August 22, 2019

Moving and shaking: Transgender in the IDF, Shana Torah and more

“My story really is a fairy tale,” said Shachar, a transgender Israel Defense Forces lieutenant at an event at Congregation Kol Ami (the IDF does not permit the use of the first names of active-duty personnel). “That’s why I want to share it. I want everybody to have a chance for their own fairy tale.”

At the June 24 gathering of about 40 people, which included Israel Consul General David Siegel, Shachar talked about coming out, first to his family and then to the IDF, and the acceptance he experienced all along the way.

Shachar said that as a child he always behaved like a boy, but didn’t come out as identifying as male to his family until he was 16. His parents and siblings were accepting and loving. Years later, when he came out while in the IDF, Shachar said, the military was equally open.

Shachar had enlisted as a woman and served the requisite two years for a female soldier. He then enrolled in officer training, at which time he came out to his fellow officers. After completing his training, he started the process to physically become a male. He is currently undergoing hormone treatment and is scheduled for surgery.

At every base and every assignment, his commanding officers were aware of and accepted his male identity, Shachar said. “The officers always did the right thing.”

The IDF has admitted personnel regardless of their sexual orientation since 1993. An IDF chief of staff’s women’s affairs adviser, Brig. Gen. Rachel Tevet-Wiesel, addresses cases of sexual harassment (experienced by males and females) and other issues affecting transgender personnel.

Gay and lesbian personnel have been permitted to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces since the 2010 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but the Pentagon’s ban on transgender personnel serving openly was just lifted on June 30. 

— Lakshna Mehta, Contributing Writer

Woodland Hills Conservative congregation Temple Aliyah has hired Rabbi Benjamin Goldstein as its second rabbi, effective July 18.

New Temple Aliyah Rabbi Ben Goldstein. Photo courtesy of Temple Aliyah

He previously worked at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in New Jersey and at Beit T’Shuvah, the Los Angeles-based rehabilitation center. He is a graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University.

The shul’s rabbinic search committee recommended Goldstein’s hiring to the synagogue board of directors, according to a June 15 letter signed by Temple Aliyah President Rick Shumacher.

According to the letter, Goldstein visited the synagogue in May, participated in a Shabbat service and “it was clear at that time that Rabbi Goldstein had the mix of skills and experience that the search committee was seeking, and that he could step into the role … as one of the spiritual leaders of our congregation,” Shumacher wrote.

Temple Aliyah serves approximately 1,000 families.

Goldstein succeeds Rabbi Gabriel Botnick, who has been hired as the head rabbi at Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, effective Aug. 1.

New Temple Mishkon Tephilo Rabbi Gabriel Botnick. Photo courtesy of Mishkon Tephilo 

Botnick is succeeding Mishkon Tephilo’s current rabbi, Dan Shevitz, 65, who is retiring and will become the Conservative synagogue’s rabbi emeritus.

“I’m sure there will be tons of new programming and changes, and I’m really excited,” Mishkon Tephilo Executive Director Kelley Courtney said in an interview, adding that she hopes the new leadership will help Mishkon Tephilo, which serves approximately 150 families, grow.

“I’d like to double that,” Courtney said.

Beginning Aug. 1, Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk, former director of Milken Community Schools’ Tiferet Fellowship program, will be the new dean at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California’s (AJRCA) rabbinic school. Yardeni-Funk will succeed Rabbi Rochelle Robins, the schools’ interim dean. Robins was appointed after Rabbi Michael Menitoff left the position in December 2015. 

Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk, the Academy for Jewish Religion, California rabbinical school’s new dean. Courtesy of Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk

Born in Jerusalem, Yardeni-Funk attended an all-girls yeshiva and as a young girl became interested in studying Talmud. 

She served as a second lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Unit during the first Lebanon war. After her military service, Yardeni-Funk received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA and her master’s degree in education from Cal State Northridge. She received a second master’s degree in Talmud and rabbinic studies from AJRCA and was ordained at its rabbinic school in 2006. 

Previously, Yardeni-Funk served as director of education at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel; director of education at Camp Ramah; rabbi and director of Judaic studies at Stephen S. Wise Temple; and most recently, director of Milken’s Tiferet Israel Fellowship, a program in which the high school’s students live and study in Israel during the second semester of their sophomore year. 

Rabbi Laura Owens, AJRCA’s interim president, said, “Rabbi Liat Yardeni-Funk will bring a passion for education and connection to Israel as well as an ability to relate to all constituents as she has been a student, alumna and now the rabbinic dean.”

— Kayla Cohen, Contributing Writer

Shalom Institute rededicated its newly restored, 200-year-old community Holocaust Torah on the first Shabbat of Camp JCA Shalom’s first session on June 25 in Malibu. The Torah — on loan since 1989 from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London — is one of nearly 1,600 scrolls from the former Czechoslovakia to have survived the Holocaust. 

Shalom Institute President Adam Weiss holds the Torah before it was unrolled for Executive Director Rabbi Bill Kaplan’s blessing at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. Photo by Marsha Katz Rothpan

The Torah restoration project, called Shana Torah, kicked off at the camp’s first Shabbat last summer. During the past year, Shana Torah included educational programs, scribing events with Rabbi Moshe Druin — a scribe with Sofer on Site — and a fundraising campaign. The year-end goal is $50,000, and more than $36,000 has been raised so far. 

About 400 campers, staffers and family members attended the event, witnessing the unrolling of the Torah and participating in blessing the scroll. Board members Ari Moss, Andrea Spatz, Gil Breakman and Shalom Institute President Adam Weiss were present. 

“Our Shana Torah has had such a tremendous impact on all who participated in this incredible experience. And now, our Torah, along with its legacy, has been rededicated and put back into use for the thousands of campers, students and families who experience Shalom Institute each year,” Shalom Institute Executive Director Bill Kaplan told the Journal. 

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

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