September 24, 2018

Moving & Shaking: JWW Fundraiser, Big Brothers Golf Classic

Jewish World Watch (JWW) held its annual Global Soul fundraiser on May 8 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, raising funds and awareness for the organization’s work fighting mass atrocities and genocide.

The Encino-based nonprofit celebrated its 14th year since its founding by honoring Ben Reznik, an attorney, philanthropist and activist who is also the husband of JWW co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered a video address praising Reznik and JWW for their activism.

“My thanks to Jewish World Watch for your tireless efforts to build a world without genocide,” Garcetti said.

Officials and prominent community members in attendance included Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles Carlos Garcia de Alba; Los Angeles City Councilmembers David Ryu, Paul Koretz, Mike Bonin and Nury Martinez; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson; and Rabbis Mark Borovitz, Richard Camras, Noah Farkas, Ed Feinstein, Nina Feinstein, Arthur Gross-Schaefer, Chaim Seidler-Feller and Richard Spiegel, a JWW board member. Also present were Pastor Kasereka Kasomo of the African Christian Community Church of Southern California; attorney and activist Sam Yebri; Beit T’Shuvah founder Harriet Rossetto and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a JWW board member, presented the Global Soul honor to Reznik, recounting their days carpooling to Hebrew school together and their activism in the Soviet Jewry movement, calling Reznik “a tough lawyer” and a “mensch.”

“He’s got the courage of his intellect and his convictions,” Yaroslavsky said.

The open-air event featured traditional African music — a nod to the organization’s humanitarian work in Africa — as well as excerpts from the play “Sister Africa” by playwright Stephanie Liss, performed by actors Takesha Meshé Kizart and Christopher McLellan, based on testimonies from survivors of rape and mass atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The event also showcased JWW’s work with impacted communities in Syria, Myanmar, Chad, Sudan and Iraq. Reznik, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, said the work of JWW is necessary to ensure that the world does not remain silent in the face of mass atrocities as it did during the Holocaust.

“That is why this honor from this organization means so much to me,” Reznik said. “I can think of no more deserving cause to support with my heart, my soul and my wallet.”

Friends of Sheba Medical Center supporter Marilyn Ziering (left) and 2018 Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award recipient Dvorah Colker attend the Friends of Sheba Women of Achievement Luncheon. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center held its annual Women of Achievement Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on April 26, raising more than $350,000 to benefit Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer.

Drawing 450 attendeees, the event honored Judy Flesh Rosenberg with the Women of Achievement Award and Dvorah Colker with the Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award. Helene Boston and Parvin Djavaheri co-chaired. Lynn Ziman served as the honorary chair and Beverly Cohen as the vice chair.

Serving as the emcee, Israeli-American actress Moran Atias (“Tyrant”) highlighted Sheba Medical Center’s position at the forefront of the fight against cancer. Sheba patient Tamir Gilat discussed his battle against an aggressive form of cancer under the care of Sheba Medical Center, thanking Sheba’s remarkable staff for providing world-class treatment, hope and support to him and his entire family.

“We were very happy to welcome so many new friends to our community and together make a direct impact on cancer treatment worldwide,” Friends of Sheba Medical Center President Parham Zar said after the event.

Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer is the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East. It combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on one campus, and it is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, cutting-edge research and education. As a university teaching hospital affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, it welcomes people from all over the world. “

Esther Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Joey Behrstock, Bob Waldorf and Steve Miller turned out for the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles 23rd annual golf classic. Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers
Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) held its 23rd annual golf classic on April 23, honoring former camper and longtime supporter Bob Waldorf.

The tournament brought together more than 150 players and supporters at the Valencia Country Club.

The event raised $265,000, which will enable underserved children to attend the agency’s camp, Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, for free this summer.

The event’s lead sponsor, Gelt, Inc., was founded by Keith Wasserman. Wasserman and his wife, Gelena, are volunteers in the agency’s mentoring program.

JBBBSLA CEO Randy Schwab said he was thrilled with the community support of this year’s golf classic.

“Camp Bob Waldorf is more than a summer camp. Campers from all over Los Angeles attend dynamic and innovative programming year-round. From our social justice winter break camp to teen electives that help them explore their passions, all our programs focus on positively impacting our camper’s self-esteem and feeling of community,” Schwab said. “Most importantly, they get to have a break from the stressors of their home life and just be kids.”

Many of the campers that attend Camp Bob Waldorf face disadvantages like food insecurity, poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Through community support, campers receive partial or full financial aid.

“This annual event ensures that these vulnerable youth are able to experience the support, valuable life lessons and character-building skills that camp provides,” a JBBBSLA statement said.

Owned and operated by JBBBSLA, Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus is a nondenominational residential camp located on 112 acres in the Verdugo Mountains of Glendale. Since 1938, the camp has helped more than 60,000 underserved children, offering youth development activities for children as young as 9 and providing services to them through the age of 17 and beyond.

From left: Incoming Temple Beth Am President Avi Peretz, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Outgoing Beth Am President Susan Hetsroni enjoyed the Temple Beth Am groundbreaking gala.
Photo by Steve Cohn Photography.

Conservative congregation Temple Beth Am held its groundbreaking gala on May 6.

More than 350 people attended the evening event, which began with an outdoor reception and a “Passing the Shovel” ceremony, which recognized many in the community who have been involved in the congregation’s construction projects for nearly a decade.

The congregation will be renovating its historic sanctuary and building a new middle school facility that will provide innovative space for project-based learning and an enhanced STEAM (science, technology, engineering the arts and mathematics) curriculum.

The gala featured a dinner in the temple’s ballroom, where the congregation honored outgoing Education Vice President Karen Fried and President Susan Hetsroni for their passion and dedication to Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, the congregation and the broader Jewish community.

Fried’s successor is Jennifer Elad and Hetsroni’s successor is Avi Peretz.  The new officers begin their terms on July 1.

Attendees included L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, who praised Temple Beth Am for its work and the partnerships it has forged.

From left: Sinai Temple Gala co-chairs Ebi and Lida Simhaee, Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe, Gala Co-Chair Judy Flesh, Sinai Temple President Angela Maddahi and Gala Co-Chair Tom Flesh celebrated Wolpe’s 20 years of leadership during the Sinai Temple Gala. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple.

More than 720 Sinai Temple members and friends gathered to honor Sinai Temple Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe’s 20 years of leadership during the Sinai Temple Gala on May 6.

The themes of the evening were inclusion, acceptance and unity.

The Sinai Temple Gala not only celebrated Wolpe’s legacy of leadership and community building but also marked the official announcement of the naming of the Elaine and Gerald Wolpe Parenting Center of the Alice and Nahum Lainer School of Sinai Temple, in memory of Wolpe’s parents.

Accepting his award, Wolpe spoke words of admiration and appreciation for his parents, who, he said, shaped him into the inspirational, spiritual leader he is today.

Additional highlights of the program included a choir performance by Alice and Nahum Lainer School and Sinai Temple Religious School students, led by Cantors Marcus Feldman and Lisa Peicott; a musical performance by Craig Taubman; an invocation by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson; a video presentation highlighting the effects of Wolpe’s work and a ha-Motzi recitation, led by rabbis who have each touched Wolpe’s life over the years.

Emcee Rick Lieberman kept the program flowing and infused humor into the festivities.

The Sinai Temple Gala raised more than $1.6 million to benefit synagogue programming and the parenting center. The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation provided the lead gift.

Sinai Temple Letter Calls for Boycott of Anti-Semitic Singer’s Concert

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A letter from Sinai Temple is calling for the boycott of an anti-Semitic Persian singer’s concert on Saturday at the Microsoft Theater.

In a letter that was posted to Facebook, the temple wrote that “[Mohsen] Yeganeh is anti-Semitic in his lyrics, as well as his behavior/actions.” They also linked to a song of his that “depicts Israel as a child-killing nation” and “calls for the destruction of Israel and burns the Israeli flag.”

The full letter can be read below:

A petition has also been issued, which has received 3,370 signatures so far.

Calendar: September 25 – October 5

Sasha Abramsky



How can our differences make us stronger? Hear what Reform Rabbi Joel Nickerson of Temple Isaiah, Orthodox Rabbi Jason Weiner of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the program’s moderator, Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, have to say as they discuss how Jews can use the differences in their practices and beliefs to strengthen the American Jewish community. 6:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3340.


The Sinai Temple Teen Center is a community of Jewish teenagers who get together for activities such as weekend retreats, leadership training days and religious experiences. Parents can learn what its multitude of events and programming has to offer Jewish teens. 7 p.m.  Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.    


Four real estate experts will discuss what the Los Angeles market will look like in 10 years at the Israeli American Council Real Estate Network event “Forward Snapshot of LA.” Panelists include Dan Rosenfeld, developer and president of Acanthus LLC; Rick Cole, Santa Monica city manger; Manjeet Ranu, senior executive officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and moderator Gail Goldberg, executive director of the Urban Land Institute. The event also will include a special opening presentation by Joslyn Treece from the LA 2028 Olympic committee. The event includes food, networking and an open bar. 7 p.m.; 8 p.m. program. $50. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills.



Longtime “Law & Order” showrunner and head writer René Balcer channels his talents toward a different kind of drama: “Above the Drowning Sea,” a feature-length documentary about the escape of European Jews to Shanghai as World War II loomed. Panel conversation follows screening. 6 p.m. Free. USC’s Wallis Annenberg Hall Auditorium, 3630 Watt Way, Los Angeles.


Sasha Abramsky will discuss and sign “Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.” In his book, Abramsky digs into what he says is America’s most dangerous epidemic: irrational fear. He takes readers on a dramatic journey through a divided nation, delivering an eye-opening analysis of our misconceptions about risk and threats. Abramsky shows that how we calculate risk and deal with fear can teach us a great deal about ourselves and can expose our culture’s deeply rooted racism, classism and xenophobia. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.

Oh baby, baby: Five options for dealing with babies on the High Holy Days

Photo by Deposit Photos.

New parents have a lot to figure out: how to get their baby to sleep through the night; when to introduce food; how to binge-watch Netflix while being sleep deprived. The High Holy Days present one more thing for new parents to figure out: how to atone for your sins while taking care of your baby.    

While most synagogues offer a plethora of childcare options for children who can walk and talk, most new parents are trying to decide what the best option may be for their babies. Here are just a few helpful suggestions for new parents to consider.

Find services made for young families

Many synagogues offer High Holy Days services specifically designed for young families during which crying, nursing and screaming not only are tolerated, but expected. These services are often under an hour and free. For instance, Temple Judea in Tarzana offers a “Tot High Holiday” service where clergy appear in costume and put on “a fun and wild show,” according to Ellen Franklin, Judea’s executive director. “It’s entertaining but with some traditional prayers.”

At Sinai Temple, there is a 45-minute volunteer-organized “Shofar Blast” service that is “by kids, for kids,” according to Rabbi Nicole Guzik. The service features a “highlight reel” of prayers including Avinu Malkeinu and the mourner’s Kaddish and leads into the synagogue’s “Torah-in-the-Round” family-friendly service for those who choose to stay for a fuller High Holy Day experience.

During Shofar Blast, “you’ll get a message from the rabbi and a puppet show,” said Guzik, who noted that the service is not designed for parents to chitchat but really to connect to their kids and to the spirit of the holiday.

Be there but be flexible: Go to adult services

For many parents with babies, attending regular adult services is still an option. While some synagogues explicitly discourage babies from adult-only High Holy Days programming, others are fine with infants so long as parents follow the implicit rules of High Holy Days decorum.

When Betsy Uhrman’s children were babies, she would transport them in a carrier and follow her synagogue’s  “unspoken etiquette” of sitting in the back or near an exit.  If her baby started making noise, Uhrman simply stepped out, which happened often. “I was happy to have them there but I wasn’t actively present in services,” she said.

This year IKAR, the spiritual community located in Mid-City, is setting up a “Pray-ground” with toys for children younger than 4 in the balcony overlooking the space where their main services are being held. There will be a closed-circuit feed for parents to hear the full service, including the sermon. 

“We are trying to create space that makes parents feel part of the service even if they are not in the room,” IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban told the Journal.

It takes a village: Attend services with family and friends

Childcare doesn’t need to be a one- or two-person task during the High Holy Days. Many new parents choose to attend services with their support networks to divide the childcare responsibilities.

Last year, Tova Leibovic Douglas, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, wanted to spend some of her time in services actually praying — not just watching over her 18-month-old daughter, Eve.

For the High Holy Days, Tova and her husband, Austin, split their time between their home shul and the synagogue where Tova’s extended family was attending services.

“It made it easier for us,” she said. “Instead of Austin or me being the ones to have to watch Evie, we got to split the responsibility among ourselves, my parents and my sisters.” Austin added that in addition to being helpful, “going to services with my in-laws was a good opportunity for them to spend time with Evie,” adding that “it made services more enjoyable for everyone.”

Stephanie Steingold Bressler’s village of support wasn’t family members but other congregants at her synagogue. “When my kids were too young to go to official child care, I let rebellious teens, who were already in the lobby, take turns hanging with my kids,” she said.

Parents’ night out: Get a baby sitter

For some parents, the important work of accounting of the soul is more easily done when the kids are not around at all, so they choose to hire a baby sitter. 

Betsy Uhrman, who does attend most services with her children, always hires a baby sitter on Kol Nidre. “It is really rare that my husband and I carve out time for our own spiritual reckoning,” Uhrman told the Journal, “so on Kol Nidre, it’s important that we are both present.”

Uhrman chose Kol Nidre as the time for a baby sitter because of how “powerful” the service tends to be as well as for the importance of maintaining bedtime for her kids.

Synagogues on occasion make accommodations for baby-sitting young children. Wilshire Boulevard Temple offers baby-sitting to member families that preregister for children at least 3 months old, and at Sinai Temple families can request caregiver passes — which enables nannies to enter the building to watch over children without having to purchase tickets.

Bowing out: Staying home

For some new parents, the right answer for their High Holy Days experience is to stay home with their children and observe the holidays in other ways.

For Jenny Platt, taking her 16-month-old son, Sawyer, to services last year was going to be too big of an ordeal.

“I read Rosh Hashanah books with him and he watched a video of shofar blowing on the computer,” she said. An unconventional solution, but Platt said she was grateful that she could still celebrate the holiday with her son.

For some parents with young kids, staying home feels like the only option. “When you have an infant and a 2-year-old that wants to run around and there is no programming for them, you stay home,” according to Tamar Raucher, whose husband, Noam, is the head Rabbi at Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. When her kids were too young for formal programming, she said, “the day became about celebrating with friends afterward at Rosh Hashanah lunch.”

Having the eyes of God on us is a blessing

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

To be watched is to feel the expectation of the watcher. The driver is more careful with a police car behind, the high school athlete more adept with the cheerleader on the sideline, every performance heightened once there is an audience.

To be seen is to behave differently. It is to excite admiration, avoid censure — to be aware of being judged.

Walking inside our homes, we sigh with relief. The prying eyes of the world no longer are on us. We can loosen a tie, take off shoes, “unwind.” We are wound for the world that is always watching.

Watching need not involve a physical observer. The musical “Hamilton” celebrates the genius of the Founding Fathers with a song that reminds us what they knew: “History has its eyes on you.” The judgment of posterity can feel as real as the judgment of one’s neighbor or friend.

As much as we prize individualism, human beings are social creatures. Even as we act alone, we wonder what this person or that would think of our actions. We can feel embarrassed by something we do even when no one is around, for the eyes of others are always present as possibilities.

For the Jewish tradition, watching does not end at death. There is a practice called shemira, literally “guarding,” in which one watches over a deceased body after death until burial. We are watched literally until the grave.

Rosh Hashanah is a time when we are reminded that our actions are observed. It is a season of intensified watching. Jewish communal closeness means that we watch one another. Jews often come to High Holy Days services dressed in nice clothes; the paradox of dressing up your body when you are expected to bare your soul is not lost on them. Even those who are draped in finery make fun of the practice. But it persists because we will be watched: our clothes, our comportment, our words. The community will be there, and every community is a collection of witnesses.

Moreover, the point of the holiday is that God watches. Everyone gives account, every deed is known.

There are many reasons why this makes moderns uncomfortable. It anthropomorphizes God, as though the Creator were peeping through a celestial telescope to check us out. More disturbingly, it makes of God an ever vigilant and presumably harsh dictator watching at every moment.

The high holiday liturgy, however, refers to God as a shepherd and Israel as God’s sheep. Watching is not malevolent or dictatorial; it is a watching of gentleness, from the One who understands, and the One who is said in our prayers to have Ahavat Olam — eternal love. If we understand being watched as an act of love, as parents watch a child, the significance shifts.

To be watched by One who understands and knows you (Psalm 139: “Dear Lord, you have searched me and know me”) is a blessing. We are no longer alone. Most of our lives, we live inside ourselves, expressing but a small fraction of the drama, the dreams and the pain that make us human.

All day long, we think and experience, imagine and wonder about life, and then when we return home we are asked, “How was your day?” and we answer, “Fine.” Our internal drama is mostly lost. But there is a God who understands. On the High Holy Days, we renew our appreciation for the promise of not walking through life misunderstood and alone.

To feel that you are before God is to be aware of the consequences of your actions, to be sure. A simple photocopy of eyes taped to a wall makes us act more honestly. But the watching of God is not only an encouragement to ethics; it is a comfort. We will act better for the recognition that we do not act in secret. But we also will live more happily for the recognition that we do not live in isolation.

As the new year dawns, and we reflect more on ourselves than our screens, Jewish tradition reassures us: We are seen, and being seen is a gift and a blessing.

Shanah tovah.

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

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.”

Moving and Shaking: HUC benefit gala, Schoenberg and IKAR come of age

The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education recognized Valley Torah Girls High School students Adina Ziv (third from left), Meital Shafgi (fourth from left) and Aviya Gaviel (fifth from left) on May 18. Photo courtesy of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) fourth annual benefit gala, held at the Skirball Cultural Center on May 16, honored Peachy Levy, Rhea Coskey, Rochelle Ginsburg and other women leaders of the Western region.

Levy sits on the board of overseers of the HUC-JIR Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. Coskey became involved with HUC-JIR when her daughter, Laurie, entered rabbinical school, and she went on to mentor students and chair the school’s advisory board. Ginsburg is the chair of the HUC-JIR’s national school of education advisory council.

Sally Priesand, an HUC-JIR ordinee who in 1972 became the first woman rabbi to be ordained in America, was featured in the ceremonies.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion honored (from left) Peachy Levy, Rhea Coskey and Rochelle Ginsburg at its fourth annual benefit gala. Photo by Edo Tsoar

The more than 430 attendees included Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Laura Geller; Leo Baeck Temple Rabbi Ken Chasen; Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger; Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin and his husband, Temple Akiba Rabbi Zachary Shapiro; Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback; and Shana Penn, executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture.

“It was our biggest turnout ever,” HUC-JIR Public Affairs Associate Joanne Tolkoff told the Journal.

Proceeds from the event benefit HUC-JIR students and faculty.

Founded in 1875, HUC-JIR is a Reform seminary focused on academic, spiritual and professional leadership development, with campuses in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati and Jerusalem.

“From Generation to Generation,” a community celebration concert, was held May 25 at Sinai Temple on the occasion of Joseph Schoenberg becoming a bar mitzvah. Approximately 1,200 people attended.

His parents, Pamela and Randol Schoenberg, sponsored the event, which was held in memory of Joseph’s great-grandfathers, composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl.

Participants in the musical program included conductor Nick Strimple, associate professor of choral and sacred music at the USC Thornton School of Music and an expert on the works of composers persecuted by the Nazis. Strimple led the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale. Additional participants were Los Angeles Voices, the BodyTraffic dance company, and London-based pianist and organist Iain Farrington.

BodyTraffic, which included new addition Natalie Leibert, performed to liturgical works for chorus and organ by Schoenberg and Zeisl, and a newly commissioned work for chorus and organ by composer Samuel Adler.

Randol Schoenberg is an honorary director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. He is an attorney who has worked to retrieve artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, as was depicted in the film “Woman in Gold.”

Joseph, whose bar mitzvah was May 27, volunteered with Food Forward, which saves local produce that otherwise would go to waste, leading up to his bar mitzvah. He donated produce from his bar mitzvah weekend to hunger-relief agencies and, through the website, had environmentally friendly centerpieces at his luncheon. 

celebration and fundraiser held in honor of the 13 years since the founding of the egalitarian spiritual community IKAR was held May 21 at Playa Studios in Culver City.

The “bat mitzvah” event raised about $370,000 and drew a crowd of more than 375 founders, members and supporters, including Richard and Ellen Sandler, Marvin and Sandy Schotland, and actress Lisa Edelstein.

The party had a 1980s theme, with music from that decade playing throughout the event. Attendees viewed a video retrospective on IKAR’s place in the community and were treated to a classic b’nai mitzvah-style candlelighting ceremony.

Attendees dressed in costumes that featured neon tights, blue eye shadow and other staples of ’80s fashion, with some guests invoking Ferris Bueller, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Mini Rubik’s Cubes, slap bracelets and centerpieces featuring jellybeans, malted milk balls, Reese’s Pieces and Good & Plenty candy adorned the tables. IKAR members Shelley and Steph Altman, who own Playa Studios, donated use of the venue, and Diana Kramer designed the interior theme, which featured full-size video game machines and other era-appropriate décor.

The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, director of clergy organizing with PICO National Network, the largest grass-roots, faith-based organizing network in the United States, offered words of welcome. “History is past, present and future all at the same time. We are all one people,” he said.

“It took a lot for us to get this thing off the ground, none of it with any assurance of success,” IKAR founding Rabbi Sharon Brous said. “Thank you for casting your lot with us. This is about fighting for civil society.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) West Region held community events on May 16 and 18 at the Westside Jewish Community Center.

On May 16, the CIJE Co-Ed Engineering Conference featured SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub as its keynote speaker. Addressing approximately 150 teenagers, Winetraub discussed how his organization is aiming to make Israel the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon. Additional speakers included Sari Katz, Western Region director for Rambam hospital in Israel. Katz announced a partnership between Rambam and CIJE that would provide a scholarship to students who develop an outstanding biomedical device in 2018.

Students from day schools in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle and Dallas attended.

“Nobody knows precisely what jobs will be around when you all graduate from college within the next eight to 10 years,” CIJE President Jason Cury told the students. “Which is why it’s so important to develop the skills which will be required, and to be prepared for whatever challenges and opportunities that present themselves.”

From Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine, students Mika Ben-Ezer, Zeke Levi and Julian Wiese received the Award for Innovation for their “Sonic Jacket,” which serves the visually impaired. Harkham-GAON Academy in Los Angeles students Aliza Leichter, Oze Botach and Shani Kassell won the Award of Social Value for designing a car seat that detects when a child is alone in the vehicle. And the Award for Best Visual Display went to Mendy Sacks, Aryeh Rosenbaum and Daniel Jackson from YULA Boys High School for a digital portable piano teacher known as “Teachapii.”

CIJE Vice President Jane Willoughby gave the closing remarks.

The May 18 Girls Engineering Conference drew students from YULA Girls High School and Valley Torah Girls High School.

In the keynote address, engineer Yvette Edidin discussed how “the different fields of engineering need and would benefit from more women,” a CIJE press release said.

Valley Torah’s Adina Ziv, Meital Shafgi and Aviya Gaviel were awarded Project of the Year for their sensor that detects when automobile drivers are getting sleepy and alerts them using a vibrating device.

At the 2017 ADL Entertainment Industry dinner, “Big Bang Theory” co-creator and ADL honoree Bill Prady (second from left) joins (from left) award presenter Wil Wheaton, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and event emcee Joshua Malina. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honored Bill Prady, co-creator and executive producer of “The Big Bang Theory,” at the 2017 ADL Entertainment Industry dinner on May 24 at the Beverly Hilton.

Actor Joshua Malina (“Scandal”) served as master of ceremonies and actor Wil Wheaton, a recurring guest star on “The Big Bang Theory,” presented the award to Prady.

“While preparing my remarks for this evening, I emailed Bill and asked him if it will be honest and accurate to tell you that Bill is an outspoken voice for the most vulnerable among us,” Wheaton said. “And Bill said, ‘There is no sentence that begins with, Bill has been vocal about — that is not true.’ ”

Prady, in his speech, talked about his childhood in Detroit.

“Anti-Semitism was a pretty abstract idea. I knew what it meant only from a distance,” he said. “I knew it from the punchline from a Woody Allen movie. Growing up in my Jewish Detroit suburb, I didn’t know anti-Semitism. And it’s not only that. For me, racism was something in social studies class. And hatred of immigrants? I never heard of such a thing. My world was filled with immigrants, so many that I thought that when you grow up, you have an accent. But I know all these things now. We hear it on the news, from our politicians, online.”

Prady explained why he is a supporter of the ADL, which was established in 1913 to combat hate and bigotry.

“After the election, I made a decision to change my personal focus from politics to the front line. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was battling the attack on freedom, and Planned Parenthood was fighting for women reproducing rights, but who was fighting to dig out the weed of hate that had taken root in modern technology? It was the Anti-Defamation League,” Prady said. “So I called them up and I asked what I can do to help. And they said to do this, and I said, ‘It’s going to be a pretty boring night.’ So, I called the Barenaked Ladies.”

The Canadian band, which wrote and recorded “The Big Bang Theory” theme song, provided the evening’s entertainment.

Additional speakers included An Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants and an ADL National Youth Leadership delegate.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Calendar: February 10-16, 2017

Ninet Tayeb album release show Feb. 16 at The Echo.

FRI | FEB 10


Experience Shabbat, Egyptian-style, with Sephardic Temple Young Professionals and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA). Guest speaker Larry Clumeck will discuss Jewish life in Egypt. Authentic Egyptian food will be served (kosher dietary laws observed). This event is intended for Jewish professionals ages 21 to 39. 7 p.m. $30. Tickets available at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.


Sarah Schulman will discuss and sign her book “Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair.” From intimate relationships to global politics, Schulman observes the differences between conflict and abuse. She reveals how punishment replaces self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning. The controversial book illuminates contemporary and historical issues of personal, racial and geo-political differences in a world of injustice, exclusion and punishment. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.


Start davening! Young adults are invited to enjoy traditional Jewish-Israeli cuisine and Israeli music. Bring friends or come and make new ones. This event is intended for young adults, ages 21 to 35. Alcohol will be served. 7:30 p.m. $14. Tickets available at Address, in Tarzana, provided upon RSVP.


Celebrate the “Shabbat of Song” with a special service featuring the world premiere of Michael Isaacson’s “Ladorot Habaim” (“For Generations to Come”) and the voices of six congregations: Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Akiba, Temple Judea, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and University Synagogue. Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and Rabbi Jonathan Aaron will narrate the evening of music that will include numerous local cantors. Featuring guest speaker Rabbi Michael Marmur, provost of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 7:30 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.


Acclaimed Tunisian-American choreographer Jonah Bokaer will frame three works during this program, including “Rules of the Game,” his latest piece. “Rules of the Game” was inspired by Luigi Pirandello’s play “Il Giuoco Delle Parti” and features an international cast of eight dancers, incorporating dance, art and music. Bokaer collaborated with artist and architect Daniel Arsham for “Rules of the Game,” as well as the other two works, “Recess” and “Why Patterns.” They also worked with composer Pharrell Williams. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $29. Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

SAT | FEB 11


Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), will speak about the current political climate and thoughts about the future. Featuring Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and Cantor Marcus Feldman. 10:45 a.m. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.


Celebrate the holiday that’s the “New Year for Trees.” The service will be led mostly in English and feature fruits and other foods from Israel. Noon. Free. Mishkon Tephilo, 206 Main St., Venice.

SUN | FEB 12


Join in a day of community fundraising. Sign up at 9 a.m. Free. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8000.


Learn about your family heritage from experienced Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Vallley and Ventura County members and Family Search Library volunteers. They can help you utilize resources including databases such as FindMyPast,, MyHeritage (library edition), ProQuest Obituaries, World Vital Records and more. There also are Jewish microfilms of Eastern Europe resources and others. Bring your research documents and a flash drive if you want to download electronic images. 1 p.m. Free for JGSCV members; $25 annual membership at the door. Los Angeles Family History Library, 10741 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 889-6616.


Come enjoy “The Great American Songbook & All That Jazz on Film” with jazz historian and archivist Mark Cantor. Celebrate the musical genius of the 20th century’s most influential singers, bands and musicians during an afternoon filled with electrifying screen performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme and more. Presented by American Jewish University’s Whizin Center as part of the Dortort Program for the Performing Arts. 4 p.m. $15. American Jewish University, Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572.


Fritz Coleman. Photo courtesy of NBC4

Fritz Coleman. Photo courtesy of NBC4

Help continue to improve the quality of life for women, children and families who struggle to safeguard their rights and freedoms by enjoying  a night of comedy with Coleman, the local weathercaster who has won four Los Angeles Area Emmy awards for his comedy specials. Proceeds benefit the National Council of Jewish Women-LA  (NCJW). (The organization will get credit only for advance ticket sales.) 18 and older only. Two-drink minimum. 7 p.m. $15. Ice House Comedy Club, 38 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. (626) 577-1894.


Internationally acclaimed and celebrated pianist, composer and humanitarian Keiko Matsui will take the stage with modern adult-contemporary and smooth jazz artist and songwriter Carly Robyn Green. 7 p.m. $24. Tickets available at The Rose, Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena.



Cantor Kenny Ellis will perform a mix of comedy and music in honor of Holocaust survivor Clara Knopfler. This is the second in a series of three organized events to celebrate Knopfler’s 90th birthday and raise money for the Clara Knopfler Jewish Leadership Scholarship at Cal Lutheran. The scholarship provides support to Jewish student leaders. 6 p.m. $36 donation suggested for the Clara Knopfler Jewish Leadership Scholarship. Lundring Events Center, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 493-3512.

WED | FEB 15


Join American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Stephen Wise Temple for a panel discussion and Q-and-A evaluating the Iran nuclear deal as the one-year anniversary of its implementation approaches. The panel also will analyze the choices that the Trump administration faces about Tehran, how sanctions relief is affecting Iran’s economy, what Tehran is doing to expand its reach from Syria to Yemen, and the status of human rights in Iran. The panel members will include former Congressman Howard Berman; Heather Williams, senior analyst at Rand and former national intelligence officer on Iran; and Andrew Apostolou, former Iran director at Freedom House and foreign policy analyst. The program will be moderated by Jason Isaacson, AJC associate executive director for policy. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. 6:30 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple Sanctuary, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 282-8080.


Speakers Brittan Heller, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) first director of technology and society, and Robert Kang, cybersecurity counsel and lecturer, will discuss what role we can play in fighting the spread of hate online. Sponsored by the ADL’s Asian Jewish Initiative and NextGen community. There will be a happy hour after the program. 7 p.m. Free. RSVP (required) to; no walk-ins. Google, 340 Main St., Venice. (310) 446-4232.



Actress and comedian Rain Pryor, daughter of comic legend Richard Pryor, will open her new solo play “Fried Chicken & Latkes.” Pryor grew up African-American and Jewish in Beverly Hills and has lived a fascinating life filled with pain, poignancy, purpose and lots of laughter. Her unique background led to many adventures that she will share in the course of her show. Directed by Eve Brandstein. 8 p.m. $40. Tickets available at Jewish Women’s Theatre, 2912 Colorado Blvd., No. 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400.


Ninet Tayeb is an acclaimed singer, songwriter and actress — and household name in Israel. On the verge of her fifth album, which will be the first to be released in the United States, Tayeb reveals herself as an artist filled with resilience, determination and vulnerability. She won “Israeli Idol,” launching her to instant fame. Her debut album took less than a day to go platinum and yielded five No. 1 singles, and she starred in a long-running TV series based on her life. 7 p.m. $10.50. Tickets available at Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles.

Calendar: February 3-9



In honor of American Heart Month, the “Bless Your Heart” Shabbat service welcomes you to “Say Shalom, Save a Life.” There will be a five-minute hands-on CPR lesson to kick off the evening. 7 p.m.; 7:30 p.m. Shabbat service. Free. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.


Pray, learn and sing with the community during this service. A young woman on the autism spectrum will read her college entrance essay. 7:30 p.m. $10; $5 for children. Congregation Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road, Suite B, Calabasas. (818) 497-1281.


Rising playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, creator of The New York Times best-seller “My Little Red Book,” has written “The Bumps,” featuring a cast of three expectant mothers. “The Bumpscombines narrative that follows how the understanding of motherhood has evolved. Directed by Deena Selenow, with an all-female team of designers and cast. A conversation with the creative team of “The Bumps” will follow the performance. 8 p.m. Also 2 p.m. Feb. 4. Child care and art activities offered for a limited number of children (ages 3 and older) at the Saturday performance. $10; $8 members; $5 for students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.



Enjoy a hike, picnic, activities and the beautiful outdoors in celebration of Tu B’Shevat. Bring your own food and drinks. Organized by MATI, the Israeli American Council, Tzofim Shevet Harel and Sinai Temple. 9:30 a.m. Free, but RSVP requested. Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Spring Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 351-7021.



cal-no-crownDirector Tomer Heymann’s autobiographical documentary “The Queen Has No Crown” is a poignant meditation on belonging, loss and sexuality.

Weaving archival and original footage, the film follows the lives of the five Heymann brothers and their mother. The film examines the difficult decisions the family had to make amid turbulent social and political events. No MPAA rating. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Q-and-A with the director follows the screening. 7:30 p.m. $10 general; $6 full-time students; free to members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


In the first of a series of three programs, widely published Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino will speak on the subjects of marriage and family, and will examine how Jewish values help strengthen relationships. 6:30 p.m. Free. RSVP to (310) 474-1518, ext. 3340 or Sinai Temple Men’s Club, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.


Former World Debate Champion Yoni Cohen-Idov will discuss the tools you need to win any argument during this informative lecture. For Jewish young professionals, ages 21-39. RSVP must be under your name. 7:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

UNITY 3000

Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Ashkenazi and secular Jews and people of other faiths will unite through faith in one God at Unity 3000, presented by Junity. Rabbi and best-selling writer Shalom Arush, author of “The Garden of Emuna” and “The Garden of Peace,” will lead the gathering. 8 p.m. Free. Register online to secure a ticket and seat. (At the door, seats are first come, first served for unregistered guests.) Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Also 8 p.m. Wednesday, Eretz Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. 



Westwood Village Synagogue presents a discussion on how to navigate the relationship between LGBTQ and Modern Orthodoxy.  Rabbi Ari Segal, head of Shalhevet; Micha Thau, a student at Shalhevet; and actor and comedian Elon Gold will participate in the discussion. Part of the Betty Matoff Lecture Series. 7 p.m. Free. Westwood Village Synagogue, 1148 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 824-9987.



cal-ameliaAmelia Saltsman, award-winning author of “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” and Andy Lipkis, founder and president of the nonprofit TreePeople, will discuss Jewish tradition, culinary delights, climate change and how Tu B’Shevat encourages eco-conscious living. Moderated by Evan Kleiman of KCRW’s “Good Food.” Q-and-A, book signing and tasting of seasonal dishes will follow the program. 7:30 p.m. $12; $10 for members and students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.


C_Barkan_Berlin_9780226010663_jkt_IFTWhat is it like for a Jew to travel to Berlin today? What happens when an American Jew raised by a secular family falls in love with Berlin? Leonard Barkan’s “Berlin for Jews” is a personal love letter to the city that explores these questions and many more. Discussion with Barkan with a reception to follow the presentation. 7 p.m. Free. Seating is limited. Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 525-3388.

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


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.

Moving and Shaking: ‘Laughing Matters’ fundraiser, Nick Mermell retires and more

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ fifth annual “Laughing Matters” event on Nov. 1 at the Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip raised nearly $70,000 for the agency’s efforts to assist homeless families as well as battered women and their children.

Performers included comedienne Rita Rudner, a regular on the Las Vegas circuit; comedian Michael Kosta; and 14-year-old Southern California singer-songwriter Molly Bergman.

In a joint statement, event co-chairs Linda Levine and Wendy Silver described the evening as a success: “We are grateful to everyone who supported ‘Laughing Matters’ not only to see a great comedy show, but to help survivors of domestic violence.”

Rosenfeld meet in front of Chabad of Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple

When Nick Mermell retired after four decades at Sinai Temple, this is how he did it: He came to my office and handed me a note. It read: “Moses served forty years and so have I. Thank you and Sinai for everything.” Then Mermell, who at 89 was Sinai’s longest-serving and oldest employee, left without allowing even a farewell party, slipping quietly into his home life with Margaret.

That combination of modesty and humor explains why, each year, Evan Schlessinger organizes a group from the Sinai minyan to make an annual pilgrimage to Chabad of Beverly Hills to daven with Mr. Mermell and take him to breakfast. Now 97 years old, celebrating 66 years with Margaret, this survivor of several camps is still vigorous and funny. He was born in Munkatch, in Czechoslovakia, and was taken by the Nazis for two years, mostly digging trenches before being liberated by the Russians.

The most painful memory of that entire time, he told me, was “coming home and seeing an empty house.” His parents and siblings were murdered, except for one sister who died a few weeks ago at 100 years of age.

Mermell first went to Israel, then Canada and finally to Los Angeles, where he applied for the job of shammes, or ritual director, at Sinai. Also certified in air-conditioning repair, for some years he did both jobs.

Mermell brought a friendly but also formal touch to the minyan, and was deeply loved. I remember the first day I came there in my shirt and tie. “Rabbi, did you leave your jacket in the car?” he asked. No, I answered, it is in my office. “May I get it for you?” I got my jacket and wore it to every minyan with Mr. Mermell from that day forward.

He still goes to minyan every morning, but now it is closer to where he lives, at Chabad of Beverly Hills. There, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman greeted us all and with a smile explained, “These are the bodyguards from Sinai for Reb Nick.”

For 40 years as shammes, he taught and comforted and was a symbol of our shul. For a generation, “minyan” meant Mermell. We remember very well, and are very grateful.

—Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple 

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Beth Kean (second from left) is also serving as the museum’s interim executive director until a permanent executive director is hired. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

​Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Beth Kean has been appointed interim executive director of the museum in the wake of the departure of Samara Hutman, who was hired as executive director in 2013.

“Ms. Hutman is leaving the museum and returning to the Remember Us organization where she served as executive director before joining LAMOTH three years ago,” an Oct. 31 statement on the LAMOTH website says.

Hutman told the Journal: “I’m really, really excited to be reconnecting with the core work of Remember Us, because that’s my love.” 

Kean, a third-generation Holocaust survivor, has been serving as interim executive director since August. She said the work of the museum would not be affected as its leadership conducts a search for a permanent executive director.

“Our mission is still the same: commemoration and education about the Holocaust, providing free Holocaust education to all our visitors and thousands of students who come through,” Kean said. “We have a rich collection of artifacts and a variety of programs we offer to a very diverse group of students. In that sense, nothing has changed.”

From left: Michelle Moreh, director of academic affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; gap year fair student speaker Ethan Youssefzadeh; Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs at Stand With Us; Phyllis Folb, executive director of the American Israel Gap Year Association; and student speakers Aliza Benporat and Sarah Katchen.The American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) held its fourth annual Los Angeles Israel Gap Year Fair at B’nai David-Judea on Nov. 17. The fair is sponsored by Masa Israel Journey and endorsed by the American GAP Association. Photo courtesy of American Israel Gap Year Association

More than 400 public- and private-school students and parents from across the denominational spectrum attended the event, which featured more than 50 Israel program representatives of a variety of gap year cultural and educational experiences.

The gap year, also known as the “bridge year,” is the year between the completion of high school and the first year of college.

“The goal of AIGYA is to advocate for the gap year to be reidentified as a ‘bridge’ and solidifying factor of the student’s post-secondary-school Jewish education. Experiencing Israel’s strength and challenges as a resident, not just as a tourist, builds a deep relationship to Israel and one’s Jewish identity,” AIGYA Executive Director Phyllis Folb said.

Folb explained that colleges are starting to encourage students to take a gap year as it makes them more likely to finish college in four years, more likely to stay at the same school at which they begin their collegiate career and more likely to achieve overall levels of academic success.

“It’s really exciting,” Folb said. “There are countless programs for these students to choose from, from traditional learning to internships, to arts programs and army service programs. It allows them to find their own niche and take ownership of their Jewish identity in both traditional and nontraditional ways.”

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking: Fiesta Shalom, Morton Klein and Jeremy Ben Ami discussion

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles is famously well connected in the political circles of Southern California, but even by its standards, the Nov. 20 annual Fiesta Shalom event in East L.A. featured a notable cast of congressmen, state legislators and other officials.

At the iconic Tamayo Restaurant at 5300 E. Olympic Blvd., local politicians gathered to pay homage to shared values and brotherhood between L.A.’s Jews and Latinos. They included L.A. City Council members Bob Blumenfield, Paul Koretz and David Ryu; U.S. Rep. Judy Chu; U.S. Representatives-elect Lou Correa and Nanette Barragán; California Assemblymen Tony Mendoza and Richard Bloom; state Sens. Ben Allen and Kevin De León; state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones; former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; and the consuls general from Germany and Mexico.

The evening’s speeches were colored by the presidential election, and what many saw as hateful rhetoric that emerged against immigrants and Jews.

“This is why it’s so very important to stand together and fight for each other,” said Barragán, whose southeast L.A. district is heavily Latino.

Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, fresh off his entry into the gubernatorial race earlier in November, gave what many regarded as the evening’s most rousing address, speaking of his roots in traditionally Jewish Boyle Heights, which he called, “the Ellis Island of L.A.”

Antonio Villaraigosa snaps a picture during Fiesta Shalom at Montebello’s Tamayo Restaurant on Nov. 20, where he drew applause during a speech. Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Consulate General of Israel

“I couldn’t be prouder to be here with you,” he said, boasting that he’d broken bread with every Israeli consul general in L.A. since 1994. “We are the chosen ones — the goyim, the Jews — together, united around common values.”

For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, it was his first time experiencing the annual get-together. “This isn’t my first rodeo, but it is my first Fiesta Shalom,” he said.

In addition to the evening’s political star power was a smaller Hollywood contingent. Comedian George Lopez recounted a moving experience two years ago in Israel, and co-stars of the television comedy “Jane the Virgin” Yael Grobglas and Jaime Camil, hailing respectively from Israel and Mexico, spoke about learning to appreciate each other’s culture.

“When I heard ‘Fiesta Shalom,’ ” said Grobglas, turning to her co-star, “I thought, ‘You’re the fiesta, I’m the shalom.’ ”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

From left: Jeremy Ben Ami, executive director of J Street, Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe and Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein appeared in conversation at Sinai Temple. Photo by Jeffrey Hensiek 

On Nov. 2 at Sinai Temple, Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein and J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben Ami participated in a discussion regarding Israel, settlements in the West Bank and a two-state solution.

Ben Ami said J Street supported a two-state solution on the basis that it is the best path to ensure Israel’s security and democratic nature, and to preserve it as a Jewish state.

Klein disagreed, saying, “You cannot make peace with someone who wants to continue being your enemy.”

Worried by terrorist attacks, some L.A. shuls hike security

Shortly after the November terrorist attacks in Paris, the board of trustees at Sinai Temple held an emergency meeting during which the members voted to double the number of armed guards posted at the prominent Westside synagogue. Sinai’s extra guards were in place by the next morning. 

One day later, the perceived threat moved even closer to home when a heavily armed couple walked into a government building in San Bernardino and murdered 14 people. 

The high-profile nature of both the Paris and San Bernardino attacks — the latter striking on the outskirts of Los Angeles — have placed Jewish communities in the Southland on even higher alert, and, as a result, some Jewish organizations have chosen to ramp up security measures.

For Jews and Jewish institutions, when terrorists and extremists strike, the fear is deeply personal: Attackers in Toulouse, France, targeted a Jewish school in 2012, and a Paris kosher market came under assault this past January. A 1999 shooting at a Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills still acts as a grim reminder today.

In addition to increasing the number of its armed guards, Sinai Temple is installing a “custom-made safety-buffer zone” with bullet-proof glass to restrict access to the building in case of an active shooter situation, according to Howard Lesner, Sinai’s executive director. The temple is requiring each of its families to pay an extra $200 for the security upgrades, to which the response has been overwhelmingly supportive, Lesner said.

“We know we did the right thing,” he said. “We’re sad that we had to do it.”

He sees the increased need for security as an unfortunate “new normal.”

Indeed, Americans are more fearful of a terrorist strike now than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks, a New York Times/CBS poll reported on Dec. 11. Lesner said the 9/11 attacks first prompted Sinai to implement existing security measures, including limiting pedestrian access to one entrance.

Sinai Temple’s senior rabbi, David Wolpe, said the congregation undertook the recent adjustments as a preventive measure and not in response to any specific threats to the synagogue.

“I feel fundamentally safe, and I think American Jews are fundamentally safe,” Wolpe told the Journal. “But there is no perfect safety.”

Wolpe said not much can be done to offset any disconcerting effect the visibly increased security might have on some people, but he believes it’s “going to reassure people more than its going to upset them.”

Many synagogue leaders at Los Angeles institutions contacted by the Journal were hesitant to share details of their security mechanisms, for fear those details could be exploited. But each described an increase in concern and attention to security in light of the terrorist acts so close to home. 

“In these days of heightened tension, we have stepped up our security personnel to some degree,” Bart Pachino, executive director of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, wrote in an email. “We have also intensified our procedures for checking identification and bags, but cannot be more specific about other measures for precautionary reasons,” he wrote.

“To date, the response of our members has been uniformly positive without a single complaint registered about the increased measures we have taken,” Pachino added.

The San Bernardino killings have dominated the news cycle since Dec. 3, with continual updates about the couple and their motives from the FBI. 

The San Bernardino shootings came just five days after a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Local incidents notwithstanding, we’re constantly re-evaluating our security needs and concerns,” said Michael Cantor, executive director of Temple Isaiah, a Reform congregation on the Westside. “When things strike close to home, it brings an urgency to those considerations.”

Many people appear to be more frightened than ever now, because they’re aware of the seemingly random nature of these terrorist attacks.

“Nothing changed, it’s not like there was some major shift,” Jess Dolgin, president of the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, said, adding that the statistical likelihood of such an event in the Los Angeles area is no greater because of recent high-profile attacks. 

Instead, synagogue leaders feel a need for a new and more urgent tenor to a longstanding conversation about keeping members safe.

“We have a committee that is dedicated to constantly monitoring — literally on a daily basis — the security measures that the shul employs,” Dolgin said.

Today’s concerns were identified at the prominent Olympic Boulevard synagogue long ago, Dolgin said. In particular, two years ago, Beth Jacob identified “evident lapses, with the understanding that the danger is clear and present.”

“We started to make radical changes and beef up security, and educate and raise awareness in our congregants about the importance of security measures and alertness,” he said.

The conversation has also been ongoing just east of Beth Jacob, at the Conservative Temple Beth Am, which houses one of the area’s largest Jewish elementary schools.

“There have been near-constant and meaningful upgrades to how we process new faces, how we make the campus secure,” Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Beth Am’s senior rabbi who took over nearly seven years ago, said.

Recent high-profile attacks have forced Beth Am leadership to weigh the benefits of upgrading security while also attempting to maintain a welcoming environment and growing the congregation. Having those two conversations at once, he said, is “mind-boggling.”

“Some people in the Jewish world will only feel safe if they walk into a building where there are not only armed guards, but visibly armed guards, Kligfeld said. “There are many people who would never feel comfortable walking into a synagogue on Shabbat past a gun. It’s anathema to them.”

Nonetheless, Kligfeld is realistic about Beth Am’s risk factors, including its location on La Cienega Boulevard, a busy commercial thoroughfare.

Sometimes the methods of keeping a synagogue safe can result in unexpected events.

In his first year at the synagogue, Kligfeld said, he was chatting with a friend in his office when the friend pointed out a nondescript white button under the rabbi’s desk.

“He said, ‘Push it, see what happens,’” Kligfeld said. 

And so, the rabbi pushed.

“Three minutes later, there were [Los Angeles Police Department] officers at my door,” he said. “They had not passed go or collected $200, they had come straight past security at the time. That’s the ‘something very, very, very bad is happening to the rabbi’ button.”

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.

Sinai Temple, Netiya lead multifaith celebration of shemitah

Members of Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles gathered on Oct. 4 to celebrate the end of something — but it wasn’t just the last day of sukkot. In conjunction with Los Angeles-based Netiya, they observed the end of shemitah as well. 

Although seldom observed in the United States, the ancient biblical practice is followed faithfully in Israel. Often referred to as a sabbatical year, it is a year of rest for the land that takes place every seven years. During this year, farmers do not plant or work their fields; any produce that grows during the shemitah year is considered communal property, free for the taking.

Sherman Oaks resident Devorah Brous, 44, founding executive director of Netiya, a food justice organization that cultivates gardens on unused land at faith-based institutions, lived in Israel for 15 years and embraces the concept of shemitah. As a result, instead of planting things this past year, Netiya concentrated on teaching composting and water conservation.

“This is the year we give back to the land and God,” Brous said. “I find this to be the single most compelling kind of Judaism.”

The end of shemitah also kicked off Netiya’s new matching micro-grant program to help faith-based institutions convert decorative or unused congregational land into edible, water-wise gardens. Organizations are required to raise $500 on their own, making them eligible to receive up to $1,500 from Netiya toward their garden installation. Applications are due Feb. 1.

“Our model is challenging,” Brous said. “We don’t believe in handouts. We don’t think that creates a strong sense of ownership.” 

At the Sinai event, some 50 temple members and a dozen or so friends of Netiya gathered in and around a sukkah on a cloudy Sunday morning. Many came with lulav and etrog in hand. 

Several Sinai clergy members helped lead a service that married the traditional seventh day of Sukkot observance, Hoshanah Rabbah, with a more modern vision from Brous, complete with burning sage and even the presence of a pair of beloved pooches. 

At one point, Brous walked around the group with a large wooden bowl. It was filled, she said, with soil from seven parts of the city as well as compost from her own yard. She encouraged everyone to touch it.

For the youngest attendees, the highlight of the gathering came about midway through, when they helped to plant seven trees in large pots in an open-air plaza near the main sanctuary. They started with a loquat tree and then moved on to fig, olive, Meyer lemon, pomegranate, grapefruit and satsuma mandarin. Brous added a bit of the special soil from her bowl for each tree.

Brous talked about water, climate chaos and the trash-filled “dead zone in the ocean.” She asked everyone to raise a hand if they could take shorter showers. She then asked if they could make changes to their thirsty home landscapes. If people weren’t ready to commit, she asked who was willing to just think about these making changes. 

“Raise your hand!” she exhorted.

Sinai Rabbi Jason Fruithandler took the lead in the service, but a number of representatives from other groups and faiths participated as well. Annie Pierce of Shumei Natural Agriculture (a way of farming based on respect for nature) spoke about divine Mother Earth, as well as her own experience as a gardener. She recalled how prolific certain parts of her garden were before she learned, “Mother Earth takes a rest. I discovered that nothing would grow in those areas.” Her conclusion: “Mother Nature is in congruence with shemitah.” 

Mohammed Khan of King Fahad Mosque in Culver City welcomed the group with “As-salamu alaykum,” a greeting of peace, and read a passage from the Quran. He reminded everyone that “how we treat God’s creation is a reflection of our relationship with God.” 

And because the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and ecology, also falls on Oct. 4, the Rev. Marcia Hoffman of the United Church of Christ offered a special blessing for the two dogs in attendance.  

Fruithandler concluded the service with 60 seconds of silence, asking everyone to “think about what could be better with this world.” In keeping with the day’s themes, he asked people not to toss their etrogs. “I have a family that makes a delicious etrog liqueur,” he said. Brous pointed out they could also be composted.

As for the trees, the plan is for the students of Sinai Akiba Academy to care for them. 

“We hope to pair up our older students with our youngest students as they help prune and water and nourish the soil of these amazing trees,” school Rabbi Andy Feig said. “The fruit we harvest will go to local food banks and shelters to feed those in need. … We are so excited about our new orchard of seven beautiful fruit trees.”

Jews of Azerbaijan and United States: In celebration of our transcendent connection

California and Azerbaijan Jews share a special bond, and our special friendship is becoming better known this year, as a number of important events have taken place that commemorate our connection. The last flight I took across the 7,000 miles between us was to return to Los Angeles in February with a delegation of fellow leaders of the Mountainous Jewish community of Azerbaijan. Our purpose in visiting was to receive and celebrate the gift of a new Sefer Torah from the Jewish community of Los Angeles. A new Torah takes about a year to write, each letter composed in painstaking scrutiny; a single imperfection rendering the entire document invalid. The creation, and even the transport of a new Torah is a challenging and expensive process, and the Torah itself, perhaps the most meaningful bond between Jews across the world and cultures.

But how did this come to be, and why would a synagogue in Los Angeles sponsor a Torah for a Jewish community so far away? Many Jews in Los Angeles have never before heard of Azerbaijan, nor of Azerbaijan’s over 30,000 Jewish residents. Even lesser known, is that Azerbaijan is home to the Mountainous Jewish community, who have lived in Azerbaijan in peace and prosperity for over 2,000 years. The Azerbaijani people and government have been huge supporters of our Mountainous Jewish community, and as well as the other Jewish communities, including several in Baku, which houses three synagogues and a large Jewish day school.

What is particularly unusual about Jewish life in Azerbaijan, which is a close friend and partner of Israel, is that we live and freely practice our faith in peace and prosperity, protected and respected, in a secular Muslim country. We share cities and towns, and live and work with our Azerbaijani Muslim brothers and sisters. By its example of tolerance and inclusion, Azerbaijan destroys all the stereotypes that exist out there in the world as far as the co­existence between Muslims, Jews, and Christians is concerned. Azerbaijani example proves that it is still possible for all these major religions to enjoy peaceful and harmonious co­existence in mutual respect. As Jews, our reality in Azerbaijan is somewhat like a dream. Imagine a Muslim government that spends millions of dollars on building a beautiful synagogue for Jewish residents, or a Muslim country that celebrates a Jew as one of its greatest war heroes. This is our reality in Azerbaijan.

So how does this all connect to a new Torah at Sinai Temple? Last year when I traveled to Los Angeles for the first time, I was often asked by my fellow Jews what the Jewish community in Azerbaijan needed. I had just one answer: A Sefer Torah for our Synagogue! I am glad that the Los Angeles Consulate General of Azerbaijan, who has strong relationships and a widening network of Jewish friends in California, conveyed this request to Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Temple, who later told this broader story of our history in Azerbaijan to his congregants. Sinai Temple immediately recognized how big of a deal it is that Jews live in such a peaceful and hopeful way in a Muslim country. The energy and hard work leading up to the Torah Dedication, was so magnificently holy and inspired, it could only happen at a place called Sinai. The Rabbi spoke of our story on Shabbat, and like a flash, we were brought to Los Angeles to receive the Torah. This magnificent gift and gesture was inspired and realized by the Sinai Temple Men’s Club, a group of visionary congregants led by Cary Lerman; the type of people that are here to change the world. As true leaders, they shined a light on something that represents hope, and from there, took direct action and brought to life something beautiful and lasting. That hope is built on our story, that Jews actually can live with respect, and even love, in a Muslim country. Just the fact that Azerbaijani Muslims wholeheartedly facilitated this Torah donation from one Jewish community to the other speaks volumes about what Azerbaijan stands for. This inspiration could change the world.

Yes, it was an experience of true grace, that in such dark times for Jewish people across the world something as elevated and positive could occur, bringing Jewish communities together across thousands of miles to celebrate friendship and the most lasting connection between all Jews, our Torah.

The Torah anchors all Jewish people across geography and culture, and the gift we have brought back to Azerbaijan is nothing short of priceless. The Los Angeles Sinai Temple’s most meaningful act of friendship embodies the epitome of hope and the shared Jewish­Azerbaijani dream of tolerance and peace. As I watched the world become smaller and smaller from thousands of feet above land, returning to my Jewish home in Azerbaijan, I felt a sense of possibility and inspiration as occasion for this trip. The values and momentum of this celebration are part of something much larger than one night or even one Torah; a movement to bring together all Jews and Muslims, across all global communities, so that we may one day truly exist as one world family, no matter the language or distance or differences between us.

Mr Milikh Yevdayev is the Leader of Azerbaijan’s ancient Mountainous Jewish community

Locals remember victims of Paris terror attacks

Seventeen yahrzeit candles were displayed on the bimah at Sinai Temple on Jan. 14, where about 300 people gathered to pay homage to lives lost too soon. Each wick represented a victim of the recent attacks in Paris.

“Living in Los Angeles, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re part of a greater Jewish people,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which organized the event, said in a later interview with the Journal.

But he said the previous week’s events in France — the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and subsequent killings at a kosher supermarket — evoked a sense of “global responsibility” in Jews around the world and that “a memorial service felt like the right response.” 

The intimate service began with opening remarks by Les Bider, Federation board chair. 

“We feel responsible for every Jew, from Los Angeles to Paris to Tel Aviv,” he said.

Immediately following the attacks, Sanderson said he and fellow community leaders started a dialogue with the Jews of Paris. In collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel and other Federations across the country, the L.A. Federation helped donate approximately $100,000 to Parisian Jewish institutions.

“It was assessed that the immediate need was to ensure that every Jewish institution [in Paris] was safe and secure,” Sanderson told the Journal. 

Bider’s speech was followed by the American and French national anthems, performed by Cantor Tifani Coyot of Temple Isaiah. Axel Cruau, consul general of France in Los Angeles, and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also took the stage.

The French diplomat said the best answer to terrorism is staying united and true to our values, and he saluted recent remarks made by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“He spoke the truth,” Cruau said. “He said that France was at war — not at war with religion, not at war with Islam, but at war with terrorists, jihadists and radicalists of Islam.”

Siegel focused on acts of darkness and light. 

“It is a dark day when the simple act of going to work in a magazine, attending a Jewish day school or shopping at a grocery store becomes an act of courage,” he said. 

But amid this darkness, he continued, there were extraordinary heroes: the French security personnel who rescued hostages; Yohan Cohen, a young Jew who was killed while trying to grab a terrorist’s gun; and Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old Muslim from Mali, who saved Jews by hiding them in the supermarket freezer.

Continuing the theme, Sinai’s Rabbi David Wolpe recited the 23rd Psalm. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” After the recitation, Wolpe said, “The most important word in this beautiful psalm is ‘walk.’ … We do not stay there; we grieve, we mourn, but we don’t give up.”

He continued, “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not be afraid because to be afraid is to give into the darkness.”

Sanderson led the candle-lighting ceremony, calling out the names of elected officials and community leaders to light the yahrzeit candles. One by one, individuals, including Los Angeles Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro, walked onto the stage. The room fell silent, filled only with the sound of a lighter catching flame.

After all the candles were lit, Clara-Lisa Kabbaz, school president of Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles, read the names of the 17 victims. Rabbi Sarah Hronsky of Temple Beth Hillel, Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue and Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen Wise Temple also took part in the service. Cantor Emeritus Joseph Gole of Sinai Temple sang “Hatikvah” and “Oseh Shalom” with the audience as his choir.

Sitting in that audience was Danielle Salusky, a congregant of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. Born and raised in Paris, she reminisced after the memorial service about her personal connection to the tragedy, which took the lives of two cartoonists she knew.

“I grew up with this magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and I’ve known them since 1968,” she said. “I knew [Jean] Cabu and [Georges] Wolinski, the two oldest cartoonists from the magazine, and it’s terrible and it’s horrible.”

Salusky and her husband were in Paris not long ago, visiting family. 

“We came back from Paris Monday night and this happened Wednesday morning, and I wanted to go home and I wanted to be there with everybody. I’ve been crying for the whole week,” she said. 

Emotional and silent, she finally added, “So we’re here.”

Los Angeles locals remember the victims of the Paris terror attacks

Seventeen yahrzeit candles were displayed on the bimah at Sinai Temple on Jan. 14, where about 300 people gathered to pay homage to lives lost too soon. Each wick represented a victim of the recent attacks in Paris.

“Living in Los Angeles, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re part of a greater Jewish people,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which organized the event, said in a later interview with the Journal.

But he said the previous week’s events in France — the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and subsequent killings at a kosher supermarket — evoked a sense of “global responsibility” in Jews around the world and that “a memorial service felt like the right response.” 

The intimate service began with opening remarks by Les Bider, Federation board chair. 

“We feel responsible for every Jew, from Los Angeles to Paris to Tel Aviv,” he said.

Immediately following the attacks, Sanderson said he and fellow community leaders started a dialogue with the Jews of Paris. In collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel and other Federations across the country, the L.A. Federation helped donate approximately $100,000 to Jewish Parisian institutions.

“It was assessed that the immediate need was to ensure that every Jewish institution [in Paris] was safe and secure,” Sanderson told the Journal.

Bider’s speech was followed by the American and French national anthems, performed by Cantor Tifani Coyot of Temple Isaiah. Axel Cruau, consul general of France in Los Angeles, and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also took the stage.

The French diplomat said the best answer to terrorism is staying united and true to our values, and he saluted recent remarks made by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“He spoke the truth,” Cruau said. “He said that France was at war — not at war with religion, not at war with Islam, but at war with terrorists, jihadists and radicalists of Islam.”

Siegel’ focused on acts of darkness and light. 

“It is a dark day when the simple act of going to work in a magazine, attending a Jewish day school, or shopping at a grocery store becomes an act of courage,” he said. 

But amid this darkness, he continued, there were extraordinary heroes: the French security personnel who rescued hostages; Yohan Cohen, a young Jew who was killed while trying to grab a terrorist’s gun; and Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old Muslim from Mali, who saved Jews by hiding them in the supermarket freezer.

Continuing the theme, Sinai Rabbi David Wolpe recited the 23rd Psalm. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” After the recitation, Wolpe said, “The most important word in this beautiful psalm is ‘walk.’ … We do not stay there; we grieve, we mourn, but we don’t give up.”

He continued, “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not be afraid because to be afraid is to give into the darkness and our tradition and our faith.”

Sanderson led the candle-lighting ceremony, calling out the names of elected officials and community leaders to light the yahrzeit candles. One by one, individuals, including Los Angeles Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro, walked onto the stage. The room fell silent, filled only with the sound of a lighter catching flame.

After all the candles were lit, Clara-Lisa Kabbaz, school president of Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles, read the names of the 17 victims. Rabbi Sarah Hronsky of Temple Beth Hillel, Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue and Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen Wise Temple also took part in the service. Cantor Emeritus Joseph Gole of Sinai Temple sang “Hatikvah” and “Oseh Shalom” with the audience as his choir.

Sitting in that audience was Danielle Salusky, a congregant of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. Born and raised in Paris, she reminisced after the memorial service about her personal connection to the tragedy, which took the lives of two cartoonists she knew.

“I grew up with this magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris and I’ve known them since 1968,” she said. “I knew [Jean] Cabu and [Georges] Wolinski, the two oldest cartoonists from the magazine, and it’s terrible and it’s horrible.”

Salusky and her husband were in Paris not long ago, visiting family. 

“We came back from Paris Monday night and this happened Wednesday morning, and I wanted to go home and I wanted to be there with everybody. I’ve been crying for the whole week,” she said. 

Emotional and silent, she finally added, “So we’re here.”

‘The Great Jewish Love Debate’

“The women are on this side, and the men are on that side. No exceptions.” 

With those words, Brian Howie, author of “How to Find Love in 60 Seconds,” kicked off The Great Jewish Love Debate at Sinai Temple in Westwood on Oct. 27.

Howie, who is not Jewish, founded The Great Love Debate earlier this year after his book came out. It was a means of answering the question, “Why are we all single?” The first event took place in Santa Barbara, and the tour has been extended through 2015, covering more than 150 cities worldwide. 

“I’ve always liked the town hall-style discussion and debate,” Howie told the Journal.

Attendees were asked to dress to impress, or more specifically, to dress like they would on a first date. Women with blow-dried tresses wore stilettos and short skirts; men sported slicked-back hair, patent leather shoes and striped dress shirts.

“This is the 57th Great Love Debate, but this is the first Jewish one!” Howie announced to the audience, which responded with hoots and applause.

It was also the first Great Love Debate in which Howie didn’t participate in the onstage panel. 

 “It’s because I didn’t think I was Jewish enough,” said Howie, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish. When the debate, co-sponsored by Sinai’s young professionals group ATID, officially started, Howie slipped away and didn’t reappear until the after-party.

Lori Gottlieb, a relationship therapist and best-selling New York Times author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” served as event moderator. Nine years ago, as a single woman, she chose to become pregnant and now is the proud parent of an 8-year-old son. Gottlieb said her mom immediately asked if the donor for her insemination was Jewish. 

“She’s a typical Jewish mother,” Gottlieb said, laughing.

The panelists included Talia Goldstein, co-founder of the matchmaking website Three Day Rule; author Adam Gilad; Lisa Darsonval, founder of Santa Barbara Matchmaking; makeover expert Kimberly Seltzer; and dating coach David Wygant. 

The debate kicked off with a sharing session of horrifying dating moments contributed by the audience. “Let’s get to know you guys,” Gottlieb said. 

“I realized my fly was down,” confessed one guy. 

 “I got thrown up on,” a woman said. 

“Halfway through the date,” another woman chimed in, “he told me Jesus was the savior.” 

During the debate, Gottlieb called up volunteers to act out typical pickup scenarios. Before each scene, a guy was selected and told to choose the most attractive girl in the audience to join him. 

“Imagine you’re at Starbucks,” Gottlieb told one set of volunteers. 

The girl pretended to be on her phone, drinking a coffee, as the guy circled her, unsure of how to approach her — until he finally piped up and said the situation was too awkward. The audience gave input, and finally one of the audience’s older members stood up and broke it down for the young volunteers. 

“If you want to meet a girl, you offer her to buy a cup of coffee,” the woman said. “Say that you noticed she finished her drink and ask if she’d like another one.” 

A 20-something seated nearby whispered to her friend, “Now that’s classy!”

Another scene played out was grocery shopping at the market. Panelist Gilad gave some pointers to the men: “When I’m at a supermarket and I see an attractive woman, I take her shopping cart.” 

Of course, there’s more to his tactic. The woman usually says something like, “Hey, that’s my cart,” to which he responds: “Hmm, but I like yours better.” If all goes well, she laughs and he scores a date.

About an hour after the debate began, the event concluded with closing statements from the panelists and the men (the women were never asked for one). Then the shmoozing began. Singles lined up to ask the panelists personal questions, wine was poured, and phone numbers were exchanged. 

All in all, one more notch in Brian Howie’s belt.

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.

2014 Shavuot services

Chabad’s “Conejo Mount Sinai Experience” celebration of Shavuot features a reading of the Ten Commandments on June 4 at 10 a.m., followed by a sit-down dairy lunch of pizza and cheesecake. Also featured: Mount Sinai Ice Cream Cones for everyone. Evening services June 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m.; Yizkor memorial service June 5 at 10 a.m. Open to all. All services will be held at six Chabad Centers: Chabad of the Conejo, Agoura Hills; Chabad of Oak Park; Chabad of Westlake Village; Chabad of Thousand Oaks; Chabad of Calabasas; and Chabad of Newbury Park. For more information, call (818) 991-0991.

Sinai Temple, in partnership with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, invites you to Atid and Reboot’s “Unscrolled: A New Spin on Shavuot” on June 4. Study the Torah in a fun and innovative way with the help of 54 writers and artists. Shavuot dinner at 7 p.m.; program follows at 8 p.m. $10 (advance), $15 (at the door, cash only). 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. For tickets, visit For questions, contact or

Shavuot at Beth Jacob is an all-night experience. Sushi, refreshments and drinks will be provided. Featuring several rabbis, this event starts with Rabbi Baruch Taub, Shavuot scholar-in-residence, June 3 at 11:15 p.m., and ends with Shacharit in Shapell Sanctuary at 5:10 a.m. the following morning. 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911.  

Explore the purpose and significance of Jewish prayer this Shavuot at Valley Beth Shalom. “Shiru L’Adonai Shir Hadash — Sing to God a New Song” features guest artist Craig Taubman with a musical presentation on the revolution in Jewish worship, hosted by Rabbi Ed Feinstein — an evening of learning, music, prayer and blintzes. June 3 at 7 p.m., followed at 10:30 p.m. by late-night Torah study with Rabbi Noah Farkas. Additional services June 4 at 8:40 a.m. and June 5 (Yizkor) at 8:40 a.m. Everyone is invited to participate. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. 

Temple Aliyah opens its doors to the entire community for an evening of learning followed by a late-night Tish for those who want to continue the celebration. This event is free of charge for all. On June 3, Ma’ariv begins at 7 p.m.; learning takes place 7:30-11:30 p.m. 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

Join Young Israel of Century City Young Professionals for a fun night full of wine, cheese, sushi and Torah! June 4 at 9 p.m. Space is limited. RSVP to, at which time the location will be disclosed. (310) 273-6954.

What could be better than pizza and ice cream to go along with the reading of the Ten Commandments? Chabad in Simcha Monica opens its doors free of charge to all for this Shavuot celebration. June 4 at 5:30 p.m. 1428 17th St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-5620.

Chabad of Simi Valley offers a variety of events to commemorate Shavuot, starting with an all-night study session June 3 at 11:59 p.m. On June 4, the Ten Commandments will be read at 11 a.m., followed by a dairy Kiddush lunch; an ice cream party and reading of the Ten Commandments will take place at 6:15 p.m. Yizkor service June 5 at 11:30 a.m. 4464 Alamo St., Simi Valley. (805) 577-0573.

Spend Shavuot at Chabad of Greater Los Feliz. On June 4, the Ten Commandments will be read at 11 a.m., followed by a dairy Kiddush brunch; at 6:45 p.m., there will be an additional reading of the Ten Commandments and an ice cream party, followed by services at 7:45 p.m. and a communal Shavuot dinner at 8:45 p.m. Yizkor service June 5 at 11:30 a.m. 1930 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-5177.

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. 

Lessons in earthquake preparedness

If Los Angeles’ Jewish day schools are prepared for a major earthquake, they have the accreditation requirements of BJE-Builders of Jewish Education, an umbrella organization for local Jewish education, in large part to thank.

BJE helps schools develop earthquake safety measures and gives them accreditation when they demonstrate, among other things, a concern for student safety. 

Determining emergency procedures is part of the schools’ accreditation process, according to Miriam Prum Hess, director of BJE’s centers for excellence in day school education. 

For example, at Sinai Akiba Academy, the school for Sinai Temple in Westwood, which has both a preschool and kindergarten through eighth grade in the day school and is located at the busy intersection of Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards, approximately 1,000 students and staff are on campus on any given weekday. Emergency drills for both school and synagogue have to be run with absolute efficiency, synagogue executive director Howard Lesner said. 

“We all have radio contacts, overseeing it, making sure the entire building is completely empty, and people have to report on the radio when they’ve arrived and every student is accounted for,” he said. “I oversee what goes on with the triage, and basically my job is to oversee the entire evacuation process.”

“You’re talking about 480 kids out of the day school, 150 out of the preschool and 300 staff members,” he said.

Ilan Ramon Day School is at the opposite end of the spectrum in many ways. Serving approximately 150 students, the Agoura Hills school is located in a community of mountains, urban sprawl and stables. Despite the school’s smaller size and quieter suburban setting, its students participate in earthquake drills every few weeks. The school also takes part every year in the Great California ShakeOut, a statewide earthquake drill that draws the participation of millions of people from schools, workplaces and elsewhere, according to

“The basic message if the ground is moving: You drop and cover and you hold on,” said Yuri Hronsky, Ilan Ramon’s head of school. “Cover as much of your body as possible, and hold whatever you can hold onto.”

Lesner referred to these exercises as “drop drills,” in which students protect their heads and necks while crouching underneath their desks. 

Earthquake safety experts agree these drills are best practice. The Earthquake Country Alliance, which works with the Southern California Earthquake Center at USC toward mitigating earthquake damage, refers to them as “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” 

Of course, there is more to earthquake preparation than drills. 

BJE, for instance, recommends that schools have advance communication technology, which can take many forms, such as auto-dial messaging, Hess said. This allows a school to simultaneously contact everybody on a list.

“We record one message, and with the push of one button, it either sends out a text or sends out a call to any number of stakeholders,” Hess said.

This technology is critical, although some places still rely on the old-fashioned buddy system. 

Temple Adat Elohim (TAE), which runs an early childhood center and a religious school in Thousand Oaks, recognizes that phone systems don’t always work the way we want them to: During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, long-distance calls were easier to make than local ones.

Therefore, TAE’s emergency system is to relay messages to a synagogue in Galveston, Texas,  Temple B’nai Israel, which has agreed to convey emergency messages if needed to community members who are not at the shul and are unable to make contact.  

“It was decided that we would establish an out-of-the-area contact point for our temple to call to let them know that everything is OK at TAE,” executive director Aliza Goland said in an e-mail.

Many schools have such relationships with other out-of-state communities, Hess said.

Staying on top of communication is important, but it is not the only concern. Well-stocked earthquake kits offer another preparation tool.

“Water, flashlights, normal things that you’d find in any earthquake kit that even homes and other businesses have,” said Sinai Temple’s Lesner, describing the contents of the kits there. 

“We change it over every few years when it expires. It’s not gourmet, but it certainly, in the event of an emergency, would sustain people,” he said.

Meanwhile, at Ilan Ramon, educators don’t need to worry about alarming their students. They understand that earthquakes are a fact of life in Los Angeles, Hronsky said.

“We live in California, and our kids are pretty in tune to this stuff.

The debate of the year: David Suissa vs. Peter Beinart

Jewish Journal President David Suissa debates political author Peter Beinart spar about Israel in the debate of the year.

Moderated by Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe.

Beinart, Suissa face off on Israel

Peter Beinart is no stranger to the accusation that for a self-proclaimed passionate supporter of Israel, he treats the Jewish state too harshly.

Since the release of his book “The Crisis of Zionism” in 2012, he has traveled the country debating ardent Zionists such as Daniel Gordis and Alan Dershowitz. On the evening of Dec. 5 in Los Angeles, his opponent on the stage at Sinai Temple was David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal, and a columnist for this newspaper.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai’s senior rabbi, moderated the debate, which was co-sponsored by The Journal and Sinai Temple.  Both Suissa and Beinart presented their positions in opening statements, then Wolpe addressed questions to the two before taking audience questions.

Beinart is the editor of Open Zion, a blog dedicated to “an open and unafraid conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future.” He is also an incoming contributing editor for both The Atlantic and National Journal and will become a senior columnist with the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, in January.

Formerly on AIPAC’s speaking circuit, Beinart has, in recent years, become an outspoken voice from the Left on Israel, going so far as calling for a “Zionist B.D.S.,” a boycott on products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

His basic argument, made in his book and in the Wednesday evening debate with Suissa, is that Israel is approaching a time where it will have to choose between becoming a non-democratic Jewish state, or a democratic state without a Jewish majority.

Beinart says the reason for Israel’s impending choice is its occupation of the West Bank and its policy of encouraging settlements by Israelis outside the pre-1967 borders.

Unless Israel acts soon to end its occupation of the West Bank and ceases to encourage the growth of Israeli settlements, Beinart argues, the Palestinians who support a two-state solution will turn to supporting one Palestinian state with a Jewish minority and Arab majority.

“If Israel makes permanent its occupation of the West Bank it will eventually be forced to choose between its Jewish and democratic character,” Beinart told the audience of about 250. “By supporting settlement growth, you are pushing Palestinians in exactly the direction we don’t want them to go.”

Suissa strongly objected to Beinart’s premise that settlements are the major obstacle to peace: “Settlements are an excuse for Palestinians to hide their rejectionism,” Suissa said,  and he charged that by questioning the legality of Israeli settlements, Beinart appears to call into question the legality of the entire nation of Israel.

“As long as we keep maligning settlements and calling them illegal, we reinforce the false narrative that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians,” Suissa said. “If we stole the land, the Palestinians owe us nothing, not even negotiations.”

Although the evening was peppered with some boos and interruptions alongside a handful of applauses, Wolpe quickly silenced outspoken members of the audience in favor of the speakers, and also made sure both Suissa and Beinart stayed focused on the task at hand—clarifying where they differ on Israel.

“If every settlement were gone, would peace be possible?” Wolpe asked Beinart.

Beinart responded that while he believes “100 percent” of Palestinians wish Israel had never been created, he also believes most Palestinians would accept a neighboring Jewish state, “because they are suffering so much” under the status quo.

Suissa disagreed, arguing that even without Israeli settlements, the Palestinians are holding out for a right of return—a deal for millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the diaspora to reclaim property in Israel, including refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, and also their descendants.

“If they compromise on the right of return, that means they are accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish State,” Suissa said, adding that such acceptance is necessary for a peaceful two-state solution.

The debate winded down with a discussion of the Gaza Strip, the land Israel unilaterally withdrew from in 2005 only to see Hamas, a terrorist group, be elected to power and launch thousands of rockets at southern Israel.

For years, Israel and Egypt have enforced a blockade on Gaza, making movement and economic trade difficult, even with the numerous smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

“When you have an economic policy that destroys the individual business class in Gaza—that could’ve been the opposition to Hamas—and you allow Hamas to take complete control of the economy in Gaza,” Beinart said. “You play into Hamas’s hands.”

Suissa, responding with incredulity, said, “For Peter to sit here and blame Israel for the situation in Gaza is beyond unfair.”

Although most of the crowd appeared to support Suissa’s point of view, there was a diversity of opinion throughout the evening.

“I felt like I was in some sort of Alice in Wonderland,” said Yigal Arens, likening the plight of the Palestinians to black Americans living under Jim Crow. “The closest thing to this would have been white leaders in the southern U.S. during the fight for civil rights arguing about what was the best way to preserve white privilege.”

“I’m probably more of a Suissa person,” said Mark Mendelsohn. “This is the first time I heard Beinart.”

“I actually thought he came across more Jewish and supportive of Israel than I thought he would,” Mendelsohn said.

Rabbi Jacob Pressman turns 94: A community treasure

For decades now, as Rabbi Jacob (Jack) Pressman celebrated a milestone birthday, there was a gala show and dinner starring Rabbi Jack and his myriad show-biz friends to manifest and celebrate the many talents and achievements of this extraordinary man. Five years ago, Temple Beth Am celebrated his 90th birthday when he turned 89, just in case.

“At my age you don’t buy green bananas,” the rabbi said, quoting his mentor, the late Rabbi Simon Greenberg. But the celebration week will be a quiet one, as Rabbi Jack and Marjorie Pressman’s son, Joel, is gravely ill, as all who read the Jewish Journal this past month learned — gravely, but bravely, ill, still celebrating the glories of life, family and friendship, students and colleagues, the majesty of nature, the joy of song, the gift of love. 

But even at this most trying of times, Rabbi Jack’s 94th birthday warrants celebration.

In the circles I frequent as a university professor and a scholar, I know many men and women who are smart; far fewer who are wise. And Rabbi Jack is a wise man.

His role in the Los Angeles community is historic. 

Born in Philadelphia in 1919, Jack was raised at Temple Beth Am in Philadelphia, where the rabbi took a great interest in the boy and brought him in to teach Hebrew school and to run youth services. Jack was paid very modestly for his services, but in the Depression era, every dime was worth its weight in gold, and thus his interest in the rabbinate was born. So, too, his interest in a certain woman two years his junior, Marjorie Steinberg, who later became his wife and his lifelong partner of by now more than 70 years. 

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Pressman came to the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) just as the war began, and his rabbinic training was accelerated as the U.S. military needed chaplains, and the American rabbinate needed rabbis desperately, as young rabbis were going off to fight alongside their congregants. While still a student, Pressman served as acting rabbi of Forest Hills Jewish Center, whose own Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser was in the Army. He was instrumental in the design of the synagogue’s building, a massive structure on Queens Boulevard. Of particular interest is its ark, designed by noted artist and political satirist Arthur Szyk. Later, as Pressman was offered prestigious positions on the East Coast, JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein advised him to go West. Los Angeles, he said, would soon join New York and Palestine as the three great centers of Jewish life. Pressman never regretted heeding Finkelstein’s sagacious advice.

He went on to serve as assistant to Rabbi Jacob Cohen at Sinai Temple, and then, in 1950, he took over a small congregation then known as the Olympic Jewish Center, which he turned into Temple Beth Am, making it a prominent Conservative congregation of more than 1,300 families in his time. Together with his wife — and they were then, as now, a team — Rabbi Pressman served his community as an institution builder. From Camp Ramah to the then-University of Judaism (now American Jewish University), from the Brandeis campus — now Brandeis-Bardin — to Israel Bonds, if it needed to be built or to be launched, Jack and Margie Pressman built it. He was the first registrar of the University of Judaism; he was a founder of Camp Ramah; he helped recruit Shlomo Bardin to come out to the institution that now bears his name; and for years Temple Beth Am, certainly not the wealthiest of all congregations in the United States, had the largest annual campaign for Israel Bonds in the country. 

Pressman helped found Los Angeles Hebrew High, Akivah Academy and the Temple Beth Am Day School that now bears his name. With foresight, he founded a non-Orthodox Jewish high school on Los Angeles’ Westside, known as the Herzl School, which could not be sustained, but the need he saw then still remains.

The late Walter Ackerman, longtime director of Camp Ramah, remembered how not only would Pressman always become personally involved, but he engaged his ba’alabatim (lay leaders), expanded their horizons, extended their reach. And along the way, he never neglected his congregation. At a time when rabbis were taught to keep their distance from congregants, his closest friends were his own congregants — he traveled with them, enjoyed their company, went through the travails and joys of life with them, and could still remain their rabbi.

Rabbi Perry Netter recalled that when he interviewed for an internship at Temple Beth Am, he was wary of Pressman’s reputation as a showman rabbi, palling around with Hollywood stars. So he asked Rabbi Pressman how he spent his average day. Pressman took out his calendar and went through every appointment, recited by heart the circumstances of each of the congregants with whom he had met, remembered each bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl, every bride and groom. Young Rabbi Netter was wowed and went away feeling that it would be an honor to intern with this man. Rabbi Pressman may have known the rich and famous, but he also always took pride in the men and women within his own congregation.

A national communal leader in the 1960s, Pressman helped to create the Save Soviet Jewry movement that brought the plight of Soviet Jewry to the attention of the American public and helped create the program that eventually enabled tens of thousands of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. 

In 1965, he joined a group of 293 Southern Californians who walked with Martin Luther King Jr., who was joined by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, then head of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Together they crossed the Pettis Bridge to the state Capitol building in Montgomery, Ala., — with so many whites in the march and so much national attention that Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety during the American civil rights movement, could not fully unleash his troops.

Although Pressman is an institution builder, two of his major contributions to L.A. Jewish life may have been an institution he did not build and an institution he empowered to come into being without him.

After the L.A. riots, when synagogues were moving westward, Pressman committed to his congregation that they would remain in place at the intersection of Olympic and La Cienega boulevards, provided a substantial number of families would stay in the neighborhood. He went from door to door, speaking individually to families and getting them to sign up. As a result, Temple Beth Am is that rare Conservative congregation in California with a walking community, and it remains the anchor of the historic Carthay neighborhood. Three out of four of its members live within two miles of the synagogue.

In 1973, Pressman realized that in the future the “one-size-fits-all service” would not meet the needs of his congregation. Young Jews, educated at Camp Ramah and in Jewish day schools, graduates of the JTS and of Judaic studies programs, were coming to Los Angeles, many to serve its expanding Jewish community, and they wanted a self-led participatory service rather than a professionally led formal service. Pressman encouraged this group to form the Library Minyan, a family-friendly, informal lay-led minyan, which over the years was integrated into the congregation and provided its leadership. By now, Beth Am has thrived for some 43 years, and on any given Shabbat, as many as five different services are taking place within the synagogue’s walls; Beth Am became the precursor to the “synaplex.”

For many years, Pressman would say, wistfully, that he served the Beth Am community for more than 60 years, and what did he get?  “A bunch of kids running around town wearing my name on their dirty shirts.” 

The reference is to the fact that when he retired, Temple Beth Am named its award-winning day school in his honor: “The Rabbi Jacob Pressman Day School.” 

He’s talking about my kids, I thought, my kids and grandkids. This has got to stop. Don’t get mad, get even, I thought. 

I waited. And then one day I struck. 

Fresh out of the hospital, Rabbi Pressman did us the honor of attending our son’s bar mitzvah. When I rose to speak, I said, “I know your complaints, rabbi, but last week I attended a basketball game — Maimonides versus Pressman. Not bad company, Maimonides/Pressman in the same breath. My kids and the students who attend the school call Maimonides Maimo, but Pressman, they call Pressman. My daughter played Hillel the next night, Hillel/Pressman, also not bad company. I asked the students who was Maimonides, few knew that Maimonides and the Rambam were the same, but our kids all know Rabbi Pressman.” 

When my wife, Melissa, and I first came to Los Angeles, Margie and Rabbi Jack took an interest in us. When I took a new job, he admonished me on what I should do. He took an interest in my speaking style and even in the manner of my dress.

My wife and I have become close to the Pressmans over the past 16 years; we share Passover together and holiday dinners. We seek their advice; we enjoy their company, and we attend many events where Rabbi Jack gets up to speak. He is increasingly frail and walks with difficulty, but put him in front of a microphone, and 20 years come off his age. He becomes robust again, his voice strong, his wit and his wisdom intact. 

Each Rosh Hashanah, we attend the service on the first night to hear his poetic blessing, and each graduation and gala dinner of the Pressman Academy, his words are inspiring, his talent manifest. 

Rabbi Pressman’s life and his calling were one and the same. Rabbi emeritus for some 27 years, he and Margie have continued to serve the community in retirement as they did when it was their paid vocation. And we, the Jewish community — and most especially the community of Beth Am — are graced by their service and their presence.

Simply put. Rabbi Jack Pressman is to be treasured.

AIPAC discouraged Rouhani overture, Rabbi Wolpe says

The pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC “actively discouraged” an effort by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to reach out to Iranian-American Jews in Los Angeles, according to Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe.

During Shabbat services on Sept. 21, Wolpe informed his congregation, which has a sizable population of Iranian-American Jews, that Rouhani had extended a request to meet with several members of L.A.’s Iranian Jewish community, but that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) had discouraged such a meeting.

“AIPAC was concerned that a meeting would be used for propaganda purposes,” Wolpe told the Journal on Sep. 25. “I was happy to announce that as AIPAC’s position, though I myself didn't take a position.”

AIPAC’s West Coast office declined to comment. As of press time, the group’s spokesman in its Washington, D.C. headquarters had not returned the Journal’s telephone call or e-mail.

Sam Kermanian, senior adviser to the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) in Los Angeles, told the Journal that when Rouhani’s office reached out to the IAJF about two weeks ago, “We respectfully declined the invitation.”

“It looked like under the current circumstances any such meeting would easily be misinterpreted,” Kermanian said.

When asked whether IAJF consulted with AIPAC, Kermanian said that his group always consults with AIPAC and other national pro-Israel organizations on major issues, but that IAJF’s refusal of Rouhani was its own decision.

Kermanian added that even after IAJF turned down Rouhani’s offer, “The Iranian mission in New York was still inviting individual Jews to a dinner that the Iranians were hosting for the president.” Kermanian said that as far as he knows, nobody from Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community accepted the invitation.

Wolpe told his congregation that although he was ambivalent about discussing politics from the pulpit and would not give his personal opinion, he “trust[s] the judgment of AIPAC.” Wolpe added that he believed AIPAC was channeling the view of the Israeli government, and in particular Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regarded Rouhani’s invitation as a public relations stunt.

According to The Guardian, Rouhani was accompanied to New York by Iran's only Jewish MP, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, as part of his efforts to revamp the country's image.

Although Rouhani’s election last June was welcomed as a potentially moderating force in the Iranian regime, he has not refuted the Holocaust denial of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Last week, during an interview in Tehran, NBC news anchor Ann Curry asked Rouhani whether he believed the Holocaust was a “myth.” Rouhani replied: “I'm not a historian. I'm a politician.”

Wolpe told his congregation that Rouhani’s pronouncement on the Holocaust was dubious, at best, and reminded them of Netanyahu’s response: “It does not take a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust — it just requires being a human being.”

Netanyahu is clearly skeptical of any sincere political shift in Iran — he has referred to Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”   

Earlier this week, Rouhani used the occasion of attending the U.N. General Assembly to express a more detailed opinion of the Holocaust, telling a group of U.S. reporters that “the Nazis carried out a massacre that cannot be denied, especially against the Jewish people.”

“The massacre by the Nazis was condemnable,” Rouhani said, according to NBC News. “We never want to sit by side with the Nazis. They committed a crime against Jews — which is a crime against Christians, against Muslims, against all of humanity.”

Netanyahu called Rouhani’s speech a “cynical PR charade.”