FILE PHOTO: Firefighters battle flames from a Santa Ana wind-driven brush fire called the Thomas Fire in Santa Paula, California, U.S. on December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins/File Photo

Over 212,000 People Forced to Abandon Their Homes As Southern California Fires Rage On


The fires throughout southern California have now forced over 212,000 people to leave their homes and have no sign of slowing down.

There are currently six major fires plaguing southern California: the Thomas Fire (Ventura County), the Skirball Fire (West Los Angeles), the Creek Fire (Sylmar), the Rye Fire (Santa Clarita), the Liberty Fire (Riverside County) and the Lilac Fire (San Diego).

The Thomas Fire is the largest of the fires, which has burned 132,000 acres of land since Monday – well over two times larger than the city of Washington, D.C. – and has now spread into Santa Barbara County, resulting in a mandatory evacuation for the people in the city of Carpinteria. A total of over 88,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes as a result of the Thomas Fire.

The Lilac Fire started on Thursday evening and has already blazed over 4,000 acres of land. Several people, including firefighters, have suffered from burns and smoke inhalation from the Lilac Fire and 20 buildings have been destroyed in its wake. Evacuations have already been issued.

None of the fires are anywhere close to being contained. The Creek Fire is the fire that is the closest to being contained at 40%, followed by the Rye Fire (35%), Skirball Fire (30%), Thomas Fire (10%), Liberty Fire (10%) and Lilac Fire (0%).

The fires could potentially worsen over the weekend, as the Santa Ana winds are forecasted to intensify to 40 to 60 miles per hour on Saturday, putting southern California at a heightened risk of fires.

President Trump has declared a state of emergency for the people afflicted by the fires, thus providing the state and localities with federal assistance to deal with the fires. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has already declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego.

Photo by Leo Baeck.

Numerous Synagogues, Jewish Day Schools Closed Down Due to Skirball Fire


Several area synagogues and Jewish institutions closed Dec. 6 and removed their Torahs for safekeeping after a brushfire exploded on the east side of the Sepulveda Pass.

Leo Baeck Temple, Stephen Wise Temple, American Jewish University’s Familian Campus and the Skirball Cultural Center all were closed due to what is known as the Skirball Fire.

“The fires were literally right on top of us,” Leo Baeck Rabbi Ken Chasen said after recovering Torahs from his campus on Sepulveda Boulevard early Wednesday morning and bringing them to Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino for safekeeping.

The threat from the blaze — which led Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to declare a local state of emergency — led Stephen Wise Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback to transfer the temple’s Torah scrolls from its Bel Air campus to VBS. Temple groundskeepers hosed down the hill in front of the campus so that it would be less likely to catch ablaze if the winds pushed the fire there.

“We went basically building-to-building, turned off the gas, power and took all the Torah scrolls down to Valley Beth Shalom,” Zweiback said.

VBS also welcomed the Torah scrolls of Milken Community Schools, which was closed.

“There are 25 Sifrei Torah sitting in my chapel right now from three different places,” VBS Rabbi Noah Farkas said.

Numerous Torahs are being preserved from the Skirball fire in Valley Beth Shalom. Photo courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom.

The Skirball Fire is one of several fires that has blazed across the Southland since Monday. The other fires are known as the Thomas, Rye and Creek fires burning in Ventura County, Santa Clarita and Sylmar.

The Skirball fire’s proximity to Sepulveda also resulted in the closure of the Los Angeles Eruv, which uses fences, hillsides and lines through the Sepulveda pass. An eruv is a halachic perimeter that transforms a public area into a private domain for Shabbat, allowing observant Jews to carry items within its boundaries.

Both Sinai Temple in Westwood and Valley Beth Shalom closed their day schools. A large portion of Sinai Temple’s Alice and Nahum Lainer School (formerly Sinai Akiba Academy) faculty is based in the San Fernando Valley, near the fire.

Sinai Temple also has congregants who have been evacuated. “So as of now, we know about 15-to-20 families that have been evacuated,” Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik said on Wednesday in a phone interview from downtown, where she was seeking refuge from the poor air-quality in Westwood.

Several emergency shelters have been set up in the wake of the fire, including at Balboa Park in Encino. Sinai Temple has offered itself up as a shelter for evacuees, and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills released a statement of support for those who need shelter or assistance.

Chasen said he received a telephone call on Wednesday morning ordering his neighborhood to evacuate. Speaking on the phone from his colleague Zweiback’s home, he said there was “some minor damage down in the [Leo Baeck] Temple property, but pretty minor. The main buildings were not breached even though the fire pushing up right against us.”

Find Your Favorite Holiday Gift at The Clayhouse


CLAYHOUSE HOLIDAY SALE

The Clayhouse 2017 Holiday Sale

 

Please join me at the Clayhouse for our annual holiday sale! I am honored to again be a part of this sale with this wonderful community of artists. If you are looking for a homemade holiday gift, this is the place fine handmade, one-of-a-kind, affordable gifts including pottery, sculpture, glass and more.

 

WHERE:

The Clayhouse, 2909  Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica CA 90404

WHEN:

Friday December 8, 2017 4pm-9pm and
Saturday December 9, 2017 10am-6pm
WHERE:
2909 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica 90404
 310.828.7071
2017 SALE PARTICIPANTS
Alia Ollikainen Joslin * Amy Dov * Amy Kivnick
Cheryl Silver * David Stone * Deborah Levin * Diana Ungerleider
Jamie Hansen * Janet Domino * Janet Grings
Jennica Atkinson * Karin Swildens * Kathy Mudgett
Kerri Price Katsuyama * Kristi Sherman * Linda Flo *Lisa Niver * Loriann Stevenson* Marilyn Haese * Nani Grennell * Narayan De Vera
Polly Osborne * Sam Dixon * Sara Winkle * Sierra Pecheur * Stephanie Sea * Valerie Moreland  * William Pitcher

 

More information:
FACEBOOK
WEBSITE
INSTAGRAM

About The Clayhouse Studio & Gallery:

The Clayhouse, established in 1971, is the oldest high fire pottery studio on the Westside. There are fewer and fewer studios of this nature due to limited space and obstacles in using gas-burning kilns. Gas kilns produce rich, beautiful glaze colors and unique visual effects with universal appeal. The unassuming storefront of The Clayhouse on Santa Monica Blvd displays some of the works of its 50 artist members. In the back of the storefront, there is a wide open studio with tables, wheels, kilns and pottery in various stages of completion. Classes are offered during week and weekend.

Take art class with David Stone. Photo by Mark Dektor

Take art class with David Stone. Photo by Mark Dektor

Take a Class:

Wheel classes

Beginning Wheel, David Stone, Sunday  mornings from 10 to 12 noon. Starts Jan. 14, 6 weeks, to Feb. 18.

Beginning Wheel, Diana Ungerleider, Saturday mornings, 10 to 12:30, starts Jan. 20, 6 weeks, to Feb. 24.

Students will learn how to use the potter’s wheel to  “throw” functional items such as mugs, bowls, vases
and more. Glaze instruction is also included.
The class fee is $280 which includes a 25-lb. bag of clay and tools, access to the studio anytime, plus the firing. An advance deposit is required to hold a space in class.
All classes last six weeks and include clay, tools 
firing, glazing and access to the studio. 
Classes are small to allow individual attention. 
Call soon to reserve a spot in a class! 
Advance deposit required.   
call 310-828-7071 for more info or to sign up
 Store hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 3 pm
As Henry Moore said, “To be an artist is to believe in life.”
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“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Pablo Picasso
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I hope to see you at the Studio! Lisa Niver

Photos from Summer Sale and 2016 Winter Sale

Lisa Niver, Artist and Author Photo by Mark Dektor

Lisa Niver, Artist and Author Photo by Mark Dektor

Jewish “Motosikiliztim” pose in an unknown location on their ride from Palestine to Belgium. Photo courtesy Maccabi World Union

Motorcyclists Revved Up Jews for First Maccabiah


A gleaming Indian Scout 101 motorcycle, vintage 1929, helped kick-start the first Maccabiah Games in Palestine and with it much of Jewish sports history in the past 87 years.

Fast forward to the 20th Maccabiah this past summer, when an identical motorcycle was installed in the entrance hall of the Maccabi Sports Museum in Ramat Gan, Israel, and became an instant favorite of camera-toting tourists.

The two motorcycles link two vastly different times: one when a “Jewish Olympics” was thought to be an impossible pipedream, and this year’s event that brought 10,000 Jewish athletes to Israel.

To commemorate the games’ origins, planners of the 2017 Maccabiah wanted to display the type of motorcycle ridden across the Middle East and Europe to let Diaspora Jews know that the first such sporting event was to be held in 1932. Present-day officials were not sure any of those antique bikes could be found.

But after a two-year search, a motorcycle that fit the bill was located in the garage of a Norwegian collector and bought for 24,500 euros ($28,665) in 2016. With added costs for shipping and inspection and the hefty Israeli customs fee, the total cost came to 61,000 euros, then equal to $71,370.

To raise the funds, Eyal Tiberger, executive director of the Maccabi World Union, turned to Steve Soboroff, an influential figure in the Los Angeles business and civic world and president of the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners.

In the run-up to the previous Maccabiah Games in 2013, Soboroff had organized a committee of 18 well-heeled Los Angeles donors to enable Jewish athletes from poorer Diaspora communities to participate.

The 11 Motosikiliztim were hailed by ecstatic Jewish crowds.

He was joined for the 2017 Maccabiah support drive by Steve Lebowitz, president of a Santa Monica real estate firm dealing in hospitals and other health-care related buildings, and his son David Lebowitz, the firm’s executive vice president.

The latter, a one-time golf pro, was a mainstay of the U.S. golf team at the 2017 Maccabiah, placing fourth in the individual competition, while his team came in second after losing a tiebreaker to the winning Israeli team.

“At 42, I was about 12 years older than the next oldest man among some 85 golf competitors from a dozen countries,” David Lebowitz said. “The other players called me ‘uncle’.”

Also contributing to the Maccabiah’s financial support was Daniel Gottlieb, a former partner of the elder Lebowitz.

They were all inspired by the beginning of the Maccabiah saga, in 1929, when Yosef Yekutieli, a Palestinian (in those days, the Jewish inhabitants of the land defined themselves as “Palestinians”), presented the idea of a quadrennial “Jewish Olympics” to the Maccabi World Congress meeting in Prague. There were a few outspoken skeptics — with good reasons.

For one, in all of British-run Palestine there was not a single stadium, swimming pool or running track. For another, the British foreign office worried about the entry of “illegal” Zionist immigrants, would likely veto the whole idea. Add to such factors the 1929 worldwide Depression and large-scale Arab massacres of Jews in Palestine, and the question was whether Jews in the Diaspora would participate in the games.

Even if all these obstacles were overcome, how would Jewish communities in the countries of the Diaspora be informed and mobilized to send teams. (Remember, this was before the internet, television, cell phones, international radio broadcasts and easy international telephoning.)

Fortunately, Yekutieli came up with a publicity stunt worthy of a Madison Avenue genius. With the help of his friends, he rounded up 11 motorcycle riders — dubbed “The Motosikiliztim” in a merger of Yiddish and Hebrew — to speed the glad tidings of the planned Maccabiah among the major Jewish communities of Europe.

Their route of some 3,000 miles started in Tel Aviv, went to Haifa and Lebanon, and then, after a boat trip to Turkey, stopped at big cities and Jewish communities in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium. That trip would have been forbidding at any time, but more so in the days before interurban highways, observed Rodney Sanders, Tiberger’s right-hand man.

The 11 Motosikiliztim were hailed by ecstatic Jewish crowds, feted in the press, and hailed by civic and national leaders — in countries not necessarily known for their philo-Semitic sentiments — as reincarnations of the biblical Maccabees.

Some burnished their heroic reputations through an incident reported on Aug. 1, 1930, by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) and headlined “Palestine Maccabeans Rescue 36 from Drowning in Germany.”

As JTA reported, four of the motorcyclists on the return leg of their mission approached a bridge spanning Germany’s Ilme River and saw that a tour bus with 36 passengers had plunged off the Ilme Bridge into the river. “Hastily dismounting from their motorcycles,” the JTA report said, “the four Maccabeans, fully clothed, plunged into the river and saved 36 passengers who were struggling in the waters.”

Most of the motorcyclists participating in the initial 1930 mission rode Belgian-made Sarolea machines, but a second ride in 1931 included the now-famous Indian 101 Scout.

Those first games in 1932 attracted 390 athletes from 27 countries. The event has grown so much over the decades that 10,000 athletes came from 85 nations this year.

Planners of the 2017 games wanted a motorcycle of the same type and year as used by the original Motosikiliztim. Tiberger commissioned Sanders to lead the search. Sanders, in turn, hired Bas Van Duinkerken, an expert Dutch restorer of antique and vintage motorcycles. On the verge of abandoning the mission, Van Duinkerken found a 1928 Indian Scout 101 in Norway and brought it to Israel in triumph. It is now the oldest motorcycle in Israel and probably in the entire Middle East, Sanders said.

Rare footage of the earliest Maccabiahs and the ride of the Motosikiliztim is included in the film and the shorter television special “Back to Berlin,” which British producer Catherine Lurie-Alt expects to release next spring.

Shalhevet High School players (in white) took the court against Salenter Akiba Riverdale Academy from the Bronx, N.Y., in the Steve Glouberman Annual Basketball Tournament. Photo by Zoey Botnick

Basketball Tournament Combines Jump Shots With an ‘Uplifting’ Shabbat


Photo credit: Zoey Botnick

More than 250 Jewish high school athletes, boys and girls, descended upon Shalhevet High School for the Steve Glouberman Annual Basketball Tournament on Nov. 8-12. Teams from local schools such as Shalhevet, Valley Torah, Harkham-GAON Academy and Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys and Girls high schools (YULA) competed, as well as teams from as far as Florida, New Jersey, Seattle and Israel.

The event, in its third year, is more than just a basketball tournament.

At most tournaments, visiting teams spend off-hours in their hotels. With the Glouberman tournament, volunteer hosts in the community house the teams. And there’s also a jam-packed Shabbaton schedule.

“A big part of the tournament is being part of the community, meeting people and bonding,” said Raizie Weissman, the Shalhevet administrator who runs the tournament. “All the teenagers bonding together is very important for us.”

“It’s about much more than wins and losses.” — Rabbi Ari Segal

More than 60 Jewish families — most from the Shalhevet community — housed visiting players, coaches and chaperones. Everyone associated with the teams also were invited to a barbecue on Shalhevet’s rooftop, Friday night dinners with host families and Shabbat services at Beth Jacob Congregation. They also had a chance to meet local Jewish hoops hero David Blu, the former USC Trojan who went on to star for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“It’s obvious to anyone who participates in the Glouberman tournament that it’s about much more than wins and losses,” said Rabbi Ari Segal, the head of school at Shalhevet. “It’s about Jewish students converging from across the country — and in one case, across the ocean — to have an experience, to meet each other and to learn from one another and have a transformative and uplifting Shabbat.”

While the players bonded off the court, they were fiercely competitive on it. Capacity crowds crammed into the Shalhevet gym, filling it with the sounds of bullhorns and cheers. The tournament was an opportunity for local Jewish high school students to experience the kind of high-level Jewish basketball tournament that typically takes place only on the East Coast.

“Being part of a local tournament was a phenomenal experience,” said Lior Schwartzberg, the Valley Torah boys coach. “Our games probably had about half of our campus attending.”

Katz Yeshiva High School, a Boca Raton, Fla., team, won the girls division. Valley Torah, led by guard Ryan Turell, took down the team from New Jersey’s Frisch School. Playing despite an injured wrist, Turell scored 30 points on his way to winning Most Valuable Player honors.

“This was a unique and special experience,” the 6-foot-5 Turell said. “It allowed me to hang out with kids from across the country that I wouldn’t have known otherwise and establish friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Flora Glouberman, the widow of Steve Glouberman, created the tournament as a way to honor her late husband, who died in 2015 after a battle with cancer. She envisioned the tournament as a way to bring the Shalhevet and wider Jewish communities together.

Segal remembered Steve, a lawyer and YULA graduate, as “a bridge builder in the Jewish community.”

Flora and Steve’s three children, now adults, all attended Shalhevet, where Steve frequented the sidelines of its basketball games.

“I’m blown away by how big this has become,” Flora said. “It’s a testament to the people at Shalhevet who put this together and the community as a whole, opening up their homes.”

Flora was deeply involved in the tournament’s details, even hosting a Seattle team for Shabbat dinner at her Beverlywood home.

“That’s one of the aspects I really love,” she said. “These kids get to know our community and we get to know this school from Seattle.”

Just before the opening night’s tipoff, Flora was led into the gym for the unveiling of a new scoreboard bearing her husband’s name.

“I was very touched to see it,” she said. “It’s now a constant reminder to me of the love and support that the community shows to our family.”

A sanctuary redesign is planned at Temple Beth Am. Image courtesy of Temple Beth Am

BUILDING BOOM: Is Jewish L.A. defying national demographic trends?


If you have read about recent demographic studies claiming fewer young American Jews are marrying inside the faith and affiliating with Jewish organizations, you might think organized Jewish life in the United States is on its way out.

But Los Angeles donors have a response to those studies: Want to bet on it?

In the last two years, more than $100 million has been dedicated to renovation and construction projects at schools and synagogues across L.A., and much more is expected to be raised through ongoing capital campaigns that aim to build facilities for the next generations of Jews.

Together, these projects represent the collective optimism of a Jewish community unfazed by seemingly gloomy population studies, according to clergy, donors and lay leaders.

The projects currently underway are spread across the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles Basin. They consist of new schools and school expansions, custom-built synagogues and old sanctuaries in need of facelifts. And they are being carried out within the three major spiritual movements: Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation, has plans to build a new preschool; Conservative synagogues Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) and Temple Beth Am are constructing new school buildings; and among Orthodox communities, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy is engaged in a $20 million renovation, while Chabad of South La Cienega (SOLA) is building a new, multi-use religious facility.

At Temple Beth Am, synagogue leadership has raised $25 million to renovate its main sancutary and construct a middle school building for its Pressman Academy day school.

“What could reflect more optimism in the school and the synagogue than that kind of effort?” said Temple Beth Am building committee co-chair Avi Peretz, who said he has donated a significant sum.

To Peretz, donations reflect a sense of obligation and a feeling of responsibility to proverbially set the table for the next generation of Jews.

Peretz recalled walking into Pressman Academy on the first day of school for his daughter, who is now 21, and saying to himself, “ ‘Wow, look what somebody built. Somebody built this school that my daughter gets to go to classes in. Somebody built it knowing full well that probably their own kids wouldn’t be the ones that got to benefit from it.’ But the sense of obligation you feel is that other people came before you and did the work that you’re benefiting from. It’s now your turn to do the work.”

The groundwork of breaking ground

Even before construction begins, planning and permitting can be complicated, time-consuming and costly.

Adas Torah, an Orthodox congregation that razed a Pico Boulevard furniture store to open a new synagogue building in September 2016, spent more than $20,000 in permitting fees alone, Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety records show.

“It’s a long process,” said Trevor Abramson, whose firm, Abramson Teiger Architects, has designed a half-dozen synagogue buildings in the past 15 years, including the project currently underway at VBS. “It takes time to draw up plans, to build consensus with the community, to get the plans approved by the community, and then also get approved by the city — and then to raise the money.

“There are some synagogues being built right now in L.A. where the wheels have been in the motions for the last three years or more,” Abramson said.

Pressman Academy’s expansion plans have been in the works for about a decade. Over that period, Temple Beth Am, directly or through its members, quietly bought eight contiguous apartment buildings on Corning Street, directly behind the temple’s La Cienega Boulevard compound. Nine years ago, it converted one building into an early childhood center, and two years ago, it razed two more to create an outdoor play space.

When Erica Rothblum joined Pressman Academy as head of school in July 2014, synagogue leadership had already judged that “the school building was bursting at the seams,” she said.

Rothblum had the idea to build a new middle school that would not just increase retention — class sizes tend to shrink as grade levels increase — but serve as the Jewish day school of the future.

“We’re not building just a prettier version of a traditional school building,” she said. “We’re actually changing how the school looks and functions. In some ways, it’s going to look more like a Google office than the school buildings we’re all used to.”

Buying in and building up

Often, the first step in a construction project is winning the buy-in of parents and congregants. “A house is really just an endeavor for an owner, but when you’re designing a synagogue or a religious building, that’s really for the whole community,” Abramson said.

Abramson’s firm designed a community center now under construction at VBS for dual use by the synagogue and its day school. Plans for that project date back 15 years, according to VBS Executive Director Bart Pachino.

Timing can depend on permitting, donor interest or even the national economy. Construction at VBS was delayed at least five years after the Great Recession as donor funds dried up, Pachino said.

Before Abramson and his employees start drawing on a synagogue project, they gather congregants for a town hall meeting about the needs for a new building.

“We like to listen to what everybody thinks the needs are,” he said. “And it’s super interesting, because some people are worried about where they can park, and some people are worried about the spiritual aspect of the synagogue, and some people are worried about saving the plaque on the wall that’s been there since 1852.”

By the time VBS broke ground in September, it had raised $26 million for the new center and for renovations to its existing buildings.

“That’s the greatest compliment a rabbi can get when somebody says, ‘I’m willing to work with you, and I’m willing to share my resources and time, and I want this to continue past me,’ ” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein, the Encino synagogue’s senior rabbi. “It’s a great statement.”

Bursting at the seams

The Montessori preschool run by Chabad of SOLA began seven years ago as a mommy-and-me group with eight children. Today, it has more than 80.

Until recently, the children gathered in the same space that served as home to four minyans — Chabad, Sephardic, teens and young couples. That arrangement presented challenges, such as having to take down folding chairs and movable walls each weekend, said Stery Zajac, the preschool’s director.

In December 2014, The Eiden Project — a nonprofit organization set up to build a new community center, mikveh and preschool for Chabad of SOLA — bought a 21,000-square-foot property at Airdrome Street and La Cienega Boulevard for $4.5 million, according to Josh Moorvitch, who runs a mortgage company and sits on The Eiden Project board.

The property was home to two car dealerships in separate buildings, one of which now temporarily houses the preschool. Recently, Chabad of SOLA began renovations to transform the empty dealership into a preschool building, Moorvitch said. After that project is completed, the congregation intends to raze the other building to create a new mikveh for men and women and a synagogue building. Moorvitch said there was a “tremendous demand” for the mikveh, as the closest one is Mikvah Esther, about 1 1/2 miles away.

Another Orthodox Jewish school, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, also is  planning an expansion. Its head of school, Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, recently announced that the Orthodox kindergarten-through-eighth-grade day school would undertake a $20 million renovation.

In recent years, Hillel’s enrollment has increased some 20 percent to 650 students. After a two- to three-year renovation process, including planning and obtaining city approvals, it hopes to have a campus for 700, Sufrin said.

Before its capital campaign went public this fall, the school had quietly raised about $10 million, half of its total goal, he said.

“The project itself brings a certain amount of optimism and hope and joy about the community,” Sufrin said. “People are looking and saying, ‘Wow, I’m going to be a part of sustaining the next 20 or 30 years of the community.’ And that means a lot to these people.”

Money management

Chabad of SOLA and Pressman Academy have taken different approaches to funding their building projects.

“There are schools in this community where they’ve raised 10 percent before they begin construction, and I know heads of schools that want 100 percent,” Rothblum said.

Pressman is somewhere in the middle, having raised $25 million of the $30 million it estimates it will need — enough that it feels confident breaking ground as soon as January, she said.

Sometimes, breaking ground can accelerate the fundraising process.

“We’ve definitely had people say to us, ‘Once I see construction, you can come talk to me,’ ” Rothblum said. “I’ve had other people say, ‘Right here, right now, I’m willing to invest in this and be a leader.’ ”

While Pressman Academy waited to raise more than 80 percent of its needed funds, Chabad of SOLA broke ground on its $1.4 million preschool project after collecting about $600,000. Moorvitch said that decision was based on confidence in the generosity of community members once they see construction underway.

“In breaking ground, our goal was to have the school open as quickly as possible for our families,” he said. “It wasn’t a choice to wait around. We had to break ground, and we have to move this project along. And we’re going to do it.”

Demographics be damned

Schools and synagogues that are literally mortgaging their futures for expansions and renovations face some troubling national trends. A 2013 Pew Research Study of American Jews painted a dismal picture that some analysts have interpreted as a death knell for synagogue life in the United States. In particular, the study focused on the increasing number of “Jews of no religion,” or cultural Jews — those who check “None” when asked about their religious practice. These Jews, in turn, are less likely to affiliate with religious institutions and attend synagogue. Whereas 39 percent of Jews by religion report belonging to a congregation, only 4 percent of those in the secular demographic do, the study found.

But the synagogues and schools working their way through their respective building projects say that overall trend doesn’t apply to them.

“The Pew study is not everybody’s written destiny,” said Temple Beth Am President Susan Hetrsoni. “It’s time to take it on.”

Hetrsoni said that membership at Temple Beth Am has held steady in recent years. Valley Beth Shalom’s membership has increased over the past five years to more than 1,500 families, a fact Feinstein attributes at least in part to a growing need for spiritual connection.

“L.A.’s a funny city,” Feinstein said. “We have these giant block walls that separate our homes from each other. People don’t know their neighbors, so you want to belong to something. You want people to know who you are. People are craving that in this moment of history.”

But L.A. is not the only metropolitan area defying national statistics, he said. His clergy friends in places such as Boston, Chicago, New York and Atlanta report similarly encouraging trends.

“In lots of pockets all over the country this is happening,” Feinstein said. “I wish I could take full credit for it and say it’s the genius of my rabbinate — but it’s certainly not.”

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: Host Drake speaks on stage during the 2017 NBA Awards Live On TNT on June 26, 2017 in New York City. 27111_001 (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for TNT )

Rapper Drake Throws a Re-Bar Mitzvah Party on His 31st Birthday


Could the world’s hottest  rapper be any more of a nice Jewish boy?

According to the New York Post, Drake’s 31st birthday party on Oct. 23 was themed “Aubrey’s re-bar mitzvah.” The Jewish rapper’s real name is Aubrey Drake Graham — and 31, in case you didn’t realize, is the reverse of 13, the age at which Jewish law says boys become men.

Drake did have a bar mitzvah at the age of a 13, telling Digital Spy in 2012, “We kinda just did it in the basement of an Italian restaurant, which I guess is kinda like a faux pas.”

“I told myself that if I ever got rich, I’d throw myself a re-bar mitzvah,” Drake continued.

After an intimate rooftop dinner with friends and family at Catch LA, Drake relocated to the nightclub Poppy in West Hollywood, which was re-named as Papi for the night as a reference to Drake’s “Champagne Papi” moniker. There he was feted by a who’s who of celebrity friends, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Tobey Maguire, as well as football star Odell Beckham Jr.

“I told myself that if I ever got rich, I’d throw myself a re-bar mitzvah.” — Drake

The party was thoroughly bar mitzvah-themed, from the photo booth to the Dippin’ Dots ice cream pellets for guests to enjoy. Pizza also was served in boxes that read “Papi’s Pizzeria.”

To underscore the theme, Drake posted an image of his “bar mitzvah board” — seemingly original from 1999 —  to Instagram. It featured a collage of Drake baby pictures.

Drake’s bar mitzvah board on Instagram

Adding to the glitz and glamour of the party were a marching band, sparklers and fine wine, according to “Entertainment Tonight.” Attendees, dressed in semi-formal attire, toasted Drake with red Solo cups with his name on them and sang “Happy Birthday.” Drake’s father, Dennis Graham, gave a speech on how proud he was of his son and performed numerous songs for him, according to eonline.com.

Throughout the party, Drake acted as a bartender, disc jockey and master of ceremonies.

Drake has an African-American father and Jewish mother. He attended a Jewish day school in Toronto and parodied his bar mitzvah while hosting “Saturday Night Live” in 2014.

The rapper has a song titled “Bar Mitzvah in 1999,” which has lyrics that include “I’m Black and Jewish / Don’t be so foolish / I’m Black and Jewish / It’s a mitzvah.”

The rapper’s 2016 album “Views” and his 2017 follow-up “More Life” both broke Spotify streaming records and sold millions of copies around the world.

Brett Ratner (far left) was honored at the Jewish National Fund Tree of Life dinner. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

Wiesenthal Center Voices ‘Distress’ After Ratner Allegations


The Simon Wiesenthal Center has expressed concern about allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Hollywood producer and director Brett Ratner, who serves on its  board.

“Our Center has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior,” the center said in a Nov. 3 statement. “We are deeply distressed by these reports and we will be following the developments closely.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 1 that six women had come forward with accusations against Ratner.

“Our Center has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.” — Wiesenthal Center statement

Wiesenthal Center Communications Director Michele Alkin said on Nov. 6 that the organization’s board plans to discuss the accusations against Ratner during a regularly scheduled meeting next week.

The center is one of at least two Jewish organizations with which Ratner has ties. He is also a supporter of Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Alexander Muss High School in Israel. JNF honored Ratner Oct. 29 at its Tree of Life dinner.

JNF did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the allegations and its decision to honor him.

In a 2008 Journal story, writer Danielle Berrin said Ratner had made unwanted sexual advances as she attempted to interview him in his home.

In 2011, he resigned as producer of the Academy Awards after he came under fire for making an anti-gay slur during an interview.

“Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, who is Israeli, had been scheduled to to present Ratner with the JNF award, but backed out, citing a scheduling conflict. That decision caused speculation that she was distancing herself from Ratner.

“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, filling in for Gadot, told the JNF audience that Ratner supported her early in her career, asking nothing in return. Ratner “singlehandedly made my presence here as a director possible,” she said in presenting the award.

Ratner, who is Jewish, is one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers. The website of his entertainment company, RatPac Entertainment, says his films have grossed more than $2 billion. The movies include the “Rush Hour” franchise, “Horrible Bosses” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

He is one of several Jewish figures in Hollywood and other industries facing recent accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women. Others include disgraced Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein and actors Dustin Hoffman and Jeremy Piven. The allegations against Weinstein have spurred the #MeToo social-media campaign, with women recounting alleged sexual assault or undesired attention from men.

Literary editor Leon Wieseltier, journalist Mark Halperin and screenwriter James Toback have also faced accusations.

None of the allegations has led to criminal charges. Ratner, through his attorney, has disputed the accusations against him, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Why I Miss Flirting


In my 20s and 30s, while living in Manhattan, I worked as a journalist, and attended press events, art openings and parties every single night for 13 years. I flirted with everyone I met — older men, younger men, women, dogs.

I wasn’t even always conscious of doing it — smiling coyly, teasing, paying rapt attention, offering praise, withholding praise. It didn’t need a clear motive or direction. Flirting was more part of the background, the emotional soundtrack of those days. It was an attitude, a way of saying, “Let’s take the fun and supercharge it.”

It takes some charm to flirt, some confidence. I was aided by assuming that people wanted to talk to me, that I was, as my mother had insisted throughout my childhood, “like sunshine entering a room.”

I’m not saying I actually was all that attractive or sunny. But if you think you’re sunshine, you can bring in the warmth. As the study of emotional contagion shows, we pick up the body language, tone and enthusiasm of others, map it in our own brains, then bounce it back. If you make an effort to be interesting and engaged, you get a lot of attention back at you.

This flirting didn’t have a sinister underside. I did experience manipulation at work, but not sexual. People in power can bully and exploit younger employees in a variety of ways, it turns out.

My boyfriend was a big flirt, too, which was fine. We always were out, and every encounter was a possible story, a potential connection.

There was plenty to complain about in this lifestyle. Such as being unmarried, childless and living in a tiny apartment in a dirty, loud city of ever-escalating rents. My boyfriend began lamenting our “extended adolescence.” Wasn’t it time to grow up?

So we married. Moved to the country. Had a child. Then fled the country, split up, and moved to Los Angeles. I was 45 and single again.

I assumed I’d step out into the busy, buzzy social scene I’d known. Imagine my surprise — most people my age are married, it turns out. Or super-set in their single ways. And everyone is tired by 9 p.m.

Not that I could go out anyway. My son needs dinner and a bath. I’m in the comfy-fleece-pajamas stage of life, cuddling on the couch with my child and our dog. I’m happy to be here, truly. But for me, middle age and parenthood have dovetailed with a near-total lack of daily flirtation.

Perhaps it’s my age. My neck looks fine, but I feel bad about my chin. Of course, we should value ourselves — and others — by the content of our character, not the elasticity of our skin. We all age, if we’re lucky; the visible appearance of said good fortune is not a moral failure.

Maybe it isn’t about looks. Maybe it’s work. Newspapers and magazines have contracted, grown sober, disappeared. Even if I go to the nearby WeWork, or the WeWork down the street from that, I’m usually hunched over my laptop, alone, as are so many other solo-preneurs.

I could flirt with a man on an OKCupid date, or someone I meet at comedy club or at a theater. But most divorced men my age only want one thing: remarriage. Many older men who have been single for more than three months have had their fill of freedom and its handmaiden, loneliness.

I think there might be a new reticence among men, a prudishness, a fear of making a mistake.

I often don’t flirt these days for fear of being taken seriously. The men seem to worry about something similar. I think there might be a new reticence among men, a prudishness, a fear of making a mistake, being taken as a predator when they meant to add some spark.

Flirting has a real role in human relations, and I miss it. I miss the champagne-like fizz of possibility, the zing of recognition that you’re saying something without using your words. I also miss the innocence that relating comfortably in this way now seems to suggest.

I don’t want to lose the playfulness, the nuance. Constantly suspecting indecency can certainly expose it, but it also can go too far, create a culture of mistrust and fear, which is not decent or humanist or loving.

Eventually, my child will grow up. The sounds of his laughter and running — and of the dog skidding across the wooden floor after him — won’t fill my rooms. Whether I’m single or remarried, I hope the feeling in my life once again will be super-social and a little sexy, light and giddy and free.


Wendy Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is the author of “Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well.”

Nov. 5: "FOOD, FAITH AND FIELD"

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Nov. 3-9: Food, Faith and Field, Sephardic Film Fest and More


SAT NOV 4
LEV EISHA SHABBAT

A joyous community of Jewish women led by Lev Eisha founding Rabbi Toba August, musical educator and recording artist Cindy Paley, and performing artist Joy Krauthammer comes together to celebrate. A Kiddush follows. 9:30 a.m. to noon. Free. Lev Eisha at Temple Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 575-0985. leveisha.org.

“ANNIE KORZEN FAMOUS ACTRESS”

Actress Annie Korzen, best known for her role on “Seinfeld” as Del Boca Vista retiree Doris Klompus, performs her solo show for Jewish Women’s Theatre. Korzen takes the audience on a journey through her life onstage and off, juxtaposing her status as a bit player in films and television with being a divalike leading lady in her son’s life. Extended through Nov. 19. 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $40 in advance, $45 at the door. The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., No. 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400. jewishwomenstheatre.org.

SHABBAT SHIUR

On Shabbat, Eli Beer, founding president of United Hatzalah of Israel, leads an afternoon class. Hatzalah of Israel is Israel’s all-volunteer emergency medical first-responders’ organization. A Hatzalah ambulance will be on display for kids. 12:30 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org.

SUN NOV 5
“FOOD, FAITH AND FIELD”

Faith-based food justice organization Netiya holds its second annual “Food, Faith and Field,” a multifaith symposium connecting spiritual practice with responsible land use. Panel discussions include “Food Relief or Food Justice?” “Faith-Based Stewardship: Agrarian Theology” and “Earth-Based Wisdom: Applying Spiritual and Environmental Stewardship.” Roundtable discussions examine “Land and Health: Healing Your Land and Spirit,” “Climate Change: What Your Congregation Can Do” and more. Speakers include Netiya founding Executive Director Devorah Brous, activist Helena Norberg-Hodge and former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman. Mary MacVean, former Mind & Body editor at the Los Angeles Times, will moderate a Q-and-A. Planned demonstration topics include how to start and cultivate a garden, and how to reap a harvest. Eco-friendly art will be on display. 3-7 p.m. $35. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 761-5111. netiya.org.

14TH ANNUAL L.A. SEPHARDIC FILM FESTIVAL

Through the art of cinema, the weeklong event depicts the Sephardic Jewish experience from Tunisia, Israel, France, Iraq and Morocco. The opening gala features an awards ceremony, dinner and the screening of the 2012 Israeli film “Back to Casablanca.” The festival continues through Nov. 12 with “The Pirate Captain Toledano,” a short film set in the world of Jewish piracy in the Caribbean; “Why Do They Hate Us?” a documentary examining anti-Semitism in France; and “Dimona Twist,” a nostalgic work about Casablanca. Through Nov. 12. $325 for opening gala, $15 for individual films. Opening gala at 4 p.m. at Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Films run Nov. 7-12 at Laemmle Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 272-4574. sephardiceducationalcenter.org.

MITZVAH DAY

Paint a homeless shelter, sort through clothing donations, prepare low-income students for admission interviews at college preparatory schools or participate in other volunteer activities on this Mitzvah Day, when The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley synagogues hold community service projects to help people in need. Among the synagogues involved are Stephen Wise Temple, Shomrei Torah Synagogue, Temple Aliyah and Temple Judea. For times, locations and more information on Federation projects, call (323) 761-8000 or visit jewishla.org/program/community-service-days. Contact synagogues for information on their programs or visit their websites at wisela.org/mitzvahday, templealiyah.org, stsonline.org and templejudea.com/mitzvahday.

HADASSAH WOMEN’S WELLNESS DAY

Hadassah Southern California’s daylong gathering aims to educate and empower women to live full and healthy lives. World-class medical experts from the Cedars-Sinai and UCLA medical centers will explore topics including secrets of female urology and sexual health, memory training and brain fitness, heart and lifestyle, body blind spots, the differences between men and women, and women’s cancers and melanoma. Ellen Hershkin, Hadassah’s national president, is scheduled to appear. Wendy Walsh, a relationship expert, is set to moderate a panel discussion. 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. $95 (includes continental breakfast, lunch and parking). American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 276-0036. hadassah.org/events/wellnessday2017.

“AMERICAN CULTURE AND THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN MUSIC”

The impact of American Jews on music in the United States will be examined during this three-day event. “David’s Quilt,” an evening concert exploring the life of the biblical King David, starts the event Nov. 5. A two-day conference Nov. 6–7 will follow. Panels will focus on the Jewish-American musical experience, from the great immigrant wave of the 1880s to the 1920s, through Yiddish folk, popular music, Broadway and klezmer wedding music. Topics include “Jews and the L.A. Music Industry,” “Jewish Musical Interactions With Popular Media” and “Echoes of the Holocaust on the American Musical Stage: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and Beyond.” A chamber music concert will conclude the event. All music will be performed by UCLA students. “David’s Quilt,” 7 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. The conference will be held from 9 a.m. Monday through Tuesday evening. Free. UCLA Luskin Conference Center, 425 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles. (310) 825-5387. cjs.ucla.edu.

“JEWISH PHOTOGRAPHERS OF MODERNITY”

Deborah Dash Moore, the Frederick G.L. Huetwell professor of history and director of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, will deliver the 2017 Jerome Nemer Lecture hosted by USC’s Casden Institute and USC’s Visual Studies Research Institute. Moore has published an acclaimed trilogy examining American Jewry in the years from 1920 to 1960, including the experience of Jewish soldiers in World War II. In her 2014 book, “Urban Origins of American Judaism,” she examines synagogues, city streets and photographs to understand how city life has shaped religious practices in Judaism. Los Angeles photographer Bill Aron, a chronicler of Jewish communities around the world, also will speak. 4:45-7 p.m. (4:45 p.m. reception, 5:30 p.m. dinner). Free (reservations required). Town and Gown, University Park Campus, USC, 665 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. usc.edu/esvp. RSVP code: NemerLecture.

SHARSHERET ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Israeli singer and songwriter Eleanor Tallie performs in celebration of the first anniversary of Sharsheret California, which supports young Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer. Tallie, who sings in English, has a bluesy, soulful sound that incorporates hip-hop and horns in ways some have described as “neo-soul.” The event will honor and thank the volunteers and friends who have helped make Sharsheret’s first year of operation on the West Coast a success. The evening also includes a VIP meet-and-greet and a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception. 7-9 p.m. $72 for young leadership (30 and under), $90 (per person over 30). Robertson Art Space, 1020 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 474-2774. sharsheret.org/cacelebration.

MON NOV 6
“AMERICAN LEADERSHIP IN THE MIDDLE EAST”

McGill University professor and presidential historian Gil Troy, a prominent activist in the fight against the delegitimization of Israel, and Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein, an active American Israel public affairs committee member, discuss the past and future of American leadership in the Middle East. 7 p.m. registration; 7:30 p.m. program. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org.

TUE NOV 7
ISRAEL’S MEDICAL CLOWNS

Two medical clowns from Israel, David “Dudi” Barashi and Rotem Goldenberg, will discuss how clowns can heal illness and help build bridges between Arabs and Israelis. Medical clowns in Israel use laughter to comfort patients. Also, film director Sasha Kapustina will talk about her documentary about Israel’s medical clowns, “I Clown You.” 6:30 p.m. Free dinner for members of Sinai Temple and its men’s club; $10 dinner for nonmembers. Sinai Temple,10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

WED NOV 8
LONG BEACH JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

Five films are on the schedule Nov. 8, 9, 11 and 12 at the Long Beach Jewish Film Festival. “On the Map” tells the Cinderella story of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s unlikely run in the 1977 European Cup championship. In “The Invisibles,” four young Jews must survive in 1943 Berlin. In “Moos,” a Dutch film co-written and directed by Job Gosschalk, the life of a young woman who cares for her father is upended by the arrival of an old friend. “Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” examines the lives of Harold and Lillian Michelson, who left an indelible mark on classic Hollywood films. In “The Women’s Balcony,” a tragedy at a bar mitzvah divides an Orthodox community in Jerusalem. $50 festival pass; $12 per film; $5 for students. Alpert Jewish Community Center, Weinberg Jewish Federation Campus, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601. alpertjcc.org.

“ISRAEL AT THE CROSSROADS: WHY THE JEWISH STATE STILL MATTERS”

Larry Greenfield, a fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and an expert on Israeli affairs, and Jewish Journal Senior Writer Danielle Berrin discuss Israel’s policies and security concerns, and its connections to the United States and American Jewry, religion and the world. Moderated by Rick Entin, who co-chairs the Israel Matters Committee at Kehillat Israel. 7 p.m. Free. RSVPs are recommended but not required. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328. ourki.shulcloud.com/form/im.

AVI AVITAL

Israeli mandolin virtuoso and composer Avi Avital leads clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh and New York City chamber orchestra The Knights in performing original, baroque and romantic masterworks grounded in the classical tradition and crossing boundaries into the worlds of Middle Eastern and Balkan music, klezmer and jazz. Avital is known for making new arrangements of classical works not originally intended for mandolin. 7:30 p.m. $50-$90. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.org/azmehavitalknights.

MEET “THE INQUISITOR’S TALE” AUTHOR

New York Times best-selling author Adam Gidwitz, a Newbery Honor Books Award winner and a National Jewish Book Award finalist, will sign “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog.” The book is about three children who traverse villages in France in the year 1242 in an attempt to prevent Talmuds and other holy books from being destroyed. 7:30 p.m. $10; $5 for educators and students with ID. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

THU NOV 9
“IRAN’S QUEST FOR REGIONAL HEGEMONY”

As debate continues over the Iranian nuclear agreement, Tel Aviv University professor emeritus and UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies visiting professor David Menashri will explore the impact of Iran’s growing power and ambition on the Middle East and beyond, placing these developments in their historical and regional context. 6 p.m. Free. UCLA Royce Hall, Room 314, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. international.ucla.edu/israel/event/12782.

MEET “HANK & JIM” AUTHOR

Author Scott Eyman will discuss his latest book, “Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart,” a fascinating portrait of the actors’ extraordinary friendship. Eyman is the author of 15 books, three of them New York Times best-sellers. 7:30 p.m. $10. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. Photo by Reuters

Ambassador Dermer Talks About Israel’s Perils, Success


Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, made his Los Angeles speaking debut on Oct. 23 and conducted an oratorical master class for some 450 invited guests at Stephen Wise Temple.

Talking for well over an hour without referring to a single note, the 46-year-old native of Florida’s Miami Beach neatly divided his speech into two parts.

In the first segment, Dermer painted a grim picture of the dangers facing Israel in a hostile world, pointing to a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, with Jews bearing the brunt of religion-motivated hate crimes.

But the greatest danger, he said, comes from Iran, which makes no secret of its intent to destroy the Jewish state. The ambassador lauded President Donald Trump for urging a rewrite or complete scuttling of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, signed by Iran, the United States and five other nations.

If Dermer — who was in town for three days — frequently sounded like a rebroadcast of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress two years ago, it was no coincidence. The diplomat served for four years as Netanyahu’s top foreign policy adviser and wrote many of his speeches. Actually, the ambassador’s role in persuading Republican leaders to invite the prime minister to address Congress — without notifying the White House — earned him a sharp rebuke from President Barack Obama’s administration.

The greatest danger, he said, comes from Iran, which makes no secret of its intent to destroy the Jewish state.

But Dermer remains unshaken in his belief that Iran “got the deal of the century” in negotiating the pact. He believes that Trump must fix it or walk away from it, sounding a line advocated by most Republican lawmakers.

Just as Dermer had his audience fretting about the existential threat to Israel’s survival, he shifted gears and spent the rest of his time talking about the nation’s impressive achievements.

Looking at Israel’s accomplishments — past, present and future — Dermer saw the Jewish state’s glass not only half full, but actually overflowing.

To back his case, Dermer noted that U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Israel as the world’s eighth-most powerful nation, with the top intelligence service on the planet and a three-tier defense system.

In a bow to Obama, Dermer thanked the former president for signing a 10-year military assistance treaty with Israel.

On the economic side, Dermer put Israel’s gross domestic product per capita into the same league as Japan and the nations of the European Union. He mentioned that Israel is leading the world in water conservation, with the country recycling 90 percent of its waste water, compared to 1 percent for the United States.

And he reminded audience members that not only has Israel prevented two dozen major terrorist attacks around the world, but the U.S. and most European countries look to Israel for advice on foiling terrorist attacks and in developing self-driving vehicles.

On the political scene, the optimistic ambassador predicted that “in a few years, Israel will overcome the international pressure exerted against the Jewish state.”

Looking at the past, Dermer argued that in previous centuries, Jews had to plead with others to protect them against hostile forces, but now Jews “are blessed to live in a sovereign state which can defend the Jewish people.”

In an odd way, Israel can thank the Arab states for boycotting Israeli exports, Dermer noted. Without the boycott, Israel would have focused on exporting low-tech goods to its neighbors, but, by necessity, the country developed a high-tech economy.

The generally favorable outlook for Israel’s future has allowed its famously tense and argumentative citizens to become more relaxed, he concluded.

“We used to say that Israelis go to New York to relax, but now Manhattanites unwind by visiting Tel Aviv.”

Bridget Flanery and Ross Benjamin in rehearsal. Photo by Bill Froggatt.

‘New York Water’ Promises a Fresh Flow of Laughs


West Coast Jewish Theatre often stages works that spotlight underrepresented aspects of Jewish history and culture. Its plays have broached subjects such as Jewish soldiers fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and Japanese government officials who saved thousands of lives during World War II.

But there are times that call for a good laugh.

That’s what the company’s artistic director Howard Teichman said he was thinking when he chose the newest offering, “New York Water,” an absurdist love story that he’s confident will deliver the comedic goods.

“We’re living in a period of time in our history where uncertainty is everywhere,” Teichman said. “Unfortunately, politics is creating a lot of anxiety and fear in people’s lives. I felt that we should invite people to come in and laugh.”

Teichman, who is directing this production, which will make its West Coast premiere at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles on Oct. 21 and is scheduled to run through Dec. 17.

The play follows Linda, a shy receptionist, and Albert, a neurotic accountant, who quickly bond over their shared disdain for New York, conceding only that the city has “the best drinking water in the country.”

The screwball romance spans years and locales, as the characters leave New York for, as Albert puts it, “a place where we might actually have a chance to blossom.” They try life in the Midwest before a stint in Los Angeles — a section rife with searing Hollywood commentary.

When the characters reach the play’s end, the only thing clear is that whatever they were searching for may have mostly eluded them.

“This is a play about making connection, trying to find love in a world that can feel loveless, and desperately wanting to become something,” Teichman said. “We all think that we should be better off than we are, and we are never satisfied with who we are inside. Even though it’s a comedy and an absurdist piece, it resonates with the idea that people think the grass is greener on the other side.”

“We all think we should be better off than we are.” – Howard Teichman

Two years ago, Teichman directed a reading of the play at West Coast Jewish Theatre with actors Ross Benjamin and Bridget Flanery, who reprise the roles in the upcoming production. Teichman knew then he wanted to stage the play, but wasn’t sure he would get the chance.

“We’re always on the brink of losing the theater,” Teichman said. “We try our best through donations from outside sources, subscribers, audience members, but … we struggle to get money.”

The company has two more productions slated for this season, but the funding for each is still up in the air, he said. “Here in Los Angeles, we have the second-largest Jewish population in the country, but I don’t know how much we value theater anymore,” Teichman said.

Although “New York Water” isn’t composed of explicit Jewish themes or values, Teichman said that part of his company’s mission is to present insightful works that feature Jewish creative talent — like Sam Bobrick, the piece’s Jewish playwright.

Bobrick, who has written more than 30 plays and enjoyed a long career writing for iconic television shows such as “Get Smart” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” said he couldn’t be happier with how this play is shaping up.

“I really think it’s going to be a wonderful production. I’ve already invited all my friends,” Bobrick said with a chuckle. “Sometimes I have productions where I don’t want anyone to see. This isn’t one of those.”


“New York Water” opens Oct. 21 and runs through Dec. 17 at the Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call (323) 821-2449 or visit wcjt.org.

Jewelry designer Maor Cohen. Photo by Edon Wolf

Israeli-American Artist Does His Own Bling


It was the summer of 2008 when Maor Cohen, a young Israeli immigrant, was checking out yachts in Marina del Rey, where he was planning to get married. On the way back to his car, he noticed a film crew shooting a movie — then one of them noticed him.

Decked out in unique, avant-garde jewelry, bracelets, necklaces and rings, it was obvious that Cohen doesn’t believe less is more, but in the more the merrier. “He asked me where did I get all this jewelry and I told him I’m the designer,” Cohen recalled.

The two arranged to meet the next day and the man ended up purchasing most of Cohen’s line. “I didn’t know who he was getting all this jewelry for, but shortly after, I saw those pieces on Johnny Depp and Fergie,” he said.

The story began in early 2006 in Los Angeles, where Cohen, then 23, arrived with $20 in his pocket.

It didn’t take long for other celebrities to discover the jewelry designer whose line appeals mainly to men. Today, his clients include actors Jared Leto, Gerard Butler, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Orlando Bloom. His pieces have appeared in magazines like People, GQ, Esquire, Elle, Vanity Fair and others.

“I found out that this field, men’s jewelry, is pretty neglected,” Cohen said. “So I started designing pieces I would like to wear. It’s easy and fun for me to identify each person’s style and create something that they can add to their individual look.”

So, how does a man who barely spoke English when he arrived in the United States end up making jewelry for A-list celebrities and stores that sell his jewelry worldwide?

The story began in early 2006 in Los Angeles, where Cohen, then 23, arrived with $20 in his pocket. Speaking from his studio on Third Street near The Grove, Cohen recalled what brought him here, and it wasn’t the dream of making it big in the U.S.; it was simply a stopover before his return to Israel after spending 14 months in South America.

“I traveled to Panama and Costa Rica after I finished my army service,” he said. “I visited all the best surfing places there and then decided to surf in Los Angeles a bit before returning to Israel. I came here and fell in love with the ocean, the waves and the energy of the city and decided to stay.”

To make ends meet, Cohen did odd jobs. “I worked in a moving company, clothing store — anything I could find,” he said. “I shared an apartment with six other guys, and I felt miserable. I didn’t come here to do this.”

The “aha moment” came a few months after he arrived in town. He found a box of beads in his backpack from his South American trip. “The box actually fell on the floor and all the beads scattered all around,” he said. “I always loved beads and making jewelry, and I gave beads as a gift to people I met along the way during my travels. Later that evening, when I came back from work, I collected all the beads and started designing different jewelry pieces.”

For Cohen, it was returning to his childhood hobby, something he was passionate about during his high school years.

“I didn’t have books and pens in my backpack, but beads — a lot of them,” he said. “While the other students at school were in the classrooms, I used to sit outside and design jewelry. During recess, the kids came over and purchased the jewelry from me. I returned home from school with 1,000 to 1,200 new shekels in my pocket. I made more than the principal and the teachers were making.”

The teachers, of course, weren’t happy about what was happening, so his parents were summoned to the principal’s office. “The school adviser told my parents that I’m such a smart kid with great potential and it’s too bad I don’t apply myself,” he said.

With his newfound love of jewelry design, Cohen created around 20 pieces, then went searching for a store that would sell them. With a degree of chutzpah, he entered a clothing store he thought would be the right fit to sell his jewelry.

“I introduced myself as Maor, a jewelry designer, and I would like to meet the owner,” he remembered. “The store’s owner loved what he saw and, on the spot, ordered everything I had with me.”

Later, Cohen enrolled in a fashion and jewelry show in New York and Las Vegas and shared a booth with a pants designer. “Everybody loved my jewelry,” he said. “It was a great success, but I was also worried because I came back home with a large order and I didn’t even have a factory or any workers. At that time, I used to work from my living room.”

Cohen raised enough money to buy material, hire workers and open his own studio.

Today, he has 23 people working for him, and his jewelry is available in 15 stores in Los Angeles, including Barneys New York and Fred Segal. He also sells in Europe and Japan.

Divorced and a father of a 6-year-old son, Cohen remarried on July 29 at the annual Burning Man event in Nevada.

“After my divorce, about four years ago, I went through a difficult time and went to Playa to clear my head,” he said, referring to an area within the Burning Man gathering. “I decided that if the light will come to my life, I will let it enter my life. I sent my message to the universe and the following Tuesday, I met Karien. The day we met, I asked her to marry me.”

Next year, they plan a Jewish ceremony. Needless to say, he will design the rings.

Pressman Academy students serve at B'nai David-Judea's Sukkot breakfast for homeless people. Photo by Kelly Hartog.

B’nai David-Judea Celebrates 13 Years of Helping the Homeless


David Nimmer remembers how the idea began.

During a 2004 Torah class in B’nai David-Judea Congregation’s sukkah, a rabbinic intern explained that when God told the Israelites to “do my work,” it was a commandment to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.

Nimmer took the message to heart. “We should do this,” he recalled saying. “We should invite some poor and hungry people into the sukkah.”

The congregation made an effort, extending lunch invitations to a number of homeless people in its Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Only one person showed up.

“It was not the most auspicious beginning,” said Nimmer, a former B’nai David-Judea president. “But it was a beginning.”

On Oct. 10, some 70 people gathered for what has become an annual sukkah breakfast, part of a B’nai David-Judea program that serves monthly meals to about 60 homeless people. The program is celebrating its bar mitzvah year.

Inside the sukkah, B’nai David-Judea members and students from nearby Pressman Academy sat alongside homeless people, chatting with them and bringing bagels, cereal, coffee and juice to those too frail or too tired to stand in line themselves. 

The monthly meals are usually served by students from Yeshivat Yavneh or Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, but Pressman students serve on Sukkot.

As the morning continued, attendees learned about traditional Sukkot customs, heard some Torah from B’nai David-Judea’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, and sang, danced and shook the lulav.

Noah Weissberg, 13, was busy pouring cereal and milk into bowls for people waiting in line. “It’s really nice to see the people and talk with them,” he said. “It’s just a good thing to do. They seem really happy and we make them feel good.”

As the program grew over the years, it began to draw many from the Russian-Jewish immigrant community. To accommodate those Russians who speak no English, the synagogue now serves two monthly meals, including one specifically for the Russian community.

This year’s Sukkot meal, though, was a combined event with plenty of Russian being spoken. One attendee, Eugene, apologized for his broken English but said he loved the monthly meals, “because I did not grow [up] with Judaism in the Soviet Union.”

He waved off a reporter’s attention, saying, “I am nobody.” But on this day, every homeless person was treated as special, and Eugene said he enjoyed all the “Jewish things.”

Those things included Pressman students showing attendees how to shake a lulav if they wanted to try. Three girls assisted an elderly Spanish-speaking woman in saying the blessings over the lulav, explaining everything in Spanish.

Take a look around at everyone here and see how miraculous it is.” – Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

It was a festive, raucous morning, with people stomping their feet, clapping, singing, and even forming a conga line with Kanefsky at the lead.

Among those enjoying the festivities was Jesse, who said he had worked for 22 years cleaning the stands at Dodger Stadium, “But I’m retired now.” Jesse said he had attended the monthly lunch previously, but not the Sukkot meal. “This is all so new,” he said, “but I love it.”

He made an effort to shake the lulav and recite the blessings. “It’s so wonderful how the kids come and talk to you,” he said. “It’s really a beautiful thing.”

Jesse said that when he has attended the monthly meals he has also picked up one of the Ralphs grocery store gift cards Kanefsky has distributed to homeless people for years.

The number of gift-card recipients has grown so much that the synagogue eventually created a registration system to control costs, Kanefsky said, “but we also have smaller denomination cards for unregistered people who show up so that no one ever walks away empty-handed.”

With the meal program in its 13th year, Kanefsky said the challenge is constantly assessing “How are we meeting the needs of this [homeless] population and how are their needs changing?”

Standing in the sukkah, Kanefsky noted during his drash the impermanent and precious nature of life. “If we can enjoy the things while they are here, then our lives will be rich with fulfillment and joy and memories that will last us a lifetime,” he said. “Take a look around at everyone here and see how miraculous it is.”

B’nai David-Judea will commemorate the program’s anniversary with a Nov. 5 community brunch. Evangelical author and speaker Philip Yancey will discuss how to care for society’s less fortunate. The event will also feature Torah learning on feeding the hungry.

Cheder Menachem General Studies Principal Yehudis Blauner hugs her son, a Cheder Menachem student, after she is named one of four recipients of the 2017 Jewish educator award.

Educators go to head of the class: four women win prestigious Milken Family Foundation


When Yehudis Blauner was 5 or 6 years old, she lined up the dolls and teddy bears in her bedroom, set a whiteboard in front of them and wrote out the day’s agenda and lesson plan.

Three decades later, Blauner still has that whiteboard, with some of her words stained into it, a reminder of the little girl who dreamed of becoming a teacher.

On Sept. 25, Blauner, 36, the general studies principal of Cheder Menachem, became one of four Los Angeles-area Jewish school educators to win a $15,000 Jewish Educator Award for 2017 from the Milken Family Foundation in recognition of outstanding work.

The others were Adrienne Coffield, director of academic technology at Brawerman Elementary; Melody Mansfield, a Milken Community Schools English and creative writing teacher; and Jenny Zacuto, a language arts teacher at Yavneh Hebrew Academy.

 

Adrienne Coffield, Brawerman Elementary School director of academic technology and a 2017 Jewish Educator Award recipient, addresses the assembly gathered in her honor.

 

“Oh my goodness, it’s still not real,” Blauner said in an interview several days after receiving the award. “I was very surprised. I was not expecting it at all. I work in a place where there are so many talented educators.”

What the winners have in common is a desire to prepare their students for succeeding in life beyond school.

Blauner, whose son is a third-grader at Cheder Menachem, an all-boys, kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, said she considers her responsibilities as far more than a means to a paycheck.

“It is definitely more of a lifestyle than a job. I don’t look at it as coming in for a 9-to-5 job. I have a goal in mind,” she said. “It doesn’t end. It’s not about time frame or hours of operation; it’s more this never-ending need and desire to make sure my son and everyone’s son here have access to, I want to say, a respectable education, but it’s more than that. It’s an educational experience very meaningful to them that will help them and give them tools to do amazing things and change the world.”

Mansfield has been teaching at Milken Community Schools since 1998. She said she loves teaching about myths and sonnets and the importance of creative writing. In a phone interview, she said she hopes her winning the award will bring more attention to her work at the school.

“For me, what I hope it’s going to mean is it will bring more visibility to the creative writing program because my vision of the program is something that is helpful for all students, whether or not they are going to become writers,” she said.

Mansfield, who isn’t Jewish, has found gratification working with students whose Judaism emphasizes learning, challenging and deconstructing texts.

“The whole Jewish tradition is so welcoming and interesting to me because I am a non-Jewish person and the more I learned the more I loved being here,” she said. “The idea of God wrestling and everybody gets a voice, the idea of uniqueness of the individual, the kids are so respectful and generally so eager and, regardless of their ability level, they are all readily here. It’s just a real joy.”

 

Milken Community Schools English and creative writing teacher Melody Mansfield is overwhelmed upon hearing she is a 2017 Jewish Educator Award recipient.

 

As a K-6 teacher at the Reform Brawerman, Coffield has used technology to teach students about Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In accepting her award, she thanked her fellow educators.

“I work with a very talented group of teachers,” she said during a Sept. 25 school assembly. “To even be in this room among you I feel very honored.”

Coffield also has her parents to thank for inculcating in her a love of education and technology. Her mother, Donna, was a teacher at the Temple Aliyah preschool for more than 30 years, and her late father, Michael, was a genius when it came to electronics, she said. 

“There were so many stories people told me after he passed away,” Coffield said. “During the great power outage in the 1950s in New York, New York City went dark, and the way my family members tell it, [everywhere went dark] except for my father’s bedroom. I don’t know if he was a teenager at that point but he had rigged up some kind of generator and made light.”

Zacuto, whose Orthodox K-8 yeshiva-style school balances Torah learning with secular studies, said she owes her success to her students.

“I want to thank my students from the past and the present and the future because, truly, you are my greatest teachers,” she said. “You help me grow every day.”

Zacuto told the Journal she believes strongly in the power of feedback. That’s why she covers her students’ essays in comments and criticisms, both positive and negative. She has found that the more she has done so, the more students crave that kind of response. 

“I have found if you give students back papers covered in comments they, over the course of the year, start to hunger for that feedback. They want that feedback, because they realize they are changing and growing,” she said.

 

Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler names Yavneh Hebrew Academy language arts teacher Jenny Zacuto a 2017 Jewish Educator Award winner.

 

The Milken Family Foundation, established in 1982 by brothers Michael and Lowell Milken, created the Jewish Educator Awards in 1990 in partnership with Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), an umbrella organization for the Jewish day school community. Three years earlier, the foundation established the Milken Educator Award, which recognizes outstanding public school teachers nationwide with an unrestricted $25,000 prize. 

The Jewish Educator Award recognizes Jewish day school teachers in the Los Angeles area from kindergarten through 12th grade who teach a minimum of 15 hours per week and have taught for a minimum of seven years in a BJE-affiliated school. Winners are selected from approximately 800 eligible teachers at the 37 accredited BJE schools in the L.A. area.

Lowell Milken, chairman of the foundation, said the award recognizes the important work Jewish day school educators have done in the hopes they will continue.

“This is not a lifetime achievement award. This is a validation for all the good work they’ve done in the past but they are also receiving the award to encourage them to do their great work and achieve even higher levels,” he told the Journal.

The Jewish Educator Award differs from other initiatives in the Jewish community in its ability to bring together leaders from all of the denominations of Judaism, Milken said, pointing to the annual luncheon recognizing the winners.

“It’s one of the few events in our community where you will have all these members of the diverse Jewish community together and supporting education and supporting educators, and that’s very important because we often have differing views on different matters,” he said. “When it comes to education, we all want to join together because it is so important to students, and the financial demands are so great to send kids to Jewish day schools. Anything we can do to galvanize support for the Jewish day school is important.”

This year’s luncheon, the 28th annual, will be held Nov. 30 at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel.

Typically, a winner’s identity is kept secret until an announcement at a school assembly. Milken said the surprise is an important part of the initiative.

“The element of surprise creates drama where people have a memory of the event and it may impact them in a different type of way,” he said, adding that people are more impressed when a financial reward is attached to an honor.

“Unfortunately in America today, if you don’t say things with money, a lot of times nobody pays attention,” he said.

He added, “I think in connection with the Jewish Educator Award, I don’t view the financial award as the key element of it. It’s the recognition, the honor, celebration and the validation — the validation that all your efforts are noteworthy, have made a difference and will continue to make a difference.”

The Boiling Point layout editor Maya Miro (seated) works with faculty advisor Joelle Keene. In the background, video editor Jordan Glouberman works on a Yom Kippur video.

Hot off the presses: Shalhevet’s Boiling Point takes on big issues while teaching journalism


In the basement office of The Boiling Point, the acclaimed newspaper of Shalhevet High School, a message on a dry-erase board from faculty adviser Joelle Keene reminds everyone on the staff how to keep the paper vibrant.

It’s her “French Fry Rule,” which dictates that a news story must be absorbing enough that a reader will continue reading even if someone with French fries passes by.

It is from this room — with her disheveled desk, walls adorned with framed front pages of the newspaper, a black leather sofa in the corner — that approximately 50 Shalhevet students every year produce an award-winning publication as writers, editors, photographers, artists and designers.

With as many as eight issues each school year, they have made The Boiling Point one of the most celebrated student newspapers in the region. For the past five years, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association has awarded it the Gold Crown in the hybrid news category, recognizing outstanding publications in print and online.

“The job of The Boiling Point is to teach journalism, which means delving into complex issues,” said Keene, a member of the school’s faculty since 2003 who also serves as the school’s choir director and music teacher.

To that end, she oversees a product unafraid to take on contentious issues and determined to cover as many topics as possible, with an online edition, shalhevetboilingpoint.com, updated with a regularity that would shame larger newspapers. Its motto is “When we know it, you’ll know it.”

The boldness is apparent in the most recent edition, which was published early in the new school year and reflects at least one issue that came to — well, a boil — last spring. A front-page story delves into a controversial issue in the Modern Orthodox school: What should students call female faculty members who have rabbinical ordination from an Orthodox institution?

The front page of the Boiling Point’s most recent issue shows the variety of stories published by its student staff.

 

The issue also includes a feature story, “Is Reading Being Replaced?” which investigates how much students read today outside school, and a column that speculates about the Dodgers’ World Series chances.

The driving force is Keene, a former staff writer at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Tacoma News-Tribune and music critic at the Seattle Times.

Besides her French Fry Rule, other Keene-isms are written on the dry-erase board: “GQUP,” an acronym for “Good Quotes Up High;” an explanation of what constitutes a “Cool Mistake” — such as writing, “People tragically died”; and what constitutes an “Un-cool Mistake,” like “saving things in the wrong place so they can’t be found during production.” There is a quote from the late New York Times media reporter David Carr, that says, “The more reporting you do, the more complicated the story gets.” A quote by Keene follows: “which is not a reason not to do it.”

A passage from Leviticus also appears on the board, saying, “Don’t be a talebearer [but] don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” which Keene said she believes encapsulates the responsibility of being a journalist who tells stories through a Jewish lens: Do not gossip, lashon harah, but don’t ignore the responsibility of speaking up when events demand it.

“Who says the Torah didn’t anticipate journalism?” Keene said.

Keene’s responsibilities include working with reporters on assignments, ensuring they meet deadlines, and meeting the challenge of running an independent paper while remaining sensitive to the school administration’s agenda and policies.

“We want everyone feeling comfortable reading The Boiling Point, but we don’t want to shy away from issues,” she said.

Rami Fink, 14, the son of Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, joined the newspaper’s staff this year. A freshman, he said he is interested in writing about politics, world news and in exploring the issue of kosher versus halal. On a recent afternoon, he sat down on the sofa and took out his laptop to work on his first story — one about a recent Shalhevet flag football game against local Modern Orthodox high school YULA Boys High School, a local Modern Orthodox school.

“I’m super excited to be working here,” he told the Journal.

The Boiling Point began as an all-opinion publication, providing an outlet for students to rant and vent—thus, its name.

“Apparently there was a lot of rage,” Keene recalled.

When Keene joined the faculty in 2003, the paper “was dormant,” she said. “Somebody at the time considered himself an editor but it had not come out for a couple of years.”

Now, it’s hyper-active, with a staff as committed as she is.

On some deadline days, students juggle homework and extracurricular activities, and stay in the newsroom until 2 a.m. finishing the paper. Keene recalled one time when some students even brought out an air mattress.

“The air mattress was not with me; I don’t remember an air mattress, but I remember getting home probably close to midnight on several production nights,” Leila Miller, an editor-in-chief emeritus, told the Journal. “I remember it was maybe the first night of Chanukah, one of the nights of Chanukah we were in the newsroom and people were kind of sad. Honestly, you want to spend Chanukah with your family, not putting out a paper, but you know we did it anyway because we had to, and because everyone wanted to see the paper come out. You make the sacrifice.”

Tobey Lee, the sports editor, said balancing the demands of the paper with his other academic responsibilities is worth it.

“It’s quite challenging, managing my time with my schoolwork and my other extracurriculars,” the 10th-grader  said. “I’m involved in a lot: the debate team; model congress; I’m in the choir; I’m on cross-country. I still have to do essays and tests like any other normal high school student but I think that when I have to do my job as sports editor and this big position of managing the sports section, this is one of my top priorities,” he said. “This is one of the most important things I am doing.”

To support the students’ efforts, The Boiling Point has an annual budget of $10,000 from the school and an additional $2,200 per year in advertising revenue, which helps pay for computers and cameras and anything needed to keep the website running and fresh, Keene said.

Keene attributed the newspaper’s success to the feeling of ownership the students have over the newspaper.

“It’s not my paper,” she said. “It’s the students’ paper.”

Students Tzvi (left) and Iva comprise the inaugural two-student class at what will be known as Learning Circle of Los Angeles.

A need filled: Two determined moms take action to give students with special needs a Jewish education


On a recent overcast morning, Chaya Chazanow arrived with her 5-year-old son, Tzvi, at a sleepy Pico-Robertson storefront that has barred windows. Once inside, he sat quietly on the floor of a cozy classroom, playing with colorful blocks and Hebrew alphabet cards. A smiling behavioral therapist looked on.

“I toured a bunch of Jewish day schools, public schools, other nonpublic schools, and I just couldn’t find the right setting for him,” Chazanow said.

But now she has — the city’s first Jewish day school for children with special needs.

Tzvi was born with a rare genetic disorder that Chazanow declined to identify, but it resulted in physical disabilities, like trouble walking, as well as cognitive processing and executive functioning issues. Tzvi also is mostly nonverbal.

The nonprofit Friendship Circle Los Angeles (FCLA) operates out of the storefront, providing weekend and after-school Jewish and secular programming for children with special needs. Behind the unassuming facade, there’s a sprawling 17,000-square-foot facility with five classrooms, a shul and a wheelchair-accessible playground. Thanks to a Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles grant awarded last year, a sensory room for therapy is under construction. It will have matted floors and swingsets. Most of that space currently is rented out by a preschool.

At the moment, Tzvi and one other child are the only students in the new day school, which will be known as Learning Circle of Los Angeles. It occupies only one classroom, but there are plans to expand once the school attracts more kids. The staff is made up of a full-time behavioral therapist, a secular studies teacher, a Judaic studies teacher and other part-time therapists who pay weekly visits to the school.

FCLA’s educational director, Doonie Mishulovin, who puts together curriculum and teaches Judaic studies, has sympathy for parents like Chazanow who have trouble finding a day school for their children. 

“The pain of Jewish parents who don’t have a day school is so deep and so raw,” she said. “They’ve been kind of swept under the rug a bit by the community for a long time.”

Los Angeles has 37 accredited day schools recognized by the nonprofit Builders of Jewish Education (BJE). Not one of them specifically caters to students like Tzvi with moderate to severe disabilities. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Los Angeles Unified School District schools have to provide resources that day schools don’t. But after visits and research, Chazanow concluded that those resources constitute more of a “one-size-fits-all approach.”

Besides, she wanted her son to have a Jewish education. “It’s part of our family, rooted in our belief system,” she said.

Other major cities, including New York, Miami and Boston, offer heavily funded options, such as Boston’s Gateways: Access to Jewish Education program.

“Most parents have a choice where they send their kids to school,” Chazanow said. “For us, we weren’t really given a choice.”

Sarah R’bibo, a corporate lawyer living in North Hollywood, also was left without much of a choice. She said that after sending her first three kids to Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks, she was told by Emek administrators that they couldn’t meet the special needs of her fourth and youngest, Iva, who was born with cerebral palsy.

“I just thought my daughter deserves a Jewish education. There’s no reason why my other kids can go to a Jewish day school and she can’t,” R’bibo said. “It’s astonishing something doesn’t exist here. So, we decided to try to start something.”

Now, Iva shares a classroom with Tzvi, filling out the inaugural two-student class.

Their moms share a mission — to make sure the school succeeds. 

“We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, start a full-time school like this,” Mishulovin said. “We gave up for a while, until [Chazanow] came in here in April and said, ‘You have to do this for my son.’ Now, we’re doing it.”

R’bibo volunteers, handling legal matters and the lion’s share of fundraising. Chazanow, who also volunteers, runs the administrative side of things, while Mishulovin does a bit of everything, including teaching. 

Betty Winn, BJE’s director of its Center for Excellence in Day School Education, said she and others recognize the “tremendous need for something like this.” However, this isn’t the first attempt at having such a school, and Winn made it clear what the main obstacle will be.

“It’s challenging, mainly because it’s extremely expensive,” she said. “Facilities have to be developed. It needs a very organized initiative with heavy funding.”

So far, Chazanow, Mishulovin and R’bibo have raised $100,000 through donations. They estimate they’ll need $200,000 to cover all the costs of running the school for the first year. Beyond that, they’ve set goals to make the school unique and financially sustainable in its capacity to accommodate different special needs. They are working to compile a staff with more volunteers, teachers and therapists to form at least a 2-to-1 student-to-staff ratio; getting L.A. Unified home-school charter funding; and getting nonprofit status (currently, they are accepting tax-deductible donations at jewishspecialneedsschool.donorzen.com).

They estimate tuition will be close to $18,000 per year.

By comparison, Emek, where R’bibo’s other children go to school, charges more than $12,000 in annual tuition. The tuition at some other day schools in the area is well over $20,000.

Chazanow said there are about 10 prospective families monitoring the school’s progress. The target is mainly elementary school-age children. 

“Many parents are apprehensive about sending their kids to a new school, a new program. So it looks good to show people the program as it’s running,” she said. “It’s going fantastically well, and we’re confident we’ll have a good group next fall.”

According to the U.S. Census, roughly 1 in 5 Americans has a disability. Some, like Jennifer Mizrahi, president of the national advocacy group RespectAbility, believe the Jewish community might be hit particularly hard by disabilities. In a 2014 article published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, she wrote, “It is likely that the percentage of Jews with disabilities is higher than the national average,” basing her observation on genetic risks Jews carry and the fact that Jews have children later than many other demographic groups.

Still, in many of her meetings with potential donors, R’bibo has been met with responses like, “Do we need this?”

“A huge part of our mission, beyond offering these kids a Jewish education, which is fundamental, is educating these people who think there isn’t a need,” she said. “It isn’t good enough to say public schools can do this. If you want to send your kids to public school, that’s fine, but there should be an option.”

R’bibo also said the issue leads to alienating Jewish special needs children from religious engagement. Before this year, Iva was in state-subsidized preschool and wasn’t getting much Jewish education. Now, after just a few weeks at her new school, R’bibo already is noticing a huge difference.

“She came home from school for High Holy Days and knew more about the shofar, knew an apple-and-honey song. She participated in Rosh Hashanah in a most meaningful way, more than she ever has before,” R’bibo said. “It was in incredible experience for our family.”

Winn noted that the geography of Los Angeles might be a hurdle. There are day school options in every part of the city, but having only one option for special needs kids could make for some long commutes. Chazanow lives in the Fairfax neighborhood — not very far — but R’bibo commutes from North Hollywood. However, R’bibo said, it’s still preferable to the alternative, and she’s confident other parents will agree. 

“Having everything in one central location where they get a secular education, a Jewish education and therapies, that’s ideal for me and other parents,” she said. “It eliminates so much chaos and travel time. It’s an integrative approach and a really great model.”

Chazanow took several trips to the East Coast to visit special needs schools in the New York-New Jersey area. She looks to those experiences and what she found there for motivation.

“At so many of the places I visited, people told me it all started with a storefront,” she said. “They told me all it takes is one parent to get it started.”

Seated next to Mishulovin inside the otherwise empty Friends Circle shul, she looked around and shrugged.

“Well, here I am.”

Photo from Pexels

Gov. Brown signs law imposing harsher sentences on violent use of social media


Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law on Wednesday that slaps harsher sentences on those who use social media as part of a violent crime.

The law, dubbed as “Jordan’s Law” in response to a teenager being violently attacked in 2016, would allow judges to weigh the use of a video recording that had “the intent to encourage or facilitate the offense as a factor in aggravation in sentencing that defendant,” according to the text of the law.

In other words, uploading a video of a violent attack to social media with the intent of aiding and abetting the crime is an added factor when it comes to sentencing.

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) said in a statement, “The number of social media motivated attacks, which has included hundreds of vicious assaults on children, the elderly, and the disabled, has risen sharply each year since the mid-2000s. We need to ensure that our criminal code keeps pace with technology, and AB 1542, by maximizing the sentence for those who conspire with attackers to videotape a violent crime, will serve as a strong message to our youth that California will not tolerate this sick desire for internet notoriety.”

In December, 14-year-old Jordan Peisner was sucker punched outside of a Wendy’s in West Hills by a 15-year-old boy who was reportedly paid by a girl to do so. Another girl recorded a video of the attack and uploaded it to Snapchat, which was the alleged motivation behind the attack. The boy received what Jordan’s father, Ed Peisner, thought was a light punishment while the girls have yet to face any sort of legal punishment.

Jordan suffered a fractured skull and brain bleeding from the sucker punch and has since suffered from “seizures, headaches and hearing loss,” according to CBS Los Angeles.

Ed Peisner told the Journal that the law was a step in the right direction.

“I’m hoping that this will serve as a pause button,” said Peisner. “Before you grab that phone and you’re about to do something that could get you in trouble, stop for a minute. Wait. Think about it. So it’s adding some accountability.”

Peisner added that social media has “no rules” and thought that schools should teach proper social media etiquette.

“We need to now adapt the way we think and what we do at schools and at home and apply it towards the digital world because they live in the digital world now,” said Peisner, “and we need some guidance there.”

Peisner said he hoped that Jordan’s Law would go national, thus fulfilling the goal of “changing the future… one child at a time.”

 

Halprin’s Reimagining of Urban Parks on Display Throughout L.A.


Amid the glittering glass-and-steel towers and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, office workers could be forgiven for seeking a quiet garden with a fountain to enjoy during their lunch hour.

They might find solace in a series of four parks along Hope Street, created in the late 1980’s and early ’90s by the late Lawrence Halprin. His modernist urban parks offer a feeling of serenity in the hectic core of big city life.

The Jewish landscape designer, a trailblazer in his field, is enjoying a renaissance, spurred on by a traveling exhibition that has now arrived in Los Angeles, and by a call to arms from conservationists intent on preserving his legacy against forces that would alter or tear down his monumental parks.

Halprin’s downtown L.A. projects include the Bunker Hill Steps, a massive concrete staircase connecting Hope Street with the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library on Fifth Street that is surrounded by plants and bisected by a flowing waterfall. Until recently, the water cascaded over rocky outcrops; but those were replaced by smooth bricks — a change Halprin’s fans say contradicts the original intent of the design.

Los Angeles Open Space Network––Bunker Hill Steps, 2016. Photo courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Alan Ward.

The other projects include Grand Hope Park (on South Hope Street between West Ninth Street and West Olympic Boulevard, near the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising); the Maguire Gardens, adjacent to the Central Library on West Fifth Street between South Grand Avenue and South Flower Street; and the Crocker Garden Court atrium (now the Wells Fargo Court) at 333 S. Grand Ave., conceived as “an urban, indoor Garden of Eden.”

Many of Halprin’s West Coast parks “have been dismissed because of their very overt modernism [or] have been demolished or are under threat of demolition,” said Dora Epstein Jones, executive director of the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, 900 E. Fourth St., in Downtown L.A.

The museum’s current exhibition, “The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin,” celebrates the designer’s innovative parks, plazas and pedestrian malls with videos and more than 50 newly commissioned photographs.

By showing the wear and tear some of the parks have endured, the exhibition is intended to “open up very serious conversations about the future of landscape in Los Angeles,” Jones said.

Halprin’s best-known park may be the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated in 1997, a series of four outdoor gallery rooms — one for each of FDR’s terms of office — defined by walls of red South Dakota granite engraved with quotations from the president, with each space containing a waterfall and bronze statues.

Halprin also was responsible for the Sea Ranch community’s master plan for 10 miles of California coastline near Sonoma; the transformation of an old chocolate factory in in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square; and Freeway Park in Seattle, a maze of brutalist concrete blocks and waterfalls designed with Angela Danadjieva, and the first park built over a freeway.

During the era of urban renewal, construction of the interstate highway system and suburban flight, Halprin wanted to breathe new life into cities. His landscapes were meant to suggest the rugged wilderness of nature.

“The water features that he created are abstractions,” said Los Angeles real estate developer Doug Moreland. “A lot of them are very blocky. But the power of the water coming over them reminds you of climbing on the rocks in the waterfalls.”

Ada Louise Huxtable, the late architecture critic for The New York Times, called the Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, Ore. — part of a series of Halprin-designed parks, plazas and fountains built in 1970 that knitted together the city’s downtown — “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.”

Los Angeles Open Space Network – Grand Hope Park, 2016. Photograph courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation, © Alan Ward.

The A+D Museum show was originally staged last year at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., to mark the centennial of Halprin’s birth in Brooklyn in 1916. The Cultural Landscape Foundation organized the exhibition.

Halprin also is being celebrated in Los Angeles with a display of his little-seen drawings at the Edward Cella Art & Architecture gallery; a public symposium on Nov. 4; and a series of Los Angeles Conservancy-led walking tours.

A site-specific performance by the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre will take place at the Maguire Gardens on Oct. 24.

Halprin’s unique approach to landscape design drew from two formative experiences: the two years he spent living on a kibbutz in Israel after high school — which sparked an interest in farming and communal living — and his marriage and lifelong collaboration with renowned avant-garde dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin, who inspired him to think differently about how people move through spaces.

During the era of urban renewal, construction of the interstate highway system and suburban flight, Halprin wanted to breathe new life into cities. His landscapes were meant to suggest the rugged wilderness of nature.

He met his wife, then Anna Schuman, after a dance performance at the University of Wisconsin’s Hillel chapter.

“We were attracted to one another instantly and he asked if he could walk me home,” she recalled. “And that started our relationship.”

Halprin loved to draw and carried notebooks everywhere he went. In 1939, Schuman suggested they visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s seminal Wisconsin home-studio, Taliesin East. Halprin’s excitement over Wright’s holistic approach to nature and architecture led him to shift his academic focus from horticulture to architecture.

He studied under Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, but World War II cut short his studies. He joined the U.S. Navy and was an officer on the destroyer USS Morris, which was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane.

Halprin and Anna eventually settled in San Francisco, where he opened his own firm in 1949. He built a large outdoor dance deck for her at their woodsy Marin County home on the lower slopes of Mount Tamalpais, where she continues to teach experimental dance classes at the age of 97.

“Larry was always interested in dance,” Anna said. “He felt that the sense of movement in the environment was a vital part of the design. Otherwise, his design would become very decorative, and he wanted his design to be activated. He wanted people to be active, to interact, not just make pretty pictures.”

The couple led a series of multidisciplinary workshops, which led to a methodology for public input and collaboration he called the “RSVP cycles” — resources, scores, valuation and performance. He taught this design process at UC Berkeley in the late 1970s and continued to use it in his practice.

“This idea of bottom-up planning, which is so central to every urban design project today that happens in the public realm, this is something that Halprin really popularized and brought to the discipline,” said Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Halprin took his daughters, Daria and Rana, on two-week backpacking trips every summer in the High Sierra.

“Both his own work and travels abroad, and his relationship with the natural world, really informed his work as both a landscape architect and painter,” Daria said.

Los Angeles Open Space Network – Maguire Gardens, 2016. Photograph courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation, © Alan Ward.

His travels took him to Israel, where he often visited as a child. His mother, Rose Luria Halprin, was active in Zionist causes and served twice as the national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, beginning in 1932, and was a close friend of prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir.

Halprin was among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet near Haifa, and his time living on the kibbutz “really teaches him about the idea of community, the design of the communities and the … way in which people interact within a community,” Birnbaum said.

Halprin left his mark on modern-day Jerusalem with his designs for the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, the Haas Promenade (in collaboration with Shlomo Aronson), the Hadassah Hospital gardens and Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus.

Birnbaum considered Halprin a personal friend and mentor, and remembers him as “irascible. He had a huge zest for life.”

Birnbaum read this quote from Halprin at Halprin’s memorial service in 2009, which he believes reflects his personality: “My art, from my point of view, is intuitive. It’s not particularly intellectual. It depends on myths and symbols and basic primitive ideas of what human beings are like. And the rest of it is bull—-.”

There are three months of public events honoring Halprin’s legacy, including “The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin” on view through Dec. 31 at A+D Architecture and Design Museum; “Lawrence Halprin: Alternative Scores – Drawing from Life,” on view through Oct. 28 at Edward Cella Art & Architecture; L.A. Conservancy walking tours, a dance performance on Oct. 24 and a public symposium on Nov. 4. Find more information about all the events at halprinla.com. 

Las Vegas Metro Police officers after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Massive Shabbat Dinner On Pico Boulevard Canceled After Las Vegas Shooting


After the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, organizers of a Shabbat dinner gala here in Los Angeles canceled an event that they expected to draw a record-breaking crowd of 5,000.

“Shabbat 5,000,” scheduled for Oct. 27, would have shut down Pico Boulevard between Doheny Drive and Beverly Drive for an open-air Friday night dinner on the asphalt. But after a gunman on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel opened fire on a country music concert on Oct. 1, leaving at least 59 dead and more than 500 others injured, Shabbat 5,000 organizer Joshua Golcheh began to have second thoughts.  

“It was really just about thinking ahead, and being safe rather than sorry,” Golcheh, 27, said.

Golcheh said he spoke with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on Oct. 2 while he and fellow organizer Dara Abaei were deciding whether to cancel the dinner.

Although the LAPD would not tell him to cancel the event, he said officers urged him to proceed with the utmost caution. Golcheh already had plans for barricades, aerial surveillance and a security staff of 60, including armed guards, in addition to an LAPD detail.

But ultimately, he said, he didn’t feel he could rule out an attack such as the Las Vegas shooting.

“There’s no place for putting anyone in harm’s way in my mission statement,” he said. “Therefore we decided to cancel the event.”

The Oct. 27 dinner would have coincided with The Shabbat Project, a global network of community events aimed at bringing together Jews around the world for one Shabbat.

A real estate developer who organizes Jewish unity events under the auspices of his community group, United Nation of Hashem, Golcheh and Abaei organized a Shabbat dinner on Pico Boulevard in October 2015 that attracted more than 3,000 people.

At the time, he told the Journal he wanted to follow up the dinner with a “bigger and better” Shabbat event.

But speaking with the Journal on Oct. 3, Golcheh said he no longer saw an open-air Shabbat dinner as an option.

“I do not foresee an event like this happening ever again,” he said. “I do have creative ideas of how we can have Jews in large audiences together for meals. However, I would never do it in an open-air setting.”

Nationwide, the Las Vegas shooting put the Jewish community on alert.

In an Oct. 2 statement, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that ADL’s Las Vegas chapter is coordinating with local law enforcement and monitoring the situation closely.

“While we are still learning details and do not know the impetus for the killings, one thing is clear: The threat of mass violence against innocent civilians in America has not abated,” he said. “This threat must be taken seriously.”

Golcheh said he would look for other ways to accomplish the goals of Shabbat 5,000.

“The hope of the event was to bring Jews together,” he said. “And even without having the event, I still hope that Jews throughout Los Angeles can unite and come together and show how strong we are as a nation.

Am Yisrael chai,” he added — long live Israel.

Keeping the Faith


I am a regular temple goer throughout the year, but there is something about the high holidays that brings me peace I don’t know how to properly articulate. I love my faith and could listen to my Rabbi give a sermon all day, every day, but there is nothing better than Kol Nidre with Rabbi Naomi Levy.  It is a moving service and I feel like I am in the presence of God on this particular day. Perhaps it is because I am surrounded by such a large group and we are all in prayer together, or maybe it is just because my heart is completely open on this day. Open to joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache. It is a day that matters to me.

I am going into Kol Nidre this year with both relief and fear. Relief to unload the weight of so many things on my soul, and fear about what my life will look like without so many burdens pent up inside me. After a year with so many unanswered questions and trials and tribulations, I have no expectations, but real hope when I go to Kol Nidre services. I simply want to be free. Free of my demons, of which there are many, and free of the busyness in my mind that prevents me from sleeping. I want my choices to be unaffected by cancer, and I want my future to become clear. No guarantees, just clarity after foggy days.

I am not the type of person who looks for guarantees in life. Things happen, both good and bad, and I am a roll with the punches kind of girl. I will think about the last year, thank God for holding my hand through all of it, and pray for the strength to be always be brave, even when I don’t think I can. I shall search for forgiveness, knowing it will come. I shall search for clarity, knowing it will come. I shall ask for sleep, knowing it will find me. I shall envision all of our names being inscribed in the book of life, and I will focus on keeping the faith.

 

 

The author’s childhood home before its recent demolition. Photo courtesy of Rabbi John Rosove

When a childhood home is demolished


Eighty-three years ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, my childhood home in West Los Angeles was built.

It was a charming California ranch-style home of no more than 2,100 square feet. According to neighborhood code, every home was set back 100 feet from the street.

When I was growing up, 15 mature trees populated the grounds. In the backyard, there were willow, palm, avocado, guava, kumquat, peach, plum, laurel and lemon. In the front yard grew magnolia, jacaranda, paper birch, oak, pine and maple.

Alas, all are gone now except the maple.

As a kid, I loved climbing the tall oak or magnolia whenever I needed to be alone. I also loved to climb onto our tile roof, trying to be careful not to break the tiles, which I did from time to time.

My parents bought the home in 1949, just before I was born. My brother, Michael, left for college in 1966, and after I left in 1968, my mother sold the property. The family that bought it lived there for the next 49 years until this past year.

Not long ago, it was demolished.

I loved that house. My first memories are from the age of 2. I played baseball with my dad and brother in the backyard. Michael and I dug holes lined with tin cans in the front yard so we could putt golf balls. In the back was a built-in, red-brick distressed barbecue. In the service yard behind the garage we inherited an incinerator from the 1940s and used it until the L.A. City Council banned them in 1957.

My dad played the violin and painted in the sunny lanai, a room he named for his pleasant experiences serving in the Hawaiian Islands during World War II as a physician and officer in the U.S. Navy. Our parents entertained with scotch and martinis before sit-down dinners. They drank their coffee black and hot.

My dad bought Michael and me our first bicycles. Mine was a red, 24-inch Schwinn I called “Betsy.” His was black. We rode the neighborhood with gusto. I walked to the bus stop or the mile through back streets to school from the age of 6 without my parents expressing, to my knowledge, any worry.

Our house doors were never locked. Milk was delivered in bottles and placed in a small niche near the back door. The Good Humor ice cream truck drove our streets in the afternoon. I played outside until dark and came home filthy. I knew my neighborhood like the back of my hand and knew most of the neighbors. Dogs roamed the streets unleashed.

As a little boy, I remember following my dad (whom I called “Daddy” and still do) like a puppy in the backyard, picking up the clippings he pruned. I still remember the smell of wet, cut grass and eucalyptus from the adjacent property. We fed California jays (now called scrub jays) and had names for all of them according to their markings. We collected butterflies.

In 1953, my parents bought our first television set, a 24-inch, black-and-white console. They put it in my dad’s study with his bookshelves, medical journals, desk and two red leather chairs and ottoman, on which my brother and I watched cartoons on weekend mornings, Westerns in the afternoons, “I Love Lucy” when we were sick, the Friday night fights with my dad, “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday nights.

In 1956, I remember the interview with Adlai Stevenson when the camera caught a glimpse of a hole in the bottom of his shoe. I also recall seeing Fidel Castro on “Face the Nation” in 1959 just after the Cuban revolution; John F. Kennedy delivering his 1961 inaugural address; his Cuban missile crisis speech in 1962; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963; the entire weekend after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, including the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald; Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and footage of the fighting during the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Arab neighbors that promised to “push the Jews into the sea.”

I emerged into political and historical consciousness in that house.

On Aug. 10, 1959, my world changed irrevocably. Michael (a year older than me) and I saw our father for the last time that evening as he stood in the doorway of our small bedroom to say goodnight. He hadn’t been feeling well and while we slept, an ambulance came to the house and took him at 2 a.m. to the hospital where he died 23 hours later from his second heart attack. He was only 53 years old.

My brother and I call that house “321,” a reference to its address. It has been our link to our childhoods and father throughout our lives. I visited it from time to time and even knocked on the door 25 years ago and asked to walk through. The owners remembered my family and were gracious. Although it had been owned by others, Michael and I still felt that it belonged to us. I fantasized that maybe either of us would be able and want to buy it this past year when it was put up for sale.

One doesn’t say Kaddish over a house, but its demolition is a death for both of us. As the High Holy Days approach and I ponder the past year that includes the end of my childhood home, I’m left now only with, as Jim Croce poignantly said, “photographs and memories.”


RABBI JOHN ROSOVE is senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Photo courtesy of PJ Library

Your child’s Jewish identity can flourish in Los Angeles


Last month, my wife and I were blessed with our third child. When we welcomed our first child home from Cedars-Sinai four years ago, my wife and I looked at each other and asked, “Now what?”

I remember that apprehensive moment distinctly. We spoke about our hope of raising kind, well-adjusted children who felt the same connection to Judaism and the Jewish people that we did. But, there is no training manual for parenting in general, let alone for how to raise a Jewish child in ritzy, 21st century Los Angeles.

Fortunately, like many new parents, we received a great deal of solicited and unsolicited advice. The best advice introduced us to the numerous opportunities for young parents in Los Angeles to weave our new child (and ourselves) into the fabric of our Jewish community.

PJ Library

This is a no-brainer and should be on every new parent’s to-do list. Each month, PJ Library sends free Jewish books to more than 500,000 families with children ages 6 months through 8 years old. There is no catch. The books celebrate Jewish values, culture and tradition. My daughters have adored each book, especially the ones about Jewish holidays. “Good Night Israel,” a variation on the classic “Goodnight Moon,” is my personal favorite. It is refreshing to see children eagerly greet the mail carrier in hopes of receiving a new book from PJ Library. Watching children choose a physical book over screen time is a modern miracle of Maccabean proportion. Nes gadol, indeed. pjlibrary.org

Zimmer Children’s Museum

Photo courtesy of Zimmer Children’s Museum

Fortunately for us, the best children’s museum in Los Angeles happens to be a Jewish museum, located in the same building as the offices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The Zimmer not only provides a beautiful interactive space for quality learning and play, it does so through Jewish themes. An annual membership, starting at $109, includes free admission for two adults and all of their children and grandchildren, plus discounts for the Zimmer’s terrific camps and classes. The museum is also a popular place to host a birthday party for your child. zimmermuseum.org

Jewish education

These days, it seems, parents start thinking about their children’s schools — how to get accepted and how to pay for them — even before conception. In Los Angeles, only one-third of the estimated 60,000 school-age Jewish children attend Jewish day schools or religious schools. Yet, countless formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities and resources exist here. A decade ago, Builders of Jewish Education launched jKidLA, a website and concierge service that provides information and helps assess Jewish educational options based on a family’s specific needs and preferences — from Parent and Me classes to preschool and early education. After my wife and I made the commitment to send our kids to Jewish day school, jKidLA helped us navigate the multitude of options. jkidla.com

Finding a Jewish community

Becoming a parent for the first time is a major inflection point in one’s life. It often enhances the desire to be part of a larger community, especially one with other first-time parents and children. This transitional period is an ideal time to “shul shop” for the right congregation or synagogue where you can put down roots, and to explore a local Jewish Community Center, if you are lucky enough to live near one.

Membership rates are more forgiving at this stage in our lives, too. A synagogue, congregation or JCC will invariably offer Tot Shabbats for young children and special gatherings for young families. In addition, studies show that Jewish summer and family camps have a high impact on fostering a child’s Jewish identity. To that end, the Jewish Community Foundation recently awarded a significant Cutting Edge Grant to the Federation’s Family Camp Pilot to create more meaningful camping experiences for families with small children. My wife and I have also benefited from Jewish parenting classes, including a fun, informative series offered by GoSephardic, geared toward new parents. Finally, hands-down, the best resource to learn about Jewish life in Los Angeles is the Jewish Journal. The invaluable print and online publication contains everything Jewish that’s fit to print each week. jewishjournal.com

Shabbat as a ‘palace in time’

It is often said that “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” This was true for my family and for most Persian-Jewish families. Growing up, I always found Shabbat dinner special. Regardless of observance level and whatever else was going on in our lives, our extended family knew that a lively evening with three or four generations and great food awaited us every Friday night. Ask any Persian Jew and he or she will extol the virtues of a family Shabbat dinner. Spending Shabbats and Jewish holidays with family are memories that will endure for a lifetime and instill in your child a passion to continue the tradition. In these uber-wired, underconnected times, the Friday night dinner tradition is being adopted far and wide across cultures as a way to bring families closer. If not already a part of your practice, consider treating Friday night Shabbat dinner, in the words of the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, like a “palace in time.”

Lead by example

Finally, channeling Mark Twain, the reports of the communal demise of millennials and GenXers has been greatly exaggerated. Americans in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and certainly such Jews in Los Angeles — care about issues greater than themselves and are increasingly willing to put their time and money where their mouth is.

I find my own community work not only personally rewarding but a valuable opportunity to involve my children and weave the value of tikkun olam into their lives. I take my children to as many events and service opportunities as possible, such as packaging meals for needy Jews with Tomchei Shabbos, and hosting as many meetings and events at our home as feasible.

We cannot take for granted that our children will care about the Jewish community simply because we do. The next generation’s connection to Israel is no exception.

Studies show that children learn far more by watching what we do than by listening to what we say, especially when we try to teach empathy and gratitude. When it is not possible to include them, I explain to my toddlers: “Daddy won’t be home tonight to put you to bed because he is working on a mitzvah or tzedakah project.”

We cannot take for granted that our children will care about the Jewish community simply because we do. The next generation’s connection to Israel is no exception. I take my children to the annual Celebrate Israel Festival, join them at their school’s annual Independence Day activities, and read them books and share stories about the Jewish homeland.

If the issues you care most about extend beyond the Jewish community, consider engaging in that philanthropy or activism from a Jewish perspective. Whether you care passionately about criminal justice reform or climate change, cancer research or children with special needs, there is a Jewish organization in Los Angeles working effectively on it.


Sam Yebri is a board member of the Jewish Community Foundation, Builders of Jewish Education and 30 Years After.

Kimberly Brooks. Photo by Stefanie Keenan

Bold paintings for a ‘Brazen’ age


Artist Kimberly Brooks named her new show of recent oil paintings “Brazen” because of the political climate after last year’s presidential election. You won’t find overt political references in the exhibition at Zevitas Marcus Gallery in Los Angeles, but bold colors and forms tie together the abstract paintings.

“I called it ‘Brazen’ because I started making it right after the inauguration, and I felt like that was the mood of the country and the world,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t painting a specific subject in a literal way that reflected that mood, that was my feeling as I approached the work.”

“Brazen” takes cues from art history, specifically German paintings from the 18th century, which she encountered on a recent trip to Sanssouci, the summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, outside Berlin.

“The grandiosity of the way that they showed art, the palaces that they built, and what art represented in and of itself, struck me as brazen. And so a lot of the themes from the show and even some of the imagery are taken from the interiors of those palaces,” she said.

For example, “Museum Wall” shows an abstracted wall of paintings, and “Talitha” shows a woman with a Joan of Arc-style haircut and a long-necked patterned shirt, her features blurred and a cloud sitting over her shoulder, centered within an oval frame.

Brooks’ work addresses themes of family, memory, history and feminine identity. Her paintings have reflected her experiences and the people she has known. She often works from photographs, but her paintings are not photorealism.

Her 2007 solo show, “Mom’s Friends,” depicted her mother and her mother’s friends in Marin County in the late 1970s as they searched for identities outside their husbands and families. They stare confidently back at the viewer, although underlying their assured gaze is a hint of insecurity. She based the paintings on decades-old photographs, and had friends and models re-enact the photos while wearing vintage clothes. Brooks was at the time experiencing this act of emulation herself as the mother of a young girl and was thinking about how female identity is passed down through generations.

She continued to explore deeply personal subjects in her 2008 show “Technicolor Summer,” which uses sweeping California landscapes as a backdrop for portraits of a family grappling with illness and the closeness of death.

Her focus on the female subject continued with her 2010 show “The Stylist Project,” a series of portraits of renowned stylists and fashion industry insiders. These trend-makers designed the costumes for TV shows, supermodels and pop stars. Brooks had them dress themselves and pose for her, in a manner similar to Renaissance portrait artists.

Her portraits continued to move from representation toward abstraction with “Thread” in 2011 and “I Notice People Disappear” in 2014, series in which her portraits of beautiful, well-dressed subjects take on a dreamlike tone, and their faces became blurred and distorted in the style of Francis Bacon. In these series, Brooks said, “it became less about the people and more about the tracers that they left behind.”

“They’re sort of hollow vessels of suggestions of people,” she said. “You feel the people there but there’s no people.”

Over time, the colors of her paintings have softened. Earlier works used garish shades of green, blue and pink, lending the works a surreal, almost nightmarish quality. The pieces in “Brazen” share a similar color palette: muted tones of teal, peach and gray, and adornments of silver and gold leaf.

Brooks was born Kimberly Shlain in New York and grew up in Mill Valley, Calif. She studied literature at UC Berkeley and later studied painting at UCLA and Otis College of Art and Design, where she now teaches painting. She’s married to the actor Albert Brooks, and they have two teenage children, Jacob and Claire.

There is a subconscious searching at the heart of Brooks’ paintings. Sometimes, she says, she doesn’t realize what she was searching for until long after the paintings have come down from the gallery walls. In the case of “I Notice People Disappear,” she was coming to terms with the 2009 death of her father, Leonard Shlain, a surgeon and author, who had inspired her to pursue painting.

Brooks’ search for identity also has taken the form of reconnecting with long-lost family members. She traveled to Israel with her children this past spring to meet relatives who were descendants of Holocaust survivors. “We ended up finding that we have a huge amount of family in Israel and South Africa that we didn’t even know,” she said. The reunion “was really amazing.”

On her Instagram feed, Brooks recently posted a quote from novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, taken from an interview in The Guardian: “The art of the creative process is not seeking and finding, it’s bumbling.”

The quote speaks to her own process as an artist. “So much of discovery is not about being a heat-seeking missile and saying ‘I know what I want to find,’ ” she said. “I think the creative process is all about being willing to risk wasting time.”

That process includes being willing to discard paintings that don’t measure up when preparing for an exhibition.

“When I have to decide which paintings are going to be in the gallery, I form a triage unit in my studio. I divide the paintings into three categories: rock stars, orphans and rescue missions. So the rock stars are definitely making the show, and orphans are definitely not making it in the show. And then the rescue mission is where I hang the painting and I have to say, ‘Can this patient be saved?’ ”

“Brazen,” a solo exhibition of oil paintings by Kimberly Brooks, is on display through Oct. 28 at Zevitas Marcus Gallery, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.

Photo of Kimberly Brooks in her studio by Stefanie Keenan.

Reb Mimi Feigelson. Screenshot from JDOV

In L.A., Reb Mimi found herself, her soul family and a way home


In July of 2001, Reb Mimi Feigelson boarded a plane at Ben Gurion Airport bound for Los Angeles, where a full-time job at a university awaited her.

Rather than bless her good fortune — after all, she had no doctorate and hadn’t been searching for an academic position when the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at what is now known as the American Jewish University (AJU) offered her a job — she cried out to God, wondering why God had chosen to banish her from Israel, which she called home since moving there with her family when she was 8 years old.

When we sat down to talk in August, days before she would move back home, she wondered no more.

“Sixteen years ago there was no possibility that was clear to the eye that I could live my life in Yerushslayim as an Orthodox rav,” she said. “I found that the Divine Mother picked me up out of Yerushalayim and transferred me to Los Angeles. L.A. was an incubator that gave me the ability to grow into the rabbi that I am today. The students that chose to walk with me, to challenge me, to trust me, to pray and cry and laugh and learn with me, they are those who helped me grow into being who I am, and prepared me for going home. Being in Los Angeles has given me the strength to live as who I am without apology.”

Reb Mimi (as she is universally known) was ordained by the Chasidic Reb Shlomo Carlebach in the early 1990s, a fact she kept hidden for many years because the Orthodox world was not ready to consider a woman rabbi, let alone a deeply spiritual Chasidic rebbe. She was “outed” as a rabbi in 2001, and found that Jerusalem’s rigid religious and social structure had no place for her.

So Reb Mimi signed a two-year contract to become the mashpiah ruchanit, the spiritual guide, at the Conservative movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordained its first class of rabbis just a few years before she got there.

But she always knew her stay in Los Angeles was temporary — she kept her watch on Israel time for 16 years — and in July she signed a contract with the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, which educates Israeli Masorti (Conservative) rabbis. She is now the mashpiah ruchanit at Schechter, the same position she held at Ziegler.

At Schecther, she has everything she needs: A beit midrash (study hall) to call home, a steady flow of students, inspiring colleagues and a Jerusalem address. Still, leaving Los Angeles was harder than she imagined it would be when she arrived.

During her sojourn in Los Angeles, Reb Mimi ushered more than 150 souls into the rabbinate, and inspired hundreds of other students and friends (myself included) whom she met at AJU, the Happy Minyan, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, on the streets and in the shops of Pico-Robertson, and in her many stints teaching around the city and throughout the country.

In addition to her classes and formal and informal counseling for Ziegler students and alumni, Reb Mimi held study sessions in her beit midrash in her Beverly Hills apartment, where tchotchkes and books and her joyous collection of jewelry and scarves exploded from every surface. Her Shabbat tisches filled Friday nights or the waning hours of Shabbat with nigunim (melodies), Chasidic tales and novel interpretations of Torah.

Reb Mimi brought something that Los Angeles didn’t even know it craved: Spirituality that is as substantial as it is ethereal, as academically and intellectually sound as it is soul-touching, embodied by a woman who defied every definition and convention we had all thought we needed — about what words we use to refer to God, about the logic of denominational divides, about what constitutes a family, about how many rings can fit on one person’s hands. (Each ring is connected to a person or event in her life, so why should she leave any off?)

Intellectuals, even skeptics, were drawn to Reb Mimi’s uncompromising intellect and her insightful interpretations of the texts, and found themselves drawn into the aura of meta-meaning she created; those who already had a soulful bent grew to understand that spirituality not based on wisdom and understanding can be vacuous.

With her kaleidoscopic couture and her ability to instantly cut beneath the surface, Reb Mimi drew people in and created deep connections. She now considers Los Angeles a true home, and she has people here she considers family in as literal a sense as possible.

A small cadre of Reb Mimi’s students became her soul children: They use her name as part of their own when called to the Torah; she has been present at the birth of their children; and the Shabbat blessings she offers them each Friday — in person or via Skype — is the most sacred moment of her week. Inspired by a Chasidic tale, she even started a savings account for her soul children, so tangible and real is the connection.

She has a soul brother she buried here, and she sat shivah for him, and now she is eternally connected to the land of Southern California.

Reb Mimi is grateful that God opened up a way for her to influence such a large segment of world Jewry. The fact that it is in North America and not Israel, and that it came through the Conservative movement and not her birth denomination of Orthodoxy, is both painful and irrelevant.

“It is painful that my denomination of origin cannot embrace the Torah I have to offer,” she said. “And at the same time, I answer to God. And I live well with myself answering to God. God’s world is so much greater than these denominations.”

Being in America, she said, challenged her and changed her.

She cried out to God, wondering why God had chosen to banish her from Israel, which she called home since moving there with her family when she was 8 years old.

“It has changed my Torah and my personal life. It has challenged my world of axioms, sometimes demanded of me to question my beliefs,” she said.

In many ways, she became a different person while she was here.

She shed 130 pounds, had long-needed double knee replacement surgery, and went from having long hair to a buzz cut (with one long, thin braid she never cuts).

She spent six years on a doctoral dissertation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion that explores Jewish funeral rituals and how people can reclaim their own funerals as the last chapter in a life, and not the first chapter of death.

In her formal bio, she now goes by Rabbi Dr. Reb Mimi Feigelson — able to proudly embrace and advertise all the disparate parts of herself.

“I have learned to honor the gifts that God has given me and honor that path I have been asked to take. And that means I am learning in my life to create harmony of all my pieces,” she said.

Being in Los Angeles gave her a chance to re-examine the model of her brokenness: She shifted from thinking that the scattered shards of her soul needed to be collected, and instead realized they needed to be planted, like seeds.

And she can do that because, in Los Angeles, she found partners for her journey.

“Being here gave me a sense of being less alone. I used to say that I knew God loved me by virtue of the teachers I have. My life changed when I said I knew God loved me by virtue of the students I have. And that happened here, in Los Angeles,” she said.

The Orthodox world, and Jerusalem, have changed along with her. In the past decade, Orthodox women trained to answer halachic questions have gained acceptance, and women ordained as clergy are just getting a foothold in the Orthodox world.

Still, Reb Mimi remains a breed of her own: Her interest is in nourishing souls and saving lives, within a framework of traditional texts and halachic observance, but she is not one to offer verdicts on legal minutiae. So she knows her path will still be her own, and she is OK with that.
She is, finally, done apologizing for who she is.

“Jerusalem is still a hard city,” she said. “There is a way in which Jerusalem is still a city without compassion. But my dream to come home as I am is actually going to be fulfilled.”


Julie Gruenbaum Fax is a Los Angeles-based journalist who ghostwrites memoirs and autobiographies.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of Chabad West Coast (back row, third from left) and actor Jon Voight (back row, fourth from left) join Chabadniks at this year’s Chabad “To Life” telethon. Photo by Ryan Torok

Moving & Shaking: Chabad telethon, FIDF ReKood Music Festival, Rob Eshman leaving and more


The 37th annual Chabad “To Life” telethon on Sept. 3 raised more than $3.5 million for Chabad West Coast. The six-hour event was broadcast live from Illuminate Studios in the San Fernando Valley.

Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of Chabad West Coast, was among the Chabad leaders in attendance. He described the telethon as the “biggest expression of Jewish pride that there is in the world. Any person who looks at the world — you have Texas underwater; you have [one of the biggest fires in Los Angeles history] burning in La Tuna; you have the world going nuts. You can’t change the darkness with a vacuum cleaner or a whisk broom, only with the light — and that’s what the telethon is.”

Actor Jon Voight, a regular participant in the telethon over the years, was raised Catholic but is a longtime friend of Chabad. Wearing a suit, tie, yarmulke and Nike sneakers, he told the Journal “he was having some fun and doing some good” this year.

The event made Voight, one of the stars of the Showtime series “Ray Donovan,” nostalgic. He recalled meeting Cunin 30 years ago and finding the rabbi arm wrestling with patients of the Chabad Residential Treatment Center. “He was so down to earth,” Voight said of Cunin, shortly before joining young Chabad followers in a dance to celebrate the conclusion of the telethon.

About 20 people on the telethon’s phone bank fielded a constant stream of calls from supporters donating to the cause. Chabad West Coast operates more than 200 branches that conduct outreach for the Orthodox Jewish movement.

Additional guests included former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is running for governor; actress Renee Taylor; attorney Marshall Grossman; and Chabad of Ojai Valley Rabbi Mordy Nemtzov.

Longtime telethon producer Michael Levin produced the event with the help of Rabbi Simcha Backman, co-director of Chabad of Glendale and the Foothill Communities, and Rabbi Shalom Cunin, director of Chabad of Westwood.


From left: ReKood Music Festival Co-Chair Ari Ryan; his wife, Rebecca; and former Israel Defense Forces lone soldiers Tamir and Addee Lerner attend the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership Division of Los Angeles’ inaugural ReKood Music Festival at the Belasco Theater. Photo by Virginia Bulacio

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Young Leadership Division of Los Angeles, partnering with Israeli American Council Lead, a network of young professionals, held its inaugural ReKood Music Festival at the Belasco Theater on Aug. 26.

More than 1,200 FIDF supporters, along with 18 former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, attended the event, which raised more than $250,000 for FIDF programs assisting young men and women in the IDF.

Ari Ryan, co-founder and chairman of FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles and FIDF western region vice president, co-chaired the festival.

“The contributions of our community,” Ryan said, “send a clear message to those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the Jewish homeland that they are not alone and that we are here for them today and always.”

The sold-out event — the title of which translates from Hebrew to “dance” — featured performances by Jewish rapper Lil Dicky, Iggy Azalea, DJ Vice, Maggie Speaks and Mark McGrath, and DJ Child’s Play. Warren G and DJ Aaron Colbert headlined the VIP lounge. As people enjoyed the live music, they also watched the live broadcast of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor boxing match, shown on screens around the venue.

Among the attendees was Daniel Babajoni, president of Nessah Educational and Cultural Center’s young adults group, LeDor VaDor.

“Being able to speak with the former soldiers one on one, connecting with them and having fun with them was the best part of the experience,” Babajoni said. “It makes me proud seeing how well-connected and influential the young leaders of FIDF are to put together such a great event in honor of the brave men and women of the IDF, and enabling our community to give back while having fun together.”

Among the other attendees were Simon Etehad, former FIDF western region vice president; Leore Ben-David, managing director of Zionist Organization of America Campus; and Robert Roig, FIDF Young Leadership executive board member and ReKood co-chair.

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer


Rob Eshman

Rob Eshman, longtime editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal, has announced he will be leaving his position on Sept. 26, while Journal President David Suissa, formerly the founder of Suissa/Miller Advertising and editor and publisher of OLAM Magazine, will step into Eshman’s role.

Eshman, who has written and sold two movie projects while at the Journal, said that after 23 years at the publication, he wants to switch the focus of his career to writing full time. He will be working on a food book — Eshman writes the blog “Foodaism” — and another movie project.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what the Journal has become,” Eshman said. “And I am honored and grateful to have been a part of it. I will always love this paper, its staff and this community.”

Peter Lowy, chairman of TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal, said Eshman has been integral to the Journal and the Jewish community. “He brought curiosity, intellect and a sense of humor to his work,” Lowy said. “Most of all, he cares passionately about journalism and Judaism — and he showed that every week.”

Lowy said Eshman approached him in late July to begin discussing the move, and together with Suissa they worked toward a smooth transition.

“What makes the Journal great is a great staff, its board and the community we serve,” Eshman said. “Those will remain the constants of the Jewish Journal.”

The Journal combines news of the 600,000-strong Los Angeles Jewish community with commentary, features and national and international news. It publishes 50,000 print copies each week and updates jewishjournal.com, one of the world’s most widely read Jewish news sites, throughout the day.

Eshman, 57, is a native of Encino and a graduate of Dartmouth College. He is married to Rabbi Naomi Levy, an author and founder of Nashuva. They have two children, Adi and Noa.

— Jewish Journal Staff


Actress-comedian Caroline Langford performed a one-woman show at the Israeli-American Council’s Shepherd Community Center in Woodland Hills. Photo courtesy of Caroline Langford

Caroline Langford performed her humorous one-woman show, “The Ups and Downs of Caroline Langford,” at the Israeli American Council (IAC) Shepher Community Center in Woodland Hills on Aug. 22.

Langford, 59, who was born in England and made aliyah with her family when she was 14, starred in Israeli candid-camera movies in her youth, including the popular “Smile! You’ve Been Had.” She has since acted in numerous film, TV and stage productions.

In her show for the IAC event, which she performed in Hebrew, Langford recalled her father’s revelation as their family flew from England. “I asked him, ‘Why are we moving to Israel?’ He said, ‘Because we are Jewish.’ And I said, ‘Since when?’ ”

“I remember people in Israel asking me, ‘Why have you moved from England? Here, it sucks.’ Now, when I’m going back to Israel for a visit, they all say, ‘Why did you move? Here, it’s the best place in the world.’ ”

Langford, a mother of two, once was married to the son of former Israeli defense and foreign minister Moshe Dayan. They divorced and she has since remarried and now lives with her Israeli-born husband in Woodland Hills.

The IAC Social Club, which provides entertainment, lectures and activities to people age 50 and older, organized the evening.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has awarded 58 grants totaling more than $4.8 million to community clinics in the Los Angeles region, including five Jewish organizations.

Beit T’Shuvah, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Westside Jewish Community Center each received grants to continue their aid to underserved populations.

“We’re very grateful for Cedars-Sinai’s support in helping undocumented migrant children and their families cope with trauma,” said Lyn Morris, senior vice president of clinical operations for Didi Hirsch. “Many have suffered physical or sexual abuse and are struggling with culture shock as they begin lives in a new country where they don’t speak the language and have limited resources. This grant allows us to help people who have nowhere else to turn get the treatment and care they need to ensure healthy and brighter futures.”

Beit T’Shuvah’s Extended Care program was a recipient of a mental health grant that will provide “a crucial component of care for our clients as they move through our unique treatment program,” said Hayley Levy, executive director at Beit T’Shuvah. “We are truly grateful for the partnership that exists between Cedars-Sinai and Beit T’Shuvah. Without this grant, a critical aspect of client care would be missing from our program.”

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer


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

From left: 2017 Daniel Pearl Fellows Nicholas Cheng of Malaysia and Salman Yousafzai of Pakistan, both of whom spent one week this summer reporting for the Journal, participated in a discussion at the Steve Allen Theater. Photo by Ryan Torok

Moving & Shaking: Daniel Pearl fellows, L.A. Jewish Home luncheon and more


The 2017 Daniel Pearl fellows, Nicholas Cheng of Malaysia and Salman Yousafzai of Pakistan, discussed “Views on America” at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Feliz on Aug. 17.

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderated the discussion, which followed a cocktail reception, and drew about 80 attendees.

Also attending were Ruth and Judea Pearl, parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by Pakistani terrorists in 2002. In memory of their son, the Pearls established the Daniel Pearl Fellowship in 2003 in partnership with Alfred Friendly Press Partners.

The fellowship brings journalists from Muslim-majority countries to work in major U.S. newsrooms for five months, including a week at the Jewish Journal. There have been 24 fellows since the establishment of the program.

At the event, the panelists discussed, among other topics, anti-Semitism in their respective countries, misconceptions about Islam among Americans and the challenges facing journalism in their countries.

“Journalism is not a field anybody wants to go into in Malaysia,” Cheng said.

In closing remarks, Judea Pearl described journalists as “the elite force of the army of decency and the army of commitment.” A computer science professor at UCLA, Judea Pearl said he initially did not understand Daniel’s decision to go into journalism but eventually learned about the importance of the field.

“Journalism is transferring an existing particle [of information] from here to there,” and is necessary because a “lack of information is a major source of the trouble we have in our generation,” he said.


From left: Corey Slavin, Molly Forrest, Sandy Stackler, Marion Goldenfeld, Florence Gorlin and Ira Schreck attended the L.A. Jewish Home’s 87th Tree of Life luncheon. Photo by Jodye Alcon

 

Marion Goldenfeld was honored Aug. 10 at The Associates of the Los Angeles Jewish Home’s 87th Tree of Life Luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

Goldenfeld, a longtime member of the women’s auxiliary, was the recipient of the 2017 Zelda White Woman of the Year Achievement Award for her “long-standing history with the women’s group and her impressive involvement in the community” said Debbi Fishel, manager of The Associates.

The luncheon was chaired by Florence Gorlin, as well as honorary luncheon chair Lynn Ziman.

Sandy Stackler, president of The Associates, welcomed the attendees, while entertainment chair Shirley Ashkenas introduced the guest performer, Maya Paredes, a piano student at the Colburn School of performing arts.

The Jewish Home serves senior members of the Los Angeles community by providing multilevel health care services through residential and community-based programs.

Molly Forrest, Jewish Home’s CEO, said in a statement, “Everyone recognizes the baby boomers will expand the number of seniors in our community. If the Jewish Home didn’t exist, leaders in the community would be creating it.” 

The luncheon, which also included a boutique, raised approximately $150,000. All proceeds will go to the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer


More than 700 brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), from 190 chapters in seven countries, attended the Jewish fraternity’s 104th international conference in Las Vegas on Aug. 2-5. Photo courtesy of AEPi

 

More than 700 brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), from 190 chapters in seven countries, attended the Jewish fraternity’s 104th international conference in Las Vegas on Aug. 2-5.

Speakers included Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund, who appeared at the opening ceremony.

“I challenge you young leaders to talk about the greatness of the Jewish people, the land of Israel and the people of Israel,” Robinson said. “We can no longer have conversations about what our enemies want us to talk about.”

Representatives of 45 partner organizations — including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center — engaged with undergraduate students and alumni, and discussed issues of importance to the international Jewish community and Jewish life on college campuses.

“AEPi exists to provide its members with deep and transformative friendships within a context that strengthens Jewish identity, hones leadership skills, teaches philanthropy and inculcates an abiding commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Elan Carr, an active alumnus and a past international president of the fraternity. “Through this impact, AEPi brothers, both students and alumni, become force multipliers for Jewish leadership and for the future of our Jewish community.”

Other attendees included AEPi Executive Director Andrew Borans, conservative pollster Frank Luntz, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Jewish Journal President David Suissa, Israeli American Council Chairman Adam Milstein, and Israeli-American philanthropists Shawn Evenhaim and Naty Saidoff.

“The strength and significance of our fraternity was seen every day,” Borans said. “I’ve never been more proud to be an AEPi brother.”

Sam Forman, an incoming UCLA junior who attended the conference, said, “I was able to make connections with undergraduate brothers from around the world, and I connected with potential employers and alumni at the career day job fair.”

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer


Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, leads about 25 people on a walking tour of sites of Jewish significance at Venice Beach. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

About 50 people turned out Aug. 20 for “Bagels on the Boardwalk,” a walking tour of sites of Jewish significance in Venice Beach, including the Israel Levin Senior Center, Mishkon Tephilo and the Pacific Jewish Center (PJC).

Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, and Jeremy Sunderland, a board member of the organization, each led groups on tours of the three locations. At the Israel Levin Senior Center, which operates in a building owned by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and offers programs coordinated by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the attendees enjoyed a breakfast of bagels, coffee and orange juice before watching the Academy Award-winning documentary “Number Our Days.”

The Whizin Center for Continuing Education of American Jewish University organized the sold-out event. As they moved from site to site, participants took in the bustling activity of the Venice boardwalk on a Sunday morning.

Speakers included Mishkon Tephilo Rabbi Gabriel Botnick, Mishkon Tephilo President Melissa Tarsky, PJC Executive Director Joanne Feldman and Milton Simon, a PJC congregant. PJC is an Orthodox shul that for 40 years also has been known as Shul on the Beach.

Sass, an attorney for HBO, said the future is bright for the Jewish community in Venice.

“It’s kind of an electric time to be here,” he said.


Ariel Wexler

Ariel Wexler was honored as the Summer 2017 Segil Farm and Garden Fellow at Shalom Institute during the second session of Camp JCA Shalom on July 9 in Malibu. The fellowship, funded by Shalom Institute board member Dr. Clive and Larraine Segil, provides a hands-on learning experience about sustainable organic farming infused with Jewish teachings.

Wexler spent the summer sharing her passion for and knowledge of urban farming, Judaism and the environment with hundreds of Camp JCA Shalom campers. She is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, where she majored in environmental studies with a focus on sustainable agriculture and a minor in Jewish studies.

The Segils own The Little Farm in Encino, and each summer they donate $5,000 to ensure that a staffer is hired to further environmental education and sustainability through a Jewish lens. As a fellow, Wexler’s responsibilities include supervising the summer Shemesh Organic Farm program.

“We are grateful to the Segil family for their ongoing commitment to Shalom Institute’s Shemesh Organic Farm and the establishment of the Segil Farm Fellowship. Ariel was an excellent choice — we learned from each other and could see the impact she had on Camp JCA Shalom campers,” said Shalom Institute Executive Director Rabbi Bill Kaplan.

“The Segils’ generosity enables us to strengthen what we do, grow our farm and educational programs on the environment, which impact thousands of campers and adults who participate in Camp JCA Shalom and the Institute’s year-round programs.”

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer


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

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer conducts a press conference regarding his office’s commitment to prosecute white supremacists’ activities and hate crimes in Los Angeles. Photo by Ryan Torok

Lawsuit just the start of crackdown on white supremacists, Feuer vows


Days after his office filed an Aug. 14 lawsuit against three people allegedly connected to a Canoga Park home serving as a gathering place for white supremacist gang activity, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said the suit is just the beginning of a concerted effort by his team to track down and prosecute those who engage in hate crimes and other criminal behavior locally.

“In addition to lawsuits already brought regarding alleged white supremacist gangs in the Valley, there is more work under investigation on that very issue right now. I can’t discuss the state of the investigation publicly,” he said, addressing reporters at L.A. City Hall on Aug. 18. “So we are going to do that; we’re going to be vigilant in prosecuting hate crimes and continue outreach — I and others have engaged in outreach in communities — to encourage people to come forward.”

The three defendants named in the L.A. Superior Court lawsuit are Lisa Bellinaso; her mother, Isabella; and Bellinaso’s boyfriend, Ryan Matthew Andrews. The suit asks that the home, located at the 8400 block of Remmet Avenue, where Bellinaso and Andrews have been living, be declared a public nuisance and that a judge enjoin further drug dealings there.

The legal action followed a recent uptick in anti-Semitic activity in Santa Monica, where members of the conservative group the Red Elephants and the alt-right group the Beach Goys reportedly have appeared at meetings of the Santa Monica-based Committee for Racial Justice. The Santa Monica Mirror reported on Aug. 15 that during an August meeting of the Committee for Racial Justice, the tensions boiled over when one participant stood up to the far-right attendees of the meeting to express solidarity with Jews.

“I have 15 years of Catholic school and tonight I am a Jew!” the woman said.

Additionally, Feuer’s press conference, among other things, addressed the Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville, Va., where a neo-Nazi demonstration clashed with a counterprotest, resulting in the death of one woman. At such a divisive time in this country, Feuer said it is incumbent on him as a Jewish city leader to stand up for marginalized communities, including Muslims.

“I’ve been making a systematic effort to go to mosques, Islamic centers and elsewhere because I think it is really important, not only because I’m a leader in this city but because I’m a Jewish leader in this city, to demonstrate the importance of us being together, of standing together,” he said. “That kind of outreach, conspicuous outreach, by leadership now, is, I think, pivotal.

Feuer told the room of about 30 reporters his Jewishness compels him to think about what he can do for those who cannot do for themselves.

“It happens that the theme of the [forthcoming] High Holy Days at my synagogue is taken from a teaching called the Pirkei Avot, a compilation of stories and of wisdom. And the theme is, ‘In a place where no one is acting like a human being, one needs to strive to be human,’ ” he said. “On a personal level, each of us can use this moment to think very deeply about who we are, what matters to us, and our relationships to each other and to the nation itself.” n

Ursula Martens in her Baldwin Hills home. Photo by Tess Cutler

A Nazi then, remorseful now


A former Hitler Youth reflects on the guilt of her past as she seeks understanding and redemption

Ursula Martens is a dainty 88-year-old with blue eyes, snow-white hair and a healthy, active lifestyle. She could easily pass for anybody’s grandma.

She lives independently in a large, two-story home in Baldwin Hills, where she runs a successful building maintenance business. She has friends, children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. She likes to garden. Every morning, she feeds hundreds of wild birds that gather on the electrical lines surrounding her property.

By these accounts, Martens appears to be living a good, if not ordinary life. Her biography seems typical of octogenarians these days — she’s industrious, social, in possession of adequate resources, and a sense of purpose. She appears altogether normal.

With one exception: Ursula Martens was a Nazi.

Born on March 28, 1929, in Kropelin, Germany, a 2 1/2-hour drive northwest of Berlin, Martens grew up in the shadow of the Third Reich. Like most Germans of her generation, she joined the Hitler Youth by the time she was 10. Even among believers, she distinguished herself as one of the more fervent champions of Hitler and his ideas. She was so enamored of the Fuhrer that she developed a crush. “How handsome he was … the best-looking man I had ever seen,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir, “Stations Along the Way,” co-authored with Mark Shaw. And woe to anyone who disagreed with her: “He seemed like sort of a God to me.”

Instead of fantasizing about the cute boy in class like other girls her age, Martens spent the formative years of her youth obsessed with modern history’s most brutal mass murderer. She claims that at the time, she did not know the extent of Hitler’s crimes. But she was every bit the willing participant in his homicidal campaign to eliminate offenders of his Aryan ideal.

“I was trained to hate before I was 10 years old,” she wrote.

And so she hated. She hated the Romani. She hated the disabled. And most of all, she hated Jews.

Reflecting on the advent of the discriminatory Nuremberg Laws, which demoted Jews to second-class citizens, Martens wrote: “I understood that these laws put the Jews where they belonged, at the bottom of society.”

Instead of fantasizing about the cute boy in class like other girls her age, Martens spent the formative years of her youth obsessed with modern history’s most brutal mass murderer

Today, despite her comfortable life in Los Angeles, the hateful views Martens adopted as a girl continue to dominate her psyche — but now as sources of shame, self-recrimination and guilt. For the past 60 years, Martens has tried everything imaginable — confession, education and religion, even a love affair with a Jew — to exorcise the evils that poisoned her young mind. Her memoir is only part of her mea culpa; whatever opportunities she has to accept responsibility, apologize and seek forgiveness — including cooperation with this story — she has undertaken with gusto.

But whether absolution exists for her is beside the point. She was on the wrong side of history and has no choice but to atone again and again and again for the crime of losing her innocence.

“I don’t think you can ever forgive yourself for something that you were part of,” Martens says, sitting stone-faced at her glass dining room table. Her hair is down, shaped in a bob, and her large eyeglasses magnify the lines of her wrinkled face. Adjacent to where she sits is a small, overstuffed bookcase dominated by the works of Deepak Chopra.

Although Martens was not a Nazi in the conventional sense — she never held a weapon or committed any crime — she feels her mental complicity in Hitler’s race war laid the intellectual foundation for violence.

“I feel like I was part of it,” she says, “even though I didn’t have whatever it takes to open the gas.”

But she cannot be sure.

Martens doesn’t really know if she would have killed, she says, because she never had the opportunity. In her book, it is a question she asks herself over and over, and on occasion, she describes feeling bloodlust. During the British bombing of Germany in the later years of the war, the Hitler Youth were given instructions to wound or kill any survivor of a downed British plane. “They told us that if you ever see [a plane’s crew members parachute down], take whatever tool you have and go and try and kill them. And I thought ‘Yeah!’ That’s what I was looking for, when I saw planes, to be able to do that.

“I don’t think you ever get over that.”

Martens is one of tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators who gained passage to the United States after World War II. According to U.S. census data, 226,000 Germans immigrated to the United States from 1941 and 1950. Some were engineers and scientists, like Wernher von Braun, recruited by the U.S. government for their technological expertise. Others were senior Nazi party officials who were offered asylum in exchange for serving as spies against Soviet Russia in the early years of the Cold War. Most, however, were like Martens, ordinary German citizens who quietly slipped in, melding into the American panorama with no desire to continue Nazi activity or call attention to themselves. Many succeeded. Others, like Martens, could escape everything but their conscience.

Martens was 4 years old when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, setting the country and the rest of the world on a course to war. He won support as a democratically elected populist leader who promised a struggling country, which a generation before had lost World War I, that he would make Germany great again. The excitement he aroused around the nation was palpable. Martens still recalls the first time she heard his voice.

“I remember the decorations they put up,” she says of an early, local rally in support of Hitler. “It was like a movie I saw that I never forgot.”

Martens’ father was a railroad stationmaster, so she and her family moved a lot, often living in apartments above the station. Since most stations were located in the center of town, the family had front-row seats to public gatherings and rallies. The first time she saw a crowd gather to listen to one of Hitler’s radio speeches, she was instantly awed. “[I]t gave me the shivers,” she wrote. “[His voice] was so clear and distinct … I felt that that voice had power, and I noticed others, including my parents, felt the same way.”

As stewards of the train station, Martens remembers the day men in uniform entered her family home to unfurl a banner of Hitler that reached from the balcony of their apartment to the station floor. Soon after, her father began wearing what the young Martens perceived as “a red armband with a symbol on it.”

The political metastasis of the Third Reich became the landmarks of her childhood. When Martens and her older sister first heard the word “Nazi,” they asked their mother what it meant. She says they were told, “Communists are bad people, and Nazis are good people.” They were children, after all. Simple explanations worked.

Growing up at that time, religion was frowned upon, so politics — in the form of nationalism — ruled the day. Prejudice was common. According to Martens, German superiority had been a feature of the national character well before Hitler arrived. By the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed at the end of 1935, when Martens was 6, Jews had become the symbol of everything undesirable. “When we did not like a kid at school or wanted to make fun of them, we called them a Jew,” she wrote.

Jews weren’t the only hated ones. When Martens befriended a young boy called Heine, whom she describes as “different” and “slow,” her mother objected. One day, she and a friend ditched Heine on the walk home from school to the station. Hours later, he was found dead, sandwiched between two boxcars. Martens was devastated. But when she sought comfort from her parents, none was offered.

“There was a lack of affection,” Martens tells me about her relationship with her parents. “That’s kind of typical German. Emotions meant you were weak.”

The emotional isolation she felt at home intensified as she grew into adolescence. Her mother refused to discuss subjects of interest, like boys and sex, warning the young Martens that she could become pregnant from kissing. The recollections in her memoir give the impression of an adolescent girl desperate for an emotional outlet, and Martens found hers in Hitler.

In the Jungmadel, “young girls” of the Hitler Youth movement, she found community and purpose. She attended weekly meetings and rallies where indoctrination techniques took hold: A local political leader “reported” the news; Hitler’s radio addresses were played and replayed, his speeches memorized. The young people sang nationalistic songs glorifying the Third Reich. And everyone was expected to play sports and attend camping trips.

It was at these meetings that the Hitler Youth were exposed to “race education.” In her book, Martens recalls a demonstration in which she was asked to aid the teacher by having her skull measured. “This was a means of knowing what the lecturer called the cranial index of the ideal Aryan,” she wrote. “How proud I was when my head size was perfect. And of course, I was blond-haired and blue-eyed — perfect, too. I smiled all the way home.”

Reading Martens’ memoir is a bizarre experience. It is extremely detailed, reflecting Hitler’s ideology on many of its pages, and since Martens is recalling the indoctrination of her youth, the views expressed are relayed uncritically. The tone is matter-of-fact. And even though the work is the product of a wiser, older woman, it is filtered through the prism of a child. Unlike Anne Frank, however, young Martens lacked the personal insight and moral judgment to comprehend what was happening within and around her.

Martens concedes that the driving force behind her enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth was that she wanted to outperform her older sister, Evie. “My sister was five years older and she was the learned one, the intelligent one,” Martens says. “At least that’s how I thought she was treated by my father. They would have intelligent conversations at the dinner table, so I kind of envied her. I didn’t like it. I was a little jealous.”

Sibling rivalry, at least as much as Hitler’s demagoguery, propelled her radicalism.

“I wanted to show her I could do something,” Martens says, pointing her finger to her chest. “You know, like, ‘I’ll show you …’ ”

Martens concedes that the driving force behind her enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth was that she wanted to outperform her older sister, Evie.

Plus, being in the Hitler Youth came with perks. Once the Nazis had taken over the country, German cultural life was at their disposal. “We could go to movies, we could go to the theater, the opera — everything was free,” Martens says.

Life, in short, was fun. “Ohhh, yeah,” she says with emphasis.

With Germany on the brink war, things turned sinister. Signs were posted everywhere informing Germans not to speak too loudly, lest an enemy — the Jew — eavesdrop. The day after Kristallnacht in 1938, Martens was startled to discover a beloved local shop had been destroyed. In one telling passage, she sees the destruction, but laments only the broken crystals shattered on the sidewalk.

“I felt sorry for all the beautiful crystals,” she wrote. “It seemed like such waste to me. I knew that because the owners were Jewish, they weren’t supposed to have a store, and so I didn’t question what had been done to it.”

She also remembers the raging flames from a book burning that night. “I had heard people talk about the list of authors that weren’t suitable for Germans to read. I knew they were Jews, Communists and other writers that wrote anything against the Nazis.

“Books did not mean as much to me as the beautiful crystal and porcelain broken into millions of pieces that Crystal Night,” she wrote.

By age 11 or 12, Martens was the first to salute “Heil, Hitler” when encountering passersby on the street. She believed in “blitzkrieg” and Hitler’s vow to turn Germany into a world power. When neighbors mysteriously disappeared, she told herself there was good reason for it. And she bought into the anti-Semitic propaganda that Jews were “bloodsuckers” and “parasites,” that her family shouldn’t patronize their shops. She turned her head from signs declaring “Jewish filth” without ever questioning it. Today, however, she admits she barely knew any Jews while growing up.

Ursula Martens as she was photographed at her grandparents’ house in Germany after World War II. Photo courtesy of Ursula Martens

 

“I think people are easy to brainwash,” she says. “I can see that now. Because whatever you question, there’s an excuse for everything. When [the propaganda] started, [Germans] were saying ‘Jews are the ones that make it hard for us.’ And I always remember Jews working in banks or being lawyers or doctors. And I still say that now. Jewish families don’t say, ‘What do you want to be, a hairdresser?’ They say, ‘Be a lawyer or a doctor.’ You have no other choice.”

Martens pauses, wondering if maybe she has said something offensive. Perhaps the stereotypes she’s spent years trying to shed are still there, lingering just beneath the surface.

“I think that’s good,” she adds. She wants to be clear she means this as a compliment.

For someone who hated Jews, Martens now seems oddly admiring of them. It’s as if the Jew, after being hated, became an object of mystification. Since she was young, the truth of what was happening to Jews during the Holocaust was hidden from her. There were rumors. There were signs. But the darkest secret of what Nazi Germany was perpetrating upon millions of innocent people was a forbidden subject.

One afternoon, when her parents weren’t home, she entered her father’s “forbidden room” and rummaged through some drawers. She found a hidden envelope containing images she now presumes were from the camps: an SS soldier holding a pistol, people lying on the ground, shot dead. She was horrified but says she “blocked it out,” never bringing it up with her father. Even after the war up until his death, she never questioned him. His role in the deportation of countless innocents is answerable only by her imagination.

In 1945, when Martens was 16, the family was stationed at Malchow, which she later discovered had a munitions factory where rocket parts were made, probably by Jewish prisoners. The town included part of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. One winter night, while walking home, she saw people in striped uniforms with yellow stars on them being herded onto a train. ,“Jews!” she wrote. “ “I couldn“ t even make out if they were women or men.” They were emaciated and their heads shorn. “They looked cold. …
I had a strange feeling watching them.”
It was a confusing scene, which turned violent. According to Martens, the SS soldiers unleashed their dogs, which pounced on the feeble prisoners. “They could not fight back and fell to the ground with the dogs biting them. The sound of this, of the dogs tearing into the helpless Jews was like a nightmare,” she wrote. But after this, once again, she remained silent.

When asked why, time and again, Martens suppressed feelings that “were scarring her soul,” she has a hard time offering an answer. If she was so upset by these events, why did she not speak or act in accordance with her instincts?

“I tried to put it out of my mind,” she says.

If she heard anything that upset her, she says, she denied it or rationalized it. For the duration of the war, she continued to believe that concentration camps were internment camps “where you could live with your family,” such as the camps in the United States where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during the war.

Martens chose denial until the final moments of the war, when it was clear the country that she was told was invincible was, in fact, losing. Her infallible “god” had lied. Suddenly, her family’s foremost concern was fleeing to the American-controlled part of Germany to avoid confrontation with the Soviet Army; she heard rumors that the Red Army was raping German women.

What followed were the hardships that come in the aftermath of war — her father lost his job, they had no money and many days were on the verge of starvation. “We traded every piece of porcelain, everything we had, we traded for food,” she tells me. “But then I felt like, that’s what we deserve. When you lost. You knew you were guilty, all the people around you, they were all guilty. And I kind of started hating the Germans a little bit.”

When Martens stood in line with her mother to get ration cards, she saw for the first time the arrival of a truck filled with liberated Jews from the camps. Martens was overcome: “My eyes met those of a Jewish girl about my age ahead of me in line who had a yellow star stitched to her sweater. We just stared at each other … she had the saddest look on her face.”

From that moment, Martens says she was determined to “cleanse herself of Nazism.” In Berlin, she had love affairs with two Mexican-American soldiers, the second of whom she married, convinced that falling in love with a minority not only would cleanse her of racism and bigotry but prove to the world she was no longer prejudiced. The marriage did not last, but it earned her passage to the United States and produced two children. It was in an effort to save her marriage that Martens, by then in her 30s, moved with her family from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles.

Ursula Martens (top row, right) poses with her family in a photo taken in Germany. Photo courtesy of Ursula Martens

 

The past was never far enough behind. One of the first things she did in her new city was visit the Museum of Tolerance. “I walked out so weak I nearly fainted,” she wrote of the experience.

But she was determined to confront what she’d done. Little by little, she began reading books about the Holocaust, studying what had really happened. She hated herself even more. Then she got a job in a clothing factory, working for a man named Aaron Gold — a Holocaust survivor. And she fell madly in love with him even though he was married.

At first, Martens was terrified to tell her Jewish employer she was German, but Gold introduced her to other Germans employed at the factory, which put her at ease. Before long, Martens and Gold were staying late at the factory together, so they could sit in Gold’s office and talk. Martens was impressed by his intelligence and success. She felt connected to him as they discussed their lives in Europe and where they had been during the war.

According to Martens, Gold was Czech and went into hiding with his sisters before joining the resistance. In her memoir, she describes Gold getting captured and tortured by the Gestapo, and how she felt when she first saw his scars. “I was so ashamed,” she wrote. “How had I been so crazy? How had a whole nation of Germans been so crazy?”

As their friendship deepened, Martens was forced to re-evaluate the choices and beliefs of her youth. Gold was the first Jew she ever got to know, and rather than discover any of the labels she attributed to Jews in her youth, she discovered instead that she admired and respected him.

They began a passionate affair, which she described in the book with drama and fatalism, the way a teenager might — no two people had ever loved each other more. They eventually broke things off when Gold’s wife became pregnant. But the experience of being loved by a Jew was life altering. “Perhaps clean is the best word,” Martens wrote. “The dirt had finally been washed away.”

But her words belie the struggle that remained. Even if some part of her was healed, she still sought redemption before God. Martens turned to the Founders Church of Religious Science, which exposed her to spirituality for the first time. Its teachings drew on the works of religious figures and thinkers as diverse as Moses, Augustine and Einstein. Excited by the intellectual possibilities the church provided, she became a devotee of the Agape Church. She shared her story with others. She consumed volumes of self-help literature and started to believe in God. “I had finally traded in ‘Mein Kampf’ as a bible for a real bible,” she wrote.

The most significant event of her later life, however, occurred when she befriended a Polish-born Jewish woman named Judith, whose daughter, Ruth, was born after the war in a displaced persons camp. One day, Ruth invited Martens to read a prayer at her son’s bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Am. Martens was overwhelmed by the opportunity, not only to enter a Jewish house of prayer but to contribute to a sacred Jewish ritual. “I could not believe that a former Jew hater like me was going to be part of this age-old ceremony,” she wrote.

It was the first time Martens had ever entered a synagogue, and she says she felt a whirlwind of emotions. Martens was grateful that Ruth and her family had shown her kindness and mercy, despite her past, but she feared others would look at her and see only a Nazi. She was mesmerized by the beauty and stateliness of the synagogue. But she couldn’t avoid flashbacks to the war, “when synagogues had been burned by my fellow members of the Hitler Youth.” She said she felt joy at making this small repair — teshuvah — but she also felt shame.

For all the intellectual and spiritual renaissance she experienced, Martens continues to live with profound regret. She regrets the foolishness of her youth and her inability to think for herself; she regrets enabling a murderous tyrant in his domination scheme; she regrets the way she treated family members, especially her grandfather, who challenged her radicalism to no avail; and she regrets never confronting her father, whom she now thinks of as a war criminal.

Most of all, she says, she regrets that millions of Jews, a people she would later learn to esteem, were annihilated because of Nazis just like her.

“I will never get over the guilt,” she says.

Each day, when she lies down and when she rises, she says she feels 6 million souls gather around her like the wild birds on the wires, haunting her. Martens often uses the word “nightmare” to describe scenes in her life, but she does not speak in metaphor, she speaks in truth. Given the time she lived through, one can only imagine the terror of her dreams.

“I sit in the morning and eat my breakfast, and then I try to meditate, but it’s never meditating. It’s always going back and thinking, what could you do? Where did you fail? That’s always, always there.”

After several hours of talking, Martens grows quiet. She leans back in her chair, staring out past the darkened living room. The silence is palpable, as if she is wrestling with voices in her head. So much has changed. And so much hasn’t.

Finally, she asks, “Do you think a Holocaust survivor can ever get over what they’ve been through?”

Can we change the Swastika to mean something different?


Recently, I came across a commercial charging humanity to change the Nazi symbol into a symbol of peace by a T-shirt company called Teespring and KA Designs. They suggested this symbol we have come to know as a symbol which reflects hate, devastation, tragedy, and murder can be redesigned by repurposing it for a symbol of tranquility and love just by coloring it a multitude of pastel pink, green and blue colors and willing it so.

My first reaction to this suggestion was visceral. It was filled with pain and disgust. It felt like I was being manipulated versus inspired. I have learned that when I get that feeling that lives deep inside my gut, that feeling which tells me something is wrong or untrue, I should listen to it.

I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my negative reaction to this suggestion. After all am I not a self evolved person who has the ability to transform hatred into kindness if I wish it so? Am I not evolved enough to see this suggestion as a transformation versus a disfiguration? Is it really so bad that a group of folks want to redirect our thinking when seeing the Swastika to reflect peace versus hatred and murder? After all, the Nazis took an innocent Eastern symbol which originally meant “Good Fortune” in Hinduism and Buddhism, when turned clockwise, and twisted it to mean hatred and anti semitism.  Why can’t we turn this back around to a new meaning of peace and love? Isn’t it just a symbol, aren’t symbols what we choose to make them, and how we choose to give them meaning? Is it so radical to think we cannot rededicate the most radically perverted symbol in the world to mean something different- to mean love?

The way we communicate with one another is complex and nuanced. We use words, eye contact, gestures, body language and symbols to create tone and to tell our stories. Yes, a symbol is the meaning we dictate it. A symbol carries with it stories, lives, human narrative and communicates our deepest selves. A symbol showcases history and human connection. The suggestion that a symbol which stood for lives being broken, ended, gassed, burnt, wiped out and destroyed can suddenly be erased to mean something different is erasing the very stories affected by that symbol as well. We don’t transform ourselves because we change what that symbol means, we merely lose ourselves. Transformation is the ability to take something and change it, shift it, redesign it, not delete, obliterate or ERASE it.

The suggestion that the Swastika could represent love when it was designed to represent hatred is preposterous and not because of what it is asking from us, but because of what it is taking from  us. While I applaud those who want to switch the meaning, you cannot switch a meaning without erasing the first one. You are not asking us to transform, you are actually asking us to regress. By asking us to erase it’s original meaning, you are asking us to erase the stories that assembled because of and in spite of that symbol.

Essentially, you are asking us to forget. And that’s why my gut turned. Because you are asking too much. I imagine the Eastern originators of the Swastika symbol felt the same way- like their stories had been hijacked by a black cause that created suffering versus the enlightened meaning it was meant to inhabit. When the Nazis stole their symbol, they stole and erased their stories as well – just as you are asking to steal and erase ours.

You are insulting us by assuming evil could be erased. You are not asking us to redesign our thinking,  you are asking us to stop thinking, to stop communicating our stories and who we are because of- rather- in spite of that symbol. Because that symbol carries with it the stories of those times, and by erasing those stories, you erase those people, my people. You are asking us to forget them. You are asking us to discredit them.

A symbol carries the weight we associate to it. And in this case, it carries the stains that bleeds on it as well. If you want to change thinking, create a different symbol that carries with it a new weight and reflection of that communication of peace, don’t insult us to believe our stories associated with that horrid symbol can merely become erased just because we will it so.

The Nazis chose to steal this symbol. It was hijacked. It cannot be reinvented without hijacking the stories behind the symbol as well. You are asking us to have our truths stolen away, to have our history expunged, to have our records erased into oblivion. You are asking us to change the symbol’s meaning, which essentially pirates our stories just as the Nazi’s stole the originator’s stories.  The end doesn’t always justify the means. Changing the swastika meaning doesn’t change the result that occurs because the action is well intentioned. In this case, the result is  the feeling of having our narratives deleted, our truths and lives inconsequential all over again.

When healing from pain, we can’t negate it’s existence to become enlightened, we must acknowledge the pain first, then reposition ourselves around it, and redesign something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to reflect the lessons learned and the knowledge acquired out of the ashes. We don’t pretend the pain never existed by coloring it a pretty pink and willing it so.

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