Moving and shaking: American Society for Yad Vashem, AcaDeca and more

Edward and Elissa Czuker, co-chairs of an upcoming gala hosted by the American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV), hosted a kickoff reception March 28 at their Beverly Hills home. About 50 people were on hand to learn about the gala set for June 6 that will honor two Holocaust survivors: producers Meyer Gottlieb (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World”) and Branko Lustig (“Schindler’s List,” “Gladiator”).

Phil Blazer, founder of Jewish Life TV, introduced Gottlieb, former president of Samuel Goldwyn Films and a Holocaust survivor, who recalled his experience as a young boy fleeing the Nazi invasion of Poland.  

Lynne Segall, executive vice president and group publisher at Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter, was on hand to represent the latter publication, which also will be honored June 6 for its story “Hollywood’s Last Survivors,” an in-depth article about the 11 remaining Holocaust survivors who made a name for themselves in the entertainment business. The contributors to the story, writers Peter Flax and Gary Baum, discussed the months of research and interviews that went into the creation of the piece. 

Ron Meier, ASYV executive director, spoke about the organization’s work and the significance of Yad Vashem. ASYV was established 35 years ago by a group of Holocaust survivors to advance the efforts of Yad Vashem through Holocaust education, traveling exhibitions, and philanthropy. 

Later, Gottlieb stressed to the Journal how important such efforts are: “With the passage of time and the dwindling of eyewitness survivors, the Holocaust would become an issue simply of statistics without institutions like Yad Vashem and the vital work they do in education, research and keeping the memories of the victims alive so that the Holocaust is never forgotten.” 

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) celebrated Mimouna, a traditional North African Jewish holiday marking the end of Passover, with 275 young professionals on April 30. 

From left: Chloe Pourmorady, Zack Lodmer, Daniel Raijman and Marcel Borbon rehearse in advance of the Mimouna celebration.  Photo by Luis Bargos, Moishe House Venice

“There’s an opportunity for the Jewish community, dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, to learn from and integrate the traditions of Jews of all backgrounds,” TEBH Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin told the Journal. “In Israel, Mimouna was brought by North African immigrants and with time became a national holiday. I hope that we can replicate this beautiful integration here in the United States.”

One goal of the evening event, held at Studio 11 in Culver City, was “to connect those professionals to the amazing organizations in our community that serve them,” according to Bassin. It was put on with funding provided by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and in partnership with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ NextGen Engagement Initiative.

Upon arrival, guests were given a “passport” and visited different stations staffed by partner organizations AJC Access, Bend the Arc, Israeli American Council/Bina, JDC Entwine, Jews of Color, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), JScreen, Moishe House, Reboot, Stephen Wise Temple, Temple Emanuel YoPro, Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA), Sinai Temple Atid, Miller Introduction to Judaism Alumni and Open Temple. Stations offered information about the organization as well as light snacks to aid attendees in transitioning back to chametz

Guests lined up for henna and glitter tattoos and wandered through the venue’s garden, socializing in circles around a hookah with fellow attendees. Musical guest Bazaar Ensemble provided its unique Middle Eastern jazz-funk vibe, and Persian-American violinist, vocalist and composer Chloé Pourmorady contributed audience-rousing multicultural sounds.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles hosted a pre-Passover open house party April 3 for more than 80 people. The event included music from Cantor Dale Schatz, who sang Passover-themed songs. Guests noshed on fruit from a fruit cart, popcorn and pretzels while Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz read the Passover book “And Then Another Sheep Turned Up” by Laura Gehl. 

The free event included face-painting and art projects designed by the rabbi’s wife, Blair Lebovitz. Kids got to design matzo covers, color Passover placemats and solve Passover puzzles. 

It marked the beginning of an ongoing partnership with PJ Library, which sends Jewish children’s books to families for free. The book was selected because it “stressed the values of family and welcoming others during the Passover seder,” Lebovitz said.

“Engaging with unaffiliated Jewish families in West L.A. is a priority for me in my rabbinate,” Lebovitz told the Journal. “Adat Shalom has so much to offer families with children.  That’s why we’re so proud of our partnership with PJ Library.”

