December 10, 2019

Moving and shaking: USY convention, West Valley Eruv inauguration and more

United Synagogue Youth (USY) held its 65th international convention in Baltimore from Dec. 27-31. More than 700 teenagers, including 25 from Los Angeles, attended. The convention, themed “Think More, Do More, B’More,” focused on advocacy and included sessions on political activism in U.S.-Israel relations, LGBTQ issues, gender equality, race, poverty, mental health awareness and anti-Semitism, among others. USY, a program of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), is the largest conservative Jewish youth group in America. 

Mira Berenbaum, president of Temple Beth Am USY in Los Angeles and a delegate at the convention, said the convention impressed upon her that one should “take what you’re passionate about and make it into tikkun olam.”

USY partnered with organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, Keshet, Avodah, U Mattr, AIPAC and Sojourn to provide teens with tools to serve their communities. Guest speakers included American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel keynote speaker; renowned “Mitzvah Man” Danny Siegel; Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation CEO Sam Daley-Harris; and USY’s 2015 Danny Siegel Changemaker-in-Residence and Cleveland social entrepreneur Matthew Fieldman. 

“Our USYers are on their way onto the college campus and have made it clear that they want to arrive better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead,” said Director of Teen Learning for USCJ Rabbi David Levy. “They all have the potential to be great leaders in the Jewish community and beyond, and at this convention we hope to empower them to do so.”

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

The Dec. 16 West Valley Eruv inauguration ceremony at the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana honored rabbis, city leaders and other community members who helped make a new eruv in Encino and Tarzana a reality.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Executive Director Rabbi Meyer May addresses a gathering of community members at the inauguration of an eruv in the West Valley. Photo by Jonah Light 

It was the culmination of more than 25 years of effort toward installing the eruv, a halachic perimeter that transforms a public area into a private domain for Shabbat by using fences, string or wire. This enables observant Jews to carry items such as books and prayer shawls and to push strollers within its boundaries on Shabbat. The idea is that it opens up a community for greater social interaction, supporters say.

According to those who organized the event, the recent ceremony was attended by 5th District Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz; Simon Wiesenthal Center Executive Director Rabbi Meyer May; local consultant Joseph Bernstein; secretary and treasurer of the West Valley Eruv Society Rosana Miller; and her husband, Alon; Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz of the Kosher Information Bureau in Valley Village; and Rabbi Moshe Heinemann of Agudath Israel in Baltimore, among others.

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles announced Jan. 11 that it has hired Janna Weinstein Smith as its regional director.

Janna Weinstein Smith

Effective Jan. 20, Weinstein Smith succeeds AJC interim Regional Director Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, who took the reins in early 2015 after the resignation of then-AJC Regional Director Rabbi Mark Diamond.

“Janna will be a tremendous addition to the Los Angeles region and will hit the ground running,” AJC Los Angeles President Dean Schramm, Search Committee Chairman Dick Volpert and Greenebaum said in an email to the organization’s regional board, as quoted in a press release. 

Weinstein Smith most recently served as the West Coast regional director of development at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. She is a former Los Angeles-area director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where she worked for several years on “all AIPAC activity and activism including membership, fundraising, grassroots mobilizations, community education and political engagement,” according to an AJC Los Angeles statement.

She received a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University in 2000 and a master’s from San Francisco State University in 2007.

Her hiring follows “a nationwide search,” according to the statement.

AJC is a global Jewish advocacy organization focused on domestic and international issues.

Rena Perl, 12, was named a Discovery Girl for the December/January issue of Discovery Girls magazine, a bimonthly publication geared toward girls ages 8–12. The Los Angeles resident was one of 36 girls from across the U.S. selected to attend a summit where they worked on content for the publication and participated in a costume photo shoot. Perl, who is featured on the magazine’s cover, is a rhythmic gymnast and ballet dancer who performed in “The Nutcracker” at The Wiltern.

Rena Perl, a student in the Los Angeles Modern Orthodox community, appeared on the cover of Discovery Girls magazine. Photo courtesy of Discovery Girls

“Being a Discovery Girl was not only an amazing experience that I will cherish in my heart forever, it was an opportunity to show girls, especially Jewish girls, all they can do while staying true to their values and to their religion,” Perl wrote in an email. She is a ninth-grader at Harkham GAON Academy, a Modern Orthodox school located within the Westside Jewish Community Center. 

Perl told Discovery Girls magazine that as an Orthodox Jew, she sometimes has to miss out on doing things she loves but that practicing Judaism will always be an important part of who she is.

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer