Don’t kill us


We are teenagers on summer vacation. Some of us are religious Jews and some of us are religious Muslims. We are in different places and we come from different places.

We are your future.  And four quite like us — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach, and Mohammed Abu Khdeir – were recently killed in a war they didn't choose or try to join.

These four teenagers were not militants any more than we are, and now their lives are over and their futures snuffed out. 

Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal were on their way home from school when they were abducted and murdered by extremists. When radicals burned him to death, Mohamed was on his way to a suhoor breakfast, the early morning pre-fast meal before the sun rises on Ramadan.

We too go to school, we eat, and we observe our cultural and religious holidays. We have friends and family living near where these teenagers lived. Some of us have even been there ourselves. 

We come from all sides of the religious and political spectrums and carry many perspectives, some of which seem unreconcilable. But across all those divergent perspectives, the deaths of these four boys have awakened the same intense emotions in each of us. Pain, frustration, anger, fear. 

Perhaps we are such attractive targets because we tend to be vulnerable. Perhaps our naivete makes us easy prey: we are often too idealistic to recognize those with malicious intent. Twisted people target us because we are an easy way to get at our families, our nations, our tribes, our humanity.

But while the extremists’ intent in killing teenagers is to perpetuate war and violence, their recent actions have only brought the two sides closer together. Rational people on both sides feel compelled to make these deaths worth something.

Though we may not agree on other things, we all agree that these senseless murders are not helping anyone. Now, we must strive to come out of this tragedy a little bit closer to a solution than when we started. 

Perhaps our youth and vulnerability create the possibility of finding justice and peace. In clubs and schools, college dorms and youth groups, some of us are getting to know one another.

Previous generations have not been able to secure the dreams of either side.  Don’t kill us before we even have the chance to try.


DANIEL STEINBERG, Los Angeles, CA .. age 16 … member of Bnai David-Judea Congregation, will be a senior at Shalhevet High School

MONA GHANNOUM, Pasadena, CA… Age 18 … member of Islamic Center of Southern California … just graduated from Arcadia High School 

MARGO FEUER, Beverly Hills, CA … age 16 … member of Bnai David-Judea Congregation, will be a senior at Shalhevet High School

MARWA ABDELGHARI,  La Crescenta, CA … age 19 … member of Islamic Center of Southern California ..sophomore at U of California Irvine 

With aunt of kidnapped yeshiva student in attendance, hundreds of L.A. Jews pray for safe return


Hundreds of Jews gathered in Los Angeles Sunday evening at Beth Jacob Congregation for a communal prayer service in response to the Jun. 12 kidnappings of three Israeli yeshiva students by Palestinian terrorists near the West Bank towns of Gush Etzion and Alon Shvut.

As the aunt of Gilad Shaar, Lihi, listened and prayed from the front row, Rabbi Kalman Topp, Beth Jacob’s senior rabbi, called on the community to pray for the quick and safe return of Shaar, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19.

 “The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and security forces are doing all they can to locate the three boys—our boys, our brethren—and bring them home safely and quickly—but we are not in a position to do so,” Topp said, explaining how Jews not serving in Israel’s military can and should respond. “We can make a difference and we are responsible to pray to Hashem that Hashem should make a difference.”

As various leading rabbis in the Orthodox community read aloud from five chapters of Tehillim (Psalms), the hundreds in attendance followed suit, responsively reciting each portion aloud. David Siegel, Israel's Consul General in Los Angeles, was also present. It has long been customary in Orthodox neighborhoods to communally recite Psalms during particularly challenging times.

The three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped Thursday evening as they were attempting to hitchhike on a road south of Jerusalem, hoping to return home for Shabbat. Shaar and Fraenkel are both students at Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, a yeshiva in Gush Etzion run by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, one of the most renowned Torah scholars in the world.

In March, Racheli Sprecher Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali and an American-born Israeli, spent a Shabbat in Pico-Robertson, speaking at B’nai David-Judea Congregation on Jewish laws relating to marriage and sexuality.

On Sunday, she tearfully addressed Israeli media outside her family’s Nof Ayalon home, thanking the military and those praying for the teenagers’ return.

According to the Jerusalem Post, on Thursday evening one of the boys called police at 10:30 p.m. and said, “We’ve been kidnapped.”

Police reportedly did not relate that phone call to the military for up to five hours. 

Israel’s whiz kids


Mickey Haslavsky of Holon is only 18, but he’s already on his second startup.

“When I began my first startup at 16, I thought I was the only one creating Web sites at this age, but I was amazed to discover a huge community between [the ages of] 10 and 18 around the world, and I know of about 10 startups by Israelis my age,” Haslavsky said.

By invitation of Israeli high-tech godfather Yossi Vardi, Haslavsky recently gave a TEDx Youth@Holon presentation, “Teenage Nation,” about how he founded an online youth magazine.

One thousand people registered the day Haslavsky launched his second site, Machbesa (Laundry), this past spring. It’s a viral scheme for racking up genuine “Likes” on Facebook, pluses in Google Plus and views on YouTube.

“I want to bring the system to Brazil next because it has 51 million Facebook users and it’s spreading all the time,” said Haslavsky, who needs to find someone to run his enterprises come November, when he gets drafted for military service.

That shouldn’t be hard, as he is at the older end of the spectrum of Israeli teens helming a surprising number of high-tech ventures.

Mickey Haslavsky, 18, presenting at TEDx Youth@Holon.

Tal Hoffman of Haifa says Israel’s designation as the “Startup Nation” has encouraged young business developers. “Israel’s entrepreneur community is really big among my age,” said the 15-year-old founder of Itimdi, a not-yet-launched site where teens can meet and interact based on their interests.

Another 15-year-old, Gal Harth of Herzliya, was interviewed at TechCrunch Disrupt last year in San Francisco about his Doweet Web site (motto: “So, what do you want to do?”), described as “a fun and easy way to create activities with your friends.”

Harth said he founded Doweet with his pal Nir Ohayon in reaction to all their friends playing Xbox and PlayStation instead of engaging in social and physical activities. “This is a way to get together easily to go to the gym, go swimming, play soccer. It’s an app that links everyone in one spot.”

Harth and Ohayon got initial funding from Israel’s Rhodium, the first venture capital firm they approached.

“My passion is startups,” Harth said. “My passion is to change the world.”

Nurturing whiz kids

Enterprising Israeli teenagers have plenty of role models. Gil Schwed, founder of Israel’s Check Point Software Technologies and one of the world’s youngest billionaires, is a prime example. Schwed was taking computer courses at the Hebrew University before graduating high school. Drawing on experience gained in the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 intelligence corps, he invented the modern firewall at just 26.

Many up-and-coming entrepreneurs are eager to follow the same path, knowing that their military service can pave the way to successful careers. It’s no coincidence that many Israeli startups are co-founded by former army buddies.

However, programs to recruit high school students for high-tech military units focus on top achievers and tend to miss a considerable number of kids whose tech abilities far surpass their grades. Finding and cultivating these diamonds-in-the-rough has become a priority for StartupSeeds, a 1,300-member community for entrepreneurial Israeli teens founded in 2007 as a private philanthropy-supported project of the MadaTech-Israel National Museum of Science in Haifa.

One of its original members, Ido Tal, created a wildly popular Flash video game at the age of 14, but — perhaps because of his addiction to video games, he said — wasn’t exactly a model student. Likewise, Haslavsky, whose math teacher once told Haslavsky’s mother that the boy wasn’t going to amount to anything.

“From our research, nobody is dealing with this population of kids,” StartupSeeds Director Saar Cohen said. The organization is hoping to fill that gap by reaching out to parents of teens who show a talent for coding, Web design, video editing, animation, social media, security and other needed skills.

Through contacts in the military and academia, StartupSeeds brings these teens out from under the radar for the benefit of themselves and their country. “Everybody wants their kid in a special unit because if you get in, you’re set for life.”

This is just one of the organization’s programs devised to nurture and encourage Israeli whiz kids, with support from Israel’s high-tech industry and academia. In 2008, StartupSeeds was invited to lead a panel on entrepreneurial youth at the prestigious Israeli Presidential Conference.

“StartupSeeds promotes excellence, entrepreneurship and innovation among technological youth,” Cohen said. “We believe in strengthening their existing strengths by giving them tools and a platform for them to reach their potential. We help them make connections through an online community as well as physical forums.”

Every two weeks, StartupSeeds hosts meetings and lectures along with social activities. There are periodic regional conventions and field trips to army units and high-tech industries. Members get access to events such as TEDx, groups such as MIT Forum and competitions such as BigGeek, a live broadcast from the Microsoft R&D Center in Herzliya where four teams of techies scramble to develop a working application within 24 hours.

What is special about Israel that seems to encourage what Cohen calls a technological youth phenomenon?

“Everything here happens fast,” Cohen said. “Kids are encouraged from an early age to think on their feet, ask questions, be curious and not be afraid to try anything. The high-tech industry and the startup industry in Israel are very strong, and they take great pride in that, so it’s contagious. The army helps, too, because a large percentage of those in high-tech startups went to these special tech units.”

Boys and girls together

StartupSeeds, as well as Israel’s military, academic and industrial leaders, are eager to get more girls into the high-tech mix.

“Research shows there’s an early age at which kids decide what to go into, and everyone wants to get girls to choose technological fields,” Cohen said. “We recently decided to target this audience by starting an all-girls forum, offering meetings with female leaders in industry, to see if we can create a community. Our goal is to get to 30 percent girls [in our membership]. We think they are out there, and we are approaching them at the perfect age.”

For now, most teen entrepreneurs are boys, including recent immigrants such as Ben Lang, 18, who co-founded the Innovation Israel community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors; and, most recently, Mapped in Israel, a Web site pinpointing Israel’s many startups.

In March, Lang and three young colleagues ran a successful Hackathon Israel event, sponsored by Carmel Ventures and ROI Community; their stated vision was “to share the incredible high-tech scene in Israel with the entire world.”

“Because Israel is so small, it’s easy to create a startup and give life to an idea,” Haslavsky said. “In the media you see every day how startups sell their companies for millions of dollars, and that also encourages us. Every young entrepreneur wants to be a CEO. I think Israel is amazing in this field.”

Teenagers reveal why this service is different from all other services


Since the recent holiday of Passover was one of asking questions and thinking about transitioning from one state of being to another, it is an appropriate time to think of the bar and bat mitzvah in a similar context. These four questions — or more accurately one question and four answers — can be recited by 13-year-olds, but their explanations are particularly relevant for all of us.

Why is this prayer service different from every other prayer service?

At every other service I didn’t count, today I count for the first time.

All too often we forget that we count. In fact we discount how much our voices and our actions matter or can matter. At every prayer service from this time forward the bar or bat mitzvah literally counts, literally matters. Without his or her presence a group of nine other adults (or eight if one’s tradition is to count the Torah) would not be able to chant Torah or recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, as well as several other prayers.

Knowing that one’s presence not only counts but matters is very powerful for any one of us, let alone for a 13-year-old who so often can get lost in the crowd. The power of this counting can be traced back to the story of Abraham’s argument with God on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, a story which not only serves as the source for the 10 that make up the minyan, but also reminds us of the obligation of each individual to stand up on behalf of others.

On this day let each bar and bat mitzvah be given the message that he or she counts.

At every other service I listened to others, today at this service they listen to me.

When I do a walk through “rehearsal” with families the day before a bar or bat mitzvah, the young person practices announcing pages and telling the congregation to stand or sit. Often the parents remain seated when their child says “Please rise.” I joke that the parents and siblings need to do whatever the bar/bat mitzvah says and must follow his or her directions. Then I let the young person know that he or she shouldn’t get too used to this — that in 24 hours things will go back to normal. But the fact is that they should get used to this. The young person is leading the congregation in prayer and a d’var Torah (words of Torah). The bar/bat mitzvah is taking a place among the adults in the community and is letting us know (or reminding us) that he or she has something to say.

On this day let us give the bar/ bat mitzvah (for the first time or yet again) the message that what he or she has to say is worth listening to and hearing.

At every other prayer service I was a participant, today at this service I am the leader.

We know that a community needs leaders and participants. Many of us would also agree that for a community to be healthy there needs to be fluidity in these roles. Participants need opportunities to take leadership, and leaders need to take opportunities to join with participants and give others the opportunities to lead.

A central part of becoming a leader is the active and continuing pursuit of knowledge and the implicit message that learning is lifelong. (Some congregations have given the education director the title “director of lifelong education.”) It is the parents’ responsibility to model their own continuing Jewish learning and to make it a priority for their children. (Encouraging young people to continue to learn post bar/bat mitzvah should come with a parental commitment to do the same.) It is a Jewish community’s obligation to offer compelling opportunities for continued Jewish learning.

On this day, let us give the bar/bat mitzvah student the message (including by example) that to be a participant and a leader we need to recognize how much we have to learn and we must continue to learn.

At every other service I was seen as a child, today I am seen as the adult I will some day become.

A parent once shared with me the bittersweetness of observing how her child moved from one stage of life to the next. As she began to love her child in each stage of his growth, he would move on to another stage thus morphing into a new child, leaving her to cope with the loss of the child she had just gotten to know and to adjust to this “new” son.

When a child becomes a bar/bat mitzvah we see aspects of him or her that we may or may not have glimpsed before. As parents there is an obligation to treasure the pieces of those previous stages and recognize all those parts that will one day come together and become the adult that the child will one day be.

On this day let us recognize all the parts of the child and let him or her know how much we treasure all of who he or she is.

May this question and the four answers open our minds to new ideas and to even more questions.

Jeff Bernhardt is a b’nai mitzvah teacher at Temple Israel of Hollywood. He is also a writer living in Los Angeles.

The seminar of a lifetime


As we stepped off the bus into McPherson Park in the middle of Washington, D.C., many emotions flooded through our minds. We were scared, we were nervous, but mostly, we were excited. McPherson Park was only a couple of blocks away from the White House. There was much irony in this situation. The park is often filled with many homeless people, and the fact that the White House is down the street shows the class gap that unfortunately exists in our nation.

Our mission that day was to bring the homeless some toiletries and food. Since we had leftovers from lunch, this was a perfect way to put that food to good use. Our only instructions were to approach the homeless in groups of no less than three, and no more than five, and, most importantly, we weren’t there just to give them the items, but to strike up a conversation.

In March, along with 18 other Milken Community High School 10th grade students and three faculty members, as well as teens from schools across the country, we participated in the Panim-el-Panim (Face-to-Face) program. Panim-el-Panim is a program of Panim: The Jewish Institute for Leadership and Values, a Washington, D.C., organization that helps teens experience political activism and civic engagement in the context of Jewish values and principles.

From the moment we stepped off the plane at Dulles Airport, we knew that this trip would not be another eighth grade sightseeing tour. We were there to make a difference, and we were ready for an adventure. Neither of us had ever been involved in any sort of political advocacy program, yet we were both very passionate about different issues presently happening in the world that needed attention.

The Panim-el-Panim program introduced us to a number of different ways to voice our opinions and raise important issues. We became more educated about the political system, seeing firsthand how laws are enacted and how issues are presented to our elected officials. Who knew that 20 teenagers from Los Angeles could help make a difference in the world?

When we first arrived at the program, our director emphasized that we are not the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. Even though we were only high-school students, these simple words gave us the motivation we needed to start brainstorming our ideas into concrete proposals that we would soon be able to deliver to our area Rep. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles].

The whole program was geared toward the congressional meetings that we were to participate in on the last day of our four-day trip. The overall topic for the program was civil liberty. We first spent hours gaining knowledge through seminars about this subject so that we could incorporate our learning into arguments that we would present to Rep. Waxman.

Milken was joined by about seven other Jewish groups from around the country, making our trip a social event, as well as a political and educational one. We were able to interact with other Jewish teenagers, some of who shared many common ideas, but some of who had very different opinions, which only enhanced our learning experience.

Every day, multiple speakers taught us the importance of civil liberties and discussed with us the many injustices occurring around the globe. The reality of injustice was brought home to us in the “street Torah” program. That afternoon in McPherson Park, we connected by sharing stories and our sandwiches. The life stories that the homeless told us were extremely moving, and the joy that they received from one turkey sandwich and a toothbrush was immeasurable.

The night before our “street Torah,” we met with two members of an organization that helps get homeless people back on their feet again. This experience with the homeless, as well as other social justice issues, culminated with our lobbying activities with Waxman and Michael Hermann, his staff assistant. They both were very pleased to hear the opinions of our group and were impressed that at our young ages we were well aware of the global issues. They both mentioned that they would certainly take into account the issues we addressed.

The group chose issues such as the rocket attacks in Sderot, Israel, homelessness and bringing peacekeeping troops to Darfur. The terrible suffering and, indeed, the genocide in Darfur is an issue we were very familiar with, having studied it in school and raised money long before we traveled to Washington. On our program, we lobbied for United Nations peacekeeping troops that would hopefully be able to contain the violence and bring about peace in Darfur and the surrounding areas.

Before this trip to Washington, we were never very interested in politics, primarily because we thought that we would not be able to voice our opinions. The Panim-el-Panim program taught us that it is important to keep our elected representatives aware of what issues are important to teenagers, the next generation of voters. We now know that we can make a difference.

Chelsea and Hayley Golub are in the 10th grade at Milken Community High School.

Speak Up!
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

‘Teenism’ gives young adults an undeserved rep


Teenagers. The word strikes fear into the hearts of most parents and adults. I bet you get shivers down your spine as you’re reading this. Though most teenagers are perceived as reckless, raucous, recalcitrant, rowdy and riotous, the truth is that for the most part, teenagers exercise a natural responsibility that is occasionally eclipsed by their more immature moments. It is because their wild outbursts draw more attention that they are blown out of proportion and overshadow the maturity that teenagers portray most of the time. While the adult perception of youthful rebellion may seem justified, it can be damaging and hurtful to those who pride themselves on being as mature as any adult.

Nowadays, biases against blacks or homosexuals are tiptoed around, while biases against teenagers are left unchecked, proliferating everywhere, because hardly anyone gets taken to court for discriminating against a teen. Since every adult has been a teen once in their lives, they believe they’ve had enough personal experience to speak about all teenagers, when really they are merely projecting their own past onto all teenagers. Parents who went wild in their youth will watch their children like a hawk, never trusting them, accusing them of being disrespectful not because of hard evidence, but because that’s how they were when they were young. Often young adults are given a blanket diagnosis of being stuck-up and caustic, anti-parent, anti-school, anti-everything. From parenting magazines to primetime television, teens are portrayed as a pack of self-centered ingrates who let their emotions run wild with abandon, and it’s time someone said something about it.

Are teenagers reckless? Of course. That is, some of the time. But in our modern world, applying ideas that are true “some of the time” to every case is no longer acceptable, even in as small a way as believing all teenagers are rebels.

Of course, other discriminations are much more pressing in nature. Racism has more dire consequences than believing that your teenager is hot-blooded, when he is not. But discriminations against teens still deserve attention because of the simple fact of how many people are being discriminated against. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 20.2 million people in America aged 15 to 19, and they are 7 percent of the population. So be careful what statements you make, or what biases you might allow yourself to believe. Your ideas about teens will reflect greatly in your treatment of them, and the consequences of this (whether good or bad) could be much more far-reaching than you realize.

Almost as much as people falsely believe teenagers are terrible, people falsely believe that adolescence (and especially childhood) is the best time of a person’s life, when worries are few and far between. But this just isn’t true. In 1998, about a third of all victims of violent crime were ages 12 to 19, and almost half of all victims of violence were under age 25 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice). In addition, one in eight teenagers suffers from depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. (And, sadly, the sixth leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 14). As Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) once said: “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Adolescents face almost all the same problems that adults do and engage in the same unhealthy quick fixes, but it is only young adults who must handle these things sans experience. Without the bedrock of age and wisdom to tread on, high schoolers are left to trail-blaze through their lives haplessly, like the first pioneers of the American West.

A massive leap has occurred in our modern world, far wider than generation gaps of old. The epidemic of multitaskism, the intensity of grade-amassing and the all-around increase in schoolwork has created a miasma of anxiety for the American student, making all previous generations of schooling look like cakewalks in comparison. Those who want to answer the clarion call of college must prepare themselves for an Olympic level of competitiveness. A few examples: Yale’s acceptance rate this year was 9 percent, down from 11 percent in 2006, while Stanford’s rate reached the lowest in it’s history at 9.5 percent. In addition, tuition for four-year colleges has gone up 35 percent in the past six years, making the fight for financial aid all the more arduous.

Obviously, there isn’t much we can do to alleviate this situation. It is the face of our modern reality, for better or for worse. But there is something that can be done.

As with a lot of things, the most helpful solution is a simple change of attitude. Life for teens will always be a little on the rough side, but perhaps treating them with less pigeon-holing and more empathy is all that’s need it to smooth it out.

Justin Morris is in the 10th grade at Shalhevet School and a columnist for the Boiling Point newspaper.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

A summertime find — future Jewish leaders


As a camper, Max Kates was full of energy, soaking up everything Camp Ramah in Ojai offered. He loved sports, singing, his friends and Shabbat. When the summer arrived for him to join the staff, he immediately applied to participate in Ramah’s counselor leadership-training program. In his first year as a counselor, Max was placed in a unit I supervised, and I watched with pride as he developed valuable skills in problem solving, public speaking, teamwork, program design and assessment.

Six years later, Max is a unit head working with veteran staff and counselors-in-training, and, as the camp’s assistant director, I support and guide him. While my path ultimately led to Jewish education, Max is now in medical school. He could sense his growth during his summers as a counselor, but was unaware that the same skills conquered then would be put to use as a medical student.

During the summer, teenagers and young adults like Max are presented with a plethora of options — summer school, jobs in retail, internships, travel programs and more. Choosing work as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp helps young people gain skills as leaders in any setting, while securing their commitment to the future of the Jewish people — and it is an option that our community must make a priority.

At Camp Ramah, as at other camps, young counselors — about 18 years old — inherit enormous parental responsibility. In helping campers become stronger individuals by creating a safe, fun and educational experience, counselors hone skills often found in highly experienced teachers, customer-service agents, social workers, nurses and spiritual leaders. In the process, counselors themselves transform into Jewishly literate young adults who serve the community in leadership roles beyond the summer experience.

The counselors we hire at Ramah are charged to be role models and educators at an age when they, too, are growing more independent. The results are outstanding. Not only do our counselors check for brushed teeth, comfort the homesick and cheer campers on during basketball games, but they also model Jewish values, use Hebrew, lead prayers and teach mitzvot, such as tikkun olam (repairing the world) through activities that take advantage of the natural surroundings at camp. Through their training in both skills and content, counselors absorb values and practices that stick with them for a lifetime. They commit to Jewish practice and values, such as Shabbat observance, Israel and continued Jewish education.

Recent research reveals a higher percentage of commitment to Jewish values in young adults who work in Jewish summer camps than in those who only attended as campers or never attended at all. For example, when surveyed in college, 34 percent of camp counselors expressed a commitment to supporting Jewish organizations, compared to just 22 percent among those who have not worked at camp. Further, 71 percent of counselors at Camp Ramah observe the laws of kashrut, compared to 36 percent who were only campers and 17 percent with no camp experience.

Young applicants who worry that they are “giving up” a summer that could be used to intern, take classes or travel should be assured that working at a Jewish summer camp develops skills that universities and employers will value. Developmentally, 18-year olds are ready to reach outside of themselves to lead and care for others in the world. They desire the adrenaline rush that comes from a feeling of accomplishment and are eager to accept leadership roles that allow them to express their opinions and develop marketable skills. Camp provides this very opportunity.

At Ramah we offer a counselor leadership-training program for first-year staff, in which counselors spend much time in the field with campers, along with hours each week in the classroom acquiring leadership skills in communication, youth development, crisis management, program planning, Judaics and other areas. Most importantly, camps give staff members — first year and after — a unique opportunity to exercise their creative abilities under a strong watchful eye and with more feedback than these young adults will receive in future jobs. At the end of this most recent summer, one counselor who completed our training program remarked, “Being a first-year counselor changed me. I took all my energy and channeled it into the right places. I felt so happy with the work I was doing and the impact I made on kids, whether through planning a program or leading a cheer.”

One summer on the job, however, is not enough. In order to maximize this potential, Jewish summer camps must retain counselors from season to season, so that young adults can build on their skills and deepen their allegiance to Jewish leadership. Camps must offer salary and training packages that are competitive with summer internship and travel alternatives available to young adults. Fortunately, some in the camping movement are working hard to design such packages. The Foundation for Jewish Camping’s Cornerstone Fellowship Program aims to retain senior counselors for at least a third summer of work by bringing cohorts of counselors to a national conference on Jewish camp counseling skills, helping them take on leadership roles during the summer and paying a generous stipend on top of their base salary. This fellowship program is one answer to a retention problem that will need many solutions.

From medical school, Max recently expressed appreciation for his experiences on staff at Camp Ramah. He described a moment when his anatomy professor broke students into groups and requested that they make team guidelines and expectations. Max led his group to create goals and discuss how they would work together as a team throughout anatomy, perhaps the most intense course in medical school. Max stated, “And that’s about when I realized it: The skills and experiences we all share at camp do not occur in some vacuum — separate from the world outside. They transfer directly to everything we are doing right now.”

Zachary Lasker, a doctoral candidate in education at UCLA, is the assistant director for Camp Ramah in California and a clinical instructor in education at the American Jewish University.

Teens and philanthropy are a MATCH


Survivor. No, not the television show, as I wish were the case. A young Jewish woman and personal friend, Amy Farber, is a real survivor who was diagnosed with LAM (short for the fatal lung disease lymphangioleiomyomatosis) a few years ago, when she was 35.

I met Amy Farber last year at my high school. She delivered an impassioned speech in which she revealed that there was no cure or treatment for her terminal disease.

Amy and I had a lot in common, as we grew up in the same community. Her plight made me realize the importance of what the rabbis have been telling me about for years: tikkun olam, my responsibility to help repair the world, and that even as one person, I can make a difference.

I felt compelled to help this brilliant and vibrant Jewish woman in her quest to stay alive. I just could not ignore her desperate need. I figured my best opportunity to raise awareness to the public, as well as funds to support her cause, was through my synagogue’s MATCH program.

I am a member of the board of directors of MATCH: Money and Teenagers Creating Hope, a teen philanthropy foundation of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, made up of high school students. MATCH was started through an anonymous gift of $250,000, with slightly more than $10,000 of interest generated per year. By studying Jewish traditions surrounding tzedakah, meeting with philanthropists, learning how to research nonprofit organizations, making site visits, and meeting with representatives from organizations, our board chooses how that $10,000 should be donated. It is a hands-on experience of philanthropy that helps us prepare for a life-long commitment to tzedakah and tikkun olam.

I researched the LAM Treatment Alliance (LTA), an organization Amy founded to raise awareness and money to find a cure for LAM, and presented my findings to my board. Our board decided to allocate $2,000 to further her efforts.

Amy had just completed a doctorate and had been looking forward to starting a family when her ailment struck. The doctor offered no help other than vitamins. Amy found the lack of assistance to be outrageous. She decided to take action against this rare disease. LAM affects thousands of women, typically in their childbearing years, as their healthy lung tissue is destroyed by cysts that ultimately suffocate them. To this day, many patients remain undiagnosed.

Amy assembled a team of Nobel Prize-caliber scholars and inspired them to move on an extraordinary fast track to seek both a treatment and cure for LAM. The LTA and its advisory board consists of members representing Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to name a few. LTA has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and on “The Charlie Rose Show” and now receives global support. Since Amy founded LTA, it has raised nearly $1 million for research and awareness of this disease.

Doctors are optimistic about discovering a cure, but regrettably it may be too late for Amy.

The good news is that while LTA is researching for a cure for LAM, scientists are finding valuable insight into the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and diabetes.

Amy has helped establish a goal for people to help others in need of survival. Thanks to my experience with MATCH, I’ve learned that both philanthropists and survivors benefit from acts of charity.

For more information on Amy Farber and LAM, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.tebh.org/social_justice/index.php’match. And check out julief@jewishjournal.com.

Israeli entry ‘Mud’ wins at Sundance


‘Mud’ Wins at Sundance

Two Israeli films taking critical looks at the Jewish state’s society and institutions have won major prizes at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival at Park City, Utah.

“Sweet Mud,” or “Adama Meshugaat” in Hebrew, a top-grossing film in Israel, follows a 13-year-old boy coming of age in a 1970s kibbutz while coping with a mentally unstable mother. Director Dror Shaul was honored with the World Cinema Jury Prize for best drama film. It had been Israel’s entry for Oscar honors in the foreign-language film category but was not named among the five finalists.

“Hot House,” directed by Shimon Dotan, received a special jury prize in World Cinema Documentary competition at Sundance. The film depicts Israeli prisons as a breeding ground for future Palestinian leaders, as well as terrorists.

The Sundance awards illustrate both the festival’s growing role as a showcase for independent foreign films and Israel’s rising prestige in the world of cinema.

Last summer’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, for instance, featured an Israel Day for the first time, with the screening of an unprecedented 15 Israeli films.Sundance gave one of its highest honors, the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary, to Jason Kohn, a young New York expatriate. In “Manda Bala” (“Send a Bullet”), his first feature-length work, Kohn explores the violence and corruption of Brazilian society.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Reich’s Pearls of Music

Disney Hall was packed for the West Coast premiere of “Daniel Variations” by composer Steven Reich.

As Reich, one of America’s greatest composers, watched from his perch in the control room, conductor Grant Gershon led the L.A. Master Chorale through the haunting, evocative work Reich wrote in honor of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Afterward, VIPs gathered in the Founders Room to honor Reich, who turned 70 this year. The composer, clad in black and wearing a signature baseball cap, spoke of the emotional pull the story of Daniel Pearl had for him.”I’m also a father,” he said.

Judea Pearl, speaking on behalf of his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Tamara, who were also in attendance, praised Reich’s “dark and exuberant” work, which was commissioned in part by the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

“I was totally impressed by how you expressed the darkness turning into hope,” he said.

Pearl, himself a musician, said he realized how Reich did this, by using violins to weave light, upbeat notes through the 20-minute work.

“I kept saying, ‘Danny, this is your humor,'” Pearl said.

— Staff Report

Pepperdine Connects Genocide and Religion

On July 6, 1941, Simon Wiesenthal was arrested with other Jews in the Ukraine and ordered to line up in rows to be shot by Nazi forces. The shooting lasted through the afternoon — but suddenly stopped when a church bell rang and the soldiers had to stop for prayers.

Wiesenthal’s life work as a Nazi hunter embodies issues such as these, at the crossroads between genocide and religion: justice, vengeance and forgiveness, justification and responsibility.

Now, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Pepperdine University School of Law will explore many of these issues in an upcoming conference, “Genocide and Religion: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Resisters,” on Feb. 11-13 at both the Wiesenthal Center and the Pepperdine campus in Malibu. The conference will explore all the components of genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries, beginning with Armenia and continuing today in Sudan. The conference will examine what role law should play in mediating this intersection between religion and genocide.

Speakers include Hebrew University professor Israel Charny, president of the International Association of Israel Scholars; Bruce Einhorn, U.S. immigration law judge, and Michael Bayzler, a Pepperdine Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law who was a fellow at Yad Vashem.

For more information, call (310) 506-7635.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Teen Readers and Writers Talk Shop

Teens and young adults, and authors who aspire to write for them, are invited to attend Sinai Temple’s “Focus on Young Adult/Teen Literature” conference, Sunday, Feb. 4, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. The panel of young adult authors will include Sarah Littman, Debra Garfinkle, Dana Reinhardt and Simone Elkeles, and will be moderated by Linda Silver, editor of New Jewish Valuesfinder. An afternoon program will feature an interactive historical survey of Jewish literature for children. Participants can shop at a children’s book sale and marketplace, or they can try to improve their own marketing by meeting with an editor available for manuscript consultations ($40 fee).

For reservations and information, call (313) 474-1518 or e-mail lsilverman@sinaitemple.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Rebecca Levinson: Born to Be a Volunteer


Rebecca Levinson

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

Rebecca Levinson grew up always doing things for the community.

“This is what you do,” the 17-year-old junior at North Hollywood’s Oakwood School, said matter of factly.

Just recently Levinson, who goes by Becca, joined PEP/LA, the Peer Education Project of Los Angeles dealing with HIV/AIDS. She has been trained to lead informal discussions with other teenagers on ways to avoid risk-taking sexual behaviors. Already Levinson has spoken at Children of the Night, an organization dedicated to helping child prostitutes.

In addition, for a second year, Levinson is mentoring Francisco, currently a fifth-grader at North Hollywood’s Monlux Elementary School. She meets with him weekly, tutoring him in whatever subjects he needs help.

“He is super-duper cute and obsessed with magnets,” Levinson said.

And last summer she spent a month in El Salvador through Putney Student Travel Global Awareness in Action program. She traveled with 15 other teenagers to San Salvador, where the group learned about the country’s history as well as immigration, globalization and other issues.

They then traveled Santa Marta, a small town on the Honduras border, where they lived in a communal home and assisted the local residents. Levinson, who chose to look into economy and gender issues, worked in a women’s bakery every day, baking bread and talking with the workers. Additionally, she did some AIDS outreach education.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “It taught me how one country’s decisions affect the world.”

Volunteering is in her blood. Her father, David Levinson, is the founder of Big Sunday, which began in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Mitzvah Day and evolved into an annual citywide day of volunteering, now co-sponsored by the mayor. Last year’s event had 30,000 volunteer participants.

This past Big Sunday, Rebecca Levinson manned the clothing market at the Figueroa Street School carnival, which was actually a schoolwide fair and community service day coordinated her mother, Ellie Herman. Levinson’s job was procuring and selling clothes for a minimal amount.

“It was more stressful than I thought it would be,” she said. “Only about five people spoke English.”
While Levinson’s activities seem disparate, she explained the connection.

“They are all interactive. It is necessary for both people to gain something,” she said.

An exception, however, is the American Cancer Society Relay for Life event she organized last year at Walter Reed Middle School.

“A lot of people in my family have had cancer, and I felt an obligation,” she explained. She will facilitate the event again this year, hoping to broaden the turnout.

Levinson’s other major interest is drawing, which she hopes to combine with her passion for social justice. “There are a lot of different ways to communicate with people that interest me,” she said.

As for her future, she wants to become fluent in Spanish. She’s also developed an interest in economics as well as international relations after her summer in El Salvador.

“We’ve been dragging the kids along ever since they can remember, whether to nursing homes to sing or to furnish apartments for the homeless,” David Levinson said. “But Rebecca has found her own path and knows where she can be most useful.”

Israel’s Teens Get Ironic ‘Inheritance’


“Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East,” by Jennifer Miller (Ballantine Books, 2005).

Amos Oz has explored the subject in novels. Amos Elon has penned essays about it. Politicians as varied as Abba Eban, Mahmoud Abbas, Bill Clinton and even Ariel Sharon have tried to solve it. So, what can a 26-year-old Ivy League graduate add to the long and storied history of the region with the world’s most intractable political problem?

Plenty of inspiration, if we are to judge by Jennifer Miller’s new book, “Inheriting the Holy Land.”

Miller, who will be discussing and signing copies of her book at the Jewish Community Library on May 9, considers herself to be from a privileged background.

She contrasts the “level of seriousness” of the Middle Eastern youth she has met over the years to the relatively carefree existence she had growing up in a tony Washington, D.C., suburb and going to Brown University.

Even if she is to the manor born, Miller has done dogged and intrepid work in reporting on the Middle East through a unique lens — that of a graduate of the Seeds of Peace program, a cultural and political awareness “summer camp” uniting teenage Israelis, Palestinians and other kids from the region.

She exposes the paradoxes of these young adults, the Palestinian boys who criticize the United States, yet wear Coke and American flag shirts and implore her for U.S. visas; the Orthodox Israeli girl, who prays apart from the men in synagogue, yet dresses in a sexy outfit when she is outside; the Israeli army officer sitting next to his ostensible enemy, a Jordanian college student, while drinking tea in Washington.

Not surprisingly, there are parallels to these stories — religious Israeli and Palestinian girls seem to suffer a similar kind of oppression; an Israeli boy decorates his room with weapons (“rusted knives and tarnished bullet belts hang on the walls”), while a Gaza boy tells Miller that he trades bullets as if they were baseball cards.

Miller has subtitled her book, “An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East,” and indeed she infuses the story with much optimism. But she says over the phone, “I don’t really believe in peace. The word, peace, the notion of peace, it’s an ideal. There’s never going to be harmony.”

Instead of peace, she looks for “pragmatic” steps, a future of cooperation on matters such as the region’s economy.

Her subjects, the Middle Eastern youth, have all lived together for a summer in Maine. While many Israelis in the Seeds program build a strong rapport with Arabs and vice versa, Miller avoids the cliché of suggesting that these relationships will last. She depicts the nascent friendship between Mohammad and Omri, a friendship that breaks off after the summer program ends.

Yet she points out that “it’s not so important whether they stay in touch.”What’s more important is that “they feel empowered for the first time.”

Sometimes, her book seems to reflect too much of a Generation Y mindset — Miller might have varied her metaphors; all of the references to J.R.R. Tolkien, Monty Python and “Star Wars” leave one wondering if today’s youth devote all their leisure time to fantasy epics.

However she spends her leisure time, Miller remains a dedicated journalist, braving trips to the Gaza Strip, where she interviews Palestinian security official Mohammad Dahlan, and almost gets stuck for the night; Ramallah, where she matches wits with and eats fresh vegetables off the finger tips of the late Yasser Arafat; and cafes in Jerusalem that a few days later are targeted by suicide bombers.

If she finds Arafat to be a charming liar, Miller portrays Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister who was voted out of office after agreeing to vacate more than 90 percent of the West Bank, as a defiant and somewhat belligerent man. She also visits with the forgotten people, Israeli Arabs, who endure a kind of liminal, inferior status, accepted as neither full-fledged Israelis nor as Palestinians.

Although Miller says over the phone that the “vast majority of the people [in the Middle East] want to be productive citizens,” her book suggests that we can’t forget others like the man from Gaza, who claims to be a Shakespeare scholar yet utters the basest and oldest lies that “Zionists control the mass media all over the world.”

No wonder Miller admits that she used to be “confused” about the Middle East, even though her father was a U.S. State Department negotiator who tried to broker peace agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians at Oslo and Camp David. She decided to write “Inheriting the Holy Land” to make the whole situation “more accessible and engaging” to Americans, whom she views as her audience.

Her next book project, she says, is motivated “by a cross-country motorcycle ride with the Rolling Thunder Vietnam Veterans.”

She chuckles when asked if she is following in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville, Tom Wolfe or Hunter S. Thompson. She says she wants to inspire the same level of civic engagement in young Americans that she saw in Middle Eastern youth.

“Freedom is ubiquitous for us,” she says. “We don’t always appreciate that it’s a scarce resource.”

Jennifer Miller reads and signs “Inheriting the Holy Land” on Tuesday, May 9, at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 761-8644.

 

yeLAdim


We Love Israel

Come Party With The Jewish Journal at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7. Answer the Kein v’Lo question on a separate sheet of paper, attach the completed entry form and bring it to our booth at Woodley Park, which will open at 10 a.m. Every family that turns in a completed answer will get a prize, but the first 10 families will get four tickets each for the upcoming “Sesame Street Live” shows at either the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza or the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. (Tickets to each location are limited — so first come, first serve. Limit one prize per family.) For more information on the festival, click on yeLAdim at www.jewishjournal.com.

Kein v’ Lo:

Summer Camp

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about camps. Should Jewish kids go to Jewish camps or other kinds of camps?

The Kein Side:

• Studies have shown that going to a Jewish camp — either a day camp or for overnight camp — increases kids’ connection to Judaism and the Jewish community, regardless of their background.

• Jewish camps have the backing of synagogues, schools and — sometimes — entire religious movements, so you and your parents can trust that you’ll be safe and learn interesting things. (You also won’t spend all day hiking in the woods, eating bugs and sleeping on rocks.)

• At these camps, you learn fun and important Jewish things, like songs, rituals and prayers that you might not at school or anywhere else.

• It’s fun to find a way to be Jewish WITHOUT your parents around.

The Lo Side:

• It is important for kids to become well-rounded by making friends of different backgrounds, races and religions, which can happen at a non-Jewish camp.

• Not everyone is comfortable being religious at a summer camp.

• It’s fun to do other things when you go to a camp. You can learn about religion at home and in the synagogue.

• If you love sports, performing arts or science, there are camps that spend the entire summer on one subject, so you can learn a lot while having fun.

We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Attach this completed form with your answer on a separate sheet of paper.

Name: _____________________________________________________________

Age: ________________________________________________________________

School: _____________________________________________________________

Grade: _______________________________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________________________________________

E-mail: ___________________________________________________________

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim. And whether you’re heading to day camp or overnight camp — yeLAdim wishes you a rockin’ summer!

A Circle of Friends


For several weeks, I had been visiting Nathan, a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with autism. We had been brought together through the Conejo Valley Friendship Circle, an organization that extends warmth to families in the community that have children with special needs.

Nathan was unable to verbally communicate any of his ideas, wishes or thoughts, despite numerous psychiatrists, speech therapists and trained counselors who tried to improve his speaking abilities.

At our weekly play dates, I began to mimic and articulate many words to Nathan, even though I felt that it would have a minimal impact on him. For instance, when he wished to continue jumping on the trampoline, I would repeat the words “more” and “again” to him. After several weeks, and to my great surprise and satisfaction, Nathan said his first word … “more.”

One could imagine what raced through my mind. Here, a naive and sometimes foolish 15-year-old boy was able to accomplish in a few short weeks what dozens of therapists and psychologists could not accomplish in six years.

But even more fun and gratifying was the friendship we began to develop. Never in my life had I witnessed anything as pure as watching Nathan ride a bike or the joy he would express while jumping on a trampoline. He became more than a friend … he became my companion. I felt that he was the only individual that didn’t judge me. All he asked was that I come to his house once a week and play with him.

The Friendship Circle has changed, and in a way, rewritten the way I view my life. Like many other teenagers, before I joined the Friendship Circle, I found my life to be ordinary, tedious and mundane. I found that my soul was constantly yearning for a more meaningful existence. In the beginning, I joined the organization in order to acquire community service hours and perhaps impress some college that I planned to apply to in the future. Unknown to me at the time, I would soon fall in love with the organization.

The Conejo Valley Friendship Circle began in 2003 to offer volunteers services, events and support to special-needs families: 125 families with special-needs kids throughout the Conejo and West San Fernando valleys participate, and 250 teenagers are volunteers. On March 26, 600 people gathered at Agoura High School for a walk-a-thon and family fun day to benefit the Friendship Circle. The special-needs kids and their families walked the first lap of the 5K walk, and then the rest of us joined. We raised $80,000 for Friendship Circle programs.

Every Friendship Circle event is special in its own way; whether it is the weekly Fitness Center program or the annual Purim Carnival, each event brings a distinctive dimension to the program. Children, parents and volunteers together unite and form a bond unlike any other friendship or companionship. Within our own communities, we form a small neighborhood of trustworthy friends that care not only for the benefit of themselves but also take the time to realize the good that they can bring to the world.

The core program, Friends at Home, is the one that brought us together. Every member within the organization is assigned to a particular family, whom he or she befriends and visits once a week. At the outset, I was impressed with the professionalism the organization allowed me to acquire. “Friends at Home” and meeting Nathan helped me understand how one person can have a deep and significant impact.

The Friendship Circle puts individuals in a situation where they can and will make a difference. Although every situation cannot be as intense and gratifying as my own, I am certain that each individual the organization touches is affected in a deep, momentous manner. Each volunteer becomes a part of their child’s life — an important part, a part that cannot be replaced by any trained guide or psychologist. Every kid needs a friend; the Friendship Circle strives to give each child that is in need a friend; and teenage volunteers have their soul touched in a sentimental, life-changing way.

As much as every child needs a friend, it is evident that teenagers need a friend, too. I’m not referring to the friend that you take to the mall or go to a party with, but everyone needs a real friend. A friend that will not judge will not hate and will not disappoint … a friend that will not ask anything of you but your friendship. Everyone needs a “Friendship Circle” friend.

For more information about the Friendship Circle of the Conejo Valley, call (818) 865-2233 or visit

Why I Became a NFTY Freak


Debbie Friedman, celebrated Jewish songwriter and singer, wrote the words, “The youth shall see visions.” For decades, this song has had a profound impact on Jewish youth of America, instilling value and hope among a generation in search of themselves.

In October of my junior year, I “saw my vision” and embarked on a journey that will shape me for the rest of my life.

It was a cool California Friday, and I had packed up my duffel bag to head off to NFTY Southern California’s Leadership Training Institute. NFTY, the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth, has become a huge influence on my life as a teenager, and as a Jew.

NFTY has been around for more than half a century and consists of 19 regions around North America, hosting monthly weekend retreats for Jewish high school students. Each weekend encompasses social action, prayer and socializing. NFTY’s primary job is to confirm Jewish identity in teenagers while providing them with tools for their future as Jews — knowledge of prayer and customs, traditional songs, and lifelong friends on the same journey.

I had always had a strong Jewish identity. I am an assistant teacher at religious school at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and have spent 10 summers at Camp Alonim. I know all the prayers like the back of my hand and feel a religious connection to my faith. But when I got to NFTY, I finally felt like I could fully realize my Jewish identity.

NFTY SoCal was an instantly inviting environment. The second I stepped out of the car for that weekend Leadership Institute, I entered the most seminal chapter of my life. Instantaneously I was greeted with big smiles and warm hugs, and I knew that I was going to belong. From the first Shabbat service, I knew my life was about to be enriched with something it had never seen before. After the event concluded on Sunday, I became a devout NFTY freak, counting down the days until the next NFTY event and constantly talking with my new friends.

NFTY inspires youth to change the world. No, NFTY shows the youth that it is up to them to change it. Social action programming, leadership training and intensive lessons in Judaism have provided youth with the framework to lead. NFTY is constantly inspiring all and assuring them that they do mean something to this world, not something miniscule, but something with a massive impact and great importance.

One of Judaism’s highest held values is tikkun olam, repairing the world. In NFTY, we learn about the hardships and challenges that face our earth, and we use our knowledge to educate others on these issues — such as the genocide in Sudan, the kidnapped children in Uganda and modern-day slavery in America and the rest of the world. We have also participated in donating money to relief organizations and contributed endless hours of making bracelets and blankets for recently freed slaves in Los Angeles.

If it were not for NFTY, I would not even know that there was a genocide and that there are still slaves today.

Many people ask me: “Why are you so Jewish? Why are you so religious?” At times I hesitate to answer because my response may shock others, yet most of the time I reply: “I stand up for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust just because they were Jewish. I have a Jewish identity because I am fortunate enough to be able to have one and not be afraid.”

NFTY has taught me to appreciate life so much more, and to be proud to be Jewish because so many millions of Jews could not be proud of whom they were without fatal consequences. A poem written by Chad Rochkind, a NFTY alumnus, reads, “To be a NFTYite is to know that the words, ‘And the youth shall see visions’ are more than just a song.”

I now know that these words are truly more than lyrics, they are a way of life that NFTY inspires, and they have shaped my path as a Jew, as a leader, and as a human being.

For information on NFTY, visit

Taking — and Giving — Stock


Move over fountain pens. If the Blue and White Fund has its way, the trend in bar and bat mitzvah gift giving might be instruments of the financial kind.

The Blue and White Fund is a diversified U.S. mutual fund that exclusively invests in Israeli companies traded on the NASDAQ, New York, Amex and Tel Aviv stock exchanges. The fund is offering free $18 mutual fund certificates to every American bar or bat mitzvah. Friends and relatives are encouraged to buy gifts of stock in the fund, as well.

The only condition of the free offer: Each teen must have proof that he or she has attained a religious rite of passage.

Shlomo Eplboim, the fund’s founder and CEO, launched the project two years ago, hoping that receiving a portion of the Israeli mutual funds would spur young teens to a lifelong interest in Israeli investment.

“I guarantee that giving the fund is better than giving Kiddush cups,” Eplboim said, adding that the next generation “does not believe in charity” as much as it believes in “innovation and brainpower.”

To date, the fund has distributed more than 450 free certificates, and that number is expected to increase. Eplboim said more than 1,000 requests were received in 2005 — following the group’s new promotional partnership with the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) bar and bat mitzvah project, which encourages families to use familiar JNF tree certificates as simcha invitations or thank-you notes.

“For every child that approaches the Blue and White Fund for a share, we plant a tree for them as a gift. Conversely, bar mitzvah-age kids learn about the Blue and White Fund by participating in the JNF’s bar/bat mitzvah simcha program,” said Rona Rodrig, JNF director of product and campaign development. “Investment and charity for Israel go hand-in-hand.”

Eplboim believes that teens who follow their Blue and White Fund investments will “learn about investing in the backbone of Israeli companies, which is incredible.” By introducing teens to Israeli investing at a young age, Eplboim hopes these same youngsters will be more likely to become investors — hopefully in Israel — as adults.

“That is exactly what happened to me,” said Stuart Peskin, principal for State Street Global Advisors. Peskin said receiving seven shares of Coca-Cola stock on his seventh birthday made a “huge impact” on his chosen career path.

Yet, some of today’s teens are more skeptical.

Jake Seltman, 12, a seventh-grader, said that if he were to receive the fund as a gift, he would consider further investment in Israel only “if the fund really works.”

Josh Mangel, another middle school student, is already a savvy investor.

“Two years ago … I saw Yahoo growing really fast, almost $3 [per share] in a week,” he said. “I bought the stock and made a lot of money. If I saw that [Blue and White] mutual fund grow, I’d invest in an [Israeli] company.”

Adult skeptics worry about the stability of Israeli investments following years of heightened Middle East terrorism.

Tom Glaser, president of the American Israel Chamber of Commerce’s Southeast region, said that while terrorism has “had an impact on the Israeli economy, many companies survived intact. Israel is second only to the United States in high-tech startups, and [these companies] are strongly supported by venture capital from Israel and all over the world.”

Glaser said many Israeli companies are grounded in “real, innovative technology … some of the most ‘disruptive’ [cutting edge] technology anyone has ever done. Israel has the most companies traded on NASDAQ besides the United States and Canada…. It is a true phenomenon.”

Eplboim and his partners also believe that there’s a discrepancy between the media’s portrayal of Israel and the growth potential of Israeli companies. He sees no danger in the country’s geopolitical situation, because “Israel has been dealing with this for 56 years.”

“The biggest asset Israel has is its education,” said Eplboim, citing statistics that Israel leads the world with the largest number of university graduates per capita, ranks third globally in the number of patents issued and spends 7 percent of its gross domestic product on education, despite the political turmoil that receives so much media attention.

Although the Blue and White Fund is exclusively invested in Israeli goods in order to support Israel, the free funds are not exclusively limited to Jewish teens. Any child who can supply proof of a religious ceremony (a copy of an invitation or letter from a religious official) is eligible; young Christians who celebrate their first communion or confirmation can also receive a free $18 fund investment.

To register your bar or bat mitzvah for a free shares of the Blue and White Fund, call (877) 4BW-FUND or visit ” target=”_blank”>www.jnf.org.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, September 10

Party at tonight’s sixth annual Barbie and Ken Toy Drive and you’ll give the kids a reason to smile, too. Cover per person is one new unwrapped toy or combination of toys with a minimum $25 value, for which you get music, open bar and food till the wee hours, or as long as it lasts. Event title notwithstanding, anatomically correct toys are also accepted.

8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., bfarash@earthlink.net.

Sunday, September 11

The Katrina devastation is worth your attention and donations, but take some time to think about Sept. 11 today, and while you’re at it, help out some other victims of terror. The Society of Young Philanthropists hosts a trunk sale, with 10 percent of proceeds going to OneFamily Solidarity Fund, an organization that provides assistance to terror victims in Israel. For a $5 donation at the door, you can shop their “Philanthroshop” for premium women and men’s denim brands and knits, plus names like T-Bags, Joyaan, Bijou Designs, Trisje Handbags and Christiano men’s shirts.

9 a.m.-9 p.m. $5. Beverly Hills residence, 1006 Elden Way. (310) 271-0060.

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=””>

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

The Circuit


 

SHoshanim Celebrates

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.

 

MATCH Puts Giving in Students’ Hands


Learning about the importance of giving tzedakah is a basic tenet of any Jewish education.

But p>

“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.”

 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

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.

Sunday

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.

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

‘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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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

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.”

Amen.


Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer and oral historian in Van
Nuys. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net
.

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."

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

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.

"Tradition."

"Fun."

"Identity."

"Heritage."

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."

"Puberty."

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?"

"Destruction."

"Food fights."

"Drinking."

"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."

"The party."

"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.

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.