Joseph Weiss, left, learns about tzitzit with volunteer Shalom Ber-Scheinfeld at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, one of four Next Stage grant recipients.

Nonprofits benefit from Jewish Community Foundation’s new grant program


The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has launched the Next Stage grant program, providing nearly $1 million in awards to four local Jewish nonprofits — Creative Community for Peace, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (JCC) and ETTA, an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Three of the recipients were awarded a $250,000 grant and Silverlake Independent JCC received $200,000, given out over the next two years. All four organizations had previously received the Foundation’s Cutting Edge grants.

The pilot program continues grants of more than $17 million awarded by the Foundation since 2006 to help nearly 100 programs and organizations.

“One of the biggest challenges that even the most innovative and best-run nonprofits confront is the path to achieving sustainability,” Elana Wien, vice president of the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, said. “Next Stage Grants was piloted to provide the assistive ‘tools’ — in the form of grant monies, but also professional coaching and other consultative resources — to better enable their success. The success of these nonprofits represents, in turn, a boon to the whole of our local Jewish community, now and in the future.”

A unique aspect of the selection process for these grants, Wien said, is that leaders from each grantee got a chance to discuss with the Foundation their potential involvement with the pilot program.

The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles helps about 120 children with special needs and their families through 20 programs with a volunteer network of more than 500 teens.

“We are thrilled to have the Foundation’s confidence and support to streamline and strengthen our organization, which will ultimately help the children with special needs, families and volunteers who depend on our vital services,” said Gail Rollman, Friendship Circle’s development director.

ETTA is planning to use the grant to expand its programs.

“The demand for programs to help adults with special needs is continually rising,” ETTA Executive Director Michael Held said. “This funding will contribute greatly to helping ETTA fulfill its mission of inclusion and independence for the clients we serve.”

The Creative Community for Peace provides support to artists so they can resist pressure from boycott groups in response to scheduled performances in Israel. The organization uses its broad network to educate artists who are touring in Israel and to mobilize a grass-roots social media response to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement protests.

The Silverlake JCC hosts an early childhood center, a Jewish learning center and community-led classes and programs, including East Side Jews and Culture Lab.

According to Wien, the Next Stage program is among the first by any Jewish community foundation in the United States offering “capacity-building support” of this scale to sustain nonprofits’ operations, growth and long-term viability. 

Andrea Sonnenberg, co-founder and CEO of Wise Readers to Leaders, is joined by her husband, Glenn Sonnenberg, as she sits among kids taking part in the program, one of the beneficiaries of eight $250,000 grants awarded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Photo by Max Gerber Photography

$2 million in grants awarded to 8 L.A. groups


Dr. Lawrence D. Platt knows how hard it is to have a child in the military halfway around the world. Just ask him about his son Ari’s experience as a lone soldier, a member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) serving without the nearby support of immediate families.

“My son, a combat officer, served as a lone soldier from 2009 to 2011 and is on reserve if something comes up,” Platt said. “When he was called back to Israel to serve during Operation Protective Edge, my wife and I had a firsthand experience of what families go through when a family member is in harm’s way.”

That experience led Platt to found and co-chair Families of Lone Soldiers Los Angeles (FLS), an organization now seeking to create a local center that would provide social, mental health, educational and financial support to families in similar circumstances.

The organization’s efforts recently received a major boost when it received a $250,000, three-year Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. It was one of eight groups to receive such grants, a total of $2 million, which were announced on Aug. 17.

FLS plans to use the funds to help subsidize programming and fundraising efforts as it operates, for now, as a center without walls at various locations around Los Angeles.

“Uniting these families together who share common interests and issues will certainly prevent the feeling of isolation from the broader Jewish community,” Platt said.

Stuart Steinberg, whose son, Sgt. Max Steinberg, was a lone soldier killed in action in Gaza in July 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, said the grant provides an important opportunity for the FLS program.

“My family’s involvement continues to be a great source of healing for us and an opportunity to help turn our tragedy into something positive,” Steinberg said. “I am excited about the grant because as we promote greater awareness of our work to the Jewish community, we also help establish Max’s legacy within the fabric of our organization and the way he committed to and sacrificed for both the U.S. and Israel.”

Other 2017 recipients of the $250,000 Cutting Edge Grants, each distributed over three or four years, were:

• The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Family Camp Pilot program connecting Jewish camps to Jewish early childhood centers.

• Federation’s Y&S Nazarian Foundation Iranian Young Adult Outreach and Engagement Initiative.

• The Volunteer Engagement Project of the Karsh Family Social Service Center, an auxiliary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

• OneTable, for the Los Angeles launch of its online platform that helps out-of-college millennials anywhere in the U.S. find a Shabbat dinner.

• StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization, to create its J.D. Fellowship for Jewish law students in L.A.

• UpStart LA to help Jewish organizations be innovative and increase their impact.

Wise Readers to Leaders for its Tikkun Olam Corps summer literacy and enrichment program

The grant recipients “demonstrate a capacity and leadership to implement an initiative that is unique, sustainable and offers long-term positive impact on our local Jewish community,” said Elana Wien, vice president at the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy.

“Through this year’s recipient programs,” Wien added, “[the Foundation] is providing significant financial support to efforts that foster engagement and participation in local Jewish life; provide critical human services and assistance to those in need; and serve diverse segments of our community from youth to seniors.”

The Tikkun Olam Corps connects Jewish teens with underserved elementary school students in Los Angeles who come mostly from Latino communities. Andrea Sonnenberg, co-founder and CEO of Wise Readers to Leaders, said the grant will help expand educational opportunities for the teens and their students throughout the year.

Sonnenberg said the Cutting Edge Grant, distributed over four years, will help accelerate the program’s growth and impact. While 300 school children were served in the summer of 2017, Sonnenberg projects more than 500 students and 150 Jewish teens will be served each year by 2020. 

Under the supervision of education, religious, social work and management professionals, Jewish college students serve as teachers in classrooms at several campuses throughout Los Angeles, with Jewish high school students from 10th grade and up acting as assistant teachers.

“We intend to use some of this money to step up our outreach to Jewish teens by setting up booths at high school fairs, have more recruiting sessions before summer and build more campuses across the city,” Sonnenberg said. “The program is not just for those considering teaching careers. It also provides them experience in social work, psychology and other careers involving children. Even if they don’t pursue any of these careers, the Jewish values learned here will serve them throughout their lives.”

The Wise Readers’ Tikkun Olam Corps Program and Families of Lone Soldiers’ Los Angeles center exemplify what the Foundation seeks in in the grant applicants, Wien said.

“Both harness the power of community to meet the needs of underserved populations,” she said. “Collectively, all our Cutting Edge Grants recipients offer transformative ideas for reimagining local Jewish life and touching the broadest possible segments of our community.”

Jewish Voice for Peace members at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago protesting donor-advised funds from JUF going to groups that have been deemed Islamophobic on March 24. Photo by Inbal Palombo

When politics gets in the way of Jewish giving


Lisa Greer didn’t think twice when she used her cellphone to donate to IfNotNow, a Jewish organization that protests Israel’s West Bank occupation.

Greer and her husband, Joshua, had given millions to progressive Jewish and Israel causes, and she sits on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. So last October, she gave the $5,000 contribution to IfNotNow from her donor-advised fund at the foundation, a mechanism for philanthropists to give to specific causes via local Jewish philanthropic bodies.

But two days later, the Jewish Community Foundation, the planned giving arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, blocked the donation. While Greer can choose where her fund’s money goes, the foundation has to approve every grant. And because IfNotNow protests federations and other Jewish establishment groups, the foundation said no.

It was the first Greer had ever heard of a grant being denied.

“We give to all different kinds of organizations. There’s never been an issue,” said Greer, who gave the IfNotNow donation in September. “I’d never heard of this happening before. I was beyond shocked. I really did start shaking.”

Greer’s gift isn’t the only contribution from a Jewish donor-advised fund to come under scrutiny. Nationwide, donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations give a collective $1 billion per year, according to the Jewish Federations of North America. Of those gifts, relatively few are rejected — but red lines surrounding donor-advised gifts remain unclear. Beyond confirming a recipient nonprofit’s legal standing, federations often mandate only that a recipient’s mission be consistent with the federation’s goals — itself a vague requirement.

“Jewish Federations’ charitable goals include aiding the most vulnerable, building vibrant Jewish communities and supporting Israel,” read a statement from JFNA spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar. “Grants to organizations that fall outside of those parameters require each community to apply their own judgment.”

What falls within and outside those boundaries?

While the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles blocked the IfNotNow grant, it has allowed grants to the New Israel Fund, which supports a range of nonprofits that oppose occupation. Federations have also faced pressure on donor-advised donations to right-wing groups.

Last Thursday, Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports boycotts of Israel, issued a report tallying donor-advised gifts via Chicago’s federation-affiliated foundation to groups that JVP describes as “Islamophobic.” According to the report, gifts to two organizations — Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism — totaled nearly $800,000 between 2011 and 2014. (Both groups say they do not oppose Islam but rather “Islamist violence” and “radical Islamic involvement in terrorism.”) Last year, students in J Street U, the student arm of the dovish Israel lobby, wrote an op-ed in the Forward detailing donor-advised gifts totaling more than $60,000 via the Chicago and Milwaukee federations to groups that fund West Bank settlement construction.

“If their only basis for who they give money to is whether it’s legal, they need to stop saying they stand together against all forms of hate,” said Michael Deheeger, one of the JVP report’s co-authors, about the Chicago federation. “They still retain total discretion over whether to let money go to these organizations. They can stop this today.”

For wealthy donors, donor-advised funds are a way to make giving easier. They place their money into a tax-free charitable account, tell the federation where they want it to go and the federation takes care of the rest, including paperwork and tax filing. Federations benefit by receiving an initial donation from each donor as well as a small percentage of each donation. Traditional charities like The United Way and the Salvation Army run donor-advised funds, as do mutual fund groups like Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

The popularity of donor-advised funds has grown beyond the Jewish community. According to The Economist, almost $80 billion sit in over 270,000 donor-advised funds today, compared to $34 billion in 180,000 donor-advised funds in 2010. In 2014, Jewish federations and affiliated foundations held over $17.5 billion in donor-advised funds, according to EJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Federations embraced donor-advised funds in recent years to cultivate wealthy families who wanted more say in where their donations go — unlike donations to the federation’s annual campaign, which are generally apportioned by the federation’s lay board and staff. But there are limits. Donors’ gifts from funds are subject to federation approval.

Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, which offers resources for Jewish philanthropists, said controversies on the margins of the funds shouldn’t tarnish their value as a way to facilitate giving. But the best way to assuage those concerns, he said, is for each federation to clearly set  its red lines.

“That gets inscribed into the broader question of what are normative positions for the Jewish community,” he said. “What are the limits of public discourse? It’s a debate that’s full of gray areas and the goalposts keep moving. The solution to that is to have an honest and open conversation in each community.”

Some federations do have specific policies on donor-advised gifts. Portland’s federation, for example, notes that it does not make its own allocations beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, but that it will generally accept donor-advised gifts intended for charities beyond the so-called Green Line. Others, including the Chicago federation’s foundation and the Los Angeles community fund, prefer not to single out any one cause or group in their guidelines for donors.

“It’s the donor’s money sitting at JUF, and very wide latitude is then given to the donor,” said Jay Tcath, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund, Chicago’s federation. “Which is why there are groups on the right that are going to be funded that antagonize the left, and groups on the left we fund.”

Asked to elaborate on its denial of Greer’s request, the L.A. fund wrote in a statement to JTA that it will approve gifts to any nonprofit “whose programs and goals are not inconsistent with the fundamental mission of the Jewish Community Foundation,” and which is not anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace would like the Chicago federation to establish a policy disqualifying funding to “Islamophobic” groups. In the period covered by the JVP report, the Chicago federation’s donor-advised funds made a total of $175 million in grants to 3000 organizations.

That included more than $750,000 of donor-advised gifts between 2011 and 2014 to the Middle East Forum, an organization led by researcher Daniel Pipes that the Southern Poverty Law Center included on a list of anti-Muslim extremist groups, and $26,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, which also appears on the SPLC list.

“If they want to cast such a big tent that it puts them in the position of funneling money to hate groups, they need to stop positioning themselves as speaking on behalf of the entire Chicago Jewish community,” Deheeger said.

Tcath rejects JVP’s charge that his organization is Islamophobic, noting money it has raised for relief efforts in Syria and Bosnia as well as its work helping resettle refugees of all religions in Illinois. He said his federation opposes bigotry, and that SPLC’s list of Islamophobic organizations, which came out in December, two years after the period studied by JVP, could prompt a re-examination of those groups. But he added that JUF would not disqualify a group based solely on one or two of its founders’ offensive statements.

“Any bigotry is against our values and interests, but it is not for certain that everybody would really agree with that characterization of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said. “Are they serving the noble goals on which their mission statement is based? If that is the case, then we’re not going to stop the donors’ requests to the group because of this or that statement.”

The Chicago federation does set red lines: Tcath said any group that advocates violence toward, or forcible expulsion of, Arabs from Israel would not receive funding. On the left, he ruled out any group that promotes boycotts of Israel — including JVP — but not groups that support boycotts limited to the settlements. In the past, Tcath also recalls the federation denying a request to fund a church that engaged in proselytizing.

Tcath said he had “no idea” whether JUF would honor a request to fund IfNotNow, noting its focus on protesting Jewish federations like his own.

After being denied by the L.A. community fund, Greer gave her donation directly to IfNotNow. In the months since, she has kept her money in the donor-advised fund, noting her support of most of the organization’s work in the Jewish community. But she’s looking for a more progressive home for her philanthropy.

“If I can get a little bit of money back to the Jewish community through that 1.5 percent, it’s a good thing,” she said, referring to the percentage of each gift that goes to the Jewish Community Fund. “But I’m actively looking for an alternative, and if an alternative presents itself, or if I were given money to create an alternative, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Jewish community foundation gives $1.1m in Israel grants


Efforts in Israel to bring Jewish ceremonies into the public sphere; to prepare Ethiopian Israelis for careers in technology; and to offer job training to young people who leave ultra-Orthodox communities are set to get a significant funding boost.

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) recently announced it is awarding $1.1 million in grants to six Israeli organizations whose work helps strengthen the country’s Jewish identity and supports economic development.

Awarded annually, this year’s Israel Grants will provide between $150,000 and $200,000 each over three years to a wide range of initiatives. Money for the grants comes from charitable assets the foundation manages on behalf of Jewish philanthropists in the Los Angeles area.

“The Jewish Community Foundation is fortunate to be able to support programs and initiatives that strengthen the fabric of our community and of the Jewish people living in Israel,” Elana Wien, director of JCFLA’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, said in an email. “We award these grants so that organizations conducting important work on the ground in Israel have the resources to make an even greater impact on the country.”

This year’s grant recipients include Beit Tefilah Israeli, a Tel Aviv-based organization that hosts Shabbat and Jewish holiday celebrations in public places, such as the Tel Aviv Port and public parks. Launched in 2004, Beit Tefilah Israeli attracts approximately 40,000 people a year to its events, co-founder Rabbi Esteban Gottfried told the Journal by phone during a recent visit to the United States. 

Celebrations organized by the group include a weekly Shabbat service at the port that attracts about 1,000 people, and a giant Sukkot festival that includes prayers, concerts, lectures and children’s activities and brings in about 15,000 people over the course of a week, Gottfried said.

The goal is to provide a way for Israelis to connect with their Jewish roots and foster a Jewish-Israeli identity, even if they are not Orthodox Jews and don’t regularly attend religious services at a synagogue, Gottfried explained. He said the idea is to create a model of community that’s inclusive, pluralistic and open to people of different backgrounds.

“Many people come to pray but they’ve never been in a synagogue before. They feel at home in these kinds of prayer events,” he said. “It’s really a slow revolution that is happening in Israel.”

Gottfried said Beit Tefilah Israeli will use the $200,000 from JCFLA to support the existing Open Tent Shabbat and Holidays: Israeli-Judaism in the Public Sphere program, as well as efforts to expand it beyond Tel Aviv.

“We really welcome this grant because we need more support for what we are doing,” Gottfried said. “We are very happy … (The Foundation) saw that we are touching so many people and bringing them relevant and meaningful and happy Jewish ways to celebrate the holidays and celebrate Jewish life in Israel.”

Other organizations receiving grants include Tech-Career, which runs a vocational training and job-placement program for young Ethiopian Israelis. Titled Closing the Digital Gap – Empowering Ethiopian Israeli Young Adults, the program focuses on training participants for careers in Israeli technology and software companies. The program will receive $200,000. 

The grant “will assist us in providing a unique opportunity for young Ethiopian Israeli men and women to develop a technological career, to integrate into the high-tech industry, and ultimately into Israeli society,” Avigail Harel, Tech-Career’s resource development director, said in a statement.

Another grant recipient is Hillel – The Right to Choose, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young adults who have left the ultra-Orthodox world through services including psychological counseling, housing, educational scholarships, vocational help and mentorship. The foundation’s $200,000 grant will support Hillel’s Workforce Integration and Facilitation Program, which provides job training to help participants integrate into the Israeli workforce and broader society.

The other grant recipients include Jerusalem-based Beit Midrash Elul, which will get $150,000 toward its work engaging Israeli Jews in public events related to Jewish identity, and through the exploration of modern and traditional Jewish texts. Hut HaMeshulash, also based in Jerusalem, was awarded $150,000 toward programming to strengthen Jewish identity among at-risk youth through learning Jewish text, art, music, creative writing, and Shabbat and holiday-based activities. The Joint Council of Pre-Military Leadership Academies will receive $200,000 to expose high school graduates to Jewish literature, holidays, history, practice and communities through a one-year leadership-training program.  

Wien said the wide-ranging grants aim to help Israelis from different regions and walks of life, including immigrant groups, underserved populations and low-income women.

“Through our grant-making, it is our goal to increase Jewish knowledge, cultural understanding, engagement and practice for all Jews living in Israel as well as to promote economic self-sufficiency,” she said.

Students, survivors engage in righteous conversations


On a crisp, spring Thursday last April, Milken Community High School looked like a ghost town. The senior class had been dismissed until AP exams, and many were in Poland on March of the Living; the freshman were all on a class trip; a good chunk of the sophomore class was finishing up their Tiferet fellowship semester in Israel; and the remaining students were participating in a weeklong experiential learning program called Tiyulim (Hebrew for “journeys”), which offers students the opportunity to engage in a range of psychically enriching, barely academic activities that have included everything from New York theater trips and volunteering in New Orleans’ estuaries, to cooking classes and environmental cleanups. But on this day, 14 students had passed up surfing and sushi making to spend five straight days hanging out with Holocaust survivors.

As part of the Righteous Conversations Project, these teens would spend two days getting to know three survivors and their stories, and they would get to ask all the burning questions that books and films can’t answer — from the profound (“How did you keep your faith?”) to the banal (“When did you use the bathroom?”). Afterward, they would break into groups, and for the next three days, write, shoot and edit their own public service announcements (PSA) connecting Holocaust stories and themes to contemporary issues of injustice.

Their journey began as most high school activities do: in a classroom, with a lot of talking. Rachel Kaye, Emma Bloom, Esther Julis and Olivia Knight were lolling about in shorts and sweatshirts waiting for the camera equipment to be set up so they could get started. 

“We’re talking about media and how it affects young girls today,” Bloom, 17, announced. “Although you wouldn’t automatically relate that to the Holocaust, we can draw connections to the stories. We were talking about how quickly girls are growing up …”

They had come up with the idea after hearing about one survivor’s teenage experience: Helen Freeman, 91, was nearly their age when she was deported to Auschwitz. Imagining and absorbing her fate, they were inspired to re-examine their own lives. Who would they have been at Auschwitz? Who are they today?  

“There’s just a lot of pressure — like with Facebook,” Knight, 17, added. “We all agree people kind of create an image of themselves and put up a front. They try really hard to be something that they’re not.”

Freeman, they knew, was imprisoned because of her identity. Unlike them, she had no choice but to own the part of her that endangered her life. “We wanted to touch upon [body image] because we thought it was something important that related to us,” Knight said. “No one really talks about it.” 

Today they had. They talked about everything — Freeman’s story, the consequences of silence, even the “hot list” a group of boys put together in middle school, listing in order the prettiest girls in their grade — and how, for the girls who’d found themselves left off of that onerous list, there was hurt and shame. 

On the classroom blackboard, the girls had scrawled their own list: “I thought I was fat; wore longer shorts; never wore a bathing suit; edited my pictures; disliked braces; disliked the way my face looked. And then, finally, their message: Physical insecurities will pass.” 

If the connection between the Holocaust and an eighth-grade “hot list” seems a stretch, that’s partly the point: By linking these discrete challenges to self-worth, a grand, incomprehensible injustice connects to all the smaller ones. “Kids have to start from their own lives,” said Samara Hutman, co-founder and executive director of the Righteous Conversations Project. “And this gives them the opportunity to raise the issues they feel need to be spoken about.” After all, hatred begins in the steady, subtle hardening of human hearts, the Righteous Conversations Project teaches, and remembrance is better served with vigilance than reverie.

At its core, the Righteous Conversations Project is about preserving and perpetuating Holocaust memory — but it does so in a contemporary and meaningful way, combining Jewish history, social justice and modern media. “Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Me” is the PSA that resulted from the above conversation, and it will be gifted to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, where it is expected to play to a much wider audience. 

As the Jewish community prepares for the grim reality that soon there will be no more living survivors, the act of repeating and recording witness testimony has become more imperative than ever. In the 1990s, Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation undertook the significant task of interviewing nearly 52,000 survivors, creating 105,000 hours of testimony in 32 languages from 56 countries. But so far, concern for how the testimonies might be manipulated on the Internet has precluded the foundation from making much of its vast archive public. Enter the Righteous Conversations project, which has stepped in to tackle the transmission of these remarkable legacies, while also offering an inspiring example of how to transpose them for the next generation.

Created in 2011 under the umbrella organization Remember Us, organizers of the Righteous Conversations Project have spent the past two years introducing Jewish and non-Jewish teenagers to Holocaust survivors to develop a new text for second-hand witnessing — doing what author and survivor Elie Wiesel defined as: “To listen to a witness is to become one.” Still in a relatively nascent stage, this work has received both attention and support: In September 2012, the Jewish Community Foundation awarded the project a three-year cutting-edge grant for $225,000, and Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation committed another $40,000.

This is not your run-of-the-mill Holocaust program, said Rachel Levin, executive director of the Righteous Persons Foundation, who said she receives “many, many” funding requests related to Holocaust education and memory. “What really struck us about Righteous Conversations Project is the profound exchange between the teens and these survivors — and that this exchange led not only to conversation about what happened during the Holocaust, but also, what are the lessons of that experience that are relevant for today?” 

A Righteous Conversations Project PSA group at the 2013 Milken Tiyul workshop.

In early June, Levin will meet with Spielberg to decide whether to renew — or possibly increase — the project’s funding. One thing they have to their advantage, she said, is scalability. She likes that “the conversations are not limited to the people who are present in the room for the program,” but will be brought to thousands of other people through the PSAs. “Righteous Persons Foundation has a particular interest in using media to tell stories and amplify messages — and that’s what this project does,” Levin said.

The Project was created when a group of Harvard-Westlake parents and students decided to expand upon Remember Us, the Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project. Samara Hutman and her daughter Rebecca had participated in Remember Us, which provides b’nai mitzvah with the name of a child who perished in the Holocaust to say aloud at their simcha. The Hutmans found the experience so inspiring they gathered a group of mothers and daughters to discuss how to go further. Remembering children who never made it to b’nai mitzvah age was one thing, they reasoned, but what about the treasure trove of survivors still living in their midst? In February 2011, with Samara Hutman at the helm of Remember Us, the Righteous Conversations Project launched its inaugural event at Harvard-Westlake, a live dialogue pairing three teens and three survivors. The following June they had their first workshop.

“Our project starts at this portal moment for a young Jew,” Hutman said. “It’s this portal moment of entering adult life and the complexities of the world. And we invite them into a very deep conversation about our world and its history; and I think young people crave truth, and they crave meaning.”

I first caught up with the project a year ago, in June, during a weeklong workshop at Harvard-Westlake that included 23 teens from seven Los Angeles schools, both Jewish and not, as well as students from San Francisco and Philadelphia. For five days at a cost of $495 (eight students were on scholarships), the students took over Harvard-Westlake’s art building — equipped with multiple editing suites, classrooms and even a small theater — and were given unlimited access to the school’s state-of-the-art equipment. 

In one room, eight students were wrapped around a giant editing suite discussing survivor stories and their relationship to human trafficking. They had just learned that Harry Davids, 71, the survivor sharing his story that day, was an infant in Holland in 1943 when his parents passed him to resistance fighters, who smuggled him to safety. “For years, I wasn’t able to sleep properly,” Davids told them. “Classmates shunned me. I was considered damaged goods.” The group had decided their PSA would address modern slavery.

“A lot of Americans think, ‘Oh, that’s very distant for me; it’s going on in Africa and Asia — but that’s false,’ ” said Sawyer Kroll, a student from Milken Middle School. He sat relaxed with his arm draped over a chair, baseball cap turned to the side and a silver Star of David dangling from his neck. “Human trafficking is also going on in the cities we’re living in and in the neighborhoods we’re driving by,” he said emphatically. “Slavery is not just of the past.”

In their ensuing PSA, “History Lesson,” a teacher grills his students on the history of American slavery: “What was the first battle of the American Civil War? What famous abolitionist worked in the underground railroad?” But when he comes to the question, “When did slavery end in the United States?” the students answer with dates. That’s when the teacher turns to the blackboard and lifts a pull-down map of the world: scrawled in chalk underneath is the jarring message: “WRONG. Slavery in America has not ended.” 

This was the first time Davids and Freeman, both frequent participants in the project, had seen this PSA. When it ended, Grace Warner, a 15-year-old from Crossroads School, turned to the group and said, “It didn’t dawn on me till this week that the survivors we were talking to were children [during the Holocaust].” She looked at Davids and Freeman and said, “It’s amazing to see how you guys pulled through something like that. Finding out history in a classroom doesn’t mean a lot, but when you hear the emotion of the survivors, it really impacts you. It makes you want to do something.”

Cheri Gaulke, the head of Harvard-Westlake’s Upper School Visual Arts Department, is the project’s artistic director, and she helped secure the space for use. “The whole idea just clicked for me,” Gaulke said. “I’m really passionate about teens learning how to use media to affect the world, because that’s the world we live in. And teens need to be not just consumers of media, but makers of media. I liked the idea of giving them the tools of advertising to sell an idea, rather than a product.”

At every Righteous Conversations workshop, Gaulke teaches an intensive media literacy lesson that, in Hutman’s words, shows teens “how to flex their moral conscience and moral outrage through media.” In practical terms, it equips them with a media vocabulary to enable them not just to conceive ideas, but also to visualize them. 

Where Righteous Conversations departs from most other forms of Holocaust chronicling is in its call to action. It is a model for tikkun that comes directly from the Torah: just as with the recounting of the Exodus story, the act of digging deep into a formative ancestral pain is meant to awaken in future generations the pain of others. 

Gaulke, who is not Jewish, said her own daughter, Xochi, had participated in one of the workshops and discovered a profound connection with a survivor, John Gordon, now deceased. “Gordon, who passed away, was sharing how he was liberated and then came to America. He said that for a long time he was ‘living in the closet’ as a Jew — he was afraid to tell his co-workers that he was Jewish. And as a daughter of lesbians, my daughter really connected with that,” Gaulke said. “Individuals come to the universal from the personal, and it’s the personal that transforms society.”

Several students who participated last summer said they’d never before been exposed to the Holocaust. Trey Carlisle, then a 13-year-old student at Aveson Global Leadership Academy in Pasadena, said that on the night before the workshop, he and his family had watched “Schindler’s List” for the first time. “I started crying a bit at the end,” he said, explaining that as a descendant of African slaves, he found that the enslavements of the Holocaust recalled his own ancestral struggle. But after meeting with survivors, he seemed more optimistic. “I was so amazed,” Carlisle said. “The survivors were more cheerful than anybody I ever met before. Whatever happens in the past,” he realized, “it doesn’t define us. We’re all survivors every day.” 

For Maxine Malekmehr, a junior at Milken, the experience held a different lesson: “We live in a society where we’re so comfortable,” she said. “We’re sheltered, we go to private school — everything is given to us. And hearing about the atrocities [survivors] went through in the Holocaust, I struggle envisioning that pain; it just doesn’t seem real.”

By the end of the 2012 workshop, the students had created five PSAs on a range of themes, including bullying, animal cruelty and censorship or Holocaust denial, almost all of them sharing a concern with human dignity. At a ceremony the following November, the PSAs were donated to thematically related organizations — “It’s Not Just One,” about ocean pollution, went to Heal the Bay; “All Animals Matter” went to the Humane Society; and “Words Can Hurt,” about abusive language, went to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In addition, all of the PSA are submitted to film festivals across the country where many have screened and won awards.

 “What is so compelling about the work they’re doing,” the Righteous Persons Foundation’s Levin said, “is that they’re responding to the need of the day.” One day, in the not-too-distant future, everyone knows that these righteous “conversations” will no longer be possible. “Either there will come a time where they’ve done the work they need to do,” Levin said, “or they’re going to adjust and morph into something that responds to the needs of the day, whatever that looks like in a number of years.”

Cece Feiler, a co-founder of the project and a daughter of survivors (her mother is Helen Freeman), said she is confident that when the survivors are no longer around, these students will continue to tell their stories. “All these young adults are now witnesses,” Feiler said. “They’re witnesses because they met my parents. They saw my mother’s number. They can go out and talk, too.”   

But for now, Hutman doesn’t want to imagine what the project will look like down the road, if it means a world without the survivors she now calls her friends. “People die,” Hutman said. “We all do. But our legacies do not; that lives on. And the work we’re doing now is an attempt to create meaning out of these encounters while we still have the opportunity.”  

This summer, the program will offer expanded seven- and eight-day workshops at both Harvard-Westlake and Milken; the former has already reached capacity with 30 teens enrolled.

The transience of the survivors’ presence has added even more urgency to the axiom, “Never Forget.” At the conclusion of last summer’s workshop, survivor Idele Stapholtz turned to the group assembled and offered her plea: “When we’re all gone,” she said, “we count on you to say: ‘We
met this woman. She’s a survivor. And it did happen.’ ”

Pool trusts ensure care of adults with special needs


“Keys! Keys!” David Weisbord says as he tugs at his father’s hand, pulling him toward the door.

“OK, Child, we’ll go for a ride,” Seth Weisbord says with loving exasperation.

A ride with dad around David’s Culver City neighborhood is one of David’s favorite diversions, and Seth is happy to indulge.

“One of our biggest concerns is how to fill his days in a meaningful way,” Seth says.

David is 28 and severely impacted by autism; he is largely nonverbal and also has a degenerative nerve disorder that atrophies the muscles in his arms and legs.

Seth Weisbord and his wife, Beth, have worked hard to assure their son’s quality of life. They bought David a three-bedroom, breeze-crossed bungalow in Culver City, which he shares with a roommate, also disabled. David also has round-the-clock caregivers who guide him in simple household tasks and life skills, and take him for walks in the neighborhood, or for a drive out to Griffith Park or the movies. He takes weekly therapeutic gymnastics and swimming lessons, and he is learning to use an app on his iPad to communicate through pictures. On weekends, he rides his adult tricycle around a nearby park while his caregiver jogs alongside.

[Related:

Jewish Community Foundation awards $1 million in grants to Israeli nonprofits


The Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation has awarded a total of $1 million in grants to five Israel-based organizations to support programs aimed at spurring economic development in Israel, offering Jewish education for officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and job and entrepreneurship training for Jewish- and Arab-Israeli women.

In 2010, the foundation managed $731 million in charitable assets and disbursed $52 million to organizations, most of it ($46 million) at the direction of its more than 1,000 donors. The foundation recently announced the creation of a Center for Designed Philanthropy to help donors personalize their philanthropic giving and maximize the impact of their gifts.

But each year, a committee of foundation members working with staff also award so-called Legacy Grants to various nonprofit organizations. In 2010, these grants totaled $5.5 million, and included $1.2 million in grants to Israeli organizations.

This year’s largest Israel grant, a $250,000 gift to be disbursed over the next three years, will go to the Ayalim Association, which calls itself “the biggest movement for young adults in Israel.” According to the organization’s Web site, Ayalim has established 13 “student and entrepreneur villages” in the Negev and Galilee regions of Israel. The foundation’s grant will support a workshop to teach business entrepreneurship and Jewish values to Jewish students in the Negev.

Beit Morasha, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that works to promote “a vibrant and inclusive” vision of Judaism in Israel, was awarded a two-year, $220,000 grant by the foundation. The organization will use the 2011 award to run training seminars for IDF battalion officers and commanders in an effort to deepen their Jewish and Zionist identities.

The OR movement, another organization aimed at promoting economic growth in the Negev at Galilee, received a three-year, $215,000 grant from the foundation to promote and fill 13,500 jobs in those large and less densely populated regions of Israel.

The foundation also awarded a three-year, $195,000 grant to New Spirit (Ruach Hadasha, in Hebrew), to advance the organization’s mission of increasing the connection of students who study in universities in Jerusalem to the city, and a three-year, $120,000 grant to Supportive Community/Shurush/Sviva Tomehet, a nonprofit that trains and supports Israeli women entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and gives them microloans to establish new home-based businesses.

Jewish Community Foundation seeks proposals for cutting edge grants


The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) is currently accepting proposals for its 2012 Cutting Edge Grants Initiative, which offers funding to organizations developing innovative programs that serve the Jewish community in Los Angeles.

The foundation will award grants of up to $250,000 over a three-year period to existing nonprofits launching new programs and new organizations. To be considered, organizations must be developing “untested ground-breaking programs; successful Los Angeles pilot programs ready for community-wide implementation; local adaptations of high-impact initiatives proven outside of Los Angeles or programs designed by social entrepreneurs to create new nonprofit organizations,” according to a JCFLA statement.

“What we’re looking for is a proposal that has a program that’s really unique,” said Amelia Xann, vice president of the Family Foundation Center and grant programs at JCFLA.

The deadline for proposals is Nov. 10. The process takes approximately nine months, starting when organizations apply for grants to the awarding of grants. The grants will be awarded in late 2012.

On Aug. 24, the foundation announced its 2011 Cutting Edge Grants recipients — seven organizations will receive a total of nearly $1.2 million: Moishe House Los Angeles, a program for post-college young adults in their 20s, will get $200,000 over two years to produce 200 events, such as Shabbat dinners, holiday celebrations, group learning, social justice programs and cultural events.

Beit T’Shuvah, which works with people recovering from addictions, will receive $250,000 over three years to create BTS Communications, a vocational training program for 50 interns, preparing them for careers in graphic and Web design, online advertising and social media marketing.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will receive $185,000 over three years, to help 1,000 Jewish families in need of assistance due to economic or transitional life issues at one of four participating synagogue clusters.

Additional grants are awarded to: Builders of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE): $240,000 over three years to help Jewish students with mild or moderate special needs attend Jewish high schools. Simon Wiesenthal Center: $125,000 over two years for a multimedia educational program to address new forms of anti-Semitism on college campuses. Israel Leadership Council (ILC): $100,000 over a three-year period to help 10,000 Jewish and Israeli American Angelenos connect and volunteer through an online social volunteer network, I.L. Care. And the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, will get $100,000, over three years for training for seven faculty members from Claremont School of Theology, the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California in a new inter-religious program to ensure all students in the program get education in all of the three faiths, giving the students skills to promote dialogue and collaboration across religious boundaries.

Founded in 1954, JCFLA manages charitable assets and planned giving solutions for Los Angeles philanthropists. It provides grants in four different areas, including general community grants, Israel grants and capital grants, as well as the Cutting Edge Grants.

JCF receives $3.4 million medical, educational bequest


The Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) has created the Raymond and Shirley Kornfeld Endowment Fund with a $3.4 million bequest from the Kornfeld family estate. The endowment is intended to help medical and educational causes, about which the Kornfelds were passionate during their lifetime.

“The Kornfelds were both caring individuals who strongly believed in the power of education and good health care and chose to leave an enduring legacy for future generations,” JCF President and CEO Marvin Schotland said in a press release.

During their lifetimes, the Kornfelds supported numerous philanthropic and educational institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Jewish Free Loan Association, a nonsectarian program that distributes interest-free loans, and the Henry George School of Social Science in New York City, which offers tuition-free classes in economics.

The $3.4 million Kornfeld bequest is among the more than $700 million the JCF manages in assets for Southern Californian philanthropists.

Options for Family Philanthropy


Baruch S. Littman is vice president of development for the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which manages total charitable assets exceeding $700 million.

With the wealth creation of the past 25 years, a generation of recently minted millionaires is now contemplating the philanthropic options that are a fortunate byproduct of success.

For many, the prestige of establishing a private family foundation (PFF) to dispense charitable gifts to favored causes is alluring — a dream come true. But is it really? As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

Along with the hope of becoming a philanthropist in the vein of Rockefeller, Gates or Buffett, the creators of PFFs assume considerable burdens, as well, in the form of administrative and investment-management obligations, reporting requirements, minimum gifting of assets as required under the tax code and a loss of privacy. The unfortunate reality is that the expense ratios of private foundations holding assets of less than $10 million often make them woefully inefficient as philanthropic vehicles.

According to a 2001 study (the most recent year for which data is available) by the Foundation Management Series on the administrative expenses of private foundations, the mean expense ratios of operating PFFs rose sharply as net charitable assets declined. Specifically, the study showed that the expense ratio of undistributed assets was 2.79 percent for those PFFs with assets of $5 million to $9.9 million, with some paying in excess of 40 percent of assets. For PFFs with assets below $5 million, the expense ratio averaged 1.1 percent but ran as high as almost 13 percent. While this survey is now several years old, it is a fair assumption that those expense ratios have only increased over time.

So given this philanthropist’s conundrum, what are the viable alternatives?

One of those solutions comes in the form of donor-advised funds (DAF), the charitable-gifting instruments that can be established at most community foundations, charitable-fund host organizations and many commercial investment-management firms with as little as $10,000 to $20,000. For that comparatively small amount, the charitable-minded individual or family can have the personal equivalent of a PFF with complete privacy and no back-office headaches. There are no tax returns to be completed, no annual meetings to conduct. In short, the philanthropist leaves the administration to the host organization and is able to experience the pleasure of distributing charity to needy causes through the DAF. The donor receives an immediate tax deduction on assets used to establish the DAF and can continue to add to the fund over time and realize further deductions on those contributions.

Of course, there are a lot of zeros between $10,000 and $10 million, and the obvious question is whether a DAF makes sense for someone with significant charitable assets and who is considering establishing or folding up a PFF. The short answer is a resounding yes, and, in many instances, it actually makes the most sense.

Case-in-point: At the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, the largest DAF account has a balance in excess of $50 million. Certainly, this philanthropist could create his own PFF or family support organization (FSO), the actual community foundation equivalent of a private family foundation. He has already fulfilled funding of his children’s DAFs, FSOs and PFFs for them as they wished. With his vast remaining charitable dollars, our donor’s own DAF represents the easiest option. Each year, he contributes additional funds to his DAF with either low-basis marketable securities or fractional interests in real estate, which, unlike PFFs, community foundations can accept and offer a fair-market-value tax deduction (more about this to follow).

There are, as well, a significant number of other reasons and advantages why an individual or family should consider establishing a DAF or FSO as an alternative to creating or folding up a PFF. Among them:

• Lower costs for management of charitable assets. In general, the management fee for a DAF with assets of $1 million to $10 million will never be more than 1.5 percent. Even better, a comparably sized FSO will have all-inclusive management fees of approximately 80 basis points, or 0.8 percent. Consider these fees in contrast to the aforementioned study of private foundations. In that same data, expenses as a percentage of the annual payout were outsized: PFFs with assets of $5 million to $9.9 million had a mean expense ratio of a whopping 16.3 percent. Those PFFs with less than $5 million still had mean expenses in relation to payout of 7.2 percent.
• Contribution of C-corp stock or low-basis real estate. PFFs are prohibited under the tax code from receiving contributions of C-corp stock, which is regarded by the IRS as self-dealing. With respect to both low-basis and fractional real estate donations to a PFF, as referenced above, the donor’s deductibility is limited to the tax-adjusted basis (i.e., the depreciated value). As such, a fully depreciated piece of real estate can be contributed to a PFF, but would not qualify for a deduction. By contrast, a DAF can accept both of these asset classes and offer your clients a fair-market-value tax deduction, avoidance of all capital-gains taxes on the donated interests and, in the case of real estate, eliminate the recapture of previously claimed depreciation.
• Undistributed assets as part of the required 5 percent minimum asset distribution. Commonly known is that a PFF must make charitable gifts of 5 percent of its total assets annually to maintain tax-exempt status. Less known, however, is that DAFs are an ideal repository for these undistributed assets. In the eyes of the IRS, once transferred to a DAF, the assets from the PFF have been given away for proper charitable purpose. Once in the DAF, your client can then take as long as he or she likes to determine how and where to distribute.
• Second generation (G-2) family issues. Establishing and maintaining a PFF can be a lonely venture. Where to turn for resources? How to engage your children — the second generation — in a shared philanthropic vision? While counsel can be obtained for PFFs, consulting fees can be considerable and add to the above-referenced and onerous operating expenses that cut into available funds for good works. By contrast, community foundations and other host organizations offer a substantial array of resources designed to assist donors: programs on issues in charitable giving, intergenerational planning and assistance in tapping philanthropic passions, for example.

Before a client accelerates full speed into establishing a private family foundation with less than $10 million in assets, financial advisers would do well to flash the yellow caution light, encourage the philanthropist-to-be to yield, and consider the full range of giving options available before opening the charitable throttle. Doing so are critical first steps in becoming a committed, informed philanthropist.

Briefs: Olympic-Pico traffic plans on hold; Pearl lecturer says Israel is not surrounded by hostile


The Olympic-West, Pico-East Traffic Initiative has been delayed for three weeks, until March 29

The postponement follows the filing of two lawsuits aimed at stopping the plan. Neither the Los Angeles mayor’s office nor the city attorney’s office, which announced the delay, would comment as to whether it came in response to the legal actions. The Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce filed suit Feb. 28, alleging the mayor’s plan to proceed with the initiative despite the fact that the City’s Department of Transportation recommended further study, is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, a law requiring an environmental impact report if there is “reasonable possibility that the activity will have a significant effect,” according to the Chamber of Commerce press release. The Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Association also filed suit.

“We’re very concerned that we have to use the justice system to do what’s right and what’s legal,” Judy Bowen, of the South Carthay Neighborhood Association, said at a press conference on Feb. 28. Bowen opposes the three-tiered plan, which would limit parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards during rush hour, because she feels it would increase traffic on smaller streets in the neighborhood and affect businesses and the environment.

“Until air quality is considered and environmental tests are done, I want the city to be realistic about traffic: Traffic doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it happens because of bad planning,” she said.

The mayor’s office would not comment on the delay, saying only that the plan is set to go into effect on March 29.

“The mayor and the councilman have committed all along to work with the communities and businesses to make appropriate modifications as necessary,” said Matt Szabo, a spokesman from the mayor’s office.

Meanwhile, some changes have been made to the original plan. Instead of continuing to La Brea Avenue, the plan extends from Centinela Avenue to Fairfax Avenue. Peak-hour parking restrictions — the part of the plan that has raised the most objections among local business owners fearing it would hurt commerce — have been scaled back. Peak-hour parking will be permitted between Gateway Boulevard and Centinela Avenue on the north side of Pico Boulevard, and in the afternoon on the north side of Pico between San Vicente and La Cienega boulevards.

Over the next three weeks, a “dialogue” may take place between the parties, Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the City Attorney said.

“We were only forced to file suit based on the mayor’s decision on Feb. 14,” said Brandon Silverman, of Pico-Olympic Solutions, a group involved in the lawsuits, referring to the mayor’s decision to proceed with the plan. Silverman hopes the community’s concerns will be heard. “This has always been about doing the right thing.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Jewish Community Foundation Increases Grant-Giving

Increasing its General Community grants by 67 percent from last year, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles announced last week that it has awarded $200,000 in grants to 18 local organizations. The recipients’ missions range from combating gang violence to training math and science teachers to helping homeless parents obtain jobs.

“The Foundation has had a longstanding tradition of seeding and sustaining Los Angeles-area organizations in the community at large,” said Marvin I. Schotland, president and CEO. “It’s an essential part of our mandate because we believe that tikkun olam — repairing the world — means strengthening and supporting the vitality of our entire community, including the Jewish community and the community at large.”

The two largest grants, $25,000 each, went to the American Red Cross’ Major Disaster Readiness program to develop a catastrophic relief plan for the L.A. area and to The Advancement Project for a new program called the Alliance of Mothers of Murdered Children, which aims to curb gang violence.

“After 30 years of law enforcement’s ‘war on gangs,’ L.A. has six times as many gangs and twice as many gang members,” said Connie Rice, co-director of the Advancement Project. “It’s time for a campaign to rescue our children. The Alliance of Mothers of Murdered Children is the moral backbone of the movement to end the gang violence epidemic in Los Angeles.”

Other recipients of grants ranging from $5,000 to $12,500 included Heal the Bay’s Key to the Sea educational program; Beyond Shelter for an employment-support program; the PTA of Pomelo Drive Elementary for expansion of the ballroom dance program at the West Hills school; and Zeitgeist Community Center for an after-school program for low-income and minority children in the Crenshaw area.

For more information about grants from The Foundation, call (323) 761-8705, e-mail grants@jewishfoundationla.org, or visit http://www.jewishfoundationla.org.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

David Brooks Bucks Labels at Annual Pearl Lecture

Pundit David Brooks was considered the house liberal when he wrote for the conservative Weekly Standard, and is now tagged as the house conservative for the liberal New York Times.

Whatever the label, the UCLA audience listening last week to Brooks delivering the annual Daniel Pearl lecture, which honors the young American journalist killed by Islamic extremists, could agree that Brooks is a very funny guy.

He is also Jewish, he quickly announced, was Pearl’s colleague at the Wall Street Journal, and his children attend a Jewish day school.

The talk was not notable for its broad theme or penetrating analysis, but yielded an assortment of rapid-fire observations well worth repeating.

On his interviews with political leaders: George W. Bush has tremendous self-confidence and is smarter than he comes across on television.

Hillary Clinton is well regarded by her peers and respected as a professional by her fellow senators, but it’s hard to get behind her thought processes.

Barack Obama looks at problem solutions from the bottom up. He is very perceptive, can read your mind and can summarize your arguments better than you can.

Briefs: Israeli team places second in international technology challenge, Jewish Community Foundatio


Israeli Team Places Second in International Technology Challenge

A youthful Israeli team won second place in an international competition to develop innovative technologies than can benefit both society and financial investors.

Competing against 20 other entries from 11 countries, the Israeli project, initiated by a professor and four graduate students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), aims at extracting and marketing “green” biodiesel fuel from microalgae.

The intense three-day competition, officially titled the Intel-Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge (IBTEC) ended Nov. 15 on the UC Berkeley campus.

The Israeli group, which entered its project under the nascent company name of Negev Renewable Green Fuels (NRG Fuels), was awarded an oversized $10,000 check at the closing ceremony.

First place and $25,000 went to a German project on the early detection of breast cancer through intraoperative 3-D imaging. Brazil came in third with a navigation system for visually impaired people.

Avi Avidan, 28, who presented the biodiesel project to the judges, was elated by the second-place showing. “We were given only 15 minutes to explain our project and then were grilled for 10 minutes,” he said.

The judges were not scientists but rather some 20 top venture capitalists from the San Francisco Bay Area, whose focus was as much on the commercial potential of the presentations as on their technical feasibility and social value.

Avidan ended the evening with 10 business cards from potential investors in his pocket and serious interest from a Brazilian and a Sino-American company. He spent most of the following two days working the phone to talk to his new contacts.

Joining him in Berkeley were three fellow honor students in the MBA program at BGU — Roee Arbel, Noga Bar-El and Daniel Eisen — who jointly developed the business plan for the project.

The scientific leader was professor Shoshana Arad, a veteran authority on algae growth and genetics. She heads the Institute for Applied Science at BGU, as well as the Ruppin Academic Center in Emek Hefer, but was unable to make the trip.

Avidan, who served as an artillery officer in the Israeli army for four years, holds degrees in both biotechnical engineering and business administration and works closely with Arad.

Microalgae differs from the more familiar algae and seaweed and is often detected on the windows of aquariums, said Avidan. The unicellular plant beats all other plants and vegetables in its high oil content and CO2 absorption. It requires little space for cultivation and can be converted to biodiesel by a fairly straightforward chemical process.

Another advantage is that microalgae is now being grown in Israel in a closed system of transparent, seawater-filled tubes, rather than open ponds, drastically lowering the chances for contamination.

Avidan and his colleagues are looking for initial investments for a pilot program, followed by a scaled-up system in about two years.

The Berkeley event was the final round for the two top winners of regional elimination competitions around the world.

The biodiesel project was almost eliminated when it placed only third in the Israel competition. However, one of the two top winners couldn’t make it to the follow-up European competition in Bucharest, Romania, so Avidan’s team went instead.

There the BGU group walked away with the first prize, automatically qualifying for the finals at Berkeley.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Community Foundation Seeks Grant Proposals

The Jewish Community Foundation is again inviting innovative organizations to apply for a Cutting Edge grant of up to $250,000.

“Bottom line, what our grants committee is looking for are transformative ideas affecting a large group of people throughout the L.A. Jewish community, from religious to secular and affiliated to nonaffiliated,” spokesman Lew Groner wrote in an e-mail. “In other words, really big ideas that will have major impact in our city across the Jewish spectrum.”

This year, the foundation awarded $1.5 million in Cutting Edge grants to 10 local nonprofits working to alleviate social problems and strengthen Jewish life. The largest gifts of $250,000 over three years went to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for its Jewish Summer Overnight Camp Support Initiative and to LimmudLA, which in February will put on a four-day conference promoting Jewish learning and community building across religious divides.

The deadline for completed proposals is Jan. 11. To apply or for more information, call (323) 761-8705,e-mail grants@jewishfoundationla.org, or visit http://www.jewishfoundationla.org

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Rosh Hashanah with Dennis Prager, deuling Dems, adios Kaiser Permanente


Prager to Lead High Holy Days Services

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager will be leading services these High Holy Days in La Canada Flintridge for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “There is no Jewish life as such in La Canada and there are Jews there, and I would like them to meet each other,” Prager said in an interview.

The services are also open to everyone, he said. Although there are some inspiring services for the High Holy Days, “I believe that Jews are mostly bored at services,” Prager said. “The boredom comes from not having the tradition made meaningful.”

He said it’s easy to make services interesting by abandoning tradition – creating a political service, for example. But the challenge is to keep people interested while sticking with the tradition.

“To make it religiously meaningful is what I intend to do,” he says.

For more information on times and location, contact Dennis Prager at dennisprager@dennisprager.com.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Sam Nazarian Hosts Dueling Democratic Events

On Aug. 9, Iranian Jewish hotel and nightclub entrepreneur Sam Nazarian hosted separate events for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at two of his company’s trendy West Hollywood venues. Following her participation in a presidential speaking forum in Los Angeles on issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, Clinton joined 700 supporters at The Abbey, a restaurant and bar operated by Nazarian’s SBE Group.

“The Abbey was chosen because Mrs. Clinton wanted to go to West Hollywood where the LGBT community lives to address issues important to them,” said Luis Vizcaino, a spokesperson for the Clinton campaign in Los Angeles. On the same night, SBE’s popular nightclub Area hosted a post-forum fundraising event attended by Obama and his supporters. SBE Vice President of Marketing Michael Doneff said the company is not endorsing any candidate but is interested in encouraging their patrons to become politically active. “We feel that it is paramount as socially responsible citizens to help our community, and by promoting events such as these at our properties we can become involved and engaged in the election,” Doneff said. Nazarian’s involvement in issues involving the gay and lesbian community is rare in the Iranian Jewish community, in which such issues that have long been considered taboo to discuss.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Jewish Community Foundation Picks ‘Cutting Edge’ Programs

The Jewish Community Foundation has identified 10 local nonprofits to receive a combined $1.5 million in Cutting Edge grants, awarded to innovative programs tackling social problems and improving Jewish life.

The two largest gifts, of $250,000 over three years, went to LimmudLA, which promotes Jewish learning and community building across religions, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for its Jewish Summer Overnight Camp Support Initiative.

“Jewish camping is one of the best ways to turn kids on to Judaism and have it last their lifetime,” Julie Platt, chair of The Federation’s Jewish camping steering committee, said in a statement. “The generosity of the Jewish Community Foundation grant enables us to engage more children in the joy and transformative experience of Jewish camping, allows us to better inform the community about the positive impact of Jewish camping, encourages a broader range of families to try Jewish camping and assists our local camps in enhancing their good work for years to come.”

Also receiving grants between $120,000 and $200,000 were JQ International, which enhances Jewish identity and inclusion in the Los Angeles community for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews; Camp Ramah in California Inc. for Camp Ohr Lanu, which serves families with special needs children; Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles for its training of Jewish educators; Jews for Judaism for its program to counter the efforts of missionaries and cults to high school and college students; and American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism) for the upcoming Celebration of Books.

Jewish Free Loan Association also received a $96,000 grant for a nursing fund to increase the availability of skilled nurses at Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda. And Friends Around received $80,000 for Club Kung Fu, its martial-arts program for Jewish children with special needs.

– Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Annual Jewish Security Briefing

Last year, the Jewish community was on edge as the High Holy Days approached. Israel had spent the summer at war, and many Jewish leaders were worried about attacks against the community like the fire set in early July to Beith David Educational Center in Tarzana or the shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle that killed one a few weeks later.

But this year, thankfully, there is no obvious cause for alarm. That’s why the Anti-Defamation League’s annual security briefing last week, in partnership with Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss’ office, was more about long-term safety than fortifying synagogues and day schools against an impending attack.

“It is good that we get together every year; it is good that we focus on what we can do during High Holy Days…. But our institutions operate year-round, and our adversaries are working to attack us year-round,” Weiss said in opening remarks at the Skirball Cultural Center to about 90 Jewish institutional leaders. “It is very important you make sure security is not a once a year item that you check off the list when you send your tickets out.”

High Holy Days traditionally represent a greater risk for the Jewish community because of the large gatherings and the symbolic significance an attack would pose. But Los Angeles police officials, who led the security briefing, spent most of the morning talking about the threat of homegrown terrorism and the role the community plays in preventing it.

They advised leaders of synagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions to establish relationships with the LAPD senior lead officer in their area, to have that person’s cell phone and e-mail and, in case they aren’t available, to get to know the area captain.

Teens tackle tzedakah dollars


Courtney Teller knows all about giving. The high school sophomore won the community service award at Archer School for Girls, and her grandmother, Annette Shapiro, is a legendary volunteer and philanthropist in the Los Angeles Jewish community.

But it was the parking situation at a playground for the disabled that gave Courtney a new appreciation for the potential impact of tzedakah.

As part of her participation in the Community Youth Foundation — a program of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles where teens allocate $10,000 in grants — Teller and her friends visited Shane’s Inspiration, a West L.A. playground for the disabled. While she was moved by the hordes of kids, both abled and disabled, playing on the rubber-padded, accessibly designed equipment, the fact that it took her 30 minutes to find parking signaled to her that demand had outpaced supply.

“It was a Saturday afternoon and it was packed — you couldn’t get near it,” Teller said. “It was important to me that I saw where we could really make a difference.”

It was her impassioned plea, in part, that convinced the group of 11 teens to award Shane’s Inspiration a $1,000 grant to support their expansion of similar projects.

Teller and her peers are among a growing number of teens getting involved in the giving — not just doing — end of community service. Youth foundations and individual teen endowments across the country are empowering teens of all economic levels to make values-based and technically informed decisions about what is worthy of their support.

Jewish teens have given away an estimated $1 million dollars — most of it community money, a token amount of it their own — since these philanthropic training camps began to emerge in scattered Jewish communities about 10 years ago.

In the last year energy has been building, and there are about 50 such projects. Last spring, the Jewish Funders Network co-sponsored the first-ever Jewish Youth Philanthropy conference in Denver, after about five years of informal networking among teens and professionals. The conference attracted more than 150 teens, and a follow-up conference for professionals this spring attracted dozens. A Web site launched at the first conference, jphilanthropy.com, run by Jewish Family and Life Media, received 200,000 hits in its first year.

After the youth philanthropy conference last spring — which overlapped with the high-powered Jewish Funders Network conference — several donors backed the establishment of the Jewish Teen Funders Network to serve as a central address for these programs. This year, the network is considering proposals to award 10 communities matching grants of $30,000 to set up new youth foundation programs.

“I think a very strong motivation behind these programs is the idea of providing a hands-on, values-driven educational opportunity for teenagers that provides an alternative to Hebrew school,” said Stefanie Zelkind, who runs the Jewish Teen Funders Network, an arm of the Jewish Funders Network. “The general area of service learning and tikkun olam resonates a lot with teenagers, and this is a program that really engages teens very seriously and gives them a lot of responsibility.”

The experience also demands serious work from the teens.

Teller and her peers spent three Sundays learning the mechanics of giving — how to read the financials of a nonprofit, how to conduct the research and what questions to ask to assess an organization’s efficacy and the impact of a potential donation.

“We were the ones doing everything,” Teller said.

This is the fourth group of teens — all of them children and grandchildren of philanthropic families associated with the Jewish Community Foundation — that the Community Youth Foundation has entrusted to disburse $10,000.

They begin by brainstorming about problems and organizations that can achieve solutions. They each research several organizations, and then narrow the list down to organizations worthy of site visits — an important step for a generation that relies heavily on the web for information.

After the visits, the teens gather to debate each organization’s comparative merits, and negotiate with each other to choose who will receive grants.

The only limitation is that half the money must go to Jewish causes. Beyond that, teens decide not only which organizations around the world to give to, but to how many and at what level, an exercise that opens up deep discussion on Jewish traditions of giving.

“The kids really learn how complicated it can be to conduct effective philanthropy,” said Susan Grinel, who runs the Community Youth Foundation for the Jewish Community Foundation. “It’s really a maturing process.”

Aside from Shane’s inspiration, Teller and her peers awarded $5,000 to Jewish World Watch, which is working for humanitarian aid and political awareness in Darfur, and $4,000 to L.A. Youth Network, which works with homeless kids and teens.

The fact that the kids decided to give to programs that are not specifically Jewish is typical not only of their generation, but of gen-Xers as well — a trend some baby boomers and their parents find disconcerting. Grinel says the Jewish Community Foundation set up the youth program in response to concerns about generational disparities that kept coming up among foundation donor families.

“When the younger generation says I want to give to Darfur, and the older generation says this Jewish community in Los Angeles is what gave me my start and I think we should focus here, how do you begin to bridge that gap and let people talk on common ground?” said Grinel, who also runs the Family Foundation Center for the Jewish Community Foundation.

Grinel has found that focusing discussions on core, motivating values usually reveals a smaller gap than initially perceived, and unpacking those values can be educational for everyone involved.

“I think these programs present the Jewish community with a serious opportunity to listen and to learn from these teenagers,” said Zelkind of the Jewish Teen Funders Network. “The best of these programs are being used in that way rather than in guiding the teenagers to make the kinds of decisions that their community leaders and parents would like them to make.”

It is that interplay between adults and teens that makes these programs attractive — kids are handing out large sums of money, and the adults who want that money, or who want to see that money disbursed intelligently, must treat teens seriously whether on site visits, at the dinner table, or in the board room. Kids, in turn, learn how to behave in adult milieus.

Israeli Security Offers Pointers to LAX; Education Programs Get Multimillion Dollar Boost


Israeli Security Offers Pointers to LAX

Three Israeli security experts received warm praise from local city officials after concluding a four-day recent inspection tour of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) recently.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement during his Asia travels lauding the “peer-to-peer sharing of critical security measures in place at Ben-Gurion Airport.”

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who hosted the Israeli delegation, said that the inspection visit was the first of its kind to any U.S. airport.

Heading the Israeli group was Nahum Liss, director of the security planning department at Ben-Gurion International Airport, joined by department officials Hadas Levitan and Alon Browon.

They were not available for comment and LAX officials declined to discuss specific recommendations for security reasons.However, LAX Commission President Alan Rothenberg told the Los Angeles Times that the Israeli experts “had a half dozen suggestions, some of them very low tech, some of them very high tech.”

The Los Angeles airport is considered the prime terrorist target in California and its Tom Bradley International Terminal processes as many passengers annually as the Ben-Gurion airport, Rothenberg said.

In reporting the visit, the L.A. Times emphasized that “Israel airport security is recognized throughout the world as the gold standard,” particularly for its “behavioral recognition tactics.”

The Israeli delegation was invited by Weiss, who participated in a conference on homeland security in Israel earlier this year.”We came to appreciate that Israeli government officials have unique and valuable experience in protecting airports and airliners from terrorism and that they could be helpful partners in securing LAX,” Weiss said.

“We hope that we can arrange to put this security exchange on a permanent footing,” he added.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Education Programs Get Multimillion Dollar Boost

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCF) recently announced that it had awarded grants totaling a record $57 million in 2005, up 33 percent from a year earlier.

The 52-year-old foundation, the largest manager of charitable assets for Jewish philanthropists in Los Angeles, distributed more than 1,300 grants last year to a variety of secular and religious causes.

“Whether the foundation’s grants target the young, the elderly, the arts, education, or social services, we aim to make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Marvin I. Schotland, JCF president and chief executive.

With the foundation’s total assets having jumped 83 percent over the past five years, JCF recently announced that it would award grants of up to $250,000 over a three-year period, compared to maximum grants of $50,000. As of Dec. 31, 2005, the foundation had $603 million in total assets.

Among the 2005 recipients of noteworthy JCF grants:

  • Jewish World Watch, an anti-genocide advocacy group that has focused on the tragedy in Darfur, received $50,000 from JCF to help with its mission of educating and mobilizing the Jewish community against acts of genocide and inhumanity. JWW, since its inception two years ago, has raised a total $500,000 to build two medical clinics for refugees in Darfur and 50 water wells and other water systems mostly in Darfur, among other projects
  • The Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles received $39,000 for a Hebrew language immersion program for children in Jewish elementary day schools.
  • Aish Tamid of Los Angeles, received $10,000 for its Student Career Fair Conference, a one-day career fair for at-risk youth in the Orthodox community.
  • Brandeis-Bardin Institute landed $20,000 for a camp-based program for high-school students and their parents that focuses on Jewish ethics, sexual development and responsible decision-making.
  • The Library Education Project for Los Angeles, a StandWithUs program, received $50,000 to organize discussion groups, buy books and films and meet with librarians to help correct the perceived anti-Israel bias in many libraries.
  • HaMercaz, a program that brings together several local Jewish agencies to coordinate and provide services to families of children with developmental disabilities and special needs, landed $48,700.
  • The UCLA Center for Jewish Studies received $10,000 to help underwrite the costs of a two-day conference about the Jewish experience in Los Angeles.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

The Circuit


Oil of Ole

With hair flying and arms interlocked, 25 school-age children clapped their hands and performed the “Mexican Hat Dance” — one of the many musical acts shown at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Feb. 24. The concert was part of an education program titled, A Patchwork of Cultures, which sought to explain the Sephardic-Latino connection through language and music.

The Nimoy Concert Series and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) collaborated on the educational workshops leading up to the concert. At the workshops, members of the orchestra visited third- through fifth-graders from various elementary schools. Using musical principles, like texture, the teachers helped the kids create artwork that represented their heritage. The musicians incorporated music in the cultural lesson, with public school children learning classic Sephardic melodies like “Avraham Avinu” in Ladino, and the Jewish day school students learning the “The Mexican Hat Dance.”

Noreen Green, artistic director for the LAJS and the creator of the program, wanted the kids to understand their cultural connection and celebrate their similarities through music.

“This all came out of wanting to have more of a connection with our Hispanic community,” Green said. “Through music we can show the similarities of the two cultures.”

The concert was the first opportunity for the kids from the various schools to meet and share their experiences. Hundreds of kids chitchatted in line, patiently waiting their turn for the “instrument petting zoo.” In the background you could hear the blare of the trumpet, the sound of the horn and clinking of the xylophone, as children toyed with various musical instruments.

At the concert, Cantor Aviva Rosenblum, wearing a green cloak with a rose in her hair, sang beautiful Sephardic and Latino melodies in operatic style.

Daniel Fishman, a Russian Jewish fifth-grader from Laurel Elementary School said the program was a true learning experience since he had no prior knowledge of Sephardic Jews.

“I am enjoying it,” he said with a smile. — Leora Alhadeff, Contributing Writer

Utah Shul Gets Rabbi

Tracee Rosen, a 2000 graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, was installed as senior rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, Utah’s largest synagogue, on March 7. Rosen left a 10-year career in banking in 1996 to become a rabbi. Her first stint was as a rabbinic intern at the Shivyon Minyan, a monthly Pico-Robertson prayer group. She then became a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, and for Hadassah of Southern California’s adult bat mitzvah program. Rosen also served on the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Rosen moved to Salt Lake City in August 2003 to take over the 450-family congregation. She is the state’s first female rabbi to lead a synagogue. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Think, Think, Think

In early March, more than 50 attorneys, accountants and insurance and financial planners gathered at a Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel to hear Steve Johnson, the vice president of The Philanthropic Initiative of Boston, talk about “What Are Professional Advisers Thinking About Philanthropy?” The event was sponsored by the Family Foundation Center, a consulting service of the JCF that helps funders maximize the impact of their philanthropic giving.

Hollywood, Interrupted

The Los Angeles Press Club hosted scorched-earth journalists Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner at a Feb. 19 party for their book, “Hollywood Interrupted,” at West Hollywood’s Quixote Studios. Along with L.A Press Club President Ted Johnson, guests on hand for the autographed book giveaway included Arianna Huffington, Variety’s Patricia Saperstein, author David Rensin, West Coast online journalists David Poland, Cathy Seipp and Amy Alkon (the latter two also the party’s hostesses) and New Yorker cartoonist Donna Barstow — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Digestive Delights

It was big-money time at the UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases 50th anniversary celebration on Feb. 28 at the Park Hyatt Hotel. More than 350 people gathered to honor Dr. Gary Gitnick, the division chief for the past 10 years, and Dr. Sherman Mellinkoff the founder of the division. The banquet was the culmination of several days of celebratory events that raised $6.7 million for research, education and patient care. The UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases is the largest in the world and ranked first in the Western United States in U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Hospital Survey.

At the event, Gitnick announced key gifts, including $3 million from The Michael Foundation in memory of Michael Parr, $2 million from The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation and $1 million from other sources.

Memories and Legacies

In early February, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Young Leaders of Los Angeles held its kickoff event at Sinai Temple. The HIAS is America’s oldest international migration and refugee immigration agency. The event, Memories and Legacies, HIAS’ First Los Angeles Family Gathering, was designed to teach the 250 people in attendance more about HIAS’ work and how they could help Iranian refugees stranded in Vienna.

HIAS board members Nazy Yadkarim and Reuben Zadeh emceed the event while Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple delivered the opening remarks. Other speakers included Jerome Teller, chair of the HIAS Board of Directors; Leonard Glickman, president and CEO, and HIAS scholarship recipients Elham Makabi, Yalda Azarmehr and Mojdeh Makabi.

In its more than 122 years of operation, HIAS has helped more than 4.5 million immigrants and refugees in need, many who now reside in the L.A. area.

For more information on HIAS Young Leaders of Los Angeles, e-mail HIASLAYL@Yahoo.com.

Conejo School Honors

The Conejo Jewish Day School held tight to the evening’s theme, Dor L’Dor (generation to generation), when it celebrated the contributions of two generations during its second annual scholarship banquet on Feb. 29 at the Warner Center Marriott Hotel.

Mark and Risa Moskowitz received the school’s Leadership Award; Mark is one of the school’s founding board members. Joe and Zena Simon, Risa’s parents and founders/owners of Ventura Kosher Meats, were honored with the school’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Mark has devoted so much of his time to making sure Conejo Jewish Day School becomes a reality,” said Rabbi Moshe Bryski, who serves as the school’s dean. “And Joe and Zena are community leaders; they have always been there for people and they’ve been instrumental in bringing kosher food to the Conejo Valley.”

The banquet also featured a performance by the Conejo Jewish Day School Choir and the evening’s silent auction raised $12,000 for the school; pledges to the school brought the evening’s total up to more than $90,000.

Founded in 2000, the Conejo Jewish Day School recently received a preliminary nod from the Agoura Hills City Council to continue operating at the Gateway Foursquare Church site indefinitely. The site was the original location of Heschel Day School West, which moved in 1997. — AW

Station Break

It was party time at Bergamot Station on March 6 when more than 700 young professionals turned out for ATID’s second annual sold-out Purim party. The theme was Vegas, baby, and it featured DJ Backdraft, a Dr. Seuss-style megillah reading, drinks, food and that scrumptious chocolate fountain. Ophira Levant and Oren Zarin, who became engaged at the ATID party last year, dressed up as picnic tables and won first prize in the costume contest, which featured prizes such as a stay at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and L.A. Fitness memberships.

The Circuit


Dollars for Access

The Jewish Community Foundation awarded a $7,500 grant to the Access Center of OPCC (formerly the Ocean Park Community Center). The money will be dedicated to maintaining the project’s critical core programs to assist homeless youth, adults and families. The Access Center opened in 1963 and it is often the first port of entry for homeless individuals and families seeking services. In addition to providing emergency services such as food, clothing and shelter to approximately 275 clients daily, the center assists homeless men, women and children in developing individual plans to identify strengths and goals in order to return to a life of stability and self-sufficiency.

Pint-Sized Philanthropists

It is never too early to start giving tzedakah (charity) in a very adult kind of way. On Jan. 6 the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls at Emek Hebrew Academy Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks presented a $30,473 check to Randi Grossman, the West Coast regional director of Chai Lifeline, a charity that provides services to families who have children with special needs. The girls raised the money by organizing parlor meetings for the women in their respective synagogues, having bake sales, tabling outside kosher markets in the Valley, holding fund-raising parties and basically asking everyone they knew for money.

“All the kids expressed how good it felt to raise the money — they said it felt good for their neshamas [souls], knowing that they were helping to bring a smile to a sick child,” said Debbie Eidlitz, the Emek teacher who oversaw the fund-raising. “A lot of the shyest kids forced themselves to go out there and raise the money, and they all felt that they grew tremendously from the experience.”

School Banquet Season

On Jan. 11 Samuel A. Fryer Yeshivat Yavneh held its annual banquet at which the school honored the J. Samuel Harwit and Manya Harwit Aviv Charitable Trust for its support and dedication to Jewish education. Rabbi Yissocher Frand, a teacher at the Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore, was the guest speaker at the banquet.

Yavneh, located in Hancock Park, is one of the largest Orthodox elementary schools in the city. It aims to educate students to be firmly committed to Torah, Judaism and Israel and the principles and values that are a part of American life.

Another large Orthodox elementary school, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, also held its banquet recently. On Dec. 21 at the Century Plaza Hotel, supporters of Hillel gathered to honor Robert and Rosina Korda at the academy’s 55th annual Scholarship Banquet. At the banquet, Hillel also honored Joel and Roslyn Linderman, who jointly received the Dor L’Dor Award, and Dr. Benjamin Rosenberg, who received the Alumni Award.

On Nov. 25 Valley Torah High School held its annual communitywide Scholarship Banquet at the Hilton Universal City and Towers. The school’s dean, Rabbi Abraham Stulberger, presented awards to Eliezer Jones (Alumnus of the Year) and Eli and Sandra Eisenberger. A number of new developments were announced at the dinner, including the opening of a new girls’ school, Beis Malkah V’Sara Esther later this year.

Loen’s Lights

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, a program of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, recently honored Masha Loen at the first Festival of Lights cocktail party and silent auction, which was held in December at the museum. Loen was honored on her retirement for a lifetime of dedication and service.

Forest for the Trees

The U.S.D.A. Forest Service hosted a special guest in January — Jewish National Fund (JNF) forester Adi Naali of Israel. Naali has worked for the JNF for the past six years supervising new tree plantings and recreation areas, and taking part in forest and land-use planning teams. He was a member of the Alexander River Rehabilitation Project, which won the Australian River-Price Competition, one of the most prestigious ecological restoration competitions in the world.

As part of his visit, Naali toured Southern California and Arizona to view the devastation to the national forests caused by fires.

Stuart D. Buchalter


Stuart D. Buchalter, a prominent Los Angeles corporate and securities attorney and philanthropist, died Jan. 7 at the age of 66.

Buchalter, of Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger, mentored numerous attorneys and was a dedicated teacher of the law to all around him.

A Los Angeles native, Buchalter received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and attended Harvard Law School. He served on the boards of directors for numerous public and privately held corporations, including City National Corp. and the Warnaco Group. Buchalter served as chairman of the board and CEO of Standard Brands Paint Company in Torrance from 1980 to 1993 and served as chair and CEO of The Art Stores.

Active in community affairs, Buchalter served as president of the Jewish Community Foundation from 1993 to 1996. He was also a past member of the Los Angeles City Fire and Police Pension Commission and director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation. A patron of the arts who amassed an expansive contemporary art collection, Buchalter served as a member of the Los Angeles Area County Museum of Art and as chair of the board of trustees of the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

Buchalter is survived by his wife, Gail; children, Stephanie, Michael, Douglas and Melissa; grandchildren, Amanda and Erin; and sister, Susan (Burton) Sunkin.

The family requests that donations, in lieu of flowers, be sent to the Gail and Stuart Buchalter Library Endowment Fund for Contemporary Art at UC Berkeley, the Otis College of Art and Design or the Jewish Community Foundation.

Shoah-Era Opera an Allegory of Victory


When she was 11 years old, Ella Weisberger got her first starring role, playing the cat in a children’s opera called, "Brundibar."

But Weisberger didn’t perform in a grand concert hall; instead she sang in the barracks of Terezin, the "model" concentration camp that the Nazis set up in Czechoslovakia for artists and intellectuals.

"Brundibar" ended up being performed 55 official times in Terezin, and in countless other impromptu performances in the camp’s halls and barracks. A charming folktale where good triumphs over evil, this children’s opera became a symbol of resistance and hope for many of the 144,000 Jews interned in Terezin, most of whom were murdered before the end of the war.

Today, "Brundibar" is experiencing a revival of sorts. It is the title and story of a new children’s book written by Tony Kushner, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak (Hyperion Books for Children), and this weekend, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Dwight Stuart Youth Foundation sponsored Youth Opera Camp of Santa Monica College Conservatory will be performing the opera at the Miles Memorial Playhouse and Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"We have been taking the kids through a real journey understanding the social relevance of this piece," said Adam Phillipson, the special projects coordinator for Santa Monica College. "The theme of the opera is overcoming a bully, which is how we made it relevant for them, but we also wanted them to understand its historical relevance."

Hans Krasa composed the music of "Brundibar," and Adolf Hoffmeister wrote the lyrics in 1938 for a competition of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Czechoslovakia. According to some accounts, the impending war prevented the competition from taking place; others say that Krasa and Hoffmeister never got their prize because they were Jews. In 1939 when the Nazis invaded, Jews were prevented from participating in public activities. Krasa took his opera to a Jewish orphanage in Prague, where it had its first performance. In 1943, Krasa and the orphanage boys were shipped to Terezin, and his opera was smuggled into the camp in a suitcase. The opera was a favorite there. It was performed for a visiting Red Cross delegation in 1944, and a performance became part of the Nazi propaganda film, "The Fuhrer Presents the Jews With a City."

"Brundibar" is the story of two children who are trying to buy milk for their sick mother but have no money. They notice people giving coins to Brundibar (Czech for bumblebee), the mean old organ grinder. The children try their hand at singing, but nobody hears them over Brundibar’s racket. Out of frustration they start imitating Brundibar, who runs them out of the market. At night, a sparrow, cat and dog join the children to look after them, and advise them that strength lies in numbers. In the morning, a chorus of schoolchildren join them, and together, their voices are loud enough to drown out Brundibar. Villagers drop coins into their bucket, but then a jealous Brundibar runs away with it. The children chase him, get their bucket back and the opera ends with a song of victory.

"Music was part of the resistance against the Nazis," said Weisberger. "When we sang the finale of this little opera, Brundibar was like Hitler and [the message was] we will overcome him and we will win the war against him, and I believe the audience understood it. They would clap, and we would sing it again several times."

Now, 60 years later, the experience of "Brundibar" is still a bittersweet but happy one. It is both a reminder of prejudice and an escape from it. In the Sendak book, scattered among the brightly colored illustrations are Jews wearing the yellow star and even a Jewish cemetery. The opera camp took its 37 aspiring singers on a tour of the Museum of Tolerance and its Children of Terezin exhibit so they could better understand the historical context of the opera. Yet the specter of the Holocaust did not preoccupy the rehearsals of the opera itself.

"It should be playful," said director Eli Villaneuva to the singers during rehearsal, as they flexed their nimble bodies to look like the animals of the script. "You should feel like this is all pretty silly."

But the performers were aware of the significance of the opera. Eight of the 37 opera campers, who come from all over Los Angeles, are Jewish, and several of them had relatives who went through the Holocaust.

"I am continuing the legacy [of those who died] you might say," said Dana Edelman, 13, from El Segundo Middle School, whose great-great aunts and uncles were killed in the Holocaust. "It was really cool that ‘Brundibar’ had been performed by kids, and it was their way of being unified."

Weisberger said, "’Brundibar’ was our life."

"Brundibar, A Children’s Opera" will be performed Dec. 5 at noon and 7 p.m. at Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 434-3431; and on Dec. 7 at 1:30 p.m. at the Museum of Tolerance, 9876 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 772-2452.

Ties That Bind


The Rev. Rick Fish has long hair, a shaggy beard and wears
jeans and a flannel shirt. Preacher Rick, as he is called, is the friendly and
gregarious leader of The Live Ride, a church in Simi Valley that administers to
bikers. Fish also visited Jerusalem last February and fell in love with it.

“At The Jerusalem Post Web site they have a connection where
you can look at the Western Wall with a Webcam, and you can watch the events
and the bringing in of Shabbat,” he said. “I keep that on my computer all the
time.”

Fish is one of 20 Church leaders and other Christian
officials who have gathered — along with a dozen Jewish leaders — at the Church
of Rocky Peak, a large Evangelical church in Chatsworth, for a kosher dinner
and a meeting of the Israel Christian Nexus. The group, which was started in
June 2002 by writer Avi Davis and Shimon Erem, a former general in the Israeli
army, is one of many organizations (such as the Interfaith Coalition Of
StandWithUs and The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews) that is
looking to capitalize on the Evangelical Christian communities’ overwhelming
love for Israel and the Jewish people.

The Nexus, set up with a grant from the Jewish Community
Foundation, was established to provide the Christian community with pro-Israel
educational resources and to help them mobilize Israel action committees. As
there are far more Christians than Jews in America (according to some
estimates, there are over 70 million Evangelical Christians in America,
compared with 6 million Jews), their support for Israel could be crucial in
influencing government policy, visiting, and raising funds for the beleaguered
Jewish state.

“We have a common cause and a common enemy [radical Islam]
and we have a lot of mutually beneficial activities that we can undertake,” Davis
said. “They are pretty well-funded and they are an enormous power base to
current administration. A lot of George Bush’s views about Israel were formed
by his association with the church, which is why it is important for us to
cultivate that group.”

The Jewish cultivation of Christians (and vice versa) is a
new development in the bloody history of Jews and Christians, which for
centuries has been rife with anti-Semitism and the atrocities of the Crusades,
the Inquisition, pogroms and blood libels. However, after World War II, the
relationship took a turn, and Christianity softened its stance toward the Jewish
people. But it was the evangelical Christians, such as the Baptists and the
Pentecostals, who base their practice on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible,
who found in the Bible reason to love the Jews. They cite, for example, the
verse in Genesis 12:3 in which God says to Abraham, “I will bless those who
bless you, and curse those who curse you.”

They believe that the Bible proves Jewish ownership of the land
of Israel, because God gave it to the Jews. The evangelicals also consider the
Crusades to be the Catholics’ problems, and they attribute their love for the
Jewish people to something that they can’t quite explain.

“It’s supernatural,” said George Otis, the founder of Kol
Hatikvah, a Christian radio station that broadcasts in Israel and the Middle
East. “It’s something that God has spoken, and there is no explanation for it.
After 2,000 years of us being leery of each other, to suddenly see this love —
and this is not a temporary thing. This is going to last until Moshiach comes.”

“Something happens in your heart and you just feel compelled
to bless [the Jews],” said the Rev. Todd Hacker, the executive pastor at Hope
Chapel in the Valley.

This love has lead Hacker to teach a sermon series on the Middle
East, and to invite speakers from the Nexus into his church. He also uses the
collection plate to raise money for Israel and joins pro-Israel rallies, though
he does not organize any, because he prefers his church to stay out of
politics. He is also planning on joining the Nexus in its bid to find ways to
solve the water shortage crisis in Israel.

In Fresno, Stuart Weil, a local American Israel Public
Affairs Committee leader and member of the Israel Christian Nexus, organized a
joint rally with six churches and two synagogues. He also has regular meetings
with other church leaders to organize phone campaigns where parishioners call
their congressman to ask them to support President Bush, since, according to
Weil, Bush is the most pro-Israel president, ever.

At Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
invited the Rev. Ray Bentley from the Maranatha Chapel in San Diego to
co-officiate a Friday night service at which Dennis Prager spoke. Bouskila is
also planning a Jewish-Christian Yom HaAtzmaut service this year, as well as a
possible joint trip to Israel with Bentley.

There are other benefits to the alliance. The Christian
community has arranged media appearances on national television and popular
radio stations for people like Erem, where they are given a platform to speak
about the reasons why Israel should be supported.

Daniel Johnson, a member of the Christian community, is
showing his love for Israel by donating his company’s new desalination
technology to Israel to assist with their water shortage problem.

“We have always had a heart for Israel because of our
Judeo-Christian faith,” Johnson said. “The Bible commands us to love and honor
Israel and to support it in whatever way we can, and whatever we can do to help
Israel, we do.

For many Christians, their pro-Israel stance is not grounded
in altruism as much as an eschatological belief that sees Israel as part of the
fulfillment of an end-of-days prophecy, where all Jews will return to Israel
and accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. But many of the Christian groups who
join forces with the Jews separate their belief in the prophecy from their
current support of Israel.

“The prophecy is not a focus,” said Polly Grimes, who is
president of Tours Through The Book, a Christian Israel touring company that
runs Exodus Limited, an organization that raises funds for underprivileged
children in Israel.

“We just think of the needs [of Israelis] and what has been
happening,” she said. “We can’t stand to see the suffering, and it is breaking
our heart.”

However, the eschatological and the proselytizing component
of the evangelical Christian belief system can be problematic. In October 2002,
Jewish groups in San Diego boycotted a Mission Valley Christian Fellowship
dinner for thenJerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, because the money being raised from
the dinner was going to the Nicodemus Project, a church program aimed at
spreading the word of God in Israel.

Currently, groups like The International Fellowship of
Christians and Jews (which is affiliated with 20,000 churches and has more than
300,000 Christian donors) and the Israel Christian Nexus, will not work with
churches who proselytize.

“In private conversations with Church leaders it has been
made fairly clear to us that they are not interested in doing this or
participating with us for the purpose of converting Jews,” said Davis, senior
fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles. “Proselytism
is a concern, but it is not an issue. The issue is Israel’s survival. Until the
Messiah comes, we have to live in the present world and focus on our common
cause and our common enemy.”

Greenlighting the Future of Jewish L.A.


Lynne Sturt Weintraub had a problem. It involved what she prefers to call the “chronologically gifted” members of Temple Beth Zion, where she is co-president.

“Unfortunately they’re on fixed incomes,” says Weintraub. Unable to drive, and with most of their money going to food and medical care, Beth Zion’s elderly congregants had no way of getting to shul. “There were people who would like to participate at Beth Zion,” Weintraub says, “who couldn’t.”

That’s when Weintraub remembered the Jewish Community Foundation. Every year, the Foundation — a nonprofit agency based at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ headquarters — allocates millions of dollars in grant money for special initiatives in the Jewish community.

It is a kind of local goldmine. While the process of applying for a Foundation grant can be time-consuming and exacting, once tapped, the Foundation can be a financial lifeline for an up-and-coming social services agency or a budding cultural program.

Indeed, meeting the needs of Jewish institutions has been the primary concern of the Foundation for nearly 40 years. In 1964, the Foundation was created by the Jewish Federation to serve as the charitable gift-planning agency on behalf of L.A.’s Jewish community. Currently, the Foundation is the largest central distributor for Jewish philanthropists in Southern California. In fact, the organization’s assets have tripled in size between the years 1989-98, and the Foundation presently manages 850 individual donor funds.

The Foundation’s grant money is derived from these funds — legacies established by donors during their lifetime or in a will. The philanthropical caretakers at the Foundation assist in directing these monies to specific charities and fields of interest throughout the Jewish and general communities. All Foundation donors play a role in supporting the Foundation’s community grants programs because a small percentage of the earnings from donor funds helps to subsidize them. These grants fall under five basic categories:

* Community Emergency Grants — may be accessed any time during the year to address a crisis, i.e. Kosovo and the Sacramento synagogue bombings. In 1989, the Foundation flowed $1.5 million into local infrastructures to absorb Soviet emigrés; and also provided $1 million in aid following the Northridge earthquake.

* Capital Grants — designated for capital projects usually in the $10,000-$40,000 range. Valley Torah High School recently spent $40,000 renovating their buildings on such a grant, which is executed on a biannual basis.

* New and Innovative Grants — seed money for projects that frequently require ongoing subsidies.

* Comprehensive Development Grant — for programs involving a collaborative process among several agencies. Unlike New and Innovative grants, which generally provide a year’s funding, this type of assistance blankets a 5 year period. Case in point, the Israel Experience Program, where the Jewish Federation, in conjunction with area synagogues, sends teens to Israel.

*General Community Grant — for programs outside the Jewish community (ie. Friends of Los Angeles Retarded Citizens Foundation).

Of the $782,185 total that the agency will award to 36 recipients, $553,935 will go toward 23 green-lit programs as diverse as “The Leadership Conference on Understanding the Genetics of Breast and Colon Cancer in the Jewish Community” (Hadassah); “Reggae Passover: Songs of Freedom” (Temple Beth Am); “Yom HaAtzmaut 2000: A Tapestry of Cultures Through the Arts” (Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble); “Rabbinical Internship Program” (University of Judaism); “Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh for Mothers and Teen Daughters” (Temple Adat Elohim); and “California Institute for Yiddish Language and Culture” (Yiddishkayt Los Angeles).

This year, $111,250 of new and innovative money will go to 13 synagogue-sponsored projects. That’s where Marsha Rothpan comes in. As assistant director for the Jewish Federation’s Council of Jewish Life, she acts as liaison among the Foundation, the Federation and the synagogues. In effect, Rothpan shepherds all synagogue candidates — from helping them devise proposals, to staffing volunteer hearing committees to whom they will pitch their idea, to distributing the approved grants. The Synagogue Funding Evaluation Committee she oversees even assists in the execution and the guidance of the programs.

“This is a perfect example of the Foundation and the Federation working together to build community,” Rothpan says. The administrator feels particularly inspired by the approved youth-based programs, like Chabad of Conejo’s “Scribes and Scrolls” classes, which, in Rothpan’s words, “bring Shabbat to life for these kids,” and “Machar,” an ambitious $10,000 project conceived by a triumvirate of congregations and designed to build bridges among Conservative, Reform and Orthodox youth. Rothpan finds such venues crucial to the healthy advancement of Jewish culture.

“When you’re young, you’re a little bit more open to learning and accepting people of other denominations, as opposed to when you’re older and already set in your ways,” Rothpan says .

Such pluralistic efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Foundation’s top brass.

“We encourage collaboration,” says Marvin I. Schotland, the Foundation’s president and CEO. “We allow philanthropists to dream and think creatively … to ask themselves, How do we do something new? How do we do something better?”

Schotland and his staff are proud of the cross-denominational ventures that they’ve helped realize, such as Teen C.L.A.L., which has since attracted financial support from the Righteous Persons Foundation for their upcoming year.

“We’re open to all of the strains of Jewish life in the community,” Schotland says. He cites some day schools they have assisted as examples of that breadth: Valley Torah Yavneh Academy, Milken High School, Herschel Day School West.

For many of the programs proposed each year, the Foundation’s assistance can be the make-or-break financing needed to get an idea off the ground. Ask Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library, who shopped around her concept earlier this year. The Foundation approved “One People, Many Stories” — a series of 10 half-hour specials of Jewish-themed music and stories targeting Valley-area families — which is now set to air on KCSN (88.5 FM) this Passover. Yasgur credits her Foundation grant: “This is what has enabled us to do those specials.”

For Kadima Hebrew Academy, moving forward with their “Strategic Planning for the New Millennium” did not hinge entirely on receiving Foundation funds. Nevertheless, the Woodland Hills school’s headmaster, Dr. Barbara Gherboff, is extremely appreciative of the philanthropical assist they received for an October retreat where school administrators and staff will “flesh out what we see are issues for the school in the next 10 years … In a sense [the Foundation’s grant] jump-started things for us.”

While a majority of the grants go to local Jewish causes, some are applied to initiatives outside the L.A. or Jewish parameters. Past recipients have included South American victims of Hurricane Mitch, and institutions such as Occidental College. In 1999, $87,000 will be applied to such General Community Grant candidates.

Schotland notes that the Foundation also helped launch many organizations that now thrive on their own. A decade ago, Beit T’Shuvah began with a Foundation grant. My Jewish Discovery Place also took off with the Foundation’s assistance.

This year, competition was steep since more proposals than ever were submitted. That didn’t deter Weintraub and her Temple Beth Zion staff, who hatched a program idea — “Operation Independence and Continued Existence” — to provide transportation for their senior citizen contingent. Weintraub met with two different Foundation lay committees in March and May. Despite losing an entire proposal when a computer crashed, and having two early requests denied by the committees, she persevered, and the Foundation pulled through. By July’s end, she received notification that a financial package was on the way. Thanks to the Foundation, “Operation Independence” is a go, and many of Beth Zion’s will enjoy Shabbat services, dinners, social functions and both major and minor holiday programming in the year 5760.

“A larger amount definitely would have helped more,” admits Weintraub of the $3,000 she received for “Operation Independence,” “but we also understand that they’re trying to meet the needs of a lot of synagogues. This is a start.”

The Foundation is on a mission to raise its profile outside of the Jewish community. Since late 1998, the agency has undergone a marketing overhaul, redesigning its logo and running new ad campaigns in the Southern California editions of the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, and the Los Angeles Times.

But even as the Foundation reaches into the general domain, Foundation benefactors and beneficiaries alike recognize that the institution’s roots will always stay firmly planted in the Jewish community.

“We more than appreciate … the fact that the Jewish Foundation exists,” Weintraub says. “We’re all working for the same thing, for the betterment and the survival of the Jewish community.”

For more information, contact the Foundation at (323) 761-8700; or by e-mail: info@jewishfoundationla.org.


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