Shabbat Across America Returns

For Lynne Sturt Weintraub, Friday evening is the perfect time for friends and family to get together “and show warmth and love and find out what’s going on in other people’s lives,” she said.

Weintraub, president of Temple Beth Zion in West Los Angeles, has been involved in Shabbat Across America since its inception eight years ago.

The program, established by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) in New York, celebrates one Shabbat weekend around North America to reach out to mostly unaffiliated Jews or those with little Judaic background, in an effort to bring them back into the fold. This Friday, March 4, some 600 synagogues and organizations across Canada and the United States – including 20 in the L.A. area – will attend Shabbat services and sit down to dinner under the banner of “Shabbat Across America.”

“I think it’s a nice thing to do, to participate along with the rest of the country and Canada in having the Jewish community get together, having that solidarity,” Weintraub said.

“Just knowing that at the same time you’re doing it 40,000 other people are also doing it, strengthens people’s resolve,” said NJOP Director Rabbi Yitzhak Rosenbaum. “Jews are so scattered and we like to be part of large numbers.”

Rosenbaum also emphasized that it’s the whole Shabbat issue that makes the event work. It’s not “Adult Jewish Education Across America,” or “Kol Nidre Across America” and that’s because “Shabbat is what marks us as Jews,” Rosenbaum said.

“Shabbat resonates with modern man. We often feel very isolated. Certainly the nuclear family is gone. People no longer live in the same place as their parents and the community has been weakened. Shabbat provides an opportunity to be part of a Jewish community.”

Paul Solyn, the director Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, has also been involved in Shabbat Across America for a number of years.

“It’s a good way to reach people in the community who are interested in the synagogue but not yet involved with one,” he said.

Mishkon Tephilo actually incorporates Shabbat Across America into its adult education program, bringing in a guest speaker, Miriyam Glazer, University of Judaism literature professor and author of the cookbook, “The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking,” who will speak about, “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Food and the Human Spirit in Jewish Tradition.” Despite the fact that Shabbat Across America is now in its ninth year, the Jewish community still has an uphill battle on its hands.

“Overall our losses [in the Jewish community] are so vast,” Rosenbaum said. “We haven’t yet staunched the flow, but this program is definitely making inroads. Every Jew is a world unto themselves, and if only one Jew starts to observe or becomes more involved as a result of this program then we’re happy.” – Kelly Hartog, Staff Writer

Dennis Ross on The Mideast

Dennis Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East under President Bill Clinton, told an Anti-Defamation League gathering that a “loss of fear” in the Arab world has meant Palestinian and Iraqi elections and the Lebanese standing up to Syrian terrorists as old Arab dictatorships slowly give way to democracy.

“If it looks like the Lebanese people succeed in forcing the Syrians out, then it’s going to have an effect across the region,” said Ross, who negotiated the 1997 Hebron accord. “One of the things that people aren’t focused on enough is that what Lebanon represents right now is the Lebanese people no longer being afraid.”

Ross spoke to about 100 people attending the ADL’s Feb. 25-27 Weekend Institute at the Biltmore/Four Seasons Resort in Santa Barbara with James Prince, who runs the L.A.-based, Mideast-focused Democracy Council. Prince has tracked Palestinian finances and dismissed the notion that deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat stashed away billions.

“I don’t think there’s pots of money out there,” Prince said.

Ross, who is promoting his book, “The Missing Peace” said Arafat’s death has removed a cult-like leader who controlled all facets of Palestinian life.

“The way that Arafat preserved power was [to have] everybody depend on him,” Ross said. “Our aid right now has to be focused on empowerment.”– David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Munich Games Film Gets Winter Release

Steven Spielberg will begin production on his long-awaited film on the 1972 Olympic Games in the summer and release it to theaters on Dec. 23.

Tight secrecy surrounds the feature film, which will focus on the hunt for the Black September terrorists responsible for the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympics.

No title or cast has been announced, except for Australian actor Eric Bana (“Troy,” “Hulk”). Spielberg had also hoped to cast Ben Kingsley (“Schindler’s List”), but he became unavailable when shooting was delayed by one year. At one point, reports had it that the delay was caused by fears that Muslim extremists might target locations to be used in the movie. However, the actual reason was that Spielberg was dissatisfied with the script by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) and instead Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) is writing a new screenplay.

Spielberg has said that his Jewish heritage took on a new dimension while making “Schindler’s List.” The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which he established 12 years ago, has since videotaped the testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

The documentary, “One Day in September,” on the Munich Olympics, won an Oscar for Swiss producer Arthur Cohn in 2000. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

End of Talmud Celebration Draws Thousands

More than 2,600 people filled the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles for the March 1 national celebration marking the end of Daf Yomi, a worldwide reading of one page of the Talmud each day for seven and a half years.

“This majestic hall has now been sanctified because it is host to the largest gathering of Torah Jews in the history of this city,” said Rabbi Yaakov Krause of Young Israel of Hancock Park as he spoke before the huge hall – with an overflow audience of schoolgirls in an adjacent auditorium.

The three-hour, early evening event drew an almost entirely Orthodox crowd with row upon row of Modern Orthodox and Chasidic men alternately praying and watching large TV screens showing Daf Yomi gatherings on the East Coast.

The busloads of teenagers from local Orthodox high schools included Shoshana and Hadassah Klerman, fraternal twin sisters and sophomores at the all-girls Beis Yaakov High School in the Fairfax District.

“This reflects the continuity that we have with Torah throughout the ages from the beginning of time until now,” said Shoshana Klerman. “You think that, ‘OK, the Holocaust happened’ and these kinds of things happen and people try to wipe us out but we’re still here.”

Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called this year’s Daf Yomi event, “one of the most significant events in American Jewish history; it shows the renaissance of the Jewish people after the Holocaust not only in population but in terms of a recommitment to their heritage.”

A cluster of freshman boys from Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles agreed that studying the Talmud makes homework seem easier.

“It really uplifts a lot of people. It’s really important that you learn every day,” said 14-year-old David Korda.

Howard Gluck, a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, came with his two sons even though he did not pursue the Daf Yomi himself.

“I wanted my children to be part of a very unified day celebrating the completion and starting of the Talmud,” Gluck said. “It’s an amazing thing to have a program where the same page is being studied in Los Angeles and New York and in Poland and in Moscow and in Israel. The main thing is, we are all part of one family, the Jewish people.” – DF

Community Briefs

Mazon Pledges Funds to Sudan

Two Jewish groups have joined forces to try to save the lives of sickly, starving Sudanese refugees fleeing from government-sanctioned brutality.

Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief have pledged $25,000 apiece to provide emergency medical care, food and nutritional information to displaced refugees living in camps in Chad and in the western Darfur region of Sudan.

Rabbi Lee Bycel, a Mazon board member and former president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, will serve as emissary for the two Jewish groups. Bycel plans to spend Yom Kippur in Chad to bring attention to the plight of the nearly 200,000 Sudanese refuges have fled there over the past 18 months.

“On this fast day of ours, I will fast with people who do not fast by choice, who may never ‘break the fast,'” Bycel said in a statement. The rabbi himself said he personally wants to raise $75,000 for relief efforts, in addition to the Mazon and Jewish Coalition money.

The Bush administration recently declared that Sudanese troops and militias had committed genocide against non-Arab villagers in Darfur. The United Nations estimates that 50,000 blacks have died and 1.2 million made homeless by government attacks on Darfur villagers since a rebellion broke out there in early 2003.

Mazon has contributed more than $31 million since 1986 to anti-hunger organizations, and to advocacy groups working to aid needy families and at-risk children around the world.

Donations for Sudanese refugees can be sent to Mazon, 1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Checks should be made payable to Mazon. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

VBS’ Feinstein Takes Over as SeniorRabbi

If Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) gave its rabbis titles, like assistant or associate or senior — which it doesn’t — Rabbi Harold Schulweis would likely have been called senior rabbi for the last 35 years, since he set the direction and the vision for the Conservative congregation in Encino

Now that Schulweis, 79, has passed those responsibilities on to Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Feinstein would, in theory, get the addendum of “senior.”

“If two people like each other and appreciate each other, there are no questions about who is No. 1 and who is No. 1. That is silly kind of talk,” Schulweis said.

At the same time, the reality of there being one person at the helm is not something the shul ignores. Schulweis felt the time was right to let Feinstein, who is widely beloved and admired by the congregation, take that step up. He will be officially installed this spring.

“The policy, the directions and the projects will be in his hands, and he will have the first vote,” Schulweis said. “He is 51, and I am in relatively good health, and there is no reason for him to not have the challenges and joys of being senior rabbi.”

Schulweis says he will continue with all of the same duties, and that his interaction with congregants will not change. He is not retiring, nor is he taking on the title of emeritus.

Feinstein, who has been with VBS for 11 years, looks forward to shifting the relationship with his mentor and his congregants.

“Rabbi Schulweis has given me a congregation and a community with learning at its center, and I will protect and preserve and enhance that,” Feinstein said. “We will also be working harder this year on prayer, on social action and on community building.”

The congregation, the board and the other rabbis are all excited about the change, since it provided a way to keep both Feinstein and Schulweis as integral parts of the community.

Feinstein himself has no illusions about what the change means.

“I’m going to get a lot older a lot faster,” he quipped. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Kushner to Pen Spielberg Munich Pic

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) is writing a new screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s film on the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, focusing on the hunt for the Black September terrorists who took the Israeli team hostage.

Production of the film has been postponed to June 2005 from an earlier scheduled start of June 2004.

Marvin Levy, Spielberg’s spokesman, denied a New York Post report that the postponement was based on fears that Muslim extremists might target the locations to be used in the movie. He also denied that “Vengeance” had been chosen as the film’s title.

Instead, the delay is mainly due to Spielberg’s dissatisfaction with the first draft of the script, submitted by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”).

The only cast member announced so far is Australian actor Eric Bana (“Troy,” “Hulk”). Spielberg had also hoped to cast Ben Kingsley, with whom he collaborated in “Schindler’s List,” but Kingsley will be unavailable at the new starting date.

The tragedy of the Munich Olympics, in which the terrorists easily infiltrated the Olympic Village, resulted in the death of 11 Israeli athletes. Two were killed immediately by the terrorists, and nine died in a bungled attempt by German police to free the remaining hostages.

Spielberg has said that his Jewish heritage took on a new dimension while making “Schindler’s List.” The Shoah Foundation, which he established 11 years ago, has since videotaped the testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

The documentary “One Day in September,” on the Munich Olympics, won an Oscar in 2000 for Swiss producer Arthur Cohn. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Outreach Service Offers Alternative

With many Jews feeling dissatisfied over the cost of High Holiday tickets and unfulfilled by holiday services, the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) is offering free or low-cost explanatory “Beginners Services” nationwide — and the Southland is no exception. In a recent NJOP poll, more than 50 percent of respondents said that High Holiday services are either too long, boring, repetitive or not relevant. Moneywise, nearly 70 percent felt that the cost of High Holiday tickets was either too high, unwarranted, a turnoff or should be reconsidered.

Since 1990, the NJOP has offered free or low-cost High Holiday Beginners Services that are open to Jews of all backgrounds and levels of observance. Billed as the “High Holiday service for those who aren’t so high on the holidays,” many of these alternative services include abundant explanations, opportunities to ask questions, easy-to-learn melodies and numerous English readings.

“If we want people with little or no synagogue experience to be inspired by the holidays, we have to offer meaningful encounters that are inviting, uplifting, non-judgmental, and even fun,” says Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of the New York-based NJOP. “I am proud to say that NJOP’s Beginners Services have had a tremendous impact on tens of thousands of Jews, strengthening their connections to Judaism and Jewish life.”For more information, contact Aish HaTorah at (310) 278-8672, ext. 703; The Westwood Kehilla at (310) 441-5289; Calabasas Shul at (818) 591-7485; or visit — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Contributing Writer

Jewish Community FoundationAwardees

The Jewish Community Foundation awarded last month grants totaling nearly $453,000 to support innovative programming at 16 Jewish organizations.

“We want to encourage nonprofit agencies to develop cutting-edge projects,” Foundation Chief Executive Marvin I. Schotland said in a release.

Among grant recipients: