Campus Outreach Connects Orthodox

At the Enormous Activities Fair during UCLA’s Welcome Week last September, Sharona Kaplan stepped away from her own brochure-laden table to help out at the busier Hillel table.

A first-year student perusing Hillel’s sign-up sheet seemed stuck on one question.

“So what kind of services are you looking for? Liberal, Conservative, Orthodox?” Kaplan asked her.

“The least religious,” the girl said, and Kaplan helped her mark the box for “Reform.”

That doesn’t bother Kaplan at all — each student should find what’s appropriate for him or her, she believes.

But her particular mission is to serve Orthodox Jews and to encourage observant Judaism.

Sharona Kaplan and her husband, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, both 26, arrived in September 2004 through the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus(JLIC), a program sponsored by the Orthodox Union, Hillel and the Torah Mitzion organization to serve the needs of Orthodox students.

Since the program began five years ago, it has anchored couples on 12 U.S. campuses — three of them newly placed this past September — as well as at Oxford University in England. Each couple is a young rabbi and his wife, charged with teaching classes, running Shabbat programs, ensuring that religious services and kosher food are available and providing a frum-friendly atmosphere for students coming out of the Orthodox day school world.

Over the past year the Kaplans have instituted weekly Shabbat lunches and holiday meals at Hillel, and they invite students to their home for Shabbat meals when the university is closed.

They also strengthened the daily minyans, Sharona Kaplan says, noting that her husband “wakes the boys up and drives around picking them up” to make sure they get to shacharit services on time.

In many ways, the JLIC program is similar to campus programs run by the Chabad organization. The JLIC couples, however, are sent mainly to serve students who already are Orthodox, whereas Chabad couples actively reach out to the entire Jewish spectrum.

Though JLIC couples welcome every Jew to their programs — and would be happy to shepherd nonobservant young people down the frum path — that’s not their mandate.

“The primary purpose is to serve the needs of the Orthodox population,” says Rabbi Ilan Haber, the program’s national director, who works out of Hillel headquarters in Washington. “It’s not an outreach program, it’s an in-reach to Orthodox students.”

Haber says an important aspect of the program is sending a couple to each college: “We feel there’s a need for both male and female role models for the students.”

This point is driven home on a September afternoon at Brooklyn College in New York where Nalini Ibragimov is teaching Torah to nine young women. It’s the students’ two-hour free period, which the college gives twice a week to encourage clubs and sports.

Instead of eating a longer lunch or going swimming, these nine modestly dressed students are discussing with Ibragimov, their rebbetzin on campus, the finer points of the 39 malachot, or acts of labor forbidden on Shabbat.

Nalini Ibragimov, 28, and her husband, 30-year-old Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov, were sent to Brooklyn College three years ago.

Four of the nine women in Nalini Ibragimov’s class spent last year studying in Jerusalem at all-girls seminaries. All say they’re thrilled to have the Ibragimovs on campus.

Meira Sanders, 19, says she likes “just having a rabbi you can ask questions.”

Sarah Roller, 18, says, “It’s really important to have an Orthodox woman to look up to.”

Several of the young women say the JLIC presence eases their transition from high school, where at least half their classes were on religious subjects. One-third of Brooklyn College’s 10,000 students are Jewish, but this is a first experience in a primarily secular world for these nine students, and they’re anxious for regular doses of Yiddishkeit.

“If there weren’t religious studies here, I don’t think I would have come,” Roller says.

Haber, the national program director, says that as more and more Modern Orthodox began attending universities other than Yeshiva University and its affiliate for women, Stern College, the traditional choices for this community, Orthodox leaders and parents saw the need to provide ongoing religious counseling and services to them during their campus years.

Some Reform and Conservative students look at the JLIC program and wish their movements would fund professionals on campus, too. Both the Reform and Conservative movements depend on student volunteers to do campus outreach.

“Between JLIC, Chabad and JAM,” a Southern California-based Orthodox outreach program, “the Orthodox are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the Reform and Conservative are giving zero,” says Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, UCLA’s longtime Hillel director.

“If a kid wants to study Talmud,” he can benefit from the Orthodox rabbi, Seidler-Feller says. “But what if he wants to study Buber?”

The answer, for now, is that such students will have to rely on secular coursework.

Still, the goal of funding campus professionals is “important” to the Conservative leadership, says Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. “We are trying to find the financial wherewithal to do it.”

A Reform movement leader considers such aspirations a “fantasy” for his movement, given that there are Reform students on several hundred campuses.

“I even question the efficacy of it,” says Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, adding that a Reform rabbinic presence on campus wouldn’t solve the challenge of keeping Reform students Jewishly involved through their college years.

“The involved students are wonderful, and they crave as much rabbinic input as we can give them, but they’re a tiny minority” of the overall student population, he says. “If we put a rabbi on every campus, would [involved students] increase from 5 percent to 10 percent or 20 percent? I doubt it.”

For more information on Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, call Chabad Youth Programs at (310) 208-7511, ext. 1270.



Music for hope

Tziona Maman came into Ohr Meir and Bracha Center in Jerusalem crying and very depressed. Her husband Tzion had both his legs badly injured in the Machane Yehuda bombing in 1997, and became addicted to pain killers. Before the bombing he had been a sculptor and was able to support his family through his art, but after the bombing he spent most of his time in a drug-induced stupor.

Ohr Meir and Bracha enrolled Tzion in a drug rehab program that successfully enabled him to be drug-free, and now he has started making sculptures again. His family is on surer footing financially, and Tziona is much happier.

On Sunday, Nov. 14, Ohr Meir and Bracha will be holding a fundraising concert to raise money for terror victims in Israel. In addition to providing counseling and referral services for the victims, Ohr Meir and Bracha, which translates to the light of Meir and Bracha, also gives weekly food baskets to victims in precarious financial situations. They also sponsor a summer retreat for terror victims.

The concert will feature the Moshav Band and will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Magen David, 9717 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. $15 minimum donation. For more information, call Sam Saidian at (310) 922-3010.

Jocelyn’s Honor

Jocelyn Tetel, the vice president of advancement at the Skirball Cultural Center, was awarded a commendation from the City of Culver City on Oct. 25 for her contributions to the disabled community.

For more than 12 years, Tetel has served on the board of directors of the Kayne Eras Center, an organization that serves children with various disabilities and operates two group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.

She also introduced art by L.A. GOAL to the general community by installing two exhibits at Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. L.A. GOAL is an organization that empowers adults with disabilities to become independent and productive members of society by helping them to provide “passive education” (i.e., art works) to the community that will enable the community to relate to them and see not just their disabilities, but their abilities.

UJ’s Ugandan Connection

The University of Judaism (UJ) had a special visitor in October – Dr. Gilbert Balikaseka Bukenya, the vice president of Uganda. Bukenya spoke to the students about Uganda’s desire to emerge from the third world, an effort that is hampered by Uganda’s lack of infrastructure. Bukenya also spoke about Uganda’s relationship with Israel, and how Uganda is exploring the use of the kibbutz as a model for collective living and pooling resources for Ugandan farmers.

While at the UJ, Bukenya met with Gershom Sizomu, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and a native of Uganda. Sizomu is the spiritual leader of the Abuyadaya – the Ugandan Jews. Sizomu plans on returning to Uganda as that country’s first ordained rabbi. Bukenya and Sizomu spoke about Sizomu’s community and its need for fresh water.

At the end of the meeting, Bukenya raised the possibility of student exchange programs between the UJ and Uganda, and the possibility of training Ugandans in the UJ’s Graduate Programs in Nonprofit Management.

Gindlin Sings at Sinai

Cantor Mariana Gindlin was recently appointed to lead the religious service at Temple Sinai of Glendale. Gindlin was raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and her father sang in a professional synagogue choir for more than 30 years. Although she grew up singing, it was unthinkable in Argentina at the time for a woman to be a member of the clergy, so Gindlin decided to study psychology while taking voice lessons privately. Times eventually changed and Gindlin enrolled in the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, where she studied to be a cantor.

“The first time I stepped into Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, I realized I was at home,” she said.

In the upcoming year, Gindlin plans to add a junior choir and build an orchestra to enhance services and other events. She also wants to spread her passion for Jewish music and create a stronger sense of community and a greater joy in congregational worship.

Temple Sinai is located at 1212 N. Pacific Avenue in Glendale. For more information, call (818) 246-8101.

Peter’s New Place

In other UJ news, Peter Lowy was officially named chair of the University of Judaism’s board of directors on Oct. 11 at a ceremony held at the university’s Colen Conference Hall. Lowy is the CEO of Westfield Group, a global real estate investment trust with interest in 124 shopping centers around the world. The Westfield Group was the original sponsor of the UJ’s Department of Continuing Education’s Public Lecture Series.

