January 17, 2020

Sports Stars at JNF Event, Yachad Leadership Dinner

From left: Jewish National Fund (JNF) Breakfast Co-Chair Fred Toczek, Mark Spitz, Ramona Shelburne, Tal Brody and breakfast Co-Chair Sara Cannon. Jewish National Fund

In a show of support for Jewish National Fund (JNF), over 1,000 people filled the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton for JNF’s 15th annual Breakfast for Israel on Dec. 3. The program included a discussion about “The Success of Jews in Sports” with nine-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Mark Spitz and Goodwill Ambassador of Israel Tal “Mr. Basketball” Brody.

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne moderated the panel with Spitz and Brody.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman kicked off the program with inspiring words. “We’ve learned a lot from sports: Teamwork and spiritual conviction are needed to succeed,” he said. 

This message was echoed in remarks from the panelists. Brody shared how, in 1965, he took one year out of his life and potential NBA career to go to Israel and change the mood and spirit of the country. One year turned into 54 and he has never looked back. Among his many professional accomplishments was leading an Israeli basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, to the country’s first professional European championship in 1977.

Spitz recounted his experience at the 1972 Munich Olympics where his seven gold medals were overshadowed by the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. He also spoke about the pride he has in being the only non-Israeli athlete to light the torch at the 1985 Maccabiah Games, where he was joined by three children of the Munich victims.

Brody discussed the psychological damage inflicted on Israelis as a result of rockets blasted into the country from Gaza. He thanked JNF for providing psychological support through resilience centers, bomb shelters and more. 

The event was co-chaired by Sara Cannon and Fred Toczek.

“It was such an amazing breakfast with sports fans and Israel fans alike,” the co-chairs said in a statement. “Our guests left inspired and with a better understanding of the importance of what Jewish National Fund does for the State of Israel. It’s incredible to see such support for Israel and all the work JNF does every day. The Jewish community has so much to be proud of and we can add superb athleticism to that list!” 

JNF Executive Director Lou Rosenberg took to the stage and gave an overview of JNF’s work.

“Last year, I stood on this very stage and shared how our brothers and sisters living along the Gaza border are dealing with terrorist threats and hundreds of rockets launched every single day,” he said. “Here we are one year later, our friends and family are still being attacked and our children are still suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Jewish National Fund was there last year, is there today, and will stand with Israel tomorrow and forever.”

Los Angeles Yachad’s inaugural community inclusive leadership Shabbat celebration drew students from local Jewish day schools, among others. Photo by Esther Beron

Yachad, an organization dedicated to supporting those with disabilities, held its inaugural Community Inclusive Leadership Shabbat dinner on Dec. 20 at Young Israel of Century City.

The event provided an opportunity for up-and-coming young leaders to learn about inclusion via sensitivity training. Attendees also discussed how to implement these tools to make everyone feel welcome. According to a spokesperson for the organization, Yachad’s sensitivity training program provides students and community members with hands-on experiences that effectively convey the challenges that people with special needs face, allowing mainstream participants to understand their peers and community members with developmental disabilities.

Students and members enjoyed speakers, breakout sessions, food from Pat’s Catering and programming for all training levels. Speakers included Rabbi Joshua Spodek, head of YULA Girls High School; community member and Yachad parent Cynthia Steinschreiber; and Maimonides Academy teacher Jamie Bunin.

More than 100 people turned out, including eighth-grade students from Maimonides Academy, community leaders and local rabbis, high school students from Jewish schools throughout Southern California, and college students who work as volunteers for Yachad members, among others.

Monica Rukhman, director of L.A. Yachad, welcomed everyone. She thanked and praised her staff and colleagues for helping create such a unique opportunity for families. 

“After having spoken to every student here, it is a bit surreal to see that it has all come to fruition. It is truly my pleasure to work with and help everyone in our community,” Rukhman said. “A lot of hard work has gone into planning this extraordinary Shabbat dinner, but I already know it was all worth it.”

Yachad L.A. provides social, recreational and educational programming for individuals with developmental disabilities, including inclusive summer camp options and trips to Israel with Birthright. 

Board members and supporters of the David Labkovski Project gathered on Dec. 4 at a private home in Hidden Hills. Photo courtesy of the David Labkovski Project

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman, along with board members and supporters of the David Labkovski Project, gathered on Dec. 4 at a private home in Hidden Hills to launch the David Labkovski Project (DLP) docent training program.  

The new community service opportunity for students in grades 8-12 provides Holocaust education through the art of David Labkovski and facilitates students being able to educate their peers and act as docents for the “Documenting History Through Art” traveling exhibition. 

The program operates under the leadership of DLP Education Director Stephanie Wolfson and Leora Raikin, executive director of DLP.

The DLP’s project-based program fuses art, history and technology, and was piloted in 2016. It has since been implemented in middle schools, high schools and colleges with students from all backgrounds who have become curators of an exhibit to their community and in the process educate their peers about the Holocaust.

Newman spoke about the importance of bearing witness to history and the need for Holocaust education.  

David Labkovski, a Lithuanian Israeli artist, survived the Holocaust while a prisoner in Siberia. His over 400 paintings and sketches document life before, during and after the Holocaust in
Vilnius, Lithuania, as well as his renewal in Israel.

At the event, guests experienced the virtual reality component of the traveling exhibition. Jeff Kobulnick, a partner at Brutzkus Gubner, was announced as the DLP 2020 Legacy of Hope Award recipient.

Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, executive director of Friendship Circle Los Angeles (FCLA), leads a menorah lighting at the FCLA Hanukkah party. Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle of Los Angeles

A crowd of over 300 children who have special needs, along with
their families, teen volunteers and community members, joined Friendship Circle of Los Angeles (FCLA) at its “Glow in the Dark Chanukah” holiday program on Dec. 22.

Amid the black light in its main room, FCLA held a silent dance party. It allowed each participant to dance to music from wireless headphones rather than using a speaker system. Music was broadcast via a radio transmitter so each person was able to choose their own song and set the volume, “a win-win for everyone,” the organization said.

Holiday craft activities abounded as children and young adults with special needs had their faces painted with menorahs and other Jewish symbols. They also enjoyed take-home art projects such as scratch art and glow-in-the-dark car magnets.

Parents enjoyed the mini-meditation retreat with relaxing meditation through which each person came out refreshed from the opportunity to rewind.

Of course, there was a grand menorah lighting with Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, executive director of FCLA. Children had the chance to light a candle while reciting the blessing. Everyone joined together in song.

The program ended with each child with special needs and their siblings receiving a gift donated by Looking Beyond Next Gen, the Kleinman Family, Anton Schiff and Jacques Stambouli. Looking Beyond also invited some young adults who volunteered with kids and took part in the activities. They gave away bikes, Barbie dolls, electronics, craft sets, board games and more. There also was a raffle of gifts.

One of FCLA’s longtime donors, the Joy and Jerry Monkarsh Family Foundation, sponsored the program.

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Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.