White House talks Iran deal with Jewish groups


The White House held at least two phone calls with Jewish leaders to explain aspects of the interim sanctions-for-nuclear-rollbacks deal between Iran and major powers.

Among the speakers on the conference calls Monday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations for North America were Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser, and David Cohen, the top Treasury official in charge of implementing sanctions.

The off-the-record calls were a signal of the importance that the administration attaches to keeping pro-Israel groups on board for the six-month interim deal achieved over the weekend in Geneva, however skeptical the groups may be of the deal.

Generally, according to participants, questioners pressed the U.S. officials on the degree to which the deal impacts sanctions and whether the concessions to Iran could be reversed should Iran renege.

The officials said the deal’s sanctions relief affected only the “margins” of the Iranian economy, and that the main sanctions, targeting Iran’s energy and financial sectors, would remain in place.

The White House officials acknowledged differences with Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the deal as “very bad,” but said the endgame was the same: incapacitating Iran’s nuclear capacity, according to call participants.

Another White House call was held Tuesday for leaders of faith groups; Jewish leaders joined the call.

Separately, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a memo on Monday expressed concerns about the interim deal. AIPAC noted that the agreement allows Iran to keep enriching uranium, albeit at low levels, even though U.N. Security Council resolutions have called for a suspension of enrichment pending a final deal, and that it appears to preemptively allow Iran an enrichment capacity as part of a final status deal.

Also problematic, AIPAC said in the memo, is that the deal “includes an option to extend the negotiating window beyond an initial six-month period,” which “creates the possibility that the initial agreement will become a de-facto final agreement.”

The memo called on Congress to pass legislation that would impose penalties should Iran renege on the deal.

Hillel’s new plan: Programming for and by students not so involved in Hillel


Meet 22-year-old Jeremy Moskowitz, the poster child for what Hillel hopes will be a revolution in campus Jewish life. The catch: He didn’t spend much time at Hillel during his four years at Duke University.

Moskowitz attended Jewish day school before college, but chose Duke in part because it was “less Jewish.” Once on campus, he stayed away from Hillel except for a few Shabbat dinners, instead throwing himself into Greek life as a leader of the AEPi chapter there.

But a Hillel staffer challenged him to reach out to students uninvolved or little involved in Jewish life. By his senior year he had agreed to serve as a Hillel Peer Network engagement intern, a key role in the international campus organization’s thrust to use students not very involved in Hillel to reach other students not very involved with Hillel—with programs having little if any overt connection to Hillel.

In Moskowitz’s case, this meant building his own 12-by-12 sukkah and inviting 28 people over for a meal, and hosting a Passover seder for 73 fellow students—Jews and non-Jews—in his backyard, not to mention cooking 80 or so matzah balls and creating his own hagaddah that included photos, jokes, traditional prayers and Mad Libs (Hillel provided kosher chicken and seder plates).

“A friend called her mom after and said, ‘You’ll never guess where I just was. I was at a Passover seder,” Moskowitz says with a grin while taking a break from last week’s Hillel Institute, a gathering at Washington University here of about 1,000 Hillel professionals, student leaders and guests.

For Moskowitz, the conference was the start of a post-graduation yearlong stint as the Bronfman fellow at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, the operation’s headquarters in Washington, where he will serve as an assistant to Hillel President Wayne Firestone, learning the ins and outs of running a high-profile international organization based in the nation’s capital.

For the wider Hillel movement, the gathering in St. Louis served as a rollout venue for a new five-year strategic plan that the organization’s board approved in May. The plan, pushed by Firestone, looks to build on the work of Moskowitz and the other 1,200 peer outreach interns on 118 campuses—and moves further away from the traditional model of focusing primarily on improving programming inside the walls of campus Hillels for the most Jewishly engaged students.

It comes with an ambitious mandate: The 800-plus Hillel professionals active to varying degrees on more than 500 campuses are now supposed to “engage” 70 percent of identified campus Jewish students, having “meaningful” interactions with 40 percent of them and turn 20 percent of them into Jewish leaders.

“Jews are leaders all over campus, but we had to come back to teach them about what it means to be Jewish,” says the low-key Firestone, who can rattle off statistics one moment while retelling stories of a student’s profound shift in Jewish identity the next.

Speaking of students like Moskowitz, Firestone adds, “When we get them to talk about and understand what it means to be Jewish, we have a force multiplier. We think about them as ‘prosumers,’ not just people we are servicing but people who are building communities.”

The goal is being implemented by retraining staff, putting senior Jewish educators on some key campuses, putting Israeli shlichim, or envoys, on others and injecting a mantra of engagement into all things Hillel. Costs for the effort remain elusive, and privately some staffers worry about the new thrust sapping resources from existing programs as well as how their results will be measured. Nonetheless, it is taking root and Hillel has reams of statistics, studies and plans that it says shows the push is worthwhile.

Some in the Jewish world are taking note. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, spent two days at the conference in St. Louis to study how the engagement effort could help his movement.

“What everyone sees at Hillel is an incredibly smart, transformative process to literally re-create a whole different kind of campus Jewish life,” Jacobs told JTA. “It’s really remarkable to watch, certainly for someone in the midst of our own refocusing and realignment.”

Also taking notice is the University of Toronto. Hillel’s Ask Big Questions initiative has been adapted campus-wide by the university’s president, David Naylor. The push fosters conversations around “practical and existential topics” such as politics, social change, biology and God.

Launched last year on 13 campuses, the initiative has involved 72 fellows building relationships with 3,574 students, according to Hillel.

The engagement agenda began in earnest in 2008 when the Jim Joseph Foundation gave Hillel $10.7 million that was used in part to create 10 senior Jewish educator positions on various campuses. They set to work with 12 campus entrepreneur interns—students whose goal was to speak one on one with their peers about where they might fit into Jewish life offerings on campus.

By Hillel’s calculations, those educators and interns took part in a combined 746 personal encounters with students in one year. About a third of the students said they never or rarely went to the Hillel building.

“The No. 1 reason students told us they didn’t participate in Hillel was that they didn’t know anyone who was going to be there or didn’t think they’d like the people there,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s associate vice president of strategy. “By cultivating relationships with these people we can overcome that.”

To figure out how to push forward with its new vision, Hillel hired the Monitor Institute, the consulting firm that helped Teach for America plot a blueprint for achieving its goals. Even with a well-researched plan, implementation will not be easy—it requires recruiting, training and retaining staff, says Scott Brown, a Hillel executive vice president.

“We need more investors and resources to do this,” Brown said. “If it’s about relationships and strategies, you need more hands on deck to do all this at a higher level.”

Hillel directors who buy into the concept say the bottom line remains making students comfortable enough to talk about their emerging identities as young adults. That’s what Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says is her focus as the supervisor of the Northwestern University Hillel’s Campus Rabbi & Questions That Matter program and the previous three years as the senior Jewish educator at the Hillel at Tufts University.

“The heart and soul is the relationships,” she said. “People who previously had no reason to care about Judaism or thinking it didn’t have anything for them, once they began to trust me or my interns, their willingness to be open to a new experience was extraordinary.”

Flame virus can sabotage computers, attack Iran, expert says


The powerful Flame computer virus is not only capable of espionage but it can also sabotage computer systems and likely was used to attack Iran in April, according to a leading security company, Symantec Corp.

Iran had previously blamed Flame for causing data loss on computers in the country’s main oil export terminal and Oil Ministry. But prior to Symantec’s discovery, cyber experts had only unearthed evidence that proved Flame could spy on conversations on the computers it infects and steal data.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said on Thursday that the company has now identified a component of Flame that allows operators to delete files from computers, which means it can cause critical programs to fail or completely disable operating systems.

“These guys have the capability to delete everything on the computer,” Thakur said. “This is not something that is theoretical. It is absolutely there.”

Flame was deployed at least five years ago and is the most sophisticated cyber spying program ever discovered. Researchers have been racing to better understand its capabilities ever since Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab uncovered Flame last month after the security firm was asked by a United Nations agency to look for a virus that Iran said had sabotaged its computers, deleting valuable data.

Last week, researchers at Kaspersky Lab linked some of the software code in Flame to the Stuxnet cyber weapon, which was widely believed to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program. Symantec later also said Stuxnet and Flame shared some code.

Current and former U.S. and Western national security officials told Reuters this week that the United States played a role in creating Flame. The Washington Post reported that U.S. and Israel jointly developed Flame and used it to collect intelligence to help slow Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran complained about the threat of cyber attacks again on Thursday, saying it had detected plans by the United States, Israel and Britain to launch a “massive” strike after the breakdown of talks over Tehran’s nuclear activities. . It was not clear if the cyber attack referred to Flame, or a new virus.

Symantec declined to comment on who the firm believes is behind Flame.

INFRASTRUCTURE AT RISK

If Symantec’s conclusions are validated, that means Flame could be used as a weapon to attack computers that run critical infrastructure systems, including dams, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities, security specialists said.

Boldizsár Bencsath, an expert on cyber warfare with Hungary’s Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security, said there was at least a 70 percent chance that Flame was used to attack Iran in April.

“Of course it can be used for sabotage,” said Bencsath, who began investigating Flame several weeks before it was first reported to the public. “It may have been used to attack critical infrastructure and it may be used in the future.”

Sean McGurk, a former Department of Homeland Security official who helped direct the U.S. effort to protect critical infrastructure from cyber attacks, said that Flame was not the first piece of malicious software designed to sabotage systems by deleting data.

What makes it unique, he said, is that the data-wiping module works alongside a suite of other programs including the espionage tools that have previously been identified.

“It could render computing devices useless,” said McGurk, who is now chief executive of a consulting firm known as NExt Generation Micro LLC.

That presents a threat, he said, because computers are used in all sorts of industrial control systems, affecting everything from critical processes at manufacturing plants to the pressure inside water networks. “Cyber elements can have catastrophic impacts,” he said.

Neil Fisher, vice president for global security solutions at Unisys, said Symantec’s findings – if verified – mean that Flame could be “highly dangerous.”

“Many of our utilities have connected their operational management to the Internet to save costs,” he said.

“Water, gas, electricity certainly constitute the critical national infrastructure,” he added. “Dysfunction of those … systems could have uncomfortable consequences for a large number of people.”

Supreme Court upholds state tuition tax credit program


The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to an Arizona tuition tax credit program that benefits parochial schools, with all three Jewish justices dissenting.

The court on Monday threw out a lawsuit against the program, which provides tax credits to those who donate to “school tuition organizations” that grant scholarships to private schools, including religious schools.

The decision prompted the first written dissent by Jewish Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, who said the 5-4 ruling “threatens to eliminate all occasions for a taxpayer to contest the government’s monetary support of religion.”

Kagan used a hypothetical case relating to Jews in her dissenting opinion, writing: “Suppose a State desires to reward Jews—by, say, $500 per year—for their religious devotion. Should the nature of taxpayers’ concern vary if the State allows Jews to claim the aid on their tax returns, in lieu of receiving an annual stipend?”

She was joined in her dissent by the other two Jewish justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The Anti-Defamation League called the court’s decision “a significant setback for religious liberty in America.”

“The Supreme Court has dramatically undercut the ability of taxpayers to protect religion and government by intervening when government money is improperly spent,” Robert Sugarman and Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national chair and national director, respectively, said in a statement.

The Orthodox Union, which supports educational vouchers for parochial schools, applauded the decision. The OU had joined several other faith-community representatives in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the constitutionality of the program.

“The high court upheld school choice today,” said Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union. “The principles of government respect for private choices in education and government neutrality in programs which can aid and support such private choices is a critical issue for the Orthodox Jewish community and other American faith communities.”

After-School Kabbalah Comes to LAUSD Campuses


Along with homework time, crafts and supervised games, grade school students in several Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools this spring are getting something different at their after-school programs: spiritual awareness.

Dozens of San Fernando Valley children are enrolled in Spirituality for Kids (SFK), a program founded and run by officials of the Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles, whose curriculum teaches socially conscious behavior. Brought to the campuses of four San Fernando Valley public schools through a local after-school enrichment company, the program aims to help kids resist peer pressure, treat others with tolerance and build problem-solving skills.

The Kabbalah Centre has for years drawn the ire of critics claiming its popular version of kabbalah — made famous by such high-profile devotees as Madonna — is a sham.

Critics fear the program — which was founded by Kabbalah Centre International co-founder and co-director Karen Berg, and whose president, Michal Berg, is a Kabbalah Centre official and Karen Berg’s daughter-in-law — promotes concepts that echo the Kabbalah Centre’s teachings. Core terms in the SFK curriculum are also found in kabbalah, such as sharing “the light,” defined by SFK as a force of goodness in all people.

SFK staff, however, claim the program is not religious in nature. “It’s an empowerment program,” said Wanda Webster, director of curriculum for SFK. “We come at it asking ‘What tools would help children in life?’ We teach resiliency, meaning it gives them the tools to deal with the problems and issues they’re facing every day in school, or at home — anywhere they’re interacting with people.”

Webster defines the “spiritual” aspect of the program as “our connection to ourselves and to each other.”

“We don’t touch upon ‘the right thing to do’ — we just don’t go there,” she said. “We never use language like, ‘that’s right, that’s wrong,’ or ‘that’s good, that’s bad.’ What we talk about is, if you make this choice, will that get you what you want?”

A 2008 study by the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, found that students enrolled in SFK classes in Florida showed improved communication, leadership and study skills and decreased attention problems and withdrawal.

Founded five years ago, SFK now operates in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, London and Panama City, as well as in Israel, Mexico and Malawi. The program has been criticized by top rabbis in London, but has garnered praise from educators who say it helps at-risk youth make positive choices for their futures.

Most of what the curriculum — the same at each school — teaches is “social competence skills,” such as self-esteem, self-control and sharing, said Jody Myers, professor of religious studies at California State University Northridge (CSUN) and author of “Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America” (Praeger, 2007), which includes a chapter on SFK.

The SFK concept of the “true voice” versus the “opponent” echoes the Jewish concept of yetzer hatov (the tendency to do good) versus yetzer hara (the tendency to do bad), but is expressed in non-religious language, she said.

“They don’t teach worship, they don’t teach rituals or talk about God,” Myers said. “If you look at religion as belief in a higher power, they don’t use that language. The curriculum deals with conscience and emotion and intuition, but it’s not religion.”

Among the themes SFK explores are the causes and effects of reactive behavior and the relationship between physical objects and “spiritual powers” — happiness, love and excitement. A major part of the curriculum is the promotion of “caring and sharing behavior” over selfishness, Webster said.

Physical activities and games are included in the weekly 90-minute classes, such as a human knot game to illustrate the idea that “what we do affects others,” Webster said. According to the program literature, students are taught “rules to the game of life” — short adages including, “Take care of others and your needs will be fulfilled,” and “Share and make room for all life’s blessings.”

SFK classes are offered at Kester Avenue and Riverside Drive Elementary schools in Sherman Oaks, Nestle Avenue Elementary School in Tarzana and Tulsa Street Elementary School in Granada Hills through E3, an after-school enrichment program that operates in nine LAUSD elementary schools.

Social awareness among children often suffers because of a gap in “life skills” education in public schools, E3 director Linda McManus said.

“We’re sensing that our kids need more,” McManus said. “They’re getting enrichment, but there wasn’t much addressing life skills at this age.”

In September, E3’s entire staff trained with a team from SFK in the program’s terms and principles. McManus said she hoped the training would help her employees with classroom management and discipline.

E3 offers parents and their children alternative programming during class times SFK is offered, for those who don’t want their children in the 10-week program, McManus added.

Many parents say the program is a boon to their children — or at least an acceptable pastime during the after-school hours.

Maria Tapia of Van Nuys said her daughter seems to enjoy SFK at Kester Avenue Elementary School, where the program is geared toward third- to fifth-graders. “She says she enjoys it. Sometimes I come to pick her up and she says she wants to stay more,” Tapia said of Jennifer, a fourth-grader.

Jennifer Bahat of Encino said both her children had already taken SFK classes at the Kabbalah Centre last year, and her daughter, Shani, 6, is now enrolled again in a course for first- and second-graders at Nestle Avenue Elementary School.

“I love the program,” Bahat said. “Kids learn a lot of useful things. It’s natural for kids to be selfish and only think about what they want. As parents, we’re always teaching them to think of other people. Here they learn to be more thoughtful and considerate.”

Bahat said she has also taken kabbalah classes through the Centre before, and believes spirituality is a beneficial part of childhood education. Since starting SFK classes, Shani has become more aware of the consequences of her actions, Bahat said.

SFK isn’t the first educational program with ties to a controversial religious organization to draw criticism locally. The New Village Leadership Academy in Calabasas, founded by actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith last year, generated buzz for its use of “Study Technology” developed by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. School publicists have said the facility does not teach Scientology.

An LAUSD spokeswoman said the school district contracts with several enrichment companies, some of which bring in programming with known religious affiliations.

“The Los Angeles Unified School District accepts and supports having programs such as Spirituality for Kids on LAUSD campuses,” said Sharon Thomas, assistant general counsel to the district, in a statement. The district must abide by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by maintaining “strict neutrality in religious matters,” she said, and any program is acceptable as long as it does not run afoul of that.

But some still question whether the Kabbalah Centre is a legitimate religious institution.

“The Kabbalah Centre is to true kabbalah what Jews for Jesus is to true Judaism,” said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder and director of the anti-missionary and anti-cult center Jews for Judaism. “It’s making it look like it’s Jewish, but it’s not.”

In general, kabbalah is viewed as too “weird” or “out-there” for most mainstream Jews, said Myers, the CSUN professor. But while the Kabbalah Centre’s brand might not hew to the holy tradition on which it is based, it has nevertheless become a ubiquitous part of the religious landscape.

“Little bits and pieces are coming into normative Judaism,” Myers said. “Kabbalah is out of the bag.”

02Max puts a youthful spin on the gym scene


At first glance, the brightly decorated warehouse-turned-gym space of O2Max Fitness in Santa Monica may seem like your conventional workout space, filled with typical cardio and core training apparatuses (think treadmills, balance balls and resistance bands). But it only takes a few steps upstairs to figure out that this is no ordinary gym.

The loft portion of the space is filled with couches, lounge-style furniture, magazines, a television and a computer workspace. The walls are brightly painted and decorated with inspirational quotes from a variety of notable people.

And then look closer: Everyone here seems young — really young. That’s because O2 Max is designed just for teens and college students.

Thinking of everything from one-on-one personal trainers to Princeton Review classes for college entrance exams, entrepreneur Karen Jashinsky has created a full teen hangout, where fitness is just one component.

“We are creating a venue that empowers teens,” said Jashinsky, a New Jersey yeshiva day school graduate who now lives in Los Angeles. “Obviously, fitness is an important part of what we doing — it’s a huge part of what we’re doing — but we’re also creating a social environment.”

Around 30 to 40 teens a month work out at O2Max, which opened last spring. Some kids pay by the day, others pay $80 a month for membership and some do volunteer work for the gym to pay for their workout time.

Jashinsky says that she got her inspiration to get into the teenage-fitness market after working as a personal trainer, which she felt was a fun way to earn money during graduate school at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

“When I started working as a personal trainer I had a few ideas of the fitness industry and then kind of decided to focus on teens because they weren’t being addressed,” she said. “It really evolved into this sort of cool fun social venue that [the teenagers] could come to after school to work out, hang out, meet friends from other schools, rent it out for parties, events, lectures and workshops.”

As a graduate of Frisch yeshiva in New Jersey, Jashinsky is also aware the students at Jewish schools might need an extra nudge when it comes to athletics and fitness.

Upon joining, teenagers are walked through an individual fitness test to assess their fitness capacity and are then given a food journal. After filling out the food journal for two days, students go over the journal with a licensed nutritionist, who gives them tips and pointers to make their meals more nutritionally valuable.

“Our goal is that by the time you graduate college you know how to eat properly, you know how to put an exercise program together,” Jashinsky said.

Seasonal programming can also help with motivation. O2Max is sponsoring the Fall Fitness Fusion starting Oct. 1, a six-week challenge in which students team up with an instructor and earn points for various exercises. The challenge is free to all teens, and the teams that knock out the most points win prizes.

But while exercise is associated with improved physical and mental health, there is a risk that comes with targeting a group that is already thought to be thoroughly overworked and overbooked.

“The issue is that it can’t be another part of the parental schedule,” said Dr. Ian Russ, a psychologist who works with adolescents. “If it’s the parents saying ‘you should go to the gym’ then you might get some exercise out of it, but nothing else. If it’s something kids can do freely and have their life, it sounds like a nice thing.”

O2Max has an interactive Web site with tips on how to eat right and how to exercise even if you can’t make it to the gym, and a blog that all people, not just O2Max members, can access. The Web site also provides a safe forum for kids across the nation to chat about whatever is on their mind. People leave posts, ask questions and respond to each other all within the confines of the Web site.

Such social interactions are part of what make 02 Max “not your parents gym,” as the advertising suggests.

“The way the fitness industry is evolving … [the gym] is becoming your home away from home,” Jashinsky said. “You have your work, you have your home, and you have your gym, and teens aren’t that different, they just don’t need a tanning room or a spa. They need a place to hang out and do their homework and get on the computer.”

O2MAX Fitness is located at 3026 Nebraska Ave. in Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 867-1650.

Street smarts safety program helps Orthodox kids combat abuse


Thirteen first-graders sit on the rug in their classroom at Shalhevet School, several with their hands raised. A guest speaker has just asked, “What would happen if you got lost at Toys ‘R’ Us? Who would be someone you could ask for help?”

“Someone who works there,” one of the children calls out.

“Good. And how would you know who works there?” the speaker responds, holding up a picture of a cashier wearing a blue vest.

The speaker, Marlene Kahan, is a volunteer who has come to present Safety Kid. The program — its full name is the Aleinu Julis Child Safety Program — was developed by the Aleinu Family Resource Center, the arm of Jewish Family Service that reaches out to the Orthodox community. Safety Kid’s goal is to teach day school children about safety issues — including sexual abuse — in a culturally sensitive manner.

Visual aides show boys and men wearing yarmulkes, as well as women in skirts and children walking to synagogue. Discussions about strangers who might come to the front door mention not only the UPS man, but “the man who comes to collect funds for Eretz Yisrael.” The instructional cards are currently being adapted for use in non-Orthodox Jewish day schools as well, and will likely be introduced this school year.

The Safety Kid program is the latest in a series of proactive programs Aleinu has developed over the past few years to protect children from abusive situations and to help parents and institutions know how to handle such crises when they come up.

While in the past abuse was not openly discussed in the Orthodox community, Aleinu has made it a priority to bring the problem to the forefront so that children, parents, teachers and rabbis can deal with it in an informed and intelligent manner. The Los Angeles agency has become a national leader in the Orthodox world in creating these programs and policies.

The urgency for such programs became apparent over the last several years, when incidents of sexual or emotional abuse in Orthodox schools, shuls and youth groups were described in articles in the Jewish press.

The number of incidents in the Orthodox community doesn’t exceed the national average, but within the past two years, there have been high-profile incidents in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Aleinu Director Debbie Fox, who developed Safety Kid with colleague Wendy Finn, says that the program was produced in response to such episodes.

“We wanted to do something to help by providing tools which could help prevent future occurrences,” Fox said.

More than five years ago, Fox began working with Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board to develop a conduct policy for school administrators and teachers. The policy stipulates appropriate and inappropriate behavior, both verbal and physical.

School personnel also receive training on how to spot and report signs of abuse. Since its introduction in 2002, the policy has been adopted by 28 Los Angeles-area schools. Torah U’mesorah, a national umbrella organization for Orthodox schools, adapted and adopted the policy for its 700 constituent schools.

But Fox wanted something specifically geared for the children — a way to give them tools to help prevent incidents. She first tried adapting material produced by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but found it didn’t resonate with Orthodox audiences.

When she shared her concerns, Aleinu board member Mitch Julis and his wife Joleen came forward with a grant to adapt the materials, and Safety Kid was born. The couple has since pledged funding for the next four years.

The program involves a 45-minute classroom presentation, given by a trained volunteer; a 10-minute video; and a take-home kit containing a coloring book, DVD, mouse pad and magnet. Prior to the student presentations, the school principal is introduced to the materials and a parent workshop is held.

Nettie Lerner was hired by Aleinu a year ago to bring the program to local schools.

“This is revolutionary in the Orthodox community,” she said. “Historically no one talked about abuse. Now we have a way to prevent [problems] and empower children.”

Safety Kid, named for a character on the DVD, teaches “The ABCs of Safety,” which include such strategies as asking for help in troubling or dangerous situations; bringing a friend when going places; checking with parents before changing agreed-upon plans; telling parents or other trusted adults when someone has done something to make them feel uncomfortable; and safely exploring the Internet.

Children are taught the difference between a surprise (something good that will eventually be revealed) and a secret (something that feels bad, that is not supposed to be shared). They are encouraged to yell “no,” run and tell a trusted adult if someone asks them to do something they shouldn’t. They learn the difference between “OK” touches and “not OK” touches.

Kahan, who addressed the Shalhevet first-graders, is one of 16 parent volunteers who travel to different schools to present Safety Kid. “I hope they learn to think before they act — to not be so impulsive,” says the mother of three. “Maybe you can save them from some situation.”

Organizers acknowledge the fine line between empowering and frightening. “We make sure not to scare the kids,” Lerner said. “We give them tips for safety and things to think about.”

Lerner said that every Orthodox school in Los Angeles received the presentation during the 2006-2007 school year. This school year, Safety Kid will be presented at Conservative and community day schools, using materials with modified graphics. Future plans include developing a pre-school program and one for older children.

The program has already attracted interest outside of Los Angeles. Fox has received inquiries from counterparts in Chicago, New York, Montreal, London, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle.

“The community has acknowledged the issues,” she said, “and we have provided a way that works to prevent problems and empower children.”

Family Safety Day will be held at Shalom Institute, September 8, 34342 Mullholland Highway, Malibu. For more information, call (818) 206-2222 or visit http://www.grodanlaw.com and click on seminars.

Tough neighborhoods, hard times feed cycle of poverty


How to choose an Israel summer program


Josh Ungar will never forget the first time he laid eyes on the Western Wall.

“It was right before Shabbos and [the tour leaders] led us to the Wall and had us close our eyes and then open them when we were right in front of the Kotel,” remembered Ungar, 16, of his experience with Ramah Israel Summer, which is affiliated with Camp Ramah. “It was an amazing feeling, after hearing and reading about this place for all this time and finally being there.”

After spending last summer touring Israel with his peers, the Playa del Rey resident feels a stronger connection to the country and his Jewish roots.

Ungar is not alone. The Jewish Agency of Israel reports that in 2006, 7,870 high school students participated in Israel programs. But while the decision to go may be an easy one, the process of selecting a program is not always so simple. Countless organizations offer a variety of different types of programs, making overwhelming the task of finding the right fit. So, how can a prospective traveler narrow down the options?

“First [interested teens] should think about their goals in going to Israel,” said Sara Polon of Tlalim Tours, a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates tours for the Passport to Israel summer program of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). “Are they looking for a religious experience, a more outdoorsy adventure, an educational experience or maybe a community service experience?”

Teens can also start with programs aligned with the branch of Judaism with which they affiliate. Another consideration is the amount of time the youngster is willing to spend on his journey, as the programs range from a quick 10-day excursion to six weeks or more.

Jewish youth movements like USY (United Synagogue Youth), BBYO, Young Judea, Habonim Dror, NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) offer a variety of programs that are often open to both members and nonmembers. In fact, 50 percent of BBYO’s Passport to Israel participants are not affiliated with the organization.

In general, these trips offer a combination of sightseeing, outdoor adventures, community service and Jewish education. But some of the youth movements also offer programs that emphasize just one of these aspects. USY offers Etgar! Outdoor Adventure Israel for teens who would like to spend the summer hiking and exploring the outdoors. Similarly, NCSY’s G.I.V.E. program focuses on community service.
In addition, some of the youth movement trips include Eastern Europe. Participants often visit concentration camps before making a pilgrimage to Israel.

The highlight of 16-year-old Daniella Kaufman’s NFTY trip last summer was a re-enactment of the liberation from Terezin, a Prague concentration camp, and then a cruise to Israel, mimicking the boat ride refugees took.

“We had a chance to arrive in Israel just as so many Jews did so long ago, and experience the feelings they felt when the port of Haifa, their gateway to freedom, came into view,” remembered the Valley Village resident.

For students in search of an academic experience, there are plenty of options. The Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, a five-week program for high school juniors, selects 26 applicants from diverse Jewish backgrounds to study Jewish texts and explore Israel.

InnovationIsrael is a four-week program in which students take courses at Tel Aviv University and visit environmental, high-tech, bio-tech, medical, art and film studio facilities. For those looking for religious academia, NCSY offers Kollel (for boys) and Michlelet (for girls). Both programs focus on Torah study. NCSY also offers “Shakespeare in Jerusalem,” an Israel experience coupled with an “on-the-road” English literature course.

Students who want to spend their summer doing community service can explore Sar-El (the National Project for Volunteers for Israel), an Israeli non-profit that offers adults and teens 17 and older the opportunity to work in Israeli army bases and hospitals. Camp Tawonga, a Jewish summer camp based in San Francisco, is offering a Teen Service Learning trip to Israel where participants will work four days a week with locals on important community projects.

While programs vary in cost, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) program offers financial aid for many teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 26 who have not yet visited Israel.

“We want to help every young person go to Israel for the first time,” said Deborah Dragon, The Federation’s vice president of public relations. ICE offers grants and scholarships with the help of more than 80 local Jewish agencies. The group funds 250 to 300 trips per year. The Jewish Free Loan Association, also a Federation agency, offers interest-free loans for Israel trips.

No matter which options young travelers choose it is clear that a summer in Israel makes a profound impact in the life of a Jewish teenager.

After her USY trip last summer, Daniela Bernstein, 16, of Los Angeles is already thinking about returning. “The trip cultivated my love of Israel and the complete realization of how crucial Israel is to Judaism and the Jewish people,” said Bernstein. “I am already planning my next visit.”

For information on financial aid and referrals for a variety of Israel programs, call The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) office at (323) 761-8342.

For information on Ramah Israel Seminar, visit www.ramah.org.il

For information on BBYO’s Israel programs, visit www.passport2israel.org

For information on USY’s programs, visit www.usy.org

For information on Young Judea, visit www.youngjudea.org

For information on Habonim Dror, visit www.habonimdror.org

For information on NFTY in Israel, visit www.nftyisrael.org

For information on NCSY’s summer programs, visit www.ncsysummer.com

For information on the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, visit www.bronfman.org

For information on InnovationIsrael, visit www.innovationisrael.org

For information on Sar-El, visit www.sar-el.org

For information on Camp Tawonga’s programs, visit www.tawonga.org

For information on the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE), visit www.jewishla.org/lajewishteen/html/iep.html

Peers give Orthodox teens lesson in drug use and abuse


“We were a group of kids who were dying inside, but we didn’t know it. We just thought we were a lost cause.”

With these words, Koby, a teenage yeshiva drug user, sets the level of earnestness and intensity on a new video that he and four of his friends produced under the auspices of Aleinu Family Resource Center, the Orthodox Davening Under the Influencearm of Jewish Family Service, an agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The video will be the centerpiece of “Davening Under the Influence,” a program of Aleinu workshops for parents and educators on Feb. 18 that will feature Dr. Joshua Lamm, medical director of an Orthodox adolescent addictions center in New York. The workshop will delve into parenting issues and is meant for all parents, not only parents of children who are already at risk.

Aleinu is focusing on drug use and high-risk behavior among teens this year through workshops and Shabbat of Awareness, which in the past has stirred community understanding on topics such as sexual abuse and Internet issues. Alcohol abuse also came up this year because of incidents involving 150 yeshiva kids who drank excessively this past Simchat Torah.

For many years, at-risk behavior and drug use among yeshiva high school students has been an open secret, but only in recent years have kids and their families had anywhere to turn.

While most of the efforts so far have focused on boys, the problem is prevalent among yeshiva girls as well.

Aish Tamid, an independent organization that runs classes, support services and social outlets for hundreds of teens, opened its doors about seven years ago under the leadership of Rabbi Avi Leibovic, an attorney and product of local yeshivas.

In the last few years, Aleinu has also ramped up its activity in this area. The organization holds seminars in local yeshiva high schools to talk to students and faculty about drug use. Fourteen middle and high schools have signed on to Aleinu’s mandatory drug policy, which outlines when and how yeshivas should refer a student for drug-use assessment, while remaining supportive and nonpunitive, and what paths of treatment, if any, might be recommended. Failure to comply with the recommendations — or distributing or selling drugs — could result in expulsion from school.

Last year, Aleinu started Issues Anonymous, where about 25 high school-age boys who have abused drugs or alcohol and are now committed to sobriety meet to support each other, hang out and work through the issues that led to their high-risk behavior.

As part of their healing process, the boys produced this video, which will be aired at the workshops Feb. 18 and will be available for other educational programs.

“This is not about placing blame…. This is about taking responsibility, to raise awareness in the Jewish community,” the boys begin in the video, each one adding another thought to the sentence. “We know that we can’t make this never happen again, but if we could just help prevent one beating, one less alcoholic binge, one more good day at school, one less drunk driver, one less overdose to prevent more cases of ending up here,” they say, as the scene flashes to a cemetery.

The video is dedicated to the memory of Yitzchak Meir Mermelstein, a young man who died of a drug overdose.

“What they are saying is see us, look at us, interact with us, care about us — see what it is like to be on the inside of us,” said Aleinu director Debbie Fox.

It is a video that every parent should see, because the issues the boys bring up are hauntingly universal.

One boy speaks of never feeling satisfied with what he had, though his parents gave him everything. Another talks of something as simple as not being able to keep up during davening, of always feeling different. School was never fun, one boy says.

A third says he had a vibrant and close-knit extended family, but his parents were clueless. And yet another talks of never getting along with his parents, while another says his father beat him.

With remarkable candor and self-awareness — and with the blessings of their parents — five boys share how and why they descended into drug abuse.

One boy shared shots with every cousin and uncle at his bar mitzvah.

A 9-year-old was handed a joint on Simchat Torah. Jewish summer camp was a good place for another boy to get hooked. Many of these kids have become sophisticated at “pharming,” scavenging prescription drugs at home and at friends’ homes. They talk of praying and studying Torah while high.

“We have a lot of alcohol out in the open in my house — vodka, whiskey and scotch — because my parents never thought that would be me. They trusted me,” one says.

They urge parents to be vigilant about their kids’ behavior — if they are sleeping too much, locking themselves in their rooms or experiencing mood swings. Always know with whom your kids are hanging out, they warn.

They urge parents to talk nicely to their kids, to have real conversations and to be proud of even small accomplishments. And they urge kids who are struggling not to push away the help.

They have some harsh words for teachers and rabbis, as well.

“The rabbis never noticed when you were depressed or on drugs or using or suicidal, but they noticed when you weren’t wearing a kippah. Rabbis can’t help me now,” one of the boys says.

Fox says the video is being released in two versions — one for parents and one for rabbis. The one for parents does not include some of the harshest indictments of the rabbis, because Fox wanted the rabbis to be open to receiving the message without feeling they were under public attack.

A group of Los Angeles rabbis was overwhelmingly receptive to the video when it was shown at a luncheon a few weeks ago.

A match made in D.C.?


One of the primary reasons many groups give for the limited availability of premarital counseling programming is the lack of available funding.

However, millions of dollars are spent every year in divorce proceedings, legal fees and mediation and, with that in mind, the federal government offers grants through the Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood program, established under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The initiative provides $100 million in grants for faith-based groups and individuals to administer programs that fall under at least one of the following eight categories:

  • Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and the skills needed to increase marital stability and health.
  • Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills and budgeting.
  • Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs — which may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict resolution and job and career advancement — for non-married pregnant women and non-married expectant fathers.
  • Premarital education and marriage skills for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage.
  • Marriage enhancement and marriage skills programs for married couples.
  • Divorce-reduction programs that teach relationship skills.
  • Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities.
  • Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described above.

In addition to information about the type of training an agency or synagogue intends to provide and their target audience, applicants must describe how issues of domestic violence will be addressed, and show that program participation is voluntary. The funding is available through 2010.

Many Jewish groups have yet to tap into these resources, because “they see it as a ‘Christian’ project” and might not agree with the government guidelines toward marriage and family, psychologist and author Dr. Joel Crohn said.

Those who oppose the federal grants argue that government-sponsored marriage promotion could encourage women to stay in abusive relationships by discouraging leaving a spouse in cases of domestic violence.

Proponents, however, say the programs can improve relationships by getting to the root of problems and encouraging couples to communicate, thereby reducing the incidence of domestic violence.

For more information, visit www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage/index.html

Educational programs help seniors fulfill postponed dreams


Retirement brings with it the promise of time to pursue interests and passions postponed due to work and family pressures. But many retirees discover that fulfilling a dream requires replacing the old work-a-day discipline with a new structure.

Regardless of age or physical condition, intellectually curious seniors have many opportunities in the Los Angeles area to participate in an educational program that fits their needs in an enriching, stimulating and affordable environment.

In the Los Angeles area, lifelong learning programs such as PLATO, SAGE and OASIS each provide a framework for mature men and women in search of new challenges and new friendships with like-minded people. These college-based programs vary widely in their approach, so selecting the organization best suited to your needs and aspirations is important.

PLATO Society

The PLATO Society of UCLA is the best known and most prestigious of learning programs for seniors in Los Angeles. PLATO, an acronym for Perpetual Learning and Teaching Organization, is an independent, self-financed program under the auspices of UCLA Extension.

Founded in 1980, PLATO has a membership of about 420 men and women, mostly in their 60s and 70s. Several members are significantly younger, like the woman who left PLATO to have a baby, while others are older, like Seba Kolb-Tomkins, who answered the mail for Eleanor Roosevelt’s syndicated “My Day” column.

PLATO is not a lecture series and features no instructors. Instead, the program offers what it calls “study/discussion groups,” or S/DGs, which deal with a wide range of subjects.

Each group generally features 14 participants, and a different member is responsible for making a presentation and leading the discussion during each weekly meeting. Among current PLATO members are former lawyers, doctors, teachers, professors, psychotherapists, journalists, business executives and artists, as well as a one-time ballerina and a flight attendant. Regardless how accomplished they were in their careers, “members leave their titles at the door” and are addressed by first names only.

The curriculum is planned by a coordinator and a co-coordinator — any PLATO member willing to devote the time and energy can become a coordinator — and the subjects are limited only by the members’ interests. Topics can range from astronomy to zoology.

Among the 26 different subjects currently offered are “A Matter of Opinion,” which examines the way the media influences national policies; “Middle East Quagmire: Part I — Zionist Thought”; “Shakespeare Then and Now,” comparing the original plays with their treatment in films and musicals; and “Natural-Born Killers,” which studies earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

PLATO follows the UCLA academic calendar, which is divided into three 14-week semesters. A new selection of S/DGs is offered each semester, although some of the more popular topics may occasionally be repeated. There are no formal requirements for membership in the PLATO Society beyond intellectual curiosity and a willingness to devote the time necessary for meaningful participation. Annual dues are $425, and members may audit UCLA classes with the permission of the instructor.

For many members, PLATO plays a very significant role in their lives. A retired advertising executive who lost his wife to cancer said that PLATO saved his life, and a former Philadelphia broadcaster said, “It provided access to like-minded people when we first arrived in L.A.”

Although not intended to be a social organization, PLATO has also helped a number of single and widowed members to establish new relationships.
In addition to the groups, the society offers a variety of special programs and benefits, such as monthly lectures from distinguished speakers such as LAPD Chief William Bratton; Frank McCourt, author of “Teacher Man” and “Angela’s Ashes,” and L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahoney.

An annual conference regularly addresses a topic of vital concern (this year PLATO is scheduled to examine the state of health care in America), and a special three-day retreat at an off-campus residential setting during spring break provides society members with an informal learning experience.

The PLATO Society is located at 1083 Gayley Ave., adjacent to the UCLA campus in Westwood. For more information, visit Online social scene clicks with younger set

Fran Rosenfield: All About the Children


Fran Rosenfield

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Fran Rosenfield answers the door of her Northridge home a few moments after the musical doorbell has cycled through its tune. This 79-year-old grandmother was slowed by a recent spinal injury that has rendered her dependent on a cane or walker to get around. But her passion for a cause she championed 15 years ago is going strong.

Inside, her dining room has been transformed into a makeshift shipping department. On the table are wrapped gifts stacked three- and four-boxes deep that are waiting to go to children who are autistic, chronically ill, poor, abused or neglected. Hundreds of gifts were picked up the previous week, and now this batch has to be cleared out to make room for more that will soon arrive.

Welcome to Fran’s Project.

“I do what I do because it’s what I have to do,” said Rosenfield, who is known as Bubbe Fran at Northridge’s Temple Ahavat Shalom. “I can’t stand the thought that anywhere there is a child who is hungry or doing without.”

Her inspiration for the project came from the Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker Program, which she helped a fellow congregant pitch to the Valley Interfaith Council in 1991.

“These caseworkers are overloaded, and they can’t keep track of everything,” she said.

Rosenfield started out collecting donations for one caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Service, and found she was so successful at motivating people to give that she adopted another caseworker a year later.

Before long the former personnel manager had adopted the entire North Hollywood office.

“You hear stories, like a mother and two kids who are living in a garage on $325 a month or a family whose gas was turned off,” she said. “How can you not want to help these people?”

For Rosenfield, the only December dilemma has been how to collect more gifts than the previous year. This former sisterhood president collected more than 1,000 gifts in 2005, which she donated to four different agencies, including Family Friends, a project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For 2006, she added Jay Nolan Autistic Services to her roster of groups that receive her gifts.

Every morning in the run-up to Christmas, Rosenfield gets on the computer and phone with her list of names and uses her “Jewish mother guilt like crazy, honey.”

The gifts donated to her program from synagogue members and others range in price from $20 to $100, and include toys, clothing, grocery scrip and gas cards. Rosenfield was hoping to break her 2005 record by collecting between 1,500 to 2,000 gifts to put under children’s trees.

Born in Minnesota, Rosenfield moved with her husband, Lenn, to Panorama City in 1950.

“We didn’t even have a phone for the first three years,” said her husband, a former advertising art director who designs the annual posters for Fran’s Project.

Rosenfield’s efforts reflect a family tradition of responding to a crisis. After Hitler came to power, her father rented a home in Minneapolis, declared it a synagogue and brought one or two family members over at a time to serve as its rabbi or cantor. Her father would then find work for the newly arrived relative and put in another request to fill the empty leadership position.

Building on her success with Fran’s Project, Rosenfield recently started a birthday twinning program at Temple Ahavat Shalom. A Hebrew school student is paired up with a child in need whose birthday is on or near the same day, and she provides them with a gift suggestion list.

“I tell them that there are kids who are not as lucky as they are whose parents can’t afford to give them birthday parties and gifts,” said Rosenfield, who serves as the synagogue’s social action chair.

While Rosenfield says she doesn’t know what drives her to do what she does, she counts herself as one of the luckiest people in the world.

“How many people can feel that they’ve made a difference in a child’s life, and then do that by thousands?” she said.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 23rd

How to make the holiday meaningful for the kids? Pick up a children’s book recommended by the Ratner Media and Technology Center at the Jewish Educational Center of Cleveland. Sylvia Epstein’s “How the Rosh Hashanah Challah Became Round” and Barbara Diamond Goldin’s “The World’s Birthday” are just two of many that make the list.

To view it in full, visit the Jewish Federation’s Web site, at ” width = 425 vspace = 6 alt=”YofiYah’s Kabbalah Kirtan”>

Jews looking for a spiritual soundtrack for their yoga practice may find it in YofiYah’s “Kabbalah Kirtan” CD. The musician and singer fuses Sikh musical traditions, known as Kirtan, with those of kabbalah. Listeners will hear the familiar words of Jewish prayers like “L’cha Dodi” and “Oseh Shalom,” set to perhaps less familiar Kirtan melodies or “two mystical traditions … united in ecstatic devotion.”

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.mtr.org.

Thursday the 28th

“Delirium” is the apposite title for Cirque du Soleil’s showcase of musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats and characters on a 130 foot, two-sided stage and 540 feet of projections (equivalent in width of almost four IMAX screens). Prepare yourself for sensory overload this evening, as JDate and the Museum of Tolerance sponsor their night of “Delirium,” which also includes the option of a preshow kosher buffet dinner and special reserve wine tasting, all benefiting the Museum of Tolerance.

6 p.m. (dinner and tasting), 8 p.m. (performance). $250 plus (show and VIP passes to the museum), $500 plus (dinner and tasting, show and VIP passes to the museum). Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2531.

” width = 425 alt=”Cirque du Soleil”>

Happy Birthday from Berlin


At precisely 8 a.m. one day last year, I was awakened by a phone call. When I picked up the receiver, I heard a man’s voice say “Happy Birthday from Berlin.”

Since I
knew no one there who could possibly know my birthday, I took it to be a practical joke. But it wasn’t. The caller was Ruediger Nemitz, an official of the Senate of the Federal State of Berlin calling to invite me to come “home” as a guest of my native city.

Along with some other German cities, Berlin, since 1969, has had a program to invite “former Berlin citizens who were persecuted or forced to emigrate during the National Socialist period.” By the time I received my call, more than 33,000 former Berliners had been invited, and now, finally, it was my turn. I left Berlin in 1933, when I was just 3 years old, and I have visited the city a number of times as an adult on business, but I had no memories of my life there. I accepted the invitation and considered it a wonderful birthday present.

When my wife and I reached the London airport en route to our Berlin flight last spring, we noticed a small cluster of people with luggage tags similar to ours.

“Those must be our people,” I said to my wife, and went over to introduce myself. They were, indeed, part of our group, and we quickly played “Jewish geography.” As it happened, one of the couples lived within a block of my first London home after leaving Germany, and another, now thoroughly British, knew Los Angeles well, having worked there on several movies, most notably the James Bond series.

We were all roughly the same age, and at least one member of each couple was a Berlin native. Our group of 84 came from nine countries, with the “U.S. delegation” numbering just eight. The largest group came from Israel, followed by Chile, Argentina, England, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Belgium.

Our common origin notwithstanding, we all had become totally assimilated into the countries in which we live, and we stuck together with those who spoke our language. Moreover, I found it remarkable that we all got along well, and that there was not a single “kvetch” among us.

Yet we all came to Germany with our own “baggage.” Some knew the country from previous visits or military duty and felt no animosity toward the present generation of Germans. Others, a number of whom had lost family members or experienced Nazi atrocities themselves, were still bitter and unforgiving. Still others had lived a life of denial in their new homelands and didn’t want to admit their origins, even to themselves.

Our program included several receptions with speeches by senior government officials — all women. They expressed their gratitude that we returned to a city from which, as Mayor Karin Schubert put it, “you were driven away … exposed to profound hostility … humiliated, excluded and persecuted.”

One speaker characterized the Berlin Jewish community as “a piece of the mosaic that makes up our history” and emphasized the importance to the city of today’s Jewish community, which numbers approximately 30,000. Schubert also said that the city goes to great lengths to promote integration among various groups, including the Muslim community.

“We made mistakes in the past,” she said, “believing that different cultures can live peacefully in parallel. We have learned that integration is essential!”

Nevertheless, I found it quite remarkable that today’s Berlin contains so many reminders of the Nazi regime. Among them a billboard in front of a railway station listing the names of concentration camps to which Berlin’s Jews were deported, and so-called “Stolpersteine” (copper memorials in the shape of cobblestones) embedded in the sidewalk in front of the former homes of many Nazi victims. Our tours included these and many other important landmarks of “Jewish Berlin.”

My most indelible memories, however, are focused on three extraordinary experiences.

Visit With a German Family

We spent one afternoon with a German family, Cato and Annette Dill, two young lawyers who live in a delightful home in a Berlin suburb with their two children — their daughter, Benita, 18, and son, Dario, 14. All speak English well and have traveled widely.

Cato, 49, is treasurer of the Liebermann Society, which operates the country mansion of the German Jewish expressionist painter, Max Liebermann. Together we visited this spectacular home, filled with the artist’s paintings and located on the shores of Lake Wannsee — not far from where the site of the infamous conference where the “The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” was planned.

The mansion and its gardens have been beautifully restored and only recently opened to the public. Our time together ended at the Dill home, where we got an insight, if ever so brief, into a sophisticated young German family whose interests and values were similar to ours and far removed from the Germany of the Third Reich.

Shabbat Dinner

By sheer coincidence, the daughter-in-law of my oldest friend was in Berlin on business during our stay. Leah Salter is an observant woman who lives with her family in Alon Shvut, an Orthodox community in Israel. We arranged to meet her for Shabbat dinner at the glatt kosher restaurant Gabriel, located in the Jewish Community Center on Fasanenstrasse. The center occupies the lot on which Berlin’s largest synagogue stood prior to its destruction on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938. Of that synagogue only a portion of the entrance arch remains and now frames the entrance to the center.

Leah and my wife, Barbara, began the evening by lighting and blessing the Sabbath candles, and we continued with my celebrating Kiddush. The restaurant has only about a dozen tables, and each was set in Sabbath finery, with starched white table linen. As the evening progressed, other family groups arrived, and the head of each household celebrated Kiddush at his table. Judging by the melodies they chanted, they were most likely from Eastern Europe.

The menu was traditional Eastern European: chicken soup, chopped liver, chicken and so on. But that was the least important element of the evening. I was deeply touched by the spirit of Shabbat, which was palpable, and the realization that here we were, all survivors, celebrating “Shabbos” on the very spot the Nazis had chosen to eliminate us. What a demonstration of “Am Yisrael Chai!” (the people of Israel live.)

Jewish Resistance Fighters

The final day of our tour began with a visit to Weissensee Cemetery. Since I believed I had no family members buried there, I remained near the entrance and admired some of the monuments to holocaust victims and Berlin’s Jewish aristocracy.

My lonesome vigil was soon interrupted by one of our guides, Caroline Naumann, a young woman active in Berlin’s nascent Jewish community, who approached me saying “Come, I want to show you something.” She led me a short distance to a memorial honoring about two-dozen young German Jewish men and women in their 20s who rose up against the Nazis during the war. They were members of a movement similar to the “White Rose” student uprising and, tragically, all were shot.

Among this small group, were three who bore my family name of Rothholz. Although I have no idea whether they were relatives or not, they made me feel very proud.

Some Final Thoughts

At our farewell reception in the ballroom of the Jewish Community Center, Dr. Otto Lampe, director of the “homecoming” program, promised to do everything in his power “to keep alive the memory of the Nazi terror and to pass it on to future generations.”

Dr. Gideon Jaffe, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany suggested that “we Jews are a warning system, because we are often the first victims of crimes, but usually not the only ones.” He concluded by saying “I hope you have convinced yourselves that Germany has changed a lot, and changed for the better.”

I, for one, left Berlin convinced.

Peter Rothholz, who headed his own Manhattan-based public relations agency, now lives in Santa Monica and East Hampton, NY and is a frequent contributor to Jewish publications.

God Was With Us That Night in the Negev


Our bus driver Boris had been navigating the roads of the Negev for at least an hour when the whole bus suddenly shook, rattled and rolled. As we gazed out the window, we saw that Boris had left the road. All we saw was rock, dust and a little more rock. It took about two more hours of off-road driving for us to reach our destination for the night.

I stepped off the bus and asked our counselor, “Where is the bathroom?”
“Follow me and I will demonstrate,” she said. “Girls to those rocks on the left, boys to the right.” Enough said.

I had just arrived in Israel that week for a four-week tour with 34 other California teens in Group Three of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) summer Israel program. And we were about to spend three nights in the middle of the Negev Desert with nothing but food and sleeping bags — definitely a sight to see.

Not only did we do it, but so did 12 other NFTY groups in Israel this summer, and we would soon find out that the experience of sleeping on our ancestors’ land would set the tone for our whole trip.

We unloaded the materials from the bus including dishes, food supplies, sleeping bags and our own personal bags. Once dinner was made and served, our group began to gather for Maariv, the evening prayer service.

This was by far the most spiritual moment in my life. I gazed up at the stars as I chanted the V’Ahavta prayer with amazing new friends, standing around the same rocks that our people had wandered past thousands of years before. My eyes couldn’t help but tear up as we moved on to the Mi Chamocha, the song of freedom. At that moment I felt as though God truly was with us.

We ended the night with our usual closing circle, where we sang Hashkiveinu and the Shema, with the words: “Keep us safe throughout the night, until we wake with morning’s light.” But that night, I felt as though we didn’t even need to ask for safety, that this ground and these mountains would keep us safe.

As morning woke us with its light, we found ourselves at the beginning of a long day of hiking in the Negev and then swimming in Eilat.

On our last day camping out, Boris took us to a Bedouin tent. We were warmly welcomed and introduced to the interesting Bedouin culture. We experienced their music, cultural food and hospitality — especially when they invited us to use the tent’s bathrooms, equipped with actual showers. I would have to say that the next task might have been even harder then the previous day’s four-hour hike. This was the situation: four showers, 20 girls, 30 minutes.

That night I was in a Bedouin tent celebrating Shabbat like I never had done before. This was our third and final night sleeping on the ground of the Negev, so we were both excited and upset.

The next day we arrived at Kibbutz Yahel near Eilat. Our tour guide, Sivan, took us on a very short hike on the outskirts of the Kibbutz. As we all sat in a circle in the middle of two mountains — a lot like our accommodations for the past three nights — Ellie Klein, our madrich, shared some words that I will never forget. She told us that by successfully making it through this Negev experience, whether we knew it our not, we had already changed and grown.

This campout was our chance to be with the land of Israel, nothing else. Just the land with all of its components. Through the tasks that we had completed and the experiences we had, we had assured ourselves that we could do it again.

Ellie asked us to grab a rock and gather them all in a pile in the center of our circle. I found a rock and felt the firmness of it and dropped it in the center, feeling as though I had just left a piece of myself in the desert. Not only a piece of myself, but a newly grown, solid and firm me. The words she said about us and the natural land still echoes in my mind because I really felt that for those few days, I was at my true quintessential state — and so was the Land of Israel.

We left the rocks in a clump on the ground as we made our way back to Kibbutz Yahel. This experience was the start of a treasured summer traveling with the most incredible people. I was finding my true Jewish identity not only among the historical sights, but among the millions of rocks that make up Eretz Yisrael.

Daniella Kaufman is an 11th grader at New Community Jewish High School.

After School Is Prime Game Time for Kids of All Needs


Kathryn Gaskin’s blonde braid bounces against her sweatshirt as she rounds second base under the afternoon sun. The 12-year-old’s obvious enthusiasm is not for her own athletic pursuits but for those of Angeline, a teen with Down syndrome, whom Gaskin coaches in an after-school program called Prime Time Games.

When the batter hits a grounder, Gaskin gently prompts a beaming Angeline to run. The excited youngster, clad in pink sweats and a T-shirt, jogs down the softball field and plants herself firmly on third base. She looks back at Gaskin, who claps and whoops. The two share a smile.

“I wanted to be a coach because I like sports,” said Gaskin of her involvement with the Prime Time Games program.

The Pacific Palisades resident initially took on the responsibly to fulfill an outreach requirement for her bat mitzvah last spring. The experience has satisfied more than a ceremonial obligation.

“I feel good because I’m helping other people,” Gaskin said.

Gaskin is among a group of preteens and teenagers who serve as peer sports coaches for Prime Time Games, a program of the Los Angeles-based Team Prime Time. Most of the coaches are at-risk children from low-income areas of the city, taking part in Team Prime Time’s intervention programs that combine academics, athletics and leadership training. Prime Time Games was created a year ago to include students with special needs. While the athletes clearly get a chance to shine in group sports, the young coaches thrive, as well.

“The coaches are truly responsible — with the knowledge that adults are there to support them — for the total experience of another child, and they are treated with respect and acknowledged for what they accomplish,” said executive director Peter Straus. “We have yet to figure out who benefits more, coach or athlete.”

While the majority of Prime Time Games coaches are at-risk kids from the Daniel Webster Middle School in West Los Angeles, a Title I school where the weekly after-school program is held, a small percentage are Jewish children fulfilling the community service portion of their bar and bat mitzvah requirements. The respectful interaction between the athletes and coaches is also reflected in the interaction between the Webster students and their Jewish co-coaches.

Straus, a veteran teacher and sports coach at various L.A. schools, also runs a summer camp called Prime Time Sports Camp. He noticed the void in after-school programs for at-risk kids at the middle school level and in 2001 created Team Prime Time to do something about it.

“The emphasis is not on the outcome of the games,” said Straus, adding that no one keeps score. “It’s the interaction of the kids. They bring out the best in each other.”

Prime Time Games began attracting the pre-bar mitzvah crowd as Jewish kids filtered through Straus’ summer camp. Other coaches discovered the program because of their siblings’ participation.

Adam Sperber-Compean, who will become a bar mitzvah in September, learned about the program when his autistic brother became involved. “I’m here for him, and he listens to me,” said Adam, on coaching his younger sibling.

Some of the coaches know one another from Straus’ summer camp and others attend the same school. Straus attempts to pair together coaches with these commonalities. When that’s not possible, Straus is optimistic.

“With the focus being on sports and the kids you’re helping, it breaks down barriers pretty quickly,” he said.

When the program resumes in October, coaches and athletes will meet one afternoon a week at Webster School. The coaches will attend a training program, where they will learn about working with special-needs children.

Mady Goldberg’s daughter, Elena, an 8-year-old with motor and processing issues, has blossomed in the program.

“She loves it,” said Goldberg, a Pacific Palisades resident. “She’s had the opportunity to play team sports, and in any typical scenario, that would be difficult for her.”

Goldberg said that practicing her skills in a supportive environment has helped Elena progress physically. In addition, she developed a close bond with her two coaches. As a result, Elena’s self-esteem has soared.

Jonah Gadinsky, 12, who has volunteered since December, vows to continue coaching after his bar mitzvah in November. “I definitely see how lucky I am do to be able to do the things that others can’t do,” said Jonah, a Westwood resident who is starting seventh grade.

After working almost exclusively with Bobby, a budding basketball player, Jonah is hooked.

“I feel really good for kids when they make a basket, just seeing their faces light up,” said the young coach.

Prime Time Games will resume in October.

Don’t Let Affirmative Action Fade


Louisville, Ky., is a city divided between white and black, rich and poor; between the West End of town, where blacks live in camelback shotgun shacks and the East
End, with its leafy neighborhoods of white gentility.

But after decades of court-ordered school integration, Louisville’s Jefferson County Board of Education has one of the most successful voluntary desegregation programs in the country. Schoolchildren take the bus from one end of the city to the other to maintain a broad racial balance, attending schools in both the inner city (black) and the outer suburbs (white).

Two years ago, Crystal D. Meredith, a white mother, sued the school board after her son was refused admittance to his neighborhood school because of his race. The board argued in court that his attendance would have tipped the school’s racial balance, and won. But after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts decision in favor of the board, Meredith’s lawyer, Teddy B. Gordon, a self-made civil rights attorney and a Jewish liberal, believed the new conservative Supreme Court would hear the case, and he was right: After prolonged review, the case is on the Supreme Court docket for December.

The Louisville case may seem far away and far removed, but the outcome will impact hundreds of public school districts in the country if it turns back the clock on voluntary desegregation programs.

For instance, as part of a court-ordered voluntary desegregation plan in 1981, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) created its popular magnet programs, using race as one of the determining factors for school assignments. In a city rife with racial tensions, the LAUSD’s aim was for a more diverse student body.

If the Louisville school board fails to win its argument before the Supreme Court, these popular LAUSD programs will be in jeopardy. Magnet assignments, based on points that use race to achieve ethnic balance, would be invalidated by this ruling. Permits With Transportation (PWT), another LAUSD program, which buses minority students, whose resident schools are highly segregated, to more integrated schools outside their neighborhoods, would probably cease to exist.

