September 22, 2018

Moving & Shaking: JWW Fundraiser, Big Brothers Golf Classic

Jewish World Watch (JWW) held its annual Global Soul fundraiser on May 8 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, raising funds and awareness for the organization’s work fighting mass atrocities and genocide.

The Encino-based nonprofit celebrated its 14th year since its founding by honoring Ben Reznik, an attorney, philanthropist and activist who is also the husband of JWW co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered a video address praising Reznik and JWW for their activism.

“My thanks to Jewish World Watch for your tireless efforts to build a world without genocide,” Garcetti said.

Officials and prominent community members in attendance included Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles Carlos Garcia de Alba; Los Angeles City Councilmembers David Ryu, Paul Koretz, Mike Bonin and Nury Martinez; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson; and Rabbis Mark Borovitz, Richard Camras, Noah Farkas, Ed Feinstein, Nina Feinstein, Arthur Gross-Schaefer, Chaim Seidler-Feller and Richard Spiegel, a JWW board member. Also present were Pastor Kasereka Kasomo of the African Christian Community Church of Southern California; attorney and activist Sam Yebri; Beit T’Shuvah founder Harriet Rossetto and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a JWW board member, presented the Global Soul honor to Reznik, recounting their days carpooling to Hebrew school together and their activism in the Soviet Jewry movement, calling Reznik “a tough lawyer” and a “mensch.”

“He’s got the courage of his intellect and his convictions,” Yaroslavsky said.

The open-air event featured traditional African music — a nod to the organization’s humanitarian work in Africa — as well as excerpts from the play “Sister Africa” by playwright Stephanie Liss, performed by actors Takesha Meshé Kizart and Christopher McLellan, based on testimonies from survivors of rape and mass atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The event also showcased JWW’s work with impacted communities in Syria, Myanmar, Chad, Sudan and Iraq. Reznik, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, said the work of JWW is necessary to ensure that the world does not remain silent in the face of mass atrocities as it did during the Holocaust.

“That is why this honor from this organization means so much to me,” Reznik said. “I can think of no more deserving cause to support with my heart, my soul and my wallet.”

Friends of Sheba Medical Center supporter Marilyn Ziering (left) and 2018 Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award recipient Dvorah Colker attend the Friends of Sheba Women of Achievement Luncheon. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center held its annual Women of Achievement Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on April 26, raising more than $350,000 to benefit Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer.

Drawing 450 attendeees, the event honored Judy Flesh Rosenberg with the Women of Achievement Award and Dvorah Colker with the Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award. Helene Boston and Parvin Djavaheri co-chaired. Lynn Ziman served as the honorary chair and Beverly Cohen as the vice chair.

Serving as the emcee, Israeli-American actress Moran Atias (“Tyrant”) highlighted Sheba Medical Center’s position at the forefront of the fight against cancer. Sheba patient Tamir Gilat discussed his battle against an aggressive form of cancer under the care of Sheba Medical Center, thanking Sheba’s remarkable staff for providing world-class treatment, hope and support to him and his entire family.

“We were very happy to welcome so many new friends to our community and together make a direct impact on cancer treatment worldwide,” Friends of Sheba Medical Center President Parham Zar said after the event.

Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer is the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East. It combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on one campus, and it is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, cutting-edge research and education. As a university teaching hospital affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, it welcomes people from all over the world. “

Esther Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Joey Behrstock, Bob Waldorf and Steve Miller turned out for the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles 23rd annual golf classic. Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers
Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) held its 23rd annual golf classic on April 23, honoring former camper and longtime supporter Bob Waldorf.

The tournament brought together more than 150 players and supporters at the Valencia Country Club.

The event raised $265,000, which will enable underserved children to attend the agency’s camp, Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, for free this summer.

The event’s lead sponsor, Gelt, Inc., was founded by Keith Wasserman. Wasserman and his wife, Gelena, are volunteers in the agency’s mentoring program.

JBBBSLA CEO Randy Schwab said he was thrilled with the community support of this year’s golf classic.

“Camp Bob Waldorf is more than a summer camp. Campers from all over Los Angeles attend dynamic and innovative programming year-round. From our social justice winter break camp to teen electives that help them explore their passions, all our programs focus on positively impacting our camper’s self-esteem and feeling of community,” Schwab said. “Most importantly, they get to have a break from the stressors of their home life and just be kids.”

Many of the campers that attend Camp Bob Waldorf face disadvantages like food insecurity, poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Through community support, campers receive partial or full financial aid.

“This annual event ensures that these vulnerable youth are able to experience the support, valuable life lessons and character-building skills that camp provides,” a JBBBSLA statement said.

Owned and operated by JBBBSLA, Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus is a nondenominational residential camp located on 112 acres in the Verdugo Mountains of Glendale. Since 1938, the camp has helped more than 60,000 underserved children, offering youth development activities for children as young as 9 and providing services to them through the age of 17 and beyond.

From left: Incoming Temple Beth Am President Avi Peretz, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Outgoing Beth Am President Susan Hetsroni enjoyed the Temple Beth Am groundbreaking gala.
Photo by Steve Cohn Photography.

Conservative congregation Temple Beth Am held its groundbreaking gala on May 6.

More than 350 people attended the evening event, which began with an outdoor reception and a “Passing the Shovel” ceremony, which recognized many in the community who have been involved in the congregation’s construction projects for nearly a decade.

The congregation will be renovating its historic sanctuary and building a new middle school facility that will provide innovative space for project-based learning and an enhanced STEAM (science, technology, engineering the arts and mathematics) curriculum.

The gala featured a dinner in the temple’s ballroom, where the congregation honored outgoing Education Vice President Karen Fried and President Susan Hetsroni for their passion and dedication to Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, the congregation and the broader Jewish community.

Fried’s successor is Jennifer Elad and Hetsroni’s successor is Avi Peretz.  The new officers begin their terms on July 1.

Attendees included L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, who praised Temple Beth Am for its work and the partnerships it has forged.

From left: Sinai Temple Gala co-chairs Ebi and Lida Simhaee, Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe, Gala Co-Chair Judy Flesh, Sinai Temple President Angela Maddahi and Gala Co-Chair Tom Flesh celebrated Wolpe’s 20 years of leadership during the Sinai Temple Gala. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple.

More than 720 Sinai Temple members and friends gathered to honor Sinai Temple Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe’s 20 years of leadership during the Sinai Temple Gala on May 6.

The themes of the evening were inclusion, acceptance and unity.

The Sinai Temple Gala not only celebrated Wolpe’s legacy of leadership and community building but also marked the official announcement of the naming of the Elaine and Gerald Wolpe Parenting Center of the Alice and Nahum Lainer School of Sinai Temple, in memory of Wolpe’s parents.

Accepting his award, Wolpe spoke words of admiration and appreciation for his parents, who, he said, shaped him into the inspirational, spiritual leader he is today.

Additional highlights of the program included a choir performance by Alice and Nahum Lainer School and Sinai Temple Religious School students, led by Cantors Marcus Feldman and Lisa Peicott; a musical performance by Craig Taubman; an invocation by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson; a video presentation highlighting the effects of Wolpe’s work and a ha-Motzi recitation, led by rabbis who have each touched Wolpe’s life over the years.

Emcee Rick Lieberman kept the program flowing and infused humor into the festivities.

The Sinai Temple Gala raised more than $1.6 million to benefit synagogue programming and the parenting center. The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation provided the lead gift.

Moving & Shaking: Hadassah, New Malibu Rabbi and More

From left: KTLA reporter Sam Rubin, JBBBSLA Inspiration Award winner Marc Mostman, JBBBSLA Big Sister of the Year Lauren Kurzweil, JBBBSLA Big Brother of the Year Braden Pollock and JBBBSLA CEO Randy Schwab attend the JBBBSLA Big Event 2018. Photo courtesy of JBBBSLA.

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles’ (JBBBSLA) annual Big Event 2018 on Feb. 7 at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center drew about 350 attendees and raised more than $400,000 for the organization.

The event honored Braden Pollock as Big Brother of the Year, Lauren Kurzweil as Big Sister of the Year and Marc Mostman with the Inspiration Award.

JBBBSLA staff member Alba Arzu received the inaugural Gail Silver Award for Exceptional Achievement.

“The honorees have collectively spent over 75 years supporting the agency in unique and transformative capacities,” a JBBBSLA statement said.

KTLA-TV entertainment reporter Sam Rubin emceed the event, which kicked off with dinner and cocktails and concluded with a dessert reception.

“Each year, we serve over 1,800 kids from different backgrounds, races, religions and socio-economic status,” said JBBBSLA CEO Randy Schwab. “They each face unique struggles but have one thing in common: They come to us to help give them hope. From age 6 to college and beyond, we help shape them to be thriving adults by providing dependable mentors, college scholarships, teen empowerment workshops, social justice camps and other life-changing experiences. This year, we want to do even more. We want to help more kids in Los Angeles get the chance at a different, better future.”

JBBBSLA runs a one-to-one mentoring program, offers scholarships, and owns and operates Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus.

Rabbi Michael Schwartz. Photo by Jennifer Herrguth

The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS), a Reconstructionist community, has hired Rabbi Michael Schwartz as its new senior rabbi.

Schwartz, whose hiring became effective Feb. 9, succeeds MJCS Rabbi Emerita Judith HaLevy, who retired in 2017 and now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

Schwartz previously served at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, Calif., and the following international Jewish communities: United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, the International Jewish Center in Brussels and the Hod Ve Hadar community in Kfar Saba, Israel.

“He is an interesting guy and lovely man,” MJCS President Steven Weinberg said.

Schwartz made aliyah in 1997. He and his wife, Tamar Forman, have four children.

He was ordained at the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies, a Masorti institution, in 2001. According to a synagogue statement, Schwartz is “a strong believer in interreligious peacebuilding and social justice” and an educator who “guided high school and college Jewish groups through Israel for over a decade.”

With his hiring at MJCS, Schwartz joins a clergy team that includes long-serving Cantor Marcelo Gindlin.

With a membership that includes more than 170 families, MJCS promotes a modern and inclusive approach to Judaism and holds alternative programs that include Shabbat-on-the-beach summer services.

Holocaust survivor and American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV) Board Member Meyer Gottlieb appeared at the inaugural West Coast exhibition titled “SHOAH: How Was It Humanly Possible?” Photo courtesy of American Society for Yad Vashem.

The American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV) Western Region and Sinai Temple held their inaugural West Coast exhibition titled “SHOAH: How Was It Humanly Possible?” on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The VIP reception and exhibition, held at Sinai Temple,  included several sections, each recounting a major historical aspect of the Holocaust.

Guest speakers included Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik, ASYV Executive Director Ron Meier, ASYV Director of Education Marlene Yahalom and former president of Samuel Goldwyn Films and ASYV advisory board member Meyer Gottlieb, a Holocaust survivor.

Ayelet Sason (center) and her autistic son, Yarin, were among the attendees of Maagalim Valentine’s Day dance party. Photo courtesy of Ma’agalim.

Maagalim Community Circles held a Feb. 3 Valentine’s Day dance party at the IAC Shepher Community Center in Woodland Hills for teenagers and young adults with autism and other special needs.

Nearly 200 people attended, including Rachel Weizman, who helped launch the organization, and families of special-needs children, caregivers and volunteers who enjoyed dancing, a photo booth, creating heart-shaped cookies and more.

“Somehow the word spread through social media and we saw many non-Jews who came to celebrate with us,” organization creator Ayelet Sason said.

Sason is the mother of four children, including a 21-year-old son, Yarin, who has autism. Raising Yarin, she said, has taught her that there is a need for social and inclusive opportunities for young people with special needs.

“Those young adults have no social lives, nobody pays attention to them,” Sason said. “People think that they lack social skills because it’s harder for them to communicate, but it’s not true.”

Sason said her events also help teach compassion and understanding to teenage volunteers who are interacting with special-needs people for the first time.

“The amount of phone calls I received after the event from volunteers — and the impact it had on them — was overwhelming,” Sason said. “Those barriers people often have when it comes to special people fell down. [The event] opened the hearts of our volunteers and it was beautiful to witness. That’s why I encourage teens to come and volunteer and interact with them. It makes them more compassionate to others in need.”

Sason said she has seen friendships develop between the event’s special-needs participants and their families.

“Often their parents find themselves isolated. They can’t take their children anywhere, either because they are not invited with them to social events, friends cut them off, or because of the constant need to watch over them,” Sason said.  “Here, they can truly enjoy themselves and put their guard down. For the first time in a long time, they didn’t feel like outsiders.”

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Noreen Green, artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, was named a Top 30 Musical America Professional of the Year. Photo courtesy of L.A. Jewish Symphony

Musical America Worldwide, a magazine of classical music, has named two Jewish directors of Los Angeles organizations to its Top 30 Musical America Professionals of the Year awards for 2017.

The two are Noreen Green, artistic director for the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, which celebrates both well-known and obscure Jewish orchestral works, and Yuval Sharon, founder and artistic director of the experimental opera company The Industry.

The publication announced the honorees in its December issue.

“Noreen Green has been the most energetic advocate for Jewish music and music-making in the Los Angeles area for more than a couple of decades now,” wrote Musical America’s Richard Ginell.

Under Green’s leadership, the L.A. Jewish Symphony has played host to such performers as Leonard Nimoy, Billy Crystal, Marvin Hamlisch and Theodore Bikel; performed music exploring Sephardic-Latino connections; and reached young listeners in Jewish day schools and low-income elementary schools, Ginell wrote.

Sharon, a recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant, has been shaking up the conventional wisdom of what opera is and where it can be performed since founding The Industry in 2012, Ginell wrote. Sharon’s innovative productions led to him being affectionately called a “disrupter in residence” by former Los Angeles Philharmonic President Deborah Borda, who hired him as an “artist-collaborator” for the orchestra in 2016.

Hadassah of Southern California presented Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Rady Rahban with the Katherine Merage Humanitarian Award. Photo courtesy of Hadassah of Southern California.

The Haifa and Malka Boards of Hadassah of Southern California honored Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Rady Rahban with the Katherine Merage Humanitarian Award during a luncheon on Feb. 7 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Rahban was presented with the award in recognition of his charitable efforts on behalf of the Jewish community and the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.

“Despite having a thriving practice, Dr. Rahban makes time for tikkun olam,” Hadassah of Southern California said in a statement. “He dedicates his talents to helping those less fortunate both here and abroad.”

About 450 people attended the event, which featured guest speaker Farhang Holakouee and raised $100,000 for Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, event spokeswoman Arlene Howard said.

Two days after receiving the award, Rahban, a member of Ohr HaTorah Synagogue, traveled with Mercy Missions to Guatemala to perform cleft-lip and cleft-palate surgeries on children in need.

Moving and Shaking: JBBBSLA’s Big Event, Board of Rabbis Installation, New JCF Chair

From left: Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles honorees Gary Weinhouse, Kallyn Woodward and Elizabeth and Glen Friedman. Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

At its annual “Big Event” on Feb. 9, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) honored Elizabeth and Glen Friedman with its Inspiration Award, Gary Weinhouse as Big Brother of the Year and Kallyn Woodward as Big Sister of the Year.

The agency served 1,753 children in 2016, including 225 who were matched with a “Big” and 1,311 who attended its Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, said the group’s CEO, Randy Schwab.

Woodward’s “Little,” Liam Sason, presented her with the Big Sister award. Weinhouse’s “Little,” Michael Heller, a grown man who has been paired with Weinhouse since he was a little boy and today is a “Big” to a child in need, presented Weinhouse with his award.

Attendees at the event, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, included longtime Big Brother Barry Oppenheim. A congregant of Temple Beth Am and father of two, Oppenheim told the Journal that volunteering with the organization has been the best thing he has done, other than having kids of his own.

Additional attendees included volunteer Alana Bram, who wore a pin that read, “I am a Big”; philanthropist Bob Waldorf; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir and the organization’s director of community engagement, Ashley Waterman.

The event raised more than $400,000, according to a JBBBSLA statement.

Founded in 1915, JBBBSLA is one of three Big Brother Big Sister mentoring organizations in the Los Angeles area. It is open to all Jewish children, including those with special needs, who are in need of a positive role model.


From left: Rabbis Kalman Topp, Ilana Grinblatt, Jason Weiner, Amy Bernstein, Lynn Brody Slome and Morley Feinstein attend the installation ceremony for Weiner, the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

From left: Rabbis Kalman Topp, Ilana Grinblatt, Jason Weiner, Amy Bernstein, Lynn Brody Slome and Morley Feinstein attend the installation ceremony for Weiner, the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s chaplain, Rabbi Jason Weiner, was installed as president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California on Feb. 15 during a ceremony at Cedars-Sinai.

Weiner, the senior rabbi and manager of the Cedars-Sinai Spiritual Care Department since 2011, is the first chaplain-rabbi to serve as president of the Board of Rabbis in its 80-year history.

“My goal is to contribute to the ongoing professionalization of chaplaincy and to help chaplains gain better support and recognition,” Weiner said. “I also hope to bring attention to non-pulpit rabbis who may sometimes feel that their voices aren’t sufficiently heard by large, communal organizations.”

Attendees at the ceremony included Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation and a Board of Rabbis vice president; Rabbi Amy Bernstein of Kehillat Israel, also a vice president; Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue and the immediate past president of the board; Rabbi Ilana Grinblatt, a lecturer in rabbinic studies at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University; and Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome of the Academy of Jewish Religion, California.

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California is a membership organization for synagogues both large and small that provides programming and leadership training in the areas of interfaith engagement, social justice, healing and spirituality, professional development and more.


From left: Richard Foos, Ohr HaTorah member; Rabbi Mordecai Finley; and Cliff Chenfeld, visiting from New York.

From left: Richard Foos, Ohr HaTorah member; Rabbi Mordecai Finley; and Cliff Chenfeld, visiting from New York. Photo courtesy of Ohr HaTorah.

“Steve Bannon is a racist.”

“Trump is mentally unstable.”

“[Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos is uneducated.”

Those were some of the comments from participants in a group session that Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah Synagogue held Feb. 10 in response to people’s requests for counseling on how to reduce their post-election anxiety.