Lowy, who until recently served as board treasurer, succeeds Dena Schechter, who led the board for five years.

“Building on the work done by my predecessor, Dena Schechter, and others, I want to see the UJ reach its fullest potential,” Lowy said. “The UJ must always strive to provide the highest quality education and to positively influence Jewish life in our community.”

New in Northridge

Two Northridge communities got new leadership over the summer. The Sephardic Congregation of Northridge recently hired Rabbi Moshe Abady to be its new spiritual leader. In 2001, Abady and his wife, Leora, moved to Los Angeles from Israel, where he directed the Sephardic Halacha Program at Yeshiva Darchei Noam Shappell’s, to accept a teaching position at Maimonides Academy. Abady also directed the Youth Minyan at Congregation Torah Ohr and offers bar mitzvah lessons.

Rabbi Eli Rivkin and his wife Tzippi, and their three small children moved to Northridge from Brooklyn, New York to head up Chabad at Northridge. The Rivkins will not only focus on building up the already existing Northridge community, but they are also going to be doing outreach to the 7,000 Jewish students at CSUN.

For more information visit

A Cop for a Cop

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) held a special lunch on Oct. 20 at the Luxe Summit Hotel to honor Jona Goldrich, who sponsored JINSA’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) Conference in California.

The LEEP conferences, which also took place in Minnesota and Florida, were the largest counterterrorism cooperative training enterprises between the U.S. and Israel. The California conference took place Oct. 18-19 in Garden Grove, where policeman heard from six counterterrorism professionals from the Israeli National Police, the General Security Service, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces. The speakers discussed the best counterterrorism practice procedures with an emphasis on preventing and responding to suicide bombings.

The lunch honoring Goldrich was chaired by Lawrence Field and David Justman, and guests heard presentations from Gideon Avrahami, the director of Jerusalem Mall; Yoram Hessel, a retired senior officer of the Mossad; Gen. Shaike Horowitz, a commander of the bomb squad unit of the Israeli National Police; Brig. Gen. Amichai Shai, the commander of the crime investigation unit; Maj. Gen. Mickey Levy, the former commander of the Jerusalem Police Department; Brig. Gen. Shimon Perry, police and law enforcement attachÃ(c) of the Embassy of Israel; Steven Pomerantz, former assistant director of the FBI; and Cmdr. Shmuel Zoltak of Israel National Police’s crisis negotiation unit.

For more information on LEEP and JINSA, visit

This Bud’s For You

Anheuser Busch, the company behind Budweiser beer, donated $100,000 to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in October. The donation will go to support a wide variety of education, social welfare and human services provided by The Federation. This is the 12th year that Anheuser-Busch has provided funds to benefit the Los Angeles-area community; they have donated more than $1 million to the Federation since 1994.

Stand with students

About 85 students from 32 universities spent most of Halloween weekend attending Israel in Focus at Ojai’s Camp Ramah, where they developed skills to speak for the Jewish state when encountering college campus hostilities.

“There are a lot of students in the same boat as my school,” said Tal Zavlodaver, 21, president of USC’s Hillel-based group SC Students for Israel.

The event, co-sponsored by StandWithUs and the Israel Consulate, included lectures from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israeli consulate staffers plus pollster Frank Luntz; Gary Ratner, executive director of the American Jewish Congress; Maya Zutler of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Los Angeles office; and Aryeh Greene, an adviser to Israel’s Diaspora Minister Natan Sharansky. A Saturday night concert featured hip-hop’s Remedy.

The students, most involved with campus Hillel groups, came from Cal State branches in Northridge, Long Beach and Fullerton plus UC campuses in San Diego, Irvine, Davis and Santa Barbara. Other students came from Ohio, Arizona, New York, Canada and Australia.

While USC has more from campus indifference than antagonism towards Israel, 19-year-old Aaren Alpert said that on her UCSB campus, “Students are mainly apathetic; however the faculty tends to be more of a problem.”

“There is a fight on campus and these are the leaders who go back to their campuses and promote Israel,” said public affairs consul Yariv Ovadia of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

“I certainly wish that I had been a student at this conference,” said Ovadia’s colleague, Justin Levi, the consulate’s academic affairs director and a UCLA class of 2003 alumnus. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer