Public libraries face crucial funding vote

When Susan Kent was a child in Westchester County, N.Y., she read her way through the public library children’s section and then headed over to the adult books.

When the librarian told Kent they were for adults only, she called in her father. “My father came to the library and said, ‘She can read anything she wants,’ ” Kent recalled.

The little Jewish girl from suburban New York grew up to be a librarian.  In fact, Kent, now an international library consultant, was Los Angeles’ city librarian from 1995 to 2004, presiding over the construction and renovation of 62 branch libraries, which now adorn neighborhoods throughout the city. She then became director and chief executive of the New York Public Library branch libraries, where she served for three years before starting her consulting firm in Los Angeles.

Kent was instrumental in making the Los Angeles public library system one of the best in the nation. But now the system is endangered by the Los Angeles city fiscal crisis.  Measure L on the March 8 ballot will decide whether the city’s libraries thrive or continue to decline.

I called Kent to talk about the proposal. It would increase the portion of property tax revenues given to the library system over the next four years. Money for the libraries would be increased by $130 million in four years. Because it’s a shift of funds to the library and would not increase property taxes, it requires only a majority vote for approval. Opponents, mainly the police union, point out this could mean less for other city departments, such as the Police Department. Even so, Police Chief Charlie Beck is a supporter.

As we chatted, I asked Kent about how her Jewish upbringing shaped her love of books, her career and now her advocacy for Measure L.

“I was raised as a secular Jew,” she said. “I have no religious education. My parents were not observant. But I think the tradition of the book, of education, of service, was always emphasized. … We would discuss current events, books, ideas at dinner.  It was part of the family conversation. It was always expected that I would go to college, and being an educated person meant reading.”

Presiding over the expansion of the libraries, she aimed to strengthen the institution’s ties to Los Angeles’ many neighborhoods. The goal, she said, was “to make sure there was equal access to the library in every community. There wasn’t more, or less, library access in Watts than there was in Pacific Palisades.”

A visit to two of the branches last week showed how the system has been strained by the cutbacks. In addition to reducing open days from seven to five, library hours have been reduced three times in the past year.

In the sparkling Chinatown branch, filled with adults and youngsters reading and searching for books and on computers, a sign behind the computers told part of the story: “Sunday and Monday Closed. Tuesday-Thursday 12:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.” The same limited hours awaited visitors to the attractively renovated branch on Overland Avenue, near the Santa Monica Freeway, where I dropped in at 2:30 p.m. after my visit to the Chinatown library. All but two of the reading tables were in use, many occupied by young people. Youngsters and adults were at every computer terminal.

Library use is heavy from the San Fernando Valley to the harbor. Angelenos visited the downtown Central Library and the 72 branches 16 million times last year, down by a million from pre-cutback days, and borrowed 18 million books, DVDs and other items. 

They used the library online 155 million times. “Lines for computers are phenomenal,” Kent said. “Think of L.A. You don’t have school libraries. After-school programs are getting less and less funding, so where do kids go? They go to the library.”

For many years, the library system has been guaranteed a portion of city property tax revenue. It has been .0175 percent, which most recently gave the libraries $76 million a year.

None of this $76 million was used for certain operational costs, such as maintenance, security cops, landscaping, pensions and other matters. These costs were paid from the city’s big general fund. But when the fiscal crisis shrunk the general fund, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city council told the library to pay for its cops, gardeners and pensions from its $76 million. That sharply reduced the amount of money available for books, librarians, DVDs, computer operations and other uses strictly associated with library work.

Measure L would increase the library’s share of the property tax enough to pay for librarians and security cops, books and landscaping. Monday service would be restored this year. Two evenings would be added the following year, and eventually libraries would be open on Sundays. More money would be available for book purchases, now down to $6.5 million annually — the lowest in years.

I’m a heavy library user. When I was writing for the Los Angeles Times, I visited branches in every part of the city and saw how much good they did. I have endorsed Measure L, as has my wife, Nancy, along with other writers more famous than we.

“It has been a community resource, a cultural resource, and that is why seeing what has happened is so disturbing to me,” Kent said.

I agree.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move

A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.

Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.

BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.

But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.

The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.

“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.

But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.

Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.

Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.

“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”

Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.

“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.

Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.

The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.

“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people.  The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part.  But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”

Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.

“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”

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Briefs: Seeds of Peace extends past Summer; BBYO offers cash incentive for summer camps

Seeds of Peace Extends Past Summer

After a shaky start fighting over a girl they both liked, Joseph Katona, 19, a Jewish Angeleno, and Omar Dreidi, his 19-year-old Palestinian Arab bunkmate, formed a bond that would extend past the two summers they shared at a Seeds of Peace retreat in Otisville, Maine.

Seeds of Peace is an organization dedicated to bringing together and empowering teens from regions of conflict, and in its program high school seniors often discussed what the future would hold for them after graduation. Katona soon realized his friend would embark down a path very different from his own, heading back to a lower-class lifestyle in Ramallah. While Katona lived a comfortable life, growing up in Brentwood, attending high school at Harvard Westlake, not having to worry about how he would afford college, Dreidi had dreams of attending school in the United States, but didn’t know where or how it could happen.

Katona, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, thought it only fair that Dreidi have the same opportunities as him. After helping Dreidi put together his applications and soccer videos for colleges, Dreidi received an acceptance letter and merit scholarship from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Although the scholarship was generous, Katona knew it would only cover half of Dreidi’s four-year tuition. Katona then put together the Omar Dreidi scholarship fund with the goal of raising $18,000 to $20,000 per year for Dreidi to continue his studies at Earlham.

The experience has been fulfilling for Katona, but it has also been a difficult.

“Not every person wants to donate money to support a Palestinian,” he said. Despite monetary setbacks, Katona has managed to raise $38,000 for Dreidi to stay in school, however, he is short more than half the amount needed for the next two years. He has received donations from $11 to $4,500, and every dollar counts, he said.

Staying in close contact with Dreidi, Katona is happy he is having a great time in Richmond, studying, making great friends and playing soccer on the school’s team.

“I have a moral obligation to do this,” he said. “It’s not a huge sacrifice for people to donate, but would make a world of difference for Omar. Without these contributions, he would not be able to have the full college experience.”

Donations go to Earlham College Omar Dreidi Scholarship Fund c/o Joseph Katona, 216 14th St. NW, Apt. 204., Charlottesville, Va. 22903. Checks should be made out to “Earlham College. For more information, e-mail or call (310) 613-6268.

Student Advocacy in Sacramento

For the first time in 20 years, Panim, the Institute for Jewish leadership and values, ventured outside of Washington, D.C., and into the state’s capital bringing 40 11th-grade Milken Community High School students to a three-day seminar exploring hunger, poverty and the environment. Panim teaches thousands of students about social and civic responsibility through Jewish Civics Initiative seminars, called Panim el Panim (face-to-face), and worked with Milken to organize the Jan. 27-29 seminar. Students spent hours volunteering at local organizations, such as the Sacramento Food Bank, and met with advocates from the Sacramento Environmental Council and Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“The trip was a great success,” said Wendy Ordower, community service coordinator at Milken. Among the tasks the group undertook was handing out toiletries to the homeless with members of Building Bridges, an organization dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV.

“These students are fortunate on so many levels,” she said. “I want them to learn the needs of society and how to become the voice of the people.”

For more information visit,

Teen Tikkun Olam Awards Promote Global Healing

Last year, five teens, including two from Los Angeles, received Diller Tikkun Olam Awards through the new National Diller Teen Initiative. Angeleno winners were Erich Sorger, 18, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Shira Shane, 20, a student at Stanford University.

In its second year, the organization named for San Francisco philanthropist Helen Diller, will select another five Jewish teens from California to each receive $36,000 for commendable participation in community service and social action. Teachers, rabbis and community leaders are encouraged to nominate teens between the ages of 13 and 19 who have completed exceptional community service projects. The awards are to be used for college or causes that will further their work in repairing the world.

Sorger, a student in the Jerome Fisher Management and Technology Dual Degree Program, donated a portion of his award to the DELCO Early Learning Center and organized a carnival for impoverished Philadelphia children with a team of University of Pennsylvania management students.

“The carnival was a great success with pretzels, cotton candy, moon-bounces and more,” he said.

Sorger is coordinating with the university’s Hillel to promote “Dollars for Dwaynes” in Philadelphia, and is continuing the mission of “Dollars for Dwaynes” during his winter break in Los Angeles, donating an additional $650 in resellable goods.

“I am keeping the balance to put forth toward other philanthropic ventures or my tuition for next year,” Sorger said.

Shane plans to donate a portion of her prize money to refugees in Darfur as well as to return to Africa, where she has previously exercised her musical talents in Tanzania. She is meeting with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, the president of Jewish World Watch, who will help her achieve these goals. Deadline for 2008 award nominations is March 11.

For more information go to or call the Diller Teen Initiative (415) 512-6432 or e-mail

Cash Incentive for Summer Camp

The expense of summer camp should not be a deterring factor for Jewish youths, according to the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). Partnered with the Foundation for Jewish Camping, BBYO is offering a $1,500 campership for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade middle school students who have never attended a three-week or longer Jewish overnight camp.

The Jim Joseph Foundation of San Francisco is pitching in to fund the JWest Campership Program in an effort to increase the number of preteens in the Western United States enrolling in overnight Jewish summer camps. With 150 camps nationwide, JWest is being introduced in 13 states including California.

Briefs: Espere la Luz in Mojave, Alonim campers step up to help, kids library returns

Israeli Firm Plans to Construct World’s Largest Solar Power Park in Mojave Desert

An Israeli company will build the world’s largest solar energy park in Southern California’s Mojave Desert to supply enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in Central and Northern California.

The massive $2 billion project was announced last week, following the signing of a 25-year contract between Israel’s Solel Solar Systems and California’s Pacific Gas and Electric public utility.

David Saul, project leader for the Mojave Solar Park, described the venture as “a landmark” and “the largest solar project built to date” in a phone interview during a brief visit to San Francisco.

When completed in 2011, following two years of construction, the solar park will stretch over 6,000 acres or 9 square miles, use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to harness the power of the desert sun and deliver 553 megawatts of clean energy.

The American-born Saul, a UC Berkeley graduate, got his start in Silicon Valley, moved to Israel in 1983 and is now Solel’s chief operating officer.

He said his company will design and manufacture the components at its plant in Bet Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, and will be responsible for the development of the park, in cooperation with a number of American firms. Solel’s primary development office will be in Los Angeles.

Solel will use its patented solar thermal parabolic trough technology, in which rows of trough-like mirrors will heat a special fluid that generates steam. The steam will power turbines that will generate electricity for transmission to PG & E’s electric grid. The technology was developed by another Israeli company, Luz, which built nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert between 1984-1991.

Luz went bankrupt in the early 1990s, due to a denial of tax breaks by the state of California, Luz officials charged at the time. However, the plants are still operational and have been recently upgraded by Solel.

As the world’s largest solar thermal company, Solel is also building a large solar park in southern Spain.

In Israel, the installation of solar water heating systems on practically all homes and buildings is mandatory. Surprisingly, though, there are no solar parks on a scale of the Mojave project in Israel, a failure critics blame on bureaucratic roadblocks. However, the government recently announced plans for a solar plant near Dimona in the Negev Desert.

State agencies must still approve the Mojave Solar Park, but PG & E and Solel spokespersons said they were confident of a go-ahead, because of the state’s own clean-energy projections. State regulations mandate that at least 20 percent of electricity provided by public utilities must be based on renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, by 2010.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Alonim Campers Bring With Them School Supplies for Needy Youngsters

This summer, kids packing up for Camp Alonim began to fill their trunks and duffel bags with the requisite flashlights, cans of bug spray, sleeping bags and … spiral notebooks?

Over the summer, 850 campers, ranging from second-graders to high schoolers, have been asked to bring school supplies to camp — from crayons to calculators — to serve as donations to Tools for School, a new program instituted by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA). Backpacks full of school supplies will be distributed to children in need through three SOVA food pantries, the Gramercy Homeless Shelter and two domestic violence shelters.

“We want to help children start the school year off on a positive note,” said Sheri Kadovitz, JFSLA special projects coordinator.

Tools for School was inspired by JFSLA’s Adopt-a-Family program, which provides holiday gifts to low-income families.

“We realized that it must be very difficult to provide essential school supplies for your children when it’s a struggle just to cover your basic living expenses,” Kadovitz said.

She also wanted to involve the Jewish community.

“A camp is a great place to get a message to hundreds of kids, because you don’t have to compete with television and video games,” Kadovitz said. “This project is a way of making children aware of how they can help others.”

Although Camp Alonim is the only camp undertaking the project this year, Kadovitz hopes to include other camps in the future.

She has visited Alonim several times this summer to educate campers about the program. “We discussed the importance of mitzvot, gemilut hassadim [acts of lovingkindness] and tikkun olam [repairing the world],” Kadovitz said. “The kids have been exceptionally excited about what they are doing.”

At the end of three Alonim sessions, JFSLA hopes to have filled 800 backpacks. Campers from the first two sessions already have brought enough for 600.

Alonim director Jordanna Flores said she is awed by the generosity of the campers. “I imagined that each of them would bring a package of pencils, but many have brought backpacks, the most expensive item on the list, and packs of notebooks, not to mention the markers, colored chalk and erasers,” she said. “The piles on collection day have been heartwarming.”

For more information, visit or

— Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Jewish Community Library’s Summer Reading Club for Kids Back Again

In an effort to promote Jewish literature for children, the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) has launched its sixth annual Summer Reading Club for Kids. Amy Muscoplat and Sylvia Lowe, the children’s librarians at JCLLA, are encouraging kids of all ages to read six grade-appropriate books with Jewish themes over the course of the summer, with the added incentive of a certificate and prizes for their effort.

More than 300 families worldwide participated last summer from as far away as Canada and Israel. This year, the JCLLA, led by director Abigail Yasgur, expects an even higher turnout and has sent out more than 400 participation packets.

Yasgur credited the increase in club membership over the years to parental motivation.

“Parents want their kids to read during what is traditional summer downtime,” she said. “Parents are savvy enough to know that reading is the key to all things great, and our program packs a double punch by providing an essential component of Jewishness. Children’s Jewish literature is a great vehicle for educating and transferring knowledge of tradition and folktales, and it is just good fun.”

For more information, visit

— DS

Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad; ‘West Bank Story’ screening

Saturday the 3rd

Naughty Jewish girls need love, too. Show it to ’em this weekend. “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” returns to Los Angeles for three nights at Tangiers. The variety show features comedy, music, spoken word and burlesque, with a healthy helping of kitsch. Klezmer Juice also performs.

March 2-4, 8 p.m. $15. Tangiers Restaurant, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.

Sunday the 4th

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Wondering where to see those short films you’d never heard of before your Oscar pool? The Very Short Movies Festival presents a perfect opportunity. March 8-11, the festival takes over the Egyptian Theater, where it will screen comedy, drama, documentary, animated and experimental shorts, including “The Tribe,” and Oscar-winner “West Bank Story.”

$8-$10 (tickets), $12-$15 (festival packages). 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 376-9047. Oscar 2007: A good year for the Jews!

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 2nd

This weekend represents a final opportunity to view two Skirball Center multimedia exhibitions. “Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography” presents photos, video and multimedia pieces by emerging and mid-career artists, exploring the theme of Jewish identity. “L.A. River Reborn” focuses in closer to home, on the Los Angeles River and the relationship between society and the environment.

Through Sept. 3. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” border = 0 align = left vspace = 6 hspace = 6 alt = “”>

Monday the 4th

This Labor Day the Workmen’s Circle hosts an opening reception for “Peter Whittenberg: Prints,” an exhibition of politically minded graphic art. The decidedly adult-only show features Whittenberger’s recurring character, Robert P. Vonruenhousen IV, who has male sex organs for a head, and represents what the artist feels is wrong with America today.

5-7 p.m. Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” TARGET=”_blank”>

Wednesday the 6th

Community spirit can be found at the Robertson Branch Library tonight. Families and kids of all ages are invited for “Neighbors Celebrating Neighbors: An Evening of Music and Stories.” The event features Uncle Ruthie Buell of KPFK, children’s book author Barney Saltzberg ,singer and recording artist Tiana Marquez and singer Tonyia Jor’dan.

6:30 p.m. Free. 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 840-2147.

Thursday the 7th

The Academy does it short and sweet, this week. The Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the largest fest of its kind. Included among this year’s films are “George Lucas in Love,” directed by Joe Nussbaum (“American Pie 5: The Naked Mile”) and “In God We Trust,” by Jason Reitman, director of “Thank You For Smoking” and son of director Ivan.

Sept. 5-14. ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. ” align = right vspace = 6 hspace = 6 border = 0 alt = “”>
Homage is paid to the brothers Gershwin in the 1983 Tony-winner “My One and Only.” Head to UCLA’s Freud Playhouse to see Reprise’s production of this “Funny Face” adaptation, that also includes Gershwin music from other sources.

Sept. 5-17. $60-$75 (single tickets), $165-$195 (season tickets). Macgowan Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

The ‘Chosen’ Ones Across the Street

It has long been a cliché that Los Angeles does not respect the culture of the book. It is true that this town famously eviscerated Faulkner and Fitzgerald, that Hollywood suits to this day treat screenwriters the way Henry VIII treated his wives. Yet, it is also true that Los Angeles has spawned unique brands of literature, such as, the hard-boiled detective story, and that a major publisher like Judith Regan is moving from New York to Century City.

This weekend more than 100,000 people are expected to flock to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA — and to a new, Jewish-themed People of the Book Festival across the street.

The all-day “People” event April 30 will feature authors such as Amy Wilentz, the former Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker (see story on this page); renowned Jewish chef Faye Levy (“Feast From the Mideast : 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes From the Lands of the Bible”); Ruth Andrew Ellenson; Jewish Journal Religion Editor Amy Klein; Lori Gottleib, and Aimee Bender (“The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt”) in a 4 p.m. panel moderated by Tobin Belzer.

It was the proximity to the Times’ festival that prompted UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, in part, to approach newspaper officials about a linked event several years ago. Audiences had been growing for Jewish Book Month events each November, starring Jewish literati such as Michael Chabon and Nicole Kraus.

But the Times passed, reportedly due to liability issues arising from attendees crossing Hilgard Avenue. Then Abigail Yasgur of the Jewish Community Library suggested an event to run separately but simultaneously with the existing fair, and the USC Kasden Institute and the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies signed on.

While groups such as the Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys will continue to hold book festivals in November, the People of the Book organizers have “created some kind of geographic and chronological confluence [that helps]… “keep the focus on books,” says David L. Ulin, book editor of the L.A. Times. “The great thing about books is that they bleed across all kinds of boundaries.”

For more information, visit

Schools Work Hard to Make the Grade


The Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West team labored close to two years on their assignment. They administered surveys, compiled data and poured through reams of material. This homework, however, was completed not by students, but by staff and faculty. And the project was not so much required as extra credit.

The Agoura school’s administration voluntarily underwent the rigorous process in order to become accredited by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles (BJE) and two secular accrediting bodies. The resulting 318-page tome, which reflected input from administrators, faculty, parents and families, detailed every aspect of the school’s operation from governance to finances to faculty credentials and student curricula.

Ten years ago, the BJE made history in the world of Jewish education by developing and conducting the first-ever accreditation process for Jewish schools. Prior to that, schools might have undergone the process with state or national agencies, but did not have a mechanism to demonstrate that they were accomplishing their Jewish educational goals. Today, 30 Jewish day schools and yeshivas and 40 religious schools in Los Angeles are BJE accredited.

The process is spelled out in a manual created by Emil Jacoby, the BJE’s former director and now senior consultant. It takes early childhood centers, yeshivas, day schools and religious schools through a thorough, standardized process to ensure that each school is fulfilling its missions and goals.

Jacoby designed the manual to integrate BJE requirements with those of other accrediting bodies. For day schools and yeshivas, BJE accreditation occurs simultaneously with Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and/or the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).

Accreditation “insures that schools have a clear sense of their mission and goals and values,” said BJE Executive Director Gil Graff.

It also gives schools credibility that comes from being reviewed by an impartial independent group of experts, Jacoby said, and assures outsiders that they can trust the school’s claims about its focus and philosophy.

For Heschel West principal Jan Saltsman, accreditation translates into necessary accountability.

“We are accountable to our students, to our parents, to the larger community,” Saltsman said. “With CAIS, WASC and BJE, we are held accountable. If you don’t have the accreditation, who are you accountable to?”

In addition to legitimacy and credibility, it also brings financial benefits. Only BJE-accredited schools are eligible for a share of $1.6 million in Jewish Federation funding, which the BJE disburses to support Jewish schools, or the $350,000 of Federation dollars, which the Bureau earmarks for day school scholarships. Also, the BJE itself provides about $100,000 in grants for schools to pursue projects identified through the accreditation process.

The three-part process begins with a school performing a detailed self-study and presenting the results in a written report. A visiting team of experienced educators then evaluates the school during a three-and-a-half-day site visit. (BJE visitors, who volunteer their time, are matched to the institution by denomination.) The BJE accrediting commission then reviews the visiting team’s report to determine a term of accreditation. The maximum term is six years, and institutions are typically revisited at the halfway point. For subsequent accreditation, they must demonstrate progress made on previous recommendations.

The BJE manual has served as a model for other bureaus of Jewish education, including those in Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. It was recognized by the Jewish Educational Service of North America (JESNA), an umbrella organization that shares best practices in Jewish education. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, which accredits early childhood programs, cites the BJE’s manual in its own accreditation instructions.

Yeshiva Ohr Eliyahu in Culver City received first-time joint accreditation from BJE and WASC in April of last year.

Clarisse Schlesinger, the school’s assistant principal of general studies, described how the whole school learned about ESLRs (pronounced es-lurs), the acronym for Expected Schoolwide Learning Results. Every school must articulate its ESLRs — the core concepts its students are expected to master — as part of the accreditation process. Each grade learned about Ohr Eliyahu’s ESLRs in age-appropriate language. So first-graders, for example, could affirm “We love to do mitzvot” and “We can write in Hebrew and English.”

“Examining ourselves in this way was terrific,” she said. “We learned a lot … and identified areas we thought we could improve.”

As a result of the analysis, the school made several changes, including adopting a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade math curriculum and giving Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg, Ohr Eliyahu’s dean and executive director, more time to interact with parents, teachers and students. They also received a BJE grant to help enhance their library.

Now, Schlesinger will switch from reviewee to reviewer. She will represent WASC on a review committee evaluating an Armenian school in Orange County later this year.

Goldberg, who is also Ohr Eliyahu’s principal, said he was grateful to the BJE for encouraging the school to undergo accreditation.

“The idea of evaluation and self-reflection is critical, but unless you’re encouraged, you don’t always make time for it,” he said. “We grew a lot from the process.”



Goodbye, Jacob, Goodbye

Parshat Vayetze opens with Jacob leaving Be’er Sheva. Everyone feels his absence.

Is there someone who used to live in your neighborhood or went to your school but moved away? How did you feel when they left? Was that person someone who did nice things?

What if you move away? What kind of impression will you leave behind?

Let’s Go Lego

Congratulations to the winners of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles’ (JCLLA) Lego Bible contest. You can come and see these Lego creations until Dec. 15, at the Slavin Family Children’s Library, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 120, Los Angeles, (323) 761-8648.

Better than Bought Butter!

Here’s a way to be helpful and have your parents be really thankful to you on Thanksgiving.

Homemade Butter

You will need:

1 pint heavy cream


Fill airtight containers half full of cream. Cover securely and shake and shake and shake, until cream turns into butter.

Pour out the buttermilk on top and place butter in serving dish.

It is delicious on dinner rolls.

Read to Me

You never forget your first, and mine was Milton Steinberg.

Not his novel, “As a Driven Leaf.” I’d read that later in

life, after my wife, a rabbi, looked at me unbelievingly one day and said, “You’ve never read ‘As a Driven Leaf?'”

For her, and for so many others, it was a seminal Jewish text, a book that made the world and values of rabbinic Judaism palpable.

But after he wrote that, Steinberg wrote a book titled, “Basic Judaism.” I found it one day at a used bookstore and began reading it and rereading it. It was basic, but it was also beautiful.

Many other books — hundreds more — would deepen my understanding of Judaism and Jewish life, from Job to Adin Steinsaltz’s “The Thirteen Petalled Rose” to Bialik’s poems and Isaac Babel’s short stories to the most haunting Holocaust book I know, Serge Klarsfeld’s “French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial.” At 1,881 pages, it is no more and no less than a catalog of thousands of children living in France as of 1942, most of whom were murdered shortly thereafter.

I can close my eyes at any given moment and conjure their faces and stories.

The texts I struggled to decipher in Hebrew, from the Song of Songs to Amos Kenan’s “The Road to Ein Harod,” opened up another world of Jewish life. I remember the moment I opened a prayer book and could actually understand each word. I felt like the grown-ups featured in literacy commercials.

Life is with people, says the Yiddish proverb — and the title of a seminal book on shtetl life — but Jewish life is also with books. The rabbi’s study, the Jewish home with its de rigueur volumes of Israeli hagiography, Philip Roth novels and a set of Joseph Telushkin. The People of the Book, just 2 percent of the U.S. population, comprise upward of one-third of all book buyers nationwide.

That accounts for the shelves of books publishers send to our offices to be reviewed. And they account for the tremendous guilt I feel as the titles pile up, and I realize we won’t have room in the paper to review but a handful of the annual deluge.

So this issue marking Jewish Book Month comes as a kind of relief. In these pages we make room for books, beginning with novelist and screenwriter Michael Tolkin’s take on Roth’s “The Plot Against America.” His review is not for the ideologically squeamish; then again, I am one-third of the way through Roth’s book, and it isn’t for the faint of heart either.

In this issue, we also begin a new book-related feature, My Jewish Library. In place of the weekly Torah portion (don’t fret, more on that later) we’ve asked dozens of area scholars, teachers, writers, thinkers and rabbis to pick the one book that they believe is crucial to every Jewish library. They will explain what the book is about, how it influenced them and why you must read it.

Our first contributor is author, publisher and screenwriter Robert Avrech whose pick — a book I hadn’t even heard of — is a reminder that Jewish learning never stops or fails to surprise.

You’ll be able to join a discussion of the book at — you’ll even be able to click and buy a copy of it there. (Our thanks to Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom, for suggesting this new column.) If you want to read about the week’s Torah portion, we have archived columns that are easily accessible at

And if you want to see where this love of books begins, I suggest a quick morning drive this Sunday, Nov. 14, out to the second annual Jewish Children’s Bookfest at the Triangle at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley (

There is something fitting and right that the largest Jewish book festival now held in the greater Los Angeles area is geared specifically to children. The love of books is born early in life. Experts know this, and so do parents. The time we spend reading aloud to our children when they’re very young is richly rewarded with hours of silence as they grow older and read to themselves, off in some quiet corner. Ah, books.

There is more to it than that. A taste for reading is a taste for Jewish life itself, for new and competing and challenging ideas, for a wild ride of intellect and emotion that begins with the ABCs and aleph-bet and ends, well, never.

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those spent with a favorite book,” wrote that great Jewish nonchildren’s book writer Marcel Proust. That, too, is Basic Judaism.

Delivery for Your Brain

Need an amazing challah recipe? Want a book on Jewish history for your child’s report? How about a film for the next holiday? Well, now you can order in.

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) created @ Your Door, a service to send some of its 25,000 books and resource materials directly to your home. From cookbooks to history books to Judaica to kids books, JCLLA will send you materials free of charge.

“At Your Door was conceived as a way to make it convenient for people to use the resources from this library — many of them are resources people aren’t able to find elsewhere,” said Abigail Yasgur, the creator of the program. She hopes that the convenience of home delivery will encourage the community to utilize the library — the only one of its kind completely devoted to books, CDs and DVDs on Jewish history, literature, arts and culture.

You don’t even need a membership card. Browse the online card catalog and have your driver’s license ready when you call in for checkout. If you live in Los Angeles, @ Your Door will then send off your package with a return label. One catch: You have to cover the cost of return postage. There is also a drop box at the library.

The program — now one year old — is popular at schools, where teachers send for materials they can use in the classroom. With a generous grant from the West Coast office of the KARMA Foundation, the library purchased audiobooks and will cater to the visually impaired.

Despite the extra cost of actually sending out the materials, Yasgur feels confident that it’s money well spent.

“I love people discovering their Judaism, and if they do it through reading … or resources like this, it’s the greatest thing we can bring the community,” she said.

For more information, contact Jewish Community Library
of Los Angeles at (323) 761-8644 or

The Circuit

Chaverim Simcha

Four members of Chaverim, a social program for adults with developmental disabilities celebrated their bar/bat mitzvahs at Valley Beth Shalom. Karen Cook, Cindi Rothstein, Ron Corn and Stephen Wise didn’t have the opportunity to partake in the Jewish ritual at the traditional age of 12 or 13. Now in their 30s, the members trained under Rabbi Sara Berman and Rabbi Sharon Gladstone in preparation for the Torah reading. Directed by Dr. Amy Gross under the auspices of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Chaverim organizes social events from dances to Shabbat dinners.

For more information, e-mail the Chaverim at . — Leora Alhadeff, Contributing Writer

Academic Honors

Magnanimous Los Angeles is sharing its prodigious brainpower with other less cerebrally fortunate cities. Tarzana resident David Tabari, 18, was selected to receive San Francisco State University’s most distinguished academic award for freshmen, the Presidential Scholar, which is worth some $17,000 over four years. Tabari, who comes from a family of Iranian refugees will major in molecular biology and plans to move to Israel and build a children’s hospital there.

And in Philadelphia, the American Academy for Jewish Research recently elected University of Judaism (UJ) professor Ziony Zevit to become a fellow. Zevit is the Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at the UJ, and is one of only four Southern California scholars to be elected to the academy, one of the oldest Jewish studies organizations in America.

Bronstein’s Breakthrough

If you have trouble recognizing faces, then perhaps a Technion student can help. Michael Bronstein and Raz Zur, two students from the Technion, one of Israel’s premier science universities, visited members of the Southern California Chapter of the American Technion Society at the Four Seasons Hotel on Sept. 7. Bronstein demonstrated his revolutionary facial-recognition software that he developed with his twin brother, Alexander.

Winn Win Situation

Betty Winn has been appointed the new head of school at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. Winn, the former head of school at Los Encinos School in Encino will be responsible for providing educational leadership and direction at Heschel.

Mo Money, Mo Books

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles came into the dough recently, receiving two large grants. The first was $40,000 from the Library Services and Technology Act/California State Library, which will go toward providing Jewish cultural programs at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Roberston branch.

The Jewish Federation/Metro West Region provided the second grant of $12,000, which will go toward a program called The Right Book @ The Right Time that provides educators and librarians with knowledge of how to use literature for children and families facing troubling times.

Bat Yam Yum

The Hadassah Chapter of Bat Yam Daughters of the Sea held their second annual membership dinner on Sept. 10 at the home of Miriam Zlotolow, where special guest speaker Judy Gruen read excerpts from her latest humor book “Till We Eat Again.” The Bat Yam chapter was formed to attract residents from Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Westchester areas.

For more information, call Dorraine Gilbert at (310) 822-5250.

L.A. Law

Lawyers, judges, law professors and others involved in the legal profession converged at the St. Regis Hotel on Sept. 24 as Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was honored with the Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award at an event sponsored by the American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU). Silbert, who passed away last year, supported Hebrew U for more than 50 years, providing scholarships and naming buildings and programs at the university.

On hand to greet the crowd were Richard Ziman, AFHU Western region chair; Peter Weil, AFHU Western region president; and Martinn Mandles, AFHU Western region vice president; Eliyahu Honig, Hebrew U’s vice president; and Dean Eyal Zamir, representing Hebrew U’s Faculty of Law.

Upon accepting the award from Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Kozinski clerked for, Kozinski paid tribute to his parents’ love for learning and said that Kennedy taught him “that judging is a serious business, and that there is no easy solution.”

“[Kennedy taught me] that you didn’t have to be Jewish to be a mensch,” he said. “But you can’t be a good judge, and you certainly can’t be a great judge, unless you are a mensch.”

Having an IMPACT!

What do Israeli soldiers do when the fighting is over? The Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, a group that promotes the well being of Israeli soldiers, has instituted the IMPACT! Scholarships, which provide soldiers with the financial resources to pursue a college education once they have completed their service. To date, more than $3.5 million scholarship dollars have been raised in the United States.

Sgt. Maj. Tzahi Turman, a recipient of an IMPACT! scholarship spoke to prominent business leaders at the Four Seasons Hotel about how he benefited from the scholarship. Turman served in the navy, and is currently a student at the University of Haifa, where he studies law and economics.

“The moral and financial support Jews in America provide [to] soldiers during their military service and after is a tremendous boost to our moral and our overall readiness,” Turman told the crowd. “Your caring means the world to us.”

The Last Jew

According to family legend, Julius Rosenbush was a new
immigrant living in Alabama when, in the late 1890s, he boarded a train for the
countryside, looking for mineral water that he thought would cure his asthma.

The train stopped at a country town, and the conductor asked
if Rosenbush was Jewish. Hearing that he was, the conductor told Rosenbush that
nearby Demopolis was home to several Jewish businessmen.

Rosenbush made the brief detour and found three
Yiddish-speaking merchants who invited him to join their pinochle game. The
businessmen convinced their long-awaited fourth-at-cards to stay.

The newcomer opened Rosenbush’s, a furniture store that
today is Alabama’s oldest family-owned business, according to Bert Rosenbush
Jr., owner of the store and Julius Rosenbush’s grandson.

Some things have changed, though.

If the soft-spoken Rosenbush, 73, wanted to replicate his
grandfather’s pinochle game today, he’d have to search for three other Jews:
Rosenbush is the last Jew in Demopolis.

“We had a temple here and a Jewish community,” Rosenbush
explained. He remembers 20 to 25 people attending services from the late 1930s
until the 1950s.

“Then, in about 1990, we just had a few of us left. Some of
the members took it upon themselves to railroad a deal through to form a
corporation to take over the assets of the temple,” he explained.

The synagogue was sold to an Episcopal church across the

“The last time I went to the temple they had a lawn mower in
there,” he said. “It’s just a disgraceful thing the way the temple is used. It
was built to be a holy place. I wouldn’t say it’s holy now. I’d say it’s abused

Empty land that bordered the Jewish cemetery was sold to a
scrap yard. Junked cars now loom across the fence and the sounds of auto
salvaging fill the air.

Walking through the cemetery, Rosenbush surveyed the dozens
of graves.

“I knew ’em,” he said. He points to the grave of Napoleon
Bonaparte Fields, who was mayor of the town. Fields’ daughter, Joan, was Bert’s
high school sweetheart, but she died in a car crash in 1947.

A Demopolis native, Rosenbush attended religious school and
was confirmed at the local synagogue.

“There was no rabbi. There was no one to teach Hebrew,” he

Though he is the only Jew in town, Rosenbush remains active.

“Every year for the past four or five years, during the Days
of Remembrance, I fix a nice display at the library to teach people about the
Holocaust,” he said. He also is a charter member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington.

“Around Passover, I buy a few extra boxes of matzah for my
buddies to eat when they come in,” he added.

Rosenbush attends synagogue in nearby Tuscaloosa, Ala., with
his wife, who isn’t Jewish. He still uses his grandmother’s old Union Prayer
Book at home.

“I read from that every week on Friday night. I just read
the evening service for the Sabbath,” he said. “And then sometimes I’m here at
the store. I sometimes read from the prayer book here. It’s just a wealth of
information, you might say.” Â

Check Out the Library’s New Digs

Sally Hyam didn’t mind working on her birthday. A librarian for the last 19 years at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA), Hyam was actually delighted that some 40 visitors were checking out books and videos at the opening reception celebrating the library’s new location in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd.

"You’re the heart and soul of this library," one woman told Hyam.

"This is the best place," Hyam told The Journal. "It’s just one big happy family."

Unfortunately, "family" might be a more apt word for the library than "community," accounting for JCLLA’s annual traffic. The library still occupies a very marginal space in Los Angeles’ Jewish community of 600,000. Only 150-200 items are checked out daily. In the bigger picture, JCLLA serves a relatively small network of academics and individuals — a glorified extended family.

Abigail Yasgur, JCLLA’s executive librarian and driving force, believes that the nearly 60-year-old library has historically suffered from a lack of aggressive marketing. But JCLLA’s supporters are hoping that, at its new location, Los Angeles’ Jews will discover the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles Peter M. Kahn Memorial, which operates under the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Federation department and the library’s new floormate.

The library, with a staff of four, operates on a $100,000 annual budget. Friends of JCLLA, headed by Judy and Nat Gorman, raises an additional $20,000-$30,000 each year. Currently, the library boasts over 25,000 Jewish books, videos, DVDs and CDs and hosts lectures, readings and family-oriented events.

Like Los Angeles itself, JCLLA has always been saddled by impermanence. Over the years, it has moved around with The Federation, starting at its original 590 N. Vermont Ave. headquarters.

For the last four years, JCLLA shared ground-floor space on Museum Row at 6006 Wilshire with fellow Federation-supported entities the Jewish Historical Library of Southern California and Los Angeles Martyrs Museum.

The long-intended move back into 6505 Wilshire comes with perks. The JCLLA’s staff is excited about the new space, which resembles the stacks at an Ivy League university, with its cozy carpeted floors and window nooks. Many believe that JCLLA’s placement will create a new kind of synergy with its Federation neighbors.

"This is where we belong," said Sandy Bernstein, former JCLLA chair.

"We’re delighted to have it near the Children’s Library and the Bureau [of Jewish Education]," said Jewish Federation President John Fishel.

While Federation brass salutes the JCLLA director’s passion and drive, Fishel did not always see eye to eye with Yasgur. In 1999, Yasgur was clearly frustrated with the state of her library, then at 6006 Wilshire. Yasgur had voiced displeasure over the library’s 5,000-square-feet designation, reduced to 2,500 square feet at 6505 Wilshire. She had lamented that one-third of the library’s collection was in storage.

Today, Yasgur does not view The Federation as a taciturn supporter.

"There’s no rift with The Federation," she said. "I don’t expect the library to be a priority over the Jews in Crisis campaign. John Fishel, [Executive Vice President] Jack Klein and [Vice President of Facilities] Cyndie Ayala have worked very diligently. The library looks great."

Space is no longer an issue either. The proximity to the library’s sister facility, the Slavin Family Children’s Library, will prove, according to its director, Amy Muscoplat, mutually beneficial.

"Now we have most of the collection available and for use with the children’s collection downstairs," said Yasgur, who even reserved a room as a community beit midrash (house of study).

Visitors enjoyed the new location. "It was too cramped at the old space," said Al Schoenberg.

"I come here for the [Jewish] music," said Lorette Ben-Nathan. "This place is more specialized [than public libraries]."

But Yasgur said she would love to see benefactors "step up and provide the base for a large, ongoing enterprise." She envisions a prominent $7 million Pico-Robertson area storefront.

Fishel finds such expectations quixotic.

"I would caution letting the dream carry them away," Fishel said. "I don’t believe they would raise that kind of money. It’s not only raising money for the physical facility, it’s a question of operationally, how are you going to finance it and maintain it."

Yasgur holds onto her long-term goal.

"If we build it, they will come," Yasgur said. "Once people find us, they exclaim, ‘Wow, this is a well-kept secret. I never knew there was a Jewish Community Library.’ Everybody will want to use this library if they know about it."


Rules of etiquette suggest that one must whisper in a library. But for the Jewish Community Library of Greater Los Angeles, that rule is just the beginning.

The library recently held its culminating ceremony for a group of youngsters enrolled in its Children’s Etiquette and Social Grace class. This is the first time that the institution has sponsored such a class.

The idea developed after the library director Abigail Yasgur and children’s director Sylvia Lowe, children’s librarian, enrolled their respective youngsters in an etiquette class.

"Libraries are not just about the books," Lowe said. "They’re becoming meeting places for people in the community."

"Eating is such a big thing in the Jewish tradition," said Yasgur, who noted that such pointers in protocol will come in handy at Shabbat meals and seder tables.

At Pat’s Restaurant, a kosher Pico-Robertson-area establishment, 15 boys and eight girls — students age 6-10 at schools such as Temple Emanuel, Maimonides Academy and Canfield Elementary — gathered for their fourth and final weekly class. They showed off their newly cultivated high-society habits, such as how to hold a long-stemmed glass, how to butter a roll, fold a napkin and other multicourse meal manners.

Contrary to expectations, Maggie O’Farrill, who for seven years has been teaching children etiquette, said that these restless years make the best time to teach kids.

"At this age, they’re very easy," O’Farrill said. "When they get older, it’s harder for them to break bad habits."

At the Pat’s soiree, parents were over the moon over the effects these classes have had on their youngsters.

Mary Jo Schnitzer’s daughter, Ariel, 9, is in her second year of etiquette class, having completed one at Hawthorne School last year.

"She learned to set the table and to speak properly on the phone," Schnitzer said.

"Children at this age want to be polite," O’Farrill said. "You can see that they’re trying."

Based on the parental enthusiasm and the success of this first program, Yasgur wants to continue holding such sessions. She hopes to start another class in January for children ages 10 and up, as well as offer refresher courses.

Ariel’s favorite lesson was "when she taught us how to walk."

Daniel Schwartz, 7, was less enthusiastic about the class."It’s OK, but I just want to put food in my mouth."

The Circuit

ADL Satisfies Medavoyeurs

About 60 people came to West Hollywood’s Wyndham Bel Age Hotel for an evening with Mike Medavoy. The Oscar-blessed movie producer and former studio chief — behind such hits as “Rocky,” “Annie Hall,” “10,” “Platoon,” “Philadelphia,” “Hoosiers” and “Silence of the Lambs” — waxed philosophical about the entertainment industry. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “An Evening With Mike Medavoy,” in support of Medavoy’s book, “You’re Only as Good as Your Next One,” was moderated by Variety’s Write Stuff scribe Jonathan Bing.

Medavoy shared many anecdotes spanning his 38-year career, during which time he formed Orion Pictures in 1978, became the head of Tri-Star in 1990 and founded his present production house, Phoenix Pictures, in 1997.

The former talent agent, who once represented Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, shared memories of how Kirk Douglas launched his producing career by giving him the film rights to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (Medavoy’s first Oscar-winner and still his personal favorite), of the chaotic force majeure production of “Apocalypse Now,” of his days as a casting agent on “Dragnet” and how writer-producer-star Jack Webb, who made Medavoy accompany him on his drinking binges, coaxed the future mogul into meeting with Lew Wasserman of Universal. The Universal chief asked Medavoy what he wanted to do, to which Medavoy replied, “‘I really want your job.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to have to wait a lot of years.'”

Medavoy also took the opportunity to refute his reputation of making message films.

“The movies were done because they were good movies,” Medavoy said. “Sam Goldwyn was right: ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union.'”

“An Evening With Mike Medavoy” capped off the ADL’s third annual Ralph Tornberg Lecture Series 2001-2002 — a monthly series held over four months.

People of the Book Awards

The Association of Jewish Libraries announced its 2001 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners for outstanding books of Jewish content for children.

“Sigmund Freud: Pioneer of the Mind” by Catherine Reef (Clarion) won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers, while “Rivka’s First Thanksgiving” by Elsa Okon Rael and illustrated by Maryann Kovalski (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster) was the winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers. Rael won previously for “When Zayde Danced on Eldridge Street” (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Eric Kimmel won Honor Book for Younger Readers for his book, “A Cloak for the Moon,” illustrated by Katya Krenina (Holiday House).

For information on the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners, visit The books can be borrowed from Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. Call (323) 761-8644.

Viva Chanukah!

Thirty members of the Hispanic-Jewish Women’s Task Force gathered with their families at Alice and Joe Spilberg’s home for a multicultural holiday celebration. Guests shared Jewish and Christian holiday traditions: singing songs, enjoying latkes and tamales, and lighting Chanukah candles.

Ahead for Fred

Variety reports that Fred Savage, the lead voice of the Nickelodeon cartoon “Oswald” recently profiled in The Journal, has landed back-to-back roles in George Clooney’s directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” based on game show host Chuck Barris’ pseudo-autobiographical account of his secret life as a CIA operative; and in director Jay Roach’s third “Austin Powers” comedy.

Shalom and Yo!

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited AMIT’s Gilo while on a recent trip to Israel. AMIT cares for 200 at-risk children.

Land of Milken Honey

Five outstanding Los Angeles-area Jewish educators were presented with 2002 Jewish Educator Awards at a Loews Santa Monica gala that attracted 300 people. The awards, presented by Milken Family Foundation and the Bureau of Jewish Education, included an unrestricted $10,000 award and public recognition for the recipients’ work. The five awardees: in Los Angeles, Frida Eytan, Judaic studies teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy ; Carol Goldman, math specialist at Stephen S. Wise Day School ; Vered Hopenstand, Hebrew teacher and program coordinator at Shalhevet School; Rabbi Shmuel Jacobs, Jewish studies teacher at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn; and in Agoura Hills, Jan Saltsman, lead teacher at Heschel Day School.

Hidden Stacks

Read any good Hebrew books lately?

If you live in the Valley — we’ll assume you read Hebrew — you’ll most likely have picked up the latest Ram Oren techno-thriller or Naomi Ragen frummie-potboiler at the recently opened Steimatzky bookstore on Ventura Boulevard near Corbin.

Another option is to make a quick run up the 101 to the Las Virgenes Public Library in Agoura Hills.

Here county library patrons can avail themselves of stacks upon stacks of vintage and hot-off-the-press Israeli novels, biographies, political and military accounts, journalistic memoirs, cookbooks, compact discs and videos. Moreover, the library has become a repository for one of the most extensive collections of Hebrew-language children’s books in Los Angeles, as the children of local Israeli émigrés grow out of them.

Nor does this trove stop with Hebrew literature. The Agoura library also houses one of the city’s most extensive collections of Holocaust literature, as well as a substantial number of books by Jewish writers and a Judaica collection.

According to Raya Sagi, the library’s manager and a decade-long resident of Agoura, the county provides some resources for the various ethnic and other specialized collections that have sprouted throughout the system. The Agoura library has used these funds to build up sizable collections of Chinese, Persian, Spanish, and Japanese material alongside the Jewish and Hebrew collections.

Sagi credits funding provided by the Friends of the Library and a book-donating Israeli community for the growth in the Hebrew and Jewish collections. But perhaps the greatest credit, Sagi says, is due to reference librarian Sondra Gorodinsky and library aide Edith Allweil, both of whom have developed guerrilla tactics for securing new titles and filling holes with titles that might otherwise have found their way to the Dumpster.

Gorodinski is a native English-speaker with an intense passion for Holocaust literature. She has found that interest in this searing and unparalleled event has not diminished but seems to grow each year. In response, Gorodinski has put out a systemwide APB asking for titles that might otherwise be cleared from library shelves. The result, Sagi says, is a comprehensive and eclectic collection that could easily vie with anything outside of academe or the institutional collections one might find at a Wiesenthal Center or Holocaust Museum.

Credit for building up the Israeli collection, meanwhile, goes to the Israel-born Allweil, who finds titles at lectures, in literary supplements, through Israeli bookstores and on trips to Israel. Allweil’s greatest pleasure is seeing parents of local Israelis come in and stumble on this hidden Hebrew treasure.

“They are older people,” she says, “and often they don’t have any English. Here they find a selection as formidable as anything they might find at a neighborhood library back home. I can’t recall how many times they’ve told us we saved their lives and sanity.”

For the Las Virgenes librarians, though, salvation of life and sanity will come at the end of the summer, when they vacate their old digs and move into a 17,500-square-foot facility in the new Agoura Hills Civic Center, in construction less than a mile westward. Here, collections now relegated to specific shelves may find their way into rooms of their own. Of course, as anyone who has built new space for books knows, shelves have a way of filling up quickly.

The Las Virgenes Library is still at 29130 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills, CA 91301, (818) 889-2278. Contributions are welcomed, and tax receipts are available.

Long Overdue

Abigail Yasgur has a vision for the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

“Why can’t the library serve as a civic hub?” the director of library and information services asks. “Why not be a storefront for the [Jewish] Federation [of Greater Los Angeles], like Jewish Vocational Service and Jewish Family Services? Why can’t we have a gathering place for Jews of all types — from the unaffiliated to the black hatters — and have coffee? That’s what I envision.”

With so many community institutions housing formidable collections of Jewish literature, is her ideal realistic? That depends on whom you ask.

Howard Gelberd, director of Judaic studies at Stephen S. Wise Temple and Day School, has some logistical concerns.

“It’s not near a freeway. It’s far away. It’s peripheral to a chunk of the population,” Gelberd says. “Are Jews on the Westside or Woodland Hills…going to go there? You’d have to ask them.”

While Dr. Gil Graff, executive director of the Federation-backed Bureau of Jewish Education, thinks that “the library is pursuing the right path,” he is reluctant to take a definitive stance on Yasgur’s vision. However, presented with the reduced-space scenario, Graff concedes that “it wouldn’t lend itself to having large groups for programming. … In terms of realizing the fullness of the vision, it would be somewhat confining.”

Yasgur would agree. At its present Museum Row location, the library competes for limited square footage with two other Jewish Federation-subsidized agencies — the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. (“At our opening, there were 3- or 4-year-olds wandering into the Holocaust Museum,” Yasgur says.) As if these cramped quarters were not stifling enough, the library will occupy only 2,500 square feet — half of its original designation — when it eventually moves back to its old 6505 Wilshire Blvd. address. Meanwhile, one-third of the Library’s collection will continue to gather dust in storage.

Dismayed over what she perceives as a disparity in priorities between herself and the Federation, Yasgur claims that some officials have complained that the library is not as thriving as counterparts in more Jewishly centralized places such as Montreal — a comparison Yasgur deems disingenuous.

“The library is sort of suffocating under the weight of the Federation,” Yasgur says. “They don’t give us the money…to nourish the mind, which is as important as nourishing the body. We have wonderful resources, and people always say, they don’t know about it. … I’m sick of that refrain.”

As a resident, Roberta Lloyd, head librarian at Stephen S. Wise Temple, sees Los Angeles’ decentralized urban sprawl as no reason to eschew investing in a community library.

“Just because the Jewish community is spread out, doesn’t mean we can’t have a central library,” says Lloyd, who adds that Angelenos cannot avoid driving to get to anywhere in this city.

Federation officials declined to comment on the library.

Yasgur is proud of what the library has to offer. The director shows off the culinary collection, which she refers to as “anthropological study. You’re looking at a history of a people.” She raves about the video section, a “robustly circulating part of the collection” that includes everything from Bill Moyer’s “Genesis” series to popular Jewish-themed movies (“The Frisco Kid”) and television (episodes of “Homicide” and “Northern Exposure”). And she is particularly satisfied with the library’s comprehensive children’s programming and online capabilities. The librarian hopes to make the facility’s entire catalog Web-browsable within a year.

All these efforts have not gone completely unnoticed.

Rita Berman Frischer, director of library services at Sinai Temple’s Blumenthal Library, believes that the Jewish Community Library “functions amazingly well under the circumstances. … A library is a logistical nightmare when it’s out of house. … They have shown a lot of flexibility. I think they need a lot of support.”

Librarian Lloyd commends the library and its resources: “I think there aren’t a lot of people who know about it, [but] who should know about it.”

Four years ago, just prior to Yasgur’s arrival, Jewish Angelenos believed they might lose their library when the Federation tried to relocate it. Friends of the Jewish Community Library, spearheaded by Judy and Nat Gorman, came to the rescue, gathering enough funding to keep the site going. The Friends still raises $20,000 to $30,000 annually through direct-mail campaigns.

While she is thankful that the Federation continues to keep the library open, Yasgur hopes that the educational center’s core base of teachers, students and families will continue to grow. As she waits to see what the future brings, Yasgur offers a simple plea: “Let’s have a library we can be proud of.”

For more information on the Jewish Community Library, call (323) 761-8644; e-mail; or visit

Have Library, Must Travel

To reach David Hirsch’s narrow, cluttered office at UCLA, you traverse bare, labyrynthine corridors in the basement of the University Research Library.

Hirsch, the Jewish and Middle Eastern studies bibliographer at the library, supervises a collection of treasures that range from a 1489 edition of Nahmanides’ commentary on the Torah to one of the best Ladino book collections anywhere. But the treasures remain largely unknown to L.A. Jews, as hidden as Hirsch’s office in the flourescent-lit, underground halls of the URL.

That is something Hirsch hopes to change.

Through his website and other efforts, the librarian is striving to increase public awareness of the library and also his fund raising endeavors. During the 1970s, there was plenty of state money for libraries to purchase books; not anymore. Finding funding is made even more difficult by the fact that there are several other prominent Jewish libraries in L.A., Hirsch says.

ArtsThe Year’s Best Jewish Children’s Books

Last month,the Association of Jewish Libraries announced the winners of its Sydney Taylor Award for this year’s most distinguished contributions to Jewish children’s literature. AJL’s award committee chose a holiday story and a mesmerizing collection of legends as the finest of the 70 books submitted by Jewish and secular publishers in the 1997 publishing season. Winners are the picture book, “When Zaydeh Danced on Eldridge Street” in the younger reader division and the anthology, “The Mysterious Visitor” in the older reader division. Honor books are “When Jessie Came Across the Sea” and “I Have Lived A Thousand Years”. Author Barbara Diamond Goldin won the Body of Work award.

The annual awards include a cash prize from the estate of popular children’s author Sydney Taylor of All-of-a-kind-Family series fame. Publishers add a gold foil winner’s seal to the book jacket. Winning authors and illustrators will receive their awards on June 23rd in Philadelphia at AJL’s national convention banquet.

“When Zaydeh Danced On Eldridge Street,” written by Elsa Rael, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, is a Simchat Torah story about the tension between a bright little girl and her fearsomely stern grandfather.

“The Mysterious Visitor: Stories of the Prophet Elijah” by Nina Jaffe, illustrated by Elivia Savadier, Jaffe chose Elijah legends from a wide range of geographical origins. Her charming versions brim with the oral quality expected in folklore.

Two honors reflect the diversity in Jewish children’s literature. “When Jessie Came Across the Sea,” by Amy Hest, illustrated by P.J. Lynch and published by Candlewick Press, recounts how a Jewish orphan maid makes her way in the wide world from shtetl to America.

The older reader’s honor book is “I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust” by Livia Bitton-Jackson, published by Simon & Schuster. Vivid laughter describes a searing personal experience during the gory final year of the Holocaust when Bitton-Jackson, a Czechoslovakian Jew, was sent to concentration camps.

Barbara Diamond Goldin won the Body of Work Award for significant contribution to Jewish juvenile literature. Her primary picture books include original holiday tales which range from humorous to bittersweet and her older children’s books encourage understanding of observance and ethics. She won a 1991 Sydney Taylor Award for her Purim picture book, “Cakes and Miracles.” Goldin’s consistently commendable and recommendable books combine talented writing, solid research, personal commitment and deep caring about young Jewish readers.

These books are available at your synagogue, religious or day school libraries. For more information, contact Awards Chair Ellen Cole at Temple Isaiah’s Levine Library or Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library. — Staff Report

When Zaydeh Danced On Eldridge Street, written by Elsa Rael and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, is the winner of the Sydney Taylor Award in the younger reader division.