Acts of Faith


Shabbat Shalom, Los Feliz

When Rabbi Leibel Korf came to Los Angeles more than seven years ago, he started up a Chabad center in his Los Feliz home’s dining room. By October 2000, he moved to a 1,200-square-foot storefront on Vermont Avenue, in a strip mall just north of Hollywood Boulevard. For the last five years, Chabad of Greater Los Feliz has thrived so much that Korf felt it was time to move to bigger premises.

“For the past years, we felt there was a lot we could do if we had the space and a presence in the neighborhood,” he said.

Now they will, with the purchase of a 6,750-square-foot lot on Hillhurst Avenue for $1.4 million. The two-building property, located on a trendy restaurant row north of Franklin Avenue, was formerly the famous Vida restaurant. (The Los Angeles Times erroneously reported the property was sold to the Kabbalah Center.)

The new Chabad of Greater Los Feliz is set to open there Feb. 1. Synagogue services will take place in the renovated back building, and Chabad classes, lectures, day school, teen clubs and programs will take place in the main building, which will also undergo renovations once the additional funds — about $1 million — are raised.

Korf, 35, hopes to use the new premises to expand his programs and host more of the community. (Korf boasts a mailing list of 7,000 — “We know of the existence of 2,000, and we have some contact with 1,300-1,500,” he said.) They are kashering the restaurant kitchen so that his wife, Dvonye, who normally prepares large meals in their home, can now have the professional, kosher facilities for Shabbat and holiday meals.

The only cloud on this silver-lined horizon may be that it is located next door to a Scientology center, where young Hollywood types stand outside distributing leaflets and beckoning passersby to enter. But Korf says he will not get involved.

“We are very nonjudgmental in general — no matter who our neighbors are, we are very accommodating,” he said.

Korf hopes the new center will attract more people from the Hollywood Hills, Silver Lake and the surrounding Eastside areas than being “in a strip mall on the edge of the neighborhood,” he said.

“I feel if there’s one more Jew-plus by being here, then, it’s all worth it.”

Chabad of Greater Los Feliz will be located at 1930 N. Hillhurst Ave. For more information, call (323) 660-5177 or visit www.chabadlosfeliz.com

Torah, Arts Meet at the Beach

The Pacific Jewish Center (PJC), or “the shul on the beach” as it is known, is one of six synagogues to win a $20,000 grant from the Orthodox Union (OU) programming initiative awards competition. PJC is the only L.A. synagogue to receive one of these first-time grants, which were announced in May for “encouraging initiatives to strengthen local synagogue and communal life.”

PJC won for the Venice Torah Arts Festival project, which will transform the synagogue, gardens and parking lot into a summer arts exhibition. Normally, the structure is closed except for daily prayers and Shabbat and holiday services. During the summer, the festival coordinator and volunteers will greet boardwalkers and entice them to Torah, Judaism and the local synagogue in hopes of inspiring “a vibrant revival of Jewish interest,” according to PJC’s grant application.

The OU awarded grants to programs that could be easily replicated in other synagogues. Stephen Savitsky, OU president, said, “Rabbi Benjamin Geiger, President Judd Magilnick and their colleagues are to be commended for their effort in putting this program together and for the vision and foresight they displayed in evaluating their community’s needs and in devising this program as a response.”

Pacific Jewish Center is located at 505 Ocean Front Walk. For more information call (310) 392-8749 or visit www.pjcenter.com

Separate but Egalitarian

The new monthly minyan, 10 and 10, will hold its next services on Friday, Jan. 20, at the Workmen’s Circle on Robertson Boulevard. The congregation follows traditional Shabbat services with a mehitzah dividing men and women, but also has women leading certain parts of the service, as well as getting aliyot.

10 and 10 is modeled after the shul, Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem, which adheres to traditional Jewish law, but is progressive in searching for egalitarian allowances of Jewish law. For example, 10 and 10 only begins davening when both 10 men and 10 women are present. The group meets at the Workmen’s Circle in the winter and in private homes in the spring and summer. Friday night services are followed by a dairy potluck.

For more information, contact 10and10-minyan@yahoogroups.com.

 

Power, Politics And People


Israeli lawmaker Alex Lubotsky was having a bad day on Jan. 29. Hehad come to Jerusalem’s Ramada hotel to address a visiting group ofOrthodox Jews from America, to plead for their support of thecompromise conversion plan authored by Finance Minister YaakovNeeman.

He didn’t have much luck. The visitors, leaders of the Union ofOrthodox Jewish Congregations of America, displayed more skepticismthan an Arkansas grand jury. Most, witnesses said, looked as thoughthey would rather be anywhere but in that room, being asked to standup and do the right thing. Rabbi Beryl Wein, a transplanted NewYorker sharing the dais with Lubotsky, reportedly captured the moodwhen he said that he was glad he wasn’t the one who had to make thedecision.

The decision — whether the Neeman plan will become reality –rests with Israel’s Orthodox chief rabbis. The plan requires them tolet Conservative and Reform rabbis help train would-be converts toJudaism. Orthodox rabbis would still perform the actual conversionritual. Non-Orthodox rabbis would be junior partners — less thanthey wanted, but much more than the Orthodox rabbinate wanted to givethem. The non-Orthodox movements have accepted. The chief rabbishaven’t decided, but all signs are negative.

Lubotsky, an ally of Neeman, was hoping that the Orthodox Unionwould help nudge the chief rabbis toward compromise. As the mainAmerican voice of centrist, or “modern” Orthodoxy, the OU has longfavored keeping lines open to the non-Orthodox world. That’s also thephilosophy of Modern Orthodox Israelis such as Neeman and Lubotsky.It’s supposed to be the view of the chief rabbinate too.

Modernity is not what it used to be, however. Nowadays, thedecisive force in Orthodoxy is the relentless gravitational pull ofthe right-wing or “ultra-Orthodox” rabbinate, which rejects allcompromise with sinners. Fearing the purists’ wrath, nobody wants tocross them. Not the Orthodox Union in America, not the chief rabbisin Israel. In contemporary Orthodoxy, bridge-building is out.Fence-building is in.

Three days earlier and 7,000 miles west, the top leaders of Reformand Conservative Judaism held a press conference in New York on Jan.26 to give their own view of the Neeman plan, which had gone to theprime minister the day before.

They planned to lament the chief rabbis’ anticipated rejection ofNeeman. This, they figured, would prove who is ready to makesacrifices for Jewish unity and who isn’t. To their surprise, theliberal rabbis woke up that Monday to find themselves outflanked bytheir own troops. While they slept, their negotiators in Israel weremeeting with a representative of the chief rabbinate, at the home ofJewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg, to concoct a competingcompromise. It was the only way, Burg explained, to avoid a blowupwhen the chief rabbis reject Neeman.

The Burg plan lets the chief rabbis off the hook. Instead of aunified conversion process, each movement would continue its ownconversions. All converts would be registered as Jews by Israel’sstate population registry, with a notation of the date they becameJewish. But only Orthodox converts would be recognized by the chiefrabbinate, which still controls marriage, divorce, adoption andburial. This way, the non-Orthodox movements get governmentrecognition, just as they wanted, while the Orthodox retain the powerto ensure it doesn’t do them any good.

Gone is the immediate danger of conversions causing a governmentcollapse or an Israel-Diaspora explosion. Instead, look for anexplosion next year over marriages, as a growing army of non-Orthodoxconverts battles discrimination.

Both the Neeman and Burg plans could defuse, at least for now, theincendiary tensions fracturing the Jewish world. Community leadersare hailing them as nearly interchangeable, the Burg plan merely anarrower, more “technical” fix than Neeman.

In fact, as some top rabbis admit privately, the two plans arepolar opposites. Neeman, by creating one intermovement conversionprocedure, would strengthen the role of the Israeli government as acentral, unifying voice in Jewish life. Its champions see it as astep — albeit a baby step — toward healing the historic breachesdividing Judaism’s streams.

The Burg plan does the reverse. By getting the Israeli governmentout of the business of deciding whose conversions are legitimate, itis a decisive first step toward separation of synagogue and state.The rest — removing marriage, divorce and burial from Orthodoxrabbinic control — is just a matter of time. Each movement would befree to go its own way, without regard to others’ standards.

Already, the two proposals have begun to redraw the map of thereligious pluralism debate. Up to now, the struggle has dividedOrthodox Jews from non-Orthodox. With the arrival of the Burg plan,the debate is between the center and the edges.

On one side are the Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements,which enthusiastically favor Neeman. They view it as a historic steptoward recreating a common code of Jewish law, modified formodernity, which all Jews could begin to accept. That’s exactly whatthey stand for.

On the other side are the Reform and ultra-Orthodox movements,which are happiest with Burg. Both groups would just as soon get theJewish state out of the business of determining Jewish law — theReform, because they don’t believe in the idea of a binding Jewishlaw; the ultra-Orthodox, because they don’t fully accept the Jewishstate.

Reform and Conservative leaders alike insist that there is nochance of a near-term breakup in their strategic alliance. Bothmovements are still denied any recognition in Israel. They’ll fighttogether until they get it. For now, both have endorsed both Neemanand Burg, with varying enthusiasm.

Both sides admit, however, that the latest twist has brought theirdifferences to the surface quite sharply. It’s no longer hard toimagine the two allies on opposite sides in the not-too-distantfuture.

Which side will come out on top — centrism or fragmentation? IfAlex Lubotsky’s experience last week means anything, don’t bet moneyon the center.

J.J. Goldberg is author of “Jewish Power: Inside the AmericanJewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for The JewishJournal.

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