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

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

Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

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

Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

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

Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

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

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

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

Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

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

Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

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

Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills


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

Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

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

Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader


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

Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center


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

Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

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

Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

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

Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

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


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

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

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

Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

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

Kosha Dillz


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

Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at


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

Shawn Landres

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

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

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

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

Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

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

Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

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

Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

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

David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA



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

Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

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

Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

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

Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

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

Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

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

Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

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

Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

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

Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

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

Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

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

Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

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

Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

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

Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

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

Moving and shaking: Marriage equality rally, L.A. Press Club Awards, the Black Eyed Peas and more

Los Angeles clergy, city officials, same-sex couples and other supporters of gay marriage rejoiced in the Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states during a June 26 rally in West Hollywood Park.

“Marriage, that peculiar and particular joining of human hearts and souls, is high on the list of what serves some human needs,” Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) Rabbi Lisa Edwards said, addressing the large crowd assembled on the same day of the court’s ruling. “It is why it has become a cause worldwide, and it is why we are here tonight in such a variety of human experience — to celebrate this hard-won victory of the human heart.”

The crowd numbered approximately 1,000, this reporter estimated, and came waving American flags, gay pride flags, and carrying signs that read, “Love Wins.” The evening’s attendees were in good company: Similar events took place all over the country, according to

Among those who participated in the program were BCC Rabbi Heather Miller; L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, a former mayor of West Hollywood; and City Controller Ron Galperin, who is married to Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Temple Akiba in Culver City.

BCC member Bracha Yael was in attendance with her partner of 35 years, Davi Chang, a fellow member of the congregation founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue.

“I just welled up and cried,” Yael said, describing her reaction to the court’s decision. 

Edwards, spotlighting the work of faith leaders who helped make the day’s ruling possible, mentioned Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, the other LGBT synagogue in L.A. Eger was in Israel and unable to attend.

“As religious leaders, we celebrate today how far we have come,” Edwards said, “but we don’t rest yet.”

The rally’s sponsors included BCC, the Anti-Defamation League and the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism recognized the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during the June 28 Los Angeles Press Club gala dinner at the downtown Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles. 

The target of a January terrorist attack in Paris by Islamic extremists that took the lives of 12 people, Charlie Hebdo skewers religion, politicians and current events. The murder of the magazine’s staff prompted expressions of solidarity around the world.

From left: Judea Pearl, co-founder of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, and Charlie Hebdo journalist Antonio Fischetti attended the June 28 Los Angeles Press Club gala. Photo by Kerstin Alm

 “We grieve and stand united with the French people, and with the families of all victims of the Paris massacre,” said Judea and Ruth Pearl, presenters of the award and parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in a statement. “We are humbled by their sacrifice, which has reawakened the world to a deadly peril that must be confronted and eliminated.”

Hebdo joins the company of previous winners: NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and ABC News’ Bob Woodruff.

The Journal won several awards in the “Print Over 50,000 Circulation” category. First-place winners were Danielle Berrin for her work as a columnist and Marty Kaplan in the commentary category. 

Simone Wilson won second place in the investigative/series category and third place in the individual online blog. Jared Sichel was honored for a news feature over 1,000 words (third place) and Rob Eshman for his work as a columnist (third place). 

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is retiring from his position as executive director at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA after 40 years with the organization. As of July 1, he will transition into an emeritus role, which he will maintain “in the year ahead,” according to a press release. A May 27 event at the home of Jeanne and Anthony Pritzker spotlighted, among other things, Seidler-Feller’s upcoming transition to a new role.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, current Hillel at UCLA Simha and Sara Lainer Senior Jewish Educator, will become the organization’s new leader.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and Rabbi Aaron Lerner. Photos courtesy of Hillel at UCLA

Two events — a day of learning and a gala ceremony — will celebrate Seidler-Feller on Jan. 31, 2016. The former will feature keynote addresses from visiting scholars.

Seidler-Feller’s accomplishments during his tenure include overseeing the construction of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life, engaging Persian students by founding the UCLA Persian Community at Hillel and promoting Jewish-themed student arts on campus by creating the Streisand Center for Jewish Cultural Arts, the precursor to the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel. He has been a staunch advocate of Israel, as well, helping to push back against the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campus.

Meanwhile, Lerner, who recently completed his third year at UCLA’s Hillel, is also involved with Israel advocacy and has worked with student leaders who, in turn, do outreach to other Jewish students on campus. A Wexner Graduate Fellow, he was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and worked in commercial real estate finance after graduating from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He and his wife, Rachel Lerner, have three daughters.

With his interest in telling stories, Jeffrey Tambor had the childhood ambition of becoming a rabbi. But when his father told him he’d need to learn Hebrew, he opted to become another kind of storyteller — an actor. 

Beth Chayim Chadashim honoree and actor Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”) accepts an award from Amy Landecker (left)  and Judith Light, his “Transparent” co-stars. Photo by Ryan Torok

Tambor revealed this and more when he was feted June 28 at the Beth Chayim Chadashim 2015 Awards Brunch at the Skirball Cultural Center, where he was honored with the Rabbi Erwin and Agnes Herman Humanitarian Award for his work on the hit Amazon TV series “Transparent.”

“I think I should get the ‘Luckiest Guy in the Room Award’ or, more specifically, the ‘Luckiest Jew in the Room [Award],’ ” Tambor said upon accepting his award, which was presented by “Transparent” co-stars Amy Landecker and Judith Light. The award was a shofar that Tambor, caught up in the excitement of the moment, almost forgot to take with him as he left the stage at the conclusion of his remarks. 

Coming on the heels of the June 26 landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage across the nation, BCC, the self-described world’s oldest LGBT synagogue, had added reason to celebrate. Many of the day’s speakers, including BCC Rabbi Lisa Edwards, highlighted the importance of the court decision. 

The synagogue also honored Sylvia Sukop and Bonnie Kaplan with the Harriet Perl Tzedek Award and Bruce Maxwell with the BCC Presidents Award.  

The event drew nearly 300 people, including  BCC Cantor Juval Porat, who performed; Elissa Barrett, a BCC congregant and vice president at Bet Tzedek and her partner, writer Joshua Gershick; and BCC President Lauren Schlau

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) celebrated its 111th anniversary and honored various community members during its June 10 gala at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel in Bel Air. 

Dr. Richard Shemin, a cardiac surgeon, received the Nathan Shapell Memorial Lifetime Commitment Award, and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer was given the Ben and Anne Werber Communal Service Award. James and Sandra Kohn, who established the JFLA Kohn Family Fund for the Arts, a loan program, were honored with the Mitchell Family Foundation Philanthropy Award, and Betsy Berger, a former JFLA emergency loan recipient who now works for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, received the Salter Family Foundation Client Recognition Award.

Comedian Monica Piper (“Not That Jewish”) served as emcee of the event, which drew JFLA CEO David Levy and 225 other attendees. 

Established in 1904, JFLA provides interest-free microloans to people of any faith facing financial challenges in the Los Angeles area.

Bet Tzedek’s 19th annual Justice Ball on June 20 drew 800 attendees and raised approximately $250,000 for the pro bono legal aid agency that assists low-income people with housing and other emergencies, Holocaust survivors applying for reparations and others in need. Founded as a storefront operation, the organization is currently headquartered in Koreatown.

Highlights of the Bet Tzedek Justice Ball included a live performance by rapper Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas. Photo by Ben Shani Photography

Every year, the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council organizes this event for young professionals. This year, for the first time, the Justice Ball was held at the Conga Room at L.A. Live, a Cuban-themed nightclub with its own cigar-rolling station and salsa-dancing lessons studio offering panoramic views of Nokia Plaza and the Staples Center’s entrance.

The highlights of the evening included separate live performances by rappers Travie McCoy and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, their energetic tunes drawing hundreds of people — including folks otherwise blissfully cordoned off in the VIP area — to the Conga dance floor.

The Journal caught up with Bet Tzedek CEO/President Jessie Kornberg while she was in line at one of two cocktail bars. This was the first Justice Ball for Kornberg, who was hired last October. 

McCoy sported a white T-shirt, cargo shorts and a chain necklace. He played DJ for a while — leaving some in the crowd, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jocelyn Orloff, to wonder if he was ever going to get behind the microphone — before finally singing his hit song, “Billionaire.” (“I want to be a billionaire, so freaking bad,” the chorus goes.) Performing before young and upcoming lawyers, he dedicated the song to the “future billionaires” in the crowd.

Atid, a young-professionals organization at Sinai Temple, held its first gala on June 6. More than 150 gathered at the temple to mingle, dance, enjoy dinner and present Barak Raviv with the Outstanding Leadership Award. 

From left: Bryce Megdal, Simone Nathanson and Andrea Paige attend Atid’s first gala. Photo courtesy of Atid 

As senior vice president and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley in Beverly Hills, Raviv has donated 10 percent of his income to various charitable organizations through the Barak Raviv Foundation for more than a decade. Last year, he donated a substantial amount to Atid and sponsored numerous events. 

“It’s one of the most powerful organizations for reaching young professionals in the Jewish community,” Raviv, 39, told the Journal. “It creates a community, and people see it as a second Jewish home.”

Established by Rabbi David Wolpe almost 20 years ago, Atid serves 21- to 39-year-olds, holding around 10 programs each month. These include Wolpe’s lectures, holiday events and singles programming.

“We try and provide entry points for as many different types of Jews in L.A. as possible,” said Matt Baram, Sinai Temple’s Millennial Director and the man behind the event. 

“[Raviv] is a mensch who supports Atid both financially and with his attitude,” Baram said. “We give the award to someone who positively impacts the greater community with his words and actions, and he is just that.” 

The gala raised $7,000 and was a launching point for a new fundraising campaign called Chai 1,000. The goal of the campaign is to have 1,000 people donate $18 or more to the organization.

 —  Sarah Soroudi, Contributing Writer

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Moving and shaking: Characters Unite, MATT construction and more

The Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Board of Governors gala on Dec. 2 honored David and Janet Polak, who support numerous Jewish and Israeli causes. The couple received the Cedars-Sinai Philanthropic Leadership Award.
The event at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills also marked the launch of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, which will “advance the field of regenerative medicine and translate laboratory discoveries into effective stem cell therapies and other treatments for neurological disorders, cancers and metabolic, eye and skeletal diseases,” according to publicity materials. The evening raised funds for the institute, although officials declined to say how much.
David Polak is the founder, former chairman and chief investment officer of NWQ Investment Management Co. and his wife is a former schoolteacher. They are supporters of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, and they have assisted the American Technion Society. 
“Janet and David Polak are passionate about giving back,” said Ruth Dunn, chair of the Cedars-Sinai board of governors. “Their exceptional philanthropy, quite notably in the Jewish community and Israel, has made an incredible impact. We’re proud of their commitment to the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute. Their support will have a global impact that will benefit humankind for generations to come.”
Comedian-actor Paul Reiser acted as the emcee of the evening, and jazz great Al Jarreau performed. Sally Magaram and Harriet Nichols co-chaired.

David R. Levy has been named executive director and chief executive officer of the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA). His hiring took effect Nov. 20.

David R. Levy, Photo courtesy of Jewish Free Loan Association 
Levy succeeds longtime JFLA leader Mark Meltzer, who continues on as the JFLA executive director and CEO emeritus.
Levy’s work in the Jewish community is extensive. The new JFLA leader previously worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Community Relations department, where he was “responsible for leading the team working with the Medical Center’s Board of Governors and volunteer-based fundraising groups,” the JFLA website says. Additionally, he has served as the Los Angeles Hillel Council executive director; the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance associate executive director; the Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services director and more.
“David has shown a true commitment to Jewish communal service, and he is a well-respected leader in the community,” Aaron Bloom, president of JFLA’s board of directors, said in an official statement. “We know that David will do a fantastic job, and we are confident that JFLA will continue to grow and thrive under his leadership.”
Levy is a member of the LGBT-friendly Reform synagogue Congregation Kol Ami, and he serves on the West Hollywood shul’s board of trustees.  
JFLA provides interest-free microloans to community members in need. It oversees loan programs that assist with emergency situations, student needs, home health care, small businesses, children with special needs, life cycle events, in vitro fertilization procedures, resettlements of recent immigrants and residential environmental upgrades. It is a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

MATT Construction won Best Overall Project of the Year Award for its work on the restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple during the Engineering News-Record (ENR) awards breakfast in Long Beach on Dec. 4.

“The project was both beautiful and substantive,” said one of the competition judges at the event, according to a press release. “They went the extra mile to restore it, rather than just making cosmetic changes.”
The historic, Koreatown-based synagogue, which sits at a crowded intersection on Wilshire Boulevard, has a Byzantine dome, history-telling murals and more. Rabbi Steven Leder serves as the shul’s senior rabbi. The honored company completed the project in 2013.
Steve Matt, CEO and co-founder of MATT Construction, said he appreciated the opportunity to have been involved with the important job.
“The Temple project was the result of years of dedication and labor on the part of a core group of congregants, which began long before we arrived,” Matt said in the press release. “It took truly visionary leadership — we could not have asked for a better client or project team.”
MATT Construction is a family- and employee-owned general contractor that has worked on projects that include the Skirball Cultural Center and the Museum of Tolerance.
The event also honored Levin & Associates. Brenda Levin, a Wilshire Boulevard Temple congregant and founder of Levin & Associates, served as the architect on the project. The firm shared top honors with MATT Construction. 
ENR, the organizer of the Dec. 4 event, is a magazine publication that covers construction and engineering management.

A USA Network Characters Unite event at the Museum of Tolerance honored Sofia Shield, a Los Angeles community member and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.

Harvey Shield and his daughter, honoree Sofia Shield. Photo by Brian Brophy 

The Dec. 2 event spotlighted the recent Tufts University graduate’s human rights advocacy work, which includes serving as the co-chair of Tufts Against Genocide, a student-run initiative under the Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education, and participating in workshops for teens in Russia, Ireland and the Czech Republic. She also was active educating children and young adults about human rights violations, genocide prevention and the importance of tolerance while serving as an intern at the Anne Frank Center USA and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. 
Shield, who attended Temple Israel of Hollywood’s day school and Marlborough School, took home $5,000 as part of the event at the museum.
The Characters Unite public service program was created to address social injustices and cultural divides, according to its website.

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Fertility loan fund pays it forward

Alan and Emily Feit tried four times to have a child through in vitro fertilization (IVF), an infertility treatment that can cost well over $10,000 per attempt. On the fifth try, however, they ended up with twins — and now they want to help others in similar situations.

The San Fernando Valley couple has provided $100,000 in seed money to create the Feit 4 Kidz Fertility Loan Fund through the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA), which provides interest-free microloans to Southern California residents.

Beginning this past spring, the L.A.-based JFLA has been offering loans of up to $15,000 to Jewish couples who need help paying for an in vitro procedure, which is used when other methods of reproductive technology have failed. It can cost up to $20,000, or an average of $12,400 according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

“It’s very exciting. It kind of allows us to turn something that was such a negative experience for us, heart-wrenching at times, into something really positive,” Emily Feit told the Journal. “Thankfully, we’re on the other side of things, but that connection to our experience and to be able to empathize with those individuals and couples going through that traumatic experience, I think that linkage will always be there for us.”

The Feits’ twins, Kara and Zachary — the “k” in “Kidz” stands for Kara, and the “z” stands for Zachary —turned 1 in June.

Rachel Grose, associate director at JFLA, said the importance of the new loan program cannot be understated.

“It allows JFLA to invest directly in [the] Jewish community, Jewish continuity, new Jewish babies and Jewish families,” she said. 

Previously, JFLA gave out loans for IVF procedures — which includes the remote fertilization of a woman’s eggs into embryos and the transfer of those embryos into the uterus — through its Lerner Family Adoption and Fertility Assistance Loan Fund. That program’s original purpose, however, was to provide financial assistance for couples seeking to adopt. Now with the establishment of the Feit fund, the Lerner fund will return to helping exclusively with adoptions, Grose said.

As of earlier this month, five couples had taken out loans from the Feit fund to help pay for IVF operations — which means about $75,000 has been given out thus far — and up to five additional couples were in the midst of interviewing for a loan, according to the Feits and to Grose. 

While many of the organization’s loan programs are nonsectarian, Feit loans are limited to the Jewish community — at least until the organization raises more money for the fund, Grose said. 

“One day, when we raise millions of dollars, we will open it to everyone,” she said.

On Nov. 16, JFLA and the Feits are partnering on a gala event with the hope of raising at least $250,000 for the fund. Currently, it has more than $200,000, with additional support coming from friends and family of the Feits who gave to the fund in lieu of birthday gifts for their twins’ recent birthday.

The November event, which will be held at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, will also honor the Feits’ infertility doctor, Robert Boostanfar, a reproductive endocrinologist based in Encino. 

The Feit 4 Kidz fund became JFLA’s 34th loan fund when it was launched in April. Other JFLA funds include emergency and veteran loans, student loans, home health care loans, small-business loans and more. Currently, there is $11.5 million in loans circulating among JFLA clients, according to Grose. The money given out for loans is recycled, which means that the money repaid by a client is loaned out again to a new client. The organization claims to have a repayment rate of more than 99.5 percent.

Jewish Free Loan Association: Small-business help

Dan Savell and his wife, Abby, knew exactly what they needed to take their percussion rental business to the next level. 

After opening their store in 2005, the Santa Clarita couple received countless client requests for a specialized gong set typically used by orchestras. The problem: a $14,000 price tag to purchase the instrument.

That’s when the Savells turned to a nonprofit Jewish loan agency for help. The Los Angeles-based Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) furnished them with a zero-interest loan to cover the purchase, putting the couple’s dreams for expansion within reach.

“Instead of having to … turn down work, it allowed me to have instant access to [the gongs] in my inventory,” Savell said. “It was this missing piece.”

In the current economy, finding the resources to start or expand a small business can be particularly challenging. That’s where several Jewish organizations can help, providing meaningful assistance to entrepreneurs, from financial aid to human resources management to self-employment career planning.

Established in 1904, JFLA helps entrepreneurs of any faith in the Los Angeles area start new businesses or expand existing ones with the help of three-year, zero-interest microloans. Typical loan amounts are about $15,000, although applicants can obtain as much as $20,000, association loan analyst Shelly Meyers said. 

The money can be used to help cover myriad expenses associated with starting a new enterprise, such as advertising, equipment purchases, Web site creation and stocking up on inventory. Those helped by the program include physical therapists, lawyers, restaurant owners, yoga studios and day cares.

“It really varies,” Meyers said.

Loan applicants must submit a business plan and cash-flow projection and must have a business license. Borrowers need to have two co-signers, usually friends or family members with good credit and a steady income. The loan committee considers each applicant on a case-by-case basis, taking personal circumstances into account.

JFLA helps 50 to 60 new businesses a year through the loan program, Meyers estimated. She said demand for the loans has increased as banks tighten their lending policies in response to the country’s economic woes. Many startups simply cannot access traditional loans at all, she said.

“Whereas before they did have some opportunities from banks, I think it’s just become impossible for many of the small businesses,” she said. “Most of the people we see are not able to get a bank loan. It’s just a risk the banks aren’t taking these days.”

JFLA also offers emergency loans to individuals and families in crisis as well as student loans.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) offers a wide range of programs addressing the needs of families, job seekers, at-risk youth, refugees and people with disabilities. But when it comes to helping businesses, JVS provides human resources consulting, assistance with recruitment and training of employees, and career counseling that is open to budding entrepreneurs. 

The business services section, established a year ago, offers solutions to companies on four levels: talent acquisition, employee assessment, staff development and outplacement assistance to employees affected by job loss. Fees may be charged for these services, although this is on a case-by-case basis. The section also helps companies procure state funding for training at no cost to the employer.

JVS, founded during the Great Depression, can post jobs on its employment database, screen and set up interviews for potential employees and sometimes host job fairs when employers have numerous vacancies to fill, said Chris Bravata, JVS’ business services vice president. There is no charge for this service.

“One of the biggest challenges for small businesses is finding talent. When a business has a vacancy, usually that’s a drain on internal resources in finding time to recruit, screen and interview potential employees,” Bravata explained. “We save the employer time and energy.”

People thinking about starting a business can obtain free advice from a JVS career counselor. Traditional job seekers and those seeking a career change can access this service, too.

At The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, small-business owners can apply for a one-time grant of up to $6,000 to acquire licenses or equipment to help their venture succeed.

Although the funds are not targeted exclusively at small-business owners, several such people have qualified for the assistance in the past year, said Lori Klein, Federation’s senior vice president of Caring for Jews in Need. 

Applicants must be Jewish, live in the Los Angeles area and demonstrate financial need. They also are required to meet with a social worker at one of Federation’s partner organizations, which include JVS and Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. Those applying for the funds are often people moving into self-employment for the first time, Klein said.

“I think part of what we’ve seen is that people that are being laid off from their jobs are not necessarily able to find work in the industry that they were originally trained for or educated in,” she said. “They’re trying to be creative and find other ways to have an income.”

Another grant program run by Federation offers up to $2,500 toward vocational training. Applicants may be seeking skills to pursue a new job or to start their own business.

Federation also provides emergency cash grants to people in need of immediate assistance with expenses such as rent or utility bills.

For more information, visit Jewish Free Loan AssociationJewish Vocational Service, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Jewish Free Loan crosses $10 million mark for first time

For the first time in more than a century of offering small interest-free loans to people struggling financially, the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has in excess of $10 million in outstanding loans.

Mark Meltzer, CEO and executive director of JFLA, calls it “our newest achievement.”

The Los Angeles-based agency reached the $10 million mark at the end of August. It’s the most money ever outstanding for the JFLA, whose loans range from a few hundred dollars to upward of $25,000 and are offered to residents of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The amount, said Elana Vorspan, director of program and marketing at JFLA, “reflects the need, reflects that we’re always trying to accommodate the rising cost of everything.”

Students make up a large portion of the 2,900 recipients of the current loans, and “a little over 50 percent of our loans outstanding are made to students of all kinds,” Meltzer said. JFLA offers funding for undergraduate and graduate students studying here and abroad, as well as for students attending technical and vocational schools.

Since its founding in 1904, JFLA has given loans to more than 350,000 people. JFLA recycles funds, loaning funds out immediately after they’re paid back.

JFLA receives approximately $100,000 annually from Federation to cover overhead costs — JFLA’s main office is in the same building as The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ headquarters, at 6505 Wilshire Blvd.; JFLA also operates a smaller office in the San Fernando Valley that is open by appointment only.

Despite the rough economic times, JFLA has been successful at increasing loan amounts and loan distribution numbers. Meltzer attributes this success to JFLA’s 99.5 percent repayment rate, which allows the agency to keep money in circulation.

Meltzer also cited JFLA’s generous donor base as a reason for the success.

How do you maintain a 99.5 percent repayment rate? Two ways, Meltzer said: JFLA requires every borrower to have two co-signers, both of whom must have a steady source of income. In addition, relationships between JFLA’s loan analysts and borrowers, built on a person-to-person meeting, ensure that loans are repaid.

Among the recent student recipients is Nora Tahvilli, a third-year MBA student at American Jewish University’s (AJU) Graduate School in Nonprofit Management. Tahvilli was granted $6,000 this year and the same amount last year to help pay for her tuition.

Tahvilli, 31, repays JFLA at a rate of $75 per month through an automatic deduction from her bank account, and three months after she graduates, the amount will rise to $175 per month. It’s a system that works for Tahvilli, whose tuition is more than $20,000 annually. It helps ease the burden of rising education costs while allowing her to learn the value of repaying loans.

“It’s not a handout,” she said. “You’re paying for it.”

Sara Hahn, 28, a graduate student at Columbia University, received $3,500 from JFLA this year, and the same amount last year, to help pay for her schooling. Hahn’s annual tuition at Columbia is approximately $50,000.

“They’re great people,” Hahn said of JFLA, “and it’s a very simple process” to secure a loan. 

JFLA also helped Hahn when she was 18 and an undergraduate at UC San Diego. After Hahn tried, but failed, to win a scholarship from Jewish Vocational Services, that organization referred Hahn’s parents to JFLA.

Tahvilli and Hahn also receive government student loans, and Hahn relies on a merit-based scholarship from Columbia. 

The federal funds help, of course, but “I’m going to be paying interest on that,” Hahn said.

“Sometimes lending practices can be quite predatory,” she added, referring to loan agencies that, unlike JFLA, charge interest. 

JFLA draws from more than 35 loan funds, including an emergency loan fund that helps with rent, car repairs and small medical or dental expenses. There are also funds for home health care, small businesses, lifecycle events, a green loan fund and more. 

JFLA is working on a new loan program with the Breed Street Shul. Meltzer said it would likely revolve around a community center for non-Jews, and the hope is that it will launch next year. Other JFLA loan funds in the works include a diabetes loan fund, a loan fund for college students majoring in environmental studies and one for Alzheimer patient care.

JFLA has demonstrated the value of microloans in Los Angeles, but microloans are a popular way of helping the poor in rural communities abroad. In 2006, Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus won a Nobel Peace Prize for establishing a community development bank in his native country that provides microloans to the poor without requiring collateral.

JFLA is the only interest-free micro-lender in Los Angeles. The concept of interest-free loans is rooted in the Torah, with the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as well as Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity, all providing justification for interest-free loans.

“The need is tremendous right now,” Meltzer said. “We are still in a severe economic slump, and we are trying to meet those needs of our borrowing community.”

Briefs: Court nixes Neuwirth suit, Pearl family menorah at White House

Court Rules Against Neuwirth

A Superior Court judge in Santa Monica has dismissed a defamation suit, which threw into sharp relief the emotional tension between hawkish and dovish supporters of Israel.

Judge John Reed ruled Nov. 27 against plaintiff Rachel Neuwirth, a right-wing commentator on Israeli issues, and in favor of Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin and Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein, who had described Neuwirth as a “Kahanist swine” on his blog.

Both defendants are on the opposite political pole to the plaintiff.

Neuwirth may be best known for being at the center of a widely publicized case four years ago, when she was kicked and scratched by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the UCLA Hillel director, following a heated political exchange.

In that case, Neuwirth sued, resulting in Seidler-Feller being ordered to take an anger management course. Early this year he sent a full apology to Neuwirth, taking full responsibility for the incident.

In the current case, according to Neuwirth’s attorney Charles L. Fonarow, Silverstein not only called his client a “Kahanist swine” (referring to a supporter of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane), but also the “hell’s angel of the pro-Israel crowd” and “Jewish trash,” who “spews hate” and is engaged in “cyber bullying.”

The charge against Beinin rested on Neuwirth’s claim that the Stanford professor had falsely accused her of leaving a death threat on his answering machine, which is a crime in California.

The case was filed five months ago and, according to interviews with three involved attorneys, Dean Hansell of Dewey & LeBoeuf for Silverstein, Steven Freeburg for Beinin, and Fonarow for Neuwirth, the judge considered one key legal issue: whether Neuwirth was a public figure and whether the name-calling occurred in a public forum, in which case it fell under First Amendment protection of free speech.

Although Neuwirth argued that she was a private real estate broker, Reid ruled that her journalistic articles made her a public figure, and that Silverstein’s blog, which runs thousands of outside comments a year, constituted a public forum.

Neuwirth will have to pay the considerable attorneys’ fees for Freeburg and Hansell. The latter defended Silverstein pro bono, or free of charge, because, he said, “Being Jewish myself, I felt this was the right thing to do and in the best Jewish tradition.”

Fonarow denounced the court’s decision and charged that the judge ignored evidence that Silverstein and Beinin had been “motivated by actual malice.”

The attorney promised to appeal the ruling to a State Court of Appeal within 60 days and, if necessary, “take it to the Supreme Court.”

–Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Dershowitz at UCI, Post-Annapolis: Peace Within Reach

On a campus that has seen its share of anti-Israel activity, on Nov. 29, on the heels of the Annapolis summit, Alan Dershowitz made the case for Middle East peace to a crowd of more than 1,000 students and community members who packed the UC Irvine Student Center.

The Harvard Law School professor and best-selling author of “The Case for Israel” and “The Case for Peace” was cautiously optimistic that peace might be within reach, even with Hamas in control of Gaza.

“I’m hopeful that for the first time, the Palestinian leadership finally wants an Arab state more than they want the destruction of the Jewish state,” an obstacle that has repeatedly prevented Palestinians from gaining independence, he said.

In defending the case for a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, Dershowitz attempted to mollify anti-Israel extremists in the audience who oppose a Jewish state.

“If [students] are anti-Israel, in the end they’re anti-Palestinian, because there will never be a Palestinian state without Israel,” he said.

StandWithUs arranged Dershowitz’s visit to Southern California last week, and his appearance on the Orange County campus was sponsored by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, Anteaters for Israel and other Jewish student and communal groups and made possible through a grant from the Jewish Federation Orange County.

Organizers intended Dershowitz’s appearance as a direct response to former President Jimmy Carter’s May speech at UCI, in which he discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Dershowitz has been a vocal critic of the book, which decries Israel’s alleged colonization of Palestinian territories as the primary obstacle to peace.

The event was also meant to counter inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric that has polarized Muslims and Jews at UCI. The campus has played host to several anti-Israel speakers including Oakland-based Muslim cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali and Ayatollah Khomeini admirer Muhammad al-Asi.

“One of the things that’s important to us is presenting a balanced approach,” Hillel Foundation of Orange County Executive Director Jeffrey T. Rips said. “We wanted to show a different side to students.”

Members of the Muslim Student Association attended the event. Although the audience adhered to event organizers’ requests to maintain decorum, anti-Israel hostility brewed during the Q-and-A session. One student, wearing a black T-shirt with Arabic writing, referred to a statement supportive of torture that has been falsely attributed to Dershowitz in an obvious attempt to discomfit the speaker. Another challenged him to debate Holocaust denier and Israel detractor Norman Finkelstein.

Jewish students in attendance were relieved that tempers didn’t flare as they have in the past.

“I was expecting things to be harsher,” said Isaac Yerushalmi, a junior from Santa Monica and president of Anteaters for Israel. “I’m happy to see that everything is very civil. Our events aren’t always that way. I think it was very successful.”

Dershowitz urged moderate Jewish and Muslim students to engage in dialogue and marginalize extremists in order to reduce tension on campus.

“Most Jewish student leaders agree with Dershowitz, and we’re hoping to find those Muslim or Palestinians who want a two-state solution and want to work with us,” said Hillel Jewish Student Union Co-President Michelle Eshaghian. “Hopefully, his comments will bring them out.”

— Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer

Pearl Family Menorah at White House

Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, will light the family menorah at the White House Chanukah reception on Dec. 10, at the invitation of President and Mrs. Bush.

Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;

L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

The Circuit

Challah if You Need Me

Last month The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ ACCESS program along with The Brandeis-Bardin Institute and numerous L.A. area singles organizations co-sponsored the Shabbat at Sunset Communitywide Dinner. The event may have been the follow-up to last year’s successful “Shabbat by the Sea,” but what really made the occasion special was that it heralded the arrival of New York Rabbi David Woznica, who has brought East Coast flair to The Federation fold as the executive vice president of Jewish Affairs. Weaving jokes into his sermon, Woznica –previously of the 92nd Street YMCA in Manhattan, where he facilitated a lecture series graced by Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel — gave the 200 unattached in attendance a heart-to-heart on staying afloat in Bachelorville and Bacheloretteville.

Rodeo Drive

The Concours on Rodeo fundraiser raised $7,000 for The Amie Karen Cancer Fund for Children (AKCF) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which treats cancer, leukemia, sickle cell disease and AIDS-related illnesses. AKCF also funds Camp Rainbow, a sleep-away camp for critically ill children and their siblings.

Con at Cannes

The Circuit attended a private screening — cast members and friends only — of “Festival in Cannes,” hosted by Henry Jaglom.

Shot on location during the 1999 Cannes International Film Festival, the film is his most accessible and entertaining movie yet.

“Festival” — starring Greta Scacchi, Ron Silver, Anouk Aimée and Maximilian Schell — uncovers desperation and duplicity in the entertainment industry. Stealing the movie is Zack Norman (born Howard Zuker) as a charming con man who wheels and deals up and down La Croisette. “Festival” marks Jaglom’s fifth collaboration with Norman.”It’s always delicious working with Henry,” Norman said.

A “Festival” highlight: Schell — after a prolonged, enthusiastic reunion with William Shatner (as himself) — walks away asking, “Who was that man I was just hugging?”

“That encounter was real,” Jaglom said. “They had played together in ‘Judgment at Nuremberg.’ Maximilian, in his brilliance, improvised that line.”

“Festival in Cannes” screens Nov 3, 7:30 p.m., AFI Film Institute Festival 2001, Pacific Theatre, 6443 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

Affair of the Heart

Philanthropist Marshall Ezralow was honored by The Heart Fund at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Mark Litman, Heart Fund chairman and Dana Carvey, the evening’s host, graced the gala, which took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ezralow, who was elated to be honored, believes now is a paramount time to support research in this area.

“We are three or four years away from solving 90 percent of heart-related problems,” Ezaralow told The Circuit.

Aries Rising

Producer Fred Wolf threw a grand opening reception for his Aries Gallery, at the Fred Wolf Films building in North Hollywood.

Victor Haboush, Robert Reagan, Nola Figen Perla, and Wolf, whose paintings chronicle the lonely life of a cartoony, yellow-colored milquetoast of a man, rang in the NoHo gallery with a show of their works. Perla’s work is based on snapshots of her family, of Ukranian-Jewish heritage.

Exhibit runs through Nov. 30. For information, call (818) 846-0611.

Free For All

Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the S. Mark Taper Foundation. The grant will go toward the JFLA’s community-wide, non-sectarian Kopelove Family Short-term Home Healthcare Loan Fund, which makes available interest-free loans of up to $5,000 to patients in need of home healthcare while recovering from illness, injury or surgery. In addition to the grant, the program has received.

In Community We Trust

Alex Mylyavsky had been in Los Angeles for three months as a refugee from Kiev, Ukraine. He was looking for a job, but it was a vicious cycle: he couldn’t get a job without experience, but how could he get experience without a job? His heavy Russian accent worked against him, and he had no contacts in the business world. In addition, Mylyavsky knew he needed further education to advance.

For Mylyavsky, help arrived in the form of loans from the Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles (JFLA). Founded as the Hebrew Free Loan in 1904 by 10 local businessmen, the nonsectarian, nonprofit organization was based on the biblical imperative of interest-free lending to those in need: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor with you, you shall not be to them as a creditor” (Exodus 22:24). Although the nature of “need” has changed over the years, the concept behind JFLA remains the same.

“The Torah [exhorts] us to perform acts of lovingkindness,” said Evelyn Schecter, JFLA’s director of development. “Interest-free loans allow an individual to be independent and not have to receive charity. These are human beings who need help, and if they have the courage to walk through that door, we’re going to do whatever we can to get them the help they need.”

The actual process of obtaining a loan through JFLA is simple. It begins with an initial intake call to explain the purpose of the loan, the amount and other details. Next is a visit to JFLA’s offices to fill out paperwork and meet with a loan analyst. Some loans are restricted, while others serve a broad-based population — emergency loans of $1,500 to $2,000 are available to anyone, but student or adoption loans are available only to the Jewish community. All loans require one or two co-signers, with a portion of the principal to be paid back on a monthly basis. If the required criteria are met, the applicant may receive a loan within a week, sometimes sooner. The success of the program is borne out by a default rate of less than 1 percent.

Mylyavsky was lucky. Encouraged by his mentor and new employer, attorney Alan Rosen, Mylyavsky decided to enroll in a dual master’s program at Hebrew Union College’s School of Jewish Communal Service and USC’s School of Public Administration. His dream was to work with and for people and to learn more about what it meant to be a Jew.

The next step was securing a loan. Without one, graduate school was out of the question. Rosen agreed to co-sign the loan, and Mylyavsky met with Mark Meltzer, CEO and executive director of JFLA.

Mylyavsky said Meltzer played a key role in his loan saga. “It’s not only help to get a loan, it’s helping the individual to get financial stability, helping for this individual to be recognized by others by achieving successes,” he said. “In turn, by paying back the loan, this individual is making it possible for others who come later to receive a loan.”

“What we have at JFLA is a recycling of dollars,” Meltzer said. “The donors like it; the borrowers like it. The money is not lost in one gift; it keeps rotating around.”

After receiving his dual master’s in 1992, Mylyavsky worked with a company focused on international business. But in 1997, a friend approached him with an idea for a new business venture: state-sponsored adult day care. He knew by reading the brochure that this program was his dream come true: to give people the opportunity to be less isolated, to assist in the health of the elderly and to bring the immigrant community together.

The costs for this kind of program were enormous. For Mylyavsky to find the proper building and bring it up to code, not to mention hiring a large staff and providing transportation, would cost a fortune. But Mylyavsky didn’t hesitate to call JFLA.

In 1999, he received $20,000 — the largest amount for a business loan — to be paid off in monthly installments of $400 over 50 months. In June 1999, the building, newly renovated by Mylyavsky and his partners, was licensed by the state. By July, Universal Adult Day Health Care was open for business. The center was the first of its kind in the area, serving the immigrant populations of Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and Culver City.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I could have made it without JFLA,” Mylyavsky said, shaking his head. “In my case, without financial assistance, it was a ‘mission impossible.’ With JFLA, the mission became possible.”

For Ella Mirmova, also fromKiev, education wasn’t the issue. Few people could make clothes the way Mirmova could, but women from Beverly Hills didn’t like to travel to Hollywood, where she worked. The money she made from her home-based alteration business barely covered her expenses, and she had a mother and a young daughter to support. She worked as hard as she could, but it was never enough to move her business to where the customers were.

After four long years of working out of her home, a friend told Mirmova about JFLA’s business loans. The idea appealed to Mirmova; she would never take charity, but a loan was different.

“I was so sure I could do my business,” Mirmova recalled. “If I was not sure, I would never have tried to make a loan. I am a very responsible person. I had no other choice. I had no husband. I was a single mother. I did what I had to do.”

Mirmova was startled by JFLA’s quick response when it agreed to loan her $12,000.

Mirmova benefited from a concept called donor-directed loans that began in the early 1990s, part of an effort by Meltzer and his board of directors to modernize the agency. Instead of giving money generically, donors could choose programs that excited them or that they wished to create.

“What began to emerge was different donors who had specific interests,” Meltzer explained. “People like Newton Becker, who set up the Becker graduate student loan fund; the Baran family established the Baran small business loan fund because they were given a loan when their family first came here; David and Sylvia Weisz started the Entrepreneurial Loan Fund for young people who wanted to go into business with only an idea.” (See sidebar at left for list of donor-directed programs.)

The success of donor-directed funds during the past 10 years is reflected in the devoted core of supporters the organization enjoys. In addition, JFLA is a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the United Way, and various government grants. In 1999, public support and revenues amounted to $1.5 million dollars. Adding to that, recycled money — “accounts receivable” — coming back to the agency brought the total amount of loans going out into the community to $3.5 million out of total assets of $5 million, covering 1,200 loans that year. Today, JFLA’s assets stand at more than $7 million.

The history of Jewish Los Angeles unfolds in the minutes of the Hebrew Free Loan. In 1904, Eastern European Jews needed a jump-start on their new lives; loans were given for a sewing machine, a horse and cart, a paper route. By 1929, the organization was booming — loans had increased to a whopping $150 each. But by 1932, overwhelmed by the Depression, the agency had to whittle back loans to $75 for “those in dire need.”

In 1948, after years of takeover threats by larger social service agencies, the Hebrew Free Loan merged with the Jewish Loan and Housing Association to become the JFLA. Today, with a full-time staff of eight, the agency is considered one of the smallest Jewish social service agencies in town. In terms of scope,however, it’s one of the biggest: In its 97-year history, JFLA has reached out to more than 300,000 individuals and families.

Except for the amount, Mirmova’s loan was not so different from the first loans that came out of the Hebrew Free Loan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Mirmova put the money to work immediately, renting space in Beverly Hills, purchasing professional sewing machines, irons, hangers and equipment for steaming.

“I opened my business in a store with wide-open windows,” Mirmova said proudly. “Everyone from the street could see me work. The people started to come.”

As Mirmova is the first to point out, it wasn’t the windows that made her business successful. She has a talent for fitting few in the profession can match.

“I am the fitter here,” Mirmova said, putting the finishing touches on a vintage gown. “I work to make any figure better-looking. There’s no school for what I do — only emotion. I just feel it.”

Since Mirmova received her loan six years ago, she has paid it off, adding small donations to help others when she can. Her business, Modern Alterations in Beverly Hills, has grown tenfold. On any given day, her phone rings off the hook, and three to eight seamstresses work like whirling dervishes to fulfill a bursting schedule of alterations.

“JFLA gave me the chance, and I used this chance the best I could,” Mirmova said. “I will appreciate this for the rest of my life.”

If you had told Neal and Jennifer Geller eight years ago that they would be the first family to apply to the JFLA’s Lerner Family Adoption Loan program — started in 1997 to assist couples who wish to adopt or undergo fertility treatments — they would have looked at you as if you were a little crazy. It never crossed their minds that they would need help when it came to having children.

The Gellers, who married in 1993, were part of that privileged class of individuals who believed that by working hard and applying themselves, they could accomplish anything they set out to do. But they were left feeling frustrated and powerless after spending thousands on fertility treatments after they were unable to conceive. “All I wanted was to be a mom,” Jennifer said. “Was that too much to ask?”

After thousands of dollars out of pocket and two years of nonstop doctor’s appointments and treatments, the Gellers were emotionally and financially spent. They stopped the infertility roller coaster and decided to adopt.

“I felt better after making the decision. Now I had a purpose, a goal,” Jennifer said. “I’m a very goal-oriented person.”

The Gellers had started the process of adopting internationally when an adoption facilitator called them from New Mexico.

“I know you’re waiting for Romania,” the facilitator said, “but a young birth mother came to see me, and I have a really good feeling about her. Do you want me to submit your résumé?” (In private adoptions, birth mothers will read over several résumés to choose the parents.)

One morning the Gellers received a phone call from the facilitator saying she had someone who wanted to talk to them. Both Gellers sat at the speakerphone and listened while a squeaky young voice came over the receiver, “Hi,” she said. “Will you be the parents of my baby?” They didn’t hesitate: “Yes,” they both sobbed.

The Gellers were ecstatic, calling relatives and friends to tell them that they were going to be parents. But they would need money — and a lot of it — almost immediately. A typical domestic adoption through an agency or lawyer can cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Jennifer called the National Adoption Agency in Washington, who referred them to a woman in Northern California. This woman had grants for adoptions, but only for Northern Californians. Then the woman asked if they were Jewish. She knew an agency in Los Angeles that gave loans to people for adoption.

The next day the Gellers called JFLA. Schecter was enthusiastic, and “the ball rolled.”

“It happened so fast we couldn’t believe it,” Jennifer said. “No doubt, if it wasn’t for JFLA, we would have had to take a second [mortgage] on our house.”

“It wasn’t like a bank,” Neal recalled. “They trusted us; here was somebody who cared.”

Six months after they brought their son Adam home from the hospital, Schecter invited them to the annual JFLA fundraiser dinner to talk about their experience. Admiring donors held baby Adam, who slept through the speeches like a perfect little gentleman. Since then, 14 other adoptions have taken place, including one by a gay couple, plus two in-vitro fertilizations, aided by JFLA’s adoption loan program.

“Before, I was outside the club,” Jennifer said. “Now, I feel like a mom. We worship the ground Adam walks on. We wanted him so much!”

The Gellers are up for another first with the agency. If a private adoption comes through, they will be the first couple to apply to JFLA for a second adoption loan.

“What is need?” Meltzer asked, responding to a common misperception that Jewish people don’t need financial aid. “People come in with a need. It could be an Orthodox couple making good money but they have six children and one of them needs braces. … They wouldn’t be able to get help from any other source. Or a child with potential wants to go to a private college, but his parents are already paying for two other children. They may be well off but can’t afford the $35,000 a year for tuition. Why shouldn’t that child realize his potential?”

“We fool ourselves into thinking Jews today don’t need money,” Schecter added. “There is always the working poor, struggling from paycheck to paycheck, especially among the immigrant populations. By offering loans without interest, individuals maintain their dignity. They repay their loans, and they have accomplished something, and we have accomplished something.”

Reflecting on this accomplishment, Schecter displayed a stack of thank-you letters the organization receives yearly for their services. Some are typed, but a majority are written on special stationery in meticulous handwriting.

“Without JFLA, I have no idea how I would have gotten through all the hardships I’ve faced in the last two years,” one loan recipient confided. “Thank you for being there to catch me when I fell.”

JFLA Loans

The JFLA administers a growing number of donor-directed loan funds. Four officers handle these loans: Danielle Walsmith, undergraduate and graduate student loans and Israel experience; Evelyn Schecter, camp loans, adoption, and women and children in crisis; Sion Abrams, emergency loans; and Mark Meltzer, business loans.

Max Anna Baran Small Business Loan Fund

Weisz Family Entrepreneurial Loan fund

Sylvia David I.A. Fine Business Fund

Edward Meltzer Student Loan Fund for Undergraduate Students

Newton D. Rochelle F. Becker Graduate Student Loan Fund

Morris Doberne Campership Experience Loan Fund

Women Children in Crisis Loan fund

Lerner Family Adoption Assistance Fund

Kopelove Family Short-Term Home Healthcare Loan Fund

Iranian Emigre Loan Fund

Soviet Emigre Loan Fund

Rosslyn Katherine Gaines Loan Fund for Hearing ;Impaired Students

Newton D. Rochelle F. Becker Israel Experience Loan Fund

James Spada Loan fund for Persons with AIDS

ORT Student Loan Fund

Autistic Developmentally Disabled Childrens Loan Fund

The Jewish Free Loan Association is located in the Jewish Federation Building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 715, Los Angeles, CA 90048. For more information on obtaining a loan, call (323) 761-8830 or (818) 464-3331.