Heeb Teens Get Zine of Their Own
For years, young Jews have voted with their feet after their bar or bat mitzvahs, with about half of those in non-Orthodox synagogues’ religious schools leaving before the 12th-grade confirmation.
Some synagogue schools are starting new, nontraditional programs to bring teenagers back to tradition, but one media company thinks all they need is a good magazine.
Despite declining Jewish ties among young Jews and the financial risks of magazine startups, Jewish Family & Life Media, a nonprofit organization based in Newton, Mass., is launching a print version of its Web site JVibe, which is aimed at Jewish teenagers between 13 and 16 years old.
“JVibe is supposed to help kids maintain a Jewish connection with the community, post-bar mitzvah, through pop culture, by weaving in Jewish values and morals,” said Stewart Bromberg, the group’s director of development.
Slightly more than a year ago, Jewish Family got a $125,000 grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco to do market research on these teenagers to figure out what they thought about JVibe. The same fund gave $75,000 to help bankroll JVibe in the heady dot-com days of 1998.
At a time when teens hardly are considered People of the Book, a series of focus groups conducted over the past year revealed a surprise.
“What came out is that they wanted a magazine, something portable so they could share it with friends, read it on the bus or in bed at night,” Bromberg said.
That comes as other publications backed with private money or public funding have struggled to find an audience.
In the late 1990s, the San Francisco-based magazine, Davka, which featured Jews with tattoos, provocative articles and beat poetry, folded after a few issues — though it did give birth to the term “Generation J” to describe young, alienated Jews.
A more recent survivor is Heeb, a magazine aimed at hipster Jews in their 20s and 30s — though its circulation has been less impressive than the media coverage it received.
Now a group of young Jewish philanthropists in Los Angeles, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, has awarded Jewish Family $125,000 to redesign JVibe’s Web site and launch a print version as a pilot program. The Web site currently attracts 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a month, but Bromberg said the new online version will be linked thematically to the magazine. The magazine will include advertising and features such as a CD-ordering club.
In the eyes of Jewish teens, the ads “legitimize” the publication, he said.
The 32-page JVibe magazine hopes to reach 20,000 teens in its initial print run, with several hundred free subscriptions to youths in the Los Angeles area, Bromberg said.
The plan is to publish six times per year, with updates and added features going online, he said.
Planned content includes a celebrity column about Jewish pop guitarist Evan Taubenfeld, who plays with Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne; what movies to watch after a break-up; and a teen philanthropy page sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
JVibe “seeks to create relevant and entertaining content that inspires a connection between Jewish teens and the Jewish community,” Bromberg said.
Roll Away Hunger
Tips to Avoid a Charitable Rip-Off
Every Jewish New Year we recite the words, "Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil decree." It sounds straightforward enough, but trying to navigate myriad charities, especially Jewish charities, is confounding.
There is often an extra layer of complexity that comes with evaluating an American arm of a charity that benefits a sector in Israel or Jewish people living in distressed conditions in a far-off country.
Then come questions of how much to donate and in what manner to give.
Next, you may wonder what percentage of money received by the organization is actually funding the programs and services defined by the charity’s mission statement, and what amount is contributing to paychecks and perks to the charity’s officers.
And then there is the question most people should — but often don’t — ask themselves: How do I know which charitable organizations are legitimate and which are fraudulent?
Discouraged? Don’t be. And certainly don’t stop giving. Just give wisely.
"If you find a charity on GuideStar, at the very least, it is a legitimate organization," said Suzanne Coffman, director of communications at GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), which maintains an online national database on thousands of nonprofit organizations based on their IRS filings. However, Coffman cautions that you cannot infer that an organization is fraudulent simply because it is not included in their database.
"For instance," she said, "faith-based organizations are not required to register with the IRS, so they wouldn’t be on our Web site."
She advises people considering donating to a synagogue or a Jewish educational center to ask to see their IRS Letter of Determination, a form excluding them from submitting certain forms other charities must file annually.
"One of the ways we recommend to see if an organization is on the up and up," Coffman said, "is to look at their mission statement and the specificity of their programs and ask yourself how verifiable it is. Look out for organizations that are vague in the way they describe their programs and purposes, and how they will accomplish them."
If you are approached by an unfamiliar charity, check it out. Most states require charities to register with them and file annual reports showing how they use donations. Also, beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of legitimate, established charities.
The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, which reports on charities and other soliciting organizations, offers free "Charity Reports" on their Web site, www.give.org. Like GuideStar, the list of charities evaluated is not exhaustive, especially those whose primary operations are in Israel. If you seek to verify the authenticity of a local charity that solicits regionally, contact a local BBB.
Often the best source of information is from the charity itself. You can contact the organization directly and request a copy of its most recent annual report and IRS Form 990. There, you can find out how much of the money it receives goes toward its stated mission and how much goes toward executive salaries, fundraising and administrative costs.
If an appeal for funds from an unfamiliar charity makes its way into your mailbox, you can also contact the government office responsible for registering charities in your state. Most state attorney general’s offices have a local charity registration division.
"Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes, but tell you nothing of the charity or what it is doing about the problem it describes so well," the BBB offers in its tip sheet for avoiding charity scams.
Online IRS filings also reveal how much charities pay their top officers. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, dubbed The Newspaper of the Nonprofit World, regularly lists such public information and provides information on how to assess a charity’s overhead.
According to Maimonides’ treatise on tzedakah, or doing justice, the highest level of charity is to help prevent a person from becoming poor. For example, finding someone a job or teaching a person a trade is far better than writing that person a check.
The next highest level occurs when a person contributes anonymously to a tzedakah fund that is then distributed to the poor. Jewish law commands that a person contribute between 10 percent and 20 percent of their net income to tzedakah.
It is wonderful to encourage and facilitate charitable giving on the part of our children. The b’nai mitzvah is an important spiritual passage that is often reduced in our culture to an elaborate party and gift-giving bonanza. As parents, we can imbue spiritual and profound meaning to these celebrations by designating a portion of these gifts to go toward a tzedakah of the child’s choosing.
Valley AIPAC Shows Support for Lobby
Break Fast With Emmy
Brace yourself. This Sunday night, some angels, a spy, a cynic and a meddling mother-in-law are coming over to break the Fast of Gedaliah. You don’t have to feed them, however. They’re all part of the 56th annual Emmy Awards on Sept. 19, hosted this year by comedian Garry Shandling.
Tony Kushner’s epic HBO AIDS-themed miniseries "Angels in America" is up for a whopping 21 awards — more than any other program — including director, best actor (for Al Pacino as Roy Cohn), best actress (for both Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep in myriad roles), writing and best movie or miniseries.
On a lighter note, the MOTs are strong in the comedy category, among them Larry David for his HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Jeffrey Tambor in the Fox hit "Arrested Development" and everyone’s favorite mom and brother, Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett as they head into what is scheduled to be the final season of CBS’s "Everybody Loves Raymond." Missing this year: "Will and Grace’s" Debra Messing (but maybe the character’s impending divorce will put the NBC star back on the list next year).
Also keep an eye out for Victor Garber, as daddy spy on ABC’s "Alias," and Kristin Davis of the gone but not forgotten "Sex and the City," who gets her first nomination for the season her character converted to Judaism.
No matter who wins, one thing is for sure: If you were able to identify any of the shows in the opening paragraph, you might want to add "And for watching too much TV" to your repentance this Yom Kippur.
The 56th Annual Emmy Awards airs live at 5 p.m. on ABC.
Twin Triathletes Go for the Gold
Task Force Reviews Access for Disabled
Childhood polio didn’t slow Jay Kruger. Although he couldn’t run, Kruger led a normal life as a teenager and into adulthood. Now, like other seniors experiencing post-polio syndrome, his strength is receding. To get around, three years ago he began relying on an electric wheelchair that he controls with a joystick.
While federal laws require public buildings to provide access for the handicapped, Kruger still encounters restaurants without ramps, public restrooms with hard-to-open doors that trap him inside and theater seating that is spitting distance from the screen. One quarter of the nation’s population cope with either physical or cognitive disabilities.
“People with two good legs, it doesn’t hit them,” said Kruger, who recently toured the recently opened Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Irvine to critique its accessibility for the handicapped.
Kruger had another motive, too. He is a member of a special Jewish Family Service (JFS) task force, which this fall will survey for the first time the needs and barriers of the physically and mentally disabled at synagogues, day schools and other Jewish institutions in Orange County.
It is hoped the Jewish Federation-funded survey will identify synagogues or programs that address needs of the disabled, which can be a model for others. The subject is a sensitive and complex one, as it will put a spotlight on community support for special services and conflicting attitudes over how to provide those services.
Findings initially will be compiled as a local Jewish resource guide, said Mel Roth, JFS executive director.
“When you find yourself with a child with special needs, it’s a maze out there,” said La Rhea Steindler, a JFS case manager and counselor, who is leading the 18-member task force, and is a mother of children with disabilities. “If it takes you three years to identify special needs, you’ve lost three precious years and have the emotional damage that goes with it.”
“If we shorten that process, we may prevent it,” she said.
The task force includes representatives from local Jewish groups, like the Jeremiah Society, as well as county service providers.
“It’s a very difficult job to get the community to recognize there are people among us who can’t benefit from society,” said Rose Lacher, who for 20 years has tried without success to establish a Jewish group home for mentally disabled adults in Orange County. She founded the Jeremiah Society, a social club of 30 members that draws participants from outside the county, reflecting the scarcity of such services.
“There are a lot of barriers,” Lacher said. “Some people just don’t want to hear about people who are different.”
“Using a public restroom has nothing to do with being Jewish,” said Joan Levine, who trains special education teachers at Cal State Fullerton. Levine, the author of a vocational guide for Orange County’s disabled, is dyslexic and has attention deficit disorder. She also is a JFS task force member.
Even so, she pointed out, observant Jews with disabilities face some particular hurdles. As an example, she said, turning off a hearing aid on Shabbat is considered an act of work, which is prohibited. Levine recalls having to seek permission from a religious court to use a sign language interpreter at a bat mitzvah where a deaf relative was to be called to the pulpit.
While day schools and supplemental religious schools willingly enroll special needs students, few are staffed with teachers expert in their needs. Some training is available locally through a little-known group, Special Needs Learning Partnership, formerly known as Jewish Education For All. The group provides highly regarded training in special-needs instruction for religious school teachers, hosts experts for talks with parents and teachers, and supplements teacher salaries.
“It’s the best-kept secret,” said Linda Shoham, the partnership director and also a member of the JFS task force. In the coming year, partnership-trained teachers will offer special-needs religious school classes at Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Huntington Beach’s Congregation Adat Israel.
Yet even when such resources are available, many parents with special-needs children prefer mainstream classes rather than a specialized one, which can be stigmatizing.
During the JCC tour, Kruger was pleased to learn the fitness staff includes Angel Luna, a victim of cerebral palsy, who is a rehabilitation specialist. Luna’s expertise with stroke and heart-attack victims would serve the disabled, too, said Sean Eviston, the JCC athletic director.
“He fits a niche perfectly that is lacking in most commercial gyms,” Eviston said.
Kruger was equally impressed with a submersible chair, allowing the wheelchair-bound to be immersed in the swimming pool.
“I’ve never seen another one,” he said.
But entering a JCC restroom or the senior center was a considerable effort for Kruger from his wheelchair.
“There are people with walkers who will have more difficulty than I getting through all those doors,” said Kruger, none of which open automatically. For those reasons, Kruger gave the JCC a “B” grade. “I couldn’t give it an ‘A.'”
Hope Is on the Menu at Cafe Ezra
California’s Budget, Compromised
Just as it seemed his honeymoon governorship was degenerating into insults and whining, Arnold Schwarzenegger finally signed a $105 billion state budget on July 31, about a month late.
The governor kept his promise not to raise taxes, the Democrats flexed their own muscles and won a reprieve from the drastic cuts they’d feared (especially in spending on health care) and most of the midsummer frustration has evaporated. Even Schwarzenegger’s poll numbers saw a rebound.
Jewish political leaders won a major budget victory when proposed cuts to day care for frail seniors failed to materialize. Saving two state-funded services, Adult Day Health Care and the Multi-Purpose Senior Services Program, was the centerpiece of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee’s May mission to Sacramento.
"We were very pleased with the governor’s and the legislature’s final budget," said Jessica Toledano of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, a wing of The Jewish Federation. "All of our programs here at The Federation have been maintained."
To make the bipartisan compromise work, the state budget borrows about $5 billion in bonds and liens on a slew of temporary funds secured from public education ($2.04 billion) and local governments ($1.3 billion). It’s only a stopgap, of course, since those interests are guaranteed all their funding back in 2006.
If all this borrowing and temporary cash sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
"The budget is pretty much concocted the same way that it has been the last two years," said Stephen Levy of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. "It’s the same mixture of stuff that we had before, and what it means is that we’re guessing the long-term budget gap is about $10 billion."
"He did what the voters told him to do: don’t cut spending, don’t raise taxes. It’s worked before," Levy said. "Well, ‘worked’ is a funny word for it, but it’s essentially what we’ve been doing before, which is to postpone the hard choices."
Here’s the upshot: Whichever side of the hard choice you’re on, higher taxes or cutting social services, there doesn’t seem to be a third option. California needs to either spend less or take in more revenue, despite the ongoing appeal of doing neither.
Unfortunately, the state now appears to be on track for a 2005 repeat of last year’s budget nightmare.
"I don’t think the bond houses are going to cut Schwarzenegger too much more slack, and, yes, we’ll be back [in deficit] next year," Levy said.
Sounds like business as usual in Sacramento, perhaps with a few more cigar tents.
No doubt the biggest Democratic rescue operation in Sacramento was the successful defense of Medi-Cal, if only for the moment.
Back in January, the governor had proposed about $900 million in cuts to the program that funds health care for the poor, but he backed down after stiff opposition from Democrats and social service nonprofits. Schwarzenegger’s policy team will return in January 2005 with a revamped proposal.
"About 50 percent of our annual revenues come from the Medi-Cal program," said Molly Forrest, CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), where fully 75 percent of the residents use state assistance to pay.
Forrest noted that the average "multilevel nonprofit health care provider" (more than just a nursing home) has only 20 percent of its residents on state assistance. JHA’s extra assistance to low-income people makes it far more vulnerable to Medi-Cal cuts.
Needless to say, Forrest isn’t content to wait and see what happens in Sacramento in January.
"In the last two years we’ve initiated about $1.5 million in cost cutting," Forrest said.
So to modernize its (already impressive) facilities, the focus is squarely on private donors and volunteers. Private funds, for example, created the fantastically hi-tech Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center — a facility for Alzheimer’s patients scientifically designed to feel more warm and comforting by incorporating research into how the disease affects behavior.
"The fact that so many [nursing homes] in California are outdated is related to the [Medi-Cal] reimbursement rate that the state is willing to pay," said Forrest. "The way we were able to [expand] was through the generosity of donors."
Alex Padilla, president of the Los Angeles City Council, said cuts in state-level assistance mean city officials should be taking a harder look at health care.
"I think the city can be supportive, financially and otherwise, of organizations who are trying to fill a void," Padilla said
"I believe there are fundamental human rights, and among them is the ability to live your golden years with dignity. The Jewish Home for the Aging provides that," Padilla said.
And not just for the wealthy, either.
Learn to Work
In a final bit of governor-related activity, the California Performance Review (CPR), a four-volume compendium of proposed changes to California’s government, was released by Schwarzenegger’s team on Aug. 3.
Though the report suggests reforming everything from taxation to wildlife management, some of the most interesting suggestions concern the issue on which the state spends more money than anything else: education.
Enter the Department of Education and Work Force Preparation, the CPR report’s answer to California’s education woes. That department would set policy from preschool to the university level, and adjust it to fit "the needs of employers," according to the report.
"I think it’s a misreading of the American public school and its history to say that good schools need to serve the marketplace," said David Tokofsky, who represents about 600,000 people on Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education.
"Good schools have a far more important role in invigorating democracy, the civic socialization role," he said.
At the head of this new bureau would sit the governor’s own appointed secretary of education (currently Richard Riordan), not the state’s superintendent of public instruction (currently Jack O’Connell), who is actually an elected official.
"There’s a real danger in the attraction of nonelected people in charge of schools," said Tokofsky, who was first elected to the Board of Education in 1995. He noted that the nature of American federalism runs counter to centralizing all power in the hands of one official.
It’s highly likely that the reforms contained in the CPR report will be picked apart, revised, edited and amended innumerable times before any are passed into law. Nevertheless, taken as indicators of this administration’s values, they are very telling.
"It’s an irony that the Republican Party that’s always for the theme of local government against Democratic centralism, is, now in power, singing the very tune of what it condemned just years before," Tokofsky said.
Melrose: Avenue of the Stars of David
Hope Is on the Menu at Cafe Ezra
It’s Thursday night at Camp Ramah in Ojai, and after most of the campers have gone to bed, more than 100 staffers squeeze into the staff lounge. Their hosts for the evening — all clad in red T-shirts — are the nine participants in the camp’s Ezra program, a unique vocational education program that serves young adults with special needs.
Cafe Ezra, as it is known, is the highlight of the week for Ezra’s members, who do everything from baking cookies and serving drinks to greeting visitors at the door. On this particular Thursday, July 15, one Ezra participant is particularly excited: Daniel Kamin, 22, is welcoming his older brother, Aaron, 26, as the night’s featured entertainment.
The brothers, who grew up in Studio City, have always had a close, supportive relationship, but success has always come easier for Aaron. With longtime friend Alex Band, he formed the rock band, The Calling, which has enjoyed considerable success since the release of its first album, "Camino Palermo," in 2001. The album reached multiplatinum status with the hit song, "Wherever You Will Go," which topped Billboard’s charts for 23 straight weeks.
The pair released their second album, "Two," in June and recently returned from a sold-out tour in Europe. However, for Aaron, nothing could be more important than a night spent at Camp Ramah — one of the first places where his brother has found a comfortable, happy place in the Jewish community.
Growing up, Daniel had frequent seizures, which caused some speech delay and significant learning disabilities.
Aaron did most of his schooling at Steven S. Wise Temple, but "there was really no program in the Jewish community for kids like Daniel," said their mother, Marlene Kamin, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
She found the best options for Daniel in public schools. Last year, at age 21, Daniel graduated from Grant High School in Van Nuys, where he took special life-skills classes in a program for students with learning disabilities.
Daniel did well, but his social situation in a mainstream high school was less than ideal, Kamin said. He spent the past year in a state-funded work-training program in the San Fernando Valley, which helped him learn work and social skills.
All the while, Kamin, who with husband David has been active in survivor organizations such as the 1939 Club, searched without success for a way to help Daniel make a connection in the Jewish community. It was an administrator at his grandfather’s convalescent home who pointed Daniel toward Camp Ramah, which started the Ezra program four years ago to accommodate young adults like him.
"The whole thing was beshert," Kamin said, using Hebrew for "meant to be."
Ezra operates as a sequel to Ramah’s Amitzim program, which serves children and teens with special needs. Both programs run under the umbrella program Ramah calls Tikva (Hebrew for "hope"). Kamin said hope is an understatement for what Ezra has done for her son this summer.
Ezra helps young adults with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, autism or slower mental capacity to learn to function as independent adults. Through a type of work-study structure, each participant is given a job at the camp. (Daniel has received rave reviews for his work in the infirmary.) The program also teaches basic life skills, such as maneuvering at a supermarket or depositing a check in the bank.
The participants put many of these skills to work each week in planning the Cafe Ezra event.
"They get a feeling of responsibility," said Tara Reisbaum, Tikvah program director. "The experience of being at camp adds to their personal growth and allows them to see how much potential they have."
Daniel’s mother, who is also a special guest at this evening’s Cafe Ezra, said she "can’t even describe in words" how proud she is of Daniel, who has written many letters home reporting how much he loves camp and how independent he has become.
A way to celebrate that success is to have Aaron, honor him with a performance. To the enjoyment of an eager audience, Aaron opens his performance with his most popular song, "Wherever You Will Go."
But this night, he lets his younger brother have the spotlight and the microphone. Daniel sings, dances and plays the harmonica, while Aaron plays the guitar and sits back to admire his brother.
"Daniel is able to maintain his beautiful spirit," Aaron said later. "Everyone should be jealous of him for that."
Daniel makes no secret of his admiration for his brother, saying with a big smile: "I like being a genius when it comes to music. I like being smart like my brother."
The love that fills the room is felt by more than just the brothers. Rabbi Daniel Greyber, Ramah’s executive director, sums up the event’s sentiment: "Evenings like this give us a sense of what is true in the world, what is faithful, what is possible."
On this Thursday night in a crowded room tucked into the quiet hills of Ojai, that hope resonates for all.
Hatzolah Expands Emergency Service
Smaller Classes for Smaller Kids
"I want to create a place of wonder," said Lindy Lane-Epstein, who spent the summer attempting to animate her vision for a scaled-down preschool and kindergarten for members of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom.
She started with painting in primary colors and moved on to culling well-loved toys for the best specimens.
With enrollment capped at under 50 children aged 2 to 6 and a state-mandated teacher-student ratio of 1 to 6, Lane-Epstein predicts both students and instructors will enjoy a far different experience when classes start Sept. 8.
She was hired as the preschool’s new director in June to revamp the synagogue’s program with a more pronounced Jewish curriculum. "I like the idea of a more intimate program," Lane-Epstein said.
While her most recent job was an assistant math teacher at a Jewish day school, Lane-Epstein also worked as a Judaica educator, teacher and assistant director of the Jewish Community Center’s preschool in Costa Mesa, which then enrolled 140 students.
That and more were enrolled in Beth Sholom’s preschool up until last spring. Yet after more than 30 years, operating deficits forced the synagogue to let go its full-time preschool staff and close its award-winning children’s learning center (CLC), a community day-care facility used by as many as 160 children, including infants.
"When we really looked at it, it was worse than we thought," said Sylvan Swartz, the congregation’s president. Costs for health insurance and worker’s compensation had increased so dramatically in recent years, he said, that the congregation was contemplating program cuts elsewhere to make up the deficit.
"Did it make sense to reduce the quality and quantity of temple programs when our CLC, comprised of 75 to 80 percent non-Jewish families, was a major source of our cash drain?" Swartz explained in a synagogue bulletin.
"It didn’t make sense," he said in an interview. "When we stepped back, it was obvious. We were cutting the wrong program."
The wrenching financial decision was made easier when synagogue leaders settled on starting fresh with a more Jewish orientation for its 650 families. Nonmembers could enroll their children, but at higher fees.
"We decided as a synagogue that it made more sense to start over and keep it more manageable," Swartz said.
Praised as one of the county’s best child-care operations, Swartz said, "Like any small business in America, it’s difficult to compete with large operations."
Neither did the synagogue management want to tackle finding a solution.
"We’re not there as a day-care center," Swartz said. "Our commitment is to lifelong learning."
The full-time staff of the larger preschool was uninterested in the part-time hours at the revamped operation, he said.
For Lane-Epstein, 44, starting fresh is a rare opportunity to make concrete her many creative ideas, particularly in Judaica where preschool curriculum is not standardized. To teach kindergarten, she hired Felicia Fields Bennett, a former Morasha Jewish Day School teacher. The class is likely to be no more than 12 children, well under state requirements.
"I’ll have my style," Lane-Epstein said, which will include creating a Jewish environment with Israel posters, Hebrew writing and Jewish-themed puzzles. She is equally enthusiastic about enriching the preschool’s Jewish content with the effervescent presence of Rabbi Heidi Cohen, whose daughter, 5-year-old Dahvi, is enrolled.
As is her practice during Beth Sholom’s summer camp, Cohen will make weekly Shabbat visits to the preschool.
For the Kids
Scholarship Takes No Vacation
Two local synagogues are offering an opportunity for Jewish scholarship this summer, and a third is offering weekly Hebrew classes at all levels.
Through the Community Scholar Program, Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel will help host a six-day visit by a professor of Jewish history and archaeology from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
Professor Lee Levine, a 30-year resident of Israel, is the author of 11 books about ancient Judaism, synagogues and geography. He will hold six talks over six days, July 1-6. Most will be held at either B’nai Israel or an upper school classroom at Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School in Irvine.
His topics will range from Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" to whether the Passover seder is a pagan invention.
Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet promises an eight-week class that can turn Hebrew illiterates into Hebrew readers able to follow in a prayer book. Four levels of Hebrew are offered at Beth Emet in weekly classes that will meet beginning July 19 at 7:30 p.m. and run through the first week of September.
"The instruction is highly individualized and offers the freedom to move between classes to meet your personal needs," promised Margalit Moskowitz, Beth Emet’s education director.
Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation will host a parenting seminar July 29-Aug. 1 by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, a teaching professor from Jerusalem who challenges popular child-raising theories.
A former Harvard and UCLA student, Kelemen began his career as a ski instructor and worked as a news director and anchorman for a California radio station. He then traveled to Jerusalem to pursue the rabbinate, simultaneously conducting a dozen years of intensive postgraduate field research and publishing several books.
Kelemen teaches at Neve Yerushalaim College of Jewish Studies for Women and is the author of "To Kindle a Soul" (Leviathan, 2001) an authoritative parenting handbook.
The Beth Jacob seminar is $36 per person; $48 per couple.
Further details on the programs are available by calling the shuls: Beth Jacob, (949) 786-5230; B’nai Israel, (714) 730-9693; Beth Emet, (714) 772-4720.
UC Irvine Graduation Clash Fizzles
A True Best Friend
A hero of last fall’s destructive brushfires in San Bernardino was 5-year-old Duke, a miniature spaniel trained since 2000 to serve as a “co-therapist.” At one evacuation center during the weeklong siege, without prompting, Duke snuggled up to a 10-year-old boy who refused to talk after losing his cat and home. Slowly, the boy began telling Duke his story.
Duke’s owner, Dr. Lois Abrams, a Los Alamitos psychiatrist uses her dog as a tool to work with kids who have been exposed to trauma. She was soon able to take the boy to the proper people for assistance.
Abrams and Duke, who volunteer with a group that offers emotional support during disasters, were honored in April by the O.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Abrams is a member of Westminster’s Temple Beth David.
O.C. Honors Israel
Nearly 3,000 people attended the community Israel celebration in May. The turnout earned an estimated $2,500 profit, said Mali Leitner, of Villa Park, who organized the event for O.C.’s Jewish Federation. Her goal was seed money for next year’s affair.
Nearly 100 booths were filled by Jewish merchants of goods and ideas, a stronger than anticipated show of community cooperation and vitality.
Francie Rosen created a festive mood on stage with a balloon arch.
Leitner’s volunteers were helped by the Young Judea youth group and Tzofim, the local chapter of the Israeli scouts.
Landau Bon Voyage
Nearly 300 people packed a farewell party also on June 6 to give a heartfelt send off to Rabbi Joel Landau and his wife, Johni, leaving Irvine’s Beth Jacob Congregation for Israel after 11 years.
Reuben Kershaw will celebrate his 90th birthday July 11 with a family reunion party at Mission Viejo’s city library. Kershaw was president of the foundation that was instrumental in replacing the cramped county branch facility with the modern, spacious one that opened in 1997. The gardens at the library are named in his honor.
Stuart P. Jasper of Mission Viejo received the prestigious Harmon G. Scoville award from the O.C. Bar Association on May 14. The award is presented annually to honor a local member of the bar whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession and who has significantly contributed to the group. Jasper, who has a business litigation practice in Irvine, is president of the local chapter of the American Inns of Court. Its monthly programs help lawyers become more effective advocates with a keener ethical awareness.
Jasper’s son, Todd, graduated in June from Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine and plans to attend George Washington University in the fall.
Mert Isaacman, 57, of Irvine, the top lawn bowling player in the country for the last two years, was named to a five-man U.S. team that will compete July 23-Aug. 8 in Ayr, Scotland, for the lawn bowling world championship.
Held every four years and coinciding with the Olympics in Athens, the tournament draws competitors from 40 countries. Teams are selected based on cumulative scores of 21-point games over four years. Last November, Isaacman won a silver medal in the singles division of an international tournament in Brisbane, New Zealand. The year before in Australia — where 600,000 players play the sport and spectators scream like their at a Lakers game — Isaacman became the first American medal winner in singles, considered the premier event. Just 20,000 players compete in the United States.
Isaacman, a real estate developer, is one of Beth Jacob Congregation’s many South African expatriates. He took up the sport seriously in 1986 after an embarrassing beginning. His introduction had come 10 years earlier in a bet over a game with his late father, who spotted him a 15-point lead.
“I never scored a point,” he admitted, and also lost the $100 bet. =
The fifth- and sixth-grade teams from Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School earned first place finishes when they competed in the “National Current Events League” in May.
The competition consists of four “meets” where classes independently take tests that cover an array of topics in the news over the previous two months. Results are tabulated after the fourth test and overall winners announced.
Morasha’s fifth-graders went up against 115 schools,
outscoring their nearest competitor by 10 points. The sixth-graders had a bigger
field of 139 competitors, outscoring the nearest rival by 47 points. Student Ben
Cohen was the only individual who received a perfect score; classmates Dillon
Katz, Lauren Shapiro and Ari Mor were also top scorers.
UC Irvine Graduation Clash Fizzles
Tull Lends a Hand to the Homeless
What is a homeless shelter? The definition really upsets Tanya Tull.
“A shelter is a place to stay for the night,” she says, raising her voice. “But a shelter is not the answer. Shelters are not going to solve the problem.”
Tull is referring to Los Angeles’ high cost of housing and the resulting homelessness. She first started worrying about those on the streets in 1980, and now, 24 years later, Tull is fighting against a real estate boom that prices the low-wage earners out of the housing market and federal aid cuts that exacerbate the problem. Tull outlined the issue with hard numbers in a March Los Angeles Times article: 8,000 children sleep on Los Angeles streets every night, 5,000 families will lose their Section 8 housing in 2005 and 15,000 families will lose their houses over the next five years.
But she isn’t content with worrying. As the president and CEO of Beyond Shelter Inc., an organization that helps people find permanent housing as quickly as possible and then supports them with services for a period of time, Tull is one of several Jewish Angelenos — like David Grunwald, chief executive of L.A. Family Housing Corp, and Ruth Schwartz, executive director of Shelter Partnership of Los Angeles — who is devoting her career to getting people off the streets and into homes.
“When I started doing this work, my aunts and grandmothers asked me why am I not doing it in the Jewish community,” said Tull, 61. “I answered that this feels right. I am working in third-world America. And if we don’t do this, who will?”
Tull’s programs have been so successful — in 2001 she helped 5,000 families with rental support services and put 220 homeless families into permanent housing — that she is now working with the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, both based in Washington, D.C., to implement them in other cities across America.
After seeing Beyond Shelter’s five-floor office space in downtown Los Angeles and hearing Tull talk about her myriad programs, it’s hard to imagine that she didn’t even know what a nonprofit was when she started. She plunged headfirst into the world of organized charities and it was her idealism and bullheaded belief in making a difference that drove her success.
After she spent time on a kibbutz in her early 20s, she returned to Los Angeles as a single mother; Tull then worked as a social worker in South Los Angeles and Skid Row and then quit out of frustration because “there was so much poverty and hopelessness and I couldn’t do anything about it.” In the ’70s she briefly retired from changing the world — something she said she wanted to do when she was younger — got teaching credentials and settled down to raise her three children.
But when she read a Los Angeles Times article in 1980 about children living in Skid Row hotels, she was so incensed that she created a nonprofit on her living room table called Para Los Ninos (For the Children). Tull started raising money for a daycare center in a converted warehouse and eventually set up a host of programs for babies and children up to the age of 5.
“Then I began thinking more about the families,” she said. “It really bothered me that these children needed to go home to these hotels every night. I went to the Community Redevelopment Agency of L.A. and asked them where the affordable housing was, and they said there was none and they weren’t building any because the government had pretty well slashed affordable housing.”
Tull got to work. She co-founded the L.A. Family Housing Corporation in 1983 and developed a low-income housing project in South Los Angeles. She wanted the project to function similar to a kibbutz. She envisioned someone providing childcare while the residents tilled a communal vegetable garden. But the experiment failed, and it taught Tull a lesson in her fight to end homelessness.
“Housing is a basic human right,” she said. “It can’t be a reward for good behavior.”
Tull also realized that emergency shelters were only going to “recycle” the homeless, and in 1988 she started Beyond Shelter to get people into permanent homes.
Now Beyond Shelter has an annual budget of more than $4 million and works to build affordable rental units and revitalize neighborhoods, create relationships with the landlord community so it can advocate on behalf of people who have bad credit ratings and numerous evictions on their record, help people find jobs and offer support services to poor families.
And Tull wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“There were many other things I could do [as a career] and I often wonder about them,” she said. “But I don’t think I could ever have given up this experience of being able to impact so many lives.”
For more information on Beyond Shelter, visit www.beyondshelter.org Â or call (213) 252-0772.
Q & A With Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Buy It Now
It continues to baffle me why anybody who cares about the future of Jewish communal life in Los Angeleswould seriously contemplate closing the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC).
Here is a vibrant center, serving about 1,000 people each week, in the midst of a large and growing Jewish population eager for center services, on a piece of highly desirable real estate that has been bought and paid for. We should be arguing over how much to expand Valley Cities JCC, not whether to close it.
The center is slated to be shut and sold by June 30 so that its owner, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), can get its financial house in order. The organization owes The Jewish Federation $2.2 million, and the agency must make good on $1 million in its special fund and owes banks $450,000.
JCCGLA already sold off Bay Cities JCC, holds the ax over the head of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and is itself facing dissolution.
From the very beginning of the centers crisis, the debate has never veered far from the bottom line. I understand the logic. I’ve heard eloquent voices argue the case for fiscal responsibility, but precious few powerful voices argue the case for more communal generosity on the JCC’s behalf.
One can argue that the Jewish community is moving west, and that it is time to abandon the old neighborhoods and cut our institutional losses. Such steps were necessary in the past. The shuttering of the Menorah Center near Boyle Heights in 1953 provoked outrage over an action that, in retrospect, looks visionary.
But East San Fernando Valley isn’t dying. Driving along Burbank you pass busy kosher markets and Israeli-owned restaurants, and run into the massive campus of Adat Ari El synagogue and the thriving Orthodox neighborhoods of North Hollywood.
A needs and assessment priority report prepared for Valley Cities JCC determined that the center sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000-40,000 people. It is made up of American as well as Israeli, Russian and Persian Jews, many of whom are recent immigrants. About 60 percent of the children enrolled at Valley Cities are Israeli American. They are eager for a Jewish home away for home, a way to integrate into the larger Jewish community, a Jewish place for their children and seniors to play and learn.
I’ve never been convinced that the philanthropists who raise and allocate the bulk of the Jewish communal charitable dollars in this city, and the leadership they speak with, truly believe in the future of the JCC movement. They, along with a few rabbis and others, have told me they believe centers are over — although many of these people themselves usually came to Jewish life through involvement in a JCC.
The evidence contradicts the naysayers.
Across the country JCCs are booming, even in cities where they face competition from mega-synagogues, health clubs and public after-school programs. JCCs reach 1.7 million Jews, 28 percent of the entire U.S. Jewish population, according to a new report for the JCC Association of North America. That’s more than the Reform movement itself can claim. Are L.A. Jews that different? Of course not. A successful Jewish community has many doors of entry.
The JCC Association, which is on the cusp of a major national ad campaign to strengthen the centers, also found that successful communities teamed JCCs with other organizations — federations, synagogues, agencies — to collaborate on programming and services. Closing the actual JCC buildings then renting other facilities to deliver JCC-ish services seems ingenious and synergistic now, but would inevitably weaken the sense of a Jewish “home away from home” that is at the heart of the center movement’s appeal. Better all parties synergize now to work hard with potential donors, bankruptcy attorneys, bankers and agencies to figure out a way to buy Valley Cities from JCCGLA.
I spent last Tuesday morning at Valley Cities, saw its classrooms and playgrounds filled with children, its auditorium the site of a large gathering of local seniors debating anti-Semitism in Europe.The local demand for center services, despite repeated threats of imminent closure, has actually increased. Members have raised $30,000 in mostly small donations since the troubles began — Valley Cities Director Marla Minden won’t cash the checks until the center’s survival is assured — and have organized bake sales, carnivals and letter-writing campaigns (including to The Journal).
More importantly, a younger and more astute leadership has come on board, and shows the kind of acumen that given a chance could turn the place around.
The folks at Valley Cities are not sophisticated fundraisers. Not one of their members sits on the board of The Federation, and none of them are lunching or golfing where the big money is raised. (They hadn’t even thought to turn to the Jewish Community Foundation, with its $470 million in assets.) This particular JCC serves a less-affluent Jewish population, many of whom are among the 16-20 percent of Los Angeles’ poor Jews. Last year Valley Cities gave out a good chunk of its budget in scholarships.
“Just because Jews don’t have money doesn’t mean they don’t deserve these services,” Valley Cities President Michael Brezner said. “There will be a huge void in this community if and when this center disappears.”
A member of the center sent me a postcard that echoes Brezner’s feelings.
“The Jewish Center gave me a very good childhood. And they also helped my family pay to send me and my brother to camp while my mother was in the hospital,” the 14-year-old boy wrote me. “It would be very sad if the JCC closed.”
Sad, yes, and short-sighted.
Record Gridlock Good for Liberals
Stalemate has become standard operating procedure for Congress in recent years, but this year’s legislative gridlock could be headed for the record books. That’s a source of frustration for Jewish activists across the political spectrum — but also of guilty relief for some.
Important bills have little chance of moving forward in a session marred by election year politics and a new, venomous partisanship. But for liberal Jewish groups, the clogged congressional arteries also mean a partial respite from the conservative onslaught.
Still, no Jewish group takes any joy in a legislative tangle that blocks good legislation and bad and keeps Congress from dealing with a host of long-term problems that are just getting worse as lawmakers quibble.
The reasons for the current gridlock are many, but they can be boiled down to a few basic ones, starting with the rancorous, uncompromising mood of the congressional leadership. In the age of Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh, you don’t debate and find the middle ground, you maul.
In the House, the GOP leadership has made almost no effort to reach across party lines to the Democrats. Things are hardly any better in the Senate, where the traditional collegiality is now just a memory.
One particularly graphic example: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) recently traveled to South Dakota to campaign against his Democratic counterpart, minority leader Tom Daschle, a spectacular breach of the etiquette of that body.
The Republicans have a solid enough majority in the House to pass most conservative legislation, but Senate rules that give added power to the minority are proving an insurmountable roadblock to congressional action.
But there are other reasons for the legislative gridlock, including the fact that in this election year, lawmakers are reluctant to confront problems that don’t conform to their simplistic campaign slogans.
The budget is a mess and everybody knows it is going to take Draconian action to deal with it — huge program cuts or tax increases — but that’s the last thing nervous partisans on both sides of the aisle want.
The Bush administration, preoccupied by the deteriorating situation in Iraq, has not aggressively pushed its domestic legislative agenda, adding to the congressional malaise.
While nobody cheers the results, this latest do-nothing Congress has a silver lining for liberal Jewish groups.
"A lot of things we expected would go through very quickly in this Congress have stalled," said an official with one group, "and given the current political climate, that may be the best we can hope for."
An example: the stalled effort to reauthorize the controversial 1996 welfare reform law. The original law included the first national "charitable choice" provisions, whic opened the door to government contracts for religious groups to provide social services; the reauthorization was expected to renew and expand those provisions.
But the bill was yanked when senators got hopelessly bogged down in debates over minimum-wage provisions, and nobody, apparently, thought it was worth trying to hammer out a compromise.
Overall, the president’s faith-based initiative is not likely to get much of a hearing in a Congress ideologically disposed to it, but not disposed to find the compromises it will take to enact the plan into law.
And some legislation is more useful stalled than passed.
A constitutional amendment barring gay marriage and an extension of the controversial Patriot Act are unlikely to move this year, in part because many Republican leaders expect to gain political mileage by blaming the Democrats for holding them back. Many Democrats are working to block those bills — and the Republicans aren’t trying very hard to get past those roadblocks.
But the gridlock is also sidelining measures these Jewish groups support, including an expanded hate crimes statute and the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA).
Jewish leaders are pushing legislation to provide $100 million in homeland security money to help nonprofit agencies, including synagogues and Jewish schools, protect themselves against terror attacks.
But congressional leaders are much more interested in playing partisan "gotcha" than in figuring out how to the provide the money.
And then there’s the budget time bomb.
Congress didn’t deal with the soaring deficit last year, when it failed to pass 11 of 13 appropriations bills, and it’s unlikely to do much better this year. Instead, most observers expect another big, pork-laden "continuing resolution" — Congress-talk for a gimmick to put off hard budget decisions.
That’s good news — sort of — for agencies that expect big cuts when Congress finally does start dealing with the runaway deficit. But in the end, putting off a serious budget reckoning will only compound the problem.
Jewish groups don’t have magic answers to the budget crisis, but almost all agree: the longer Congress fiddles while the budget burns, the worse will be the ultimate consequences.
And forget about meaningful Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform to keep the vital programs solvent when the Baby Boom generation hits the Golden Years.
Recent history suggests the "What, Me Worry" Congress will be overwhelmingly reelected on Nov. 2, but it sure won’t be because of its distinguished legislative record.
The Soldier I Could Have Saved
Big Brother Lurks in Higher Education Bill
In recent weeks, a number of major Jewish organizations — the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others — have announced their support for congressional passage of H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, which would amend Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to enhance international education programs.
The purpose of the bill is to restore some semblance of ideological balance to Middle East studies centers on university campuses, and it is for this reason that many Jewish organizations support it.
Leaving aside the question of whether it is the government’s role to ensure ideological balance in academic settings, the bill unquestionably is a well-intentioned response to a serious problem. However, Section (6) of this proposal, which is now before the Senate, would establish an international higher education advisory board.
These government-appointed overseers not only would “monitor, apprise, and evaluate” academic programs but also would have the power to “assure that their relative authorized activities reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs.”
In other words, the U.S. government would have the power to decide whose views are heard.
With all due respect to my elders and betters who support this legislation (with the proud exception of Alan Dershowitz, whose opposition rightly prevented the Jewish Council for Public Affairs from endorsing it), this proposal is wrong for America, wrong for academia, wrong for American Jewry and wrong for Judaism.
Section (6) is wrong for America. This proposal is Big Brother at its worst and runs counter to cherished principles of freedom of expression in open and public debates. The marketplace of ideas is the vital place where scholars and citizens — not the government — decide which views are considered mainstream options and which views are consigned to the margins of the extreme. Read the text of the bill carefully — it’s online at
Freewheeling Around D.C.
When Stephen Marks and his wife, Janna, acquired Bike the Sites in December 2002, they didn’t realize how their two-wheeled tours of Washington, D.C., would translate to a Jewish audience.
“We put together some talking points to generate discussion and thought from a Jewish perspective at the different sites,” says Stephen, who took over the company from its founder, Gary Oelsner, who began offering professionally guided bicycle tours and rentals in 1995.
The Markses, recreational bikers until purchasing the company, also started providing customized programs for Jewish organizations such as B’nai B’rith, Jewish camps, federations and synagogue groups.
Bike the Sites, a smart solution to the challenges of sightseeing in heavily trafficked D.C., allows visitors to enjoy Washington’s history and architecture in an environmentally friendly way. It is among a handful of unique ways to explore the capital and enjoy local Jewish culture, kosher restaurants and community resources.
On a trip to Washington in 2003, a friend and I opted for the Marks’ Sites@Nite tour — a warm-weather option. March 1 through Dec. 30, the Bike the Sites menu features its flagship outing, the Capital Sites Tour, an easy three-hour ride around the National Mall and the Potomac’s Tidal Basin. Guides share the scoop on more than 50 of the nation’s most popular attractions, including the presidential monuments, as well as a few lesser-known sites that may have more meaning to Jewish visitors, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Einstein Memorial.
After adjusting our seat height on our 21-speed comfort mountain bike (a more upright ride and a larger seat) and helmets, we began our tour with a brief orientation on safety tips and hand signals from a CPR-trained guide. We took off from the Bike the Sites headquarters at the Old Post Office Pavilion (near the offices of the Internal Revenue Service) and rode on the sidewalk up busy 12th Street to the Mall.
In a picture-postcard setting, we rode past locals playing ball on the green open spaces in the shadow of landmarks. We cruised toward the Smithsonian Castle on a level, gravel path toward a number of top-billing destinations: the National Gallery and Sculpture Garden, National Archives, Air and Space Museum and the future American Indian Museum, which is slated to debut in September 2004.
From time to time, our energetic guide Mark, who earned a bachelor’s degree in American history at George Washington University in D.C., would roll to a stop and tell us more about our capital.
As we looked on at the Capitol building and munched on kosher Clif Bars (provided gratis for hungry guests), we learned how President Abraham Lincoln ordered tons of iron to be used for the construction of the Capitol dome — a message of strength and determination to the rest of the world that the North would win the Civil War.
Pedaling onward, we noted the increased security around the majestic Washington Monument and the White House. At the Vietnam Memorial, Mark told us an Israeli visitor pointed out that the soldiers on a statue that looks on at the poignant wall of victims’ names are equipped with authentic models of the M-16 rifle.
At the Einstein Memorial, we took a water break and marveled at the beautiful execution of this memorial to the 20th century’s most legendary scientist. A larger-than-life statue combines Einstein’s thoughtful gaze with the body of a child to evoke his childlike wonder of the world and his unique ability to see it anew.
At the foot of the statue, a fascinating star map depicts the skies on the night of what would have been his 100th birthday. As you stand in the apex of converging rays and say a few words to Einstein, you hear yourself speaking to him in the most perfect echo. It’s a whole new theory on relativity.
Bike the Sites is at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, behind the Old Post Office Pavilion in the historic Penn Quarter. Prices for the Capitol Sites Tour are $40 for adults and $30 for children under 13. The fee includes the use of bikes and helmets, professional tour guides, bottled water and snacks.
Summertime Beat the Heat trips and customized tours for
Jewish groups are also available. All groups of riders receive a 15 percent
discount for a post-bike ride meal at Stacks, a nearby kosher delicatessen.
Bike, tandem, trailer tandem, burley (a buggy that attaches to bikes for young
children) and stroller rentals are also available. For group reservations, call
(202) 842-BIKE; e-mail, Stephen@bikethesites.com; or visit,
Vote Yes on 57, 58: They Will Ease Crisis
Transition to New Center Under Way
The transition by Orange County’s Jewish Community Center (JCC) to an expansive $20 million facility in Irvine this summer is already underway with the hiring, effective March 1, of an expanded management team.
On the job only a few months, Dan M. Bernstein, the JCC’s executive director, is also moving swiftly to tidy up a homegrown, informal culture and instill more professionalism in the organization. Besides reassigning staff and making new hires, Bernstein is pushing to establish more rigorous policies about membership and community use at the new facility.
At least Bernstein can avoid wrestling with the threat of court-imposed restrictions on hours of operation, as neighboring homeowners in January dropped a lawsuit seeking such limits. To allay noise concerns by residents, both sides agreed to restrict usage in the gymnasium to 10 p.m., said James W. Kauker, a board member of the Sierra Bonita Homeowners Association and president of Irvine Residents for Responsible Growth, which helped pay for the litigation. The gym is closest to the Turtle Rock neighborhood.
Still unresolved is paying for landscaping to obscure the multistory building, uphill from homes on Sierra Lago Road. The forest of mature trees on the homeowners’ wish list would cost $700,000, Kauker said, while the JCC has agreed to an additional $100,000 worth of plantings. Residents intend to ask city government to fund the difference.
"We’re hoping the city will do the right thing," Kauker said, because city officials failed to adhere to development notification rules when issuing permits for the campus.
The facility still under construction in Irvine is expansive and includes an infant-care facility, preschool, fitness center and gymnasium large enough to accommodate two basketball games. There are areas designated for workout classes, adult education and massage. When completed, there will be lockers for swimmers, space for an art exhibit, playground and Holocaust memorial.
In addition, the JCC will have a cafe, poolside snack bar and kosher kitchen to prepare hot food, which is partially for the use of high school students on the neighboring campus of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. The center’s multipurpose theater will seat 500.
Typically, the fitness center and athletic facilities are what 70 percent of JCC members seek, Bernstein said, noting that the current 30,000-square-foot JCC in Costa Mesa was inadequate to offer more typical amenities.
"A normal JCC has teen activities, a parenting center, athletic activities," he said. "Outside of preschool and camp, we didn’t have 90 percent of what a normal JCC does." The director predicted that the new 120,000-square-foot JCC will support a program guide an inch thick.
"We have to change the way we do business," Bernstein said. "I know what it takes to open this building. It’s going to be very expensive to run this building."
A new emphasis will be placed on boosting JCC membership, which had not previously been mandatory, even for board members. Contracts are under review, too, with independent contractors, such as those who for years have offered Krav Maga self-defense classes and Israeli folk dancing on JCC premises.
"They will be our programs, on our terms," Bernstein said.
His goal is to increase a current membership of 900 units to 1,000 in a year and to double that in three years. In addition, he hopes to standardize fees, which now vary by category.
Among the new staff starting this month are some familiar faces in unfamiliar roles. The current 12-member staff is expected to more than double — up to 30 — when the new facility opens, now expected in September.
Sean Eviston, hired as director of health, recreation and physical education, worked as fitness coordinator at the Westside JCC in Los Angeles.
Sheila Witzling, who volunteered her marketing skills to JCC projects, such as the "Three Tenors" concert, accepted a staff position as director of marketing and membership. Witzling most recently worked for the Identity Group, an Irvine marketing firm. She is also president of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel.
Wendy Miller of Aliso Viejo will return to the JCC as special events and fundraising coordinator. Jason Meyers, who developed the JCC’s after-school sports program and Sunday leagues, was named director of a new JCC sports camp.
Bernstein also mined his former employer in Sarasota, Fla., hiring two former employees to serve as the JCC’s camp director and teen coordinator. Wendy Fogel will succeed outgoing camp director Sari Poremba. Audra Martin will take on the new position of teen and tween program supervisor, charged with developing after-school, weekend and summer youth programs.
Bernstein believes JCCs play a vital role in maintaining Jewish identity and solidifying the Jewish community. His 84-year-old father is still a dues-paying JCC member. When Bernstein asked why, his father told him, "Because my picture is on the wall," referring to a dated team photograph.
"I want everyone who comes through the door to see their face [on the wall]," Bernstein said.
Meant to Be