Shalom Leases

An announcement last week by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that it will not renew leases for its West San Fernando Valley properties will have an impact on two Jewish institutions: Kadima Hebrew Academy and the Rabbi Max D. Raiskin West Valley Hebrew Academy.

However, the announcement, which first appeared in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 9, may not be the last word on the subject, according to LAUSD spokeswoman Stephanie Brady.

"The Times article may have been premature," Brady said. "The closed-school policy for the district remains under review. There should be a recommendation to the Board of Education within the next month."

Although Kadima Hebrew Academy has only been a resident for 10 years, it seems that it has always been a fixture on the green and busy corner of Shoup Avenue and Collins Street in Woodland Hills. However, the reported decision by LAUSD to not renew its lease, which ends in July 2002, means that while the school will continue to exist, its address for next fall is yet to be determined.

Fortunately, the district’s decision was not unexpected. In September, Kadima’s administrator, Barbara Gereboff, and its president, Cheri Mayman, sent out a letter to parents alerting them that, "for a variety of reasons, LAUSD has decided not to lease its Valley schools beginning in Fall of 2002, which happens to coincide with the end of our 10-year lease." The letter noted that the school’s board of directors is seeking a permanent site for the future, as well as a temporary site for the next school year. A later letter, mailed in December, informed parents that a new site had been found but that the location would remain confidential in order to avoid a potential fight with neighbors over the required conditional-use permit.

"We’re moving ahead on another property, although we’re still unsure of the outcome for this property," Gereboff said, adding that Kadima had made a prior offer on the site several years ago but it was declined.

Until it is able to ascertain LAUSD’s intentions regarding the site, Kadima’s board continues its preparations for a possible move, including fundraising. Already, the school has a commitment from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a $50,000 grant to use toward new development, and officials are also looking into applying for a loan through the Avi Chai Foundation, which provides funding to Jewish day schools throughout the country.

Kadima, a Solomon Schechter day school affiliated with the Conservative Movement, was founded in 1970 and has since built a reputation for incorporating a solid Hebrew language and Judaic-studies curriculum within the framework of a secular education. The school is also known for attracting students from a wide spectrum of the Jewish immigrant community, a factor which Gereboff regards as one of its greatest strengths.

"We want our kids to be proud of their diverse backgrounds and even rewrote our mission statement to reflect that," she said. "It’s a part of what makes our school unique."

With enrollment at 300 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, Gereboff said she anticipates continued growth, particularly for the middle school, which feeds into the new Milken Community High School currently in its first year at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy, also a kindergarten to eighth-grade school, has experienced similar growth in the past year, although at 150 students, it faces fewer challenges to moving from its present location on Oso Avenue. The school is affiliated with Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills, which owns a large piece of property on Fallbrook Avenue that is already zoned and licensed for a day school although it still needs a city permit for any expansion, said Alan Shapiro, the congregation’s president.

"We do already utilize our campus on Fallbrook; we’re just going to have to use it more," Shapiro said, adding that school officials have been prepared for an announcement of this sort. "We all have leases and [LAUSD] made it clear that the lease was for 10 years and never promised to renew, although there’s always the hope and the thought they would."

Shapiro said West Valley actually has a little more time than Kadima, because the former’s lease expires in 2003.

"We would appreciate an extension of the lease because it would give us more time [to raise funds] for the expansion," Shapiro said. "Especially because of Sept. 11, which set back our fundraising campaign for the new campus by about a year."

Shapiro anticipates the eventual move will be a positive one for several reasons, among them a higher profile in the community and greater security for the school itself.

The West Valley Hebrew Academy is run by Rabbi Zvi Block, founder of the Aish HaTorah Institute (now named Beis Midrash Toras HaShem) in North Hollywood.

The Settlers of Golan

Emotions ranging from hope to uncertainty to anger fill the 16,000 Golan Heights residents as their fate is again the topic of Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

Negotiations resumed Wednesday in Washington, and residents here know that the price for peace with Syria is likely to be the return of all or most of the Golan, the strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

“We are praying for peace — a peace with the Golan,” says Sammy Bar-Lev, head of the regional council of Katzrin, the Golan’s largest town, with 6,500 residents.

Bar-Lev, a 30-year resident of the Golan, talks of years of uncertainty as successive governments debated the territory’s fate. He is sure that the Israeli public will reject any agreement with Hafez Assad, Syria’s president, that involves the return of the Golan.

In part, the moderation reflects the differences between Golan settlers and their counterparts in the West Bank, which include those who are vehemently opposed to any Israeli withdrawal from those areas.

For West Bank settlers, life has been a constant struggle against the indigenous Palestinian population who accuse Israel of stealing their land, yet the Golan’s land was virtually uninhabited when Israel entered, aside from a few Druze villages.

In addition, while most West Bank settlers are driven by a religious-nationalist ideology, many Golan settlers are left-leaning. They moved to the Golan either to bolster Israel’s security or to improve their quality of life in 32 small towns peppered throughout the eerie but breathtaking landscape of brown, scorched earth and volcanic rock formations.

“This is like a small city, but we still have the mountain air,” says Leah Ravid, 37. In this year’s elections, Ravid voted for Barak, as did more than 57 percent of Golan electorate. She also voted for the Third Way Party, which campaigned on a single issue — keeping the Golan — and failed to win enough votes to return to the Knesset.

In 1978, Ravid became one of the founding members of Katzrin, and her first marriage was also the first Jewish marriage in the Golan Heights. She later lived in the United States between 1982 and 1994, returning to Katzrin with her second husband, Avishai, to open a small gift shop at the local shopping center.

“I am worried because I do not want to live in Tel Aviv and I do not want to move back to New York,” Leah Ravid says. If the government decides to evacuate the Golan, Ravid may petition or protest, but in the end, will leave peacefully.

Her husband, Avishai, is even more willing to leave for peace with Syria. He also challenges the traditional Israeli security doctrine that deems the Golan — overlooking the kibbutzim along the Sea of Galilee to the west and the Syrian lowlands to the east — to be essential for Israel’s security.

“Israel is no longer a country of heroes and Syria does not need to send soldiers to make war — they can send missiles — so a mile here or there does not matter,” he says. “The secret for security is peace.”

He is also convinced that many Golan residents quietly agree with this position. “Under the table, all everyone is waiting for is compensation,” he says.

Compensation will not help the Golan Heights Winery, the most well-known industry on the Golan. Established in 1983 on the outskirts of Katzrin, the winery now produces 3.6 million bottles a year, and generated revenues of $15 million in 1998, including $3 million in exports. Its labels have won dozens of medals at international wine competitions. The secret to success, says Adam Montefiore, the company’s international marketing manager, is Golan grapes.

“The high altitude and the soil makes this a unique vineyard area,” says Montefiore. “To leave the Golan would be a disaster for the Israeli wine industry.”

Although the winery steers clear of political campaigning, it does have a message for the policymakers.

“It is up to the politicians to be creative enough to come up with a solution that will allow us to continue,” he says. “You do not need a flag to grow grapes.”

Back in Katzrin, workers at the Golan Residents Committee have just finished toasting the New Year over a couple of bottles of local white wine. In recent years, the organization has led a sporadically vociferous campaign against returning the Golan, and they are gearing up for another battle.

“We have to work on Israeli public opinion to show that returning the Golan would be a total disaster,” says Avi Zeira, outgoing chairman of the group, presenting the traditional Israeli position against trading the Golan for peace with Syria.

It would, he says, endanger Israel’s security to relinquish its strategic foothold overlooking the Syrian frontier while at the same time, Syria remains a sponsor of terrorist groups and does not really seek normalization with Israel.

Zeira also cites monthly polls by Peace Watch, conducted at the Tel Aviv University, which consistently show that less than 30 percent of Israelis currently back a withdrawal for peace.

Instead, the cash-strapped group is focusing on lobbying policymakers. It is also reviving a fund-raising drive this month in the Diaspora from offices in New York and Los Angeles. Between 1992 and 1996, the committee raised about $1 million a year in the United States, which made up the lion’s share of its budget.

Yigal Kipnis has no budget to get his message out. From his leafy home in Ma’aleh Gamla, a moshav on the western slopes of the Golan overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Kipnis, a farmer by day, has been coordinating a small peace movement of Golan settlers to counter the Residents Board since late 1995.

“Peace with Syria is a vital interest of the State of Israel,” Kipnis says. “I would be very happy if we could make peace without leaving the Golan, but we will accept with understanding an agreement that includes returning the Heights.”

His group does not actively demonstrate, but Kipnis —who first came to the Golan in 1978 — says that in small meetings he finds more and more residents signing on to his message.

Israel, he says, conquered the Golan for two reasons: to provide a security buffer to the northern settlements from Syrian aggression and to ensure Israel’s water interests. The Golan’s streams are the source of about 30 percent of Israel’s water.

If Israel can achieve these same two goals with a peace treaty, argues Kipnis, then why should the settlements remain?

“This is a Garden of Eden that we have never had, but a treaty with Syria will not be decided by our personal interests,” he says. “The only reason the settlements are here is because Israel believed that peace with Syria was an impossibility. All of Israel’s leaders realize this is no longer true.”

Meanwhile, like other Golan residents, Kipnis is continuing with his daily routine despite the uncertainty. As if hoping against all odds for a future unlikely to arrive, Kipnis has just planted 52 acres of mango trees that will yield fruit in only four years.