Communities can use High Holy Days to help ease economic angst


With the start of the High Holy Days, the pace of communal life starts to change, and our focus is on reflection, reconciliation, repentance and the annual response to new beginnings.

For too many in our community, however, this season will hold more angst than joy.

The economic situation in our country presents us with challenges unseen for nearly a generation. Too many will sit in synagogues through this season and be equally concerned with their own economic situation as they will the state of their soul. Increasingly, senior citizens on fixed or limited incomes are seeing their resources challenged. Young adults are concerned about job security. Too many of our people of all ages have lost jobs, been downsized or live on the edge of job and financial uncertainty.

This reality presents our community with a unique and necessary opportunity to become an even more meaningful “caring community.” This is a time when no one should be left to feel that they are “l’vado” (alone). This is a time for community and relationships to be enhanced and expanded, so that our congregations can be seen as responsive to and involved with those who are hurting.

In every community are untapped human resources: people who may have some time to give, who have experienced life and, if asked, might be willing to assist leadership in developing support systems for individuals and families in need. At the least, a call can be made to members who have experience in the workplace, who have counseled people in job changes and career moves.

Establishing a congregational or communal service corps with members willing to give advice and direction — or just lend a sympathetic ear to those who might be searching for new directions — is one possible course of action.

During a similar economic downturn in the early 1980s, I worked in Philadelphia and was involved in helping congregations create a communitywide job bank. It had some success helping people in our community get back to work. We simply polled the members of the community’s congregations for possible job openings and advertised those openings throughout the area so members could see what was available from those within their own community.

This could be done again. Synagogues can join other local organizations, JCCs, Jewish Family Service and others to broaden the base of opportunities to search. Even in this day of electronic and Internet job searches, personal networking and relationships go a long way in opening doors.

A difficulty in some of this may be the unwillingness on the part of many to come forward. So often we face this challenge of having people admit they may need some assistance, guidance or help in establishing goals. Transitions are tough and filled with fear. But let us not forget the power of the pulpit. The simple act of the rabbi offering a sermon on the need for this type of caring “inreach” can help worshipers see their congregation as more than a life-cycle institution.

The High Holy Days are a perfect example of a moment in time when Jews attend synagogue. Why not take a few moments at each service to launch this internal support network? Why not have in each prayer book a form that someone can fill out who has a job opening or position request, or has a willingness to give time to counsel or advise a fellow congregant on career change and possibilities?

Use your caring community committee to organize these forms and launch, right after Yom Kippur, a Sukkot of Transition so that all can feel the possibility of a “sukkat shalom.”

We soon will enter our season of possibilities. In each of our communities there are those we need to support and those with the ability to create that sense of support and caring. All we need to do is ask.

Rabbi Richard F. Address is the director of Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns (www.urj.org/jfc).

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A Shul Torn Apart


Judging from the row of strollers parked in the foyer, the faces young and old who came to hear the young rabbi at the pulpit and the number of classes and programs on the calendar, it was hard to know that Congregation Mogen David’s attempt to rejuvenate itself was about to go terribly wrong.

For years, members of Mogen David, a traditional synagogue on Pico Boulevard near Beverwil Drive, watched young Orthodox families trek down the hill past the brick building at the westernmost end of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on their way to other synagogues. Lay leaders of Mogen David, which according to the shul’s executive director, Rabbi Gabriel Elias, had a dwindling membership of about 600 families — 80 percent of them older than 80 — knew that if they were to survive they would have to get those families in the front door.

So after much soul-searching and with a painful dose of pragmatism, the board decided four years ago to carve out separate men’s and women’s sections in the sanctuary, get rid of the microphones and start a search for a Modern Orthodox rabbi.

Within two years about 30 young families joined. In January 2002, the board awarded a two and a half-year contract to Rabbi Jonathan Muskat, a 30-year-old former attorney fresh out of Yeshiva University’s rabbinic seminary. Over the next year, Muskat filled the calendar with programs and the pews with another 20 young families, according to board members.

But it wasn’t long before tensions began to simmer and flare, eventually resulting in a conflagration between older members who felt pushed aside by power-hungry upstarts and young families who felt their efforts to build a vibrant congregation were being thwarted. Within 18 months the rabbi would be fired, the young families would leave in disgust and the longtime shul members would be left with a wounded institution miles behind its original starting line.

