The New Face of the UJ


Sitting in his sunny Bel Air hilltop office, the president of the University of Judaism (UJ), Dr. Robert Wexler, is in a cheerful mood.

A high-profile lecture series of top American and Israeli personalities is generating national attention and an unexpected financial bonanza. The university’s continuing education arm is innovating new programs and drawing close to 10,000 participants. Enrollment in the young rabbinical school is running higher than anticipated.

Granted, there are also some nagging problems. As always, the fluctuating fiscal health of the institution is worrisome. The uncertain impact of the Sept. 11 attacks and a sliding economy has Wexler "holding my breath," he says. Undergraduate enrollment remains low. And some critics charge that the UJ has forsaken its responsibility as the flagship of Conservative Judaism on the West Coast.

The evolution of the University of Judaism and its 50-year-old president are closely intertwined. The UJ was founded in 1947, and Wexler was born three years later. In 1968, fresh out of high school, Wexler took his first UJ course during the summer session.

After receiving a doctorate in Near Eastern studies at UCLA and his ordination as a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), followed by a lectureship at Princeton University, Wexler joined the UJ in 1978 as assistant to the dean of students.

In 1992, he followed the highly respected Dr. David Lieber as UJ president.

The institution Wexler took over was co-founded by the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education and by the JTS in New York, the rabbinical training and academic center of the Conservative movement. UJ’s guiding philosophy, however, was formulated by the great Jewish educator and thinker Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, author of the path-breaking "Judaism as a Civilization."

"Kaplan viewed the role of the Jewish university as a multicentered institution, in which the teaching of the liberal and fine arts was of equal importance to the training of rabbis," Wexler says.

The founding lay leaders of the UJ, men like Dore Schary and Milton Sperling, came from the Hollywood film industry and shared the view that the UJ should give equal emphasis to culture and to religion.

As to his personal outlook, Wexler says, "I am an observant Jew, but I feel just as comfortable with a social-action Jew or a cultural Jew."

He acknowledges that UJ administrators may not have consistently clarified their philosophical viewpoint, leading later to criticism among some Conservative synagogues.

In practice, Wexler interprets the UJ’s "general educational mission to the community" and "eclectic approach to Judaism" broadly enough so that it easily accommodates a lecture series featuring former President Bill Clinton (Jan. 14); former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Feb. 11); political strategist James Carville (March 11); and Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (April 22).

Spearheaded by a massive advertising campaign — including full-page ads in the Western editions of Time and Newsweek featuring the slogan, "If the University of Judaism can bring today’s leaders to L.A. — imagine what it can bring to you," — the lecture series has been met with a public response that has even stunned its organizers.

The lectures were originally booked for the 3,000-seat Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, but as the wave of ticket requests rolled in, they were quickly transferred to the Universal Amphitheatre, which seats 5,000 in the orchestra level, and 1,200 in the mezzanine.

After the change of venue, the idea was to restrict seating to the lower level, but as demand continued, the upper level was opened up as well. By early this week, all but a hundred of the mezzanine tickets had been sold, and it’s almost certain there will be a full house by the time Clinton takes the podium.

"I had no idea this series would be so popular," Wexler says, even though all four speakers have been closely involved in American-Israeli relations "I guess people, especially after Sept. 11, want direct access to those who have been in power. It’s different from seeing them on TV," he adds.

The financial payback on the lecture series is equally impressive. Assuming the mezzanine is also filled, a total of 6,200 tickets will have been sold.

Of these, 120 tickets went for $2,500 each, with the holders entitled to a private dinner with each of the speakers. That’s a total of $300,000.

Next, 400 people bought tickets at $400 each, entitling them to attend post-talk receptions for the speakers. That’s another $160,000.

That leaves 5,680 general reserved seats for the series, going at $180 each, totaling $1,022,400.

The grand total thus comes to $1,482,400.

What about the expenses? Both Wexler and the Harry Walker Agency in New York, which represents Clinton and Barak, declined to discuss the speakers’ fees.

However, inquiries to other booking agencies and to professionals familiar with the process yielded a fairly close consensus on the following going rates:

President Clinton: $100,000-$125,000, plus expenses for three people and transportation by private jet.

Albright: $50,000-$70,000, plus first-class plane fare.

Barak: $50,000 and first-class fare from Israel for himself and party of two. (Since Barak is scheduled for other appearances in the United States in April, the transportation expenses might be shared.)

