A counselor at Simi Valley’s Camp Alonim sits with some of her campers. Photo courtesy of Camp Alonim

So, you want to be a camp counselor

While some Jewish sleepaway camps start accepting staff applications as early as September for the following summer, most camps are still looking to fill at least a few spots as late as April.

So, if you’re a high school senior or older, it’s not too late to apply. Some camps also hire high school seniors-to-be.

More-established camps tend to hire their own camp graduates in high numbers, but most value new hires as well, for their fresh ideas.

The Journal contacted a handful of directors of Jewish residential camps throughout California to find out what they are looking for in camp counselors, whether bunk counselors who spend the day with a group of kids or specialists who run a specific activity. Here are five key characteristics.

You want to work with kids

Dan Baer, director of Camp Mountain Chai in Angelus Oaks, said a desire to work with kids is a must. After all, counselors are often with them all day, and many sleep in the kids’ cabin at night.

Beyond liking kids, counselor candidates with childcare experience have an advantage, and it doesn’t need to be anything formal. Maybe the candidate has baby-sat, Baer said, or taken care of nieces and nephews, worked as a day camp counselor or lifeguard. Perhaps they are involved in community theater and often work with the youngest actors.

That said, Baer and other camp directors recognize how demanding high school and college is. Taking advanced-placement classes and playing in the school jazz band or similar activities might not leave time for much else. So long as the passion for working with kids is there, that’s sufficient.

“Regardless of your specialization at a camp, your main role is to be a counselor and take care of kids,” said Mara Berde, associate director of JCC Maccabi Sports Camp outside San Francisco. “Counselors are serving as parents, older siblings, role models. They are supervising kids all day long.”

You are willing to learn

Young adults should not be discouraged if they lack expertise in a traditional camp activity such as archery or arts and crafts.

“For positions that depend on a certain skill set, applicants that have those skills have an advantage — for example, lifeguards or horse wranglers,” said Josh Levine, executive director of Camp Alonim in Simi Valley. But “for a number of positions, we can train our staff before they get to camp in the summer. If they don’t have an archery certification from a governing body, we can train them and get them certified.”

Being open to a position you hadn’t originally considered might land you a job.

You’re in it for the right


Although the idea of spending summer in the great outdoors with a bunch of other collegians might sound like terrific fun, being a camp counselor is demanding work, said Dalit Shlapobersky of Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa near Big Bear.

Ariella Moss Peterseil, associate director of Camp Ramah in California in Ojai, added, “I always say, Jewish summer camp and the Israeli army are the only two places where, as an 18-year-old, you are given the lives of people in your hands.”

Not only does camp staff need to take its responsibility seriously, members need to understand “what an amazing opportunity they have to impact, because they are 24/7 role models,” she added.

“It’s totally legit: You want to be with your friends. But be ready for the additional step. We always say it’s about creating new memories for these kids and not about reliving your memories.”

You have empathy

For their interviews, candidates should anticipate questions about various scenarios. For example, what if a camper seems withdrawn? Or maybe a kid in your cabin isn’t showering — what would you do?

“It’s less about, ‘Do they have the right or wrong answer?’ and more about their approach,” Berde said. “Are they coming to their answer from a caring place?

“A lot of kids are coming to camp for the very first time,” she added. So there might be a sixth- or seventh-grader who has never been away from home and other campers who are on their third or fourth year. Berde said she wants staff members who are “able to empathize with kids in that situation.”

You connect with kids — no matter your personality type  

Although many may hold to the image of a kooky camp counselor onstage in some ridiculous camp skit dressed in an equally ridiculous costume, all camp counselors need not be extroverts.

“We hire a wide variety of personalities to match the wide variety of our campers,” Baer said. “That includes shy and goofy and loud and quiet and all of it. It’s our job to make sure we have a balance.”

Camp directors recognize the strengths that more introverted candidates might bring to the position. Yes, they need to be able to hold a conversation. But, Berde said, sometimes the more reserved candidates are the most thoughtful and end up as “silent leaders.” Berde calls them “the glue.”

Often, she added, these are the staff members with whom campers connect on a deeper level.

Using early Zionists’ script, Jewish volunteers aim to empower West Bank Palestinians

They dig their fingers into the dirt, their knees bearing into the ground as they embed sprigs of thyme in identical rows. The sun beats down on the small plot, and the work can be tedious, but these volunteers — most of them American, most of them Jewish — plant with a purpose.

They had met early Friday morning in Jerusalem and set off on an hourlong bus ride through the terraced, rocky hills south of the city. Upon arriving at their destination, a Palestinian village about 20 miles south of Hebron, residents welcomed them with coffee, tea and a short account of the community’s history that traced decades of war and resettlement.

Then the volunteers got to work.

Jews have long sought empowerment through working the land, but these volunteers did their work in Palestinian villages rather than Israeli ones. Their mission was one that both Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis have pursued for decades: to create “facts on the ground,” entrenching a community’s presence by deepening its footprint.

“We wanted to bring a large group of people to be a presence and do some actual physical work that will be helpful for the community,” said Daniel Roth, who was born in Toronto and immigrated 3 1/2 years ago to Israel. “We’re connecting on this very hands-on, life-bringing level.”

Nearly 100 volunteers on the trip, most of them in their 20s, were part of the Israel-based organization All That’s Left — a nod to the left-wing politics of its members, who oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Last Friday and Saturday, they helped plant gardens and pave a road in the Palestinian villages of the South Hebron Hills.

Early Zionists insisted that working the land could lead to self-determination in the Land of Israel, and they inspired waves of kibbutzniks to establish farming communes. Generations of tourists have made a point of planting a tree in one of the country’s national forests or sponsoring one through the Jewish National Fund’s blue tin charity boxes.

Adopting that ethos to support Palestinians drew criticism from Shmaaya Asolin, the spokesman for Israeli settlements in the South Hebron Hills. He called volunteers who work in the Palestinian villages “naive” and “anarchists,” and said Palestinians use these groups to provoke violence from the settlers.

“They make up fake stories and stain the reputation of settlers,” he said. “The camera is the weapon. They want to draw people out.”

The South Hebron Hills, which are under full Israeli civil and military control, have become a flashpoint of conflict in the West Bank. Palestinians there complain of lack of access to basic resources like water and protest Israeli restrictions on building permanent structures in their villages.

“I don’t know where the law or the justice is in this situation,” Nasser Nawajah, a resident of the nearby Palestinian village of Susiya, told the volunteers through a translator. “Here, in this place, the law that’s used is might makes right.”

Susiya, home to some 350 villagers, is a collection of tents on a rocky hill overlooking an Israeli settlement also called Susiya. The village lacks an electrical grid, running water and paved roads, and one of its only permanent structures is a small playground. Palestinian flags flutter from many tents.

After working Friday, the volunteers held a Shabbat service and had a communal meal with the Palestinian residents of Susiya. Many slept over and spent the next day volunteering and attending workshops on local Palestinian crafts like honey-making and embroidery.

The conflict and its consequences dominated the conversation on Friday, but some volunteers hadn’t come to choose a side. Some joined the group to see a new part of the West Bank, while others were attracted to the physicality of the work.

One participant, Ilona Gerbakher, 27, said the mission connected her to a community of left-wing Jews in Jerusalem.

“I’m glad that Israel exists,” said Gerbakher, a Jewish-American who is completing a doctorate in comparative Jewish and Islamic studies at Columbia University. “I’m blessed that this country is here and that I get to be a part of it. But I also firmly believe in the right of Palestine to exist.”

At summer camps and trauma centers, Beersheba students facing rockets with locals

During Israel’s conflict with Hamas in 2009, Eli Nachmani, already using a wheelchair, injured his leg when a rocket hit this southern Israeli city.

In the last clash in 2012, Nachmani sustained a head injury when the blast from a rocket knocked him out of his wheelchair.

The nearest bomb shelter is 50 yards from his house, and he can’t cover the distance on his own in the seconds between the sounding of the air-raid siren and the impact of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

Calls to Israel’s Welfare Ministry and the Beersheba municipality have gone unanswered. His only help is Noa Pney-Gil, a 24-year-old education major from the nearby Ben-Gurion University.

“I thank her, thank her, thank her from the bottom of my heart,” Nachmani said. “We should have many more like her.”

Fortunately, there are.

After Israel’s latest round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza broke out last week, Pney-Gil joined hundreds of Ben-Gurion University student volunteers who stayed in the conflict zone past the end of the school year to assist city residents in need.

The volunteers have helped out in hospitals, delivered supplies to the homebound elderly and disabled, and assisted with post-trauma care.

“When you go home, you understand people need help here and are waiting,” said Pney-Gil, a Tel Aviv native who considers herself a Beersheba-ite. “I want to be connected to the place I live. I won’t escape to Tel Aviv every time there’s a problem. I’ll deal with the problem here.”

The size of the volunteer corps is a testament to the success of university efforts to inculcate a culture of community involvement and serve as a catalyst for the city’s improvement. Some scholarships are tied to the number of hours students volunteer with underprivileged residents. The university provides discounted housing to students willing to live in Beersheba’s rundown city center.

Tami Ivgi Hadad, 32, a doctoral student researching nonprofits, began volunteering as an undergraduate in exchange for a scholarship. Over time she came to realize she really enjoyed it.

Today, Ivgi Hadad coordinates city volunteers during emergencies in addition to her studies. In a municipal building near the university earlier this week, she alternated between phone calls and typing on her laptop. Of her 250 volunteers Sunday, 200 were Ben-Gurion students.

“During routine times, you see a lot of adults volunteering, and young people don’t find free time,” she said. “But when there aren’t work or classes, they come out. They have this kind of adrenaline. Adults have gone through things in life. They don’t come out quickly under fire.”

Missiles overhead Sunday morning didn’t faze Dafna Kandelman, a first-year medical student volunteering as a counselor at an impromptu day camp for children of the local hospital’s staff.

Israeli law compels hospital workers to stay on the job in times of emergency, but it poses a child care dilemma for employees since many day camps have been canceled because of the missile threat. So medical students set up and run a camp for some 250 children of hospital workers.

At 10:45 a.m., the kids were having a late breakfast in the bomb shelter when a missile siren blared. Kandelman and other volunteers rushed to gather campers playing outside, only to find that many of them already were filing into the shelter.

Growing up in southern Israel, a major target for rocket attacks from Gaza, the kids knew the protocol. Kandelman found it harder to adapt.

“You can’t get used to it,” she said. “You [say], ‘OK, there’s a siren, let’s go to a stairwell, let’s go to a reinforced room.’ Most of the day it’s OK. Then you let your guard down and it comes out of nowhere. It catches you off guard every time. That’s the hard thing.”

While Israel suffered its first death in the conflict on Tuesday, some Beersheba residents have been treated for shock from missile strikes. At a temporary treatment center for trauma victims, student volunteers handle administration and engage the patients in preliminary conversation before professional social workers and psychologists treat them. Students are responsible as well for helping to move patients to a shelter when a siren goes off.

“They can run and hit a wall, fall down the stairs,” said Moshe Levy, 27, a physiology student volunteering at the trauma center. “They’re already in a sensitive situation, so any alarm puts them off balance.”

Helping out during the conflict comes naturally to medical students because the medical school’s students’ association places a high priority on volunteering all year round, said Nadav Zillcha, the association’s chairman.

Zillcha, 30, with graying hair and a firm expression, was skipping one day of a rotation at another hospital to organize volunteers. He said helping out during the conflict prepares medical students for the gravity of saving people’s lives.

“There’s a need here,” Zillcha said, adding, “We need to realize that now.”


Local groups receive volunteers to aid Holocaust survivors

A new partnership between national and Jewish service organizations will connect volunteers with Holocaust survivors beginning in September in several major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles. 

Through an initiative between the Corporation for National & Community Service, Jewish Federations of North America and the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies, members of AmeriCorps’ Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program will assist survivors — a population at high risk of isolation and institutionalization — with health care, transportation and other needs. 

In Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which provides free legal services to the disadvantaged, and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, will each receive one volunteer through VISTA. Vivian Sauer, JFS director of program development, said the program is much needed.

“Holocaust survivors are an underserved community nationally,” she said. “But also, a lot of them are in poverty.”

According to Federation, there are about 113,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today. About a quarter of them are living at or below the federal poverty line — compared to 9 percent in poverty of the overall population of seniors. 

The move is part of a broader campaign by the Obama administration to address the needs of survivors living in the United States. In January, it was announced that the administration would be appointing Aviva Sufian as be the first-ever special envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services, a new position in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

VISTA was founded in 1965 as an endeavor to battle domestic poverty through public service.  Volunteers make a one-year commitment to a project at a nonprofit agency or organization.

Through the new partnership, volunteers will be placed at 14 Jewish organizations in seven states: California, Illinois, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York. A spokesman for Federation said the first round of recruitment marks the next step in the process for the partnership and that participation could potentially expand to other states in the future. 

AmeriCorps volunteers are generally between 18 and 25, the spokesman said, but any volunteer 18 or older is eligible to work on Holocaust survivor projects and should apply through the participating agencies. The organizations will be accepting applications through July 14, and the volunteers will begin working in September. 

Nancy Volpert, JFS director of public policy, said interest is strong.

“We’ve received quite a few resumes,” she said. “Certainly the response has been good to the position.”

JFS provides counseling, food and housing services to needy members of the community. Sauer said the agency was one of the two California organizations chosen because a large number of Holocaust survivors — roughly 1,000 — receive its services. 

Sauer said JFS’ VISTA volunteer will develop new programs for Holocaust survivors and reach out to members of the survivor community, including child survivors beginning to experience the age-related difficulties of their older counterparts.

“We need to make sure that the voice of the survivor community remains a key part of what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re very excited about the opportunity to be a part of this national initiative.”

Diego Cartagena, Bet Tzedek’s pro bono director, said the firm’s VISTA volunteer will focus on the intersection of two areas of law: Holocaust reparations payments and federal benefits payments. 

A law passed by Congress in 1994 prevents reparations payments from being counted as income when determining survivors’ eligibility for federal programs like Supplemental Security Income and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Because many people are not aware of the law, complications can arise easily, Cartagena said. To avoid similar conflicts in the future, the VISTA volunteer will be responsible for developing educational material to help Holocaust survivors understand their rights. 

“This is an effort on our behalf to try to be proactive about the issue, and make sure people are aware of it,” Cartagena said.

Volunteers get ready for Big Sunday’s crowds

Big Sunday Weekend just keeps getting bigger.

The nation’s largest regional community service event, which started in 1999 as the project of a single synagogue in Hollywood, last year boasted some 50,000 participants and next weekend, for the first time, will stretch statewide — all the way from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento.

This year’s smorgasbord of volunteer offerings is so large, in fact, that it now required an additional weekend just to divvy up all the materials required for the projects. That’s why the Courthouse Square at Universal Studios was such a flurry of activity on April 30 and May 1, even though Big Sunday Weekend itself isn’t until May 14 and 15. (Yes, Big Sunday became too big for a single day, expanding to a full weekend in 2007.)

“It’s pretty big,” said Ben Pratt, who coordinated preparatory activities at Universal Studios during what’s being called Distribution Weekend. “If you take into account by weight the materials that we distribute, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s over 25 tons of materials. That includes T-shirts, it includes potting soil, it includes paint, food, cleaning supplies, etc. There’s a lot of stuff going out in the community.”

He watched as a line of volunteers’ cars, minivans and trucks paraded through the studio back lot picking up everything needed in order to undertake more than 500 projects, all funded by private and corporate cash grants and in-kind donations.

This year, Big Sunday’s reach extends up to the Bay Area. David Levinson, founder and executive director, said the event’s expansion has been very organic. Some businesses whose employees participated in service in the Los Angeles area, for example, wanted to get their employees in other regions involved.

What the effort’s growth represents is something much greater, though, Levinson said.

“I think what it really says is that most people are really nice and goodhearted and want to help. They just need to know where they’re wanted and where they’re needed. Wherever you go, there are people like that — whether they’re Jewish or Christian or Muslim or black or white or whatever they are — and we’re very inclusive, and I think that message has resonated with people, so that allows us to just keep growing.”

This year’s hundreds of projects, listed for signups at bigsunday.org, benefit more than 400 organizations. Volunteers will plant gardens at schools, fix up homeless shelters, spruce up dog parks, go bowling with developmentally disabled adults, throw a picnic for people living with HIV/AIDS, give blood, clean up beaches and much more. By contrast, when Levinson started Big Sunday in 1999 at Temple Israel of Hollywood, it involved about 300 people, was much more limited in scope and had a more Jewish-sounding name: Mitzvah Day.

Now volunteers from all faiths, races, ages, political persuasions and socioeconomic groups participate, and all people who benefit from projects must lend a hand as well. People come as individuals or in groups for undertakings that can last anywhere from an hour to two days. Big Sunday has become a year-round organization with other smaller endeavors, too.

Levinson, a TV, theater and movie writer who is the author of “Everyone Helps, Everyone Wins,” a book focused on volunteerism, sees even more room for growth.

“It’s great to be in the big cities, but there’s that whole Central California. There’s Northern California,” he said.

Berenice Katcher has been part of the event for six years and is now coordinator for schools projects.

“I love Big Sunday. It’s the thing I love the most in the whole world,” Katcher said. “What happens on Big Sunday is that every preconception or prenotion that anyone has of anybody else falls away. And, to me, it’s the one day in Los Angeles, in this very intense … explosive environment, that we can just work together, create, and build and form friendships that are lifelong friendships.”

The theory behind Big Sunday Weekend is that everyone can find something they can do to make a difference. That’s a lesson that, ideally, leads to more volunteering, according to Tani Isaacs. A 10-year veteran of the effort, this year she’s overseeing hubs, or locations where several projects take place under one roof.

“Big Sunday is a gateway entrance to community service for people,” the Santa Monica woman said. “It’s a very easy, accessible way for them to get involved with a very limited commitment and to see how rewarding and fulfilling it can be. My experience is that most people who get involved in something like this understand how fulfilling it is, and then they want to go on and do more.”

Even if they don’t, they can still know they’ve made a difference. Katcher pointed to the example of a group of schoolchildren who made papier-mâché flowerpots, and one 8-year-old, in particular, who made a lasting impression on the 93-year-old to whom he gave his at a senior center.

As she accepted it, the elderly woman said, “It’s been a long time since anyone gave me flowers.”

A link to how to sign up to volunteer for Big Sunday Weekend is at bigsunday.org.

Israel team of volunteers to help with search and rescue efforts in Japan

ZAKA International Rescue Unit said Friday it will send a team of trained volunteers from Israel to help the search and rescue efforts in Japan, following the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country earlier that day.

Following a consultation with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and with emissaries from the Chabad organization in Japan, ZAKA arranged to send a team headed by the organization’s co-directors Mati Goldstein and Dovi Maisel, on Saturday evening (after the conclusion of the Sabbath).

In addition, another team from the ZAKA International Rescue Unit based in Hong Kong will leave for the quake area after the conclusion of the Sabbath in their region.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Peace Corps at 50 draws volunteers over 50

Lillian Mizrahi is not your typical Peace Corps volunteer. She first considered joining 40 years ago, when she moved to Los Angeles from the Bronx, but her life became busy with children and a career.

“Two years ago, I got a postcard that said, ‘Baby Boomers, we want you,’ ” said Mizrahi, 69, who worked as a talent executive with E! for nine years.

She attended a few Peace Corps meetings, even bringing along a friend who went on to volunteer in South Africa. “I took the steps thinking somewhere along the way it wouldn’t work, but it worked,” Mizrahi said.

With her children grown, Mizrahi felt it was the right time to help restore America’s former good image abroad. She was sent to Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, where she now works with KONEKT, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to increase philanthropy among Macedonians. She also tutors adults in English.

“I’ve been here 17 months, and it’s a wonderful experience,” Mizrahi said in a phone interview.

On March 1, the Peace Corps will commemorate 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world. Los Angeles will be one of the first cities to celebrate this milestone with a series of events March 2-5 at UCLA, including a panel discussion, “Peace Corps: The Next 50 Years,” moderated by Chris Matthews, MSNBC host and former Peace Corps volunteer, and an international festival. Other events will be held nationwide throughout the year.

The Peace Corps, which was started in 1961 through an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy, traces its roots to a 1960 challenge from then-Sen. Kennedy to the students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by living and working in developing countries. The Peace Corps’ purpose is to promote peace and friendship by sharing skills, helping promote a better understanding of Americans and helping Americans develop a better understanding of other people.

More than 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries, with more volunteers coming from California than from any other state.

Mizrahi is among the 7 percent of current Peace Corps volunteers who are over the age of 50.

“They are encouraging more seniors to join because of their wealth of experience,” she said.

Mizrahi said joining the Peace Corps after working in entertainment was like “going from the ridiculous to the sublime.” “TV is a young people’s business,” she added.

Mizrahi, who took courses in nonprofit management and fundraising at UCLA Extension, says fundraising is difficult, but she loves the Robin Hood concept of taking from the rich to give to the poor.

“In the Peace Corps, we take trained individuals and give them to the untrained to transfer skills which will still be there after [they’ve] left,” she said.

So far, Mizrahi has helped organize a philanthropy conference for the Balkan region, an Earth Day celebration, harvest festivals and 5K runs as well as helping with a spelling bee and a Habitat for Humanity building project.

The Peace Corps provides her with an apartment and a stipend for living expenses. Mizrahi says her son and daughter share her sense of adventure and are proud of her, and that being so far away is made easier with technology like Skype and e-mail.

Although she had offered to take an assignment in a rural community because of her prior experience living on a kibbutz, Mizrahi believes that the placement in a city ended up being a perfect fit.

In Skopje, Mizrahi is also part of a small Jewish community made up of Americans, Israelis and Macedonians. She has held seders and hosted a large Chanukah party this past year. She attends holiday services at the local Jewish community center, and will be there for the March 7 opening of the Macedonia Holocaust Museum, which has been in the works for 10 years. Funding for the museum has come primarily from a special fund created in 2000 from the assets of Macedonian Jewish families who perished in the Holocaust and left no heirs. Additional funding comes from Israel and the United States, including a group of early supporters in Pasadena.

Mizrahi hopes the Peace Corps has a long future, and she encourages other older adults to join without hesitation. She says people should think about what they could handle and where they will be comfortable, but ultimately the organization does a good job of making a match. 

“If you want to do it, it’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “And your kids will be impressed with you.”

For more information about UCLA’s 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Peace Corps, visit http://spotlight.ucla.edu/peace-corps-50th/events.

Interfaith volunteers feed homeless on MLK Day

Volunteers from Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino and Family of Faith Christian Center (FFCC) in Carson fed 150 homeless people from the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission in North Hollywood in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the National Day of Service on Jan. 17. This is the second year the church and synagogue have come together to feed the homeless on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a tradition they plan to continue.

“Our tradition is as much about action as belief,” VBS Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas said.

The meal was served at the Central Lutheran Church in Van Nuys, where manicures and hairstyling services were also offered, as well as hygiene kits containing basic items such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Trader Joe’s donated food for the lunch, which was supplemented by fresh produce picked by synagogue and church volunteers through Food Forward, a nonprofit that harvests fruits and vegetables from homes and public spaces to distribute to local food pantries. 

Farkas said the interfaith effort is inspired by the relationship between King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched together for equality in Selma, Ala. “These two incredible individuals could galvanize a community into action to change the way Americans see themselves.”

Farkas said it’s important to continue the tradition of giving and supporting those still fighting for betterment.

The synagogue and church have collaborated on service projects for the last four years.Their joint activities include Gulf Coast clean up following Hurricane Katrina and tree planting at Sun Valley’s Fernangeles Elementary School and Sun Valley High School. The Rev. Mike Andrews, FFCC’s executive pastor, said the ongoing collaboration with VBS is a way to continue King’s dream. “Right now, especially in the Christian community, there is a lot of talk about whether the dream has been fulfilled. Even if it has been fulfilled, we want to make sure it lives on.”

He said working with VBS and bringing together Christian African Americans and Jews “sparks another dream: to continue to grow with them and to work with them, to make it bigger.”

Etta Israel Center Lauds Volunteers

The Etta Israel Center honored three young volunteers for their work in helping students with special needs. The Jan. 9 gala at the California Science Center recognized Esther Levine, Daniel Schwartz and
Rita Miller Statman for the time they’ve put in as one-on-one counselors at camp, weekend retreats and holiday programming for children and young adults with special needs.

Schwartz, who has cerebral palsy, has been both a client and volunteer at Etta Israel and is currently enrolled in the Pathway Program at UCLA Extension, a two-year certificate program for students with developmental disabilities. Last year, Schwartz received the Safeway Community Hero award for his work at Etta Israel, volunteering at the Roxbury Park Senior Center and serving as president of a local chapter of Best Buddies, a community that helps people with intellectual disabilities.

Etta Israel has inclusion programs and self-contained classrooms at Jewish schools for children with educational and developmental special needs; three residential homes for adults in the Valley; summer camps and other recreational activities staffed mostly by teen volunteers and a support program aimed at the Iranian Jewish community.

L.A.’s Top Ten Mensches — big hearted Angelenos

“It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone ‘a real mensch,'” writes Leo Rosten in “The Joys of Yiddish.”

The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation — “person” — with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.

Boy, could we use some now.

As the last pieces of 2008 crash down around us, there is ample evidence that mensch-hood (more properly, menschlikayt) is in short supply, at least judging by headlines. Worse, the Bernard Madoff scandal revealed a disturbing tendency to hide chicanery under the guise of do-goodery. Madoff, his middlemen and some charitable boards were doing good while doing wrong — either out of evil, in Madoff’s case, or, at best perhaps, just out of gullibility and incompetence.

So we look to The Journal’s fourth annual Top Ten Mensches list to brighten our spirits and boost our hopes for a better year. As the stories here demonstrate, these are people who in the course of lives no less hectic and demanding than our own, facing temptations no less alluring than those we all confront, manage to reach out and help others, making the world a better place, day in and day out.

The Jewish Journal created this list as a response to all those lists extolling fame, money, power and hot-ness. We honor these special ten because they are just people — menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural — who understand the power and possibility of what just one person can do to help others.

Thank you to all our mensches, and to all who offered up names for consideration. Maybe next year we’ll all be candidates for the list….

Gabriel Halimi: Partying For a Cause

It was a stuttering problem that turned Gabriel Halimi into a mensch.

“I had a really bad stutter when I was kid,” the now 27-year-old recalled recently. “My therapist said I needed to speak up in class and try to get myself to talk more, and then I started falling into leadership activities because it forced me to talk.”

Dressed in a pink shirt and a brown blazer, Halimi looks much like the young professionals he now helps lead in the 4-year-old Beverly Hills-based nonprofit, Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP).

By day, Halimi works at ACG, a real estate consulting firm. But he recently passed the California Bar exam and said he hopes to be practicing as an attorney by February.

In addition to working full time and attending Loyola Law School, Halimi is one of 25 young professionals who helped found SYP and is currently serving as one of its board members. The philosophy behind SYP, Halimi said, is simple.

“We wanted to do well in our work,” he said. “We wanted to party, and we wanted to do something bigger than ourselves, and that’s kinda where SYP was born.”

Halimi grew up in Los Angeles, attending Temple Emanuel Community Day School before eventually transferring to Beverly Hills public schools. But Halimi said it wasn’t until college that his Jewish roots really took hold.

At UC Santa Barbara, Halimi joined the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and became immersed in its world of partying and doing good.

“He was really seen as a leader even among his peers,” said Elishia Shokrian Bolour, a childhood friend who, along with Halimi, helped found SYP.

However, Halimi insists that working with SYP has demanded little self-sacrifice. Throughout the year, SYP holds events — big, bold, boisterous events — and rather than have all the money go to the DJ, the club or the liquor, the majority of the proceeds (about 70 percent) goes to charity.

“We just kinda wanted to get people to think in more philanthropic terms,” Halimi said. “If you’re going to be doing this anyway [partying], you might as well be doing it for a good cause.”

On May 14, 2005, Halimi and his friends launched SYP’s first event by pulling all their resources together and throwing a huge bash in Beverly Hills.

Approximately 500 young Angelenos — mostly ages 18-30 — raised close to $70, 000 for three Jewish organizations: IMA Foundation, which is dedicated to disaster relief in Israel; the educational foundation Magbit, which helps those in Israel gain a higher education; and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish drug rehabilitation center in Culver City.

Halimi said his favorite SYP cause so far, however, has been one that doesn’t directly involve the Jewish community: Darfur.

“It was just so beautiful,” Halimi said, referring to the $45,000 SYP donated to American Jewish World Service’s relief work in Darfur. “We could see beyond ourselves and recognize that there are a lot of people out there that could use our help.”
“It goes to the principle of tikkun olam,” healing the world, he said.

SYP is not a Jewish organization, although most of those involved have grown up within the Jewish community, and the nonprofit does not make any outright political statements.

“We don’t want to take any kind of political stance that might alienate someone,” he said.

The organization chooses the causes it supports democratically, allowing every member to have a say in the direction of the nonprofit.

In addition to SYP, Halimi is involved in 30 Years After, a nonprofit dedicated to uniting the Iranian American Jewish community, and the Lev Foundation, which promotes balanced, responsible living and is named in honor of Daniel Levian, a recent victim of a drunk driving accident.

When asked, Halimi said he doesn’t consider himself a mensch — he’s not worthy, he claimed — but he offered up this definition of one: “Someone who can see past themselves.”

But just ask Rhoda Weisman, executive director of the Professional Leaders Project, an organization dedicated to developing the next generation of Jewish leaders. She said, “In all honesty, if you were to ask me what a definition of a mensch is, I would name you Gabe.”

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Kim Krowne: ‘Hakuna Matata’Means Bringing Hope to Tanzanian Kids

Kim Krowne thought she’d be attending medical school. Instead, the 24-year-old Northridge native, a graduate of Sierra Canyon and Milken Community High School, spent most of 2007 and 2008 in Tanzania, improving the lives of orphaned children and many villagers. She’s been home for the past several months and plans to return to Africa in January.

ALTTEXTOnce a “total planner,” Krowne’s current philosophy of life is more hakuna matata — “there’s no problem” in Swahili, a language she speaks fluently. “Obviously, this was not my plan. But I love it. There’s so much work to be done,” she said.

The focus of her passion is the Matumaini Child Care Center, a small three-room building in the village of Rau that houses 20 children, ages 6 to 15. Krowne discovered it in the fall of 2006 while taking a year off after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where she fulfilled her premed requirements while majoring in the sociology and anthropology of health, concentrating on Africa.

At that time, the nongovernmental, nonreligious and nonprofit Matumaini Center cared for eight children whose parents had either died of HIV/AIDS, were alcoholic or couldn’t afford their care. Newly opened, it desperately needed funds for food and school fees, less than $20 annually per student. Krowne immediately e-mailed family and friends and raised $1,000.

She came home in March 2007 knowing she would return. Her last week there, she had met Michelle Kowalczyk, 27 and a nurse, and asked her to look after the kids, who then numbered 20. Kowalczyk also became enamored.

The following December, Krowne and Kowalczyk together formed a nonprofit, Knock Foundation (www.knockfoundation.org), to help solicit donations and grants. They also signed a five-year contract with Matumaini (meaning hope in Swahili) to fund the nonprofit and become decision-making partners.

When they returned to Tanzania they facilitated a host of improvements, including providing the children with nutritious meals, medical and dental care and school uniforms and supplies and paying salaries to the orphanage workers.

They also had bunk beds built in the rooms, upgraded the latrines, improved the general cleanliness and constructed a chicken coop on the property.

Their reach extends as well to the greater community in Rau and nearby villages, with the goal of making families more self-sufficient. One such effort, dubbed the Piggery Project, has provided 50 families with supplies needed to build a pig hut, as well as two pigs to raise. The families will keep some of the proceeds from the sale of the pigs and reinvest the remainder. They hope to expand the project.

They have also renovated a government medical clinic and dispensary in Shimbwe, the only health facility available to serve thousands of people in the Kilimanjaro region. In addition to repairing the clinic’s roof and painting its rooms, they purchased laboratory materials and medications.

Plus, they organized a two-day life skills and HIV/AIDS seminar in conjunction with a local NGO that was attended by 100 women and children. It will become a yearly event.

To date, Krowne and Kowalczyk have raised about $85,000 and need an additional $35,000 for 2009 to sustain the current projects. They would also like to construct a new building for Matumaini, start another orphanage and help provide secondary and university education for the children, among other dreams.

Kowalczyk marvels at Krowne’s ability to transcend barriers. “Kim has been able to reach people who otherwise would have been untouched,” she said. “We’ll be doing this for the rest of our lives.”

To make a donation or for more information, visit www.knockfoundation.org, call (818) 831-6075 or e-mail kim@knockfoundation.org.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Iranian Jewish kids fill care packages for troops, JFS honors goodness of Goldstines

Iranian Jews Fill Care Packages for Troops

More than 50 local Iranian and other L.A.-area Jewish volunteers of various ages gathered at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills on May 25 to celebrate Memorial Day and prepare more than 300 care packages for U.S. troops based in Afghanistan and Iraq. Volunteers included parents and children, as well as mentors and mentees from the Los Angeles Jewish Big Brothers Big Sister’s organization, who stopped by waiting stations to fill their boxes with magazines, coffee, pocket fans, toiletries, sun block, nuts, beef jerky and new socks that had been requested by U.S. troops fighting overseas.

“As much as we are Iranian Jews living here in U.S., we are Americans who love this country,” said Jacob Hanaie, the event’s coordinator and a Nessah Synagogue volunteer. “We wanted to not only show our wonderful soldiers our appreciation for their efforts but to also show our immediate community that it’s very important to say thank you to our wonderful soldiers for their efforts and for their sacrifices to help keep us safe here.”

A few local non-Jewish Iranian Americans also participated in the gathering after hearing about it in on local Persian-language radio programs.
Volunteers on hand also drew pictures and wrote letters of appreciation to U.S. soldiers, which were included in the care packages.

Nessah board members said they were encouraged to organize the event again after the success of a similar 2006 event that resulted in an influx of thank-you letters from American troops stationed in the Middle East.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

JFS Honors Goodness of Goldstines

When Roz and Abner Goldstine see a void, they fill it. Noticing that the aging Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles lacked adequate care, the Goldstines established the Abner D. and Roslyn Goldstine Fund for Holocaust Survivor Services through Jewish Family Service (JFS), which provides essential care to survivors and helps them live with dignity and comfort.

For their commitment, the couple were honored with the Spirit of Humanity Award at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ 15th annual gala on May 22, where 650 guests filled the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and raised $767,000 (an agency record) to provide vital services to L.A. residents, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Rabbi David Wolpe introduced and praised the couple, who are members of Sinai Temple and also serve on its board.

Another compassionate couple, Susan and Jonathan Brandler, were also honored at the dinner with the Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award for their tireless commitment to JFS.

Rabbi Joel H. Myers Receives Acheivement Award

American Jewish University’s (AJU) Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies presented Rabbi Joel H. Myers with the Simon Greenberg Award for outstanding achievement in the rabbinate. Myers, who is executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and serves on the boards of major communal and professional organizations, was bestowed with the honor during AJU’s ordination ceremony held at Sinai Temple on May 19. With this honor, Myers joins the company of previous recipients, including Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Jacob Pressman and Harold Schulweis.

Troubled teens turn to Teen Line and its Leader

Every night for the last 27 years, teenagers who need to talk have been able to find an understanding ear at Teen Line, a confidential phone hotline staffed by highly trained teenage volunteer listeners.

The calls reflect every manner of teen suffering and angst, from mundane worries about dating and friendships to life-threatening encounters with drugs, suicide, eating disorders and child abuse.

Although the voice at the other end of the phone is always that of a young person, the driving force behind Teen Line is Elaine Leader, a 79-year-old great-grandmother with a British accent and a propensity for hats and oversized costume jewelry.

As the co-founder and executive director of Teen Line, the London-born Leader, who holds a doctorate from the California Institute for Clinical Social Work, knows more about Los Angeles’ teenagers than most. For nearly three decades, Leader has established herself as a tireless champion for Teen Line and the often-voiceless population it serves.

“When I see somebody in pain, I feel like I must reach out to help,” Leader said.

She can recite the suicides of dozens of young people in Los Angeles as if she knew them all. She helps train school counselors and police officers alike in dealing with young people in crisis. She can tell you which drugs are in vogue at which high schools, and why there is an apparent epidemic of young people cutting themselves.

The organization’s youthful army of listeners must complete a rigorous 60-hour training program, and they work under the constant supervision of mental health professionals. But the essence of Teen Line is the unwavering belief that teenagers will talk with each other more honestly and comfortably than they will with adults.

Last year Teen Line’s high school-aged volunteers handled 6,666 phone calls and 1,750 e-mails, for a total of 8,416 teen-to-teen contacts. The Cedars-Sinai-affiliated group’s volunteers made 215 educational presentations to schools and organizations in 2006, reaching some 36,000 young people.

In the early years, and to some extent today, the listeners were predominantly culled from privileged backgrounds and attended high schools on the Westside. Although there are exceptions, those kids have always tended to be the ones with the time — and the reliable means of transportation — to devote so many volunteer hours to the cause.

In addition to its Westside offices, a new Teen Line call center in Reseda, which opened last spring, is likely to increase the diversity of Teen Line’s volunteers, and Leader hopes it will also help the organization provide more specific referrals to callers from the Valley. A third call center in Riverside is also in the works, Leader said.

“We are expanding because teens from all over want to be involved,” Leader said. “They want to be able to take calls.”

In addition to Teen Line, Leader runs a successful private practice in adolescent psychotherapy and group therapy from her Beverlywood home. And many Teen Line volunteers are Leader’s own patients; they say talking to others about their experiences helps them to heal.

Leader is particularly passionate in her advocacy for gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers, whom she will insistently remind you are three to four times more likely to attempt or commit suicide than straight teens.

Alyn Libman was one of them. A 22-year-old transgender man, Libman says he became suicidal because of the harassment and abuse he suffered in middle school and high school.

As a 13-year-old, before Libman told anyone else about his struggles, he called Teen Line. He had seen the brochures in his middle school guidance counselor’s office. “The first time I called I hung up, and the second time I ended up talking to someone for about an hour,” Libman said. “I spoke to someone named Michael. I told him, I think I’m gay, and I’m just afraid to come out. I told him I was contemplating suicide.”

“He just listened. It was very helpful. It was someone I could talk to, and they weren’t judging me,” recalled Libman, now an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. “It was very legitimizing.”

After a failed suicide attempt in ninth grade, Libman met Leader by chance at a conference for gay youth. He told her about having called Teen Line, and she recruited him to speak at outreach programs about gay and lesbian teens.

“It really touched my heart to know that an adult, an older adult, thought the lives of teenagers and youths were important,” Libman said.

“You look at her and you think about this proper British grandmother, and you can’t imagine the kinds of people she helps, and the people whose rights she stands up for,” Libman said. “She’s a very safe person to talk to. You just want to hug her and cry.”

Leader says she’s had gay friends for decades — longer than most people her age have known anyone who was out about being gay. “I was a socialist when I was in high school during the war,” she recalled. “I was always for the underdog, and the gay people were the underdog.”

Having spent her own adolescence during World War II, with the family split between New York and London, Leader says she identifies completely with the unsettled feelings common among teenagers.

Leader attributes her relentless drive to help people to the philanthropic example her father set for her in the years before World War II. “I think some of this comes from my father,” Leader says one evening in the Teen Line call center, in a rare display of personal emotion.

An early Zionist, her father worked behind the scenes from London in the late 1930s to help establish a Jewish state in Palestine. A self-made businessman, he convinced a non-Jewish friend with a big estate outside of London to harbor young Jewish men from Germany and Austria, where they would train for the Hagganah, the underground Army that would eventually win Israel’s independence.

“He took these young men out to this country estate. I was 8 or 9 years old. I remember seeing them marching up and down with broomsticks, training for the Hagganah,” she said. “There were 50 or 60 of them, and he had saved their lives.”

Young philanthropists ask tough questions

We are 17-year-old identical twin brothers, living a comfortable life in suburban Los Angeles. We attend one of Southern California’s finest prep schools. We are diligent students, music-lovers, avid surfers and members of our school’s water polo team — a commitment that requires more than 18 hours a week of practice.

What we weren’t — until recently — were philanthropists.

That all changed when our grandfather recommended us for a six-week program called the Community Youth Foundation (CYF), sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. We groaned at the thought of another time commitment, but our school’s mandatory community service requirement was coming due — and, besides, we didn’t want to disappoint Grandpa.

CYF teaches fortunate teenagers like us about the nonprofit world and the process of grantmaking. The goal is to instill tikkun olam — the Jewish principle of repairing the world — into our generation, and to give us the tools to become effective philanthropists later in life. The teens who participate come from philanthropic families, and the Jewish Community Foundation — which manages charitable funds from donors and distributes grants to many worthy causes — wants to ensure that we understand and participate in our family’s philanthropic activities.

That sounded fine to us. How hard could it be to give away money to charity? You just pick an organization you like, and write a check!

We were about to discover that there was a lot more to it.

In our first meeting, 20 teens met Dr. Susan Grinel, who heads the Family Foundation Center, a resource of The Foundation that helps people like our grandfather make the most of their charitable giving. She said we were going to function as a committee to award $10,000 in grants to several local nonprofits –both Jewish and secular. Basically, we would be going through the same process The Foundation goes through when it makes grants to the community.

We were amazed at how much research goes into these decisions. You have to answer a lot of questions. Does the organization really need the money? Would it use the money wisely? How many people does it serve? How many staff members are paid, and how many are volunteers?

Once Grinel explained that we, as grantmakers, would be acting as a bridge between the problems in Los Angeles and potential solutions, we had a new view of ourselves and our position in the community. Sure, we’d done volunteer work before, but it had always felt like a chore. Now we felt empowered to make a difference.

The Foundation organized several nonprofits for our group to visit and we went out in pairs to tour the facilities and meet with the organization’s executives. Now it was our turn to ask the tough questions and evaluate how to most effectively distribute the grant money. If the organization proved worthy, we had to be prepared to argue on its behalf to the group.

We were assigned to visit after-school programs, including A Place Called Home, a secular program in South Los Angeles where inner-city kids can go to get away from gangs and violence. It operates out of several small bungalows, and few of its staff is paid. Then we visited a Jewish after-school program in the San Fernando Valley, which had a big, modern facility with a 50-meter pool. Both organizations were doing good things for the community, but it was obvious which one we wanted to help the most.

Our last CYF meeting was exhilarating. We were like business executives pitching our nonprofits to the other participants, vying to win a piece of the grant. Several teens wanted all the money to go to Jewish organizations, but we were equally passionate that the whole $10,000 go to agencies that directly benefit people in need, regardless of their religion.
In the end, we compromised and split the money among four organizations: We gave $3,000 to A Place Called Home; $5,000 to Jewish Family Service, to support its programs for various disadvantaged populations; $1,000 to L.A. Works, an organization that feeds volunteers to other non-profits that need help; and another $1,000 to Shelter Partnership, which provides short-term and transitional housing for the homeless and advocates and raises awareness for that population.

We can honestly say that community service no longer feels like a chore. We recognize how fortunate we are and now feel much better prepared to help others. Of course, we don’t have any income yet, but we’re already taking small steps, like Sam’s becoming a member of the Surfrider Foundation, which helps protect the world’s beaches.

Soon we’ll be heading off to college, and it won’t be long before we’re earning money in our chosen careers. Once that happens, the nonprofit agencies that are working to solve community problems can count on us for support.

But first, we’re going to have to ask them a lot of questions.

Alex and Sam de Castro-Abeger are seniors at Harvard-Westlake School.

New Year brings new hope to inmates

Daniel, a 24-year-old UCLA student, has gotten under my skin. I met him a month ago when I followed Rabbi Yossi Carron on his rounds through Men’s Central Jail
and Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. Daniel had a few more days to serve on the six-month sentence he received after his was convicted of dealing methamphetamine to some of his fellow Bruins — most likely, his release date would fall just before or just after Rosh Hashanah.

When I learned Daniel would be celebrating his last day in jail during the New Year’s service Carron organized for his prison shul, I asked to tag along.
In a hallway at Men’s Central on a Tuesday afternoon, Carron and three rabbinical students are maneuvering a pair of rickety carts loaded with prayer books and a Rosh Hashanah feast past a prisoner-painted mural that depicts a SWAT team, guns raised, staring down passersby.

At one point, several packages of pita bread slide off the top of one of the loads. At the rear of the convoy, where a Torah scroll on loan from a Sephardic temple nestles under a tallit, someone makes a joke about Uzzah — the poor guy in 2 Samuel, chapter 6, who meets with God’s wrath when he touches the Ark to keep it from bouncing off an ox cart.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, is onhand, along with half a dozen volunteers. As the afternoon sun slants through broken windowpanes 20 feet above the concrete floor, this small group of Jews lays tablecloths and arranges flowers to transform a disused prison dining hall into sacred space.

Simon — his name, like those of other inmates, has been changed to protect his identity — is one of the first inmates to arrive. Now 30, he has lived on the streets or in jail since he was 15. His arms are inked with menacing skulls and demons, but the most affecting tattoo is a single teardrop on his left cheek — a memento he got when his time behind bars passed the five-year mark.

“I get out again in 33 days,” he says, adding that his first stop will be a drug treatment center in Torrance. “This time I’m staying out.”

Eventually the room holds about 20 inmates from Men’s Central and from Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street.

“You have more rabbis and rabbis-to-be in this room than you’ll ever see again in your life,” Carron tells the men in his prison shul. “Mingle and make use of them.”

The soft buzz of friendly conversation fills the hall.

I manage to get in a few words with Daniel, who looks quietly jubilant.
“Man, this feels so good,” he tells me. “This is like the perfect way to end this experience. I’ve learned so much. It sounds strange, but I’m actually kind of grateful.”

At another table, Gary, an inmate whose hard years are etched onto a face that resembles a walnut, has recognized Pauline Lederer, a wheelchair-bound but sharp-witted nonagenarian who has been volunteering in Los Angeles County jails since the 1930s.

“I first met Pauline in 1983!” Gary exclaims.

After her conversation with Gary, Pauline says, “Things aren’t going well for him. Spending so much time in here is bad for the soul. It’s very sad, but I hope this helps.”

Soon Carron asks everyone to take a seat so that service can begin. Over the next hour, he weaves prayers recalling the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in Egypt with the traditional Rosh Hashana liturgy. Noam Raucher delivers a homily about how his experience shadowing Carron has shaped his understanding of teshuvah, and Alison Abrams opens the rosewood ark to read a passage from the Torah.

At the end of the service, Michael Chusid, a veteran of last year’s Rosh Hashanah celebration at Men’s Central, blows the shofar.

“Every generation has to overcome terrible suffering,” Carron says later, after the last of the roasted chicken and apple tart has disappeared. “What we’re doing on Rosh Hashanah is redeeming that holy spark within us, which is what happened when we crossed the Red Sea. It also points toward the freedom that I hope each of these guys will experience in some way in the New Year.”

Carron’s hope reminds me of Daniel, who’s marking the New Year and his newfound freedom by returning to a life that will be completely the same and totally different from the life he knew six months ago. Really, each day is like that — each day is the beginning of a new year. That’s easy to say, but hard to accept. In my own life, I’m starting to realize that, for now, it’s enough to move through each day as if I accepted it.

So whenever you happen to be reading this, Shana Tova.

For more on Rabbi Carron’s work, see

Americans fighters in Israel get overdue thank you

Grandfathers and grandmothers looked at the photos on the wall and saw themselves again as young, strapping soldiers, sailors and pilots, far from home andclose to the face of history.
They were the American and Canadian volunteers who had fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1947-1949 and manned the “illegal” Aliyah Bet ships carrying refugees to the Jewish state.
The veterans, their bodies aged but memories undimmed, brought their children and grandchildren to the University of Judaism last Sunday to inaugurate the first permanent West Coast exhibit to honor their services.
Film producer Lou Lenart and attorney Mitchell Flint marveled at the silhouettes of patched-up Mustangs and Messerschmitts from which they “bombed” Egyptian armies advancing on Tel Aviv with hand grenades lobbed out of their cockpits.Norman Zimmerman of Sun City, Ariz., and I saw again the jam-packed refugee ship Pan York, which had brought us from Marseilles to Haifa, despite a United Nations ban on the entry of men of military age.
The exhibit consists of cabinets framing eight large and eight small panels. In documents, graphics and text, the display documents the history of Zionism and American support, arms acquisition, recruitment of volunteers, Aliyah Bet and navy service and Machal (the Hebrew acronym for Volunteers from Abroad) service in the Israel Defense Forces.
One of the panels commemorates the 40 North Americans, among them seven Christians, who were killed in action. Another focuses on the specific contributions of some 450 volunteers from the West Coast, as well as of those who risked prison by smuggling desperately needed arms and aircraft to the embattled state.
The dedication program was exemplary in the brevity of its speeches, and the high spirits of the songs from the 1948 and 1967 wars, presented by vocalist Ayana Haviv and pianist Amir Efrat.
UJ President Robert Wexler welcomed the audience of 200 and said that the exhibit will remind future generations of the linked destiny between Israel and American Jewry.
Yaron Gamburg, Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, noted that the Machal spirit of 1948 was revived during the recent fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon, when his office was swamped with calls from volunteers seeking to help Israel.
Max Barchichat, president of the Los Angeles-based Machal West, lauded the service of his fellow volunteers by paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s tribute to the Royal Air Force that “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”Keynote speaker was Dean Ralph Lowenstein, director of the Machal Archives and Museum at the University of Florida, who created the original exhibit at his university’s Hillel House, with the support of the New York-based American Veterans of Israel.
He paid tribute to Jason Fenton, who initiated the West Coast version of the exhibition, Sharona Benami of Machal West and a Yom Kippur War veteran, and Iris Waskow of the University of Judaism.
Some 1,400 North American volunteers, mostly World War II veterans, participated in the War of Independence, and played particularly crucial roles in the nascent Israeli air force and navy, Lowenstein said.
A joyous dedication is usually not the time for critical analysis, but as a combat infantryman in World War II, a squad leader in an anti-tank unit in Israel, and an army editor during the Korean conflict, I ask the reader’s indulgence if I step out of my reportorial role.
Without diminishing the contributions of the volunteers from abroad and the arms “smugglers,” it must be said, first, that it was the Israelis who won the war itself and paid by far the highest price in military and civilian casualties.
Secondly, the role of the American Jewish community was perhaps the least glorious among the 43 nations who provided volunteers,In proportion to the size and power of their Jewish communities, every other English-speaking country sent much larger, and better prepared, contingents than the biggest Jewish community in the world, and it was one of the few to emerge from the war with greater strength than before.
The difference lay mainly in the communal attitude and civic courage of the different Diaspora communities. South Africa’s Jews, and Britain’s to a slightly smaller degree, set up their own selective service systems, complete with physical and psychological testing, and rallied fully behind their young men and women heading for the battlefield.
By contrast, organized American Jewry, fearful of accusations of double loyalty, generally averted its collective eyes and prayed silently that those crazy kids going over would not prove an embarrassment.
Happily, the flip side of this sorry record is that in the last half century, American Jewry has largely left behind the shameful timidity of the 1940s and the Holocaust era. It is my hope that should American Jewry ever face a challenge similar to 1948, we will acquit ourselves with greater honor.

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

Big Sunday Gets Big Boost From City

Big Sunday began in 1999 with 300 Jewish volunteers devoted to a day of good works. That was impressive in a city notorious for lack of civic involvement — but that was just the beginning.

What started as Mitzvah Day for congregants of Temple Israel of Hollywood gradually spread across the city and beyond the Jewish community, with 8,000 participants from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds working on 150 different projects last year. Now the event has taken another big leap — suddenly, Big Sunday is the business of the city of Los Angeles.

This year, Los Angeles assumes the headline role in sponsoring the May 7 event. The planning began officially last week at Temple Israel. About 170 attended, including about 30 representatives of city government, among them Larry Frank, deputy mayor of neighborhood and community services.

Frank said that the mayor’s office would “like to help the whole city do what you’ve been doing for the past seven years.”

“We want this to be as big as the marathon, as big as the Grammys,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to participate.”

This year, as a result of the city partnership, event founder David Levinson expects as many as 25,000 volunteers.

“Do the math,” he said at the planning meeting. “We had 8,000 last year. Mayor Villaraigosa’s citywide day of service in October drew 7,500. That’s already over 15,000.”

The variety of projects last year was diverse, ranging from bathing rescued basset hounds to furnishing apartments for the homeless. Some volunteers painted murals and planted a garden at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista, while another crew in the kitchen made casseroles to freeze and distribute to AIDS victims.

“My honest belief is that everyone wants to help and everyone can help,” said Levinson, a playwright and TV writer who still chairs the event.

“If someone says they can’t make it because they have a 1-year-old, I tell them to bring [the baby] to a nursing home. All she has to do is breathe, and she’ll make the residents happy,” Levinson said. “We had a blind theater group washing cars. At a party we threw for low-income seniors, one of the activities was making silk flowers for shut-ins at a nursing home.

“It’s not about the haves helping the have-nots,” he explained. “It’s about everyone working together.”

Last year’s participants hailed from more than 100 synagogues (all denominations from Reform to Orthodox to Reconstructionist), churches, schools, offices and clubs, as well as hundreds of individuals and families. They worked on almost 150 different projects from Acton to Anaheim.

As book captain, Racelle Schaefer, a Temple Israel member who has volunteered every year, spends months organizing book drives at schools.

“We also get donations of new children’s books from Houghton Mifflin,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 8,000 books throughout the city on Big Sunday.”

Corporate, private and organizational donors underwrite the day, including Temple Israel. The budget this year is $450,000. The city’s participation will include providing security, busing and street closures. Additional donors are both welcomed and needed, Levinson said.

“I have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay for it this year,” he added. “It’s a cliff-hanger, but we always figure something out.”

An improved Web site will make coordination easier. Volunteers can click on a listed project and get an automatic confirmation, map, contact person and any special instructions.

“I see Big Sunday as an appetizer platter for volunteers,” said Sherry Marks, vice chair and volunteer coordinator. “There are hundreds of worthy nonprofits that need our people. If you wanted, you could start at 7 a.m. and work at four or five different sites during the day.

“You could make meals at a shelter, take senior citizens out to tea or provide makeovers for women who are re-entering the work force,” she continued. “[The volunteering] often works as a catalyst, getting people to make an ongoing commitment to a particular organization.”

For more information visit www.bigsunday.org


Angels in America

Angels are everywhere in America these days, and a lot of them are tacky. When I was growing up you saw them once a year, adorning Christmas trees. Since then they’ve swarmed across the thin border that divides religious imagery from kitsch. Gift shops stock angel T-shirts, angel bookends, angel-print pillowcases and little angel wings to attach to your pet chihuahua.

Rarely a week goes by without an angel-themed book on the best seller list, and Hollywood has fallen into step with shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Joan of Arcadia” and this season’s “The Book of Daniel.”

But this week’s cover story celebrates not make-believe angels, but real live ones.

Jews and angels, it turns out, have a complicated relationship. We borrowed the notion from the Sumerians, the good folks who clued us in on the serpent, the Flood, the ark and writing. The Hebrew word for angel is malach, which means “messenger.” In Jewish lore, these messengers shape-shift between the godlike and the human, not just from era to era, but from reference to reference. In Genesis, Hagar encounters an angel, then later refers to “the Lord” who spoke to her. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but an angel of heaven intervenes to stay his hand.

In other passages, angels take the form of men, visiting Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac; then visiting Sodom to warn Lot to flee before destroying the city. In one of the most physical manifestations, an angel wrestles with Jacob, leaving him wounded. Reading the Bible, you are left with no clear notion of the Hebrew angels: Are they flesh and blood or the voice of God? Are they dreamed of or three-dimensional? The biblical notion of the angel is amorphous, open to argument, hardly the stuff of T-shirts.

In post-biblical literature, angels multiply. Scholars attribute this in part to the influence of other wisdom traditions on Jewish thought in Hellenistic times. By the Middle Ages, Jewish magic and angels were intertwined. By one estimate, the world of medieval Jewish mysticism counted as many as 496,000 angels.

“Houses and cities, winds and seasons,” writes Joshua Trachtenberg in “Jewish Magic and Superstition” (Penn, 2004), “each speck of dust underfoot … no thing in nature exists independently of its … heavenly ‘deputy.'”

Christians got angels from Jews. We meanwhile have all but sloughed off our belief in heavenly intermediaries. With the exception of smallish sects, most Jews see angels not as guardians from above, but as metaphor for the power of our souls, something akin to what that great Chasid Abraham Lincoln posited in his inauguration speech when he spoke of, “the better angels of our nature.”

This special issue of The Jewish Journal recognizes and celebrates those better angels.

Originally we were taken with the idea of the lamed vavniks, the 36. In Jewish lore, these are the 36 people who walk the earth anonymously, pure souls engaged in holy work, whose unique goodness is all that stands between humankind and God’s harsh judgment.

But — here’s the truth — we knew we wouldn’t have enough room in this issue for 36 profiles. The cruel realities of ad pages knocked 26 righteous people off the list.

Ten was the next-best number, because 10 was the number of decent people Abraham offered to find in Sodom to save the town from God’s wrath. Ten people — in this context we chose to consider families as one — going about their lives in humble goodness could indeed change the fate of a People, not to mention a wicked city.

We know that other publications produce annual year-end lists of The 10 Most Powerful or The 10 Hottest New Stars or The 10 Richest. More power to them. But we saw no point in telling people who already know they’re rich, or gorgeous, or powerful, that they are.

The people we chose to profile inside undoubtedly know that they are making a positive difference in people’s lives. They know they are doing so not because that’s their job, not because they have to, but because in helping others, they attend to the better angels of their nature. Some people may buy ceramic angels, and others might believe that angels watch out for them, but these people are compelled to intervene to improve the lives of others — to be the angels that humans have long imagined should exist.

Consider Jennifer Chadorchi, a 20-something Beverly Hills resident who has provided thousands of homeless men and women with food and social services. Or Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen, whose Pico-Robertson home serves as a collection and distribution center for goods to needy families.

Or consider Saul Kroll, 87, a retiree who volunteers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 35 to 40 hours per week. He’s been doing that since 1987, logging some 24,400 hours. Sometimes he takes a day off to drive his 90-year-old neighbor to the doctor to receive cancer treatments. “Don’t tell someone, ‘OK, call me if you need help,'” Kroll says. “Just go on over and help.”

Now, that’s an angel.


The Americans Who Fought for Israel

This coming attraction will soon be playing in Los Angeles, but for the moment, you’ll have to go to the University of Florida in Gainesville to see a new exhibit honoring those from the United States and Canada who fought for Israel’s independence in the 1940s.

The central display of the Aliyah Bet and Machal Museum, which opens formally this week, commemorates the deeds of the two groups of volunteers for whom the museum is named. The Aliyah Bet portion honors the 240 North Americans who manned rickety ships and ran the British blockade to bring Holocaust survivors and refugees to Palestine between 1946 and 1948, in a clandestine operation. Among the 12 ships was the famed “Exodus 1947.”

Machal is the Hebrew acronym for volunteers from abroad, or the “Anglo-Saxim,” as they were informally called. About 1,000 North American men and women made their way to the nascent state to serve in the air force, navy and army. Most of the volunteers were World War II veterans and the combat-seasoned fighter pilots who, in particular, formed the backbone of the fledgling Israeli air force.

Early next year, a West Coast replica of the Florida exhibit will be installed at the University of Judaism in Bel Air.

The contributions of the North American volunteers were acknowledged by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in words engraved in the Machal Memorial at the gateway to Jerusalem.

“They came to us when we needed them most, during those hard and uncertain days of the War of Independence.”

Alongside is another inscription from the Book of Joshua: “All those of valor shall pass armed among your brethren, and shall help them.”

In addition to the North Americans, some 2,500 volunteers from 40 countries served in Machal.

The museum is housed in the university’s new Hillel building. It consists of cabinets framing seven large and seven small panels. In documents, graphics and text, the exhibit documents the history of Zionism and American support, arms acquisition and the recruitment of volunteers: Aliyah Bet and navy service; and Machal volunteers in the Israel Defense Forces.

The final panel commemorates the 40 North Americans who were killed in action, among them Col. David “Mickey” Marcus and seven Christian volunteers.

The Los Angeles exhibit, organized by Dr. Jason Fenton, will add an eighth panel on the contributions of some 450 volunteers from the West Coast, and those who “illegally” provided Israel with desperately needed arms and aircraft.

“We are honored to accept the Aliyah Bet/Machal display and we are delighted to provide a permanent home for these historic panels,” said Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism.

Some 100 surviving Aliyah Bet and Machal veterans and their families are expected at the dedication ceremonies, scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20 at the Hillel building.

Main speakers will be Yitschak Ben Gad, the Israeli consul general in Miami, and Ira Feinberg, president of the American Veterans of Israel, the organization that sponsored the $100,000 project. They will be joined by Dr. Ralph L. Lowenstein, dean emeritus of the College of Journalism and Communication on the Gainesville campus, and director of the new museum.

Lowenstein has been the chief catalyst in the creation of the museum and also established the Aliyah Bet and Machal Archives at the University of Florida. An award-winning reporter and author, he fought with an armored unit in Israel as an 18-year-old volunteer, and later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

“The North American Jewish communities made important contributions to the establishment of the Jewish state,” Lowenstein said. “This story is not well known in America or Israel. Now, with the establishment of the museums on both coasts, this story is being told.”

A letter in the exhibit summarizes the spirit of the volunteers..

“If anything should ever happen to me, I shall not be sorry that I have come to Eretz Israel,” wrote Ralph Moster, a 24-year-old from Vancouver, Canada, who wrote his mother in June 1948. “I am grateful to you for having brought me into the world at a time that I have a chance to fight for a free land for the Jews.”

Six months later, Moster was killed in action.

For more information on the museum, visit www.israelvets.com.


Kids Page

Catch a Wave

There’s nothing better than spending a hot summer day at the beach. Sink your toes in that golden sand and surf those blue waves.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s hit the beach!

Sea That?

What will you find at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium?

The following words all start with the word sea:

Sea + It shines in the sky and on the movie screen __ __ __ __

Sea + A cool, green vegetable __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Sea + UR + part of your face __ __ __ __ __ __

We’re Cleaning Up!

Heal the Bay invites you to leave “Nothin’ but Sand” on the beach.

Come to Santa Monica Beach on Aug. 20, 10 a.m.-noon.

Park in lot 4S at 2030 Barnard Way and meet other volunteers at the north end of the lot at the end of Bay Street. Get involved. Help clean up our beaches!

Beachy Beatles

The Fab Four wrote many incredible songs about all sorts of people and places. Can you think of two Beatles songs that have to do with the sea? You might want to ask mom or dad for help with this one — but beware, they just might start singing.


L.A.’s ‘Big’ Sunday

Between 35,000 and 40,000 people spent Sunday, May 15 at Woodley Park in Van Nuys for the annual Israel Independence Day festival.

The festival’s early afternoon main event featuring pro-Israel speeches and politicians lasted exactly one hour; on the last note of “The Star-Spangled Banner” skydivers appeared above. “The coincidence was amazing,” festival executive director Yoram Gutman said.

In the late afternoon, more than 7,000 people crowded the festival’s main stage to hear Israeli pop superstar Sarit Hadad. Fire marshals had difficulty clearing fans from the aisles.

About 256 vendors served up food, drink and ideology to a crowd free of violence, crime and medical problems, although one young girl fainted.

Also competing for the attention of Jewish Los Angeles was Big Sunday, a citywide Jewish volunteer project that grew out of Mitzvah Day at Temple Israel of Hollywood. More than 8,000 volunteers from 140 Jewish and non-Jewish institutions helped the blind, planted trees, cleaned up trash and painted kids’ faces.

Piles of plastic bags sat in a corner of Temple Israel’s parking garage, each filled with donated clothes. “We had mountains of bags and boxes of clothing,” said Jackie Simon, the general studies coordinator at the synagogue’s day school, who added that Westwood’s Sinai Temple also was a drop-off point for Big Sunday clothes.

Now in its seventh year, Big Sunday this year received a $25,000 donation from Toyota, plus clothing donated by the Indigo and Lucky Brand lines, Big Sunday chair David Levinson said.

Other shuls participating in Big Sunday included Temple Beth Am, Temple Beth Haverim, Beth Jacob Congregation, Beth Shir Sholom, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Temple Isaiah, Congregation Kol Ami, Temple Knesset Israel of Hollywood, Leo Baeck Temple and Congregation Shaarei Tefila, plus The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, UCLA’s Hillel, KOREH L.A. and Shalhevet High School.


Holiday of Freedom Spent Behind Bars

The high concrete walls of the little-used cafeteria at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles hardly spoke to Passover’s concept of freedom found and bondage ended. But this is where a dozen inmates gathered for their seder, in a setting that cried out Egypt rather than the promised land.
Rabbi Yossi Carron, the jail’s Jewish chaplain, held up a sprig of parsley to redefine the bleak surroundings.
“This is a real great symbol for you,” the Reform rabbi said. “I really want you to believe in the green parts of yourself. This symbol is you.”
The Jewish inmates listened — as they were watched by five sheriff’s deputies. Also on hand were four male and five female volunteers, along with a non-Jewish inmate and a former neo-Nazi skinhead who says he wants to convert. Eight other inmates had signed up for the two-hour ceremony on Thursday, two days before the official holiday, but three had been released and five were unavailable because of pending court proceedings.
A young Filipina was there to help the oldest volunteer, a 95-year-old woman who moved very, very slowly with a walker.
“She came in a wheelchair last year,” Carron said. “She’s been coming for 40 years.”
These aren’t the Jews who get ink for going to prison, better-known cons include Wall Street financial scammers and the like.
The inmates at this seder don’t get much attention, except perhaps from Carron. Jail rules even prohibit journalists from talking to the prisoners or mentioning their names.
No singing of “Dayenu” or hearing a rabbi tell the inmates that “everybody’s in prison somehow” could negate the blinding reality of being in one of the largest brigs in the world — a very violent place. High on one wall were rows of windowpanes, of which 17 were smashed.
Among the celebrants, there were one or two Russian accents plus two more voices bearing Sephardic lilts. All the congregants were color-coded: The three wearing blue jumpsuits were from the jail’s general population; another five wore a combo yellow-and-blue jumpsuit, from the psychiatric ward; four more wore the light aqua of the homosexual unit. The one inmate wearing red — a Dr. Demento look-alike with a gray ponytail — bore the scarlet of a sexual predator. He’s spent the last five Passovers behind bars.
The red-clad inmate arrived in a wheelchair. He gave his chair to the 95-year-old volunteer and then sat at the table.
The deputies stood watchfully at the door. Physical contact such as hugging was kept to a minimum. Trying to keep the mood festive, Carron sang some of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” prompting a deputy to ask his colleagues: “This is Jewish music?”
Later, Carron sang a bit of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”
When invited to speak during the seder, all but one inmate did so. Like testimonials at a Baptist tent revival, they talked of how long they’d been “down,” or serving time. For one inmate it was “three months shy of three years.”
A Sephardic-accented inmate said he had been down for two months this year, but did a 10-month stint last year. His interlude of freedom was not particularly spiritual.
“I really don’t get a chance to [pray] when I’m on the outside,” he said.
A young psychiatric-warder, with a tattoo covering the back of his neck, said, “Just coming down the hall, I got a little emotional.”
The former neo-Nazi skinhead — and would-be Jewish convert —said he’s discovered “German Jewish blood in me.”
The deputies were skeptical; they’re wise to inmate scamming. This one, they said, lives in the jail’s homosexual unit, not because he considers himself gay, but because “gay time” is less violent. They also speculate that he wanted a good meal.
The meal was Passover worthy: matzah ball soup, pot roast, kugel, chicken, even gefilte fish. Grape juice filled in for wine.
There was no mistaking the sincerity in the voice of a heavyset inmate with a Russian accent who appeared to be in his 20s. He wore a shiny purple kippah, given to him by Carron.
“I’ve been down about a year,” he said. “All I wanted actually was this kippah. I was praying to get this kippah.”
The deputies seemed to believe him.

Little-Known Givers Have Big Hearts


Robert Rosenthal, a self-described “typical Jewish boy from Manhattan,” sometime bull rider and country music addict, has morphed into the godfather of entertainment at military bases across the United States.

He is among the many Angeleno volunteers and philanthropists, often little known, who are the propelling forces behind notable enterprises both in this country and Israel. The Journal recently interviewed both Rosenthal and another “propelling force” — investment manager David Polak.

Rosenthal’s transformation began when, as a kid, he worked one summer on a dude ranch in Arizona. Although he did all the dirty work, he never got over the experience. He entered rodeos, studied ranch management and never went out without his Stetson hat.

In the 1960s, after Army service, he moved to Studio City and became a successful entertainment lawyer. He retired a few years ago.

Always an ardent patriot, after Sept. 11, Rosenthal felt strongly that he had to do something constructive. When he learned that in contrast to USO shows for troops overseas, there was no similar entertainment at stateside bases, he suggested to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that something be done to close the gap.

Rumsfeld thought it was a neat idea, but let it be known that the mechanics and expenses would have to be borne by public-spirited citizens — such as Rosenthal.

Drawing on his professional background, show biz contacts and family foundation, Rosenthal, now 68, and his wife, Nina, set up the Spirit of America Tour project.

As a first step, he went to Nashville, the country music capital, invited managers and agents of some of the biggest acts and asked them to list dates when their performers were not tied up with commercial gigs.

Then, slashing Pentagon red tape as he went along, Rosenthal coordinated the dates with commanders of Army, Navy and Air Force bases and staging areas across the country.

Without a staff, the Rosenthals have created a show circuit that a professional impresario might well envy. They started with five concerts and shows in 2002, escalating to 18 in 2003 and 21 last year.

Their most frequent and popular performers have been country music stars Clint Black, Charlie Daniels and Travis Tritt. Other favorites have been Blood, Sweat and Tears, David Clayton-Thomas and comedian Dennis Miller.

The entertainers work without fees (though Rosenthal covers their expenses), and the audiences, including families of soldiers and sailors, never pay a penny.

Rosenthal attends all shows west of the Mississippi, while his Nashville liaison, Cathy Gurley, does the same for the eastern part of the country.

By now, Rosenthal has become known as a “one-stop shopping center” for artists who want to entertain the troops.

“Their agents know exactly whom to call,” he said.

Rosenthal, who also put in a stint in the 1960s as a documentary and feature filmmaker (including “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me”) is a man of many interests.

Among the beneficiaries of his volunteer work and money have been Maccabi USA, Professional Bull Riders and Los Angeles Junior Ballet. He has also served on the California Boxing Commission.

As for his present fulltime Spirit of America endeavor, Rosenthal comments, “When you hear 15,000 military cheering an act, that’s the biggest reward. We live in the greatest country in the world, and I feel privileged to do something for it.”

David Polak heads a major investment management firm in Century City, whose shrewdest bet may have been on the brains of an Israeli professor.

Some 10 years ago, Polak and his wife Janet, longtime supporters of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, decided to endow a research chair in the life sciences at the Haifa-based institution.

They consulted with then Technion president Zeev Tadmor, who suggested one of his most promising scientists, Aaron Ciechanover, as the first incumbent of the new chair.

The Polaks were on a cruise last October and while surfing the Internet pulled up a news item that Ciechanover had just been named as the 2004 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, together with his Technion colleague Avram Hershko, and American Irwin A. Rose of UC Irvine.

“We were exhilarated,” recalled David Polak, “and we immediately e-mailed our congratulations.”

The Technion professors are the first Israeli Nobelists in the sciences and with Rose shared the $1.35 million prize. They were recognized for their research on the regulatory process taking place inside human cells, a discovery leading to the development of drugs against cancer and degenerative diseases.

On receiving word of the award, Ciechanover noted, “I don’t think our work could have been done without the help and support of the Polaks and the American Technion Society.”

Polak, who supports numerous other Jewish and Israeli causes, will be reunited with the Israeli scientists in June, when the Technion dedicates the new David and Janet Polak Center for Cancer Research and Vascular Biology.

An MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) engineering graduate, Polak said that his support of the Technion is based on his concern for the growth and survival of Israel.

“Israel’s main asset is its brainpower and the Technion provides this raw material for a high-wage industry,” he said. “The country’s export economy and national security depend on technologically trained men and women.”


Big Sunday, Big Turnout

Sunday, May 2 was also Big Sunday in Los Angeles, as 5,000 volunteers from more than 100 different synagogues, churches, Buddhist temples, schools and other groups participated in about 145 social service projects around the region.

Temple Israel of Hollywood, which originated the event, was one of the sponsors, along with such large organizations as the Annenberg Foundation, Toyota, Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary and Northern Trust Bank. Numerous other businesses and groups also participated.

The event drew double the participation as last year’s,
said co-organizer David Levinson. Members from Hope Lutheran Church,
Congregation Kol Ami and St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, among many
others, participated in projects ranging from feeding the homeless to cleaning
the beach and helping out at an AIDS hospice. For more information, visit www.bigsunday.org .

Lending a Hand at a Community Seder

I’m spending Passover in Chicago — home of the Cubs, the
Bears and the whole Davis mishpachah (family). Mom’s serving up chopped liver,
chicken soup, matzah balls, matzah kugel, gefilte fish — and those are just the
appetizers. We’ll drink wine, read the haggadah and belt out our never-ending
version of “Chad Gadya.”

It’ll be a feast of freedom, family and what else — food.
One of my favorite holidays, Pesach does more than bring loved ones together,
it brings us together with spirit.

As an L.A. transplant, I don’t always make it home for the
holiday. I’ve stayed in SoCal and sedered with friends, friend’s parents, even
my rabbi.

But the first year after my UCLA graduation, I found myself
sederless. My friends went home, Hillel was full and I couldn’t afford a
synagogue seder on my assistant’s salary. I couldn’t buy a box of matzah
without a coupon, let alone drop a Ben or two for a hard-boiled egg at a pricey
shul. I asked for a discount, but even half price was half too much.

I cried. I called my parents. I cried again. Spending
Passover alone was devastating. The story of Exodus seems far less sweet when
it’s just you and a jar of gefilte fish.

I’ve since learned that no one needs to go without a seder.
For 26 years, Jewish Family Service (JFS) has hosted community seders.
Sponsored by JFS’ Clarence Gerber Memorial Passover program and B’nai B’rith,
the events are a haven for people with few funds or far away families.

For just $3 a person, seniors, students, immigrants,
single-parent families, HIV/AIDS patients and anyone feeling lonely at the
holiday can attend seders at one of three sites.

Having been sederless once myself, I decided to lend a hand
at the Etz Jacob location last Sunday. Two-hundred-and-forty guests, mostly
seniors, arrived at noon. Alongside 30 other volunteers, I poured grape juice,
waited tables and most importantly, pointed out the bathrooms.

The Etz Jacob seder was just one of many L.A. community
seders open to seniors, immigrants, single parents, and those in need. JFS and
B’nai B’rith sponsored two additional pre-passover seders at Temple Beth Am and
Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus. The Jewish Single Parent Network held a
potluck seder on second night, USC Hillel held a free arts seder on April 8,
and The Workman’s Circle will conduct a seder in Russian, Yiddish and English
on April 11. Many synagogues also offered a match program, where host
congregants opened their own homes to those without a seder.

To ensure everyone felt welcome, the Etz Jacob seder was
conducted in Yiddish, Russian and English. Even the haggadahs were

At first, the guests seemed to listen more than participate.
But once we rounded Dayenu, those seniors let loose. They were singing and
clapping, even tapping their feet. Most seemed delighted by the afternoon.

“Such a mitzvah.” “Such big matzah balls.” “This cake’s so
good, I’m wrapping some up in my napkin for later.”

Still other guests did some kvetching. “The room’s too hot.”
“The water’s not cold.” “Where’s the tea?”

And I’m glad they did. To me, their complaints meant we
provided a seder that felt so much like home, our guests made themselves at
home. They felt comfortable enough to speak their minds.

While serving one table, I spilled a bowl of chicken soup.
It hit the floor, so technically no guests or polyester pantsuits were damaged.
Still, one man called me a “clumsy fool.” The woman next to him gave him a

“It was an accident,” she said. “But maybe if she wasn’t so
skinny, it wouldn’t have happened.”

I couldn’t stop smiling. And not just because I suddenly
felt thin. I knew these guests were celebrating the holiday like they would
have at their own seder tables — sitting with friends, speaking in Yiddish,
kvelling about the rabbi, complaining about the heat and retelling the story of
Exodus as they had so many times before. It was no longer a charity seder in a
big ballroom, it was just their seder.

The Passover haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry enter
and eat, and all who are in distress come and celebrate the Passover.” It’s
nice to know that people in Los Angeles are doing more than just reading those
words. Â

Hello, Israel Calling

Phones will be ringing in at least 5,000 Jewish homes around Orange County on March 14, when volunteers pitch in to help raise money for O.C.’s Jewish Federation, the umbrella fundraising organization that helps support a dozen Jewish agencies.

This year, though, Super Sunday dialing will be divvied up between about 75 local volunteers punching numbers in the morning from the Costa Mesa campus and Israelis, who will take the afternoon shift from across several time zones.

"It’s very special to get a call from Israel," said Marc Miller, who is campaign chair for the Federation, which develops programs to foster ties between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. "I think it will change the dynamic of conversation."

"There is a substantial cost savings between using the Israel call center and renting extra lines for the Federation," campaign director Alissa Duel said. Several other federations have also tapped the call center provided by the IDC Corp., which is based in Newark, N.J. The 14-year-old company provides international phone service at a flat rate.

"Here’s an innovative way to build bonds with Israel" and give support to its ailing economy, Miller said.

Miller’s fundraising goal is to surpass last year’s record $2.25 million Federation campaign by 10 percent.

Pledge Storm Hits Federation

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles had a super Super Sunday, ringing up pledges of $4.5 million, or $800,000 more than last year.

"The volunteers were amazing, and, to tell you the truth, it was raining and more people were at home," said Craig Prizant, senior vice president of financial resource development for The Federation. "I think people are really feeling positive about what we’re doing."

Super Sunday’s strong showing comes on the heels of The Federation raising $1 million more in the 2003 General Campaign than one year earlier, he said.

In both instances, the improving economy made people more willing to open their wallets, Prizant said. But changes in the way The Federation raises money also has helped.

During Super Sunday, volunteers and staff spent more time on the phone discussing, in depth, The Federation’s various programs, Prizant said. Armed with the information, potential donors felt more comfortable as they knew the ways the money would benefit Jews both here and abroad, he said.

Prizant also credited the new lay leadership at The Federation for Super Sunday’s success. Federation chair Harriet Hochman, General Campaign chair Laurie Konheim and Women’s Campaign chair Sharon Janks worked tirelessly, personally greeting volunteers and making everyone feel at home. The trio also knows many of the big machers in the community and leveraged their contacts to help raise additional money, Prizant said.

An estimated 400 volunteers worked at The Federation’s office in midtown, another 400 staffed phones in the San Fernando Valley and 300 participated in the South Bay.

In Los Angeles, a coffee cart from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was wheeled around so volunteers could take a break, catch up with friends and network. The mood was festive, but focused.

In the Valley calling stations circled three rows deep around the George Gregory Family Gymnasium at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills. Teens ran completed pledge sheets from volunteers placing calls to those entering the donations on laptops set up around the gym, dodging brimming food carts along the way.

At 11:30 a.m., the scoreboard high above the crowded gym floor flashed the day’s first tally of more than $200,000. At 9 p.m., The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance closed Super Sunday with $1.7 million in donations, exceeding last year’s total of $1.58 million.

Many of the 1,000 volunteers who braved the rain throughout the day were pleased to discover that the inclement weather ensured more people were home to take the call.

"Rain is good," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who was among four public officials placing calls at the Valley location. "Maybe that’s the contribution from a higher power to The Jewish Federation."

City Councilman Dennis Zine, whose 3rd District is home to both the Valley Alliance and Jewish Home for the Aging, scored a substantial gift for The Federation early on.

"A donor who had given $1,000 in 2003 gave $10,000 this year," he said.

Sitting next to Zine, 2nd District City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel took pledges while her newborn son, Thomas, sat in her lap chewing on the phone cord.

"This is my first time. I’m so impressed with the number of people here," she said. "My son is going to be raised Jewish and I’m looking forward to being part of this community."

"Super Sunday has become not just a fundraising enterprise, it’s really the community reconnecting with itself in a fundamental way," said 3rd District County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was doing double duty after opening the day at 6505 Wilshire. "This is the organized Jewish community reaching out and touching individual Jews and Jewish families in our community."

For Carole Koransky, this year marks her 20th Super Sunday and her first as the Valley Alliance’s new executive director, having started the position on Feb. 2.

"We finished a really great campaign in the Valley in 2003, and we’re just primed to jump even higher," she said. "We know how much is needed and how much we have to do, and we feel we are in really good shape to be doing it."

"Our general campaign last year was $7.2 million from the Valley Alliance," Valley Alliance President Ken Warner said. "We’re hoping to beat that, to get to an $8 million figure, which we’ll be thrilled with."

With the state facing a budget shortfall this year, Warner expects that the increase will likely go toward helping to make up for cuts in social service funding.

"We’re trying the best we can to pick up as much of that slack as possible," he said.

Not Only on Sunday

Bailey Silverman and Rebecca Namm are in many ways typical teenagers. The best friends like to go to the mall, hang out with pals and talk on the phone.

But come Super Sunday, Feb. 22, the two Milken Community High School juniors will undertake the very adult mission of raising money for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its 15 beneficiary agencies, including Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service and Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. During Super Sunday, the girls will supervise a group of high school and college students in the San Fernando Valley who will call Jews throughout the Southland to make The Federation’s annual fundraising extravaganza just that much more super.

"I feel that I’ve been lucky my whole life to have support and not be in the situation that some Jews are in, like with poverty and homelessness," said Encino resident Silverman, who, with Namm, co-chairs the Valley’s Super Sunday After Dark, a program that has teen and young-adult volunteers work the last session and then celebrate with an after-party. "It makes me feel good to give back."

Silverman and Namm will be joined by hundreds of volunteers at the Bernard Milken JCC in West Hills, The Federation’s Mid-Wilshire headquarters and in a Redondo Beach hotel. They hope to raise up to $5 million in 12 hours.

However, this year’s Super Sunday comes at a time when government funding for Jewish agencies is drying up because of budget deficits, and the soft economy has made some potential donors reluctant to open their wallets. Those dark clouds notwithstanding, volunteers remain optimistic and energized.

"Super Sunday puts a public face on The Federation," said Jill Namm, the Valley’s Super Sunday co-chair and Rebecca Namm’s mother. "This is our community building day."

Lee Rosenblum, a former campaign director at The Federation, attributed Super Sunday’s effectiveness to its ability to touch people on a personal level, if only by phone. By contrast, mail solicitations all too often end up in the trash.

Gerald Bubis, a former Federation board member, said he liked Super Sunday so much that he thinks The Federation should hold a second one every year. Instead of asking for money, though, volunteers would ask community members if they needed Federation or agency services. Bubis said such "Jew checkups" would foster a sense of community and help The Federation "humanize" itself.

"What I’m suggesting is to reach into hearts and not just into the pocketbook," Bubis said.

At least two-thirds of the nation’s 156 federations hold Super Sundays, which began more than three decades ago as daylong dialathons, said Vicki Agron, senior vice president for financial resource development at United Jewish Communities. Super Sundays have proven so successful that many federations have added Super Mondays, Super Tuesdays, even Super Weeks.

Such is the case at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Last year, the group expanded Super Sunday to include Monday and Tuesday evenings. By calling people over three days instead of just one, last year’s fundraising event raised $1.1 million, $200,000 more than in 2002, said Carol Kaczander, senior campaign associate.

