an intense Jewish experience.
About 10 percent of the general population has a disability, and the Bureau of Jewish Education estimates that between 700 and 800 children with disabilities are in Los Angeles’ 37 day schools, which serve 10,000 kids.

Over the past several years, schools and programs have opened up to teaching a more diverse array of learners in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community schools.

“There is a growing awareness that day schools need to be accessible to the widest range of students possible, and schools are working hard to refine their mission statements and to make sure that whatever their aspirations are to work in this area, that they find the financial and human resources to make it successful,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. The Boston-based group recently published a best practices report from day schools across the country.

Adam’s mother says her son, who previously attended Vista Del Mar’s Julia Ann Singer Center, a school near Culver City for children with severe emotional, learning and developmental disorders, has worked his way from a first-grade reading level to a fourth-grade reading level at Kol Hanearim. Whereas before he was surrounded by other kids with behavioral challenges, now he has nonchallenged children to model behaviors for him.

He is no longer embarrassed to wear a kippah and tzitzit, and can participate in class cooking projects without worrying about kashrut. He now asks to go to shul every Shabbat, and he even sings Hebrew songs in the shower.

While singing in the shower may seem like a silly benchmark, a positive or negative day school experience can have lifelong impact on a child’s Jewish identity.

One woman who contacted Kol Hanearim told the story of her son, now grown, who had been thrown out of yeshiva and told he would never amount to anything. Today, he is working toward a master’s degree in physics and is engaged to a non-Jewish woman.

Slammed Doors, New Opportunities

Kol Hanearim started its classes last academic year, soon after, Sharon Gindi was told that day school was no place for her son. She found that there were no good options for him within the Jewish community.

She got in touch with Kol Hanearim, a group of parents who had coalesced a few years before to offer Jewish programming to their children, who had left day schools. They had already met with principals in hopes of figuring out how to start classes for special-needs kids in day schools. But after two years, those meetings had gotten nowhere.

“I looked at my husband, and I said, ‘ All we need is a classroom and a teacher? How hard can this be?'” said Gindi, who will be speaking on this topic at a session at the United Jewish Community’s General Assembly here this week. So she skipped over the organizational meandering and immediately got down to details.

Jewish Woman Is European Beauty Queen; Katsav Urged to Temporarily Quit


Jewish Woman Is European Beauty Queen

Alexandra Rosenfeld, 19, won the Miss Europe 2006 title in Kiev last Friday. Rosenfeld, a student who is also Miss France, walked away with $130,000 in prize money and a diamond-studded crown. According to media reports, the Web sites covering the pageant were flooded with anti-Semitic messages after Rosenfeld’s win.

Katsav Urged to Temporarily Quit

Israel’s attorney general recommended that President Moshe Katsav temporarily resign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz issued his advisory Sunday in response to a High Court petition lodged by a lawyer who wants Katsav to resign in light of the rape allegations against him. Mazuz noted that the High Court is not the forum for deciding Katsav’s fate, but said the president should consider having the Knesset declare him “temporarily incapacitated” until the investigation against him runs its course. Mazuz, who holds ultimate responsibility on deciding whether to prosecute Katsav, said that should there be a trial the president would have no choice but to step down. Katsav, who is suspected of raping more than one former female employee, has denied wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Elie Wiesel has said he is not interested in becoming Israel’s president in response to reports that he has been named as a possible successor to Katsav.

One-Third Favor Clemency for Rabin Assassin

Almost one in three Israelis would support seeing Yitzhak Rabin’s jailed assassin go free one day, a poll found. According to the survey published over the weekend by Yediot Achronot, 5 percent of Israelis would like Yigal Amir to be granted clemency now, while another 25 percent would favor him being freed in 25 years. Support for clemency was stronger among right-wingers and religious Jews. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they want Amir, who shot Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, at a 1995 peace rally, to stay behind bars for life. A 2001 bill passed by the Knesset ruled out clemency for anybody who assassinates an Israeli prime minister.

Foundation Funds Day School Scholarships

A U.S. foundation will offer scholarships worth $11 million for students to attend Jewish day schools in Baltimore. The multiyear grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation will be managed by the Associated, Baltimore’s Jewish federation. The Associated, which already provides more than $3 million a year to Jewish schools in the Baltimore area, committed an additional $1 million for each year of the partnership. Studies have shown that many Jewish parents say they are unable to send their children to Jewish schools because of the cost.”This fund will not only enable more children to attend Jewish day schools, it will centralize the scholarship process and ensure that the moneys are being disbursed as efficiently and effectively as possible,” said Shale Stiller, president of the Weinberg foundation.

Blair Attends Day School Launch

British Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the opening of an ultra-Orthodox day school. The Yesodai Hatorah Girls School was launched Oct. 26 at an event in London’s Stamford Hill. Blair called himself a proud friend of the Jewish people and praised the school for promoting the kind of “values that in the end must motivate and govern the whole of our country and society.”

Hours earlier, Education Secretary Alan Johnson reversed a government decision that would have required state-funded faith schools to reserve at least 25 percent of their spots for students of other faiths or no faith.

Auerbach, Legendary Celtics Coach, Dies

Legendary basketball coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach died over the weekend at age 89. Auerbach led the Boston Celtics to nine NBA titles between 1956 and 1966. Born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, Auerbach was an innovator on both offense and defense. In 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock to counter Auerbach’s tactic of having point guard Bob Cousy dribble out the game clock if the Celtics had a lead with under three minutes left.

Berlin Community Returns to Historic Quarters

Berlin’s Jewish community moved back into its historical headquarters. The community on Saturday celebrated its full return to a synagogue in the city’s east where both communal administration and board will be under one roof. Previously, some communal offices were located in the former West Berlin. The synagogue, which once could hold some 3,000 worshippers, largely was destroyed by allied bombing raids in World War II, but a new chapel and offices were constructed after reunification. The city’s Jewish population has quadrupled to more than 12,000 in the years since unification, particularly due to the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

— Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

It’s hard to find good day school leaders these days


A dearth of leadership talent is affecting not only the likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft, it’s also wreaking havoc on the Jewish day school system as schools find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified heads.

Representatives from 11 Jewish educational organizations will meet next month at a think-tank at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. Working with strategic planners and other Jewish and general education experts, they will look for solutions to what they describe as a crisis.

“As soon as you bring it up with those involved in Jewish education, it’s like bringing up the topic of in-laws with a group of married people — there are a lot of nodding heads,” said Nina Butler, an educational consultant at the Avi Chai Foundation. The foundation has a special focus on day school education, and is one of the think tank’s organizers.

To some extent, the day school system is a victim of its own success, said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

“This is basically a story about the phenomenally rapid growth of the day school system in North America,” he said. “For the last couple of decades, the addition of new schools and the expansion of schools has put a tremendous demand on the Jewish community to supply leaders and teachers. The growth has outstripped the capacity.”

There are roughly 800 North American day schools, and 60 new schools have opened since PEJE, a collaboration of major philanthropists to improve Jewish education, started in 1997, Elkin said. The number of children in day schools has increased by 100,000 since 1982 to more than 200,000 today, according to a 2003 Avi Chai census.

Frances Urman, director of the Day School Leadership Training Institute, founded by Avi Chai and run out of JTS, said her office has seen a “tremendous” influx of calls from schools across the country looking to fill their top spots. Her office runs a 14-month fellowship to train prospective day school leaders.

Marvin Schick, a senior adviser to the Avi Chai Foundation, said finding heads of school isn’t the only issue — there’s also the problem of keeping them.

Schick recently completed research for a study into Jewish day school leadership. He sent out 500 questionnaires to Jewish heads of school and got 400 responses.

The study looked at career path, salary, job responsibilities, career satisfaction and other areas. The data won’t be ready for release for several months, but Schick said it shows that a “significant number” of Jewish heads of school are “new or fairly new” at their jobs.

Most started out as teachers without expecting to go into administrative work, he said, and one out of five continues to teach on top of other duties. Schick also found that job satisfaction is very high among heads of school, with 90 percent of those who returned the questionnaire reporting less than 1 percent job dissatisfaction.

Schick said it was “remarkable that there is so much movement in the field.”

Los Angeles, home to 37 day schools serving 10,000 K-12th grade students, has bucked the national trend and enjoyed healthy stability in retaining principals and headmasters, according to Gil Graff, executive director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education.

“School heads have been drawn from a variety of backgrounds, including both Jewish education and public and private school administration. Rare are the instances of appointment as head of a day school in L.A., absent previous experience in a senior role in educational administration,” Graff said.

Still, the national crisis is cause for concern.

“Los Angeles, however, represents 5 percent of the schools and students in the American day school universe. Ensuring that, nationally, there is a sufficient pool of well-qualified heads of Jewish day schools to serve the needs of an expanding number of institutions is vital to sustaining and furthering the momentum of the day school movement,” Graff said.

PEJE’s Elkin said the average retention rate for heads of Jewish schools is three to six years, hardly enough time for an educator to leave a mark. For the schools to be successful, they have to figure out how to raise that rate to six to nine years, Elkin said.

When principals do switch jobs, it’s often because they find better opportunities, advancement or a preferable location, said Schick, who noted that “very few were fired.”

Some of the difficulty stems from the fact that schools are popping up in small Jewish communities, such as Kerry, N.C. and Asheville, N.C., said Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, an umbrella organization for the country’s 90 Jewish community schools.

Getting qualified people to leave bigger Jewish communities is often a problem, and getting them to stay when a job in a larger city opens up is difficult, he said.

A head of school functions like a CEO, maintaining curriculum and serving as liaison among the school’s board, faculty, parents and student body, while making sure that school finances are in check. Finding someone who is qualified to do all this — and who also has experience working at a Jewish school — is nearly impossible, Kramer said.

He added that about eight RAVSAK schools — about 10 percent of the schools in the system — look for new heads each year.

That’s why Debra Altshul-Stark, president of the board of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, considers her school very lucky to have found a qualified applicant to take over as head of school this year. The founding headmaster of the 25-year-old school retired five years ago, and the school couldn’t find a qualified replacement.

The board decided to try a three-headed approach. That flopped, as did a model of two heads of school.

When the board decided to go back to a single-head model, Stark was wary, because the first search had been so disappointing. This time 25 candidates applied; one had the general educational and Jewish educational background — and wanted to move to Milwaukee.

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran


It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
 
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
 
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
 
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
 
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
 
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
 
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
 
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
 
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
 
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
 
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
 
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
 
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
 
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
 
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
 
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
 
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
 
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
 
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
 
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
 
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit www.ijwo.org.
 
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
 
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
 
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.

Direct Hezbollah rocket hit leaves Israeli/Arab ‘peace school’ in pieces


The one school in Acre that took a direct hit from a rocket during the war happens to be the only school in the city that serves both Jewish and Arab pupils — the el-Mahaba (“love” in Arabic) kindergarten for mentally and emotionally handicapped kids.

 

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack — Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown and cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance,” she said.

Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.
The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Students Draw on Movie for Tolerance Mural Inspiration


Oscar de la Hoyer Animo Charter High School

In a hallway of Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter High School in downtown Los Angeles, a three-part canvas mural covers a wall, portraying the transformation of society from one plagued by hate to one free of it.

The mural’s creators are at-risk Latino high school students who spent their Saturdays envisioning a better world, and then painting it.

The students participated in a mural workshop based on a simple principle: Art can change the world.

The engineer of the workshop is Kids for Peace, a children’s art program initially begun to help combat terrorism in Israel by providing artistic and creative guidance to youngsters.

Gayle Gale started Kids for Peace after she returned to Los Angeles from a series of trips to Israel as a visiting artist at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba in 1994 and 1995. With assistance from the local Israeli consulate and a grant obtained with help from the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity from the Jewish Community Foundation, she set out to teach youth about Israel through artistic means. In the years since, Gale has found herself doing much more.

Gale has traveled around the world conducting Kids for Peace workshops, working with groups to create artworks for all variety of venues, including the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where kids made a mural to commemorate the celebration of the 50th anniversary of human rights in 1998. In 2001, Gale received the Fete d’Excellence gold medallion for Youth from the coalition of nongovernmental organizations that are a part of the United Nations.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Gale expanded the Kids for Peace focus beyond terrorism and Israel to include issues of hunger, gang violence and AIDS, depending on the location of the workshop and the most relevant issue in the part of the world she was attempting to reach. In the process, Gale sought to avoid making Kids for Peace a politically charged initiative.

“I don’t consider this a political project,” she said. “I consider it a way of bringing people together using the creative process for harmony and to make social statements that educate people because I believe that we’ll have peace when there’s education.”

Run in conjunction with Barnsdall Arts, which has worked with Kids for Peace since 2003, the Oscar de la Hoya workshop allowed 20 students to create a series of murals to adorn their campus in the Los Angeles World Trade Center.

After viewing a documentary called “The Devil’s Miner,” about a young Bolivian boy forced to work in a mine to support his family, the students agreed upon the images they sought to portray after performing yoga and participating in a discussion of social justice led by Gale, who routinely uses such methods to get students thinking and feeling. Then they get painting.

The particular focus of the workshop was the importance of education to the achievement of peace.

When Gale discovered the “The Devil’s Miner” at a special screening at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood in April, she realized it was a tool she could use to further emphasize the relationship between education and peace in her workshops. Its protagonist dreams above all of saving enough money to one day attend school.

“I thought that if kids in America could see this film, they would appreciate what they have, and they would take their educations more seriously,” Gale said. The students at Oscar de la Hoya Animo devoted three Saturdays in May and June to working on the murals.

Gale and her patrons are hoping that it will be the first of many “Devil’s Miner” workshops she will conduct.

“My goal is just to travel around the world and keep doing workshops,” Gale said.

Summer Tours to Israel Rerouted, But Not By Much


Most summers, the trip to the Naot Sandal factory on a kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border is a highlight of the teen tours run by United Synagogue Youth (USY). But this summer, with the north under constant threat of rocket attacks, the 400 USYers stayed in the central and southern part of the country, and Naot came to them, with a special sale near USY’s base in Jerusalem.

That was one of the easier adjustments to a constantly changing itinerary for USY kids and the other estimated 6,000 American teens on tours in Israel this summer.

“All of us that have kids in Israel are trying to make the best of the situation,” said Jules Gutin, international director for USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, which has about 50 California teens in Israel this summer. “We want the experience to be worthwhile and positive, as well as safe.”

So while kids may be missing out on trips to the Golan Heights, to the kabbalistic city of Tsfat, the Banias natural pools or Maimonides’ grave in Tiveria, tours are making up for it with extra time in Jerusalem and challenging hikes through the Negev.

Few Kids Have Returned Home

Most tours departed the United States before the violence escalated in Israel, and most of the teens have stayed. USY reports that as of early this week, three kids went home, and Young Judaea has a similar count, with six kids out of 470 being summoned home. Three of the 390 students on NCSY’s Europe and Israel trip did not continue on from Europe to Israel.

The Orthodox Union canceled a trip scheduled to leave this week with its Yad b’Yad program, where 15 developmentally and physically disabled adults were to be accompanied by 35 teenage counselors on a four-week tour of Israel.

Administrators worried about heightening participants’ anxiety, and about difficulties rerouting the group, or moving it quickly in case of emergency. The day before the trip, it was recast as a West Coast tour.

Israel Experience, the educational tourism arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, coordinates programming and security for most of the trips that leave from North America.

“Trips are being rerouted based on the current situation, and it’s an hour-by-hour reevaluation,” said Rachel Russo, director of marketing for Israel Experience.

IDF, Police, Jewish Agency Monitor Tourist Itineraries

Israel Experience adjusts the groups’ schedules according to recommendations it gets from a situation room staffed by representatives from the Israeli army, the Israeli police, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish Agency. Each teen tour group that signs up with Israel Experience — and most do — is tracked by GPS.

“They are really fluid in moving the groups when they need to move,” said Russo, whose daughter is in Israel with Ramah Seminar this summer.

Program operators have also been working overtime to keep in constant communication with parents. Young Judaea is sending out three email updates daily, in addition to photos and journals on its Web site. USY increased updates from the usual weekly to daily, and someone is available to answer parents concerns at all times.

Most teens also have cell phones with them, so parents are kept in the loop. So far, while parents have expressed concern, few are panicking. And by all reports, the kids themselves seem to be having a great time.

Bonnie Sharfman, whose 16-year-old, Zach, is on a trip with Nesiya, says she hopes the visit will have a lasting impact.

“We are choosing to look at this situation as an amazing learning experience for Zach and hope that he will return home in a month with much to say regarding the social, political and economic realities of Israel and the region,” she said.

— JGF

Judaism Finds Its Niche in Great Outdoors


There are Jews hanging from mountaintops all over Colorado. Others are lighting Shabbat candles on sailboats or discovering their spirituality on the ski slopes.

These Jewish adventure enthusiasts not only make an effort to do the hobbies they love with other Jews, but they do so looking for religious or spiritual meaning. By combining their dual interests, this growing cadre of adrenaline seekers is building a new definition of what it means to do — or be — Jewish.

Take Rabbi Jamie Korngold.

When Korngold realized that the Reform Jews she was trying to reach in Boulder, Colo., were more interested in skiing than sitting in synagogue on Saturday mornings, she strapped on a pair of snow boots and headed up the mountain: “For 30 percent of us, synagogue life is working really well, but the other 70 percent, we need new ways of reaching those people.”

“There are so many people whose religion is the outdoors, who really experience their spirituality outside of the synagogue,” said Korngold, who has biked from New York to San Francisco and competed in a 100-mile trail run. “So what I do is say, ‘You’re going to be outdoors, you say it’s a spiritual experience. Let me show you how it’s Jewish.'”

Korngold’s Adventure Rabbi program challenges participants to discuss Torah passages, as well as Judaism’s relationship to nature, during mountain minyan hikes, backpacking treks through the desert and Rosh Hashanah retreats to a ranch in the Rockies. Her trips are so popular that Korngold said her main problem is finding enough guides to meet demand.

“Our Web site gets 200,000 hits a month,” she said. “Our e-mail list is larger than the local federation’s.”

Rabbi Howard Cohen, a Reconstructionist rabbi who runs the Vermont-based Burning Bush Adventures organization, also talks about the need to build bridges between Judaism and the outdoors.

“I know so many Jews who have essentially grown detached from the Jewish community because as they were growing up, they couldn’t get what they wanted from the Jewish world,” he said. “So they went outside of it. But Judaism doesn’t have to be a separate part of their lives.”

Cohen calls the stereotype of the unfit, nonathletic Jew “residual anti-Semitism,” noting that Jews long have been involved in heart-pumping activities like boxing and farming.

Cohen himself is proof of the Jewish athletic tradition. Before attending rabbinical school, he spent 10 years working for Outward Bound. Now he leads day school students, among others, on such expeditions. Before going, participants are sent Torah portions, as well as a list of questions, quotes and readings.

Cohen promotes discussion on these materials out in the woods and has students keep Shabbat and bake challah in the field. Being with students in this context changes his ability to relate to them, Cohen said.

“There are a lot of rabbis who ski or play golf and put their kippah in their back pocket,” he said. “But rabbis who take their congregants skiing, they have a different bond.”

Cohen admitted that rabbis who follow this path may not serve Jewish community “needs,” such as Shabbat services and bar mitzvah training, but he said they do provide some of the “wants” Jews have from their religion.

Rabbi Nachum Shifren, an Orthodox surfer who rides waves in a wetsuit and full beard, said the surfing lessons he offers in Los Angeles and Israel offer catharsis.

“It’s definitely a therapeutic thing,” Shifren said. “Once you’re hooked on all that power and might of the ocean, you’re just never going to be the same.”

Shifren is working on a new program to wean innercity youngsters off drugs and gang life through surfing. Cohen also is developing a program for troubled youth.

“We tend to think of religion as a place where you have to toe the line … but there’s room for rebellion in religion,” Cohen said, citing “iconoclastic rabble-rousers” in the Torah such as Abraham.

The Chicago-based Steppin’ Out Adventures uses this community-building effect as a vehicle for matchmaking, allowing Jewish singles to schmooze while biking in Ireland or climbing the Inca Trail in Peru.

Robin Richman, director and one of the co-founders of the organization, described the bonding that takes place as “amazing.”

“When you’re on an adventure you plan as best you can, but things happen. Those are the things that become jokes between you,” she said, citing a weekend getaway to Wisconsin, where, due to three straight days of rain, the group wound up eating lunch in their underwear.

“It definitely brought the trip close together very quickly,” she said with a laughed.

Richman’s method has produced results. Since it began in 1993, Steppin’ Out Adventures has led to 60 marriages, 34 babies and “a whole lot of friendships and business partners,” according to the group’s Web site.

For the 20 members of the Chesapeake Bay’s Sailing Chavurah, the marriage of the outdoors and Jewish life also has proved transformative.

“At first, we all thought we were the only one” who sailed and was Jewish, said Julien Hofberg, the group’s commodore. But over time, boats named Tikkun Olam and Miss Shue Goss found each other, as did a Holocaust survivor, an accomplished Orthodox racer and a half-dozen Reform and Conservative Jews from the region.

“Now we hold Havdalah services every Saturday; we have a Chanukah party,” Hofberg said. “We share our expertise … and watch out for each other.”

 

Jewish World Watch Eyes National Stage


Janice Kamenir-Reznik wasn’t sure where Darfur was on the map when she heard a Rosh Hashanah sermon at Valley Beth Shalom some 18 months ago.

During his sermon, Rabbi Harold Schulweis told the congregation that “Never Again” applies not only to the Holocaust but requires Jews to speak out and act against genocides anywhere, especially in Darfur, and urged formation of a new organization, Jewish World Watch.

Characteristically, Schulweis immediately followed preaching with action and asked Kamenir-Reznik to serve in a volunteer capacity as co-founder, president and CEO of the nascent organization.

The 54-year-old Encino lawyer, mother of three and veteran problem solver, has since learned much about Darfur, and she has shared her knowledge to help mobilize a vital segment of the Jewish community, especially young students, to transform awareness into tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

As of now, the 3-year-old Darfur genocide is no longer unknown, but its horrors continue. Currently spreading from the Sudan to neighboring Chad, it has claimed 400,000 civilian dead and 4 million refugees, accompanied by mass rapes of women and starvation among children.

The problems are staggering, but adopting the biblical injunction, “Do Not Stand Idly By,” Jewish World Watch has mobilized synagogues and schools, launched an effective divestment from Sudan campaign, and is now starting to ship solar cookers to a refugee camp.

The solar cooker concept is an elegantly simple response to a terrifying fact of life facing 20,000 people, almost all women and young girls, in the Iridimi refugee camp in eastern Chad.

While foraging for scarce firewood for basic cooking and water purification, the women and girls are at constant risk of gang rapes by roving bands of Arab militiamen. However, these dangerous excursions and the resultant atrocities can be circumvented through the use of simple, inexpensive sun-powered cookers made of cardboard and aluminum foil — donated by Jewish World Watch — that can be easily assembled by the refugees.

The cookers have proven their worth in other African countries, and Jewish World Watch, spearheading the Coalition to End Gang Rape in Darfur, aims to send 6,000 of the devices to families in the Iridimi camp.

Another front in Jewish World Watch’s three-pronged campaign of education, advocacy and financial support is to persuade public institutions to divest themselves of holdings in recalcitrant companies doing business with the Sudanese government.

Kamenir-Resnik, addressing the University of California regents before they approved such a divestment, said that in general the Jewish community opposed such a tactic, because of its misuse against Israel.

But in order to counter the Darfur genocide, she said, “The divestment tool is not only morally appropriate, but is, indeed, a moral imperative.”

Among the most persuasive advocates of this cause was a four-person delegation of 12-year olds from the Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, who testified last week before the Los Angeles City Council.

Their appearance was the culmination of a year-long project, inspired by Jewish World Watch, in which 16 sixth-graders studied the issues and raised nearly $900 through bake sales, washing cars and sale of green Jewish World Watch wristbands at a Purim carnival, said Orley Denman, their teacher.

Natan Reches, one of the four student reps, described his participation as “a life-changing experience,” and the L.A. City Council followed through by voting unanimously to divest funds held by the state employee and teacher retirement systems.

By now, 43 Los Angeles-area synagogues, ranging from Reconstructionist to Orthodox, and with a combined membership of nearly 200,000, are members of Jewish World Watch, with Temple Israel’s Rachel Andres as a main sparkplug. They have raised $500,000, mostly in small denominations, of which the bulk has gone toward the building of two medical clinics and construction of water wells.

Recently the local American Jewish Committee chapter, ignoring organizational turf, collected $7,500 at a luncheon for the Jewish World Watch effort.

Education was the first emphasis of the Jewish World Watch founders and remains a top priority. Some 50 volunteer speakers have fanned out to high schools, summer camps and synagogues, with impressive results.

For instance, at Calabasas High School, the Armenian Club raised more than $2,000 by selling self-designed T-shirts, and senior Samantha Finkelstein has spread the word by talking to large assemblies at 10 other high schools.

Although now focusing on Darfur, Jewish World Watch holds to its original mission statement: “To combat genocide and other egregious violations of human rights around the world.”

Jewish World Watch is now hiring its first executive director and is evaluating future directions: Whether to expand from its Los Angeles base and go nationwide, and whether to address itself to other genocides and human rights violations, without neglecting its Darfur mission.

Amid considerable acclaim for Jewish World Watch’s work, there have been some critical questions. Some come from “insular Jews,” as Kamenir-Reznik calls them, who ask why they should give to non-Jewish causes, and, in any case, “nobody helped us during the Holocaust.”

Since the main perpetrators in Darfur are Arab Muslims killing black African Muslims, some skeptics wonder whether there might be a political, pro-Israel subtext to Jewish World Watch’s concern, and whether the black survivors will be subsequently “grateful” for Jewish help.

Perhaps the best answer is given by Schulweis, who told a recent press conference about Jewish World Watch’s work: “I’ve been a rabbi for 50 years and have never seen such a response, especially among young students,” he said. “Some people say about the Darfur genocide that it’s an internal matter, that reports have been exaggerated. These are the same excuses we heard during the Holocaust.

“There is always an alternative to passive complicity. If we now turn aside, that would be our deepest humiliation,” he said.

For more information, call (818) 501-1836, e-mail info@jewishworldwatch.org, or visit www.jewishworldwatch.org.

 

UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics


Like Moses upholding the Tablets of the Law, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller stood on the steps of UCLA’s Ackerman Union last week, his outstretched arms grasping a large, hand-lettered cardboard sign, which proclaimed:

Peace for Israel
Peace for Palestine
Share the Hope

Milling near the solitary UCLA Hillel director were Arab and Jewish students with competing exhibits, but to reach them a visitor had to pass through a colorful marketplace of causes up Bruin Walk.

The largest crowd was listening to the deafening rock band, Moving Units, anchoring a gauntlet of tables, leafleteers and displays urging students to participate in the Inaugural Bruin Cardboard Boat Race, engage in Christian Bible studies, fight drug addiction, play volleyball and so on.

At the end was a large photo collage of men and women of different races and nationalities, each asserting “I am a Palestinian” to indicate international solidarity for the cause. The announced Apartheid Obstacle Course, presented by the Guerrilla Theatre, was running an hour late.

The Bruin Walk display was one of the events organized by Muslim, Arab and supporting students as part of the weeklong “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” program.

The low-key theme appeared to be an attempt by the sponsoring Students for Justice in Palestine to lend a respectable scholarly touch to the anti-Israel demonstrations.

If this approach indicated a higher level of sophistication by the sponsors than in previous years, so did the Jewish response, organized by Bruins for Israel.

Bruin Walk was dotted with graphic pro-Israel posters aimed at different campus constituencies.

“Where in the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” asked one poster, answering, “Only in Israel.” Other posters, with the same bottom line, queried, “Where in the Middle East Can Arab Women Vote?” and “Where in the Middle East Are Daughters Valued as Much as Sons?”

Smack in front of the Palestinian display stood 21-year-old Michael Smoyman, a yarmulke on his head and holding a sign inscribed, “Obstacle to Peace: Suicide Bombing.”

As Seidler-Feller’s arms grew tired of holding the peace poster, he was approached by George Malouf, an Arab graduate student from Gaza, who took over the rabbi’s sign and post.

When the “apartheid wall” finally arrived, it lead to a mind-bending face-off between Arab students dressed as Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks, and Jewish students dressed as suicide bombers and carrying such signs as, “If I were a Palestinian suicide bomber, you would be dead now” and “If I were your neighbor, you would want a fence, too.”

Two campus cops on bicycles were on hand to break up a threatening scuffle, but on the whole the week’s mood was largely nonconfrontational.

It was quite a different story a week earlier at UC Irvine, which for the past three years has witnessed militant anti-Israel agitation during Palestine Week.

Instead of UCLA’s benign “Obstacles to Peace” slogan, the theme of the UCI Muslim Student Union was “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” featuring lectures on such topics as “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Black Muslim imam and veteran rabble-rouser given to bloodcurdling threats against Israel and “Zionist Jews” spoke at both UC campuses.

While he pulled out all the stops at an UCI outdoor rally, at UCLA he spoke to some 70 people in an indoor auditorium in a considerably calmer and less vituperative voice.

Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter, monitored the UCI events and, shocked by the hostile atmosphere, said “I now understand what it’s like to be a Jew in pre-war Germany or an American Embassy hostage in Tehran.”

Jeffrey Rips, the Hillel executive director at UCI, said that while there was general agreement that free speech should not be abrogated on campus, the administration had the right and duty of exercising its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic demonstrations and hate harangues.

This point represents a long-standing demand by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and some UCI faculty members, who protested this year’s events to Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is currently investigating charges by the Zionist Organization of America that the UCI administration has failed to take a stand against anti-Semitism and to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus.

To balance the dour campus picture, Rips said that except during Palestine Week, there was little tension between Muslim and Jewish student the rest of the year.

While some Jewish students, especially freshmen, were intimidated in the past by the militancy of Muslim students, who outnumber Jewish students, “now you see students wearing kippot and ‘I’m Proud to be Jewish’ T-shirts, and we also had a large sukkah on campus,” he said.

Rips blamed the tenser atmosphere at UCI, compared to UCLA, on a more radicalized Muslim student group, which takes its cues from Malik Ali, and the fact that UCI has become the main media focus for national Arab-Jewish campus tensions.

General and Jewish papers ran extensive stories on UCI’s Palestine Week; UCLA’s was covered only by the campus daily.

 

O.C. Incidents Raise Anti-Semitism Fears


The president of a Los Alamitos high school’s Jewish students’ club came out to the school parking lot last October to find swastikas and “Jew Bitch” scrawled on her car. Across the county, a San Clemente high school student was harassed last year with anti-Jewish slurs to the point that she transferred out of the district.

These two instances in which Jewish students from Orange County were targeted by peers coincide with a broader rise in anti-Semitism, including in schools. Local Jewish groups have sounded an alarm, while the reaction of local school officials has varied.

“There has been a significant rise in the past four years in anti-Semitism generally and on school campuses,” said Dr. Kevin O’Grady, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach Region. O’Grady’s office recorded 43 cases of harassment and vandalism last year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2003; one-third of these involved public schools.

In its 2004 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the ADL documented 1,821 cases of harassment, threats, assault and vandalism against Jews nationwide — up 17 percent from the previous year. This jump was due in part to a spike in reports of anti-Jewish harassment in American middle and high schools.

These incidents have included defacing lockers with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti and name-calling, bullying and intimidation in hallways and Internet chat rooms. Incidents tend to be spread evenly throughout the county, although Los Alamitos and San Clemente have the most reported cases, according to ADL research. In the northwest corridor, skinheads, with their white supremacist ideology, are actively recruiting teenagers in schools, said ADL regional director Joyce Greenspan.

School administrators are responding to these incidents with varied intensity. In some cases, their actions have been resolute. One Costa Mesa middle school principal notified police and suspended 18 students after a girl was harassed on the Web site, My Space, O’Grady said. In San Clemente, a high school principal met with Jewish leaders following reports of several incidents, and ran tolerance programming for the student body, said Rabbi Mendel Slavin of the Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente, who attended the meeting.

At Los Alamitos High School, administrators banned clothing bearing an iron cross and other paraphernalia associated with white supremacy.

Districts have also adopted zero-tolerance policies for ethnic-based intimidation and offer sensitivity and diversity training programs to prevent problems before they arise.

“When you see that firm and clear response, you see a drop in anti-Semitic incidents,” ADL’s Greenspan said.

Other schools deny the presence of anti-Semitism on their campuses, even in the face of some evidence to the contrary.

Parents of a Tustin-area 10th-grader perceived the administration’s response to be deficient after reporting that their daughter was being continuously harassed by a fellow student.

“He’d walk by and sneeze and say ‘a Jew,’ and say ‘shalom’ and laugh,” said the 15-year-old girl, who asked to be identified only as K. “In class, I’d hear him talking and I’d hear the word ‘Jew’ and [my name] and I knew he was talking about me. He actually called me a ‘kike’ one time.”

The boy described himself as a Nazi and would talk about how Jews killed Jesus, according to K., who said she felt scared and intimidated.

She reported the harassment to a counselor and was instructed to document the incidents in a statement to the vice principal. Because she was afraid to confront the boy and his parents in a face-to-face meeting, she was told that he could be disciplined only if caught in the act.

When the abuse continued, K.’s parents met with the vice principal, who allegedly said that he would direct teachers to send the boy to the office if he made offensive comments. Not all teachers followed this instruction, according to K. In the face of the boy’s unrelenting taunting, the distraught parents removed their daughter from the school.

“What I’m most upset with are the teachers and the way they allowed it to happen, and the way that the vice principal, after receiving such a powerful statement from K., just did not respond,” said K.’s mother. “I feel that they allowed it.”

Tustin Unified School District officials denied knowledge of this incident, but stated that they do not tolerate racial or religious harassment.

“The safety and security of our campuses is our first priority,” said Ron Heape, Tustin Unified’s district administrator for child welfare and attendance. “We are not timid at all about going after these kids.”

Peer-to-peer anti-Semitism is not limited to high schools.

“Our most recent phone calls have been third- and fourth-grade related,” said the ADL’s O’Grady. In one case, a fourth grader was called “dirty Jew” by two classmates, who then wrote the word “Jew” on a piece of paper, circled it and drew a line through it.

“This is what we do to Jews,” Grady says they said.

ADL officials suspect that only a small percentage of incidents gets reported.

“The numbers are staggering,” agreed Robyn Faintich, director of the Orange County Board of Jewish Education’s (BJE) youth education program. Faintich recounted that at a recent gathering of 110 public school 10th graders, more than 90 percent said they had been targets of anti-Semitic comments, vandalism or other encounters.

“Schools are not mandated to collect data [on hate incidents] so there is no global perspective,” said Georgiann Boyd, student services coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

For that matter, many incidents never leave the school yard. Fear of being further ostracized prevents some students from reporting confrontations to school or community officials.

“We are aware that there is anti-Semitic activity in the schools,” said Orange County Human Relations Executive Director Rusty Kennedy. “Each year we learn of at least a half-dozen incidents in schools that we’re concerned with, and I’m sure there’s more.”

He said that while the number of cases is too small to indicate a trend, he believes that school-based anti-Semitism is comparable to hate acts in the adult community, in which Jews, African Americans and gays and lesbians are most frequently targeted.

“These things that are happening at an early age are concerning, because this is a taught or learned behavior,” said Heather Williams, director of gang victim services at Community Service Programs, Inc. “These children are learning to be anti-Semitic by their parents and people who they’ve been around for a long time.”

 

Community Briefs


Czech President Speaks at Yom HaShoah Service

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus spoke to about 700 Jewish schoolchildren, diplomats and Holocaust survivors at a Yom HaShoah service at the Museum of Tolerance April 25, at which Gilberto Bosques, a Mexican diplomat who saved thousands of French Jews, was honored.

“We must never forget how it started, who did it,” Klaus said during a California visit, in which he also met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The same fate was being prepared for all the Czechs.”

Bosques’ grandson, Tijuana businessman Gilberto Bosques Tistler, accepted the honor on his late grandfather’s behalf. A museum offical told the story of the Mexican consul serving in Vichy France. The diplomat saved about 40,000 Jews, artists and other refugees by issuing travel visas. The visas allowed thousands of Jews to escape to Mexico.

“I hope someone in Israel will say Kaddish for Gilberto Bosques,” said Ruben Beltran, Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles. Beltran is a descendant of Spanish “converso” Jews, who were forced to become Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition.

The speech by the Czech president, as well as those by Mexican, Israeli and Austrian diplomats, supported the memorial service’s tribute to survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who recently died in Vienna.

“For many young Austrians, this fragile, stubborn, modest old man has become a hero,” Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss said. “You don’t need many heroes in your life; you just need to choose them carefully.”

YULA High School junior Ariela Gindi, 16, and others noted that they had never heard Bosques’ story before. “You always hear about Schindler, who saved all the Jews, but you never hear of a Mexican consul personally saving Jews,” Gindi said.

After rescuing Nazi victims in World War II, Bosques served as Mexico’s ambassador to Cuba from 1953 to 1964. During that time, he witnessed the Cuban revolution in which strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown and communist dictator Fidel Castro rose to power.

Bosques Tistler said his grandfather first protected hunted communist insurgents fighting Batista’s rule, and then, after the 1959 revolution, he hid Batista’s allies fleeing Castro’s regime.

“He arrived into Cuba before the Castro revolution,” Bosques Tistler told The Journal. “Before the revolution, he helped Castro’s people, and he gave asylum at the embassy. Then came the revolution, and he gave asylum to the Batista people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Iranian Community Honors Memory of Shoah Victims

Nearly 1,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered Sunday, April 23, at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

The event, broadcast via satellite to Iran by Persian-language television stations in Southern California, was considered especially important this year in the wake of recent comments by Iran’s president denying the existence of the Holocaust. Keynote speakers included Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Abbas Milani, professor of Iranian studies at Stanford University.

“Many in the world don’t understand why Jews are so obsessed with commemorating the Shoah,” Hier said. “We must remember because we paid a dear price for allowing the world to be silent when it was going on more than 60 years ago.”

Audience members became emotional several times during the event when special prayers were chanted for those killed in the Shoah and when anti-Semitic programming from Iran’s state-sponsored television stations was shown.

Other officials in attendance at the Nessah gathering were Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Holocaust Survivors Take Part in Hospital Memorial Event

Toni Green, 82, and her sister, Selma Konitz, 80, both of West Los Angeles and formerly of Auschwitz, Poland, were the only ones of eight siblings to survive the Holocaust. They were sent to separate concentration camps and found each other the day after liberation.

To commemorate Yom HaShoah and remember the 6 million who died, the sisters joined other local survivors in a recent candlelighting ceremony at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Program chair Dr. Joel Geiderman, the hospital’s co-chairman of emergency medicine, as well as vice chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told the audience that quite a few survivors come to Cedars, and he urged the residents in attendance, who were from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, to listen to their stories while there’s still an opportunity.

