The second annual Camp Neshama attendees come together in the lodge of the Dovid Oved Retreat Center in Running Springs. Photo courtesy of Pico Shul.

Moving & Shaking: Pico Shul goes skiing, BJE and AFOBIS celebrate

Pico Shul went to the mountains over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend with a shabbaton organized by the Orthodox congregation and the young professionals group JConnect.

The three-day retreat, called Camp Neshama, was held at the Dovid Oved Retreat Center in Running Springs, Calif., which is owned and operated by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, the local branch of the international religious Zionist youth movement.

More than 30 young professionals took advantage of the surroundings, spending the weekend skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Snow Valley Mountain Resort, sledding on tiny hills inside the grounds of the retreat center and enjoying communal kosher meals.

“People go to what they want, or they can hang out, relax and make new friends and talk, and have conversations into all hours of the night,” Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, spiritual leader of Pico Shul, said in a Jan. 15 interview as people prepared for car rides back to Los Angeles.

The weekend was the congregation’s second Camp Neshama. The inaugural event was held last Labor Day.

A Friday night dinner kicked off the retreat. On Saturday, people spent daylight hours doing yoga, going on nature walks and attending a lecture on relationships by Bookstein’s wife and Pico Shul rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein.

On Saturday night, people wore wireless headphones to listen to two stations of music — one with Israeli dance tunes and the other with contemporary pop hits — and boogied silent disco-style.

Decked out in ’80s-style snow gear, artist, yoga instructor and writer Marcus Freed was among those who braved the slopes on Sunday before reconvening with the rest of the group in the afternoon for lunch.

The event culminated with a farewell breakfast Monday morning. Shelli Carol, a tutor from Palo Alto, said she appreciated the philanthropic Alevy family for sponsoring the gathering, adding, “I spent my weekend having way too much fun and not getting enough sleep.”


Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu speaks at a ceremony honoring seven firefighters who volunteered in Israel. Directly behind him are (from left) councilman Bob Blumenfield, fire chief Ralph Terrazas, city controller Ron Galperin and councilman Paul Koretz. Photo courtesy of Council District 4.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas joined Los Angeles City Councilmembers David Ryu, Bob Blumenfield, Mitchell Englander and Paul Koretz at City Hall on Jan. 20 to honor seven local firefighters who traveled to Israel in November to fight the deadly blazes that erupted there.

The seven men, six from the city fire department and one from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, took time off from work and paid their own expenses to travel to Israel with the Emergency Volunteers Project, an Israeli government-backed organization that trains emergency responders abroad to assist in Israel in times of need. The organization counts 950 volunteers trained since 2009.

The men were LAFD firefighters Elan Raber, Shaun Gath, Aaron Brownell and Ben Arnold, LAFD engineer Dennis Roach, retired LAFD apparatus operator Mike Porper and L.A. County Fire Department firefighter Jake Windell.

The major fires that broke out across Israel, from both arson and natural causes, left more than 1,000 people homeless and caused about a quarter of the city of Haifa to be evacuated.

The firefighters also were honored the same day at the headquarters of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

“The state-to-state relationship, as well as the personal friendships that have developed between the first responders in Los Angeles and Israel, serve as a reminder of the strong ties between the two countries,” a statement from the consulate said.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, Consul for Political Affairs Yaki Lopez and Consul for Public Diplomacy Maya Kadosh attended the ceremony at the consulate.

Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Errol Fine, chair of the West Coast board of AFOBIS; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; AFOBIS board member Lee Samson and his son, Daniel; and Benjy Maor, director of global resource development at Beit Issie Shapiro. Photos courtesy of American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro.

The American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro (AFOBIS) West Coast regional gala 2016 was held at Sinai Temple on Nov. 17.

ms-sharon-cermakThe event honored Sharon Cermak, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, with the AFOBIS humanitarian award.

“I’ve always done work with kids with disabilities and I think Beit Issie is one of the premier institutions for work with children, so being honored by Beit Issie, by a Jewish organization, really meant the world to me,” Cermak said in an interview.

Cermak currently is involved with a program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, adapted from an initiative at Beit Issie Shapiro, that creates a sensory-friendly environment for children with autism receiving dental care. As part of the program, soothing music is played, the dental office lights are dimmed, and a vest is placed on patients so as to apply deep, comforting pressure to them.

“We’ve developed something at Beit Issie Shapiro, a butterfly vest, which provides children with a ‘hug’ from a butterfly,” Cermak said. “The vest on the chair wraps around the child and provides deep pressure, which is calming for children [and] helps kids be calmer.”

Beit Issie Shapiro is an Israel-based organization that serves children living with disabilities. Located in Ra’anana, Israel, the organization offers early intervention and medical services as well as special education programs to children living with autism, and it develops technologies that improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg attended the event and said the organization demonstrates that Israel is more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Beit Issie Shapiro is a glowing example of Israel as an innovation nation imbued with compassion, combining high-tech and high heart,” Grundwerg said. “As a global leader of innovative therapies and state-of-the-art services for children and adults with disabilities, Beit Issie Shapiro is an unparalleled ambassador for the State of Israel.”

Additional attendees included Avishai Sadan, dean of the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

Headquartered in New York, AFOBIS raises funds to support Beit Issie Shapiro.


Attendees at the Builders of Jewish Education gala included (from left, top row) Philip Miller, Gil Graff, Alan Spiwak, Adrian Miller, Larry Miller and Jerry Katz, as well as (from left, bottom row) Judy Miller, Judy and Louis Miller, and Caryn Katz. Photo courtesy by Mark Lee.

Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), the central agency for Jewish education in Los Angeles, honored 20 members of the philanthropic Miller family and recognized professionals Phil Liff-Grieff and Monise Neumann on Jan. 18 at Sinai Temple.

“It was phenomenal,” Miriam Prum Hess, director of donor and community relations at BJE, said of the evening. “We honored an amazing family that really is a role model from generation to generation — l’dor v’dor — and two professionals who are the epitome of creativity, professionalism and caring.”

More than 530 people turned out at the event, which raised more than $500,000.

Funds raised will benefit the BJE March of the Living program, which is in need of additional staff historians to accompany teenagers on the upcoming March of the Living trip to Poland and Israel, as fewer and fewer survivors are alive or physically able to go.

The funds also benefit the BJE Hebrew Language Proficiency Project, which is focused on maximizing day school students’ acquisition of Hebrew language skills. The Journal reported in 2015 that the program has “had an impact on 2,000 students, 65 teachers and 27 Hebrew coordinators and lead teachers.”

Members of the Miller family honored included the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Louis and Judy Miller, the namesakes of the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University.

Marjorie Gross, Natalie Roberts, Angel Schneider and Sheila Baran Spiwak co-chaired the event, which saw the Daniel Raijman Ensemble perform and Dr. Mark Goldenberg serve as emcee.

ms-landresShawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, a Los Angeles-based incubator of Jewish innovation, in December was elected chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission (QPC), which oversees the nation’s oldest and largest local government innovation fund.

He is serving a renewable one-year term.

Landres has served as a member of the commission since 2013. He was first appointed by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in 2013 and reappointed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in 2015. He chaired his first meeting on Jan. 23.

Landres also serves as board co-chair of Jumpstart Labs.

In addition, the father of two is a senior fellow at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and chair of the City of Santa Monica’s Social Services Commission.

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

L.A. fire chief has families’ safety on his mind

For a career firefighter and leader of 3,300 Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) professionals, last weekend’s tragedy in Brooklyn strikes a particular chord. The deaths of seven young children and the critical injuries suffered by an eighth sibling and their mother serve as a stark reminder that fire can kill in any community. 

The pain of this tragic fire was compounded by the fact that there were no working smoke alarms found in the Sassoon family’s home. Simply put, smoke alarms save lives. 

A working smoke alarm could have alerted the family to the immediate danger as the smoke and flames first began to spread in the kitchen, and they may have had ample warning and time to escape the fire before it became an inferno.

Last year, the LAFD recorded 15 deaths citywide in residential fires without evidence of a working smoke alarm. Nearly all of those deaths could have been prevented if only the resident had been awakened by that piercing sound with which we are all familiar. 

The LAFD is proud to serve all residents of Los Angeles, including a large and vibrant observant Jewish community. Last weekend, a family in Brooklyn observing Shabbat left a hot plate burning while they slept. Many Angelenos celebrating Shabbat practice similar customs, exposing themselves and their families to myriad fire dangers. These risks are avoidable. The layer of protection that working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors provide is a measure that can help mitigate these circumstances. As we say in the fire service: Fire burns, smoke kills. 

The LAFD is committed to the safety of the people in the communities we serve. After significant injury or fatal fires in residential areas, our firefighters fan out across the neighboring blocks to alert residents of the incident and ask them to check their smoke alarms. We provide free batteries for alarms that need them, and in cases where there are no smoke detectors, we provide them for free.

But we also ask the community and the residents of L.A. to be proactive. The National Fire Protection Association recommends a residential smoke alarm installed in every sleeping room and in common hallways outside each sleeping area. 

The LAFD frequently reminds residents to “check your smoke alarm battery” in messages that coincide with the biannual time changes.  Checking your smoke alarm batteries and ensuring you have enough devices in your home is a simple way to keep you and your family safe. 

A new state law is designed to make this an even simpler proposition. The new law dictates that all smoke alarms manufactured and sold by retailers after July 1, 2015, must have nonreplaceable, nonremovable batteries that last at least 10 years. By Jan.  1, 2016, owners of rental units must install new 10-year battery smoke alarms in each bedroom or other sleeping area. 

In the coming weeks, the LAFD will partner with local community organizations to ensure additional smoke alarm and fire safety education within our observant Jewish communities. As the Passover holiday approaches, what better time than now to check your smoke alarms and install new ones if necessary? As you prepare for the ritual of the seder and the family gatherings, talk with your family about a fire escape plan. If there’s a fire in your home in the middle of the night, will your smoke alarms work? How will you get out of the house? Where will you meet as a group to ensure everyone is accounted for? 

These are questions you need answers to now, not later. Do not wait until it’s too late. The men and women of the LAFD join me in mourning the loss of the Sassoon children, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families. Let’s continue to work together to prevent a similar tragedy here in the City of Angels.

Ralph M. Terrazas is the fire chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Sherman Oaks arsonist remains at large

On Thursday, Itzchik Weinstein, walking on his way to Chabad of Sherman Oaks, passed by The Hair Studio, an upscale salon on Ventura Boulevard, between Colbath and Stern Avenues in Sherman Oaks, that had nearly caught on fire on the evening of Sept 25.

“Some lunatic — meshugennah — who is trying to get attention,” Weinstein said of the unknown arsonist, who remains at large and is thought to be responsible for six rubbish fires Wednesday night, including one in an alleyway behind The Hair Studio.

The fires all were set off in trashcans in the area of the 13900 block of Ventura Boulevard, a largely Jewish neighborhood. The one behind the salon was considered the most destructive of the  fire, seriously damaging a vacant two-story apartment building that shares an alley with the salon. No one was injured in the fires, which also left a pile of burnt rubble in the salon's parking lot. A fire official said the damage from the six fires is estimated to be as high as $100,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for setting off the fires.

“The investigation related to these series of fires is ongoing,” David Liske, senior arson investigator at the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), said during a press conference outside the hair salon on Thursday morning.

All six fires occurred within close proximity, but Liske did not list their exact locations.

Around midnight on Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Police Department-Van Nuys division made an arrest in connection with the fires, based on “a solid description of a person-of-interest,” Liske said. The arrestee turned out to have no connection to the fires, however.

Authorities have kept that individual in custody for an unrelated crime, Liske said.

Meanwhile, as of press time, authorities were continuing to search for the suspect — Liske said they believe all of the fires were likely set by one person.

Authorities received the first report about a fire in Sherman Oaks at approximately 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. The fires were contained by 9:30 p.m., according to Liske.

There have been no subsequent fires today, following a “massive undertaking to try and arrest and stop the individual responsible for these fires,” Liske said.

The neighborhood is home to many Jews of all levels of observance, including many Iranian Jews and Israelis. Many Jewish businesses operating in the neighborhood were closed through Saturday, in observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Nearby business owners in the neighborhood expressed their disbelief at Wednesday night’s events, including Sarah Vidana, the owner of The Hair Studio, which Vidana said has a sizable Jewish clientele. She called the news of the fires “shocking” but said she “felt relief” upon learning her salon was not damaged.

“Do you know lucky we are that it didn’t hit this place?” Vidana said while inspecting the pile of rubble and the charred apartment building outside her salon on Thursday morning.

Two miles west down the road at the Chabad, dozens of men worshipped in honor of Shemini Atzeret, the final day of Sukkot. Allen Feinstein, 52, whose sister, Pamela, lives at Moorpark Street and Stern Avenue—less than two blocks from where the biggest fire occurred—said he was confident authorities would nab their suspect.

“They’ll find him,” Feinstein said. 

LAFD cadet fired up about helping the community

Like many little boys, Noah Applebaum used to wave in awe whenever a sparkling red fire truck roared by.

But Applebaum, 18, never got over his fireman phase, so two years ago he signed up for the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Cadet program, and today he is a badge-wearing cadet, sleeping at Fire Station No. 94 in the Crenshaw District most weekends, training junior cadets and riding along on calls to help firefighters at the scene.

He’s already got a full uniform. He asked for, but didn’t get, an ax for Chanukah, and when he talks about his work, he speaks with the military seriousness of a fireman.

“At first I wanted to be a fireman because I wanted to be a hero; I wanted to save lives. But now it’s more that I actually want to help people. I don’t care about the title. I just want to give the best-quality care I can give to the people of Los Angeles,” said Applebaum, a senior at Milken Community High School.

Applebaum also plays drums at Sinai Temple services, is on Milken’s varsity tennis team and snowboards. He said most of his fellow students don’t know about his life in the fire department.

He is a certified EMT (emergency medical technician) and can suit up in 75 pounds of gear in less than a minute.

But it’s not all about being a superhero.

Story continues after the jump