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Jewish Learning Exchange recovers from car crash

The floor of the sanctuary was filling with water. Debris was strewn across the sidewalk and front entrance. There was a car where the staff’s office used to be.
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July 8, 2015

The floor of the sanctuary was filling with water. Debris was strewn across the sidewalk and front entrance. There was a car where the staff’s office used to be. 

But that could wait. Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik, director of the Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE), had a 6:30 a.m. class to teach. 

“I don’t know what happened,” Czapnik recalled telling his students, “but we have to learn. Let’s do what it is we can do.” 

That was the scene at the nonprofit on the  morning of June 10, a few hours after a car slammed through the front wall of the Hancock Park facility. In addition to crashing into the staff’s office, the vehicle struck a water main, flooding the entire bottom floor of the North La Brea Avenue building. News reports have indicated that the two passengers in the car were not injured and no charges were filed.

The class ended up meeting as planned in an upstairs classroom, and in the weeks since the accident, events, classes, camps and services have continued on their normal schedule at JLE, which promotes participation in Jewish life among Jews of all backgrounds. 

“It’s the Jewish way,” said Czapnik as he gave a tour recently through the bustling building. As staff worked upstairs, an all-girls Jewish summer camp used the rest of the space to prepare for a field trip.

Despite JLE’s perseverance, Czapnik acknowledged that there have been disruptions. All the books in the sanctuary have been stored in boxes, and for the time being, Czapnik and his staff are working out of the upstairs library. Some computers were damaged, as were many files. 

And the building itself will require extensive repairs. On the morning of the accident, the fire department punctured holes in the lower sections of many of the interior walls, cutting some sections of plasterboard off completely. To mitigate the potential for water damage and mold, fans and humidifiers blasted in these areas for over a week. 

An insurance appraiser is still assessing JLE’s coverage, but no matter the outcome, Czapnik said, the incident is certain to cost the nonprofit a significant amount of money. 

And there are less tangible costs: “We don’t have use of our books. You can’t quantify that,” he said. 

JLE accepts donations, but more important, Czapnik insisted, is that people “get more involved Jewishly.” 

JLE was founded more than 25 years ago and offers a variety of classes, services and lectures; it also has a Jewish library and offers one-on-one learning. Although the synagogue is Orthodox, Czapnik emphasized that Jews of all traditions and levels of familiarity are welcome to use its resources, most of which are free. 

The community also offers home hospitality on Shabbat, including meals and a place to sleep. Last month, Czapnik began teaching an introductory Torah study course — a follow-up to his “Crash Course in Reading Hebrew.” 

Czapnik took over for the center’s founder, Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner, about 20 years ago, and said he has no plans to slow down despite current challenges.

“We are juggling, but we are trying to keep all of our programs running at the same time,” Czapnik said. 

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