Ed Elhaderi (middle) with high school classmates in Libya in 1967. Photos courtesy of Ed Elhaderi

From a culture of anti-Semitism to becoming a Jew


A Libyan’s nomadic journey of self-discovery and understanding

That hot afternoon seems like yesterday, but it was 50 years ago this month. I was 15 and living in Sabha, a small city in the Sahara Desert of southern Libya. An older cousin told me about the reports on Cairo Radio about the dire situation facing the Egyptian army.

“We’ve got to do something,” he said.

I didn’t fully understand the politics of what would come to be known as the Six-Day War, but I knew that what was happening was bad for us as Arabs and Muslims. All around me were other teenagers absorbing the tense mood and looking to vent their rage at the Jews.

I followed the crowd to the only Western-style establishment nearby, a bar. It was early afternoon and the place hadn’t opened yet. A few older boys broke down the door, and a crowd stormed in, breaking bottles and dumping alcohol onto the street outside.

Standing in a crowd, I joined the chants: “Death to the Jews!” “Drive the Jews into the sea!”

The truth is that I had never actually met a Jew. I grew up in a small nomadic village of 20 families, a collection of mud huts with palm-frond roofs that wouldn’t have looked much different 2,000 years earlier. Health care was so primitive that by the time I was a young boy, my parents had lost three children to illness.

Sunni Islam was the only way of life I knew. My preschool was in a mosque, where an imam taught us to read and write by drilling us with verses from the Quran. After that, our education was more secular — I went to mosque, going through the motions, but I was hardly devout. I never was exposed to any alternatives or avenues to question the life we had.

Our textbooks didn’t mention Israel, and people used the word Yahudi, Jew, only as an insult. The Jews had rejected the Prophet Muhammad, so they were considered to be condemned. The only Jews I saw were in Egyptian movies, in which they were portrayed as menacing, monstrous characters — hunched over and speaking with high-pitched nasal accents.

I did know Palestinian Arabs. My elementary school had once hired a young Palestinian as a teacher. Because he was Palestinian, the community welcomed him warmly and supported him generously.

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Elhaderi receives the prestigious First Honor National Academic Award from Libyan Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud in 1974.

After high school, I went to the University of Tripoli, where I was neither politically active nor religiously observant. During my first year there, my father arrived to deliver tragic news: My mother had died. I channeled my grief into focusing on my studies, earning a place in the prestigious chemical engineering program.

Hoping for a career in the country’s burgeoning oil industry, I won a scholarship to study abroad in one of the top-ranked programs in my field, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Leaving behind my father and one younger brother, I set out for my first journey beyond Libya.

In Madison, I discovered a campus teeming with international students — Iranians, Nigerians, Europeans, Asians. Amid the activist ferment of the mid-1970s, each group freely and openly expressed its political and cultural identity.

I did that, too: When I moved into an office I shared with two other graduate students, I tacked up a large poster of Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, wearing his iconic kaffiyeh and brandishing a semiautomatic rifle.

It was 1974, just two years after the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympic Games and the same year as the terrorist massacre in the Israeli town of Ma’alot. Half of the department’s faculty and perhaps a quarter of its students were Jewish, yet it didn’t strike me that my choice of décor might offend anyone. Many colleagues undoubtedly reacted by steering clear of me.

And then, for the first time, I began getting to know Jewish people. The encounters happened organically, in classrooms and the student union. Two Jewish professors in my department were kind and understanding. Over one leisurely summer, I spent time with a Jewish philosophy professor who engaged a group of us over beers in leisurely discussions about politics and life. I was struck by how they were just people — wonderful, decent, normal people. They defied every stereotype I had been fed while growing up in Libya.

The contrast was so striking that not only did I begin to reconsider my assumptions about Jews, but I also came to re-examine every aspect of my life. Gradually, I came to see how the black-and-white worldview I had grown up with didn’t jibe with reality.

The more experiences I had with Jews, the more I felt drawn to them. I even began thinking that I wanted to marry a Jewish person (although I didn’t have a particular one in mind). Perhaps that would help me to cleanse myself of the hateful mindset of my upbringing.

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Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, after he received his doctorate in chemical engineering from USC in 1982.

After three years in Madison, I transferred to USC. A few months after arriving in Los Angeles, I was practicing tennis at the Ambassador Hotel when I struck up a conversation with an attractive young woman named Barbara and suggested we volley. When I told her my background, she said, unprompted, “I just want you to know, I’m Jewish.”

We exchanged phone numbers, and a week later, I called her. It took a couple of weeks before we connected again, meeting to play tennis and dine on Mexican food. We got along well. Not long after that, I went out of town to take a break from my studies and returned to find a note from Barbara telling me she missed me.

Before long, she invited me to meet her parents. Barbara’s father had lived in Israel, serving as an officer in its War of Independence. And one of her sisters’ boyfriends was an Israeli who had served in the Israel Defense Forces.

I’m sure that when they learned that she was dating a Libyan named Abdulhafied (the name I had grown up with and still used), they thought Barbara had lost her mind.

Still, we grew closer. After a couple of months, we moved together into an apartment her parents owned in Koreatown. At first, the arrangement was one of convenience, but soon our lives became intertwined. Barbara lovingly helped me through my doctoral thesis and cared for me in ways no one had since my childhood.

She also welcomed me into her family’s life, and, despite our contrasting backgrounds, her parents accepted me with love. Barbara’s family wasn’t particularly observant — they celebrated only Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover.

In 1980, we married at their Fairfax District home. At that point, I didn’t consider myself a Muslim, but rather a spiritual searcher. Together, Barbara and I had explored a nondenominational church called Science of Mind. Our wedding ceremony blended elements of Judaism with some of our own personal touches.

By then, my relationship with my aging father, still back in Libya, was distant. I spoke to him only occasionally, and his question was always: “When are you coming back?” I chose not to share the news of my marriage.

As we settled into our life together, Barbara and I had only limited Jewish observances: Rosh Hashanah dinners, Chanukah gift exchanges, seders hosted by her parents. Together, we continued our spiritual search, occasionally joining a colleague of Barbara’s at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

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Elhaderi’s father, Elsaidi, in front of his home in the Libyan village of Hatiet Bergen in 1979.

Eager to start a family, we struggled with infertility for many years. We were just days from adopting a baby when the birth mother had a last-minute change of heart. Then, just a week later, Barbara learned she was pregnant. Our daughter, Jessica, was born in 1991 and, two years later, we had a son, Jason.

Not long after that, my father died. We had spoken only occasionally since my last visit to Libya, in 1979. I had shared little about my new life with him, knowing it would have been nearly impossible for him to grasp the pluralism and openness I had come to cherish.

Surely he couldn’t have imagined the next step in my spiritual journey. When Jason turned 12, he announced that he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. We were living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and a neighbor, the Israeli-born wife of a rabbi, offered to teach him to read Hebrew and start some initial religious study.

He also began studying Judaism and his Torah portion with a Chabad rabbi at a shul not far from Barbara’s parents. I sat in on every class, slowly learning about Jewish prayer and customs, as Jason studied his haftarah and maftir. The more I absorbed, the more I felt drawn to Judaism.

On the day he became bar mitzvah, I stood on the bimah, filled with pride in my son and awe for the beauty of the service I could barely understand — and overflowing with emotions I could not fully explain.

The power of that day also made me start to ponder my own mortality. It pained me to realize that since I wasn’t Jewish, I could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery beside my beloved wife.

Not long after the bar mitzvah, I told Barbara that I wanted to convert to Judaism. A rabbi we knew directed us to American Jewish University’s Introduction to Judaism Program, and Barbara and I enrolled.

Our 18 months in the class felt like a second honeymoon: While I learned about Jewish history, Torah and Jewish rituals, I felt closer than ever to Barbara, and I fell in love with Judaism.

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Ed Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, celebrate his becoming a U.S. citizen in 1985.

When I met with my sponsoring rabbi, Perry Netter, then at Temple Beth Am, he asked only one question: “Why do you want to be Jewish?” Choked up with emotion, I couldn’t speak. I simply cried.

“OK,” he said, smiling. “You pass.”

Something else happened: The more I learned about Judaism, the more I saw parallels in my own upbringing in Libya. When I learned about the mezuzah, I remembered how in my childhood village, families posted palm fronds wrapped around verses from the Quran in their doorways. Words I learned from biblical Hebrew seemed to echo colloquial terms unique to the region of my youth.

Investigating, I learned that Jews had lived for thousands of years in Libya, including in my native region of Fezzan — although most left in 1948, and nearly all of those remaining fled just after the Six-Day War. My strong feeling was that I wasn’t so much discovering a new faith as uncovering a long-hidden part of myself, that perhaps some of my ancestors were Jews.

On the morning when I went before the beit din — the rabbinical court — to finalize my conversion, and plunged into the waters of the mikveh, I felt joy combined with a serenity that had eluded me for decades. I felt that I was returning to where I belonged.

Our family joined Temple Beth Am, where I felt increasingly at home, regularly attending on Shabbat and weekdays. At home, we shared weekly Shabbat dinners, at which I started offering each of my children a blessing.

I also engaged in regular Torah study and found particular resonance in Rabbi Akiva’s wisdom from Pirkei Avot: “Everything is foreseen, yet free choice is given.”

That essential tenet — that we can embrace God but decide our own fates — encapsulates much of what I hold dear about America and Judaism. I grew up like so many people in closed societies, knowing one way of life, having one set of beliefs, and taught to despise anything beyond that realm.

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Ed Elhaderi (far right) at his son’s bar mitzvah in 2006 with (from left) daughter Jessica, in-laws Ellen and Bob Levin, son Jason and wife Barbara.

The best guidance for overcoming that kind of internal and external strife is another piece of advice from Pirkei Avot: “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.”

My own learning came full circle in November 2012, when Barbara and I traveled to Israel. We landed in the late afternoon, and by the time we arrived at our Tel Aviv hotel, Barbara wanted to rest, but I felt energized, so I took a walk. Traversing the streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa until midnight, I marveled at the variety of people I saw — young and old, from so many ethnic backgrounds. I was amazed by the sights and smells and how alive the city was.

Scanning the faces I passed on the street, I could not help but think back to my youth, to the hatred for Israel and Jews that had been fed to me.  As we traveled the country — Jerusalem, Safed, the Golan, Rehovot — Israel entered my bloodstream. I felt at home.

The trip deepened my connection to Israel and to being Jewish. In synagogue on Shabbat mornings, I began to take notice of a part of the service that I hadn’t thought much about: the prayer for the State of Israel.

Now I say it each week with full intention: “Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy.”

Occasionally, as I say those words, I think back to my 15-year-old self, on that hot June afternoon on the streets of Sabha. And I say an extra prayer of gratitude to God for carrying me on this remarkable journey to myself.


ED ELHADERI is a real estate investor and developer who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and son. He is writing a memoir about his journey from his Libyan childhood to his life as an active and committed American Jew. Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles author and editor who helps people tell their life stories in writing.

30 years and 30 big changes


In the Jewish Journal’s inaugural issue on Feb. 28, 1986, readers already could see it was not going to be their parents’ kind of Jewish newspaper. The Journal was different from its predecessor owned by the Jewish Federation, as well as the Orthodox-leaning B’nai B’rith Messenger and the crusading Jewish Heritage.

The new weekly, edited by Gene Lichtenstein, sent a message with its first cover story dedicated to anti-school busing and conservative Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler, a former Los Angeles Unified School District board member. It was going to step outside the well-worn path of covering the status quo of Westside and Beverly Hills liberal politics, and broaden coverage to include a Jewish grassroots, right-leaning firebrand.

In the three decades since that edition, this broader approach — including news, features, opinions and eventually blogs from all points of L.A.’s Jewish communal compass — has been the newspaper’s guiding rule. Turning through old, bound volumes, with pages browned and edges foxed, the paper’s coverage presents a portrait of 30 years of change, growth and evolution within the local Jewish community. Here are 30 noteworthy topics and events that touched L.A. over the past 30 years, as reflected in the Journal’s pages.

1. Embracing LGBT Jews

Although a cover in 1986 announced the continuing conflict within Judaism over gay Jews, by 1998 a news feature detailed increased acceptance — and plans for the celebration of more than 25 years of the world’s first LGBT synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim. Getting over the shandah, the embarrassment, denominational Judaism began a serious conversation over transgender acceptance and rights, as reflected in another stirring cover story, this time in 2015.

2. King Juan Carlos Comes to L.A.

Almost half a millennium after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia visited Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel on Wilshire Boulevard to make peace on Oct. 1, 1987. “For the Sephardic Jews of Los Angeles, the gesture is one of historical dimension,” Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell wrote. The Journal went on to chart the growth of a large and vital Sephardic community in L.A.

3. Intermarriage: To Worry or Not to Worry?

Concerns about intermarriage go back all the way to the Torah. But when the 1997 L.A. Jewish Community Survey found the intermarriage rate among couples who were married in the five years ending in 1997 was 41 percent, well, it didn’t seem so bad to some people. That changed for many when the Pew Research Center reported in 2013 a rate of 58 percent nationwide — and 71 percent among non-Orthodox Jews.

4. The Rise of Iranian and Russian Jewish Immigrants

With the Iranian Jewish immigrant community at close to 17,000 by the late ’90s, we learned to love lavash, Persian cucumbers and late night simchas, while recognizing (if not understanding) Farsi in Pico Boulevard shop windows. As for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, more than 24,000 flocked to the area by the late ’80s. Apartment buildings in West Hollywood began to fill with Russian immigrant families, and Santa Monica Boulevard became dotted with Russian bakeries and storefront markets. Were they here to stay? Da.

5. A Growing Orthodoxy 

With all the new kosher restaurants on Pico and Ventura boulevards, it seemed clear by 2000 that the Orthodox community was booming. For the kosherly conscious, there was a clear increase in the availability of heckshered foods, as well as public displays of Yiddishkayt, such as Tu b’Shevat street fairs and car-mounted menorahs, and a massive influx of Orthodox families into previously WASP-y Hancock Park.

6. The New Israelis

Around town, we grew accustomed to hearing Ivrit spoken in restaurants, movie theater lines, folkdance spots like Café Danssa, and the Fairfax record store Hataklit (both now closed). By 2007, especially in the Valley, Israelis had “their own cafes, markets, dances and social and business networks,” according to a feature by Tom Tugend. Drawing that community together was the Israeli American Council, begun in 2006. The IAC fires up the largest L.A. Jewish gatherings of the year with the annual Celebrate Israel festival in Rancho Park.

7. Logging On for Love

The inaugural issue of the Journal chronicled the angst of making a Jewish match in a city expansive enough to be its own diaspora with “The Single Life” column. But that was old school. Jewish computer dating began here in the mid-1970s, and rebooted in 1997 with the founding of JDate by Joe and Nickie Shapira of Beverly Hills. Swiping right, in 2014, were Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, two of the Jewish founders of the dating app Tinder. But face-to-face love connections thrived at “Friday Night Live,” an innovative singles-oriented Sabbath service started in 1998 at Sinai Temple that drew up to 1,500 souls.

8. Oy, Did We Have Mail!

The first message on ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet, was sent by a UCLA team led by a Jewish professor, Leonard Kleinrock, in 1969, altering forever the way we give and gain news about our lives. Joining that widening stream, the Journal first went online in 1996, allowing it to cover breaking news, and eventually providing a means for readers to instantly comment, kvetch and post blogs. Now L.A. is home to numerous virtual Jewish sites, and every congregation and organization is a click away.

9. Women of valor and power

With the newly appointed director of Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Deborah Lipstadt, on the paper’s cover during its first year, the Journal set the tone for covering local Jewish women leaders making waves on a national scale. These have included rabbis such as Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, the first woman to lead a major metropolitan congregation; Naomi Levy, author and founder of Nashuva, and Sharon Brous, founder of IKAR.

10. Higher Ratings for Jewish Identity in Hollywood

30 Something

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gellersTV shows with clearly drawn Jewish characters such as “Thirtysomething,” “Seinfeld” and “Northern Exposure” reflected a growing hipness and ease of being Jewish. Los Angeles, with a large contingent of Jewish writers, producers, and showrunners, filled the culture with characters such as Monica and Ross Geller (“Friends”), Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Ari Gold (“Entourage”) and Howard Wolowitz (“The Big Bang Theory”), as well as cartoon characters Kyle Broflovski (“South Park”) and Krusty the Clown (“The Simpsons”). More recently, Maura Pfefferman (born “Morton”) of Amazon Prime’s “Transparent” gave us a transgender take on Jewish life.

11. The New Jewish Side of Town

In 2004, famed New York-based streetwear brand Supreme opened a large shop on Fairfax Avenue, just up the block from Canter’s deli, signaling a change to a traditionally Jewish neighborhood that was filling up with trendy skate clothing shops and galleries. As Fairfax turned full-hipster, younger observant Jews, especially those with families, were moving to Pico-Robertson, which was transforming into the Jewish side of town complete with new kosher restaurants, shuls and markets.

