StandWithUs launching new Israel advocacy training for teenagers


The pro-Israel education and advocacy group StandWithUs is launching a new program to help train 48 teenagers from around the U.S. as proactive leaders on their future college campuses.

While StandWithUs has been working with high school students since its founding in 2001, particularly helping them with classroom presentations, the new StandWithUs-MZ Teens Internship Program will break new ground by taking an individualized approach to “teach them a variety of themes and give them a lot of support for their own current activities, and help them do a project that will elevate not only their own knowledge but other people around them now, while they’re in high school,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in an exclusive interview with JNS.org.

The 48 participating students—a number that StandWithUS hopes will grow to hundreds—will be broken into three groups of 16, each of which will have a mentor. The MZ Foundation, which is funding the program through a “significant grant,” was interested in Israel advocacy training for high school students in particular.

“[MZ believes] that in preparing the students better for the challenges they’re going to face in college, the smart way to go is to give them that kind of support earlier, and StandWithUs feels the same way,” Rothstein told JNS.org.

Rothstein said high school students face anti-Semitic challenges “not as clearly and overtly” as college students do, but need to prepare for what college holds in store—and for how they might be able to educate others. In that sense, the new program’s goal is to “help students understand the importance of running proactive activities on their campuses,” she said.

The program, she added, will help students grasp “how rich it is to be able to engage with something that’s important to them anyway, whether they’re going to be facing a challenge or just wanting to educate their campus community.”

“They will be able to participate in a high-profile project that will make Israel’s image clearer to the world, [by broadening understanding of] Israel’s gifts to the world, Israel’s high tech—whatever it is that the kids will choose, they will have had an opportunity to begin educating now,” she said.

The program includes two three-day, all-expenses-paid conferences—one in September, and one in the spring—as well as year-round mentoring for the students and a gift certificate of $1,000 toward a trip to Israel for the two most successful interns. Teenagers interested in applying should email MiriK@standwithus.com.

Local teens to compete for gold at Maccabi Games


At the same time Southland Jewish Olympians like Jason Lezak and Dara Torres medaled in Beijing, the next generation of local athletes was preparing to compete in events of their own.

More than 200 teens with Maccabi teams from the Westside Jewish Community Center, Milken JCC in West Hills and Alpert JCC in Long Beach will join an additional 300 athletes in Detroit to compete in 25 Olympic-style tournaments Aug. 17-22.

The JCC Maccabi Games, held each summer at several locations around the United States, will feature 14 sports categories, including track and field, swimming and tennis. The athletes, ages 13 to 16, will share the field with teens from Canada, Great Britain, Hungary, Israel, Mexico and Venezuela.

While students hope to medal in their respective events, the games also emphasize charitable programming, as well as the importance of teamwork and building strong Jewish identities.

For many adults, including Milken’s girls basketball coach Bruce Lang, these games demonstrate something beyond athletics. Maccabi shows that there’s more to being a Jewish teen after becoming bar or bat mitzvah, Lang said.

“There is a misconception — a lot of people think it’s just a sporting event,” he said. “That’s 40 to 50 percent. The rest is doing what kids want to do: They want to socialize with other kids. They want to play rock music…. This is a wonderful program that keeps kids in touch with their heritage and their culture. Not all kids get it.”

Lang said one player who gets it is Danielle Bush, one of two returning players who took silver medals last year. He said that Danielle uses the games to quench her desire for more Jewish knowledge, asking questions of coaches, athletes and Israelis.

“That was rare,” he said.

During recent team meetings at the Westside and Milken JCCs, parents and teens talked with coaches about what to expect at the games.

For several parents, the concern was how much or little access they’ll have to their children in Detroit. An information packet given out at the Westside meeting revealed several nights devoted to youth-only activities — no parents allowed.

Lang, who has coached at 16 Maccabi Games, said he understands the plight of parents who travel to Detroit and want to spend as much time as possible with their youngsters.

“For the week that they are gone, they are not your children,” he said. “They are my children.”

For the Westside girls basketball team, the meeting meant receiving their uniforms and bag. When 15-year-old guard Shoshanna Seidenfeld saw the matching cardinal-and-gold and blue-and-white jackets, shirts and tops, she shrieked.

“I love these! They are so cool,” she said. “We didn’t have jackets and bags [on other teams], so I feel I’m part of something bigger.”

The Maccabi games were first established in the United States to act as a feeder to the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, with the first North American Youth Maccabi Games taking place in 1982 in Memphis.

Three cities hosted the JCC Maccabi Games this year, including San Diego, Aug. 3-8, and Akron, Ohio, Aug. 10-15.

Given Los Angeles’ proximity to San Diego — and rising travel costs — it left some wondering why the Southland teams are going to Detroit.

Alan Goldberg, vice president of the JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Excellence in Leadership and Management, said several factors, including when school begins, what sports the teams are competing in and where the contingent requests to go determines which team plays in which city.

“It’s a very complex process,” Goldberg said.

Detroit will welcome 60 athletes participating in basketball, soccer, swimming and tennis from Team Westside.

“We’ve gone from zero to a full-fledged program in three years,” said Brian Greene, Westside JCC’s executive director.

But the numbers at Westside JCC and Long Beach JCC, which have less than two dozen athletes this year, are a far cry from Milken’s 140 athletes in baseball, softball, basketball, track and field, tennis and table tennis.

Snejana Evans, Milken’s Team L.A. organizer, said the West Hills center will have the largest delegation in Detroit. It’s likely the team will bring some medals back to Los Angeles.

Lang said the success of his team, which did not win medals on only two occasions, is renowned. During the 2005 games in San Antonio, he recalled, the crowd rooted for the Israeli squad, shouting, “Beat L.A.”

He said there’s nothing like being on the receiving end of such a cheer.

A night at the homeless shelter


545 San Pedro Street is an address I will never forget.

It is the Union Rescue Mission downtown, inhabited by homeless individuals that reside in their designated corners on Skid Row. My school, Milken Community High School, offered a community service experience for 21 students, and I found myself at the Union Rescue Mission.

During my three-day trip, I had the occasion to sleep in the mission, take a tour, speak with the residents, and serve and prepare food.
The Mission is a recovery center for drug and alcohol addicts, battered women and children. The facility utilizes the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which encourages people to develop a relationship with God. It teaches individuals to change their beliefs, attitudes and choices. My own beliefs and attitudes were also changed as a result of this experience.

As I searched the dining room holding my tray, I spotted an older African American woman and joined her. I was struck by how focused she was on eating every bite of her meal.

“Hi, I’m Jackie, how are you doing today?”

She told me about her day but was more interested in finding out about me. I told her about my school, my favorite classes and my hobbies. I realized how many opportunities I take for granted. As soon as I mentioned sports, her eyes lit up and she was filled with enthusiasm. She told me about her family, her life and how she had always enjoyed school. She told her stories about sports and how she had received a volleyball scholarship.

Sadly, she chose the wrong path and as a result, her life became unmanageable. She became consumed with drug addiction and self-destructive behaviors. She abandoned her 5-year-old daughter for fear that she would have the same horrible life. I was speechless. The silence grew uncomfortable as I nervously began rambling on about my computer classes to fill the void. I knew at the end of our visit that this woman would remain in my memory bank forever. I realized that each choice we make impacts our future and our relationships with others.

During mealtime we had the opportunity to connect with someone outside of ourselves, sharing our stories and listening to others. I never fully understood how important the concept of a meal was. I realized that mealtime offered much needed support to those who suffered. It had the power to create a connection between people who were polar opposites. It gave me the opportunity to step into the shoes of someone I never would have met.

The next morning, I spotted my new friend as I got ready to return to my usual lifestyle. Little did she know what a lasting impression she had made. My views on those less fortunate had been changed forever.

My life-changing experience at the mission taught me that everyone is a diamond in the rough.

Jackie Greenspan graduated from Milken Community High School last year.


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

The Bittersweet Meaning of Mud


Mud

I had been waiting seven years, and my machon summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai was finally here. It would be different from every other summer, because we would finally be the oldest group, and camp domination would be ours. I knew it would be bittersweet, and I looked forward to making every moment of this incredible summer count.

Natalie KatzThere is one program in particular that embodies all of the emotionalism and meaning of machon summer: Tza’adah. Tza’adah is a five-day, four-night overnight trip that takes campers far from the boundaries of camp and into the nature of Northern California, where we bond with friends, while experiencing the outdoors. I was a little skeptical about not showering for five days, but before I knew it, the day finally came — we were ready to embark on a wild adventure.
We drove for what felt like a lifetime to Big Sur in Northern California. The next morning, we had our first day — and only day — in Big Sur. The morning started with a bowl of Rice Krispies and some scrambled eggs. Following breakfast, we were given the choice between a hard, medium or easy hike.

Assuming the hard hike was going to be well, hard, I set off with the rest of the adventurous campers on the hard hike. We trekked all the way up a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, singing songs to pass then time and admiring the scenery.

We walked along the beach and came to an astounding discovery. Earlier that day, a beached whale had died and was now lying on the sand. Staring with amazement at the gargantuan creature, we developed one of the verses of our machon song, “This Tza’adah of Mine,” sung to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Later that evening, after arriving at Lake Casitas, our campsite for the next three nights, we sat around the bonfire and sang cliched camp songs, aided by packets of the best songs hand selected by our wonderful counselors. We could all sing along and learn the words. I will keep the songbook forever as a memento of this journey.

The next day, we took a bus to a beautiful beach. As my two friends and I were walking along the shore, we found a rock shaped like a heart. We took it with us, promising to start a new tradition of passing the rock, along with a letter, among us so we can keep in touch after camp.

The last day, we were given a choice between kayaking, rock-climbing and mountain-biking. I chose kayaking.

The group leader gave us the task of fitting as many people in one kayak as possible without it tipping over. This may not seem to be difficult, but it was unbelievably hilarious and so hard! Try to imagine people laughing hysterically while squeezing their way onto a little kayak. Meanwhile, it’s sinking, and we’re desperately trying not to tip it over.

I was sitting near the front, and after the ninth or 10th person climbed on, the kayak flipped over. Everyone fell in the water — and to top off a perfect day, the water was the perfect temperature.

Then we had one last task: To stand up straight on the kayak and paddle it like a gondola in Venice. I succeeded after falling in a couple of times!
Tza’adah had finally come to a close, but we were not going to finish without a huge hurrah. As is tradition at Camp Ramah, the machon campers run into the chadar ochel, the dining hall, at the end of lunch, giving mud hugs to friends and family. On our last day, we trudged eight miles back to camp from Lake Casitas, singing, laughing and stopping for POWERade along the way, a necessity in the sweltering heat.

We finally got to camp, jumped in the mud pit and got ready to run into the chadar. I will especially remember being the first to do a belly flop in the mud.

Once everyone was finished getting muddy, we formed platoons and began to march to the chadar. The platoons lined up at different entrances. I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

The counselors yelled, “Charge!” and we sprinted for the doors. It was complete pandemonium inside. I ran around yelling, cheering and giving mud hugs to all my friends, making sure to squeeze extra tight to ensure they were truly covered in mud.

Looking back
is so hard, because I know I will never again have the chance to run through the dinning hall covered in mud. Tza’adah defined my camp experience, and I know that even though I will never be a camper again, the memories I created this summer will last forever.

Natalie Katz, a 10th-grader from Manhattan Beach, has attended Camp Ramah for seven years.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15; Deadline for the Ocotber issue is Sept. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Spectator – Teens Band Together in Music Battle


There is nothing like a battle to bring a people together.

At least this is the hope of Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC), as he plans the Los Angeles area’s first citywide Jewish Battle of the Bands.

“I believe that there needs to be a place where Jewish teens from various schools and denominations can gather … music is a way that that can happen,” he said.

The Nov. 4 event, which Greene describes as “an effort to make the Westside JCC a relevant part of Jewish teen life in Los Angeles,” is scheduled for 7 p.m., at the community center.

Any bands with Jewish members are encouraged to submit demos before Sept. 1 in order to be considered for the battle lineup. The event is geared toward embracing any and all forms of “the musical expression of Jewish teens,” Greene said.

Competing bands will be evaluated by a panel of judges expected to include music industry insiders, and winners will be awarded prizes including Sam Ash music merchandise gift certificates. Sam Ash Music Corp. is sponsoring the event, along with the Jonathan and Faye Kellerman Foundation.

Greene has motives that go beyond the music: He hopes the battle will bring together teens from all denominations and schools, fostering the kind of Jewish unity that the JCC has already kindled in its preschool and senior citizen patrons.

“Teens by their nature are not denominational,” he said. “I hope [this concert] is creative way to spark an interest among teens as to this being a place that can host events for the teen community.”

Similar citywide musical battles have met with much success in the Jewish communities of Vancouver and Miami, among others. Such an event, though, seems tailor-made for Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.

So grab a microphone — and rock on.

The event will be held Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. $5. Only five bands will be able to compete. Send demos to: Battle of the Bands c/o Westside Jewish Community Center 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.myspace.com/wjccbattleofthebands.

 

The Making of a Jewish Teen


Community
by Lauren Schein, Tribe Contributor

I am a stubborn person. I get it from my dad. I also get many of my beliefs from my dad, who disregards all religion as not only mostly useless, but harmful.

I also have influences from my grandparents, who are big players in their temple. They insist on carrying on the Jewish traditions. My mom pushes the idea of Jewish community and how good it feels to be part of something larger.

Among all of these influences, my dad’s beliefs seemed most believable to me. I had seen evidence of the problems that religion had caused in the world and was ready and willing to go without. I didn’t see the point of being a part of anything bigger if it could invoke wars.

That is, until I had some chicken.

Chicken, you ask? Why is chicken symbolic of my joining of the Jewish community? The answer begins with the Religious Action Center trip to Washington, D.C. in February 2006.

I had not wanted to go along in the first place, but had been convinced. I walked into the situation firmly believing that there was no fun or learning to be had, and was ready to be stubborn enough to stick to that belief.

My mind was quickly changed the moment I walked into a large dining hall full of laughing, happy people who were all ready to get to know each other. I was enjoying myself even before dinner. The people I met were interesting, and I had a lot in common with them.

Then the food came. It was … chicken. That’s when Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, my rabbi from Leo Baeck Temple, said, “It wouldn’t be a Jewish convention without chicken.”

Everyone at my table was laughing, including me.

That’s when it hit me: I am a Jew. I was eating chicken with people I had immediate connections to, laughing over stereotypes and feeling pride in being part of such a great group. I became a part of the Jewish community that weekend. Whether it was the chicken, the friends, the senators, or the research; I had come to realize the reason for religion in the world.

I no longer view the idea of religion and community as only harmful. I have learned that a community can be the most important thing a person can have. A community is there for support and comfort in times of celebration and in times of need. Everyone — anywhere in the world — needs a community.

I am actually surprised to feel how fulfilling it is to tell people that I am a Jew and belong to the Jewish people. Thanks to that piece of white-meat chicken, I now have a community I will be able to rely on my whole life.

Lauren Schein, a junior at Santa Monica High School, was confirmed at Leo Baeck Temple.

Jewish Identity
by Mickey Brown, Tribe Contributor

I’m Jewish everywhere I go, but it always feels a little different depending on if I’m at my synagogue, at my camp or at my school.

When I’m at synagogue at Congregation Ner Tamid, I don’t feel unique. Being Jewish is typical and ordinary. I know everyone, and I simply take it for granted that everyone is here because they’re Jewish, and that everyone is Jewish because they’re here.

At Camp Hess Kramer, it feels completely different. I know that everyone is Jewish, but I don’t know anyone, and at first it’s strange. We know all the same prayers, all the same games and all the same rituals. The interesting part for me is that these things have less to do with being Jewish and more to do with being at camp.

It’s such a great feeling to be there and know that it is where I belong. People accept me at camp, and sometimes I just stand and ponder the idea that, “Wow, they’re all Jewish, every single one of them. I am not the minority, or even the majority, but the entire population! I am the religion!” Being able to say that feels really good.

School is another story, and to be honest, school is where I truly feel proud to be Jewish. I am part of a small minority at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, and I am treated a little differently for it. People see me in some of my classes as “the Jew” or “one of the Jews” and, truthfully, I love it! I am proud when I am at school to be known as “the Jew.”

The different ways people see me are mostly based on stereotypes. If someone were to point me out in a crowd to one of his friends and tell him that I am Jewish, the person would very likely assume I was smart, hard working, and fairly wealthy — and I have absolutely no problem with that assumption. I am proud to be thought of that way because those are valuable and honorable qualities that all people would want to have, and the fact that somebody would simply assume that I have them is quite flattering to me.

The truth is, however, that being Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with those stereotypes. It’s about what I believe in and how I view myself. I have come to realize that my parents didn’t decide that I would be Jewish; I decided that I would be Jewish, and that I had to want it for myself. It didn’t matter how many people wanted it for me as long as I made my choice.

And as I stand here on the night of my confirmation, I think that it is obvious which choice I’ve made. I have nothing to prove to anyone regarding my religion, my beliefs, my faith, or my Jewish heritage, and I am very proud of who I am.

Mickey Brown, a junior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, was confirmed at Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Israel
by Kevin Senet, Tribe Contributor

It was my first time in Israel, and on one of my first evenings there, I went to a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game. That night, Maccabi was playing Jerusalem HaPoel for the Israeli basketball championship. This rivalry is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rivalries in Israeli sports. The stadium was divided; the Tel Aviv fans were standing on one side in yellow, while the Jerusalem fans were standing on the other in red.

All of the sudden, before the game, the arena lights dimmed. I was amazed to see tens of thousands of people stop whatever they were doing — mostly chanting and cussing at the other side — to stand united and sing “HaTikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Not only did everyone sing, but they sang with pride and wholeheartedly.

Listening to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I could feel the love of the Jewish nation in everyone’s voices, the love that has kept the hope for Israel alive in the Jewish people for thousands of years and through many difficulties. From this I understood why the Israelis have such extreme national pride and risk so much in order to live in the Jewish homeland.

I had never heard “HaTikvah” sung in public by tens of thousands of people. Being in Israel taught me not to hide my Jewish pride, but to show it in public. After living in Tel Aviv with an Israeli family for two months on the Milken-Lady Davis Israel Exchange Program, my pride in Israel and in Judaism has risen greatly.

I have also never seen fans as passionate as the Maccabi fans in any sports game in America. During the exchange program this spring, I attended every Maccabi game. When I saw that Maccabi was going to the final four in Europe, I was amazed. A team from the small country of Israel was going to Prague to play against teams from Russia and Spain. This shows the world that the Israelis and Jews are strong and can compete in sports, like basketball. When European countries see an Israeli team as one of the best teams in Europe, they must respect Israel and Jews.

Israelis are so proud of Maccabi doing well that more than 10,000 Israelis, including my host family, the Dekels, and I, went to the Euroleague Finals in Prague to cheer them on. Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball was one of the highlights of my stay in Israel. Not only was it fun to go to the games, but it taught me how different the Israeli culture is from American culture, and how to be proud of who I am.

Kevin Senet, a junior at Milken Community High School, was confirmed at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

God
by Natalie Paige Karic, Tribe Contributor

One night a few months ago, I was talking with two of my closest friends, whom I have known for as long as I can remember. Both of these girls are relatively religious Christians who frequently attend church and have a strong belief in God. Soon our conversation came to the subject of religion.

My friends asked me if I believed in God. I quickly answered that I wasn’t sure. Recently, I have asked myself how I could believe in God if I had never had a personal experience in which God spoke directly to me or guided me in some way.

I told them that to be a Jew you didn’t have to believe in God. I was certain about this, but I still couldn’t explain more. My friends didn’t grasp how I could be Jewish and be an active participant in my Jewish community yet not believe in God. They didn’t understand what I feel in services when the congregation is praying and singing to God. How is Judaism even a religion, they asked, if you aren’t praying to anything?

After thinking about it I came to the realization that most people don’t understand this important part of Judaism. Our religion is, of course, based on the monotheistic principle in which people unite to pray to one God, but a bigger part of Judaism, which my Christian friends overlooked, is the moral code, tikkun olam and other mitzvot that our religion promotes.

Of the ethics and values we are taught in Judaism, the most important to me is the learning and discovery integral to our Jewish religion. As we learn about the ideals and history of Judaism, we are better prepared to make educated decisions based on our beliefs about God and life.

After this year in Confirmation class, I feel as though I am more prepared to think about my belief in God. To be honest, I’m still questioning, but being a part of our Jewish community and trying to understand my religion has given me exactly what I wanted.

I know I won’t be judged by our community on the basis of faith, and I am always being asked to question my beliefs until I achieve what I consider to be the best understanding possible.

As I have grown as a Jewish woman, I have learned that being a part of Jewish community is what makes me a Jew. The people here are joined together by something great that cannot be explained. While we may not all believe the same things about God and life, we are all in this together.

Natalie Paige Karic, a junior at Harvard-Westlake School, was confirmed at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Tribe


Back when I was working at a newspaper in New York, my editors and I tried to come up with a teen-sounding headline for a story on voting for our new teen section.

“How about ‘Gettin’ Out the Vote’?” my editor offered.

As if dropping a “g” off the end of the word is all one needs to do to appeal to teens.

I knew then, and I know now, that to really speak to teens, you just have to be one.

Adults can affect any sort of teenish language they want; they can claim to understand how the teenage mind works, to get the issues teens are thinking about. But teens know a fake when they see it.

That is why The Jewish Journal has decided to hand this page over to teenagers. Once a month, we will choose columns, feature articles or news stories submitted by teens in grades 9-12.

As you can see on this page, Natalie Goodis, a junior at Marlborough High School, has inaugurated the page with a column about how her experience in Eastern Europe and Israel changed her.

Here’s your chance. Write an article about what a teenager has to weigh when deciding whether to date only Jews. Send us your thoughts on evolution vs. creationism. Tell us about what you think about Ariel Sharon, about this country’s hurricane response, about your grandmother. Describe an event at your school that moved the whole student body to action.

The topics are up to you; the voice is yours.

We hope the monthly page is just the beginning. We want teens to talk to us — to have some input into what their peers should be writing about. That is why we are creating a Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee. (How would that look on a college resume?) The committee will meet several times a year to determine what topics you want covered in these pages, and to get your feedback on where things should go.

Being a teenager is intense. It is when you form your values, you solidify lifelong relationships, you choose a path for your future. Most teens are profoundly aware of just how pivotal these years are, and a lot of teens have something to say about it.

If you’re one of them, we’re waiting to hear from you. This is your chance to help more than 100,000 Jewish adults get a glimpse into your world.

Action Items:

  • Articles: First-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words — submitted as an attachment to an e-mail.
  • Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee: Send your name, age, school and up to 200 words on why you should be on the Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee.

Ground Rules

Where Will a Teen’s Schooling Continue?


 

When Amy Cohen graduated from Adat Ari El’s day school in 2003, her family faced a decision: Where would she continue her education?

While eighth-graders at Orthodox day schools generally continue on to Jewish high schools, graduates of Conservative, Reform or community day schools matriculate to any number of school settings, including Jewish, public, magnet and private secular.

At this time of the year, parents and students face the task of setting priorities and examining realities that will determine where a Jewish teen’s education will continue.

As the Cohens discussed options, “It became clear that she didn’t want to continue in a religious setting,” recalled Amy’s father, Dennis Cohen. “She wanted to sample the wider world.”

The Studio City family briefly considered public school for Amy, but decided that she would be better served in a private school that could offer small classes and individualized attention. Amy was accepted into Pacific Hills, a private school in West Hollywood. Cohen says his daughter enjoyed the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the student body and quickly adjusted to her new setting.

Similarly, Cohen’s son, Geoffrey, now 18, left Adat Ari El after fifth grade to attend the gifted program at Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood. There, Cohen said, his son enjoyed “getting lost in the crowd and having a bigger social circle.”

Although Cohen said he would have been happy to send his children to a Jewish high school, he did not object to their preferences.

“You try to lay the foundation for their Jewish observances at home … and you hope it takes root,” he said. “Eventually, they’re going to go into the secular world.”

Although neither of his children is continuing with formal Jewish education, Cohen said that their synagogue remains a central part of the family’s life.

It’s difficult to determine the exact number of families like the Cohens who are choosing to leave the Jewish day school world after the elementary years. Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, said that one might conclude that fewer students are making the transition from Jewish elementary schools to Jewish high schools, given that last fall there were 685 eighth-graders in day school, and only 621 entering high school students this fall. That number also includes some who enter Jewish high school after attending a secular middle school.

At the same time, Jewish high school enrollment is substantially higher today than five years ago. According to Graff, there were 502 ninth-graders enrolled in Jewish high schools in 1999, compared to the 621 today.

With annual private high school tuition averaging from $18,000 to the mid-20s, the option is beyond the means of many families.

Debbie Gliksman sent her three children to Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. But when it came time for her eldest child, Lianna, to start high school, “our options were limited,” she said. Gliksman would have liked to send her daughter to Milken Community High School, but “it’s a very, very expensive proposition to send three kids there,” she said.

Instead, her daughter enrolled this fall in the humanities magnet program at Hamilton High, her local school.

“There’s a big difference [between private and public],” Gliksman said.

She and other parents recommend that families who may want to send their children to a magnet school begin accruing points as early as possible. (For more information about points, visit www.lausd.k12.ca.us/welcome.html and click on “FAQs” under the “Discover LAUSD” tab.)

For other families, only a Jewish high school will do. In June, Maureen Goldberg’s son, Joshua, will graduate from Abraham Heschel Day School in Northridge. Goldberg said her family had been “struggling for the last couple of years” over the issue of where he should go next.

Several weeks ago, she said the family “came to an epiphany” while attending an open house for a secular private school they were considering. The school had put out an extensive buffet, and as Goldberg approached the tables and saw the ham and cheese.

“My heart sank,” she said.

She turned to her son and said, “I don’t think I can go back.” And he responded, “I don’t think I can, either, mom.”

“It crystallized for us that we weren’t ready to give up the Judaic experience,” said Goldberg, who added that she considered it even more important for adolescents than younger children to learn Jewish values. “He might get that at a secular school, but I know he’ll get it at Milken.”

Goldberg also said she was disappointed that although 75 percent of her son’s class went on to private schools, only three chose to go to a Jewish one.

Like many other parents sending their children to private school, Goldberg said the family had to sacrifice to afford the steep tuition.

“I’d rather live in the smallest house in the worst neighborhood and send my kid to a private Jewish day school, than live in the largest house and go to public school,” she said. “The sacrifice is worth it. I have a really menschy, kind kid, and he got a lot of that from Heschel.”

