Anti-Semitic flags found near Milken Campus


A Milken Community High School official reported the discovery of anti-Semitic renderings of the Israel flag in front of and near its middle school campus on March 1.

The two small flags featured a painted swastika in place of the Star of David. One flag was found in front of David and Hillevi Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School, while the other was discovered 1 mile west of the campus, at the intersection of Calneva Drive and Mulholland Boulevard.

Milken Head of School Jason Ablin said that a Milken parent found one of the flags — approximately 4 by 6 inches in size — stapled onto an L.A. Department of Water and Power sign next to the middle school’s exit gate early Thursday morning.

The LAPD and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were notified about the incident.

Milken’s security service reported that the alleged perpetrator drove a “dark-gray SUV” and is a “young-looking male, light-skinned, dark hair, about 5 feet, 4 inches,” Ablin said.

ADL Associate Director Matt Friedman, who saw photographs of the flags, said they looked like “stickers or a notecard.”

Friedman noted the connection between the signs and this week’s Israel Apartheid Week, a series of events in cities and college campuses across the United States that portray Israel as unjust occupiers of the Palestinian people.
“I don’t know if there’s any linkage there, but I was thinking that,” Friedman said.
Ablin assured parents that Milken considers students’ well being to be of utmost importance. “The first thing I did was inform the parents. I sent an announcement to parents this morning because obviously the first thing on everyone’s mind is safety and I wanted to make everyone aware of what happened, so rumors weren’t spreading around and so parents knew we were taking security very seriously,” Ablin said.

Milken School head gets the surprise of her life


Rennie Wrubel had no reason to suspect.

The board members, the 800 students on bleachers, the officials from the Bureau of Jewish Education and private foundations — they had come to Milken Community High School to hear Gen. Shaul Mofaz, minster of transportation and deputy prime minister of the state of Israel.

Right?

Mofaz, as it turns out, was a decoy. The surprise honoree was Wrubel herself, who received the Milken Family Foundation’s Jewish Educator Award for her work as Milken’s head of school for the last 10 years.

“I just have one question,” a stunned but composed Wrubel asked when she was finally able to lift herself off her seat. “Is that really Mofaz?” (It was.)

The annual Jewish Educator Awards, with a $10,000 prize, is awarded in conjunction with the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) to five Los Angeles day school teachers or administrators annually.

“I want to recognize and celebrate a person whose intelligence, whose leadership, whose commitment and compassion have made a profound difference in our community, a person who has positively impacted thousands of young people’s lives,” said Lowell Milken, chairman of the Milken Family Foundation, which gave the naming gift and maintains close ties to the high school.

As Milken stood at the dais to announce the award, Wrubel wondered why he was talking about appreciating excellence in education, when the assembly was about Israel. Colleagues whispered that perhaps the digression was to recognize the school as a whole, since Wrubel surmised that he couldn’t be presenting a Jewish Educator Award, because she would have been informed of that.

Then Milken asked for “the envelope.” The school orchestra went into a drum roll and an audible wave of anticipation passed among the students. When he announced that Dr. Rennie Wrubel was the recipient of a Jewish Educator Award, Wrubel slumped in her seat, open mouthed — and the gym exploded.

That kind of reaction, and its ripple effect through the wider community, is what Milken Foundation officials are going for with the dramatic presentation of the awards.

“The surprise element evolved as the best way to get everyone’s attention and to make it most memorable to the students and to other people in the room,” said Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation. “We’re trying to get the community behind teaching, behind educators, and trying to get kids to understand that educators are recognized and appreciated and that kids should consider this as a profession.”

Sandler and a caravan of BJE and Milken Foundation officials presented the four other awards in one packed day in late October. Videos of those emotional assemblies will form the centerpiece of an awards luncheon in Bel Air on Dec. 14.

At Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, second- and third-grade teacher Beverly Yachzel received her award in an intimate gathering of the student body and teachers at the small school.

Tami Rosenfeld, a fourth-grade Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles, didn’t know her family was hiding out in the back of the sanctuary for the occasion.

Rabbi Simcha Frankel, a teacher at Cheder Menachem Elementary School in Los Angeles, at first demurred from coming to the stage, but the cheering boys coaxed him up.
Bluma Drebin, Bible department chair and teacher of mathematics at the YULA girls’ high school, elicited whoops and hollers from the girls.

But even by the Milken Foundation’s standards, the ruse around Wrubel’s ceremony was unusual.

The elaborate scheming behind the assembly was the work of Metuka Benjamin, director of education at Stephen S. Wise Temple, the parent organization for Milken Community High School.

Benjamin arranged for Consul General Ehud Danoch to come to the school, under the pretense of recognizing the school’s ambitious new Tiferet Israel Program, where 40 tenth graders will go to Israel for four months this winter and spring.

Then, three days before the assembly, Benjamin got a call from Mofaz saying he would be in town.

She jumped at the chance, and pulled off the last-minute schedule change for Mofaz to speak to the students.

Mofaz and Danoch both addressed the students, congratulating them on their continued commitment to fostering the bond between Israeli and American teens.

For several years, Milken Community High School has participated in an exchange program with its sister school in Tel Aviv, sending delegations each year to live with families.
This year a larger delegation will live in dorms, continue their Milken education and learn Jewish history and heritage both in the classroom and on field trips to the places they learn about.

In 11th and 12th grade, the same group of students will continue to have special classes aimed at teaching them to be advocates for Israel, and they will become part of the Israeli Consulate’s speaker’s bureau.

The fact that the assembly honoring Wrubel ended up being so focused on Israel was appropriate, Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise, said, since one of Wrubel’s strongest passions is for connecting the kids to Israel.

For information on the awards visit www.mff.org.

Classnotes: Milken High School rededicates Torah scroll


A Torah scroll that twice survived extinction was ushered to its new home in the Lainer Beit Mirdash of Milken Community High School on Oct. 19.

The scroll was rescued from Eastern Europe by Shlomo Bardin, founder of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. In October 2005, the scroll survived a brush fire that struck Brandeis. Over the past year, faculty, parents, staff, alumni and every current student participated in restoring the scroll by sponsoring and penning letters on the parchment, under the guidance of scribe Neal Yerman.

At the dedication ceremony, Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Milken Upper School rabbinic director, passed the Torah along a line made up of upper and middle School students, faculty, administration and clergy.

“Our Torah of Milken is integrated and pluralistic, connecting Jewish learning and values to the wisdom of the broader world — to science and literature, history and technology, arts and basketball,” Rabbi Bernat-Kunin told the audience of more than 800 made up of students and faculty. “It is a Torah of passionate machloket, spirited dispute, bearing at least 70 faces, if not more.”

The ceremony included three aliyot: one for Stephen S. Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Eli Herscher and education director Metuka Benjamin; one for parents and temple leadership; and a final one for the school’s department chairs.

Three students — Maytal Orevi, Judy Reynolds and Marci Blattner — read from the Torah during the aliyot.

For more information visit www.wisela.org.

Grants for Growth

Eight Southern California day schools received grants from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) to aid in capacity building, increasing enrollment and striving for excellence.

Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills and Orange County’s Morasha Jewish Day School and Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School received School Improvement Journey challenge grants. In the first year of the two-year grant, the schools will undergo institutional assessment by a national firm, followed by expert coaching to build a business plan from the assessment. The second year helps schools begin implementing plan.

“Receipt of the grant means several things to Kadima,” explained Dr. Barbara Gereboff, Kadima’s head of school. “That we will have the benefit of a national cadre of experts to guide our planning for the future; that our entire Kadima community will have the chance to really pause and reflect over a two-year period about our future direction, and that we will be given the tools needed to move our school to higher levels of excellence.”

The Jewish Community School of the Desert in Palm Desert and Valley Beth Shalom Day School in Encino both received Pipeline Grants that provide the schools with coaches to help increase recruitment and enrollment from early childhood programs into elementary grades.
The Southern California Yeshiva High School in La Jolla, a two-year-old boys’ high school, received a New Schools Grant for operational expenses and to fund a coach to work with the board and head of school on mutually agreed upon priorities.

For more information visit www.peje.org.

Acting Classes …

The Jewish Children’s Theater is offering Sunday acting and drama classes at the Westside Jewish Community Center, starting this month, for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The classes are taught by Deena Freeman Brandes, who played April Rush on TV’s “Too Close for Comfort.”

Freeman Brandes teaches through acting exercises, theater games, improvisation and a commercial workshop. Over the summer one of her students shot his first TV commercial, and several were cast in plays and student films. For information call (310) 556-8022 or (310) 497-0437 or e-mail dbrandes@pacbell.net.

… And the Production

The Kol Neshama Performing Arts Conservatory for girls will premiere the first episode in its Camp B’nos Yisrael DVD series at a benefit reception on Nov. 6 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. Founded seven years ago by television and theater director Robin Garbose, Kol Neshama offers Orthodox girls an opportunity for artistic expression in a traditional yet professional setting.

This past summer about a dozen girls filmed “Inner Nature Hike” at Topanga State Park as a follow up to last year’s pilot of “Together as One,” a Wizard of Oz-esque saga at Camp Bnos Yisrael.

The benefit, open to women only, will honor Kol Neshama teacher and actress Judy Winegard, a former Broadway performer.

For more information, visit www.kolneshama.org or call (310) 659-2342.

Ignorant No More

This month, tenth graders at New Jewish Community High School (NCJHS) became the first Jewish day school class to participate in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) workshop, “Confronting Anti-Semitism.”

“The ADL program had a strong impact on me and my friends, because we were still talking about it after we left the classroom. We couldn’t believe that things like Holocaust denial and questioning the right of Israel to exist still happens in our world,” said 10th grader Molly Williams.

The first part of the program explores the roots and history of anti-Semitism through to what anti-Semitism looks like in the post-Holocaust era. A follow-up workshop deals with how to face the anti-Semitism of today.

“The class made me realize that a huge cause of anti-Semitism is ignorance, and the easiest way to combat it is through education,” said 10th grader Simone Zimmerman.

Along with the NCJHS students, 40 Israeli students were there through the Federation’s Tel Aviv- Los Angeles partnership.

For more information, visit www.adl.org or call (310) 446-8000.

High Time


For the past three years, in meetings that often go toward midnight, a handful of local parents, educators and community leaders have been coming together to plan Los Angeles’ next non-Orthodox Jewish high school.

Now it has come to pass. Late last month, the Core Group, as the parents call themselves, announced the September 2002 opening of the New Community Jewish High School in the West Valley.

Against a background of world tragedy and looming recession, organizers see the school as a sign of communal growth and vibrancy. “The Jewish community is moving westward,” said school co-chair Howard Farber. “There are enough spaces at our elementary schools, like Kadima, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom, Heschel, and so on, but there are not enough Jewish school spaces for our graduates. Milken [Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple] is great, and they have been wonderful to us. But our community needs more schools.”

Instead of hand-wringing over the limited number of non-Orthodox Jewish high schools, concerned parents devoted hours to starting a new one. “It is an incredible group of people,” Farber said. “When we sit in meetings, there’s not one person who wants to leave early, or cut it short. There is a level of energy and creativity and cooperation that is just nice to see.”

The energy paid off. Elana Rimmon Zimmerman, who works as program director at Valley Beth Shalom and is the mother of two children in day schools, co-chairs the group with Farber. “I always think the opportunity to be part of something new is exciting,” Zimmerman said. “How often during our lives do we get to be part of something at the very beginning?”

Open House

While they have no permanent site yet, the school will use the Bernard Milken Campus in the West Valley as its temporary location when it opens next fall.

From their office suite in Tarzana, school planners are sending out brochures to spread the word. They have consulted with a consortium of San Fernando and Conejo Valley day school principals — administrators whose own student populations will be key feeder schools to the new campus. They have three open houses scheduled for this fall and winter, and are offering a tuition discount to families of the very first group of freshman, the Class of 2006.

School planners are reluctant to quote exact rates, emphasizing instead that significant assistance will be available.

Even in stronger economies, tuition has been a major challenge facing parents and day school administrators. The New Community School organizers say their approach to it was guided by a bedrock commitment to Jewish education. “A Jewish school should not be a commodity,” Powell said. “It should not be a luxury item — you can afford it, you buy it. It should be like a birthright, a community entitlement. What that means, ultimately, is that every family who wants a Jewish education for their child should be able to have one. We have a two-page brochure for families that goes over our tuition assistance policies. We want to be able to accept people who cannot afford to pay the full price. That’s why endowment is so important. That is our central challenge.”

The Core Group may be pioneers of a sort, building a 9th through 12th-grade school from scratch, but taken together, they are not lacking for established contacts or professional support. Both Farber and Zimmerman have a long record of involvement in local Jewish community organizations. “This is hardly a case of some parents getting together and with no experience, deciding they’re going to start a school,” Zimmerman said. “We are hardly neophytes. We have some of the most professional and experienced people participating as our guides, every step of the way.”

The group consults with a 30-member rabbinical cabinet composed of local pulpit rabbis. They’re assisted by the AVI CHAI Foundation, The Jewish Federation Council, the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), and other organizations. The connections run deep: Farber’s mother, Janet, is president of the BJE, and his father, Jake, is the incoming chairman of the board of The Jewish Federation. Farber himself is a graduate of the Wexner Fellows Program.

The new school’s National Advisory Board includes historian-author Deborah Lipstadt, Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Rabbi Daniel Landes, the director of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

The Headmaster

Still, even with the impressive roster, there will be parents who are skittish about the prospect of placing their student in the first class of a new school, preferring instead to wait out the first few years until a school becomes a tried and tested commodity. To those who hesitate, Farber says the answer is simple: Dr. Bruce Powell.

Powell is well-known in education circles as a committed and experienced educator at the high school level and as someone who can bring a considerable resume along to meetings with parents and potential donors. After heading up the general studies department at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles, Powell ran the school at Stephen S. Wise, which later became Milken High School. After a successful 10-year stint as head of school at Milken, where three of his own children graduated, he has continued as an educator and consultant, working closely with Jewish high school start-ups nationwide. At a time when most Jewish institutions across the board are suffering from an acute shortage of qualified Jewish educators and administrators, the new school is given a considerable boost with Powell as the head administrator.

Under his direction, the school’s four-year curriculum will offer courses in Jewish ethics, text and Hebrew language, along with a slate of Advanced Placement classes, (chemistry, music theory, macroeconomics, etc.), and a host of arts and multicultural electives like drama, dance, African American Studies and Modern Israeli Literature.

Why a Jewish High School?

In an interview with The Journal, Powell crystallized the philosophy of a school whose founders have already devoted, in Zimmerman’s words, “countless hours” to discussing vision, purpose and moral education component.

“I’m the last person to sit here and say that Jewish school is some kind of all-purpose panacea,” Powell said. “Nothing is. But it’s critical that our children know who they are, not just to enrich our homes, but to connect with the fabric of the country.

“We have this incredible treasure of a heritage sitting there, and our kids can’t access it or participate in it if they’re ignorant of it. We say things like ‘Jewish continuity,’ but these are empty phrases if there is no content. Why perpetuate something if you don’t know what it’s about? Jews have made a unique contribution to the world and to this country, a contribution grounded specifically in Judaism. The founding forefathers of this country knew Torah. There was a time when to be admitted to Harvard, a student had to know Latin, Greek and biblical Hebrew. Half the world uses our book as a basis for their civilization, and we don’t read it enough.”

Most of the faculty for the school is already lined up, Powell said — this despite what experts say is a severe shortage of Jewish educators nationwide. Powell acknowledged the shortage, but found ways to work around it. “We just have to think creatively,” he said. “There are pulpit rabbis, for example, with a deep background in Judaica, who might take a small cut in salary if it meant having Shabbats and holidays off in order to have a life with their families. There are veteran educators who are excited by the prospect of being in on something from the beginning.”

That excitement is palpable speaking with Farber, Powell and others involved in the project. What began as an idea will soon be another part of the city’s growing Jewish-education system, another institution to make good on one generation’s promise to the next. Powell is certain that alone will draw parents and students to join the endeavor.

“There is a tremendous appeal in truly being a founder of something,” Powell said. “Parents who will be with us from the outset have that this opportunity, and so do the students. It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids to blossom and to lead.”

The New Community Jewish High School will be holding open houses on Nov. 14, Nov. 19 and Dec. 2, at the Bernard Milken campus, 15580 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. For reservations or additional information, call (818) 344-9672.

A Soaring Exchange Rate


There were cheers and happy tears at Los Angeles International Airport when the first contingent of Milken Community High School students returned from a three-month stay in Tel Aviv. The 13 students, all 10th-graders, attended classes at Milken’s sister school, Tichon Hadash, while living in the homes of the Israeli students who had stayed with the Milken families last fall.

Waiting in the terminal for their teens to emerge from Customs, parents spoke about the last three months. Gloria Kirschenbaum explained that thanks to e-mail, she had heard from son Joshua almost daily. From the tenor of his messages, academic studies were not a priority. He and his classmates went camping in the Judaean desert, ate meals in a Druze village, and thoroughly participated in local life. To Kirschenbaum’s relief, however, “about two weeks before the trip ended, he was ready to come home.”

For Cena Abergel’s son, Aaron, this has not been the case. Aaron had taken so enthusiastically to the fun and freedom of the Israeli teen lifestyle that he’s determined to go back and finish high school in Tel Aviv. How does Abergel feel about this? “Very confused,” she says.

Peter Reynolds, who, with wife Kathy, hosted Oshri Harari last fall, says that his son, Ben, had an ideal experience living in the Harari home. Ben advanced his Hebrew conversational skills while playing with Oshri’s two younger brothers, and the trip offered a perfect way to further his interest in Israeli technology. (As a computer enthusiast, Ben joined with another student to capture the whole Israel adventure on the Milken Web site.)

Because the Reynolds and Harari families share the same level of religious observance, Ben felt completely at home when joining the Hararis for Shabbat dinners and a festive Passover seder.

By contrast, Josh Kirschenbaum had to seek out his own Israeli relatives on Passover because his thoroughly secular host family did nothing special to mark the holiday.

When the students finally rejoined their American families and friends, they were both elated and exhausted. Paula Birnberg took time out from a lot of affectionate hugs to contemplate what Israel had meant to her: “I feel like I’ve grown in many ways,” she said. “I lived a whole different life there.”

She changed emotionally, too, coming to think of Israel as her true Jewish home: “I didn’t get it before, why people were willing to die for Israel.” Now, presumably, she does.

Birnberg, who comes from a family that takes its Conservative Judaism seriously, also encountered a secular lifestyle for the first time. She brought along Shabbat candlesticks, and by the end of her stay, her host mother was lighting candles, too. On Passover, Birnberg had a special experience. Though she missed out on the traditional family seder, her hosts took her to Egypt, where her awe at being in the places her ancestors had wandered gave the holiday a whole new meaning.

By every measure, the first year of the Milken-Tichon Hadash exchange program has been a resounding success. Last year at this time, school administrators were hard-pressed to round up sufficient applicants. This year, half of the Milken freshman class is clamoring to be included in the selection process for February 2000.

Trading Places


In a unique effort to redefine the future relations between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, 14 Israeli 10th-graders arrived last week to participate in what may be the first student-exchange program between Israeli schools and a non-Orthodox Los Angeles Jewish day school.

But the Milken Community High School program is far more ambitious than this, according to Yoav Ben-Horin, the school’s director of special projects and coordinator of this program. It is part of an overall “twinning” of Tichon Hadash, a 60-year-old creative and pluralistic high school known for its warmth and informality, with Milken, said to be the country’s largest non-Orthodox high school.

In addition to sending a group of Milken 10th-graders to Tichon Hadash next February, the twinning effort includes the goal of developing some parallel curricula, video conferencing, a joint commemoration of the third anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination this November, and much more in the years ahead.

The student exchange is the most important element of this broader exchange, Ben-Horin said. In the past, most “exchanges” have tended to be nonreciprocal, with American Jewish youngsters going to Israel, where they lived and learned with other Americans in specifically designed programs. Although such programs are valuable, the Milken educator said, “what distinguishes this [one] is it will try to integrate the students in each other’s curriculum and lives.”

The 15- and 16-year-old Israelis received a rousing welcome, along with blue balloons and school T-shirts, at the opening-day assembly of the newly expanded Milken campus. A 15th student is due to arrive after Rosh Hashanah.

The teens are staying with host families for the next three months and will experience Jewish holidays from the perspective of American Jews. That promises to be a much different experience than in Israel, said Etty Vered, an English teacher at Tichon Hadash, who accompanied the students on the first leg of their journey.

“Our kids are nonreligious,” Vered said. Going to services to pray on Shabbat and High Holidays will be novel for many of them, since they don’t do it at home. “We take it for granted that we are Jewish [in Israel]. They are born Jewish, and they never have to prove it to anyone…. I think, for many of them, this is the first time they will realize the concept of plurality in Judaism.”

Next February, Milken will return the favor by sending about 15 10th-graders to stay with Tel Aviv families and to attend Tichon Hadash. They will experience Pesach, Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Ha-Zicharon (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Israel.

“It’s a historic moment for Los Angeles Jewry to have something like this happen here,” said Metuka Benjamin, director of education at Stephen Wise Temple Schools, of which Milken High School is one. “We’ve talked about it for many years.”

The program is part of the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Now in its first full year of operation, the partnership was the brainchild of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel and Overseas Relationships Committee (IORC) and receives some of its funding through the Federation.

“I think it’s crucial for the future of the Jewish people that Jews here and [in Israel] get to know each other as human beings,” said IORC Chair Herb Glaser. Creating that “people-to-people” relationship is the main goal of the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership, which includes an ambitious range of other educational, cultural, health and human services, and pluralism partnerships and exchanges between the two cities.

On his first day at school, Israeli teen Ravid Ben Ami called the opportunity to live and study in Los Angeles “a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” which he was excited about, although it was difficult to say goodbye to his family for so long. “We are all very close to our parents,” the 15-year-old said.

Tal Goldenberg, also 15, said that she was very happy with her new family, which includes 11th-grade Milken student Millie Mamer. Tal sees herself as a kind of Israeli goodwill ambassador. “My goal is to make [my family and American friends] feel closer to Israel.”

Reality Bites


Are seniors at Milken Community High School really “Wildcats” after all?

Aaron Fishman, outgoing student body president, told me that earlier this year, students tried to change the school’s sports mascot from the Wildcats to “something more Jewish.”

“We wanted a symbol that would represent us as Jews out in the world,” he said. The Wildcats had an extraordinary year, winning league championships in basketball, softball, swimming and baseball. “But after talking about it a long time, we said, ‘Being Jewish is not in a symbol; it’s in our behavior, the things we do in the world.’ So we kept the name.”

The story, posing the conflict between Jewish and secular values, seemed apocryphal last week after Senior Prank Nite got out of hand.

Here’s what happened, in an incident that has been the subject of rumor and hyperbole throughout the last week: Prank Nite, that venerated tradition of seniors cutting loose after final exams, has been an accepted, if problematic, institution at Milken. Students talked openly in front of faculty about plans to “T.P.” (toilet paper) several school buildings and to bring four chickens onto campus, cooping them up in an area large enough to make it appear they were being set free. Milken students are, God knows, a sweet bunch, a tame bunch, destined for fine careers as rabbis, lawyers and community leaders. There are five prayer minyanim on campus (including one for “doubters.”) These students are so committed to Jewish learning, they spurned Ditch Day because it competed with the Senior Sermon (on the Torah portion of the week).

And they’ve got great ruach, school spirit. They raised $1,000 in a two-day “Tzedakah Fair”; held a walk-a-thon for camp scholarships in memory of Jamie Silverman, the Milken student killed on TWA Flight 800; and wore black tape on their sports uniforms to signify the year of mourning for Silverman and two other students, Avi Gesundheit and Michael Lewis (the latter two killed in a car crash soon after graduation). The yearbook is dedicated to the missing three.

The seniors never considered anything as risqué as making a fish pond out of the campus driveway or dragging a cow upstairs to school headquarters, as other Los Angeles seniors have done. If the Milken administration objected in advance, it looked the other way. A joke’s a joke. Chickens are funny.

On the evening of June 4, 38 of the 53 seniors built the chicken coop, T.P.’d the school and doused the campus in shaving cream, spraying the words “Class of 1997 rules!” After 25 minutes, the job was done. Everyone left but a small group of students, a security guard and several of his adult friends. The next morning, there was glue in three door locks and thumbtacks on at least one door knob (obscured by shaving cream); garbage buried the campus driveway; broken beer bottles were strewn on the teacher parking lot; dog feces was left in a bag in the faculty lounge.

Lee Chernotsky, senior class vice president, picks up the story. “When I got to campus the next day, I was horrified. We all were. I was in a suit, but I immediately changed my clothes and got to work, cleaning up. All of us did. We worked for hours.”

Nevertheless, the administration went ballistic. There were three senior-class meetings, a parent-administration meeting, and each student was brought in individually to see Headmaster Bruce Powell, who concedes, “I was upset.” You can imagine what was on his mind: In this community, bad P.R. can be lethal. The five-year effort to create a viable Jewish community high school (with 560 students expected next year, Milken is the largest non-Orthodox high school in the nation) could be ditched in a garbage heap.

Powell ordered every student who was on campus during Prank Nite to do teshuvah (repentance) — to pay $50 (toward an estimated $2,000 in cleanup) and to complete 40 hours of community service; the main culprits got 100 hours. The Grad Night party was canceled for all but the handful of students who had stayed away. The security guard was let go.

When my phone began to ring after Prank Nite, the rumors I heard were unbelievable: that the students had spray-painted swastikas on the school buildings, that a Torah had been defaced. Parents and community members alike were wondering “what’s going on at Milken” that Jewish students could go off that way?

I have to inform my readers that the rumors aren’t true. Compare Milken’s Prank Nite with that at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. Seniors there brought manure, fish heads and a dozen chickens, plus they T.P.’d the campus, glued locks and scratched graffiti on the walls. At Mira Costa, 30 students were disciplined with either a $75 fine or 15 hours community service, Principal John Giovati told me. He termed the Milken punishments “understandable,” if somewhat excessive.

“This incident’s been a tremendous learning experience for me,” Fishman told me. “Even though it was only a tiny handful of students who lost control, we all take responsibility for them and their actions. For this, we’ll make amends.”

These Milken students are responsible, sober, concerned young adults. I’ll remember them that way.


Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

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