A day in the life of Jewish summer camp


Think summer camp is all fun and games? It is those things, but there’s a lot more to it. Just talk to some of the many veterans — from a camper to a songleader to a yoga instructor — of JCA Shalom’s residential summer camp in the hills of Malibu. 

•••

Boker tov!

“Every morning we all wake up to the sound of the gong,” said Maya Rosen, an 18-year-old counselor from Westlake Village. 

The gong is an old oxygen tank that gets smacked with a hammer at 8 a.m. and prior to every meal. Depending on the age of her campers — whom she has dubbed, per camp tradition, everything from the Polka Dot Princesses to the Biceps — the morning routine can involve encouraging younger campers to put their shoes on or coaxing teenage campers to drag themselves out of their bunks for breakfast, followed by nikayon (cabin cleanup time). 

“At the end of the session, if your cabin had the cleanest cabin, you [and the winning campers] get this thing called the golden dustpan and get treated to a special lunch.”

Rosen spends the day with her campers, then likes to finish the day with a game of Roses and Thorns. She offered an example: “My rose for the day was going on the ropes course. Or I made a new friend. My thorn today was, I fell while playing basketball.” Then she might sing the kids to sleep or do guided meditation to help wind them down around 9:30 p.m. (Older campers stay up later.) 

Finally, she heads to Hillel, the staff hangout, to visit, snack and check email until the 1 a.m. curfew — unless she is on shmira, or guard duty, which requires her to check bunks every 15 minutes during that time. 

•••

Brandon Marks, 11, loves the variety of camp days. He and his cabin mates are usually up around 7 a.m. playing card games quietly. (Lucky Bee, which he learned at camp, is his favorite.) Then they get dressed and head to mercaz, the center of camp, where they sing camp songs before a family-style breakfast.

The San Fernando Valley resident has been coming to JCA Shalom for two years, and last year a morning swim session was followed by a rotating slate of activities. 

“Sometimes it’s art. You could have nature — that’s really fun with this guy named Tigger. We grind cornmeal and make corn pancakes, or go on hikes and he’s explaining things. One time, we even went fishing. We used a net and caught little fish.” 

At Pioneer Living, he said, “We throw tomahawks, play Indian games. You can pan for gold.” Later, he might do an elective of archery or photography.

Menucha (rest) follows lunch, and Brandon might write a letter home or read a book. Things pick up again with free time — pingpong! gaga! basketball! — and don’t let up after dinner, when there could be a night hike or a team-building challenge, such as: “Can everyone in your group stand up at the same time without using your hands?”

But Saturday is completely different. 

 “There is more resting. You don’t have nikayon. You go to this service outside,” he said. And in the afternoon, there is “inflatable fun time,” featuring a giant water slide or obstacle course, followed by popsicles. 

“Saturday is my favorite day of the week,” he said. “It’s just a fun time and a relaxing time.”

•••

Prior to every meal, the entire camp belts out their signature “Medication! Take Your Medication!” song outside the dining hall. That’s when Maralyn Weaver, manager of the health center, and her colleagues, generally three or four other nurses, carefully oversee the entire process of dispensing medications to campers and staffers at a large picnic table, where they are treated  for conditions ranging from headaches to asthma, diabetes, anxiety and depression. 

Weaver does it all, treating campers for coughs, allergies, cuts, sprains and bee stings. She or someone on her staff, all of whom live on campus, are on call 24/7. If a child has a temperature over 100.5 F, he or she is admitted to the health center, which has four rooms. It’s then generally up to Weaver to call Mom and Dad. 

“We give the parents the option of picking them up,” she said.

The camper can return when well or wait it out at the health center, where the nurses do their best to keep them entertained, Weaver said. It helps that — unlike the rest of the camp, which is screen-free — health center patients can watch movies on DVD. 

•••

Joel Charnick, camp director, begins his day meeting with the senior staff in his office in what is affectionately known as The White House. (Old-school TV buffs might recognize it as Lassie’s house.) Over copious amounts of coffee, they talk about the day ahead and any camper or staff issues.

Much of the rest of his day, though, is spent responding to parents’ calls and emails. Nearly 300 photos of staff and campers engaged in the day’s activities are posted daily, and he might get a call from a mom who noticed her son wearing the same shirt two days in a row or a dad wondering why his third-grader isn’t smiling. If a parent is especially concerned, Charnick has been known to tape a brief interview with the child, asking about their favorite activities and their best friends at camp. He’ll then email this to the parent. 

“It can make a parent go from crisis mode to ‘camp is awesome’ in a minute,” he said.

Charnick, who has been director since 2003 — he was a camper from 1988 to 1991— pens a daily email to parents to fill them in on some aspect of camp, such as what Shabbat is like. And typically, twice a day, he’ll do an extensive walk-around of the sprawling campus, making sure everything is running smoothly, that safety precautions are being observed at all activities and checking in with counselors. 

“With 400 to 500 people at camp [including campers and staff], someone is always having some kind of little crisis,” he said.

•••

Midmorning, Jewish educator Sacha J. Kopin usually can be found teaching a yoga class with an improvised script that is tailored to her camp audience. She might talk about the strict dietary regimen of yogis, and connect this to kashrut and why observant Jews care about what they are putting in their bodies. Or she may introduce some Hebrew.

“I’m sprinkling a little Jewishness here and there,” she said. “If we were outside on the deck, we might do more tree poses because we are underneath trees, under etzim.” 

Next, she might meet with a cabin to discuss a Jewish prayer or concept. In the afternoon, Kopin works with bar and bat mitzvah students, as well as with campers and counselors she has “gently coerced” to chant Torah or haftarah at the Shabbat service. 

“I’m trying to find lots of ways for people to get involved,” she said. 

In the evening, she might pair up with another counselor doing a stargazing program and talk to the kids about the role of stars and nighttime in Jewish tradition. Then she puts her young daughter to sleep, works on programming for the days ahead and eats chocolate — “if possible.” 

•••

Around camp, Robb Zelonky is known simply as Robbo. Before breakfast, the songleader and drama director leads the Modeh Ani prayer on guitar: “I make it fun. I make the girls stand up, then the boys stand up.” Then he sees who can be louder. 

He spends a good part of the day working on the Musical Extravaganza Summer Spectacular, an original show which he writes and campers perform. A past production, “The Rabbi of Oz,” included this ditty, sung to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain”:

“I could study so much Torah, even learn to light menorah, sing prayers out in the rain. I would jump, I would holler. I would become a Jewish scholar, if I only had a brain.”

In the evening, he leads the all-camp song session in the dining hall. Some tunes are Jewish, such as “Hine Ma Tov” and “Pharaoh, Pharaoh.” Others are folk and pop classics: “Puff, the Magic Dragon, “You’ve Got a Friend” and the like. After dinner, tables are pushed aside to create ample space for everyone to move and dance, and Robbo rocks out on his guitar. 

“I consider song session to be Jewish exuberance,” Zelonky said. “It’s this incredible rush of energy and love and connection. It’s very spiritual. It’s like heaven on earth right there in the dining hall.” 

Camp garden helps kids’ generosity grow


Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu is quiet in its off-season — or quieter, at least, if you’re used to seeing the space filled to bursting with energetic young campers. In the fall, it’s populated mostly by groups of adults who come through to use the grounds as a conference center, and there’s a distinct calmness in the air, a sense of relaxation that comes along with shorter days and southern light. 

The garden built by the camp, which is run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple, is still producing, however, a lively, vital corner of green, lush with the fruits of fall: spinach and kale and late-season lettuce, one last melon ripening slowly in the field.  The produce picked between now and the start of first session next summer will be donated to Food Share, Ventura County’s food bank. When campers return in June, they’ll be eating from the garden’s produce, which will include everything from a variety of greens to summer favorites like tomatoes and corn.

The garden is a grand experiment for the camp and its staff, providing much more than sustenance. Leadership campers — a select group of incoming 10th-graders — built the first four raised beds out of cinder blocks in 2011, but the soil languished in their absence. As it happened, around this time a former camper named Sara Kosoff was looking to leave a position doing food systems education and thinking about, as she puts it, “a little vacation in Malibu.”

What Kosoff proposed last year was more than just a garden. She suggested a four-day program introducing campers to the basics of the food system. It was too late at that point to add anything in for the current session, but Hess Kramer was interested. In October 2012, officials called Kosoff to propose “a full-fledged garden program” with her at its helm. 

Kosoff and Hess Kramer worked with an organization called Amir, a nonprofit dedicated to creating gardens in North American Jewish summer camps (though it’s interested in expanding to non-Jewish institutions as well). With the help of Amir and donations from local landscaper Greg Epstein, they were able to build an additional 10 beds on Hess Kramer’s property and four more at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s other camp up the road, Gindling Hilltop.

The camp worked the garden and its produce into programming in a variety of ways: by serving the fruits of its harvests at lunch, giving campers the opportunity to work there as one of their afternoon activities or chugs, and by using it to start conversations about the issues surrounding food and agriculture. Kosoff rotated  through the lunchroom every day, sitting with different groups and talking to them about food, farming and, crucially, food waste. 

Like any good organic gardener, Kosoff built a compost bin, this one specially designed with the help of counselor Emily Alfred, to have succulents growing out from its wood-pallet walls, making it a living structure as well as a home for rinds and scraps. 

“There’s a lot of food waste that happens in the dining room,” Kosoff said. “We can’t take the volume of all of that waste, but we were able to use it as a tool. So I would sit with a different cabin every day and talk to them about why we’re doing composting and take certain things from their table. When we had a barbecue, we would take their watermelon rinds and put all of their watermelon rinds in [the bin], which added up.”

Kosoff actually weighed this discarded food and announced to campers how much they had diverted from a landfill. The kids were excited about the project — almost too excited.

“Once we introduced it to the camp, they wanted to compost everything,” Kosoff said. “The campers would come up to me with bowls of banana peels and apple cores, and they were looking for a place to put it. They were really into it.”

Kosoff also used the garden to talk to the kids about hunger. This summer, campers visited Food Share and did a program connecting social justice and Judaism and food, Kosoff said.

“We went over the Jewish law that says that you must leave the corners of your fields so that people who don’t have as much can have access to produce. So we had a discussion, like, what is a corner of a field? And we had them walk around the garden silently and consider what they thought our corner was. Does it mean one bed? Does it mean a third of the garden?”

Kosoff also told them about the law stating that Jews should give 10 percent of their income to charity. The campers were moved by the overall spirit of the discussion, and decided they wanted to be generous, she said. 

“On that day, they decided … they wanted to swap those numbers. They wanted us to harvest as much as we could harvest, and they wanted us to save 10 percent for ourselves,” Kosoff said. “So we brought this big bowl of produce to Food Share, which was so cool and so empowering for the campers to decide.”

Springs Fire forces evacuations for Jewish institutions in Ventura County


Synagogue leaders are reporting that the Springs Fire has affected Jewish institutions in Ventura County, including two Malibu camps run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) and synagogues Temple Ner Ami, Temple Etz Chaim and Temple Adat Elohim. As of Friday morning, the blaze had consumed more than 8,000 acres of land, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

WBT’s Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp were forced to evacuate on Thursday night. More than 130 elementary school students of the Los Angeles County Outdoor Science School were bused from the grounds of Camp Hess Kramer, and 40 high school students from Oak Park High School were evacuated from Gindling Hilltop Camp.

At least 30 member-families of synagogues Temple Ner Ami in Camarillo as well as Temple Etz Chaim and Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks were evacuated from their homes on Thursday, according to rabbis and spokespeople from those synagogues. This evacuees included residents of affected areas Camarillo Springs and Newbury Park, two of the areas hit hardest by the fire.

By Thursday night, they were able to return to their homes, and none of those synagogues’ campuses were damaged.

The fire first broke out on Thursday morning, May 2,  in Camarillo Springs along the 101 Freeway, and began approaching Pacific Coast Highway by midday. It has caused road closures and evacuations from schools, homes and places of business, and continues to blaze.

The flames did not reach the 200-acre property shared by Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp in Little Sycamore Canyon, situated between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The blaze reached land adjacent to the property, on the other side of a ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains, according to Howard Kaplan, executive director of WBT, which owns and operates the camps.

No camp property has been damaged, and all flames nearby were put out by Ventura County Fire Department firefighters, Kaplan said.

“Right now we’re fine, but we’re on standby because we have to be,” Kaplan told the Journal on the afternoon of Friday, May 3.

During the school year, the L.A. County Outdoor Science School runs weeklong residential programs for elementary students of L.A. county public schools at Camp Hess Kramer. The program leases the site from WBT. Similarly, the synagogue rents out the Hilltop camp to schools holding retreat programs.

The L.A. County Outdoor Science School students –  fifth- and sixth-graders from a Los Angeles United School District school and a Baldwin Park school (Kaplan did not give the names of the schools) – departed from Camp Hess Kramer on buses that took them to Malibu High School on Thursday night. From there, they were bused to the LAUSD and Baldwin Park schools. The students at Hilltop were bused back to Oak Park High School on Thursday night.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department ordered the evacuations from the camps. The camps immediately obliged.

“We always err on the side of safety,” Kaplan said.

Leonora and Herbert Kolischer, Holocaust survivors and entrepreneurs, 88


Leonora Kolischer died in her home in Malibu on October 31, followed soon by her husband Herbert Kolischer on November 4. They were both 88.

They are survived by their adoring family: Leonora's daughter Amalia Klinger of Berkeley and her husband John, three grandchildren Adam, Leah and Sarah, son-in-law Arman and great-grandson Leo; Herbert's sister Irene Lieberberg of Westfield, NJ and her children with her late husband George, nephews Fred and Robert, their wives Jacqueline and Penny and grand nieces and nephews, Rachel, Michael, Madeline and James.

Leonora was born Leonora Holloschütz on March 19, 1924 in Rzeszow, Poland. Her father, Abraham, died before the War. After the War broke out, her mother, Amalia, fearing her teenaged daughter’s safety as German troops approached, sent Leonora to a girls boarding school in Soviet-occupied Poland. When Leonora applied to return home for a holiday visit, the Soviets charged her as a “spy” and sent her (and two school mates who also applied for the holiday visit) to a labor camp in Siberia. There she met her first husband Leon Laufbaum. After the German invasion of Russia, Polish prisoners were “released” and exiled to Samarkand, Uzbekistan where Leonora and Leon lived until the end of the War. Leonora and Leon tried unsuccessfully to repatriate to Poland after the war, and settled in Vienna, where their daughter Amalia was born. Leonora’s mother and two young brothers as well as most of Leon’s family were killed in the Holocaust, but they learned that Leon’s uncle had survived in southern France, and moved there in 1947 to join him in Le Pontet, near Avignon. They received US immigration visas in 1951 and settled in Los Angeles. Upon naturalization in 1957, they changed their name to Levand, an Americanized version of Levandel, the French version of Leon’s family’s patriarchal name. (Jewish marriages were not recognized in Poland, so children took their mother’s name.) Leon died in 1966.

Herbert was born Herman Kolischer on May 10, 1924 in Lvov, Poland (now Ukraine.) He and his sister Irene lost their parents to illness before the War. After being orphaned, the teenage siblings quickly learned survival. They hid their Jewish identity which allowed Irene to work in a German factory during the War, separating the two. They were not reunited until many years later in the United States. Herbert spent a long time moving around and in hiding and homeless until he was arrested by the Nazis. He spent several years imprisoned in concentration camps, Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald. He narrowly escaped death many times including during a death march just before liberation in 1945. He spent the next few years in Bruxelles, recovering strength and getting formally educated, and immigrated to Los Angeles in 1951. There, he obtained his architecture license and spent the next several decades building commercial and residential structures, including the Landmark Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and dozens of buildings and homes in Los Angeles and Malibu.

Herbert and Leonora were married in 1969. Together they built a home and moved to Malibu in 1975. They enjoyed the clean air, beautiful views, casual lifestyle and friendly neighbors. They enjoyed the company of their three grandchildren every summer. They had endless energy to walk to the beach, read stories from the library, enjoy zucchini and chives from the garden, teach their grandchildren how to drive in the local school parking lot and hit tennis balls against the driveway retaining wall. Despite all of the ugly things that each had encountered during their lives, they were always full of laughter and joy and had spirits that were endearing to everyone they met.

Although Leonora found it too painful to publically recount her experiences during the war, Herbert recorded his war history as part of the Shoah Foundation's Holocaust Remembrance Project. He also shared his experience with others at Malibu Jewish Synagogue in his later years.

The bond between Leonora and Herbert was so strong that one could not live without the other. They are loved and remembered dearly by their family, friends and acquaintances forever.

Micol Cohen, community member, dies at 34


Micol Cohen, a 34-year-old international marketing professional, was fatally injured in an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) accident on June 24. Cohen, a native Italian who lived in Beverly Hills, was a passenger when the vehicle veered off a private road in Malibu and, according to the California Highway Patrol, hit an exposed tree root. Cohen died from blunt-force trauma.

On June 27, friends and family filled Young Israel of Century City to honor and remember Cohen, who was buried in Milan.

David Sacks, a friend whose home Cohen often visited for Shabbat meals, traveled to Milan for the funeral on behalf of Cohen’s extensive community of friends in Los Angeles.

“There were hundreds of people at her funeral,” Sacks said. “It was amazing to see how many connections she had across the globe. She had a lot of legitimate best friends.”

After her passing, some of Cohen’s friends discovered in her apartment a handwritten note that she had placed on the wall next to her bed, which she had titled “God Is Everywhere” (see sidebar). In it, Cohen explained her philosophy toward spirituality and religion. 

“Faith is the base of everything,” she wrote. “Faith in Hashem, Torah, tradition and yourself! Without faith, nothing is complete!”

Sacks says the note provided insight into Cohen’s personal beliefs.

“There are a lot of great people who leave this world but don’t leave behind the same sort of manifesto on how to serve God that Micol did,” he said. “This was something that she had for her own private use, and it’s a sign of how much Hashem loved Micol.”

Cohen moved to Beverly Hills in 2004 for her work. She was a congregant at the Happy Minyan on Pico Boulevard, and friends describe her as “really excited to do mitzvot.” She was observant of Jewish traditions and kept a few of her own traditions as well. For example, Cohen refused to speak audibly on Yom Kippur.

“It’s a practice called a ‘Speech Fast’ or tanis dibor,” Judy Sacks, David’s wife, said. “She wanted to make sure she would not say anything inappropriate on such a holy day.”

Cohen spoke five languages and often traveled to Paris. She was loved by children and adults alike and, according to her friend Miriam Teller, “never let the hard times in her life get her down or allow for self-pity.”

“She was always living — always another activity and another friend to see,” Abby Symonds, another one of Cohen’s close friends ,said. “She really lived and had fun doing a lot of activities, and she passed away doing one of those things.”

A campaign on Facebook encouraging people to perform good deeds in Cohen’s memory, called “Mitzvot for Micol,” has already solicited more than 500 members. Donations in Cohen’s memory can be made to the Happy Minyan on its Web site, happyminyan.org.


God is Everywhere: My guide to appreciating God’s gift of life

by Micol Cohen

Purpose        Without meaning, our lives are empty.

Truth          Stay true. Commit to honesty and truth about yourself and the world around you.

Faith       Faith is the base of everything. Faith in Hashem, Torah, tradition and yourself! Without faith, nothing is complete!

Renewal        Today I’ve lived as I’ve never, ever lived until now! Every day marks a new start.

Hope       Never despair! Never give up! There is ALWAYS hope!  If you can spoil it – you can repair it!

Joy           Simcha Tamid! Is a mitzvah to be joyous!

Overcoming In life we have to cross every narrow bridge.
    Anxiety & The most important thing is NOT TO BE AFRAID.
  Doubt

Patience       Never insist that everything will go just the way we want.

Thoughts       Wherever our thoughts are, that is where we are!

Hitbodedut Keep talking to God.

Daily Path YOU HAVE TODAY. Yesterday and tomorrow pull us back.

Adversity Look for God and have faith. “GAM ZU LETOVA!”  (All is for the best.)

“I WILL TAKE YOU ALONG A NEW PATH — ONE THAT IS VERY OLD BUT COMPLETELY NEW!”

Malibu’s HaLevy a leader of rabbis, a face of change


When Rabbi Judith HaLevy came to Los Angeles in 1992 to help start Mesivta, a Center for Jewish Spirituality, she committed to stay for just a year. Nineteen years later, she is deeply rooted in the L.A. community with the thriving Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue and a new post as the 36th president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

HaLevy, installed on May 17 during a ceremony at her synagogue, is only the second woman to lead the 330-member organization — the first being HaLevy’s immediate predecessor, Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami.

“I was given incredible gifts to become the rabbi I am at a time when women didn’t really become rabbis,” said HaLevy, 68, who began her rabbinic education in the early 1980s. “A very well-known Conservative rabbi, who I won’t name, urged me to take a position on the Board of Rabbis 15 years ago. He said that I owed it to the women of L.A. I was resistant, but over the years his admonition has been in my consciousness.”

She said that while change for women has come rapidly since the 1960s, the movement of women from the margins to the center of Jewish life took 2,000 years.

“I feel responsible to stand up and take a role that is perhaps out of my comfort zone to validate the women that made all these changes happen over the last 50 years,” she said, adding that in order to be treated as co-partners with men, women need to be willing to take on difficult roles.

HaLevy, who has served with the Board of Rabbis’ executive committee since 2002, said that her top priority during her two-year tenure as president is to be responsive to the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community and continue on the path of creating opportunities for civil discourse around difficult issues.

“It’s time to start listening to each other or people will disengage around crises, including dangers posed to the State of Israel and dissensions within Judaism itself,” she said.

The organization’s 330 rabbis, who come from all walks of Jewish life, need to be able to sit down together and discuss these issues so that they can go back and promote civil discourse within their communities, she says.

She also wants to strengthen the relationship between the Board of Rabbis and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, saying that the two “make up the arms and legs” of the Jewish community.

“There’s a spirit of cooperation and shared goals that needs to be both expanded and affirmed,” HaLevy said, explaining that the rabbis are the important connectors back to the Jewish community, the key to engaging people in Jewish life and transforming them on a daily basis.

Jewish Federation President Jay Sanderson says that that HaLevy’s passion, dynamism and enthusiasm make her the perfect catalyst to bring The Federation and the Board of Rabbis into a closer working relationship.

“We look forward to Rabbi Judith HaLevy’s inspired leadership as the Board of Rabbis continues to connect our community’s rabbis and synagogues closer to our work in caring for Jews in need, engaging in our broader community and, most importantly, ensuring our Jewish future for our children and grandchildren,” he said.

Rabbi Judith, as she is known to her friends and congregants at Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, comes from an international education and performing arts background. Before moving to Los Angeles, she lived in New Mexico, where she discovered her calling to become a rabbi and first led services for a small Jewish community.

Her passion and enthusiasm have helped her Malibu Reconstructionist congregation grow and flourish — a reflection both of the needs of the community and the creativity that it has incorporated into its shul, she said. She explains that her board was always supportive, even when her ideas seemed crazy.

“Our first Shabbat on the Beach was five chairs in a circle and a bunch of dolphins showing up,” she said, adding that the service has since become a popular event among the congregants while continuing to be popular with the dolphins.

She also explains that despite stereotypes, study is a key component of the Malibu congregation, which features 250 families.

“Jews are far more hungry for meaningful Jewish study than one would think. In a place like Malibu, where you would think it would be far more about social events and less philosophically engaged, it turns out the underpinnings of the congregation is that almost everyone participates in some sort of study program,” HaLevy said. 

And she credits their success to her close bond with Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, explaining that “his song reflects my soul,” and their openness to Jews of all kinds, including mixed marriages. “We are very embracing, bringing Jews who might otherwise have slipped away into a place that they feel comfortable without compromising the Judaism that is offered.”

Her creative background, she said, is something unique that she brings to her position.

“I came to the center from the margins,” she explained, referring both to her roots in theater and being a woman in rabbinical school at a time when that was rare. “I understand the creativity that exists at the margins of Jewish life and have been able to incorporate that creativity in my own rabbinate.”

She said that she personally resonates with the experiences of spirituality and creativity and seeks to bring that to others. “If a spiritual experience hasn’t happened in the room, then I didn’t do my job.”

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis, has worked closely with HaLevy for the last decade and said she is a rabbi and a woman of enormous soul.

“She has a beautiful neshamah [soul] and has a deep appreciation for the mystical and spiritual side of Jewish life. Those are precious gifts that she brings to the Board of Rabbis,” he said.

Hyler begins to heal


Talent Manager and producer Joan Hyler is on the slow road to recovery. After a devastating accident that nearly killed her last Friday Aug. 15, Hyler has undergone multiple surgeries to assess and repair damage to her organs, arms and legs. After being struck by a car on the Pacific Coast Highway, Hyler sustained severe injuries, which reportedly included a collapsed lung, internal bleeding and broken legs. There was initial concern that Hyler might not survive the weekend.

But doctors became optimistic on Tuesday, after a CAT scan revealed that brain swelling was minimal. When Hyler responded positively to a reduction in her sedation level, it was determined she could undergo surgeries to repair her legs.

Following a successful surgery last Friday morning, doctors are increasingly optimistic that Hyler is responding well to treatment.

Yesterday morning, Hyler underwent a six-hour surgery during which doctors attempted to repair a badly broken right leg by inserting a pin in her tibia bone. During that same surgery, they also inserted a screw in her left ankle. Doctors had planned to repair damage to her right upper-arm, but decided to delay further procedures and allow Hyler to rest. Hyler has since been taken off of sedation, but continues to receive a morphine drip for pain.

Her progress will be closely monitored throughout the weekend.

Hyler is a prominent player in both Hollywood and the Jewish community. A former vice president of William Morris Agency, she once represented clients Bob Dylan, Madonna and Andy Warhol. Today, Hyler is a prominent talent manager and producer, representing A-list actors, including Oscar-winner Diane Lane.

Hyler has also exhibited a steadfast commitment to the Jewish community and its causes. As president of Women in Film, Hyler created the Morning Star Commission, an organization founded by Hadassah to promote more diverse portrayals of women in media and entertainment. She also co-created the Jewish Image Awards, which celebrates outstanding portrayals of Jewish heritage in film and television.

After it was reported that Hyler went through 40 units of blood last weekend following her accident, friends and colleagues in both the Entertainment and Jewish communities began organizing blood drives on her behalf. Endeavor Talent Agency held an in-house blood drive last Wednesday, where 82 people contributed 61 units of blood. IKAR, a spiritual community in which Hyler is involved, is also encouraging people to donate blood tomorrow, Aug. 24 (see details below).

The latest report on UCLA’s carepages:

Last Friday night was the lowest of all low points. Since that point we have measured time in 12 hour and 24 hour increments. This is going to be a long difficult struggle. Still, at this point, one week later, we have made only progress, with no emergencies and no setbacks.

Joan rested comfortably during the night. She tolerated the surgery well. The swelling in her face has greatly decreased. At various times she has appeared to recognize familiar voices and has started to fleetingly open her eyes in response. They had suspended feeding her [intravenously] while she was waiting for the surgery; that feeding is now resumed.

The third part of yesterday’s surgery—the part that was not completed—the insertion of a plate and screws to repair the humerus—is now scheduled for this coming Friday.

The action for today is for Joan to undergo an MRI and a C-T scan. The ICU is prepping her for these even as this is being written. Joan had been in a support collar from the beginning and they are now thinking of removing it, hence the MRI, to see if they can proceed. Relative to the C-T scan, Joan had suffered a substantial impact to the head, and while there was no fracture, there had been an internal bleed. The C-T scan will give us an up to date picture of where we are on this front.

 

IKAR blood drive:

Sunday August 24

9 a.m.-Noon

Children’s Hospital

4650 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Donate anytime:

UCLA Medical Center

757 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles

(310) 825-9111

Malibu tango on Carbon Beach


It is not a secret that many beachfront homeowners in Malibu have a disproportionate sense of ownership of the surf and turf that fronts their properties. They pay millions for the illusion that they own the beach.

It’s also not a secret that they don’t.

So, the battle between some small-hearted residents and the determined beach-going public persists, with all sorts of cross accusations and bad feelings.

I’d blocked all of that from my mind on a recent weekend afternoon, when I dragged my reluctant 13-year-old daughter to a dance performance by CalArts’ dance program dean ” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map

Rachel and I joined our group just at the conclusion of an introduction to public beach rights by Jenny Price, a ” title=”Los Angeles Urban Rangers”>Los Angeles Urban Rangers, you can figure out how to set yourself up for a nice beach day, lawfully.

If you can stand the neighbors.

Still, on this day neither Price’s talk nor the bullying were the main attraction. Quickly, they became backdrops for what turned out to be a bit of magic.

Koplowitz, who has devoted his career to using dance to transform how we see the world around us, was in the midst of presenting a full week of free programs at water-side sites throughout L.A. With the eye of a New Yorker, these new works pointed us to look beyond the obvious Los Angeles landmarks to experience a fundamental determinant for the region’s character — how we use, share, experience and get our water. Among the sites his dancers performed at were the downtown Watercourt at California Plaza, the Port of Los Angeles and several stops along the L.A. River.

On this day, his eight-member Taskforce dance troupe — extremely beautiful, athletic young performers — had the “task” of “taking back the beach.” Through what he calls “structured improvisational dance” that encompasses both classical form and playful everyday posturing, the dancers acted out reading, sandcastle-building, playing ball, swimming and hanging out, all on newly public easements that only recently have been restored as public lands.

The performance flew by and ended with the dancers playing in the ocean. And as they performed, the day’s tension and hostilities dissipated. The walkers stopped; the partyers set down their drinks and stood rapt on the edge of their decks to watch. Though the rap music thundered on, time stopped. Everyone was enchanted, and for those few moments, we were as one.

A couple of strollers stopped next to Rachel and asked her what it was all about. Briefly, she stopped pretending to be a bored teen and explained that these dancers had come here as part of an art piece. As she talked, I could tell she’d taken to heart the politics of the moment and also the cultural significance of all that was happening.

And as they talked, I thought of how art can be a healing force. How music can calm. A painting can transport. A good book can distract us from our troubles. And an extraordinary piece of dance, like Koplowitz’s clean, structured yet interwoven narrative work, can sear through an angry crowd. How a shared experience of beauty can diffuse tempers.

Koplowitz, for a moment, achieved a truce by making the beachgoers, all of us, his audience. And the site became his stage — it was no longer theirs, ours or none of the above.

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For more information about Steve Koplowitz and Task Force, go to:

Class notes: Students attend ‘Israel High;’ Boychik Scouts; Honors abound


Shayna Gilbert agreed to humor her daughter by letting her apply to a high school program in Israel, thinking she wouldn’t get in and the plan would never work.

But this week, Noa Miriam Gilbert-McNabb is leaving for high school in Kfar Chabad through the Elite Academy, a program supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel and Israel’s Ministry of Education.

Sixty students from North America, including six from the Los Angeles area, will have their tuition, travel expenses and pocket money covered so they can attend one of four Israeli high schools — including a mixed secular school, a Modern Orthodox option and a Chabad program. The Jewish Agency hopes the program will help the students create lasting bonds with Israel, possibly inducing them to live there but at least making them strong advocates for the Jewish state.

Elite students live in dorms, attend Israeli high schools, have host families as surrogate homes, and go on field trips, seminars and extra curricular activities with Israeli peers.

The program for international students was founded in 1992, and four years ago began accepting students from North America. Five Californians have participated in the last two years.

Noa Miriam, 14, has never been away from home for more than a few days, but she’s excited about broadening her world: “I wanted to go somewhere, to visit different places, and this was a great opportunity.”

Her mother says Noa Miriam’s independent spirit should help her — she went bungee jumping and white water rafting while her four older siblings never did. And not only did she convince her parents to let her go, she got her own passport, learned Hebrew at an adult ulpan and worked at the family’s Pizza Station on Pico Boulevard to earn spending money.

Elie Klein, who runs the Elite Academy, said 96 percent of students who start the program end up matriculating from their Israeli school.

“Students apply to the program for a variety of reasons, from learning Hebrew to meeting new friends, but they all agree they have something important to contribute,” Klein said. “We allow them to develop their talents and hone the skills that will enable them to be part of Israel’s future.”

For more information visit http://www.israelprograms.org or call (866) 472-4772.

Kickoff Meeting for Boychik Scouts

A Shabbat and kashrut-observant Boys and Cub Scout troop is holding a kickoff meeting this week. The troop meets once or twice per month for activities that focus on character, outdoor skills and citizenship. Last year, more than 75 boys participated in camping, pinewood derby car racing and field trips.

Boys ages 6 to 17 are invited to attend the meeting, Sunday, Sept. 9, 5 p.m. at Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 Olympic Blvd. in Beverly Hills.

For more information contact Cubmaster Jeffrey Feuer, call (310)338-1171, ext. 10 or e-mail jfeuer@askcsg.com.

Handling Those ‘God Forbid’ Situations

Worrying about worst-case scenarios is an unpleasant but inevitable part of parenting. The Shalom Institute in Malibu is holding a Family Safety Day to help parents and kids prepare for — and possibly prevent — all kinds of “God forbid” situations. Child predator safety educator Pattie Fitzgerald will present an age-appropriate workshop for kids about how to handle being lost, how to keep safe at home and what do in situations that make them uncomfortable. Attorney Eric Grodan will help parents navigate issues such as wills and trusts.

Lunch will be provided.

Saturday, Sept. 8, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. $15 (per person with advance registration), $20 (at the door), free (children under 4). For more information and to register visit www.grodanlaw.com or call (818) 206-2222. www.shalominstitute.com.

Preschool Teacher Going Back to School

Marcy Stieglitz, a kindergarten teacher at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, was one of 18 educators nationwide selected to take part in a new fellowship designed to groom teachers to become leaders in their fields.

The Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, a project of the Covenant Foundation in collaboration with Bank Street College of Education and Project Zero at Harvard University, is designed to bring educators together to study Jewish texts and Jewish life while learning about leadership and the emotional and social well-being of young children.

The program will include two summer institutes and frequent seminars featuring cutting-edge leadership development and dialogue-based Judaic learning, with monthly phone conferences and guided online discussion groups. The third year features individual mentorships and a culminating trip to Israel.

For more information, visit http://www.jecei.org or http://www.hillelhebrew.org.

Teachers Receive Excellence Honors

Five Los Angeles teachers are among the 76 nationwide recipients of the eighth annual Grinspoon-Steinhart Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education. The awards, given by the Jewish Education Service of North America, in partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation and the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundations, honor outstanding classroom-based teachers in formal Jewish education settings.

This year’s honorees from Los Angeles are Jeri Dubin, a preschool teacher at Adat Ari El Rose Engel Early Childhood Center; Meri Hever, a Gesher teacher at University Synagogue; Hilary Steinberg, a teacher at Valley Beth Shalom Nursery School for 20 years; Joshua Hearshen, who taught for five years at Los Angeles Hebrew High School while pursuing his rabbinic studies; and Rebecca Green, a Jewish educator.

Each winner is awarded a $1,000 cash prize and a $1,500 stipend to be used for professional development, part of which is underwritten by local donors.

For more information, visit http://www.grinspoonsteinhardt.org.

— Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Presidential Honors for YU Grads

Two Los Angeles students are among 12 recent Yeshiva University graduates selected to serve as Presidential Fellows in University and Community Leadership at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York.

Michal Kalinsky, a business management major at YU’s Sy Syms School of Business, is working at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future in their community initiatives department.

Lauren Pietruszka, a business and marketing major at Sy Syms, is working in the office of the dean at YU’s Stern College for Women.

Established four years ago by YU President Richard Joel, the fellowships aim to in train top graduates to expand YU’s service to the Jewish community.

For more information, visit http://www.yu.edu.

Dancing with my dad — and David Dassa


Perhaps only in Israeli folk dancing circles can a 17-year-old high schooler mingle comfortably with a 52-year-old podiatrist. Probably only at Israeli folk dance camps can people dance 20 hours in a 24 hour period. And for Rikud, which offers just that kind of experience, there is a waiting list every year.

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Dassa is thrilled that so many dancers return year after year, but acknowledges that the new faces are what keep the camp fresh.

High schoolers, introduced to Israeli folk dancing by Dassa’s youth programs at schools and summer camps, are often the greenest of the crowd. Though they certainly inject Rikud with youthful exuberance, Dassa is strict about limiting their number to between 20 and 25.
“I choose the kids that are most passionate about dancing and can handle the adult atmosphere,” Dassa said. “I could take many more, but that would annoy everyone else.”

“Everyone else” is an extremely diverse bunch, Dassa said: 60 percent are Israeli-born, 20 percent come from out of state, ages range from early teens to late 70s, and dance experience varies from just a couple of months to 40-plus years.

I’ve been dancing since the age of 3, but I started attending weekly dance sessions on a regular basis only two years ago. This will be my third time attending Rikud, and perhaps my 25th Israeli folk dance camp (I’ve been to many with my dad). The weekend is one of the highlights of my year.

Until you’ve experienced it for yourself, you simply cannot imagine how 70 hours of dancing can leave you feeling so completely satisfied, so utterly exhausted and so fundamentally Jewish.

The fee to attend is $175 for students and up to $450 for a private room.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack — Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown and cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance,” she said.

Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.
The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack: An Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown-and-cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risque in your appearance,” she said.
Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness.

And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.

The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994 she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, which has featured a sign with a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Jewish Federation Raises $10 Million for Israel

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently announced that the organization has raised $10 million in pledges just three weeks after launching its Israel in Crisis Fund.

All of the monies raised will go toward supporting direct services to Israelis who have suffered during the recent crisis, including providing counseling for terror victims, aiding the elderly, disabled and other at-risk populations with intervention programs, and helping to underwrite the cost of sending thousands of young Israelis from the north to summer camps in safer parts of the country.
“This is a time to do two things,” Federation President John Fishel said. “If you feel like you want to or can, you should get on an airplane and stand in solidarity with Israel. Even if you can’t, it’s a time to respond by making a generous donation to the state of Israel.”

Fishel recently went on a mission to Israel. During a visit to the northern Israeli city of Naharya, he spent several hours huddled in a hospital basement while Hezbollah missiles exploded nearby.

The local Federation hopes to contribute a total of $15 million to United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of the nation’s federations that is coordinating the fundraising efforts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has raised more than $100,000 for the AJC’s Israel Emergency Assistance Fund, also a national campaign. Like the Federation, 100 percent of the AJC’s proceeds go to Israel, said Saundra Mandel, the local chapter’s acting director. Local money has helped purchase two mobile
intensive-cardiac-care ambulances for Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross, and 500 first-aid kits to bomb shelters, Mandel added.

Another organization, the American Friends of Magen David Adom, has raised $700,000 locally since kicking off a war-time campaign on July 12, according to Ellen Rofman, the group’s Western regional director. That money has gone toward purchasing ambulances and medical supplies, as well as toward testing donated Israeli blood for viruses and other requested items, she said.

To attract funding, Rofman said she has sent out e-mails to rabbis throughout Southern California, advertised in the Jewish press and contacted Jewish country clubs and private foundations. Given the needs of the Israeli people, she said the fundraising drive, named Code Red Alert, will continue until mid-October.

To make a donation to the Federation’s Israel in Crisis Fund, call 866-968-7333 or, visit www.jewishla.org.

To make a contribution to the American Jewish Committee, visit www.ajc.org.

To make a donation to American Friends of Magen David Adom/ARMDI, call (818) 905-5099, or visit www.afmda.org.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Spielberg Adds $1 Million to Relief Funds

Steven Spielberg is giving $1 million for relief efforts in Israel during the current conflict, with the initial $250,000 going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Additional future gifts are earmarked for the liberal-oriented New Israel Fund and other relief organizations in Israel, Marvin Levy, the filmmaker’s chief spokesman, announced this week.

Spielberg’s is among the major gifts to the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s special crisis fund and is being donated through his Righteous Persons Foundation, capitalized entirely through his personal profits, estimated at around $40 million, from his Academy Award-winning movie, “Schindler’s List.”

Fishel said that the crisis fund concentrates on alleviating the devastating effect of Hezbollah rocket barrages on northern Israel, particularly on children, the elderly and disabled.

In addition, Spielberg’s grant will be used to retrofit Haifa’s three hospitals with shatterproof glass and for emergency assistance to the main hospital in the hard-hit town of Nahariya.

The unspecified donation to the New Israel Fund will go for emergency assistance to communities in northern Israel through support of crisis hotlines, economic help and improved food distribution.

At the same time, another Jewish high-profile Hollywood personality is disbursing $1 million.

Barbra Streisand is giving that sum to former president Bill Clinton’s Climate Change Initiative, which seeks to create a consortium of major cities around the world to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Steisand recently announced plans for a concert tour in October and November, whose proceeds will go to organizations concerned with environmental, women’s health and educational issues.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

New Program Welcomes Learning Disabled Students to Day Schools

A year-old program for children with learning disabilities at Los Angeles Orthodox day schools has room for a few more kids for this September.

Kol Hanearim — Hebrew for all the children — started last year to meet the challenge of keeping children with learning disabilities in Jewish day schools. The children, who have all left or been asked to leave Jewish day schools, have their own class embedded in a host school. A special education teacher and trained aides teach classes in academic subjects as well as social and study skills.

“The unique thing about what we’re doing is the kids will develop a sense of belonging within the host school, and that will lead toward the class being integrated as much as possible within the host school,” said headmaster Rabbi Levy Cash.

The Kol Hanearim curriculum and schedule is designed to flow with the host schools, so that kids join their grade for classes like art, computer and physical education, and for prayers, lunch and recess.

Last year, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy hosted the first class of six fourth-graders, who are generally two to three years behind grade level academically and might also have behavioral issues. This year, in addition to the fourth- and fifth-grade class at Hillel, the program will offer a second- and third-grade class at Maimonides Academy, and a sixth- through eighth-grade class at Perutz Etz Jacob Academy. Each cohort will stay within the host school from year to year, so they can benefit from stable friendships and consistency of educational approach.

“There is a lot our kids can gain from their peers, and there is a lot their peers can gain from us being in the school,” Cash said, noting that the host schools have been welcoming and cooperative.

For information, contact (818) 536-9741 or e-mail Kolhanearim@gmail.com.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

New Camp Gives Life to a Dying Wish


During the last few weeks of his life, when the brain cancer that had stalked him for eight years was about to claim victory, Daniel Jacoby spent hours on his laptop.

Jacoby, 38 when he died last March, could barely speak or get up, but he propped “Nonprofit Kit for Dummies” on his bed and wrote up the bylaws for Interfaith Inventions, drawing energy from the legacy he was intent on leaving.

“I think all of us deny the fact that life is limited and we only have so much time,” said Rabbi Judith HaLevy, who became Jacoby’s friend and adviser during the last six months of his life. “Especially in a young person dealing with a life threatening situation. We’re bound by two ends — between never-dying hope and the fact that you have to open a place in your mind that says this really may be it, so what do I really care about?”

Jacoby confronted that question at several points in his illness and four-year remission, and pursued its resolution with zeal.

He became an active member and volunteer for the Wellness Community, where cancer patients support each other.

At 34, Jacoby retired to a beach house in Malibu, having made his fortune co-founding an online banking startup during the dot-com boom. He became a photographer and art collector and learned to do magic, which he performed for the Wellness Community and his three nieces, whom he often surprised in Colorado with unannounced visits.

Just before the cancer reemerged in 2001, he took a trip to Antarctica, using as his guide Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance,” a book about Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, an English explorer of the early 1900s who shaped the race to the South Pole and who became Jacoby’s hero.

“The essence of who he really was emerged in the last seven years of his life after he found out he had a tumor,” said his mother Janine Jacoby, who with her husband, David, have been members of Temply Aliyah in Woodland Hills for 37 years. “I remember him crying that he can’t die yet, he still has too much to do. He didn’t realize what he meant at that time, but when he was given seven more years, that is when the things he did became so remarkable. He did not waste one second of the last seven years of his life.”

But as his illness progressed, his suffering became more profound and so did his anger.

In August 2003, he found the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS) on the Web, and e-mailed HaLevy, even though he felt alienated from institutionalized religion.

“Rabbi, I live in Malibu and have a terminal brain tumor. Do you do house calls?”

For months, HaLevy visited weekly or more, fielding the toughest questions a rabbi gets: Why has God, if there is a God, chosen to do this to me?

Then one December evening, HaLevy lost patience with the anger and the despair that was eating away at Jacoby.

“You can’t just lie here and feel sorry for yourself,” she told him, realizing the absurdity of saying this to a dying man. “You need to think about doing something for someone else.”

The next day Jacoby asked the rabbi to come over to pick up a blank check to pay for MJCS’s new preschool playground, a need he identified from the synagogue’s Web site. Then Jacoby asked HaLevy, “What about the camp?”

That question set into motion a rapid-fire process of setting up Interfaith Inventions, with a mission to set up camps for kids from different faith communities.

Jacoby’s focus on camp came from his own formative experiences at Camp Ramah in Ojai. His idea was that if kids not yet burdened with adult prejudices could get to know each other as people and learn about each other’s traditions surrounded by nature and having fun, they would grow up to be peace-seeking adults.

He was intent on seeing that idea come to fruition before he died.

A key to the success turned out to be HaLevy’s connection to Andy Gold, an old friend who owns Rose Mountain, a spiritual retreat center in the Sangre De Cristo mountains of New Mexico. Gold contacted Rabbi Lynn Gottleib of Nahalat Shalom in Albuquerque, N.M., who has been dedicated to interfaith work since she was a teenager.

“Daniel’s emphasis was to make sure the kids have fun with each other, in the service of peace and understanding,” Gold said.

For one week in July, 15 11- and 12-year-olds and about 10 staff members from a mosque, a synagogue and an Episcopalian church in Albuquerque did regular campy things — hikes, games, art, drama — while sleeping in tents and eating vegetarian meals outside.

“They are children and they play together, so they can form relationships based not on issues of identity but on human nature,” Gottleib said. “Once you play together and have fun together, you can then begin to build the trust you need to speak to the difficult issues.”

In sessions throughout the week, the kids taught each other about the traditions of their own homes. Jewish kids brought Kiddush cups and a tallit to share, Muslims their prayer rugs, Christians their children’s Bible. They did bibliodramas and taught each other prayers for an interfaith service.

A video shot at camp shows one outdoor circle on prejudice, where a Muslim boy spoke of friends who wouldn’t speak to his family after Sept. 11, and a Christian girl spoke of the prejudice she sees among her friends.

“We all have one thing in common –we’re all God’s creatures,” she said, tears coming down her face. “So why are we so mean to each other, especially because of something as simple as religion?”

Interfaith Inventions has already hosted one reunion in Albuquerque and plans to invite members of all the participating communities to events throughout the year. Next summer the group hopes to hold two camps — one in the Los Angeles area and one at Rose Mountain.

Jacoby put up $30,000 for the first summer so kids didn’t have to pay, and Leslie Harris, a childhood friend of Jacoby’s who is running Interfaith Inventions, hopes to raise $100,000 for the coming summer.

“The kids were demonstrating there is hope for this world, and right now with all that is going on on the world scene, a lot of us adults are not very hopeful and are despairing,” Gold said. “Just one week with these kids really helped give us light and instilled all of us with a lot of hope.”

For information on Interfaith Inventions, visit www.interfaithinventions.org .

Malibu Shul Begins Building — Finally


Construction crews broke ground at the site of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS) last week — two and a half years after the congregation held a gala groundbreaking celebration for the new $10 million building.

"Building in Malibu is legendary — it’s very difficult to get through the regulatory process. Thank God, we’ve made it through all of that," said George Greenberg, congregation president.

It took about seven years for the 225-family congregation to work through the red tape that binds any building project in Malibu, from city permits to the daunting state Coastal Commission. With permits finally in hand and $7.5 million raised, construction trucks moved onto the 5-acre site on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), about a mile up the coast from Pepperdine University.

The new building, a sweep of steel and glass that is deliberately ambiguous about where the outside ends and inside begins, will be the first major synagogue erected in Malibu. Chabad has a small congregation nearby, also on PCH, and the nearest shuls are in Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

"Malibu is an interesting place because people come here to get away — they come here specifically not to join, to be secluded with nature," Greenberg said.

Set into a lush hillside on PCH where lizards and dragonflies crisscross dirt paths, the Reconstructionist MJCS has eschewed the conventional routines of some communities, offering alternative portals to participating in services or classes. Rabbi Judith HaLevy relishes in programs such as Shabbat on the Beach — a hallmark of summer here — and she has set up a regular rotation on Friday nights of healing services, family services and small Kabbalat Shabbat services in people’s homes.

Until now, the physical space has worked well with the ad hoc aura. The "temporary" cluster of prefabricated units put up 10 years ago on the northern end of the site still serve as the way-too-cozy administrative offices, the preschool, the religious school and the main sanctuary — which also serves as a preschool room and a kitchen — and where bar and bat mitzvah’s require setting up tents outside the sliding doors on either side of the ark.

For the High Holidays, 1,200 congregants will worship in a tent set up in a dusty athletic field in the shadow of the mountainside, where if you sit in the right spot you can see over the trees lining PCH and catch a glimpse of the ocean.

HaLevy and Greenberg have worked with architects to maintain both the closeness with nature and the intimacy with each other in the new building.

The new campus will house the preschool and offices in the old prefab units. The centerpiece of the new 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor complex is the nearly all-glass main sanctuary, which opens up in back to two roofed patios covered on three sides. On the other side of the bimah and ark, glass doors open up to an outdoor amphitheater. The entire building is surrounded by lushly landscaped concourses. Catered events can also be held in the space, and the new kitchen will be under kosher supervision.

The natural beauty of the site is one of its biggest assets, and also turned out to be a major obstacle toward developing the property. The parcel of land, acquired from NBC 10 years ago, is a long, narrow lot, and about 40 percent of it turned out to be designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, rendering that part of the land ineligible for any development. (NBC agreed to forgive almost $800,000 of the remaining mortgage when the condition of the land became known.)

The entire property has to be regraded, sound barriers to PCH will be built and the shul will have its own waste water treatment facility.

While the delays were a headache for the congregation, Greenberg acknowledges the extra time was also necessary for more fundraising. Malibu Beach’s image as playground of the rich and famous holds true for a small percentage of the congregation, but most members are from plain old Malibu — just regular professionals, says Greenberg, attracted to Malibu’s small-town feel.

As one of the only shuls for miles, MJCS attracts a wide range of members, from the very traditional to the barely affiliated. It tries to be inclusive of the many intermarried families, while not lowering the bar of what is expected from both kids and adults.

Greenberg and HaLevy both realize that putting up a major edifice will challenge the warm and intimate character they have worked hard to nurture.

HaLevy looks to innovative programs like Shabbat on the Beach, where the candles flutter in the wind and the dolphins come for a weekly dose of spirituality, to keep congregants tied to the community.

"The direct spiritual experience is very difficult to provide, but my saying ‘let’s be quiet for a three minutes and listen to the waves before we say the Shema’ might be enough for you to find a place in your soul that is very hard to find," HaLevy said. "Hopefully the space we are building will have that kind of a feel."

Chabad Cafe Makes Waves in Malibu


The recently mounted mezuzah on the front door of a soon-to-be opened restaurant in Malibu is symbolic for many reasons.

It marks the first kosher eatery to open in the seaside community. It also symbolizes Chabad of Malibu’s first foray into mainstream life in a city of surfers and celebrities.

Chabad has been cultivating its surf town persona since 2001, purchasing several buildings and a house across the street from the Malibu Pier. A sign posted in front of the property portrays the silhouette of a Chabadnik riding a surfboard.

But good waves aren’t enough to attract the sun-imbued to Chabad’s way of life. So resident Rabbi Levy Cunin decided to open the recently renamed Malibu Beach Grill, hoping to tempt more taste buds than tefillin.

"Obviously, this is not Pico-Robertson," Cunin said. "And while we are offering kosher food, that doesn’t only mean matzah balls and gefilte fish. There will be beef and chicken here, too."

The restaurant is poised to open during the first two weeks of September. Workers have been scurrying about the building, taking measurements and sterilizing. Meanwhile, a temporary banner posted curbside reads, "Malibu Grill … It’s All Good."

Not so to the restaurant’s former occupants, whose last day at the location was Aug. 8.

For eight years, Malibu Chicken rented the space from Chabad, and now it claims it was evicted for a kosher restaurant that will profit from its clientele, which includes stars Adam Sandler, Barbra Streisand, Jim Carey, Meg Ryan and Pierce Brosnan. But Chabadniks say they always intended to create a kosher restaurant on the property.

"It’s not right. We were here for a long time," said Sharon Caples, who ran the restaurant with her brother, Sean Caples. "And now they are going to profit from the clientele we built up over so many years."

However, Cunin said it had always been Chabad’s intention to open a kosher restaurant in Malibu.

"And it was very difficult for me to tell Malibu Chicken that they needed to find another location," he said. "What can you do? It is not like I was closing an animal hospital."

For many, it’s the end of an institution.

Eric Gross, a local surfer, ate at Malibu Chicken a couple of times a week. He said after practically growing up on the food, saying goodbye was no easy feat.

"I used to sit and talk to the owners every day. And I’m not sure how a kosher restaurant will do here. It’s not like there are a bunch of people in Malibu searching for kosher food," said the 25-year-old, who works in a neighboring office building. "Besides, I think a lot of people are still angry about what went down."

Sean Caples’ frustration still causes a slight crack in his voice, but he would not comment about the restaurant for legal reasons. His sister, who managed Malibu Chicken, said she attempted to convert the restaurant into a kosher establishment, although several months of contacting rabbis and attempting to work with Chabad proved fruitless.

"It’s very hard to convert a restaurant to a kosher restaurant when you’re not Jewish," Caples said. "We even called on a rabbi in the Fairfax region to help us. But we were evicted before we could even begin to start the process."

Cunin agreed that converting to a kosher restaurant is especially difficult if the owners are not Jewish.

"You can’t just expect someone to have a kosher restaurant because their arms are being twisted behind their back," Cunin said. "It has to be something in your heart. Something you willingly want to do."

The rabbi does not plan to run Malibu Beach Grill. He has entered into a partnership with a Jewish businessman who will contractually own the restaurant.

However, Chabad will still charge rent and take a percentage of Malibu Beach Grill’s gross receipts. Cunin said generally 10 percent is an appropriate amount for tzedakah (charitable giving) purposes.

The search for a new Malibu Chicken location continues for Sean Caples. He still has the surf and kayak store above his former restaurant. But Cunin said Chabad’s board plans to lease the space to a new business that will still keep the surf and kayak theme.

A dry cleaners on the property adjacent to a Hebrew school will remain the only business independent of Chabad if Capel’s kayak store is evicted.

Sharon Caples said she and her brother are not certain whether they will pursue litigation should the Malibu Beach Grill be identical to their former restaurant.

"It’s just been a slap in the face to us," she said. "And the Malibu residents have been so kind over the years. We’re just sad to say goodbye."

But the greatest hurdle for Chabad has yet to be cleared.

"Malibu is a very spiritual place," Cunin said. "And I hope people come and see what we’re doing here. I’m interested in learning about surfers and their spirituality."

"I’ve always liked a good challenge," he continued. "And it is amazing how much we have in common with the people here in Malibu."

With Camperships for All


They are not scholarships but “camperships” in Jewish summer camp parlance. Of the 1,000 campers expected soon at Malibu’s Camp JCA Shalom, which is supported by JCCGLA, about 200 parents applied for camperships.

“It’s amazing, in the past few years, the income level of people who are requesting camperships,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom. Its campership aid this year will run about $130,000, $75,000 of which is general camp aid from The Federation. That is an increase from the $50,000 The Federation made available 2002, the boost due to the increase in cash-strapped families.

In addition to that $75,000, there is a separate $18,000 in Federation money for kids from Russian immigrant families, with the rest of Camp JCA’s $130,000 coming from donations and regional federations for campers from Arizona, Las Vegas and Southern California’s outlying Jewish communities not served by the L.A. Federation.

“About half of the parents are unaffiliated,” Kaplan said. “One of our targets is Jews who are not affiliated with a synagogue.”

In an outreach to public high school kids, the Orthodox Union’s National Council of Synagogue Youth is running a $2,500, July 1-25 coed “Caravan West” motorcoach tour of the western United States.

Whatever the denomination, applying for any campership usually is simple and discreet.

“On the application for camp we have a checkbox. Our office then will send out a packet; a financial aid application,” said Rabbi Daniel Greyber, executive director of the University of Judaism’s Camp Ramah in California, which has about 15 percent to 20 percent of parents requesting aid, and this summer will distribute $175,000 in camperships. Parents are also asked if their synagogue will help.

“The expectation is that everybody contributes something,” Greyber said. “Many but not all of the Conservative synagogues have a scholarship fund, either for Camp Ramah in California or Jewish camp in general.”

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu helps Reform kids through a campership fund.

“We will at least match the temple,” said Hess Kramer director Howard Kaplan. “There are times when I have a rabbi call and say they’re out of funds and they really need to get this kid to camp; can we find a way? We find a way.”

Wilshire Boulevard will distribute about $30,000 in camperships to about 60-80 kids.

“We try to get everyone something, even if it’s a hundred bucks for a short session,” said Howard Kaplan, who added that safeguards are in the application process. “We ask for the front page of their taxes, just so that they’re not earning $250,000 and they don’t want to pay. It happens.”

Camp Hess Kramer gives camperships covering no more than half its fee, and its director avoids making such aid habit-forming.

“If we have families on scholarship we try to wean them off it over the years,” he said.

Above all, he said, “If a kid’s deserving, you get him there.”

Financial aid is also available through interest-free loans from Federation-backed Jewish Free Loan Association and its Morris Doberne Camper Experience Loan Fund.

Aid is not just for sleepover camps. At Temple Israel of Hollywood, the six-week day camp costs $300 a week, with 60 percent of its 70 campers from the shul’s school.

“We don’t have an express scholarship program, but we work with individual families who express a specific need,” said Jackie Symonds, the school’s general studies coordinator. “It’s basically what can you afford.”

Campers Hit the Great Outdoors


The tomato plants are thriving. Their leafy green stalks shoot straight out of the moist brown earth and sway gently in the breeze. The lettuce, alfalfa and spicy greens starts also look healthy. Herbs grow everywhere. This garden, like all gardens at one time, is still in its formative stage — one of promise. This garden, unlike other gardens, is planted in the shape of the state of Israel.

Nestled deep within a Malibu canyon off the Pacific Coast Highway, the Shalom Institute, a Jewish summer camp and nature center, has planted an extensive organic garden on its grounds this year and plans to incorporate the age-old tradition of farming into its summer programs.

“I don’t think any of this is new, but it is fashionable at present,” said Becca Halpern, the camp’s program director. “First every camp needed an Olympic-sized pool, and then it was a climbing wall, now every camp has a garden.”

Perhaps the Shalom Institute’s new garden is not on the cutting edge of summer camp innovation. At this point, maybe it is not even a novel idea, but the garden represents a growing trend in Jewish education, one that brings a predominantly urban culture back to the earth.

And this movement — at least in America — has taken its time. It began in the late 19th century, introduced in the politics of Theodor Herzl, the man credited as the founder of modern Zionism. Herzl’s chief lieutenant, Parisian physician, Max Nordau, made a speech in which he called for the need to develop what he referred to as “muscle Judaism.”

“If, unlike other peoples, we do not conceive of [physical] life as our highest possession, it is nevertheless very valuable to us and thus worthy of careful treatment,” Nordau said at the Second Zionist Congress in 1898. “Let us take up our oldest traditions. Let us once more become deep-chested, sturdy, sharp-eyed men.”

So how does an organic garden at a JCC summer camp relate to the high-minded ideals of famous Zionists? Well, Halpern explains, the garden is really a metaphor. It is a way of teaching Jewish concepts, such as tikkun olam (repairing the world), or tzedakah, which Halpern translates as justice — or more specifically, environmental justice.

And the campers, literally, eat it up.

“I talk about edible and medicinal plants with 10-year-olds,” Halpern said. She makes her point, however, by taking them into the woods and scavenging snacks.

Another summer program has taken this concept of bringing campers into nature to an entirely different level. Yael Ukeles runs Teva Adventure, an outdoor adventure program jointly based in New York and Jerusalem. Teva Adventure has teamed up with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to offer wilderness trips rich in outdoor survival skills and Jewish education.

The organizations’ pilot program last summer was a trip for boys to the wilds of Alaska, where the predominantly Orthodox participants learned skills such as ice-climbing and glacier-hiking, while finding time to pray three times a day and observe Shabbat.

“I think there are a lot of programs like this in the secular world and I think the Jewish community is following suit,” Ukeles recently said by phone from Israel. “A person who is Jewish should be able to participate in a program like this inside the Jewish community; they shouldn’t have to go outside the Jewish community. It is also educationally, a tremendous opportunity, not just in a social Jewish context, but a tremendous opportunity to do Jewish education.”

Ukeles worked with NOLS instructors to build a curriculum that synthesized outdoor skills and Jewish education throughout the trip. She explained that the program relied heavily on metaphors to make a point.

For example, the group drew parallels between their journey and other famous journeys in Jewish history, such as the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. Also, when the boys were tied together as a rope team, while hiking a glacier, the group talked about how this symbolized the connection between all Jews.

The boys also learned how to keep kosher in the outdoors. They cooked together before Shabbat, learned how to erect an eruv and even made challah without an oven under the open sky.

For Gavi Wolf, an 11th-grader from Passaic, N.J., the trip was a “crazy success.”

“The whole experience of being in Alaska was so unreal,” Wolf wrote in a letter to Ukeles. “It was funny because although I had the heaviest physical weight on my back that I have every (sic) had, I felt more at ease and unburdened than I have ever have before. I was with people that I loved in an extraordinary place.”

It is Wolf’s last thought that sums up the single most important factor in the success of any summer program for youths, be it a JCC camp or a wilderness adventure. According to a recent survey by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which measures U.S. teenagers’ involvement in religious summer camps, the thing participants value most is a sense of community.

“If there is one story here that is coming out of the data, it is that summer camp is as much of a cultural activity or more so than a religious activity,” said Dr. Philip Shwadel, a researcher for the project. “They feel more at ease with [other] Jewish kids, especially the ones who don’t live in highly Jewish areas.”

The ability of summer programs to connect Jewish youths from different backgrounds is unparalleled. Like members of a kibbutz, they live and learn together in the natural world. One parent of a Teva Adventure participant noted this lesson and, like the Zionists of old, offered his own philosophy on the future of Judaism.

“Judaism can reach its zenith only through the cooperation of diverse individuals and groups,” Craig Wichell from Sebastopol, in Northern California, wrote in a letter about his son’s outdoor experience. “In Judaism, we each have our role to play.”

While the founders of modern Zionism called for Jews to recreate their more physical past in the present, Ukeles hopes Jews will do this while bringing Jewish education to the outdoors.

“In our climate-controlled lives, we go from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car or a heated house to a heated car,” she said. “It is easy to lose touch and these programs remind us that we are not necessarily running the show here. There is something bigger and in the context of the world, we are small and God is big.”

For more information on summer programs, visit
www.campjcashalom.com or

The Circuit


Family Man

“There are three major religions and they all say the same thing: ‘You honor others and you will have others honor just as you do.'”

So sayeth Spartacus himself — Kirk Douglas — during a one-on-one discussion with Rabbi David Wolpe following a benefit screening on April 9 at Sinai Temple of his latest film, “It Runs in the Family.”

Douglas, 87, has played in more than 80 movies. Of those, Douglas said he liked only 22, and among them he ranked David Miller’s 1962 drama, “Lonely Are the Brave,” as his best.

“It Runs in the Family” — the story of three generations of a dysfunctional New York family coming together — signals several firsts: Douglas got to co-star opposite his son, Michael Douglas, and grandson, Cameron, 14, appearing in his first acting role. Douglas also got the opportunity to act once again with his ex-wife, Diana Douglas.

“It was very easy to play with Michael. Michael is a very good actor,” said proud papa Douglas, who also called Cameron “a natural talent.”

Actingwise, Douglas has led a charmed life, working with such legendary directors as Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick. His life off screen, however, has been marred by tragedy that has fueled his recent gravitation toward his Jewish faith. With Wolpe, he openly discussed his love of Torah, surviving a helicopter crash and a stroke, and the subsequent memoir, “Stroke of Luck,” those experiences informed.

“I think I am very lucky,” Douglas said. “In the helicopter crash, two young people were killed and I survived. I said to myself, ‘Why am I alive?’ Then my stroke happened, but I survived. I think that the most important thing that has happened to me is what my mother and my father did to come from Russia to America and give me the chance to do something. I am grateful for what they did.”

So grateful, Douglas named his production company after his mother, Brina.

“I was born in poverty,” Douglas said. “We did not have enough to eat; my parents were peasants from Russia. My son, Michael, was born in a much better situation. Now my grandson is in a much, much better situation.”

Douglas even weighed in on politics, noting that he did not vote for President Bush, but admitting that he supported the war effort.

“I think people already have forgotten Sept. 11,” Douglas said, “when we were attacked and 3,000 people were killed. America is the only superpower. It must make it happen to get rid of terrorism. And I think this war has only been the start of it.”

Overall, he said, making “It Runs in the Family” was a positive, bonding experience for the Douglas clan.

“I was very pleased to make the movie,” Douglas said, “because with all that is happening in the world today, with our troops far off, and while we waited for them to come back to their families, I thought it was very appropriate to make a movie about family, about the love that there is within a family and to show how important it is.” — Mojdeh Sionit, Contributing Writer

Building in the ‘Bu

The Malibu Jewish Center, which offers religious schooling, adult education and other services at the affluent beachside community, honored Jack Friedman for his support of the center at its 23rd annual Hard Hat Ball at the Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica on May 4. Friedman has been instrumental in helping the trailer-based center, which has never had its own permanent temple or offices, build a new temple, currently in progress.

His and Hearse Drawing Praise

David Rose, veteran illustrator and media graphic artist with numerous one-man shows on his resume, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles. Rose was cited for “outstanding contributions to the graphic arts and print media of the world, and in exemplifying the highest tradition of excellence in his field.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Broadcast News

Jewish Television Network (JTN) appointed Jayne Braiman Rothblatt as its new vice president of development. Rothblatt recently served as director of development and public relations for Vista del Mar Child and Family Services. At Vista del Mar, Rothblatt was responsible for the $2 million annual appeal. JTN was founded in 1981 as an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit production and distribution company — the only producer of Jewish television in the United States.

The Rabbi’s Wedding


The bride wore blue, the color of the covenant.

The groom wore a light gray business suit.

The crowd of 300 wore smiles of satisfaction, and relief.

When Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue exchanged rings with Edward Toppel of Chicago last Sunday, hope, like the late afternoon winter sun, burned brightly. If remarriage, as the saying goes, is the triumph of optimism over experience, how much more so when the rabbi herself carries white calla lilies?

They read to each other their vows: The bride promised to listen to the groom with her heart. The groom promised not to trip over the bride’s shoes in the kitchen and the garden. Realism and romance played off each other, as the afternoon sky turned gold.

Officiating under the chuppah, Rabbi Sheryl Lewart of Kehillat Israel said that the kattan and kallah were representing the first couple who ever loved. If so, they were an older, wiser, Adam and Eve, for whom the goblet had long ago been smashed, contributing to the glint of understanding in their eyes.

"I promise to add 20 minutes to the time you said you’ll be home," said the groom. The Malibu synagogue community, knowing its over-scheduled rabbi’s tendency, laughed. It was a sign of the humor with which congregants took Lewart’s contention that they would be looking to the new couple for "evidence that the world can be better than it is."

I believe in love.

I believe in redemption.

What I didn’t know until Sunday was that I still believe in these for me.

That’s why I’m so glad that Rabbi Judith and her Eddie did not go off to Vegas or Mexico and come back with rings. They held each other’s hands, a sign that it is never, ever too late.

There are teaching moments in Judaism, and a rabbi’s wedding is one of them.

What is there to learn?

That American Judaism accepts single women on the bimah, but male congregants prefer that rabbi to commit to a guy whom those men can call their friend.

That even the best day job needs the balance of a good home life.

That it’s wonderful to be loved by 300, but the pink of the cheek comes from loving just one.

That a heart that has been around a while has something to tell our youth: that it’s safe, and good, to try again.

I once heard Rabbi Lawrence Kushner say that the rabbi is expected to be married so "he" would understand what his congregants were going through.

Quite the opposite, I think now.

The synagogue also needs to know what the rabbi is going through. Who could stand the isolation? Who could stand the pressure? Who would live in such a fishbowl, without some sort of dark, protective tunnel? When it comes to a rabbi’s dating life, everyone’s an expert. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that at this very moment, I know several rabbis who are in love, contemplating marriage.

Marriage may not answer every problem. But it gives the optimists in the crowd the advantage.

On Sunday night my friend Cynthia and I watched the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning HBO series "Sex and the City." This season, the four young women are getting serious. They are trying on pregnancy, divorce, commitment and, most controversially, monogamy, the condition for which, as one character in the show commented on Sunday, there is "no known cure." They are making choices, growing up.

That night, to my sadness, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), told her fiancé, Aidan (John Corbett), that she was not ready for marriage.

"Why can’t we just go on like we are?" says Carrie.

"Because I’m ready to nail this down," says Aidan.

In the stalemate, I shout at the screen, "No! He’s perfect for you." But it’s too late.

"If you don’t want to marry me now, you’ll never want to," Aidan says. They stand silently, Scott and Zelda-like, in tux and white gown in the spray of a fountain in romantic New York.

At that moment, I thought of the afternoon’s chuppah. Cantor Marcelo Gindlin sang to Rabbi Judith and Eddie Toppel, Edith Piaf’s "Hymne L’amour," ("If You Love Me,") with its astounding verse, "When at last my life on earth is through, I will share eternity with you."

Carrie Bradshaw might be, in the words of "Sex and the City" executive producer Michael Patrick King, "the smart, sexy, nice girl who can’t get it right." But she’s young. She has time.

Had I not been to Rabbi Judith’s wedding, I would have been heartsick.

For the young, eternity can wait.

Sephardic Survival


“Survivor” as inspiration for Jewish programming?

It seems strange that the divisive show where deceit, backstabbing and empty promises are de rigueur would serve as the inspiration for a Shabbaton that stresses the importance of religious and cultural continuity. Yet Sephardic Tradition and Recreation (STAR) has seized on this pop culture phenomenon and infused it with a positive spin.

STARvivor 2, STAR’s follow-up to its popular STARvivor Shabbaton, is set for Dec. 7-9 at Gindling Hilltop Camp in Malibu. The first STARvivor, held last April in Malibu, separated 20 teens into three tribes — Issachar, Levi and Judah — complete with their own tribal banners. After Shabbat, the tribes squared off in timed, Jewish-themed competitions: in one, the tribes squeezed juice from grapes into a cup and then recited the “Kiddush,” while another had them build a makeshift home in order to affix a mezuzah.

“You’re basically competing with MTV,” said STAR Media Director Abraham Raphael, 29, who developed the Shabbaton idea. “You want to make sure that whatever you do is going to be sophisticated and exciting.”

Locally, there have been few, if any, events geared toward Sephardic youth outside of synagogues. As a result, many Sephardic teens end up choosing between assimilation or participation in an established system of programs steeped in Ashkenazic traditions.

While there has never been a formal Sephardic population study in Los Angeles, rough estimates by Sephardic organizations place the number somewhere between 75,000 and 150,000, and most agree that the population is dwindling.

“You see a desperation among parents who want to get their kids involved,” Raphael said.

It’s this growing assimilation and loss of Sephardic culture that prompted philanthropist Hyman Jebb Levy to found STAR in 1998. The organization reaches out to students, from elementary to senior high school, with year-round social and recreational programming that emphasizes Sephardic community involvement, the preservation of traditions, and a pride and love for Israel.

“We try to incorporate something in the ritualistic aspect of Judaism, always in the Sephardic minhag [custom],” said Rabbi Brad Schachter, 31, STAR’s executive director. “Whatever it may be, this is how the Sephardim do it.”

Taking another cue from “Survivor,” campers were also videotaped during competitions and at tribal council, where each tribe selected one person to give an impromptu speech about Jewish survival. The resulting footage fueled parents’ demand for a second STARvivor.

“When people saw what we did, they said ‘I want my kids on that. I didn’t realize it was going to be that good.’ Now it’s on to round two,” Raphael said.

During next week’s STARvivor 2, the campers will be separated into four tribes — Simon, Levi, Judah and Issachar — and face all new competitions.

Thankfully, the similarities between the Shabbaton and the television series end when it comes to food. STARvivor 2 will serve authentic kosher Sephardic cuisine, whereas “Survivor” contestants have had to consume such Third World delicacies as grubs, rats and cow’s blood.

STARvivor also differs from other Shabbatons in that it has set a cap at 40 students.

“If you have too many kids it becomes impersonal,” Schachter said.

Danit Namvar, 14, said STAR won over both her and her friends during the Shabbaton by giving the campers a voice.

“At other camps they lecture you, but with STARvivor we get to do fun activities and talk about issues. The people who didn’t go heard how much fun it was, and now they want to go,” Namvar said.

Schachter, who is Ashkenazi, said he welcomes the opportunity to reach out to kids and is more than comfortable working with Sephardim. During a seven-year stint in Israel, Schachter spent four years living in the Old City, where he often sought out Sephardic minyanim.

“Even though I’m not a Sephardi, I feel very connected to their heritage, their history and their passion for Judaism,” said Schachter.

“As far as the customs, I’m learning more and more every day,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to get across, teaching [Sephardi] their own customs that unfortunately have been lost over the generations.”

Despite STAR’s plethora of entertaining activities, it isn’t always fun and games. In March 2000, Levy’s daughter passed away following a battle with cancer. STAR took 30 Talmud Torah students from Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood to visit with Levy as he sat shiva. The sight of the students brought tears to Levy’s eyes.

“We brought them in, and they saw the Sephardic traditions of mourning,” Schachter said. “This was an opportunity to teach them.”

For more information about STARvivor 2, call (818)
782-7359, or visit www.lastar.org .

Ghosts on the Beach


I arrived in Miami Beach one morning last week on a mission: to find the last kosher hotel in South Beach, an ultra-hip area of restaurants, clubs and shops that used to be the hub of Florida Jewish life.Today you can drive along Ocean Drive (inch along is more like it) and see scores of suburban teenagers and sophisticated European tourists sitting at Art Deco restaurants and hotels, sipping their lattes and looking to be seen, but you won’t find many Jews. South Beach is where Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his mansion and where Gloria Estefan, Madonna and Sylvester Stallone all have had multimillion-dollar homes at one time or another.

Today, posh South Beach is almost unrecognizable as a place where Jewish retirees came to get away from harsh winters for five months out of the year. A prime example of the vast change between then and now can be found at the intersection of 17th and Collins Avenue, one of the busiest corners on the beach.On the ocean side of Collins is the Delano, a beautifully renovated Art Deco hotel owned by Ian Shrager, former partner of Studio 54. Walking into the Delano is like walking onto a movie set, only a movie set located on Mars. Oversized furniture placed at random decorates the spare, narrow lobby, while the staff stands spellbound against a lime-green background. Out back, where hotel guests dine and wander the grounds on their way to the beach, naked jet-setters lie under starched white sheets getting rubdowns by hotel masseurs. On the beach, more naked guests and beautiful people in fancy blue cabanas.

In contrast, directly across the street, on the west side of Collins, is the Plaza South. The Plaza South, like dozens of other hotels in South Beach, used to cater to winter guests until the ’70s, when the hotel turned into a residential nursing home.

Now, white-haired men lean on their canes or sit in wheelchairs on the small verandah, watching the blur of activity down Collins, while their African American caregivers take in the crowds at the Delano, probably wondering how things could have been so transformed. The two worlds, old and new, still co-exist, but for how long is anybody’s guess.

Determined to find at least one kosher hotel, I drove to Eighth and Collins, where my Aunt Dora used to stay with her mother, who wintered at the Edison, a kosher hotel near the ocean. I thought I might be able to find the building, but all that I could find was Armani Exchange and Kenneth Cole shoes.Aunt Dora wrote a description of the area as it existed at the time: “There was a stretch of hotels [along Collins Avenue] with long front verandahs. The little old women would sit there for hours reminiscing about their pasts. On the bulletin board in the foyer there would be announcements of upcoming events, i.e. the big weekly special: ‘ICE-CREAM TONIGHT!’ Every week they would have a concert on the beach.”Talk about laughs, it was hilarious – an old ‘cucker’ would stand up and announce he’s an expert on imitations, then would commence to imitate a rooster, etc.! Mama gave up – she said, ‘Who wants to waste time with these altinkas [old Jewish people]? Another thing I remember: we’d always go to a Jewish movie. Inevitably, they’d be about family relationships, how ungrateful the children were to their old parents and how lonely the old people were.”

After Eighth Street, I headed down to the Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida at Third Street and Washington Avenue, an area that was humming with Jewish activity until the ’50s. Founded five years ago, the Jewish Museum is in the former Beth Jacob Synagogue, which housed Miami Beach’s first Jewish congregation. Built in 1936, the building features Art Deco architecture, a copper dome, a marble bimah and 80 stained-glass windows.

The museum evolved from a traveling exhibition called “MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida,” depicting Florida’s early Jewish community from 1763 to the present. The exhibition, which consists of photographs, artifacts and oral histories, generated so much interest that a permanent building had to be found. At present, the museum houses this collection, plus other traveling exhibitions, cultural and education programs, and a research center.

At the museum I got a wealth of information on Jewish life but also a more realistic view of my search, from a man named Elliot who volunteers at the museum. “All the Jews [of South Beach] have either moved to Broward County [Fort Lauderdale and vicinity], Douglas Gardens Nursing Home or straight to the cemetery.”

After hours of searching out leads and talking to various people, I realized that it wasn’t the last kosher hotel I needed to find, but the first.

The Nemo Hotel at 110 Collins Ave., just around the corner from the Jewish Museum, was the first kosher hotel in South Beach. The Nemo was built in 1921 by Joseph and Harry Goodkowsky of Maine and Sam Magid from Boston, Harry’s brother-in-law. Today, Myra Far, Harry’s daughter, lives in Bar Harbor Island, Florida, and is very active in the Jewish community as well as recounting her family’s history.According to Far, it was “rich Uncle Sam” who got the ball rolling on building the Nemo, financing the hotel with money made in Boston. Her father was the contractor, and her Uncle Joe was the proprietor. The Nemo, a magnet of hospitality, drew hordes of Jews from Montreal and New York to the warm climes of Florida. Far spent her childhood on the East Coast, but in the ’30s, after her father died, she returned to the Nemo with her widowed mother and sister.

Far remembers that time perfectly: “South Beach had a real small-townish feel. We frolicked on the beach at 10th Street, meet all the boys, have corned beef sandwiches, eat ice cream at Dolly Madison’s.” Myra and her friends even watched the turtles lay eggs.

She remembers well the scores of Jews who lived in small apartments in South Beach or wintered at the kosher hotels – groups of retired furriers and teachers and “politically incorrect” Workmen’s Circle Jews, who would get into trouble for their views. They would gather at the beach to play lotto and bingo or entertain each other with labor songs. At the museum, I saw photographs of what Far was talking about: large crowds of older Jews raising hell on their banjos and guitars, mingling together for what looked like a hootenanny on the beach. “They were a rabid bunch,” Far recalls.

Her cousin Julia Goodkowsky was in charge of the Nemo’s kosher kitchen, cooking hot, healthy meals of chicken soup, giblets, borscht and herring. “It was first-class Jewish cooking, very delicious,” Far says, emphasizing the “delicious.” In 1936, Far married husband Aaron at the Nemo, descending down the staircase into the main lobby and then out into the courtyard, standing under the arches posing for pictures. On her wedding day, the guests dined on kosher stuffed squab, a delicacy of the time. For Passover, the Goodkowsky family and other Jews would travel uptown to the Fontainebleau, a large hotel at 44th Street and Collins that catered to Miami Beach’s Jewish community, with Rabbi Lehmer, the dean of Miami Beach rabbis, presiding over the seder. To this day, the Fontainebleau maintains a kosher kitchen.

The Nemo remained lively through the 1940s but soon faced drastic changes. By the late ’50s and early ’60s, “the Nemo was a dump,” Far says.

“The whole area was a disaster,” recalls Ben Grenwald, a past Miami Beach City Commissioner who served 1979-83 and who, along with Barbara Capitman (who single-handedly saved Art Deco architecture from demolition), was responsible for revitalizing the area. “Many of the hotels had fallen into disrepair,” Grenwald recounts. “The old hoteliers had mortgages they couldn’t pay, and no bank would help them. Then in the ’70s young people started coming down, and New Yorkers made real estate investments, buying up three and four hotels at once.” With the influx of Marielitos (Cuban boat people), younger crowds, and East Coast real estate magnates, “a lot of people with walkers were pushed out [of South Beach
],” Grenwald says.

Five years ago the Nemo Hotel was bought by Miles Shefitz, a restaurateur, who has since spent thousands of dollars in renovations for a fancy restaurant, of the same name. A few years ago he called Far to find out if the hotel had once had a restaurant, a necessary step to obtaining a license. She had fun telling him of her wedding day, a magical time, when she descended down the staircase to eat an elegant meal of stuffed squab. “By myself, I’m a book,” Far laughs, recounting a long-ago past.

The Nemo staircase is gone now, but the original floor of that time, black and white tile, remains. The Nemo safe, for the jewelry of those who could afford such things, is still there, now on the patio as a cabinet for a computer that keeps track of the high-priced fare. The Art Deco architecture, with its graceful arches and metal window frames, is still there, but nothing remains of the spirit of the original hotel or the people who once stayed there.

Before I left the area, I went back to the Delano to watch the crowds at the ocean, wondering how long it would be before South Beach is forgotten as a once vital nexus of a generation of Jews. Fortunately for us, people like Myra Far and the Jewish Museum’s MOSAIC program are making sure their history remains alive.

Hands-on Tikkun Olam


More than 220 Jewish environmental activists gathered in Malibu last weekend for this year’s Mark and Sharon Bloome Jewish Environmental Leadership Institute, sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). Professionals from Jewish educational, environmental and outreach institutions came from as far as Canada, Europe and Israel.

Composed of 12 affiliates all over North America, with another half-dozen branches in development, COEJL organizes proactive environmental programs for Jewish institutions and individuals. When the conference took place in Ojai, CA, in 1998, there were just three affiliates. This year, 30 regional leaders from 17 communities gathered for a weekend of education, training and coordination.

The conference blanketed a wide range of issues, including “Ten Fundraising Tips for Grassroots Groups,” “Operation Noah: Protecting Endangered Species,” “Building a Jewish Nature Trail,” “Creating a COEJL Affiliate from the Ground Up,” and “Using the Media to Convey Your Message” were among the seminars offered. Urban ecology, environmental health, climate change and food supply were discussed in both secular and Jewish community contexts. “Right to Know,” a ballot initiative calling for labeling of genetically engineered food that will become big news come November, was another hot button topic.

Ian Murray, associate director of Shalom Institute Camp and Conference, where the event was held, believes that this year’s conference accomplished what it had set out to do.

“It was really wonderful,” Murray reports. “My favorite part of the whole experience was that they had every denomination of Jewish faith … all respecting each other. Friday night they all prayed together.”

Shabbat was observed over the course of the three-day conference, which also included prayer, singing, meditation and hiking. The weekend’s meals accommodated kosher, vegetarian and vegan dietary concerns.

Said Murray, “There was such joy and a love of the environment and Judaism.”<

Higher Ground


Take nearly 100 people training to be rabbis, priests, pastors, ministers, nuns and religious educators. Put them together for 24 hours at a Jewish summer camp. Add a torrent of rain, and stir in several inches of thick mud. What do you get? You never know.

For 25 years, the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) has followed a similar recipe to lead its annual InterSem program — typically without the rain — and the participants’ experiences have never been the same.

Held at Gindling Hilltop Camp in Malibu, InterSem brings together students from five local seminaries and encourages them to candidly interact with peers from a mix of races, ages, places of origin, sexual orientations, and, of course, faiths. The group included Reform and Conservative Jews from Hebrew Union College and University of Judaism (UJ), and Catholics (men from St. John’s Seminary and women from religious communities). The group also included a range of Protestant denominations from Claremont School of Theology and Fuller Theological Seminary including Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, future leaders of Full Christian Gospel and the United Church of Christ, among others.