Monday, September 12
They say music can reach you where words fail, and so why not investigate the connection between song and soul? This evening, the Gal Einai Center of Los Angeles brings you Kabbalah master Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh in a discussion and exploration titled, “Wings of the Soul: Kabbalah and the Art of Music.” Ginsburgh will be accompanied by violinist Marc Brodsky.
8 p.m. $25. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-7327.
Tuesday, September 13
Depression-era Manhattan provides the backdrop for the first production of the Ahmanson’s 2005-2006 season. The play is “Dead End,” which preceded the 1937 Humphrey Bogart film. Written by Sidney Kingsley, it tells the story of a gang of poor teenagers being displaced by the wealthy tenants that threaten to move into their neighborhood. Expect stunning visuals with a set that includes a 40-foot-high New York City skyline and a simulation of the East River, accomplished by filling the playhouse’s orchestra pit with more than 10,000 gallons of water.
Runs through Oct. 16. 135 North Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 628-2772.
Wednesday, September 14
If you’ve missed seeing former Journal staff writer and gifted artist Michael Aushenker’s words and drawings in these here pages, we’ve got fix for ya, at least as far as the art is concerned. On display at Santa Monica’s Novel Cafe through the end of September are 13 of Aushenker’s vibrant paintings. For East Siders, he also has a painting on permanent display at Birds Cafe on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.
Novel Cafe, 212 Pier Ave., Santa Monica. Birds Cafe, 5925 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Thursday, September 15
With a title as lovely as “Heir to the Glimmering World,” how can you resist? Especially when it comes from the celebrated literary mind of Cynthia Ozick. This evening, ALOUD at Central Library presents the author, in conversation with new Los Angeles Times book editor David L. Ulin on the subject of her new work based on the real-life Christopher Robin. (Ozick also appears at Dutton’s Beverly Hills on Wed., Sept. 14, at 7 p.m.)
7 p.m. Free. Central Library Mark Taper Auditorium, Fifth and Flower streets, downtown Los Angeles. (213) 228-7025. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Friday, September 16
In his latest off-Broadway comedy, actor and playwright Daniel Stern (“City Slickers”) explores the old cliché about keeping up with the Joneses, as it applies to one out-of-work television actor whose “Jones” happens to be a Streisand. “Barbra’s Wedding” opens the Falcon Theatre’s 2005-2006 series this week, and stars Stern as Babs’ neighbor, and Crystal Bernard (“Wings”) as his wife.
Runs through Oct. 9. $25-$37.50. 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 955-8101. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
‘Fear of Unknown’ Enters Pop Culture
Youth Groups Are Worth the Fight
Here is a dreaded conversation familiar to most parents of Jewish teens:
Them: “Hi, this is your synagogue youth adviser calling to make sure you received the flyer about our upcoming youth group event. Will your child be joining us?”
You: “Thank you for your phone call. I talked with Jordan (or David or Rafi) about this, but the thing is, he is already over-booked. With soccer practice, homework, birthday parties and baseball games, he has too much on his plate and doesn’t want to go. I’m choosing my battles, and I don’t want to fight this one.”
Come to think of it, I’m not especially fond of that conversation either, because I’m the person on the other side, the one urging you parents to send your child to the Jewish youth group.
Everyone who has ever worked with Jewish kids will tell you that Jewish youth group, camping and informal education are influential and meaningful activities, more so than many competing ones. They create memories, friendships and a positive Jewish identity. It is during these informal experiences that learning is truly natural and exciting. Kids form friendships with Jewish peers that might not develop in the classroom. And hanging out with positive Jewish role models creates lasting bonds and deeper levels of understanding and appreciation for Jewish culture.
Most of us who are youth advisers have chosen this profession because of our experiences. Ask us — we’ll gladly tell you about that amazing sleep-away camp we attended or about the kids from youth group that we are still “best friends” with today or about the religious school weekend retreat we attended in the seventh grade that opened our eyes to Judaism.
Yes, your child has been playing on the same soccer team since the second grade. Yes, school, homework and grades are important. Yes, sports, drama and clubs look good on college applications.
So where does youth group or camp fit into this equation?
My response is this: Parents must choose to fight this fight. I say “must” because the teen years are the most critical socializing years in anyone’s life. Your child’s peer group during these years can determine what kind of Jewish life your child will lead in young adulthood and beyond.
Don’t you want to know that your children are in a safe, nurturing environment where positive Jewish role models, Judaism and acceptance are the norm? (By the way, these experiences, too, hold weight on a college application and provide great material for essays.)
It might be hard to get your child to attend those first few events, which don’t start at age 4, like soccer practice. But it’s worth the push, because if your child does not attend youth events, the chances of him or her continuing Jewish involvement past confirmation get much slimmer.
To this day — more than 10 years later — my closest friends are not the kids from my sports teams, my clubs, auxiliary or classes. My closest friends are still the people I knew from youth group and camp.
At a youth group event not long ago, a parent offered the sort of analysis I love to hear. “Why wouldn’t I want my daughter coming to this event?” the parent said. “There are other Jewish teens, and an adult adviser I trust looking out for her. She feels comfortable enough to come to you if she needs anything. Plus, you’re celebrating Shabbat. Of course I want her with you!”
Later on that night, as the teenage board members reminisced about the event and their youth-group lives, they began to talk about how youth group put them on a path they never knew existed.
“For some reason, I feel closer with you guys than my friends at school,”one said.
Another said: “This is the only place that I felt truly accepted.”
A third voice added: “I see us still being friends in 30 years.”
When asked if any felt that youth group was too much on top of sports, drama, school and other activities, one teen responded much as I would have hoped and predicted.
“God no!” she said. “At first, when I didn’t know anyone it was a bit intimidating, but then I realized that everyone was in the same boat.
“From then on, I always looked forward to coming to meetings and having events. Youth group has always been the calming part of my week. We have so much stress in our lives, coming to youth group is sometimes the only peaceful thing I have.”
Lisa Greengard is youth and camp director for Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles and a member of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Youth Professional Advisory Council.
Picking the Perfect Financial Planner
Survivor Voices Come to Classrooms
In the backlot at Universal Studios, somewhere between the lake where Jaws lurks and the courthouse square where Michael J. Fox sped back to the future, researchers in nondescript trailers are finishing up one of the most ambitious projects involving the Holocaust.
It is here, at the unlikely international headquarters for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, that cataloguers, archivists and researchers are viewing and indexing the last batches of 120,000 hours of videotaped testimony from Holocaust survivors, liberators and rescuers.
By the end of this year, all of the 52,000 testimonials in 32 languages from 56 countries will have been digitized and indexed using 30,000 keywords, so that amateurs and scholars can search the collection electronically.
With this work winding down, the Shoah Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 after he produced “Schindler’s List,” has shifted resources toward education aimed at overcoming bigotry and prejudice. One of the fruits of this shift is Echoes and Reflections (www.echoesandreflections.org), a just-released comprehensive, multimedia curriculum for American secondary schools produced in a first-time collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
The groundbreaking venture is geared toward middle and high schoolers. Lesson plans and student handouts, as well as online supplements, include photos, poems and diaries from Yad Vashem’s vast holdings. The units are designed so teachers can use the curriculum for a day, a week, or an entire semester. The lessons also are designed to fulfill educational standards in all 50 states.
The material integrates two and half hours of filmed witness testimonials, lending it the power of personal stories that can affect students more than hard-to-grasp numbers like the figure of 6 million killed. Students and teachers are encouraged to apply the lessons to contemporary situations, both personal and societal.
“Studying the Holocaust would be an arid and somewhat silly thing to do if we didn’t draw from it lessons that we could apply to our own lives and to our own futures,” said Douglas Greenberg, president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation. “If we have all this information and know so much about genocide, how do we go about preventing it? How do we identify societies at risk?”
While there is some resistance in the Jewish community toward comparing genocides or implicitly challenging the uniqueness of the Holocaust or the purity of memory, Greenberg said scholars such as preeminent Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer talk of the need to universalize the message.
“If we remembered and learned the Holocaust, a lot of things that happened in the last 60 years wouldn’t have happened — in Rwanda or Kosovo or anywhere else,” said Yossie Hollander, an Irvine-based pioneer in the Israeli software industry who, with his wife Dana, donated more than $1 million to fund Echoes and Reflections.
The Shoah Foundation’s new emphasis on anti-bias education is what enabled the collaboration with ADL — which for 30 years has built programs around teaching tolerance — and Yad Vashem, which in the last decade has focused anew on what goes on in classrooms.
In 1993, Yad Vashem built a school dedicated to Holocaust education, and now spends more than a third of its budget on training teachers and educating young people, a dramatic increase from a decade ago.
“It was clear to me and my colleagues that this was the next step. We still have a great responsibility to take records and build the knowledge historically, but we understood at a certain point the real challenge was to go through the changing generations,” said Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem. “The Shoah should be part of our conscience, become part of the bricks, the essential elements that build our society.”
In 2004, about 11,000 educators in Israel and abroad participated in Yad Vashem teacher training. Last year 100,000 Israeli and foreign youths visited its International School for Holocaust Studies, and another 30,000 had Yad Vashem mobile educational units visit their schools.
In the United States, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., makes education of teachers and students a central priority. More than one-third of the 350,000 visitors a year at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles are children. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves, which have always focused on anti-bias education, are forming partnerships with a growing number of organizations looking to tap into their expertise.
The Shoah Foundation is relying on such partnerships to make its archive as accessible as possible — currently the organization’s biggest challenge. There are five sites with full access to the testimonials. Centers are set up at the Tapper Research and Testing Center at the Shoah Foundation offices at Universal Studios; at the University of Southern California; Rice University in Houston; Yale University; and the University of Michigan. Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, will have access to the complete collection by 2008.
At these archive centers, researchers, genealogist or amateurs can use a sophisticated search engine to pull up testimonies relating to a specific person, a certain concentration camp or town, or to a type of experience, such as hunger in the Ukrainian forest, or Jewish girls raised in convents in eastern Poland.
But outside those five centers, access is limited, even online. Visitors to the Web site can review some short clips and fact sheets about the eyewitnesses, but tapes or DVDs of the testimony must be ordered from the foundation.
The foundation has distributed smaller collections to libraries, museums and universities at 42 locations in 16 countries, so that places like the public library at Jackson, Miss., have a few dozen testimonies and a printed index to go with it.
The foundation also offers programming and follow-up for schools in the area.
And over the past four years, the Shoah Foundation has produced 16 CDs and videos for classroom use that have reached 2 million students, along with 10 feature-length documentaries and teacher training on how to use visual testimony in the classroom. The foundation’s interactive Web exhibits get about 25,000 hits a month.
In 2003 The Shoah Foundation teamed up with Facing History and Ourselves for a program at Los Angeles public high schools to accompany the film “Schindler’s List” and a documentary with testimonies from Schindler Jews.
One million high schoolers in Germany are using an interactive CD produced by the Shoah Foundation, and the foundation has or is setting up relationships with education ministries in many countries.
Getting into the classroom is actually more difficult in the United States, where education is controlled at the state and district level. While many states mandate Holocaust education, getting the material into hands of capable teachers is not easy. In California, a bill mandating teaching of the Holocaust was passed unanimously by the legislature in 2002, but was not funded.
For Echoes and Reflections, the ADL is taking on the challenge of distributing the curriculum. The ADL has 30 regional offices, and 50 education staffers were at Universal Studios last month for a three-day seminar on Echoes and Reflections, in the hopes that they can teach teachers in their regions. ADL national staff is going out to state boards of education, Holocaust education commissions, school districts and private and parochial schools to sell the product, which costs about $100 for a three-inch binder with the lesson plans and a DVD or video cassette (group packages are available).
Jenny Betz, project director of the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute, went through the training, and said she and the other educators cried as they listened to survivors tell their stories.
The effort and the response encourage project funder Hollander.
“There is no other subject that can teach more than this subject,” he said. “There isn’t another subject that they learn in school that makes them cry. And if they can cry, it opens their hearts and it opens their minds.”
For more information on Echoes and Reflections, visit www.shoahfoundation.org, www.adl.org or www.yadvashem.org.
Picking the Perfect Financial Planner
Iran’s New Export — Suicide Bombers
Behind the horrible scenes left by four explosions in London on July 7, loomed a more fearsome reality: The perpetrators, most of them very young, had voluntarily turned themselves into living bombs. Europe experienced its first suicide bombings. More horrible yet, was that not even the closest ones around the culprits had realized the disaster coming. The world was shocked to see that youngsters in a western democracy could be turned into suicide bombers with so much ease, without anybody noticing.
People are looking for the roots. In London, the government’s liberal approach to Londonistan, eastern London’s safe haven for fundamentalist activists, where hard-line preachers used to openly instigate violence among the Muslim youth, is put under question. France’s interior minister said he was astonished by the suicide bombers’ youth. He criticized the British for their liberal approach in dealing with fundamentalists.
But in going lean on fundamentalism, the British are not alone. Together with their French critics, and the Germans, they are pursuing a far more liberal approach with a country known as the first state sponsor of terrorism — Iran. They are busy negotiating with Iran on a range of issues — mainly its nuclear program, human rights and security, with luxurious trade relations on the agenda as well.
Recently, news reports from Iran affirmed that a military garrison has been opened in Iran to recruit and train volunteers for “martyrdom-seeking operations.” Its commander, Jaafari, a senior officer in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, told a hard-line weekly close to Iran’s ultra-conservative President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the new “Lovers of Martyrdom Garrison” would recruit individuals willing to carry out suicide operations against Western targets.
“One of our garrison’s aims is to spot martyrdom-seeking individuals in society and then recruit and organize them, so that, God willing, at the right moment when the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] gives the order, they would be able to enter the scene and carry out their missions,” Jaafari told the Parto-Sokhan weekly.
Jaafari’s remarks were widely reported by Iran’s state-run media. The brigade claims that 30,000 young Iranians have thus far registered for getting a chance to take part in such operations, and more than 20,000 are currently being trained.
It might be true that none of Jaafari’s recruits have found their way to London or other European capitals. Besides, all of them are Shiite Muslims, and not of the Salafist brand of Islam thought to be responsible for the bombings. But that is the least important point. The London bombings have shown that recruits are abundant locally; they just need to be inspired.
Those Muslim teenage kamikazes in London or elsewhere, like others of their age, have their idols. Theirs is not necessarily Michael Jackson or Lance Armstrong. Shows, like one orchestrated in Tehran, depict a new world of heavenly death where martyrs are welcomed like glorious heroes, much like those in Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” carried to heaven by heavenly female warriors. If you were 18 years old, and fond of holy jihad against the infidels, you would have found enormous inspiration by thinking that thousands of people somewhere in the world watch you with admiration, sharing your sinister zest and waiting for your ultimate heroic act. It is only of secondary importance if they are Shiite and you are not.
