The problem with prayer

If the practice of Judaism is based on synagogue attendance, and if synagogue attendance is based on the passive recitation of prayer, then Judaism is in trouble.

The ritual of repetitive communal prayer might have worked in the shtetls to keep Jews Jewish, but it doesn’t work in today’s America.

For many Jews — especially the nonobservant — the very act of prayer can seem odd. What am I praying for? Does God really owe me anything more than all the blessings I already have and take for granted? And if I decide to pray for something — like being healthy — am I not better off going to the gym and watching what I eat? 

Prayer, in fact, might be the most problematic point of entry into Judaism. Why should people waste their time doing something they don’t really understand and don’t believe will benefit them?

Synagogues sense this. That’s one reason they put so much emphasis on the value of community. Becoming a member of a synagogue means belonging to an extended “family” that will provide you with a network of support and friendships, rabbinic assistance for lifecycle events, High Holy Days privileges, special classes and programs, and so on.

Synagogues depend on membership dues to survive. That’s why this time of year is so critical, when people make decisions about whether to renew their memberships for the coming year.

This traditional synagogue model will not — and cannot — go away any time soon. But if the Jewish world is looking for a breakthrough to attract the unaffiliated, the disconnected and the disenchanted, they’d do well to take this old model and experiment with some meaningful upgrades.

A good place to start would be to redefine prayer so that it can stand on its own.

A lot of promising work has been done in this area in synagogues across the country. One particular example can be found in the spiritual communities — such as IKAR, Nashuva and the Carlebach minyans — where prayer services share an almost tribal quality, with melodies and communal chanting that simply elevate you.

But one prayer method that I feel doesn’t get enough attention and that I find especially promising is the notion of following a “prayer narrative.” This method is more introspective, allowing a prayer service to become a personal spiritual journey that keeps you connected from beginning to end.

I ran this notion last year by my friend Rabbi Yoel Glick, a spiritual teacher who lives in the south of France and runs the Web site Daat Elyon. He was intrigued enough to write up an insightful “seven-step spiritual journey” for the Shabbat morning prayer service.

This seven-step guide doesn’t change the actual prayers, it simply frames them in a way that injects deep personal meaning. 

Each prayer section offers a theme that connects to the next one. The first three build up to the climax — the Shema — while the last three are the denouement.

Glick themes the seven steps as follows: “Awareness,” “Gratitude and Appreciation,” “Recognition of God and the Good,” “Affirmation — Light and Love,” “Communion,” “Contemplation” and, finally, “Tikkun Olam and Oneness.”

For each theme, Glick includes spiritual insights around which to meditate as you pray. For example, in the first phase (“Awareness”), you meditate around “a series of blessings constructed to make us conscious of the extraordinary blessing of being a living, breathing, self-aware human being.”

The journey takes effort and concentration, but the idea is that by the end of the service, you will come out more spiritually alive and more connected to Godliness, as well as to your own unique purpose in life.

The prayer guide is like a spiritual workout. Just as a personal trainer guides you to work out different parts of your body, Glick guides you to work out different parts of your soul and humanity.

It’s hard to imagine how this personal and introspective approach — which anyone can apply to any style of prayer service — would not be an improvement over passively reciting arcane prayers many of us don’t even understand.

The best part for me, though, is that Glick offers a meaningful response to a question modern Judaism must urgently answer: “What do I gain from Judaism?”

We needn’t be offended by that question. It’s just reality — in today’s world, Judaism will succeed only if it can offer something real and meaningful.

Redefining prayer in more personal and meaningful ways is a crucial ingredient if we want to attract the millions of Jews who prefer spending their Saturday mornings anywhere but at a house of prayer.

With seven weeks to go before the big crowds show up for their annual High Holy Days pilgrimage, spiritual leaders ought to be thinking about their own ways of making their prayer services even more meaningful. 

Simply put, people are more likely to come back to pray during the year if they feel the experience is something that will improve their lives, spiritually or otherwise. 

I look at it this way: If people come out of a gym feeling like a million bucks, why can’t they feel as good coming out of a prayer service?

Isn’t God more powerful than LA Fitness?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Purim event calendar 2013


FRI | FEB 22

A three-day carnival includes rides, food, games and a kids’ zone. Fri. Through Feb 24. Presale: $17 (20 tickets), $35 (Friday wristband), $25 (Saturday wristband), $45 (Sunday wristband); day-of prices: $1.25 (per-ride ticket), $20 (20-ride tickets), $40 (50-ride tickets, Friday wristband, Saturday wristband), $50 (Sunday wristband). Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

SAT | FEB 23

University Synagogue’s carnival features Moe Deli and Canter’s food trucks, games, rides, prizes and more. Fun for kids and adults alike. Sat. 5-9 p.m. $20 (presale), $25 (door). University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255.

Join Kehillat Ma’arav for a megillah reading, raffle, dinner, costume parade, a game of “Hamen’s Hollywood Squares” and more. Sat. 6 p.m. Free. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

Beth Chayim Chadashim’s Purim bash features musical performances by mystery celebrity guests, a multilingual reading of the megillah, multimedia storytelling of the book of Esther and a sing-along. Sat. 6 p.m. (bring your dinner), 6:30-7 p.m. (children’s festivities), 7 p.m. (Havdalah, “Shushan Idol” and megillah reading). Free. Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.

The progressive congregation stages a megillah rock opera. Sat. 6:30 p.m. Free. Location TBD.

Sinai Temple’s Purim-themed sendup of the annual music awards show features Sinai staff and students doing impersonations of the some of biggest pop stars, including Taylor Swift, Cee Lo Green, Rihanna, Maroon 5 and Carly Rae Jepsen. Traditional megillah reading follows. Sat. 6:30 p.m. (Havdalah and show). Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

Games, rides, prizes and other entertainment highlight the Conservative synagogue’s carnival. Sat. 6:30 p.m. $10 (member, presale), $14 (members, door), $15 (general, presale), $20 (general, door). Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7000.

Congregation Kol Ami’s Purim spiel is a classic tale of love, politics and the Academy Awards. Sat. 7-10 p.m. Free. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996.

Shomrei Torah’s Oscar-themed Purim spiel and party features live music and entertainment, clips from the best picture nominees, photo opportunities and more. Walk the red carpet in your Esther’s best. Sat. 7:30 p.m. Free. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 346-0811.

Games and prizes, a costume contest, dancing, a dunk tank, food, moon bounce, music and rock climbing highlight the Orthodox synagogue’s Purim carnival. Sat. 7:30 p.m. (immediately after a megillah reading). Free entry. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 795-3857.

Larger Than Life, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of children who have cancer, celebrates Purim — and its 10th anniversary — with food, drinks, a costume contest and surprises. DJ Eyal spins. Sat. 8 p.m. $85. Unici Casa Gallery, 9461 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City. (818) 887-7640.

Aliyah’s Purim carnival, which lasts two days this year, features a battle-of-the-bands for middle school and high school students — the winning band gets four hours of studio recording time — rides, games and more. Sat. 8-11 p.m. (battle-of-the-bands), Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Presale: $65 (unlimited all-day ride bracelet — Saturday and Sunday), $40 (unlimited all-day ride bracelet — Saturday night only), $45 (unlimited all-day ride bracelet — Sunday only). Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

SUN | FEB 24

Join progressive congregation IKAR for family-friendly fun and activities. Sun. 10 a.m. $15 (members), $20 (general). Adult admission included. IKAR, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s religious school’s carnival features food, arts and crafts, a bake sale, a Candyland zone and more. Sun. 10 a.m. $55 (wristband, presale), $65 (wristband, door). Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

A petting zoo, video game stations, food, games, prizes and a silent auction highlight the Culver City synagogue’s carnival. Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $10 (24 tickets, presale). Temple Akiba, 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-5783.

Valley Beth Shalom’s Purim carnival features games, prizes, attractions and food. All proceeds benefit VBS Israel programs and summer camp financial aid. Sun. 10 a.m-3 p.m. Free entry. Valley Beth Shalom, Ventura parking lot, Malkin-Burdorf Hall and Glaser Hall. (818) 788-6000.

Rides, games, food and more highlight Shomrei Torah Synagogue’s carnival and street fair. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Pre-sale: $70 (family fun pack), $25 (wristband), $18 (20 tickets). Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 346-0811.

Rides, food, a raffle and more highlight what is one of the Reform synagogue’s largest fundraisers and most popular volunteer days. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. $36 (presale). Adult admission is free, but scrip must be purchased for food, rides and games. Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 889-2300.

A moon bounce, snow cones, dunk tank, face painting, bake sale and games highlight the Santa Monica congregation’s Purim carnival. Sun. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Free entry. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.

Live music, hamantashen, games, prizes and more highlight Leo Baeck’s spiel and carnival. Sun. 11 a.m. Free entry. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

Pinkberry, In-N-Out Burger, Sprinkles Cupcakes — these are just some of the food choices at Emanuel’s annual Purim carnival. Other highlights include the Aquarium of the Pacific on wheels, a “Diva Makeover” station, an inflatable rock hall and more. Rain or shine. Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Presale: $100 (120 tickets), $75 (90 tickets), $50 (60 tickets). Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Steinbaum Burton Way Building, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (818) 849-5737.

Activities for all ages highlight the Hollywood synagogue’s carnival. Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Presale: $100 (135 tickets), $75 (100 tickets), $50 (67 tickets), $25 (33 tickets). Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.

Temple Ahavat Shalom’s Mardi Gras-style carnival features food trucks, games, rides and more. Includes a wine tasting for adults. Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $45 (all-inclusive, presale), $50 (all inclusive, day of event). Other pricing options available. Temple Ahavat Shalom, 18200 Rinaldi Place, Northridge. (818) 360-2258.

More than 20 rides, games and attractions highlight Adat Elohim’s Purim bash. Sun. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $15 (presale), $20 (door).  Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

TUE | FEB 26

Kehillat Israel’s Purim celebration includes rides, games, food and more. Tue. 4-8 p.m. $30 (wristband, includes free dinner), $10 (game swipe card) $25 (three-game swipe card). Pacific Park, 380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (310) 459-2328.


Rides, games, a magic show and arts and crafts highlight Beth Am’s carnival. The synagogue needs 150 volunteers to run the event. Sun. 11 a.m. $10 (tickets), $50 (wristbands). Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.


SAT | FEB 23

Temple Adat Elohim’s party features three magicians (stage, parlor and close-up) from the Magic Castle performing illusions and prestidigitation. Includes live auction, hors d’oeuvres, dessert and no-host bar. Sat. 6 p.m. (hors d’oeuvres and cocktails), 7:30 p.m. (magic show). $50. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

Valley Ruach’s carnival exclusively for young professionals features an inflatable gladiator joust, arcade basketball, a costume contest, raffle, silent auction, carnival games and open bar with beer, wine and well drinks. Ages 21-39 only. Sat. 6:45 p.m. (megillah reading with Adat Ari El community), 8 p.m. (carnival), 9 p.m. (joust tournament), 9:30 p.m. (basketball tournament). 10:30 p.m. (costume contest). $25 (presale), $30 (door). Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 835-2139.

Bring out the tuxes and gowns to relive that iconic evening, as Leo Baeck Temple’s truly post-adolescent event features music, drinks, hors d’oeuvres, desserts and more.  Sat. 7 p.m. $20. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

Performing a show created exclusively for Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the nationally acclaimed comedy troupe presents improvisations on the story of Esther. For teens and adults only. Sat. 7-8:45 p.m. (Korean barbecue buffet and no-host bar), 7:45-8:45 p.m. (Groundlings Improv show and megillah reading). Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Temple campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (424) 208-8932.

AtidLA’s party for young professionals features a live DJ, food, a costume contest and more. JSpace co-sponsors. Sat. 9 p.m. $18 (advance), $25 (door). Tiato, 2700 Colorado Ave., No. 190, Santa Monica. (310) 481-3244.

Join progressive congregation IKAR for a night of Purim-themed debauchery, with drinks, games and light snacks. Sat. 9 p.m. $20 (members, not including cash bar), $25 (general, not including cash bar). IKAR, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock throws a party with an open bar, live DJ and dancing until 2 a.m. Hip-hop artist AB SOTO performs. 21 and older. Sat. 9 p.m. $30. Highland Park Mason Building, 104. N. Avenue 56, Los Angeles. (323) 255-5416,

Dust off the polyester, platforms and Jewfros and head down to Steingarten LA, a gourmet beer garden, for a ’70s-themed party. Organized by JConnectLA. 21 and older. Sat. 10 p.m.-2 a.m. (megillah readings at 10:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 p.m.). $10 (advance), $20 (door). Steingarten L.A., 10543 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544.

SUN | FEB 24

Celebrate Purim — and the Jewish state — at the Creative Zionist Coalition’s party in Santa Monica. The evening includes an open wine-and-beer bar, hors d’oeuvres, a program honoring pro-Israel bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, and more. Sun. 5 p.m. (hors d’oeuvres), 6 p.m. (program and dancing). Hotel Shangri-La, 1301 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.

High Holy Days: The serious side of High Holy Days seating

The philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel emphasized time rather than space as the major category of significance in Judaism. The first divine hallowing in creation was the seventh day, the Sabbath, not any place or thing. When the child asked Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “Where is God?” he answered, “Whenever you let Him in.” Not “where” but “when,” and not place but time is the locus of godliness. 

But masses of people seem to distrust this spiritual notion of holiness. More time is spent on securing good seats in the sanctuary before Rosh Hashanah than in the preparation of the heart. More energy and passion are spent at board meetings over the allocation of tickets than over any theological issue. The board is sensitive to the “territorial imperative” that grips grown men and women. Reassign the location of a seat and temple membership itself is at stake. 

There is a mystique about where we sit that no single rational explanation can properly fathom. It’s not a matter of seeing or hearing the pulpit celebrants better. It’s not a matter of sitting beneath the air-conditioning vent or under a poorly lit lighting fixture. There’s something magical about where we sit, and especially about changing the seats from last year to this coming one. As the Hebraic proverb has it, meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal — change the place, change the fortune. 

The disputes over the allocation of seats reached the point that the board members brought the issue to the rabbi. Half-jokingly, they asked him to resolve the raging debates regarding the place distribution of seating. It was a she’elah (inquiry) he had not prepared for but which he knew had deeper roots than psychology or sociology. The issue, in the last analysis, was theological. And the rabbi was the best person to deal with it, for he was above such pettiness. Besides which, his own seat was cushioned, as close to the Ark of Holiness as could be, facing the eastern wall. What is involved here is a theology of space, a struggle between pagan and Judaic attitudes. 

In archaic, pagan religions, there is a phenomenon of “sacred space.” There is a central place where communication can take place between the cosmic planes of heaven and earth. There are places on earth that are closer to divinity than others. Recall the Ziggurats, the towers of Babel, cosmic structures seven stories high, representing the seven planets, which the priests ascended in order to reach the summit of the universe. There is a place where the gods sit. But these are pagan notions of archaic religion. 

For Judaism, God has no such celestial geography, and we recall the awesome fall of those who sought to build the Tower of Babel. Solomon is embarrassed about building the House of God. He senses the crudeness of closeting God in the building space. “Will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens cannot contain Thee — how much less the house that I have built?” (I Kings 8:27). 

Where indeed does God reside, or in the language of Hebraic liturgy, “Where is the place of His glory?” The answer is immediate and unequivocal. His glory fills the world. To look for God in a particular place is to commit the spiritual fallacy of simple location. As the rabbis declared, “God is the place of the world, not the world God’s place.” On Sukkot, the lulav is not pointed to any location at the mention of God’s name. It is not only rude to point; toward God it is downright blasphemous.

We Jews don’t ascend to the heights to find God. When the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Who ascends into the mountain of the Lord?” he answers, “He who hath clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalms 24:3-4). The place of God is even within, between us. 

“Place” is a visual metaphor, not to be taken literally when applied to God. Godliness is in relationship, not in Row A. God is in morality, not in geography. Is that not what Isaiah declared in the name of God? “Where is the house that ye build unto Me? Where is the place of My rest?” God does not respond to the best tickets in the house, but “to the poor and broken-hearted who is concerned about My word” (Isaiah 66:1-2). 

The issue of seats may well be more important than we have suspected. The preoccupation with seats may reveal a perverse theology, a greater attachment to external, material places than to internal, spiritual experiences. To be nearer to sanctity can never he a matter of place. “The idol is near and yet far. God is far and yet near. For a man enters a synagogue and stands behind a pillar, and prays in a whisper — and God hears his prayer. So it is with all of His creatures. Can there be a nearer God than this? He is as near to His creatures as the ear is to the mouth” (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:1). 

It is a revolutionary idea in the history of religion to find God not in statues, shrines, palaces of marble and stone but in the human spirit. God said to Moses, “In every place where you find a trace of the feet of man, there am I before you.” God is where men and women are in need. God places Himself in the footprints of men and women, not upon the isolated mountain. 

There are fears about limiting God to place, and not simply because it seems to reduce the dignity and power of God. The deification of place leads to dangerous idolatry. The rabbinic imagination in the midrash suggests that the murder of Abel came about because he and his brother Cain both argued that the sanctuary of God should be built on their own exclusive property. Together they owned the earth, but each wanted God’s lodging to be in his own jurisdiction. In our times, the controversy over the place of the temple has led to the bombing of the holy places and threats of jihad. It should remind us that not places, but lives are holy. 

So, what had begun as a half-serious question developed into an earnest answer. What began as a question of seats ended in a question about self. Does the place confer real status upon me? Is location the validation of my significance? Is the best seat in the sanctuary up in front? Is the synagogue theater? Is the bimah the stage? Is the writing in the Book of Life the inscription on the ticket? Is the answer to spirituality space? 

“Master of the Universe — where will I find you, and where will I not find you? … In heaven, Thou art on earth, Thou art wherever I turn, wherever I stir Thou, Thou, Thou.”

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, one of the best-known pulpit rabbis in America, has been a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom (, a Conservative congregation in Encino, since 1970.

Talmud in Downtown L.A.

Around 2,500 people turned out for the citywide Siyum HaShas celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Aug. 1. The event marked the completion of the seven-and-a-half year cycle of daily Talmud study known as Daf Yomi.

The program began with Mincha (afternoon prayer) just after 5:30 p.m. and featured several speakers, including Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. Dayan Aaron Dovid Dunner, a sitting member of the London Beth Din, delivered a main address.

“Everybody can be a Daf Yomi person,” Dunner said. “You find time for business and for pleasure. You can find time for Daf Yomi if you want to.”

Rabbi Mechie Blau served as master of ceremonies and opened the night by congratulating the misayamim, those who had completed the Daf Yomi learning, and pointing out that this year’s Siyum took place in the days following Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

“Everyone here deserves to be applauded,” he said. “This celebration shows that we are ready to restore the glory of the beis hamigdash.”

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion event featured a live digital linkup with a larger celebration at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.Approximately 90,000 men and women attended the New Jersey Siyum.

This year marks the 12th time that Daf Yomi has been completed, dating back to the practice’s Polish inception in 1923.

While the event focused mainly on those who had completed the daily learning cycle, only a minority of those in attendance had actually completed Daf Yomi. Rabbi Baruch Zheutlin, a sixth-grade Talmud teacher at Yeshivat Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu, said that though he had not completed Daf Yomi, he felt like a part of the celebration for several reasons.

“The Siyum combines two great things: Jewish unity and Torah study,” he said. “And I learn Gemara, so this is my celebration too.”

Zheutlin said he brought his 8-year-old son so that “he could see the honor of so many Jews unifying together.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Siyum’s press liaison, said that the impact of the Siyum could be seen as early as the next day when morning Daf Yomi Shiurim took place, beginning the 13th cycle.

“There were a lot of new faces on Thursday,” Adlerstein, who is the director of interfaith affairs at The Simon Wiesenthal Center, said. “Many people saw the majesty of Torah at the Siyum and were inspired.”

The next Siyum HaShas is set to take place early in 2020.

Ner Maarav to merge with Ramat Zion

Twenty-five years ago, Temple Ner Maarav in Encino served nearly 450 families. Today, that number has dwindled to 65.

After more than half a century, the Conservative congregation will shut its doors on June 30. Many of its remaining congregants will join with Northridge’s Temple Ramat Zion under a merger plan, and Ner Maarav’s Torahs will be marched to their new North Valley home on July 1.

Uri Grinblat, Ner Maarav’s president, says the constant migration of young families to the Conejo Valley has played a large part in the attrition.

“Over the last 10 years, our number came down as many young families moved to Agoura and Thousand Oaks,” Grinblat said. “Unfortunately, we do not have too many young families around us and naturally, without them, a temple cannot exist.”

Ramat Zion’s membership has held steady at roughly 300 families over the past few years, and the merger is expected to add approximately 50 Ner Maarav families.

Rabbi Ahud Sela of Temple Ramat Zion said he is committed to bonding the two communities into one united congregation.

“We’re thinking of it like a marriage,” Sela said. “In fact, many of the people know each other already. These are friends with deep connections already in place, and it’s really a joyous thing for us to come together.”

Grinblat agreed, “The biggest benefit of merging with Temple Ramat Zion is the formation of a symbiotic relationship. The people at Temple Ramat Zion are extremely nice and similar to our congregants. I feel that it is a good match.”

Ner Maarav held its first service in the Sherman Oaks Women’s Club on July 8, 1955. Founded as Maarav Temple, the congregation broke ground at Magnolia Boulevard and White Oak Avenue in 1956, and completed construction the following year. In the late 1980s, the congregation merged with Temple Ner Tamid of Van Nuys to become Temple Ner Maarav.

In October 2011, Ner Maarav sold its site to Held Properties for $4 million and has been leasing the property since. Held plans to use the site to develop luxury apartments.

Bernie Bubman, past president of Ner Maarav, said he is relieved that memorabilia from Ner Maarav will be displayed at Ramat Zion.

“To have a home for our artifacts, especially our memorial plaques, is of paramount importance to us,” Bubman said.

Jeffrey Stern, president of Ramat Zion, is looking forward to the changes this new chapter will bring.

“On a personal level, the merger has provided an incredible degree of satisfaction to me. People are enthused about the influx of potential members to Temple Ramat Zion, and there is talk of new programs and events,” he said. “I believe all those involved are incredibly positive about the opportunities provided by this merger.”

One of the main goals of the merger is to ensure a Conservative Jewish presence in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley, Stern said. “There can be no hiding from the fact that shuls are having a difficult time retaining existing members and enrolling new ones.”

Although both congregations are looking forward to the merger, the change is bittersweet for the members of Ner Maarav, especially those who have been with the congregation for many decades.

“Perhaps the largest challenge will be in acclimating to a new environment and feeling comfortable in a new setting,” Bubman said. “We are pretty steeped in our ways, and to meld as one family will take a proper mindset and willingness to learn to do things, perhaps differently, than we have in the past. It is always more difficult for the congregation who will be moving to a new location than for the congregation who will be accepting.”

Ner Maarav’s clergy also must acclimate to a new reality. Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen will take over as senior rabbi at Temple B’Nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, replacing Rabbi Beryl Padorr. Cantor Linda Rich is still undecided on where she will continue her work.

Grinblat, who will be the final president of Ner Maarav, said he is hopeful for the future.

“I see a smooth transition, and I feel that in a year from now, we will be one people,” he said.

“Those of us from Temple Ner Maarav who will be joining the new synagogue,” Bubman said, “look forward with great expectation that at our new home, we, together with those at Ramat Zion, will continue to be a source of pride for the Jewish community.”

Explosion near Chabad of Santa Monica may have been a bomb [UPDATE]

[UPDATE: FRIDAY, APRIL 8 — 4:30 p.m.] ” title=”Patch” target=”_blank”>Santa Monica reports.

The explosion occurred at the Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica, not the Santa Monica Synagogue, as previously reported. The Chabad House is located at 1428 17th St.; the Santa Monica Synagogue is at 1448 18th St.

Rabbi Isaac Levitansky told Santa Monica Patch on Thursday morning that he wasn’t sure if the bomb was intended for the synagogue, or what the motivation for planting it may have been if it was.

