Briefs


Iran Admits Supplying Spy Drones

The London-based newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat quoted an Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer as saying the Lebanese militia received eight drones in August. On Monday, Hezbollah sent one drone on a 10-minute sortie over northern Israel, worrying the top brass in Tel Aviv.

Israel Halts Ivory Coast Arms Sales

Israel said it would suspend arms sales to the Ivory Coast after a French request. France, which formerly ruled Ivory Coast as a colony, destroyed the African nation’s air force in retaliation for the deaths of nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker in a government airstrike on rebels. The French request was the second regarding the turmoil-plagued country in recent months, Ha’aretz reported.

Ads to Show Israeli Teachers

A pro-Israel advocacy group is launching a series of television advertisements focusing on efforts by Israeli teachers to teach peace in the classroom. The Israel Project’s ads, which are slated to begin Wednesday on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, feature three Israeli teachers talking about their efforts.

University Offers Jewish Certificate

The University of Denver’s School of Social Work is offering a certificate in Jewish communal service. The program will allow social work students to supplement their master’s degree social work curriculum with six Judaic courses, including a class in Jewish literacy and one in Jewish advocacy and public policy.

Filmmaker’s Killing Prompts Anti-Muslim Outbreak

The killing of a Dutch filmmaker, allegedly by an Islamic extremist, sparked anti-Muslim incidents in the Netherlands. Since the Nov. 2 murder of Theo van Gogh, who earlier this year released a film critical of how women are treated under Islam, there have been numerous anti-Muslim incidents, including two attempts to burn down mosques, Dutch media reported Sunday. Eight alleged Islamic extremists have been arrested in connection with the murder. Among those arrested was the alleged 26-year-old killer, identified only as Mohammed B. Mainstream Muslim groups have condemned the killing.

AMIA Case Appeal

An Argentine Jewish group is appealing the acquittal of five defendants in the bombing of an Argentine Jewish center. Five locals were acquitted in September of involvement in the July 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were killed and some 300 wounded in the still-unsolved bombing.

U.S. Wants Alleged Crime Boss Extradited

An alleged Israeli underworld boss faces extradition to the United States on drugs charges. Israeli police arrested Zev Rosenstein on Monday following a joint investigation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Rosenstein is suspected of involvement in a Miami drug ring, and could face trial in the United States. Under Israeli extradition laws, he would have to be returned to the Jewish state to serve his sentence. Rosenstein, considered one of Israel’s major crime bosses, denied any wrongdoing.

Reconstructionist Founder Dies

Benjamin Mehlman, a founder and former president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, died Oct. 31 in New York at the age of 94. Mehlman was a former president of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, in Manhattan, which was the first Reconstructionist synagogue.

Prague Jews Boot Leader

Members of Prague’s Jewish community voted out the community’s leader. The vote against Tomas Jelinek came Sunday, after several controversies that have divided the community, including Jelinek’s recent dismissal of the community’s head rabbi, Karol Sidon. Also at issue were a long-running dispute over the administration of the Lauder Jewish school and Jelinek’s plans to build a nursing home that some members thought was too costly. But Jelinek told JTA he rejects the vote because he believes it violates the community’s constitution.

Israeli Slain in New York

The Israeli manager of a kosher restaurant in New York was stabbed to death. The victim was knifed in the chest, stomach and arm Nov. 4 by a disgruntled employee he had recently fired, according to the New York Sun. Patrons of Cafe K in New York City were horrified when the victim emerged from the eatery’s basement bleeding profusely.

“His eyes were rolling up in to back of his head and he was shaking a little bit,” one anonymous witness told the Sun. “He was covered with blood.”

The victim was taken from the restaurant by stretcher and rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead about two hours later.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

University Moves to Permanent Home


Whenever Rabbi Arnie Rachlis came from Illinois as University Synagogue’s guest rabbi, the founders went out of their way to lend him a convertible and hold meetings at a beachfront home. One trip occurred during a winter day when temperatures soared to summertime highs. Incredulous, Rachlis noted the literal 100-degree difference between his destination and point of departure.

While the courtship took several years, "when he got off the airplane in shorts, I thought, ‘I think we’ve got him,’" said Hinda Beral, a former president and among the eight founding families that in 1987 established the county’s only Reconstructionist synagogue.

After sharing space with Irvine United Church of Christ since 1991 and growing from 80 families to 600, University Synagogue starts a new chapter in its history, moving on Aug. 22 into its own building.

Following a traditional custom, University’s leaders will carry their Torahs in a 3-mile procession between the present Alton Parkway location and the new one, which adds a third synagogue to Michaelson Drive. The public is invited to join the 1 p.m. walk, witness the fixing of the synagogue’s mezuzah and the placing of the scrolls within the new sanctuary ark.

The rehab of the 33,000-square-foot former ice rink took less than a year, though the project sat idle for three years when the original appraiser died and more capital was required than initially expected. Opposite a game arcade and bowling alley, University is walking distance from a Reform and Orthodox congregation, Shir Ha-Ma’alot and Beth Jacob, respectively.

