December 18, 2018

Moving and Shaking: Milken Jewish Educator Awards and USCJ conference

Osnat Bernstein of Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School was one of four recipients of this year's Jewish Educator Award. Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation.

Four educators at area Jewish schools were awarded $15,000 Milken Jewish Educator Awards by the Milken Family Foundation earlier this month.

The annual prizes this year went to Deborah Raskin, principal at Or HaChaim Academy, an Orthodox elementary and middle school in North Hollywood; Mickey Rabinov, a Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher and administrator at Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village; Osnat Bernstein, a middle school Hebrew teacher at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge; and Benny Ferdman, founding artistic director and visual arts teacher at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills.

The prize, which comes with the hefty, unrestricted cash award for each recipient, recognizes outstanding teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who work at day schools affiliated with BJE–Builders of Jewish Education. The award was established in 1990.

BJE executive director Gil Graff, along with Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, which promotes education and medical research, surprised the four local educators during school assemblies at each campus on Oct. 15.

“The Jewish Educator Awards call upon others in the profession to emulate the high standards of those we honor today — educators whose intelligence, scholarship, creativity and compassion help guide children to greater success, while preserving the heritage that gives meaning to that success,” Sandler wrote in a statement.

The award recognizes day school educators from across the Jewish spectrum in elementary and secondary education, while increasing public support for them and raising awareness of their contributions to the community and society. The cash award also encourages able, caring and creative people to choose a career in education, according to the foundation’s Web site. 

The foundation works in cooperation with BJE, the central agency for Jewish education in Los Angeles, in identifying winners.

Attendees of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) centennial this month included Orange County resident Missy Jane (third from left), Academy Jewish Religion, California cantorial student Amy Robinson (fifth from left) and Temple Aliyah’s Cantor Mike Stein (eighth from left).  Photo courtesy of USCJ.

When the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) centennial conference took place in Baltimore, Md., Oct. 13-15 with the theme, “Conversation of the Century,” the event drew some of the movement’s most prominent West Coast leaders.

The Los Angeles contingent included a number of rabbis from American Jewish University: Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy; Ron Wolfson, a professor at the Graduate Center for Education, and others. Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and Hazzan Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills were also among the attendees.

As the keynote speaker on Oct. 13, Artson reflected on these changing times: “All wisdom traditions struggle in an age in which the shifts in culture are so massive that they will not be met by merely a few institutional adjustments, as valuable as those may be. Nor will they revive because of a changed name or the slick slogan, although those might also be helpful. No, our challenge is to step beyond habit, to reach beyond fear, to return to a core vision that is worthy of our passion and our talents and our lives.”

Feinstein commented on the recent study by the Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which suggests Jewish affiliation is on the decline and that the Conservative movement, in particular, faces a difficult road ahead, during an Oct. 14 morning session. 

“Our house is on fire. If you don’t read anything else in the Pew report, [it is that] we have maybe 10 years left,” Feinstein is quoted as saying in media reports. “In the next 10 years you will see a rapid collapse of synagogues and the national organizations that support them.”

According to the USCJ Web site, the conference — which was preceded by a two-day Shabbaton — highlighted “the future, the challenges and opportunities we face in re-imaging our kehillot – our sacred communities – for a changing Jewish world and over 1.5 million members.”

It brought together more than 100 speakers and artists and featured lectures, discussions, study and breakout sessions, workshops and musical performances. More than 1,200 lay leaders, professionals, leaders, congregants, students and clergy attended.

Founded in 1913, USCJ is the umbrella organization for Conservative congregations in North America. Last week’s event marked the USCJ 100th anniversary and served as the association’s biennial. 

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to