“We didn’t hear anything” when the bomb exploded, he said. “We were in the middle of morning prayers. Thank God everyone was OK.”

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The Brothers Wolpe talk bioethics at Sinai Temple

On Sunday morning, Dec. 12, near the end of his weekend-long stay as a scholar-in-residence at Sinai Temple, bioethicist Dr. Paul Root Wolpe was asked by Rabbi David Wolpe to give a few quick responses to some of the most challenging contemporary bioethical dilemmas.

“No,” Dr. Wolpe replied, provoking laughter from the nearly 300 people in attendance. “I can’t give quick responses; I’m a Wolpe.”

Dr. Wolpe is professor of bioethics and Jewish bioethics at Emory University as well as senior bioethicist for NASA and the first national bioethics adviser to Planned Parenthood of America. He had already delivered two talks to his brother’s congregation on Shabbat, so one highlight of Sunday’s breakfast was a picture-heavy PowerPoint presentation, which included quite a few photographs of genetically and otherwise engineered animals. He started with hybrids like the beefalo, the zorse (zebra-horse), the cama (camel-lama), the geep (sheep-goat) and, much to the delight of fans of “Napoleon Dynamite,” the liger (lion-tiger). Later, he showed pictures of mice, kittens, pigs, puppies and monkeys that, thanks to some genetic material from jellyfish and deep-sea coral, had been engineered to glow in the dark.

“The only reason to create a kitten that glows in the dark,” Dr. Wolpe said, “is to create a kitten that glows in the dark.” Rapid scientific advances like these raise ethical questions — which is, of course, is why the world needs bioethicists like Dr. Wolpe.

Despite his jocular demurral, the doctor eventually did offer a few concise observations on hot topics. Abortion: “No one has the right to tell me that my body has to be at the service of another body.” The degree to which health care is disproportionately allocated to the elderly: “We spend an enormous amount of money dying in this culture.” Embryonic stem cells: The way to infuriate scientists who advocate for the ethical use of embryonic stem cells is to ask them to name an experiment that would be too frivolous a use for such cells. “Should we use them to study male pattern baldness?” Dr. Wolpe asked, rhetorically.

Betty Neymark: Second Career From a Second Language

Betty Neymark

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

“Why isn’t Temple Judea doing something like this?” Betty Neymark’s daughter, Nancy, asked her more than 19 years ago, referring to an English as a second language program at a nearby church. That was all the push Neymark needed.

She and her daughter, along with friend and reading specialist Evelyn Stecher, promptly began a program at their Reform synagogue in Tarzana.

On the first day of registration in January 1990, Neymark thought no one would show up. Instead, she encountered a line of people stretching past the Temple’s driveway. Fifty students registered, and Temple Judea’s all-volunteer ESL program was born.

Today that program boasts 150 students, 25 volunteer teachers and five administrators, including Neymark. While her daughter has begun a new career and Stecher has moved away, Neymark remains.

“I just love it. I meet wonderful people. It enhances my life,” said Neymark, who previously worked as a human resources administrator in two school districts.

Those “wonderful people” include the students, primarily from the former Soviet Union, Iran and South America. Most are 50 or older, and they are both Jewish and not. Many are new immigrants. A few have lived here as long as 20 years.

Neymark also has great affection for the teachers, who range in age from 21 to 89. Only two are new this year, and 18 of them have been with program 10 years or more.

The classes are small, with four to seven students. They meet for two hours twice a week, from September to June. In addition to English, students learn about American culture.

“Students come in with no English and then are able to function in society and make their lives better,” said Neymark, noting that many go on to become citizens and to vote.

Temple Judea provides the classroom space. The program is free; students pay only for their textbooks. Donations and a corporate grant cover other expenses.

“I call myself a coordinator,” said Neymark, a 47-year temple member who won’t reveal her age. She registers new students, evaluating their English proficiency and placing them in one of six homogeneous classes, ranging from beginning to conversational English. She also arranges for new teachers to receive 12 hours of training each fall.

Additionally, she publishes a newsletter twice a year for the teachers, holds two faculty meetings a year and organizes the annual faculty party.

Neymark is reluctant to take credit for program’s accomplishments.

“It runs itself,” she said, emphasizing that it’s a team effort. She also refers to her husband, who does all her computer work, as her “secret weapon.”

Hilda Fogelson, a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who has taught in the program for 16 years, said, “Betty is very organized and very professional. That’s why the program is so successful.”

Neymark feels a responsibility to continue to support Temple Judea and the Jewish community.

“I’m not going to fade away any sooner than I have to,” she said.

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
— 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.

What are you thinking about this Rosh Hashanah?

“I’m actually thinking about changing my behavior with my brother — he’s 7 — because I’ve been pretty mean to him. I can be a little more nice, even if he annoys me…. I learn a lot during the holidays. You learn about how to react, and what you should do and how you should be, like you can’t be rude to people. And you have to ask forgiveness for all the stuff you’ve done and make it a new start, like you’re starting all over again.”

— Brandon Ross, 10, Canfield Elementary School and Temple Emanuel Religious School


“I’m going to set the table for Rosh Hashanah with a tablecloth and lots of food…. I like the challah. My dad always buys chocolate chip challah because it’s my favorite.”

— Lexi Shafa, 6, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy


“I think we need to have a cleaner world so people can live longer and not get diseases, like lung cancer. We need to do a better job of throwing away trash and recycling. I think we don’t need to cut off as many trees as we do. We should find a new way to make paper than just cutting down trees. I had a chance to go to Costa Rica and see the rain forest, and I saw how many stumps there were and it was really sad. I think the High Holidays is a time to pray and to thank God for all the beautiful stuff that we have, like good health, and a good education, and a roof over our heads; and it’s a good time to be with family and to enjoy yourself.”

— Teddy Sokoloff, 9, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious

“I’m going to go buzz buzz like a bee, and go round and round and round like a challah and dip the apple in the honey.”

— Moses Bar-Yotam, 4, Institute of Jewish Education


“I like some holidays, and some holidays I feel sad. I like Passover and I like Rosh Hashanah — I like a lot of them. I feel happy at the sound of the shofar. It’s a holiday when my family comes together.”

— Ariana Garrotto, 7, El Rodeo School and Temple Emanuel Religious School


“I’m going to daven for the Beit Hamikdash [Jerusalem Temple] to come back, and for all my aveirot [sins] to leave and that we should have a happy year. I’m going to work on lashon hara [gossip] and give tzedakah so everybody has a house and money to live.”

— Evan Teichman, 7, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy


“My aunt got really sick and then she got better, so I’ll be thinking about how she keeps getting better. I’ve been thinking about my dancing a lot — I’m a hard-core ballet dancer. My family has been spending a lot of time together, so I can’t really say I want to spend more time with my family because we are spending as much time together as possible. If we wanted to spend any more time together we would have to stay up all night!”

— Tess Levinson, 10, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious School


“On Rosh Hashanah my cousins are coming to my grandma’s house, because I’m having Rosh Hashanah at my grandma’s house. We used to have it in my house, but now it’s at my grandma’s.”

— Liv Berg, 4, Institute of Jewish Education


“I think about what I might have done this past year to hurt someone or to help someone, and I think about whether I want to repeat it. My sister and I get into fights, and sometimes the fights are bigger, and I really hurt her or she really hurts me, and I feel bad and I don’t want to do it again.

“I had my bat mitzvah in April, and now I feel more obligated to do the High Holidays, because now I’m part of the adult Jewish community. For my bat mitzvah, I helped an organization called, Turn Purple; it helps homeless kids. In April, everyone who is involved wears purple, and they have a petition that people sign to get a bill so we don’t have homeless kids.”

— Shoshana Young, 13, Beverly Vista School and Temple Emanuel Religious School


“I’m trying to work on teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah [repentance, prayer and charity]. I’m kind of excited and I don’t know if I’ll be judged as bad, in the middle or good. I want to be good; I’m trying to work on that. I’m trying to be nicer to my friends and stuff, because they’ll be happier and nicer to me if we work things out together.”

— Lorien Orpelli, 9, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy


“As a school, [Temple Emanuel] really makes the High Holidays great because everyone comes together and sings songs, and it’s a lot of fun. There is no other holiday where you learn about your religion as much as on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You learn about your religion and you come closer to your religion and get more of the meaning of it — you say, ‘I’m Jewish and I should be doing this or should be doing that and helping the community.’ I think the High Holidays are the most important holidays because it’s about finding your mistakes and saying you can do better the next time.”

— Max Shapiro, 11, Center for Early Education and Temple Emanuel Religious School


“I am going to be a better fire-truck driver and be a firefighter when I get big.”

— Nathan Nassir, 4, Institute of Jewish Education

Letters to the Editor

Chamberlain Ad

I do not know if I can communicate how deeply offended I was by the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Neville Chamberlain ad on page 6 of the Sept. 8 Jewish Journal. Besides the complete lack of intellectual honesty, the appalling lack of logical reasoning fails beyond the pale to measure up to the traditions of Judaism specifically and humanity in general:

Rather than deal with the threat that Al Qaeda actually presents to our national security, President Bush has chosen to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on a personal vendetta in Iraq washed in five years of the blood of the Iraqi people and citizenry of our great nation.

Rather than communicating with a government seeking to open communication between the United States, President Bush consciously closed all potential paths of dialogue and continuously vilified and threatened a sovereign nation in a tinhorn cowboy attempt to force Iran into a diplomatic mistake of nuclear proportions.

Rather than assist Israel to defend itself against continuing malicious attacks from Hezbollah or Hamas, Bush specifically chose to do absolutely nothing for five years, and more importantly, two weeks of Israel’s invasion into Lebanon, then sent the single most ineffectual secretary of state within the last century to negotiate a failed cease-fire proposal.

If The Journal is so strapped for cash, it would be a far better use of its ad space to place a plea for donations and financial support from its readership, rather than compromising all dignity and integrity by running further tripe from the RJC.

Richard Adlof
North Hollywood

Shame on the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for running two ads which desperately tried to denigrate the Democratic Party.

First, shame on the RJC for taking an issue of great bipartisan agreement — support for a strong U.S.- Israel relationship — and turning it into a wedge issue for tawdry partisan political advantage. Any objective observer of U.S. politics has to agree that both of our major political parties are remarkably supportive of Israel. This fact is crucial in maintaining the strong relationship between the United States and Israel. For the RJC, however, it appears that twisting the truth for some petty partisan gain is apparently more important than maintaining bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

It is true that in both parties there are a handful of politicians who are not part of this bipartisan consensus. Carter is one of these outsiders who find no support for their positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict within their own parties.

Jewish newspapers, like all newspapers, have an obligation to not print false and misleading ads. We hope in the coming weeks, as RJC slings more mud, this newspaper will fact-check their ad copy to make sure the RJC doesn’t continue to use these pages to violently twist the truth.

Marc Stanley
First Vice Chair
National Jewish Democratic Council

The Republican obsession with Iraq has left Israel open and vulnerable to the possible nuclear overtures of a Holocaust-denying Iran. The Republican obsession with the Cold War almost led to a military defeat for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (and did lead to a country-permeating malaise). The Republican obsession with a fundamental Christian theology that is based on the apocalyptic demise of not only Israel but Jews everywhere is too eviscerating and too self-evident to even require an elaboration.

Does any Jew still believe that the Republican party has their true interests at heart?

Marc Rogers
Thousand Oaks

We applaud the recent public discussion about the support for Israel by the political parties (“GOP Sees Israel as Way to Woo Democratic Jews,” Sept. 1).All who are pro-Israel should appreciate the positive influence our growing Jewish Republican community is having on the GOP. Our access to senior GOP leaders is warmly encouraged, and, in return, the Jewish community is increasingly impressed by an administration and a Republican Congress that have been deeply pro-Israel.

The example of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is instructive. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) was virtually alone among national Jewish organizations in supporting the nomination of this hero of the Jewish people, who not only helped to defeat the odious “Zionism is racism” resolution years ago, but who now vigorously defends Israel at the United Nations against unfair demonization and delegitimization. Many Jewish Democrats now see that Bolton is the right man at the United Nations.

Putting aside the issue of Israel, moderate Jews might approach 21st century American politics with an open mind on who is best on both national security and domestic public policy issues. It is time that respectful attention be paid by Jews to positive GOP ideas about economic growth, welfare and entitlement reform, medical liability and tort/legal reform, energy independence and educational choice and competition to best serve children.

To the benefit of Israel and the United States, the days of one-party Jewish voting are, thankfully, over.

Joel Geiderman
Larry Greenfield
Republican Jewish Coalition, California

Illegal Jewish Immigrants

Your articles focused on illegal Israeli immigrants who are not terrorists and do not take low-paying jobs away from minorities (“Living and Working [IL]Legally in America,” Sept. 8). Instead they engage in commercial activity that is beneficial to Israel.

Thanks to your article calling attention to them, perhaps immigration officials will divert attention from terrorists to crack down on these Israelis.

Are you The Jewish Journal or the anti-Jewish Journal?

Marshall GillerWinnetka

The Jews Didn’t Do It

Not all conspiracy theories are equal (“The Lie That Won’t Die,” Sept. 1). Richard Greenberg’s article asks us to believe otherwise, holding out only two possibilities to the American public: Either you accept the government version of Sept. 11 or you are a “conspiracist.”

But the world is much more complex than these two positions allow, and the democratic process itself depends on citizens who question official stories. David Griffin, author of “The New Pearl Harbor” and three additional books on Sept. 11, raises important questions about the adequacy of the Kean Commission report.

Spirit and Chocolate Top Temple Emanuel Installation

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

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

Big Fun in Big Apple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi on Board

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

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

Kids Raise the ‘Roof’

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

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

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

Keeping Your Head If Your Child Intermarries

When you first learn that your child is — or might be — marrying someone who’s not Jewish, you may not feel like celebrating. This can be a difficult and stressful occasion instead of the joyous one you had hoped for. To help you, here are a series of tips from people whose children have intermarried, as well as from outreach professionals and counselors.

  • When your child first tells you about her engagement, congratulate her and express your love for her. First impressions are very powerful, and if you react coldly to the news, your child may remember your response for a long time.
  • As soon as you have an opportunity, congratulate your child’s partner and express your love for him. This can be a powerful way to welcome your child’s partner into your family.
  • Treat your child as an adult. If he feels that you are speaking to him as one adult to another, and not as an anxious parent to a child, he’ll be more receptive of your opinions.
  • Assume that your child has good judgment. If you think she is ignoring something, don’t tell her. Ask her if she has thought of it. You won’t always agree, but knowing that she and her partner are thinking things through will help. Don’t lecture or be judgmental.
  • Accept your child’s partner for who he is. Pushing people to be different creates resistance to change. People are much more likely to change when they feel respected and accepted.
  • Remember that it’s not your fault. If your child chooses a partner of a different religion; it’s not because you didn’t give her a strong Jewish identity or because she’s rejecting you. She’s choosing a partner of a different religion because she fell in love with the partner, and the partner’s religion — or your parenting — had very little to do with that decision.
  • Learn about the religion and background of your child’s partner. The more you know about where your child’s partner came from, the better you will understand your child’s and his partner’s religious decisions. If you are knowledgeable about your child’s partner’s religion, it’s more likely your child will listen to your perspective. Notice any and all similarities between their values and your Jewish values and discuss these similarities with your child’s fiancee and her family.
  • Let your child know you want to be involved in her life. Ask what her plans are and ask to be included and informed. Be truthful about what you would like, but understand that your wishes won’t always be fulfilled.
  • Be honest about your feelings for Judaism and talk about them. Let your child and her partner hear how Judaism works in your life and why it has an important place for you. Before you discuss what Judaism means to you, it may be helpful to make a list of those Jewish practices and values which are meaningful to you.Once you clarify for yourself where your commitments to the Jewish religion and the Jewish people lie, you are better able to communicate with your children on this important and sensitive subject. Also be honest about your doubts and complaints about Judaism.
  • Invite your child and his partner to share in your holiday observances and celebrations and to accompany you to temple when you go. Invite them to help you prepare for these occasions, thus providing an opportunity to teach about the holidays, their rituals and symbolic foods. You can be an ambassador to Judaism.
  • Celebrate your child and her partner’s efforts to participate in Jewish rituals. Don’t criticize them for not observing the way you do.
  • If possible, invite the family of your child’s partner for a small gathering just before or just after the wedding. Both are good opportunities to share your mutual joy over your children’s wedding.
  • If your child is having an interfaith wedding ceremony, offer to assist with one of the interfaith aspects, like helping them find someone who will create an interfaith ketubbah (marriage contract). This gesture of acceptance can create a lot of good will.
  • Don’t bring up grandchildren immediately. Your child has enough to worry about with planning a wedding, and this may add to the stress level or touch on a sore subject between you and him. However, if your child and his partner have started talking about children, it is OK to offer your input about how you would like them raised. Our children do want to please us and gently explaining your wishes can affect your child’s decisions.

(Compiled by the staff of

Letters to the Editor 07-07-06

As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter June 16 convinced me I was wrong on all counts (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.”

In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
via e-mail

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project


This Week – In and Out

Last Friday, when the sun went down in Los Angeles, the Jewish community came alive.

At Sinai Temple in Westwood, 2,000 people packed the sanctuary — standing-room only — to hear Elie Wiesel speak during Friday Night Live services as part of the temple’s centennial celebration (see story on page 13). Afterward, hundreds of 20-somethings stayed for a special Q-and-A session with Oprah’s favorite Holocaust author.

Not three blocks away, Israeli novelist Amos Oz held an overflow Shabbat evening crowd of 800 in his thrall as Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s guest speaker.

I stopped in at two other synagogues that night: at Leo Baeck Temple, a Reform shul in Bel Air, a capacity crowd attended the usual, uplifting service, and on La Cienega Boulevard, at Conservative Temple Beth Am, 100 United Synagogue Youth from around California greeted Shabbat on the rooftop, a foretaste of raucous summer camp nights to camp.

On the way home — you may have gathered that, yes, I drive on Shabbat — I took Pico Boulevard, quiet but for the dozens of Orthodox Jews walking home from services.

That’s just a few square miles of L.A. Jewry — I never made it over the hill, or even to the hill, where hundreds flocked to services at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

There’s only so much herring one Jew can eat, my grandfather used to say; it’s hard to be two places at once.

You’d think by now the fact that Jewish life is lived so intensely in Los Angeles would cease to amaze me — after all, this is the second largest Jewish population in the United States. But there remains such a constant wailing over the state of Jewish life that I occasionally have to wonder whether the worriers actually know any, um, Jews.

The latest round of “Oy Veying” was transatlantic. Two weeks ago, the profoundly talented Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua told an audience of American Jews in Washington, D.C., that Jewish life is experienced more completely in Israel than anywhere else.

There is, he said, “a fundamental boundary between Jewish identity in Israel and Jewish identity in the Diaspora.”

The former, he argued, was richer, more meaningful and authentic, rooted in the land and language of the Jewish people. The latter, he said, led to an attenuated sense of Jewishness.

“I cannot keep my identity outside Israel,” he said.

Outside Israel, Yehoshua argued, one wears one’s Judaism like a coat that can be taken on or off. Inside Israel, one wears it like skin.

The remarks before the American Jewish Committee touched off a war of words among Israeli and American Jews. The Israeli daily Haaretz ran essays with supporting and competing views. Yehoshua apologized for the bluntness of his remarks in subsequent interviews, but held to them in a more refined way. It’s an argument Yehoshua and a certain stream of Zionists has been making for years. And while I logically rebel against it, there’s a part of me that understands Yehoshua.

Many years ago, I met him while he was on a speaking tour in Los Angeles. We stepped outside his Marina del Rey hotel so he could smoke his pipe. We spoke, in Hebrew, about how the feeling of one’s Jewishness is of a different quality and intensity in Israel, where I had just been living, than in, say, Marina del Rey.

There was a bit of silence. He knocked the dottle from his bowl and turned to me.

“You have to come back,” he said, then walked inside.

If there weren’t a grain of truth in what he’s still saying, people wouldn’t be so upset. But there are other truths as well about Jewish identity: competing, confusing, contradicting ones that I have come to appreciate in the years since. Having lived in Israel, I can tell you the Jews there don’t all walk about aglow with the flame of their Jewishness. Yehoshua’s novels are populated with characters as spiritually bereft in Tel Aviv as Philip Roth’s are in Newark.

As it happens, I do meet Israelis all the time who are leading rich Jewish lives — they’re in Los Angeles.

Diaspora just may be as important to the Jewish existence, and the Jewish psyche, as Zion. There is a practical aspect — money and political support from outside Israel helped create and helps sustain the state — as well as a more ethereal one. The power of being the landless outsider, some might argue, roots us in ideals.

“In the name of nationalism,” wrote Douglas Rushkoff in “Nothing Sacred,” “Jews abandon iconoclasm, the long-standing insight into the false idols of land-based peoples…. Zionism has become a mantra for Jews fighting against assimilation. But Judaism itself was formulated as a way of transcending the obsession with physical territory and focusing instead on the supremacy of time and the realm of ideas. What’s more assimilated than rallying around a flag and fighting for a plot of land, just like everybody else?”

Yehoshua isn’t saying that our existence depends on in-gathering — he knows that argument falls flat in the face of 2,000 years of Jewish existence in exile. But he fails to appreciate the fact that so many of us live in the tension between his truth and Rushkoff’s, belonging everywhere and nowhere, forever trying to be in two places at once.


Bar/Bat Mitzvah – Author-Baker Rises to Bimah — at Last

Joanne Rocklin is obsessed with food. On her 60th birthday, she began summarizing her life with the essentials: “I love to cook. I love to eat.”

But it’s her passion for writing that has enabled her to come to terms with her life and her faith. The author of 20 children’s books, including her renowned “Strudel Stories” (Delacorte, 1999), is about to complete a chapter in her own life that many young Jews today take for granted. Rocklin wraps up two years of studies with Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills’ adult b’nai mitzvah program when she ascends to the bimah for her bat mitzvah on June 24. As she delivers her d’var Torah, she will share with the congregation the ways her past life connects with the discoveries she’s made about her Jewish self.

Although Rocklin is a clinical psychologist by training, her desire to write proved disruptive early in her professional life. The opposing tugs of two careers left her feeling unable to immerse herself fully in either profession. Factor in a divorce and the death of her mother, and it’s easy to understand why Rocklin craved the serious life changes symbolized by her upcoming bat mitzvah.

“I look Jewish, I eat Jewish. I felt Jewish, but I didn’t know anything about my background,” Rocklin said.

Her search for a congregation led her to Temple Emanuel, where Rabbi Laura Geller encouraged Rocklin to learn the liturgy by singing in the choir of the New Emanuel Minyan. With husband Gerry Nelson, whom she’d met through a personal ad in The Jewish Journal, she also joined a couples havurah built around discussions over potluck meals. During one havurah get-together, Rocklin demonstrated her newly developing challah-baking prowess.

But even before she discovered Temple Emanuel, the kind of study that leads to career achievement was always central to Rocklin’s life. As a young woman in Montreal, Rocklin studied to become an elementary school teacher. After moving to California in 1976 with her first husband and two sons, she studied for a doctorate in clinical psychology and soon established a practice focusing on the needs of children and families.

Yet a love for writing continued to gnaw at her. Before long, she was juggling family responsibilities, turning out children’s books in the morning and seeing patients in the afternoon. When divorce left her a single parent who needed to earn a living, a high-octane lifestyle became all the more essential.

Soon after Rocklin and Nelson married, he persuaded her to ease back on her workaholic tendencies. So she followed her heart and became a full-time writer.

The inspiration for “Strudel Stories” struck one day while Rocklin was browsing through Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.” She spotted a reference to a Vermont woman who baked strudel with her children and grandchildren, sharing family stories while pounding and stretching the dough. The anecdote led Rocklin to invent a tale of three kitchens — one in czarist Russia, one in Brooklyn after World War II and one in present-day Los Angeles — in which strudel is made and stories are shared. Within this framework, Rocklin delicately introduced her young readers to Yiddish bubbemeises, Russian pogroms, the aftermath of the Holocaust and Jackie Robinson, as well as the joys of cooking with family.