Don’t forget that Khamenei’s official title is the leader of the world’s Muslims, and not Shiites. That title holds even in Lebanon, where Shiite Hezbollah fighters put up parades of would-be suicide bombers with explosive-filled belts around their torsos under his huge portraits. All fundamentalists share a common hatred toward the West, toward modernism and toward democracy. They all say they want to annihilate Israel. This is a devastating ideology claiming the leadership of 1.2 billion Muslims the world over.
With the world facing such a serious threat, responsible international behavior is expected from all countries. Those not abiding by the general rules should be boycotted, isolated and brought to their senses. Firm positions from other countries are imperative for making them abide.
When Europeans openly meet and talk with leaders of a country boasting about an army of would-be suicide bombers on their state television, little can be done to send a message of firmness to homegrown imams and fundamentalists in Europe. More important, it would be interpreted as a sort of recognition for a devastating ideology, with its message of death and blind terror.
Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.
John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
Teens Take a March to Remember
David Grossman, 18, wanted to make the Holocaust more personal. Eliya Shachar, 18, wished to understand her grandmother’s pain. And Max Kappel, 17, wanted to find a tangible place to comprehend the Shoah.
They were among 51 teenagers from Los Angeles who took part in last week’s March of the Living 2005 in Poland, which retraces the nearly two miles from Auschwitz to Birkenau, following the path of concentration camp inmates forced to walk to the gas chambers. They were accompanied by survivors for whom that trail once meant death, including Nandor “Marko” Markovic, 82, a Holocaust survivor, and his wife, Frances, who squeezed into the slow-moving and untidy line of about 20,000 people from almost 50 countries.
The annual march began in 1988, bringing together teens and seniors, Jews and non-Jews and an ever-decreasing number of survivors. Their walk commemorates Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, which took place this year on Friday, May 6, an appropriately chilly, gray day with intermittent heavy rain.
Before the day was over, the teenagers would encounter both the expected and the unexpected and find hope amid the recounting of the horrible.
A shofar sounded to begin the march.
“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen — all these people headed to the same place for the same reason,” said Dganit Abramoff, 16, one of 32 students from Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. Fifteen others were from Milken Community High School and four from other high schools.
Their small clusters interspersed with participants from South Africa and Siberia, France and Canada, as the students struggled to follow the “L.A. Youth USA” placard held high by 6-foot-4 Yoni Bain, 18.
Some teens found themselves walking alongside 37 boy scouts, ages 13 to 20, dressed in tan military-style uniforms, from Opola in southern Poland.
“We came here because we know there’s pain here,” said scout Michael Hoffman, 16.
Sara Warren, 17, marched with her mother, Jackie Heller, one of 25 adults in the Los Angeles contingent. They talked about Heller’s grandmother, who hid in eastern Poland during the Holocaust and who lost her entire family.
“I never thought so many people cared,” Warren said.
The sea of matching navy blue Jewish star-studded jackets was partially hidden beneath brightly colored rain ponchos and opened umbrellas. Many marchers chatted loudly; some occasionally sang.
Sometimes, the march more closely resembled a disorderly walk-a-thon than a commemoration of victims and survivors coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Some students did not consider the march sufficiently somber, but “the very normalcy of the march is its miracle,” said Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Jewish Education, leader of the L.A. adult group.
The atmosphere turned more solemn when the road curved up toward and then over railroad tracks that brought more than 1.3 million people to this notorious death-camp complex. Marches became more sober still as they approached Birkenau’s front gate, where they listened to a reading over loudspeakers of the names and hometowns of those murdered.
Survivor Markovic, who lives in Los Angeles, was participating in his second March of the Living. He suffered from an inflamed ankle and was usually flanked by students eager to help. But he and his wife concentrated on assisting a teenager near them who was feeling sick but was determined to participate.
Markovic spoke frequently to the students about his life, about how the Nazis invaded his shtetl in former Czechoslovakia in 1941 and took his father. A year later, when he was 16, they came for him, along with his mother, brother, two sisters and other family members, shipping them by cattle car to Birkenau.
After a couple weeks, he and his brother were transferred to a series of work camps and then, as the war was ending, sent on a forced death march. After many weeks, Markovic collapsed, desiring death. He felt his brother kiss him goodbye. Sometime later, he felt an SS soldier put a gun to his head. But the soldier relented, saying: “For you I won’t waste a bullet. You are dead already.”
When Markovic next opened his eyes, Lt. Hirsh, an American soldier, was looking at him. Hirsh gave him pancakes and took him to a hospital. Afterward, Markovic reunited with his brother and one sister, eventually settling in Los Angeles.
“You give me hope,” Markovic confessed to the students. “I know you are inspired because you see a broken heart standing before you telling you to not forget.”
Ari Giller, 18, an Asian adopted into a Jewish family, had always felt disconnected from his Jewish heritage, but he found a link through Markovic.
“It’s pretty intense how he went through this huge ordeal and came out a faithful Jew with a good attitude,” Giller said. “He makes me feel good about humanity.”
To many students, the march highlighted the week in Poland. But it was just one part of a physically and emotionally challenging — and occasionally uplifting — six days filled with horror and history, tears and epiphanies.
Noah Mendelsohn, 17, sobbed suddenly upon first seeing the five brick ovens in the crematorium of Majdanek, the death camp near Lublin that the group visited on the first day.
“I could hear the screams and see the nail marks inside,” he later explained.
The teens were also moved by Irving Silverman, 85, of Tucson who accompanied them to the synagogue in Tykocin, a former shtetl near Bialystok and home to Silverman’s parents before they immigrated to the United States in 1908. This was Silverman’s first trip to Poland.
“I’m not a survivor, but I feel I’m representing all the dead members of my family who could never do this,” he said. “Every Jew has to do this.”
Warren, the student traveling with her mother, visited the grave of her ancestor, Reb Yom Tov Lipman Heller, in the cemetery adjoining the Remu Synagogue in Krakow. There, Rabbi Steve Burg, Los Angeles chaperone and director of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, explained that Reb Heller was a venerated, prominent 17th century rabbi and author of the Tosafot, a commentary on the Mishneh.
“Your heritage always feels like it’s so far away, but today, for the first time, I feel that I can grasp it,” Warren said.
Burg has led four previous March of the Living trips.
“Before you get on that plane to Israel,” he told his students on the last full day in Poland, “decide on one new change for yourself…. I don’t care if you decide to wear a kippah, pray or become a campus activist — that’s between you and God — but you must decide on something.”
A core goal of trip was to turn history into personal memory, said Stacey Barrett, director of youth education services for Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education and leader of the Los Angeles teen group. She told the teens: “You need to take on the task of becoming witnesses to the Shoah for the next generation.”
Celebrate Israel Closer to Home
Shoshanim, a magazine for Jewish teenage girls, is celebrating its fifth year in publication with a newly designed Web site, new features and an upgraded layout. Based in Los Angeles, the magazine geared for Orthodox teenagers has 5,000 subscribers. It is the Bais Yaakov girl’s answer to Seventeen Magazine, with advice columns on things like good baby-sitting techniques and “Ask Rebbetzin Rochel.” Along with columns on arts and crafts, a Jewish law corner, and personality profiles of pious people, the magazine gives readers a chance to have their own short stories, poetry, and art published.
Visit Shoshanim at www.shoshanim.net (articles not available online) or call (800) 601-4238.
Don’t Stare — Just Talk
Students at Conejo Jewish Day School had a visit from the Kids on the Block, a troupe of puppets both able and disabled who teach children to appreciate differences.
This program, endorsed by the Bureau of Jewish Education, enables students to openly discuss the differences in others and the importance of caring for others and being aware of everyone’s feelings.
For more information about the Conejo Jewish Day School call Rabbi David Lamm (818) 879-8255. For information on Kids on the Block go to www.KOTB.com or call (800) 368-5437.
New News for New Jew
You may be hearing a lot more from the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) soon. The West Hills school, which was founded three years ago, was recently awarded an Avi Chai marketing grant for recruitment and publicity.
“New Jewish high schools often begin very small, without the necessary funding to successfully market themselves,” said Lauren Merken, a member of Avi Chai’s board of trustees. “It is the foundation’s goal to help schools like New Community Jewish High School, reach out to the community effectively.”
Of course, recruitment doesn’t seem to be a weak point at New Jew: It opened in 2002 with 40 kids in the ninth grade. Next year, as it welcomes its first 12th-grade class, NCJHS expects a total enrollment of 250 students.
For more information on NCJHS, call (818) 348-0048 or visit www.ncjhs.org.
Change the World
Seven students took home $500 prizes in Chapman University and the “1939” Club’s sixth annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest in March. Students from 75 schools submitted essays, poetry and art on the topic of “To Change Our World: Legacy of Liberation,” which invited students to tie the history of the Holocaust to a current situation of injustice. The first-prize winners in the middle school categories were Art: Monique Becker, Lakeside Middle School (Irvine); Essay: Gabriella Duva, St. Anne School (Laguna Niguel), and Poetry: Kim Ngai, Fulton Middle School (Fountain Valley).
In the high school category, two entries tied for first place in Art: Steven Vander Sluis, El Toro High School (Lake Forest) and Marisa Moonilal, Mater Dei (Santa Ana); Essay: Irina Dykhne, University High School (Los Angeles), and Poetry: Matthew Adam White, University High School (Los Angeles).
For more information on the contest or Chapman University in Orange, call (714) 997-6620.
And More Winners
After a rigorous application process, four Californians are among the 26 youths from across the country selected to participate in the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel this summer. Rachel Cohen of Goleta, Alexander Kaplan of Pacific Palisades, Alex Schatzberg of San Rafael and Juliana Spector of Piedmont will spend five weeks traveling throughout Israel to participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbis and leaders. They will also spend a week with Israeli peers who are part of a parallel program for Israelis. The program was founded by Edgar M. Bronfman and is funded by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
For more information, call (518) 475-7202 or visit www.bronfman.org.
Open Your Home
If international cooperation and understanding is best achieved through personal ties, then imagine having someone from a foreign country live in your home. AFS Intercultural Programs and Pacific Intercultural Exchange are looking for families in the L.A. area to host high school students who are studying in America for a year or a semester.
For more information contact AFS Intercultural Programs (formerly American Filed Service) at (800) 237-4630 or www.afs.org/usa; or Pacific Intercultural Exchange at (800) 631-1818.
Tragedy and Triumph Comes Alive for Teens
As 14-year-old Lisa Jura said goodbye to her mother at a Vienna train station in 1938, Jura’s mother spoke words that would inspire her for a lifetime: “Hold on to your music. It will be your best friend.”
Jura didn’t imagine that these words — and how her life came to embody them — would inspire subsequent generations of teenagers, even 70 years later.
An aspiring pianist, Jura traveled from Vienna to London as part of the Kindertransport, an effort to save children from Nazi peril that ultimately rescued nearly 10,000. Jura, like most Kindertransport children, never saw her parents again. But she nurtured her dream, continuing to study music while living throughout World War II in a London orphanage. She ultimately earned a scholarship to the prestigious London Royal Academy of Music.
Jura’s story was chronicled in a book by her daughter, Mona Golabek, who herself became a Grammy-winning pianist. Now, an array of educational materials are being developed to bring the story to teens nationwide.
The book, “The Children of Willesden Lane” (Warner Books, 2002) will now have a teacher’s guide, geared for middle and high school. The Santa Monica-based Milken Family Foundation commissioned the teacher’s guide, after being impressed with the book’s themes of resilience, hope and triumph over tragedy. The Milken Foundation also funded a companion CD featuring Golabek reading excerpts and performing the classical music mentioned in the book.
The Massachusetts-based nonprofit education organization, Facing History and Ourselves, created the curriculum, which explores such concepts as what it means to be an outsider, why people choose to help others, and what is a legacy. The historical context of the Holocaust also is examined.
The Pennsylvania-based Annenberg Foundation will produce video resources, including footage of Golabek playing piano and showing how teachers have applied the lessons in their classrooms. It’s due to be completed next summer.
The book itself is available through Hold On To Your Music, a nonprofit founded by Golabek to help make copies available to schools at a discount.
Some 58 public, private and religious schools throughout the country have obtained the curriculum materials, including the lower school of Milken Community High School in Los Angeles. That number will likely grow after next month, when the materials will be shared with Jewish day school principals at a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles.
“I think we’ll have a lot of takers,” said Aviva Kadosh, the bureau’s director of day school and Hebrew-language services. The curriculum applies to the study of history, literature and music, she said.
Children from both urban and rural areas have embraced the story and its characters, said Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Foundation. She described how an audience of 4,000 students in Scranton, Pa., “greeted Mona like a rock star. They gave her a standing ovation before she even started to speak.”
“This story spans ages, religions, races and academic disciplines,” said Foley, adding that students are especially affected by Jura’s story because they’re close to the age of Jura at the time the narrative takes place.
Jura was, said Foley, “a firsthand witness to the events of World War II.”
For free downloads of “The Children of Willesden Lane” study guide and CD, visit www.mff.org or www.facinghistory.orgwww.facinghistory.org.
Jews Welcome Choice of Pope
MATCH Puts Giving in Students’ Hands
Learning about the importance of giving tzedakah is a basic tenet of any Jewish education.
“It’s not just about giving away money,” said Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller. “It’s about teaching young people how to be responsible Jews when it comes to giving tzedakah. It’s not something you should do instinctively. You have to do it thoughtfully.”
The program, now in its second year, is called MATCH — short for Money and Teenagers Creating Hope. It started with an anonymous gift to the Temple Emanuel Endowment of $125,000, which the congregation was obliged to match. MATCH students use the interest earned from those funds to make philanthropic donations to a variety of organizations of their own choosing.
“They model what it means to be grown-up Jews,” Geller said. “Many of the kids in our synagogue are children of privilege, and some of them will have the opportunity to manage their own family foundations some day. All of the children in this program are learning about what it means to be a thoughtful philanthropist.”
Last year, the students, who range from eighth to 12th grade, gave away $5,000. This year, the program is divided by age into two distinct boards with 36 students currently participating. Having raised all the necessary matching funds, Temple Emanuel can now provide each group with $5,000 to give away.
Over three sessions last year, the students analyzed Jewish texts about tzedakah, heard from local philanthropists and engaged in heated discussions about where the money should go. They also learned practical skills, such as how to read an organization’s 990 tax form and how to use various Web sites to research charities on the Internet.
“I would wager that most people who give charity don’t have a clue about that,” Geller said.
Ultimately, the young participants decided to give $750 to the Make a Wish Foundation, $1,000 to AIDS Health Care, $1,000 to Camp Harmony and $1,000 to Friends of Israel’s Disabled Veterans.
One requirement of the original endowment gift is that 25 percent of the money the students donated should be directed to a project within the temple itself. Geller said she was particularly touched by the teenagers’ discussion of where those funds should go, and by their conclusion last spring to return that portion of the money — $1,250 — to the temple’s endowment for use by future generations.
“One kid said, ‘Our grandparents made sure there was an endowment for us. We need to make sure that it’s there for our grandchildren,'” Geller recalled. “It’s interesting to see what areas the kids feel are important for Jewish organizations to be funding, how they think Jews ought to be giving their money.”
Justine Roach, a 16-year-old from West Los Angeles, is participating in the program at Temple Emanuel for the second year. Last year, she headed the team that investigated inner-city youth, which ended up supporting Camp Harmony.
“It felt so good and empowering, especially being a teenager and getting to make these kinds of decisions,” Roach said. “I gained responsibilities and it felt really nice. I think we’re about the right age to be making these types of decisions. In the future I’m going to be dealing with these issues, too.”
In addition to the practical experience MATCH provides, Geller said it has been a wonderful way to keep teenagers engaged in the life of the congregation after their bar and bat mitzvahs.
Geller said she had been thinking about creating such a program for a long time, and when a donor approached her looking for a program to fund, she jumped at the chance.
“This is a game that you can play — simulating a family foundation and asking kids to decide where they would give the money,” Geller said. “I had done that in confirmation classes and it always worked really well because it gave the kids the chance to think about something real, and I thought wow, what if we could really do it?”
Now it is not a simulation game, it’s the real thing. And students are even more engaged, Geller said. “It is a lot of money to them. None of them gives away $5,000 a year on their own, and they have the sense of working together and giving away a lot more money. It was very exhilarating to sit with the 10th-12th-graders this year, and to hear them wrestle with what it means to be a responsible citizen in this world.”
What’s Next for Shalhevet?
7 Days In Arts
Billy Joel goes uptown again, but this time it’s Twyla, not Christie, he’s crooning for. Pop and high culture fuse the backbone of “Movin’ Out,” the musical that merges Joel’s music with Twyla Tharp’s modern dance choreography, and word on the New York streets is this marriage might last. It arrives this week at the Pantages.Through Oct. 31. 8 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sat.), 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (Sun.). $55.50-$80.50. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (213) 365-3500.
From “Movin’ Out” to “Take Me Out,” L.A. theater continues to impress today at the Geffen Playhouse’s Brentwood Theatre. The Richard Greenberg Tony Award-winner examines the repercussions of a celebrity baseball player’s decision to out himself publicly, and in the process, the larger cultural context of what it means to be a gay athlete in America.Through Oct. 24. $28-$46. 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Bldg. 211, Los Angeles.(310) 208-5454.
And speaking of coming out, you can now own the CD “Willand Grace: Let the Music Out.” The compilation includes old favorites by pastguest stars including Cher and Jennifer Lopez, as well as two duets: Carly Simonand Megan Mullally sing Simon’s “The Right Thing To Do,” and Barry Manilow andEric McCormack sing a song they wrote together especially for the album, “LivingWith Grace.” Fans of the show will also appreciate the homage to Kevin Bacon.Continuing where his guest-starring episode, “Bacon and Eggs” left off, includedamong the 15 tracks is a new rendition of the song “Footloose” sung by the BaconBrothers. $13.99. www.amazon.com.
Going once, going twice and gone by next week are themore than 100 telephones enjoying second incarnations as works of art. TheZimmer Children’s Museum and GOTTA HAVE IT! Auctions have united to create anonline auction of telephones decorated by celebrities, community leaders,students and everyday heroes to benefit youTHink, the museum’s art educationoutreach program. Bid on sculptures by Mischa Barton, Elizabeth Taylor and DianeSawyer for the worthy cause. www.gottahavit.com.
‘Tis the season for deep thinking and introspection, andPBS encourages just such behavior tonight. “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis andSigmund Freud With Dr. Armand Nicholi” presents Nicholi and a panel gettingphilosophical and placing Freud’s and Lewis’ opposing theories of God underscrutiny. 9-11 p.m. www.kcet.org.
Youth programs and art converge again today. The Anti-Defamation League’s “Dream Dialogue” brings together high school students of different backgrounds to connect across ethnic lines. On display is the fruit of their recent efforts: the “Faces of L.A.” photographic exhibition, which depicts the diversity of the Los Angeles community through the eyes of its teenagers. It’s on display at the Pico Rivera Centre for the Arts through Oct. 16.1-5 p.m. (Tuesdays and Thursdays), 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (Wednesdays), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Saturdays). Free. 9200 Mines Ave., Pico Rivera. (310) 446-8000, ext. 232.
Your o.c.d. tendencies work to your advantage this morning, and you’ve actually got time to kill before warming up the pre-Kol Nidre dinner. Why not head to the University of Judaism for some quiet time with a good book — or a few? The Platt and Borstein Galleries presents “Transformations: Artists’ Books and Collages.” The exhibition by seven artist bookmakers stretches the boundaries of size, shape and material, reimagining and pushing the envelope on the very concept of what makes a book a book.Through Nov. 24. Open today from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 201.
A Mitzvah Is Its Own Reward
"Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward. And let the awe of Heaven be upon you." — Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers)
The rabbi and the cantor are strumming their guitars and jumping up and down in unison on the bimah like rock stars. The cantor is wearing a
Hawaiian shirt and a cap; the rabbi a T-shirt. The pews are full — more than 300 people, standing-room only.
The seats are packed with squirming, giggly children. Adults mouth the words or shyly sing, but the kids know the choreography, flexing their muscles, wiggling their bottoms and clutching at their hearts at the right moments.
They clutch something else close to their hearts, too: the true meaning of mitzvot.
This is the morning introduction to Mitzvah Day at Temple Beth Sholom, and these kids have it right.
One girl with pigtails will beautify the Santa Ana Zoo, pressing gritty dirt down to nestle new flowers within shouting distance of exotic animals. A teenage boy finds a place amid lonely kids younger than he; they want to chat and play basketball and shoot pool, and he obliges. Another boy wants to paint; he know he’s a good painter, his mom says so.
There are a lot of projects from which to choose for the Sunday morning crowd, and each one is a mitzvah.
Many people give charity and do good deeds. These are things that people feel go above and beyond the call of life’s duty: extra credit in the karma bucket, merits on the teacher’s chalkboard. These are things that are not required, but they’re awfully nice of you to do.
Jews do mitzvot. A mitzvah is not only a charitable deed (or even most importantly a charitable deed). A mitzvah is a commandment, a commandment to create holy time and places in the world through ritual and compassionate deeds. Their reward is in the doing of them: for God, for humanity, for a better world.
This Mitzvah Day there are pancake breakfasts and sandwiches for the hungry, placemats and baseball hats for the bored and disillusioned and clothes and encouragement for those down on their luck.
The attendants are mostly parents of kids from religious school — the ones who learn about their biblical ancestral mothers and fathers, the trials of Jewish history and the incredible feat that is the Jews’ millennia-long survival.
And how do they fit into this great story?
By doing their part.
Kids sometimes are too young to know how much they can help and we adults — well, we forget.
The hope is that mitzvot on Mitzvah Day create a spark, the same way the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles at the end of the week slows us down and gets us thinking about the important things in life.
Yes, doing mitzvot takes practice and commitment, but one Mitzvah Day project is a good start. Mitzvot can fan that inner spark in all of us into a flame of giving that offers no reward save the reward of a mitzvah done.
What did I do on Mitzvah Day? I painted rooms in a senior center. Well, actually, other people painted. I scrubbed paint spots off the tile with wet rags so the janitors had less to scrape off the floor with razor blades the next morning. Don’t we all deserve nice, clean walls and floors?
Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but somebody had to do it. When someone needs something and I can help, I am a blessing to others, and I am in turn blessed with the chance to do mitzvot and to change the world a little bit at a time: One paint-splashed boy, one girl with grass stains and dirt under her fingernails — one scrubbed-off paint spot at a time.
"Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little and do much; and receive everyone with a cheerful face." — Pirkei Avot
UC Irvine Graduation Clash Fizzles
Teens Build a Bridge Beyond the Past
“I was afraid there could be aggression toward us, because we are German. I’m really surprised about how friendly and open all the people are.” — Hannah Ketterer, teenage exchange student from Germany
“We didn’t see each other as the grandchildren of Nazis or as grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors. We saw each other as regular kids who wanted to learn more about each other’s religious lifestyles and cultures.” — Lindsey Michel, Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills
On April 19, 12 German teenagers left Heidelberg, flew west for about 6,000 miles, disembarked at LAX, and entered the lives and homes of 12 Jewish American teenagers. None of the 24 teens knew quite what to expect.
During their two-week stay in homes of Kol Tikvah congregants, the German students visited local high schools, attended Shabbat services, took part in a Yom HaShoah program, tried a range of new foods and looked everywhere for Tom Cruise.
The German-Jewish exchange program at the Reform congregation is apparently the first of its kind on the West Coast. Originally created by Stefan Schluter, Germany’s deputy consul general in New York City, the idea for the exchange was born after 45 members of the American Board of Rabbis visited Berlin in 2001.
“They asked me to organize their annual meeting,” Schluter said, “which I did. One thing they were interested in was the growth and experiences of the Jewish community in Germany.”
While the rabbis were in Berlin, Schluter divided them into 10 groups of four to five rabbis each and they went to local schools to talk to German students.
“When we had their final meeting before flying back to the States,” Schluter recalled, “nearly all said that meeting the German students was the most impressive part of the program.”
Schluter then asked the rabbis if they would like to have such students visit their congregations, as part of a student exchange. The rabbis immediately agreed.
The exchange program was tried successfully in New York City in 2002 and 2003, and then Schluter asked Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs if he would like to have the exchange program at Kol Tikvah this year. Jacobs was thrilled.
Kol Tikvah’s religious school director, Karen Waldman, had the task of coordinating the program, which included selecting students and families and inviting them to host a German student. Waldman was shocked and saddened when one parent refused, saying she didn’t “want a Nazi in our home.”
The rest of the families accepted with great enthusiasm.
When Schluter came to Kol Tikvah in April to meet with Waldman and the 12 families, he offered insights into German life.
“Germany today has 80 million people,” Schluter said. “Of those, approximately 130,000 are Jewish, mostly Russian Jews who have come to Germany for a better life.”
According to Schluter, most of these Jews don’t speak German, and they lead a rather isolated existence.
In other words, most German children have never met a Jew.
Many young Germans, Schluter said, are troubled by their history, and how others in the world view them.
“Our history is so burdened, that the impressions they gain from the exchange program are life changing,” he said. “These kids know their history and they think other people think they are guilty. They need to experience that they aren’t being held responsible. We are responsible that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.”
On one of their first days in Los Angeles, Waldman took the students to a Yom HaShoah program. She was extremely uncomfortable.
“When the first rabbi spoke and was saying very negative things about the Germans and the Nazis, it was like a knife twisting in my heart,” she said. “I was feeling protective of the kids. I kept asking if they wanted to leave and they said no. They were engrossed in the whole thing and they wanted to hear it all.”
On April 23, the 24 students attended Shabbat dinner and services at Kol Tikvah. There was an excitement in the air, and much teenage gabbing. It was clear that they had formed strong bonds with each other in the four days they’d been together.
“The minute we met, we felt like friends!” said Katharina Pogoda, one of the German teens. “The Jewish people we’ve met are all so warm and friendly, like a big family. And I was surprised that they have school in their temple where the children are taught so nice.”
I asked the German students what they had learned at home about the Holocaust. “When we learned in school about the Holocaust, it was just facts,” said Hannah Ketterer. “We did not have discussions about what would have been on the Jews’ minds. We’re learning that here, and we’re learning about Judaism and getting to know Jewish people.”
Ludgera Graw, the German students’ chaperone, got to attend a gathering at Kol Tikvah one evening where Jacobs and the Rev. Alexei Smith, the ecumenical and inter-religious officer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, talked together about the movie, “The Passion of The Christ.” Graw said she found it very interesting and was impressed at the interfaith efforts being made.
Rabbi Jacobs said there was one rather tense moment.
“There were older survivors here that evening,” he said. “And one person was very bitter about the Germans. He talked about anti-Semitism in Germany and how he grew up there with people beating him up and he said he has no hope for the world. I then introduced Ludgera to the audience, and I said, ‘The hope is right here with these young German people who are visiting our Jewish families.”
Graw said she felt very sad hearing the survivor’s anger and pain.
“I wondered if I should go to him and speak to him,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure how he would react, since he wasn’t prepared to meet Germans.”
At the Shabbat dinner, Jacobs spoke to the exchange students.
“You have touched us in many, many ways by your humanity and by your openness,” he said. “This is a world that is often cruel. But you are the answer, in terms of the possibilities of what we can do in this world by knowing each other. This is more important than any headline in any newspaper or CNN. What will happen in these weeks and in Germany when our kids visit you will affect your whole lives. We are so, so honored that you are here. You make our lives more complete.”
On May 3, the 24 German and Jewish high school students struggled to say their goodbyes to each other.
“I am a changed person,” said Kol Tikvah’s Bradley Lennox. “I never imagined in a million years that two completely different cultures could come together and become family in a matter of two weeks.”
The Calabasas High senior looks forward to the Jewish students’ two-week visit with their new friends this summer in Heidelberg.
After the German teens went home, several of them e-mailed me.
“This exchange definitely changed my way of thinking,” Johannes Ziegelmuller wrote. “I am now confirmed in my point of view that young people are able to communicate and to be friends, although there have been terrible things in the past. Although there are borders, although there are different cultures and countries, there can be a borderless communication and dialogue. I think this exchange is a great and valuable project that helps to open peoples’ eyes, to create a world without hate, prejudices, discrimination and persecution.”
Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer and oral historian in Van
Nuys. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Big Brother Lurks in Higher Education Bill
Just a Theory
In a sea of competitors, 17-year-old Ilya Gurevich of Israel is alone in the field of theoretical physics. All the other teenagers competing in the physics division at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair have entered projects in practical physics, Gurevich said, but he stuck with the theoretical.
"The world’s largest science fair," formerly known as the Westinghouse Competition, is taking place at multiple locations May 9-15, including the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Gurevich recently won first prize in the Intel Israel-Bloomfield Science Museum Young Scientists Competition and said he was "very surprised" when he won the award for his research on the behavior and influence of small disruptions in the uniformity of the universe.
"I know it was on a very high level, but it was not practical," said the high school senior, who has been taking courses at Ben-Gurion University, in Beersheva, for two years.
Practical or not, Israeli scientists have chosen Gurevich and Igor Kreimerman of the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem, winner of second prize in the Israel competition, to represent Israel in the 2004 Intel competition.
About 1,300 teenagers from 40 countries are competing in 15 categories for a total of $3 million in scholarships, internships, and travel and equipment grants from the Intel Foundation, public and private universities, and about 70 corporate, professional and government sponsors. The 1,200 judges include scientists, engineers and Nobel Prize laureates.
The three winners of the grand prize, the Intel Young Scientist Award, each will receive a $50,000 scholarship and an invitation to attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.
Gurevich said his project, called "Deviations From an Isotropic and Homogeneous Expansion of the Universe," defies simple explanation.
Essentially, he said, the project tries to preserve Einstein’s theories with regard to the expanding universe and its impact on cosmology.
Science is not about reading books, Gurevich said: "At some point you have to start working and thinking yourself."
Oy Mom! What to Say?
Circle of Friends
Every Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Alysson Beckman and Julie Pinchak go to Victoria Maddis’ house to hang out and play. What makes this situation unique is that Alysson and Julie are both 16-year-old high school students, while Victoria is a 7-year-old girl with a neurological disorder. They have been brought together by The Friendship Circle of the Conejo Valley, a new outreach effort designed to enrich the lives of Jewish children with special needs and their families.
The Friendship Circle and its Friends at Home program pairs local teenagers with families of special-needs kids in order to provide a social outlet for disabled children and support for their often over-extended parents. The Agoura-based Conejo Friendship Circle is modeled after the flagship program in Detroit, which was founded in 1994 by Rabbi Levi and Bassi Shemtov of the Lubavitch Foundation, a branch of Chabad-Lubavitch. The Conejo Friendship Circle was launched by its director, Rabbi Yisroel Levine, and assistant directors Chanie Malamud and Devorah L. Rodal in April 2002. The program is administered by Chabad of the Conejo, and currently boasts 100 teen volunteers and 50 families with special- needs children, ages 4 to 13.
The teenagers who volunteer their time learn the value of giving through the experience of making a difference in a child’s life.
Michelle Levy, a 17-year-old student at Oak Park High School, learned about the organization from a friend at Los Angeles Hebrew High. Levy, who works with a 6-year-old autistic child, said that “although at times it can be difficult, it’s about having fun and being open,” and said that the reward she reaps from being involved always “masks” the difficulty for her.
“I’ve told others to get involved,” she said. “It’s a help for the family to have a little bit of time, and it is so good for us because it’s really special to connect with someone you wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s amazing.”
What makes The Friendship Circle unique is that the one-on-one contact between the child and the teen volunteers takes place in the environment the children are most comfortable in: their own home. Families interested in enrolling in the program are interviewed and evaluated by the directors and a speech pathologist.
The Friendship Circle addresses many types of special needs, ranging from autism and blindness to ADHD and bipolar disorder. Rodal stressed that this program is “truly open to anyone who feels that they need a friend.”
Teen volunteers are carefully screened, selected and trained to work with the children, and are then paired with a second volunteer and a special needs child in the program. The volunteers visit with the child once a week for an hour. Their role is to play and interact with the child, while giving the parents a much-needed respite. They can bake cookies, play games, read books or do almost anything the child wants.
“This program is wonderful,” said Robin Felton, a Calabasas mom whose 6-and-a-half-year-old son Jonah is autistic. “This is the only time that’s really just for fun. Jonah’s life is so therapeutic, and everyone has an agenda related to an IEP [school] goal. His therapy is all adult driven. These girls [from the Friendship Circle] come every Sunday afternoon, and they are completely focused on Jonah and what he wants. It’s not babysitting, it’s not respite, it’s just a gift.”
Felton said that the rest of the family also benefits from this program. Hilary Srole and Sami Wellerstien make an extra effort to share their attention with Jonah’s two brothers, ages 9 and 4.
Erica and Matthew Kane’s family has been with Conejo’s Friendship Circle since its inception. Like many of the children in the program, Kane’s daughter Abby, 6, is autistic; Abby has a 20-month-old brother and an 8-year-old sister.
“Kids thrive on the continuity” Erica Kane said. “We are paired up with two wonderful high school seniors. They come every Sunday, and the kids really look forward to it. The girls are very devoted, and the kids are all very bonded to them. They jump rope, play in the yard, play with Play-Doh … it’s very healthy for them.”
Rodal explained that teen volunteers must provide references as well as copies of past report cards and an explanation of why they are interested in volunteering in The Friendship Circle. All teens attend an hour and a half training session run by the directors, a speech pathologist, a family liaison and a parent of a special-needs child. There may also be additional training provided for a particularly difficult situation, as in the case of a child currently in the program who is blind, autistic and developmentally delayed. In the future, Jewish Family Service will provide this training, and is currently working to make the sessions more interactive.
Rodal and Malamud always accompany the teens on their first visit to their assigned family, and follow up regularly with both the families and the teens. In addition, each teen is responsible to report back to Rodal and Malamud via e-mail (or standard mail) postcard after each visit.
Becoming a member of the Friendship Circle’s Volunteer Club is yet another benefit for the teens. It is a place for the teenagers to come together, discuss their experiences, and just have a good time.
“They help others, but they also have a lot of fun,” Rodal said.
“I want these children to feel like they have someone to lean on when I come to visit them,” said Andrea Kramer, another 15-year-old Friendship Circle volunteer who attends Milken Community High School. “Seeing a child feeling good will boost up their life as well as mine. I want to know that a child is feeling even a tiny bit better because of me.”
To learn more about the Friendship Circle, visit the
program’s Web site at
Active Camps for the Unathletic
Adults-In-Training Hopes and Fears
"Why are you having a bar or bat mitzvah?" Larry Kligman, dean of students at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, asks the school’s 65 seventh-graders.
The students are attending a one-day retreat, an event the school has sponsored for more than 10 years, enabling them to reflect on the ritual’s meaning as well as the concomitant anticipation and anguish.
"It’s a difficult year," Kligman explains, "as the students have to cope with their own bar or bat mitzvah in addition to a heavy academic load and the pressures of attending a friend’s bar or bat mitzvah almost every weekend."
This year, Jerry Brown, senior rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, has volunteered to host the retreat at his synagogue as well as lead one of the discussions.
"Why 13? It’s an interesting age, but why 13?" Brown asks the students.
"We become teenagers," Joshua I. Goldberg says.
"Teenagers," Brown says, grimacing as he emphasizes the first syllable. "What’s different about these teenage years?"
"We learn differently."
"We have more ability to understand things."
He tells them that everything is changing — physically, psychologically and emotionally — faster than anytime in their lives except infancy. And that the ancient sages came up with the same number we have — 13 — to mark the beginning of adolescence.
"Why do you think the word teenager has a bad connotation?" he asks. "What kinds of things happen at bar mitzvah services and receptions?"
"If you see somebody getting into something, do you want to do a very hard thing and say something to them?" Brown asks.
"Yes, because the bar mitzvah is only fun if everybody is having a good time," Benjamin Selski says.
"A successful bar mitzvah depends just as much on your friends," Hal Greenwald, Heschel’s rabbi-in-residence, adds.
Brown tells the students that they are becoming adults in terms of participating in Jewish religious life, but otherwise he considers them "adults-in-training."
He explains that the bar and bat mitzvah is essentially "a big time-out," a chance to think about what adolescence means and to start learning to take on adult responsibilities.
"To be in charge of your own lives is the best thing that you can want. I invite you to take that seriously," he says. "And a bar or bat mitzvah is the perfect place to start."
In another workshop, students are invited to grapple with real life scenarios. "What do you do when you’re invited to two bar mitzvahs on the same day?" Kligman asks them.
"If people know there’s a conflict far enough in advance, maybe one person can change the date. That happened to me," Samantha Hay says.
"You can go to one person’s service and one person’s party," Aviva Fleschler says.
Kligman presents another dilemma. "It’s 9 p.m. The party’s a little boring, but it’s not over until 11. What do you do?"
"You should put yourself in the bar or bat mitzvah’s place. You don’t want that person to feel bad if all the kids are leaving," Alex Kaplan answers.
"And if you’re going to be there, you need to be there more than just physically," Betty Winn, Heschel’s head of school, adds.
In the sanctuary, Judaic studies teacher Jodi Lasker helps the students "get a feel for the choreography" of the service, first showing them how to put on a tallit.
"Why does a tallit have an atara [collar]?" she asks.
"So you know where to hold it when you’re putting it on," Benjamin Wenger answers.
She explains that an atara is not required to have the tallit blessing on it and also tells the students that Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays, in addition to Shabbat, because those were the traditional market days when people gathered together.
She then asks Josh Goldberg to demonstrate reading from the Torah and shows students where to stand if they’re called up for an aliyah.
After lunch, the students break into small groups where they write responses to specific questions. The answers to the first question — What are you looking forward to? — are read anonymously.
"The best thing is completing my Torah and Haftarah portion."
"The smiles on my family’s faces."
"Giving my d’var Torah."
What are you afraid of?
"I’m afraid that at the service only two of my friends will be in the sanctuary when I’m reading my Torah portion and the rest will be in the bathroom."
"I’m worried my friends will be disrespectful."
"I’m afraid I’m going to mess up during the service and my friends will laugh."
"I wish people would not chew gum and talk."
"I’m afraid my dress will rip."
Students then write down their suggestions for invitation etiquette as well as appropriate behavior at both the service and the celebration. These are presented to the entire class, and copies are later distributed to all seventh-graders and their parents.
"We all now know what to do," says Kligman at the retreat’s finish. "Let’s do it."
Bar and Bat Mitzvah Dos and Don’ts
DO mail invitations; DON’T give them out in school.
DON’T leave out just a few classmates if you cannot invite the whole class.
DO R.S.V.P. promptly, before the cutoff date.
DO personally apologize and explain to your classmate why you cannot attend if there is more than one bar or bat mitzvah on the same date, it is a good idea to make your decision about which event to attend independently.
DO be respectful in services:
1. Don’t walk in and out of the temple, especially in large groups.
2. Do participate in the service.
3. If you know you have trouble sitting for a long time, consider coming a little later in the morning, perhaps at the start of the Torah service.
4. Consider going to the service as an important part of the celebration.
5. Dress appropriately in the synagogue — covered shoulders, no jeans, etc.
6. If you must arrive late, do not be disruptive when greeting your friends.
7. Don’t bring or use your cell phone or pager.
DO be a considerate guest while at the party:
1. Don’t be wild in the hallway or restrooms.
2. Stay in the party room, dance, celebrate with your classmates.
3. Thank the host family before going home.
4. Stay for the whole party; don’t decide to leave early, especially in a group.
DO remember, your actions should reflect how you want everyone else to behave when it is your special day. — JU
Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.
Symphonies in Paint
Reflections on an Impossible Age
Thirteen is a difficult age. I know this as a parent, and I also know it as a rabbi who interacts with lots of 13-year-olds. I know this as well as a student of Torah. And now I know it as a moviegoer.
Every parent should see the movie “Thirteen.” If you are the parent of an adolescent, you should see it with your child. The movie is based on the true story of Nikki Reed, a 13-year-old girl at my daughter’s middle school who fell in with the wrong crowd.
The pressures our children live with are extraordinary, and the response of this one insecure 13-year-old is heartbreaking — and true. We want to believe that this couldn’t happen in our families, but it could, and it does. We just don’t talk about it.
Our tradition, though, doesn’t shy away from confronting the challenges of age 13.
In the book of Deuteronomy, parents of a “wayward and defiant” son are instructed to bring him before the town elders. “Thereupon the men of the town shall stone him to death…” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Strange law, isn’t it? It is even stranger when you know what the Talmud says about it: “The stoning of a son who is wayward and defiant never happened and never will.” Then why was this law put in the Torah, the Talmud asks?
The rabbis answer: It was put in the story simply so we could study it and receive reward for our learning.
But then one rabbi speaks up and says: “You are wrong. It did happen once!”
The Talmud continues: When is a son too young to be considered stubborn and a rebel? The answer is: until his bar mitzvah. And when is a son too old? When he is all grown up.
So what is the window here — the time this law might apply? It begins at age 13.
We study this law about stoning the wayward and defiant son not because it ever happened, but because it puts us on notice that 13 is a difficult age. It is a vulnerable time for young people, a time of separation and experimentation, of testing new ideas and exploring independence.
But our tradition gives us some help in reframing for our 13-year-olds what it means to be a young adult. It’s called a bar or bat mitzvah. Through the ritual we try to teach our young people that to be an adult means to be part of something bigger than yourself, a tradition that calls on us to make a difference in the world, where we are responsible for the consequences of our actions, where what we do in the world really matters. What is important, says the bar mitzvah ritual, is not how trendy you are, but how you treat other people. Adulthood is not measured by freedom to engage in excessive behavior, but in mastering an ancient text and teaching it to your community. Being an adult means that you have obligations as well as privileges.
The whole community has a stake in our young people becoming adults; that’s why the bar mitzvah ritual takes place within the context of a synagogue, a caring congregation. The kind of isolation that led to Nikki Reed’s descent into hell in the movie “Thirteen” could have been prevented if she were part of a loving, intergenerational community.
Not all b’nai mitzvah convey these values. In fact, some of the excessive celebrations connected to b’nai mitzvah convey the opposite message. So I am not saying that a bar or bat mitzvah will keep a teenager safe. But I am saying that an ongoing connection to a caring community rooted in spiritual values can. That’s why we want our kids to continue their connection with the temple after bar mitzvah, to be part of our madrichim (leaders) program, to join the youth group, to study for Confirmation, to join the junior choir or to participate as a board member of our teen endowment tzedakah foundation. What teenagers do at temple doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they are staying connected.
Consider again the Talmud. You recall the majority opinion: “The stoning of a son who is stubborn and a rebel never happened and never will.” But remember the ominous minority opinion? “You are wrong. It did happen once.”
The one time it might have happened, suggests the Talmud, was before the child reached 13. In other words, our tradition seems to be saying to all of our 13-year-olds, if we haven’t executed you before your bar or bat mitzvah, it means we don’t see you as wayward and defiant. It means that we, your parents, your rabbis, your congregation, the whole Jewish community, in fact, have faith in you.
It means that we believe that you will be strong enough to stand up to the kind of peer pressure that Nikki Reed succumbed to, the seduction of the materialism that is all around us, and the nihilism so prevalent in popular culture. It also means that we will stand by you and help you make good choices, and be there to support you when times get tough. It means that you never have to feel alone.
Laura Geller is rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
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