Why is the Louisville case so important? Why should we, as Jews, care about its outcome, especially if our children may not even attend public schools? Is affirmative action even relevant in 2006, in our schools, in our world? What are the benefits of diversity in education anyway?

To answer these questions, one first needs to look at the repercussions of the decision by the Supreme Court in Dowell v. Oklahoma City in 1991 that ordered a return to neighborhood schools and an end to court-ordered desegregation, replaced by voluntary desegregation plans — such as the one Louisville developed.

For many in fiercely segregated and poor areas, the return to neighborhood schools meant a return to the segregated classrooms of the past. According to Jonathan Kozol in “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America” (Crown, 2005), inner-city schools are now experiencing levels of segregation that haven’t been seen since 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education declared segregation unlawful.

A look at the 2005-2006 statistics from a few of LAUSD’s urban schools tell the story: Jefferson Continuing High School: 91 percent Latino, 9 percent black, no white students; Fremont High School, 91 percent Latino, 9 percent black, one white student; Locke High School; 65 percent Latino, 35 percent black, .1 percent white; King/Drew Magnet: 67 percent black, 31 percent Latino, .5 percent white; Crenshaw High School: 65 percent black, 35 percent Latino, .1 percent white; Garfield High School: 99 percent Latino, .2 percent black, .2 percent white.

If one looks, it’s not too hard to see the connection between the resegregation of our urban classrooms to the numbers of minorities admitted to our public colleges. Prop 209, the California voter-initiative passed in 1996, that banned consideration of race and gender in admissions to public colleges and hiring, has only added to the problem.

In June, the Los Angeles Times reported a “startling statistic” — that out of 4,800 incoming freshman at UCLA, only 96 were African American, the lowest level of black student enrollment in three decades. Students, professors and administrators mutually blame the school’s admission process and the passage of Prop 209 for the falling numbers of black students — a number that has been slipping for a decade.

If prospective black students were to visit the Westwood campus today expecting to see a reflection of its big-city surroundings, they would be sorely disappointed. The same goes for other UC campuses: UC San Diego counts 52 incoming African Americans this fall; UC Berkeley, 140; UC Merced, 33.

How does a return to segregated LAUSD classrooms and the end of affirmative action at the UC schools reflect upon Jewish concerns? Do we read these statistics and shrug our shoulders? Do we accept a de facto, “separate but equal,” for blacks and Latinos in our public schools and colleges?

Jews have always invested themselves in the fight for fairness and equality in the realm of public school education. After World War II, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith waged campaigns against discrimination in schools and the workplace.

In the late 1940s, Jewish activist Esther Swirk Brown initiated the case that eventually landed in the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

That 1954 landmark ruling declared that “separate but equal” has no place in the field of public school education, and is “inherently unequal.”

In 2003, the Supreme Court returned to Brown v. Board of Education when it upheld affirmative action in higher education at the University of Michigan’s law school. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reflected upon the enduring impact of Brown in America, and expressed the hope that improvements in lower levels of education would make such policies unnecessary in 25 years. Speaking for the majority opinion, she wrote:

“This court has recognized that education … is the very foundation of good citizenship. (Brown v. Board of Education). Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized…. The skills needed in today’s increasingly global market place can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.”

For all these reasons — good citizenship, an appreciation of different cultural values, preparation for the future — our children benefit most when they participate in a diverse society. As fully functioning citizens they must learn to sit down and talk to others to appreciate cultural differences.

Without exposure to different viewpoints, races and values, our children will be stuck with their heads in the sand, with impenetrable dunes forming on their backs. A diverse student body is necessary in assuring that all children have equal opportunities, which should be as important to Jews as to any other minority.

In December, the Supreme Court will decide if the same principles for higher education apply to public schools.

Does “race” still matter?

Although Louisville’s desegregation plan may be flawed, as attorney Gordon will try to argue, an end of affirmative action and a return to segregated schools, as we are witnessing in the LAUSD and on the UC campuses, doesn’t bode well for anyone. Affirmative action is not only for the benefit of minorities, but for the benefit of all our children as well.


Charlotte Hildebrand is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles.

Education Giant Simha Lainer, 100


Simha Lainer
Simha Lainer, a diminutive centenarian who cut a towering figure in Jewish education in Los Angeles, died Tuesday, Aug. 8. He was 100.

“He was a giant,” said Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) Executive Director Gil Graff. “What he did was singularly remarkable: he established scholarships for children to attend Jewish schools, he created a program fund to recognize excellence in Jewish education. The Bureau of Jewish Education sits on the Sara and Simha Lainer floor of the Jewish Federation building, and it couldn’t be more fitting than that. Everything you envision in Jewish education, this is what Sara and Simha Lainer were all about.”

Lainer was born in Ukraine in the town of Bar in 1906. He moved from Ukraine to Palestine in 1925, then to South America and to Mexico until settling in Los Angeles with his wife Sara and three children in 1951.

In Los Angeles, Lainer founded Lainer Development, specializing in industrial warehouse type properties in the San Fernando Valley. Lainer’s sons Mark, Nahum and Luis joined him in business.

“Simha once told me his three rules for business success,” Graff recounted. “His first rule was, ‘Treat your workers like family.'”

From establishing funds through the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles to starting the Simha and Sara Lainer Fund for Jewish Education through the BJE of Greater Los Angeles to supporting Israel, Lainer and Sara were key supporters of the Jewish community.

The Simha and Sara Lainer Fund for Jewish Education, which Simha and Sara Lainer established in 1989, has awarded close to $1 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 children at 37 Jewish day schools of all denominations across the city.

“When you do something for Jewish life, you do it for the good of the Jewish people,” Lainer told The Journal in a 2003 interview. “For 3,000 years the Jews have lived. Other people have disappeared in that 3,000 years, but we Jews have continued to survive primarily because of Jewish education. We need to continue our existence. Not that many Jewish families understand that Jewish education is critical for the continued existence of the Jewish people.”

Lainer is survived by his sons, Mark, Nahum and Luis; daughters-in-law, Ellie, Alice and Lee; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 3 at 2 p.m. at Mt. Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match


Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.

Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.

The center’s goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

“If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving,” said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. “One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to.”

His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.

The approach seems to be working.

Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union.
“CEJP is revolutionary,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.

“What it is doing,” she said, “is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, ‘What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what’s the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'”

“There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they’re capable of giving,” said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal.”

Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.

“Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward,” said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.

“We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future.”

The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.

Hyman likens the philanthropists “to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists.”

Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.

However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.

“What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people’s philanthropy,” she said. “We don’t provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have.”

Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world – among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.

The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group’s advice is objective.

“We felt that he could offer us something that we needed” because Hyman is “not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel,” said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.

Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.

Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he’s donated a “substantial” amount of money to Israel-related organizations – certainly more than he’d have given had he never met Hyman.

He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.

According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman’s center reflects that trend.

“I think we’re going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it,” he said. “This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy.”

Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.

“It’s hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there,” he said. “Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it’s hard to know what would have happened had it not been there.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman’s efforts, but after he demonstrated that “he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder.”

“I think it’s very significant,” Greenberg said of Hyman’s approach. “My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future.”

Israelis Bring Situation Close to Home for Campers


When news of Israel filters through to Camp Hess Kramer, the kids do what is only natural — they turn to the Israelis who are spending the summer with them to make sense of what they’re hearing, and to bring it home in a way that is intensely personal.

“Because my campers know actual Israelis, they can make that connection in a way that they can’t by just reading a news story or going through an intellectual exercise,” said Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Camps, which includes Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop, both in Malibu.

Like most camps, Hess Kramer, has a staff of Israelis who work as counselors and educators. This summer, 1,400 Israelis, most of them between the ages of 19 and 22, are staffing 200 Jewish day and sleep-away camps, according the Jewish Agency, which coordinates the stays.


Some Counselors Return to Israel

While no Israeli staffers have been called to active duty while already here for the summer, several who were close friends or family members of bombing victims went back to Israel.

In a normal summer, the Israeli staff’s mission is to bring Israel closer to the kids, and that has become more powerful this summer, as rockets rain down on Haifa in Israel’s north and pound Sderot in the south.

The Jewish Agency has been offering the shlichim, or Israel emissaries, programming ideas to help the kids understand the situation, and camps have modified and developed their own programs.

At Hess Kramer, kids took the opportunity to learn about the wider conflict in Israel and engage in informal conversations with Israeli staffers. At Camp Ramah in Ojai and at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, campers recited psalms and wrote letters to Israeli children in areas that were being attacked, an effort coordinated by The Jewish Federation. Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss will deliver the letters in Israel this week.

Younger campers can use the opportunity to talk about emergency preparedness, and in that way relate to Israeli children in bomb shelters, said Ariella Feldman, who coordinates Israeli volunteers for the Jewish Agency. Older children can dissect the intricacies of conflict resolution, on a personal level and on a magnified national level.


Anxiety Affects Campers, Too

But beyond these formal opportunities, it is simply feeling the anxiety and commitment of the young Israelis in camp that is affecting the campers.
At Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, the assistant director is from Haifa, and his mother flew in for the summer to be camp mom. The program director, a fighter pilot in the Israeli army, was supposed to arrive this week but was called up for duty. The camp has about 20 Israelis, including staff and some children.
The camps are all focused on providing comfort and support to the Israelis who are summering with them. Many are young and fresh off — or in the middle of — their own military duty, and have friends and siblings being called up to fight. Most know they will likely be called up when they get back to Israel.

Camps, normally stingy on allowing phone calls and access to electronic media, have allowed Israelis constant access to news and phone calls to Israel. Some camps have purchased phone cards for their Israeli staff.

Still, the Israeli counselors feel torn about where they are.

“Their families are under house arrest, they are stocking up on food, they are under attack — and they are here at camp,” said Feldman of the Jewish Agency.
Aside from the moral support they are getting from American campers, what is helping the Israelis is that this summer, the mission to educate and to personally touch American kids is even more vital.

“They are vacillating between feeling guilty about being here, and really understanding on a deep level why they are here,” Lynn said. “They are making these connections with Reform Jewish kids in a way that cannot be done unless they are here, so they are recognizing that at times likes these, their job here is even more important.”

Summer Tours to Israel Rerouted, But Not By Much


Most summers, the trip to the Naot Sandal factory on a kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border is a highlight of the teen tours run by United Synagogue Youth (USY). But this summer, with the north under constant threat of rocket attacks, the 400 USYers stayed in the central and southern part of the country, and Naot came to them, with a special sale near USY’s base in Jerusalem.

That was one of the easier adjustments to a constantly changing itinerary for USY kids and the other estimated 6,000 American teens on tours in Israel this summer.

“All of us that have kids in Israel are trying to make the best of the situation,” said Jules Gutin, international director for USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, which has about 50 California teens in Israel this summer. “We want the experience to be worthwhile and positive, as well as safe.”

So while kids may be missing out on trips to the Golan Heights, to the kabbalistic city of Tsfat, the Banias natural pools or Maimonides’ grave in Tiveria, tours are making up for it with extra time in Jerusalem and challenging hikes through the Negev.

Few Kids Have Returned Home

Most tours departed the United States before the violence escalated in Israel, and most of the teens have stayed. USY reports that as of early this week, three kids went home, and Young Judaea has a similar count, with six kids out of 470 being summoned home. Three of the 390 students on NCSY’s Europe and Israel trip did not continue on from Europe to Israel.

The Orthodox Union canceled a trip scheduled to leave this week with its Yad b’Yad program, where 15 developmentally and physically disabled adults were to be accompanied by 35 teenage counselors on a four-week tour of Israel.

Administrators worried about heightening participants’ anxiety, and about difficulties rerouting the group, or moving it quickly in case of emergency. The day before the trip, it was recast as a West Coast tour.

Israel Experience, the educational tourism arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, coordinates programming and security for most of the trips that leave from North America.

“Trips are being rerouted based on the current situation, and it’s an hour-by-hour reevaluation,” said Rachel Russo, director of marketing for Israel Experience.

IDF, Police, Jewish Agency Monitor Tourist Itineraries

Israel Experience adjusts the groups’ schedules according to recommendations it gets from a situation room staffed by representatives from the Israeli army, the Israeli police, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish Agency. Each teen tour group that signs up with Israel Experience — and most do — is tracked by GPS.

“They are really fluid in moving the groups when they need to move,” said Russo, whose daughter is in Israel with Ramah Seminar this summer.

Program operators have also been working overtime to keep in constant communication with parents. Young Judaea is sending out three email updates daily, in addition to photos and journals on its Web site. USY increased updates from the usual weekly to daily, and someone is available to answer parents concerns at all times.

Most teens also have cell phones with them, so parents are kept in the loop. So far, while parents have expressed concern, few are panicking. And by all reports, the kids themselves seem to be having a great time.

Bonnie Sharfman, whose 16-year-old, Zach, is on a trip with Nesiya, says she hopes the visit will have a lasting impact.

“We are choosing to look at this situation as an amazing learning experience for Zach and hope that he will return home in a month with much to say regarding the social, political and economic realities of Israel and the region,” she said.

— JGF

Let There Be Yiddish


“Gut Shabbes.” Synagogue vice president Donna Groman stands at the door, warmly greeting each guest. Inside, a samovar sits on a white-clothed table alongside temptingly arranged platters of homemade kugel and apple cake for the oneg.

Tonight is a Yiddish service, Zol Zahn Shabbes — literally, we should have Shabbat — and it’s happening at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), founded in 1972 as the world’s first synagogue for lesbian and gay Jews.

It’s a meeting of two seemingly incongruous worlds — an almost extinct 1,000-year-old Eastern European language and culture and a progressive and now well-established congregation of 180 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual families. And the Pico Boulevard synagogue is expecting a big crowd.

The sanctuary begins to fill. The congregants, young and old, male and female, are respectfully but comfortably attired. Many hug or kiss as they claim their chairs. All have varying allegiances to Yiddish.

Member Rebecca Weinreich, with daughters Shoshanah, 8, and Ashira, 4, is a celebrity this evening. Her grandfather, scholar Max Weinreich, founded the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilna, Poland, in 1925. Escaping from the Nazis in 1940, he re-established it in Manhattan.

“Do you speak Yiddish?” I ask Weinreich.

“Not in public. The expectations because of my name are too high,” she says.

“Shalom Aleycheim.” The lights dim as cantorial soloist Fran Magid Chalin welcomes everyone.

I peruse the 17-page booklet, which includes the evening’s program, a history of the Yiddish language and links to Yiddish resources. Even a nar (fool) could realize that this evening’s agenda is not just a kitschy visit to the alte velt (Old World).

Immediately the chorus begins singing, “O, Vee Gut un Vee Voyl Iz,” a Yiddish version of “Hiney Ma Tov.” They segue seamlessly into “Meer Viln Ale Nor Sholem,” which is “Heveynu Shalom Aleycheim.” People are clapping and singing along.

More people enter, and I count more than 100 guests.

After a break to greet one another, Chalin says, “Yiddish is the language that childproofed what parents said.”

Chalin herself studied German and, in her early 20s, sang in a Yiddish adult choir in Philadelphia. There, singing songs about the early labor movement, she felt electric, establishing a deep bond with the language. Later, after graduate school, she enrolled in a two-month Yiddish immersion class at Columbia University in New York.

“Many of us have this romantic relationship with Yiddish. It speaks to us about a time gone by,” she says. But she cautions that we can’t have a relationship if we relegate it to little pockets or little sayings.

The songs that Chalin has chosen for the choir quickly dispel any sense of romanticism. “Un Du Akerst, Un Du Zeyst” (“And You Plow and You Sow”), written in 1864 for the German Workingman’s Federation, taunts workers for how little they have to show for all their hard work. Others were written during the Shoah, giving comfort to the Jews in the same ways the Negro spirituals sustained the slaves.

Chalin introduces Lilke Majzner, Yiddishist and president of Los Angeles’ Yiddish Culture Club, founded in 1926. A native of Lodz, Poland, and a survivor of seven concentration camps, Majzner came to the United States in 1950 at age 17.

“I came without any script,” she says in a booming, confident voice. “I came to talk to you in English about Yiddish. That’s silly. That’s very silly.”

People laugh. But it’s clear that this diminutive figure, 84, professionally dressed in a beige suit and sensible shoes, isn’t here to entertain us.

She proves that further by reading a poem by Yiddish writer Malka Tussman. It begins, “You have a Jewish mouth, so speak Yiddish.” It ends, “Let there be Yiddish. That’s how I talk.”

How Majzner talks is even more emphatic: “I am shouting into your Jewish ears. Let there be Yiddish.”

And shouting she is. She educates us about the 1,000-year history of Yiddish — a history not just of words, of grammar and of curses but also of political parties, of freedom and of going on strike for Jewish and human rights.

And she exhorts us — passionately and convincingly — to take up the banner of her legacy, to learn Yiddish to make up for the 3.5 million Yiddish-speaking Jews who were murdered in the Shoah and to build a better world.

“And when you don’t feel the heaviness of the legacy, I will put some rocks in it,” she says.

She receives a standing ovation.

After services, a crowd gathers around Majzner, some speaking Yiddish.

I talk to Davi Cheng, a Chinese American Jew-by-choice. She grimaces as she describes the frustration of mastering the guttural sounds of Yiddish.

“There’s no ‘ch’ sound in Chinese,” she explains.

I also sit briefly with Chalin who tells me how, in her experience, she finds a disproportionate number of gays and lesbians studying Yiddish.

“In my classes at Columbia, we talked about how Yiddish doesn’t have a country and how often the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] community feels like a people without a country,” she says.

Chalin thinks many of those who desire to speak Yiddish fluently, like gays and lesbians, long for the notion of a secure community.

At evening’s end, as people leave, I notice the samovar is empty and the apple cake and kugel gone.

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

 

Angelenos Help Abraham’s Vision Come True


Like many young Angelenos, Aaron Hahn Tapper and Gibran Bouayad are traveling to Europe this summer, and they’re taking along a few companions — 24 university students of both genders from seven American campuses. Twelve are Jewish and 12 are Muslims, mainly of Palestinian descent, and their destination is not some fun Mediterranean beach resort, but Balkan countries recently torn apart by civil wars and slaughter.

Tapper, 33 and standing 6-foot-5, and Bouayad, 29 and 6-foot-3, are the co-founders and executive directors of Abraham’s Vision, dedicated to creating a new generation of young, mutually respectful, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

Both staff and students of Abraham’s Vision are precisely balanced by ethnic backgrounds, starting with their founders.

Tapper is Jewish, an alumnus of four Orthodox yeshivot and 10 sessions at the Conservative movement’s Camp Ramah. He lives at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in the Simi Valley, where his wife, Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper, is director of the Brandeis Collegiate Institute.

Bouayad, a native and resident of Monterey Park, is a Muslim whose Arab father came from Morocco and whose mother is half-Jewish, through her father, and half-Christian.

By family background and conviction, both men early on developed an idealistic streak and a belief that, with hard work and education, conflicts can be resolved peacefully.

Both are multilingual and well educated, Tapper studied at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard Divinity School, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Bir Zeit University on the West Bank and UC Santa Barbara. Bouayad graduated from UCLA, studied and taught at the American Language Institute in Fes, Morocco, and served in the Peace Corps.

These two tall, peripatetic Americans were thrown together as assigned roommates in the summer of 2003, when both were in Holland to attend the Institute for International Mediation and Conflict Resolution in The Hague.

After many bull sessions, the two student activists founded Abraham’s Vision, named in honor of their mutual biblical ancestor, and all that remained was to develop a philosophical concept, create curricula and textbooks, raise funds and convince young Muslims and Jews to come aboard.

One conceptual challenge facing the two founders was to identify an approach and mission that went beyond the efforts of existing organizations striving for Israeli-Palestinian and Jewish-Muslim understanding, such as Building Bridges for Peace, Face to Face/Faith to Faith, Givat Haviva, Neve Shalom/Waht Al-Salam, Nir School and Seeds for Peace.

They finally arrived at a two-pronged approach, one called the Unity program (“unity, not uniformity,” Tapper emphasized), the other the Vision program.

Unity is a collaboration between Jewish and Muslim high schools and focuses on interfaith studies, taught by educators of both religions. Classes and exchange visits deal with the sacred texts and rituals of both religions, analyzing their similarities and differences, as well as the history of Muslim-Jewish relations, stressing past eras of harmony.

The first Unity program began last fall as a cooperative venture between the Abraham Joshua Heschel High School in Manhattan and the Al-Iman School in Queens.

This September, the organizers expect to launch Unity programs between Jewish and Muslim schools in Los Angeles, Detroit, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and a second partnership in New York City.

The Vision program for college and university students focuses on conflict analysis and resolution, examining and comparing the Israel-Palestinian confrontation and other ethnic and religious conflicts.

Since early 2005, Vision workshops have been conducted at 16 university campuses across the country, in addition to adult education programs.

In the latest initiative, Bouayad, Tapper and their multiethnic staff left June 25 with two-dozen Jewish American and Palestinian American university students for a one-month study trip to Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

These entities emerged from the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia and may be the ideal laboratory for conflict analysis.

“On the one hand, Christians, Jews and Muslims have lived side by side in these Balkan states for centuries,” Tapper said. “On the other hand, the conflicts there involve religion, ethnicity, national identity, refugees, and the role of outside countries. By studying these factors, we can better understand the intricacies of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

The program includes workshops, dialogues and meetings with local politicians, scholars, activists, journalists and students, and is cost free to the participants.

During the current year, Abraham’s Vision has raised $450,000.

“Although the conflict is chiefly in the Middle East, these two American communities can play a major role in the conflict,” Tapper said. “By changing their relationships in the United States through the younger generation, they can actually influence relationships in the Middle East.”

The greatest obstacle facing Abraham’s Vision is “widespread fatigue, born of a sense of hopelessness that anything can be done to resolve the situation in the Middle East,” Bouayad said. “It’s that sense we must overcome by showing that Palestinians and Israelis can work together.”

For more information, go to www.abrahamsvision.org.

 

Artists Dream in a Golden Age


Sam Erenberg spends most of the day, nearly every day, alone in a 1,000-square-foot box.

“It’s like a temple,” the painter says of his artist’s studio.

A lonely temple, that is.

“I’m the rabbi and congregation all in one,” he says with a laugh.

Working as an artist can be isolating, especially in the sprawling city of Los Angeles. And what good is inspiration without community?

The Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California exists for artists like Erenberg. The group, consisting of about 30 members, constitutes one of the nation’s first organized networks of Jewish artists. Its aims are twofold: to create a support system for local artists and to transform the way the Jewish community relates to art.

On a recent evening, Erenberg sat among other artists in a garage-turned-studio in Larchmont Village. He, for one, was happy for the company.

“This is my ad-hoc family,” he said to the painters, photographers and sculptors who had gathered there for the group’s monthly meeting.

The Artists Initiative emerged three years ago, when Amelia Xann of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles approached USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. Xann wanted to create a program to promote visual art by Jewish artists.

The organizations decided to found a group that would put on exhibitions, host a lecture series and provide a space for artists to explore the relationship between their Jewish identities and their art.

So, the Artists Initiative launched, with $40,000 in foundation grants for a speaker series and Web site.

The group staged its first exhibition in 2004 at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Too Jewish — Not Jewish Enough” showcased paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, ceramics and digital work that incorporated Jewish themes or adhered to “a Jewish sensibility.” (Art with a “Jewish sensibility,” Erenberg explained, exhibits “a kind of longing, a feeling that you’re connected to a long history.”)

The second exhibition, “Makor/Source,” concentrated on the sources of the artists’ inspiration. The exhibit opened this year at the Hillel: Centers for Jewish Life, at USC and UCLA.

Members are planning a third exhibition, which will likely have a California theme, to open in the next year or so at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Art historian Matthew Baigell will curate the show.

Ruth Weisberg, a nationally recognized artist and the de facto leader of the group, said the initiative has ambitious goals.

“We really want to be another porthole, another entrance into Judaism,” said Weisberg, who is dean of USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts. “Younger people, especially, are often more at ease entering the Jewish community through cultural events than any other way.”

Weisberg, who illustrated the Reform movement’s new haggadah, said she hoped the group would also encourage Jewish artists to treat Jewish themes in their work.

“Many Jews who are involved in the art world keep their Judaism in one part of their life, and their cultural [expression] in another,” she said. Jews may fear being categorized — or even dismissed — as Jewish, rather than mainstream, artists. But keeping art and religious identity separate “is, I think, unnecessary and not that productive.”

Not all of the group’s members agree.

“I’m here protesting,” Channa Horwitz announced at the last meeting.

“I’m Jewish, and I’m an artist, but I’m not a Jewish artist,” said Horwitz, who uses complex patterns and bright colors in her work. “I don’t think art has anything to do with religion.”

Horwitz’s response reflects the diversity of the group, which includes Jews across the religious spectrum, from around the world, including the United States, Israel and Russia.

Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, members find value in the group.

“It’s really great to sit in a room with people who get it,” said Laurel Paley, whose use of Hebrew text in her art has been criticized as “obfuscation.”

Members hope their network will become a model for communities across the country. To increase membership and public awareness, the group is updating its Web site. It has also applied for another foundation grant.

Should funding arrive in the fall, the artists hope to launch new projects. One idea they bandied about involves creating a Jewish community center for the arts, where the public can come not only to view art but also to create it.

As the artists speculated about the future, a sense of what could be — if only they had the world as their canvas — invigorated the group.

Exciting things happen when artists get together, said Bruria Finkel, a sculptor with works on display at the New Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

The Dadaists and Cubists of the 20th century began by meeting in groups, Finkel said. Now, with Jewish artists flourishing in the United States, especially on the West Coast, who knows what this group can accomplish?

“It’s a golden age,” she said.

 

Briefs


Local Leaders Fight for Social Justice
Norma Glickman of Temple Emanuel had felt terribly alone during her daily visits to her dying mother in a nursing home where the care, even with her vigilance, bordered on abusive.

She recounted her tale last Sunday to 1,500 representatives from religious community, union and school groups who attended the One LA-IAF Delegates Assembly at the Wilshire Christian Church. Drawn from neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County, the group reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the city.

This Los Angeles affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), founded by legendary organizer Saul Alinsky in Chicago, has been committed to developing leadership in local communities since the 1940s, but it is only in recent years that area synagogues have become actively involved as part of their social-justice agendas. The delegates came together Sunday both to celebrate their organizing efforts and to present state and city officials, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti, with a series of demands for action on issues including public education, air quality, housing, immigration and the re-scheduling of the Los Angeles marathon to a holiday Monday, to avoid disruption of church services.

Like Glickman, who engaged in discussions with fellow congregants and research meetings with county and state officials on nursing homes, these delegates are working on issues that directly affect their lives.

After listening to the presentations, which were translated into Spanish and Korean, Villaraigosa expressed his commitment to the delegates’ concerns, and agreed to be the keynote speaker at the group’s educational summit in the fall.

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel, in her closing prayer, evoked last week’s Torah portion.

“Each one of us,” she said, “is a scout sent to imagine Los Angeles as a promised land. The relationships we are developing here will enable us to create One L.A.” — Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

UCLA Establishes Israeli Studies Chair
UCLA has established an academic chair in Israel studies, endowed by a $1 million donation from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation.

The endowment reflects a growing scholarly interest in Israel, as distinct from Jewish studies, according to political scientist Leonard Binder, director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.

“We are seeing a shift in emphasis from Holocaust-related programs to all aspects of Israeli life,” Binder said. “I sense a new intellectual interest in the history of Zionism and the meaning of Israel.”

An international search is starting for a distinguished scholar to fill the chair and lead a wide-ranging program incorporating a dozen academic fields.

The ideal incumbent of the chair will have “a wide knowledge of Israel spanning several disciplines, while specializing in at least one discipline in which he has achieved scholarly prominence,” said Arnold Band, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature.

British-born Sir Arthur Gilbert, a real estate developer and art collector, and his wife Rosalinde, both deceased, established the foundation to encourage studies of Israel, as well as medical research, said Martin Blank, who serves with Richard Ziman as chief operating officers of the foundation.

UCLA, located in the center of the second-largest Jewish community in the United States, has fostered Jewish and Near Eastern research and teaching for half a century.

Current resources include the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Jewish Studies Program, Center for Jewish Studies, and a Chair in Holocaust Studies, endowed by the “1939” Club.

The Israel Studies Program was established two years ago as part of the UCLA International Institute at the initiative of Sharon Baradaran, a member of the influential Iranian American Nazarian clan of Los Angeles and herself a political science teacher.

Binder estimates that at any time between 40 to 60 courses are given on the Westwood campus dealing with some aspects of Israeli geopolitics, culture and language.

Assistant professor Carol Bakhos of the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures assigns a broad context to the Israel Studies Program, for which she serves as faculty adviser.

“Studies on Israel go beyond the purely Jewish aspects and include the life and scholarship of the Arab and other minorities in Israel,” she said.

In the long run, she hopes that studies on Israel will become less “politicized” and can be integrated into a broadened Middle East program.

“It would be great if UCLA could model such a program, stressing the cohesion of a Middle East which includes Israel,” she said. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Aaron Spelling Dies at 83
Hollywood producer Aaron Spelling died on June 23 at age 83 in his Los Angeles mansion after suffering a stroke on June 18.

Spelling was born in 1923 to struggling Jewish immigrants in Texas (his father’s name, Spurling, was simplified to Spelling by an official on Ellis Island). The prejudice his family faced there partly caused young Aaron to turn to reading, helping spark his creative career.

He was a prolific producer of hit television shows, creating popular series for ABC such as “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Mod Squad,” “The Love Boat” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.” The Guinness Book of World Records cited Spelling as producing the most hours of television, with more than 3,000. Spelling, who is also the father of actors Tori and Randy, briefly tried acting before beginning his decades-long producing career.

He was buried during a private ceremony June 26 at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuaries. — Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Jesus’ Man Has a Plan


Are there any Jewish Rick Warrens?

That’s not a fair question.

There are few people of any faith like Warren.

As I sat listening to him speak at Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live Shabbat services last week, I thought of the only other person I’d met with Warren’s eloquence, charisma, and passion — but Bill Clinton carries a certain amount of baggage that Warren doesn’t.

Warren spoke at Sinai as part of the Synagogue 3000 program, which aims to revitalize Jewish worship.




Rick Warren’s speech at Sinai Temple. Audio added 8/14/2008


The program’s leader, Rabbi Ron Wolfson, met Warren a decade ago and was influenced by the pastor’s first book, “The Purpose-Driven Church” (Zondervan, 1995). And to demonstrate what such a church looked like in action, Wolfson brought two busloads of synagogue leaders to Warren’s Saddleback Church in South Orange County to experience firsthand the pastor’s success. The church has 87,000 members. Its Sunday service draws 22,000 worshippers to a 145-acre campus in the midst of affluent, unaffiliated exurbia. Clearly, Warren has reached the kind of demographic synagogues had all but given up on.

There are two aspects to Warren’s success, and both were on display Friday night. First, he is an organizational genius. His mentor was management guru Peter Drucker.

“I spoke with him constantly,” Warren said, right up until Drucker died last year at age 95.

It is Drucker’s theory of “management by objectives” that Warren replicates in every endeavor — translating long-term objectives into more immediate goals. Here let’s pause to consider that Jews are learning to reorganize thier faith from a Christian who was mentored by a Jew.

In his church, Warren serves as pastor to five subordinate pastors, who in turn serve 300 full-time staff, who administer to 9,000 lay volunteers, who pastor 82,000 members spread out among 83 Southern California cities.

“It’s the individual cells that make the body,” he told the Sinai crowd. All his church’s endeavors — from working to cure diseases in African villages to reinventing houses of worship — work according to a model that parcels larger goals into smaller ones, empowering believers to take action along the way.

The other secret to his success is his passion for God and Jesus. Warren managed to speak for the entire evening without once mentioning Jesus — a testament to his savvy message-tailoring. But make no mistake, the driving purpose of an evangelical church is to evangelize, and it is Warren’s devotion to spreading the words of the Christian Bible that drive his ministry.

Good for him and his flock — and not so bad for us either. His teachings apply to 95 percent of all people, regardless of religious belief. As he put it to a group of rabbis at a conference last year — using a metaphor that might be described as a Paulian slip: “Eat the fish and throw away the bones.”

Warren told Wolfson his interest is in helping all houses of worship, not in converting Jews. He said there are more than enough Christian souls to deal with for starters.

The success of Warren’s second book, “The Purpose-Driven Life” (Zondervan, 2002), demonstrates his ability to turn a particular gospel into a universal one. As Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe told the capacity audience of some 1,500, “The Purpose-Driven Life”turned the self-help model on its head by asserting that the answer to personal fulfillment does not reside with the self.

“Looking within yourself for your purpose doesn’t work,” the book begins. “If it did, we’d know it by now. As with any complex invention, to figure out your purpose, you need to talk to the inventor and read the owner’s manual — in this case, God and the Bible.” “The Purpose-Driven Life” has sold 25 million copies in 57 languages.

As Warren pointed out — with an odd ability to be humble and matter of fact about it — it is reportedly the biggest-selling nonfiction book in American history. It brought him fame and fortune. Warren spent much of his sermon describing how he dealt with his new-found money and influence, turning his personal solutions into lessons on confronting the spiritual emptiness and materialism that all comfortable Americans face.

The pastor said he practices an inverse tithe — giving away 90 percent and keeping 10 percent of his income. He takes no salary from the church and returned the 20 years of income he received from it.

I haven’t checked his portfolio to verify this, but the message is an impressive and important one.

“We do not go into this line of work to get rich,” he said. “If you give it to God, he will bring you to life.”

Similarly, Warren has leveraged his fame to bring attention to AIDS in Africa and other global problems. He said he’d just come from a photo shoot at Sony Studios with Brad Pitt and was about to meet overseas with the leaders of 11 countries in 37 days. While he was at Sinai Temple, his wife, Kay, was at the White House.

“The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have none,” he said.

Warren wore a kippah made by the Abuyudaya tribe of Uganda and gifted to him by the country’s president. Before his sermon, he sang enthusiastically with musician Craig Taubman, who performed along with Saddleback Church music director Richard Muchow.

“This is my kind of service!” he said when he took the stage to deliver his remarks.

Afterward, as one Friday Night Live contingent repaired to a ballroom to carry on the hard work of scoping out other singles, another filled Barad Hall to get more time with Warren in a Q-and-A.

Along the way, he described in detail how he organized a national Purpose Driven Church campaign to get some 30,000 houses of worship across the world to define and implement their mission. He also punctuated his anecdotes with simple statements about God’s role in our lives: “God created you to love you,” he said, “and to love him back.”

I have no doubt the people who turned to Warren to help them reinvent synagogues for the 21st century can and will learn a lot from the man’s organizational skills. But the deeper message he conveys, his unstintingly devoted and enthusiastic faith — how in the world can we Jews learn that?

Healing Torah Makes Hospital Rounds


One day last year Rabbi Levi Meier, the Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was summoned to the room of an elderly Russian man in the ICU who had cancer.

He was in poor spirits, so Meier decided to bring in the Torah from the chaplaincy ark. The patient’s eyes lit up at the sight of the Torah that Meier, and volunteer Sandy Gordon, brought into a room.

“Can you please bring me some water to help me wash my hands?” the ailing man asked. He washed and said a blessing and asked the rabbi to place the Torah next to him. After a few silent moments, tears began to stream down the man’s face, which became much more animated. Finally he spoke.

“Today is my Simchat Torah,” he told the rabbi, referring to the long-passed October holiday that celebrates the joy of the Torah. And then the man began to sing: “Sisu V’simchu, V’simchat Torah, u tenu kavod La Torah!” (Rejoice and be merry on Simchat Torah and give glory to the Torah.)

“He went from not being able to raise a finger, to raising his arms and singing a childhood song in Hebrew,” said Gordon, who has been volunteering at Cedars since 1988, when she attended the University of Judaism’s two-year Wagner Human Services Training Program for paraprofessionals in psychological training. “His eyes became very clear, and his face seemed like he was a boy or a young man, and when he smiled, it really lit his face up.”

When Meier and Gordon left the room some 20 minutes later, Gordon asked the chaplain: “Why doesn’t a Jewish hospital have a Torah they can take around, if it’s so profound?”

Meier, who has served as the hospital’s Jewish chaplain for the last 28 years, quickly acknowledged the need. So Gordon set out to fill the gap by endowing a Torah in honor of her parents, Florence and Milton Slotkin. Meier commissioned scribes in Israel to create a special lightweight Torah that could easily be carried to patients’ rooms on a daily basis. The completed Torah arrived last January.

Much has been written about the role of spirituality and faith in benefiting health and healing, but the effects are difficult to prove. There is no question, though, that Cedars’ new Torah has been uplifting the spirits of Jewish patients. Meier hopes other chaplains will also adopt the idea.

“Since we got the Torah, we’ve been taking the Torah around to selected patients, and the experiences has been amazing. Unparalleled,” Meier told The Journal.

In his nearly three decades at Cedars, he said, “we’ve been doing very well with all the patients, but the response with the Torah has brought it to a new level.”

Meier, an Orthodox rabbi ordained at Yeshiva University with a doctorate in psychology from USC, is a soft-spoken man with a gentle demeanor, and when he uses words like “amazing” and “indescribable” about the Torah’s effect on patients, it seems more than hyperbole.

Indeed, it is difficult to portray in words the powerful emotional pull people exhibit toward the chaplain with the Torah.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, “Lisa,” a 30-something actress with cancer and other ailments, has been hospitalized for 10 days. She lies wan and listless on her side, her pale, bony arms poking awkwardly out of a checked green hospital gown. The radio blares in the background but she doesn’t move; had her eyes not been open, staring into space, she might be mistaken for sleeping.

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” the chaplain says as he walks into the room and turns off the radio. “I’m going to place the Torah next to you on the bed.”

He takes the blue-velvet-covered scroll and places it on the pillow within breath’s reach. With effort, Lisa slowly moves her hands to it. She closes her eyes and smiles, like a baby having a dream.

“Can you pray out loud? To me?” Lisa asks in a murmur after a few moments. “In Hebrew?”

Meier says she should repeat after him, and she does, inaudibly, her lips barely moving. “Shema. Yisrael. Hashem. Elokeinu. Hashem. Echad: Hear O’ Israel, The Eternal God is One.”

Meier recites a blessing that the holy angels and divine presence should surround her and give her a complete recovery. Lisa’s eyes are now closed again, her long fingers resting on the Torah. She breathes deeply, as if meditating.

Finally, the chaplain stands up to go, and reluctantly takes the Torah from her bedside.

“Tomorrow you will have an MRI,” he says on his way out, “so think about this, and this should give you some comfort.”

Down the hall, an 89-year-old Hancock Park rabbi awaits hip surgery.

“How nice, how nice,” says the ailing rabbi in a thick European accent upon seeing the Torah. After wiping his hands with a washcloth, he reaches to touch and kiss it, not expecting anything more. But the chaplain places the Torah at his bedside.

“Tonight we pray that the surgery will go well, but the best prayer is the one you say yourself,” the chaplain says and leaves the room as the old man’s voice, loud and cracking with emotion as he recites Tehillim, the Psalms, echoes in the hallway: “Eso eynay, el ha’harim, me’ayin yavot ezri….” (I raise mine eyes to the mountains/where will help come from/Help will come from God, creator of heaven and earth.)

After the chaplain has collected the Torah from the rabbi, he appears awed and shaken: “I don’t even know if King David said Tehillim like that.”

Unlike the old rabbi, most people the chaplain visits with the Torah are not particularly religious. Meier says the Torah rekindles the pintele (Yiddish for “spark” of Jewishness) in people, memories of Hebrew school or a bar mitzvah or a grandparent in the past and it helps them connect to the next generation as well.

For Meier, this work is not a “religious” mission, but a spiritual one that overrides distinctions of denominations and practice. “Although in the outside world, when people are healthy, they make a differentiation between Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, here there’s no distinction. There is the meaning of life, solitude, family, reconciliations — everyone is part of what we call “the experience of the human condition. It’s an experience that the Torah alleviates.”

As the Jewish chaplain at Cedars, Meier receives a list with the names of the all the Jewish patients in the hospital. Together with his assistant and a couple of volunteers, they visit the sick. The Torah, a holy object in itself, allows the chaplain to have immediate spiritual relationship with a patient that otherwise might take much longer to achieve.

The healing process is not always about getting better, Meier said.

“Healing means whole, and it also means holy, so we talk about the path of getting toward wholeness, even if a cure is not possible,” he said.

You can be whole in different ways, with yourself, with your family, with your children, with God, he said.

“It’s a common fallacy and myth that this job is very hard,” he said. “I find that when I don’t do this, it’s very difficult. I give meaning to people and they always to a little better. I don’t do miracles, but it’s beautiful to add meaning to a person’s life and to help them in the smallest way possible.”

 

Special Delivery – Jewish Lamaze Class Reunion


We were so much fatter then — and younger and more naïve.

We were nine pregnant women, accompanied by our husbands, sitting together on the floor of a Temple Sinai classroom for 10 Thursday nights in the fall of 1983. Strangers to each other and strangers to the concept of becoming parents, we were preparing to welcome our firstborn into the world according to the traditions of Judaism and the techniques of Lamaze.

It was Jewish Lamaze, a two-pronged childbirth preparation program that had recently been introduced in Los Angeles.

On the physical side, we learned about the anatomy and physiology of pregnancy. And we practiced the focused breathing exercises (the “he-hes” and “he-whos”) developed by Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze in France in the early 1950s and optimistically called “childbirth without pain.”

On the spiritual side, we learned about the customs and rituals, blessings and bubbe meises surrounding the birth of a Jewish child. Some of these included brit milah, the almost 4,000-year-old custom of circumcision; brit bat, an innovative alternative ceremony for girls, and pidyon ha’ben, the redemption of the first-born.

But most important, Jewish Lamaze gave us an opportunity, amid the excitement, anxiety and physical transformation, to take a deep breath (not a “he-he” or “he-who”) and contemplate the emotional ramifications of going from a couple to a family and the spiritual ramifications of raising a Jewish child.

Of course, we wanted to do this perfectly. Thus, in addition to Jewish Lamaze, we took baby care and breast-feeding classes, we read “Secret Life of the Unborn Child” and “The Rights of the Pregnant Parent.” We interviewed pediatricians, researched the best strollers and called day schools to add our babies’ names to the waiting list.

And we planned a reunion for February 1984, to show off our 2- and 3-month-old infants.

Tonight, 18 years later, we’re gathered together for a second reunion, joined by our instructors, Fredi Rembaum, then a consultant for Jewish Family Education at the Bureau of Jewish Education, and Sandra Jaffe, then — and now — a certified Lamaze teacher.

We’re five of the original couples, accompanied by our now-18-year-old children and their siblings. (Of the families not present, two are traveling, one has moved to Minnesota and one, when contacted, said, “I don’t even remember taking Lamaze. It didn’t do me any good.”)

We have come to reconnect and to reminisce at another watershed moment in parenting — as our firstborn have begun or are about to begin their first year in college.

We introduce ourselves and catch up. Some of our lives have intersected through the years — in preschool, day school and day camp, at Jewish lifecycle events, fundraising dinners and at Ralphs. Some of us are remeeting for the first time.

We gather around an enlarged photo of the babies taken at the first reunion.

“Yes, that’s Josh. Crying.”

“There’s Nathan, sound asleep.”

“Sharona, what do you think of your tie-dyed outfit?”

We chat informally. And easily. The talk centers on high schools, colleges and other children. The subtext is middle age and empty-nest syndrome.

After dinner, we gather in a circle. The teens formally introduce themselves.

Some are already in their first year of college — at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. The others are leaving in the fall — also for UC Berkeley and Williams. They talk about Jewish life on campus, about Hillel and about finding kosher food.

“Why did you decide on Jewish Lamaze?” Rembaum asks us adults.

Harriet Sharf answers: “We were having a Jewish baby. Why would we want to go to goyishe Lamaze?”

“I grew up in a nonreligious Jewish family,” Andy Hyman says. “I wanted to learn about the traditions and to instill in my kids a deep love and appreciation of Judaism.”

“I needed help with the Lamaze part,” says Neal Weinberg, an ordained rabbi.

“But that Lamaze bag was worthless,” Debbie Spindel adds. “I remember everything in it — the shoelaces, the tennis balls, the small paper bag.”

“It wouldn’t have been useless if you had needed any of those items,” Lamaze instructor Jaffe says.

“The change for the pay phone was helpful,” Bart Sokolow says.

Jewish Lamaze was first sponsored by the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education in the early 1980s and taught in various synagogues until the funding ran out toward the end of the decade.

And while it’s no longer being offered in Los Angeles, as far as anyone knows, similar programs exist elsewhere.

“I absolutely loved our program,” Rembaum says…. The class was not just about birthing but about connecting to the Jewish community.”

Eighteen years ago, together, we welcomed these children into the world.

Tonight we realize we’re releasing them.

“Let’s do this again in another 18 years,” Sokolow suggests at the end of the evening. “With our grandchildren.”

 

Middle-Class Squeeze


In the past six years, Diane Demetras and her husband, Marcel Indik, have taken one low-cost vacation and have dined out only on rare occasions. They don’t buy themselves new clothes, they drive old cars and rent movies rather than go to them because weekend activities have been whittled down to what is cheapest.

They’ve done this — willingly and without regrets — so they could afford to send their two children, Emile and Olivia, to Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, where they feel their kids are getting a great education, a grounding in Jewish tradition and a sense of belonging to a values-based community.

The Demetras-Indiks are solidly middle class. She is an academic adviser at USC and he is a successful commercial photographer. They co-own the fourplex they live in, and, if not for the $30,000-plus a year they spend on their kids’ school and camp (that’s including a few thousand dollars in financial aid), they would be considered comfortable in the Southern California economy.

But it is families like theirs who are feeling the squeeze of the upward crawl of day school tuition over the last several years, which has brought the average tuition for elementary and middle school to about $12,600 and for high school to as much as $20,000. Those numbers are about 30 percent above what a year of schooling cost four years ago and nearly double 10 years ago.

To be sure, at secular private schools tuition has risen just as sharply, and often far more so, but non-Orthodox Jewish schools are competing on two fronts: with the lure of fancy private secular schools for many who can afford to pay whatever it takes, on the one hand, and with the tuition-free option of public schools, particularly the gifted magnets or other specialized programs for those who are struggling to make ends meet, on the other. Neither socio-economic group is willing to compromise educational standards, which means Jewish schools have to maintain a high academic bar, but also give the added value of a Jewish education — making the latter a convincing selling point to those who might opt for just Sunday school enrichment.

Most of the 10,000 students in Los Angeles’ Jewish day schools come from families with too much income to qualify for significant financial aid, but many are not wealthy enough to easily absorb such a significant hit on their budget. And there are also those who do not see themselves as “scholarship families,” and who choose therefore to send their kids to public schools rather than open their financial records for the aid applications.

About 14 percent of school-age Jewish children in Los Angeles are enrolled in day schools, the majority of them in Orthodox schools.

In the past 15 years, day school enrollment across the country has boomed. Between 1992 and 1998, enrollment jumped by 25,000 students, and from 1999 to 2004, another 20,000 students enrolled, bringing the total to 205,000 nationwide. Much of the growth occurred in non-Orthodox schools, new schools and in high schools.

While Los Angeles has generally mirrored that growth, in the past five years the number of students enrolled in L.A. day schools declined by about 400 students. Last year saw a turnaround, however, with an increase that brought the number close to its 1999 peak of 10,000 students.

But the decline has educators concerned, and while they know that cost is not the only factor — there was also an overall economic downturn and demographic dip in school-aged children — tuition increases certainly don’t help.

Over the past 11 years, Temple Israel has seen its enrollment increase from 82 children to 200, but the school has had losses, too. Like many families, the Demetras-Indiks had to make a tough choice. Tuition at Temple Israel Day School went from $9,500 four years ago to $12,170 for the next school year. So come this September, Emile will be attending public school for the sixth grade.

“We couldn’t handle the cost anymore,” Demetras said.

Diminished day school enrollment — or enrollment from a narrow socioeconomic stratum — hurts the entire Jewish community. Population studies have shown that day school alumni are more likely to retain a lifelong affiliation rate with Judaism, and to educate their own kids Jewishly. Day school graduates, in a sense, boost the knowledge base of the entire community.

“We have learned so much about what keeps kids Jewish in this world that is always pulling at them, and the day school movement is such an important contributor to the Jewish people. To not be able to make a day school education affordable for people who want it is an awful alternative,” said Rennie Wrubel, head of school at Milken Community High School.

Over the past decade, with increasing sophistication, schools are looking to sources other than tuition to make ends meet. They are setting up endowment funds, ramping up marketing both to potential parents and donors, and nurturing new supporters — from alumni and grandparents to people and foundations previously unconnected to day schools.

“If we believe in this, and we believe in how powerful it is — and some of us do — then we have got to have the whole community get behind all of our efforts,” said Bruce Powell, head of school at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills. Powell believes a massive communal endowment — $1 billion — needs to be set up to cover the cost of Jewish education.

Lisabeth Lobenthal couldn’t agree more. Lobenthal is a synagogue director who put her son, Aaron, at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy for kindergarten. A single mother who does not receive child support, Lobenthal was making $48,000 a year when she applied for financial aid. She tried to make do with the $2,500 break on the tuition of about $9,000 — she was told it was the maximum she could receive and never asked for more — but once she paid for tuition, rent, basic bills and groceries, she was, literally, penniless.

“They called me for a donation for a pizza party, and I couldn’t give them the $10,” Lobenthal said.

She pulled Aaron out in first grade and put him in public school, where he’s been happy, but his Jewish identity has suffered. Now 11, Aaron hates Hebrew school.

“I’ll be happy if I can get him to have a bar mitzvah,” Lobenthal said.

Currently, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), a Federation agency, allocates $2.35 million to Los Angeles’ day schools. For the past two years, the wheels have been turning to set up a $20 million endowment fund for day school education. The Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation have each pledged $1 million to the fund, and are working with BJE to secure lead donors. The interest from the endowment — about $1 million annually — would leverage endowment dollars raised in the schools at a rate of 25 cents to the dollar. So if a school raised $1 million for its endowment, the fund would then pay the school an additional $250,000, according to Miriam Prum-Hess, the director for day school operational services at BJE. That approach, rather than, say, discounting every child’s tuition, works for a city the size of Los Angeles. With nearly 10,000 students, a community fund to discount tuition by $2,000 per child would cost $20 million. With this model, schools have incentive to raise their own money, and then can use the money however best suits the particular schools.

Other communities have managed to generate large gifts in the last two years. In late 2004, three philanthropists gifted $45 million to Boston’s 16 day schools, and other communities have seen numbers between $13 million and $20 million.

“I have found a great willingness among major Jewish philanthropists to invest tremendous amounts of capital in models of Jewish education that work,” said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

Elkin also believes that with the right training, technology and motivation, the 759 day schools that serve 205,000 students nationwide can double their annual giving to cover the gap between tuition revenue and what it costs to run a school.

In Los Angeles, while some schools have to make up about 10 percent of their budget in fundraising, others find themselves with gaps of 40 percent or more. And with a huge jump in insurance — particularly workman’s comp — and increased security costs since Sept. 11, as well as the pressure to keep teachers’ salary and benefits on par with public schools, raising tuition is a tempting way to make up the shortfall.

But Prum-Hess, who moved into her position at BJE after serving as vice president of allocations for The Federation, hopes that schools can hold the line on tuition by tapping into unrealized revenue potential.

This year, as part of a national Match Grant program, she helped 13 schools raise a combined $1 million from new donors, which earned the schools an additional $500,000 from the Jewish Funders Network and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. Schools also brought in $1 million in homeland security grants, with Prum-Hess’s help (see sidebar).

She wants to see schools think more strategically, setting up endowments and seeking bequests.

“I think the biggest problem that day schools have is that many live hand to mouth and it’s very hard to think beyond the immediate when that is the way you operate,” she said.

Change is coming slowly. A handful of schools have already started endowments.

Emek, an 824-student Orthodox school in Sherman Oaks, last year set up the Emek Heritage Endowment Fund, asking every family to contribute $200 a year. Now at the end of its second year, the fund garnered 100 percent participation and has $70,000, and administrators hope to reach $1 million within 10 years.

But long-term planning isn’t going to help the Katz family (they asked that their real name not be used to protect their privacy). Jennifer is a social worker; David is in the allied medical field. Both have advanced degrees and good jobs. But between the housing market in Los Angeles and the cost of day school — even with financial aid — they have made the decision to move to Cleveland this summer. There they can trade up from their two-bedroom duplex to a four-bedroom house that costs $250,000, and they will pay $11,000 less than they do now to send their three children to an Orthodox day school.

“We’re just not getting ahead,” Jennifer said. “We can’t take trips that we want to take to see our family on the East Coast. We’ve got three kids living in one bedroom. We work too hard for our money to have nothing to show for it.”

Prum-Hess calculates that to send two kids to day school and live decently in Los Angeles, a family has to earn about $160,000 annually.

“Part of the message that we need to give is that you might be earning $150,000 and saying ‘I’m earning a great salary and I can’t pencil out what is wrong,’ and we say we know you’re not making ends meet, and you need to apply for a scholarship,” Prum-Hess advises.

All Jewish schools have scholarship programs, with a wide range of giving levels and procedures for how parents can access than money.

At Milken, tuition and fees for the 600 students is about $24,000 each. The school gave out $1.2 million in scholarship money. New Community Jewish High School, where tuition and fees run about $22,500, has allocated more than $1 million for the 320 kids it has coming in next year.

Pressman Academy, a Conservative K-8 school where the bottom line comes to more than $12,000, gives out $340,000 to its student body of 367. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Reform elementary school, allocated $200,000 to its 210 students last year to defray the $14,000 price tag. In the school’s seven years of existence, the temple has kicked in more that $1.5 million to the school’s budget.

The Reform Temple Israel of Hollywood parcels out $77,000 annually among its 200 students, but caps aid at 30 percent of tuition so the school can help more families. On the few occasions where families who apply aren’t able to afford the day school, Temple Israel guides them toward the religious school, where no child is turned away for financial reasons.

“It’s a very difficult situation for all of us who are passionate about Jewish day school education,” Temple Israel Day School head of school Eileen Horowitz said. “We want to be able to help as many families as we can.”

Other Reform and Conservative synagogue schools acknowledge that while they only rarely have to turn students away, they don’t often see those families that truly can’t afford the education. It is an economically self-selected group that even applies.

That is not the case in the Orthodox community, where a day school education is seen as mandatory, even when a family has six, seven or eight kids. Schools that serve the Modern Orthodox population give out about 30 percent to 40 percent of tuition revenues in scholarships every year, compared with 10 percent to 20 percent in non-Orthodox schools.

At the YULA boys high school, last year $1 million was distributed among 195 boys to help cover the $19,000 tuition.

“There is no such thing at YULA as a student unable to attend because of inability to pay tuition,” said boys’ school principal Rabbi Dovid Landesman. “At the same time, we will put as much pressure as we can on parents who can pay. It has to be their most important priority — they can’t say ‘we prefer a Jewish education, but not at the expense of a nice car or going to Puerto Rico for Pesach.'”

The “no child turned away” policy finds extreme expression in the ultra-Orthodox community, where in some schools as much as 80 percent of the student body receives financial assistance, including some who pay only a nominal amount.

At Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes, the two principals, Rabbi Berish Goldenberg and Rabbi Yakov Krause, handle financial aid personally. Last year, the school allocated more than $2 million in tuition subvention. Goldenberg estimates that only 350 to 400 of his 1,100 students are paying full tuition, which added to fees comes to about $12,000 a year for the first child (as at most schools, there is a sibling discount and teachers get an automatic break).

The parent body includes many teachers at other schools, as well as rabbis and Jewish communal professionals who serve the wider community. Many of them have large families.

Toras Emes is currently phasing in a minimum tuition requirement of $3,500, so that every family is paying something. (Goldenberg expects exceptions to that minimum, too.)

Like most yeshivas, Toras Emes functions in the red, constantly begging and borrowing to make payroll and pay bills.

“This yeshiva exists on miracles, and you only see it when you sit behind this desk,” Goldenberg said. “Somehow Hashem [God] takes care of us.”

“God will provide” is also the mantra at Chabad schools, which have an open-door policy for anyone who wants a Jewish education.

Rabbi Baruch Hecht, director at the girls’ elementary and junior high schools Bais Chaya Mushke and Bais Rebbe, allocates about half his budget toward financial assistance.

“There is no point sitting in my chair if you are not prepared to do what we do,” he said. “If you are going to run a Jewish day school, then part of that process is knowing you are going to be handing out scholarships — a lot of them — because your mission is to make sure every child has an opportunity for a Jewish education.”

But for now, most middle-class families either aren’t willing to ask, or don’t qualify for much help. Instead, they make lifestyle choices to support their educational goals for their children.

Joanne Helperin went back to work full time when her daughter was 2 so her two kids, now 7 and 4, could attend Maimonides Academy, an Orthodox day school in West Hollywood.

“And I feel guilty about it every day,” Helperin says of the need to work full time.

Helperin is a journalist, the senior features editor at Edmunds.com. Her husband, Robby, is the owner and bandleader of Spotlight Music and the Simcha Orchestra. Business is booming, but with the high cost of living in Los Angeles combined with day school tuition, they find it hard to refuse the offer of tuition help from the grandparents.

“And the question is, will I be able to do that for my grandchild? And what about college? I think we’re going to have to work longer and retire later,” Helperin said.

Tuition assistance programs that have sprung up in small communities across the country over the past five or six years are aimed at precisely this demographic. In Morris County, N.J., tuition was automatically capped at $5,500 for families who earn less than $120,000, and those who earn more can qualify, too.

In the Bay Area, the Levine-Lent Family Foundation set a goal of doubling the number of day school students in Northern California by the year 2010. In 2002, the foundation gave every child enrolling in the newly opened Kehilla Jewish High School a $9,000-a-year tuition voucher for four years, and the following year entering students were offered $7,000 vouchers. The school had expected 18 students in its first class; 34 enrolled, and half of those students had not gone to a Jewish elementary school.

But with 10,000 students at 37 schools, a similar endeavor in Los Angeles would cost tens of millions of dollars — a daunting figure.

The Avi Chai Foundation, a leader in promoting day school education, launched a pilot program in 1998 in day schools in Atlanta and Akron, Ohio. Students were given $3,000 vouchers, but analysts concluded that while the vouchers did help attract and retain students, more important factors were the child’s happiness and the quality of the education.

“The cost of education is not the only challenge the day school world has,” said Elkin of Boston’s PEJE. “We have to market Judaism. We have to market the quality of the education, we have to deal with concerns about ghettoization, concerns that that the schools are too narrow and that kids will be socially crippled when they get out of school. There is a whole range of selling we have to do. There is no silver-bullet panacea for the day school world.”

In Los Angeles, where the non-Orthodox day schools compete for students not just with public schools, but also with other private schools — which cost more and are often perceived as offering more than day schools — competition has increased among the Jewish schools, which is one of the reasons tuition has gone up. Schools vie for the best teachers and pay for extras to attract kids who might end up at Harvard-Westlake or Buckley.

“We want great teacher-to-student ratios, and great science labs and great sports,” said Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “We want an orchestra and computers and art and dance and music — and, and, and. It costs a lot of money and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of that fact. It simply needs to be made a priority and we need to go out and raise it,” he said.

Powell of New Community Jewish High School agrees. “How can we do any less 60 years after the Holocaust, when we have not even replaced the 6 million? How can we turn Jewish kids away from Jewish school, kids who want to learn how to live a joyful Jewish life?”