Younger Persians seeking greater role in community
Many of Los Angeles’ young Iranian Jews arrived in the United States as small children or were born here to immigrant parents.
Now young professionals in their 20s and 30s, they have fully embraced life in America and are championing greater political activity for the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California.
“For 30 years, our community has benefited from the opportunities of America, and now it’s time to give back and embrace our responsibilities as Jews and as Americans,” said Sam Yebri, 27, president of 30 Years After, a new, politically active nonprofit group. The organization was formed earlier this year by a group who wanted to make a contribution to the community but believed their voices were often ignored by the older leadership of local Iranian Jews.
“Our young members are not welcomed onto boards or committees, which are often governed by the same individuals for decades and which covet financial contributions over the creative energy and ideas of young leaders,” Yebri said.
As a result, the group set out to create new opportunities for social action.
This summer, 30 Years After was awarded $200,000 by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. 30 Years After’s planned activities include a communitywide conference titled, “The Iranian Jewish Community at a Crossroads,” which will take place on Sept. 14 at the Beverly Hills Hilton.
The conference will feature speakers from within the community, including Jimmy Delshad. Other speakers will include Rabbi David Wolpe, whose Sinai Temple has a large Iranian membership; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and talk show host Dennis Prager. Topics will include life today in Iran and issues facing the Iranian Jewish communities in the United States and Israel.
30 Years After also plans to organize voter registration drives for the November election, host quarterly civic events and expand a pilot mentoring program for younger Iranian Jews, a project created in collaboration with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and Nessah Israel Synagogue.
Yebri and other 30 Years After members said they are also seeking greater political participation by local Iranian Jews in hopes of influencing local, state and national elected officials to address issues important to the Iranian Jewish community.
Over the past decades, nearly two dozen local Iranian Jewish groups have been involved with political awareness efforts, but no group until now has seriously pursued or organized communitywide political and civic activism.
Daryoush Dayan, newly elected chairman of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, acknowledged that the community’s leadership does not include the younger generation. He has pledged to resolve the issue.
“It is our hope that we will be able to preserve and combine the best aspects of our culture and moral values with those of the American Jewish community,” Dayan said. “However, this can only be realized to the extent we allow the younger generation to carry the leadership torch.”
We don’t need more gabfests on diversity
The details of the ugly dustup between a leading local Jewish philanthropist, Daphna Ziman, and the local African American head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Eric Lee, are still at issue. Ziman disseminated her account of the encounter in a widely distributed e-mail. She claimed that Lee gave a speech at a local fraternity function rife with anti-Semitic statements. Lee strenuously denied the charges, and no independent corroboration exists.
But what is of greater interest than what actually transpired at the Kappa Alpha Psi gathering is the response from the leadership of our community to Lee’s remarks and what that portends for intergroup relations in this city.
Predictably, the civil rights leadership of our communities seems to be responding to the incident just as they have in the past — with dialogue groups and resurrected “roundtables” aimed at convincing participants of the value of diversity and of our historic and present commonalities.
What ought to distinguish the response of today from those in the 1970s and 1990s is the context of our very changed society.
Society has caught up and passed well beyond dialogue groups and the need to justify and rationalize the value of diversity. Every major study conducted in this field has revealed an amazing attitude of acceptance of differences by today’s young people. As Morley Winograd and Michael Hais observe in their just-published book, “Millennial Makeover,” “the great diversity of the Millennial Generation [born between 1982 and 2003] and its experiences growing up in a multiracial society is reflected in their relatively color-blind attitudes on racial relations.”
The Pew Center concluded in its multiple surveys of millennials that “they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.” One example documented by the Pew Center (dealing with a historically incendiary issue) found that that between 1987 and 2003, attitudes toward interracial dating among 18-25-year-olds underwent a sea change — those approving such activity rose from 56 percent to 89 percent. Those completely agreeing with interracial dating rose from 20 percent to 64 percent.
The data of a profound change in attitudes is incontestable and is manifested across racial and religious lines. The Reboot study of millennials, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” found that today’s youth are “fully integrated into diverse social networks. While previous generations often lived in homogenous religious communities, among Generation Y [born 1980-2000], only 7 percent of youth report that all their friends are the same religion as themselves. Even the most religious youth maintain diverse networks of peers.”
The study oversampled Jewish and black youth to confirm their findings.
Even the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study of anti-Semitic attitudes indicates a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes among the African American population, historically among the most problematic cohort it surveys. Unfortunately, the ADL study does not disaggregate data for younger blacks and their attitudes.
If one believes the myriad studies that confirm the exceptionally positive trends of the new generation, how should one respond to the Lee incident? More dialogue groups that devolve into vehicles to preach to the converted seems to be what we have in store for us. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and its friends will be busy singing the same old songs.
What ought to inform any actions that grow out of the Lee-Ziman incident is the profound change that has taken and is taking place around us. Young people today don’t need a “coalition” to talk about how to live together — they do it 24/7. Their world isn’t circumscribed by their faith, their race or their ethnicity.
Nor should we trudge out the old nostrums and activities and think that the Lees of the world will change their version of history or their attitudes — nor should we really care. They are not the future, and their historical notions are virtually irrelevant.
Our communities’ leadership has to absorb the reality that the next generation of open-minded young people sees diversity as a plus, not as a burden to be overcome. We need to offer them activities that confirm their positive outlook and involve them in doing, not talking, about things, much as Temple Israel’s Big Sunday program does — people working together as equals, improving our community for everyone. We don’t need more gabfests or sessions of self-flagellation.
Millennials believe that they live in an exciting time, two-thirds rate their lives as “excellent or pretty good,” let’s give them reason to confirm those positive attitudes.
David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (www.cai-la.org), a Los Angeles-based human relations organization headed by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.
Class Notes: Camp Ramah celebrates Golden Anniversary
About 800 people are expected at Camp Ramah in Ojai this weekend to celebrate 50 years of Conservative Jewish camping in Southern California.
All 14 of Camp Ramah’s past directors are being honored at the Dec. 3 gala, among them some of the top leaders of the Southern California Jewish community, and the late author Chaim Potok.
Rabbi Jacob Pressman, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, was co-director of the first pilot summer in 1955 with 62 campers, and Rabbi David Lieber, president emeritus of the University of Judaism, directed the first official summer in 1956. Today Ramah in Ojai serves about 1,300 kids in several sessions over the summer.
“Camp creates in our minds and hearts and souls an ideal memory of ourselves and an ideal memory of the Jewish community that gives people a sense of hope and a sense of what is possible in the Jewish community,” current director Rabbi Daniel Greyber said.
For Greyber, that explains why so many former campers and directors go on to become leaders in the Jewish community, and why many campers uphold their summers in Ojai as models of spirituality and community.
Rather than celebrate the anniversary at a rubber chicken dressy affair, Ramah invited alumni and community members to camp Dec. 3 for a day of swimming, sports, art and camp activities. A memorabilia exhibit will be on display, and the ceremony and luncheon will take place in the Gindi Chadar Ochel (dining hall) and on Ramah’s famed hill.
The year-long festivities began with several Shabbat reunions at local synagogues and a dinner in Manhattan. At camp this summer, veteran alumni joined current campers to spend the day and sing camp songs that haven’t changed.
Among the other honorees are: Miriam Wise, a founder and teacher at the University of Judaism who co-directed with Pressman in 1955; the late Walter Ackerman, who directed for 10 of the early years; Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz, rabbi emeritus of Sinai Temple who directed 1963-73; Alvin Mars, education director for the Jewish Centers Association who directed Ramah from 1978-84, then went on to the UJ and then to direct the Brandeis-Bardin Institute; Rabbi Edward Feinstein, rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; and Brian Greene, director of Westside Jewish Community Center.
For information, call (310) 476-8571 or visit www.ramah.org.
Milken Students Grill Education Minister
Israel’s Minister of Education Yuli Tamir had her work cut out for her when she met with a group of 40 10th-graders at Milken Community High School Nov. 13.
The students, all of whom will spend four months in Israel starting in February, met with Tamir for a private Q-and-A following a general presentation to the ninth through 12th grades.
The students asked Tamir about the differences between American and Israeli teens, about funding university education, and about how the Israeli school system helps kids deal with the stress of living under the threat of suicide bombers, katyushas and kassam rockets.
But where they respectfully pressed Tamir — who has a doctorate in political philosophy from Oxford University — was on the issue of ethnic segregation in Israel’s public schools. The students, who had been briefed on some basic facts about the Israeli educational system prior to the speech, were deeply troubled by the separate schools for the religious, the non-religious and Israeli Arabs, and neighborhood schools that effectively segregate according to socioeconomic levels.
At least three students asked about the topic, unsatisfied with Tamir’s acknowledgement that indeed it was a problem, or by her assertion that Army acts as a great equalizer.
“It’s very difficult to undo what has been a basic fact of the Israeli educational system,” Tamir conceded. “We want the children of Israel to grow to respect the different ways of life and to understand that people live different lives. We want them to know we are all part of the structure of Israeli society.”
The 40 students are members of the Tiferet Israel Delegation, a new program that will take students to Israel from February to May. They will continue their Milken education at the Alexander Muss Institute for Education, where they will dorm, and do a special course in Jewish history, going out to the sites they learn about.
The heavily subsidized program replaces a program where 10th-graders would live with Israeli families for two months in the spring, and the hospitality would be reciprocated to an Israeli delegation at Milken.
The new program still pairs students with families, but is more structured and academically focused so students are well-supervised and up to speed when they come home.
In her talk to the school, Tamir discussed the importance of bringing American youth to Israel not just for their own benefit, but for the impact such exchanges have on Israeli kids.
“When our students have the opportunity to meet a delegation like the one you are sending, they find within themselves something they didn’t know was there — they find a hidden layer of their identity that with this encounter they have the ability to expose and to discuss and to reflect on.”
New Schools Chief Visits Kehillat Israel
New LAUSD Superintendent Admiral David Brewer attended family services at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades on Friday night, Nov. 17 — his first visit to a Los Angeles synagogue since he took over leadership of 1,130 schools serving 877,000 students.
Brewer spoke in the main sanctuary, and his speech was more inspirational than political as he wove in ideas of how he plans to work with communities and set high expectations.
“He’s very inspirational,” said Kehillat Israel member and LAUSD Board President Marlene Canter, who suggested Kehillat Israel when Brewer said he would like to visit faith communities in his first official week on the job. “His passion is for kids. He is doing this not because he needs the job, but because he cares so deeply about the kids.”
Following his talk in the main sanctuary, Brewer visited the youth service for 150 fourth- through sixth-graders. He talked to the kids about creating and sticking to goals, and had them pledge to read a book a week for the rest of their lives.
Teens, college students make their presence known
“Welcome to Los Angeles.”
“Welcome to the GA.”
Erika Levy and Alie Kussin-Shoptaw, seniors at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, easily spotted in their bright orange volunteer vests, stood by the escalators at the Los Angeles Convention Center, greeting arriving United Jewish Communities General Assembly (GA) attendees and directing them to meeting rooms, halls and hospitality suites.
“We have to be like Abraham and reach out and greet everyone, even if it’s a little uncomfortable for us,” said Kussin-Shoptaw.
The girls, both 17, were part of a cadre of teen volunteers brought together by Sulam, the Center for Jewish Service Learning, part of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE). The group included 15 students from New Community Jewish High School, 20 from Shalhevet High School, 11 from the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and 20 from United Synagogue Youth.
The students, already committed to the Jewish community, learned about the mitzvah of greeting, instructed by Phil Liff-Grieff, BJE associate executive director, and Dan Gold, director of Sulam, before being dispatched for a three-hour volunteer shift. Afterward, they were free to attend sessions, visit the marketplace or hang out in the teen volunteer lounge.
“These kids think it’s so cool to be part of this,” Gold said.
For those students from the JSU, an organization that provides ways for Jewish teens in public high schools to become more Jewishly involved, the GA was an extension of a leadership weekend held on Friday and Saturday.
“This is a great opportunity to learn for ourselves, as well as help others,” said Mike Ghalchi, 17, a senior at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills and president of the school’s JSU chapter. He added it was particularly valuable, because “going to public school, we’re not exposed to religion every day.”
For 20 members of United Synagogue Youth (USY) from Los Angeles-area chapters, the GA was also the culmination of a long regional leadership weekend at Camp Ramah.
These young people, many of whom had stayed up till 4 a.m., traveled from Ojai on Sunday morning in time for the opening plenary session, where, among other speakers, they heard speeches by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as Karnit Goldwasser, wife of captured soldier Ehud Goldwasser.
“This supports everything they’re doing in USY,” said Merrill Alpert, director of youth activities for USY’s Pacific Southwest Region. “These kids are our future Jewish leaders.”
While Sulam targeted those who will ideally work in the Jewish community, Do the Write Thing hosted a group of 30 college students and recent graduates who will possibly be reporting on the Jewish community.
“We introduce them to the concept that Jewish journalism is a profession,” said Leni Reiss, former managing editor of the Phoenix Jewish News and American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) liaison for 16 of the program’s 17 years. “Here they get a sense of the living, breathing, organized Jewish world.”
Through this program, which is cosponsored by The Jewish Agency, the Hagshama department of the World Zionist Organization and AJPA, students attended workshops, including one on “Covering Israel in the American Jewish Press.”
Additionally this year, for first time, they were given assignments, asked to fan out into different sessions each day and bring back quotations for the GA Daily, distributed to attendees. They are also expected to write an article about the GA for their school or community paper.
For Ayli Meyer, 21, a University of Judaism student from Houston, the GA is an opportunity to gain some real-life experience. She serves as editor of the school newspaper, the Casiano Chronicle, but, she said, “there are not enough journalism classes at school.”
Another participant, Erin Kelley, 23, a Reno resident who attends Truckee Meadows Community College, is hoping to make aliyah in a year.
“I want to combine my knowledge of Israel and my writing skills,” she said.
Elon Shore, the Hagshama Mid-Atlantic regional director, believes that having Israel as a central theme helps these young people connect with the Jewish community. He referred to studies demonstrating that an Israel experience is effective at connecting young adults to Judaism.
Students also respond very well to social concerns, according to Jeff Rubin, Hillel’s associate vice president for communications, citing a Hillel report.
This year, new to the GA, Hillel sponsored Just for a Day, a day of social action where 300 Jewish students from universities across the United States and Canada, who had come for entire GA conference, joined together on Sunday with another 700 college students, mostly from Southern California.
Just for a Day encompassed projects sponsored by six different organizations. These ranged from Project Angel Food, where students delivered hot meals to home-bound patients with AIDS, to Jewish World Watch, where, at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, students learned about advocating for Darfur. At all locations, students were joined by local celebrities, including “West Wing” actor Josh Malina and comedian David Brenner.
At the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, located downtown, more than 100 students helped unpack cartons of donated canned and packaged foods and sorted them for Thanksgiving distribution.
“I think a lot of people look at college students as lazy,” said Nicole Landa, a USC junior. “As you can see here, students really do care.”
From the University of Arizona in Tucson, 60 students piled into vans after the school’s homecoming Saturday night and drove nine hours to participate in Just for a Day, according to U of A student Michelle Miller.
Half the group worked at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row, distributing hygiene packs that they had preassembled, and on Skid Row. The other half worked at the Downtown Women’s Center.
Then, after attending a concert that evening at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, where Guster, an alternative rock band, and The LeeVees, a Jewish holiday music band, entertained Hillel participants, they climbed back into their vans for the nine-hour return trip.
According to Hillel President Wayne Firestone, volunteer days such as this are effective ways to unite Jewish students across the denominational spectrum to work together under the banner of tikkun olam (healing the world).
“We feel that everywhere we go we should leave our mark,” he said.
At-risk youth; Much more Mathout; Donkeys vs. Elephants — the beef goes on
Wendy Jaffe’s cover story on divorce focused primarily on the custody battles while neglecting alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, which can lead to far more peaceful results (“Who Gets the Shul?” Oct. 6).
In my role as a divorce mediator, I have worked over the years with scores of Jewish couples who are separating or divorcing to help them negotiate issues concerning their Jewish life and the Jewish life of their children. Couples in mediation are able to reach agreement on synagogue membership, synagogue dues and religious school fees, b’nai mitzvah costs, the wording on b’nai mitzvah or wedding invitations, as well as how they will share time with their children for holy days and festivals.
Not only is mediation less expensive than litigation, but the process results in far less acrimony and battle. Divorce, while maintaining shalom bayit, is indeed possible.
Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Sha’arei Am — The Santa Monica Synagogue
It would have been irresponsible to stand by when a man is honored, even though he uses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda and participates in rallies that support terrorist groups, as he did at the Federal Building on Aug 12, where he was a keynote speaker and participants chanted, “Long Live Hezbollah” (“Controversial Muslim Leader Gets Award,” Sept. 22).
Hathout never distanced himself from them, nor, after his nomination, did he try to reach out and allay our understandable concerns. Instead, he lashed out, labeling us “un-American” fringe groups that oppose free speech or dislike Muslims. Hathout is free to say whatever he likes, but this extremist, divisive rhetoric and behavior should not be any city’s model for human relations.
We were not alone. Only four out of 14 commissioners voted for Hathout, with five abstaining and four absent. Steven Windmueller, dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 Buggs [Award] honoree, returned his award, stating that the [County Human Relations] Commission’s selection of Hathout stained the legacy of the award’s namesake.
There has been no “pressure” on us from “Jews in high places,” and we have not backed down. As rhetoric about the Middle East continues to escalate, the endgame of our protests is to send a strong message about desirable standards of discourse for Los Angeles, to educate the public about extremist rhetoric and to raise questions about who is a “moderate Muslim.”
We succeeded. We hope that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders everywhere were paying attention and will strive for balanced, informed discourse as the standard for people singled out for special recognition.
I would like to applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for courageously highlighting Aish Tamid and other programs in Los Angeles that offer “troubled teenage boys a way to curb self-destructive behavior” (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune to High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). The topic of troubled teens is one of the most pressing and concerning issues facing our city, and it is important to supplement the article with a few additional facts and comments.
Firstly, while the core services and programs provided by Aish Tamid are tailored for troubled teens, we have also witnessed that not only troubled teens regularly attend and participate, but that there is a craving for our services by many different types of students. It is correct that our programs have been designed and appeal to troubled teens and/or students who have tried or are using drugs, but most Aish Tamid students are not druggies, and it is important to clarify this important distinction for the sake of all of our student participants.
It is also significant to note that the issue of at-risk youths is not restricted to only the Orthodox community, but that it affects all teens and young adults in our city, irrespective of their religious upbringing.
The article began with the mention of an Orthodox boy who overdosed on drugs, but many of us recall reading a little more than a year ago about the unfortunate death of a Los Angeles boy who was raised in the local Conservative schools and synagogues of our city who also died from a drug overdose.
In fact, after being mentioned and quoted in your 2005 article, Aish Tamid received a flood of phone calls from parents and school principals within the Conservative and Reform movements who confirmed that their children and/or students where facing the exact same challenges that was attributed to only Orthodox students in your recent article.
It would be naive of us to conclude that only Orthodox students are challenged with religious expectations, community and family pressures, academic and educational obstacles, questions on personal relationships, uncertainties on professional career options and, of course, the immense social influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other self-destructive habits.
These are the challenges of all teens and young adults, not just Orthodox, and the Aish Tamid programs and services, especially the Pardes/Plan B alternative high school program, have been designed to provide resources and support to all Los Angeles teens, young adults and their parents, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
Rabbi Avi Leibovic
Founder and Executive Director
Aish Tamid of Los Angeles
Joseph M. Lipner makes several interesting points in his op-ed (“Israel Should Probe Accusations of War Crimes,” Sept. 29), particularly on the subjective nature of terms such as “war crimes.”
Unfortunately, his piece is marred by incredible naiveté regarding human rights NGOs. Claims that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International “appear to be acting with good motives” toward Israel, or that they can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict are not grounded in reality. They reflect the halo effect these groups cultivate to escape accountability.
Research carried out by NGO Monitor shows a different story. Amnesty and HRW released highly politicized reports and statements throughout the war. Amnesty published a scathing 50-page report focusing entirely on Israel’s actions, while hundreds of rockets fell on Israeli civilians daily. HRW even denied Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields.
‘Moishe Houses’ provide post-Hillel hangout for 20-somethings
Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue, but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.
Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?
That’s what’s offered by Moishe House, a fast-growing network of subsidized homes for 20-something Jews committed to building Jewish community for themselves and their peers.
The project was launched less than a year ago by The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropy. The foundation’s executive director, David Cygielman, 25, says the goal was to give young activist Jews the financial freedom to focus on creative programming designed to reach other young, unaffiliated Jews.
To the people living in these houses, it’s a terrific gift.
“We were already having Shabbat dinners three or four times a month and then they came along and said, ‘We’re looking for people doing what you’re doing. Keep it up, and we’ll support you,'” said Jonathan Herzog, 29, who lives in the Seattle house with his sister Norah and two friends.
The project is a validation of these young Jews’ efforts to create a Jewish home for an age group they feel gets lost in the communal shuffle.
“After college there’s no more Hillel, and they don’t join the Jewish community until they have families,” Cygielman noted.
The first Moishe House opened last December in San Francisco. Seattle was next in February, joined quickly by houses in Boston and Los Angeles.
New ones are to open in October in Oakland, Washington, Uruguay and Nigeria, and the plan is to have 12 houses up and running by next year.
Except for the Nigerian house, which is a one-man outreach operation, they all follow the same formula: Three or four Jews in their 20s receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, along with $500 for programming, and are expected to become a communal hub for young Jews by hosting Shabbat meals, card games, Yiddish lessons, film nights, book discussions, neighborhood clean-ups and other social, intellectual and civic-minded activities.
Residents say the formula works because it lets young people organize events they themselves would want to attend, rather than having something imposed from above by a synagogue or JCC.
In many ways, it’s the bayit of the 21st century. But unlike those communal Jewish homes of the 1970s and ’80s, which usually were sponsored by Zionist youth groups, residents of Moishe Houses don’t subscribe to a particular ideology.
The focus varies according to residents’ interests: The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house is more involved in social action.
Houses have great freedom, Cygielman says, so long as they meet the minimum requirements: hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports, maintaining a Web site and reaching out to young people. Funding can be withdrawn if a house doesn’t perform.
“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong program or a right program,” Cygielman said. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”
Maia Ipp, 24, moved into the San Francisco house in June. She runs a women’s group and a cooking club that is working its way alphabetically through the world’s cuisines.
Her parents once lived in a bayit sponsored by Habonim, a Labor Zionist youth group, but Ipp prefers the Moishe House model.
“We’re not affiliated with a movement that has a belief system, which frees us to do new, fresh work and engage young adults in ways other movements and campus groups can’t,” she said.
One recent evening, the four young residents of the San Francisco house got together for their weekly meeting. They sat around the large table in the dining room, which opens onto a large patio they use for Shabbat dinners and holiday parties.
David Persyko, 25, started hanging out at the house soon after it opened.
“I found myself really attached to being part of a Jewish community again,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were from Camp Swig, and coming here, I felt that rush of support I hadn’t felt in 10 years.”
He moved in in June and now runs poker night, which draws a group of guys every three weeks to “vent about the women in our lives,” Persyko said.
Aaron Gilbert, 24, runs a book club. The books aren’t Jewish, but the participants are, and talking about the books leads to talking about other things.
“It’s really intimate. We hang out, catch up on each others’ lives,” he said.
The house holds a big Shabbat dinner once a month and sponsors a softball team called the Matzah Ballstars. But the events and programs are secondary to the real draw.
“At our core, we’re four people who live in a house and we’re inviting people over. That’s appealing to people like us. It’s not institutional,” said Isaac Zones, 24, national director of the Moishe House network and a founding member of the San Francisco house.
On a table in the corner is a silver-toned bust of Zones’ grandfather, a man who founded his business empire with money he won playing poker. Zones makes sure the statue is always there during games.
The Moishe House concept is still in its early stages, and some things need to be tweaked. For example, the Los Angeles and Seattle houses are trying to beef up their social action component, while the Boston house is being encouraged to offer more “fun events,” Cygielman said.
It’s all part of figuring out what constitutes a Jewish community, or even a Jewish event. Must it be something devoted purely to a Jewish ritual or Zionist goal? Or is it enough to bring together a bunch of Jewish people to shmooze and eat?
Rabbi Carron brightens prisoners’ darkest days
Daniel, a blue-eyed 24-year-old who was a few credits shy of finishing his undergraduate degree at UCLA last spring, is now an inmate in unit 131 at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.
When Rabbi Yossi Carron arrives for his meeting with Daniel — not his real name — an unseen guard in a concrete and black glass bunker releases the latch on the sliding steel door that connects the youth’s dorm pod to the unit’s deserted common area.
On the far side of a thick glass wall, other inmates sleep in their bunks or drift aimlessly beneath the harsh white lights overhead.
Daniel looks awkward in his pale green prison outfit. He has gained 20 pounds since he was convicted three months ago on a charge of dealing methamphetamine, and he’s clearly uncomfortable in his skin.
Carron wraps Daniel in a quick but firm embrace.
“How’s it going?” Carron asks with one hand on Daniel’s slumped shoulder and another on his cheek.
The pair settle into plastic chairs at the corner of a table decorated with a stenciled checker board. From his pants pocket Daniel pulls a small ziplock bag that holds a pencil stub and two sheets of paper covered front and back with Daniel’s dense, neat handwriting. With guidance from Carron, Daniel is working through the recovery movement’s Fourth Step: making a “fearless and searching” inventory of his life.
As Carron scans the sheets of paper, Daniel hunches forward, his elbows on his knees.
“I’ve really had to look at my relationships — friendships and sexual relationships — in this step,” Daniel says. “It’s kind of shocking to see how much I’ve needed other people to feel complete.”
Carron lays the sheets of paper on the table and gives Daniel his full attention.
“It’s still hard, though,” Daniel says, turning his gaze up to meet Carron’s. “I mean, none of my friends have come to see me.”
Carron leans toward Daniel.
“You’re an extraordinary guy, all by yourself,” he says. “I don’t show up for any other reason than I want to.”
Daniel blushes but doesn’t look away.
“Chances are a lot of these people are connected to the parts of your life you want to change,” Carron says. “Am I right?”
Daniel looks down at his hands and nods slowly.
Sitting up, Carron drums a finger on the pages to draw Daniel’s attention to his inventory.
“This is going to be the greatest Rosh Hashanah of your life,” Carron says, “because you’re sober and you’re not lying to yourself or anyone else.”
Daniel sits up and looks squarely at Carron. He takes a deep breath and says, “You make me feel very special.”
With any luck, Daniel will be spending Rosh Hashanah on the outside. It’s likely he’ll soon be making the transition from jail to the recovery program at Beit T’Shuva, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.
For the members of Carron’s patchwork prison shul who are still behind bars come next week, however, there will be a holiday Shabbat at Men’s Central Jail, across the street from Twin Towers. Most of the Jewish inmates who participate will be bussed in from one of the five additional jails Carron serves in Los Angeles County. Some of the 70-odd men in Carron’s shul will have to stay away, however, in lock-down or solitary. Others are considered too high-risk to move.
“We’ll have between 20 and 40, including volunteers,” Carron says. “All things considered, that’s a pretty good turnout.”
Carron, a former bandleader at the Beverly Hilton, might seem an unlikely host for such a party.
A decade ago, Yossi Carron was called Jeff. He was a successful 40-something musician with a daughter in grade school, plenty of money in the bank and a nagging sense that something was missing in his life.
“It was all good, but I just wasn’t having fun anymore,” Carron says over braised tofu at a Chinatown restaurant the day before his meeting with Daniel.
The lightbulb over Carron’s head began to flicker when he was asked to serve as the first cantor at the then newly formed Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. The job was a good fit for Carron, who has an impressive voice to match his musicianship. Still, he’d never paid much attention to the flow of services before. But as he threw himself into his new role he began to realize he was feeling deeply fulfilled by the experience.
“I was sticking Post-Its in my siddur,” he says. “Pretty soon I needed to know more, so I started taking classes at Hebrew Union [College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR)].”
As he continued to follow the thread of his curiosity, Carron’s enthusiasm began to blossom into a calling.
One day Rabbi Denise Egger at Kol Ami told Carron, “You should be on the bimah.”
In May 2003, Yossi received his ordination from HUC-JIR.
“I thought I’d have a normal shul,” Carron says. “You know — with ladies organizing bake sales and that sort of thing.”
But not long after his ordination, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California offered Carron a part-time job as a chaplain in the Los Angeles County prison system. The task seemed thankless — the job’s responsibility covered three jails and two hospitals, but there was only enough money to pay for a chaplain’s services one day a week.
“It was frustrating for the person who had the job before me, and I could tell it was going to frustrate me,” Carron says. “But for some reason I wanted it, and I’m the kind of person who pushes to get what he wants. So finally the board came up with the funding for a second day, and then the job seemed do-able to me.”
Carron’s daughter was in high school by that time, and he didn’t want to have to uproot her to take a job somewhere else. So Carron said yes.
Judaism Finds Its Niche in Great Outdoors
There are Jews hanging from mountaintops all over Colorado. Others are lighting Shabbat candles on sailboats or discovering their spirituality on the ski slopes.
These Jewish adventure enthusiasts not only make an effort to do the hobbies they love with other Jews, but they do so looking for religious or spiritual meaning. By combining their dual interests, this growing cadre of adrenaline seekers is building a new definition of what it means to do — or be — Jewish.
Take Rabbi Jamie Korngold.
When Korngold realized that the Reform Jews she was trying to reach in Boulder, Colo., were more interested in skiing than sitting in synagogue on Saturday mornings, she strapped on a pair of snow boots and headed up the mountain: “For 30 percent of us, synagogue life is working really well, but the other 70 percent, we need new ways of reaching those people.”
“There are so many people whose religion is the outdoors, who really experience their spirituality outside of the synagogue,” said Korngold, who has biked from New York to San Francisco and competed in a 100-mile trail run. “So what I do is say, ‘You’re going to be outdoors, you say it’s a spiritual experience. Let me show you how it’s Jewish.'”
Korngold’s Adventure Rabbi program challenges participants to discuss Torah passages, as well as Judaism’s relationship to nature, during mountain minyan hikes, backpacking treks through the desert and Rosh Hashanah retreats to a ranch in the Rockies. Her trips are so popular that Korngold said her main problem is finding enough guides to meet demand.
“Our Web site gets 200,000 hits a month,” she said. “Our e-mail list is larger than the local federation’s.”
Rabbi Howard Cohen, a Reconstructionist rabbi who runs the Vermont-based Burning Bush Adventures organization, also talks about the need to build bridges between Judaism and the outdoors.
“I know so many Jews who have essentially grown detached from the Jewish community because as they were growing up, they couldn’t get what they wanted from the Jewish world,” he said. “So they went outside of it. But Judaism doesn’t have to be a separate part of their lives.”
Cohen calls the stereotype of the unfit, nonathletic Jew “residual anti-Semitism,” noting that Jews long have been involved in heart-pumping activities like boxing and farming.
Cohen himself is proof of the Jewish athletic tradition. Before attending rabbinical school, he spent 10 years working for Outward Bound. Now he leads day school students, among others, on such expeditions. Before going, participants are sent Torah portions, as well as a list of questions, quotes and readings.
Cohen promotes discussion on these materials out in the woods and has students keep Shabbat and bake challah in the field. Being with students in this context changes his ability to relate to them, Cohen said.
“There are a lot of rabbis who ski or play golf and put their kippah in their back pocket,” he said. “But rabbis who take their congregants skiing, they have a different bond.”
Cohen admitted that rabbis who follow this path may not serve Jewish community “needs,” such as Shabbat services and bar mitzvah training, but he said they do provide some of the “wants” Jews have from their religion.
Rabbi Nachum Shifren, an Orthodox surfer who rides waves in a wetsuit and full beard, said the surfing lessons he offers in Los Angeles and Israel offer catharsis.
“It’s definitely a therapeutic thing,” Shifren said. “Once you’re hooked on all that power and might of the ocean, you’re just never going to be the same.”
Shifren is working on a new program to wean innercity youngsters off drugs and gang life through surfing. Cohen also is developing a program for troubled youth.
“We tend to think of religion as a place where you have to toe the line … but there’s room for rebellion in religion,” Cohen said, citing “iconoclastic rabble-rousers” in the Torah such as Abraham.
The Chicago-based Steppin’ Out Adventures uses this community-building effect as a vehicle for matchmaking, allowing Jewish singles to schmooze while biking in Ireland or climbing the Inca Trail in Peru.
Robin Richman, director and one of the co-founders of the organization, described the bonding that takes place as “amazing.”
“When you’re on an adventure you plan as best you can, but things happen. Those are the things that become jokes between you,” she said, citing a weekend getaway to Wisconsin, where, due to three straight days of rain, the group wound up eating lunch in their underwear.
“It definitely brought the trip close together very quickly,” she said with a laughed.
Richman’s method has produced results. Since it began in 1993, Steppin’ Out Adventures has led to 60 marriages, 34 babies and “a whole lot of friendships and business partners,” according to the group’s Web site.
For the 20 members of the Chesapeake Bay’s Sailing Chavurah, the marriage of the outdoors and Jewish life also has proved transformative.
“At first, we all thought we were the only one” who sailed and was Jewish, said Julien Hofberg, the group’s commodore. But over time, boats named Tikkun Olam and Miss Shue Goss found each other, as did a Holocaust survivor, an accomplished Orthodox racer and a half-dozen Reform and Conservative Jews from the region.
“Now we hold Havdalah services every Saturday; we have a Chanukah party,” Hofberg said. “We share our expertise … and watch out for each other.”
It was weeks before camp started, but on Sunday, June 11, Gear Up for Camp Day brought 1,700 people — including 500 campers and their families — to The Federation’s Camp Max Straus, run by Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Campers filled laundry bags with camp necessities — sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, socks, towels — most donated by local businesses. Federation staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Camp Max Straus, helped distribute the goods.
This was the first time the event was held at the nonsectarian overnight camp in Glendale, giving parents a chance to see where their kids would spend the summer. The day also featured carnival rides, live entertainment and food.
The Federation is helping 1,100 underprivileged kids go to camp this summer, including those who will attend Max Straus — which offers one- and two-week stays to at-risk youth from the L.A. area — and some Jewish children, mostly immigrants from Iran and Russia, who will attend Jewish camps on Federation scholarships.
For more information, call (323) 761-8320.
Arts in L.A. Gets a Push
Arts Education in L.A.-area public schools is getting a boost from the Jewish community, as the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation recently announced support for Los Angeles County’s Arts for All initiative. Adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Arts for All seeks to restore arts education slashed with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.
The Jewish Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, launched the Arts in Schools Giving Circle to try to raise $100,000 from individual donors by the end of 2006.
The Giving Circle hopes to provide matching grants to fund more than 150 arts residency programs serving approximately 4,000 K-12th grade students in 14 Los Angeles County public schools.
Seeded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Giving Circle is the first opportunity for individual donors to participate in the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a consortium of foundations and corporations.
The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation announced a $100,000 gift to the Pooled Fund in May. Of this, $50,000 will support the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s plan over the next three years to hire an arts coordinator and to develop arts curriculum and arts education training for district teachers. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation supports initiatives involving healthcare, access to college, Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and established a chair in Israel studies at UCLA.
For further information about the JCF Giving Circle, call program officer Amelia Xann at (323) 761-8714 or email@example.com. For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit www.lacountyarts.org.
Birthright Reaches 100,000
This month, the 100,000th 18- to 26-year-old will participate in a free, educational trip to Israel, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, a 6-year-old program supported by United Jewish Communities, the Israeli government and 14 philanthropists.
Internal research has shown that the program is meeting its goals of solidifying participant’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel, and has also generated more than $182 million in revenue for the Israeli economy.
But the program might be a victim of its own success: This summer, 15,000 applicants were turned away, when a record 25,000 youth applied for just 12,000 spots.
For information, call (888) 994-7723 or visit www.birthrightisrael.com.
Teens on the Beltway
Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood accompanied the synagogue’s confirmation class to Washington D.C., to participate in the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism last month.
The study and action program was attended by 250 students, who culminated the conference by meeting with congressional staffers to advocate on behalf of issues such as Darfur, immigration and the death penalty.
Also attending were teens from Temple Beth Torah of Ventura, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood.
New Yeshiva Flying SCY High
Founding board members of the new Southern California Yeshiva High School (SCY High) for boys in La Jolla knew that with a history of failed yeshiva high schools in the area, they had to offer the community something new and innovative. So they, along with headmaster Kevin Cloud, developed a school that utilizes high-tech project-based learning to integrate all disciplines — from science to literature to Gemara.
The school, the only Orthodox boys high school in the San Diego area, attracted 17 boys in ninth and 10th grades last year, its first year of existence, and next year between 25 and 30 are expected to be enrolled in the ninth through 11th grades. One Los Angeles boy boarded with relatives, and next year several families are opening up their homes to students who want to board.
As a school starting from scratch, teachers were able to take novel approaches to study.
The ninth graders, for example, read Goethe’s “Faust,” then rewrote it as short film. They created sets — some using “South Park”-style puppets, some using stop-action dolls and action figures — set it to music, and filmed short movies. The 10th graders read Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” then rewrote a modernized version then studied and debated the moral implications of making Faustus Jewish.
“What you do in project-based learning is you take the ability the students have in one subject and you bring that enthusiasm into another subject,” Cloud said.
The students also get traditional instruction, but even there things tend to blend.
In Rabbi Moshe Adatto’s Gemara class, students had to present talmudic arguments in a PowerPoint flowchart. Each student is given a Dell laptop when they enter, and the school is wired for high-speed wireless Internet access.
To Adatto, who previously was a teacher at the Valley Kollel, it’s all part of making kids love school and love Judaism.
“We’re trying to create lifelong learners, and to me that has two components: They have to know how to learn, and they have to want to learn,” said Adatto, who organized Shabbatons and other events to build school spirit.
All but one student has reenrolled for next year, and an anonymous survey that all of the parents filled out brought back astonishing results for a Jewish school: No one — not one family — reported being anything less than satisfied.
For more information on SCY High School, contact (858) 658-0857 or visit www.scyhigh.org.
Follow the Fellows to Israel
Three Southern California teens were among 26 selected nationally to visit Israel on a five-week Bronfman Youth Fellowship this summer. Priscella Frank of Calabasas High School and Benjamin and Mitzi Steiner of Shalhevet were selected following a rigorous application process. They will participate in an intensive program of study and travel in Israel designed to develop leaders committed to Jewish unity.
The fellows participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbinic faculty and spend a week with a group of Israeli peers who have been chosen through Amitei Bronfman, a parallel Israeli program. Bronfman Youth Fellows are asked to complete 40 hours of community service when they return home at the end of the summer.
3 Books = 31 Flavors
Students at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy have another reason to pick up a good book — to satisfy their sweet tooth. As part of the Be a Star Reader program, elementary and middle school kids who read three books this spring were awarded a free ice cream cone at any Baskin-Robbins. Arna Schwartz, the school librarian, has run the Be a Star Reader program for several years, purchasing Baskin-Robbins gift certificates. This year, Robert Schwartz, who owns the Baskin-Robbins on Kinross Avenue in Westwood, offered to sponsor the program. Other Schools or youth organizations interested in participating in the Baskin-Robbins Reading Rewards Program can contact Robert Schwartz at (310) 208-8048.
To Bee or Not to Bee
More than 150 boys from Chabad schools across the world gathered in Los Angeles in April for a battle of wits on Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot. Cheder Menachem in Los Angeles was the host school of the chidon, or bee, which attracted 1,000 spectators to the finals held at Emerson Middle School. The girls’ competition was held the week before in New York. Local winners were Sender Labkowsky, first place, older division; Mendel Mishulovin, third place, older division; and Shmully Lezak, third place, younger division.
ADL Reaches 700,000 Students
As part of LAUSD’s Live Violence-Free Day, 35,000 teachers in the district were urged to use materials and activities they received from the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) A World of Difference Institute, impacting more than 700,000 K-12 students in one day. The activities and lesson plans were designed to assist educators in addressing issues of bias, discrimination, bullying and violence, and focused on empowering students to become agents of change on their campuses. For more information on ADL education programs, contact Jenny Betz at (310) 446-8000, ext. 233.
‘Wagging’: My Story as Gay Jewish Male
A couple of years ago, I heard about an oral history project for older gay men and women that resulted in a staged play. I didn’t see it, but when Bob Baker, the adapter-director, sent out the call for a new cast, I signed up.
We listened to each other’s stories, wrote up the most telling ones and turned remembered conversations into dialogue. After nine months, out came a play.
Everyone’s life is a book, a saga of depth, dreams, passion. The art is all in the telling. This is our story.
We performed “Wagging Tales: Stories From the Stonewall Generation” to three sold-out houses one weekend in February at Highways Performance Space. And we’re about to perform the show again.
Stonewall, for those not up on queer history, was the bar in Greenwich Village where, in 1969, drag queens and minority gay patrons revolted against yet another police raid and said, “enough!” From sexual liberation to AIDS to gay politics and so on, no other generation of gays or lesbians has quite the same perspective that we do.
Here are some of my stories:
When I became the director of the Workmen’s Circle in Southern California in 1995, we opened A Shenere Velt Gallery, which is now celebrating 10 years of Jewish and socially conscious art. A show I mounted in early 1996, while still in my six-month probation, presented photographs by Albert Winn, a gay man seriously ill with AIDS.
None of us knew whether Al would survive until the opening. But I considered it the special mitzvah (praiseworthy deed) I was uniquely positioned to provide. I was willing, in fact, to put my job on this line.
Older members might inform our board that they could not approve of Al’s photo studies of pill bottles in the form of a menorah. But no one complained.
Even better, that spring, the new AIDS treatments came in and saved his life. He’s a thriving artist today. I believe that his resilience to hold out for his “last show” kept him alive until that Shehecheyanu (blessing that thanks God for a long life) moment.
Here’s another: Our youth branch here in Los Angeles was the first in The Workmen’s Circle to endorse same-gender marriage. There were some who felt this was not an appropriate issue for us, but within a couple of years, it had become our national policy.
Like society in general, Judaism has always responded to changing times. We always need to hear the voice of the “outsider,” the “stranger” and the “other” to advance our sense of righteousness in the world.
Coming out is an ongoing process. As new people come into your life, it matters or it doesn’t that you’re gay, and you have to determine their need to know. At first, my 70- and 80-something doyennes of Yiddish socialism had daughters to fix me up with, but after a few months, that stopped. Funny, though, they never mentioned their gay son or nephew.
The story of my life as a gay man also is a Jewish tale. Today, in the bloom of our GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) movement, we have rabbis and others who hold leadership positions in myriad Jewish communal organizations, who reveal new paradigms of Jewish life. Our homosexuality is simply one more aspect of life to factor in.
With others, it might be their left-handedness, their disability, their shyness, their aptitude, their love for a non-Jew, their political orientation, their crisis of faith. Being gay is qualitatively different, however, because social pressure causes boys and girls, young men and women, to turn against themselves.
What comes up in our play so insistently is that for kids who are genetically wired to turn out gay — and a certain percentage always are — the signs are there early on. Removing shame and disgust from the social equation will make those kids, and all of us, a whole lot happier.
When my sexual thoughts and urgings started, I took note. A few early relationships with women ultimately gave way to the openly gay person I am now, since coming out definitively in 1971. My gayness exerts no less active a presence in my life than the next guy’s heterosexuality, with all his attendant affairs, relationships, marriages, children, divorces, alimonies, moves.
For me, gay liberation came more easily than for some. From my teen years on, I had already defined myself in opposition to the establishment — opposition to Christian hegemony, to banal popular culture, to racism, to war, to imperialism.
Gay oppression was another thing to protest. It became almost a habit. That also partly explains why I felt drawn more to Yiddish than to Hebrew.
Homosexuality is never really a private matter, as some of our liberal and tolerant friends demand. How can it be? The social structures and prejudices that continue to bring misery, depression and worse to our queer sisters and brothers must be changed as part of the work of tikkun olam (healing the world).
I think my gayness has been an asset to my work. I give my time — evenings, weekends, holidays — in ways that I simply would not be able to if I had a family. I love my work, and I know it needs my full dedication.
But mine is a very special marriage of personality to career. I am not suggesting that gay people can therefore be loaded down with extra work assignments.
One Sunday, as I drove to work for an afternoon program, I had this epiphany. Asking myself, “Why am I doing this? No weekends, little time to myself? No fun?” I suddenly realized that being director of the Workmen’s Circle right here, right now, is who I am in this life. It’s what I do. It’s my contribution to the world.
People say the best way to meet someone is just by going about your business, and if it’s beshert (ordained), they’ll turn up. I’m not big on bars and drinking, anyway. So this guy attended a gallery opening recently, and …well, another meise (tale), another time.
That’s part of my story. Come see our show to hear more. Just as importantly, listen to the voices around you.
“Wagging Tales: Stories From the Stonewall Generation” will be performed on May 13 at 8:30 p.m, May 14 at 2:30 p.m. (followed by a meet the cast), May 19 and May 20 at 8:30 p.m. at The Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. $10-$12.
Where the Boys Aren’t
The Chanukah party for Adat Ari El’s junior United Synagogue Youth group had all the elements the seventh- and eighth-grade members had requested: latkes, a gift exchange and a fierce board game competition. Yet, said, Julee Snitzer, the synagogue’s youth activities director, of the 13 who participated — only two were male.
Her experience is not unusual. Many of the informal Jewish education activities geared to teens in the greater Los Angeles area — such as camps, synagogue youth groups, school clubs and Jewish community centers — draw more girls than boys. The ratio in formal Jewish activities, such as Jewish high school and religious school, appears to be more gender balanced.
“Looking at what’s happening locally and nationally, we’ve found that fewer teen boys enroll in informal Jewish activities than they did in previous years,” said Lori Harrison Port, senior associate director for planning and allocations at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
A survey done by her department showed that informal Jewish education programs generally attract 60 percent girls and 40 percent boys. The lack of participation among boys could lead to a weakening of their Jewish affiliation over time, some fear.
A special report analyzing results from the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01 indicates that participation in camping and youth groups may impact Jewish identity as much as or more than attending up to six years of supplementary religious school. The impact is directly linked to the length of involvement in those youth-oriented activities.
Last fall, The Federation and the Bureau of Jewish Education hosted a conference for Jewish youth professionals to explore the issue and generate ideas for cultivating greater male involvement in informal Jewish activities. Held at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, the program was an outgrowth of the bureau’s Youth Professional Advisory Council, which facilitates sharing of ideas and resources for those serving Jewish teens.
Keynote speaker Bob Ditter, a Boston-based psychotherapist who consults nationally with camps and other youth-targeted agencies, shared insights about boys’ development and led attendees in discussing how to design their programming and marketing to attract boys.
“The central [element] in boys’ development is task and action. Boys want to feel that they’re good at something,” Ditter said. “Boys develop friendships through the stuff they do. Girls develop friendships and then go do stuff.”
Ditter said that boys engage in activities — such as tossing a ball or comparing video games — as a way to connect. He suggested that youth group leaders and counselors allow boys to do an activity first before expecting them to sit and talk.
He also urged group leaders to recognize that boys initiate connection through a challenge or dare. For example, Ditter witnessed a teen participant make a sarcastic comment to his counselor at a camp’s opening campfire. Rather than feeling threatened or insulted by such remarks, leaders “need to hear the invitation [to engage] rather than the challenge” he said.
“It’s a myth that adolescents distrust or don’t respect adults,” he added. “They’re hungry for meaningful connections to adults they respect and feel respected by.”
The group also discussed the underlying pressures that children of all ages face to compete and excel, whether that means getting into the right preschool or taking the most Advanced Placement courses.
“At social events, they just want to hang out,” Ditter said. “They need to depressurize.”
Looking at how these factors might affect marketing to teen boys, the conference participants agreed that programs — and their promotional materials — must reflect teens’ reality and clearly state the benefits of participation, such as providing community service hours or leadership opportunities.
Ellie Klein, Wilshire Boulevard Temple youth director, noted that many students are attracted to participate in the synagogue’s Wednesday night program, which consists of dinner, a recreational elective and a Jewish-themed seminar, because there is excellent tutoring available through the program’s supervised study room.
Wilshire Boulevard bucks the norm by attracting more boys than girls at its programs. Klein said she’s baffled by the male-to-female ratio, although it helps that eight of her 11 staff members are men and one of the synagogue’s rabbis, Dennis Eisner, is popular with the youngsters and actively recruits participants.
“I’m not selling basketball,” she said. “I’m selling community and connection.”
Temple Sinai’s Sinai High, an educational program for eighth through 12th-graders that draws from the synagogue’s religious school graduates, also boasts a good ratio between boys and girls. Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei, who oversees youth programs, said programming is specifically geared to attract boys. As an example, he noted a popular series of classes that examined Jewish values as evidenced in “The Simpsons.”
Schuldenfrei said the trend of females outnumbering males is not limited to the teen realm. Sinai’s ATID group for young professionals in their 20s and 30s struggles to attract a male audience. For Sukkot, ATID held a Sukkah Sports Night, offering a televised game and beer, as well as a holiday teaching under the sukkah, and was rewarded with more male participants than normal. Schuldenfrei said that programming “needs to speak to males, as well as females.”
This advice may apply throughout the age spectrum. “In liberal communities,” said Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, “60 percent to 70 percent of people participating in adult education are women.”
The Write Stuff
From Nov. 13-15 in Toronto, college students are invited to attend Do the Write Thing, a conference on Jewish journalism held at the General Assembly, the annual gathering of machers in the Federation system and other Jewish organizations.
Aside from participating in workshops on things like objectivity in reporting, the dynamics of power between the media and the Jewish establishment and reporting on Israel, students get a chance to network with top-notch journalists as well as lay and professional leaders of the Jewish community.
The cost to students for hotel, meals and conference is $99, and travel is subsidized up to $200. Applications are due Oct. 13. For more information go to www.wzo.org.il/en/dtwt or call 1-800-274-7723.
Anti-Bias Buy In
Applications are now available for high school students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds who want to become involved in the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-bias youth education program, Dream Dialogue. In quarterly meetings, participants bond across ethnic groups, develop teen leadership skills, train to become anti-bias peer facilitators, lead discussions in valuing diversity with their peers and initiate a community social action project of their choosing.
The program is free. Applications are due Oct. 10 for the 2005-06 school year. For an application or further information, call Jenny Betz at the ADL, (310) 446-8000, ext. 233, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young Jews Choose Offbeat Expression
A new study of Jews in their 20s and 30s reveals that though these young people are underaffiliated with traditional institutions, many have a strongly defined Jewish identity that they express in creative new ways outside synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and the federation system.
“There’s indirect evidence that young Jews care about being Jewish, but they are expressing it in ways that are not institutional,” Hebrew University sociology professor Steven Cohen said.
Cohen has been conducting research on Jewish identity and culture, commissioned by the UJA-Federation of New York, with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion research fellow Ari Kelman for the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
The final reports won’t be released for several months, but the two men discussed preliminary findings from one of the studies, dealing specifically with younger Jews, with JTA.
“If younger Jews are not institutionally engaged, where are they engaged?” Cohen asked.
One place is with friends and family. Another is through cultural events such as Jewish concerts and film festivals, and one-third is through Jewish social service opportunities that are “oversubscribed, with many more young Jews willing to serve than there are places to accommodate them,” he said.
Above all, Cohen and Kelman said, the younger generation is expressing its Jewish identity through culture — a vibrant, socially inclusive, hybrid culture centered in New York and a handful of other cities that draws upon popular youth culture with a distinct Jewish aesthetic.
Noting the emergence of such things as klezmer-hip-hop bands, Heeb magazine, the “Hebrew Hammer” film and alternative holiday “happenings” in downtown clubs, Cohen and Kelman take the explosion of new Jewish culture as a given, and set out to determine what it means for Jewish continuity as well as the young Jews involved.
Is it just fun, they wondered, or does it have implications for American Jewry’s future?
“There are a lot of anecdotal impressions people have, but nothing has been done to date to show how prevalent these programs are or what impact they have on the participants,” said Jennifer Rosenberg, planning director for the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal of the UJA-Federation of New York, explaining why the federation commissioned the research.
She expects the final reports to help the federation and other Jewish organizations with their strategic planning.
Kelman and Cohen conducted their research at 13 Jewish events in New York City between December 2004 and June 2005, ranging from “Slivovitz and Soul” — a party held at a Lower East Side bar featuring Yiddish rapping, hora dancing and a disk jockey who sampled hip-hop and cantorial music — to “Golem Gets Married,” a mock wedding at the Knitting Factory club starring a cross-dressing bride and groom, and a band that played klezmer music, along with midcentury American dance favorites.
Several themes emerged from the interviews, they say.
First, the events were inclusive and pluralistic, open to non-Jews as well as Jews. Jewish literacy may help one understand the goings-on, but it’s not needed to enjoy the events.
The events are held in clubs, parks and other mainstream venues to make access even less threatening or ethnically specific. That removes a lot of the subtle guilt or sense of obligation that may be associated with attending events at synagogues or other Jewish institutions.
“The organizers would like you to come because they think they have a good product and you’ll have fun, but no one’s taking attendance,” Kelman said. “There’s no sense that you ‘ought’ to be there, or that you’re a bad Jew if you don’t come. It’s not like synagogue in that way.”
Second, the events mix music, dance and other entertainment with Jewish rituals, such as megillah readings or Chanukah candlelightings. Entertainment and ritual are interwoven and both are presented as equally valid, adding to the nonjudgmental, inclusive atmosphere.
Third, organizers and participants use irony and irreverence to distance themselves from Jewish tradition and community — creating a safe zone to explore their relationship to tradition and community, the researchers say.
“One of the hallmarks of modern culture is self-referentialism and playing with stereotypes, like Heeb magazine, but there ought to be substance behind it,” Kelman said. “Having the ability to laugh [at Jewish tradition] opens up a critical space” for Jews in their 20s and 30s to try on different aspects of Judaism and see where they’re comfortable.
That creative play often contains a serious search for meaning, he says. He points to one event where participants started dancing a hora while laughing at themselves — but they continued dancing.
“Really, dancing a hora and playing at it look really similar,” Kelman noted. “So the irony opens up a window to engagement.”
So what’s the message to the organized Jewish world? Though the final reports aren’t yet in, Cohen and Kelman are able to suggest certain guidelines.
First, they say, it’s time to pay attention to what’s going on and stop griping about how young Jews aren’t joining synagogues or showing up at singles events.
“There is an opportunity for organized Jewry to be more active in engaging younger Jews,” Cohen said. “Provide more frequent opportunities for cultural life, support for young artists, more social service opportunities, give them more opportunities to travel to Israel — there’s a segment that wants to spend significant time in Israel but doesn’t know how.”
That means money.
“A judicious use of money to support the cultural and social entrepreneurs” putting on these events would help them focus on their creative endeavors instead of “burning out doing fundraising and administrative work,” he said.
It’s wrong to think the young Jews involved in such events are alienated from Jewish communal life, Kelman said.
“There’s this myth of the ‘great unaffiliated masses,’ but those people are much less likely to come to these events,” he said.
Many of the participants Kelman interviewed had gone to Jewish summer camps and Israel programs, and still go to synagogue on the High Holidays.
“These people are not rejecting synagogue; some just haven’t found one where they feel comfortable,” he suggested. “Even those who told me, ‘I’m not involved,’ as we talked they said, ‘It’s important for me to marry Jewish.’ ”
But the researchers say this cultural renaissance is important on its own terms, and shouldn’t be viewed merely as a way to funnel young Jews into establishment institutions.
“If our research makes one impact, I hope it’s this,” Kelman said: “This is not a gateway drug. It’s not intended as, ‘Come to this, and now go to synagogue or now give money to federation.'”
Two drug-related incidents occurred in the American yeshiva community in Israel last week, which may give all parents pause.
A 19-year-old American boy from Encino who was studying at a yeshiva in Israel died from a heroin overdose (see story, page 15). Also, four American yeshiva students in Israel were arrested on suspicion of selling drugs to other American yeshiva students.
Most people who have been to yeshiva for a year in Israel in the last decade or so were not surprised by the news. A lot of people were suprised this hasn’t happened sooner. When 18-year-olds raised in somewhat strict environments are on their own in Israel for the first time, many of them will use this opportunity to party — at least at first. The hope is that after a few raucous weeks the students will settle down to their learning and experiencing of Israel, and will return home model students and upstanding members of their communities. Tragically, at least one student will not.
Upon learning the names of the yeshivas in Israel that the five boys attended, many people will say, “Well, of course, it happened there. X Yeshiva is known for troubled students.” True, true. Even I — who attended Machon Gold 15 years ago but have been out of touch with year-in-Israel programs for a while — know the reputation of some of these schools. But this Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) attitude is what has let the problems go on for so long in the first place.
On Internet postings following the boy’s death, some writers castigated these last-resort schools for accepting the so-called high-risk Orthodox youth and blamed the schools themselves. But others wrote in to defend these schools and credited them with saving their lives.
“I am currently 22 years old and I am a recent college graduate. I myself … was once considered one of these ‘high-risk’ students,” Dave Serano wrote on the Jerusalem Post Web Site. “I wonder in amazement at the look of surprise on our Jewish communities’ faces as they read and talk about what awful yeshivot these are, and how these boys should not have gone to Israel to solve their drug problems. How wrong and sadly misled these people are.”
He wrote that the yeshivas and its rabbis have saved “hundreds, if not thousands” of lives, like his own, in a way that a drug counselor could not.
No question that these “high-risk” schools do more good than harm, and that the kids who end up there are probably better off there than in some college in the middle of America — without parental or rabbinical supervision.
But to name the schools is beside the point. The real point is: there’s a problem and it has to be dealt with. Now.
Parents send their children to 12 years of day school, Sunday school or temple classes, hoping to inculcate values and ethical behavior somewhere along the way. But the truth is, no matter where you send your child to school, they are not immune to the problems of the outside world: Drugs, drinking, sex and worse.
Some parents hope Israel will do the trick; that a year in the Holy Land will magically cure their children. They depend on that year in university or yeshiva in Israel to “straighten the kids out.” And while there are certainly many qualified educators in Israel, and many great programs, problem kids weren’t just dropped from outer space at 18.
The truth is that kids in public school use drugs, kids in private schools use drugs and, yes, kids in Jewish schools use drugs. NIMBY? Maybe, as a parent, you think it’s not your kid, not his school, not her friends, but that’s probably what the parents of the boys arrested selling drugs thought.
Pretending something isn’t a problem doesn’t make it go away. Sending your kids off somewhere doesn’t make it go away. What will make it go away? A healthy attitude from all educators and parents to admit that there might be a problem, and they might have to deal with it. It may mean calling in therapists or drug counselors or adopting a 12-step program. But as the Jewish tradition teaches about parenting and educating, when the left hand pushes a child away by rebuking him, the right hand should draw him close — meaning, we should not excommunicate our problems, but help fix them in a loving manner.
There are a number of programs and people here in Los Angeles, in New York and in Israel who deal quietly with the problem children. Who try to help them when no other resources are available. The Orthodox Union is even putting together a drug task force to deal with the problem in high schools around the country.
Drugs? They are in our backyard. But they don’t have to be.
Kadima Comes Home
Like a young family relishing the newfound freedom of a first home, Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills has painted the walls of its new building whatever colors it wants.
Kadima, a 34-year-old Solomon Schechter Conservative day school, had been renting a building from Los Angeles Unified School District, but about two years ago LAUSD wanted its campus back.
Dorit and Shawn Evanhaim, Israeli Angelenos who own California Home Builders, stepped up to the plate with a $7.2 million donation that allowed Kadima to purchase a former hospital about a mile away. For now, just the first floor of the three-story, 55,000-square-foot building on 4 acres has been fully renovated, offering plenty of space for the 180 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school is opening an early childhood center next year and ultimately hopes to grow to 500 students.
The new building is fully wired and has a gym, computer labs, spacious playgrounds and a swimming pool that will make the campus a great venue for summer camp.
It is next door to a retirement home, and head of school Barbara Gereboff has already set up joint programs where the kids work together with the elderly.
“The thing that people know about our school is our emphasis on character education,” Gereboff said. “Many schools teach values, but we want it to be part of the language the children use all the time.”
City and community dignitaries, including Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), are expected to take part in a ceremony dedicating the Evanhaim Family Campus on Sun., Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. at 7011 Shoup Ave. in West Hills. For more information, call (818) 346-0849 or visit www.kadimaacademy.org.
Youth Leadership Summit
It wasn’t so much the details of the discussions on interfaith marriage or nonaffiliation or Israel or social action that energized Avi Schaefer at Panim El Panim, a Jewish Teen Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., in October.
It was the fact that 60 youth leaders of all denominations spent three days looking past their differences and putting their heads and their hearts together.
“We had all these crazy different viewpoints in one room, and we stood together and said ‘there is a problem with American Jewry and it needs help, and we can do it,'” said Schaefer, a 16-year-old from the Santa Barbara area who is on the board of NFTY-SoCal, the Reform movement’s youth arm.
Sponsored by PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, the yearly summit has brought together 11,000 teens from 200 communities since it began in 1988. In addition to Schaefer, three Californians participated this year.
For more information, visit www.panim.org.
Art for Education’s Sake
Educators from public and private schools around the city had multiple chances to learn new ways to integrate the arts into the curriculum this month.
About six Jewish schools sent representatives to the Skirball Cultural Center last week to view “The Jewish Lens.” Compiled by renowned photographer Zion Ozeri, the curriculum for middle school children asks students to examine Ozeri’s evocative close-ups of Jews from around the world and identify depictions of Jewish values and then link them to biblical and rabbinic texts. The kids then put their own talents to work, shooting photographs that tell their own stories and speak of their own values.
“Teaching texts all the time gets boring, but teaching through the arts really talks to the kids’ hearts,” Ozeri said. “Photography specifically is a great tool, because it is accessible to all. How many people can paint or do a sculpture? Everybody can use a camera.”
A workshop in May in Los Angeles will teach educators how to implement the program.
For more information, visit www.jewishlens.com.
Artwork by Samuel Bak, a Holocaust survivor, is at the center of a monthlong program at the New JCC at Milken. Twenty-six educators from public and private schools gathered last month, and with the help of the national nonprofit group, Facing History and Ourselves, learned how to use Bak’s art as a focal point for studying history and linking it to current events and universal themes of tolerance and diversity.
Bak’s exhibit, “Between Two Worlds,” will be at the JCC through Jan. 9, with a full schedule of lectures and community events, including a Community Festival with art, drama, music and food Dec. 12, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at The New JCC at Milken, Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, 22622 Vanowen St. in West Hills. For more information, visit www.jccatmilken.org.
After Elaine Hall Katz attended an event at the Zimmer Children’s Museum aimed at children with special needs, she wished there were other creative Jewish venues for her child, who has autism. Katz is the founder of Kids on Stage, which stages plays for children of varying abilities from gifted to moderately impaired. She decided to create The Miracle Project, which will introduce children with social and developmental challenges to the world of Judaic art and culture. The project involves two 11-week workshops for children where they will create, act in and stage design their own Jewish-themed play, plus participate in a documentary film on the project and a cast album recording. A concurrent program for parents will involve them in Torah learning and helping with the production.
Katz envisions the 40-child troupe to include 20 “typical” children, 10 children with mild to moderate challenges who are used to being in a mainstream setting and 10 children whose challenges are more serious (for example, requiring an aide). The Jewish Community Foundation has provided a $40,000 grant; Katz is relying on in-kind donations and support from participants to make up the balance, which she estimates at $120,000. There will be a $594 fee per student to cover the workshops and participating in the play, but Katz said no one will be turned away due to lack of funds.
Recruitment for both children and volunteers is ongoing through the end of December, with session one slated to begin Jan. 12. There are no auditions; participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
For more information, contact the Miracle Project at (310) 963-2240. –Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer
And We Want to Thank…
Students across the city celebrated Thanksgiving last week with food, drama and old-fashioned gratitude. At Maimonides Academy, eighth-graders raffled off a turkey to raise money for the class trip, and Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy students collected food and then packaged Thanksgiving baskets for the Jewish Family Service’s Family Violence Unit.
At the Conejo Jewish Day School, kids from kindergarten through sixth grade participated in a Thanksgiving festival, where themes of being thankful for everyday miracles and cooperating with each other were brought into focus through poetry, song and drama.
Please send items for Class Notes or for the upcoming Family Calendar to email@example.com.
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If your child, grandchild, student, nephew or neighbor has said something so amazingly cute or heartwarming or inspiring that you just can’t keep it to yourself, send it to us — we’ll help you get the word out.
Please send your short quote or story, along with a photo, to Kvell of the Week at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish Aid Sought on Gang Problem
"I’d love to tell you I’m some brilliant mastermind that chartered this treaty, but the reality is that week by week, we’re still working the streets," William "Blinky" Rodriguez said about the gang treaty he helped broker to bring rival groups together to talk. "We’d be out until 2, 3, 4 in the morning."
Rodriguez is executive director of Communities in Schools, a group that works against violence and provides after-school and employment services. He builds coalitions of nonprofit groups, law enforcement agencies and legislators that help youth avoid joining gangs.
Throughout his life, Rodriguez said, the intervention of several caring Jewish men helped him along the right path. Today, he is asking the Jewish community to be at the forefront of his plans to help return communication and hope to neighborhoods ravaged by violence.
"As an individual, I got into this work with high-risk youth in the ’70s," Rodriguez recalled. "The hook that I had was the martial arts."
Rodriguez, 50, was a hall of fame pioneer in kickboxing. Students from around the country would flock to his gym in Van Nuys.
"But in 1990 a tragedy happened," he said. "One of my sons was killed in a drive-by shooting in Sylmar. So it was really at that time in my life that I had to make some real decisions."
One decision was pivotal: to devote his life to ending violence in his community.
"In 1993, I was able, along with a few other people, to pull off a peace treaty with 76 gangs in the San Fernando Valley," Rodriguez said.
Homicides in the year following what became known as the Valley Unity Peace Treaty plummeted from 56 to two. But peace treaties are not self-enforcing. Rodriguez and his allies walked the streets in the East Valley in the dead of night, trying to keep violence from erupting.
"The bottom line is that before the treaty, there was a lot of killing going on, mothers getting killed, kids getting killed," Rodriguez said. "Within the prison system there were guys doing life sentences [in the meantime] losing kids and grandkids in the barrios, in the ghettos."
"They basically said, ‘Ya basta, that’s enough,’ so we just seized the moment and pulled a meeting off," he explained. "Every Sunday, when there were issues, we met [with the gangs]."
Communication, it turned out, was the key, Rodriguez explained, adding, "Instead of guys picking up guns, they’d pick up the phone."
"He [still] meets every Wednesday night with gang members from around the Valley, and he’s been trying to broker another peace treaty," said LAPD Deputy Chief Ron Berman, in charge of the San Fernando Valley.
The 1993 treaty is no longer in effect. The Valley’s population has grown substantially since 1993, and the number of gang-related homicides in the LAPD’s Valley Bureau in 2003 was 24.
For any peace to last, open communication has to begin with the youth early. For this, at least, Rodriguez could draw on his personal experiences.
"It seems like at pivotal times in my life, a Jewish man would appear." At the age of 12, Rodriguez met middle school teacher Jack Jacobson. "He took the time to ask me [about] my problems. He could have just swatted me away, but he ended up taking me deep-sea fishing with him. That’s communication and exposure."
"Ultimately, it’s all tied to a quality of life," Rodriguez said.
His longtime friend, Robert Arias, introduced him to Communities in Schools, a national organization. Together they built the local chapter, which now runs a gamut of social, educational and conflict-mediation services.
"We have 35 people who facilitate prevention and intervention programs for middle school youth, providing case managers for the 250 most disruptive or at-risk kids in the school," said Arias, president of the greater Los Angeles chapter of Communities in Schools.
The organization also works with the County Probation Department, helping 30 youngsters who are on probation on each of 40 middle school campuses, in addition to last-ditch, hard-core gang intervention efforts.
With more early intervention in youngsters’ lives (in the tradition of Jack Jacobson), perhaps it wouldn’t have been necessary to patrol the streets at 3 a.m., as Rodriguez did, maintaining peace treaties between gangs.
It’s especially with early intervention that Rodriguez seeks help from the Jewish community.
"I think it’s important that people recognize that there’s a role for everyone to play," he said. "When Rabbi Alan Freehling was appointed to the Commission on Human Relations for the city of Los Angeles, he reached out to me."
After becoming the executive director of the commission, Freehling said, "One of the first people I met with was Rodriguez. I found him to be highly dedicated to ridding the city of gang violence."
"I believe the ties between [Communities in Schools] and the Jewish community would be most important because it would show another aspect of tikkun olam [heal the world]" Freehling said. "There needs to be an educational or economic alternative [to gangs], and that can only be offered by people in the business community who are ready to employ these young people."
Insofar as education, Rodriguez said, "some of my discussions in the Jewish community have been about bringing in mentor-tutors [for the youngsters]. Illiteracy is a huge problem."
"Most people live in a community where they don’t experience gang violence," Deputy Chief Berman said. "They don’t have a gun stuffed in their face and somebody saying, ‘Give me your wallet.’ They don’t have loved ones who are cut down in the street."
"We’re trying to raise the awareness of people who live in communities where they don’t have gang members hanging out, that this is partially their problem, too, and they need to help," Berman continued.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky recently helped Communities in Schools acquire a new facility in Pacoima that will help connect young people with employment and academic assistance, to push them off the road to violence.
"We’re already lining up the mentor-tutors to tie to it," Rodriguez said.
Both Rodriguez and Arias explained that mentors receive 10 hours of training through either UCLA or California State University Northridge.
"We’re not going to put you in a situation where you’re not prepared," Arias said. "And secondly, we truly believe this, I’ve been at this for 30 years: Love transcends all. When kids see that there are adults who are emotionally invested in their welfare, there’s a bonding that takes place that transcends ethnicity, religion, any of that."
FIT FOR AMIT
To inaugurate Debbie Herbst, the new regional president, 30 members of AMIT gathered July 15 at the Luxe Hotel in Beverly Hills for an installation brunch.
AMIT, the Zionist program supporting religious education and social services for Israeli youth, has until now “been largely sustained by the older generation,” said Gail Bershon, Western regional director.
One of Herbst’s goals as president is to integrate younger generations to create a more intergenerational program.
“We want to continue with the AMIT mission, but we also want to create a new generation for Los Angeles,” said Herbst, who will serve as regional president for three years. “We want to expand and focus on bringing in new members…. We want to do more events and want the public to be more knowledgeable about what we do, which is helping the neglected and abused kids of Israel.”
Ex-president Dina Goldstein was honored for her three years of service and “untiring efforts,” receiving a small sculpture representing the AMIT icon. All other ex-presidents in attendance were presented with small Israeli flags. — Lauren Bragin, Contributing Writer
STARS GIVE HOPE
City of Hope’s 2004 national convention July 17-19 at the Beverly Hilton concluded with a traditional black-tie banquet.
The banquet honored former City of Hope head Ben Horowitz and actress Rhonda Fleming for their dedication and commitment to City of Hope, known for its cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes treatment and research centers.
Comedian Norm Crosby, who celebrated his 21st year as City of Hope’s national ambassador of good will, introduced Carol Channing who presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Fleming, her longtime friend.
“I just have to say one thing: I give God all the glory, because he blessed me so,” said an emotional Fleming. “This is one of the highlights of my life, to have this happen tonight.”
Chairman emeritus Mike Hirsch introduced special honoree Horowitz, who was greeted by a standing ovation.
“I have been sharing the most significant aspects of my life with the City of Hope,” Horowitz said.
“May the light you shine bring hope to the world and to all mankind,” he added, speaking to the more than 1,000 delegates in attendance, at which point he was surprised with a cake to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Among those present at the convention were actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr., with his daughter, actress Stephanie Zimbalist; unmerciful fashion critic Mr. Blackwell; and former game show host Monty Hall, who emceed the Roll Call of the Nation, at which volunteers turned in the money they’d raised on behalf of City of Hope, among others.
JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME
Aish L.A.’s sold-out Journey of a Lifetime dinner at the Beverly Hilton June 8 attracted a crowd of more than 1,100 guests to raise money for Aish programs.
Aish, which became popular with its SpeedDating program, now has more than 25 branches in eight countries. Aish provides “outreach for the unaffiliated Jew to reconnect as a young adult,” said Chana Heller who is in charge of women’s outreach programming. Besides social events, Aish L.A. offers everything from weekly study classes and discovery seminars to low-cost trips to Israel.
At the dinner, speakers shared personal stories about their trips to Israel with Aish.
“Jews and Israel are tied together — it recharges your soul when you go there,” said Lauren Kest, recalling her trip to Israel with her family through Aish L.A.
Following dinner, more than 400 young professionals in their 20s to early 40s attended the after-party upstairs in the penthouse suite, with refreshments and drinks and mingled until the wee hours of the morning
“Aish L.A. aspires to be the No. 1 place in Los Angeles for young Jews to meet, network and learn more about their Jewish heritage,” said Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Aish L.A.’s executive director.
For more information on Aish’s programming and next trip to Israel, call Rabbi David Ordon at (310) 278-8672, ext. 503. — Mihal Peretz
New jewelry stores are always welcome additions to Los Angeles’ shopping landscape. In June, designer Hilary Druxman opened Hilary Druxman Design, her flagship store at 1413 Montana Ave., Santa Monica.
More than 500 people filled the sanctuary at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks July 25 for a free preview performance of “The Ten Commandments: A New Musical,” sponsored by The Jewish Journal, BCBG and Max Azria Entertainment.
Rabbi Richard Spiegel of Temple Etz Chaim opened the evening, followed by “The Ten Commandments” director Robert Iscove, who discussed the success of the musical abroad, which opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 18. He introduced two of the original cast members, Kevin Earley and Nick Rodriguez.
Earley and Rodriguez each sang a selection from the original score, then concluded with the duet, “Brothers Still.”
The performances were followed by a panel discussion about the Ten Commandments and pop culture, moderated by Spiegel. Panelists included Rabbi Isaac Jaret, president of Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sepharadic Temple Tifereth Israel and Rabbi Morris Rubenstein of Valley Beth Israel in Sun Valley.
At the event’s conclusion, guests viewed original artwork by artist Melissa Blatt, while they enjoyed a catered dessert reception donated by Delice Bakery in Los Angeles.
The successful event was the second in a series of free community events sponsored by The Jewish Journal and Jewish Families of Conejo and the West Valley.
For more information on free Jewish Journal-sponsored events in the Conejo Valley or your area, call (213) 368-1661, ext. 246. — MP
OSBOURNE’S CANCER SHOW
People who know the Osbourne family from their eponymous MTV reality show will probably know that matriarch Sharon Osbourne had a not-so-wonderful reality of her own — cancer.
Following her struggle with colon cancer, Osbourne decided she wanted to get involved by providing support for the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was treated. The establishment of the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program was announced July 28.
“The program will focus on three main components,” said Dr. Edward Phillips, director of the Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery. “It will provide financial assistance and sponsored care to those who might not otherwise be able to afford treatment, it will give all patients access to state-of-the-art treatment protocols and at the same time, it will research new treatments and elevate public awareness about colon cancer.”
“Colon cancer is a particularly insidious disease that strikes both men and women,” Osbourne said. “If caught in time, the treatments can be highly effective — but they are not fun for anyone and can be out of reach financially for too many. When I saw people taking the public bus after a chemotherapy treatment, I knew I had to get involved.” — LB
The Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) is an organization that does a lot of fundraising in America so that scientists in Israel can continue seeking a cure for cancer.
In Los Angeles, the ICRF held its ninth annual Women of Action luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel June 23. The luncheon bestowed the Women of Action award on actress-dancer Debbie Allen, artist and ICRF board chairman Jacqueline Bell, internist and cardiologist Debra R. Judelson and investment banker Lauren B. Leichtman.
Other guests included Robin Broidy and luncheon chair Norma Fink. There was also a surprise visit from mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg who stopped in to give the awardees city proclamations.
ICRF has contributed nearly $28 million to underwrite 1,413 research grants at all the major hospitals, universities and cancer research institutions in Israel. art of giving
Arts No Longer Plays Second Fiddle
More than 10 times during Rena Ahdut’s stay at Solomon Schechter overnight camp in Olympia, Wash., last summer, her mother made the long drive from Tacoma to bring her home for dance rehearsals.
“It was kind of hard to come and go all the time,” said Rena, 14, who dances ballet, tap and jazz 35 hours a week at the Dance Theater Northwest.
For Rena, missing weeks of dance rehearsal was unthinkable, but so was missing out on the quintessential Jewish youth experience of summer camp.
This summer, Rena hopes to have that conflict resolved for her for at least two weeks when she attends T’hila, a new program at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley that integrates a Jewish camping experience with an arts experience molded for young, talented artists who are as serious about their craft as Rena.
“If a child is incredibly talented as a Jewish artist, she can got to Interlochen [Center for the Arts in Michigan] or Tanglewood [Institute in Massachusetts], or she can go to Jewish camp, and her experience in terms of arts is not going to be at the same level, she will not be pushed and challenged in the same way,” said Shana Starobin, program director for T’hila. “We see the need in the Jewish community to create an opportunity for those kids who are really exceptional to explore their art in a Jewish context.”
The creation of actor/singer/songwriter Danny Maseng, T’hila will bring together a faculty of highly accomplished Jewish artists in drama, dance, visual arts, music and creative writing with high schoolers who want to make art a life pursuit.
Being dedicated to both the arts and Judaism poses enormous challenges are presented: Rena and her family, for example, decided to dance on Saturdays and to focus on kabbalat Shabbat on Friday nights.
“I haven’t been as involved in my synagogue as I wanted to, because I don’t have time,” Rena said. “I just want to be around Jewish kids in the summer, since I’m not really around them very often here.”
But with a $1,400 price tag for T’hila, which as a pilot program is 12 days at the end of August this year, Tovah Ahdut isn’t sure she’ll be able to send her daughter.
For families who pay for dance or drama or art lessons, along with Hebrew school or day school tuition and synagogue membership, costs become prohibitive. Limited scholarships are available for T’hila, which costs about the same as other arts camps and Jewish camps. About 15 kids have been accepted to the 40 slots available.
David Goodman, a 17-year-old writer and musician from Encinitas, Calif., who is attending T’hila this summer, looks forward to combining his Judaism with his art.
“No two things are more important to me than Judaism and the arts, and I haven’t had the opportunity to put those together and to focus on both those things as one unit,” he said.
At T’hila, which is Hebrew for Psalm, Jewish texts, for instance, might become the jumping-off point for artistic expression, and artistic expression will be framed in Jewish terms.
That kind of total integration separates T’hila from BIMA: The Berkshire Institute of Music and Arts in Massachusetts, a new program where about 40 Jewish high schoolers have already signed up for a summer of music, theater, dance, writing or visual arts instruction and Jewish learning at Williams College in Massachusetts.
While some aspects of the program will combine Judaism and the arts, “What we’re really looking for is to create opportunities for the two to intersect, but not necessarily to construct a synthesized experience,” said Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, executive director of BIMA, which is a joint project of the Gann Academy-The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston, where Lehmann is headmaster, and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.
Both BIMA and T’hila are nondenominational and pluralistic; both will have kosher food and be respectful of Shabbat.
Maseng hopes that, by next summer, T’hila will have a full two sessions, and that the program becomes the cornerstone for an arts institute.
Brandeis is already working with a donor to build a year-round center for the arts on its property, where artists can gather for retreats, the community can come to learn and multidisciplinary performances can be produced.
“Brandeis was founded for young people to explore their Jewish identity in the beautiful setting that we have and to explore it through a number of different avenues,” said Helen Zukin, board chair at Brandeis. “Art, music, drama and dance were always important to the Brandeis experience and part of the mission since the beginning.”
Maseng sees a national Jewish art institute that focuses on participation, not passive viewing, as a way to remedy a problem in the perception of the arts in the Jewish community, where art is what happens between salad and dessert, he said.
And the place to start, he said, is with the youth.
“I’m not there to teach the kids to be religious or to tell them how to lead their lives, but I am here to impress upon them that they will never again look upon Judaism as irrelevant and Jewish art as trivial or having nothing to say to them in their lives or to teach them about their personal, current condition in life,” Maseng said. “And if we do that, that is a success.”
For more information on T’hila, call (805) 404-5209 or
visit www.thebbbi.org/thila. For information on BIMA call (781) 642-6800 or
visit www.bimasummerarts.org .
Imagine if hitting the restaurants was a mitzvah. For one day, at least, it will be. Finally, the guilt-free excuse to overeat you’ve been looking for. On May 4, the Sunday before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), Eat-4-Israel, a campaign created by yeshiva high schoolers, will do just that — encourage people to patronize participating kosher restaurants. The restaurants will donate 10 percent of the day’s gross receipts to their choice of seven Israel-based humanitarian organizations that are endorsed by the campaign: Hatzolah, Bet Ashanti, Ezer Mizion, Save Our Soldiers, Yad Eliezer, Yad Sarah and ZAKA.
Eat-4-Israel was the brainchild of Monique Grunberger, a high school senior at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, who developed the idea with two local Yeshiva University of Los Angeles students, Yitz Novak and Zvi Smith.
“I was getting fed up,” said Grunberger, who in March was frustrated by the underwhelming response to a pro-Israel letter-writing campaign she aimed at senators on Capitol Hill.
In two months time, the trio of 18-year-olds enlisted a roster of North American restaurants, mostly Los Angeles-based businesses, including Pico-Robertson area destinations — Jeff’s Gourmet, Nagila Pizza and Chick ‘N Chow — and Pizza World and Mr. Pickles Deli in greater Los Angeles.
The high schoolers partnered with several organizations — including StandWithUs, UCLA Hillel, the Zionist Organization of America, Far West United Synagogue Youth, West Coast National Council of Synagogue Youth, HaBonim Dror and the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA — to promote the event. Smith also noted that the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Jewish Federation beneficiary agency, will contribute a $1,000 Israel Teen Leadership Seminar Grant, which will go toward advertising costs.
Grunberger, Novak and Smith — all of whom will be studying together in Israel next year — have short-term and long-term goals for Eat-4-Israel.
“Other than raising at least $10,000 for Israel,” Grunberger said, “I would like to see Jewish communities where this event is taking place come together, no matter what denomination, to help Israel. I would like to see this as an annual event.”
“The most basic reward of putting this together has been the experience of working with the community,” Smith added. “But it’s also very fulfilling to represent Israel. It’s nice to see that no matter where we are, we can stand with Israel.”
Eat-4-Israel will take place on Sunday, May 4. For a complete list of participating restaurants, go to www.mobilize4israel.org/eat4israel .
The Musical Sound of ‘Lights’
Not all Chanukah music is kiddie music — even when it’s played by kids. On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the West Coast premiere of Russell Steinberg’s suite, "Lights On!" Steinberg will conduct the Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra, a group of 70 youngsters ages 9 to 18 from throughout greater Los Angeles, who attend more than 40 public and private schools.
The second half of the program will be Steinberg’s "Symphony No. 2," titled, "What Is a Jew?" featuring narration by actor Ed Asner, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom.
"Lights On!" gives a symphonic twist to eight traditional Chanukah tunes. After beginning in darkness, the musicians add one melody after another, with the light increased for each tune, until they finish in a blaze of light and a complex intertwining of sound — a musical chanukiah on the eighth night of the holiday.
"I didn’t like most Chanukah music," Steinberg told The Journal, speaking from a residency at the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire. That disaffinity, he said, "gave me a blank canvas," and the piece wound up being "a lot of fun to write."
Steinberg, 43, who holds a doctorate in music composition from Harvard University, was hired at Milken Community High School four years ago to teach music. He created a conservatory at the school that gradually expanded to younger children. The youth orchestra is an outgrowth of the conservatory.
"We’re reaching out to the whole community, not just Jewish kids," Steinberg said.
A self-described "Valley boy," Steinberg said he came late to an interest in Jewish music, which was sparked by his involvement with Milken and through association with Noreen Green, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Attending Shabbatons at Brandeis-Bardin Institute, he said, also brought him into Jewish life.
"I realized [music] was a wonderful way for me to explore Judaism," Steinberg said. "It’s a journey I never would have imagined taking."
The Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra will perform Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $8 (Skirball members), $10 (nonmembers). For tickets call (310) 440-3500 ext. 3344.
Shooting in Cheviot Hills
A dispute between two groups of young Persian men, one Jewish, one Muslim, erupted in a shooting at Cheviot Hills Park the night of June 3.
Approximately 40 young men gathered in a back parking lot at the park, reportedly to resolve an ongoing dispute. Witnesses interviewed by police say the two groups had agreed before meeting not to bring any weapons. But a verbal argument quickly escalated into a brawl, and at around 10:30 p.m., shots were fired.
The shooting is reportedly the result of an ongoing dispute between two small Persian groups in Westwood — one Jewish, the other Muslim. Witnesses interviewed by police described arguments and a fistfight over the past few weeks and an alleged incident in which the group of Muslim men spit on a rabbi in Westwood.
The victim’s brother, Aaron Sinai, says he and the victim first met the suspected shooter about two months ago, during a weekend basketball game at Emerson Middle School’s courts, where an argument broke out over who would play next. The animosity between the Muslim and Jewish groups reportedly escalated over the following weeks, culminating in the spitting on the rabbi and finally the shooting.
The park’s field supervisor, Sean Caster, was at the park removing bases from the baseball fields when he noticed the fight and went to call 911. While waiting to be connected, Caster reported hearing at least three gunshots. Caster, a former lance corporal in the Marine Corps, identified the first two shots as "small arms," most likely a .25-caliber handgun, and the third "sounded like a shotgun." Caster rushed to clear other patrons out of the park, and, seeing a group carrying the wounded man, drove the victim in a golf cart to the front parking lot, where he was taken by ambulance to UCLA Medical Center.
Suspected shooter Jansha Cohen, 25, arrested by police at the park and positively identified by numerous witnesses, has been charged with attempted murder. He is being held on $2 million bail and is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 19.
Victim Farzad Sinai, 19, who is Jewish, is in stable condition, after suffering two bullet wounds in the chest, one of which punctured his stomach and liver.
LAPD Detective Jim Willis says the accused shooter has official identification with the name of Cohen. However, Aaron Sinai told The Journal that he does not believe the suspect’s name is really Cohen. Police and Sinai agree that shooting suspect has multiple tattoos on his arms and chest. Sinai claims that at least one of the tattoos features Arabic writing. Attempts to confirm this at press time were not successful.
Willis recovered a handgun at the park, which is being tested to determine if it is the weapon used in the shooting. Willis believes that the incident in the park is an isolated one. "We’ve tried to connect it to a lot of other things going on, but this is not related to any other incident." The detective also said that the shooting was not being investigated as a hate crime, and that neither the Jewish nor Muslim groups of young men were "recognized criminal street gangs."
City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose 5th District includes parts of Westwood and Cheviot Hills, though it curves around the park, is concerned that the incident may signal a developing problem. "This is a Westside story straight out of ‘West Side Story’ — that’s really bizarre. Tensions may be high in other areas, other parts of the world, but I don’t believe this is representative of the level of tension in Los Angeles," Weiss said. He added that his office would continue to monitor the investigation to determine whether the violence was part of a larger conflict.
For parents who crave structure in summer for footloose children, space is still available at a handful of local Jewish day camps for elementary- and middle school-aged youth. Themed, half-day preschool camps at synagogues, though, are filling fast.
New this summer is a camp in Rancho Santa Margarita that is already proving popular. Morasha Jewish Day School will serve as a second site for Silver Gan Israel, the county’s largest Jewish day camp, which is organized and operated by Huntington Beach’s Hebrew Academy.
By mid-May, 80 children had enrolled for portions of four two-week sessions, June 24-Aug. 16. “I’m blown away,” says Rabbi Yossi Mentz, the camp director and Hebrew Academy teacher. “For a first year, that’s amazing.” About 450 children are expected daily in Huntington Beach.
Above-ground pools are to be installed at Morasha to supplement a camp itinerary that includes sports, drama, art, computers, “mad” science, kick boxing, twice-weekly field trips and Friday Shabbat parties. Older youth can participate in overnight camping trips to Big Bear and Castaic Lake.
Silver Gan Israel costs $320 per session. About $20,000 in partial scholarships were awarded to 100 children last year, Mentz says. In addition, the camp offers $10-per-day bus transportation from locations around the county.
A camp open-house is scheduled June 2 at Morasha and June 9 at Huntington Beach.
Camp Director Rabbi Heidi Cohen says about 60 campers, kindergarten through ninth grade, are expected in each of eight weekly sessions offered at Santa Ana’s Camp Sholom, located at Temple Beth Sholom. Two days are spent on theater, sports and arts, with afternoons at a pool; Tuesdays at the beach; Thursdays on a field trip or a mitzvah project; and Fridays on shabbat activities, including a really loud song session. “That’s a great way to end the week,” says Cohen, who accompanies singers on guitar. Older kids, who spend a week as “counselors in training” or CITs, assist younger kids on projects and games.
Cohen, who leads a circle of prayer, songs and announcements both morning and afternoon, also joins campers for rock-climbing, laser tag and jumps off a high dive. “I think it’s important for kids to see a rabbi in this role,” she says. “I want my kids to know I’m approachable.”
Also planned is an overnight at a park in Yorba Linda. A camp mitzvah project will include selecting, cooking and packaging meals for Ronald McDonald House, where parents stay while their children are at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Camp Sholom costs $200 per week.
About 75 school-age children are expected at each of four two-week sessions at Camp Haverim, the Jewish Community Center camp in its third year at Irvine’s Tarbut v’Torah campus. Each week’s activities take a theme such as Israel, carnival and Olympics, says Sari Poremba, the camp director.
Haverim also offers specialty camps in theater, music, amusement park touring and sports, a new offering. On July 17-19, campers will stage a production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Susanne Levitt, a UC Irvine instructor.
CIT campers receive $100 for their efforts. Most sessions cost $410 per week. The camp holds several fundraisers throughout the summer, last year raising $7,000 towards scholarships for 15 youth.
The smallest day camp is at Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel, held July 8-Aug. 9. Mondays and Fridays are spent onsite on sports, mitzvah projects, Israeli dancing and cooking, says Barbara Sherman, the camp director. Successive days are spent at the beach, touring, poolside or at an amusement park.
The cost is $175 per week.
Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El canceled a planned half-day camp for elementary-aged youth for lack of interest, says Linda Kirsch, education director. But the synagogue is holding half-day camps for children 2 to kindergarten age around themes such as reptiles, farms and Judaica, says Terry Fierle, early childhood director.
Little ones will enjoy similar themes at separate half-day preschool camps at Chabad of Laguna Jewish Center in Laguna Beach and the JCC in Costa Mesa. Preschool camps are filled at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm and Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat.
Purity of Weapons
I will never forget July 12, 1984. That was my first day on the Ketziot basic training base, my new "home" as an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier in the Givati Infantry Brigade. One by one we were issued what was then the standard IDF infantry weapon, the Israeli-made Galil submachine gun. Here we were, 18-year-old kids who barely knew anything about life, and being entrusted with weapons that had the potential to save lives or to take lives.
Once we all received our weapons, we were gathered into a room where an officer was waiting to address us. We expected a lesson on the mechanics of the Galil rifle. Instead, the officer had come to speak to us about a concept that is unique to the IDF — "Tohar Ha’Neshek," the "Purity of the Weapon." This concept was defined by the officer as the difference between the moral use of the weapon and the immoral use of the weapon.
When asked for the IDF’s understanding of the difference between "the moral and immoral use of the weapon," the officer responded, "Well, I’m not a particularly religious person, but I guess the best way to explain it is the difference between a Kiddush Ha’Shem (sanctification of God’s name) and a Chilul Ha’Shem (desecration of God’s name)."
The terms Kiddush Ha’Shem and Chilul Ha’Shem used by the IDF officer have their origins in Parashat Emor, where regarding God’s name, the Torah commands: "You shall not desecrate my holy name (Lo t’chalelu — hence Chilul Ha’Shem), rather I shall be sanctified (Ve’nikdashti — hence Kiddush Ha’Shem) among the Israelites" (Leviticus 22:32).
Maimonides interprets this verse as applying to "the whole House of Israel," and actually lists two commandments in this regard:
1) "You shall not desecrate." This is the prohibition of Chilul Ha’Shem, a commandment not to do anything to give God or the Torah a bad name.
2) "I shall be sanctified." This is the commandment of Kiddush Ha’Shem, to enhance the reputation of God and his Torah.
After the officer’s lecture about the purity of the weapon, I remember one soldier commenting that he found it odd that an officer who describes himself as "not particularly religious" would employ such religious terminology as Chilul Ha’Shem and Kiddush Ha’Shem to explain the proper use of a weapon. It is odd, unless we remember that the IDF soldier, religious or secular, is representing the Jewish state, which, according to its own Declaration of Independence, is "based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets."
My unit found itself in Southern Lebanon six months later. We had been well-trained in responding to ambushes on our traveling convoys, and the Galil weapon we were issued had unfortunately gotten its fair share of real-life wear and tear.
One day, we were attacked by a surprise explosion, which, it turned out, was not an ambush of gunfire or rockets but a suicide bomber in a car. Not having known that this was the nature of the attack, we responded like we were taught — jump out of the vehicle and return fire. Within moments, it became clear that the ambush did not involve anybody having fired on us, so we were immediately ordered to hold our fire.
When one of the soldiers screamed out, "What do you mean hold our fire? Look how many of our people have been injured," the response from the officer was, "There are civilians in the nearby refugee camp. We have no need or interest in injuring or killing them."
There was no CNN camera there for the officer to be saying that to, just the driving force of Tohar Ha’Neshek. Now I understood the lecture of six months earlier. Now I understood what the Torah means by a Kiddush Ha’Shem. P.S. The officer who gave us the order to hold our fire was not religious.
From Three to One?
Can one Jewish Community Center (JCC) serve a population as vast as that of the San Fernando Valley?
That is the question facing Jewish communities from Burbank to Calabasas, and so far, the answer is a resounding no — even from some of the people who launched the idea in the first place.
“I don’t think the goal is to have one site for the entire Valley, nor do I think Westside can serve all of the city,” said Nina Lieberman-Giladi, executive director of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). “But we can’t do a good job [anywhere] until we can do so in [a] fiscally responsible manner.”
Granted, the JCC singled out for this honor is not your typical center. Dubbed the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, better known as the West Valley JCC, the facility houses the Ferne Milken Sports and Youth Complex, completed in 1999.
The sports complex includes a teen center (unstaffed because of recent cutbacks), two workout rooms and a 12,000-square-foot auditorium/basketball court. The $4.5 million sports complex was built with separate funds raised by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.
The Milken Campus is also home to the offices of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, as well as the Valley offices of the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Family Service and a host of other agencies, thus making it the hub for the organized Jewish community in the Valley.
The idea of one center is supported by some statistics: namely, membership numbers from the centers. The number of household units, which comprises both individual members and family memberships, has declined.
At North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, membership units dropped from 275 to 200. At Valley Cities in Van Nuys, membership dropped from 200 to 170 units. Although the West Valley JCC also experienced a precipitous drop of approximately 500, at 1,000 household units, it still outdistances the other centers.
Yet proponents of keeping the other two Valley centers open argue that there are equally solid reasons why the Milken Campus cannot substitute for locally grown centers.
According to Pini Herman, former Federation planning and allocations research coordinator and currently with Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, a 1997 survey performed for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles revealed that of the 248,000 Jewish families living in the San Fernando Valley area, about half had at least one member who visited or participated in a program at their local Jewish community center in the prior year.
“That’s about 120,000 people … who used the centers. Of course, not everybody uses [the Milken Campus] at the same time, but what if there’s a special event? It’s an inadequate facility when you’re talking about a midsize city showing up for even one day of the year,” Herman said.
Herman noted that the San Fernando Valley area also contains more Jews of middle and lower incomes than elsewhere in Los Angeles.
“What we found in the survey is the Valley was the only area where the median income did not increase but remained stagnant or even below every other area of the city of Los Angeles [compared with prior surveys],” he said.
“Jewish community centers provide middle-income families, the predominant families in the Valley, with affordable Jewish services like camp and preschool they may not be able to afford otherwise,” Herman said. “That’s why the Valley has been disproportionately hit” by the centers’ impending closures, he said.
There is also the simple problem of geography. On the best day with no traffic, it takes 20 minutes to get from Van Nuys (home of Valley Cities JCC) to West Hills, where the Milken Campus is located, and 35-40 minutes from the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills.
Even that assumes people are only driving from center to center. It does not take into account the people already commuting to North Valley or Valley Cities from areas like Santa Clarita.
The situation is especially tough on working parents who rely on the JCC for their preschoolers and to provide after-school care for children of all ages.
“I live in Northridge and work in Studio City, yet they want me to take my kids to [school] in Woodland Hills? It just wouldn’t work,” said Andrea Goodstein, a television news producer and an active North Valley JCC member.
Goodstein is the leader of the movement in the North Valley to retain the site and its services. A mother of two children under the age of 6, she said that the JCC holds a unique position: “Where else would I send my daughter to camp? There are no camps for 2-year-olds.”
A Valley Cities parent, Nelly Neben, echoed Goodstein’s sentiments: “So many Jews and non-Jews come to the center for after-school care because it is safe and wholesome. The children take on a sense of community and belonging, and there are no other places that provide that. For the growth of the children, they need a place like the center.”
Even if the West Valley JCC was conveniently located for the entire Valley, there is the issue of capacity: the preschool is full and the after-school program is close to full, according Ronda Wilkin, outgoing center director.
So what is the solution? According to Marty Jannol, JCCGLA president, the time has come for “thinking outside the box” and looking at alternatives.
“Across the country Jewish community centers have operated from a central location and served the community in ‘centers without walls,'” Jannol said. “Who’s to say we can’t rent space for a preschool and run it so Jewish parents who want to send their children to a Jewish nursery school can do so?
“One of the resistance points in the community is that we’re wedded to a way of doing business that may not be effective. It’s our desire to provide more programming, not less, but if we’ve learned anything it’s that the community doesn’t want to be tied to a facility that is undermanaged and in poor condition,” she said.
Jannol also said that in the future, centers will need to take a different approach in order to attract more members.
“For example, Valley Cities is located in a very stable Jewish population,” she said. “There are large Israeli and Orthodox communities in the area, and neither are being sufficiently served. If research supported it and if we rebuilt the building on that piece of real estate, we could have a very viable center, a two-story building with perhaps separate facilities for men and women.”
Supporters of the two centers facing closure say they will not give up without a fight. North Valley JCC members have formed an advisory board and are discussing their options. Valley Cities’ advisory board will hold a fundraiser Jan. 9. Each group hopes for a reprieve similar to that granted the Westside JCC.
Richard Rosett, a past president of the Valley Cities board, said he hopes the effort does not come too late.
“For years we heard from The Jewish Federation that is was not for the centers to go out and do major fundraising,” Rosett lamented. “I’m not here to go to battle with The Federation; we want to be able to work together.
“For whatever reasons, this difficulty is happening, and now the centers need to go out and start getting the … Michael Eisners to make annual donations to the centers. We have to get the people within our community in Los Angeles to step up and assist.”
Here is what is happening at the four JCCs in the San Fernando and Conejo valleys:
The Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus will remain
open. Teen services at the Milken Campus are suspended indefinitely. Ellen
Glutner, chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los
Angeles, moved her offices to the West Valley JCC on Jan. 2 to help oversee the
The preschool at the Conejo Valley JCC will remain
Supporters of the Valley Cities JCC will hold a “Save
the Center” rally on Wednesday, Jan. 9, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the center, 13164
Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys. Entertainment and child care will be provided. For more
information call (818) 786-6310.
The North Valley JCC has formed an advisory board that
hopes to develop a plan to save the center. For future updates, check the Web
To foster a sense of community among Jewish youth in the far corners of Orange County is a difficult task, given that most resources are available exclusively at the county’s Jewish Community Center in Costa Mesa.
For parents able to shlep their youngsters, the center offers an array of youth-oriented programs such as Sunday sports leagues and after-school enrichment classes. But, in practice, participation thins beyond the borders of Huntington Beach or Irvine. "Anything further north or south takes a pretty high-level commitment," said Jay Lewis, assistant director of the Bureau of Jewish Education.
After-school classes, offered either at the JCC or Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine, include piano, voice, crafts, painting, chess, kung fu and cheerleading. Sunday soccer and basketball leagues are offered for grade-school children.
Since 1977, in an effort to create critical mass among youth, the bureau has operated Adat Noar, which literally means youth community. Currently, about 175 ninth-graders participate in the program, which runs during the academic year and meets Sundays at different synagogues throughout the county and for weekend retreats at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.
TALIT, an acronym for "Teens Are Leaders in Training," is a bureau-led group for high-school age youth. About 240 TALIT members meet 12 Sunday nights a year in Costa Mesa. Besides schmoozing and kosher pizza, the teens learn how to serve as camp counselors, song leaders and teacher aides in religious schools. They also help organize social action projects. TALIT is intended to prepare teens to become future community leaders.
Orange County Teen Shabbat, organized by an inter-agency Jewish task force, meets in Costa Mesa on intermittent Friday nights for youth-led Shabbat services, dinner and a teen-oriented speaker. Scheduled dates are Dec. 14, Feb. 22, April 5 and May 10.
Jewish tradition, history and Hebrew are taught at the Pacific Community Jewish Culture School, which meets for a three-hour session two Sundays per month at the JCC. The school is allied with secular, humanistic Judaism, which celebrates Jewish traditions and culture, except for those involving a belief in God. About 30 students are currently enrolled, according to Terry Bayer, a volunteer spokeswoman. Tuition is $375 for 20 sessions. For information contact (949) 640-4246.
The B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, a community-based youth group, serves as the unofficial youth group for the Reform Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley and the Reform Temple Beth Tikvah. The largest local chapter is in Irvine, where two-thirds of its members are unaffiliated with any synagogue, said Rob Petroff, BBYO’s regional director. Members participate in group retreats, regional dances, basketball tournaments and social activism. In all, about 500 teens participate in the southwestern region, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties.
United Synagogue Youth has active programs at the Conservative congregations of B’nai Israel in Tustin and Eilat in Mission Viejo. Besides a Shabbat club for its youth, B’nai Israel also holds Saturday night youth parties, such as a recent jungle-themed event that featured African fire dancers. "Our kids choose USY over anything else," said Barbara Sherman, the congregation youth director.
The National Federation of Temple Youth has active groups at the Reform temples Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, Beth El in Aliso Viejo and Beth Shalom in Santa Ana.
Camp Haverim, which operates during summer and school holidays, is located at the Tarbut V’Torah campus at 5200 Bonita Canyon Drive in Irvine. Winter camp dates are Dec. 24 through Jan. 4. A camp brochure can be obtained by calling (714) 755-0340 ext. 126.
The Young Single Parent Group holds monthly get-togethers for members and their children. For information on upcoming events contact (949) 595-9079.
The Jewish Education Bureau has received $3,500 to create a county teen resource guide and Web site. The guide is expected in late spring of 2002.
In the Running
Skylar Lenox, 14, hasn’t recently visited the cemetery where her father, John, is buried. "It’s just a plot," said Lenox, an award-winning platform diver and president of Adat Ari El’s United Synagogue Youth chapter.
The home-schooled ninth-grader finds more meaning in lighting a yahrtzeit candle in memory of her father and in a Los Angeles Marathon relay to benefit Our House — a nonprofit organization whose grief support groups have helped Skylar and her mother, Marsha, to heal.
On Sunday, Lenox will be one of some 32 Our House children, ages 5 to 14, who will each undertake one mile in memory of a loved one — the only relay race allowed in the 26.2-mile marathon. Skylar, who has participated in two other marathons since John unexpectedly died in 1996, will run the last mile of the course with two other girls and an adult chaperone. "It will be a real milestone for me," said Lenox, now a teen facilitator at Our House. "It will show how far I’ve come since the night my father died, and the difference I’ve made in my life and in the lives of other people."
It will also be an opportunity to remember her father, a tall, blond, strapping producer ("Splash," "Lucy and Desi") who spent a lot of time with his only child. Skylar grew up visiting him on the set of his television movies, where he always found her work as an extra. At home, she accompanied him on long bike rides and listened to him play Chopin or Bach on the family’s Steinway grand piano. Every Saturday night during the summer, the family attended the Hollywood Bowl.
Then, one morning when Skylar was 5, John, a Texas-born non-Jew, felt a tightness in his chest. After he was rushed to the hospital, the family learned that he had suffered a mild heart attack. But Skylar wasn’t worried. The doctors said his prognosis was good.
Five years later, however, the unfathomable occurred. Marsha, who is Jewish, awakened at 3:45 a.m. on July 23, 1996 — John’s 50th birthday — to find her husband absent from bed. She found him in the game room. "He was lying on the floor, and he was cold," Marsha recalled. "I checked his breathing and his pulse, but his fingertips and his face were already black. I was in shock."
Marsha awakened Skylar to break the news. "I knew intuitively what had happened, even before my mom said anything" Skylar recalled. Some time later, the 9-year-old stood in a daze in the front yard. "I remember the paramedics not wanting to talk to me," she said. "They wouldn’t look me in the eye."
At John’s funeral at Forest Lawn, Skylar played with her friends; his death wouldn’t sink in for 10 months. While Marsha intensely grieved ("There were days I couldn’t get out of bed," she said.) Skylar resisted therapy and seemed to be living on automatic pilot.
The dam broke around June of the following year. "I started to become really emotional, but I didn’t know why," Skylar recalled. "Every little thing would trigger me to cry or to behave erratically. I was really confused." Marsha’s private therapist had prepared her for Skylar’s delayed breakdown: "It’s not uncommon for children to wait to see that their remaining parent will be OK before they let themselves grieve," said Marsha, a 45-year-old writer.
Mother and daughter turned to Our House, founded in 1993 by grief specialist Jo-Ann Lautman, who previously ran support groups at Stephen S.Wise Temple. Not long after Skylar’s intake appointment, she attended her first group session, where she sat in a circle of beanbag chairs and passed the "talking stick" with six other children and two adult group leaders. Over the next year and a half, the children talked about their feelings, drew pictures of their loved ones, wrote down memories, played word games and discussed relationships with peers. "It was a safe haven," Skylar recalled. "It was a place to talk about things that your friends don’t understand or may not want to hear. It helped me to realize that what I was going through was normal, that it wasn’t bad, that it was part of a process."
"Most kids our age don’t have the sense that something terrible can happen," she said. "They feel fearless. But we at Our House really know that life doesn’t go on forever."
After attending her support group for 18 months, Skylar decided she wanted to give something back to Our House. Last year, she became a teen facilitator for the organization, helping two adults lead a support group for 8- and 9-year-olds. "The children can look at me and see that things do get better," Skylar said. "It means a lot to me when they say, ‘Thank you for being there.’"
Recently, Skylar and her mother moved back into the Van Nuys home they had left the night John died. Still difficult is the depression that descends upon Skylar every June, the month before the anniversary of John’s death. "I’ve learned not to create obstacles for it," she said. "I just let it come."
Running in the marathon has helped. "It’s a way for me to honor my father," Skylar said. "And it’s a way to raise money for Our House, so other children like me don’t have to feel alone."
For information about Our House, call (310) 475-0299. Our House representatives Lauren Schneider and Fredda Wasserman will be panelists Wed., March 7, at 7:45 at a Bureau of Jewish Education talk by Rabbi Naomi Levy. Call (323) 761-8605 for information.
Fern Milken Sports & Youth Complex
If anyone doubts the popularity of the new Fern Milken Sports & Youth Complex at the West Valley Jewish Community Center, just show up on any given weekday. The center, which used to attract primarily seniors, is now a hangout for youth of all ages, especially those with a love of shooting hoop.
It is a sight Eli Sherman, health and physical education director for the West Valley JCC, had dreamed of for years. He said the $4.5-million facility has increased participation in all areas, especially basketball. The 12,000-square foot auditorium is the setting for not only camp but ongoing classes, adult and youth leagues and open play times throughout the year. The Rita Room multipurpose room has given the center space to offer classes in fencing and table tennis. The interior lobby of the gleaming facility is home to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame with tributes to Jewish athletes, coaches and sports writers. Although not new, the pool and fitness areas continue to attract a daily round of regulars, mostly older adults, while high school students enjoy playing air hockey in the new teen lounge.
“We now have something for everybody,” Sherman said. “For a long time the center had the reputation of attracting either the very young or the older population. What has been missing is the young adults and the young families which are now coming in much greater numbers because of the variety programs we’re able to offer. It’s very exciting for us because the young families represent the future of the Jewish Community Centers in Los Angeles.”
According to West Valley JCC officials, the community center has experienced a 28 percent increase in the number of “member units” or paying members since the Sports & Youth Complex opened in December. Currently about 1,500 adults pay the additional fees on top of their JCC membership to belong to the Fitness Center; an estimated 200 children are signed up to take classes and participate in camping programs this summer.
The expansion of the JCC’s summer program is one of the biggest changes brought about by the new facility. This year the WVJCC will launch an ambitious program of specialty sports camps in five categories: basketball, gymnastics, soccer, tennis and dance. The dance camp will be taught by Laker girl Hope Wood and the basketball camp by former Harlem Globetrotter Sterling “Smooth” Forbes and Kelvin “Special K” Hildreth.
Another area the center staff hopes to promote with the new space is gymnastics. The WVJCC recently received a $25,000 grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation – the folks behind the Olympics – to purchase equipment. Sherman said he has already hired three gymnastic instructors and on Sunday, July 9, at 10 a.m. the center will host a gymnastics demonstration to showcase the new equipment which includes balance beams, tumbling mats and uneven parallel bars.
As participation in the center continues to grow, so does the need for services. Additional adult classes being offered this summer for the first time include Israeli folk dancing and Krav Maga. Center officials also plan to offer babysitting services for infants and children up to age 3, so parents of young children can swim or participate in classes and league activities. “We are able to offer a lot of new activities, a lot of nice things that could never have been possible without the new Fern Milken Sports & Youth Center,” Sherman said.
Sherman should know – he has been with the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles for 45 years. Some of the kids he coached on his first job at the Westside JCC are now middle-aged men with children of their own. He has seen many changes over the years in the Jewish community’s attitude toward fitness, the most dramatic concerning women and sports. As Sherman recalls, in the 1950s girls might participate in one of the popular swimming programs at the “J” or take gymnastics, but never team sports.”The girls back then were the cheerleaders,” he said. “Now as many girls as boys participate in sports. It’s partly a change in attitude, but I think it’s mostly because of television. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past four decades, it’s hard not to be affected by the marketing push to get sports into everybody’s life.”
Sherman said that talking about a sports hero in years past was like discussing “some biblical figure as far removed as Samson from real life.”
“Now every kid can talk about Kobe Bryant or the women of the WNBA,” he said.Although pleased with the new facility, Sherman said he wishes the center had the space to match some of the more impressive Jewish community centers in other parts of the country, such as the one in Cleveland that boasts running tracks, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and baseball fields.”Sadly, in Los Angeles, where we have the second largest Jewish community in the nation, we have never come near having the recreational facilities like you have back East or in the Midwest,” Sherman laments. “Plus in L.A. there’s a bank, a gas station and a fitness center on every corner, so we are in constant competition with the commercial clubs.”
The WVJCC is a part of the Bernard Milken Community Campus in West Hills, which also houses the Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance. The new Sports & Youth Center was a collaboration of the two entities, which joined forces to raise the money necessary to finish the project, although fundraising will continue, according to Rhonda Wilkens, director of the West Valley JCC.
“We are continuing the campaign as an endowment fund so that any time the center needs something, the money is there,” Wilkens said, adding that building maintenance is a high priority. “We want the center to continue to look and feel as beautiful, with state-of-the-art equipment, 20 years from now as it does today.”
The Jewish Cop
3:45 a.m. I am walking down a very dark, silent alleyway in Oakwood, a two-square-mile, mostly low-income community in Venice, behind police officer Robert Eisenhart. A 16-year-old boy, a member of the Venice Shoreline Crips gang, has been shot in the shoulder and in the middle of his back by a member of the same gang. Eisenhart is looking for the shooter, who may be at a party in a nearby darkened house. The silence is almost surreal. I am afraid of what may appear, or explode, out of the darkness. We arrived at the scene minutes before, and I see the boy wheeled out on the stretcher and placed in the ambulance as his brother, his sister and other gang members watch without overt emotion, in dazed silence. I am surprised at the dewy youth of the gang members, and by their glazed faces and darting eyes. The scene has the hopeless, listless feel of the ghetto: some lawns with piled-up rusted machinery, nails, weeds, tubs, broken bicycles, old porcelain, busted mattress springs. An old mattress is stuffed into the window of one house to keep out the cold and prying strangers.
After the ambulance leaves, Bob Eisenhart notes that the victim’s brother appeared to be going about his business. “Don’t you want to be with your brother at the hospital?” he asks him.
“Yeah,” the boy replies. “I just got to make a phone call.”
“I hope your brother gets better,” Eisenhart says.
“Thanks,” the brother answers. It is the only human note at the scene. By this point I have already come to expect it of Eisenhart.
I am on a ride-along with Eisenhart and Officer Steve Fahrney, Eisenhart’s partner that night, on the graveyard shift. I am wearing a bulletproof vest. I had asked to meet a Jewish cop, to find out what it felt like to be a Jew in the L.A.P.D.
At 9:45 roll call, the captain tells the men and women: “Things are heating up with the gangs. Two shootings with kids in a week. We know Culver City is active.” As we drive, Officer Eisenhart points out street memorials to shootings composed of “all kinds of flowers and little Virgin Mary candles.”By 3 a.m. we have already dealt with a couple falsely accused of child abuse (they were in fact rescuing the child from the woman’s alcoholic sister), a woman in a hotel stranded by a lover whose dreadlocks she had pulled in anger, and a domestic abuse case in which a husband literally kicked his wife out of bed after she refused to have sex with him.
As we approach the area of the shooting, Eisenhart and Fahrney fill me in on the three major gangs of the area: the Shoreline Crips, the Culver City Boys and V-13 – V for Venice. “They fight back and forth,” Eisenhart explains. “Here in Oakwood the Shorelines are for some reason killing off some of their own people. They do a lot of drug dealing, and there’s the possibility someone might be holding out money on the main dealer. Basically they may get rid of their own personnel and recruit new personnel.”
Nearing the shooting scene, Eisenhart turns off the car lights. “When we approach them,” he says, “you don’t want to backlight any officers. So we kill our lights. Also at night you don’t want a blast of light; it screws up your night vision. If anybody popped out to possibly confront us, we wouldn’t see them right away because we have a glare in our eyes.”
Within the intimacy and camaraderie of the police car in the still of the night, I am suddenly pulled into a world of split-second alertness, military precision and scrupulously observed rules and procedures. At each stop, we lurch out of the car. A second cannot be lost. Whatever the shambles of the Rampart case, it is clear that cops like Bob Eisenhart and Steve Fahrney are still putting their lives on the line for the community.
Before the police academy, a life
Bob Eisenhart is, without doubt, a true mensch and a wonderful cop. The man’s had a life, and he knows who he is. He has a gentle, soft-spoken, strong way about him – a “bedside manner learned when he was a chiropractor,” says his father, Al. Now 48, he hails from East Flatbush, Brooklyn.His first love was songwriting. He started hanging out at Folk City in Greenwich Village at 13, performing his own songs. He was once the opening act for Tim Hardin.
The highlight of those years was a letter from the legendary head of Columbia Records, John Hammond. “He wrote me the nicest letter saying he thought my songs were delightful,” Eisenhart recalls. “He said some songs sounded a little bit like Springsteen, but he said stick with it. He was right; I don’t think my songs were quite ready. But he recognized that there was something there, and I was thrilled, and I kept that letter.”
Realizing he could not make a living with his songs, Eisenhart went on to get his B.A. in English from State University of New York at New Paltz and got a job on a CETA federal grant teaching writing at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
After Eisenhart’s parents moved to Los Angeles, he decided to migrate here himself in 1978. He became an ESL teacher at night. “I loved it. I worked with a lot of El Salvadoran students, Farsi, Iranian, Vietnamese boat people.” During the day Eisenhart went to chiropractic school.
“My mother kvelled when I opened my office,” Bob said. He was a chiropractor for 10 years. Then his mother died, the earthquake hit and his house burned down. Those events propelled him to quit chiropractic, run a marathon, learn the saxophone, and write six novels in three years. Running low on money, he looked around, wondering what to do next.
Attending a martial arts class, Eisenhart met many people from law enforcement. “I saw they were happy with what they were doing.” At 42, he applied to become a cop. He graduated from the police academy at 43. He is stationed at the Pacific Division.
His father, a retired postal superintendent, notes that “Bob picks the lousiest hours and the worst areas. I asked him why. He said, ‘It’s good experience.’ But it’s just like when he was a chiropractor and chose the lousiest neighborhoods. Because he said the people needed it, even when they couldn’t pay.””Are you close with Bob?” I ask.
“We are now,” Al Eisenhart says. “We have a deal. He’s through at 7:30 in the morning. I said, ‘When you get home, give me a call.’ He said ‘Why? You worried about me?’ I said, ‘No way. You can take care of yourself. But I have nobody to talk to. So you give me a call and we’ll chat for a couple of minutes. And then you can go to sleep or have your breakfast or whatever you want. I look forward to talking to you.’ So that’s how it works out. He calls me every single day when he’s finished with his tour of duty.”
The rules of the game
Back in the alleyway, we don’t find the shooter. He is apprehended the next day. Why the shooting? The victim’s sister was dating a gang member who had just been released from prison because of being a jailhouse snitch on another Shoreline Crip. Eisen-hart explains, “So apparently in retribution they put out a hit on the snitch or anyone he was associated with. It was a jailhouse hit.”
“They thought this kid was the snitch?” I ask him.
“No. They knew who he was. But the sister and the brother and the boyfriend are all staying together. So they were all designated as targets. And the brother stands on the street and sells coke at night, so he’s an easy target. The girlfriend I.D.’d the shooter.”
When Eisenhart and I talk the next day, I also learn that on the same night we were out together, a Long Beach officer was ambushed and killed.
In the course of the night I spent on patrol with Bob Eisenhart, I learned about a Jewish cop and I learned about the life of the police officer in general. There are endless possibilities for misunderstand-ings of police behavior. When we said goodbye to the black couple earlier that night, the Nigerian man held out his hand and Eisenhart shook it. It was an exception.
Later, he explained, “Generally I try to be polite to everybody, but on the street I don’t like to shake hands. You want to
keep your right hand free – I’m right-handed and my gun’s on my right side. I try to make it like, don’t take offense; I don’t shake hands on duty. There are a lot of ways where if people want to fight and they have a handshake, they can then pull you in and suckerpunch you. People can turn. They can seem happy but underneath be very hostile.”
Implicit in some of the remarks of Eisenhart and other officers, although they do not mention it, is the shadow of the Rampart investigation and criticism of the police. These are good men with a sense of shame about what others may have done to tarnish their image. About racial profiling, Eisenhart comments in the locker room, “First of all, we have to have reasonable suspicion to stop anybody. When we stop people, half the time we might not even know who it is, whether Black, Asian or Hispanic, until we’re up on top of them.”
A Hispanic officer joins in. “A good case in point: we stop a guy. Tinted windows, black Volvo. A crime had just occurred. We’re looking for any suspicious vehicles that might be taking off. A guy’s parked in a driveway, just sitting there, suddenly backs out and takes off. We decide we’ll check his plates, see what’s going on.
“We started getting behind him. He sees us behind him. We followed him for maybe half a block. He pulls over. First thing he did was whirl down the window and stick out his hands. A black guy. We run the plates, walk up next to him. We said, ‘What’s going on? You got any problems?’ He replies, ‘No, you stopped me because I’m black.’ I said to him, ‘A crime just occurred. You don’t even fit the description. Just keep on going. How in the heck are we gonna know you’re black? Your windows are tinted out and they’re rolled up. And it’s night time.’ “
Later, Eisenhart says, “I try to think I’ve developed some skills of diplomacy out here. Sometimes you’ll work with people – and I haven’t run into it for a while – but officers can actually exacerbate a situation, depending on how it is. The tone you use.”
But Eisenhart loves the job. “With some jobs,” he relates, “it’s like being a dishwasher. There’s always an endless supply of dishes. Here you handle a particular call. An entity unto itself. You never know what you’re going to run into with the call. And you always learn something from it.”
‘You can’t go back’
The camaraderie of the job reminds him of his old neighborhood in Brooklyn. “I’m not all that social,” Eisenhart says. (In fact, he seems almost monastic.) “I like the fact I can go to work and people will say, ‘Hey Bobby, how you doing?’ It’s like walking around the projects when I was a kid in Brooklyn and everybody would look out their window.”
He remembers that neighborhood with tenderness. “There was a vacant lot across the street from my house. We had junkyards, junkyard dogs, lots with rats and real bums, hobo-type bums. Canarsie was first being developed at the time. But to me, that was like – the woods! We would build treehouses in there. We would come home so dirty. We were lucky we didn’t step on rusty nails. That was our going off into the wilds; that was my ‘country.’ “
Eisenhart had a Bar Mitzvah, but his parents were not overly observant. He is certainly a proud Jew. His father was a forward observer behind enemy lines with the Third Armored Division in World War II and helped liberate two concentration camps. Bob has rarely encountered anti-Semitism. “People respond to authority mainly. They see blue.” Eisenhart’s mother died nine years ago. “She was a beautiful woman,” he says. “I put on her tombstone: ‘Beauty, Wisdom, Strength.’ Just those words. Three qualities I think she possessed a lot of.
“My life has been a circuitous route, but it’s taken me finally to something that I enjoy. Once you do this, you can’t go back to a regular job. And I think I have somewhat of an advantage, coming on the job later in life, in that I know my personality already. I know how I handle things. I’m not suddenly going to develop a drinking or gambling problem. I know my parameters. I’ve worked in jobs that had authority: the doctor, the teacher. The source. My job entails a lot of teaching. As a training officer now, I work with new recruits and try to teach them the ropes. You get a lot of cases where I find the old bedside manner comes in handy when talking to people. Whether it’s talking to a suspect and trying to find out what happened, or talking to a victim and having him calm down. But it doesn’t always happen that way. There’s somebody who can push everybody’s buttons. If you run across a person who you right away sense there’s too much friction – for whatever reason – you usually count on your partner to step in and say, ‘Okay, Bob, I got this one.’ And he’ll talk to them.”
At 7:30 a.m., Bob Eisenhart, Steve Fahrney and I wind things up at a coffee shop. I am almost dizzy with exhaustion. Fahrney has his daily chocolate milk, Eisenhart has blintzes. Fahrney shyly shows me a bracelet he wears in memory of his friend, Officer Brian Brown, killed in the line of duty. Brown had heard automatic gun fire, saw a car squealing out. The gunfire had killed a child standing on the corner of Venice and Centinela. Brown gave chase to the gunman, who shot and killed him.I am sure that 24 hours before, the officer would not have shown me the bracelet. I could not have understood its meaning as I do now.
The Class of 2000
In this era of school violence and body piercing, teenagers, never the most applauded demographic segment of our society, have been getting some amazingly bad press. To hear the media tell it, adolescents who aren’t destroying themselves or others are just too lazy and apathetic to be bothered.And if Jewish teens aren’t filling up juvie hall, they’re not filling up the synagogues, either. After Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we’re led to believe, you never see them again. Why would Jewish kids hang out at shul when they can be cruising around in their parents’ Beemers, downloading porn from the Internet, turning their brains into Swiss cheese with drugs?
Are you scared yet?
Well, take a deep breath and relax. As the poet says, it ain’t necessarily so.Remember, bad news always drives out good; that’s why the evening news opens with murders and natural disasters. Hostile, alienated Jewish teenagers are much more fascinating than good, focused kids who do their homework, serve their communities, and go off to college, strong Jewish identities intact.The saving remnant is alive and well, and part of it is about to graduate from high school.
Concerned and committed
The 18-year-olds you’re going to read about are not Everykid, or even EveryJewishkid. They were contacted for interview through college counselors and the Hebrew high school programs run by the Conservative and Reform movements, so they skew toward youngsters who are bright, ambitious, bound for four-year colleges, and committed to Jewish learning and practice. But if you think of them as future Jewish leaders, well, we could do worse.
For one thing, they are not apathetic. The list of social and political issues that concern them includes racism, gun control, capital punishment, gay rights, homelessness and hunger, school prayer and human rights worldwide, to name just a few. “There are too many people walking around today who fail to care about anything, and it is not only degrading to them, but to the whole world,” said Millicent Marmer, a member of Milken Community High School’s chapter of the Junior Statesmen of America, a political debate club.
For most of the students, their interest is personal. “As a Jew growing up in a very Christian society, especially my area, I am very sensitive to the issue of church and state,” said Jackie Bliss, who is graduating from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach after organizing a Jewish Cultural Club at her school. “I do not believe that prayer of any kind belongs in a public classroom& and think that it is imperative that the separation be upheld.”
Beverly Hills senior Shelly Rosenfeld has a grandmother who lost her family in the Holocaust. Now Rosenfeld is a volunteer guide at the Museum of Tolerance. “I am driven by the awareness that the generation that can give a firsthand account of the Holocaust is diminishing in numbers and memory,” she said.
Rosenfeld sees her mission as larger than educating people about the Shoah, however. “Our society is a human kaleidoscope of color and culture,” she added. “The important factor is that one sees the differences as opportunities not to segregate others but as occasions to learn from one another.””There are many issues that concern me, but the ones that affect me the most are the shootings at schools, such as Columbine,” said Yevgeny Plotkin, a senior at Fairfax High School. “As a Jew I’ve been taught from birth the importance of trust and responsibility, and it hurts me to see how many teenagers have now lost this trust from parents, teachers, media, and others.”
No need to get a life – they’ve got them
The students also showed a high level of awareness about events in Israel and other Jewish issues. “Last summer, I went to Israel, which had a tremendous effect on me,” said Reina Slutske of Westlake High School. “My opinion is that my Bat Mitzvah never happened until I went to Israel.& I’m always concerned about Israel, because when I went, I adopted it as my home.”
“Israel does concern me in the way it is covered [by the media],” said Sam Rosenthal, who is graduating from Valley Torah High School, a yeshiva in North Hollywood. “I’m continually seeing Israel holding the red trident and & Palestinians repainted as downtrodden underdogs.”
“I think assimilation concerns me the most, because so many Jews have become High Holiday Jews, or they do not have any Jewish identity besides a Jewish mother,” said Melissa Orkin, a senior at Calabasas High School. Slutske concurs: “I think living in American culture makes you assimilated, and [you] forget who you are in the melting pot.”
These kids aren’t nerds. Many are involved in sports, from water polo to track to baseball. Jackie Bliss surfs, “although not as often as I would like.” Orkin has participated in the Maccabi Games. Jeremy Monosov, who is graduating from Calabasas High School, got his pilot’s license in December. “Flying, in my opinion, is the cure-all for anything from anxiety to depression to stress,” he said. “As you lift off the ground you leave all your problems on the ground for a couple short hours.”
Hanging out with friends and listening to music are also high on the list for these almost-graduates. “Almost all my friends whom I’ve grown up and gone to yeshiva with are into hard rock,” said Valley Torah senior Eli Julian.
Far from the stereotype of kids who don’t have two words to say to their parents, many of these teens expressed a close relationship with their folks. And they’re not rootless; most of them appeared to have lived in the same communities and gone through school with the same kids since way before high school.Maybe that’s why so many of them have mixed feelings about leaving high school and (as most of them are doing) leaving home to attend college. “Leaving school is an oxymoron: happy sadness,” said Plotkin, who was born in Belarus and plans to pursue a joint engineering program at Occidental College and Caltech. “Externally I’m excited, but inside I’m sad, because I’ll be leaving everything I worked so hard to get used to.”
“I worry that I won’t fit in or I won’t make friends or that I’ll shrink all my clothes and turn them pink,” Orkin said of her imminent shift to USC.
“I’m excited because I feel I have earned the opening of a new chapter in my life, and I can’t wait to see what I’m going to do with my life,” said Emily Rauch, a Harvard-Westlake senior who will attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., this fall. “But I’m scared because the safety net – my house, my parents, my routine – won’t always be there.”
Ready to share their blessings
From all appearances, the teenagers who contributed their insights and opinions to this story (and the accompanying sidebars) are a lucky bunch of Angelenos. Few of them, in their comments, so much as hinted at trauma, grievous loss, or even serious disappointment. Blessed with brains, supportive families, and, for the most part, relative to absolute affluence, headed for some of the nation’s best universities, they have a leg up on the ladder of success. And many of them expect to be successful; no fewer than three mentioned that they’d like to be named to the Supreme Court.
Yet very few come off as spoiled, self-centered, or self-congratulatory. If they’re skittish about leaving home, it’s because they value their parents’ involvement in their lives. Many of them said they want to make the world a better place. There’s little sense of entitlement; they seem to understand how lucky they are. Their hopes for personal happiness and success are rooted in hard work, self-respect, and respect for other people.
They are Jewish kids with Jewish values, and they give every indication of carrying a conscious, active Jewishness into their adult lives. There’s a message here for parents of younger children: What do parents need to do for their kids to turn out like these kids, to have the same optimism, the same work ethic, the same tolerance for the rights and opinions of others, the same com
mitment to Judaism?
True, these teens may not be representative of all American Jewish adolescents, but they are not unique. There are many more like them in Southern California, west of the Mississippi, across the country. If they represent the best of our people’s future, we probably have a future.
Meanwhile, Solomon Mizrahi, graduating this month from Valley Torah, has summed up their anxieties, their dreams and their confidence. “Right now the world seems too big for me to leave a mark, let alone a difference,” he said. “I know, however, that the world conspires to help [people] in their endeavors, so whatever I choose to do, all I need do is work hard and work diligently, and I will succeed.”
Some Jewish teens are willing to interdate, but a Jewish home and Jewish kids are nonnegotiable.
With intermarriage rates a matter of paramount importance to American Jews concerned with Jewish continuity, Jewish leaders, parents and teens are trying to balance two conflicting dynamics: commitment to Judaism on the one hand and a universalist ethic of tolerance and respect for diversity on the other.Not surprisingly, interdating isn’t even a blip on the radar for Orthodox teens. “Dating a non-Jewish girl is something completely foreign to me,” one Valley Torah student said. “It saddens me to think that it is already so commonplace among Jewish teens that you would have to ask the question.”
Among the other 12th graders who contributed insights, attitudes toward interdating ranged from a firm stand against, at least for themselves, to a willingness to date people from all cultures, usually in the name of experimentation and commitment to multiculturalism – and because they don’t see the dating they do now as serious.
“Yes, I date non-Jews. I don’t think about it; I just do it,” said Milken senior Cynthia Glucksman. “I feel I can learn a lot from non-Jewish people.”
“It’s hard to be raised knowing that all races and religions are equal and simultaneously reject romantic relationships based on religion,” said her classmate, Millicent Marmer.
“I am currently dating a beautiful, sweet Jewish girl and have always dated Jewish girls,” said Jeremy Monosov, who grew up Conservative. “However, I am not against dating a non-Jew.& Our different backgrounds might add fire and substance to the relationship and would encourage my growth as an individual.”
Melissa Orkin says she’s never dated a non-Jew, in part because she’s in a Jewish environment – which includes her public school, Calabasas High – so much of the time. “I guess part of what attracts me to a guy is that he is Jewish,” she said. “It is one of the things that I look for. I’m not against other people interdating, but up to this point in my life, it has not been a possibility for me.”In an interesting twist, Reina Slutske, a graduating senior at Westlake High, said, “I believe that unless you are confident in your Jewish identity and in who you are and where you are going, you can’t date non-Jews, because it’s too strong of an influence and would possibly end up in intermarriage.”In fact, almost all the respondents, from the most to the least observant, said they want to marry Jews, and the majority ruled out intermarriage as an option. And for every single respondent who dealt with this question, the creation of a Jewish home and the rearing of Jewish children in the future was nonnegotiable, even if he or she could entertain the notion of a non-Jewish spouse.
“When you’re young you have to experience the world and all different kinds of people,” said Rebecca Lehrer of Harvard-Westlake, who dates gentiles now. “But I am going to marry a Jew. I just know that’s something important to me. I want to raise my kids Jewish, and I think having a Jewish spouse makes that a lot easier.”
“My religion and its continuity are important, so I would only make a life commitment to someone who understood the importance of my religion and the importance of raising any children we were to have as Jews,” Lehrer’s classmate, Eric Rosoff, said. “I think it is important to distinguish between someone who is Jewish and someone who understands the need to continue Judaism.”Jackie Bliss, a Mira Costa senior, grew up with a non-Jewish dad, and although he participated fully in the Jewish life of their home and finalized a conversion to Judaism last year, she doesn’t see herself following her mom’s path.
“I would love to say that you should marry whomever you fall in love with and you can overcome any problems,” Bliss said. “But if you truly want to raise a practicing Jewish family, you have to have a Jewish husband or wife. Some people are willing to take that risk, but I don’t think I will. My mom overcame a lot of obstacles to raise my sister and me with a strong Jewish background, and I don’t intend to end it with my family.”
Not all teens flee Jewish life after Bar and Bat Mitzvah.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom that most teens make a quick exit from Jewish life at age 13, almost all the students interviewed for this story have active Jewish lives, most of them on the institutional level. Even the respondents who aren’t temple-involved said being Jewish plays an important role in who they are.
Rebecca Lehrer, a Harvard-Westlake senior who will attend Columbia University, hasn’t spent much time in synagogue since her Bat Mitzvah at Temple Israel of Hollywood, but her extended family has Shabbat dinner together every Friday night. “Just because I didn’t go to Hess Kramer [summer camp] has nothing to do with my Jewish identity. I strongly identify with being Jewish, and I think my peers identify me that way too.” Like many of the students interviewed, she said she intends to get involved in a Jewish organization such as Hillel once she’s at college.For the students graduating from Orthodox schools, of course, traditional observance is a given. Many will move on to yeshivot in Israel or in U.S. cities. Sam Rosenthal, who will spend a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, said he’ll start a Chabad unit at whatever college he attends for his B.A. if there isn’t one there already.
One yeshiva student credits his school with putting him back on the right path. Reared “strictly Orthodox” in Brooklyn, he went through a rebellious spell starting in eighth grade and “decided that I didn’t like religion, not really because of any deep questions or the like, but because it just was a pain and I didn’t want to bother.”
After flunking most of his sophomore classes and getting thrown out of summer camp for smoking marijuana, he asked his father for a change of scene, and his dad arranged for him to live with his grandmother in L.A. “[My school] has been the best thing for me,” he said. “I’ve gotten back into religion, haven’t touched a cigarette or even thought about smoking a joint in two years. I understand much more about Judaism, which has allowed me to really want to be religious, instead of pushing it away.”A Valley Torah senior, Solomon Mizrahi, is bucking the trend by going straight to UC Irvine this fall, but he believes it’s the right choice for him. “Going to a university that doesn’t have the greatest Jewish social opportunities will not detract from my level of religiosity or spirituality,” he said. “My connection with the secular world is important. In some ways it helps me improve my spiritual devotion to God.”
Most of the non-Orthodox students mentioned participation in Jewish youth organizations, Jewish educational programs for senior high schoolers, and involvement opportunities in their synagogues. Lisa Feigenbaum, Harvard-Westlake’s valedictorian, has read Torah at Stephen S. Wise Temple’s High Holy Days services since her Bat Mitzvah. Her classmate, Eric Rosoff, is a madrich (teacher’s aide) at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, working with religious school students, while Judith Spiro, graduating from Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, plays a similar role at Temple
Isaiah in Rancho Park. Jackie Bliss works three days a week at her temple, Congregation Tifereth Jacob in Manhattan Beach.
“Becoming active in USY [United Synagogue Youth] was the best thing I ever did,” said Melissa Orkin, a regional board member and president of Temple Aliyah’s chapter, who also spent six summers at Camp Ramah. “By attending USY events I was able to keep in touch with friends from camp and to make new friends. Spending weekends with other Jewish teens like myself was a great experience.& USY enabled me to stay involved in the Jewish community religiously and socially.”
That doesn’t mean these kids never ask questions, of course. Santa Monica High senior Rachelle Neshkes, who grew up at Adat Shalom on the Westside and just graduated from L.A. Hebrew High School, has been a bit alienated of late. “The void in spirituality hit me much later than most because I was always the most observant, and the most into it growing up,” she said. “But seriously, I don’t know a single Jew who is completely strong in [his or her] faith.& The faith has just seemed to roll out from beneath us.
“Judaism would keep more Jews if only it didn’t project such a, shall we say, outdated image,” said Neshkes, who is interested in Jewish mysticism. “Can’t we keep the Hebrew, and our traditions, and our beliefs, without being 19th-century Poles?”
“I spend Shabbat with my family and friends, keep kosher and celebrate all of the holidays,” said Milken senior Millicent Marmer, who attends Stephen S. Wise Temple. “However, I am also constantly challenging and questioning Judaism, not in a rebellious manner, but simply so that I can practice with kavanah [spiritual intention].”
“Too many Jewish people are only Jewish by culture, and they know nothing about their religion,” Eric Rosoff said. “I have a Jewish soul, and I know this only because I learned about Judaism.”