 

March Connects Students to Shoah


With 15 years of Jewish day school education under his belt, Marc Marrero had a plan for college.

“I was going to graduate from Milken, come to college and basically have my Jewish life back home, and I was going to completely forget about Judaism when I came to college,” said Marrero, a freshman at Tufts University in Boston.

That plan was “flipped upside down” after he attended March of the Living last April, spending a week in Poland and a week in Israel with thousands of teens from all over the world and forming a bond with a Holocaust survivor who became like a grandfather to him.

“The first thing I did when I came to Tufts was go to Hillel,” Marrero said. He also advocates for Israel, and made an effort to find Shabbat services that are meaningful to him.

It is reactions such as Marrero’s that has given March of the Living such widespread support both among those interested in perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust and those interested in building positive Jewish identity — two camps that often find themselves at odds.

With the anniversary of Kristallnacht this week, the ongoing debate around whether to put scarce community resources into Holocaust memorials or into Jewish education re-emerges. In this touchy context, March of the Living seems to have carved out a niche where memorializing tragedy and fostering positive Jewish identity come together in such a way as to deflect criticism and to attract broad support from educators and community leaders.

In cities around the United States, including Los Angeles, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) often acts as a local planner for the trip, and community money subsidizes its roughly $3,500 price tag. The BJE in Los Angeles this year is sending an adult group, and is also making the trip a yearly rather than biannual event, as it has been for the past decade.

“This is not a horror and sadness trip. It’s not just about concentration camps and death camps, not about Nazis,” said Phil Liff-Grieff, BJE’s associate director, who has attended with groups twice. “It’s really about having the opportunity to think about who we are in a very powerful conversation with our past.”

This year, the international March of the Living is boosting promotion efforts in an attempt to get 18,000 Jewish and non-Jewish teenagers and adults — nearly three times the yearly average — for the May 2005 trip, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camps.

At Milken Community High School, which sent 12 students last year, recruitment efforts are underway to get as many as possible of the 138 seniors to go this year, an idea Marrero thinks is a good one.

“I got a really good Jewish education, but I never really understood the immediacy of why I needed that education and the role it needed to play in my life. There was this disconnect, and the march really made Judaism a part of my life,” Marrero said. “It has given me a calling, or a task.”

About 100,000 teens worldwide have gone on March of the Living since the first trip in 1988. Every year, local delegations from around the world spend a week in Poland, touring erstwhile shtetls and concentrations camps. The week culminates on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with 6,000 teens, chaperones and survivors in matching blue jackets marching with Israeli flags from Auschwitz to Burkina.

After Poland the groups head to Israel, where they celebrate Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day.

The combination of understanding the richness of what was once there, how it was lost, and then how Israel rose from the ashes to become what is today, in a milieu with peers from around the world, proves to be an intense experience for teens.

To aid the teens in processing the information, a social worker attends the trip, and work is done in small groups before, during and after the trip itself.

“Even though the experience was intense and very emotionally and mentally challenging to deal with, I think ultimately the intensity of the experience is what lit up the passion inside of us to go out and carry the message of what we learned,” said Miri Cypers, a Milken graduate who now attends Barnard College. “One of the most important messages of the trip was how to take history and take the tragedy of the past and still continue to find meaning and depth in everyday life.”

That message was brought home by the presence of Nandor “Marko” Markovic, a survivor who attended with last year’s Los Angeles group (see sidebar).

“Marko’s response and his way of dealing with things — and the way I’ve come to view the world — is that you have to respond to injustice with humanity,” Marrero said.

Markovic built intense bonds with the group, telling them his story of surviving through six concentration camps when he was younger than most of them.

“I never got to meet my grandfather, but Marko filled that void in my life,” said Marrero. “I’ve never learned such important lessons from anyone as I did from him. It was unbelievable to be able to meet someone you didn’t know before and two weeks later feel like you’ve learned the most important lessons of life on how to deal with yourself and how to confront humanity and how to deal with evil in the world.”

Both Marrero and Cypers tell of their experience in the small town of Tykocin in Poland, where they stood in desolation looking at the barely visible relics of a wooden Magen David on what was once the rabbi’s house in a thriving community. The group suddenly heard loud noises coming from the 500-year-old synagogue that had been salvaged as a museum. They entered, and found hundreds of March of the Living participants from around the world singing and dancing.

“I could see Marko just started to weep, because this was a tangible moment where we could see how we were bringing back life that [which] was decimated,” Cypers said.

It was Marko’s first time back to Auschwitz since he lost his parents and several siblings there, and he said it was the kids who carried him through the trip, and gave him the strength to continue on the 3-kilometer march.

“With my generation going, the whole story will go to academia,” Markovic said. “If we bond with these kids, they will remember it emotionally rather than academically.”

That was the thinking behind the creation of March of the Living. Israeli Knesset Member Avraham Hirchson saw that Israeli teens did not know anything about the Holocaust, and he wanted to be sure that Israelis and Jews worldwide could bear witness to the destruction. Along the way, the larger idea of building Jewish identity arose.

“I am convinced that March of the Living has such an impact on these youngsters, that without modesty I will predict that they will represent the future leadership of the Jewish people all over the world,” said Freddy Diamond, a survivor of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who founded Los Angeles’s citywide Yom Hashoah program and attended the march five times over 10 years.

While in Auschwitz, Diamond showed the teens the block where his brother, a leader of the little-known resistance in Auschwitz, was tortured and then where he was hanged in front of 15,000 inmates.

Markovic showed them where he stood when he shooed his little sister to go stand with their mother and other siblings; they were among thousands killed that day.

But more than reliving the tragedy, the survivors provide inspiration. It is a difficult trip for the aging survivors, but one they see as key not only to remembering their lost families, but as central to the Jewish future.

“What is the impact of the trip to Poland and Israel?” Diamond asked. “I can say it in one sentence: For the first time in their lives, these youngsters know what a privilege it is to be Jewish.”

Applications are now available for March of the Living 2005. For more information, visit www.motl.org or www.bjela.org, or call (323) 761-8605.

Not Another Teen Movie


Seventy-four percent of all evangelicals feel the mass media are hostile to their moral and spiritual values. — Religion and Ethics Newsweekly/U.S. News and World Report Poll, April 2004.

With its satiric take on the zeal of the Christian youth movement, and more broadly, religious extremism, the movie "Saved!," which opens May 28, seems to validate the above poll.

The film centers on Mary (Jena Malone), a popular girl at a Christian high school, and her queen bee best friend, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). They’re both devout believers, but Mary begins questioning her faith when she becomes pregnant after trying to save her gay boyfriend’s soul. She is soon ostracized by Hilary Faye and embraced by the other school misfits, wheelchair-bound Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and Cassandra Edelstein (Eva Amurri), the token Jew.

