‘Tackling Hard Issues’: the GA Makes a Return to L.A.


Every November, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) convenes thousands of Jewish lay and professional leaders to discuss pressing issues, share knowledge and network in hotel conference rooms and hallways at its General Assembly. The GA, as it is known, returns to Los Angeles for the first time since 2006, running from Nov. 12-14.

“The GA has changed a great degree over the past 10 years,” said Rebecca Dinar, JFNA’s associate vice president of Strategic Marketing and Communications. Instead of opening with a large plenary session, this year’s event will kick off with “four powerful sessions that touch on some of the biggest looming questions that the Jewish communal world is thinking about.” Participants can opt to participate in one of the two-part sessions, which carry titles such as “Distressed Donors & Discourse: Maintaining Mission Amid Conflict,” “Imagining and Re-Imagining, Engaging and Re-Engaging: The Present and Future of Jewish Life” and “Israel and Us: A Changing Relationship.”

The conference’s theme, “Venture Further,” is about “going really deep into conversations that some might say are hard conversations to jump-start,” said Dinar, who added that organizers have made efforts to understand what draws GA participants and provide pertinent programming. “It’s all done in a way that is relevant to the people who power Jewish Federations.”

One of those is Julie Platt, chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who is co-chairing the GA with her husband, Hollywood producer Marc Platt. Julie Platt said she has attended “more than many” GAs, with highlights such as engaging with Supreme Court judges and touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.,  with Susannah Heschel and John Lewis.

“But more than all of those things, I am always rejuvenated and re-energized being with people for whom this is the way they want to spend three days,” she said. “The kind of person whose priority it is to take time out of your life to be inspired and enriched — you’re my kind of person. I love that people care in the same way that I do.”

Jay Sanderson, the L.A. Federation’s President and CEO and a veteran of about 15 GAs, said that compared to previous GAs, the this year’s will be “much more current and about today, tackling hard issues in the system and in the community.”

Platt noted that, in Los Angeles, Federation’s conversations “are truthful, dynamic and bold, and the Federation is on the cutting edge of open discussion, and innovation. We are not afraid to try things, to be nimble, innovative and dynamic.”

“I love that people care in the same way that I do.” – Julie Platt

Platt and Sanderson hope to show off the L.A. Federation’s “leading-edge” programs. Platt pointed to NuRoots, a project to build and curate unique Jewish experiences for Jews in their 20s and 30s. She also mentioned JQ International, a Jewish LGBTQ-support organization, saying she was “so proud” that it “formed before anyone else was thinking about it, so people don’t have to choose between doing LGBTQ and being Jewish.”

Sanderson highlighted the First 36 Project, an initiative that uses neuroscience and psychology to help early childhood educators in contributing to the growth of Jewish children.

In a typical year, the GA draws 30 to 40 people from Los Angeles; this year, 250 people from the greater L.A. area are registered, and many will bring specific agendas.

Michelle K. Wolf, a disability activist and executive director of JLA Special Needs Trust, who is also a Journal contributor, said she plans to advocate for disability inclusion, “encouraging JFNA to take a very strong and public stand to stop the proposed Medicaid cuts in the Trump budget.”

Rachel Sumekh, founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger — which helps college students direct dining credits toward fighting hunger — will participate in a GA mainstage panel about Jewish millennial engagement. But she said she feels Federation doesn’t represent her as much as organizations such as American Jewish World Service, IKAR and Bend the Arc.

While her organization is secular, Sumekh said she feels more connected to Judaism than do many of her colleagues at Jewish nonprofits, because she has paved her own Jewish path. “That old model of simply inherited Judaism no longer sticks,” she said. “My Judaism shows up in every right (and left) swipe on JSwipe and every page of Abraham Joshua Heschel I read, every meal I serve.”

Sumekh said her goal in attending the GA is “to make the Federation more representative of me and my values.”

Susan Freudenheim, executive director of Jewish World Watch (and former Journal managing editor), said she is attending “to learn more about the philanthropic climate we are working in today, about networking with the next generation and other creative ideas.” She also looks forward to promoting her organization and “the opportunity to be with so many engaged Jews.”

Janelle Eagle-Robles, a first- time attendee, and her wife Jenna Eagle-Robles, will be introducing a Honeymoon Israel video, and, she said, “representing both the LGBTQ and interfaith communities of Los Angeles” in what she called “a big and valuable visibility moment.”

David Katz, executive director of Hillel 818, in Northridge, attended three previous GAs, but owes a particular debt to the 2014 gathering, in Washington, D.C., which he attended “with the specific goal of finding my next professional opportunity,” he said. His conversations and networking there influenced his decision to accept the Hillel 818 job.

Besides highlighting the Los Angeles Jewish programs, this year’s GA will also reflect its location and connections to Hollywood. One session, featuring Marc Platt, will focus on social consciousness in filmmaking. Another features Nina Tassler, past chair of CBS Entertainment, and Marta Kauffman, creator of “Friends” and “Grace & Frankie.”

“What we want to do this year is to create conversations in the room that stimulate conversation outside the room and for days, weeks, and months ahead,” L.A. Federation’s Sanderson said. “I’m hoping this GA is taking the GA, and the system, in a proactive, relevant direction, dealing with the great challenges we are facing.” n

For more information, visit http://generalassembly.org/.

Sun., Sept. 10: Jewish Cuba Photography Exhibition

Events in Los Angeles – Sept. 8-14: Jewish Cuba exhibit, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico”


FRI | SEPT 8

“SHEBREW SHABBAT!”

JQ International welcomes back “Shebrew Shabbat!” Celebrate Shabbat in style with women and queers from the local LGBT community and enjoy a kosher meal, drinks, friends and the chance to meet new people. The event is geared toward those who identify with the concept of “womanhood,” but JQ International welcomes all people regardless of gender identity and/or expression. 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation $15 or $10 and a bottle of wine. JQ International, 801 Larrabee St., Suite 10, West Hollywood. (323) 417-2627. jqinternational.org/shebrewshabbat.

SUN | SEPT 10

JEWISH CUBA PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION

Learn about the rebirth of the Jewish community in Cuba through the photography of Martin Cohen, Andrew Dunbar and Liza Asner. The event is part of an effort to enhance the visibility of the Jewish community in Cuba, consisting of three primary projects: a coffee table art book, a traveling international photography exhibition and an educational program. There will be wine, appetizers and music. 6 p.m. Free. RSVP to quinceproductions@gmail.com. San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center, 18312 Oxnard St., Tarzana. cubajudaism.org.

FEDERATION FUNDRAISING

Join The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley or in central L.A. for a morning of philanthropy and phone calls in support of Federation’s 2017 annual campaign. For security reasons, all volunteers — who must be 18 or older to participate — are required to pre-register and sign up separately. Volunteers who have not yet made a donation to the campaign will be asked to do so at the event. 10 a.m. 19710 Ventura Blvd., Suite 105, Woodland Hills, or 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. jewishla.org/pages/super-sunday-too.

IMMIGRATION LAWS AND ANCESTRY PROGRAM

A lecture by a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County will provide a short history of immigration and naturalization laws and provide general guidance in finding an ancestor’s documentation. 1:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101. adatelohim.org/Jewish-Geneaological-Society-s/5694.htm.

ADVOCACY TRAINING PROJECT

The “Presenting Your Advocacy Message” workshop will assist you in crafting a message to help you communicate effectively about your cause. You will gain skills and tools useful in speaking, writing, social media and all forms of communication. The event is the first of six workshops co-sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, the City of West Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. 2 p.m. $20; $110 for six workshops. Attendees of all six workshops receive a certificate of program completion from the city of West Hollywood. National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8536. ncjwla.org.

MON | SEPT 11

HARVARD PROFESSOR LAURENCE H. TRIBE

The USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life presents the Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture featuring Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. 4:45 p.m. reception; 5:30 p.m. lecture. Free. University of Southern California, 665 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-4996. dornsife.usc.edu/warschawlecture.

TUES | SEPT 12

UNIVERSITY WOMEN OF AJU

University Women of American Jewish University’s opening event is a morning gathering featuring Robbie Rowe Tollin and Diane Miller Levin, producers of the film “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” A light breakfast is included. 10 a.m. $36; free for University Women members. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1211. uw.aju.edu.

SEPHARDIC HIGH HOLY DAYS “PREGAME” FESTIVITIES

Experience unique Sephardic High Holy Days customs and practices, featuring a musical Selichot jam led by Liran Kohn. Includes Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder cuisine and specialty cocktails. Hosted by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) and STTI Young Professionals. This event is for young Jewish professionals, ages 21-39. 7 p.m. $18; $30 at the door. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets and details at bit.ly/sephardicpregame2017.

WED | SEPT 13

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”

The American Freedom Alliance presents the powerful and timely film “Never Again Is Now.” The documentary investigates the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, told through the eyes of Evelyn Markus, a woman who escaped anti-Semitism by coming to the United States in 2006. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, Markus saw signs of the same disturbing trends returning to the Netherlands. She is confronting the hatred that drove her out of her homeland and is embracing her life’s mission of preventing the repeat of one of history’s darkest chapters. Q-and-A with Markus to follow. 6 p.m. buffet reception; 7 p.m. screening. $35; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. americanfreedomalliance.org.

ANNUAL YALA REAL ESTATE COCKTAIL PARTY

Unwind and have a drink while mingling with other real estate professionals at Young Adults of Los Angeles’ annual young real estate cocktail party. Ticket includes food and one drink; a cash bar will be available. Tickets must be purchased by 5 p.m. Sept. 11. 7 p.m. $18; $25 for two tickets. Palihouse, 8465 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood. yala.org.

THURS | SEPT 14

ONE LAST TOAST: ATID HAPPY HOUR

The High Holy Days are almost here, so let loose one more time before you start the new year. Atid events are for Jewish young professionals, ages 21-39. 7:30 p.m. Free. The Wellesbourne, 10929 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. atidla.com.

Brenner

“ANOTHER PROMISED LAND: ANITA BRENNER’S MEXICO”

The Skirball Cultural Center opens its new exhibition, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico,” which offers a new perspective on the art and visual culture of Mexico and its relationship to the United States, focusing on the important role in that relationship played by Brenner (1905–1974), a Mexican-born American-Jewish writer. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

MEGA HAFRASHAT CHALLAH

Join in this mega challah bake before Rosh Hashanah, and set the tone for the new year with a special prayer inviting parnasa and health into your home. 8 p.m. wine reception; 8:30 p.m. challah bake. $25; $36 at the door. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 451-1197. israeliamerican.org/hafrashat-challah.

Members of the delegation from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles come together with Unistream representatives at the Ted z”l and Hedy Orden and Family Entrepreneur of the Year Competition in Tel Aviv. Photo by Kobi Konaks.

Moving and Shaking: JFedLA goes to Israel, JVS awards scholarships


delegation from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles traveled to Israel for the 13th annual Ted z”l and Hedy Orden and Family Entrepreneur of the Year Competition in Tel Aviv.

The July 19 event marked the conclusion of an annual program organized by Unistream, a nonprofit organization that cultivates entrepreneurial skills of Israeli youth in remote areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has provided more than $1 million to Unistream since 2015.

Becky Sobelman-Stern, Federation’s executive vice president and chief program officer, attended the competition, which showcased 60 business ventures managed by 1,500 teens from all sectors of Israeli society.

The Federation delegation was joined at the event by Rony Zarom, founder and chair of Unistream; Bat-Sheva Moshe, CEO of Unistream; Israeli Knesset member Ofir Akunis; and Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Israeli Innovation Authority.

The competition followed a June 9 visit by Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson with Unistream participants in the northern coastal town of Akko, one of Unistream’s 13 youth-entrepreneurship centers in Israel. Sanderson announced that the 13 entrepreneurship centers will grow to 50 in the next few years.


Jacqueline Rafii

Jacqueline Rafii has been hired as a cantorial soloist at Shomrei Torah Synagogue while she completes cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

Her hiring marks the start of a second career. For the past three years, Rafii has practiced entertainment law at Hertz Lichtenstein & Young.

She expressed enthusiasm about leaving behind a law career for the bimah.  “Bittersweet to close one chapter, but beyond excited for this next one,” she said in a June 26 statement.

Rafii joins a clergy team at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, a Conservative synagogue in West Hills, that includes Rabbi Richard Camras and Cantor Ron Snow.

Rafii previously served as a cantorial intern at Sinai Temple from 2014 to 2017 and as a cantorial soloist at Wilshire Boulevard Temple from 2005 to 2017, where she began leading services at age 18. She graduated from UCLA School of Law after completing her undergraduate studies at UCLA, where she served as co-founder and president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish-interest sorority.


This year’s Jewish Vocational Service Scholarship Program recipients come together July 27 at Sinai Temple. Photo by Karina Pires Photography

Both incoming and current college students, along with their families and supporters, gathered July 27 at Sinai Temple for a celebration of the 45th annual Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Scholarship Program, which awarded nearly $700,000 in scholarships to 220 students.

Undergraduate and graduate students from UCLA, USC, Johns Hopkins University and other schools attended the event to thank JVS, as well as private donors who have partnered with JVS, for helping them pursue their goals in higher education.

The program began at 7 p.m. and featured remarks by the scholarship program committee chairs, Leland Felsenthal and Matthew Paul, who wore JVS baseball caps.

Additional attendees included JVS CEO Alan Levey; JVS Board President Harris Smith; philanthropist Sharon Nazarian, who with her parents, Younes and Soraya Nazarian, have made matching grants to JVS for the past two years to help the organization expand its reach to the Iranian community; and Katherine Moore, vice president of communications at JVS.

Established in 1972, the JVS Scholarship Program serves Jewish students age 16 and older. Since its inception, the program has awarded more than 4,400 scholarships totaling more than $7.8 million.


From left: Former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Holocaust survivor David Wiener and his wife, Cheryl; Chaya Block of Aleph Institute and Chabad Residential Treatment Center clinical director Donna Miller attend a discussion at the Chabad Residential Treatment Center. Photo courtesy of Aleph Institute.

Meyer Luskin, a philanthropist who is chairman and CEO of Scope Industries, and Holocaust survivor David Wiener joined men struggling with addiction at the Chabad Residential Treatment Center on June 20 and July 18, respectively, to discuss how they overcame hardships and found success.

Project Tikvah, a program serving young people at risk of incarceration, and the Chabad treatment center co-organized the two events, part of a weekly series featuring motivational speakers who have conquered adversity in their lives.

Wiener spoke of his experiences as a survivor before distributing 30 copies of his memoir, “Nothing to Lose but My Life,” which was published in 2007. Luskin discussed how he rose from humble beginnings to become a successful philanthropist. In 2011, he donated $100 million to UCLA, at the time the second-largest gift in school history.