Committed to an apolitical pulpit, Finley offered this overarching advice at his Los Angeles sanctuary: be vigilant, seek to understand other perspectives, take action when fears are justified by measurable outcomes and, most of all, keep calm.

“Fighters who win can take a punch and fight calm,” said the interdisciplinary rabbi, citing his martial arts training.

Avoiding polemics, Finley, a Holocaust scholar, cautioned the approximately 50 attendees not to equate President Donald Trump’s rise with the rise of Hitler.

“Don’t throw around Holocaust, Hitler and genocide until someone deserves the title,” Finley said, “because all it does is make someone hysterical.”

Rather, he advised, people should seek to reduce and avoid sensationalist, incendiary labels and comments: “Be afraid of a thing, not an indefinite phenomena.”

Referencing Abrahamic traditions, Finley advocated for a “civic covenant” to maintain constructive, open, thoughtful dialogue, especially among families and friends torn apart over the presidential election.

Citing the closing of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address — “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” — Finley reminded the attendees of the bloody U.S. Civil War, which puts today’s divisive political climate in perspective.

Preaching tolerance, Finley told the rabbinic tale of Abraham kicking out a guest in the middle of the night when he found him worshipping idols, to which God responded: “I’ve had to deal with the guy for 70 years and you can’t take him for one night?” To which Finley added: “That’s part of our Jewish ethos.”

—Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer


ms-rabbi-arushRabbi Shalom Arush, 64, author of the best-selling books “Garden of Emuna” and “Garden of Peace,” delivered lectures at The Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills and at the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana on Feb. 7 and 8, respectively, to audiences totaling 2,100 people.

The Israeli Breslov rabbi, founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions, visited from Jerusalem at the invitation of Unity 3000, a local organization founded three years ago by Ariel Perets. The organization aspires to bring together Orthodox, secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews through unity and faith, Perets said.

Jews, Muslims and Christians who have read the rabbi’s books and love his message attended the rabbi’s lectures, Perets said. Arush is not a typical Orthodox rabbi, which is perhaps one of the reasons his lectures attract Jews and non-Jews. At times during his lecture, he started singing and audience members clapped their hands in unison and joined in.

For non-Hebrew speakers, the organizers provided headphones offering translations to English and Spanish. The rabbi discussed the importance of faith in a person’s life and how everything that happens, whether it’s good or bad, happens for the best and has a reason to it.

Born in Morocco, Arush made aliyah with his parents at age 13. After graduating from high school, he served in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite naval rescue unit as an airborne combat-medic and took part in many clandestine missions. After five of his closest friends were killed in a helicopter crash while on a mission, he decided to make a change in his life and studied in several yeshivot until he discovered Breslov Judaism, a branch of Chassidic Judaism founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Arush travels the world now giving lectures about Breslov Judaism.

At the end of each of the L.A.-area lectures, many people from the audience approached the rabbi and asked him for his blessing.

“It’s very rare to see an Orthodox rabbi who appeals to people who aren’t religious or aren’t Jewish, and that’s why I chose to bring him here for this lecture,” Perets said. “I discovered him after reading one of his books and flew all the way to Uman [a pilgrimage site in Ukraine for Breslov Jews] to see who is this person with simple wisdom that touched my heart.”

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Shalhevet High School Dean of Students Jason Feld (second from right), who has accepted a job in Seattle as head of school of Northwest Yeshiva High School, poses with his family. He starts that position on July 1. Photo courtesy of Feld.

Shalhevet High School Dean of Students Jason Feld (second from right), who has accepted a job in Seattle as head of school of Northwest Yeshiva High School, poses with his family. He starts that position on July 1. Photo courtesy of Feld.

Jason Feld, Shalhevet High School’s dean of students, has accepted a position as the head of school of Northwest Yeshiva High School in Seattle, effective July 1, according to an announcement by Shalhevet’s Head of School Ari Segal.

“It’s a wonderful community and amazing school, and I think I have something to add and contribute to it,” Feld said in an interview. “I am very, very excited about it.”

“While we will sorely miss Jason and his family, we are so happy for him as he embarks on this exciting new chapter of his career,” Segal said in the Jan. 30 statement.

A successor for Feld, who has been at Shalhevet for 10 years as a teacher, administrator and student adviser, has not yet been named.

“We are exploring all of our options, including filling the components of the role internally,” Segal told the Journal in an email. “Just happy for Jason and also for Shalhevet to be a talent feeder to other schools.”


ms-bill-feilerWilliam Feiler has succeeded Lawrence Rauch as the chair of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, effective Feb. 2.

The leadership transition at the grant-making organization follows a four-year term served by Rauch.

During Rauch’s term, the foundation surpassed $1 billion in assets, attracted more than $508 million in charitable contributions and distributed more than $322 million in grants locally, nationally and in Israel, said Lewis Groner, the foundation’s director of marketing and communications.

Feiler, a longtime donor, trustee and officer at the foundation, is the former managing director and founding member of Bel Air Investment Advisors.

“He possesses the insight and understanding of our mission, our operating practices and unique position we occupy in the Jewish and general community,” Groner said of Feiler. “He just has long-term experience with us.”

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Boys in need of a ‘Big Brother’ face long waits

Three years ago, when her son, David, was 14, Alla Doner signed him up with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). Diagnosed with autism, David had withdrawn from the world. He had lost faith in humanity, his mother says, due to intense bullying he faced from his peers in middle school.

 “David stopped believing in people. He didn’t want to communicate, which was why it was important to us to find somebody who will be there for David — but not as a therapist,” Doner said.

JBBBSLA has paired children in need with mentors for more than 100 years. It was the right place for David, but it took a year before the organization found an appropriate mentor for him. It was then that David was matched with Douglas Shapiro, a man in his 60s, who became his “big brother.”

 “It was a year that David could’ve benefited, and he didn’t,” Doner said, adding that she is nevertheless appreciative of the organization.

The family’s situation illustrates a problem currently facing JBBBSLA, a one-to-one mentoring organization that pairs mentors, known as “Bigs,” with children, known as “Littles.” The organization is short on male volunteers, especially those qualified to work with special needs boys.

Currently, 40 children — 33 of them boys — are on the waitlist, according to JBBBSLA Director of Program Services Megan Koehler. The organization currently serves 200 children.

