Michael Ullman

On a recent weekday morning, Michael Ullman, 66, was busy packing bags of assorted produce at JFS SOVA Community Food and Resource Program in Van Nuys — carrots, potatoes, lettuce, onions, apples. By 9 a.m., he and another volunteer had managed to fill 100 bags to be distributed to clients. Not exactly a typical morning for an immigration law attorney.

The Calabasas resident and Or Ami congregant first got involved with SOVA six years ago. “I felt there was a void in my life, that I needed to do something to give back,” recalled the married father of two adult children. 

Ullman already had a longstanding relationship with the Sherman Oaks/East Valley Adult Center. For 20-plus years, a couple of times a month, as well as on major holidays, he and his wife, Charlotte, along with their kids (when they were younger), have delivered meals to homebound seniors. But he wanted to do more. 

“I decided to look for volunteer activities, and SOVA called my name.” While presented with various volunteer opportunities at the 32-year-old organization, working in the food pantry appealed most to him. 

“To me, food is really important, and there are so many people who are hungry,” Ullman said. “Right off the bat, I started taking a day off from work and giving it to SOVA.” (Because he has his own private practice, he didn’t have to get permission from the boss.) “It’s the highlight of my week. Not only are you helping others, you develop these relationships with people you would never meet. Not just the clients, but with the other volunteers. We talk about our lives and our experiences. It has turned into a family now.”

Ullman told the story of one woman who used to come to SOVA as a client. “She would never look up,” he said. “She would say, ‘Thank you.’ All of a sudden, we never saw her again. Then she started to volunteer. She got a job.”

Ullman’s wife also volunteers at SOVA on a weekly basis, albeit on a different day. In part, this is for practical reasons. “She works in my office when I’m not there,” Ullman said. “But I think it has allowed both of us to grow in different ways to be with different people.” Ullman also serves as master of ceremonies at SOVA’s annual volunteer appreciation event. And he’s hoping to take on another regular volunteer gig, perhaps at the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

“I’d like to at least give another half day,” he said.

“I feel blessed that I have the resources to allow me to take a day off of work,” Ullman added. “At one time, I thought it was just a gift — from me to them, and from them to me as well. But I have found it’s a necessity in my life. It sounds corny, but I get much more out of it than I give.” 

Tikkun Olam: Retired, but not from good deeds

Retirement hasn’t stopped Sharon Mayer from working, and she’s not alone. The Sherman Oaks resident is part of a growing number of seniors out in force to volunteer with the regularity of a job. 

Nationally, the numbers are significant: The Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C., predicted in a 2007 report that the number of volunteers 65 and older would jump from almost 9 million at the time to more than 13 million in 2020, according to United States Census data.

In the case of Mayer, she has volunteered every Tuesday for the past six years at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFS) SOVA Community Food Resource Program in Van Nuys, applying her skills as a former social worker to help serve her community. 

SOVA provides free groceries and support services to more than 12,000 people each month. Mayer got involved after a career that involved working in Child Protective Services, health care policy, and as chief field deputy to Mike Feuer, L.A.’s current city attorney, who was a councilman at the time.

“I was looking for something that could use some of my own skills and that was really giving directly to people in need,” she said during a recent interview in SOVA’s Valley food pantry in Van Nuys. 

After retiring, she sat in on a meeting with JFS and Feuer, at that time a member of the state Assembly. 

“I was just kind of sitting there and I went, ‘Oh, wait a minute. I can do that.’ It just seemed to call my name,” she said.

JFS has 800 volunteers overall, 60 percent of whom are baby boomers, and that number has been on the rise, according to Sherri Kadovitz, community outreach/volunteer coordinator. 

Other local organizations have seen a large baby boomer turnout as well. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles found that 75 percent of volunteers responding to a 2012-2013 survey for its children’s literacy program, KOREH L.A., were over 50, according to Barri Worth Girvan, director of community engagement programs and government affairs for Federation.

David Levinson, founder and executive director of Big Sunday, said many boomers started volunteering with their kids years ago and now are continuing on their own.

“We’ve always had a lot of baby boomer volunteers,” he said. “Now, with [their kids] growing up, many of the baby boomers have a bit more time on their hands to volunteer and help. It’s a nice time and age to give back.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service’s study explained things another way. It found that the propensity to volunteer rises with increases in education, and that the baby boomer generation is more highly educated and has had more opportunities than previous generations.

Margaret L. Avineri, JFS director of integrated clinical and community services, said the boomer generation is particularly drawn to volunteering because “they are at an age where they have a lot to give and they still have a lot of energy, and are looking for a way to connect with the community.”

And JFS is trying to strengthen that bond. Two years ago, it received a three-year grant from the California Community Foundation related to Farsi-speaking immigrants in the baby boomer generation.

“We’ve worked to involve them in the nonprofit world and trained a large number of them,” Avineri said. “Now they can go out and communicate with other Farsi speakers and help them.” 

Mayer, a grandmother of six who also volunteers twice a month at the downtown Central Library leading art and architecture tours, has found that most of her fellow volunteers at the SOVA pantry in Van Nuys are of her generation: “It’s the same crew. It’s really nice because you come in and you see the same people and we share, what’re your kids doing, that kind of stuff.” 

They’re drawn by the difference they can make in the lives of hungry people.

“I think what’s really special about SOVA is that we’re not just a food bank. We have other agencies that come in here and see our clients,” Mayer said after meeting with a first-time client. “For example, the gentleman I just spoke with looks like he will be eligible for Medi-Cal and food stamps. So I can take him over, he signs up and he’ll see somebody today who can actually take that application without him going to the welfare department.”

Mayer uses her past as a social worker to help her with her current position at SOVA at the resource center. 

“We basically are kind of the first person that somebody will see when they come to SOVA for the first time. So we’ll take down their information and we basically explain to them how SOVA works — how many times they can come a month, the different resources that we have as an agency.”

Retirees such as Mayer take the work they do for JFS seriously, Avineri said.

“People treat it like a job, an obligation. We know we can count on them,” she said. “What’s most remarkable is the level of commitment. Once you’ve been exposed to the work, you can’t just do it one time. Sharon is extremely giving and lovely in every way, and certainly committed. Our programs would not survive without volunteers like her.” 

She added: “People cannot say enough how much this work adds to their quality of life. The idea of tikkun olam is real for our volunteers.” 

Mayer said her work at SOVA has had its ups and downs, but has always been worth it.

“The rewarding part of the work is to actually see the relief on people’s faces when I tell them, ‘I’m getting some information from you and then you’re going to get food. This is it.’ 

“One of the most difficult things is to see people who are really embarrassed by coming in and how difficult it is for them,” Mayer continued. “I think it’s our role to alleviate that and to let them know that there but for the grace of God go any of us, and that this is a place that will help.”

Outstanding Graduate: Rachel Arditi — Family inspiration

Above all else, Rachel Arditi, 17, is passionate about helping others. 

An Encino resident and senior at The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, Arditi loves to volunteer time with people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Whether someone needs food, support, social interaction or just a shoulder to lean on, she is there. “Helping is in my nature,” Arditi said. “It’s something I love to do, and it brings me so much joy to see the impact I can make on someone else.”

Arditi has been doing community service since elementary school. As a child, she would go with her mom to a SOVA food pantry and assist her in coordinating volunteers. She grew up with an aunt with special needs, so she has always “realized the importance of giving back to the community.” 

Through her aunt, Arditi was inspired to work at two different organizations specializing in special needs: Best Buddies and OurSpace. Best Buddies is an international nonprofit devoted to children with special needs, and Arditi is now on the executive board of the organization for her school’s chapter and plans twice-monthly activities for children. In middle school, Arditi began participating in OurSpace at her synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom. The program provides activities and social outlets for adults, teens and kids with disabilities. The program’s director, Susan North Gilboa, said that when Arditi came in to volunteer, she “embraced it all. She really followed the lead and was able to be supportive of the individuals participating. She homed in on who needed her one-on-one attention.”

[Next Grad: Sam Lyons]

At Archer, Arditi serves on the community service board and is in charge of planning dinners for Daybreak, a shelter for mentally disabled homeless women in Los Angeles. When Arditi stops by once a month, she runs the meals and makes art projects with the women. “When I go to the women’s shelter, they tell me that they now have homes and are living on their own.” 

Even when Arditi is knitting, one of her favorite hobbies, she does it for a cause, making hats for premature babies with her knitting club at Archer. In her free time, she’s involved in United Synagogue Youth, where she’s on her chapter’s board and is in charge of elementary-school-age children. 

Arditi said that when she gets to Pitzer College in Claremont in the fall, she’s going to make sure she has time to keep volunteering. One of her goals is to participate in AbilityFirst, an organization that helps children and adults with disabilities. “There are definitely a lot of opportunities for volunteer work at my college, and I’m really excited for that,” she said. 

Arditi said that she wants to continue to work with people with special needs for the rest of her life: “I fell in love with that population,” she said. “Working with them has given me so much gratitude, and I’m able to value every moment of my life.”

Holiday help, Jewish Federation style

Traditionally, the holiday season is a time to think about others. This year, several events focused on the continuing need to address social issues, especially feeding the hungry and appreciating veterans.

Imagine a coordinated effort among food distributor executives blanketing L.A.’s hungry children addressing the problem. “Childhood Hunger: Taking Action,” a panel sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, aspired to put such a plan into action with a Dec. 3 think-tank rally. 

The featured guests, brought together by Federation’s Community Engagement Initiative, were Matt Sharp, senior policy advocate for California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA); Jessica Jones, policy and outreach manager for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank; and David Binkle, Los Angeles Unified School District’s director of food service. They were joined by Nicola Edwards, also of CFPA. Flori Schutzer, program director of Federation’s Hunger Initiative, moderated.

At Federation headquarters, about 40 people listened to talk of a plan to coordinate efforts between some of the area’s resources that collect food and serve meals. One of them — Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program — had its own panel discussion on food and hunger on Nov. 29 featuring chef Susan Feniger; Michael Flood, president/CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank; Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food”; and Rick Nahmias, founder of Food Forward.

The others area groups targeted for collaboration at Federation’s panel were Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Westside Food Bank, Project Chicken Soup, Union Station Homeless Services, Fred Jordan Missions, Union Rescue Mission and Big Sunday.

With the topic of childhood hunger, of course, also came that of schools. While the panel acknowledged changes in LAUSD’s lunch menu — shunning vending machines with unhealthy snacks and replacing fatty comfort foods such as grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk — students’ need for more help remains great. According to Binkle, about 80 percent of LAUSD children qualify for subsidized breakfast/lunch programs. 

To help, Jones said, the food bank runs a privately funded program that packs a weekend’s worth of food in backpacks for hungry kids to make it through a weekend until school resumes.

A day earlier, members of Federation’s Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) group continued the theme of serving the community when they braved a drizzly Sunday to participate in Mitzvah Day at the annual Veterans Holiday Celebration. 

Volunteers such as Benjamin Abrams arrived at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System’s facility in West Los Angeles, which welcomed some 1,500 veterans and their friends and family.

“I like to help out,” said Abrams, volunteering alongside his friend Patrick Azria. Abrams, who earlier in the day had run in the Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging’s annual 5K race, planned to take part in yet another charity event that night in Hollywood.

The Federation’s Debbie Dyner Harris said the VA volunteer effort was just one-quarter of a broader initiative for Mitzvah Day.

“We [also] volunteered at Friends and Helpers, where we packed holiday packages for women and their children who are victims of domestic violence; the Ronald McDonald House, which houses families while their kids undergo treatment at nearby Children’s Hospital, where we made a large meal and did arts and crafts projects for the kids and their siblings; and here at Federation, where we had families with small children packing care packages for Tomchei Shabbos, which provides all sorts of assistance for religious Jewish families,” she said.

Over the past two years, more than 1,000 people have attended at least one such community service day, according to Catherine Schneider, Community Engagement Initiative senior vice president.

“These days have helped build a true community of Jewish Angelenos who are devoted to creating relationships throughout our city and building a better Los Angeles,” she said.

Out of 130 Federation volunteers participating that day, some 91 volunteered at the VA benefit; 55 were from YALA.

In celebrating and honoring local veterans, the event united men and women from different conflicts. Soldiers from World War II and Vietnam mingled with those who served in the Gulf and Iraq wars. 

Ninety-six-year-old veteran Otto Verdekel, along with daughter Karen, enjoyed a hot meal that included everything from turkey with fixings to cheesecake. One of five brothers to enlist during World War II, Verdekel fought in the European theater, including in the Battle of the Bulge. 

Verdekel, of Ukrainian descent, shared his empathy for the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, pointing out that 11 million Ukrainians were murdered by the communists in his ancestral home. 

“A lot of my family died,” he said.

In 1948, Verdekel, now a resident at the Brentwood veterans’ home, moved to Eagle Rock. As a Pittsburgh native who was stationed in northern France, he had vowed, “If I survive, after I get out of the war, I never want to see snow again!”

More than food was on the menu at this event.

“What we’re doing is serving gratitude,” event co-manager Gregg Sanders said.

At 17, he entered the military’s advanced electronics and nuclear program. Flamboyant in cowboy garb, Sanders had an anachronistic, Civil War-era air about him as he delivered a motivational speech mobilizing his troops — the food servers.

Others sought to lift the veterans’ spirits in other ways. This year, Jim Belushi performed for nearly two hours while Carolina Chavez, one of five from the Pin Up Doll Platoon (one for each military branch, including the Coast Guard) made the rounds done up retro-style as a sexpot USO bombshell. 

“It’s been a pretty good turnout, despite the rain,” she said.

“Everyone’s enthusiastic!” Federation participant Julie Tseng echoed.  

One of the happiest people there was Adrea Miller-Vesely, who assisted in honor of her grandfather Lou Miller, who served in the Army Air Corps and met Miller-Vesely’s grandmother at a USO dance.

“This is my first opportunity to volunteer. I’m always out of town,” she said.

Meanwhile, Edward Collins dined on a turkey lunch with girlfriend Arlene Sword and her son, veteran Jim Reese, a stevedore stationed in Thailand from 1969 to 1970 who supervised cargo ships entering the Gulf of Siam. Reese recalled how conflicted he was about the Vietnam War. 

“I was drafted, but I was a hippie,” he said. “But when I was asked to go, I couldn’t say no. I had to serve my country.”

Reese would not have traded the experience.

“It changed me,” he said. “It disciplined me. It sobered me up.”

For many participating Jews, this initiative is a gateway into their community and into leadership roles in Federation programs “that shape our city,” Community Engagement Initiative’s Schneider said.

“It was an extremely positive experience overall,” YALA’s Josh Klein said. “The volunteers got a lot out of listening to [the veterans’] stories … and many vets offered their thanks to The Jewish Federation for our presence and support.”

Northridge mother pleads guilty in syrup swastika vandalism

A Northridge mother pleaded no contest Wednesday to a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for helping her teenage daughter and two friends deface homes with maple syrup swastikas, human feces and toilet paper, according to the L.A. city attorney’s office.

Catharine Whelpley was ordered to complete 80 hours of community service at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ SOVA program and attend one year of parenting classes.

If Whelpley completes both within one year, her case will be reduced to an infraction.

“It is important that persons responsible for such conduct, including parents, have taken responsibility for their improper actions,” City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said. “Hopefully, these enforcement actions will deter others from engaging in such bad conduct.”

Whelpley had faced multiple criminal counts, including three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, two counts of vandalism, two counts of trespassing and two counts of tampering with a vehicle.

The charges stem from an April 3 incident in which Whelpley drove her 14-year-old daughter and her daughter’s two friends – ages 14 and 13 – to two homes in the San Fernando Valley that were defaced, prosecutors said.

At the first home, the residence of a former middle school friend, the teens allegedly defaced the property with toilet paper and maple syrup and smeared feces on the homeowner’s vehicle.

Whelpley then drove the juveniles to a store to purchase additional toilet paper before arriving at the second home, according to the city attorney’s office. Whelpley’s daughter allegedly wrote the word “Jew” and drew three swastikas on the front walkway of the home, which belongs to the son of a Holocaust survivor.

During today’s proceedings, the homeowner was allowed to read a statement that delved into his family’s experience with the Holocaust, Deputy City Attorney Ayelet Feiman said.

“I do believe it opened the defendant’s eyes to what her daughter actually did to his family,” she said.

Whelpley has attended a Museum of Tolerance program with her teenage daughter and wrote a letter of apology to the victims. In addition to the parenting classes and volunteering for SOVA, Whelpley has been ordered to pay a $200 fine and approximately $600 in additional penalties.

The three teenage girls did not face criminal charges because their actions did not cause permanent damage to the properties. However, the teens faced disciplinary action at their school for the defacing, which they admitted to doing, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

This year, more Angelenos than ever get Passover aid from local agencies

This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.

During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.

Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.

The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos,  “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.

“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”

Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.

“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.

Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.

On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.

Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.

Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.

Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.

In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.

SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.

“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.

The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.

More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”

Food banks short, SOVA amps up High Holy Days appeal

Adire situation is looming at regional food banks and distribution centers, as ever-increasing demand collides with government cuts, threatening the food supply chain for the neediest.

In May, funding for FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program was cut from $200 million to $120 million in congressional budget negotiations — and, as of mid-September, food banks still hadn’t received any of that allocation. In that same period, high commodity prices meant that the USDA didn’t have to purchase as much surplus food from farmers — food that goes to school lunch programs and to social service agencies through its TEFAP program (The Emergency Food Assistance Program).

Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program is feeling the crunch, as it encounters record demand in this stubborn economic downturn. SOVA served 13,000 clients at its three sites in August, giving out more than 100 tons of food. Before the financial meltdown in late 2008, SOVA averaged 6,000 clients a month.

“We have a whatever-it-takes spirit that says if there is a need, we will meet it,” said Fred Summers, SOVA’s director of operations.

That élan has been tested in recent months, however, as Summers and his staff have fought to make sure clients take home the usual 18 to 20 pounds of food, including fresh produce, meats and dairy items, as well as dry goods.

On a recent Tuesday morning at SOVA’s Metro Resource Center on La Brea Avenue, every chair was filled in the busy but orderly waiting room. An elderly Asian woman slung a protective arm over her collapsible shopping cart, clutching a numbered ticket in her hand. Next to her, a young man dressed in black jeans and a black button-down shirt, a slick ponytail down his back, rested his elbows on his knees, as he gazed up at a monitor flashing information about how to prepare fresh beets, or who qualifies for enrollment in the CalFresh government nutrition program. A young woman in business attire, her own number in her hand, watched as a bedraggled-looking man helped a Latino family use a bungee cord to secure a grocery-filled cardboard box to a cart.

Four days a week plus two Sundays a month, hundreds of people come to SOVA’s Metro Resource Center on La Brea, as well as to sites in Van Nuys and Pico-Robertson, to get enough groceries to last about five days.

Last month, however, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, SOVA’s primary source of government food, received about half the amount of donated food from the USDA as it had in the previous August.

This during a lingering economic downturn, where food banks nationally are seeing 70 percent more clients than they were just three years ago.

“Things have been in concert to a certain degree over the last three years, where different food sources have been growing and increasing while demand has stayed high,” said Michael Flood, CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which until recently distributed 1.4 million pounds of government food a month to local pantries. “Our concern now is that the overall food supply is flattening, but demand is continuing to grow, and it is that gap that is worrisome to us.”

SOVA is conveying this new urgency through this month’s annual High Holy Days food drive. New barrels have been distributed to synagogues for food donations, along with shopping lists and pleas asking rabbis to make an extra push for food and financial contributions.

Throughout the recession, SOVA has kept up with demand by increasing financial and food donations and finding new lower-cost suppliers, but, over the last three months, SOVA has spent 55 percent beyond its own budget buying food to fill shelves once stocked with donated government products. SOVA had budgeted $240,000 for food purchases this year, and now projects it will spend $440,000. SOVA’s overall budget is $1.47 million.

“I have what I thought would be a budget for the current fiscal year, and I’m blowing through it faster than is sustainable,” Summers said.

Between 2008 and 2011, 19 percent of SOVA’s food came from individual donations, 24 percent from the USDA, 18 percent donated from vendors, and around 39 percent was purchased at low cost from food banks or commercial vendors. Those percentages will now shift toward more purchased food.

“We are in the process of developing new sources of donated food, and redoubling our efforts around fundraising to make sure the bags we give to our clients don’t get smaller. We’ll be able to make adjustments with the support of the community, without diminishing the quality and quantity of what we provide,” Summers said.

While donations of canned and boxed food are appreciated, money is also vital because each dollar donated to SOVA can buy about $5 worth of food, through relationships it has with bulk distributors and closeout warehouses.

In contrast to many food banks, where clients are handed a prepacked order based solely on the number of people in the household, at SOVA a volunteer packs a personal order for each client. The order usually includes canned and dry goods, as well as fresh produce, meats, dairy products and fresh bakery items. SOVA has 300 volunteers who take regular shifts — and hundreds more who make sporadic visits — to sort and pack food or work directly with clients, who are entitled to one grocery order a month.

At the Metro Center, volunteers escorted clients to intake desks surrounded by informational brochures and fliers, and made more homey with a bowl of Tootsie Rolls and a reading and play corner for kids. The volunteer helped clients fill out grocery orders, based both on the number of people in the household and particular needs and wants: Low sodium? Kosher? Canned or dry pasta? Do you need toothpaste? Shaving cream? Are you traveling by car or bus? Do you have a kitchen where you can prepare the food?

Intake workers also looked for signs that might indicate that clients needed further assistance from a resource volunteer, a job counselor or a social worker, all of them on site.

Over the last few years, SOVA has been converting the operation from solely a food pantry to a comprehensive social service operation, recognizing that being short on food usually comes with other problems — unemployment, housing issues, emotional instability. Its new 3,100-square-foot Metro Resource Center, opened last October, has become a social service hub for the neighborhood.

Through SOVA’s Community Connections programs, a rotating schedule of JFS case management and mental health social workers are on site here and at the Van Nuys and Pico-Robertson locations, in addition to career counselors from Jewish Vocational Services, attorneys from Bet Tzedek legal services and counselors who can help clients enroll in CalFresh, Medi-Cal and other governmental and private resources. When the pantry is closed on Thursdays, JFS and other agencies are invited to use the space to see clients or provide educational services.

“When someone walks into SOVA for groceries, it shouldn’t begin and end with food,” said Margaret Avineri, senior director of clinical and client support services at JFS. “We help them with basic needs beyond needing food right now, so we can support them enough so they eventually won’t need what we do.”

That has been especially true for a new demographic that has been accessing SOVA’s and JFS’ services more and more over the last couple of years — previously middle-class families who never before needed help.

“One of the reasons we’ve worked so hard at integrating all of our services on site is that people who typically would not have come to a social service agency have found themselves in need, and they feel comfortable getting it all in one place. We work hard to make this a gateway to all services from JFS,” Avineri said.

Jewish and Muslim Teens’ Project Focuses on Shared Values

On April 4, six Jewish teens from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and three Muslim teens from King Fahad Mosque in Culver City fished through a seemingly endless supply of canned goods at SOVA in the San Fernando Valley, the food distribution and supportive service program that is part of Jewish Family Service. Brought together by the Interfaith Dialogue Project, they placed soups, fruits, vegetables and more into small boxes so that the food could be delivered to other SOVA locations throughout Los Angeles.

It was the second of a two-part community service project intended to show the kids what they have in common. They had first come together on March 28, to work with the ILM Foundation, a Muslim nonprofit committed to ending hunger. That day, the group distributed tuna and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to the homeless on downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

The Skid Row work resonated twofold for July Aye, a Muslim member of the project and a junior at Torrance High School. Aye described the experience as “eye-opening,” saying it demonstrated how “Jews and Muslims can work as a team.”

Emanuel and Fahad’s interfaith project was the result of a Weekend of Twinning last November, organized by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to fact-to-face dialogue between ethnic communities. The weekend encouraged congregants from North American and European synagogues and mosques to share goals and values.

Ilana Schachter, 26, and Samia Bano, 28, co-coordinators of the interfaith project, explained that their group aims to build relationships among Jewish and Muslim youth. In addition to convening for community service, the group holds monthly meetings and social events to discuss topics such as faith, identity, assimilation, relationships and dating outside the religion.

Before they began their work at SOVA, they recited together an Islamic prayer from the Quran. They ended their day with a Jewish prayer. Danielle Feuer, 16, a junior in the magnet program at North Hollywood High School, led the group in a prayer in Hebrew that followed the structure of Tefilat HaDerech, the invocation for safe travel. For the occasion, the prayer’s words were changed slightly to express a “journey of justice,” Schachter explained.

Following the Jewish prayer, the group sat together at an outdoor table at a nearby taco stand and talked about the Torah and the Quran. They compared a Leviticus text that emphasizes that you must not wait until somebody becomes destitute before offering assistance with a Quran text that stresses that proper charity is giving away something that you want, not just what you don’t.

In a separate interview, Feuer spoke of her experience visiting the Fahad mosque while still a confirmation student at Temple Emanuel. Observing the Islamic worship and speaking with the imam, she said she gained a stronger insight into “what actually goes on in the faith.” The Interfaith Project continues to deepen her insight, she said.

Schulweis gets ADL Daniel Pearl award; Super supper with SOVA

Schulweis Receives ADL Daniel Pearl Award


(From left) ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, Richard Moss, Ruth Pearl, Judea Pearl, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Ruth Moss, George Moss and ADL National Director Glen Lewy. Photo by David Karp

When Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abe Foxman introduced Rabbi Harold Schulweis to a crowd of admirers during a recent award luncheon, he painted Schulweis as a brave and visionary leader — someone who advocated for the inclusion of women and gay couples in Jewish life long before those were commonplace notions. Yet such is the legacy of Schulweis, who at 83 continues to work toward tikkun olam (healing the world).

The rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Schulweis is also a distinguished author and the founder of Jewish World Watch, a Jewish social justice response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur that aims to provide education, advocacy and refugee relief to victims of the ongoing genocide, many of whom are devout Muslims.

Schulweis was presented with the Daniel Pearl Award at the ADL's annual conference on Nov. 13. Endowed by ADL supporters Ruth and George Moss, the award recognizes those who improve the image of Jews and Judaism in the Muslim world.

“Rabbi Schulweis is a champion of borderless humanity,” said Judea Pearl, whose son, slain journalist Daniel Pearl, is the inspiration for the award.

“It is to his credit,” Pearl continued, “that we no longer ask God to apologize for sleeping late that day; we ask him instead to show us another Jewish child who can be empowered by Daniel's legacy … to show us a community of Muslims who can be enlightened.”

When Schulweis accepted his award — which in previous years has gone to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Atlantic Monthly writer Jeffrey Goldberg, among others — he paid tribute to the heroism of the Pearl family.

“You have taught us how to confront the difficult tragedies of living in a maddening world,” Schulweis said, referring to the Pearls as heroes. “The hero is not one who can lift heavy weights over shoulders, but one who can lift the stone of despair from the hearts of sufferers.”

Not once did he mention his own significant accomplishments; instead, Schulweis used his time to talk about others.

“[The Pearls] taught us how to resist the temptation of vengeance and vindictiveness, how to refuse to submit to rage and how to mourn with meaning — you do not find goodness in the causes of tragedy but in the response to tragedy,” Schulweis said. He praised them for having the courage “to begin again, to dream again, to pray again.”


Super Supper With SOVA

Barbara Weiser (second from left) and Rick Powell (far right), co-chairs of JFSLA's SOVA Advisory Committee, presented plaques of gratitude to chef Suzanne Tracht and Stephen Friddle, Jar general manager

Sometimes it takes the lure of extraordinary food to help get ordinary food on the table.

That certainly did the trick on a recent Sunday evening, when more than 50 people ponied up $500 each for a place at chef Suzanne Tracht's “Premier Suzpree Benefit for SOVA,” held at her elegant restaurant, Jar.

The five-course dinner, which raised money for SOVA's food pantries, featured delicate pumpkin-filled dumplings, Shanghai noodles with salmon caviar, braised oxtail and other delectable dishes Tracht plans to offer at Suzpree, the “modern oyster bar and noodle house” she'll be opening with Jar's chef de cuisine, Preech Narkthong, in late summer 2009.

Tracht, who opened Jar in 2001 and added a spin-off, Tracht's, in downtown Long Beach in summer 2007, had long been looking for a way to give back to the community. Her rabbi, John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood, put her in touch with Abby Leibman, a longtime community activist and Jewish Family Service board member.

“Abby and I talked about a few organizations, but as soon as she mentioned SOVA, I knew it would be perfect. It's local, it's about food, and it will be ongoing, always needing our support,” recalled Tracht, who is planning further fundraisers for the organization. For starters, Suzpree's summer opening will also be a benefit for SOVA.

SOVA, the community food and resource program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA), operates three L.A. food pantries: one in the Valley, one in Pico-Robertson and one not far from Jar, on Beverly Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue. Each pantry provides free groceries to those in need, as well as supportive services that include legal, job and nutrition counseling and food stamp enrollment.

Requests for SOVA's services have dramatically increased as troubles with the U.S. economy continue to grow. In October, SOVA pantries served more than 6,200 clients, up 30 percent from the previous April, according to Susie Forer-Dehrey, associate executive director of JFSLA.

“SOVA has traditionally been seen as a place to drop off food, which is wonderful. But we're also trying to educate the community that running the pantries takes money, too,” Forer-Dehrey said.

