Gap-Year Kids Leave to Study For A Year in Israel

Many college-bound high school graduates are packing up their inflatable sofas and plan to stay abreast Middle East news using wireless laptops. But some of their peers will get a real-time glimpse of current events as they prepare for a year of study in Israel.

In the wake of the recent eruptions of violence in the region, the resolve of students intent on spending a “gap year” between high school graduation and freshman year of college engaged in study or service in Israel has remained strong. While most are relieved that the cease-fire has eased immediate threats, they know that the situation is far from over.

The war in northern Israel has left her feeling “no different than before” about studying in Jerusalem, said Adina Stohl, who graduated from the Yeshiva of Los Angeles Girls High School (YULA) in June and is starting at the Michlalah women’s school in Jerusalem in September.

Alison Silver, an alumna of Shalhevet High School who left for Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim in late August, shares Stohl’s conviction that her year in Israel will remain relatively unaltered despite recent turbulence in the region.

“I think that in the beginning the seminaries are going to be stricter,” she said, “but I was already anticipating a year of ‘You shouldn’t do this, it’s not safe.'”

The Year Ahead

We have had a sad ending to 5765 — devastating hurricanes and a continuing war in Iraq. Here is a blessing for the New Year, 5766: May we all experience an end to war and a new beginning for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and all those who have suffered. And let us keep finding ways to help those in need with our tzedakah and our love.

Young Hearts

For the next few weeks, I will highlight the wonderful projects created by our very own Jewish day schools to help the Hurricane Katrina victims. This week’s page belongs to Temple Israel of Hollywood.

The students at Temple Israel have raised funds from bagel sales as part of their Katrina relief effort. In addition to this, they are collecting coins in cooler-size water bottles. When the bottles are full, they will send them off to the hurricane survivors. If you would like to donate sheets and towels to survivors, please contact Temple Israel of Hollywood at (323) 876 8330.

Don’t Blow It!

Rosh Hashanah Riddle:

I wear a crown

If you cut me I’ll bleed,

But the rubies inside me

Are sweet treasures you’ll need!

Who am I?


Aaron Rifkind, 11, answered Abby’s Amazing Summer question. Josh Field won the Amazing Summer Essay Contest.

He wins a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

For the Kids

Back to School in Elul

What’s Elul?
It is the 12th and last month of the Jewish year. It’s a month in which Jews take some time to think about the New Year: What will I do differently? What will I do the same? What do I need in order to succeed? It’s kind of like going back to school. When we get to school the first day, we wonder: Who will my teacher be? How will this school year go?

The Sword and the Scroll

As this Jewish year begins, we are once again assailed by the din of seemingly monumental events: the war in Iraq, the decision about our state leadership, the peril in Israel, the crises of human rights, environment, scientific progress and ethics.

What is the most important event of our time?

We usually focus on the actions of empires. In 1400, the Tartan emperor Tamerlane, swept across Asia in campaigns of conquest. He was the medieval equivalent of front-page news. But recently when asked to name the most influential figure of modern times, historians left Tamerlane way down the list and pointed instead to a boy born in Mainz, Germany, who in the time of Tamerlane began experimenting with moveable type. Johann Gutenberg promoted the word, and everything from paperbacks to e-mail are his indirect legacy.

In the second century C.E., the sage Hananiah Ben Teradyon, guilty of the crime of teaching Torah, was wrapped in a Torah scroll and set on fire by the Romans. As he died he told his disciples that the parchment was burning, but the letters were ascending to heaven. The Roman empire is long since gone. Its emperors are the stuff of classroom quizzes. But the words of Hananiah Ben Teradyon are studied all over the world, and his story retold each Yom Kippur. The parchment burned, but the word survived.

The most important event in the world today is probably unknown to us. But we can hazard a guess: in decades or centuries our descendants will see again that the mind outlasts empires, that the word endures and that God gently nurtures miracles out of small seeds of creativity and of faith. That is the Jewish certainty.

What does that knowledge call upon us to do?

Not only to cultivate our souls, but to understand that seemingly small decisions and actions can have a profound effect on history.

Our Sages often discuss Yom Kippur in relation to Purim, so let us again recall the story of Purim. Esther is frightened to approach Ahashuerus. She lives in the palace, and has a wonderful life. But Mordecai tells her perhaps it was for just such a crisis that she were granted a royal position. Thus fortified, Esther approaches the king and saves her people.

We are not only fortunate, we have tremendous influence in the most powerful nation in the world. If we do not use that influence to help our sisters and brothers in Israel, to plead their case and present the truth, then we are as guilty as Esther might have been. Perhaps it was for just such a mission that we were granted this tremendous gift.

When Reuven, Gad and half of Menasseh tell Moses they do not wish to cross the Jordan, Moses does not argue with them. You may live where you will, he says, but before you are comfortable elsewhere, you must fight with your people. We who live outside the land of Israel can settle where we will, but it does not absolve us of the responsibility to do what we can to sustain our people in our land. We may not fight, but we can learn, contribute, visit. There is a common thread in the legacies of Hananiah Ben Teradyon, Esther and Moses; it is the spiritual value of courage. This year, as part of your process of teshuva, visit Israel and affirm your solidarity with the earth-shattering personalities who have forged the spirit of our people.

Jewish solidarity could prove to be, once again, a history-making event.

David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

WUJS Wants A Sweet Year for Israel

When Kim Herzog dips apples and challah in honey this Rosh Hashana, she says she will be reaching extra deep to get some sweetness, because after six months in Israel, she and the country need it more than ever.

"I want to begin this year with a sense of hope, that Israel can find sweetness in this year at a time that is a very bitter time," said the 23-year-old Pacific Palisades native who since February has been enrolled in the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) Institute for Graduate Studies, an Ulpan and Jewish/Israel studies program in this small town in the Negev desert.

Rabbi Aubrey Isaacs, the director of WUJS, looks forward to helping his students tap into "the moment of hope" that New Year’s provides, a moment that "unites all Israelis and goes beyond the religious-secular divide."

He noted that celebrating the holidays in Israel provides a special opportunity for the close to 40 students at WUJS, who come primarily from the English-speaking Diaspora, to "feel part of the mainstream" and to enjoy living in a country where you don’t have to take a day off to observe Rosh Hashana.

Jared Hochman, 23, from Tarzana, said he’s especially excited about the national experience of the High Holidays in Israel, where "they take on a whole new meaning."

"In the states you have to put up with ‘Merry Christmas,’" he said. "Here it’s ‘Chag Sameach.’"

Hochman explained that he came to Israel to immerse himself in life in the Jewish state after anti-Israel sentiment on the Berkeley campus, where he was a student, pushed him to learn about the country’s history and purpose.

"It’s one thing to read about it. I wanted to experience it myself. That’s why I came here," he said.

Isaacs said that many WUJS students have been pulled to Israel for similar reasons. "People feel they are participating in this dramatic period in Jewish history, in Israel. They’re not just sitting at home watching television and worrying about Israel," he said. "They’re sharing the experience of living in Israel as it goes through a difficult time."

After Herzog spent her junior year at Haifa University in 1999-2000, she knew wanted to return; she felt she needed to come now "to learn more about what it means to live in Israel at all times, and to be supportive of Israel and to be with a community of people who feel it’s important to be here now."

But she added that the violence also made it harder to decide to come. "It’s terrifying, what can I say? It’s a very scary time in Israel’s history."

At the same time, she noted, "As an American being in Israel at this time, I get the sense that people here are quite gratified that there are still people coming — and I get some that say, ‘Are you crazy?’"

Hochman hears the same question from people back home, but he responds by pointing to the incident in which two people were killed at the El Al counter at LAX. "I could be in Los Angeles and get shot."

Hochman said he’s considering making aliyah before he loses his army eligibility so he can participate in this essential ingredient of Israeli life.

The threat of terror occasionally creeps into his consciousness, he said, "but then you realize that you can’t live your life like that."

Herzog, who studied history and is fascinated with the historical lessons Israel provides, noted that while "there’s such a memory in Israel" which spans Jewish history from the Torah to the birth of the State of Israel, "you need to have a very short-term memory" to deal with the current spate of violence.

But memories are especially important to Herzog, who recently volunteered at a museum and learning center created by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising who now live on a kibbutz in the Galilee. She’s considering a career in Jewish education and plans to study at a yeshiva this fall partly to pursue this idea: "I need to know it before I can teach it."

At the yeshiva she also hopes to immerse herself in Torah and continue to explore her newfound connection with prayer. Growing up socially — but not ritually — connected to Judaism, she studied the story of Ruth this past Shavuot and was inspired to take a closer look at observance.

"It talked to me in a way that was emotional, that I hadn’t experienced before," she said of the biblical book. "I’ve been finding more of a openness within myself in prayer, and it’s something that I’m very inspired to do."

She praised WUJS for providing a pluralistic community where students follow many different spiritual paths, from Orthodox to secular, but all dialogue with each other.

"WUJS’ aim is not to make people more observant," said Isaacs of the program, which isn’t affiliated with a particular stream of Judaism and provides an optional religious program that features traditional services. "WUJS’ aim is to encourage people to engage seriously with their own Jewishness, and to challenge themselves."

The Year of The Grudge

Left to right, from top: Dennis Prager, Rabbi Harvey Fields,Rabbi Boruch Cunin and Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

The Year of The Grudge

The dominant stories of 5757 centered around ourcontinual war of words fought over religion, sex, politics andhistory

By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

Can’t we all just get along? Reviewing the events of the pastyear in our community, the answer seems to be: just barely. For theChinese, this has been the Year of the Rooster. For Los AngelesJewry, let’s call it the Year of the Grudge.

The big stories of the year were not Jew vs. Black, or Jew vs.Gentile, but Jew vs. Jew — a continual war of words fought overreligion, sex, politics and history. At least we can’t be accused ofpettiness.

To help us parse the cyclone, let’s take it by subject:


From late November well into February, the pages of The JewishJournal carried heated arguments over whether homosexuals should beordained as rabbis. The firestorm was ignited by Dennis Prager, who,though no shirker from controversy, must have had no idea what nervehis arguments would drill into. In the Nov. 22 issue (“Homosexuality,Judaism and Rabbis”), he declared that to ordain practicinghomosexuals as rabbis would be “to overthrow Judaism’s historicattempt to channel human sexuality.” Ordaining gays would open thefloodgates, warned the radio talk-show host, and soon we’d face thespecter of bisexual rabbis performing quadruple weddings on bisexualcouples, with two rebbetzins — one of each gender — in tow. OK,maybe we exaggerate his concerns, but not by much.

Faster than you could spell “Limbaugh,” the community was all overPrager. Sixteen local rabbis, including prominent Conservativeleaders, signed a letter, accusing his piece of being “homophobic,poorly argued and cruel.” Then came letters accusing the rabbis ofad hominem attacks. Then more letters from some of the 16rabbis, who said that they objected to the letter they had signedtheir name to. Then Prager again, defending himself. And that’s notto mention the letters from members of the community, swarming toPrager’s defense or eager to pile on. Finally, Rabbi Harold Schulweisof Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom, on Feb. 28, chimed in with abrilliant essay on Torah, compassion and human sexuality — a subtlebody check to Prager’s reasoning and a model of learned discourse forPrager’s critics. Now if only Schulweis had written in on Nov. 22.


For an instant, it appeared that a small group of Orthodoxcongregations would finally pull us together– by teeing us all off.In late March, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States andCanada declared that the Reform and Conservative movements are notJudaism. Some, such as Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi HarveyFields, at first thought the pronouncement — given a misleadingheadline in the Los Angeles Times — must have been a Purim joke. Butit wasn’t, and rabbis from Fields to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’sMarvin Hier railed against an attempt to undermine the very Jewishnotion of critical interpretation. Orthodox lawyer Baruch Cohenlambasted Fields et al. for their misunderstanding. The Union ofOrthodox Rabbis, he explained, did not say that the majority of usweren’t Jews, just that the religion we practiced wasn’t Judaism.That felt so much better.


At home, problems surfaced, or resurfaced. Chabad once again facedoff against the American Jewish Congress and the city of BeverlyHills over the right to raise its 27-foot Agam menorah over SantaMonica Boulevard. This time, Chabad lost.

Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, neatlydivided the Jewish electorate. The Jewish Federation Council’sexecutive board finally came out against it, but only after a raucousdebate.

Jews, however, did come together this year to — of all things –vote Republican, for Mayor Richard Riordan over Tom Hayden.

The news from Israel didn’t exactly help heal domestic rifts.Successive waves of suicide bombings, some of which wounded membersof the Los Angeles community, provoked unanimous grief and outrage.But the search for solutions divided us. Those leaning leftcriticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the settlers forundermining the Oslo peace accords. Those leaning right unleashed achorus of we-told-you-sos and called for Oslo’s ultimate demise.

At the annual sermon seminar, convened for area rabbis, not onecleric presented a sermon in praise of Israel. Beth JacobCongregation’s Rabbi Abner Weiss urged his colleagues to put asidetheir differences on Israel and celebrate its accomplishments. Buteven louder was the silence from more and more members of thecommunity who are turned off to the news from Israel.

Religion and Politics

Two words will suffice here: The Wall. The Orthodox attack onnon-Orthodox women and men holding a prayer service at the WesternWall Plaza on Shavuot and Tisha B’Av provoked outrage at home.Conservative and Reform Jews felt the sting of religious persecutionin, of all places, a Jewish state. And the Orthodox believed that asacred space was used to score political points in the ongoing battleover the religious status quo.

But the hardest hand-wringing was taking place amongIsrael-affiliated fund-raising organizations, who feared that thethreats to pluralism in Israel would shrink donations back home.

Perhaps the problem was that we had, thank God, too few externalthreats to unite us. David Duke, the poster boy of the Ku Klux Klan,visited Cal State Northridge last September and spoke to some 1,100people. But the real drama was all in the pregame show — should hebe invited or not. The speech itself was as dull as anything said inthe mayoral race.

More Rancor, Please

The Jewish Journal did its part to stir the pot withinvestigations into the dire lack of funding of Jewish day-schooleducation; the slightly kooky world of the Kabbalah Learning Center;sex and power among the rabbinate, and stories and Jewish girls andsexuality.

And Schulweis, fresh from reconciling us on the gay issue, openeda new storm front: proselytism. In a passionate essay and sermon, hecalled on Jews to open their arms to potential converts and to moreactively bring non-Jews into the fold, no matter how rent the foldis. Schulweis drew fire for his suggestion, which many critics saidwas un-Jewish (it’s not) or impossible (to be determined).

And now the Good News

It’s easy, amid the fury, to be blinded to what’s right with ourshtetl-by-the-sea. We’ll mention, in passing, the synagogues,schools, clubs, community centers, museums, libraries, havurasand businesses that continue to serve a flourishing community. As ofJan. 3, there were three– three— Jewish theaters in LosAngeles. Also, there was Laemmle’s Jewish Cinema Series, a Yiddishfilm festival, the “Exiles and Emigré” exhibit at the LosAngeles County Museum of Art, and “Too Jewish?” at UCLA’s ArmandHammer Museum.

A conference on “The Jewish Quest for Purpose” drew 550 youngpeople to the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica (150 had to be turned away,to find purpose elsewhere). About 400 youngish men and women showedup for a conference on Zionism last month. The Kosher festival,Jewish festivals in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, thefirst Sephardic festival– all attracted huge crowds to bask in asense of togetherness, no matter how fragile.

In any case, healing may be at hand. On July 2, rabbis fromdifferent denominations met to discuss ways to draw Jews together.And on July 11, the Federation took out a full-page ad in TheJournal, calling on us all to support unity and respect diversity. Inother words, there’s always next year.