Moving and shaking: JCFLA’s Marvin Schotland honored, SOLA celebrates

The most moving part of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles’ (JCFLA) 60th-anniversary celebration at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills Sept. 19 had to be when CEO Marvin Schotland’s father, Lou Schotland, sang to his son.

The event honored Marvin for his 25 years as head of JCFLA. A paragraph in the program told the story of his success: During Schotland’s tenure, the foundation’s assets have increased tenfold from $99 million to $906 million. JCFLA has disbursed more than $1 billion in charitable contributions in Los Angeles and throughout the world.

Some 400 people turned out to thank Schotland for these and other achievements. Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR delivered the benediction, Craig Taubman delivered the music, and kudos came from current JCFLA Chair Larry Rauch, former chair Marty Appel and Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

From left: Jewish Community Foundation past and present leaders Marty Appel (served 1989-1992), Allan Cutrow (served 1985-1988), Annette Shapiro (served 1997-2000), Marvin Schotland, Foundation president and CEO, Cathy Siegel Weiss (served 2005-2008), Mark Lainer (served 2001-2004), Larry Rauch (2013-present) and Lorin Fife (served 2009-2012). Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

Among the well-wishers were Sharon and Herb Glaser, Annette and Leonard Shapiro, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rabbi Ron Wolfson, Melissa Balaban, Evan Schlesinger, Allan Cutrow, Bill and Cece Feiler, Irwin and Helgard Field, Larry Hochberg and Sue Neuman Hochberg, Havi Scheindlin, and Lon Levin and Elie Gindi, whose graphic novel-esque Storygram of Schotland’s life greeted guests.

In his remarks, the soft-spoken Schotland — a major, if behind-the-scenes, force in Jewish life — thanked his wife, Sandy and heaped praise on his staff, who formed a cheering section in the back row of the hall.

Then came the moment when Schotland took the stage with his father, Lou; daughter Aviva Schotland, son Daniel Schotland, and grandson Eitan Schotland. Lou, age 92, an Auschwitz survivor,  led four generations of Schotlands in a rendition of  “L’.Dor v’DDor”D (From Generation to Generation). The audience of Foundation grantors, grantees, staff and fans stood and applauded.  There was, as they say, not a dry eye. 

— Staff Report

During a celebratory gathering on Sept. 11, members of Cafe Europa, a Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) social club for Holocaust survivors, celebrated the Jewish New Year a little early. (The holy day began at sundown on Sept. 24.)

Departing in the morning from the JFSLA Valley Storefront and the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center, two Greyhound buses brought an estimated 250 survivors to Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills for the afternoon event, which featured noshing, dancing, singing and more. 

JFSLA Executive Vice President Susie Forer Dehrey and Cafe Europa attendee Esther Fruchter.  Photo by Ryan Torok

“This kind of celebration is very important to them,” JFSLA Executive Vice President Susie Forer Dehrey told the Journal.

JFSLA Vice Chair Shana Passman was among those who turned out to make sure the survivors were comfortable as they enjoyed grilled-chicken sandwiches, Israeli salad and muffins.

“It means have a sweet new year. Right, papa?” said Filipino caretaker Lisa Gabriel, holding frail survivor Henry Bittman by the arm and referring to the sliced apples that sat on the banquet tables.

Bittman, who took the Kindertransport to Scotland as a 15-year-old boy, attended the Europa luncheon with his brother, Kurt Bittman, who went into hiding with a Catholic family at 13.

They were among attendees from Poland, Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. Others included Carl Sondheimer, 88, who was interned in Shanghai, China, during the war; Bergen-Belsen survivor Mala Tabachnik; Fania Itskovich, who survived five concentration camps — “I was hungry, day and night,” she told a reporter — and Esther Fruchter, a Warsaw Ghetto survivor who has since returned to Poland with Cafe Europa. Melrose-Fairfax resident Laurie Jacobs accompanied survivor Risa Igelfeld to the event. 

Chabad of South La Cienega (SOLA) members enjoyed live music, falafel and more during a pro-Israel event titled “Sola-Darity!” on Sept. 14. 

The evening, which took place at Studio Bancs in Culver City, also celebrated the efforts of SOLA’s Rabbi Avraham Zajac, Bassie Zajac, Eran Weiss, Jonathan Abesera and Omri Cohen, who traveled to Israel from Aug. 11-15 and donated money and gifts to Jews in southern Israel living in cities such as Sderot who were affected most by the recent Gaza war. 

Rabbi Avraham Zajac and nearly 70 attendees came together at Sola-Darity! Photo courtesy of Chabad of South La Cienega 

The event raised funds for SOLA and for the Chabad’s Terror Victims Project, a nonprofit that assists soldiers, their families and children.

“[They] have been living on the front lines for years,” SOLA member and event organizer David Nathan said of Israel’s southern residents, in an email to the Journal. 

Zajac, who hosted the event, offered words of inspiration to the approximately 70 people in the audience. 

“When we do one good deed, say one good word or even have one good thought, we bring redemption both to ourselves, and to the entire world,” Zajac said, as quoted by a press release. 

The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem honored former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa, on Sept. 15 at Sinai Temple, in recognition of his unflinching support of the city’s Jewish community and of the State of Israel.

“I grew up in Lincoln Heights, a historically Jewish community, extending a helping hand of friendship. The Jewish community is one I’m very close to,” Villaraigosa told the Journal.

American Committee for Shaare Zedek National Board Chair Menno Ratzker took the stage and kicked off the evening. Journal President David Suissa served as master of ceremonies at the event, which spotlighted Shaare Zedek Medical Center and its accomplishments in the field of medicine.  

In a prerecorded taping, media mogul Haim Saban highlighted the efforts of the nearly 3,400 on staff at Shaare Zedek. The hospital conducts year-round drills with the Israel Defense Forces to test capability in dealing with mass casualty situations and disperses doctors all over the world for emergency relief aid, the video said. 

Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel took to the stage and praised the Jerusalem-based medical center.  “This is a place where miracles are done,” he said. 

Villaraigosa told the Journal that his time spent in Shaare Zedek’s hallways during a recent trip to Israel, which included a private visit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left a lasting impression. Upon his return in June, Villaraigosa penned an Orange Country Register op-ed piece titled “Why We Must Support Israel.”

“I’m amazed at what Shaare Zedek does every day and has been able to do in the most extreme of circumstances. It’s a testament to their dedication and devotion to humanity,” he said in an interview. 

The Committee presented the inaugural NexGen Award, an intricate piece of calligraphy art by Israeli artist Mordechai Rosenstein, to Stephen Matloff. His parents, Jack and Martha Matloff, were leading figures in the creation of the Hyman and Ruth Matloff Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Shaare Zedek. 

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

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

LINK East serves a growing Pico-Robertson

The eastward expansion of Pico-Robertson’s Orthodox community hit a new milestone recently with the Aug. 24 opening of LINK East, a satellite branch of LINK, the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel.

A kollel is a place where rabbinic scholars study among themselves and teach people in the community. At this point, though, LINK East is starting off as a Shabbat-only synagogue.

Its location inside the yeshiva Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok on the corner of West Pico and South Crescent Heights boulevards puts it in the middle of the up-and-coming Faircrest Heights neighborhood, where many observant Jews from Pico-Robertson have moved over the last few years to take advantage of lower property values.

The original LINK, founded by Rabbi Asher Brander in 2002, is at 1453 S. Robertson Blvd. Previously, it was located at Westwood Kehilla, where Brander was also the rabbi.

 Brander said he has been planning LINK East for about two years, when he predicted Faircrest Heights would become a hot spot for Orthodox Jews. In a previous interview, Brander said that when he moved to Pico-Robertson in the early ’90s, the border of the Orthodox community was much farther west than it is now. Today, many Jews are moving east, past La Cienega Boulevard, into the Faircrest Heights neighborhood.

“That’s where the Jews are coming,” Brander told the Journal.

About 45 men and 25 women came to Aug. 24 Shabbat morning services, which were held inside the yeshiva’s study hall. That was followed by a lunch at the home of Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native who recently moved back from Israel with his wife and three daughters to become LINK’s associate rosh kollel (head of kollel) and to lead LINK East.

Since he arrived in July, Shoff said that he has been developing relationships with Jewish families in Faircrest Heights. He hopes that in addition to it being a Shabbat location for neighborhood residents, LINK East may attract families living in the eastern parts of Pico-Robertson willing to make what is about a 10- to 15-minute walk.

“This is just a little farther out in the neighborhood,” Shoff said. “It’s not far away.”

Prior to LINK East’s opening, Chabad of South La Cienega (SOLA) was the only synagogue that was within short walking distance for families in Faircrest Heights who observe Shabbat. That synagogue, led by Rabbi Avraham Zajac, began with about 10 families when it opened nearly six years ago. Zajac said that it now has around 100.

Reflective of the growth of SOLA and the Jewish community in Faircrest Heights, Zajac is spearheading an $8 million to $10 million expansion, which would include the construction of a communal mikveh, a Chabad synagogue, a Sephardic synagogue and a Jewish Montessori preschool. Zajac wrote in an e-mail to the Journal that SOLA recently purchased a 12,000-square-foot property for $2.4 million as part of the expansion project. The property is at 1450 S. La Cienega, a few blocks north of the existing location.

Shoff said that for now, his goal is to establish LINK East as a “warm, vibrant [and] exciting” Shabbat location. He said that LINK East will have Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services every week, along with a Kiddush lunch. 

Although both Shoff and Brander hope that Jewish growth in Faircrest Heights will warrant LINK East becoming a full-time weekday synagogue eventually, Shoff’s immediate focus is on making Shabbat as engaging as possible. 

“If we can produce something that’s beautiful and meaningful,” Shoff said, “then I think that ultimately the numbers will come.”

Parade, day of unity mark Lag B’Omer

Two major community events marked the relatively minor holiday of Lag B’Omer on April 28, bringing some bombast — and thousands of people — to local celebrations.

In Pico-Robertson, Pico Boulevard was transformed into a pedestrian’s paradise for Jews from across Southern California while Thousand Oaks welcomed people for a Jewish Day of Unity.

“The Great Parade” on Pico restricted the road to foot, bike and (lots of) stroller traffic between Doheny Drive and Livonia Avenue, organized by Rabbi Chaim Cunin’s Chabad of California along with more than a dozen other Chabads, the Jewish Journal and its parent company, TRIBE Media Corp.

Festivities kicked off at 10:30 a.m. with musical performances by Israeli artist and former “Les Misérables” Broadway performer Dudu Fisher, Sam Glaser, shofar musical artist David Zasloff and the Cheder Menachem Boys Choir.

Until late evening, Pico became a Jewish summer carnival, with families streaming in and out and clowns dancing in the streets. The sound of games filled the air, along with the smell of kosher eats. 

Jonathan Abesera, who rode with two of his children on the Chabad SOLA (South La Cienega) parade float, said it felt like putting on a huge Jewish party in the center of Los Angeles.

“Look at this. It’s beautiful to see how we closed off the street,” Abesera said. “All the other people who are not even involved, who are not even Jewish — how impressed they are.” 

The parade, which resembled a slice of kosher Mardi Gras in Pico-Robertson, featured bagpipes, 9/11 tribute cars, “Trinidad drummers” and even the inauguration of the world’s first “Mitzvah Cable Car,” a restored San Francisco cable car purchased by the Chabad of San Francisco and trucked into Los Angeles the night before the festival.

In Thousand Oaks, Chabad leaders from the Conejo Valley and Ventura County focused on ways to get the larger Jewish community to celebrate the holiday together.

“Two months ago, some of the Chabad centers around the Conejo Valley and Ventura County got to talking and discussed how in the past we all did our own events for Lag B’Omer in local parks,” explained Rabbi Dov Muchnik, who with his wife Racheli, serves as co-director of the Chabad of Oxnard. “However, because the theme of Lag B’Omer is Jewish unity, we realized this was the perfect occasion for all of our communities to get together.

The result was the first Jewish Day of Unity, held at Thousand Oaks High School, where people gathered to commemorate the 33rd day after Passover, which some say marks the end of an ancient plague and the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

“This event is not specifically Chabad,” said Devorah Heidingsfeld, an event organizer and co-director of Chabad of Moorpark. “Instead, we removed all the labels and made it just about Jews as a greater extended family.”

The Day of Unity, whose highlights included performances by the band Moshav and Chazzan Pablo Duek of Temple Etz Chaim, offered everything from a children’s choir and orchestra to fire jugglers. There was other typical festival fare, too: rides, food and vendors for products and services ranging from self-defense classes to international tour organizers. 

Sylvia Wildfire, a Conejo resident since 1997, said the event made her proud to be part of the area’s Jewish community.

“The one thing I love is looking around and seeing so many people here,” she said. “This is amazing, to see different branches of the community coming out, supporting each other and interacting.”

Event co-organizer Auna Simon engaged children in arts and crafts, designing cards for Israeli soldiers to show their support for their efforts on behalf of protecting Israel.  

As 5-year-old Michael Beck put his finishing touches on his portrait of an Israeli soldier, his mother, Miri Beck, said, “It is amazing to see so many people coming together to relax and enjoy the day as well as connect.”

Orthodox women marathoners don’t skirt a 26-mile challenge

At 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 20, four cars headed from Los Angeles to the 2012 Pasadena Marathon filled with members of the Skirts for SOLA team. Despite training for weeks, many of these newly minted runners still could not fully grasp that the day truly had come. “There were moments when I thought, ‘It’s not going to happen,’ ” said Sarah Chin, captain of the Skirts team, which is made up of a group of Orthodox women from the Chabad-Lubavitch community of South La Cienega (SOLA) who would be testing their abilities in the marathon or its accompanying shorter runs.

“The beginning was very slow,” Chin said. “My very first run was just me and another girl, and the next week it was just me. I was really trying hard, and my initial goal was to get 10 women. We got 10, then we got 11, and then we needed to get to 25 and people started to join. One of our community members signed up her newborn baby to the kids’ race the same day he was born! We ended up with 38 registrations.”

Chin herself is not a newcomer to marathon running: “I started doing it when I lived in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Everyone does running out there. There are races every weekend, and the majority of my friends did endurance sports. I didn’t like the way I looked anymore, and one day I saw this sign on the Metro that said, ‘Remember the time when running used to be fun?’ and I just couldn’t remember. I never thought running was fun.  I went to the Web site of the marathon training program and thought to myself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ That was the first one. And then I got hooked.”

An Orthodox all-women’s team is not something you see every day. For one, they face some very particular challenges: First and foremost, running in pants, covered by a skirt, while also wearing a long-sleeved shirt is hot, and Chin reports that some women stopped training because they were uncomfortable. In addition, most of the team members are married and have children, so training during the week was not really an option.  Jewish holidays also presented an issue; during Passover, for example, the team missed a weekend of training.

Asked whether their spouses were supportive, all of the women agreed the responses were amazing. Their husbands had to give up much of their own free time and their hobbies to sit home with the kids while the team members participated in long practice runs. Yet, the team members said, all of them are very proud of their wives.

Chin said she also received mostly positive responses from the rest of her community. “I’m sure some people think that us running outside is inappropriate, but there are always going to be critics of something. Most people thought it’s really great and were very supportive.”

By 6:30 a.m., the half- and full-marathon teams had started their run. A short time after, the 10K, 5K and kids’ runs were on their way as well. Thousands of onlookers and supporters were cheering from the start line, which became the finish line. In the meantime, in the Skirts for SOLA tent, Rabbi Avraham Zajac, the Chabad SOLA rabbi, was giving a Tanya lesson to family members and friends who had come to cheer the runners.

“When people achieve a goal, it gives them a special power,” the rabbi said, while waiting for his own wife to cross the finish line, “The body is tired, but the spirit is full with energy, and not only for those who run, but those around them as well. This power is contagious. The power of finishing something is awesome.

“When the idea of starting an Orthodox women’s team first came up, I thought it was so important for Orthodox people,” Zajac said, “The Orthodox community is sometimes missing a healthy kosher outlet, so I thought this idea will be a great inspiration for the community. It showed you can do all this without breaking any rules.”

Zajac believes in a healthy balance in life and ends every morning’s minyan with a physical exercise class at Chabad SOLA. “The soul really needs the body. The spiritual aspect is important, but you shouldn’t neglect the physical. This concept is not promoted enough within the Jewish community, because people feel there is a contradiction between religion and exercise, but one complements the other.”

Skirts for SOLA fans encourage the runners.

At noon, all of the group’s members have passed the finish line after a long and hot run. The temperature outside is about 90 degrees, but the heat doesn’t seem to affect the general mood, and in the Skirts’ tent the party has just begun.

“It feels incredible,” said Dina Forer, who had just completed her first full marathon. “It was such a challenge and is such an accomplishment. I had my doubts, but I thought, ‘When am I going to get another chance to do it again?’ And I just knew I’m going to do it.”

“There were hard moments,” admits Yumi Abigail Levine, a half-marathoner, “but all these great women were doing it, and they inspired me to keep going.” Dina Shallman, a full marathoner, said, “The toughest moment for me was when we hit the 13-mile mark. What kept me going was talking to my team members. That and the coffee goo [gel] shots,” she said, laughing.

Hudy Lipskier said her toughest marathon moment also came at mile 13. “What got me through,” she said, “was knowing that I trained long and hard for this, and that it’s my will that will enable me to finish the marathon.”

“You really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” said Rebecca Green, who had just completed her first full marathon. “You think you can do it, and along the way you gradually see how difficult it gets, and then in a day like this, when it ends up 90 degrees, you find you have no choice. You’ve trained for it for so long, and you just have to do it.

“Training with this team was amazing. Seeing people who aren’t necessarily fit or into sports all coming together and joining forces to do this, I think it’s amazing. I have blisters, but it was totally worth it. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“This team is amazing,” said Stery Zajac, the rabbi’s wife. “Very strong, determined, amazing women. I’m so inspired. I feel like I can do anything with this community.” Asked whether there will be a SOLA team next year, she replied: “There is a chance it’ll become a trend; people are already talking about the next marathon. This community doesn’t stop.”

“Hot, sodium-deficient, exhausted, hungry and still, everyone just kept going,” team captain Chin said. She is already training for her next adventure race. “I did the ‘Tough Mudder’ last year, and it was a crazy-difficult adventure race. Running 10 miles on a mountain, jumping into an ice bath, swimming under tubes, climbing on 20-foot walls, crawling through tunnels when it’s pitch black following only the sound of the aluminum foil of the person in front of you. Just one more thing to check off my bucket list,” she said, laughing.

“My ultimate goal is Iron Man,” Chin added. “Who knows? Maybe this will become the Skirts’ next challenge.”