Meeting of the minds at Limmud FSU event


As a large crowd celebrated Havdalah by dancing around a fire pit in the courtyard of the Westin Pasadena hotel, Hollywood animator and director Saul Blinkoff said he was inspired by the diversity of attendees at the Jan. 29-31 Limmud FSU West Coast, a learning conference organized by Limmud FSU, a nonprofit that sets up Jewish conferences across the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. This was the first of its kind on the West Coast.

“I love anything that unifies Jews,” Blinkoff said, as his 3-year-old daughter, Naomi, sat on his shoulders so she could see the sea of folks rejoicing at the conclusion of Shabbat. “Anytime you can meet a colorful tapestry of Jewish people, it attracts me.”

Blinkoff, who is not Russian, had a busy weekend at the gathering for the area’s large Russian-speaking community, leading two of the more than 100 sessions that made up the three-day event. On Jan. 29, he offered an oral memoir about professional adversity, and on Jan. 31, he led a drawing class for children.

The sold-out weekend drew 700 attendees, including 100 from the San Francisco area, according to the estimate by Jenny Gitkis Vainstein, a former Jewish Agency for Israel Los Angeles emissary to the Russian community and a presenter at the conference. 

Among the highlights was a lecture by Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman and former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky regarding Israel and the Arab Spring. There was a panel, “Combating the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] Movement,” featuring Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President Jay Sanderson, Hillel CEO and President Eric Fingerhut, Israel security expert Uzi Dayan and Knesset members Nachman Shai and Sharren Haskel. Even hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons made an appearance.

On Saturday morning, Sharansky discussed the misguided passion of anti-Israel activists. “The minute you bring in any logical arguments, they have nothing to say,” he said, addressing a crowd of more than 130 people in conversation with JTA Managing Editor Gabrielle Birkner. “The real aim of them is the destruction of the State of Israel.”

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke at the conference. 

The Israel-based leader appeared again later in the day during “Combating the BDS Movement,” during which Fingerhut said JStreet, a pro-Israel organization operating on the political left, has helped fight BDS, with its members speaking out against it on college campuses.

“JStreet has been an essential part of the coalition in defeating BDS” on college campuses, Fingerhut said.

Sanderson said American Jewry does not want Israel’s help on the issue of BDS.

“I don’t know if the government of Israel understands the nuances of this,” Sanderson said, speaking to Haskel, a 31-year-old, Converse-wearing Canadian native who is a member of the Likud party.

The lecture with Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier, his colleague at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, took on a somewhat different tone, with Simmons discussing things such as American politics (he supports Bernie Sanders) and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (it may be a “boys’ club” but not racist).

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier appeared together to discuss Muslim-Jewish relations.

As for Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate who crosses over from entertainment to politics, well … 

“His reality show [“The Apprentice”] was good, but this is better,” Simmons said.

Illustrative of how Jews and Blacks need to continue to dialogue with one another about their respective cultures, Simmons retold a comedic exchange between Schneier and himself about rapper Ludacris. 

“I wanted to bring a rapper to Israel, and I said, ‘Ludacris.’ And he said, ‘Why is it ludicrous? Why can’t we bring a rapper to Israel?’ ”

Schneier then chimed in a joke about another rapper, over the laughter of the audience: “Kanye West, Kanye East.” 

The learning continued Sunday morning with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple talking about “Relationships and Religion,” and David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., the parent of the Jewish Journal, discussing “The Incredible Love Affair Between Jews and America.” Closing ceremonies featured an unannounced appearance by actor Ed Asner, 86, who said he was raised in a religious family but today identifies as a cultural Jew. 

Limmud FSU is an all-volunteer event, funded by philanthropists and organizations such as The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Originating in the United Kingdom in 1980, Limmud conferences are held throughout the world. (Limmud is the Hebrew word for “learning.”) The event marked 10 years since Limmud FSU kicked off in Russia, and it was attended by Limmud FSU co-founders Chaim Chesler and Sandra Cahn.

Michael Kravchenko, an aerospace materials engineer from Los Angeles, spoke to the Journal after the “Combating the BDS Movement” session. “There were a lot of executive people, a lot of strong people there. I wanted to hear it. I enjoyed it,” he said.

Kravchenko said he had to stay overnight at the Hilton Pasadena hotel because all the rooms at the Westin Pasadena had been booked by the time he registered for the event.

Rada Konvisser, who attended with her daughter Julia Trakhtenberg and who occasionally attends Chabad of Mt. Olympus, said she was excited about the wide variety of content at the conference. She was particularly enthusiastic about hearing Sharansky.

“I came to listen to Sharansky. I never got a chance to personally see him or hear him speak [before],” she said.

Participants came from across California and out of state. Bay Area community members traveled to the conference on two chartered buses. Alla Dadiomov, a software engineer from Northern California, attended with her two teenage children, Rachel and David, and said that everything about the event was top-notch.

“Of all the Limmuds we’ve been to, this was by far the most organized and [had] the high[est] level of representatives we have seen,” Dadiomov said on Saturday night, after a gala honoring the likes of philanthropist and Limmud FSU supporter Matthew Bronfman and featuring a concert by Andrey Makarevich.

Networking was a big part of the conference. Fingerhut said Limmud FSU is an opportunity to meet with parents, college students, board members and others. The Hillel leader advised anyone trying to navigate the scene to remain calm and enjoy it.

“I would do what I do — I would dabble in everything,” he said. “Go listen and learn.”

Wisdom of layers: Reflections on the Collaboratory


“What am I supposed to wear to a ranch?” 

The “ranch” in question was the headquarters of the Leichtag Foundation, a major funder of Jewish and Israeli causes, headquartered in Encinitas, Calif. (in northern San Diego County). My snow-logged East Coast pals were consulting me on wardrobe for The Collaboratory, a 24-hour gathering at the ranch for 140 innovators, activists and entrepreneurs to “gain new connections, new skills and new energy to take back to your work,” as organizers promised. My major piece of advice: “Bring layers.” And they did. Not just literally, in their suitcases, but also metaphorically, in their skills and networks, forming a delightfully complex and multifaceted presence. 

Although it has always been true, only now, in this hyper-connected time, have we become acutely aware that when we see someone, we are also seeing his or her social and professional context. We try to peel their layers, playing Jewish geography to help us collate them into our own contexts. Who do they know? Who have they worked with? Which organizations have supported them, and which have abandoned them? 

Having been involved with this sector for more than a decade, I also see the network layers. For me, The Collaboratory itself is a microcosm of people from different towns and countries, with familial layers — cousins, friends, neighbors, partners and exes — even the ones I don’t know, if you go not-so-far back, we’re all connected. 

The gathering was created by a number of the major Jewish innovation groups, all of which I’ve worked with in some capacity over the past decade. Former and current Upstart Bay Area and Bikkurim fellows peppered the room, representing projects that stretch back to the early Jewish innovation years. Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation partners and ROI Community members were also present, from ROI cohorts stretching back to the first annual summit experience for young Jewish innovators in 2006. I recognized some participants as empowered leaders whose projects have been strengthened and amplified by the Joshua Venture Fellowship. PresenTense-trained social entrepreneurs from different cities represented their own organizations as well as the intensive fellowship itself. 

The Los Angeles innovation cohort was well-represented, including gap-year program Tzedek America, philanthropic research and design lab Jumpstart, Silverlake Independent JCC, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, crowd-funding platform Jewcer, Jewish Entertainment Network LA, Moving Traditions, Venice’s Open Temple, Moishe House, Neesh Noosh (writing on faith and food, as seen in the Jewish Journal) and USC’s Center for Religion & Civic Culture. The layers of overlap between and among these network circles reveal different cities and projects, but a similar dedication to new ways of creating meaning. 

Innovation translates texts into new vernaculars: visual, auditory or experiential. The five performances of the “Collabaret” showcase illustrated this perfectly. Comedy duo YidLife Crisis (Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman) showed an original Yiddish comedy sketch with English subtitles. Alicia Jo Rabins from Girls in Trouble applied contemporary song styles to classical narratives, using a looping pedal to record and play back in layers over previous ones. Miriam Brosseau from Stereo Sinai played original songs, influenced evenly by pop music and traditional texts. British import storyteller Rachel Rose Reid performed a narrative poem — spoken word and song commissioned for a festival marking Woody Guthrie’s centenary. And Jay Stone beat-boxed a Michael Jackson medley, and then the Shema. 

As emcee, I stepped onto the stage between acts, sharing interstitial comedic bits (in one case, a spoken word response to our beloved Pew Study) and performer bios, and watched the room from a literal step above. I could see our affiliations hovering above us, intersecting in broken and solid lines of connection. I remembered “The Source,” the James Michener novel about a tel — a hill whose layers contained the remnants of several civilizations, hundreds or thousands of years apart — in the cross section, you could see some of the pieces, but you had to unpack the layers to learn their stories.

Innovators are the next generation of farmers in this work, overturning the layers, mixing in new seeds in old earth, taking the things we know and adding layers of meaning and relevance. The application of a contemporary cultural gloss on passed-down traditions is simply a new fertilizer to activate growth. 

While many “Collaboratorians” work to create meaning for the innately fundable “next generation” (widely defined as those in their 20s to mid-40s), others work on a larger communal level. All of them know that tradition and the embrace of new modes of Jewish storytelling — regardless of age group — requires a consensus that can be challenging to obtain. But now there’s an international collective of wisdom that can be dipped into when innovators face challenges. 

“Innovation starts from a discipline of discovery,” said Collaboratory keynote speaker and innovation strategist Lisa Kay Solomon. For participants in the Collaboratory, who are inclined toward this “discipline of discovery,” knowledge of the diverse skills, interests and personalities within a network is a first step toward the spirit that unites them as they continue their layered work of continuity, creativity and collaboration. 

Israel tech investment, with a side of shmoozing


“Is Israel a good investment?” 

That, as Roy Weiler, an Israel-born consultant now living in Los Angeles put it, was the question the Israel Conference had been convened to answer. 

Now in its sixth year, the conference attracted hundreds of investors and entrepreneurs for speeches, panel discussions and plenty of networking in an attempt to answer that query in the affirmative. It took place Oct. 30 and 31 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The data on investor confidence in Israel speaks for itself. According to the Israel Venture Capital Research Center, Israeli high-tech companies, the focus of the conference’s first day of programming, raised $2.3 billion in 2013 from local and foreign investors, the largest amount in 10 years.

And now, it seems, California is jumping on the bandwagon. That, at least, was the subject of the conference’s kickoff panel, which covered this year’s memorandum of understanding between the state and Israel. With two-way trade between the two parties totaling more than $4 billion in 2013, an agreement was signed in March to promote further cooperation on things like water conservation and resource renewal. 

Panelist Glenn Yago, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, told the audience that Israel recycles 83 percent of its water. The United States, by comparison, only recycles 5 percent, and drought-stricken California recycles even less. 

The panel was followed by a Q-and-A with Noam Bardin, the CEO of Waze. Part mobile navigation app, part social media sensation, Waze was acquired by Google in June 2013 for about $1 billion and has come to symbolize success for legions of Israeli startups. 

Bardin spoke about the transition to Google and what he saw as the essential difference between small startups and big corporations. At startups, there is what Bardin described as a “religious fever” for the product, that “one reason for living, which is the product.” Corporations, on the other hand, are more focused on servicing their brand. 

“I think, as large companies go, Google is definitely the best company to be at. But it is still a very large company,” he said.

Bardin’s Q-and-A was followed by several sessions on new technology, many of which addressed, among other things, the emerging “Internet of Things” (IoT). IoT is a buzzword among techies that describes a not-so-distant future in which everything with an on-switch can connect to the Internet. 

So, for a company like Tekoia, which introduced the conference to a mobile app that can remotely control all Wi-Fi-enabled electronics, this may eventually mean customers can program their dishwasher from their phone. It may also mean vendors can advertise a new dishwasher on the same phone, in part by tracking customer usage. 

One speaker’s presentation had a decidedly political slant. Steven Pressfield read from his book “The Lion’s Gate,” which tells the story of the Six-Day War though the eyes of the Israeli soldiers who served in it. 

Networking breaks punctuated the two days of programming, but even during sessions, the patio outside the conference hall hummed with activity. There was a healthy balance between people looking for money and people with money to invest. 

Yechiel Kurtz, after a demonstration of his voice-recognition product VocalZoom, was greeted with four business cards upon returning to his seat. Similarly, the CEO of Bites (bites.tv), which drives and tracks audience engagement through online polling, got an introduction to a major potential client — The Wall Street Journal, whose deputy editor-in-chief, Rebecca Blumenstein, had been called in to moderate two of the panels. 

Donray Von, a media investor who consulted for hit artists like Outkast and The Roots, was also pleased with the turnout: “I met people from Atlanta, Tel Aviv, Silicon Valley, Texas. That is the network effect.” 

Friday’s proceedings inside the Skirball Cultural Center’s packed Ahmanson Hall were heavily Hollywood-themed. Panels composed of entertainment heavyweights took the stage to discuss Israel’s influence on stateside content development and the evolution of exciting tech in the Holy Land. 

The conference’s co-chair and chairman of International Technologies, Yossi Vardi, moderated the Power On! television panel, which featured executive power couple Jennifer and Bert Salke, the presidents of NBC Entertainment and Fox 21, respectively, as well as Oasis Media Group CEO David Lonner. 

The panel examined the root cause behind Hollywood’s recent trend of taking Israeli shows and adapting them for American audiences, as has been the case with hits like “In Treatment(HBO), “Homeland(Showtime), “Hostages(CBS) and “Rising Star(ABC). While on the topic, Vardi jokingly prodded the company heads beside him on stage, asking, “Why did it take you guys in Hollywood 2,000 years to do this?”

“The culture, the fact that young people are all in service, creates for deeper thinking and an informed culture. You see the results of that in the creative work,” Jennifer Salke said.  

The conference’s other co-chair and managing director of STEP Strategy Advisors, Sharona Justman, welcomed to the stage participants in the App-solutely program, which focused on rising newcomers in the application development world. Featured apps included Samba, which records video of your friends’ reactions to messages you send them, and Nutrino, an app that helps you determine health goals and can even recommend dishes at restaurants that fit  your dietary needs.

Late on Friday afternoon, as the conference drew to a close, Justman reflected on what she deemed a massive success: “Our conference now has such pull that we attract all the top CEOs who I ask, and [they]actually want to be here. We are a quality conference focusing on Israel. If you want to do business with Israel, we want you here, whether you’re 18 or 88.” 

Yael Swerdlow, co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Snapcious, a mobile brand platform and photo challenge, was thoroughly impressed with what the conference had to offer general attendees. 

“I’ve been to over 50 conferences in the past five years and I’ve been shoved off to green room after green room,” she said. “Nothing compares to this and the openness, the proximity to everyone. If one-tenth of what I did here works out, you’ll be reading about us next.”

JNET: Jewish professionals networking and shmoozing


Forget the gold watch for 50 years of service at one firm. For many baby boomers and Gen X-ers, starting one’s own business has become more of a necessity than an alternative career path. As a result, professional networking groups have sprung up throughout the United States to help their members adjust to this new normal.

In 2005, Conejo Valley residents and emergent business owners Julie Marcus and Julie Perris became part of this movement when they founded JNET, a Jewish professional networking organization in which members support each other’s businesses. At monthly meetings, members build relationships, share information about the products and services they provide, and offer testimonials for fellow members whose services they’ve used.

Marcus’ and Perris’ vision has since expanded from the Conejo Valley to chapters throughout the city and Valley. JNET has a diverse mix of members, in fields ranging from real estate, medicine, finance and technology to jewelers and auto mechanics. Although members join a specific chapter, they are encouraged to attend meetings of other chapters as well as multichapter mixers in order to get to know as many people as possible throughout the organization.

Chapter meetings typically consist of a couple of featured members giving 10-minute presentations about their businesses; 30-second introductions by all attendees; networking tips; and the opportunity to nosh, kibitz, exchange business cards and get better acquainted. There are also occasional small-group get-togethers, called JNET Connect.

According to JNET Chairwoman Jackie Mendelson, Marcus (owner of a contractor referral service) and Perris (owner of a printing company) believed that the best way to build a strong, stable organization was to affiliate with a local synagogue, so they selected Temple Beth Haverim as the first host location.

The group they founded remained small until 2010, when member Frank Tessel took over as board chairman, with the intention of getting more chapters established. He and his executive board spearheaded a growth campaign, encouraging members to form other chapters in their neighborhoods. The organization has since grown from a base of about a dozen members in the original chapter to 400 members throughout 10 chapters today — with plans for an 11th coming next month — all of which meet in temples.

The largest chapter is based in Thousand Oaks and meets at Temple Etz Chaim, according to Mendelson, owner of Arabica- Dabra Coffee Co. LLC, who originally joined the West Hills Chapter and then switched to the Tarzana chapter. 

Mendelson said that networking in a Jewish environment is not just professionally rewarding, but also deeply meaningful on a personal and social level.

“The heart and soul of our organization is at the various temples,” she said. “All of our activities are developed in the chapters’ meetings, which are shared with the entire membership using word of mouth, email, social media and our website.”

Attorney Lisa Aminnia, who joined JNET two years ago and is the public relations officer for the Woodland Hills chapter, said the big draw for her was the notion of Jews helping Jews.

“The community at the meetings helped me establish personal connections that enable me to foster good relationships, essential in estate planning, my specialty,” Aminnia said.

Like Aminnia, fellow lawyer Steven Mayer joined JNET in 2012 for the opportunity to develop and strengthen business relationships within the local Jewish community.

“I had just relocated my law practice to Encino and was looking for ways to network with other Valley business owners in a forum that was more welcoming than other professional organizations,” Mayer said. “There is a certain innate warmth and camaraderie at JNET, doing business with those who share my Jewish culture and values.”

Gail Meyer, operator of a business that helps senior citizens relocate from one residence to another, has been with JNET almost since its inception. “I use my JNET connections to refer members to other members,” she said. “It keeps me in the thick of the Jewish community.”

Although current members range in age from 35 to 60 years old, Mendelson hopes to attract more young professionals in the coming year. To facilitate this, JNET will be collaborating with Sinai Temple, known for its successful young-adult social programs, to establish a Westwood chapter.

Aminnia, who is on the younger end of JNET’s current membership, welcomes this move. “Having younger people will bring a lot to JNET, because they’re going to be developing and running businesses for the next 20, 30 or 40 years,” Aminnia observed. And, she added, “Young members will benefit from the experiences of the older members and deepen their bonds in their communities.”

 

For more information about upcoming chapter meetings and activities of JNET, visit jnetonline.org

Limmud becomes a Jewish networking nexus


Journalist and author Lisa Alcalay Klug flew across the country this month to present at the annual New York version of Limmud, one of the Jewish learning gatherings that occur worldwide. She’ll fly in the other direction next month to attend the fourth annual LimmudLA, Feb. 18-21 in Costa Mesa.

LimmudLA will be Klug’s eighth Limmud gathering in 12 months. Like the hundreds of other Limmud presenters whose paths she crosses, she doesn’t get paid for her time.

“I’ve met amazing people, developed new friendships and reinforced past relationships,” said Klug, who splits her time among California, New York and Israel. “My world has grown exponentially because of it.”

LimmudLA, which attracted 600 attendees last year, has around 75 people signed up to present sessions — usually around 10 in any given timeslot, from morning till morning, on topics ranging from medical ethics to the Jewish Jesus to the Israeli military to challah baking. In addition to sessions, the conference, which will be held in Costa Mesa, will feature dozens of films, theatrical presentations, comedy acts and performances by one of Israel’s top alternative bands, Aharit Hayamim.

Limmud started out 30 years ago in Britain as a conference for professional Jewish educators and has burgeoned into the world’s largest network of gatherings promoting informal Jewish education. It has become a creative and professional hub for presenters, some of whom have become regulars on the Limmud circuit.

More than 35,000 people took part in one of 55 Limmuds held last year from Siberia to South Africa, according to the organizers. As more branches opened in more countries — there are eight now in the United States alone — it has become a collaborative opportunity for musicians and visual artists, who meet at Limmud and begin working together.

Some performance acts formed for a Limmud event have continued afterward, including Los Desterrados, a British band that sings in Ladino, and the klezmer-house dance mash-up project Ghettoplotz. Limmud gives writers an opportunity to promote their books and educators a chance to try out new topics. It also puts Jewish organizations in front of new audiences and potential donors.

Much has been written about Limmud’s impact on those who attend — the celebratory atmosphere, the array of learning opportunities and the radical egalitarianism of its all-volunteer structure that encourages participants to present and presenters to participate.

That was all intentional from the beginning, says Raymond Simonson, the project’s Britain-based executive director. But what he and other organizers didn’t foresee was how Limmud would become a networking tool for presenters.

Unlike most festivals and conferences, which tend to invite experts, anyone can apply to be a Limmud presenter — a big draw for inexperienced presenters and established professionals wanting to try out new material.

“We tell them, you don’t get money, but there’s an opportunity for people to have access to your merchandise,” said Karen Radkowsky, founding president of Limmud NY, which in 2005 became the first Limmud in the United States. “It’s an opportunity for them to be exposed to other thoughts and ideas. When they’re not giving their own presentations, they go to others.

“It’s very different from the GA, where you might fly in, speak, and then leave,” she said, referring to the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

The Limmud structure facilitates this cross-pollination, said Uri Berkowitz, co-chair of Limmud International, which oversees all branches outside the UK. Last month, some 2,500 people went to Coventry, England, for the 30th anniversary Limmud Conference.

“Each Limmud is its own community, with a fresh audience, but they’re still part of the same family,” Berkowitz said. “That’s why presenters can go from one to another. Now that there are enough of them, they’ll often know at least one or two other presenters, and can continue the conversations and collaborations.”

That’s what happened to Klug. In February 2009 she went to LimmudLA on her own dime to talk about her new book, “Cool Jew,” and was spotted by friendly spies from Limmud UK. They invited her to present at Warwick in December 2009, which led to invitations to Limmuds in Atlanta, Berlin, Amsterdam and Budapest. Next month she’ll be back at LimmudLA, then on to Winnipeg in March for that Canadian city’s first Limmud.

Limmud usually covers travel and accommodations for invited presenters but does not pay them for their presentation. Around a dozen of the 75 presenters at LimmudLA are invited, while all the others pay for their own travel and the conference.

Organizations leverage the Limmud opportunities as well — Pardes and the Hartman Institute, both educational organizations in Jerusalem, have longtime partnership with Limmud, and both will be presenting at LimmudLA.

This year, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is partnering with LimmudLA and will have some its staff as presenters, and Rochelle Shoretz, founder of Sharsheret, an organization for young Jewish women with breast cancer, is bringing her message to the West Coast audience.

“It’s a great place to network for fundraising, a great place to network for relationships and a great place to leverage explorations into new communities,” said Shep Rosenman, a founder of LimmudLA.

Schools as well have used LimmudLA to teach leadership to students; teens from Milken Community High School have been training throughout the year to lead sessions for adults.

LimmudLA will have a wide range of political expression this year, from the progressive activist Andrew Lachman to a representative from Ateret Cohanim, which buys land and settles Jews in East Jerusalem.

Religious expression will be varied as well, from Web sensation Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who runs the Meaningful Life Center, to Rabbi David Saperstein, head of Reform’s Religions Action Center in Washington.

Yavilah McCoy, an African American Jewish woman, will talk about moving beyond the hyphen, and Amy-Jill Levine, an Orthodox scholar who is a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University, will offer another view of diversity.

Joel Chasnoff, a stand-up comedian and author of “The 188th Crybaby Brigade,” the story of his experience in the Israeli military, has presented four times at Limmud UK. Last year he led Limmud sessions in New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta, and this February he’s headed to Los Angeles.

“The first time I went, I had no idea what it was,” he said. “I love it. It’s like summer camp. In terms of the audience, I find them smart and interested in Jewish thought. They’re in tune with what I talk about.”

Arthur Kurzweil, a well-known genealogist, educator, magician and former book publisher, has presented at four Limmuds in New York and is headed to his first LimmudLA next month. Like Klug, he is an invited presenter. An experienced public speaker, Kurzweil gets more invitations than he can accept. Limmud is one to which he says yes.

“These are my people,” Kurzweil said. “It’s what I do. Limmud is one more great opportunity to teach and share my interests.”

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Jewish Journal senior writer, contributed to this report.

Jewish identity defined — a la Facebook


Ora Weinbach is not satisfied with merely calling herself a Jew. Instead, the recent high school graduate strives to put the za za zoo back into her religious observance by being an “impassioned Jew” — a term she uses to define herself on Facebook.

As opposed to the generic “Jewish — Orthodox” listed under the majority of her friends’ profiles, she has created an entirely new category to express the fervor of her faith.

“Selecting Orthodox Judaism from a dropdown list, after Jehovah’s Witness and Jain, just didn’t seem as ‘ Wear it proud!’ as it should,” Weinbach said.

Facebook has become far more than a social network; it is a virtual social necessity.

Providing a do-it-yourself outlet for people to express their likes, dislikes and even their faith, the interactive platform allows users around the world to join together — whether on the newly available Facebook chat or in myriad groups that cater to almost any interest. The Jewish community, in particular, has created a haven for itself on this booming network, claiming hundreds of groups, applications and pieces of Jewish flair.

Beyond providing aesthetically appealing odds and ends for all its Jewish participants, Facebook — unlike MySpace or Friendster — hands over the reigns to developers by allowing them to create their own add-on applications.

Rabbi Moshe Plotkin, the head of the Chabad house at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is the creator of the popular Jewish Dates 2.0, which displays the current Hebrew date and a user’s Hebrew birthday. The application, like JewMeter and Jewish Gifts, is intended as a fun tool to help reinforce Jewish identity.

“I wanted to use every medium to bring Jewish culture closer to their father in Heaven,” Plotkin said.

Putting hundreds of hours into creating various “jewpplications,” developers like Plotkin are ensuring that Facebook is a means of inspiration, rather than just a tool for finding old friends and staying in touch.

Facebook groups can be found for almost any interest, and the selection for Jews extends from the serious, “We Are Still Here (Holocaust Memorial),” to the humorous, “I am a Victim of a Jewish Mother.”

For Zoe Jurkowski, a sophomore at YULA Girls High School and a member of several Jewish Facebook groups, the platform represents more than just sharing pictures and connecting with friends.

“When some show that they are proud of their religion, others are suddenly inspired to embrace it despite some social stigmas that might influence them not to,” she said.

Facebook has also become an asset for community organizers, such as Rabbi Effie Goldberg, the regional director of West Coast National Conference of Synagogue Youth. He uses Facebook as an opportunity to reach out to new members in a comfortable atmosphere where both he and his NCSY-ers can communicate about everything from upcoming events to the underlying goals of his organization.

“I have found through my experience in using Facebook and dealing with teenagers, that teens will go to the nth degree to express their Judaism,” he said. “Whether with a Hebrew letter or the Hebrew date on their page, each profile has a connection to their religious view. Teenagers want to stay together as a strong Jewish network.”

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Under-40s reshape Jewish engagement, report finds


Close to 3,500 people showed up the evening of Dawn, an all-night Shavuot celebration at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum on June 7. Mostly in their 20s and 30s, they’d come ready to spend the night marking a Jewish holiday with performance art, dancing to live bands, listening to cutting-edge authors and even studying Jewish texts.

Between 500 and 1,000 didn’t get in.

“Many, if not most of the people there had never celebrated Shavuot before,” said David Katznelson, 39, who has run this dusk-to-dawn re-imagining of Tikkun Leyl Shavuot four out of the past five years. “And people weren’t just filling the rooms with the fun stuff. They were filling the rooms where the serious conversations were going on as well.”

The tidal wave of Jewish cultural creativity in the under-40 crowd, and their willingness to show up for these Jewish-themed art, music, dance and literary events, has been noted for some years by Jewish communal leaders, sociologists and writers.

A new report lends muscle to certain aspects of the phenomenon, hinted at by Katznelson: Young Jews’ desire to be with other young Jews and their interest in creating their own Jewish experiences rather than signing up for long-standing programs.

Uncoupled: How Our Singles Are Reshaping Jewish Engagement” is the third in a series of reports on Jews under 40 by sociologists Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Ari Kelman from UC Davis. Its main findings show that young, single, non-Orthodox Jews are just as proud of being Jewish and just as interested in exploring their Jewish identities as their married peers. Their Jewish behaviors might differ, but not their attitudes.

Like the two reports that preceded it, this study uses data from the 2007 National Survey of American Jews, a mail-back and Web-administered survey of self-identified Jews. Cohen and Kelman focused on the 1,704 non-Orthodox respondents between the ages of 25 and 39, and compared singles to in-married couples.

Their findings showed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Jewish engagement does not kick in for young, non-Orthodox Jews only when they get married and have kids.

While married Jews do show higher levels of institutional affiliation their single counterparts, those changes occur whether or not the couples have children — another surprise for the researchers.

“The biggest behavior changes come with getting married, not with having children,” Kelman said. “Neither of us expected that.”

And Jewish singles are just as interested in being engaged Jewishly as their married peers, just not along institutional lines. They’re just as pro-Israel, just as proud to be Jewish and just as likely to have many Jewish friends.

But because the singles are not seeking out Jewish involvement along traditional institutional lines nearly as often as their married counterparts, that presents a programmatic challenge to the Jewish community, Cohen says.

“Instead of thinking how to bring young Jews to our institutions, we should be thinking how to support young Jews in creating their Jewish lives,” he said.

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‘Generation Next’ powow at Professional Leaders Project parley


Generation Next

By the end of the Professional Leaders Project gathering in Santa Monica, I walked away with three things: a stack of business cards, some good stories and a condom from KinkyJews.com in a package that featured an Israeli flag on the front and an off-color, yet highly creative tagline we can’t print here.

These may be the usual accoutrement, left over from a weekend of Jewish networking, yet with respect to this conference being a progressive think tank, the cards are unusually fancy:

There’s Ariel Beery, the 20-something editor and publisher of a cutting-edge mag on Jewish life (the current cover of PresenTense features three unmistakably ethnic Jews under a headline that reads, “Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish”). Then there was Lindsay Litowitz, who is independently seeking funds tofinance a documentary film project, called “Four Corners,” on Jewishcommunities around the world. Others there were producers, entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives, artists and budding religious leaders.

The invitation-only crowd was comprised of significant young Jewish professionals and volunteers — most were hip and well dressed, all shared “smart and successful” and were qualitatively labeled “talent.” And there you have the traits of the nation’s future Jewish leadership.

Well-funded and well-organized PLP flew in these rising stars for three days of Jewish learning, networking and highfalutin keynote speakers. Israeli-born Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who commands up to $20,000 for a single speaking engagement, delivered a spiel on positive psychology that didn’t quite live up to my expectations, so I hope PLP got his nonprofit rate.

During my in-and-out stint, I caught Dov Rosenblatt performing with his band, Blue Fringe. Afterwards, I mistakenly offered a handshake to Chasidic rapper Y-Love (a.k.a. Yitz Jordan), who abruptly flung his sweaty beret over his palms before he would touch me. The much-anticipated conclusion, “Michael Steinhardt Uncensored” was a bust when he fell ill, but the ever-eloquent and engaging Rabbi Naomi Levy stepped in and delivered an empowering message on good leadership.

Despite the lack of an overriding message articulated over the course of the conference, there was a sense of hopefulness. The Jewish future is in ready hands, able hands — and maybe next time, they’ll have a concrete objective of what to do with those hands.


Jane Usher is no plain Jane. She’s an active environmentalist, attorney and president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. Flanked by eco-Hollywood and go-green Angelenos, she was honored by TreePeople at their annual gala fundraiser, “An Evening Under the Harvest Moon,” which raked in half-a-mil for L.A.’s urban forest. Since a group of teenagers started the organization in the 1970s, more than 2 million trees have been planted in our beloved, angelic city.

What a pair! Of sisters, that is. Although the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s breast cancer fundraising luncheon makes clear reference to a woman’s most salient body part, the perky set at this event was actress Joely Fisher and her sister, Trisha Leigh Fisher, who presented Joley, the smokin’ star of FOX’s “Til Death,” with the Angel Award for her brazier-like support of breast cancer research.

Comedic actor and ubiquitous philanthropist Brad Garrett also attended the fete, as he and Joely are slated to emcee the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s seventh annual Discovery Award Dinner on Nov. 8.

Get ready Jewish leaders, the Next Generation is here


We gave them melting ice caps, outsourcing and global terrorism. They’re giving us — energy and optimism?

If the group of Gen Y-ers — also known as Millenials or NextGens or iGens — who gathered for a Jewish leadership conference in Santa Monica last week are any indication, it seems that parents who did everything to build their children’s resumes and self esteem may have been on to something. This handpicked group of Jewish leaders in their 20s and early 30s have the self-confidence to think — to actually believe — that if the old people would just make some room for them, or maybe get out of the way altogether, they could fix this mess of a world. They are committed to social justice; they are willing to get their hands dirty; they have great ideas, time to volunteer, and they have the arrogance, self-centeredness and technological savvy to bring their ideas to fruition.

The question is how to channel all that into the Jewish community.

The Professional Leaders Project (PLP) took on that challenge when it was founded three years ago by some of American Jewry’s biggest philanthropists, who sensed that young people with leadership potential were staying far from a Jewish establishment they perceived as staid and uninterested in hearing new voices or developing the skills and careers of newcomers.

Through programs that combine mentoring, peer networking and a two-way conversation between top Jewish leaders and young people, PLP has made some inroads into this age group.

Over the past three years, PLP has identified and nurtured more than 200 young people, and it now has many success stories of professionals who have moved from careers in law or finance into professional Jewish leadership, as well as volunteers who have rechanneled their energies into Jewish causes. Among others, they targeted artists who might not have considered themselves leaders and people who are already working in –or had recently left — Jewish organizations, hoping to keep them happier in Jewish careers. With a budget of $1.5 million annually, PLP also funds about 12 graduate students in nonprofit management or pubic administration programs, with the requirement that the fellows then commit to careers in the Jewish community.

“I’m looking at the next 20 years, and I’m elated, whereas before I was disappointed, frustrated, and had written off the Jewish community to a large extent. PLP has made me optimistic,” said Ari Moss, a 28-year-old attorney who got involved with PLP three years ago. While he had been active in organizations specifically targeting young Jews, he felt the “pay to play” model of establishment organizations excluded young Jews.

“PLP sees a Jewish community that looks radically different than the organized Jewish community that exists today,” said Moss, who co-chaired last week’s conference. “They see a future Jewish community that is warm, inclusive and more inter-connected, that is more than just dinners and golf tournaments.”

PLP leaders have done an admirable job of getting out of their own Gen X or Baby Boomer mindsets and into the quirks and needs of this generation.

On the surface, PLP has created an image that is slick and hip, using the lingo and the look of a new generation. Participants are known as “talent,” a word that even when spoken seems to require quotation marks; trendy word treatments — like ThinkTank3 — adorn printed materials worthy of the graphic design generation, and, of course, everything is online, and everything is green. (At the closing session, it was announced that the hotel staff had picked the plastic cutlery out of the garbage for recycling; where’s the social justice in that?).

The catering at the conference was elegant, but outside of every meeting room was an oversized bucket of Red Vines licorice and a shiny pile of Israeli Bisli snack bags, a testament to the fact that this generation isn’t quite ready to admit to being adults.

But it’s not just the trappings that are Next Gen. At the centerpiece of PLP is LiveNetworks, a one-year program where 20- and 30-somethings dialogue with one another and with high-profile Jewish leaders about the larger vision and smaller practicalities of maintaining a vibrant Jewish community. In monthly meetings in five regional hubs, high-ranking professionals and volunteers discuss with the talent real case studies, and the group also participates in Jewish text study and leadership skills. They receive one-on-one coaching from their hub director and are paired with mentors from the established Jewish community.

“They are very interested in the generations above them and want to be mentored,” said Rhoda Weisman Uziel, founding executive director of PLP. “Maybe it’s because many of them had good relationships with their parents, so they are not angry and intimidated by boomers — in fact they see a lot of wisdom that can help them move forward, and they want to network with them.”

They are entrepreneurial and high achieving, yet team players, she said, although they have little tolerance for hierarchical bureaucracies.

“Respect is very important to them, and if they’re respected, they’ll respect you and be more courageous and be willing to take leaps,” Uziel said.

At ThinkTank3, the talent — a new cohort of about 75 people, along with about 60 from last year’s LiveNetwork, a dozen or so academic fellows, and some 35 other potential leaders — spent three days talking with each other, as well as about 180 Federation heads, rabbis, major philanthropists and veteran volunteers.

There were big name keynotes, such as Harvard’s positive psychology guru Tal Ben-Shahar. Mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt had to cancel at the last minute, so Jewish rockers Blue Fringe overnighted in from New York. Keynoters Scott Sherman and Jennifer Robin came, respectively, from the Transformative Action Institute and The Great Place to Work Institute, which pretty much speaks for itself.

But the conference was mostly about schmoozing. All the sessions were led by as many as four people, so that, rather than presentations, there were conversations on issues like interdating, spirituality, volunteerism, Jewish identity, the work-life balance, harnessing the power of the new media and lots and lots about social justice. There was a painful discussion on Israel, making evident that Gen Y-ers are not as passionate or as convinced about Israel as their elders — a message the establishment has been slow to take in.

New congregations net results online


When Ikar, a 3-year-old congregation in Los Angeles, wants to make an announcement to the 1,500 people on its mailing list, it doesn’t send a letter. It sends an e-mail.

“We’ve never sent out a piece of hard mail,” says Joshua Avedon, who is in charge of technology for the young, unaffiliated community that describes itself as “traditional yet progressive.”

That’s not all they use the Internet for.

“We get people interested in Ikar who don’t live here, who follow us” via the community’s Web site and then show up if they move to Los Angeles, Avedon says. “We have donors in New York and Jerusalem who have never been here.”

Keeping people virtually abreast of the group’s activities is “a way of creating a global constituency,” Avedon says.

For dozens of new congregations and minyans, or prayer communities, like Ikar, the Internet is not just a faster, more convenient communication tool. It’s a central organizing mechanism and community-building tool, filling the roles performed in more traditional synagogues by administrative staff, newsletters, membership committees, religious school, even rabbis.

The creation of ShulShopper.com, an interactive tool, still in beta testing, is designed to allow people to find and rate local synagogues, and it aims to take the global Jewish conversation to a new level.

“The Internet is critical,” says Avedon, who also is communications director for Synagogue 3000, which works with emerging Jewish communities nationwide.

Without the Internet, many of these new Jewish communities wouldn’t even exist.

Kol Zimrah, an independent minyan in New York, has no building of its own but meets once a month at various locations. It sends out an e-mail to the 500 people on its list telling them when and where services will take place.

“All of our communication is over the Internet,” Kol Zimrah co-founder Ben Dreyfus says. “We don’t have a phone list or snail mail.”

In fact, he continues, the minyan was started five years ago by people “sending an e-mail around.”

Kol Zimrah posts the music it uses for people to download, learn and use at their own services.

“It’s a way of teaching people,” Dreyfus says.

The Internet also enables interaction within a congregation. Elie Kaunfer, a founder of Kehilat Hadar in New York, says members and other participants “sign up for programs, offer feedback and pay for events online.”

Not only is the Web convenient, it enables young, fiscally challenged Jewish communities to cast a wider net and “advertise” their activities for free. Hadar doesn’t spend any money on marketing, Kaunfer says. That’s crucial for the many communities that do not charge fixed dues.

Kavana, an independent Jewish community in Seattle, draws its members — or partners, as the community calls them — largely from young Jews who loved to the city to work in the high-tech industry.
The Internet “helps us assess how we are delivering our services,” notes Suzi LeVine, who used to work at Microsoft and Expedia.

Kavana maintains online charts to track how people move from attending one event to attending three, to finally joining the community.

All this puts pressure on the communities to keep their sites looking spiffy.

Shira Cohen, communications director for Minyan Tehillah in Cambridge, Mass., notes that the group’s Web site has not been updated since it was created nearly four years ago — and the young people drawn to these groups have high Web standards.

“We realize that when people visit the area and are looking for minyanim of this type, they’ll Google us, and if our site looks bad, they probably won’t come,” she says.

A new tool will added when Daniel Sieradski, founder of the jewschool blog, fully launches ShulShopper. Sieradski pledges it will “provide the greater Jewish community with entirely free tools and resources conducive to independent Jewish learning and community organizing.”

The site will post descriptions of congregations written by its members, and users can log on to look for the congregations that best fit their needs. They can search by various factors, including level of observance, denominational affiliation, size and interfaith friendliness.

ShulShopper will function like a wiki, allowing users to contribute to congregational profiles and “review” their worship experiences — something that makes several people who wrote to Sieradski’s blog nervous.

Sieradski says ShulShopper is “an experiment,” the hoped-for first step in a more extensive site called Jew It Yourself. That larger venture, he says, will host congregations’ social networks and provide tools for independent Jewish study.

One idea Sieradski has is an online beit midrash, or study hall, where “people in Jerusalem and Houston can turn the same page” of text on-screen.

Certainly there is a generational shift behind this reliance on the Web. The new congregations, minyans or communities — whatever they choose to call themselves — are organized by or include Jews in their 20s and 30s who grew up with the Internet and are accustomed to interacting with others via computer screen. While their parents might find this technology impersonal, they don’t.

“The Internet fosters a degree of intimacy you rarely get elsewhere,” says Avedon, who notes that Internet use “is slowly infiltrating” older, established congregations. Rabbis of these new communities share their deepest thoughts on blogs.

Other blogs, like jewschool, “allow you to see the inside of the counter-cultural Jewish world,” something that in the pre-Web world “you’d need to sit in a smoke-filled cafe” to see, he says.

The Web fosters social networking. Many independent minyans and their members post their profiles on MySpace or Facebook, popular online communities. That helps sustain relationships among members of a congregation between the times they actually see each other.

Kol Zimrah just started a Facebook group, says member Elizabeth Richman, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. One woman used it to compliment the curry served at a recent Shabbat meal.

The next week, Kol Zimrah member Dreyfus ran into the woman at Hadar, recognized her from Facebook and told her where to find the curry recipe.

“That’s a phenomenal cycle of technology allowing interaction between human beings,” Richman says.

For more information, visit local Jewish community networking startup PlanitJewish.com

Online social scene clicks with younger set


OK, admit it. You’ve breathed a guilty sigh of relief that your kids are still too young to have been bitten by the MySpace bug. You’ve relished the reprieve (if only temporary) from the mounting worries of parents of virtual-social-networking-obsessed middle and high schoolers.

But just because your child is still a few years short of acne and raging hormones doesn’t mean he or she isn’t involved with online social networking. In fact, tens of millions of elementary-age kids (6-years-old and up) have posted personal pages on Web sites that are — for all intents and purposes — mini-MySpace.coms.

On the wildly popular ‘ target=’_blank’>Millsberry.com (as in General Mills cereals), kids create cartoon-like “buddies” and custom-built homes, and then meander around town socializing with Millsberry’s bottomless bowlful of citizens.

On ‘ target=’_blank’>ClubLego.com members build Lego self-representations and then schmooze to their heart’s content about the plastic interlocking cubes.

Inching closer to prime-time MySpace in terms of logistics and curb appeal, Time warp again? Take a step toward tradition

Helping the Congo, person by person


Gila Garaway says that the vision for her organization, Moriah Africa, came to her as she was lying in a hospital bed in Nigeria in 2001.

“I was there consulting on a water project, and I broke my back in a truck accident,” the American-born Israeli from the community of Poriah near Tiberias recalled. “While lying there facing the reality that I might possibly never walk again, I saw the moment of truth of what I really wanted to do in life. I wanted to go back to the Congo and build ties between those countries and Israel.”

Garaway recovered from her injury and, as soon as she could, founded Moriah Africa to do just that. In the ensuing years, she has responded to the challenges and diverse, profound needs of Africa in general, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular. Among the achievements of the one-woman organization have been organizing visits of young Israeli volunteers to Burundi to hold summer camps for children, linking an Israeli orthopedic surgeon with a Congolese medical training facility, and networking a variety of African business- men and women with economic partners in Israel, Europe and the United States.

In 1994, the nation of Rwanda suffered what has become known as one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century — a genocide that cost the lives of more than 1 million of its citizens. The majority population of Hutu tribesmen attempted to destroy all trace of the minority Tutsis. A Tutsi-led army ultimately managed to take control of the country, but not before the vast majority of Tutsi had been slaughtered. More than 1 million Hutus fled to refugee camps and when they returned in 1996, a difficult truce was put in place as the two peoples attempted to rebuild their lives.

For the entire Great Lakes region of Central Africa in general, it was a time of crisis, destabilization and change: for Rwanda it was a time of resettlement and massive movements of peoples. For Burundi it was a time of ongoing rebel conflict and instability. For Zaire it was upheaval and a time of release from the many years of oppressive nondevelopment rule of Mobutu Sese Seko: the birth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a time unfortunately followed by intertribal conflict and extended war. This is where Garaway and her husband, Noah, came into the picture.

“My husband and I began working in Rwanda back in 1996 at the end of the genocide. I was working as an evaluation consultant and he as the head of a relief organization. It had nothing to do with being Israeli or part of the Israeli government, we just had the right skill sets, and the willingness to travel,” she said.

The couple returned to Israel later in the year, but in 1997, they were invited to a conference to celebrate the newly established Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We were both going to go, but in the end I didn’t for various personal reasons. The plane crashed in the Haut Plateau of South Kivu, DRC and my husband was killed along with a number of African leaders,” Garaway explained.

“I probably wouldn’t have continued working there — there are so many problems, African issues that are complex and need to be worked out on their own — but I stayed in touch with a number of the African widows from the crash, and on a loose basis began to go back and forth doing consultant work.”

But it was the 2001 truck accident in Nigeria that got Garaway focused on the mission of helping the people of the Congo in a more personal manner.

“I call it people building people. It’s all about reaching out and helping people with initiatives that will help them realize their visions. So ultimately, it’s their vision, and not me saying what they need,” she said.

Garaway’s fledgling organization received funding by whom she calls “a few blessed individuals” and in the last five years has worked in various projects, mostly in Rwanda and Burundi. The summer camp trip this year was one of the biggest endeavors, and according to its coordinator, social worker Hadas Smith, one of the most satisfying.

“Through Gila, I learned about Burundi, and I recruited the Israeli students while she dealt with the African side of things,” Smith said. “We had a group of 10 volunteers — Jewish, Arab and three Europeans who have been living in Israel a long time. Many of them come from special ed or social work backgrounds.”

She first traveled to the place she calls “one of the saddest countries in the world” three years ago as a newly graduated student. She spent six months there volunteering in an orphanage, an experience she found indescribable.

“When we came back this summer with the group, the people there already knew me, they trusted me. We could accomplish more in a week than we did in six months before.

