Focus Attention

“After reflecting for a few painful and difficult days, I feel I should address some mistatements I made (“Uncertain Time for Likud in America”, 1/13/06).” Rather than spending precious resources on the symptoms of intermarriage, I was trying to focus attention on support for Israel as a basis of instilling Jewish identity.

The Jewish lay leaders and rabbis I know wholeheartedly love and support Israel and are instilling Jewish identity in our entire diverse community. In addition, all Jews, no matter what their sexual orientation, as well as Jews by choice, are sincere and dedicated Jews and should be respected. I sincerely apologize for the comments reflecting otherwise.

Myles L. Berman
Los Angeles

Great Cover

I applaud your great cover of Jan. 6 (“L.A.’s Top 10 Menches). It does not matter to me if you call these outstanding examples “menchen” or “menches.” What I find very important is that your cover and inside story focused on people doing great things for others.

Many times I find that the covers reflect a sensational aspect more in keeping with a magazine at a market checkout stand, than a vibrant Jewish community. Keep covering positive issues. Thank you

Esther Tabak
Beverly Hills

Wow! What a great choice for your [Jan. 6] cover. The Orthodox Jewish community is grateful to you for highlighting Avi Leibovic and the extraordinary work he does. The other community lights were an inspiration, and choosing among these heroes for the cover must have been a challenge.

Nevertheless, your choice was much appreciated as the Aish Tamid program has truly established itself as a essential and effective community resource.

Rabbi Meyer H. May
Los Angeles

Orthodox Women

As Amy Klein reported, the Friday night panel of the OU convention indeed featured a robust exchange concerning the place of women within Orthodoxy (“Orthodox but Not Monolithic,” Jan. 6). Though my views on the issue were described by as being “far left,” I would imagine that many readers would find them to be quite consistent with mainstream ethical and Jewish religious thought.

These views (all of which have been translated into practice at B’nai David-Judea) are a rooted in the fundamental idea that women should be able to exercise all of the religious opportunities that the halacha provides them with.

These include the opportunity to carry, dance with and (in a women’s service) read from the Sefer Torah; to pray in a women’s section that is an exact mirror image of the men’s section; to study Talmud without restrictions or limitations; to recite Kaddish for a deceased parent, and to be chosen for any position of lay leadership for which they are qualified.

If indeed there are “far left” views, then I suppose I must humbly accept this label.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David-Judea

I write in response to Amy Klein’s thoughtful article on “Orthodox but Not Monolithic.” While your reporter generally presented both the spirit and the substance of my remarks on the issue of women in Orthodox Jewish communal life, I was misquoted as stating that no women currently serve on the board of the Orthodox Union.

While I noted that there are currently no women officers in the Orthodox Union, I did not suggest that there aren’t any women board members. I know better than that. My wife, Vivian, is one of the most active members of the Orthodox Union’s board of governors.

David Luchins
National Vice President
Orthodox Union

Westchester’s Bright Future

While I thank The Jewish Journal for commenting on B’nai Tikvah’s commitment to the Westchester community, I have to take issue with the statement: “The expanding airport and white flight reduced the once-thriving synagogue to a skeletal congregation” (“Still Strong in Westchester,” Jan. 6).

Our congregation is tightly woven with 100-plus families. We have actually bucked the trend by increasing our membership by over 10 percent since Reb Jason joined us. Our award-winning nursery school is going strong, and our religious school boasts over 40 children. The future is very bright for this “skeletal congregation.”

Art Wexler


Thank you for your very brave and truthful article, “Too Jewish to Play Myself” (Dec. 16, 2005). Hollywood’s weak link to reality is driving Jewish and non-Jewish actresses nuts. There seems to be a general dislike of what is really female, even including female old age. So go forth and be a strong link and seek other strong links; create a new Hollywood. There are many of us on your side.

Theresa Merrin
Thousand Oaks


Thank you. Each week when I take The Jewish Journal, I always begin by reading the back page singles section. The singles section is my corner, even when I don’t like what someone writes, it still gives me food for thought about my own experiences of “singlehood” in Los Angles. While I often relate to the experiences of the columnists, I don’t often relate to their philosophies.

How refreshing it was to read Mark Miller’s thought (“Unhappy New Year!” Jan. 6). No, I am not desperate. Yes, I am living. Dating is about feeling comfortable in our own skin, leading an active social life, which can include, but is not limited to, attending cultural events and volunteering opportunities and meeting people along the way.

So thank you for the fresh perspective. It’s nice knowing that I am not alone in how I live out my “singlehood.”

Deborah Graetz
via e-mail

Reaction to Rosove

Rabbi John Rosove in his opinion, “IRS Errs on Endorsing Candidate Charge” (Jan. 6), commits an error of omission in not sharing with your readers how most of his congregants reacted to his extraordinary erev Rosh Hashanah sermon. Yes, undoubtedly a few congregants were alarmed that his “speaking truth to power” could threaten the temple’s 501(c)(3) status.

But the vast majority in the sanctuary responded very differently. They heard his prophetic reminder that Jewish values and traditions speak to our communal responsibility for caring for “those who are in the shadow of life.” They understood it to be a call to action, and they applauded!

Marjorie B. Green
Los Angeles

Sharon’s Legacy

Rob Eshman seems bewildered by the rehabilitation of Sharon’s legacy (“Scheinerman/Sharon,” Jan. 13). He doesn’t clarify that Sharon was truly despised by the Muslims and the European, as well as the Jewish left. History has proven that Sharon was ahead of the curve: He was the first true counterrorist leader, and worst of all, he was successful.

Though Eshman considers the Lebanon incursion to be a “disaster,” he is only viewing it from the point of view of Israeli public relations. The true reality was, in fact, a disaster for the PLO, whose murderous rampages in the Lebanese civil war against Christian, as well as Muslim Shiite Arabs, and cross-border rocket attacks against northern Israel came to a crashing halt as Sharon exiled Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to Tunisia.

It is no coincidence that bin Laden has repeatedly harped on this fact in his diatribes. Ariel Sharon was more accurate in his assessment of future threats to Israel than the Western world was to the threat of Islamo-fascism. He should be credited for this in his legacy,

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles


Still Strong in Westchester

In a strong statement that the Jewish presence in Westchester has not disappeared, families of B’nai Tikvah’s nursery school took to the streets in December for the annual Westchester Holiday Parade. Wearing homemade dreidel and menorah headbands, 30 children marched for one mile along Manchester Boulevard handing out chocolate Chanukah gelt and plastic dreidels.

In September, B’nai Tikvah sold the Westchester building it had occupied since 1959 and moved services to Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista and to a Westchester church, while keeping the nursery and religious schools in Westchester on Sepulveda Eastway.

The expanding airport and white flight had reduced the once thriving synagogue to a skeletal congregation.

At the parade, Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen joined the kids and parents behind a banner, followed by an SUV with a rooftop speaker playing Chanukah music by Doda Mollie Wine, song leader at the nursery school.

For more information, call (310) 649-4051 or visit www.bnaitikvahcongregation.org.

Back to the Beach

College students are invited to a four-day celebration of the strange mix of irreverence and Jewish pride that have combined to create Jewlicious @ The Beach 2, or JTB2, this President’s Day Weekend in Long Beach.

“Other student leadership conferences organize a parade of politicians, funders and scholars to impress participants,” says Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, director of Beach Hillel and conference coordinator. “But JTB2 welcomes the involvement of grassroots, down-to-earth people who are as passionate about being Jewish as they are about their creativity.”

JTB2 has on its roster artists, writers and performers who will explore fashion, henna tattooing, print and online journalism, improv, activism, wine-making, bronze-casting, podcasting, Indie music, spoken-word, unorganized religion and blogging.

The event is sponsored by Beach Hillel –which serves campuses in Long Beach and Orange County — along with the blog site Jewlicious and SoCal Jewish Student Services. Jewlicious @ The Beach 2 hopes to attract more than double the hundred students who attended the first conference last year.

Jewlicious @ The Beach takes place Feb. 17-20 at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach. Registration before Feb. 3 is $36, including kosher meals and on-site accommodations (bring a sleeping bag). Register at www.JTB2.com, e-mail jewlicious@beachhillel.com or call (866) 539-5474.

Scholar Search

The Milken Family Foundation is looking for graduating high school seniors whose academic performance, community service and triumphs over financial and other obstacles mark their potential to make a difference in the world.

Students will be selected to become Milken Scholars, which entitles them to financial assistance, access to career-related counseling, assistance with internships and opportunities for volunteerism. A scholarship fund also allows recipients to pursue wide-ranging academic and career interests.

All nominations must be made by college advisers in Los Angeles County by Jan. 20.

For specific qualifications and more information, visit www.mff.org/scholars.

Mini Peace Conference

Through art projects, conversation and food, Muslim and Jewish students got to know each other at a daylong program at Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School in November.

The sixth-grade class at Temple Israel hosted fourth- and fifth-graders from the New Horizon Islamic center, after sixth-grade teacher Orley Denman at Temple Israel initiated a connection between the two schools. As the children interacted in the library, they discovered who plays basketball, who loves math and who has pets. They exchanged greeting cards and projects they had made in preparation for the meeting.

Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, asked the group which countries their families came from. The answers included Turkey, Afghanistan, Israel, India and South America.

Reflecting afterward, the Temple Israel sixth graders said that, above all, they “had fun.” They also were impressed by how much the New Horizon students enjoyed prayer and derived discipline from it. They no longer doubted that the “Muslim kids” were “just like them.”

Musical Pajama Party

Stephen Michael Schwartz of the award-winning children’s recording group, Parachute Express, will appear in concert on Saturday, Jan. 14, for his ninth annual “Musical Pajama Party” to benefit Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, where Schwartz and his family are active members.

Children are invited to come dressed in their pajamas to enjoy Schwartz perform favorites including the theme song from “Jay Jay the Jet Plane.”

The Musical Pajama Party is Sunday, Jan. 14, at Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village. 5:15 p.m. (pizza), 6 p.m. (concert). $10 (in advance); $12 (at the door). For information, contact Wendei Spale at (818) 769-4844.

Groups Host Shoah Seminar

Educators are invited to attend a four-session seminar on “The Relevance of Teaching the Holocaust in the 21st Century,” presented by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance and the Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance. The seminar will introduce Echoes and Reflections, a curriculum that integrates eyewitness testimony collected by the Shoah Foundation.

“Teaching the Holocaust” seminar takes place at ADL headquarters, 10495 Santa Monica Blvd. on Thursdays in February, 4:30-8:30 p.m., with an optional fifth session March 2. To R.S.V.P. or for information, call (310) 446-8000 or visit www.adl.org.


Shul Selects Rabbi to Spur Twin Goals

When Rabbi Jason Van Leeuwen sat for interviews this spring with the search committee at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Westchester, he was struck by the questions. Normally, search committees ask rabbi finalists to, for example, name their three great strengths and three great weaknesses, but such standard human resources probing was of little interest to B’nai Tikvah members.

Van Leeuwen said the committee instead asked him: “‘Tell me what your favorite congregant would tell you in an effort to improve your performance.'”

“And I was really impressed with the question. It had a humanity to it,” said the 39-year-old Van Leeuwen, a married father of two who on Aug. 20 gave his first sermon as the new rabbi of the small, Conservative shul of about 150 families near LAX.

While it is a highly active, small synagogue, B’nai Tikvah has growth issues. Saturday services typically attract 40 to 60 people, and in the past four years, the congregation has gone from 165 to 135 families.

“We had a lot of older members, and they passed away,” said Tony Shaffer, synagogue president. “We had an economic slump, and people got new jobs, and they moved away. There’s not much you can do about that.”

Part of Van Leeuwen’s mandate, Shaffer said, is to be, “somebody that can energize us. Somebody with growth experience.”

This is critical because B’nai Tikvah has made the difficult decision to eventually vacate its Manchester Boulevard location and, after decades, leave the high Westchester bluffs and hopefully find a new home in Playa Vista, the new housing development off of Lincoln Boulevard near Playa del Rey. The new location is expected to attract many young families in the next 10 years.

“The ultimate goal is to go to Playa Vista,” Shaffer said. “We want to become more a regional-based shul.”

For years, B’nai Tikvah has seen members shuttle between services in Westchester and Culver City’s Reform shul, Temple Akiba. It also faces competition for congregants from nearby Chabads, plus Venice’s Congregation Mishkon Tephilo and Manhattan Beach’s Congregation Tifreth Jacob.

In Playa Vista, Shaffer said, “we found that we could be more centrally located down the hill.”

B’nai Tikvah’s 204-seat sanctuary is the northernmost point of the South Bay’s small, self-contained Jewish community. It sits in a part of Los Angeles that makes Westchester neither a South Bay institution, like the Beach cities, nor part of the Westside’s vibrant Jewish culture.

“B’nai Tikvah is definitely not the epicenter of Jewish Los Angeles,” said Van Leeuwen, who has spent the past five years as cantor at the mid-size Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge. “It’s not far from the epicenter. I found a small congregation with a disproportionately high level of involvement. It has a disproportionately large number of programs.”

Synagogue search committee veterans say that finding the right rabbi is not unlike the courtship of marriage: The rabbi must be able both to laugh and weep with congregants, bless their newborns and bury their parents.

“Searching for a rabbi is really searching for yourself as a congregation,” Van Leeuwen said.

After studying at the University of Judaism and then the Jewish Theological Seminary, Van Leeuwen spent three years at a midsize congregation on Long Island and then a year as interim rabbi at Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, before switching to cantorial work at Ramat Zion.

B’nai Tikvah’s pulpit application was 32 pages, with a lengthy questionnaire.

“You’re asked to define yourself as a synagogue; not only are you defining yourself but also what kind of rabbi you’re looking for,” Shaffer said. “You had a very clear idea at the end of it of what you’re looking for.”

Roberta Stock, one of seven search committee members, said Van Leeuwen “read our application very closely. He knew who we were. He asked good questions and in return, he appreciated our honesty. It was apparent that he took the time to care about who we were.”

Van Leeuwen had a long-standing friendship with his predecessor, Rabbi Michael Beads, who after seven years in Westchester is now the head rabbi of the larger Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Del. Beals was not involved in the search committee.

Van Leeuwen’s musical expertise also made an impression
and on his Web site,

A Perfect Union

Complete with a ketubah signing, champagne, speeches and a few tears, the installation of Rabbi Michael Beals at B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester seemed more like a wedding. More than 300 people attended the Sept. 7 event. Among the speakers were Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism; Marvin Bornstein, rabbi emeritus at B’nai Tikvah, where he had served for 31 years before retiring in the mid-1980s; and Rabbi Eli Spitz of B’nei Israel in Tustin.

Nine years ago, Beals handled publicity for the similar wedding-like installation of Spitz at B’nei Israel. Spitz was 34 at the time — the same age as Beals is now — and Dorff was the keynote speaker there as well.

This was well before Beals had decided to become a rabbi. “I don’t come from an observant home,” he said during an interview in his office. “So when I told my parents I wanted to be a rabbi, they plotzed.” But, now, Beals’ father, Alan, a London native and printer by trade, proudly uses the e-mail address “rabbisdad@aol.com.”

An only child, Beals grew up in Tustin in a home that was more culturally Jewish than observant. At one time, Beals wasn’t even clear that Shabbat was celebrated on Saturday as well as Friday night. So he is sympathetic to congregants who are less observant. “I know where most of my congregation comes from,” said Beals, who, along with his veterinarian wife, Dr. Elissa Green-Beals, keeps kosher and is shomer shabbat.

His original goal, he said, laughing, was not the rabbinate. It was “to make world peace” — or at least family peace. His mother, Rita, was from the Bronx and his grandmother Raie was a fiery British redhead. When the two women would have differences, Beals would be the peacemaker.

Beals studied political science at UC Berkeley and international relations at American University in Washington. A year spent in Israel as a Raoul Wallenberg Scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was the turning point in his life. When he returned to the United States, he joined the Library Minyan at Temple Beth Am, at the urging of Rabbi Spitz. It was while working as a management analyst for the Department of General Services of Los Angeles, where he created the city’s first multicultural sensitivity program, that Beals decided to become a rabbi.

After receiving a master of arts degree in Hebrew letters from the University of Judaism, he interned at Brandeis-Bardin Institute’s Gan Alonim, at Congregation Mogen David in Los Angeles and at Temple Emanuel Religious School in Beverly Hills. While attending the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Beals served as assistant rabbi for the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged, as a rabbinical intern at the Park Slope Jewish Center, and as student rabbi on pulpits in Clarksberg, W.Va., and College Point, N.Y. Bestowed the Isaac H. Wolfson Memorial Award for outstanding scholarship and service to the seminary, he received his ordination last May.

Before coming to B’nai Tikvah, Beals interviewed at about 10 synagogues, including the one attended by Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Washington Heights, N.Y. He even considered a synagogue in Sydney, Australia, but he found the Westchester synagogue to be “uniquely chaimish” and welcoming.

As for B’nai Tikvah, Beals was the unanimous choice of its search committee to replace Rabbi Michael Goldberg, who served the temple for a year and a half. With the Conservative shul already attracting a younger membership, the committee believed that Beals was the perfect choice to continue the trend.

“We talked to seven other rabbis, but nobody could hold a Shabbos candle to Rabbi Beals,” said Bob Horning, who was part of the search team and is vice president of the ritual committee.

Originally called the Westchester Jewish Congregation and then Beth Tikvah, the synagogue was founded in 1946 and merged with B’nai Israel of the Crenshaw district in 1966 to become B’nai Tikvah. The congregation, which has about 150 member families drawn mostly from the Los Angeles Westside and South Bay, has a nursery school and kindergarten program with close to 90 children.

Founded at the same time as the synagogue, the nursery school was the first Jewish preschool in Southern California to receive national accreditation from the Bureau of Jewish Education and secular accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. B’nai Tikvah also has a religious school that serves about 60 children.

Educating parents as well as children is Beals’ main goal. “I want to give our younger parents the skills they need to be the primary Jewish educators of their kids,” he said. Jewish parents have been disenfranchised by what he calls “curbside education” — just dropping their children off at religious school. “A synagogue can’t replace the Jewish home, but it can reinforce it,” Beals said. “That’s my mission.”

The “marriage” ceremony at the installation was a perfect symbol for the union between the rabbi, his wife and the synagogue, Horning said. “We’re thrilled,” he said. “We’re looking for the opportunity to grow old together.”