12. New museums to look forward — and back

The Torah commands Jews to “zachor,” to remember, and with the opening of the Museum of Tolerance in 1993, and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park in 2010, we had two new places to look deeply into our painful past as a way to navigate the present. Looking to the future, the Zimmer Children’s Museum opened, helping to transmit and create Jewish memories for children and families. And in 1996, the Skirball Cultural Center opened in the Sepulveda Pass, connecting art and culture with Jewish vision and values.

13. Mazel Tov, It’s Mitzvah Day!

First held in 1999 as a project of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Mitzvah Day was an expression of tikkun olam as volunteers painted, repaired and renewed their city. Begun by TV, theater and movie writer David Levinson, the idea flowered into a community-wide event that drew thousands of participants, changing its name in 2003 to Big Sunday, eventually evolving into a weekend, and then in 2016, into a month of events, attracting up to 50,000 volunteers of all faiths.

14. The Day Rabin Died

Shot by a right-wing extremist while leaving a peace rally on Nov. 5, 1995, the assassination of the Israeli prime minister who negotiated the Oslo Accords — for which he shared the Nobel Peace Prize — reverberated throughout the community, sounding an ominous warning to leaders who wish not to learn war anymore. Some 10,000 people attended a massive memorial rally on a cordoned-off Wilshire Boulevard to mark the end of a man, and a dream.

15. ‘Fighting On’ at USC; Making UCLA Cool to Jews

usc-uclaIn the 1870s, Isaias W. Hellman, a German-Jewish businessman, banker and philanthropist was one of three men to donate the land for USC, which 100 years later was viewed as a home for WASP elitism. In 2002, a decade of increased inclusiveness at the school was reflected when Stanley Gold was appointed the university’s first Jewish chairman of the board of trustees. In 1972, UCLA was the first major American university to fund a Jewish newspaper, Ha’am, but by 2015 the school was getting headlines for a judicial board nominee being questioned over her Jewish background. In 2016, a student body president left the school alleging harassment by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. More hopefully, that same year, the school’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and the Mapping Jewish L.A. project celebrated the history of Boyle Heights with an exhibition.

16. American Jewish University Goes Big

In 2007, the University of Judaism merged with the 1,500-acre Brandeis-Bardin Institute, marrying two 60-year-old L.A. Jewish institutions into the American Jewish University. And when big names came through town, from Bill Clinton to Bill Maher, a likely stop was a speaking engagement through the American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education, which drew thousands.

17. Got Kosher? Yup.

challah-gotkosherBeyond the opening of kosher Mexican and Thai restaurants, Los Angeles saw the rollout of multiple trucks selling kosher tacos and another truck selling kosher Montreal egg rolls. Add in Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory — now offering concessions at home Dodgers games — and the pretzel challah of Got Kosher? There was bad news in 2013, though, when the Journal reported a  scandal at Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat market after a private investigator videotaped the owner allegedly bringing unsupervised animal products into his store.

18. The Dodgers Go Blue and White

Long after Sandy Koufax and fellow Jewish Dodgers brothers Larry and Norm Sherry, who both attended Fairfax High, put on Dodger blue, fellow members of the tribe Stan Kasten (president and part-owner) and Andrew Friedman (president of baseball operations) joined the team. And in 2000, the year they got Jewish slugger Shawn Green, the team began heavily promoting Jewish Community Day.

19. Harold Schulweis z’l

The issue of Dec. 18, 2014, marked the passing of Valley Beth Shalom Senior Rabbi Harold Schulweis at age 89, calling him “the rabbi of rabbis.” Arriving at his Valley pulpit in 1970, Rabbi Schulweis went on to pioneer synagogue-based chavurah, counseling centers, and outreach to interfaith, gay and lesbian Jews and converts. A superb thinker and orator, he insisted upon connecting the Jewish world with the larger community worldwide through foundations and outreach organizations like Jewish World Watch.

“Harold Schulweis is a rabbi,” said Rabbi Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center. “This is a little like saying a Rembrandt is a painting. Or a Stradivarius is a violin. … He has, as much as any rabbi in our time, given Judaism meaning, relevance and renewed purpose.”

20. The Rise of Mega-Synagogues AND Upstart Congregations

Large congregations such as Stephen Wise Temple, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Leo Baeck Temple and Sinai Temple all thrived by doubling down on the full-service synagogue model.

At the same time, a 1982 guide to Jewish Los Angeles listed a few independent congregations, mostly Orthodox. In comparison, the 2016 Jewish Journal “City Guide” showed 16 independent, mostly nontraditional congregations, including Metivta, Open Temple, IKAR, Nashuva, Valley Outreach and Movable Minyan, taken together serving thousands of families. L.A.’s plethora of rabbinical seminaries — the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Conservative Movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordained its first class in 1999, and the Academy for Jewish Religion, CA (founded in 2000) — helped fuel their growth.

21. A Jewish Approach to…

As social awareness of issues like disabilities and addiction grew, so too did unique Jewish communal responses.  Beit T’Shuva, an innovative addiction treatment center, started 30 years ago and has grown to treat thousands.  And services for special needs greatly expanded to dozens of programs and organzations.

22. The First Intifada, 1987-1991

intifadaBesides the fact that no one knew it would be the first, the Journal did not know what to call it. It settled on, in 1987, the “hostility between the Palestinian youth and Israelis.” By 1989, a piece about the fear and hopelessness many were feeling in Israel, titled “Feeling helpless in the Intifada,” captured the anxiety of many Jewish Angelenos. The continuing conflict has led to the L.A. birth of Israel advocacy organizations like  StandWithUs and many, many rallies, op-eds and arguments.

23.  The Winning Campaigns of Jewish Candidates

For more than 50 years at the beginning of the 20th century, there was nary a Jewish city councilmember. That changed in 1953 with the election of 22-year-old Rosalind Wyman to the Fifth District seat, which includes the Westside and the Fairfax district. Now held by Paul Koretz, the seat has been Jewish ever since, with several who held the seat rising to higher office: Zev Yaroslavsky and Edmund D. Edelman to L.A. County Supervisor, and Michael Feuer to the State Assembly and position of L.A. City Attorney. Among numerous Jewish electeds, the highest profile is current Mayor Eric Garcetti.

24. The Fall and Revival of Jewish Centers

Disclosures of financial troubles and fiscal mismanagement within the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles in 2001 led to the closure of numerous centers, including Santa Monica’s Bay Cities JCC in 2002 and the Conejo Valley JCC in 2004. With pickets, posters and T-shirts, members of the Westside JCC rallied and eventually won independence, and the center in Silver Lake came back to booming life as well. A JCC continued in Long Beach and even though the JCC at Milken in West Hills closed in 2012 after Federation sold the property, the North Valley JCC was reborn as the Valley JCC in Woodland Hills.

25. Moving Westward and Beyond

The 1997 L.A. Jewish Community Survey was our statistical proof that we were moving westward, but the signs had long been there to read. New synagogues had opened in Simi Valley and the Conejo Valley, kosher markets and day schools too, and in 1997, Mount Sinai Memorial Park expanded to Simi Valley. By the new millennium, Jews were moving east as well — to Koreatown, Echo Park and downtown.

26. From Delis to Mainstream Dining

When Al Levy in 1886 first operated an Oyster Bar Pushcart, and later an Oyster House restaurant in downtown L.A., he was prying open the way for Jewish chefs and entrepreneurs to move into mainstream cuisine. Following in Levy’s footsteps, L.A. became home to the nation’s best family-owned delis, including Langer’s, Canter’s, Izzy’s, and Nate ’n Al.  Now, the city is home to chefs including Alma’s Ari Taymor, Mozza’s Nancy Silverton, Micah Wexler of Wexler’s Deli, and Jessica Koslow, owner of the always-hopping Sqirl, who made the cover of last year’s Passover issue.

27. A Local Legacy of “Schindler’s List”

A chance meeting in 1980 in a Beverly Hills leather shop between Australian author Thomas Keneally and the store’s owner, Leopold Page (Leopold Pfefferberg), who had survived the Holocaust due to Oskar Schindler, set in motion this movie, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1994. Steven Spielberg directed the film, and at the Academy Award ceremony, he credited Page as the “catalyst for the film.” In 1994, Spielberg founded the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, dedicated to recording the video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Shoah.

28. Federation: From Umbrella to Innovation

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles worked to transform itself from an umbrella group funding and coordinating Jewish social services and aid here and abroad to a social innovator in its own right. In 2010, the Journal covered the appointment of then-52-year-old Jay Sanderson as president, determined, he said, to “throw the doors open.” Since then, Federation has launched numerous projects aimed at drawing younger Jews, new leaders, the entertainment industry and unaffiliated Jews into communal life.

29. Saving Jewish Buildings

In a city that usually bulldozes and paves over its history, three acts serve as towering achievements in historical preservation. One was the rescue of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights by Stephen Sass and the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California in 2000. Another was the purchase of the original home of Sinai Temple in the Pico Union neighborhood by singer-songwriter Craig Taubman in 2013. And a third was the $100 million restoration of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown. All serve not only the Jewish community, but local neighborhoods as well.

30. School Choice

In the early 1980s, if you wanted to attend a Los Angeles Jewish high school, there was only one choice: YULA, known as Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. By 1987, enrollment at the seven Jewish high schools in Los Angeles covered just 720 kids, about 100 of them in one non-Orthodox school, a predecessor to Milken Community High School. Today, more than 9,700 children attend 42 Jewish schools, with another 10,000 in supplementary Jewish schools, about 7,500 in early childhood programs, and thousands more in camps. Cost is still a concern, but online learning and other innovative programs offer opportunities to reach even more of the young generation — and keep Los Angeles Jewish life thriving for many, many years to come.

Holocaust lessons brought live to classrooms


“When you see injustice, stand up.” 

That’s the message Paula Lebovics wants her audiences to remember. On May 13, the 81-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp shared her story in person with three young students at USC, but their discussion went much further — it was streamed live to 4,000 middle and high school classrooms worldwide, with students and teachers posing questions on Twitter using the hashtag #PastIsPresent.

The hashtag refers to the title of the event, “Auschwitz: The Past Is Present.” Hosted by Hall Davidson of Discovery Education, the program included Lucia Wiedeman, 15, a freshman at El Segundo High School; Anna Hackel, 15, a freshman at Polytechnic School in Pasadena; and Gabe Hackel, 11, a sixth-grader at Polytechnic. The three students had traveled to Poland in January as part of a group of 25 teachers and 10 students. Also on the panel were Arkansas teacher Karen Wells and Kori Street, USC Shoah Foundation’s director of education.

The program was designed to introduce students who have never met a Holocaust survivor to do so virtually, and to see themselves in the stories being told. Lebovics was an 11-year-old inmate at Auschwitz when the camp was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945. She lost her father and sister at the camp, and vividly remembers the cold January day when the Soviets marched into the abandoned complex, with only traumatized children remaining. 

“They have to know,” Lebovics said of today’s youth, “because our generation is on its way out. The next generation won’t have any more survivors taking them anywhere or telling them their stories. And they have to know, so maybe by them knowing, they can help the world to maybe eradicate those kind of crimes that took place.”

Co-sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation and Discovery Education, the program also took students on virtual tours of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto. It is part of Discovery Ed’s Virtual Field Trip series, which in the past has included online visits to an egg farm in Illinois and a NASA space research laboratory in Maryland.

“Auschwitz: The Past Is Present” also included footage from the commemoration ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, held Jan. 27 at Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Some of the older students in the group were allowed to attend because of the graphic nature of the atrocities. For Gabe Hackel, seeing even a few images from Auschwitz was frightening.

“It was intense. I know that was only just a glimpse of it, but I was still terrified of it, and I couldn’t imagine what it would actually be like for the actual people,” he said. 

Gabe said his most memorable stop on the Poland trip was the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, where he saw that many gravestones are now crooked or falling over, and realized it’s because the people who would have cared for the graves were killed in the Holocaust. 

“Standing in the cold, it kind of transported me back in time, and I still couldn’t imagine the terror they must have gone through in the Holocaust,” he said. 

When Lebovics and the students visited the recently opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, they found an image of her at Auschwitz — a gaunt 11-year-old girl standing in a group of identically dressed children; the photograph was taken a few days after the camp was liberated.

Lucia Wiedeman said she felt a “gravitational pull” toward Lebovics as she watched her testimony, and agreed that visiting Auschwitz with her had added an entirely new dimension to their trip.

“It’s a whole different feeling when you know someone is with you and you know someone, and then just going there and not knowing anyone,” Lucia said. “It’s as if you were at a funeral, and you don’t know the person, and it’s still saddening. And when you know the person who died, then it demonstrates a whole different type of emotion.”

Anna Hackel added that she was especially moved to hear Lebovics describe the big family dinners she’d had before the Holocaust, when she would sing at the top of her lungs to compete with a younger brother for their family’s attention. Anna said she could relate, because her own younger brother, Gabe, is also very energetic.

“Before I met Paula, I got a chance to listen to her testimony on iWitness [the USC Shoah Foundation’s online video testimonials], and being able to put a face to a Holocaust survivor made everything so much more real than the facts that were just taught in school,” Anna said.

Speaking with survivors or listening to their testimonies online helps make the stories of the Holocaust come to life, the Shoah Foundation’s Street said.

“The interaction with a survivor helps students develop their curiosity, their questions, their dialogue capacities, but it also makes history human. It gives it a human face,” Street said. “And what we find is, whether it’s a connection with a survivor in person or a survivor on the screen through iWitness, we’re getting very similar results in terms of their developing respect, critical thinking and empathy.”

Among the questions sent in by students and teachers, some wanted to know how Wells would teach the Holocaust differently after the trip to Poland. Wells responded that she would teach students about their responsibility in a global society and incorporate more survivors’ testimonies into her lessons. She recalled telling Lebovics that she didn’t understand what she had gone through, and Lebovics responded that she didn’t have to, and that her responsibility as a teacher is to make sure students know to speak out against injustice. 

“Their responsibility is to stand up, because with knowing comes responsibility,” Wells said.

One middle-school teacher wrote in to ask about how the Holocaust compares to what’s happening today with the Middle East and the terror group ISIS. Street cautioned against comparing historic events to “things that are present, that are unfolding as we go.”

But, she said, one parallel between the Nazis and ISIS is their reimagining of ancient texts, religion and history to justify murder. Another is the use of hate to galvanize and scare their followers.

“When I listen to the testimonies at the USC Shoah Foundation, people like Paula remind me that hate isn’t something we should be cultivating,” Street said. 

Davidson gave Lebovics the final word in the broadcast, and her parting message to her international audience was: “Silence is not an option.”

The entire broadcast of “Auschwitz: Past Is Present” is available at

1950s ‘Cool,’ with a side of loss


Leo Braudy is a distinguished scholar at USC whose work focuses on the entertainment industry and other artifacts of popular culture.  His previous books range from “The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History” to “The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon.” But now he has cast his memory back to his own adolescence in Philadelphia in the 1950s with “Trying to Be Cool: Growing Up in the 1950s (Based on a True Story)” (Asahina & Wallace, $15). It is an affecting account of one young man’s ongoing effort to invent himself in an era when being cool was “the summum bonum of teenage aspiration.”

“The problem was first deciding what was cool and then imitating it with enough nuance of your own to make it seem at least partially unique,” Braudy explains. “One day you were safely within the sphere of family, where your role, like it or not, was clear. The next day you had left the realm of blithe boyhood in some murky dawn of self-consciousness.”

Ironically, the man who deconstructs movies for a living started watching them at a neighborhood theatre that he describes as “a minor teenage war zone, where the lights were never totally dimmed so the manager and his band of ushers could patrol the aisles looking for infractions of whatever personal moral code he was enforcing that evening.” As a result, Braudy reveals, “[t]here must be at least 10 or 12 movies from that period that I never saw to the end because I was kicked out.”

Precisely because Braudy is writing about the 1950s, a period of both moral and political repression in America, adolescent excess was something quite different than it is today.  “There was certainly a lot of necking going on, and some people even claimed to have had sex,” he concedes. There was a little drinking, but no dope.  The place where the envelope was pushed, he explains, was the dance floor: “Parents might get irritated at rock ’n’ roll music,” he observes, “but dancing drove them crazy.”  And some dances were more crazy-making than others: “The Hora you danced with your grandmother and your uncle Lenny,” he explains, but a circle dance called the Bug was so provocative that it was outright banned by “many of the more strait-laced synagogues.”

Like all memoirs, the author brings a measure of sentiment to his recollections. But what I admire most about “Trying to Be Cool” is Braudy’s ability to deconstruct the common experiences of adolescence in a way that reveals their inner meanings, as in his candid discourse on the truth or falsity of the proposition that “ugly girls put out.” He concludes that there “was little chance of actual sex in these situations, just an interminable succession of power struggles worked out in miniature.  One example: “In fact, even if the girl weren’t putting up a struggle, you had to pretend she was, as a sop to her self-esteem,” he writes. “Thus, I began to school myself in something like the male version of faking an orgasm.”

Along the way, Braudy recalls some facts of life that are wholly forgotten nowadays. Margarine, he points out, used to be “dead white like lard” because the dairy industry had lobbied for laws to ban the coloring of margarine to make it look like butter. “Between 1951 and 1955, when those laws were overturned, it was sold with a plastic capsule of orange-yellow coloring inside the packaging,” he writes. “Breaking the capsule, then squeezing and kneading the package to create margarine’s now familiar look, was my job.”

He also shatters a few carefully-tended myths.  Dick Clark and the teenagers who danced on his Philly-based show may have been famously clean-cut, but the show “had begun as a much funkier radio show, then called merely Bandstand, out of a dark studio in downtown Philadelphia, emceed by a beefy guy in a sharkskin suit and a 5-o’clock shadow named Bob Horn.”  When the show went national, “the gangstery Bob Horn disappeared via what in those days was called a ‘morals charge.’ But the truth seemed to be that Horn was just too jowly and old to compete with the chipmunky Clark as the bright face of teenage America.”

But Braudy does not shy away from the most intimate of revelations and, almost inevitably, the most affecting memories focus on the author’s father. “Whatever may seem embarrassing in these memoirs — my sexual preoccupations, my naïveté about the world and its ways — to say this saddens me the most: I saw my father’s myths about himself stripped of their plea of victimization, punctured and flattened like an old tire.”

Braudy makes the significant point that he was not a baby boomer.  “We were war babies, born into a world of scrap metal and bacon-fat drives, air-raid drills and fireside chats, the offspring of furloughs or fathers too old or too young to fight,” he explains. “We weren’t the boomer generation born into the new world as its birthright but as a group with more desperate strivings and a keener sense of the world we had lost.”  For this reason, “Trying to Be Cool” is not an exercise in nostalgia; rather, it is a kind of testimony: “My purpose is to bear witness,” he concludes, “to try to recapture the experience of growing up in a particular time and place that might otherwise vanish from memory.”  And he has been wholly successful in that effort.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. His latest book, “The Short Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris.”

Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Jews without Harvard


This is the time of year when the Golden Children of our tribe are being anointed by the nation’s finest colleges and universities. These kids have traveled a long road to glory — GPA, SAT, AP, interviews, essays, common apps.

For a full year, the only question they’ve heard from us adults was, “So, where are you going to college?” Within weeks, our kids will finally be able to answer with a single, solitary name: USC. UCLA. Wisconsin. Harvard. Dartmouth.

End of story, right?

Not quite.

The Jewish community is slowly waking up to the fact that not every 18-year-old will end up in a top-tier, four-year university. In fact, for a good percentage of our children, there really is no obvious place to go.

About 20 percent of the United States population has some disability. According to a report by the nonprofit organization RespectAbilityUSA, for many of these adults, those disabilities are a roadblock to higher education and job training. Some schools and communities have made great strides toward ameliorating this. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is not one of them.

“There is this unrealistic attitude that all our kids are going to Harvard,” Jay Ruderman, the head of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told me in a phone interview. “There’s a huge blind spot in the Jewish community when it comes to inclusion. If [Jewish leaders] themselves are not connected to a child through disability, they’re just missing it.”

Jo Ann Simons’ personal story is a good example. When her son, who has Down Syndrome, was in high school, he asked his mom when he was going to take the SAT. 

“I asked him, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘You need them to get into college. You’ve included me in a regular high school, now I want to go to college.’ ”

Simons had found great support for her son in Jewish Community Center programs and Jewish camps. But when it came time for post-secondary options, the Jewish community offered nothing.

After a great deal of effort, her son was able to enroll in a special program at Cape Cod Community College.

Simons’ son is now 34. Simons herself is CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, Mass., a Catholic charity that is developing an inclusive community  where people of all abilities will live, work, play and learn together. In addition to providing housing for people with disabilities, the center is developing 37 workforce housing units.

“In the Jewish world, the options are limited,” Simons said. “We’re judging ourselves on how many of our kids got into Harvard and Stanford, and we forgot that that’s not everybody’s pathway to achievement. America has moved beyond the Jewish community.”

Ruderman thinks he knows why the Jewish world has lagged behind, and he wants to change it. Ruderman’s family foundation deeply focused on disability issues in the Jewish world. It is a key backer of February as Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Post-secondary education is among the issues next in his sights.

“It’s crucially important, because if people are going to compete in the marketplace, they need that education,” he told me. 

It’s the relentless emphasis on “Jewish continuity,” Ruderman said, that relegates disability issues to a lesser priority.

“Our Jewish community is obsessed with the future of our community. It’s all about continuity. Unfortunately, they look at people with disabilities, and they say, ‘You know, they’re not our future. We’ll ship them over to public schools. This is something we’re not going to invest in, because they’re not our future.’ That’s really sad on the face of it.”

“I blame my fellow philanthropists,” Ruderman continued. “They’re not stating it out loud, but I know what’s behind it: The future is young, upwardly mobile Jews.”

But, Ruderman said, focusing on inclusivity actually attracts the cream of the next generation as well.  

“If you want to attract people, you have to be inclusive, or people will be turned off,” he said. “The older generation doesn’t get that.   This is a civil rights issue. We’re trying to change the mindset.”

One bright spot — perhaps the only one — is at American Jewish University in Bel Air. An independent organization called Live Advance LA, part of The Help Group, has set up shop there, and through AJU’s College of Arts and Sciences offers adults ages 18-25 with a spectrum of disabilities college-level classes, academic support, guidance and tutoring. 

Can this program or similar ones expand and spread to other communities? 

It has to happen.

“What I would like to see is a willing partner,” said Ruderman.  

“If there is a Jewish institution interested in post-secondary education, we’re willing to put significant resources behind it. Money is not an obstacle. The money exists in the Jewish community. Inclusion is less expensive than segregation, and segregation leads to poverty.”

Celebrate all those Ivy League acceptances, by all means. But don’t forget the potential in all our children, all of them, in their way, golden.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Food trucks: Have kosher, will travel


Finding space to move inside the tiny kitchen of The Kosher Palate food truck is tough, but that hasn’t stopped owner Michele Grant from using it to cook up plenty of creative meals for her menu.

“Who doesn’t like tater tots?” asked Grant recently, as she showed off one of her favorite dishes, Shakki Tots — tater tots with shakshuka and quail egg, which came with added zest when dipped in sumac.

As students from the University of Southern California (USC) stopped for lunch between classes on what was a rare rainy day, Grant gave samples to newbies who hadn’t yet tried her modern kosher cuisine.

“We love giving out noshes. It’s our thing,” Grant said as she handed out portions of her Portuguese kale stew. “We can’t be a Jewish truck without being able to give out noshes.” 

On this October day, just three miles northeast of The Kosher Palate’s parking spot at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street on USC’s campus, sat what may be the only other full-time kosher food truck in Los Angeles, The Holy Grill, which opened up about three months ago.

Owned and operated by Adiel Nahmias, a 28-year-old native of Afula, Israel, and his partner, Dvir Botach, The Holy Grill’s truck — well, cart, really — was parked in the Fashion District on 15th Street between Los Angeles and Main streets, where it could cater to the Israeli and Persian Jews working downtown. Nahmias learned his trade as a chef in Israel and as a manager at Bibi’s Bakery and Café here in Los Angeles.

The most popular item among Nahmias’ patrons is the shawarma, but that’s not all that’s on his more traditional menu.

“The new schnitzel is doing — baruch Hashem — very good,” Nahmias said as he ran from the back of the cart, where he slices meat and vegetables, to the register at the front to take orders. Adjacent to the grill, Nahmias has set up seating and tables under a tent for patrons who want to take a bit of an extended lunch break.

The Holy Grill’s biggest costs are parking — for the location downtown and the nearby indoor overnight spot. Add in labor, food and the cost of kosher certification, and it’s no wonder that so few full-time kosher food-mobiles exist in Los Angeles. (Several have popped up in the past, only to fold later.)

At The Holy Grill, Nahmias’ day begins every morning around 7 a.m., when he drives to the Western Kosher market on Pico Boulevard to pick up fresh cuts of meat before opening for business at 9 a.m. When he and his four employees aren’t dealing with hungry customers, who usually come for an early afternoon lunch, they’re busy cleaning and preparing food. 

Although The Holy Grill (facebook.com/holygrillonwheels) closes every weekday at 5 p.m. (early for Shabbat), Nahmias said that on recent nights he has sometimes been out much later, scouting other possible locations that include Pico-Robertson and USC, and looking into purchasing additional carts. 

As for Grant — a former partner in the popular Grilled Cheese Truck — she’s brought her Kosher Palate truck (facebook.com/thekosherpalate) all over the city, debuting at the Celebrate Israel Festival in April in Rancho Park, and operating as far out as Tujunga, Chatsworth and West Covina. 

Sitting by a table about 30 feet from the truck, she excitedly described another unique menu item, the Mamalawach, which is malawach (a fried Yemini bread), with pepper steak, skhug (a Middle Eastern hot sauce), hummus with black-eyed peas, jachnun (a Yemenite Jewish pastry) and shaved tomato — all sautéed with honey and lemon pepper.

“If somebody tries our food, they are buying our food,” she said confidently.

The Kosher Palate started parking at USC in early October, setting up shop there every Tuesday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Wednesday (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  According to Grant, the USC Office of Religious Life has been instrumental in bringing The Kosher Palate to campus, encouraging its presence and even helping to pay for a parking spot in an effort to provide kosher alternatives.

 “It’s really exciting to have more kosher options by campus,” said senior Avital Shoomer, as she walked away with the Jacob’s Ladder, Grant’s spinoff of the hamburger — topped with tater tots, a fried onion ring and a quail egg. 

“It’s such a nice change from the classic burger,” she added. “I eat kosher meat only, so I’m usually a vegetarian when I eat at the campus center — so it’s really nice to have some meat options.”

Sharing the next gen: How Chabad is changing Hillel — and reshaping campus life


Shabbat dinner tells one part of the story.

When Alon Kashanian, a UCLA senior, wants a “very big social atmosphere” on erev Shabbat, he goes to Hillel’s grand, Jerusalem-stone-adorned, 25,000-square-foot Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life on Hilgard Avenue in Westwood. He socializes with friends and mingles with some of the 100 to 200 students — the number can vary widely — who come for services and Friday night dinner.

On a recent Friday, well over 100 students passed through Hillel’s doors. The night started with two prayer services: A Reform service — held in the center’s large yet cozy recreation room — included guitars and Craig Taubman melodies. A second, smaller, Orthodox service, held upstairs in Hillel’s beit midrash, drew around 20 people, this one with non-instrumental singing. Both services were student-led, with Hillel’s longtime executive director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, present at the traditional service and also speaking briefly at dinner.

During the week, the rec room could have been transplanted from a JCC. In “The Shack” on a recent weekday, games of pingpong were ongoing as students worked at their laptops or chatted with friends. Between classes, Hillel is a comfortable place for a good number of UCLA’s approximately 4,000 Jewish students (and even some non-Jewish students) to take a break and to study. 

Just before Shabbat dinner began, the students received a set of instructions from a Hillel staff member as to where to go to eat; it all felt like a casual but well-organized Shabbaton, with five to 10 round tables set for dinner in several different rooms, each table seating about 10 students.

Kiddush began with a few students standing up on chairs and singing “Shalom Aleichem to the tune of “We Will Rock You.” Nearly everyone quickly joined in, clapping and slapping their thighs to the beat. After hand washing and ha-Motzi, soup, chicken and rice, potatoes and salad were served buffet style. 

Chatting with some freshmen who were attending their first Shabbat at college, one got the sense that, at least at UCLA, Hillel was the go-to place for newcomers looking for Shabbat dinner.

Chabad Shabbat

On weeks when Kashanian wants a more spiritual, less social Friday evening, he said he opts for Chabad.

Walking across UCLA’s campus to the small and unassuming Chabad townhouse on Midvale Avenue, the atmosphere could not be more different from that of Hillel. 

The dining room was lit with the soft glow of electric candelabra lamps and adorned with pictures of the Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe — the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The smell of fresh-baked challah and soup wafted through the air. 

Run by Rabbi Dovid Gurevich and his wife, Elisa, UCLA’s Chabad house doubles as the Gureviches’ home, and as Shabbat dinner entered the second course, the well-dressed Gurevich children could be seen playing with one another and mingling with the guests. On this night, more than 50 students filled every inch of the dining room, some spilling over into the small living room. 

The food, home-cooked by the rebbetzin, included baked gefilte fish, terra chip salad, tomato tarts, barbecued chicken, roasted potatoes and more — not bad considering the cramped kitchen in which Elisa Gurevich, with the help of a few students, prepared it all. 

“It’s what you would expect at your grandma’s Shabbat dinner,” Kashanian said.

This particular Shabbat came just after the release of a Pew survey of American Jewry, which reported a decline in involvement among young Jews, so Rabbi Gurevich’s question of the night to each student was: “What aspect of Judaism do you most identify with?” 

Some said unity, some said food, a non-Jewish student at the dinner said that the weekly gathering of Jews for Shabbat stands out in her mind. 

Unlike at Hillel, Chabad’s Shabbat dinners often stretch late into the night, even until midnight. After dinner and dessert, a few dozen students hung around to help clean up, and then stayed to chat, relaxing on the couch and, of course, eating the remaining pecan brownies and peanut-butter crunch.

While most of the students there on this evening were not observant, their presence offered them a front-row view not only of Orthodox family life, but also of the inner workings of Chabad’s rapidly growing campus movement. The first Chabad campus center was established at UCLA in 1969, but it is in recent years, since 2000, that the campus movement’s expansion, both locally and nationally, has been transforming Jewish life on campuses that had been Hillel-centric for much of the 20th century. 

From free Shabbat dinners to a grass-roots, decentralized fundraising strategy, Chabad’s tactics on the 200 campuses it serves full time have impacted Jewish life on campus, including how Hillel reaches out to Jewish students. 

If Hillel used to be the primary — often the only — option for organized campus Judaism, its standing now is somewhat less dominant. Whereas on some campuses, like UCLA, Hillel has maintained its lead role, at others, including the University of Southern California (USC), it now more or less shares that leading spot with Chabad. 

New kid on the block: USC Chabad

Students participating on USC Hillel’s Birthright trip in June 2012 get ready to cool down on a hike in Har Meiron, in northern Israel. Photo by Alison Levine

Los Angeles has three local full-time Hillels — at UCLA, USC and California State University, Northridge (CSUN), each run with annual budgets of at least $250,000. By contrast, the only Chabad to have cracked the quarter-million mark is at USC, run by Rabbi Dov Wagner and his wife, Runya, where the annual budget recently hit $360,000. 

Indeed, the expansion of USC’s Chabad mirrors the national growth of Chabad’s campus movement. In 2000, when two shluchim (emissaries) approached Susan Laemmle, USC’s then-dean of religious life, about the creation of a USC Chabad house, initially she had some reservations.

“Hillel was the umbrella, the big umbrella,” Laemmle said. “And all the Jewish stuff fit under Hillel.” 

Indeed, by the time the Wagners came to USC in 2000, Chabad had established houses on only 35 campuses throughout the country, less than one per year since its campus debut in Los Angeles 31 years before. 

But that was about to change. Today, the Brooklyn-based international Chabad arm of the group’s campus movement serves nearly 400 American colleges and universities, with 200 of those campuses having permanent Chabad student centers.

“It became clear to me that just as there were multiple Christian groups, it was conceivable that there would be multiple Jewish groups,” Laemmle said. Observing the new Jewish campus landscape, she continued, “was a breakthrough, really, in terms of my thinking.”

In 2006, Rabbi Chaim Brook and his wife, Raizel, moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to open a Chabad house at CSUN. One year later, Rabbi Eli Levitansky and his wife, Mirel, opened another at Santa Monica College (SMC).

Hillel’s dominance dates to the second half of the 20th century, when the organization became the “anchor of Jewish student life” on campus, said Jonathan Jacoby, senior vice president for Programs for Jewish Life at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

CSUN student Daniel Sigal wraps tefillin at a Sinai Scholars field trip two years ago, as Rabbi Chaim Brook of Chabad finds a prayer in the siddur. Photo courtesy of Chabad of CSUN

In L.A., from the early 1940s until the turn of the millennium, Hillel student centers had footholds at UCLA (1941),  USC  (1949) and Los Angeles Valley College (1957). 

But due to Chabad’s ascent, as well as the addition of even more alternatives, like the Jewish Awareness Movement (JAM), students now have options, said David Harris, the campus activities coordinator at Federation. “You are looking at a multitude of entry points into Jewish campus life,” Harris said. “In earlier years, there were really only one or two.”

JAM, a local campus group that has a presence at four Southern California campuses (including UCLA and USC), was founded in 1996. While not nearly as large as Hillel or Chabad, it offers students weekly learning, Shabbat dinners, challah baking, and trips to Israel and London. 

Seidler-Feller, UCLA Hillel’s director, has been a staple at Hillel since 1975, drawn initially to the Hillel movement for, as he put it, its “ideological commitment to pluralism.”  

Seidler-Feller’s case for Judaism to the assimilated Jews, who are the “overwhelming number of Jews in America today and on the campus in particular,” is that “you can be open, involved, and integrated into American and Jewish society on the whole, and retain a significant [Jewish] identity, practice [and] commitment,” he said. 

“When I started, one felt that there was a residue of Jewish commitment and knowledge that was present among certain sectors of the student community,” Seidler-Feller said during one of two interviews at his Hillel office, which is lined with a seemingly endless number of books. “There has been a very noticeable decline in the [last] 20 years, as far as that’s concerned.”

Michael Jeser, who led USC’s Hillel from 2009 to June of this year, said that today’s young Jews often don’t want to get involved. “The overwhelming majority of Jewish students don’t affiliate to anything,” said Jeser, who was recently named executive director of Jewish World Watch.

To attract those Jews, USC Hillel molds some of its programming around activities that don’t, at least on the surface, appear Jewish, such as Trojan Hoops for Justice, a basketball tournament to raise money for programs for under-privileged children.

Rabbi Heath Watenmaker — who grew up in Reseda, graduated USC in 2002 and received a master’s degree there in social work in 2006 — was a regular at Hillel and an occasional guest at Chabad, becoming close with Rabbi Wagner. 

In 2011, Watenmaker became the Reform outreach-initiative rabbi at the Hillel at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Speaking by phone, he pointed out that a key difference between Chabad and Hillel is that while Chabad focuses on offering Jewish programs, Hillel offers programs for Jews, not all of which have a religiously Jewish theme. 

Watenmaker remembers attending a USC Hillel masquerade ball for Purim where there was no reading of the Book of Esther — which every Chabad house in the world reads on Purim.

“It was a chance to go out with other Jews, even if there wasn’t something overtly Jewish about it,” Watenmaker said. 

And while Shabbat dinner, tefillin wrapping and menorah lighting are key activities at a campus Chabad house, Jeser said Hillel’s programming will “reflect the identity of the majority of the Jewish students,” usually not so tied to observance. 

Contrasting outreach strategies

Josh Faskowitz, a 21-year-old senior at USC, grew up Reform, participated in NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and became involved with Hillel after going on a Birthright trip to Israel in 2011.

“I needed some way to slow down the monotony of college,” Faskowitz said. “I worked with the rabbinic intern at Hillel, and we talked about how to instill Judaism in my routine.” Faskowitz decided to learn how to cook a Shabbat meal every week.

“That was kind of my religious opening,” Faskowitz said, pointing to the way Hillel engages today’s Jewish students through a process it calls “relationship-based engagement.” A Hillel intern helped Faskowitz find a meaningful Jewish routine through making Shabbat dinners, and Faskowitz, on his own, shared the dinners he prepared with his friends.

Shoshanna Pro, a senior at CSUN and a volunteer for Hillel 818 (a collaborative Hillel that covers programming at CSUN, as well as at Pierce College in Woodland Hills and L.A. Valley College in Valley Glen), said that, in her experience, Hillel’s focus on developing leadership qualities is so emphasized that many times “the staff will not step in” if a student-led program is falling short of expectations. 

At Chabad, by contrast, it is the rabbi and rebbetzin who run most programs. And in the event of a faltering student-run program, the Chabad husband-wife team will usually step in to help, as their goal is always to run successful programs. 

A program at Chabad can be something as seemingly minor as setting up a table on campus with brownies and informational fliers (student volunteers lead much of the campus “tabling”), to wrapping tefillin with Jewish men chancing to walk by. 

During an on-campus interview with Rabbi Brook of Chabad at CSUN, the rabbi frequently stopped the conversation to chat with Jewish students walking by. To the male students, he added, “Would you like to wrap tefillin?” 

Almost every student accepted Brook’s request and put on the arm and head tefillin right in the middle of the busy campus thoroughfare, saying prayers, then unwrapping and continuing on with their day.

According to Chabad tradition, any mitzvah is an experience “that remains forever in the person’s life,” said Chabad of Santa Monica College’s Rabbi Levitansky. “Chabad feels that when you do a mitzvah, it’s not just a mitzvah that you did and then it’s gone.” 

During Sukkot at USC, Rebbetzin Wagner involved students in baking brownies and making chicken soup, while the rabbi, his seven children and some student volunteers manned the sukkah during the day, attracting dozens of students in to shake the lulav and etrog — as well as to snack and chat. 

“If somebody has a positive Jewish experience, which can literally be just one single mitzvah done in a sukkah,” Wagner said, “that already, in itself, is a positive accomplishment. And we see that as fulfilling our mission here.”

While Chabad’s mitzvah-based version of Jewish kiruv (outreach) is based on its own unique brand of Chasidism, Hillel’s form of outreach does not “represent any dogmas,” according to Seidler-Feller, and will often mold its flavor of Judaism to the student body of a particular campus

For example, because UCLA has significantly more Orthodox Jewish students than either USC or CSUN, the Hillel in Westwood offers a traditional Friday night service in addition to its Reform one. Not so at USC, where there simply is not the demand for a separate Orthodox service at Hillel.

Chabad, meanwhile, is fiercely consistent in its messaging on any campus or other site. Shabbat services are traditional Orthodox and follow the customs of Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the father of contemporary kabbalah.  

And while Chabad defines a Jew according to Jewish law (someone born to a Jewish mother), the movement will still welcome students who identify as Jewish even if not Jewish by law. Hillel, meanwhile, as part of its outreach, will purposely engage those brought up in interfaith families. While Jeser said that USC Hillel’s “strategies have to reflect” the high number of Jews of interfaith families at USC, that reality would not liberalize or otherwise change how Chabad reaches out. It would likely further motivate shluchim to increase their efforts.

Student demographics at Chabad

Even though Chabad’s philosophy is traditional, the affiliations of many, if not most, of the students who attend Chabad closely resemble the range of observance of modern-day Jewish students on college campuses across America — from observant to, more often, not at all. Despite the reality of these demographics, Chabad on Campus spokesman Motti Seligson said by phone from Brooklyn the perception remains that Chabad is primarily for Orthodox students.

“Some people may perceive Chabad as being only for Orthodox Jews,” Seligson said. “If you walk into any Chabad house on campus, that perception quickly evaporates when you see who’s actually there.”

Wagner estimated that just 5 to 10 percent of regular attendees at the Chabad of USC identify as Orthodox. Brook said that among Jewish students at CSUN, he interacts the least with Orthodox ones, perhaps because most of them live at home and would not be on campus for Shabbat.

For a handful of non-observant or unaffiliated students, Chabad serves as the steppingstone to an observant lifestyle. Ellen Watkins, a UCLA senior from San Francisco, was raised, aside from Jewish summer camp, as a secular Jew. As a freshman, she said she tried out UCLA’s Jewish gamut (Hillel, Chabad and JAM), eventually settling with what the Gureviches were offering and even becoming Chabad’s student board co-president in her junior year.

Marketing, outreach and cooperation

The immersion of Chabad emissaries in environments that aren’t natural hubs for religiosity or spirituality walks in line with the group’s core philosophy that it is the Jewish people’s mission to make the world a holier place. Tabling on campus, inviting a secular Jew to Shabbat dinner, working with fraternities and sororities that have significant Jewish populations — these are all a direct outgrowth of the movement’s philosophy of immersion in American society.

This, in fact, may be the deepest similarity between Chabad and Hillel: While the two organizations have very different outlooks on Judaism, both see college campuses as key to the future of American Judaism.

Sisters in the Sigma AEPi colony at CSUN learn how to bake challah last year at Chabad. Photo courtesy of Chabad of CSUN

At USC, the Wagners have engaged extensively with the two Jewish fraternities there, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammy). USC has no official Jewish sororities.

From challah baking, to Greek Shabbats, to “stump the rabbi” sessions, Rabbi Wagner says engaging in Greek culture is a natural way to reach large numbers of Jews. “If you’re able to reach into a couple of students, you’ve got access not only to that student [and] maybe a couple of their friends, but to the group as a whole,” Wagner said.

One luxury at USC, a private university, is the access offered by the school’s Office of Religious Life to engage incoming freshmen. Every year, the office gives both Hillel and Chabad the list of accepted applicants who checked off “Jewish” as their religion. 

Of course, as Wagner points out, working with a college bureaucracy is not always easy: “The university is like the government. There are a million different offices, and each one is to some extent independent of [the others].” 

“You have to develop a relationship with the office of admissions, and a relationship with the office of religious life, and a relationship with the office of alumni programming, and a relationship with the financial office.”

Discussing what is perhaps the most cooperative local Hillel-Chabad relationship, Bailey London, USC Hillel’s executive director, said that Hillel and Chabad work closely every year to plan Shabbat 500 — which, as the name suggests, is a Shabbat dinner for 500 Jews, held under a massive tent outside the Chabad house.

This past August, after Fresh Fest — a two-day annual retreat for Jewish freshmen held in August at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley — London said that Hillel invited the students to a welcome barbecue at Chabad.

As Chabad grows, Hillel adapts

Judith Alban, acting executive director at Hillel 818, pointed to two major changes Hillel has adapted to in the past generation. One is an evolution of how Jewish students want to be engaged. Whereas in the past, students may have been willing to work the phones to raise money for Hillel, today’s students “don’t want to sit on the phone asking people for money,” Alban said during an interview in her Hillel 818 office adjacent to the CSUN campus.

“They like to see the actual fruits of their labor,” she said. “We can get a lot of students to come out and paint a school. That’s just the way this generation is.”

The second change that Hillel has adapted to is one that was actually spurred by campus Chabad houses — free Shabbat dinners, a core principle for Chabad. After all, a family inviting people over for Shabbat dinner would likely not ask them for an upfront payment. Whereas many Hillels used to charge students for Shabbat dinner (even if only $5 or $10), competition from Chabad helped change that. 

Students who don’t lean toward Hillel or Chabad were often enticed by Chabad’s free Shabbat dinners. So, Alban said, “in order to compete,” Hillel had to adapt.

“It was like [free-]market enterprise,” she said. “Hillel had to start doing what Chabad did.”

The competition also offers a challenge for both Chabad and Hillel — if students are used to getting everything for free, how will they understand that those programs rely on funds raised by others?

“My biggest fear is that students have an expectation that everything in the Jewish world will be free,” said Josh Fried, Hillel 818’s program director. “They don’t understand that they are going to have to pay it forward and donate.”

UCLA seniors at Dockweiler Beach in 2012 for a Hillel event. Photo courtesy of Hillel at UCLA

Rabbi Gurevich at Chabad of UCLA echoed a similar sentiment during an interview in his Westwood office. “People have kind of gotten used to, in a way, some handouts — Birthright, free trips,” Gurevich said. “It’s hard to stimulate someone to get excited about something unless there’s some kind of giveaway.” 

Parents, Gurevich said, tend to donate on behalf of their children only while the kids are in college. As for the alumni, “It takes a while for them to make their way in the world,” to the point where they feel they can give back.

Gurevich also pointed to a Chabad program known as Sinai Scholars — which offers a $350 stipend to students who come to study — as one drawback of what he says is, overall, a wonderful program. “I’m ambivalent about it because it might create these expectations,” Gurevich said. “It’s the question people ask about Birthright: Are you giving too many free things to people?”

But, as with offering free Shabbat dinners, Gurevich and Chabad on Campus see the stipend as a way to get otherwise unmotivated students to commit to hours of Torah study.

“The bottom line is that the benefits outweigh the particular detriment, because we see that people become a lot more involved and a lot more engaged,” Gurevich said. The Sinai Scholars program is now offered on 77 campuses nationally, according to Chabad spokesman Seligson.

In contrast, at UCLA Hillel, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and his wife, Sharona, have been working for almost a decade as part of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC). Offering one-on-one learning with students as well as group classes on Jewish topics, Kaplan said that he has never offered a cash stipend.

“Our general position is never to pay for learning,” Kaplan said. “We found that we haven’t needed to do it in order to have a crowd.” 

He added, however, that he and Sharona do offer other incentives, such as a free lunch or dinner, or having a running tab at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, allowing students who learn with JLIC to get a cup of coffee or a snack on the house. “The bottom line is an incentive is an incentive,” Kaplan said.

UCLA student Eli Mordechai wrapping tefillin on campus with Rabbi Dovid Gurevich of Chabad. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Dovid Gurevich

Hillel and The Jewish Federation

Hillel’s dominance on college campuses was long reflected in Federation’s relationship with the Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), a now-defunct organization that helped finance local Hillels, in large part through Federation support.

Federation’s Harris, in an e-mail to the Journal, described the past Federation-LAHC funding stream as a “lump sum” to LAHC, which was then “divided up among its member units.” 

Until about three years ago, every dime of Federation’s campus funding went to LAHC and, by proxy, to local Hillels. Between 2008 and 2010, all of Federation’s combined $2.7 million in campus funding went to LAHC.

LAHC’s dissolution about three years ago forced the Hillels under its purview to become independent 501(c)(3)s, which also coincided with a major upcoming change in how Federation will distribute grants to all Jewish organizations for all programs under the aegis of its Ensuring the Jewish Future department, including those on campus.

Because Federation plans to shift to a program-based grant process, beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, Hillel, like Chabad, may have to rely more and more on local, grass-roots, relationship-based fundraising.

Previously, Federation’s Jacoby said, the official view was, “We have a historic relationship with this organization [Hillel]; therefore we will give it money.” Now, he said, Federation has “no predisposition whatsoever for, or against, any organization.” 

In 2010, Federation began to encourage more Jewish campus groups — including Chabad and JAM — to apply for program grants. 

Since then, Federation has given about
$2.3 million directly to local Hillels and $386,000 to other Jewish campus groups, $28,000 of which went to Chabad of USC for program grants, Harris wrote in his e-mail. Federation’s gradual shift away from a Hillel-only funding approach is a reflection, at least in part, of “the myriad of ways a Jewish student in today’s world can get engaged in Jewish life on campus,” Harris wrote.

Once Federation’s grant-based funding is in full effect, money that used to cover operating costs at local Hillels will soon only be distributed in the form of grants for specific programs, which Hillel as well as other Jewish groups will have to apply for. 

For UCLA Hillel, which has its own fundraising team, a fundraising partnership with UCLA, and relies on core Federation grants for only 7 percent of its annual budget, losing those core grants may not have a tremendously adverse impact. 

But, as Seidler-Feller said, “Every organization is reliant on a core budget, and this new approach undercuts or seemingly undercuts that core budget, or part of it.” He added, though, that a grant-based process may have an upside. “It also means there’s a push for excellence,” he said. “You have to earn the grant.”

For Hillel 818, which has relied extensively on Federation for many years, adapting to a new landscape — by tapping into relationships with parents, alumni and community members — may be a struggle. 

Rabbi Dov Wagner and students enjoy food at Chabad of USC’s falafel fiesta night in January 2012. Photo  courtesy of Chabad of USC

“It’s a very tough transition,” Alban said. “We are going to the community and telling them how we are struggling. I just think sometimes the parents don’t really think about it,” she said. “They just think, ‘Oh, the Jewish community funds you.’ ”

At Chabad, the primary fundraiser generally is just one person — the rabbi. Seed money from major donors and small annual grants from Chabad on Campus are not uncommon, but on a year-to-year basis, Brook at CSUN, for example, is almost entirely responsible for raising his $200,000 annual budget.

Chabad operates on something approaching a franchise model — each Chabad house can use the Chabad brand and can pay for the rights to a standard Chabad on campus Web site. But each Chabad house is entirely responsible for its own operations.

“It’s a yearly struggle,” said Chabad of SMC’s Levitansky. “But I think it creates an element of constant motivation. You are the king or the queen on the chessboard, which creates a much greater desire to get toward
your goal.”

A model for the future

As Jewish campus life in Los Angeles continues to adjust to having twice as many options on campus, some Chabads and Hillels are learning how to share the playground. 

At USC and CSUN, the two organizations already often work together when they can. 

“It’s healthy to have us both here,” Hillel 818’s Alban said. “It really is.” 

One benefit of having a Chabad rabbi right down the street, according to Alban, is that when it comes to questions of Jewish law, she knows whom to call.

“We had a student who wanted to get her apartment kashered, and so we called [Rabbi Brook],” she said.

At UCLA, some students don’t see competition: “They are interconnected,” said David Chernobylsky, a 19-year-old UCLA junior. “When you start meeting people through the other, you become more ingrained in the entire Jewish community.”

“It’s just good for the Jews,” Brook said with a smile, as he walked back to the CSUN Chabad house after spending a few hours on campus. “There’s enough work for both of us.”

And, as Seidler-Feller bluntly put it, there’s so much room for growth with Jewish college students that neither group can call itself king.

Seidler-Feller may be leading one of the most successful Hillel centers on any campus. But still, he emphasized, “Anyone who thinks one organization controls the campus is hallucinating.”

USC-Shoah head named to genocide education chair


As the executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education, Stephen Smith is known for his work preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

Now, the USC adjunct professor of religion is being given a platform to promote education about crimes against humanity on an even broader level. On Sept. 24, Smith was named the inaugural holder of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) chair on genocide education. It was established in partnership by USC and UNESCO to promote research, training, information and documentation on genocide education and encourage collaboration among internationally recognized researchers and educators.

“I am a firm believer that education is the bedrock of our efforts to prevent genocide,” Smith said in a statement. “Through this partnership, USC and UNESCO are joining forces to develop the research networks and education programs essential to understand and limit genocide in future generations.”

Praising Smith’s and the Shoah Foundation’s awareness-building efforts, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that she expects Smith to thrive as the program’s chair.

 “We anticipate that this new chair, placed under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Smith, will contribute to increased international cooperation on these matters by connecting with UNESCO’s network of university chairs and by supporting the activities of the organization in issues pertaining to the history of the Holocaust, genocide and to human rights,” she said.

Smith’s appointment is part of the UNITWIN (University Twinning and Network Scheme)/UNESCO Chairs Programme, which “enables chairs to serve as bridge builders between academia, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making,” according to a USC press release.

Established nearly 20 years ago, the USC Institute maintains an archive of nearly 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses from 57 countries and in 33 languages. Its collection also includes testimonies from eyewitnesses to genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia.

A Sunday call on same-sex marriage


I was talking with a young woman last Sunday afternoon. She had called me because she read the column I wrote here last month, about Sinai Temple’s decision to perform same-sex weddings. She said she’s gay and came out to her family a year ago. They’re Iranian Jews who care a great deal about the judgment of their friends and relatives. They’ve given her untold amounts of grief for the shame they think she’s brought on them. They tell her she’s ruined the family name, made her sisters and female cousins unmarriageable, bitten the many hands — the grandparents’, the aunts’ and uncles’, the friends of friends’ — that have reached out to save her from her own foolishness. 

I’m neither the village elder nor the town psychologist. I listened to this woman’s story because she sounded sincere and spent and terribly, tragically sad. Like so many traditional Jews who still live under the illusion that they can re-create, in Los Angeles, the suffocating, male-dominated, vicious-aunt-and-mother-in-law-operated households of the old ghetto, her family had raised her to be seen and not heard, obey but not think, get married and have children, and live happily ever after no matter how she really felt. She had done all that, even married, up to her mid-20s. In the last year she divorced her husband, came out first to her family and then in a public way, and was abandoned and denounced by the older members of her extended family. 

I’ve never met this woman, but I know her well. She’s the Ashkenazi girls I meet at USC, who tell me they’ve had to break a dozen taboos just to avoid being married right after high school. She’s the Iranian girls I hear about who might have two doctorates and a silver star for community service, but whose families are ashamed of them because they remain, in their early 30s, still unmarried. It’s true that coming out, especially for a woman, is a much more drastic, even shocking, step than choosing school over marriage, but at their core the two are really not that different: a 1,000-year-old taboo; a trembling, terrified individual mustering the courage to cross a barrier; a family that wants the best for its children, that believes it knows best. 

Forget the wicked witch of an aunt who takes advantage of a family crisis to vomit her own, bottled-up grief and insecurity on a helpless niece, the washout uncle who has no power in his own house and decides to be king in someone else’s. Forget the friends who suddenly crawl out of the bushes to warn of the seven plagues. The parents of these defiant girls, I know, love their children as much any of us. What they do, right or wrong, is what they believe is right. 

Often, they’re right; sometimes, they’re not. 

I said this to the young woman on the phone last Sunday — that as parents, we fail not as much in our love as in our wisdom. “You can judge a man by what he does,” a character in a novel once said, “or you can judge him by what he would have done had he been aware of all his options.” So often, I told this woman, I’ve erred with my own children because I didn’t know better. Then, as now, I wished for nothing more than a voice that would save me from my own, so-called, wisdom. 

Maybe, I said, your parents don’t know there are other respectable, happy families in their community who have accepted and even embraced their children’s homosexuality. Maybe they don’t realize that the world is infinitely bigger than the few dozen self-appointed “leaders” they think they should follow. 

I received a great many e-mails and Facebook messages in response to the article about same-sex marriage. A few Ashkenazi readers warned me of heavenly wrath and earthly pestilence. One Iranian man complained that the Conservative movement is responsible for the fact that his daughter has gone to college and, as a result, remains unmarried in her 20s. Another berated me for calling some Orthodox Jews intolerant, then went on to say that the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements were all “European garbage.” There’s only one kind of “real” Judaism, he said, and that’s what he practices. But by far the great majority of writers expressed support and appreciation for Rabbi Wolpe’s decision to perform gay weddings at Sinai Temple. And by far the great majority of these writers were Iranian Jews who were glad to see their point of view reflected in the article. One woman stopped me on the street to say how proud she is that her daughter is involved in her school’s gay-straight alliance. A man wrote to say he attends an Orthodox shul, but that if his own children turn out to be gay, he would want to have a place like Sinai for his whole family to attend. 

Maybe, I told the woman on Sunday, your parents would act differently if they were aware of other possibilities. 

No one has asked me for advice here; even if they had, I doubt I’m qualified to offer it. But just in case my Sunday caller’s parents find themselves in the same dark valley where I often reside, in case they, like me, long for some hitherto hidden pathway to make itself visible, I thought I’d offer these small bits of truth: 

• Your daughter is not as small or large as her sexual orientation. She has a thousand other emotional and intellectual facets and capabilities. She’s the same child you deemed worthy of your love and protection before she, or you, knew she was gay. She is more precious, more important to you than all the wagging tongues and trigger-happy fingers who’ve suddenly decided that their own limited lives would improve if only someone else’s child would be banned by Rabbi Wolpe from marrying in Sinai Temple. For every one of those soap-box preachers in this town, there are dozens of intelligent, educated, wise men and women who accept and embrace your daughter and support her quest for personal fulfillment. 

You are not as small or large as your daughter’s sexual orientation. Even the town lunatics who try to cow you into “controlling” your children because they’re afraid of losing what little control they have over their own wives and daughters know this. They realize, even if you don’t, that the era of collective shame and inherited guilt, of an entire family being blamed for one member’s deeds or misdeed, has long passed. 

Finally, 

• There was an age in which most Jewish parents would rather see their daughter dead than divorced. The fear then — public embarrassment, social isolation, loss of status for the family and eternal misery for the divorced woman — was remarkably similar to the fear now. But times have changed for divorcees and, believe it or not, at least in California, for gay women and their families. 

It’s not easy to stand back and watch while one’s children make choices that we believe are wrong. The key is to remember that not everything we know is right. Outside the shtetls and the ghettos and the limited minds of big-mouth crusaders, there’s often more than one possibility.


Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in the Journal.

Practical app-lications for dog owners and Los Angeles drivers


Apps entertain, make life easier, provide a way for us to stay up to date on current events and much more. Some are vital, others less so, but the best are the ones that strike that balance between simplicity and innovation and leave us asking, “How did I ever get by without this?”

Given that there have always been Jews on the forefront of intellectual activity (just look at the list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners), it wasn’t too difficult to find apps for smartphones and tablets that were created by Jews. Here are a pair with local ties. 

Yelp for Dog People

Jon Kolker, a University of Southern California (USC) graduate and co-creator of Where My Dogs At (wheremydogsat.com), describes his app simply as “a community for dog owners.”

Whether you’re looking for the perfect park for you and your canine companion or a brewery where your pooch can chill with you on the patio, this free app aims to be your reference guide. And if everything goes right, you might meet some like-minded folks along the way.

Where My Dogs At provides listings for nearby dog parks, pet stores, veterinarians and local dog-friendly businesses — including restaurants, coffee shops and hotels. But more than that, the app offers a Facebook-like social platform for dog owners and -lovers in which users create personal profiles, post photos and instant message each other.

It’s like “Yelp for dog lovers,” Kolker said.

Animal lingo abounds. Instead of “checking in” at locations, users “mark their territory.” And rather than receiving reviews based on a star-rating system, businesses and sites receive “paws.” Where My Dogs At users rated Melrose Avenue’s Urth Caffé an average five-out-of-five paws, for example, because dogs are allowed on the eatery’s patio.

The app has approximately 15,000 users, according to Kolker, and currently is in its beta version. A full version is set to be released this fall.

The app’s origin dates back a few years. Curious about places in the city that he and Eddie, his black cocker spaniel, could enjoy together, Kolker, 28, began researching. After he created a list of places, his friend Gareth Wilson suggested that they input the data into an app, which launched last December. 

“We’ve since expanded and have data for places across the country at this point,” said Kolker, CEO of BetterPet Inc. Wilson is president and creative director.

Kolker and Wilson, both of whom attend Sinai Temple, among other synagogues, attended USC’s Annenberg Program on Online Communities, where they received $10,000 to begin work on the app. The Baltimore natives graduated from the USC graduate program in 2012.

Because a significant part of the app is the experience of shmoozing, its creators insist it’s for everyone, not just pet owners.

“Not all of our users are dog owners; there are a lot of people who just love animals,” Kolker said. “They’re welcome as well, of course.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

Parking, the Final Frontier

After several hours of driving, sitting and patiently listening to your GPS, you’ve finally arrived at your desired location. 

But where to park?

That’s where ParkMe comes in.

Founded by Sam Friedman and Alex Israel, both graduates of Crossroads School in Santa Monica, ParkMe (parkme.com) is a free app that helps drivers find the nearest and least expensive parking spot.  

“We help our users find the closest, cheapest parking available by displaying real-time data, including rates, hours of operation, payment types and more,” said Israel of West Los Angeles.

ParkMe displays its information on a GPS map and enables users to control whether they want a cheaper or closer parking spot. Additional features included a rate calculator, in-app route guidance and a timer.

According to Friedman, a Santa Monica native, parking causes 30 to 50 percent of traffic congestion in L.A.’s urban centers. ParkMe’s aim is to reduce this congestion.

When a driver takes a ticket at a parking garage or pays a city meter with a credit card (in participating cities), that information is sent directly to ParkMe’s database, which consists of more than 25,000 worldwide locations in more than 500 cities — Los Angeles among them — 19 countries and three continents.

In order to increase accuracy, ParkMe also deploys a field team of researchers to scour U.S. cities for updates or changes regarding rates, hours of operation and total capacity.  

On top of the existing app, the company licenses its database to third-party GPS devices and has plans to work directly with car manufacturers, Friedman said.

“Parking is actually the last piece, as we call it, to the navigation puzzle,” he said. 

And, for Israel, “[ParkMe] solves the everyday hassle and frustration of parking.”

Only, as the app warns you in its terms of service, be sure you’re pulled over when you use it.

— Jay Firestone, Web and Multimedia Editor

Priest discusses Holocaust documentation efforts


The Rev. Patrick Desbois, secretary to the French Conference of Bishops for relations with Judaism and adviser to the Vatican on the Jewish religion, appeared at Wilshire Boulevard Temple on May 22 to discuss his effort to locate the mass graves of the approximately 1.5 million Jews who were murdered in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust between 1941 and 1944. 

 “I will never know why I said ‘yes,’ ” said Desbois, a French Catholic priest, explaining how difficult the work has been since he started it in 2004 with support from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and with the Paris-based research organization Yahad-In Unum. 

After crisscrossing the countryside for several years, Desbois and his team have identified 800 of an estimated 2,000 mass graves. The work has included collecting artifacts and recording video testimonies from eyewitnesses, many of whom were speaking publicly for the first time.

Desbois documented this effort in the book “The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews,” which won the 2008 National Jewish Book Award. Desbois explained that, although he is not Jewish, the injustice of these 1.5 million murders — which occurred prior to the construction of concentration and death camps — not being central to the Holocaust narrative act. 

Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at USHMM, who provides the foreword to “The Holocaust by Bullets,” introduced Desbois at the lecture at Wilshire Boulevard Temple that was attended by 200 guests. USHMM presented the May event, the fourth annual Linda and Tony Rubin Lecture, in partnership with the synagogue and the Sigi Ziering Institute for the Study of the Holocaust at American Jewish University.

Some of the testimonies that Desbois’ team recorded will become part of the USHMM’s permanent collections. Bullets found near the mass grave sites have since become part of the USHMM exhibition “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.”

Shoah Foundation, Bay Area group partner to fund preservation of Holocaust testimonies

In a separate effort to make sure that voices from the Holocaust are not forgotten, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and the San Francisco Bay Area-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) are partnering to raise money to support an initiative that will help digitize more than 1,400 Holocaust survivor testimonies that were recorded on VHS tapes during the 1970s and 1980s. 

 “It’s up to the community and individuals to step up to do this, to help us preserve that oral history,” said Barbara Farber, director of development at JFCS.

Covering the areas of San Francisco, the San Francisco Peninsula and Marin and Sonoma counties, JFCS is one of the oldest and largest family services institutions in the country. Dedicated to making audiovisual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust a tool for education and action, the USC Shoah Foundation has more than nearly 52,000 eyewitness testimonies in its Visual History Archive.

The end goal is for JCFS oral testimony collection to become part of the USC Shoah Visual History Archive. The JFCS collection is the sixth largest of its kind in the United States, according to Farber.

The process involved with upgrading the oral histories is costly. Each video, which lasts anywhere from four to six hours, needs to be transformed from the outdated VHS tape medium to computer files, a high-tech digitization process. 

Additionally, each video needs to be coded with more than 60,000 keywords used so that viewers can type in search terms — such as “Auschwitz” or “Kindertransport” — and can jump to parts in the interviews where the survivors are discussing those subjects. 

So far, $1.2 million has been raised toward a goal of $1.6 million, with $600,000 of that coming from a matching grant. Organizations that have contributed include the Koret Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. On June 9, Stephen Smith, executive director of USC Shoah Foundation, will appear at a JFCS tribute event in San Francisco that will help raise more funds.

This is not the first time that USC Shoah’s Visual History Archive will feature testimonies taken from other organizations. In April, the Visual History Archive was granted 50 testimonies from the Rwandan genocide that were provided by the British nongovernmental organization Aegis Trust.

Farber emphasized the importance of the project. 

“We knew these oral histories would not last much longer on VHS tapes, and in order to honor our Bay Area Holocaust survivors who gave their oral histories, it’s important to preserve them,” she said. “They are phenomenal teaching tools as we go forward and do not have our Holocaust survivors to be able to speak in schools.”

Anne Frank’s stepsister speaks at USC and CSUN


Her modesty, gracefulness and soft voice don’t suggest it, but Eva Schloss’ encounter with darkness has instilled in her a determination to tell the world her story.

A childhood friend and, posthumously, a stepsister of Anne Frank, Schloss, now 84, recounted her Holocaust experience to two packed auditoriums locally. The events — on Jan. 22 at USC’s Bovard Auditorium and on Jan. 23 at Cal State Northridge’s University Student Union — drew about 1,600 people and were organized by the Chabad Centers at the presenting schools. They were the final events of Schloss’ two-week California speaking tour.

Born Eva Geiringer in 1929, Schloss remembers her birthplace, Vienna, as a beautiful city, and life there with her parents, brother Heinz and extended family as very happy.

But everything quickly changed in 1938.

“It was a great shock for us when the Austrians embraced Hitler,” Schloss told the crowd at USC.

“I was 9 years old when, after school, I wanted to play with my best friend, who was Catholic, and I went to her house, and then the mother saw me. She slammed the door in my face and said, ‘We don’t want to see you ever again.’ ”

Hurt and sensing that things were not right, Eva asked her mother what was happening.

“Being a Jew will now be very, very difficult,” her mother told her.

Luckily for Eva’s family, her father had business connections in Holland, which allowed him to obtain a visa to work there. The rest of the family, though, could only make it to Belgium, not receiving permission to settle in Amsterdam until February 1940. 

It was in Amsterdam that Eva met Anne Frank, whom she remembers as a talkative girl whose eyes lit up when she heard Eva had an older brother.

“She was a big, big chatterbox,” Schloss said lovingly, in her distinct Austrian accent. “At school, she was called ‘Mrs. Quack Quack’ because she never could be quiet.” 

Schloss described herself as a sporty girl not interested in school, and Anne (“Anna”) as more interested in clothing and fashion. But they became friends, and Eva soon met Anne’s father, Otto, who would marry Eva’s mother years after the war.

When it became clear in 1942 that the Nazis had no intention of allowing Jews to live in Amsterdam, Eva’s father decided that the family had to go into hiding. Eva and her mother would hide in one apartment, and Heinz and his father would hide in another, with the intention of reducing the risk of all four being caught.

Schloss described the “immense boredom” she experienced during her two years of hiding with her mother in various homes.

“Imagine to be two years together with somebody,” Schloss said. “After a few days, we [had] talked about everything there was to talk about.”

Eva’s mother gave her a book to read and tried to teach her different things, but, like most teenagers, Eva “didn’t want to listen” to her mother.

In May 1944, when the Nazis stormed the Amsterdam apartment where Eva and her mother were hiding, they pretended they weren’t Jews, hoping for a miracle. But the Nazis had come looking specifically for them. They brought mother and daughter to an SS station in Amsterdam and beat Eva. She discovered that they also had caught her brother and father.

The same day, Eva and her entire family were then loaded into a packed cattle car whose destination was Auschwitz.

That was Eva’s 15th birthday.

When Rabbi Dov Wagner — who moderated the USC event — asked Schloss what her father’s final words were at the Auschwitz platform, she said that her father blessed her and told her, “God will protect you.”

Eva had already survived nine hellish months at Auschwitz-Birkenau when, one morning in 1945, she awoke to a quiet camp, empty of the usual shouting.

“We saw at the gate a huge creature, all this hair and fur and icicles on him,” Schloss told a captivated audience. “At first we thought it was a bear. But when we looked closer, we realized that it was a huge Russian soldier.”

The soldier was a lone advance scout but was followed by the Russian army, who cooked for the starving inmates cabbage soup with greasy meat, which Schloss remembers as delicious but also dangerous. Some of the prisoners couldn’t digest the food and died.

“We were really obsessed with food, but we realized we needed to be very, very careful with what we eat.”

Eva soon was reunited with her mother, who also survived Auschwitz, but she never again saw her father or brother, who were murdered at the Mauthausen death camp just days before American forces arrived.

Several months after the end of the war, Eva and her mother returned to Holland and met Otto Frank, who had learned he’d lost his entire family in the Holocaust. Schloss said that once Otto learned of their deaths, he felt he no longer had anything to live for.

Schloss’ deep love and admiration for her brother was evident whenever she spoke about him. She said Heinz was a talented artist and musician, and that he had mentioned hiding paintings under the floorboards of his Amsterdam hideout. Eva returned with her mother to the house where Heinz and her father were caught. They found the paintings, which Schloss brought with her to both of her Los Angeles events.

Around the same time, a broken Otto Frank came to see Eva and her mother. Schloss described her introduction to what has become one of the most famous books in human history:

“He came again with a little parcel under his arm, and he opened it very carefully, and he said, ‘I want to show you something.’ It was Anna’s diary.”

Home movies reveal cultural history of SoCal Jews


Home movies have long played an important role in the lives of American Jews. Backyard barbecues, baby namings, bar mitzvahs — few are the events that haven’t been captured on film by the Jewish parent or grandparent. Home movies contain our memories, our inside jokes, our first steps, but for the people behind a new exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center, they contain something far grander: history.

For Marsha Kinder, the director of USC’s Labyrinth Project, home movies offer a glimpse into the world of our past, both personal and communal. “The idea that you participate in making history, and that history is an ongoing process, that’s what we really hope to emphasize,” said Kinder, sitting in the lobby of the Skirball on a recent Monday morning. 

When Kinder started the Labyrinth Project in 1997, she hoped to use new media and technology to help bring history alive. Among her collaborators was the noted Hungarian filmmaker Péter Forgács, who was known for his use of home movies in his work. Together, they created an exhibition for the Getty in 2002, called “Danube Exodus,” incorporating amateur footage from a captain who helped ferry Jewish refugees down the Danube to the Black Sea in the 1930s.

“We were influenced by Péter in terms of the value of home movies, because that’s what he specializes in,” Kinder said. Fogács’ use of amateur footage intrigued Kinder. If home movies could be used to illuminate the history of European Jews, how could they help shine light on the lives of Jews in California? 

“We actually started talking about and planning this in 2006,” Kinder said of the project that would become “Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage.” “We had a really good board, and any plan we made, we ran it through them.” 

But turning the idea into reality took time. First, there was the problem of getting funding. Once that was accomplished, the real work needed to be done. They needed home movies, and so they advertised. They put notices in The Jewish Journal and other places, asking people to bring their home movies in for a special selection day. “We had it at USC, and we had all the projectors there, and you could just come and show whatever you had,” Kinder said. Some of the movies were good, and some were blurry and boring, but in the end they found the material that became “Homegrown History.”

The main films in the exhibit are projected on three screens, which work in concert to deliver an immersive experience. While one screen displays images from a home movie, another might show a quote from one of the film’s subjects, or an entirely different image from the sequence.  The topics of the films range from intermarriage to growing up in a Hollywood family, to vacationing at Murrieta Hot Springs.

“Increasingly … our generations … we’re relying so much on the visual as a mode of history,” Kinder said. “We’ve been very interested in how we use multimedia and archival materials to dramatize these projects.”

For Kinder, the idea of showing the interaction of Jews and other ethnic minorities in Southern California through home videos was very appealing. Included are home movies from a family that was part Mexican and part Jewish, and a piece on the melting pot of Boyle Heights. “A lot of these films documented the relationship between the Jewish community and other ethnic communities,” Kinder said.

The idea of cross-cultural experience definitely appealed to Skirball director Robert Kirschner. “It speaks to the larger audience that the Skirball engages,” Kirschner said, “because we have for many years now realized that the Jewish story we tell here is also a broader story of the American experience of a pluralistic society, one that values equality and freedom and dignifies the various ethnicities and ancestries and faith communities that make America the flourishing society it is.”

And while Kirschner likes the exhibition’s use of touch screens and interactive media as an interface, he’s also aware that museums are merely catching up to the world at large in that regard. “Tablets and laptops are ubiquitous these days. … I think, for us, it’s the content that’s compelling,” Kirschner said. “The Skirball Cultural Center is all about the American-Jewish experience … because this project speaks so directly to that experience and also grounds it locally … that makes a very obvious and significant connection to our purposes as an institution.”

It all boils down to building a stronger connection between us and our very real, now visible, past, Kinder explained. Like many Jews, she says she regrets never having asked her grandparents more questions. Many of the contributors to the exhibition had never even seen their home movies before bringing them in to USC for the collection day. “That’s the thing; they’re in a box,” hidden away. Now the Labyrinth Project is bringing them into the light.

But the work is far from done. “We hope to add others of these, what we call homegrown movies … for example [from] the Jewish and the Korean community,” said Kinder. “We also haven’t found the Iranian-Jewish home movies.”

More than anything, Kinder hopes people will “walk away with a sense that their own heritage is really important.” And if “Homegrown History” proves anything, it’s that one person’s home movies are another person’s treasure.

“Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage” continues at the Skirball Cultural Center through Sept. 2. “Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage” continues at the Skirball Cultural Center through Sept. 2. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.skirball.org/exhibitions/jewish-homegrown-history.

Scene & Heard


Carmen Warschaw

Inspired by an election season in which young, first-time voters are participating in record numbers, USC trustee Carmen Warschaw has pledged a $3 million gift to endow the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics. The goal of the new position is meant to encourage civic activism by bringing students together with elected officials through courses, conferences and discussion forums. Warschaw and her husband, Louis, who died in 2001, helped established the college’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life in 1998 and have since funded a lecture series which invites prominent elected officials to speak about how their Judaism influences their political life.

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Lloyd Levine and Hanka Kent.

State officials heard about the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime when Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) delivered an explicit and moving address to the Capitol in Sacramento during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on April 28. Levine was accompanied by Holocaust survivor Hanka Kent of Tarzana, whose own harrowing story was also honored that day.


Jewish and Muslim students at USC share dorm and friendships


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

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

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

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

Levran nods, taking in the new information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Rosh Hashanah: swastika flags fly over SoCal, Florida highways


Swastikas were found flying from highway overpasses in Los Angeles and northern San Diego County, as well as in Orlando, Fla., just before the Jewish New Year.Calls began coming in to law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles at around 5:45 a.m. on Sept. 22, saying flags with swastikas were hanging from the overcrossing between Balboa and White Oak boulevards over the eastbound Ventura Freeway, according to California Highway Patrol officials.
 
“Obviously, they’re offensive, and a huge distraction,” CHP Officer Leland Tang said in a televised news report.
 
Flags also were reported at the Escondido Avenue overpass of Highway 78 in Vista, near San Diego.
 
The flags were taken down soon after they were discovered. Jewish leaders have denounced the acts.
 
— Staff and Wire reports
 
Steven Windmueller to serve as interim Dean of Hebrew Union College
 
Steven F. Windmueller, a scholar who has held several prominent positions in local Jewish organizations over the years, has been named interim dean at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
 
Windmueller previously served as director of HUC-JIR’s School of Jewish Communal Service and said he will remain in the new position for an undetermined period. During his tenure, he said, he hopes to tighten HUC-JIR’s links with other institutions of higher education, as well as the federations and the Union for Reform Judaism. Windmueller also hopes to grow HUC-JIR’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation.
 
“I want to reposition HUC in the constellation of the Western Jewish scene,” Windmueller said. “I want a higher profile, greater engagement with the Reform movement and a larger voice on Jewish life, whether it’s intermarriage or how to welcome new Jews into the community.”
 
Meanwhile, Windmuller has just returned the prestigious Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission’s John Allen Buggs Award given him in 1995 for his strong record in intergroup relations. He gave back the prize last week to protest the commission’s decision to bestow the honor upon Dr. Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California and senior adviser to the national Muslim Public Affairs Council, who has been outspokenly critical of Israel. Much of Los Angeles’ organized Jewish community opposed Hathout’s being given the award.
 
“The commission didn’t look for a candidate who could find common ground but rather chose one who was divisive by his actions and words,” Windmueller said.
 
Windmueller replaces Dr. Lewis Barth, who served twice as HUC-JIR dean and whose nine-year tenure ended in June. HUC-JIR has 525 graduate students at campuses in Jerusalem, New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, with 120 students here. The educational and intellectual center of Reform Judaism, HUC-JIR trains rabbis, cantors, communal and educational professionals. Locally, about 650 USC undergraduates also take courses at the school in subjects ranging from Holocaust studies to Zionism.
 
During his 11 years as HUC-JIR’s director of Jewish communal service, Windmueller established several programs that he said were designed to deepen students’ educational experience. He helped create the “New York Jewish Experience,” a biannual program that takes Los Angeles’ Jewish communal students to New York to meet with national Jewish leaders and to visit landmarks of the American Jewish experience, including synagogues. In 2001, Windmueller oversaw the creation of a program that sends students to Germany to study contemporary and historical Jewish life in the country.

Under his direction, HUC also increased its cooperation with USC and added several dual-degree communal studies graduate programs with the university, including in business administration, communications management and public arts management.
 
“He combines two remarkable skills,” said Rabbi Alan Henkin, a sometime HUC-JIR lecturer and regional director of Pacific Southwest Council for the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization for 80 local Reform synagogues. “He’s able to keep his eye on the big picture, even as he attends to the small details of running the school.”
 
Windmueller, 64, received a doctorate in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. He began his professional life at the American Jewish Committee, before moving to the Greater Albany Jewish Federation — now known as the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York — where he served as a director. Heading west in 1985, he served as head of the local Jewish Community Relations Committee for a decade.
 
— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

High Holiday party raises funds for Israel
 
The war in Israel may be over, but fundraising efforts in Los Angeles are not.On Saturday, Sept. 16, a party at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood raised $22,000 for Israel through the Israel Help Fund, which was started by the Council of Israeli Communities (CIC). The party was jointly put on by the CIC, DJ Eyal Productions, DJ Ziv Productions and Sababa parties. Approximately 1,100 people — primarily Israelis — attended the $20-a-ticket event, with two floors of dancing, one on the roof.
 
“Sitting back and watching what was going on during the war, we felt compelled to do something,” said LiAmi Lawrence, head of Sababa parties, which generally holds for-profit parties.
 
But this time everyone was willing to donate their services for free, including seven Djs: DJ Eyal, DJ Udi, DJ Avi, DJ Ziv, DJ Titus, DJ Shay and DJ George, who drove in from Las Vegas. Lawrence said that DJ Eyal had already booked the Fonda for that date for his own High Holiday party but donated the club and the party for the cause. Many people who couldn’t attend the party sent in checks.
 
“I was touched and inspired by the generosity of the people,” Lawrence said.The money will primarily go to rebuilding Ziv Hospital in Tsfat and to helping firefighters in the north.
 
Donations can still be made to the Israel Help Fund, 16027 Ventura Blvd, Suite 400, Encino, CA, 91436.

USC Trojans march for restored Torah; Backyard tashlich in Fairfax


Trojans Greet Restored Torah
 
When the Trojan fight song rings out at a Torah restoration ceremony, where else could you be but at USC?

About 100 people gathered Sunday under the shade of sycamore trees in front of the university’s Bovard Auditorium to witness the ceremonial completion of a restored Torah scroll that will become the centerpiece of religious life at the Chabad Jewish Student Center.
 
“It’s an honor just to be here,” said Kaley Zeitouni, a sophomore. “I really feel like I’m witnessing an important moment in this community’s Jewish history. Every time I see the scroll at services I’ll remember that I was part of this event.”
 
Rabbi Aaron Schaffier, one of two Torah scribes involved in the scroll’s restoration, said the scroll is between 70 and 80 years old and probably originated in Eastern Europe. Its long journey to USC included a layover in Massachusetts, where it was used for several decades at a synagogue that has now merged with other congregations.
 
The ceremony was particularly moving for Abe Skaletzky, who was visiting his daughter, Michele, another sophomore at USC.
 
“I’m a ba’al teshuvah,” Skaletzky said. “So knowing this scroll might help other people return to Torah means a lot to me.”
 
After the last details of the restoration were complete, Schaffier stitched the scroll to its wooden dowels with kosher sinew. Rabbi Dov Wagner carried the Torah from Bovard Auditorium to the Chabad House under a chuppah to symbolize the scroll’s new life.
 
And that’s when seven members of USC’s marching band brought the moment to life. They began the procession with a rendition of the Trojan fight song, prompting students in the crowd to hold up the two-finger sign for victory.
 
During its installation at the Chabad House, the scroll was dedicated to the late Sandra Brand, a Holocaust survivor who established a fund to support the restoration of Torah scrolls to be donated to college communities.
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer
 
Backyard Tashlich in Fairfax
 
For a few years on Rosh Hashanah — until the raccoons ate all the fish and the fishpond was turned into a giant planter — members of Ohev Shalom, a small Orthodox shul on Fairfax Avenue, gathered in my parents’ yard for Tashlich.
 
The “pond,” mind you, is about four feet in diameter and maybe a foot deep. But it’ll do for the landlocked mid-Wilshire residents who don’t drive on Rosh Hashanah and want to participate in the custom of Tashlich, which literally means to cast off.
 
Orthodox residents across the city seek out small bodies of water in which to throw bread crumbs, symbolizing their sins, as they recite atonement-related prayers on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (unless, like this year, it falls on Shabbat).
 
Tashlich is a custom, not a law, and can be recited anytime during the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ideally, the water should be flowing and have fish in it, but that isn’t always possible, so a small reservoir — or my parents’ fish pond — works, too.
 
A small slab of the L.A. River runs through Beverlywood, some people gather there on Rosh Hashanah to toss their sins through the chainlink fence into the trickle of water muddying up the concrete cutout.
 
Maybe not quite what the rabbis had in mind when they based the tradition on the quote in Micah, “And you will all their sins into the depths of the sea.” But then again, if bread crumbs can symbolize sins, why not fish ponds as the depths of the sea?
 
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Artists Dream in a Golden Age


Sam Erenberg spends most of the day, nearly every day, alone in a 1,000-square-foot box.

“It’s like a temple,” the painter says of his artist’s studio.

A lonely temple, that is.

“I’m the rabbi and congregation all in one,” he says with a laugh.

Working as an artist can be isolating, especially in the sprawling city of Los Angeles. And what good is inspiration without community?

The Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California exists for artists like Erenberg. The group, consisting of about 30 members, constitutes one of the nation’s first organized networks of Jewish artists. Its aims are twofold: to create a support system for local artists and to transform the way the Jewish community relates to art.

On a recent evening, Erenberg sat among other artists in a garage-turned-studio in Larchmont Village. He, for one, was happy for the company.

“This is my ad-hoc family,” he said to the painters, photographers and sculptors who had gathered there for the group’s monthly meeting.

The Artists Initiative emerged three years ago, when Amelia Xann of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles approached USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. Xann wanted to create a program to promote visual art by Jewish artists.

The organizations decided to found a group that would put on exhibitions, host a lecture series and provide a space for artists to explore the relationship between their Jewish identities and their art.

So, the Artists Initiative launched, with $40,000 in foundation grants for a speaker series and Web site.

The group staged its first exhibition in 2004 at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Too Jewish — Not Jewish Enough” showcased paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, ceramics and digital work that incorporated Jewish themes or adhered to “a Jewish sensibility.” (Art with a “Jewish sensibility,” Erenberg explained, exhibits “a kind of longing, a feeling that you’re connected to a long history.”)

The second exhibition, “Makor/Source,” concentrated on the sources of the artists’ inspiration. The exhibit opened this year at the Hillel: Centers for Jewish Life, at USC and UCLA.

Members are planning a third exhibition, which will likely have a California theme, to open in the next year or so at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Art historian Matthew Baigell will curate the show.

Ruth Weisberg, a nationally recognized artist and the de facto leader of the group, said the initiative has ambitious goals.

“We really want to be another porthole, another entrance into Judaism,” said Weisberg, who is dean of USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts. “Younger people, especially, are often more at ease entering the Jewish community through cultural events than any other way.”

Weisberg, who illustrated the Reform movement’s new haggadah, said she hoped the group would also encourage Jewish artists to treat Jewish themes in their work.

“Many Jews who are involved in the art world keep their Judaism in one part of their life, and their cultural [expression] in another,” she said. Jews may fear being categorized — or even dismissed — as Jewish, rather than mainstream, artists. But keeping art and religious identity separate “is, I think, unnecessary and not that productive.”

Not all of the group’s members agree.

“I’m here protesting,” Channa Horwitz announced at the last meeting.

“I’m Jewish, and I’m an artist, but I’m not a Jewish artist,” said Horwitz, who uses complex patterns and bright colors in her work. “I don’t think art has anything to do with religion.”

Horwitz’s response reflects the diversity of the group, which includes Jews across the religious spectrum, from around the world, including the United States, Israel and Russia.

Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, members find value in the group.

“It’s really great to sit in a room with people who get it,” said Laurel Paley, whose use of Hebrew text in her art has been criticized as “obfuscation.”

Members hope their network will become a model for communities across the country. To increase membership and public awareness, the group is updating its Web site. It has also applied for another foundation grant.

Should funding arrive in the fall, the artists hope to launch new projects. One idea they bandied about involves creating a Jewish community center for the arts, where the public can come not only to view art but also to create it.

As the artists speculated about the future, a sense of what could be — if only they had the world as their canvas — invigorated the group.

Exciting things happen when artists get together, said Bruria Finkel, a sculptor with works on display at the New Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

The Dadaists and Cubists of the 20th century began by meeting in groups, Finkel said. Now, with Jewish artists flourishing in the United States, especially on the West Coast, who knows what this group can accomplish?

“It’s a golden age,” she said.

 

Unmasking Israel’s Mystery Benefactor


 

The mystery man of the Israeli economy, as he was dubbed by the country’s media, is alive and well and living in Los Angeles.

His name is Elliott Broidy, and in the last two years he has raised $800 million to boost private enterprise in the Jewish state.

Broidy earned the “mystery man” label through his reticence to go public, in contrast to his more flamboyant peers. But in his first interview with an American publication, the 48-year-old entrepreneur, who founded Broidy Capital Management in 1991, talked about his motivation, strategy and background.

Sitting at a large table in the impressively furnished boardroom of his Century City office suite, with a stunning view of the Hollywood Hills, Broidy recalled his full press entry into the Israeli capital market.

The year was 2002 and, on the face of it, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The intifada was at its height, the high-tech bubble had burst and the global economy was in the doldrums.

With the right connections and introductions, Broidy met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and such top-level political figures as Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Amir Peretz, now head of the Labor Party.

He had met with Sharon a number of times when the latter served as foreign minister in the late 1980s, and again a few years later when Broidy initiated some small-scale investments in Israel.

A longtime supporter of the Jewish state, Broidy said that “a strong and vital Israel is important to the United States, to American Jewry, and to me and my family.”

Broidy’s proposal to establish a large private equity fund for investments in Israel’s “old” economy — agriculture, manufacturing, capital management — found a warm welcome among government officials at a time when most investors were shunning the strife-racked Jewish state.

“Charity is charity and business is business,” Broidy remembers Sharon telling him. “Do something that makes sense and a profit for your investors.”

Thus encouraged, Broidy established Markstone Capital Group and set a goal of raising $500 million. That ambition “was met initially with great skepticism” in Israel and the United States, Israeli financial analyst Guy Rolnik observed in retrospect.

“But the dubiety is being replaced by awe…. It is a major triumph,” Rolnik wrote recently.

The analyst predicted that the infusion of large equity funds could “democratize” the Israeli economy by possibly ending the long dominance of 10 large Israeli family-based investment groups, which traditionally cut all the big financial deals in the country.

Broidy’s first prospect was New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, and after several months of vetting Broidy’s proposal and meetings with Israeli business and political leaders, the New York State Common Retirement Fund signed on for $200 million.

On the other coast, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPers) put in $50 million, and additional amounts came from similar funds in Oregon, New Mexico, North Carolina and New York City.

“Broidy did a remarkable job in assembling such a group of diverse investors,” said Richard Gunther, himself a major investor in Israel who also has a stake in Markstone.

“When you try to raise money for Israel investment from private people, particularly Jewish ones, you can appeal to both their heart and their head,” said Gunther. “But when you try to do business with public pension funds, these are hard-nosed people, who deal strictly from the head. Their investment decisions in this case represent a notable vote of confidence in Elliott and in the future of the Israeli economy.”

With the pension funds as a solid base, corporate and private investors, foundations, banks and insurance companies in the United States and Israel swelled the pot, and Markstone raised its goal to $800 million, with a minimum investment of $1 million plus.

The $800 million figure, raised between 2003 and 2005, makes Markstone the largest private equity fund in Israel, with 90 percent coming from American investors and 10 percent from Israelis. The fund is now closed.

So far, Broidy has invested $350 million, and his strategy is to buy a controlling interest in well-established companies and infuse Markstone’s international marketing and financial expertise to raise their values.

Among the main acquisitions have been the Steimatsky book chain of 150 stores, considered the Barnes & Noble of Israel, Netafim drip irrigation systems, Nilit specialty nylon manufacture, Solomon-PKN money management firm and Golden Pages, Israel’s equivalent of the yellow pages directories, which also provides cellphone and Internet services.

The most recent addition has been Bank Hapoalim’s provident and mutual funds.

When asked what rate of return investors might expect, Broidy, a man who weighs his words carefully, said it would be “many times more than from bonds or stocks.”

Robert Moskowitz, managing director of Shamrock Capital Advisors, and other financial experts, point out that investors in private equity funds are in it for the long haul, generally three to five years, have no guarantee that their investments will pay off, and generally do not see major returns until a company controlled by the fund is sold or goes public.

However, projecting the state of the Israeli economy to the years ahead, Moskowitz hazarded a guess that investors could anticipate a doubling of their capital in five years, or an annual rate of return of 20 percent.

Judging from a 90-minute interview, Broidy doesn’t fit the stereotype of the hard-charging American capitalist. He is soft-spoken, reluctant to speak of his personal life or accomplishments, and categorically refuses to say a bad word about anyone.

“I am a positive person and I don’t like to criticize,” he said, noting that his main purpose in talking to The Journal was to encourage other large-scale American investors to explore the growing, profitable Israeli market.

Yet, while his business decisions may be ruled by ledger balances, his private charities and communal activities point to his concern for Israel and for the Jewish community.

He is a major donor to the United Jewish Fund and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a trustee of USC and USC Hillel, serves on the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion board of governors, and is an executive board member and former trustee of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

The Reform congregation’s senior rabbi, Steven Leder, has known Broidy for 19 years, officiated at the wedding of Elliott and Robin, and is an unabashed fan of the couple.

“Elliott is devoted, funny, actually quite shy, but on the spot when an important decision has to be made,” Leder said. “Robin is the energizer — they come as a package.”

“Elliott is something of a political genius,” Leder added. “He’ll sit quietly in a meeting while everyone wrestles with some problem for 30 minutes. Then he’ll step in with the exactly right solution, which he had spotted 29 minutes earlier.”

Broidy is one of the largest donors and key lay leader at USC Hillel. USC Hillel’s top professionals, Rabbi Jonathan Klein and Executive Director Steven Mercer, enthusiastically lauded his leadership, especially in Israeli-related programs.

Mercer credited Broidy and Stanley Gold, chairman of the USC Board of Trustees, with persuading the campus administration to reinstate the university’s study program in Israel, which had been halted during the intifada.

The choice of the name Markstone for his fund also illustrates Broidy’s attitude toward Israel.

“During one of my trips to Israel, I visited the memorial erected for Col. David ‘Mickey’ Marcus, a West Point-educated officer, who distinguished himself in World War II,” said Broidy. “He was killed fighting for Israel during the War of Independence under the nom de guerre Michael Stone. I was so impressed by his devotion to Israel that I decided to use a loose combination of his real and wartime names for my fund.”

One of Broidy’s early involvements in Israel on the economic side came in the mid-’90s, when he joined Angelenos Gold and Stanley Chais in revitalizing the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

“At that point, the chamber had lost vitality and become dormant,” recalled Gunther, one of the original founders.

The catalyst in this effort was Gerry Stoch, Israel’s economic attaché for the southwestern United States at the time and now vice president for finance and administration at Markstone’s Tel Aviv office.

Broidy was born a second-generation Angeleno; his father was a schoolteacher and his mother a nurse. He attended University High and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance at USC, where he remains strongly involved in the Marshall School of Business.

He showed an early entrepreneurial spirit at age 19, when he became the owner of a coin-operated laundromat (a quarter per load) in East Los Angeles. Later he worked as a CPA for a large accounting firm before becoming an independent money manager

He and his wife, Robin, formerly an entertainment industry lawyer, live in Bel Air with their three children, ranging in age from 2 to 10.

Politically, Broidy declared himself neutral on the Israeli scene. “It would be presumptuous to tell Israelis how to vote,” he said.

He shows no such reticence about American politics. He is active in the Republican Jewish Coalition as co-chair of its Israel Affairs Committee, and his boardroom displays autographed, framed photos of President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as Sharon. He was listed as one of the main financial underwriters of Bush’s second inaugural gala in 2005.

Outside the Jewish community, he serves the city of Los Angeles as a commissioner of the Fire and Police Pension Fund and a director of the Police Foundation. A recent appointment is to the oversight board of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council.

As Markstone’s chairman, Broidy is a hands-on executive, who works closely with his two Israeli partners on all investment and development decisions. On the average, he flies to Israel every six weeks, each time staying seven to 10 days.

He plans one additional private investment in the Jewish state.

“When I find the time to look around,” he said, “I want to buy an apartment or house in Israel.”

L.A.-Israel Partnership Has Deep Roots

by Gerry Stoch

Since the birth of Israel, Los Angeles venture capitalists and large-scale investors have played an extraordinary role in strengthening the economy of the Jewish state, in good and bad times.

In the early 1950s, Louis Boyar and Sam Rothberg showed their confidence in Israel’s future by conceiving the State of Israel Bond, a vehicle for Jews and institutions to invest in Israel’s economy in return for slightly above-market interest rates. The Israeli government pledged to repay the bonds when due, and Israel got the funds to finance its infrastructure with bridges, roads and water carriers.

In the late 1960s, Lester Deutsch and his brother, Leonard, established a subsidiary factory of their California-based Deutsch Engineering, an expert in motorcar connectors, in Ashkelon. The company employs some 150 people and sells in markets throughout the world. The Mitchell family of Los Angeles set up a reinforced glass manufacturing plant, also in Ashkelon.

When oil prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, some Jewish leaders invested in an Israeli based solar energy pilot operation that generated electricity for Southern California Edison. Irwin Field, currently chairman of the board of The Jewish Journal, Gunther and Newton Becker were active members of this investment group.

In the mid-1980s, the Disney family’s investment arm, Shamrock Holdings, under Stanley Gold’s leadership, began its private equity investments in Israel. Shamrock’s portfolio has included, among others, Tadiran Communications, Koor Industries, Matav Cable Systems, Tel-Ad Jerusalem Studios, Dor Energy and Pelephone Communications.

The mass emigration from the former Soviet Union to Israel in the late ’80s and early ’90s, brought large numbers of highly skilled professionals, especially in the life and applied sciences, mathematics and engineering. Their vast knowledge and experience were absorbed into Israel’s existing industries, and thousands of new patents were issued. As technological incubators were established to turn these ideas into commercial products, the Israeli government needed a new vehicle to finance all these new projects and help them grow into real companies.

In the early 1990s, when the concept of venture capital was still new to Israelis, the government, keen to retain intellectual property within the state’s borders, proceeded to set up the government-owned Yozma Venture Co., which would co-invest and absorb the initial risks taken by foreign venture capital funds and individuals. Leading the way for co-investing with American venture capital funds, were L.A. businessman Stanley Chais, the “Father of Venture Capital in Israel.” He was joined by David and Leonard Wilstein, Richard Gunther, David Polak and others, who were early investors in Gemini, Walden, Star and Oxton Venture Funds.

During the 1990s, Younes Nazarian, a major shareholder in Qualcomm of San Diego, encouraged the company to set up a major research and development center in Haifa, which now has some 150 employees. Nazarian later began looking directly into investment projects in Israel.

The California Israel Chamber of Commerce was reignited in 1995, led by Gold; Elliott Broidy (see main story), chairman of Markstone Capital, and Chais. David Wilstein, Jack Nagel and the others named previously were all part of this effort, and it soon became the envy of all America-Israel chambers of commerce throughout the U.S.

However, this group of supporters and investors has never grown much beyond the initial numbers. Expatriates such as Jason Barzilay and Haim Saban began investing in Israel in 1997. Saban recently joined with Mori Arkin of Israel and the British-based Apax fund to buy Bezeq, Israel’s dominant telecommunications company.

Which leads us to the story of Broidy and his Markstone Capital Fund, which has raised $800 million for investment in Israel, continuing and expanding upon this tradition of Los Angeles angels — righteous supporters of Israel who have put their money far beyond their mouths.

Gerry Stoch served as the Israeli economic attaché in Los Angeles from 1992 to 1996 and is now vice president for finance and administration at Markstone Capital Group’s Tel Aviv office.

Art Exhibit Links Trojans, Bruins


Divided between the USC and UCLA campuses, the latest art exhibition by the Jewish Artist Initiative (JAI), titled, “Makor/Source,” taps into the wellspring of Jewish life.

How fitting that Ruth Weisberg, USC dean of fine arts, would include her water-themed, mixed-media drawing, “Bound for Nowhere.” As a succession of hunched-over immigrant Jews board a boat headed back to Europe, the vessel, with its portholes and cables strewn like seaweed, appears to be a submarine. It is as if these passengers, who carry their belongings, ascend a gangway into an underwater graveyard.

Alternately, Weisberg, whose drawing features a muted brown or ocher color scheme, suggests that the immigrants may be “undergoing a sea change,” a salutary transmutation as they board the ship. She notes that the Jews in the drawing, though denied a visa to Palestine, ultimately may have been admitted to Israel after the country’s founding, the makor or source of a whole new chapter in the history of the Jewish people.

Barbara Drucker, UCLA art department chair, also contributed a work to the show, “Breadbox Stack No. 1,” in which seven bread boxes are tiered into a ramshackle, yet sturdy, tower. Is it a Tower of Babel surging at peril toward the heavens? Or is it, as Drucker proposes, an image both of life, as symbolized by the bread, and death, since modern-day Greeks use such boxes to store bones?

Drucker works from instinct. She did not set out to create something with a Jewish theme, but the bread boxes date from the 1920s and ’30s and recall the heyday of immigrant and first-generation Jews living in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and the Lower East Side, yet another seminal moment in Jewish history.

JAI, which Weisberg calls the “brainchild” of the Jewish Community Foundation and USC’s Casden Institute, was formed, she said, to “act as a galvanizing force” for bringing Jewish culture to the community.

“Makor/Source” marks the first time that the Hillels of the two universities have collaborated on an exhibition. Roughly 20 local artists submitted works to the show, including collages, paintings and photographs.

Because the exhibition is based on a study of Jewish text, one of the most salient pieces is Joyce Dallal’s “Promises Made in a Language I Don’t Understand,” an ink-jet print of pieces of paper bunched into a ball. The image of crumpled paper might or might not refer to the Hebrew Bible. It’s hard to say, so indecipherable are the runes, yet the scraps, involuted as they are, do resemble a Torah being unscrolled.

Even if Hebrew, like all Indo-European tongues, comes from an original source, the endless permutations can create language barriers that are palpable, if less severe to the artist than humanity’s failings or God’s.

“Makor/Source” is at USC Hillel, 3300 S. Hoover St., (213) 747-9135, ext. 14. Opening reception is Sunday, Jan. 22, 3-5 p.m. “Makor/Source” is also at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., (310) 208-3081. Both exhibits run through March 3.

Nation & World Briefs


Israel: No Hamas in Elections

Top Israeli leaders confirmed that they do not want Hamas to take part in Palestinian elections. It’s up to the Palestinians to “decide if they would like to have real elections,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told journalists in New York on Monday, noting that electoral gains by Hamas would “move us backward maybe 50 years.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that Israel wouldn’t stop elections that include Hamas, but also would not provide any support, which would make it difficult for the Palestinians to proceed.

The participation of Hamas, which maintains a terrorist military infrastructure and is committed to destroying Israel, would be “unbearable” for Israel, Sharon said.

Sharon Inaugurates UJC Project

Ariel Sharon endorsed a United Jewish Communities (UJC) effort to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel. The Israeli prime minister helped launch Operation Promise in a meeting last Friday with UJC leaders and supporters.

“I believe this must be a joint effort of Israel and the Jewish world,” Sharon said. “It is our duty, and so it is your duty.”

The program aims to raise $160 million to aid the emigration of Ethiopian Jews and the mainstreaming of Ethiopians already in Israel, as well as provide assistance to struggling elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union and help strengthen Jewish identity among young Jews there. The initiative is supplemental to the regular federation campaign.

EU Aid for Palestinians, Israel

The European Union (EU) boosted its funding to the Palestinian Authority. EU officials in Brussels said this week that the 25-nation bloc would increase its 2005 allotment to the Palestinians to more than $340 million, around 17 percent more than originally planned. The extra funds are intended to help reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, which Israel left this month. The Palestinian Authority expects to receive an additional $270 million in donations from individual E.U. member-states this year. The European Union also will give grants to environmental projects in Israel.

The European Commission announced more than $7 million in grants to environmental projects in the European Union’s neighboring countries, including two projects in Israel. The Upper Galilee Regional Council will receive more than $440,000 for the sustainable use of resources. The other Israeli recipient, the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, will receive around the same amount to help local governments throughout Israel build their environmental programs.

Israeli Police Cleared in Killings

Police involved in the killing of 12 Israeli Arabs during pro-Palestinian riots were cleared of criminal charges. The Israeli Justice Ministry said Sunday that there was insufficient evidence to indict any police personnel in connection with the October 2000 shootings, which put a major strain on racial relations in the Jewish state.

According to the head of the ministry’s Police Investigations Unit, the families of Arab youths shot dead during confrontations in Galilee refused to cooperate with the probe, making it impossible to assign guilt for the killings. Israeli-Arab lawmakers decried the ministry’s decision, saying they might try to sue police officers in international courts.

Several Israeli police were wounded in the 2000 riots, and a Jewish driver died after being hit by a rock thrown at his car by rioters.

Spielberg Foundation Comes to USC

Some 52,000 testimonies by Holocaust survivors and witnesses, videotaped by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, will be housed permanently at a new University of Southern California institute.

The collection of testimonies, making up the world’s largest visual history archive, will be transferred to USC Jan. 1, according to both Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and USC’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.

Moving the collection to USC will ensure its preservation and access, said Spielberg, adding, “All of us know that the survivors and witnesses have given us a precious gift, whose wise use will build a better world for this and future generations.”

USC President Steven B. Sample noted, “The foundation’s preeminent collection of Holocaust materials will advance academic research and scholarship for centuries as we continue to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and survivors.” –Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

N.Y. Party Kicks Out Candidate

A political party in New York booted one of its leaders for making anti-Semitic statements. The Independence Party said comments by Lenora Fulani had hurt the party’s credibility. Fulani said earlier this year that Jews “had to sell their souls” for the State of Israel and had become “mass murderers of people of color” to keep it, comments that the party said were “phenomenally offensive.” Fulani also has labeled Zionism “Jewish corporate nationalism.” The Independence Party is backing Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his re-election bid this year.

Nazi-Hunting Attorney Dies at 60

Edward Stutman, a trial attorney at the U.S. Office of Special Investigations (OSI) who successfully brought cases that revoked the citizenship of 13 Nazis, died at age 60. Stutman, who served with OSI from 1992-2004, died Saturday in Washington of lymphoma, Eli Rosenbaum, the director of OSI, the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit, announced. He was buried Monday in his native Philadelphia.

Stutman traveled to remote areas of Russia to gather evidence and often faced long odds in making his case but nevertheless he often won. In 1999, Stutman launched a re-prosecution of John Demjanjuk, a decision termed “courageous” by The Washington Post, not least because an Israeli court had acquitted the Ukrainian native of being “Ivan the Terrible,” a notorious mass murderer at Treblinka. Under Stutman’s prosecution, Demjanjuk could not shake the allegation that he had lied about being a Nazi death camp guard, and he was ordered deported from the United States this year. Stutman was the leading expert on Trawniki, the Nazi facility in Poland where death camp guards were trained.

Torahs Saved From New Orleans

Jewish groups saved Torahs from the New Orleans area that were in danger because of Hurricane Katrina. Some 25 scrolls were rescued by a makeshift coalition of representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, national leadership from the Reform movement, rabbis from Baton Rouge and New Orleans and local law-enforcement officials.

“Among the 25 we saved were also a few that were rescued from the Holocaust, and here they’ve survived a second horrific disaster,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement’s Washington-based Religious Action Center. Chabad officials rescued at least 15 scrolls.

“It is a bittersweet occasion,” said Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, the executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Louisiana. “Hurricane Katrina has destroyed our homes, synagogues and our city but has not destroyed our community.”

U.S. Jews of Mixed Origins Rising

Up to 20 percent of an estimated 6 million U.S. Jews, or 1.2 million people, are African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Sephardi, Middle Eastern or of mixed race. That’s the major finding of research conducted over the past four years by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research, contained in the book “In Every Tongue” by the institute’s president, Gary Tobin, and co-authors Diane Tobin and Scott Rubin.

The figures are substantially higher than the usual estimates of 10 percent to 14 percent, the authors say. The research and interviews also showed that some of these Jews feel alienated from their ethnic or racial communities and from mainstream American Jewry but they continue to identify strongly with both.

Included in the population count are Latino “hidden” Jews reclaiming their Jewish roots in the American Southwest and long-established communities of African-American Jews in cities such as New York and Chicago.

Air Force Builds Chapels in Europe

The U.S. Air Force is to unveil separate chapels for Jewish and Muslim servicemen and women at its main European base in Germany. The synagogue and Muslim prayer room in Ramstein were created alongside the base’s interfaith South Chapel. The synagogue was schedule to open this week with a ceremony two weeks before the Jewish New Year. Rabbi David Lapp, the director of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, and Rabbi Donald Levy, the base’s only Jewish chaplain, will officiate. Some 50,000 Americans are stationed in and around Ramstein.

According to Levy, about 60 worshipers are expected to attend High Holiday services at the base. The JWB Jewish Chaplains Council operates under the auspices of the JCC Association, the umbrella organization for the Jewish community centers in North America.

Neo-Nazi Concert Held in Czech Republic

Approximately 500 people attended a concert of neo-Nazi bands in the Czech Republic. Activists say Saturday’s concert in Krtetice was the largest meeting of supporters of extremist groups in the Czech Republic this year. The police did not intervene in the event, where undercover witnesses said participants chanted racist slogans, “Sieg Heil” and the name of Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler’s closest aides.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Rabbinical Dispute Strikes Ukraine

A majority of Ukrainian rabbis blasted the election of a new chief rabbi as illegitimate. More than 30 Chabad rabbis affiliated with the Federation of Jewish Communities, the region’s largest Jewish group, issued a statement Sept. 15 saying that the election of another Chabad rabbi, Moshe Reuven Azman of Kiev, to serve as Ukraine’s chief rabbi was “illegitimate” and “insulting to the feelings of every believer.” A chief rabbi “can be elected only by rabbis working in Jewish communities of that country,” the statement said, referring to the fact that Azman’s election Sept. 11 was endorsed by a group of secular Jewish leaders but not by any rabbinical authorities.

The vast majority of rabbis permanently working in Ukraine these days are Chabad rabbis affiliated with the federation. Unlike other Orthodox rabbis working in Ukraine, Azman, who is Russian-born, is not affiliated with the Chabad-led federation and for years has received support from Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian business magnate and leader of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress who initiated the election for chief rabbi.

 

Seniors Flock to OASIS of Learning


“Make the shape of a U with your hips,” coaches belly-dancing teacher Elexa Williams. Her students willingly comply, rolling their shoulders, gyrating their torsos and undulating their hips as they follow the teacher’s example. Around their waists, the participants wear scarves adorned with rows of coins, and as they move, the room fills with a rhythmic jingling sound.

Down the hall, students peer intently at computer screens, struggling to learn the nuances of sending e-mails and creating documents in Microsoft Word.

OASIS, a program offering educational, enrichment and volunteer opportunities. Part of a national network, OASIS in Los Angeles is a program of Jewish Family Service, and is co-sponsored by Robinsons-May, the Los Angeles Department of Aging and the Westside Pavilion.

OASIS provides an eclectic array of classes, many of which are free. Fitness fans can choose among such options as chair exercise, yoga and karate. Art buffs can study French and American impressionism or drawing. Others can explore Jewish spirituality, analyze Shakespeare or play guitar. Some of the classes are even taught by retired professors from UCLA and USC. And seniors who wish to travel can choose among a variety of day excursions and extended trips.

“I think OASIS is wonderful because they have so much to offer,” said Aura, a 72-year-old participant in the belly-dancing class. She also takes “The Rabbi Speaks,” with Rabbi Michael Resnick, and a bridge class, which she said “works the aging matter in your brain.”

“OASIS provides learning and growth opportunities for active people who live at home,” program director Victoria Neal said. “It’s a progressive alternative for those who might feel like they’re with old people’ when they attend senior centers or meal programs.”

Neal estimates that between 1,200 and 1,500 individuals ranging in age from 60 to 95 attend classes at OASIS’ Westside locations each week. Most Westside classes meet within OASIS’ warren of classrooms inside the Robinsons-May at the Westside Pavilion. Others meet in community rooms within the shopping center. Satellite locations include the Farmers Market, Park La Brea, Workmen’s Circle and Jewish Family Service’s Pico-Robertson Storefront and Freda Mohr Multiservice Center on Fairfax. In Woodland Hills, classes are offered in conjunction with Pierce College through the Encore-OASIS program.

The national OASIS program was founded in 1982 in St. Louis by educator Marylen Mann and Margie Wolcott May of the May department store family.

“They wanted to create a program fostering wellness, companionship and vitality for mature adults,” Los Angeles OASIS assistant director Rachelle Sommers Smith said. “They didn’t feel that existing programs offered sufficient stimulation for retired people.”

OASIS is now available in 26 cities nationwide.

For the past five years, Fanny Behmoiras, 66, has been making a weekly trek to Pico-Robertson from Encino to attend the life history writing class.

“I come rain or shine,” said Behmoiras, who has written 153 vignettes, including those describing her family’s flight from Cuba in 1961. During this session, she shares her account of the joy of her grandson’s bar mitzvah, followed days later by the anguish of losing a cherished family member.

Her instructor, Bea Mitz, explains that participants write their memoirs to leave a history for their children and grandchildren. “They do this so that whoever follows will not have to say, ‘I didn’t ask … I wish I knew.'”

Bella Haroutunian, 73, follows life history with an intermediate computer class.

“I started a year ago,” Haroutunian said. “I had very little knowledge about computers, and I wanted to write my memoirs.”

Now she uses the computer not only to compose her life story, but also to e-mail friends and family and research her upcoming trip to Europe and Russia.

It makes me feel that I’m a little bit up-to-date,” she said. “Before, I felt that I was so behind on this technology.”

Neal says many OASIS participants explore new hobbies or careers through the program.

“They’re doing what they love to do and never had a chance to do,” she said.

OASIS also provides volunteer opportunities for seniors, who help keep the program running. Ruth Morraine, 94, has been volunteering twice a week since 1991, assisting with clerical and bookkeeping tasks. She doesn’t seem at all daunted by the need to take a taxi and two buses to reach her destination. As Morraine says, “Age is just a number, honey.”

For more information, visit or call (310) 475-4911, ext. 2200 (Westside); (818) 710-4163 (Woodland Hills); (323) 298-7541 ext. 2517 (Baldwin Hills); (310) 547-0090 (San Pedro) or (562) 601-5010 (Long Beach/Lakewood).

USC Names First Jewish Board Chair


The University of Southern California, once considered a bastion of WASP elitism, has capped a decade of transformation by naming Stanley Gold as its first Jewish board chairman.

Gold’s appointment comes a decade after USC President Stephen Sample made a number of key appointments and programming moves intended to lure Jews to a campus that was once known as a haven for the city’s wealthy, white non-Jewish gentry. Today, USC, nearing its 122nd birthday, is ranked as one of the most diverse and academically elite universities in the nation.

As one of the two major universities in a city with a half-million Jews, USC historically drew a disproportionately low number of Los Angeles’s Jewish students, many of whom attended USC’s cross-town rival UCLA.

"Gold’s appointment is a very significant event for Jewish Los Angeles," said Rabbi Laura Geller, who was the director of USC’s Hillel from 1976-1990. "When I first came to USC, it wasn’t a place that was known for being totally receptive to Jewish students and faculty."

But, she added, "over the 14 years I was at USC, I began to see that the university took its relationship to Jewish students more seriously and its desire to include them, along with other ethnic groups, into the fabric of the university."

Gold is an investor who rose to national prominence in 1984 as a key architect of the takeover of Walt Disney Co., in which Disney’s nephew, Roy Disney, gained control of the company and placed Michael Eisner in charge. He sees his chairmanship at USC as less about his Judaism than about his abilities and business acumen. Still, Gold doesn’t deny that his appointment has significant symbolic value to many Los Angeles Jews.

"I think there’s a lot of symbolic value to the [Jewish] community that I got chosen," Gold said, "but I was chosen because I am qualified, not because I am Jewish."

Gold gives Sample, who was president of the State University of New York at Buffalo before coming to USC in 1991, much of the credit for his own involvement in the university. Although he had been active as a university alumni since the early 1980s, Gold said he decided to take on a larger role after Sample became president.

"I saw a dramatic change," Gold said. "I became very enthusiastic. He’s very inclusive of Jews, Hispanics, blacks and Asians."

Even though Los Angeles had been transformed into a multicultural city by the time Sample arrived at USC — with Jews prominent in politics and industry — current and former Jewish faculty and staff said they had memories of a campus that was insensitive to Jewish concerns during the 1970s. The same faculty and staff members said that the USC’s reputation among Jews reached its low point during the 1930s and 1940s under the presidency of Rufus B. Von KleinSmid, who was widely regarded as a German sympathizer.

Sample said he sought to put to rest any continuing misconceptions about the Jewish population not being welcome at USC.

"Good students, good faculty, energetic alumni, a commitment to public service — I think the Jewish community has a sense of duty of doing things for the community, and a long tradition for reverence for scholarship and academic excellence," the USC president said.

Sample’s outreach efforts to the Jewish community included appointing Rabbi Susan Laemmle as dean of religious life for USC, hiring a recruiter for Jewish students in the admissions office, establishing the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life and setting up kosher dining halls.

The number of Jewish undergraduates has risen from 4 percent to as high as 8 percent, according to freshman surveys, said Mark Pavelchak, USC’s director of student research and information. Hillel’s "Guide to Jewish Life on Campus" says there are 2,000 Jewish undergraduates and graduates at the 28,000-student campus.

Gold, who was raised only blocks away from USC’s downtown campus, was the first member of his working-class family to attend college. A graduate of the University of California who spent a year studying at Cambridge University in England, Gold returned to Los Angeles to attend law school at USC and graduated in 1967.

Gold, 59, who is married and has two adult children, is seen as a serious and decidedly liberal player in the Jewish community. A former chairman of the board of trustees of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Inistitute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Gold is an active leader of the Israel Policy Forum, which supports a secure Israel side-by-side with a Palestinian state.

As president of Shamrock Holdings, a private investment company held by Roy Disney and his family, he has turned Shamrock into one of the major U.S. investors in Israel.

Gold’s election was praised by Rabbi Jonathan Klein, USC’s current Hillel director and a UCLA graduate. "It definitely signifies a changing of the old guard here at the university," he said. "We are seeing the dawning of a new era in the life of USC and multiculturalism."

The new chairman was also hailed by figures outside the university. "Stan Gold’s emergence into this position has been a reflection of a decades-long institutional transformation at USC, especially accelerated during Sample’s administration, in which the university has embraced the talents of people from a multiplicity of groups," said Lewis Barth, the dean of the Los Angeles branch of HUC-JIR, whose campus has been adjacent to USC’s since the early 1970s.

USC & HUC: A Winning Partnership


In the annals of party-going, the dinner hosted by USC President Steven Sample and his wife, Kathryn, at their impressive San Marino estate home last week, ranked right up near the top.

The food and drinks were excellent, the speeches short and few, and the general bonhomie so animated that Sample, citing a high noise level as a sure indicator of a party’s success, was reassured that his 160 guests were enjoying themselves.

The occasion marked the 30th anniversary of the partnership between USC and the neighboring Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As is customary at such celebrations, both partners viewed with pride the accomplishments of the past and promised even greater things in the years ahead.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, president of the four-campus HUC.

Even now, some 600 USC undergraduates, many non-Jewish, are taking Jewish studies courses through HUC, Sample noted, and the two institutions grant joint master’s degrees in social work, gerontology, public administration and communications. Upcoming is a joint graduate program in business administration for future Jewish communal workers.

“No other seminary or research university can boast such an intimate relationship as between USC and HUC,” Sample said.

Lest East Coast critics dissent, Zimmerman added that even the relationship between New York’s Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary “barely begins to touch the vision” of the Los Angeles partnership.

Partially due to the two institutions, both speakers foresaw an increasing influence of Western Jewry on the American Jewish scene. USC has just opened its new Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life, and Zimmerman said that he looked forward to the ordination of Reform rabbis on the local HUC campus. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor