Moving and shaking: JWW Global Soul Award, Matisyahu, Netiya and more

Jewish World Watch (JWW) awarded its 2015 Global Soul Award to the Katzburg Gabriel family on Nov. 18 during its annual gala event, held at UCLA Royce Hall.

“We look forward to working with you for the furtherance of this humanitarian mission,” Stuart Gabriel said upon receiving the award. The Katzburg Gabriel family includes Gabriel and wife Judith Katzburg as well as their adult sons, Jesse and Oren Gabriel. According to JWW materials provided to the Journal, Stuart is a longstanding member of the JWW board of directors; Judith is a nurse and health services researcher; Jesse is involved with the organization’s annual Walk to End Genocide; and Oren serves on the board of JWW.

Established by the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis in 2004, JWW aims to prevent mass atrocities in regions including Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere around the world. Recent initiatives include raising funds on behalf of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. 

The evening raised approximately $400,000, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznick, JWW co-founder and president, and drew approximately 400 community members, including Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein and his wife, Nina

The event’s honorary co-chairs included the Feinsteins, Ada and Jim Horwich, Alisa and Kevin Ratner, and May and Richard Ziman.

The evening featured a concert by avant-garde foursome Kronos Quartet and wrapped with a performance by Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron

Reggae artist Matisyahu reaffirmed support for Israel at a Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network gala Nov. 17 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

A Nov. 17 Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network fundraiser at the Skirball Cultural Center drew (from left) performer Matisyahu; Aaron Dugan, Matisyahu’s guitarist; and Larry Hochberg, co-founder and chairman at ELNET, a European Israel advocacy organization. Photo by Ryan Torok  

“Hopefully we can do more to show our support for Israel and our love for Israel,” Matisyahu said, addressing approximately 150 attendees at the evening of cocktails, dinner, live music by Matisyahu, guitarist Aaron Dugan and more.   

The event raised approximately $500,000 for ELNET, according to Jonathan Boyer, director of the California office of Friends of ELNET. 

Matisyahu performed “One Day,” “Jerusalem” and more at the stripped-down concert. Joined by longtime collaborator Dugan, Matisyahu fielded requests from the crowd and told stories between songs. Following his set, he lingered and posed for photographs with audience members, including businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black, Occidental College history professor Maryanne Horowitz and others.

Prior to the performance, Eran Etzion, executive director of the Forum of Strategic Dialogue, delivered a keynote lecture. Spotlighting the European financial crisis, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Syrian refugee crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Paris, he said upheaval in Europe makes the work of ELNET, a European Israel advocacy organization, more necessary than ever.

The organization had a victory this past summer when a music festival in Spain featuring Matisyahu sought a statement of support of the Palestinians from Matisyahu and made his appearance contingent on him doing so. With the help of ELNET, Matisyahu performed as planned without acquiescing to the demands of the festival organizers.

Event committee members were Black; Larry Hochberg and his wife, Sue; Tricia and Tom Corby; Yvette and Eric Edidin; Rhonda and Joseph Feinberg; Ada and Jim Horwich; Eve Kurtin; and Wendy and Ken Ruby.

“We empower pro-Israel Europeans to be effective,”
Hochberg, co-founder and chairman at ELNET, said. “The Matisyahu experience shows what can be done if things are coordinated and focused.” 

A Netiya gardening and education event on Nov. 15 at New Horizon School Pasadena drew 65 attendees from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist communities who together planted 14 fruit trees in an urban orchard, according to Devorah Brous, executive director of Netiya. 

An interfaith gardening event organized by agriculture group Netiya drew (from left) Barbara Williams, Stacey Inal, Cindy Roy, Leigh Adams, Karen Young, Yonathan Levenbach, Devorah Brous, Amira Al-Sarraf, Tahereh Sheerazie, Jane El Farra, Nahid Ansari and Lisa Friedman. Photo courtesy of Netiya  

It was the 15th urban orchard planted by Netiya, according to the Netiya Facebook page. 

Attendees included Amira Al-Sarraf, head of school at New Horizon School, a day school serving the American-Muslim community; the Rev. Jeff Utter of All Paths Divinity School; and others. The two were among those who discussed “mystical traditions around tree planting” prior to the gardening in the orchard, according to the Facebook page. 

Netiya, founded in 2010, is a Jewish network dedicated to advancing urban agriculture in religious institutions, nonprofits and schools across Los Angeles.

A slew of diverse religious leaders, including Temple Ramat Zion Rabbi Ahud Sela, Los Angeles Police Department Chaplain Ken Crawford and others, turned out at a Nov. 23 Thanksgiving-inspired interfaith service at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

From left: Temple Ramat Zion Cantor Daniel Friedman, the Rev. Ramon Valera of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Rev. Joseph Choi of Northridge United Methodist Church, Mufti Ibrahim Qureshi of Islamic Center of Northridge, Temple Ramat Zion Rabbi Ahud Sela, the Rev. Karen Murata of Northridge United Methodist Church and Father David Loftus of Our Lady of Lourdes. Photo by Joe Morchy

In total, the event attracted “over 600 people from all faiths,” according to Michele Nachum, a spokeswoman for Temple Ramat Zion.

Additional participants at the evening gathering included Temple Ramat Zion Cantor Daniel Friedman; Northridge United Methodist Church Senior Pastor the Rev. Joseph Choi and Associate Pastor the Rev. Karen Murata; Islamic Center of Northridge Mufti Ibrahim Qureshi; and Father David Loftus of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School.

Described as an “interfaith service in Northridge to build community and understanding,” the event also featured an interfaith choir composed of members of Temple Ramat Zion, United Methodist Church and Our Lady of Lourdes. Conservative synagogue Temple Ramat Zion participates in an interfaith Thanksgiving event every year.

Article updated Jan. 21, 2016: The Journal mistakenly reported the Friends of ELNET event raised approximately $50,000, not $500,000.

Sinai Temple, Netiya lead multifaith celebration of shemitah

Members of Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles gathered on Oct. 4 to celebrate the end of something — but it wasn’t just the last day of sukkot. In conjunction with Los Angeles-based Netiya, they observed the end of shemitah as well. 

Although seldom observed in the United States, the ancient biblical practice is followed faithfully in Israel. Often referred to as a sabbatical year, it is a year of rest for the land that takes place every seven years. During this year, farmers do not plant or work their fields; any produce that grows during the shemitah year is considered communal property, free for the taking.

Sherman Oaks resident Devorah Brous, 44, founding executive director of Netiya, a food justice organization that cultivates gardens on unused land at faith-based institutions, lived in Israel for 15 years and embraces the concept of shemitah. As a result, instead of planting things this past year, Netiya concentrated on teaching composting and water conservation.

“This is the year we give back to the land and God,” Brous said. “I find this to be the single most compelling kind of Judaism.”

The end of shemitah also kicked off Netiya’s new matching micro-grant program to help faith-based institutions convert decorative or unused congregational land into edible, water-wise gardens. Organizations are required to raise $500 on their own, making them eligible to receive up to $1,500 from Netiya toward their garden installation. Applications are due Feb. 1.

“Our model is challenging,” Brous said. “We don’t believe in handouts. We don’t think that creates a strong sense of ownership.” 

At the Sinai event, some 50 temple members and a dozen or so friends of Netiya gathered in and around a sukkah on a cloudy Sunday morning. Many came with lulav and etrog in hand. 

Several Sinai clergy members helped lead a service that married the traditional seventh day of Sukkot observance, Hoshanah Rabbah, with a more modern vision from Brous, complete with burning sage and even the presence of a pair of beloved pooches. 

At one point, Brous walked around the group with a large wooden bowl. It was filled, she said, with soil from seven parts of the city as well as compost from her own yard. She encouraged everyone to touch it.

For the youngest attendees, the highlight of the gathering came about midway through, when they helped to plant seven trees in large pots in an open-air plaza near the main sanctuary. They started with a loquat tree and then moved on to fig, olive, Meyer lemon, pomegranate, grapefruit and satsuma mandarin. Brous added a bit of the special soil from her bowl for each tree.

Brous talked about water, climate chaos and the trash-filled “dead zone in the ocean.” She asked everyone to raise a hand if they could take shorter showers. She then asked if they could make changes to their thirsty home landscapes. If people weren’t ready to commit, she asked who was willing to just think about these making changes. 

“Raise your hand!” she exhorted.

Sinai Rabbi Jason Fruithandler took the lead in the service, but a number of representatives from other groups and faiths participated as well. Annie Pierce of Shumei Natural Agriculture (a way of farming based on respect for nature) spoke about divine Mother Earth, as well as her own experience as a gardener. She recalled how prolific certain parts of her garden were before she learned, “Mother Earth takes a rest. I discovered that nothing would grow in those areas.” Her conclusion: “Mother Nature is in congruence with shemitah.” 

Mohammed Khan of King Fahad Mosque in Culver City welcomed the group with “As-salamu alaykum,” a greeting of peace, and read a passage from the Quran. He reminded everyone that “how we treat God’s creation is a reflection of our relationship with God.” 

And because the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and ecology, also falls on Oct. 4, the Rev. Marcia Hoffman of the United Church of Christ offered a special blessing for the two dogs in attendance.  

Fruithandler concluded the service with 60 seconds of silence, asking everyone to “think about what could be better with this world.” In keeping with the day’s themes, he asked people not to toss their etrogs. “I have a family that makes a delicious etrog liqueur,” he said. Brous pointed out they could also be composted.

As for the trees, the plan is for the students of Sinai Akiba Academy to care for them. 

“We hope to pair up our older students with our youngest students as they help prune and water and nourish the soil of these amazing trees,” school Rabbi Andy Feig said. “The fruit we harvest will go to local food banks and shelters to feed those in need. … We are so excited about our new orchard of seven beautiful fruit trees.”

Eating with an eco-conscience

A small group gathered in the sanctuary of Temple Isaiah on April 11 to do what Jews do best: talk about food and then eat some. 

The occasion was a panel convened by Netiya, a Jewish network dedicated to advancing urban agriculture in religious institutions, nonprofits and schools across Los Angeles. The crowd had come to share and discuss best practices for creating change in the food systems at their churches, mosques, synagogues and schools as part of “Just Food: The 411 on Food Procurement for Your Synagogue.”

Devorah Brous, founding executive director of Netiya, introduced the group and its mission, which is to act as a resource for faith-based institutions all over the city attempting to rethink their food purchasing policies and create garden sites on their campuses. She was particularly excited about the interfaith group that had convened for the event, which included representatives from several local mosques. 

Sue Miller, a lay leader at Leo Baeck Temple who started the synagogue’s Green Team, kicked off the event with a slideshow about the Sustainable Shabbat she created at the congregation. She described the program as a “shop and drop”: An e-mail goes out weekly to a list of some 30 volunteers who sign up to purchase local, organic produce from a farmers market, and they drop it off at Leo Baeck before Shabbat services on Fridays. The temple staff then prepares it and sets it out with locally made hummus for worshippers to snack on, so that alongside cheese and cookies there is an eco-conscious and healthy option to offer.

“We consider this a kind of mindfulness practice,” Miller said of her efforts to green the temple’s food program, which also has included a campaign to make all paper goods on the premises recyclable or compostable. “We start every meal by blessing our food, so the first question we asked ourselves was: Is our food worthy of being blessed?” 

She’s led Leo Baeck’s Green Team in a holistic attempt to narrow the gap among Torah, belief and action, encouraging congregants to make connections between what’s on the dinner table and issues like water pollution and labor rights. 

Bill Shpall, the executive director of Temple Israel of Hollywood, offered another perspective. After tasting the food being served to nursery and day school students at the congregation, he decided that anything he wouldn’t serve to his own children — much less eat himself — had no place at his temple. He empowered a committee to taste test their way through the offerings of a number of caterers, and though taste was the deciding factor, the option they chose was, happily enough, also a vendor invested in sustainable, organic food. 

The program wasn’t without pushback, mostly on the financial side; where previously the school had made money on the lunch program, Temple Israel now only breaks even, he said. It’s worth it, though, Shpall explained, to have twice as many kids eating and enjoying the school’s improved hot lunches as a result of the change — and knowing that the food the temple provides is thoughtfully and ethically sourced. 

“It proved that you can move away from the cheapest option and still be crazy successful,” he said.  

There’s also an attitude switch that came with the lunch change, he added. The temple started hosting catered Friday night dinners once a month, with food from the same vendor. The janitorial staff also now uses a biodegradable cleaning product instead of a variety of environmentally destructive options.

Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Joel Nickerson recently convened a committee that spent more than a year examining food and Judaism from the ground up, starting with the biblical laws of kashrut and working its way to modern issues of food justice. The committee then sent a survey to the entire congregation to help create an updated and cohesive food policy for the temple. The survey garnered some interesting and impassioned responses, he said.

“People hold synagogues to a higher standard,” Nickerson said. “We’re working on balancing choice with the values of our tradition and making sure people know that, whatever we decide, it’s not a judgment on their personal practices.”

Each of the panelists remarked on the difficulty of making choices for a large and diverse group, especially about something as personal as what to eat. All of the institutions represented were Reform, and though some require kosher-style food be prepared and served on the premises, none require that those vendors be certified kosher.

Paula Daniels, a senior adviser to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, wrapped up the event by bringing in a citywide perspective. She discussed the fruits of her work with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. Among its efforts, the council has put together a “good food” procurement policy for organizations looking to green their food sourcing. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) already has signed on and is aiming to source 15 percent of its food locally.

One of Daniels’ ultimate goals is to create initiatives that will get produce into corner stores and create regional food hubs around Los Angeles, leveraging the massive buying power of purchasers like LAUSD to create economies of scale that will make organic food cheaper for consumers all over the city. 

“Los Angeles’ problems come in threes,” Daniels said. “West Los Angeles has three times as many supermarkets as South Los Angeles, which has three times as much poverty and three times the rate of obesity and diabetes.” 

While farmers markets have created access to fresh, local, healthy food for consumers in wealthier parts of the city, they can be prohibitively expensive; one of Daniels’ goals is to ensure access to a broader swath of the community.

The final words of the evening came from Got Kosher? owner Alain Cohen, who grew up in a restaurant family in France. He discussed the issue of sustainability from a provider’s perspective, emphasizing how difficult it can be to get high-quality organic product that also is kosher. 

Cohen is proud, though, to be living the laws of his faith: “Kosher is a decision, not a duty,” he said. This statement echoed a sentiment shared by all of the panelists — that while the strict laws of kashrut represent part of Jewish tradition and history, there is more to think about in the modern food world than milk, meat, pork and shellfish.

After the panel concluded, the crowd — an interfaith, intergenerational mix of people from all over the city — munched on vegetables, hummus and challah from Got Kosher?, which has ethical sourcing policies in place, and chatted about what’s been done and all that’s left to do. The Belgian chocolate pretzel challah was a particular favorite, a perfect example of the kind of food the panelists had been praising all evening long: something thoughtfully sourced and carefully made, ethical in its origin and very good to eat.