Not long after the publication of “Strudel Stories,” Rocklin’s mother died. In her grief, she decided to make some changes. Rocklin told her husband it was time to move out of their condo and into a house. She also wanted a dog and a vegetable garden — and she wanted to join a synagogue.

Her b’nai mitzvah classmates include 14 women in various stages of life, from a young newlywed to an 83-year-old grandmother. They’ve studied Torah trope with Cantor Yonah Kliger, pored over the words of the sacred text with assistant Cantor Judy Greenfeld and rabbinic intern Pearl Berzansky, and even gone for a ritual dip at the University of Judaism’s mikvah to prepare for their upcoming rite of passage.

It’s only recently — since discovering the pleasures of Torah study for its own sake — that Rocklin said her workaholic side has truly relaxed itself.

In contrast to her former self, Rocklin no longer feels that a garden is a waste of time unless it produces vegetables. Instead of pouring all her energies into her writing career, she’s also embracing dawdling, taking tea with friends and playing with her cats. She’s begun a regular monthly volunteer stint at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center along with her golden retriever, Zoe, fulfilling the mitzvah of bikkur cholim (visiting the sick).

Last November, all of Rocklin’s new life lessons were put to the test when some suspicious spots were found on her lungs. There was a six-week period during which she made the rounds of labs and doctors’ offices, trying not to be overwhelmed by her glimpse of “another world … the world of the sick and dying,” she said.

When her chances looked bleak, before thoracic surgery confirmed that her problems were minor, all she wanted to do was bake bread.

Rocklin said she finds paying attention to the details of a bread recipe just as challenging and as fulfilling as the study of Torah. Following a 30-page recipe by La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton, she has learned to savor each stage of the complex process that turns a homemade starter into a warm brown loaf. For Rocklin today, life is all about taking time to smell the challah.

Baking “slows you down,” Rocklin said. “Bread is an amazing thing. It’s just flour, water, and yeast … and it becomes alive.”

How Green Is My Shul?

For 75-year-old Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, it was the need to re-landscape that steered the synagogue in an ecological direction. The status quo was 8,000 square feet of unwatered, weed-ridden and rarely mowed grass, along with three palm trees, two citrus trees and a 20-foot-high cactus.

One initial plan to “go green” was all too literal. A congregant in the 40-person, unaffiliated Conservative shul suggested replacing the lawn with pebbles and painting them green.

But temple member Jerry Schneider, long interested in sustainable landscaping, prevailed with a plan to retain the trees, while also planting water-conserving native shrubs that require little irrigation and upkeep.

Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, Texas: Jonathan Kleinman, left, and Jarrett Taxman collect recycling
At Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, Texas, seventh-grader Jonathan Kleinman, left, and sixth-grader Jarrett Taxman collects recycling.

It was an effort perfectly in keeping with the evolving concept of Tu b’Shevat.

The holiday, whose name literally translates as the “15th day of the month of Shevat,” begins at sundown on Feb. 12. It’s known as the New Year of the Trees. A minor holiday with no prescribed mitzvot, it is often celebrated by planting trees locally or in Israel or by participating in a kabbalist-inspired seder.

But more recently, it has become a Jewish Earth Day, raising congregants’ spiritual consciousness, while concentrating on the physical benefits of installing energy-efficient lightbulbs; planting native, sustainable landscaping, and setting up recycling bins.

At Temple Beth Israel, the planting project, which is being done in phases with funding and physical assistance from a Jewish environmental group, has transformed congregants’ preconceived notions of drab native plants.

“We’re bringing a message that you can reap all the benefits of low-maintenance, low-water [landscape] and still get beauty — blossoms, colors, textures and smells,” Schneider said.

Different forms of what happened at Beth Israel are being replicated at synagogues all over, with projects taking place indoors and out. The connection of these efforts both to Tu b’Shevat and to a deep and traditional Jewish respect for nature is being increasingly acknowledged and promulgated.

When Rabbi Leah Lewis conducts the Tu b’Shevat seder at Leo Baeck Temple this year, congregants will learn about the special qualities of figs, olives and walnuts. They will also learn about the Jewish mandate to be stewards of the earth and, new this year, the congregational mandate to be stewards of their own synagogue.

“People are ready for it,” said Lewis, explaining that in only four months, the Reform temple with 710 families has created a 10-member Green Team and scheduled an environmental audit to evaluate energy-saving opportunities.

The effort to make synagogues eco-friendly, or green, can perhaps be traced back to November 1978, when Rabbi Everett Gendler, the father of Jewish environmentalism, climbed on the icy roof of Temple Emanuel in Lowell, Mass., to install solar panels to fuel the ner tamid, or eternal light, in the temple’s sanctuary.

“We plugged it almost directly into the sun,” said Gendler, now the temple’s rabbi emeritus.

Gendler claimed that the idea came to him one autumn day, when he realized that the ner tamid, when it was fueled by olive oil, a renewable resource, was truly perpetual. But powered by electricity, with its sometimes finite and questionable sources, the flame had lost some connection with its symbolism.

While synagogues did not immediately follow Gendler’s example, in the years following, a number of individual congregations began addressing environmental concerns. Most notable was Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue in Kensington, Md., which has been at the environmental forefront since 1989. Early on, it formed its own Green Shalom Committee to integrate environmental precepts into its physical structure and spiritual practices.

But ecological efforts by the organized Jewish community were sparse until after the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, also known as Earth Summit, convened in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The following year, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) was created to educate the Jewish community and mobilize it to carry out a Jewish response to pressing environmental issues, such as pollution, energy conservation, climate change and biological diversity.

Over the years, COEJL has organized campaigns that reach outward, such as initiatives to protect endangered species and to protect forests. Recently, however, it has embarked on a project closer to home. Greening Synagogues, in conjunction with GreenFaith, New Jersey’s interfaith environmental coalition, launched its pilot program in fall 2004 with four New Jersey synagogues.

At Agudath Israel in Caldwell, one of the participating synagogues, the number of environmental activists has mushroomed from three or four to 45 committed Green Team members, according to Program Director Randi Brokman.

The Conservative synagogue is planning to rebuild its entire facility, breaking ground next June and incorporating many energy-saving plans. In the meantime, the membership, consisting of 900 families, has managed to reduce disposable waste by 30 percent to 50 percent, primarily through recycling and reducing the use of paper and plastic goods.

“We have put environmental issues more in the consciousness of congregants,” Brokman said. “That’s the goal.”

That’s COEJL’s initial goal also. “But ultimately, we want this to filter down into homes,” said Barbara Lerman-Golomb, COEJL’s associate executive director. “We want this to become second nature to anyone involved in the project, to feel that it’s the ethical, moral and Jewish thing to do.”

That’s also the goal for CoejlSC, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, an independent affiliate of the COEJL. Founded in 1999, CoejlSC began its own Green Sanctuaries program around 2001, in conjunction with the Interfaith Environmental Council and 16 pilot congregations, more than half of them Jewish.

Stewardship of the environment, advocated by many Jewish texts, stems from the concept of bal taschit, which cautions against waste. This first appears in Deuteronomy 20:19, which prohibits the destruction of fruit trees in wartime.

But for many synagogues, greening is not just about fulfilling a spiritual mandate. Depending on size and building usage, a synagogue can save from $10,000 to $40,000 in energy costs through conservation practices, said Lee Wallach, co-founder of CoejlSC.

“The $40,000 is extreme, but that’s what Sinai Temple [in Westwood] is on the road to saving — without installing solar,” Wallach said. “That’s just changing out lightbulbs; installing energy-saving products, such as window tinting, and regulating electricity use.”

The first step is usually creating a Green Team, but that generally doesn’t happen unless one person — congregant, clergy or staff person — is ecologically passionate. At Congregation B’rith Shalom, a Conservative synagogue with 400 families in Bellaire, Texas, religious school principal Joy Rosenberg began raising the congregation’s consciousness when she arrived two years ago.

With the clergy and congregation’s support, she launched a paper recycling program last fall, contracting with a recycling company and eliciting the support of the 125 religious school students in preschool through 12th grade. In the first two months, the synagogue collected 6,649 pounds of paper.

At Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, Idaho, it is Rabbi Dan Fink who “nags” his 190-family Reform congregation into ecological awareness.

Under the leadership of Fink, who co-authored “Let the Earth Teach You Torah” (Shomrei Adamah, 1992), Ahavath Beth Israel took recycling to an extreme. Needing to move to a larger site, it recycled its 108-year-old Moorish-style landmark shul, hoisting the 60-ton building on to a truck in October 2003 and moving it three miles to the new location.

In addition to preserving the building and its materials, Fink said, congregants re-engineered the entire infrastructure “so we now have much more energy-efficient heating, cooling and lighting.”

Ecological accountability has also been in the forefront of Temple Israel of Hollywood’s plans for its $20 million-plus campus expansion and renovation. The synagogue is selecting an architect who will be charged with incorporating such sustainable elements as natural lighting, solar heating panels and the right kind of insulation.

“This is a high value for us,” said John Rosove, senior rabbi.

Environmental activism is most commonly associated with politically liberal congregations. For most Orthodox synagogues, environmental activism is comparatively new. Canfei Nesharim (the wings of eagles), the first and perhaps only Orthodox environmental organization, was launched on Tu b’Shevat 2003.

While still at the concept stage, according to Executive Director Evonne Marzouk, the volunteer organization is dedicated to educating Orthodox Jews about protecting the environment from a halachic, or legal, perspective and recently published “Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the Environment,” available on Canfei Nesharim’s Web site.

Among Orthodox congregations reacting favorably to Canfei Nesharim’s message is B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles, which is moving discussion about environmental issues from back to front burner, said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky.

“While Canfei Nesharim’s emphasis is on study, I would like B’nai David’s emphasis to be on action,” said Kanefsky, who is especially concerned about the impact of “carbon footprints,” referring to the effect that human activities have on the environment, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

Within traditional sources, perhaps the most compelling argument for preserving the environment, quoted by Marzouk and others, is a Midrash in Ecclesiastes Rabbah (7:13). It talks of how when God first created human beings, He showed them around the Garden of Eden and then warned, “Take care not to corrupt and destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.”

Here are the Web sites of some Jewish environmental organizations:


The Circuit

Leaving a Legacy

Fariba Nourfshan of Beverly Hills and Holli Rabishaw of Tarzana were among 22 young women selected to participate in Hadassah’s recent Young Women’s Legacy Mission to Poland and Israel. The program was designed to connect young women with their Israeli heritage and the numerous projects of Hadassah.

Chair for Thomas

It was standing-room-only when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s President and CEO Thomas M. Priselac was named the inaugural recipient of the Warschaw Law Endowed Chair in Health Care Leadership, a permanent academic research chair devoted to furthering leadership, research and education in healthcare public policy and management. Officials and physicians who joined in the festivities following the ceremonies included L.A. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who were among the speakers. Carmen Warschaw, a life trustee of the Cedars-Sinai board of directors, and her son-in-law, John C. Law, Cedars-Sinai board chair, along with Law’s wife, Hope, endowed the chair.

“With Tom Priselac’s depth of expertise and passion for quality health care, this endowed chair will advance health care policy and delivery in California and the nation,” Law said.

Priselac began his association with Cedars-Sinai Health System more than two decades ago, serving as executive vice president until 1994 when he was appointed president and CEO. Priselac also serves as an adjunct faculty member of the UCLA School of Public Health. He is a past member of the American Hospital Association board of directors, chairs the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Health Committee and is a member of the board of trustees of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

“The endowment will allow me to continue supporting the well-being of patients through the development of policy initiatives, new research and education, which I hope will ultimately lead to improved health care coverage in California,” Priselac said.

Rabbi in the House

A special family dinner and concert was held Jan. 21 at Temple Beth El of San Pedro featuring Jewish composer and musician Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin, who is known for his teaching and appearance each summer for “Hagigah” at the Union for Reform Judaism’s camps Swig, Kutz and Newman. Schachet-Briskin, who is cantor at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, appeared in honor of the installation and consecration for Rabbi Charles Kahn Briskin, as spiritual leader at Temple Beth El.

