6 revealing stats about Jewish nonprofits and the people who work for them


Jewish nonprofit workers are inspired, respected and challenged. They’re also stretched thin, lack regular feedback from their bosses and are itching to switch agencies.

Those are some lessons from “Are Jewish Organizations Great Places to Work?” a study released Thursday by Leading Edge, a partnership of Jewish foundations and federations aiming to draw talented employees to the Jewish nonprofit sector. The study, which interviewed more than 3,000 Jewish nonprofit employees at 55 organizations, painted a picture of an industry in flux — filled with passionate, yet transitory, staff members.

Here are the report’s key takeaways.

About one percent of America’s Jews works in a Jewish nonprofit

There are almost 10,000 Jewish nonprofits in the U.S., with more than 75,000 employees. The field spans anything from synagogues to federations to social service organizations and, according to a 2014 report by the Forward, has a combined budget exceeding $26 billion. By comparison, approximately 3.5 percent of Americans in total work at a nonprofit.

Many Jewish nonprofit workers are young women — and one in five isn’t Jewish

Two-thirds of Jewish nonprofit employees are women, and most employees are under 40. One in 20 did not specify a gender. Perhaps most surprising: 22 percent of Jewish professionals aren’t Jewish.

By 2023, almost all of today’s Jewish nonprofit directors will be replaced

Abe Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, stepped down from his post last year after nearly three decades at the group’s helm. But he’s the exception rather than the rule. According to the survey, Jewish groups have a high rate of turnover at the top. In addition, within five to seven years, 75 to 90 percent of Jewish nonprofits will have to replace their retiring CEOs.

Employees like where they work…

Here’s the good news for Jewish nonprofits: More than employees at the average U.S. nonprofit, Jewish nonprofit workers feel “motivated by the mission of their organization and understand how their specific job contributes to it.” Jewish nonprofit workers also feel, on average, 10 percent more respected and nine percent more challenged than nonprofit employees overall, according to the survey.

…but most plan to work somewhere else

Just because they like their work doesn’t mean employees will stay at their organizations. Compared to surveys of nonprofit employees overall, Jewish nonprofit workers feel like they’re not held as accountable and are not adequately staffed. Within the next five years, 60 percent plan to move to another organization — though most respondents plan to stay in the Jewish nonprofit sector for more than five years.

15 percent of Jewish nonprofit workers make under $30,000

The survey covered a range of salaries, starting with a handful of executives who earn more than $350,000. But the plurality of Jewish nonprofit workers earn $40,000 to $50,000. Not all are so lucky: approximately 15 percent of the field earns under $30,000 per year.

Taken together, the survey depicts a Jewish nonprofit sector whose backbone is formed by women who are driven by mission and earning relatively low wages, eager to serve but often frustrated by management.

Jerusalem restaurant’s kitchen prepares at-risk youths for success


The Ticho House in downtown Jerusalem is 150 years old — young by Jerusalem standards, but nonetheless bearing the eminence of its history.

Today, though, the onetime home of Anna Ticho, a well-regarded artist who made the rocky Judean Hills her subject, is part of a planned countrywide economic revitalization effort.

The restaurant Anna, which opened its doors earlier this month on the second floor of the historic building, is the latest “social business” operated by the Dualis Social Investment Fund. The Israeli nonprofit organization invests in retail and service businesses, and then outfits them to employ and train at-risk segments of the Israeli population.

Brightening the lives of children of domestic abuse


Inside their new Santa Monica office, seated at a communal desk in front of a whiteboard scribbled with year-end goals and a display of handwritten thank-you notes, Erica Fisher and Melanie Neumann explain why they founded Present Now, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children of domestic abuse. 

Through Present Now, Fisher and Neumann give kids 18 and younger living in transitional housing shelters three personalized gifts each year, in an attempt to bring them joy and a sense of hope during a time of crisis in their lives. Domestic violence is difficult to talk about, Neumann said, and when people do discuss it, the conversation often is focused on the adult victims. 

“But the kids … a lot of times, aren’t focused on or talked about. They’re kind of, as we call them, the silent survivors,” Neumann said.

That’s why the women founded Present Now in 2012, after spending six months visiting area shelters, researching domestic abuse and working to identify how they could do the greatest good. 

Neumann and Fisher each are mothers of three kids and have related professional backgrounds. Neumann used to do event planning with nonprofits, such as Avon’s walk for breast cancer. Fisher has a master’s degree in social work and a deep-rooted commitment to philanthropy.

Fisher grew up in a Jewish household in Denver, where her grandparents started a charitable foundation, and her family “was very much into giving back,” she said.

“I was raised that it’s our duty and responsibility that we give to those that are less fortunate than ourselves,” Fisher said. “That was the value that I was taught by my parents and especially my grandparents.”

So Fisher and Neumann honed in on a plan to help children celebrate landmark occasions outside of the holiday months, when an overflow of gifts for children in need come each year. Currently, Present Now is working with seven shelters throughout the Los Angeles region and in Palm Desert, one of which has six locations. Present Now gives each child living in these shelters gifts for Valentine’s Day, birthdays and when the kids head to school in the fall. 

The back-to-school presents include a new backpack stuffed with school supplies, including pencils, erasers, calculators and notebooks. For Valentine’s Day, the kids will get an Apple iPod Nano or LeapFrog learning tablet, but it is the gesture that is most crucial on this particular day.

“Valentine’s Day is an especially difficult holiday for this population; it’s a holiday of love,” Fisher said. “Many times, there’s a lot of confusion about what that means coming from a domestic abuse situation.” 

On birthdays, a child will receive a large, white box topped with a shiny, purple bow. Inside are a new outfit of clothing, as well as a toy and a gift card for a birthday dinner out. This package also includes a spatula, cake mix and frosting, so the child can create a homemade birthday cake, a festive departure from a frozen pizza with a candle stuck in it, as is often the best-case scenario among these families, Neumann said.

“Everybody likes to have their special day recognized. Every mom wants to make the birthday special for [their] child,” said Judy Vaughan, founder of the nonprofit Mid-Wilshire-area Alexandria House.

This transitional housing group provides shelter for homeless women and children for up to two years as they move from emergency housing to a permanent home. A few months ago, Present Now began working with Alexandria House, where nearly 90 percent of families have some sort of domestic abuse in their background, according to Vaughan.

Alexandria House runs on a tight budget and receives no government assistance, Vaughan said, so it relies on outside contributions of any size or type.

“When you put it all together, it keeps the program going,” she said of Alexandria House’s approximately $780,000 annual budget. “We try to do everything we can … to make people feel as supported and respected and important as they truly are.”

Although Present Now has been in existence only for a few years, Neumann and Fisher have been able to steadily increase the number of gifts they dole out, starting with 118 their first year and more than tripling that, to 379 last year. 

Initially bankrolling the operation through the generosity of friends, family and business associates, Fisher and Neumann now host an annual fundraiser in Palm Springs. Staged as a 24-hour, women’s retreat, it includes a night at a hotel, a trunk show, yoga, silent auction and a sit-down dinner. Last year, Present Now raised about $100,000 over the course of the weekend and attracted more than 100 people. This year’s event, slated for Jan. 23-24, already has a longer guest list, Neumann said. (To register or to contribute, visit presentnow.org.)

The women said that in addition to helping other families’ children in need, they believe Present Now is helping teach their kids about the importance of giving back. 

“Us starting something and doing something is always setting an example for our children, and getting them involved in Present Now as much as we possibly can is extremely important to us,” Fisher said. 

“To continue that legacy that was instilled in me as a child.”

Tivnu: Buiding justice and shelters from the storm


When I describe Tivnu: Building Justice, the social-justice startup founded by my friend Steve Eisenbach-Budner, to people who know him, this is what I say: If you turned Steve into a nonprofit, Tivnu is what it would look like. Jewish — check. Youth-oriented — check. Social action — check. Construction work — check. Steve is unique among the Jews I know. It’s no surprise that Tivnu, a nonprofit based in Portland, Ore., where youth taking a break before heading to college both work with their hands and learn from Jewish texts and from life, is also unique among Jewish organizations in the United States.

Two years ago, the Pew Research Center released a study of American Judaism that underscored what many long have understood: that there’s a crisis of involvement and affiliation among young non-Orthodox Jews, especially young men. Many Jews, particularly young adults, find Jewish involvement more engaging when universal values are also addressed. The study found that social justice is the leading concern among young American Jews, as it is among millennials in general. Jewish young adults are looking to engage those issues in ways that involve real work, for real stakes, with real impact — exactly the kind of work that Tivnu does.

I was a professor at Yale University for 10 years, and since then I have written extensively about the problems with our higher-education system: problems not just with the colleges but, above all, with the way that we prepare our kids to get to college. 

As Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult,” has put it, we are producing children with more and more academic skills, and fewer and fewer interpersonal and life skills. Students, even and indeed especially at selective colleges, arrive on campus not knowing how to take care of themselves, how to advocate for themselves, how to make decisions, or how to handle difficulties and setbacks. Why? Because parents are doing too much of all that for them. That’s a reason graduation rates are now so low, and it’s unquestionably the most important reason rates of psychological illness among college students are now so high — and getting higher. It is also why more and more colleges are urging students to take a gap year before they arrive, and why more and more of them are doing so.

Tivnu: Building Justice offers the first Jewish gap year to take place in the United States. Photos courtesy of Tivnu: Building Justice

Skilled labor within a social-justice context, in combination with Jewish learning and communal involvement, is a highly appealing mix for people looking for a new form of Jewish expression — fun, active and meaningful, engaging head, heart and hands. That’s one of Steve’s core principles: to reclaim the parts of the Jewish tradition that recognize the dignity and value of physical labor by challenging the stereotype that Jews don’t work with their hands. 

Steve built his program out of his own life experience.

A couple of years after college, while I was getting ready to enter a doctoral program, Steve was working on a construction crew in Jerusalem, side by side with Palestinian laborers. He had always been an athletic guy, but he had no experience doing skilled labor. I asked him about it recently.

“I wanted to feel more competent in the physical world,” he said. “I was interested in doing something with the part of my body below my head.” Not only that, “I wanted to learn how working people live,” he added, “to connect with the rest of humanity.”

I would say that Steve’s path to creating Tivnu started there, but it actually started much earlier. Steve grew up in the Penn South housing co-op in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Penn South, which is still thriving as a place for people of modest means, is a sprawling complex
created by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, then a predominantly Jewish organization.

“JFK was at the dedication,” he marveled. “That’s how much power the labor movement had — that it was in the president’s interest to show up. The co-op taught me that real people can do real things that affect people and communities.” 

The co-op also helped to teach Steve something else. Between the Bundists and Jewish communists he was raised among, as well as the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox members of his extended family, Steve was given a rich idea, he said, of the wide variety of ways to be a Jew. It was a lesson reinforced by his years in Young Judaea, the Zionist youth movement where he and I first met. Unlike the classical movements that started in Europe (Habonim, Betar, Bnei Akiva), Young Judaea is both politically and religiously pluralistic. We argued; we didn’t indoctrinate.

Steve went on Year Course, Young Judaea’s gap-year program in Israel, then returned to Israel for his junior year of college, sharing a house with a bunch of other Young Judaeans in Migdal HaEmek, a predominantly working-class, Sephardic “development town,” where the group engaged in social work. After his third year in Israel — the one when he began to do construction work — he returned to the United States, eventually settling in Portland, with his wife, Deborah, who is director of education at Havurah Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue. (The couple have three children — two sons and a daughter.)

Steve ran his own construction business for a number of years, but he always felt that something was missing. He wanted to find a way back to the kind of commitment he saw at the co-op and practiced in Young Judaea. In 2002, he took a significant pay cut to accept a job as a construction trainer with Portland YouthBuilders, an organization that teaches vocational and academic skills to at-risk young adults. The work was fulfilling, but the Jewish piece was still elusive. After a few years, he began to dream of starting a nonprofit that would unite his many passions: for social engagement and social justice, for skilled, hands-on, physical work, for young people and their personal development, for Jewish expression and involvement.

I remember those days, when Tivnu was still just a gleam in his eye. He had no idea how to start a nonprofit. It was probably a good thing that he also had no idea how ridiculously hard it is, especially if you’re already in your 40s, have three children and are holding down a full-time job. But little by little, he taught himself what he needed to know, including a lot of things that didn’t come naturally, like drawing up an organizational plan or — Steve is modest to a fault — engaging in self-promotion. He also didn’t try to do everything himself. An instinctive collaborator, he was happy to leverage the skills of the people around him (including me — I have been on the board for several years): Web designers, lawyers, Jewish educators and many more.

By the summer of 2011, Steve was ready to test his program model. Every day for a week, 10 Jewish adults from the Portland area headed down to Woodburn, 40 minutes south in the Willamette Valley, to work together with members of the Oregon farmworkers union on construction of a headquarters for the CAPACES Leadership Institute, a coalition of Latino-led, social change organizations. The group’s members not only learned and applied construction techniques, they studied Jewish sources on questions of social justice and collective responsibility together with their hosts. They also listened to the union members speak about the issues that surround low-wage farm work in Oregon, and about their experiences as migrants and laborers. 

At the end of the week, the two groups shared a Shabbat meal. Steve believes it’s crucial for the Jewish community to work in partnership with other communities. He also notes that tzedakah means justice, not charity: working with others for a better world for all, not “giving” to the “less fortunate.” “The last day, making food with Carmen, having Shabbat all together and meeting Carmen’s children really created a sense of having been part of something,” one participant said afterward. “The chance to share Shabbat with a community that had shared so much with us, this was incredibly powerful for me.”

The week gave Steve his proof of concept. Over the next three years, Tivnu expanded to include one-day events in the Portland area as well as a multiweek summer program for high school juniors and seniors from across the country. (Partners for the summer program have included United Synagogue Youth, North American Federation of Temple Youth, Young Judaea and the American Jewish Society for Service.)

Last year, Steve was ready to launch the program he’d been building up to all along: the Tivnu Gap Year, a nine-month immersive experience for high school graduates ages 17 to 20. Participants would divide their week between construction work and training at a Habitat for Humanity building site and long-term internships with local grass-roots, direct-service organizations such as Sisters of the Road, which runs a cafe for homeless individuals in downtown Portland. They would study Jewish texts and Jewish history, do site visits to other nonprofits, and hear from guest speakers. They would also have a lot of time to take advantage of Portland’s vibrant culture and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Lastly, they would share a living space and be responsible for creating and running their own pluralistic Jewish household under the guidance of a resident assistant.

Steve had taken the construction piece from YouthBuilders, the gap-year piece from Young Judaea and the communal living piece from his year in Migdal HaEmek, but the combination was something totally new. Another thing was new as well: Tivnu would be offering the first Jewish gap year to take place in the United States. It was clearly an idea whose time had come. As Steve’s recruitment efforts soon showed him, there are two important groups of Jewish young adults who are not inclined to go to Israel after high school: those who have been to Israel already and are looking for something else, and those who have not been, but — for whatever reason — don’t want to go. Both are being lost to non-Jewish gap-year programs, of which there are a growing number.

The young adults who arrived for the inaugural year of the Tivnu program in August 2014 came from across the country — New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and elsewhere — as well as from across the Jewish spectrum. Some had gone to Jewish high schools; some had very little Jewish background. The program had some bumps, especially at first, as Steve and the rest of the staff encountered unanticipated issues in the course of its maiden run. The biggest had to do with the simple fact that participants were living away from home for the first time. None of us was quite aware just how much help they’d need adjusting to daily tasks and responsibilities: washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, getting up for work on time and, most important, communicating and cooperating with one another to figure out how to do these things together.

By the same token, those challenges pointed to the program’s most significant value, in my view. Before Judaism and construction and social justice, the Tivnu gap year is fundamentally about growing up — and growing up, in particular, before you get to college. The maturation that we saw among Tivnu’s initial cohort was truly impressive. Reuben Dreiblatt, who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, graduated from The Abraham Joshua Heschel School and has just started college at Rutgers University, had this to say about his experience: “Living with other people who I didn’t quite know — I really liked that I was getting a chance to do that before I had to do that. It’s made me a better roommate, improved my people skills, everything from chores to bigger things like privacy and space.”

Reuben spent the summer after Tivnu working at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire. He said he noticed a big difference between himself and his fellow counselors, how they seemed to have a “pack mentality” that came from “not thinking things through.” Tivnu, he said, “taught me the value of just being still — going in the backyard, looking at the sky, thinking about things, taking time to appreciate the world.”

It was also a major break from the environment at Heschel. “All the planning, all the structure, talking in your junior year of high school about what to major in in college — not only was it not realistic, it wasn’t doing the kids any good.” His favorite part of the gap-year program was “getting up and going to work in the morning” — the van would leave at 7:30 a.m. — “finding out what working a real job is like.” 

For Billy Bloomberg, who grew up in Princeton, N.J., the gap year was his first significant experience with other kinds of Jews. “It was eye-opening. We don’t do Shabbat dinner very often in my family. We did Shabbat every Friday night in Tivnu House. We made dinner, we sat down for dinner, we lit candles, we said Kiddush.” Needless to say, there were disagreements at first. “Everybody wanted to do it a different way,” he said. But soon, “We found a rhythm that everyone was comfortable with.”

The most meaningful part of the program for Billy was the impact he had on people’s lives through his internship at St. André Bessette Catholic Church, which provides meals and other services for individuals living with poverty, homelessness, mental illness and addiction. “I had a wonderful experience there,” he said. “My last day, they announced I was leaving, and the entire cafeteria erupted in applause. A lot of those people came up and thanked me.”

One was a man he had helped to pick out a suit for a job interview. Not only did the man get the job, the job got him out of temporary housing and into a stable situation. “This was a guy I’d seen every week,” Billy said, meaning that they had developed a relationship. One day, the man came up to him and asked to talk. He had been sober for three months, but he was having a very bad day. “ ‘I just want to pick the bottle back up,’ he said,” Billy explained. “I said, ‘I understand, but it’s not a good time to start drinking again. You know, you’re making steps. It’s hard, but that’s your reality right now.’ “With Billy’s help, the man stayed sober and on the right track. The gap year, Billy concluded, “gave me an opportunity to grow up.”

Last month, a second Tivnu cohort arrived in Portland to start its experience. Hadarah Goldsmith from Bethesda, Md., knew that the program was perfect for her the moment she learned about it. She’d already visited Portland and loved its friendliness and access to nature, and she had always wanted to do construction for Habitat. She is also interested in teaching and will be working on the academic side at YouthBuilders as part of the gap year’s expanded range of internship placements, which are now being tailored more closely to individual participants’ interests, and include opportunities in food and environmental justice.

“I have a general idea of what I want to do,” Hadarah said about her career plans, “but I also know that can change, and a lot of those things I’ll be testing out this year. So, if I find out that I don’t want to do them, I won’t have wasted all those years” in college. Having deferred her admission to Warren Wilson College, she also thinks she’ll be “much more motivated if I get a year off from academic stress.”

For Steve, the gap-year participants and others like them are modern-day halutzim, doing the essential work of pioneering new forms of American-Jewish life for the 21st century. Up ahead, I would say, are people like Steve, blazing the trail. 

William Deresiewicz is an award-winning essayist and critic, a frequent college speaker and the best-selling author of “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.” He serves on the board of Tivnu: Building Justice.

California adds new funding for nonprofit security


California’s budget, signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown, includes roughly $2 million to help fund security at nonprofit organizations that are at risk of violent attack. 

This new state grant program arrives at a time when many Jewish institutions are experiencing a heightened sense of fear because of an increase in the number of violent attacks worldwide by right-wing and Islamic extremists.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles led the effort to create the new funding program, which matches the amount allocated to California by a similar federal nonprofit security initiative that has faced significant cuts in recent years, reflecting a decrease in overall federal discretionary spending. 

As for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the federal security initiative, “The $2.1 million that was coming to California just wasn’t enough to meet the demand,” said Jesse Gabriel, the Federation board member who spearheaded the effort. 

Gabriel is on the board of Federation’s Community Engagement Strategic Initiative, which worked with state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica and Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Los Angeles to establish the new budget item. 

“We thought that given that the federal program is so oversubscribed that there is an important role for the state to step in here,” Gabriel said.

The new program is intended to alleviate the financial burden cash-strapped nonprofits can experience when implementing new security measures. It will fund physical security enhancements, including reinforced doors, alarms and high-intensity lighting, as well as security training. 

A few widely publicized incidents in particular have caused an uptick in anxiety in the Jewish community about anti-Semitic violence: a deadly shooting on a Jewish community center in Kansas City, Mo., in April 2014, a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels in May 2014, and deadly attacks earlier this year at a kosher market in Paris and a synagogue in Copenhagen. 

Additionally, the FBI recently advised some Jewish institutions in California of new information suggesting threats, according to materials provided by the Federation. 

“It’s a sad fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. The number of violent incidents over the last year, from the attack on the Jewish community center near Kansas City last year to the more recent incidents in Paris and Charleston, S.C., underscores the unfortunate reality that many of our nonprofit organizations are at high risk for terrorist acts,” Bloom said in a statement. “Providing this funding so that these organizations can better protect themselves is the least we can do.”

Many other communities — including African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Sikhs, immigrants, Asian-Americans, people living with disabilities and the LGBT community — are also facing an increase in hate-motivated violence, as evidenced by the murder of nine
African-Americans in a church in Charleston in June and the killing of three Muslim-American students in North Carolina in February. 

“I’m really proud that this program is going to help a lot of synagogues and Jewish community centers, but I’m also really proud that this is going to help African-American organizations, and Muslim-Americans, and the LGBT community,” Gabriel said. “I think this is a great example of the Federation doing work that benefits not only the Jewish community, but the broader community as well.”

Through its Community Security Initiative, Federation will continue to offer assistance to Jewish organizations seeking state and federal security grants, and for the first time will conduct outreach to other communities that might benefit from the funding. 

The federal program, created in 2005, has faced deep cuts in recent years. In its 2015 budget, Congress allocated $13 million to the program, $2.1 million of which is earmarked for nonprofits in California. With the addition of the state program, that number soon will double. 

As with the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the new state funding will be available to eligible nonprofits through grants from the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), formerly known as the California Emergency Management Agency. 

Cal OES will determine eligibility rules in the coming months, although those rules are expected to resemble the federal grant program, which looks at a history of attacks or threats against an organization or similar organizations, the symbolic or historic value of the site or institution, and the role of an organization in responding to a possible terrorist attack. 

Israeli heroes: Some of them admit to needing help


At a recent charity dinner for wounded Israeli soldiers held in Israel's high-tech suburb of Kfar Saba, a soldier's mother, Diana Elankri, stood onstage and spoke of her son, Shimon —-  and of the day she watched him come back to life after being hit by a missile along the Gaza border.

A few months into his recovery, when the nights were stretching longer and lonelier and the weight of his injuries had begun to set in, Elankri said she got a call from Hope for Heroism (Achim Lachaim in Hebrew), a nonprofit organization and soldier-to-soldier network that provides financial aid and emotional support to wounded combat soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Remembering when she came to Hope for Heroism headquarters for the first time, she said, Project Manager Dekel Darchani “received us,  and he just looked at Shimon, and me also, and he said, ‘It’s OK. You don’t have to say anything. I understand.’”

Multiple soldiers at the charity event tried to describe this this wordless connection, this instant sense of brotherhood they feel whenever they meet another fighter who, like them, has survived the horrors of war. Those of us in the crowd who hadn’t, though, were lucky to detect the jolts of electricity that seemed to whiz past us, running between them, allowing them to operate on another frequency. The night was peaceful; dinner conversation was lovely; the stage lights twinkled. But an undercurrent of shared pain and past terrors passed among the soldiers in the crowd. They didn’t need to say anything to each other to know it — they could just smile, bump shoulders or clink their glasses with a nod.

“When you hear ‘injured soldiers helping injured soldiers,’ you sometimes think you will see damaged people,” said Arale Wattenstein, external relations director for Hope for Heroism, who is also a former officer for the paratroopers. Wattenstein suffered severe burns and a spine injury in 2005, when a terrorist in Nablus threw a Molotov cocktail at his army jeep. “But we are not. In our eyes, you’re the ones who are damaged. We created a group where it’s OK to cry; it’s OK to be damaged; it’s OK to go to a psychologist.”

In the six years since its inception, Hope for Heroism has grown to include about 350 soldiers, and has sent them on 15 delegations to the U.S., to cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, New Jersey and New York.

The trips demonstrate to supporters and potential donors in the U.S. that IDF combat soldiers are receiving crucial services through the nonprofit — and, at the same time, show the soldiers how much they are valued abroad.

Before traveling to the U.S., “I always thought the Jewish out of Israel don't care about what happens here,” said Yaron B., a current lieutenant in the IDF who has been shot down on three different occasions — in Gaza, in Lebanon and in the Jordan Valley. As he spoke, Seattle mega-donor Dan Levitan walked by, giving the lieutenant a big American bear-pat on the back. “He won't tell you this, but he's one of the heroes of this country,” Levitan said.

Ehud Amiton, whose knee was crushed at a violent rally in the West Bank, exhibited his original photography at Hope for Heroism headquarters.

Operations at Hope for Heroism are run out of a large, ultra-modern, almost Malibu-style home in Kfar Saba. On the night of July 1, at the lit-up charity dinner, soldiers showcased photo projects throughout the house — a form of art therapy, as they described it — and debuted original songs on the main stage. These are just a couple of the dozens of member-initiated special projects, such as a soccer team and surfing lessons, that have sprung from the momentum of the rehabilitation process.

“It took something like more than one year to convince me to come here,” Hope for Heroism member Tomer Eliyahu told the crowd. “I didn’t believe that I was wounded, I didn’t believe that I needed help, and I didn’t want anybody to help me – because I’m a warrior, and warriors don’t need help from nobody.

“The reason that I’m standing here in front of you,” he said, “to tell you that for more than one year, I actually go to sleep at night and pray to God, ‘Please let me wake up in the morning because I want to live’ — is because of Hope for Heroism. I want to tell you from the depths of my heart that I love you.”

Eliyahu was speaking not only to his brothers in the organization, but to the few dozen Americans who had gathered around the fancy white dinner tables on the lawn. Because their dollars, and their belief in the soldier-to-soldier network, are ultimately what keep it buzzing: According to Executive Director Rabbi Chaim Levin, the organization’s budget has grown to almost $2 million per year.

Hope for Heroism’s leadership is hesitant to blame the IDF for not providing sufficient aid to wounded veterans. “There are always complaints [about the IDF], but we learned that we don’t need to deal with the complaints, and we need to deal with what we need to do,” Wattenstein said. “If someone needs help, let’s go and help him. We don’t ask questions.”

The soldiers themselves, however, are quicker to criticize the IDF. Although the Israeli government is required to provide medical aid to its wounded veterans, there is always a ceiling — and some soldiers claim the ceiling is much lower for mental disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dotan Yarimi, 28, said the IDF didn’t approve him for psychiatric help after his unit was ambushed in Ramallah: “To me they said, ‘You have problems from before the army.’”

According to Hope for Heroism officials, the IDF evaluates each wounded soldier based on his level of need, and awards him him the corresponding funds. (Israel’s Ministry of Defense could not provide its official policy by press time.) Anything beyond that falls on the soldier himself — or into the hands of Hope for Heroism.

Hope for Heroism member Tsahi Ben Ishay watches his friends and fellow soldiers play live music at a dinner event on July 1.

“For example,” said Wattenstein, “we have a few guys who are paralyzed in a wheelchair. And imagine, you have it in your mind that you will walk one day, but the government says, ‘You will never walk, period.’ So you say that you found the research in Google that there is something that might help in a chance of 1 to 10,000. So we will help you.”

All the soldiers know this story by heart: The partnership that would become Hope for Heroism was born in 2005, when injured IDF officer Gil Ganonyan met Levin on a trip to Seattle. Just one month later, the Second Lebanon War exploded over Israel's northern border. “I really felt like I had to do something, living in Seattle while all those guys were getting killed over there,” Levin said. So he reunited with Ganonyan and a couple other guys in Haifa, Israel, where they visited the bedsides of freshly wounded IDF soldiers and offered them what little financial aid they could.

“Ten months later, we brought a group of these soldiers who were injured during the war to Seattle, and there we started to really understand their needs,” the rabbi said.

Hope for Heroism Director Yaniv Leidner, who was shot by a terrorist while on a special mission in Nablus during the Second Intifada, remembered his first visit to Seattle: “In the time that we spent together at the delegation, we didn’t mean to create an organization,” he said. “But during this time, we realized that something very special happens when you bring together people that went through the same experiences. It doesn’t matter if someone was injured in Lebanon, or the West Bank, or if it’s a mental injury or a physical injury  — we understood that it became a very unique group, a family that can help each other just from the fact that they spend time together.

“Because of the same experience they are sharing,” he said, “they can understand each other just by speaking with the eyes.”

North American immigrants lead in Israel’s nonprofit sector


When David Portowicz was a new immigrant to Israel from Brooklyn in the 1970s, he began research on poverty in Jaffa that would lead to his life’s work: the creation of a nonprofit organization that now serves thousands of disadvantaged children and their families.

A doctoral student in social work at the time, the small NGO he co-founded in 1982, the Jaffa Institute, today is a veritable force of nature with 35 programs and an annual operating budget of $6 million. The institute runs afterschool activity centers to help keep kids off the streets, offers university scholarships for 170 graduates of Jaffa programs, has shelters for runaways and even provides music lessons.

“It’s a mission of love,” Portowicz says. “You work hard.”

Portowicz is one of many immigrants from North America who along with other English-speaking immigrants to Israel have played an outsized role in Israel’s growing nonprofit sector. For many, the same idealistic instincts that prompted them to leave comfortable lives in North America, Britain and elsewhere for Israel led them to top roles in the Israeli nonprofit sector, and they have brought with them a mixture of can-do enthusiasm, background in grass-roots activism and fundraising skills that have helped make their projects successful.

“We are talking about the kind of people who are immigrants by choice,” said Alon Tal, an immigrant from the United States who founded one of the most influential environmental groups in Israel, Adam Teva V’din, Israel Union Environmental Defense.

“Many of us grew up in youth movements where you are raised on the idea that you are supposed to change the world,” Tal said. “It’s a certain kind of person willing to take a chance and who could have been very successful” in their home country. “For some of us, the thought was that if you are coming here, you might as well have an adventure.”

Over the last decade, the number of nongovernmental organizations in Israel has multiplied as Israel’s traditionally socialist-leaning welfare system has significantly downsized. Some 12,000 NGOs are now active in Israel. English-speaking immigrants have found their niche not only in reaching out to the socio-economically disadvantaged, but also in civil society areas like the environment, human rights, religious pluralism and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

“It’s likely because Anglos come with a much more developed idea of civic society than other ethnic groups in the country, and so they get involved,” said Sydney Engelberg, a faculty member at Hebrew University’s program in nonprofit management.

“Part of my Zionist feeling was that if I can help anyone, I want to help children in Israel,” Portowicz said. “I think I made a bigger difference here than I thought I would make.”

When Tal came to Israel in 1990 at the age of 29, he vacillated between joining the just-established Environmental Ministry or establishing an environmental advocacy organization. He went with the latter.

“A large percentage of many Israeli nonprofits come from international Jewish philanthropy, so there is a home-court advantage for American immigrants in terms of English skills and cultural affiliation,” Tal told JTA.

Miriam Garmaise, an immigrant to Israel from Canada, also became a prominent environmentalist. She is the executive director of Shomera for a Better Environment, a nonprofit established in 1998 by Tamar Gindis, a fellow Canadian immigrant, that focuses on national, cross-sector projects. Their current flagship project is promoting a gray-water recycling initiative intended to jump-start the practice of recycling shower and laundry water as a way to save up to tens of millions of cubic meters of water a year.

Garmaise traces her interest in activism to growing up in Canada, where her parents were active in the Jewish community and projects to help Israel.

“The fact that people like me moved to Israel is because we consider Israel a very important place to be and to contribute to once we are here,” she said.

As for the bureaucratic and other stumbling blocks they face here, Garmaise is upbeat.

“I have come to respect the need for time and patience to make things happen,” she said.

Portowicz adds, “You persist. You don’t take no for an answer.”

Seth Farber, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who immigrated from the United States and founded ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center, knows all about persistence. He fights what he says often seems like an interminably uphill battle to help Israeli and Diaspora Jews navigate the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which holds a monopoly on issues of religion like conversion and marriage.

Farber believes his American background has been helpful in his work, specifically his knowledge of how other Jewish religious leadership models work.

“In Israel people don’t feel as responsible for their Jewish life, so it can sometimes have less meaning,” Farber said. “What I can bring to the table is a middle ground, an opportunity for people to have their say.

“Americans put a lot of belief into the third sector to have power and make a difference,” he adds. “Because I’m a Zionist and this is the center of the Jewish people now, this is where I want to make my impact.”

Another American-run Israeli NGO involved in efforts to reduce tensions between religion and state is Tzohar, founded by a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis in 1996, soon after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist.

The organization’s current executive vice president is Nahum Rosenberg, an American immigrant.

“It’s important to be not only bilingual but bicultural and live in both worlds,” Rosenberg said.

He says Americans bring advantages when it comes to fundraising and the culture of management.

“We may be nonprofits, but that does not mean we are not performance organizations. So you need to have that side,” he said, referring to professional Western standards for NGOs. “And you need to have that Israeli flair for ingenuity and perseverance with the ability to stretch every shekel as far as it can go.

“If you can seize on both traits, you can use them to your advantage.”

North American immigrants lead in Israel’s nonprofit sector


When David Portowicz was a new immigrant to Israel from Brooklyn in the 1970s, he began research on poverty in Jaffa that would lead to his life’s work: the creation of a nonprofit organization that now serves thousands of disadvantaged children and their families.

A doctoral student in social work at the time, the small NGO he co-founded in 1982, the Jaffa Institute, today is a veritable force of nature with 35 programs and an annual operating budget of $6 million. The institute runs afterschool activity centers to help keep kids off the streets, offers university scholarships for 170 graduates of Jaffa programs, has shelters for runaways and even provides music lessons.

“It’s a mission of love,” Portowicz says. “You work hard.”

Portowicz is one of many immigrants from North America who along with other English-speaking immigrants to Israel have played an outsized role in Israel’s growing nonprofit sector. For many, the same idealistic instincts that prompted them to leave comfortable lives in North America, Britain and elsewhere for Israel led them to top roles in the Israeli nonprofit sector, and they have brought with them a mixture of can-do enthusiasm, background in grass-roots activism and fundraising skills that have helped make their projects successful.

“We are talking about the kind of people who are immigrants by choice,” said Alon Tal, an immigrant from the United States who founded one of the most influential environmental groups in Israel, Adam Teva V’din, Israel Union Environmental Defense.

“Many of us grew up in youth movements where you are raised on the idea that you are supposed to change the world,” Tal said. “It’s a certain kind of person willing to take a chance and who could have been very successful” in their home country. “For some of us, the thought was that if you are coming here, you might as well have an adventure.”

Over the last decade, the number of nongovernmental organizations in Israel has multiplied as Israel’s traditionally socialist-leaning welfare system has significantly downsized. Some 12,000 NGOs are now active in Israel. English-speaking immigrants have found their niche not only in reaching out to the socio-economically disadvantaged, but also in civil society areas like the environment, human rights, religious pluralism and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

“It’s likely because Anglos come with a much more developed idea of civic society than other ethnic groups in the country, and so they get involved,” said Sydney Engelberg, a faculty member at Hebrew University’s program in nonprofit management.

“Part of my Zionist feeling was that if I can help anyone, I want to help children in Israel,” Portowicz said. “I think I made a bigger difference here than I thought I would make.”

When Tal came to Israel in 1990 at the age of 29, he vacillated between joining the just-established Environmental Ministry or establishing an environmental advocacy organization. He went with the latter.

“A large percentage of many Israeli nonprofits come from international Jewish philanthropy, so there is a home-court advantage for American immigrants in terms of English skills and cultural affiliation,” Tal told JTA.

Miriam Garmaise, an immigrant to Israel from Canada, also became a prominent environmentalist. She is the executive director of Shomer for a Better Environment, a nonprofit established in 1998 by Tamar Gindis, a fellow Canadian immigrant, that focuses on national, cross-sector projects. Their current flagship project is promoting a gray-water recycling initiative intended to jump-start the practice of recycling shower and laundry water as a way to save up to tens of millions of cubic meters of water a year.

Garmaise traces her interest in activism to growing up in Canada, where her parents were active in the Jewish community and projects to help Israel.

“The fact that people like me moved to Israel is because we consider Israel a very important place to be and to contribute to once we are here,” she said.

As for the bureaucratic and other stumbling blocks they face here, Garmaise is upbeat.

“I have come to respect the need for time and patience to make things happen,” she said.

Portowicz adds, “You persist. You don’t take no for an answer.”

Seth Farber, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who immigrated from the United States and founded ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center, knows all about persistence. He fights what he says often seems like an interminably uphill battle to help Israeli and Diaspora Jews navigate the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which holds a monopoly on issues of religion like conversion and marriage.

Farber believes his American background has been helpful in his work, specifically his knowledge of how other Jewish religious leadership models work.

“In Israel people don’t feel as responsible for their Jewish life, so it can sometimes have less meaning,” Farber said. “What I can bring to the table is a middle ground, an opportunity for people to have their say.

“Americans put a lot of belief into the third sector to have power and make a difference,” he adds. “Because I’m a Zionist and this is the center of the Jewish people now, this is where I want to make my impact.”

Another American-run Israeli NGO involved in efforts to reduce tensions between religion and state is Tzohar, founded by a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis in 1996, soon after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist.

The organization’s current executive vice president is Nahum Rosenberg, an American immigrant.

“It’s important to be not only bilingual but bicultural and live in both worlds,” Rosenberg said.

He says Americans bring advantages when it comes to fundraising and the culture of management.

“We may be nonprofits, but that does not mean we are not performance organizations. So you need to have that side,” he said, referring to professional Western standards for NGOs. “And you need to have that Israeli flair for ingenuity and perseverance with the ability to stretch every shekel as far as it can go.

“If you can seize on both traits, you can use them to your advantage.”

Israeli nonprofit representatives meet


Hundreds of representatives of Israeli nonprofits met to discuss how to improve their own organizations and the entire sector.

The first Future of Nonprofit Summit Israel met Monday in Jaffa, a follow-up to the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit in New York last July. The summits are an initiative of REACH3K, a company that consults nonprofits on their development and fundraising strategies, and CAUSIL, a Maryland-based consultancy firm.

“The world of charitable giving and running an organization has changed dramatically in recent years,” said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, who founded REACH3K along with her sisters, Danielle Keats Berkowitz and Avra Keats Nedjar. “Nonprofits are seeking the tools to remain competitive as leaders of change alongside the business and government sectors in line with the latest trends.”

The program included sessions to help nonprofits achieve publicity and fundraising success in the face of challenges posed by the economic downturn and new trends in social and traditional media.

Israeli lawmaker Avishay Braverman stressed to the representatives that the nonprofit organizations could play a role in benefiting Israeli society as a whole.

Can you say fiduciary duty? Jewish nonprofits must follow new rules


Based on all reports, the evil criminality of Bernard Madoff has decimated the portfolios of hundreds of individuals and charitable organizations. The consequences for ongoing charitable programs and future gifts will be felt for many years to come.

While there should be no limit to the outrage at Madoff, the Jewish not-for-profit community must recognize that this crisis has highlighted grave shortcomings in professional controls in place related to the investment of their funds. Judging from press reports and public communications from numerous institutions, it seems apparent that the basic standards of fiduciary oversight were not in place. Both professional staff and lay leadership should undertake comprehensive reviews of their policies and take responsibility for their shortcomings.

Complete Madoff CoverageAs the community looks forward, it is imperative that the oversight of investments be executed in a manner that meets the highest fiduciary standards. After all, those responsible for overseeing the investments quite literally have the future of many of the most important programs in the Jewish community in their hands.

The large, often undiversified allocations to Madoff indicate that the foundations fell into the worst pitfalls that trap individuals into unwise investments. Among these are: lack of diversification, belief in “genius managers” who promise to deliver above market returns with minimal risk, not understanding the strategy of the funds in which they invest, investing based on reputation rather than doing due diligence and not monitoring the investment activity. While it is bad enough to find individuals who fall into some or all of these traps, to find evidence that those overseeing large sums for the community were no better is very disturbing, to put it mildly.

It also seems from this affair and my research on the investing policies of not-for-profits that many of these institutions joined with the fad of not-for-profits investing in “alternative investments.” Enticed by the success of Yale and Harvard’s enormous endowments they sought to “be like Yale and Harvard” and invest in hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital, commodity funds and other products despite little real knowledge or professional staff. Yet even David Swensen, Yale’s esteemed manager, has written that neither individuals nor small institutions should follow Yale’s strategies since they lack the large professional staff and resources required to properly screen and manage such investments.Yale has 19 full time professionals overseeing their investments, Harvard Management has a full- time staff well over 100.

A Business Week article in May 2006, “Big Risk on Campus,” reported on smaller endowments investing like the big guys, noting that larger endowments (averaging $1 billion or more) had an average of 21.7 percent of their assets in hedge funds. In second position in the article’s table of smaller endowments with big hedge fund stakes was Yeshiva University’s $1.1 billion endowment with 65.3 percent. Yale’s allocation to hedge funds is 23 percent; Harvard’s, 18 percent.

Ironically, while many foundations concentrated on seeking out exotic, high-risk “alternative” investments, they did not look into allocating a portion of their investments to a better “alternative,” such as investments that would not have entailed above-average risks. Examples would include: socially responsible index funds, a broadly diversified index fund of Israeli stocks or investments in indices of companies investing in clean energy. The vast majority of foundations ignored the opportunity for “doing well by doing good” in their quest to find a “hot hand” to manage their money.

Looking forward, it is imperative that our institutions draft clear investment policy statements and establish appropriate policies and controls. Ideally, the foundations would wind up with an investment portfolio in line with the “best practices” of investment strategy and not much different than that of a prudent individual: broadly diversified with low cost, transparent and liquid index instruments.The parameters of such policies would include:

  • A target allocation for the portfolio among international and domestic stocks, bonds and cash, along with controls for keeping the portfolio within those parameters.
  • No investments in bonds below investment grade.
  • Restrictions on investments in asset- backed securities.
  • Restrictions prohibiting any investments that make use of leverage or derivatives.
  • Restrictions on investments in illiquid investments, such as venture capital and private equity, and on investments that do not have transparent pricing and valuation.
  • No investments in any entities affiliated with members of the investment committee, the board or the professional staff. As a consequence of this one policy, the New York Jewish Community Foundation had no investments with Madoff.
  • Ability to price all investments in the portfolio on a daily basis. Confirmations of all transactions by the next business day.
  • Transactional activity and financial reporting performed by different individuals.
  • Monthly performance reports available to all investment committee members.
  • Annual audit of all investments and procedures by an independent third party.

In addition to the above, serious consideration should be given to an even higher level of transparency: complete posting on the Internet of the full portfolio and its value and performance. Given the extreme lack of controls evidenced by the Madoff affair, such an easily implemented step would go a long way to restoring confidence in the community and in fact may be essential for any success in raising the funds necessary to keep many programs afloat.

Lawrence Weinman is an independent registered investment advisor working with individuals and institutions. He teaches a course on investment management for nonprofits at the AJU and has worked with Jewish nonprofits in their investment strategies. He blogs at www.sensibleinvestments.blogspot.com.

Don’t cut support to innovative nonprofits


From New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco, the impact of the global financial crisis feels like an eerie parallel to the days after Sept. 11. No one knows whether the acute phase is over or whether there will be further shocks. For some, little has changed; for others, life will never be the same. Everyone knows someone who has been directly affected.

Our major institutions are struggling to adjust, react, prepare but most of all to respond to those most harmed. News outlets strive to explain and advise; houses of worship have added services; social service agencies brace for increased demand even as they anticipate reduced charitable and government support. Each organization is focused on what it can do to minimize and mitigate the effects of the crisis on our city, our country and our world.

Amid this outpouring of effort, we have been dismayed by intimations, in the Jewish media and elsewhere, that smaller, newer nonprofit organizations will and perhaps ought to lose funding support in order to allocate more to immediate concerns: a warm meal, a place to stay, income stabilization. While we agree that protecting the most fragile is key, we disagree with this last-hired, first-fired funding mentality.

The argument against the new nonprofits is both simple and disingenuous. The simple argument is that they are risky investments, ephemeral champions of the latest passing fads. The disingenuous argument is that these innovators are self-indulgent narcissists, insubstantial and erosive of the communal fabric. These arguments are not only wrong, they are counterproductive.

Far from risky ventures, new start-ups like Darkhei Noam, Hadar, Jewish Milestones, IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance actually are fulfilling the promise of engaging a new generation of Jews in their own idiom and on their own terms. It is this generation’s connection to Judaism that ultimately will determine the future of Jewish life and of its larger institutions. They build innovative new minyanim and educate young leaders who in turn will strengthen their communities. They develop, test and promote new models of community involvement that will be the foundation for generations to come.

From Hazon to Jewish Mosaic to Matan to Sharsheret, they use new tools and methods to promote environmental responsibility, ensure our community welcomes Jews of all backgrounds, widen the reach of special education and put resources into the hands of those afflicted with deadly diseases — all missions at heightened risk in the period of social and economic turmoil we are entering.

While the big boys debate scalpels and hatchets, these new start-ups quietly perform laparoscopies without cutting open the patient. Bootstrapped together with all the advantages of today’s cost-saving technologies that many established Jewish organizations have yet to discover, these start-ups are models of industry and investment that will help America emerge from recession. They can feed for a year on what their larger brethren consume in an hour. They are lean, staffed more austerely than their older, bigger peers and subsist by sweat equity donated by those for whom they mean a great deal.

Putting the attention on new start-ups distracts us from asking the tough questions of our most venerable institutions, many of which have lost sight of their original missions in the struggle for institutional survival.

But these start-ups are also fragile, without reserves to fall back on, and do not yet possess long-term funding relationships to be called upon in times of crisis. They lack the confidence and reputation — and the sheer seniority — conferred on larger nonprofits by decades of service. Questioning the viability, merit or necessity of nascent nonprofit organizations risks becoming self-fulfilling. Moreover, it’s unfair to do so without also challenging the unquestioned assumptions governing larger nonprofits.

New ventures are essential to our recovery and are ideal places for funders to invest to stabilize the community. Individual or institutional funders seeking ways to make fewer dollars go further should take a closer look at the group of emerging nonprofit organizations ready to rise to the occasion if given a chance. These new groups do far more than put on hip-hop concerts and publish risqué magazines. From a communal investment perspective, these organizations provide tremendous value.

Just as after Sept. 11, the priority is on rebuilding — not only our portfolios but also our souls. We must succor those re-examining their values and goals, and support those for whom economic distress leads to personal distress. Financial crisis is often the mother of religious crisis, during which the quest for meaning becomes not only more potent but more critical. It is precisely in trying times that we must focus on efforts that can best distill and transmit the essence of Jewish values in today’s complex and decentralized world.

The age of an organization doesn’t correlate to the significance of its mission. In 1798, when our new nation faced a grave economic and political threat from France, John Adams summoned leaders of each of the nation’s diverse faiths to organize “a day of solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer,” during which citizens were asked to pray “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” The message was clear — strengthening committed communities strengthens our nation.

The new groups formed by our most gifted social entrepreneurs are just such committed communities — some religious and others not — and now is the hour when they can do their finest work.

Shawn Landres is the CEO of Jumpstart, a thinkubator for sustainable Jewish innovation in Los Angeles. Toby E. Rubin is the founder/CEO of UpStart Bay Area, igniting Jewish ideas and supporting Jewish start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area. Martin Kaminer is the New York-based chair of the board of Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas.

H.O.P.E. for the bereaved, even years later


Four years after Shirley T.’s husband died, the anniversary of his death was more painful than she could have anticipated. She spent the day before cooking the foods he loved and somehow navigated emotionally through the anniversary itself.

The following Thursday evening, she was quick to share that experience with other members of her grief support group.

“Thank God for this group and these friends,” she said, referring to the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation for Bereavement Loss and Transition, the oldest and largest grief support organization in the Los Angeles area.

For people like Shirley T., whose spouses have been deceased for two or more years, the gut-wrenching grief has mostly dissipated. But an anniversary or holiday, or the death of an elderly parent or relative, can often blindside them, triggering familiar feelings of loneliness and sadness.

What Shirley T. has found comforting, as have other widows and widowers who have participated in the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation’s weekly grief support groups for two or more years, is to continue meeting monthly as an alumni group, convening at Valley Beth Shalom or Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus.

“Grief shows up when it shows up,” said Dr. Jo Christner, a licensed clinical psychologist who facilitates the Valley Beth Shalom alumni group of 18 people in their late 50s to late 80s.

Christner explained that many people need more time to rebuild their lives in a caring and comfortable environment, especially as well-meaning friends and family members suggest that they need to “get over” their spouse’s death.

As Marie K. told the group about the “little crying spells” she has even five years after her husband’s death, “It’s not just the person who you loved who is gone but your whole life.”

H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation (which stands for “hope, opportunity, participation and education”) was founded in 1970 originally as a nonprofit cancer support group for patients and their families. Now it is primarily a grief support organization for widows and widowers and other family members.

For those in the first two years of mourning, groups meet weekly at Valley Beth Shalom on Thursday evenings and at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus on Tuesday evenings. Alumni groups meet monthly at both locations. H.O.P.E. also sponsors parent loss groups.

Although H.O.P.E. is nondenominational, approximately 90 percent of the participants are Jewish, representing 23 different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. They come from as far away as San Gabriel Valley and Orange County.

The foundation helps people whose lives were shattered by the death of a spouse to regroup and rebuild, according to Dr. Marilyn Stolzman, H.O.P.E.’s executive director and co-author, along with Gloria Lintermans, of “The Healing Power of Grief” and “The Healing Power of Love” (published by Sourcebooks, Inc.).

“Our goal is to help people come back to life and heal,” Stolzman said.

She added that while she and other therapists previously thought that two years in a bereavement group was sufficient, they are finding that many people need more time not to grieve but to transition back into the community in their new role.

What makes H.O.P.E. unique, according to Stolzman, is that licensed therapists with additional training in bereavement issues facilitate the groups.

Plus, the groups of 10 to 15 people are organized according to months of mourning, enabling the participants to experience similar concerns as they move unevenly through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance.

For this last stage of acceptance, however, Stolzman substitutes the words adjustment, transition and integration. “I think those words more aptly describe what people go through,” she said.

And it’s the work of this final stage that is done in the alumni group as they move into what for them is the “new normal.”

After 24 months of grieving, the issues change. While the participants in the alumni group continue to process the memories and sadness triggered by anniversaries and holidays, more often the discussions focus on such issues as adult children, health, elderly parents, traveling and, yes, dating and sexuality.

“It’s connection. It’s a place to process ongoing life problems,” alumni group therapist Christner said.

Part of the growing now includes mentoring the newcomers, a new program that came out of the participants’ desire to give back to others by welcoming the newly widowed and encouraging them by sharing their experiences. The alumni are in the process of preparing a booklet, titled, “We Have Walked in Your Shoes,” which describes their own pain, as well as how the group bereavement experience helped mitigate it and move them forward.

The group participants almost invariably become close friends, going to dinner on a weekly basis, socializing on the weekends, attending religious services together and calling each other, sometimes when they’re crying hysterically at 2 a.m. They also understand one another in ways their family and couple friends can’t.

Geri M., who joined H.O.P.E. in October 2003, several weeks after her husband’s death, views the group as a crucial part of her new life.

“For me, the most important thing was making single friends. Before, all our friends were married couples and I felt very sad,” she said. Geri plans to remain in the alumni group and is working as one of the inaugural mentors.

H.O.P.E. is a nonprofit organization, funded by a suggested fee of $27 per person per session, by small grants and private donations and by occasional fundraisers. But the fees and donations don’t cover operating expenses, mostly for modest staff salaries and insurance. And while Stolzman would like to maintain the current level of service, she admits that “this has been the worst year ever” in terms of contributions, which she attributes to the sagging economy.

“It’s a great mitzvah for the Jewish community to be able to provide this,” said Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who refers many people to H.O.P.E. He added that after the death of a spouse, especially if you’ve been married a long time, “You don’t know who you are in the world anymore or where you belong.”

This was certainly true for Shirley T., who contemplated suicide after her husband died. She recently marked the fourth anniversary of his death and credits H.O.P.E. with literally saving her life.

“I don’t think I would be alive if it weren’t for this group,” she said.

For more information or to make a donation, call (818) 788-4673.

JCRC’s Schwartz-Getzug picked to head Jewish World Watch


Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, a longtime Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles executive and director of the organization’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), has been named executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of synagogues, schools and Jewish community members working to combat genocide around the world.

Schwartz-Getzug plans to leave the Community Relations Committee, which is one of the prominent faces of The Federation in the non-Jewish world, in November and begin her new position in early December. The committee has not yet announced her replacement.

Schwartz-Getzug, who is also The Federation’s senior vice president of public affairs, said she has mixed feelings about leaving the “epicenter of the local Jewish communal world” after six years of service. Still, the opportunity to head a small up-and-coming organization outweighed her misgivings.

“This was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” said Schwartz-Getzug, a 44-year-old mother of three. “This felt like an opportunity to branch out.”

“Tzivia will definitely be missed,” Federation President John Fishel said.

Schwartz-Getzug will help the two-year-old nonprofit raise money, market itself to the community, oversee the creation of a strategic plan and help determine which issues the group should spotlight, said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW president and acting executive director.

Schwartz-Getzug was selected from 40 applicants for the top spot at JWW. Schwartz-Getzug said she plans to work closely with JWW’s board and other leaders to determine how to grow the organization.

The Community Relations Committee programs have grown in scope and importance under Schwartz-Getzug’s direction, observers say. Among them is KOREH L.A., a well-regarded reading mentoring program, which offers literacy programs to children as young as 3 and 4. Schwartz-Getzug also increased the number of JCRC-sponsored trips to Israel for California legislators, a program that helps increase political support for the Jewish state and for Federation social services.

Recently, she oversaw the creation of a new coalition that has brought together more than 80 local Jewish staff members from congressional, county supervisor, City Council and other political offices. Schwartz-Getzug hopes the new group will reach out to other ethnic and religious coalitions to network and figure out ways to collaborate.

Still, Schwartz-Getzug, like other JCRC directors in the past decade, has had a hard time leading the JCRC to take public stands on controversial political issues. In mid-May, for instance, the JCRC board approved a pro-immigrant rights statement that some members hoped would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community. The approval process was so slow, however, that the statement appeared several weeks after the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in the country, a reflection of the JCRC’s, and, by extension, The Federation’s, cautious approach.
A lawyer by training, Schwartz-Getzug’s career has taken “a lot of left turns” over the years, she said. After practicing law for four years as a litigator, she joined the Anti-Defamation League to become civil rights director for the Western Region. She moved on after six years to become community liaison at DreamWorks SKG, principally working on “The Prince of Egypt” and its prequel, “Joseph: King of Dreams.” Schwartz-Getzug joined The Federation in 2001.

“It is clear from my career choices that I am most happy and passionate working in the Jewish community,” she said. “And I look forward to continuing to play an important role in it.”

For Musicians, It’s Good to Be Labeled


When Chasidic reggae-rapper Matisyahu sold 350,000 units of his new album, “Youth,” in the first weeks after its release, he redrew the rule book for marketing Jewish music.

Or, more accurately, Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris, his now former managers and heads of JDub Records, the singer’s erstwhile label, redrew the rule book.

That had been their intention all along, and Matisyahu’s sudden departure from the JDub fold will have no apparent impact on their plans. Bisman and Harris simply will shift their energies to Balkan Beat Box, SoCalled, the newly signed Golem and other artists in their growing stable of Jewish hip-hop and rock musicians.

“This has all been the result of many years of plotting and planning,” Bisman confided last month in the label’s surprisingly quiet and tidy office in Greenwich Village.

Truth be told, it can’t have been that many years of plotting and planning — Bisman and Harris are only 26.

Their youth is actually one of the advantages they bring to the crowded independent-record label horse race, a race in which they are one of several new players with a distinctly Jewish slant to their choice of artists. Along with other Jewish-oriented labels like the L.A-based Jewish Music Group and the artist owned and driven Modular Moods, JDub is combining an uncanny ear for new sounds with an understanding of new media that makes these small companies big players.

Bisman and Harris grew up together in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Ariz., and music was always at the center of their career choices. After they moved to the East Coast, a third friend, Benjamin Hesse, cut a record, and they began trying to sell it.

“It was quality music, great songs,” Harris says. “It sounded good and we got to thinking…”

“…Who would put this out?” Bisman says, finishing the sentence for his long-time partner. “Wouldn’t it be cool to hear this at the Mercury Lounge?”

Around the same time, they befriended a young singer who was becoming involved with the Lubavitchers — Matisyahu.

“We really believe in high-quality Jewish music, so we began to think actively about what our definition of Jewish music was,” Bisman says. “We looked at what John Zorn was doing with Tzadik, his label. He would give an artist $5,000 and allow them to do what they wanted. Jewish Alternative Music was just closing its doors; their art was awesome, but the marketing was awful.”

With those two benchmarks available at the outset, Bisman and Harris began thinking through what JDub could be.

“We wanted to position our label so that it would have a chance of reaching a real audience,” Bisman says. “So we came up with a few simple guidelines. We wanted bands that would play comfortably in secular spaces, not just the JCCs and synagogues. We wanted artwork — record jackets, posters and so on — that would be appealing. And we wanted to stay away from klezmer at the outset, because that niche was pretty much sewed up and would limit us to an older audience.”

In short, JDub would try to make music that would appeal first to the founders’ cohort, the audience that they knew best and which, frankly, is the most active music-buying public.

More than that, though, JDub wouldn’t just release the records and kick the acts out on the road to fend for themselves.

“I had made some connections, I had been out on the road, frankly a little too much, and I know how to manage an act,” Harris says. “We wanted to be able to do everything for the bands we sign.”

“It’s not just about putting out a record,” Bisman says. “We want to make sure our artists are long-term successes and don’t burn out.”

The marketing plan Harris outlines was simple: “We speak to our peer group and other kids. We realized that if we do more events we would brand ourselves even before we had records to sell. Then you have an audience waiting.”

That strategy tied in nicely with their desire to use Jewish music as a way of bringing the community together, so nicely that the label is now a nonprofit Jewish organization, funded in part by UJA-Federation in New York, with a similar relationship in the offing in Los Angeles.

“We have a mailing list of 5,000-6,000,” Harris says, “They’re young, cool and have quality, and these are people that Jewish organizations need to, want to reach.”

Both Erez Handler, who owns and runs Modular Moods, and David McLees, one of the two heads of the Jewish Music Group, express a little good-natured envy of JDub’s nonprofit hookup.

“They don’t have some of the financial pressures we have,” McLees said in a phone call from Los Angeles. “We have to turn a profit faster than they do. But I think they do fine work. They’re very focused.”

Handler, who records on his own label as DJ Handler, notes that Modular Moods isn’t really “a Jewish label, but a lot of our music that gets attention is Jewish music.”

He points out that only two of the label’s 10 artists are overtly Jewish. But Modular Moods was the force behind last fall’s Sephardic Music Festival in New York City.

“I like doing Jewish music or non-Jewish music, as long as it’s good music,”

Handler, who is an observant Jew, says. “You get to collaborate with more people when you don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed.”

Like Harris and Bisman, Handler is 26 and says that the target audience for Modular’s releases “has always been myself and my friends from college. College-radio style, people who are searching for new music, not just one style but music fans with diverse tastes.”

Modular Moods’ artist list includes Juez, a high-energy jazz-funk band with a klezmer tang; African American Jewish rapper Y-Love, and alt-rockers Bellflur.

Jewish Music Group’s artists include satirical rapper Chutzpah, the Moshav Band, Connie Francis and Don Rickles.

Connie Francis and Don Rickles?

“Richard Foos and I worked together on Rhino Records for 18 years before we began JMG,” McLees explains. “We’re from the mainstream and we’ve got one foot in the mainstream and one in the niche market. That’s what sets us apart from JDub or Modular Moods.”

That and the fact that he and Foos are in the their mid-40s.

“We want to take the Jewish out of marketing Jewish music so that our artists have a chance of crossing over, but we also want to distribute the other way, to reaffirm their Jewish identity,” McLees says. “We have everything from Don Rickles to David Broza and Debbie Friedman, from the Moshav Band to Jackie Mason. We’re tying to hit all the different strata that Jewish music includes, everything from an Orthodox religious group to cultural Jews.”

As a result, unlike JDub and Modular, JMG has made a particular effort to place their records in Judaica stores throughout the country.

Harris characterizes Modular’s vibe as “more DIY than ours,” and JMG’s as more mainstream, but all three labels express admiration for one another and single out artists in their competitors’ stables that they like.

Handler is quick to sing the praises of Balkan Beat Box.

“I think they are the artists that could have a lasting career,” he predicts.

With Balkan Beat Box, the band is actually composed of musicians from different backgrounds playing a mix of a lot of cultures, and I think that is something very strong, as opposed to throwing this one style over this other style.”

“JDub does great stuff,” McLees says. “I think their first priority is to find something Jewish and break it into the mainstream. We should all be grateful for what they did with Matisyahu.”

Does that mean that Balkan Beat Box could be looking at platinum somewhere down the road?

It is impossible to answer that question. After all, that was the one thing that Bisman and Harris hadn’t planned on before.

Balkan Beat Box will be appearing at the Israeli Independence Day Festival at Woodley Park on May 7 at 3 p.m.

JDub Records is on the Web at www.jdubrecords.org; Modular Moods is at www.modularmoods.com ; Jewish Music Group is at www.jewishmusicgroup.com. For more information on the Israeli Festival, visit www.israelfestival.com.

George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week; his new book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

 

Letters


Very Funny

The funniest part of your recent Purim issue was the article on Rabbi Aron Tendler’s departure from Shaarey Zedek Congregation (“Tendler Resigns Under Cloud,” March 10). In lieu of any substance, it was filled with rumors and speculation — a hilarious send-up of real journalism!

Yacov Freedman
Valley Village

Razing the JCC

Thank you so much for Tom Tugend’s insightful bit of muckraking on the Soto-Michigan JCC demolition (“Federal Government Razes Eastside JCC,” March 17). Bravo!

Unfortunately, we are still left with many unanswered questions:

1 — Where are the assets of the nonprofit. If the land was sold for $1.5 million, who benefited from the sale? A nonprofit’s assets must be reinvested into another community nonprofit. They cannot go to a private entity.

2 — How do we address the lack of coordination between elected officials? [Rep. Lucille] Roybal-Allard’s [(D-Los Angeles)] office, the mayor’s office, [City Councilman Jose] Huizar’s office?

3 — Why did the Social Security Administration building need to move in the first place? What will replace the current Social Security building?

4 — Can the important role this site played in the history of the Chicano movement, in multicultural politics and in the history of the Jewish community be commemorated within the new structure? They owe the community at least something like that.

5 — Why isn’t there yet a citywide survey of historic structures? This has never been done for lack of funds, and critical links to the past are being lost each week because of this.

6 — Where’s the mayor’s office in all of this?

7 — Who is going to finally be accountable for this debacle?

Aaron Paley
Founder
Yiddishkayt Los Angeles

My earliest childhood memories include visits to the Soto-Michigan Center, where for several years I attended Camp Manayim, the day camp that JCA operated there. My older brother was in Boy Scout Troop 171 that met at the center, and Strauss AZA also held its meetings there. The building contained far more history than anyone realizes. One more example of the historical Jewish presence has now been erased.

Brooklyn Avenue as a symbol of the Jewish community is now named for a Mexican American labor organizer who never lived on Brooklyn Avenue.

Everyone seems to have been caught flat-footed by the bureaucratic move to tear down the old center. So much incompetence at so many levels of government officialdom should be awarded a medal for stupidity and shortsightedness.

One wonders which remembrance of the Jewish past in Los Angeles will be the next to go.

Abraham Hoffman
Canoga Park

Conservative Jews

My Orthodox background and my 20-plus year commitment to Conservative Judaism make me realize how shallow Rob Eshman’s column really is (“Carnival Time,” March 17).

Our problems in Conservative Judaism have nothing to do with needing more dunk tanks. Rather we need to figure out how to engage congregants in Jewish observance and ritual.

The number of families who keep kosher declines yearly, as does the degree of Shabbat observance. Synagogue-going in general is also in great decline.

Soccer has replaced shul on Shabbos morning for many families. The movement needs to figure out how to instill in Conservative Jews the passion and desire to become more observant.

My children played sports, took music lessons, etc. Yet we went to shul every Shabbos. My son has returned to his Orthodox roots, and my daughter is an observant Conservative Jew who reads Torah and participates actively in synagogue life.

Maybe the choices parents make have something to do with it. Maybe the loosening of some observances in the entire movement are at fault. Maybe both…. But the absence of more rabbis in the dunk tank is not at the heart of the matter.

Pearl Taylor
Sherman Oaks

Hancock Park

In your article, “An Ugly Day in the Neighborhood” (March 3), my quotes and misquotes did not truly express my sentiments. I ran for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council hoping to get beyond the polarization characterizing relations between the local homeowners group and the Orthodox community, following the battle over Etz Chaim.

However, the election itself was bitterly and nastily contested, and I was one of only four Orthodox representatives elected. Still, after being contacted by an activist outside the Orthodox community seeking rapprochement, I remained guardedly optimistic.

Three meetings, six months into the process, my hopes have been dashed. The council did not meaningfully address or even discuss any issue other than a new set of by-laws that are clearly aimed at disenfranchising the Orthodox community.

The Orthodox have been labeled as “other” and are being effectively marginalized. This is true regardless of where one stood or whether one was involved with the Etz Chaim issue.

Ideally, the Neighborhood Council would follow its mandate of reaching out to the greater community and fostering tolerance and collegiality. Unfortunately, this council, elected by a mere 2 1/2 percent of the population, has no apparent interest in these ideals and is just another forum for heavy-handed political machinations and ongoing divisiveness.

Larry Eisenberg
Los Angeles

Bush’s Jewish Moment

It’s always interesting to get a glimpse of the inner workings of a left-leaning political scientist’s mind, especially when they try to analyze the reasons why many Jews are now Republicans. The amazing thing is that these political scientists almost always get it wrong.

In his essay on what he calls “The End of Bush’s ‘Jewish Moment'” (March 17), Raphael J. Sonenshein makes his whimsical use of the word “moment” to imply that those of us who are Republicans did so for a short period of time and are now re-evaluating our positions and are or will be soon returning to our womb in the Democratic fold.

The interesting thing is that many of us were Republicans long before Bush took office, even before the Reagan years, and we did so for a myriad of reasons, with clarity of purpose being one of the most important.

Finally, many of us have been impressed with the president’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sonenshein incorrectly calls them unilateral (ignoring the participation of Britain and others), but perhaps if another Democratic president would have taken similar action, the world would have been a much better place.

Just think if Roosevelt would have taken the same unilateral action (along with Britain and others) against Hitler before the Holocaust, but I forget. Roosevelt probably listened to political advisers like Sonenshein — progressive intellectuals.

Bill Bender
Granada Hills

Enough Europe Bashing

I am not sure as to whom I should write about my amazement as I visit Los Angeles during my spring break from Washington University and look at your paper.

The Jewish Journal, when I lived here, seemed to have more substance, but I feel that I am now reading a cheap, sensationalistic paper:

1 — I see an end of February cover with an African man (wow!) who could be Jewish, says the headline (“Is This Man a Jew,” Feb. 24). Imagine people of Los Angeles, an African Jew. Is that racism or what raising its big head? That outrageous story made it to be your cover.

2 — In “Just Joking Around” by Ed Rampell (March 17), another rant under the guise of humor: “I have so many reasons to dislike the French…. We bail this country out every 30 years…. The last war France won was led by a 12-year-old girl,” the words of Keith Barany.

3 — This kind of stand is echoed by Judea Pearl, with all my sympathy for his murdered son, who slips similarly down another dangerous generalization — now extended to all Europeans: “….What every child in Europe knew all along — who causes the troubles of the world and who can be bashed with impunity” (“For Ilan, a Eulogy,” March 17).

As a Jew, a U.S. citizen, a Frenchman and a European, I feel ashamed to read such statements being given prominence in your pages. I hope you will raise the level of your discourse soon.

Pier Marton
St. Louis, Mo.

Singled Out

Just read Amy Klein’s singles column and it tickles me how on the one hand, she dogs her well-intentioned suitor for his mid-’90s-era garb, and yet, hilariously, in the very same article, she repeatedly summons like a mantra (what else?) that well-worn, way-played out, mid-90s “Seinfeld” cliché “….Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” (“I Want You to Want Me,” March 10).

With rationale like that, there’s no need to read past the column headline to figure out why she’s so miserably and utterly unattached. Please re-title the Singles Column “Unintentional Humor.”

Name Withheld by Request

“Aryan Nation?”

Your cover photo and the caption that accompanied it on Volume 21 (Feb. 24) are chilling. Do American Jews plan to keep Israel white?

What if the photo was of an Eastern European Jew with caption: “Is this man an American and should American money be used to bring him home?”

Are we promoting a Jewish “Aryan nation?” When will it stop? Re-read “Animal Farm” by George Orwell.

Dr. Margaret England
Los Angeles

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Community Briefs


‘Munich’ Still Topic of Debate

Even with Republican sponsors and a largely Republican audience, the panelists at a recent discussion on Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” covered most of the spectrum from left to right.

At the event, held at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, Kathleen Wright, a writer, distributed an article titled, “‘Munich’ Stands for ‘Appeasement.'” Her piece recycled New York Times’ columnist David Brooks’ argument that Spielberg, who has been nominated for a best directing Oscar, had posited a moral equivalence between the Black September terrorists and the Israeli commandos.

She was followed by Robert Kaufman, a professor at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy, who criticized Spielberg for failing to put the Munich attacks and response in the proper historical context.

The next speaker, professor Michael Berenbaum, disagreed with the charges of historical inaccuracy, saying it’s not the job of a filmmaker to tell the complete history of Islamic-Jewish relations in one film. He also countered the moral equivalence argument by pointing out the scrupulous care with which the Israelis depicted in the film try to avoid inflicting collateral damage — compared to the terrorists, who are shown gunning down the defenseless Israeli athletes.

Allan Mayer, a consultant who helped Spielberg navigate the “political minefield” of the film, addressed the frequent criticism that the film humanizes the terrorist masterminds by showing one to be a learned poet and another to be a family man with a charming daughter.

“That’s the nature of evil,” Mayer said, adding that it would be unrealistic and simplistic to portray the terrorists as being “painted blue with horns.”

After questions were shouted from the audience of 150 — despite the agreement that questions would only be submitted on cards — each speaker was given an opportunity to sum up. The last word was left to Mayer, who said merely that he was glad that the film had gotten people talking about the issues. As he had noted earlier, “It’s hitting people at a very deep level.” — Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer

Jewish Groups Get Federal Safety Funds

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has allocated $5.1 million in security funding for nonprofit, faith-based institutions in California, with $3.75 million earmarked for L.A. County. Synagogues, Jewish agencies and day schools across Los Angeles County make up the bulk of local nonprofit institutions receiving the local funding.

A state Office of Emergency Services listing of recipients shows that of the 46 local nonprofits getting funding, 28 are Jewish institutions representing almost $2 million combined out of the $3.75 million. The grants attracted 87 Los Angeles nonprofit applicants. Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, spearheaded the push for L.A. funding.

These grants will cover improvements on physical security, such as fences and security cameras. Jewish institutions receiving $100,000 grants include the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance, the University of Judaism, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks and Yeshiva of Los Angeles high school.

In a Feb. 10 press release announcing the grants, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said L.A. nonprofits finally are getting, “a larger portion of security funds available to local governments.”

Along with Jewish institutions, federal security grants of $100,000 also have been awarded to the Los Angeles Music Center, plus hospitals in Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank and Long Beach.

Synagogues receiving federal funding in the $90,000 range are the Orthodox shuls Chabad of the Valley in Tarzana and the Pico-Robertson’s Torat Hayim, plus Conservative synagogues Adat Shalom in Westwood, Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles and Venice’s Temple Mishkon Tephilo. A grant of $88,559 was awarded to the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City, while Conservative Shomrei Torah of West Hills is receiving $75,631.

Jewish agencies getting federal money include a $96,500 grant to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. The L.A. office of the National Council of Jewish Women and the L.A. Hillel Council each will be receiving funds in the upper $40,000 range. The Westside Jewish Community Center received almost $61,000, while Long Beach’s Barbara & Ray Alpert Jewish Community Center got $91,500, according to the Emergency Services Office.

Jewish schools with grants include the Fairfax District’s Yavneh Hebrew Academy ($90,339) and Bais Yaakov School for Girls ($69,746), plus New Community Jewish High School in West Hills ($31,900), the Pico-Robertson’s Maimonides Academy ($41,978) and West Covina’s Atid Hebrew Academy ($80,000). — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

 

Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle


A new law that bans that use of experimental pesticides in schools is the latest achievement of Robina Suwol, a Jewish anti-pesticide activist.

The law, which took effect last month, grew out of a presentation two years ago before an L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) advisory committee of which Suwol was a part.

As Suwol recalled it, a researcher asked to use LAUSD school sites to test an experimental pesticide.

“The woman said, ‘We use less [pesticides] and they’re stronger [so] therefore they’re safer,'” Suwol said. “We all kind of laughed and politely declined.”

But in the back and forth, the researcher mentioned that a school site had already been secured in Ventura County for the experimental product.

“That haunted me, and I began to research it,” she said.

What Suwol said she found was an arena of murky practices and documentation. It wasn’t clear that experimental pesticides were being used at any schools, she said, but it also wasn’t clear that they weren’t or that they never had been — or that they wouldn’t be tried at school sites in the future. So she decided to do something about it.

Suwol soon met with various environmental and public health organizations to marshal opposition to experimental pesticides in schools: “Everyone was on board that this was a curious loophole.”

Assembly member Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando) agreed to author the legislation, which became Assembly Bill 405. Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) backed it, as did organizations including the California Medical Association, the state PTA, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and many others.

An early critic of the effort was the state’s own Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which has responsibility over these matters. At the time, officials there characterized the proposed restrictions as potentially redundant, confusing and over-reaching.

While permission to test can, in fact, be granted to experimental pesticides whose safety has not been determined, these permits “are time-limited, relatively few, and are closely controlled under very specific and restrictive conditions,” said Glenn Brank, director of communications for the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

He added that the department “has never allowed an experimental pesticide project at an active school facility, and we never would.”

Suwol said she had trouble obtaining data from the department about experimental test sites. Brank insisted, however, that such data is publicly available on request.

As it happens, even the researcher whose comment prompted Suwol’s quest contends there was a misunderstanding. This different version of events was reported by a pesticide industry news e-journal on Pesticide.net called Insider, which identified the researcher in question as UC Berkeley entomologist Gail Getty.

Getty told Insider that she did indeed give L.A. Unified a presentation on an anti-termite poison that she was researching called Noviflumuron. But as for the Ventura County school test site, Getty told Insider that it was an abandoned school building fenced off from the public due to extreme termite damage — though she acknowledged that she did not mention this fact during her Los Angeles presentation. She added that her aim was simply to make LAUSD aware that a potentially helpful product was in the works. In the end, Getty told Insider, her test in Ventura never happened anyway. Noviflumuron received EPA approval in 2004.

Whatever the case, as far as Suwol and the legislation’s backers are concerned, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Lawmakers passed AB405 in 2005 and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law. The Department of Pesticide Regulation says it fully supports the new regulations in their present form. The bill was eventually amended to avoid the problem of creating potential legal hurdles if a school used a widely accepted product, such as bleach, in ways not specifically mentioned in regulations.

Suwol’s interest in the subject of pesticides dates to 1998, when a worker accidentally sprayed her 6-year-old son, Nicholas, with a weed killer as he walked up the steps of Sherman Oaks Elementary.

“I saw someone in white near the steps,” said Suwol, then “Nicholas yelled back at me, ‘Mommy, it tastes terrible!'”

Nicholas suffered a severe asthma attack afterward. Suwol started meeting with doctors and scientists, and she began raising concerns with L.A. Unified officials. At first she was treated like one more crazy mom, but she persisted, eventually getting the attention of the school board, where she got backing from board members Julie Korenstein and David Tokofsky.

In some cases, she made officials consider the obvious: Why should pesticides be sprayed when children are present?

Today, Suwol heads California Safe Schools, an L.A.-based nonprofit that advocates lower-risk pest control in schools, including barriers and natural predators, and keeping parents and school staff informed when poisons must be used. Its advisory board includes directors of various environmental organizations, including Dr. Joseph K. Lyou of the California Environmental Rights Alliance and William E. Currie of the International Pest Management Institute.

At L.A. Unified, her efforts bore fruit in the 1999 creation of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system, which recommends a more holistic approach to eliminating pests and weeds than simply dousing them with poisons. It was before the district’s IPM oversight committee, on which Suwol sits, that she first heard from the pesticide researcher and became convinced there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

The governor’s office and others, Suwol said, “recognized that this was a situation that, even if it happened in just a few instances, should be stopped.”

 

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?


 

To try to figure out all the volunteer projects social worker Karen Gilman is involved in — and where she finds the time to do them all — is to sift through a complex maze of stories of individuals who need help, or organizations that need help, or a volunteer staff that needs organization, or funds or whatever she can give.

For her job, Gilman is a social worker, who deals with parents of developmentally disabled children ranging in age up to 3.

“Some of my work-work interferes with my volunteer work,” she joked.

That volunteer work is vast. She served as the sisterhood president of Temple Israel of Hollywood and currently co-chairs its AIDS lunch project, which distributes food once a month. Gilman is also social action chair for the Western Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which presents the women’s positions on legislative policy.

She also works with Shane’s Inspiration, a nonprofit group that creates handicapped-accessible playgrounds around Los Angeles, and serves on the Special Olympics Mini Meet committee, as well as Fiesta Familiar, a yearly training program for parents of children with disabilities.

There’s more — like volunteering at her temple gift shop and working with the day school children on volunteer projects — but the real questions are: How does she do it? How does she not get burned out?

By way of an answer, she tells stories of second-graders who donated money anonymously so a poor person could celebrate Purim, the school lunch lady who called her to find out what to do for a severely lactose-intolerant child on pizza day and the parents who advocate for their children and “turn their pain in something for their families. That keeps us going,” she said, although even the mere question of what motivates her is curious to her.

“Once in a while, someone will do something out of the kindness of their hearts for someone else,” she said. “When you’re able to pull together the research and make something happen for someone, and they can utilize the resources, it’s gratifying.”

That’s Gilman’s main motivation. She was raised by socially conscious and politically active parents and grandparents in Chicago.

“They set the stage that this was the right thing to do,” she said.

“She doesn’t seek the limelight,” said Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “She really does it modestly. She just cares a lot — she knows she has the ability, and she knows a mitzvah and how to do it.”

That’s why the temple decided to surprise her by honoring her — only her — last year.

“They really shouldn’t have done it,” Gilman said, more embarrassed than upset. “Everyone works together on all these projects, and no one person is more deserving than another for praise. The highest form of giving charity is doing so anonymously, so it’s not really good to draw attention to oneself in one’s charitable work.”

For Gilman, volunteering is a team effort, one that requires motivating others to join her: “They are doing something good together with their friends, you get to spend a great time together with your community and it will make you feel good. People love giving anonymously and selflessly. Usually, Jewish people are easy to convince. They usually understand the concept of charity pretty well.”

Karen Gilman

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

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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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave


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Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster

Some 50 South Indian villagers are spread out along the sandy beach. Women clad in brightly colored saris converse in groups, while men repair fishing nets. Teenage boys playfully tackle each other.

Then, the residents of Vellakoil get some news from fellow clansmen: Dangerous weather is on the way.

A year ago, when the tsunami hit, 19 died in this village of less than 500; 14 were children. And everyone’s house and belongings were washed away.

This time, they are ready.

As the storm descends, men, women and children fan out, each with a task. Some run into the Sea of Bengal to save those stranded in the water. They use rafts and life preservers made of readily available local materials, such as empty plastic water bottles and bamboo branches. Using makeshift stretchers — blankets stretched across tied bamboo — others carry the injured to a first-aid station.

Welcome to an emergency preparedness exercise organized by an Indian nonprofit, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

The effort was launched about a decade ago in another part of India, after a devastating earthquake, through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which stands for “self-learning through empowerment.”

Funds contributed after last December’s devastating tsunami are helping to pay for training and travel to make the program work. The idea is for villagers to help teach people from other villages, a concept central to the ideology of nonprofits funded by AJWS.

Vellakoil residents are serious about the drill. Beforehand, they proudly announce their duties — monitoring weather systems, performing first aid, documenting damage — to a group of visitors.

Of course, it’s hard to prepare for a tsunami that strikes on a clear day and sweeps inland across 4 kilometers of land, as happened here a year ago. But the planning already has paid dividends. Even though the region and the village suffered severe flooding during recent rains, residents successfully removed themselves and their belongings out of harm’s way.

This exercise begins and ends with villagers lined up along the beach, their arms outstretched as they pledge loyalty to their village and to each other.


In disaster drill, Vellakoil residents use supplies at hand — water bottles and bamboo — to fashion a rescue raft. Photo by Howard Blume

When they first performed the exercise about a month ago, at least one resident broke down in tears as memories resurfaced. Just two weeks before, a man who had lost two sons in the killer wave hanged himself. On this day, one woman recalls trying futilely to save two grandchildren.

For some, however, the emotions are beginning to subside. Several teenage boys wear excited smiles as they carry the “wounded” to safety.

Even psychological benefits are no small thing.

“Now we have confidence that we can escape,” says Kuppamanikkam, the woman who lost two grandchildren. “Now we no longer have to fear.”

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Preschool Project Strives to Educate All


King Solomon was known to have coined the expression, “Educate the child accordingly so that when he grows old, he will not leave.” In other words, take advantage of the child’s education as soon as possible.

In modern times, this admonition certainly applies to preschool, and it’s something that my day care school, the Bilowit Learning Center, based in the Lomita-Torrance area, has always taken as a mission.

It’s why we were one of 600 preschools to apply for funding from Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), a new nonprofit that seeks to establish or to advance affordable high quality prekindergarten education to public and private schools in Los Angeles County. LAUP’s goal is to make preschool universally accessible to every 4-year-old in Los Angeles County. With money from Proposition 10, LAUP funds and expands preschool programs.

Bilowit Learning Center was one of the lucky first 100 schools selected last spring in a countywide lottery as a LAUP school, receiving more than $100,000 in funding.

That good fortune was just the beginning of a process. With the LAUP funding, we hired a new special educator to direct our program, added two new teachers and redesigned the preschool classes with new activity centers.

We then advertised “Preschool for Free — How Can It be?” and left our number to call. Children were admitted on a sliding scale, so that all who were interested could attend. Who would believe that in a few months, the number of preschoolers attending our school would double to more than 40, thanks to the LAUP program?

Through this process, parents of children from all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds had the opportunity to see a Jewish school for the first time, often meeting a rabbi for the first time or learning from peers why some people wear yarmulkes. They saw that, yes, people with different religions, beliefs and backgrounds can get along, working side by side. All this in a safe and sound environment. Prejudices disappear and children learn trust.

In accordance with LAUP guidelines and our desire to provide an opportunity for children of all backgrounds to learn together, we provide secular education to the preschoolers for the half-day program. For the Jewish preschoolers, we offer an additional hour for Jewish studies.

My hope is that the transition from a preschool with such an environment will help children assimilate positively, by helping them live American ideals. We may be different, but we are all the same.

Everything starts with education. If we educate the very young in their most impressionable years, we may succeed in making progress toward the many challenges that lie before us. After all, it is much easier to plant a tree correctly than to reshape it in its maturity.

As the LAUP program increases, the great mosaic is drawn, each child adding beauty and trust. You should visit a LAUP preschool program and see the miracles it performs.

Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.

 

Fight the Minotaur in the Tax Labyrinth


This past September, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and representatives of more than 70 other organizations attended a seminar for nonprofits that I conducted at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Like many taxpayers, nonprofit organizations need guidance to comprehend the labyrinth of federal and state tax laws. With the exception of accountants and attorneys, few people absorb the millions of words that make up state and federal tax codes, including rules and regulations. In addition, many nonprofits cannot afford the expense of maintaining counsel to steer them through the thicket of tax laws.

To facilitate seminars that provide vital tax information to nonprofits, I enlist experienced speakers from various federal, state and local agencies to break down our complex tax system into easily understood component parts. At The Federation seminar, experts discussed provisions of the state and federal tax codes that apply to nonprofit organizations, as well as laws that specifically govern their activities.

A rabbi who attended the meeting was unaware that an exemption from sales tax exists for sales of meals and food products furnished or served by any religious organization at a social gathering it hosts. To his delight, the rabbi discovered that the synagogue was eligible for a refund of hundreds of dollars of sales tax reimbursement paid to several restaurants (Revenue & Taxation Code, Section 6363.5).

Marina Arevalo-Martinez, an accountant at the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, took a particular interest in raffles. She heard one presenter say that under Penal Code Section 320.5 “no eligible organization can hold a raffle unless it has registered with the [state] attorney general’s office to hold raffles.” Arevalo-Martinez also learned that an eligible organization must use at least 90 percent of all gross receipts from raffle ticket sales for charitable or beneficial purposes.

The Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic constantly looks for ways to raise money, and Arevalo-Martinez said the information will enable the agency to sponsor raffles while adhering to the letter of the law.

Federation President John Fishel said, “The seminar provided the staff of The Jewish Federation and the staff of our affiliated agencies with vital information on reporting and compliance.”

But the reality is that in today’s fast-paced environment not every nonprofit organization or charitable contributor has the time to attend a seminar. With this in mind, here are some tax tips from the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board you might find useful.

Franchise and Income Tax Tips for Donors

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• Confirm that the recipient of your gift is a valid charity before you give. You can do so by looking up the charity on the IRS Web site (” target=”_blank”>www.boe.ca.gov, which features sales and tax rates by county, frequently asked questions, a list of publications, and an online tutorial for sales and use tax.

John Chiang is chair of the California State Board of Equalization and member of the Franchise Tax Board.

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H.O.P.E. for Los Angeles’ Bereaved


I felt like a third wheel,” Shirley said.

“I never felt more alone,” Diane said.

“I felt my oneness,” Helene added.

These women, along with 12 other females and two men, all in their 50s to their 80s, sat in a circle in Valley Beth Shalom’s Lopaty Chapel in Encino. They were reporting on the setbacks and successes of the past week, coming from cities as far away as Whittier and Thousand Oaks as they do every Thursday evening because of a common bond: Their lives have been shattered by the death of a spouse.

Here, they are members of Group Three, one of the many groups offered by H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation for Bereavement and Transition, the oldest and largest grief support organization in the greater Los Angeles area, according to Dr. Marilyn Stolzman, H.O.P.E.’s executive director since 1982. And they are dealing with profound sadness and loneliness in a caring and communal setting as they seek to rebuild their lives.

Licensed family and marriage therapist Bonnie Ban, facilitating this group, whose spouses have died 11 to 14 months previously, asked the members if being alone has gotten any easier.

“No.”

“A little.”

“It’s changing. And my dog helps.”

Clearly, many participants are making progress.

“On Saturday I was missing my husband 10 times more than ever so I decided to go to a movie,” Beverly said.

“I made my first dinner party last week,” Elinor boasted.

Ban reminded them that time is passive and grief is active.

“You have to make the effort to go through the discomfort,” she said.

To accomplish this, H.O.P.E. — established in the 1970s and which stands for “hope, opportunity, participation and education” — offers seven weekly grief support groups for widows and widowers. Five are held at Valley Beth Shalom on Thursday evenings and, for the past seven years, two at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles on Tuesday evenings. The organization also offers a weekly family loss group for parents, siblings and other close relatives as well as two monthly alumni groups and a cancer support group.

What makes H.O.P.E. unique, according to Stolzman, is that the groups, which generally include 10 to 15 participants, are organized according to months of mourning, allowing participants of varying ages to experience similar issues as they progress unevenly through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief and mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Those in Group One, for example, who have lost a spouse within the past four months, are still in intense pain. Group Four members, on the other hand, 15 to 24 months out, are still sad but are moving toward acceptance and a redefined life.

The H.O.P.E. groups, whose ratio of women to men is 7:1, reflecting the national population of widows and widowers, are facilitated by licensed therapists, who are paid for their services and who have additional training in bereavement. This approach differs from other organizations such as Our House, whose grief groups are led by supervised para-professionals.

Not everyone, however, believes in the necessity of bereavement support groups. The new “Report on Bereavement and Grief Research,” published in November 2003 by the Center for Advancement of Health, concluded that bereavement counseling for adults not experiencing “complicated grief” did not alleviate the sadness and pain. Instead, the report found that symptoms normally and gradually receded over six to 18 months.

H.O.P.E.’s Stolzman disagrees, citing David Spiegel, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of “Living Beyond Limits: New Hope and Help for Facing Life-Threatening Illness” (Crown, 1993). He found that people who attend support groups do 50 percent better in the healing process than those who do not.

Stolzman points to the success of the group process — the power of participants to tell their stories, and to refrain from offering advice, and to give hope to others as well as their ability to listen empathetically and actively to group members. She also refers to the effectiveness of humor. “We owe it to our audience not to make death and dying deadly,” she said.

Plus, it’s a Jewish concept not to hide or run away from death, according to Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, herself a marriage and family therapist, who refers widows and widowers of all ages to H.O.P.E.

“But we live in such a grief-light society that most people want to get rid of any bereavement experience,” she added.

That includes well-meaning family and friends who often lose patience with the mourner, asking questions such as, “Are you still going to that grief group?” or, “Aren’t you over that yet?”

As Joan, a member of Group Three, said, “They think [losing a spouse] is contagious.”

Thus, many participants find that H.O.P.E., a group they never wanted to belong to, becomes an indispensable part of their lives. Members often meet for dinner before group sessions and go out for dessert and coffee afterward. Many socialize on Saturday nights and sit together at Yizkor (memorial) and High Holiday services. They also provide support for each other during the week via the telephone, sometimes in the middle of the night.

“Family and friends say they know how you feel, but only the people in the group really know,” said Hy Cohen, 75, of Encino, a former H.O.P.E. participant.

Additionally, as members transition to creating new lives, H.O.P.E. helps them with such issues as dating and sexuality. Cohen, now remarried to someone he met through H.O.P.E., reflected, “I remember that first date. I got home from work and showered and put on cologne. I was nervous … like a teenager.”

Stolzman advises newly bereaved to wait at least three weeks after the death of their loved one — and sometimes as long as six months — before joining a support group. People can also join any group along the grief continuum at any time. Stolzman suggests that potential participants come at least three or four times, with a family member if necessary, before deciding if H.O.P.E. is the right place for them.

H.O.P.E. is nondenominational, though 90 percent of its members are Jewish, representing 21 different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. And while many find it comforting to meet in a synagogue setting, grieving is a universal experience that, for most people, cuts across religious boundaries.

The organization is a nonprofit, charging a suggested fee of $25 per person for each session but not turning anyone away. Still, the fees and annual fundraiser, which this year brought in $12,000 and which Stolzman described as “good for us,” don’t cover operating expenses. With two locations already accommodating about 135 people weekly and with new referrals arriving regularly, Stolzman would like to expand the program, funds permitting.

Two years ago, H.O.P.E. was able to found two alumni groups which meet monthly and are run by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jo Christner, a former H.O.P.E. counselor who moved away but who returns each month as facilitator.

“It’s a group about life,” Christner said. “It’s a place to meet others, to create new friendships and to continue a changed life as a ‘single.'”

Anyone who has lost a spouse more than two years ago is eligible to join.

In all the groups, participants learn that even as they become stronger and begin to create new lives, they can still have a continuing relationship with their spouse, even though he or she is no longer there.

“I loved Norm my whole life,” Group Three’s Helene said. “I love him more now.”

Therapist Ban explained that the love is now more pure.

“The person has died but the relationship still exists,” she said.

And yet, participants eventually can move forward.

“I was with one spouse for 45 years and I loved my wife very much,” H.O.P.E. graduate Cohen said. “But life goes on.”

For more information about H.O.P.E Unit Foundation’s bereavement groups or to make a donation, call (818) 788-4673 or visit www.hopeunit.org.

Failed Joshua Venture’s Serious Failings


 

Now that it has been “formally put to death and buried,” as one of its grantees told me, I feel free to speak out about the Joshua Venture, a supposed breakthrough organization, subsidizing the ideas of nonprofit professionals who will be leading the next generation of Jewish life.

I don’t know the intricacies of what happened that brought it to its final demise. I don’t even know all the details of how it worked when it was alive. I do know that when I dealt with its 14 20-30-something-aged grantees last year, it was the worst professional experience I have had since my company, Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes, began servicing the Jewish and nonprofit world.

The purpose of the Joshua Venture is something like this:

It was founded by several foundations in Jewish life to enable young social entrepreneurs (that means nonprofit start-ups) to receive funding and two-years of support, seminars, tools (that means training), mentoring and advice.

What I found out it basically meant is that they chose a group of creative and brilliant young Jews, many whom were committed to building edgy nonprofits in the Jewish world, who were coddled, handed monetary support on a silver platter, catered to, spoiled and allowed to believe that they were privileged and beyond socially acceptable behavioral norms.

I learned these realities the hard way. Initially, I was impressed and excited to be working with the grantees of the Joshua Venture. I already knew some of them. Several were great young people doing extraordinary new work in Jewish life.

There was the founder of J-Dub Records, bringing a new, hip style of Jewish music touching the lives of thousands of young, uninvolved Jews, opening a door for them into a Judaism from which they felt distant and alienated.

There was the founder of the Ayecha Resource Organization, an organization promoting the diversity of Jewish life, founded by a firebrand young Jewish woman who was a proud African American.

There was Sharsheret, supporting the needs of young, Jewish women dealing with breast cancer, founded by a young cancer survivor.

There were performance artists, filmmakers, political activists, intellectuals and others, forming an eclectic mix of dynamic personalities, committed to building their generation’s idea of a new Jewish world.

Joshua Ventures had contacted me about being one of their mentors. They asked if I could plan a full-day seminar for their grantees, teaching them the principles of marketing their causes for funding, advocacy and participation.

I was so excited to work with these people and help them further their ideas that I required my entire staff of 14 people to attend the seminar, positioning them to work as one-on-one mentors with each of the grantees. We prepared for weeks, working way beyond the hours for which Joshua Ventures was paying. I was happy to give the cause our time and a full day of 14 extraordinary professionals.

We arrived that morning to the seminar pumped up and ready to dive in with the grantees. I was prepared to work with them until midnight, if need be.

After an introduction from their professional, I stood up to convey our excitement at being with them and laid out the day’s schedule. Next, the head of our account service team, took the floor to begin the first part of the morning’s program.

He was just a few minutes into his presentation, when I noticed there was a buzz among the grantees. One young woman stands and says to me, “We believe your company is gender challenged. So far, we have heard from you and then another man. Why aren’t the women presenting?”

Not yet clued in, I nicely explained that there would be many women presenting, but that the way it worked out, the first two presentations were from men.

We continued, and then there was another buzz and interruption.

“We don’t like your methodology of presenting, as if you and your company are the center of knowledge. Your presentation model is outdated. You should be asking us what we know and then basing your presentation around our knowledge.”

I stopped and looked at their professional and their lay leader. Neither said a word. I waited to see if any of the other grantees would open their mouths to balance the critics. None did.

At the break, their professional informed me that the grantees tended to “eat up each professional that presented to them.” She further explained that this was par for the course.

(Today, as I recall this story, it reminds me of the report by Michael Jackson’s housekeeper telling the press how the kids at Neverland were allowed to run amok, without any supervision.)

The criticisms continued to fly. Finally, having reached my limit, I told them how excited we were to work with them, but as I listened to them, I was concerned about the values and behavior of the community they wanted to build. I then said that I believed through the grants they received that they had been empowered by the program and that they misconstrued this empowerment to feel entitled.

“You are taking away our safe space,” I was told by one of the grantees. “We’re supposed to be given safe space.”

As professionals, we stupidly continued to work with them through the entire day. We should have left. I should have publicly ripped up their check as a closing ceremony.

About two months later, I received a phone call from the professional, offering me a too-late and very weak apology. None of the funders, who had all heard about this fiasco, all of with whom I have worked very well over the years, ever called to ask about the experience.

The Joshua Venture raises many questions. There are numerous other programs in Jewish life, which are also handing the world on a silver platter to a new generation of Jews. The funders and their advisers have determined that free trips, free conferences, free hotel rooms, in addition to scholarships, fellowships, meetings with the rich and famous, study sessions with the brilliant, along with the awarding of cash, prizes and other untold privileges, not to mention the very deliberate creation of a new, selected elite class, are the methodology to perpetuate a vibrant and meaningful Jewish world.

And they may very well be right. But, several years into this new culture of privileged perpetuation, the late Joshua Venture is showing us that the methodology is also creating a sense of entitlement that is growing out of control.

I don’t believe that the programs should stop. But I do believe they must include some courses or sessions on values and humility, while demanding that the participants carry certain levels of responsibility. They must also include codes of conduct and expectations of gratitude, as well as an understanding that their participation does not place them above the community — or above amcha — the people.

The foundations of the Jewish world that fund these programs have stepped up to the plate to infuse Jewish life with a vibrancy and relevancy in a way the Jewish world has never worked before. They are to be thanked and praised.

But as they pursue the evaluations of their funding — as they all do, they must also question whether or not there is a critical issue of respect missing from the programs they are creating.

Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes based in Los Angeles.

 

Milken Teens Live, Learn on Skid Row


 

Keep passing. Keep passing.”

It’s 6 a.m. on a Monday morning in March, and students from Milken Community High School, wearing hairnets, plastic aprons and gloves, are dishing out hot cereal, sugar, applesauce, milk and a muffin assembly-line style onto blue trays.

“We’re a well-oiled machine,” says 11th-grader Ethan Stern, the last student in line, who — with a smile and a “good morning” — hands a tray to each of the 130 males living at the Union Rescue Mission on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

The 22 Milken juniors and seniors, who arrived the previous afternoon with several teachers and administrators, are spending two days and nights at the Union Rescue Mission, sleeping in bedrooms on a locked floor reserved for volunteers. They are taking part in the mission’s Urban Experience Program, a 52-hour hands-on community service project in which they live and work at the mission to learn about the complexities of hunger and homelessness.

“We have to leave our comfortable communities to see how the rest of Los Angeles lives,” says Wendy Ordower, community service coordinator at Milken, a transdenominational Jewish day school in the Sepulveda Pass. “Like at Yom Kippur, we need to be disturbed.”

Breakfast continues till 10 a.m., during which time the students bus dishes and wipe down tables, serve another 350 women and children and, after a short break to eat their own breakfast, fill trays for another 200 men.

The students spend the majority of their time serving food, with the mission providing an average of 2,200 meals daily. They also work in the warehouse filling boxes with hygiene supplies and candies, part of the mission’s Easter outreach of 3,500 packages to be distributed to local homeless and low-income Angelenos. Additionally, they tour the facility, chat and play basketball with the residents, create a mural to leave at the mission and meet as a group to reflect on their experiences.

“I had a stereotypical view of the homeless,” says 12th-grader Tannis Mann. “These are real people, and there are real reasons why they are here.”

In the evenings, the students listen to participants’ stories in the Christian Life Discipleship Program, a one-year residential program that graduates about 100 men annually, providing them with the recovery, educational and work skills needed to rebuild their lives.

They hear from Aaron, a former Catholic seminarian, who had “a little alcohol problem” and Michael, a CPA who moved to Los Angeles only to be immediately mugged and robbed of everything. They also listen to Robert, a former gang leader and prison inmate, who tells them, “Learn to make the good decisions because I made the bad ones when I thought I was cool.”

All the students pay close attention to their words.

“If I see someone on the street, I won’t see them in the same way again,” acknowledges 12th-grader Leticia Grosz.

The teens learn that the reasons for homelessness go beyond addiction to include poverty, lack of affordable housing, low-paying jobs, mental illness, unemployment and prison release. They learn there are about 80,000 homeless in L.A. County but just slightly more than 18,500 beds. They also discover that women and children are the fastest-growing homeless population segment nationwide.

Some of those women live in the shelter, part of a six-month program called Second Step, designed to get them back into permanent housing and jobs. Others who come to the Mission for meals are homeless or reside in daily rate hotels or single-room apartments in the Skid Row area.

The Union Rescue Mission, a nonprofit, privately funded, faith-based organization, was founded in 1891. Now housed in a five-story, 225,000 square-foot facility completed in 1994, it provides an array of emergency and long-term services to the poor and homeless, including food, shelter (797 emergency and transitional beds), clothing, medical and dental treatment, recovery programs, counseling, education, job training and legal assistance.

Some former residents now work for the mission.

Irvin “Pepi” Jones, who runs the evening dining room shift, tells the students, “Ten years ago I was in that line [of homeless men]. I used to push a cart and eat out of the trash.”

The students are moved by what they see and hear.

“These people have so much faith and love for God. They have such purpose in life,” says 11th-grader Alli Rudy.

That is the kind of impact Jewish studies teacher Rabbi Ruth Sohn wants from the program.

“I hope that the kids have a greater awareness of how poverty, drug addiction and prison can destroy lives but that they also feel empowered by what kinds of possibilities exist to turn your life around,” Sohn says.

The program also reminds the students of the role they can play in changing Los Angeles’ urban landscape.

“There’s such incredible work you can do,” says 12-grader Sophie Bibas. “It’s not an option; it’s an obligation.”

As the students board the bus at the end of the 52 hours, student Karin Alpert, speaking for many in the group, says, “For sure I’m doing this again next year.”

 

Dancing the Chai Life


When Sarah Sommer started the Chai Folk Ensemble with eight other young girls in 1964, she had modest expectations. The young women practiced Israeli folk dancing in Sommer’s basement in Winnipeg, Canada, stepping in time to recorded music. When they started performing for live audiences in 1967, the recorded music was replaced with a live musician — the mainstay of all folk performances — an accordion player.

Now, 40 years later, The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble (Sommer died in 1969) is no longer dancing in basements or clicking their heels to accordion music. The nonprofit troupe is run by a board of directors and has a full artistic staff, including costume designers, choreographers from Israel and Argentina, and a technical team that ensures that Sommer’s Israeli folk-dancing vision stays alive. The troupe itself now numbers 47 — including eight vocalists, nine musicians and 20 dancers. They perform in large venues all over the world.

“I don’t think that Sommer ever imagined that it would be as large or survive as long as it had,” said Reeva Nepon, the ensemble’s administrative director. “It really is unique to North America because there are no other [folk] groups this large that have live accompaniment — you won’t find our dancers dancing to recorded music.”

The group’s repertoire has also expanded. They use the dances to tell the story of Jewish communities all over the world, incorporating, Chasidic, klezmer, Israeli and Yiddish influences to give a terpsichorean voice to far-flung communities such as Yemen or Morocco.

At their upcoming Los Angeles performance, for example, the show will close with the dance “Chasida” — the Hebrew word for stork. The dance depicts “Operation Exodus” — the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the late 1980s. In the dance, the performers, wearing sackcloth coats, make their way to the Promised Land. There they shake off their coats and hold them high above their heads, revealing the pristine white dresses worn underneath, and a moment of heart-soaring joy.

“The whole stage lights up and it is so explosive, and so powerful,” said Tracy Kasner-Greaves, Chai’s artistic director. “The performers beam and glow from the stage.”

The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble will start its first tour of Southern California on Feb. 10 at the Fred Kavli Theatre for Performing Arts, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($18-$54) call (805) 449-2787.

News Service Shows Israel’s Other Side


 

Bemoaning the way Israel is portrayed in the news is something of a favorite pastime for many American Jews. But rather than complain that Israel is depicted unfairly in its conflict with the Palestinians, two Silicon Valley executives are taking a different approach.

Eric Benhamou, chairman of 3Com, and Zvi Alon, founder of Netvision, wanted to get the focus off violence altogether and show Americans that there is much more to Israel beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Four years ago, they launched Israel21c, a nonprofit news feature service that covers human interest stories in Israel and pitches them to the media.

Take, for example, the group’s Sept. 19 story on a video game originally used to train Israeli fighter pilots that now is being used to coach college basketball players. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in approximately 170 newspapers, according to Larry Weinberg, the group’s executive vice president and its only full-time staffer in North America.

“Israel, among the nations, is still fighting to justify its existence,” Weinberg said.

Stories about Israeli medical breakthroughs or social welfare projects help demonstrate Israel’s value to the world. It’s a “way of increasing knowledge of Israel that increases respect of Israel,” Weinberg said.

“In the end, public opinion will lead policy,” he added with the conviction of someone who worked in New York City politics on the staffs of three different mayors.

Israel21c is seeking to expand its market. The group recently hired Rubenstein Public Relations, a high-profile Manhattan firm, to bring its message to those between 16 and 25.

“Most young, non-Jewish Americans have almost no knowledge of Israel beyond the conflict they’ve seen in the news for four years,” the group said in a news release.

By pitching stories about Israeli fashion, music and sports to media outlets geared to youth, Israel21c hopes to build identification between U.S. and Israeli youth. Weinberg added that the push will aid pro-Israel efforts on campus, which have seen heated debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the intifada began more than four years ago.

Israel21c’s initiative comes after a report last year showed Jewish organizations were using outdated approaches that failed to interest young U.S. Jews to advocate for Israel. The report, “Israel in the Age of Eminem,” was based on research by pollster Frank Luntz, who found that Jewish groups face a “communications crisis” and were failing to attract the 80 percent of young Jews whose interest in Judaism or Zionism is only marginal.

Israel21c is not the only group to tackle Israeli hasbarah, a Hebrew term for advocacy. Israel has consulates throughout the world devoted to polishing the image of the Jewish state, although many say Israel’s efforts to make its case are inept, and private groups have sprung up since the intifada began, too.

According to Weinberg, the Israeli government is becoming more media savvy, realizing that “public relations and communications are as important tools in a war as soldiers, tanks and courage.” But Weinberg said his group can supplement the official efforts. Israel21c’s stories are used on the Web sites of more than 60 North American Jewish federations each week and are picked up by Israeli consulates and hundreds of Jewish organizations.

While government communications efforts focus on crisis management, Israel21c offers lighter fare, with a positive bent that often hits home. One recent example was an idea from Israel21c that resulted in Time magazine running an article about Israeli medical technology that can eliminate the use of needles, delivering medicine through the pores of the skin.

Anyone who has ever been to the doctor and suffered through a flu shot can relate to an Israel story like that — which is precisely what the founders of Israel21c had in mind.

 

Federation Vows to Help Jewish Poor


Jews have long had a reputation as being among the most successful minority groups in the country. For the most part, they are. But as a new report from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles makes clear, not all Southland Jews live large. While some big machers tool around in BMWs and inhabit Beverly Hills and Brentwood mansions, thousands of less-fortunate community members struggle just to survive.

About one in five local Jews, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earn less than $25,000 annually. An estimated 7 percent live below the poverty line, compared to 5 percent nationally, according to a study titled “Alleviating Jewish Poverty in Los Angeles.” In greater Fairfax, an area with a high concentration of seniors and immigrants, an estimated one in three Jewish households lives in poverty.

“There’s an enormous number of Jews who live at or below the poverty line, and I think it will shock many members of our community to see how many people just scrape by,” Federation President John Fishel said.

In light of the stark findings, The Federation plans to make fighting Jewish poverty an even bigger priority, Fishel said. The agency has already allocated funds to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to hire new employees to focus on the need of the working poor. Around the country, Jewish agencies have undertaken several ambitious programs. In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Jewish Family Service helps poor clients pay outstanding utility bills. In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has built four buildings for the elderly poor with federal funds.

Jews in Southern California have a harder time eking out a living than their counterparts in other U.S. cities. Los Angeles ranks only behind San Francisco and New York as the nation’s most expensive city. Skyrocketing rents, health care and other costs mean poor Jews can afford little beyond the basic necessities, the report said. And the situation appears to be getting worse. The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in most Jewish neighborhoods is $900 to $1,200 per month, putting it beyond the reach of the poor and many working poor.

Based on the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) poverty study, the disabled account for 48 percent of the Jewish poor, refugees and immigrants make up 22 percent, non-college educated are 12 percent, seniors older than 65 comprise 9 percent, single-parent homes are 8 percent, and 1 percent is classified as other.

Ironically, some local Jews working for Jewish nonprofit organizations fall into the ranks of the Jewish poor. At a time when executives at the L.A. Federation and other agencies earn upward of $200,000, plus benefits, nearly 20 percent of the 450 full- and part-time unionized workers at Jewish Family Service (JFS), the Federation and five other Jewish agencies earned less than $20,000 as of the beginning of 2004. Many Jewish day school teaching assistants also make less than $20,000.

In preparing its poverty report, the L.A. Federation collected no new data locally. Instead, the agency based its findings on a Jewish population study commissioned in 1997 and a 2000-2001 survey by the NJPS. That the L.A. Federation conducted no recent random samples undermines the credibility of its study, said Pini Herman, a demographer and author of the 1997 L.A. Jewish Population Survey.

“It looks like they grabbed their numbers out of thin air,” said Herman, who was not consulted for the new survey. “The data fails to account for mortality, migration and movement up and down the economic ladder. I think it is intellectually dishonest.”

Fishel said he stood behind The Federation’s study, adding that he thought information from the 1997 data was still relevant.

The increased patronage of SOVA by local Jews reflects how much tougher things have become for them, said Paul Castro, executive director of JFS, the food bank’s operator. About 1,000 Jews visit SOVA twice monthly for free groceries, a 15 percent increase from last year and a 100 percent hike since 2002, he said.

“From the street level, the economy doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” Castro said. “It’s getting worse.”

At JVS, demand for job training and job placement services by poor Jewish refugees and immigrants has jumped by about 10 percent annually over the past four years, said Vivian Seigel, JVS chief executive and president.

A scholarship program for Jewish men and women in L.A. County living at or below the poverty line has also experienced a surge in interest. This year, about 500 young men and women applied for the higher education stipends, up from 350 last year, she said. Skyrocketing tuition costs, combined with surging rents and insurance costs, have placed a heavy financial burden on poor aspiring college students.

“They’re being pushed down,” Seigel said.

The poor are not the only Jews experiencing financial hardships. The report said an ostensibly middle-class family of two working adults and three school-age children must earn $79,750 to cover living and Jewish community expenses, which include religious school, two weeks of day camp and one month of residential camp. Parents wanting to send their children to Jewish day school would have to come up with another $20,400 per year.

“There are significant numbers of Jews in Los Angeles who can’t make ends meet because of the high costs of living [here] and often find that the costs of Jewish affiliation is beyond their reach,” the report said.

Congress Weighs Nonprofit Security


These days, U.S. airports, federal buildings and transportation hubs are protected by surveillance and armed guards. But what about everything else? What about the cash-strapped nonprofits like temples, schools and community centers whose ethnicity or religious affiliation might make them a potential target?

Some federal legislators have expressed concern that these so-called "soft targets" are going to need extra protection.

The High Risk Nonprofit Security Enhancement Act of 2004 currently before Congress would allocate $100 million in grants and up to $250 million in government-guaranteed loans for security improvements to nonprofit organizations in 2005, with similar amounts in 2006 and 2007, along with $50 million in grants to law enforcement.

The $350 million in assistance to nonprofits would pay for security firms to install better infrastructure, such as concrete barriers, metal detectors and video cameras, and to provide expert training for the nonprofits’ staff on operating the equipment.

"Any time [the nation goes] to Orange Alert, we hear estimates that in large urban areas like Los Angeles it can cost law enforcement up to a million dollars [per] day to comply with the additional security requirements," said Julia Massimino, spokeswoman for Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood), one of the local co-sponsors of the House bill. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is also a co-sponsor.

With law enforcement unable to simultaneously patrol all possible threat sites, the hope is that nonprofits would be able to better defend themselves by using the funds for technological improvements.

The pool of nonprofits that would be eligible for the funds is anticipated to be quite large. It would ultimately be determined by the Homeland Security secretary.

The bill pointedly does not provide funds for nonprofits to purchase any improvement that "would … [be] reasonably necessary due to nonterrorist threats." However, making that distinction could prove complicated in some cases.

Threats or prior violence directed against an organization by terrorists would be a factor in a decision on eligibility, as would having high "symbolic value" as a target or other information that the secretary would choose to accept.

"It is subjective," said Robyn Judelson, United Jewish Communities public affairs director, one of the most ardent supporters of the bill. "It will be up to the secretary of Homeland Security to determine how far to draw the net. As times change, what may be a high risk today may not be the case in a few months or [vice versa]. We wanted the funds to be there for the secretary to make that decision."

"Nonprofits protect our health [and the] social, religious and educational services provided to Americans, and we have to do what we can to protect them in a different way than is set up in for-profit [organizations] or airplanes," Judelson said of the special needs facing nonprofits.

Because of the U.S. economic problems of the past few years, grants and donations for nonprofits have been steadily drying up, making extra expenditures on security difficult.

David Rosenberg, a local security consultant with The Centurion Group, a subsidiary of Centurion Security Inc., noted that over half of his clients are nonprofit organizations conceivably at risk from international terrorism.

"Anything that’s happening globally affects us on a local level," Rosenberg explained. "There was the firebombing of a Jewish day school in Montreal recently, [and] that immediately affected our local clients, and we will step up our security."

He noted, however, that the biggest spike in demand for security services among Los Angeles-area nonprofits came after the North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting in August 1999, rather than after Sept. 11.

"You have to be prepared for anything from an earthquake to a terrorist attack, because there’s no way of knowing," Rosenberg said. "I personally am more concerned about domestic terrorism than international terrorism."

While home-grown violence may be far more common than international attacks, the bill before Congress is not designed to combat it. The security enhancements the bill would provide, however, may nevertheless do so as an unintended consequence.

Perhaps a more fundamental gap in the legislation is a lack of money specifically earmarked for salaries of hired guards who are not existing employees of a nonprofit organization.

"I’m a big advocate of using video cameras, but who’s watching the screen? Everybody who works in a synagogue, for example, is responsible for security, but you [still] want at least one specialist at the location who can respond to whatever emergency arises," Rosenberg said of the limitations of training a nonprofit’s existing staff.

"[For example,] who’s going to operate the metal detectors? And if you find a weapon on somebody, who’s going to ensure that that person doesn’t get inside the structure? I can’t imagine somebody who’s a security professional saying all you need is environmental changes — that’s a wild thought," Rosenberg said.

There is wide agreement, however, that nonprofits do need more protection than they currently have, and infrastructure enhancements are one step in that direction.

The House bill making its way through the Judiciary Committee has 21 co-sponsors. The identical Senate version has eight co-sponsors in the Governmental Affairs Committee. Little overt opposition to the bill has materialized.

"Everybody’s having a difficult time financially, and that just trickles down to nonprofits," Rosenberg said. "Donations are down, but many synagogues have had to add additional security."

"We’re at a point now where it could be dangerous to practice your religion," he said. "It may be dangerous to give your children a Jewish education. So in order to exercise those freedoms, we’re going to have to put precautions in place."

A Thaw in Relations


Who says that Israelis and Palestinians can’t work together?
On New Year’s Day, a group of Israelis and Palestinians embarked on a 35-day
expedition to Antarctica that culminated in the scaling and naming of an
unexplored mountain.

The group, Breaking the Ice, was honored this month for
diplomacy through sport by Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to conflict resolution.

“[I] felt paralyzed not being able to do anything,” said Heskel
Nathaniel, an Israeli living in Germany who launched the project in order to
make a contribution to peace. Nathaniel teamed up with an Israeli climber
friend, Doron Erel, to assemble the expedition.

Through their connections, including Israeli journalists
working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they found four Israelis and four
Palestinians willing to sail from the southern tip of Chile through the  Drake
Passage to Antarctica. They also organized an eight-person support crew,
including a physician, mountain guides and cameramen to produce a documentary.

The hikers included an Ethiopian Israeli who had lost most
of her family trekking across Sudan en route to Israel, a Palestinian from Jerusalem
who had been jailed for attacking Israeli troops with Molotov cocktails and a
lawyer who served in an elite Israeli army commando unit. Despite their
differences, members of the team knew how to “treat each other as human
beings,” said Olfat Haider, an Israeli Arab from Haifa.

But the expedition had plenty of rough spots. Crossing the
Drake Passage, which Nathaniel calls the “largest ships’ graveyard in the
world,” meant enduring waves nearly 50 feet high and winds up to 80 mph. Almost
everyone became seasick and two participants suffered bruises as the boat was
tossed around.

There also were political battles, like the one that
occurred when Nasser Quass, the Palestinian who had been in an Israeli jail,
said Jews have no claim to the Temple Mount.

“We were completely insulted,” Nathaniel said.

Avihu Shoshani, the Israeli lawyer who often butted heads
with Quass, was furious. Haider began to cry.

The parties separated, avoiding each other until the next
evening, when they had to continue navigating, Nathaniel said.

Now, with the trek behind them, Breaking the Ice leaders are
working to turn the event into an annual program — though not to Antarctica.
The next trip, slated for March 2005, will be a camel trek across the Sahara Desert
for Jews and Arabs from several countries.

The group also hopes to inspire children with the example of
bold adventurers who will symbolize a “new kind of hero,” Nathaniel said. He
explained that the group plans ultimately to create programs to instill
friendship among children from countries of conflict.

For more information about the program
and to read a diary of the trip, go to