Predictably, the film was not an easy sell for co-writers Michael Urban and Brian Dannelly (who also directed the film). There was concern over the potential controversy of a religiously flip teen comedy, especially with all of the "Passion" fervor.

"It was naivete, I guess, but we thought, ‘Oh, this is a big commercial movie … it’s a teen comedy, of course everybody will want to make it.’ Little did we know," Urban said.

Indeed, most of the jokes are at the expense of the ultradevout: A sign in a classroom reads, "Jesus is watching," and the school principal tries to make Jesus hip and accessible to his young flock by injecting street slang into his sermons: "Let’s get our Christ on!" "You down with G-O-D?"

Eventually, the script landed in the hands of producers Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern, who got United Artists on board.

They’ve screened the heck out of it since then "to religious groups, gay groups, teen groups, Christian groups, tastemakers, cinephiles, really any kind of audience you think of," Dannelly said.

One aspect that might prove controversial is the role of Cassandra, the Jewish girl, who, it could be argued, "saves" the Christian kids at the end of the film.

Whether the whole thing comes off as subversive or sweet will certainly be up for debate. But so far, Dannelly said, "the only people that really freak out over the movie are evangelical fundamentalists…. My mom brought a nun to the screening in Maryland and she loved the movie."

Israel Philharmonic Strikes Teen Chord


Wearing Ug boots and draped wool scarves, a chatty clique of
Milken Community High School girls slumped into their seats in a packed
auditorium. About 600 had assembled to hear the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s
(IPO) KeyNote Brass Ensemble perform with the school’s Chamber Ensemble and
Concert Choir.

The teens seemed unenthusiastic at best. But then the
KeyNote players explained how the shofar was the ancient ancestor of the brass
instrument family. They also performed “The Simpsons” theme song with the
Milken student musicians. Slowly, scowls turned to smiles, feet started tapping
and through the IPO’s KeyNote program, the Los Angeles teens learned about
instruments, music and the joy of playing.

“The assembly was amazing, and it was great to see my
friends play with a professional orchestra,” said Jessie Levine, a Milken
10th-grader. “Plus, I had no idea that brass instruments had Jewish roots.
That’s really cool.”

In 2002, The American Friends of the IPO received a grant from
The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership to support the KeyNote
Program, a 4-year-old outreach program that has benefited more than 14,000
Jewish and Arab students in Tel Aviv. The grant required that the IPO conduct a
reciprocal program in Los Angeles. Milken Community High School, which has both
an in-house music academy and a sister school in Tel Aviv, was chosen for the
program.

The Dec. 11 program consisted of a joint rehearsal session
between the IPO Brass Ensemble and the Stephen S. Wise Music Academy students,
a joint concert, lunch for the professional and student musicians and Q-and-A
sessions in the general classrooms The day was designed to integrate the high
school students with the visiting musicians.

“We wanted our kids to have the experience of hearing the
IPO, playing with the IPO and working with the musicians in the classroom,”
said Dr. Russell Steinberg, director of Stephen S. Wise Music Academy. After
the assembly, musicians visited English, Hebrew and science classes where
students who had just attended the concert asked questions about music, the
position of a Jewish orchestra in Israel and general social, political and
cultural concerns.

The IPO was in Los Angeles in December, giving a dazzling
sold-out performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dec. 11 at the Orange
County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa (for more on the performance, see
next week’s Circuit).

Since its inception in 1936, the IPO has played at the
Proclamation Ceremony of the State of Israel in the Tel Aviv Museum (1948) and
on Mount Scopus in liberated Jerusalem after the Six-Day War (1967). The
orchestra has enjoyed associations with artists like Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo
Ma and Itzhak Perlman. But the current musicians, who hail from around the
world and tour at prestigious concert halls and festivals throughout the United
States, Europe and Asia, relish the opportunity to teach the young.

“We love playing with high school students because they are
the next generation of music lovers,” said Micha Davis, IPO’s bass trombone
player. “When we were in school there were musicians who played with us. It’s
an ongoing tradition.”

The Milken student musicians were thrilled to partake in the
tradition. After hearing the IPO perform at Disney Hall the night before, the
students were delighted to join the professionals on stage in their campus
auditorium.

“It was a really humbling experience. They are a world-class
orchestra, said Elizabeth Erenberg, a 12th-grade flautist who plans to major in
music next year at college. “I feel really honored to have met them and played
with them. They’re great people as well.”

The IPO, which travels the world as a cultural ambassador
for Israel, generated a new appreciation for music and a strong sense of Jewish
pride among the Milken students.

“I go to a Jewish school. I love music and I love Israel. So
today, was an incredible experience,” said Jason Abrams, a 10th-grade pianist
with the Chamber Ensemble.

“Knowing the current situation in Israel, it must be very
difficult for them to continue functioning like other major orchestras,”
Erenberg said. “I think it’s very admirable that they continue to make music.”

For more information on the KeyNote program, visit

A World of Makeup, Midriffs and Mirrors


When photojournalist Lauren Greenfield was 12, she discovered girl culture at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu.

"My fellow campers brought trunks filled with clothes, makeup, blowdryers, hair gels," Greenfield, 37, wrote in an essay. "They straightened their hair, shaved their legs and generally spent huge amounts of time and energy on their appearance."

Back home in Venice, the preteen stood in front of her closet every Saturday, paralyzed by having to decide what to wear to Hebrew school. It didn’t help that one classmate owned 17 pairs of Chemin de Fers, the trendy designer jeans of the day.

Greenfield recalled those experiences in the 1990s while shooting "Girl Culture," her provocative photography book and exhibit. The more than 40 color pictures, accompanied by interviews with the subjects, explore how pop culture shapes the psyches of American women and girls. To create the series — now on display at the Skirball Cultural Center — Greenfield hung out in dressing rooms, plastic surgery clinics and other places where females literally make themselves up.

In one photograph, Allegra, 4, of Malibu, seductively mimics the moves of a pop star during a game of dress up. Hannah, 13, of Edina, Minn., strikes the stance of a supermodel while posing with the other popular girls in her school clique. Sheena, 15, of San Jose, unhappily assesses her cleavage while trying on skimpy clothing reminiscent of Britney Spears.

Sheena’s portrait is "a powerful symbol of all the self-hate and ‘bad body fever’ that characterizes normal American women," scholar Joan Jacobs Brumberg wrote in the introduction to the show.

"As much as we enjoy our consumption activities (i.e. shop until we drop), many of us are plagued by a pervasive sense of not measuring up….. [Contemporary girls] understand that their power as women will come from their beauty, and that beauty in American culture is defined, increasingly, by a certain body type displayed in particular ways."

Greenfield — named one of American Photo magazine’s 25 most important photographers today — can relate. One day when she was 6, she sobbed as she looked at herself in the mirror, convinced that she was ugly. She was a chronic dieter as a teenager at the elite Crossroads school.

Her obsession with "body projects" continued as she attended Harvard University and won her first photography award, from the Jewish Historical Society, for a series on elderly Jews. She kept returning to the theme in magazine assignments and in 1995 book, "Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood," which launched her career as a hip chronicler of youth culture.

"Girl Culture" began while she was perusing pictures she had shot in Las Vegas for a German magazine. She kept returning to an image of a 30ish showgirl primping at her dressing table at the Stardust Hotel. Taped to her mirror were magazine cutouts of models and a note, "I approve of myself"; the surrounding area was cluttered with the beauty tools Greenfield first encountered at sleepaway camp. The photographer suddenly realized she had something in common with the showgirl.

"Her photo was a metaphor for how girls create their identities from pieces of the material world and the popular culture," she said. "It also spoke about how women get their sense of worth and self-esteem."

Greenfield learned more in books such as Brumberg’s "The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls," which described how good looks have replaced good works as the highest form of female perfection. With her 35mm Canon camera, she set off to document the phenomenon in cities as diverse as Beverly Hills and Chattanooga, Tenn.

She captured a model-actress in Manhattan, belles at a Southern debutante ball and African American girls at the Crenshaw High School prom.

She examined the darker parts of the girl culture at a Catskills weight-loss camp and an eating disorder clinic where an anorexic stood with her back to the scale.

"I went to the clinics and the ‘fat camps’ because they represent the extreme consequences of body image being so paramount in the culture," Greenfield said. "I was interested in how girls’ feelings of frustration and sadness are expressed in self-destructive ways: starving themselves, cutting their bodies and being sexually promiscuous."

Greenfield believes the promiscuity is encouraged by the sexual exhibitionism now in vogue in the media. She critiques the phenomenon by placing photos of vamping teens next to images of exotic dancers and actresses.

"Mothers may buy their daughters midriffs to look like Britney Spears, because she’s the pop icon of her generation, without understanding the message of what these clothes mean," she said. "When you see these clothes next to the clothes of a porn star, it takes on a more serious meaning."

So is the photographer now resistant to the pressures of the girl culture?

"I don’t feel immune," said Greenfield, who lives in Venice with her husband and son.

But being a working mother has liberated her in a way.

"There’s little time to worry about looking in the mirror and putting on makeup," she said. "And I feel like this project has been very cathartic. The culture can be harsh and toxic for girls, and therefore is worth critiquing."

For information about the Skirball exhibit, call (310) 440-4500. Photos from Greenfield’s "Girl Culture" and "Fast Forward" series will also be on view at the Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Sept. 13-Nov. 1. For information, call (323) 937-5523.

World Briefs


Arafat Calls for Elections

Israeli politicians and pundits alike were skeptical after Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat called this week for new Palestinian elections.

Arafat called on Palestinian legislators to make “speedy preparations” for new elections, but mentioned no date. In an address Wednesday before the Palestinian legislative council, Arafat also said it is “time for change and reform” in the Palestinian Authority. Arafat offered a rare acknowledgment that he has made mistakes, but he placed most of the blame for the current crisis on Israel. At the start of the speech, Arafat vowed that the Palestinians would never give up their dream for freedom, independence and sovereignty. Arafat’s speech came on the day of Al-Nakba Arabic for the “catastrophe” which marks the founding of the state of Israel.

Report Links P.A. to Terrorism

A U.S. State Department report says “there is no conclusive evidence” that Palestinian leaders had advanced knowledge of terrorist attacks against Israel. But the semiannual report, which assesses the Palestinian Authority’s action from July through December 2001, says Palestinian leaders knew about the involvement of the Al-Aksa Brigades, Tanzim and members of the Force 17 presidential guard in terrorist attacks “and did little to rein them in.”

U.S. to Act Against Boycotts

The U.S. Department of Commerce plans to enforce regulations prohibiting Americans from supporting anti-Israel boycotts. “The U.S. government stands firm in its policy of opposing restrictive trade practices or boycotts against Israel,” Kenneth Juster, under secretary of commerce for industry and security, said Tuesday. U.S. law prohibits Americans from supporting unsanctioned boycotts by foreign governments.

Jewish Teens Attacked Near Paris

French police are searching for those responsible for a weekend attack on five Jewish teenagers in a Paris suburb. A gang of around 10 people, described by police as being of North African origin, beat the youths Sunday in the suburb of Saint Maur Des Fosses. “According to witnesses, the attackers shouted racist insults like ‘Go back where you came from. You don’t belong here,’ beat them up, then broke into their car and stole some of their CDs,” a local police official said Tuesday.

All briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Skinhead Attack in Beverlywood


Four Caucasian men, appearing to be neo-Nazi skinheads, attacked three Jewish high school boys last Shabbat shortly after midnight in Beverlywood.

The three observant students, in their midteens and wearing kippot, were walking through the quiet neighborhood on April 6, when a dark-colored car containing four men pulled up, according to a police report. Two of the men emerged from the car shouting slurs such as "Heil Hitler" and attacked the Jewish teens.

One of the Jewish boys escaped, while the other two, both 17, were beaten, despite their efforts to fend off their assailants, according to one of the victims. The Jewish boys were punched and kicked. One of the boys was held down, and the assailants shouted slurs, calling the boy "a dirty kike." No weapons were involved in the incident. At the parents’ request, the names of the Jewish teens have been withheld.

Two of the Jewish teens were set to leave that weekend on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance’s March of the Living program — an educational travel program that brings teens to Poland and Israel to observe Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut — and were walking home a third friend when the attack occurred. The only witness was a man walking his dog. However, the passerby did not come to the aid of the teens, noted one of the victims. As the attackers departed, they shouted more slurs against Jews.

One Jewish teen was rushed to Century City Hospital, where a gash above his right eye was sewn up with six stitches.

A news conference regarding the incident was held on April 9. In attendance were LAPD Deputy Chief Dave Kalish; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, and Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss. Detective Supervisor Ron Phillips of the West Los Angeles Division told The Journal that the attack appeared to be an isolated incident and that the investigation into locating the attackers is in progress.

According to police, the two suspects were in their 20s and had shaved heads. One was about 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with blue eyes. The other was about 6 feet and 150 pounds. Their vehicle was a four-door, economy-style car, possibly a Honda or Toyota Corolla.

"We’re running down some names," Phillips said.

"You have to give high grades to LAPD. They were right on top of this," Cooper said. "They did everything right. We should not take any of this for granted."

"The local community is meeting with the LAPD to figure out how to best from this point go forward," said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, who coordinated a B’nai David-Judea Congregation gathering on April 10. "We just can’t sit back after this takes place in our neighborhood."

Chief among discussions will be to coordinate police and Beverlywood-area private security patrols.

Meanwhile, the injured boys are recovering. One victim was able to make the March of the Living Trip, while the boy with the gash dropped out as a result of his injury. However, the teen found some solace in joining some friends from his high school at the April 7 pro-Israel rally in Westwood.

"After what I just experienced, it’s nice to be here," he told The Journal.

"The police are aggressively pursuing this case," Cooper said. "I feel pretty confident that there will be a positive outcome here. Justice is going to be done."

Anyone having any information regarding this incident or other suspicious activity is asked to contact either the West Los Angeles police station, (310) 574-8401; or West Los Angeles Detectives, (310) 575-8441.

Not Another Token Jew


Michael Bender and Mia Kirschner admit there’s no Jewish archetype in Joel Gallen’s "Not Another Teen Movie" — a "nasty and frequently hilarious assault on 20 years’ worth of youth pictures," according to The New York Times. "The ‘Jewish kid’ isn’t really a character that’s consistently come up in teen movies," says Bender, one of the writers and co-producers of the comedy which does to teen movies what "Scary Movie" did to the horror genre. Maybe that’s why the football team in the film’s fictional John Hughes High is called the Wasps, suggests Kirschner, who plays the school’s "Cruelest Girl" (a spoof of the film, "Cruel Intentions").

During a joint interview, Bender and Kirschner, both 26, say they became fast friends on the set, but were opposite Jewish types in high school. Bender — who belonged to a preppy clique called "The Plaid Boys" at his mostly Italian school in New Jersey — was the "Token Jewish Guy." And Toronto-bred Kirschner — often kicked out of class for her defiant behavior — was the "not-so-nice Jewish girl." (She’s since played a dominatrix in the 1993 dark comedy "Love & Human Remains," and a sexy vixen on the Fox drama, "24.")

Yet Kirschner and Bender have also defied their own "types." The preppy Bender went on to write naughty skits for the MTV Movie Awards. And Kirschner, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, studied Dostoyevsky at McGill University and enjoys talking politics with her dad, a Middle East analyst for the Canadian Jewish News.

As for how their families will respond to "Teen Movie," called gratuitously raunchy in at least one negative review: "You don’t want to be sitting next to your parents watching a sexual film, let alone one you’re starring in," Kirschner says.

"The movie really shocked my dad," Bender confides. "And Mia’s stuff shocked him the most."

Postcards from Israel


In every picture, Melissa Kahn is smiling — whether covered withmud at the Dead Sea, riding a donkey up Mount Canaan or hiking fromthe Mediterranean to Lake Kineret. Kahn, 16, a junior atHarvard-Westlake School, mused recently about the eight weeks shespent in Israel last summer on the Bureau of Jewish Education’s LosAngeles Ulpan program. The pictures are from a scrapbook that she hasleafed through so many times, “I think it will be worn outmomentarily,” she said.

 

Above, past Israel Experience Program participants gatheredrecently to help recruit teens for future trips. Left, Melissa Kahnin the Galil.

The trip, with more than 120 other young people, was part of theJewish Federation Council-backed Israel Experience Program, which,since 1996, has helped finance trips to Israel for close to 500 youngSouthern Californians, from high school through post-graduate level.(An additional 400 have gone without aid.) There are about 40programs to choose from, including B’nai B’rith Youth, the NationalConference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), Young Judea and the NorthAmerican Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY).

Kahn, who attended a Jewish day school before coming toHarvard-Westlake, spent three weeks studying Hebrew in a high-levelclass, four days hiking and quite a bit of time traveling throughoutIsrael. After attending prayer services each morning and on Shabbatwhile in Israel, Kahn returned home with some questions about herReform Jewish upbringing. “I think that when I grow up and decide ona temple to join or customs to do on my own, that they’re probablygoing to be a little more religious than I originally intended,”shesaid.

Nathan Angel, 15, a junior at Granada Hills High School, had heardhis Jewish stepfather talk about how going to Israel while in his 20shad changed his life. Angel, who wasn’t born Jewish, was intriguedand decided to go for five weeks as part of the Etgar Camp JCA Sholomprogram. He spent five days at a youth hostel in Jerusalem, traveledto Eilat, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. The Jerusalem hostel was only a fewblocks from the Mahane Yehuda market, which was hit by twin suicidebombs. “It was scary, but I didn’t think it could happen to us,”Angel said. “The army was based right under our hostel.”

An incident that occurred soon after his plane touched down in TelAviv frightened him even more. Angel, who has dark skin, was mistakenfor an Arab and approached by airport security. “They were about totake me away, but a woman in the group saved me,” he said.

Despite such experiences, Angel fell in love with the beauty ofIsrael, especially the natural waterfalls in Eilat and with the DeadSea. He hopes to move to Israel after high school and join the army.

Nicole Spiegel, who also went to Israel with Los Angeles Ulpan,recently spent the day at the Jewish Federation’s offices, along witheight other participants, putting together Israel Experience Programinformation packets to send to local bar/bat mitzvah-age teens.

“I’ve been planning to go to Israel since I was a little girl,”said Spiegel, 17, whose mother, Michelle, is from Tel Aviv. OnKibbutz Gezer, which is located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, theteens helped build an ark, constructed stone walls, a fire pit, amenorah and some stairs. Spiegel also spent time in the Israeli army,training with M-16 guns, doing dozens of push-ups and sit-ups,meeting kids from all over the United States. “We built friendshipsin a week. I still keep in touch with them,” she said.

Following the Mahane Yehuda bombing, the students weren’t allowedto walk around Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street or along the majorthoroughfares in Tel Aviv and Haifa. But, Spiegel said, she actuallyfelt safer in Israel than she does in Los Angeles. “I think everyonedid. Everywhere you go, there is somebody who’s either armed or readyto jump on whatever it is or whomever so that [no one gets] blownup.” One day, a friend happened to leave a bag on a sidewalk inJerusalem. Within minutes, the bomb squad was there. “They were readyto blow it up,” she said. “He had to show his passport and other ID.

Still, for Spiegel, a junior at Montclair Preparatory School inVan Nuys, being in Israel was an amazing experience, which she onlybegan to appreciate fully when she came home. “I want to go back tovisit so badly,” she said. “But not to live. The bombing would freakme out too badly.” The food, on the other hand, was terrific. “I’vebeen telling everyone, just as a joke, to go for the ice cream andthe pizza. It’s the best.”

The Israel Experience, which was launched in January 1996, wasdeveloped as “the next connector” to Judaism for post-bar mitzvahyouth, said IEP Director Jody Moss. The program provides referralinformation, as well as financial assistance, not only for theIsraeli trips themselves but for building awareness before and afterthe excursions.

“A trip to Israel isn’t the answer to keeping someone Jewish,”Moss said. “It’s a great way, but it’s really what comes before andafter that counts.”

For more information about Israel Experience programs, call (213)852-7896.