"It increased our opportunities to find people at home," she said, adding that the super days attracted 300 volunteers, the most in at least two decades.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington holds Super Week, which lasts four days. To generate excitement among volunteers, dignitaries such as Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. dropped by recently to schmooze and make calls.

In New England, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston sponsors so-called "Tzedakah Fairs" concurrently with Super Sunday fundraisers. The goal: to bring young families into the Jewish community and cultivate them as future givers.

At the fairs, mothers, fathers and their children receive information on Judaism’s commitment to tikkun olam or healing the world. Children can get into the spirit by decorating brown bags and filling them with food, clothing and other donated items that will be given to homeless shelters and food pantries, said Elyse Hyman, the federation’s director of community building.

Super Sundays, despite their popularity, have limitations. Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, an umbrella body for 800 Jewish family foundations, said the fundraisers are "in the fine tradition of giving a half-shekel to the temple." Although they might succeed in generating money from small donors, Super Sundays typically fall short with big contributors. That’s because it takes more than a cold call to build a fruitful relationship with wealthy individuals, he said.

Irwin Daniels, a former board member of The L.A. Federation, said Super Sunday excites local Jews and helps build community. But, like other Federation fundraisers, Super Sunday might attract even more dollars if professionals handled public relations and advertising instead of lay leaders, he added.

"The Federation hasn’t properly told its story about what services are provided with the money raised and why folks should give," Daniels said. "Many Jews don’t know what it or its agencies do."

None of that is on the mind of Rebecca Namm, the After Dark co-chair.

"I’m excited and a little nervous, but think everything will turn out as planned," she said. "It should be fun."

The Circuit

Juniors Rule!

Rachel Firestone and Michel Grosz, both juniors at Milken Community High School, were among the 26 teenagers across North America to receive 2003 Bronfman Youth Fellowships that entitled them to spend five weeks in Israel this summer. Firestone and Grosz were chosen from 197 applicants. The fellowships were started by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress.

Ladies First

AMIT Los Angeles Council held its annual Mother and Daughter Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The event was co-chaired by Gertrude Fox and Janice Fox-Kauffler. (From left) Sondra Sokal, AMIT national president; honoree Renee Firestone; presenter, Oscar-winning movie producer Branko Lustig (“Gladiator,” “Schindler’s List”); and honoree Klara Firestone.

Kol Rockin’

Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform synagogue, honored Howard Bragman, Marianne Lowenthal and Steve Tyler at a Beverly Hilton gala. (Back row, from left) Rabbi Denise Eger, Alexandra Glickman, Bruce Vilanch, Andrew Ogilvie and Cary Davidson. (Front row, from left) Judith Light, Lowenthal, Tyler and Bragman.

Garden Groove

(From left) Marilyn Ziering; Hanna Khoury, AICF violin scholarship recipient; and Janet and Max Salter. AICF is a privately funded financial supporter for talented Israeli youngsters and cultural institutions.

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation’s (AICF) Los Angeles Chapter held its annual fundraising event at a Beverly Hills garden party and dinner in honor of Max and Janet Salter.

East Coast Represents

Rabbinical students Michoel Lerner, 21, of Brooklyn, and Shmuel Cohen, 20, of Montreal, spent three weeks at a Chabad center in Thousand Oaks training to distribute Jewish resources.

Heavy Medals

A scene from Aviva’s 2003 Triumph of the Human Spirit Award Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (From left) Honoree Wallis Annenberg, Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and honoree and Olympic gold medalist and UCLA softball coach Lisa Fernandez.

Funky Cold Medina

Hashalom, which offers free Jewish education for children in public school, held its third annual banquet. Israeli singer Avihu Medina (“Al Tashlicheni”) and local crooner Pini Cohen performed.

Chai Note

Chai Lifeline’s 4-year-old West Coast office will now be known as the Sohacheski Family Center, in honor of benefactors Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski. (From left) Marilyn and Jamie Sohacheski receive a plaque from Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline, and Randi Grossman, West Coast regional director.

Boat Trip

Some 75 singles strapped on their sea legs for Aish Los Angeles’ sunset cruise aboard the RegentSea, one of FantaSea Yacht Club’s sailing vessels. The four-hour Marina del Rey cruise featured games and a dinner under the stars.

Ink Tank

This year, Jewish journalism’s big night took place in our own backyard — make that backlot.

The Grill at Universal Studios served as backdrop for the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) annual conference’s 2003 Awards Banquet, where the prestigious Simon Rockower Awards were presented. This was the first Los Angeles visit of the AJPA conference, with The Journal welcoming 140 editors and journalists — representing Jewish newspapers nationwide — to the Beverly Hilton for industry-related symposiums.

“It’s been a wonderful year,” said Mark Arnold, the newest publisher of the 26-year-old Jewish Journal of North of Boston.

The conference offered some charged discussions. Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman moderated “Screen Shots: Pop Culture, Hollywood and The Jews,” a lively exchange between entertainment industry liaison Donna Bojarsky; screenwriter Andrea King; Endeavor Agency partner and former Jewish Federation Entertainment Division Chair David Lonner; and “Sex & The City” creator Darren Star. Panelists discussed the paradoxal tightrope of working in a Jewish-built, Jewish-dominated business that tends to shun Jewish culture in favor of other ethnic stories.

“The Jewish community is completely separate from the Hollwyood community,” observed Bojarsky on Jewish Los Angeles’ divide.

Lonner blamed Tinseltown’s “narcissistic society” as the reason why many Hollywood Jews do not explore or support issues pertaining to Israel.

“It’s just not as important in their day-to-day world,” Lonner said. “It’s all Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.”

Star joked that Hollywood Jews are “too busy getting behind France like Woody Allen,” then observed, with seriousness, “as much as they’re Jews, they do not want to be defined by their Jewishness.”

The panel acknowledged a palpable stigma surrounding telling Jewish stories. King could see why Hollywood does not find Jews courting Jews romantic comedy fodder.

“As a writer,” she said, “I can see how it’s more interesting to have two characters on ’30-Something’ having the Christmas tree/menorah debate rather than two people making latkes together.”

A Jewish-Latino relations panel found writer Gregory Rodriguez walking his Jewish audience through issues affecting Latinos via the prism of the Mexican American immigrant experience. Beginning with the mestizo (“mixed heritage”) origins of Mexicans, Rodriguez compared and contrasted his group with the Jewish community.

“Jews are the most highly organized ethnicity in America,” he said, before expressing his frustration with polite, pro forma Jewish-Latino dialogues, and Los Angeles’ Jewish elite as power players reluctant to own up to its profound socio-political influence.

“If we can’t discuss Jews honestly,” he said, “that does a disservice to everybody.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency Editor Lisa Hostein presided over the Rockowers with Awards Committee chair Neil Rubin. Up-and-coming comedian Joel Chasnoff kept the audience plotzing. Keynote speaker Alvin Shuster, senior consulting editor for banquet sponsor, the Los Angeles Times, was “definitely impressed by this cross section of talent.” AJPA President Aaron Cohen won the Joseph Polakoff Award and a raffle prize. Among 2003’s multiple winners was The Journal — congratulations to Managing Editor Amy Klein (“Sin”); contributing writer Gaby Wenig (“Jerusalem Mayor Visit Sparks Snub”); and Art Director Carvin Knowles, whose cover designs won first place in the “Excellence in Illustration” category.

A Buttons-Down Affair

Comedian and Oscar-winning actor Red Buttons with Ruta Lee at the annual fundraiser for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center support group, The Thalians, which also included Debbie Reynolds, Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor.

Students Score

Downey B’nai B’rith Lodge 1112 awarded Al Perlus scholarship awards of $50 to five outstanding area high school students: Edith Moreno of South Gate High School, Carlos Avelar of Bell High School, Juan Pasillas of Huntington Park High School, Roselyn Ithiratanasoonthorn of Downey High School and Franchesca Gonzales of Warren High School. n

Love, American Technion

A total of 44 American Technion Society supporters took part in the organization’s annual mission to Israel. Among the participants pledging a total of $6 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology at its Mount Carmel campus in Haifa: Inga Behr of Pasadena, Rodica and Paul Burg of Palos Verdes Estates, Chuck Levin of Beverly Hills, and Sherry Altura and Rita and Steve Emerson of Los Angeles.

Medical Mission

Dr. Lawrence Libuser of Marina del Rey was among a group of doctors and volunteer medical personnel sent on a mission to aid refugees in Ghana. The United Nations-run refugee camp has over 50,000 people, most natives of Liberia. The medical envoy will treat as many of these refugees as possible during their summer mission.

Wise Guys

Youth volunteers from the Stephen S. Wise Temple Summer Camps volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission. (From left) Lily Tash, Loren Berman and Alex Alpert.

A Syn’s Big Win

Shomrei Torah Synagogue of West Hills won the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) Solomon Schecter Award for Excellence. The award will be presented at a USCJ convention to be held in Dallas in October.

Bank’s Boost

From left) Dan Meiri, regional director of Bank Leumi USA-California, celebrates with Bank Leumi supporters Jan Czuker and Max Webb the American subsidiary’s second quarter upswing — a yield of $9.5 million in net income; an increase of 2.2 percent from 2002’s second quarter.

Flag Day Fete

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary dedicated a monument with Jewish War Veterans (JWV) in honor of Flag Day. Participating (from left) Jerry King, color guard; Ralph Leventhal, past JWV department commander; Lt. Col. Rabbi Alan Lachtman of Temple Beth Torah of Temple City; Steve Rosmarin, past California JWV commander; Mark Freidman, CEO of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary; California JWV Commander Odas Flake; and Mel Margolis, color guard.


Donors Gary (far left) and Karen Winnick (second from right) congratulate the first researchers to receive the Winnick Family Clinical Scholar title at the naming of the Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Daniel Cohn, PhD, (second from left), an expert in the genetic causes of dwarfism, bone development and short stature; and Kidney Transplant Program Director Stanley Jordan, MD, (far right). The third Winnick Clinical Scholar, human autoimmune disease specialist Sandra McLachlan, PhD, is not pictured. The Winnick Family Clinical Research Center at Cedars-Sinai is primarily engaged in translating human genome research into treatment against a gamut of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Mission to Argentina

Last month, seven Los Angeles rabbis and five community leaders traveled to Argentina for a whirlwind 72-hour trip. The mission, organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, helped them gain firsthand knowledge of the crisis in Argentina. Upon their return to Los Angeles, the leaders have begun promoting the Federation’s Lifeline to Argentina campaign, a $1 million challenge grant matching every dollar raised. Below are some of their thoughts and photos of the trip.

“We all promised this Jewish family of ours that we in Los Angeles — whose lives are so blessed — would not forget them. At our final meeting we were able to visit the now-abandoned Jewish community center (one of several that has had to close) that is currently used for only one purpose — a unique “community pharmacy” that the Tzedaka Foundation and JDC run to provide free medicine for those in need. We watched in awe as a combination of paid and volunteer pharmacists showed us how they process 16,000 prescriptions a month that literally are keeping the Jewish people alive.” — Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation

“One of our most memorable experiences was a visit to a nonsectarian soup kitchen sponsored by the JDC. Downstairs, JDC staff and volunteers serve a hot meal each day to children who live in the local shantytown. Upstairs, their mothers learn to weave colorful fabrics into clothing to provide a meager income for their families. Amid the pain and suffering, the JDC brings a message of hope as it carries out its mission of tikkun olam.” — Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president, Board of Rabbis

“I was most moved by the unity and cooperation between the various movements and denominations within the Argentine Jewish community. I did not feel the polarity that exists here between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy. The Argentine community is a great example of how crisis brings people together and breeds innovation and fosters unity. There is a lot we can learn and emulate from the Argentine Jewish community.” — Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Sephardic Temple Tifererth Israel

“For me, the highlight of the trip was to see the creativity the Jewish community has used to address the problem of decreasing enrollment in Jewish schools because of the poverty. They responded by building afternoon schools where they feed children a hot lunch and then offer a variety of Jewish and secular programs in a Jewish environment. Such a program is Morasha, organized by the Orthodox community of Buenos Aires. It serves 1,200 students and reaches out to the entire spectrum of Jews.” — Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Young Israel of Century City