Disparities are not unusual. In the volunteer world, more women are interested in helping than men. And because most families prefer someone of the same gender as their child’s mentor, having to wait for a mentor is not uncommon, with more boys than girls in need. 

“Most single-parent headed households are headed by women,” said Koehler, a licensed clinical social worker. “If you have a mother with a daughter and a son, she is more likely looking for a same-sex role model for her son and is able to be there for the daughter.”

According to The New York Times, the first Big Brother chapter, founded in Cincinnati, was “predominately Jewish.” Its founder, Irvin F. Westheimer, a whiskey salesman and investment broker of German-Jewish descent who died in 1980 at the age of 101, described himself, as quoted in the Times, as an “American of the Jewish faith” who became interested in the plight of fatherless boys after seeing a boy and his dog rummaging through a dumpster in search of food outside of his office one Saturday morning. 

JBBBSLA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, is an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Currently serving 200 children, JBBBSLA is one of three Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations in the Los Angeles area — and not the only one facing a waitlist problem. 

Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters (CBBBS) in Los Angeles, which currently is serving 400 children, has nearly another 400 on its waitlist, 80 percent of whom are boys, said Rosario Di Prima, vice president of programs at CBBBS, a partner organization of JBBBSLA. While the Catholic organization is open to people of all faiths, JBBBSLA is Jews-only. 

The third group, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, currently serves approximately 1,700 children, with another 300 to 400 waiting, said Patti Johnson, the group’s director of marketing, adding, “The biggest waitlist challenges are definitely boys; between 70 to 80-percent of kids on the waitlist are boys.”

JBBBSLA serves children ages 6 to 18. The program is free, and the organization puts on activities at Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale. Mentors are responsible for paying the costs of other activities.

Mentors and their mentees meet a minimum of two or three times a month for two to three hours each time. 

All JBBBSLA mentors are Jewish, and the organization serves Jewish kids of all levels of religious observance. Orthodox boys are often difficult to pair up because they have less available time to meet, Koehler said. The organization has done outreach in the Pico-Robertson area, an Orthodox neighborhood, by placing signs in the area’s restaurants, advertising the need for volunteers. 

Meanwhile, siblings of special needs children who cannot get the attention they need from their parents due to the demands of their sibling’s disability make up a sizable portion of children served. Doner’s daughter, Emma, 12, became a JBBBSLA mentee five years ago, when the waiting time was only about two months. She recently was matched up with a new mentor — the average duration of a mentor-mentee relationship is one year — and the wait this time was nine months.

Currently, the average waits for girls and boys are three and six months, respectively.

Doner originally is from Ukraine. She immigrated to Israel in 1990, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, and settled in northern Israel, near Lebanon. Fed up with the frequent fighting, she left for the United States in 1997. 

David was born in Los Angeles and diagnosed with autism at age 3. 

During middle school, he faced his greatest challenges, with students calling him derogatory names and tying him up, Doner said, crying as she recalled these incidents. The teachers were of little help, his mother said, and he was pulled out of school. 

 “David felt betrayed by everybody,” she said.

The family decided to find a mentor for David, somebody cool and hip — somebody who could help David come out of his shell.

And today, he is verbal. 

“He’s weird-verbal, but he’s verbal,” Doner said. “If you want to talk to him about music, bands, he’s an encyclopedia. If you want to ask him, ‘What do you think about politics?’ he will say something like ‘Trump sucks.’ ”

Shapiro, 69, a resident of Tarzana and a reimbursement manager at a homebuilding finance company, expressed disappointment that there are not more volunteers who are interested in devoting their time to becoming mentors at JBBBSLA. 

“It’s  a sad state of affairs. There’s a lot of need and a lot of people just don’t want to do it,” Shapiro said. “It’s a sad thing.”

The divorced father of two, whose daughter motivated him to sign up, said working with David has brought him joy because he is making a difference in somebody else’s life.

“Some days are challenging but there are a lot of days that are enjoyable,” Shapiro said. “I can relate to him and do things with him that he canrelate to, too.”

David and Douglas go bowling, play soccer, have long chats over hot chocolate. Doner referred to Douglas as the “most incredible older gentleman.”

Given how successful the relationship has been, the wait, she said, was worth it.

“For our family, JBBBS[LA] — it’s not baby-sitting services. It’s lifelong friendship, mentoring and support,” Doner said. “Yes, it took David over a year to find the right match, but it was worth the wait.”

Boys in need of a ‘Big Brother’ face long waits

Three years ago, when her son, David, was 14, Alla Doner signed him up with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). Diagnosed with autism, David had withdrawn from the world. He had lost faith in humanity, his mother says, due to intense bullying he faced from his peers in middle school.

 “David stopped believing in people. He didn’t want to communicate, which was why it was important to us to find somebody who will be there for David — but not as a therapist,” Doner said.

JBBBSLA has paired children in need with mentors for more than 100 years. It was the right place for David, but it took a year before the organization found an appropriate mentor for him. It was then that David was matched with Douglas Shapiro, a man in his 60s, who became his “big brother.”

 “It was a year that David could’ve benefited, and he didn’t,” Doner said, adding that she is nevertheless appreciative of the organization.

The family’s situation illustrates a problem currently facing JBBBSLA, a one-to-one mentoring organization that pairs mentors, known as “Bigs,” with children, known as “Littles.” The organization is short on male volunteers, especially those qualified to work with special needs boys.

Currently, 40 children — 33 of them boys — are on the waitlist, according to JBBBSLA Director of Program Services Megan Koehler. The organization currently serves 200 children.

Disparities are not unusual. In the volunteer world, more women are interested in helping than men. And because most families prefer someone of the same gender as their child’s mentor, having to wait for a mentor is not uncommon, with more boys than girls in need. 

“Most single-parent headed households are headed by women,” said Koehler, a licensed clinical social worker. “If you have a mother with a daughter and a son, she is more likely looking for a same-sex role model for her son and is able to be there for the daughter.”

According to The New York Times, the first Big Brother chapter, founded in Cincinnati, was “predominately Jewish.” Its founder, Irvin F. Westheimer, a whiskey salesman and investment broker of German-Jewish descent who died in 1980 at the age of 101, described himself, as quoted in the Times, as an “American of the Jewish faith” who became interested in the plight of fatherless boys after seeing a boy and his dog rummaging through a dumpster in search of food outside of his office one Saturday morning. 

