The fight against human trafficking

The National Council of Jewish Women-CA (NCJW-CA) is the organizational co-sponsor of two bills concerning human trafficking that were approved Aug. 29 by the California State Assembly and now await Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

Assembly Bill 1761, authored by Assembly member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), protects victims of human trafficking who commit nonviolent crimes while enslaved. If they can show they were victims and were in danger when they carried through with the crime, the charges would be dropped. 

Under Assembly Bill 1762, authored by Assembly member Nora Campos (D-San Jose), human trafficking victims would have their convictions vacated for nonviolent crimes they committed while they were slaves. 

“There are slaves living among us,” said Maya Paley, director of legislative and community engagement at the NCJW/LA. “They might even be our neighbors. It’s very real for the Jewish people and they’re obligated to care about it. We have a responsibility to speak up and stop it. The Torah says to protect a stranger in our midst.” 

According to a National Survivor Network survey, 90 percent of trafficking victims had criminal convictions. Twenty percent had been arrested more than 10 times, and 10 percent had been arrested more than 30 times.

Paley said that arresting and convicting victims hasn’t reduced the cycle of crime, but perpetuated it. 

“These victims are afraid of law enforcement in California. And while California is usually a leader in protecting victims, we are behind with the defense of human trafficking victims.” 

According to statistics cited by the National Survivor Network, an estimated 29.8 million people are enslaved around the globe today, and between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked in the U.S. each year. 

Overall, NCJW/LA’s strategy has been a mix of advocating for legislation, working to give victims the tools to call out for help and making Angelenos more aware of the existence of human trafficking in the city and state. 

In 2012, NCJW-CA successfully pushed through Senate Bill 1193, which mandates that certain types of businesses publicly post human trafficking hotline information. These businesses include massage parlors, bars and strip clubs, airports, light rail stations, emergency rooms in hospitals, urgent care centers, roadside rest areas and privately operated job recruitment centers, according to Paley. 

To ensure that these posters were actually being handed out and posted in Los Angeles, NCJW/LA created a team, the Human Trafficking Outreach Project (HTOP), and trained almost 500 volunteers over the past 2 1/2 years to visit businesses and make sure that signs were hung.

“It’s so great that there is this committed group of advocates across the L.A. area, going door to door, making sure that all these posters go up,” said Eliana Kaya, a board member, advocacy committee member, and lead trainer on the HTOP. “It’s more important that they stay up.”

The posters are having an effect, according to Paley.

“In California, the poster has the number for the local and National Human Trafficking Resource Center,” Paley said. “The local hotline has had a 250 percent increase in calls, which has been linked to poster viewings.” 

Aside from sending volunteers to check that the posters are up, NCJW/LA has been trying to persuade cities within L.A. County to make sure that Senate Bill 1193 is being carried out. On Sept. 13, the Santa Monica City Council is expected to vote on a resolution in support of ensuring that it’s enforced in Santa Monica. Paley said she hopes the city of Los Angeles will become more proactive in enforcing the law as well. 

Another method that NCJW/LA uses to raise awareness about human trafficking is to hold informational gatherings at people’s houses, according to Donna Benjamin, vice president of advocacy on the board of directors. 

“My goal is to get people educated and learning about human trafficking,” she said. “We’ll make calls to the appropriate senators and assembly people to get the word disseminated.” 

For two years, the organization has been partnering to host an annual Community Seder to Combat Human Trafficking. Paley said, “It’s very successful in raising awareness and increasing partnerships between NCJW/LA and synagogues who want to work on this issue.”

Kaya said several warning signs can alert people that they might be a witness to human trafficking. Red flags include if a neighbor has a new nanny, but the nanny never leaves the house, or if a customer is in a salon and can’t talk to the person working on his or her body because the boss keeps interfering. (The boss may make an excuse that it’s because of a language barrier.) 

In addition to seeing an uptick in the number of calls being made to the hotline, Kaya has noticed firsthand how business owners now react more positively to the posters. 

“When I used to go into businesses, managers would be confused or apathetic,” she said. “They didn’t know what trafficking was or want to be associated with something criminal. We struggled at the beginning.” 

Now, she said, things have changed. 

“I go into businesses and I often already see the poster is up,” she said. “The manager is either welcoming or supportive or both. In general, it feels like there is a sense of a community-building effort and enthusiasm.” n

A small army combating human trafficking

Angela Guanzon is soft-spoken, but unwavering in her message: “Open your eyes and be vigilant in your surroundings,” she told a room full of volunteers during an outreach event hosted by National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles (NCJWLA) on Jan. 24. 

When Guanzon was 28, she was given an offer she couldn’t refuse: a free ticket from her native Philippines to the United States. What she didn’t know was that when she arrived in Long Beach in 2005, she would be inducted into a human trafficking ring, in which she was forced to work 18-hour days, seven days a week, at a nursing care facility for meager pay — just $300 a month. Threatened into silence, she worked without a day’s break for two years, until a neighbor became suspicious of the nursing home’s dealings and contacted the FBI.

After a sting operation busted the business, Guanzon lived for 18 months in a California Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) shelter, a transition house that helps victims like her get control of their lives. “CAST helped me get back on my feet and own myself again,” she told the room.

Guanzon, now 38, is an advocate for human trafficking prevention with CAST. 

In 2013, California passed Senate Bill 1193, which requires certain places of business, such as hospital emergency rooms, bus stops, adult clubs and bars, to display posters listing human trafficking hotlines in a visible area. Twenty-two states have enacted similar legislation. Since 2012, there has been a 250 percent increase of calls to the trafficking hotline because of the posters.

Cipra Nemeth, the volunteer vice president of legislative community engagement at NCJWLA, said human trafficking has always been on NCJW’s radar, since its founding in 1893. “One of the first things the group did was meet young women who came to Ellis Island,” Nemeth said, explaining that the group worked to eliminate exploitation of these fresh-off-the-boat women. “NCJW met them at the docks, created houses for them in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, gave them job skill training and English lessons so they could become self-sufficient and independent.” 

Today, NCJWLA is continuing the fight to eliminate human trafficking, because, as Nemeth pointed out, not only is it a major component of Jewish values, but because “this is an issue we care about because we feel we have a role to play and we have an obligation.” 

In order to implement the law, NCJWLA organized “Eyes on Trafficking: Night of Outreach,” recruiting nearly 70 volunteers to embark in teams of three to venture off into the city’s 15 districts, stopping at local bars, equipped with posters in hand. Los Angeles is the third-most popular port of entry for human traffickers in the United States.

Assigned to L.A. Council District 4, a team of volunteers trekked up Sunset Boulevard, carrying posters and paperwork, passing grungy tattoo parlors and smoke shops. The stops on their itinerary included Rock & Reilly’s Irish Pub, The Viper Room and The Comedy Store. For anybody else, this would have been one awesome pub crawl, but for volunteers Sandy DeLucci, Mariam Berry and Beth Edelstein, their mission was purely outreach.

The first stop was Rock & Reilly’s, a crowded pub with TVs blaring and conversation buzzing. The volunteers began their spiel with the hostess, what they’d been training for all afternoon. Earlier that night, Edelstein, an IKAR congregant, had joked about the intense training at NCJWLA: “It felt like traffic school.” But here they were, putting it to good use. “Is the manager around?” they asked. The hesitant hostess disappeared for a couple minutes before returning with the message: “The manager’s very busy.” 

The volunteers went into their rehearsed speech, telling the hostess that the business had received a letter from the city about the new bill, that they were just volunteers to help implement the law, and if the business didn’t comply, it would be subject to a hefty fine — $500 at first, eventually doubling.

Overwhelmed, the hostess finally said, “You can give it to us and we’ll put it up later.”

Underwhelmed, the volunteers left, to recalibrate outside the pub; they weren’t satisfied with the outcome. Edelstein suggested giving it a go one more time. “Do it, New York!” said Berry with enthusiasm (Edelstein, originally from Monsey, N.Y., earned the nickname from the group because of her go-getter attitude). A bystander taking a smoke break overheard the fuss before adding to the chorus, “Do it!”

DeLucci and Edelstein went back inside to confront the manager, with success this time. In one month, NCJWLA volunteers will return to Rock & Reilly’s and other designated sites to ensure the posters’ presence.

Next stop was The Viper Room, which proved to be more challenging when a man opened the door sheepishly and popped his head out, uttering the words, “I don’t care; I’m just the sound guy,” before taking a poster and shutting the door. Later that night, the group confronted the manager. The poster, he assured them, would be posted.

Last stop was The Comedy Store, which was remarkably compliant, leaving the volunteers very pleased. 

Walking back down Sunset, their job done, the volunteers discussed the day as a whole.

Berry, a North Hollywood resident and mother of three, said that she’s passionate about this human rights issue because of her children. 

“Human trafficking is modern-age slavery,” she said, and conducting her outreach on Sunset Boulevard, was crucial, considering the Strip’s notorious reputation. “This is a hub for human trafficking,” she said.

“It’s about giving a voice to the voiceless,” she said of her outreach, her voice rising at least an octave as she spoke above the cacophony of the traffic on the legendary Sunset Strip.

Moving and shaking: ‘Iran: What Now?’, LEAP Foundation and more

Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp.; former U.S. Congressmember Mel Levine; and Omri Ceren, senior adviser at the Israel Project, participated in an Aug. 2 debate at Beth Jacob Congregation titled “Iran: What Now?” in which the three discussed the proposed agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which would lift international sanctions against Iran in exchange for an Iranian guarantee that it would not develop a nuclear weapon for a limited amount of time. 

Jewish Journal President David Suissa moderated the event, which drew approximately 200 attendees representing a cross section of viewpoints on the issue in the Jewish community, including Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson; Federation Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir; Temple Isaiah Associate Rabbi Dara Frimmer; Americans for Peace Now West Coast Regional Director David Pine; and left-wing LA Jews for Peace activist Jeff Warner, who stationed himself outside the venue prior to the event and handed out leaflets. 

During the impassioned 75-minute discussion, Kaye and Levine expressed views in favor of the deal, and each said that they hoped U.S. Congress would vote to support the deal. Ceren said he was opposed to the deal.

The Jewish Journal co-sponsored the evening event with Federation.

Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz spoke at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills on Aug. 1, offering his support for Israel and speaking out against the proposed deal with Iran.

Nessah, a prominent Orthodox temple, is home to a large Iranian-American community. Cruz — who is Southern Baptist — has, more than any other candidate seeking the Republican nomination, sought out support from Orthodox Jewish communities. 

Cruz harshly criticized the Obama administration’s approach to combating Islamic radicalism and described the proposed Iran deal as the latest decision in a foreign policy he said has been defined by “weakness and appeasement.”

“When we look at the threats we face right now, none is greater than the threat of a nuclear Iran,” Cruz said, appealing to the Iranian heritage of many in the audience. “I believe this nuclear deal with Iran is the most catastrophic threat facing America today, and the only way to stop it is for all of us to come together and speak the truth.”

Cruz repeated a claim he has made repeatedly in recent days, that if the deal succeeds, “The United States government will become the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terror.”  Cruz challenged President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — both of whom have criticized him for making the comment — to refute the claim. 

Cruz also claimed that the deal would accelerate Iran’s acquiring a nuclear weapon, comparing the proposed 24-day notice for inspectors to gain access to a site, to a local government giving a known drug dealer advance notice of a search warrant. A nuclear deal would pose an existential threat to Israel, Cruz said, repeating a claim made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as American Jewish groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. 

Mati Cohen, the president of Nessah Young Professionals, told the Journal that he hopes to bring other presidential candidates to the synagogue in the coming months.

— Aron Chilewich, Staff Writer

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) and National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) teamed up to provide 250 children in need with backpacks, school supplies, new clothing and shoes on July 19 as part of the JFS Tools for School program and the NCJW/LA Back 2 School Store program, respectively. 

JFS Tools for School program participants included (from left) Dan Lipsman, Cate Lipsman, Erin Felman and David Felman.  Photo by Hilary Linderman

The agencies hold these events annually in advance of the school year, but the event last month, which was held at NCJW/LA’s Fairfax headquarters, marked the first time that the two worked together to provide those much-needed goods to children. 

“We were so happy to be able to provide new clothing and shoes to all of the participants at the Back 2 School Store,” Peggy Shapiro, NCJW/LA Back 2 School Store co-chair, said. “Education is such a vital part of NCJW’s mission, and we do our best to support women, children and families in our community.”

JFSLA board chair Debby Barak echoed Shapiro’s remarks, saying: “We know that thousands of families in the Los Angeles area continue to face financial hardship each day, and at JFS we want to make a difference. The support that JFS Tools for School gives to students and their families leads to greater success and brighter futures.”

Approximately 200 people volunteered their help at the event, according to a press release. Various organizations pitched in as well, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which offered “nutrition education and basic health screening information for families,” the release said; as well as the Sinai Temple Sisterhood and others. 

An array of celebrity guests — including singer Paula Abdul, television personality and former NFL player Michael Strahan, Olympian Apolo Ohno and others — turned out to deliver words of inspiration to high school and college students from Israel and elsewhere last month as part of a weeklong series of leadership skills-building events organized by the LEAP (Leadership, Excellence and Accelerating Potential) Foundation, a self-described “non-profit, motivational leadership program that helps high school and college students from around the world succeed.” 

From left: Bill Dorfman, co-founder of the LEAP Foundation, and television personality Michael Strahan attended a LEAP Foundation event at UCLA on July 15. Photo by Francois Noah

This year’s program took place July 12-18 at UCLA. 

Local Jewish community member and celebrity dentist Bill Dorfman, who was among those in attendance at the various events last month, is the co-founder of the organization, which was established in 2008. 

‘Stories from the Frontline’ commemorating Roe v. Wade

“My first abortion was in 1966,” began Tony Award-winning actress L. Scott Caldwell in front of a packed house at a National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) event Jan. 22 commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Caldwell was performing someone else’s story, the heart-wrenching narrative of a woman who got a black-market abortion in Los Angeles without anesthetic.

The evening at NCJW/LA on Fairfax Avenue, dubbed “Stories From the Frontline,” was filled with narratives about women. Some involved a speaker’s college dorm mate, an abuelita (grandmother) or a deeply personal confession. With theater lights dimmed, the intimate ambience recalled that of “The Vagina Monologues,” a production by Eve Ensler. 

Other actors invited to convey these stories included Amy Brenneman, Michael Cory Davis, Damon Gupton and Elizabeth Triplett. Pro-choice activist Lenzi Sheible, president and founder of Fund Texas Choice, a nonprofit that pays travel expenses for low-income Texans seeking abortions, participated as well. 

Around 250 people attended the event, including pro-choice activists sporting pins with slogans such as “Abortion on demand and without apology” and “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid!”  

“It’s great to see a room that’s filled wall to wall with people,” marveled Ruth Zeitzew, NCJW/LA’s vice president, as she introduced the night’s emcee, human-rights advocate Rosalind Helfand, at the start of the evening.

Before the storytelling portion began, Joyce Schorr, founder of Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, and social justice attorney Sandra Fluke spoke about the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and the legislation that has since tried to chip away at it. The 1973 decision, which was brought on behalf of Norma McCorvy (“Jane Roe”), is still treading water and struggling to prove itself, as some continue to wage war on the issue and on women’s basic human rights in general, according to Schorr. 

“Unfortunately, we’re losing that war,” she said. 

Schorr shared the experience that ignited her activism on the issue. It happened when her college roommate started hemorrhaging after undergoing an illegal abortion in 1969. Luckily, their friend’s father was a doctor — going to the hospital was out of the question in their minds — and his house call ultimately “saved her life — but not so many woman wound up like she did,” Schorr said.

Fluke gave a rundown on current legislation dealing with reproductive rights and prefaced it with, “I wish, like President [Barack] Obama, I could tell you that our union is strong, and I wish I could give you all the opportunity to rise and clap after every sentence during my State of the Union because I can tell you’re that kind of crowd. But, unfortunately, that is not what I can say to you this evening.”

She went on to discuss a Republican-sponsored bill that would have banned all abortions taking place after 20 weeks, save for a few narrow exceptions, such as victims of sexual assault who reported their attack. Two female GOP leaders ended up withdrawing their co-sponsorship of the proposed legislation because of the limitations in the exception clause, and the White House released a Jan. 20 statement calling the bill “an assault on a woman’s right to choose.” The very next day, Republicans scrapped the bill and turned their attention to the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which bans the use of federal money for abortions or for insurance plans that cover abortions.

The weekend of Jan. 23-25 saw numerous “March for Life” demonstrations across the nation — about 50,000 pro-life activists marched Jan. 24 in San Francisco — but, for one night, the issue was focused on the stories of individuals and the freedom to choose.

Gupton (“The Divide,” “Whiplash”) told the narrative of a grandchild recounting what happened to his abuelita, who endured two alleyway abortion procedures that included a bottle of Clorox and a metal hanger. Triplett, of Hulu’s “Battleground” series, told the story of a 16-year-old girl who was too young to buy the Plan B morning-after pill, ending on a note of suspense after the pharmacist handed the teen a pregnancy test. And Sheible told her own story about getting a Cuban client to Albuquerque, N.M., safely for an abortion. 

Brenneman (“Judging Amy”) responded to Sheible’s story by saying, “I feel like I’m sitting next to Harriet Tubman.” She then went on to read the narrative of Jennifer Whalen, a mother who served a criminal sentence after ordering mifepristone pills online for her underage daughter without a doctor’s prescription in order to induce a miscarriage.

The final speaker of the night, Maya Paley, NCJW/LA’s director of legislative and community engagement, took the stage and opted, instead of reading her prewritten speech, to speak candidly to the audience. 

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is my story,” Paley said. She went on to tell her experience about finding out she was pregnant while working as a human-rights researcher in Israel and eventually deciding to return to the United States to undergo an abortion. (Before leaving Israel, however, she had a miscarriage, she said). It’s a story, she announced, her mom hadn’t heard yet — “and she’s in the room.” 

“I want to get to a point and say, ‘Raise your hand if you’ve had an abortion,’ and it’s OK for people to raise their hands,” Paley said. 

And, at that moment, a sea of hands went up.

A dress to impress…after the wedding

You spent serious time and money picking out the right wedding dress, taking great care to ensure the perfect look. With that kind of commitment, it would be a shame to allow those investments to waste away after the big day, disappearing into the fashion graveyard of a dry cleaner’s box or the back of your closet. 

Instead, you can find many ways to say “I do” to recycling, repurposing, reselling or even donating that dress to someone else for their own special day.

Redress for success

One way to pass on the love — and recoup some of your costs — is to resell your wedding dress. While eBay and Craigslist are two familiar options, Tradesy (” target=”_blank”>, plays up the green aspects of wedding dress resale and rentals, noting how a dress will see many ceremonies rather than take up space. The site’s interface allows former brides and brides-to-be to specify their favorite designers, dress silhouette, size and retail price to match the right dress to a new owner.

The ultimate wedding (or prom) gift

For those who don’t care about getting anything in return for their dress other than a “thank you” and a warm feeling (and maybe a tax write-off), there are numerous ways to donate wedding attire to women and girls in need.

Brides Against Breast Cancer (” target=”_blank”>, which has several chapters across the U.S., including Los Angeles, encourages brides to donate their dresses to couples facing terminal illness and serious life-changing circumstances, who are granted “wish” weddings and vow renewals. The group’s partner organization, Brides for a Cause (” target=”_blank”> will gladly accept wedding and bridesmaids dresses. And the Los Angeles-based nonprofit startup All Good Things Inc. (” target=”_blank”> built their business on changing the way women think of their “one-time dresses,” including wedding and bridesmaids gowns, in a similar way to Chagoury.

The sisters transform the fabric from dresses into useful items such as baby blankets, pillows, throw blankets, picture frames and more. Their website allows brides to have a hand in the design process of the new item with forms and photo galleries that provide inspiration on how the fabrics from their dress can take on a new life.

Moving and Shaking: Ziering family honored, IRF elects new president, JFS honors former president

Marilyn Ziering and Placido Domingo meet at Temple Beth Am’s gala honoring the Zierings. Photo by Steve Cohn Photography

Temple Beth Am honored the Ziering family for its generosity to the Los Angeles Jewish community, Israel, the arts and numerous philanthropic organizations around the world on May 29 with a concert gala that featured performances by Placido Domingo, Melissa Manchester and Cantor Magda Fishman.

“Giving back was not a choice; it was a necessity,” Marilyn Ziering said, accepting her award on stage with her four children — Michael, Roseanne, Ira and Amy — at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. 

The event — titled “Nobody Does It Better” — drew rabbis, cantors and community leaders. Beth Am’s Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld made the presentation to the honorees.

Among many highlights, Spanish tenor Domingo performed “Besame Mucho” (“Kiss Me a Lot”). Following Domingo’s first performance, Kligfeld quipped, “The real question is: ‘Can he do Kol Nidre?’” 

Marilyn’s late husband, Sigi Ziering, was a German-born Holocaust survivor and founder of the international medical supplies company Diagnostic Products Corp. He was a past president of Beth Am and served in lay leadership roles with American Jewish University (known as University of Judaism at the time) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Rav Yosef Kanefsky

The International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), a Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization, recently elected congregation B’nai David-Judea’s Rav Yosef Kanefsky as its president.

The group of Orthodox rabbis who come together for serious study of Torah and halachah, named Kanefsky, former secretary of IRF, president during the rabbinic organization’s annual conference. The event was held in New York on May 20-21.

Kanefsky, whose congregation is located in Pico-Robertson, said he welcomed the opportunity to lead an Orthodox organization that has “an alternative voice, one that is far more embracing of other kinds of Jews, far more sensitive to our relationships with non-Jews, far more open to our acceptance of the strides women are making within the Orthodox community.”

His appointment was effective immediately following the conference. 

From left: JFS Los Angeles Board President Terry Friedman, honoree David O. Levine, philanthropist Anita Hirsh and JFS Los Angeles CEO Paul Castro. Photo by Jonah LIght

Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles honored its former president, David O. Levine, at the organization’s 20th annual awards dinner on June 3. 

Levine received the JFS Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award for his dedication and commitment to JFS Los Angeles. A member of the board since 2004, he previously chaired the JFS facilities and public policy committees and served as president of the board of directors from 2010 to 2012.

In addition to Levine’s extensive involvement with civic, religious and philanthropic causes, the JFS honoree has served as chief of staff to real estate developer Jerry Epstein since 1987. 

Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the event was organized by co-chairs Shana Passman and Tami Kupetz Stapf, and it featured musical entertainment by Hershey Felder (“George Gershwin Alone”).

For nearly 160 years, JFS has provided social services to individuals and families of all ages, ethnicities and religions, regardless of their ability to pay. JFS programs include the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program; the Café Europa social club for Holocaust survivors and the Aleinu Family Resource Center, which assists with substance abuse, domestic violence and more.

From left: Outgoing NCJW/LA President Amy Straus and incoming NCJW/LA President Shelli Dodell. Photo courtesy of NCJW/LA.

The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) installed Shelli Dodell as its incoming president during its annual meeting, board installation and volunteer awards event on June 2. The organization also named its 2013-2014 board of directors.

A grass-roots group of volunteers and advocates, NCJW works for social justice on behalf of women, children and families. It owns and operates Council Thrift Shops, which are a key funding source for NCJW/LA programs and services throughout the city.

A NCJW/LA lay leader, Dodell has previously served on NCJW/LA’s board of directors and as vice president of its Women Helping Women program, which offers counseling services, support groups, an annual clothing giveaway and more.

Sunday’s event took place at the NCJW/LA Council House on Fairfax Avenue.

From left: Debbie Boteach, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Dr. Mehmet Oz, David Sterling. Award Recipeint Oz poses with Boteach, his wife Debbie and gala host Sterling before the event. Photo by Andrew Walker/Getty Images.

Jewish community leaders, philanthropists, cultural figures and others turned out for the The Inaugural Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala this month.

The June 4 event at the Marriot Marquis in New York City featured Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as the evening’s keynote speaker.

