November 13, 2018

Agunot Share Their Stories of Pain, Freedom and Redemption

For three years, Los Angeles resident Patricia Sultan, waited to receive a Jewish divorce from her husband, known as a get. Since obtaining a civil divorce from her home in Belgium, the rabbinical court (beit din), which is responsible for dissolving Jewish marriages, told Sultan that it would need her divorce papers to be translated from French to English, that it would be a complicated process, and she would have to wait until she heard back from the court for her divorce to be finalized.

“They never called back,” Sultan said in a phone interview with the Journal. “I had very confusing information and I didn’t understand how it would work.”

Without a get, women married in Orthodox Jewish ceremonies are unable to remarry within the Jewish faith. They become known as agunot — literally  “chained” women, tied to their husbands who refuse to sign the get.

Husbands may refuse to give their wives gets for many reasons, including extorting them for money, or as a way to exercise control over them. It is an issue that has plagued rabbinical courts for centuries.

Sultan kept calling rabbis and synagogues, hoping for answers. But none came. Then, just before Passover this year, Sultan found Esther Macner and her nonprofit organization Get Jewish Divorce Justice, based in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. She called Macner on a Friday, and by the following Tuesday her ex-husband had signed the get and paid half the fees. Sultan didn’t even have to see her husband in person.

Macner told the Journal that Sultan and her ex-husband thought they needed to resolve financial matters before she could receive her get, which was not true. They also were misinformed that they needed their civil divorce decree translated from French to English.

“I feel like I’m getting myself back together,” Sultan said. “I’m not tied to this man anymore. It’s a relief.”

Sultan is one of five women who shared their agunot stories at an event organized by Macner on April 15 in Pico-Robertson. The event, which has been running for four years, aims to celebrate the women who have received their gets and support those who are still waiting.

“Getting the get is an earth-shattering experience for any agunah,” Macner said. “It is a rebirth of her life, and many of the women are isolated. It deserves a communal celebration.”

At the event, several of the women spoke of how their husbands were mentally ill or abusive. They spoke in front of other women who are trying to get a get or were “freed” with the help of Macner. Some waited nearly 15 years, while for others it took around five. The women ranged in age, said Tehillim (Psalms) for those still waiting, and talked about their particular circumstances, as well as how they survived their ordeals.

One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she was married to a domestic abuser for more than a decade. From the outside, she lived the perfect life, but inside her home, she was in turmoil. When she asked for a divorce, her husband and his wealthy family came at her with lawyers, and said they would bribe a beit din for a heter meah rabbanim (permission from 100 rabbis) to say she was crazy.

“I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I thought it was my mission to protect the oppressed from the oppressive.” — Esther Macner

For three years, she fought him in court. In the spring of 2017, she attended Macner’s annual agunot event and finally received her get at the end of 2017, after putting legal pressure on her husband and winning one court case after another against him.

“You have to believe in HaShem [God], because there is nothing else that will get you through it,” she said. “[When I got my get], I had this chill throughout my body.”

Macner, an Orthodox Jew, started Get Jewish Divorce Justice six years ago. Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., she is a former assistant district attorney in New York City. There, she specialized in domestic violence and family law.

Macner said she started her organization because she is passionate about helping agunot. “I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I thought it was my mission to protect the oppressed from the oppressive. It’s painful to me, because I love Orthodox Judaism. It’s my identity. And this is a blemish.”

When agunot call Macner, she gets in touch with the rabbinic court she works with to see if there are solutions or legal loopholes. She calls the husbands to pressure them to provide gets, and she also counsels the agunot and writes affidavits to be used in court.

In some cases, the marriages weren’t valid to begin with. There may not have been two kosher witnesses, which covers everything from not Sabbath or kashrut observant, to not being close family members or having fraudulent activity in their backgrounds. In addition, the husband may have had a psychiatric disorder that he didn’t reveal prior to the wedding, which would render the marriage contract invalid.

Another woman who spoke at the event discovered her ex-husband’s mother had lied about her conversion, and he wasn’t Jewish, thereby invalidating the marriage. She said that before she discovered this information, the process of trying to receive the get was tearing her up.

Macner said get issues can be resolved if couples sign Jewish prenuptial agreements. These agreements state that if the couple is no longer living together as husband and wife and one of them calls the beit din to receive a get, the spouse who is not cooperating would have to pay a daily sum of money. He or she would be responsible for support, irrespective of state legal requirements.

Another way to obtain a get, Macner said, is to find legal loopholes and not give up if the husband isn’t cooperating. “Rabbinic courts should send out a summons and be much more aggressive in pressuring a guy to give a get,” she said. “They should not simply be closing the doors and saying, ‘Well, if he won’t cooperate, what can we do?’ ”

“I only got my get because my husband knew he would end up in jail if he didn’t give it to me,” one woman said. “The fact that in our religion it needs to come to this, it makes it feel so archaic. The rabbis need to get together, and this has to stop.”

Saluting a Lonely Tree: A Story of Renewal

It’s impossible for anyone living in the Greater Los Angeles area to forget the terrible fires of a few months ago. December’s fires ravaged Bel Air and land off the 405 Freeway but extended far beyond. Throughout the the Central Coast and Southern California, stretching as far north as Ventura and Ojai, and south to Orange County and San Diego, ruthless flames, fanned by seasonal winds and chronic shortfalls of rain that have become a new normal, combined to produce levels of devastation that seized the attention of the entire nation and dominated the news and conversations of everyone in the region. Those fires threatened cultural treasures of the region, among them the Getty Center, UCLA, American Jewish University and others.

One famous video gained particular notoriety, showing the flames descending the mountains of Bel Air and Westwood, impeded only by the 405 Freeway. Those of us whose commute takes us along that route were terrified by the size, speed and proximity of those flames. In the days and weeks that followed, we observed a mute tribute to the powers of destruction as we drove next to the charred and denuded hills, which until then had been bountiful in shrubs, grass, trees and life.

There was one hill, east of the freeway, whose flora had been completely burned to ground level. Nothing living remained on its barren, blacked landscape except at the very peak. One lone tree had survived, and I would salute it every morning as I drove to work, honoring its tenacity and resilience. Life doesn’t give up without a fight.

Four months later, we recently finished celebrating two ancient festivals of spring, Passover and Easter, both of which celebrate forms of rebirth. Judaism’s Passover celebrates the liberation of ancient Israel from Pharaoh’s slavery, the rebirth of a people into freedom and self-determination. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christianity’s messiah and the possibility for rebirth for its adherents.

As I drive toward Mulholland on the 405, I see those same hills, so recently denuded and bleak, now covered again with patches of bright green grasses.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that both of these festivals of resurgence, renewal and hope take place in the springtime. As I drive toward Mulholland on the 405, I see those same hills, so recently denuded and bleak, now covered again with patches of bright green grasses. Even some of the scorched trees show fuzzy green buds, gearing up to bloom where there was only death and destruction a few months ago. The hills themselves trumpet an ancient spiritual truth: Life carries with it the determination for self-renewal. What was once destroyed can thrive again. As the psalmist promised millenniums ago: “Weeping may tarry in the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

We need that reminder now. In the bleak wreckage of today’s partisan battles, as human greed and venality looms across lines of race, gender, ability, religion, orientation (and so many others), small wonder that the world’s wisdom traditions join with the season itself to remind us of a timely truth: We can turn this around, we can thrive again, all of us. If we dare hold onto hope, if we are willing to trust in the promise, we, too, can be vessels of a springtime rebirth.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Rainy Los Angeles is a Nightmare

It has been raining in Los Angeles and the simple fact is that when rains in LA, the city falls apart. Nobody knows how to drive to begin with, so a small amount of rain causes bad drivers to lose their minds. One would think it was acid falling from the sky and we were all about to die, but alas, it is just water. When it is raining in LA you can immediately tell who is from here, and who came from a place with real weather. Southern Californian natives stick out like a sore thumb. They don’t know how to handle their vehicles in even the lightest sprinkle of water. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

Personally, I could be a NYC cab driver. I grew up in Canada and learned to drive in the rain and snow. I am fearless and able to handle all kinds of weather. Driving is a privilege and if you suck at it, you shouldn’t be given a driver’s license. At the very least there should be restrictions on driving when it is raining. I propose two types of driver’s licenses. One to drive in dry weather, and one for the rain. Everyone takes two tests. Pass one and you can only drive in good weather, pass both, and you also get driving privileges in the rain. Brilliant plan.

I started a new job recently and my commute went from 20 minutes to over an hour. It is a nightmare for a great driver to be stuck on two different freeways and Sunset Boulevard with thousands of people who don’t know how to drive. I do a great deal of praying while I’m driving. Mostly I pray I will not become engulfed with road rage and lay on the horn or flip the bird to a perfect stranger. My son bought me a stuffed Buddha that plays meditation music when you squeeze him. I’ve had it for about 5 months and have replaced the battery twice, which gives you an idea of how often I use him to get some peace.

I often look at the people driving around me and wonder where they’re going. I think about whether they’re driving without prescription contact lenses or glasses. If they bought their driver’s licenses on a black market for people with no depth perception. I wonder how many of the people driving taught their kids how to be bad drivers. Mostly I wonder about how good it would feel to drive to work one day with only good drivers. Even if just for one day I’d love that experience, but it will never happen. Sadly, I fear I may be the only one of my kind. I have yet to meet another good driver in Los Angeles. We really should have a club.

I am at work looking out my window, watching the rain, trying to decide how long it will take me to get home. I figure about two days. We need the rain, and I am grateful we are getting some, but a couple days into the first weather of the season and I am about done. Watching the news of the weather back east, and speaking to my family about all the snow in Canada, watching my local TV weatherman speak of the “storm watch” for Los Angeles is hilarious. By hilarious of course I mean I really need him to stop talking. I’d be willing to bet he is a bad driver, always looking in the mirror to check his hair.

It never rains in California, until it does, and then all hell breaks loose. To my fellow Angelino’s, do us all a favor and just stay home. Call in sick if you need to, but for the love of God, do not get in the car if you are a bad driver. Not sure if you are a good driver? You’re not. Now you know. To those currently dealing with REAL weather, I am sorry. This too shall pass, for us and you. Be safe out there. Don’t drink and drive, text and drive, or talk on the phone and drive. Pay attention and when some cute lady gets annoyed and flips you the bird, just smile, knowing I mean no harm. I’m heading home and keeping the faith.









Fun in February with We Said Go Travel: 2018 News

 Happy February with We Said Go Travel 2018 NEWS:

I hope that your Valentine’s wishes came true!
I spent the week in Utah with some of my favorite people.

We skied, we dined and we laughed! Photos and restaurant suggestions coming soon!

On Valentine’s Day, I received the gift that We Said Go Travel was listed as #9 in the  top 1000+ Travel blog list!

I have been telling you about Daymond John‘s new book and the need to Rise and GRIND! I am thrilled to report that my hard work is paying off and people are noticing We Said Go Travel!

I was on The Good Life radio show talking about travel with Mike Wreyford. I also went to the Travel and Adventure Show. See below for my one minute video of where to go next!

See Lisa Niver on KTLA TV

Did you see me on TV? I did a travel segment about Ogden, Utah. I hope you entered the Valentine’s Getaway Giveaway! CLICK HERE to see me on KTLA!

 I was on stage at the Hollywood Improv for the Los Angeles Freshbooks event called “I Make A Living!” 

Lisa Niver at the Hollywood Improv Feb 2018

New Articles:

Wharton Magazine: Shark Tank Star’s Secrets to Business Success

Robb Report:  5 Sky-High Heli-Skiing Adventures

Find all my article links on my LisaNiver website.


Here are links to my video channels on YouTubeAmazon Fire Tv, and Roku Player. My total video views across all platforms is now over 1,676,919 (1.6M)! ! Thank you for your support! What should I do to celebrate when I get to 2MILLION views?

Recent videos:

Lisa Niver at Travel Adventure Show 2018Video #755: Sky Diving for my birthday with GoJump Oceanside!

Video #762: How Do You Create Freedom On The Mountain?

Video #763: Five Star Luxury Dreams Come True in Vegas!

Video# 764:  From City Slicker to Cow Girl at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Video #765: What will you see at the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show?


My fortune cookies said “Success will come with patience!”  and Start believing in your dreams and others will catch the fever.”

Thank you for your support. Lisa

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at My social media following is now over 90,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook.

Who is #9 on the TOP 1000 Travel Blogs? We Said GO Travel


We are now publishing the entries from our Travel Photo award! After all the entries are published, we will announce the winners. This will take several months. Thank you to everyone who participated and to our judges, Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere and Jeana from Surf and Sunshine. We hope you will submit a photo in our next award.

Want to make your own video? Use code WESAIDGO10 for 10% on your project. Lisa loves working with EpicMakers and they were a sponsor for our first Travel Photo Award.


Thank you to everyone who has participated in our 13 We Said Go Travel Competitions! Find the winners for all of them here. We hope you will participate in our 2018 Awards.


Lisa Niver at Hollywood Improv with Freshbooks #IMakeALiving

First seen on We Said Go Travel

Seduced by the Light of Los Angeles

Photo from Pexels

In a magnificent, glassed corner office I visited on my trip to L.A. last week, I watched the setting sun create layers of golden, coral and magenta light. The delicate, ethereal light felt close and intimate, as if I was surrounded by thousands of radiant Shabbat candles.

In New York City, my home, one is lucky to catch a glimpse of sunlight in winter. Indeed, long stretches of Manhattan streets often are devoid of light and cellphone service. The quiet beauty of the elegant townhouses can compensate for the lack of natural light during the winter months — but only for so long.

It traditionally has been believed that greatness comes from struggle, that pushing against challenges and restraints helps an artist or thinker to master their craft. The Torah defines a righteous person not as someone who has succeeded but as someone who has persevered. “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up,” wrote King Solomon in Proverbs. L’fum tzara agra — according to the effort is the reward, says Rabbi Ben Hei Hei in “Ethics of the Fathers.”

The same has been said about the weather — that parts of the world where sun and warmth reign year-round tend to be less creative than those that wind through the seasons.

There is logic to this theory. Both truth and beauty wrestle with darkness and light — one needs to be able to feel the darkness to create the light.

But my trip to Los Angeles made me less sure whether that perspective should be interpreted so literally.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you and inspire you.

Each morning the brilliant sunshine nearly burst into my hotel room, intent on energizing whatever it touched with its rays. No doubt the seduction of sunlight induces some people to create nothing more than cozy settings on the beach, or to run and rollerblade in pursuit of physical perfection.

But L.A.’s light isn’t vacuous. It’s steeped with all the essential attributes of the universe. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

I left New York City on a snowy, dark morning and returned on a rainy, dark night. Yes, living through winters here is a rather immersive, dark experience — one that has spawned thousands of richly drawn poems and paintings.

But if one doesn’t have the luxury of hibernating in a candlelit room for five months, the cold, the wind, the harshness all become stressors, deflators. Sure, one can use the opportunity to rummage through one’s soul, to peel away layers of inauthenticity and find the melancholy of a world that often appears insane.

But that is not the whole truth. Darkness needs to be entwined with light, with hope.

The distinctive, dreamy haze of Los Angeles’ light gave life to the movie industry and continues to define the city in art and literature. And yes, ironically, the air pollution lends the light a particular shimmer.

And so I say to you lucky residents of Los Angeles: Engage with this multifaceted, often mysterious light in ways that resonate emotionally and spiritually. Let it take you to a place where you can see and feel the complexity of the world, the controlled chaos, the particular dance of darkness and light that leads to curiosity and self-reflection.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you, inspire you, infuse your world with poetry and passion, but also with the dignity of restraint. Let it lead you to the shadow of darkness, but come away with the light of wisdom.

When I returned to New York City, I brought with me a gift from the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai — a blue crystal butterfly. It now sits enchantingly on my desk, attempting to impart L.A.’s scintillating light into the complicated, animated, yet ultimately gloomy NYC winter.

Every time I look at it, I think of the lyrics of my son’s favorite song: “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. …”

It is the light in our hearts, I will teach him, that will retain that spirit through many winters to come. Or, we can just move to L.A.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday).

Everyone Counts

Photo from Public Domain Pictures

Flashlight — check. Map — check. Safety rules — check. Police phone numbers — check.

Our four-person team jumped into the SUV and took off. No, we weren’t going on a wilderness trek. Our mission was to count the homeless — in Beverly Hills.

My journey through dark alleys that I didn’t know existed began when I received an email in early January from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles asking for volunteers to join the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA), which each year conducts a three-day mission to count our homeless neighbors across Los Angeles. Knowing how many homeless people live throughout the county factors into how much funding is needed for community services. An important and sensible reason, but I was just curious — who are the homeless? Where do they sleep? Are there many children living on the streets?

As the lead agency for the regional planning body that coordinates housing and services for homeless families and individuals in Los Angeles County, LAHSA manages more than $243 million annually for programs that provide shelter, housing and services to homeless people in Los Angeles city and county.

The count has four components: a street count; a shelter/institutional count of those who are in shelters, transitional housing, hospitals and correctional facilities; a demographic survey; and a youth count of unaccompanied and unsheltered youth and young families younger than 24 years who are experiencing homelessness.

The project resonated with me as a Jew and as a retired clinical social worker who believes that each person has merit and that we are obligated to help those in need. LAHSA believes that “everyone counts.” In Judaism, we believe the same.

I signed up for the street count along with my daughter Elana and our friend Maor with no idea what to expect or where we would be assigned. I had visions — and I think hopes — of walking streets and freeway underpasses looking for and communicating with individuals and families. Instead, our team of four was assigned to — OMG — my neighborhood. My desire for adventure was unfulfilled but the anxiety that accompanied that desire diminished.

The project resonated with me as a Jew and as a retired clinical social worker.

The night began with a training session in City Hall. Looking around the room of volunteers, I was the oldest at age 73. The professional task force in front of us was impressive. Two licensed clinical social workers, police officers and para-professionals. I felt pride that our affluent community cared about the homeless. The presentation displayed great respect for the homeless — for instance, they never force or put demands on anyone to go to a shelter. They are ready to assist any person or family who is ready to accept help. We were told more than once that we shouldn’t intrude if we encounter a homeless individual or enclave. Remember, whatever it looks like, it is still their home. Respect. Human dignity. These words spoke to my humanity, my Jewish values.

And so we set out with flashlights, a map, paper and pen, and tags to wear with emergency phone numbers. Combing a 2-mile radius up and down 10 streets, 30 blocks, and 15 dark alleys; canvassing construction sites and empty lots; we were looking for the telltale signs of the homeless. We were to scrutinize collections of stuff, very large cartons, vans or cars with blankets covering the windows, shopping carts and waste materials.

Maor drove his SUV, I navigated and Elana and a young man sat in the back seat peering out the windows using their flashlights. After several hours of driving the dark alleys and streets, we spotted just one van — an old black-and-white VW van near a construction site. The windows were partially covered, stuff was inside — possibly somebody lived there. We noted this finding.

That such an organized effort took place in an upscale neighborhood impressed me. Over three nights, the 2018 greater Los Angeles homeless count drew 8,608 volunteers to 166 deployment sites, the full findings of which are yet to be tallied. The Beverly Hills effort found 15 homeless individuals, one makeshift shelter and one van.

Los Angeles is sending a message to the homeless, wherever they may live, that they all count.

Ada Horwich is active in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and serves as a founding board member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

See Lisa on KTLA and at the Hollywood IMPROV

See Lisa on KTLA and at the Hollywood IMPROV

We Said Go Travel Jan 2018 NEWS:

I was thrilled to tell you in December that We Said Go Travel was read in 222 countries in 2017 and even more excited for my January NEWS!
See Lisa on KTLA and at the Hollywood IMPROV
Watch me on KTLA 11pm news TOMORROW Friday night! I will also be talking about Ogden, Utah on the news on Saturday and Monday afternoon. Check the We Said Go Travel website and social media on Monday for a link to the segment and how to enter the “Giveaway Getaway!” I loved my visit to Ogden and hope you will be the one to win the prize! Here is a link to my Napa KTLA TV segment from November.

Please come see me LIVE at the HOLLYWOOD IMPROV on Feb 21 at IMakeALiving by Freshbooks. Tickets are free but going quickly so RSVP today on eventbrite.

Lisa Niver on Feb 21 at the Hollywood Improv IMakeALiving

Find all my article links on my LisaNiver website.

Find me in these new articles:


In January 2018, my videos were watched over 76,000 times!

Here are links to my video channels on YouTubeAmazon Fire Tv, and Roku Player. My total video views across all platforms is now over 1,600,000 (1.6M)! ! Thank you for your support! What should I do to celebrate when I get to 2MILLION views?

Recent videos:

Sunset at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Sunset at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Video #755: Sky Diving for my birthday with GoJump Oceanside!

Video #762: How Do You Create Freedom On The Mountain?

Video #763: Five Star Luxury Dreams Come True in Vegas!

Video# 764:  From City Slicker to Cow Girl at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch



We are now publishing the entries from our Travel Photo award! After all the entries are published, we will announce the winners. This will take several months. Thank you to everyone who participated and to our judges, Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere and Jeana from Surf and Sunshine. We hope you will submit a photo in our next award.

Want to make your own video? Use code WESAIDGO10 for 10% on your project. Lisa loves working with EpicMakers and they were a sponsor for our first Travel Photo Award.


Thank you to everyone who has participated in our 13 We Said Go Travel Competitions! Find the winners for all of them here. We hope you will participate in our 2018 Awards.

 I was lucky to meet Daymond John in person at his book talk at Live Talks Los Angeles and learn about his new book, Rise and Grind. Remember to make goals and take the steps to make your dreams come TRUE!

Lisa Niver and Daymond John

Lisa Niver and Daymond John

My fortune cookies said “Nothing in the world is accomplished without passion!”  and “Good Opportunities ahead— set your mind to grasp the next.”

Thank you for your support. Lisa

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at My social media following is now over 85,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook.

Watch Lisa on KTLA TV about Ogden!

Key Facts About the Salvador Castro Shooting

Screenshot from Twitter

Two students at Salvador Castro Middle School in the Westlake area were shot at around 8:53 a.m. on Thursday while in a classroom, according to various news reports.

Neither student has been publicly identified, but they’re both 15 years old; one is a boy and the other is girl. The girl is in fair condition after being shot in the wrist while the boy is in serious condition after suffering a gunshot wound to the head. Three others, a woman, boy and girl, were also hospitalized for minor injuries, although none of them suffered from gunshot wounds.

A 12-year-old girl, also a student at the school, has been taken into custody as a suspect and a gun was found at the scene of the crime. No motive has yet been determined.

An image was taken of a girl being escorted from the campus in handcuffs, but it is not known if this is the same girl who was taken into custody.

The school was put into lockdown following the shooting but it has since been declared safe and classes will be still be held for the rest of the day.

“Our campus, while it’s on lockdown, is safe,” Los Angeles School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman told CNN. “There is no more safety threat to the students of this school.”

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Vivian Ekchian told reporters she was “incredibly saddened by the fact that it happened.”

“We remain committed to our students and communities,” said Ekchian. “We will address this issue both in terms of real time mental health support and any other type of support that is necessary for our students to be back and learning.”

In the same press conference, LAUSD School Board President Monica Garcia thanked the first responders and said that everyone was “troubled” by the shooting.

“We must remember that healing is possible and there are many resources here across the district and the city to help our young people and their families,” said Garcia.

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Natalie Portman Speaks Out at the Women’s March

Natalie Portman speaks at The Women's March Photo courtesy of

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman speaks at the Women’s March in Los Angeles on Jan. 20. It’s estimated that more than 1 million women and men took to the streets in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities. The marches — which followed the recent groundswell of allegations of sexual harassment by men in prominent entertainment, business and political positions that spawned the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — were held a year after the first Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Actresses Eva Longoria (far left), Viola Davis, Alfre Woodard, Scarlett Johansson and Constance Wu also spoke at the Los Angeles rally.

Empowering Student Activism

Sharren Haskel. Photo by Christina Mia Morales

Empowering high school and college students to fight anti-Semitism, combat the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and be pro-Israel activists is part of the lifeblood that is StandWithUS (SWU), the pro-Israel advocacy group.

It was also the main thrust of SWU’s Israel in Focus International Conference on Jan. 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport, which drew 550 attendees.

“You are part of a big experiment,” SWU co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein told the 350 students who attended, noting that this was the first year the organization had decided to combine its high school, college and BDS conferences under one roof.

Multiple sessions were held over the three-day conference, but journalists were barred from the strategy sessions. An SWU representative said this was done to allow attendees to speak freely and exchange ideas without the fear of their conversations appearing in the media.

While there were sessions geared specifically to students, there were plenty of opportunities for young people to mingle with other attendees. Harnessing that youthful energy has been a key to SWU’s growth since its inception in 2001. The organization has opened 18 offices worldwide and Rothstein has twice been named by The Jerusalem Post as one of the most influential Jews in the world.

“This is all of you, experiencing Israel, knowing the facts, knowing the truth and bringing them to your communities.” — Sharren Haskel

Many of the speakers at the conference were young and dynamic. The opening night plenary guest was Sharren Haskel, the 33-year old Likud Knesset member who sits on Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Haskel brought the room to its feet with her impassioned, nearly 30-minute speech in which she claimed that attacks on Israel are “really about anti-Semitism. Israel is just the excuse.”

Haskel spoke of how the Palestinians and their anti-Israel supporters are using a three-pronged plan to delegitimize Israel by attacking the country’s economy, history and reputation. She decried people who call Israel an apartheid and racist state, saying many are “uneducated people who have never been to the Middle East. The only way we can survive in this difficult region is by having strong allies, having communities standing together.”

Haskel said that while Israel sends its most “important and influential delegations to travel the world,” they are often seen as government agents spreading propaganda. “That’s why organizations like StandWithUs are so important,” she said. “This is all of you, experiencing Israel, knowing the facts, knowing the truth and bringing them to your communities, to your neighbors, to your school buddies. This is how you really fight this war. You [students] are holding this front.”

While asking students to stand on the front lines for Israel on campuses may seem a daunting task, SWU has programs for high school and college interns that help prepare them. A panel featuring a few of those interns highlighted just how powerful their voices can be.

Noga Even of Yavneh Academy in Dallas said that, after speaking on a panel about the Israeli army, she was approached by a woman who admitted knowing nothing about the army but who had a daughter Even’s age. “I told her, ‘Imagine if you lived in Israel now, your daughter would be drafted into the Israeli Defense forces,” Even said. “They defend a land about the size of New Jersey with boys and girls our age.” Even said the woman’s jaw dropped and she wanted to know how she could learn more about Israel and get involved in speaking up on its behalf.

Zoe Kurtz of Forsyth Country Day School in North Carolina said the most meaningful program she worked on was organizing a speaking date at her school for a young Arab-Israeli man. “He spoke about how he was taught to hate Israelis, but when he got a job in Tel Aviv and worked with Israelis, he realized what he had been taught was propaganda,” Kurtz said. Today, she said, he travels the world talking about what Israel is really like, “and how education is the pathway to peace between Arabs and Jews.”

The keynote speaker at the closing night ceremony was Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center who has been at the forefront of the legal fight against terrorism in Israel. She spoke about how social media — and Facebook in particular — is now being used as a weapon to incite Palestinian teenagers to stab Jews.

“The Israeli government tried to convince Facebook to tone down the rhetoric but they didn’t respond, so we decided to sue Facebook,” Darshan-Leitner said. Within 72 hours, 20,000 Israelis had joined the lawsuit. (“We ran the campaign on Facebook,” she quipped.) In addition to the injunction, Shurat HaDin filed a damages lawsuit against Facebook for $1 billion.

“We will not let Facebook sit in their ivory towers in Palo Alto when the blood is spilled on the streets of Jerusalem,” Darshan-Leitner said. “We get calls from terror victims on a daily basis who want to fight back, and we are dedicated to helping them. We have to fight terrorism the same way StandWithUs is fighting for the Jewish people of the State of Israel, because we don’t have any other choice.”

They’re Here, They’re Queer and the Persian Pride Fellows Want L.A. to Get Used to It

Left to right: Arya Marvazy, assistant director of JQ International; Mastaneh Moghadam, a longtime social worker for LGBTQ Persians and their family members; Joseph Harounian, an activist and founder of a West L.A. wellness center; and Orange County-based therapist Vennus Zand speak at a Dec. 17 meeting of the Persian Pride Fellows. Photo by Eitan Arom

On a bright, clear December morning, about a dozen individuals, most of them Persian Jews, gathered on plush sofas in the wood-paneled den of a large home in north Beverly Hills, hoping to start a movement.

Arya Marvazy, one of the gathering’s organizers, sat on a high stool facing the semicircle of attentive faces and introduced the event, a monthly meeting of the inaugural cohort of the JQ Persian Pride Fellowship, “a nine-month leadership, activism and training program for Iranian LGBTQ individuals and allies,” he said.

About two years after Marvazy came out as a gay man in a Facebook video that quickly went viral in his Persian-Jewish community, the 31-year-old is leading a cohort of 12 fellows, including himself and fellow organizer Amanda Maddahi. The group, whose members range in age from 20s to early 40s, includes Muslims and Jews, as well as two fellows who identify as allies rather than LGBTQ.

Marvazy said in an interview that the fellowship’s aims lie in “moving our community forward and getting the good message of queer equality out to the Persian masses,” thereby opening a conversation that the largely conservative community often prefers to leave closed.

The main components of the fellowship, according to Marvazy, an assistant director for the West Hollywood-based Jewish LGBTQ organization JQ International, include leadership and activism training sessions, panel discussions such as the Dec. 17 parlor meeting and, eventually, programs organized by fellows.

While guests picked at a bagel breakfast set out on a bar in the back of the room, Marvazy introduced the morning’s speakers: Joseph Harounian, an openly gay Persian man and founder of a West Los Angeles wellness center; Mastaneh Moghadam, a social worker who has worked with the Iranian LGBTQ community for more than a decade; and Vennus Zand, an Orange County-based therapist who discussed a qualitative study of the coming-out process for gay Persian men that she conducted after her brother came out to her.

Moghadam started the discussion, recounting the atmosphere when she first started to talk to people about LGBTQ issues in the local Persian community 15 years ago. “It was so dark and not talked about, and ‘nobody can know about it,’ ” she said. “It was such a closed conversation.”

She described how she struggled to book family members of gay and lesbian Persian youth to speak on KIRN, a local Persian-language radio station. “Everybody’s feedback to me was ‘Mastaneh, nobody will come. Mastaneh, the community isn’t ready.’ ”

Nonetheless, she persisted, and the feedback was encouraging.

“One mother who appeared on the KIRN show said to me, ‘This was so therapeutic. I wish we could do this every week.’ And I said, ‘We can,’ ”  Moghadam said.

“The idea that I can perhaps inspire someone else to see that it’s OK to be yourself and to be open makes me want
to keep going.” — Matthew Nouriel

That conversation was the seed of a long-running support group for Persian people struggling to understand a family member’s LGBTQ identity. Often, when members were reticent to return to the group, Moghadam said she reminded them, “This is more than a support group. This is a movement.”

Harounian spoke about his coming-out experience when he was in his early 30s. For years he struggled while hiding his identity from his family, frequently making excuses for why he wouldn’t date the women they set him up with. Finally, in 2000, he couldn’t do it any longer.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” he said. “‘Life is too short. I need to start living.’”

Others in the room shared similar stories of struggling with their families’ lack of knowledge and acceptance.

Shirin Golshani, a 30-year-old occupational therapist, joined the fellowship after watching her friend, organizer Maddahi, struggle to obtain the acceptance of her family and community after coming out.

“I felt so bad that there was nothing I could do but just be there for her,” Golshani said in an interview. “And I think that this fellowship is such an amazing way of getting educated.”

Growing up in the Beverly Hills Persian community, Golshani maintained a neutral attitude on LGBTQ topics but heard people close to her express opinions ranging from indifference to distaste. While her parents remain positive about her decision to join the fellowship as an ally, she said she senses their wariness.

“I think they’re even still trying to warm up to the idea that their Persian Jewish daughter is so closely tied to this community,” she said. “And I know that in a sense they’re wondering, ‘Are people going to think she identifies as LGBTQ?’ Even though I don’t.”

Marvazy said he hopes the fellowship, which began in November, will be the template for many more cohorts to come. He said in March, which JQ International has declared its third annual Persian Pride Month, fellows will be responsible for organizing their own projects in the community.

For some, the fellowship reinforces their informal roles as mentors for younger people with similar difficulties.

Matthew Nouriel, who came out as gay at 15 after moving to L.A. from London and now performs as a drag queen, said he sometimes receives messages online from other LGBTQ Persian people seeking advice and encouragement.

Matthew Nouriel, also known as “The Empress,” dressed in drag for a JQ International event. Photo courtesy of Matthew Nouriel.

Recently, for instance, he began counseling an 18-year-old gay man in Iran who found Nouriel on Instragram, sharing tips on how to navigate coming out or staying closeted, as well as offering makeup pointers. Nouriel said he encouraged the young man to put his safety first when deciding whether to come out. He believes his mentee benefits from their talks.

“The more I put myself out there, the more I feel like those walls are being broken down, even if only a little,” Nouriel wrote in an email to the Journal. “The idea that I can perhaps inspire someone else to see that it’s OK to be yourself and to be open makes me want to keep going.”

In a way, the fellowship reverses the isolation he felt growing up gay and Persian, he wrote.

“I felt the need to retract myself from the community when I was growing up. Having this fellowship has introduced me to a whole group of people I otherwise may have never met,” he wrote, adding, “Strength in numbers!”

Who is read in 222 countries? We Said Go Travel! Dec 2017 News

December 2017 NEWS: WSGT is GLOBAL!

We Said GO Travel is read in 222 countries



We Said Go Travel has been read in 222 countries this year since January 1, 2017 as reported by Google Analytics. Please see the full list of locations at the bottom.

Lisa Niver is a Travel ExpertThank you for all of your support! It has been an exciting year with my first travel segment on KTLA TV and being the Adventure Correspondent for The Jet Set TV. I have published many articles on fantastic publications like Smithsonian, Saturday Evening Post, Delta Sky Magazine, Luxury Magazine, Sierra Club Magazine, POPSUGAR, Trivago, Ski Utah and I am in progress on two exciting articles for two major publications I have not written for before! Find all the article links on my LisaNiver website!

My social media following is now over 80,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook. My travel videos have been viewed over 1.5 million times!

In 2017, I was accepted to be part of Bixel Exchange Startup LAunch. I am learning from my new mentors and advisors as well as all the other tech entrepreneurs. Thank you to Travel Massive and Digital Nomad Mastery for the recent interviews.

I completed my project of doing 50 new and adventurous things before I turned 50. Thank you for all of your great ideas and suggestions. See my videos below for many of the challenges I undertook!

Lisa Niver is an artistThank you for your interest in my art! I was part of the Holiday Show at the Clayhouse in Santa Monica. My ceramics has its own Instagram and Facebook page.

My recently published video about the National Ability Center is one of my favorite projects. I was able to write about the ski lessons for Ski Utah, Sierra Magazine and USA Today 10best.


Here are links to my video channels on YouTubeAmazon Fire Tv, and Roku Player. I hope you enjoy my “This is What it is Like” Episodes! I now have 762 videos, 671,516 views, 1526 subscribers on YouTube AND my total video views across all platforms is now over 1,527,028+ (1.5M)! ! Thank you for your support!

Recent videos:

Ski Utah Making Magic On The MountainVideo #755: Sky Diving for my birthday with GoJump Oceanside!

Video #759: Will You Love the Kia Stinger?

Watch me in SPANISH! Kia Stinger 2018 – los periodistas opinan

Video #762: How Do You Create Freedom On The Mountain?


Thank you to everyone who has participated in our We Said Go Travel Competitions! Find the winners for the 2017 Inspiration Award here. The entries from the 2017 Summer Independence Award have been published and the winners have been announced.  We hope you will participate in our 2018 Writing Awards.


Our first ever Travel Photo Award is now closed! Thank you to our judges, Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere and Jeana from Surf and Sunshine. We hope you will submit a photo in our next award. We will begin sharing the entries in 2018.

Want to make your own video? Use code WESAIDGO10 for 10% on your project. Lisa loves working with EpicMakers and they were a sponsor for our first Travel Photo Award.

My fortune cookies said “Make Happiness Happen.” and “A bold and dashing adventure is in your future.  I hope that your Holiday celebrations brought you gratitude and gifts that help you make your dreams come true!

Thank you for your support. Lisa

Thank you for your ongoing support of both We Said Go Travel and me! I was so honored to share about Napa Valley for KTLA TV in Los Angeles. Did you see my segment? CLICK HERE to watch it now!

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at


Where is We Said Go Travel read? Since January 1, 2017, in these 222 countries as reported by Google Analytics:

American Samoa
Antigua & Barbuda
Bosnia & Herzegovina
British Virgin Islands
Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Caribbean Netherlands
Cayman Islands
Central African Republic
Congo – Brazzaville
Congo – Kinshasa
Cook Islands
Costa Rica
Côte d’Ivoire
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
French Guiana
French Polynesia
Hong Kong
Macedonia (FYROM)
Marshall Islands
Myanmar (Burma)
New Caledonia
New Zealand
Norfolk Island
Northern Mariana Islands
Papua New Guinea
Puerto Rico
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Sint Maarten
Solomon Islands
South Africa
South Korea
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
St. Barthélemy
St. Helena
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Martin
St. Vincent & Grenadines
Svalbard & Jan Mayen
Trinidad & Tobago
Turks & Caicos Islands
U.S. Virgin Islands
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

Where to Wander? Watch Lisa Niver on KTLA 5

Find out more about Lisa Niver at We Said Go Travel!

SoCal Fires Burn Homes, Jewish Community Builds Bridges

The Thomas Fire crosses Foothill Road in Ventura County. Photo by Jim Heller

Nan Waltman and her husband, Hal Nachenberg, know all about paradise lost.

For decades, they lived happily in a house on a hill, overlooking the beach in Ventura and the tip of the Channel Islands, and counting their blessings.

Then came a call on the night of Dec. 4 — a robocall from the city announcing that the Thomas Fire was moving from Santa Paula to Ventura and they needed to evacuate immediately. Now they have little more than the clothes on their backs and the ruins of a home that’s been completely destroyed.

“We all say we live in paradise,” Waltman said of those who live in seaside Ventura. “Apparently, there’s a price to be paid to living in paradise.”

Last week, several fires in the Southern California area uprooted the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish community members. There were closures of schools and synagogues. Residents evacuated their homes as ash rained from the sky and flames tore through the hills. Some, like Waltman, will never see their houses again.

The largest blaze was Ventura County’s Thomas Fire, consuming more than 200,000 acres and claiming at least one life. It was still burning as of Dec. 12, while firefighters had mostly contained the Skirball Fire, which temporarily closed the 405 Freeway and threatened residents of Bel Air. Other fires included the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita and Creek Fire in Sylmar.

The Skirball Fire — named such because of its proximity to the Skirball Cultural Center — broke out in the wealthy neighborhood of Bel Air on Dec. 6 and destroyed six homes while damaging 12 others. The brushfire exploded on the east side of the Sepulveda Pass, prompting several area synagogues and Jewish institutions to close and to remove their Torahs for safekeeping.

Leo Baeck Temple, Stephen Wise Temple, American Jewish University’s Familian Campus and the Skirball Cultural Center all closed. All have since reopened, except for Leo Baeck, which has held joint Friday night services with Stephen Wise Temple, where other programs and its preschool were operating as of Dec. 12.

“People have been extremely supportive of each other across denominational boundaries and institutional boundaries, and that has just been beautiful,” said Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, whose day school reopened Dec. 11.

The morning of the outbreak of the Skirball Fire, Leo Baeck Temple Rabbi Ken Chasen came face to face with the flames engulfing the hill above his synagogue.

“The fires were literally right on top of us,” Chasen said after recovering Torahs from his campus and bringing them to Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino for safekeeping. VBS accommodated the Torah scrolls of several institutions evacuated during the fire, including Stephen Wise Temple and Milken Community Schools.

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

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

Zweiback said 94 Stephen Wise Temple families were evacuated due to the Skirball Fire, and the mother of one of the temple’s congregants lost her home.

From left: At Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbis Noah Farkas and Yoshi Zweiback organize Torah scrolls kept for sake keeping during the Skirball Fire. Photo courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom

Meanwhile, both Sinai Temple in Westwood and VBS, which have families who live in evacuated areas, closed their day schools temporarily. Sinai Temple had about 15-20 families who were evacuated, Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik said on Dec. 6 in a phone interview from downtown, where she was seeking refuge from the poor air quality in Westwood.

North of Los Angeles, while the fire in Ventura County did not encroach on Camp Ramah in Ojai, the Conservative summer camp underwent a mandatory evacuation on Dec. 6. Largely empty at the time of the evacuation order, there were a couple of families who live at the camp who had to leave, said Rabbi Joe Menashe, Camp Ramah’s executive director. Additionally, the camp removed Torah scrolls and other ritual and historic objects for safekeeping.

“I woke up this morning and was very relieved to find that camp was intact,” Menashe said last week. “We are incredibly grateful to all the first responders, other agencies and personnel that had to keep not only our camp but tens of thousands of people in homes safe.”

Chabad of Santa Clarita Rabbi Choni Marozov said he opened up the Chabad house on Dec. 5 to accommodate residents who had been evacuated due to the Rye Fire.

“People came in for a few hours until they were able to go back home,” he said, adding, “To the best of my knowledge, no homes were burnt, but it came close.”

Other communities also helped one another in the face of the fires. Sinai Temple offered itself up as a shelter for evacuees, and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills released a statement of support for those who need shelter or assistance. And when Chasen received a telephone call on the morning of Dec. 6 ordering him to leave his residential neighborhood, he evacuated to his colleague Zweiback’s home.

As rabbi of Chabad of Ventura County, Rabbi Yakov Latowicz was one of the lucky ones: His suitcase was packed and he was ready to evacuate, but the evacuation order never came.

Able to stay in his home, which also serves as the Ventura Chabad center, he made himself useful to those who needed help. On Dec. 6, with Chabad of the Valley Rabbi Yanky Khan, he delivered a truck with toiletries, clothing and diapers to Oxnard College, an evacuation center for displaced people and for those who left their homes voluntarily.

“One of the primary directives of Judaism is to get off your butt and do something, so when the opportunity arises, you have to move. You don’t form committees and discuss what we can and cannot do. You act first, ask questions later,” Latowicz said. “That is the essence of the Chabad philosophy: Act, do good, worry about the rest later.”

That kind of assistance also happened at Temple Beth Torah, the Reform congregation on Foothill Road in Ventura that has seen many members’ homes destroyed by the fire, Waltman and Nachenberg included.

It opened its doors to people in the community who were in need of wireless internet, bathrooms or shelter from the poor air quality in the area. The synagogue also served as a staging place for families who were blocked from entering their homes near the synagogue. They parked their cars at the synagogue and were escorted by police to their homes, where they could grab a few belongings and head back to their temporary places of shelter.

Temple Beth Torah congregant Jim Heller, 59, said he still hasn’t been able to make sense of what happened — both to him and his community. A director of energy management for the U.S. Navy, he and his wife, Carol Ecklund, evacuated to a naval base in Oxnard last week. They said they were fortunate not to lose their home, as many houses in their neighborhood were destroyed.

“I cannot imagine why I was spared and someone else wasn’t. I think it was random — where the wind blows,” he said.

The Thomas Fire destroyed homes across the street from Temple Beth Torah congregant Jim Heller. Photo by Jim Heller

He sought spiritual guidance from Temple Beth Torah Rabbi Lisa Hochberg-Miller.

“I am scientist, but I do have a spiritual side and said some prayers of thanks for getting through it,” he said.

“You don’t form committees and discuss what we can and cannot do. You act first, ask questions later.” — Rabbi Yakov Latowicz

Hochberg-Miller said her community was doing all it could to respond to the overwhelming need in Ventura. Those who have lost the most have displayed an unbelievable ability of staying positive, she said.

“People I talked to who lost their homes, their attitudes are unbelievable; they are grateful for their lives and are understanding that stuff is stuff and life is the most important thing that matters. People over and over again have said, ‘All I own is what I’m wearing at this moment.’ You couldn’t get cars out of garages because electricity is down,” she said. “People only have the most basic kind of things at this moment. They are a little overwhelmed.”

Waltman, for her part, has tried to see the upside of losing everything: Never again does she have to go through the mess in her garage.

Stepping away from her synagogue women’s study group to speak with the Journal by phone, she said she was both tired of sharing her story with well-intentioned people who wanted to know how she was doing but also appreciative of the support of her synagogue during the trying times.

“It’s been our anchor and it continues to be,” she said. “The truth of it is hitting me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Leo Baeck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Your Favorite Holiday Gift at The Clayhouse


The Clayhouse 2017 Holiday Sale


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



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


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


More information:

About The Clayhouse Studio & Gallery:

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

Take art class with David Stone. Photo by Mark Dektor

Take art class with David Stone. Photo by Mark Dektor

Take a Class:

Wheel classes

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

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

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

Photos from Summer Sale and 2016 Winter Sale

Lisa Niver, Artist and Author Photo by Mark Dektor

Lisa Niver, Artist and Author Photo by Mark Dektor

Motorcyclists Revved Up Jews for First Maccabiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 11 Motosikiliztim were hailed by ecstatic Jewish crowds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basketball Tournament Combines Jump Shots With an ‘Uplifting’ Shabbat

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

Photo credit: Zoey Botnick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Temple Beth Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The groundwork of breaking ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buying in and building up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bursting at the seams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money management

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

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

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

Sometimes, breaking ground can accelerate the fundraising process.

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

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

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

Demographics be damned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drake’s bar mitzvah board on Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

Wiesenthal Center Voices ‘Distress’ After Ratner Allegations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Miss Flirting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Ambassador Dermer Talks About Israel’s Perils, Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘New York Water’ Promises a Fresh Flow of Laughs

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

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

But there are times that call for a good laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli-American Artist Does His Own Bling

Jewelry designer Maor Cohen. Photo by Edon Wolf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Nimmer remembers how the idea began.

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

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

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

Only one person showed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, here I am.”