The founders anticipate University’s move will deepen their guiding value, which was to create community. "Having a place of our own will enhance that feeling; people will have more of an opportunity to connect," Beral said. "It’s a gift to ourselves and the community."

The biggest change by University is shifting religious school to Sunday from Saturday, which conflicts with youth sports activities. "That will be wonderfully helpful," Beral said. A variety of new weekday educational classes are also now being planned.

University’s founders, like an earlier group that established Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm, split off from Shir Ha-Ma’alot where Beral had served as president. "It wasn’t meeting our needs," she said.

Known as the South Coast Reconstructionist Chavura, the group met for weekly Shabbat get-togethers at homes, studied with visiting rabbis and by 1987 renamed itself University Synagogue. The founding president was Carol Richmond.

By serendipity, Beral recruited the synagogue’s founding rabbi, meeting Rachlis in Washington, D.C., where he was a fellow in the Clinton White House during a sabbatical from a Reconstructionist congregation in Evanston, Ill. She wangled her way into a White House ceremony where Soviet dissident Natan Scharansky was receiving the Medal of Freedom. There on business for the American Jewish Committee, Beral and her husband, Hal, had also visited refuseniks in the former Soviet Union.

It took a year to arrange the first visit, but Rachlis then was a frequent visitor over the next several years. He relocated full time in April 1991 when the congregation stood at 80 families. At the time, sensitive over the accusation of raiding, Beral said a review of applications found a small percentage of former Shir Ha-Ma’alot members.

"Building a congregation was intriguing and exciting to him," she said. "He was excited by our vision.

"We all wanted something interesting, exciting and welcoming, and not boring," she said. "We don’t think we’re so weird."

Possessing an entrepreneur’s confidence in innovation, Rachlis experiments with Shabbat services, drums up congregational support for trips to international Jewish communities, and fearlessly courts high-profile speakers on controversial topics.

Today, Beral said many members were previously unaffiliated or disengaged from Jewish organizations. "We have a lot of families who found us a congregation with which they could connect. We’ve brought those people into the Jewish community.

"I love that we all share in this, that it’s a big extended family."

Song and Study Bring Temple to Life


To understand how Rabbi Morley Feinstein has re-energized University Synagogue, just peek in on his Friday night services, which have been attracting upwards of 125 people every week.

Music fills the sanctuary as Feinstein, Cantor Jay Frailich and Assistant Rabbi Zachary Shapiro collaborate in a trio of vocals, guitar and piano.

Just as the congregation is ready to greet Shabbat, Feinstein asks everyone to greet those around them.

The Friday night Torah reading — an old Reform tradition that Feinstein revived at University Synagogue — has become the centerpiece for many congregants. Using a technique he learned in his first rabbinic job as an assistant rabbi in San Antonio, Texas, Feinstein reads the Torah in Hebrew, translates it into English and offers interpretive commentary in an uninterrupted flow.

"Rabbi Feinstein has breathed new life and energy into the Friday night services through his reading of Torah," said Roy Weinstein, synagogue president. "[Congregants] smile; they are engaged, and that is why they keep coming."

In the 10 months since he took over for Rabbi Allen Freehling, who became the synagogue’s first rabbi emeritus after serving for 31 years, Feinstein, who with his graying beard and ready smile exudes an avuncular warmth, has won over many of the congregants.

After Freehling reached the synagogue’s mandatory retirement age, contention arose about whether and when Freehling should retire.

"Now we have the best of both worlds — we have Rabbi Freehling, who continues to be the rabbi in many ways to the people he’s been with for decades, and we have Rabbi Feinstein, who came in a relatively seamless way and is well along toward establishing himself," Weinstein said.

Coming to University Synagogue has been a homecoming for Feinstein, who grew up in Beverly Hills. Feinstein’s own successful Jewish upbringing — with parents and sibling actively involved in Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills — has shaped the way he approaches Jewish

continuity.

"Too often we look at synagogue as a pediatric center. We drop the kids off and pick them up after their bar mitzvahs, and that’s that," said Feinstein, who has two grown sons and whose wife is expecting twins this fall. "If we, as adults, find meaning in Judaism and we are setting the agenda, the children will follow."

For that reason, he has focused as much attention on adult and family education as he has on revamping the Hebrew school and turning around the post-bar and bat mitzvah attrition rate.

While his commitment to creating a spiritual home is primary, Feinstein plans to retain Freehling’s focus on social justice. Feinstein built up a record of interfaith cooperation and tikkun olam (healing the world) at his congregation near University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., where the governor awarded him the state’s highest honor.

At his congregation in South Bend, he said, "the more we provided education and had a commitment to Hebrew and were concerned about Israel, the more we were engaged in the prayer process in our congregation, the more people understood that there were mitzvot to fulfill for others as well."

"So," Feinstein added, "a deepening of our religious lives only led to a deepening of our ethical lives."