November 19, 2018

Moving and Shaking: Bet Tzedek’s big night, IAC holds conference, interfaith tolerance celebrated

Bet Tzedek Legal Services honored donors and employees with awards Feb. 21 at its annual gala dinner, which was attended by more than 1,200 people at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live.

The organization helps low-income clients deal with a range of legal issues, from housing to elder abuse.

Prominent Los Angeles lawyer Alan Rothenberg and his wife, Georgina, received the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award. The Eisner Foundation, a nonprofit that invests in intergenerational programming, received the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award. Bet Tzedek elder-fraud attorney Nicholas Levenhagen received the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award.

Most Rev. José H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, delivered the evening’s invocation.

Philanthropists Art and Dahlia Bilger, who donated $50,000 on the occasion of the gala, were among the dinner’s co-chairs, along with Mayor Eric Garcetti; retired California Chief Justice Ronald George and his wife, Barbara; and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor and his wife, writer and former broadcast journalist Heidi Schulman.

Bet Tzedek reported that it raised more than $2.1 million from the dinner.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Rabba Yaffa Epstein led a salon-style, Purim-focused learning session on Feb. 24.  Photo by Esther Kustanowitz.

Rabba Yaffa Epstein led a salon-style, Purim-focused learning session on Feb. 24. Photo by Esther Kustanowitz.

Rabba Yaffa Epstein, director of strategic partnerships at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a 2015 graduate of Yeshivat Maharat, led a salon-style, Purim-focused text study at the West Adams home of Abby Fifer Mandell, executive director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab at USC’s Marshall School of Business, on Feb. 24.

Yeshivat Maharat is the self-described “first yeshiva to ordain women as Orthodox clergy.”

Over the course of two hours, participants at the gathering split up into pairs and examined texts from the megillah, the Mishnah and more. They discussed the importance of celebrating Purim in a communal setting and what distinguishes Purim from other Jewish holidays. Attendees included Jewish Journal Contributing Writer Esther Kustanowitz, organizer of the event; actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”); Fifer Mandell’s husband, Avram Mandell, executive director and founder of Tzedek America; current Tzedek America fellows Gabe Melmed and Emily Heaps; Todd Shotz, founder and executive director of Hebrew Helpers; and consultant Wendy Jackler.

Cheese and wine were served to attendees, many of whom were affiliated with LimmudLA, a volunteer-led Jewish learning community, and the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, a leadership development program for Jewish communal professionals. Limmud Bay Area co-founder Mila Wichter was among the participants.

“The opportunity to sit around in someone’s living room and talk about what makes Purim different from all the other holidays provided a burst of energy at the end of a long day,” Kustanowitz said.

Approximately 400 Israeli-American students from across the country attended the Israeli American Council Mishelanu conference.  Photo courtesy of Israeli American Council.

Approximately 400 Israeli-American students from across the country attended the Israeli American Council Mishelanu conference. Photo courtesy of Israeli American Council.

Israeli American Council (IAC) Mishelanu held its third national conference Feb. 17-19 at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel.

Mishelanu, a college campus program, provides a home for Israeli-American students who explore their Israeli-American and Jewish identities through culture, language, heritage and a strong connection to Israel. The national network is present on 96 campuses.

About 400 Israeli-American students from across the country attended the conference. The students spent the weekend participating in breakout sessions on initiative-building, networking, policy and political organizing, strategic leadership, social media campaigning, Israeli-American media and Israeli music.

Speakers included entrepreneurs, business leaders and nonprofit professionals. Among them were Guy Katsovich and Yair Vardi, managing partners of Splash Ventures; Roy Dekel, CEO of SetSchedule; and Yotam Polizer, co-CEO at the humanitarian response organization IsraAID.

Also appearing were Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini; educator Neil Lazarus, an expert on the Middle East and Israeli politics; and Moti Kahana, the Israeli-American founder of Amaliah, an American organization aiding Syrian refugees.

IAC leaders in attendance were Chairman Adam Milstein, CEO Shoham Nicolet, Chairman Emeritus Shawn Evenhaim, board member Naty Saidoff and Los Angeles regional director Erez Goldman.

The program reaches nearly 1,000 students in 17 states.

“IAC Mishelanu students are our ‘secret sauce’ on campus,” Nicolet said in a statement. “They speak both ‘Israeli’ and ‘American’ and can serve as a unique bridge within the university’s student body, spreading love and passion for Israel.”

Manny Dahari, 23, a student at Yeshiva University and a Mishelanu student leader, was among those who attended the conference.

“I’ve attended all three Mishelanu conferences and it only gets bigger and better each year,” Dahari said. “This year’s conference was fantastic, as always. I believe the Israeli-American community is getting stronger and Mishelanu will only continue to grow around the country.”

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

ms-interfaith toleranceDuring the first Interfaith Tolerance Awards, Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev honored Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Churches in Action founder Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez and King Fahad Mosque member Mahomed Akbar Khan in recognition of their efforts in promoting peace, tolerance and harmony among the three major religions.

The Feb. 21 event at the Museum of Tolerance also featured the screening of the documentary “Running From the Darkness.” Produced by J-Connect, an organization with which Bookstein is involved, and the One Wish Project, the film spotlights the 1992 Khojaly Massacre, when Armenian armed forces committed a mass murder of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly. In 2015, Bookstein visited Baku, Azerbaijan’s largest city and home to a little-known community of mountain Jews.

About 200 people attended the awards event, including Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance; Josh Kaplan, president of J-Connect; and Neuriel Shore, a Pico Shul congregant and senior campaign executive at the Jewish National Fund.

A live performance of Azerbaijani and European classical music followed the ceremony and screening.

ms-Hutman at Little TokyoSamara Hutman, director of Remember Us, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, participated in a Feb. 18 forum at the Japanese American National Museum addressing the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066.

Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, Executive Order 9066 resulted in the forced incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Hutman was on a panel that featured African-American, Japanese-American, Muslim and Latina speakers, including Norman Mineta, who served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of transportation; former Congressman Mike Honda; and Haru Kuromiya, a 90-year-old Japanese-American placed in an internment camp after Roosevelt’s executive order.

The event’s speakers drew parallels between the executive order of 1942 and President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, which, though ultimately blocked by the judicial branch of government, would have barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

Hutman and others stood before a banner-sized petition opposing “executive orders and laws that attack our civil and constitutional rights.” In addition, she read three poems, one by a child who was in the Terezin concentration camp during the Shoah and two by Japanese children placed into internment camps in the 1940s.

The event coincided with the opening of a new exhibition at the museum titled “Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066,” which runs until Aug. 13.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email