October 20, 2018

‘Second Seder Plate’ Puts Focus on Refugee Crisis

As Jews sit down to Passover seders to retell the story of when our ancestors were slaves and refugees, Jewish World Watch (JWW), a nonprofit that works to end genocide and mass atrocities, would like us to help raise awareness of the needs of millions of refugees in the world today.

JWW’s “Second Seder Plate” campaign asks people to place an additional platter  on the table, alongside the traditional one, that contains these six symbolic items:

• Kitchen matches: Representing the flames that have destroyed entire Rohingya Muslim villages in acts of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

• Band-Aids: Indicating the medical supplies needed by innocent civilians wounded in the war in Syria.

• Tomato: Symbolizing the ultra-efficient farming techniques that can help supplement insufficient food rations in Darfuri refugee camps.

• Cellphone: Calling to mind the “conflict minerals” used in electronic devices that are mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by children, to the benefit of corrupt officials and profiteers.

• Toy: Symbolizing the lost childhood of many young refugees.

• Glass of water: Representing the dearth of clean water for the stateless.

For people who want to introduce the second seder plate to their table but don’t have the suggested items on hand, JWW offers a card with a picture of the seder plate that can be set on the table as a stand-in. Other cards — which can be downloaded and printed from the organization’s website at jww.org — contain information and discussion points about today’s global refugee crisis, along with tips on how to take action, whether by writing a letter to a Congressional representative,  providing financial support for JWW’s humanitarian aid efforts, or by other means.

“Passover is a time to recall the biblical Exodus, a story that, sadly, resonates with the tragic displacement going on today.” — Susan Freudenheim

“Passover is a time to recall the biblical Exodus, a story that sadly resonates with the tragic displacement going on today,” JWW’s Executive Director Susan Freudenheim told the Journal. “The Jewish story of fleeing from dishonest leaders and enslavement is too often being repeated for new populations around the world.”

JWW had considered suggesting that people add new symbols to their traditional seder plate, but “We decided the plate risks getting pretty crowded,” Freudenheim said.

“So, why not make a whole new set of contemporary symbols, linked to contemporary Exoduses, to tell the story of the plight of today’s 65 million displaced people who have been persecuted like the Israelites?”

Each of the second seder plate items and its accompanying text provide insights into how JWW works with people touched by genocides or mass atrocities.

“Jewish World Watch was founded to fight genocide, and one major aspect of our work is to help survivors,” Freudenheim said. “We have also traveled to meet with some of them: the Darfuris and the Congolese, in particular, and shared Jewish stories, not only of the Exodus, but also of the Holocaust. Many of the people JWW met in Africa had never met Jews before, and their first experience is of friendship and generosity.”

JWW is encouraging us to post pictures of  our second plates on social media using the hashtag #SecondSederPlate.

Beyond stimulating discussion around the plight of refugees, Freudenheim said, “our second seder plate reminds everyone to become involved. To be on the right side of history.”

Mark Miller is a writer who has performed stand-up comedy and written for various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of humorous essays, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Jewish World Watch Holds Rally for Rohingyas at Myanmar Consulate

Photo from Facebook.

Persecution in Myanmar

The Jewish World Watch organizes a protest in front of the Myanmar Consulate to combat the injustices happening in Myanmar against the Rohingya people.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Thursday, November 9, 2017


For the first time in Los Angeles, a Jewish organization held a rally to speak out against the persecution of a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Jewish World Watch held a protest Nov. 8 outside the Myanmar Consulate General in Koreatown to protest that country’s treatment of the Rohingya people. Holding signs and chanting “Stop Rohingya genocide!” and “Silence is violence!,” some 50 people — including representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities and about a half-dozen local Rohingyas — marched outside the Wilshire Boulevard high-rise housing the consulate.

Speaking through a megaphoine, Zubair Ahmed, a Myanmar-born Rohingya Muslim who lives in Hawthorne, thanked the protesters. “You all will be blessed by almighty God, because you are standing up for the Rohingya people,” he said

The Rohingya people are indigenous to southeast Asia and until recently had their population center in the western part of majority-Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Although discrimination against them dates back at least as far as a junta that brought Myanmar under military control in 1962, it has intensified in recent months, with more than 600,000 being displaced and driven into neighboring Bangladesh since August, according to the United Nations.

“If we don’t act now, things can get a lot worse.” — Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Although U.N. officials have stopped short of labeling the situation a genocide, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in September deemed it “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”

A number of local rabbis offered speeches and prayers at the Nov. 8 rally. They included Rabbis Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul, Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom and Jason Fruithandler of Sinai Temple.

“Our voices will not be silent,” Hudson told the crowd. “Our feet will not be still. We will stand. We will march. We will speak.”

Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, also joined the rally.

“We feel the same as the Jewish community, that this is a matter of our religious obligation, of our human conscience,” he told the Journal. “I think that’s what brings us together.”

Bookstein said he keeps up on the crisis in online updates from a friend who volunteers in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“As Jews, we can relate to this as well as anybody,” he told the Journal. “And if we don’t act now, things can get a lot worse — because instead of having the displacement of 600,000 people, we’ll have the death of 600,000 people.”

The Pico Shul rabbi wore his tallis to the rally, a nod to the “religious obligation to stand up and speak out,” he said.

Speakers at the protest told the crowd to urge their representatives in Congress to support Senate Bill 6060[TF1] , the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, which would authorize sanctions against Myanmar and offer aid to displaced Rohingyas. (Myanmar was formerly called Burma.)

“We’re going to vote every single one of them out that are against it,” Jarin Islam, a Bangladeshi-born official from the neighborhood council that includes the consulate, told the protesters. “In election season, we will not forget the way you are acting in the Senate and Congress.”

The rally attracted a small group of counterprotesters, who held signs reading, “No Genocide in Myanmar” and chanted, “Stop your Propaganda.”

“We trust our leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,” said one, Aung Khine, an immigrant from Myanmar, referring to the country’s de facto civilian leader. “She would never do that to people.”

But Ahmed told a different story, saying that most Rohingya villages in western Myanmar had been bombed, with the young men killed and the women and children ejected from their homes.

Ahmed said some 10 to 15 Rohingya people live in the Los Angeles area, mostly in Inglewood. He said this is the first time he has seen the Jewish community come out to support the Rohingya cause.

“We don’t know how to thank you,” he told the Journal. “You understand our suffering.”

Inside Uganda: Home of the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world

A South Sudanese refugee, displaced by fighting, holds her child upon arriving in April at the Imvepi settlement in the Arua District in northern Uganda. Photo by James Akena/Reuters

They live in huts and mud houses, partaking of bare essentials only when they are available. There are few markets and fewer police. Daily life is a constant struggle to survive.

This is the Bidi Bidi refugee camp, deep in the bush of northern Uganda in central east Africa. More than 272,000 people are living in conditions that would make reaching poverty seem like an aspirational goal.

The people in Bidi Bidi are among more than 1 million South Sudanese living as refugees from civil war and ethnic cleansing. Bidi Bidi has become the largest resettlement camp in the world, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The sprawling 89-square-mile camp covers an area larger than the city of Seattle.

Foremost among those helping in Bidi Bidi are several leading Jewish and Israeli organizations, doing what they can to support desperate needs and raise awareness about the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

“Refugees are not just fleeing because of the violence but to escape an economic collapse and crazy inflation,” Mike Brand, advocacy and programs director at the Encino-based Jewish World Watch (JWW), said in an interview as he surveyed the crisis in Uganda’s Adjumani border district, adjacent to the Bidi Bidi camp. “People can’t afford to work and buy food in South Sudan, and severe food insecurity has been plaguing the country.”

[Bidi Bidi: Struggling to cope with life at the world’s largest refugee settlement]

South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, gaining independence from Sudan to the north in 2011. Even so, tribal clashes in South Sudan that predated independence have continued, lighting a fuse that led to the current crisis.

After a failed attempt at a peace agreement, violence erupted again in July 2016 with massive clashes in the South Sudan capital, Juba, near President Salva Kiir’s palace and a United Nations compound, resulting in more displacement of civilians.

Although the U.N. Security Council called for up to 4,000 peacekeepers to quell the fighting in August 2016, it took until last month for just 150 Rwandan soldiers to take up the mission.

“The government thinks they can win the war militarily and isn’t interested in sharing power,” Brand said of the conflict. “The various rebel movements aren’t strong enough to force a negotiated settlement, so they must keep fighting. A lot of the conflict boils down to money, land and power. All sides have committed gross human rights violations, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and maybe even genocide.”


Bidi Bidi is the single largest refugee settlement in the world. Photo by Trocaire


Jewish aid groups are part of a worldwide response to deal with a humanitarian crisis that rivals others that have gained more attention through political conflict and media coverage. The groups include the Los Angeles-based Real Medicine Foundation and the American Refugee Committee of Minneapolis, as well as the Uganda-based World Action Fund and global operators like Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children.

Uganda currently has 140 nongovernment organizations operating in the country, according to the nation’s official directory.

Jewish World Watch has been working in Sudan and the surrounding region since JWW’s founding 13 years ago in response to the Darfur genocide. Brand, 31, worked for the conflict-prevention group Saferworld in South Sudan before joining JWW in 2015.

A June “global solidarity summit” held in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, ended with the international community pledging less than 20 percent of the funds required to meet the extraordinary needs generated by a crisis that also includes growing famine.

“The World Food Programme cut rations over the last two years,” said Brand, pointing out that monthly nutritional supplements — like flour, sorghum and cooking oil — were cut in half to 6 kilograms, about 13 pounds, for a family. “And it seems to have been reduced again, down to 3 kilograms a month.

“One of the things I am trying to do is understand what is working here,” he added. “The refugee settlements created here are happening because Ugandan families donated their land. It’s the people that live here, not the government, who are allowing refugees to build homes and farm.

“Uganda has been quite welcoming, especially when you compare their refugee response to the United States and Europe.”


Image courtesy of Refugees International


Brand cited the Trump administration’s decision to reduce and cut various foreign support programs as contributing to the crisis.

“President [Donald] Trump’s stance on cutting foreign aid, funding to the U.N. and limiting the State Department’s effectiveness will have disastrous results for crises like South Sudan,” he said, explaining why JWW is launching initiatives for refugee self-sufficiency and advocating for U.S. funding of their basic needs.

The administration, however, said cutbacks in foreign aid have not affected U.S. support for South Sudan.

“We are the single largest donor in the affected areas of Uganda, and as conditions have worsened, we have increased our contributions significantly,” said Deborah Malac, the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda. “Since October 2016, we have provided nearly $154 million for humanitarian assistance, including $57.4 million announced by President Trump on May 24.”

But despite the U.N. and 57 other aid organizations working in northern Uganda, the need to provide food and shelter this year was $1.4 billion, and only 18 percent of it has been received.

To help, Israel recently provided 6 tons of food aid to areas of drought-stricken South Sudan, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli nonprofit IsraAID is running psychological support programs and safe drinking water projects in the Ugandan districts where refugees are concentrated.

Despite the U.N. and 57 other aid organizations working in northern Uganda, the need to provide food and shelter this year was $1.4 billion, and only 18 percent of it has been received.

“Last year, it was Greece in the spotlight with the Syrian refugee crisis. But somehow this catastrophe is seen as an African problem instead of a global concern,” said Dahlia Olinsky, Uganda country director for IsraAID. “It is pretty easy for TV networks to get on a plane to Greece and get shots of refugees crossing in boats from Turkey. But the border crossings with South Sudan are a 13-hour drive through the bush from the Kampala airport.”

She said during some months, as many as 3,000 refugees a day cross into Uganda.

Proliferation of informal border crossings are a window into the massive scale of the refugee crisis. The three official passages are on the three roads linking South Sudan with Uganda, but in recent months, authorities opened 10 additional frontier posts on migrant footpaths running through the bush.

“The image that keeps me up at night is of these pregnant teenage girls who have walked for days in the bush with another child or two in tow,” said Olinsky, 35, who coordinates a team of about 12 South Sudanese trained to support the group’s psychological wellness and technical assistance programs.

Eighty-six percent of the South Sudanese refugees are women and children. The men are largely either trying to hold on to ancestral lands or engaged in the fighting.

IsraAID specialists rotate into Uganda and South Sudan, where humanitarian groups estimate that as many as 1.5 million internally displaced people are in flight from fighting in their home villages.

“We work in areas like water, sanitation and hygiene,” Olinsky said. “But our core mission is to build the refugees’ knowledge and skills to handle the psychological impact of their displacement and rebuild their lives.”

More than 20,000 people now have access to clean water because of a training program IsraAID set up at Gulu University, 65 miles south of the Uganda-South Sudan border.

IsraAID employs locals as well as refugees as a way to limit conflict over resources between the two groups, especially in districts where South Sudanese are starting to outnumber native-born Ugandans.

“I gained practical experience in digging wells and installing and maintaining the electric pumps that tap into the underground aquifers which help us get drinking water to the refugees settling here,” said Anena Kevin, 25, a Ugandan and graduate of IsraAID’s training program.

IsraAID, which has raised funds in North America for its efforts in Greece and in Germany for Syrian refugees, has struggled to find donors for the projects in South Sudan and Uganda. Less than 10 percent of its $2 million program expenses has been covered by U.S. donors.

“The lack of attention to this crisis has affected the amounts available for this, but we are doing what we can,” Olinsky said.


A temporary school structure at Bidi Bidi that was destroyed by rain. Photo by Mike Brand/Jewish World Watch


HIAS, the American-Jewish group founded in 1881 to bring Eastern Europeans fleeing pogroms to the U.S., now is engaged in refugee assistance and resettlement with active programs in Venezuela for Colombians fleeing civil war and in Greece, for those escaping the crisis in Syria.

HIAS also is active in Africa. It has sustained a Uganda program for 15 years with a field office in Kampala to support refugees from the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo — another sparsely reported African conflict known for the widespread use of rape as a weapon as common as gunfire.

In recent weeks, international resettlement agencies like HIAS have reported an increase of refugees arriving from Congo, with up to 600 crossing the border each day.

“We are thinking strategically about how to step in with the South Sudanese refugees in the north and are eager to work with partners and donors to respond to this massive crisis,” said Rachel Levitan, associate vice president for program planning and management at HIAS.

“I don’t know when the Jewish community is going to respond the way they need to the fact that there are a million South Sudanese in Uganda,” she said. “But I hope we can raise our own awareness and then bring the world’s attention to it, especially for the survivors of gender-based violence.”

Back in Encino, Susan Freudenheim, executive director of JWW, said the promise of no more genocides, of “never again” has to mean something.

“We sent Mike to Uganda to visit Bidi Bidi and other refugee settlement camps to bear witness, because we know from experience the best way to find out what kind of support people really need is to get our own firsthand account.”

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., JWW is organizing a lobbying effort to persuade Congress to increase aid. 

“We are not the United Nations,” Freudenheim said. “We can’t spend millions to feed people, but we can be effective in helping meet specific needs in ways that can be replicated and, hopefully, are helpful.”

Couple devises DIY method of getting critical medical supplies into Syria

Doctors and nurses at a hospital in Idlib hold up a Save the Syrian Children banner after receiving medical supplies from Tamar and Philip Koosed in March. Photos courtesy of Philip Koosed

It was midday in China, early morning in Syria and dusk in Los Angeles — time for Philip and Tamar Koosed to get to work.

Each night in their San Fernando Valley home, they say goodnight to their children, Asher, 3, and Itzhak, 1, then turn to a do-it-yourself operation that is saving lives daily halfway around the world in Syria.

With no staff and virtually no overhead, they have stitched together a network of doctors, suppliers and shippers to send medical aid to the war-torn provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

Working from a wish list provided by the doctors they work with, the Kooseds source the goods either from Chinese factories or in-kind donations from medical companies. In just more than a year, they have moved more than $20 million in medical supplies, working from their home office in Sherman Oaks.

The need is unrelenting. Now in its sixth year, the Syrian civil war has displaced some 12 million people and trapped hundreds of thousands more in war zones. Idlib and Aleppo have been the sites of intense bombing by the Syrian government, which uses munitions designed to maximize civilian casualties. Throughout the persistent conflict, humanitarian groups have faced a gamut of obstacles, from cities besieged and choked off by militants to a government that allegedly targets medical workers intentionally. 

“Our focus is extremely narrow,” Philip said. “How do we provide doctors with lifesaving medical supplies, medical equipment and save as many children as possible?”

The couple’s own children are a major motivation for their work.

“There’s not a time in which I see an image of a 3-year-old and I don’t see my own 3-year-old,” Philip said, sitting nex to Tamar in their living room, “or see a 1-year-old being pulled from the rubble and think, ‘That could be my own son.’ ”

“It’s so transparent that we’re just lucky,” Tamar added. “Like Asher and Itzhak were born to us — but they could have been born in Aleppo. It’s just pure luck.”

‘Two naïve Jews from the Valley’

Philip described their effort as “two naïve Jews from the Valley, trying to save the world in Syria.” The reality is more complex.

Philip, 34, grew up in the San Fernando Valley before co-founding what would become a multimillion-dollar supply-chain management firm while he was an undergraduate at USC. Tamar, 33, runs a consultancy that assesses the impact of social investments by nonprofits and businesses around the world. They didn’t know it at the start, but their skills and contacts were well-suited to saving lives.

From left: Philip and Tamar Koosed and their sons, Asher, 3, and Itzhak, 1.

By June 2016, the couple, who met at USC, had made donations to aid groups in increments of $50 or $100, sometimes more, but they remained largely aloof. “We actively chose to be numb,” Philip said. “I think you kind of have to do that to a certain extent to live.”

The onslaught of horrific images from Syria began to weigh on them. It became the subject of their bedtime conversations, night after night.

Philip and his business partner recently had sold their supply-chain management business for $30 million — though Philip still is the company’s president — and the couple was looking to make a onetime sizable donation and move on with their lives. But they were underwhelmed by their donation options.

“You see Doctors Without Borders, and you see the number of [medical] kits they’re able to send into those areas, it’s something like 800 kits they’re able to get in,” Tamar said. “You see that they’re having a really difficult time.”

With Philip’s manufacturing contacts and Tamar’s involvement with humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), they figured they could do better. They hatched a plan to reach out to doctors in Syria to assess their needs, then build a supply chain to meet them.

“Anybody else that would have come to me and said, ‘So, we’re starting to send medical supplies inside of Syria,’ I would have looked at them like they had three heads,” said Mike Brand, director of programs and advocacy for Jewish World Watch (JWW), an Encino-based anti-genocide organization.

Brand had worked with Tamar over the years and was impressed by Philip’s background. Unlike multinational humanitarian organizations, the couple had no red tape or bureaucratic delay to deal with.

“A lot of bigger NGOs don’t have the ability to find locals and just have them take care of stuff,” Brand said. “It’s just not how they operate.”

The couple got to work. By March, less than a year after they started, trucks rolled from Turkey into Syria bearing banners with the name of their fledgling organization, Save the Syrian Children, depositing medical supplies in hospitals across Idlib and Aleppo.

Call for support is answered

At first, most of the work for Tamar and Philip was vetting doctors and hospitals in Syria thoroughly to make sure they were who they said they were, and not the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the jihadist group known as the Al-Nusra Front. “There are a lot of bad actors in Syria,” Philip said.

Finding doctors on the internet or through Tamar’s contacts, they cross-referenced each of their identities with sources inside and outside Syria.

Once they had vetted the doctors and assessed their needs, the next step was to build a supply chain from China to Syria. That was the easy part — building supply chains literally is Philip’s job. “It’s what I do every day and what I have done for the last 17 years,” he said.

For the first six or seven months, they didn’t think about how they were going to pay for the supplies they were shipping. By December, the goods were being loaded onto a 40-foot shipping container in Shanghai.

“The goods were about to ship, and we were like, ‘OK, we’re $100,000 on the hook, we better start talking to people about this,’ ” Tamar said. 

They put out the word, with Philip’s sisters helping on social media. They didn’t know what kind of response they would get.

“To a person, everyone said, ‘How can we help?’ ” Philip said. “I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was surprising.”

His network at Stephen Wise Temple proved to be of particular help. Philip had attended the day school there — it’s where he first met the co-founder of his supply-chain business — and his parents were longtime members of the temple.

At a synagogue event a few months after the Kooseds’ plan began to take shape, Philip and his father ran into Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback. Philip told Zweiback what he was working on.

“I was just really blown away,” the rabbi said.

The Kooseds were looking for a fiscal sponsor, a nonprofit organization that could accept tax-deductible donations on the couple’s behalf and channel the money into buying more supplies. In rabbinic school, Zweiback had started an organization called Kavod, whose purpose is to funnel money from donors to qualified charities. It was exactly what Tamar and Philip needed, sparing them precious time in obtaining nonprofit status.

“If they had to wait six or 12 months to do this, that would mean four shipments they couldn’t make,” Zweiback said. “And that would mean children that can’t have access to basic medical supplies.”

Zweiback helped the Kooseds put an appeal in the temple newsletter. Soon, word of their activism spread beyond the synagogue.

This month, JWW finalized a grant to allow the couple to ship a container of medical goods to Syria on its behalf.

“Nobody has called Syria a genocide per se yet, but it certainly has moved in the direction of the most horrific violence,” said Susan Freudenheim, JWW’s executive director. “We don’t want to take sides in this; we just want to help save lives.”

Though Freudenheim declined to provide the dollar amount of the grant, she said it was enough to fill a 40-foot container with supplies, slated to be filled and shipped in July. She said JWW was attracted to the project because of its low overhead, the cut-rate cost of goods Philip is able to acquire and the couple’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“We’re talking about the equivalent of a garage band,” Freudenheim said. “These people are very, very devoted to what they’re doing.”

The couple also reached out to their professional networks.

Sue Chen, CEO of Carson-based Nova Medical Products, heard about the couple’s work through an email they sent out to members of the Santa Monica Bay chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization, a business networking group.

“I wrote them [back] at 2 o’clock in the morning because I just couldn’t wait,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep, and I was like, ‘I have to be involved.’ ”

Nova specializes in products that help people with physical challenges or disabilities maintain independence and mobility. In April, two containers donated by Nova left the port of Long Beach with canes, wheelchairs and crutches, along with thousands of items of clothing and canned food donated by the company’s employees. The shipment was expected to arrive this month.

“Thousands of people are dragging themselves around to get from point A to B to try to somehow go on with life, and I have products that are sitting here right now that could change their entire world,” Chen said. She told herself, “I’ve got to get this product over there as soon as possible.”

Working with ‘real heroes’

Tamar was born in a small city in Brazil, where much of her family still lives. She communicates with them through WhatsApp and Telegram — the same technology she uses to talk to doctors in Syria.

Each morning, after working well past midnight, the couple gets up with their kids at around 6:30 a.m.

“I wake up to messages from my family in Brazil and from doctors in Syria,” Tamar said.

Their long nights have begun to pay off for people in Syria. Their first shipment, distributed to 28 hospitals in Idlib and Aleppo, included 200,000 surgical masks, 800,000 pieces of gauze and 150,000 surgical blades.

Each step of the shipping and distribution, from crossing the Turkish border to ripping open boxes in hospitals, is documented carefully at the couple’s request. They also ask doctors to shoot video testimonials about the materials they receive.

“We hope that you continue to support us, as it is impossible for us to get medical supplies as we are trapped here in Idlib,” one doctor, who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons, said on video after receiving supplies from the first shipment.

After a gas attack in April that killed dozens of people, the Kooseds launched an emergency appeal and outfitted hospitals in the war zone with hazmat kits to keep doctors safe as they treated patients who might carry the residue of harmful chemicals.

Two Syrian children embrace in a memorial photograph. Photographs such as these sometimes circulate in Idlib and Aleppo after children die in gas or bomb attacks.

The requests have become more specific and complicated as doctors have grown to trust the couple, and vice versa. The Kooseds have shipped X-ray and electrocardiogram machines, costly medications and a cranial drill for neurosurgery.

Dr. Omar, a neurosurgeon in Idlib who asked that his surname not be used for security reasons, said in an email to the Journal, “The hospital I am working in now has received a lot of the lifesaving medical supplies. These supplies also have been delivered to about 30 hospitals in the area of Idlib province. Philip and I have been working on special orders for brain surgery and other special surgeries, as well.”

In total, the Kooseds have delivered five shipments, with another three en route and two more planned. They estimate their aid has amounted to more than $21 million worth of goods. But the couple still feels that their work is merely a footnote to the heroic daily efforts of the surgeons and other medical staff they work with in Syria.

“We’re trying to help real heroes on the ground and real victims,” Philip said. “That’s all we’re really doing and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel special. It’s something that anyone can do. The first step is just doing something.”

For more information on Save the Syrian Children, go to SavetheSyrianChildren.org

Community puts best foot forward at JWW’s Walk to End Genocide

Jewish World Watch’s Walk to End Genocide participants included Mariya Svilak (fourth from left), part of the Stephen Wise Temple team, and Karina Zysman (far right), a senior at Taft Charter High School and captain of Team Taft. Photo by Ryan Torok

To help raise awareness of efforts to end genocides, approximately 1,000 people participated in the 11th annual Jewish World Watch (JWW) Walk to End Genocide on April 30, starting at Pan Pacific Park.

“It’s one place where everyone comes together,” said Susan Freudenheim, executive director of JWW. “It’s a community event where people of all denominations and across the board — churches and other groups — come together.”

Indeed, clergy, synagogue members, high school students and elected officials, many wearing T-shirts that read, “This is what activism looks like,” covered 5 kilometers on streets neighboring The Grove and the Original Farmers Market.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books,” Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer said in an interview. “Genocide is something happening right now.”

Beyond the Holocaust, during which the Nazis systematically targeted European Jewry for extinction, other groups have suffered genocide, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines as “violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.”

A Jewish lawyer from what is now Belarus, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term “genocide” in 1944. Genocides have occurred against Armenians in 1915, Cambodians in 1975, Rwandans in 1994 and Sudanese in the early years of this century.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books.” — Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer

Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, director of youth learning and engagement at Temple Beth Am, said the walk would not prevent killings in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, or Syria, which has endured civil war since 2011. Raising awareness about those countries, however, is important, Hoffman said.

“You don’t walk because it ends genocide,” he said, joined by his daughter, Mina, 10, at the event. “You walk to raise awareness that genocide is a real thing that exists today.”

Jordana Olszewski, who owns a jewelry company called Jordana Adrienne, participated as a member of Team Ohr HaTorah, named for a synagogue in Mar Vista. She started the day at 8 a.m., running in a 10K race that kicked off the event.

“I’m tired, but it’s all right, it’s great,” she said, as she completed the event. “All these different synagogues and organizations coming together, it’s really nice.” Moments later, she picked up a bongo drum and banged away as part of a drum circle drawing people of all ages.

Headquartered in Encino, JWW is focused on ending genocide by partnering with groups working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan.

In 2004, the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis co-founded the organization with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, on the premise that Jews have a responsibility to prevent another Holocaust from happening, whether the victims are Jewish or not.

Schulweis delivered a 2004 High Holy Days sermon titled “Globalism and Judaism,” in which he declared, “To be a Jew is to think big; to be a Jew is to think globally; to be a Jew is to act globally; to be a Jew is to love God, who is global.”

At the walk, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz attempted to uphold the JWW co-founder’s mission.

“ ‘Never again’ does not just mean for Jews,” he said, wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. “We all have to fight genocide in any way we can.”

Freudenheim said the organization has expanded its work to include assistance for refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war.

“We’ve also been working on trying to help the Syrian refugees who are in Greece, in Lesbos, by providing help to support the psychological aspects of their residency, to give them psychological support,” she said.

Additional JWW Walk to End Genocide events took place this year in Washington, D.C., and Santa Rosa and the Conejo Valley in California.  Altogether, the four events raised more than $180,000.

Karina Zysman, 18, a senior at Taft Charter High School planning to attend UCLA this fall, is secretary of the JWW Teen Ambassador Program, which instills community organizing and advocacy skills in students grades 9-12.

As captain of Team Taft and participating in her first Walk to End Genocide, she carried a sign reading, “Welcome Refugees.”

“The first step to making a change is to show up,” she said. “I am so astonished by how many people did show up for this cause. It inspires me to have hope, using baby steps to change the world for the better.”

Calendar: March 31-April 6

A still from “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.” Photo courtesy of iinsearchofisraelicuisine.com



“In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” a documentary directed by Roger Sherman, is a portrait of the Israeli people told through food. Profiles include chefs, home cooks, farmers, vintners and cheese-makers from more than 100 cultures in Israel, such as Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian and Druze. The film’s guide, Michael Solomonov, is the James Beard award-winning chef-owner of Zahav in Philadelphia, and other restaurants. Laemmle Royal Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. laemmle.com.


Join other young professionals living and working in the San Fernando Valley for a meal and an opportunity to learn more about The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles from hosts Karen and Mark Getelman. 7 p.m. $18. Private home in Tarzana; address provided upon RSVP. RSVP to kacole@jewishla.org or (818) 668-2349. yala.org.



cal-kayeIs it possible to prevent genocide and mass atrocities? How can you become a change-maker in your community? Explore these questions and more at this weekend-long conference featuring panels of experts, film screenings and advocacy workshops that begins April 1. Speakers include: keynote speaker David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and director of the International Justice Clinic at UC Irvine; Mike Brand, director of advocacy and programs at Jewish World Watch; Mac Hamilton, ‎executive manager at STAND (a student-led movement to end mass atrocities); Savannah Wooten, student director at STAND; and David Estrin, founding director of Together We Remember. Presented by Jewish World Watch and STAND. 9 a.m. Saturday; 9:30 a.m. Sunday. $35; $15 for students. USC, Los Angeles. jww.org.



Adat Shalom and the Violet Harris Fund presents “When Do We Eat?” a 2005 film about an out-of-control Passover seder. Enjoy this screening and discussion with director Salvador Litvak. 7 p.m. $5 with reservation; $10 at the door. RSVP to (310) 475-4985. Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. adatshalomla.org.


Join a 1-mile walk of solidarity  with neighbors, friends and colleagues of various beliefs and houses of worship, including the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Help lead the way toward peace and unity as you stand in support of everyone’s right to worship freely and to live peacefully. 1 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, contact the Institute for Religious Tolerance, Peace and Justice at  interfaithmarchla@gmail.com or (323) 454-0557. instituteforreligioustolerance.org.


This movie tells the story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who served as vice-counsel in the Japanese consulate in Lithuania during World War ll. He disobeyed government orders and issued visas to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. It is estimated that Sugihara saved 6,000 Jews. 1 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101. adatelohim.org.


Follow in Moses’ footsteps to fight human trafficking. Actors will perform stories of survivors, and participants will learn what they can do to take action. 3:30 p.m. $5 suggested donation at the door. National Council of Jewish Women LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8514. ncjwla.org.


Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) is taking senior citizens to the prom. Volunteer and boogie down with bubbe while giving seniors an event to remember. 1 p.m. Free. Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. yala.org.


Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, Orthodox woman clergymember of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, will discuss “Changing Roles of Women in the Modern Orthodox World” at Westwood Village Synagogue. Q-and-A to follow presentation. 6:30 p.m. Free; RSVP to eventswvs@gmail.com. Westwood Village Synagogue, 1148 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. westwoodvalleysynagogue.org.



Christine Hayes from Yale University will explore two radically distinct ideas of divine law that emerged in late antiquity: Greek natural law, grounded in reason, and biblical law, grounded in revelation. Hayes will discuss the lasting impact of both and talk about the diverse ways that ancient Jews resolved this conflict. Moderated by Carol Bakhos from UCLA. 4 p.m. Free. RSVP to cjsrsvp@humnet.ucla.edu. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327. cjs.ucla.edu.


Join Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA)’s Wine Cluster in a tasting journey through France’s Rhone Valley, home to some of the country’s best wines. Enjoy a tasting of four wines while meeting new friends and learning about wine. 8 p.m. $25; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Vinoteque, 7469 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. yala.org.



pas-Joan Nathan (c) Gabriela HermanKing Solomon is said to have sent ships around the world, initiating a mass cross-pollination of culinary cultures. With King Solomon’s appetites in mind, James Beard Award-winner Joan Nathan reveals 170 recipes in her new cookbook that span many eras. Come discover diverse Jewish cuisines. Q-and-A and book signing to follow the program. (Books available for purchase.) 2 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


Enjoy a conversation between James Beard Award-winning Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan and Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold. Book signing to follow. 7:30 p.m. Free. Irmas Campus, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401. wbtla.org/cooking.

Moving and Shaking: Jewish World Watch, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and more

Anti-genocide organization Jewish World Watch (JWW) has named Diana Buckhantz as its new board chair, according to a Jan. 3 announcement by the organization.

Buckhantz, previously JWW’s vice chair, said she was excited about taking on the leadership position.

“I have been involved with nonprofits for over 25 years, and while I have had the privilege of working with other organizations that do extraordinary work on various important issues, there are few whose staff and leadership are as committed to the mission of the organization as those at Jewish World Watch,” Buckhantz said in a statement on the JWW website.

She succeeds David Straus, who steps down after nearly a year of serving as chair. 

In a Jan. 5 statement, JWW Executive Director Susan Freudenheim described Buckhantz as having “deeply committed support of Jewish World Watch.”

Committed to fighting genocide, JWW has gained recognition for its work in far-reaching corners of the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, among others. Recently, the organization has worked to educate the public about the Syrian refugee crisis and to raise funds for agencies offering aid to those impacted by it. 

From left: Cecelie Wizenfeld, director of the Kehillat Mogen David Spivak Educational Center (KMDSEC); KMDSEC founders and honorees Betty and Al Spivak; and Congregation Mogen David Rabbi Gabriel Elias. Photo by Naomi Solomon

The Kehillat Mogen David Spivak Educational Center (KMDSEC) held its inaugural “Gala of Lights” at The Mark For Events on Dec. 29.

The gala honored Al and Betty Spivak, founders of the school, with the Founders Award; board member and supporter Michael Wolf with the Chesed Award; and members of the school’s PTA, President Roneet Aviv and board member Ilana Davidson, with the Hakarat Hatov Award.

KMDSEC is a Jewish day school for children in preschool through third grade. The school is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education and offers both a secular and Judaic studies curriculum.

Ami Kozak, a member of the Los Angeles band Distant Cousins and a parent at the school, served as master of ceremonies.

Its dean and headmaster, Rabbi Gabriel Elias, spiritual leader of Congregation Mogen David, led a lighting of the chanukiyah in celebration of the sixth night of Chanukah.

Comedians Wendy Hammers and Marvin Silbermintz performed. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Photo courtesy of Shmuley Boteach​

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, appearing at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills on Dec. 31, denounced the Obama administration’s decision to have the United States abstain from voting on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which opposes Israeli settlements.

“While over 500,000 of our Arab cousins have been murdered in Syria, the Obama administration believes that the greater threat to stability in the Middle East is the building of Jewish homes and nurseries in Judea and Samaria,” Boteach said during Shabbat and Chanukah services.

Boteach contended that the outgoing administration’s obsession with Israel blinded it to the Syrian genocide and other crimes against humanity taking place across the Middle East.

“We now know that while the Obama administration could have been taking action against the murder of Christians at the hands of ISIS, they were busy drafting this anti-Israel United Nations resolution,” he said.

Boteach said the lessons learned from Chanukah, and the building of homes in Judea and Samaria, showed Jewish commitment to life and peace.

“The Jewish people have endured through centuries because we worship the infinite,” Boteach said. “We dedicate our resources to build and to better our lives, rather than to wage war.”

The rabbi argued that the Jewish people should be vocal about the Security Council resolution, which describes Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories as an illegal obstacle to peace, and that they should hold President Barack Obama accountable for the decision of his administration to abstain, thereby letting the resolution pass.

The approximately 600 audience members included Nessah board members Aaron Kahen and Simon Etehad, and Nessah Chief Rabbi David Shofet.

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

From left: Cedars-Sinai Alumni Association honoree Dr. Howard Allen; concert pianist Marina; Dr. Myles Lee, president of the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra; and cardiologist Dr. Yzhar Charuzi. Photo courtesy of Marina

The Cedars-Sinai Alumni Association dinner on Nov. 30 featured a performance by concert pianist Marina, who was born in Ukraine, raised in Israel and has played for audiences around the world.

 About 200 people attended the event in the Cedars-Sinai Harvey Morse Auditorium on the medical center’s campus. Honored were Cedars-Sinai’s Dr. J. Louis Cohen, medical director of operating room services and surgical director of the kidney transplant program, and Dr. Howard N. Allen. Cohen was named Alumnus of the Year, while Allen “was recognized for his lifetime service and the many cardiology innovations at Cedars-Sinai,” according to a Cedars-Sinai press release.

Participants and attendees included Rabbi Jason Weiner, senior rabbi and manager of Cedars-Sinai’s Spiritual Care Department; Dr. Mehran Khorsandi, president of the Cedars-Sinai Alumni Association; Dr. Yzhar Charuzi, an Israeli cardiologist; and Dr. Myles Lee, president of the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra.

The Cedars-Sinai Alumni Association was founded more than 50 years ago and is committed to maintaining relationships between “past and present medical staff, residents, fellowship candidates” and others, according to the Cedars-Sinai website.

Former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky discusses the 2016 presidential election before a large crowd of young professionals. Photo by Sam Yebri

More than 100 young adults unhappy with the results of the 2016 presidential election turned out on Jan. 10 at a private residence in Beverly Hills for a discussion featuring two Jewish leaders similarly displeased with President-elect Donald Trump.

“I want to remind everybody this guy did not win in a landslide,” retired Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said in reference to Trump. Yaroslavsky appeared with L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield

The organizers of the event were attorneys Jesse Gabriel and Sam Yebri, and public relations professional Jason Levin, a former staff member for Blumenfield. They represented a group of young Jewish leaders in Los Angeles who came together after the November election and decided they wanted to continue to stand in opposition to Trump after their publication in August of a letter in the Journal denouncing the then-Republican nominee.

“It was a group of people, of friends, who felt very strongly about this and decided we had to come together and do something,” Gabriel said in an interview after the 45-minute discussion.

The event raised $15,000 for the Anti-Defamation League, which Gabriel described as being outspoken against hateful rhetoric during the presidential campaign. “I was just so impressed with their willingness to speak out when it mattered most, and I think a lot of the people I was in conversation with felt exactly the same way,” Gabriel said.

Samantha Millman, a board member of the pro bono legal organization Bet Tzedek and a supporter of President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, moderated the discussion.

The evening event began with attendees mingling over wine, cheese and grapes. Among those in the crowd was Elana Horwich, founder of Meal and a Spiel and a Journal contributing writer, who in November canvassed in Nevada on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign. In an interview, Horwich recalled being “traumatized” by the results of the presidential election. “It was traumatic,” she said. “And, on some level, I knew it was coming.”

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

Good-bye to the Jewish Journal, hello Jewish World Watch

I joined the staff of the Jewish Journal in mid-November 2005, a seasoned journalist. I quickly found I’d entered something new, the world of Jewish journalism, which has its own language, structure and, to some degree, its own set of rules. The news story under discussion on my first day was about a much-loved local rabbi who’d died a few days earlier in a solo car crash. There was suspicion that the accident actually had been intentional, and the editors — my new colleagues — were trying to figure out how and what to report without doing damage to the rabbi’s congregation.

What struck me first was that this was a different kind of newsroom conversation, a kinder one: the congregation’s loss felt like our own. And we worried about how its telling might come across to our readers — at that time, the Journal’s reach was mostly local, the web audience very small. By the end of the day we’d decided to tell the full story, which we’d confirmed. I immediately loved the menschy-ness of the process. Our audience, I quickly learned, are our neighbors. We see them in shul, at events, at the store, at the theater. They are stakeholders who will write to tell us what they think — with searing honesty. Knowing our readers is the challenge and the blessing of working here. 

I’ve been an editor at the Journal for nearly 11 years, and I can tell you that if that same delicate story were to arise today, we would again have that same conversation. But our published voice, now amplified by the internet and social media, would today be much louder and our reach much quicker. Even the discussion would be done in shorthand, under more pressure. The advent of Twitter, click-bait media, much more competition, plus a general lowering of civility in the world all influence consideration of how a story affects real life. But we still try to get it right, and we still care.

I’ve loved working at the Jewish Journal; I’ve loved being able to call upon brilliant rabbis, academics, political scientists, communal professionals, attorneys and artists to write for us. I’ve loved that we’re small and scrappy but find ways to get our stories into people’s hands, to grab their imagination, to make them think. I’ve loved editing Dennis Prager one week and Marty Kaplan the next, even if the only thing the two share is love of their common religious faith — and a willingness to send us their copy. I’ve loved prodding Rob Eshman and David Suissa as their editor and colleague. I’ve also loved wandering into their offices to hear them talk amicably about the latest Israel news, despite political differences.

I’ve loved encouraging you, the readers, to share your stories with us — in blogs, personal columns, and analyses; to share news and celebrations and even obituaries for loved ones. When war (or “operations”) broke out in Israel — four times in my years here — our coverage moved quickly beyond traditional reporting to share your on-the-ground feedback: a college kid on Birthright telling of hearing sirens go off while in the shower in a Jerusalem hotel; a rabbi describing a dinner conversation in Tel Aviv the night before; an American mother fearing for a lone-soldier daughter serving in the IDF. 

And I’ve loved our editorial meetings with the dignitaries who come through the Journal’s offices — most recently Israel’s newest consul general, Sam Grundwerg. And the joy of seeing so many young writers grow from novice to pro, perhaps most dramatically Danielle Berrin, who’s matured from Calendar Girl to astute feminist columnist. Plus it has been my great honor to goad our most senior contributor, Tom Tugend, to share nibbles of his extraordinary journey from the Shoah to Sherman Oaks. But, as you can likely tell from my tone here, I’m leaving. This is not just a retrospective Rosh Hashanah column, it’s a fond farewell.

And a hello.

After decades in journalism, I’m ready to move from being an objective arbiter of what is or isn’t news. I want to use my voice for a cause I feel deeply about. In October, I will become the new executive director of Jewish World Watch.

I’ve been following this organization almost since its inception, in 2004, when Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis in his Rosh Hashanah sermon at Valley Beth Shalom told his congregation: “The singular biblical verse which resonates throughout Judaism and world history is the verse in Genesis: Chapter 1, verse 26: God created every human being — man, woman, child — in God’s image. Whatever color, whatever race, whatever ethnicity. God created every human being with Divine potentiality.”

And yet, Schulweis noted, genocide continues in the world, and as Jews, we cannot stand idly by. When I read them later, his words touched me deeply, as they did so many others. With that sermon, Rabbi Schulweis established a new Jewish voice to advocate for the most vulnerable peoples: Jewish World Watch. And he named a co-founder, Janice Kamenir- Reznik, who continues to help sustain what is now a thriving nonprofit with a board, staff and a host of volunteers answering the now-deceased rabbi’s call to educate the public about mass human atrocities in the world today, to advocate among government officials for concrete policies to help the victims and to effect real change on their behalf. Jewish World Watch also raises money to fund relief and education projects for the afflicted — currently in Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but with plans to expand to help the Syrian refugees.

As the organization has grown, so has my interest — from the sidelines until recently, when I was offered the opportunity to step in and help Jewish World Watch stride forward. From here on I will be working alongside the board and staff, seeking your support and hoping to involve you in fulfilling our mission. At Jewish World Watch, we will continue to raise our voice on behalf of God’s children, even if they live a world away.

This was Rabbi Schulweis’ vision, and I am proud to assume this portion of his great mantle.

Shanah tovah. May this be a sweet and peaceful year for us all.

Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of the Jewish Journal.

Moving and shaking: JBBBSLA, Janice Kamenir-Reznik steps down and more

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) CEO Randy Schwab appeared at the organization’s centennial at the Petersen Automotive Museum on Feb. 4, dressed appropriately for the venue by wearing a jacket once donned by Hollywood icon Steve McQueen.

The event raised more than $650,000, according to Laurie Feldman, vice president of development at JBBBSLA; drew 470 attendees, including JBBBSLA Board Chairman Brian Appel; and honored 2016 Big Brother of the Year Aaron Cohen, Big Sister of the Year Tanya Rabie and JBBBSLA board member Daniel Dworsky, who accepted the organization’s Legacy Award.

The honorees each boast longstanding commitments to the organization, which, according to its website, oversees Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, a residential camp and retreat center in Glendale. It runs “community-based mentoring programs, offers college scholarships” and more.

Dworsky, an architect, joined the JBBBSLA board of directors in 1994; JBBBSLA board secretary Cohen became a Big Brother in 2006; and Rabie, who became involved in 2009, remains close with the then-9-year-old she was paired with upon beginning work with the organization.

According to a press release, the event celebrated “the past 100 years and envision[s] the next century of helping children and young adults in the Los Angeles community.”

The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys honored Lisa Feldman with the Professional of the Year Award and Josh Pais with the Volunteer of the Year Award, on Jan. 10, at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC).

From left: Former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Weizmann Day School Head of School Lisa Feldman and Jason Moss, executive director at the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys. Photo by Debrah Lemmatre 

Feldman is head of school at Weizmann Day School, a Jewish day school in Pasadena, and Pais has been active in the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys. Both honorees are members of PJTC, a Conservative congregation in Pasadena.

The event also marked the installation of the Federation’s newest board members and governors, with outgoing Federation President Stuart Miller discussing the “State of the Jewish Federation,” according to jewishsgpv.org. Marcia Alper became president on Jan. 10. 

Additionally, event keynote speaker and former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky presented a talk titled “Reflections on 40 Years in L.A. Local Government.”

Although it was not a fundraiser, the event garnered $1,284 in donations for Weizmann Day School and more than $2,500 for the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys. The amount of funds raised for the PJTC Sisterhood was not immediately available. 

A total of 170 people turned out for the gathering.

The event also honored Gabrielino High School senior and Temple Beth David member Benjamin Schwartz, 17, with the Kimberly Dawn Ellis Memorial Scholarship Award, presented to him by Jason Moss, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys.

Nolan Lebovitz has been named rabbi at Conservative Westwood congregation Adat Shalom. He has been serving as the congregation’s rabbinic intern and sole spiritual leader since Sept. 1, 2015. 

Adat Shalom Synagogue's Nolan Lebovitz. Photo courtesy of Nolan Lebovitz

His upgraded and expanded role will become official June 15, and he begins in the role on July 1.

“With much gratitude, I have accepted the position of rabbi at Adat Shalom Synagogue in West L.A. My family and I felt the synagogue’s warmth and love from our first Shabbat here. … I look forward to serving the community for years to come,” he said in an email to the Journal.

Lebovitz, who is from Chicago, is a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University. His ordination will take place May 16. He previously served as an intern at Sinai Temple and, perhaps unusual for a rabbi, is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, formerly USC School of Cinema-Television. He is the creator of the documentary film “Roadmap Genesis.” 

Jewish World Watch (JWW) President Janice Kamenir-Reznik announced plans on Feb. 8 to step down from her leadership position with the organization devoted to fighting genocide.

“In January, I informed the Board of JWW that I would be stepping down as Board Chair in order to run for [a] California State Senate seat. As many of you know, my heart has been with JWW since I co-founded the organization with the great Rabbi Schulweis (z”l) in 2004. My heart will always remain with JWW,” she said in a statement.

Succeeding her is current JWW board member David Straus, CEO of rights-tracking specialist Critical Mass Studios, according to the announcement.

David Straus. Photo courtesy of David Straus

The organization, led by 21 board members, is undergoing several leadership transitions. Diana Buckhantz, Vaughan Meyer and Zev Yaroslavsky, who are all current board members, “have each agreed to serve as vice-chairs,” according to the statement.

Kamenir-Reznik has led the board for the past 11 years. Under her leadership, JWW has gained recognition for its work in far-reaching corners of the world, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and elsewhere. Recently, the organization has worked to educate the public about the Syrian refugee crisis and raise funds for agencies offering aid to those impacted by the crisis. 

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

Moving and shaking: JWW Global Soul Award, Matisyahu, Netiya and more

Jewish World Watch (JWW) awarded its 2015 Global Soul Award to the Katzburg Gabriel family on Nov. 18 during its annual gala event, held at UCLA Royce Hall.

“We look forward to working with you for the furtherance of this humanitarian mission,” Stuart Gabriel said upon receiving the award. The Katzburg Gabriel family includes Gabriel and wife Judith Katzburg as well as their adult sons, Jesse and Oren Gabriel. According to JWW materials provided to the Journal, Stuart is a longstanding member of the JWW board of directors; Judith is a nurse and health services researcher; Jesse is involved with the organization’s annual Walk to End Genocide; and Oren serves on the board of JWW.

Established by the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis in 2004, JWW aims to prevent mass atrocities in regions including Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere around the world. Recent initiatives include raising funds on behalf of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. 

The evening raised approximately $400,000, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznick, JWW co-founder and president, and drew approximately 400 community members, including Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein and his wife, Nina

The event’s honorary co-chairs included the Feinsteins, Ada and Jim Horwich, Alisa and Kevin Ratner, and May and Richard Ziman.

The evening featured a concert by avant-garde foursome Kronos Quartet and wrapped with a performance by Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron

Reggae artist Matisyahu reaffirmed support for Israel at a Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network gala Nov. 17 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

A Nov. 17 Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network fundraiser at the Skirball Cultural Center drew (from left) performer Matisyahu; Aaron Dugan, Matisyahu’s guitarist; and Larry Hochberg, co-founder and chairman at ELNET, a European Israel advocacy organization. Photo by Ryan Torok  

“Hopefully we can do more to show our support for Israel and our love for Israel,” Matisyahu said, addressing approximately 150 attendees at the evening of cocktails, dinner, live music by Matisyahu, guitarist Aaron Dugan and more.   

The event raised approximately $500,000 for ELNET, according to Jonathan Boyer, director of the California office of Friends of ELNET. 

Matisyahu performed “One Day,” “Jerusalem” and more at the stripped-down concert. Joined by longtime collaborator Dugan, Matisyahu fielded requests from the crowd and told stories between songs. Following his set, he lingered and posed for photographs with audience members, including businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black, Occidental College history professor Maryanne Horowitz and others.

Prior to the performance, Eran Etzion, executive director of the Forum of Strategic Dialogue, delivered a keynote lecture. Spotlighting the European financial crisis, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Syrian refugee crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Paris, he said upheaval in Europe makes the work of ELNET, a European Israel advocacy organization, more necessary than ever.

The organization had a victory this past summer when a music festival in Spain featuring Matisyahu sought a statement of support of the Palestinians from Matisyahu and made his appearance contingent on him doing so. With the help of ELNET, Matisyahu performed as planned without acquiescing to the demands of the festival organizers.

Event committee members were Black; Larry Hochberg and his wife, Sue; Tricia and Tom Corby; Yvette and Eric Edidin; Rhonda and Joseph Feinberg; Ada and Jim Horwich; Eve Kurtin; and Wendy and Ken Ruby.

“We empower pro-Israel Europeans to be effective,”
Hochberg, co-founder and chairman at ELNET, said. “The Matisyahu experience shows what can be done if things are coordinated and focused.” 

A Netiya gardening and education event on Nov. 15 at New Horizon School Pasadena drew 65 attendees from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist communities who together planted 14 fruit trees in an urban orchard, according to Devorah Brous, executive director of Netiya. 

An interfaith gardening event organized by agriculture group Netiya drew (from left) Barbara Williams, Stacey Inal, Cindy Roy, Leigh Adams, Karen Young, Yonathan Levenbach, Devorah Brous, Amira Al-Sarraf, Tahereh Sheerazie, Jane El Farra, Nahid Ansari and Lisa Friedman. Photo courtesy of Netiya  

It was the 15th urban orchard planted by Netiya, according to the Netiya Facebook page. 

Attendees included Amira Al-Sarraf, head of school at New Horizon School, a day school serving the American-Muslim community; the Rev. Jeff Utter of All Paths Divinity School; and others. The two were among those who discussed “mystical traditions around tree planting” prior to the gardening in the orchard, according to the Facebook page. 

Netiya, founded in 2010, is a Jewish network dedicated to advancing urban agriculture in religious institutions, nonprofits and schools across Los Angeles.

A slew of diverse religious leaders, including Temple Ramat Zion Rabbi Ahud Sela, Los Angeles Police Department Chaplain Ken Crawford and others, turned out at a Nov. 23 Thanksgiving-inspired interfaith service at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

From left: Temple Ramat Zion Cantor Daniel Friedman, the Rev. Ramon Valera of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Rev. Joseph Choi of Northridge United Methodist Church, Mufti Ibrahim Qureshi of Islamic Center of Northridge, Temple Ramat Zion Rabbi Ahud Sela, the Rev. Karen Murata of Northridge United Methodist Church and Father David Loftus of Our Lady of Lourdes. Photo by Joe Morchy

In total, the event attracted “over 600 people from all faiths,” according to Michele Nachum, a spokeswoman for Temple Ramat Zion.

Additional participants at the evening gathering included Temple Ramat Zion Cantor Daniel Friedman; Northridge United Methodist Church Senior Pastor the Rev. Joseph Choi and Associate Pastor the Rev. Karen Murata; Islamic Center of Northridge Mufti Ibrahim Qureshi; and Father David Loftus of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School.

Described as an “interfaith service in Northridge to build community and understanding,” the event also featured an interfaith choir composed of members of Temple Ramat Zion, United Methodist Church and Our Lady of Lourdes. Conservative synagogue Temple Ramat Zion participates in an interfaith Thanksgiving event every year.

Article updated Jan. 21, 2016: The Journal mistakenly reported the Friends of ELNET event raised approximately $50,000, not $500,000.

Local groups rally support for Syrian refugees

With the number of Syrian refugees climbing above 4 million, local Jewish organizations are taking note and reaching out.

Jewish World Watch (JWW), whose mission is fighting genocide, recently launched a fundraising campaign that has collected about $10,000 to help fund fully vetted organizations that are aiding refugees, JWW president and co-founder, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, said.

And The Markaz Arts Center for the Greater Middle East, previously known as the Levantine Cultural Center, is organizing an Oct. 10 fundraiser, Soup for Syria, Food and Arts Festival. 

Jordan Elgrably, executive director at The Markaz, said he expects the event to raise $50,000 and to draw around 300 people. 

Kamenir-Reznik said in an Oct. 1 phone interview that images produced by the Syrian refugee crisis of “trapped people overloading train stations and people with nowhere to go” are too reminiscent of the Holocaust to ignore.

“Not only are the metaphors of the Holocaust poignant to us, but people did feel there was an atrocity in the making,” she said. 

The new JWW campaign marks the first time that the Encino-based organization, which was founded in 2004 and focuses the bulk of its work in African countries, has involved itself in the Middle East. 

For Elgrably, the motivation was humanitarianism. The Markaz’s event near downtown Los Angeles will benefit more than “1,000 Syrian refugees, under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Karam Foundation — an American nonprofit that has been working in Syria for nearly a decade,” according to the center’s website.

“We see this as a human crisis, not as an Arab, Jewish-American or Middle Eastern one. … We’re doing it at the Pico Union Project. It’s [musician and producer] Craig Taubman’s place. It’s a synagogue and multicultural interfaith space, and I think it’s a good location for what this is about,” Elgraby said in an Oct. 5 phone interview.

The event borrows its title from Lebanese-American editor Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s 2015 cookbook, “Soup for Syria,” which features contributions from food writer Mark Bittman, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and others. The book will be on sale at the fundraiser, with proceeds from book sales benefiting UNHCR. Other revenues at the event will benefit the Karam Foundation, according to the Markaz website. Meanwhile, Elgrably said singer-songwriter Norah Jones has tentatively agreed to perform at the gathering. 

“This is an opportunity for The Markaz to be on the record doing something for Syrian refugees,” he said.

L.A. Jews for Peace, Muslims for Progressive Values and CodePink are among the organizations sponsoring the event, whose details are available at themarkaz.org.

“I would say Jews are pretty well represented in this effort,” Elgrably said.

Neither JWW nor The Markaz plans on tackling events happening inside of Syria, however.

“We specifically did not agree to mobilize with respect as to what’s going on inside of Syria. … We try to stick to clear-cut situations, to help the most vulnerable,” Kamenir-Reznik said. “It’s not controversial to say these refugees are in a vulnerable situation and, from just a human point-of-view, need assistance and advocacy. We’re not equipped to get involved in a multiparty civil war [that involves] terrorist organizations.”

JWW has posted a message about the crisis on its website (jewishworldwatch.org) and has provided a link where people can donate to the campaign. It has also sent out an email with a message about the campaign to its membership base. 

And while it may not be getting involved in Syria’s internal situation, JWW is demanding that the U.S. increase the number of actual Syrian immigrants allowed into the country, which has committed $4.5 billion in assistance for refugees. President Barack Obama has pledged to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, but that pales in comparison to the 800,000 that Germany has agreed to accept. 

“We don’t think it’s adequate, in light of the enormous amount of refugees being taken in by everybody else,” Kamenir-Reznik said of America’s response.

“That’s the extent of our campaign, that type of advocacy: mobilizing support for people who are in not-so-different circumstances [from what] Jews have been in throughout history, fleeing disaster in their own country and having nowhere to go.”

A new teacher in 5776

This past year, my congregation at Valley Beth Shalom – and the greater Jewish community – lost a giant. Rabbi Harold Schulweis z”l, of blessed memory, was an incredible scholar, a visionary for justice, and an exceptional leader in the deepest sense of the word.  As we move through the High Holidays this year – our first without Rabbi Schulweis – I can’t help but think about him and his legacy.  

Rabbi Schulweis’ sermons during the High Holidays were legendary.  They moved your soul and encouraged you to take action.  I know from personal experience.  Just over a decade ago, the Rabbi spoke to our congregation about the horrifying news of a genocide emerging in Darfur. “Silence is tantamount to complicity,” he said, calling on our congregation to truly live up to the words “Never Again.” Later that year, together we founded Jewish World Watch (JWW) – an organization committed to ending genocide and mass atrocities in our time.

As we built JWW from an organization at a single synagogue into a national coalition that includes schools, churches, individuals, and partner organizations, I learned so much.  And I must admit, since he passed, I have wondered what it would be like this High Holiday season without Rabbi Schulweis here.  Who would my teacher be?

Yet, soon I realized that the Rabbi left me with many teachers.

As co-founder and President of Jewish World Watch, I’ve seen firsthand the power of the human spirit in the thousands of women and men who have rebuilt their lives and communities following devastating atrocities, against all odds. Each of them is an inspired teacher – a reminder of the capacity within each of us to rebuild and renew. 

As I reflect on the last year, one face shines particularly bright. This teacher’s name is Samuel. He is from the Democratic Republic of Congo – a country where an estimated six million people have been killed over the course of a decade of conflict. Raised in an exceptionally violent and turbulent world, Samuel joined a street gang at the age of 15 to survive. He was pick-pocketing and breaking into homes before his 16th birthday.  In 2007, Samuel enrolled in school through a JWW-partner program, Generation Hope, only to go back to the streets a few months later. Two years ago Samuel returned, asking for a second chance.

This time, he flourished. He re-enrolled in classes and began participating in Generation Hope’s after-school activities. Samuel started a leadership club on campus to share what he was learning in the program with his fellow students. Then, he got his Principal involved, encouraging him to learn about another program called Sons of Congo, which teaches men to respect women and protect their rights – a critical effort in a country where sexual violence is rampant, having been used as a weapon of war for many years. The principal was so moved by the Sons of Congo program that he made it school policy for every male faculty member to join. Samuel has sparked something major – the tenacity and vision of a bold teenager has ushered in a new way of thinking about women throughout his entire school.

Samuel could have walked a very different path. Instead, by sheer force of will, he chose to transform his own life, and when he saw that change was possible for himself, he knew that it was within reach for his entire community.  What a blessing for the people of Congo to have Samuel as a leader. What a blessing for us to have him as a teacher.

Jewish World Watch’s work is often met with skepticism. Why should Americans get involved in that mess over there, many ask me? What impact can we really have on the ground, they will often say? Rabbi Schulweis taught me to see through the moral flaws in such an argument – to recognize that if we are able to help support just one Samuel, to save one life, to change one community, then all of our efforts are worth it.

As we move through this season of high holidays, I find great inspiration knowing that the Rabbi’s fervent belief in the power of individuals to fight injustice and make transformational change has been spread to thousands of new teachers across our community – and around the world. May 5776 be the year that we breathe new life into his legacy – to choose the path of hope and justice –refusing to allow our communities to stand idly by as others face genocide and mass atrocities.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the Co-Founder and President of Jewish World Watch – an organization dedicated to fighting genocide and mass atrocities.

Ebola fears should not blind us to compassion … or common sense

Along with Ebola in Africa, there’s been an outbreak of hysteria in Washington.

“The White House should immediately ban travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to contain the spread of Ebola,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said last week. “It’s time for Washington to take action to protect the American people.”

Supporting such a ban, Sen. Rand Paul (R- Ky.) said, “I think because of political correctness we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions on this.”

In fact, it is the ability to make sound, rational and scientific decisions that has flown out the window — along with a sense of compassion.

The Jewish community should speak out forcefully against these calls. They are deeply flawed from a logical point of view, from a public policy point of view and from a moral point of view. The truth is that trying to seal U.S. borders, revoke visas, and ban flights to and from African nations will not protect the American people. In fact, such actions will endanger us further.

The vast and overwhelming majority of America’s leading public health professionals clearly that these isolationist measures would create a range of detrimental unintended consequences, sending the crisis into yet a deeper spiral. A flight ban on West African countries would not stop most people from coming to the United States. It would simply encourage travelers to use more circuitous routes and change planes in other countries, while hiding any contact that they have had with the disease. The challenging work of tracing the spread of Ebola — and preventing outbreaks in the U.S. — would become even more difficult for America’s public health professionals.

Further, a travel ban would make it nearly impossible for U.S. nongovernmental organizations to send aid workers into the stricken regions that are in grave need of assistance to treat the infected and to contain the spread of the disease. Broken health-care systems and a dire shortage of healthcare workers are a major driver of the rapid spread of Ebola. The disease has now claimed more than 4,500 lives; by many estimates, the number of infected people could d present conditions continue. The last thing we want to do is to withdraw from this global crisis.

The best way to safeguard our country — and our values, as Americans and Jews — is to act. As the president of Jewish World Watch (JWW) — an organization dedicated to fighting genocide and mass atrocities, with a major focus on conflicts in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — I often encounter people who say that we should let Africa solve its own problems. This notion is anything but Jewish. Indeed, it is fundamental in the Torah, and we have been taught through the ages, that Jews have a moral duty not only to protect our own but also to repair and steward the world. Through JWW’s work in Africa, I have witnessed directly how engagement and partnership in the world’s most violent, isolated and downtrodden areas, such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, can produce miraculous results — results that lift people out of the depths of despair and save thousands of lives.

Conversely, I have also witnessed how Western complacency and inaction allows small challenges to grow into great catastrophes. From Rwanda to Sudan to Congo, many millions have perished in African “conflicts” that could have been contained if the international community acted earlier and more effectively.

In some ways, this Ebola outbreak is a product of that tragic history. Two of the three countries now devastated by Ebola have been ravaged by war over the past two decades. These recent conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people — and inflicted a major toll on these countries’ ability to build health infrastructure and respond to emergencies.

In Liberia, the health-care system is now teetering on the brink of collapse, with hospitals closing and medical staff fleeing the country. This has left much of the population without access to basic health-care services. As a result, death rates are skyrocketing among patients who do not have Ebola — from pregnant women to people with HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

There is great fear that political instability will follow in the wake of the chaos created by Ebola if and when it spreads across the African continent. As the crisis escalates, I can’t help but think of how it would devastate the many vulnerable communities that I have come to know in Congo, where some progress has been made in working toward peace after decades of war that has claimed the lives of 6 million people. In many communities that JWW supports, the nearest medical care is at least a 10-hour walk away.

Putting our heads in the sand and effectively withdrawing our doctors and humanitarian aid workers would leave many millions even more vulnerable and enable Ebola to continue spreading across Africa, around the world and into the United States. Instead of pulling back, we need a massive investment of resources and an influx of experts into the region to contain the disease before the crisis becomes even more catastrophic. Fighting Ebola will be expensive. But it will be much less destabilizing and much less costly — both in lives and in resources — the sooner the U.S. intervenes on the ground in Africa with all of our might.

The fear that drives so many to isolationism is human. Yet, our planet is too small — our world is too interconnected — to build a wall that shields us from Ebola. As Americans, as Jews, as human beings, now is the time to breathe life into our values — before it is too late. 

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch, an organization committed to combatting genocide and mass atrocities through education, advocacy and direct aid to survivors.

Moving and shaking

Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Freedom School has, in part, the Los Angeles Dodgers to thank for $30,000 it received from businessman Howard Sherwood on June 29.

“For Thirty Home Runs in May,” read a giant replica of a check from Sherwood, awarded during the Dodgers’ Jewish Community Day pregame ceremony.

Every month, Sherwood’s company, Daniel Jewelers, a Southern California-based chain, awards $1,000 to a charity of its choosing for every home run hit by the Dodgers. 

The team hit 30 home runs in May, Sherwood said.

“[It is important to] make your Judaism mean something in terms of what it means to the community,” Sherwood told the Journal during last month’s game at Dodger Stadium. 

Wise’s Freedom School — a partnership between Stephen S. Wise Temple and the Children’s Defense Fund — provides afterschool and summer education to disadvantaged youth, according to childrensdefense.org.

The June ceremony was attended by Wise Freedom School project director Andrea Sonnenberg and Wise social justice coordinator Jennifer Smith at the Dodger Stadium field.

Laurie Bahar, Sherwood’s daughter; Bahar’s husband, Ron; and their son, Sherwood’s grandson, Matthew, a current counselor at Wise Freedom School, also turned out.

Freedom Schools started in the 1960s in Mississippi to educate and empower disenfranchised minority communities.

Community members Barbara Motz, Donna Shapiro, Lauren Schlau, Randi Fett, Terri Grossblatt and Manny Aftergut have been named the presidents of Temple Beth Hillel, University Synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim, Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Judea and Adat Ari El, respectively.

Synagogue presidents and presidents-elect, including several leaders from the Los Angeles area, learned about challenges facing shuls today at the 16th annual Scheidt Seminar in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Union for Reform Judaism 

By all accounts, they’re ready for the challenges ahead. Last April, Motz, Shapiro, Schlau, Fett and Grossblatt participated in the 16th annual Scheidt Seminar in Atlanta, where they received training in how to grapple with the difficult issues facing synagogues today.

“Each year, the Scheidt Seminar [a Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) initiative] provides congregational presidents with the opportunity to learn together and connect with one another,” URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs said in a statement.

Adat Ari El, a Conservative shul, recently hired Michal Lesner as its executive director. Lesner previously served as associate executive director at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and as director of information technology at Stephen S. Wise Temple. 

Individuals from several Jewish organizations and communities have been selected for  Future50, a new Los Angeles-based cohort of emerging faith leaders.

Temple Emanuel Assistant Rabbi Sarah Bassin; Miller Introduction to Judaism Project at American Jewish University director Adam Greenwald; NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change interim executive director Aziza Hasan; Jewish World Watch assistant director Naama Haviv; Yiddishkayt director of development David Levitus; USC Hillel Foundation executive director Bailey London; and Jewish Journal blogger Lia Mandelbaum (“Sacred Intentions”) were among those named to the program, a partnership between the USC Center for Religious Culture and the Interreligious Council of Southern California (IRC).

According to the USC website, Future50 recognizes “just a small sample of the talented individuals [ages 24-35] working in Los Angeles at the intersection of faith, pluralism and social change.” 

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous and other faith leaders serve on the honorary advisory board of the project, which was created to mark the nearly 50-year history of the IRC, which was founded in 1969.

Jewish World Watch (JWW) continues to fulfill its promise to bear witness to the world’s suffering. On May 25, in its staff’s fifth annual visit to Africa, six representatives from JWW traveled to Congo on a 10-day trip to further develop JWW projects providing assistance to the country’s people.

From left: In Kigali, Rwanda, Terri Smooke, Ada Horwich and JWW president Janice Kamenir-Reznik interview a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and a Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre employee. Photo courtesy of Jewish World Watch

Led by JWW co-founder and president Janice Kamenir-Reznik, the group focused on a wide array of projects to help the most vulnerable members of the population, such as rape victims and former child soldiers.

Of the six people traveling in the group, four had never been before. Ada Horwich, Terri Smooke, Ben Breslauer and Irvin Kintaudi, community members interested in getting involved, joined Kamenir-Reznik and JWW assistant director Naama Haviv on the trip.

“After so many trips there, I had gotten used to the chaos and disease and poverty. But having people who had never gone before, I saw everything again through them experiencing it for the first time,” said Kamenir-Reznik, who has been on all of the JWW trips.

The group also visited Rwanda, meeting with survivors of the 1994 genocide and hearing their harrowing tales.

“The first day and a half we spent in Rwanda exploring the Rwandan genocide; it’s the 20th anniversary year. So much of what’s happening in Congo is connected to Rwanda — the same ethnic divides, the same sense of conflict,” Kamenir-Reznik said.

They spent much of their trip working on projects throughout Congo. “We make sure money is being properly spent and that people we think we’re helping, we’re actually helping,” Kamenir-Reznik said.

JWW works on health, education and leadership projects, including one at Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, Congo, where the JWW group made a stop to view the program that helps rape survivors learn a trade and support themselves. The group also visited the village of Momoshu, where they met 50 high-school students who have lost one or both parents in a conflict. JWW pays their high-school tuitions and hopes to help send some of them to college. It also supports leadership programs that “help kids learn English and critical-thinking skills and gives them confidence,” Kamenir-Reznik said.

Another JWW project, Sons of Congo, works on raising consciousness among men about how to treat women respectfully. “We expected about 5,000 men, but now 30,000 men have been part of the project, part of which is to then teach the curriculum in their village,” Kamenir-Reznik said.

In her many visits to Congo, “There have been tremendous changes in the projects we’ve started, and we’ve seen results in them,” she said. “Kids that were 12 years old five years ago are now fully evolved young adults. These are liberated child soldiers and sex slaves. When they first come out of their experience, they are extremely withdrawn, barely able to smile. Now you see really evolved situations where people have created a new life and picked up the pieces.”

The most important thing, Kamenir-Reznik said, is to continue making a difference. “People say it’s just a Band-Aid, but we have been able to stop a lot of bleeding and save a lot of lives,” she said. “Each thing puts a building block in place that will save a lot of lives in the future. It makes you feel very hopeful, with renewed energy and renewed gratitude, instead of depressed. This is the response of conscience to the evil in the world. “

Cora Markowitz, Contributing Writer

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

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis: What do we owe the stranger?

Thirty-six times the Torah talks about caring for the stranger,” Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis said. 

“That is so unusual. It doesn’t talk about the love of God 36 times!” 

A student of two of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century — Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and Martin Buber — Schulweis’ own influence on modern Jewish thought and synagogue life is widely considered to measure up to that of his mentors. He inspired the creation of synagogue chavurot and “para-rabbinics” — a new model of lay-clergy leadership. He broke down many barriers through his progressive views. He was the first rabbi to advocate the acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews into Conservative congregations, and among the first to promote active Jewish outreach to spiritual seekers. Schulweis’ theology is deeply rooted in the biblical idea that the human being bears the image of God. We are, he teaches, the hands of God committed to redeeming the world. 

Last week, Schulweis, now 89, spent a morning with a reporter talking about Passover, sharing his views of what defines a “stranger” and explaining how the commandment “to love a stranger” has defined his own life.

And as he spoke on this day, he pointed repeatedly to a single passage from Deuteronomy (26:13) quoted in a haggadah he helped create for Valley Beth Shalom, the Conservative synagogue in Encino where he has served as spiritual leader since 1970: 

“You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.”

As Schulweis read those lines aloud, he looked up and smiled. “For a Jew to have a slave, according to the law, is to have a master,” he said. 

“Because you cannot allow the slave to sleep on a bed that’s not as good as the one he used to sleep on.” 

The rabbi paused, then lightly pounded the table in front of him with his index finger as he continued: “And I think the Jews don’t know it. So help me, they don’t know it. And if the Jews don’t know it, the Christians don’t know it. People don’t know it.”

The lesson of Passover is compassion, he said. “You have to have concern for the other. And the result of it is self-realization. And, I must say, a great deal of happiness.”

If, at nearly 90, Schulweis is slowing down, it’s only in the mechanisms of his body — his voice no longer bellows and occasionally drops to a whisper; he walks deliberately, stiffly. He admits he is plied full of medications to stave off the heart disease that has troubled him for decades, and, in recent weeks, his name could be found on misheberach lists in synagogues far and wide. 

But as the rabbi sat for 90 minutes for an interview, he never lost steam, and he spoke with eloquence — his ideas tumbling over one another because, as always, he had so much to say — so much in his very full brain that he often got ahead of himself. Dressed in a blue argyle sweater and blue striped shirt, he retained the formality of the rabbi, and, as well, an elegant touch of the informality of a thinking man on a day off.

And there’s nothing age-bound about his thinking. Over decades of reflection, Schulweis has methodically fleshed out an enlightened philosophy based on kindness and social justice that continues to motivate others, young and old. Perhaps most notably today, he is the inspiration for and co-founder, with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a nonprofit aiding and advocating for victims of genocide worldwide, especially in Darfur, Sudan and Congo. Since Schulweis introduced his idea for JWW in a Rosh Hashanah sermon in 2004, the organization has grown to become a coalition of some 70 synagogues, churches, schools and other groups, with many hundreds of additional contributing organizations and individuals, according to Kamenir-Reznik. To date, JWW has raised about $12.5 million to support its efforts to end genocide.

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis and Sidney Orel from Valley Beth Shalom at a Jewish World Watch march.

The organization is run by a staff led by Kamenir-Reznik, full-time volunteer president, and Michael Lieb Jeser as executive director, yet Schulweis remains fully engaged with its mission and said with absolute certainty that on April 27 he will attend JWW’s annual Los Angeles march in Pan Pacific Park, where, he said with considerable pride, he will be joined by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

Should anyone question this rabbi’s stamina, Schulweis also said he is already writing his 5775 High Holy Days sermons.

A pulpit rabbi for 65 years, 45 of them at Valley Beth Shalom, Schulweis is the author of innumerable articles and seven books, notably, “Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey” (Jewish Lights Publishing), which won the 2008 National Jewish Book Award: Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice.  His many sermons and articles are archived by the Schulweis Institute created in his honor, and can be found at schulweisinstitute.org.

His vision, he said, is centered on the ethical obligation to take care of “the widow, the oppressed, the pariah, the very vulnerable — because we were once slaves” — the message of Passover.

Schulweis’ focus on man’s obligation to the “other” and, concurrently, the psychology of the altruistic impulse, began in earnest in the early 1960s, while he was serving as a young rabbi in Oakland. He was moved, in particular, by a single Holocaust story very different from the era’s predominant focus on how horribly Jews had been treated.

A man named Jacob Gilat, an accomplished Israeli scientist, came to visit the rabbi and told him of how, as a boy, Gilat and his two brothers had been hidden for three years from the Nazis by a Polish Christian family, the Roslans. When the brothers contracted scarlet fever, the Roslans divided up their own medications and shared them, and they even smuggled one of the boys into a Warsaw hospital that had “no place for a Jewish kid.” Schulweis learned of how the Roslans hid young Jacob inside the stuffing of a sofa, and when the Nazis came looking for Jews, the Roslans got the soldiers so drunk they forgot why they’d come.

Hearing these stories, Schulweis began to wonder whether other non-Jews had risked their own lives on behalf of Jews. “Were there any good gentiles?” he remembers thinking. In 1962, he traveled to Germany to meet Christian clergy members who had disobeyed both the church and their government to aid Jews. There, he met Pastor Henrich Gruber of Berlin-Klausendorf. 

In a conversation Schulweis describes in “Conscience,” Gruber shared his belief that if German priests and pastors had protested en masse, “The fate of your people would be altogether different …”

Nevertheless, Schulweis did not focus on the regrets, but rather on those who did help. He found that the “good” ones even included some overt anti-Semites, who, faced one-on-one with vulnerable Jews, protected those strangers from the Nazi death camps at great risk to themselves. “That really drove me nuts,” Schulweis remarked.

To acknowledge such altruism, Schulweis, in 1986, created The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous to support non-Jews who had rescued Jews. He did so, as well, so Jews would see and recognize role models outside the Jewish community. He felt Jews needed to move beyond seeing themselves as victims. And he noted that he was not alone in this: Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, after witnessing so much horrific testimony during the trial in Israel of Nazi mass-murderer Adolf Eichmann, worried that such stories of the world’s abandonment would leave all Jews in despair. As a result, in 1961, Ben-Gurion instructed the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem to find 24 non-Jews who had rescued Jews during the Shoah, and to create the garden in their memory that would become the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.

“Who is the hero?” Schulweis asked last week, quoting the talmudic source Pirke D’rabbi Natan. “He who can make out of an enemy a friend.” 

“Blacks need white heroes,” Schulweis continued. “And Arabs need Israeli heroes. The heroes -— my heroes — are from the other side.”  

Decades later, this same fundamental desire to love the stranger led Schulweis to create Jewish World Watch, to fulfill a pledge to prevent all future genocides after World War II. “Never again,” words so profoundly spoken after the release of the Jews from the Buchenwald concentration camp, had become an unmet promise, Schulweis said, citing Barbara Harff, a historian of modern genocide, who has found that nearly 50 cases of genocide/politicide have occurred since the end of the Holocaust. 

“Never again,” Schulweis repeated, “it’s a lie.” 

He said he wanted to transform Jews from feeling like victims into “rescuers.” He wanted to reverse the lie through prevention. And he did not know, as he gave his Rosh Hashanah sermon in 2004, whether others would join him. His wife, Malkah, warned him that many would not. He certainly did not expect the outpouring of support that would follow. “I thought it would be a failure,” he said.

But he went ahead with it for a motive that is both personal and simple: “When my people ask me, ‘Why are you Jewish?’ I want an answer I can be proud of,” he said. 

And while he and his organizations have not succeeded in fully preventing world genocide, he can say that he has helped the world to take notice and not “stand idly by.”

“I’ve been a rabbi for a very long time,” Schulweis said as the meeting ended. “I’ve written a number of books, and that’s very satisfying. It really is.” 

But, he said, nothing has been as satisfying as the realization of Jewish World Watch and his work with the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

“It’s made my life.”

The Mensch List: She has tzedakah in the bag

Maya Steinberg, 17, never imagined that Purses for Peace, the bat mitzvah project she started when she was 12, would be so successful.

Yet, by reselling used handbags to raise funds for Jewish World Watch (JWW) she has raised $15,000 for the Encino-based organization. And hearing Steinberg — a senior at Beverly Hills High School — talk about it, it’s not hard to see why the project has flourished.

“I feel very passionate about helping others and making a difference, and I also love fashion; it’s so fun,” she said in a recent interview. “I really think Purses for Peace is the best of both worlds for me.”

The money supports JWW’s Solar Cooker Project, a flagship program of the anti-genocide organization. 

The Solar Cooker Project provides women confined to refugee camps in central Africa with the tools to build solar cookers so they don’t have to leave the safety of the camps to search for firewood, risking rape and even death from pillaging terrorists, according to JWW’s Web site.

Steinberg said it was the Jewish concept of l’dor v’dor (passing on tradition from one generation to the next) and tzedakah (charitable giving) that inspired her when she was preparing for her bat mitzvah. She raised $3,000 from her first sale of purses, which she held at her parents’ home in Beverly Hills. Highlights included one customer paying $250 for an alligator-skin bag. The sale went well, and she knew the cause was important, so she decided to keep it going.

“I was just, like, ‘Wow, this is so exciting. This is something I would love to continue doing because it’s fun and making such a great impact,’ ” she said.

But before the used bags are turned into solar-cooking gold, several steps must be undertaken. She has to continually replenish her inventory of handbags, which she says often come from relatives, family friends and members of Stephen S. Wise Temple, the synagogue her family attends. She cleans each bag, and then seeks out opportunities to sell them. This last task has not presented too much difficulty for Steinberg — she has brought her purses everywhere, including JWW’s annual Walk to End Genocide, among other events. 

Janice Kamenir-Reznik, president of JWW, praised Steinberg for becoming engaged with serious subject matter at such a young age. 

What does the future hold for the project? Next year, Steinberg will enter college, but she is working with JWW to find other teens to continue the project.

In addition to fashion, Steinberg said she is interested in travel. Africa, of course, is high on the list of places she’d like to visit.

Moving and Shaking: JWW presents Survivors’ Legacy Award, TBH hosts Feed the Hungry Feast

From left: Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW president and co-founder; JWW honoree Mukesh Kapila; Rabbi Harold Schulweis, JWW co-founder; and Michael Jeser, JWW executive director. Photo by  Brian Swann

Jewish World Watch (JWW) presented its Survivors’ Legacy Award — which recognizes activists who honor the legacy of the Holocaust by responding to genocide wherever it occurs — to the Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy on Nov. 17.

Receiving the organization’s I Witness Award that same day was Mukesh Kapila, a Darfur genocide whistleblower and former United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Sudan. He was one of the first public figures to bring international awareness to the Darfur genocide of 2003.

In giving the Survivors’ Legacy Award to the Pressman Academy, JWW highlighted student participation in the organization’s annual Walk to End Genocide, its work to pressure elected officials to take action against mass killings overseas, fundraising and more. 

Over the last seven years, Pressman, which is affiliated with Temple Beth Am and the Conservative day school movement, has raised more than $32,000 for JWW with its annual Jump for Darfur campaign. Pressman alumna Michelle Hirschorn, who was also honored, started the campaign when she was in fourth grade at Pressman.

The I Witness Award “recognizes leaders who have made contributions to the fight against genocide by raising awareness and spurring activism,” according to a JWW statement. During the event, held at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, the congregation’s Rabbi Zoë Klein interviewed Kapila. The U.K.-based diplomatic figure, author and university professor discussed his experience serving in the United Nations and speaking out about the crimes in Sudan, despite the pushback from the then-members of the Sudanese government. 

More than 200 attendees turned out for the event. From JWW, there was Janice Kamenir-Reznik, president and co-founder; Rabbi Harold Schulweis, co-founder; and Michael Jeser, executive director. Students and administrators from Pressman Academy were present as well. They included Pressman’s Rav Beit Sefer (head school rabbi), Chaim Tureff, middle school principal Inez Tiger, interim head of school Rabbi Joel Rembaum and Judaic studies principal Jill Linder.

Founded in 2004, the San Fernando Valley-based JWW describes itself on its Web site as a “leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities,” with a focus on the “ongoing crises in Sudan and eastern Congo.”

Guests enjoy a holiday meal at the 13th annual Temple Beth Hillel Feed the Hungry Thanksgiving Feast outdoors on the temple campus. Photo courtesy of Temple Beth Hillel

Valley Village synagogue Temple Beth Hillel (TBH) fed more than 800 needy people, including the homeless, seniors and mentally ill individuals, during its 13th annual Thanksgiving Day Feed the Hungry Feast on Nov. 28.

“It was nice to see our community come together,” TBH Senior Rabbi Sarah Hronsky said.

The annual event took place in the synagogue’s parking lot and drew more than 200 volunteers on Thanksgiving Day. They helped with cooking, hosting and waiting tables at a gathering that featured restaurant-style service. Volunteers also helped with delivering meals to those in need.

Additional volunteers came from Muslims for Progressive Values, whose Web site indicates that its goal is to be a voice for “human dignity, egalitarianism, compassion and social justice.”

 Hronsky emphasized the need for free holiday meals such as these, noting that a line of hungry people formed around the block prior to the event. The Reform congregation open its doors early to accommodate the crowd.

Preparation took place over the course of several days, with temple members cooking more than 1,000 pounds of turkey, 250 pounds of cornbread stuffing and 400 pounds of vegetables, as well as apple cobbler and other items.

Organizers included the temple’s Brotherhood and Women of TBH clubs, as well as congregant and professional caterer Scott Tessler. A presentation honored Tessler’s longtime involvement with the event.

Repairing our broken world: Stories from the Congo

A mother of five was robbed and raped by a village pastor; when her husband heard of the rape he abandoned the family, as did the victim’s parents.  A nurse who works in a hospital specializing in the care of rape victims was abducted, assaulted and left for dead, probably as part of a  campaign to intimidate the hospital's medical director who has become a global advocate against the rape of Congo’s women and who himself was the target of a recent assassination attempt.  A 14 year old boy was heroically retrieved from the jungle, having been forced into militia service since his abduction some seven years ago; after spending every day for the past seven years killing with his AK47, he is hoping to reunite with his family, be accepted back into his village and just be allowed to “live in peace”.  Nine female babies were raped by bayonets — two died and the other six are fighting to survive.

These are just a few of the stories I heard and the people I met this week on my fourth visit in as many years for Jewish World Watch (JWW) to the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I am currently at the airport in Goma waiting for the plane that will take me on the first leg of my 36-hour journey back home to Los Angeles.  My head is spinning with thoughts and feelings about what I witnessed this week.  The stories are almost unbearable to hear, and the extent of the depravity and barbarism shock me anew with every visit.

As I sit and listen to the horrible stories and wonder how human beings can commit such vile acts, I always find myself remembering Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis’ words—“Godliness is found in the response to evil.” If that is the case, as ironic as it might sound when referring to one of the most violent places on earth, Godliness abounds in Congo.  The most amazing work being done in Congo is being done by a panoply of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), some of them founded and run by local Congolese, and others run by international non-profits.  JWW has found its partners here, mostly with local organizations, with the exception of our partnership with International Medical Corps with whom we just completed building the Chambucha Rape and Trauma Center. (more below).

[Related: Violence in Eastern Congo is our problem]

Since my first trip to Congo, I have seen important changes in the nature of the services provided by our partner NGOs.  Where once the programs were limited to relief and service, they now include components addressing the core societal issues — the cultural values and social mores — that lie behind the conflict plaguing Congo.  It is a tall order to produce change in a country that is essentially a failed state; Congo is teeming with corruption; it is continuously being invaded by foreign militias nad has a military that arms but does not train or pay its soldiers. It also has huge a huge problem of gender inequity, which leads to horrific violence against women.  But, those who are bravely taking the first steps towards addressing Congo’s complex problems must be supported, or the chances of their success will be severely thwarted. 

Women survivors of gbv at Chambucha

This past week our JWW team visited 11 different projects. One of them is a series of local gender-based-violence community leadership councils through which local leaders, with the counsel of skilled staff, are charged with addressing the violence against women, the attitudes towards rape victims and the overall issue of severe gender imbalance in their communities.

We met with all of the members of one of the local councils; many of the council members shared stories of very personal transformations, such as the admission by one of the men that he was shocked to learn during a council session that forcing his wife to have sex was a form of rape.  This notion had never occurred to him, and he vowed to stop that practice.   

At a transit house for liberated child soldiers and sex slaves, we met with a young woman, Maryam, 22, whom I had met on a prior visit, several years ago, not long after her liberation. When we first met, Maryam spoke almost inaudibly, never making eye contact; I remember her telling me of her dream to become a lawyer so she could help to develop a system of accountability in Congo by advocating for other girls who had been abused like her.  This past week I cried when Maryam told me that thanks to this amazing organization in Bukavu, which housed her (and her daughter of rape) and which paid for her education, she is now almost finished with law school and is looking forward to studying for their equivalent of our bar exam.  She plans to work for one of several NGOs that are trying to have rape victims testify in court despite the grave dangers associated with doing so.

One key purpose of my current JWW trip, which I took with fellow board members Diana Buckhantz and Diane Kabat, was to help dedicate our largest and newest project in Congo, the Chambucha Rape and Trauma Center.  The Chambucha Center is located in a very remote village, which required a treacherous four-hour drive each way from Bukavu that we had to complete in one day due to security concerns in the region.    JWW built the center, which serves a regional population of 29,000 women, in partnership with International Medical Corp, and the Center not only provides all forms of rape trauma care, including surgical repair of fistula, and contains a well-equipped maternity ward, it also houses a comprehensive gender-based violence clinic that offers women's economic and social empowerment programs.  The Center has instituted programs designed for the entire population of the region that are intended to shift cultural mores away from violence against women and towards gender equality.  The quality and scope of services provided at the Chambucha Medical Center makes it the finest of any rurally based medical facility in all of Congo.

The Chambucha Women's rape and trauma center

Congo is a country that must emerge after hundreds of years of exploitation by foreign as well as domestic powers. For years, King Leopold of Belgium held Congo as his own private property, depleting the country of its massive rubber resources and murdering millions. Since independence in 1960, Congo has endured a succession of either cruel or weak — but always corrupt and kleptocratic — heads of state.  The countries surrounding Congo, most notably Uganda and Rwanda, have invaded eastern Congo, raping, murdering and pillaging, as their proxy armies continue to steal Congo’s minerals. Minerals that, by all rights, should have made Congo one of the richest countries in the world.  Against this backdrop, are Congo's women and children, who have been targeted by all of the various militias, factions, power seekers, and authorities at all levels, for the greatest abuse and exploitation.  Human Rights Watch has repeatedly named Congo the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman.

[Related: New violence in the Congo: Having a conscience means working overtime]

The problems are extreme in Congo, and the solutions are complex and will take years to achieve.  The work Jewish World Watch and others are undertaking in Congo is a critical part of the tapestry of services and funders making a significant impact towards planting seeds of justice and reform.  What makes our work truly unique is that via Jewish World Watch, the voice of the Los Angeles Jewish Community is also making a resounding impact in Washington D.C.  The recent appointment of former Senator Russ Feingold as the new U.S. special representative for the ongoing crisis in Congo, is just one example of the impact of our advocacy, and a victory for which our community can claim partial credit.

As I board my plane, I am thinking about all of the people I met this past week and about their sad and painful stories — the babies and the nurse recovering from last week’s brutality, the young teen just liberated from years of forced “service”, and the hundreds of others who have similarly suffered.  Rather than feeling overwhelmed by their painful stories, I rely on the ancient wisdom of the Talmud, which teaches us that we are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it (Pirke Avot 2:21).  Together we will perform the other ancient mandate– to repair our broken world.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is coFounder and president of Jewish World Watch (JWW), which fights against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW’s work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice is currently traveling along with fellow JWW Board Members Diana Buckhantz and Diane Kabat to Congo’s eastern provinces to meet with JWW’s on-the-ground project partners, to participate in the dedication of JWW’s Chambucha Rape and Crisis Center, and to work with survivors of Congo’s decades-long conflict to build innovative new partnerships and projects.

A ‘walk’ to remember

With African drumming and a chorus of shofars, more than 2,000 people in purple T-shirts reading “I walk to tip the scales” gathered in Pan Pacific Park on April 14 to call attention to global injustice.

Under overcast skies, the seventh annual Walk to End Genocide raised more than $200,000 and was sponsored by the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW). 

 “I just think it’s a fantastic cause, and it’s the sort of thing that I don’t feel like I’m educated enough about,” said Joe Holt, who took part in the walk for the first time. 

JWW was founded in Southern California in 2004 to fight genocide and mass atrocities. It is a coalition of more than 70 synagogues of all denominations, as well as individuals, schools, churches and other partner organizations. 

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jared Sichel

Currently, JWW focuses on the ongoing conflict in Sudan, which has claimed the lives of 400,000 in the Darfur region, and on the mass murders and rapes occurring in eastern Congo, where millions of civilians have perished from war-related violence, disease and hunger over the last 15 years.

Prior to the 5k walk, which took place along the streets near the Beverly Boulevard park, a number of people spoke about genocide from personal experience.

Julia Juliama, who was born in Sudan, came to America via Egypt on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was 7 years old. She and her immediate family were able to escape, but she spoke of how many of her relatives weren’t so lucky.

“My grandparents and all of my extended family still lives in the Nuba Mountains,” Juliama told the crowd. “There [are] bombings every day, and my relatives are hiding in caves.”

Helen Freeman, a 92-year-old woman who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and now works with JWW to raise public awareness about genocide, said she doesn’t want history to repeat itself.

“I don’t want any other teenager [to] go through what I did as a teen in Poland,” Freeman said. “[Youth] will carry on my message to speak up and fight intolerance and hatred, to prevent future holocausts and stop genocide whenever it occurs.”

Funds raised by the event will be used for education, advocacy and on-the-ground relief projects for survivors in Congo and Sudan, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW’s president and co-founder with Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Since its creation, JWW has raised more than $11 million. 

One of its initiatives is the Solar Cooker Project. The concept behind the project is basic — harness the sun’s energy to provide heat for cooking. The result, though, is deeply impactful. Many women in Darfur and surrounding refugee camps in neighboring Chad leave themselves vulnerable to abduction, rape and murder when they leave their camps to gather firewood. The solar cooker is able to reduce the amount of firewood needed and already has been distributed in four Chadian refugee camps. A 2007 study done on the effectiveness of the cookers in the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad showed that trips outside the camp to gather firewood were reduced by 86 percent.

Framing JWW’s fight against genocide with the biblical commandment to “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” Kamenir-Reznik believes that the walk keeps the ongoing conflicts in Africa in people’s minds.

“Without activism, a cause gets lost,” Kamenir-Reznik told the Journal. “One of the main objectives of this walk is to ensure that the cause of the Darfur survivors and of the victims in eastern Congo does not get lost in the shuffle of the busy-ness of everybody’s lives.”

Juliama reminded the participants why they came. “We, with our will, intellect and passion, can walk to end genocide step by step,” she  said. “So let’s take the first step.”

‘Because You Suffer…’

There was a moment that took place last week in this community that, if you didn’t witness it, you need to hear about it.

It happened Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, at a benefit for Jewish World Watch honoring outgoing Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

About 400 people attended the event, which started with a buffet in the courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Because both Zev, as everyone calls him, and Jewish World Watch (JWW) work in far-flung worlds, the attendees included movers and shakers in civic politics and philanthropy, as well as members of the international aid organization and a colorful group of artists and musicians. The event’s impresario, Craig Taubman, called the night “Global Soul.” The crowd looked like L.A., which is to say like the world.

We moved into the Bing Theater. There were musical performances and speeches, including a bit of both by Zev’s longtime friend Theodore Bikel. A video of Zev, charting his course from UCLA firebrand to Soviet Jewry activist to elected official, was screened. And Zev himself spoke movingly about why JWW’s work against genocide in Darfur and the Congo compelled him to agree, for the first time, to be so honored.

But the moment I’m referring to came when Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino rose to speak. Rabbi Schulweis, who will be 88 next month, has been ailing lately, and this was a rare public appearance. In his dark suit and tie, he looked more fragile than I had seen him, but less than I expected.

The rabbi shook off those who tried to help him to the podium. And when he spoke, he was back. His voice rang out deep, gravelly, prophetic. Here’s what Rabbi Schulweis said:

When Cain killed Abel, the Bible recorded it as the first murder in history. But the rabbis commented, “No, more than a single murder is involved.” Cain’s murder opened the jaws of genocide. For when Cain killed Abel, it wasn’t Abel alone that died. It was Abel’s posterity, his potential progeny — those unborn, unlived, unrealized, unmourned talents prematurely buried with Abel — poets, dancers, philosophers, artists, scientists. Our sages declared, “Who murders a single person, murders an entire world.” To the lifeless skulls we glimpse on the media, add the slaughtered promise of future generations.

We live in an era of multiple genocides. But no two holocausts are the same. There are differences in their history, demography, geography, theology. Many victims of mass murder are often different in their skin pigmentation, their liturgy, their language, their catechism.

Well, if holocausts are so different than mine, and the victims so different from my own, what have I to do with Darfur, Sudan, Chad and the Congo, and their sorrow? Let me alone. Let me alone to mind my own tragedies. Let me cry my own tears. Let me lick my own wounds. And not those of strangers. Is my people’s suffering not sufficient unto the day?

Against this insular narrow narcissism, the Jewish conscience of ethical monotheism confronts me with a penetrating question: “Is your blood redder than theirs? Is your pain deeper, your grief wider? Is your compassion so small, your heart so narrow, that it cannot include the agony of other peoples, and the need to respond to their torture and their torment?”

When my ancestors gave civilization the Ten Commandments, did they mean to prohibit the murder or theft or false witness only against Jews? Only against crimes committed against Judah or Israel or Jerusalem?

Never. Such provincialism would shatter the oneness of God into fragmented tribal deities. Shema Yisroel — the God of monotheism cannot be segregated in Heaven.

The God of Genesis, which inspired the daughter religions of Christianity and Islam, created the whole universe, an entire humanity. It is written, “Thou shalt not murder” — without qualification. Every human being, male and female, every human being created in God’s image is to be protected, defended and cared for — the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the vulnerable, the submerged communities, for you know the heart of the oppressed.

To avert my eyes from the torment of others, to stuff my ears from their shrieks, is to deny the kinship of human suffering and my own humanity.

Am I created to be only a bystander, a passive voyeur gazing at the dying of human dignity? What defines the meaning of my existence?

The philosopher defined existence by declaring, “I think, therefore I am.” The existentialist wrote, “I feel, therefore I am.” The poet recited, “I imagine, therefore I am.”

But our tradition declared, “Because you suffer, therefore I am.” For if you suffer and I pretend deafness, muteness or paralysis, I am reduced to a yawn, a breath, vanity of vanities, a cipher floating in the wind.

The rabbi finished to applause. And the applause built as the words started to sink in. The words were an honor to Zev, but a charge to us. And while the rabbi stood, a bit stooped, holding onto the sides of the podium, all 400 of us stood, too. We rose to our feet — all races, nations and religions, and kept applauding, unwilling to let him go.

But our tradition declared, “Because you suffer, therefore I am.”

It’s important to experience that moment, if only in these printed words. Because that moment is who we are.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Global soul: Zev Yaroslavsky

When Cain killed Abel, the Bible recorded it as the first murder in history.  But the rabbis commented, this is more than murder.  Abel’s murder opened the jaws of genocide. For when Cain killed Abel, it wasn’t Abel alone that died.  It was Abel’s posterity, his potential progeny  – those unborn, unlived, unrealized talents prematurely buried with Abel  –  poets, philosophers, artists, scientists. Therefore, our sages declared, “Who murders a single person, murders an entire world.”  To the lifeless skulls we see daily, add the unfulfilled promise of unborn infants and parent.

We live in a century of genocide.   No two holocausts are the same.  There are differences in their history, demography, geography, theology.  Many victims of mass murder are often different in their skin pigmentation, their language, their catechism. 

Well, if holocausts are so different, and the victims so different, what have I to do with Darfur, Sudan, Chad, and the Congo, and their sorrow?

Let me alone to mind my own tragedies
Let me cry my own tears
Let me lick my own wounds
And not of strangers.

Against this insular provincialism, the Jewish conscience of ethical monotheism confronts us with a penetrating question:

“Is your blood redder than theirs?  Is your pain deeper, your grief wider?  Is your compassion so small, your heart so narrow, that it cannot include the agony of other peoples, and the need to respond to their torture and their torment?” 

When my ancestors and yours gave civilization the Ten Commandments, did they mean to prohibit the murder or theft or false witness only against Jews?  Only against crimes committed against Judah or Israel or Jerusalem? Never before, and never again.

Never.  Such provincialism would only shatter the oneness of God into fragmented tribal deities.  Sh’ma Yisroel — the God of monotheism will not be segregated in Heaven.

The God of Genesis, which inspired the daughter religions of Christianity and Islam, created the whole universe, an entire humanity.  Thou shalt not murder – whom?  Every human being, male and female, every human being created in God’s image is to be protected, and cared for – the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the vulnerable, the suppressed communities, God’s children.

To avert my eyes from the torment of others, to stuff my ears from their shrieks, is to deny the kinship of human suffering and my own humanity.  

Am I created to be only a bystander, a passive voyeur gazing at the dying of human dignity? What defines my existence? 

The philosopher defined existence by declaring,  “I think, therefore I am.”
The existentialist wrote, “I feel, therefore I am.” 
The poet recited, “I imagine, therefore I am.” 

But our tradition declared, “Because you suffer, therefore I am.”   For if you suffer and I pretend deafness, muteness, or paralysis, I am reduced to a yawn, a breath, vanity of vanities, a cipher floating in the wind.  

Jewish World Watch was born out of the lash, scream, shouts, of human beings, out of the terror of children and of women raped, ravaged, and ruined.  We who have known genocide know that silence is lethal and muteness is complicity with evil.   We know to shed a tear is not to save a life, to sigh in sympathy is not to bind the hemorrhaging that drains life from terrorized human beings.

You friends – whom I have the privilege to address – during these last nine years have done more than express sympathy.  You helped build, and continue to help build, hospitals to repair ruptured fistulas and torn wombs of trembling girls and women.    You helped build, and continue to help build,  burn clinics to soothe the searing flames embedded in the flesh and the charred bones of innocents.  You have made our youth proud of the synagogue’s relevance and engagement with this world, here and now. 

Therefore, it is an honor for me, and my spiritually-restless cohort, colleague and co-founder Janice Kamenir Reznick, to be in your company, and especially this night, when we celebrate the vitality of human goodness and human Godliness.  Especially this night, when we honor our beloved friend Zev Yaroslavsky –  a serious person, a devoted civil servant, a feeling intelligence, that flows into his moral activism. 

When my wife Malkah and I came to this community in 1970, we heard about someone who stirred the moral sensibility of thousands, someone who heard the sobbing anger of dissidents and refusniks languishing in the grinding gulags of the Soviet Union, and who awakened the moral sensibility of thousands.  That person, who carried such a burden, with such responsibility and persistence, turned out to be all of 26 years.  Zev Yaroslavky:  an old head and a young heart, who taught with words and posture a post-Holocaust revelation:   We are not only a people of survivors, we are a people of rescuers.

Zev’s moral heroism was cultivated in a home of parents immersed in Jewish ethics.  At the table, at the school desks, from the pulpit, Zev had internalized the words of the last prophet in the Bible, Malachi.  To the question, “Why should we care about others?”  Malachi said,  “Have we not all one Father? Did not God create us all?  Why do we profane the covenant by breaking faith with one another?” 

Zev, you live your calling against the grain, raising up those kicked to the ground.  You have been in many battles in your life.  You have prayed and offered many petitions.  But all those causes and petitions are rooted in one cry for meaning and purpose:  “Make use of me. Make use of me.  For God’s sake, make use of me.” 

Zev, you are needed.  We need your leadership.  Help us use the best within us, for the sake of protecting the other children of God. 

For Zev and Barbara, and their supportive family, L’chaim, to life, to hope, to courage.

New violence in the Congo: Having a conscience means working overtime

With rockets raining down on Israel, it’s hard to focus on anything else. Our families, our friends, our compatriots are under attack, and our hearts ache for them. But Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, who co-founded Jewish World Watch, reminds us that the needs of our own families and communities do not preclude us from caring for others who are unknown and far away, as well. The base question – should I care for Israel or for civilians under attack in Congo (or Sudan, or wherever genocide and mass atrocities rear their ugly heads) – is a false choice. The question might present as “either/or,” but the Jewish response to an “either/or” question, is “both/and.”  There is no question that people with a conscience are required to work overtime.  We are concerned and work for Israel’s security and safety, and we do not stand idly by when atrocities are being committed against targeted populations in a place like eastern Congo.  This week, I was supposed to travel to Darfuri Refugee Camps to visit our newest Solar Cooker Project installation and to Eastern Congo to visit our newest project, a Women’s Rape and Crisis Center in a remote area in Eastern Congo where the systematic gang rapes of women abound.  While we will travel to the Darfuri camp (stay tuned for our blogs…), we cannot go to Congo this week, as fighting with rebel troops, the M23, escalates. The United Nations has accused the M23 of recruiting child soldiers, as well as arbitrary executions and rape, according to a report to be released on Nov. 23.

Violence is not a new phenomenon in Congo.  Congo is a country enormously rich in natural resources, but instead of enabling the country and its inhabitants to prosper, the resource grab of militias and rogue groups from surrounding countries and of rebel groups from within Congo itself, has caused millions of deaths and has made Congo the rape capital of the world.  Weak leadership, porous and uncontrolled borders, and pervasive lawlessness conspire to impoverish and enslave the Congolese people, with primary impacts on the women and the children.  But this week, even for a country prone to unrest, there has been a dramatic and alarming surge in the violence, particularly in Eastern Congo.

The M23 rebellion, which launched in March of this year with the likely backing of both Rwanda and Uganda, reached the outskirts of the main city of Goma in North Kivu province late Sunday night. The battle continued on Monday.  In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the rebels stormed and seized Goma, home to 1 million Congolese civilians. This is the largest take-over by rebels in eastern Congo since 2003. The M23 rebels, since March of this year, had already displaced more than half a million civilians in North Kivu province. Just in the last few days, another 60,000 have been newly displaced. The last time we saw this level of violence and foreign incursion in Congo we lost 5.4 million innocent lives. This is what the beginning of horror looks like.  

These disheartening events underscore the purpose of and need for an organization like Jewish World Watch.  As the violence in Eastern Congo surged, Jewish World Watch led the effort to shine a light on the region.  Shining a light on injustices and atrocities in the world is a critical step in the arduous process of bringing about peace and minimizing violence against targeted civilian populations.  Our Jewish community has a particularly strong and resonant voice in this work based upon our experiences in the Holocaust.   We know what it feels like to be isolated and abandoned, and therefore, Jewish World Watch is now at the forefront of the coalition seeking de-escalation of this brutal attack in Congo.

We ask you to join us in speaking out for the people of Congo. The United States government can help end the crisis. Now, more than ever, it’s time to for us to show leadership. We need to encourage the White House to take action against this rebellion and to protect the civilians of Congo.

Send this letter to Denis R. McDonough, the White House’s Deputy National Security Advisor, and ask him to take action against the M23 incursion and for the people of eastern Congo.

We are all working overtime this week…

Opinion: Beyond ‘Kony 2012’

A week ago last Monday, my daughter brought her laptop to the dinner table and insisted, “We have to watch this.” This never happens in our house. We don’t watch TV at dinner, nor does my very independent 16-year-old tend to share. But her urgency was palpable, so we let her click on a YouTube video of — perhaps you’ve guessed by now — “Kony 2012,” the now-viral 30-minute advocacy film created by a nonprofit called Invisible Children, which wants to make the Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony famous so he will be tracked down and arrested for kidnapping boys and turning them into child soldiers.

When I checked early this week, just eight days after I first heard of Kony and