Saluting Soldiers I

More than 850 people, including many of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community, gathered at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills to honor the brave men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Friends of the IDF Western Region held the event to raise funds for an auditorium, library and synagogue at the soon to be built new REIM Base in the Negev.

The gala dinner was co-chaired by Cheryl and Haim Saban and included a live satellite hook-up with soldiers stationed near Gaza. The evening’s special guest speaker was Avi Dicter who recently retired as head of Shin Bet. By the end of the evening, the gala dinner had raised nearly $4 million — with many additional pledges and commitments under discussion — for recreational facilities at a new army base in the Negev, reported the group’s director Miri Nash.

Even in Beverly Hills, it’s not every day that someone gets up to pledge $1 million to a good cause, to say nothing of two successive million-dollar donors. It happened at the 25th anniversary celebration, when the Saban and his wife announced their gift, almost as a throwaway line.

Not bad for an ex-corporal in the IDF, who was surrounded by a platoon of respectful Israeli ex-generals.

Next in line was Leo David, former chair of the Western Region, who proclaimed that anything Saban could do, he could do and added another million bucks.

Dichter, a rising star in Israel’s Kadima Party, warned that the “terror states” of Iran, Syria and Lebanon had not given up on their hopes to destroy the Jewish state. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Saluting Soldiers II

The Chanukah e-mail from an American Jewish soldier in Iraq put it succinctly: “We have a hard time getting things here,” wrote Army Staff Sgt. David T. Silcox.

He was thanking Jewish community volunteers in Los Angeles and Connecticut for the Chanukah gift packages sent to Jewish troops in Iraq as well as soldiers in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar through Operation Far From Home.

“We also sent little gifts for the soldiers, so they can send those to their children,” said Jewish community activist Adeena Bleich, who created Operation Far Home last Passover with her parents, Linda and Phil Bleich, who live in New Haven, Conn.

“Jewish solders need to know that we’re here and we’re thinking of them,” Linda Bleich said.

Operation Far From Home has received 500 Jewish music CDs from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, plus donations from former California state Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), as well as support from several L.A. area shuls and schools. One seventh-grader at Hillel Hebrew Academy wrote to the troops: “I admire what you are doing for our country.”

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City said he likes Operation Far From Home because, “it’s our responsibility to support our soldiers overseas who are defending democracy for us.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer


‘Top Gun’ Lawyer Aims to Aid Likud

The latest, and certainly most colorful, addition to the ranks of the local Likud leadership is Beverly Hills lawyer Myles L. Berman.

He is better known to citizens facing drunk driving charges — and to connoisseurs of advertising slogans — as The Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney, but these days, it’s the defense of Israel that is uppermost on his mind.

Last June, fed up with what he considers the failure of established organizations to involve the American Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities, he founded the Beverly Hills Chapter of the American Friends of Likud.

So far, he has recruited 11 upscale families, drawn primarily from the Iranian Jewish community, to which his wife, Mitra belongs. The members make up in financial clout what they lack in numbers, with a combined worth of over $1 billion, according to Berman.

Born into a strongly Democratic family but later a founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Berman, at 51, is a man of strong physique and opinions.

“I am fed up with intermarriage and with rabbis who reach out to gay and intermarried couples,” he said during an interview in his spacious Sunset Boulevard office.

A member of Sinai Temple, Berman fears that “to some extent, rabbis and lay leaders are unable to instill Jewish identity” into their constituents.

Currently, Berman is focusing his considerable energies on two primary issues:

One is to assure the election from America of a large pro-Likud slate for the upcoming quadrennial Congress of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), dubbed “The Parliament of the Jewish People,” and his own election to the No. 5 spot on the slate.

He is concerned, he said, that so few American Jews realize the importance of June elections for the WZO Congress, which plays a major role in determining relations between Israel and the Diaspora, the running of the Jewish Agency and the dispersal of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Berman’s second immediate goal is to persuade the Israeli government and Knesset to allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote in Israeli elections.

“It matters to both Israel and American Jewry what the expatriates say and do,” he observed.

Berman has “grabbed [the two issues] in my teeth,” he said. With Berman that means putting his money and advertising savvy behind the effort. Indeed, his penchant for publicity elicits knowing smiles even from fellow Likudniks.

Berman is laying out $50,000 of his own money to place his messages on Israeli cable TV programs popular with Israeli expats, and in the Anglo-Jewish and Hebrew-language press in the United States.

“I hope the efforts will further my ultimate aim of bridging the gap between Israeli leaders and American Jews,” Berman said.

Any Jew over 18 is eligible to vote for delegates to the Congress of the World Zionist Organization online or via mail by Feb. 15. For details, go to or phone (888) 657-8850. The Congress will meet June 19-22 in Jerusalem.


Wolpe Leading Pick for Seminary Spot

The Forward newspaper has reported that Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles has emerged as a top candidate to head the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York.

The Nov. 18 article, “L.A. Rabbi Eyed as Conservative Seminary Head,” asserted that “support is mounting for a prominent pulpit rabbi from Los Angeles to become the next chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, after he delivered an enthusiastically received speech last week on the future of Conservative Judaism.”

The position of JTS chancellor is widely viewed as the head of the entire Conservative movement, as well as the leader of its flagship institution.

Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood told The Journal that he is flattered by the attention, but that he’s also happy with his current job. And that speech, he added, was hardly intended as part of a campaign strategy.

He said he planned his remarks six months ago, before Chancellor Ismar Schorsch announced that he would be retiring next June.

Wolpe’s Nov. 10 speech at the seminary, “What Does Conservative Judaism Have to Say to the 21st Century?” argued for changing the name of Conservative Judaism to “Covenantal Judaism,” to better encompass the view that rabbinic law is both binding and evolving.

Wolpe’s relative youth (he’s 47) and charisma have garnered him supporters. The search committee will make no comments, but other candidates are believed to include Rabbi Gordon Tucker, the rabbi of Temple Israel in White Plains, N.Y., known for his liberal positions, and Jack Wertheimer, the seminary’s provost, who, like the more conservative Schorsch, opposes ordaining gay rabbis.

Wolpe has served at Sinai Temple for eight years, and he’s known for political adroitness. He has, for example, never publicly stated his position on gays in the rabbinate, an issue of ongoing dispute. On the other hand, Wolpe stirred some controversy of his own in 2001 when he questioned whether the Exodus actually happened in a Passover sermon in front of his congregation.


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.



Cantor Carries on Tennis Tradition

Steven Walfish’s life is ruled by the three Ts: tallit, tefillin and tennis.To illustrate this point, when his son Sam was in first grade, he asked his dad to drop by the school and join other fathers in talking about their professions.

So the elder Walfish appeared in full regalia and talked about what it means to be a cantor in a synagogue.

Then he stripped off his robe, displaying the tennis shorts and shirt underneath, and discussed the job of managing three municipal tennis centers.

Walfish credits one of his professions to his father, the other to his mother.

His Polish-born father and Holocaust survivor, Heshel Walfish, has been the legendary cantor at Beth Israel for 50 years, and at 85 he shows no sign of slowing down.

Located at Beverly and Crescent Heights boulevards, Beth Israel was founded in 1899 as the first Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, and was also known as the Olive Street Shul.

When Steven was 5 years old, Cantor Walfish put his son next to him on the bimah on Shabbat, and the boy starting belting out prayers at the Orthodox service.

By the time of his bar mitzvah, Steven had learned his dad’s craft and would pinchhit for him when he was out of town.

At the same time, the boy’s American-born mother, Betty, took over the physical education of the only male heir among her four children.

She took Steven bowling, fishing, and, most importantly, instilled in him a lifelong love of tennis.

Now, at 74, Betty Walfish still plays against her 48-year old son, who describes her as “a really sharp player.”

By stages, Steven Walfish became a full-service cantor the old-fashioned way, by learning from his father rather than through ordination.

For the past nine years, he has conducted one of the High Holiday services at Stephen S. Wise Temple, a Reform congregation, and tutors bar and bat mitzvah students.

(Full disclosure: Walfish tutored and officiated recently at one of my granddaughters’ bat mitzvah, so this report may be biased.)

When The Journal interviewed Walfish last week outside Starbucks on Beverly Glen Circle, a parade of trim-looking women stopped by for cheery hellos.

“All mothers of my b’nai mitzvah kids,” he explained.

On a parallel track, Walfish’s tennis fervor kept growing. “I am an ardent fan,” he said. “If Tom Cruise came by now and sat down at our table, it wouldn’t mean a thing to me. But if it was Pete Sampras or John McEnroe, I’d die.”

In 1994, Walfish got a chance to combine pleasure and business. With partner Lee Ziff, he formed the Beverly Hills Tennis management company, and soon entered into a contract with the City of Beverly Hills to manage its 26 courts at Roxbury Park, La Cienega Park and Beverly Hills High School.

“We supervise all the lessons, leagues, competitions, facilities and special events,” he said. “We have 30 pros, so I can always find somebody to play with.”

Recently, Walfish had the opportunity to fuse his two favorite occupations by conducting a bar mitzvah on a private Beverly Hills tennis court.

In preparing Jewish youngsters for the rite of passage, Walfish takes a special interest in the sons and daughters of Russian immigrants and in children with learning disabilities.

“The Russian kids have practically no Jewish background but they have an intense thirst for Jewish identity,” he said.

Walfish, a divorced father of a girl and two boys, has developed a personal understanding for children with special needs through his 14-year old daughter Emily.

Emily was born with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that prevents her from walking or communicating in any way.

“She is a beautiful girl, she laughs and cries, and living with her — we would never put her in an institution — has made her two younger brothers much more sensitive and empathetic boys,” Walfish said.

A big man, who erupts frequently into hearty laughter, Walfish puts in pretty long days as cantor, manager of tennis facilities, and “full-time dad.” In addition, he “dabbles” in real estate, and hopes to rejuvenate his father’s Beth Israel congregation, which now consists largely of Holocaust survivors.

As a religious person, Walfish says he is somewhat conflicted. “My father is from a Chasidic background and I was educated in Orthodox schools, but I have worked mainly at Conservative and Reform synagogues,” he mused. “I guess theologically I look at life from a Reform perspective, but my heart and soul are still Orthodox.”


A Smile Can Be Key to Temple Security

Will you feel safe going to synagogue this New Year?

The High Holidays bring a special dilemma to American congregations. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur attract more Jews to synagogue — and more attention to American Jews in general — than at any other time of year.

The very prominence of this intensive Jewish season raises significant security concerns for clergy and lay leaders responsible for the safety of their members and guests. Yet the New Year is the single best opportunity to engage and welcome both new and returning members of the congregation.

Can synagogues protect and serve?

For 10 years, Synagogue 2000, a transdenominational project to envision the synagogue of the 21st century, worked with some 100 synagogues across America to re-imagine congregations as sacred, welcoming communities. Beginning this year, Synagogue 3000, its successor, is making that vision of an open tent available to every Jewish spiritual community in the country.

But at a time when virtually all the synagogues in North America have had to install some level of security screening at their front doors, is this welcoming vision realistic, let alone responsible?

We believe that the creation of a welcoming ambience is not only responsible; it is the surest way to keep our communities safe. Remember the origin of the handshake: mutual prevention of violence. Two hands grasping one another cannot wield a sword or a rock.

The reality is that a truly inviting community can be a truly secure community. The question is: how to balance the imperative for hachnasat orchim, the welcoming of guests, with the imperative to protect against strangers who threaten to disrupt these Days of Awe?

These concerns are real. Here in Los Angeles, for example, recent threats against Jewish institutions have made synagogues into high-profile potential targets. The Anti-Defamation League’s September briefing for congregational leaders was at once sobering and reassuring. While we live in an uncertain environment, attendees were told, nevertheless we have the resources and the support to keep our communities as safe as possible.

Still, synagogue leaders were told, “Harden the target.”

So, we have erected guard houses, installed scanners and hired uniformed personnel to check our IDs, search our tallit bags and take our tickets. Running the gauntlet of security is not exactly the kind of “welcome” anyone has in mind.

The very barriers that guard our gates can discourage those taking new and tentative steps toward affiliated synagogue life. What good is praying for the gates of heaven to open, when the gates of the shul are shut?

Consider the steps that many police departments recommend to reduce institutional vulnerability: get involved in your surrounding community, get to know your neighbor and get to know your members. Would that most synagogues knew all of their members.

Let’s be honest. On the High Holidays, we see not only new faces, but also those of the many members who rarely come around during the rest of the year. Nevertheless, a synagogue that installs greeters just outside the security perimeter who offer a smile and a warm “Gut yontif” or “Happy New Year” can create an initial impression of welcome. A follow-up qualifying question to a newcomer can express genuine interest, such as, “Who recommended us to you?” or “What’s your favorite part of the New Year service?”

In Southern California, three of the five most recent hate crimes and terrorist incidents against Jews involved individuals with weapons searching for targets of opportunity. We learn from prison interviews with convicted perpetrators that a synagogue with people greeting one another at the front gate, on the front steps and at the front door is not a target of opportunity. A synagogue whose members care enough to greet one another is a synagogue whose members are its first and most important line of defense against the unusual, the people or vehicles that don’t look quite right, the potential threat.

Savvy synagogue leaders have turned this obstacle into an opportunity. The best congregations have trained their security personnel in the art of greeting. You don’t have to be fluent in Hebrew or even be Jewish to say, “Shanah tovah.” Others deploy volunteers to mitigate delays and other inconveniences caused by security checks.

On Rosh Hashanah 2001, just days after Sept. 11, the Synagogue 2000 team at Temple Israel of Hollywood knew that their congregants would be forced to wait on a sidewalk for up to 15 minutes to go through security screening. They organized a crew of volunteers to “work the line,” offering trays laden with apples and honey to welcome the people to their congregation. Other volunteers brought guitars to pass the time with song.

Ultimately, all members of a sacred community have the responsibility of creating a culture of welcome and safety. Whom does a visitor or a congregant meet when entering a synagogue? A parking attendant, a security person, the custodian, the gift shop volunteer, the front office receptionist, the staff secretaries, the kitchen crew, the caterer, the school office assistant, the religious school teachers, the executive director, the cantor, the rabbi — every one of these people represents the congregation. Every one has the potential to make each interaction with members and guests a positive experience — or not. Everyone must greet and guard.

Perhaps the best way to harden the target is to soften our hearts. All it takes is a smile and a handshake.

Ron Wolfson is president and Shawn Landres is director of research at Synagogue 3000 (

The Circuit

Founder Farewell

Jonathan Jacoby, who helped found the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) in 1993, will move his primary residence from New York to Los Angeles in October and, shortly thereafter, step down as IPF’s executive director. Jacoby has been a leading participant in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict for the past 20 years. The announcement was made, with “regret,” by Seymour D. Reich and Marvin Lender, president and board chair, respectively, of IPF, the organization that advocates an active American engagement in bringing about Israeli-Arab peace. It has its headquarters in New York and an office in Washington, D.C.

Reich and Lender have formed a committee to seek a new executive director and said Jacoby will continue to serve in that position until his replacement begins, at which time his IPF role on the West Coast will be determined.

A Sure Bet

More than 300 young Iranian Jewish professionals attended Eretz-SIAMAK’s second annual Casino Night held at its Tarzana cultural center on Saturday, July 23. Guests enjoyed the easy-going sounds of a live jazz band while gambling at the poker, craps and roulette tables. A portion of the evening’s proceeds was donated to Cure Autism Now, a national nonprofit organization seeking to find a cure for autism.

“We wanted to raise awareness and funds for autism research because it has really impacted the Jewish community but hasn’t received much attention” said Alan Fakheri, chair of the Eretz-SIAMAK Young Professionals Committee.

Federation Feast

South Bay women feasted on a generous serving of warmth and humor as well as a delicious lunch at The Federation’s South Bay Council annual Women’s Division fundraiser. The Heart and Spirit Event, held in May at the Depot Restaurant in Torrance and hosted by comedian chef extraordinaire Michael Shafer, raised more than $73,000.

Shafer’s performance was part cooking class, part stand-up comedy. Those who weren’t laughing too hard learned how to prepare a delicious, kosher Shabbat dinner. Event co-chairs Zvia Hempling and Iris Lee Knell were delighted with the ladies’ enjoyment of their day as well the overwhelming success of the fundraising effort.

“This was definitely among the South Bay Jewish community’s most successful events ever,” said Robin Franko, director of the South Bay Council. “I could not be more excited about the support, encouragement and dedication of our close-knit community.”

Beth Labelson, Suzan Waks and Leslie Werksman were recognized at the event for their generosity and each received the Lion of Judah pin, which is awarded to women who make a minimum gift of $5,000 to The Federation’s annual campaign.

For more information on South Bay programs, call (310) 375-0863 or visit — Julie M. Brown, Contributing Writer

Young Fighters

The young professionals of Los Angeles recently turned out to support the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leader’s Committee annual Summer Soiree to reaffirm their commitment to leadership in their battle against hated and prejudice.

The party mood didn’t deter for one moment the seriousness of efforts to curtail the ever-present ravages of anti-Semitism and bigotry.

These young professionals believe in securing fair and just treatment for everyone and are shaping the future of this important effort through leadership roles in the agency’s many human relations, community service and civil rights programs.

They invite others to become involved as a donor, board member, committee volunteer or Salvin Leadership Institute participant. This annual fundraiser was designed to not only raise funds but awareness.

The evening featured food, dancing and an opportunity to win prizes and to name a martini.

All proceeds benefited the ADL’s fight against anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.

For more information, call (310) 446-8000.

Briskin at the Beach

Entering the next chapter of its 83-year history, Temple Beth El and Center of San Pedro is excited to welcome Rabbi Charles Briskin as its new spiritual leader. He brings youthful energy and a passion for learning, worship, social justice and community building to Temple Beth El.

“Temple Beth El has a wonderful history and reputation,” Briskin said. “It is known to be a community of genuinely caring and friendly families, served by a solid group of devoted lay leaders and an excellent team of talented and well-established professionals.”

Briskin, his wife, Karen, and toddler son, Ezra, come to Temple Beth El from the San Francisco Bay area. There, Briskin served as the associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where he worked with Rabbi Janet Marder, a national leader in the Reform movement.

Temple Beth El serves Reform Jews from the Beach Communities, Torrance, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Harbor Area in its two locations: the main synagogue building in San Pedro, and the Temple Beth El Peninsula Family Center in Torrance.

For more information on upcoming events to welcome Briskin, call (310) 833-2467.


Sudan Support Marks Memorial Day

Two events about two distinct crimes against humanity — both in Sudan — attracted strong Jewish community interest during the Memorial Day weekend.

At least 600 Southern California Jews attended synagogue services around the Southland on Thursday evening, May 26, marking an end to a day of fasting designed to build Jewish awareness to the ongoing genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Then over the holiday weekend, the University of Judaism (UJ) helped start a new chapter in the difficult lives of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, a group of 3,900 young, displaced Africans whose refugee camp lives resembled postwar Europe’s displaced persons camps.

In western Sudan’s Darfur region, experts estimate that 300,000 villagers have been killed since 2003 by militias of Arab janjaweed horsemen, whose genocidal actions have been supported by the Sudanese government. In southern Sudan, the Lost Boys and Girls are the fallout of the Sudanese government’s 21-year war with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army; that conflict killed 1.5 million Sudanese and created thousands of refugees including the Lost Boys and Girls, who picked up that name while awaiting resettlement at the United Nations’ Kakuma camp in Kenya.

Darfur has become significant for Southern California synagogues largely due to Valley Beth Shalom’s Jewish World Watch group, which has been holding Darfur awareness evenings since last fall at Conservative, Reform and now Orthodox shuls.

“The least we can do is feel some of their pain,” said Shalhevet High School junior Alyssa Birnbaum, one of more than a dozen Shalhevet students among about 180 people attending a Mincha service and Darfur lecture at the Pico-Robertson shul B’nai David-Judea Congregation.

Reform Rabbi Zoe Klein of Rancho Park’s Temple Isaiah wore a long skirt, sat in the Orthodox women’s section and read from the women’s side of the bimah during the Mincha service at B’nai David-Judea.

“Our class that’s the most motivated is the one studying the Holocaust,” Klein said. “So the whole concept of ‘never again’ gives them the opportunity to mean what they say by reaching out to another community experiencing genocide.”

After speaking at B’nai David-Judea, Klein went to Bel Air’s Stephen S. Wise Temple, for its break-the-fast service and a talk by John Prendergast, President Clinton’s National Security Council African affairs director, who currently aids the International Crisis Group’s efforts to help Darfur refugees fleeing Sudan to Chad.

Prendergast said that when he thinks of the post-Holocaust rejoinder, “never again” and then thinks of Rwanda in 1994 and Darfur now, “that phrase rings in my ear more and more hollow as time goes on.”

Once done speaking on Darfur, Prendergast went down the Stephen S. Wise hill and walked across the street to the UJ.

Over Memorial Day Weekend he spoke to the 19-member board of directors of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, a new nonprofit group formed at the UJ that weekend to help the estimated 3,900 lost children who fled southern Sudan in the early 1990s but started resettling four years ago in the U.S.

“We’ve been born yesterday. We just formulated ourselves,” said Deng Mayok Chol, a 2004 Arizona State University graduate and the board’s vice president.

Southern Sudan last year saw a peace accord signed to end the civil war. Like some child Holocaust survivors in displaced persons camps, some of the Lost Boys and Girls still do not know their exact ages, with those gathered at the UJ ranged from 20 to 29. Most were in, or had recently finished, college, with most studying science, technical or engineering fields.

“I’m not Jewish but I go to Brandeis,” said Aduei Riak, 21, a peace, conflict and coexistence studies major at the Jewish university near Boston.

The nonprofit group’s California incorporation is being helped along by the UJ’s MBA nonprofit management program, with one or two of UJ graduate students expected to do an internship with the budding group.

“Their resources are very limited,” said Nina Lieberman Giladi, UJ’s nonprofit management program dean. “Until this weekend, everything we did was done via conference call.”

The UJ got connected to The Lost Boys and Girls through film producer Bobby Newmyer, whose credits include “Training Day” and “The Santa Clause” and who is waiting for Paramount to approve his script, “The Lost Boys of the Sudan,” so he can begin shooting in Kansas City, Mo.

“This project has dominated my life for three years now,” said Newmyer, who contacted UJ to help him help the Sudanese primarily because the campus is “right down the street from me.”

The Lost Boys and Girls story is overshadowed by the ongoing global interest in Darfur.

“Darfur is kind of blocking everything,” said Apuk Ayuel, 24, the nonprofit group’s deputy spokesperson and a political science student at the University of Texas at Arlington near Dallas. “They have a lot of publicity. Darfur has become so focused on, so it becomes the only thing focused on. We all went through the same struggle.”

MATCH Puts Giving in Students’ Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How the Maccabees Reshaped Jerusalem


The Maccabees are celebrated throughout the Jewish world for recapturing Jerusalem for the Jews, rededicating the Temple and lighting lamps with a day’s supply of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days.

Less well-known, according to a leading Israeli archaeologist, is that the Maccabees also were major builders who transformed the face of Jerusalem and restored the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life.

“The problem is that Herod the Great built so thoroughly that many remains of the Maccabeans have almost disappeared,” said Dan Bahat, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who is spending the academic year lecturing at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

The Maccabeans, who founded the Hasmonean dynasty, likely inspired King Herod’s vision of the Temple, said Bahat, whose specialty is Jerusalem of the Second Temple period.

In recent years, the former chief archaeologist of Jerusalem has supervised the excavations of the Western Wall tunnel, the ancient subterranean passage that extends along the western perimeter of the Temple Mount.

A large water channel that was discovered in the tunnel has been accepted by many archaeologists as a Maccabean-built aqueduct and, according to Bahat, almost certainly is the most visible Maccabean relic in the Old City.

“This is the most important remain of Hasmonean Jerusalem today,” he said. “It’s an enormous ditch that was excavated from the surface in order to supply water to the fortress named Baris, which was the seat of the Maccabean family before they moved to a place in the area of today’s Jewish Quarter.”

The apocryphal Book of the Maccabees offers ample evidence that the legendary leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks were great builders. As further evidence, Bahat cites the fine mosaics and frescoes excavated in various Maccabean palaces in Jericho.