Honorees included Eli Wiesel, who received the Champion of Jewish Spirit award; Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, who were named the Champions of Jewish Identity and Dr. Mehmet Oz, who was recognized as a Champion of Human Life. Technology investor Kevin Bermeister and David Sterling, chairman of Sterling and Sterling, co-hosted.

Called “the most famous rabbi in America” by The Washington Post, Boteach recently published his newest bestseller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Meanwhile, Holocaust survivor Wiesel is the author of more than 50 books, including “Night;” American casino magnate Adelson has made more than $100 million in contributions to Birthright Israel and Oz is a famous surgeon, author and television personality.

Proceeds benefited American Friends of Rambam Medical Center (AFORAM) and This World: The Values Network. Based in New York, AFORAM aims to support and support The Rambam Health Care Campus, one of the premiere medical institutions in Israel. Build around the teachings of Boteach, The Values Network uses mass media to bring Jewish values into the mainstream culture.

From left: Sheldon Adelson, Miriam Adelson. Gala honorees the Adelsons pose on the red carpet before the event. Photo by Andrew Walker/Getty Images.

Rabbi Joshua Fass delivers the keynote address at Yeshiva University's 82nd commencement exercises. Photo courtesy of Yeshiva University.

Yeshiva University (YU) awarded an honorary degree to alumnus Rabbi Joshua Fass last month.

“Heroically and astonishingly, YU transmits a unique and noble approach, a derekh ha-chayim [way of life], a mesorah [tradition] that resonates this extraordinary synergy,” Fass said on May 30, delivering the keynote address during YU’s 82nd commencement exercises. Hundreds of students from YU graduate schools were presented their degrees, before YU President Richard Joel conferred an honorary degree upon Fass.

The ceremony took place at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Committed to helping Diaspora Jews move to Israel, Fass is co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Since its founding in 2002, the organization has helped more than 36,000 Western immigrants actualize their dream of settling in the Jewish State.

Based in New York and serving more 6,400 students, YU undergraduate schools offer a dual curriculum comprising Jewish studies, liberal arts and science courses.

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to

Women gather for first conference for advocacy

About 200 women, as well as a couple of men, turned out on Oct. 30 for the first Jewish Women’s Conference, sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women of Los Angeles (NCJW/LA), Hadassah and Na’amat USA, and held at the NCJW/LA headquarters on Fairfax Boulevard.

The day focused on the challenges women continue to face in the domestic setting as well as professionally, and, in keeping with the missions of the three organizing forces, was established with the hopes of advocating for a larger voice for women politically and in the workplace.

Mayim Bialik, an actress with a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA, began the day with a keynote address about her own Jewish family, the influences of her mother and grandmothers, and her commitment to balancing work and family. Julie Stern, senior vice president of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, gave an additional inspirational lunchtime keynote about believing in oneself, describing her professional journey through positions at Lifetime Entertainment and on “Project Runway” to meeting Winfrey.

Panel discussions focused on social action, issues facing women in Israel today and the economic impact of health care on women and families. Panelists on a session titled “Protecting Women’s Rights: Practices, Politics and Policies” included Laurie L. Levenson of Loyala Law School; Robin Sax, a victim’s advocate and former prosecutor; and Joyce Schorr of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP). They spoke of the increasing threat to the right to abortion, including through new laws in North Carolina and Mississippi, among other states. Levinson said that women are often behind such initiatives: “It’s women like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, who feel that being the anti-women is the way to make their mark.”

Sax, calling herself a third-generation feminist, has moved from working within the court system to serving as a media personality because, she said, “The wheels of justice are too slow to change the world. The 30-second sound bite can do more and reach more people. I can effectuate change in 10-second, 140-character tweets.”

Levenson called for more “speaking truth to power,” and Schorr described how WRRAP seeks to help women get procedures when they are needed. “I care about the fetuses,” she said, “but I care about the woman first.”

A final session was a discussion focused on founders of organizations, including Melissa Balaban, executive director of IKAR; Janice Kaminer-Reznik, a co-founder of Jewish World Watch; and Rachel Levin of Reboot and associate director of the Righteous Persons Foundation, and moderated by this writer.  The founders all spoke of finding Jewish values in their work, and of being driven by spiritual as much as professional goals.

The conference ended with assurances that this would be the first of an annual event.