Vice President Mike Pence on April 22. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Billionaires regroup at Milken | Previewing Abbas’ visit | Pence to host Jewish leaders | Ray Allen’s other passion | Abe Foxman birthday

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HAPPENING TODAY: The 20th Annual Milken Institute Global Conference kicks off in Los Angeles. With over 3,500 attendees from 50 countries, the theme of this year’s gathering is “Building Meaningful Lives.”

SCENE YESTERDAY — at a welcome reception hosted by WorldQuant at the Beverly Canon Gardens, between the Montage Hotel and Bouchon Restaurant. Spotted: Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), super-lobbyist Norm Brownstein, Michael Milken, David Rubenstein, Barry Sternlicht, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Eddie Trump, Nouriel Roubini, Simone Friedman, Joel Mowbray, and AIC’s Mike Sommers.

Speakers at today’s portion of the conference include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House senior advisor Reed Cordish, Apollo’s Joshua Harris, real estate developer Richard LeFrak, Yahoo’s Katie Couric, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Wilson Center’s Jane Harman, CFR’s Richard Haas, USC’s Willow Bay, Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, Sam Zell, Emanuel Friedman, Related’s Stephen Ross.

“Off target in 2016, global elite regroup at Milken conference” by Lawrence Delevinge: “Most attendees expected Hillary Clinton to beat Trump, as Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein noted during a panel discussion in May 2016. The four-day meeting this year at the Beverly Hilton hotel will once again mix big investment industry names such as Jamie Dimon, Stephen Schwarzman, Leon Black, Jonathan Sokoloff and Kenneth Griffin along with political, business and entertainment celebrities…”

“Most conference goers pay at least $12,500 if they are not from event sponsors. Some repeat attendees told Reuters they come less for the investment advice and more for the chance to network, sell product and learn about far-flung topics. “It’s about connections and to be seen,” said a staffer at a large money management firm who asked not to be named. “Are there a large number of people actually taking notes and implementing them? No.” [Reuters; Bloomberg]

DRIVING THE WEEK — Pence meeting with Jewish leaders a day before Abbas visits the White House: Vice President Mike Pence will be hosting a White House reception to mark Israel’s 69th Independence Day on Tuesday, according to an invitation obtained exclusively by Jewish Insider. The event will take place in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. President Donald Trump will host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday.[JewishInsider

“If Trump has a strategy on Israeli-Palestinian peace, it’s remaining a secret” by Josh Rogin: “Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials. Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting.” [WashPost]

JI PREVIEW — What to expect from the Trump-Abbas Meeting — by Aaron Magid and Jacob Kornbluh [JewishInsider] • Below is a sampling of some of the responses from JI experts…

Aaron David Miller — “Both Trump and Abbas need — and will have — a successful meeting. Abbas needs to maintain his relevance and Trump to at least maintain the illusion that he’ll broker the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israel and Palestinians. Now that he’s planning a trip to Israel later in May, the meeting takes on an added importance if… he’s thinking — as Trump might — about getting Netanyahu and Abbas together in a trilateral meeting.”

Elliott Abrams: “Presumably, the President’s request from Abbas will be to stop the glorification of terrorism and the payments to those who have committed acts of terrorism, in line with the Taylor Force Act. If you are going to ask Bibi to do things that are hard, you need to ask Abbas to do things that are hard. I think Abbas wants a process that will consist of endless meetings. I don’t think he actually wants a peace negotiation that is serious because it will force him to make decisions that he is not prepared to make… I suppose if there are public statements by the President that are very complimentary of Abbas, it will annoy the Israelis. Because, what is the record here? He said no to a generous offer by Olmert. He said no to Kerry and Obama, So, there is no particular reason why he should get lots of compliments without his commitment to a peace agreement.”

Hussein Ibish: “I think a reaffirmation of the Trump administration’s intention of re-engaging seriously with an issue that the Obama administration gave up on and that few people expected the Trump administration to engage seriously with. This is all surprising and good. During the campaign, many people thought it would be difficult for this administration to form a mutually respectful relationship with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think they have done that in short order in a very pragmatic and impressive way. On the other hand, going beyond that to the stage to find some sort of workable formula to move the parties forward, that is a whole other story.”

“If the whole discourse goes back to the question of settlements and public Israeli commitments — even just to the US — I think we are going to be in a very difficult situation because I don’t think Netanyahu feels inclined or is feeling empowered to do that. The thing to do is move the conversation to another register and somehow get the Palestinians to rely on an American-Israeli understanding to ensure that settlement activity is limited at most and that’s doable if it all operates in a diplomatic rather than a political register.”

FDD’s Grant Rumley: “Abbas will probably come out and say: we want negotiations. He will bring up the prisoners, the 1967 lines as the basis of the negotiations, settlement construction. Trump will probably bring up payments to terrorists, the Taylor Force Act, incitement. I think the biggest concrete thing that came out was Trump’s proposal that the aid to the Palestinians would actually go up, despite cuts across the board at State. That is to me tangible right now. I think they will come out of this meeting and Trump will reassure Abbas that he’s his primary address. There is ultimately a disconnect in vision for what the US and Palestinians want from this relationship. Trump wants the deal. Abbas wants peace talks and the process of peace talks: photo ops in the White House, in large part out of domestic consideration. Nobody can challenge Abbas’ relevancy at home if he is in the White House with Trump and Kushner, meeting with Tillerson in Europe.”

“Trump’s Mideast plan starts taking shape” by Uri Savir: “A senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in the know on Israeli-US relations told Al-Monitor that in recent days Israel has been approached by senior officials in the Trump administration about a possible US policy initiative… The US officials did say expressively that in any case Israeli security interests will be taken care of “as never before.” What concerned the senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official was a request to know Israel’s position on a possible qualified acceptance of parts of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.” [Al-Monitor

KAFE KNESSET — Netanyahu’s Memorial Day message — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Today is a solemn day – Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. After last night’s national ceremonies at the Western Wall and the Knesset and a well attended ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Israel’s politicians spent the day at cemeteries and comforting the bereaved. Many politicians are remembering their own relatives.

One of the many events Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended today was the memorial for victims of terror. On his mind was the Taylor Force Act, a bill to cut US funding to the Palestinian Authority for funds being used to pay terrorists and their families. The bill is currently on the docket of the US Congress and could come up in Trump and Abbas’ meeting this week. Bibi had a message for the two Presidents: “Do you want to take a real step towards peace? Cancel the payments to the murderers. Cancel the law that requires the payments. Fund peace and not murder.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

TOP TALKER: “Ros-Lehtinen to retire from Congress” by Patricia Mazzei: “She said the prospect of another two or four or more years in Congress just didn’t appeal to her anymore. “There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, “I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.” … In Congress, Ros-Lehtinen staked her ground as a foreign-policy hawk, becoming the first woman to chair a standing congressional committee: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She currently chairs the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and sits on the intelligence committee… In her remaining 20 months in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen said she will keep pushing for one of her long-running goals: for Germany to offer restitution to Holocaust victims. “And I will continue to stand up to tyrants and dictators all over the world,” she said.” [MiamiHerald

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen sent us a message to share with JI readers… “It has been a high honor indeed to have represented the many Holocaust survivors who call South Florida home and I will continue to fight for their justice. Chairing the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee has been a privilege and I will keep assuring that Israel maintains her military edge.”

CHA-CHING: “Ivanka Trump Ski Trip To Canadian Resort Brings Big Secret Service Bill” by by Rich Gardella: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner took their kids to a five-star Canadian ski resort during Passover in April. According to newly available data from the federal government, the Secret Service costs for hotel accommodations and ski passes during the family’s trip to the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Whistler, British Columbia were at least $66,538.42. Of that amount, government purchase order records show, $59,654 covered hotel costs for Secret Service agents at the resort near Vancouver, while $6,884 paid for “multi-day ski passes.”” [NBCNews

DRIVING THE MONTH: President Donald J. Trump Proclaims May 2017 as Jewish American Heritage Month… “From Admiral Hyman G. Rickover to Albert Einstein, Richard Rodgers to Irving Berlin, Jerry Siegel to Bill Finger, Mel Brooks to Don Rickles, and Levi Strauss to Elie Wiesel, American Jews have transformed all aspects of American life and continue to enrich the American spirit. This month, I celebrate with my family ‑‑ including my daughter, Ivanka, my son-in-law, Jared, my grandchildren, and our extended family ‑‑ the deep spiritual connection that binds, and will always bind, the Jewish people to the United States and its founding principles.” [Twitter]

TRUMP TEAM: “Baltimore developer Reed Cordish has big job in the Trump administration: Fix the government” by John Fritz: “His group, mostly unnoticed amid the blaring controversies over Russia and stalled executive orders, is quietly working on everything from how to boost U.S. manufacturing to modernizing decades-old IT systems at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies. “We’re not approaching this from an ideological slant. We’re approaching this in terms of what’s good for American business and what’s good for the American worker,” Cordish said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun… Cordish said he’s confident the effort will yield results, in part because it has the president’s attention. “He asks about these initiatives all the time. He cares deeply about them,” he said. “Some of these initiatives are not ones that are politically easy. When you fix IT, you don’t necessarily get credit for it. But he wants to improve government.””[BaltimoreSun]

“Trump plans summit with tech titans” by Mike Allen: “President Trump is establishing an American Technology Council to help the government deliver better digital services. The administration is bringing big names from the Silicon Valley to the White House in early June, to try get ideas and cooperation from a group that has been skeptical… The council will be run by two of Kushner’s lieutenants, Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intra-governmental and technology initiatives.” [Axios]

“Sebastian Gorka to accept role outside White House” by Sarah Westwood: “Gorka’s new role will deal with the “war of ideas” involved in countering radical Islamic extremism, a senior administration official said, and will entail an appointment to a federal agency… A source told the Washington Examiner that Gorka’s role in SIG (Strategic Initiatives Group) was always meant to be temporary… An official said Gorka has been in a “holding pattern” while he waited for the position, which will not be at the State Department, to be established.” [WashExaminer; DailyBeast]

ON THE HILL — House Members confused about Trump’s position on the Iran deal — by JI’s Aaron Magid: “One of the challenges for this administration is you get four or five different answers on controversial issues, like the Iran deal, depending on who is speaking: whether it is the President, Secretary of State, or White House spokesman,” Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) told Jewish Insider. “Our allies don’t know who really speaks for the President. I would like a clear answer for what he believes is the future of that agreement if he intends for the US to stick by it: whether he still sees that as essential to Iran getting rid of its nuclear program.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler was unable to articulate the President’s stance on the nuclear agreement. “I don’t know. I can’t judge any more than you can,” the New York lawmaker emphasized.

Even Republican Members of Congress who are supportive of the President’s agenda could not offer a clear answer regarding the President’s position. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) noted, “I’m not sure he’s (Trump) coalesced around his thoughts.” When pressed if he understood the President’s viewpoint on Iran deal, Farenthold, replied, “I don’t.” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) explained, “It is my observance that the Trump administration has opposed that deal from the rhetoric that they have said. As to the exact specifics, I would want you to ask them to articulate their position.” [JewishInsider

HEARD YESTERDAY — National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster discussed new Iran sanctions on Fox News Sunday: “I think all we have to do is pull the curtain back on Iranian behavior… Our allies will be interested in doing that, and I think what you’ve seen is, if what has happened in the last eight years, is U.S. policy has unwittingly maybe empowered Iran across the greater Middle East and beyond… And so, what’s critical now is a shift in that policy to confront Iran and what you’re seeing is because of the president’s leadership, really strong relationships across the Arab world, for example, and I think that there’s going to be a tremendous opportunity to confront Iran’s destructive behavior in the region and beyond the region.”

“Chuck Schumer Sees Himself As Trump’s Chief Opponent — But Hey, At Least They’re Talking Again” by Kate Nocera: “I was totally down in the dumps for three days [after the election], as was my wife and my two daughters, particularly my daughter who had worked in the Hillary campaign. I taught them the old Shirelles song: Mama said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this, mama said,” Schumer recalled. “But on the fourth day I had an epiphany, like a message from the heavens, and it went like this: ‘Look, if Hillary had been president and you had been majority leader, the job would have been a lot more fun, a lot easier, and you’d get some good things done, which is why we’re here,’” he said. “‘With Trump as president and you as minority leader, your job is much more important. You are really the only backstop to Trump.’ That has fueled me the whole way through.” [BuzzFeed] • Trump Calls Schumer an Incompetent ‘Fool’ Just When Need Him the Most [Yahoo]

2020 WATCH: “Emboldened by Trump but Divided by Generations, Democrats Look to 2020” by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin: “High-profile city executives — like Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, 46… may also consider the race. Allies of Mr. Garcetti acknowledged that national donors had broached the subject of 2020 but said that was the extent of his attention to the race. Mr. Garcetti is weighing a campaign for governor of California next year.”  [NYTimes

Eric Lesser‏: “IDEA FOR DEMOCRATS: Let’s put a moratorium on gossiping about 2020 Presidential, and instead focus on building our grassroots bench.” [Twitter

** Good Monday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email **

SPOTLIGHT: “Renaissance Feud Spills Over to Hedge Fund Poker Night” by Gregory Zuckerman: “When [Rebecca] Mercer saw [David] Magerman hovering nearby, he said she became agitated. “You’re pond scum,” Ms. Mercer told him, repeatedly… “You’ve been pond scum for 25 years; I’ve always known it.” Shaken, Mr. Magerman walked around the table to be next to Ms. Mercer. She told Mr. Magerman that his criticism of the Mercers’ support for Mr. Trump had put her family in danger, he said. “How could you do this to my father? He was so good to you,” she said… Mr. Magerman told her he felt bad, adding that her family had played a supportive role when he joined Renaissance more than two decades ago… Ms. Mercer told him to leave…”

“A security member approached, telling Mr. Magerman to back away from the table. He refused, dodged the security and approached [James] Simons, asking for help. Mr. Simons said he thought it best if Mr. Magerman left… Security forced him outside to the curb, Mr. Magerman said. “I’m not denying I was a little impacted by the alcohol,” Mr. Magerman told The Wall Street Journal several days after the event. “But that doesn’t change what she said to me, or what I said to her. I didn’t start the fight, and I didn’t resort to the petty name calling like she did.” On Friday, his lawyers discussed final terms of a potential departure with Renaissance representatives though his fate was still uncertain.”[WSJ

“Ohio family surprised when Mark Zuckerberg comes to dinner to talk about Trump” by Associated Press: “The Vindicator of Youngstown reports… Zuckerberg had asked his staff to find Democrats who voted for President Donald Trump in November. The family says not all the dinner chat was political. Daniel Moore says he and his wife, Lisa, talked about their work with an orphanage in Uganda and that Zuckerberg says he’s now planning a fundraiser to benefit the orphans.” [NYDailyNews

“What Ron Lauder, Trump’s boyhood friend, knows about the president may surprise you” by Philip Boas: “Trump says a lot of things that sound off the wall, acknowledged Lauder, but “The Donald I know is very smart. He’s talking for the Americans… The fact is that one thing Trump gave people is hope. And when Hillary ran her campaign, what she said basically was, ‘I will continue what Obama started.’” Those same people saw something in Trump that Lauder’s mother saw in him many years ago, he said. “My parents, my mother particularly, liked him a lot because of his style, because she (created) a business by fighting people and building it, and so did Donald Trump.””[AZCentral]

“Ray Allen talks about his passion for teaching others about the Holocaust” by Kelley Evans: “It all started at the University of Connecticut in 1993, when a young Allen developed a curiosity about the Holocaust. He began to frequent the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and his education there fueled a full-on passion project. Now he has chosen to lead by example. He encourages those close to him, and anyone who will listen, to learn about Holocaust education through his dedication to the cause… Officially sworn in Tuesday four months after being appointed to the position by President Barack Obama, Allen raised his right hand and took the council member’s oath in a ceremony at the museum during Days of Remembrance, the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. “I want to inspire people to break down stereotypes, and treat one another — regardless of race, religion or anything else — like family. It’s more important now than ever,” [Allen said.]” [TheUndefeated

“People are furiously canceling their New York Times subscriptions after an op-ed disputing climate change was published” by Sonam Sheth: “In his column, [Bret] Stephens compared the “certitude” with which Hillary Clinton’s advisers believed she would win the 2016 election to climate scientists’ repeated warnings about climate change risks. As evidence, Stephens said that inaccurate polling data during the 2016 campaign proves that science can miss the mark in other fields as well… Stephens’ column evoked a swift and angry response from many of the paper’s subscribers, who promptly canceled their subscriptions and bashed the Times’ decision to hire Stephens as a writer.” [BI• Who’s Afraid of Bret Stephens? [Politico

SPORTS BLINK: “The Bonds of Baseball, From My Dad to My Son” by Lee Siegel: “In my own Jewish family, where religion was more a matter of sentiment than a spiritual framework, baseball was the true religious bond between my father and me.”[WSJ

BIRTHDAYS: National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (1987-2015), now National Director Emeritus, Abraham Foxman turns 77… Member of the New York City Council (1974-1983) and Commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (1983-1990 and a second term from 1994-2000), Henry Stern turns 82… Progressive political activist, pacifist, literary and political journalist, teacher of Proust and other topics, national affairs correspondent for Pacifica Radio (1987-1998), Larry Bensky turns 80… Chair of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University and editor of Tradition, an Orthodox theological journal, Rabbi Shalom Carmy turns 68… Attorney specializing in redistricting, voting rights and census law and director of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, Jeffrey M. Wice turns 65… Member of the House of Representatives for Colorado’s 7th congressional district since 2007, Edwin George “Ed” Perlmutterturns 64… Political reporter and columnist for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, he has covered Virginia elections and the state Capitol for 30 years, Jeff E. Schapiro turns 62…

Israeli entrepreneur and software engineer, founder and CEO of Conduit, an online platform for app publishers with 260 million users, Ronen Shilo turns 59… Real estate entrepreneur, born in Israel, has lived in Southern California since 1986, a co-founder of  the Israeli American Leadership Council (IAC) and supporter of FIDF, Eli Tene turns 54… Professor of computer science and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David R. Karger turns 50… Israeli judoka, she was the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal when she won Silver at Barcelona (1992), she now is a manager in Israeli operations for Viacom (and its Nickelodeon subsidiary), Yael Arad turns 50… Member of the Washington State Senate where he currently serves as the Senate Democratic Whip, co-owner of minor league baseball’s Spokane Indians, Andrew Swire “Andy” Billig turns 49… Award-winning broadcast journalist for more than 30 years including GM of CBS Radio News, now SVP of communications at University of Maryland University College, Michael Freedman… DC-based political reporter for The Guardian US, previously a reporter for the Daily Beast, Ben Jacobs (h/ts Playbook)… Deborah Chin

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Milken Community High School head coach Mike Whiting (center) leads a huddle with his team during the final minutes of play against West High School in Torrance. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Milken laments end of historic season after loss in state basketball playoffs

After suffering a loss in the first round of a statewide playoff tournament on the night of March 8, Milken Community High School’s basketball coach Mike Whiting said his biggest disappointment was not the defeat but that the game would mark his last with the current squad.

“I’m just sad I won’t have the pleasure of coaching those young men again,” he said after the Wildcats were defeated by the Torrance West High School Warriors, 70-57, in the California Interscholastic Federation State Boys Basketball Championships — Division 4 tournament. “It’s a very special group of people, and they accomplished something nobody ever has at Milken.”

The game at West High School in Torrance ended Milken’s unprecedented season, which included winning a sectional championship on March 1 against Shalhevet High School and going further than any Milken sports team had gone before.

On March 8, it looked as if Milken’s journey might continue as the team played a strong first half, led by captain Aaron Harouni knocking down three three-pointers.

In the second quarter, Milken enjoyed its largest lead of the night, 26-23, behind Amitai Afenjar, the team’s 6-foot-4 junior forward, whose 18 points led the Wildcats last week against Shalhevet. He had six points in the second quarter against West.

But West closed the quarter with three unanswered buckets and led 29-26 at halftime.

Still, hopes were high.

“All I heard is how good these guys are,” Rabbi Menachem Weiss, director of the Israel Center, told the Journal, referring to the West High players at halftime. “Meanwhile we’re only one shot away.”

Afenjar and Kian Zar made consecutive baskets to open the third quarter, but that was the team’s high point for the rest of the game. West went on a run, outscored Milken by six in the quarter and ran a full-court defensive press that forced turnovers and gave the Wildcats trouble getting the ball inside to Afenjar.

Trailing in the fourth quarter, Milken fought on as guard Idan Yohanan sank a three-pointer that brought Milken within nine, at 59-50. But West maintained its edge the rest of the way, challenging Milken with a steady stream of field goals and forcing Milken to intentionally foul to stop the clock. The West players converted most of their free throws.

Milken students, alumni, parents and faculty endured heavy rush-hour traffic to Torrance to cheer on the team.

Many Milken fans, including Sam Schiff, a junior who wore a Kanye West T-shirt, arrived still in high spirits from Milken’s two-point victory over Shalhevet the previous week. Watching Milken junior Doron Matian, Schiff described him as “the legend, the half-court hitter,” a reference to Matian’s Hail Mary three-point shot to close the first half against Shalhevet.

Barbara Iverson, upper school athletic director at Milken, said the bond among the team’s 13 players elevated them above the competition this year.

“In all my years at Milken, I’ve never seen a group of boys so tight,” she said before the game. “The chemistry the team has is unbelievable, like no other team I’ve ever seen.”

Polly Kim, a science research teacher at Milken and former teacher at Wise School, a feeder school for Milken, said watching the boys play this season was nostalgic.

“It’s great to see them all grown up, and play basketball,” she said.

Yohanan’s three-pointer in the fourth quarter would be his last basket as a member of a team that, according to his mother, Einat, ought to be proud of its success.

“His dream was to bring a championship to Milken,” she said, watching from the stands.

Like Coach Whiting, Harouni, a junior, is sorry he won’t be playing next year with Yohanan, one of the team’s eight graduating seniors.

“Aaron was saying he is sorry it’s over,” Eddie Harouni, the team captain’s father, said in a phone interview. “He’s not sorry they lost, but he’s sorry it’s over as far as playing with the seniors, the team.”

Competing, Connecting Jewishly at Maccabi in O.C.

When the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest kicks off Aug. 4 in Orange County, it is expected to attract more than 2,300 Jewish teens from around the world, making it the second-largest iteration of the annual events ever.

Officials expect 62 delegations to compete in 14 sports and eight arts specialties. More than 10,000 people, including athletes, artists, volunteers, host families, coaches and spectators, are anticipated to be on hand.

“We’re very fortunate that the folks at the Orange County JCC have the capacity to host and the willingness to provide [for] so many,” said Dan Deutsch, vice president of the JCC Maccabi Experience, which oversees the planning of the events. 

Among those participating in the events hosted by the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Irvine will be a delegation of 80 teenagers from the Westside Jewish Community Center, as well as an army of supporters. Another 70 youths are already in Austin, Texas, the other site of this year’s events, Westside JCC officials said. Activities in Austin began July 28.

The Los Angeles area sent only one delegation to this year’s Maccabi Games, unlike in the past when Westside JCC was joined by The JCC at Milken in West Hills. The latter closed at the end of June 2012 after The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sold the campus on which it was located to New Community Jewish High School. As a result, Westside JCC was asked by the national office to absorb the San Fernando Valley group.

“We’ve got kids from Agoura Hills to the South Bay playing under one delegation,” said Elizabeth Green, coordinator of teen programs at Westside JCC.

The size of this year’s local delegation represents a significant increase from the first year that Westside JCC competed, in 2006, when only 13 athletes participated in boys basketball and swimming. It will send athletes in boys and girls basketball, baseball, boys and girls soccer, softball, girls volleyball, boys and girls swimming, and boys and girls tennis. It also will be sending two artists.

The JCC Maccabi Games — established in 1982 — may be the largest gathering of Jewish teens in the world, but it’s about more than winning, according to Alex Barry, 16, of Calabasas, who will be competing in the games for the third time.

“It’s about sports, but it’s less about sports than it is about making friends, so it’s really fun and it’s a cool experience to have,” he said. 

“I look forward to interacting and getting to know more people with the same interests as me from different places.” — Rachel Dean

The rising junior at Calabasas High School, who will be competing in track in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter events, said he looks forward to seeing the people he met from previous games. He said he has won multiple gold and silver medals in the past.

One purpose of the games is to help build relationships in the Jewish community and bring young people back in touch with their Jewish culture, according to Ronnel Conn, assistant executive director at the Westside JCC. 

“Getting people involved in these games is something that makes people feel good, Jewishly, ” he said. “It’s one of the few programs that I think is truly pluralistic in nature in terms of within the Jewish community across the spectrum. You have secular Jews all the way to Orthodox Jews, and this is a nice meeting point — and the meeting point is sports.” 

Several area athletes said they are eager to meet new people at the Orange County events, which conclude Aug. 9. They are expected to be largest since the games held in 1998 in Detroit, according to Deutsch. Orange County previously hosted the JCC Maccabi Games and a subsequent ArtsFest in 2007.

“I look forward to interacting and getting to know more people with the same interests as me from different places,” said Rachel Dean, 14, who lives in Westwood and will be attending Palisades Charter High School this fall. 

Dean is a swimmer, and this will be her second time competing in the Maccabi Games. She won two gold, a silver and a bronze medal while competing in the 2012 games in Houston, she said.

“I like how they incorporate Judaism into it but it’s not overpowering, and we have a lot of fun with it,” Dean said.

While sports may be the primary nature of the event, it is also about building relationships and bringing kids back to their Jewish roots at an age when they can easily drift away. The opening ceremony is one time where this really hits home with participants, according to Deutsch.

 “They have an epiphany that they are part of something much larger than their own Jewish community and that they’re part of the Jewish people,” Deutsch said.

JCC: New Jew breaks ground

Months after the former JCC at Milken closed its doors at the Bernard Milken Campus in West Hills, officials representing the property’s new owners — New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) — organized a ceremonial groundbreaking for its new campus.

“A lot of us have been working on this for many, many years,” said Harold Masor, past president and current finance chair at NCJHS. “We’re pretty darn excited about it. The biggest thing is having our own permanent home. That’s a real big plus for us.”

The event planned for Nov. 15 was meant to mark the official start of renovations to the school’s campus, slated to open in fall 2013. Two years after its 2002 inception at the Bernard Milken Campus, NCJHS moved to its current home at the Shomrei Torah Synagogue campus.

The development of the $36 million project will take place in phases, with science and technology taking precedence in terms of scheduling and funds, Masor said. In fact, an entire wing of the school’s campus — set up to accommodate wireless Internet — will be dedicated to the sciences.

Interior walls will be reconfigured to create new offices, including a large, collaborative teacher workspace and approximately 35 learning spaces for students. A renovation of the gymnasium’s basketball floor was finished in August.

In spite of the numerous renovations planned inside, there will not be any exterior structural changes to the building, located on the four-acre site of the Bernard Milken Campus on Vanowen Street. NCJHS purchased it from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in late 2010, and the JCC at Milken, which had been located there, closed June 30. 

Gensler, a global architecture and design, firm, is designing the project.

So far, Masor said, the school has raised $13 million in cash and pledges. Two million dollars has gone toward the down payment owed to the Federation, and NCJHS must pay $9 million more to the organization in the form of a loan.

Additionally, the school has committed to raise $4 million in order to receive approximately $2.2 million from the Jim Joseph Foundation, a grant-making organization that supports the education of Jewish youth and youth adults. That money will be used to fund tuition assistance for middle class families who would not normally qualify for assistance, Masor said.

There is more that officials would like to do if they can find the money. Ideas include building a “heart of the community”— a large space that would be used for assemblies, Jewish learning and which would accommodate a beit midrash (house of study). The construction of an arts wing also remains on the wish list.

When the school opens, everybody will happy with the result, Masor promised.

“It’s going to be beautiful. Kids and parents are going to be in awe when they see the property when we finish.”

What will happen when the JCC at Milken closes?

Jacques Hay knows that the end isn’t always the end.

When he learned that the JCC at Milken in West Hills will close on June 30 to become the home of New Community Jewish High School, he could have despaired. After all, Camp Chesed, the summer camp for Jewish children with special needs that he founded, had operated out of the location for 16 years.

“I’m not one for change,” he said. “I was heartbroken, but we have an excellent relationship with the people at New Jew, and I’m looking forward to building a relationship over there.”

For now, though, like many of the programs and organizations based at the site, Hay and Camp Chesed are moving on. The two-week camp has found a new home in Chatsworth at Egremont School, where there is a swimming pool and plenty of room to play sports.

The decision to close the JCC, which has more than 1,000 members but has struggled to stay out of the red, was precipitated by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ decision to sell the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, where the facility is located. In explaining the closure in February, JCC leaders said they could find no appropriate, affordable venue for it to use while the high school takes a year to renovate the property.

Its demise will leave the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), which has no building of its own but provides programming at various locations, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley.

While JCC at Milken officials had hoped to continue its 80-student Early Childhood Center by moving to another location permanently, that never materialized, and it closed its doors earlier this month. To help families, the JCC hosted an open house with area preschools.

“The parents all attended, and everybody came and decided where they would go,” said Verna Fish, assistant executive director of the JCC. “I’m sure our children all found somewhere to go.”

The facility’s vibrant community for seniors will remain more intact. Most of those programs are moving to The Village at Northridge, a retirement community run by Senior Resource Group.

“They have welcomed us free of charge for all of our programs,” said Zita Kass, a Woodland Hills resident who has participated in senior groups related to books, current events and more.

She said the programs serve 200 people and cover a variety of topics, including Yiddish, finance and reading plays. Another popular offering, “Senior Shalom,” which includes food and entertainment, is moving to Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.

Accepting the loss of the JCC won’t be easy for Kass, but at least her extended family of seniors won’t be dissolved.

“If you ask me if I’m still angry, I am,” she said. “But I’m delighted that we have an alternative. … People are very excited about the change. They’re so pleased that we were able to negotiate this.”

Jerry Wayne, executive director of the much smaller, 60-family NVJCC, said that group will do what it can to reach out to those affected. It offers numerous classes and activities and will send letters to members of the JCC at Milken after July 1 inviting them to participate.

Not everyone using the community center will have to relocate. The Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, for example, will continue to offer lessons to hundreds of children on-site.

“We’ve been … negotiating with the high school to operate the academy there and remain on the campus,” said Krayzelburg, the academy’s founder and a four-time Olympic gold medalist. “We’re finalizing our terms … to continue to stay there and operate as we have been.”

Numerous community organizations, however, have had to search for new digs.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is redirecting clients of its four-person career-services office to other area locations. The job club, in particular, will move to Sherman Oaks, just down the hall from an existing JVS office that serves refugee and immigrant clients and offers an at-risk youth program, said Katherine Moore, JVS vice president of communications.

With the location’s proximity to the 405 Freeway and numerous bus lines, she added that it should be very accessible to residents. The office is scheduled to open July 16.

“JVS’ commitment to our clients and jobseekers in the Valley remains constant,” she said. “The Valley remains a priority for us.”

Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games, has been adopted by the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard.

“Westside JCC just stepped up and said [they are] willing to make sure that there’s no loss of opportunity for teams in the Greater Los Angeles area to go to the Maccabi Games,” said Brian Greene, Westside JCC’s executive director.

Up to 140 youths have taken part in soccer, baseball, basketball, track and other sports for Team Los Angeles, according to Ari Cohen, JCC Maccabi Games delegation coordinator. It will be business as usual this year for Valley competitors —  teams already have formed and most practices can take place at local high schools, he said.

Next year’s structure — whether it involves a consolidation of teams or not — has yet to be determined, Greene said.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) had offices on site and used classroom space as well. Staff now are located at the JFS Valley Storefront office on Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood; classes have been moved to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Temple Judea in Tarzana and Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, and other temples have been welcoming as well, said Debbie Fox, senior director of children and family services for JFS.

The Jewish Free Loan Association’s office there already has relocated to Temple Judea. As for the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, it is moving to Ventura Boulevard, where in September it will occupy 10,000 square feet of space that officials say is closer to high-usage populations in Tarzana and Encino.

“When a door closes, another one opens,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said. “This is a brand-new opening for the West Valley and for The Federation to move into a new building.”

He stressed that the sale of the campus property was meant to make the best use of a community asset and that there remained hope the JCC would continue and even thrive.

Although that didn’t happen, Carol Koransky, Federation executive vice president, said there remains much to celebrate about the upcoming changing of the guard.

“How exciting to have 400 teenagers in the building making it a center of Jewish life that will continue to make it grow into the future,” she said. “As much as I was thinking I was saying goodbye to things, it made me feel very positive. It’s not like we’re shutting down the doors in this building and saying goodbye to Jewish life.”

Scott Zimmerman, incoming president of the board of trustees at New Community Jewish High School, said excitement about the transition is high among staff, faculty and students, even though they won’t be moving from their current location at Shomrei Torah to their new home until next year. Construction should begin this fall to reconfigure the main building for classrooms, he said.

“We have a menu of things that we’d like to accomplish, and we’ll accomplish them as we raise enough money,” Zimmerman explained. “Our first priority is to build state-of-the-art classrooms. That means that you have to have a campus that has sophisticated connectivity and all sorts of modern media.”

So far, the school of 368 students has raised about $13 million, and the campaign’s goal is to raise “significantly more,” he said. When the work is complete, Zimmerman is hopeful that the site will once again be home to community activities.

“I think, with the passage of time, the community will come to see this as a very positive change for the Jewish community in the Valley,” he said. “The school aspires to be a jewel to the community, and I hope that within the bounds of what we’ve committed to our neighbors that we will be able to have certain programming at the facility that will make people happy and make people proud that we’re there.”

In some ways, though, the end is definitely the end. The JCC’s Fish may know this better than anyone. She has seen how it has become a second home to so many people, including local seniors and Israelis, whose Mati Center activities will move to Temple Aliyah in September. After 16 years working at the JCC at Milken — and even more time enjoying it as a parent — she is crushed by the fact that it will soon close forever.

“This has been very, very difficult. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this day would ever come,” she said. “My children were fortunate to grow up here. It breaks my heart
that my grandchildren won’t have the same opportunity.”

As Milken School prepares for independence, four administrators plan to depart

One year after the plan was first announced, the boards of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Temple have finalized the terms of the agreement that will sever the ties between the 750-student middle and high school and the large Reform synagogue that established it more than 20 years ago.

The amicable split, which will take effect as planned on July 1, 2012, will proceed in phases. According to Aaron J. Leibovic, the president of Milken’s board, the school will pay just over $20 million to the synagogue over the course of five years. Some of the services that are used jointly by the school and the synagogue will remain in place over the coming year.

“There’s still a lot of things that have to be accomplished,” Leibovic said, “but on July 1 we will have a separate governance moving forward. In the agreement with the temple and the school, the pivotal terms have been reached.”

The transition to becoming a fully independent private school is not the only one Milken is going through this year. In September 2011, Head of School Jason Ablin announced that he would be leaving at the end of the 2011-12 school year. He has since accepted a position as coordinator of curriculum development at Shalhevet High School.

In an e-mail sent to Milken families on March 30, Leibovic announced that Rennie Wrubel, who served as head of Milken for more than 10 years, will come out of retirement to act as interim head of school for the 2012-13 school year. Milken has begun a national search for a permanent head of school.

Milken is also looking to replace Sarah Shulkind, its current middle school principal, who was recently named the new head of school at Sinai Akiba Academy, taking over for Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, who, after 35 years leading the school, will be retiring at the end of this school year.

In his letter to parents, Leibovic congratulated Shulkind on her hiring, and said that the move by Sinai Akiba, Milken’s second-largest feeder school, was not a surprise. “Over the years, other top administrators have moved into Head of School and other leadership positions in Jewish and independent schools across North America,” Leibovic wrote.

Indeed, two other Milken administrators will also leave the school at the end of the year, both for leadership positions at other independent schools.

Assistant Head of School Jonathan Cassie, who also serves as chair of the social science department at Milken, will become the head of Sewickley Academy Senior School, the oldest independent school in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Lori Strauss, who is currently director of student support services at Milken, will start as the upper-school principal at Wildwood School this fall.

Leibovic said that while the last two years of planning and negotiations had been “tough,” the staff departures were unrelated to Milken’s transition to independence. 

Changes in leadership can be challenging for institutions, but Miriam Prum Hess, a director at BJE, Builders of Jewish Education, who works with Jewish day schools, said that she thought Milken had found a stable, if temporary, leader in Wrubel.

“Dr. Wrubel is a phenomenal educator who is very knowledgeable, having been at the school as the head of school,” Hess said. “I think it will provide tremendous stability during a period of change.”

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.

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 four inches by six 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 and 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 Israeli 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 JCC to close in June

The JCC at Milken in West Hills announced this week that it will shut its doors permanently as of June 30. The 42-year-old center will also close its Early Childhood Center, which has 80 preschoolers, on June 15.

In a Feb. 1 e-mail, Milken JCC chair Steven V. Rheuban announced that the board was abandoning its search for a new location following the sale of the building that houses the center.

“It is with a heavy heart that we must tell you all that after an exhaustive and in depth search for a new home, without success, the Board of Directors of The JCC at Milken has had to make a most difficult decision,” Rheuban wrote.

The JCC at Milken survived the wave of Jewish community center closures that began in 2002, in part, because its property, Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, was owned by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles rather than the centers’ parent organization, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles. While the center struggled with debt and a loss of membership, its leadership was able to strike a deal with Federation in 2009 to remain on the campus.

A deal between New Community Jewish High School and The Federation to purchase the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus for an undisclosed amount was confirmed last October, following nearly a year of negotiations. The high school is expecting to relocate to the renovated property from its current home on the property of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in September 2013.

The West Hills center had been hoping to permanently move its Early Childhood Center to a new location, and temporarily move its senior services to a different site in June while the New Community Jewish High School began reconstruction at the Milken campus.

The JCC at Milken’s closure follows that of the Valley Cities JCC, a 50-year-old institution that shut its doors in June 2009, less than a year after moving from its longtime Sherman Oaks site to one in Van Nuys. North Valley Jewish Community Center, which continues to offer programming at various locations despite losing its Granada Hills property during the centers crisis, would be the only Jewish community center left in the San Fernando Valley. 

In addition to its preschool and senior programming, the JCC at Milken is home to arts and fitness programs, after-school programs, sports and summer camps, and Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games.

In his letter, Rheuban wrote that the center’s board and staff would be compiling a list to help its members find similar programs within the Jewish community.


Milken school, Stephen S. Wise Temple severing ties

Ten-hut! Milken takes on tackle football

Call it the Milken Community High School of Hard Knocks.

Thanks to an organizing effort started by two very committed mothers, along with support from school administration and student enthusiasm, Milken is set to become the first local Jewish day school to field a tackle football team — and only the fourth Jewish day school in the country to do so.

More than 50 students have expressed interest in playing on Milken’s eight-man team in the fall, and Charlie Heller is definitely among the most enthusiastic. “I’m super pumped, super excited,” Heller, 16, said. “This is like a dream of my life.”

A junior, Heller started every game as quarterback for Milken’s flag football team in the fall season. The Wildcats went undefeated and won the Nov. 9 championship game against Crossroads High School, 19-0. Heller found the experience satisfying but frustrating. “We dominated every team,” he said. “It became not even fun, because we knew we were going to kick the other team’s butts.”

Starting next fall, Milken, which has just fewer than 600 students, will field 39 different varsity and junior-varsity teams in various sports. With an estimated startup cost of about $100,000, tackle football will easily be the most expensive. (The school would not confirm the exact source of those funds.) Still, Head of School Jason Ablin is enthusiastic about bringing what many might call the quintessential part of the American high school experience to Milken. The students, Ablin said, “yearn for events at the school when we can really get together and celebrate. And football will be one of those.”

With the addition of tackle football, Ablin also expects that Milken will be able to attract students who might otherwise have gone to other schools.

The move is not without some risk: In recent years, reports have made clear that tackle football can present significant risk of injury — particularly brain injury — to players, even at the high school level. Ablin said he has read those articles and will make protecting the health and safety of Milken student athletes his primary concern. If head coach Jerry Martin and associate coach Greg Weiss run a safe program, Ablin said, “I would be OK with losing every game.”

Sandra Heller, Charlie’s mom, went with another Milken mother to visit the San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA), the only private Jewish school on the West Coast with a tackle football team. The SDJA Lions were the subject of a JTA article in October 2010.

Among other inquiries, Heller asked about insurance and about injuries; she found that the SDJA administration hadn’t had problems with either. “Yes, there are injuries, but they weren’t playing Oaks Christian and these big high schools,” Heller said. (Oaks Christian’s football team won championships in California’s southern section in seven of the last eight seasons. One alumnus went on to play quarterback in college at Notre Dame.)

Heller said she was confident that with the right coaching, training and safety, tackle football could work at Milken.

Milken has a full-time specialist in sports medicine on staff. The strength and conditioning coach, who used to work part time with all the school’s teams, has since been brought on full time and will help prepare the Wildcats for next year’s football season.

Head of athletics Jason Kelly said that many of the sports students already play at Milken bring with them dangers of their own. Young female athletes are prone to ligament tears in the knee, and water polo is known for inflicting damage on the bodies of its players. “Flag football itself is kind of dangerous, because kids are playing without pads,” Kelly said.

Quarterback Charlie Heller isn’t worried about injuries. “Not with football,” he said. He has only suffered one major injury, in the fourth grade, when he broke his arm during a practice for the Stephen S. Wise school basketball team.

Practice for the Milken football team starts Aug. 1, and the Wildcats will play their first game, at Faith Baptist, on Sept. 8. Faith Baptist went undefeated (3-0) in the four-team Heritage eight-man football league in 2010. Milken will join Santa Clarita Christian, Windward and Hillcrest Christian in trying to unseat them.

The Wildcats are hoping to play at least one more game next season, against the SDJA Lions. No date has been set for a Wildcats-Lions match-up, but one thing is certain: Like every Milken game, it won’t be on a Friday night.

“We’re playing with names for it,” Ablin said. “Maybe ‘The Kiddush Cup.’”

Milken Middle School Gets New Campus

Students at Milken Community High School’s middle school were awarded a first-class upgrade when school opened Monday, as they left behind classrooms in trailers on rented church property and took ownership of a $30 million, high-tech, terraced hillside campus.

The new David Saperstein Middle School, attached to the Mulholland Drive high school campus and across the 405 Freeway from Stephen S. Wise Temple, its parent organization, brings the seventh- and eighth-grade facilities up to par with the high school, with a multimedia lab, a music and dance room, an art studio and a 35-foot rock-climbing wall.

Previously, the middle school was housed in trailers about a quarter of a mile up Mulholland from the main campus, and students had to be shuttled to the high school for many classes. Now, the middle school is not only self-contained, but the 30,000 square feet of learning space was designed with the students’ specific educational needs in mind.

“It’s one thing to talk about making kids architects of knowledge, getting them actively engaged in learning or giving them a hands-on experience, but when you’re in a trailer, where the doors are falling off the wall and you can’t move because the tables are so close together, it’s basically impossible,” said Sarah Shulkind, the middle school’s principal.

About 600 students, parents and dignitaries gathered in the outdoor sports court and amphitheater for an opening ceremony on Aug. 30, fanning themselves with programs in the smoky, triple-digit heat.

Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, whose children attend the school, addressed the crowd, as did Stephen S. Wise’s Rabbi Eli Herscher, the temple’s educational director Metuka Benjamin and Head of School Jason Ablin.

David Saperstein, a Bel Air billionaire who created the traffic report industry and now owns farmland, donated $12 million to the school, and he cut the symbolic ribbon with outsized scissors. Other donors hung mezuzot in classrooms around the school.

Several other private schools in Los Angeles have recently opened or are planning new middle school campuses, making Milken’s long-planned upgrade timely in its bid to be competitive with top independent schools.

This year, Jewish day schools have seen enrollment drop as the economic slump tightens its grip around families, philanthropists and institutions. Milken itself has seen a higher attrition rate between eighth and ninth grade, with families unable to afford even a fraction of the $30,000 tuition for middle school and high school. One-third more students than last year are on scholarship this year, Ablin said.

With 195 students now enrolled and room for 245, the school has ample room for growth.

Of the $30 million price tag on the new facility, only about $5 million is left outstanding, since most of the donations were made when philanthropists were still flush, Ablin said. Milken already owned the land on which the new campus was built.

The middle school was designed to feel like a village, so that students could retain a strong sense of community, Ablin said.

Clusters of one-story buildings open onto a flowing flagstone thoroughfare lined with benches and trees. A large community room, where hot lunches will be served from a full-service kitchen, has sliding doors that open to a plaza with tables. Throughout the campus, 30 sayings from Jewish texts are etched onto the walls.

The 10 classrooms were collaboratively designed by teachers, students and the Los Angeles architectural firm Harley Ellis Devereaux.

Decorated in subtle oranges and grays, classrooms are lit by floor-to-ceiling windows that bring in the feel of the surrounding foliage.

Every pair of classrooms is connected by a project room, where students can gather in smaller groups in office-like space with whiteboards, computers and work tables. Students chose the rhombus-shaped tables in all the classrooms because they can be pushed together in any number or configuration, allowing for groups of any size to work together. Students were also involved in designing the library nooks in each room, with gaming chairs and books geared toward students who are working at various paces. Each room has a Smartboard, laptop stations and laptops that students can check out, as well as 144 desktop computers in the classrooms and computer room. All the classes in the school will be digitally videotaped, both for professional development use and for downloading by students who missed class.

Shulkind and Ablin hope the new facilities will help students negotiate the physical, emotional and intellectual transition of the middle-school years. Twelve- and 13-year-olds learn to work collaboratively, think abstractly and detect nuance as they begin to discover their passions and develop a stronger sense of self, Shulkind said.

As students at the Sunday event checked out the campus, they began to lay claim to the space as their own.

“I’m really excited about all the resources and books in the beit midrash. Any Jewish questions I might have I can find in there,” said eighth-grader Eliana Wasserman.

The beit midrash, or chapel, isn’t done yet; the students are working on a glass mosaic surrounding the ark where the Torahs are held. But Wasserman was taken by it. “It’s such a beautiful space, and when I walked in there I felt totally connected to the school and to the whole idea of this community.”

Orthodox Students Thrive at Milken

Barbara Schloss had gone to Orthodox day schools her whole life. When it came time for high school, she figured, why change?

But the science-oriented teen soon felt dissatisfied with her choice of classes and electives, and saw her brother, Nate, doing things at Milken Community High School that she could only dream about. Two weeks into her freshman year, she asked her parents if she could transfer.

“She was bored, academically, at her old high school. She felt she was not being challenged and the extracurricular activities didn’t fit with her strengths,” recalled Barbara’s mother, Lenny Schloss. “She was getting jealous — she saw Nate doing tech theater and robotics and science research, and she was like, ‘I want to do all that!’”

Nate and Barbara are part of a growing group of Modern Orthodox students opting to leave the traditional Orthodox school system for a high school career at Milken. Parents say the school offers educational and extracurricular opportunities students often can’t get at smaller Orthodox institutions.

Over the last three years, Milken’s Orthodox student population has gone from zero to about 15 to 20 kids, said Head of School Jason Ablin. 762 students attend Milken.

Kids can get a “catered,” highly personalized academic menu at Milken that schools with more limited resources might not be able to provide, Ablin said, such as the science research program Nate Schloss is in at the school’s Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology. The eight-year-old academy has drawn in several students who had previously attended exclusively Orthodox schools, as have Milken’s programs in drama and art.

“These are very high-end kids in terms of their academic abilities and their interests,” Ablin said. “Milken has the kind of resources to be able to provide them with what they need, so parents are turning to us as a solution.”

At Milken, the Schloss kids have blossomed academically. Both of them were on a team that placed third in the 2009 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards, which challenges students to create products using science and technology.

Nate, a senior, was first drawn to Milken for its renowned Mitchell Academy, and is now captain of the school’s robotics team. In April, he led the team in competition at the national FIRST robotics championships in Atlanta. The school placed 23rd out of some 300 high school teams from across the country.

Between robotics, science research and his semester in Israel through the Tiferet Israel Fellowship — a Milken program allowing sophomores to spend a semester studying in Hod HaSharon — Nate said he’s “definitely” happy with his high school experience.

“I haven’t been able to find an extracurricular activity that other schools have that Milken doesn’t,” he said. “Milken just has so many more choices.”

That’s why the Schlosses decided not to limit their options when it came time to hunt for high schools for their kids. Although Nate and Barbara had only gone to Orthodox day schools from preschool through eighth grade, the family even looked at secular schools such as Harvard-Westlake and Windward School to make sure the teens got the curricular rigor they craved.

Dina and Michael Glouberman did the same for their daughters, both of whom will be Milken students this year after attending Yavneh Hebrew Academy from preschool to eighth grade. Dina Glouberman said she was happy with the education Yael, a sophomore, and Dani, a freshman, got at their old Orthodox school, but she wanted to broaden her daughters’ academic opportunities at the high school level.

“We liked Milken because we could have a high level of academics and still have a Jewish education” for Yael and Dani, both of whom were valedictorians at Yavneh, Glouberman said. “We also liked the idea of an integrated community that appeals to all walks of life, including Orthodox.”

For Glouberman, the idea of her daughters learning alongside secular Jewish students is anything but a drawback — it “adds to their experience and makes them stronger in who they are,” she said.

But making the switch to non-traditional Jewish studies classes can be a jolt for students used to learning in an Orthodox environment.

Nate Schloss said he’s happy with his Jewish education at Milken — “for the most part.”

“I’m used to being taught in an Orthodox way,” he said. “It was interesting for the first time in my life being in a classroom with non-Orthodox kids who had very different beliefs than me. It took some adjusting to, but I feel like I have a much broader understanding of Judaism now, and I appreciate my own beliefs and practices more.”

Outside the classroom, kids and their families also have to get used to less stringent observation of Shabbat and kashrut on school trips and events. Parents said they have to pay extra attention to make sure food provided on field trips and athletic outings is kosher, and to see that activities take place on an “Orthodox-accommodating” schedule.

When Barbara Schloss was in Israel this spring on the Tiferet Israel Fellowship, her father, Hal Schloss, asked to have her excused from the scheduled Shavuot program in favor of “a more traditional Orthodox experience” at her aunt’s house in Ra’anana. On the weekend trip to the Pete Conrad awards in April, the Schlosses brought enough kosher food to feed the whole Milken team.

“The official school position is that everything should be kosher and shomer Shabbat, but then there is the reality of how some things turn out,” Lenny Schloss said. But school officials are mindful of their students’ needs, and on the Pete Conrad trip, Milken paid for all the food, Hal Schloss added. “The administration is very supportive and always wants to do whatever is necessary to make it work for us,” he said.

Having Orthodox students on campus has made the administration much more aware of how to cater to a pluralistic population, said Ablin, head of school, who added that Milken’s Orthodox population has been a boon to the student body.

“The kids who have come from the Modern Orthodox community have completely taken advantage of everything there is at the school,” he said. “Other students have gone to schools with these kinds of resources and have had things like video production before, but these students have not. They’re like kids in a candy shop.”

But while Ablin, who is himself Orthodox, said he would be “thrilled” if more Orthodox students joined the Milken community, he is also wary of altering the school’s goals.

“Parents in the Orthodox community come to me and ask, ‘When are you going to make Milken more Orthodox, or have an Orthodox track at the school?’ I tell them I’m never going to do that,” he said. “What I want to do is expand the pluralism at the school. Our mission is to have an expansive, pluralistic community. That should be able to include students from the Modern Orthodox community, and also kids who come from a completely secular background.”

This year, however, Milken is offering a new program that could appeal to more Orthodox families — a Beit Midrash-style track for freshmen and sophomores featuring longer hours of classes and more talmudic studies. But Ablin said the program is open to interested students of all denominations.

Overall, parents said the few “minor” inconveniences — and few thousand dollars extra per year — are well worth it for the educational benefits their kids get at Milken.

“It’s a really well-run place with excellent opportunities,” Dina Glouberman said. “Our daughters are happy, so we’re happy.”

Phoenix Rises – Milken JCC Readies for Big Splash

The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which was damaged but not destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, has survived another peril and is looking toward a brighter future and a recovery of lost members.

Negotiators for the Jewish Community Center at the Bernard Milken Community Campus and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles confirmed Monday that they had reached full agreement, following nearly two years of frequently tense discussions.

The agreement’s key provision calls for a cost-sharing arrangement in the future operation of the four-acre Milken campus, which, besides the JCC and its recreational facilities, also houses offices of The Federation and its agencies.

Starting in 2010, the JCC will pay a rising percentage of the Milken campus budget, hitherto borne entirely by The Federation, leveling off at 65 percent by 2013. Projections for the total annual budget range from “well over $1 million” to $1.6 million.

Steve Rheuban, chairman of the Milken JCC board, and Richard Sandler, The Federation vice chairman, both declared the agreement a win-win solution.

The Federation, which owns the campus property, will be relieved of much of its financial burden.

The Milken JCC, in turn, is assured of its continuing tenancy as the “primary occupant” of the campus, as long as it pays its share of the cost, and can plan for the future on that basis.

Perhaps no one welcomes the resolution with greater joy than the young campers and the mature seniors who have been deprived of the JCC’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, shut down two years ago during an impasse between the two sides.

Following reconstruction of some of the facilities, the pool is scheduled to open in the early summer, said Paul Frishman, the JCC executive director.

When that happy day arrives, it will also reverse the precipitous decline in JCC membership, Rheuban hopes.

With the closing of the pool and uncertainty about JCC’s future, membership dropped from a peak of 1,500 to a current figure of 350, he said. In parallel, nursery school enrollment dropped from 125 to 70.

The roots of the Milken JCC go back to the West Valley JCC, which was founded in 1969 and bought the Milken campus, then a horse ranch, in 1976.

Subsequently, the site was deeded to The Jewish Federation, which put up $15 million to build up the campus, completed in 1987, and came up with additional funds to restore the buildings after the 1994 earthquake.

At one point, the protracted negotiations seemed near a breakdown, when the JCC was facing a $250,000 deficit but rejected a one-time bailout offer of $350,000 from The Federation.

Both JCC leaders and members balked at a condition of the bailout that they would have to surrender JCC’s right to remain as the major tenant of the campus.

But on Monday, both sides were eager to forget the past and look ahead to happier days.

“This outcome is a triumph for the community as a whole,” Rheuban said. “Both sides treated each other with respect, and I am pleased that we were able to get together.”

Sandler observed that “During some of the negotiations, you could hear horror stories from both sides, but that’s in the past. Now everyone wins and the best interests of the community are served.”

Frishman is busy planning for the future. He is aiming for an eventual membership of 2,000, including 100 nursery school kids in the fall.

With the pool in shape and new equipment for the fitness center, he anticipates an enrollment of some 200-300 kindergarten to eighth graders for the 10-week summer camp.

A major attraction for the summer camp will be the swimming school, conducted by Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelberg.

Some 150-200 seniors, whom Frishman refers to as “active adults,” visit the JCC daily and consider it a second home. Frishman hopes to expand their activities, which include trips, musicals, discussion groups and card playing.

He envisions an upswing in the participation of young couples, as well, with the parents dropping off their toddlers at the nursery school and then heading for a workout at the fitness center.

Frishman also plans a further outreach, to involve the Russian and Israeli communities in JCC’s activities.

Science program helps six Milken grads head to MIT

Six graduates from Milken Community High School’s 2008 class will enroll this fall at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a campus that features among its alumni 26 Nobel laureates, more than one-third of all U.S. astronauts and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The academic pressure at MIT is notorious, and one of the Milken grads, Richard Dahan, spent some time this summer warming up with a rigorous study program in preparation.

Dahan has always been interested in math and science, he said, but it was Milken’s Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) and the program’s director, Roger Kassebaum, that provided him with the discipline and the opportunities to explore, which helped him get into MIT.

“What made MAST great was not only that it exposed me to various technical fields in such extreme depth, but also that it transformed my interests in those fields into passions,” said Dahan, who plans to study mechanical engineering and management.

MIT received more than 13,000 applications from students for fall 2008, of which it accepted less than 12 percent. Milken’s impressive showing of six graduates from its class of 2008 includes four from one family — Richard Dahan, along with his three siblings Daniel, Sara and Robin — and Neta Batscha and Stephen Hendel.

Milken’s success in placing students at MIT, as well as other prestigious universities, speaks well of the academic strides the school is making through its Centers of Excellence, which include the Advanced Jewish Studies Center and the Stephen Wise Music Academy. But even more impressive is that the science and technology academy is a center in name only. The students spend time doing research in real-world labs, rather than trying to replicate the experience in a classroom.

“We spend money on kids, not bricks,” said Kassebaum, the man whom many MAST students credit with helping to make their higher-ed dreams come true.

Established in 2003 with financial help from the Edward D. and Anna Mitchell Family Foundation and the Kayla Mitchell Foundation, MAST has taken an active role in moving students beyond the classroom.

“One of the things we were really committed to when we started the academy is that kids were not going to fit into the typical box of science classes,” said Jason Ablin, Milken’s head of school.

MAST features several short-term tracks for learning (robotics, physics and engineering) with competitions, but most of the center’s energy is directed toward a three-year science research course that encourages students to work in laboratories in the United States and Israel. Currently there are 30 students in the three-year track. Once premier students reach their senior year, they prepare their research for the national Intel Talent Search, the top science competition for high school students.

While MAST students so far have achieved semifinalist placing in the Intel competition, in 2007, graduating seniors Michael Hakimi and Talia Nour-Omid won the first-ever X PRIZE competition for high school students for developing a model for biomonitoring sunglasses to keep space travelers healthy during civilian spaceflight.

Both students will attend USC this fall. While Nour-Omid will study computer science, Hakimi’s interests lie in business. He applied scientific research principles to market analysis, writing a paper for the Intel competition on the effects of terrorism on financial markets.

Kassebaum said the students who enter MAST are mostly average kids who are encouraged to discover what excites them.

“They are given free rein. There’s no teacher holding them back,” he said. “In science research there’s no limit. Their job is to find the edge of their field of interest.”

Once students’ areas of interest are narrowed and they feel comfortable reading articles in scientific publications, they can approach— or “begin almost stalking,” as Kassebaum put it — graduate students about working beside them in a university lab environment.

Batscha, who will attend MIT and will likely study bioengineering, worked at a Cal State Northridge microbiology lab to see whether she could use single-cell microorganisms, called methanogens, to improve ethanol production from plant waste. “I wanted to do something that could impact the world,” she said.

While the experiment didn’t yield the desired results, Batscha did discover that methanogens could be grown with yeast.

MAST student Hendel, who is bound for MIT, spent time at UCLA studying how chemical changes in DNA can play a role in the development of the central nervous system. “I was interested in manipulative genetics and silencing genes and looking into that research,” he said.

Although his paper wasn’t published, he said a graduate student was able to use his research in a project.

While the program can be a time-consuming, stressful addition for students who try to balance the demands of school with the college application process, MAST participants all speak glowingly of the program’s director and the support he provides.

Kassebaum, who is not Jewish, has been with Milken for nine years. He taught for 22 years at Millard North High School in Omaha, Neb., where he won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in 1991, among other honors. After Kassebaum received a Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation in 1997, Milken Community High School implemented some of his teaching methods and then began actively pursuing him to join the school.

Since co-creating the Mitchell Academy in 2003 with support from former Milken head of school Rennie Wrubel, Kassebaum has regularly encouraged students to choose their own interests and helped them organize their research.

For Richard Dahan, who was in the science academy with his brother, Daniel, and sister, Robin, trying to make a distinction between Kassebaum and MAST would be difficult.

“He is what makes the academy special. Aside from his unparalleled dedication to every MAST activity — whenever we stayed at Milken until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. to work on a project, he was right there with us — he also brought an amazing attitude and always guided us in the right direction,” Dahan said.

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer

The future of the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which serves thousands of Jews in the West Valley, including 125 preschoolers and 700 seniors, is still uncertain.

Despite a debt of $250,000 and the loss of nearly one-third of its members following the closure of its pool by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, Milken JCC leaders chose to reject a bailout plan.

The proposal from The Federation would have required the center to surrender its right to be the major tenant on the 4-acre campus.

By a unanimous vote on Sunday, June 10, the New JCC at Milken’s executive board rejected a rescue-and-restructure plan proposed by The Federation. The plan would have provided the financially strapped center with a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing its historic right to the center.

“Nobody should believe we’re fighting for blood here against Federation. They are our brethren,” JCC Executive Board President Hal Sandler told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 JCC members and supporters at an emergency meeting held on the Milken campus.

During the nearly two-hour gathering, members donated $54,000 toward the $250,000 needed to break even and confirmed the board’s vote by a near unanimous show of hands.

According to The Federation’s plan, the JCC could continue to operate in its present space, except for the now-closed pool and adjacent areas, until July 1, 2008. At that time, its space and budget could be greatly diminished if The Federation, currently “in discussions” with former tenant New Community Jewish High School, rents a substantial portion of the Milken campus to the school, with a possible option to buy.

Sandler and Steve Rheuban, a new center board member and former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles president, explained that the board had no alternative but to reject the offer when The Federation refused to approve an addendum requesting a guarantee of nine early childhood education classrooms, parking for preschool parents, shared use of the gym and space for senior programs and JCC administration.

Sandler believes that if The Federation had signed the addendum, the JCC would more likely have agreed to the restructuring proposal.

Milken JCC board member Marty Hummel, who supported The Federation’s plan to
guarantee the center’s operation for one more year, changed his mind during
the meeting to allow for a unanimous vote. Afterward Hummel abruptly
resigned prior to the general meeting, where he spoke out against the vote.

Hummel and his wife, Jill, both cited concerns over their preschool child’s ability to attend the center next year. “My greatest concern is my child,” Jill Hummel said during the meeting. “If monies don’t come in there could be a chance the center might have to close for a few months. Where do these children go?”

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon and vice president of planning Andrew Cushnir, neither of whom had authorization from The Federation’s board to approve the addendum, left the meeting after the JCC board turned down the proposal. In previous interviews, they have consistently reiterated The Federation’s support for continued services for seniors and preschoolers in the West Valley.

While the JCC has struggled financially for years, one ongoing stream of funding was cut on April 25 when The Federation closed the pool with little advance notice, citing possible mold problems. But even prior to this date, on April 11, The Federation had already requested and been issued a permit by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool, a step taken to cover all possible work scenarios, according to Dragon.

Dragon said the JCC’s financial difficulties predate the closing of the pool and the timing was merely coincidental. She and Cushnir maintain that the JCC, which is the third-largest local recipient of Federation funding, receives on average $1.3 million a year, including program funding, occasional supplemental allocations and “rent subvention,” which covers maintenance, utilities and security costs. The Federation provides 34 percent of the JCC’s budget, Dragon said, while nationally Federation support averages 12 to 15 percent of a JCC’s budget.

Up to now, the New JCC at Milken has avoided closure and selling off its property, the fate of many former Los Angeles JCCs, because of its unique history.

Founded in 1969 as the West Valley Jewish Community Center, it bought and moved to its current site, a former horse ranch consisting of a cottage and a converted garage on four and a half acres, in 1976. Unable to afford construction, the JCC parent organization, in a complicated deal signed in 1984 and reaffirmed in 2004, deeded the property to The Jewish Federation, retaining “primary use of the real property.”

The Federation purchased an adjoining acre and a half and raised the $15 million needed to build the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, completed in 1987 and refurbished in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. In 1999, the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex was dedicated, adding a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, an Olympic-sized pool and a fitness center.

“We’re asking you to support us,” Sandler told Sunday’s audience. “This is your pool, this is your building, this is your center.”

Most members supported the JCC during the meeting, but voiced concerns about financial accountability, management, open communication and viability of the services, especially the preschool, summer camps and pool.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said.

She and many board members trace the JCC’s financial distress to the dissolution of the parent organization. “When JCCGLA broke up, we were left with a lot of debt,” she said.

Some, like Maureen Sloan, who joined with her husband for the pool and fitness center, felt betrayed by both the JCC and The Federation.

Briefs: The Milken JCC pool; Valley Cities JCC fundraiser; Iran divestment bill moving forward

Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights

With little notice, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at The New JCC at Milken on April 25, citing possible mold damage but having already been issued a permit on April 11 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool.

Now The Federation appears to have more extensive plans for the financially troubled JCC, offering them a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing their historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

After June 30, 2008, the JCC’s space and budget could be greatly diminished as The Federation intends to rent the space to former tenant New Community Jewish High School, giving them a substantial portion of the Milken campus.

In response to that proposal, which was faxed to the JCC on May 22, the JCC board of directors has scheduled a membership meeting on Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m., to present and vote on The Federation’s rescue plan. Prior to that meeting, however, JCC officials are hoping to raise $500,000, giving them the ability to consider other options.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said. “But we do serve people and it seems that Federation is not interested in the people we serve.”

Those people include 125 preschoolers, many from single-parent, working-parent and immigrant families who depend on the extended daycare hours. Additionally, the JCC serves more than 700 seniors who come for classes, cultural events and fitness programs.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon said that it is a coincidence that the pool closure happend at the same time as the JCC’s financial distress. She added that The Federation wants to see the best communal use of the property and intends to work with the JCC to continue a downsized version of its early childhood and senior programs.

Dragon and Andrew Cushnir, Federation vice president of planning, said that without signing the quitclaim deed, the JCC will not receive supplemental funding and, like all Federation agencies, must apply for a 2008 allocation, with no guarantee.

“The JCC is losing members in droves because of the pool closure and the lack of information that Federation is giving out,” said Marty Rosenthal, JCC treasurer and past president.

Meanwhile, the pool remains closed with no set demolition date.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Valley Cities JCC Holds Fundraiser

In what could be a last hurrah, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) will hold a BBQ social on Sunday, June 10, 2-7 p.m., complete with a bounce house for children, face painting, bands and silent auction. The entrance fee is $10.

The center, which uses property owned by the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp., is facing closure as soon as June 15. The development corporation had agreed in principle to a Burbank philanthropist’s $2.7 million offer to buy the property and turn it over to Valley Cities JCC. But in April everything fell apart.

“We keep making them offers, and they just keep turning their backs on us,” said Michael Brezner, the center’s board chair. “They are not nice people.”

The BBQ is part fundraiser, part public relations initiative.

“We want people to know we are here. We want to stay,” said Lori Brockman, a concerned parent who helped organize the event.

Valley Cities JCC is in Sherman Oaks at 13164 Burbank Blvd. For more information, call (818) 786-6310.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Iran Divestment Bill Passes Assembly Appropriation Committee

[SACRAMENTO] — A proposed California State Assembly bill that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran, took one step closer to become law on May 31 after being approved by the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.

The bill, also known as AB 221, was first introduced by freshman Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 24. Anderson has said the primary goal of the legislation is to secure the California Public Employees Retirement and the State Teachers Retirement pensions with wise investment strategies, since both are valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers.

AB 221 has received wide support from 14 national and state Jewish organizations and dozens of Los Angeles-based Iranian Muslim groups opposed to Iran’s regime, as an economic means to bring down the already crippled Iranian economy. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington D.C.-based pro-Iran lobby as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have been the only groups opposing AB 221. The Assembly will have a final vote on the bill in the first week of June and supporters said they expect it to become law by January 2008.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;

L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

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.


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

A night at the homeless shelter

545 San Pedro Street is an address I will never forget.

It is the Union Rescue Mission downtown, inhabited by homeless individuals that reside in their designated corners on Skid Row. My school, Milken Community High School, offered a community service experience for 21 students, and I found myself at the Union Rescue Mission.

During my three-day trip, I had the occasion to sleep in the mission, take a tour, speak with the residents, and serve and prepare food.
The Mission is a recovery center for drug and alcohol addicts, battered women and children. The facility utilizes the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which encourages people to develop a relationship with God. It teaches individuals to change their beliefs, attitudes and choices. My own beliefs and attitudes were also changed as a result of this experience.

As I searched the dining room holding my tray, I spotted an older African American woman and joined her. I was struck by how focused she was on eating every bite of her meal.

“Hi, I’m Jackie, how are you doing today?”

She told me about her day but was more interested in finding out about me. I told her about my school, my favorite classes and my hobbies. I realized how many opportunities I take for granted. As soon as I mentioned sports, her eyes lit up and she was filled with enthusiasm. She told me about her family, her life and how she had always enjoyed school. She told her stories about sports and how she had received a volleyball scholarship.

Sadly, she chose the wrong path and as a result, her life became unmanageable. She became consumed with drug addiction and self-destructive behaviors. She abandoned her 5-year-old daughter for fear that she would have the same horrible life. I was speechless. The silence grew uncomfortable as I nervously began rambling on about my computer classes to fill the void. I knew at the end of our visit that this woman would remain in my memory bank forever. I realized that each choice we make impacts our future and our relationships with others.

During mealtime we had the opportunity to connect with someone outside of ourselves, sharing our stories and listening to others. I never fully understood how important the concept of a meal was. I realized that mealtime offered much needed support to those who suffered. It had the power to create a connection between people who were polar opposites. It gave me the opportunity to step into the shoes of someone I never would have met.

The next morning, I spotted my new friend as I got ready to return to my usual lifestyle. Little did she know what a lasting impression she had made. My views on those less fortunate had been changed forever.

My life-changing experience at the mission taught me that everyone is a diamond in the rough.

Jackie Greenspan graduated from Milken Community High School last year.

The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (

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

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

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

… 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 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 or call (310) 446-8000.

The Circuit

ADL Satisfies Medavoyeurs

About 60 people came to West Hollywood’s Wyndham Bel Age Hotel for an evening with Mike Medavoy. The Oscar-blessed movie producer and former studio chief — behind such hits as “Rocky,” “Annie Hall,” “10,” “Platoon,” “Philadelphia,” “Hoosiers” and “Silence of the Lambs” — waxed philosophical about the entertainment industry. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “An Evening With Mike Medavoy,” in support of Medavoy’s book, “You’re Only as Good as Your Next One,” was moderated by Variety’s Write Stuff scribe Jonathan Bing.

Medavoy shared many anecdotes spanning his 38-year career, during which time he formed Orion Pictures in 1978, became the head of Tri-Star in 1990 and founded his present production house, Phoenix Pictures, in 1997.

The former talent agent, who once represented Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, shared memories of how Kirk Douglas launched his producing career by giving him the film rights to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (Medavoy’s first Oscar-winner and still his personal favorite), of the chaotic force majeure production of “Apocalypse Now,” of his days as a casting agent on “Dragnet” and how writer-producer-star Jack Webb, who made Medavoy accompany him on his drinking binges, coaxed the future mogul into meeting with Lew Wasserman of Universal. The Universal chief asked Medavoy what he wanted to do, to which Medavoy replied, “‘I really want your job.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to have to wait a lot of years.'”

Medavoy also took the opportunity to refute his reputation of making message films.

“The movies were done because they were good movies,” Medavoy said. “Sam Goldwyn was right: ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union.'”

“An Evening With Mike Medavoy” capped off the ADL’s third annual Ralph Tornberg Lecture Series 2001-2002 — a monthly series held over four months.

People of the Book Awards

The Association of Jewish Libraries announced its 2001 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners for outstanding books of Jewish content for children.

“Sigmund Freud: Pioneer of the Mind” by Catherine Reef (Clarion) won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers, while “Rivka’s First Thanksgiving” by Elsa Okon Rael and illustrated by Maryann Kovalski (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster) was the winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers. Rael won previously for “When Zayde Danced on Eldridge Street” (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Eric Kimmel won Honor Book for Younger Readers for his book, “A Cloak for the Moon,” illustrated by Katya Krenina (Holiday House).

For information on the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners, visit The books can be borrowed from Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. Call (323) 761-8644.

Viva Chanukah!

Thirty members of the Hispanic-Jewish Women’s Task Force gathered with their families at Alice and Joe Spilberg’s home for a multicultural holiday celebration. Guests shared Jewish and Christian holiday traditions: singing songs, enjoying latkes and tamales, and lighting Chanukah candles.

Ahead for Fred

Variety reports that Fred Savage, the lead voice of the Nickelodeon cartoon “Oswald” recently profiled in The Journal, has landed back-to-back roles in George Clooney’s directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” based on game show host Chuck Barris’ pseudo-autobiographical account of his secret life as a CIA operative; and in director Jay Roach’s third “Austin Powers” comedy.

Shalom and Yo!

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited AMIT’s Gilo while on a recent trip to Israel. AMIT cares for 200 at-risk children.

Land of Milken Honey

Five outstanding Los Angeles-area Jewish educators were presented with 2002 Jewish Educator Awards at a Loews Santa Monica gala that attracted 300 people. The awards, presented by Milken Family Foundation and the Bureau of Jewish Education, included an unrestricted $10,000 award and public recognition for the recipients’ work. The five awardees: in Los Angeles, Frida Eytan, Judaic studies teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy ; Carol Goldman, math specialist at Stephen S. Wise Day School ; Vered Hopenstand, Hebrew teacher and program coordinator at Shalhevet School; Rabbi Shmuel Jacobs, Jewish studies teacher at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn; and in Agoura Hills, Jan Saltsman, lead teacher at Heschel Day School.

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

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