Among those in attendance were Adat Shalom President Liz Bar-El and board member Marla Knoll.

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

Led by coach Mathew Arnold, the Academic Decathlon team at Granada Hills Charter High School took home the national title in the quiz competition last month — again. The win is the fifth championship for Arnold, 38, an English teacher and longtime former camper at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu.

The 2016 national Academic Decathlon champions from Granda Hills Charter High in the San Fernando Valley, led by coach Mathew Arnold (far right), a former camper at the JCA Shalom Malibu summer camp.  Photo courtesy of Granada Hills Charter High School

Despite his status as the winningest coach in Academic Decathlon history, it wasn’t clear until near the end of the competition in Anchorage, Alaska, that he would be going home with another title.

“At times, it seemed like we were neck and neck,” Arnold said. “That was tense.”

In the end, Granada Hills’ 13-member group of high schoolers — divided by grade-point average among “A,” “B” and “C” students — dominated the individual as well as the group scoreboards, earning top spots in the competition’s rankings for each tier of students. The San Fernando Valley high school has won five of the last six national championships.

Arnold emphasized that the team’s success would not be possible without support from the administration, other teachers and parents. “It really takes an entire school,” he said.

But the ultimate credit — and the college essay fodder — goes to the teenagers who spend hours after school studying for tests not required in their class curricula.

Arnold recalled one of his students being honored as the top scorer in the “C” category: “He stood up and it was like he’d just won ‘America’s [Next] Top Model’ or something,” Arnold said. “He had this look on his face that was like, ‘Me? Me? You mean me?’ ”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Letters to the editor: Nancy Kricorian, Hannah Arendt, minimum wage and more

School Chums Discuss Middle East Problems

Rob Eshman and his old school friend who is working with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement tried to find common ground on Israel-Palestine and raised the question: Do you have a better idea or a better strategy to get there (“Nancy and Me,” April 29)? I would like to suggest that Jews and Muslims in the U.S. need to work together. Start by making personal friendships and connections. In her book, “Refusing to Be Enemies,” Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, a Quaker-Jewish activist, promotes non-violent approaches to do so. It’s a start.

Gene Rothman, Culver City

Many thanks to Nancy Kricorian and Rob Eshman for this illuminating dialogue. Like many other people (Jews and others) who want to see an end to the Israeli occupation, I have wondered what precisely BDS policies are. Boycott goods produced by the occupation in the West Bank or all Israeli goods, etc.? Kricorian’s response to the question of why single out Israel and not Syria, North Korea or Saudi Arabia is a pretty good one: The United States throws tons of money and arms at Israel, so I, as a taxpayer, am complicit in what Israel does. But I shared in Eshman’s disappointment at the full measure of BDS’s demands, which clearly would mean an end to Israel. 

Kricorian asks if there is a better idea. Yes, there is, and it is being represented by J Street, which is very seriously pro-Israel and pro-peace, and lobbies for the two-state solution. There is an increasing visibility in the media for Street’s policies, and an increasing number of representatives ready to listen.

Alicia Ostriker via email

If Nancy wants to perpetuate the violence and injustices experienced on all sides, she has chosen the right path. If she wants peace and justice for all of Israel/Palestine, there is a very simple “better idea” working to move both sides closer to a vision of two states for two people … and there is much, much difficult work to be done to do that. It may not happen — and even if it does, it won’t happen with one simple piece of paper signed and state created — there will need to be a plan to get things there over an extended period of time.

But Nancy’s “answer” is a road to nowhere. “Ending the occupation” is a slogan, not a plan … and it is always easier to chant a slogan than to plan.

Lawrence Weinman, Jerusalem

Zimmerman Story Hits Sour Note

In the Katie Iulius article on Simone Zimmerman, although I agree with much of what the writer has to say, when was she appointed to speak for all, or most, “young Jews” who are interested only in the Kardashians or “cavorting” with Israeli soldiers (“To Simone Zimmerman, From a Schoolmate — and IDF Soldier,” April 22) — the author’s assumptions turned an interesting article sour and bitter, and a little ugly.

Richard A. Stone via email

Taking Issue With ‘Banality of Evil’

The allegation that Hannah Arendt’s construct, the banality of evil, is often misunderstood is invalidly employed to imply that if someone doesn’t accept it as a valid Holocaust explanation, then that someone is unable to understand it (“The Enduring Relevance of Hannah Arendt,” April 29).

Ada Ushpiz hasn’t made a film titled “The Enduring Spirit of Lucy Dawidowicz.” One might ask why Arendt is routinely celebrated as an intellectual while Dawidowicz is not? If Arendt hadn’t been willing or able to sufficiently fulfill her publishers’ dark objectives, I assert they would’ve promoted someone else.

Ivan Smason via email

Word of the Week: Praise

I’m well aware of the Mimouna celebrations, which have become increasingly popular in Israel, but I never knew what the word “Mimouna” means. Now I know: the Lucky Girl! (“Hebrew Word of the Week,” April 29).

We’re lucky that professor Yona Sabar is sharing with us his unique knowledge of Hebrew in such an interesting and fun way in his “Hebrew Word of the Week” feature. Although I’m an Israeli with a solid knowledge of Hebrew, I always find new (even surprising!) aspects of the Hebrew language in Sabar’s posts, which I share with my family and friends during Shabbat meals.

Rivka Sherman-Gold, Yodan Publishing

Wage Hike and Small Business

Like Dennis Prager, I, too, was opposed to the recent arbitrary wage increase foisted upon small business owners in Los Angeles and the state (“Why Do Jews Support a $15 Minimum Wage?” April 29). 

Besides the economic burden to squeeze out what minimal profits some businesses operate on (such as the 4 to 6 percent profit margin of restaurants, for example), what about the question of the moral “rightness” of the government altering the once “free” enterprise system?

I guess social democrats are happiest and feel the most fulfilled when they kowtow to labor unions and the working poor, so, what do they care about small, middle class-owned businesses?

Rick Solomon, Lake Balboa

Hebrew word of the week: “Mimouna”

The end of Passover was celebrated in various Jewish communities with local customs, often synthesizing old Jewish and non-Jewish traditions that are universally associated with spring. Passover itself is also known as Hag ha-Aviv, “Holiday of Spring,” and it falls in the middle of Nisan, the first month of the year in ancient calendars (Deuteronomy 16:1).*

Mimouna, the end-of-passover Moroccan celebration, which became an Israeli holiday as well, gets its name from Arabic for “the lucky girl,” since many weddings were held on this day (and were forbidden for several weeks before and after). This wedding tradition is similar to the custom from talmudic times of many marriages taking place on the day after Yom Kippur and on the 15th of Av, as well as to our “June brides” (originally Roman).

Many Muslims, who couldn’t visit Jewish homes during Passover for fear of carrying chametz, would visit on the evening of Mimouna, bringing bread and dairy dishes to “break” the “fasting” from bread.

*Jews of Iraq wished one another on this night sana khizrah, “Have a green year!” Compare to the Persian Nowruz “New Day” (of spring); “The First of Nisan” by Christian Assyrians; Seharane (a community picnic dance and music) by Kurdish Jews; and Rumpelnacht among Ashkenazi Jews.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

A taste of Morocco without leaving town

I remember six years ago being in Tarifa — on the southernmost coast of Spain, a 30-minute ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco — and being tempted to cross continents. The port was so close to Africa, I could nearly taste it. The cloth was brighter, the spices more aromatic, the sea greener. 

“I’m taking the ferry,” I told my parents, who were comfortably ensconced at home in Los Angeles, during a conversation over a throw-away mobile phone. 

“Like hell you are!” they responded. 

I still flirted with the possibility, but as a 20-year-old female trekking solo into that foreign port, without any real plan or sense of direction — not to mention a tired, old backpack filled to the brim with odds and ends — Morocco seemed too mystic, too far-fetched, too risky. I never went.

But I fulfilled that urge years later, with no backpack, no throw-away cellphone, no ferry crossing. With just a glass of Cabernet in hand, I sat at the Levantine Cultural Center on Pico Boulevard, transported to that faraway land with the help of an array of art and an impressive sound system. It was all part of an April 11 celebration of Mimouna, a Moroccan commemoration of the end of Passover.

