A Chanukah in the ‘People’s House’

The invitation to the White House was completely unexpected. It arrived in a caligraphied envelope, with a Chanukah stamp in the corner and a menorah showing through.

A Chanukah card, I thought, but I was wrong. There was a gold presidential seal at the top of the card and a few lines of black engraving: "President and Mrs. Bush request the pleasure of your company at a Hanukah reception to be held at the White House. Six o’clock. Wednesday, December 6. East Entrance."

Not bad from a man whom most of my friends thought I was crazy to vote for, because he was a member of the "religious right." (Then again, as it turns out, so am I.)

My wife and I spent most of the day speculating as to what the event would be like. How long would it last? Would President Bush’s involvement be perfunctory or meaningful?

After all, the most powerful man in the world has better things to do than stand around and eat latkes all night. I have learned that if you don’t expect too much in life, you will never be disappointed.

We arrived at the White House gate a little early and were immediately admitted (this president is noted for his punctuality). We walked down a grand hallway.

Coming around the next corner we heard a high school choir singing Chanukah songs next to a large, illuminated antique menorah that came from Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia.

Moving up the stairs, we found ourselves literally in the center of the White House, in a grand foyer. The walls were adorned with portraits of past presidents; a military orchestra was playing festive music, and already 100-200 guests were milling about in their finest party clothes.

To the right, was a grand hall that turned out to be the State Dining Room. This was where the kosher table was set up — a full bar (the wine was Hagafen) and an assortment of food. The mirror image room to the left was the East Room, which contained the nonkosher — though not overtly treif — spread of food.

By this time, a fairly lengthy receiving line was already forming in the East Room, as people waited for a chance to meet the president and first lady. We recognized and chatted with several other Los Angeles residents, including several prominent rabbis of all denominations: Marvin Hier, Abraham Cooper, Steven Weil and Mark Diamond.

When our turn finally came, one of the military ushers formally announced our name and escorted us to the president and first lady. We exchanged cheek kisses between the mutual spouses and chatted for a minute or two both before and after our photo was taken.

We spoke briefly about our children, and if the president didn’t actually remember them ("you have a beautiful family, if I recall"), then he certainly pretended to very well. We thanked both the president and first lady for all they were doing for us and for having us to their house.

"This is the people’s house," the president replied.

Following this exchange, we had dinner and visited with some of the guests and luminaries in attendance. Ben Stein was there, as were Sen. Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) and Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council. We also had a chance to speak at length with Josh Bolton, deputy White House chief of staff (Jewish), and briefly with Andrew Card, White House chief of staff (not Jewish).

At around 8:30 p.m., after the Bushes finished receiving their guests, they emerged one last time, personally thanked orchestra members, waved a final goodbye to the crowd and ascended the stairs to the private residence. Remarkable, I thought, for a man who reportedly rises every day at 5 a.m.

What came to mind was the Passover refrain Dayenu, it would have been enough. It would have been enough if we had just received the engraved invitation; it would have been enough if several hundred Jews had just taken over the White House for a Chanukah party that night; it would have been enough if they had set up a nonkosher table in the East Room and a kosher table in the State Dining Room.

It would have been enough if the president had just lit the menorah in the private residence with a few friends in attendance (notably, he is the first president ever to have done this — last year); it would have been enough if the president had just come down and mingled a bit, made a speech and then gone upstairs to relax.

But no, instead, the most powerful man on the planet spent well over two and one-half hours standing on his feet and greeting each and every guest personally.

So my friends, when you count your blessings this Chanukah season take heart in two things: Not only do we Jews have a great friend in the White House, but we have a real mensch there as well.

Dr. Joel Geiderman is co-chair of the emergency medicine department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.

The Circuit

Say Halo to Samueli

Nearly 600 guests were onhand as philanthropist Susan Samueli was honored at the John Wayne Cancer Institute (JWCI) Auxiliary’s annual membership luncheon, held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on Oct 23 during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Samueli received the auxiliary’s Angel Award, an annual acknowledgment of women who have made significant contributions to the community and who serve as positive role models.

Samueli and her husband, Henry, established The Samueli Foundation, of which she is president, to give back to the community. The foundation has been a supporter of the institute for many years. Samueli was introduced to JWCI by her late cousin, Juels Eisenberg, whose wife, Ilene, along with Toni Parnell and Lynn Goldstein, co-chaired the luncheon.

Samueli, who holds a doctorate in nutrition, has a long-standing interest in alternative health care, having studied and practiced the application of homeopathic remedies and Chinese herbs in the treatment of chronic and acute illnesses. With a gift of $5.7 million, the Samuelis established the Susan Samueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at UC Irvine in 2000 as an academic center focused on scientific research and education. She has supported many other organizations and causes, including the Orangewood Child Foundation and Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo.

The Angel Award and a $100,000 post-doctoral fellowship in breast cancer research were created in memory of Ellen Cooperman, an auxiliary co-founder.

The afternoon included a fashion show by Escada with the premiere of the Spring/Summer 2003 collection and a display of the Escada Diamond Jewelry Collection. The luncheon also included a presentation by Ina Lewis, auxiliary president, of a check for $1.11 million to Dr. Donald Morton medical director and surgeon-in-chief of the JWCI, for the funds raised in the last year by the auxiliary.

Established by the family of the late actor, John Wayne, who died of cancer in 1979, the Santa Monica-based JWCI is home to the country’s largest melanoma center, the largest cancer immunotherapy program in the world and the renowned Joyce Eisenberg Keefer Breast Center. JWCI has received worldwide acclaim for advances in understanding the disease, focusing on melanoma, breast, lung, colon, pancreatic and liver cancer, as well as lymphoma and leukemia.

The auxiliary, JWCI’s largest fundraising group, has raised more than $11 million for the institute since its formation in 1983. — Rachel Brand, Contributing Writer

[CAPTION:] John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary Membership Luncheon co-chairs Toni Parnell and Ilene Eisenberg, left and second from left, and Lynn Goldstein, right, with honoree Susan Samueli, second from right. Photo by Lee Salem Photography

Mission: Accomplished

On Oct. 26, 58 leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community returned from Israel, where they participated in a six-day leadership mission coordinated by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The goals of the mission were to educate leaders about the impact of the intifada on Israel’s economy and daily services, to understand Israel’s security issues, to appreciate Israel’s strength in facing its current difficulties and to understand the role that Angelenos play and the impact of their dollars. The group met with former Foreign Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer the day after he announced his resignation, just before the Labor Party pulled out of Sharon’s unity government. The mission was packed with high-level briefings and visits to programs funded by United Jewish Fund and Jews in Crisis dollars.

Federation Chair Jake Farber, led the mission, assisted by Sharon Janks and Arthur and Mady Jablon. Participants included members of the Federation board of directors, activists in The Federation’s Israel & Overseas Committee, synagogue lay leadership and Rabbis Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Jonathan Bernhard of Adat Ari El, Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah, Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Daniel Korobkin of Yavneh Hebrew Academy, and Stuart Vogel of Temple Aliyah. This group was joined later in the week by an additional 16 leaders, members of the Los Angeles Steering Committee of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, who came to Tel Aviv for the semiannual Partnership Joint Steering Committee meetings.

‘1: Cheri Morgan, 2003 campaign chair of The Jewish Federation, dances with a recovering soldier at a rehabilitation facility for wounded veterans funded through Jews in Crisis dollars. Photo by Douglas Guthrie

‘2: Participants of The Jewish Federation Leadership Mission visit a military base to observe the completion of training exercises for Pups for Peace bomb sniffing dogs started in Los Angeles and funded by the Jews in Crisis campaign. Photo by Douglas Guthrie

‘3: Jake Farber, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles chair, with wife, Janet, visit with a student at Nitzanim, a high school in Israel twinned with Adat Ari El Day School through the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership. Photo by Douglas Guthrie

All in the Family

Medor L’dor (from generation to generation) was the motif when two Sephardic organizations united for a special event to bring the generations closer. Sephardic Tradition and Recreation (S.T.A.R.), a local Jewish youth organization for children 7-15, and The Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging (LASHA), launched the “Family Day At The Ranch” event Oct. 27 in Ventura County. The goal was to promote the important work of LASHA at the Jewish Home for the Aging to a younger audience and to recruit new members.

More than 400 participants enjoyed activities such as horse back riding, face painting, hayrides, line dancing with a country DJ, pumpkin painting, mini-rodeo exhibition, marshmallow roasts and rock climbing. Larry Clumeck, president of LASHA, and Rabbi Brad Schachter, executive director of S.T.A.R., spoke about caring for the needs of children and the elderly. Hyman Jebb Levy, S.T.A.R.’s founder and president, thanked all the volunteers and sponsors who made the event possible. A d’var Torah, delivered by S.T.A.R. board memberRabbi Chaim Hisiger on the beauty of the animal kingdom, closed the event.

To find out more about S.T.A.R. programs, call (818) 782-7359 or visit www.LASTAR.org .

Open House

The House of Returns, the new Beit T’Shuvah thrift shop, celebrated its grand opening on Oct. 24.

The House of Returns features ceramics, crystal, furniture, collectibles, and clothing, including designer labels such as Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent.

Store manager Liana Chaouli works with each customer to create a high fashion wardrobe for resale prices with proceeds supporting addiction treatment and prevention center at Beit T’Shuvah, which serves more than 500 residents and 2,500 community members every year. The shop gives residents of Beit T’Shuvah a professional environment to gain work experience and basic career skills.

The House of Returns is located at 10409 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Call (310) 204-4669 to schedule a pick-up, provide leads on new merchandise donations or to become a House of Returns volunteer.

PHOTO CREDIT: Todd Wallace.

A Fresh Start

Em Habanim, a Sephardic synagogue in West Hills, was renamed Beit HaLevy on Oct. 20. The shul’s founders decided to rededicate the synagogue in honor of Lori Levy, daughter of philanthropist Hyman Jebb Levy, who died of a malignant melanoma in March 2001 at the age of 44.

More than 150 people attended the ceremony, during which Rabbis Jacob Ott and Daniel Bouskilla of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel eulogized Lori Levy. Ott called her a “woman of deep courage.”

Levy said he was at first reluctant to accept the honor, but felt it was what his daughter would have wanted.

“This is what Lori was, what this synagogue stands for,” he said. “She hated prejudice. She was always ready to do things for people, to reach out and help them where they wouldn’t know she was involved.”

Beit HaLevy is located at 7533 Fallbrook Ave. For information, call (818) 710-8878. — Wendy Madnick, Contributing Writer

We Have a Winner!

Teacher Sara Yoseph of Atid Hebrew Academy in West Covina has won the 2002 Jewish Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation. The award was presented to Yoseph in a surprise ceremony at Atid’s West Covina campus. She and other award recipients will be honored at a formal luncheon on Dec. 12 in Santa Monica.

“It’s a wonderful surprise,” said Yoseph, who has spent a decade teaching Torah and Hebrew to children from kindergarten through sixth grade.

“She’s a brilliant teacher, I couldn’t be more proud,” said Atid principal Eda Segal, “and the kids’ reaction was out of this world!” With the award came a check for $10,000 dollars, presented by Richard Sandler, executive vice-president of the Milken Family Foundation. Also in attendance: Milken Foundation chair Lowell Milken and Dr. Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education.

B’nai B’rith’s B-Day Picnic

B’nai B’rith Shalom Unit celebrated B’nai B’rith International’s 159th anniversary at a Brentwood park. The event, organized by Shalom Unit’s leader Sarit Finkelstein-Boim, featured Mediterranean-style picnic fare for the families in attendance. Drora Regev conducted arts and crafts activities for the children and a caricature artist was onhand to draw attendees.

(From left) Nava Marmur and Sarit Finkelstein-Boim, president of B’nai B’rith Shalom Unit.

Hope Takes a Walk

City of Hope’s 2002 Annual Walk of Hope to Cure Breast Cancer enlisted more than 6,500 participants and raised more than $600,000 for the Duarte hospital and research campus. Celebrities in attendance included NBC anchor Chuck Henry; actress Kathryn Joosten of “The West Wing”; actor Jim Turner of “Arli$$”; and “Survivor: Marquesas” winner Vercepia Towery. For more information, visit www.cityofhope.org.

Barking Up The Right Tree

Israel Humanitarian Foundation will hold a cocktail/dairy hors d’oeuvres reception for Yonathan Peres, staff veterinarian and development director of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, at the Luxe Summit Hotel Bel Air. Peres is the son of Israel’s former minister of Foreign Affairs, Shimon Peres. Luxe Summit CEO Efrem Harkham will host.

For more information, call (310) 556-8358.

Posin’ for “The Chosen”

The West Coast Jewish Theatre (WCJT) held a gala event at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica, where the nonprofit Jewish Theatre’s production of Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” ran for 29 performances.

PHOTO: (From left) Dr. Judith Marlane, WCJT President Leslie Martinson, Connie Martinson, Ruth Low, Theodore Bikel, WCJT founder Naomi Jacobs and Los Angeles Repertory Company director David Ellenstein. Photo by Orly Halevy

Israeli President to Visit Southland

President Moshe Katzav, Israel’s eighth head of state, will visit Los Angeles June 4-6 and meet with community leaders, civic officials, and members of the local Iranian Jewish community.

(Attendance is by invitation only, except for the World Affairs Council address.)

Mon., June 4: Evening reception hosted at a Westside hotel by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel.

Tues., June 5: Breakfast and visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, and meeting with former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Wed., June 6: Morning reception at Mayor Richard Riordan’s residence. Ceremony designating the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between San Vicente Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue as Israel-Los Angeles Friendship Plaza. Students from Jewish and public schools will participate. Luncheon address before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. For reservations (members $45, guests $55) phone (213) 628-2333, or e-mail reservations@lawac.org.

In the evening, the Iranian American Jewish Federation and other organizations will host a reception at Temple Beth El in West Hollywood.

Katzav will also meet with the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times and the Spanish-language La Opinion.

Kosher Catering

The enthusiasm that greeted the nomination of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the Demo-cratic vice-presidential candidate was fully shared by Errol Fine.

Fine is the owner of Pat’s Restaurant in West Los Angeles, one of the city’s premier kosher establishments, which catered a number of parties and receptions honoring the Orthodox nominee.

The smallest party was a family affair of some 40 people at the Biltmore Hotel, featuring honey-glazed salmon and primavera salad with almonds and strawberries.

Another event for 150 people was held at a private home, while the largest order was for 300 guests at the Museum of Tolerance.

Fine, a native of South Africa, took the orders in stride, including delays while the Secret Service cased the delivery vans from stem to stern.

After all, he recalled, during the 1984 Olympic Games, Pat’s Restaurant had supplied kosher victuals for 3,000 people when The Jewish Federation threw a community-wide bash feting the Israeli team.

To the disappointment of local synagogues, Lieberman did not stay in Los Angeles over Shabbat. He left immediately at the close of the convention on Thursday to join running mate Al Gore on a steamship for a campaign swing along the Mississippi River.

Party Out of Bounds

More than 100 guests sat in a sea of round banquet tables in a Studio City hotel, munching on fancy appetizers presented by waiters. A band warmed up. Kids crowded entertainment stations waiting for artists to personalize clothing and paint their faces.

I had been invited to a 1-year-old’s birthday and was about to leave, convinced I’d accidentally entered a bar mitzvah reception. Then I saw David’s mom, parading the sleepy birthday boy around in her arms.

These days, over-the-top children’s birthday parties are not just for the rich and famous. Extravagant shindigs are becoming increasingly common. And while many adults have fond childhood memories of simple celebrations, today’s birthday party expectations have exploded — both for children and their parents. But how much is too much? And is this kind of extravagance harmful to children?

Stacey Parzik, owner of Parties By Stacey, has seen this trend developing since she started her party-planning business 13 years ago.

“When I first started the company, customers either rented a Moonbounce or a hired a clown. Now it’s both things and more,” said the Woodland Hills planner.

When a Westside mother, who asked not to be named, attended an elaborate birthday party in Beverly Hills with her 7-year-old daughter, she was stunned. Several actors dressed as storybook characters mingled with the young guests, while professional stylists worked on the young girls’ hair and makeup as if they were going to a Hollywood premiere. A handful of kids jumped around inside a Moonbounce, while others went through racks of clothes to find the perfect outfit to complement their makeovers and new hairdos.

“It was out of control,” the mother said.

While her daughter clearly enjoyed herself, the mother could tell her child was overwhelmed by it all.

Dana Shrager, a clinical psychotherapist in Century City, warns that such large parties can be intimidating to some children.

“Large crowds and elaborate stimulation can be overwhelming,” she said. “You want your child to enjoy the party.”

“If you expose a 4-, 5- or 6-year-old child to that degree of excess, you create wildly unrealistic expectations for them for the rest of their lives, which is a terribly irresponsible thing for a parent to do,” said Rabbi Steve Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and author of “More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul” (Bonus Books, 2004).

Leder remembers a time when modesty reigned. Growing up in Minnesota in the ’60s, he said the attitude was to remain slightly behind one’s peers.

“In one generation that ethic has been completely subverted,” he said. “Now the thought is to stay one step ahead of the neighbors.”

Leder partly attributes the problem to Jews marrying later in life, putting them in a better monetary position than the parents of young children just a generation ago. He said the mature parents often worry that their own parents won’t be around for their grandchildren’s weddings or bar mitzvahs, so they sometimes use these dynamics as excuses to overindulge during birthday parties.

“Parents will engage and correct when it comes to racist and sexist issues, but materialism is a different story,” Leder said. “Gross materialism is the last acceptable -ism in our culture.”

Since tzedakah (charity) is a sacred duty, Leder feels the excuses don’t justify the excess. Instead, Leder said, parents should confront such issues and use experiences with extravagance as an opportunity to teach their children about what is appropriate.

As for fears of negative comments getting back to party hosts? “I’m willing to take the risk in order to raise a menschy child,” Leder said.