Rabbis share insights in Rosh Hashanah sermons

Jared Stein (L) and Daniel Levitch (R) blow the shofar as Gillian Levitch, 4, watches at a Tashlich ceremony, a Rosh Hashanah ritual to symbolically cast away sins, during the Nashuva Spiritual Community Jewish New Year celebration on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California, United States Sept. 21. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS.

In their 2017 Rosh Hashanah sermons, rabbis from across the denominational spectrum called for their communities to act out Jewish values to combat hate and bigotry, citing a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the past year. Others avoided politics and provided guidance for self-improvement, drawing on biblical texts to offer teachings relevant to how people live today. The following are excerpts from some of those sermons.

Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous
We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace — for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream. Read full sermon here. 

Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Senior Rabbi Steve Leder
Why is Torah so filled with negative examples of human behavior? Why of the 613 commandments in the Torah are 248 positive “Thou shalts” but 365 are negative “Thou shalt nots”? Because the Torah knows we can become better people by choosing how not to behave. Because what we choose not to do, not to say, not to envy, not to hold on to from within any longer, because of what we remove from our hearts and lives, the true light of Torah, of God, of who we really can be, shines upon our innermost soul.  Read full sermon here. 

Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Rabbi Beaumont Shapiro
The well-known sports psychologist Bob Rotella explains that the majority of amateur golfers approach a shot by thinking about where they do not want to hit the ball. Don’t hit it into the water. Don’t hit it into the trees. Don’t hit it into the sand. You get the idea. Instead, Rotella gives some incredibly simple advice — focus on the target, not the hazards — where you want the ball to go, not what you want to avoid. Filling one’s mind with negative thoughts about what not to do makes it exponentially more difficult to accomplish what one sets out to do. In other words, think about the positive, rather than the negative. Rosh Hashanah is the same. Today should be all about the positive.

Sinai Temple
Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe
There are times in order to have peace you have to take a step back. In other words, you have to make room for other people to make peace. You have to let them in. You have to allow them to have a say. You can’t discount them immediately because they are on the other side of a religious or political or familial divide. You can’t do that. You can’t scream every time somebody disagrees with you or even offends you. There is no discussion anymore once you push them off the bridge. But if you take their hand and step back, you will discover there is a lot to talk about.

Congregation Or Ami
Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Well, if I may be so bold, like [Theodor] Herzl and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream, that any two of you, passionate people both, will sit down and talk about the most difficult issues facing our country, and you will converse with kavod (respect) and chesed (kindness), patiently listening to each other to uncover the nuance and complexity of your opinions. Without destroying each other. Without resorting to the “shock and awe” which characterizes the “ridicule and destroy” sloganeering that tries to pass as debate today on both sides of the aisle, and in the middle, too. Im tirtzu — If we will it, it is no dream. Read full sermon here. 

Temple Isaiah
Senior Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles
Make yourself an ark. We are the ark when we build not borders, but bridges. We are the ark when we build not separations, but support. We are the ark when we build not contention, but confidence. We are the ark when we build not sarcasm, but security. We are the ark when we build not towers, but trust. We are the ark when we build not feuds, but friendships. We are the ark when we build more compassion, more kindness, more generosity, more understanding, more patience, more joy, more thoughtfulness, more equality, more love. We are the ark when we build upon our best values, when we reflect on ourselves, adjust our sails, make room for others, support and celebrate each other, practice equanimity so that when the floods do come, our inner waters remain calm.

We are sailing over some choppy seas. Darkness on the face of the deep. We don’t always know what lurks beneath, but together we can be prepared for any adventure, until that day when the ark comes to rest, arms linked not to save but to sing, God’s spirit hovering over us with all the colors of the rainbow. Read full sermon here. 

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron
There may be some of you here who are unsure how you want to react to the actions of certain people or groups. You’re affected by Charlottesville and racism and sexism and any other “ism,” discrimination, intolerance, hate, genocide, and the subversion of the rights of those who cannot help themselves. But you are unsure as to how or where you can participate. Perhaps these 10 days can be reflections on what really matters to you and where you want to make a difference in the world. That is our opportunity. That is our challenge. (By the way, bringing food for the hungry and diapers for refugees is a great start.) Read full sermon here.

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin
We do not calibrate our moral compass by what we see around us. We do not adjust to tolerate a new normal. We do not lower our expectations because the world is backsliding. We strive to hold on to the same purpose we had since the start of creation — to gather light and drive out darkness.

Temple Israel of Hollywood
Rabbi Jocee Hudson
We have to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, to say the wrong thing and apologize, to learn from others, and to do so with real humility. Because when we show up together at the Isla Mosque in South Los Angeles to protest white supremacy, and when we show up on Olvera Square in downtown L.A. together to protest the repeal of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], we show up way more authentically, having done the real work of community building. We have to work to be in relationship with our neighbors, even when we don’t yet fully understand each other. Actually, we need to show up because we don’t yet fully understand each other.

Valley Beth Shalom
Rabbi Noah Farkas
The first paragraph of the Shema, our holiest prayer begins, v’ahavta et Adonai elohecha bchol levavcha, uvechol nafshecha — “Love Adonai your God with all your heart and might.” The word for heart, lev, is spelled with two bets. The rabbis teach that each bet is meant to teach us something different. The Jewish heart has two chambers that beat as one. Do not let anyone, my children, split your Judaism with your Zionism. The Jewish heart has two chambers that beat as one.

Temple Ner Simcha
Rabbi Michael Barclay
God’s love is so overwhelming, so awesome. If we can just for a moment realize at a deep emotional level that every aspect of life has been choreographed in a holy way specifically for each of our individual needs. Every sound, color and vibration is a gift from God — feeding our souls with exactly what we really need in that very moment! It truly is overwhelming.

And the only response as human beings that we can have to such an infinite love is to surrender and love God back. To teach our children in every moment and to remind ourselves at all times the depth of God’s love. To allow ourselves to truly feel the only response to that awesome love: loving God back with a passion, honesty and openness that allows us to truly have a sacred relationship with the Divine.

Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue 
Rabbi Judith HaLevy
We are here, during these Days of Awe, to FaceTime with God. We can only be connected if we can bring our full selves, flaws, doubts and all, to the conversation. Only then can we truly say, “Hineni” (Here I am).

Pico Shul
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
God wants us looking out for everybody, for those who are in distress, those who are hurting, in need. It’s easy to see when there is a flood how people are in need. So people, their natural instinct, their divine spark inside them, pushes them to help because it is obvious. When we don’t have it so blatantly in front of us, we don’t necessarily realize all the needs.

Temple Beth Hillel
Rabbi Sarah Hronsky
In our Torah portion this morning, Abraham — in the horrendous moment, poised with knife in hand, the most dramatic moment — wakes up when he hears his name called. He lifts his head, opens his eyes and sees in front of him something so important, the ram caught in the thicket. The answer to this dramatic moment was found literally in the resources in front of him, once he opened his eyes. I am hopeful that we, too, in this year will open our eyes each time a dramatic difficult moment happens for us in our country and around the world. Open our eyes to the possibilities of how to offer repair, how to fix, see the resources we have right in front of us, and put it all together to do the hard work.

Moving & Shaking: Helgard and Irwin Field receive lifetime achievement award, JVSLA holds fundraiser at wax museum

From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson, L.A. Federation Lifetime Achievement Award honorees Helgard and Irwin Field, and Federation Board Chair Julie Platt attend the 2017 Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award dinner. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles honored Helgard and Irwin Field with the 2017 Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 17 at the Beverly Hilton, “in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the Jewish community and generous support of our life changing work,” the event program said.

Irwin Field, raised in a Zionist and charitable household, served as Federation’s campaign chair in 1973 and 1974, as its president in 1995 and 1996, and in other leadership positions. He also served as publisher of the Jewish Journal from 2003-2011.

Helgard Field, raised in Germany, has been involved with numerous organizations, including the Women’s Zionist Organization, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Museum.

The Fields have four children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Speakers at the event included Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe — who discussed how counseling the Helgards following the death of their son, Edward, was among the most profound spiritual experiences of his life — and Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson.

The event featured cocktails, dinner and musical entertainment from the Jewish vocal ensemble Guys and Meidels.

The more than 450 attendees included Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Federation Board Chair Julie Platt, Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Federation Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir, Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman, and Leon Janks, a managing partner at Green Hasson Janks.

The event raised more than $1 million for Federation’s Special Needs Engagement Fund, which will increase access to Federation programs for Jewish children and teenagers with special needs.

From left: Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVSLA) board member Matt Winnick; JVLSA CEO Alan Levey and his wife, Deborah; JVSLA President Harris Smith; JVSLA fall fundraiser co-chairs Adam Abramowitz, Heidi Levyn and Steve Seigel; and JVSLA client Rasika Flores pose with a wax version of Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Terminator” at the JVSLA fall fundraiser at Madame Tussauds Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles


Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVSLA) held its fall fundraiser, “An Evening at Madame Tussauds,” at the famous wax museum in Hollywood on Sept. 16.

The costume-optional “party with a purpose” drew more than 200 guests, who snapped photographs with the museum’s wax celebrities and mingled while enjoying food, drink and dance until midnight.

The event raised nearly $100,000 to benefit JVSLA programs for veterans and at-risk youths in foster care and on court-ordered juvenile probation.

JVSLA is a nonprofit, nonsectarian agency dedicated to empowering people to overcome barriers and achieve sustainable employment.

“This was absolutely a first-of-its-kind event for JVS and the beginning of an entirely new approach to our annual fundraiser,” JVSLA Board President Harris Smith said. “We wanted to create both a memorable experience for our longtime donors and an opportunity to engage a new circle of supporters. In addition to a great evening, our guests had a chance to learn firsthand about the life-changing impact of our work in the lives of veterans and youth through the very moving stories of our former clients, Alex and Rasika.”

Alex was former JVSLA Veterans First program client Alex Tapanya, who was stationed at the Pentagon on 9/11 and set up a triage unit to handle injuries. When he was discharged from the military, his work experience didn’t translate to the private sector, forcing him to take whatever job he could get. He then was referred to JVSLA, and the organization made it possible for him to become certified in cyber security. JVSLA also paid to train his wife, also a veteran, in data analytics.

“For both of us, JVS Veterans First was the linchpin not only for funding but for the compassion and support and understanding of our fellow veterans,” Tapanya said. “The program has made a world of difference to our family, and we are deeply grateful.”

The “Rasika” referred to by Smith is Rasika Flores, a former JVSLA Youth Program client who grew up in an unstable, homeless family and dropped out of high school to take care of her siblings.

“Not only did JVS hire me, but they pushed me to want more from myself,” Flores said at the event. “I enrolled in Santa Monica College … something no one in my family has ever done.  With the help of JVS and all of you here tonight, I started to become greater than my sufferings.”

The event’s co-chairs were Adam Abramowitz, managing director at Intrepid Investment Bankers; Jason Kravitz, director of national sales at Mortgage Capital Associates; Heidi Levyn, a client partner at Facebook; Steve Seigel, president of Silversheet; and Aaron Suzar, managing director at L&S Advisors.

  Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

The Sulamot Klezmer Band from Israel performs at Shelters for Israel’s 69th anniversary luncheon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Shelters for Israel


Shelters for Israel celebrated its 69th anniversary with a luncheon on Sept. 10 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Drawing about 225 people, the event benefited Sulamot–Music for Social Change, an education program for at-risk children and a collaboration between the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), Tel Aviv University and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“We chose Sulamot because we were impressed with their model — in partnership with the IPO, the IDF and Tel Aviv University — to reach out to thousands of disadvantaged, at-risk children throughout Israel and provide musical instruments and instruction to them,” Shelters for Israel President Myra Gabbay said.

Shelters for Israel, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, was founded in 1948 by a group of female Hungarian Holocaust survivors who moved to the United States following World War II. Aware of a housing shortage in Israel due to an influx of immigrants, they used money from a regular card game to create a loan fund for the new arrivals to the fledging Jewish state.

To date, the volunteer-led organization has sponsored more than 50 capital projects in Israel serving the elderly, Negev and the Galilee communities, disadvantaged youth and others. Among its current projects is a three-year program in Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev, where the city has committed to match the organization’s funding and build a music school for graduates of the Sulamot program.

Participants in the the event included David Jackson, Shelters for Israel co-president; Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of the Orthodox Union’s West Coast region; Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler and Beverly Hills High School 2016 graduate Lauren Aviram.

The highlight of the luncheon was when the Sulamot Klezmer Band from Israel performed klezmer and classic Jewish and Israeli music, Gabbay said. “It was special to dance with the survivors and subsequent generations to the music of these exceptional young people.”

American Friends of Hebrew University Humanitarian Torch of Learning Award honorees Renae Jacobs-Anson (left) and Helen Jacobs-Lepor. Photo courtesy of American Friends of Hebrew University

American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) honored Renae Jacobs-Anson and Helen Jacobs-Lepor, prominent civic and Jewish communal leaders, at its annual AFHU Bel Air Affaire on Sept. 16 at the home of Brindell Gottlieb.

The honorees received the AFHU Humanitarian Torch of Learning Award for being “dedicated supporters of Israel and members of AFHU’s national and western region boards,” an AFHU statement said.

Jacobs-Anson, an actor and singer, and Jacobs-Lepor, vice president of business development for US Medical Innovations, have co-chaired the annual event for nine consecutive years.

Additional chairs of the event included Glaser Weil lawyer Patricia Glaser, AFHU western region board vice chair; Glaser’s husband, Sam Mudie; and May Ziman and her husband, Richard, AFHU western region board chair. Hebrew University President and professor Asher Cohen also attended.

The gala raised more than $1 million to support scholarships for Hebrew University students.

AFHU, a nonprofit, raises funds and awareness for Hebrew University, a leading academic institution and research facility in Jerusalem. The university has four main campuses — the Mount Scopus campus for humanities and social sciences, the Edmond J. Safra campus for exact sciences, the Ein Karem Campus for medical sciences and the Rehovot campus.

USC graduate student Sydney Siegel is paired with Shauna Esfandi, who has cerebral palsy, at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’ eighth annual Walk4FriendshipLA. Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle of Los Angeles


The eighth annual Walk4FriendshipLA, a 2-kilometer walkathon benefiting Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, was held Sept. 17 at Shalhevet High School. 

The gathering is the biggest annual community awareness program and fundraiser for the Chabad-affiliated organization serving Jewish children with special needs.

Friendship Circle Development Director Gail Rollman said this year’s event was a success, raising $220,000 for social, recreational and educational programs.

“It was a thrill to see close to 800 people in pink T-shirts that said ‘Step up for Friendship’ walk in support of our Jewish children who have special needs,” she told the Journal.

Rollman and her husband, Fred, were top walkers, raising nearly $23,000 for the organization through their participation in the event. Other top walkers included Yonatan Mark, Alana Bess, Jonah Weiss and Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, Friendship Circle of L.A.’s executive director.

The opening ceremony featured a performance by Broken Chains, an Alice and Nahum Lainer School teen band led by Friendship Circle volunteer Zev Gaslin.

Volunteers included Sydney Siegel, a USC graduate student paired with Shauna Esfandi, a child with cerebral palsy.

“I absolutely loved meeting Shauna,” Siegel said. “That is certainly an interaction I will never forget.”

The walk began at 2:45 p.m. and took participants on a route that passed the Petersen Automotive Museum at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The walk was followed by a family festival that featured Rosh Hashanah crafts, a photo booth, carnival activities, a barbecue, shofar demonstrations, a live DJ and more.

Established 15 years ago, Friendship Cricle operates 25 programs for Jewish children with special needs with the help of 500 teen volunteers.

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Elul 4: Closing the Distance – Rabbi David Wolpe

Rabbi David Wolpe

Each year as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approach, we are reminded that sin creates distance. Distance creates factions. So we proclaim the unity of God, but the fractures in our community and in our own souls widen.

Thus, teaches the Sefat Emeth, the first tablets were broken by sin, but on Yom Kippur Moses returned with the second tablets, all of one piece. Teshuva, repentance, had created wholeness again. We create distance when we are afraid, and even more when we are ashamed. Just as sin is a pushing away, love is a drawing close.

To believe in God’s love is to have faith in the ultimate oneness of the world. For if everything is ultimately one, then all distance, all separation, is temporary. E.M. Forster’s famous admonition “only connect” is made here into the law of the universe, into God’s law: draw close to Me, and you will be healed.

May this year help us find our way back to each other and back to God.

Rabbi David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. www.sinaitemple.org

Rabbi David Wolpe calls on President Trump to repent

Rabbi David Wolpe

In a powerful sermon delivered from his pulpit on Sat., Aug. 19, Rabbi David Wolpe, one of America’s leading rabbis, called on President Donald J. Trump to repent for his remarks following the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville on Aug 12.

“I never thought I would have to speak these words to a congregation but here they are: These are Nazis!” said Wolpe. “These are the people who rounded up our people all over Europe and put them in gas chambers. And they marched in the streets of an American city. And people defended the silence of the leader of our country for a full day.”

Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple, a Conservative congregation in West Los Angeles.  A prolific author and sought-after speaker, he is generally considered a centrist, anchoring a congregation that holds strong opinions across the political spectrum. Newsweek magazine named Wolpe, “the most influential rabbi in America.”

The Charlottesville march brought together an array of far-right, openly anti-Semitic groups. Though they gathered in Charlottesville ostensibly to protest the city-approved relocation of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Wolpe pointed out that they chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” and marched under banners decorated with swastikas.

A Charlottesville rabbi took online threats to burn his synagogue down so seriously, Wolpe said, that he removed the Torahs from the ark and took them to another building for safekeeping.

In the course of the march, a white supremacist drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer.

Wolpe took issue with President Trump’s response to the violence.  Instead of singling out and denouncing the neo-Nazis, Trump blamed “many sides.” After backtracking slightly in response to public outcry, Trump, in a followup press conference, said “there were some good people” on the side of the neo-Nazis.

“He said, ‘Some people on both sides were very fine people,'” Wolpe said of President Trump’s remarks. “Well, there were very fine people marching on the Left along with some people who were not at all fine … But nobody marching on the right is a very fine person, because a very fine person does not march under a Nazi flag, no matter what they think or what they feel.”

The rabbi’s congregation applauded spontaneously, something that breaks with synagogue decorum during services.

Wolpe has generally refrained from bringing politics to the pulpit. In a June 11 op-ed for the Jewish Journal entitled, “Why I keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” he bemoaned the fact that, “The litmus test for religious legitimacy has become political opinion.”

But Wolpe was clearly moved to speak out by Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville protest, which also brought condemnations from the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, and the right-wing rabbinic leadership of Lakewood, NJ.

The rabbi framed his sermon around three mitzvot, or commandments, that the Torah passage read in synagogues this week teach.

“The first is to judge [people] favorably, the second is to rebuke,” said Wolpe at the conclusion of his sermon.  “The third mitzvah is teshuva — repentance. The President of the United States needs to repent. Shabbat shalom.”

On those words the rabbi took his seat.

You can hear the entire 16-minute sermon here.

Creator of ‘30 Days’ Project aims to ease mourners’ grief and loss

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Singer-songwriter Craig Taubman’s father-in-law, Eli Brent, died in October 2015. His mother-in-law, Charlotte Brent, died a few months later. Both were in their late 80s.

Taubman, 59, remembers that time as a “very intense period” for him and his wife, Louise.

“When this was happening, there was nothing else in our lives,” he said. “It was everything. Every article you read, every movie you see, you look for peace about mourning and loss.”

Over the course of about a year, Taubman reached out to an eclectic network of faith leaders and artists, asking for their thoughts on loss. Now, he is sharing his findings.

“30 Days, a Journey of Love, Loss and Healing” is a collection of 30 disc-shaped cards packaged in a tin container, each complete with a short inscription to help people deal with the blow of losing a loved one. For Taubman, the ruminations, which range from ironic and irreverent to comedic and even rabbinic, address the often confusing and subjective nature of grief.

“Someone will read one and say this is the most inspired piece of writing I’ve ever read,” he said. “Someone else will read the same thing and say it’s stupid. When it comes to loss, like with taste, there’s no empirical truth. You process it in a variety of ways. The mourning process can be — you just never quite know.”

Notable contributors include Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, “Tuesdays With Morrie” author Mitch Albom, Israeli musician Achinoam “Noa” Nini, as well as Taubman and his wife.

Taubman, well known in Los Angeles’ Jewish community for leading the musically themed Friday Night Live Shabbat services at Sinai Temple for 16 years through 2014, envisions his creation as a comforting gift to mourners.

“When you go to someone’s house, they don’t need another cake or flowers. Maybe some people do,” he said. “But if you give this as a gift to someone in mourning, it’s an easy access point. As a visitor, you can hand this to someone and read the cards with that person.”

Two months ago, after the project was finished, Taubman had 5,000 packages made. He has given away just over 1,000 and has sold more than 2,000 for $18 each when bought individually and $10 each when purchased in bulk of 10 or more. All of the proceeds — roughly $20,000 so far — benefit the Pico Union Project, a downtown Los Angeles multifaith cultural arts center and house of worship in the Pico Union neighborhood, just a few blocks from Staples Center. The Taubmans created the center four years ago when they purchased the oldest synagogue building in Los Angeles, the site of the original Sinai Temple, built in 1909.

To get the “30 Days” project off the ground, Taubman turned to Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Culver City, which agreed to underwrite the project, helping to cover initial printing and production costs. The park’s general manager, Paul Goldstein, said Hillside got involved because the project can help grieving families.

“While Jewish funerals are designed for the honor and dignity of the deceased, they are also created for the consolation and comfort of the bereaved,” Goldstein said. “I believed having the ability to extend this healing beyond the day of the funeral would be beneficial to every family who chooses Hillside.”

Goldstein said Hillside plans to soon include a “30 Days” package in the complimentary shivah/minyan kit it already provides families who have a funeral service at the park.

Craig Taubman

In 2012, Taubman spearheaded a project called “Jewels of Elul,” made up of 29 thoughtful insights —  one for each day of the Hebrew month of Elul  — dedicated to study and reflection about the High Holy Days. He sent them out as email blasts with quotes gathered from the likes of then-President Barack Obama; Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; and singer Mary J. Blige.

Taubman described “30 Days” — a reference to the concept of “shloshim,” the 30-day mourning period in Judaism — as “an extension of that project.” However, this time he used Jewish voices, seeking to elucidate the Jewish perspective on mourning and showcase what it can teach others.

“I think the Jewish concept of mourning is extraordinary and beautiful,” he said. “Loss is hard. Death is hard. But it’s a natural part of life. The Jewish approach is unique. You have the seven intense days. After that you have 30 days to process less intensely. A year after, and you’re still processing. It’s an amazing thing that all people can learn from, but it’s a Jewish tradition. Judaism has something really valuable to give to society.”

A response to my critics

I thank my colleagues and friends Rick Jacobs and Noah Farkas, and many others, who wrote in response to my opinion piece “Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit” in the June 9 edition of the Jewish Journal. I offer the following points:

1. “Moral issues” are almost always “political stances I agree with” and “partisan politics” are stances with which I differ. Self-righteousness is a potent drug, and politics has enough of it without adding religion, as our Founding Fathers knew. The passion with which you hold a conviction says absolutely nothing about its correctness. Nothing. Even-handedness feels tepid and uninspiring, but for that reason it is all the more important. We demonize each other by pulpit pounding proclamations of “Torah true” positions. Using the rabbinate to promote policies is exploiting one form of authority to enforce another.

2. Every rabbi should preach values, of course. Values are not policies and not embodied in politicians. This past Shabbat, I spoke about Judaism and the sin of racism. Policies to combat racism are a more complex matter. There are studies, statistics, successes, failures — in other words, solutions best left to those who master the field and know something, and to our capacity to argue as citizens. I’ve spoken and written about immigration, war, poverty and other issues to clarify values but not to endorse policies. Congregants often know more about specific policy issues than I. Rabbinic training does not provide the gavel to judge between the economic contentions of John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Gun control measures, however much I may favor them, were not outlined in the story of Korach or the Book of Proverbs. Colleagues who miraculously locate the policies of their party in each week’s Torah portion are no more credible than so-called kabbalists who find in the Torah’s “codes” predictions of the future or confirmations of the past.

3. I’ve asked several correspondents a simple question and received not one satisfactory answer: What policies do you support on major questions that differ with what you would believe if you were not a religious Jew? If Judaism supports all the policies you believe anyway, can’t you be at least a little suspicious that your politics are guiding your Torah, and not your Torah leading to your politics?

4. Politics and campaigns are inherently divisive, and never more than now. If as a rabbi you have a perfectly homogenous shul, then I congratulate you on your frictionless life. But I have too often heard of people leaving shuls feeling politically disenfranchised by the rabbi’s preaching. Synagogues should not be tax-exempt campaign offices.

5. Yes, I know Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Honestly, I do. But issues like slavery and civil rights are very rare, once in a generation, and invoking them for everything from social welfare policy to Dodd-Frank to the methods of vetting immigrants is both dishonest and cheapening a great moral legacy. If you are using the march on Selma to religiously validate your views on the minimum wage, shame on you.

6. Many people privately ask about my political views and I’m happy to answer. But not from the bimah. As a rabbi, my task is to bless, to teach values and texts and ideas and rituals, to comfort, to cajole, to listen and learn, to grow in spirit along with my congregants, to usher them through the transitions of life, to create a cohesive community, to defend the people and land of Israel, and to reinforce what most matters. The great questions of life are not usually political ones. When political questions do arise, the rabbi should clarify the Jewish values involved and expect congregants to decide which candidates and policies best fulfill those values. Aren’t there enough disastrous examples in the world where clergy set public policy for us to be humble about our political wisdom?

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple. His most recent book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).

Why my friend David Wolpe is wrong: A ‘politics free’ pulpit is an empty pulpit

There are few colleagues for whom I have more respect than Rabbi David Wolpe. His books, sermons, articles and his personal character and warmth show all of us what being a rabbi means. I count him as both a teacher and a friend.

Which is why I was struck by Rabbi Wolpe’s recent op-ed in the Jewish Journal (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 7). How could someone who is usually so right be so wrong on something so important?

Rabbi Wolpe is, of course, correct when he writes “You can love Torah and vote for Trump. You can love Torah and think Trump is a blot on the American system. What you may not do, if you are intellectually honest, is say that the Torah points in only one political direction.” But I want to suggest that although one can certainly love Torah and follow different political paths, one cannot claim to be a lover of Torah and not care about how our society treats those in need, the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger and the oppressed.

Let me be clear: Our synagogues should never be places of partisanship. People of all political stripes should feel welcome within our walls. For that reason, I have argued against repealing the Johnson Amendment that bars clergy and houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates or parties. Repeal would turn synagogues into just another partisan tool, when in fact we should be moral goads, always free to speak truth to power and lift our voices to affirm our 3,000-year-old mandate to “Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9) as an expression of our care and concern for the world around us.

Sermons that “speak up” on the great moral issues of our world and our lives may address politics and policy as a means of addressing such moral issues but they are not about politics. On the contrary, they are about our Jewish values; the values we teach and the values we pass on to our children; the values that have kept us together as a people for centuries.

The role of the rabbi is not to eschew such issues in their sermons but rather to lift up the insights of our tradition that can illuminate these debates and model civil discussion in a manner that shows respect for differing views and avoids divisive language or ad hominem attacks on those who disagree.

The Judaism that I believe in does not limit Torah lessons to the parchment of our sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), nor to the tables around which we convene for communal Torah study. The Judaism that I live compels me to use those lessons to understand the most urgent challenges we face. And since the beginning of the enlightenment, rabbis of all streams have felt compelled to use the evolving institution of the sermon to bear prophetic witness to pressing societal and communal challenges their congregants faced.

As Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, one of America’s most influential rabbis of the first half of the 20th century, responded to criticism by those who made the argument Rabbi Wolpe made, that he should not address political issues from the pulpit, such as the power of monopolistic corporations and the abusive treatment of their workers:

“If, however, there is a larger and a higher duty, it is the duty of the Synagogue pulpit. … [T]he pulpit of the synagogue is charged with the responsibility of the prophetic memories and prophetic aspirations. If the Jewish pulpit ought to speak out at this time concerning the industrial situation, then upon the pulpit in which I stand, pledged to the truth-speaking under freedom, there lies a most solemn and inescapable duty. I could not with self-respect remain silent. … ”

Now, more than ever, with millions of refugees suffering the crushing burden of wars and dislocation, the planet on the verge of confronting the irreversible, devastating consequences of climate change, Muslim and Jewish Americans fearful in the face of escalating hate crimes, and millions at risk of losing lifesaving health care access, rabbis cannot — nor should not — abdicate the call of the prophets and the teachings of the rabbis by “standing idly by the blood of our neighbor.”

Rabbi Wolpe refers to our “tradition of argument, debate and compromise.” Those are indeed core values of our tradition. While our sages welcomed the debate, ensuring that majority and minority opinion were respected, in the end, despite differing viewpoints, the decisions were made on what the law would be; guidance was given to the Jewish community, even when compromise and common ground were elusive. Our rabbis should do no less nor offer any less guidance regarding the urgent issues our communities, our nation, Israel and the world face today.

I am moved by Rabbi Wolpe’s referencing that the mezuzot at the very doors of our homes are hung not horizontally nor vertically but rather at “an angled compromise.” He is right about the importance of compromise, but we must not miss the key lesson here: the mezuzot are, in fact, hung!

RABBI RICK JACOBS is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Rabbis must navigate politics and morality

Like many others, I read Rabbi David Wolpe’s op-ed on politics and the pulpit with a sense of profound ambivalence (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 9). I found myself caught between ovation and objection.

The ancient rabbis begin in a similar place. Religion has no place in the public square because the town center is full of sin, it is depraved and consumed with self-interested politicians. “Be wary of the government, for they befriend no one unless it is out of self interest.” (Pirkei Avot 2:3).

The English word for holy spaces, “sanctuary,” comes from the Latin “sanctus,” meaning separate. Religion is a refuge against all that’s dirty and repugnant in the world. We come to the sanctuary to find comfort in one another’s embrace, protection from the harshness of the political world.

There is a something comforting about hunkering down against the weekly tweetstorm. Something heartwarming and freeing to not be bothered by CNN for a few hours. It feels good to rest.

However, our tradition forbids us to pray in a room without windows. We must be able to look outside and see the hour, including the pressing hour, the sha’a dakhaq, upon which our world is squeezed ever more presently.

The rabbis tell us, “Anyone who is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not is punished for the transgressions of the entire world.” (Shabbat 55a). There is no sanctus in Judaism, nothing takes us out of the world. There is only kedushah a sense of holiness that pushes us back into it.

Hence my ambivalence toward the good rabbi. Every leader must make a decision for his or her community, and I believe ultimately that the false distinction between religion and politics makes both worse. It makes religion a reverential Polaroid of ancient times. It makes faith static, metaphysics frozen, and theology moribund. If religion has nothing to say about the world we live in, if it addresses no reality outside our door, especially when that reality causes anguish and pain, what then do we need religion for? We risk slipping into the great void where all our windows become mirrors.

A state without a transcendent moral ethic of religion can become imperiled. George Washington, in his farewell address, understood that, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” One of Washington’s great fears was that a society that is based in freedom would eventually free itself from morality and succumb to the bare clash of naked self-interest. As my teacher Rabbi Harold Schulweis z”l writes, “Religion … acts as a check on the State’s politics affirming that that which is harmful to the general good is impious and must be altered immediately.”

Religion is a durable good for society; it can hold the conscience and aspiration that make democracy work. Religion gives a tailwind to those who want to see that the injustices of yesterday cannot dictate the freedoms of tomorrow. The rabbi’s role is not to pick winners and losers in both party and personality, but to be the navigator, making sure that both congregant and congressman do not run aground on shoals of selfishness.

I fear, however, that Washington is proving to be right. In an article in the Atlantic Magazine, Peter Beinart shows convincingly that as Americans participate less in religious activities, the more polarized our politics become. “For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict,” Beinart concludes. “It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.”

It is because religious spaces like synagogues are some of the only platforms of mediation today between those who look and act enough like us so that we can listen to differing points of view. When we hear a rabbi teach an ethic of selflessness, transcending the ego in service to ideals higher than our own narrow desires, we can build havens of communication and solidarity in the chaos of the political world.

With the loss of these religious spaces we easily lose our affection for one another. Without sacred humility we lose the capacity to hear one another. If we leave all politics at the door when we enter the synagogue, then we lose a crucial nurturing structure that knits together our society.

Church and state can and should remain separate. But religion and politics are joint authors of our book of life.

Rabbi Noah Farkas is a clergy member at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; founder of Netiya, a Los Angeles Jewish nonprofit that promotes urban agriculture through a network of interfaith partners; and the author of “The Social Action Manual: Six Steps to Repairing the World” (Behrman House).

On the moral imperative of politics: A response to Rabbi David Wolpe

I write in response to Rabbi Wolpe’s editorial from June 7, “Why I keep politics off the pulpit.” Rabbi Wolpe’s erudite defense of an apolitical pulpit captures wonderfully the rhetoric of the Right and Left – on Israel or America – that insists on the Jewishness of their particular position. He argues that Jewish tradition does not speak definitively to either side, that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily contradicts the Torah.

I applaud his call for rabbis to focus their public teaching on texts and Jewish traditions – on Jacob and Rachel, not Pence and Pelosi, as he put it. Too often rabbis focus their sermons exclusively on contemporary politics – whether American or Israeli – and squander their weekly opportunity to teach Jewish texts to a semi-captive audience that does not regularly study our traditions. However, Rabbi Wolpe’s argument that rabbis should avoid politics almost entirely – whether on or off the pulpit – contains at least two fundamental flaws that I hope he, and others, consider.

First, there is no neutrality in politics any more than there is neutrality in Sabbath observance. Sabbath comes, and one observes it or not in whatever way they choose. So-called political neutrality is itself a form of political expression. It is support for those in power, or for those destined to be victorious without the voice of the rabbis. Moreover, countless times rabbis have indicated to me that they do not take stands on political issues – even compelling ones – but then happily supported various political causes that they understood to benefit Israel or the Jewish community. Well, that is a circular argument that labels certain actions as non-political because they seemed so self-evidently beneficial. Those were, in fact, political actions that reflected the Jewish values of the rabbis in question, and their refusal to advocate for other issues was equally a political act.

Second, there is no single Judaism today. Judaism is split between competing denominations with different core values. For most Reform congregations, for example, the prophetic teachings about social justice and common humanity are far more important than familiarity with how the Talmud derives that a man can “acquire” a wife via a written contract, to cite Rabbi Wolpe’s example. (To be sure, many Conservative and Orthodox congregations – who are more committed to Talmudic texts and law – likewise believe the Torah’s key message is to defend the defenseless.)

In contrast, other congregations are bound together primarily by a shared sense of ethno-nationalist identity, and certainly there are texts and traditions to support this. Their Judaism is focused on rituals and texts that express this identity, while downplaying or reinterpreting other texts. Whereas public flaunting of religious law might lead to various levels of exclusion in other observant congregations, here it is instead public opposition to the West Bank settlements – not to speak of support for a bi-national democratic state – that might lead to ostracization.

In short, insisting that neither support for Trump nor opposition to him necessarily opposes the Torah is itself setting the Jewish values of one’s community in a specific way. Rabbi Wolpe’s brilliant caricature of the Jewish claims of the Right and Left does not prove that a rabbi must avoid these positions. Rather, each rabbi and community must decide if the Torah in fact does support one position.

It is perfectly legitimate, for example, to argue that a rabbi must rally Jews against Trump and his agenda, and it is also valid to argue that the rabbi must rally Jews behind him. Equally, it is valid for a rabbi to preach the immorality of the occupation, or instead to advocate for greater oppression of the Palestinians. The choice reflects the “denomination” of Judaism represented, and the texts and traditions they choose to emphasize and ignore. Rabbis and their flocks must decide which “denomination” seems most authentic. Rabbi Wolpe’s call to ignore the issue is itself a political act, separate from either camp to be sure, but no less a political – and thus moral – choice for it.

Finally, in a rejoinder on facebook (cited here with his permission), Rabbi Wolpe added that there are exceptions to his argument, but that they are “very rare – slavery, civil rights,” adding that a rabbi should “invest his or her political views with Jewish sanction [only] once in 100 years.” I appreciate the concession, and it is true that Judaism does not speak to every political debate, but it merely begs the question of whether we now live in such a moment. Remember, those views in their time were extremely controversial, and as a result many rabbis in both the North and South refused to address them based precisely on Rabbi Wolpe’s logic. Only with hindsight do we applaud those rabbis who took up the mantle and – perhaps – bemoan the failure of others to join them. It is up to each Jewish leader – indeed, each and every Jew – to decide for themselves whether the current crisis in America warrants a religious response. Personally, I cannot imagine a more obvious Jewish cause in my lifetime.

Joshua Shanes

College of Charleston

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years

In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.

Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.

Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.

Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.

Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!

Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills


[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.

Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.

Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader


Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.

Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center


My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.

Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.

Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.

Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles


Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.

Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.

Kosha Dillz


kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.

Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at Groknation.com


I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.

Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  

Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.

Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.

Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.

David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA



I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.

Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.

Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.

Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.

Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?

Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.

Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.

Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.

Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.

Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?

Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.

Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

Will Frank Gehry build an architectural icon for Tel Aviv?

Last Thursday night, about 100 well-heeled Jewish philanthropists milled about the airy Venice studio of architect Frank Gehry. They posed for selfies beside models of buildings soon to go up in Asia and studied his newest plans — for the World’s Jewish Museum in Tel Aviv.

When it came time for the pitch, famed Los Angeles litigator Patricia Glaser took to the podium.

“I’m here because I worship at the altar of Frank Gehry,” Glaser said, trying to excite the otherwise sedate crowd. “It’s going to be all the Jewish superstars featured in this museum. This museum is going to be a work of art.”

The World’s Jewish Museum is the brainchild of Canadian philanthropists Gail and David Asper, who committed a $30 million lead gift. While guests snacked on smoked salmon and borekas, speaker after speaker made their case for why the world needs another Jewish museum.

Their pitch was appealing: This one would focus on Jewish achievement and contribution, rather than Jewish tragedy. 

“We’ve given our children plenty to despair of; we need to give them hope,” Rabbi David Wolpe, who emceed the event, told the crowd.

The evening capitalized on Jewish pride, with speakers focusing on Jewish innovation, not Jewish suffering. 

“Jewish children grow up on Holocaust education,” Gail Asper, president and trustee of The Asper Foundation said. “[They] need a place where [they] can smile and feel good about being Jewish.”

Rather than a focus on gas chambers and Nazi officers, this will be the museum of Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg, focusing on Jewish contributions to science, the arts and the humanities. 

“Throughout history, there have been many Jewish ideas that changed the world without the world knowing it; now it will,” said Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who is on the museum’s advisory board. He said Jewish ideas such as Shabbat and the liberation message of the Exodus story influenced Western history. 

But some guests wondered why the world needs another museum, when, according to the International Council of Museums, there are already an estimated 55,000. 

“I’m not sold,” said E. Randol Schoenberg, a founder of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust at Pan Pacific Park.

“There’s a reason why the Holocaust museums are the most successful; because they tell a huge and interesting world story that’s not just interesting to Jews, but to everybody. That there are famous Jews like Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan and Albert Einstein is not that same world historical event story.”

Plans for Frank Gehry's World’s Jewish Museum in Tel Aviv. Photo by Danielle Berrin

The Aspers have a track record of successful museum building. In 2003, Israel “Izzy” Asper, the family patriarch and a Canadian media magnate, launched the idea for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a $351 million project he hoped would revitalize downtown Winnipeg. The family shrewdly hired Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a leading museum exhibition design firm best known for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and more recently, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture to design the content. But according to the Winnipeg Sun, admissions numbers at the human rights museum have been steadily declining since the museum opened in September 2014. Critics say selling a museum idea is easy, but drawing visitors year after year requires a compelling narrative. 

 To test the idea of a World’s Jewish Museum in Tel Aviv, the Aspers turned to the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which determined in a report that “there is no must-visit cultural institute in Tel Aviv,” nor “an iconic architectural symbol” such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (also designed by Gehry), or the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

Perhaps that explains why the city of Tel Aviv readily offered a coveted, 6-acre site north of Hayarkon Park and walking distance to the port of Tel Aviv — to the tune of $150 million.  

“I have to do one hell of a building,” the 87-year-old Gehry said, prompting an outburst of laughter. “Pray for me!”

The Aspers must raise $350 million to $450 million for this project, so the speakers did their best to project optimism and hope, highlighting the potential museum’s core themes.

“I believe that history has a purpose, and humanity has a destiny,” museum exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum said. “And if you look closely, Jewish people have been at the center of the attempt to give human life a dignity of purpose.”

But to comprehend the enormity and miracle of Jewish achievement, the scope of Jewish history — and tragedy — matters. And it was Gehry who tied the idea of Jewish talent to the traditions of the past. 

“Growing up as a Jewish kid in Canada, my grandfather read Talmud to me,” he said. “The creativity our culture is known for comes from the Talmud, [because] the Talmud embodies curiosity. It starts with ‘why,’ and that curiosity leads us to discovery.”  

For Gehry, Jewish achievement is inseparable from Jewish history and heritage. 

“I grew up in a town 500 miles north of Toronto with 30 other Jewish families,” he said. “I got accused of killing Christ so many times. [And] I remember when I first heard Hitler’s speeches; I never forgot that cadence and anger. … When the State of Israel was created, it meant a lot to my father and grandfather, and it means a lot to me.

“Hopefully, this museum will be the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Sinai Temple vigil unites police, clergy for “healing in tragic times” [VIDEO]

A week after the murder of five police officers in Dallas and just hours after more than 80 people were killed and 200 wounded from a terrorist attack in Nice, France, Los Angeles rabbis, African-American Christian faith leaders and Los Angeles Police Department officers came together at Sinai Temple on July 14 for a community prayer vigil.

Led by Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and Pastor Mark Whitlock, senior minister of Christ Our Redeemer AME church, the evening event had been billed as “a service of devotion and healing in tragic times,” following not only the murder of the Dallas police officers, but also the allegedly racially tinged deaths of two Black men killed by police —Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old killed on July 5 outside a convenience story in Baton Rouge, La. as well as Philando Castile, a 32-year-old killed during a traffic stop Minnesota on July 6. 

The message of the evening: Everybody of all faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds needs to come together as one.

 Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple was among the leaders of a community prayer vigil at the synagogue.

“Everybody you look at is a stranger, a brother and yourself—that’s what we have to learn in order to love,” Wolpe said from the bimah in Sinai’s sanctuary, addressing an audience of more than 300 that included elected officials, Jewish community leaders and others, including Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Mahomed Khan, director of interfaith outreach at King Fahad Mosque in Culver City; Rev. Damali Najuma Smith-Pollard, program manager of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement, Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz of Adat Shalom and Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik.

Over the course of the evening, Taubman and a handful of musicians performed songs in Hebrew, gospel tunes and inspirational pop ballads. Capping the evening off, the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome,” with audience members’ putting their arms around one another and swaying to the music from the pews of the large room. 

Despite the sense of camaraderie permeating the space, tragedy of the terrorist attack in Nice, France was on everyone’s minds. Wolpe address the incident toward the conclusion of the evening, describing events there as “horrific” and saying, “hearts go out to the wounded, their family and friends and to the entire nation [of France].”

Nearly 25 organizations, the majority of them Jewish, served as co-sponsors of the event. 

“Alone we are strong, [but] tonight is a reminder that together we are stronger,” Taubman told the Journal.

Craig Taubman and Jay Sanderson attended the vigil at Sinai Temple.

“I’m proud that within less than a week we were able to get close to 400 people together in prayer and unity,” Guzik said in an interview. She said a Sinai Temple lay leader had approached the synagogue’s clergy about the need to do something involving both law enforcement and race relations in the wake of numerous tragedies in the country. 

“Our community feels helpless… [after the] Dallas shooting. We said, ‘Forget it, we can’t just sit here because now riots are happening in every city. We have to stand up and do something,’” Guzik said.

Paul Cunningham blew the shofar at the start of the event. Later, Beit T’Shuvah Head Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Temple Emanuel Rabbi Jonathan Aaron and others stood at the top of the bimah’s stairs under a chuppah held up by young students of Sinai Akiba Academy, as well as children from local churches, with Borovitz, Aaron and other local leaders saying words of prayer and hope. The shofar blower, Cunningham, returned to the bimah at the end of the night and once again blew the ram’s horn, this time to close the event. 

Exiting the sanctuary, Julie Platt, chairman of the L.A. Federation, said she was happy she had attended.  “This was a wonderful convening—we all needed it,” she said. “Especially after the news of today.”

A dialogue with Rabbi Wolpe

The first time I heard Rabbi David Wolpe teach was a few years ago in an international convention of Jews, both lay leaders and rabbis, from all over the world. I remember the topic. It was about Yetziat Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. Rabbi Wolpe was dealing with the historical and mythological aspects of one of the most formative and fundamental stories of the Jewish people. He has a unique and brave reading of that story. Rabbi Wolpe’s exodus from Egypt is a case study that is not so easy to come to terms with if you had only been taught a literal reading of it. This was not a lecture; it was a lesson given in a brave, scholarly, halachik, humoristic, engaging, poetic, balanced and nuanced manner by a Conservative-Masorti rabbi who teaches passionately about something for which he dedicates his life – traditional Judaism for modern Jews. 

I remember how I left the room. I was thinking to myself what Israel would look like if more opportunities for that kind of Judaism were accessible.

As Rabbi Wolpe, one of the leading voices for a pluralistic Israel, is soon to be honored at the National Masorti Gala in Los Angeles on April 11, 2016, I took the opportunity to dialogue with him.  10 short questions. 10 short answers.  

Hess: When was your first visit to Israel?

Wolpe: I first visited Israel with my parents when I was 12 years old. 

H: What is most “Israeli” in your eyes? 

W: I don’t believe Israel has a single essence. The Wall, the sea, the shuk, the startups  – they are all Israel to me. 

H: What would you say are Israel's two biggest challenges today?

W: External enemies and internal dissension.  Both are powerful.  In addition to being in the midst of hostile nations, there are class and religious divides in Israel that are dangerous to its future.

H: How do you see Israel 20 years from now?

W: I am an optimist by nature.  Things will get better. There is a deep desire among the best in Israel and abroad to see the society flourish.

H: Do you think Jewish pluralism will win the day in Israel?

W: It must. Gradually Israel will realize that the entanglement of synagogue and state is bad for both.  Masorti Judaism will not only make Israel stronger, it will make Judaism stronger.

H: How do you see Masorti's advancement in Israel today?

W: So often Israelis come to the US and have their first experience of pluralistic Judaism.  Their reaction, inevitably, is – “If this existed in Israel when I was growing up, I wouldn’t have been so estranged from Judaism.”  Now it is here.  In schools, in synagogues, Masorti is representing a different model, a powerful one, that engages Israeli minds and hearts.

H: Why does Masorti matter for American Jews?

W: If we care about Israel, we care about its soul as well as its safety. Masorti can help save the soul of modern Israel. It combines the best of who we have been with the best of who we can be. Judaism that should not confine itself behind walls to keep out modernity.

H: How should a caring/involved Jew in North America deal with the frustrating fact that: “the only democracy in the world where Jews cannot celebrate freedom of religion is Israel?”

W: By supporting religious pluralism in Israel, Masorti and other groups who seek an open and vibrant Jewish life.

H: Is there a holy moment you most remember from your visits to Israel?

W: I remember many holy moments; one I will choose is seeing the first Ethiopian immigrants in the mid 80’s arrive in Israel.  This was the Israel of which we dreamed.

H: If I'm alone in an elevator with Israel's Prime Minister for 60 seconds, I would tell him what?

W: I would tell him that his security is lax if they let him get in an elevator alone with someone he barely knows.

Yizhar Hess is the CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel

Conservative Judaism seeks its true name

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

I grew up as a Conservative Jew, my father a Conservative Rabbi. The appellation “conservative” was not a perfect fit for the Judaism I learned as a child. Conserving ancient traditions was essential, to be sure, but the Judaism I practiced was also dynamic, innovative, unafraid.

In Jewish tradition, your name is part of your essence. Recently I led a session of colleagues, professionals and lay leaders at United Synagogue convention to seek a name and description of the Judaism we love. “Conservative” is not really it.

Conservative Judaism is quintessentially the Judaism of relationship. Balancing relationships with other Jewish denominations, reaching out to the non-Jewish world, and most important, understanding our tradition as one in continuing dialogue with God. Every relationship is both a legacy and a promise; it depends upon what has gone before, but if it does not grow and change, it cannot live.

So the assembled leaders suggested many different ways of not merely naming, but describing the tradition: “Dynamic Judaism.” “Honoring our past and embracing our future.” “Where heritage meets what's happening.” “Ancient texts, modern Jews.” There were also plays on words, such as, “Ladder day Jews.”

All of these efforts were an attempt to articulate what Conservative Jews find so compelling about our texts, traditions and interpretations. Listening carefully to those who spoke, I can distill it into three categories: Faith, Fidelity and Community.

Faith begins with faith in God. That faith spreads its wings to a faith in the journey that God has given us. Through all the storms of Jewish history, we discern a genuine Jewish mission. Perhaps that is why the most important early figure of Conservative Judaism in the United States, Solomon Schechter, was a passionate Zionist. Part of our biblical mission was to recreate the Jewish homeland. He believed as well that through the storms and anguish, Jews would endure and carry the banner of Abraham and Sarah to the new world.

Fidelity means that we carry the past proudly. Our texts and traditions and forebears are part of the way we live each day. I open the day with a prayer and close the night with a prayer. The prayer is one of gratitude to God. But equally I am mindful of the chain of Jews, stretching back millennia, whose whispers, morning and night, form a chorus with my own that echoes through the ages. That is fidelity.

Community, or Klal Yisrael, acknowledges that we are a people linked arm in arm throughout history. Conservative Judaism has been the most community oriented of all streams of Jewish life. Repeatedly in Jewish organizations and federations Conservative Jews have taken positions of leadership. Judaism is not an individual spiritual discipline but a communal religious enterprise. How we help one another, comfort the bereaved, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, support our sisters and brothers in Israel and throughout the world, is at the center of our mission.

We did not end the convention with a conclusion, not yet. But we have laughed and cried and prayed and struggled and rejoiced with each other for thousands of years, and deeply believe that Conservative Judaism, whatever it is called, is the most authentic modern expression of that journey. So let us continue to seek to express what we believe we are — the beating heart of the Jewish world. From flourishing commitment will grow a name worthy of our passion.

Amid identity crisis, Conservative Jews pay for rebranding

Conservative Judaism is at a crossroads.

The movement is committed to Jewish tradition, but it’s seeing a growing number of its young people walk out the door — most often to Reform Judaism.

American Jews who self-identify as Conservative increasingly are leading lives at odds with the core values and rules of Conservative Judaism, especially when it comes to intermarriage. And the number of Conservative Jews has shrunk by one-third over the last 25 years.

In this movement meant to occupy the center ground between Orthodox and Reform, Conservative leaders are struggling to figure out how to appeal to a new generation of Jews without abandoning their core values or becoming a near-facsimile of Reform Judaism.

“Tradition and change has long been considered a tagline of Conservative Judaism, a concise statement of what we are about,” said Margo Gold, international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm. “But in the 21st century, the vision of Conservative Judaism requires that we rethink this as a community and see what we really want our core message to be.”

Gold’s remarks came at the United Synagogue’s biennial conference, held this week in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg. As part of the effort to reposition Conservative Judaism, United Synagogue has launched a $350,000 rebranding effort and hired a branding firm, Good Omen.

“We’ve bought into the narrative of decline of our own movement,” United Synagogue’s CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, said in his address. “We need to stop shraying our kups [ Yiddish for ‘screaming our heads off’] about everything that is bad and get to work.”

The focal point for the dilemma over how much to stick to tradition versus how much to change has been intermarriage. Though the movement forbids it and does not count as Jews those whose fathers are the sole Jewish parent, four out of every 10 Conservative Jews is marrying out of the faith, and community leaders want to reach out to intermarried Jews.

“We’re in an awkward situation where the sociology is pushing us in one direction, but our organizational structure is hindering us moving in the direction we need to be moving,” said Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and an outspoken Conservative proponent of embracing interfaith families.

There was perhaps no better illustration at the conference of the movement’s identity crisis than at its penultimate session. Led by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, some 200-300 participants tried to brainstorm a new tagline for the movement – something that could convey its essence, appeal to young Jews and fit on a bumper sticker.

“Tradition and change is actually not a slogan; it is a paradox,” Wolpe said. “It says: We stand for two exactly opposite things. We are the oxymoronic movement.”

Wolpe said he also dislikes the movement’s name, not least because of its unwanted association with a political ideology.

“I don’t know of anyone who thinks Conservative Judaism is a great name,” said Wolpe, who 15 years ago led an unsuccessful proposal to rebrand it Covenantal Judaism. “As long as Conservative Judaism is in the tagline, we start off with a deficit.”

Among the audience’s suggestions for a new tagline:

“Our grandparents would be proud. Our grandchildren will be Jewish.”

“The Judaism of dynamic relationships.”

“Honoring our past, embracing the future.”

“Traditional Judaism, comfortable in modernity.”

“Where heritage meets what’s happening.”

Between 1990 and 2013, the number of American Jewish adults who self-identify as Conservative dropped from about 1,460,000 to 962,000, according to an analysis by sociologist Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, based on the 1990 National Jewish Population Study and the 2013 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews.

The Pew survey also showed that the number of Conservative Jews aged 55-64 who say they are synagogue members is almost triple the number among those aged 35-44, and that only 13 percent of Conservative Jews attend religious services at least once a week.

That’s bad news for United Synagogue, which has seen the number of its member synagogues fall to 580 today from 630 in 2013 and 675 in 2009.

United Synagogue has acknowledged the problem. The opening session of the conference, held Sunday to Tuesday, was called “Moving Beyond the Crisis.”

The movement’s own restrictions compound the debate about how to chart the way forward for Conservative Judaism. Conservative rabbis are not permitted to officiate at — and aren’t even supposed to attend — interfaith weddings, putting them at a disadvantage when congregants or their children in interfaith relationships seek a rabbi to wed them. (By contrast, the Reform movement encourages its rabbis to perform interfaith unions.)

Likewise, the Conservative movement does not recognize so-called patrilineal Jews, while the Reform movement does. Some Conservative institutions nevertheless allow patrilineal children into their schools and educational programs, but they may draw a line when it comes to allowing the child to be bar-mitzvahed.

“We need to address patrilineality. It’s the elephant in the room,” Rabbi Jeffrey Lipschultz of the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island, Ill., said during a conference session. “The reality of what’s happening in the movement is not reflective of the reality of what is happening on the ground. As a movement and as leaders of congregations, we have to figure out how to do better.”

On the plus side, many participants at the conference, which drew several hundred people, said United Synagogue has gotten better at servicing its constituent congregations, about 170 of which sent representatives to the conference.

“I have been a USCJ skeptic. The USCJ, to me, felt like an organization that did a lot of talking, and very little listening,” Rabbi Eric Woodward wrote in a report on the conference on his Times of Israel blog.

“But this week, at the USCJ ‘Shape the Center’ conference, I heard a different USCJ,” he wrote. “I saw the USCJ listening, without responding in any insecure top-down Jewsplaining sense, to a world that is quickly sprouting up around it.”

In recent years, United Synagogue has struggled with yawning deficits, a rebellion against fees by a group of member congregations, and criticism of cutbacks that included staff layoffs and the elimination of the organization’s college program, Koach.

But the deficit has been narrowing. In 2011 and 2012, the cumulative budget deficit was $6 million. In 2013-2014, it was $2.8 million, and this year’s projected deficit is $600,000. United Synagogue’s total budget is about $25 million.

Earlier this year, United Synagogue sold its two-floor condo in midtown Manhattan for $15.9 million. Half of that money is being used to create an $8 million sustaining foundation that will support programming but will be controlled by a separate board of directors. The balance will go to operations. The organization just moved into rental space in lower Manhattan.

“United Synagogue did not have a good track record of prudent financial management, and my job has been bringing that into line,” Wernick told JTA in an interview. “We are closing the budget gap. That’s our No. 1 priority.”

United Synagogue is one of the Conservative movement’s three main arms; the others are the Rabbinical Assembly and its flagship New York rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif., said that for the Conservative movement to survive and thrive, it must make adaptive changes for the 21st-century, not just technical changes.

“We will not find our way if we say: ‘Let’s have better board meetings and more strategic plans and better fundraising and different dues structures.’ Those are all very important technical changes; none of them are going to save us,” Feinstein said. “We’re only going to get saved if we start by saying: What is the truth of this movement and how can we best convey it to a new generation?”

Sinai Temple mission to Azerbaijan

A delegation of 45 Sinai Temple members returned this week from a 4-day mission to Azerbaijan where they dedicated a Torah scroll which they had previously presented to the Mountainous Jewish Synagogue. The mission, which was led by Rabbi David Wolpe and Cary Lerman, President of the Sinai Temple Men’s Club, also visited and prayed in synagogues in the capital, Baku, as well as in Quba, and met with Azeri governmental and community leaders.

Situated on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and bordered by Iran, Armenia, Georgia and Russia, this country of some 9 million mostly Muslim inhabitants is noteworthy for its long tradition of acceptance of its minorities which include some 12,000 Jews as well as Christians and adherents of other religions. 

One of three Synagogues in Quba. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple

According to Lerman, the Azeris treated the delegates like high ranking officials, complete with police escorts, non-stop media coverage, sumptuous banquets and briefings by senior officials including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Special Assistant to the President for Multiculturalism as well as the Grand Mufti of the Caucasus Region. Additionally, the Ambassadors of Israel and the United States  briefed the delegates on relations between their countries and Azerbaijan.

Cary Lerman said that “for most of the participants the highlight of their visit was the joyous dedication of the Torah at the Mountainous Jewish Synagogue in downtown Baku. The synagogue was overflowing with people, music and high spirits. We danced, sang and basked in the sheer joy of the moment. And we experienced what we had been told: Azerbaijan is a country without antisemitism where Jews are a vital part of the national fabric.”

The Sinai Temple mission to Azerbaijan was arranged with the assistance of the Hon. Nasimi Aghayev, Consul-General of the Republic of Azerbaijan at Los Angeles, the Baku International Multicultural Center and The Knowledge Foundation under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

A funeral for Richard Lakin

“I want to thank him for teaching me how to ride a bike.  And for watching 'Charlotte's Web' with me over and over again.”  The granddaughter of the gentle man lying on a bier, shrouded in his tallit, began to weep.  Her mother, one of Richard Lakin's two children, rushed forward to comfort her child.  In the small, crowded room, filled with women and men, mostly in their thirties and forties, tears began to flow.

“His love overcomes even the brutality of the way he died” continued his granddaughter, fighting her way through the mounting sorrow.  “I can't believe I will never talk to him again.”

Along with all the older mourners gathered who had lost people they love, I wanted to say to this teenager, soon to celebrate her 17th birthday, “Yes, yes, you will talk to him again.  You will talk to him in your dreams, when you feel lonely, when you remember his voice and his hugs.  He is your grandfather forever and ever.”  But like everyone else, in silent submission to her pain, I kept quiet.

Richard Lakin was killed in a terror attack in Jerusalem in October 2015. Photo from Facebook

Richard Lakin made aliyah thirty years ago and met his death in a savage terrorist attack on a Jerusalem bus.  He fought valiantly through several operations before he succumbed.  The day he died our Sinai Temple group was meeting with entrepreneur Eli Wurtman, who grew up close to Lakin's son, Micah.  When our travel guide Orit Topf, told me the funeral would be in Beth Shemesh the next day, I decided to go along with a few members from our group.

We did not know what to anticipate. Funerals that get covered in the Middle East are usually bellicose affairs, with anguished accusations as prominent as weeping and mourning. We had seen the shock waves still rippling through Israel: hotels reported cancellations, tourist sites were far less crowded than before, and shops putting up “sale” signs left and right. Tension and anger was to be expected.

Yet everyone who read about him knew that Lakin's life was the antithesis of his death.  He and his wife Karen were active in the civil right movement where they grew up and believed deeply in the possibility of coexistence in their chosen home of Israel.  Back in the states they had created Camp King-Together, formed after the assassination of Martin Luther King, so children from different backgrounds could “get to know each other and establish a lasting and meaningful relationship.”

In 1984 the family came to Israel and on a fateful day thirty years later Richard was riding the bus in Jerusalem's Armon Hanatziv section. He is the third fatality from the attack carried out by two teenage terrorists from the adjoining Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber.  Haim Haviv, age 78 and Alon Govberg, 51, were also killed and several others wounded.

Conducting the service was Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Reform movement in Israel.  He spoke in measured Hebrew cadences, noting that last week's parasha was about the journey of Abraham to the land, and Richard Lakin's journey was also one of passion and devotion.  He pointedly referred to the knife wielded by Abraham at the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, a knife designated by God and prevented from doing harm, and contrasted it to the knife that fell on Richard and his fellow passengers, a murderous implement that did appalling and grievous harm.

Rabbi Kariv framed the sorrow, quoting the Mishna and Bialik, offering questions but no answers.  It was Lakin's family — his wife Karen and son Micah, his daughter  Manya, and in particular his granddaughter Shachar– who gave the love and color to a man whose life was devoted to education and affection.  Lakin spent years as a principal in Glastonbury Conn.,  and there published a book called “Teaching as an Act of Love.”  Once he arrived in Israel he began teaching English to children, both Israeli and Palestinian.  His Facebook page reads at the top “coexist” with a peace sign.  His every impulse was kindness and his every path was peace. This is the man that two Arab teens, aged 13 and 15, decided they needed to stab and shoot until he was lost to those whom he loved.

Walking with the long procession to the gravesite, I listened.  There was not a word of fury.  No one shook a fist or uttered an imprecation.  There were no promises of revenge or hints of hatred.  There was an overwhelming sadness; how could such a man come to such an end?  The procession, like the service, was a paradigm of dignity and closeness and solemn reckoning with the end of a beautiful life. I wish the world had been able to walk with us, to see whom we lost, and who mourns him.  To see the soul of a people.  Instead this devout spirit will be swallowed up in bromides about the “cycle” of terror.

When Lakin's wife Karen spoke, struggling to make it through her few words, she cited Frost's famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  She quoted the final stanza:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I've got promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.

She whispered that Richard still had far to go, his work was undone, there was much more he wanted to do.  Then she promised that she, and her family, and her community, would continue the journey begun by the partner of her life. 

A brutal murder does not become evil because its victim is a kind and giving man.  But the evil is made more poignant, more painful and far more clear when the person who is targeted has done everything in his power to improve the lives of people like those who chose to slaughter him.  God's image shined through Richard Lakin and was betrayed by those who killed him.

After his body was lowered and the grave covered and the final prayers were said, we all looked at each other with sadness.  The sadness was for Lakin and his family of course, but not only for him.  It was for Israel.  We have recited the El Maleh Rachamim too many times. Dirt has been dropped on the bodies of women, men and children cruelly taken since before the first day this state was founded. I knew how many in that group had gone not to one but to countless such funerals, hoping even as hope slipped away, wondering themselves how much longer decent and even noble lives would be silenced by savagery.  And we stood ringed around the grave knowing something that compounds the pain, that the loss of an Israeli to an act of terror would not for a moment disturb the sleep of a complacent world.

Still, standing around the grave of a fellow Jew who had given so much, it was not about the world.  It was not even about the callous and evil youths who had committed this murder.  It was about an exemplary life and the enduring solidarity and support of the Jewish people.  The kaddish was for Richard Lakin, but it was for all of us, for the dreams that have died and the promise that is mourned, again and again, by a people that so desperately wants to live in peace.

A letter to Israelis: We are with you

A friend in Israel writes, “Sometimes we feel as though no one in chul (chutz la’aretz — outside of the land) really understands what is happening here.” She means the daily apprehension, the fear when you see your child walk out of the front door in the morning. She means the knowledge that any passing car can become a ground missile, any disembarking passenger an avatar of death. She further fears the knives wielded on streets will bring out the rhetorical knives as well: ones like the words of U.S. State Department Spokesman Adm. John Kirby, talking about how both sides have committed acts of terror.

What can I say to her; what can we say? How do we, who have chosen the buffered safety of life outside the land, respond to those who live in Israel? These are my words to Rena, to her children, to all of our sisters and brothers who feel alone: Jews across the world wake each morning with prayer and trepidation, the prayer borne of faith and the trepidation of love. The sacred cord ties us from Paris to Miami to Madrid to London to Los Angeles to Buenos Aires to Toronto to Kiev to New York, its origin in the energy of Jerusalem.

The world may not care to understand what it is to be surrounded by enemies, watchful and fearful, but we do.

Countries that associate with others — the EU or NATO or ASEAN or Latin American States or OPEC — cannot imagine what it is to belong to no club, to stand singular in the family of nations. We remember the verse of Lamentations: “How the city sits solitary.” There is one Jewish nation. One.

When people forgive the catastrophic political culture around you, asking what can one expect of people who have never known democracy, believe me — we remember that the founders of Israel came from lands with czars and dictators and tyrannies and still managed to create a democracy. We do not forget Israel’s roots, and we have not ceased to be amazed at them.

When your children are still at an age when girls and boys resist learning about the past, falling asleep in classes featuring dry recitations of dates and events, we know that you are haunting them with history. They learn at 6, 7, 8 years old that the strong arm of Israel has a number tattooed on it that will never disappear. As one of your greatest writers has said, before Israeli children learn the facts of life, they learn the facts of death. We, your sisters and brothers, do not forget.

Your 17-year-olds who patrol the borders may be a symbol to some of brute strength. To us, they are our children, barely discovering what life is, forced to carry a gun and make choices in a split second that will save or doom lives. On the evening they should be on a first date, they listen for sounds of terrorists in the night.

When you read in the Torah of Reuven, Gad and half of Manasseh — the tribes that Moses permitted to dwell outside the land — you may suppose that we no longer heed Moses’ admonition that the tribes must help fight for the land to earn the privilege of residing elsewhere. Most of us have not forgotten. We know there is a tax for not living in the land.

When pundits from all over the world, in the safety of their studios, question how you defend yourself, know that we trust you. Do we ever question? Of course. We all think, argue, doubt, wonder. But in the end, we trust you not only because you have survived the many storms, but because while families fight, they also trust and embrace.

So what do we offer you in your pain? We will send money to support hospitals and soldiers and the wounded and bereaved and charities and schools. We will speak up when the world assails you, judges and condemns you, dismisses your fears because they themselves do not wish to be afraid. We will visit you and stand next to you.

But most of all, please know that we love you. We love you not with the distant, easy affection that we give to people who do not impinge on our lives or disturb our sleep. We love you, our Israeli brothers and sisters, with the soul-rocking love that binds our fate and our destiny with yours, the love of family far away that does not forget. We know that you would have us be there and instead we are here. But also, please remember, we are here.

Moving and Shaking: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Harvey Weinstein, Rabbi David Wolpe and more

As the night’s master of ceremonies at the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance annual national tribute dinner, Jeffrey Katzenberg had two big jobs — to keep the presentations to heroes who’d risked their lives to save others moving along like clockwork and to convince the crowd that the night’s top honoree, Harvey Weinstein, is a good guy and a true humanitarian. The notoriously hard-driving and prickly head of the Weinstein Co., one of Hollywood’s most decorated and esteemed multimedia companies, is not known for soft-heartedness, so in his introduction, Katzenberg told the crowd of 850 gathered at the Beverly Hilton on March 24, “I’m going to tell you something you don’t know: He’s actually just a really nice Jewish boy.” 

Actor Christoph Waltz followed, listing substantial contributions from Weinstein and the company he co-founded with his brother, Bob, to amfAR, the AIDS research foundation, to New York City’s public school system, to the organization of a concert to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy (which raised $62 million in one night) and more. Weinstein appeared humbled by the recognition for deeds other than moviemaking, yet his usual bravado showed through even as he addressed the issues of tolerance fundamental to the Wiesenthal center’s mission, saying of ISIS: “We’d better stand up and kick these guys in the ass.” 

He also spoke of his father, who served as a sergeant stationed in Cairo during World War II, who would “forget to close the door” to the cargo warehouse so the Haganah fighting for Israel’s independence might find some supplies. Noting the rapid rise in anti-Semitism in today’s world, Weinstein asked, rhetorically, “We’re all Semitic; what is there to be anti about?” And he spoke of being deeply moved during a trip with his wife to Jordan, where he witnessed the massive Syrian refugee camps. In a note of cautious optimism that could be a one-line description for a movie plot, Weinstein closed the evening by saying, “Good can triumph over evil — if the angels are as organized as the Mafia.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier (center) with the evening's Medal of Valor recipients (from left): Lassana Bathily, who hid Jewish shoppers at a kosher market in Paris during a hostage crisis; Rinal Trudi, widow of Zidan Seif, a policeman from Israel’s Druze minority killed trying to protect a West Jerusalem synagogue; Priscilla Schulte, who accepted the medal on behalf of her late grandfather, Eduard Schulte, who risked his life to cross the border into Switzerland to warn the West about the Nazis; and Kevin Vickers, who shot and killed a terrorist gunman at the Canadian parliament. Photo by Marissa Roth/courtesy of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

The evening also honored four others for acts of heroism with “medals of valor”: Eduard Schulte, the late German industrialist who risked his life by leaking the first report to the West of the Nazi’s plan to murder all Jews; the late Zidan Saif, a Druze police officer killed while trying to protect the congregation at the Jerusalem synagogue at Har Nof while it was being attacked by terrorists; Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa who killed the terrorist who attacked the Canadian Parliament, and Lassana Bathily, the Muslim shop assistant working at the Parisian kosher supermarket, who saved many Jews’ lives by hiding them in a cold-storage unit when terrorists attacked the market just before Shabbat earlier this year.

Katzenberg also announced that the Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance in recent months raised 87 percent of the campaign’s goal for the building of its new museum in Jerusalem. The legacy gifts include: a naming gift of $26 million from Dawn Arnall in memory of her late husband, Roland; $10 million from Michael and Lori Milken plus $10 million from Larry and Carol Mizel to jointly name the Jerusalem museum’s campus; $18 million from Gordon and Leslie Diamond of Canada to name a 1,000-seat amphitheater; and an anonymous gift of $5 million.

— Susan Freudenheim, Executive Editor

CLI participant Mark Tseselsky and his wife, Marsha Shagalov. Photo by Ryan Torok

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Community Leadership Institute (CLI) held the graduation for its inaugural class on March 15. 

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, the commencement speaker, told the approximately 60 graduates that with power comes responsibility.

“If you’re going to be a Jewish leader, know something about the tradition that you are leading. Read Jewish books; visit Israel; listen to people who are educators — everything is online, everything is available, there are podcasts, lectures and so on,” he said. 

“Take pride in the depth of your own Jewish knowledge and, if not, then take pride in the deepening of your Jewish knowledge, so, when you say, ‘I’m a Jewish leader,’ you know that means from your own perspective and not because someone else tells you.”

CLI is a 15-month leadership-training program of Federation that offers four tracks for young professionals ages 25 to 40 who are part of the Russian-Jewish community or who work in real estate, entertainment or any other field. CLI participants travel to Israel, and each is paired with a mentor from a similar background.

Mark Tseselsky, 37, one of this year’s graduates and a lawyer originally from Azerbaijan, told the Journal that he joined the CLI Russian-Jewish track because he cares about his children’s future.

“I want my children to be involved with the Jewish community, and this is my way in,” he said at the recent event.

The event, held at a private home’s backyard in Sherman Oaks, started with a cocktail hour. Waterfall sounds from a grotto pool competed with the sounds of a live band playing from a second-floor balcony, while open bars served specialty cocktails named after each of the four CLI groups. The likes of Tal Gozani, Federation’s senior vice president of young adult engagement, mingled with Gamal Palmer, senior director of CLI.

Attendees then made their way to a large tent for the graduation ceremony. That’s where Wolpe — along with Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president; Federation chairperson Les Bider; Rachel Richman, a CLI graduate who works in entertainment; and Federation board member Brian Shirken, who helped create CLI — were among those who offered remarks.

Afterward, the graduates raised their glasses during a champagne toast. The next CLI class begins in the fall; applications open April 15.

From left: Righteous Conversations Artistic Director Cheri Gaulke, wth survivors Curt Lowens and Gabriella Karin. Photo courtesy of LAMOTH

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust’s Righteous Conversations Project short film “Curt Lowens: A Life of Changes,” won top prize in the Harvard-Westlake School Film Festival on March 20. Curt Lowens was a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II whose family had fled Berlin after Kristallnacht.

Students from a variety of schools worked together on the film, which blends animation with a live interview. The students were Justin Binder (Milken Community Schools), Robert Carlson (Milken), George Khabbaz (AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School), August Blum (Aveson Charter Schools), Levi Glaser (Wildwood School), Kayla Mossanen (Milken) and Tammy Shine (Milken).

They worked in collaboration with Lowens and with Righteous Conversations mentors Alyssa Sherwood, a Harvard-Westlake animation teacher; Cosmo Segurson, a CalArts animation teacher; and Liran Kapel, an Israeli animator, during a workshop last summer.

Lowens, who was among those who attended the festival at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, said he was honored to have been the subject of the six-minute film.

“It was a wonderful evening,” Lowens said, as quoted by a press release. “The variety of student work was fascinating.”

The festival also honored a second Righteous Conversations Project film, a public service announcement about gun violence in schools titled “It Shouldn’t Be This Easy.” The one-minute, 30-second film shows a high-school student who is able to purchase a firearm from an innocuous-looking vending machine. The film won Official Selection honors. Students Trey Carlisle (Aveson Global Leadership Academy), Ned Jacobs (Colina Middle School), Connor Reese (Harvard-Westlake) and Cameron Stine (Harvard-Westlake) worked on the film. 

The Righteous Conversations Project is a program of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in which high school students, working with Holocaust survivors, develop short films and public service announcements that are upon completion gifted to nonprofit organizations. 

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback serenades Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple

Three generations of Stephen Wise Temple senior leadership — Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, Rabbi Eli Herscher and Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback — came together during the synagogue’s Founder’s Day on March 20.

The event spotlighted Zeldin, who is in his 90s and who established the hilltop Reform community in 1964. It has since grown into one of the largest synagogue communities in the world, with 2,200 member families. 

Herscher became the temple’s senior rabbi in 1990; in December, it was announced that he would be succeeded by Zweiback, head of Wise School.

The event also celebrated Metuka Benjamin, the synagogue’s former director of education, the community’s staff and lay leaders. Many elementary students from Wise School participated in a presentation about the life of Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise, for whom the school is named and who led American-Jewish efforts to denounce Germany during World War II. 

Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu is one of four Jewish camps across North America chosen for a new joint project from the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and the Ruderman Family Foundation, known as the FJC Ruderman Inclusion Initiative. Aimed at increasing the number of children with disabilities in attendance at Jewish camps, the program is possible because of a three-year grant funded by the Ruderman Family. The $45,000 grant will go toward the hiring and training of inclusion coordinators.

“We are pleased to be able to bring this specialized training to fruition at Camp JCA Shalom and begin to increase access to Jewish camp, making our camp population more reflective of the overall Jewish population,” Jeremy Fingerman, FJC CEO, said in a press release.

Camp JCA Shalom, a program of the Shalom Institute, a camp and conference center, has had an inclusion program for the past 15 years and has a goal of professionalizing its program, according to Bill Kaplan, Shalom Institute executive director.

“In previous years, we had a community inclusion specialist, but we had to share them with other camps,” he said. “The grant will allow the new coordinator to be full time during the summer and part time during the year.” 

Rachel Adler has been hired as the new inclusion coordinator; her job responsibilities will include meeting with the parents and children. The camp hopes to immediately start bringing in more campers for summer 2015. 

“I’m very excited about this opportunity to build on our supportive environment at Camp JCA Shalom,” Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom, said in a press release. “Rachel Adler is a phenomenal individual who will help us grow as an organization.”

— Leilani Peltz, Contributing Writer

Past AJC President Fredrick S. Levin appears at an event commemorating the Armenian genocide.

More than 300 people gathered to recall the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during a March 22 event that stressed the tragic histories shared by Armenians and Jews.

Titled “100 Years Later: The Shared Reflections of Two Communities,” the event, at St. Leon Armenian Cathedral in Burbank, was sponsored by American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA) and the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America, and honored the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. 

An array of guest speakers included Western Diocese Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, AJCLA president Dean Schramm, and Rep. Adam Schiff, of the 28th Congressional District.

“We believe … that it is critically important for the Jewish community to stand with the Armenian community to embrace the shared tragedy of our peoples’ history,” Schramm said, as quoted by a press release.

Additional attendees included Assemblyman Matt Dababneh and L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

More than 1 million Armenians living in present-day Turkey perished during the killings, which occurred in 1915. The Turkish government has rejected calling what happened a genocide — saying it was the result of civil war — but a number of countries and organizations, including the AJC, have called on Turkey to recognize it as such. 

“The process of healing of this nearly century-old wound can only begin when the truth of that sorrowful era is confronted,” a 2014 AJC statement read.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Bridging two cultures within one community

A recent discussion at Sinai Temple called “Inside the Persian Jewish Community” examined the community’s internal as well as external forces, as talk turned to the stereotypes and tensions that sometimes develop with local Ashkenazi Jews. 

“Persians feel so judged by the Ashkenazi community,” said Saba Soomekh, a religious studies professor at CSUN who was born in Tehran and raised in Beverly Hills. 

Saba Soomekh

She was joined in the program by Gina Nahai, an author and Jewish Journal columnist who was also born in Iran. Sinai Rabbi David Wolpe moderated the event, which attracted more than 200 attendees.

Wolpe discussed his community’s day school, Sinai Akiba Academy, saying students become aware there is such a thing as Persian and Ashkenazi sometime around fourth grade, and judgments ensue.

“It’s like someone drops fairy dust on them and they all know where they come from,” he said. “Both groups feel the otherness of the other, and that leads to feelings of both superiority and inferiority at the same time.”

A spring 2014 Sinai Akiba Academy advertisement in the Journal underscored the issue of how some prospective Ashkenazi families have shown ambivalence about sending their kids to the school, which has a large Persian population. 

“ ‘Too Persian.’ Looks awful in print? It sounds worse in a whisper,” the ad said, which sparked a firestorm of controversy upon publication. 

Nahai, whose recent novel, “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.,” is about the Los Angeles Persian community, blamed both communities for the division. 

“To some extent, the Iranians need to change. … On the other hand, Ashkenazis also need to drop this visceral lack of acceptance that they have for us,” she said. “Now, everything obviously is a generalization … so it’s not the case everywhere, but, too often, I see eyes that roll the minute someone speaks English with a Persian accent, or anything that can be used against us will be used against us by Ashkenazis. Also, judging and creating that divide, I think we are both to blame for this division.” 

The dialogue at Sinai in Westwood also offered insight into generational differences within the Persian-Jewish community, especially between those who emigrated out of Iran during the Iranian Revolution and those who were born here. Wolpe described it as “the struggle of the 25-year-old Persian-Jewish resident of Westwood or Beverly Hills as opposed to the struggle of the 60-year-old.” 

Nahai said that for young people, it’s a very difficult place to be in.

“I think a 20-year-old and younger people have a sense they have to choose between their [Persian] community or being embraced by the [broader] community. … They have to choose between that and their independence.”

Soomekh, also a visiting professor of Iranian-Jewish history at UCLA and author of the book “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women Between Religion and Culture,” said many of her students are first-generation Persian Jews who want to follow their heart but are held back by their parents’ wishes. 

“This is what makes the [Persian] culture so beautiful —‘I live for you, and you live for me.’ But it’s difficult when you are a young adult to grow up in an [American] environment that’s saying, ‘Do what you need to do. Be happy, whatever makes you happy,’ and you’re saying, ‘Oh my God, I feel so guilty … my parents, they aren’t approving of this. They did so much, they escaped the [Iranian] Revolution and I want to make them happy,” Soomekh said. “So I think that’s where they really struggle.”

The largely Persian crowd, which engaged in a Q-and-A with the speakers at the end of the evening, listened attentively as Wolpe spoke of an anthropological work by Ruth Benedict that explains the world as having both “shame cultures” and “guilt cultures.” In the former, a community’s judgment of one’s actions is what matters, and in the latter, one’s own estimation of himself or herself is of utmost importance, he said. 

“My own view is that the Persian-Jewish community is a shame culture and the American-Jewish community is a guilt culture. What happens when Persian Jews come to America [is] they have guilt and shame, they have to get the community to approve and they have to feel good themselves,” he said. “And it’s too much.”

“You’re right,” Soomekh said, “and this is the biggest struggle for young adults wanting to appease families, community — not ruining the family name, whatever that means, and yet, at the same time, being able to do what they want to do.”

The Jewish community remembers Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis – Rabbi David Wolpe, Brad Sherman and more

[Do you have a photo or memory of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis you'd like to share? Send an email here.]

An excerpt from the eulogy of Janice Kaminer-Reznik, president and co-founder with Rabbi Schulweis of Jewish World Watch:

Of all of the visits and conversations I have had with Rabbi Schulweis, it is our very last conversation less than two weeks ago that was perhaps the most profound. It will stay with me forever. Already in quite a weakened state, Rabbi Schulweis was notably agitated about the events that led to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold that killed Eric Garner in New York. He said that these police practices are intolerable and racially biased. He asked why he was not hearing a louder voice of protest from the American-Jewish community.  

Rabbi Schulweis was a man who simply could not tolerate injustice … even as his heart was fading — even as he knew his end was near … he would not give up his pursuit of and for justice. And his expectation of us was clear as well — to continue this sacred work. …

A while later that afternoon, Stan Zicklin; Rabbi Schulweis; his wife, Malkah; and I were visiting, and he posed a question. He asked, “How do you know if you have lived a good life? A worthwhile life?” After 40 years of being his student, I did a very Schulweisian thing: I turned it back on him. I asked him, “How would you evaluate whether you’ve lived a good life?”   

Without hesitation, he said, “A rabbi who has brought people together — people who were divergent in their views and practices, people who ordinarily would not have connected, people who were estranged, or even simply irrelevant to one another … I would say, that such a rabbi has lived a good life.”  

What a remarkable moment to experience … a man, near death, evaluating the essence of his life’s purpose as a rabbi.

An excerpt from the eulogy Rabbi Uri Herscher, founder of the Skirball Cultural Center,  delivered at the memorial service for Harold Schulweis:

Over 50 years of friendship, Harold and I shared countless conversations, and none are forgettable. I particularly think of the Thursday evening dinners in recent years, which Myna and I shared with Malkah and Harold, up to the end.  Harold’s voice was no longer as strong, but to cite the Torah he loved so much, his eye was undimmed. The Torah, said Harold, is all about character; and Harold, like the Torah, was character itself. A week prior to his death, Harold mentioned a liturgical passage to me, and when I didn’t recognize it, he took me to his home study, pulled out an old prayer book, and unerringly located the passage. It’s not a famous one, not at all. But he noted it, and remembered it, because it was about character. I share it with you now:

“May it be Thy will, O Lord my God and God of my fathers, to deliver me this day and every day from arrogance and from arrogant men, from every corrupt person, from every evil companion; from the dangers that lurk about me; from a harsh judgment and an implacable opponent, whether or not he be an adherent of our faith.”

What moves me so deeply about these words is not just what they say, but how Harold, to the very end of his life, took them so to heart, remembered them, spoke of them, lived them the full length of his days. In the end, character is what we have, and all we have, and there is nothing more precious we can bequeath. Harold taught me this. But even more, he showed me. 

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple:

Harold Schulweis had a fertile mind and a capacious heart. His sympathies ranged as widely as his intellect. Every rabbi knew, coming to him for advice, that you would walk away with seven programmatic suggestions, 12 new sermon ideas and the sense of having encountered a unique human being. My father was a shrewd judge of people. When I first heard of Harold Schulweis, and asked my father what he thought of his former classmate, he answered: “Harold? He is the most talented man in the American rabbinate.” Indeed he was, and his loss is immeasurable.

Bruce Powell, head of school, New Community Jewish High School:

Living in the “Age of Schulweis” has been transformative for our community, our nation and the entire Jewish people. His teaching, writing and eloquence in speaking have inspired generations of Americans, presidents and Jewish leaders throughout the world.

On a personal note, I regard Rabbi Schulweis as one of my teachers and one of the people who helped to shape the moral vision of New Community Jewish High School. One of the powerful messages he taught was that “the best is often the enemy of the good.” This simple yet highly complex idea has helped to shape my thinking about moral vision and ethical action, and is a guide about how to determine what is truly important in our world.

Gerald Bubis, founder and professor emeritus of the School of Jewish Communal Service, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR):

We have known the Schulweises since 1953, when the rabbi was head of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, and I was assistant director of the Jewish Community Center. We had joined Temple Beth Abraham, where I taught and had my first encounter with Rabbi Harold. I soon taught for the school, and we had also become friends. We got into a debate about the need for Jewish community centers and synagogues. We agreed to each write an article in Jewish Reconstructionist magazine. The subject was Synagogue and Centers. After the articles were available to both of us, I realized I had debated with a great mind and man. In turn, I resolved never to submit any article where I knew Rabbi Harold would be in print in the same magazine. Our two families became good friends. He and his wife, Malkah, and my wife, Ruby, were present at many simchas together.
We joined Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) after moving to Los Angeles in 1973. At our first service at VBS, Rabbi announced the beginning of the Yom Kippur War that changed Jewish history.
I went on to learn so much from him over the decades. May his memory be for a blessing. We have truly lost a giant.

From an essay by Steven Windmueller, Rabbi Albert Gottschalk Emeritus professor at HUC-JIR, on Rabbi Leonard Beerman and Rabbi Schulweis at jewishjournal.com:

Rabbi Beerman and Rabbi Schulweis  would translate their Jewish passions into concrete actions. For Beerman, as an example, this would be reflected by his embracing the cause of economic justice for farm and hotel workers; for Schulweis it would be about transforming the Jewish story into a universal one by envisioning new ways to engage Jews in the task of healing the world.

Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Years ago, when Jewish World Watch (JWW) was still fairly new, I took my then-teenage son and daughter to a JWW event. There were presentations and speeches by several national political figures and community leaders. It was the role of Rabbi Schulweis to open the program, and the others spoke after him. Despite the fact that he only spoke for a few minutes, that his was not the keynote presentation, and that hours had passed between his remarks and the close of the evening — my children spent the entire drive home raving about him. How he had captured in just a few simple sentences what they had always felt it meant to be a Jew but had never heard anyone say before. He spoke to them, he spoke for them, he inspired them and gave them newfound pride in being a part of a community in which he, too, was a part.

I am grateful every day that I had the chance to know him, however briefly, and that I, too, was among the many he told “call me Harold” with his impish smile, and yet I could not — he was, and always will be Rabbi Schulweis, a visionary, a leader and a truly great man.

Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and author of “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights Publishing):

It was the summer of 1974 when I arrived in Los Angeles. A friend told me about a rabbi in the San Fernando Valley who was transforming his synagogue into one of the most dynamic congregations in the city, if not the country. “There are a thousand people every Friday night,” he said. When a thousand people were showing up for a worship service, I wanted to know what was happening.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis was happening. On that Friday night at Valley Beth Shalom, I witnessed the future of synagogue life in America, shaped by a rabbi who had a clear vision of what a kehillah kedushah, a sacred community, could and should be. The sanctuary was packed to overflowing. The music was sensational. The Kabbalat Shabbat service was shaped with kavanot, short intentional comments that framed the meaning of the prayers. The sermon was spectacular, engaging, relevant, moving. After the service, there was a beautiful Kiddush and Israeli dancing. It was a happening.

More from the community:

Eich naflu ha-giborim – How the mighty has fallen!

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis was one of a kind, a truly great man, a great rabbi, a great scholar, a great thinker, a great model of activism. He was a rabbi's rabbi and through MAZON and Jewish World Watch, organizations he inspired and founded, he has saved many many lives and given meaning to the mitzvah l'fakeach nefesh. Harold will be remembered by all who knew him not only as one of our true g'dolei dor, but as a man who personified the station and mission of Rav!

It was a privilege to know him, to learn from him, and to be inspired by him.

Zichrono livracha,

– Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood

I am deeply saddened to learn of Rabbi Schulweis' passing.   I cherished his friendship, his warmth, his brilliance, his eloquence.  What I learned from him was crucial to my ability to explore rescuers during the Holocaust.  When I started what is now the Chambon Foundation to explore and communicate such lessons of hope, Rabbi Schulweis was the first person I invited to join its Board of Directors, where he honored me with his presence for over 30 years.

In 1983, Rabbi Schulweis invited me to address Valley Beth Shalom about what was then a neglected approach to the Holocaust.  I have just nostalgically located what I said at that time about Rabbi Schulweis, and it seems appropriate to recall it now:  “For decades, Rabbi Schulweis has been trying to get through to us that we must not waste the positive, useful, essential lessons still largely entombed with the six million: that we had friends, too, during the Holocaust, that both Jews and non-Jews need to learn about the goodness—need to learn from the goodness—that also occurred during the Nazi era.  Rabbi Schulweis' pioneering speeches on the subject, his creation of the Institute for the Righteous Acts while he was in Berkeley in the '60s, his dogged conviction about all this despite the deafening lack of support that he encountered in the '60s and '70s, his unique role in caring about and alerting us to righteous conduct during the Holocaust—all this has been, dare I say it, prophetic!”

My heart goes out to Malkah and to the family.  Prophets live on, of course, and so will Rabbi Schulweis as future generations continue to learn from him.

Pierre Sauvage, documenatary filmmaker

From the moment I first arrived in Los Angeles fourteen years ago, Rabbi Harold Schulweis has been a blessing and inspiration in my life.  What a joy it was to come to know Harold after three decades gleaning wisdom from his writings and serving Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham, “his shul,” from 1991-2000 (thankfully with several rabbis in between our respective rabbinic appointments). 

During my tenure as Executive Vice President of the Board of Rabbis and as Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee, I turned to Rabbi Schulweis as a mentor, teacher and confidante.  Harold was always available to proffer sound advice and good counsel on a wide range of subjects, including theology and theodicy, spiritual activism, interreligious relations, and “speaking truth to power.”  I fondly recall a seminar featuring Rabbi Schulweis and a cohort of newly-minted rabbis.  I felt privileged to witness a master teacher gently and lovingly mentoring his eager students, the new faces of the Los Angeles rabbinate.

I also recall making a rookie mistake during my first meeting with Rabbi Schulweis in his study at Valley Beth Shalom.  I mentioned the dreaded “R” word, asking my distinguished colleague if he had any plans to retire.  Harold’s reply was forceful and unequivocal, arguably the most resounding “No” I had heard in my life.

As I left his study, I understood that Harold had Divine fire in his heart, mind and soul.  Rabbi Harold Schulweis lived and loved the rich tapestry of Torah with passion and conviction.    We give thanks for the life of Rabbi Harold Schulweis, one of God’s rare and priceless treasures.

– Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, American Jewish Committee (AJC)

Rabbi Harold Schulweis was a rabbi’s rabbi.  He was one of my rabbis.  I remember the first time I heard Rabbi Schulweis preach.  As a rabbinical student I attended Second Day Rosh HaShannah services at VBS in the early 1990’s.  I was young and green.  I watched his every move.  How he wove his sermons, his passion, his humility, his humor.  I drank up the experience.  Years later, as a young mother/wife and congregational rabbi, I was grappling with a very difficult professional rabbinic decision.  Though he hardly knew me, I picked up the phone and asked if he would meet with me.  I laid out all the sides of the issues with which I was struggling.  I will never forget his reaction.  He looked me straight in the eyes and lovingly screamed at me.  He urged me to have a backbone.  To stand tall for what I believed in.  To be kind but to be firm.  Since then, I’ve always thought of Rabbi Schulweis as the rabbi to go to when I need to be put in my place; when I need to be reminded of the right thing to do in our ever-changing and often morally ambiguous world.  Somehow he knew how to act with courage and with a conscience.

– Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, Temple Israel of Hollywood

On behalf of the State of Israel, we offer our deepest condolences on the passing of Rabbi Harold Schulweis (z”l), one of the most influential and beloved rabbis of our time. His work with the Jewish World Watch and the Jewish Foundation of the Righteous, among many other admirable causes, reflected vision and compassion of the greatest of men. His loss will be deeply felt throughout the Jewish world and beyond.

– Consul General of Israel, David Siegel

Today we lost one of our Gedolei HaDor, one of the great leaders of our generation. Though his speaking, his writing, his warmth, and his visionary innovation, Rabbi Harold Schulweis touched the lives of countless Jews and influenced the direction of North American Judaism.

Rabbi Schulweis showed us that we do not have to choose between a particularist or universalist type of Judaism. He showed, rather, that Jewish practice, a love for Clal Yisrael, and a love of all people goes hand in glove with an imperative to stand up for social justice and to live a life of meaning and purpose. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, Mazon, Jewish World Watch – all are organizations that exist because of Rabbi Schulweis’s passion to heal the world.

Rabbi Schulweis also understood better than anyone the needs of ordinary Jews, and taught many of us new ways to deeply engage the Jewish people. Finally, he was a social trailblazer, recognizing ahead of others that it was time to count women in the minyan, treat girls and boys equally in becoming b’nai mitzvah, embrace gay and lesbian Jews, or reach out to interfaith families.

We have lost a truly great person today, and we will miss him sorely. But the legacy of Rabbi Harold Schulweis will endure for years.”

– United Synagogue CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick and International President Richard Skolnik

Rabbi Schulweis was my first real teacher of Jewish philosophy when he taught a course at UC Berkeley around 1969 or 1970.  He is one of the main reasons I ended up doing what I do professionally since he was passionate and articulate teacher.  If he had been a Hasidic rebbe, I would have signed on as his Hasid.

A small anecdote.  I spent a half year in Israel working on kibbutzim in the 1970.  When I returned in September, 1970, I went for a Shabbat service at Temple Beth Abraham where Schulweis presided.  It was a hot day, so I went to the synagogue in shorts.  Schulweis called me up for an aliya.  One of the elders of the synagogue protested that I wasn’t dressed appropriately.  Schulweis waved him off and declared: “He’s just back from Israel and that’s how you dress there!”

– David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor, Director, Davis Humanities Institute

Rabbi Schulweis met a young math student at Berkeley.  The family that rescued him and his brothers were Polish-Catholic.  The story culminated in the children's book “Jacob's Rescue” by Michael Halperin & Malka Drucker published by Random House

– Michael Halperin

I am deeply saddened by the loss of Rabbi Schulweis. He was my Rabbi and I’ve been a member of his congregation at Valley Beth Shalom since the mid-1990s. As a leader in the community for over 45 years, he was an innovator that transformed the synagogue beyond a place of worship into a true community that fostered activism, counseling, and charity.

My wife and I had the honor of listening to his sermons on many occasions; he was a moving speaker and constant inspiration. My mother, wife and I also had the privilege of joining him and his wife for dinner from time to time where he shared his insight and wisdom.

Rabbi Schulweis was one of the preeminent Jewish thinkers, scholars and intellectuals of our time and the author of many books including “For Those Who Can't Believe: Overcoming the Obstacles to Faith” and “Evil and the Morality of God.”

His leadership taught us the importance of reaching beyond our borders. Jewish World Watch, an organization he founded, brought schools, churches, and synagogues together to combat hunger and genocide across the globe. ‘Do not stand idly by’ was his frequent refrain – referring to the work we all must do together to overcome injustice.

He was also a reformer, who was among the first Conservative rabbis to welcome openly gay and lesbian Jews into his synagogue. His legacy and his writings leave a lasting impact here in Los Angeles and in communities everywhere. My wife Lisa and I send our sincerest condolences to his wife Malkah and his children Seth, Ethan, and Alyssa and the entire Schulweis family.”

— Congressman Brad Sherman


Rabbi Shulweis with my youngest son, Alex Abravanel at his Hebrew School graduation.  One of the many memorable moments with Rabbi Shulweis.

– Lisa Abravanel

He gave a sermon about problems of being a conservative Rabbi. As an example, he described converting a woman to Judaism, telling her that she was now favored in G-d's eyes because she chose to be Jewish. She asked him to marry her to her beloved and he had to tell her that a conservative rabbi may not marry a Kohen.

– Judy Salz

I remember Rabbi Schulweis coming to visit my philosophy of religion class as an undergraduate at The Ohio State University.  It was soon after his book “For Those Who Can't Believe” was published, and I was in awe of his revolutionary thinking. Years later as a rabbi myself, I have read and re-read his books, articles, and sermons, which have been an endless source of wisdom and inspiration.  May he rest in peace.

– Rabbi Adam J. Raskin, Congregation Har Shalom

There was no one like him. I attended Valley Beth Shalom Day School from 3rd grade through 6th. His door was always open. He was there for my parents and I every step of the way. Rabbi Schulweiss also conducted the service at my bat mitzvah. His words and mere presence kept everyone in awe. Several years later, in 1998, I called him to speak to him about my upcoming wedding (he always took calls personally. I always found this amazing given the importance of this man).  And he remembered me. By name. He remembered most everyone that he met. He told me that he did not do weddings that much anymore, but that he would do mine!! I was so very happy and touched. He shocked me when he said he would not charge for his service. A man of his caliber.  “Just make a donation to the temple”, he said. He also gave me other advice about mezuzahs and keeping kosher.  He shared stories about his father with me. He was so open, open-minded, and modern. So humble, gentle, and kind. I was concerned that my wedding was not going to be “glatt” kosher and other rabbis had a problem with that. He said that he didn't believe in this. And that it was ok. I asked him if every door in my home should have a mezuzah and he said only the front door that blesses the home. He made being Jewish easy and fun. “Do-able”!  My fiance (now husband) and I met with him in his humble office before the wedding. My husband had had bad experiences with Rabbis and Judaism in General. Rabbi Schulweiss changed his negative ideas around in that one meeting. My husband loved him and his teachings as much as I did! I can't say enough, how special this man was. To the world, to Judaism, to every family and every single individual he touched. After the wedding I gave Rabbi Schulweiss a meaningful Jewish tapestry (at the time I really didn't know what the scene depicted).  I went to visit him, some time after the gift and after the wedding.  To my surprise, he had proudly hung the tapestry right in his office. I thought to myself, this man must receive so many gifts, he must have so many nice, important possessions. And he hung mine up! In his small, private office. And,  in such a beautiful way. With a light shining just right on it, and a beautiful mount. He took the time to explain to me that it portrayed Aaron from the Torah. Well, my third child, who is now 4, is named Aaron. He has impacted my life in so many ways. I must also say, “behind every great man, there is a great woman.”  His wife is amazing, understanding, caring, strong, and loving as well. What a beautiful couple. G- d bless his soul and continue to bless his beautiful wife.

With Love and Gratitude.

– Elizabeth Ahdoot-Ebrahimian


Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis with other L.A. Conservative Rabbi's at the 2011 Masorti Foundation Dinner.

– Barbara Berci

I knew Rabbi Schulweis from the 1960s when he was a rabbi in oakland.  I was in my teens.  So sorry to hear he passed.  may the gates open wide for him.  Would be pleased to share my reflections. 

– Judith Bendor

I had the privilege of having Rabbi Harold Schulweis as my philosophy teacher at HUC-JIR LA. It was an amazing few months. The highlight, of course, was when he introduced his notion of “Predicate Theology”. His thinking and his social activism have been an inspiration ever since. We were fortunate to have him for so many years.

– Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, Beth Shir Shalom

Seventeen years ago my daughter living in Sydney Australia at the time had a baby boy. The Brit was conducted by a physician and a rabbi. After my daughter said the required prayers in perfect Hebrew the rabbi turned to me and commented that my daughter had had a good Hebrew education and asked what synagogue did we belong to and who was the rabbi. When I told him Valley Beth Shalom and Rabbi Schulweis he was almost jumping up and down with excitement that we knew Rabbi Schulweis. Our beloved Rabbi Schulweis was a great influence even half a world away. May his name be a blessing for the whole world.

– Sharon Thompson Glass

While getting my hair done one day, I picked up a copy of the Heritage, an eight-page now-defunct Jewish newspaper and read that Rabbi Harold Schulweis was giving a lecture at 8 p.m. on Friday night on the subject of Kiruv, conversion to Judaism and I needed to be there. Raised Catholic, I rejected that philosophy in early adulthood, and here and there attended Jewish lectures, including one at the Jewish Federation by Valley Beth Shalom concerning Jewish acceptance of gays and lesbians. Someday, I would have to check out VBS, but had never got around to it.

I sat far back in the shul in case I might become uncomfortable and want to leave. As Rabbi Schulweis started to  speak, I was mesmerized by what he had to say and how eloquently he offered  the opportunity to be part of the Jewish people. Ten minutes into his talk, I understood that I was meant to be there, that I had found my people, that I had come home to my faith. Rabbi Schulweis was a masterful presenter of Judaism, what we Jews had done well, done badly but were meant to heal the world. He was an influence that stuck in your mind and is as clear today as it was the moment he spoke.

My life has forever been changed for the better, and for the people I have learned to help, because he had a vision of welcoming sincere people into the Jewish faith. I will miss his presence in this life, but Hashem has welcomed him to Gan Eden for the reward he justly deserves.

– Bracha Sarah Meyerowitcz

Rabbi Harold Schulweis z”l and I began our San Fernando careers in 1970. I started at Los Angeles Valley College the first accredited Jewish Studies program at a public college in the State of California and he at Valley Beth Shalom set the standard of the ideal American Rabbi and why Shul matters. We shared Bronx birth and moxie, Yeshiva Rabbi Israel Salanter  musar (ethical teaching), and Yeshiva University contact (I at MTA High School and he at Teachers Institute). He spoke at LAVC and I spoke at VBS (Auschwitz Convent Controversy). In typical Salanter tradition we disagreed on what we disagreed. A Bronx tale. I was a guest at the Shulweis home on the first night of Passover 1975. Traditional readings, outstanding commentary,geschmaked pesachdik food, and all is well. Then the Open Door for Elijah and Shulweis proclaimed that he doesn't plead to the Almighty to pour out His wrath upon the nations  that know Him not for if they do they would not devour Jacob and laid waste his habitation. That night's additional Passover question asked by me, why not? The Rabbi responded that the “curse of nations” is medieval tradition and further not respecting the Other. Like hell it is not as I rushed to the open door and shreied in the Encino Hills the justice paragraph of the Haggadah.  Returning to the table of befuddled guests, I said, “Harold, a couple of months ago the United Nations declared “Zionism is Racism.” That is why the shefokh chamatkha is justified. This past summer's “Operation Protective Edge” and ant-Zionist and Jewish hatred related matters cement the importance of this charge. Barukh Dayyan Ha-Emet. May all be comforted in and by the legacy of Rabbi Harold Shulweis z'l.

– Prof. Zev Garber. Emeritus Professor and Chair Jewish Studies and Philosophy, LAVC

How does the voice of a man make the world a better place?  How can this man's dreams touch the poorest of souls on the other side of the world? How can a man live his life with Tikkun Olam as his goal and have this quest for world repair spur those around him into social action like ripples on water? The quiet voice that was yours, Rabbi, that I heard from the bimah and on your house phone when I called in need, was the voice that  gave sound to your strength, sound to your soul, and offered insight into the situation. You always had the wisest of answers to life's issues. Your quiet voice, your voice of strength, offered answers that brought quiet to my personal fears; your voice illuminated a paths of action for your congregation which melted problems into a road of just and righteous possibility. Your leadership was our synagogue's beacon; we understood by your voice which couched great wisdom what  needed to be done; your ideas then were brought into bloom and then flowered to benefit those in need. I will sadly miss your life which nourished my learning.

My deepest and life-long appreciation to Rabbi Schulweis, z'l.       Baruch Dyan haEmet.

– Marion (Manya) Phillips, Stamford, Connecticut.

What I learned from my Rabbi, makes me Jewish in the way that I am Jewish.

I learned to struggle with God and darkness in our world
That I needed to define my Judaism as the vehicle for those struggles
That when we bring good to the world through our actions
We bring God into this world
Darkness is the absence of God and Good
And it is our role to listen to our conscience to evoke goodness and struggle with the God within through that process
To embrace the “Isra” (struggle/fight) with “el” God in our daily thoughts and actions on earth

I learned that we are One

With everyone and everything
That we are connected through time and space
Not only to ourselves but to the stranger, and those injustices
Not only done to us and our ancestors but to those far away from where we are

This is poem inspired by what I learned from my Rabbi and how I aspire to live my life as a Jew due his teachings and lived “dugma” (example).  May his memory be blessed.


May we learn to see the sacred spark
in every person

May we learn to see that glowing warm light
in ourselves and
through the eye of
a stranger

May we become agents
in the ongoing creation
Bre-ayt Olam

May our day to day actions
the spread of a canopy of peace
That protectively hovers
over and within
you, your loved ones,
and those we’ll never meet

– Ron Avi Astor Ph.D., Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health, University of Southern California

I have had the honor of being involved with Jewish World Watch and Rabbi Schulweis for the last 10 years. By allowing me to be part of his extraordinary vision, Rabbi Schulweis altered my view, not only of the world, but my place in it. By starting JWW, he challenged me and many others to leave our comfort zones and recognize that we can in fact DO something in places that seem so far away and remote. And he allowed me to connect with people in remote areas whose humanity touch me in a deep and profound way and whom I now carry in my heart always. I see the world and our interconnectivity differently because of Rabbi Schulweis.

But most of all, I have been so touched by his inclusiveness. I love that JWW embraces anyone who needs us and that while steeped in Jewish tradition, we welcome and embrace all faiths. It is a powerful message that the world needs more of.

— Diana Buckhantz, Board Member, Jewish World Watch

I am one of the fortunate thousands who had the privilege of learning from and being a friend of Rabbi Schulweis.

He listened, he heard, he understood, he inspired, he gave his heart and his mind.  He unwrapped my Jewish soul.

His soul lives on.

–Alice Greenfield

I came to celebrate the high holidays with a friend, and her family. I am not jewish, black, and born in England. The good Rabbi reached out to me, dressed me in the clothes worn at the ceremony, and welcomed me to the tribe. He was a wonderful man that had love in his heart for all. His sermon was inspirational, and though I met him only twice, was compelled to write to you when I learned of his passing.

I was deeply saddened for your/our loss of a great teacher. A man that truly walked the path of a loving God. He will live forever in my heart, as I am sure he will in that of his congregation.


–Stephen Ferrone

In Pirkai Avot, Ben Zoma asks: Who is wise? …and answers… One who learns from every man. Rabbi Schulweis derived meaningful lessons from wherever he could. How fortunate we are to have seen much of the world through his eyes, his mind and his heart.

It is rewarding and uplifting to sense the man he was through his words.

Here are some of them:

By reviewing the aftermath of the Korach rebellion, finding that the Lord commanded that the firepans of the rebels were to be made into beaten plates for a covering of the alter, he taught us that “something holy from something unholy – even sinful, could be created.”

“The objects of idolatrous adorations, the Rabbis warned, were not in themselves evil. Stars, moon, trees, sun are not unholy. It is the worship of portions of creation as if they were the whole of creation that eclipses the unity of God’s world and profanes it. When institutions or ideologies arrogate to themselves exclusive truth and dismiss all others as aberrations, the plentitude and grandeur of Judaism are impoverished.
(Moment magazine, September, 1985)

“Whoever glorifies himself by humiliating someone else has no share in the future world.”
(Quoting Maimonides, Moment magazine, December, 1985)

“In the first chapter of Genesis, God does not create something from nothing. His key contribution is dividing – setting up a value system.”
(Sermon – 11/1/86).

Ahavah = 13 (Numerology)
         13 x 2 = 26 = Yehovah
         “If you want to believe, then love.”
(Rabbi Schulweis quoting Martin Buber, 12/29/90)

“Science measures and weighs what is; faith is concerned with what ought to be.”
(Rabbi Harold Schulweis in VBS the Shalom 18 #7 March, 1991 p3).

“The word for miracle in Hebrew is Nes, a sign. Hence significant.”
(Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Friday, 12/9/1994 with Cardinal Mahoney)

“In her book, Today’s children and Yesterday’s Heritage, Sophia Fahs suggested a game to answer the “where” question. (Where is God?)  I decided to adopt her game with my daughter.  I asked her to touch my arms. She did. I asked her to touch my chest. She did. I asked her to touch my nose. She did. I then asked her to touch my love…she could not. She smiled. The exercise was an introduction to a deeper understanding of faith.”
(Harold M. Schulweis. For Those Who Can’t Believe. Harper Collins, NY, 1994 p22)

“Godliness, like love, is located not ‘in me’ or ‘in you’ but between us. Love is not ‘on’ the object or ‘in’ the object but between them. Like the experience of Godliness, love points to a relationship with an ‘other’.

In Judaism, the importance of ‘betweeness is expressed in the high value that tradition places on community. Acts of holiness, such as the recitation of the mourners kaddish and the public reading of the Torah, require a minyan, the quorum of 10 representatives of the community.”

(Harold M. Schulweis. For Those Who Can’t Believe. Harper Collins, NY, 1994 p24)

“A window shut open is as useless as a window shut closed. In either case, you’ve lost the use of the window.”
(Philopher Carlyle Marney quoted by Harold M. Schulweis: For Those Who Can’t Believe. Harper Collns,          NY 1994 p27 (taken from Stages of Faith by James Fowler in Psychology Today 11/83).

“Where man ceases believing in something, it isn’t that he believes in nothing, but that he then believes in anything.”
(GK Chesterton quoted by Harold M. Schulweis –  For Those Who Can’t Believe;  Harper Collins, NY 1994 in Religious nature abhors a vacuum. P27)

“There is nothing that we can rightly pray for that does not make demands on us. The object of petition is to energize us to act outside the threshold of the sanctuary.”
(Harold M. Schulweis. For Those Who Can’t Believe. Harper Collins, NY, 1994.p39)

“True wisdom is the ability to act when it is necessary on the basis of incomplete information.”
(Robert Frost quoted by Harold Schulweis – VBS vol 23# Nov., 1995, mentioned in the Yom Kippur sermon).

“Shema is the central prayer of Judaism. It talks of God, not as all powerful or as all wise or as eternal – but as one. We are the witnesses of God’s existence, which is demonstrated by our actions.”
(Rabbi Harold Schulweis Rosh Hashana sermon 10/1/1997 on Echod: We are one with God and with each other.)

“To paraphrase George Santayana, the effort to embrace humanity in general is as foolhardy as the attempt ‘to speak in general without using any language in particular.’  Judaism is the particular language through which Jews address humanity.  Although the Bible originates out of the needs, intuitions, and revelations of a particular people, its wisdom and ethics burst into the public domain of humanity.”

“Sharansky cited Cynthia Ozick’s telling of the Jewish folk tale in which a naif asks the rabbi why one blows the shofar through the narrow side of the ram’s horn rather than through the wide side.  The rabbi answered, if you blow it into the wide end, no sound will be emitted.  But if you blow through the narrow side, it will reach into the outer limits.  Like charity, compassion begins at home, but it does not end there.”(Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, From: I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. Edited by Judea and Ruth Pearl. Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont, 2004, pages 177-81)

“Whatever the situation under discussion, God is not to be found in the cause; God is found in the response.”
(Harold Schulweis, Jan 31, 2005 evening meeting about Darfur).

“The mark of a civilized human being is the ability to count…and to cry.”
(Harold Schulweis quoting Bertrand Russell…in the context of Darfur)

–Avrum Bluming

Holiday season brings authors to SoCal

From the Bible to the Broadway stage, readers and gift-buyers can find a wealth of new books in the bookstores, and it’s the time of year when authors, too, are out in the world to talk about their work. Here are five choice opportunities in Southern California.

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The name Cecil B. DeMille has entered our language as a signifier for a kind of epic motion picture that was once the glory of Hollywood. Yet, somehow his name fails to conjure what the flesh-and-blood DeMille actually accomplished from his perch on a camera dolly in an era long before computer-generated images.

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A bookstore appearance by crime novelist and literary wild man James Ellroy belongs to the realm of performance art. Indeed, his in-person antics are so intense that his visit to Skylight Books once became the subject of a documentary film. 

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Moving and shaking: FIDF Gala, Texas Hold’em Poker Classic, Our House and more

Hollywood A-listers Barbra Streisand, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Pamela Anderson were among those who attended the eighth annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Nov. 6; the event raised an unprecedented $33 million to fund the educational, cultural, social and economic needs of IDF soldiers and their families.

In the purple-lit ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel, a cocktail reception was followed by a three-course dinner and a program emceed by political analyst and best-selling author Monica Crowley.

Notable donors included Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison; brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano of Guess Inc.; event chairs Cheryl and Haim Saban; casino mogul billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam; New York Giants’ Chairman Steve Tisch; and Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell and his wife, Susan.

Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean — whose band canceled its performances in Israel this past summer during the Gaza war but will play three sold-out shows there next year — made a donation as well. 

Judy and Bud Levin donated $5,000 on behalf of their son, Cpl. Max Levin, a Lone Soldier and New Community Jewish High School graduate who was injured during Operation Protective Edge. 

Entertainment included David Foster and Friends, The Tenors and, for the finale, Ricky Martin.

Aside from the glitz and glamour, the gala had plenty of serious moments. One IDF first lieutenant took the stage and said, “This summer, too many [IDF soldiers] made the ultimate sacrifice.” His twin brother, 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, was one of 66 fallen soldiers. 

“Every single one of them is a hero,” Haim Saban said. 

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Actor Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) and Teri Hatcher (“Desperate Housewives”) were among the famous faces who turned out for Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) second annual Texas Hold’em Poker Classic on Oct. 26 at the Commerce Casino.

From left: Josh Neufeld, Jim Hess, Teri Hatcher, Jason Alexander and Rob Schiller competed in the Jewish National Fund’s second annual Texas Hold’em Poker Classic. Photo courtesy of JNF

“For a second time, this event was really well run, a lot of fun and has tremendous growth potential,” Alexander said in a press release. “I look forward to playing with JNF again.”

The event drew nearly 100 attendees, who each paid $200 to buy into the pot. Poker stars Josh Neufeld and Jim Hess were among the participants, as was Hollywood director Rob Schiller (“The King of Queens”). 

The fundraiser helped collect $54,000 for JNF Project Baseball, which, according to the JNF website, is focused on building state-of-the-art baseball and softball fields across Israel. The organization’s mission is developing Israeli land and infrastructure.

JNF associate director Lou Rosenberg deemed the event a success. “We are extremely pleased at the level of excitement and positive response within the community that this event generated, and we believe it will go a long way toward building the foundation of an annual event that should double in size for next year,” he said in a press release.

The Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Pacific District has named Phyllis Bigelson, a member of Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge, as its president. 

“It was either move up or out,” Bigelson, 62, said of her appointment. “It’s something I really enjoy.” 

Temple Ahavat Shalom Cantor Jen Roher (left) and new WRJ president and Ahavat Shalom congregant Phyllis Bigelson, who was installed Oct. 25. Photo by Sheri Langer/WRJ Pacific District

Bigelson previously served as vice president of the WRJ Pacific District. Her installation ceremony, held at the Hilton Pasadena on Oct. 25, was a highlight of the WRJ Pacific District Convention. Musician Julie Silver, TAS Rabbi Barry Lutz and WRJ Vice President Sarah Charney participated. TAS Cantor Jen Roher was part of the day’s events as well.

The mother of two and grandmother of four succeeds Ellen Bick of Congregation Beth Israel based in Portland, Ore. Judie Shor-Ning of Albuquerque, N.M., the vice president of WRJ Pacific District, will succeed Bigelson in two years. 

When not working on behalf of Reform women, Bigelson, along with her husband, William, run the CPA firm William Bigelson CPA Inc. The two have been married for 44 years. 

More than 170 attendees turned out to the multiday conference, whose theme was “Dreams to Reality: Planning the Next 100 Years.” Bigelson served as the event chair, Lillian Burkenheim Silver was program chair, Rachel Fabulich and Flo Cohen were local area arrangement co-chairs, Cher Krichmar was workshop chair, and Jackie Zev was budget chair. 

WRJ provides training, assistance and support for sisterhood organizations around the country. The Pacific District includes 57 sisterhoods that collectively serve more than 7,500 women throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and several other states, as well as British Columbia.

Our House’s House of Hope gala, at the Skirball Cultural Center on Nov. 1, raised $640,000 for the nonprofit California-based grief support center.

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe and Sheri Rapaport, Our House board chair and recipient of the Founder’s Award. Photo by Vivien Bes

The event spotlighted Sheri Rapaport, the organization’s board chair and recipient of the Founder’s Award, in recognition of her “contributions to the advancement of Our House’s mission,” a press release said. 

Additional honorees included the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Primetime Emmy-winning HBO documentary “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp” (2014). Jonathan Weedman, senior vice president of the Wells Fargo Foundation, accepted the Good Grief Award on behalf of the foundation. Greg DeHart, producer of “One Last Hug”; Paul Freedman, producer-director; and Lauren Schneider, associate producer and Our House clinical director, received the H.U.G. (Helping Understand Grief) Award on behalf of the film. 

“These award recipients were recognized for their work in helping grieving children, teens and adults embark on their journey to hope and healing,” a press release said.

The 2013 Good Grief Award recipient, Melissa Rivers, daughter of late comedian Joan Rivers, emceed the event, along with TV personality Andrew Krasny. Rivers acknowledged the passing of her mother and her commitment to the organization that honored her just last year.

“It’s unbelievable that within the year that I was honored and became an ambassador for Our House Grief Support Center that I was hit by the sudden death of my mother. Our House has taken on an even greater significance in my life, and I am so grateful that everyone has access to the support that they provide,” Rivers said in a release.

The gala featured Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood delivering opening remarks and leading a prayer before the commencement of the program. 

Our House was founded in 1993 by Jo-Ann Lautman.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Max Webb, one second at a time

It’s hard to imagine how, or why, a wealthy 97-year-old man would make the effort to go through hundreds of invoices for his building company and sign all the checks himself. It’s even harder to imagine him catching mistakes and telling his bookkeeper things like, “I think this one is no good. I already signed it last week.” But that’s exactly the kind of thing you hear about my friend Max Webb.

“I remember everything,” he told me when I visited him last week in his spacious mid-Wilshire office. That office alone is worthy of charging admission — it holds more classic photos, personal mementos and Jewish memorabilia per square foot than a Jewish museum. It’s as if some sentimental designer came in one day and said, “Max, I’m going to put your whole life in this office!”

I’ve been bumping into Max for years now at events all over town. Max has the weathered, complex face of someone who’s seen it all, and the sharp eyes of someone who still wants to see more. He’s a short man, but his straight posture ought to be the envy of many kids I know who crouch when they walk.

As he talked with me about his life journey, he kept saying that it’s “impossible to explain my life.” In other words, he remembers a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean he can, or wants to, explain them.

After all, how do you begin to explain the pain of losing four beloved sisters and both of your parents in the Holocaust? And how do you begin to explain the mere accomplishment of surviving 12 labor camps and six concentration camps?

The stories he told me did suggest some explanations for his unlikely survival. For one thing, he was always a hustler. He grew up in a poor family in Lodz, Poland, quitting school when he was young and then taking odd jobs and making all kinds of deals on the street to help bring food to his family.

These hustling skills came in handy after the Nazis caught up with him and sent him to a series of camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. The fact that Max was physically strong helped keep him out of the gas chambers, as the Nazis preferred to use him for hard labor. But beyond his physical fitness, Max survived on the strength of his wits, hustling for a piece of bread with the same moxie he would use decades later to develop property in Los Angeles.

In one camp, he figured out a way to retrieve gold and jewelry from the abandoned clothing of those killed in gas chambers, after the Nazis would put away the clothing in a special area. He then made deals with guards, exchanging the jewelry for things like potatoes and bread that he would share with his best friend.

That best friend was Nathan Shapell, the well-known philanthropist who died seven years ago and was Max’s lifelong business partner. “Nate was in block 12 and I was in block 7,” Max said. “If I got a piece of bread, I would find him and give him half.”

When I asked him if he lived in fear during his years in the camps, he gave me a blank look, as if not wanting to show any weakness. “Never,” he replied. What he did say is that he “lived by seconds,” which perhaps was his way of impressing on me that because he could have died any second, he had little time for fear.

While looking at my notes after our visit, I noticed that Max had a tendency to use extreme words — “everything,” “impossible,” “never,” “seconds” and so on. It’s not surprising, then, that he made a bold promise to his mother the last time he saw her. After telling her about the horror of seeing Nazis throw Jewish babies out of hospital windows, he made this commitment: “If I survive this, I will do everything I can to make sure Judaism also survives.”

For the past six decades or so, Max has done just that, donating millions to all kinds of causes to help the Jewish Diaspora and Israel. His latest gift is to create a chair for his rabbi, David Wolpe, whose title will now be “The Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.” 

When Rabbi Wolpe mentioned the gift during his Yom Kippur sermon, he brought up Max’s promise to his mother, adding that, for Max, the notion that Judaism might not survive the Holocaust was a very real possibility.

I’m guessing, though, that even an extreme notion like “the fear that Judaism might not survive” is hardly intimidating to a man like Max, who’s learned during his long and eventful life that the best way to survive is one second at a time.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

The end of an era

When I first came to Friday Night Live
I didn’t know if I’d ever been in a Jewish room so big.

It was like they took the entire outside, put up walls on the very edges,
added comfortable seating and painted the sky to look like a ceiling.

I remember the sign I saw before I entered.
“No Cell Phones.”

I wasn’t sure if it was a statement against their existence,
as if cell phones somehow represented hatred of Jews,

or if I just wasn’t allowed to bring one into the room.
In either case it was nineteen something or other and back then

I couldn’t afford to make a local toll call let alone own a cell phone.
So I confidently walked into the room knowing it wouldn’t be a problem.

I remember the rabbi. I’d known his wisdom from years before
when he stood in front of a room full of eager undergraduates and

wrote the entire first paragraph of the book “Lolita” on the board from memory
just to make a point about how people remember things.

I’ll be lucky if I remember how to get home tonight … but I remember that.
This was a rabbi I wanted to learn more from.

I remember the singer. A man with such incredible spontaneity
his band told him you never do the same thing once.

A man whose simple melodies you fell in love with the first time you heard them.
A man who, if you happen to be in the room, might, with no forewarning,

pull you up out of the congregation and demand you tell your life story.
Be careful when you walk into this room,

because when you do you become a part of its story.
Your voices, not acceptable when too quiet, become the choir.

We are the holy cabal. And this too must pass.
The baton at least. On to the next.

The old will become new and everything remains holy
if you’re willing to look close enough.

The impact has been made.
What happens in this room has been scientifically duplicated

in rooms of all sizes all over the world.
This has been the litmus test and we have passed.

The rabbi, the singer, will be missed
but their voices and words not forgotten.

And in a hundred thousand years, when the archaeologists of the future
are dusting off the remains of West Los Angeles,

a small crack in the rubble will open up
and a trapped melody will force its way into their ears.

ah na na na na na na …

They’ll smile, and nod to each other because
this has always been one of their favorites.

That is the endurance of this.
We are but borrowing this dust from the earth.

We will inevitably exchange it for our wristband
to the next big after-party in the sky.

(And you don’t even have to be ages 21 to 39 to get in.)
But how we filled this space remains.

The music never silenced.
The wisdom perpetual.

Friday Night Live.
The story goes on.

Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert read this poem on June 13, 2014 at Sinai Temple at the final Friday Night Live service led by Rabbi David Wolpe and Craig Taubman. Lupert's work can be found online at poetrysuperhighway.com/.

Rabbi Wolpe and Craig Taubman’s final Friday Night Live

For their last time, after 16 years of collaboration, Rabbi David Wolpe and singer/songwriter Craig Taubman led the lively musical Shabbat service at Sinai Temple known as Friday Night Live to a packed sanctuary on the evening of June 13. 

They did not go out quietly.

“This is our farewell tour,” Wolpe announced with a smile during his sermon, and the rock-and-roll-themed allusion seemed more than appropriate, given Taubman’s band of multiple guitarists and a drummer, which was surrounded by clusters of candles lighting up the bimah in a reddish glow, enlivening Taubman’s liturgical songs with soloists’ heroics.

The high-energy music is, of course, what the Ted and Hedy Orden and Family Friday Night Live (FNL) service is all about.

Sixteen years ago, Wolpe and Taubman envisioned the service as a shorter, edgier, more entertaining presentation of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, hoping to attract more young professionals.

And while the popularity of the service has grown, so, too, has the range of ages attending, accounting for the many older folks in the audience for the finale. Nevertheless, the rock format has endured.

This was their 205th Friday Night Live, Taubman said, and Wolpe and Taubman turned it up, to quote the heavy-metal mockumentary “Spinal Tap,” to eleven. The service included rap, poetry (see Rick Lupert’s “The End of An Era,” which was read at the service) and humor throughout.

It was a joyful and bittersweet evening.

Midway through the service, local Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz appeared on the bimah, joining Taubman’s band, as well as Sinai Temple Cantor Marcus Feldman and others.

Throughout the night, the audience repeatedly rose to its feet — and not just for prayer — often bursting into applause and clapping to the music. The tone was playful, and at one point, Taubman teased attendees, incredulous at how even after all of these years, they still could not keep the beat.

Just as the music has been essential to the success of FNL, so, too, was the relationship between Wolpe and Taubman. The pair did not know each other well prior to working on FNL, but today they are friends, Wolpe told the Journal in an interview.

 Indeed, the relationship has not been without its strains, Wolpe also acknowledged during his sermon, yet he said his partnership with Taubman has taught him how working with someone with whom you sometimes disagree is a “really good thing.”

“Friday Night Live is a result of that,” he said.

At the outset, Wolpe was focused on young professionals. When he and Taubman held a lunch meeting more than 15 years ago, Taubman, then a writer of children’s music at Disney, suggested that the service should be for kids.

Taubman also wanted to write all new music. Wolpe wasn’t sure about that idea.

Wolpe got his way on the first. He relented on the latter, which is a good thing. Anyone who’s been to FNL knows how much the service’s broad appeal owes to Taubman’s accessible melodies. Just ask the other synagogues and summer camps around the world that have adopted his music for their own worship.

FNL may have reached its audience peak around 2007. At that time, more than 1,000 people were showing up for the service, which, every month, has preceded a singles’ party organized by Sinai’s young professionals group ATID.

Some highlights over the years have included special guests, including author Eli Wiesel, Pastor Rick Warren and even pop impresario Ryan Seacrest. 

In recent years, attendance has dropped off. Approximately 300 people attended the April and May FNL services this year.

The service had also veered from its original mission of serving and building Jewish identity in 20- and 30-somethings: All ages are welcome in the pews at FNL.

The tradition will continue under new leadership, refocusing on engaging young adults. The mantle has been passed to Sinai Temple Rabbis Nicole Guzik and Jason Fruithandler; as well as Rabbi Erez Sherman, Guzik’s husband, who joins Sinai Temple as a clergy member in July. Feldman and Sinai millennial director Matt Baram also will be part of the team leading the services.

They say it will be an entirely new incarnation of FNL, to be unveiled at Sinai in October. It will be, Guzik said in an interview, “for millennials, by millennials and about millennials.”

Last Friday, despite the importance that the organized Jewish community often places on looking forward, Wolpe and Taubman were openly nostalgic and sentimental.

And if anyone has earned the right, it’s these two.

They thanked family and friends for their support over the years and gave a shout-out to those who have funded the service from the beginning. They also spotlighted groups such as Judaism by Choice, whose members occupied several rows in the sanctuary and who have regularly attended FNL services.

As any bandleader should, Taubman thanked each of his musicians. At one point, he ventured into the crowd and walked toward his wife. She responded by blowing kisses at him. He also asked his son, Noah, to stand and to wave to everyone.

The community thanked Wolpe and Taubman in return. Late in the evening, Guzik, Fruithandler and Sherman presented the FNL co-creators each with an inscribed stool, representing the informal seating used for the occasions.

Meanwhile, Wolpe’s art of connecting biblical text with the concerns of the day — in this case, bidding farewell to something that has been a regular part of his life for so long — shone through. During his sermon, he likened himself to the aged Esau, who was stunned to tears upon being reunited with his twin, Jacob, after so many years.

Seeing Jacob’s face was a reminder of how many years had passed. 

Wolpe compared Esau’s reaction to how he, himself, felt at seeing the faces of people — those who have been supporting the FNL dream since its beginning — in the crowd. Their faces illustrate how many years have passed since FNL began.

Those years, Wolpe said from the bimah, have been good.

Sacred and profane: Philip Roth, onetime ‘enfant terrible,’ gets seminary honor

“What is being done to silence this man?” an American rabbi asked in a 1963 letter to the Anti-Defamation League. He was talking about the novelist Philip Roth, whose early novels and short stories cast his fellow American Jews in what some considered a none-too-flattering light.

Fast-forward half a century.

On Thursday, the writer whose works were once denounced as profane was honored by one of American Jewry’s sacred citadels: The Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, awarded Roth an honorary doctorate at its commencement ceremony.

“From enfant terrible to elder statesman. Time heals all wounds,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles remarked to JTA via email.

[Related: Author Philip Roth to retire]

Early in his career, Roth drew outrage with sometimes stinging depictions of Jewish life, as well as his graphic portrayal in his 1969 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” of the  protagonist’s sexual desires. Some worried that his work would endanger American Jews, providing fodder for anti-Semites.

In one notorious incident, Roth was shaken by a hostile reception he received at a 1962 literary symposium at New York’s Yeshiva University. Recalling being shouted at by hostile students after the event, Roth vowed to “never write about Jews again” — a promise, of course, that he did not keep.

“There is a certain amount of poetic justice, an aesthetically satisfying irony, in Philip Roth’s beginning his career with a brouhaha at Yeshiva University and ending it with an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary — an honor perhaps more significant than the Nobel Prize that eludes him,” Michael Kramer, associate professor of literature at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, wrote in an email. “Would Roth himself have imagined such a plot? His endings tend to the tragic.”

Now the 81-year-old Roth’s own career is itself at an end. In 2012, Roth announced that he would not be writing more books. Earlier this month, he declared after a reading at New York’s 92nd Street Y that he was done with public appearances.

“This was absolutely the last appearance I will make on any public stage, anywhere,” said Roth, although on Wednesday news broke that he will appear as an interview guest on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” in July.

Roth, in his books, poked fun at the wrath he incurred from some in the Jewish community. One of his recurring protagonists, Nathan Zuckerman, is a novelist whose own writings have similarly upset many Jews.

But after decades as one of America’s leading literary lights, the anger Roth once evoked has been eclipsed by acclaim.

In a phone interview, the seminary’s chancellor, Arnold Eisen — a sociologist and the only non-rabbi to lead JTS since World War II — called Roth the “greatest sociologist on American Jewish life, without doubt.”

Eisen said that in his previous job at Stanford University, he frequently assigned Roth’s books to students in his classes on American Judaism. Eisen noted his admiration for the Roth novels that examined the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, such as “The Counterlife” and “Operation Shylock,” as well as works that explored the American scene, like “The Human Stain” and “American Pastoral.”

“We are a community that treasures someone who holds up such a penetrating and insightful mirror to who we are and reveals the dilemmas and contradictions and aspirations of the community,” Eisen said. “We are grateful for the mirror even if not everything you see in it is easy.”

Elisa Albert, a fiction writer and the author of an epistolary short story in which her alter ego offers to have a baby with Roth, called the JTS recognition “a small honorary justice.”

“I’d imagine it’s an irresistible offering: a major institution of the very community that once upon a time so narrow-mindedly shunned him and his work now honors him, decades later,” she wrote in an email.

Roth, however, has not exactly been a communal pariah over his long career. Three of his books were honored with the American Jewish Book Award, and in 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Literary Achievement Award.

The JTS honor seems to have elicited little controversy. Though Roth has faced criticism from feminists over his depictions of women, a query from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg to the listserv for female Conservative rabbis soliciting reactions to the honorary doctorate yielded no responses.

The president of the Philip Roth Society, Aimee Pozorski, said that Roth and JTS are not so different in their values.

“Ultimately, for the last 50 years, and despite opinions to the contrary, they have fought for the same ideals all along,” Pozorski added. “From the very beginning of his career, he has been deeply invested in representing the lives and fates of Jewish youth.”

Roth, however, has demurred when it is suggested that he should be defined as an American Jewish writer.

“I did not want to, did not intend to, and was not able to speak for American Jews; I surely did not deny, and no one questioned the fact, that I spoke to them, and I hope to others as well,” Roth wrote in his essay “Writing About Jews.”

At JTS, though, appreciation abounded for Roth’s contributions to the Jewish world.

“If the Western world views itself through the lens of the modern Jewish experience, it is in large measure due to the novels, novellas and short stories of Philip Roth,” wrote David Roskies, a JTS Jewish literature professor, in a note to the class of 2014.

He added that Roth “has done more than anyone to further the literary exploration of the Holocaust, in his own writings, and by promoting great works and writers throughout the world.”

At the JTS commencement, the honorary doctorate recipients received their hoods, tribute to their various services to the Jewish people: Ruth Calderon, Knesset member and Talmud teacher; Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor and former president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; and Stanley Fischer, former governor of the Bank of Israel.

When Roth was given his hood, he received a sustained standing ovation.

And at the ceremony’s end, Roth walked off stage in the final procession, bareheaded among the kippah-clad crowd.

Wolpe Vows he will no longer address issue of ethnic percentages

Rabbi David Wolpe pledged in a sermon during Shabbat services at Sinai Temple on May 17 that he would no longer address the question of how many members of the congregation are Ashkenazi or Iranian or any other ethnicity. 

“We are 100 percent Jewish,” the Sinai Temple leader said during a heartfelt 20-minute sermon intended to extinguish a firestorm that had erupted during the previous week.

Wolpe’s remarks came in response to community reaction to an advertisement for Sinai Akiba Academy, the synagogue’s day school, that ran in the May 9 edition of the Jewish Journal. The ad included the headline: “ ‘Too Persian.’ Looks awful in print? It sounds worse in a whisper.” It also included a picture of five smiling children and went on to say, “We’re proud of our diversity.”

The wording of the headline set off a wave of angry conversations, phone calls and letters of protest to the temple’s staff, as well as some supportive responses. The result, Wolpe said, “has probably exceeded any other controversy that I’m aware of, that I’ve been involved with at the synagogue, and I’ve been involved in a few.”

The advertisement was targeting prospective school families, Sarah Shulkind, the head of school, said. “I’m not saying this as a hyperbole,” Shulkind said in an interview. “On every single tour I’ve given … at the end of the tour, someone will say, ‘One more question, can I ask you privately — I don’t mean to sound [rude], but is the school too Persian? What’s the ratio?’ Some variety of that question.” 

Sinai Akiba Academy has approximately 600 students, according to the Builders of Jewish Education website. Shulkind did not say how many are of Iranian heritage, but she said it is less than a majority.

Rabbi Lawrence Scheindlin, who retired in spring 2012 as head of school at Sinai Akiba, estimated the number to be somewhere around 30 percent as of 2012 — and growing.

The ad was apart of an ongoing campaign in the Journal addressing perceptions about the school. Previous ads have focused on technology, green space and more.

“The whole idea was to debunk the myth or the rumors of the school and to put out a proactive narrative about these topics,” Shulkind said.

 “Our Persian families have lots of other choices for Jewish education in L.A., just like our Israeli, Russian, South American, South African and Ashkenazi-at-large families,” the ad states. 

Shulkind acknowledged that the school, like many day schools, is facing decreased enrollment. She said, however, that was not the reason for the ads.

Wolpe and Shulkind both said in interviews that they had spent the better part of the week following the ad’s appearance meeting with concerned community members — both Ashkenazi and Iranian, according to Wolpe. 

Candice Daneshvar Amini, 29 and of Iranian heritage, was among those who met, along with her mother, with both Sinai leaders. The school alumnus and current synagogue member criticized the ad, calling it “one-dimensional.” But, she said, the meeting with Sinai leaders addressed her concerns.

“I think we got the sense that they understood — we told them our side of the story, and they are very appreciative of hearing what we have to say,” she said.

Wolpe said he was not involved with writing the ad but had a role in approving it. Its creation was a lengthy process, he said.

“We had vetted it with a quite a number of people who, in the end, thought it would be helpful and encourage conversation,” Wolpe said by phone.

Not everyone had negative opinions about the ad, however. Scheindlin said that publishing it was courageous. 

“There are many people who really value and delight in that diversity, and there are people, as the ad suggests, who seem to have some difficulty with that,” he said. “And the ad did a brilliant job of calling that out and saying diversity is a wonderful thing.”

Perhaps just raising the issue was bound to cause controversy, Iranian author and Jewish Journal columnist Gina Nahai said. 

“An ad like this, no matter how expertly worded, I don’t think it could have avoided hard feelings on one side or the other,” Nahai said, because it raises the real and important issue of division among Ashkenazi and Iranian Jews. 

 “The issue is that we have this problem in this city, and it has gotten worse in the last 35 years, not better,” she said.

Wolpe agreed, saying that he hopes this situation creates an opportunity for dialogue on the divisiveness, to invite healing.

“I want to turn it from a blight into a blessing, and that’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of love,” Wolpe told the Journal.

Where Wolpe and Nahai disagree is on the question of whether there has been progress already in the community. Wolpe, who has served at Sinai Temple for 18 years, believes there has been. 

“I think one of the reasons that the ad was so wounding is because it’s gotten so much better,” he said.

He told the Journal he was troubled by how many people it had offended.

“Had I for a moment realized it would have been offensive to people who I care about very deeply, I never would have allowed it to run,” he said. 

When he spoke to the congregation, Wolpe was visibly emotional. He spoke of how congregants had expressed concern about his own health — Wolpe suffered a brain tumor in 2009 — and how he has felt deeply connected to the congregation through his 18 years of service. During the sermon, he said that he would no longer play the “stupid percentage game” of answering how many Ashkenazi and Iranian members his synagogue has when people ask him about it, and he asked the congregation to pledge to do the same.

His words won a standing ovation. 

Norman Pell, 91, is a longtime member of the community. Walking to the synagogue’s parking garage after services, he said Wolpe’s sermon had sent the right message.

And he emphasized that Sinai is a home that does not distinguish between Ashkenazi and Iranian Jews.

“It is one of the greatest communities. It is all-inclusive; there is no differentiation in terms of my life, and I am very active — I go to the community every morning, and there are, as the rabbi said, Jewish people there,” he said. 

The language of pleading eyes: A Mother’s Day story

“The music of his life suddenly stopped.” So reads a line in Chaim Nachman Bialik’s powerful poem, “After My Death.” 

My mother’s music suddenly stopped 30 years ago, but she is still alive.

At the age of 53, Elaine Wolpe, a university administrator, fundraiser and — most taxing — mother of four boys, suffered a stroke, a cerebral hemorrhage. Since that time, she has been almost unable to speak.  

Before her stroke, my mother was the emotional center of a voluble and intellectual family. A president of the local Hadassah, active in a variety of community events, a rebbetzin in a large synagogue, her most adroit diplomacy was mealtime management. At our table, especially when we had others over to dinner, we (the four boys and my moderating father) would quip, argue, try to outdo each other, make heroic efforts to make the others laugh (special points if their mouths were full), and my mother would remind us to be kind to the hapless guests. Trained as a teacher, she taught each of us to read when we were small, and she made our dinner herself, despite volunteer commitments, every single night.  

This is not to say she was never sharp-tongued herself. Once my older brother Paul brought a girlfriend home from college. In the middle of dinner, he reminded my mother that she had promised to get him an electric blanket for the cold Philadelphia winter nights. Arching her eyebrow (my mother had eloquent eyebrows) she looked at my brother’s girlfriend and asked, “Do you want dual controls on that?”

I was in rabbinical school when everything changed. My mother screamed out my father’s name, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. She spent weeks in a coma, then awoke. After an extended vigil in intensive care, she was periodically alert.  Her right side was immobile, and although she could make sounds, she could not really speak. It was as if her spirit was in there, trying to emerge, yet unable to force its way through. Her soul kept bumping up against walls it could not see, like a firefly in a glass jar. 

In time, we brought her home. Progress was slow. There were other effects of her stroke: emotionality that resulted in tremendous rage; the bewilderment of being betrayed by her own body. But those agonies were small compared to her inability to explain what she felt, to give voice to what was going on inside. Expressive aphasia impairs or destroys the ability to speak and process language. Syntax is garbled, the wrong words present themselves, simple expressions are mislaid in the mind and cannot be retrieved.

Occasionally, a word would emerge to explain the horror of her condition. Early on, after a good deal of struggle, she managed to pronounce something she had been trying to say for some time: “Prison.” She repeated it again and again with a sort of mantric regularity. Prison. Prison. Prison. 

Prison alternated with a nonsense word, a common symptom among victims of expressive aphasia. For almost a year, “kisskove” served as the catch-all for anything she wished to say. In moments of tenderness or fury, when words are just whips we use to lash or the cords we use to draw close, kisskove served as well as any other.

From left:  Gerald; Elaine, holding baby Danny, Paul; Steve; and David in a Wolpe family portrait. circa 1965.

Realizing at times just how wearying it could be on everyone to hear the same sound, my mother herself would make fun of it, raising and lowering her voice, wringing a few laughs from a situation at once tragic and absolutely ludicrous.  Gradually, over time, the word became less frequent, and then disappeared altogether.

Isolation became etched into my mother’s expression. Surrounded by those she loved, she was alone.  Hers is the language of pleading eyes. So often, we simply could not understand. The words of Rabbi Hama Ben Hanina in the Talmud proved apt: “God’s gift of the power of speech was as important as the creation of the world.” 

Decades have passed since the moment my mother’s words were stolen from her. Five years ago, my father died.  Not only did we all lose a wonderful, warm and eloquent man, but my mother lost the one who could give voice to her memories. My father knew more and shared more than anyone else; although he was frequently wrong, he was the likeliest to guess correctly what she intended to say. When he left, she not only lost her life mate, but her conduit to the world.  

Where is the mother’s voice in our history? In the Torah, we have moments when we hear the voices of our matriarchs and of Hannah and Naomi. But those moments are few; the voices of our female ancestors have been largely lost to us because their insights and ideas were not written down as were those of prominent men. Mothers determined much of our history in the way they raised children and in the influence they had on their husbands and communities, yet all too little was recorded of their teachings. The great Baruch Epstein, author of “Torah Temimah,” writes of his mother’s frustration in being barred from learning and teaching Torah. I have experienced the voice of my own mother disappearing, not through neglect or bias, but from tragedy.

The ability to follow a conversation, to read, to form clear opinions — all of these abilities were victims of my mother’s stroke as well.  Sometimes, even today, my mother is sharp as can be, nodding in agreement to a point, or vigorously disagreeing with a “No!” At other times, she cannot follow what is happening and lapses into resigned silence.

When I am with her, I recount what she has done for me in the past. In my mind, as in the memory of my brothers, my mother still stands, eyes covered, illuminated by Shabbat candles. She is spreading a white tablecloth, carrying a plate.  She is laboring over the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. My mother is the one who tried to get four boys to dress for synagogue (my father, the rabbi, left early to lead the service), and somehow got us there. 

Not always easy. Once, sitting next to her in synagogue, I saw on her face a look of amused despair. “What?” I asked. “Look down,” she said. I looked at my shoes. “I understand wearing two different socks, but David, this is the first time I have seen someone wear two different shoes!” One was black and one was brown. I weakly protested that I got dressed when it was barely light out. She, um, didn’t buy it.

Elaine Wolpe, March 2014.

Once, when I was in high school, I asked her if she deprived herself of anything for us. She pointed to my oldest brother, “This is my fur coat.” My second brother, “Here are my diamonds.” To me, “You are my precious gems.” And my younger brother, “And this is my fancy car.” She instructed us that she was so tired of hearing “Mom” all day long, that after 6 p.m., we were to call her “Matilda.”

My brothers and I all have memories of sitting next to her in synagogue, playing with her jewelry, asking for candy to keep us quiet, sitting at attention when my father spoke. My mother was very solicitous of my father’s dignity. If someone whispered while he was speaking, they had to endure a glare that would derail a freight train. Dress inappropriately, run in shul or fail to honor the rabbi and you would endure the full — and considerable — weight of my mother’s disdain. 

Each year, as Mother’s Day approaches, my brothers and I think anew about all she once was, and how much we lost when she was so grievously diminished. But certain moments remind us that the stroke did not steal her soul.

A few years ago, after my father died, the four of us gathered in Philadelphia for her birthday. We took my mother out to dinner in a local restaurant. After the meal, my brothers and I pulled out our credit cards. My mother looked at us with scorn, and loudly said, “No!”

We were shocked. Surely she didn’t think that we would let her pay for us? Dutifully, we put our cards away. She looked at us again, and crowed triumphantly, “Dessert!”

The Talmud speaks of honoring parents as the most difficult mitzvah. It can be burdensome; as comedian Roseanne Barr memorably reminded us, parents can push our buttons because they installed them. Some find it challenging, because parents can be unkind, heedlessly invasive, bruising in one way or another to their children. But it is also difficult to be near the sadness at the end of life, to share in the grief of a parent unable to fend for herself, a parent whose pain is palpable at each moment, in each look, with every unspoken word.

I could cry when I realize how hazy my memories have become of her speaking. Still, without speech, a lot of extraneous communication is burned away. My mother cannot relate many of the specifics of her day, and she grasps and remembers only a bit of what we tell her of ours. For all the essential tragedy of the second half of her life, however, she has given us the blessings of a Jewish mother — worried, warm, involved, emotionally intense, filled with expectations and standards and fire and dreams.  

And in return, through the quiet and pain of her life, her children and grandchildren never fail to tell her how much we love her.

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.

Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live to undergo change

Rabbi David Wolpe and Craig Taubman announced on April 11 that they will no longer be leading Sinai Temple’s highly popular and influential Friday Night Live services after June 13.

“I’m old, and he’s tired … the time has come for younger and spryer folk,” Wolpe said at the most recent Friday Night Live, standing on the Sinai bimah alongside musician and producer Taubman.

The “younger and spryer folk” he was referring to will be Rabbis Nicole Guzik and Jason Fruithandler, who are set to succeed the founders this summer.

In a recent interview, Taubman agreed that age had been a factor in the pair’s decision to call it quits from the monthly musical service that he and Wolpe have been co-leading for more than 15 years.

“It’s no longer a young professionals service, but you know, it falls under the rubric of Atid, the young professionals program [at Sinai],” Taubman said. “Rabbi Wolpe and my demographic is clearly not 29-year-olds. … Both David and I reached the conclusion that it was time to pass it on to other people.” 

When the duo created Friday Night Live in 1998, Wolpe (now 55) and Taubman (now 56) were in their late 30s. Wolpe had approached Taubman with the idea of a concise, Friday night service that would integrate instrumental music and serve young professionals — although it expanded several years ago to include people up to age 40.

The rabbi’s goal was to create an experiential take on the Friday night service, to make prayer relevant for an often-apathetic community. It would do so by offering a concert experience with unique, melodic interpretations of traditional prayers, special guests, a short sermon and a social component — a singles event for young professionals at the end of every service.

It worked. Friday Night Live, since its inception, has inspired legions of synagogues across the country to rethink approaches to Friday night services, according to a 2009 Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies essay by Rabbi Laurie Matzkin as part of her thesis. 

Attendance at Sinai’s Friday Night Live grew exponentially over the years. It reached its peak around 2005, when it drew close to 1,500 attendees each month — a dramatic increase from the 300 people who attended the inaugural one.

Two Wolpe- and Taubman-led Friday Night Live services remain.