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.

Barry Manilow

What to do in Los Angeles: Week of August 4-10


FRI | AUG 4

BARRY MANILOW

Singer, songwriter and producer Barry Manilow’s career has spanned more than 50 years. He has released 47 Top 40 singles and has sold more than 80 million albums, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He brings his catchy pop repertoire to Southern California. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $40. (This concert was originally scheduled for May 14. Tickets issued for the original date will be honored at the rescheduled date. No exchange necessary.) The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. (310) 330-7300. fabulousforum.com.

“JOURNEY OF JEWISH LIFE THROUGH MUSIC & COMEDY”

Join Cantors Judy and Herschel Fox for a music-filled Shabbat service. 8 p.m. Free. No tickets or reservations necessary. Gindi Auditorium, American Jewish University (AJU), 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. Note: Shabbat dinner will not be available at the AJU in August. (310) 472-3500. sftpa.com.

SAT | AUG 5

DINAH BERLAND: POETRY DISCUSSION AND READING

Have you ever tried to write a sonnet, villanelle, sestina or haiku? If you’re curious about how to craft a formal verse or just want to come and listen, join Dinah Berland and members of her Camera Obscura Experiments in Form Workshop for a reading of their work. The program will include a short writing experiment and an open discussion with workshop members. Berland is a widely published poet and book editor with a background in art. Sponsored by the Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division. 1 p.m. Free. Camera Obscura Art Lab, 1450 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 458-2239. arts.smgov.net.

SUN | AUG 6

COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY

Volunteer with Young Adults of Los Angeles at Wildlife Waystation animal sanctuary to get up close with retired Hollywood and rescued animals. Help make toys for them and assist with beautification projects. 8:45 a.m. Free. Wildlife Waystation, 14831 Little Tujunga Canyon Road, Sylmar. yala.org.

GENEALOGY IN THE ROUND

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County will hold a general meeting, co-sponsored by Temple Adat Elohim, titled “Genealogy in the Round.” Discuss a genealogical success, failure, brick wall or artifact. 1:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. jgscv.org.

WED | AUG 9

“JACKIE MASON: THE ULITMATE JEW”

Jackie Mason is one of America’s most famous Jewish comedians. Come learn about his background, career and famous moments; and watch “Jackie Mason: The Ultimate Jew,” a look inside his final Broadway performance. Catered lunch. 11 a.m. $16; $14 for members. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.

J.J. GESHER AND “A NARROW BRIDGE”

Friends of the Glendale Public Library presents authors Joyce Gittlin and Janet B. Fattal, the duo behind the pen name J.J. Gesher. Their novel, “A Narrow Bridge,” follows Orthodox Jewish Brooklynite Jacob Fischer after he puts his young family on a bus that explodes in an act of terrorism. With his faith shattered, Jacob flees, finding himself in a predominantly Black town in rural Alabama. There he meets a single mother, Rosie, and their relationship develops, along with the rekindling of Jacob’s love of music. 7 p.m. Free.

Downtown Central Library, 222 E. Harvard St., Glendale. (818) 548-2021. glendalepublic-
library.org.

THU | AUG 10

NEIL DIAMOND’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY WORLD TOUR

Neil Diamond

 

Legendary singer, songwriter and actor Neil Diamond’s world tour is slated to stop at 35 cities, with the final two stops scheduled for Los Angeles. The Grammy Award winner and Kennedy Center honoree is expected to treat fans to songs spanning his five-decade performing career. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $58. Also Aug. 12. The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. (310) 330-7300. fabulousforum.com

TU B’AV

FRI | AUG 4

SHABBAT OF LOVE & KARAOKE

To celebrate Tu b’Av — sometimes referred to as Jewish Valentine’s Day — join a Shabbat service led by Rabbi Jon Hanish and Cantor Noa Shaashua, followed by dinner. This event is intended for young adult professionals, ages 21 to 40. 6:30 p.m. service at Kol Tikvah; 7:30 p.m. dinner at Paoli’s. Free (guests pay for food and drinks at Paoli’s). Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. Paoli’s Pizzeria & Piano Bar, 21020 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. koltikvah.org.

“SINGLES POTLOVE SHABBAT”

Celebrate the Jewish day of love, Tu b’Av, at Atid’s third annual “Singles Potlove Shabbat” for Jewish singles in their 20s and 30s. The potluck will be dairy/vegetarian. Please bring an item based on your last name: A-H bring an appetizer; I-P bring an entrée; Q-Z bring dessert, wine or both. 7 p.m. Free. Address given upon RSVP at eventbrite.com; Beverly Hills. sinaitemple.org.

SAT | AUG 5

YJP WHITE PARTY

Wear your finest white cocktail attire and enjoy the summer night — and Tu b’Av — with the Young Jewish Professionals of Los Angeles and an open bar, DJ, dancing, cigar lounge and a live musical “Havdalah.” 9:30 p.m. $50; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Location provided upon RSVP; Brentwood. yjplosangeles.com.

“TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART”

Gather along the Los Angeles River in Frogtown for a block party-style love throwdown. There will be music — sing your heart out in a karaoke RV — barbecue and drinks. Join the community in a celebration of Tu b’Av (Jewish Valentine’s Day) with the signing of a custom-made ketubah (contract of love) for L.A. Stay for a remixed Havdalah, where we’ll close out the week in light, community and song. Presented by NuRoots and East Side Jews. 6:30 p.m. $10. eastsidejews.com

Rocky Morton during a training exercise for the Malibu Search & Rescue team. Photo courtesy of Rocky Morton

Bubbe Rocky Morton found renewed purpose with the Malibu search & rescue team


In many ways, Roxanna “Rocky” Morton is much like other 60-something Jewish women. The Thousand Oaks resident is a doting grandmother to six grandchildren. She is philanthropic, giving to organizations including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. She plays mahjong.

“I look like a typical country club woman,” she said.

But then there’s the part where she rappels out of helicopters and gets calls in the middle of the night to help a driver who lost control in the Malibu canyons.

Morton, 66, is a member of the Malibu Search & Rescue team, a group of about 30 volunteers, who are paid $1 a year for their services. A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, she learned about the team in the late 1980s after a consultant her husband hired suggested he remove her as bookkeeper at his financial management company — something about it not being professional to employ his wife. She had worked in the position for eight years.

“So I was fired and it pissed me off,” Morton said. “I found myself with nothing to do.”

Morton, who always had been active, started hiking with the Sierra Club, and one member mentioned the Search & Rescue team. “Nothing about it sounded appealing,” Morton said.

“It just sounded so foreign, out of the realm of my comfort zone,” she added later. “It sounded like a lot of work. I didn’t know anyone who did that kind of thing. It’s like someone said, ‘Do you want to fly to the moon?’ It was just so foreign.”

A few months later, she and her late husband, Lon, drove by a billboard for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Reserve Deputy program, which the search and rescue team is part of.

“He looks at me derisively and says, ‘I bet that’s something you would like to do,’ ” Morton said. “He knew I liked to do odd things that were just a little off the beaten track.”

For example, Morton sometimes would rise at 4 a.m. and leave to go on an all-day hike. She liked river rafting and camping. “My husband didn’t really enjoy this kind of thing, but he was very supportive,” she said.

Morton reached out to her Sierra Club acquaintance and said she had changed her mind and now was interested in the team. And so began what she described as “a long, arduous process.”

“We are having a record year. We have almost hit as many calls this year as all of last year.”

— Roxanna “Rocky” Morton

First, she had to become a reserve deputy sheriff. “I was told at that time that for every 100 people who start the process, two will graduate from the academy,” Morton said. Before she could begin, she had to fill out a 20-page application, have a physical, and undergo a background check and psychological testing. 

During the four months she was in the academy, when she committed two weeknights and Sundays every week, there were moments when she waivered. But the physical challenges and camaraderie kept her going. “It was very exciting to learn how to shoot a gun,” Morton said. “We had to learn combat fighting, and I enjoyed that.” She added, “I hate to quit anything.”

Morton joined Malibu Search & Rescue in 1991. At the time, she was the only woman on the team. Now, there are several others. She remains the oldest member.

The team meets for monthly training sessions that can include shooting practice; “car over” drills using a truck and winch; tracking and searching by map, compass, footprints, even broken twigs; cliff rescues using a rope system; and rappelling out of a helicopter. That skill, she said, can be the best way to rescue someone lost deep in the wilderness.

Morton admits that descending from a helicopter can be nerve-wracking. “I’ll be honest,” she said. “Every time my heart goes a little thump, thump.” But once she is on the rope and is being lowered, her fear vanishes. “We call it an E ticket ride,” she said, referring to the most thrilling rides at Disney theme parks.

Serving with the team has meant some lifestyle changes. She tries to take her own vehicle everywhere because she needs to have her uniform and gear with her at all times and be ready to respond to calls. Sometimes she has to get up in the middle of the night or miss social functions. Once she was called away from Christmas dinner at the home of a friend to help a group of Jews who had gone hiking in Malibu State Park.

“Because there’s nothing else to do [on Christmas],” she joked.

Rocky Morton with her grandchildren (from left) Lane, Parker, Preston, Ace, Phoenix (being held) and Duke.

 

When the group of mostly women and children was located, Morton recalls approaching them. “I say, ‘Anyone here need toilet paper?’ I can’t tell you how happy those people were,” she said. “It’s the funniest little things you really miss [when you’re lost].”

Morton hasn’t been as active with the team as she would like in recent years as she has been busy with her grandchildren. She also was tending to her sick husband, who died earlier this year. And along the way, she also got her nursing degree at UCLA and worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner for about 10 years. But she has no plans to quit the team. In fact, going forward, she hopes to respond to more calls with an affirmative 10-8 (coming), rather than 10-7 (not coming).

“We are having a record year,” she said. “We have almost hit as many calls this year as all of last year. It’s not a good thing for the population. But for those of us who enjoy doing these things, it’s kind of fun. We do like to put our training to use.”

Morton has another reason for continuing to serve: Being a member of the team means her grandkids think they have the coolest grandmother in the world. “When they see me in uniform with a gun strapped to my hip, she said, “they are impressed.”

Located next to Blossom Plaza in Chinatown, this rendering shows plans for the adaptive reuse of Capitol Milling. Rendering courtesy of Workshop Design Collective

Will Capitol Milling building become grist for downtown redevelopment?


A chunk of Los Angeles Jewish history near Chinatown is in danger of being jackhammered away now that a developer has begun adapting and rehabilitating the structures that once housed Capitol Milling, a business owned by Jewish families who milled the wheat that helped sustain a city for generations.

Still, Steve Riboli, the owner of San Antonio Winery who plans to turn the mill site into a 50,000-square-foot mix of restaurants, shops and offices, said in an email that he is open to telling the story of the mill and its Jewish ownership, but the final form of any commemoration has yet to be decided.

Built by Abel Stearns in the 1830s, the mill was purchased in 1883 by Jacob Loew, son-in-law of L.A. pioneer and influential businessman Harris Newmark, who brought his nephew, Herman Levi, into the business. Levi was the son-in-law of Estelle (Newmark) and Leon Loeb, whose son, Joseph, was a founder of Loeb & Loeb, a prominent Los Angeles law firm still in business today.

Descendants of these families owned and operated the flour mill, and when the business ended production in 1998 — it was sold to packaged-food company Conagra, then to San Antonio Winery — it was the oldest family-run business in Los Angeles. With downtown Los Angeles filled with construction cranes, and many of its older buildings undergoing rehabilitation, Jewish connections to buildings are at risk. Already, the former Harris Newmark Building (127 E. Ninth St.) has been renamed The New Mart Building.

“I’m certain we will memorialize the past ownership of the building,” said Riboli, whose winery is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. “We are a long ways out from telling the story of the mill history, and I will be communicating with the Levi family for vintage photos and articles.”

Located adjacent to a bustling Metro Gold Line stop and the Los Angeles State Historic Park, the mill and its history offer a rare opportunity to highlight how Jews were important to the early development of Los Angeles.

The complex of buildings, which today includes a multistory tower that has a large eagle and “Capitol Milling” painted on its side, “was one of the earliest significant industrial buildings in the city, going back to the 19th century,” said Ken Bernstein, manager and

The original Capitol Milling
Co. building.

principal city planner of the City of Los Angeles’ Office of Historic Resources.

Adding to that significance in a city whose story is the story of water is the fact that, for many years, Capitol’s mills were powered entirely by water from the Zanja Madre, or “Mother Ditch,” the original aqueduct that brought water to the early settlers of Los Angeles.

By the latter part of the 19th century, Capitol Milling, which later would have Ralphs markets as a customer, was a key part of how Angelenos put bread on the table.

“It was one of the leading enterprises of the city,” the Los Angeles Times reported on April 2, 1888. Running day and night and employing around 40 people to produce “flour, meal and feed,” the total output of the mill in the previous year was “1,800 to 2,000 carloads of ten tons each, most of which was consumed in Los Angeles and vicinity.”

Capitol Milling also was involved with helping to feed L.A.’s Jewish poor. According to a Jan. 31, 1910, article in the B’nai B’rith Messenger, the mill donated monthly “150 pounds of breakfast food, 200 pounds of flour” through a Jewish organization called the Los Angeles Fruit and Flower Mission.

In recognition of the mill’s importance to L.A. history, the Natural History Museum has preserved the mill’s original French millstones in its collection.

Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, which was responsible for saving the Breed Street Shul, also recognized the mill’s place in L.A. Jewish History. “It illustrates in such a dramatic way how, from early on, Jews were engaged in commerce and in such a fundamental way, dealing with basic sustenance,” he said.

Sass said he hoped the developer would see the building’s rich history as an asset. “Increasingly, property owners, developers, local groups recognize that. It’s smart business-wise, as well as being a good neighbor,” he said.

Although the building is listed in the California Register of Historical Resources and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it “was not a project that required any special  city planning approvals for which conditions could be imposed,” said Bernstein, referring to such things as historical interpretive displays. And despite the building’s history, he added, his office cannot impose additional conditions.

However the building might be memorialized, it’s up to Riboli, but he is not required by law to do anything.

As a result, he was not required to add anything interpretive to his redevelopment plan. In a December 2014 memorandum, an outside consultant recommended “mitigation measures for the project,” Bernstein said.

But “they were not memorialized because this was not a discretionary planning approval,” Bernstein said. The Jewish heritage of the mill’s ownership was not cited in the memorandum. “I don’t think this was well documented previously,” Bernstein said. “Certainly, this could become part of any interpretive program at the property.”

John Newmark Levi Jr., who worked at Capitol Milling from 1955 to 1964 and served on the company’s board of directors from the mid-1980s to 1998, said he wonders if anyone in the Jewish community cares about what happens to the building or if his family’s role will be remembered.

His cousin Doug Levi, who was president of Capitol Milling when it closed, acknowledged that when the property was sold in 1999, no provision was made to keep the new owner from “preserving the building or its history.”

Gerald Gubatan, senior planning deputy for City Councilman Gil Cedillo, in whose district Capitol Milling is located, said there were plans to incorporate a large glass element etched with wheat to reference the site’s history.

He noted, however, that in the project’s next phase, “there is an opportunity to layer in historic markers” and suggested that the public right of way that connects the Capitol Milling site with the nearby state park might be the proper place.

“It’s fine to have the wheat there — that’s great. It would be great if there was something interpretive that explained why it’s there,” said Sass, adding that he “would be happy to work with the developer to come up with something that appropriately recognizes the rich history that site represents. It seems like a wonderful opportunity to tell the story. It would be a shame if that opportunity was missed.”

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com. 

Brother can you spare a dime?


I give money to homeless people who ask me for it. Always have. I figure if someone has the courage to ask a stranger for help, I will help them. I always keep cash in both my glove compartment and my wallet. A day does not pass where I do not help someone. Sometimes I buy people food, or toiletries. One time I bought a lovely man a pair of shoes. I think kindness matters and when I give someone money and they offer me a blessing, it makes me happy every single time.

Last week I was asked for some help from a man on the street. I gave him a dollar and wished him well. He looked at the dollar and asked me, “Is that all you’ve got?” I was startled for a second and didn’t understand what he was saying. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Is that it?”. I told him to have a good day and left as my chin started to quiver and I burst into tears. It hurt my feelings and made me sad. It was as though the man felt disrespected, which wasn’t my intention.

I have had people ask me why I give money to those who are going to use to get high or drunk, but I never wonder what they’re going to do with the money. I can’t give them money with restrictions on what they can do with it. It is not personal, political, or judgmental. It is simple kindness. Who am I to judge anyone? I help when and how I can, so when this man asked if that was all I could do, it made me wonder if I should maybe stop giving money and instead just look away.

My friend George deals with homelessness every day as he works in law enforcement in an area of the city where there are a lot of homeless people. He has seen it all and helps save a lot of people. Not give them a dollar save, but actually get them off the street save. He thinks it is sweet I give everyone money, but feels it is only a matter of time before someone responded like this man. He never tells me not to do it, just to be aware not all people will appreciate it.

We view homelessness very differently. When I see a kid asking for money I want to invite them over to have a shower, get some clean clothes, and feed them a home cooked meal. George wants to find out why they’re there, investigate if they can go home, then give them tools to get off the street. For me, I want to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound to fix it, while he wants to perform emergency surgery to stop the source of the bleeding. Both ways are valid to me.

How do I not help someone who asks? Even the guy who sits at the freeway off ramp wearing Beats headphones gets a dollar from me on occasion. He sits for hours in temperatures over 100 degrees, so why not give him a dollar? I am angry this one person could make me rethink giving money. He shouldn’t have that power over me. In all the times I have given out money, this is the first time I can remember experiencing something unpleasant in response.

I will continue to give money to people who ask me for it. Whether they spend it on food, a bottle of water, or drugs, if whatever they buy brings them a moment of happiness, or comfort, or quiet, then God bless them. There but for the grace of God go I. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone can appreciate a Band-Aid when it is offered to them. To the man who was unhappy with my gesture, I hope someone else gave you a bigger Band-Aid and you are keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 27: ADL Summer Comedy Soiree

What to in Los Angeles the week of July 21-27


FRI | JULY 21

SHABBAT PICNIC

Come enjoy Shabbat with Adat Chaverim, Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. Bring a picnic dinner; drinks and desserts will be supplied. Shabbat service led by Cantor Jonathan Friedmann. 6 p.m. Free. Encino Park, 16953 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (888) 552-4552. humanisticjudaismla.org.

MEXICAN SHABBAT

Join Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) for a vibrant and intimate Shabbat dinner hosted by Susan Schmidt, author of the Mexican-Jewish food blog Challa-peño. She and her family welcome you into their home for food, drink and a conversation about their Mexican-Jewish heritage and culture. Although the event is sold out, there is a waiting list. 7 p.m. $20. Private home in Brentwood; address provided upon RSVP. yala.org/mexicanshabbat.

TORAH FLORA SHABBATON

Biblical and talmudic botanist Jon Greenberg will speak at a series of Shabbat meals about the meaning of the foods and beverages served. Friday’s 7:45 p.m. dinner topic will be “Milk & Honey: Blessing or Curse? Theology, Resilience and the Colors of Wine.” This two-day event continues at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 22, when the topics of discussion include “Noah’s Wine vs. Pharaoh’s Beer: The Barroom Brawl and Culture War That Shaped Jewish History” and, at 7:15 p.m., “Olives & Social Security: Edible Lilies, Egyptian God, Israelite Gourmet Export and Dutch Colonial Business Efficiency.” $38 per meal; $32 for members; discounts for children. Westwood Kehilla, 10523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 441-5288. kehilla.org/torah-flora.

SAT | JULY 22

COUPLES SHABBAT PICNIC

Sinai Temple’s Atid group of 20- and 30-somethings presents a picnic in the park. Whether you’re married, engaged or it’s your first date, you are welcome at this afternoon picnic to celebrate Shabbat. Everyone should bring lunches for themselves (please prepare dairy/vegetarian meals). Atid events are for young Jewish professionals, ages 21-39. Noon. Free. Please RSVP at eventbrite.com. Holmby Park, 601 Club View Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. atidla.com.

SUN | JULY 23

“UNWARRANTED LOVE: REDEMPTION FROM INNER AND OUTER EXILE”

Join Young Jewish Souls and renowned lecturer Rabbi Brandon Gaines, who will speak on the topic of observing the nine days leading to Tisha b’Av through ahavat chinam (loving others freely without judgment). There will be an open bar and dinner with shawarma, falafel and a salad bar to follow. 7 p.m. $15; $20 at the door. Ages 21-39 only. Must RSVP at eventbrite.com. Nessah Educational & Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400. nessah.org.

“YITZHAK RABIN: CHRONICLE OF AN ASSASSINATION”

In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai blends the words of Rabin’s widow, Leah, with live music and projections to create a theatrical counterpoint to his 2015 film, “Rabin, the Last Day.” Actors Einat Weizman and Sarah Adler will read from Leah’s memoirs. 8:30 p.m. Part of the Ignite @ the Ford! series. Tickets start at $30. 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673. fordtheatres.org.

WED | JULY 26

TISHA B’AV

Tisha b’Av, which begins this year on the evening of July 31, is one of the lesser-known days of the Jewish calendar. Rabbinical student Davina Bookbinder will share the history of this somber day — which commemorates the anniversary of various disasters in Jewish history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples — and discuss the consequences it has had on our modern Jewish lives. After a catered lunch, there will be a screening of “The Fixer,” the 1968 adaptation of the Bernard Malamud novel about a Jewish man in czarist Russia. 11 a.m. $14; $16 for nonmembers. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.

THURS | JULY 27

ADL SUMMER COMEDY SOIREE

Master of ceremonies Bruce Fine will be joined onstage by comedians Ian Bagg, Jeff Garlin, Chris Spencer and Wendy Liebman. Special guest Kosha Dillz also will be contributing with some of his freestyle rapping. 21 and older event. Two-drink minimum. Proceeds benefit the the Anti-Defamation League, fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms. 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $50; tickets available on eventbrite.com. The Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4260. adl.org.

THE GUARDIANS SUMMER PARTY

Dress to impress and mix and mingle while toasting the summer and raising money for a good cause. All proceeds benefit The Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home. Cocktail attire. 6 p.m. $18; $30 for two; $20 single tickets at the door; free for Guardian members. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. The W Hotel, 930 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. laguardians.org.

Photo by Lynn Pelkey

Petal pushing at the L.A. Flower Market


One of my happy places is the Los Angeles Flower Market downtown. You frequently can find me there at 2 in the morning — that’s when they open for wholesale business — bleary-eyed but beaming, carrying armfuls of fresh blooms. While the prices are great, what brings me back again and again is the selection, as I’ll find varieties and colors far beyond what is available in grocery stores and farmers markets.

What a lot of people don’t know is the L.A. Flower Market is open to the public. In fact, it welcomes your business. So whether you just love to fill your home with flowers, or you’re assembling floral arrangements for an upcoming event, you need to plan a trip downtown. To help you get over the intimidation of visiting this massive floral institution, let me give you the inside scoop on visiting.

Get the lay of the land

What we call the L.A. Flower Market is actually two marketplaces across the street from each other: the Original Los Angeles Flower Market at 754 Wall St. and the Southern California Flower Market at 755 Wall St. They are located between Seventh and Eighth streets, and together they house about 70 vendors.

Parking

Both buildings have their own parking structures on top, but the parking entrances are in the rear rather than on Wall Street. The entrance to the Original Los Angeles Flower Market’s lot is at 717 San Julian St., between Seventh and Eighth streets, and the entrance to the Southern California Flower Market parking lot is at 742 Maple Ave., between Seventh and Eighth streets. I prefer parking in the lot off of Maple Avenue because it’s the quickest walk to the vendors.

Shop early

The hours vary depending on the day, so it can be a bit confusing. For the general public, the flower market is open from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays and Wednesdays; 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays; and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Whichever day you visit, try to arrive as early as possible for the best selection. Also, some vendors start packing up much earlier than closing time, so if you get there later, some of them may already be gone.

Pay admission

Public admission is only $2 on weekdays and $1 on Saturdays. There will be someone sitting at a table at the entrance of both buildings taking payment, and you’ll then receive a sticker to signify that you’ve paid. Be sure to place the sticker in a visible area on your clothing because they are very strict about checking for admission. The entry fee is good for both buildings.

Browse first

I recommend making the rounds of both buildings to see what’s available before you make a purchase. The first bunch of flowers you’re tempted to buy may not be the best. Take a look to see which vendors have what you’re looking for, and then go back to the ones that interest you.

Ask for prices

Many vendors do not put prices on their flower bunches, so feel free to inquire how much they are. A question I’m often asked is whether the vendors change the prices depending on if they like you or not. From my experience, that’s usually not the case. Most of the vendors have standard price lists. The prices are in the computer, so they won’t alter what’s already in the system.

Pay with cash

Although some vendors accept credit cards with a minimum purchase, the preferred method of payment is cash. Bringing cash also will help you set a spending limit.

Check how fresh the flowers are

The inventory at the flower market usually is very fresh, but always inspect the blooms to make sure. The petals should be almost closed, as they’ll open up quickly after you get them home. And the telltale sign that the flowers are past their prime is when the bottoms of the stems are split, curled or slimy, and the leaves are spotted or brown.

Pick a color scheme

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the flowers. What do you buy when presented with so many choices? My game plan is to start with a color scheme. That helps me focus only on the flowers that are appropriate, so I’m not tempted to impulse shop. And whichever color you choose, remember to pick up some greenery. It helps fill in your arrangements, and green goes with every color.

Place an order in advance

If you have a big event coming up, work with one of the vendors to place an advance order. Bring pictures to show what you’re planning to make in order to give them a better idea of what you’ll need, and they can help you determine the amount of your order. This is preferable to wandering around aimlessly with a wad of cash days before your event.

Buy things besides cut flowers

The flower market is a great place to get deals on potted plants and succulents. You also can pick up supplies such as vases, ribbon and floral foam.

Invest in some buckets

When you get all your flowers home, you’ll want to give them fresh cuts and put them in water immediately so they’ll have a chance to drink up before they go into arrangements. Buy some plastic buckets at Home Depot for this purpose, and let the flowers sit loosely in them so the petals can spread.

Grab a bite to eat

You can work up an appetite shopping for flowers. Fortunately, there is a restaurant connected to the Southern California Flower Market called Poppy + Rose that’s known for its waffles and sandwiches. As an added bonus, it validates for $2 parking in the Maple Avenue flower market lot.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

American participants in this year’s Maccabiah Games include rhythmic gymnast Madeline Aibel, left.

Embodying the ‘Spirit of the Jewish Athlete’ at Maccabiah Games


Samuel Telanoff is only 14 years old, but he already knows what it means to represent his country in international swimming competitions.

On July 6, he and his teammates marched behind the American flag at the opening ceremonies of the 20th Maccabiah Games in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event held every four years during the year after the Summer Olympics, have connected Jewish communities from around the world since 1932, with athletes competing in four divisions: junior, open, masters and paralympics. Since the first gathering, more than 62,000 athletes have competed. This year’s events continue through July 18.

“There is no way to describe just how awe-inspiring it was to walk out with Team USA in front of thousands of cheering people,” said Telanoff, a sophomore at Santa Monica High School. “It was overwhelming, and I was grinning the whole time.”

Telanoff is one of 1,100 American athletes competing at the games, also known as the Jewish Olympics.

Nearly 10,000 athletes from 80 countries are participating in 47 events in such sports as basketball, fencing, archery and wheelchair tennis. 

Among the American athletes is Emily Surloff, a Los Angeles native who plays basketball for Columbia University. On July 9, Surloff helped her team, which competes in the open women’s basketball division, defeat Russia, 101-71. 

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and opportunity to represent my country,” the 20-year-old said. “I am extremely excited to be connected to my faith and religion and meet other athletes like myself. We came here to win gold and that is our ultimate goal.”

Israel defeated the American team the next day, 68-62. The final game of the preliminary round was scheduled for July 12 against Australia.

Justin Greenberg, 49, the assistant coach and co-chair of the youth men’s soccer team, said he views participating in the games as a way to support Israel.   

“Many of our players had not been to Israel, and to witness their absorption and understanding of this country’s need for survival is compelling,” said Greenberg, who attends Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Greenberg grew up in Jerusalem and lived there during the Yom Kippur War. In 1972, his father was on a plane from Vienna to Tel Aviv when it was hijacked by a Palestinian terrorist group.

“Sharing some of my own story with them has been a treat,” said Greenberg, who moved to the United States in 1977. “Witnessing our young group of 20 men come together as a unit has been an absolute highlight. As a young boy knowing little English, soccer was my main form of communication. I run a soccer business now, and appreciate the connection between sport and spirit of the Jewish athlete.”

Chess player Iris Kokish spent nine months preparing for the games, which she said she finds meaningful in many ways.

“Chess is an important part of my identity, but so is my being Jewish,” the 27-year-old Angeleno said. “So when I learned that Maccabiah USA was seeking chess players, I knew I wanted to be a part.”

Kokish said the games gave her a chance to visit Israel for the first time and helped her “better understand my Jewish identity, my people and my role within my Jewish community.”   

On July 9, Telanoff won the bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke.

“I hoped for a medal, but did not expect one,” Telanoff said. “I swam faster than I ever swam before. I was so thrilled to have moved up to third place and win a medal.”

Telanoff said he enjoyed the games because they gave him an opportunity to compete against the best athletes in his category.

“I am a very competitive swimmer, and this represents an opportunity to compete at a high international level,” he said. “There is also something special about being able to learn more about my Jewish identity while pursuing my passion for competitive swimming.” 

For another Angeleno, Noah Rothstein, 34, who plays futsal, a variation of football, competing in the games means honoring his father’s memory. 

“Beyond how much I love these trips and being able to compete as a representative of the United States, the one thing my dad loved more than anything was watching me play,” he said. “I feel very much that going to the Maccabiah Games honors his memory.”

The experience enabled Rothstein to compete in the sport he admires and explore “the amazing country of Israel, and make friends and memories for the rest of my life.”

Many participants agree that, while winning medals is important, building friendship with fellow athletes is invaluable.

“The first goal has been achieved, with our group coming together as one,” said Greenberg, the soccer coach. “My hope is that the relationships created within our group and beyond, while here at the games, last a lifetime.” 

A nostalgic trip down the Westside’s Memory Lane


Michael Harris, author of “Westside Stories: Recollections and Reflections on Life in West Los Angeles From the 1940s to the 1960s” (The Americas Group), is a Stanford graduate and an Air Force veteran with an impressive professional resume as a practicing attorney. But more important, when it comes to his credentials in writing his first book, his bio mentions that he attended Overland Avenue Elementary School and Hamilton High School, worked as a locker room attendant at the public swimming pool in Rancho Park, and sold maps to the homes of the stars.

It is with that background in mind that “Westside Stories” offers a lively and lavishly illustrated scrapbook of memories about how the bean fields between the 20th Century Fox studio on Pico Boulevard and the MGM studio in Culver City were developed as residential neighborhoods, starting as early as the 1920s and even more expansively after World War II. Harris reminds us that when he was growing up in the 1940s, the acreage where Rancho Park now sits was “wild, unpatrolled and unsupervised, an open space full of rabbits, snakes and assorted other critters.” He and his friends would sneak into the nearby Fox back lot “to enjoy an alternative reality with all the old sets, backdrops and pioneer and Western street fronts” that existed long before the construction of Century City.

 

Nostalgia figures prominently in “Westside Stories,” which is what makes the coffee table book so pleasurable to read. For example, I had forgotten that snack breaks during the school day back in the 1950s were called “Nutrition” until Harris mentioned it. I took pleasure in his recollection and celebration of the Helms Bakery trucks; Gilmore Field on Beverly Boulevard, where the Hollywood Stars minor league baseball team played its home games; the tetherball courts that were a schoolyard fixture; the statue depicting a young and as-yet-undiscovered Myrna Loy on the front lawn of Venice High; and the low-tech “semaphore” stop signs that once stood on street corners. For younger readers, the recollections of life in the good old days — the incinerators that burned in every backyard and the fluoroscopes that were used in shoe stores to measure our feet — may seem like something out of science fiction.

Harris also investigates some of the urban legends that are unique to the Westside.  I can attest to the fact that a flock of feral parrots can be seen — and heard — in the skies over Cheviot Hills and Palms, but I learned from “Westside Stories” that that they originated when homeowners released their pet birds during the Bel Air fire of 1961, which destroyed nearly 500 homes. And, he adds, “the gene pool … was undoubtedly enhanced when the parrots were joined by escapees from the Busch Gardens theme park,” a now-closed tourist attraction in Van Nuys.

But Harris also enables us to understand how the Westside evolved into a distinct and crucial center of gravity in the politics and culture of Los Angeles. He points out, for example, that the Hillcrest Country Club “was founded by the Jewish entertainment poohbahs of the Westside because they were not allowed to become members of … the Bel Air or the Los Angeles Country Clubs”— an early example of Jewish self-assertion that is now mostly taken for granted in Southern California. He reminds readers that property deeds commonly contained a prohibition against sale or rental to “any person of Ethiopian, Chinese or Japanese descent,” a form of legal racism that was not erased until the 1950s.

Perhaps the best measure of what the Westside was and what it became is found in the escalation of property values. “For example, our family home on Glenbarr Avenue was purchased — fully furnished — in 1944 for $28,000,” Harris writes. “It would sell today for a figure probably in excess of $2 million — a multiplier in this case of more than 66.”

Harris, like so many of us, pokes fun at the profound changes that have taken place, not only in West L.A. but across the country. “Kids today don’t know how easy they have it,” is the message displayed on a vintage photo of a 1940s-era television set. “When I was young, I had to walk 9 feet through shag carpet to change the TV channel.”

But he also writes with warmth about the pleasures of a childhood on the Westside. “For a special day for fathers and children there were the pony rides at Beverly and La Cienega, where the Beverly Center now sells Polo gear,” Harris recalls. “There was also a pumping oil well on La Cienega near Beverly Boulevard, extracting what was needed to keep those Studebakers humming.  Down the street was Ohrbach’s department store before it turned into the Petersen Automotive Museum.”

I’ve reminisced about the same places many times, but I didn’t have the maps, photos, illustrations and other artifacts that make “Westside Stories” such a pleasure to read. Indeed, it’s a book that can be shared with children and grandchildren to show them what life was like for those of us who grew up, as Harris puts it, “in the time of the Red Cars, the Helms Bakery trucks, and nuclear fallout shelters.”

Roh Kilnam, Glendale-based editor of a pro-North Korean website, during a visit to North Korea in 2014, receives the Kim Il Sung Prize. Photo from Facebook

Pro-North Korean website in Los Angeles promotes anti-Semitism


Though few in number, North Korean loyalists in Los Angeles are dedicated and prolific in their public adulation of the brutal dictatorship, now flexing its muscles as a nuclear power. Woven into their Korean-language propaganda is the idea that Jews manipulate the international order, turning it against their beloved tyrant, Kim Jong Un.

At least two L.A.-based contributors to a local, pro-North Korean website, Lee Insook and Yai Joung-woong, are using the platform to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Similar groups based on the East Coast and abroad also participate in spreading outlandish stereotypes of Jews, drawing on age-old tropes such as “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

“The black shadow government of the United States Jews is said to approve a civil war on the Korean peninsula,” Yai wrote in May on the Korean-language propaganda site Minjok Tongshin (minjok.com), which translates to “National Communication.”

With its ever-expanding nuclear program and missiles now judged powerful enough to reach the United States, North Korea has become a top policy concern for the Donald Trump administration as it searches for strategies to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
The country has grabbed recent headlines through high-profile missile tests and by repatriating a comatose Jewish American, Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned for more than a year. He died shortly after he was released to his family in Ohio.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s apologists in Los Angeles have been busy singing its praises.

Yai, a naturalized American citizen who pled guilty in 2003 to acting as an unregistered agent of the North Korean government and served two years in prison, currently resides in Los Angeles.

Speaking by phone through an interpreter, he said he has a “certain respect for Jewish people,” adding that “they are brilliant, they are easy to understand and they are very liberal.”

Rather than originating the conspiracy theories, he said he mostly reads them on blogs based in China and merely repeats them, saying that he has a “tendency to not believe, but to follow the stories.”

He said that while he doubts that Jews secretly manipulate world events, he nonetheless believes Jews wield a great deal of power in the United States and worries they could use that power to the detriment of North Korea, which he admits he holds in high regard.

Lee, a nurse, lives in Torrance.

Writing on Minjok Tongshin, she has asserted that Israeli Jews are responsible for the creation of the Islamic State and that Jews in general are a Satanic race.

“The God of the Jewish race created by Israel does not really exist, but is an abstraction and a devil which has made the world a living hell,” she wrote recently on Minjok Tongshin in an article titled “Demons hate the work of angels.”

Lee could not be reached for comment.

Roh Kilnam, who runs Minjok Tongshin out of his Glendale home, distanced himself from the two writers while defending their freedom of speech.

He said in a telephone interview they were “just freelancers,” but declined to say whether he had reviewed the anti-Semitic material before it was published.

Asked if he stood by the writers, he said, “We don’t support the content, but there’s freedom of press, you know. They have their own ideas and their own right to express.”

But Roh appears to enjoy a close relationship with both contributors.

After Yai was imprisoned, Roh visited him at the Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. Yai has since appeared as a keynote speaker at events organized by Minjok Tongshin.

Lee wrote more articles than any other contributor in 2014 and 2015, and Roh presented her with an award for her writing, the website reported.

Roh declined to answer additional questions and hung up after a three-minute conversation.

A Facebook page in his name posted a laudatory statement last week about North Korea’s July 4 test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which read in part, “The test launch did not have any negative effects on the world’s safety and the safety of the surrounding countries.”

Roh’s website speaks frequently in adoring tones about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un. The editor has claimed in media interviews to have visited the rogue state dozens of times. During a visit in 2014, he received the Kim Il-Sung Prize, named for the country’s founding leader.

Lawrence Peck, an L.A.-based expert on pro-North Korean activism in the United States, said Minjok Tongshin has “direct, strong, ongoing ties to the highest levels of the North Korean regime.”

He said the ties most likely run through North Korea’s United Nations mission. Requests for comment by the mission were not returned before deadline.

Roh Kilnam. Photo from Facebook

Peck, who is Jewish and earns his living trading stocks, has spent more than two decades monitoring groups and individuals who either openly or covertly work to advance North Korean interests in the United States. He called his watchdog activities “a 24-hour hobby” that often involve media interviews and speaking trips to South Korea.

He said anti-Semitism among overtly pro-North Korean elements such as Minjok Tongshin is widespread, though it goes mostly unnoticed by the Jewish community.

“Because it’s only in Korean, it flies under everyone’s radar,” he said in an interview at a Koreatown coffee shop.

Peck brought the issue to the attention of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a local human rights group.

In 2014, during a flare-up of anti-Semitism in pro-North Korean media tied to Israel’s incursion into Gaza, the Wiesenthal Center issued a statement condemning the rhetoric. It pointed to anonymous comments posted on Minjok Tongshin message boards, such as, “Is there any difference between Jews and Nazis? No. No. No.” and “It is beyond doubt that Jews control the U.S. media.”

In a recent interview with the Journal, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said that while North Korean anti-Semitism wasn’t an immediately pressing issue, “I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.”

“Korean Americans and Jewish Americans have a good relationship,” he said. “If you have a steady flow of invective that comes down, that spills over into part of the overall scenario here in California. It’s not something we would like to see happen, to say it mildly.”

The pro-North Korean community seems to account for a relatively small number of Korean Americans.

“There are over a half million Korean Americans in Southern California. Mostly they are pro-South Korea and pro-USA,” Korean-American journalist Tom Byun wrote in an email. “Among them, it is a small group that has pro-North opinions.” 

Byun, who spent four decades as the editor of America’s largest Korean daily newspaper, the L.A.-based Korea Times, added that most Korean Americans hold favorable views toward Jews, and relatively few frequent sites like Minjok Tongshin.

“Many Koreans in America do not know of the existence of the Minjok Tongshin site,” he wrote. “Ordinary people of LA Koreatown do not recognize the names of Roh Kilnam, Insook Lee and Yai Joung-woong.”

But Minjok Tongshin is not alone among U.S.-based, pro-North Korean groups that engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric. A group called the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC) wrote in a July 3 Korean-language statement that “American politics serves exclusively to benefit Jews and capitalists.”

One of the leaders of KANCC is Kil-sang Yoon, a Methodist minister in the Inland Empire’s Moreno Valley. Lee also contributes frequently to KANCC’s website, sometimes reposting the same articles on Minjok Tongshin.

The roots of Jew-hatred among pro-North Korean elements appear to be various.

One reason for the rhetoric, Cooper said, is North Korea’s alignment with anti-Israel elements such as the Iranian and Syrian regimes and the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Peck echoed Cooper’s reasoning, adding that pro-North Korean elements in the United States tend to ally themselves with far-left groups critical of Israel’s government.

Pro-North Korean anti-Semitism could also come from a general tendency to believe conspiracy theories, he said: Someone who mistakes a brutal dictatorship that starves and tortures its own people for a humanistic and benevolent government may be willing to adopt other peculiar ideas as well, such as Jews controlling the world order.

“Whenever you’re dealing with fringe elements, nuts, extremists, you always find that anti-Semitism is present,” Peck said.

Although careful not to overstate the impact of anti-Semitism from pro-North Korean websites on the Korean-American community at large, he said they can sometimes wield influence on the margins.

“There are people who are reading this garbage, and they are being influenced more so than if these sites didn’t exist and they didn’t see that rhetoric — because they wouldn’t necessarily go to the Stormfront neo-Nazi page,” he said, referencing the nation’s most popular white supremacist website. “But if it’s in Korean, they’re more likely to see it.”

Lisa Niver is now the Adventure Correspondent on The Jet Set Tv!


Who is the Adventure Correspondent on The Jet Set?Thank you to The Jet Set!

I am the Adventure Correspondent on the show.

I was first on the show in February 2017 for an interview talking about my 50 things before I am 50 project.

I now have two segments live. My first one is about skiing with the National Ability Center and going on the Olympic Bobsled in Park City, Utah. In the second one, learn about the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you on the show. Thank you to the entire team at The Jet Set, especially Gailen, Bobby, Nikki, Brad and April.

See my segments on YouTube:

Who is the Adventure Correspondent on The Jet Set?What is The Jet Set?

“The Jet Set is a first of it’s kind talk show designed to keep pace with the professional, leisure and aspiring traveler by offering interviews with a wide variety of guests from the entertainment and travel worlds, on-location experiences, and insight into the latest trends and current events.

Our show engages a social media connected generation, experiencing destinations with them, rather than for them. Opening the door to new advertising and promotional opportunities with both travel-focused companies such as airlines, hotel brands, restaurant chains, etc. and lifestyle products including mobile electronics, apps, financial services and cosmetic brands among others.

The Jet Set not only connects viewers to a destination or experience, but also to hosts they can relate to and brands that will help take them where they truly want to go.”

Who is the Adventure Correspondent on The Jet Set?

More of The Jet Set:

 YouTube

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Who is the Adventure Correspondent on The Jet Set?

Who is the Adventure Correspondent on The Jet Set?The Jet Set is a fresh new talk show designed to reinvent travel television and keep pace with the professional, leisure and aspiring traveler by experiencing the sights, sounds and scenery of destinations around the world or here at home, along with you!

As the first hybrid talk and travel show, ‘The Jet Set’ is anchored from its ‘jet’ television set complete with an airplane wing desk and actual set pieces built from a decommissioned Boeing 747. Alternatively, like other travel shows, ‘The Jet Set’ hits the road to feature destinations, attractions, festivals and unique adventures.

Travel and talk veterans Gailen David, Bobby Laurie and health and wellness expert Nikki Noya will keep you in the loop each week with a wide variety of guests from the entertainment and travel worlds, on-location experiences, and insight into the latest trends and current events.

But more importantly, we let you in on the fun and reinforce that you don’t need to “jet” to be part of the “Jet Set” experience!

June News: Finalist at the Award Ceremony


June 2017 NEWS: Finalist at the Award Ceremony

Who is a Finalist for the Southern California Journalism Awards?I am a finalist in two categories for the Southern California Journalism Awards! The ceremony is June 25 at the Biltmore. I am honored to be included. There were 1200 entries for the 59th annual awards. Thank you to the Los Angeles Press Club for my nominations. I will let you know what happens!

Where did I travel recently?

I have links below to videos from my Florida and China trips. I told you last month I would be in Europe for nearly four weeks and in six countries: Monaco, France, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and San Marino. Country 97, 98 and 99 were amazing! I loved my travels and am working on all the videos to share with you.

This month, I am going on my first private jet for a one day adventure to Napa! This is definitely going on my list of 50 things before I am 50! At the end of June, I will be at The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe and conquering my fear of mountain biking. Look for photos on all my social media–I have been verified on Twitter and am now also verified on Facebook!

Lisa and Joyce at Ashford Castle IrelandWondering what else is new? Check out my new page on LisaNiver.com Please let me know your feedback and suggestions.

I am so excited about being the Adventure Correspondent for The Jet Set! Here is my most recent segment about the Solomon Islands.

Enjoy my latest videos and articles: 

A Weekend in Shanghai China

Visit the Sugar Sand Festival in Clearwater Beach

Travel Classics International Conference in Ireland

Formula E Race in Monaco

Recent Articles:

Lisa jumping for joy at Ashford CastleWhere can you find my 680+ travel videos? Here are links to my video channels on YouTube, Amazon Fire Tv, Amazon Short Video and Roku Player. I hope you enjoy my “This is What it is Like” Episodes!

Travel Writing Award: 

Thank you to everyone who has participated in our We Said Go Travel Competitions! The 2017 Summer Independence Award is now open. The 2017 Inspiration We Said Go Travel Writing Award entries are currently being published and the winners will be announced in July. Thank you to our judges, Amanda Castleman and Jason Frye.

As my fortune cookies said: “You are on the verge of something big.” and “Getting the right answers is only possible when you have asked the right questions.” I am diligently working every day to make my goals into reality and it is actually happening! If you have suggestions for my country #100, let me know! 

Thank you for your support. Lisa Niver

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube.

Newest Videos from Lisa and We Said Go Travel: Lisa Niver on The Jet Set: Solomon Islands

Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Photo courtesy of downtowngal/Wikicommons.

L.A. synagogues carry on in face of bomb threats


The email bomb threats that shut down three Los Angeles synagogue campuses last weekend weren’t enough to keep Zachary Ansell from coming of age.

The Glazer and Irmas campuses of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, as well as University Synagogue in Brentwood, were closed from about 8 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. June 10, a Saturday, according to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Mike Lopez. But Zachary, whose bar mitzvah was scheduled to take place at the Irmas campus in West L.A., wasn’t to be deterred.

“It wasn’t aimed at my son,” Zachary’s mother, Debra, said of the threat. “But it was aimed at disrupting the community and the continuity of our rituals — and it didn’t.”

The family was taking pictures in the sanctuary when Rabbi Steven Z. Leder informed them of the situation.

Though the threat later was determined to be a hoax, synagogue officials and the LAPD decided to clear the campus, forcing the Ansells to scramble for a new venue. They had scheduled an afternoon reception to follow the service at the Beverly Hills Marriott, and the hotel agreed to hold the ceremony there, as well.

Leder, meanwhile, sprung into action.

“I strapped a Torah into the passenger seat of my car, put 100 siddurim in the back and off I went to the hotel,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.

He was met in the hotel lobby by a staffer named Michelle, who offered to help in any way she could. “She could not have been nicer or more helpful,” Leder wrote.

The hotel had prepared a pop-up sanctuary, with tables and chairs for the bar mitzvah crowd of some 90 people.

“I told everyone about Michelle and that she, not the cowardly hater who sent the threatening and bogus email, represented the real America,” Leder wrote.

At University Synagogue in Brentwood, the only event scheduled for that morning was a Torah study group. When participants arrived, they found the building under lockdown and retreated about a block, continuing their Torah study on the sidewalk, according to Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein.

The lesson of the day, Feinstein said, is “we never stop the study of Torah — no matter what.”

“We never stop the study of Torah — no matter what.”

Feinstein said the threat was delivered via an “email that was beyond nasty — horrific language, and threatening,” sent to a temple email account. After the temple’s executive director called the police, about 10 officers responded to the scene. The temple was empty at the time, Feinstein said.

Don Levy, the director of marketing and communications at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said the synagogue received a threatening message via an online submission form on its website. LAPD was notified immediately and the synagogue’s campuses were shut down. A bat mitzvah planned for the temple’s Glazer campus in Koreatown was rescheduled for later that evening.

“While a communication like that can come in through something as innocuous as an online submission form, we take them all seriously,” Levy said. “We take any threat seriously and investigate it thoroughly to protect everybody’s safety.”

By 12:45, LAPD had cleared all three campuses to reopen.

“K-9 units responded to the locations to make sure to render all locations safe,” Lopez said on June 10. “At this time, we have no credible threats.”

The June 10 shutdowns follow a wave of more than 160 threats to synagogues and other Jewish buildings from January to March made by phone and email, including two against the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Two separate arrests have been made in connection with that series of threats.

As for the June 10 threats, if their goal was to spread fear and anxiety, they failed at least on one count.

“Zachary, by the way, was calm through the whole thing,” Debra Ansell said. “He’s not a kid who’s easily fazed.”

Ben Platt (right) with Mike Faist in a scene from “Dear Evan Hansen.” Photo from dearevanhansen.com

Ben Platt’s life in theater may soon include a Tony for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’


Despite a crowded field of stellar nominees, it’s not that surprising that Ben Platt, star of “Dear Evan Hansen,” is the favorite to win Best Actor in a musical when the Tony Awards are handed out on June 11.

He was practically born for the stage.

Consider his upbringing: His older brother, Jonah, has made it to Broadway and his father, Marc Platt, is a prolific Hollywood and Broadway producer. Family lore has it that musical theater CDs accompanied every Platt family car ride. Something from those “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” soundtracks apparently took hold.

“At family get-togethers and simchas, we have been known to be called the ‘von Platt’ family,” said Julie Platt, a mother of three other children, referencing the singing von Trapp family from “The Sound of Music.” “Music is definitely an important and special part of our lives.”

The tagline of “Dear Evan Hansen” is “You will be found.” Through this much talked-about musical, Marc and Julie’s Platt’s fourth child hasn’t simply been found, he has arrived.

Ben Platt created the role of Evan, an awkward and isolated teenager who forges a connection with a grieving family based on a lie spread over social media. Directed by Michael Greif, who also helmed “Rent” and “Next to Normal,” “Dear Evan Hansen” features a score by the Oscar-winning “La La Land” team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The show’s nine Tony nominations include best musical.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, a friend of the Platts since their college days at the University of Pennsylvania 40 years ago, calls the family “the Jackson 5 of the Jewish world” but hastily adds “except with better values, and I would say they do more for the world.”

Marc Platt is an Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated producer of more than 40 films, including “Legally Blonde” and “La La Land,” and Broadway’s “Wicked,” “Three Days of Rain” and “If/Then.” (He also is nominated for a Tony this year as the producer of the play “Indecent.”) Julie Platt is one of the L.A. Jewish community’s most committed leaders and philanthropists, serving as chair of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and as a board member of Camp Ramah, among other organizations.

The foundation of Ben Platt’s Jewish identity was developed early. Like his siblings, Ben went to day school at Sinai and attended Camp Ramah. Values learned there are particularly helpful now, said Platt, who won rave reviews for playing the demanding role of Evan Hansen.

“It keeps me incredibly grounded during this time of insurmountable headiness, and provides a foundation of support and community that make this journey feel far more meaningful,” Platt, 23, said by email.  “As a theater artist in particular, Judaism has cultivated a unique sense of empathy in me for which I am very grateful. Judaism encourages us to see beyond the surface to try to understand those who are different from us. This has afforded me the opportunity to better comprehend the character of Evan and the characters around him.”

Ben Platt has been with “Dear Evan Hansen” since its development more than three years ago, playing the role in productions at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theater and now Broadway.

In addition to its box-office success and critical accolades, “Dear Evan Hansen” is resonating with young audiences and opening up conversations between parents and children about such issues as suicide, bullying and the dangers of social media. The musical’s fans often approach Platt to share intimate stories of their own experiences.

“He’s very aware of the fact that he has no professional role in this,” Julie Platt said. “He never wants anybody to think that he is more than the person imparting this role. He tries to be as empathic as he can possibly be.”

“Evan Hansen” is light years away from the 6-year-old Ben Platt who acted in and directed backyard plays and portrayed the prince in “Cinderella” at the Adderley School for the Performing Arts. In 2002, when the producers of a three-performance summer production of “The Music Man” at the Hollywood Bowl needed a boy to play opposite Eric McCormack and Kristin Chenoweth, they called Adderley. The school recommended Platt, who got “The Music Man” gig and followed it up in subsequent Bowl engagements of “Mame,” “Camelot” and, fittingly, “The Sound of Music.” As an 11-year-old, Platt appeared at the Ahmanson Theatre as part of a national tour of Tony Kushner’s and Jeanine Tesori’s “Caroline, or Change” that also took him to San Francisco.

“He was singularly focused on the joy he felt singing and performing,” Julie Platt said. “After the first two musicals at the Hollywood Bowl, I think we were sort of onto the fact that maybe he was really going to get to do this. It’s hard to know that when you’re that young, but we sure knew this was the thing he loved more than anything in the world, and he seemed to have the blessing of being very good at it.”

Ben Platt frequently encounters aspiring actors seeking advice.

“I love getting to hear that [‘Dear Evan Hansen’] inspires them to keep doing what they love,” he said. “Being that I myself am still very young, I feel that the only advice of value I can really offer is to encourage these actors to avoid trying to fit into preconceived molds and to invest their time and energy in discovering what sets them apart and makes them unique and unmatchable.”

He continued to act in high school. Ted Walch, a longtime drama director at Harvard-Westlake who had known the Platt siblings, tabbed Ben for a role in a school production of “Gypsy” when he was 8. Seven years later, when Ben was a student at the school, he performed in several plays and musicals, including “Our Town,” “Pippin,” “City of Angels” and “Into the Woods.” He also was a member of the campus improvisation group, The Scene Monkeys, which had been started by his brother Jonah.

And although he already had notched several professional theater credits by the time he came to high school, Platt was not simply the drama kid.

“He was an exceedingly good student across the board,” Walch said. “He was a very complete kid in high school, and although his gifts in the theater were obvious to one and all, it was also equally obvious to his teachers that he was gifted in the classroom.”

His high school roles ranged from a fop in “The Servant of Two Masters” to a father in “Our Town” to the title role in the musical “Pippin.” Max Sheldon, an actor-writer and fellow Harvard-Westlake alum, recalls working out a complicated dance sequence with Platt during their senior-year production of “Pippin.” Sheldon, who had the more extensive dance background, played the Leading Player to Platt’s Pippin.

From left: Max Sheldon and Ben Platt in Harvard Westlake’s production of “Pippin.” Photo courtesy of Christopher Michael Moore

“Among the many things I admire about him is that he is just kind of fearless when he dives into things,” said Sheldon, who has stayed friends with Platt since graduation as both actors relocated to New York. “Most people who didn’t have any dance background would walk into a room having to learn a dance number and would be scared out of their minds, but Ben said, ‘No, let’s figure this out. What do we do?’ He and I took care of each other and kind of built this number together and played on his strengths and played on my strengths and decided what was going to work best for us.”

“It was a magical moment that you don’t get to experience often,” Sheldon continued, “especially with people who are as talented as Ben and as commanding of space onstage as he is.” 

Platt briefly enrolled at Columbia University but took a gap year after being cast in the film “Pitch Perfect.” Before he could return to school, he appeared in the Chicago production of “The Book of Mormon.” He later made his Broadway debut in that musical, playing the misfit and “Star Trek”-loving missionary, Elder Cunningham.

The Harvard-Westlake drama students were a tight-knit group and have remained close since graduating. Many of them have seen “Evan Hansen” multiple times, and Walch noted with satisfaction that when Platt received his caricature at the famed New York theater-district restaurant Sardi’s, several of his high school friends were there to share the moment. While Platt has been with “Dear Evan Hansen,” another Harvard-Westlake classmate and close friend, Beanie Feldstein, is performing up the street in the Tony-nominated revival of “Hello, Dolly!” On two-show days, Platt and Feldstein often meet between performances.

The knowledge that her son has a network of friends close by is comforting to Julie Platt, who, along with Marc, goes to New York for regular visits. The family gathered there for a Passover seder, which fell on a Monday. Ben participated but used a whiteboard to help conserve his voice.

Evan Hansen is a lonely, troubled and hugely vulnerable character. Asked to evaluate what it is like to watch her son’s character experience that kind of darkness, Julie Platt said, “Agony would be a good word.”

“It’s very difficult to watch Ben go to that place, and I cannot say that has lightened,” she said. “I’ve probably seen it more than 15 times, and each time with an equal amount of joy and dread.”

Wolpe can relate. Having seen Platt perform several times in recent years, the rabbi found “Evan Hansen” satisfying but also difficult to watch.

“The degree of the transformation, the totality with which he inhabited that character was stunning, and I kept reminding myself, ‘It’s OK, because he really does have good parents,’ ” Wolpe said. “I felt so bad for him in the show, and I seriously sat there saying, ‘But it’s OK, because Julie and Marc are really his parents. It’s really OK.’ ”

The Tony Awards ceremony will be televised on CBS at 8 p.m. June 11.

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