February 21, 2020

Educator Awards, Jewish Symphony Event, AMIT

From left: Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation; Gil Graff, executive director of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education; JEA winners Eric Hartung; Nelly Wisner, Michelle Andron and Rabbi Abraham Lieberman; and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation. Photo courtesy of the Milkin Family Foundation

The 30th annual Jewish Educator Awards (JEA) luncheon, organized by the Milken Family Foundation and BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, was held on Dec. 17 at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel.

The event celebrated 2019 JEA recipients Michelle Andron, general studies principal at Emek Hebrew Academy; Eric Hartung, a science teacher at Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am; Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, a Judaic studies teacher at Shalhevet High School; and Nelly Wisner, a transitional kindergarten/kindergarten general studies teacher at Beth Hillel Day School.

Luncheon attendees included Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation; Gil Graff, executive director of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education; and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.

According to a Milken Family Foundation statement, JEA was established to “provide public recognition and an unrestricted $15,000 cash award to teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the greater Los Angeles area who have made significant contributions to excellence in BJE-affiliated schools.”


From left: Richard Hirschhaut, Hillel Newman, Susan Azizzadeh and Antonio Villaraigosa attend “Finding Common Threads” at Sinai Temple. Photo by Linda Kasian

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles held a Dec. 12 community event at Sinai Temple in memory of more than 850,000 Jews who were forced out of Arab countries and Iran during the 20th century. 

The event — “Finding Common Threads From the Middle East to the West” — commemorated those who were forced to flee from their homes and leave the countries where their ancestors had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity. 

The consulate partnered with the American Jewish Committee (AJC),
Iranian American Jewish Federation and 30 Years After to organize the event,
which included a discussion with Pastor Ricardo Escobedo of Christians United for Israel; Penina Meghnagi, a Jewish refugee from Libya; and Saba Soomekh
of AJC. 

Keynote speaker and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talked about his childhood in Boyle Heights at a time when people from all nationalities resided in the area.

“It used to be the Ellis Island of L.A. There was a big Jewish community there [along with] Mexican, Chinese and Japanese communities and they all lived in harmony,” Villaraigosa said.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman said in his opening speech that he hoped that the evening would enlighten untold narratives and bring people together. 

The evening included a musical performance of Middle Eastern music by Chloe Pourmorady, Liran Shalom, Yoni Arbel and Asher Levy.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s annual education program, “A Patchwork of Cultures,” drew over 1,000 students from L.A. public schools. Photo courtesy of L.A. Jewish Symphony

The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s (LAJS) annual education program, “A Patchwork of Cultures: Exploring the Sephardic-Latino Connection,” was held on
Dec. 2-3. 

More than 1,000 students from Los Angeles public schools participated in the program, which featured a series of workshops that celebrate the deep cultural ties between Sephardic Jews and the people of Latin America, promoting respect for diversity through the recognition of those similarities. 

The program culminated in two concerts featuring guest artist Cantor Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue. The concerts and workshops were free to students and schools and completely underwritten by grant funding.

Before the concerts, students were treated to an “instrument petting zoo,” during which they handled and played instruments with the guidance of students from de Toledo High School and members of the symphony. The event received positive coverage from the Spanish-language press thanks to the partnership with Fuente Latina, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Jewish stories to Spanish-speaking media, including a story on Univision and a feature in La Opinión. 

Teacher Bernie Contreras of Vaughn Next Century Learning Center spoke to La Opinión, praising, “[the] opportunity to listen to music, live with a culture that is different from ours and see what we have in common that can unite us in these times.”

The LAJS was founded in 1994 under the leadership of Noreen Green, the group’s artistic director and conductor. It is the only symphony orchestra outside of Israel dedicated to the performance and preservation of orchestral works of distinction that explore Jewish culture, heritage and experience. Their music education programs have reached more than 20,000 students since 2001.

“We were thrilled by the attention we received in the Spanish media,” Green said. “Thank you to Fuente Latina for reaching out and coordinating that coverage, as well as to city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Music Performance Trust Fund and all of our funders who made this project possible.”


AMIT Student Ambassadors from Israel, AMIT L.A. leaders and comedian Elon Gold (back row, third from left) share an evening of laughter and inspiration in support of an education network in Israel. . Photo by Curtis McElhinney.

More than 150 guests joined AMIT Student Ambassadors from Israel and comedian Elon Gold at the Olympic Collection to share an evening of laughter and inspiration and to honor community members Douglas Williams, CEO of Williams Service Corp., and television writer Leslie Schapira for their support and leadership.

The Nov. 19 evening’s laughter was delivered courtesy of Gold, and included appearances by AMIT student ambassadors who gave musical performances and shared the impact that AMIT has had on them. Gold said that he gave it his all knowing how important AMIT is to ensuring the success of future generations in Israel.

AMIT, an educational network in Israel, provides innovative, Jewish values-based education that has impact more than 36,000 children, 70% of whom live on the socioeconomic or geographic periphery, according to AMIT. 

The group is active in Los Angeles under the leadership of AMIT Western Region Director Liron Yadin.


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