July 27: ADL Summer Comedy Soiree

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



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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.



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.



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.


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.


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:






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

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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.

Top of the front page of the June 8, 1967, edition of Heritage. Photo courtesy of Tom Tugend

Los Angeles rallied around Israel in ’67

“Pray for Israel — Act for Israel”

That was the fervent banner headline I splashed across the front page of Heritage, a small Jewish weekly in Los Angeles, on Monday, June 5, 1967.

The time was 8 p.m. in the Middle East, but only 10 a.m. in Los Angeles. As I drove to the paper’s printing plant in Culver City, the car radio blasted news of Arab boasts that their forces were about to take Tel Aviv and throw the trembling Zionists into the sea.

Normally, I would have been at my regular job as a science writer at UCLA, but Herb Brin, the editor, circulation manager, advertising director and everything else at Heritage, had left a week earlier on a press trip to Israel and had asked me to fill in, reading the page proofs of the week’s edition.

I threw out whatever bar mitzvah extravaganza was gracing the front page and, at a fever pitch, wrote about the catastrophe again facing the Jewish people, a scant 22 years after the end of the Holocaust, and implored readers to rally around the defenders of the Jewish state.

The paper was delivered to its readers on Friday, June 9. By that time, of course, the world knew that Israeli forces had won a stunning victory. So quickly had events moved that my stirring headline of four days earlier already had the feel of ancient history.

Two weeks later, I looked back on that tumultuous month and wrote, “The three weeks — from the beginning of the crisis to the final cease fire — were one of those rare periods of total emotional immersion which a man remembers to his dying day.

“Who will forget the midnight calls, the morning and evening emergency meetings, the knuckle-cracking hours glued to the radio and the TV screen, the committee resolutions that were outpaced by events as soon as they were passed, the stomach-knotting hours and days waiting for a telegram from relatives in Israel?”

Besides changing the map and power balance of the region, Israel’s victory had a profound psychological impact on American Jews — and how they were viewed by their gentile countrymen — even exceeding the impact of the 1948 war that secured the independence of Israel.

In 1967, the American Jewish community, molded for decades by a “don’t make waves” mentality — which shamefully persisted throughout the Holocaust — finally found its voice. Not only a voice, but the communal body stiffened its collective spine, stopped worrying about accusations of dual loyalty and pitched in as all Americans did after Pearl Harbor.

Young Jews, who were ardently protesting against the United States’ role in the Vietnam War, clamored to go to Israel to join the fighting or work the land. Academicians and intellectuals, usually busy concentrating on their research, joined mass demonstrations. Israel-related agencies were besieged by thousands of instant donors — the wealthy waving million-dollar checks, the poorer hocking valuables or taking out loans to make their contributions.

To their surprise, even timorous Jews discovered that the great majority of their countrymen, whose prevalent anti-Semitism had only been spurred by Jewish success in medicine, the arts and commerce, now expressed unbounded admiration that the Jews in Israel could fight and win against all odds.

While past generations of American (and European) Jews had sought assimilation and defense against anti-Semitism, the “new” Jew accepted that the fates of Israel and Diaspora Jews were inevitably linked and that the Jewish state was the only guarantor against a future Holocaust.

Jokes at the time had it that the Pentagon had asked Gen. Moshe Dayan, leader of the Israeli armed forces, for advice on how to win the Vietnam War.

Time and Life, two of the most influential American magazines at the time, had followed a pro-Arab line for years but now swung to the Israeli side (the death of founder and publisher Henry Luce three months earlier may have played a role in the changed stance).

And Los Angeles Jews joined their co-religionists across the country in actions large and small.

A hastily organized community rally was held June 11 at the Hollywood Bowl, drawing 20,000 people as well as 4,000 pledges of large and small gifts. In attendance were California Gov. Ronald Reagan, U.S. Sen. George Murphy, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and dozens of Hollywood celebrities, such as Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Carl Reiner.

The board of directors of the Hillcrest Country Club, founded by and for Jews, mandated that every member had to contribute to the United Jewish Appeal’s Israel Emergency Fund.

At UCLA, some 1,000 students attended a vigil and 200 signed up for volunteer service in Israel. Jews flocked to synagogues in unprecedented numbers. With minor variations, similar responses took place in every major American city.

One of my favorite 1967 war anecdotes revolved around Mike Elkins, at various times a Hollywood scriptwriter, an Office of Strategic Services operator during World War II and a labor union organizer.

Barbra Streisand
and Eva Marie Saint at the rally for Israel at the Hollywood Bowl. Photo courtesy of Barbra Streisand Archives

I met Mike in 1948, when I was attending UC Berkeley, and looking for some way to get to the newly established State of Israel and join the fighting. Someone advised me to contact Elkins, then a business agent for the butchers’ union in San Francisco. I walked into his office unannounced and told him I wanted him to get me to Israel to participate in the War of Independence.

Elkins blanched, told me he had set up an elaborate vetting and security system to keep American authorities from discovering his then-highly illegal activity, and here I had just walked in.

In any case, he found it prudent to leave the United States for Israel later in 1948 and, after a year on a kibbutz, found a job as a stringer for the BBC and other media outlets.

On June 5, 1967, Elkins went to the Knesset and ran into a knot of highly excited politicians, from whom Elkins gathered that Israeli fighter planes already had wiped out the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Elkins immediately phoned his BBC editor in London and announced, “Israel has won the war.”

The flabbergasted editor thought that Elkins had lost his mind. Cairo, Damascus and Amman were transmitting a string of bulletins previewing the utter defeat of the Zionist entity.

Elkins, however, stuck to his guns. The BBC editor finally gave in but warned Elkins that if he were proven wrong, this would be his last day as a BBC correspondent.

Mike Elkins kept his job and lived and died in Jerusalem.

Seeking Torah in the City of Angels

In a city that seeks to capture the perfect image, I recently found myself wondering how to picture Shavuot, which begins on the evening of May 30. For the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, I wanted to find a location that would bring this revelatory event into my daily focus.

Though Shavuot often is associated with an image of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, I was looking for something that was more expansive. I wanted something that showed how the Torah was everywhere — especially in the City of Angels. I wanted to see if the angels, who according to the Talmud initially objected to God giving the law to the Jewish people, would now lend me a hand or a wing — or whatever it is they have.

My idea was inspired by a custom many celebrate on Shavuot: staying in to study all night, called Tikkun Leil Shavuot (repairing the eve of Shavuot). The practice relates to a midrash that teaches that on the morning the Children of Israel were to receive the Torah they overslept and needed to be awakened by Moses. To make repairs for our somnolence, we now show we are awake by studying, especially the beginnings and endings of the 24 books that comprise the Tanach — an acronym for Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).

But instead of sitting down to pages of textual study, I wanted to turn to the streets to demonstrate my awakening, my readiness to receive, by finding visual counterparts or representations of the scriptural passages — a photographic tikkun. The world of Torah was all around me, waiting to be studied. All I needed to do was open my eyes and focus my lens.

Setting out to find my “text,” I began driving around my familiar Sinai — the urban landscape west of downtown Los Angeles and east of the 405. At first, amid the visual clutter, I was overwhelmed. The “words of the prophets” might be “written on the subway walls” in the music of Simon & Garfunkel, but on the streets of Mid-City L.A. you are more likely to find looming billboards for TV shows.

Then I had my moment of revelation: If I could find Moses the Lawgiver — and not just Charlton Heston’s handprints and footprints in the courtyard of the TCL Chinese Theatre — it would be a good start. After all, it worked for the Israelites. Remembering a recent visit to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I found him in the form of a stone statue seated incongruously in the hospital parking lot, at the corner of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive.

Seeing Moses with the law under his arm, I could not help but think of Torah and Sinai and, yes, the giant sculpture of the Torah affixed to Sinai Temple on Wilshire Bouelvard in Westwood. Having made that connection, more Bible imagery began to pop up from the streets around me: the words of the prophet Jeremiah; a reference to the Book of Kings; a reminder to pursue justice, from Deuteronomy.

As for the angels, they were everywhere, too, turning my head, lifting my search, leading me on my way.

A bit of Torah on the streets of L.A.

1. Moses climbing Sinai
“Angel Wall” (detail) by Barbara Mendes
2709 Robertson Blvd.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain.’ ” Exodus 24:12

2. ‘American Gods’ billboard and angel wings
7769 Melrose Ave.
“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:2

3. Mezuzah with inscription
Fleishik’s, 7563 Beverly Blvd.
Inscription: “A cry is heard in Ramah.” Jeremiah 31:15

4. Angel
640 S. San Vicente parking structure
“For He will order His angels to guard you wherever you go.” Psalms 91:11

5. Torah — L’dor vador
Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd.
“Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children.”
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

6.  “Fear of God is the Start of Wisdom”
Baba Sale Congregation
404 N. Fairfax Ave.
Proverbs 1:7

7.  Moses
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center parking lot, Gracie Allen Drive and George Burns Road
“Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.”
Deuteronomy 34:10

8. “Justice, Justice, shall You pursue”
Workmen’s Circle Cultural Center
1525 Robertson Blvd.
Deuteronomy 16:20

9. Ethiopian Jew
“Not Somewhere Else, But Here” (detail) by Daryl Wells National Council of Jewish Women, 360 N. Fairfax Ave.
“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

10. King Solomon
Marciano Art Foundation (former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple)
4357 Wilshire Blvd.
“… Solomon began to build the House of the Lord.” I Kings 6:1

Nitzan Stein Kokin (left) and Esther Jonas-Maertin. Photos courtesy of Nitzan Stein Kokin and Esther Jonas-Maertin.

One L.A. school: two German rabbis

Since its inception in 1996, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of American Jewish University in Bel Air has had students from various countries, but until recently, never from Germany.

This year, however, the school has two German graduates, both women. Esther Jonas-Maertin completed her final year of the five-year program and was ordained, along with five others, on May 22. Nitzan Stein Kokin, a visiting student from Ziegler’s sister school in Berlin, Zacharias Frankel College, is completing her last year of studies and will be ordained in Berlin on June 18. Hers will be the first ordination of a Conservative rabbi in Germany since before World War II.

Though the women’s journeys to this point were different, they have one thing in common — besides their 42 years of age: neither was raised Jewish. Jonas-Maertin grew up in Leipzig when the Berlin Wall was still standing  and practicing any religion in communist East Germany was strongly discouraged. Her father is Jewish, her mother nonreligious. Stein Kokin grew up in a Protestant household in a small town in southwest Germany.

Despite East Germany’s aversion to religion, Jonas-Maertin became interested in Judaism at a young age, reading every book about it she could find. She recalled writing a paper as a teenager on the Jewish history of Leipzig. But her deep spiritual connection with Judaism came later. Specifically, she points to an exchange she had at 22 with her grandmother, a concentration camp survivor, at her grandfather’s grave on his yahrzeit. Although her grandfather also was a survivor, he died before she was born.

Jonas-Maertin took a stone from her pocket and placed it on the grave. She said this small act surprised her grandmother, who was unaware she was familiar with Jewish traditions.

“I had the feeling she recognized me for the first time,“ she said. “My gesture opened a door to a world I didn’t even know. Then [her grandmother] started to recite the Kaddish. I had no idea that my family was religious.”

That same month, an elderly Jewish man visiting his native Leipzig suggested she become a rabbi, given the depth of her feelings for the Jewish people. At the time, the idea seemed farfetched. After all, not only was Jonas-Maertin not a member of a congregation, she had never seen a rabbi, let alone a female rabbi.

Still, something had been kindled. She began lecturing on Jewish history to school groups and Christian congregations. She also switched universities to pursue a master’s degree in Jewish studies and comparative religion. Ten  years ago, she converted to Judaism. “I just confirmed something that was already there,” she said.

She began her rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. “I found that some of the liturgical things weren’t resonating with me,” she said. She was so impressed by the accessibility and intelligence of the students she met from Ziegler — nearly all rabbinical programs require their students to do a year in Israel, so Jonas-Maertin was in a good position to meet students from various programs — she decided to continue her studies in Los Angeles at AJU.

Stein Kokin’s introduction to Judaism came from a high school religion teacher, a Protestant minister who, she said, was “very active in Jewish-Christian dialogue.”

In lieu of a traditional high school graduation gift, she asked her parents for a trip to Israel. She traveled with a youth group and was so intrigued that she decided to spend a gap year there, volunteering at an assisted living facility for disabled young adults. It was a good opportunity, she figured, to see if social work was a suitable fit for her. The other career she had seriously considered was ministry. She decided to study theology and determined that if she wanted to really understand Christianity, she needed to learn everything she could about Judaism as well.

During her year in Israel, she befriended a group of “deeply religious women.” She studied the Talmud and attended beth midrash. “Judaism became so much more personal,” she said. She converted in 1999 and made aliyah. Shortly thereafter, she met the man who would become her husband, an L.A. native who was a graduate student spending a year at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In lieu of a traditional high school graduation gift, Stein Kokin asked her parents for a trip to Israel.

In 2010, her husband got a teaching job in Germany. It was around this same time that the Zacharias Frankel College opened at Potsdam University. There was already a Reform rabbinical school at the university, but this new program would be Europe’s first and only Conservative rabbinical school.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, the dean of both Ziegler and Zacharias Frankel, will preside at Stein Kokin’s ordination. “I am going to wrap a prayer shawl around Nitzan’s shoulders,” he said.

While every ordination is an occasion for celebration, Artson said this one is particularly meaningful. “In returning liberal Judaism to Germany, I am restoring a lost object to its original location,” he said, referring to Conservative and Reform Judaism. “If I can ordain a German rabbi in Berlin, then I am showing that Hitler lost and we survived and thrive.”

Even though their personal situations are different — Jonas-Maertin is single; Stein Kokin and her husband have two children — both women said that having a fellow German in the program this past year has been a huge positive.

“It’s very tough to come in here and realize you are Jewish, so there is a certain amount of similarities [between German and American Jews],” Jonas-Maertin said. “But the culture is very different. That has become my struggle. We talk a lot about this.”

It’s also clear the two have immense respect for each other. “I think [Jonas-Maertin] is in many ways a real pioneer coming here all by herself and going through the program,” Stein Kokin said.

As for their future plans, Jonas-Maertin and Stein Kokin are applying for a variety of jobs. Jonas-Maertin would love to work in Germany some day, but with only two Conservative synagogues in the country, job opportunities are extremely limited. Stein Kokin is focusing her efforts in Los Angeles.

Of course, Stein Kokin still has her ordination next month. She said she doesn’t feel added pressure, given the historic significance of the occasion.  She feels lucky.

“I wrote my final thesis for rabbinic school on the first woman rabbi ever ordained, Regina Jonas, who was ordained in 1935 in Berlin,” Stein Kokin said. “She fought for being able to be ordained. She was very observant, very religious, halachah, kept Shabbat. She also believed in the full equality of men and women.

“That’s what I also believe. She is one of my role models. She was 42 when she perished in Auschwitz. I will be 42 when I enter the rabbinate. To pick up at her footsteps and receive my ordination in Germany … it’s not a weight. It’s a present I was presented with by life or circumstances or God or father, whatever you’re going to call it.”

What to do in Los Angeles this week: May 19-25

SUN | MAY 21


Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Western Region brings you an evening with Lior Raz (above, center), creator and star of the hit Israeli series “Fauda,” available on Netflix. Raz, who in the show plays a retired commander of an elite undercover unit, will discuss his experience in the military and why he decided to write about it. 5 p.m. $75; $50 for Young Leaders. All proceeds will support Israel Defense Forces combat veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Address provided upon RSVP. Limited seating. (323) 843-2690. fidf.org.


Volunteering at the annual Gear Up for Camp Day is a great way to help prepare kids for an unforgettable summer. Start the morning by assembling packages of necessities for 1,000 Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters campers. Afterward, a fun-filled day awaits, featuring outdoor games and activities, such as arts and crafts, an inflatable obstacle course and live music. 8:30 a.m. Free. Camp Bob Waldorf of the Max Straus Campus. 1041 Shirlyjean St., Glendale. jewishla.org.


Adam Krief

Join the Hope for Adam Legacy Walk, celebrating the spirit of Adam Krief, a father of three whose search for a bone marrow donor gained traction on social media, and those around him who tirelessly worked for a miracle. A donor was found, but his body rejected the transplant and Krief, 31, died in March of a rare blood cancer. Family and friends continue the quest to get people involved, swabbed and cured so no one goes without a donor match. There will be activities for kids. The first 500 registered guests will receive a T-shirt. 9 a.m. Free. UCLA, Drake Stadium, 340 Bruin Walk, Los Angeles. (561) 982-2926. giftoflife.org/hope4adamwalk.


The Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies will hold its fifth daylong “Israel in 3D” community conference. Leading civic activists and social entrepreneurs will discuss critical societal issues in Israel and their efforts to help solve them. Panels include “Building a Shared Society,” “The Voice of the Arts” and “Doing Well by Doing Good.” Speakers include Guy Rolnik, one of Israel’s top economics and business journalists, and Tal Schneider, Israeli political journalist and blogger. 10 a.m. $45; $30 for UCLA staff, faculty and professionals younger than 35; $7 for students. UCLA Covel Commons, Grand Horizon Ballroom, 200 De Neve Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. international.ucla.edu.


The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will bring its engaging and educational program to the second West Coast Family Music Day. This rare opportunity is tailored to children in order to spark an interest in music, whether as a musician, conductor or composer. Israeli pianist and educator Orli Shaham will host pre-concert interactive activities, giving each child an opportunity to meet the performers and try their instruments. Shaham also will perform in an audience participation concert. Brunch to follow. All proceeds go to the KeyNote Music Education Program, promoting mutual respect and understanding through music. 10:15 a.m. $125. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 277-0100. afipo.org.


Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ) invites you to “Building Bridges — Building Movements: A Los Angeles Activist Summit,” an event designed to educate, enlighten and engage visitors. JUDJ is concerned about rising threats to religious tolerance, equal rights, a free and fair press, human dignity, and long-held norms of decency and civil society. The event will begin with convening remarks, “We Were Made for This: How Los Angeles Is Leading the Way on Issues of Justice and Democracy,” featuring Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles); Los Angeles County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis; Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer; Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson; former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; State Sen. Ben Allen; and Los Angeles Police Department Board of Commissioners Vice President Steve Soboroff. Breakout sessions will provide attendees an opportunity for a deeper look into issues central to JUDJ’s founding principles. 12:30 p.m. Free. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. leobaecktemple.org.

MON | MAY 22


From food trucks to pop-ups to social media, enjoy a look at the current food and restaurant landscape in L.A. Engage in a thoughtful conversation about the business realities behind each trend. Featuring Jim Hustead, owner of Fleishik’s, Erven and Maré; and Katie McGehee, co-founder of the digital marketing agency Socially You. Enjoy food from Fleishiks and Roy Choi’s A-Frame. 7 p.m. $10. Cross Campus, 929 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica. yala.org.



Alicia Jo Rabins

Join Young Adults of Los Angeles, East Side Jews and the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center for a live performance of “Girls in Trouble,” an indie-folk song cycle about the complicated lives of biblical women. There also will be a hosted cocktail reception and cash bar after the reception. 7 p.m. $10. The Box at the Silverlake Independent JCC, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-2255. yala.org.

WED | MAY 24


Explore the legacy of the past and the future of modern Israel. “Six Days That Shaped 50 Years” is the theme of this year’s daylong iEngage conference. Featured speakers include Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute; Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am; Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR; Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom; and Danielle Berrin, Jewish Journal senior writer and columnist. 9:30 a.m. $36; $18 for students. UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. hartman.org.il.


In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, the Western Region American Committee for Shaare Zedek (ACSZ) NexGen Salon Committee presents David Bahat, an Israel Defense Forces paratrooper who served in the Sinai during the Six-Day War, and Nachum Pessin (via Skype from Jerusalem), executive director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Sushi and dessert provided. 6:30 p.m. $18. Address given upon RSVP (West L.A./Beverly Hills area). (310) 229-0915. acsz.org/salon2017.


Learn about genocide and how to end it. Speakers will include child survivors of genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia. Other participants will represent Yazidis, Syrians, Armenians and multiple African genocides. Organized and moderated by Paul Wilder, the child of Holocaust survivors. 7 p.m. Free. Adat Ari El Synagogue, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 633-1844. adatariel.org.



“Race and Photography”

Foregoing the political lens through which racial photography normally is viewed, Amos Morris-Reich of the University of Haifa returns racial photography to the history of science and addresses it as a form of scientific evidence. Morris-Reich reconstructs individual cases, conceptual genealogies and patterns of photography practice for the study of “race” from the 19th century to the Nazi era. He shows that photography was used for such things as statistical data, medical observation of Mendelian characteristics and as a form of psychological “thought experiments.” 4 p.m. Free. UCLA, 314 Royce. (310) 267-5327. cjs.ucla.edu.


Enjoy a concert featuring Conductor Nick Strimple, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale, organist Iain Farrington and a performance by Body Traffic Dance Company. Reception to follow. Sponsored by Pamela and Randol Schoenberg, on the occasion of the bar mitzvah of their son Joseph Samuel Schoenberg, in memory of Joseph’s great-grandfathers, composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl. 7 p.m. Open seating, first-come, first-served. Sinai Temple, Main Sanctuary, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 813-5914.

Can gay and lesbian teens find a home in Orthodoxy?

By eighth grade, Micha Thau knew he was gay. But he also knew that being gay was not acceptable in many of the Orthodox spaces he inhabited. So he buried that part of himself.

But it didn’t stay buried. He began to suffer headaches, vertigo and other physical symptoms he attributes to his feelings of intense isolation. He relished days when the symptoms would send him to the doctor, just because “I got to leave the hellhole that was my life.”

“There were times when it was just crushing,” said Thau, 18, who graduates from Shalhevet High School next month. “I thought it was over, like I really could see no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Youth in Thau’s position face few options, none particularly rosy. They can quit Orthodoxy and live out gay lives, either as secular Jews or within another branch of Judaism. They can stay in Orthodoxy and renounce a part of themselves, living in celibacy or difficult relationships. Or they can do as Thau did and fight for openness and inclusion, and risk becoming poster children.

Still, as the secular world increasingly has embraced same-sex couples, the Orthodox has not been left totally behind. A number of congregations and communities, pulled by the conscience of some of their members, are taking a hard, wrenching look at their laws and traditions, and how they impact Orthodox youth.

When Thau came out during his sophomore year to Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school, and Principal Rabbi Noam Weissman, he was literally shaking. The administrators were surprised by the toll it had taken just to talk to them.

“We thought we had done an amazing job” promoting inclusion, Segal told the Journal. “And it turned out he had waited to come out to us because he was scared — he didn’t know what the school’s position was.”

Shalhevet student Micha Thau last summer at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. Photo courtesy of Micha Thau

Segal has since emerged as an advocate for teens like Thau. In an opinion column in the Shalhevet school newspaper, he called the dilemma they face “the biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.”

Thau’s coming out has turned into something like a coming out for the entire Modern Orthodox community in Los Angeles: a highly visible test case for a virtually invisible issue. Thau has joined with Shalhevet’s administration to reshape perceptions of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in a religious community pulled in opposing directions — toward acceptance by its modernity and toward silence by its Orthodoxy.

The letter of the law

For the young people caught up in that struggle, the root of the problem lies in Leviticus, which labels gay sex a toevah, most often translated as an abomination, and, a couple of chapters later, prescribes the death penalty as punishment.

Strains of Judaism differ in how this law, like most laws, is applied. Reform Judaism suspends the prohibition, allowing clergy to officiate same-sex marriages. The two greater Los Angeles synagogues with outreach programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood and Beth Chayim Chadashim in Mid-City Los Angeles, are aligned with the Union for Reform Judaism.

Conservative Judaism openly grapples with the law. As of a 2006 Rabbinical Assembly decision, gays and lesbians have been welcomed into Conservative congregations and rabbinical posts, but sex between men remains prohibited — the 2006 ruling did not address sex between women — and deliberations continue on same-sex marriage.

Orthodoxy generally adheres to the letter of the law, and homosexuality is no exception. Though outright hostility toward gays, lesbians and bisexuals is less common in the United States than it was before legalized same-sex marriage, so too is unconditional acceptance. Orthodox teens struggling with their sexual orientation in this environment can’t be sure how their communities will react if they come out, or whether they will risk losing friends and family.

Photo by Fabio Sexio/Agencia O Globo

It’s impossible to know how many teens are caught between their Jewish faith and their sexual orientation. Within the general population, multiple studies have found that around 3.5 percent of respondents self-identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. But even those studies may not reflect an accurate count because not all respondents provide truthful answers, and many surveys, including the U.S. Census Bureau, do not ask about sexual orientation.

At Shalhevet alone, a school with an enrollment of slightly more than 200, general population estimates suggest there are something like eight lesbian, gay or bisexual students. Thau said he currently is the only out gay student at the school.

“For every Micha Thau at Shalhevet, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of gay, lesbian, transgender students at Orthodox institutions struggling, fearful, worried, self-destructive,” said Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi in the U.S. and an activist for LGBT Jews.

Walking a fine line

For Modern Orthodox communities, the word of biblical law translates practically into a stance that neither embraces same-sex partnerships nor outright condemns those who choose to undertake them.

“On the one hand, we’re not going to support it,” Rabbi Steven Weil, senior managing director of the Orthodox Union, one of the major national Orthodox institutions in the United States, told the Journal. “But on the other hand, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that gay and lesbian members feel as much a part of the community as anyone else.”

Nonetheless, the model of an Orthodox marriage, without a doubt, is a husband and wife. Weil said, “Where there’s a little bit of pushback is where a couple wants to be discussed as ‘Mr. and Mr.’ or ‘Mrs. and Mrs.’ ”

For teens contemplating their romantic and religious futures, the range of answers they might receive from rabbis and school administrators is wide. For now, Shalhevet seems to represent the most progressive response they might receive in Los Angeles.

Valley Torah High School in Valley Village occupies a more conservative place on the spectrum. Reached by phone, Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, the head of school, was quick to note that intolerance against gays, lesbians and bisexuals is not welcome.

“With my students, I feel it’s important that they understand that this is not something that we look down upon,” he said. “This is not a choice that people make.”

However, he wouldn’t budge on the issue of Jewish law: The rules are clear, and a student who wanted to live an out gay or lesbian life at the Orthodox high school would run into trouble.

“This would be inconsistent with the atmosphere — for a kid to say, ‘I’m gay, I’m acting out on it and I want to be a member of Valley Torah in good standing,’ ” he said. “It’s inconsistent from a halachic viewpoint.”

Asked whether such a student could, for instance, lead prayer services or school activities, he answered, “In 31 years, it hasn’t happened. But honestly, let’s just sort of change the question. I’d have the same dilemma if a kid came to me and said, ‘Rabbi, I love Valley Torah but I’m just eating at McDonald’s every night. That’s who I am.’ ”

At YULA Girls High School, the policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual students is in flux.

“We’ve had internal discussions, but we haven’t yet formulated a policy,” said Head of School Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, who plans to leave YULA Girls this summer after leading it since 2008. “It would obviously include the greatest amount of respect for the students and understanding of whatever they’re going through.”

He said the heads of the area’s Orthodox schools — including YULA Girls, YULA Boys, Valley Torah and Shalhevet — meet periodically to discuss important issues, including this one. As of now, they haven’t formulated a conclusion. But Lieberman expects that soon most local Orthodox schools will provide statements or policies on the matter.

As attitudes about homosexuality have shifted, with gay rights and narratives becoming more mainstream, hard-line positions have become more difficult to maintain.

Thau recalled telling his grandfather that he was gay and getting a surprising answer.

“He said, ‘So?’ ” Thau recalled. “And he said, ‘If you had told me that 10 years ago, I would have had a very different reaction.’ ”

Thau went on, “As much as the Orthodox community tries to isolate itself from the secular world, there are always cracks in the wall — no matter how high the wall is. Culture will always bleed through.”

Caught in the middle

But ensconced behind the walls of a Torah-observant lifestyle, many teens still face an awful choice between God and love.

“When you’re living in the Orthodox community, being gay and being religious — they’re not cohesive,” said Jeremy Borison, 25, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Los Angeles. “So me, if I had to choose one, I was gonna stay with the religious side of it.”

He said he’s now able to balance his faith and sexual orientation — but only because he found a welcoming community in B’nai David-Judea, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, where Senior Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky has been outspoken in favor of greater acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Others, like David, a gay man in his 20s who grew up in an Orthodox family in Los Angeles, no longer feel like they have a place in the Orthodox community.

Some of the gay and lesbian individuals interviewed for this story, including David, asked not to be identified by their real names or even the schools they attended, fearing they and their families would face sigma and untoward gossip. David still is wary about sharing his story publicly, for that reason.

At the Orthodox high school he attended in L.A., he knew he was attracted boys, but thought it was a phase, something all teenagers go through. There were no Orthodox Jews who were gay, as far as he knew; it simply wasn’t conceivable.

He had a good time during his high school years, though, enjoying his religious education and even getting close to some of the rabbis. But by the time he found himself in yeshiva in Israel, in a completely different environment, he realized his feelings weren’t going to go away. His first reaction was to treat them as something wrong with him that needed to be fixed.

A good deal of therapy later, David is leading an out gay life, but he finds that he’s uncomfortable in Orthodox spaces. His experience didn’t make him hate Judaism; he’s still finding his place in the religion. But he no longer considers himself Orthodox. How could he feel welcome in a community that considers who he is to be a great sin?

Every problem begs a solution

From time to time, students approach Stulberger, the head of school at Valley Torah, struggling with feelings of attraction to members of the same gender. Stulberger said he has “helped many students over the years in their struggle — but in a private way.”

His first reaction when students come to him with this issue is to assure them, “We are here to talk to; we are here to help you.” But after that he draws a line: “What I won’t do is give the indication that giving into your same-sex attraction is something that’s acceptable.”

To these students, he presents two options. One is celibacy. The other is to “get help, find the right professional who can help you to reorient.”

Stulberger alleges there are thousands of young men who have changed their sexual orientation with professional help. While the scientific and LGBT communities dispute its effectiveness, the internet is filled with testimonies from people who claim to lead happy, heterosexual lives as a result of “reparative therapy.” Stulberger even knows a handful of them, he said.

One of those is Naim, an Orthodox man in his early 30s who attended Valley Torah and who asked to be identified only by his middle name. For years, he struggled with his attraction to men but rejected the idea of living an out gay life.

“I didn’t want that lifestyle,” he said. “I wanted to get married. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to do what men do — period.”

Photo by Eitan Arom

By the time he was 28, he said, he’d been in and out of rehab for drug addiction and was addicted to gay porn. Then, he made an electrifying discovery on the internet.

“There’s a whole community out there — Jews and non-Jews alike — that don’t want to live that lifestyle and have struggled with it and gotten help, and now they’re married,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible, God is talking to me right now. Why did it take 28 years to tell me this?’ ”

He enrolled in reparative therapy designed around what he called a “gender wholeness model.” He identified factors such as a troubled relationship with his father and an unhealthy identification with traits he admired in other men as the cause of his same-sex attraction, which he referred to as SSA. He treated it like a condition that needed to be fixed, he said, and he began to heal.

“My attraction for men has diminished significantly,” he said. “Usually, my SSA, on a scale of 1 to 10, is at a 0.”

Now, he’s looking for a wife.

“There are still days when I struggle every once in a while,” he said. “Thank God it doesn’t happen very often.”

Taking a pledge

Told that a Los Angeles high school recommends reparative therapy, Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or of JQ International, a West Hollywood-based Jewish LGBT support and education organization, was horrified.

“What it does is, it encourages people to kill themselves,” she said. California law bans the practice for mental health providers.

David moved away from his Orthodox community after high school and hasn’t returned, but some of its stigmas and taboos lingered with him. He sought out reparative therapy while in college, and while he didn’t find it particularly traumatizing, he said it made him hate himself. Since then, he’s blocked much of it out in his mind.

Now, Segal and Thau at Shalhevet are asking other Jewish schools to affirm in a pledge, written jointly by Thau and the administration, that they “will not recommend, refer, or pressure students toward ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion therapy.’ ”

“We believe that’s damaging,” Segal said of the practice.

The pledge includes five other points — which Segal insisted schools can adopt altogether or individually — including an assurance that gay, lesbian and transgender students won’t be excluded from school activities and will be provided with support services. The full statement is available online at jewishschoolpledge.com. As of now, Shalhevet is the only school to have signed it.

Asked about the pledge, Lieberman, the head of YULA Girls, said, “It’s very powerful,” adding that if YULA Girls were to issue a policy about LGBT students, “it would definitely gravitate toward that.”

The idea of the pledge has its origins in Thau’s coming out to Segal and Weissman.

“What could we do?” Segal said he asked the teen. “What could we have communicated to you, Micha, that would have helped?”

Photo courtesy of Builders of Jewish Education

The administrators realized that communicating anything at all would have been a good start. Even though both men assumed a gay student would be welcomed, Thau struggled through years of uncertainty because they had never said as much publicly.

“Schools and communities and shuls should have this conversation and decide what they believe, and then publish it,” Segal said — even if it is less progressive than what Shalhevet came up with.

Bat-Or said she hopes other schools will follow Shalhevet’s lead and take steps toward inclusiveness, for instance by circulating JQ’s helpline for LGBT Jews and advertising their counselor’s offices as safes spaces for students questioning their sexual orientation.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 150,” she said of Shalhevet’s efforts. “I really mean that. It took huge courage for [Segal] and for Micha to get together and to do this.”

A movement in the making

Cases like Micha’s make it increasingly difficult for Orthodox communities to ignore issues faced by their lesbian, gay and bisexual members.

“Centrist Orthodoxy is conflicted and not admitting the conflict,” said Greenberg, a Yeshiva University-ordained rabbi who came out years later and co-founded Eshel, a Boston-based organization that promotes inclusiveness in Orthodox communities. “They are pulled by much more traditional frames, and they are pulled by the human realities they’re facing.”

At least in some communities, that conflict has meant a long, slow drift toward acceptance.

Elissa Kaplan, a clinical psychologist who came out as lesbian 15 years ago while living in an Orthodox community in suburban New Jersey, has watched attitudes change before her eyes.

“The world has changed since then,” Kaplan, 55, said. “Gay marriage is legal now in the civil world. That’s enormous, and it has an impact. It matters. Even people who say they are not influenced in their attitudes by what happens in the secular world — it’s just not true.”

She’s felt the impact of those changes herself, she said.

“My wife and I would go into one of the kosher restaurants in the area and might get dirty looks from people,” she said. “That really doesn’t happen anymore.”

In Los Angeles, that change has played out in parlor meetings where community members get together to grapple with the issue of inclusiveness. In March, some two dozen Jewish teens and parents gathered in the dining room of a Beverlywood home, sitting on folding chairs and nibbling on cookies and cut fruit as they listened to Greenberg speak.

The parlor meeting was the work of Eshel L.A., a local group allied with the Boston-based organization. It first convened in June 2015, when Harry Nelson, a local health care attorney, invited community members to his home to meet Greenberg and Eshel’s other co-founder, Miryam Kabakov, the group’s executive director.

From there, they formed a steering committee. That December, they had the first of many parlor meetings on topics like how to curb homophobic comments at the Shabbat table and how to talk to their children about same-sex couples.

“The thing that struck me most with this issue is that the Orthodox tradition that I so value and the Orthodox lifestyle I so love were creating pain, intolerable pain, for people who are gay,” said Julie Gruenbaum Fax, one of Eshel L.A.’s principal organizers and a former Jewish Journal staff writer.

Fax and her peers are looking to create Orthodox spaces where lesbians, gays and bisexuals can exist openly and comfortably. Sometimes, that entails actually grappling with Jewish law. At the parlor meeting in March, Greenberg, 60, who has salt-and-pepper stubble and a professorial air, moved fluently through the halachah and commentary on the topic of homosexuality.

On the face of it, the law as it is appears in the Torah seems clear enough. Leviticus 18:22 states, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.”

But Greenberg pointed out to his Beverlywood audience that the rabbinate has created work-arounds for all kinds of mandates and prohibitions, such as those against carrying objects outside the home on Shabbat or farming during a jubilee year. The laws governing these exceptions are complex, but the point is, they are negotiable — unlike homosexuality, for most Orthodox rabbis.

During his presentations, Greenberg is careful to allow room for dissent and questions, and community members frequently take him up. One woman at the meeting, who wore a long black skirt and said she’d adopted Orthodoxy later in life, admitted that the concept of full acceptance for gays and lesbians in the Orthodox community makes her uncomfortable.

“I did this to bring boundaries to my life, to my kids,” she said of her decision to begin strictly observing Jewish law. “So when we start to open things up,  it scares me.”

She continued on the topic of boundaries: If you’re going to toss out the prohibition on gays and lesbians, she suggested, why not let women wear jeans instead of skirts?

Thau was sitting in the front row. As the woman went on, he turned around and began to cut her off, looking upset, but Greenberg gently put a hand on his shoulder, and Thau sat back in his chair. During an interview a week later, Thau said he was grateful to Greenberg for stopping him from saying something he might regret.

“I’m always in the hot seat as the poster boy for gay people, answering all the questions,” he said. “And it’s not a role I’m unwilling to take, but it is very difficult to be perfect all the time.”

Inching forward

Becoming a poster child is exactly what Nechama wants to avoid if she decides to come out.

A student at Shalhevet who asked that her real name not to be used, Nechama said she’s only questioning her sexual identity. But if she were to come out, she would be hesitant to speak about it with too many people at her school.

“I just feel very uncomfortable with the idea of being gay in a Modern Orthodox school,” she said.

While the school itself is progressive enough, some students come from more conservative backgrounds, she said.

She said she hopes to remain Orthodox, even though she struggles with some of the Jewish laws she’d be obligated to observe. To the community at large, her only plea was for empathy.

“We’re teenagers and we’re going through confusing times,” she said. She urged peers and parents “just to hear everything out, because it’s kind of hard to be alone in something like this.”

For his part, Greenberg is clear-eyed about the work in front of him: Creating a fully accepting Orthodox community will be neither quick nor easy. But he holds it as the responsibility of Orthodox leaders to sympathize with members of their communities who struggle with their identities.

“If you’re not willing to suffer with that kid who is caught in the crosshairs of this cultural and religious conflict,” he said, “if you’re not willing to be with that kid, then you don’t deserve the role of leadership.”

Natalie Levine (right) with Tova Suissa and her dog, Hank. Photo by David Suissa

Homeless, not nameless

barely noticed the woman who was sleeping on a sidewalk the other morning on Pico Boulevard. I was rushing to meet a friend for coffee, and the last thing on my mind was to delay my first caffeine intake of the day. But maybe because she was lying there so conspicuously under the bright morning sun, I couldn’t help mentioning her to my friend.

“I just saw a homeless woman sleeping,” I told him. “She was probably an adorable little girl one day, with pigtails.”

About an hour later, on the way back to my car, I saw her again, but this time she was sitting up. I hesitated, wondering whether I should talk to her. My mind was telling me to just get in the car and get on with my day, but my heart was urging me to find out who she was.

It’s true that because I write a weekly column, I’m always looking for good stories. But that awareness didn’t lessen my uneasiness. There are enough interesting stories in our community without having to feel the acute awkwardness of speaking to a homeless person.

As a kind of compromise, I walked over and handed her some money. That was easy. Giving money to a homeless person is a perfectly acceptable interaction. No need to engage any further.

But after handing her the money, I caught a glimpse of her eyes as she said, “Oh, thank you!” I guess my heart must have overpowered my mind, because at that moment I pushed myself to engage. As we began talking, I asked if I could film our conversation, and she agreed. So I pulled out my iPhone and recorded my sidewalk chat with a homeless woman named Natalie Levine.

Later, as I viewed the eight-minute clip, I was in awe at how much the film conveyed: her facial expressions, her voice, her cadence, her anxiety, her mannerisms, her eyes, even the street life as people walked by.

I hadn’t taken any notes. I didn’t have to. The human drama was all in the film, as raw as can be. There would be no need to write up a story.

As much as I love telling stories through words, it struck me that people should see and hear this woman, not just read about her. With subjects that are deeply uncomfortable, words on a page can create a safe distance.

There is no safe distance when you look into a homeless person’s eyes and feel their presence. What I felt when I looked into Natalie’s eyes was her humanity, pure and simple. Yes, there was a story behind those eyes, and I got a few glimpses — a Jewish woman in her early 30s who attended a Hebrew day school in Connecticut, lost her parents at a young age, has been homeless for years and looked like she caught all of life’s bad breaks.

Just as important, that story came with a real name: Natalie Levine. There is a special intimacy to a name, especially one that sounds so familiar. After we posted the clip on social media, people kept referring to her name. They wanted to help Natalie Levine. A few people even got on my case: Telling Natalie’s story is not enough, they said. You must do something.

So I did.

I went back to Pico the next day to track her down. Then, with the assistance of friends and volunteers who had reached out to me, I spent a week helping out any way I could. We put Natalie up in a motel to buy us time to find a longer-term solution. We gave her food for Shabbat, helped her clean up and got her new clothes. My daughter and I even took her to a park with our dog, Hank.

As I contacted shelters and experts around town, I got a taste of the complexity of the homeless problem. It’s not as simple as helping people who want to be helped. It’s compounded by issues such as mental health and personal traumas.  

After we checked her out of the motel, we spent a long day looking for a shelter, with no luck. By midnight, we had found partners who placed her in a temporary facility an hour from Los Angeles, where we went to visit her during the week.

We caught a major break when I bumped into longtime local public servant Zev Yaroslavsky at an Israel event. After I told him Natalie’s story, he knew what was needed. He has spent years working on this problem. He connected me the following day to an ideal facility, and they took her case.

Natalie is certainly not out of the woods, but at least for now, she’s off the streets and under a caring umbrella. She has hope. 

I’m no expert on homelessness. I don’t pretend to have a solution to this dark, complex blight on modern life.  But after spending a week with Natalie Levine, I’ve learned at least one thing: When you look into a homeless person’s eyes, it becomes easier to help.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Paul Simon in New York in 1975. Photo by Edie Baskin

What to do in Los Angeles this week: May 12-18

FRI | MAY 12


Partake in this rare opportunity to see the exhibition “Paul Simon: Words & Music” at night. Celebrate the enduring legacy of the iconic singer-songwriter with a tour of the exhibition led by museum director Robert Kirschner, a full cash bar and local food trucks. 6 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


Retired Israel Defense Forces officer Col. Kobi Marom will talk about “ISIS and the War Against the West: How to Counter What May Be the Greatest Terrorist Threat in Modern History.” 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (626) 773-0251. templeetzchaim.org.

SAT | MAY 13


Ariel Levy

Ariel Levy’s memoir, “The Rules Do Not Apply,” is about a woman overcoming loss and seeking reinvention. Levy leads the reader through the story of how she built her unconventional life, resistant of traditional rules, and then watched it fall apart. 4 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com. Levy also will lead a program at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 14, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Reservations recommended for the Skirball event. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

SUN | MAY 14


The origins of Lag B’Omer, a minor holiday between the period of Passover and Shavuot, is the subject of many theories. No matter why it began, celebrate the day with a concert, parade and fair. There will be rides, carnival games, live music, kosher food and more. Special guests: Uncle Moishy and Eli Marcus. 10 a.m. Free. Pico Boulevard between Doheny Drive and Robertson Boulevard.  (800) 242-2239. lagbomerla.blogspot.com.


The Los Angeles Jewish Home will host the 23rd annual World’s Largest Mother’s Day Celebration, honoring the home’s mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers on the Grancell Village and Eisenberg Village campuses. Enjoy a brunch while listening — and dancing — to the Skye Michaels Orchestra. 10:30 a.m. $25 (ages 12 and older); $12 (ages 5-11). Free for Jewish Home residents and children younger than 5. The Los Angeles Jewish Home Grancell Village campus, 7150 Tampa Ave., Reseda; Eisenberg Village campus, 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 774-3324. denise.horowitz@jhla.org.



Dust off your cocktail attire and help raise money for a great cause while enjoying great company, drinks and live music. All proceeds benefit The Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home. Space is limited; priority will be given at the door to members and pre-sale ticket holders. 7 p.m. $18; $30 for two; $20 per person at the door; free for members. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. The Peppermint Club, 8713 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 479-2468. laguardians.org/events.

WED | MAY 17


Hosted by the Rosenberg Cultural Center and Rabbi Steven Silver, come explore Jerusalem. At the half-century mark of the reunited Jerusalem, what are the prospects for peace and reconciliation? What will the next 50 years bring? After lunch, enjoy a screening of “Jerusalem,” an immersive experience that will take you on a journey through the beautiful and beloved city. 11 a.m. $14; $12 for members. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.



Steve Soboroff, the vice president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, will discuss “Policing, Philanthropy, Prisons and Politics” at the Executive Speaker Series breakfast. Soboroff has a lot of experience in public policy and has much to share about his many endeavors. 7:30 a.m. $25 for members, $30 at the door; $35 for nonmembers, $40 at the door. El Caballero Country Club, 18300 Tarzana Drive, Tarzana. (818) 774-3332. theexecutives.org.


The Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC) presents Theatre Dybbuk’s reading of “Exagoge,” which is inspired by the first recorded Jewish play that was written in the style of a Greek tragedy by Ezekiel the Poet in the second century B.C.E. Only 269 lines of the original play exist; these lines were used to create this full-length theatrical production. Rich in movement, music and poetry, “Exagoge” relates the experiences of refugees, immigrants and the disenfranchised from the 19th century to today, highlighting the inclusive nature of the Exodus narrative. All proceeds will be donated to the ACLU of Southern California. 7:30 p.m. reception; 8:30 p.m. show. $20. The Box, SIJCC, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. sijcc.net.

Photo via WikiCommons

To give or not to give?

We asked experts on homelessness what to do when passing a homeless person on the street. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The most important thing to remember when you see a homeless person is that they, like you, are a human being.  They were given a name by their mother, they have dreams and aspirations.  As one formerly homeless woman told me, the hardest part of being homeless is the social isolation. There is nothing worse than feeling like an object thrown out into the gutter.  When you see someone who is suffering homelessness, the most important thing you can do is look them in the eye like a friend and say “Hello.”  The rest is commentary, now go and learn.

Rabbi Noah Farkas, clergy member at Valley Beth Shalom and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) commissioner

[Jewish, homeless and alone: One tale of grief on L.A.’s streets]

My best recommendation would be for someone who encounters a homeless person to try to direct them to a local shelter or service center that would provide intake and shelter and the other necessities of the person needs. Often, low-income destitute folks who panhandle would use the money they receive from friendly neighbors to attempt to purchase drugs or alcohol, and that would only prolong their problem. We basically discourage giving to panhandlers.

Rabbi Marvin Gross, former longtime CEO of Union Station Homeless Services

Because of the work I have done for 35 years and still do, I am unable to pass a single homeless person on the streets without deep feelings of anger and despair. I am angry because I know that this doesn’t have to be and that they are on the streets because we as a civil society have failed them. It’s not rocket science! So what do I do when passing a homeless person on the streets? I quite often stop to make eye contact and then give them $5 or $10, depending upon what is in my wallet at the time. Why do I do this? Do they deserve it? Will they just by drugs or alcohol? I do it because I care that they are suffering and I try to let them know by my actions that I see them and am sorry.

Tanya Tull, homelessness policy pioneer and CEO of Partnering for Change

The most important rule of thumb is that people should do what they are comfortable with, whether that is a smile, hello, water bottle, protein bar, meal or a conversation. Homelessness can feel dehumanizing, so just acknowledging a person can sometimes make a difference.

Victor Hinderliter, associate director of homeless services for LAHSA

Whether to give someone who is homeless on the street spare change or cash is a highly personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to human compassion. The question to consider is what the purpose or motivation is for you to give money and whether doing so fulfills that motivation.

Dora Leong Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit that operates permanent supportive housing

Are you homeless or struggling? Here are some numbers to call.

Jewish Family Service Central Access (877) 275-4537

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Emergency Response Team (213) 225-6581

LAHSA Shelter Hotline (800) 548-6047 

Composer Hugh Levick. Photo from hughlevick.com

Hear Now Festival is all about L.A. composers

Composer Hugh Levick recently recalled a story his father told him about his grandfather, an ironworker in Erie, Pa., who would go home directly after a long day‘s work, close the door to his room and study the Talmud.

In its way, the story is consistent with Levick’s composition “The Messiah,” a world premiere to be featured April 30, the final day of the 2017 Hear Now Music Festival, at the First Lutheran Church of Venice. Unique to the city, the three-day Hear Now Festival is devoted exclusively to new works by Los Angeles composers.

Levick’s contribution is one among several socially and politically leaning works on the Hear Now program, including Ted Hearne’s “By-By Huey“ for sextet, Ian Dicke’s “Latest and Greatest” and the U.S. premiere of Sean Heim’s “Rarrk” for flute, horn, violin, cello and piano.

In Levick’s “Messiah,” cello soloist Cecilia Tsan speaks and acts while playing. It’s the kind of questioning musical exploration his scholarly, blue-collar Lithuanian grandfather might have recognized. In the piece, Tsan appears beside an upright cello case prominently featuring a Star of David, with stickers on each side reading “Immigrant.”

“I wanted a woman messiah,” Levick said, “and I wanted to create a kind of continuity between eyes and ears. Contemporary classical can be a music of dissent and resistance because it can’t be commodified. People write it because they have to. It’s not something that’s going to make anyone wealthy. In that sense, it’s music from the soul.”

Hear Now, which Levick founded in 2011, begins at Throop Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena on April 28 and then moves to the First Lutheran Church of Venice for concerts on April 29 and 30.

Levick said the festival vetted some 60-70 submissions in past seasons, but this year 150 scores were submitted, including those from familiar and less-familiar composers like Hearne, Andrew Norman, Gabriel Kahane, David Lefkowitz, Russell Steinberg, David Herztberg, Saad Haddad and Wen Liu.

“This year, we could have programmed two more concerts,” Levick said. “There was such fabulous music. The reason these two other concerts don’t exist is a question of finances.”

That said, Levick looks forward to a Hear Now Festival in Paris in December, and additional Hear Now 2017 concerts on May 5-7 at L.A. City College, Chapman University and CSU Dominguez Hills.

For David Lefkowitz, 53, who chairs the division of composition and theory at UCLA, the festival’s more overtly social-political works share a spirit of questioning, an invaluable aspect of composing itself.

“The idea of questioning is also crucial to Judaism,” said Lefkowitz, whose “Love Fragments” for mezzo, harp and soprano, on the April 29 program, typifies the range of styles and genres found at the Hear Now Festival. “As a composer, I like to present myself with formal challenges.

Lefkowitz said that festivals like Hear Now represent something important happening in the city.

“In the last three to five years, we’ve seen an incredible flowering of organizations devoted to playing new music,” Lefkowitz said. “It used to be New York looking to Europe, and then that shifted to Brooklyn. But the center of energy and vitality for new music in the U.S. is here in Los Angeles.”

At 27, David Hertzberg is one of the youngest composers at the festival. His “Méditation Boréale,” performed by the Lyris String Quartet, also on the April 29 program, unfolds in an uninterrupted 15-minute arc. “I wrote it on a trip to Sweden,” Hertzberg said. “It has an arctic flavor, conjuring a magical northern landscape.”

The composer added that the score is melodic and “sounds like Gregorian chant from another planet.”

Incidentally, in a coincidental meeting of former student and teacher, Hertzberg’s work is featured next to Russell Steinberg’s “Subterranean Dance” for mixed ensemble.

“Russell was my elementary school teacher at the Stephen S. Wise Temple,” Hertzberg said. “He was so generous. I recall he set up a school bus to take me to the Milken School so I could take his music theory class.”

Hertzberg currently is working on “The Wake World,” an opera that grew out of his thinking about the mystical and religious symbols in kabbalah. Commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, it opens in September.

On April 29, Jeffrey Kahane, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s outgoing conductor, will perform his son Gabriel’s “Works on Paper” for solo piano. That concert is billed as a tribute to Kahane, who, like Levick, has championed new music throughout his career.

Hear Now’s panel of judges this year include Levick, who is the festival’s artistic director; Grammy Award-winning pianist Gloria Cheng, the Lyris Quartet (Alyssa Park and Shalini Vijayan, violins; Timothy Loo, cello; Luke Maurer, viola) and composer Jason Heath.

“The pieces are chosen anonymously,” Levick said. “Innovation was an important consideration. What are the compositional elements a composer has decided to work with? If it’s too traditional an approach to melody or harmony, I’m not that interested.”

But he added that there are no hard-and-fast rules.

“Somebody might do something you wouldn’t think could work, but it works,” Levick said. “It’s a question of how a piece unfolds. Something unexpected happens that’s wonderful. That’s what is amazing about art.”

Chef Ofir Arbel and Eitan Oram

Hummus chef brings Acre to Tarzana [VIDEO]

Ofir Arbel, the head chef at Hummus Bar and Grill, has a few fond memories involving hummus from his time growing up in Israel. When he and his teenage buddies would finish up a night of partying at 4 or 5 a.m., they’d often head to a hummus restaurant to eat until the booze was all soaked up and they were ready to sleep away the morning.

In general though, “I almost didn’t touch hummus,” said during a recent interview. In his Ashkenazi family, it just wasn’t a staple.


That all changed when he immigrated to the San Fernando Valley and took over the kitchens at a Tarzana hummus joint that’s become a cultural institution for the Los Angeles Israeli American community and beyond. Now, it’s hummus every morning, and on nights and weekends: Arbel tastes each batch to assure quality.

On May 2, Arbel will be interviewed on stage at Leammle’s Town Center in Encino after a screening of “Hummus! The Movie,” a film that follows the lives and journeys of several hummus restaurateurs in Israel. He’ll be joined by Mitch Julis, one of the movie’s producers, with Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom moderating.

During a recent visit with a reporter and videographer from the Journal, Arbel produced plate after plate of every manner of hummus, salad and meat dish.

There was hummus with ground beef, hummus with mushrooms and hummus with whole garbanzo beans; there was creamy chopped liver, a Turkish bell pepper salad, two kinds of baba ghanoush, corn salad and more; and of course, there was red wine to wash it all down.

When this reporter protested he couldn’t possibly eat another bite, Arbel countered, “It’s really insulting — you have to try a main dish,” as if three types of hummus and about a dozen salads didn’t constitute a main dish.

Ofir summoned three plates of meat skewers, which to everybody’s surprise were quickly consumed. By the time the kanafe was finished, a desert based on shredded filo dough, the entire company was ready for a good, long nap.

Hummus Bar and Grill is located on 18743 Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., and till 1 a.m. on Saturdays.

For more information on the film screening and interview, visit lajfilmfest.org.

Congregation Mogen David, a polling station, on Election Day 2016. Photo by Ryan Torok

Oppose Charter Amendment C—and strengthen democracy

Did you know that there is an election on May 16? Don’t beat up on yourself if you didn’t, most of your fellow citizens do not know either. The problem is that the very “hiding in broad daylight” aspect of this election might allow some very bad law to be enacted. There is only one item on the ballot for most Angelenos, “Charter Amendment C.” The item has a reform sounding title: “Civilian Review of Police Disciplinary Matters.” Unfortunately, this amendement to the city charter is not a reform. It is an attempt by the Police Protective League (the police officers’ union) to undermine the current disciplinary mechanism.

Under the current system, enacted by Charter Amendment after the Rodney King uprising, there is a Board of Rights attached to and constituted by the Police Commission. In a case where the Chief of Police recommends suspension or demotion an officer may appeal to the Board of Rights. The Board of Rights is comprised of three people—two randomly chosen police officers, and a civilian from a pool handpicked by the executive director of the Police Commission. The Board of Rights cannot recommend a more severe punishment than the Chief, but can recommend a more lenient one.

Under the proposed Amendment, the Board of Rights’s composition will change so that it will be comprised of three civilians. An officer who has received a discipline recommendation from the Chief will be able to choose either the current Board (2 officers and 1 civilian) or the new Board. Neither Board may recommend a more severe punishment.

So why, one may ask, would the Police Protective League, fierce opponents of all manner of civilian oversight, first and foremost the establishment of the Police Commission in its current form itself (Amendment F), be the most vocal and lead supporters of Amendment C, labelling it “civilian oversight?” Why, on the other hand, are the most vocal supporters of police reform and civilian oversight opposed to this measure?

One answer might be that research has shown that over the last five years, civilians on the Board of Rights have overwhelmingly voted for more lenient disciplinary measures. Moreover, the civilians who make up the board are not randomly chosen, they have to go through an interview with the executive director. There is no guarantee (or even probability) that those chosen to be on the board would represent communities most impacted by interactions with LAPD. Under the current system, civilians who want to serve on the Board of Rights must have seven years’ experience with arbitration, mediation, or administrative hearings. Further, if these board members consistently vote against the officers, they can be removed from the pool since it is all at the discretion of the executive director of the Police Commission.

This is most definitely not enhancing civilian oversight despite what the expensive, glossy brochures supporting Amendment C say. This is the worst type of civic engagement—betting on the fact that after a brutal national election and a brutal local election Angelenos will be tired and will probably sit out another election in which there is only one measure up for vote. Then, if they do notice, use misleading advertising to make casual voters think that an unearned windfall for the police union is actually strengthening civilian oversight of the LAPD.

Beyond the fact that this amendment is bad for the residents of the city, the process is bad for democracy. In order for there to be a robust democratic conversation about the issues that impact our city, the residents of the city need to be convinced that the conversation matters, that things can change for the better. If instead of this, the ballot process is used in an underhanded and disingenuous way people—who in any event are working really hard to support themselves and their families, and do not have an abundance of leisure time—will be dissuaded from taking part in the process. Turnout for special elections is already low. We need to defeat this spurious measure so that special elections are no longer used to pass measures that otherwise would be debated and defeated.

Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn, an early twentieth century American Orthodox Rabbi with a strong love for democracy, argued that the laws in Deuteronomy 16 that are usually taken to be referring to the behavior of judges (“You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.”) are actually referring to democratic elections—that the elections must be fair, that the voters must not bribed, and not so on. It is not a stretch to continue and say that the ballot process must not be abused by deceptive advertising, or scheduling a vote for a time when turnout will be low.

We must defeat Charter Amendment C, get back to the work of actually enhancing civilian oversight of the police department, and enhancing the democratic discourse in our city.

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, PhD is Professor of Rabbinic Literature at American Jewish University and Rabbi in Residence at Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

From left: Sam Lewis with Melville Shavelson, director of “Cast a Giant Shadow,” and Kirk Douglas, who starred in the 1966 film. Lewis served as an informal consultant on the movie. Photo courtesy of Sandra Brown

With Israel’s survival up in the air, pilot Sam Lewis went above and beyond

Risking life and his U.S. citizenship, a Jewish pilot from Los Angeles took to the skies in 1948 to help Israel win its war for independence. As one of several airmen who flew desperately needed aircraft packed with war material to Israel, Sam Lewis helped turn the tide of battle.

Lewis was part of Machal, the thousands of volunteers from around the world who fought with Israel. Those from America broke U.S. law, which eventually led to a trial in federal court in downtown L.A. Even so, Lewis’ contribution to Israel’s fight for independence, celebrated this year on May 2, won him wide acclaim, including special requests from two of Israel’s most prominent prime ministers.

“When [David] Ben-Gurion or Golda Meir would fly anyplace, said Lewis’ daughter Sandra Brown, “they would always want my father to be the pilot.”

Lewis’ involvement in a major war operation to send planes to Israel began at the Burbank Airport. With a proclamation by President Harry S. Truman on March 28, 1948, prohibiting the export of even civilian aircraft, soon to go into effect, Lewis and other pilots flew five two-engine C-46 Commandos to Mexico City, the first stop on a perilous trip that would end in warn-torn partitioned Palestine.

A week later, on the second leg of the journey, from Mexico City to Panama, Lewis’ fully loaded plane barely cleared the field on takeoff. Another plane was not so lucky and crashed, killing its pilot, Bill Gerson, and mechanic, Glen King.

Once in Panama, Lewis helped to better train the pilots. The aircraft flew on to Zatec airport in Czechoslovakia, a nation that sold guns and ammunition to Israel.

During the war, Lewis also flew a large four-engine craft called a Constellation from Zatec into Israel many times with loads of cargo, including one flight that was loaded with Czech machine guns, which arrived just in time to help win a battle. On one of the return landings to Zatec, the hydraulic system gave out — a wheel wouldn’t lock — but Lewis managed to land the plane on its belly.

Lewis also flew bombing runs, his daughter said. The planes did not have bomb bays, so each “had young guys called ‘bomb chuckers’ who would line up the bombs and throw them out the door.”

The 1966 film “Cast a Giant Shadow” had one famous bomb scene wrong, Brown added, the one where an American pilot, played by Frank Sinatra, throws a full seltzer bottle out of the plane as a kind of bomb. According to her father, she said, empty bottles, which made a louder exploding sound, were used. Asked to serve as an informal consultant on the movie, Lewis pointed out the difference, she said, but “they had already shot the scene and did not want to redo it.”

Sam Lewis was born Samuel Rifkin in New York in 1912 and first came to Los Angeles in 1924 on a trip accompanying his uncle, Rabbi Gershon Epstein, and his wife. Sam liked the greenery of L.A. so much that he wanted to stay, and when his parents came out to retrieve him, they decided to stay, too, according to Brown. The family settled in Boyle Heights, and Sam attended Roosevelt High School. After graduation, he married his next-door neighbor and high school sweetheart, Jenny Koph (later, Jean) when he was only 19 and worked at his father’s furrier business.

Though good with his hands, “he hated it,” Brown said. Instead, “he loved anything to do with flying” and was drawn to the small neighborhood airfields that dotted the L.A. landscape at the time. After taking only four flying lessons, he soloed. He got a job as a flight instructor, and to make some extra cash, he took up people on weekends for 5 cents a ride.

“Clover Field [in Santa Monica] was my playground,” Brown recalled.

When Sam finally was able to make enough as a flight instructor, he quit the furrier business.

“My father belonged to a Jewish flying club,” Brown said, and a 1939 photo of the group at Mines Field (now Los Angeles International Airport) shows the group with Sam identified as a “flight instructor.”

In the years before World War II, Sam had signed up to be an instructor for the U.S. Army Air Corps, working out of what today is Ontario Airport. Wanting to fly larger aircraft, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, learning to fly Hudson bombers, eventually flying them in 1941 to England to aid in the war effort.

Now experienced with larger aircraft, he worked as a pilot for Western Airlines, but he believed his not being promoted to captain was due to anti-Semitism. Moving to TWA, he ran into similar problems and was asked by management to change his last name to something less identifiable, which he did, to Lewis, after his father’s first name. During World War II, when TWA became part of the U.S. Air Transport Command, Lewis gained more experience flying multi-engine planes, including C-46s and Constellations loaded with troops and cargo.

After the war, Al Schwimmer, a flight engineer for TWA who dreamed of starting an airline, reached out to Lewis and another L.A.-based pilot, Leo Gardner

Unknown to them at first was that in the final days before the partition of Palestine in 1947, Schwimmer was working with Shlomo Rabinovitch, a former British army major with contacts with the soon-to-be inner circle of the new State of Israel, including Ben-Gurion, according to “The Pledge,” a book by Leonard Slater about the clandestine mission to send aircraft to Israel.

The fragile new nation needed airplanes for battle and transport, and Schwimmer was part of an operation called Yakum Purkan, from the Aramaic prayer Yakum purkam min shemaya (salvation would be forthcoming from heaven).

Though initially not a Zionist, Lewis jumped in — even having a group of young prospective pilots from Israel meet at his apartment.

In 1948, after 10 C-46s and three Constellations had been purchased as war surplus, many of the planes were brought to Burbank Airport. With the U.S. Neutrality Act prohibiting the exportation of military aircraft without a license, FBI agents watched as several hundred workers stripped the airplanes of any military gear. Their cover story was that the planes were part a new Panamanian airline, Lineas Aereas de Panama, Sociedad Anonima, flying out of Tokeman Airport in Panama.

After the war, Lewis and others involved in the operation were put on trial for violating the Neutrality Act. Schwimmer and Gardner were found guilty and fined $10,000 each, but neither served time in prison. Schwimmer, who died in 2011, was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in January 2001. Lewis got off, as one of the jurors supposedly reasoned he was involved only as a pilot.

Soon after, Lewis was hired as one of El Al airline’s first pilots, and he moved to Israel in 1950 with his wife and youngest daughter, Elaine. After retiring from the airline following a distinguished 30-year career, he continued to fly, working for the Schwimmer-run Israel Aerospace Industries.

In 1980, he moved back to L.A. He died the following year.

“He was as straight as an arrow and not one to promote himself,” Brown said.

As we celebrate Israel Independence  Day, we can be thankful Sam Lewis let his flying do his talking for him.

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

The American Technion Society’s Albert Einstein Award went to David, Janet, Jeffrey and Robert Polak. Pictured at the organization’s Los Angeles dinner are (from left) David and Janet Polak; their grandson Ethan; Robert and Victoria Polak; and Lauren and Jeffrey Polak. Photo by Elaine Lee Photography

Moving & Shaking: “Evening of Inspiration,” Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award and more

Unconditional love for Israel was in the air at the American Technion Society’s “Evening of Inspiration” on March 16.

“I’m here because I’m an Israel-loving, proud Jew, and because the Oscars never called,” comedian and event emcee Elon Gold said onstage in a ballroom at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

The gathering, which sought to increase support and awareness for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, honored David, Janet, Jeffrey and Robert Polak with the Albert Einstein Award.

The Polaks, according to a press release, are “luminaries of the Los Angeles community and multigenerational supporters of the Technion.”

“This evening is more about the Technion than our family,” David Polak said upon accepting the award from Israeli biologist, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and Technion distinguished research professor Aaron Ciechanover.

“No other institute can do the things we can do,” Ciechanover said, before presenting the Polak family with the award.

About 250 people attended the event, including Philip Gomperts, regional director of American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; financial adviser and pro-Israel philanthropist Barak Raviv; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Andrew Cushnir; StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein; Jewish Journal President David Suissa; evening co-chairs Rita and Steve Emerson; Helgard and Irwin Field; Denise and Bob Hanisee; and about 15 alumni of the Technion, which is located in Haifa, Israel.

During a showcase and cocktail-hour kickoff for the event, Yael Vizel, CEO of Zeekit and a former Israeli air force telecommunications officer, balanced the obligatory schmoozing with demoing Zeekit, an Israeli fashion startup enabling users to try on clothes while shopping online. She graduated from the Technion in 2010.

From left: IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous; Melissa Balaban, founding president and executive director of IKAR; and NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan attend the Suzy and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award luncheon, where Balaban was honored. NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change organized the event. Photo by Shams Soomar

From left: IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous; Melissa Balaban, founding president and executive director of IKAR; and NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan attend the Suzy and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award luncheon, where Balaban was honored. NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change organized the event. Photo by Shams Soomar

More than 300 guests attended the March 26 luncheon for the Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award at the IMAN Cultural Center in West Los Angeles. The event — organized by NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change — exhibited the viability of interfaith work.

“This work between Muslims and Jews is more important than ever,” IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous said as she addressed the audience. “We do this work because it’s right. Now, after a decade of working together to build these relationships in the city, we do it not only out of sense of obligation but also out of sense of love.”

During the ceremony, several guests received awards from NewGround, which marked its 10th anniversary earlier this year. The recipients of the Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award were IKAR’s founding president and executive director, Melissa Balaban, and the Aga Khan Council for the Western U.S. The Day School Exchange, a project of New Horizon School Pasadena and Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, was given the inaugural NewGround Change-Maker Award.

The event had more than 30 sponsors, including Suzy Marks; David Weiner, CEO at Social Studies School Service; the Islamic Center of Southern California; and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. The Ismaili Choir of Los Angeles performed, singing a song in Hebrew, Arabic and English as the guests were served kosher and halal food.

Other guests at the event included Rabbi Sarah Bassin, of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and former executive director at NewGround, and Andrea Hodos, program director at NewGround and creator of Moving Torah Workshops.

Daniel Tamm, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s interfaith liaison and Westside representative, said he is a big fan of NewGround.

“It’s one of my most favorite organizations in Los Angeles,” Tamm said. “I love it because it builds bridges instead of creating boundaries.”

The event raised $85,000 for NewGround, which promotes discussions and partnerships between Jewish and Muslim communities.

Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer

Zane Buzby, comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder, and actor Ed Asner come together at the Anti-Defamation League annual Deborah Awards. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

Zane Buzby, comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder, and actor Ed Asner come together at the Anti-Defamation League annual Deborah Awards. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual Deborah Awards dinner March 30 at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, honoring women who exemplify professional leadership and civic contribution.

This year, the ADL honored comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder Zane Buzby, sports and entertainment executive Francesca Leiweke-Bodie of Oak View Group, and AEG Executive Vice President Martha Saucedo, who leads the entertainment firm’s external affairs, including its charitable involvement.

“The ADL is honoring Zane Buzby,” actor Ed Asner joked in Buzby’s introduction. “What is that? Is that a condition?”

Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke presented the award to Leiweke-Bodie, his daughter, and Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo introduced Saucedo.

The black-tie event, with about 300 attendees, raised more than $300,000 for the ADL.

Among the celebrity guests were actors Topher Grace, Allen Leech, Frances Fisher and Emmanuelle Chriqui.

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin delivered an address thanking the ADL for its work training law enforcement officers, saying a recent four-hour training session had helped her staff differentiate between hate speech and hate crimes.

Telemundo executive Mónica Gil and longtime ADL supporter and donor Suzanne Prince acted as the event’s co-chairs. Actress and musician Janina Gavankar was the emcee.

Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Julie Munjack

Julie Munjack

Julie Munjack, director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Los Angeles, was among 30 Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders from around the world selected by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for the third cohort of the Schusterman Fellowship.

The foundation describes the fellowship as an “executive leadership program that features individualized professional development experiences.”

Fellows will gain leadership skills, develop strategic networks, and maximize their potential to affect “Jewish organizational and societal change,” the foundation said in a press release.

Munjack, who oversees a staff of eight and leads operations and development efforts for AIPAC’s second-largest market, is the only person from Los Angeles named to the latest cohort of fellows. She was selected through a competitive application process. Her goal, according to the Schusterman website, is to “grow the pro-Israel movement in Los Angeles and train our local leaders.”

From left: Daniel Levine, Amanda Khalil, Nerses Aposhian, Mary Isaac and Darion Ouliguian participated in a panel titled “Indigenous People Unite.” Photo by Mati Geula Cohen

From left: Daniel Levine, Amanda Khalil, Nerses Aposhian, Mary Isaac and Darion Ouliguian participated in a panel titled “Indigenous People Unite.” Photo by Mati Geula Cohen

Students Supporting Israel at UCLA on March 9 held an event called “Indigenous People Unite,” which brought together representatives of the Armenian, Jewish, Assyrian and Coptic indigenous communities to speak about their identities, struggles and futures in the United States and in their homelands.

Speakers included UCLA graduate student Daniel Levine, speaking for the Jewish community; Loyola Marymount law student Nerses Aposhian, president of the Armenian Law Students’ Association; UCLA alumnus Mary Isaac, for the Assyrian community; and UCLA undergraduate student Amanda Khalil for the Coptic community.

The goal of the event was to recognize and bring attention to indigenous people and their stories, to create a dialogue between the communities and show the similarities between each other’s narratives.

Some of the topics focused on biblical Jewish history and modern Zionism, the current conditions of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, the Armenian genocide and communities in the Diaspora, as well as the Assyrian people’s desire to return to their homeland and how their community maintains its identity.

At one point, in response to a question by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine about “the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government,” Liat Menna, president of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, responded, “The reason why we are doing this event is so that conversations get started.”

The audience included UCLA students from various backgrounds, as well as UCLA professor emeritus and Daniel Pearl Foundation President Judea Pearl, and Zionist Organization of America’s West Coast Campus Coordinator Leore Ben-David.

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

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

Calendar: April 7-13



Celebrate the end of the week with Young Adults of Los Angeles, tasting wines and food while welcoming the start of Shabbat. 7 p.m. $36; tickets available at eventbrite.com. The Blending Lab, 7948 W. Third St., Los Angeles. yala.org.



Wayne Newton makes his return to Beverly Hills with his new production, “Wayne Newton: Up Close and Personal.” The entertainer known as “Mr. Las Vegas” will sing crowd favorites including his signature hit, “Danke Schoen,” interact with the audience and play an assortment of instruments. The opening set will be by modern adult-contemporary/smooth jazz artist and songwriter Carly Robyn Green. 8 p.m. $38; tickets available at tikly.co/events/1856. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. sabanconcerts.com.


International recording artist RebbeSoul is back in the United States from Israel with his unique blend of ancient and modern music. Come enjoy an evening of music, storytelling, noshing and mingling with the community. 8:10 p.m. $25; tickets available at eventbrite.com; $29 at the door. Address given upon RSVP, Santa Monica. (310) 430-9864. holisticjew.org.



Travel back in time to biblical Egypt and relive the Exodus. Watch the Ten Plagues come to life in the Land of Egypt (aka Shemesh Organic Farm), meet animals at the Pinat Chai Animal Center, bake matzo on the open fire, make charoset in the “Jamba Jews” Bike Blender, and enjoy games plus arts and crafts. The day will be filled with activities, snacks and a kosher lunch. 10 a.m. $10; free for kids 6 and younger; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500. shalominstitute.com.


Need help finding a genealogical record or a ship manifest? Do you know what sources to use? Or do you need family documents translated? Yiddish, Russian, German, Polish and Hebrew translators will be on hand to help answer your questions in an event hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles. Sessions include Barbara Algaze on genealogy research at the Family History Library and a Q-and-A on DNA topics moderated by Brock Shamberg. 12:30 p.m. Free for members; become a member at the door for $25 (or $30 per family). Los Angeles Family History Library, 10741 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. jgsla.org.



Join Netiya for a six-day Passover virtual cleanse that features a daylong retreat on April 16 in Sherman Oaks. Instead of a week of eating heavily processed foods full of additives, sugars and salt, you can choose to join Neitya for a virtual cleanse that includes daily prompts with nutritional and health tips, emotional and spiritual probes and quotes, Passover Torah and optional daily conference calls for support. Includes a suggested menu of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, soups and teas. Participants will pot and take home edible plants, sing freedom songs and close with a mikveh. netiya.org.



Michael Twitty, the acclaimed African-American Jewish food writer and culinary historian, will explore race, culture, food, faith and history through what he calls “Kosher/Soul.” Twitty will share his personal journey and discuss the experience of being both African-American and Jewish. The 8 p.m. event will feature a sampling of recipes from his forthcoming cookbook, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South.” 2 p.m., free; 8 p.m., $20, $15 for members, $10 for students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.    

Homeless in Brentwood: When journalism fights

Journalists cover stories—we don’t make them. Once in a while, though, stories find us, and they move our hearts so much that we can’t help adding to the original story.

This is what happened to my friend Sharon Waxman, founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of the popular entertainment and culture news site, The Wrap.

I’ve known Sharon for years. Before starting The Wrap, she covered Hollywood for The New York Times. One of the things I’ve always admired about her work is a no-nonsense quality to covering glamorous subjects. She’s not starstruck, she’s storystruck. Earlier in her career, she covered foreign affairs in Europe. Now she covers cultural affairs in Hollywood. She’s still the same journalist looking for real stories.

On her way to a Brentwood restaurant on a recent Friday night, she stumbled onto one of those real stories. She noticed a 40ish woman sleeping beneath an outdoor heater at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Next to the woman were her two teenage daughters, slumped against one another.

They were in the same position when Sharon came out of the restaurant. She couldn’t resist. She doubled back and asked the woman, Katherine, if she needed help. They were homeless, Katherine explained. She and her 19-year-old twins had nowhere to go.

One thing that caught Sharon’s eye was that Katherine was well-dressed and articulate, while her twins were beautiful girls with wide eyes that said “they expected nothing from anyone.” As they laid there with no place to go, they even charged their cell phones.

Sharon decided this was a story. So she stayed and asked questions. Here’s what she wrote later on her Waxword blog:

“In a resigned monotone, Katherine said that all the shelters were full. That since her daughters weren’t pregnant and none of them were drug addicts, they could not get into city programs. A Veteran Administration facility was less than a mile away on a huge federal plot of land, but they weren’t veterans.

“Family would not help them, she said. She had a car up until a few weeks ago but it was repossessed when she learned the payments she’d been making on a friend’s car were going elsewhere.

“I asked when was the last time they’d slept in a bed.

“Three weeks, they said.”

But here’s where the story takes off. After Sharon published the story, a group of people started reaching out to help. Within a week, the “Wrap community” was able to raise $2,000 via a Gofundme campaign to put Katherine and her girls in temporary housing. Of course, Sharon knew this wasn’t a longterm solution. So she set her investigative eye on city services. Here’s what she wrote on April 3:

“Social services that claim to exist to help families like this—I keep hearing about this terrific, phantom thing called ‘Rapid Rehousing’—have been missing in action.

“The two local organizations, OPCC or The People’s Concern, and St. Joseph—where everyone tells me the people are hard-working and professional—need to do their part. So far a case worker from St. Joseph has failed to show up to two appointments. I’d love to know why. Where’s the OPCC?

“Katherine and her daughters are burning through the money we’ve raised at a local motel. Scott and Lori Sale are willing to provide support for longer term housing, but not without the support of a case worker, which is critical. What’s the deal, social services?”

Yes, what’s the deal?

Sharon is not letting go. She’s tweeting about the case and moving the story forward. When I emailed her saying how much I loved the initiative, she used the term “nightmare” to describe the case. Her focus now is to help publicize the plight of Katherine and her two daughters and get them longer term help.

Knowing Sharon, I’m sure she would have preferred if my lead to this story was an appeal for help. I do hope the help will come through and that this story has a happy ending. But I can’t help seeing another story here that I stumbled upon—that of a journalist who walked out of a restaurant on a Friday night and decided not to ignore human pain.

Anatol Josepho leads a group of Scouts on a wagon ride on his ranch in Rustic Canyon. His two sons are the Cub Scouts (dark uniforms) in the front of the wagon. Photo © crescentbaycouncil.org

Anatol Josepho: The immigrant who introduced us to the selfie

At a time when we are obsessed with selfies, where would we be without Anatol Josepho, a Russian Jew from Siberia, who in 1925 invented the photo booth?

Josepho’s contraption, which for a quarter produced a strip of eight photos, introduced Americans to the immediacy of producing variations of one’s self-image. Today, his invention’s descendants still can be found in amusement parks and tourist zones, and they have morphed into a must-have for b’nai mitzvah parties.

When Josepho first came to Los Angeles in 1921 to gain experience in the city’s film industry, who could have predicted that the rough plans he brought with him for an automated photo booth would bring inexpensive photography to the masses, changing the way Americans saw themselves?

Anatol Josephewitz was born on March 31, 1894, in Omsk, Siberia, to a prosperous jeweler and his wife, who died when Anatol was 3, according to “American Photobooth” by Nakki Goranin. As a child, he showed an interest in cameras and photography, and attended a technical institute. In 1909, at age 15, with financial support from his father, he went to Berlin and talked his way into a job at a photo studio, where the owner trained him as a photographer. At 19, he opened his own studio in Budapest, Hungary. After the Russian Revolution and World War I, seeking a new life, he traveled to Shanghai, where he opened a successful photo studio around 1921. There, he drew up plans for his invention, but he knew he would need to go to the United States to realize his dream.

“I decided to come to America and hunt for backers,” Josepho told The New York Times in 1927. “I landed at Seattle. It struck me that I ought to go to Hollywood and get motion picture experience.”

Realizing he needed more funding for his invention, he traveled to New York. In March 1925, he filed a patent for “Developing apparatus for photographic film strips” (Patent No. 1,656,522 was granted in January 1928) and in September 1925, he opened his Photomaton Studio on Broadway a few blocks from Times Square.

“Almost since the studio was opened last September crowds have stood in line to put the quarter in the machine and take a strip of eight sepia photos of themselves,” The New York Times reported.

With his success, Josepho began courting silent film actress Hannah-Belle Kelhmann, known as “Ganna,” the daughter of a New York printer. On July 22, 1926, they were married.

Anatol Josepho sits at the Photomaton photo booth he invented — eight photos for a quarter — which made its public debut in September 1925 in New York. Photo from Flickr Commons Project

Anatol Josepho sits at the Photomaton photo booth he invented — eight photos for a quarter — which made its public debut in September 1925 in New York. Photo from Flickr Commons Project

With the Photomaton attracting customers (one source estimated 2,000 people per day) and press, in 1927 Josepho sold the North American rights to his invention for $1 million (more than $13.5 million in 2017 dollars) to a business group led by Henry Morgenthau Sr., a prominent Jewish New Yorker and former ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. “We will begin to dot strategic points in this country with studios at a rate slightly more rapid than one a week,” Morgenthau told the Times.

Pegged in the press as a “get-rich-quick genius,” Josepho nonetheless perplexed them with his altruism. He had a “plan to create a trust fund of half of the first million dollars to be devoted to general charity based along economically sound lines,” Josepho told the Times. In the same article, the paper labeled him a “Socialist,” which was echoed in other New York media during the Red Scare 1920s and was a potentially damaging epithet. Hardly considered was that Josepho’s generosity possibly had been motivated by his Jewish heritage — with a tradition of giving to the poor — or his exposure to the plight of other immigrants and refugees who had fled their countries in the post-World War I era.

In Josepho’s defense, a first-person column about his rise to success — under the headline “The Jewish World,” in the June 12, 1927, edition of the Syracuse Herald by Rabbi Jacob Minkin — stated: “[H]e is not a Socialist as has been declared; in fact, has no political affiliations whatsoever.”

In 1928, Josepho returned to California to stay permanently, moving with his wife into a home overlooking Mandeville Canyon. According to a book by Betty Lou Young, “Rustic Canyon and the Story of the Uplifters,” Anatol and Ganna often rode horses on the area’s mountain trails. On one such outing, Anatol found an area in Rustic Canyon near a spring that was suitable for a home site. The couple’s friend, famed humorist and actor Will Rogers, who owned property nearby and wanted them as neighbors, “even flew with him over the canyon in a plane and helped him plot out the site,” Young wrote.

Closing the deal, in 1932, Josepho bought 100 acres in Rustic Canyon from the Mountain Land Co., owned by Alphonso Bell (whose son later served eights terms as a congressman representing L.A.’s Westside).

After carefully clearing the land but preserving as many trees as possible, Josepho, who operated the steam shovel himself, contracted for a comfortable home, an “inventor’s cottage” and a barn to be built. He later called the ranch “Ganatolia,” after his wife.

In 1928, the couple had a son, Marco (who died in 2016). Two years later, they had a second son, Roy, whose birth was announced in the social column of the May 16, 1930, edition of the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

In 1941, Josepho purchased another 110 acres to the north of his property for what would become a Boy Scout camp. He may have given the land to the Boy Scouts (his sons were Cub Scouts) “to express his gratitude to his adopted land,” as Young wrote, or because he foresaw the property — if developed “with separate water tanks and access road” — could “act as a first line of defense,” buffering wildfires that came roaring down the canyon, as an article on the Crescent Bay Historical Project website speculated. Most likely, it was a bit of both. The land, plus an additional gift of $30,000, made Camp Josepho a reality that today has programs in moviemaking and robotics.

After their sons became teenagers, in 1946, the Josephos sold their home but remained in the L.A. area. Like a series of shots emerging from his photo booth, the next decades showed a series of images of the couples’ participation, leadership and contributions to the L.A. Jewish community and Israel.

In 1957, according to the B’nai B’rith Messenger, the first Anatol Josepho award, a Torah made in Israel, was presented by the Los Angeles Israel Bond Committee to Congregation B’nai David (today Congregation B’nai David-Judea): “In token of the congregation’s outstanding High Holy Day Israel Bond sales.”

In 1962, the Josephos, living at 1801 San Vicente Blvd., in Santa Monica, hosted a cocktail hour and dinner in their gardens saluting Ort’s Tel Aviv Vocational Training Center; and in 1966, Ganna was elected to the executive board of the Bay Cities Jewish Community Center.

Seeing that the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology in Haifa (established in 1912), was an institution focused on areas of innovation that had made his career, Josepho gradually became more involved with the Los Angeles chapter of the American Technion Society. In 1968, he was elected one of the national organization’s vice presidents .

In 1971, as a part of a California Day, a large delegation of Southern Californians, including the Josepho family, gathered in Haifa to participate in the dedication of the Ganna and Anatol M. Josepho Building on the Technion’s campus, a building for which they had made a major financial contribution. At the time, said an article in the Messenger, the building was “the largest on the campus.” Today, the nine-story building is called the Josepho Industrial Research Center.

Josepho died at a rest home in La Jolla, Calif., following a series of strokes, on Dec. 16, 1980.

As a place for new generations of immigrants — as well as Israel’s future technicians and scientists and those from developing counties — to dream and develop their own ways of picturing the future, the building he left behind at the Technion could not be more connected to the booth that Josepho had devised so many decades before.

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

Obituaries: Week of March 23, 2017

Norman Acker died Feb. 23 at 98. Survived by son Dennis. Hillside

Morris A. Berkowitz died Feb. 19 at age 91. Survived by wife Lois; daughters Sharron Lee (Michael) Bradley, Carole Mumford; 2 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Dorothy Broidy died Feb. 17 at 91. Survived by daughters Claudia (Mike) Sterling, Michele (David) Nastarin; son Elliot (Robin); 7 grandchildren. Hillside

Della Carmona died Feb. 25 at 96. Survived by sons Michael “Mike” (Miriam), Ken (Mary), Charles (Betty); 9 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; brother Morley “Kippy” Lertzman. Mount Sinai

Moshe Cohen died Feb. 21 at 91. Survived by son Jeff (Siv-Lee) Cohen; stepson Michael Simon; 1 grandchild. Mount Sinai

Ann Diamond died Feb. 18 at 97. Survived by daughter Karen (Marko) Markovich; son Neil A. (Norma); 3 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren; brother Albert (Evelyn) Canter; sister Marilyn Aaronson. Mount Sinai

Jeanne Eget died on Feb. 21 at 88. Survived by daughter Pamela (Susan Sherman) Juhos; son Richard Allan (Stephanie Reitzenstein); 7 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Mount Sinai

Herbert Theodore Fink died Feb. 18 at 93. Survived by wife Norma; daughters Lisa (Richard) Davis, Leslie Letellier, Tracy; 4 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Ella Furman died Feb. 13 at age 79. Survived by sons Eugene, Michael; 1 grandchild. Mount Sinai

Lucy Goldsmith died Feb. 23 at 92. Survived by daughters Linda (Rick) Paul, Laurie; son Michael; 7 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren; brother Maurice Aronzon. Mount Sinai

Frederick Goodrich died Feb. 18 at 92. Survived by wife Connie. Hillside

David Gorlick died Feb. 18 at 83. Survived by daughter Melissa Sara (Alon) Gorlick Marer; son Solomon (Melinda Costa) Gorlick; 5 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Ronald Granit died Feb. 20 at 76. Survived by wife Diana; sons Eric, Todd; 1 grandchild. Hillside

Natalie Korngute Hall died Feb. 18 at 24. Survived by mother Jo Anne Korngute; brothers Zack (Micaela Westerlund) Hall, Richard (Anna) Korngute. Mount Sinai

Clara Kundin died Feb. 23 at 95. Survived by sons Sheldon (Lynn), Bruce (Carol); 5 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; 1 great-great- grandchild. Mount Sinai

Mitzi Lebowsky died Feb. 21 at 95. Survived by daughter Marla (Robert) Epstein; 2 grandchildren. Hillside

Reva Salm Levenson died Feb. 18 at 85. Survived by daughter Sylvia (Frank) Linguiti; sons Edward Salm, Lorin Salm; 2 grandchildren; brother Michael (Sandra) Dubinsky. Mount Sinai

Menasce Elie Levi died Feb. 16 at 92. Survived by daughters Terry Snyder, Simone (Chuck) Politi, Debbie (Richard) Minchenberg; son E. Alain (Ruta); 6 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren; sister Liliane (Levi) Gani; brother Andre. Hillside

Elaine Lichtman died Feb. 14 at 78. Survived by daughter Cheryl (Scott) Grimm; 4 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Helen Marks died Feb. 20 at 99. Survived by daughters Janet (Stan), Gerry (Dan) Clark; 9 grandchildren. Hillside

Ida Mundell died Feb. 24 at 102. Hillside

Heather Lynne Olsen died Feb. 19 at 36. Survived by husband Travis; son Grant; sister Michelle (Kory) Budish-Collin; mother Deborah (Jay Layman) Worth; father Alan (Rose) Budish. Mount Sinai

Donald Schweitzer died Feb. 19 at 89. Survived by daughters Jaimie (Peter Silberg), Vicki (Gary) Meissic; 3 grandchildren. Hillside

Rose Schwimer died Feb. 17 at 93. Survived by sons Scott (Michael Epstein), Stanford (Randi); daughter Sandee (Jim) Russell; 6 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren. Hillside

Helen Robinson died Feb. 20 at 96. Survived by daughter Jacqueline Eldridge; son Ira; 1 grandchild. Mount Sinai

Rosalind Ross died Feb. 23 at 94. Survived by sons John (Cookie), William (Marie); 2 grandchildren.; brother Max Meyerson. Hillside

George Ruderman died Feb. 21 at 91. Survived by wife Ruth; daughter Jeanne (Philippe), Diane (Scott) Weingarten; 4 grandchildren; sister Lila Goodman. Mount Sinai

Milton Slotkin died Feb. 16 at 97. Survived by son Steven; son-in-law Steven Gordon; 2 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild. Hillside

Alfred Spivak died Feb. 24 at 88. Survived by wife Betty; daughter Sharon; son Michael (Gaby); 2 grandchildren; brother Herb. Hillside

Herbert Stone died Feb. 12 at 73. Survived by wife Beverly; daughters Amanda (Ryan), Shiloh; son Darren Stone. Mount Sinai

Florence Templer died Feb. 17, 2017 at 94. Survived by daughter Beverly (Jerry) Nemetz; son Alan (Lea); 4 grandchildren; 7 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Selma Weinreich died Feb. 24 at 86. Survived by husband Abraham; daughter Rina (Isaac) Aharoni; sons David (Galina), Don (Kara); 6 grandchildren. Mount Sinai 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles. Jan. 25. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS.

Eric Garcetti elected to second term as LA mayor

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected to a second four-year term.

Garcetti, 46, a Democrat, was reelected on Tuesday with 81 percent of the vote, defeating 10 other opponents. Voter turnout was low, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Garcetti, who was a councilman for 12 years before being elected mayor for the first time in 2013, is the son of a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish. On his father’s side, he is of mixed Italian and Mexican heritage.
Los Angeles’ 600,000 Jews, about six percent of the city population of some 4 million residents, make up the second-largest Jewish community in the United States.
Photo by Lynn Pelkey

Measure S asks voters: How do we do density in L.A.?

Gustavo Flores sees his fight against a local development project as a struggle for the character of his neighborhood.

In late 2014, a developer rolled out plans for four restaurants and a bar a few blocks from his Westlake home, on an intersection with three nearby schools. To Flores and his allies, it was a disaster, an example of development gone wrong. What’s more, nobody in the city establishment seemed to be listening — not the local police captain, not the neighborhood council, not Gilbert Cedillo, the city councilmember for the East Los Angeles neighborhood.

“They’re never looking out for us,” Flores said of City Hall. “They care about the people with the big bucks.”

So when he heard about Measure S, an initiative on the March 7 ballot that would restrict dense development and impose sweeping land-use reforms, he was heartened. Somebody was finally talking his language.

And it wasn’t just talk. Since last year, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), led by president Michael Weinstein, has funneled more than $4.5 million into the campaign. Effectively, Weinstein has bankrolled a conversation about how and where Los Angeles will develop, galvanizing a patchwork of neighborhood advocates into a unified front against city politicians.

But even if the measure passes, serious questions linger about what effect it will have and whether it will accomplish the goals it sets out. The most controversial item in the measure is a two-year moratorium on construction projects that use exceptions from the city to build denser than would otherwise be allowed.

Other provisions would change the way environmental impact reports are compiled and rule out the practice of “spot zoning” that allows the city to carve out parts of neighborhoods for different uses. Advocates hope these changes will help stem a rise in housing costs and bring equity to L.A. building policy.

“It’s really a matter of equality and whether or not Los Angeles is going to becoming a rich ghetto like Manhattan or San Francisco,” Weinstein told the Journal.

Consensus and contention

Few observers are thrilled with the way Los Angeles approaches housing. Most agree that outdated planning documents mean big projects proceed on a case-by-case basis, with developers approaching City Hall to bend the rules when they want to increase density.

“The city has decided that they want more density along transit corridors, but the plans don’t provide for it,” said Century City-based land-use attorney Benjamin Reznik.

He agrees with proponents of Measure S about the need to update the General Plan and 35 community plans that govern construction in L.A., but he called the initiative ill-conceived and poorly written, pointing out that it fails to provide funding for the community planning process it mandates. “It’s not going to achieve the goals they want to achieve,” he said.

Yes on S campaign director Jill Stewart described the city’s approach to land use as “piecemeal, piecemeal, piecemeal.” She argued that the process is governed through shady backroom deals, with developers rewarding politicians for approving their projects through campaign funds.

“They’re planning L.A. by which developers reward them the most,” Stewart said. “And it’s — it’s insane, really.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has loudly opposed the measure, flatly rejected the claim in an interview with the Journal.

“Outdated zoning and community plans is a real problem,” he said. “That cozy relationship is not.”

Garcetti dismissed those who paint a picture of corruption as “conspiracy theorists.” As for the fact that community plans are outdated, “Well, I didn’t need Measure S to tell me that,” he said.

In his first budget, the mayor said he put a premium on hiring city planners to accelerate the process of updating L.A.’s planning documents. Still, he estimated those plans will take six to seven years to fully update.

points-redA survey of 300 Angelenos by independent polling firm Probolsky Research found in February that 46 percent were planning to vote against Measure S while 34 percent planned on supporting it. But if it passes, Garcetti said the city would move the most outdated community plans to the front of the queue for revision in order to allow development to proceed. Nonetheless, the picture he painted is not a pretty one.

“If you think homelessness is bad now, Measure S will make it worse,” he said. “And, even though we have a prosperous economy, we will lose jobs.”

And it’s not only the mayor, but also some community activists who make the economic argument against the measure.

“It will be devastating,” said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, an L.A.-based community-organizing group. “Millions and millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, will be lost.”

Brick and mortar

Measure S would mostly impact large projects that increase housing capacity, according to analysis by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

A small proportion of construction projects require the type of exception banned by the two-year moratorium, the analysis suggested, pegging that proportion somewhere below 27 percent. Between 2011 and 2016, that amounted to fewer than 4,000 units.

Still, “exceptions are important tools to build higher density,” the report noted, since they’re mostly used to green light larger development projects. For instance, it pointed to a complex in Reseda that houses 240 low-income people on the former site of an under-utilized church. The project would not have been allowed under Measure S. Projects like the Riverwalk at Reseda are cited as evidence that the measure would be self-defeating and actually make neighborhoods less affordable.

Critics also insist it would stymie efforts to house the homeless.

“We can’t necessarily build our way out of [the homeless] crisis, but dampening the production of more housing is going to make the problem worse,” said Amy Anderson, executive director of PATH Ventures, the development arm of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).

But advocates say that logic is faulty since the measure would target luxury units rather than affordable ones. Grace Yoo, a community leader in Koreatown and former city council candidate, dismissed allegations that Measure S would increase rents and homelessness.

“They go, ‘Well, if you don’t build more luxury units, you’re going to cause more homelessness,’ ” she said. “And we’re going, ‘In what world is that true?’ ”

Crossed wires on homelessness

In theory, the measure’s moratorium allows low-income housing proposals to seek exceptions for zoning and height, but not amendments to the city’s General Plan.

Anderson said a review of the measure’s language by knowledgeable members of PATH’s board, including former L.A. city planning director Con Howe, found “there’s in fact not an exception for affordable housing” since many affordable housing projects require General Plan amendments to proceed. What’s more, Measure S could get in the way of Measure HHH, the $1.2 billion bond for homeless and affordable housing construction voters approved in November, she said.

Garcetti has proposed 12 city-owned properties as sites for bond building. “Eleven of those 12 would be dead in the water if S passes — they require General Plan amendments,” he said.

Weinstein’s solution is simply to look elsewhere. “There are thousands of sites across the cities where you could build housing,” he said.

Populist or pest?

To his critics, Weinstein is a busybody whose electioneering is simply a ploy to stop a construction project that would block the view from his Hollywood office. To his proponents, though, he’s a crusader for empowering community advocates over real estate barons running roughshod over their neighborhoods.

“I am grateful that there’s someone willing to stand up to the bullies of City Hall,” Yoo said of Weinstein’s efforts.

But even though AHF has put up nearly 99 percent of the funds behind Measure S, Weinstein insists the conversation should not be about him, but rather about who the city council truly represents.

“They want to make it about me because they want to change the subject,” he said of his detractors in City Hall. “Because they’re doing the bidding of the billionaires, and they don’t want that talked about.”

In April, he made an enemy of one of those billionaires when he sued to stop a pair of condo towers slated to go up across the street from AHF’s offices on Sunset Boulevard. Since then, the developer on that project, Crescent Heights, run by Israeli real estate billionaire Sonny Kahn, has poured more than $1 million into the No on S campaign, or more than 60 percent of the campaign’s total budget in 2016. Crescent Heights declined to comment on the donations.

Weinstein points to the preponderance of developers against his measure as a sign that he’s on the right track (though labor groups such as the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations also are major contributors to the No on S campaign).

The nonprofit director says his motives are entirely altruistic. He insists he’s doing his job by trying to help the AIDS and HIV patients his organization serves, and who are disproportionately hurt by the housing squeeze.

“In the broader sense, you have to look at the social determinants of health,” he said. “Health is not restricted to medications and doctors and nurses.”

Cause and effect

The most common criticism of Measure S is that it won’t do what proponents say it will. Even if one assumes backroom dealing exists, for instance, Measure S “doesn’t even begin to address” that problem, said Reznik, the land-use lawyer.

“If you want to take the politics out of land use, take zoning power out of the hands of the councils and put it in the hands of planners,” he said.

Reznik is among a class of city planning professionals who have lined up behind Garcetti’s contention that “land use by referendum is usually a bad idea in the first place.”

“The chances of solving this from the ballot box are very, very small,” said Marlon Boarnet, chair of USC’s Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis.

Among his colleagues, Boarnet says he finds few, if any, who support Measure S. He said he personally views the measure as a wrongheaded attempt that will impede the city’s growth.

“As much as I want to respect neighborhoods, Los Angeles has hit a moment where we need to think as a city,” he said. Thinking as a city means increasing density along transit corridors, he maintains, even over the complaints of some communities.

Weinstein is unfazed by the critics. He insists the moratorium will help break City Hall of its dependence on campaign funds from donors, resulting in smarter development in the long run.

“You have to take the crack pipe away from the addict at some point,” he said.

For local advocates like Yoo and Flores, Weinstein and his foundation’s millions represent an evening of the score between the little guy and billionaire developers.

Flores, 27, an aspiring law student with four children, has lived in Westlake over the course of a decade when property values climbed rapidly and dense development began to seem inevitable. He’s not looking to stop development in its tracks but wishes it would happen in a smarter way.

“I know development’s gonna happen, and in my opinion, it’s good,” he said. “But let’s have responsible development.”

Gregory Martayan (right) meets Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union at the Knesset during a trip to Israel in December. Photo courtesy of Gregory Martayan for Los Angeles Unified School Board

Meet the non-Jew who wants Hebrew and kosher food in LAUSD schools

The most Jew-ish candidate for a local office in Los Angeles right now, it turns out, is not a Jew at all.

Gregory Martayan is Armenian. But the contender for the Los Angeles Unified School District board District 4 seat has a robust slate of campaign promises geared toward the Jewish community.

If elected, Martayan, 33, a public relations consultant, has promised to install Hebrew education in L.A. Unified schools, deliver kosher food to campuses that request it and institute a zero-tolerance policy toward anti-Semitism — all within six months. He professes stalwart support for Israel, having traveled there in December with a pair of campaign aides.

“Sometimes a goy like Greg can be more helpful to Jewish causes than a Jew,” said Andrew Friedman, Martayan’s campaign co-chair and a well-connected attorney in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Martayan’s candidacy pits him against two candidates who are Jewish: incumbent board President Steve Zimmer and Nicholas Melvoin. Both have better funding and name recognition. A fourth contender, Allison Holdorff Polhill, is not Jewish, but she also has raised more money than Martayan.

Yet Martayan is bullish about his chances. A mustachioed man who’s partial to pinstripe suits, he sells himself as a back-to-basics candidate, with three major issues: accountability, transparency and school safety. He makes frequent references to “the people,” specifically to people he says are underrepresented in LAUSD, not least among them Orthodox Jews.

“The Orthodox Jewish community has not been getting support under Steve Zimmer,” he said. “This is just a fact. And they’re not going to get services or support under any of the other candidates.”

Why tailor a campaign message to Orthodox families when many will choose to send their children to religious schools anyway?

“Our platform is to provide services to all communities of the city of Los Angeles,” he said. “And it’s up to them whether they want to utilize those services or not.”

Martayan said he supports school choice, another popular view among Orthodox Jews. “Parent choice is not a right that any government official has the ability to strip away,” he said.

But he’d like to see it get easier for Jewish families to enroll their kids in L.A. Unified. He asserts Jewish enrollment would go up if not for certain barriers, such as a lack of kosher food and a discriminatory atmosphere that he promises to reverse.

Martayan contends that bias against Jews — kids who wear yarmulkes, for instance — is rampant on L.A. Unified campuses. He says these incidents go unreported because of a lack of official channels for dealing with it.

“We have whistleblowers who have given us information,” he said. “However, in terms of documented, archived reports, there is no system in which those are being documented and archived.”

Martayan didn’t provide examples of anti-Semitic incidents in the school district. He said information is hard to come by under “an administration that likes to keep the truth out of the light,” and vowed to seek it out as a board member.

But he said his own campaign has become the target of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks in person and on social media. Recently, someone on the web accused him of being a “traitor and a hypocrite” because of his support for Israel, he said.

Martayan’s affiliation with the Jewish community goes back generations, to his grandfather’s time in New York City, newly arrived from Armenia, sleeping on the floors of butcher shops in immigrant neighborhoods where he worked.

Martayan’s father ran a printing press in downtown L.A., where many of his clients and associates were Jews. And Martayan himself grew up among Orthodox Jews in Hancock Park.

“I grew up eating latkes and applesauce,” he said. “I grew up spinning dreidels.”

Friedman said he met Martayan about five years ago at Congregation Bais Naftali on La Brea Avenue, where Martayan invited him and his wife to a banquet dinner. Friedman responded he would be able to eat only if the food were kosher. Martayan persisted.

“He made the entire dinner kosher rather than just serving me from paper plates, as many times they do,” Friedman said.

Originally, he said, Martayan had planned to campaign on installing kosher kitchens at LAUSD schools, but Friedman persuaded him to scale that plan back. Now, Martayan’s campaign promise is to make pre-packaged kosher food available to students wherever there is enough demand.

“There are more Jewish students in public schools than in parochial schools, and so at least making kosher food available for them would be great,” Friedman said.

His opponents have staked their run on education backgrounds: Melvoin is a former teacher and education activist, Zimmer spent 17 years as a high school teacher and counselor before his 2009 election to the school board, and Holdorff Polhill served as board president for Palisades Charter High School. By contrast, Martayan has had a diverse career outside the classroom.

He started a public relations and local issues firm shortly after graduating from Pepperdine University and later served as an ambassador for the National Crime Prevention Council and a member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families. But to fuel his hoped-for victory, he cited his support in communities he says are traditionally underrepresented at the school board level — Orthodox, Asian American and Black.

Martayan may be betting on long odds in a sprawling district of mostly white neighborhoods, from Marina del Rey and Venice to Woodland Hills and back east to North Hollywood. Missing from that swath are large concentrations of Orthodox voters — in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Pico-Robertson and most of Hancock Park are parts of another L.A. Unified district.

Well aware of these demographics, Martayan nonetheless insisted, “We’re going to win.”

“We have a strong coalition, because we’re the only ones who represent the community,” he said. “No amount of outside money is going to be able to buy the race.”

For their part, Martayan’s opponents challenge the notion that he is the only candidate who cares about Jewish constituents.

“As a member of the board, I would support all communities, including, of course, our Jewish community,” Melvoin wrote in an email, citing his many ties to local Jewish organizations, including a Hebrew school education and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ New Leaders Project.

In a phone interview, Holdorff Polhill said she would be open to instituting Hebrew language education and kosher food at LAUSD schools. She said she wasn’t aware of rampant anti-Semitism on L.A. Unified campuses, but that the schools already take a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech. Additionally, she suggested convening a stakeholder group to better address the needs of Orthodox Jews.

Zimmer, the incumbent, wrote in an email that he works “regularly with the Orthodox community on issues that touch our school system.”

“I have stood against all forms of anti-Semitism and hate every day of my career as a teacher and have been proud to stand even stronger as a district leader,” he wrote. “To suggest anything less is inconsistent with my record and wholly ignorant of fact.”

Yet only Martayan repeatedly presses his pro-Jewish platform at campaign events. In Israel, he ignored warnings from his campaign staff and walked through a minefield near a school at the Syrian border. He did it, he said, “to show the world about how dangerous this region of the world is and what kind of fear these children live in.”

“I will always be pro-Israel,” he said. “I will always stand and fight for the Jewish community, and I will always protect the rights of the Orthodox community in the city of Los Angeles, come hell or high water.”

Mitchell Schwartz (above) knows he faces an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo courtesy of Schwartz for Mayor 2017

Mitchell Schwartz mounts attack on Garcetti: Can it get him elected mayor of Los Angeles?

Mitchell Schwartz doesn’t think so highly of his incumbent opponent in the upcoming March 7 city election, but on one score, he admits that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has him beat.

“He’s much better looking than me,” Schwartz during a recent interview at a Silver Lake café.

Schwartz is tall and broad, with a nose that has been broken, the combined effect of which makes him look like a former boxer. He jokes that he broke his nose “fighting for the people.” (In fact, it was a series of sports injuries.) But if he is to defeat an electoral heavyweight like Garcetti, Schwartz will have to land some major political punches. By most accounts, he’s a serious underdog.

A former State Department official under President Bill Clinton, Schwartz has the best name recognition and fundraising operation among a group of seven otherwise obscure challengers, having raised nearly $450,000. The next best-funded candidate is Paul E. Amori, a homelessness activist who often appears in a red sequined suit and bow tie, who has raised $5,631. Meanwhile, Garcetti has collected more than $3.5 million for his campaign.

Badly outspent, Schwartz, who is Jewish, is mounting an unrelenting critique of the incumbent. Schwartz points out that in Los Angeles, housing prices are up. In 2016, the violent crime rate rose 10 percent, the third consecutive year-over-year increase. The number of people living on the street has been on the rise since 2009, including an 11 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 alone, and now stands above 28,000. The city faces a staggering pension liability of $8.2 billion and has a Department of Water and Power (DWP) many say is in dire need of reform. Amid all this, Schwartz alleges, Garcetti has been a nonentity, demonstrating “a complete lack of leadership.”

What’s more, Schwartz claims to know why.

“Garcetti, unfortunately, has what I call the politician’s disease,” Schwartz told the Journal. “He’s so desirous of going to higher office that instead of expending political capital on dealing with issues, he just tries to accumulate it and coast through and not deal with these tough situations.”

It’s the reason Garcetti hasn’t reformed the DWP or decentralized the city’s byzantine school district, and why he hasn’t pressured Veterans Affairs to house homeless veterans in its West L.A. campus, Schwartz said. He called Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion countywide homeless housing bond shepherded by the mayor and approved in November’s election, “obviously an election gimmick” to help Garcetti’s chances, though Schwartz said he voted for it anyway in the hope that it would help the homeless problem.

The mayor disputes the fundamental premise of Schwartz’s criticism.

“Anybody’s analysis that you can store up political capital and spend it later is a little bit naïve,” Garcetti said. “It’s not like you can keep it in a bank like money. It can change in an instant. So you better be spending it every day like I do, to do big and bold things.”

The mayor argues that just because he’s not picking fights doesn’t mean he’s standing still. “People mistake a bloody nose for accomplishments,” he said.

He cited his stewardship of a $120 billion transportation measure and a $1.2 billion homelessness bond passed on the November ballot as battles he has fought and won, along with his successful push for a $15 minimum wage.

On the veterans homelessness charge, Garcetti political strategist Bill Carrick said the mayor has “worked very hard at it. … We haven’t eradicated it but that’s the direction we’re headed.” The mayor alleges to have housed 8,000 homeless veterans and says he would solved the issue entirely if more veterans weren’t finding themselves on the streets of L.A. daily.

Schwartz’s critique extends not just to Garcetti’s actions but also the political culture he says the mayor inspired during his tenure as city council president and subsequently as mayor. He described the city’s attitude toward building and development as haphazard, painting a picture of city councilmen trading votes over code deviations. (Carrick called this accusation “just silly.”)

On Measure S, a package of slow-growth reforms on the March city ballot, Schwartz has declined to take a position, saying he’s wary of the measure’s mechanisms but understands the sentiment of communities feeling disenfranchised by the development process. The mayor, on the other hand, firmly opposes the measure.

With few vocal detractors, Garcetti could coast to an easy victory. That outcome would be unsurprising given the mayor’s celebrity persona and large network of connections — he recently received no less an endorsement than from former President Barack Obama (a somewhat awkward situation, given that Schwartz chaired Obama’s California campaign in 2008).

But it would be a mistake to treat the election as a foregone conclusion, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Under most normal circumstances, it would be almost impossible for an insurgent like Mitchell Schwartz to mount a credible challenge against a well-liked incumbent mayor,” he said. “But these are not normal times.”

The past 18 months have sent political predictions haywire, Schnur said, foiled by widespread disgruntlement among voters. Schnur compared the mayoral race to the recent Democratic presidential primary, with Garcetti cast as Hillary Clinton and Schwartz as her firebrand challenger, Bernie Sanders.

“He wants to be the insurgent,” Schnur said of Schwartz. “He wants to be the voice of all the frustrated, angry progressives who don’t feel like they’re being heard by traditional politicians. The challenge he faces is twofold: Garcetti is not nearly as inviting a target as Clinton and Schwartz doesn’t have nearly the megaphone that Sanders had.”

In Los Angeles, disaffection among voters often is focused on the cost of housing. Measure S, for instance, finds its political base in activists who see luxury development threatening the character of L.A. neighborhoods. The city council’s willy-nilly zoning policy is “what spawned Measure S,” Schwartz said.

It may be unsurprising that Schwartz has put a critique of Garcetti front and center of his campaign.

“[As a challenger], you have to convince people that the first-term incumbent hasn’t done an especially good job to warrant a second term,” former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the Journal. But, he added, “I don’t think he can make that case against Eric Garcetti.”

If there is a winning case to be made against Garcetti, Schwartz seems determined to find it. For instance, he’s challenged Garcetti to pledge he would serve out the entirety of an unusually long 5 1/2-year term afforded by a change in election laws; Garcetti has yet to respond to that challenge.

“He’s not going to make some pledge because Mitchell Schwartz thinks somehow he’s going to get some traction from it,” Carrick said. “The job he’s running for is mayor. That’s the job he’s trying to get re-elected to.”

Few observers doubt that Garcetti eventually will seek higher office.

“Let’s face it — is there anyone who believes that after this term that he will not attempt to see if there is any opportunity for higher office?” said Frank Zerunyan, a USC professor of governance and longtime friend of Garcetti. “And to be honest, he deserves it.”

Schwartz has argued that Garcetti’s political ambitions hamper his effectiveness as mayor. “This is a steppingstone for him,” Schwartz said. “It’s not OK.”

As befits an unusual political climate, Schwartz is an unusual candidate to lead L.A.

“I never expected to [run],” he said. “Never, never, never.”

At 56, Schwartz has never held elected office. Instead, his political experience is mainly as a campaign operative.

In 1992, he managed Clinton’s presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire and subsequently became communications director for the Clinton State Department. Since then, he’s held leadership roles in public relations and environmental firms, and helped campaign for political candidates, including former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Diane Feinstein.

Unlike Garcetti, whose religious orientation often flies under the radar despite his status as the city’s first elected Jewish mayor, Schwartz — from his name to his appearance — is unambiguously Jewish.

Growing up in an Orthodox family in Queens, N.Y., he attended the well-regarded Yeshiva of Flatbush. After moving to Los Angeles in 1996, he became involved in Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and eventually became vice president of Temple Israel of Hollywood, though he stepped down to focus on his mayoral run. He and his wife sent their three children to the temple’s elementary school.

Schwartz recognizes that he’s up against tough odds. Nonetheless, he sees an avenue, if a narrow one, to City Hall.

“We do this polling,” Schwartz said. “He’s got decent numbers. He’s got pretty good numbers. But when you push people — like, ‘Well, what has he done?’ — they cannot answer.”

A recent statement from Schwartz campaign manager Josh Kilroy alleged, based on random-sampling polls, that Schwartz’s name recognition is up. The campaign estimates the mayor is polling at around 50 percent. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by an Orange County opinion research firm from Feb. 16-19 put Garcetti’s approval at 65 percent. He needs only 51 percent of the votes to avoid a runoff. 

“All I can do is just keep working night and day and get out there,” Schwartz said.

As the interview wound down, Schwartz turned to two young people hunched over laptops at the next table.

“Excuse me, are you guys from L.A.?” he asked. “I’m running for mayor of L.A.”