Custom has it that Mimouna was an opportunity for Jews and Muslims to convene and break bread. Because Moroccan Jews at this time of year maintained Passover kitchens, their Muslim neighbors would offer them post-holiday ingredients from their own kitchens (flour, milk and honey) and, in turn, together they would celebrate with platefuls of mufleta, a flaky North African crepe. 

Jordan Elgrably, co-founder of Levantine Cultural Center, described Mimouna as a “chance for the non-Jewish Moroccans to hang out with their Jewish neighbors.” 

When I arrived at the event, I was immediately enveloped in a collage of colorful fabrics, scents of powdered sugar, baked dough and hot tea, and the sounds of traditional Moroccan tunes wafting from the stereo. 

“So, you are Moroccan tonight,” a busy Elgrably said before rushing away to the back. 

People continued to arrive — about 75 total. As seats were being arranged, visitors wearing traditional scarves, linens and ankle-length dresses in astonishing colors kept drifting through the Levantine’s front doors. Once no more seats were available, they sat cross-legged on the floor in typical Bedouin fashion.

“Happy Mimouna!” Elgrably said, welcoming the crowd. 

A patchwork of heritages, Elgrably is Moroccan, first and foremost, and a fusion of religious affiliations, including Jewish and Muslim. His father, of mixed ethnicity, was born in a town that Elgrably roughly calculated as “one day’s mule ride from Marrakesh,” and his mother came from Casablanca.

Inspired by his blended heritage, Elgrably told the Journal he wants to expand the potential of the Levantine Cultural Center in the coming year as a cultural co-op. In fact, a name change is underway and the center, which opened in 2001, soon will be rebranded as The Merkaz, which in Arabic and Hebrew means “The Center.” The idea, he said, is so “more people will relate to the concept that this is a hub.” 

“I’m the bridge from Old World to New World,” Elgrably, sporting a mop of curly hair, striped white-and-gold Moroccan garb and slick, black leather dress shoes, told the crowd. 

Soon after, the festivities commenced as performers Rose Rojas and her Guedra group took the stage. Guedra is a tribal dance traditional to the “blue people” of the Tuareg Berbers, a North African matriarchal tribe in which men, not women, wear veils. Their nickname comes from the indigo dyes used to color their linen, which in the Saharan heat, bleeds onto their skin. Adorned in rich indigo robes, the women sat on their knees, chanting, as Rojas went through the movements, twirling her hands and swaying her braided black locks.

Next was Youssef Iferd on a sinter (three-stringed lute), who played an improvised set with local band Bedouin X. Iferd’s voice wavered like an imam’s call to prayer as he sang the ancient hymns of Essaouira, the walled city from which he comes.

This was my first Mimouna and my first real taste of Morocco. And although, over the years, Mimouna has been adopted by other cultures and traditions have been revised, Elgrably made it a point to revert to its origins. For me, it rekindled something else — that feeling of sitting in a Spanish port, exhilarating and wondrous, not knowing what to expect. 

Mimouna: In my mind I’ve gone to Marrakech

Tirbah u’tissad — may you prosper and succeed. This Judeo-Arabic blessing is the manner in which North African Jews greet one another just moments after Passover formally ends, on the night we call “Mimouna.”

For many Jews, the night Passover ends is typically the night to turn over the kitchen from Passover dishes back to chametz. For North African Jews from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, it’s a night when we turn over our homes from Passover to Mimouna, a joyous family and community-oriented cultural celebration that’s all about blessings, smiles and sweets.

Mimouna is all about blessings. In Arabic, the word mimoun means “mazal”; it’s a night when we bless each other and pray for “mazal” in our lives. Because Passover is the anniversary of our deliverance from slavery to freedom, we conclude Passover with an expression of belief — which in Hebrew is emunah (sounds like Mimouna) — that God will continue to bless and protect us beyond Passover. We kick off the night with a long, festive, beautifully chanted havdalah that not only “distinguishes between Passover and weekday,” but also features blessings for health, prosperity, happiness and safety. We recite this havdalah around a colorful table adorned with symbols of blessing. A bowl of flour filled with gold coins represents livelihood and sustenance. Branches of greenery symbolize a successful agricultural spring season, and a fish represents fertility and plentitude. We chant piyuttim (religious poems) in Moroccan-Andalusian tunes, with lyrics such as ‘arbah ya hai ul’jina’ — bless my brother with wealth.

Mimouna is all about smiles. There are no formal invitations to Mimouna. It’s an open-door evening, and everyone  — neighbors, family, friends and friends of friends — stops by to kiss each other on both cheeks and greet each other with festive blessings. The mood induces happiness and smiles. The table is colorful, and so are the clothes we wear. The women wear long, elaborately embroidered dresses called kaftan, and the men wear embroidered shirts or long robes called jalabiya. The sounds of Andalusian music fill the room, and as things warm up, so does the hand clapping and dancing. Shot glasses of mahya (the Moroccan name for arak) are passed around. My father told me that mahya means mayim hayyim — the water of life. This water certainly livens things up.

Mimouna is all about sweets. There are two “mandatory Mimouna foods” that everyone must eat. The first is a date filled with butter and honey. The host of the Mimouna welcomes you with this delicacy, accompanied by the greeting “Tirbah u’tissad.” Eating this indulgent combination of sweets symbolizes the sweetness of prosperity and success. Then there is moufletta, the piece de resistance of any authentic Mimouna. Moufletta is a thin, tortilla-style crepe fried in oil and served hot with butter, honey or jam. It’s our first post-Passover chametz, and — appropriately for Mimouna — it’s sweet! Some additional features of a Mimouna table include fresh and dried fruits, marzipan pastries, sesame cookies rolled in honey, a variety of jams and jellies, buttermilk and Moroccan tea with nana (fresh mint). Other than moufletta, which is either purchased before Passover and sold with the other chametz, or purchased after havdalah that very night, the remainder of the pastries are not chametz, and are often prepared during Hol Hamoed of Passover. 

I was born into a French-speaking North African Sephardic home. My father was from Marrakech, my mother from Algeria. I was raised in a small apartment in West Hollywood and have never been to these countries. Other than my family, our building was all Ashkenazi Jews, many of them Holocaust survivors. From them, I learned about the Shoah, and from my family, they learned about Mimouna. With my mother beautifully dressed in her kaftan and my father greeting everyone with “Tirbah u’tissad,” our little apartment in West Hollywood somehow expanded to welcome more than 100 guests, who came in and out throughout the night. All of our neighbors, our friends from school, our extended family — everyone wanted to come to our Mimouna. Everyone wanted that date and blessing from my father, and the two kisses on both cheeks and moufletta from my mother. The table, the blessings, the foods and the music — it was as if we were in Marrakech, not West Hollywood.

I now live in a slightly larger condominium in Westwood, but on Mimouna night, we may as well still be in Marrakech. My parents are no longer alive, so it’s upon me to distribute dates and blessings of Tirbah u’tissad, and my Ashkenazi wife, Peni – beautifully dressed in her kaftan — prepares moufletta that rivals that of my mother. My kids invite their friends, the table is decorated, and Andalusian music (along with Enrico Macias) fills the room.

James Taylor sings, “In my mind I’ve gone to Carolina.” On Mimouna night, we sing, “In my mind I’ve gone to Marrakech.”

Tirbah u’tissad.

The Magic of Mimouna

Go back a few centuries and picture yourself on a small street in a Jewish neighborhood in Casablanca, Morocco, as the sun is starting to set.

You’ve just finished the late afternoon prayers on the last day of Passover, and as you head home, you see Arab grocers setting up shop and laying out butter, milk, honey and, most importantly, flour and yeast. They are doing what their ancestors did for generations: helping the Jews of Morocco prepare for the ancient tradition of Mimouna, a night when the Jews celebrated the end of Passover by opening the doors of their homes to their neighborhood.

After sundown, Jewish men would rush to gather all the supplies — either by purchasing them or receiving them as gestures of good will from local Arabs — and bring them home, where the women would prepare elaborate sweet tables.

These tables were laden with delicacies, but the star of the show was a thin, mouth-watering Moroccan crepe called the moufleta, which you would roll up with soft butter and honey. Please trust me when I tell you that to this day, few things in life are as perfect as a couple of hot, sweet, tender moufletas — right after you’ve come off a strict eight-day diet of dry matzahs.

Moufletas were not the only sweet things floating in the Arabian moonlight on the night of Mimouna. According to folklore, Mimouna was known as the ideal night to meet your sweetheart. It was a night when doors and hearts were open, and young men and women, dressed in their finest, would move and mingle like butterflies from one party and sweet table to another. (I know, it sounds a lot more romantic than speed dating.)

The free-flowing and joyful atmosphere that made you feel the promise of finding love was not a coincidence. The night of Mimouna was all about bringing good fortune into your life. After eight days of prohibitions, Mimouna was the night you broke free, the night anything was possible.

For the Jews of Morocco, Mimouna was the Jewish holiday that celebrated optimism.

All night long, people would give the same greeting over and over again: “Terbach,” an Arab word that roughly means, “May you win and be fortunate.”

The word “mimouna” itself combines the Hebrew/Aramaic root “mammon,” which means riches, with the Hebrew word “emunah,” which means faith. Have faith in your good fortune: If Mimouna ever becomes a big deal in California, I bet the California Lottery would salivate to sponsor Mimouna parties.

As many of you know, the mainstreaming of Mimouna has already happened in Israel. The tradition has morphed from magical nights among neighbors to loud daytime barbecues in public parks, where politicians of all stripes come to sell their wares. I’m guessing the politicians want in on the good Mimouna vibes, which might explain why they’ve made it a national holiday.

From what I hear, the rabbis in Israel also got involved. They were afraid that people would rush out to buy their moufleta ingredients before the holiday was officially over, so they nudged Mimouna into the bright sun of the next day.

These rabbis obviously have no feel for romance — Mimouna is for the moon, not the sun. My memories of Mimouna nights in Casablanca can never mesh with the notion of an afternoon barbecue in a public park. Even though I was only a child, I recall feeling this mysterious, nighttime magic in the air. Even the nervous rush after sundown to gather the goods and prepare the sweet tables were part of the excitement.

But the magic of Mimouna was not just the sweet tables and the Arabian nights. There was something else.

When I talk to Sephardic Jews today who spent a big part of their lives in Morocco, they go on and on about Mimouna. It’s like they’re talking about an ex-girlfriend they were madly in love with and wish they had married. There’s a sense of nostalgia, yes, but also of loss — a loss of what that one night represented.

It’s true that they have tried to take Mimouna with them. In Montreal, where I grew up and where there is a large Moroccan Jewish community, people drive to fancy Mimouna parties all over town until the early morning hours. Even here in Los Angeles, there are Mimouna parties sprinkled all over the area, especially in Moroccan Jewish homes.

But everyone knows there’s something missing. You could serve the world’s greatest moufletas (my mother’s), wear a gold-laced caftan and have a live Middle Eastern band, and there would still be something missing.

It’s the neighborhood.

Mimouna represented the love and intimacy of a neighborhood. There’s nothing like popping in to see 10, 20, 30 different neighbors on the same night, most of whom you see all the time — especially when you know your great-great-great-grandparents probably did the same thing in the same place.

According to tradition, Mimouna itself came out of a neighborhood need. Because many Jewish families in Morocco each had their own Passover customs, Passover week was the one time of the year when families would usually not eat in each other’s homes.

Mimouna was a way for the neighborhood to dramatically make up for this week of limited hospitality — a night when things got back to normal, and everyone invited everyone.

If Passover was the holiday that drew you in — toward yourself, your home, your family — Mimouna was the holiday that blew you away, back to the neighbors, your friends, your freedom, your dreams, maybe even your future love.

Many years later, I find myself living again in a Jewish neighborhood, and I can’t help wondering if my moving here had something to do with my memories of another neighborhood.

Especially on that one magical night of the year, when the moufletas were hot, the doors were open and everything was possible. l

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at