August 20, 2019

Community Briefs

Displaced Gaza Resident Raises $5,000 in L.A.

A leader of the displaced Gaza settlers made an impassioned case for the hardships they’re suffering before a sympathetic Los Angeles audience, which donated $5,000 on the spot.

Last August, Dror Vanunu was among about 8,000 settlers in 21 Gaza communities who were forced to move as part of the Israeli government’s disengagement policy. Last week, he was the featured speaker before 30 local settler advocates at a Beverlywood home.

He noted that many settlers had left behind spacious houses with ocean views; many now reside in temporary housing with little character or sense of community. He insisted that the Israeli government had provided inadequate compensation and less than initially promised.

Vanunu now resides in temporary housing in Nitzan, about 15 miles north of Gaza, along with 485 families who once lived in the main settlement community of Neve Dekalim,

Vanunu said he hopes to raise a total of $6 million to help former Gaza settlers afford such basic necessities as trauma counseling and even food and clothing. He asserted that Israel’s disengagement policy led to the ascendancy of Hamas, a group whose leaders call for the destruction of Israel.

“I feel like I live in exile,” Vanunu said in an interview. “I live in Israel, but I live in exile.”

The Beverlywood gathering was hosted by Jon Hambourger, founder of, which raised more than $110,000 to fight disengagement and became one of the biggest U.S. organizations committed to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands.

Hambourger said the meeting was the start of renewed efforts to raise money and awareness about the plight of the ex-settlers.

“These people, in my opinion, are the absolute cream of the crop,” Hambourger said of the Jewish ex-residents of Gaza. “I need them to know, and other settlers who might get uprooted, that they are not alone.” — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Father, Daughter Each Earn Book Awards

Rabbi David Ellenson and Ruth Andrew Ellenson made history when they became the first father and daughter to simultaneously win a National Jewish Book Award.

Rabbi Ellenson, a Manhattan resident and president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, won the Modern Jewish Thought and Experience Award for “After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity,” spotlighting how denominations have redefined themselves over the years.

Ruth Ellenson, who lives in Los Angeles, took the Women’s Studies Prize for editing “The Modern Jewish Girls’ Guide to Guilt” — hip, edgy essays tackling guilt (over dumping a nice Jewish guy, for example), as a means of exploring what it means to be a Jewish woman.

The 58-year-old father and his 32-year-old daughter will sit together at the awards ceremony in Manhattan on April 26, joining other winners such as Amos Oz (“A Tale of Love and Darkness”) for book of the year, Michael Chabon (“The Final Solution”) for fiction and Deborah Lipstadt (“History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving”) in the Holocaust category.

Although the Ellensons’ tomes seem dissimilar, the rabbi sees parallels.

“The essays in Ruthie’s book indicate how women have struggled with their Jewish heritage in an attempt to re-conceptualize their identity in the modern world, which is precisely the type of work I do,” he said.

Turns out guilt — over neglecting dad’s legacy — in part prompted Ruth Ellenson to publish her debut book. The writer had felt remiss because she was covering pop culture for People, even as The Forward named her father one of the 50 most influential American Jews.

“I’d be talking to him about interviewing Brad Pitt, as he was off to Moscow for a conference on saving world Jewry from anti-Semitism,” she recalled, sheepishly. “I wondered, ‘How could I ever measure up? What could I contribute to the Jewish community?'”

Her answer was “Guilt,” which earned Ellenson good reviews, a 30-city author’s tour and now a book award the same year as her father.

“To be recognized alongside him feels like I’m finally worthy of the Jewish inheritance I was born into,” she said.

Rabbi Ellenson said he is “gratified” about his own award, but overwhelmingly thrilled about his daughter’s honor.

“As a parent, one always hopes one’s children will affirm their values, and Ruthie has done that and beyond,” he said. — Naomi Pfefferman, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Preteen Ambassadors From Beverly Hills

Eleven middle school boys from Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills recently returned from a two-week trip to Israel, where they toured the country and spent time with Israeli families from the Zeitlin School in Tel Aviv.

For six years, Hillel and the Zeitlin School have been twinned under the Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership. The schools exchange delegations every year, and participate in joint projects. This year, the seventh grades at both schools are reading the same book and discussing it via e-mail and video conferencing.

For information about the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, visit and click on the “Israel and Overseas” menu.