Budget crunch forcing schools to cut, become creative


Rabbi Samuel Levine has a problem—and it’s echoing throughout the Jewish day school world.

Levine, the head of school at Hillel Day School in Boca Raton, Fla., has seen an increase of more than 20 percent in requests for financial aid from the past year. In 2008-09, the school gave out about $1 million in assistance. This year the figure will be at least $1.25 million.

While the need for aid is rising, the school’s donors are giving less because of the recession, which has hit South Florida especially hard with blows to two of the region’s main industries, real estate and tourism. In addition to the drop in donations, the annual allocation that Hillel receives from the Jewish Federation of South Florida has been cut because its general fund-raising campaign is hurting.

To cope, the 21-year-old Orthodox school, which runs from pre-K through eighth grade, has had to slice $700,000 from its budget. That includes pay cuts of between 2 percent and 6 percent across the board, the elimination of non-essential staff and a cut in maintenance.

“It’s been very, very painful,” Levine told JTA. “We looked at every line in the budget and asked how can we pay less, how can we afford less, without affecting the programs.”

Hillel is not alone. From a story in The Jewish Star of Long Island focused on Orthodox families headlined “Tuition or mortgage: Choosing public school over homelessness” to the announcement that the Solomon Schechter Day School of Palm Beach County in Florida is closing because of budgetary problems, examples abound of day schools struggling at the start of the academic year.

As yet, there is no hard data on how much need is out there in terms of financial assistance. The groups that follow day schools are just gathering the information as schools are reporting it. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that the 20 percent or so increase that Hillel in Boca has experienced is about average.

“We saw families already participating in the financial aid program turn to schools for additional assistance,” said Marc Kramer, the executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network, a non-denominational umbrella group bringing together community day schools.

“We saw families who were non-financial aid students seek financial aid, families who had been paying tuition and making donations indicate they could make tuition but not donations,” he said. “And there was the most tragic subset of those who needed aid for the first time and did not apply but just dropped out.”

Amid the challenges, according to leaders of several organizations focused on day school development, a silver lining has emerged: Many of the suffering day schools have sought creative solutions to their problems that could help strengthen their economic foundations in the long term.

Kramer said the upsurge in such responses from philanthropists and schools attempting to cut costs has helped stave off a mass exodus of students leaving for financial reasons—a mounting fear since the 2008-09 school year ended, especially in non-Orthodox schools.

For example, in Phoenix, an elementary school (The King David School) and a high school (Jess Schwartz College Prep) decided to merge in order to save on overhead.

In the Cleveland suburb of Beechwood, the Agnon School increased tuition last year by 12 percent with an eye toward an upcoming budget crunch. Still, it had to cut $450,000 from its budget this year—about 10 percent. That included a wage freeze and the temporary suspension of certain programs that Agnon did not view as part of its core mission, such as the Mandarin Chinese course that had become mandatory in the middle school.

Schools across the country are working creatively, according to Rabbi Josh Elkin, the executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, an organization that consults with day schools on various issues.

“Along with the anecdotal stories of significant increases in requests for tuition assistance,” Elkin said, “we have heard probably an equal amount of extraordinary stories that significant numbers of schools have taken to find the resources to keep families in school and to bring in new families.”

Some local Jewish federations, including New Jersey’s MetroWest, New York and Chicago, have stepped up with significant multimillion-dollar gifts to help schools cope with their budget problems and growing financial aid needs. Foundations such as the Jim Joseph Foundation in San Francisco, the Helen Bader Foundation in Milwaukee, the Kohelet Foundation in Philadelphia, the Weber Family Foundation in Atlanta and the Legacy Heritage Foundation also have provided significant gifts to help schools, Elkin said.

The schools are looking at ways to raise money.

One approach involves attempting to diversify their donor bases: Instead of asking relatively few families for large donations, schools are reaching out to more families for smaller dollars, Elkin said. His organization is working with four schools in a pilot program to help them learn how to cultivate legacy gifts or bequests to help endow schools after a donor dies.

Northern New Jersey residents have launched an organization called Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools to collect small donations of $40 on average to help local schools. In July, the New Jersey Jewish Standard reported that the organization would distribute $250,000 this year.

There are even signs of schools working together across denominational lines.

Members of RAVSAK, the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter schools, the Reform movement’s Pardes and the Modern Orthodox Institute for University-School Partnership of Yeshiva University will hold a joint professional development conference in New York in January instead of having separate conferences.

RAVSAK’s Kramer says it adds up to a positive story behind what could be a very negative one.

“This is a vision of collaboration that is at once about being smart with dollars because we have to be,” he said. “But the recession has also given us permission to remember that all of us are ‘klal Yisrael.’ In many ways we perhaps have forgotten this.

“If everyone in the Jewish community puts our oars in the water and rows in same direction, we will get through this.”

New LAPD Programs to Combat Hate Crimes


After a recent upsurge in anti-Semitic violence, including the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in June and a failed bomb plot targeting New York synagogues in May, Los Angeles city officials and community leaders are on alert for the approach of the High Holy Days season. More than 80 people representing Los Angeles synagogues and Jewish institutions attended an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) security briefing on Aug. 19, presented in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

LAPD used the opportunity to familiarize the Jewish community with two new programs that encourage local citizens to report suspicious activities in their communities.

ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind stressed the urgency of the programs with some alarming statistics. For example, she said, one in 10 of the total number of hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County in 2007 was against Jews, and during that same year, hate crimes increased by 28 percent, with Jews being the most frequently targeted religious group; 74 percent of hate crimes motivated by religion were against Jews and Jewish institutions.

In 2008, the LAPD launched the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) process and will implement an expanded iWatch program this fall. Both initiatives depend on citizens reporting to law enforcement agencies, which then analyze the reports and conduct follow-up investigations. Since SAR’s inception, more than 1500 suspicious activity reports have been submitted, though few have required further investigation.

Also at the meeting, Lt. Bob Fox, LAPD officer-in-charge of the Anti-Terrorism section, warned attendees to pay attention to people taking pictures of a tourist attraction or an important building; he encouraged reporting anyone taking photos of emergency exits, loading docks, security officers or freight elevators.

For more information, visit adl.org/security.

State Budget Crisis Threatens Jewish Social Service Programs


Four Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles programs that serve the elderly, disabled and frail may end up casualties of the state budget crisis, which leapt to a new level of urgency Tuesday as California lawmakers failed to pass budget revisions before a July 1 deadline.

More than $4 million in state funding for JFS could be zeroed out if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way; budgets currently working their way through legislative committees also require significant cuts on top of previous cuts made during last September’s budget negotiations. If no budget compromise is reached in the legislature before California runs out of money, JFS could be forced to close down programs that aim to keep indigent elderly and disabled clients out of institutions, and another that gives shelter to victims of domestic abuse.

JFS fears clients’ lives are in the balance.

Huge portions of the state’s social service network are in jeopardy. Even best-case scenarios significantly cut programs that serve the poor, disabled, elderly, ill and abused, and most recipients in programs throughout the state will see cuts in multiple resources they access.

“We have long said that we like to see ourselves as an important part of the safety net,” said Paul Castro, CEO and executive director of JFS, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “As a result of all this the safety net is going to be broken. Where in prior years when the net was broken we had been in a position to catch people if they fell through, our best hope now is to just help break the fall, because we aren’t going to be able to catch them.”

Schwarzenegger and the legislature passed an 18-month budget last February that had been meant to remain in effect through June 2010. But California’s declining revenues and the failure of the May 19 propositions to free up initiative-locked dollars rendered the February budget worthless, a situation lawmakers failed to remedy when they couldn’t come to agreement on budget revisions by July 1. A gap of $25.3 billion now lingers, on top of the $15 billion in cuts made in February.

JFS has received notice that Medi-Cal funded programs will continue to be paid through July, though other budget areas may receive IOUs from State Controller John Chiang that the state started issuing July 2.

Still, JFS is bracing for the worst. It is prepared to begin informing clients of potential closures; lay-off notices that it hopes it won’t have to implement already went out to staff; and JFS and the union that represents most of its staff have agreed to a 45-day closure of affected agencies so it can regroup if funding disappears.

The largest JFS program targeted is ” title=”http://www.sco.ca.gov/5935.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.sco.ca.gov/5935.html

Madoff scheme deals new hit to FSU Jews


MOSCOW (JTA) — The Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff is the latest in a string of financial blows to Jewish aid programs in the former Soviet Union, wiping out a major foundation that was the primary funder of Jewish higher education in Russia.

The Chais Family Foundation, a $178 million philanthropy forced to close after investing all its money in Madoff’s fraudulent fund, gave away more than $12 million per year to Jewish causes. About $2.5 million of that focused on the former Soviet Union, where the foundation funded at least 12 cultural and educational programs.

Even before the foundation’s collapse, several organizations — including the Jewish Agency for Israel, Chabad-Lubavitch and the American Jewish Joint Complete Madoff CoverageDistribution Committee — had announced in recent months that they would be reducing support for programming in the region, fueling doubt and fear among Russian Jewish communal leaders.

“Many of my colleagues and others think that 2009 could be the hardest year for the Jewish community of the former Soviet Union,” Mikhail Chlenov, the general secretary of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, who also sits on the board of a program that was funded by Chais, told JTA. “Education is the first sphere of work that is already suffering, but social welfare programs could be next.”

Re-creating a Jewish community in the former Soviet Union following the collapse of communism has been an intense project undertaken by the broader Jewish community, drawing hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years from the Jewish Agency, Chabad and the JDC. The Chais Foundation’s annual $2.5 million contribution was the driving force behind creating a sustainable and self-sufficient piece of infrastructure in the region — a higher education system equipped to train Jewish professionals and teachers.

Chais funded the Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies in St. Petersburg, the Jewish studies department at Moscow State University and the Chais Center for Jewish Studies in Russia, which it founded. The Chais Center brings professors from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to the region to create accredited programs. Hundreds of Jewish professionals have been trained through the center.

In addition, the foundation was a major funder of the Open University of Israel, which transmits online curricula to the former Soviet Union.

Those programs are now in danger.

Arkady Kovelman, the head of the Jewish studies program at Moscow State, said his program could definitely expect to lose some opportunities for grant money.

The Moscow program relies on academics from the Chais Center at Hebrew University who conduct courses in Hebrew and Russian. Kovelman says it is too early to tell if the program will continue or what the loss of Chais money will do to his program.

“I am hoping that it will not have an immediate impact,” Kovelman said. “They are telling us that everything is more or less OK.”

Even if programs in Russia weather the loss of Chais, the foundation’s closing is only the latest in a half-year of calamity for programs in the region pinched by the downturn in the global economy.

The Heftziba system — a network of 41 state-sponsored schools that offer Jewish curricula, which is is administered by the Jewish Agency — is in peril. The system, which was set up by Russian municipalities in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Education immediately after the fall of communism, has seen its finances gutted by $40.5 million in cuts to the Jewish Agency’s overall budget.

The agency, which pays to have some 11,000 students bused to the schools, is reducing its funding for the system from $12.7 million in 2008 to just over $5 million for 2009, with the hope that local philanthropists will help pick up the slack.

Alan Hoffmann, the director of the Jewish Agency’s education department, estimates that the Heftziba budget now has a $5 million hole.

“It could really be a mortal blow” to the school system, he told JTA Sunday.

The Jewish Agency already had been forced to adjust after Russian-Israeli philanthropist Arcadi Gaydamak pledged $50 million in 2006 to help establish programming in the former Soviet Union, but then froze the gift after giving only $10 million.

The two other Jewish-run school networks in the region — the secular ORT system and the Orthodox Shma Yisrael — have suffered from cutbacks undertaken by the Jewish Agency. Shma Yisrael has lost $200,000 in funding and the ORT schools are struggling through a budget cut of $1.2 million in recent months, according to ORT officials, JTA reported in November.

In the past three months, the largest Jewish educational network in the region, Chabad’s Or Avner system, has been forced to make significant cutbacks as its main benefactor, Lev Leviev, withdrew a substantial portion of his funding in the face of the financial crisis.

On top of these cuts, the Joint Distribution Committee, which provides social services to the frail and elderly in the region, is cutting its $100 million-plus 2009 budget in the region by about $5 million.

“You put those factors together in one six-month period from June 2008 until January of 2009 and you have some serious dynamite there for some institutions,” Hoffmann said. “I think it is a serious body blow to Jewish life in the FSU.”

The survival of Jewish programming, he said, “will depend on how quickly the world economy improves and the philanthropy world improves.”

U.S. Jewish leaders and Israeli officials have long hoped that the creation of new Jewish wealth in the region would lead ultimately to the formation of a home-grown Jewish philanthropy class that one day could pick up the mantle. But that had been slow in coming, even before the financial crisis and the drop in the price of oil wiped out huge swaths of Jewish wealth in the region.

For a system still largely dependant on outside money, the disappearance of Chais could really hurt.

Outside of higher education, the foundation funneled tens of millions of dollars into several programs aimed at promoting Jewish identity among youth.

Hillel in the former Soviet Union relied on the Chais Foundation for 23 percent of its budget and the ripples of the Madoff scheme have forced its operations “to the edge,” said Hillel FSU director Osik Akselrud.

“Now I don’t know how to find the exit from this situation because we have to cut programs and reduce salaries,” he told JTA at a Hillel staff conference in Baltimore. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Akselrud, like others whose organizations received funding from Chais, received a letter last week saying that he could no longer expect any support from the now-defunct foundation. The letter, which arrived just as he was to fly to the United States, set off a frenzy of meetings to determine how Hillel FSU could stay afloat.

Akselrud is also the chairman for Limmud FSU, an increasingly popular series of educational conferences that began last year. Limmud has plans for two conferences next year, in Belarus and Ukraine, and the Chais Foundation was expected to be a major underwriter of both.

The Sefer Center, an umbrella group that holds conferences and brings together students in Jewish studies from across the region, had relied on the Chais Foundation for 50 percent of its budget, said its director, Victoria Mochalova. She also learned in a terse message last week that her organization would need to look elsewhere for support.

In the face of the bad news, Mochalova predicted that the older generation of Jewish community activists in the former Soviet Union who had built the network from scratch would find a way to get through a decrease in funding.

“We never had a great situation and we have learned how to live in a hard situation,” she said. “For the young it is a big blow to take.”

In the United States, at least one Jewish organizational leader is holding out hope.

“I am not going to predict the future, but today if you go to our JCCs or to Yesod in St. Petersburg, they are full and active and Jewish life is vibrant,” said Steven Schwager, the CEO of the JDC. “They are critical links in building a Jewish community, and some way or other they will find a solution to continue them.”

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks for September 13-18: When Ladino met klezmer, Torah Slam, a lawerlyy


SAT | SEPTEMBER 13

(COMMUNITY FAIR)
The City of Los Angeles and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sponsor an annual emergency preparedness fair as part of the Great Southern California ShakeOut: Are You Prepared? The fair seeks to educate Angelenos on the importance of being prepared for disasters, natural or manmade, such as earthquakes and riots. Activities will include live safety demonstrations, disaster preparedness exhibits and interactive programming for children. Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Also, Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 (different locations). (213) 978-2222. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.afhu.org.

(LECTURE)
” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = left border = 0>is perhaps nothing he enjoys more than writing about religion. Today, Kirsch will discuss his latest book, “The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God,” which explores persecution and violence in the name of righteousness. Sat. 2 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 1201 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. (310) 260-9110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.valleycitiesjcc.org.

(SINGLES)
We live in a city where summer continues well into December and so do the pool parties, picnics and barbecues that the rest of the country bid farewell to after Labor Day. Taking advantage of our unique environs, Jewish Singles Meeting Place, for singles in their 40s and 50s, is inviting you to a Gourmet Western BBQ Party at a home in Sylmar. Be sure to R.S.V.P. before noon on the day of the event. Sat. 8 p.m. $12. Sylmar. (818) 750-0095.

SUN | SEPTEMBER 14

(BENEFIT)
In addition to facing paralyzing fear, families of children with cancer have to deal with financial hardships, emotional and mental strain and the difficulty of keeping a family intact. Larger Than Life offers aid to families in Israel who are struggling through just such a crisis. Larger Than Life’s annual gala in Los Angeles ” target=”_blank”>http://www.largerthanlifela.org.

(MUSIC)
Learn about klezmer and Ladino music, enjoy brunch and receive a free pass to the Autry National Center, all at the “Klezmer-Ladino Convergence.” ” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = right>, which was founded by singer, scholar and ” target=”_blank”>http://www.autrynationalcenter.org.

(BOOKS)
The Von der Ahe Library at Loyola Marimount University is hosting a five-part reading and discussion series. In “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature, Identity and Imagination,” theology professor Saba Soomekh, who has written several essays about California’s Persian Jewish community, will lead the book-based discussions on the theme “Neighbors: The World Next Door.” Books discussed will include “Journey to the Millennium” by A.B. Yehoshua, “Red Cavalry” by Isaac Babel and “Mona in the Promised Land” by Jen Gish. Sun. 2 p.m. Through Dec. 7. Free. Collins Faculty Center at Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-4584. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thirtyyearsafter.org.

(MUSIC)
The man known as the “Yiddish Indiana Jones,” Yale Strom, and his band Hot Pstromi, will ensure that “Angels & Dybbuks: The First L.A. Klez Fest” is an event to remember. Strom delves into all that is Yiddish, whether it’s music, books, film, theater or photography. Strom will also offer workshops on klezmer instruments and history. Sun. Events begin at noon. $20-$80. McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 828-4497. motek11111@yahoo.com.

MON | SEPTEMBER 15

(HEALTH)
A pudgy toddler whose cheeks are delightfully doughy may be cute, but a plump preteen could turn into an obese adult with myriad health problems. Educate yourself about the dangers of pediatric obesity at the Children’s Health Forum, which is sponsored by the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Professor Ronald Nagel, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and professor Francis Mimouni, chair of the department of pediatrics, will speak. Kosher lunch will be served. Mon. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $50 (requested donation). Luxe Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 229-0915. westernregion@acsz.org.

TUE | SEPTEMBER 16

(TORAH SALON)
Everyone is invited to Los Angeles’ first cross-denominational public Torah study. With the High Holy Days coming up, The Journal decided to get everybody together for a “Torah Slam,” ” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = right>a knock-your-socks-off Torah study with five great rabbis: Elazar Muskin (Orthodox), Ed Feinstein (Conservative), Mordecai Finley (Reform/Chasidic), Haim torahslam@jewishjournal.com.

WED | SEPTEMBER 17

(LECTURE)
Jordan Elgrably’s resume reveals that he’s had a prolific career as a Sephardic writer and activist. Tonight he speaks about his personal journey as an American with roots in multicultural Morocco in “The Loquat Tree, or the Art of Being an Arab Jew.” His audiovisual presentation is sure to be moving, funny and insightful. Wed. 6 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Public Library, Robertson Branch, 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 657-5511. ” target=”_blank”>http://levantinecenter.org.

THU | SEPTEMBER 18

(CASINO NIGHT)
Good cause. Unlimited alcohol. Cold, hard cash prizes. So, come get some chips at the fifth annual No-Limit Texas Hold-‘Em Poker Event benefiting Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles’ mentoring programs, which help children reach for their dreams. Thu. 6:30 p.m. (lessons), 7:30 p.m. (tournament). $200 (advance), $230 (door). Hollywood Park Casino, 3883 West Century Blvd., Second Floor, Inglewood. (323) 456-1159. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.gelsons.com/services/CC/index.asp.

(VOLUNTEERING)
Tikkun olam is a monumental Jewish value. Jewish teens can get involved with the Friendship Circle, an organization that supports children and young adults with special needs. The Friendship Circle Teen Volunteer Open House offers a chance to learn about the organization’s many volunteer opportunities. Thu. 8 p.m. Free. Friendship Circle, 9581 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-3252.

Putting a question mark on Jewish earmarks


This year’s loss of earmarks, the spending amendments lawmakers attach to larger bills, has cost Jewish federations millions of dollars, officials say. And earmark-reform proposals could present even more headaches in coming years.

The new Democratic majority in Congress, backed by some conservative Republicans, is considering reforms that would curtail lawmakers’ ability to anonymously insert funding for local projects into spending bills.

The aim is to stop the proliferation of non-essential programs and pet projects, but the earmark reforms also could inhibit funding favored by Jewish nonprofit organizations, including programs that benefit seniors, the disabled and the poor.

The decision by Democrats to remove all earmarks from the 2007 budget is already having an effect. Gone from the appropriations bill that covers the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services is more than $9 million in earmarks for Jewish groups and programs, according to an analysis of reports that accompanied the draft bills.

“There are real people in the Jewish community that will not receive critical services due to the lack of earmarks this year,” said William Daroff, United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) vice president for public policy.

Democrats blame Republicans in the last Congress for the earmarks’ removal, saying that after the midterm elections ended their 12 years in the majority, Republicans all but abandoned the lame-duck session and left behind a vindictive mess by failing to pass nine of 11 appropriations bills.

“The Republicans have taken their ball and gone home and are pouting,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the new majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said last month.

Debate on the 2008 budget starts next week, which Democrats say leaves them little choice but to abandon much of the process that would otherwise attend the 2007 budget, including earmarks and new spending. Instead, the 2007 budget is now likely to be funded by “continuing resolutions” that hew to the broad outlines of the 2006 budget.

Some social services would be affected, Hoyer acknowledged, but “we want to make that suffering as short-term as we can.”

The earmarks affecting Jewish groups were mostly for less than $500,000 each and served a variety of programs, from equipment upgrades to Jewish hospitals to Jewish community service programs for the mentally ill and educational programs.

Earmarks are preferred by local Jewish groups, which maintain strong constituent relations with lawmakers. The earmarks allow federations to garner millions of dollars for social service programs without having to compete for grants from federal agencies.

They have been used to support Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs, fostering programming in areas with large numbers of retirees, allowing them to live semi-independently and close to family.

Local NORC programs so far have received $25 million from the federal government, all through earmarks, UJC officials said. About $7 million in NORC funding was stripped from the 2007 spending bills.

In 2004, the omnibus spending bill included 37 earmarks for programs with “Jewish” in the name, amounting to more than $9 million.

Including the terms “Hebrew” and “Sephardic,” the number climbed to 41 earmarks and more than $10 million.

Many other projects of importance to local Jewish communities may not have identifiably Jewish names and could be buried in the vast spending documents.

Despite such salutary effects, earmarks are more notorious as pork, or federal funds funneled to lawmakers’ campaign contributors and for local initiatives. A slate of recent scandals has led to the reform proposals.

Those have drawn mixed reviews from the Jewish community. Jewish groups long have sought political oversight and reform, but at the same time have benefited greatly from spending measures inserted by lawmakers.

“We wholeheartedly endorse measures that are intended to increase the transparency of the spending process,” Daroff said. “We think deals that are cut in the middle of the night is not good government, so we encourage reforms.”

But cutting all earmarks would not be wise, Daroff said. The earmarks Jewish groups receive are not designed to help big companies but are for essential community programs.

Hoyer said worthy earmarks would stay in place.

“I am a proponent of not eliminating earmarks,” he said, noting that the president has considerable spending discretion and giving up earmarks would “badly skew the balance” between the two branches.

“Congress ought not to give up that authority,” Hoyer said. “Some earmarks are good, some bad, but we’re going to make sure the public knows about them. Is this a good investment of American taxpayer dollars?”

UJC and the federations back such transparency, supporting reforms that would require lawmakers to attach their names to each spending provision rather than inserting it anonymously.

“The House passed earmark reform earlier this month as part of its rules package.

The Senate is now considering measures that include attaching naming to spending provisions, as well as allowing senators to strike earmarks from spending bills and prevent earmarks from being added to the final drafts of legislation that emerge from House-Senate conferences.

Jewish leaders acknowledge that as earmarks fall out of vogue, they will need to garner funding through federal agencies. UJC was able to secure language in the Older Americans Act to authorize a national NORC program, which will distribute funding for the senior-citizen initiatives across the country through the Department of Health and Human Services. UJC will seek funding for the program in the next budget.

Most of the federal funding Jewish groups receive comes from agencies, largely through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. But Daroff worried that removing earmarks would hurt the ability to fund pilot programs such as NORCs and other innovative solutions to social-service issues.

“The Jewish federation system will adapt to the changing environment and will do what it needs to do to bring necessary services to the community,” he said. “Our initiatives are innovative public policy approaches that are welcomed by members of Congress because they see it as not funding the same old program the same old way.”

School Bond Measure Gets Failing Grade


I have a picture on the wall of my office. It was taken at about 4 a.m. in 1998. I’m in the picture with a group of Democratic and Republican legislators. We look tired; we’ve been up late for a number of nights. But there’s also a glint of celebration.

That was a happy and proud moment. We had just negotiated Proposition 1A, which put $9.2 billion of school bonds on the ballot. This bipartisan breakthrough opened the way for three successful state school bonds that raised $34 billion for school construction.

I’ve also supported local school bonds, and the state and local money that voters entrusted to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is being used to build schools all over the city.

I don’t take this progress lightly or for granted. But building for seats is not the same as building for reform. To date, L.A. Unified has done the former but only paid lip service to the latter. And I find myself moving to an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position on the question of the school district’s bid to pass $3.985 billion in school bonds this November.

In truth, the public was promised more and has a right to expect more: that pre-K and after-school programs, as well as adult education, libraries, health-care access and recreation, would be programmed by design into each new school.

Our expectation was that the billions in bond proceeds would create safe learning centers within revitalized and healthy neighborhoods.

Instead, as it now stands, this costly investment is doomed to return little. We are losing more than half our students as dropouts, and these new schools are not poised to alter that outcome or even to dramatically improve the fate of the undereducated grads who stick it out. Our new schools must be more than just rain-free warehouses.

The school district is blowing it — squandering a historic opportunity and, in the process, perpetrating an ethical crime on the thousands of students whose future it is failing.

The competent and relentless former Navy men and real estate pros who now erect schools in Los Angeles just drive like a freight train toward the goal of building seats — without regard to the design and programming of these schools, without regard to what we know about how children learn, without regard to the relationship between educational achievement and the health and vitality of the neighborhoods in which these students live.

Look at the schools about to open. Too many of them are huge — when we know that children learn more successfully in small schools. We’re told the district will do better on the next round, but we’ve heard empty promises from the school district before.

The district also earns a failing grade on joint planning. Now is the time, with schools rising all over the city, for the school district to work with the city, health agencies, nonprofits, parks departments, housing developers and community groups to build schools that are planned as the center of communities. LAUSD sees collaborative planning with community input as too time consuming and expensive.

Yes, collaboration is harder than building schools as though they’re islands walled off from a hostile sea. But thoughtful, joint planning pays off for generations to come.

One good example is in San Diego, where a collaborative planning process — which involved a school, along with other services and development — transformed blighted City Heights.

There are one or two exceptions to the L.A. malaise, including a new school in Westlake, just west of downtown, that involves collaboration with a Boys & Girls Club, the city and an affordable-housing developer.

But such joint planning stands out for being so rare. And outside entities that have tried to collaborate with the district’s bureaucracy can tell horror stories of how difficult it’s been. On the district side, there’s no real energy, interest or aptitude applied to the necessary re-imagining of schools.

I don’t speak for my friend, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, although I do know he shares my passion for improving the schools of Los Angeles. But as for me, I’m just tired of this same old, same old.

I’m tired of just going back to the voters and asking them to pass more money to just build more classroom seats. This bond measure represents the same old cookie-cutter: Grab the cash, pull the wool over the voters’ eyes and not learn from your experiences.

We know what we need to do. We need to make schools smaller and anchor them in neighborhoods, so that there will be more grandmothers than cops on our campuses. Chicago, New York and Providence, R.I, have shown the way.

Let’s make this bond — L.A.’s fourth since 1997 — reflect truly important educational and community values. In this bond, we must limit the enrollment at a school, absent compelling reasons. And if the school site is larger than 500, it must be divided into separate facilities with separate principals. And there must be guidelines regarding joint use, possibly including a joint-powers authority set up between the city of Los Angeles and LAUSD.

We can incorporate these principles and guidelines into the bond.

District officials can easily take action at a school board meeting before the November special election. They can mandate that bond proceeds be spent for small schools that are planned and constructed as the centers of their neighborhoods. Until such changes are made, I must oppose this school bond measure — with the greatest reluctance and a heavy heart.

