February 28, 2020

Shabbat Across LA, Gap Year Fair, Holocaust Film

From left: BJE Celebrates Shabbat Across L.A. Co-Chair Sherry Burdorf; Co-Chair and BJE Board Member Linda Resnick; BJE staff member Millie Wexler; Committee Member and BJE Board Officer Liz Rosman Schwartz; and Co-Chair and BJE Board Member Kathi Barnhard. Photo courtesy of Builders of Jewish Education

The Shabbat candles glowed even more brightly on Dec. 6 when more than 100 hosts throughout the community opened their homes to more than 1,300 participants from 500 households, as part of the Builders of Jewish Education’s (BJE) Celebrates Shabbat Across LA initiative.

As BJE represents the broad spectrum of the Los Angeles Jewish community, each Shabbat dinner reflected the individual hosts’ traditions. Each host received a bamboo challah board, a sheet of Shabbat blessings and information about the Torah portion of the week to inspire discussion around the table.

Kathi Barnhard, Sherry Burdorf, Linda Resnick and Leah and Sam Yebri co-chaired the event.

Volunteers assembled special gift packets for all hosts and their guests.

Based in Los Angeles, BJE is “dedicated to supporting and enhancing Jewish educational experiences, from early childhood through high school,” according to the organization’s website. 


From left: StandWithUs (SWU) COO Jerry Rothstein; SWU CEO Roz Rothstein; “Shepherd” star August Maturo; writer-director-producer Lynn Roth and Carly Gammill, director of the SWU Center for Combating Anti-Semitism. Photo by Jonah Light Photogrphy

The Pro-Israel organization StandWithUs held a Nov. 26 screening of the celebrated 2019 Holocaust  era-set film “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog” at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. 

Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, the film, which is based on the bestselling Israeli novel “The Jewish Dog” and won the Audience Award at the 2019 L.A. Jewish Film Festival, is about a Jewish boy whose parents give away his beloved German shepherd, Kaleb, after the Nazis banned Jews from owning pets. The boy and the dog eventually are reunited in the same concentration camp before escaping together.

Following the screening, the film’s writer-producer-director Lynn Roth participated in a panel discussion and Q&A with the film’s child star August Maturo and StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein. Although the film was set in Germany, Roth shot it in Hungary, which offered the period-piece setting they sought for the film, Roth said.

Roth discussed how they used several dogs to portray Kaleb. She also said the  film was shot for approximately the same cost as an episode of the television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Maturo, who is not Jewish, discussed his experience working on the film. He addressed a crowd that included many of his family members.

The StandWithUs Center for Combating Anti-Semitism organized the event, which concluded with a dessert reception.


Birthright Israel Foundation’s recent honorees Gila and Adam Milstein. Photo courtesy of Birthright Israel Foundation

Birthright Israel Foundation raised $34 million during its sixth annual Los Angeles dinner on Nov. 21.

The event honored philanthropic husband-and-wife Gila and Adam Milstein, co-founders of the Milstein Family Foundation, and was chaired by Dorit and Shawn Evenhaim, and Sue and Larry Hochberg.

According to the Birthright Israel Foundation, the U.S. fundraising arm of Birthright Israel, which takes Jewish young adults on free educational trips to Israel, more than 350 people turned out for the sold-out event at Stephen Wise Temple.

Adam Milstein said he and his wife were most drawn to the aspect of the Birthright Israel trip that introduces American participants to Israeli soldiers. 

“The element of the Birthright Israel program that really captivated Gila and I is called Mifgashim, or ‘the meetings,’ which brings together Birthright Israel participants with young Israeli soldiers for the duration of the trip,” he said. “Because of Mifgashim, both the young Americans and Israelis understood that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) aren’t just defending Israel — they are defending the Jewish people, worldwide.

“Birthright Israel participants become connected to their Jewish identity and Israel,” Milstein continued. “Many of them return as proud Jews who are willing to take a stand.”

Attendees included Birthright Israel Foundation supporters Sheldon and Miriam Adelson; Birthright Israel Foundation President Israel Tapoohi; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman; Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council; and Jay Feinberg, CEO of Gift of Life, a bone marrow and stem cell registry.

“It was so wonderful to have so many people come together to support Birthright Israel, especially our special guests, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson,” Evenhaim said in a statement. “Their generosity continues to inspire the Jewish community and we are grateful for their leadership and support.”

Since its inception, Birthright Israel has sent more than 700,000 young adults to Israel on “life-changing trips,” according to the organization, with more than 50,000 Jewish young adults participating each year.


American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) board members Judy Levin (far right) and Joanne Helperin (second from left) and Helperin’s daughter, Danya (far left) join Phyllis Folb, founder and director of AIGYA.
Photo courtesy of the AIGYA

The seventh annual American Israel Gap Year Fair was held on Nov. 21 at Shalhevet High School. 

More than 400 people, including parents, students and educators, turned out to hear about the many Israel gap-year options.

Forty Israel gap-year programs from across the denominational spectrum took part in the fair, highlighting travel programs, religious study, academic pursuits, community and military service and Israel advocacy. 

The fair is the “cornerstone event” for the American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA), with families from Seattle to San Diego, Las Vegas to Phoenix turning out to meet with Israel program providers, according to AIGYA.

In a statement, AIGYA Founder and Executive Director Phyllis Folb said taking part in an Israel gap year increases a young person’s self-esteem, boosts their engagement with the Jewish homeland and enhances their knowledge of world issues, among other benefits. 

“While gap year has long been associated with greater academic success, the gap year in Israel has proven to be a life-changing experience for Jewish youth,” Folb said. “We are finding that gap-year alumni are more knowledgeable and confident students when they return home. They are more engaged in the Jewish life on campus and better able to speak to issues that have been arising on college campuses. Their eyewitness accounts of the challenges that Israel faces makes them better global citizens, able to engage in conversations that could provide more insight and lower the rhetoric.”

Masa Israel Journey, which offers a variety of programs in Israel for young adults, was the featured sponsor of the event, which AIGYA says is the largest of its kind.


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Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.