Keynote speaker for the 22nd annual gathering, Dr. Susan Bachrach, curator for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, spoke on “Nazi Medicine and Eugenics.” Her talk mirrored the Holocaust Museum’s current exhibition — the most successful in its history — “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

Through a slide show and video testimonials, Bachrach traced the path of Nazi medicine, stemming from Sir Francis Galton’s philosophy of eugenics, which he defined as the improvement of human hereditary traits through intervention. She noted it was practiced by well-known, respected doctors and moved from forced sterilization and unethical experiments to mass murder to genocide.

“It is inconceivable how that became accepted behavior,” she told the audience, discussing the campaign to cleanse German society of those deemed “biological threats,” to the Nordic (“ideal”) race.

Bachrach concluded that “no straight path led from eugenics to Nazi medicine to the Holocaust. It was a twisted route, with many steps along the way. The cumulative, step-by-step choices of thousands and tens of thousands of persons, added up to genocide.” — Melissa Maroff, Contributing Writer

Youths Stage Rally Against Genocide in Darfur

Young people in Los Angeles are actively engaged in the fight to save Darfur, as witnessed by a recent Sunday afternoon gathering at the Federal Building in Westwood. The rally, organized by Teens Against Genocide (TAG), attracted about 300 supporters, including some bearing signs urging, “Honk if you’re opposed to genocide.”

“It was cool to see it all come together,” said TAG founder Shira Shane, a New Community Jewish High School senior, who started the group earlier this year. “This was a communitywide effort, not just the Jewish community.”

Shane said the event was a collaboration of students from high schools throughout the Los Angeles area. TAG membership “exploded exponentially,” according to Shane, who said more students signed up at the rally.

“This is a spectacular group of kids and the most successful aspect of our organization,” noted Janice Kamenir-Reznik, executive director and co-founder of Jewish World Watch (JWW), who mentored TAG and co-sponsored the rally.

Participants included area rabbis and ministers, representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Dr. Bruce Powell, New Community Jewish High School headmaster.

“Even though it’s a cold day, it can’t penetrate our warm hearts,” the Rev. Cecil Murray told the crowd. “These young people are giving up their time and talents, and with so many pulls, are prioritizing something as huge as genocide.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) stopped by to say “thanks” when she noticed tents set up by the organization, Camp Darfur. “It was a pleasant surprise to find teens against genocide,” said Waters, who told the rally that she had recently been to Sudan, and it was more horrible than they could imagine.

“They’re not just talking tikkun olam (heal the world); they’re seeing it, and they’re teaching their parents,” said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Jewish World Watch co-founder. “These kids crave idealism, which reminds me of the spirit of the ’60s. There’s a difference in learning history and making history. They’re making history.” — MM

Jews in Poland Speak of Shoah Remembrance as a Curse


This tale is about two visions of Poland.

In one, Poland is about pain and loss. It’s the place where 3 million of a total population of 3.3 million Polish Jews perished in the Shoah, where Jews have nothing left, where indeed there are almost no Jews other than a few languishing, aged survivors who can’t even scrape together a Shabbat morning minyan. Poland is Auschwitz; it’s Never Again.

Defining this Poland is the March of the Living, an annual event that lays bare Poland’s deepest, murderous shame and then immediately whisks participants to Israel, to showcase that nation’s glories, and its essentialness to the Jewish people. The March of the Living has won wide acclaim from donors and participants, including students from Los Angeles.

March arrives at Birkenau
A Jew in Poland: Severyn Ashkenazy celebrates oneg Shabbat at Warsaw temple.

But there’s also another Poland competing for the attention of Jews. This is the Poland of 70-year-old Severyn Ashkenazy, who, although a victim of the Holocaust, chooses to paint a different picture. Ashkenazy, who splits his time between Poland and Los Angeles, is a co-founder of Beit Warszawa, a Warsaw synagogue that belongs to the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Ashkenazy’s Poland offers Jewish studies programs at three leading universities. It will hold its 16th annual Jewish Culture Festival this summer in Krakow, expected to attract 20,000 people and its fourth annual Jewish Film Festival this November in Warsaw. His Poland now has an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews, according to figures published by the U.S. State Department. Ashkenazy and others estimate the number to be considerably higher.

In his Poland, Judaism has a present and a future, which makes March of the Living, and its thousands of participants, a sore point.

“They are the opposite of ambassadors of goodwill,” Ashkenazy said. “To the Poles, it seems that the whole world comes and looks at them as murderers.”

March of the Living, the international educational program that began in 1988, has brought approximately 90,000 teenagers, accompanied by Jewish educators, social workers and survivors, to Poland for a week. Every year, in late April or early May, thousands of Jewish teenagers from around the world gather to commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, by recreating the 3-kilometer “death march” of concentration camp inmates from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In addition to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they visit the death camps of Majdanek and Treblinka as well as the destroyed Jewish communities of Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow. They then fly to Israel for a week where they celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and tour the country.

Participants pay a subsidized fee of $3,300, plus their own roundtrip airfare to New York. Some scholarships and additional subsidies are available.

Many teenagers report that the trip has profoundly and positively changed their lives, and two studies by William B. Helmreich, a sociology professor at City University of New York, concluded that the program strengthens participants’ Jewish identity.

“If the most important goal of the March was to increase Jewish identity, it clearly succeeded. Over 93 percent of those who participated reported that it did,” wrote Helmreich about research he conducted in 1993 and 2004. “This is especially noteworthy because so many of those attending were strongly identifying Jews to begin with.”

But there are critics, too, who say the March builds that identity based on death and destruction, creating an irrational fear of anti-Semitism in impressionable adolescents and sending a message that the primary reason to be Jewish is to keep the Holocaust from happening again.

Critics frequently take issue with the juxtapositioning of dark and gloomy Poland with sunny and joyful Israel. Participants have little or no contact with Poles or modern Poland, which has a strong relationship with Israel. Nor does the itinerary emphasize the burgeoning Jewish community in Poland.

But this year, Ashkenazy hopes to change things, even if it means getting in the face of participants. For the first time, many of the estimated 8,000 marchers will be confronted with something that belies this image of unmitigated death and darkness, of a decimated culture with only a few old, struggling Jews remaining.

On the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin, representatives of Poland’s small but vibrant Jewish community will be handing out flyers introducing marchers to the Poland they don’t know and, for the most part, won’t experience. To help drive this message home, Ashkenazy is overseeing the preparation of thousands of handouts presenting the Poland that he knows and cares about. The materials cost about $4,000 to assemble and print and were funded by several private donors, Ashkenazy said. The handout includes a cartoon by Steve Greenberg (whose work appears regularly in The Journal) that lampoons “Depressing Tours, Inc.” as well as a listing of Poland’s many active Jewish institutions and organizations, plus other relevant articles. Ashkenazy says that the visiting Jews ought to be celebrating their faith and heritage with the Jews of Poland, not acting as though they don’t exist.

“This is perverted,” he said of the March. “Jews should be standing in line to meet us, to celebrate Shabbos with us and instead we have to go running after them.”

He’s hardly alone in his discomfort among Jews living in Poland.

“They are everywhere,” Ania Zielinska said about the marchers. The 30-year-old trade officer in the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw has been a four-time March participant, but has soured on the event: “They are like a plague.”

Zielinska, a member of the Orthodox Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw — which is under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Schudrich and which she says has 500 members — didn’t discover she was Jewish until 10 years ago. She completed an Orthodox conversion two years ago. Zielinska resents the visitors who ignore the modern Polish Jewish community: “Polish Jews are very bitter. We feel abandoned.”

When Adrianne Rubenstein went to Poland on March of the Living with a group of about 200 Montreal teenagers in 2000, she expected the trip to be difficult but transformative. Instead, she found it controlling and numbing as she was constantly sleep-deprived and “talked at” by her group’s leaders, a deliberate tactic on the part of March officials, she believes.

“I don’t remember associating anything positive with Poland. It was all shock, shock, shock,” said Rubenstein, 23, a senior at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. She was especially affected by the large exhibits of “tons and tons of shoes, watches, wallets and hair” in the Auschwitz Museum.

“I don’t know what can be taught by that, except to show that it’s sad,” she said.

Aliza Luft, 22, a senior at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who participated on the March with Rubenstein, thinks Holocaust education is important but needs to be more all-encompassing, taking into account the 1,000 years of Poland’s rich Jewish culture and focusing less on the history of persecution.

“We’re told we need to support Israel and be Jewish, but we don’t know why, except if we don’t, things like the Holocaust are going to happen again,” she said.

There are any number of glowing testimonials to counter such criticisms from participants. They note that the shock value is part of the point — organizers want to make a stronger, sobering impression.

But Ashkenazy believes that point is made unfairly. “What’s our problem with the Poles today? What do we want from them?” he said.

In 1939, he points out, 60 percent of Poles were illiterate, under the sway of the then-anti-Semitic Catholic church. And while many individual Poles enthusiastically aided the Nazis during World War II, Poland historically has welcomed Jews, who started arriving in the Middle Ages, fleeing oppression in other countries. Despite periods of pogroms and persecution, Poland gave Jews substantial economic freedom and, compared to other places, allowed Jewish life to flourish. Polish Jewish culture gave birth to Chasidism and Jewish Enlightenment, and it was a bastion of Zionism.

The nonprofit March of the Living, founded by in 1987 former Knesset member and current Minister of Tourism Avraham Hirshson, does not hide its mission of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. Organizers of the New York-based group want to make sure that the stories of the survivors live on, that the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism is confronted and that participants come to see the necessity of a strong and secure state of Israel.

The stark contrast between Poland and Israel is deliberate, even in the welcoming statement from the first paragraph of the current educator’s manual: “You will be transported … back in time to one of the darkest chapters in human existence, to one of the most terrifying times in Jewish history. Then, before you can take a breath, you will travel to Israel, the Jewish Homeland, to celebrate with the people of Israel, Independence Day. It will be a journey from darkness to light. It will be an experience of a lifetime.”

left - Phil Liff-Greiff, right -
Survivor Nandor Markovic, right, sitting with Phil Liff-Grieff, from Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, at Auschwitz before the March of the Living (2005).

Understandably, memories of the horrors persist for survivors and their families. Nandor Markovic, 81, was shipped from a shtetl in the Carpathian Mountains to Birkenau at age 15. His parents and three siblings were killed; he somehow survived six concentration camps and a death march before being liberated. For him, the streets of Poland will always be paved with blood.

Markovic, known as “Marko,” insists on accompanying the Los Angeles teen contingent on this year’s March, despite difficulty walking because of a tendon operation that never healed properly. It’s his third trip. He feels strongly that he stayed alive for a purpose, not only to have a family but also “to give back to society and to my people who have suffered so much.” For him, the March of the Living is a righteous duty, a way to honor and give meaning to the sacrifice of the victims.

No one would have more right to identify with the aims of the March than Severyn Ashkenazy. Born in Tarnopol, home to more than 18,000 Jews before World War II and now part of Ukraine, Ashkenazy survived the war by spending two years, from ages 6 to 8, holed up in a 6-by-12-foot sub-cellar — “a cellar dug under a cellar” — with his mother, brother and uncle, paying a non-Jewish Polish family to bring them food. For the last eight months, his father and three others joined them. Only one night in those two years was he allowed outside to see the moon.

Out of hundreds of blood relatives on both sides of his family, only an uncle and two cousins, in addition to his immediate family, survived. Ashkenazy left Poland in 1946, eventually making his way to the United States with his family in 1957. Later, in the early 1970s, while doing business in Russia as a real estate developer, he began traveling back through Poland. Each time, he was told only a few thousand old Jews were left in Poland. But gradually, after meeting many people who appeared to be Jewish, he came to realize that there was a community that deserved to be nurtured rather than abandoned.

In 1999, he co-founded Beit Warszawa, to give the Jews in Poland a non-Orthodox place to study, practice and explore their Judaism. The synagogue, which currently has more than 200 members and more than 1,000 on its mailing list, hosts weekly Shabbat dinners, services and concerts; Saturday morning services; and preschool and religious school. And beginning in July, Beit Warszawa will have its first full-time rabbi, Burt Schuman, an American Reform rabbi who has served Temple Beth Israel in Altoona, Pa., since his ordination in 1995.

Ashkenazy and others estimate there could be more than 50,000 Jews living in Poland today (a figure much higher than the 5,000 to 7,000 Jews March of the Living officials publish in their educational materials).

One of those is Malgorzata (Gosia) Szymanska, 25, who discovered that her father was Jewish about 12 years ago, when she asked him why he tuned into news about Israel more than other news. The revelation didn’t mean anything to her at the time but later, at 16, while visiting her father’s family in Canada, she was introduced to Shabbat and to her relatives’ close-knit Jewish community, which resonated with her. Returning to her hometown of Lodz two months later, she began learning Hebrew. A few years later she moved to Warsaw, where she became involved with the Polish Union of Jewish Students, which now claims about 300 members, and Beit Warszawa.

Szymanska is currently in Los Angeles getting a joint master’s degree — in Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and public administration at USC. After graduating in May, she plans to return to Poland and become Beit Warszawa’s first full-time administrator. She is especially upset by people she meets who say Poland is anti-Semitic and Jews shouldn’t be living there.

“The fact is, we are there,” she said. “And we are comfortable being Poles and Jews.”

Latent anti-Semitism does persist, especially among less-educated segments of the population. More historical than political in nature, it’s typically expressed in the form of graffiti and verbal slurs rather than actual physical harm. It’s also in decline, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, and officially condemned. When the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw was firebombed in 1997, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issued a statement expressing his outrage that day.

Polish Jews interviewed for this article say they feel safe in Poland. They are comfortable publicly identifying as Jews, telling strangers they meet that they are Jewish and wearing kippot or Stars of David. Their synagogues do not have visible armed guards at the entrances, as in Sweden and other European countries. According to Ashkenazy, even Chasidic Jews, in full religious garb, feel safe traveling alone.

Furthermore, Poland is a solid friend of Israel. One of its first moves, when it became a democratic country in 1989, was to establish diplomatic ties. Since then, Poland has officially apologized for crimes that Poles committed against Jews and made denying the Holocaust a crime. It entered into an agreement to purchase $350 million worth of Israeli anti-tank missiles and has allocated land and $26 million for the building of a Jewish museum in Warsaw.

Additionally, many Poles note that the death camps in Poland were the primary responsibility of German Nazis. And while many Poles aided and abetted the Nazi, others risked their lives to help the Jews. In fact, Poles constitute the largest number of Righteous Gentiles honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Leaders of the March are not entirely insensitive to the criticisms. Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), has led groups of marchers three times. He says the depiction of Poland should be balanced. Over the years, he has arranged meetings with various groups of Polish and Jewish young people.

This year’s group of 60 Los Angeles teenagers, under the leadership of the BJE’s Monise Newman, is hoping to spend one Friday morning celebrating Shabbat with students at the Lauder-Morasha Primary and Elementary School in Warsaw, a Jewish day school established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. They also will spend a day helping to restore a cemetery in Otwock along with a group of Israeli students, a project of the Jewish Federation’s Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Along the way, they hope to meet with Polish Jews from the Polish Union of Jewish Students.

Some 55 Jewish Poles will be participating in this year’s March and others will be meeting separately with visiting groups of Jews, said Yossi Kedem, executive vice chairman of International March of the Living, in an e-mail. But outreach to Poles and local Jews is simply not part of the March’s core program.

“It’s always a logistical nightmare,” Liff-Grieff said, especially given the tight schedules, bus availability and Shabbat observances.

Several adult groups, who can provide their own transportation, have arranged to celebrate Shabbat at Beit Warszawa during this year’s March.

“It’s a pity no young people can come,” Ashkenazy said.

Still Liff-Grieff and others defend the fundamental goals, which include creating the next generation of witnesses and celebrating Jewish survival.

“It’s not all roses and light,” he noted.

For their part, educators in Poland are working to enhance cultural ties that would add nuance and balance to the March. Professor Annamaria Orla-Bukowska works with specific group leaders from Australia, Israel, New York and Connecticut to arrange student meetings, often coordinated months in advance.

But she had to aggressively instigate such contacts. Four or five years ago, while at Birkenau waiting for the commemoration services to begin, she recalls running around from group to group asking, “Would you like to have a meeting with real Polish people?”

Participants were surprised to learn that this was possible and several accepted her offer.

Orla-Bukowska, a practicing Roman Catholic born and raised in the United States by non-Jewish Polish parents, moved to Poland in 1985. She’s now an associate professor of sociology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Orla-Bukowska has been involved with several organizations working on improving Jewish-Christian relations, trying to get both sides over what she calls “this plexiglass wall” — where people see each other but don’t touch.

She recognizes some benefits in the March, especially for her non-Jewish students. Going on the March and spending the entire Holocaust Memorial Day embedded with a group of Jewish teenagers is the best way, she said, to understand the Jewish perspective.

But it wasn’t until 1998 that non-Jewish Poles were allowed to take part in the March, and only two years earlier that even Jewish Poles were permitted.

Today, the number of non-Jewish Polish students allowed on the March is a negotiation between March of the Living officials and the Polish Ministry of Education. This year, 1,000 Polish students will participate, although the number of those wishing to be involved is larger, said Andrzej Fowarczny, president of Forum for Dialogue among Nations and a former member of the Polish National Parliament. He also recalls that up to three or four years ago non-Jewish Poles were relegated to the back of the line. Fowarcyzy’s organization works on Jewish-Polish reconciliation, fighting anti-Semitism and breaking down stereotypes. While he feels that March of the Living deepens those stereotypes, he also tries to arrange meetings between Jewish and Polish high school students.

“This is a golden opportunity for dialogue and for Polish students, many of whom are meeting a Jewish person for the first time, to fight their anti-Semitism,” Fowarczny said.

 

What Do Gen-Y Jews Want? Everything


Brandeis University just released a new study of Jewish college students. It found that they’re proud to be Jewish, largely unaffiliated, attracted to Jewish culture more than religion, like diversity and don’t feel strong ties to Israel or Jewish federations.

Reboot, a nonprofit that promotes creative Jewish initiatives, just did a study of the same age group, and found that they’re proud to be Jewish, avoid institutional affiliation, are interested in Jewish culture and have diverse allegiances.

Sociologist Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York did a similar study, as did Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and they both found … guess what? Young Jews are proud, unaffiliated, pro-culture, pro-diversity and anti-tribal.

The last few months have seen a flood of studies of Gen-Y Jews — all trying to map their sense of Jewish identity, affiliation patterns, needs, hopes, beliefs and behaviors.

Why is everyone looking at the same population?

First, there are the numbers: almost half a million Jewish college students, the future of this country’s Jewish community. The very few studies on record, particularly the 1990 and 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Surveys (NJPS), indicate that large numbers of young Jews aren’t going to synagogue, joining Jewish organizations, marrying other Jews or giving money to Israel or Jewish charities.

They’re opting out, which has led to great hand-wringing and head-shaking on the part of American Jewish officials.

Yet the new studies show an up-and-coming generation that is proud of its Jewish identity and culturally creative, is coming up with new methods of religious expression and feels part of a global community linked by Jewish Web sites and blogs.

Researchers say it’s cause for cautious celebration.

“There has been a general angst about the Jewish future for the past two decades, a continuity crisis,” says Roger Bennett, senior vice president at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which sponsored the March 2006 Reboot study, “Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam: Jewish Identity and Community in a Time of Unlimited Choices.”

Describing his study’s findings as “very positive,” Bennett says, “I hope this study assuages almost all the fear. There’s plenty to be optimistic about.”

The question for Jewish funders and organizations is what they’re going to do with the information, Bennett says.

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says that while Jewish leaders in the late 1960s and early ’70s were “very unhappy about developments in the youth culture, and took a long time to reconcile themselves to it,” today’s Jewish leadership “is inquisitive, wants to know more.

Even while the older generation “may be shocked at things like Heeb,” an irreverent youth magazine, it “sees that something is going on and is paying attention,” Sarna says.

But if all these new studies are yielding pretty much the same information, are they useful?

Yes, researchers insist. First, each study asks slightly different questions, reflecting the needs of the sponsoring organization.

For example, Hillel’s study was prompted largely by one figure from the 2000-2001 NJPS, which showed that two-thirds of Jewish college students don’t attend Hillel activities, says Julian Sandler, chair of the group’s strategic planning committee. Hillel will release its long-awaited study of Jewish college students in late May.

The statistic “troubled us immensely,” Sandler says. Hillel engaged in two years of research “to try to understand what it is that today’s Jewish students are interested in.”

Hillel already has put some of that information to work. One of the central findings of its study is that young Jews have “a strong desire to find out more about their Jewishness, especially from an ethnic perspective,” which can “be manifested in multiple ways.”

One popular way is through tzedek, or social justice work. To that end, Hillel last month sent hundreds of students on a spring-break trip to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild communities hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Tzedek will be a major emphasis [of Hillel programming in the future],” Sandler says.

Amy Sales, co-author of “Particularism in the University: Realities and Opportunities for Jewish Life on Campus,” a new study by the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, says her data, collected in 2003, helps the people funding Jewish campus activities to use their dollars more effectively.

Her study found, among other things, that Jewish college students are interested in Jewish studies, want events that have a Jewish “flavor” but are open to non-Jews and need help in finding meaningful, compelling ways to engage in Jewish life.

She and co-author Leonard Saxe used that information to propose that Hillel customize its programs for each campus and develop better relationships with university administrations, other campus groups and local Jewish communities, creating “Jewish-friendly campuses” rather than focusing on simply reaching as many Jewish students as possible.

In fact, Hillel is doing just that, incoming President Wayne Firestone says. The group is convening a Washington summit May 21-23 to bring together funders, university administrators and Jewish organizational heads to talk about how to improve working relationships on campus, the first time such a targeted meeting has been held.

Researchers from all the studies agree that today’s young Jews can be a willing and energetic audience if the organized Jewish community steps up to the plate in time, and with a message that is relevant.

“They are looking for a positive Jewish experience, and every Jewish institution that answers that and puts its faith in young people will have a rosy future,” Bennett says. “Any funder that wishes to innovate is going to prosper.”

 

Keeping the SAT Drama to a Minimum


As if getting myself into college hadn’t been difficult enough, now I’m embarking on the adventure of navigating my son through the process. I call it an “adventure,” because it truly is nothing less — a roller-coaster ride fraught with sudden turns, unexpected pitfalls, one-mistake-and-you’re-doomed scenarios. I’m sure there’s a spine-tingling reality show possibility here, something between “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” and “Extreme Makeover: How to Survive Getting Your Kid Into College Without Getting Fired and Still Looking Fabulous.” You start with 20 Jewish mothers and see who’s not in therapy by the time acceptance letters arrive.

Luckily, I know plenty of moms who have treaded these waters before — many of my friends have kids who are already in college or at least thoroughly enmeshed in college entrance preparation.

“Are you signing Mickey up for the PSAT next month?” my friend Ginny asked. (Mickey is a high school sophomore).

“He just took a PSAT a few weeks ago,” I said.

“That was the practice PSAT,” Ginny explained.

“There’s a practice, practice PSAT?”

“No, a practice, practice SAT.”

“OK,” I got a pen and paper to draft a quick flowchart. “So, first they take a preliminary test to practice for the Practice-SAT.”

“That’s right! And then they’ll do better on the PSAT, which is important because that one counts.”

“But it’s just practice. What does it count for?”

“I don’t know, but it does. Or maybe it doesn’t. Well, it doesn’t now, but it will later.”

“Does he have to take it now?”

“No.”

“Then when would he take it?”

“In his junior year, right before the SAT. In fact, he probably should wait because he’ll do better on it next year after a year of practice.”

“Practicing what? He already took the practice PSAT. If he doesn’t take the PSAT, what’s he going to practice?” I ripped my flowchart into pieces.

“He’ll take a practice course at school.”

“He will?”

“Or you’ll get him a private SAT tutor.”

“I will?”

“If you want him to get into a good college….”

“Hold on,” I said. I stuffed three Oreos into my mouth and washed them down with cold coffee. My tentative grip on teenager management was about to come loose, sending me plunging into a deep chasm where all my accomplishments as a mother would wither, and my son’s life would unravel, because I couldn’t understand the structure of college entrance exam signups.

Ginny could hear the panic in my voice.

“Julie,” she said, “you’re eating cookies again, aren’t you?”

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, trying to keep the chocolate crumbs in my mouth.

“Listen,” she said reassuringly, “it’s not that complicated. The kids can pick up the information in the college center at school. And I’ll tell you what, I’ll let you know what I’m doing as I do it, and you can just copy me….”

That was exactly what I needed — a virtual guidance counselor who could tell me what to do and when to do it. Then I would just cooperate and follow along.

Applying to college was not this complicated 25(ish) years ago. I think I took a PSAT. I know I took the SAT. I took it one time. I did relatively well. I got into UCLA. But times have changed. If I packaged up my high school transcripts and SAT score today, UCLA probably would laugh my application right out of the admissions building.

While everyone agrees that getting into college is more difficult and complex than it was a generation ago, most acknowledge that parents and kids need to step back, set realistic goals and try to relieve some of that SAT trauma and drama.

No one sees more distress over scores than Wendy Gilbertson, a partner with Coast 2 Coast College Admissions, a certified college consulting company.

“Scores are important,” Gilbertson said, “but students have much more to offer than just a test score. Most colleges seek well-rounded kids, and they look at many other factors when considering applicants.”

If a student is concerned about improving his or her score, then a prep course is very helpful.

“But it’s usually best if parents are not overly involved in that process,” Gilbertson said. “Kids will be more motivated if they are accountable to a third party and not to mom or dad.”

Students should be open-minded when considering where they want to submit their applications. Marc Mayerson, an assistant dean at UCLA, explained that a narrow band of elite colleges, including the Ivy Leagues and several UC campuses, are overwhelmed by the number of applications they receive.

“When a college receives 35,000 to 50,000 applications for only 5,000 freshman spots or even much fewer, the admissions staff must weed out applications with gross measures, and those measures often include SAT scores,” he said.

The good news is that there are hundreds of excellent colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad that do not weigh entrance exam scores as heavily as the larger, more well-known schools that many California kids have their hearts set on.

“One of the biggest mistakes high school seniors make is that they convince themselves that only an Ivy League or a particular university is the right school for them,” Mayerson said. “By considering a few more schools, they can alleviate much of the stress and anxiety for themselves and for their parents.”

Feel better? I know I do. But I suggest you keep a few packs of your favorite cookies in the cupboard, just in case.

For information on test schedules and other things to keep you up at night, go to

Hillel Students Help Rebuild Gulf Coast


Southern Mississippi’s Jewish population suddenly mushroomed — as 135 members of the campus organization Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life fan out through the area, repairing roofs of houses severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The Hillel students, who wore distinctive orange T-shirts that read “Rebuild and Repair: Tzedek Means Justice,” arrived New Year’s Day and stayed until Jan. 15. They constituted the largest-single group of Jewish volunteers to visit the storm-ravaged U.S. Gulf Coast since Katrina struck the area last August.

“We all hear about this and we feel sorry for the victims and send money, but so few people actually get up and do something about it,” said Jacob Leven, a UCLA sophomore who studies engineering.

In addition to Hillel, other Jewish groups were active in Mississippi relief work. Shortly after Katrina struck, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement dispatched a group of emissaries to Biloxi to assist with emergency search-and-rescue efforts.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center sent its director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, to Biloxi to assess the progress of one of its affiliate organizations, the Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force.

“We are a human-rights organization and disaster relief is not the focus of the work of our center,” Adlerstein told the Biloxi Sun Herald. “But it is the interfaith part that got us involved through a back-door channel, and who knows where it will lead us.”

The Hillel volunteers, each of whom paid $125 plus transportation, were split into various teams to replace the roofs on 16 houses, all of them belonging to non-Jews. At night, they slept on the floor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gulfport.

The program was coordinated by Weinberg Tzedek Hillel, a Washington-based international social-service initiative sponsored by Hillel, which received $108,000 in funding from United Jewish Communities.

“During the past few days, the destruction we have seen has been devastating,” University of Georgia sophomore Joseph Beker said. “Before coming down, I had no idea how bad the situation was, and after seeing it firsthand I realized how important it is that we are down here. The work we’re doing is a very small part of what needs to be done.”

One building Hillel couldn’t fix up was Beth Israel Synagogue, which was severely battered by the hurricane. That’s because the congregation’s board of directors hasn’t decided whether to rebuild the shul at the current site or move to a new site entirely.

“If we make no improvement on it at all, it’ll cost $350,000, and that’s low-balling it,” said Stephen Richer, the congregation’s president. “But that’s probably not the best thing to do. We’ll probably redesign it so we don’t have a flat roof. For what we want to do, the cost ranges from $500,000 to $1.5 million.”

Founded in 1958, Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Mississippi, had 60 member families before Katrina, representing about half the coastal region’s Jewish population.

“A few people have left, and some like me are waiting for their homes to be fixed,” said Richer, interviewed in the crowded 36-foot Coachman trailer that’s parked in his front yard.

Richer, who’s also executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, bought the trailer used for $50,000 and drove it up from Florida; he’s been living in it ever since because his own house is full of mold and uninhabitable.

So is Beth Israel, which sits on the corner of Southern Boulevard and Camelia Street, only a few blocks from U.S. 90, which parallels the Gulf of Mexico. Evidence of Katrina’s destruction is everywhere along the coast, from the twisted remains of a local Waffle House to the floating Treasure Bay Casino barge that ended up on the beach, half a mile away from its moorings.

The synagogue’s administrator, Bonnie Kidd, said she was able to save the office computer, fax machine and important books. Mark Tabor, who lived in an apartment on top of the synagogue and was its caretaker, rescued the Torah scrolls just before Katrina hit.

“It looks as bad inside as it does outside,” said Tabor, a retired military officer who is temporarily living with his son in Mobile, Ala. “Eventually I will come back to Biloxi, as soon as they decide what we’re going to do.”

As bad as Beth Israel is — with its damaged roof, cracked wooden pews and mold — it’s nothing compared to the destruction elsewhere in the Biloxi-Gulfport area.

“We know about 15 Jewish families who lost everything. They have nothing except the clothes on their back,” Kidd said. “Some of them left, some of them are staying with family or friends, and some of them have been able to go through the ruins and see what they could salvage.”

Since the storm, the Conservative congregation has been holding Shabbat services regularly at Beauvoir Methodist Church in Biloxi.

“Our particular congregation is very ecumenical. We’ve participated in Friday evening services” at Beth Israel “for over 20 years, but this is the first opportunity we’ve had to bring in a non-Christian group,” said the Rev. Marilyn Perrine of Beauvoir, which also hosted Hands On USA, a volunteer group that includes Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers. “My folks are very open and excited about having Beth Israel in our building.”

Local churches also offered to host Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, but the visiting rabbi and cantor that had been sent by the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism keep Shabbat, and with most Biloxi-area hotels destroyed by Katrina, there was nowhere within walking distance for them to stay.

In the end, nearby Keesler Air Force Base invited the congregation to use its chapel, Richer said.

Wayne Lord, the commanding general at Keesler, “came to Kol Nidre services before we started and made the most gracious remarks about the role of the U.S. military in preserving religious freedom,” Richer said. “We had probably over 100 people there — not only our members but also FEMA workers and Red Cross volunteers. We had a national audience.”

In the meantime, members of Biloxi’s dwindling, older Jewish community wonder what the future holds in store for them.

Real estate broker Milt Grishman, a lifelong member of the congregation, said he celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth Israel in 1963. When Katrina hit, Grishman was already at his brother’s house up in Jackson, Miss.

“This is the first storm I ever evacuated for, and I’m glad I left,” he said, estimating that between 10 percent to 15 percent of Beth Israel’s members won’t be coming back.

“We’re such a small congregation that just a few can be significant,” Grishman said. “We had a fair number of military retirees living on a pension, and I’m not as optimistic as some others on our board.”

That’s because local unemployment is now running close to 25 percent, and of the 17,500 hotel rooms along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast before Katrina, only 5,000 are now open, according to Richer. Of the 13 casinos that were either operating or about to open, only three have reopened — which could put a severe dent into Biloxi’s tourism-driven economy.

“Some companies are deciding this is not a good place to be and are leaving,” Grishman said. “There’s a lot of talk about rebuilding and a condo boom, and all that’s encouraging, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

 

Kids Page


Hey Kids! The Help Goes On

Los Angeles Jewish schools continue with their efforts to help the hurricane victims. The students from Temple Emanuel donated money, wrote letters, drew pictures and collected shoes for the victims.

This Sukkot, which begins at sundown, Monday, Oct. 17, think about shelter and shoes: What would it be like not to have either? How can we continue to be generous and loving, not only to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but also to the people around us?

Look around your classroom. Is there someone new in your class? Walk over to him or her and introduce yourself. Who knows — you might make a new friend.

The Students of Emanuel Academy expressed their caring to children evacuees of Hurricane Katrina in words and drawings.

drawings

 

Between the Pages for Young, Young-at-Heart


Let’s face it. Many people go to synagogue on the High Holidays because they have to. A feeling of poorly understood and unappreciated obligation can pervade this time of year. But it doesn’t have to. You can put yourself or your children in the spirit and in the know with help from this by-no-means-comprehensive list of titles that elucidate the prayers and customs of the holiday.

For Young Children:

“My First Book of Jewish Holidays”
by Shmuel Blitz, illustrated by Tova Katz, (Artscroll Mesorah, 2004)

“My First Book,” which is beautifully illustrated, explains the historical significance of the holidays (i.e., the world was created on Rosh Hashanah, as well as the laws). In addition to their regular text, the pages have “Did you know?” boxes. It is not a storybook, but it is written clearly and its pictures are mesmerizing.

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah”
by Yaffa Ganz
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1990)

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah” is one in a series of books about Jewish holidays, in which two young children and their talking dove go on a learning mission. In this pleasantly illustrated book, children can learn about holiday customs, such as dipping an apple into honey, and different names of Rosh Hashanah. For example, Yom Hakeseh is called the Day of Concealment, because the moon is concealed on that day — just a sliver in the sky. And metaphorically, the outcome of the new year, too, is concealed from us.

For Teenagers:

“Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” by Shimon Apisdorf
(Leviathan Press, 1997)

The “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” is aimed at those who

would really rather be elsewhere during the services — sound like any teenager you know? The book gives tips about how to make the service meaningful, without being bogged down with effort. (Sample tip: “Five minutes of prayer said with understanding [and] feeling … means far more than five hours of lip service.”)

It also offers cute factoids about Rosh Hashana, presenting an easy and fun-to-read overview of the prayer service and Torah readings.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — “Survival Kit” does not shy away from the weightier matters; it offers compelling expositions on teshuva (repentance) and personal development.

For College Students:

“60 Days, a Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays”
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
(Kiyum Press, 2003)

In “60 Days,” Jacobson looks at the months of Elul (the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays) and Tishrei (the Hebrew month in which the High Holidays occur) as a period for self-improvement. Basing many of his teaching on Kabbalah, Jacobson goes through each day of the two months, explaining the historical significance of the day well beyond the obvious holidays. For example, the 18th of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.

But he also describes exercises to enable the reader to use the 60 days for introspection. Jacobson wants us to be our better selves, and to use that improvement for an enhanced relationship with God.

For the Prayerfully Challenged:

“Pathway to Prayer: A Translation and Explanation of All the Amidah Prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”
by Rabbi Meir Birnbaum
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1997)

Even for those familiar with the daily prayers, the Rosh Hashanah service can seem formidable. It is long, different and should ideally be infused with enough kavannah (concentration and devotion) to change the destiny of the upcoming year for the better.

In “Pathway to Prayer,” Birnbaum explains the prayers line by line — often word by word. He is not merely content with translating. Rather, he explains what the thought process should be when each word is said. For example, in the musaf prayer, the repeatedly used word. “Hagadol [the Great One], referring to God, really means God who is great “in exercising the attribute of kindness.”

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer”
by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
(Schocken Books, 2000)

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer” provides great background reading for those interested in the history and development of prayer in Judaism. The chapter on Days of Awe, as the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known, provides a brief overview of the holiday and the origins of the prayers that developed in conjunction with it.

This book will not necessarily help you navigate a machzor (special prayer book for the holidays), but it does outline what we will be saying on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., which prayer comes after which, when the shofar is blown, etc.) as well as explanations and customs of shofar blowing. Steinsaltz also explains differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic nusachs (the order of the prayers).

For Meaning Searchers:

“Days of Awe: Sfas Emes, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on the High Holy Days”
by Rabbi Yosef Stern
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1996)

The Sfas Emes, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Alter of Ger, became leader of the great Gerer Chasidic dynasty in Poland in 1870, when he was only 23. Under his guidance, Ger became one of the biggest Chasidic groups in Poland.

In this volume, Stern distills the Sfas Emes’ Chasidic teachings into illuminating essays on topics such as “The Omission of Hallel on Rosh Hashanah” to the “Symbolism and Significance” of Shofar blowing.

“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared — The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”
by Alan Lew
(Little Brown and Company, 2003)

“This Is Real” follows no ordinary Rosh Hashanah book path, because it encompasses so many different elements. Part memoir, part Zen mediation, part rumination on life in general, interspersed with Torah readings, Jewish teachings and Zen parables (Lew considers himself a Buddhist rabbi), this is a book that describes a soul’s journey from Tisha B’Av through Yom Kippur, as it “heads home.”

Lew sees the High Holidays as a metaphor for life itself, and he wants us to experience “oneness with everything.” Rosh Hashanah is a time that we can “experience the truth of our lives.”

Though the title is ominous, the book is ultimately uplifting, about a person’s power to transform sadness to joy.

For General Background:
“Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days”
by Shmuel Yosef Agnon
(Schocken, 1995)

This is a collection of writings on the Days of Awe culled from traditional sources, such as the Torah, Talmud and Zohar. Agnon lets the writings speak for themselves, but he compiles them in a way that tells the history of the holidays.

In the section on Rosh Hashanah, he starts with the commandment from Leviticus to observe Rosh Hashanah (“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns”).

He then moves on to descriptions from Ezra in Chronicles of the Jewish people bringing sacrifices on Rosh Hashanah, and then quotes from the Mishna and Talmud about what Rosh Hashanah means.

The book is a fascinating compilation, perfect for those who want to understand the meaning of the holiday from original sources.

For Contemporary Approaches:

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Poems, Stories, Essays.”
edited by Steven J. Rubin
(Brandeis University Press, 2003)

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays” is not a book for those who simply want laws or traditions laid out for them. Rather it’s for those seeking creative or artistic musings on the holidays.

Gathering verse from poets as diverse as Solomon Ibn Gabirol (an 11th-century Jewish Spanish scholar) and Emma Lazarus, the poems convey a range of experience, from the spiritually awesome to the skeptically modern. The stories and memoirs are evocative. Eli Weisel tells of Rosh Hashanah in the concentration camp, others of Rosh Hashanah in the shtetl.

“The Jewish Way, Living the Holidays”
By Rabbi Irving Greenberg
(Simon and Schuster, 1988)

In “The Jewish Way,” Greenberg explains the holidays as “the quintessential Jewish religious expression, because the main teachings of Judaism are incorporated in their messages.”

In his essay on Rosh Hashanah, he explains that it is a somber time when we must confront our own mortality, since one’s life “is placed on balance scales.” In addition, Greenberg gives a summary of the prayers and customs of Rosh Hashanah.

 

Rural Shuls Make Do Without Rabbis


There’s been a Jewish community in Muskogee, Okla., since 1867, when furrier Joseph Sonderheim opened his import-export business.

In 1916 the first synagogue was dedicated, Congregation Beth Ahaba, a lay-led Reform congregation that served a tight-knit Jewish community of merchants and professionals.

“As Oklahoma grew and prospered through the 1920s, so did our congregation,” said Nancy Stolper, 77, who moved to Muskogee 50 years ago.

Beth Ahaba reached its height of 75 families in 1929 but dwindled to 40 families during the Depression, as stores shut down and people moved away to find work.

Since then, Beth Ahaba’s fortunes have declined steadily. Its young people, including the Stolpers’ four children, grew up and moved away.

Its last student rabbi left 15 years ago.

“We’re now just a group of frail senior citizens,” said Stolper, noting that only eight to 10 members are still able to get to synagogue.

Three months ago they gave up their monthly Friday night services, and this High Holiday season, she fears, will be their last.

“My children have invited us to spend the holidays with them, but I can’t do that, you understand?” Stolper said, crying quietly. “What will we do with our beautiful little building? And our Torah? We haven’t forced ourselves yet to make those decisions. But we know the inevitable is in sight.”

Beth Ahaba’s story is playing out across America, from the mining towns of upper New York state and Pennsylvania to rust-belt factory towns in Michigan and Illinois, sweeping across old Civil War communities like Vicksburg, Miss., and Jonesboro, Ark., and following the pioneer trail into Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

As local fortunes headed downward in these towns, so did their Jewish communities.

“It’s very often a function of changing demographics,” explained Rabbi Victor Appell of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). “The vast majority of these places had congregations that have grown smaller over the years.”

Rabbi Lawrence Jackofsky, director of URJ’s Southwest region, relates the story of Ardmore, Okla., a once-booming oil town that now has just two or three Jews left.

“The guy who was running services at the end told me, ‘I looked out one day, saw two Jews and 10 Catholics in the room, and said, it’s time to move on.'”

Some of these historic congregations were able to support rabbis and even cantors in their heyday.

Others like Beth Ahaba never could, but survived from the beginning on the strength of their lay leadership.

“A lot of dying congregations exist simply because they’ve always been there,” said Jay Weiner of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).

The Reform and Conservative movements, which represent most of the country’s lay-led congregations, try to provide support through a variety of means, including student rabbis, visiting rabbis and lay leadership training courses.

Yvonne Youngberg, a fifth-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, directs the school’s student-run rabbinical student placement service, which sends students to small Conservative congregations that ask for help. She said about half of the fourth- and fifth-year students have regular pulpits.

“Twice a month is the norm, but it’s increasingly common for students to split a pulpit,” she said.

Youngberg shares her gig in Watertown, N.Y., with a cantorial student, so each of them makes the six-hour drive just once a month.

“It’s better for our schedules, and the congregation gets to hear my services and her davening,” she said.

Many congregations are served by visiting rabbis from the movements’ regional offices.

In his 13 years with the USCJ, Rabbi David Blumenfeld visited more than 170 of the 200 smallest Conservative congregations. He’d show up on Friday, lead services, answer questions, advise them on fundraising and youth work, even coach members suffering burnout.

“In these congregations, you have a core of people who are always doing everything,” he said.

Blumenfeld focused on congregations in the most geographically remote areas. He’s given impromptu sermons in Yiddish to a congregation of Russian-speakers, and he’s mushed through snowstorms outside Reno, Nev.

Everywhere he went, Blumenfeld said, he saw ingenuity and spirit.

He asked one Texas congregation how they got a minyan every week. A member pointed to a nearby street lamp and said when they need another Jew on Fridays, he makes the light blink during the evening rush hour.

At one North Carolina synagogue, the lay leader showing him around couldn’t find his keys to the building.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry I can get a key from any congregant,'” Blumenfeld recalled. “I said, ‘What, all 40 of them have keys to the synagogue?’ And he said, ‘Why not, it belongs to them.'”

The Conservative and Reform movements both run summer training programs to help lay leaders learn the basics of running a service, read Torah, teach Hebrew school, perform baby-namings, even conduct funerals.

“Everything except officiating at weddings,” said Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, director of worship, music and religious living for URJ.

Wasserman said about half of this year’s participants in the Reform movement’s synagogue associate course come from lay-led congregations. The others want to learn skills to help support their clergy.

One Texas congregation sends people every year, she said.

“They have a rabbi but can’t afford a second clergy, so they are building up their lay leadership,” she noted.

But it’s the lay-led congregations who really benefit, she said.

“It’s amazing the difference it makes in their congregational life,” she said.

Last year, Temple Kol Shalom, a Reform congregation with 47 families in Placerville, decided to send Dale Wallerstein, a chiropractor who had been acting as a cantorial soloist for years.

The temple had been hiring visiting rabbis and student rabbis. Finally, Wallerstein said, “we looked at continuity and consistency issues and the cost, and decided it would be good if I learned how to give dvar Torahs,” or interpretations of the Torah, “do funerals and provide pastoral care.”

After completing the two-year course, which meets for two weeks each summer, and attending a winter session on Jewish education, Wallerstein said she is “thrilled” with what she’s learned.

Even more than actual skills, she said the course has “given me confidence, which adds to my credibility,” and showed her “how to access areas I hadn’t know about, so I can direct our adult education to a different place.”

Blumenfeld, now retired from his visiting rabbi days, said larger congregations and their rabbis have a lot to learn from small, lay-led groups.

“Every rabbinic student should spend time in one of these congregations,” he said. “They have such heart.”

 

A Plan to Take Over Troubled School


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters


The Smart Card

The idea that in medieval Europe, among Christians, the smartest people generally practiced celibacy, while, among Jews, the scholars and rabbis had big families, had occurred to me some time ago (“Are Jews Smarter?” June 10).

Another possible reason for Jewish intellectual achievement could be that with the rise of rabbinic Judaism and synagogues in the Talmudic period, Jewish men at least were required to learn to read in order to recite the Torah. This requirement for study and learning probably spilled over into the pursuit of secular learning.

In order to test the idea of smart genes connected with Tay-Sachs disease, a study of Sephardic Jews should be made to see if they, too, have a history of intellectual achievement and success. I have only anecdotal data.

For example, a good friend of mine is a Sephardic Jew from Peru. His father’s success story parallels that of many Ashkenazim: He was born in Constantinople and moved to Peru where he started a fabric store in Lima and became wealthy. He sent his children to American colleges, where I met his son. In the Turkish empire, Jews held prominent positions in the court of the sultan, due to their ability. Bernard Baruch had a Sephardic background. In England there were prominent Sephardic families: the D’Avigdors, Montagus and Desola-Pools.

Therefore, it would be good if a study could be made to show whether Sephardim have a high intelligence level without the benefit of Tay-Sachs. By the way, I am not Sephardic, myself — solamente en mi Corazon [only in my heart].

Marshall Giller
Winnetka

Reel Was Real

Several weeks ago, an old college classmate on the East Coast posted a rave review touting the cultural diversity lessons of “Crash” on the alumna message boards (“Reel Life,” June 10). Against our better judgment, my husband and I went to see the movie. Since then, I have been trying to write her to tell of the negative feelings that “Crash” evoked in me. I also felt that I needed to describe and defend my “L.A.” to her.

My struggle has ended. A few moments ago, I e-mailed your editorial “Reel Life” to her.

One of the reasons I have loved living in L.A. for the past 35 years is the cultural diversity that the city offers. Your “snapshots” are indeed reflective of the truth of Los Angeles, where we value differences for the positive outcomes and growth that are provided by a diverse population.

Your editorial is beautifully written and was the perfect answer I needed.

Sonya Baum
Marina del Rey

Left Out of Cannes

I am writing in response to the article, “Project Shabbat a ‘Go’ in Cannes,” written by Carole Raphaelle Davis (May 27).

My first question for Davis is, “Were we at the same Shabbat dinner?” As an attendee of the event, I found the article to be too disingenuous. The false impression she presented was that this was just another schmooze fest. When in reality our hosts, with limited resources, succeed in creating an oasis of Jewish spirituality in Cannes.

Davis begins her article quite correctly in describing the 24/7 deal hustling that occurs in Cannes. The film festival is a marketplace where people spend time, energy, and money in order to secure a deal so they can return and repeat the cycle the following year. Scott Einbinder and Steven Kaplan diverted much personal energy to coordinate what turned out to be a beautiful community-building event. Do you know how hard it is to find a kosher caterer in Cannes?

Davis stated that Rabbi Mendel Schwartz flew in for the dinner. She failed to mention that Einbinder sponsored the trip.

I wish Davis had referenced my conversation with Schwartz about the beauty of creating a community and acknowledging, through ritual, how blessed we are.

Also she could have mentioned that a Jewish woman from New Orleans had her first experience of a formal Kiddush. She had such a meaningful experience and wanted to kiss the rabbi, but then understood that it would be improper (so she kissed the person next to him).

Instead, Davis chose to misquote a joke I made about the nature of Einbinder’s film, “Velvet Side of Hell.” This quote angered me because it slanderously portrayed Einbinder’s professionalism as a filmmaker.

Yes, people did talk business during Shabbat, but it was not the primary focus of the dinner. I trust God will forgive some unconscious transgressions. I don’t know why Davis considered that the “business chatter was predictably ridiculous.”

Quite frankly I would prefer to work with people who make the moral choice to take time out for a Shabbat dinner then some other Cannes event.

Yet the fact that 40-plus people choose to celebrate Shabbat instead of going to a premiere or other event (and there were many alternatives to choose from) was lost in her narrow vision.

Too bad Davis had not been with us after the “party” as we were carrying the leftovers home, looking for a cab, when behind us we saw the silhouettes of the three rabbis walking down the hill from the villa. We saw that as a sign and decided instead to walk back three kilometers home. The rabbis joined us, and when we got to the Croisette (the center of Cannes) the three rabbis and Einbinder started dancing in street celebrating the Shabbat. That alone is very newsworthy!

Perhaps if Davis were not preoccupied with her “handsome Corsican” friend, who gave her a ride to the party, she would not have missed the true meaning and beauty of the evening. Note that I was one of several non-Jews in attendance and the event helped deepen my appreciation of Judaism.

Peter M. Graham II
Principal
120 dB Films

Iraq vs. Israel

Regarding David Finnigan’s interview with me in his article on Jews who’ve been to Iraq since the U.S. invasion (“Professor Sees Iraq War as a ‘Disaster,'” May 27), I wish to make an important clarification to the quotation from me at the end of the piece.

In the midst of a discussion of the boycott call against Israeli academics, I am quoted as saying: “How can someone sitting in America or the U.K. call for divestment from Israel, when the occupation of Iraq has killed far more Iraqis and done far more damage to that society in two years than Israel has done to Palestinian society in more than a century? Or China: How horrific the occupation and the genocide of Tibet has been. Sudan?”

What I believe I said in that conversation — or certainly intended to say, and I think was clear from our longer conversation — was “How can someone sitting in America or the UK call only for divestment from Israel….”

The point being that focusing only on Israel when other countries engage in similar or even more extreme violations of human, political and civil rights is intellectually, morally and strategically shortsighted.

This is very different from arguing, as the quote suggests, that Israel should not face sanctions as long as other countries engage in even graver rights violations. Rather, one standard should be applied to every country, including our own, if real peace and justice are ever to be achieved in any country.

Mark LeVine
UC Irvine
Department of History

Don’t Knock Nixon

Once again your “rag” printed an outrageous piece of trash about “Deep Throat,” intimating that President Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite (“Deep Throat: Not a Jew,” June 3).

Just the opposite is true. I knew President Nixon and if you could read Golda Meir’s biography you may learn something. Don’t you just wish that someone would investigate something just as vile against President Bush? I bet you do!

Diane Jacobs
Los Angeles

Harburg’s Heritage

A recent letter by Jacqueline Bassan makes the ridiculous claim that lyricist E. Y. Harburg was not Jewish (“Letters,” May 27).

I direct the writer’s attention to two books that abundantly state otherwise. The first is a memoir by Harburg himself, in the collection “Creators and Disturbers” (Columbia University Press, 1982). The other is by his son, Ernie, in collaboration with Harold Meyerson, in “Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?” (University of Michigan Press, 1993).

Jack Gottlieb
Author
“Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish”

More Than ‘Special’

I am writing this because I was not satisfied with how we were portrayed in your 2005 graduation article (“A Special School?” June 10).

We at Ohr Haemet appreciate that Julie Gruenbaum Fax took the time to interview two of our students. While we are indeed a special school, there is far more about our school that makes it special besides not only measuring a student’s success based on which Ivy League they got into.

We are a college preparatory, WASC accredited school. We offer honors and AP courses. Our classes are small, our teachers are available to our students. Our students go to the UCs, the Cal States and other private universities like USC. Our students are taught the beauty of our Torah with such warmth and love that they usually make the choice to observe Shabbat, kashrut and family purity (when they marry).