I am not, however, checking out of the issue. If this school bond passes, I will continue to pressure school board members to spend wisely. But I’d rather they alter course and get it right now, so I can change my mind and support the bond.

Until then, a resounding “no” is the best way to send the school district a message that may benefit children down the road.

Attorney and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg ran for mayor of Los Angeles this year and has served as an adviser to both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Disaster Exposes Government Failures


President Bush and Congress talk a good game when it comes to homeland security, but the tragic truth is that the country is less able to cope with disasters than before Sept. 11, 2001. The proof is on the flood-ravaged streets of New Orleans, where an unprecedented natural disaster quickly produced violent anarchy and a flaccid government response that multiplied the suffering.

For all the money thrown at preparing for massive terror attacks and other disasters, the new Department of Homeland Security looked more like a Third World bureaucracy, as armed gangs roamed the city and people died for lack of food, water, sanitation and medical supplies.

If a hurricane turned New Orleans into Haiti, imagine the impact of a nuclear detonation in Washington or New York. And it’s hard to argue that years of tax cuts and corresponding reductions in important programs didn’t severely impair the ability of government agencies at every level to respond, compounding the misery of the drowned city’s most vulnerable residents.

That fact will put Jewish organizations to the test in the next few months, as Congress and the administration consider new tax and spending priorities. Put simply, it may be time for reticent Jewish leaders to abandon the comfort of silence and directly address policies that threaten the future of the nation.

In the shocking aftermath of Katrina, Americans were digesting numerous lessons, many centered on the failure of government at every level and politicians in both parties to address basic needs.

Skyrocketing gas prices and the threat of shortages, as old refineries and oil terminals along the stricken Gulf Coast went out of service, pointed to the nation’s abject failure to craft a practical, forward-looking energy policy, despite past oil shocks and the threat of terrorism against oil facilities.

Oil companies have been reaping record profits, but not investing heavily in new capacity; political interests have prevented tough new mileage standards, as the nation’s love affair with gas-guzzlers continues unabated. The result is a nation whose economy and way of life continue to depend on a fragile energy lifeline easily disrupted by natural or manmade disasters.

That poses a long-term threat to U.S.-Israel relations, as well, because it increases America’s dependence on supplier nations that are implacably hostile to the Jewish state.

The disaster also pointed to the reality that billions of dollars in homeland security spending have left the nation no more secure than before Sept. 11.

From the start, the idea of homeland security turned into a supersized boondoggle. Jurisdictions and programs with strong political backers got piles of money; others were left strapped, and need was rarely a factor. Everybody played the game. Political payoff blended with real need until it was almost impossible to sort out what was what.

Giant bureaucracies were created, but with blurry lines of command and vast tangles of red tape. Planning was slipshod and unrealistic.

Top officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) didn’t even know what was being reported on television at the height of the emergency. FEMA Director Michael Brown is a political appointee without a scrap of disaster experience.

How many other leaders of the new Homeland Security bureaucracy were hired for reasons of cronyism, not competence?

Another lesson of New Orleans may center on a conservative political philosophy that is systematically working to “starve the beast” of the federal government.

While claiming national security is their top priority, the Republican administration and Congress have steadily been reducing funding for even the agencies that are supposed to deal with such crises, including FEMA, as well as countless agencies that address the needs of the poor and the sick.

Bush says more tax cuts are needed to spur the economy, but leading GOP theorists are more honest, expressing the view that cuts will help them do what they haven’t been able to do over the decades: cut even big entitlement programs like Medicaid and slash and ultimately kill countless other health and human service programs.

Katrina revealed some of the costs of that policy: first responders who couldn’t respond, agencies without the resources to prepare for the hurricane as it approached and a decayed social service infrastructure that left the poor to fend for themselves once it struck.

New tax cuts as the nation struggles to meet the costs of rescue, cleanup and rebuilding — even as it continues to fight two expensive wars — will vastly compound the problem.

For five years, most Jewish organizations have stood on the sidelines as this assault on domestic programs intensified because of a lack of consensus on tax policy and a fear of antagonizing the administration and Congress, not to mention big communal donors.

Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftershocks reveal that reticence for what it is: an excuse to avoid controversy, not a response to the needs of the Jewish community or the nation at large.

Events of the past week demand a major reevaluation of the nation’s approach to homeland security and disaster preparedness. Just as importantly, they demand a re-examination of tax and spending policies that are rendering the federal government increasingly impotent.

 

Health – Take the Bite Out of Dental Health Pains


Since most Americans lose their dental insurance benefits when they retire, the majority of people over 65 pay out of pocket every time they visit a dentist. Medicare does not cover routine dental care (nor does Medicaid in most states) and more than 80 percent of older Americans have no private dental insurance, according to a recent report by nonprofit advocacy group Oral Health America.

Yet, older adults may need dental care more than any other age group.

“Patients age 65 and over will have potentially an increase in cavities or decay on the root surfaces of the teeth,” said Dr. Matthew Messina, an American Dental Association consumer adviser and practicing dentist in Cleveland. “And that comes secondary to the medical condition of dry mouth — a decrease in the amount of production of saliva because of age and certain medications…. We also see periodontal disease in patients of that population.”

Messina advises his older patients to see a dentist at least once every six months for an oral cancer screening and recommends an annual visit for denture wearers.

So what’s a person with no dental insurance to do? If you can pay out of pocket, ask your dentist if he or she will offer a discount or work out a payment plan.

“A lot of times for patients paying in full at the time of service, some offices will offer some degree of bookkeeping courtesy,” Messina said. “There are a number of ways that offices are creatively handling finances for patients of all ages to make dentistry affordable.”

Local dental schools are another option for reduced-cost care — if you’re not in a hurry.

“Our fees can be about half the cost of private practitioners,” said Dr. Janet Yellowitz, director of geriatric dentistry at the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore. “The downside is that because it’s a training program, it takes time — you’re working with students who are being supervised.”

She suggests contacting schools with graduate training programs for slightly more costly but quicker treatment, or looking into clinical trials at your local dental school.

Neighborhood health clinics sometimes offer dental services, according to Yellowitz and Oral Health America’s Elizabeth Rogers. However, they are not always widely publicized. Of course, people in extreme pain can go to the closest hospital emergency room, where they most likely will be given painkillers and get their tooth pulled, Rogers said.

“But that is by no means a solution,” she added.

If this doesn’t sound like a lot of options for those without dental coverage, it’s not. But a few organizations around the country are trying to change that. One is Minneapolis-area Apple Tree Dental, a nonprofit clinic that aims to improve access to dental care for underserved populations, including seniors. The full-service clinic — which treats more than 30,000 patients each year in the Twin Cities area, including on-site visits with patients in long-term care facilities — has been cited as a national model for dental care and has received requests from all over the country and Canada to present on their model.

“What I’m interested in is ensuring that we have programs in place that at least get primary care needs met for seniors,” said Dr. Carl Ebert of Apple Tree Dental. “Because when you look at the demographics and the fact that more people are keeping more of their teeth as they get older, you’re going to be facing a huge dilemma…. Then add to that the nationwide problem of the significant decrease in the sheer numbers of dentists … and the sort of seller’s marketplace we have right now in dentistry where dentists can pick and choose who they see — some exclude all insurance patients, some just cater to high-end patients seeking cosmetic services. When you start to multiply all these factors, you’re looking at a tremendous problem.”

Abigail Green is a freelance writer and editor based in Baltimore.

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Half a Century on Reform’s Frontlines


When the Reform movement published its new “Mishkan T’filah” last November, the prayer book looked comfortably familiar to Reform rabbinic students in Los Angeles. It was clear to them that a homemade siddur they had created for their own use had influenced the first official prayer book published by the Union for Reform Judaism since 1975.

Once again, the L.A. branch of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) had made its mark on the Reform movement. The new, official prayer book, like the homemade siddur, includes traditional prayers in Hebrew, as well as new alternative readings and meditations — changes in keeping with Reform’s adoption of more traditional practices.

The Los Angeles campus was created 50 years ago in classrooms at Wilshire Boulevard Temple by founders who understood that the intellectual center of Judaism would be pulled inevitably westward.

“The leaders who founded the Los Angeles campus began to realize there would be a tremendous growth spurt of the Jewish population in Southern California and the entire Western states,” said Lewis Barth, dean of HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, who was among the first students at the new campus in 1954. “The majority of our graduates come back to serve congregations and Jewish communal institutions in the Western states, and have been leaders of transforming Jewish life here.”

Barth’s early classmates included Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin; Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Harvey Fields and Rabbi Alfred Wolf; Leo Baeck Temple’s Rabbi Sanford Ragins; and other pioneers of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

While those rabbis had to go to the New York or Cincinnati campuses to be ordained, four years ago the Los Angeles campus began ordaining rabbis, and the move has meant tremendous growth for the school. Course offerings have doubled, as has enrollment, with graduating classes in the rabbinic school growing from about eight to 10 students per year to 15 or 20.

Today, HUC-JIR Los Angeles sits at the edge of the USC campus, south of downtown. The schools enjoy a symbiotic relationship, with some 650 USC undergraduates taking Judaic studies classes at HUC-JIR and graduate students able to take part in a joint program in communal service. HUC-JIR has highly regarded graduate schools of Jewish education, Jewish communal service and Jewish studies.

The school is also home to innovative programs, including institutes on Judaism and health, Sephardic studies and sexual orientation. Hebrew and day school teachers can receive special training at HUC, and the school pioneered a program to train liberal mohels to perform brises.

Among Jewish colleges, the Los Angeles HUC-JIR campus has a reputation for creativity and innovation, said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies. The student body and faculty have been integral in Reform’s evolution toward traditional observance, Levy added.

See insets for graduating students’ thoughts on the future of the Reform movement.

 

We Were Slaves in Westwood


 

Southern Californians can travel from Pharaoh’s palace to Midwestern wheat fields to a rain forest — all without leaving Westwood. The journey is furnished courtesy of West Coast Chabad Headquarters, which annually creates its Model Matzah Bakery for two weeks prior to Passover.

After witnessing several of the 10 plagues and gaining their release from Pharoah, participants proceed through each of the steps required to make matzah: They separate wheat kernels from stalks of wheat; see the wheat ground into flour; travel to an ersatz rain forest for water; watch as the water and flour are mixed to create dough; and roll their dough into matzahs which are placed in an oven to bake.

Program coordinator Yossi Burston notes that Chabad has created similar programs worldwide.

“We want to provide the holiday experience in an educational, fun and interactive way,” he said. “This program brings everyone together — Reform, Conservative and Orthodox; young and old; special-needs children and many others.”

Public and day school students are among the more than 4,000 people who will experience the Los Angeles program during its two week run. Over the course of its 20-year tenure, the Model Matzah Bakery has drawn participants from as far as Palm Springs and Tijuana. Similar programs are also offered at Rosh Hashanah (a shofar-making workshop) and Chanukah (an olive oil workshop).

While it might not have been produced by Cecil B. DeMille, Chabad’s presentation nevertheless exhibited its own special brand of production value, from the professionally produced back drops of pyramids to the “special effect” of turning the water blood red. And it was “leavened” with plenty of humor for children and adults alike. Burston insists it’s a collaborative effort: “We didn’t write the script. It comes from the Bible.”

The Model Matzah Bakery is open to groups Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and to the public on Fridays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m, and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through April 17. To make a reservations (required) call, (310) 208-7511, ext. 270.

 

Lights, Camera, Ventura


 

While some Jewish film festivals around the country often use older films or films playing at nearby theaters, the Ventura County Jewish Film Festival will show five new films never seen in Ventura County — as well as host their stars.

The festival starts on March 10 at 7 p.m. with the opening night film, “The Aryan Couple.” In the World War II thriller based on a true story, Oscar winner Martin Landau plays a Hungarian businessman who is forced to make a terrible pact with Himmler and Eichmann so he and his family can escape certain death. Landau and director-producer John Daly (“The Last Emperor”) will have a Q & A after the screening.

On March 12, another kind of star will be at the 8 p.m. screening of “Watermarks,” the documentary about the champion women swimmers of the legendary Jewish sports club, Hakoah Vienna, founded in 1909. The star of Israeli director Yaron Zilberman’s first film, 87-year-old champion swimmer Annie Lampl, will be available afterward for questions.

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Howard Rosenberg and Holocaust scholar Jim Lichti will host a panel discussion on March 13, following the 9:30 a.m. screening of “Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust,” a film that examines Hollywood’s complex responses to the horrors of Nazi Germany.

There’s also a program for the younger set. On March 13 at noon, L.A. director Ari Sandel will introduce the minimusical spoof, “West Bank Story,” (as discussed in the Feb. 4 Jewish Journal), followed by a showing of the animated Steven Spielberg movie-musical, “An American Tail.”

The festival closes at 7 p.m. with Israeli director Eytan Fox’s drama, “Walk on Water,” (reviewed Feb. 25 in The Journal), in which a Mossad hitman assigned to kill a Nazi war criminal befriends his grandchildren.

All films will be shown at Meister Hall, Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura. For more information about the festival, call (805) 647-4181 or visit www.cipcug.org/minkin/TBT/FilmFest/filmfest2005.html.

Ivor Davis lives in Ventura and writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.

 

Out of the Car, Into the Classroom


 

Years ago, Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom would run up and down the Hebrew school carpool line handing out cassette tapes of his and Rabbi Harold Schulweis’ sermons.

“If you’re not going to come inside, at least listen to this,” he’d tell parents.

Today Feinstein teaches a new monthly Wednesday afternoon class, It Is My Turn to Learn, during the same hours as Hebrew school, specifically designed for these parents. And while Valley Beth Shalom offers a plethora of courses and lectures, this one focuses on basic Jewish education — prayer, Torah, prophets — which many parents never received.

Linda Dennis, mother of 13-year-old Sabrina, said, “It’s an extra opportunity to learn something new, something that’s always applicable to everyday life.”

Historically, Jewish parents were knowledgeable about Judaism and, in fact, were obligated to serve as their children’s teachers. “And you shall teach them diligently to your children,” the Shema commands.

Jewish immigration to the United States, however, changed that paradigm. For one thing, said Isa Aron, professor at Los Angeles’ Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and founding director of Experiment in Congregational Education, “Many immigrants chucked everything Jewish at the first opportunity they got.”

“[Over time] the parents depended on the schools to give their children a Jewish identity and Jewish information as they began to lose it in the family,” said Dr. Ron Wolfson, vice president and dean of the Center for Jewish Education at the University of Judaism (UJ). “The traditional role of parent-as-teacher got turned over to the experts.”

Starting in the late 1970s, Wolfson and other academics realized that day schools and religious schools were not going to have much impact unless parents became involved because, as Wolfson explained, “The parent is ultimately the arbiter of how Jewish the home is going to be.”

That marked the beginning of modern Jewish family education.

Today, most synagogues and day schools offer many opportunities for parents to learn — from Hebrew reading crash courses to holiday workshops to weekly Torah portion studies. Plus, places such as Aish HaTorah and UJ offer a variety of classes, including Yesod, which means “foundation,” UJ’s comprehensive two-year certificate program.

“There’s a jealousy and a thirst for knowledge,” said Barbara Klaristenfeld, family education coordinator at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge. “Parents want to speak intelligently with their children.”

But the reality is that parents lead busy, complicated lives. Additionally, many harbor unpleasant memories of their own religious school days and are reluctant to give Jewish learning a second chance. Thus, it’s a challenge for synagogues and day schools to create programs that parents find exciting, compelling and convenient.

One new program that is gaining success is Milken Community High School’s Parent Learner Circle. Here parents, divided into geographical groups, meet in each other’s homes every six weeks to study such topics as ethics of speech, God-wrestling and justice and righteousness.

“We wanted to create a more substantive learning program that was parallel with the students’ curriculum,” said Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Milken’s rabbinic director and Learner Circle instructor.

In its second year, the program has more than 70 parents, double last year’s enrollment.

“As adults, we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to do at our bar or bat mitzvah, so we have the luxury to actually look at what this all means,” Milken parent Allan Ickowitz said. “For me, it reinforces how great Judaism is.”

Eventually Bernat-Kunin would like to see Learner Circles at all grade levels, with large numbers of parents committed to ongoing study and a culture of learning.

Another new program is KEF, the Hebrew word for fun, at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. Replacing traditional Sunday morning classes, this program brings together children and at least one parent to learn together as a community and to actually experience Judaism. Students continue to attend Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons.

KEF, which began in September 2002 and developed in conjunction with Experiment in Congregational Education at HUC-JIR, is “a work in progress” according to Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel’s senior rabbi. For now, it is deliberately limited to 15 families, with children ranging from first grade to post-bar mitzvah. Families attend Shabbat dinner and services once a month at the temple’s Synaplex Friday Night and study together for three hours the next afternoon. Additionally, families celebrate monthly Shabbat dinners at each other’s homes, participate in monthly tikkun olam activities, study books together and create family projects on Torah and Shabbat.

“KEF is empowering the parents to be their children’s teachers, which is what Judaism is about in so many ways,” said Stephanie Marshall, one of two full-time KEF teachers and a graduate student at HUC-JIR.

KEF also allows busy parents and children to spend valuable time together.

Kim Simon, an African American woman who has recently converted to Judaism, participates with her son Joshua, 14.

“It’s so great to share that time with your child, without cell phones and other distractions, and to interact with other parents and their children,” she said.

Whether parents and children are learning simultaneously or separately, parent education shows kids that, as Geller said, “To be a Jew means to be engaged with Torah, in whatever age-appropriate way. It doesn’t stop.”

Parent education gives children and adults a common language and helps build Jewish identity.

“You come out of that car, into the building and show your kid that Jewish life is worth your own time,” Feinstein said. “That’s how you make Jews Jews.”

Jane Ulman is a freelance writer who lives in Encino with her husband. She has four sons.

Resources for Parent Education

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• Parent Learner Circle, Milken Community High School, Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, (310) 440-3500

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• It Is My Turn to Learn, Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, (818) 530-4002

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• KEF Temple Emanuel, Rabbi Laura Geller, (310) 288-3742

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• The Experiment in Congregational Education, www.eceonline.org

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• Aish HaTorah, www.aish.com, (310) 278-8672

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• University of Judaism, www.uj.edu, (310) 476-9777

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• National Jewish Outreach Program, www.njop.org, (800) 448-6724

Or contact your local synagogue or day school.

Rescuing Dollars for Seniors, Immigrants


 

With many health care programs threatened because of cutbacks in government funding, Jessica Toledano and other members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ advocacy arm have redoubled their work on behalf of the elderly, immigrants and other vulnerable groups. In at least three recent instances, those efforts have paid off and saved imperiled programs from debilitating cuts or untimely demises.

Under Toledano’s direction, The Federation’s Government Relations Committee and its supporters have successfully convinced local, state and federal politicians to spare programs that train immigrants on welfare to become certified nurse assistants, provide adult day health care services for Alzheimer’s sufferers and offer seniors living in so-called naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) in Park La Brea and West Hollywood with such services as in-house social workers and transportation to doctors appointments that allow them to continue living at home.

“Last year was a very tough year, but we had some successes that will benefit the community here in L.A.,” Toledano said.

Among those victories:

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• Last month, members of The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) and others landed a $200,000 federal grant to save a Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) program that has helped dozens of immigrants and refugees move off the dole and into nurse assistant and other nursing jobs. After L.A. County decided not to renew a $125,000 grant because of budgetary problems, Toledano contacted Rep. Howard Berman’s (D-Van Nuys) office to see whether Congress might allocate money for the highly touted program. Toledano met with the congressman and his staff to make her case. She also arranged for JVS executives to meet with interested U.S. senators and representatives in both Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C. As a result of those efforts, Congress just passed the Certified Nurse Assistant Training/Nursing Career Ladder Program, which Berman sponsored.

“Having the opportunity to get federal dollars adds to the credibility and the long-term sustainability of the program,” said JVS Chief Operating Officer Claudia Finkel, who personally lobbied Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), among others.

The new-and-improved JVS nursing program will also help certified nurse assistants advance in their careers by offering training to become licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses. With California’s residents graying and its population growing, nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities are hungry for nurses at every level, experts said.

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• Working closely with County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Toledano and others helped prevent the county from cutting $360,000 over four years for an adult day health care center in West Hollywood that caters to Alzheimer’s patients. Toledano personally took members of the supervisor’s staff to the center to see how the programs it offered benefit the Jewish and non-Jewish elderly. The county later restored the funding.

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• With the Jewish Family Service-sponsored NORC program starved for funds, Toledano tapped former Rep. Mel Levine — now the chair of the JCRC — to lobby senators and representatives for money. The NORC program just landed a $650,000 federal grant for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, after receiving no federal money last year. Waxman sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives, while Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) supported it in the Senate.

“We really listen to the seniors, see what they need, the kind of things they think would improve the quality of their lives and try to connect them with the appropriate resources,” JFS Executive Director Paul Castro said. “This is what senior programming will look like in the future.”

NORCs enjoy support among many politicians partly because of economics, Diana Aviv, vice president for public policy at the United Jewish Communities has said. She estimated that nursing home care costs $55,000 annually per person, while senior housing with special services is around $20,000. By contrast, NORC support services cost about $5,000.

Despite those bright spots, several programs run by Federation recipient agencies fared less well, including a domestic violence program, Toledano said. Looking forward, Toledano added that she and others will have to fight even harder this year to protect important community initiatives because of the rising tide of government red ink.

“I think 2005 will be the toughest year we’ve ever had,” she said.

 

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to: calendar@jewishjournal.com.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

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EVENTS

North Valley JCC/Temple Beth Torah Seniors: 1 p.m. Certified aerobics instructor Susan Press teaches how to keep in shape without leaving your chair. 16601 Rinaldi St., Granada Hills. (818) 360-2211.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Los Angeles Youth Orchestra of Stephen Wise Temple:
7:30 p.m. Student musicians perform Beethoven, Holst,
Bizet, Dvorak and others. $2 -$15. Zipper Hall, the
Colburn School of Performing Arts, 200 S. Grand Ave.,
Los Angeles. (310) 440-3500, ext.
3344.

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EVENTS

Sherman Oaks Hadassah: 9:45 a.m. Auction/white elephant sale and free breakfast. Free. 5450 Vesper Ave., Sherman Oaks. (818) 985-0032.

The Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the
Aging: 11 a.m.-
3 p.m. The Young Women’s Division
hosts its third annual “Guardian Guild – For the Love of
Style” boutique and fashion show. $60 -$75. New Mart
building, 127 E. Ninth St., third floor, Los Angeles.
(310) 479-2468.

Jewish Learning Exchange: 7:30 p.m. Rabbi Aba
Wagensberg discusses “Golems, Goblins and God.” Also,

Nov. 22, 7:45 p.m. Chaya Malka Abramson discusses
“Who by Fire: Have You Ever Questioned Your Faith?” $10.
7223 Beverly Blvd., No. 201, Los Angeles. (323)
857-0923.

Temple Ner Maarav: 7:30 p.m. Cantorial concert with
Cantors Hershel and Judy Fox. $18-$25. 17730 Magnolia
Blvd., Encino. (818) 345-7833.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

USC Hillel Foundation: 3 p.m.
Contemporary classical music concert inspired by the art of Ginette Mizraki. View Mizraki’s “Illumination: Gold Series” while listening to The Definiens Project. Free. 3300 Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135.

Kehillat Ma’arav: 7:30 p.m. Jonathan Kirsch discusses
his latest work, “God Against the Gods.” $10-$12. 1715
21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

OPEN HOUSES

Milken Community High School of
Stephen Wise Temple: 10 a.m.-
12:30 p.m. Open house for applicants grades 7-8. 15800 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-3553.

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EVENTS

The New JCC at Milken: 7 p.m.
Meet Rabbi Mark Borovitz, author of “The Holy Thief: A
Con Man’s Journey From Darkness to Light.” Free.

22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. R.S.V.P., (818) 464-3281.

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width=1 alt=””>

NOVEMBER 23/TUESDAY

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ARTS &
ENTERTAINMENT

Temple Adat Shalom: 8 p.m. David Dassa’s 15th annual Thanksgiving Israeli
Dance Marathon.
$15. 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-4985.

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Happy
Thanksgiving!!!

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width=1 alt=””>

NOVEMBER 26/FRIDAY

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CHANUKAH BOUTIQUES

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Temple Beth Hillel: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Boutique with special children’s program featuring The Mad Scientist. Valley Village. (818) 763-9148.

Temple B’nai Hayim: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Chanukah
bazaar. Sherman Oaks.
(818) 788-4664.

B’nai Tikvah Congregation: 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Boutique with live folk music and moon bounce. Los
Angeles. (310) 645-6262.

Congregation Ner Tamid: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Boutique
and live entertainment. Rancho Palos Verdes. (310)
539-5800.

Valley Beth Israel: 11 a.m. Auction/ Boutique.
Sun Valley. (818) 782-2281.

Temple Beth Zion-Sinai: 11:30 a.m.-
2:30
p.m. Chanukah event with five area synagogues.
Children’s concert, digitized Chanukah card
making, family art education workshops,
Thanksgiving food drive and children’s book drive.
Lakewood. (562)
429-0715.

Singles

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Singles Helping Others: 11
a.m.-4 p.m. Volunteer for the Heartfelt Foundation
to help homeless or underpriveleged families.
Santa Monica. (818) 591-0772. Also, Nov. 21, 8
a.m.-2:30 p.m. Volunteer for the VIP section at
the Doo Dah Parade. Pasadena.
(818) 717-9136.

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: 6:30 p.m.
Four-course Interactive Mystery Dinner at “Who
Killed the Radio Show?” $58. Marina del Rey.
R.S.V.P.,
(310) 203-1312 by Nov. 15.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s): Reservation deadline for Nov. 27 “Not-So-Speedy Meeting” and
game night in conjunction with Temple Ner Maarav.
$9. 17730 Magnolia Blvd, Encino. R.S.V.P.,
(818) 750-0095.

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Harbor Jewish Singles: 3
p.m. Hear a musical performance by Larry
Greenfield, a violinist with the Pacific Symphony
and the son of member Irwin Greenfield.
No-host meal to follow at Bristol Farms Restaurant. Free. Newport Beach Public Library, 1000 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach. (949) 717-3800.

Jewish Singles Volleyball: 3 p.m. Play
volleyball and enjoy a post game no-host dinner.
Free. Playa del Rey Beach Court 11 at the end of
Culver Boulevard, Playa del Rey. (310)
278-9812.

Chef Richard’s: 6 p.m. (mingle and cocktails),
6:45 p.m. (dinner). Fresh Mex Fiesta “Grande”
Buffet Dinner. $30. Chevy’s Fresh Mex, 16705
Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P.,
(818)
995-3455.

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Project Next Step: 8 p.m.
“Coffee Talk” with coffee and pastries. $7. 9911
W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.
(310) 284-3638.

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Westwood Jewish Singles
(45+):
7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads
a discussion on the topic, ” Is Romantic Love
Possible Over 45?” $10. R.S.V.P., (310)
444-8986.

West Valley JCC: 8-11 p.m.
Israeli folk dancing lessons and open dancing with
James Zimmer. $5-$6. Salsa, swing and tango
lessons for an additional $3 (7-8 p.m.).
(310) 284-3638.

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Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m.
Volleyball game followed by no-host dinner at a
local restaurant. End of Culver Boulevard, near
Court 15, Playa del Rey. ” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Happy Minyan: 7 p.m. Kabbalat Shabbat services. Downstairs at Beth Jacob, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 285-7777.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s):
Reservation deadline for Nov. 27 “Not-So-Speedy
Meeting” and
game night in conjunction with
Temple Ner Maarav. $9. 17730 Magnolia Blvd,
Encino. R.S.V.P.,
(818)
705-0095.

Upcoming Singles


width=1 height=8 alt=””>

NOVEMBER 28, SUNDAY

“>www.jdate.com
. For
more information, see story on Page 30.


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J Networking: 7:30 p.m. Meet new people and
promote your business at this Jewish networking
group meeting. West San Fernando Valley. R.S.V.P.,
(818) 342-2898.

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.

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.

Giving Tzedakah

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.

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.

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.'”

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.

Guarding Medi-Cal

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.

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.

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.

The Circuit


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.

Nonagenarian nachas

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.

Bar None

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.

Bowling Over

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 Champions

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.

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.

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  or call (213) 252-0772.

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.

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,

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.