Moving and shaking

More than 1,000 people attended the fourth annual Shabbat at the Ford with Craig Taubman and the Pico Union Project on Aug. 29. 

Rabbis, cantors, pastors, guitarists, back-up singers, a choir and even a sign-language interpreter participated. The event kicked off at 6 p.m. with people picnicking in the theater’s courtyard.

During the evening at the Ford Amphitheatre, Taubman wore many hats — in addition to the kippah on his head of silver-gray hair. As he led the two-hour service with an acoustic guitar strapped on over his white, button-down shirt, he played host, bandleader and musician. Red, yellow and blue lights bathed the outdoor stage as liturgical songs and pop tunes appeared in the same setlist.  

Leeav Sofer, front-man of klezmer-revivalist band Mostly Kosher, believes Shabbat at the Ford is an important part of the patchwork of events that occur in the Jewish community.

“It reminds us that Judaism’s a pretty cool culture and there are ways of keeping it progressive, new and alive,” Sofer, 23, told the Journal. 

At 8 p.m., attendees moved from the courtyard to the amphitheater. Appearances by rapper Kosha Dillz; Israeli singer Shany Zamir; Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein; Cantor Yonah Kliger and Rabbi Jonathan Aaron of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple; and songwriter Martin Storrow followed.

Feinstein delivered a sermon, which recalled an African-American nurse named Charles, who sat at his bedside for 10 nights while he was in intensive care. 

“Tonight we celebrate angels, because it’s been a terrible summer,” Feinstein said, listing violent tragedies that have plagued the world for the past three months. “Let’s go be an angel.” 

Pico Union Project partners, including Pastor Omar Perich and the trilingual Pastor Abraham Chung, who speaks Korean, English and Hebrew, participated in the services. Victory Outreach DTLA, a church comprising rehabilitated gang members and drug addicts, also participated. Perich took a moment to introduce them toward the end of the night.

Additional performers included vocalist Dale Schatz and guitarist James Fuchs; poets Rick Lupert and Andrew Lustig; and the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble.

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Fans of dance fitness and Israel teamed up on Aug. 24 for the first-ever Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) “Zumbathon,” a large-scale Zumba class aimed at raising funds to support Israeli soldiers.  

Zumba Instructor Marisa Schor at the FIDF “Dance for Peace Zumbathon” event on Aug. 24. Photo by Rob Goldenberg

Molly Sobaroff, director of Young Leadership at FIDF, worked with four Zumba instructors with strong ties to Israel — Marisa Schor, Orly Star Setareh, Sara Tanz, and Samantha Reiss Goldenberg — to put on the event, which was held at the Westside Jewish Community Center. 

Zumba, a popular type of high-impact dance fitness, was the main draw for the 100-plus participants. Each paid $40 to attend the special 90-minute class. Zumba is primarily known for using Latin dance moves and music, but for this particular event, the instructors incorporated some Israeli folk dance. 

In addition to the entry fee, the Zumbathon raised money through community sponsors, a raffle and silent auction, making a total of $5,500. Schor called the event a huge success. 

“We are very proud of our event’s results and want to share with our community that we put our two sweaty cents in to help Israel.”

The money will be used by FIDF to buy care packages for Israeli soldiers, a show of solidarity and support that is especially important to the event organizers, considering the current situation in Israel. As well, children who attended the Zumbathon had the opportunity to write cards for soldiers to express gratitude for their service. 

— Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer

The Valley Jewish Community Center (VJCC) officially has a new home in Woodland Hills. Its grand opening on Aug. 24 attracted more than 200 people and included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the hanging of a mezuzah

The new location at 20350 Ventura Blvd. includes an office for Executive Director Jerry Wayne and a large activity room. This new acquisition makes it the sole Jewish center in the San Fernando Valley.

The VJCC has been using free spaces at synagogues and elsewhere since the early 2000s, when a developer purchased its former Granada Hills campus. Through fundraising efforts and a three-year grant from JCC Development Corp., they were able to rent the new space. 

“It’s finally a place where we have roots again,” Steve Levine, VJCC vice president and chair of the grand opening committee, told the Journal. “We have a place to hang our hat and have club meetings. It’s a positive move. It’s the first of a few satellite locations we hope to open somewhere down the line in the Valley.”

Among those who attended the opening, aside from Wayne and Levine, were Los Angeles Councilmember Bob Blumenfield; Rabbi Ron Li-Paz of Valley Outreach Synagogue; Bill Bender, VJCC immediate past president; Elaine Fox, past president and current secretary and board member of the VJCC; Steve Rheuban, member of JCC Development Corp.; and representatives of a number of elected officials.

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

YULA Girls High School graduates Sophia and Emily Levine, 19 and 22, and Sarah and Elizabeth Mandelbaum, 21 and 18, recently organized a fundraiser that collected more than $5,000 in support of American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate.

“Being that I’m religious and can only imagine how important God comes into play during a war, I figured that helping religiously was crucial,” Sophia Levine told the Journal by email.

An Aug. 11 fundraiser for IDF soldiers took place at SoulCycle in Beverly Hills. Photos courtesy of Sophia Levine

The Aug. 11 event in Beverly Hills spinning studio SoulCycle drew approximately 50 people and underscored the creative ways community members have been raising funds for the Israel Defense Forces this summer. The women advertised the event as a “cardio party.” 

The Levine sisters and Sarah Mandelbaum traveled to Israel Aug. 14-24 and gave out “IDF Is in Our Soul” T-shirts to wounded Israeli soldiers. 

“Israel’s really an important place to us all,” Sophia Levine said.

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Valley JCC finds new home

For years, Valley Jewish Community Center (VJCC) — the modern incarnation of North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) — functioned as a hub “without walls.” There was no official building for educational or social activities, no central location where locals could gather for leisure.

There were people, but no walls to hold them. 

That all changed two months ago, when VJCC moved into a small facility in Woodland Hills, making it the only physical Jewish community center remaining in the Valley after a series of facility closures over the years.

“It’s great to see all the interest in VJCC at our monthly meetings. The San Fernando Valley needs a Jewish community center,” said Steve Levine, VJCC vice president. “It is vital for our existence. With the help of former members … the center will flourish and grow.”

The rented space, at 20350 Ventura Blvd. — dubbed VJCC’s Woodland Hills location, in the hope that more will be added in the future — is modest, but includes a work room for executive director Jerry Wayne and a larger activity room. An official opening will be held on Aug. 24. 

“[People] feel there is a home, there is a place,” Wayne said. “I feel like we have a base — a really good base from which to develop. We have people who are committed.”

It couldn’t have come soon enough for Valley residents. The JCC at Milken in West Hills closed in 2012 after The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sold the campus to New Community Jewish High School. 

Previously, disclosures of financial troubles and fiscal mismanagement within the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in 2001 led to the closure of various other centers, including Santa Monica’s Bay Cities JCC in 2002 and the Conejo Valley JCC in 2004. Valley Cities JCC shut down in 2009, less than a year after moving from its longtime Sherman Oaks site, which had been sold by JCCGLA, re-formed as the JCC Development Corp.

And while that still left NVJCC, which seceded from parent organization JCCGLA in 2002, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley, it lost use of its Granada Hills campus after a developer purchased the property in the early 2000s.

“I was crushed when they closed our center, and eventually we were kicked out on the street,” Levine said. 

The community center became a name without a place. It sustained some members with programs such as a book club and camera club, but it was not the same for people who had been going to the center for decades or had sent their kids to the nursery school there. Meetings were held anywhere that offered free space and programs took place at local synagogues and community facilities. 

Today, membership is at about 100 family units, at $125 per family and $85 for seniors. 

In the pursuit of a new home in the Valley, approximately 50 people met at local restaurants and fire stations monthly for the past year planning programs and fundraising tactics. 

“I feel we are really getting back on track,” Levine said. 

These efforts were aided by a three-year grant from the JCC Development Corp. Wayne declined to reveal the amount of the grant.

People involved in this process are relieved and excited to witness the next phase of VJCC and to move forward.

“Perseverance, determination, fundraising efforts, and [a] matching grant brought us to where we are today,” said Elaine Fox, past president and current secretary of VJCC. “It has always been my deep belief that my commitment to and love for the Jewish community has come from the deep friendships my husband and I made so many years ago from our involvement in JCCs.   

“My wish is for future generations to have similar JCC experiences. We need to provide that opportunity and continue to build VJCC.”    

The goal is to eventually move to a bigger, more permanent facility that is equipped with a gym, pool, auditorium, nursery school classrooms and more. An extended list of programming, including Yiddish, conversational Hebrew, yoga and spinning classes, is in the works, too. 

The current Woodland Hills space is meant to be temporary. Wayne said the idea is to have multiple hubs throughout the Valley and a main headquarters. 

“Once we continue the movement, as long as there’s momentum, we’ll gather strength. That’s what’s going to happen — that’s what’s happening now,” Wayne said. “We have a lot of people helping, and it’s a good feeling.”