But the Maccabees’ architectural footprint was almost fully erased in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount, by King Herod’s massive construction projects.

Although the Book of the Maccabees relates that its heroes undertook projects to heighten the Temple Mount walls and remove a hill as a protective measure against the Greeks, there’s little chance of discovering even the slightest physical trace of these efforts, according to Bahat.

Without archaeological evidence, “it’s very difficult for us to decipher what exactly they have done,” he said. “But there’s no doubt the Maccabees greatly contributed” to the national “consciousness of the importance of the Temple. After the Maccabean period, there’s no question that the Temple was the center of Jewish life in all respects.”

He added, “The Maccabees made the Temple the most important thing in Jerusalem.”

In rebuilding the Temple, King Herod was guided by the measurements listed in the Book of Kings, but went beyond any scriptural references when it came to the Temple’s beautification.

“My question is, when he did all these works, where did he learn it from? What did he take it from? It must have been from the Maccabees,” Bahat said.

Born in 1938, Bahat grew up in the pre-state Yishuv at a time when Jewish access to the Old City of Jerusalem seemed a far-away dream. It was Professor Michael Ave-Yonah’s famous model of ancient Jerusalem in the Holy Land Hotel that first inspired him to study all available scriptures and texts about the Old City.

“I thought, ‘If he can do it, so can I,’ ” Bahat recalled. “I never imagined that I would ever really be in the Old City of Jerusalem, so I thought that at least theoretically, I could get to know it very well.”

He chose to specialize in the Second Temple period because the era marked “the apex of Jerusalem as a Jewish city,” he said. “Remember the saying, ‘The one who hasn’t seen Jerusalem hasn’t seen a beautiful city in his life.’ Or the other saying, ‘Of the 10 parts of beauty in the world, Jerusalem took nine.'”

When Bahat attained his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University in 1964, Jerusalem still was divided and there was a paucity of literature in Hebrew about the Old City.

“Most of the study of Jerusalem was done by non-Jews, mainly by Christians interested in the city where Jesus walked,” he recalled.

The restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Old City in 1967 prompted an unprecedented boom of Jewish-led archaeological investigations.

“The result of that is that today our knowledge of Jerusalem has increased immensely,” Bahat said. “We can’t compare our knowledge of Jerusalem in 1967 to what we know today.”

Possibly the only authority anywhere on the topography of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, Bahat is a fervent nationalist and lover of history who knows many passages of scripture by heart but says he is not religiously observant.

Bahat has lectured to Christian groups around the world on Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and once was invited by Pope John Paul II to do so at the Vatican. He seems equally versed on Jerusalem in the eyes of Islam, and did his doctoral thesis on Jerusalem in the Crusader period.

During his 40 years as an archaeologist, Bahat has produced dozens of books and papers, including the well-known “Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem” and a popular illustrated volume two years ago on the Western Wall tunnel.

Although his specialty is Jerusalem, Bahat also has worked on many major archaeological digs in Israel, including the ancient synagogue in Beit Shean and the mountaintop fortress at Masada. It was at Masada that he made one of his most remarkable finds: a group of shards with Hebrew names on them, dating from the moment of the dramatic fall of the Jewish stronghold to the Romans in 73 C.E.

But Bahat continues to focus most of his scholarly attention on the city to which he has devoted much of his career.

“All my life is based on studying Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s a lifetime job, it’s not a simple thing. It’s a multifaceted city. The field is so complex and so complicated, but so interesting. So I’m kind of addicted to Jerusalem.”


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

As I leave the world of Jewish Day schools and begin college, I journey like Dorothy into the mysterious Land of Oz.

Wearing cropped jeans (instead of a blue-checkered dress), I anxiously follow the yellow brick road (or Interstate 5) to Stanford University.

Halfway there, a melancholy sensation of homesickness overwhelms me, and I think of my prior extraordinary 14 years of Jewish day school education. Soon, there will be no more all-school holiday celebrations, no more faculty dressing up on Purim and no more crooning Hebrew melodies down the noisy halls.

My prior Temple Emanuel Community Day School and Milken Community High School 100 percent Jewish population is about to dwindle to a dismal 12 percent.

I begin to panic and search frantically through my suitcase for my red shoes. After sloppily tying them onto my feet, I desperately cry, "There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home."

Yet, when I open my eyes, I am still on the yellow brick road and it is time for me to wake up and smell the coffee. It is time to glide (or ineptly stumble) into the secular world as a college freshman.

Indeed, like Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz," I am a young adult on a quest to find her inner soul and place in life. Dorothy transitions from childhood to adulthood, and travels to Oz only to fathom that everything she wanted was in her home, in her own backyard.

For me, my beloved home is Judaism, and my family constantly reminds me not to fret. I can hold on to my Jewish heritage, whether it be in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Kansas or even Oz.

Take one instance: I was sitting at Starbucks in Westwood last week, sipping my Frappuccino and perusing the Los Angeles Times, when a handsome UCLA student approached me, and asked if he could join me at my table. Our conversation was delightful until he took me by surprise and bluntly inquired, "I saw you in the window and thought you were beautiful. Do you have a boyfriend?"

I stared at his shiny cross and gulped.

"Yes, I do," I staggered.

Sure, it was a bubbemeise, as my mother would say, but how could I have told him the truth? I later chuckled, imagining his response to: "Sorry, but my family says that ‘those you date you mate,’ and I need to raise my kids Jewish." Or, what if I had given him a quick lecture on how being Jewish is so important to me? All I can say is "oy."

Yet, now I was confident that even though it would not be easy, I could emerge safely from my cozy and protective Jewish day school bubble while retaining my identity.

Furthermore, besides the dating factor, my Jewish education had prepared me to confront anti-Semitism. The Middle East seminar that Milken implemented this past year imparted onto me the tools to ward off any evil witch (or anti-Semite) that I might encounter.

My lessons of Talmud had infused me with the Tin Man’s much-desired heart, my social science and humanities instructors had imbued me with the Lion’s admirable courage, and from my mathematics teachers I had gained the Scarecrow’s sought-after brain.

Thus, as the summer days begin to shorten, and the cool Los Angeles air gently reminds me that on Yom Kippur I will be davening for the first time away from home at Hillel, I feel prepared for my future identity as a worldly maidelah.

Who knows? In a month, I might be staying up late at night with a Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or atheist roommate, comparing our theological takes on the universe (while munching on a midnight snack). I will be elated to take part in that dialogue, to learn about other religions and cultures, and to share mine.

Will I ever reflect on my prior days at a Jewish day school?

You bet.

When my grandmother called me at my summer job a couple of days ago, the young Latina secretary politely inquired, "May I ask who is calling?"

"Her Bubbe," my grandmother replied.

A few seconds later I picked up the telephone and the befuddled secretary informed me, "Someone by the name of Herbubbe is on the phone for you."

Now, that, I was certain, would have never happened at Milken.

Stanford freshman Michele Goldman is a writer and pianist.

Membership Briefs

Humanistic High Holidays

Three secular humanist groups — Adat Chaverim, Society for Humanistic Judaism and The Sholem Community — will hold High Holidays services in the Los Angeles area.

Adat Chaverim, whose “celebrations” have been led by a madrich, or trained lay leader, since its founding four years ago, will welcome an ordained humanist rabbi, Miriam Jerris, for the first time at its Yom Kippur service.

In another first, the services will be held at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Sherman Oaks, instead of the Methodist church, which has housed Adat Chaverim until now.

“It’s nice for our 65 members and their guests to come together at a Jewish venue,” co-founder Joe Steinberg said.

The Society for Humanistic Judaism will meet in West Los Angeles, and The Sholem Community in Culver City and Rancho Park.

For more information, contact: Adat Chaverim, (818) 623-7363,; Society for Humanistic Judaism, (213) 891-4303,; and Sholem Community, (818) 760-6625, — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Biblical Meets Digital

An Israeli company has come up with a unique way of helping people search through the myriad Jewish religious texts that have accumulated since the Torah was given on Sinai 5,000 years ago. DBS International has put more than 500 texts, including the entire text of the Tanach and the Talmud, onto two CD-ROMs called Torah Treasures.

“It’s like the Concordance but much more efficient,” said Rabbi Yoseph Gubits, the director of the American office for DBS International, referring to the classic Jewish reference texts that lists the sources for any mention of a name or place in the Tanach and Talmud. “You type in a word, and then in a few seconds you receive a list of all the places that word is mentioned. If you click on [the listing] you get the whole page, and then if you click on it again you get the commentaries on that page. And you can search through any or all of the books.”

DBS sells two versions of Torah Treasures. Version nine has 512 books on it and costs $310; version 10 has 562 books and costs $420.

Gubits thinks that the CD-ROMs will be indispensable to rabbis and teachers who need to prepares talks and classes.

Currently, the texts on the CD-ROMs are only available in Hebrew.

For more information, visit or call (718) 437-7337. — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

Synaplex Revives Synagogues

This September, two Los Angeles-area temples will be among five new synagogues that will begin participating in the Synaplex Initiative, a program of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), which is designed to boost synagogue attendance.

Synaplex (a combination of synagogue and multiplex, as in movie theatres) is already in place at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, University Synagogue in Irvine and at nine other synagogues across the country.

Synaplex supplements the traditional Friday night prayer service with a range of options — anything from Torah-based yoga to a family-friendly pizza party, a community service project to a guest lecturer — to get people excited about Shabbat. Any or all of the activities could be going on in a Synaplex synagogue at the same time.

On average, Synaplex synagogues have seen their attendance increase by 78 percent on Friday evenings. Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills has increased its average attendance on Synaplex Shabbats by 940 percent.

“Synaplex is an expression of how the Sabbath can be celebrated in a way that speaks to modern individuals and families and restores the synagogue to its traditional position as a communal and spiritual center,” said Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR.

For more information, visit . –GW

Two Women Rabbis Will Fill Pulpits

When Rabbi Johanna Hershenson set off from Orange County for Alaska’s sweeping vistas and majestic peaks, she was eager for a new congregational experience and professional challenges.

She discovered that most Alaskan Jews are exiles by choice who sought the wilderness of the nation’s largest state rather than institutional life.

Apart from the 175 member families she served at Anchorage’s Congregation Beth Sholom, Hershenson found little other Jewish life. As the only non-Orthodox rabbi in Alaska, she became a long-distance consultant to lay synagogue leaders in even more isolated areas, such as Homer and Fairbanks. A local Chabad rabbi and his wife were welcome colleagues, she said.

"It became clear there wasn’t a lot of room for me to grow professionally," said Hershenson, who left Alaska after three years and spent the last 12 months in Madison, Wis., for a self-imposed sabbatical. She considered pursuing a doctorate by researching the juncture of spirituality and psychology but ended up filling in for vacationing colleagues.

On July 1, Hershenson, 35, along with her family, will return to Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El, where she will serve as the assistant rabbi to Allen Krause for a second time. Then, like now, the senior rabbi is departing for a sabbatical, although this time Hershenson will not be on her own but helped by a temporary replacement rabbi.

"Jewish life is thriving there," Hershenson said, pointing out the congregation’s growth since 1998, the start of her first Beth El stint, from 425 families to 700. "It’s demography that changes; it’s not that the synagogue has magic pills."

Another female rabbi will also start work locally in July. Westminster’s Temple Beth David is Rabbi Nancy Myers’ first solo pulpit. She previously served for six years as associate rabbi of the 900-family Temple Chai of Long Grove, Ill. With a two-year contract at the smaller, 350-family Beth David congregation, Myers is the permanent replacement for Robert Klensin, who served a year as interim rabbi.

The opening arose because of the unexpected resignation of Beth David’s 13-year spiritual leader, Michael Mayershon, who stepped down in spring of 2002 (see story, page 9).

Myers, 34, impressed the Beth David search committee, which observed during a daylong trial as each finalist taught an adult education class, led a tot Shabbat service and offered pastoral counseling advice to a congregant struggling with teenagers, said Mark Sklan, the congregation’s past president.

"She was magnificent," he said.

Myers, along with her husband, Paul Prunty, and two toddlers, relocated last month to Cypress.