Carville: A bargain at $20,000, plus first-class airfare.

So, fees alone for the four speakers range between $220,000 and $265,000, not including airfare. Even doubling this figure, and more, for rental at Universal, transportation, advertising, extensive security, first-class hotel accommodations and dinners, the UJ should end up with a very handsome profit, which Wexler says will go for scholarships.

Not everybody is cheering for the lecture series. Wexler says he has received about 20 messages objecting, some quite forcefully, to the democratic and liberal orientation of the speakers.

Others charged that Clinton and his advisers "have aided and abetted the foes of Israel," in the words of one writer. And one or two notes alluded to Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"We have previously received similar messages, from the other side, when we had conservative speakers like [talk show host] Dennis Prager," Wexler says. "We are not honoring or endorsing any speakers, but we will continue to present them as long as they are respectable and we can learn from them."

The lecture series was the brainchild of Gady Levy, the 32-year-old dean of UJ’s department of continuing education, whom Wexler credits with reinvigorating and expanding UJ’s sizable outreach and extension program.

Close to 10,000 people annually participate in a diversified program of classes, tours, lectures, seminars, forums and special events, mainly held in the evenings and on Sundays.

Levy also launched Yesod ("foundation" in Hebrew), an intensive two-year biblical and Jewish studies program, held in partnership with 10 Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues.

Now in the works is a videoconferencing program, linking UJ faculty with adult students in Palm Springs and San Jose.

Innovative projects are under way in other parts of the campus. At the Whizin Center for the Jewish Future, director Ron Wolfson is working toward formation of a Jewish Teacher Service Corps, modeled on the Teach for America program.

He hopes to alleviate the shortage of qualified teachers in Jewish day schools and synagogues by enlisting alumni of Birthright Israel and other Israel-centered programs, as well as recent college graduates in Jewish studies, for one- to two-year stints as teachers. (For more on visiting lecturer Mimi Feigelson, see page 52.)

Seminars and workshops for teachers and parents, directed by Risa Munitz-Gruberger, are emphasizing the key role of family education.

The university’s performing arts program hosted the world premiere of the full-scale musical "Haven," and Wexler is looking toward edgier projects, such as staging translated Israeli plays and readings of the works of younger Jewish writers.

"We have all this Hollywood talent here, and we want them not just as donors, but as participants," he says.

On the construction front, the current project is the Auerbach Student Center, which will serve as a combination fitness and student union center, with an adjoining Olympic-length swimming pool, soccer field and basketball court.

The UJ does not field any athletic teams, but under consideration is formation of a debating team, which should be a natural at a Jewish liberal arts college.

Visitors — impressed by the attractive UJ campus, the diversity of its activities, and frequent media attention — are often startled to learn that only 223 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled on a regular, year-around basis.

The College of Arts and Sciences teaches 103 undergraduates, well below its earlier peak. The master of business administration program, designed for future administrators of nonprofit organizations, has 36 students. The Fingerhut School of Education, which grants master’s degrees in education and behavioral psychology, has 20 students.

The one branch of the academic program that is exceeding enrollment projections and is on the soundest financial footing is the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, with 64 future rabbis enrolled in the five-year study program.

"When we started the Ziegler school in 1996, we thought we’d take 10 new students each year, for a total of 50 at all five levels, because there wouldn’t be enough jobs for any more," Wexler says.

But since then, rabbinical job opportunities have greatly expanded beyond the usual congregational pulpits, especially in the fields of education and community service.

"Now even The Jewish Federation has a rabbi in residence," Wexler marvels. "Who would have thought of that 30 years ago, when The Federation barely tolerated its Board of Rabbis."

Plans now call for the annual admission of 20 new students in the rabbinic school, and a total student body of 100.

The UJ also co-sponsors two programs in Israel. A one-year program for high school graduates, conducted jointly with Young Judea, is currently dormant, in light of the intifada and the Sept. 11 attacks. However, a third-year program for rabbinical students, a joint venture with the JTS, remains on course.

Among some Conservative synagogue members, particularly those who have been part of the Conservative movement from childhood on, criticism is being leveled at the UJ and Wexler administration on both philosophical and practical grounds.

"I used to think of the UJ as the center of the Conservative movement on the West Coast, but now the only thing Conservative about it consists of the Ziegler rabbinical school, Camp Ramah and the Introduction to Judaism classes," says Michael Waterman, vice president of finance at Valley Beth Shalom.

As it stands now, "the UJ has marooned the Conservative movement and left it without a focal point," says Waterman, adding, "If the Conservative movement is to survive, it can’t be a loose confederation of synagogues, with each rabbi or board of directors making their own rules. There has to be a central authority."

His criticism is reinforced by Jules Porter, a former member of the UJ board of directors and past president of both the university’s Patrons Society and Sinai Temple.

"I am disappointed that the UJ has been turned into a generic cultural and community institution, whose ambition seems to be to become the Princeton of the West Coast," Porter says.

Wexler acknowledges these criticisms as a "fair statement," but believes that the critics are nostalgic for a type of institution that never really existed.

The UJ has never aimed to be the flagship of Conservative Judaism or the interpreter of Conservative religious doctrine, Wexler argues. "Our rabbinical school is Conservative. The rest of the university is basically nondenominational."

Doctrinal interpretations lie partially within the purview of the JTS in New York, but mainly with the Rabbinical Assembly, the worldwide association of Conservative rabbis, Wexler says.

"When the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards rules, for instance, that it’s OK to drive to the synagogue on Shabbat — but only to the synagogue — or that openly homosexual rabbis cannot become members of the Rabbinical Assembly, then Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson [dean of the Ziegler school] has to comply with these rules, regardless of how he feels about them personally," Wexler notes.

A second criticism by Waterman and Porter, more immediate and emotional than philosophical differences, turns on the UJ’s past and planned actions in "evicting" other Conservative organizations and school classes from its campus.

The West Coast offices of the United Synagogue, the umbrella organization of Conservative congregations, and the United Synagogue Youth, were asked to find other quarters some time ago.

But what brings the critics’ blood to a boil now is the UJ’s demand that the Los Angeles Hebrew High School move its Sunday classes off campus.

Currently, the school’s seventh- to 12th-graders meet twice a week at seven different synagogue locations, but the 400-500 students study together on Sundays for three and a half hours in 25 UJ classrooms. The UJ space was provided free until last June, when the school was asked to hold its Sunday classes somewhere else. When Hebrew High objected, the UJ asked for $100,000 for a year’s extension, says Waterman, an attorney who teaches ethics classes at the school. The parties ultimately agreed on a $50,000 payment, with the matter to be reopened next June.

One result of the friction between some Conservative synagogues — with VBS in the forefront — and the UJ, is that VBS has changed the beneficiary of its annual fundraising breakfast. Formerly, all the proceeds went directly to the UJ. Now money is specifically earmarked for the Ziegler rabbinical school, although, Waterman says, the Ziegler school is already well-endowed, while the 54-year-old UJ as a whole is running in the red.

Waterman readily concedes that his criticism of the UJ represents a minority viewpoint among Conservative synagogue leaders.

More typical are the opinions of Elaine Berke, also a VBS member and a past president of The Jewish Federation’s Valley Alliance, who serves on the board of UJ’s think tank, the Center for Policy Options.

"I wasn’t brought up in the Conservative movement, so I don’t have a particular ax to grind," she says. "Every institution has to grow up and assume its own identity. It may be a good thing that the UJ has become nondenominational."

Wexler says that the contentious Hebrew High issue simply comes down to a matter of space, and that organizations not part of the UJ have to go to make room for the university’s expanding continuing education and cultural programs.

While Wexler regrets any loss of financial support, he notes that the UJ is relying less and less on synagogue donations and more on contributions by individuals.

While he would not cite specific figures on the UJ’s financial situation, he observed "We are subject to ups and downs. Like any corporation, in flusher periods we upsize, and in leaner periods we downsize.

"We are holding our breath now to see how the events of Sept. 11 and the downturn in the economy will affect us. We’ll know better by the end of the calendar year."

One of the more drastic downturns confronted the UJ in 1997, when, facing a $2 million deficit, the administration terminated the jobs of 14 of its 100 faculty and staff.

Another below-the-surface indicator of fiscal problems has been the "unnaming" of the College of Arts and Sciences. In the 1980s, it became the Lee College, in honor of British philanthropists Norman and Sadie Lee, presumably after a large donation.

Two years ago, the "Lee" name was dropped, following "a confidential understanding with the Lee family," Wexler says.

The university is now looking for a new sponsor, one bearing a hefty endowment. One report — that if no such philanthropist is found the college may have to close down — was firmly denied by Wexler, who says that there are "no plans whatsoever" to discontinue the college.

Toward the end of the nearly two-hour interview, Wexler turned toward the future of the 54-year old university"All our programs are directed toward one goal, and that is to make a real impact on the shape and direction of American Judaism," he says. "We are very much a California institution, which means that we will always be innovative, that we will always look forward."

Fitting Together


At the conclusion of the weekend, participantstook their puzzle piece name tags and together assembled a poster.Photos by Nancy Steiner

 

For Jewish young adults in Los Angeles, connectingwith Judaism can be a puzzling experience. So it seemed appropriatethat the 145 participants of ACCESS’s annual Shabbaton weekend atCamp Ramah received name tags in the form of puzzle pieces.

ACCESS is the young-adult program of the JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles, and the March 13-15 Shabbatonweekend retreat drew a record number of participants, who were eagerto make connections, both social and spiritual.

An ACCESS member for about four years, Iparticularly enjoy this annual opportunity to gain new insights aboutJudaism and spend a leisurely weekend with good friends. Many otherparticipants were longtime ACCESS members who, like me, wereShabbaton veterans. There were also several newcomers to the group,and, for some, this was their first taste of the Federation’sprogram.

Sayan Gomel, 28, recently moved to Los Angeles andcame “to get more involved with the community and my religion.”Describing himself as more “cultural” than “religious,” Gomel saw theShabbaton as a chance to meet “people you have more in commonwith.”

Although the majority of ACCESS members aresingle, there were at least nine couples on our weekend, many of whomhad met through the Federation. But while people were undoubtedlykeeping an eye out for their beshert, the focus was more onfriendship and community.

This was the third Shabbaton for Jodee Mora, whodescribes herself as on the more “seasoned” end of ACCESS’s 25-to-40age continuum. “It’s like having a big sleep-over party with all yourfriends,” says Mora, who came for “the chance to be with greatfriends in a beautiful, tranquil environment, learn more aboutreligion and…unwind from regular responsibilities.”

The theme of the program was “Why Be Jewish?” andif we learned anything during the weekend, it was that the answer isas unique and individual as each participant.

Our program began with song-filled Friday-nightservices, followed by a traditional Shabbat dinner. Then we gatheredto hear keynote speaker Carol Levy, executive director of theAmerican Jewish Congress. Levy’s boisterous address alternatedbetween serious and comic as she exhorted her listeners to translatethe spirit we demonstrated on the weekend into community action. Sheasked participants to break into small discussion groups and sharetheir positive Jewish experiences. During a second presentation onSaturday, Levy described Judaism as “endless struggle, endless joyand endless oy,” and advised us that being a mensch is “a lifetimeendeavor.”

At Saturday-morning services, everyone got achance to have an aliyah, based upon which theme from the Torahportion most resonated with them. Services were followed by workshops(from which we chose two) on spirituality, tzedakah, Jewish holidays,the movements within Judaism, and crafts. Renee Firestone, aHolocaust survivor, and John Crites, a Jew-by-choice, also offeredworkshops. I opted for the spirituality session, where Rabbi GordonBernat-Kunin taught us about Buber’s “I-it” and “I-you” definitionsof relationships. Later, my inner child played at the arts and craftsworkshop, where we created etched-glass kiddush cups.

After Havdalah, the mood turned from serious tosilly as we broke into groups and were assigned to incorporate aJewish life-cycle event and a random object into a skit or song. Mygroup put together a jingle combining marriage with a remote control,while the group that got shiva and a toilet seat faced a tougher testand rose (actually, sunk) to the challenge.

Sunday afternoon arrived more quickly than wewould have liked. But as Shabbaton Co-Chair Craig Miller observed,the program had provided a new, “positive Jewish experience” thatparticipants could add to those they had shared at the beginning ofthe weekend.

At theconclusion of the program, participants took their puzzle piece nametags and together assembled a “1998 ACCESS Shabbaton” poster. Forthat moment, all the pieces fell into place. And with luck, each ofus gained something from our weekend experience that would make usfeel just a little more connected when we returned home.

For more information about the Federation’s ACCESSprogram, call (213) 761-8130.

Rebuilding a Family’s Past

In her latest memoir, Helen Epsteinrecounts the stories of grandparents she never knew

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Until she entered a concentration camp, FrancesEpstein hardly knew that she was a Jew. The same cannot be said ofher daughter, Helen Epstein, who thinks of herself as being “in aconstant state of teshuvah [return]” to Judaism.

Epstein was in Los Angeles earlier this month totalk about her recently published book, “Where She Came From: ADaughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History,” an absorbing memoir thatrebuilds her family’s destroyed and nearly forgotten past.

Epstein, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husbandand two preteen sons, believes that she is the first in her familysince her great-grandmother, Therese Sachsel, who can walk to shulfrom her home. Though she calls herself “semi-observant,” even thatis a far cry from the life her mother led as an assimilated Jew inPrague during the 1920s and 1930s. Epstein had always hoped to writea story about her mother and her mother’s mother, Pepi, a skilledseamstress who was killed during the Holocaust. Epstein’s 1979 book,”Children of the Holocaust,” had made her a kind of icon among thesons and daughters of survivors. But, she said during an interview,”no one was dying to have a book about my grandmother.”

The book had taken a back seat to other projectsuntil Frances died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in 1989; she was69. For Epstein, then 42, the eldest of Frances’ three children andher only daughter, the loss was made more unbearable by her mother’srequest that no “Kaddish” be said, no rabbi be in attendance, and herremains be cremated. Epstein and her brothers didn’t even sitshiva.

“It placed a great burden on us,” she said duringa discussion with members and guests of Second Generation of LosAngeles. “We had no way of mourning.”

It was then that Epstein decided not to wait foran assignment — which might never come — and to write the book shehad dreamed of writing for many years. It was a project that tookabout eight years and spanned thousands of miles, as Epstein pursuedher grandmother’s story, from the archives of the research library atnearby Harvard University to the State Central Archive in Prague. Hersearch was bolstered by her fluency in Czech, which she learned as achild.

Epstein believes that her book is part of agrowing interest in genealogy among Jewish baby boomers. “We’re atthe age where we want to tell our children about our parents, and ourparents are dying.” As she has traveled around the country, promotingher book, Epstein said, she has come across
many Jews in their 30s,40s and 50s who are using the Internet to search for long-lostrelatives scattered throughout the world. “What’s so exciting aboutthe Internet is that when you get on it in Los Angeles, you arelikely to start conversations with someone in Poland…. It hasreally revolutionized the whole field of rebuilding families andreconnecting.”

As for her own search, Epstein did it theold-fashioned way. “I wouldn’t have had a book if I’d done it theelectronic way,” she said. “What my book depends on is stories.”These were dramatic stories that often came directly from her mother:the great-grandmother who committed suicide at 44, leaving behindthree young children; the grandmother, Pepi, raised as an orphan, whobecame a dressmaker in Prague at age 15. “These are things I couldnot have gotten off the Internet,” Epstein said.

While writing “Children of the Holocaust” was aliberating experience because she discovered a sense of kinship withother children of survivors, writing “Where She Came From” was purepleasure, Epstein said. “I never had a sense of family. Everyone wasdead when I was born. I really feel, in this book, I createdgrandparents for myself. That was an extremely rewardingexperience.”

Helen Epstein and her parents, Frances andKurt, top. Photos from “Where She CameFrom: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History.”


UCLA Hillel’s New Home

Launched quietly by million-dollar donations fromthree of the most recognizable names in Jewish life, the campaign toerect and furnish a new home for UCLA’s Hillel Center is about to gopublic.

The Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Lifewill rise on the site of the YWCA building, directly across from theUCLA Faculty Center on Hilgard Avenue.

The $8.5 million drive to build and endow the newHillel Center began some 18 months ago with unpublicized gifts of $1million each from former MCA/Universal Chairman Lew Wasserman, StevenSpielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, and Edgar M. Bronfman,president of the World Jewish Congress and international chairman ofHillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Add another $500,000 from entertainment executiveHaim Saban and a total of $1.5 million in smaller gifts, and thecampaign is more than half way home, said Janice Kamenir-Resnik, whoheads the campaign.

Bronfman was recently in Los Angeles to press theflesh and exhort large-scale would-be donors. He joined one smalldinner, at which attendance was limited to potential million-dollargivers.

The timetable for the new 18,000-square-footbuilding, replacing the present 45-year old, unattractive andover-crowded facility, calls for ground-breaking in eight months anda construction period of 18 months.

The present YWCA building, which is 75 years oldand cannot meet seismic and safety standards, will be torn down, saidKamenir-Resnik, whose current involvement started when she met herfuture husband at a UCLA Hillel function.

Formal announcement of the Rabin Center plans isdue on May 14 at a tribute dinner marking Chaim Seidler-Feller’s 25years as a Hillel rabbi. Public fund raising is to kick into highgear in September. — TomTugend, Contributing Editor

 

Left to right, Rabbi Richard Levy, EdgarBronfman, Herb Glaser and Dean Ambrose discuss the new UCLA HillelCenter home.

 

Community Briefs

Exchanging Gifts, Goodwill

Aviva Lebovitz (l) and Fredi Rembaum (r) with PressmanAcademy students holding Purim packets from Israelistudents

The celebration of Purim took on a newinternational dimension for the children of Beth Am PressmanAcademy.

Pressman Academy (grades K through 8) is one offour Los Angeles day schools (Emek Hebrew Academy, Abraham JoshuaHeschel Community Day School and Milken Community High School are theothers) that have been twinned with schools in Israel through the newLos Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Since fall, the Pressman kids havebeen writing to pen pals at Magen School in suburban Tel Aviv. Aspart of the ongoing relationship in which educators from the twoschools will exchange faculty members and curriculum ideas, adelegation from Magen was due to come to Los Angeles in lateFebruary. Fear of a second Gulf War scuttled the trip, but thePressman student body, under the leadership of Principal AvivaLebovitz, found a tangible way to send Purim greetings to theircounterparts at Magen.

The 280 Pressman students made individualmishloah manotbaskets, enclosed personal postcards, then added candy and othergoodies. The load, which filled two huge suitcases, was schlepped toIsrael by Beth Am Rabbi Joel Rembaum and his wife, Fredi, who happensto be the Jewish Federation’s director of Israel and overseasrelationships and a prime mover in the twin-school program. TheRembaums, in Israel to welcome a new grandson, met with parents fromthe Magen School and were given another huge suitcase of mishloahmanot packets to take back to the Pressman kids.

At a school assembly, the packets were distributedto enthusiastic children, who greeted the unexpected gifts with achorus of “Toda Rabah” [thank you very much].

Future plans for the two schools include a jointbilingual newsletter to be published over the Internet. SaysLebovitz, “One of our goals is to create a sense of community betweenus and them — a feeling that we are connected.” — Beverly Gray, Contributing Writer

UJ Conference on Israel

Beginning on Sunday, March 29, the University ofJudaism will hold the symposium “Exile/Diaspora/Homeland: In theFiftieth Year of the State of Israel.” For the nominal charge of $60,the public is invited to attend the various panels, dinners andfestivities that make up the conference, which is being held underauspices of the Western Jewish Studies Association and runs throughTuesday, March 31.

For conference information, call Dr. Aryeh Cohen,chair of the UJ Jewish studies department, or Dr. Miriyam Glazer,chair of the literature department: (310) 476-9777, ext. 262 or ext.206. — B.G.

As an added attraction, Monday evening, March30, will be devoted to a performance of music, voice and dance,billed as “The Sephardic Soul of Flamenco.” The Del Monte familyincorporates into its repertoire centuries-old Gypsy traditions ofCentral and Eastern Europe as well as the musical legacy of theMediterranean Jewish peoples. This performance is free to those whohave registered for the conference; all others can purchase separatetickets for $15.

Music of Youth

A unique concert, featuring 12 talented studentmusicians from BJE-affiliated schools and youth programs, will beheld on Wednesday night, March 25, at the Westside Jewish CommunityCenter. The musicians, who will perform solo pieces by Bach,Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart and Chopin, were chosen through a citywidecompetiti
on.

It’s all part of the Liana Cohen Music Festival,established two years ago by the Cohen family to perpetuate thememory of their daughter. An accomplished pianist, she was killed bya drunken driver. Admission is free. Further information is availablefrom the BJE’s Dr. David Ackerman at (213) 761-8606. — B.G.

L.A. Holocaust Museum Moves

A page from 1943 autographalbum of Betty Koboshka Gerard. The album is part of the HolocaustMuseum’s personal memorabilia collection.

The Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust,long tucked away in obscurity inside the walls of the JewishFederation Building, is changing its name and moving to a new, moreaccessible location. Its most frequent moniker, the Los AngelesMuseum of the Holocaust, will now be its official name, with MartyrsMemorial as a secondary title.

This spring, it will relocate to 6006 WilshireBlvd. on Museum Row, between the Petersen Automotive Museum and theMuseum of Miniatures, and across the street from the Los AngelesCounty Museum of Art. Sharing space at the new site will be theJewish Community Library and the Jewish Historical Society. All threeinstitutions were displaced last fall when the Federation moved tonew temporary quarters nearby.

Sometimes confused with the better-known Museum ofTolerance, the museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.A department of the Federation, the institution was founded primarilyby survivors as both a museum and memorial. Its mission has been bothto educate the public about the Holocaust and commemorate those whoperished. “We deal with one subject: what happened between 1933 and1945 in Europe and North Africa,” said Marsha Reines Josephy, themuseum’s acting director and curator.

Using a stark, photodocumentary approach, themuseum offers a glimpse into the lives of European and North AfricanJews prior to and during World War II through photographs, documents,personal memorabilia and rare artifacts. Much of the material hasbeen donated by Los Angeles-area Jews, and families come frequentlyto view their own personal history, Josephy said.

In addition to its collection, the museum hasvideo stations that offer survivor accounts and historical footage.It also provides speakers to schools; serves as a resource forresearchers, teachers, and film and video documentarians; and offerspublic events.

Even after the Federation moves from its temporaryheadquarters at 5700 Wilshire Blvd., the hope is that the museum willremain where it is.

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust willreopen in its new location later this spring. It is seekingsuggestions on ways to celebrate its 20th anniversary. To convey yourideas or for more information on current programs, call MuseumCoordinator Masha Loen at (213) 761-8170.— Ruth Stroud,Staff Writer

Etta Israel Center Online

The Etta Israel Center has been awarded a $150,000grant by the Covenant Foundation to create a new Internet site topromote Jewish education for the disabled and to help Jewish studentsand their families find their way through the special-educationmaze.

The Internet site will feature professionallymonitored articles, bulletin boards, chat groups, resources andsearchable databases. Disabled students and their support groups willbe able to share knowledge, experience, frustrations and successes;school administrators and special-education teachers will be able tointeract and improve the delivery of special education.

World-renowned scientist Dr. Michael Samet willlend his technical skills to creating and developing the new site.Dr. Samet created the Multimedia Computer Learning Center at theMuseum of Tolerance and designed an automobile Internet site that wonthe 1997 Webby for the World’s Best Money Site.

For more information, call (310) 285-0909. — Staff Report

Talking Up Tourism

Israeli tourism officialsfocused on selling Israel as a vital travel destination to anaudience of travel industry professionals.

In commemoration of Israel’s 50th anniversary, theIsrael Government Tourist Office threw a gala banquet at the BeverlyHilton during the height of Purim last week. The combination tradeshow/dinner/entertainment event, targeted at a travel-industryaudience, focused on selling Israel as a vital traveldestination.

Echoing the festive Purim holiday, the jubileeshow offered a balance of food and fun, kicking off with a trade-showreception that included representatives from airlines (El Al, TowerAir), travel agencies (World Express, Hadar Travel & Tours), andtour package groups (Carmel, Prestige).

Among the guests ushered into the banquet room forthe official program were Shimon Stein, legal adviser to PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Ari Rappaport, head of Israel’s50th-anniversary committee. With the aid of pie charts and tourismtrailers, host Oren Drori, director of the Israeli Government TouristOffice, gave a brief lecture on selling Israel’s image and handlingquestions of security.

“There are two kinds of Israel,” Drori said,half-joking. “Israel, my country, and the CNN Israel.” He furtheremphasized PR concerns by turning the tables on stereotypes, pointingout Israel’s perception of Los Angeles as a city under siege bygangs, and suggesting that the most dangerous part of an Angeleno’strip to Israel is the ride from home to LAX.

Entertainment accompanied the chicken and saladbuffet in the form of comedian Eitan Lev, who riffed on Israelitourists, mimicking Hebrew as spoken by the French, Germans and otherforeigners. Afterward, the sizable crowd was treated to an energeticperformance of Israeli folk dancing. –Michael Aushenker, Community Editor