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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image courtesy of Refugees International


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couple devises DIY method of getting critical medical supplies into Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Two naïve Jews from the Valley’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call for support is answered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The couple also reached out to their professional networks.

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

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

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

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

Working with ‘real heroes’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comedians Wendy Hammers and Marvin Silbermintz performed. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Photo courtesy of Shmuley Boteach​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local groups rally support for Syrian refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving and shaking: ‘Mad Men’ Day, Jewish World Watch and more

The City of Los Angeles declared June 17 “ ‘Mad Men’ Day” and honored the popular television show’s creator, Matt Weiner, during a ceremony at City Hall.

City Councilmember Paul Krekorian, whose office led the proceedings, welcomed Weiner and more than 20 members of the show’s cast and crew, including “Mad Men” producer Erin Levy, and presented Weiner, who was dressed in a sharp, gray suit, with an award on behalf of the city.

Much of the AMC show, set among the Madison Avenue ad firms of the 1960s, was filmed in Los Angeles and created jobs in the city, which has seen other producers take their projects elsewhere as a way to keep down production costs. Weiner, holding back tears, said the architecture of historic Los Angeles buildings inspires him. He called the city his muse and said he was thankful to the city officials for “not throwing the entire past away to [land] developers.”

Members of Weiner’s family, including his son, Marten, who starred on the show, were also in attendance. The final episode of “Mad Men” aired this past May after seven seasons.

Several L.A. City Councilmembers addressed Weiner and his fellow honorees, including Mike BoninPaul KoretzHerb Wesson and Tom LaBonge. A brief montage of footage of the show screened before the award ceremony, which began around 10 a.m. and lasted approximately 20 minutes.

Bill Bernstein assumed the position of executive director at Jewish World Watch (JWW) on June 15, succeeding interim executive director Patti Koltnow, who had held the job since Michael Jeser, the organization’s previous full-time executive director, departed in January.

Bill Bernstein is the new executive director of Jewish World Watch. Photo courtesy of Jewish World Watch

In a statement, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, co-founder and president of JWW, welcomed the new hire to an organization that is committed to fighting mass atrocities worldwide. He joins a staff of six people who work out of the organization’s offices in Encino and brings experience that includes time working as chief development officer at the social justice-minded Liberty Hill Foundation.

“As we continue to grow, Bill Bernstein’s leadership and experience will be a tremendous asset for Jewish World Watch,” Kamenir-Reznik said in a statement.

It was the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis, co-founder of JWW with Kamenir-Reznik in 2004, who said that the Jewish post-Holocaust commitment to “never again” obligates the community to fight against genocide in countries such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The organization’s programs include the Solar Cooker Project, which offers women in Africa, who can be susceptible to violence while collecting firewood, an alternative means of cooking.

The Orthodox Union (OU) West Coast region honored Ralphs Grocery Co. during its annual awards banquet on June 16 at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood.

The supermarket chain received the OU Kashrut National Leadership Award in recognition of the three Kosher Experience sections that have opened in Ralphs stores in the Los Angeles area as well as the longstanding partnership between Ralphs products and the OU, which describes itself as “the world’s largest kosher certification program.”


From left: Orthodox Union (OU) Rabbi Reuven Nathanson, Ralphs President Donna Giordano, Ralphs deli/bakery merchandiser Liz Wilson and Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of the OU West Coast region. Photo courtesy of Orthodox Union

Kendra Doyel, vice president of public relations and government affairs for Ralphs, and Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of the OU West Coast region, were among those who offered praised for the relationship between the two entities.

“The icing on the cake for us is the OU supervision, which is the best in the industry, for our counters,” Doyel said in a statement. 

“We are very proud of the relationship we have with Ralphs, as its corporate values mesh very closely with the values that guide the OU as well,” Kalinsky said.

Temple Adat Elohim of Thousand Oaks has hired Rabbi Andrew Straus as its new spiritual leader after a “lengthy international search,” according to a press release.

“I am honored to join Temple Adat Elohim as the 48-year-old congregation’s newest rabbi,” Straus, an ordinee of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said in a statement. “I am dedicated to continuing its vibrant tradition of lifelong learning, social justice and profound desire to make Reform Judaism accessible for all who seek its embrace.”

Rabbi Andrew Straus is the new spiritual leader of Temple Adat Elohim. Photo courtesy of Temple Adat Elohim

Straus, who begins in the position July 1, previously served as interim rabbi at Central Synagogue in New York City; as senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland, Calif.; and as the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Ariz.

Interim Senior Rabbi Barry Diamond will be leaving and joining Agudas Achim Congregation in Coralville, Iowa. Meanwhile, Adat Elohim Rabbi Rebecca L. Dubowe, who is the rabbinate’s first female deaf rabbi and has served at Adat Elohim for the past 18 years, “will be moving to the next stage of her rabbinate,” the release said.

“The temple has decided to change from two rabbis to one rabbi,” Adat Elohim President-elect Peggy Frank said in an email. 

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

Moving and shaking: Zimmer Children’s Museum, NCJWLA thrift shops and more

Local community leaders named to the annual Jewish Daily Forward 50 include Israeli-American Council Chairman Shawn Evenhaim; Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of Pacific Jewish Center in Venice; Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Micah Wexler of Wexler’s Deli.

Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who was beheaded by ISIS in early September, was also included.

Hollywood figures. including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lizzy Caplan, Darren Aronofsky and Scarlett Johansson. made the cut as well. 

The New York-based publication’s Nov. 9 list includes figures from the United States and abroad who have had the greatest impact over the past year. In the 20 years The Forward has been publishing the list, this is the first time that the number of women outnumber men, 26-24.

Rabbi Barry Freundel, the disgraced Washington, D.C., Modern Orthodox leader who is being charged with six counts of voyeurism for placing a hidden camera in a mikveh, comes in at No. 44. Of the decision to include Freundel, Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner wrote, “Impact is our driving criteria, which is why Freundel deserves his place on this year’s list. The charges leveled against him are upsetting in the extreme. But that’s not all his story represents. … His story has prompted tremendous soul-searching and the prospect of some real institutional change. … This fulfills my definition of impact.”

More than 600 people gathered at the Beverly Hilton hotel for Etta Ohel’s annual gala to help celebrate its 21st anniversary and to recognize benefactors to the organization that administers support to Jews with special needs.

Hosted by television personality Adrianna Costa, the Nov. 12 event spotlighted Davis Factor, founder of Smashbox Cosmetics, the evening’s sponsor, who received the Visionary Award.  

Adrianna Costa.  Photo by John Shearer/Invision

“Etta is one of the hidden gems of Los Angeles,” Factor said, as quoted on the organization’s Facebook page. 

Event honorees and dedicated Etta contributors Moise and Angie Handeles took to the stage and spoke of their personal ties with the organization and its subsequent mission. Angie Handeles opened up about caring for her developmentally disabled younger brother from a young age and how the memories of that experience have provided her with a deeply rooted connection to Etta: 

“Moise and I get so much joy and satisfaction being connected to the clients, their families and the volunteers. We look at the volunteers with admiration and marvel at their commitment, kindness, love and care for all the participants.”

Etta youth board member Zipporah Levine accepted the Handeles Young Leadership Award, highlighting her outstanding volunteer work alongside other volunteers, including her fellow youth board members.

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey; Assemblyman Richard Bloom; Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender, who produced such classics as “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting”; and Dean Factor, the honoree’s brother, were among the evening’s attendees.

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer  

The Zimmer Children’s Museum Discovery Awards Gala took place on Nov. 13 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and honored Dick Lippin, chairman and chief executive of the international consulting and public relations firm, The Lippin Group, with the Icon Award for “his many contributions to the Museum for a decade,” according to a Zimmer press release. 

From left: Sheryl Wachtel, Zimmer Children’s Museum Discovery Awards Gala chair; Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; Cheryl Hines; Allison Shearmur, Discovery Award honoree; Dick Lippin, Icon Award honoree; and Esther Netter, CEO of Zimmer Children’s Museum. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Lippin serves on the museum’s board of directors.

Additionally, Allison Shearmur, a prominent film and television producer and founder of Allison Shearmur Productions, received the Discovery Award, which is “presented annually to extraordinary individuals who are leaders in their fields and communities,” the press release said. 

Esther Netter, CEO of the museum, praised the honorees, describing them in a statement as “two individuals who lead us by example to do good and who inspire our community to act for change.”

The Zimmer Children’s Museum is housed at The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center. 

Kevin Beggs, chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group; Stephen Davis, president of Hasbro Studios; and philanthropist Sheryl Wachtel co-chaired the gala event in Beverly Hills. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, actress Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), also attended. 

Jewish World Watch (JWW), an anti-genocide organization founded out of Valley Beth Shalom, honored Intel Corp. with the
I Witness Award on Nov. 18 at the Museum of Tolerance.

From left: Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Jewish World Watch (JWW) co-founder and president, and Carolyn Duran, JWW honoree and Intel Corp.’s conflict minerals program manager and supply chain director. Photo by Jim Fermo

According to JWW press materials, the event, the JWW eighth annual I Witness Award Presentation, recognized Intel’s “first-of-its-kind commitment to manufacture its microprocessors with conflict-free minerals. Intel’s bold action — announced at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show — represented a major step forward in the movement to end the use of conflict minerals, which have served as a continued source of funding for armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 6 million people have been killed since 1994.”

Attendees included Carolyn Duran, Intel’s conflict minerals program manager and supply chain director; Gary Niekerk, Intel’s director of corporate citizenship; Helen Zukin, JWW board member and past president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, among others.

Zukin moderated a dialogue with the two senior Intel executives, who were described in the JWW press release as “instrumental in developing and implementing the company’s breakthrough policy.” JWW “led a range of legislative, consumer, advocacy and education efforts in the conflict-free movement” the release said.

Duran accepted the award on her company’s behalf. 

Temple Israel of Hollywood, which was, according to JWW, the first congregation in the United States to pass a pledge saying it will not purchase electronics that have conflict minerals, was presented with the Survivors Legacy Award. Rabbi John Rosove accepted the award for his synagogue. 

“Intel’s pledge to remove all conflict minerals from their supply chain is a powerful display of leadership,” JWW President Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who delivered opening remarks from the Museum of Tolerance stage, said, as quoted by the release. “Jewish World Watch wanted to recognize that bold commitment with our I Witness Award.”

More than 100 people turned out for the event. 

JWW staff in attendance included Michael Jeser, executive director, who delivered closing remarks; Naama Haviv, assistant director; Liz Braun, outreach and advocacy associate; and Eden Banarie, youth engagement coordinator. JWW board members Vaughan MeyerSheila Wasserman and others also attended.

Over the weekend of Nov. 14-15, the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) celebrated the 90th anniversary of its thrift shops. The event took place all day Saturday and Sunday throughout the eight locations of the thrift shops in L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. Each store provided special discounts and free gifts to patrons. 

From left: Slavena Stanislavova and Laurene Miller. Photo by Rebecca Weiner

The stores were busier than usual over the weekend, with customers snatching up the two-for-one deals and the special NCJW/LA tote bags that came free with purchase. Laurene Miller, a manager, and Slavena Stanislavova assisted customers. There was even NCJW/LA gelt at the register to add to the  festive vibe of the event. Hillary Selvin, executive director of NCJW/LA, noted that the celebration was a success. “We certainly added to the money we can use for our programs and services,” Selvin said. 

The first NCJW/LA thrift shop was opened in 1924 to support the waves of displaced immigrants who came to L.A. during World War I. In a press release for the 90th anniversary, NCJW/LA vice president of Council Thrift Shops, Leanore Saltz, stated, “Council Thrift Shops began as a way to help salvage used items to collect money to provide services for our community and continues working today to better the lives of women, children and families throughout Los Angeles.”

The proceeds from the thrift shops provide 77 percent of the funding for NCJW/LA programs and services to over 11,000 individuals. The thrift shops receive over 80,000 donations annually.  

Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer

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

The Mensch List: She has tzedakah in the bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calendar: December 21-January 3

MON | DEC 23


Forget the movies — the man is making music. With more than 35 years of bringing New Orleans-inspired music to audiences all over the world, the band has mastered creating the sounds Allen has loved since childhood, including nods to George Lewis, Jimmie Noone and Louis Armstrong. Come because you liked “Manhattan,” and stick around because you’ll love New Orleans. Mon. 8 p.m. $70-$102. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. TUE | DEC 24


Tradition! It’s the fifth annual “Who needs Christmas, anyway?” celebration brought to you by your local Laemmle family. Norman Jewison’s adaptation of the Broadway classic is set in the Ukrainian shtetl of Anatevka, where Tevye the milkman has to balance the challenges of poverty, anti-Semitism and five young, ready-for-love daughters. You’ll get to be another voice in an already impressive cast that stars Topol, Norma Crane, Molly Picon and Leonard Frey. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $18 (general), $15 (seniors, 60 and older; children, 11 and under). Claremont 5, Music Hall 3, NoHo 7, Playhouse 7, Royal and Town Center 5. (310) 478-1041. ” target=”_blank”>stsonline.org.


Comedian Elon Gold serves up a very Jewish Christmas with a special lineup of some very special guests. Known for his spot-on impressions of Jeff Goldblum, Jay Leno and Howard Stern, Gold is just as funny at being other people as he is being himself. Having been a judge on ABC’s “The Next Best Thing,” he is sure to deliver an impressive assemblage of L.A.’s finest. Tue. 7:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. $17-$30. The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 656-1336. ” target=”_blank”>laguardians.org


A little schmooze and a little palooze can go a long way. Meet your match (maybe — fingers crossed!) at JDate’s favorite holiday party. With 19 successful soirées behind it, this year’s bash is going back to basics. Spice things up with tapas from Rick Bayless, winner of the first “Top Chef Masters” and host of the PBS series “Mexico: One Plate at a Time,” a tequila tasting (if you want to splurge), drink specials, thousands of dollars in awesome prizes and dancing to a top L.A. D.J. Tue. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. $35 (advance), $45 (door). Red O Restaurant, 8155 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (877) 453-3861. WED | DEC 25


As many of us will be very available, it is an excellent opportunity to give back. Join Temple Israel of Hollywood in partnership with Hollywood United Methodist Church to bring the holiday spirit to those less fortunate. Volunteer to cook, serve or give out gifts of toys and care packages. If you can’t be there day-of, you’re welcome to donate ahead of time so the turkeys, trimmings and toys are all possible. Wed. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. FRI | DEC 27


It makes more sense to tell you what Mr. Hamlisch is not responsible for when it comes to defining music — but sense is no fun. A musical prodigy at the age of 6, the conductor and composer was the brain behind “A Chorus Line” and wrote the scores for “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People” and, more recently “Behind the Candelabra.” In this first film biography, we get an inside portrait of one of the most respected artists of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Fri. 9 p.m. PBS. Check local listings. TUE | DEC 31


Ring in the New Year with one of Hollywood and Broadway’s greatest showmen, portrayed by yet another great showman. Actor Brian Childers pays tribute to the crooning comic with songs like “Tchaikovsky,” “Thumbelina,” “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” “Oh, By Jingo,” “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and more! Guests will receive New Years-y treats like champagne, desserts and noisemakers. Illusionist and comedian Bart Rockett will also be featured. Tue. 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. $55-$95. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. FRI | JAN 3


Comedian Katie Rubin takes to the stage in her one-woman show as a person trying to find her place among other people. With a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Rubin stresses the “ish” of her religion while remaining committed to her spirituality. With song, timing and insight, it’s everything the theater should be. Fri. 8 p.m. $20. Through Feb. 27. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 960-7780. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repairing our broken world: Stories from the Congo

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

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

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

[Related: Violence in Eastern Congo is our problem]

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

Women survivors of gbv at Chambucha

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

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

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

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

The Chambucha Women's rape and trauma center

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

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

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

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

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

A ‘walk’ to remember

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

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

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

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

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jared Sichel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanukah in Chad

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the Co-Founder and President of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW’s work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice is currently traveling along with Diana Buckhantz, JWW Board Member, on a site visit to the JWW Solar Cooker Project in the Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad, home to approximately 30,000 Darfuri refugees.

[Farchana, Chad] — It is late into the evening, and I just remembered – tonight is the first night of Chanukah, even in the seemingly God-forsaken town of Farchana on the eastern rim of Chad.  Today my JWW travel partner, Diana Buckhantz, and I spent Shabbat visiting the Farchana refugee camp. We came to meet the Darfuri refugee women served by our Solar Cooker Project.  With all of the scores of organizations that support this massive camp, I was told today that the donor partners almost never actually come to the camp to meet, on a personal level, with individual refugees to engage in conversation.  Most donors, I was told, receive reports explaining how the funds are used and describing the benefits conferred.  As we met the women today, the vital importance of visiting the camps and talking to the people being served, which JWW has done in Congo and Darfur whenever possible, was clearer to me than ever.

One obvious reason that personal contact is so important is to bear witness to the women’s stories of loss, survival and resilience. Bringing these mind boggling and dramatically tragic stories home helps to educate and mobilize our community and give a face to an otherwise very distant, removed, hard to understand genocide, the effects of which continue to unfold. 

The other reason is more subtle, but it is equally, if not more, important.  Many of the women we met with expressed a similar sentiment when they heard who we were and why we came to visit. With faces that speak legions about their sense of isolation, their sadness and their understandable depression, they were so grateful to be remembered especially now, at a time when the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have announced huge reductions in resources previously provided to the Farchana camp.  The refugees at Farchana know that those resources are being redeployed from Farchana to be used in other, newer conflict areas around the world.  We learned that this week alone UNHCR reduced by 25 per cent, effective immediately, and in some cases even retroactively, the funds and services allocated to Farchana.  There was a further UNHCR directive issued this week that for the 2013 budget year, Farchana will take an additional 28 percent reduction in allocation.

Information about all of this redeployment of funds sends a very serious and provocative message to the refugee population; first and foremost, it means that their services will be drastically reduced.  To people living in abject poverty and profound squalor, drastic reductions in services could be the difference between life and death.  But what is also significant and quite painful to the refugees in Farchana, is the message of abandonment that the reductions imply.  The reduction of funds is a symbol of the sad truth that the world’s attention has moved on.

So in the midst of such depressing news, unwittingly, our trip to Farchana has taken on new significance – to the refugees, to the aid workers, and to us at JWW.  For the refugees and aid workers, a visit from an organization that is not reducing its funding but rather was interested in listening to ideas for future projects, lifted spirits and brought a degree of hopefulness.  For me, Diana and for JWW, it means an intensification of our responsibilities, as we are being relied upon by one of the most beleaguered populations in the world, a population that is increasingly isolated and abandoned.

Today, after I introduced myself and JWW to the women refugees, ending my words with JWW’s core value of “not standing idly by,” a woman, Awa, stood and said that Jewish World Watch gives her hope.  She continued by telling us, “with the passage of so many years, I was sure that by now everyone had forgotten about Darfur and given up that we should have a future. But hearing about your education and advocacy work on our behalf gives me back some spirit and makes me know that not everyone in the world has forgotten about us.”

This evening, as I remembered that it was the start of Chanukah, I reflected on Awa’s words and realized that we are faced with a serious challenge – an apt challenge to consider as I pulled my small menorah out of my duffle bag.  Chanukah is about fighting against great odds and ensuring that right prevails over might.  It is also a time of bright and shining lights.  Tonight is the first light of Chanukah, and I am very far away from home.  I came close to forgetting to light the first candle.  But, by myself (Diana was long asleep) in my hut late at night in the World Food Program compound in Farchana, two candles were lit.  As I watched the candles burn down, I felt renewed strength and obligation to continue our work here and to continue to shine a light on problems and circumstances others might prefer not to see.  This surely was a memorable, if not festive, Chanukah, and one that I likely will never forget.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik’s moral imperative

On the morning of April 10, Janice Kamenir-Reznik will march up Topanga Canyon Boulevard holding up signs and a megaphone to lead thousands of people in chants to raise awareness of the ongoing genocides in Sudan and Congo. And while she probably won’t show it that morning, cheerleading is Kamenir-Reznik’s least favorite part of her job as co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch.

“I can give a speech to 2,000 people, no problem. I can hold a press conference. I can sit on the floor in a Darfuri refugee camp,” Kamenir-Reznik said during an interview recently in her Encino home. “But this is different — you almost feel silly.”

Still, she’s willing to do it because the idea of standing up to the worst kind of evil speaks to the core of her identity.

“To me it’s a question of living with consistency,” she said. “If you go to temple and you celebrate Passover and you do all these things we do as Jews, and then you say you don’t care about the suffering of people because they are 10,000 miles away and have a different color skin and a different faith — it just makes no sense,” she said.

Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold Schulweis tapped synagogue member Kamenir-Reznik to form Jewish World Watch (JWW) in 2004, and to do so she left the law practice she and her husband built to dedicate herself to the organization as a full-time volunteer.

By now, JWW has engaged more than 70 synagogues and 40,000 donors, and has influenced the local and national conversation on contemporary genocide and what we can do to help refugees. In the last seven years, JWW has raised $5 million for projects such as building water wells and hospitals to serve refugees and victims of rape, produced a documentary film to raise awareness, and established on-site solar cooker factories so that Darfuri woman do not have to leave the relative safety of refugees camps to collect firewood.

JWW expects 2,000 people to attend the April 10 three-mile Walk to End Genocide. The fifth annual event will be followed by an awareness fair at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills.

Kamenir-Reznik said her main challenge continues to be convincing the Jewish community that this should be its issue.

“The first reaction for most people is, ‘We have our own tsuris — Israel is in trouble, there’s anti-Semitism, assimilation — why are you hocking [hounding] me about these people that I don’t really want to care about and don’t have the room for?’ ” Kamenir-Reznik said.

“And to me it’s really a very exciting challenge to open up somebody’s eyes to the idea that you don’t have to give up any of that, you don’t have to make this your No. 1 priority, but you also cannot call yourself a caring person or even a good Jew if you don’t open your heart to it,” she said.

She has little patience for those who don’t see it as their problem, not only because Jewish values and hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake, but because she understands now that during the Holocaust, European Jews were as foreign to the world as Darfuri refugees or Congolese rape victims are to Westerners today.

She knows that the only way to garner support is to share firsthand accounts that make what seems so strange chillingly real. To that end, she has been to Africa three times with JWW, each time bringing home tales mind-boggling in their horror — of women not only raped, but also forced to watch their daughters being raped, or their husbands’ penises and heads cut off.

Sitting in the tents hearing these women tell their stories, she said, she realized these same tales could have come from the Warsaw Ghetto as easily as from the Iridimi refugee camp, and by sharing the emotions, we can eliminate any sense of “the other.”

Kamenir-Reznik, 59, has learned to live with the dissonance between what she sees in Africa and her south-of-Ventura life.

“When I travel in my personal life, I don’t like going to places [where there is suffering] unless I know I’m going to come back to do something about it. I have avoided India my whole life, and … I don’t like going to Mexico.”

Most recently, she visited Congolese mining villages, where gangs fighting to control the mineral mines are raping women; incapacitating them physically, economically and emotionally; and causing them to be shunned by their families. Without capable women, villages fall apart.

JWW was a strong voice for newly passed legislation to require electronics companies to ensure that their minerals do not come from gang-controlled mines. JWW is also funding hospitals and social work services to rehabilitate the women.

With its annual budget now up to $2 million, JWW is considering doing more on college campuses, getting involved in interfaith work and expanding outside of California.

Kamenir-Reznik said she plans to stay involved with JWW, but she is also setting up a succession plan so someone can take over leadership in a few years.

Being involved is in her blood — she said she started in community organizing at 10 years old at Sinai Temple’s youth group.

She went to UCLA as an undergraduate , then trained as a social worker, but quickly realized it was community organizing, not clinical work, that drew her.

One of her first jobs was as an advocate for Soviet Jewry with The Jewish Federation. She went back to UCLA to attend law school, and, in her 25 years as an environmental real estate attorney, she is most proud of leading a campaign to get more women on the bench and setting up legal access centers for the poor in courthouses around Los Angeles. She has also served as president of the California Women Lawyers and was a founder and president of California Women’s Law Center. She and her husband, Ben, raised three children now in their 20s, and she took on huge communal responsibilities, such as chairing the project to build UCLA’s Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, dedicated in 2002.

Kamenir-Reznik said her energy comes from growing up in a chaotic home with five siblings. Her parents instilled in the children the imperative to use time productively, and gave their children the freedom and independence to follow their hearts.

Kamenir-Reznik’s father was a dentist, attorney, jewelry maker, artist, photographer, contractor and communal stalwart. He died last June.

Her mother, now 87, had careers in teaching and gerontology and still volunteers weekly at the Los Angeles Jewish Home and makes gefilte fish from scratch for the family seder.

“I’ve always been really aware of the fact that nothing is forever,” Kamenir-Reznik said. “So, while you have the energy, and while you have the capacity, you need to do things because you don’t know what your capacities are going to be in the future. And I really, really believe that we’re each here for a purpose.”

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Activists Stand Firm on Warrant for Sudan Leader

Hours after an international court issued a warrant for his arrest, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir kicked humanitarian aid groups out of his country. Nevertheless, Jewish activists who backed the indictment are standing behind their decision.

The world community cannot allow Bashir’s crimes and threats to deter the appropriate legal entities from taking action, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Bashir’s reaction reaffirms “the legitimacy of the indictment” by the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Saperstein, who noted that Bashir has been obstructing the provision of humanitarian aid for years. He said that the indictment and arrest warrant should turn up the pressure on the Sudanese leader.

The warrant charges Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity — murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape — in the Darfur region of Sudan. It also includes two counts of war crimes — intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging.

After a nearly six-year campaign of systematic rape, expulsion and murder against the citizens of Darfur by the government-backed Janjaweed militia, hundreds of thousands have died and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes and live in refugee camps in the region or in the neighboring countries of Chad and the Central African Republic.

Following the arrest warrant, the Sudanese government revoked the licenses of 13 international humanitarian organizations and evicted them from Sudan on March 4. The government also closed down three domestic relief agencies.

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, the expelled organizations account for at least half of the humanitarian operations in Darfur, and without them, some 1.1 million people will be without food aid, 1.5 million will not have medical care and more than a million will be left without safe drinking water.

“I’m sad” about the situation, but “if criminal law is going to mean anything, we have to call it what it is,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which earlier this month passed a resolution supporting the possible use of military force in Darfur.

Gutow said supporters of the indictment anticipated the consequences, but the hope is that the ICC action will have an impact “not today but tomorrow.” He said the arrest warrant increased the likelihood that others in the Sudanese leadership, upset by the international opprobrium, would push out Bashir and set up a more conciliatory government.

Another Jewish group active on the Darfur issue, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), refused to connect the two recent events. AJWS spokesman Joshua Berkman said his organization “does not believe there is any legitimate link” between the arrest warrant and the ejection of aid groups.

“The ICC is an independent court and has nothing to do with humanitarian relief work,” he said.

Berkman said AJWS believes the international community is correct in rejecting the idea that humanitarian aid for 4 million people could be used as a “bargaining chip” in any way, and added that it was time for the United States to take the lead in pushing to resolve the conflict.

Saperstein agreed, saying that his group was pushing for the White House to name a special envoy to work on the issue.

After a meeting with President Obama last month, actor George Clooney said he was told there would be an envoy appointed, but the White House has not announced it.

In a letter last week signed by AJWS, the Religious Action Center and the JCPA, more than 50 members of the Save Darfur Coalition urged Obama to condemn publicly Bashir’s actions and “insist that he restore access to life-saving humanitarian aid.”

While the effects of the expulsion of aid groups on Darfurians is not yet known, Jewish leaders said that Bashir’s actions immediately caught the attention of the wider American Jewish community, which has been at the forefront of efforts to bring the world’s focus to the Darfur genocide.

The Reform movement sent out an action alert last week to its congregations urging members to call their members of Congress about Darfur, and “judging from the response, people are re-engaged on this issue,” Saperstein said.

He said the indictment and expulsion of aid groups “has galvanized people again.”

Loyalty to Jews or to humanity? There is no ‘either-or’

The question is whispered and must be answered in a forthright manner: Darfur or Israel? Is your loyalty to your people or to humanity? Is your loyalty to Judaism or to mankind? Are you essentially a Jew or a human being?

Be wary of the framing of the question, because it forces a stranglehold on us, a hard disjunctive either-or choice. It is like the question my aunt asked me as a child: “Tell the truth, dear. Do you love your father or your mother?” That is a cruel option.

For a Jew, to love Judaism is to love humanity. That is basic Jewish theology. God of Israel is global, not tribal. The traditional formula for our liturgy reads, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe.” Melach ha-olam. We are the custodians of the world and its inhabitants.

The righteous indignation of the Jewish prophets was not restricted to Jews or Judaism. The prophets' call to repentance was not for Israel alone. In Judaism, the defense of human dignity never was, or is, for Jews only. When we open the Bible, we learn that the first Jew, Abraham, first defended not Jews but the pagan citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah and confronted God: “Shall the Judge of all the world not do justice?” Abraham spoke to God in passionate defense of the people of Sodom, none of whom were Jews.

On Yom Kippur, we read that the prophet Jonah was sent to prophesy to the people of Ninevah, none of whom were Jews. They repented for their transgressions, and God repented for his punishment.

The prophet Amos addressed God's concern not only for Israel but for the people in Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab.

Do you love your people or humanity? We reject the premise.

To be a Jew is to love humanity. To love God is to love His creation. On Rosh Hashanah, we do not celebrate the birth of any of our Jewish patriarchs — not Abraham nor Moses. Our High Holy Day calendar does not celebrate the birth of a Jewish messiah or the accomplishments of any of its Jewish prophets. The Jewish calendar is calculated not as 2006 C.E. or sixth Century B.C.E. but commemorates the birth of the universe and of all humanity.

In the beginning, God created Adam. Adam has no race, no ethnicity and no creed. Adam is each man and each woman and each child created in the image of God. So, in the first chapter of Genesis, we read: “And God created the human being in God's image, male and female, created He them.”

When the sages ask “from what continent? From what corners of the earth — south, west, east or north — and from what color earth was Adam formed?” they reply, “Adam was formed from every corner of the earth and out of black, white, red and yellow dust.”

If you hurt my brother or my sister — black, white, yellow, red — in Europe, Asia, Africa or America — if you humiliate, torture, torment them, you rip apart the image of God. It is my flesh, soul and heart that you wound. It is my flesh that is pierced and my tongue you cut out and my eyes you make blind.

The God of the universe did not create Islam or Christianity or Judaism. God created Adam, the human being, who through his religious choice cultivates religious culture, conscience and compassion.

Wise people repudiate the making of false either-or choices. The choice is not either-or: either our own or others; either we shed tears for our family alone or for the other families of the earth.

Compassion and justice are not like pieces of pie. Cut a slice for yourself; you take away from the other. Your pie is too small. Your god is too small.

True love and mercy are inclusive, expansive, embracing, enlarging. So, our sages taught “mitzvah goreret mitzvah” — one good deed leads to another. Love of the Children of Israel leads to love of all the children in God's world. The moral choice is not either-or. The Jewish response is “both-and.”

Like charity, love begins at home, but it must not end there. If it ends at home, it is not love and charity but tribal narcissism. Therefore, in our tradition, we are mandated to care for the poor, the pariah, the diseased, the murdered of all humanity. We are mandated to feed the hungry of the stranger, together with the hungry of Israel. We comfort the bereaved of the alien, together with the bereaved of Israel. We visit the sick of the nations of the world with the sick of Israel.

Above all, Jews and non-Jews must not fall victim to the humiliating game of “one downsmanship” — “my genocide is worse than your genocide.” Your blood is not as red as my blood. Genocide, no matter its color, ethnicity or religion of any fabric is the ultimate blasphemy to the image of godliness.

Loyalty to Jews or humanity? The Torah teaches a kinship of suffering, whether the victims threatened are in Judea, Armenia, Chad, Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur — all souls are threatened. And on Yom Kippur, we fast for all who are afflicted with drought and famine.

It is a false choice: Do you love your children or the children of others? On the contrary, because we love our children, we love other children. Because we love our families, we love other families. Because we mourn our Holocaust, we mourn the holocausts of the world.

It is perilous to abandon the particular in order to love the universal. It is equally foolhardy to abandon the universal for the particular.

As the philosopher George Santayana noted: “You cannot speak in general without using any language in particular.” Judaism is our particular language through which we address humanity. From out of the depth and memory of our own pain, we cry to alleviate the pain of our brothers and sisters.

State of Humanity Forum: ‘Darfur silence is lethal’

In opening the inaugural State of Humanity Forum, held Oct. 17 at Valley Beth Shalom, Marcy Rainey, VBS chair of Jewish World Watch (JWW), spoke of the atrocities in Darfur, proclaiming: “Silence is lethal, and meekness is inexcusable.”
Despite the brutality of the genocide, in which roving bands of the Arab terrorist group, known as Janjaweed, have taken the lives of 400,000 Darfurians and displaced roughly 2 million others, the theme of the evening was to acknowledge and honor the efforts of nonprofit organizations like

JCRC’s Schwartz-Getzug picked to head Jewish World Watch

Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, a longtime Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles executive and director of the organization’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), has been named executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of synagogues, schools and Jewish community members working to combat genocide around the world.

Schwartz-Getzug plans to leave the Community Relations Committee, which is one of the prominent faces of The Federation in the non-Jewish world, in November and begin her new position in early December. The committee has not yet announced her replacement.

Schwartz-Getzug, who is also The Federation’s senior vice president of public affairs, said she has mixed feelings about leaving the “epicenter of the local Jewish communal world” after six years of service. Still, the opportunity to head a small up-and-coming organization outweighed her misgivings.

“This was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” said Schwartz-Getzug, a 44-year-old mother of three. “This felt like an opportunity to branch out.”

“Tzivia will definitely be missed,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Schwartz-Getzug will help the two-year-old nonprofit raise money, market itself to the community, oversee the creation of a strategic plan and help determine which issues the group should spotlight, said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW president and acting executive director.

Schwartz-Getzug was selected from 40 applicants for the top spot at JWW. Schwartz-Getzug said she plans to work closely with JWW’s board and other leaders to determine how to grow the organization.

The Community Relations Committee programs have grown in scope and importance under Schwartz-Getzug’s direction, observers say. Among them is KOREH L.A., a well-regarded reading mentoring program, which offers literacy programs to children as young as 3 and 4. Schwartz-Getzug also increased the number of JCRC-sponsored trips to Israel for California legislators, a program that helps increase political support for the Jewish state and for Federation social services.

Recently, she oversaw the creation of a new coalition that has brought together more than 80 local Jewish staff members from congressional, county supervisor, City Council and other political offices. Schwartz-Getzug hopes the new group will reach out to other ethnic and religious coalitions to network and figure out ways to collaborate.

Still, Schwartz-Getzug, like other JCRC directors in the past decade, has had a hard time leading the JCRC to take public stands on controversial political issues. In mid-May, for instance, the JCRC board approved a pro-immigrant rights statement that some members hoped would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community. The approval process was so slow, however, that the statement appeared several weeks after the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in the country, a reflection of the JCRC’s, and, by extension, The Federation’s, cautious approach.
A lawyer by training, Schwartz-Getzug’s career has taken “a lot of left turns” over the years, she said. After practicing law for four years as a litigator, she joined the Anti-Defamation League to become civil rights director for the Western Region. She moved on after six years to become community liaison at DreamWorks SKG, principally working on “The Prince of Egypt” and its prequel, “Joseph: King of Dreams.” Schwartz-Getzug joined The Federation in 2001.

“It is clear from my career choices that I am most happy and passionate working in the Jewish community,” she said. “And I look forward to continuing to play an important role in it.”

At Save Darfur Rally: ‘Never Again, Again’

Some, like Seattle resident Julie Margulies, 50, flew thousands of miles to the nation’s capital to attend. Others, like high school student Adam Zuckerman, 18, from Portland, Maine, raised money to help bring friends — both Darfuri and Jewish — to Washington for the big day.

Toting signs of “Never again, again” and “Not on our watch,” Jews representing Hillel groups and day schools, synagogues and youth groups, community centers, Hadassah chapters and all denominations came from around the country to the National Mall in Washington for Sunday’s Save Darfur rally. (Please also see page 11, for one person’s experience of the rally.)

Participants included a delegation of more than 100 from Los Angeles. Another group of Angelenos attended a Darfur rally in San Francisco.

With the genocide in Darfur topping the Jewish community’s national agenda, an unmistakable Jewish presence ran through Sunday’s rally. Organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, a collection of 150 faith-based advocacy and humanitarian aid organizations initiated by two Jewish agencies, the roster of speakers included Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS); and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Other speakers included political heavyweights such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.); celebrities such as actor-director George Clooney, Olympic skater Joey Cheek and the Rev. Al Sharpton; and Sudanese representatives like Simon Deng, who recently walked from New York City to Washington to call attention to the situation in his homeland.

Their voices joined to oppose the genocide being waged by Arab militias against black Africans in a poor, desert-ridden region of Sudan known as Darfur. Since 2003, the government-backed militias have been decimating towns and raping, torturing and killing hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, leaving behind scorched earth.

Famine and disease are now endemic in the region, where refugees subsist in makeshift displaced persons camps. Officials in Chad nervously monitor the conflict, which they worry will spill over to their country. The situation in Darfur, which some estimate has claimed more than 400,000 lives, constitutes the first time the United States government has recognized genocide while it is still occurring.

Those behind the Save Darfur Coalition say Sunday’s rally aimed to galvanize a multinational peacekeeping force to stop the attacks and ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered.

David Rubenstein, a coordinator of the coalition, elaborated on these goals in a memo to the White House that called for guaranteed access to food and medical aid in the region, a beefed-up force on the ground from the African Union, a more effective United Nations peacekeeping mission and a presidential envoy focused on Darfur.

Addressing the sea of faces in Washington, Saperstein challenged listeners to realize these goals.

“An ‘A’ for effort doesn’t do it,” he said. “Your legacies and ours will be measured not by efforts alone but by whether, in the end, we stop or fail to stop this genocide.”

Jewish participants like Joseph Milgrom, 92, a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor from suburban Maryland, found the message particularly salient because of the Holocaust.

“I was standing in line and they were sending people right, left, right, left,” he said of his experiences in the Holocaust, the tears rolling down his cheeks. “I was sent to work. Everybody else in my family died.”

For these reasons and others, Jewish participants turned up in droves Sunday under hot and sunny skies. Rally organizers reported Jewish representation from all major cities along the Eastern seaboard and from as far away as Wisconsin, Oregon and California.

At least 100 traveled from Los Angeles for the rally through the joint efforts of the locally based Jewish World Watch (JWW) and the Jewish Community Relations Committee, among other participating organizations and congregations. Those on the trip included Rabbi Karen Bender and Saundra Mandel of Temple Judea and Peter Marcus, chair of JWW’s Community Action and Response Committee and a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“We delivered 15,000 postcards and 1,000 petition signatures to the AJWS as part of its Million Voices campaign,” said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, co-founder and president of JWW.

Rally Director Chuck Thies estimated the day’s turnout at roughly 75,000 people.

Activism on Darfur has been a rallying cry among socially conscious Jews for months. In February, the issue topped the agenda of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ annual plenum, which sets national priorities for local Jewish community relations councils.

The AJWS also has taken a lead role, with Messinger making two trips to Darfur. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a genocide alert for Darfur even before the government did. The AJWS and the museum formed the Save Darfur Coalition in 2004.

The weekend’s pre-rally lineup included a smattering of Jewish-led Darfur events. Last Friday morning, Messinger and JCPA’s executive director, Steve Gutow, along with a slew of others, succeeded in getting arrested while protesting on the steps of the Sudanese Embassy.

That night, the DC Reform Chavurah and Tikkun Leil Shabbat hosted a Shabbat service on Darfur. This was followed by three Havdalah services Saturday night, including one at the Jefferson Memorial; and a Sunday morning pre-rally brunch at the George Washington University Hillel, among other events.

Meanwhile, the Million Voices for Darfur campaign, also launched by the Save Darfur Coalition, deluged the White House on Sunday with 1 million handwritten and electronic postcards.

The extent of Jewish involvement has caused some to ask how much other faith communities have done.

“I don’t know on what basis we can quantify what someone else can or should do,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, commented at a recent Darfur event outside the United Nations. “But it would be shameful if we cannot get faith communities in our country to say this is one of the most important issues of our day.”

Even Sudanese participants noticed a disproportionate Jewish presence at the rally and in relief efforts in general.

“The people in Darfur know very well and welcome the support of the American Jewish community,” said Iessa Dahia, a Darfuri now living in Portland, Maine.

Karlo Okoy, a Sudanese pastor living in Lakewood, Colo., echoed the sentiment.

“The present Sudanese killing is exactly the picture of Jewish killing in Germany. They feel the same pain, that’s why they came heavily to help out the Sudanese community,” he said.

Other rallies were staged in Portland and Eugene, Ore.; St. Paul, Minn.; Austin, Texas; Tucson and Prescott, Ariz.; Boca Raton, Fla.; San Francisco; Seattle; Somerville, N.J.; Toronto; and Boulder, Colo.

Some 50 to 100 people from Los Angeles journeyed to the San Francisco rally, under the leadership of Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea and Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple, in a trip organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the Union of Reform Judaism and JWW.


Tragedy in Sudan Spurs Local Action


On Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) gave a sermon on the tragedy of Sudan and what the Jewish community needs to do about it.

His proposed remedy: Start the Jewish World Watch (JWW), a commission of caring men and women that will monitor atrocities around the world by organizing educational evenings with international relations experts and raise money to help societies being ravaged by genocide.

“We wish to be educated, to know what atrocities lie out there and where they are,” Schulweis said in his sermon. “We wish to raise our voice, because we global Jews know that silence is lethal and meekness is inexcusable.”

After the sermon was publicized, clergy from different congregations, such as Sinai Temple, Kol Tikvah and Stephen S. Wise, contacted Schulweis and asked if they could get involved, too.

The result was the Inter-Synagogue World Watch Council, which is co-sponsoring JWW’s first event — a talk by Jerry Fowler, chair of the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., on “Genocide Emergency Sudan: Who Will Survive?” Fowler is an expert on Sudan who has traveled there several times.

In addition to the speech, JWW is also raising funds to build a medical clinic in Chad for Sudanese refugees. The clinic is expected to cost about $45,000 to build and will also serve as a rape counseling center and a food distribution center. After that, the JWW will raise money to dig a well in Chad, which is expected to cost about $3,000.

“The fact that it costs so little to build [the clinic] is probably a statement on the economy, as well as the medical conditions there,” said JWW Chair Janice Kaminer Reznik. “It’s a small amount of money for such a huge impact.”

Currently VBS has 100 of its members involved in JWW. In addition to raising funds and organizing functions, they have initiated letter-writing campaigns to the United Nations, which they say is ignoring the tragedy in Sudan; established a youth division that will provide speakers to youth groups; and started the sale of green ribbons to be worn as a symbol of solidarity with the people of Sudan. They are also planning a trip to Chad in 2005.

“This whole project was born out of the notion that ‘never again’ is supposed to mean ‘never again,'” Kaminer Reznik said. “But there have been other genocides since [the Holocaust], and it seems it just went over our heads. One of the main objectives of JWW is educating people in our position that there is this terrible thing happening that we can’t separate ourselves from, and that is what being Jewish is all about.”

Fowler will speak on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

For more information about Jewish World Watch visit www.vbs.org or e-mail jkreznik@aol.com.