“After spending a week at the orphanage, we went to the capital and worked with children at camps. At first it was around 600, but by the time the word got out, it grew to 2,000 by the end. We had five local students working with us — and it didn’t matter if we were Jew, Arab, black or white; we were one team,” she said.

According to Garaway, the cumulative effect of the summer camp and the various other projects Moriah Africa has undertaken is having a small, positive effect on life in the area.

“We’ve done everything from working with absolutely illiterate, profoundly rural women, helping them to pull their lives together, to working with trainers of organizations in order to train them to be able to work with the population.

“We’ve also been involved with specific projects: We brought over an orthopedic surgeon who did three weeks of surgery in the Congo last summer. He invited a Congolese surgeon to come back to Israel to undergo two months of training at Poriah Hospital,” she said. “We also brought two Congolese babies with heart defects over to Israel for surgery through the Save a Child’s Heart organization.”

Janglo and Taanglo: Israel’s English-Speakers Find a Link


When Devora Kidorf wanted to help a family of four from northern Israel displaced by Israel’s battling with Hezbollah, she knew where to turn. Having hosted the family for a night but needing to make room for relatives from abroad, the English teacher and mother of seven posted an urgent message on ” TARGET=”_blank”>Taanglo — for Tel Aviv/Dan area residents — played a useful role in aiding those in need. Messages offering free counseling services, assistance and transportation to northern residents, as well as solicitations for donations and favors, were posted on a regular basis.

“If you look in our [Janglo] archives, you’ll find a ton of people who wanted to open up their homes and wanted to help any way they could,” said Stub, who studies at a yeshiva and is a former Jerusalem Post business journalist. “It’s amazing the way the community wanted to help.”

While Janglo usually doesn’t accept real estate messages, it made a special exception during the conflict, because of the large number of displaced residents in the north, Stub said.

He is in the process of removing Janglo and Taanglo from its Yahoo list service and placing it on its own site, expected to be up around Rosh Hashanah. While the service will remain free, the two will become profit-making ventures by becoming incorporated and hosting their own advertising.

The Taanglo site is run by computer consultant Beau Schutz, originally from Washington, D.C., and has about 2,800 members in the Tel Aviv area. Similar sites with various names and formats have sprung up independently in many smaller communities throughout Israel.

The new Janglo/Taanglo Web site will offer business listings, such as restaurant and entertainment venues, as well as a place to rate them. Listings will also be categorized under topics, such as events, for sale and real estate — similar to the U.S.-based Craig’s List — rather than being randomly organized as they are now, Stub said.

Stub, who immigrated from Chicago, founded Janglo after constantly being solicited about home appliances, general advice and rentals. The tall, wiry 29-year-old said he felt a sense of duty to connect English-speaking residents to one another to share information and opted to automate such a service through Yahoo Groups.

With up to 150 postings a day, offensive messages — including ads for pornography sites — have occasionally slipped by moderators. Stub, who is instantly notified about these by a barrage of furious e-mails, is quick to apologize to members and said such experiences have “taught me a lesson about strength and sticking to the rules.”

Because of differences in taste, jokes, political statements, inspirational or religious materials — other than to publicize events — are not allowed. But such rules hardly deter fans who swear by these sites.

Members claim they have located lost passports, had important items transported to them from other cities and even found their life’s calling through ads posted on Janglo and Taanglo.

Jerusalem resident Shari Fisch spotted a Janglo posting for a job with a publishing house — where she has now worked for nearly three years — just as she and her husband were depleting their savings. “I told the Janglo moderator at the time, ‘You guys saved my life. This is amazing”” said Fisch, an immigrant from New York.

Sharon Sleeper, who advertises her bed and breakfast business on Taanglo to find renters for her home during the summer months, agreed, saying, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread for the English-speaking population.”

Brenda Gazzar is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer.

Next Year in Cannes


It’s a tough thing trying to arrange a Shabbat dinner at the Cannes Film Festival.

My friend, Scott Einbinder, had gotten the idea two years ago, during my first trip to the festival. At first, I was hesitant. I was focused on business, a filmmaker obsessed with my career. Plus, I was perfectly happy to twiddle my thumbs alone in my hotel room all Shabbat.

Einbinder, who is less observant, had to convince me, a “Young Israel” Jew, that this was a good idea. What better way to escape the madness and deal-making of the festival, he argued, than by joining together with friends for a Shabbat Friday night dinner?

I stayed skeptical. Would people be willing to spend $90 to attend a dinner without music, when they could instead be dancing it up with Paris Hilton at the MTV party?

We sent out e-mails, hired a five-star party planner and lo and behold, 42 people showed up. Einbinder flew in Rabbi Mendel Schwartz and his wife, Esther, of the Chai Center for spiritual leadership, and we invited the local Chabad rabbi to welcome the crowd. Steve Kaplan, our co-host, arranged free use of a magnificent villa, and our inaugural event was a great success.

This year, we wanted to do it bigger and better. Our goal was to double the number of guests. The rabbis joined as hosts, as did Hollywood heavyweights Craig Emanuel and Joan Hyler.

Unfortunately, the villa was not available. Rumor had it that Lenny Kravitz was staying there, and although Jewish, Shabbat dinner was not on his itinerary. Our party planner spent several months trying to find an alternate venue and eventually found a quaint, beachfront restaurant a few minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of the festival. The Chabad rabbi worked his kosher magic, and we hired one of the best chefs in town.

The response was great, everything was set and we were on our way to Cannes — then the bad news came. The restaurant bailed. Seems it wasn’t thrilled with the sweetheart deal we had negotiated and was talking to another party with a fatter wallet. Welcome to Cannes.

Our dream dinner was turning into a disaster. Fortunately, Einbinder was already in Cannes. Along with the Chabad rabbi — who no doubt threatened the wrath of God — they convinced the restaurant owner to honor the negotiated price. We were back in production.

Cannes is hard to describe. Its beauty is unparalleled, its ambiance is magical, full of romance and excitement. Most of all, people who travel there have a sense of jubilation.

We spent Friday recruiting a few more guests to the Shabbat dinner. I bumped into veteran producer Arthur Cohn, who unfortunately couldn’t make the walk to the restaurant but was so excited, he wrote a check for two seats just so he could somehow participate.

On my way to the dinner, I pulled aside two eager, young British paparazzi who were hanging out in front of the Carlton Hotel. I told them that although Tom Hanks and Penelope Cruz would not be attending, our Shabbat dinner was a unique party not to be missed. For a nominal fee and the promise of delicious kosher food and wine, they agreed to shoot the event until sundown.

As the sun started to set, guests trickled into the party. Twilight in Cannes is always beautiful, the calm waters adding to the tranquility of the Shabbat. About 15 guests huddled for a quick prayer service, while others circled the hors d’oéuvres and posed for photos. Shabbat candles were lit and Kiddush recited. Then it was off to the requisite buffet.

More than 80 studio executives, producers, directors, lawyers, agents, distributors and rabbis all enjoyed a Shabbat dinner together in the south of France. For some, Shabbat was a new experience. For others, a weekly ritual. Still for others, it was simply another networking event.

But amid all the business talk, I couldn’t help but notice that this Shabbat experience was transforming business acquaintances into friends, strangers into family — from all over the globe, Jew or non-Jew, Reform or Orthodox, Sephardic or Ashkenazi, it didn’t matter. In a town that evokes images of Bridget Bardot in a bikini and Pamela Anderson in “Barb Wire” leather, we were infusing Cannes with Kiddush, conversation and tranquility — the very essence of Shabbat.

After a few short speeches and probably a few too many l’chaims, the delicious dinner was over. Everyone was happy and vowing to bring more friends next year. One woman came up to me and proclaimed that she would return to Cannes next year “if only to experience such a Shabbat again.”

One guest was so moved that he said he was making plans to throw his son a bar mitzvah party so he can share with him the experience of his Jewish tradition.

The next few days were very gratifying for all of us. We were the talk of Cannes. As we walked the Croisette, familiar Hollywood faces stopped us and promised they’d come next year

I even found myself next to Paris Hilton at a party. She’d heard all about the dinner. “I’ll attend if I have a Jewish boyfriend next year,” she told me.

I’m available!

I got into the movie business because I thought movies could change the world. I’m not sure if my movies will ever change the world, but I know that our Shabbat dinner certainly affected a few people.

There may be a lot of stress and aggravation in planning a Shabbat dinner in Cannes, but I know it was biggest Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s name, I had ever been involved with. Next year, we plan to have an even more spectacular event. Who knows? Maybe Lenny Kravitz will sing with us.

Max Gottlieb is a film producer living in Los Angeles. If you would like to be placed on the invitation list, e-mail snowmax@comcast.net.

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Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children


 

Steven Firestein thought he had it all. At 27, he owned a plush Encino home, drove a Cadillac and made a nice living as a real estate agent. Then he felt a bump on his scalp.

For months, Firestein ignored the growth, fearing he had cancer. By the time he went under the knife, the tumor had grown to the size of a golf ball. Although, it turned out to be benign, the cancer scare forced him to reassess his priorities. Firestein, who had met several children with cancer during his doctor visits, decided to devote his life to alleviating their pain and suffering.

“I wanted to do something for them,” Firestein said. “I felt like they got a bad deal. I was no saint, and I thought, ‘Why was I spared? Why did they get cancer?'”

In 1994, a year after his brush with mortality, Firestein founded a nonprofit that would eventually become the Kids Cancer Connection. A descendant of cosmetics magnate Max Factor — whose family has donated millions to local charities — he invested $10,000 to get the project going.

Firestein decided his L.A.-based organization’s first program would be to give hats and caps to young cancer patients who had lost their hair from chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. To Firestein, the Magical Caps for Kids program resonated strongly with him; doctors had shaved his head before removing his benign tumor, leaving him feeling vulnerable and self-conscious. To date, Magical Caps has given away an estimated 40,000 caps across the nation.

“I think what he’s doing is terrific,” said Marcia Helton, a 59-year-old professional caregiver from Los Osos, Calif., who has assembled a group of girls called the Little Angels to knit hats, scarves and blankets for Kids Cancer Connection and other charities. The caps “make kids feel cared about. It’s also great for their families, because the families feel better when their kids feel better.”

Under Firestein’s direction, Kids Cancer Connection branched out into new areas. In the late ’90s, the charity began sponsoring field trips to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and other attractions. Firestein, wherever possible, used his networking abilities to procure free tickets, even tapping the California Travel & Tourism Commission for vouchers.

Later, he helped establish the Courageous Kid Recognition Award to recognize the bravery of children battling cancer. Recently, a young boy undergoing a bone marrow transplant received the award at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, where he now seeks treatment. More than 2,000 kids around the country have won the award since the program began in 2003.

Firestein himself has been recognized for his efforts. In 1995, he won a National Volunteer Service Award from Volunteers of America. In November, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) took to the House floor to praise Firestein’s efforts.

Now a 40-year-old middle-school teacher in the Valley, Firestein still spends 20 hours a week on the Kids Cancer Connection, which has 300 volunteers nationally. Despite the time and financial demands, he has no regrets.

“I totally feel like I’m making a difference,” Firestein said.

Steven Firestein

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Special Needs Group Fills Special Niche


When parents gather for monthly meetings of Ozreinu, a spiritual support group for families with special-needs children, the first thing they do is check in.

Before they get to the Jewish text, before they begin the formal discussion, they update each other on what’s been going on over the last month.

“Every month we gather there is stronger sense of community,” said Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, the group’s founder. “It provides a forum for really honest sharing without embarrassment. And there is always a lot of humor that only another parent with a special-needs kid can appreciate.”

Ozreinu, Hebrew for “our help,” is “cross-denominational and multidiagnosis,” as Fields-Meyer put it, and includes families of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, autism and mental retardation.

From its beginning in 2000, the small group that met in Westside living rooms has expanded, with satellite groups in Santa Monica, Valley Village and Sherman Oaks.

At each meeting, parents study a Jewish text — anything from Bible to Talmud to modern Israeli poetry — as a jumping off point for discussion.

“We always find ourselves in the text, and we always find a way to support each other through the text,” Fields-Meyer said.

At a recent meeting, for example, the group discussed the story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem took the risk of envisioning a new and different future for the Jewish people. They related his situation to the risks they take — in changing schools or therapies, in making decisions that impact the rest of the family.

“Being a parent is all about making choices and taking risks,” Fields-Meyer said. “Being a parent of [special-needs] children intensifies that exponentially, and we use Jewish texts to open up doors to talk about those difficulties.”

Fields-Meyer has helped launch Ozreinu meetings in San Jose and Rhode Island. The rabbi provides the facilitators with texts and suggests ways to guide the discussion. Two more groups, in Seattle and Marin County, are set to launch in September.

Overall, it has been quite the year for Fields-Meyer, a Conservative rabbi and mother of three boys (Ami, 11; Noam, 7; and Ezra, 9, who has autism). She spent last fall publicizing her well-received book, “A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home” (co-written with Noam Zion of the Shalom Hartman Institute). Last spring, she was honored by the Mintz Family Foundation with its Creative Jewish Education Award for her work with Ozreinu.

Last winter, Ozreinu conducted its first Shabbaton for about 50 adults and 70 children, which was held on President’s Day weekend at Camp Ramah in Ojai and supported by the Jewish Community Foundation. Fields-Meyer coordinated the event with Tara Reisbaum, director of Camp Ramah’s Tikvah Program, a summer camp for Jewish adolescents with developmental and emotional disabilities.

Parents said they were energized by the weekend, despite a record-breaking downpour. There were developmentally appropriate activities for the children, who stayed in separate cabins, while parents forged new bonds over Torah study and discussions.

“The best part of the Shabbaton was not worrying about how my daughter was behaving or if people were evaluating her,” said Judith Rubin, a member of the Ozreinu group at Adat Ari El in Valley Village. “It was nice to enjoy the weekend without the added burden of other people’s judgments.”

Parents saw their children with special needs, as well their other children, making friends and gaining confidence.

“I liked the fact that they [the brothers and sisters] had their own sessions where they could open up about life with a special-needs sibling,” said Cindy Steinschriber, whose 11-year-old son, Yoni, attended the Shabbaton. “I knew he would benefit both from being able to talk about his own experiences, as well as hearing about the experiences of others.”

Steinschriber is a founding member of Ozreinu on the Westside. Her daughter, Liora, is 14 years old and has multiple challenges, including ADHD and developmental delays. While she has been in other, non-Jewish support groups, Steinschriber likes “the idea of learning Torah as the key component and the fact that the group was comprised of parents within our local community.”

At the retreat, Fields-Meyer said, “Jewish families were able to meet each other for spiritual support, insight and networking. Most importantly, they came away with the sense of being included in the Jewish community, that the Jewish community has a place for them.”

For more information on Ozreinu, contact Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer at ozreinu@yahoo.com.

 

You’ll Do Lunch in This Town Again


Powerful women in Hollywood, back in 1978, were as prevalent as communists during the blacklist. Probably even less so.

That’s when Loreen Arbus came to town. A Jewish girl fresh out of college with some summer internships at Cosmopolitan magazine under her belt, Arbus wanted to make a career in television.

And make it she did, becoming the first woman to head up programming for a national network (Showtime and Lifetime), and earning an Emmy nomination for her work as a producer. Now, almost three decades later, the writer, producer and philanthropist has much to be proud of, but one of her crowning glories is The Women’s Luncheon, a monthly gathering of the communications industry’s most powerful women.

“In the beginning I was amazed at how many remarkable people in the industry I was meeting, even though I was brand new,” Arbus told The Journal.

One of those amazing people was Nancy Hutson Perlman. Like Arbus, Perlman, who eventually founded the management company Hutson Management, back then was just starting out. What the two fast friends discovered was that they had a talent for networking. So they decided to hold a small lunch to introduce everyone around.

“We each invited a few people — six or eight people total — and we had a lunch at the Plaza Hotel. We all had a wonderful time — we learned a lot from each other,” Arbus told The Journal airily. “We found ways, things that we talked about that could be helpful to each other.”

Arbus and Perlman decided that if each person could recommend someone else, they’d do it again the following month, and “we could create a network,” Arbus said.

Even though Arbus’ motivation in doing the monthly luncheon was to “build my Rolodex,” she discovered that “it would be a wonderful thing to introduce some of those terrific people I was meeting to others. In numbers we have strength.”

Some early attendees included producers Lynn Roth and Caryn Mandabach.

“I met people along the way and I found that sometimes in a short period of time, the person who was nobody had now landed,” Arbus said.

Those people brought other people, and month after month Arbus and Perlman invited a dozen or so women to connect each month since.

“We began to reach out to a lot of women who had clearly broken through what we didn’t know was called the ‘glass ceiling.’ These women weren’t joiners, they wouldn’t have come to things that we would have met them at,” Arbus said.

The luncheon began to take a shape, with some 30 percent of people they knew; 70 percent they didn’t.

Over the years the luncheon has evolved — to focus on top-level women, rather than entry-level, and to include communications professionals as well as entertainment — but it’s never been canceled. In these 27-plus years of luncheons, once a month in Los Angeles (and once in a while in New York) more than 11,000 women have attended the luncheons, including Sherry Lansing, Wallis Annenberg and Gloria Allred, to name a few.

For some, it was a great place to be in the company of other women.

“There were such good vibes in that room — such a giving feeling among us all at what you had created,” NBC writer and producer Josephine Lyons wrote in a letter of thanks to Arbus. “We all left so much richer — for we had done what you wanted, we ‘networked.'”

For others, the luncheon has brought about great career benefits and moves. For example, author Rona Jaffe, who attended the luncheons both in New York and Los Angeles, met producer Marcy Gross, who made a TV movie from one of her books.

For Arbus herself, it has reaffirmed her belief in the power of women and of strength in numbers.

Back in the days when Arbus worked for Cosmo with Helen Gurley Brown as her mentor, it was believed that if only women were in positions of power, they would help each other. But over the years, as women have indeed broken through that ceiling of glass, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Women do everything but help another woman.

But that’s never been Arbus’ experience.

“I’ve been challenged on it. But I swear on the Bible and the life of my little dog, I have never ever in my entire life personally and professionally interacted with women who weren’t supportive, and if they hadn’t been, I wasn’t aware of it,” Arbus insists. “I can’t say that it isn’t true for others. I’m no judge, but I only know my own self.”

Raised Reform in New York, Arbus had the strongest feminist example laid by her mother, the first woman in New York to be accepted to the Union Theological Seminary.

“She wanted to study all the great religions of the world. And so I had exposure in rather extraordinary ways to religion,” Arbus said. “I’m proud to be Jewish. Jews are extremely philanthropic and generous.”

“There was always an emphasis of giving and giving back,” she explained. “I was always brought up to follow my own path.”

Have a Holly Jolly Schmooz-fest


Chinese-food-and-a-movie faces strong competition in our
city once again this year. This Christmas Eve, on a night that would otherwise
be distinguished by what we aren’t celebrating, Stu and Lew Productions brings
Jewish cheer with its “Schmooz-a-Palooza” party. Going on its 10 year, the
annual event for under-40 Jews has practically become an institution.

“We were the first, I think, great party that came to L.A.,”
said Lewis Weinger, the “Lew” behind the name. This year, the party again takes
place at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, and Weinger expects the
1,200-some tickets will sell out, as usual.

It began 10 years ago with two friends, Stuart Wax and Lewis
Weinger, and an idea to create a new way for Jewish singles to meet.

“I think what prompted me to start was that I felt there’s a
real need in the community to create a fun, hip place for young people to get
together and to party and hopefully date and marry within the faith,” said Weinger,
a self-described ba’al teshuvah (returnee to Jewish observance). 

While people typically think of “Schmooz-a-Palooza” as a
singles event, it’s evolved over the years. Today, Weinger runs the operation
without Wax, and the feel of “Schmooz-a-Palooza,” which this year falls on the
sixth night of Chanukah, has become more party than mixer. People come in
couples or in groups of friends, and schmooze, dance and mingle, or not, as
they choose.

“It’s become this networking, reconnecting, ‘Wow, we went to
camp together 10 years ago [sort of event],'” Weinger said. “From that whole
energy, I think there have been countless relationships, not only getting
married, but friendships and business connections.”

And realizing that not everyone loves a dance party, Stu and
Lew experiments this year with a chill alternative in the form of the loungey
House of Blues Foundation Room. A pricier VIP ticket grants guests entree to
the smaller penthouse room usually reserved for members — complete with couches
and a fireplace.

“I’m not looking to provide an exclusionary kind of atmosphere,”
Weinger said, “yet they said this room is small. We can only sell a limited
amount.”

In other words, plan ahead, or risk a night of take-out and
overpriced popcorn.

8 p.m.-2 a.m. $25 (general), $40 (VIP).
House of Blues, Los Angeles.

Networking for Jobs


It’s been nearly two years since David Lorch had a job. Currently, the former pricing analyst for an Orange County high-tech firm attends networking events near his home in Laguna Hills, does volunteer work for his shul, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, and tries to maintain his hope.

With the job market showing little or no signs of improvement, Lorch is hoping to start a new networking group through his synagogue that is focused specifically on helping unemployed Jews find work. Such organizations have taken off at a handful of congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the dismal job market is already considered a crisis in the Jewish community. Lorch is hoping to draw from the experiences of his peers in Silicon Valley in crafting a network of his own.

"It’s one thing to have a general group, but I think a focused group of Jews helping Jews could be more powerful, more beneficial," Lorch said. "So far, the standard stuff hasn’t worked."

Rabbi Sheldon Lewis of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto said his Conservative synagogue was a natural place for out-of-work congregants to base their support and networking activities. Their 1-year-old Project Full Employment, holds two monthly meetings and maintains an e-mail group for job leads that has attracted more than 300 members.

"I think in a community like a synagogue, we have a deep stake in each other’s welfare," Lewis said. "If we’re not ready to act in a time like this, then when?"

Lewis, a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley, said the current economic downturn is the worst he has ever seen. At Kol Emeth, a congregation-wide appeal for job leads was part of the Yom Kippur services this year.

"I’m still finding out about people in the congregation who have been quietly facing this challenge. There are even families in which two bread-winners are unemployed together," Lewis said. "The toll is immense. I’ve seen tensions in marriages, drained self-esteem and the loss of hope."

Jill Kulick lost her job as a vice president of human resources when her Silicon Valley start-up company folded more than a year ago. Now, in addition to looking for a job, she organizes the networking group at Congregation Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Los Altos Hills, at which an estimated 8 percent of adult congregants are out of work.

"It’s very lonely to be out there without a job," she said. "The common thread is that all of us are professionals who three years ago were in great demand. You go from a feeling of true competency and professionalism to where people don’t give you the time of day."

Like Kulick, many unemployed Jewish professionals find structure and a sense of purpose by getting more involved in their synagogues. For example, when Congregation Beth Am’s vice president of finance needed some help, Kulick knew of three unemployed chief financial officers she could call on. "I said here are our people, and they all said great, we’d love to get involved."

After a year of setting up guest speakers for the synagogue’s job networking group, Kulick and fellow organizers have shifted their focus toward establishing more personal connections between the 1,800-family congregation’s unemployed members and their fellow congregants who are in the position to help them make contacts and find job leads.

A recent dessert reception at Beth Am brought about 50 out-of-work congregants together with more than a dozen "movers and shakers" from the congregation’s own ranks. After each person briefly told their story, the group split into smaller networking units and shared resumes and suggestions.

"They got to meet with a whole constituency who never had come together as a community before," Kulick said.

Linking Up Our Community


For much of their history, Jews have been the masters of networking. Even before the destruction of the Second Temple, far-flung Jewish communities, usually through itinerant traders traveling precariously across the Mediterranean and land routes, maintained sophisticated communications networks with each other in a diaspora that extended from Palestine to Spain, in the West, and Persia, in the East.

Today, the handwritten letters have been replaced by telephone lines and high-speed jets, which connect Jewish communities around the world. But entrepreneur Steve Koltai, president of Culver City-based Cyberstudios, sees in the development of the Internet perhaps the most profound opportunity for intercommunication between Jews around the nation, the world and even Los Angeles.

Like the early Jewish merchants, the 46-year-old Koltai is using the network primarily to make money. His brainchild — a site called BarMitzvah.411 — provides logistic advice, a gift registry, access to vendors, as well as helpful suggestions to those who are going through the bar or bat mitzvah process. “We are doing something that’s useful,” the former Warner Bros. executive says. “Planning bar mitzvahs has become a pain in the neck. Everyone’s so busy now, and people need help with the logistics.”

Making money on the site is not as outrageous as it may seem. The average bar mitzvah, according to Koltai’s research, runs about $20,000; the value of gifts is another $20,000. In total, the whole bar and bat mitzvah “industry” makes up a $2.5 billion market segment. Roughly 10 percent of these events take place in the Los Angeles area, a third in New York and another 6 percent in Florida.

The site includes step-by-step instructions for planning the event, as well as suggestions for customizing everything from food to flowers. It includes detailed descriptions of such options as having the event held in Israel and a tzedakah page dedicated to charity giving as an alternative to the traditional gelt. There’s even a Jewish Joke Exchange to lighten the often arduous process of planning.

By providing Internet links to a national network that consists of thousands of stores, caterers, flower shops and other vendors, and taking a small cut, BarMitzvah.411 hopes to provide its creators with a healthy profit.

Koltai’s earlier Internet site — Wedding.411 — has already gained more than 3,000 subscribers, a number that is growing by 30 a day. That site has already rapidly become profitable, which is still a rarity in the Internet commerce sector. Similar sites are being developed for special events such as reunions, anniversaries and Quinceanera, a traditional event for Latinas when they turn 15.

“We are moving to an era where there will be a Web site for each of these major points in life,” Koltai says. “I think there is a profit to be made, customizing things, providing information which, perhaps in the past, was passed down by friends and family, but now people need to find elsewhere.”

But for Koltai and Cyberstudios editor, Susan Gordon, the BarMitzvah.411 site has a deeper significance. Formerly an editor at such publications as Buzz, California, Seventeen and Glamour, Gordon was bat mitzvahed herself last May. Having been brought up in New Jersey as a highly secularized Reform Jew, she found the experience of preparing for her bat mitzvah a thoroughly uplifting experience, and, now, with her 9-year-old approaching the magical 13-year milestone, she’s been thinking about planning another such event.

“I feel like this is very meaningful for me,” says Gordon, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “And with my own children getting to that age, I have a reason to develop this kind of material.”

Although BarMitzvah.411 is a commercial venture, Koltai has also been proselytizing about the net to his rabbi, John Rosove at Temple Israel in Hollywood. Some might see the Internet as yet another way to break down the traditional ways of contact between congregants. But Rosove disagrees. He sees the net as providing a new tool for promoting communication with his own far-flung, time-pressed congregants.

Just as Jews in the past had to deal with often difficult communication routes, Rosove suggests, today’s Jews now function in a world that works against the very essence of community. “The nature of life in a big city is so fragmented that to find a place to make decisions is very difficult. A lot of people don’t have time to drive across town,” the rabbi says. “The amount of time saved by using e-mail is extraordinary.”

Over time, Rosove sees the Internet as becoming one critical element in holding together not only congregations but far-flung Jewish communities as well. Already it has become a vital resource in connecting the often beleaguered Reform and Conservative communities in Israel with their more numerous brethren here in the United States. It has also become a central factor in maintaining links between the various members of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.

“We discuss everything, from how to deal with the Clinton scandals to what to do about seeing-eye dogs in the synagogue when people have allergies,” Rosove says. “I see it as a great communication device; it can really facilitate the further development of the community.”

Of course, Rosove knows that the Internet cannot become a substitute for the real community. But it can provide a new and important tool in knitting together the all-too-often frayed web of Jewish community life.


Bar Mitzvah.Com

These web sites will help you understand and plan a bar and bat mitvah.

www.BarMitzvah411.com:

Steve Koltai’s Culver City-based user-friendly planner

www.barmitzvahguide.com/:

good commercial links and sound advice.

www.BarMitzvahFindit.com/ :

a fast-growing nationwide guide

www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Lights/2949/ :

Terry of Bellevue, Neb. provides an example of the new wave in bar mitzvah celebration– the online announcement

mazeltov.org/ jewish family and life:

a fine, thoughtful and less commercial resource for making bar mitzvah meaningful


Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow with the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy and the Reason Foundation.