Another Tendler Steps Down


The longtime principal of one of Los Angeles’ largest Jewish high schools is leaving to start a new school. Rabbi Sholom Tendler resigned last week as Hebrew principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA) and as rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He said he plans to open a new yeshiva boys’ high school elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Tendler’s resignation comes shortly after his nephew, Rabbi Aron Tendler, resigned under pressure as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Meanwhile, Tendler’s other nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was suspended this year by the board of his New York City-area synagogue as a result of longstanding allegations about alleged sexual misconduct.

Sholom Tendler, 61, says his departure is a matter only of his desire to start a new high school.

Sholom Tendler has been YULA’s rosh yeshiva, Hebrew for principal, for the last 26 years, including in 1987, when the school hired attorneys secretly to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior against Aron Tendler. The internal probe yielded inconclusive results, but Aron Tendler was moved from the girls school to the separate boys school.

“I was aware of that investigation,” Sholom Tendler told The Journal, adding that he recused himself from the situation because his relative was involved.

After news of the investigation came to light in recent months, YULA alums and parents expressed outrage that the school dealt with the matter privately. Some clamored for “accountability.” Sholom Tendler’s resignation, so soon after the disclosures, has inevitably invited speculation that his departure is, in effect, the school’s response to community pressure.

Not so, Sholom Tendler said.

“There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between [what happened with his nephews] and my decision to build this new school,” he said. “It’s unfortunate how unfounded rumors can blacken even the most beautiful of endeavors.”

Sholom Tendler also expressed sympathy for his nephews’ ordeals: “It’s very painful, and I’m supportive of them and their families in this terrible time of agony that they’re going through.”

Aron Tendler has declined interview requests; Mordechai Tendler has been more vocal, denying any wrongdoing.

YULA officials also emphasized that Sholom Tendler’s exit is voluntary.

“He helped create YULA,” said Rabbi Meyer May, the executive director of YULA’s boys division. “He could have stayed at YULA for his entire career.”

So why is Sholom Tendler leaving?

He replied that there is a shortage of yeshiva high schools in Los Angeles.

“Anybody will tell you there are not enough high school desks in Los Angeles. It’s a healthy sign, but a serious problem,” Sholom Tendler said.

His added that his new school will fill a niche for the more “ultra” side of the Orthodox community, while also stressing a serious academic curriculum.

Sholom Tendler is calling his new high school Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok — named for his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, a rebbe who inspired “a joy of learning,” as Tendler put it. He plans to open in September for about 10 to 15 ninth-graders. He said he is currently scouting for a location in the Pico-Robertson or La Brea area.

The school will provide both serious Torah study and strong secular academics.

“People who are observing the demographics in the Jewish community see that there are a growing number of people who are very serious about religious observance and at the same time want to live in the professional or business world, rather than the rabbinate. We want parents to have the opportunity to prepare their sons for either way of life,” he said.

Because of the labor involved in starting a school, Sholom Tendler also is stepping down from heading Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, where he has served as rabbi almost since its inception 13 years ago. He will stay on until the search committee finds a new rabbi. He said he expects to remain involved in the community, possibly as rabbi emeritus.

 

Kosher Gospel — a Joyful Noise at Shul


Joshua Nelson is resting his voice. That’s a tall order for Nelson, the 29-year-old African American Jewish singer who has blended black style and Jewish prayers and folksongs into a new, foot-stomping, synagogue-shaking praise music he has dubbed “kosher gospel.”

Though he’s been spreading his unique gospel for years, lately it’s been catching on like wildfire; an appearance on “Oprah” last fall solidified it as a hot commodity in crossover music, and Nelson as its inventor and chief spokesman. So Nelson has been speaking — and singing — a lot lately, which is why he is doing his best to do as little as possible of both between dates of his current tour (he and his band arrive at University Synagogue in Irvine on Jan. 22).

But once he gets started, once a certain spirit moves him and a passion for the subject matter takes hold, it’s hard for him to stop.

One subject he never seems to tire talking about is how he was moved to create kosher gospel, which for all its appeal strikes many people (Jewish and non-Jewish) as a contradiction of terms. Nelson is African American in the truest sense of the word: his Orthodox mother (his father is also Jewish) is from West Africa, and he grew up in South Orange, N.J. He is a third-generation Jew who grew up around predominantly black synagogues in Harlem and in his hometown. But his original inspiration for kosher gospel came from a traditional rabbi in Jersey who cornered him when he was a teenager honing his singing style. Rabbi Sky saw not only potential in Nelson as a performer, but also in his performance style–the potential to attract new generations of Jews.

“Rabbi Sky was strict, and I thought he was going to scorn me and the way I sang,” recalls Nelson. “But he didn’t. He said, ‘You should put that sound to Jewish music. You can encourage young people to come to temple!'”

Nelson has done that, and then some. His widening audience includes not just reinvigorated Jews, but non-Jews drawn to the undeniable spirit of the music, especially African Americans who were raised on this music in churches and who have always been steeped in it culturally. The fact that Nelson sings Jewish liturgy and prayer — often in Hebrew and not about Jesus — matters not to folks like Oprah, who respond primarily to Nelson’s soaring voice, his infectious rhythms and his conviction, all of which look and sound awfully familiar.

And the fact that Jewish and Christian themes and theology overlap, especially in the black church — the story of Moses and the divinely aided deliverance of his people from slavery comes to mind — makes Nelson resonate that much more. All of which is fine by him.

“Blacks have always put soul into something, wherever they are in the world,” he says.

A scholar of gospel, he stresses that despite the synonymity of the music with church, gospel originated in the fields where black slaves toiled for centuries in the American South.

“When slaves were introduced to Christianity, their moans and groans were wedded to hymns — that was syncopation. That was how gospel really came to be,” explains Nelson, who in addition to being a singer is a Hebrew teacher at his longtime temple, Shari-Tefilo Israel in South Orange. “Gospel wasn’t really accepted by churches, which thought it was too bluesy. Ultimately, it was too black.”

Nelson says his idol, gospel great Mahalia Jackson (whom he closely resembles in voice), encountered the same kind of disapproval early in her career in her adopted hometown of Chicago, which was populated by middle-class blacks seeking to distance themselves from black folk traditions and all things Southern. The power of gospel won out, of course, and Jackson went on to become a superstar and a catalyst for the music’s popularity.

Nelson says there’s a parallel between that dynamic and one unfolding today in Christianity: “You have a euphoric element in all denominations now.”

As for Judaism, he believes that gospel at temple is an idea whose time has come.

“In Jewish tradition, there were songs that [blacks) always sung with soul,” he muses. “We always did at our temple. It wasn’t exactly gospel, but it was different. We brought our traditions to it, like Jews all over the world brought their own traditions to the faith.”

It’s irresistible to speculate that kosher gospel is just the sort of entertaining, listener-friendly thing needed to help bridge the divide between blacks and Jews that developed after the 1960s and that conscientious folks in both camps have wrung their hands about ever since. Though he has no problem with multiculturalism or with coalition-building — his own Reform temple is notably diverse — Nelson cautions against equating race with religion, or implying it, in any discussions of blacks and Jews, or of Jews and any other ethnic group.

“Jewishness is not a race,” he says emphatically. “We tend to think in this country that all Jews are European or Ashkenazi. That’s how the immigration went. But that’s not the case.” Ironically, Nelson says that he encounters skepticism most frequently not from Jews or whites, but from blacks. “They’ve just never met a black Jew before,” he says, particularly one singing gospel. He adds, with a laugh: “They get a little confused.”

Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel Singers will be in concert Jan. 22, 6:45 p.m., at University Synagogue, 3400 Michelson Drive, Irvine. For tickets, call (949) 553-3535.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

 

Wolpe Leading Pick for Seminary Spot


The Forward newspaper has reported that Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles has emerged as a top candidate to head the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York.

The Nov. 18 article, “L.A. Rabbi Eyed as Conservative Seminary Head,” asserted that “support is mounting for a prominent pulpit rabbi from Los Angeles to become the next chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, after he delivered an enthusiastically received speech last week on the future of Conservative Judaism.”

The position of JTS chancellor is widely viewed as the head of the entire Conservative movement, as well as the leader of its flagship institution.

Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood told The Journal that he is flattered by the attention, but that he’s also happy with his current job. And that speech, he added, was hardly intended as part of a campaign strategy.

He said he planned his remarks six months ago, before Chancellor Ismar Schorsch announced that he would be retiring next June.

Wolpe’s Nov. 10 speech at the seminary, “What Does Conservative Judaism Have to Say to the 21st Century?” argued for changing the name of Conservative Judaism to “Covenantal Judaism,” to better encompass the view that rabbinic law is both binding and evolving.

Wolpe’s relative youth (he’s 47) and charisma have garnered him supporters. The search committee will make no comments, but other candidates are believed to include Rabbi Gordon Tucker, the rabbi of Temple Israel in White Plains, N.Y., known for his liberal positions, and Jack Wertheimer, the seminary’s provost, who, like the more conservative Schorsch, opposes ordaining gay rabbis.

Wolpe has served at Sinai Temple for eight years, and he’s known for political adroitness. He has, for example, never publicly stated his position on gays in the rabbinate, an issue of ongoing dispute. On the other hand, Wolpe stirred some controversy of his own in 2001 when he questioned whether the Exodus actually happened in a Passover sermon in front of his congregation.

 

Rabbi David Shofet to Serve as Iranians’ Spiritual Leader


Nearly 90 religious and social leaders from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community have formally and unanimously recognized Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Cultural Center as the community’s new spiritual head.

While Shofet was not elected, the leadership from leading Iranian Jewish organizations signed a resolution approving him to serve as their primary religious leader. The pronouncement was made at a community gathering Sept. 29 at the Olympic Collection in West Los Angeles.

For more than 25 years, Shofet worked alongside his father, Hacham Yedidia Shofet, the community’s longtime spiritual leader, who died last summer.

“The resolution was an expression of confidence that Rav David was the best person to follow in the footsteps of his father, Hacham Yedidia, as our community’s leading spiritual leader,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation.

The event was hosted by Dr. H. Kermanshachi, past chairman and founder of the Iranian Jewish Federation.

 

A Place of Worship Where We Belong


It baffled my parents that I went with my husband and his family to Christmas Eve services, but he didn’t accompany me to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah.

“That doesn’t seem fair,” my mother pointed out. “You’re celebrating his holiday, but he’s not celebrating yours.”

We do hold to my parents’ tradition of a festive erev Rosh Hashanah meal, complete with white tablecloth, fancy china, and ritual foods (wine, challah, apples and honey), and I reminded her of that. Synagogue or no, we were welcoming the Jewish New Year together in our home.

So she tried another tack: “Wouldn’t he go with you if you asked?”

The answer, of course, was yes; but I didn’t want to ask. I wanted his engagement with Judaism to be his choice — not because he felt obligated to my family, my tradition or me.

Besides, my Rosh Hashanah observance was pretty variable. I had tried one synagogue, then another. One year I barely went to shul at all, spending the day outside instead, reading poems and prayers alone under the trees. It was easy to include my husband in the home-based rituals I felt grounded in, but synagogue attendance was another thing entirely. How could I help him feel welcome in a congregation if I didn’t belong anywhere myself?

Year after year, the synagogue portion of Rosh Hashanah got more and more frustrating. I cut my attendance shorter and shorter, wanting to escape so I could do my homegrown Tashlich ritual with my friends. The nadir was the year I tried the temple nearest our house, got stuck in the upper balcony of the sanctuary and didn’t know a soul.

My resolution that High Holiday season? To find a congregational home by the following fall. I’ve lived in this cluster of small towns for almost a decade: people know me on the street, at the grocery store, at the community-supported organic farm. It felt wrong to be so rootless when it came to religion.

So I drove around. I sampled the area options: Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform. I liked the idea of attending services in the town where both my husband and I work, so I went to lunch with the rabbi there. I liked him immediately, but was nervous about explaining our situation: I still remembered our wedding-officiant search, when rabbis hadn’t always been kind.

It turned out that the rabbi had written his rabbinic thesis on intermarriage; that one of the congregation’s co-presidents is married to a Christian man; and that the congregation, although small (many Friday nights we have to skip the prayers that require a minyan), is welcoming and friendly. They use a siddur and a machzor, that they compiled themselves: a fair amount of Hebrew, and a lot of singing, but also excellent translations and transliterations. They’re user-friendly.

I started going to Shabbat services there, maybe once a month. And, as Rosh Hashanah approached, my husband asked, casually, whether I wanted company that year.

The congregation’s new building was under construction, so we met to worship in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn downtown. Several people shook our hands as we walked in, and greeted us by name. My resolution had worked: I wasn’t a stranger anymore.

We ducked out shortly before the end, and stopped for lunch together on the way home. He spoke of how the rabbi seemed smart, the people seemed friendly, the liturgy wasn’t impenetrable and he might go with me once in a blue moon.

Maybe the best part was the follow-up letter we got from the membership chairwoman, who had noticed us in the crowd. The synagogue’s standard membership form includes room for two adults’ names, birthdays and religious affiliations. Even as a non-Jew, my husband is welcome to be a member; when we join, both of our names will appear on the roster. It’s a far cry from the shul of my childhood, where at my bat mitzvah, my sister-in-law (then in the midst of her conversion process) was denied the chance at an aliyah because she “wasn’t Jewish yet.”

I doubt my husband will ever choose to consider himself Jewish, and I suspect I will always find special resonance in the home-based rituals we celebrate together with our circle of family and friends. Still, there’s something wonderful about finding a Jewish community, without changing — or hiding — who we are.

Reprinted courtesy

Turning Evil Around


What books must every Jew read? What books are critical to informing your understanding of your faith, your culture, your people? With this issue, The Jewish Journal introduces a new weekly column: My Jewish Library. We've asked rabbis, scholars and thinkers to each pick the one book that was essential to their Jewish life. They will discuss the book and its impact, and explain why you need to add it to your Jewish library. You can join the discussion in our online forum. You can also purchase the book for yourself by clicking the link below.

For the rest of this year, My Jewish Library will replace the weekly Torah portion. Readers (and b'nai mitzvah students) in search of the weekly Torah portion will find several years worth archived and easily accessible at

“>Click here to discuss this book

“Evil and the Morality of God” by Harold M. Schulweis (Ktav, 1984).

 

We have all been with those near to us as they have grieved over the loss of a friend to cancer, the end of a marriage, a death.

These real-life situations are often stranger than fiction. They present the greatest challenge to us as human beings: Why? Why me? Why does evil occur? If God is so moral, why did this have to happen? The questioning of God is called theodicy, indeed a logical problem. If God is all-powerful, then God is aware of suffering in the world. If God does nothing, God is either not completely powerful or not good. If God is both distant and unconcerned, then where is God's morality?

In his book, “Evil and the Morality of God,” Rabbi Harold Schulweis, the eminent Conservative rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, resolves the problem with evil by dissolving it. Schulweis suggests that the trouble has been that the question “why” has itself been faulty. We think of God as a Subject, an Entity, a Something or a Somebody. What we have learned about God's perfection is for us a sense of indifference to what we consider good and evil. But perhaps we are using the wrong language. Perhaps we speak to God or about God concerning human suffering using language that has an entirely different meaning when applied to God.

We cannot prove to anyone what we know about God. But we have seen and experienced human kindness. We know what it is to do good, to love justice, to embrace compassion, to walk humbly, to care for another as we care for ourselves. These are the values that make life a blessing for the living. These are our realities. A proper belief system affirms these values as the actual subject — and God is the verb.

Let's remember a grammar lesson. The subject comes before the predicate. But if we turn them around an insight emerges. Not God is just, but justice is Godly. Not God is compassionate, but compassion is Godly. Not God is loving, but loving another is Godlike. Thus, we have a new term called “Predicate Theology,” which emphasizes human interaction and responsibility. We have the capacity, Schulweis says, to experience, express and cultivate Godliness.

When evil occurs, the question should not be “O God, why did this happen?” For we have no answer and perhaps God is stunned to silence as well. Rather, we might ask, “What must be done for people to help one another, to act with the Godliness with which each of us is endowed?” Predicate Theology places the emphasis on people's response to evil.

Recently, we have faced the tragic results of waves of hurricanes. Schulweis teaches that divinity is not in natural disasters or so-called “acts of God,” but in “the human control of its floods and destruction…. There is no need for theology to compete with science in offering better or deeper explanations for the tornado and the drought…. Predicate Theology will express its profoundest sympathy, help organize relief, and urge the reclamation of the land. In the acts of encouragement, compassion, mutual aid and cooperative effort, godliness is expressed.”

If God is not omnipotent and able to take away all hurts and sorrows, why bother praying — why bother dealing with religion at all? We have to learn to ask the right questions about God and evil in this world. Rabbi Richard Hirsh notes that instead of “'God, why are You doing this to me,' ask God, 'See what is happening to me; can You help me?' or, instead of 'Why must we feel pain?' we can learn to ask, 'What can we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless, empty suffering?' And instead of praying for miracles, we ought to pray for strength to bear the unbearable. In this manner, we shift the emphasis from question to response, and it is then that the role of religion becomes crucial.”

Schulweis recognizes that this orientation of theology is not meant for everyone. It is meant for those who are embarrassed by dealing with a God who is morally defenseless or indifferent to suffering. Predicate Theology is a modern, intellectual concept of God that can help us face the emotional difficulties of life.

Every day that we read the paper, we see a new variation on a theme of human agony. But, as the Thanksgiving holiday we just marked teaches us, we know that, somehow, people have a capacity to persevere, to overcome, to survive the journey through the valley of the shadow of death with dignity and integrity. Predicate Theology may help us understand God in a new way. But Rabbi Ira Eisenstein adds one caveat: Don't ask God the wrong questions. Don't ask why you are suffering. Ask for the patience, the strength and the courage to transform your experience into deeds of Godliness.

Morley Feinstein is senior rabbi of University Synagogue.

Creative Chuppahs Are Labor of Love


Nancy and Kim Goldov wanted to personalize everything about their wedding. She sewed her own gown. He composed music for the ceremony. They both created a new last name to share: combining Stolov and Goldschmidt into Goldov. So it probably didn’t surprise anyone that the couple spent months crafting a one-of-a-kind chuppah to say their vows under.

“The rabbi used the image of weaving our lives together,” when he commented about the way Nancy and Kim carefully planned their creative wedding, with the help of friends and family. Nancy says they decided to make their own chuppah out of hand-dyed silk and handcrafted wood in part because they wanted to create a lasting memory.

“The wedding became a focus for all of our creative energy,” she explained.

They also were able to take such a creative approach to the chuppah because they had lots of time and friends who were craftspeople and willing to help with the woodworking and dying of the silk.

“It wasn’t a sudden wedding. It was a very planned wedding,” Nancy said. “It’s not something every couple could do or want to…. We kind of went overboard.”

But now, thanks to their hard work, Nancy and Kim also have a beautiful canopy over their bed. They can look up and see the magical “tree of life” with pomegranates, apples and figs. The tree surrounds a Star of David made from a piece of spallted maple wood found in a park. The four posts of the canopy are a delicate combination of several different kinds of wood.

Nancy says the chuppah cost a few hundred dollars to make, but is now considered a priceless family heirloom. She is having a quilt made for their bed that mimics the design of the tree. Someday she may change the chuppah in some way to signify their children.

One of the questions Nancy asked concerning her creative chuppah was whether it adhered to Jewish law concerning wedding ceremonies. According to The Jewish Catalog and Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s book, “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage” (Jonathan David, 1991) the chuppah is affected more by tradition than law.

Traditionally, the wedding ceremony took place under the stars as an omen that the marriage should be blessed with as many children as stars in heaven. To create a more intimate space for the ceremony, rabbis in the Middle Ages allowed the use of a chuppah, which symbolizes the groom’s home into which he invites the bride. It is required only for the seven blessings and only the bride and groom need to stand under it.

“It teaches that this simple, fragile room which is now common to both partners launches the marriage,” Lamm explained.

As with any wedding ceremony decision, it is best to discuss chuppah ideas with your rabbi before you start collecting materials and assembling the structure. Depending on whether the rabbi is Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative or Orthodox, he or she may have different ideas about what is required.

Some of the more common kinds of chuppahs involve a tapestry or tallit fastened to the top of four poles. The poles can be held by four friends or put in some kind of stand. Keep in mind the length of your ceremony before making a decision about whether to have people hold the poles. Some brides prefer to decorate the tapestry with flowers.

How elaborate a chuppah you choose also depends on how much time and energy you want to put into the project. A combination of creative energy and a little chutzpah helped Jenifer Thornton and her mother create a special chuppah for her wedding.

“I’m in a creative field and I knew that I didn’t want to just do the standard,” Jenifer said, adding that they researched whether they could rent a creative chuppah but found nothing to their liking.

“We just kind of thought, if it works out, great.” The only problem was — and this would be a big problem for many brides — they didn’t know what the chuppah was going to look like until an hour before the wedding. They couldn’t put it together in advance and then move to the location of the ceremony.

Jenifer and Philip Thornton’s chuppah consisted of plaster columns; adorned with lace netting, green plants, ivy and copper ribbon.

“It was beautiful and everyone loved it. The only thing I would change would be the lighting,” she said, indicating she would recommend backlighting the chuppah for a greater impact.

She says it wasn’t expensive, but warns that finding proper columns can be a challenge. Most replicas that can be rented are too light and easily toppled by sudden movement.

“It’s difficult to rent them,” she said. “They have to be heavy. You definitely don’t want them to fall over.”

She rented the columns from a friend who doesn’t usually loan them out.

Another approach to creating your own chuppah is to consult with an architect or a landscape designer. When Julie Israel got married about five years ago she was lucky enough to have an architectural designer right in the family, her mother, Linda Haugen.

The chuppah for Julie’s wedding to David Israel consisted of “marbleized” wooden columns and a trellis covered in ivy and flowers. The structurally dramatic chuppah fit in well with the architecture at Temple De Hirsch Sinai.

“It was a very dramatic and important structure and it added considerably to the whole ceremony,” she said.

Fitting the chuppah to the setting and the personalities of the bride and groom is very important, but perhaps the most critical aspect of the project is getting prepared to build it the night or morning before the wedding in just a few hours.

Her experience in architecture and the theater prepared Linda for the project.

“If someone wanted to have a chuppah like ours, they should turn to someone with our level of experience,” she said. “It would be difficult for the average person to do it. It really involves a lot of thought and coordination.”

When asked if such a structural chuppah could have a second life after the wedding, Linda said one could consider reconstructing it in their garden: “It’s your first house and that’s what’s so lovely about it.”

University Moves to Permanent Home


Whenever Rabbi Arnie Rachlis came from Illinois as University Synagogue’s guest rabbi, the founders went out of their way to lend him a convertible and hold meetings at a beachfront home. One trip occurred during a winter day when temperatures soared to summertime highs. Incredulous, Rachlis noted the literal 100-degree difference between his destination and point of departure.

While the courtship took several years, "when he got off the airplane in shorts, I thought, ‘I think we’ve got him,’" said Hinda Beral, a former president and among the eight founding families that in 1987 established the county’s only Reconstructionist synagogue.

After sharing space with Irvine United Church of Christ since 1991 and growing from 80 families to 600, University Synagogue starts a new chapter in its history, moving on Aug. 22 into its own building.

Following a traditional custom, University’s leaders will carry their Torahs in a 3-mile procession between the present Alton Parkway location and the new one, which adds a third synagogue to Michaelson Drive. The public is invited to join the 1 p.m. walk, witness the fixing of the synagogue’s mezuzah and the placing of the scrolls within the new sanctuary ark.

The rehab of the 33,000-square-foot former ice rink took less than a year, though the project sat idle for three years when the original appraiser died and more capital was required than initially expected. Opposite a game arcade and bowling alley, University is walking distance from a Reform and Orthodox congregation, Shir Ha-Ma’alot and Beth Jacob, respectively.

The founders anticipate University’s move will deepen their guiding value, which was to create community. "Having a place of our own will enhance that feeling; people will have more of an opportunity to connect," Beral said. "It’s a gift to ourselves and the community."

The biggest change by University is shifting religious school to Sunday from Saturday, which conflicts with youth sports activities. "That will be wonderfully helpful," Beral said. A variety of new weekday educational classes are also now being planned.

University’s founders, like an earlier group that established Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm, split off from Shir Ha-Ma’alot where Beral had served as president. "It wasn’t meeting our needs," she said.

Known as the South Coast Reconstructionist Chavura, the group met for weekly Shabbat get-togethers at homes, studied with visiting rabbis and by 1987 renamed itself University Synagogue. The founding president was Carol Richmond.

By serendipity, Beral recruited the synagogue’s founding rabbi, meeting Rachlis in Washington, D.C., where he was a fellow in the Clinton White House during a sabbatical from a Reconstructionist congregation in Evanston, Ill. She wangled her way into a White House ceremony where Soviet dissident Natan Scharansky was receiving the Medal of Freedom. There on business for the American Jewish Committee, Beral and her husband, Hal, had also visited refuseniks in the former Soviet Union.

It took a year to arrange the first visit, but Rachlis then was a frequent visitor over the next several years. He relocated full time in April 1991 when the congregation stood at 80 families. At the time, sensitive over the accusation of raiding, Beral said a review of applications found a small percentage of former Shir Ha-Ma’alot members.

"Building a congregation was intriguing and exciting to him," she said. "He was excited by our vision.

"We all wanted something interesting, exciting and welcoming, and not boring," she said. "We don’t think we’re so weird."

Possessing an entrepreneur’s confidence in innovation, Rachlis experiments with Shabbat services, drums up congregational support for trips to international Jewish communities, and fearlessly courts high-profile speakers on controversial topics.

Today, Beral said many members were previously unaffiliated or disengaged from Jewish organizations. "We have a lot of families who found us a congregation with which they could connect. We’ve brought those people into the Jewish community.

"I love that we all share in this, that it’s a big extended family."

Rabbi Leaving Beth Jacob for Israel


Joel Landau has the credentials to access the power centers of his rabbinic peers from divergent theological camps.

Landau, rabbi of the Modern Orthodox synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine, is the only non-Chabad member of the all-Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Orange County. With the exception of Landau, its 18 members are leaders of Chabad shuls and school and have shouldered responsibility for providing kosher supervision for stores, caterers and hotels and arranging beit din, or rabbinic courts, for religious divorces. But Landau also is a member and current president of the county’s Board of Rabbis, made up of clergy from Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative shuls.

With entrée in both spheres and his own bent for community involvement, Landau’s influence is felt far beyond Beth Jacob, which was his first full time pulpit 11 years ago.

Colleagues respect and admire his diplomacy, which has instilled a culture of collegiality and cooperation here between Jewish denominations that are often fractious and insular elsewhere.

As a result, peers already mourn losing Landau, who announced Jan. 13 that he intends to return to Israel, a move now postponed for tax reasons until sometime this summer.

"I think it’s a big loss," said Rabbi David Eliezrie of North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda, the Rabbinic Council’s president.

"He served as a bridge to the Orthodox and the Jewish establishment," said Eliezrie, who recently was asked to join the local board of the O.C. Jewish Federation. Eliezrie serves as a national liaison for New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch to United Jewish Communities, the 156-community federation system.

Landau made a unique contribution by helping sensitize the non-Orthodox to the beliefs and needs of those who are more observant, Eliezrie said. For example, he said, Landau played a persuasive role in recent discussions over whether the new Jewish Community Center in Irvine would be open on the Sabbath. "He really was a partner."

"Landau sees the importance in being part of the community," said Rabbi Shelton Donnell of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom. "This doesn’t happen in many Jewish communities. Pressure is brought on the Orthodox to not in any way give legitimacy to other streams [of Judaism.]"

"It doesn’t mean he accepts the beliefs," Donnell said. "He’s able to participate without agreeing with our religious position."

A consequence, Donnell said, is that "Eliezrie participates more because of Landau."

"He opened the door," agreed Rabbi Heidi Cohen, also of Beth Sholom, who will succeed Landau on July 1, becoming the non-Orthodox rabbinic board’s first female president. "We need to make sure we continue it," she said, referring to Chabad participation in communal Jewish activities. "The bridge has to come from more than one man."

Landau, 40, self-assured and given to button-downed formality, possesses a knack for anticipating needs small and large.

"He had a vision for the community," said Joan Kaye, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education, who sought Landau as a study partner. She remembered calling him on a Friday afternoon as he was attending to seating arrangements for a Shabbat dinner. When she suggested delegating the job, Landau told her, "I’m the only one who knows everyone. I want to make sure they’re comfortable."

He omitted mentioning that lack of an executive director means the rabbi assumes many administrative functions at Beth Jacob, a congregation that grew to 300 families from 100 during Landau’s tenure. A synagogue search committee is beginning its work to find a replacement, he said.

A combination of events has propelled Landau to make a major career transition and return to Israel, where he was educated, served in the military and where all of his 60-member immediate family reside. He has dual citizenship, having moved at age 11 to Israel with his parents.

"I have spoken about the importance of living in Israel on numerous occasions over the years," he said in a letter to congregants. "Well my friends, the time has come for me to practice what I preach."

Landau intends to redirect his ease at connecting with Jews of differing religious views to speed financial help to intifada victims reportedly neglected by Israel’s government.

Beginning last June, Beth Jacob’s monthly bulletin went beyond its typical content about an upcoming holiday and honoring contributors. Instead, Landau profiled the plight of a different Israeli receiving aid from All For Israel, a New York-based nonprofit run by volunteers. Congregants consistently wrote checks for about $4,000 each month for individual victims, one of very few synagogues around the country making such sustained contributions.

"I’m very proud of the fact that Beth Jacob has done that," Landau said. "I’d like to facilitate more congregations doing it. The government is overwhelmed by the crises."

The all-volunteer group has distributed about $4 million to victims of terrorist attacks since the intifada’s start in September 2000. The group has matured enough that organizers want to hire their first leader.

"I asked an innocent question, ‘Do you need help?’ They said, ‘Funny you should ask,’" Landau said in describing how the opportunity surfaced.

Landau’s familiarity in Israel and within the American Jewish community make him a natural for the job.

"I’d like to go to Reform and Conservative synagogues on Shabbat and talk about relations in the Jewish community and Israel, to bridge gaps both in America and Israel," Landau said.

Over the next few months, Landau plans to line up institutional support from philanthropists or foundations to underwrite All For Israel’s administrative costs and his own salary.

"I have very strong feelings about pure giving. By this I mean 100 percent giving to the victim," he said, adding that the lack of transparency over distributing donations by some institutions is breeding distrust with grass-roots givers.

Landau and his wife, Johni, expect to live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. Their youngest child will enter high school next fall and is begging to attend in Israel like two older siblings.

Landau hopes to find a weekend pulpit to reach secular Jews, who he believes are alienated. "I’m not looking for them to become Orthodox but to enrich their Jewish identity, which I think is deficient," he said.

Aside from occasional trips to U.S. congregations for financial support, Landau anticipates his new job will include investigating and validating the claims of victims. Some endure years of financial hardship while seeking government aid, because of contradicting eligibility standards of Israel’s Social Security and Health ministries.

For example, he said, mental trauma is not considered a disability by the Social Security Ministry. Yet, post-traumatic stress can be as disabling as physical injury, he said.

"If you die in a terrorist attack, the government makes a payment to the family. If you’re injured, you’ll get money immediately," he said, but obtaining ongoing aid requires establishing disability through a review panel, a process that can take years.

"These are real, serious life problems," Landau said. "Diaspora Jews can help — have a responsibility to help."

Community Briefs


Center Board Wants Member to Resign

Pini Herman, an activist and outspoken critic of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), has been asked to resign from the advisory board of the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) by the group’s president.

Herman, in a stinging missive to Westside JCC President Michael Kaminsky, said he refused to step down. “The whim, outrage, thrashings and arbitrariness that you and your JCCGLA support network are displaying is what has driven away many capable, talented, responsible and community-minded people from having anything to do [with] the WJCC and JCCGLA,” he wrote.

Kaminsky, in an earlier e-mail, characterized Herman as “belligerent” and “antagonistic,” saying the time had come for him to resign or be ousted.

The main cause sparking the latest brouhaha was Herman’s request to have a union member represent him and take notes at an upcoming WJCC board-JCCGLA meeting that he cannot attend.

Until recently, JCCGLA and unionized center workers were engaged in tough negotiations that called for salary and health benefit cuts. Kaminsky, in addition to his Westside duties, sits on JCCGLA’s board.

Herman, who attended a WJCC advisory board meeting May 5, said no one raised the issue of his dismissal. “I think Kaminsky was making up the process as he was going on and overreacted to my request,” Herman said.

In an interview, Kaminsky said he was frustrated and disappointed that Herman had leaked private e-mails to the press and that Herman had screamed at him recently on the phone. He added that no further action against Herman is planned. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Tenth Yahrzeit for ‘The Rav’ Planned

Young Israel of Century City will host a community forum Sunday, May 18, in commemoration of the 10th yahrzeit of “The Rav” — Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the preeminent Talmud scholar of the 20th century, whose philosophy shaped modern Orthodoxy.

“Hearing The Rav lecture was the most exciting intellectual and spiritual experience you could have,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, rabbi of Young Israel of Century City. “You thought you were hearing Torah straight from Sinai. He was so clear and profound, able to transform the most difficult concepts into simple language.”

The Rav’s great nephew, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik will speak about how his uncle emerged from a Lithuanian rabbinic dynasty to become a revolutionary leader in an Orthodox community confronting modernity. Soloveichik will also deliver a Shabbat lecture on The Rav’s influence on interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Asher Brander of the Westwood Kehilla, Rabbi Nachum Sauer of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob will teach classes on different aspects of Soloveitchik’s thinking.

“A Man for All Seasons: Reflections on The Rav” will beheld Sunday, May 18, from 9 a.m.-12:15 p.m. at Young Israel of Century City,9317 W. Pico Blvd. There is no charge. For more information call (310) 273-6954or go to www.yicc.org . — Staff Report

First Training in Adult EducationOpens

Most rabbis, cantors, educators and communal professionals have had no professional training for meeting the needs of adults seeking Jewish education — until now. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles established the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults (ITJA). The continuing education program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will train Jewish professionals and advanced lay leaders on how to reach out to the growing number of adults seeking Jewish literacy.

“Concerns over Jewish literacy and the need to develop an informed leadership are becoming commonplace in our community, affecting every family and synagogue,” said Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster, director of ITJA.

“It is increasingly important that Jewish professionals who work with adults understand the learning needs of this highly diverse constituency and the best strategies for teaching them,” she said.

Currently, the new program has a pioneer class of six students, all rabbis.

“This is training they never had as part of their preparation for [their] positions,” Schuster explained. Participants will learn how to cater to “well-educated Jewish adults, who feel under-educated Jewishly” and help them study and embrace Jewish history, Jewish text, Hebrew and find meaning within their Jewishness. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

El Al Offers New Class of Service

El Al recently replaced its business class with a new Platinum Business Class, offering increased personal service and comfort to passengers on its 777 and 747-400 aircraft. Each jetliner has been reconfigured, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats and increased leg room for Platinum Business Class passengers. In addition, each seat has a laptop power outlet, personal lighting and a personal TV monitor.

Additional improvements include an increased number of flight attendants, more meal choices and courses and an extensive wine menu. At specific El Al Platinum Business Class counters, check-in is expedited and travelers are allowed three pieces of luggage, compared to two in coach. Platinum Business Class passengers are also allowed the use of specific airport departure lounges, such as Los Angeles International Airport’s King David Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

For those traveling to Israel on a full-fare Platinum Business Class ticket, El Al offers a $250 round-trip companion Platinum Business Class ticket.

For more information, visit www.elal.co.il . — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Beth Sholom’s New Siddur


For some, synagogue choreography is as mystifying as opera.
To enjoy an opera, though, aficionados know to review the scenes in a libretto
before the curtain rises. Yet the typical siddur prayerbook provides no such
guidance. “The prayerbook, rather than help them, becomes an obstacle,” said
Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom.

To address the needs of congregants not fully comfortable
with Hebrew liturgy, Donnell, along with a group of lay leaders, spent eight
years developing a new siddur. “Tfeelat Shalom,” the sum of that effort, will
be introduced Dec. 13.

In it, prayers in Hebrew are accompanied side-by-side with a
phonetic transliteration. “I made a 180-degree turn,” said Donnell, who
initially opposed the transliteration’s inclusion. For the Hebrew illiterate,
he believes the transliteration builds familiarity and eventually a thirst for
greater knowledge.

The siddur also provides clear instructions on the service’s
choreography, such as when to rise on tiptoe or bow. For example, “you’re not
supposed to bow with the leader, but in response,” Donnell said. Footnotes
provide historical insights, such as commentary excerpted from “Siddur Rav Amram
Gaon,” a recognized ninth century rabbinic authority.

English translations are purposely typeset like poetry. The
intent is to suggest to the worshiper, like a reader of verse, to supply their
own personal interpretation. “We have been trained to look differently at
text,” said Donnell, whose editing was influenced by Lawrence A. Hoffman,
author of “The Art of Public Prayer: Not for Clergy Only,” and a professor and
dean of liturgy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Currently in use at the synagogue is the Reform movement’s
“Gates of Repentance,” last revised in 1972.