Among the attendees were Paul Castro, JFSLA executive director and CEO; Joan Mithers, JFSLA's director of food, hunger and community support programs, and Bernie Briskin, CEO of Arden Group. A longtime Jar and SOVA supporter, Briskin pronounced the evening a “fabulous success.”

— Anita K. Kantrowitz, Contributing Writer

Dig, plant, grow, give — sharing the bounty of food

If there’s one thing Gabe Goldman wishes more Angelenos would do next spring, it’s get their hands dirty.

The American Jewish University (AJU) professor and director of experiential education is signing up students, synagogues and anyone else with a piece of land and a green thumb to plant small, personal gardens next March and donate their produce to local food pantries. The project, Helping Hands Gardens, aims to stock the shelves of overburdened Los Angeles pantries with organic fare as need across the region soars.

“I found out from food agencies that the number of people coming through their doors in the last six months has been overwhelming because of the economic downturn,” Goldman said.

Goldman brought his sophomore service-learning students to SOVA Food Pantry in 2007 to get a feel for what the agency, an arm of Jewish Family Service, does. They found that the pantry’s clients weren’t just unemployed adults anymore — they were often the children of families who can no longer make ends meet.

SOVA’s troubles sprang to mind as Goldman worked in the organic garden at AJU’s Brandeis-Bardin campus in Simi Valley last summer. After a bumper crop of tomatoes, he realized he and his students could help fill a need in the community. “I thought, boy, this would be a good time to take a portion of our food and start donating it,” he recalled.

In fact, he began to envision dozens of volunteer gardeners across Los Angeles doing the same. A small, 10-by-12-foot organic garden might only produce 20 pounds of food in a season, but a network of bite-sized food-growing operations could collectively help alleviate the strain on local food banks.

“One-hundred of these small gardens could produce more than a ton of food,” Goldman said. “These gardens are small, they don’t cost a lot, and they’re easy to take care of. Anyone with a backyard can do it.”

The project is a boon to SOVA Executive Director Joan Mithers, who has seen the number of monthly visits to the agency’s three pantries climb steadily since the economy began to sour last summer. In 2002, SOVA provided food to 2,500 clients per month. That number had risen to 5,000 by 2007. A record 6,200 L.A. residents lined up at SOVA locations this September. The agency has struggled to accommodate a 40 percent spike in client visits over the past year alone, between requests for food and financial service referrals, Mithers said.

“We have no indicator that it’s going to get better soon,” she said, noting that the pantry’s donations of surplus food from the USDA have been dwindling in recent years (the agency also receives food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Westside Food Bank and community food drives). “The common belief is that it will get worse before it gets better. With so many people, it would be great to have more food coming in.”

Goldman’s crop this summer at the AJU garden was a start. He and his students set aside a 50-by-50-foot portion of the one- acre plot for the Helping Hands Gardens project and ended up donating 200 pounds of food to pantries around Los Angeles, including SOVA and Simi Valley’s Care & Share food bank. The organic offerings featured zucchini and butternut squash, sweet corn, roma and beefeater tomatoes, onions and carrots.

Mithers said the project would improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of food at SOVA’s pantries.

“This is healthy food,” she said. “When people have limited income, they tend to have to buy the kinds of things that fill them up quickly and inexpensively, and those aren’t always the healthiest products. We want to provide our clients with healthy food, and you don’t get much healthier than fresh, organic produce.”

Studies have shown that the act of gardening also carries health benefits — and a sense of pride — for the gardeners themselves, according to Goldman.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” he said. “The people who are least able to afford organic food will have it provided for them. The students at our institution won’t just be learning about social problems; they’re taking an active role in the planning process — getting their hands dirty in the fields — and that changes them. Then the people in these agencies and schools who have these gardens get this tremendous sense of pride because they put a seed in the ground and helped it grow.”

Educators at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles have already seen this phenomenon in the two years since they planted a community garden at their religious school. Students there are no strangers to tikkun olam (healing the world) — they currently grow flowers to bring to patients at local hospitals alongside Passover herbs and Israeli plants.

“There is a glow in their eyes when they show me the dirt under their fingernails,” said Avram Mandell, education director at Leo Baeck. “There’s something about nurturing something from start to finish that you can’t teach out of a book.”

Next spring, the school will dedicate a portion of its garden to Helping Hands. Children in grades K-6 will care for the vegetables, harvest them, and donate them to help feed the hungry.

“We want students to connect to their community through the earth,” Mandell said. “This is an amazing opportunity to teach them about contributing to society.”

That’s how Rabbi Dara Frimmer feels about her young congregants at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles. The synagogue, whose unique Green Team encourages recycling and energy conservation, got on board with the Helping Hands project as a way to educate their 400 preschool students about sustainability.

“We want to teach our kids where food comes from,” Frimmer said. “We want them not only to have the pretty green plants in their courtyard, but also to teach them about having something they can use and work with and donate.”

Because of space restrictions on synagogue grounds, members will install several large planters around the property — namely in the playground area and in the preschool courtyard — so kids will interact with the gardens each day.

Until planting season begins in March, Goldman is reaching out to churches, synagogues, Hillels, senior centers and other potential participants to join the effort. Helping Hands Gardens will train AJU students to work with each facility as they set up their garden, which volunteer hosts will tend themselves. Goldman wants to see the project grow to a size where they can donate to food pantries throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“Every community in the country could have Helping Hands Gardens,” he said. “I am a firm believer that any social problem we create, we can solve. We have a lot of people and a lot of kids who need help now, through no fault of their own. We’re here and we can help them, so we should.”

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Sept. 20-26: Stories and songs, lectures and films, politics


Even if you can’t convert a 7-10-split, you’ll at least be able to help Strike Out Hunger. SOVA celebrates its 25th anniversary on the lanes in Tarzana with a food drive and family fun, including bowling, bingo, music, activities for kids, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jfsla.org/sova.

Learn how to turn over a new leaf during the High Holy Days season by celebrating Shabbat the environmentally friendly way. Temple Beth Am is sponsoring Green Shabbat, featuring a panel discussion led by LADWP General Manager David Nahai with other champions of the environmental movement, including representatives from TreePeople and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California. A kosher lunch featuring environmentally friendly products will be served during the Q-and-A session. Don’t miss this chance to learn how to go green. Sat. 11:30 a.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. to (310) 652-7354, ext. 213. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.laughfactory.com.

Throw on your dancing shoes and feather boas and experience Hollywood as it was in the 1920s. Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ Young Leadership of Los Angeles is holding its second annual Roaring ’20s Old Hollywood Gala, where flappers and spats will once again sparkle on the dance floor. Sat. 8 p.m.-2 a.m. $135-$500. The Los Angeles Theatre, 630 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. (310) 305-4063. ” target=”_blank”>http://yiddishkaytla.org.

Prepare yourself for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with a special prelude to a Selichot service at Temple Judea: “Take a Sweater: Unsolicited Advice and Complex Relationships That Adults Have With Our Parents.” The evening will include a screening of Woody Allen’s “Oedipus Wrecks,” a short movie included in the three-story film package, “New York Stories.” Allen’s comedy tells the story of a New York lawyer and his Jewish mother, a parent who gives new meaning to the word “critical.” A discussion on forgiveness, love and parents will follow the viewing of the film, followed by a Selichot service. Sat. 9 p.m. Free. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.tioh.org.


Calling all singles, couples, individuals, eccentrics and just plain outdoorsy types to Mosaic L.A.’s Ocean Boardwalk “Urban” Hike and Kosher Picnic. Just when you started lamenting summer’s end, here comes an opportunity to get back to the beach. Only this time, stroll in a sweatshirt in the cool breeze flowing from the Pacific. Afterward, the group will gather for a sumptuous kosher picnic — Mosaic will provide chicken, rice and veggies and everyone else is invited to bring a parve side dish or dessert. Just don’t forget to visit the Web site and R.S.V.P. Sun. 3:30 p.m. (hike), 6 p.m. (picnic). $10-$12. Meet at 7299 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. For more information, e-mail info@mosaicla.org or visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.fcla.org.

” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishnewport.com.

Frank Sinatra and Doris Day both recorded his songs. Now Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills is bringing the Academy Award-winner’s tunes — “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way” and “High Hopes” — back to life in “It’s Magic! — A Tribute to Sammy Cahn.” Leonard Maltin will narrate the performance, which features entertainers from Broadway and beyond, including Steve Tyrell, Karen Morrow and Harry Shearer. Sun. 5 p.m. $35-$125. Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 655-0111. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.valleycitiesjcc.org.


Tired of those insipid blockbusters devoid of meaning? Here’s an artistic event sure to expand your ideas about war and peace. “Cine-Peace,” a project of Americans for Peace Now, presents a series of short films offering diverse ” target=”_blank”>http://www.peacenow.org/socal.

Join an informative lecture presentation that offers a fascinating look at the Jewish presence in China. Peter Berton, professor emeritus of international relations at USC, will discuss the various waves of Jewish migrations to China. He will also elaborate on relations between China and Israel, focusing on the development of trade in the areas of agriculture, weapons and technology, as well as the introduction of the China-Israeli Friendship Society. Perhaps most intriguing, Berton will look at the interest among today’s Chinese youth to promote Jewish values. Don’t miss China and the Jews, an Afternoon With Peter Berton. Mon. 2 p.m. Free. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2526. ” alt=”ALTTEXT” width=”300″ height=”461″ align = right vspace = 8 hspace = 8 />
Heeb Magazine, the irreverent, “take-no-prisoners” rag on everything Jewish and cool is bringing its brand of Jewish comedy to M Bar. A slew of writers, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.heebmagazine.com/blog/view/995

What does it take to build a movie studio that revolutionizes Hollywood? “Chutzpah,” according to a new three-part documentary by Harry Warner’s granddaughter, Cass Warner Sperling, who weaves home movies, archival footage and family memorabilia to tell the story of “The Brothers Warner,” four ” target=”_blank”>http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters.

Don’t worry about fitting in, says author and licensed psychologist Leonard Felder. Be unique. Be an individual, he prescribes. But at what cost? How much must you compromise your true self to fit into the broader community? Felder has some tips for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, a pariah or a social outcast. And let’s face it — we’ve all been there at one point or another. So learn from what “Fitting in Is Overrated: The Survival Guide for Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Like an Outsider” has to offer, including the benefits of being in the minority and learning to deal with cliques, queen bees and close-minded people. Tue. 7:15-8:45 a.m. $15-$20. Minding Your Business Breakfast Meeting, Beverly Hills Country Club, 3084 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 364-4465.


Jews for Judaism is devoted to combating what it calls the $250 million crusade targeting the Jewish community for conversion. And the anti-missionary group has a lengthy list of lofty supporters: Jona Goldrich, Marilyn Ziering, Ruth Ziegler and several prominent rabbis. Tonight L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and director Arthur Allan Seidelman will be honored for their steadfast support, while emcee Mark Schiff entertains over cocktails and dinner. Wed. 5:30 p.m. $250. Luxe Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Bel Air. (310) 556-3344. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.barnesandnoble.com.

One summer, out of the blue, Michael Greenberg’s 15-year-old daughter experienced a psychotic break. In his memoir, “Hurry Down the Sunshine,” he chronicles the loss and pain that overtook his daughter, his family and his marriage as she disappeared from their world: “I feel like I’m traveling and traveling with nowhere to go back to,” his daughter, Sally, told him in a brief moment of clarity. The author will read from and sign his latest work. Wed. 7 p.m. Free. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-5320. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.

Bernard Henri-Levy has a thing or two to say about totalitarianism. A joint venture of ALOUD and KCRW-FM, the French Jewish intellectual will share his views on authoritarian regimes of the past as well as emergent ones with Arianna Huffington, of KCRW’s “Left, Right, and Center” and Huffington Post. Will he lambaste China? Iran? The United States? Huffington keeps things moving with challenging questions and provocative repartee. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Standby only. ALOUD at Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. (213) 228-7025. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mademenuclear.com.

The timeless theme of the relationship between a father and his son, and the things that bring them together and tear them apart, is the subject of “Conversations With My Father,” a play by Herb Gardner. The Santa Monica Theatre Guild presents the humorous drama of Eddie, a Russian Jewish immigrant whose history of suffering from pogroms continues to plague him. While the 40-year-old Canal Street bar owner decides to disavow himself of his Jewish roots, he sees his young son, Charlie, attend Hebrew school. As one struggles to break free of a tortured past and another discovers a new sense of identity in a new world, father and son represent the conflict between tradition and assimilation. At once a portrait of past demons, the challenges of rebuilding life as an immigrant and the irreconcilable differences between family members, Gardner’s work is both poignant and humorous, filled with Yiddish idioms, eccentric characters and universal truths. Fri.; Sat., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 28, 2 p.m. $9-$18. Through Oct. 25. The Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 828-7519.

Zucky’s and SOVA — knishes and compassion

Hy and Zucky Altman founded the SOVA food pantry program at a vacant Santa Monica bar in 1983. On opening day, the Altmans put all the food they had on the counter — bagels, soup, canned goods — waiting to serve the impoverished Jewish seniors they had gotten to know in the beachfront neighborhood.

A Latino walked in looking for a meal.

“Hy looked at me and said, ‘He’s not Jewish,'” recalled his wife, Zucky Altman, 89. “I said, ‘So what? He’s hungry.’ From that moment on, we decided we would just feed everybody.”

SOVA’s history and its connection to Zucky’s Delicatessen — the iconic Googie-style Ocean Park restaurant where the Altmans fed needy residents for more than 20 years — are the topics of a new documentary, “Knishes and Compassion,” which will premiere online Sept. 21, the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Filmmaker Leron Kornreich, who produces personal life-story films through her company,

Alperts endow Jewish studies at CSULB, ADL en Espanol

Alperts Endow Jewish Studies Chair at Cal State Long Beach

Ten years after its creation, the Jewish studies program at Cal State Long Beach has received a $1 million endowment for a chaired professor.

Barbara and Ray Alpert, whose name is on the Long Beach Jewish Community Center they heavily support, donated the funds for the new faculty position, The Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies.

“The Jewish studies program is an important department for the university, one that can enhance the understanding of history, especially the Holocaust and its implications, as well as the study of language, ethics and other related areas,” Ray Alpert, whose father co-founded Alpert &Alpert Iron &Metal seven decades ago, said in a statement.

“It’s wonderful to contribute to a program that helps students understand and appreciate this great heritage, history and culture, a program that attracts students from all over the world,” Alpert added. “Our hope is that our contribution will further the growth of the program for years to come.”

University President F. King Alexander and Jewish studies faculty said the Alperts’ donation would help the program expand both in size and scholarship. The program, which offers a minor and major in Jewish studies, provides more than 20 courses annually, hosts a speakers series, invites guest lecturers and organizes campus symposia.

“This gift,” said Jeffrey Blutinger, program co-director and a professor of Jewish history, “will have a profound impact.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Wells Fargo Donates $10,000 to SOVA

In response to increasing demand at SOVA’s three food pantries, Wells Fargo has donated $10,000 to the program of Jewish Family Service (JFS).

As The Journal reported last month, the downturn in the economy has hit Jewish social service organizations from both sides: Resources are declining because of higher gas and food prices and decreased public and private funding, which coincides with increasing demand.

SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, which provides food, counseling and referral services for Jews and non-Jews from locations in the Valley, the Fairfax district and the Westside, has seen monthly client visits double since 2002. June’s 5,600 visits were the most since November, a historically high-traffic month because of Thanksgiving.

“With demand soaring and donations declining, our local food banks are in desperate need of support,” Shelley Freeman, Wells Fargo regional president, said in a statement. “Wells Fargo is encouraging corporate leaders in greater Los Angeles to donate time and money to the regional food banks to see them through this crisis.”

For more information about SOVA, call (818) 988-7682 or visit www.jfsla.org/sova.

— BG

ADL Publishes Spanish-Language Version of Its Israel Advocacy Guide

Continuing outreach to Latinos, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has published a Spanish-language version of its Israel advocacy guide.

The 85-page guide provides a glossary of terms, background on major moments in Israel’s history — the British Mandate, the Oslo accords, the Second Intifada — and facts for countering anti-Israel messages. “Israel: Una Guía para el Activista,” according to the ADL, also “identifies common inaccuracies about Israel and offers strategies for getting the facts to elected officials, the media and around university campuses.”

“With the ongoing conflict in the region, there are those who continue to level unfair and inaccurate accusations against Israel,” Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, said in a statement. “The Spanish-language edition of the guide is a critical resource for those in Latin America, Spain and Spanish-speaking communities worldwide who wish to counter those misconceptions.”

With their swelling American influence and higher frequency of anti-Semitism, Latinos have been of increasing interest to Jewish leaders. (The Pew Hispanic Center reported last year that 44 percent of Latinos held favorable views of Jews, compared to 77 percent among all Americans.)

For the past 15 years, the ADL’s Los Angeles office has brought Latino and Jewish leaders together through its roundtable dialogue. The American Jewish Congress last year hired a Latino outreach director to focus on business leaders and politicians. In addition, last fall, the American Jewish Committee celebrated Sukkot with a number of Latino pastors, some of whom the organization took to Israel this May.

“Assimilation works,” Amanda Susskind, ADL’s regional director, said last year. “Going to schools with Jews, going to different parishes, learning about diversity in the school system and on the playground actually changes the way Latinos look at Jews. It is nothing genetic. It is just what they learned. But they can de-learn.”

The guide was published in English in 2001. The Spanish-language edition can be downloaded at http://www.adl.org/latino_affairs/.

— BG

Food prices squeeze Israel’s needy

TEL AVIV (JTA) – It’s mid-afternoon and Michael Dahan is buying food for his first meal of the day. With rising food prices compounding his already dire economic situation, it has become his habit to skip meals, he admits.

“What can I do?” the unemployed 49-year-old says with a shrug, holding the small carton of milk he has just bought at a grocery store in the rundown Shapira neighborhood of south Tel Aviv. “I hardly have anything to get by on once I’ve paid rent and utilities.”

A block away, on a sidewalk strewn with cigarette butts and plastic bags, Maria Arnov, 28, an immigrant from Latvia and mother of two, says food prices have changed the way she shops. Arnov goes to the store less often and cuts corners wherever she can, like buying cheaper frozen meat and not buying the type of rice her family favors because its price has doubled in the past three months.

Israel, like many parts of the world, has seen food staples such as meat, rice and vegetables rise significantly. Its poor, already struggling to make ends meet, have been hardest hit—along with the nonprofit groups that serve them.

Although it is rare for Israelis to go hungry, food insecurity is a growing problem in their nation as traditional social safety nets fall short and nearly a quarter of Israeli families find themselves subsisting on less nutritious diets than before.

Many of the nonprofit groups that deliver food to the needy say they have been reeling from the one-two punch of rising prices and a sinking dollar.

In Israel, groups that rely in large part on funds raised in the United States have been forced by the dollar’s plunge to cut back on services, sometimes reducing the number of families they serve by as much as 40 percent.

In Beersheva, the social assistance group Beit Moriah has had to reduce the number of food packages it delivers to families every month to 200, down from 500 last year.

At From the Heart, an organization in Rishon LeZion that runs a food distribution project called Lev Chesed, volunteers are overwhelmed by requests they cannot meet.

“We have several hundred people on our waiting lists, but it’s not financially possible to help them,” said Ronen Ziv, the director of the group, which provides food packages to 700 families per week. “We have no government assistance.”

With budgets becoming leaner, government officials for the first time are pushing to develop a policy to combat food insecurity. The first-ever interministerial report on the subject was completed recently, and legislation is pending in the Knesset for a new council on food security to be created to develop coordinated policies to tackle the problem.

The ministerial report, which is pending Cabinet approval, recommends increasing annual state funding for nutrition and food insecurity to $10 million to $15 million from the current $1 million.

“There needs to be an appropriate range of government responses, from funding food assistance programs, to reducing state Value Added Tax on staple foods, to ensuring that having basic foods is seen as a right for all Israelis,” said Batya Kallus, the director of the Forum to Address Food Insecurity and Poverty in Israel.

The forum, which conducts research, engineered the establishment of Leket, Israel’s first national food bank.

Established last year, Leket is based on the model of U.S. community food banks. It attempts to coordinate and streamline the efforts of many nonprofit food agencies. In the past decade the number of such groups has grown to about 400, which collectively distribute some 20,000 tons of food per year.

“What we have been seeing in purchasing food to be donated is that people are paying a huge range of prices, from rock bottom to retail,” Kallus said. “We have tried to make sense of that by creating a central purchasing division where organizations can come to Leket and we offer them a wide basket of foods they can purchase that we offer at the lowest possible prices.”

In a 2003 study on food insecurity in Israel commissioned by Leket from the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, researchers found that some 22 percent of Israelis are unable to provide for their basic nutritional needs on a daily basis.

A father of eight in Jerusalem whose family has slipped into poverty after emigrating from the United States many years ago says he lives with food insecurity every day.

“When there is food we are happy, when there isn’t we are not,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “It’s not a matter of decision-making. When there’s just no money, there is no food.”

He says there are days when the family goes without food.

Ido Nachum, a spokesman for Israel’s welfare ministry, says he hopes the interministerial report’s recommendations will be adopted, including increased state investment and oversight of nonprofits, the establishment of the national council on food insecurity, expanding a hot lunch program for schoolchildren and ensuring government subsidies for those who cannot afford to feed their families adequately.

Far from the corridors of national decision-making, Dahan, the unemployed man in south Tel Aviv, shuffles away with his small bag of provisions, hoping for better days.

A Pass-SOVA Tradition

A jar of gefilte fish, a bottle of Tzali’s grape juice, Manischewitz matzah ball soup mix, Streit’s macaroons, Trader Joe’s horseradish, matzah, Sun-Maid raisins. All the makings for a Passover seder — even if you’re homeless.

On a sunny Friday morning in March at SOVA’s humble West Los Angeles storefront, about 10 people — young and old — work together in assembly-line fashion to package these nonperishable items. These volunteers are unpaid, and the Passover kits are aimed at low-income, homebound and even homeless Jews.

Helping the needy is what SOVA (Hebrew for “eat and be satisfied”) has been doing since 1983, when Santa Monica deli owner Hy Altman and wife, Zucky, created the nonprofit organization.

SOVA’s three storefronts are open for four hours a day during the weekdays, during which the Los Angeles and Valley locations provide grocery packages for more than 2,000 people a month. A typical four-day supply of groceries — designed for homeless people without cooking facilities — includes canned and packaged grocery products, produce, liquid supplements and can openers. In addition to its food pantry services, SOVA provides referrals to an array of employment, legal and medical help services, as well as bus tokens.

There is a cap on how many times people off the street can solicit SOVA’s services: twice a month for the homeless, once a month for low-income, although exceptions are made for emergency situations.

Originally a Jewish Community Centers (JCC) program, SOVA transferred over in 2002 to the authority of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, as part of a post-crisis reorganization of JCC assets. SOVA operates on an annual budget of $560,000 culled from The Federation, government and municipal grants, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and private donors, such as the Edelstein Family Foundation and Carolyn Spiegel. Spiegel, who has purchased and donated products to SOVA for several years, even developed a system for combining coupons and advertised grocery store specials to donate goods. In 2002, she single-handedly donated more than $39,000 worth of products for SOVA’s clientele.

“Their income is so low, they can’t afford to cover their day-to-day costs,” said Leslie Friedman, SOVA’s director since the JFS takeover.

SOVA is a real roll-up-your-sleeves kind of team effort.

“The most rewarding element has been working with volunteers,” said Lirona Kadosh, the 25-year-old manager of SOVA’s West L.A. location. “In the end of the day, it’s tough, it’s draining. But you learn a lot.”

SOVA thrives from food collection campaigns supported by more than 50 area congregations, as well as other community entities. Passover — along with Rosh Hashana, Thanksgiving and Chanukah — is one of several holidays each year for which SOVA holds special distributions. The food collected during the High Holidays translates into an estimated $80,000 saved.

“We have a lot of regulars — homeless veterans, Russian immigrants, Latino families that just can’t stretch enough,” said volunteer Myrna Dosie, who is in her 12th year as a volunteer. About a quarter of those helped by SOVA are Jewish, many of them elderly, some Holocaust survivors.

Enter Hans, a man with a German accent, who comes in for his typical SOVA care package, which might included cooking oil, tuna, pasta, rice, spaghetti sauce, tea, cereal and toiletries, such as toothpaste, shampoo and hand lotion.

Minutes later, in walks another regular, Paul, who lives in the Crenshaw District. He feeds a family of five and has been turning to SOVA twice a month for supplemental help since 2000. He also has AIDS.

“They’ve been very helpful,” said Paul, an African American who learned about SOVA through AIDS Project Los Angeles. “They’re very personable and have always treated me with kindness. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

Since 1989, Paul and Ruth Mittleman have dropped by the West Los Angeles station every week to donate their time. Ruth even got her friend, Dosie, involved.

What might not be so obvious on the surface is that SOVA not only assists total strangers, but often even helps the very people volunteering for the nonprofit organization.

Ezra Shemtob, 82, struggles to suppress tears as he tells his story, even after nearly two decades have passed. The Mittlemans helped Shemtob adapt to America when he was just a stranger to the United States in 1989. The former high school teacher came to this country a broken man — his apartment, career and car confiscated by Iran’s government, simply because he was Jewish. Upon his arrival in America, his wife died of a heart attack as a result of all of the stress they had endured.

Every day after synagogue services, the observant Shemtob comes down to SOVA to volunteer a few hours of his time. Given all that he has experienced, Shemtob credits the volunteering as crucial to his mental and spiritual health.

“He’s been here for 14 years,” Paul Mittleman said. “He’s been very sick, but he’s OK now. He’s been a very loyal worker.”

Shemtob, who has a son living in Los Angeles and a daughter stuck in Iran, gives back to the community “as a mitzvah, for the United States, which gave me everything.”

He appreciates the scope of SOVA’s outreach.

“SOVA is a good organization,” Shemtob said. “They don’t look at race, what color, what religion — they help everybody.”

Also helping expedite things on this Friday morning are a clutch of students from the Archer School for Girls and Harvard-Westlake School who are fulfilling required community service hours. Abram Kaplan, a Harvard-Westlake 10th-grader, chose SOVA because he remembers the charity group from his Temple Emanuel days.

“I’ve met a whole lot of cool people like Ezra,” said Kaplan, 16, who sees SOVA as something he would volunteer for even if his school did not require him to. Kaplan roped in his classmate, Eyal Dechter, who was less enthusiastic about his community service detail. But he conceded that SOVA is a good cause.

“It’s a good idea to help others in need, but I do it mostly because I have to,” said Dechter, 15.

First-time volunteer Simon Yeger had no problem getting into the SOVA groove.

“Everyone’s been very helpful,” said Yeger, now retired for four years and looking for ways to give back to the community.

What SOVA needs most right now is more volunteers, who can donate a couple of hours per week, and vendors, who would be joining supermarkets such as Ralphs and Gelson’s.

“We are very open and interested to hearing from vendors who’d like to contribute goods,” Friedman said.

Kadosh has seen a difference for the better since JFS took over SOVA.

“All of the adjustments have been for the better. We’ve had more access to food, an increase in help, more drivers and stronger support.”

And volunteers see SOVA’s mandate as an extension of what the Torah commands Jews to do.

“The middle name of Judaism is tzedakah,” Ruth Mittleman said. “Offering help to people is just a way of Jewish life, and here you can see your money at work. This is as hands-on as it gets.”

The SOVA Food Pantry Program is located at 13425 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 200, Sherman Oaks. For more information, call (818) 789-7633 or visit www.jfsla.org/sova/.

The three SOVA storefronts are: SOVA Valley, 60271¼2 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 342-1320.

SOVA Metro, 7563 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 932-1658.

SOVA West, 11310 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 473-6350.

Daniel Lembark

Daniel Lembark died at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 3, 2003 at the age of 78.

Born in New York City on Sept. 20, 1924, he arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1927.

In grammar school, Daniel was introduced to the flute, whichwas to play an important role in his life. At Beverly Hills High School (BHHS)he played the flute in the orchestra and band, and served as student directorof both groups in his senior year.

After graduating from BHHS in 1942, Daniel enrolled in UCLAas a music major. He interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. CoastGuard in February 1943.

Following his discharge in 1946, Daniel returned to UCLA asan accounting major. He became an active member of the Zeta Beta Taufraternity, and served as chapter president in his senior year.

He began his professional career as a CPA with the LosAngeles firm of Zeman, Tuller, Boyer and Goldberg. Shortly after, he wasappointed CFO of Frank Sennes’ Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. He returned to Zeman,Tuller, Boyer and Goldberg in 1962 as a partner, and remained in that positionwhen the firm merged with Laventhol and Horwath. In 1978, he became aprofessional corporate director, serving on multiple boards .

Throughout his professional career, Daniel distinguishedhimself by his extraordinary contributions to the Jewish community of LosAngeles. He served as president of the Cedars-Sinai Hospital Fellowship Counciland the Jewish Family Service. He was chairman of the SOVA Food Pantry ProgramAdvisory Committee until January.

Daniel is survived by his wife Conni;, son, Steven; andsister, Marjorie Jackson. He will be remembered by many devoted friends andadmirers around the country.

The Daniel Lembark Fund has been established for the benefitof the SOVA Food Pantry at the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, 6505Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90048, and those wishing to honor him are invitedto make a contribution.

A tribute to Daniel Lembark’s life will be held at Temple Israelof Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., on Feb. 13 at 4 p.m.