From left: Claudia Puig, president of the L.A. Film Critics Association; Robert Magid, producer of “Eyeless in Gaza;” Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Rezner and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa. Photo courtesy of Roz Wolf.

Moving and Shaking: New Gaza film screening, local olympian celebrated, TIOH Rabbi announces retirement

“Eyeless in Gaza,” a documentary that attempts to show how Israel suffered from biased media coverage during its 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, had its Los Angeles premiere on Feb. 6 at the iPic Theaters in Westwood.

The film incorporates news footage of the war, including that of a media company capturing on camera Hamas fighters setting up rocket-launch sites in densely populated Gaza neighborhoods. Israel has long maintained that this is standard practice by Hamas and that it is part of the reason why Israel inflicts high civilian casualties on Gaza in the event of violent conflicts with the anti-Israel terrorist organization.

The 50-minute film also incorporates original interviews with Hamas officials; Israeli-Canadian journalist and author Matti Friedman, who formerly served in the Israel Defense Forces and pro-Israel attorney Alan Dershowitz. It delves into the history of Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip, beginning with Israel’s 2005 withdrawal and its dismantling of settlements in the region.

During the 2014 war, mainstream media depicted Israel as using disproportionate force against the Gaza people. Reporters cited the uneven death toll — 1,483 Palestinian civilians killed compared to five Israeli civilians, according to, which cites the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — as evidence of Israel’s brutality.

The film explains that Israel’s Iron Dome defense prevented Israel from suffering higher casualties despite the constant rocket fire on Israel from Gaza.

About 60 people attended the screening, including pro-Israel philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff.

A post-screening panel featuring the film’s producer, Robert Magid; Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Renzer; and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa examined the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Los Angeles Film Critics Association President Claudia Puig moderated the panel.

The film will be available Feb. 28 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime and Vimeo.

From left: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinsky; Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) Executive Director Rabbi Dave Sorani; NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; and JGSI Director of Operations Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg attend the Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Photo courtesy of Jewish Graduate Student Initiative.

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) on Jan. 29 drew the largest crowd ever to its Jewish Executive Leadership Conference, which was held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

More than 400 Jewish graduate students and recent college graduates attended the conference that featured 50 panelists and three keynote speakers.

The goal of the conference was “to create a forum for Jewish graduate students and young professionals to interact with high-level Jewish executives who share insights into their careers and industries while impacting upon them the importance of philanthropy and community leadership,” said Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg, JGSI director of operations. “Participants are then introduced to volunteering opportunities with a full range of L.A.’s premier Jewish nonprofits.”

The featured speakers addressed a variety of topics, including real estate, finance, law and the entertainment industry. The three keynote speakers were Scooter Braun, founder of the entertainment and media company SB Projects; Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal; and Elaine Wynn, co-founder of Wynn Resorts.

“This year was our best-attended and most successful conference ever, with our best lineup of speakers to date,” Rosenberg said. “We look forward to hosting an even bigger and better event next year and getting even more young people involved in their Los Angeles Jewish community.”

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

World Swimming Championships XOlympic champion swimmer Anthony Ervin, a native of Valencia, is among inductees elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2017.

Ervin captured a pair of gold medals at last year’s Olympics in Brazil in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter relay. His performances were a near repeat of his gold- and silver-medal-winning efforts in the same events at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. He now resides in Florida.

The other inductees to the hall of fame include two Americans, a Canadian, a Hungarian, an Israeli, a New Zealander and a Russian.

One of the Americans, who among all the inductees arguably has had the longest impact on spectator sports, was the late Albert Von Tilzer, a New Yorker who wrote the immortal baseball anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in 1908. The other American, Thelma “Tybie” Thall-Sommers, was a two-time world champion in table tennis. In 1948 she paired with Richard Miles to become the first Americans to win the world mixed doubles title. In 1949, as a member of the U.S. team, she won world championships in singles and doubles. She also won several national titles during her career.

The other inductees are:

The late Hy Buller of Canada, a National Hockey League star who played for the New York Rangers. He set a rookie record in 1951-52 for scoring the most goals, and ranked second for most goals among all NHL defensemen in three consecutive seasons.

The late Joszef Braun, who joined the MTK Budapest soccer club in 1916 at age 15 and three years later was named Hungary’s “Player of the Year.” His team won nine national championships through 1924. Braun perished in a Nazi forced labor camp in 1943.

Israel’s Lee Korzits, a four-time world sailing champion, who won her first Mistral-class title in 2003. After a long layoff due to injuries, the Hadera native won world gold medals in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

New Zealand sailing champion Jo Aleh, who won gold medals (with Olivia Powrie) in the women’s 420 Class event at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and at the 2007 and 2013 world championships.

Swimmer Semyon Belits-Geiman, a Moscow native who broke 67 Soviet national freestyle records, set a world 800-meter freestyle record in 1966, and the same year won two gold medals at the European championships. In 1999, he and his wife moved to Stamford, Conn.

The election results were announced in December by the hall of fame’s co-chairmen, Alan Sherman of Potomac, Md., and R. Stephen Rubin of London. Formal inductions are slated for July 4 at the hall of fame’s museum on the Wingate Institute campus in Netanya, Israel.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

emple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) Senior Rabbi John Rosove has announced his plan to retire from TIOH and become the Reform synagogue’s rabbi emeritus, effective June 30, 2019.

By the time he retires, Rosove will have served as senior rabbi at TIOH for 30 years and “will have completed 40 years of service to the Jewish people since my ordination” at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, in 1979, Rosove said in a Feb. 8 statement.

“Though my retirement is still two-plus years away, I am announcing now to give our Temple leadership the time necessary to thoughtfully establish a process that will ensure the best and wisest selection of my successor as Senior Rabbi,” he said.

Rosove assumed the position of senior rabbi at TIOH in 1988. The Los Angeles native graduated from the UC Berkeley in 1972.

He is the board chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America; holds a seat on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; serves as a Jewish Agency for Israel committee member; recently was national co-chair of the rabbinic cabinet of J Street, a left-leaning, pro-Israel organization and more.

From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community. Photo by Eitan Arom.

From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community.
Photo by Eitan Arom.

In middle school, Micha Thau wanted to live what he called “the Jewish Orthodox American dream” — a future with a house in Beverlywood with a Honda Odyssey in the driveway, four kids and a pretty wife eight years his junior. When he realized he was gay, in eighth grade, “it spit in my face, robbed me of all motivation.”

Now a senior at Shalhevet High School, Thau spoke at Westwood Village Synagogue on Feb. 8 as part of a panel called “Modern Orthodoxy and LGBT: Navigating a Complex Reality,” alongside Shalhevet head of school Rabbi Ari Segal; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; a clinical psychologist, and moderator Alexander Leichter.

In high school, Thau was ready to come out to his community. “It came to the point where staying in the closet was so much more painful than anything that could happen outside of it,” he explained to about 50 people who gathered at the synagogue, upstairs from Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Westwood.

Something clicked for Segal when he realized Thau had spent years worrying if Shalhevet would ostracize him for being gay. “I made a decision at that moment,” he said. “We were going to have a [gay-straight alliance], we were going to stop pretending that we don’t have gay kids at the school.”

After that, Segal wrote an editorial for Shalhevet’s newspaper calling LGBT acceptance “the biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.” With Thau at the helm, Shalhevet issued a pledge Jewish schools can sign to commit themselves to supporting gay students. So far, Shalhevet is the only school to have signed it, Segal said.

Gold, an observant Jew, played a gay father in the web series “Bar Mitzvah.” He spoke about his brother, Ari, who came out at the age of 18. To this day, his brother doesn’t feel comfortable within the Orthodox community, Gold said. “He is a very proud Jew,” he said. “He just feels like he can’t stay observant. It’s too conflicting.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

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

Ridesharing to retain the High Holy Days spirit

The High Holy Days are a time for prayer, relaxed introspection and focusing on peace and gratitude, but in a city known for its seemingly endless traffic, none of that comes easy.

To help congregants beat the busy streets of Los Angeles — and the equally congested parking lots of their shuls at this time of year — some local synagogues have turned to ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber.

Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), and Wilshire Boulevard Temple are among those that have arranged for members to receive discounts on rides during the High Holy Days.

“We want to be modern and go with the times and what our congregation is moving toward,” said Elana Vorspan, director of marketing and communications for VBS, a Conservative congregation in Encino.

Vorspan decided to team up with Uber with the help of a board member’s son who drives for the company. She worked with the ride service to create a special code for first-time Uber users to get up to $15 off their first ride using the company’s app; returning users can receive up to a $5 discount if they are one of the first 100 requests. 

With remodeling work going on at the synagogue and the handicap parking lot closed, the idea was to offer congregants a faster and more convenient option. 

“We are trying to meet the needs of people around us. We want to take that stress out of getting here,” Vorspan said. 

TIOH is attempting something similar with Lyft due to its location on Hollywood Boulevard in a neighborhood where traffic and parking can be particularly challenging. 

“It’s an experiment, first of all. We are parking-challenged,” said William Shpall, the Reform synagogue’s executive director. 

For each holy day, there is a special code for up to a $20 credit to use in order to get to and from the temple. 

“We have no preconceptions or illusions. If it works, it’s a great new model for us and if it’s not, we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Shpall said. “It’s socially responsible behavior and it’s to relieve parking pressure for our congregants.”

Both synagogues admit the model is a test to see if their congregants are drawn to not only the deal but the concept of the ridesharing service overall. 

Wilshire Boulevard Temple poked fun at parking troubles with a “Carpool Clergy-oke”

Bruce Corwin can’t stop giving

Ask anybody: In Los Angeles, the Corwin name is synonymous with charitable giving.

And yet, Bruce Corwin, who at 73 is the family’s current patriarch and the CEO and chairman of Metropolitan Theatres Corp. — a California-based multiplex theater chain that has been in his family for four generations — doesn’t like to be called a philanthropist. 

“I would rather have a title as being a leader or a connector, or a spiritual adviser or a people person,” Corwin said in an interview. 

Whatever you call him, Corwin has, over the past several decades, established himself as an ardent supporter of synagogues and organizations committed to progressive ideals. They include the Reform congregations Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, where Corwin served as president around the years 1970 and 1990, respectively; as well as Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Craig Taubman’s recently formed multifaith cultural center, the Pico Union Project and more.

In particular, Emanuel of Beverly Hills, which is located in the city where Corwin and his wife, Toni, reside, has benefited from Corwin’s backing over the years. 

“Bruce Corwin is one of the major players in the philanthropic world in the city,” said Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, a senior rabbi and director of education at Emanuel.

Recently, Corwin and his wife, who is also a former president of Temple Emanuel, contributed to the synagogue’s capital campaign to renovate the synagogue, a six-year endeavor that raised approximately $10 million and led to the sanctuary being named after the Corwins. 

Aaron declined to specify the amount that the Corwins gave, but said their contribution was a “sizable amount [and] incredibly generous.” 

Corwin, meanwhile, said his support for any shul is an extension of his passion for synagogue life. 

“It has always started in the synagogue and worked out[ward],” he said. “That’s the way I was brought up.”

The son of Sherrill Corwin, who also served as president of TIOH, and the grandson of Joseph Corwin, one of the founders of TIOH, Corwin grew up in an environment where giving was the norm. His father ran Metropolitan Theaters during the 1940s, when it was the dominant motion picture exhibitor in downtown Los Angeles (today the company’s 19 theaters are mostly based in Santa Barbara and Palm Springs). And Sherrill Corwin also donated his theaters’ musical instruments, including the organs, to synagogues in town. A young boy at the time, Bruce Corwin observed this generosity and took it to heart.

During the late ’50s and early ’60s, he attended Wesleyan University. He found his passion lay with progressive politics, and he became active in the civil rights movement that was gaining momentum at that time, to the point that, in 1960, he was arrested while trying to integrate a Baltimore lunch counter.

After college, Bruce Corwin participated in the Coro Foundation, a program that sets up college graduates in internships in business, labor, politics and nonprofit community organizations. 

At just 30, he became president of TIOH and, during his time there, he worked with Rabbi Max Nussbaum, a German émigré known for his passionate Zionism, but who also performed the marriages of several movie stars, until Nussbaum died suddenly in 1974. 

When his children were young, Corwin and his family became congregants of Emanuel, which was closer to their home. During the 1990s, as president of that shul, he helped the then-financially strapped synagogue stay afloat and avoid a possible merger with Wilshire Boulevard Temple. And once Emanuel was back on course, Corwin helped lure a new senior rabbi, its present leader, Rabbi Laura Geller, the first woman to lead a major metropolitan synagogue. 

Meanwhile, Danny and David Corwin, Corwin’s two now-grown sons, have carried on in the family traditions. Danny and his wife, Zoe, serve on the board of TIOH, and David is the president of Metropolitan Corp. And Corwin’s twin sister, Bonnie, is heavily involved with American Jewish Committee, where an award named in the memory of Sherrill and Dorothy, Corwin’s mother, is given out annually to leaders in the entertainment and communications industries.

Today, Corwin is a member of four congregations: Emanuel, TIOH, Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara and Temple Sinai in Palm Desert.

“I’ve always believed in the underdog,” Corwin said. “I’ve always believed in the underdog. It’s been consistent in my entire life.”

His support for J Street, the Zionist organization that advocates for a two-state solution, while consistent with his tendency to skew left, has upset some, including close friends who affiliate with AIPAC. But Corwin maintains a sense of humor about it, saying it has brought about many “interesting dinner table conversations, with meat flying across the table, with some of our best friends. We’ve had to go early on some occasions.”

There are also non-Jewish causes that are close to the philanthropist’s heart. The lengthy list includes fighting hunger: He has contributed to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and he says that he gives to the homeless in person, whenever he has the opportunity to do so, regardless of those who question this sort of giving.

“Everybody says, ‘What are you doing?’ … I just figure, I’m lucky, I’m doing better than they are, and if this will help them along, whatever.’

His support for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, meanwhile, stems from personal experience. When Corwin was 28, he was diagnosed with the disease, which attacks the central nervous system. At the time, he had been considering a life in politics, but the disease, which affects the strength of his legs and his overall energy, put an end to that ambition.

Corwin says he has been successful in mitigating the affects of MS, but that it has been one of the two biggest challenges of his life. 

The other, he said, is not having the means to give as much as he would like.

“My wife keeps telling me, ‘Bruce, you just don’t have the money to be the kind of philanthropist you want to be.’ And I don’t. And it kills me that I don’t,” he said.

Corwin’s generosity, therefore, sometimes takes other forms of helping, even if it’s in an advisory role. The ability to speak with other people and field requests from clergy, heads of organizations or politicians who are interested in getting Corwin on their side is what he enjoys most about the position that life has afforded him. 

In other words, when Corwin says that he loves people, he means it — Corwin, in fact, fashions him so much a people person that the license plate on his car reads: “PEOPLE.” 

“When the personalized license plates came out, I grabbed it. I’ve had it for 50 years.”

Opposition continues despite new Boy Scout policy

In 2001, Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) overwhelmingly decided to end its sponsorship of Cub Scout Pack 1300 to protest the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) policy banning openly gay scouts and leaders. It ended a nearly 50-year tradition of scouting at the Reform congregation.

Now, in the wake of BSA’s decision last month to end that policy for children — but not openly gay scoutmasters — the question remained: Will TIOH and other synagogues that acted similarly re-establish ties?

“Until they change their policy, all around, we would never even consider it,” TIOH Rabbi John Rosove said. 

Rosove was one of 500 rabbis and cantors — 24 of whom were from the Los Angeles area — who signed a letter that was delivered by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America on May 21 urging leaders to change its membership policy for children and adults. BSA made its partial change two days later.

For A.J. Kreimer, former chairman of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting (NJCOS), that change was a victory — one that he, like Rosove, hopes soon extends to adults as well. 

The NJCOS has, since 1926, been an officially chartered BSA committee. Among other things, it helps grow Jewish membership in the Scouts, develops programming for Jewish troops and packs around the country, and works with the national BSA to schedule major events so that they don’t conflict with Shabbat and holidays.

[Related: Jewish scouts say lifting of ban on gays is ‘momentous’]

Kreimer, speaking by telephone from his home in New Jersey, recounted how he has opposed the Scouts’ membership policy since the Supreme Court, in 2000, ruled 5-4 in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the Scouts, as a private organization, has a First Amendment right to set its own membership standards, including its exclusion of openly gay scouts and leaders.

Until BSA’s leadership completely amends the policy, Kreimer said, he will use his influence and position as president of BSA’s Northeast Region board to “continue to advocate for full inclusion.” But he and the NJCOS insist that efforts to reform the Scouts are more effective from within rather than from the outside. 

The Reform movement has taken a different position. As Ellen Aprill, a professor at Loyola Law School and a TIOH member who was the congregation’s president when it voted to end its sponsorship of Pack 1300, told the Journal, “We were convinced by everything we knew that there was no way we could fight from within.”

Since the Reform movement called for its synagogues to break with BSA in 2001, scouting in Reform congregations has dropped to the point where “now the number is infinitesimally small,” according to Barbara Weinstein, the RAC’s associate director.

“There were plenty of congregations that had those relationships,” Weinstein said. “Now there are very, very few that do.”

One of the few Reform synagogues to sponsor the Scouts is Temple Beth Hillel (TBH) in Valley Village. It never ended its sponsorship of Troop 36 and Pack 311, but it also effectively wrote into its charter that the congregation could disregard BSA’s policy restricting membership to openly gay scouts and leaders.

Although BSA has the power to revoke the charter of a sponsoring organization that de facto rejects its membership policy, Rabbi Sarah Hronsky said that it has never taken any action against the synagogue. Like NJCOS, Hronsky thinks pressure from the inside is more likely to change BSA than external pressure. 

“They tried to change it from without. They went through the court system,” she said, referring to the Dale case. “You can’t change something from without.” 

Hronsky said that to the best of her knowledge, the RAC has never pressured TBH to break from BSA and did not ask her to sign on to its recent letter.

The decline in Jewish scouting in general has not quite matched the pace of that in Reform synagogues, but in the last few decades it has declined significantly, according to Kreimer and Rabbi Peter Hyman, the national Jewish chaplain for BSA. Kreimer estimates that there were around 75,000 to 100,000 Jewish scouts in the 1950s. Now, he thinks there are closer to 40,000.

Hyman, who lives in Maryland and is the spiritual leader of a Reform synagogue, said, “There were times when there were troops in almost every synagogue, coast to coast, irrespective of theological leanings.” 

Both Kreimer and Hyman are lifelong Scouts and have reached the highest attainable rank — Eagle Scout. The latter spoke about the intersection of Jewish and scouting values. 

 “Don’t we want our kids, as Jews, to be trustworthy, loyal, to acknowledge God and to embrace tradition?” 

Trust and loyalty are two elements of the “Scout Law,” which is composed of 12 virtues that every scout is expected to uphold.

According to Kreimer, Hyman, and current NJCOS Chairman Bruce Chudacoff, several congregations that had been boycotting the Scouts have expressed interest in re-establishing a connection following the May vote on membership.

[From our archives: Rob Eshman — Scout’s honor]

Chudacoff, who lives in Wisconsin, said that one possible explanation for the decline in Jewish scouting is opposition to BSA’s policy. The recent change, he thinks, “is a good foundation for us to build and increase membership.” 

In Los Angeles, TBH and at least two other synagogues — Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills and Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village, both Orthodox — sponsor Scout troops and packs. 

Jeff Feuer is the Cubmaster for Pack 360 at Beth Jacob and the chairman of the Jewish Committee on Scouting for the West Los Angeles County Council. He has been Cubmaster for 13 years, and one of his main tasks in his role as chairman is to organize events among the Jewish units that also include Jews from the non-Jewish units. In Los Angeles, as nationally, most Jewish scouts are not in Jewish units. For the handful of observant Jews in scouting, though, a Jewish unit is a must.

“It’s very difficult for an observant Jew to participate in scouting unless it’s in a Jewish unit,” Feuer said. “Non-Jewish units meet on Shabbat, they meet on chagim [holidays], they serve non-kosher food.”

