Religion Briefs: All Are Welcome


Religion. Within the parameters of Judaism it can mean many things.

From the usual labels we use to cover the gamut of observance — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist — there are whole worlds in between: Orthodox can be affiliated with Chasidic, black hat, Chabad, Aish HaTorah, Carlebach or Young Israel, to name just a few. Conservative can be Conservadox, Egalitarian, JTS, Sabbath observant, drive only to shul, etc. Reform can mean once-a-year High Holiday Jews or the “New Reform Observant Jew,” who is observant but far from Orthodox (“Reform Reforms,” Jewish Journal, May 20).

A person’s origins also come into play, whether it’s Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Israeli, Persian, Russian, Iraqi, Dutch, German and all the places in the Diaspora the Jews traveled to in thousands of years of exile, where they picked up new traditions and customs and made them part of their heritage, much as we do in America today.

I, for one, am from Eastern European origins — primarily Polish, although my last name is Hungarian (which means that only some of our rooms had chandeliers). I grew up in New York “Modern Orthodox.” (We were so modern we used cars and telephones and faxes and radios.) But I’m not sure the Modern Orthodoxy I grew up with even exists today, just as the Modern Orthodoxy my parents grew up with in the 1950s had faded by the time I was born.

This is the beauty of the Jewish religion. It is forever changing, yet always true to its essence. In the book of Leviticus, God tells the children of Israel, “You should keep My statutes and My laws, which if a man obeys, he shall live through them [v’chai bahem].”

“We shall live through them” is the challenge of the Jewish religion: How do we integrate the holy, the spiritual, the communal with the daily?

As The Jewish Journal’s new religion editor, I will be covering the communal and spiritual life of Los Angeles’ Jewish community, beginning with this monthly column, “Acts of Faith” — because in the end, faith is what keeps all of us Jews, of all denominations, together.

Please send all materials related to synagogues, spiritual movements, holiday-related articles to amy@jewishjournal.com.

Synagogue Surf’s Up!

Dolphins of Malibu get to enjoy Shabbat Services, too, as the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue has taken Friday night services to Zuma Beach, home of surfers and boogie boarders in Malibu.

Rabbi Judith HaLevy and Argentine Cantor Marcelo Gindlin have led these services for the past three years. And guess what? The dolphins have come to 11 out of 12 of the services, said Rabbi Judith, as she prefers to be called.

“They missed one Shabbos, which any congregant can miss,” she told The Journal. “I think it means they are Jewish dolphins, or clearly they hear the sound of people praying or they have some kind of resonance — it’s uncanny.”

The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, a member of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, has been in Malibu for the last 25 years. More than 100 people usually attend the summer beach services, coming from the valleys, Topanga and South Bay just in time to watch the sun begin its descent. People sit in a circle for the prayers and singing, which is followed by candle-lighting, story time for the children and Kiddush.

“I often ask people to just stand and listen to the sound of the waves for the ‘Shema,'” Rabbi Judith said, “because the power of listening is really important, which is something we all rarely do.”

The next beach services take place Aug. 19, and Sept. 9 and 16 at 7 p.m. at Westward Beach in Malibu (across from the Sunset Restaurant). Bring a pillow, blanket, sweatshirt and beach chairs.

For more information call Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue: (310) 456-2178 or surf to www.mjcs.org.

A New Life

Jewish Life, a glossy color monthly magazine serving the Torah-observant community in Los Angeles, published its first issue this month. Jewish Life will include in-depth features on Orthodoxy in Los Angeles, a calendar of events, a full-color social circuit section, divrei Torah and opinion columns. With a circulation of 10,000, the monthly magazine is distributed free at 250 locations in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, including synagogues, kosher restaurants and stores.

“Jewish Life doesn’t replace coverage of the Orthodox community in our other publications, it enhances it,” said Kimber Sax, COO of nonprofit Los Angeles Jewish Publications, Inc., which also publishes The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Family of Conejo, Simi and West Valley and Jewish Family of Orange County.

The next issue of Jewish Life will be a back-to-school education-related issue, followed by a magazine dedicated to the High Holidays, Jewish Life Editor Emuna Braverman said.

“I hope that the magazine will become an important resource for Orthodox community events and information,” said Braverman, a mother of nine who lives in the Pico-Robertson area.

Braverman, who holds both a law and psychology degree, started the educational program for Aish HaTorah in Los Angeles 22 years ago with her husband, Rabbi Nachum Braverman, and they both still work for the international organization. Braverman also teaches gourmet kosher cooking classes and is working on a kosher cookbook.

Rabbis from around the city serve on the advisory board of Jewish Life, including Moises Benzaquen, Gershon Bess, Asher Brander, Moshe Cohen, Daniel Korobkin, Yaakov Krause, Baruch Kupfer, Elazar Muskin, Yosef Shusterman, Avrohom Stuhlberger, Yitzchok Summers, Sholom Tendler, Yakov Vann, Steven Weil and David Zargari.

For more information, contact Emuna Braverman at emunab@jewishlifela.com.

Synagogue Subsidies

The Orthodox Union (OU) is accepting applications for its new Synagogue Grants Program, which will provide up to $20,000 apiece to five OU-affiliated shuls across North America to develop innovative programming.

The grants program will support a variety of activities, including leadership development, membership, fundraising, strategic planning, education, communal outreach, social service, youth programs and multimedia technologies. Activities may include discussion series, conferences, symposia, public forums and hands-on learning experiences that impact the lives of congregants.

Preference will be given to programs replicable in other synagogues and communities so that OU shuls can assist one another, said OU President, Stephen J. Savitsky. At least one of the grants will be reserved for smaller Jewish communities, as part of an emphasis to encourage Orthodox life outside of large cities, he said.

Applications are due by Sept. 26, 2005, for programs beginning in January. For more information, contact Frank Buchweitz, OU director of special projects, at (212) 613-8188, or frank@ou.org.

 

Young Adults Heed the Leadership Call


 

Heather Greenberg has long known that she wanted to give back. Greenberg, 36, remembers well how Jewish charities helped her family as she grew up. There was the scholarship provided by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in North Hollywood when her parents, recent émigrés from Canada, lacked the money to pay tuition for her older brothers. Later, the family was able to afford such things as JCC after-school care, a father-and-daughter program and Jewish sleep-away camp.

Greenberg, a second-grade teacher at Playa del Rey Elementary School, never forgot how the JCC’s generosity had changed her family’s life. She promised herself that one day she’d do the same for others. As the new co-chair of the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, that’s exactly what she’s doing.

The stylish, blue-eyed, blonde educator joined hundreds of young Jewish leaders at the Beverly Hilton March 18-20 for the United Jewish Communities Western Leadership Conference. The mission was to inspire the assembled to sally forth into their respective communities and spread the word about federations’ good deeds. Hailing from California, Nevada, Minnesota and nine other western states, the 260 Jews, aged 25 to 45, attended lectures on how to become better leaders, went to Shabbat services together and discussed what it means to be Jewish. They left behind children, spouses and a relaxing weekend at home to try to make a difference.

Despite the laughs shared among old friends, lingering eye contact among some of the singles and the generally upbeat ambiance, conference participants took their duties seriously. After all, these young Jews have assumed the responsibility of helping to raise money from and the consciousness of fellow young Jews to feed poor Jewish children, house indigent, elderly Jews, and help Jewish immigrants find jobs in their newly adopted country.

“I think it’s important for Jews to help other Jews,” said Greenberg, explaining one of the reasons behind her work on behalf of Jewish charities.

For Greenberg and other participants at the conference, the challenge of exciting young Jews about giving to Jewish causes has never been greater.

Assimilation, intermarriage and increased competition from secular charities have loosened the ties of young Jews to their heritage. With less than one in four members of the MTV generation belonging to a synagogue, communal bonds that once led their parents and grandparents to give to Jewish charities have weakened considerably. Unless the nation’s federations can find a way to tap into the legions of young Jews who stand to inherit billions over the next 20 years, experts said, Jewish charities could struggle greatly.

To prevent that, federations have added or tweaked programs to make them more appealing to a generation of Jews who favor a more hands-on approach to giving. In recent years, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles launched the Los Angeles Venture Philanthropy Fund, a self-funded group of young entrepreneurs and professionals who have raised and awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofits that benefit Jews.

The local federation also eliminated a money-losing young leadership program and replaced it with the Young Leadership Division, which places less of an emphasis on partying and more “on combining the social experience with substance, with the educational, with the spiritual, with something a little bit more meaningful to engage the next generation,” said Deborah Dragon, L.A. Federation spokeswoman.

Elsewhere, about 40 federations have created affinity groups catering mostly to young, high-tech workers in recent years.

Conference co-chair Leslie Sidell of Colorado said that the enthusiasm generated by the three-day event would inspire the young Jewish leaders “to go back into their communities and get more involved in the federation — and bring their friends.”

Jim Felton, a 41-year-old attorney and former co-chair of the Valley’s young leadership division, said he came to the event already motivated. For more than a decade, he and his wife have given to the L.A. Federation with the hope of making the world a little better. Felton gives the local philanthropy $7,500 per year, which he calls a small price to help “repair the world” as mandated by Judaism.

Stacy Kaplan of Newport Beach said she has attended 11 young leadership conferences over the years but never tires of them. She said she came away from the Beverly Hilton feeling energized, especially after hearing “West Wing” actor Joshua Molina’s talk about how he’s challenging other celebrities to speak up on behalf of Israel.

Like Kaplan, Yael Irom said she left the conference energized. She said she honed her leadership skills. Irom also realized that she must better educate herself about the L.A. Federation’s many beneficiary agencies both here and in Israel to excel in her new position as the Young Leadership Division’s co-chair.

“Our generation has a responsibility to step up for our people’s history, our present and our future,” she said. “The world is changing, and we need to take care of each other. By doing so, we will strengthen our community.”

For more information on the Federation’s Young Leadership Division, visit www.jewishla.org/html/younglead.htm.

 

Cure Found for the Summertime Blues


 

When Sarah Winchell needs motivation or encouragement, during her daily prayers she visualizes Chimney Rock, a landmark in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by frozen lakes, a plunging cliff and a blanket of snow. The image has been imprinted in the 15-year-old’s mind since she saw the breathtaking view last summer on a Jewish backpacking expedition program through Teva Adventure.

“One of my counselors said, ‘Take a look around and whenever you need an inspiration when you’re davening, think of this [view],'” recalled the Sebastopol 10th-grader.

At a time when keeping young Jews connected to their roots has become more important than ever, a variety of summer programs help teens solidify their Jewish identities.

Teva Adventure offers a variety of wilderness programs enabling Jewish travelers to develop outdoor skills while keeping Shabbat and kashrut. While backpacking, hiking, mountain climbing and fishing, participants learn Jewish perspectives on the outdoor world. Programs for 14- to 19-year-olds include Rocky Mountain Teen Adventure and Derech Hateva in Israel.

Teva is still accepting applications for this summer. For information, call (310) 765-4035, or visit www.tevaadventure.org.

What better way to embrace one’s Judaism than visiting Israel? Organizations like North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), United Synagogue Youth (USY) and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) offer a variety of tours to Israel, Europe and Central America where high school students get to know the culture and meet other teens from around the country. For arts enthusiasts, BBYO and Avoda Arts are offering a unique program fusing Jewish learning with creating art at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

For more information on USY programs for ninth- to 12th-graders, call (212) 533-7800, or visit www.usy.org.

For more information on NFTY programs for 10th- to 12th-graders and incoming college freshman, call (212) 452-6517, or visit www.nfty.org. Deadline: May 1.

For more information on BBYO programs for 10th- to 12th-graders in outdoor adventures, community service and college programs in Israel and the United States, call (818) 464-3366, or visit www.bbyo.org.

For the politically minded young adult, Aish HaTorah International is offering Hasbara Fellowships, a leadership-development seminar in Jerusalem, which educates college students about the history and politics of Israel and the Middle East.

For more information, call (646) 365-0030, or visit www.israelactivism.com. Deadline: one month before program begins (see schedule online).

High school students looking for a taste of college life can explore National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) special-interest programs, including the Ivy League Leadership Scholars program, which takes students to Columbia University’s School of Law in New York City and parts of Washington, D.C., where they’ll meet high-powered Jewish professionals and learn how to pursue demanding careers while staying committed to Judaism.

In the Summer Medical School Experience students take college-level classes from world-renowned doctors at Northwestern University campus. The “Hollywood Film School” experience at UCLA fosters a Jewish setting while teaching aspiring screenwriters, directors and editors the ropes for their future careers.

Last summer, Tova Wiener, 17, spent a life-changing six weeks in the Michelet program for girls (the boys’ program is called Kollel), a learning experience at a Jerusalem seminary.

“I thought that the best experience for me would be to connect to Israel through learning,” said Wiener, a senior at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles.

For more information on programs for ninth- to 12th-graders in Israel, Spain, Italy, U.S. college campuses and others, call (212) 613-8233 or (888) 868-7496, or visit www.ou.org/ncsy.

Teens in search of a cross-continental camp experience can meet Jews from all over the world at the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation AJJDC International Jewish Summer Camp in Szarvas, Hungary. Drawing campers from 20 countries, the camp is currently in search of 60 10th- and 11th-grade “American Ambassadors” to meet their international peers and share their Jewish communities and foster friendships.

Ronald S. Lauder Foundation AJJDC International Jewish Summer Camp

For more information, call (212) 362-3361, or visit www.szarvas.org.

To share one’s Judaism and learn about other religions, Interfaith Inventions, a Ventura-based nonprofit organization, boasts Interfaith Summer Camps in Ojai and Rose Mountain, N.M., where teens and preteens from various faiths come together to share their diverse backgrounds. The camp’s inaugural summer last year brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian teens and preteens to share their cultures in a mutually respectful way with all the fun of camp.

For more information, call (310) 317-9262, or visit www.interfaithinventions.org.

 

See Change


 

About 6,000 people pass through the doors of the University of Judaism (UJ) each year, 13,000 if you include the people who catch its high-profile public lecture series at the Universal Amphitheatre. Significant as that number is, it means tens of thousands of other Los Angeles-area Jews have yet to figure out what that campus just off the 405 in the Sepulveda Pass can do for them.

Peter Lowy wants to change that. The recently named chairman of the board of the institution is that rare bird in nonprofit institutional life: a breath of fresh air.

He is young: at 45, practically a teenager compared to the aging membership of many boards. He isn’t from here. Lowy and his wife, Janine, moved to Los Angeles 14 years ago from Sydney, Australia. Not only does that mean Lowy speaks in that chummy, endearing accent, it means he enters his post with a new and expanded perspective.

He is a poster child for the post-denominational Jew. Two of the Lowy’s four children attend a Conservative Jewish day school, and two attend a pluralistic high school affiliated with a Reform congregation. Lowy himself attends an Orthodox synagogue, as does the UJ’s president, Rabbi Robert Wexler.

“When you consider that the president and chairman are secular but daven in Orthodox shuls while running a Conservative institution, that’s where the world’s moving,” Lowy told me during a talk at his Brentwood office. “That’s where the community’s moving.” Lowy doesn’t just walk the walk, he, like so many Jews today, walks many walks.

Finally, he is wealthy and connected. Lowy’s father, Frank, fled Europe for Palestine, fought as a Golani commando in the War of Independence, then moved to Australia, where he built shopping centers. Lowy is now managing director of the Westfield Group, a global real estate investment trust (think Century City Shopping Mall, Westside Pavilion, Woodland Hills’ Shoppingtown). Someone with the head to run a multifaceted, multibillion dollar international business just might be able to move the University of Judaism and L.A. Jewry forward.

But it won’t be easy.

The UJ has been around since 1947. My office window in Koreatown overlooks the block of Ardmore Avenue where it was originally housed. The university followed the Jewish community west in 1979, settling in to the expansive Familian campus, where it fulfills a unique but hardly problem-free niche in a unique Jewish community.

Running a full-fledged undergraduate school — deans, professors, classes, dorms — for a limited number of students is a daunting task. Meanwhile, Conservative rabbis have leveled public and private criticisms that the UJ has veered too far from its roots in the Conservative community.

Some critics have taken to task the UJ’s department of continuing education for offering courses exploring edgier, controversial topics like homosexuality and astrology. The Orthodox community is still leery of a school whose cafeteria, not to mention its courses, is not kosher enough for them.

Lowy said he wants to build on the work of leaders like Frank Maas and Dena Schecter to stabilize the UJ internally, then enable it to reach out to all parts of the community.

On the first front, Lowy and others on the UJ board saw the importance of bringing business-world models of financial accountability and corporate governance to the nonprofit world. They instituted training programs for Jewish day schools on finance and made sure they took their own advice. Lowy said the school’s budget is in the black for the first time in recent memory.

He believes the costly undergraduate school is an asset, one part of a “three-legged stool” that includes the graduate programs and the department of continuing education, which together give the UJ gravitas and reach.

“You couldn’t get the quality of programs and lectures without the university underpinning it,” Lowy told me. “For instance, how would you get Elliot Dorff to come to a lecture on bioethics if he wasn’t part of the institution serving the community?”

His vision is to open the UJ’s resources to the community.

“The UJ needs to be viewed as a community institution,” he said. “We need to be able to give these benefits to the Orthodox community, the Reform community, the Conservative community and the Reconstructionist community. We need to change the mindset of the community. It’s a very difficult job to do.”

One way to do it is to offer these various facets of the community services they need. Jewish unity motivates in theory, good programming motivates in fact.

One place where Lowy hopes the UJ can contribute to the wider community is in tackling the problems facing day school education.

“If you look around, we have a growing system that is very good,” he said. “But the teachers aren’t paid enough, because the schools can’t afford to pay them. The schools can’t expand, because they’re undercapitalized. And the parents are paying too much to send their kids. Those are major issues, but the schools still grow because there is demand.”

Along with the nuts-and-bolts seminar for administrators, the Lowys funded a UJ program to help day school teachers get their masters’ degrees in Jewish studies. Teachers with advanced degrees earn more, and better quality attracts more parents, which brings in more money.

“Let’s make the Jewish day school system the best so people want to go to it, and not just because they believe in Jewish education,” he said.

If Lowy succeeds, it will prove a few things. One, that boards should make way for youthful leadership and diversity. Two, that breaking denominational barriers pays off. And three, that megadonors can have a megaimpact on their community.

I hope this last point resonates. The Lowys give more than 90 percent of their personal philanthropic dollars to Jewish causes. (Westfield Corp. supports charities of all types). A study of Jewish megadonors last year found that just 6 percent made their megagifts to Jewish causes and institutions, which often struggle for funding. The Lowy’s are a rare exception, and a welcome one.

 

Briefs


 

FBI Inquiry Into Expert’s Death

The FBI is investigating the death of an American Jewish terrorism expert. Jason Korsower, 29, died in his sleep in his Washington apartment Nov. 26. An autopsy has proven inconclusive, his family said, and the FBI is looking into his death. Citing policy, the FBI refused to confirm or deny that it was investigating the death of the Atlanta native. Korsower worked for the Investigative Project, which is run by Steve Emerson, an expert on Islamist terrorism who has received death threats.

British Academics Launch Boycott

A university in London hosted a conference to launch a fresh academic boycott of Israel. The event, titled “Resisting Israeli Apartheid: Strategies and Principles,” was held at the School of African and Oriental Studies on Sunday. Organized by the college’s Palestinian society, the meeting saw protests by Jewish and Israeli groups, which organized a counter-event calling for dialogue instead of sanctions. But conference organizers insisted that the new group, the British Committee for the Universities in Palestine, needed to take harsh measures to make a difference.

“We want people to think about the depth of the moral challenge of the boycott,” said the campaign coordinator, professor Hilary Rose, who along with her husband Steven began the boycott calls in a letter to the Guardian newspaper two years ago.

“It’s not an easy matter for any academic to do this, it’s a measure of our despair at the government’s inability to take the situation seriously and work for a just peace,” she added.

Kudos to Israel!

Israel received two awards in The Wall Street Journal’s 2004 Technology Innovation Awards competition: The Silver award went to Given Imaging Ltd. of Yoqneam, Israel for “PillCam,” a tiny camera that patients swallow so that doctors can see their digestive tract. And the Bronze award went to InSightec Image Guided Treatment Ltd. of Tirat Carmel, Israel for “ExAblate 2000,” a nonsurgical way to destroy tumors by focusing ultrasound waves on them.

Mubarak Pushes Peace

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is reportedly brokering peace among Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world. The official Egyptian news agency MENA said this week that Mubarak had brought Israeli and Palestinian officials close to a cease-fire agreement that would pave the way for implementing the U.S.-led “road map” for peace. Jerusalem sources confirmed the report Wednesday, saying it was in line with Israel’s demand that the Palestinian Authority crack down on terrorism so the Jewish state can scale down its military countermeasures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mubarak also flew to Kuwait on Tuesday for what Ha’aretz said would be an effort to push Gulf states into normalizing ties with Israel. Cairo and Jerusalem did not comment, but the report appeared to be consistent with recent assertions by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that, following the rapprochement with Egypt, as many as 10 Arab states could open diplomatic missions in Israel.

Shooting of Palestinian Probed

Israeli top brass are investigating whether shots fired accidentally by troops in the Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian youth. The probe was announced Wednesday after testimony surfaced linking the slaying last summer of a 15-year-old outside the Morag settlement to soldiers who were on a hike. The Palestinian’s father said the boy was hit seven times in the head by deliberate Israeli gunfire. Reports from inside the ranks indicated that one or more of the soldiers may have fired the shots for fun, and accidentally hit the youth.

Amir Fiancee Defends Her Man

Yigal Amir’s fiancee used an Internet blog to defend his assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“For Yigal, the religious and rational reasons were equally important,” Larissa Trimbobbler said Wednesday in a blog written in her native Russian. The Prisons Service has refused to allow conjugal visits for Amir, who is serving a life sentence in isolation for shooting Rabin dead during a 1995 rally celebrating the Oslo peace accords.

For Amir, “it was also important that most of the nation did not accept the Oslo accord which was ratified in the Knesset on the strength of Arab votes,” Trimbobbler wrote.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Education Briefs


Breathing New Life Into ReformCurriculum

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Reform movement has introduced a new religious school curriculum. This fall, several religious schools around Los Angeles have incorporated Levels 3 and 4 of the CHAI: Learning for Jewish Life program, which consists of materials appropriate for third- and fourth-graders, and can also be adapted for different age levels. Earlier levels were made available last year.

The new program is a product of the New York-based Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the umbrella organization for the Reform movement) and is designed so that synagogues can incorporate it into already existing curricula. About 10 percent of Reform congregations around the country are currently using some part of the new materials, which include both a Judaica program and a Hebrew program.

Congregations using the new materials include Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, Sha’arei Am in Santa Monica, Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills and Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

USY Quintet Learns Leadership inIsrael

Five lucky Los Angeles high school graduates hopped a plane to the Holy Land on Sept. 8 to participate in United Synagogue Youth’s Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel. Among the 51 students accepted into the national program were Aaren Alpert (Valley Beth Shalom in Encino), Lena Silver (Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes), Ari Taff (from Valley Beth Shalom), Jennifer Lorch (Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills) and Elisheva Netter (Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles). The Southland natives will spend the next nine months studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, touring the country, volunteering and learning leadership techniques. — SSR

JNF Provides Water, WaterEverywhere

Jewish students around the country and in Israel are making a splash at their local bodies of water. Jewish National Fund has received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service to provide hundreds of water-monitoring kits to Jewish schools in both the United States and Israel so that students can participate in World Water Monitoring Day, an effort to educate the public about the importance of water.

From Sept. 18-Oct. 18, students will visit designated streams, rivers, lakes and coastal areas to test for dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity/clarity and temperature. Students will then enter their findings into a global database. Both World Water Monitoring Day and Shemini Atzeret, a water holiday where Jews in Israel and around the world pray for rain for the coming harvest, will both be celebrated on Oct. 18. Incidentally, the date also marks the 30th anniversary of the American Clean Water Act.

Local schools participating in World Water Monitoring Day include Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School and Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles. — SSR

Boot Camp Hones Leadership Skills


Boot camp for Jewish leaders? While typically only the wealthiest nonprofit organizations have adequate resources to professionally hone the skills of future volunteer leaders, last year the Jewish Federation of Orange County started the Jewish Leadership Network to season volunteer board members.

Facing a looming leadership shortage within its own ranks, it started the boot camp on a $10,000 shoestring budget and invited some 30 synagogues and Jewish agencies as well.

“Let’s create a resource we all can share in,” said Phil Kaplan, explaining what led to the year-old Jewish Leadership Network, which he co-organized with fellow Federation board member, Marc Miller.

One of the most popular topics at Reform movement conferences is how to organize an internal leadership training program, said Dale A. Glasser, synagogue management director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Participation in these programs generates prestige and sharpens skills useful outside the synagogue, Glasser said, adding, “That’s one of the carrots to dangle.”

Volunteers often feel unprepared to shoulder the authority and responsibility of board membership. Also contributing to the dearth of leaders is a syndrome common to fragile organizations: volunteer burnout.

Miller and Kaplan’s solution was to develop a curriculum similar to a graduate school management seminar, which would demystify the subject by relying on real-world case studies as its text. Topics, more applied than academic, included volunteer recruiting, evaluating compensation, nonprofit finance, team building and running a meeting. Presenters included organizational professors, consultants and professionals who offered their expertise without charge.

“It gave us real life experiences at no risk, so you are better prepared to handle them when you do,” said Paul Vann, a financial planner and veteran board member, who in April became president of Irvine’s Congregation Beth Jacob.

Scenarios ranged from a leader publicly belittling a team member to firing a volunteer.

“When one person came up with a good answer, someone else would come up with another one,” said Cecily Burke, 54, of Newport Beach. A newcomer to the Jewish Family Service board and chair of its fundraising, she said she gleaned insights about board culture from her fellow participants.

Having worked for Jewish organizations as both a volunteer and a professional, Bunnie Mauldin, the Federation’s executive director, can attest to the value of network sessions devoted to identifying personality types.

Redirecting high-powered volunteers is sometimes a prickly task.

“They do try to bring what has made them successful professionally, and I’ve had to tailor that,” she said. The decision-making traits of an executive are ill-suited to a committee chairman, Mauldin said. “They don’t understand the value of consensus building. They get bored. They cut off discussion.”

The network also helps fulfill a secondary Federation mission of building community. Its genesis was a common security need by Jewish organizations after the 1999 shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

“No one was talking to each other or working with each other,” Mauldin said. “It was such a duplication of effort.”

The intifada spawned another common goal. The Federation mobilized local agencies and synagogues that support Israel into the Israel Solidarity Task Force, which brought honey to Israelis and Israeli merchants to Irvine.

Mauldin saw the Federation was not alone in its leadership predicament.

“Many leaders in synagogues or agencies are not willing to take the presidency,” she said. “I attribute that to misconceptions. We’ve tried to show them how to work smarter not longer.”

Even so, not every organization jumped at the opportunity.

“We had a little bit of a sales job to do,” Miller said.

Some agencies were hesitant to burden their board members with another task. Other groups questioned whether the Federation would cherry-pick their plum volunteers. By May, Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El had started its own program, chaired by a former president and board member, Cindy O’Neill and Susan Shalit, respectively.

Among those sharing expertise with the leadership network was Doris Jacobson, development director of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. She wears a second hat as president of Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet.

Already, network organizers believe their efforts with the first 13-member class are paying off.

“Every single person is stepping up their involvement with their organization,” Kaplan said.

“Right in front of your eyes you see a group coalescing and see people talk about ways to work with agencies in a collaborative way,” Miller said.

Planning to double enrollment next year, Kaplan and Miller have already received expressions of interest from members of Hadassah and the Jewish Community Center.

Your Letters


Rabbi Revolution

Your article on the “Rabbi Revolution” (May 30) omitted one very important Westside rabbi. Rabbi Asher Brander, 35, has led the Westwood Kehilla for nine years, inspiring a renaissance of Jewish learning and thought.

During this last year, he single-handedly established a Kollel in Westwood with five energetic rabbis and their wives, who reach out to all Jews at all levels of learning and commitment, and who give classes all over the city. He has also established a vibrant college program for UCLA students who wish to learn more about their Jewish heritage.

He is always bringing exciting speakers to not only the Kehilla but to the entire Los Angeles area. His learning, teaching, leadership and vision establish him as a role model for the entire Jewish community. He is certainly part of the Rabbi Revolution, the next generation of rabbis that are taking over Los Angeles.

Zach Samuels , President Westwood Kehilla

The Jewish Journal’s “Rabbi Revolution” only seems to be in effect for the Ashkenazi community of Los Angeles. Missing from your article was any mention of Rabbi Haim Ovadia, the recently appointed rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a “Westside” synagogue serving the Iraqi Jewish community. Ovadia is 36, and, in his short tenure at Kahal Joseph, he has already revitalized the congregation with creative programs that attract large numbers of young people. The Ashkenazim of Los Angeles may never take notice of this, but from all of the Orthodox rabbis serving Orthodox pulpits, Ovadia is probably the most authentically “modern Orthodox” rabbi in this city.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

As she’s done in the past, Julie Gruenbaum Fax once again cogently highlighted an interesting development in the life of the Los Angeles Jewish community. However, “Rabbi Revolution” (May 30) requires a follow-up article on the truly religious work our rabbis perform. What commitment does the new rabbinic generation make to pastoral care, effectively guiding Jews through the profound challenges happiness and tragedy placed before them?

Come to think of it, Fax doesn’t need to apply her strong journalistic skills to another article. She needs to write a series.

Mark Rothman, Los Angeles

Jews in College

Regarding Sharon Rosenthal’s article, “Book Preps Jewish Students for College” (May 23), I would like to point out one major concern affecting both new and continuing college students: money.

While the financial aid world is constantly growing –both students looking for fellowships, loans or scholarships, and organizationsand foundations offering them — many Jewish students don’t think they qualifyfor any targeted aid. For over a decade, Los Angeles Hillel Council haspublished “The National Guide to Scholarships, Fellowships and Financial Supportfor Jewish Students” in book form. This valuable resource, is now available freeonline at our new Web site www.theBagel.org . It lists over 125 sources of financial aid and is updated on a regular basis.

Alyce Arnick, Editor TheBagel.org Los Angeles Hillel Council

Jewtopia

[Naomi] Pfefferman’s review of “Jewtopia” misses the mark (“A State of ‘Jewtopia,'” May 16).

Jewtopia is mostly funny, but unfortunately departs from poking fun at contemporary Jewish idiosyncrasies to instill “meaning” in an evening of fun.

The two “nice Jewish boys” who wrote and acted in the play, just don’t get it. There is nothing funny about a young lawyer asking his mother why he should raise his children as Jews, nor is there anything funny about her responding with idiotic blather.

Their insensitivity and irreverence is woefully evident in the character of the rabbi who is not simply a buffoon with sexual perversions, but the instrument who desecrates those prayers Jews hold dear. “Cute” becomes testy and slips into self loathing.

The enormous energy of the play often escapes into nothingness, without direction or purpose. The nail is hammered in the coffin of the message when our hero announces that he sees no reason to raise his children as Jews.

Louis Lipofsky, Los Angeles

Geraldo and the Jews

When the latest intensification of Arab violence began, Geraldo Rivera kept showing on TV a scene of an Arab father and young son cowering before being shot and killed (“Do the Jews Need Geraldo?” May 30). This picture was shown over and over on TV while Rivera was reporting to make us think that this father and son were killed by Israeli gunfire.

A thorough investigation revealed that the father and son were killed by Palestinian Arabs. Even German news media reported that. Geraldo never corrected his malicious reports. In essence, Rivera knowingly and wittingly defamed and libeled Israel.

Rabbi Shimon Paskow , Temple Etz Chaim

Correction

In “Moving Beyond Ladies Who Lunch” (May 30), the name of Bat Yam’s incoming membership chair is Sharon Rifelli.

Passing the Torch


Looking back on the last year-and-a-half, Lionel Bell feels satisfied with what the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has achieved during his term as chairman of the board. He cites the reestablishment of 6505 Wilshire as Federation headquarters and the launching of its $20 million capital campaign as two accomplishments that he is proud of. Bell is also happy about the Leadership Council he started, which has united the organization’s young leadership presidents, and facilitated an exchange of ideas and the creation of overlapping programs.

But even as Bell steps down, passing the office to Todd Morgan in January 2000, don’t write him off just yet. Bell says he will remain an active presence in Federation efforts, such as seeing the capital campaign through to completion.

“I expect to stay with that, with my partner Ed Sanders [chairman of the capital campaign],” says Bell. “I expect to continue in some role with the national organization of the Jewish communities.”

Bell — who in the business world is a managing director of Bear, Stearns & Co. — has a solid history of service to the local Jewish community that goes well beyond his closing tenure. Back in 1951, he was asked to join the Community Service Committee, the first young leadership program of the Jewish Federation. By 1958, he chaired the Financial Services Division of what was then the United Jewish Welfare Fund. Later shortened to United Jewish Fund, Bell became the branch’s general chair in 1995. Bell has served as past president for both the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles and Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and he is a past vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation, where he is currently a board member.

When he assumed the position of Federation’s top cat, Bell didn’t have to go far to find a role model. His wife, Terry, also served as Jewish Federation leader, from 1992-94.

“She’s always been an inspiration to me,” says Bell. “Not only did I get the support that a spouse gives but it came from someone who had an extensive experience [in the job]. She’s always been a leader. She served very well in the most difficult time… because of the serious occurrence of the earthquake… There was a major cutback at the Federation as a result. Major costs were incurred. She weathered it all very well.”

Together, the Bells have a son, Ralph, in Seattle; a daughter, Nancy, who is a Los Angeles-based computer consultant and very involved with Federation and Jewish Community Centers; and two grandchildren.

Because the Federation’s administrative year was altered to coincide with a new budget, allocation and campaign year as of 2000, the standard two year term during which Bell served was truncated. Nevertheless, Bell says that he will happily hand over the reins of the chairmanship and places the utmost confidence in his successor, Todd Morgan.

“We’ll get a very bright, dynamic, energetic, capable leader who will bring many people into the Federation who have not been there before or only in a minor way,” says Bell. “He’s very capable… I think he’ll do an outstanding job in the community.”