New Modern Orthodox school opening in Baltimore

A new Modern Orthodox day school is opening in Baltimore three months after another shut down.

The Ohr Chadash Academy, which is opening Sept. 1, will be located at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center, where the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Rambam held boys’ classes. Yeshivat Rambam closed in June because of financial problems.

Ohr Chadash will run from kindergarten through sixth grade and expects to have approximately 90 students in its inaugural school year, growing over the next two years to add seventh and eighth grades. The average class size to start will be about 14 students.

Shayna Levine-Heyfetz, a school board member, enrollment chair and art teacher, said Ohr Chadash will fill a niche in the Orthodox community vacated by Rambam.

“Rambam was the only school that espoused a philosophy of Modern Orthodox Judaism and the only school that provided a commitment to Jewish law and an excellent college preparatory program,” she said.

Levine-Heyfetz said 12 families have shown interest in sending their children to the Ohr Chadash kindergarten next year.

Orh Chadash teachers, who mostly are from Rambam, attended a weeklong training session in Brooklyn, N.Y., on catering to the individual needs of students. Ohr Chadash also has formed a partnership with Shemesh, a local organization dedicated to providing services and support for students with learning disabilities.

Levine-Heyfetz said Ohr Chadash will have an independent financial oversight committee to ensure fiscal responsibility. Committee members have backgrounds in nonprofit management and school finance.

In addition, the school has created a rabbinic advisory committee, chaired by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, to ensure that Ohr Chadash remains connected to the community.

Students in grades 4 to 6 will have iPads that have been donated by benefactors. Each iPad will be loaded with free educational applications.

“The iPads will allow learning at the highest level,” said Noah Davidovics, the head of the technology department. “They will allow teachers to have activities directed at the students’ needs.”

Levine-Heyfetz is hoping that Ohr Chadash will become a staple in the local Orthodox community, like Rambam.

“Will it bring Modern Orthodox Jews back to Baltimore?” Levine-Heyfetz asked. “Time will tell.”

Davening for Dollars

Talmud teaches that a righteous act is its own reward. But if that’s not inducement enough, a rabbi in Woodland Hills is offering $10 cash plus a Krispy Kreme doughnut to teens who attend his 7 a.m. minyan.

It started like this: In 1998 Rabbi Netanel Louie founded the Hebrew Discovery Center to promote Judaism in the West Valley. His center, next to a sushi restaurant on Ventura Boulevard, began by offering after-school Hebrew courses that fulfill the public schools’ foreign language requirement.

Eighty Jewish teens, some of whom didn’t know an alef from a bet, soon signed up to study modern Hebrew (in addition to the classes, the center schedules teen events, including kosher pizza parties and snow trips).

The first weekday teen minyan began in December 2005. How to get sleepy kids out of bed at dawn? Louie, ever pragmatic, had an idea: “Why don’t we offer them something they can’t refuse?”

Thus the $10 payments — which continue for the first two months of each teen’s attendance. Currently 110 teens are registered for the short Orthodox service, with about 35 showing up each day. Eleventh-grader Joni Fakheri, who had fallen away from observance, says the minyan has changed his life. After three years of not putting on tefillin and straying from kashrut, “it all came back.”

Tenth-grader Elizabeth Benam, who sports a trendy diamond nose-stud and nails painted metallic turquoise, admits that “I used to never hang out with Jews.” But now she’s sold on the minyan, because “it gives you a good feeling inside.”

Her cousin, Mor Pinto, agrees: “We don’t do it for the money anymore.”

Hebrew Discovery Center is located at 19819 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills. For more information, call(818) 348-4432 or e-mail HDC also offers after school Hebrew classes at 11540 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 696-4432.


Another Tendler Steps Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so, Sholom Tendler said.

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

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

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

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

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

So why is Sholom Tendler leaving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What a Difference a ‘Gap Year’ Makes

After high school graduation last year, as his friends went off to college, Ari Feinstein headed to Israel. He taught English to 10-year-olds in Upper Nazareth, worked on a camel farm near Dimona, studied in Jerusalem and participated in simulated basic training on an Israeli army base.

“I don’t know any other American kid who went around carrying an M-16 for two months,” he said. “Or had as much immersion in Israeli society.”

Ari, 19, now a freshman at UC Davis, was one of 300 high school graduates participating in Year Course, a nine-month program of Young Judaea, the Zionist Youth Movement of Hadassah that has sent more than 5,000 teenagers to Israel since its founding in 1956.

Young people like Ari have been going to Israel for decades, but the numbers are likely to increase substantially with the recent introduction of MASA, a new long-term funding initiative between the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel and its partner organizations worldwide that is targeted to reach $100 million per year, perhaps as early as 2008. This year $25 million was made available. The program is designed encourage more students to participate in Year Course and other similar post-high school or “gap-year” courses.

At a cost of about $13,000 to $18,000 for each student, these programs provide a break between high school and college and can include study, travel, work and community service. They allow students time for reflection, personal growth and often new or renewed religious commitment.

MASA, Hebrew for journey, started funding students who qualified on a need-basis in 2004-05, subsidizing more than 100 approved five- to 10-month Israel programs that assist 18- to 30-year-olds in building a solid connection to Israel. This year, MASA is helping to send 7,000 young adults worldwide to Israel, with hopes of sending 20,000 a year by decade’s end.

According to MASA director Dr. Elan Ezrachi, “Our main goal is to enable young adults from all over the world to have an extended period in Israel and, by doing so, to strengthen Jewish identity, build up a connection to Israel and invest in their future roles as leaders in their home communities. And, from an Israeli perspective, they get a taste of the idea of aliyah.”

The numbers of students taking advantage of such programs historically have not been large among Reform and Conservative Jews, according to Joseph Blassberg, director of career counseling at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles. He said Milken sends about three or four graduates annually on one-year, post-high school programs and has found that colleges and universities generally approve students’ requests to defer admission until the following September.

Among the Modern Orthodox, a gap year is de rigueur. Each year, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 Orthodox young men and about 1,600 young women, the majority from the United States, spend their post-high school year in yeshivot in Israel. They go for a year of intense study, with the boys often spending 12 to 16 hours a day poring over Jewish texts. They also all get an opportunity to reflect on their future from a Jewish perspective.

For Ira Silver, 18, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University High School (YULA) for Boys who dreams of becoming an investment banker, the year has provided an opportunity to ponder the intersection of his religious and professional life.

Since September, he’s been a student at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem. “Yeshiva gives you the opportunity to become stronger in your Torah,” he said. “You know for sure that you can function in society as a successful investment banker and a religious Jew.”

American students first began attending yeshivot in the 1970s, according to Asher Brander, rabbi of Westwood Kehilla and Israel guidance counselor at YULA for Boys. There were a few earlier, he said, but the phenomenon got into full swing in the 1980s.

About 30 Modern Orthodox yeshivot are in existence, mostly centered in or around Jerusalem, and each hosts about 60 to 70 students. They vary in terms of academics, ideology, geography, supervision and warmth.

Some, like Lev HaTorah and Yeshivat Eretz, focus on college preparatory skills, teaching boys how to live as committed Jews on college campuses. Others, including Ner Ya’akov, Neveh Zion and Kesher, are set up to deal with at-risk teens.

But overall, the process — and the dramatic progress students make — is similar at all schools. “They sit over a piece of Talmud or a piece of Torah, and they discover themselves,” Brander said.

Yeshivot for young women also date back to the 1970s with some, including Machon Gold and Michlala, established even earlier. But they total only about 20 today, providing fewer places and stiffer competition than at men’s yeshivot.

New yeshivot, however, are being launched. The Tiferet Center for Advanced Torah Studies for Women opened its doors last September, admitting 48 students from an applicant pool of 200. According to co-founder Rabbi Azriel Rosner, Tiferet was founded because of need and because of a desire to create a caring and communal environment.

Women’s yeshivot also are differentiated by their unique perspective. At Michlelet Esther, said co-principal Rabbi Baruch Smith, “our forte is very much in finding a girl who is not highly motivated in her yiddishkayt, or Torah outlook, and in giving her knowledge and inspiration to be religious.” Founded in 1995, the yeshiva accepts 78 students each year from 120 to 200 applicants.

For Lauren Katchen, a YULA graduate who attended Michlelet Esther in 2003-2004, the experience was the “best decision I ever made in my whole life.” Now a student at Queens College, City University of New York, Katchen, 20, is majoring in textiles, art history and business. She wants a career in fashion, but her experience in Israel altered her perception of her eventual role as a mother.

“It didn’t even occur to me that it’s such an important thing to raise your kids on your own, that you are the mother to instill in them good character traits and see them on the right path,” she said.

An innovative yeshiva, Midreshet Darkeynu opened three years ago to address the needs of religious girls with learning disabilities and who, in the words of parent Joelle Keene, “are just a little different.” Keene’s daughter, Hannah, 19, is taking a second year there, studying and working in a kindergarten. “She’s getting a richer religious identity in a beautiful strong way, as well as social experience and independence,” Keene said.

“The year in Israel is unique,” said Shira Hershoff, Israel guidance counselor at YULA for Girls.”The idea of separating from American culture, the idea of separating from all the distractions to spend the year in Israel connecting to people, connecting to the land and focusing on Torah studies is a very powerful year.’

In the Charedi community, a gap year is not customary for boys nor necessary, because they don’t go on to college, according to Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. They generally transition to an American yeshiva after high school and later to an Israeli yeshiva, where they spend several years and often make aliyah.

More commonly, the ultra-Orthodox girls spend a post-high school year in Israel, but the cost is often prohibitive and many take that year at an American yeshiva. Safran estimated that there are about 10 Charedi yeshivot for men and five for young women.

In the non-Orthodox community, there are fewer options for spending a gap year in Israel, although the number of opportunities are increasing, along with growing interest.

In fall 2005, Young Judaea enrolled its largest group ever, 400 teenagers, including 50 in Shalem, its track for Orthodox students. It still had a waiting list. Next year, the program hopes to admit 500 to 600 students.

Habonim Dror, a Progressive Labor Zionist Youth movement program and, in its 56th year, the longest-running program sending American teens to Israel, currently has 68 students in Israel, up from 30 last year. The teens live on a kibbutz for a half year and then live cooperatively in an urban setting. They study Hebrew, socialist Zionism and cultural Judaism and work on developing leadership skills and doing social justice work.

The yearlong Nativ, under the auspices of the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, is celebrating its 25th anniversary and has a record 78 youths in Israel this year. Next year, the program is hoping to expand to 100 participants. They spend a semester in Jerusalem at Hebrew University or the Conservative Yeshiva and a semester living on a kibbutz or doing community service.

New programs are emerging, among them Carmel, initiated last year by the Union for Reform Judaism and billed as a first-year of college. With eight students in its inaugural year and 14 this year, Carmel combines study at the Lokey International Academy of Jewish Studies at the Leo Baeck Education Center and the University of Haifa.

Another new program is scheduled to begin in fall 2007 — SIACH, a one-year pluralistic yeshiva, which will be based in Jerusalem. Its name means dialogue and discussion in Hebrew, and its focus will combine serious Torah study with Hebrew and other Jewish and Israeli learning.

“It’s all about creating committed Jews,” said SIACH director Rabbi David Harbater, whose goal is to create a gap-year revolution in the non-Orthodox community, similar to the development of such programs in the Orthodox community 30 years ago.

Peter Geffen, founder of New York’s Abraham Joshua Heschel School, is also looking for a different model with his new program, Kivunim: New Directions. Set to open this fall with 48 kids — half of whom have already signed up — the program will combine experiential learning in Jerusalem with field trips every five weeks to explore the contemporary Jewish communities of Morocco, Lithuania, Hungary and other countries.

Believing that we are too focused on the past, Geffen wants to develop new Jewish leaders who have an understanding of the broader multicultural world and the necessity for co-existence. “There is no place in our agenda for our kids to imagine what the future should look like,” he said.

Still, the current programs seem to be effective. Guidance counselor Hershoff reported that parents of both young women and young men have said to her, “I sent off a teenager, and I got back a mentsch.”


Community Briefs

After 22 years as head rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village, Rabbi Aron Tendler resigned last weekend.

“It is with mixed emotions that I write you today to let you know of my decision that, after 22 wonderful years, I have decided to step down as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek,” Tendler wrote in a letter to the 400-member families of the Orthodox synagogue.

“This has been a decision I have contemplated for some time, and after great soul searching and deliberation and with the full support of Esther and the family, I decided that it was time to explore other opportunities and embark on a new aspect of my personal and professional life.”

Tendler wrote that he intends to stay in the community but wants to spend more time with his family and pursuing writing, teaching and other projects.

“On occasion, I would like to sleep for more than four hours. Selfishly put, I want more time, and if not now when?” he wrote. Tendler will stay on through the High Holidays and help the search committee in its quest to find a new rabbi.

“Rabbi Tendler turned innumerable lives around, and it will be a great loss for us,” Brad Turell, Shaarey Zedek’s communications director, told The Journal. “He’s very talented and we wish him the best.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Sharansky Visits Southland

Israeli politician Natan Sharansky spent a quick two days in Los Angeles last weekend, giving four speeches on Jan. 22 calling for more American Jewish involvement in the upcoming World Zionist Congress.

“People have a need to strengthen their bond, somehow feel themselves part of a bigger family,” Sharansky told The Jewish Journal. “It doesn’t matter what origin; it doesn’t matter whether they are right or left; more and more Jews feel the need to become close to Israel. Before you are looking for the new way with your connection with Israel, what about the most traditional way?”

The prominent Likud party member was brought to Los Angeles last weekend by the West Coast chapter of American Friends of Likud. He encouraged Jews here to get more active in the quadrennial congress this summer of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which controls the multimillion dollar budgets for The Jewish Agency.

Organizers said Sharansky spoke to about 35 Likud supporters at a Sunday breakfast, then to 100 people at the Hillcrest Country Club, plus more than 200 people later Sunday afternoon at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and finally another 90 at a private dinner at a television producer’s home.

Since last November, the WZO’s American branch has been selecting delegates for this June’s 35th WZO Congress in Jerusalem. Voting ends in late February with U.S. candidates from Likud, Russian, Green Zionist, Meretz, Harut and other Jewish movements. Sharansky wants more U.S. Jews to sign up with the $7 registration fee on the WZO’s American Zionist Movement Web site and then vote for delegates concerned about WZO spending.

In an interview between two of his speeches, Sharansky criticized the WZO Congress as a, “narrow group of people without broad involvement of Jews [worldwide]. So people simply don’t know, its connection of involvement and distribution of funds. Jews have an opportunity to participate in it, but they’re not using this opportunity. One percent maybe knows about its existence.”

Sharansky quit his minister-without-portfolio post last May in protest to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pullout last August of Gaza settlers. While Sharon’s former Likud party sponsored Sharansky’s two-day L.A. visit, the onetime Soviet dissident said, “When speaking abroad, I’m trying to speak as little about splits in Israel as possible. When speaking to the Jews of Diaspora, you have to speak about building bridges between Jews of Diaspora and Israel.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

A Dozen Nonprofits Get Foundation Grants

The Jewish Community Foundation recently awarded grants totaling $116,000 to 12 mostly local nonprofit organizations to support a variety of services, ranging from suicide prevention hotlines to dental care for the poor and counseling and tutoring for abused and neglected children.

The Foundation’s grants ranged in size from $5,000 to $20,000 and will help fund valuable services that government money alone cannot underwrite, said Marvin I. Schotland, foundation president and chief executive.

“There are vast pockets of need that cannot possibly be met at this time by the public sector,” he said. “Support by our organization to the greater community is more critical, and immensely gratifying, than ever and remains a vital part of our mandate.”

The foundation, created in 1954, is the largest manager of charitable assets for Greater Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists. With more than $590 million under its management, the Foundation distributed last year $58 million in grants to more than 1,300 organizations.

Among the nonprofits that received grants in January:

  • The Los Angeles Free Clinic received $10,000 for its dental program. This year, the clinic, which provides health and other services to the uninsured and the working poor, expects more than 3,500 children and adults to make more than 9,000 visits for dental services.
  • Trevor Project Inc., based in Beverly Hills, received $10,000 for a suicide prevention hotline and educational programs that promote tolerance for gay teens and those questioning their sexual orientation.
  • New Ways to Work in Sebastopol, Calif., received a $10,000 grant to help prepare children in foster care for independence at age 18. Over the next four years, nearly 4,000 Los Angeles youths currently in foster care are expected to become emancipated and leave the foster care system.
  • Inner-City Arts received $10,000 for a hands-on arts program designed to improve literacy among grade school students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Chabad in the House

What is “The Rebbe’s Gelt?”

Literally, “the rabbi’s money,” it’s the name of a new Chabad program unveiled last week at the annual West Coast Convention of Chabad/Lubavitch for Shulchim, or emissaries. The new initiative will provide grants and loans to those rabbis who need short-term financial aid.

More than 170 Chabad rabbis and emissaries gathered at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel and the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, for the Jan. 15-16 convention. Chabad West Coast unveiled Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, a new Jewish overnight camp located on Chabad’s Kiryas Schneerson mountaintop campus. Chabad also announced its plan to organize the first ever Woman’s Convention of Shluchos on the West Coast, tentatively scheduled for May in San Diego. — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Thousand Oaks Temple Teacher Receives Award

Bobbie Match, who has spent 10 years at Temple Adat Elohim’s Early Childhood Center received the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education presented by the Jewish Education Service of North America, Inc. The award recognizes outstanding classroom-based teachers in formal Jewish educational settings. It includes a $1500 grant for continued professional development. Last year Match received the prestigious Lainer Distinguished Early Childhood Educator Award from the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE).

Other recent BJE Award winners from Temple Adat Elohim are Michelle Princenthal, winner of the 2005 Smotrich Family Education Award; Tara Farkash, winner of the 2003 Lainer Distinguished Early Childhood Educator Award; and Marcy Goldberg, winner of the 2004 Lainer Distinguished Educator Award. — NZ

Yago Joins Israel Securities Authority Board

Glenn Yago, director of Capital Studies at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, was appointed to the International Advisory Board of the Israel Securities Authority (ISA), the government body that oversees and regulates the Israeli capital market and serves the same function as the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States.

Yago joined key Israeli economic policy makers, including ISA chairman Moshe Tery, Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer and Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange chairman Yair Orgler, for the first meeting of the International Advisory Board in New York. Other board members from the U.S. include Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; Douglas Shulman of the National Association of Securities Dealers; Bill Brodsky, chairman of the Chicago Board Options Exchange; Milton Harris of the University of Chicago School of Business; and David Loglisci, deputy comptroller of the State of New York.

Appointing Yago, Tery said that he wanted the economist’s experience and insight “to help build the legal and economic infrastructure to advance Israel’s capital markets and its standing as a venue for global investment.”

Yago is a leading authority on financial innovations and capital markets and specializes in privatization projects to improve the economic climate in the Middle East. He has experience working with municipal, government, business and academic leaders in the region to promote economic reform. He is a senior Koret Knesset Fellow and teaches at Tel-Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center-Herzliya. He is the author of numerous books and studies, including “The Economic Road Map: Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Milken Institute, 2005). —NZ

Bubis Honored for Community Service

Professor Gerald Bubis, founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service (SJCS) at the Los Angeles School of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), was honored recently when the school celebrated its 36th Anniversary at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Two-hundred guests turned out for the event, including colleagues, community leaders, fellow SJCS alumni and old friends, saluting Bubis’ efforts at the school and in the field of Jewish Communal Service.

The (SJCS) was founded in 1968 and is the oldest professional school of its kind. Its inter-disciplinary approach combines study of Jewish tradition and text with tools from the fields of the social sciences and business. Open to students from all areas of religious thought and communal life, the School seeks to be inclusive and pluralistic. Since its inception, 650 people have graduated from the school.

More than 300 SJCS graduates hold dual master’s degrees from USC. Twenty-five rabbis hold degrees from the school and 37 SJCS graduates have received dual degrees in Jewish Education from the HUC-JIR/LA Rhea Hirsch School of Education.

Concurrent with the celebration, alumni and friends of the School of Jewish

Communal Service raised more than $135,000 in scholarships in honor of Bubis. —Norma Zager

Stan’s Customers Go Bananas Over Reopening

Asked about the past three and a half months, shopper Kathy Mannheim said, “I hated it. It has not been a happy time in my life.”

She’s referring to the period of time she endured without her favorite local produce store, Stan’s. A Pico-Robertson neighborhood fixture, Stan’s closed after the High Holidays, when owner Stan Pascal got sick and was unable to carry on his usual six-day-a-week schedule.

Earlier this month, Pascal reopened and was greeted with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for rock stars.

“I’m thinking of giving autographs,” he joked.

Feyge Yemini, who patronizes the store twice a week to supply her large family, said she was “extremely happy” about Pascal’s return.

“I never found a comparable high-quality fruit store,” she said. “I had to go to five places to get what I can get here.”

Pascal started in the produce business as an 8-year-old in Windsor, Ontario, where he would help his father out on the weekends. In 1957, he came with his family to Los Angeles, and worked at his father’s three produce stalls at the Grand Central Market downtown. After his father died, Pascal and his wife, Susan, opened their own store on Fairfax Boulevard, where they remained for more than two decades before moving to the current location.

Fairfax resident Miriam Fishman continues to shop at Stan’s despite the distance.

“It’s a haimisch place,” she said. “There’s no other fruit store like it in town.”

In a time of big box markets and megastores, Stan’s has remained a place where retailer and customer maintain a personal relationship. Pascal greets customers by name, allows regulars to purchase with IOUs, and has been known to weigh a customer’s new baby on the produce scale.

During his absence, rumors circulated that he had sold the store, and in fact, he almost did. “At the last minute I changed my mind,” Pascal said. “I missed the people.”

The feeling is mutual. “I went to other places but it wasn’t the same,” said customer Mannheim. “It wasn’t Stan’s.” — Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer


The Arts

The three A’s in “Natasha” are filled in by tiny stylized Matryoshka dolls, the traditional Russian stacking dolls,
on the book jacket of David Bezmozgis’ radiant debut (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $18).

In this collection of linked stories, the three figures at the center are a mother,
father and son who leave Riga, Latvia, for Toronto, Canada. The stories are told from
the point of view of the son, Mark Berman, who observes everything and helps interpret the New World for his parents.

Like his narrator, Bezmozgis is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. He left Riga in 1979 and arrived in Toronto
in 1980 at the age of 6. But the stories are “not very autobiographical – they are only superficially based on my family.
It’s a combination of incidents that happened, things I misremembered, stories that happened to other immigrants,” he said.

Bezmozgis writes with a beautiful economy of words, and with warmth, wit and loyalty toward a community he feels very much part of.
The first story opens soon after the family arrives in Toronto, and they live “one respectable block” from the center of the Russian
community with its “flapping clotheslines” and borscht-smelling hallways. Through the stories they struggle and progress to better
apartments and to a suburban house “at the edge of Toronto’s sprawl.”

Each story is a fully lived moment on the Berman family’s journey toward fitting in. In Latvia, Roman Berman was a massage therapist, a
trainer of Olympic athletes. Sometimes, when the father isn’t around, the young boy takes out and studies an old photo of his father in Riga,
his face carrying the “detached confidence of the highly placed Soviet functionary.” For the boy, “it was comforting to think that
the man in the picture and my father were once the same person.”

In the story “Roman Berman, Massage Therapist,” the father passes difficult certification exams, sets up an office with his name on
the door and then waits for clients. A rabbi suggests advertising, and they pass out copies of a flyer full of newly acquired superlatives.
When a doctor calls and invites the family to Shabbat dinner, they accept, full of hope.

He writes, “Before Stalin, my great-grandmother lit the candles and made an apple cake every Friday night. In my grandfather’s recollection
of prewar Jewish Latvia, the candles and apple cakes feature prominently. When my mother was a girl, Stalin was already in charge, and although
there was still apple cake, there were no more candles. By the time I was born, there were neither candles nor apple cake, though in my mother’s
mind, apple cake still meant Jewish. With this in mind, she retrieved the apple cake recipe and went to the expensive supermarket for the

They arrive at Dr. Kornblum’s home with “feigned confidence” and a warm apple cake. The doctor means well, but is patronizing, even insulting,
sending the family home with their cold apple cake. Fearing more bad luck and rejection, they dump the cake, expensive ingredients and all.

With poignancy, Bezmozgis shows how the yearnings of the immigrants and the good intentions of others don’t quite match. Other stories
reveal gaps of understanding between the family and friends they left behind, and between members of the larger family.

Bezmozgis, Gary Shteyngart and Lara Vapnyar are a troika of young Russian Jewish émigré fiction writers of considerable talent. They
write of a sense of being between worlds, although each is quite different: Shteyngart is the satirist of the group. Bezmozgis and Vapnyar,
who has also published a collections of stories, are more similar in their spare, understated style, although most of Vapnyar’s stories are
set in the former Soviet Union, while Bezmozgis portrays one émigré family, and through them, the larger community.

The three follow in a long, respected line of Jewish writers who have creatively mined their immigrant pasts and ethnic neighborhoods
in fiction. Writers like Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mordecai Richler and Bernard Malamud come to mind.

“It’s a dream to be part of that tradition,” Bezmozgis said, although he feels most akin, stylistically and thematically, with writers
like Isaac Babel and Leonard Michaels.

For the author, being Jewish is very important. “I’m an atheist. I think that limits what kind of religious life I can have without
being a tourist or hypocrite. Being part of a community, at synagogue, gives me pleasure.” He added, “You put me in a synagogue with old
Eastern European Jews, and I’m likely to break down in tears. That is my idea of Jewish tradition and my identity.”

Growing up, he was the family’s translator and since he was 10, he would write letters for his father, a massage therapist like
Roman Berman. The author attended an Orthodox Jewish day school for eight years and then a public high school. After graduating from
McGill University in Montreal, he received an MFA in film. He worked in Los Angeles for five years as a documentary filmmaker before
moving back to Toronto.

He admittedly has a poor memory, and finds that can be valuable. About Latvia, he remembers nothing. “It allows me not to be too
deeply connected to things. I can’t be faithful to something I can’t remember.” In writing he tries “to find the emotional truth,
not a documentary truth,” he said.

Rabbi Simon Dolgin Dies in Israel at 89

Rabbi Simon Dolgin, founding rabbi of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills for 32 years, died in Israel on April 19 at the age of 89.

Both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic chief rabbis attended his funeral in Israel, as well as dozens of rabbis, dignitaries and government officials. Approximately 350 people attended a memorial at Beth Jacob last week, where Dolgin was remembered as a fearless advocate for modern Orthodoxy.

“Nothing could stand in Rabbi Dolgin’s way in order to establish what he felt was a true Orthodox Judaism and education in this part of the country,” said Manny Stern, a past president of Beth Jacob.

A native of Chicago, Dolgin was sent west by his rabbi at the age of 23 to establish a Modern Orthodox foothold in what was perceived as a spiritual desert.

When Dolgin arrived at Beth Jacob, a small, traditional congregation near La Brea Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard on West Adams Boulevard, he immediately took over the small Hebrew school and began the campaign to increase the observance of halacha among his congregants. His campaign to erect a mechitza, separating men and women in synagogue, would end successfully 20 years later.

Dolgin’s vision of observance extended to the greater community as well. In the late 1950s, he worked with the Ambassador and Biltmore hotels to install kosher kitchens, and he pushed The Jewish Federation toward being more sensitive to Jewish law, while encouraging his congregants to support The Federation.

His appreciation of Jews of all stripes led him to teach with those from movements to his left and to help Chabad’s Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin set up shop when he arrived in the early 1970s.

In 1949, Dolgin founded Hillel Hebrew Academy, which moved with the congregation to Beverly Hills in 1954. Dolgin worked tirelessly — shlepping, teaching, mimeographing — to establish the school, often forgoing his own salary to pay the teachers.

“He had total dedication and mesirut nefesh,” selfless giving, said Rabbi Menachem Gottesman, who was principal of Hillel for 42 years before retiring last year. “If there is Yiddishkayt in Los Angeles, it is because of people like him on the front lines, working for it and fighting for it.”

Today, Hillel is a school of 800 children and Beth Jacob has 700 families, the largest Orthodox congregation on the West Coast.

Dolgin moved to Israel in 1971. He built a synagogue in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood of Jerusalem and named it Beth Jacob, after the one in Beverly Hills. He was the first Western rabbi to hold the post of director general of the Israeli government’s Ministry of Religious Affairs.

When Beth Jacob Cantor Binyamin Glickman, an Israeli citizen, returned to Israel to serve in the army for the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Dolgin spent Shabbat with him in a bunker in the Golan Heights, distributing candy and nuts to soldiers on the front lines.

“Rabbi Dolgin was a man passionately in love with all Jews,” Sid Eisenstadt, a former president of Beth Jacob, said at the memorial. “Through his inner strength, he taught this congregation to be observant, modern, progressive and forward thinking American Jews.”

Dolgin is survived by his wife of 60 years, Shirley; his children, Saralee, Sharonbeth, Michael and Jess; and many grandchildren.

Condolences or memories of Rabbi Dolgin can be sent to
the family at .

Donations in Dolgin’s memory can be sent to Beth Jacob, 9030 West Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

A fund has been set up to establish a yearlong internship for young rabbis in Dolgin’s memory.

All-Female Plays Fill Niche for Frum

At Chabad’s Bais Chana High School on Pico Boulevard, a number of girls are sitting around a table with director Robin Garbose, reading through a new scene of "Portraits in Faith," their upcoming original musical. In the scene, a gold-digging wife tells her hapless husband that he no longer has any claim to his fortune and that she is going to use his money to party. The husband is Jewish, the wife is not, and her non-Jewishness infuses her with a particularly nasty streak of anti-Semitic superiority. It’s a meaty scene, and though the girls are reading the lines for the first time, they are handling them with aplomb. The wife’s malicious insults become more delightfully sinister in the reading, whereas the husband becomes the lame coward who gets weaker with every word.

On a dramatic level, the musical is a multigenerational historical drama that takes place in mid-19th-century Germany, and is replete with marital discord, class conflict and religious struggles. It highlights the dissonance between the Orthodox and the Reform. On an educational level, the play is a vehicle for the girls to become more self-confident and use their talents for performing arts in an environment that remains faithful to halachah. In keeping with the laws of Kol Isha, which prohibit a woman from singing in front of men for reasons of modesty, and tznius (general modesty) the play will be performed to audiences of women only. And the play itself is not just a drama — it’s a story with a moral. At the end of it, the audience is meant to appreciate the courage and dedication of Jewish women in keeping Torah alive through the ages and feel inspired about the beauty and the holiness of the mitzvah of going to the mikvah (ritual bath).

Garbose expects that at least 1,000 women will come out to see the play when it is performed on March 3, but judging from past audiences at other all-girl productions, that estimate seems conservative. In February, Bnos Esther, a small Chasidic girls’ high school on Beverly Boulevard, put on an all-girl production called "Simply Not The Same." The theme of the play was the importance of Torah, and more than 1,000 women showed up to see it over two nights, a large number considering that Bnos Esther only has 50 girls in the entire high school. Last year Bais Yaakov High School performed their biennial "Halleli" — an all-girl song, dance and drama fest — and drew an audience of 4,000 women over two nights.

The reason for the great turnouts is clear. The plays cater to women and girls in the ultra-Orthodox community who restrict the amount of popular culture that they let into their lives, because of what they see as its irreligious and immodest content. Nevertheless, these women still want to be entertained, but they just don’t want to compromise their religious principals in doing so.

"Most of the people who come to these things do not go to outside entertainment," said Chaya Shamie, the co-curricular director at Bais Yaakov and the producer of "Halleli." "This is an opportunity for them to go to an all-women’s performance that is done in a Torah fashion, that follows all the [halachic] guidelines."

"These plays are the only shows that I would take my daughters to, because as innocent as so many things seem, there are many hidden cultural messages in the popular entertainment out there," said a mother of two girls from the Fairfax area. "I want my daughters’ culture to be a Torah culture. It’s very empowering for them because they see themselves up there in a few years."

For "Portraits in Faith," Garbose’s husband, Levi, adapted a novel by Marcus Lehman, a 19th-century German writer who is something of a John Grisham of the Orthodox world. His books typically are plot-driven, hard-to-put-down novels that are infused with messages of faith. For the songs of the musical, Levi wrote original lyrics to Chasidic nigunim (wordless melodies). For the set design, Garbose plans on new visual possibilities using interesting lighting and some carefully chosen set pieces that will evoke the atmosphere of a different era and country without blowing the minimal budget that Bais Chana set aside for the play. All the girls in the school are involved in the play in some way, either as actresses, prop designers, costume makers, ticket sellers or stage managers.

"Things like Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl make a very compelling argument for all-women’s productions," she said. "What happens when you have a production that is for women only is that it takes the whole sexual component out of it. It’s incredibly empowering."

"Portraits in Faith" will be performed on March 3 at the Scottish Rite Theatre, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. For tickets call (310) 278-8995 ext. 405.

Higher Ed. and the High Holidays

Do classes, study sessions and a budding social life conflict with observing the High Holidays? Not for these college students. Here’s how local coeds and young Angelenos attending out-of-state schools are planning to spend Rosh Hashanah.

Aaron Kachuck

Age: 18

School: Yale University

Year: Freshman

Hometown: North Hollywood

I volunteered to lead the davening for the Conservative and Orthodox minyanim here on campus. I’ll be leading the same service I led at home at Adat Ari El when I was the chazan (cantor).

Jan Epstein

Age: 21

School: USC

Year: Junior

Major: Film writing

Hometown: Mequon, Wis.

I plan to go to Hillel because I don’t have any family around here, so I always spend the holidays with my surrogate family. I’ll go with friends from my sorority, AGG [Alpha Gamma Gamma], which is a Jewish house.

David Buchwald

Age: 18

School: University of Judaism

Year: Freshman

Hometown: Torrance

Since the UJ only offers Yom Kippur services on campus, I’m going home for Rosh Hashanah. My dad and I will probably go to the Chabad temple. I’d like to try services here at the university for Yom Kippur since it’s my first year.

Maya Engelberg

Age: 22

School: University of Arizona

Year: Senior

Hometown: West Hills

Major: Physical education

I haven’t figured out where I’ll go for Rosh Hashanah because most of my of my friends at school aren’t Jewish. I’m thinking of going to Hillel or one of the temples around town.

Tami Reiss

Age: 21

School: UCLA

Year: Senior

Hometown: Hollywood, Fla.

Major: Physiology

Because UCLA starts so late, I’m normally home for Rosh Hashanah. This is the first time since my freshman year that I’m staying here. I will be going to services at Hillel and on one of the nights my friends are throwing a wine, apples and honey party.

David Fasman

Age: 19

School: University of Judaism

Year: Freshman

Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.

I’ll probably go to Temple Beth Am. Also, since my dad is a rabbi, these will be my first High Holidays without him leading the services I’m attending. When you’re part of the rabbi’s family, going to synagogue is like going to work.

Robert Diamond

Age: 22

School: CSUN

Year: Junior

Hometown: Granada Hills

Major: Kinesiology

I think I’ll end up at Hillel or I’ll go with my buddy, Sean, to Temple Beth Emet in Burbank. My parents don’t belong to a temple, but I like to get my “four-day Jewish status” of observing Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah and Passover.

Alex Fern

Age: 18

School: Cal State Northridge

Year: Freshman

Hometown: North Hollywood

Major: Psychology

I’ll probably go home. My family usually goes to services and then has a big dinner. This is my first time away from home and I’m discovering the Jewish community here on campus. I have a decision between sticking with the community I grew up with or spending time with the new one here.

Joe Geffen

Age: 20

School: Occidental College

Year: Junior

Hometown: Savannah, Ga.

Major: Psychology

It seems like most people at Oxy who say they’re Jewish aren’t observant, but there are a fair number of us who are. My plans are to go with other “Hillelians” to the university of our choosing. Also, a number of professors have extended invitations to their own congregations.

The Whole Kingdom

When Ahuva Goldstein attended Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Torath
Emeth in 1960, she had five students in her sixth-grade class. The ultra
Orthodox elementary school was in its seventh year, but it did not have its own
building; it was housed in a synagogue on the corner of Third Street and Edinburgh
Avenue. The class was so small that it was combined with the seventh grade,
bringing the total number of girls up to 13.

“I don’t even think there were 50 students in the whole
school,” said Goldstein, 55, who now lives in Hancock Park and works as a
volunteer for Bikur Cholim and Hachnassas Kallah of Los Angeles. “But there was
not much of a choice [in Los Angeles] as far as the kind of in-depth religious
school my parents wanted. The education was very one-on-one, and we knew every
student. The teachers were very motherly, but it was really more like a little
house, with 30 to 40 kids running around, than a proper school.”

These days, two of Goldstein’s grandchildren attend Toras
Emes (as it is more commonly known) and she says the school has become “a whole
kingdom.” Celebrating its 50th anniversary on March 9, that kingdom includes
1,100 students in preschool to eighth grade, 240 staff members, five different
buildings in the Beverly La Brea area and an annual budget of $6 million.

Over the past 50 years, the school’s growth has been
synchronous with the expansion of the ultra-Orthodox community in Los Angeles
as a whole. In the 1950s, there was only a handful of synagogues that served
the ultra-Orthodox community, and even fewer schools. Today, the ultra-Orthodox
community has dozens of synagogues, several kollels and other community

For many in the ultra-Orthodox community, Toras Emes is the
only educational choice worth considering: It serves as the middle ground
between the Chasidic Cheder Menachem (where secular studies are minimal) and
Ohr Eliyahu (a newer ultra-Orthodox school whose student bidy is more diverse).
What sets Toras Emes apart from other yeshivas in the city are, among other
things, its insistence on a high level of religious observance in the families
it serves. The school will not accept anyone whose parents aren’t Sabbath
observant and will not accept a child whose mother wears pants. Most Toras Emes
parents come from the far-right end of the religious spectrum and, according to
Toras Emes administration, 30 percent of its students are the children of
parents who are religious functionaries in the community, meaning that even
those who work in other places still consider Toras Emes to be the final word
in children’s education.

“Almost the entire [Jewish studies] teaching staff of any
Orthodox school in Los Angeles send their children here,” said Rabbi Yakov
Krause, the school’s principal since 1977. “So in a sense, we view our yeshiva
as a catalyst for Yiddishkayt in the entire community.”

The school takes Yiddishkayt very seriously, in intensity of
the learning and the number of restrictions it places on its students and their
parents to safeguard that learning. Torah is taught the first half of the day
to show its importance: School starts at 7:30 a.m. and Jewish studies continue
until 2:30 p.m. The chinuch (education), at Toras Emes is both old-style and
modern. In one second-grade Chumash (Bible) class, for example, many of the
students stand at their desks, their fingers pointing to the words in the
Chumash, swaying back and forth with their feet planted on the ground in
imitation of Rabbi Shmuel Jacobs, who is doing the same thing. In unison, they
repeat the verses of the text in a lilting cadence, first in Hebrew and then in
English. The effect is reminiscent of old European cheders, but before it
becomes too old-fashioned, Jacobs, a recipient of a Milken educators’ award,
turns off the overhead lights and switches on a moving electric light display,
which he has programmed to give the students information about the clothes worn
by the priests in the Temple.

In other classes, teachers discuss the finer points of
Hebrew grammar, connect the impending war in Iraq to the story of Purim and
find cute acronyms to get the girls to remembers the order of the animals that
lined the steps of the altar in the Temple. In the older boys’ grades, students
sit in a large beit midrash and learn Talmud chavrusa-style, with each boy
learning with a partner.

“We try to make the learning exciting for them,” Krause
said. “This is a time when we have so many distractions — the outside world has
so much glitz and glamour to it — that if the learning is just cut and dried —
and it doesn’t become alive to them — it’s a losing battle.”

The school tries to keep the outside world at bay with its
rules and regulations. Girls are required to adhere to the laws of modesty in
and out of school, and failure to do so is grounds for dismissal. Movie
theaters, regardless of the rating of the film or the accompaniment of an
adult, are off-limits. All television viewing is discouraged, as is patronizing
public libraries, and the school handbook states that the Internet “should be
treated like a loaded firearm.”

“If this is too much a price to pay for the chinuch we
provide,” the handbook continues, “then our school is not for you.”

Over the past half a century, Toras Emes has indeed
established itself as a vital institution for Los Angeles’ ultra-Orthodox
community, and yet, its phenomenal growth has not come without costs. The sheer
size of the school, some say, creates one large culture where individual needs
are not met. And with the generous amount of financial assistance it provides
(only 350 of 1,100 students are full-fee paying), some say the school doesn’t
have the resources to accommodate all the students.

Yet, the school says that while it is inevitable that some
students will get lost in the shuffle despite the school’s best efforts, it has
never sacrificed educational quality for financial reasons.

“I don’t think the education has been affected [by the
financial situation]. Nothing has been stopped because of money,” said Rabbi
Berish Goldenberg, also a principal and a fundraiser for the school.

Goldenberg cites the small classes, and the inclusion of
special needs staff as evidence of the school’s efforts to deal with its
imposing size.

As the school gets larger, different questions arise about
its direction. Should the school move more to the right? Should the school
become a television-free school (meaning that parents will need to get rid of
their sets before enrolling their children in the school)?

As a way of dealing with some of these issues, the school
has a “cheder track” for the younger grades, where Jewish studies are taught in
Yiddish. While some parents don’t particularly care for the Yiddish, they still
want their children in the cheder track, because it’s for children from more
seriously religious homes  — homes that do not have televisions, and where
there is no ambiguity in their commitment to Torah.

Even with these issues, many parents feel that what their
children get out of Toras Emes is priceless.

“Toras Emes is not so much about the education,” said
Jonathan Weiss, who attended the school, and whose two children are students
there. “The students are imbued with traditional Jewish sensitivity and
feelings, and it becomes their essence. I think that is why parents send their
children there.”

“I have yet to meet a mother who doesn’t have something to
complain about when it comes to the education of their children,” said Batya
Brander, mother of three Toras Emes students. “But the love of Judaism that my
kids have from Toras Emes is indescribable, and that far outweighs everything

One Community

Our Torah portion begins after a tragedy — the tragedy of
the golden calf. Moses assembles the entire Israelite community in order to
renew the covenant between God and Israel. Vayakel — “and he
brought them together” — he made them one community.

It is not so easy to be one community, particularly at a
time of tragedy.

I thought about this a great deal over the past few weeks
when I was in Israel with Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise Temple, Rabbi
Bill Berk of Temple Chai in Phoenix and 22 members of our congregations. We
were there to study Torah at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Our
learning focused on the “Ethical Challenges to Israeli Society at a Time of
Crisis.” The study was extraordinarily powerful — with master teachers like
Rabbi Donniel Hartman and Rabbi Rachel Sabath, not to mention our unforgettable
session with the founder of the Institute, the brilliant philosopher Rabbi
David Hartman. They led us through the study of Torah and sacred texts that
raised thought-provoking questions about what the ethical obligations ought to
be of a state that calls itself Jewish.

Our Torah study was enriched by a day in Tel Aviv where we
visited some of the projects supported by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los
Angeles’ Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, including the Shevach Mofet School,
a high school in which the majority of the students are immigrants from the
former Soviet Union. This was the school that lost many of its students in the
Dolphinarium bombing. Instead of being defeated by the tragedy, the students
have recommitted themselves to excellence. We heard from several of the
students who have joined with their counterparts at the Milken Community High
School in different kinds of partnerships, connected by the Internet and summer

Then we met with Rabbi Meir Azari and learned about the
groundbreaking work of the Reform Movement’s Beit Daniel, which is reaching out
to teach Israelis about religious pluralism and offers alternatives to the traditional
Israeli notion that to be religious means to be Orthodox. We also visited the
wonderful program for elderly Holocaust survivors called Café Europa.

Finally, we met with social workers from the municipality of
Tel Aviv to learn about the problems faced by foreign workers in Israel and the
challenges to a city in dealing with victims of terror.

It was both inspiring and deeply troubling — inspiring because
it seemed as though everyone we met was a hero, but troubling in that there
were hardly any other American Jews in Israel. Wherever we went, after Israelis
thanked us for coming, they asked us: “Where are all the American Jews? Aren’t
we all in this together?”

Vayakel: “And Moses brought us all together” to make us one

The Torah portion goes on to describe what God commanded:
“Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him shall
bring them. So the whole community of the Israelites left Moses’ presence and
everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came
bringing to the Lord his offering for the Tent of Meeting … men and women, all
whose hearts moved them … came bringing objects of all kinds…. Thus, the
Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring everything
for the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it
as a freewill offering to the Lord.”

Building the tabernacle, the sacred place that symbolized
our connection with God, was a communal effort that required the whole
community to work together. Different people had different tasks — the Torah
describes the artistry of Bezalel and Ohaliab and the special skills of the
women who spun with their own hands. But the work belonged to everyone — so
much so that there was even an overflow of effort and gifts.

The work of building Israel belongs to all of us. Whatever
our politics, whatever our view of what ought to be done in the West Bank and
Gaza, Israel is central to the Jewish story. It is our story.

We heard two different versions of that story from the
Israelis we met. Each has implications for us as American Jews. One version is
that our mishpacha is in trouble — and when your family needs you, you drop
everything and you go. You don’t just send money. You don’t just pay the
medical bills. You go, you sit, you visit.

The other version is different. It is not just the story of
members of our family in trouble. It is the story of our Torah portion, of
members of our family, our people, who are builders, willing to live through
difficult times because they are engaged in the very important work of building
a more just world. Their work is to make certain that Israel can survive the
challenges of power and live up to its promise to truly be a Jewish State, a
country animated by the highest ethical values of Jewish tradition.

That task is a sacred task and, like the building of the
tabernacle, it requires the entire Jewish community to work together. May we
each bring our skills, talent, resources, energy and, most important, our
presence, to nurture the holy place that is so central to the covenant between
God and the Jewish people. 

Laura Geller is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Giving to the Future

Financial wizard Michael Steinhardt is blunt in assessing
the future of North American Jewry.

The next generation is “mostly Jewish ignoramuses,”
Steinhardt said. “We haven’t convinced the general Jewish population of the
value of a Jewish education.”

Steinhardt’s bleak assessment was aimed not at Jews in
general, but at a select group: those who have donated at least $100,000 — and
as much as several million — to Jewish day schools.

There are only 1,800 such major supporters of the country’s
approximately 700 Jewish day schools, however, and that, Steinhardt said, is
“not enough.”

“We need to double that number,” he said.

Steinhardt was addressing the third annual Donor Assembly of
the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) held in Century City
from Feb. 2-4, the day school advocacy group he launched five years ago.

For the first time, those big donors mingled with Jewish
communal and day school professionals in a leadership assembly of more than 600
people, aiming to hammer out a national strategy to promote Jewish day schools.

The gathering comes at a time when many day schools, viewed
as solid foundations for lifelong Jewish identity, are strapped for funds. And
many who want to attend cannot afford the high cost of a Jewish education.

Some 200,000 children attend Jewish day schools in this
country, 79 percent of them Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox.

Among the top goals of the philanthropists was finding new
sources of money.

To bolster their advocacy effort, PEJE offered the initial
findings of a survey of 177 of those big day school supporters. They also
released the results of interviews with 65 other donors, potential donors and
day school experts.

The survey, conducted in October and November by TDC
Research of Boston, found that among current donors, 49 percent give to day
schools because they see them as vehicles to “ensure Jewish continuity” and 13
percent were motivated to give because they had a personal connection, such as
a child or grandchild in day school.

But among donors, nondonors and experts, the study found
that: 81 percent believe that day schools ensure continuity; 78 percent
supported day schools because of the Jews’ “collective future”; 75 percent
backed day schools because they “foster communities of committed Jews.”

Of those who responded, 97 percent also gave money to their
synagogue; 92 percent aided their local federation; 73 percent helped some kind
of Israel-focused program and 59 percent backed their local Jewish Community

The donors surveyed hailed from 29 states and Canada; were
usually parents or grandparents of day school students and were sat on day
school boards.

One such donor at the conference was Claire Ellman of La
Jolla, whose three children attended the San Diego Jewish Academy, a
pluralistic, 700-student school with students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Ellman has just helped the school raise $33 million toward a
new building, the largest single effort to date in the city’s Jewish community.

Born in South Africa, Ellman said her grandfather started Cape
Town’s first Jewish day school and infused her with a love for Jewish

But she believes not all donors support education for the
same reasons.

“A lot of people are going to give to Jewish education
because they feel so strongly about continuity,” she said, “but also because of
a guilt complex” that they personally failed to teach their children Jewish

The study did not reach that conclusion, though it did find
that 10 percent of donors said the most important reason to back Jewish day
schools was to teach Jewish knowledge.

Ellman, who is also vice chair of the Continental Council
for Jewish Day School Education, a program of the United Jewish Communities and
the Jewish Education Service of North America — works to build ties among the
day schools, Jewish federations, religious institutions and the general
community — welcomed the donor study.

“The study is critical, because for the first time we’ve
asked donors and nondonors why they do or don’t fund Jewish education.”

Many of those who don’t support Jewish schools said they
either were not aware of them or found them too parochial, the study found.

But the study also recommends against trying to win this
group over.

Instead, it recommends spreading the word to “neutral” Jews
who may not have any personal ties to the school, but who believe education
helps ensure a thriving Jewish community.

Meanwhile, Steinhardt pointed to statistics showing that
only 20 percent of philanthropy by North American Jews goes to Jewish causes,
down from 50 percent 50 years ago.

“What we lack is a sense of priority,” he said.

But Michael Rosenzweig, a board member of the New Atlanta
Jewish Community High School, said the fact that there are so few donors to
Jewish day schools is both good and bad news when it comes to doubling their

“The good news” is that doubling their numbers is easy to
do, he said. “The bad news is, it’s easy to do because it’s so small.”

An Orthodox Pursuit

When Liora Shofet started UCLA four years ago, she wanted to get involved in the Jewish community. As a graduate of the Orthodox Bais Yaakov high school, she didn’t feel comfortable with the Hillel crowd, but she didn’t want college to be an experience limited to lecture halls.

“Most Hillel events I felt didn’t apply to me,” Shofet said. While she did find some camaraderie through working on Ha’Am, the online Jewish news magazine, “it still wasn’t cohesive. People tried to make efforts, but it wasn’t enough,” she said.

Last year, things changed when Uri and Julie Goldstein came to town. The couple was hired specifically to target students like Shofet and her peers — day school graduates who wanted more Torah study and social interaction with other Orthodox students. For their first gathering last year — after Herculean efforts — the Goldsteins found 10 students.

“It was a group of dispersed and random students,” recalled Uri Goldstein, who is completing rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University. “Prior to our arrival, these students, who were mostly day school educated, would go to school and go home and go to school and go home. They were alienated from Hillel, and for the most part they didn’t know each other.”

This year the group has grown to about 40 students, having built up a community through informal and formal Judaic classes and study partnerships, Shabbatons and a Thursday night “parsha and pizza” group.

The Goldsteins are part of the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI), a program currently at seven U.S. campuses in which young couples are hired to create a community for the Orthodox students and learning opportunities for the larger Jewish community.

Founded by Rabbi Menachem Schrader, a rabbi in Efrat, Israel, the initiative is funded by the Orthodox Union, Hillel, the Avichai Foundation and Torah Mitziyon, a religious Zionist Kollel.

The arrival of JLI at UCLA is part of a concerted effort by Hillel to make UCLA an attractive option for yeshiva graduates, in anticipation of the opening of the kosher dining hall in the new Yitzchak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life — the first time UCLA can offer a kosher meal plan.

The details of the plan, set to begin in the winter quarter, are still being worked out, but will allow students to use their dorm meal credits at the Hillel kitchen. Faculty and community members will also be able to buy meals on a walk-in basis.

The new Hillel building also has a kosher cafe, along with ample space for classes, a beit midrash stocked with books and space to accommodate religious services of all denominations.

The hope is that a burgeoning Orthodox student community will eventually attract students from out of the area, who may also be drawn to the warm weather and UCLA’s expansive campus.

Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation, who has worked with Hillel’s Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller on shoring up the Orthodox community at UCLA, said it is in Los Angeles’ best interest to stem the collegiate brain drain of Orthodox to the East.

“If students have a great experience here and find jobs and meet spouses here, it’s more of an attraction for them to stay in the community and settle,” Weil said.

Seidler-Feller also believes that “involvement from Orthodox students enhances the quality of the Hillel program, because it provides students with knowledgeable role models who are peers.”

Hillel’s efforts are being aided by other projects targeting UCLA students. The Jewish Awareness Movement (JAM) has been at UCLA since 1996, targeting unaffiliated students. JAM’s main outreach tools are heavily subsidized group trips to New York and Israel, where students are exposed to traditional Jews in the highest echelons of politics and finance to learn how traditional values can coexist with a worldly life. Many of the approximately 600 students who have gone on the trips come back energized to learn more about Judaism and observance, according to JAM.

Currently, JAM employs five people to study with UCLA students and to organize social events and Shabbat activities, according to Bracha Zaret, a JAM founder.

The organization runs a Friday night minyan with the Goldsteins. Over the past year, JAM has sent the couple students who were ready to move their study up a notch from the beginner’s level.

This year, JAM and JLI have been joined by Torah Learning for Collegiates (TLC), a joint venture of Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles (YULA) and the new Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel run by the Westwood Kehilla (LINK).

The targets of TLC are college students who are either day school graduates or who have been brought in through JAM or some other outreach program. Its program — classes four nights a week — is held off campus at YULA.

“The goal is to foster a learning environment and social environment so that students can continue to grow Jewishly and religiously throughout their years in college and have the infrastructure of teachers who can help them get through the critical issues that arise for anyone trying to balance ongoing personal development and a very demanding college education,” said Gidon Shoshan, a LINK educational director.

While the Goldstein’s at JLI have similar goals, their work is more focused on the campus as the center of students’ lives. As part of Hillel, they also grapple with how to help students maintain their particular religious dedication, while interacting with the non-Orthodox Jewish community.

“The vision is unity,” Julie Goldstein said. “There are all types of different Jews, and we have to learn from each other and have a symbiotic relationship based on a shared culture and an interest to learn more, where no matter what kind of Jew you are, we all want to be better Jews and to celebrate our Judaism together.”

For more information on JLI ,call (310) 208-3081 ext 107; for JAM, call (323) 651-0177; and for LINK, call (310) 441-5024.

A Small School With Big Plans

On a recent Thursday afternoon at the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills, 20 students fill the biology lab to hear a guest speaker discuss cryogenics. Next door, another 14 teenagers sit in a semicircle as their English teacher describes their next chapter in Homer’s "The Odyssey." Down the hall, four students in the beginning Hebrew classes learned the Hebrew names for other languages.

In other words, NCJHS — or "New Jew," as the students call it — is pretty much like any other high school, only on a much smaller scale.

Located at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, NCJHS opened its first year with 40 students, offering a curriculum split 30/70 between Jewish and secular studies — with an integration between the two.

During the school’s grand opening ceremony on Sept. 17, Head of School Bruce Powell outlined NCJHS’ mission: to be a place "where students take advanced placement kindness, where science and math are the grand tools in tikkun olam … and where the precious legacy that resides in the souls of our children is nurtured, one mind at a time."

A respected educator in the Los Angeles Jewish community, Powell’s holistic approach can be seen in everything from the curriculum to the weekly schedule. For example, the school has a kehillah where students and teachers gather after lunch several days each week for 40 minutes of Jewish song or Israeli dancing.

"Judaism, when given to students only through text and history, can become very dry," Powell said. "You need both the cognitive and the affective, the intellectual and the spiritual."

Spiritually speaking, NCJHS bills itself as non-denominatinal. While over the last decade much of the Jewish community has been moving both to the left and the right, creators of NCJHS hope it will fill a middle ground between the more traditional Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles and the Reform-leaning Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air.

The process began three years ago, when a group of Los Angeles parents and community leaders decided they needed an option between the Orthodox and Reform schools. They joined a group of parents whose children were attending Abraham Heschel Day School in Northridge, who were interested in starting a high school. The two parties merged to form the initial board of directors for what would become NCJHS.

Schools feeding into the new high school include Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills; Heschel Day School in Northridge and its Agoura sibling, Heschel West; plus three synagogue day schools: Valley Beth Shalom, Adat Ari El and Temple Beth Hillel.

The mix makes for some interesting arrangements. In order to accommodate students from many different schools, a flexible schedule was key, said Rabbi David Vorspan, the NCJHS Jewish studies director and official rabbi-in-residence.

It also makes for a varied student body. "We have kids who have been home-schooled; we have kids who come from public school programs," Vorspan said. "We have kids who did not know an alef from a bet when they came in, and kids who were involved in heavy text study when they were in day school. So we have had to create a program that could meet everybody’s needs."

The NCJHS offers three levels of Hebrew, from basic to advanced, and several tiers of other academic classes such as English and math. There are also innovative electives, like American Sign Language (made possible by a donation from Shirley and Aaron Kotler in memory of deaf relatives), computer science and art classes that take advantage of the Milken’s gallery.

Like any Jewish private school, the cost of Jewish education at NCJHS does not come cheap. Tuition for the 2002-2003 school year is $17,500 — not including the application fee, textbooks and other costs such as school trips that can add another $1,825 or more. Financial assistance is available, and there is a nice perk: once enrolled, students and their entire families automatically become members of the West Valley Jewish Community Center.

In addition, the students get to use the 10,000-square-foot gym and a swimming pool on the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Sports and Youth Complex which opened in 1999.

Although only enrolled for a few weeks, on this hot Thursday afternoon, the students seem comfortable in their new and somewhat quirky environment, where one is as likely — while going from one class to another — to encounter a group of tots from the JCC’s preschool as to run into a fellow student. Elan Feldman, 15, of Woodland Hills was at Heschel for four years and chose the New Community Jewish High School after looking over the descriptions of the teachers and classes.

"My parents said I could go pretty much anywhere I wanted to go as long as I could get good grades," he says. "Dr. Powell was at Milken and my brother went there and it was good. I liked the idea of starting a new school. I want to start something new, be a pioneer."

Feldman says that going to a small school is both challenging and interesting. "It’s nice that I know most of the people that are going here," he says. "It is kind of small and I might like a bigger environment, but the people are so great it makes up for it."

Talya Vogel, 14, comes to NCJHS from Kadima, which she attended since kindergarten. Like Feldman, she chose the school over nearby academic decathlon-winning El Camino Real High School.

"I preferred to come here," she says. "I think the people you meet influence who you are and I would rather be with people more like me. The classes are great, the teachers are great and the faculty makes the school."

Vogel says that some of her friends are considering switching back to public school after this first year. "They just came here to experiment with it. Some of them might go to El Camino or even switch to Milken, just because they are bigger schools. But, I think this is exciting. We are what will start everything, what will be remembered."

As for the future, Powell and the board are in the process of looking for a site on which to build the school when it outgrows the current facility — although the intention is to keep NCJHS a small and user-friendly school.

"I would like to see the school be 100 students per grade," Powell told The Journal. "I believe that is the ideal size for a high school. A lot of research has been done now on high schools showing schools of 250 to 400 are optimum. They are able to offer the programs that are necessary yet maintain the smallness so no child is missed."

Your Letters

Hamilton High

Regarding the situation at Hamilton High School (“Hamilton High’s Sour Note,” Sept. 20), where one of our children is a student, let’s get clear about several facts that were omitted from your article. First, this is not a Jewish issue. There are Jews and non-Jews on both sides of the dispute. Framing it as a Jewish concern is a good organizing technique, but it is a false and inflammatory characterization.

Second, magnet programs undoubtedly persuade some educated, middle-class parents to keep their kids in the LAUSD beyond elementary school, but a magnet program is not the only way to do that. Our other child attends University High School, which has no magnet programs. Nevertheless, it is a diverse and excellent school with a higher proportion of white students than Hamilton.

Finally, if there is a Jewish principle at stake, it is tzedek (justice). Rather than wring our hands over a personnel decision, the Jewish community should be supporting efforts to build more and better facilities for the thousands of immigrant children entering the public schools each year. Let’s help these children benefit from public education just as our immigrant parents and grandparents did in the past.

Susan Bartholomew and Sandy Jacoby , Los Angeles

Your article about the Hamilton High School Music Academy almost got it right. Your reporter suggested that the passionate support of Jeff Kaufman and the magnet school by the parents, students and faculty of the high school was matched by detractors in that same community. Wrong. There was absolutely no demonstrable support for Jeff’s transfer other than from the administration that showed no respect for parent or student concerns or input. The administration was not interested in how the school’s stakeholders felt. What a wonderful civics lesson for our children.

Edward Friedman, Los Angeles

Withholding Our Funds

We read Steve Berman’s article “Withholding Our Funds From Territories” (Aug. 30) with great dismay. Berman asserts that the historical policy of United Jewish Communities (UJC) to discriminate against Jews who live across the Green Line “creates avenues for Jewish unity and minimized division.” How does withholding social service assistance from Israelis who live in the Old City — and were injured in the same terrorist attack as other Israelis who live a few meters away — create Jewish unity?

Berman argues that we should not play a role in forming Israeli policy with regard to the territories and that withholding funds to the residents of the territories satisfies this goal. This argument is spurious. Denying Israelis who live across the Green Line access to charitable funds is major interference in Israeli policy. It is both a policy statement and discrimination. The UJC’s role should be to give charitable assistance to all Jews in need and not to discriminate against a segment of the Israeli population on the basis of the political views of some of the UJC’s donors.

The UJC’s changed policy is a significant part of the reason that our synagogue chose to replace an internal fundraiser on Shavuot with one for the Jews in Crisis Campaign. We hope that funds raised to help all Israelis are not held hostage while Berman and others like him seek to create their version of Jewish unity through insisting on divisive distinctions and discrimination.

Howard and Elayne Levkowitz, Los Angeles


I was very moved by Amy Klein’s insight into the holiday of Yom Kippur in her recent article (“Sin,” Sept. 13). I was raised in a Reform Jewish family but became Orthodox in my early 20s. I also struggled with the issue of sin, begging God to forgive me every Yom Kippur. I would call on Him for forgiveness after every mikvah before the Sabbath with no success. I wondered what I was missing. Where was the God of Israel that spoke as a friend to our forefathers I wondered?

In my search for answers, I discovered that our God is alive and well and has provided a way for all of us to experience real forgiveness and peace.

Cyril Gordon, Los Angeles

Strange BRU

Kudos to Mike Levy for bringing the shenanigans of Eric Mann and the Bus Riders Union (BRU) to light (“Strange BRU,” Aug. 9). As a recent visitor to Los Angeles, I read his article and was shocked and dismayed that Mann, a Jew, would stoop to a level so low as to accept money for one cause and direct to another that is so detrimental to his people.

Who are his people anyway? The transit-dependent working individuals who has the notion that the BRU would represent their interest to improve bus service in Los Angeles? Or the Palestinians?

Abbie G. Rosenberg , Watsonville

Makom Ohr Shalom

I am so pleased that you published a profile of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (“Standup, Sit-down, See the Light,” Sept. 13). There were a few misstatements in the article that I would like to correct: First, Makom Ohr Shalom Congregation meets in Tarzana. We rent a community ballroom in the catering facility of St. Mary’s Church, 5955 Lindley Ave., where we hold services every Friday evening and on the Holidays. Second, our Yom Kippur Healing Service has absolutely nothing to do with massage. Massage would be wholly inappropriate and has never been practiced at Makom Ohr Shalom. Finally, Makom Ohr Shalom was described as “the XX synagogue” — apparently a word was dropped. True, Makom Ohr Shalom is not easily categorized. Its rabbis over the last 25 years have had Reform, Conservative, Jewish Renewal and Lubavitch training. To fill in the blank, Makom Ohr Shalom is, I hope, a welcoming synagogue and a joyous one.

Rabbi Debra Orenstein , Makom Ohr Shalom


In the Sept. 20 Circuit, Young Judaea was spelled incorrectly.

The Community Brief, “Birthright Israel Plans to Send 1,000 to Israel” (Sept. 20), should have read:

Headline: “Birthright Israel Plans to Send 11,000 to Israel”

“Birthright Israel hopes to send 11,000 participants to Israel this year, despite violence in the Middle East. The program has sent over 30,000 students to Israel in the past 2 1¼2 years.”

The Curse of Certainty

On Sept. 12, I walked into my eighth-grade English class determined to talk about what had happened the day before. I asked if anyone had anything to say. A boy with contact lenses and gelled hair raised his hand. “Mr. Maksik, now do you see why I said what I did last year?”

I teach at an Orthodox Jewish school, and last year I taught Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to my seventh-graders. When we came to the trial of Tom Robinson, I saw an opportunity to make a point. I asked the class what they thought of the way Robinson was being treated on the stand. They reacted as I expected they would, calling the treatment racist and cruel. We all agreed that to treat someone poorly because of his race was unfair. What then, I asked, would they think if instead of a black man, there was a Palestinian man on the witness stand? Without missing a beat, the same boy, then with round glasses and wild, curly hair said, “I’d spit on him.”

This year, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and after being granted permission by the general studies head, I began teaching a novel written by Naomi Shihab Nye titled, “Habibi.” It is the story of a Palestinian American family that moves to the West Bank. The young girl in the story falls in love with a Jewish boy. Israeli soldiers in the novel are portrayed as bullying. In the second week of teaching the book, I was called to my superior’s office, the rabbi in charge of Judaic studies for the middle school. He told me that I would not be permitted to continue with the book until he was able to review it. He’d received letters from parents. He had already read enough of it to be “certain” that it was inappropriate. Furthermore, I wasn’t to teach history or current events. I told him that I didn’t understand how the novel was contrary to the mission of a school committed to the ideal of moral education. I fought the decision and considered resigning.

At the end of the week, I found myself in a meeting with the founder of the school, the director of moral education, the rabbi with whom I’d had the initial discussion and the head of general studies from the high school. During this meeting, I was told by the director of moral education that I had been insensitive in my choice of literature. By way of making his point, he asked whether I would also be willing to teach “Mein Kampf.” Earlier that day, I received an e-mail from a student’s brother that warned me not to spread my “dilusional (sic) lies in the secular classroom.”

Much has been written about cycles of violence, and it is no mystery that in every war-ravaged country there is endless and deeply rooted animosity. Hatred is passed on. I have seen all of this firsthand in students whose parents are abusive. The boy whose father hits him, hits other kids. None of this is news.

What I’ve never seen is such vigorous political passion, such pharisaic certainty in a child whose voice hasn’t changed. I have seen photographs of children from all over the globe carrying guns, but they have been to me cultural curiosities, icons of worlds very far away. After the World Trade Center fell to earth, I heard many people say that the world had finally come to the United States of America. Some said it with anger, some with fear, some with satisfaction.

In the midst of the uproar over “Habibi,” I assigned my students to write an essay explaining why there is so much enmity against the United States. I received a paper ostensibly written by a seventh-grader that read, “Those who believe that the West Bank is occupied Palestinian land are Arabs from nations where there is no freedom of the press; liberal, self-hating Jews and anti-Semites…. People who have a primitive culture do not understand diplomacy.” When I asked the student what he meant by these things, he said he didn’t know how they had ended up in the essay at all. I did know; someone else had written the essay.

As a teacher, it is my job to ask questions. I am not trying to please a defense contractor, be reelected or fulfill a vendetta sworn by my father. Lately, it is difficult to believe that my tirades against intolerance will make a difference in the face of these children’s and their parents’ convictions. But, I speak from a perspective of ideals, with the luxury of detached liberalism. None of my family has been killed by an occupying soldier’s bullet or a militant’s bomb. I am carrying no image of my brother lying dead in an Israeli restaurant. I have never been persecuted for my religion, my ancestry or for my race. Nonetheless, I am a teacher, and as long as I have the opportunity to question the blind certainty of 13-year-old zealots, I will.

Finally, the school allowed me five days to teach “Habibi” under the supervision of a rabbi, and on March 25, I received a letter from the school stating that my contract will not be renewed for next year.

Community Briefs

Rally for Freedom

“Avadim hayenu, ata bnei horin.” We were slaves, but now we are free. Pesach’s refrain is not true for many. For years, Charles Jacobs, along with many others, fulminated in print and in person against slavery, and particularly against those states, most notably Sudan, where slavery, slave raids and outright genocide, are major tools of a generations-old civil war pitting southern Sudanese tribal peoples against an Islamicized-Arabized central government in Khartoum. With the attack on the United States, Jacob’s call gains added poignancy: many of the organizations and states that profit from Sudan’s slavery have ties, direct and otherwise, with Islamo-fascism’s shadowy international movement. The American Anti-Slavery Group and, in cooperation with the Museum of Tolerance and, presented both Charles Jacobs and Francis Bok on March 14 speaking about slavery in Sudan and many international efforts to redeem Sudanese slaves from captivity. The story of Bok’s travails — abduction as a child, years of slavery and subsequent escape — give this great tragedy a personal face. Other events include: Saturday, March 16, 10:30 am, Beth Am (1055 S. La Cienega Blvd.); Saturday, March 16, 4:30 pm, B’nai David-Judea Congregation at Pico and Livonia. Rally for Freedom on Sunday, March 17, 4:00 pm, at the First AME Church at Adams and La Salle. — Dennis Gura, Contributing Writer

L.A. Armenians Protest

An Armenian rally was held in front of the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard to protest what they allege is Israel’s refusal to recognize the Ottoman massacres as a “genocide” and a cultural tragedy akin to the Jewish Holocaust. About 70 people protested peacefully for two hours on March 7. According to Yuval Rotem, Israel consul general in Los Angeles, the anger is based on a misinterpretation of some comments Rifka Cohen, the Israeli ambassador to Armenia, made earlier this year. The rally left officials at the Israeli Consulate baffled. They believe that the anger is misplaced. “Some elements want to use it as a vehicle against Israel,” Rotem said, “which is unfortunate.”

“I understand it’s a very sensitive issue for them. It’s a horrifying thing that happened,” said Zvi Vapni, deputy consul general in Los Angeles. “But generally, Israelis have a close relationship with the Armenian people.” Vapni noted that one of the oldest quarters in Jerusalem is an Armenian community. Rotem added that after a major earthquake hit Turkey several years ago, “we were the first to go and assist them.” Vapni added, “We are not historians. We do not deny anything. They must understand that the Consulate are not the ones that make any decisions or comments on this matter.” — Staff Report

Holocaust Scholars Hold Roundtable

The Directors Roundtable is holding the Los Angeles leg of its worldwide conference at UCLA on March 20. The conference topic: “What Remembrance of the Holocaust Is Doing For Mankind.”

The Roundtable will hold parallel events in London, Paris,
Berlin, Rome, Moscow, Buenos Aires, New York, Washington D.C., Florida, and
Israel. Speakers at the conference will include a who’s who of the Holocaust
scholarship community, including Darlene Basch, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, professor
Mark Jonathan Harris, Gregory Laemmle, Curt Lowens, Dr. Gary Schiller, professor
Cornelius Schnauber, Dr. M. Mitchell Serels, the Rev. Alexei Smith (retired) and
Nick Strimple. To register, call (323) 655-7001 or e-mail your reservation to . — Staff Report

An ‘Open Orthodox’ Rabbinical School

Rabbi Avi Weiss visited Los Angeles last week to promote his new “open Orthodox” rabbinical school, “Yeshivat Chovivei Torah,” now in its second year in Manhattan. Weiss spoke at Temple B’nai David-Judea, the shul of his former assistant rabbi, Yosef Kanefsky. The rabbinical school offers a four-year program for men who only plan to serve as pulpit rabbis, and each student must commit to three years of community service work. (One rabbinical student might intern in Los Angeles next year.)

“Openness in Orthodoxy means the preparedness to discuss openly some of the critical issues related to the role of women, a dignified and respectful dialogue with the Conservative and Reform,” Weiss said. “We believe we can transform the Modern Orthodox community if there are rabbis open to dialogue with Jews of all backgrounds — this could be phenomenally impactful. Weiss, a longtime activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Israel, called this project “the highlight of my life.” — Staff Report

Culver City Peace Debate

More than 100 people attended a lecture “Is an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Treaty Possible?” at Culver City’s Temple Akiba on March 10. A spirited debate took place between David Pine, western regional director of Americans for Peace Now, and Jerry Blume, spokesperson for Americans for a Safe Israel.

The audience at the Reform temple, most over the age of 50, expressed anger over suicide bombings, and disappointment with both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. While both advocates strongly support Israel, they presented different solutions to the current crisis.

“Jews argue,” concluded Rabbi Allen S. Maller, who moderated the debate. “That’s what we do best.” — Eric H. Roth, Contributing Writer

World Briefs

Israel: U.S. Didn’t Help

Israel denied a newspaper report that the CIA helped Israel track down a smuggled arms shipment. “This operation was purely blue and white,” said a spokeswoman for the Israeli military, referring to the colors of Israel’s flag. Citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, The Washington Times newspaper reported Tuesday that Israel asked the CIA to locate the ship carrying the arms. The report said U.S. officials, using high-tech intelligence-gathering equipment, were able to identify the ship.

Israel Declines to Join War Crimes Court

Israel will not join a planned international war crimes court because the treaty establishing the court defines the settlements as a war crime, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said Monday. The Barak government signed the treaty but did not ratify it, and the current government will keep to this decision due to the court’s “political” nature, Sheetrit said.

Assassin’s Brother Barred

Israel’s Defense Ministry barred the brother of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin from serving in a special combat unit for fervently Orthodox Jews. Sagiv Amir, 19, has appealed the decision, saying it punishes him for his brother’s crime and effectively bars him from military service because his religious practices make it impossible for him to enlist in a regular unit. Amir was 13 when his brother, Yigal, shot Rabin dead at a 1995 peace rally in Tel Aviv.

Israel, China Discuss Deal

Israeli officials arrived in Beijing for talks on the canceled sale of an airborne radar system to China. Beijing is seeking compensation for Israel’s cancellation of a deal, worth $250 million, to purchase planes equipped with the Phalcon system. Israel canceled the arms sale in July 2000, following objections from U.S. officials, who feared the sale would enhance China’s threatening position against Taiwan and could be used to track U.S. aircraft in the case of a military conflict there.

U.S. Seeks Deportation

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking to deport an Illinois man for allegedly participating in the persecution and murder of Jews during World War II. According to a complaint filed Monday, Peter John Bernes, alias Petras Bernotavicius, was a deputy to Werner Loew, a Nazi-appointed mayor and police commander assigned to Kupiskis, Lithuania. Bernes helped remove condemned prisoners from jail so they could be taken to nearby killing sites, the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations charged. During the summer of 1941, more than 1,000 Jewish men, women and children — about one-fourth of Kupiski’s population — were murdered by men allegedly under Loew’s command.

Schools Linked to Terrorism

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims some charter schools in California have links to terrorist organizations. The ADL wrote to the California State Superintendent of Education urging the state to suspend its funding and investigate the activities of Gateway Academy charter schools because of alleged links to the Muslims of the Americas, which the ADL calls a virulently anti-Semitic and homophobic group. Muslims of the Americas has been accused of serving as a corporate front for Al-Fuqra, a militant Islamic group. ADL also charges the school has violated the First Amendment by teaching religion in the state-funded school.

Member of ‘Iran 10’ Freed

An Iranian Jew convicted of spying for Israel was freed from jail after serving his three-year sentence, according to an Iranian official. Faramarz Kashi, a Hebrew teacher, is the second of 10 Iranian Jews convicted of the spying charges in July 2000 to be released, the official added Wednesday. Ramin Nemati Zadeh, released in March of last year, was the first to be freed, the official said. Thirteen Iranian Jews were arrested in 1999 and accused of spying for Israel. Following a closed-door trial that began in April 2000, three were acquitted and 10 others found guilty.

AJCongress to Be Sued

A former regional director of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) plans to file an age- and gender-discrimination lawsuit against the group. Sheila Decter, 63, was fired in November from her position as the group’s New England regional director. Decter already has filed a complaint on the issue with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, according to the Forward newspaper. Jack Rosen, the president of the AJCongress, told the Forward there is “no basis” for Decter’s complaint.

Religious Freedom Day

President Bush recalled George Washington´s promise to the Jewish community to protect religious freedom. Proclaiming that Wednesday will be Religious Freedom Day 2002, Bush noted that the first U.S. president promised the Jewish community at Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., that the new country would protect the rights of people of all faiths. Bush called on Americans to use the day, set aside annually, to celebrate America´s commitment to freedom of religion.

Reconstructionists’ New Pres

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz has been chosen to head the Reconstructionist movement’s seminary. Ehrenkrantz, the immediate past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the spiritual leader of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, N.J., will start this summer. He replaces Rabbi David Teutsch, who has been the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s (RRC) president since 1993. Ehrenkrantz will be the first RRC president who is a graduate of the school. The movement, which was founded in the 1930s, is based in Philadelphia and has 100 synagogues in North America.

Senators: Extend Deadline

Two U.S. senators called for an extension for survivors to file for Holocaust-era insurance restitution. Sens. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) say Holocaust survivors are having trouble documenting their claims or have given up on the restitution process because they believe insurers deny or stall payments of claims. The senators requested the deadline extension in a letter sent Jan. 9 to Lawrence Eagleburger, chairman of the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims.

Orthodox Students for Israel

A group of American Jewish students is being trained to promote travel to Israel. In a program called Operation Torah Shield II, 200 students from Yeshiva University in New York are in Israel this week touring the country and participating in training sessions led by the Ministry of Tourism. Upon their return to the United States, the students will take additional courses sponsored by the ministry.

High Time

For the past three years, in meetings that often go toward midnight, a handful of local parents, educators and community leaders have been coming together to plan Los Angeles’ next non-Orthodox Jewish high school.

Now it has come to pass. Late last month, the Core Group, as the parents call themselves, announced the September 2002 opening of the New Community Jewish High School in the West Valley.

Against a background of world tragedy and looming recession, organizers see the school as a sign of communal growth and vibrancy. “The Jewish community is moving westward,” said school co-chair Howard Farber. “There are enough spaces at our elementary schools, like Kadima, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom, Heschel, and so on, but there are not enough Jewish school spaces for our graduates. Milken [Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple] is great, and they have been wonderful to us. But our community needs more schools.”

Instead of hand-wringing over the limited number of non-Orthodox Jewish high schools, concerned parents devoted hours to starting a new one. “It is an incredible group of people,” Farber said. “When we sit in meetings, there’s not one person who wants to leave early, or cut it short. There is a level of energy and creativity and cooperation that is just nice to see.”

The energy paid off. Elana Rimmon Zimmerman, who works as program director at Valley Beth Shalom and is the mother of two children in day schools, co-chairs the group with Farber. “I always think the opportunity to be part of something new is exciting,” Zimmerman said. “How often during our lives do we get to be part of something at the very beginning?”

Open House

While they have no permanent site yet, the school will use the Bernard Milken Campus in the West Valley as its temporary location when it opens next fall.

From their office suite in Tarzana, school planners are sending out brochures to spread the word. They have consulted with a consortium of San Fernando and Conejo Valley day school principals — administrators whose own student populations will be key feeder schools to the new campus. They have three open houses scheduled for this fall and winter, and are offering a tuition discount to families of the very first group of freshman, the Class of 2006.

School planners are reluctant to quote exact rates, emphasizing instead that significant assistance will be available.

Even in stronger economies, tuition has been a major challenge facing parents and day school administrators. The New Community School organizers say their approach to it was guided by a bedrock commitment to Jewish education. “A Jewish school should not be a commodity,” Powell said. “It should not be a luxury item — you can afford it, you buy it. It should be like a birthright, a community entitlement. What that means, ultimately, is that every family who wants a Jewish education for their child should be able to have one. We have a two-page brochure for families that goes over our tuition assistance policies. We want to be able to accept people who cannot afford to pay the full price. That’s why endowment is so important. That is our central challenge.”

The Core Group may be pioneers of a sort, building a 9th through 12th-grade school from scratch, but taken together, they are not lacking for established contacts or professional support. Both Farber and Zimmerman have a long record of involvement in local Jewish community organizations. “This is hardly a case of some parents getting together and with no experience, deciding they’re going to start a school,” Zimmerman said. “We are hardly neophytes. We have some of the most professional and experienced people participating as our guides, every step of the way.”

The group consults with a 30-member rabbinical cabinet composed of local pulpit rabbis. They’re assisted by the AVI CHAI Foundation, The Jewish Federation Council, the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), and other organizations. The connections run deep: Farber’s mother, Janet, is president of the BJE, and his father, Jake, is the incoming chairman of the board of The Jewish Federation. Farber himself is a graduate of the Wexner Fellows Program.

The new school’s National Advisory Board includes historian-author Deborah Lipstadt, Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Rabbi Daniel Landes, the director of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

The Headmaster

Still, even with the impressive roster, there will be parents who are skittish about the prospect of placing their student in the first class of a new school, preferring instead to wait out the first few years until a school becomes a tried and tested commodity. To those who hesitate, Farber says the answer is simple: Dr. Bruce Powell.

Powell is well-known in education circles as a committed and experienced educator at the high school level and as someone who can bring a considerable resume along to meetings with parents and potential donors. After heading up the general studies department at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles, Powell ran the school at Stephen S. Wise, which later became Milken High School. After a successful 10-year stint as head of school at Milken, where three of his own children graduated, he has continued as an educator and consultant, working closely with Jewish high school start-ups nationwide. At a time when most Jewish institutions across the board are suffering from an acute shortage of qualified Jewish educators and administrators, the new school is given a considerable boost with Powell as the head administrator.

Under his direction, the school’s four-year curriculum will offer courses in Jewish ethics, text and Hebrew language, along with a slate of Advanced Placement classes, (chemistry, music theory, macroeconomics, etc.), and a host of arts and multicultural electives like drama, dance, African American Studies and Modern Israeli Literature.

Why a Jewish High School?

In an interview with The Journal, Powell crystallized the philosophy of a school whose founders have already devoted, in Zimmerman’s words, “countless hours” to discussing vision, purpose and moral education component.

“I’m the last person to sit here and say that Jewish school is some kind of all-purpose panacea,” Powell said. “Nothing is. But it’s critical that our children know who they are, not just to enrich our homes, but to connect with the fabric of the country.

“We have this incredible treasure of a heritage sitting there, and our kids can’t access it or participate in it if they’re ignorant of it. We say things like ‘Jewish continuity,’ but these are empty phrases if there is no content. Why perpetuate something if you don’t know what it’s about? Jews have made a unique contribution to the world and to this country, a contribution grounded specifically in Judaism. The founding forefathers of this country knew Torah. There was a time when to be admitted to Harvard, a student had to know Latin, Greek and biblical Hebrew. Half the world uses our book as a basis for their civilization, and we don’t read it enough.”

Most of the faculty for the school is already lined up, Powell said — this despite what experts say is a severe shortage of Jewish educators nationwide. Powell acknowledged the shortage, but found ways to work around it. “We just have to think creatively,” he said. “There are pulpit rabbis, for example, with a deep background in Judaica, who might take a small cut in salary if it meant having Shabbats and holidays off in order to have a life with their families. There are veteran educators who are excited by the prospect of being in on something from the beginning.”

That excitement is palpable speaking with Farber, Powell and others involved in the project. What began as an idea will soon be another part of the city’s growing Jewish-education system, another institution to make good on one generation’s promise to the next. Powell is certain that alone will draw parents and students to join the endeavor.

“There is a tremendous appeal in truly being a founder of something,” Powell said. “Parents who will be with us from the outset have that this opportunity, and so do the students. It’s a tremendous opportunity for kids to blossom and to lead.”

The New Community Jewish High School will be holding open houses on Nov. 14, Nov. 19 and Dec. 2, at the Bernard Milken campus, 15580 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. For reservations or additional information, call (818) 344-9672.