From describing a 200-scout Memorial Day weekend campout in the Santa Monica Mountains to a pinewood derby (a race involving handmade wooden model cars), to any number of activities designed to build character, leadership and survival skills, Feuer’s position is that synagogues that are holding out until BSA further reconsiders its sexual orientation policies should reconsider.

“I understand the objection,” he said. “But the loss to the community is a great one.” 

Scouting, Feuer thinks, does for boys what few other institutions can do in terms of building character, and though he understands some synagogues’ objection to scouting’s historical position on gays, he hopes they “weigh in their own minds what they think the trade-off is” and become more accepting of the Scouts. 

In 2000, the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center — the Orthodox equivalent of the RAC, representing nearly 1,000 Orthodox synagogues in America — issued a press release supporting the Dale decision that protected BSA’s membership policy as a First Amendment right. Unlike the RAC, the OU Advocacy Center has not been particularly vocal about BSA’s policy. It did not release a comment following BSA’s recent vote and has not publicly issued any memoranda to its member synagogues advising any position vis-à-vis the Scouts.

In the fall, Feuer and the local branch of the NJCOS will, as they do every year, try to bring local synagogues into the scouting fold. He is hopeful that some that have recently given BSA the cold shoulder may warm up. 

For now, he acknowledges that what could be a strong relationship between the Scouts and many congregations is “tarnished by this big political problem,” one that, if it disappears, could reopen the doors to a renaissance of Jewish scouting.

“It’s so much in keeping with Jewish values generally, you’d think every synagogue would want one.”

Character reference: Wendy Greuel

I have known Wendy Greuel for almost 30 years, since she was a young UCLA graduate working for Mayor Tom Bradley. Wendy didn’t just get the tough assignments in the mayor’s office; she sought them out — especially if she could help those less fortunate or those without a voice in desperate need of one. 

In the mid-’80s, Wendy led the effort to address the burgeoning problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. I remember being very impressed when Wendy ventured into dangerous areas essentially consisting of tent encampments to meet the people living there and to determine what kind of services they needed. She also focused on homeless veterans, many from the Vietnam War, working closely with Judge Harry Pregerson to create housing options for them. 

In the late ’80s, to address the proliferation of gang violence, Wendy also used her amazing skill of bringing people together in helping to create LA’s BEST After-School Enrichment, now a model nationwide, serving 189 elementary schools in LAUSD and 28,000 kids every day who live in the most socio-economically challenged areas of our city. These were difficult assignments, which drew on Wendy’s greatest assets — determination to make a difference and empathy informing that determination.

[Related: Eric Garcetti’s caring for those who are struggling defines his political legacy]

Wendy’s successes from the outset of her career were not surprising to anyone who knew her. She was the first to show up at work each day and the last to leave. Everyone knew that Wendy never wasted time and never let anything stop her from accomplishing the task at hand. Wendy’s diligence, productivity and disciplined focus have always been her hallmarks; those traits, coupled with her passion for social justice, have enabled Wendy to make meaningful change. And, because she is blessed with modesty and humility, Wendy has always pitched in to do the “grunt” work or unpopular tasks in order to get the job done. As she moved up the career ladder and moved into elected office, nothing about Wendy or her character changed. She remains one of the hardest workers I have ever known. Her humility, sense of compassion and commitment to social justice remain steadfast; her decisions are guided by basic ethical standards; pursuing justice, treating every human being with dignity and respect, and treating others as you yourself would like to be treated.

While Wendy is not Jewish, she has a passionate affinity for Judaism and for Israel. Wendy has persistently stood with the Jewish community in support of Israel, even when many of her elected colleagues would not. 

When she was an L.A. city councilwoman, Wendy sat on the dais at the pro-Israel demonstration in front of The Jewish Federation building during the second Lebanon War. In fact, it was disturbing when Wendy was criticized in the L.A. Times for being there, the reporter quipping that she wasn’t even Jewish, suggesting that a non-Jew’s support for Israel could not be sincere. Nothing could be further from the truth. That Wendy is not Jewish hasn’t stopped her from standing and speaking out in support of Israel repeatedly; after the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara attempted to run through an Israeli blockade, Wendy once again stood in front of the Israeli Consulate and spoke out in solid support of Israel. As any friend of Wendy knows, she is a leader who maintains the courage of her convictions. 

Although already having a strong connection to the Jewish community in Los Angeles, Wendy’s connection was further strengthened when, 10 years ago, she married Dean Schramm, who is Jewish and actively engaged in Los Angeles’ Jewish communal life. Wendy and Dean have an adorable and wonderful 9-year-old son, Thomas, who they are raising Jewish and who loves to go to religious school at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), where they are members. Wendy shared with me recently how much she enjoyed family day at TIOH, watching Thomas absorb the values of Judaism and excel in learning Hebrew. That she has embraced a more intimate connection to Judaism is not surprising, for those Jewish values Thomas is learning are values Wendy already possesses.

I’ll close with one final thought about Wendy. Several years ago, the twin sister of a mutual friend of ours was murdered, a woman with two small children. In the midst of this crisis, this horrific situation and despite the demands of her job, Wendy was there for our friend and her sister’s children, unflinching, unwavering, ever helpful and terribly caring. I was watching. Wendy’s actions spoke volumes. Above all, Wendy is a fine human being … a mensch.

Inherent in Wendy’s being is her moral compass that guides all of her relationships and all of her actions. At the core of that compass are the values of fairness, compassion and justice. She will be an amazing mayor, and we, the residents of Los Angeles, will benefit and will watch her with pride.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch, a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.

Reimagining religious school

From my first interview at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) in 2009, when the search committee declared, “We want revolution, not evolution!” to the visioning work I do with families today, my purpose at the congregation has been clear: to help families build deeper relationships to Jewish community, Jewish living and Jewish learning.

When I came to TIOH, the community was well under way in its work to redefine what religious school could mean. Parents were calling for the usual changes: more flexibility in scheduling, more options, more opportunities for deeper meaning and more chances for parental involvement and connection with other families. Essentially, the congregation was looking for a way to redefine supplemental Jewish education — one that would move Jewish learning past the merely supplemental and reconceive it as central. In 2010, guided by the Experiment in Congregational Education’s RE-IMAGINE Project, TIOH’s Shabbaton program was created. 

Shabbaton is a family program for third- to sixth-graders and their parents that meets on Shabbat afternoons. The program includes opportunities for students and parents to learn together and separately. As Shabbaton parent Peter Marcus states, “Shabbaton has opened a door for many, offering some the opportunity to learn aspects of Judaism for the first time, and others the opportunity to explore more deeply Jewish traditions within a strong community of friends and family.”

As parent Jonny Mars explains, “What was compelling about the Shabbaton program was that there was a connection to sacred time.” Indeed, each gathering begins with Kiddush, Motzi (blessings over grape juice and challah) and Shabbat singing, and ends with Havdalah (a ritual that separates Shabbat from the beginning of the new week). 

Each year, the program has a different curricular focus, with each age group studying the same theme each day. This year’s focus on middot (Jewish virtues) has introduced learners to new bodies of Jewish text and tradition, including mussar literature.

We seek to make Shabbaton as multigenerational as possible, by welcoming kindergarten to second-grade siblings to participate in their own parallel learning program and by employing seven teenagers to work as madrichim (high school aides) in the classrooms. Additionally, third- to sixth-graders in the program learn Hebrew in small groups (three to five students per group) during the week, meeting in participants’ homes or at the synagogue. 

“Revolutionary” might not be the best word to describe the program; it’s modeled on other family education endeavors that exist throughout Los Angeles and the country. But Shabbaton has certainly been revolutionary for our congregation, deeply affecting the lives of the 50-plus families who have participated in it each year for the last three years. As parent Dorrie LaMarr says, “Shabbaton has become a part of our family culture, fostering a deeper connection to Judaism and the Temple Israel community.” 

We engage in a formal reflection process at the end of each year. The results of last year’s feedback not only instructed us on how to improve our program, but also highlighted some of the success points we had hoped to achieve. Parents wanted more contact with Shabbaton learning at home and throughout the week, more leadership opportunities within the program, and new ways to connect with each other. 

A few innovations that came out of these parents’ requests are: We now send text messages to Shabbaton participants throughout the week, offering questions for reflection or prompts for family conversations. We have split participants into chavurah groups of seven to eight families and asked parents to lead conversations within their groups. Parents will even plan one Shabbaton session for their chavurah group, working together to design their own learning experiences.

In addition to the impact Shabbaton has had on participants’ lives, it has produced a number of significant results for the congregation.

Parent participants have been inspired to engage in further Jewish learning and leadership. Six parent participants have elected to become adult b’nai mitzvah, one parent has enrolled in the Florence Melton Adult Mini School, and another non-Jewish parent is studying for conversion. Program parents participate in weekly Torah study, attend the synagogue’s men’s retreat and its women’s retreat, and offer teachings at congregational holiday celebrations and services. Five Shabbaton parents now sit on the temple’s Board of Trustees.

Shabbaton families have gathered in each other’s homes for Shabbat meals, they have organized dinners, celebrated together, cared for each other during times of grief and illness, arranged play dates and regularly attend congregational Shabbat services together.

Once we created Shabbaton with a clearly articulated mission of family education, we were able to reimagine the traditional religious school, as well. Family education in our traditional program is now focused on helping families bring Jewish rituals and experiences into their homes and incorporates an off-site learning day into each grade.

With Shabbaton’s third year now in session, one outcome is certain. Shabbaton is in no way supplemental Jewish learning. For its participants, it is quickly becoming a way of Jewish living. And for our congregation, it is nothing short of a blessing.

Rabbi Jocee Hudson is rabbi educator at Temple Israel of Hollywood (, a Reform congregation.

Burden of Change

We are taught that each change we encounter in life results in an experience of loss. Our transitions are stored in our beings. They are what make us human and blessedly unique.

Our lifetime of experiences with change link us to our ancestors. Besides tired bodies and tested faith, we can also imagine the accumulated feelings of loss that the 40 years of wandering inflicted upon the desert generation of Israelites. Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for our ancestors to settle down, build their homes (tents), organize their community and put down roots, only to have to tear down all that was built and move on. Not once, but again and again and again. What disruption and feelings of loss they must have known.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bamidbar, amid the careful detailing of census takings, we are given a snapshot of the immense psychological toll the Israelites’ wanderings had on them. Take, for example, the tribe of Levi, which was set apart from the rest of the tribes. Exempted from military service, the Levites were tasked with guarding and tending the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle). They were also tasked with its dismantling, safe transportation and reconstruction. While constructing a dwelling place for God might have been a spiritually fulfilling task, dismantling the Mishkan again and again must have taken a psychological toll on the Levites.

The Torah is adamant about the separation of the transportation duties. While Aaron and his sons were tasked with the packing up of the Mishkan’s sacred objects, the Kohathites, one of the Levitical clans, were assigned the specific duty of transporting the Tabernacle’s sacred objects from place to place. In the final verse of the portion, we learn, “But they [the Kohathites] shall not go inside and see when the sacred objects are covered, lest they die” (Numbers 4:20). The Kohathites could carry the sacred objects, but they were threatened with death if they watched them being packed.

Why such an extreme consequence for such a seemingly small infraction? Opinions differ — from a fear that the Kohathites would become mesmerized by the holy objects (Abravanel) to a fear that they would become desensitized to their holiness (Hirsch). But, I sense a simpler truth in the admonition: Seeing the sacred objects taken apart and put away would have been just too much for the Kohathites to bear.

The Kohathites’ role was to shoulder the physical burden of the community’s constant change. While members of other clans and ancestral houses carried loss, pain and grief within, the Kohathites, like beasts of burden, carried it on their backs. Through their sweat and brute strength, they safely transported the building blocks of the divine dwelling place from stop to stop. The physical toll on them must have been huge. The psychological toll must have been monumental. And so, it seems that the strict admonition for the Kohathites not to see the Mishkan’s dismantling was, in truth, an act of chesed, mercy and compassion. Requiring the Kohathites to carry the sacred objects was difficult enough; asking them to dismantle them, as well, would have been unreasonable and unkind.

Rambam teaches “One who stands to read Torah should begin with good and end with good” (Hilchot Tefillah 13:5), meaning every Torah portion should begin and end on a high note. And yet, as we read this week’s portion, we find the final verse’s warning against the Kohathites a profoundly negative one, “But they [the Kohathites] shall not go inside and see when the sacred objects are covered, lest they die” (Numbers 4:20). This closing seems to break the rule, by ending with death and not with good. What should we make of this?

We are reminded that when we act toward others with compassion, we begin and end with good. Just as our tradition cared so deeply for the Kohathites that they were protected from more loss than they could bear, so too are we called upon to care for the “Kohathites” among us today.

As you journey through your days, look for the spiritual Kohathites around you. Who in your community is carrying a burden that threatens to overwhelm them? (It may be you.) Who among your family, friends and colleagues has been tasked with more than they can bear?

Perhaps this week we can take up Torah’s call to ease the burden of others. Perhaps this week we can seek out opportunities to lighten someone’s spirit, shoulder someone’s pack or simply accompany someone on their journey. Perhaps this week it will be our collective actions that conclude our parasha with good.

Rabbi Jocee Hudson is rabbi educator and religious school director at Temple Israel of Hollywood (, a Reform congregation.

Rudolph Kastner: Traitor or savior?

When a Hollywood synagogue wants to draw upon the strengths of its congregation, is it surprising that there’s a surfeit of attorneys and actors? Such is the case at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), which heralded the talents of both sets in last weekend’s performance of “The People vs. Kastner,” a dramatic imagining of a trial for Rudolph Kastner that never happened.

Kastner is the Hungarian Jew who convinced Adolf Eichmann to send some 1,685 Jews on a train to Switzerland, even as another 480,000 were shipped off and exterminated in concentration camps. Rather than being celebrated for saving Jews, Kastner became a lightning rod after the war, accused of treason for collaborating with the Nazis. In 1957, he was assassinated on the streets of Tel Aviv.

For the May 1 performance, produced as a Yom HaShoah remembrance event by the synagogue’s new arts council, a legal team played by real-life jurists and historic witnesses portrayed by thespians created an aura of authenticity — a courtroom scene in which the audience was the jury, determining at the end of the day whether Kastner was guilty.

The legal team included L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich as defense attorney, former federal prosecutor and attorney Bert H. Deixler as prosecutor and L.A. Superior Court Judge Leslie A. Swain, who happens to be Deixler’s wife, as judge. All but Trutanich are TIOH members.

The company of actors included Alan Rosenberg (“L.A. Law”) as Kastner, Paul McCrane (“ER”) as Eichmann, and a host of “witnesses,” including Curtis Armstrong (“Revenge of the Nerds”), Libby Clearfield (“Oregon Trail Live!” and a teacher in the TIOH religious school), Enid Kent (“M*A*S*H”), Phil LaMarr (“MADtv”), Danny Maseng (TIOH cantor and music director, who has appeared on “Law & Order,” among other shows) and Monica Horan Rosenthal (“Everybody Loves Raymond”). Only Rosenberg is not a part of the TIOH community.

(In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that this reporter is also a TIOH member, and that the author of “The People vs. Kastner” is Jonathan Maseng, a frequent contributor to The Journal, who is also an aspiring screenwriter and the son of Hazzan Danny Maseng.)

From the standpoint of some of the congregation’s other professional attorneys chatting in the lobby during intermission, there was no contest that authenticity had been upheld. One attorney remarked that seeing Trutanich cross-examine the witnesses proved why you should hope he’s on your side in a courtroom.

“The Talmud says, ‘Save one Jew, and it’s as if you’ve saved the world,’ ” Trutanich repeatedly told the courtroom audience — many of whom knew little of the story of Kastner beforehand.

The show revealed a man who was recognized by the Nazis as a prominent player in the Jewish community and manipulated by the Nazis for his power. Each side hoped to outsmart the other — Kastner desperately promising money he wasn’t sure he could procure to buy freedom for Jews; Eichmann trying to maintain Kastner’s silence about the deportations and make sure Kastner would “stay in the game.” Although Kastner did not go on the train himself, Eichmann put many of Kastner’s relatives on board, according to the script, to ensure his complicity. Kastner also was able to travel to Switzerland, though he reportedly returned to Hungary and was later shipped to the camps.

The professional authenticity of the legal team was well-matched by the actors, who ad libbed answers to questions they had seen in advance. It was a testament to each actor’s skill that while the event ran long — close to four hours — the audience stayed until the end to vote overwhelmingly (266 to 27) to acquit Kastner, convinced that he had done all he could to save as many Jews as he could in a desperate situation. What in life was seen as his “collaboration” seemed, according to the production’s evidence, acts of expedience — Kastner’s attempt to do the best he could. His own family was saved, we were told, not by his own request.

Equally extraordinary, however, was what occurred after the show ended, when two survivors of the actual Kastner train spoke to the audience.

George Z. Bishop stood from the audience and testified to Kastner’s goodness, bearing real-life witness, in the form of his grandson at his side, that one life saved is truly more than a single gift.

And, as a finale, Arthur Stern, another Kastner survivor, rose to tell the group of how his own father, Leo Stern, an Orthodox rabbi, had an unlikely but important collaboration with Kastner. In Hungary at the time, the Orthodox were not inclined toward Zionism, but in light of what was happening, Rabbi Stern and Zionist Kastner collaborated to get Jews across the border.

Too many Hungarian Jews, Stern remembered, had a fundamental “trust in their government.” Before 1944, Hungary had sheltered its Jews and escaped the horrors going on in Germany and other countries around it, and the Jews wrongly believed that they would survive by following the laws of the land.

Stern told of how, as a young man, he went to see Kastner to ask him to put his girlfriend on the train. Kastner complied, Stern said, describing this act as a testament to Kastner’s generosity. But as viewed by one in the audience, this belated information also appeared as new evidence that might affirm what Kastner’s accusers believed — that he put favored friends onto the train, knowingly choosing “who will live and who will die” — exactly what Trutanich so convincingly said Kastner did not do.

And that is the difference between art and history — a series of events tied up with a ribbon in a theatrical performance, even one showing many sides like this one, may still be even more subtly complicated in life.

So, was Kastner a hero or a villain? We know he saved 1,685 Jewish lives — Jews who went on to procreate and to create new worlds. And to shake the hand of one of those survivors who came to witness this extraordinary retelling is to know that Kastner’s achievement is something to be thankful for, even if it wasn’t perfectly done.

Hollywood Mitzvahs

When one person helps another person, it’s a mitzvah. When 1,500 people from 30 different organizations join together to help out in over 50 volunteering projects, it’s Temple Israel of Hollywood’s (TIOH) Mitzvah Day.

The April 29 event attracted volunteers of all ages from both religious and secular organizations. Other Reform synagogues included Congregation Kol Ami and Beth Shir Shalom, and Conservative Knesseth Israel of Hollywood and Orthodox Congregation Shaarei Tefila joined in. St. Brendan’s Catholic Church, Hollywood United Methodist, St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal, Hope Lutheran, Fifth Christian Science, New Life Four-Square Gospel, Oriental Mission Church and the Orange Grove Friends Meeting were among the diversity of churches that sent volunteers to join in the mitzvah-making. Secular groups helping out ranged from the Daughters of the American Revolution to the Mothers of East L.A.

Together, members of all these groups collected food, books and furniture for distribution and delivered flowers to nursing homes. They joined with the Achilles Club, a group of disabled runners who need assistance to keep running and collected clothes for A Place Called Home.

Event chair David Levinson remembered the temple’s first Mitzvah Day two years ago, a solely TIOH affair. "That was all great, but I thought, let’s do this alongside the rest of the city, let’s make this a community-building day as well."

Also changed from previous years were a few of the groups that volunteered — groups that previously had received help. Both Covenant House, which provides shelter and outreach services for homeless youth, and Beyond Shelter, which assists families in breaking the cycles of poverty and homelessness, sent volunteers to Mitzvah Day projects after last year’s projects helped them. "It’s so much more dignified this way," noted Levinson. "It’s not just rich people helping poor people."

Buoyed by sponsors including Toyota and Strouds, and fed by Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and In ‘N Out Burger, the volunteers worked throughout the day. Many will return often to help before next year’s Mitzvah Day, and that, says Levinson, is the point. "We’d like to see this be a catalyst for activities throughout the year," he said.