In an era when synagogues all over are trying to reinvent themselves to attract the throngs of Jews who are opting out of any regular form of observance, there is much to learn from Mogen David’s experience.

At the root of this particular conflict are issues that can entangle any congregation that makes the bold decision to change in order to survive. Can an institution transform its core beliefs and practices just by the vote of a board? What does it take for two generations with disparate value systems to really mesh? What kind of leader does it take? And what about the strong personalities in conflict that threaten to hijack the process?

Why Go Orthodox?

Before making the decision to alter the 75-year-old congregation’s long-standing direction — as a traditional congregation it had Orthodox-style services with mixed seating and microphones — for two years a long-range planning committee weighed the synagogue’s options, said board members Marilyn Gallup and Al Spivak, who was president at the time. The committee recommended to the board to make the shul Modern Orthodox and also hold a separate, mixed-seating High Holiday service to accommodate the vast majority of members, who primarily attended only on those days.

Still, some 200 members left the congregation. But the prospect of attracting young families offset the immediate loss. Financially, the shul was on solid footing, thanks to the late Rabbi Abram Maron, who during his 60-year leadership built Mogen David up to 1,800 families, according to Alias, and established an endowment reportedly in the millions. The shul also owns outright the building on Pico, which is estimated to be worth about $6 million.

Jeff Fishman, a 35-year-old-financial planner, started going to Mogen David in the summer of 2001, and about eight families soon followed. When Muskat was hired, the new members quickly built a strong rapport with him, acting as a team to attract more young families.

But within about six months of when Muskat was hired, Fishman said he began to hear diatribes against Muskat from some older board members.

Irwin Griggs, 66, a supporter of Muskat who was vice president of finances at the time, thinks the board jumped too quickly toward Orthodoxy.

"I think the biggest problem was that I’d say a majority on the board of governors really did not fully understand what going with a Modern Orthodox direction was," Griggs said. "They hired somebody who was a Modern Orthodox rabbi, and yet somehow they could not reconcile that to what their view of Modern Orthodoxy was."

Muskat, serving his first pulpit, got caught in the middle of a congregational identity crisis that even a veteran rabbi would have found difficult to navigate.

Gallup says the board was fully aware of what being Modern Orthodox entailed, but she alleges that Muskat was taking the shul to the right of other established Modern Orthodox congregations. Others dispute those claims, saying Muskat was learning to balance the halachic imperatives of Orthodoxy and the needs of a congregation in transition.

Muskat, who now lives in Israel with his wife and four children, declined comment for this story, as stipulated in his termination agreement with the congregation.

Gallup claims that Muskat focused too much on his mandate to attract younger members and neglected the long-standing members.

"There was never a polarization before age-wise or based on how observant one was, but now we had a polarization," Gallup said, referring to a rift between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, between those who came every week and those who came only occasionally, between the young and the old.

Chuck Chazen, an 82-year-old past president of the shul, disagrees with that assessment.

"I didn’t feel any arrogance, and I didn’t feel that anybody was trying to take advantage of me or looking down on me," said Chazen, who noted that Muskat called him every Friday to wish him good Shabbat and also visited him in the hospital. "Some people were looking for it because they still harbored feelings about the mechitzah and maybe they were cultivating it in their own minds, but I didn’t have that feeling at all."

Ironically, many members and some board members of Mogen David are refugees of a similar situation at a shul just down the street. In the late 1980s, Rabbi Philip Schroit put a mechitzah in at B’nai David-Judea Congregation, which like Mogen David had been traditional. A significant portion of the membership left, and several rabbis passed through the pulpit until the congregation found a match that would lead to the success it enjoys today

.

Congregant vs. Congregant

When the board decided not to renew Muskat’s contract in May 2003, tensions exploded. Some of Muskat’s supporters mobilized to present a slate of nominees for the upcoming board elections in July, hoping to overturn the decision and keep Muskat beyond the end of his contract in August 2004.

There are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened at shul elections, but accusations fly in both directions about agressive campaigning, block voting and manipulating arcane bylaws to hoard the power of the 23-person board.

In the end, the slate of candidates proposed by the Muskat supporters was invalidated, and only five of the 11 candidates proposed by the board were elected. Later, the president reappointed two of the ousted candidates to the board.

"The majority of the people who were behind this attempt to take over the board had joined the congregation recently. They were people who had never done anything for the shul and had not supported it and suddenly came in and said, ‘here we are, we’re taking over,’" Gallup said. She described an encounter where a "one-year wonder" demanded a seat on the board, saying "we are the future, you are the past," which she said became something of mantra.

But Fishman said the new members were simply trying to keep a rabbi they loved and to gain a voice in the future of the shul. That effort was stymied by some board members blocking younger members from joining committees, Fishman said. The board also upped the number of years one had to be a member before becoming eligible to run for the board from three to five.

"Bylaws were changed to place them in a position where they continued to control every facet of the shul, where they were not in any way seeking any kind of inclusion in the everyday operation of the shul," Fishman said.

Griggs, who has since left Mogen David, said that the us-and-them picture is much fuzzier than Spivak and Gallup are painting it.

"The line should not be drawn as all young members were in favor and all of the longtime members were not, because there were many longtime members — some of them currently on the board — who were supportive of the rabbi and are still supportive of the rabbi," Griggs said. "I think Rabbi Muskat would have been one of the best rabbis in the community. He had the potential."

After the board elections in July, tensions elevated, with exchanges of harsh words and reports of vandalism.

Finally, in August, the board decided that the issue was ripping the shul apart. They voted to end Muskat’s tenure effective immediately, and to pay out the remaining year on his contract in full.

When Muskat was asked to leave, nearly all of the 60 young families, including the handful who had been there for as long as 10 years, left Mogen David.

"There is no desire on the part of anybody that used to be involved to go there anymore, because it is a closed book. The board is going to do what they are going to do," said one young member who did not want to be identified. "Why would I go there if there is nobody for me to socialize with, nobody for my kids to play with? And now we are being accused of trying to destroy the shul. Somebody takes a sledgehammer to where you live and accuses you of leaving your house," he said.

A Cautionary Tale

The saga of high expectations and mistrust is not surprising to experts in congregational life.

"The recognition that a congregation needs to change is a wonderful thing. The problem is that you can’t just expect it to happen without very, very, very careful tending," said Speed Leas, who for 25 years was a congregational consultant for the Alban Institute, a Maryland-based research and consulting organization for congregational life. "If you choose to change and are successful, success brings its own set of problems."

Leas, now a professor at the Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, was not involved in the Mogen David case, but said that the story fits the timeline and progression he has seen at both the Protestant and Jewish congregations he has shepherded through change.

"It takes quite a period of time — about four to five years — for a congregation in transition to settle in," Leas said. "There’s the beginning phase, that I think is appropriately called the ‘honeymoon phase’ of working hard to try to get along. Then there is always an awkward phase, which might occur within a year or two, where your run into some kind of significant challenge, and partly that is testing to see whether the relationship is going to be an authentic one as well as asking ‘how are we going to have to change and adjust to each other.’ It is the degree to which they can handle well that challenging time that is going to have to do with whether or not they can make it through this and stay together."

Leas, who has seen many false starts in situations like this, is currently helping another Los Angeles synagogue make the transition after a longtime rabbi retired, to acclimate to a young rabbi from the East Coast.

"We are thinking about every possibility we can to help the congregation adapt to the new style of the rabbi and the rabbi adapt to the style of the congregation. We are developing strategies for helping people understand and be comfortable with new things and to respond to things we didn’t even think would be new," Leas said.

"We need to do it in a very conscious way, to recognize that we’re are going to have these feelings and we’re going to have these painful experiences and they need to get talked about. That’s the No. 1 thing," Leas said.

The Future of Mogen David

Gallup said the shul just wants to move on. It plans to keep the mechitzah and eventually hire another Orthodox rabbi.

But Leas cautions that as is the case in any relationship that has gone bad, time is necessary.

"First, there needs to be a period for grieving, a time of just being quiet and of not attending to the work of recovery, but just letting what has happened be there and experiencing it and talking about it. And then, after a significant period of time — six months to a year — to begin to think about longer range planning: ‘what will we do now, where do we want to go, what resources do we have and how can those be better utilized to reinvigorate our organization?’" he said.

For his part, Elias, who has been the executive director at Mogen David for 10 years and is now the interim rabbi, is ready to steer the synagogue back on course.

"The bitterness that this caused is unfortunate, and it should go away," Elias said. "We need to move forward for the sake of the community, the sake of this synagogue and the sake of everyone involved."

Strange BRU


Who’s taking a stand against Israel this week? Would you believe … the Bus Riders Union (BRU)?

On buses and trains, BRU leaders and members are distributing a two-page flyer with an essay titled “Let the Palestinian People Go!” that likens the BRU’s stance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign against the Vietnam War, and twice compares the Palestinians’ situation to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.

BRU first took an official position “standing with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation” in May, when the organization passed a resolution by BRU Director Eric Mann and the BRU planning commission decried “a racist and systematic program of mass extermination and colonial conquest by the Israeli government.”

The Los Angeles-based organization, founded in 1992 and claiming 3,000 members, defines itself as a “multiracial, working class-based membership organization working at the intersection of mass transit, the environment and air quality and civil rights.” The organization’s primary mission is improving the quality of bus service in Los Angeles.

In 1996, BRU won a federal consent decree giving it some control over the operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the MTA seeking to end the consent decree.

The essay notes: “[T]he history of the past 54 years has been a series of Israeli incursions into Arab and Palestinian land.” The motion goes on to demand a “restoration of their homeland” and says, “Never again should the U.S. working class and all progressive people allow our government to use its weapons to support Israel’s expansionist and colonial rule in Palestine.”

Among the philanthropic donors supporting the work of the BRU, the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), which is “rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice,” according to its mission statement, and has contributed over $300,000 since 1996. In 2000, the foundation awarded $110,000 over three years to the BRU “to support advocacy for the purchase of replacement buses, the hiring of new MTA bus drivers and mechanics and the retirement of diesel buses,” according to the NCF Web site.

Stacy Han, program assistant for the NCF’s environment program, said the foundation was investigating the BRU statements and had no comment at press time.

For more information about the Bus Riders Union, visit www.busridersunion.org  or call (213) 387-2800. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Israel Bolsters Local GOP Support


While the Bush administration’s strong support for Israel might not yet be paying off dividends in the Middle East, the stance has certainly been a boon for local Jewish Republicans.

Since its start in November 2000, two months after the second Palestinian intifada began, the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles (RJCLA) has attracted more than 400 paid members, making it the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) largest and most powerful local chapter nationwide. Its monthly meetings at the Skirball Cultural Center have been known to draw hundreds, as influential speakers and local conservative candidates come seeking Jewish support.

"The growth is based [in part] on the Republican Party’s strong support for Israel and the leadership of President Bush," said RJCLA President Bruce Bialosky, who also serves as Southern California chair of RJC, the Washington, D.C.-based organization that took Bush on his first trip to Israel in 1998.

"To Bush it’s a simple act of morality. He understands who the good guys and the bad guys are, and he’s on the right team."

Support for the Jewish state from the president and the Republican-controlled House, especially when contrasted against lackluster support for Israel from the left, has managed to make traditionally liberal Los Angeles fertile ground for a blossoming conservatism among Jews.

The increased interest has pushed the grass-roots organization to expand. The group hired Scott Gluck, 32, as its executive director in March and opened a field office in West Los Angeles. Until recently, most people found out about RJCLA through word-of-mouth or advertising in The Jewish Journal.

"The more that people see the members and see what we’re doing, the more people join," Bialosky said.

On Tuesday, the group hosted a town hall meeting with Adam Goldman, Bush’s liaison to the American Jewish community, at Stephen S. Wise Temple that drew more than 700 people.

At the Israel Festival in April, the group collected more than 200 names for their mailing list and even ran out of voter registration forms.

"There are a lot more Jewish Republicans than people think there are, even in the voting numbers," Bialosky said.

Luntz Research, a Republican-oriented polling company, found a reexamination of Bush and the Republican Party among Jewish voters since the 2000 election. The survey, released Dec. 3, found that 48 percent would consider voting for Bush in 2004. Only 23 percent of those surveyed had voted for him in 2000.

Among Jewish collegians, that number may be even higher.

"At least 50 percent of Jews under the age of 30 voted for George W. Bush in the last election," said Bialosky, referring to results from a Zogby poll following the 2000 election.

With an increase in anti-Israel rallies and protests on colleges campuses, RJCLA is recognizing the need to play a greater role supporting Jewish students.

"Our goal is to have a Jewish Republican chapter in each of the major universities here in Los Angeles. The key to the future of this organization is going to be the younger people," Gluck said.

Orthodox Jews constitute another bloc of interest to RJCLA. The organization, which has a number of members who attend Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, recently held a few meetings with the observant community.

"They told us that the ones who aren’t Republican already just haven’t reregistered," Bialosky said.

RJCLA’s support base is spread throughout Southern California — from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay — so organizers have found that monthly meetings at the Skirball Cultural Center work best for its membership. The group is diverse: from teens to septuagenarians; secular to Orthodox; Ashekenazim, Mizrahim and Sephardim — all are represented.

RJCLA has built up interest with an impressive list of speakers: former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, Proposition 209 proponent Ward Connerly and terrorism expert Steve Emerson. Dennis Prager spoke at the organization’s Chanukah celebration about why Jews should be Republican. Bialosky is hoping to attract more White House speakers like Goldman in the near future.

For participants, the group events are a coming-out party of sorts.

Zina Lovitch, 48, came to the United States from Russia in 1978 and is proud to be a Republican. A member of RJCLA for more than one year, Lovitch said she’s been impressed with the number of candidates who make appearances at the monthly meetings and the diverse points of view brought up there.

"Thank God it’s here," she said. "Thank God we’re out of the closet."

"The one expression people say when they come to a meeting for the first time is ‘I thought I was the only one,’" Gluck said.

Perry Zuckerman, 44, came to the May RJCLA meeting for the first time seeking to meet people with similar political views and said that the party’s stand on Israel also had an impact.

"The Republican support for Israel has certainly been welcome," said Zuckerman, who complained of a growing anti-Israel sentiment among the extreme left. "I feel like this is more of a home now."

Dr. Reed Wilson, RJCLA’s activity chair, had been involved with The Jewish Federation’s Super Sunday campaign and was head of the group’s medical division, but felt that the values espoused by Jewish organizations were not representative of his opinions.

"If you said you were a Republican and Jewish in Jewish circles you were shunned or looked at as if something was genetically wrong with you." he said.

Through RJCLA, Wilson has met with local and national leaders, like John Ashcroft, experiences that he describes as "critical." With the guidance of people like RJCLA’s Vice President Joel Strom, Simon’s state volunteer chair, Wilson has also taken on a more active role in politics and is currently leading the Jewish outreach for the Simon campaign.

"Jewish ideals and goals need to be represented, no matter which party is in power," Wilson said.

Participation with RJCLA leadership has also borne fruit for Connie Friedman, RJCLA’s board secretary, who jumped into the fray this election cycle and is challenging Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine for Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg’s 40th District seat.

The Los Angeles chapter’s success is now serving as inspiration for the creation of other local chapters, which now total 17.

Prior to the creation of RJCLA, there were 13 local chapters nationwide, many of which were organized around the efforts of one person, and their activities had waned.

Orange County, started in 1996, was one such chapter. The success of RJCLA sparked new interest, and the group has reorganized with the help of Bialosky and Gluck. Based in one of California’s most conservative counties, the Orange County chapter will celebrate its rebirth with a June 12 kickoff.

"From being a Washington-based group, [RJC is] now becoming a national group with regional satellites around the nation. Now when they’re doing it, they’re doing it on our format," Bialosky said.

"It’s really been a role model for us. The success of what we’ve been doing in Los Angeles has reinforced what we’re doing nationally," RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said. "If we can go into Los Angeles, which has notoriously been Democratic, and have the kind of success we have, that shows we can do this on a larger level."

For more information about RJCLA, visit rjcla.org or call (310) 271-7429.

Your Letters


Daniel Pearl

“Yes I am a Jew and my father is a Jew and my mother is a Jew.”God Bless Daniel Pearl and his family (“A Voice Silenced,” March 1).

Dr. Leland S. Shapiro, Simi Valley

Abe Foxman

As the present and past national chairmen of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), we are pleased that recent discussions between ADL’s former Los Angeles Director David Lehrer and the ADL have led to a mutually satisfactory resolution.

We want to publicly affirm the importance of our Los Angeles Regional Office and of ADL supporters in the community. We are proud of the fact that of our 30 regional offices, our Los Angeles regional office is home to the largest professional staff. We are also proud that in recent years, two of the past ADL national chairmen have been from Los Angeles.

We also want to publicly affirm our deep respect for our National Director Abraham Foxman. We who have worked most closely with him over the past 30 years have witnessed how his leadership has not only brought the ADL to the level of international prominence it enjoys today, but has also assured the finest local representation possible in communities across America.

Glen A. Tobias, , ADL National Chairman

Honorary Chairmen:

Howard P. Berkowitz, Kenneth J. Bialkin, Seymour Graubard, Maxwell E. Greenberg, Burton M. Joseph, Burton S. Levinson, Melvin Salberg, David H. Strassler

Price of Being Jewish

Thank you for your recent article by Nacha Cattan, (“The Price of Being Jewish,” March 1). As a single mother unable to afford a synagogue membership, let alone a Jewish education for my 3-year-old son, I find the rising cost of a Jewish education an alarming matter.

This dilemma is facing many middle- and lower-income families. If we are to strengthen the Jewish community, we must be willing to find some cost-effective means to address this urgent problem. We must be willing to make it possible for anyone who wants to participate in Jewish studies to be able to do so.

Dana Wynkoop, Los Angeles

Nebraskans Love J.D.Smith

I get The Jewish Journal (thanks to my daughter in Santa Monica) here in Lincoln, Neb., where all my friends enjoy reading your paper and love to read about the Jewish events and the great Jewish articles.

We especially enjoy reading the stories by J.D. Smith. He is funny and amusing and we get a chuckle at his tongue-in-cheek humor. I add that we are also in our 80s.

Sylvia Kushner, Lincoln, Nebraska

JCC vs. Knesset Israel

Ethel McClatchey (Letters, Feb. 22), a respected advocate for the Silver Lake-Los Feliz JCC , is perhaps unaware of the facts behind Temple Knesset Israel’s involvement with us disenfran-chised former members.

There are displaced members of the JCC. Our numbers include many members from the last standing JCC Board, before it was forced to dissolve. There is certainly nothing “premature” or “self-serving” in Harvey Shield’s support for those of us who feel abandoned by the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA).

The children’s play, sponsored by the JCC, has been a tradition for many years. However, as a result of the JCCGLA financial crisis, I was told there would be no play this year. So a beloved program that has served the community and built young character for years, was terminated because of someone’s bad accounting.

And then we met Shield. He certainly didn’t seek us — we came to him, asking for his help to keep the children’s theater program alive. Shield offered Temple Knesset Israel as a rehearsal site. Now 60-plus kids are rehearsing at the temple, parents are working on the production and we feel like a family again.

Several former JCC members are considering joining Temple Knesset Israel — and it’s not due to any solicitations. It’s because we have discovered a warm and welcoming site for Jewish discourse, fraternity and spirituality — as well as a fulcrum for community involvement.

“Sanctimonious,” “predatory” and “self-serving” are reckless words from passionate people in a heated situation. But words aren’t really necessary to defend Shield’s character — his actions, as a patron of the arts and a friend to our children and community, speak for themselves.

Broderick Miller , Former Executive Board Member Silver Lake-Los Feliz JCC

Chief Bernard Parks

“Should We Join the Fray?” (Feb. 15). What a meaningless question. Why do some amongst us have a need to inject race into an issue that should be determined only by the competence of the proposed officeholders?

We original liberals always preached that skin color should never be an issue. Sadly, since about the mid-’60s, the “liberal” banner has been hijacked by radical racists. You can support Parks or oppose him, but not as “we” Jews, or “we” blacks, etc.

He is the best or not the best and it is irresponsible for a major Jewish community newspaper to imply in a front page headline that the dispute may be a “Jewish” issue.

Leon Perlsweig, Calabasa

Conversions

Thank you for highlighting the issue of non-Orthodox conversions of Israel. This historic ruling was the result of a united effort between NA’AMAT, Israel’s largest family service agency, and the Masorati and World Union for Progressive Judaism.

The effort began in 1995 when a group of parents who had adopted children from abroad found that they could not convert these children to Judaism and, in desperation, turned to NA’AMAT, known as the place to go when families have problems. NA’AMAT arranged for Masorati conversions and, simultaneously, began the suit concluded last week.

NA’AMAT USA is proud to support this important legal work and will continue to work with our sister organization in Israel to encourage an open society that respects all streams of Judaism.

Miriam Hearn, Western Area Director NA’AMAT USA

Kids Page

I want to thank Abby Gilad for her interpretation of Parshat Terumah (“Hey Kids!” Feb. 15) in Jewish Journal section, “Hey Kids!” I am a recent convert, landscape designer and avid Jewish Journal reader. I found it very interesting that the Israelites were commanded to build the ark out of shita (acacia wood) and cover the completed ark with gold, both inside and out. This is so fascinating because most acacia varieties at this time of year have golden yellow flowers covering their branches. One variety in particular is completely covered with golden flowers — acacia baileyana.The acacia may be a reminder to us when in full bloom of the events that happened at this time of year according to Parshat Terumah.

Sonny Estrada, Temple Israel of Hollywood

Correction

The photograph in the March 1 article “Abraham’s Legacy” was by Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

Can the JCCs Be Saved?


About 160 members turned up at Westside Jewish Community Center’s Birch Auditorium last Sunday in an effort to keep their center from closing down. The room buzzed with determined activity. Subcommittee members exchanged information. Two members were busy painting "Save the Centers" signs for the Dec. 13 rally outside The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ 6505 Wilshire headquarters. Members planned to protest and carry signs that read: "Don’t Mortgage Our Children’s Future," "Our Elders Are Not Collateral" and "Stop the Closure!"

"There has been a great uprising on our membership’s part," said Helene Seifer, past president of Westside JCC’s Advisory Board and incoming vice president of Jewish Community Center of Greater Los Angeles’ (JCCGLA) Central Board.

Westside JCC is one of five JCCs scheduled to close by July 2002 in order to pay back a $3 million loan. The center experienced a $300,000 shortfall at the end of its fiscal cycle last September, and membership dropped from 5,400 to 900 at the Westside JCC, echoing the 9,000 to 2,300 member drop of JCCGLA membership citywide.

Federation Chairman Todd Morgan told The Journal that he feels deeply about JCCGLA’s collapse. The Federation has been the JCCLA’s largest benefactor, but has refused to provide funding beyond June 30, 2002.

"It’s frustrating. It’s difficult," Morgan said. "I can see both sides of the situation, but it’s a very complicated business and community problem."

He added that he has been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm among Los Angeles’ major machers.

"Everybody knows what’s happening by now," Morgan continued. "It’s disturbing that people haven’t stepped up to help. Right now, The Federation is doing everything possible to correct the situation."

Meanwhile, center supporters are taking matters into their own hands. According to Seifer, about $100,000 has already been raised specifically toward saving Westside since the Dec. 3 announcement of its closure. She told The Journal that "some people have expressly indicated that they will make substantial contributions if there is a guarantee that the center can stay open beyond June 30."

"The Federation could forget the debt, but they choose not to waive that debt," said Paula Pearlman, president of Westside’s advisory board. "They could start an emergency crisis campaign to pay off the debt, but they choose not to. Our major creditor is The Federation and they want their money back."

"We’re doing the best we can under limited resources," Morgan said. "We’re having serious discussions with the Jewish Community Foundation about helping us out."

But at all five JCCs, from the Westside to the Valley, outraged members aren’t waiting around for the powers that be to act.

Ad-hoc groups raced into action. Yet, as well intentioned as these members are, nothing will remedy this situation if JCCGLA moves quickly to sell the centers.

"Once we get that commitment from JCCGLA, that will let us go forward with our fundraising," said property attorney Warren Blum, who heads the legal committee.

"We want them to meet us halfway," Pearlman said. "That’s why we need to keep the pressure up."

Over the years, big names — Richard Dreyfuss, Barry Newman, Zev Yaroslavsky — have shared a Westside connection. Swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg used its facilities to help him become a gold-medal Olympic swimmer. At Sunday’s meeting, David Krischer stated that turning to these celebrities might expedite Westside’s salvation, but first, he said, "I need to know that the money raised does not go into the general fund. People need to know that if they don’t use the money, they’ll get it back and it won’t disappear."

For now, all Westsiders can do is move forward. Aside from the scheduled rally on Thursday, members say they are flooding Federation offices with e-mails and letters of support. Entertainment contractor Michael Edelstein is doing his part. He has arranged for proceeds from a Wilshire Theater run of "Fiddler on the Roof" — about $179 of every $300 pair of tickets — to go toward saving his center [see information below].

"I have faith in L.A.’s community to maintain its JCC system," said Alan Mann, senior vice president of the JCC Association of North America, who will visit Los Angeles next week as a consultant. "They’re working hard to provide as many services as they can."

Mann, whose national office does not oversee local JCC affairs, said that it is not unprecedented for JCCs, such as Toronto’s, to be salvaged by their city’s Federations.

"L.A.’s JCCs will probably need to take a deep breath, and then restructure and grow," Mann said. "It’s a sad situation that will need work."

For more information, go to www.savethejcc.org. For information on "Fiddler on the Roof," Jan. 15-27 at the Wilshire Theater, call (323) 933-1693.

Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC

On Dec. 10, core members of Silverlake-Los Feliz JCC held a meeting to form an emergency action committee.

"We decided that before we move into anything demonstrative, we need to collect as much data as possible and explore financial strategies if we want to go independent," said Broderick Miller, action committee president, who added that the meeting had a positive residual "seeing the old group and the new group come together. That was a big step. Now we have an institutional history to bring to the equation."

Silverlake members, who have vowed to meet every Monday, are exploring the prospects of partnering with various city and state entities. Lay leaders will meet with Fishel on Dec. 14 and are contacting Councilman Eric Garcetti.

Of central interest to members: terms of the center’s property deed. Past advisory board presidents David Feinman and Michael Goldberg are seeking to confirm Silverlake lore that claims the founding fathers of the center allowed the venue to be incorporated into JCCGLA’s fold under the condition that it would always remain a Jewish Community Center. Such a proviso could render sale of the property illegal.

"Now that they’ve announced that they want to close our center," Feinman said, "my role here has not become less clear. It’s more clear. We see this upheaval as an opportunity to address the chronic issues that have plagued us for years, and basically grow in a direction we’ve wanted to go in but couldn’t because of JCCGLA."

"In a way, we’re missionaries," Feinman continued. "We’re out here bringing the message and the values of Judaism."

Bay Cities JCC, Santa Monica

Bay Cities JCC parents Dan Grossman and Jim Barner are leading the charge to save their center on behalf of its 40 families. They have obtained the center’s books and, with an accountant’s help, they will devise a plan to run Bay Cities as a cost-effective business.

The reason parents are fighting for the center is clear.

"For a lot of people, it’s their only connection to Judaism," said Pacific Palisades resident Lori Mendez. "It gives some families their only connection to Judaism, which is so important."

Mendez put three children — now ages 12, 10, and 8 — through Bay Cities’ preschool, after realizing that her temple, Kehillat Ma’arav, did not offer preschool. Her children have fond memories of their JCC experience.

"My 12-year-old still uses the menorah he made in preschool," said Mendez, who remembered that the Chins, an Asian family, had three sons in the nursery.

"When you look at how diverse the people are at Bay Cities, you see that what we’re really doing is serving our community," said Amy Kahn, Bay Cities Advisory Board past president and a JCCGLA Board member. Her son, Ethan, was schooled there. "That’s something I will miss. Seeing all of those great people."

Parents spoke highly of the center’s director, Joanne Hulkower, and events — Shabbat dinners, holiday parties, "Kid’s Night Out."

"It was a great way for parents to get to know each other," Kahn said. "I had always wanted to study the Torah. I started a group. To me, that’s the beauty of the JCC."

"The bottom line is, we want to give the branch independence," said Grossman, who wants to enlist more parents to keep Bay Cities alive.

"Santa Monica schools do not have as good after-care," Kahn said. She believes that, with the right support and management, Bay Cities could thrive.

"Having grown up with the JCC — I grew up in San Antonio — the JCC was such a part of my life," she continued. "I really know how great the JCC can be."

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