November 21, 2018

Moving and shaking: Times of Israel gala, Nostre Aetate anniversary and ROSIES

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) has launched the Max Steinberg Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund in memory of the lone soldier from Woodland Hills who was killed last summer during Israel’s war in Gaza.

Lone soldiers are members of the Israel Defense Forces who are living in Israel without any family, much like Max Steinberg, who served as a sharpshooter and staff sergeant in the elite Golani Brigade after a Birthright trip that, by all accounts, changed his life. In July, he died in battle in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

The scholarship fund by the fundraising organization that supports the Israel-based university officially was launched Feb. 15 during a Times of Israel gala in New York City by AABGU Vice President Jessica Sillins. It represents a partnership with Steinberg’s family — his parents, Stuart and Evie, and siblings, Paige and Jake

“We felt this was the best way to perpetuate Max’s legacy,” Stuart Steinberg said in a phone interview. “Ben-Gurion University is really consistent with our belief system — their education and everything they stand for — [and] we’re happy to be associated with them.”

It costs $75,000 to fund a scholarship for a single undergraduate student at the university annually, according to a press release. The fund will provide scholarships to Golani and other combat reservists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, with first preference going to lone soldiers. The Steinbergs will be part of the decision process to ensure that recipients “mirror Max’s values and vision,” the press release said.

Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel worked with Philip Gomperts, AABGU’s Southwest regional director, and the Steinberg family “to create an appropriate legacy for Max and his fellow soldiers,” the press release said.

“Max Steinberg made the ultimate sacrifice and we are forever indebted to him,” Siegel said in the release.

Jewish and Catholic leaders met Feb. 17 under the high ceilings of the ornate Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels to celebrate five decades of interfaith relations. 

From left: Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of AJC-LA; Eugene J. Fisher of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Rev. Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles; Rabbi David Rosen, AJC international director of interreligious affairs; and  the Rev. Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious affairs officer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Photo by David Medill

The event, dubbed “A Watershed Moment in Catholic-Jewish Relations: Marking the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate,” was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It attracted more than 100 attendees.  

Rabbi David Rosen, AJC international director of interreligious affairs, described “Nostra Aetate” (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions)  — copies of which sat before each of the attendees — as a “historic document.” 

The Second Vatican Council passed it in a sweeping vote in 1965, effectively — and finally — distancing Jews from the death of Jesus and denouncing anti-Semitism. It served as the Catholics’ official embrace of non-Christian religions, and signaled a new beginning for Catholics and the Jewish people.

Literally, the Latin nostra aetate translates as “in our time.” During the event, Fisher earned laughs when he translated the title as “it’s about time.”

Other speakers were Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles (AJC-LA); the Rev. Jose H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles; and Eugene J. Fisher, specialist in Catholic-Jewish relations for three decades at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and the Rev. Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious affairs officer of the local archdiocese.

Philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff, AJC-LA Chairman Clifford Goldstein and Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart, attended the event.

AJC and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles were co-sponsors. The former fosters interfaith coalitions as part of its mission of being a global Jewish advocate.

The nonprofit ROSIES (Removing Obstacles, Supporting Innovation, Empowerment and Sustainability) Foundation hosted its first “Give ROSIES” Pop-Up at its Culver City office Feb. 13, selling Valentine’s Day roses to raise funds and community awareness for its work. 

ROSIES employee-in-training Ezra Fields-Meyer with Nechama Chernotsky, co-chair of the events committee, selling Valentine’s Day roses to raise funds and community awareness for the nonprofit’s work at the ROSIES Foundation “Give ROSIES” event at its Culver City office Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of ROSIES

The event was staffed by volunteers and ROSIES staffers, as well as participants in ROSIES’ CREW (Collaborative, Respected, Empowered Workers) College, a program that trains individuals with developmental disabilities to be successful in the workplace.

The ROSIES team also distributed free flowers the previous night in Culver City. Between the two events, they met face to face with approximately 500 people and raised just over $2,000, according to ROSIES founder and CEO Lee Chernotsky.

The CREW members, young adults in their 20s, greeted customers, helped them select and wrap roses, and processed payments — all skills they had been trained to do as part of the ROSIES program.

“Everyone has a specific job,” Chernotsky explained. “We work to identify everyone’s learning styles, because people are not going to be successful at learning skills unless they’re taught the information in a way they can process it.”

For instance, Mia Senzaki, 23, had a cheat sheet available, hich showed her in both photos and words how much change to give customers.

Ezra Fields-Meyer was the friendly greeter at the door — and already familiar to some in the local Jewish community. His parents are Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer and writer Tom Fields-Meyer, whose book about raising an autistic son is called “Following Ezra.” 

Sonia Dickson, a ROSIES CREW chief, said finding sustainable employment for people with disabilities is difficult. They can be taught skills but often can’t adapt those skills to new situations. “But we’re shifting the paradigm. We assume competency and intellect in our CREW members, and focus on shaping their ability to adapt.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

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