JBBBSLA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, is an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Currently serving 200 children, JBBBSLA is one of three Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations in the Los Angeles area — and not the only one facing a waitlist problem. 

Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters (CBBBS) in Los Angeles, which currently is serving 400 children, has nearly another 400 on its waitlist, 80 percent of whom are boys, said Rosario Di Prima, vice president of programs at CBBBS, a partner organization of JBBBSLA. While the Catholic organization is open to people of all faiths, JBBBSLA is Jews-only. 

The third group, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, currently serves approximately 1,700 children, with another 300 to 400 waiting, said Patti Johnson, the group’s director of marketing, adding, “The biggest waitlist challenges are definitely boys; between 70 to 80-percent of kids on the waitlist are boys.”

JBBBSLA serves children ages 6 to 18. The program is free, and the organization puts on activities at Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale. Mentors are responsible for paying the costs of other activities.

Mentors and their mentees meet a minimum of two or three times a month for two to three hours each time. 

All JBBBSLA mentors are Jewish, and the organization serves Jewish kids of all levels of religious observance. Orthodox boys are often difficult to pair up because they have less available time to meet, Koehler said. The organization has done outreach in the Pico-Robertson area, an Orthodox neighborhood, by placing signs in the area’s restaurants, advertising the need for volunteers. 

Meanwhile, siblings of special needs children who cannot get the attention they need from their parents due to the demands of their sibling’s disability make up a sizable portion of children served. Doner’s daughter, Emma, 12, became a JBBBSLA mentee five years ago, when the waiting time was only about two months. She recently was matched up with a new mentor — the average duration of a mentor-mentee relationship is one year — and the wait this time was nine months.

Currently, the average waits for girls and boys are three and six months, respectively.

Doner originally is from Ukraine. She immigrated to Israel in 1990, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, and settled in northern Israel, near Lebanon. Fed up with the frequent fighting, she left for the United States in 1997. 

David was born in Los Angeles and diagnosed with autism at age 3. 

During middle school, he faced his greatest challenges, with students calling him derogatory names and tying him up, Doner said, crying as she recalled these incidents. The teachers were of little help, his mother said, and he was pulled out of school. 

 “David felt betrayed by everybody,” she said.

The family decided to find a mentor for David, somebody cool and hip — somebody who could help David come out of his shell.

And today, he is verbal. 

“He’s weird-verbal, but he’s verbal,” Doner said. “If you want to talk to him about music, bands, he’s an encyclopedia. If you want to ask him, ‘What do you think about politics?’ he will say something like ‘Trump sucks.’ ”

Shapiro, 69, a resident of Tarzana and a reimbursement manager at a homebuilding finance company, expressed disappointment that there are not more volunteers who are interested in devoting their time to becoming mentors at JBBBSLA. 

“It’s  a sad state of affairs. There’s a lot of need and a lot of people just don’t want to do it,” Shapiro said. “It’s a sad thing.”

The divorced father of two, whose daughter motivated him to sign up, said working with David has brought him joy because he is making a difference in somebody else’s life.

“Some days are challenging but there are a lot of days that are enjoyable,” Shapiro said. “I can relate to him and do things with him that he canrelate to, too.”

David and Douglas go bowling, play soccer, have long chats over hot chocolate. Doner referred to Douglas as the “most incredible older gentleman.”

Given how successful the relationship has been, the wait, she said, was worth it.

“For our family, JBBBS[LA] — it’s not baby-sitting services. It’s lifelong friendship, mentoring and support,” Doner said. “Yes, it took David over a year to find the right match, but it was worth the wait.”

My Little Brother — and yours

I was 23 years old, living in New York City when I was matched with my first Little Brother, Jeremy. He was 11. Fast forward 32 years. I am now 55 years old, and I was recently matched with 9-year-old Noam, here in Los Angeles, through Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). The legacy continues.

In 1984, I was living the single life in New York City. I saw a story on TV about being a Big Brother, and, on impulse, I picked up the phone and called Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York, a mentoring program for children ages 6 to 18. These children come to the program because they’re in need of an additional role model: Many are being raised by single moms or grandparents, some have experienced the death of a parent.

It took several weeks for the application to be processed, then a few weeks later, I heard from my point-person at the JBBBSNY office. We scheduled a meeting among Jeremy, his mom and me. Although I was very nervous — as I suspect Jeremy and his mom were — we all got through it. Jeremy and I were “matched.”

Jeremy’s story was similar to other kids in the program: His parents divorced when he was quite young, and his father was not involved is his life. Jeremy and his family — mom, older sister, younger brother, and a magnificent Holocaust survivor bubbe — lived on the Upper West Side, and were Orthodox, both of which worked well for me. Coincidentally, the principal at his yeshiva — Manhattan Day School — was, years earlier, my principal in yeshiva in New Jersey. Small world.

From the start, Jeremy and I got along beautifully. He was (and still is) a big-hearted, appreciative, fun person to be with. 

Our first outing was to a New York Rangers hockey game. Some helpful information for those of you not familiar with Rangers fans: They’re just a wee bit passionate about their team. (Think: rabid pack of wild dogs.) Well, Jeremy, is a proud New York Islanders fan, the team that is the arch enemy of the Rangers, so he decided to root against the Rangers. Not smart — not smart at all: I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he wouldn’t make it to 12 years of age if he kept cheering for the visiting Philadelphia Flyers. He finally understood my point when he witnessed a Flyer fan being beaten up during the third period. 

Another time, I took him bowling at the Downtown Port Authority, only to have the police come through ordering us to immediately vacate the building: There was a bomb scare. We wound up walking around Manhattan in bowling shoes. We did look stylish.

For his bar mitzvah, I took Jeremy to Grossinger’s resort hotel in the Catskills. Grossinger’s was like a cruise ship that never left land. Besides eating a ridiculous amount of food, we got to go skiing, which neither of us had ever done. He loved skiing, and I loved not killing myself. It was a great weekend.

As the years went by, Jeremy’s mother remarried and moved to Skokie, Ill., and I got married and moved to Los Angeles. But the distance didn’t stop us from continuing what we had: Jeremy was all too happy to leave Chicago during the winter for the warmth of Los Angeles, and I was excited about the chance to visit him in Illinois.

As Jeremy approached the age of 16, his mother asked me to teach him how to drive. During a visit to Skokie, I took him out for a couple of memorable lessons in my rental car. To the people of Hertz, all these years later: I’m sorry, I’m really sorry for the condition of that Mazda’s clutch. 

As the years rolled past, Jeremy got married to a lovely woman, and I was there. And then they had triplets — three boys. I begged him and his wife to name them Moe, Larry and Curly. I was rebuffed, although I was there for the bris. The boys’ bar mitzvah was a couple of years ago — yes, I was there — and it was magnificent to be a participant.

As a career, Jeremy decided to go into kosher catering. I feel somewhat responsible for that, as I like to think the weekend at Grossinger’s had something to do with his choice. He’s done very well for himself. When I needed a caterer for my younger son’s bar mitzvah, guess who I called? My Little Brother, Jeremy.  

As I look back upon these 30-plus years, I have a love for Jeremy that’s developed and grown over time to the point that he’s like my third son. He knows he can talk to me about anything — he knows I’ll always be there for him. And as he’s become an adult — I know the reverse is also true. It’s been wonderful to see his growth as a person — to see him morph from being a somewhat timid 11-year-old into a self-assured 42-year-old — a responsible adult, a husband and father of three. Besides the love, I feel a lot of pride, not because I did the heavy lifting in raising him, but because I was able to be a conduit to help get him through some challenging years. I believe that’s the core goal of being a Big Brother or Big Sister: to be there to help get the child across to the other side. 

This past spring, I discovered that there were more than 50 Jewish children wait-listed at JBBBSLA. It broke my heart. And so, I did something I never thought I’d do again: I signed up to be a Jewish Big Brother. 

In a city the size of Los Angeles, 50 children awaiting volunteers is unacceptable. These single parents have done the right thing — they’ve signed up their child for a Jewish Big Brother or Big Sister, trying to give their child some mentoring, some friendship, possibly some love — and this city has largely responded with a yawn. I just wrote that it is “unacceptable.” I take that back: It is shameful. 

 I often get asked about being a Big Brother — people are curious about the program. Most people seem shocked that the time commitment is only 2 to 3 hours every two weeks for one year. Yes, in that amount of time, you have the ability to impact a child’s life. The time with my new Little Brother, Noam, has flown by. He’s an extremely smart 9-year-old, we share a love for sports and we both greatly enjoy our outings. Fortunately, he’s not an avid New York Islanders fan, so he should make it to his next birthday. As for teaching him how to drive — well, I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. 

There are few precious things in life that will reward you like being a Big Brother or a Big Sister. You can help make a difference in a young person’s life. And they can have an impact on your life. Yes, you can always write a check to an important cause — it will never be turned down — but here’s a cause that doesn’t need your money: It needs your attention, it needs your concern, it needs your heart. Don’t sit by, don’t let 50 children wait for “someone else” to volunteer. Be 1 of 50. Make a difference. You’ll never regret it. And you will continue a legacy of your own in our community.


Barry Oppenheim is a businessman in Los Angeles. He can be reached at barry@boppenheim.com. For information on volunteering with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, visit jbbbsla.org or call (323) 456-1155.

Moving and Shaking: 12th annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, Rabbi David Baron honored

The 12th annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, honoring the life and legacy of the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002, was held on Feb. 23 at UCLA. Samantha Power, United States ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the lecture and spoke out against the longtime exclusion of Israel from U.N. regional groupings. The diplomat was introduced to the audience of some 600 listeners by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The United States firmly opposes any boycotts of Israeli institutions and products “as disruptive of the peace process,” Power declared. (Her complete remarks on BDS are at jewishjournal.com.)

She went on to hail the Jewish state’s admission earlier this month to the U.N.’s JUSCANZ group of 15 democratic countries, including the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand.

Her generally non-controversial talk drew some unexpected media attention when she tweeted afterward that “Daniel Pearl’s story is a reminder that individual accountability and reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”

The tweet drew puzzled or indignant responses instantly, with some asking whether Power believed that Pearl himself was responsible for his own death.

Early Feb. 24, Power posted a correction, which explained that her reference was to the global outreach of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, established by the slain journalist’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl.

Power added, “As I said last night, the men who murdered Daniel Pearl did so because he was an American and, most of all, because he was a Jew.”

Although the Irish-born Power came to her U.N. job with a reputation as a feisty journalist, author and academic, as President Barack Obama’s chief representative to the international body, she delivered her remarks on current world problems with considerable circumspection. She did become visibly moved while describing the civil war in Syria as an unmitigated human disaster.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


 


From left: Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) CEO Randy Schwab with JBBBSLA honorees Weston Cookler, Shoshana Kline, John Shane and Aaron Levy.  Photo by Vince Bucci

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) honored John Shane, Weston Cookler, Aaron Levy and Shoshana Kline on Jan. 30 at the Beverly Hills Hotel during an evening dubbed “The Big Event.” 

Shane, a recipient of the organization’s Spirit Award and a member of the organization’s board of directors, has funded JBBBSLA camperships and more. He practiced law for more than 20 years and also has worked as a real estate developer. He previously served as chairman of the board of the JBBBSLA non-denominational Camp Max Straus.

Cookler, Levy and Kline were named the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Year.

Cookler, who joined the JBBBSLA board in 2013, has served as a mentor for the organization since 2008. He is vice president of Avalon Investment Co.

Levy serves on the organization’s board of directors, the scholarship committee and on the match activities committee. He became a JBBBSLA mentor in 2008 and is a manager at Lodgen, Lacher, Golditch, Sardi, Saunders and Howard.

Kline began mentoring in 2010. Her efforts include aiding adults with special needs. She is director of operations at Irmas Financial Holdings.

“The mission of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles is to assist children and young adults in achieving their full potential through innovative, impactful programs,” according to the organization’s Web site.



From left: Meir Fenigstein and Bob and Greg Laemmle. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

The 28th Israel Film Festival honored Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts; Laemmle Theatres co-owners Robert and Greg Laemmle; and Israeli actor Sasson Gabai during a luncheon on Feb. 12. The event was held at the London West Hollywood and raised funds for the coming festival, which will take place f Oct. 23-Nov. 6. 

IsraFest, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit and organizer of the annual film festival, recognized Baron’s leadership of a synagogue that serves members of the entertainment industry with the IFF Community Leadership Award. It honored the Laemmles with the IFF Community Partnership Award for running a company that, among other things, exposes audiences to Israeli films. The IFF Career Achievement Award celebrated the career of Gabai, whose work includes the acclaimed film “The Band’s Visit.” 

The event also spotlighted a milestone for the Laemmle Theatres. Last year, the theater chain celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The Israel Film Festival “has grown to become one of the most important Israeli cultural events in America and the largest showcase for Israeli films in the United States,” according to its Web site. Los Angeles is one of three cities that host it every year. The others are New York and Miami. For more information about the festival, visit israelfilmfestival.com.



From left: Jane Zuckerman and Jeffrey Popkin. Photos courtesy of ETTA.

ETTA announced this month that it has brought on Jane Zuckerman to be the organization’s director of development. Zuckerman is the nonprofit’s first employee to hold this position.

Zuckerman’s work experience includes serving as executive director of Temple Israel of Hollywood, director of resource development at Temple Beth Am and development director for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ SOVA Community Food and Resource Program.

In a press release, Zuckerman expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with ETTA, which provides support to people living with special needs.

“ETTA is a vital agency to our city — no one else provides the range and type of services they do for our Jewish population,” Zuckerman said. “I am very excited to be a part of this team and help the organization grow.”

Additionally, the organization has taken on veteran special-needs professional Jeffrey Popkin as its new director of operations. Popkin, whose hiring became effective Feb. 10, said that ETTA’s track record of meeting a diverse set of needs for an oft-neglected community makes him excited to be joining the organization.

“I look forward to be beintg part of the ETTA team, which is meeting the goal of providing additional quality, community-based living arrangements,” he said.

Popkin previously served as associate director of Kern Regional Center, which coordinates services for Californians with developmental disabilities. 



From left: L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, Ryan E. Smith, Susan Freudenheim, Wendy Coleman Levin, Armin Szatmary, Leon Shkrab, Sidonia Lax, Stephen M. Levine, Councilman Paul Koretz. Leslye Adelman.  Photo by Paul  Michael Neuman

The Jewish Journal and subjects of its 2014 Mensch List were honored at Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 14. A plaque was presented to the Journal’s editorial staff on behalf of the City of Los Angeles by L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz.

The community newspaper’s annual Mensch List profiles volunteers who do great — often unheralded — work on behalf of others. Representing the publication at the ceremony, which took

place in the council’s chambers, were Susan Freudenheim, executive editor, and Ryan E. Smith, associate editor. 

Members of Los Angeles City Council and honorees from this year’s 10-member Mensch List were present as well.


Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors, simchas and more. Got a tip? E-mail ryant@jewishjournal.com.

L.A. camp gets unwanted attention in wake of Colorado shooting

Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes’ reported ties to Camp Max Straus have led to unwanted attention for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and its camp, its director said.

“I think the attention is unfortunate,” Randy Schwab, CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and Camp Max Straus, said during a July 23 phone interview.

Following last week’s shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo., media reported that Holmes, 24, worked as a counselor at Glendale-based Camp Max Straus during summer 2008. The camp and its parent organization have found themselves trying to avoid negative attention while coming to terms with the knowledge that Holmes — who is suspected of killing 12 people and injuring 58 — was once responsible for a group of approximately 10 children.

On July 20, Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater during a midnight screening of the Batman finale, “The Dark Knight Rises,” and, armed with multiple weapons, began shooting. He was arrested immediately following the incident and is currently being held in a Colorado detention facility. Holmes made his first court appearance on July 23.

Holmes grew up in the upscale northwest San Diego neighborhood of Rancho Peñasquitos and attended a local Presbyterian church with his family, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Holmes’ connection to Camp Max Straus was discovered through a resume found on employment Web site Monster.com following the shooting.

Situated on 100-plus scenic acres in the Verdugo Mountains and at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet residential neighborhood, Max Straus serves a primarily non-Jewish population of low-income and disadvantaged youth ages 7-12. Mentoring organization Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles owns and operates the nonsectarian camp.

Director Schwab has resisted being interviewed, instead referring reporters to a written statement confirming Holmes was a cabin counselor at Camp Max Straus for eight weeks during the summer of 2008.

“Camp Max Straus is accredited and adheres to rigorous standards to ensure the safety and security of its campers and staff,” the statement says. “All employees of the camp are subjected to a thorough screening process.”

On July 23, NBC Channel 4 News shot footage for a live segment from outside of Max Straus. The news station’s van had been parked outside the camp for approximately five hours, said NBC general assignment reporter Cary Berglund, who was on the scene.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

Berglund arrived at the camp hoping to interview camp staff, but counselors declined interview requests and Schwab did not speak to reporters. Two security guards patrolled the entrance, forbidding reporters from walking onto the property, and handed out copies of Schwab’s written statement.

The camp is currently in session, and young children could be seen walking amid the cabins.

Speaking to The Journal, Berglund said that Max Straus doesn’t deserve negative attention, even though it’s “chilling that somebody like [Holmes] was actually a counselor at a kids camp.”

“Somebody like that could be anywhere at any time,” Berglund said. “I don’t think it reflects badly on the camp. It’s just kind of an eerie addition to what the story is.”

A man who worked with Holmes at Max Straus told CNN that he was a “nice guy” who worked well with children.

“He was a little isolated, but he was, you know, a nice guy,” Gabriel Menchaca said.

The attention that the camp has received is surprising and undesirable, according to a former camp staff member who had worked with Holmes.

“I’m looking at us all over TMZ,” the former camp staff member said on July 22, speaking to The Journal on condition of anonymity. “There’s my picture, it’s crazy.” 

“We had a great summer in 2008, and we don’t want this backlash to spoil it,” the former staffer added. “It’s unfortunate that they’re screaming about the camp all over the news.”