Those attending included former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Chaya Block of the Aleph Institute, which oversees Project Tikvah; and Donna Miller, executive clinical director of the Chabad Residential Treatment Center.

Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, director of constitutional advocacy at the Aleph Institute and the operator of the organization’s West Coast offices, described the recent discussions as “even more phenomenal than usual.”

Located on Olympic Boulevard in L.A.’s Mid-City neighborhood, the Chabad Residential Treatment Center serves men dealing with abuse issues. The center recently underwent a major renovation and received the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Behavioral Health Care accreditation.


Cancer Free Generation founding board member Kelly Prather (left) and Tower Cancer Research Foundation (TCRF) board member Nancy Mishkin attend “Ante Up!” — the fourth annual TCRF Cancer Free Generation poker tournament. Photo by Vivien Best.

Young adults committed to ending cancer gambled for a more hopeful future on June 3 at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills hotel. The occasion was “Ante Up!” the fourth annual Tower Cancer Research Foundation (TCRF) Cancer Free Generation poker tournament and casino night that raises money for cancer research.

Attendees included Nancy Mishkin, a TCRF board member and chairwoman emeritus at Beit T’Shuvah; Olympic triple jump gold medalist Al Joyner; Cancer Free Generation founding board member Kelly Prather, who at the age of 35 was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer; Vanessa Marcil, an actress who converted to Judaism; and Polish-American model Joanna Krupa.

“So many people are affected by cancer,” Krupa said. “We need to work together to get rid of this horrible disease.” 

The event featured a Texas Hold’em tournament, blackjack tables and an open bar.

Founded in 1996 by a group of physicians, patients and volunteers, TCRF supports high-impact cancer research and clinical trials. The Los Angeles-based organization, which has raised more than $25 million in the last decade, awards scientific grants and provides support for cancer patients.

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


CORRECTION: Rabbi Yael Saidoff is no longer a member of the Shomrei Torah Synagogue clergy team as originally stated in this Moving & Shaking.

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.”

SHALOM HANOCH & MOSHE LEVI: THE EXIT CONCERT

Calendar: March 10-16, 2017


SAT | MARCH 11

AUTHOR NOAH ISENBERG

cal-casablancaNoah Isenberg and Monika Henreid discuss Isenberg’s new book, “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie.” Its focus is the award-winning film that was released in 1942 featuring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and a memorable supporting cast. Isenberg, a film historian, reveals the myths and realities behind “Casablanca’s” production. Through extensive research and interviews with filmmakers, film critics, family members of the cast and crew, and die-hard fans, Isenberg reveals why the film remains so revered. He also focuses on the major role that refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in the production (many cast members were immigrants). The book is filled with fresh insights into “Casablanca’s” creation, production and legacy. 3 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

SUN | MARCH 12

SHALOM HANOCH & MOSHE LEVI: THE EXIT CONCERT

Shalom Hanoch and Moshe Levi perform their final show in the United States. 8 p.m. $100. The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. israeliamerican.org/shalom.

TUES | MARCH 14

“BORN SURVIVORS: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORIES OF THREE YOUNG MOTHERS”

cal-born-survivorsWendy Holden chronicled the stories of three young mothers who were torn from their families by the Nazis in her powerful book “Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope.” The three women were strangers, but all a few months pregnant and in need of help to keep it a secret from their Nazi captors. Despite the odds, they all defied death to give their children life. Meet one of the Holocaust survivors, Hana Berger Moran. 7:30 p.m. Free; registration required at ushmm.org/events/holden-losangeles. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 556-3222. ushmm.org.

WED | MARCH 15

IS “ZIONIST” NOW A BAD WORD?

cal-david-wolpeAs the debate over Israel rages on across college campuses and in living rooms throughout the United States, is “Zionist” still a term of support for Israel, or is it now a loaded term? How do younger Americans interpret “Zionism”? Join the Jewish Journal and Hadassah’s Defining Zionism program as we explore how tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about and engaging with the Jewish state, and how their relationship with Israel differs from that of previous generations. Moderated by Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Sarah Bassin; 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri; and Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. 7 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. hadassah.org/jewishjournal.

“CATHOLIC AND JEWISH CONCEPTS OF FORGIVENESS”

How does our Jewish tradition understand the concept and practice of mercy and how do we live up to this ideal, which is one of the highest qualities we look for in a human being? Rabbi Steven Silver will discuss “Catholic and Jewish Concepts of Forgiveness.” After lunch, there will be a screening of “Stolen Summer,” a Project Greenlight film about a young Catholic boy who goes on a quest to help a dying Jewish friend get into heaven. 11 a.m. $14; $12 for members. The Rosenberg Cultural Center at Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.

BEING JEWISH ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS

Harkham-GAON Academy (at the Westside Jewish Community Center) is hosting this event for high school juniors and seniors to gain insight into Jewish life opportunities at college campuses across the country. The event will include a panel of experts on Jewish life at college with the opportunity to ask questions. You will also hear about challenges Jewish college students face. 6:30 p.m. Free. Harkham-GAON Academy, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 556-0663.

SECURITY RESPONSE TOWN HALL

In response to the recent wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers nationwide, and the vandalism at multiple Jewish cemeteries across the country, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a town hall addressing security issues at Jewish sites. Los Angeles Police Department officials and senior representatives from the FBI will speak. 5 p.m. RSVP required at SLoughmiller@JewishLA.org; no walk-ins. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

THURS | MARCH 16

“MEMORY & CONTINUITY OF THE SOUTHERN ITALIAN JEWISH LEGACY”

cal-FabrizioLelliFabrizio Lelli will discuss the extraordinary spiritual rebirth of contemporary Judaism by comparing it with other intellectually significant phases of Apulian Judaism in the past. Lelli studies the history of Apulian Jewish culture, concentrating on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees who were in transit camps in the region of Apulia. Lelli teaches at the University of Salento in Italy. Sponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. 4 p.m. Free. Pre-registration required at cjsrsvp@humnet.ucla.edu or (310) 267-5327. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles. humnet.ucla.edu.

From left to right: Ellen Silverman; Karmi Monsher, Federation board member; Rochelle Cohen, vice chair of the Federation board; and Jill Namm, Valley Alliance chair of the Federation. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

Federation raises more than $1 Million on Super Sunday


Despite facing stiff competition — a beautiful, sunny Sunday after a day of heavy rain as well as the tense political climate — more than 300 volunteers helped to raise more than $1 million for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles during the organization’s Super Sunday phone-a-thon on Feb. 12.

“I do believe that, even though it may be more challenging to raise money in the Jewish community this year, the Jewish community will stand up and make the Federation a priority,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson said during the event. “There are significant numbers of people who are writing checks to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but I don’t believe this will be a challenge for us.”

The pristine weather made it more difficult for the phone-calling volunteers to reach people at home, but they were still able to raise $1,091,808, a little less than the $1.3 million raised during the same event in 2016.

Among the volunteers who came to the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance offices in Woodland Hills were teenagers from various Jewish youth organizations and people who brought their children and grandchildren to show them the spirit of giving.

Ben Berger, 24, has been a Super Sunday volunteer since he was in sixth grade as a student at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. Berger, an actor, raised $30,000 last year but found this Sunday a little more challenging. “Not many people are answering the phone, but those who do never say no,” he said with a broad smile.

Sitting next to Berger was Andrew Hoffman, 36, also an actor, who was participating in his first Super Sunday. “I heard about the fundraiser through Facebook and decided to come,” Hoffman said. “So far, I wasn’t able to reach anyone on the phone, but I’m not going to give up.”

Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or, helpline director at JQ International, an organization that describes its work as increasing visibility and opportunity for LGBT Jews and their allies, recruited four volunteers for Super Sunday. One of them, Anna Goodman, 27, JQ’s program director, was working the phone tirelessly, calling people on a Federation list as well as her family and friends. She also talked to the teen volunteers about JQ, which is supported by Federation.

Volunteers make phone calls during the Jewish Federation’s Annual Super Sunday on Feb. 12. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

Volunteers make phone calls during the Jewish Federation’s Annual Super Sunday on Feb. 12. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

Sanderson said the Federation has been holding the annual Super Sunday event for more than 25 years, with the funds raised going to support many initiatives. “Touching Jewish lives from the moment a child is born and on, training early childhood educators in Jewish schools and synagogues, summer camps, PJ Library, college campuses and much more,” he said. “Sixty percent of what we do is about tomorrow, the future of the Jewish community.”

Among the volunteers were three friends — Jay Mangel, Larry Cohen and George Hess who came with their wives and have been active Federation members for many years.

“We went to Israel on a Mensch Mission and also to different cities in the States,” said Mangel, a certified public accountant. “One of the projects we participated in was we built a house in New Orleans.”

Cohen, who owns an advertising agency, has been volunteering at Super Sunday for the past 20 years. “It’s a great cause and it’s nice being with people who share the same values and ideas,” he said. “We’d rather support the Federation than go out to protest. And besides, it’s cheaper than a date night.”

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years


In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.


Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.


Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.


Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.


Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.


Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.


Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!


Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

geller2

[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.


Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.


Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader

glaser-patty-hi-res

Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.


Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center

brian-greene

My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.


Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.


Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.


Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles

hutman

Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.


Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.


Kosha Dillz

Rapper

kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.


Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at Groknation.com

esther

I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.


Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  


Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.


Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.


Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.


David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA

myers

 

I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.


Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.


Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.


Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.


Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?


Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.


Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.


Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.


Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.


Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?


Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.


Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

Bomb threats against Jewish centers, not in Los Angeles


Jewish community centers in several states reported receiving ultimately discredited bomb threats on Monday. None of the threats targeted Jewish organizations or institutions in Los Angeles.

“There have been no threats here in Los Angeles,” Ivan Wolkind, chief operating and financial officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which operates the Community Security Initiative for the Jewish community in Los Angeles, said in a phone interview on Monday. “And what we always say is, we try not to do anything reactively as a result of an event happening somewhere else, or an event happening anywhere.”

The threats occurred in Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, South Carolina and Delaware, the ADL statement says.

“Law enforcement are investigating the incident, which may have originated from the same phone number. So far, no explosives have been found,” the ADL statement says.

Haaretz, an Israel-based daily newspaper, reported that the calls were both prerecorded and live.

The ADL statement says the threats “may have originated from the same phone number.”

The ADL said in a statement the threats did “not appear to be credible.” Nevertheless, Wolkind described threats made through phone calls as an effective way of causing disruption to local Jewish communities.   

“For sure what we can all see—if there is a phone-in threat, it for sure causes disruption and worry to a Jewish institute,” he said. “We have no way of knowing who phoned these in and why.”

The Community Security Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles provides resources to local Jewish organizations related to security measures.

$4 million matching grant aims to engage L.A. Jewish teens


With the support of a more than $4 million matching grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, along with financial assistance from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is developing the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative as part of an extensive outreach effort to Jewish teens who otherwise would not be involved in Jewish life. 

“The goal is to engage 2,000 to 3,000 local Jewish teens in meaningful Jewish experiences,” Josh Miller, senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation, said in a phone interview.

The L.A. grant, which was announced last February, represents a ramped-up effort by the Jim Joseph Foundation to fund youth organizations. According to the foundation’s website, it has awarded more than $37.3 million in seven communities for community-based Jewish teen education initiatives.

Miller said the foundation hopes to help Jewish teens explore “what it means to be Jewish today, and what it means to be Jewish in the future.”

Many share Miller’s enthusiasm. Ben Schillmoeller, 25, the program coordinator at the Shalom Institute, was among approximately 30 people representing various nonprofit organizations who attended a Nov. 2-3 retreat held at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, which focused on developing ways of engaging youth. The Federation organized the retreat.

After a morning spent brainstorming under the guidance of a representative of Upstart, a San Francisco Bay Area-based consulting service, Schillmoeller told the Journal he believes outdoor trips are one way to make teenagers excited about being Jewish.  

“Teens don’t really get the chance to go out and see the wilderness as much as they used to,” Schillmoeller said in an interview. 

Ronnie Conn, assistant executive director at the Westside JCC, said he thinks expanding the popular Maccabi Games program for youth is also important for teen engagement.

Although the majority of teen programs are still being developed, one is already underway: Federation launched a community internship program for high school students last summer as part of the initiative. Twenty-seven teenagers worked at various Jewish organizations across Los Angeles, including at the Jewish Journal, in internships that not only offered work experience for their résumés, but also were intended to help engage them in Jewish life. The program will continue next year.

Representatives of BBYO, formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, Camp JCA Shalom, Moving Traditions, JQ International, Shalom Institute, Stephen S. Wise Temple Freedom School, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the Westside Jewish Community Center are among the first organizations included in this effort. The Federation will have worked with more than 20 organizations by the time the entire initiative concludes in nearly five years. 

“We were looking for diversity,” Shari Davis, director of Jewish education and engagement at Federation, told the Journal. “We were looking for diversity of organizations.”

Each of the organizations will receive between $25,000 and $50,000 from the Jim Joseph Foundation matching grant, according to Jessica Green, director of the L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative.

“The ultimate goal of everything we are doing is to engage as many under-engaged teenagers in some form of Jewish life [as possible],” she said. “And we are doing this from a variety of different tactics. One is expanding the programmatic landscape for teens. … Another is working with teen educators, ensuring they are as highly resourced and trained as possible to meet the diverse needs of teens themselves, and the third is nurturing the L.A. ecosystem, attempting to bridge existing gaps that exist in a city as geographically wide and culturally diverse as this is.”

Shira Rosenblatt, senior vice president of Jewish education and engagement at Federation, said the initiative hopes to counteract the drop-off in Jewish engagement that so often follows a teen’s b’nai mitzvah experience. 

“Many of them see the bar and bat mitzvah as an opportunity for a perfect exit out, and we lose them,” she said. “And we really do believe that a connection to Jewish life — in the broader sense, a connection to community — can offer resources and insights and support for teens in a way that can be tremendously beneficial to them.” 

The funds also are being used to train leaders in Jewish organizations to become more effective teen educators and to engage the teens themselves to become participants in the conversations about Jewish life. 

Conn, for his part, said that the mere convening of Jewish leaders is important for the larger effort of engaging youth.

“It is creating in L.A. a network like we have never seen, in terms of how we can better serve teens across the city.”

L.A. Jewish Federation sends second email on Iran deal, acknowledging the deal is ‘complex’


Following public outcry in response to a community-wide call-to-action email sent July 21 by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, on Aug. 6 Federation Board Chair Leslie E. Bider and President and CEO Jay Sanderson sent a second email with the subject line “An Acknowledgement and a reaffirmation [full text at the bottom of the story].” Stating that the Iran Agreement is “complex, ” this email acknowledged a variety of opinions within the Jewish community on the deal, in contrast to the first email, which asked recipients to lobby Congress, saying “it is imperative that our elected officials hear our voice.” 

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles respects the diversity of opinion among serious and committed members of our community, including among our own Board members,” the Aug. 6 email states.  “We are committed to fostering civil discourse based upon mutual respect and a willingness to listen to all sides to better understand and appreciate these difficult and complex issues.”

The email also stated, “Our Federation reaffirms our role as the convener of the community.” 
  
In an interview immediately following the email’s release, Bider declined to explain why the Federation had released this second statement .

“I believe these statements speak for themselves, and I believe the statement’s complete,” Bider said. “It states what it states.” Sanderson was not immediately available for comment.

The second email is 125 words in length, compared to the more than 300 words of the earlier statement. Bider defended its brevity: “My name is at the bottom of it. If I wanted it longer I would’ve made it longer. If I wanted it shorter would’ve made it shorter,” he said. He added that the statement was “agreed upon by the board of directors, and we have a role as a convener in the community, and we’re gong to work with the community.”

The response to the proposed deal has included letters published in the Journal from two lists of rabbis, one list strongly condemning the proposed deal and another supporting it. Many influential community members said it was not the role of Federation, as an umbrella organization, to take a stand on the issue. 

Richard Sandler, a member of Federation’s executive committee and the incoming chair of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), defended Federation’s July 21 missive [full text below], saying members of the L.A. Federation’s communications staff drafted the letter that the executive committee (which has 20 members) submitted comments on. Fourteen members of the executive committee approved the final version, making the L.A. the third major American city where a Federation explicitly opposed the deal, joining Miami and Boston. Jewish Federations in Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix and South Palm Beach, Fla., later also issued similar statements opposing the deal.

The Iran agreement requires Iran to commit to not building a nuclear weapon for a period of 10-15 years and to submit to inspections in exchange for the lifting of sanctions by several countries, including the United States. A group of nations, known as P5+1, reached the agreement with Iran in Vienna, Austria last month. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been among the most outspoken opponents to the deal, which he views a bad deal for Israel and for the rest of the world. A recent Jewish Journal poll reported that a majority of American Jews supports the agreement.

Aug 6. statement

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran Agreement”) is a complex and much discussed document which is causing emotionally charged debate in Congress and throughout the United States, including in our own Jewish community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles respects the diversity of opinion among serious and committed members of our community, including among our own Board members.  We are committed to fostering civil discourse based upon mutual respect and a willingness to listen to all sides to better understand and appreciate these difficult and complex issues.  Our Federation reaffirms our role as the convener of the community.  Over the coming weeks, we will be working with our synagogues and communal partners to help facilitate discussion and debate as we move forward.

Leslie E. Bider, Chairman of the Board and Jay Sanderson, President & CEO

July 21 statement

As you know, this summer Congress will be reviewing the Iran nuclear agreement and it is imperative that our elected officials hear our voice. Below is our statement on this matter of national security. Please contact your member of Congress today — the time is now.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joins with Jewish communities across the country in urging Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015.

The proposed agreement with Iran is not a partisan issue; it impacts the security of the United States, the stability of the Middle East, the future of the State of Israel and the safety of every Jewish family and community around the world. This Iran deal threatens the mission of our Federation as we exist to assure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad and mobilize on issues of concern.

Our Federation wants a diplomatic solution that ends Iran’s nuclear program. We recognize the efforts of the Administration to reach such an agreement. We regret and are gravely concerned that the proposed agreement allows Iran to remain a threshold nuclear state, does not allow for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and offers immediate rather than gradual sanctions relief without requiring Iran to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program.

The proposed agreement releases Iran from arms embargos in five years and ballistic missile sanctions in eight years. Iran’s past behavior gives us reason to be concerned that these deadly weapons will be shared with terrorists including Hamas and Hezbollah and will hasten the creation of an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.

As Americans and Jews who yearn for peace and are invested in the future of our children and grandchildren, we must voice our concerns about an agreement that will destabilize a fragile region. We encourage members of our community to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal.

Congress has until September 18th to review the agreement. That means that by acting promptly, you can start the Jewish New Year knowing you made your voice heard when it counted.

Thank you,

Leslie E. Bider, Chairman of the Board and Jay Sanderson, President & CEO

L.A. Federation issues strong opposition to Iran nuclear deal


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a statement July 21 expressing strong opposition to the recent nuclear agreement reached in Vienna on July 14 between Iran and the United States, European powers and China, also known as the P5+1.

“We encourage members of our community to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal,” Federation’s statement said.

The email sent out by Federation came four days after two other major Jewish Federations — in Boston and Miami — urged Congress to reject the agreement and asked community members to urge their elected representatives to scuttle the bill. Congress has until mid-September to vote on the nuclear agreement. 

If the agreement is approved, the U.S. would join the United Nations and European Union in lifting nuclear-related sanctions against Iran in return for a temporary curb on that nation’s nuclear weapons program. If it is rejected, Obama would almost certainly veto the bill, which would then require a two-thirds majority in Congress to override the veto. If Congress reached that two-thirds majority, then all U.S. sanctions against Iran would remain in place even though the U.N. and E.U. ones would be lifted.


“No matter what happens, we felt it was important to make a strong statement at this critical time. It’s important to sometimes stand up.” — Jay Sanderson, Federation president and CEO

The L.A. Federation’s public opposition to the nuclear agreement particularly stood out given that it rarely takes such explicit stands on major issues. Federation president and CEO Jay Sanderson said during a telephone call just before he boarded a flight on July 21 that this is the first time he remembers Federation taking a public stand on such a major issue since his tenure began in 2010.

“This is a very unique time,” Sanderson said. “After reading it several times and talking to leadership, we felt like it was important for our Federation to make a statement about how we feel about this, its impact on the United States of America and its potential negative impact on the State of Israel.”

The email sent out was five paragraphs long and urged Congress “to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program.” 

The Federation’s statement also said that while it wants a “diplomatic solution” to Iran’s nuclear program, the terms of the deal “will hasten the creation of an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.”

“The proposed agreement allows Iran to remain a threshold nuclear state, does not allow for ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and offers immediate rather than gradual sanctions relief without requiring Iran to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program,” the statement read. “The proposed agreement releases Iran from arms embargos in five years and ballistic missile sanctions in eight years.”

On July 14, after the agreement’s announcement by the P5+1 and Iran, the Jewish Federations of North America released a statement that neither endorsed nor opposed the agreement but instead urged Congress “to give this accord its utmost scrutiny.”

Sanderson said the L.A. Federation decided to publicly oppose the agreement after he and other officials had time to read the bill and consult with outside experts, including local politicians, whom Sanderson declined to name.

“We’ve been concerned and monitoring the situation for a very long time and spending time talking to our local Congress people and to other people involved in this process,” Sanderson said. “We only did this now when we felt this was an important moment for our community.”

Asked how he thinks a congressional vote (and veto override) to reject the nuclear agreement with Iran would impact the political landscape, Sanderson responded, “I’m not in a position to comment on what if Congress takes this agreement down and what happens afterward.

“No matter what happens, we felt it was important to make a strong statement at this critical time,” Sanderson continued. “It’s important to sometimes stand up.”

Birthright group asks alum to lobby Congress against Iran Nuclear deal


On Tuesday, a New York-based Birthright Israel alumni group sent an email to all of its members urging them to lobby Congress to reject the nuclear arms agreement between Iran and the United States.

The email, however, does not speak for the national and global Birthright Israel organization, according to the latter’s president.

[POLL: Do you support the Iran nuclear deal?]

The rejection appeal was spelled out in a mass email to the membership, using the logo of the Birthright Israel Foundation, which appealed to members to “Help the State of Israel by contacting your congressman and senator and requesting that they reject this deal and override President Obama’s veto of their decision.”

The non-profit Birthright Israel Foundation underwrites the program of sending young Jewish adults from the United States and around the globe for 10-day organized trips to Israel to strengthen Jewish identity, communities and ties to Israel.

Rebecca Sugar, executive director of The Alumni Community, said that the appeal had been emailed to some 35,000 former participants of Birthright Israel, residing primarily in New York City, but also in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.

Sugar said that she was very happy with the decision to launch the appeal to Congress and hoped that other Jewish organizations would follow suit. “This is an existential moment for Israel and we should all care about that,” she said.

She noted that the alumni group had not consulted with the Birthright Israel Foundation or its leadership before launching and publicizing the appeal to influence Congress.

There is no similar alumni group anywhere else in the United States, and Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, confirmed that no such group exists in the Los Angeles area.

He estimated that 35,000 to 40,000 former Birthright Israel participants reside in Los Angeles County.

David Fisher, president of the Birthright Israel Foundation, headquartered in New York, confirmed that he had received no advance notice of the action by the alumni group, which he described as a separate organization, with no ties to the foundation.

Asked whether the alumni group’s initiative might be interpreted as an intervention by his non-profit organization in a highly emotional political issue, Fisher declined comment.

Why Santa Barbara Hillel’s largest donor is the Jewish Federation of … Boston


Rabbi Evan Goodman, executive director of UC Santa Barbara’s Hillel, was concerned when annual funding allocations from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles were cut year after year, beginning in 2011. But he wasn’t surprised.

After all, officials from the two organizations had come to a new funding agreement in 2011 after Federation announced a new policy that limited allocations to groups within the borders of Los Angeles County. Santa Barbara Hillel, which is 104 miles from Federation’s headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, sits 70 miles outside the Los Angeles County line. 

So Hillel and the L.A. Federation, its largest single donor until recently, according to Goodman, agreed that through 2014, the final year of their relationship, Federation would gradually reduce its annual support in order to give Hillel time to find other donors to fill the impending gap.

Santa Barbara Hillel’s budget has ranged from $535,000 in the 2010-2011 school year to $687,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. In 2010, Federation gave Hillel $150,000 but gradually reduced that amount year after year until 2014, when it gave $35,000. Goodman said that most of the funding was for general expenses and operations, but that from year to year some of it was tied to specific grants and programs.

“It was over a 50-year relationship that was terminated at that point,” Goodman said. “It’s still a challenge for us to replace the unrestricted dollars that were coming to us from L.A. Federation.”

So far, Goodman and Hillel have managed, thanks, in part, to a major grant, not from The Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara (which gives about $20,000 per year to Hillel), but from a Jewish Federation 3,000 miles away, in Boston. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP) serves not only that metropolis’ Jewish community, but also pro-Israel campus programs in New England and across the country, including at the University of Florida, the University of Maryland, The Ohio State University, the University of Texas at Austin, and now UCSB.

Its campus initiative, known as IACT (Inspired, Active, Committed, Transformed), aims to capitalize on Taglit-Birthright programs. It recruits students who are less involved in the campus Jewish community for Birthright trips, and then follows up with them regularly upon their return to inspire them to increase their engagement in Jewish and pro-Israel activities.

“[We are] trying to engage the non-low-hanging fruit, those the least likely to walk in the doors of a Hillel,” said Cheryl Aronson, CJP’s vice president.

CJP launched IACT in 2007 at three schools in the greater Boston area, only to expand the program to 12 more schools across New England, and then five schools nationwide. Aronson said CJP plans to launch the program at seven more colleges in the near future. 

“Birthright is a gift, and we have the opportunity to take advantage of it,” Aronson said. “UC Santa Barbara is a great site for us because there are so many students who are marginally affiliated.”

Goodman said that CJP’s grant for IACT to Hillel for the 2014-2015 academic year came to about $100,000, which includes the cost of UCSB’s on-campus IACT coordinator, Rafi Schraer, 25, an alumnus of San Diego State University and a former engagement coordinator with the Hillel at the University of Vermont. Goodman said Hillel’s goal for the upcoming Birthright trip in the summer is to sign up 120 UCSB students, 80 percent of whom IACT will aim to regularly engage in Jewish and Israel programming following their return.

But, while Goodman envisions Hillel’s relationship with CJP as being an ongoing and productive one, he remains concerned about the impact that the loss of funding from the L.A. Federation will have on a Hillel that he said reaches about 900 Jewish students per year on a campus that has among the highest percentage of Jewish students of any school in the University of California system.

“[The] IACT program allows us to delve deeply into one area of tremendous interest for us, and that is Israel and Birthright,” Goodman said. “Our biggest issue is asking ourselves the question, can we continue to provide the services we provide at the level we’re providing for the students who are here with this loss of funding?”

He said that in past discussions with Federation about their ongoing relationship, he made the case that large numbers of young Jews from Los Angeles attend UCSB, benefit and grow from their experience at Hillel, and then return to Los Angeles. Goodman estimates that about half of UCSB’s Jewish population is from Los Angeles.

Jay Sanderson, L.A. Federation’s president and CEO, said he felt it “didn’t make sense” that the organization was spending time on Hillel in Santa Barbara, when Hillel 818 — which serves CSU Northridge, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College — could use more attention.

“There’s a limited amount of things we do,” Sanderson said. 

Asked to respond to Goodman’s point that many L.A.-area students attend UCSB, benefit from the Hillel, and then return to L.A. (some of them going on to work in Jewish professional life), Sanderson said that the same logic could be applied to universities even farther away from Los Angeles. 

“The truth is there’s a large number of Jewish students [from Los Angeles] that go to the University of Michigan,” Sanderson said. He added that Santa Barbara Hillel could use the Jewish Federations in both Santa Barbara and Ventura.

“Their funding is a small portion of our needs,” Goodman said referring to the Federation in Santa Barbara, and noting his gratitude for the decades-long relationship between Santa Barbara Hillel and the L.A. Federation. He added, though, “Santa Barbara’s Federation does not have the capacity to fund at that level.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara’s executive director, Michael Rassler, said in a Feb. 24 interview that Santa Barbara Hillel is Federation’s largest single grant recipient in Santa Barbara and that Federation boosted its support to Hillel by 10 percent this year, to $22,000. He made clear, though, that the Santa Barbara Federation is neither capable of closing the gap left by L.A. Federation’s absence nor of matching the support offered by CJP.

“Our Federation is not like the L.A. or the Boston Federation,” Rassler said. “Our total budget is approximately $1.2 million.” 

Santa Barbara’s entire population of about 90,000 is significantly smaller than the Jewish communities in Los Angeles and Boston.

Despite Santa Barbara Hillel’s newly challenging financial environment, Goodman remains optimistic that Hillel will be able to provide what it has in the past for its students — such as weekly Shabbat dinners to more than 100 people — even if its reliable source of core funding is no longer there.

“We’re confident that as long as we get the word out, that we can find people who care passionately about what we’re doing,” he said.

Hillel 818 starts anew following Federation-led transformation


On Sept. 3, 2014, Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, met with the board of Hillel 818 at the home of a Hillel board member and gave an ultimatum:

Fire yourselves and allow Federation and Hillel International to help select new board members and a new director or Federation won’t fund Hillel 818 for the upcoming school year.

As Hillel 818’s largest single donor, Federation annually supplied about $215,000 of Hillel 818’s nearly $300,000 budget, according to Tal Gozani, senior vice president for young adult engagement at Federation. To lose that would be financially crippling for a Hillel that serves Jewish students at CSUN, Pierce College and Valley College — a four-year university and two two-year community colleges, with an estimated combined population of 8,000 Jewish students.

One month earlier, on July 31, Hillel 818’s director Judy Alban had resigned only a few months after being promoted by her board from the post of interim director. She left when she learned the reason Federation wasn’t approving any of her grant requests was because Federation officials disapproved of her promotion and had decided they wouldn’t give Hillel 818 any more money until she departed.

Faced with the prospect of Hillel 818 losing its biggest donor just before the start of a new school year, Alban resigned, and, despite the hesitation of some board members to go along with Federation’s plan, the board agreed to dissolve in September, with Federation allowing only a few members to join the new board. 

Among those who remained on the board after the turnover is Jody Myers, a Jewish studies professor at CSUN and coordinator of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program. She confirmed in a phone interview what Alban told the Journal via email, that Hillel 818’s transformation — which began with Alban’s resignation and reached another milestone last week with the hiring of a new director — was orchestrated by Federation and assisted by Hillel International. 

Myers said she saw no good reason for Federation to force out Alban, who she said collaborated well with key groups at CSUN, including the university’s administration, the Associated Students group (which controls much of CSUN’s funding for student groups), and Chabad. “She was honest, hardworking, and liked and respected by students,” Myers said. “She raised funds; she sought advice from experts. There was no misbehavior. There were no mismanaged funds. There was no crisis.”

But Sanderson said in an interview on Jan. 22 that Hillel 818 was mismanaged, couldn’t support itself financially and was not serving nearly enough of the approximately 8,000 Jews from the combined colleges in the Valley.

“For many, many, many years, those students did not get adequate support,” Sanderson said. “There’s not one person who can tell you that that was an effectively run Hillel.”

Hillel 818’s annual budget has been about $300,000, according to Rabbi David Komerofsky, who served as Hillel 818’s interim director during the six-month transition. He believes it should be three times as much.

The bottom line from Sanderson and Federation was, according to Myers, that “the board was told ‘you need to fire yourselves.’ And so we did. We didn’t have a choice.”

Myers said Sanderson warned at the Sept. 3 meeting that Federation would establish its own alternative leadership if Hillel 818’s board didn’t disband.

“[We were told] by Jay Sanderson that Hillel 818 will be shown more generosity by Federation in the future if you do this,” Myers said. But even after the summer turnover, Hillel didn’t receive any money from Federation until December, when it got $60,000, and then another $60,000 in January, in addition to the $30,000 that Federation paid Hillel International for Komerofsky’s services and travel expenses. Hillel 818 had to run only on whatever was already available in the meantime. “We had money left over, because Judy Alban actually raised some money and ran a very tight ship,” Myers said.

Komerofsky, who lives in San Antonio and is Hillel International’s associate vice president for advancement, has traveled to Los Angeles about once every two weeks since September. On Jan. 22 Hillel 818 announced David Katz as the new executive director. Katz is finishing his tenure as the assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Hillel. Komerofsky will continue in a part-time role until Katz arrives in April.

“This past semester has been difficult without a permanent on-site executive director; there wasn’t the kind of stability for success,” Komerofsky said. “There were events and activities, but they were not reaching enough people.”

According to students who work at Hillel 818, since the beginning of the spring semester at CSUN, attendance already has markedly increased, with at least 30 students attending most events, significantly more than the average attendance at fall semester events, perhaps a promising sign of things to come.

Emma Collosi, a CSUN senior and a student representative on Hillel 818’s board, said she was surprised when she was informed last summer of Alban’s departure, but believes Federation’s involvement will ultimately help the organization. “I feel like we’re bouncing back from the loss of Judy, and we’re coming back stronger.”

But for the first half of the school year, the story was different. Hillel 818 was staffed only by an Israel fellow, a few interns and 23-year-old program director Kevin Gobuty, who had come to Hillel 818 in January 2014 and was thrust into the position of de facto day-to-day director after only a few months on the job. Gobuty declined to comment for this story.

He resigned on Jan. 21, the day before Katz was introduced as the organization’s new executive director. Katz previously served as assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillel, where he also worked with Jewish students at two other universities in Pittsburgh, a similar dynamic to what he’ll face in trying to engage Jewish students from the affiliated commuter schools across the San Fernando Valley.

Rob Goldberg, Hillel International’s vice president, said that Hillel International had worked “hand in glove” with the L.A. Federation since early 2013 in planning the transformation of Hillel 818. “It’s been an extraordinary model of cooperation between Federation and Hillel in terms of how we strengthen Jewish life on campus,” Goldberg said in a phone interview.

Although Hillel International has helped transform other campus Hillels, including those at Cornell, Pennsylvania State and Tulane universities, Goldberg said that in-depth cooperation with a local Jewish Federation is less common.

“This one at 818 went faster than almost any that I’ve seen or been a part of,” Goldberg said. “I think it’s because of the model. Jay [Sanderson] and [Hillel International CEO] Eric [Fingerhut] were in sync.”

In the last semester, though, without a director and with acting staff, Hillel 818’s programming at CSUN was far below normal levels. 

“The whole leadership change, in general, put a lot of stress on the staff, and it wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been,” said Zohar Achiasaf, a sophomore and an intern at Hillel 818. She said that, over the last several months, Federation has worked on-site at CSUN through Megan Kanofsky, Federation's campus activities coordinator. Kanofsky attended many events and helped by collaborating with students and staff.

Myers characterized the previous semester as a “crisis” created by the leadership gap that Federation imposed on Hillel 818.

“All sorts of things have not been happening, even though we get Federation help and Hillel International help,” Myers said, listing a number of items that had fallen through in the fall semester. There was supposed to be a Birthright trip in January, but that didn’t happen; Shabbat dinners were less frequent than normal; the website and server were down for weeks at a time; and the Facebook page was rarely updated.

Goldberg said that Hillels in transition often experience a temporary slowdown in terms of programming, but that he prefers to take the “long view.”

“The long view is let’s strengthen the infrastructure, let’s get the right personnel, let’s make sure there’s financial stability, let’s put together a group of volunteer leaders to serve as a board who will help advance the organization,” he said. “The program will follow. It all really rests on having a great director.”

Sanderson said he took what he called an uncharacteristic “personal interest” in overseeing the changes at Hillel 818, discussing with Hillel International’s Fingerhut throughout the process how to move forward. He said, however, that “the board of directors at Hillel 818 chose to reconstitute itself and recognized that they did not have appropriate professional leadership.” 

“I feel like the leadership needed to come from the top,” Sanderson said of his involvement.

Sanderson said Hillel 818’s previous leadership “did not understand the needs” of its students. He did not explicitly name Alban, but rather cited “personnel doing the job” as not succeeding in reaching Jewish students at three commuter schools. Alban said she did not recall ever speaking with or meeting Sanderson.

“We have partnerships with organizations, and we’re responsible for donor money, and we’re responsible for the community,” Sanderson said. “So we don’t invest in places where we question how the organization is being run.”

“Hillel 818 has been underfunded,” Komerofsky said. “It’s kind of a cycle that you can’t reach enough students because there’s not enough money to hire the staff to be able to reach them, and then, conversely, there’s not that compelling story to talk about how you’re able to reach so many students — that raises more dollars.”

“We’re trying to get Hillel 818 off of that treadmill.”

Myers said some of Hillel 818’s troubles in raising enough money to support a larger program stem from the fact that CSUN is a commuter school, and the majority of its students do not come from wealthy families.

“People give to the Hillels where their kids are students,” she said. “Well, CSUN has a student population whose parents typically do not have those excess funds.” And with that handicap, she said, Federation’s policy of “not sufficiently” supporting “core” operating expenses, like salaries and overhead, only makes things harder.

The ideal, Myers said, would be for Hillel 818 to be able to raise more money from parents of current students and from alumni, but she said that, at least this year, that’s not a feasible way to raise the money it needs.

Sanderson said Hillel 818 should rely more on alumni and less on Federation, and he hopes that, in 20 years, the group will have developed the types of relationships it needs with alumni.

Myers, though, countered that building an alumni donor base is made difficult when there isn’t money to pay for employees whose primary job is to fundraise.

“Who’s going to pay for the fundraiser or for the person in the office to reach alumni? Who’s going to do that? That’s an operational expense,” Myers said. 

Until about four years ago, local Hillels were funded by the Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), a now-defunct group that gave Hillels core, lump-sum donations — as opposed to grants for specific programs, in large part through Federation support. 

Between 2008 and 2010, every dollar of Federation’s $2.7 million in campus funding went to LAHC. That dissolution overlapped with a major transition in how Federation funds Jewish groups, a transition process completed by the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year that now requires groups to apply for grants for specific programs in line with Federation’s goals. 

Although the new grant policy creates a method for innovative and new programs to find capital, Myers said that it nevertheless makes it difficult to fund good programs that don’t need change, as well as to raise money for more staff that could, for example, focus on fundraising.

Myers emphasized that she looks forward to working with Katz, the new executive director, and to “seeing more generosity” from Federation, which she said Sanderson promised in September. 

Still, what she’s seen since summer 2014 concerns her: “Does the Federation know enough to engineer our specific campus programs? It’s the job of the new director and the Hillel 818 Board to do that, with the support of the community.”

And while she’s hopeful about Hillel 818’s potential for future growth, she regards this past fall semester as a sort of lost one, and one that didn’t serve the needs of Jewish students at Hillel 818’s three main campuses.

“I feel really badly for our students,” Myers said. “I think they deserve more.”

*****

For the record: 

A previous version of this story implied that David Komerofsky's trips to L.A. ended upon the hiring of Hillel 818's new executive director, David Katz. Komerofsky will in fact be continuing in a part-time role as interim director until Katz begins in April.

-Hillel 818's significant increase in program attendance is since the beginning of spring semester in mid-January, not since the beginning of fall semester.

-Kevin Gobuty started at Hillel 818 in Jan. 2014, not Jan. 2013.

Los Angeles locals remember the victims of the Paris terror attacks


Seventeen yahrzeit candles were displayed on the bimah at Sinai Temple on Jan. 14, where about 300 people gathered to pay homage to lives lost too soon. Each wick represented a victim of the recent attacks in Paris.

“Living in Los Angeles, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re part of a greater Jewish people,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which organized the event, said in a later interview with the Journal.

But he said the previous week’s events in France — the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and subsequent killings at a kosher supermarket — evoked a sense of “global responsibility” in Jews around the world and that “a memorial service felt like the right response.” 

The intimate service began with opening remarks by Les Bider, Federation board chair. 

“We feel responsible for every Jew, from Los Angeles to Paris to Tel Aviv,” he said.

Immediately following the attacks, Sanderson said he and fellow community leaders started a dialogue with the Jews of Paris. In collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel and other Federations across the country, the L.A. Federation helped donate approximately $100,000 to Jewish Parisian institutions.

“It was assessed that the immediate need was to ensure that every Jewish institution [in Paris] was safe and secure,” Sanderson told the Journal.

Bider’s speech was followed by the American and French national anthems, performed by Cantor Tifani Coyot of Temple Isaiah. Axel Cruau, consul general of France in Los Angeles, and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also took the stage.

The French diplomat said the best answer to terrorism is staying united and true to our values, and he saluted recent remarks made by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“He spoke the truth,” Cruau said. “He said that France was at war — not at war with religion, not at war with Islam, but at war with terrorists, jihadists and radicalists of Islam.”

Siegel’ focused on acts of darkness and light. 

“It is a dark day when the simple act of going to work in a magazine, attending a Jewish day school, or shopping at a grocery store becomes an act of courage,” he said. 

But amid this darkness, he continued, there were extraordinary heroes: the French security personnel who rescued hostages; Yohan Cohen, a young Jew who was killed while trying to grab a terrorist’s gun; and Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old Muslim from Mali, who saved Jews by hiding them in the supermarket freezer.

Continuing the theme, Sinai Rabbi David Wolpe recited the 23rd Psalm. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” After the recitation, Wolpe said, “The most important word in this beautiful psalm is ‘walk.’ … We do not stay there; we grieve, we mourn, but we don’t give up.”

He continued, “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not be afraid because to be afraid is to give into the darkness and our tradition and our faith.”

Sanderson led the candle-lighting ceremony, calling out the names of elected officials and community leaders to light the yahrzeit candles. One by one, individuals, including Los Angeles Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro, walked onto the stage. The room fell silent, filled only with the sound of a lighter catching flame.

After all the candles were lit, Clara-Lisa Kabbaz, school president of Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles, read the names of the 17 victims. Rabbi Sarah Hronsky of Temple Beth Hillel, Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue and Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen Wise Temple also took part in the service. Cantor Emeritus Joseph Gole of Sinai Temple sang “Hatikvah” and “Oseh Shalom” with the audience as his choir.

Sitting in that audience was Danielle Salusky, a congregant of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. Born and raised in Paris, she reminisced after the memorial service about her personal connection to the tragedy, which took the lives of two cartoonists she knew.

“I grew up with this magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris and I’ve known them since 1968,” she said. “I knew [Jean] Cabu and [Georges] Wolinski, the two oldest cartoonists from the magazine, and it’s terrible and it’s horrible.”

Salusky and her husband were in Paris not long ago, visiting family. 

“We came back from Paris Monday night and this happened Wednesday morning, and I wanted to go home and I wanted to be there with everybody. I’ve been crying for the whole week,” she said. 

Emotional and silent, she finally added, “So we’re here.”

Q&A with Federation head Jay Sanderson


At the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly (GA), held this year in National Harbor, Md., Nov. 9-11, thousands of Jewish professional and lay leaders filled a conference center and hotel to listen to famous and powerful Jews, including two Supreme Court justices and the Israeli prime minister (via telecast), sit through breakout sessions and, most important, network with one another and share ideas that have been tested at Jewish Federations across the country.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson came here this year with seven staff members and 17 lay leaders; for him, this year’s GA caps a year in which the L.A. Federation’s leadership predicts it will reach its fundraising goal of $50 million and its outreach goal of 20,000 donors by Jan. 1.

In two interviews with the Journal during the GA, Sanderson spoke with his usual candor about what the GA does and doesn’t offer, about the L.A. Federation’s successes and shortfalls in 2014, and his frustration at the inability of Israeli Americans in Los Angeles and the local Federation to create a partnership that will help further integrate Israeli Americans into the local Jewish community.


Jewish Journal: What do you see as the goal of the GA?

Jay Sanderson: This is the one time that the Federation system can tell its story to national and international lay and professional leaders.

JJ: What’s the story?

JS: There’s no organization in the world like the Federation system. There just isn’t. There hasn’t been. You’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. You’re talking about the establishment of the State of Israel, the rescuing of Soviet Jews, of Ethiopian Jews. That’s done through the Federation collective.

JJ: Is Federation losing relevance as Jews become increasingly disengaged from Jewish communal life?

JS: There are more Jews involved in Federation in L.A. today than there were 10 years ago. OK? That’s factually correct, not anecdotal — based on number of donors and number of people in leadership, and meaningful leadership. Those are things you can measure, and we have a dramatic, and growing, increase in engagement and involvement. 

Now that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of Jews are not — in your generation for sure — are not disengaged; they are disengaged from institutional life, not Federation life. They are disengaged from synagogues, they are disengaged from the Anti-Defamation League and [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] — they are disengaged. We have a majority of Jews disengaged in institutional organizational Jewish life. That is a communal challenge, that’s the Pew [Research Center] report. 

I can say in Los Angeles that we are focused on addressing that. I’d say most organizations say it, but we have strategies to do it. So the GA is — right now you’re going to meet mostly the people who drank the Kool-Aid, some of the people who make the Kool-Aid, some of the people who bathe in the Kool-Aid. You’re not going to see a lot of people here who think there’s too much sugar in Kool-Aid.

JJ: Changing topics: 2014 is almost done. What’s a goal L.A. Federation has accomplished that you’re proud of, and what’s an area where you came up short?

JS: One accomplishment was we wanted to make the Federation a better place to work. We’ve started all these programs for people to feel more engaged, and we’ve given a lot of people opportunities to do other things. So there’s been a lot of people that work at the Federation that are moving into new opportunities within the building. 

JJ: Where have you come up short in 2014?

JS: NuRoots, our initiative for young adults, is behind — timing-wise — where it should be. I thought we’d be further along in NuRoots. We launched the fellows program, we had four engagement fellows working in the community, building micro-communities in four geographic locations, and we are moving in other directions. But I think we are six to nine months [behind] where I thought we would be now. It’s gone slower than I had hoped in terms of development of the project. 

I wish we were further along in our relationship with the Israeli-American community in Los Angeles. We’ve had a lot of fits and starts trying to work with the [Israeli-American Council], and they are growing nationally and they are very successful, but I feel like there’s not the kind of partnership with the Jewish community that I was hoping for when I started this job. I think some of it is cultural challenges between the two institutions, and I don’t think it’s a big enough priority.

JJ: For either side?

JS: Maybe for either side. I think it needs to be a bigger priority for both sides.

The true value of Birthright Israel


Sitting in a circle in coastal northern Israel, listening to a group of 46 American and Israeli Jews share their coming-out stories — stories of anxiety and relief, shame and pride, heartbreak and celebration — I realized that this trip was going to be different. 

It was my seventh time staffing a Birthright Israel trip, and this was a group of lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer and ally (LGBTQA) young adults, supported and organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ L.A. Way Birthright Israel Experience initiative and in partnership with JQ International, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities and visibility for LGBTQA Jews in Los Angeles.

I had agreed to staff this particular trip because I view myself as an ally to the LGBTQ community. I believed I would learn something new by seeing Israel through an LGBTQ lens, and I wanted to support a group of people who, I imagined, hadn’t always felt they’d had a seat at the proverbial Jewish table.

We started the trip like any other, with the craziness of reviewing Birthright Israel rules and jamming in dozens of site visits per day. Save for the fact that we didn’t divide rooms by gender, and we allowed more flexible and sensitive rooming guidelines, I didn’t initially think there was anything different about this trip. I assumed that just like other trips, at the end of 10 days, the participants would say their tearful goodbyes; some of their lives would be changed and many would resume as normal; and most of them would save a warm place for Israel in their hearts.

But when we visited Yad Vashem, I began to understand how special this group was. As we toured the facility, we became acutely aware that the majority of our group members would have been doubly persecuted during the Holocaust. In fact, as members of the LGBTQ community they would have been marginalized, vilified, brutalized and murdered even before the Jews. In Hitler’s world, and that of the Nazi fascists, they would have been the first to go. Also, this group was all too aware of what murder, suicide and violence look like today. More than any other group I’ve staffed, this group could relate to being hated simply because of who they are.

That evening, we decided to welcome Shabbat at the Western Wall. As we headed to the main pavilion, I began to worry that maybe they wouldn’t like this place. That regardless of the energy around the Western Wall, perhaps the politics surrounding it, the severe gender divides — women right, men left — would be too much of a shock and would jar them out of the utopia of egalitarianism we had created on our trip. I wanted to protect my participants, possibly to help them maintain the generous and inclusive image of the Israel they had experienced thus far. I didn’t want them to think that they might not have a place at every table in the global Jewish community; I wanted this trip to show them something beautiful that they never could have imagined. We had strived to create a haven of inclusion — would it all go to waste once we stood before one of the most significant sites for the Jewish people?

As we approached, I saw a huge group of soldiers singing Shabbat songs together on the plaza — men and women, all in uniform. I wish we could do that, too, I thought to myself. 

At that moment, the ring of soldiers opened up to welcome us. We flooded into the circle, joining hands with dozens of young Israelis, weaving into their group. In an instant, we formed a circle of more than a hundred young people, holding hands, singing songs, dancing and jumping, and shouting for joy in front of the Western Wall. From all corners of the world, all religious backgrounds, all sexual orientations and gender identities, we were living the dream of the Jewish people. It was truly a holy Shabbat experience.

More than any other trip I have staffed, this group understood the dichotomies of victimhood and victory, persecution and celebration, sorrow and joy, shame and pride that have so long shaped and defined the Jewish people. The collective Jewish narrative mirrored so many of their personal narratives, and to experience that realization with them has become one of the great privileges of my life.

Returning from our miraculous 10 days together, I have realized that the true value of Birthright Israel is to help young Jews from around the world and from all different backgrounds connect their stories to the Jewish story. It is an opportunity for them to sit at a Shabbat dinner table and be welcomed for exactly who they are — often for the first time in their lives. It is a moment of discovery — of the self and of community — of joining hands with their brothers and sisters from around the world, and of connecting to the shared pain and joy of our people.


Annie Lascoe is West Coast regional director for Masa Israel Journey, an organization that connects young adults with study, internship and volunteer opportunities in Israel.

Moving and Shaking: Inaugural LAPD-Jewish community forum; ADL elects regional board chair


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Operations-Valley Bureau hosted the first-ever Jewish Community Forum on June 18 as part of an ongoing series of dialogues between the department and minority communities.

More than 100 city officials and members of the Jewish community attended the forum at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana. Many questions centered around traffic safety, but officials also fielded more community-specific queries about security and holidays. Capt. Steve Carmona of the North Hollywood Area Station said the department steps up security around temples on the Sabbath and makes an effort to educate patrol officers about Jewish holidays. 

“We really like to give that to the officers so that they know and respect and understand the issues during those days,” he said. “We like to build that relationship.”  

Ivan Wolkind, Federation chief operations and financial officer, said the Jewish community needs to be mindful of the potential for hate crimes and acts of terrorism. One way of doing so, he said, is through Federation’s Community Security Initiative, which provides community members with a real-time alert system and offers free safety and security training to Jewish organizations.

“We as a community are, more and more, investing our own energy, our own time, and realizing that it’s our responsibility to look after our security as a community and as individuals,” he said. “We cannot do that without the partnership of LAPD.”

L.A. Councilmember Bob Blumenfield noted that the public security issue was dramatically shaped by the 1999 shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, in which a white supremacist opened fire at the complex.

“You can’t have lived through that experience here in the Valley and not have it always on your mind that the security issue is not just an academic issue,” Blumenfield said. “It’s very real.” 

A 2012 report by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations found that 89 percent of religious hate crimes were committed against Jews, representing a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

Paul Cohen, commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 603 (San Fernando Valley), said he was pleased with the department’s promise to send officers to the post for safety talks. At the forum, Cmdr. Jon Peters promised to attend the meetings if no other officers were available.

LAPD chief of police Charlie Beck, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel all spoke at the forum.

Jackie Burg, who lives in Valley Village, said she was appreciative of LAPD’s efforts to build a relationship with Jewish residents. “What I really like is that they’re reaching out to the Jewish community so that there can be cultural sensitivity,” Burg said. “They let us know that our voices can be heard and that we can make them be heard.”

 — Nuria Mathog, Contributing Writer


 

Eric Kingsley has been elected regional board chair of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“There will always be ignorance and evil in the world, but the ADL allows us to know that when those people emerge, the ADL will be there to condemn the conduct, comfort the victims and use the event to educate the rest of society,” Kingsley said in a statement.

Kingsley, 42, is a graduate of the ADL young professionals community leadership program (Glass Leadership Institute) and a member of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Kingsley is a founding partner at Encino law firm Kingsley & Kingsley, where he focuses on employment issues, and a graduate of Loyola Law School and UC Santa Barbara. The election was announced during the ADL Pacific Southwest Region’s annual meeting on June 10. He is succeeding Seth Gerber.


 


From left: Casey Federman, Tim Prather, Jason Alexander and David Schwartz at the Tower Cancer Research Center’s Cancer Free Generation poker night. Photo by Tiffany Rose/Getty Images for Tower Cancer Research Foundation

The Tower Cancer Research Foundation’s (TCRF) inaugural Cancer Free Generation poker tournament and casino night took place June 7 at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, and the evening drew hundreds of Jewish leaders, celebrities and others.

Actor Jason Alexander was among those who participated in the fundraiser, which raised more than $150,000 in support of cancer research. The “Seinfeld” star joined television, sports and film stars at the poker tables.

Jewish community supporters who turned out included Casey Federman, a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles donor and president of Cancer Free Generation, the young leadership division of TCRF that organized the event.

Also present was Beit T’Shuvah Board of Directors’ chairperson emeritus Nancy Mishkin, who is the chairman of the board at TCRF, a Beverly Hills-based nonprofit. The foundation, according to its website, “provides grants for clinical trials, innovative research, caring patient support and community education to promote more effective treatments for cancer and blood disorders.” 


 

From left: Journalist Richard Stellar, Emmy-nominated composer Sharon Farber and Holocaust survivor/actor Curt Lowens at “An International Evening of Music and Remembrance,” honoring Lowens. Photo by Anjani Lynn White

Seated onstage at Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre, Curt Lowens appeared before an audience of more than 1,000. As he spoke about his experience as a Holocaust survivor, his voice cut through the room with unexpected power. 

“I look up to the heavens, and I wonder why,” he said. As he raised his gaze upward, the orchestra transformed his sorrow into the smooth, crisp notes of bows drawn gracefully across strings.

Lowens is known for his achievements as an actor; he has appeared in more than 100 television shows and movies, including “General Hospital.” But the June 13 commemorative program celebrated his off-screen accomplishments: In addition to living through one of the worst tragedies in human history, he was involved in a Dutch group that rescued some 150 Jewish children, and he saved two American Army Corps fliers whose plane had been shot down.

The highlight of the evening was the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of “Bestemming: Concerto for Cello, Orchestra and Narration.” The concerto was written by Emmy-nominated composer Sharon Farber. For Farber, the piece, whose title means “destination” in Dutch, had extra significance — her great-grandfather, a cantor from a Greek community, was among the victims of the Holocaust. “This is for the ghosts of my extended family,” she said.

The concerto’s four movements — “Shattered,” “Escape,” “Resistance” and “Triumph” — traced Lowens’ path from a child watching the Nazi regime destroy his community to a man reflecting upon a great human tragedy. Lowens narrated each section with words written by Farber, Richard Stellar and Beth Wernick

Lowens received two additional honors on this night. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz declared June 13, 2014, “Curt Lowens Day,” while Ken Howard, president of SAG-AFTRA, issued a special proclamation honoring Lowens for his courage and humanity. 

Actor Bill Smitrovich, the event’s master of ceremonies, at one point asked the Holocaust survivors in attendance to stand and be recognized; about a dozen rose to their feet, to tremendous applause. 

Dignitaries from Israel, Germany and the Netherlands shared their thoughts on moving forward in the wake of the Holocaust at the ceremony, which was co-sponsored by numerous local organizations, including Temple of the Arts and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Carolyn Ben Natan of Israel’s Consulate participated, and Bernd Fischer, German consul general in Los Angeles, said he felt great sadness and shame at the role his country played in the Shoah. 

“I represent Germany, and in the name of my country, the generation of my father and my grandfather committed unspeakable crimes or were bystanders and let this happen,” he said. “However, I also have feelings of gratitude and hope.”

— Nuria Mathog, Contributing Writer


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

Sultan’s new Sharia laws prompt Jewish groups to shun Beverly Hills Hotel


Some of Southern California’s largest Jewish organizations plan to stay away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, suspending future events at the landmark venue owned by the state-run Brunei Investment Agency.

Their boycott was spurred by recent Sharia additions to the tiny Muslim country’s penal code, including the threat of execution of homosexuals, adulterers and anyone who insults the Quran or Muhammad.

The pink stucco luxury hotel is owned by the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel operator that belongs to Brunei’s government, and is therefore an asset of Hassanai Bolkiah, the sultan and absolute ruler of the tiny, oil-rich, South Asian country. Dorchester also owns the Hotel Bel-Air, a smaller luxury hotel in nearby Bel-Air.

At the same time, one Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, announced that it will continue its relationship with the hotel. The Orthodox synagogue has held Shabbat and holiday services in the hotel for the past 15 years.

A popular location for high-end dinners, fundraisers and galas, the Sunset Boulevard hotel last week faced protests and announcements that it will be shunned by many local nonprofits and associations as well as celebrities.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los 

Angeles, told the Journal on May 7 that the Federation will not plan any events there.

“The values of the owner of that hotel and the country in which he has power goes against everything we believe in as Jews and as Americans,” Sanderson said, adding, though, that he is not calling for a general boycott. “It’s one of these situations where, right now, given the public stand, I think it would be very difficult for any community organization to do an event there.”

Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist Pacific Palisades synagogue, has relocated a large May 20 event that would have been at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire. Mike Lurey, Kehillat Israel’s president, wrote in an email to the congregation that the event had to be moved “if we are to be true to the values upon which our synagogue was founded,” even at the risk of losing the synagogue’s nearly $100,000 deposit. 

Protesters outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

“That is a small price to pay for the importance of taking a firm stand against such atrocities,” Lurey wrote.

Aviva Family and Children’s Services already has announced that it also will change  the venue of its May 31 gala from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire, posting on its website that it made the decision “in light of recent reports concerning the decision to adopt Sharia Law by the property’s owner.” 

The Jewish Free Loan Association announced that its June 11 gala will move from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Luxe Hotel, just a few miles west on Sunset Boulevard.

Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray said in a statement that widespread event cancellations would hurt the Beverly Hills Hotel’s 650 employees, saying that the hotel has already lost $2 million in canceled events and alleging its employees could lose about $8 million in gratuities from functions held at the hotel.

“We question why the Beverly Hills Hotel is being singled out,” Cowdray’s statement said, pointing out that many Muslim governments that impose Sharia have interests in American brands.

Although the sultan announced the new legislation in October 2013, its first stage was implemented on May 1, introducing fines and jail terms for offenses such as pregnancy outside marriage and failure to attend Friday prayers. The second phase, which will be rolled out in one year, will impose whipping and amputations for theft and alcohol consumption by Brunei’s Muslim citizens.

By 2016, Brunei’s citizens could be subject to execution for adultery and for insulting the Quran or Muhammad. Although 80 percent of Brunei’s 400,000 citizens are Muslim, many of the sultan’s decrees will also apply to the country’s substantial Christian and Buddhist minorities, in particular a prohibition against proselytization.

In the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, strict Islamic law also governs many elements of society, but Brunei is the only South Asian country to have adopted the criminal element of Sharia.

Beverly Hills Hotel employees during a public hearing where the Beverly Hills City Council voted on a resolution to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel in Beverly Hills on May 6. Photo by David McNew/Reuters

Bolkiah, 67, has been Brunei’s absolute ruler since 1967. Head of an oil-rich country that is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter of natural gas, he was named by Forbes in 2007 the world’s wealthiest royal, worth $22 billion. He is, all at once, Brunei’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister and head of religion.

A British protectorate until 1984, Brunei joins a long list of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, that impose brutal punishments such as amputations for theft and execution for adultery and homosexuality. 

Brunei’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was among recent protesters in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and his presence helped the issue go viral. Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne had previously announced on Twitter that they would not stay at either of the sultan’s local properties until his new laws are repealed. Then, last weekend, the Feminist Majority Foundation canceled its planned May 5 annual event at the hotel, instead leading a protest across the street, holding the event later that evening at the Hammer Museum.

Leno’s wife, Mavis, chairs that foundation’s campaign for Afghan women, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Taliban. Appearing alongside protesters on May 12, Jay Leno said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We get so upset when a team owner says something inappropriate,” referring to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Here are people being killed, stoned to death … it’s just a matter of priorities.”

Activist Dolores Huerta, left, protesting Brunei's new strict Sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Feminist Majority Foundation Executive Vice President Katherine Spillar told the Journal in an interview on May 8 that she does not support a general boycott of the hotel, and said the sultan’s Los Angeles properties are just the current target in the group’s broader fight against anti-female laws in nations such as Brunei, Afghanistan and Iran. She termed the new laws in Brunei as “Taliban-like,” rather than as Sharia.

“We don’t have an issue with the hotel,” Spillar said. “We have an issue with the Sultan of Brunei.” Although the Feminist Majority Foundation won’t be holding any events at the hotel in the foreseeable future, Spillar expressed her gratitude to the hotel for refunding the group’s $70,000 non-refundable deposit for the event.

Jewish groups that have canceled their events told the Journal they are still in discussion with Beverly Hills Hotel about refunds.

Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union that has butted heads for years with the formerly unionized Beverly Hills Hotel, also participated in the picketing. Shortly after its purchase by the sultan in the late 1980s, the hotel closed down and renovated, reopening in 1995, with a non-unionized staff.

Charlie Carnow, a research analyst with the union, said that, in addition to raising awareness about laws forbidding homosexuality and condoning marital rape, Local 11 has previously raised red flags surrounding the sultan’s relationship with Iran, his refusal to recognize Israel and his support of Iran’s nuclear program.

“We are calling for a boycott of both properties,” Carnow said of the Dorchester Collection’s two local hotels. “The best way forward is for these hotels to be sold so they can be returned to be properties that people feel comfortable going to.”

The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

On May 6, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a legally non-binding resolution urging Brunei’s government to “divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.” Hotel staff attended the meeting in uniform and opposed the council’s resolution, highlighting how a boycott of the hotel could hurt their livelihoods.

One local Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, a congregation led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin, a Chabad rabbi, plans to continue its weekly Shabbat services inside the hotel, which they have held there for more than a decade.

“Never will you feel uncomfortable in that hotel as a practicing Jew,” Cunin said. “They do a terrific job for travelers all over the world who come to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel who are shomer Shabbos

“We have had our shul there for more than 10 years,” Cunin continued, “and have had nothing but respect and cooperation from the hotel.”

Federation’s Sanderson also conceded that the situation is not simple when considering the local impact.

“It’s not so black-and-white when you have our neighbors who work in the hotel,” Sanderson said. “It’s a business in Beverly Hills, and it employs people. It’s a very complicated problem.”

As Netanyahu arrives in L.A. for show premiere, Israeli consulate’s absence is felt


On the morning that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due in Los Angeles for the beginning of a three-day trip to California, Israel's Foreign Ministry labor union went on strike to protest its wages, shifting management of Netanyahu’s trip, at the last minute, from the local consulate to the Prime Minister’s office.

But that didn’t stop the Israeli leader from attending the March 4 premiere of “Israel: The Royal Tour,” the latest in the PBS television series hosted by CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, in which heads of state give Greenberg a tour of their country.

The premiere was held at Paramount Studios and was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In the hour-long show, [Related: CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg discusses “Israel: The Royal Tour” before the show's premiere Mar. 4 in Los Angeles.

Netanyahu also let the crowd in on an almost unheard of bit of information—his office agreed to give Greenberg full editorial control over the final product.

“I haven’t seen the film,” Netanyahu admitted, before ending his remarks and walking into the screening theater with the crowd following behind him.

Although the Foreign Ministry’s strike is not expected to throw a wrench into Netanyahu’s California plans, the sudden bow out from the local consulate did confuse some of the evening’s arrangements, which were supposed to include a press screening of the film—but didn’t.

In an email Tuesday from David Siegel, Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles wrote, “The Foreign Ministry’s labor union was forced to announce a major labor dispute relating to critical issues involving the future of Israel’s Foreign Service.”

Among other things, the strike means that Israeli consulates around the world will suspend services to visiting Israeli dignitaries and most consular services to Israelis abroad

Netanyahu will be in California until Thursday, traveling north on March 5 to meet with Silicon Valley executives and Gov. Jerry Brown before returning to Los Angeles for his final leg on March 6.

It is the first time since 2006 that a sitting Israeli Prime Minister has visited California.

Before the event, the Journal caught up with Peter Greenberg, who said that despite having been to Israel dozens of times since he began reporting in 1970, touring the country with Netanyahu made this trip entirely different.

“You are seeing the country through the Prime Minister’s eyes and places that are important to him and experiences that are important to him,” Greenberg said, adding that his time on Masada with Netanyahu was his favorite part of the trip.

“He is such an eloquent storyteller and he actually, really, is a historian.”

“Israel: The Royal Tour” will premiere on Thursday, March 6 at 7 p.m. on PBS SoCal

Birthright the ‘LA way’


When registration opens Feb. 19, a Birthright trip sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles geared specifically toward entertainment professionals will represent the first time that young adults up to age 29 will be allowed to take part in the free Israel program. 

Taglit-Birthright Israel was launched 15 years ago to connect Jews ages 18-26 with their heritage. Now, the rules are being softened by Birthright organizers for certain groups. Students who had gone on an extended experiential Israel trip while in middle school or high school, for example, now qualifiy for the fully funded 10-day trip, which was not allowed previously.

This could spell a large increase in Angelenos headed to Israel come June. As it stands, last year, the Federation sent roughly 600 young Angelenos on L.A. Way Birthright Israel trips, according to Tal Gozani, Federation senior vice president of young adult engagement and leadership development.

With registration for the summer Birthright trips opening on Feb. 19 at birthrightisrael.com, Federation officials said they are excited about expanded programming for local participants.

“I have had the privilege of staffing two L.A. Way trips,” said Margalit Rosenthal, the Federation’s senior director of the Birthright Israel Experience. “For many, going to Israel and seeing all of the ways people — both other Americans and Israelis — are Jewish, opens their eyes and minds. I learned that this is so much more than an educational trip about Israel and Jewish history. This experience empowers individuals to express their Jewish identity in a way that is meaningful to them.”

The Federation sends an average of 15 L.A. Way Birthright trips to Israel each year. It is the nation’s leader in community trips sending the most local participants, according to Gozani.

Niche-option trips change from year to year based on demand. Some of the trips for young adults ages 18-22 are in partnership with local university campus Hillels, including USC Hillel, Hillel 818 and Hillel at UCLA. 

This summer, the Federation will be co-sponsoring its second L.A. Way LGBTQ & Ally trip in partnership with JQ International, whose mission, according to its Web site, is to “advance greater inclusion of LGBT Jews and Allies via identity building programs and services that embody Jewish values.” 

This trip will visit culturally, artistically and historically important sites within cities such as Tel Aviv that show the ways in which Jewish
LGBTQ life flourishes and continues to make great strides politically and socially in the state of Israel. The tour guide for the trip will be someone who understands and identifies with the LGBTQ community, according to the program description.

Another niche trip the Federation is including this year is an entertainment professionals trip — the first official trip centered on adults working in that industry in L.A. 

“We have found that up to one-half of our typical buses are filled with young Jews working in the entertainment industry,” Gozani said. “Because of the professional nature of this trip, we are able to populate it with eligible young Jews up through age 29.”

That’s a big deal for many young adults who thought they were past the age of eligibility. For nearly all trips, the deadline is 26 at the time of registration, although one can be 27 at the time of the trip. A select number of professional trips this summer, however — specifically for medical students/professionals and business students — will allow participants up through age 29. 

There have been other eligibility changes as well. Taglit-Birthright Israel, the leader in Birthright tours and the Federation’s partner in sponsoring trips — along with three trip organizers: IsraelExperts, Israel Outdoors and Sachlav — will now allow those who “participated on peer educational trips to Israel prior to turning 18 years of age” to apply. Up until now, those students had been ineligible.  

“We expect more clarifying information to come later this month and in the weeks following registration,” Gozani said. “It is too early to assess the effect of the eligibility requirements on this season. There may be longer-term effects on the number of applicants and the type of applicant.”

Both Gozani and Rosenthal feel it’s very important for young Jews to take part in a Birthright trip.

“There are two aspects of Birthright Israel that I believe are incredibly powerful and important for young Jews to experience: traveling to Israel and being surrounded by a new community of Jewish peers,” Rosenthal said. “Having this type of immersive Jewish experience is so powerful.”

Gozani added, “Birthright Israel is, for many, the first time they encounter Israel, encounter another country, live surrounded by Jews and create a Jewish community. People come back from this trip with a newfound sense of pride in their Jewish heritage and identity. The trip offers an access point into the Jewish community through Israel, through relationships, through history, through culture, or through religion — to name a few.”

Typhoon Haiyan: How you can help


In response to the devastation wreaked on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, which hit land on Nov. 8, killing thousands and obliterating whole towns and villages, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has set up the Philippines Typhoon Relief Fund.

The solicitation for donations went live on Monday, Nov. 11, on the Federation website, jewishla.org, according to Mitch Hamerman, Federation’s senior vice president of communications and marketing.

The L.A. Federation’s response is only one example of local Jewry attempting to reach out to Filipinos suffering in the aftermath of the largest storm surge in modern history, despite the absence of a sizable Jewish population on the Southeast Asian island country. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has already sent emergency teams, and the Israeli nonprofit IsraAID has dispatched a team of humanitarian workers. The L.A. Federation is working with both organizations.

“We know our community wants to take action in this time of crisis,” a statement issued by Federation said.

On Monday, members of Congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson received an email from Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky asking for donations to IsraAID.

“We're all aware of the horrible death and destruction that occurred in the Philippines over the weekend. There is a special connection, as you may know between the Philippines and the State of Israel,” Kanefsky wrote, emphasizing that members of the Filipino community often are the healthcare workers who care for elderly Israelis.

Israel’s reaction to the storm has been robust, with the Israel Defense Forces and Magen David Adom both promising aid. Israeli consul general in Los Angeles David Siegel estimated that “several hundred” people, representing the Israeli government and Israeli non-government organizations, may join the relief effort in the Philippines.

“We’re very happy to do this, and I think you’ll see Israel put not insignificant resources into this, both in aid and in the representatives that we send,” he said. As a leader in trauma medicine, Israel is expert at responding in the immediate aftermath of mass casualty events. And helping another country in need fulfills the obligation of tikkun olam, Siegel said.

“Whenever there is a humanitarian disaster, we’re poised to be the first, if not one of the first, to provide immediate aid,” Siegel said.

Additionally, The United Kingdom’s World Jewish Relief organization has said it plans to offer help, and a fund launched by American Jewish World Service is providing support to local Filipino-run groups on the ground in the Philippines.

Lorin Fife: Full-time philanthropy


Lorin Fife has essentially had a second career since he retired from his position as senior executive and attorney at the financial services holding company Sun America in 1998, when he was only 45.

In the years since, he’s served on the boards of various Jewish institutions, including chairing The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership, serving as president of Adat Ari El in Valley Village and, most recently, as board chairman at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA). 

So who would have guessed that Fife, now 60, wasn’t always Jewish?

Born in Granada Hills, Fife was raised in the Presbyterian tradition. But it never sat quite right with him, he said, and he started exploring other faith traditions early on. 

“My high school girlfriend was Catholic,” he explained. “I’d gone to Catholic Mass with her a lot, so my plebe year at the [United States] Naval Academy, I was singing in the Protestant choir, and I was going to Catholic Mass on the side. … I was sort of a spiritual wanderer.” 

Fife’s interest in Judaism preceded his involvement with his future wife, Linda, who is Jewish and whom he’d known as a high school student. He began his studies on a Navy cruiser on its way to Vietnam in 1972 and changed his Annapolis student records to list him as Jewish before graduation. He underwent a Reform conversion in the Navy after graduation.

He eventually went through an Orthodox conversion as well, and though he’s affiliated with a Conservative synagogue, he doesn’t identify with a particular Jewish denomination. 

“I really just think of myself as Jewish,” he said.

What especially drew Fife to Judaism was the story of Abraham arguing with God over Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Jews are charged with arguing with God, with trying to perfect the world,” he said. 

After Fife spent several years in the Navy, he and his wife lived for two years in Israel, where they studied Hebrew at the World Union of Jewish Students in Arad. Fife worked on an MBA at Tel Aviv University, before later receiving his law degree through the USC.

But it was the Jewish message of trying to perfect the world that Fife took to heart and acted upon when he decided to leave Sun America, giving him more time to devote to family, volunteering, philanthropy and other activities. 

He became board chairman at Adat Ari El in 2000 and president two years later. Next up was the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles partnership, which oversaw cultural exchange between the two cities. Fife called it “a dream job.”

“It really combined my passion for Israel with my passion for what’s going on in the local Jewish community,” Fife said.

In 2009, he started his stint as board chairman at JCFLA, which, by virtue of managing more than $800 million in charitable assets, stands as the largest such manager for Greater Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. It was both a great opportunity and a challenge.

“I think the JCF is one of the great gems of the Jewish community, and not necessarily so well-known … in terms of what it does,” Fife said. The foundation is “there to help individual philanthropists fulfill their own philanthropic goals. … [It helps] individual donors to … figure out what they want to do thoughtfully and strategically with their money, and it gives them the financial tools and the expertise to help them find things in the Jewish community in particular, but in the broader nonprofit world as well.”

Fife was thrilled to take the job, but he inherited it at a particularly difficult moment: The Great Recession was well under way, and Bernard Madoff’s shady dealings had come to light just three months prior. Fortunately, Fife was experienced in crisis management from his days as a lawyer in the corporate finance world.

“There are a lot of things that happen in that kind of context that are not necessarily intuitive, which you really have to do,” he explained. “It’s not a situation where you can just hunker down and try to ride through the storm; you need to turn everything inside out. You need to make sure that everything that’s being done is transparent, that if there’s anything that anybody did that was wrong, you need to make sure that it’s taken care of … and you need to make sure that everyone in the community understands exactly what happened, and if there were problems, that you’ve addressed them.”

The foundation’s investment with Madoff turned out to be small, about 3 percent of its total assets, and the executors of Madoff’s estate have since determined it will be fully recovered. 

“The good news is that no one had done anything that was wrong,” Fife said. “Well, other than making an investment with a crook. It turned out to have been a bad investment decision, but nobody had gotten any kickbacks or anything that was inappropriate.” 

With the internal assessment complete, Fife turned to reassuring investors and strengthening the foundation. 

“The first couple of years were really focused on trying to stabilize things, figuring out what happened,” he said. Fife also made it a priority to “move the demographics of the foundation’s board so that it was a broader, more accurate representation of the Los Angeles Jewish community. … Trying to bring down the age demographic on the board and trying to bring on more women.

“Then the last two years were really trying to consolidate everything that we had done during the first couple of years, and really get us back on a growth track,” Fife said. “We ended up north of $800 million in total assets at the foundation at the end of last year.” 

Fife’s term at the foundation was up in February, but he has no intention of relaxing. He’s working on a book about his city-championship-winning Granada Hills High School football team — on which he played center — that he said essentially invented the now-famous spread offense tactic. An artist who paints and sculpts, he’s also thinking about going back to work or getting involved in a new nonprofit. 

For Fife, that kind of active engagement is paramount to living a life in the spirit of his family — he comes from a line of educators, policemen and other public servants — and Jewish life. It was also a way to give back to the community that had given so much to him, especially when he lost his only brother, Alex, to AIDS in 1993.

“Alex’s death, which was terrible, long and painful, emphasized how fleeting and fragile life can be, and when I realized during the summer of 1998 that I had the opportunity to give back to the community that had given my family and me so much support, I felt blessed to be able to take that opportunity.”

It’s the giving back that matters, Fife said, not how one does it.

“When we were first married and raising our sons, we had very little in the way of financial resources, so Linda and I both invested tremendous amounts of passion and sweat equity in our philanthropic interests,” he said.

“While we’ve both continued to work hard for the nonprofits about which we are passionate — for example, Linda’s work for [the volunteer-led Jewish learning organization] LimmudLA, which she co-founded, and my work for the Jewish Community Foundation — we’ve also been blessed with the financial resources over time that have allowed us to provide financial support for our charitable passions, as well. We view volunteering our time and our money in a very similar light. In some respects, our time is even more precious.”

Federation Parent and Me voucher program: As you sow, so shall you reap


Oak Park resident Dina Torgan, who attends a Mommy and Me program at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks with her 9-month-old daughter, is confident that their participation will pay big dividends down the road, laying a strong foundation for a lifetime of Jewish learning.

“I know it is important to me and my family that when our daughter is ready for preschool, she attend a Jewish school to be exposed to Jewish life early on,” she said. “The Mommy and Me program has been invaluable, as a first-time mom. It is great to connect with other moms and just be a part of the Jewish community in general.”

That’s one reason Torgan was thrilled to learn about a new incentive from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and BJE-Builders of Jewish Education to help more parents get involved with such classes filled with music, play, traditions and other Jews.

Funded by an initial allocation from Federation of $45,000, the Federation Parent and Me voucher program began in September and is being run by BJE. The pilot program — which reduces a parent’s cost by 70 percent for an initial session of classes — is available at certain synagogues in the West San Fernando and Conejo valleys. 

“We want to make Jewish programs more affordable and accessible to families,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of Federation. He said there will be “additional significant funding once the program gets going.” 

“The program is designed to ease the pathway into participation in organized Jewish life for families by offering a financial incentive to try a Jewish program that competes well with similar non-Jewish programs in the marketplace,” said Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of BJE. “Parent and Me classes were chosen because they are relatively inexpensive, and they come at a point in the life of a family when directions are set for future connections and involvement.” 

The voucher program works like this: It pays half of the tuition for an eight-to-12-week Parent and Me session with a participating temple that can normally cost between $140 and $180. The congregation agrees to pay an additional 20 percent — and is reimbursed by Federation for every voucher it receives — leaving the participating family with only 30 percent of the cost. Once a participant completes the online application at bjela.org/parentandme — no financial need is necessary — families receive a voucher that is presented when enrolling. 

“In order to qualify, one parent must be Jewish, or identify as Jewish, and this must be the first time a family has availed themselves of a Jewish experience for a child,” Liff-Grieff said. “The goal is to sway families who are looking for comparable programs in a variety of places.” 

So far, 33 vouchers have been given out. Organizers would like to distribute another 125 vouchers over the next few months. 

Cheryl Cohen, Parent and Me coordinator at Temple Aliyah, a participating Conservative congregation in Woodland Hills, thinks the vouchers help in recruiting and encourage families to maintain a connection to the Jewish community.

“We have maybe received five new participants, and a few newly enrolled that already knew about Temple Aliyah,” she said. “While that might not seem like a lot, our classes fill up at 12 families so the addition is almost half a class.” 

The other participating valley congregations are Temple Etz Chaim, Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills and Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

“Because the funds for this pilot project were limited, it was decided to focus on a clearly delineated geographic area that contained a selection of good Jewish Parent and Me programs and a significant population of families with young children,” Liff-Grieff said. 

Donna Becker, Temple Adat Elohim’s early childhood education director, has seen an increase in the families participating in the program and created an evening Parent and Me class for working parents. 

“I love the idea of being supported by BJE and Federation, and I think these kinds of programs and outreach are great,” she said.

For those families who take part in the voucher program and then decide to re-enroll in a Parent and Me series, Federation will cover 25 percent of the second session, with families paying the full amount for future sessions. 

“I can’t wait to tell the parents that next session has an additional discount as well,” Becker said. “This is the entry to our temple family, and it needs to be affordable, convenient and a wonderful experience.”

Debbie Blumenthal, director of early childhood education at Etz Chaim, said these sorts of programs can be the start of something great. It’s common for Parent and Me friends to want to join preschool together, she said.

“We hope that as they are building relationships and becoming attached not only to each other, but to our temple family … that it will be only natural that they will stay, become members and send their children here for preschool.”

Crisis and opportunity — Reflections on the Pew report


Full disclosure: I have been thinking about the results of the Pew report for more than a decade. I understand that Pew didn’t release its results until last week, but these statistics and trends have been obvious to some in the Jewish community for a very long time. Four years ago, I made a major life change and became the president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles because of the revelations now appearing in the Pew report. It is what drives our board, our staff and me every day, and it is what has motivated our Federation’s major reimagination and transformation. It is at the core of our mission and our work.

Over the past week, there has been a great deal of reaction to the study’s findings, ranging from defensiveness to rejection with a smattering of thoughtful responses. The truth is that we can no longer afford to look the other way.  We must take a communal approach to building a Jewish community that will not just sustain but will flourish.

I love Judaism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.  I strongly believe that being Jewish adds immeasurable value to me, my family and our world.

We have a crisis. The numbers and the trending in the Pew report speak out loud and clear. Our crisis is not in the Middle East. It is in America. It is a crisis based on our success. We have truly succeeded in becoming American and in assimilating into this great country. 

The resulting loss of engagement, however, impacts every Jew and every Jewish institution.

But this crisis also offers us an extraordinary opportunity.

What got us here won’t get us there

Marshall Goldsmith, one of America’s preeminent executive coaches, wrote an insightful best-selling book titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” The book’s central tenet provides us with a solid piece of Torah.

We, as a people, have built great synagogues and great organizations. We have created enviable Jewish communities across the Diaspora.

It is clear that what we have built did get us here, but it is now equally clear that if we want to ensure a vibrant Jewish future, that infrastructure may not get us there.

I say this with caution. This is not a time for a knee-jerk reaction, and there are no “innovative” quick fixes. This is a time to take a break from our preoccupation with our history to take a long, proactive look at the future, the future we want for the next generations. They are the loudest voices in the study. These voices demand to be in our communal conversations.

We need to learn from Apple

Steve Jobs and his crew understood almost from the beginning that once a consumer is introduced to the power of technology, he or she would be hooked. Once hooked, it was up to Apple to continue to deepen the relationship between the consumer and that technology by listening to the consumer and being ahead of the competition in introducing both new products and new applications.

We need to see Judaism like new and evolving technology, and we need to be more like Apple. We need to create a two-way conversation with our consumers, and we need to reimagine our product line.

This analogy speaks directly to our Millennials and the generations to come.

There is another central change we need to make. We have promoted “episodic” Judaism based on lifecycle milestones and communal events. Our institutions have promoted powerful programs like PJ Library, Taglit Birthright and Jewish preschool.  Our Federation supports these important, highly successful programs. But what this study says loud and clear is that “episodic” Judaism is not enough.

We need to create a Jewish journey for every Jew, a journey that each Jew helps to create. Think of the iPod. Millions and millions of people use the same device to listen to their music but with customized play lists. They listen to their iPods alone, or they plug them into speakers and play for their friends in a communal experience.

We need to embrace our young people, not blame them

Our young people are redefining their Judaism. We need to be an active part of that redefinition process. It is up to the Jewish community to reach out, engage and embrace them. 

At the Federation, we are committed to not just engaging our young people, but engaging them in our reimagination and our transformation. They are not the problem. They are a part of the solution.

Many of our organizations have built models based on philanthropy first. We need to move away from “pay-to-play” Judaism. If young people are meaningfully engaged, they will become philanthropists. But we are pushing too many of them away by expecting them to give before they connect.

The challenge

Our future demands our attention. We need a strong, communal approach to build a rich, vibrant Jewish future. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has made the commitment to this process. Will you join us?


Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Funds needed for Mt. Zion gravesites


Harry Lenzer’s massive headstone lay flat on his grave, fallen and cracked in three pieces, for who knows how long — maybe years. 

But as of Oct. 3, Lenzer’s burial site joined the handful of others that have been fixed since June as part of the restoration project at Mount Zion Cemetery in East Los Angeles, where nearly 7,000 Jews are buried and approximately 1,000 gravesites need repair work.

“There’s activity. The [construction] trucks are coming in the entire time,” said Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, the lead organizer of the restoration project and co-director of Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles.

Greenwald has been working feverishly since April to raise funds for the cemetery. Progress was slow until Shlomo Rechnitz, a Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist, donated $250,000 in late May after visiting the cemetery.

In addition, two other donors, real estate developer Izek Shomof and businessman Adi McAbian, each donated $25,000, and another real estate developer, Michael Fallas, gave $10,000.

Friends of Mount Zion Cemetery — the organization Greenwald formed to handle donations — has raised $300,000 to date, he said. According to its Web site (restoremtzion.com), the organization needs to raise $700,000 to repair all of the damaged graves and headstones.

For years, vandals and neighborhood gangs have easily trespassed onto the cemetery at night, kicking over headstones and firing bullets into them, often destroying the elegant, youthful photos of the deceased that are a part of many of the headstones. 

Immediately after Friends of Mount Zion Cemetery received Rechnitz’s gift, Greenwald hired MDM Builders Group to repair the site’s crumbling fences, replacing entire sections and lining the perimeter with barbed wire on top of the fence. Ending the vandalism, said David Librush, vice president of MDM, was the first task before any actual repair on the graves and headstones could begin.  

Greenwald said there has been no more vandalism since the time the fence was finished in June. There have been other preventative efforts as well: Greenwald asked the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to fly their helicopters over the cemetery and shine lights on the area when on night patrol nearby. They agreed and have been doing so for the last several months, Greenwald said.

Librush said the vandalism appears to have ceased, and now he and his crew are working full time to return the cemetery to an acceptable state as quickly as possible. Librush, a friend of Greenwald, said that the company took on the Mount Zion project at cost. 

As the two men walked through the cemetery on a recent warm afternoon, they pointed out the graves that used to have cracked and sinking concrete, some with such severe damage that one could see into the grave. Now they have completely new concrete beds. 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles assumed responsibility for Mount Zion Cemetery in 1969 after its original owner, Chevra Chesed Shel Emeth, was no longer able to maintain it. Over the past decade, Federation has supported it with about $25,000 annually.

For at least the past 10 years, Federation has given Home of Peace — a cemetery adjacent to Mount Zion — about $1,000 per month to perform routine maintenance on the cemetery, which opened in 1916. Federation spends an additional $13,000 per year on various other projects for the cemetery, according to Ivan Wolkind, Federation’s chief operating and financial officer. 

Since late spring, Wolkind and Greenwald have worked closely on many aspects of the project. Before beginning repair work on the graves, Wolkind said, they hired an architect to plot every grave, complete with the name and the condition of the bed and headstone. This allows MDM to know exactly how much work every plot at Mount Zion needs.

“We are working on the most seriously damaged and needy graves first,” Wolkind said in a phone interview with the Journal

One of the seriously damaged graves, which Greenwald pointed out, is that of Morris Magid, who passed away in 1930 at age 54. Marc Magid, his grandson, visited the grave for the first time about two months ago.

“I could stick my hand into the middle of his gravesite because the concrete had broken,” said Magid, 51. “It shouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t be like that.”

He added that vandals also knocked off or shot off an image of his grandmother’s face on her grave. 

Phyllis Shallman, another Los Angeles resident, has six ancestors buried at Mount Zion, which has not had any burials for at least six years. The headstone of her uncle, Robert Abrams, lies on the ground. Half of his picture is missing. Shallman took her parents to the cemetery about 13 years ago, and visited again herself this year, on the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“I can just tell you it’s a horrific thing to see so many headstones pushed off and shot at,” she said.

Greenwald said that because it’s not feasible for everybody to come to the cemetery, Friends of Mount Zion posted a video about the cemetery on its Web site so that people can “understand the scope of the damage and the work that’s being done.”

Soon, Greenwald, Wolkind and Librush hope to have the burial places of Magid, Abrams and everyone else at Mount Zion fixed.

“It’s just a matter of not running out of funds,” Librush said.

Wolkind said that he and Greenwald plan to reach out to major donors in the Jewish community and to encourage synagogues to spread the word. 

“It’s a real need, and it’s a need that I believe we will fund 100 percent,” Wolkind said. “We will fix the problem.” 

To donate to Friends of Mount Zion Cemetery, visit restoremtzion.com or send checks, payable to Friends of Mount Zion Cemetery, to 219 W. Seventh St., Suite 206, Los Angeles, CA 90014.

How to feed the hungry


On the fifth night of Sukkot, a panel gathered in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard headquarters to discuss how to handle hunger both at home and across the country. Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino explained that it was an auspicious date for such a conversation. 

Consider, he said, the lulav that is waved during the holiday. It is an aguda (bundle) composed of different plant species, each of which has a specific set of qualities: One has a taste, one a smell, one neither and one both. These are supposed to correspond to the people of the Jewish community, Farkas said, some of whom are versed in Torah and some of whom know justice, some of whom know both and some neither. 

“And the rabbis ask the question, then, why do you have this last group, the group of people who just don’t seem to have any worth?” he said. “[They answer] by giving the line from the Torah that we are to take up all four species together and to make them one aguda, which means for me that if we want to change the world … we have to bind ourselves to each other and cover for each other’s failing and work together through all of our differences.” 

This seemed to be the theme of the night, which brought together four diverse panelists doing work both in Los Angeles and across the globe, whose strategies ranged from short-term emergency food aid to encouraging grass-roots activism to lobbying members of Congress directly on issues of international consequence. The panel’s title was “The Second Harvest 2.0: Innovative Strategies That Address Hunger Locally and Globally.” Part of Federation’s Community Engagement Initiative, the Sept. 24 event drew about 50 people.  

Farkas, founder of the group Netiya, which works to help communities of faith plant urban gardens, was joined by Robert Egger, whose L.A. Kitchen aims to tackle food waste while creating jobs and feeding the elderly, as well as Paula Daniels, former chair of the L.A. Food Policy Council and senior policy adviser to former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Rounding out the panel was Jonathan Zasloff, representing the American Jewish World Service, where he volunteers, and moderator Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. 

The conversation covered topics from corn subsidies to international food aid, and it tended to focus on broad-based systemic thinking over immediate solutions to local issues. As Leibman remarked at one point, “A board member [once] said to me, ‘We’re not going to food bank our way out of hunger.’ ” 

Or, as Egger put it, “Sure, I want to fish the baby out of the water here, but who’s throwing the babies in the water upstream?” 

Hunger is a complex problem, the panelists agreed, and finding a solution to it is even more complicated. It doesn’t help that Congress passed a bill in September that, if enacted, would cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the course of the next 10 years. Leibman characterized this as “huge slap in the face … to all those who are struggling to recover from the terrible economy and to put food on the table for their family.” She also said that “as the nutrition safety net is being shredded … somebody, somewhere, somehow is going to have to pick up the slack.”

This means finding short-term solutions, like food banks, but also thinking long-term about creating systemic change. For Egger that means job creation, and his goal with L.A. Kitchen is to produce something that will feed the hungry today while also giving them the skills to look for work that will enable them to support themselves tomorrow. 

To that end, L.A. Kitchen will run a job-training program for people returning home from prison, pairing them with youth aging out of foster care and teaching them to prepare food in commercial kitchens. L.A. Kitchen will take seconds — produce that’s considered unsellable for cosmetic reasons — and turn it into meals for the city’s elderly. It’s an elegant system that creates, as Egger puts it, side-by-side learning and serving instead of a model that “emphasizes the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver.” 

Daniels looks at the issue from a civic angle. She said that Villaraigosa’s idea was to “use the market power of the city to influence what’s being produced,” creating a demand for healthy produce and then using a decentralized system of local food hubs to distribute it.  In effect, this means using the government dollars that purchase food for schools and hospitals to incentivize local production of that produce, and then creating a smaller-scale system to distribute it throughout the city — which means jobs in picking and packing, driving and distributing as well as preparing and serving. 

The issue, both in America and around the world, panelists agreed, was rarely that there weren’t enough calories; it’s almost always an issue of getting those calories into hungry mouths. 

Zasloff, who is also a rabbinic student at the ALEPH ordination program, closed out the panel by reminding the audience that charity is not a spectator sport, especially in Jewish tradition. He spoke of a blessing that thanks God for knowledge and awareness, and urged everyone in the room to acknowledge their own blessings, and to try once a day to think or do something about hunger.

“Do one thing every day, and that will make you more aware, it will connect you in with what else is happening, and it will begin to …  motivate you to do something and pursue your own path, that will allow you to link up with other people.”

Shutdown may affect Jewish social services


Congress’ failure to authorize discretionary spending for the new fiscal year won’t only impact about 800,000 federal workers or the Americans looking to visit national parks. It may also affect local Jewish social service organizations that rely in part on federal funding. 

That, too, though, is uncertain.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), said just hours after the shutdown began. “We spent the morning trying to communicate with our funders to find out what they know.”

The funders Castro spoke with are the state and local government entities that JFS relies upon to provide some services such as meals and transportation programs for seniors. Castro said that if these entities requested funds from the federal government before Oct. 1 — the day the shutdown took effect — some of JFS’ at-risk programs could run for a few more weeks without interruption. Ultimately, though, JFS won’t know for at least a few days exactly how this will play out if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement quickly.

JFS’ annual budget is $30 million, and $5.55 million of that comes — directly and indirectly — from the federal government.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, echoed Castro’s concerns. 

“With the shutdown, the cash flows of our most important social service agencies are at risk,” he said. “If this goes on for an extended period of time, it will definitely impact our social service agencies.”

As for Jewish Vocational Services, whose goal is to help people overcome barriers to employment, it issued a public statement that “programs and services remain fully operational with regularly scheduled hours.”

The last time Democrats and Republicans could not agree on a spending resolution to fund parts of the federal government was over the budget for the 1996 fiscal year, when President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress clashed over spending levels, largely over Medicare, shutting down parts of the government for 26 days.

This time around, the issue preventing an agreement is again a major health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation that was passed in 2010.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to tie any new spending bill to a one-year delay for parts of the bill and a requirement that Congressional members and their staffers must purchase insurance on the ACA’s new health insurance exchanges, which opened on Oct. 1

Despite the shutdown, much of the federal government will continue to operate as normal, including programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military.

Even if Congress reaches an agreement in the coming days or weeks, Castro is concerned about a future potential conflict that could again pose funding problems for local Jewish agencies. Before Oct. 17, when the federal government is predicted to eclipse the “debt ceiling” (the level of debt Congress has authorized the government to accumulate), Democrats and Republicans will either have to raise the debt ceiling or risk many spending promises not being fulfilled.

“Even in resolution we know that is only going to be for a few weeks,” Castro said. 

Baking bread as a meetup


The steamy kitchen was filled with the heady scent of baking bread, while giddy young Jewish professionals stood around in pristine white aprons, drinking from tumblers full of rosy pink pomegranate lemonade. 

Some seemed at ease among the electric mixers and cutting boards, while others were more bewildered by the menagerie of ingredients and tools. But what mattered for people like Jeffrey Melnick was that they were out having fun with other Jews their age.

“I chose to do this because I like cooking, and I wanted to meet some other young Jewish adults,” said Melnick, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. “I had searched for things to do on the Internet, found the YALA [Young Adults of Los Angeles] Web site, saw the cooking class, and so I joined it.”

YALA — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ programming arm for young adults — helped organize the Aug. 28 Rosh Hashanah cooking class at Sur La Table at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles, along with Federation’s JCC Without Walls initiative.

Rabbi Alyson Solomon, vice president of special projects at Federation, helps coordinate JCC Without Walls. Its mission is to create Jewish activities for young couples in their 20s and 30s, as well as families with young children, where they live, work and play. In this case, organizers tried to do that by bringing together food, Judaism and culture.

“People are very interested in this sort of thing, and it lets people get in touch with their heritage and spirituality in a more hands-on way than simply going to services,” Solomon said.

The evening commenced with a timely honey tasting with sliced apples. In fact, each participant went home with a jar of artisanal honey, along with a packet of recipes from the class.

Chef Marissa Ayala led the group through the steps of cooking a four-course holiday meal, and demonstrated the baking technique for a rosemary-currant challah as well. The menu included roasted sweet potatoes with fresh figs, baby spinach salad with dates and almonds, pistachio-crusted sea bass and, finally, chocolate and cherry gelato.

Despite the relatively small cooking quarters in Sur La Table’s back room, everyone seemed to work well together — delegating various cooking tasks while chatting about life and food.

Jocelyn Orloff, senior director of YALA, a group focused on young professionals ages 25-40, said the hope was to appeal to a generation looking for something different at this time of year.

“We partnered with JCC Without Walls for this event knowing that there are young adults looking for High Holy Days experiences that are out of the box,” she said. “Finding a way to use cooking and food as an opportunity to learn within the community is great.”

Although this was the first Rosh Hashanah cooking class hosted by JCC Without Walls, it wasn’t the first time it’s drawn people to the kitchen. The group hosted Passover classes at Sur La Table over the past two years.

This particular evening drew 28 people, each of whom signed up early and paid $50 for the class. Participants were a mishmash of area natives and newcomers, including a former Jewish organizational leader from the Bay Area, and a military veteran who recently transplanted to Los Angeles.

“I think the turnout tonight is great,” Solomon said. “I’m excited that we have such a full group of folks. Personally, I’m really interested in where these people are coming from and where are they going after this. Like, how will this be part of their journey? And hopefully, it will maybe inspire them to try something new or think about something differently.”

New Jew to reopen at former West Hills campus


In a way, New Community Jewish High School’s Purim shpiels said it all. For the past several years, students at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) — founded in 2002 and commonly known as New Jew, for short — would use the opportunity of Purim, when it’s customary to perform humorous skits, to make fun of their school’s biggest shortcoming — namely that students ate lunch on a parking lot because, well, as tenants renting temporary space from a West Hills synagogue, there was nowhere else for them to eat. 

Next Purim, students at NCJHS will have to find another target to lampoon. On Aug. 29, the first day of its 2013-2014 school year, NCJHS will open at its new — and permanent — home, the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, which offers plenty of places to eat on its four-acre campus, and none of them parking lots. 

“We are moving from about 35,000 square feet of usable space into 100,000 square feet. So that’s an important statistic, and that alone gives you more room, gives us grass area, gives us a campus feel,” Bruce Powell, the school’s head of school, said during a recent campus tour.

For the school to finally open its doors at the Bernard Milken campus follows a minor drama that ensued involving the property’s former owner, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and its former major tenant, the JCC at Milken. In October 2011, NCJHS settled on a deal with Federation, the then-owners of the campus, to purchase the property with a down payment of $2 million — at the end of nearly a year of negotiations. 

The JCC at Milken had been suffering financial difficulties for several years and announced in early 2012 that it would close, after it and the Federation failed to reach a plan allowing the JCC to continue operating there.

The school’s entire initiative — including its purchase of the property, two phases of construction and creating an endowment — was budgeted at $36 million. As of the opening, with the first phase of construction complete, the endowment is growing and the second phase of construction is expected to happen, provided the school can continue to raise funds. So far NCJHS has raised $17 million in cash and pledges.

The Federation currently holds the mortgage on the property, which includes a 65,000-square-foot building in the front and a 35,000-square-foot building in the back.

The deal marks the first time in NCJSH’s history that the school has a home to call its own. It also marks its return, full circle, to the Bernard Milken campus, where NCJHS, as a tenant, opened its doors with just 49 students in September 2002.

One of several science labs at the new campus.

The school’s student population doubled in size by its second year, which forced the school to seek out a new site. 

The site they found was at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, a West Hills-based synagogue a few miles away from the Bernard Milken campus. Two modular, customized prefabricated buildings were installed on the grounds of Shomrei Torah, equipped with everything the school needed.

The school remained at Shomrei Torah for nine years, growing to become one of the largest Jewish high schools in the country, until its move this summer back to the Bernard Milken campus.

According to Powell, the school didn’t need to move. New Jew was thriving at Shomrei Torah, even in temporary buildings with the students eating in the parking lot.

But he said there were practical reasons to do it. 

For one, the school will have more space than ever. The new home has 36 learning spaces. These includes classrooms — the largest of which is 1,200 square feet — while at Shomrei Torah the largest classroom was half that size — as well as a 10,000-square-foot basketball gymnasium, an indoor swimming pool and a large grassy field where students can eat, hang out and relax, and where a vegetable garden will be planted.

Only the baseball team will have to travel to another site to play — the touch-football team will compete at a park across the street from the school, an improvement over the school’s prior situation in regard to athletics, where basketball, swimming and volleyball teams had to travel to the Bernard Milken campus to use its facilities.

And the nearly year-long project of renovations — led by Gensler, a global architecture firm — included transforming the JCC at Milken’s Finegood Art Gallery into three classrooms, which was achieved by putting up new walls; turning a conference room into an instrumental music room; carving up multiple small offices into additional classrooms; and taking empty classrooms that were run by the JCC and turning them into science labs with state-of-the-art equipment.

NCJHS also redid the gymnasium floor so that it now bears the logo of their mascot, the Jaguars; they added new carpeting and new coats of paint to the entire front building and installed new floors in the back building, the Masor Lounge, which houses the athletics facilities, a student store and more. 

Meanwhile, the community Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, which rented out the pool from the JCC at Milken as its main tenant, will continue to lease the facility. Additionally, NCJHS has set up a committee tasked with finding other sources of rental income.

Sometimes during renovation, Gensler was forced to get creative and work around shear walls that hold up the foundation of the building. In these cases, multiple rooms that might have been turned into a single classroom were repurposed as spaces where students can do group work.

The school has stepped up its technology game as well: 30 of the 36 classrooms are equipped with short-throw projectors that turn blank walls into interactive whiteboards. And wireless Internet will be available campus-wide.

Powell reiterated the most important aspects of the school remain its faculty, the learning Jewish concept that knowledge leads to wisdom and the secular concept that knowledge leads to power, as well as the students’ eagerness to engage with this.

All the tech and amenities in the world aren’t important, if they aren’t used correctly, he said.

“I can have Mickey Mantle’s glove, but I’m not going to play like Mickey Mantle.”

Still, as he walked around the school’s new home, he was beaming.

“The bricks and mortar don’t necessarily change everything,” he said, “but it does give you a better baseball glove.”

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