Who comes to our school? Girls who want individualized attention in the classroom, girls who want to focus on what it means to be a good Jew and a good person. We focus holistically on each student so they can leave our school feeling confident both academically and spiritually.

Our students become nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, writers and social workers. They have made very conscious choices in their education and careers so they can also marry and raise a family. They leave Ohr Haemet with their priorities straight. We are proud of every girl’s accomplishments.

We measure our success by helping and encouraging every girl to use her potential to succeed. We are a viable option for the secular and Jewish education for many high school girls in Los Angeles.

Batsheva Isaac
General Studies Principal
Ohr Haemet Institute

Look for Local Brains

After reading Professor Aaron Ciechanover article (“Is an Israel Brain Drain Nigh?” June 10), I find it sad that Israel can’t tap the resourses in Southern California of laid-off and unemployed engineers and technicians who would be willing to work as well as teach and train to increase Israel’s technical brain power.

Steven Winnick
via e-mail

 

Formula Could Combat Campus Racism


In the past three months, I have visited four “troubled” campuses — Duke, York (Canada), Columbia and UC Irvine — where tensions between Jewish and anti-Zionist students and professors have attracted national attention. In these visits, I have spoken to students, faculty and administrators, and I have obtained a fairly gloomy picture of the situation on those and other campuses.

Jewish students are currently subjected to an unprecedented assault on their identity as Jews. And we, the Jewish faculty on campus, have let those students down. We have failed to equip them with effective tools to fight back this assault.

We can reverse this trend.

Many condemn anti-Zionism for being a flimsy cover for anti-Semitism. I disagree. The order is wrong. I condemn anti-Semitism for being an instrument for a worse form of racism: anti-Zionism.

In other words, I submit that anti-Zionism is a form of racism more dangerous than classical anti-Semitism. Framing anti-Zionism as racism is precisely the weapon that our students need for survival on campus.

Anti-Zionism earns its racist character from denying the Jewish people what it grants to other collectives (e.g. Spanish, Palestinians), namely, the right to nationhood and self-determination.

Are Jews a nation? A collective is entitled to nationhood when its members identify with a common history and wish to share a common destiny. Palestinians have earned nationhood status by virtue of thinking like a nation, not by residing where their ancestors did (many of them are only three or four generations in Palestine). Jews, likewise, are bonded by nationhood (i.e., common history and destiny) more than they are bonded by religion.

The appeal to Jewish nationhood is necessary when we consider Israel’s insistence on remaining a “Jewish state.” By “Jewish state” Israelis mean, of course, “national Jewish state,” not “religious Jewish state” — theocratic states (like Pakistan and Iran) are incompatible with modern standards of democracy and pluralism. Anti-Zionist racists use this anti-theocracy argument repeatedly to delegitimize Israel, and I have found our students unable to defend their position with conventional ideology that views Jewishness as a religion.

Jewishness is more than just a religion. It is an intricate and intertwined mixture of ancestry, religion, history, country, culture, tradition, attitude, nationhood and ethnicity, and we need not apologize for not fitting neatly into the standard molds of textbook taxonomies — we did not choose our turbulent history.

As a form of racism, anti-Zionism is worse than anti-Semitism. It targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the people of Israel, who rely on the sovereignty of their state for physical safety, national identity and personal dignity. To put it more bluntly, anti-Zionism condemns 5 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal statelessness, traumatized by historical images of persecution and genocide.

Anti-Zionism also attacks the pivotal component of our identity, the glue that bonds us together — our nationhood, our history. And while people of conscience reject anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in Europe and in some U.S. campuses.

Moreover, anti-Zionism disguises itself in the cloak of political debate, exempt from sensitivities and rules of civility that govern interreligious discourse. Religion is ferociously protected in our society — political views are not.

Just last month, a student organization on a UC campus hosted a meeting on “A World Without Israel.” Imagine the international furor that a meeting called, “A World Without Mecca,” would provoke.

So, in the name of “open political debate,” administrators would not think twice about inviting MIT linguist Noam Chomsky to speak on campus, though his anti-Zionist utterances offend the fabric of my Jewish identity deeper than any of the ugly religious insults currently shocking the media. He should be labeled for what he is: a racist.

Strategically, while accusations of anti-Semitism are worn out and have lost their punch, charging someone with racism makes people ask why anyone would deny people the right of self-determination in a sliver of land in the birthplace of their history. It shifts the frame of discourse from debating Israel’s policies to the root cause of the conflict — denying Israelis their basic rights as a nation.

Charges of “racism” highlight the inherent asymmetry between the Zionist and anti-Zionist positions. The former grants both Israelis and Palestinians the right for statehood, the latter denies that right to one, and only one side. This asymmetry is the most effective weapon our students should use in campus debates, for it puts them back on the high moral grounds of “fair and balanced” and forces their opponents to defend an ideology of one-sidedness.

For example, I have found it effective, when confronting an anti-Zionist speaker, to ask: “Are you willing to go on record and state that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a conflict between two legitimate national movements?” Western audiences adore even-handedness and abhor bias. The question above forces the racist to unveil and defend his uneven treatment of the two sides.

America prides itself on academic freedom, and academic freedom entails freedom to teach hatred and racism — we graciously accept this fact of life. However, academic freedom also entails the freedom of students to expose racism, be it white-supremacy, women-inferiority, Islamophobia or Zionophobia wherever it is spotted. Not to censor, but to expose — racists stew in their own words.

In summary, I believe the formula “Anti-Zionism = Racism” should give Jewish students the courage to both defend their identity and expose those who abuse it.

This opinion piece appeared in The New York Jewish Week.

Judea Pearl is a professor of computer science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is co-editor of “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

 

Principal for a Day, Lesson for a Lifetime


 

This Wednesday dawns as another tough, typical grind for the principal of the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES). There’s the 7:15 a.m. arrival and the 10 p.m. departure. Then there’s the picket line set up by half the teaching staff. And later, the little problem of not having eye washes in science classrooms in case experiments go dangerously wrong.

It’s a lot more than Kenn Phillips could have bargained for when he accepted this gig as principal. Lucky for him, he doesn’t have to come back tomorrow.

That’s because Phillips isn’t the real principal, but merely principal for a day. Phillips is among more than 200 professionals who arranged to shadow principals as part of a Los Angeles Unified School District effort to create alliances between businesses and schools. Phillips is getting an early start with his mid-March stint. Nearly all of the other short-timers are serving on Tuesday, March 29.

At the Center for Enriched Studies, the Principal-for-a-Day ritual has a distinctly Jewish cast. Phillips, a 46-year-old businessman, is Jewish, and so is the actual principal, 56-year-old Robert Weinberg. SOCES, as the school is called, has a sizable contingent of Jewish students, an estimated 20 percent. He considers character education, often expressed through religious traditions, to be at the core of developing responsible young adults. His sign-off after announcements wishes students a good day and reminds them “character counts.”

SOCES, in Tarzana, is not a district trouble spot by any measure. Its test scores are among Los Angeles’ best; its students almost universally attend college. But that doesn’t make the principal’s job easy, as Phillips learns.

Not that Weinberg is complaining. He’s entirely immersed in his role.

“Most people, when they come to this school,” Weinberg says, “find it’s a magical kind of place.”

OK, it’s not so magical to find 35 teachers picketing, but they’re not mad at the principal, only upset over several years without pay raises. And the cause of the 10 p.m. departure is a concert, a special event that Weinberg is pleased lose sleep for. As for the eye washes — Weinberg can handle that, too. By day’s end, he decides to spend grant money to buy them. He’s got plenty of other potential uses for those funds, but safety, he concludes, has to come first.

Phillips’ visit quickly becomes an exchange of ideas, a sharing of experiences. Phillips has shadowed a principal seven times: “It’s important that I understand what Bob, the teachers and students are thinking, because when I meet with people at a very high level, they don’t know the pulse of what’s going on,” said Phillips, a director at the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

So, at 10:15 a.m., when Weinberg grabs his walkie-talkie and heads outside, Phillips, mobile phone strapped to his belt, follows. Phillips is dressed smartly, sleekly, in a business suit and gleaming blue tie. Weinberg, by contrast, is large — 6-foot-8 — and more rumpled. He’s known for occasionally dressing up as “Bob the Builder.”

Weinberg leans against a railing at the center of campus, while teachers and many of the school’s 1,750 students stream by. SOCES is known for a student body that ranges in age from 10 to 18. Little girls, dressed in pink, snack on bagels, while a high school couple walks past with arms draped around one another. A teenage boy sitting on a bench plays guitar.

“What are we doing?” Phillips asks.

“We’re doing supervision,” Weinberg answers. “If kids want to talk to me, they have access.”

“Hey, Mr. Weinberg,” says a redheaded sprout. “Have a peanut M&M. I bought them, so you could have one.”

Weinberg obliges.

The bell sounds and students dart in every direction. Weinberg stays in place, issuing tardy slips.

But he’s not just giving a demonstration in school administration. He wants to hear Phillips’ ideas on education. Businesses need students with better communication and teamwork skills, Phillips says, and with a stronger commitment to ethics. During part of the day, he will share these beliefs with a class of high schoolers.

Weinberg leads Phillips down a hallway, explaining that advanced students can take classes at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

“Have you thought about adding a bungalow here, so that instead of kids going to Pierce, you’d have [the instructors] come here?” Phillips asks.

“No, but that’d be great,” Weinberg says.

As they walk through an outdoor cafeteria, Phillips asks, “Do you have an active PTA?”

Weinberg, in his fifth year here, says the school has no PTA at all, but he’d like to establish one.

“If you need help, I’ll see if we can make that work for you,” Phillips says.

He explains that a president of the association sits on his company’s board.

The two step into an auditorium blaring with music, where orchestra students rehearse for the evening’s concert. Weinberg points out how he renovated the place with contributions from corporate sponsors.

When it’s time for the two to part, Weinberg lumbers through one door to “do supervision,” while Phillips glides through a different one to return to his world of business.

Before he leaves, Phillips asked: “If you had all the money in the world, what would you do?”

Weinberg says he would reduce class sizes, add more time to the school year and get every teacher to believe that any student can learn.

If Phillips and his corporate associates could help accomplish those things, he’d be welcome to stand in as principal any day.

 

Ner Tamid Opens Link to Jewish Past


 

At Congregation Ner Tamid, most members can trace their ancestors back to Eastern Europe and the late 1800s.

Few are aware that 1654 was one of the most significant years in Jewish history — the year that 23 Jews fled the Portuguese Inquisition when they boarded the St. Charles bound for North America. This tiny group stepped onto the shores of New Amsterdam (New York) with the dream that the budding democracy in the new land would end their history of expulsion from countries around the globe.

Rabbi Jerry Danzig of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay (CNT) had a vision of a museum inside the synagogue that would trace the history of Jews in America from 1654 to the present. He, along with his dedicated committee, made that vision a reality in January, when the museum officially opened with a dinner and celebration attended by more than 100 people. From timelines, maps and posters to antique tools, cigar molds and famous original signatures, the exhibit is fascinating, enlightening and inspiring. The displays cover an array of topics that include early immigration, intolerance, trades, humanity and famous Jews in politics, the military, entertainment and sports.

The overriding theme is that Jews had a significant impact on the formation of our young country. Danzig said that it is no accident that Emma Lazarus, a Hebrew scholar and translator, wrote the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, nor that the words embossed on the Liberty Bell come from the Torah. For Danzig, the most important parts of the exhibit are those that demonstrate how Jewish individuals, such as Lazarus; Samuel Gompers, the father of America’s labor unions, and Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine who refused to profit from it or allow it to be patented, changed the character of America.

“Our museum is a panorama of 350 years of Jewish life in America,” Danzig said. “Since the Exodus from Egypt, Jewish life thrives in freedom and the beneficiaries have been the countries in which they resided. We are proud to display the contributions Jews have made over 350 years to the evolution of the American civilization, its politics, literature, science, music, art, education, philosophy. This museum has given our students, as well as many non-Jewish individuals and groups, a new appreciation of our history, contributions and achievements.”

The volunteers who worked with Danzig caught his enthusiasm for the project. They raised nearly $10,000 in donations and gathered many of the pictures, artifacts and visuals from CNT members.

“It was the most unique experience,” said Ellen November, curator of the exhibit. “Creating the displays and studying all the material and artifacts expanded my depth of knowledge of modern-day Jews and about the history of Jewish immigration. It made me even more aware of how much Jews embody the American spirit.”

Danzig has organized numerous events to mark “Celebrate 350.” These events encourage participation by the religious school students, the congregation and the community at large. Since the museum opened, docents have led students, church groups and libraries through the exhibit.

On Sunday, Feb. 20, at 7:30 p.m., CNT will host a program on “What Do We Owe Peter Stuyvesant? 350 Years of Jewish Life in America.” Professor Mark Dollinger, director of the Jewish studies department at San Francisco State University, will address the issues of Jews and federal politics, social welfare reform and Jewish education and identity.

The public is welcome to take a self-guided tour Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Guided tours can be arranged by calling the synagogu. at (310) 377-6986. The address is 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes.