Peace Garden captures spirit of Rabbi’s son

The newly installed Interfaith Peace Garden is tucked away in a lovely corner of Loyola Marymount University (LMU), a Jesuit institution that lies mere blocks away from Los Angeles International Airport. 

The garden is filled with rough-hewn stone pillars and benches, each carved with quotes that, when taken collectively, reference the need for cultural dialogue and peace in the world. One of the more prominent stones is etched with the phrase, “An enemy is someone whose story you have not yet heard.”

It was one of Avi Schaefer’s favorite sayings.

On April 25, more than 100 people gathered to celebrate Schaefer’s life — tragically cut short by a drunken driver in 2010 — and his personal dedication to peace by officially dedicating the Interfaith Peace Garden at LMU in his memory. It is located adjacent to the Collins Faculty and Alumni Center.

 “Our family decided not to focus on how he died, which would move us to a place of anger and revenge, but rather to emphasize that he lived to promote peace and understanding,” said Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer, Schaefer’s father and a professor of business law at LMU.

Schaefer was born and raised in Santa Barbara. Immediately after high school, he and his twin brother, Yoav, joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as volunteer combat soldiers. 

Despite his military background, Schaefer spent his entire adult life as a peacemaker — he saw joining the IDF as a means to fulfill his dream of helping to build a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He felt that there were no true enemies in the conflict, just misunderstandings and a lack of dialogue between the groups, according to his family.

When he came back to the United States to start college at Brown University, he planned to pursue a degree in international relations and Middle East studies. But those plans were denied when, at age 21, Schaefer was struck and killed by a drunken driver.

Gross-Schaefer said he originally was taken aback when he was approached by colleagues about creating a memorial for his son on the campus.

“My son wasn’t a student here, and it didn’t make sense to me that they’d want the memorial here,” Gross-Schaefer said. 

Erin Hanson, director of donor relations at LMU, explained, “There was great synergy between the spirit of LMU and Avi’s spirit. His commitment and compassion for others and his desire to create a more peaceful world reflects LMU’s mission. Dedicating a space on campus to acknowledge and be dedicated to the pursuit of a more peaceful world was a natural fit.”

Throughout the grieving process, Gross-Schaefer said he was continually surprised by the support he received from his LMU coworkers.

“When it happened, my colleagues helped run my classes when I needed to attend to the funeral and everything surrounding that. Everyone was so warm and sensitive — students, the dean of my department — everyone came through, but no one overwhelmed me.”

Gross-Schaefer also felt the Jewish community rally around him in a way that he didn’t think was possible. 

“I never appreciated my religious colleagues, across the board, as much as I did when they showed up to help me and my family through this tragedy. It didn’t matter whether they were Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. I realized how deeply this community cares about each other.”

“Religion helped move us away from anger and revenge, and grow from this experience,” Gross-Schaefer said.

The family decided to create the Avi Schaefer Fund to promote the ideals and dreams that inspired and motivated their son. It has several initiatives and objectives. One is a fellowship for former Israeli soldiers who attend college in North America and want to actively represent Israel and peace. 

Another goal involves facilitating conferences and retreats that bring together Israeli and Palestinian students with differing, and often conflicting, views on Israeli-Palestinian relations, in hopes that they will learn enough about the other side and be able to begin a dialogue with peace and understanding in mind. The most recent conference, which took place this past winter in Jerusalem, featured important Israeli government officials as speakers. It attracted 400 people, 100 of whom had to be turned away for lack of space, according to Gross-Schaefer.

Laurie Gross-Schaefer, Avi’s mother, feels that her son’s determination to make a difference and bring people together is what made him such a special individual. 

“The quote here in the garden that makes me think most of Avi is the one by Elie Wiesel, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.’ This quote really rings true, because Avi was anything but indifferent in his life.”

Loyola marymount commemorates Kristallnacht

On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, brown-shirted storm troopers torched and looted hundreds of synagogues and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria in what is known as Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.”

On Nov. 8, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), founded by Jesuits, will host its annual citywide commemoration of the Nazi pogrom, which many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust. At LMU’s Westchester campus, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin will give an address titled “Why the Jews? Ethical, Spiritual and Historical Lessons.” 

This is the sixth year that LMU has sponsored a Kristallnacht commemoration, part of the Catholic university’s long-standing ties with the Jewish community and its scholarly interest in Jewish studies.

Among the initiators of the commemoration was William Elperin, president of The “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants that is underwriting the event.

“It seemed to me then, and even more now, that it is really important to teach the Holocaust to non-Jewish students at a non-Jewish university,” Elperin said. “It is really not productive to preach only to the choir.”

Indicative of the LMU leadership’s philo-Judaic outlook is its support of a full-scale Jewish studies program, under the direction of professor Holli Levitsky, and the recent appointment of the first full-time rabbi, Ilana Schachter, as campus coordinator of Jewish Student Life and Hillel rabbi.

Levitsky regularly leads her mostly non-Jewish students in her course “Holocaust in Poland” on a summer trip to key Polish cities and Auschwitz. Two student projects that grew out of this past summer’s trip, a creative dance and an original composition, will be performed at the Kristallnacht commemoration.

Following will be the talk by Telushkin, author of a dozen books on ethics, Jewish history, humor and mysteries. Cantor Sam Radwine will open the ceremony, Cantor Leopold Szneer will conclude it, and a kosher reception will follow.

LMU’s friendly relationship with the Jewish community goes back a long way. Founded in 1911, LMU established a law school in 1920, which set no quotas on admitting Jewish students, in sharp contrast to most private universities at the time.

Currently, enrollment of Jewish students on the Westchester campus runs 250 to 300, or roughly 2.5 to 3 percent of the total number of 9,852 undergraduate and graduate students.

Because only students who specifically register as “Jewish” are counted as such, it is a fair guess that there are more than the official count reflects, Schachter said.

No exact figures are available for Jewish faculty members at LMU, or for Jewish student enrollment at the affiliated downtown Loyola Law School, but the general assumption is that the percentages are considerably higher.

Schachter, 28 and a graduate of the local Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said in an interview that the Catholic majority at the university shares the Jewish values of social justice and devotion to learning, and joins in the celebration of Jewish events.

 “There is an advantage to being at a relatively small college, where we tend to share things,” Schachter said. “For instance, celebrations of Jewish holidays are sponsored by the general Student Union, and during Sukkot, we had our Sukkah right in the middle of the campus.”

Much of extracurricular life at LMU revolves around service organizations, in which students of all faiths work together, such as this Friday’s Shabbat, devoted to fighting global hunger.

In return, Schachter officiates as chaplain at one of the Catholic service groups and said she enjoys “learning about Catholic tradition.”

LMU also has a sizable Muslim student population, but there have been no anti-Israel demonstrations on campus, in contrast to what has taken place at a number of California public universities.

 “We’re not a politically active campus,” Schachter said. “I am sure that feelings about Israel vary, but we have had no confrontations.”

Levitsky and Schachter jointly administer, and are equally excited by, a project tackling a frustrating problem shared by Jewish activists at every university — how to get uninvolved Jewish students to become more involved in Jewish programs.

Underwriting the effort is a $10,000 Student Engagement Fellowship Grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Goals of the program are to determine the needs of unaffiliated Jewish students and on that basis develop accessible and relevant Jewish campus experiences and events attractive to those students.

The Kristallnacht commemoration on Nov. 8 will start at 7 p.m. in the Roski Dining Room of University Hall. For parking, enter the LMU campus at the main entrance off Lincoln Boulevard.

The public is invited, and there is no admission charge, but reservations are required.

For more information, visit

Briefs: Loyola hosts Jewish Studies conference, Jews at UC Irvine say they are safe

Loyola Hosts Jewish Studies Conference

The Western states conference of the Association of Jewish Studies will be held April 6-7 at — Loyola Marymount University (LMU), a Jesuit institution.

The particular venue says a good deal about the evolution of Jewish studies from an ethnic specialty to a broad academic discipline integral to any self-respecting university.

Actually, Loyola Marymount University vied with the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism) for hosting honors, and won out.

Professor Holli Levitsky, director of Jewish studies at LMU, pointed out that her university will initiate a minor study program in her field this fall, offering courses ranging from Introduction to the Hebrew Bible to Near Eastern archaeology.

The conference, which is open to interested persons without charge, will consist of 20 plenary and specialized sessions, workshops, and an evening of music and entertainment.

Sunday’s program on April 6 opens with a discussion on Christian-Jewish relations, and includes sessions on topics as varied as Jewish holidays in comic strips, the impact of Jewish artists Sigmund Romberg and Stanley Kubrick, and an analysis of “The Debate over American Support of Israel” by U.S. State Department historian Adam Howard.

A tribute luncheon will honor the scholarly work of UCLA professor Arnold Band. The evening program includes a performance by the Shtetl Menschen and a concert of klezmer music.

The subsequent keynote event will present an interfaith conversation, “Collars and Kippot,” with Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and Monsignor Royale Vadakin, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

On Monday, April 7, scholars will discuss “Literature and Jewish Identity,” while a session on “Home and Hearth” will focus on Iranian Jewish women and a talk titled “Bodies, Food & (tsk, tsk) Sex.” The meeting will conclude with a panel discussion on “Israel at 60,” moderated by The Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

An exhibit of paintings, “Panim el Panim” (Face to Face) by Evelyn Stettin, described as a “Visual Midrash,” will be open throughout the meeting. (See article, Page 39.)

Co-sponsors of the conference are American Jewish University, UCLA, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, American Jewish Committee, Chapman University, Cal State Long Beach and CSUN.

LMU is located in the Marina del Rey-Westchester area and all events are in University Hall. For information, phone (310) 338-2806, or e-mail

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jerusalem Fountain Piano Suite to Premiere at Cathedral

A tourist to Los Angeles looking for the Jewish Family Fountain will find it in a rather unlikely place — in the plaza of the landmark Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Alternately known as the Jerusalem Fountain, it will be celebrated in the world premiere of the piano suite “Water From a Stone,” by Michael Isaacson, on Saturday evening, April 5, in the main cathedral sanctuary.

Noted pianist Andrea Anderson, who asked Isaacson to compose the suite, will also perform works by Mozart, Debussy and Copland. Rounding out the program is Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata, with flautist Zachary Valenzuela.

The fountain, described by Cathedral sources as “probably the first-ever Jewish contribution to a Christian cathedral,” was built through a $2.5 million grant from the Skirball Foundation and an anonymous Jewish family.

Their purpose was “to acknowledge the long-standing and cordial relationship between the Jewish and Roman Catholic communities in Southern California.”

The biblical inscription on the rose and gold limestone from an ancient quarry outside Jerusalem reads, in Hebrew and English, “The world stands on three pillars – Torah, Worship and Good Deeds.”

Isaacson said that he tried to express “the interdependent duality of the immovable [stone] and the ever-changing [water]” through a musical combination of biblical themes, Hebrew prayers and early Israeli folk songs.

The suite’s three movements are titled “Moses Striking the Rock,” “Dew of Morning” and “Fountain of Deliverance.”

Isaacson is the founding music director of the Israel Pops Orchestra, has created more than 500 Jewish and secular compositions, and has been the arranger and conductor of music for numerous feature films and television series.

Anderson is the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation grant and has performed at Carnegie Hall and other concert halls in the United States, China, Sweden, Finland and Lithuania.

The concert will start at 8 p.m. on April 5 at the Cathedral, 555 W. Temple St. Admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested. Secure parking is $5. For information, call (213) 680-5200.

— TT

Saving America from the SAVE Act

Standing up for immigrant and employer rights, the American Jewish Committee (AJ Committee) and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, along with Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, voiced opposition to the SAVE (Secure America with Verification and Enforcement) Act during a press conference and subsequent vote at L.A. City Hall on March 26.

The SAVE Act, sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), is a new immigration enforcement bill intended to help secure America’s borders. Title two of the SAVE Act requires all U.S. employers to go through a mandatory work authorization verification system using an “E-Verify” program that would check the legal status of all employees.

During the press conference on the bill, however, AJCommittee representatives outlined some of the act’s flaws.

“Over 10 million workers would be identified incorrectly. This Act does not address the real issues of border security,” said Seth Brysk, director of the AJCommittee’s Los Angeles Chapter.

Following the press conference, the L.A. City Council voted against implementation of the bill. AJCommittee hopes that members of Congress will look to their constituents and take into account this opposing stance. Brooke Menschel, AJCommittee’s assistant legislative director, said that if the bill goes through it would undermine local law enforcement and create unrest and distrust within local communities.

“The database is riddled with errors,” Menschel said. AJCommittee “has strived to protect those who come to this country to escape persecution. We need to also secure homeland security and ensure that the gateway to America isn’t just an open door. We need to work to find a delicate balance, and this bill does no such thing.”