The 80th birthday celebration for Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Ritual Director Yossi Dresner drew a standing-room-only crowd during the Conservative community’s daily minyan on July 12. Dresner also was honored at services at VBS on Shabbat morning, July 14.
Dresner, who has served as the b’nai mitzvah teacher for several generations of boys and girls, continues to teach the adult b’nai mitzvah classes at VBS.
VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein and VBS Cantors Herschel Fox and Phil Baron and other clergy and congregants participated in the celebration. The gathering also included a mini-reunion for Dresner with Rabbi Baruch Cohon, who discovered Dresner when he first arrived in Los Angeles from Israel in 1966, and with some of their students from Valley Beth Israel in Sun Valley, where Cohon was the cantor and Dresner taught prior to VBS.
Elianna Sokoler, a student at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, was among the top scorers at the recent national finals of the USA Bible Quiz.
Sokoler, who competed against more than 200 youths, ages 14–18, was among four American students who advanced to next year’s International Bible Quiz in Israel. The national finals took place in New York on April 29.
The Bible Quiz, organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel and several Israeli governmental ministries and nonprofits, is a nondenominational event raising awareness among the general public about the importance of the Bible to Jewish identity and heritage.
“Good Shabbos, bar mitzvah boy,” Rabbi Yonah Bookstein said on May 19, a Shabbat morning, greeting 83-year-old Gene Greenberg at his familiar final-row aisle seat at the Pico Shul.
Minutes later, Greenberg stepped to the bimah and revived a latter-day Jewish custom.
“In Judaism, 70 years is considered a lifetime,” Greenberg explained. “When you are bar mitzvah at 13, you become a man. Seventy years later, after you have lived a full life, there is a tradition, now, that you should be bar mitzvah again.”
Greenberg approximated his bar mitzvah ritual from June 12, 1948. This time, however, he restricted his chanting to the opening and closing haftarah blessings. “With the voice I have now,” Greenberg said, “I could not get the trope down” to read the haftarah aloud.
A retired entrepreneur who owned several companies at different times, Greenberg said he became a millionaire at 27 and went broke at 30.
Married for 62 years, he and his academician wife, Miriam Greenberg, raised two sons and are pillars of Pico Shul, a community for singles and marrieds in their 20s and 30s.
Greenberg took a wending path to his landmark accomplishment. He became bar mitzvah the first time in a Conservative ceremony at the Flatbush Jewish Center in his native Brooklyn. With reluctance, Greenberg attended Hebrew school five afternoons a week. At home, he recalled, “religion was an incidental part of our lives.”
Dick Horowitz, co-founder of Aish HaTorah, Los Angeles, introduced the Greenbergs to religious Judaism. “He suggested we come to a service on Shabbos,” Greenberg said.
This exposure convinced Miriam Greenberg their future was in the Orthodox community. It would be another year, though, before her husband embraced her decision.
The Greenbergs are former members of Westwood Kehilla, where Greenberg has served as president.
“This may be hard to believe,” said the lifelong joke-teller, “but I do not like speaking in front of crowds. My hardest job as president was making announcements to the congregation.”
When he renewed his bar mitzvah at Pico Shul, he proved it. His speech was brief and (almost) joke-free. — Ari L. Noonan, Contributing Writer
Approximately 100 people enjoyed a round of golf at El Caballero Country Club on June 18 during an event that raised $159,000 for Beit T’Shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center based in Los Angeles.
Beit T’Shuvah, which incorporates Judaism into the rehabilitation process, works to ensure that those suffering from addiction have access to recovery, regardless of their ability to pay.
Event sponsors included The Antin Family/VCA, Beit T’Shuvah Senior Rabbi Mark Borovitz; Harriet Rossetto, founder and clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah; Steve Miller of Finance West; Gary Mintz; Ali and Ryan Gagerman; Meryl and Russell Kern; Frank Tell of Tell Mediation Services; Waxie Sanitary Supply; and the Webster family.
Beit T’Shuvah recently named Janice Kamenir-Reznik as its board chair, effective July 1.
“I am honored to serve this incredible organization,” Kamenir-Reznik said in a statement. “I have personally experienced its life-saving work and benefited from its services. Beit T’Shuvah provides a critical service to our community; we save lives every day.”
Kamenir-Reznik has been an active member of the Beit T’Shuvah community for many years, serving as the chair of the development committee and co-chairing the annual Beit T’Shuvah gala. A lawyer by profession, she practiced environmental real estate law for more than two decades before retiring to establish Jewish World Watch, an organization she co-founded with the late Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis to respond to genocide and mass atrocities.
“We are delighted that Janice has agreed to serve Beit T’Shuvah in this new role,” Beit T’Shuvah Executive Director Warren Breslow said. “She is an inspiring advocate for Beit T’Shuvah’s mission and the organization stands to benefit greatly from her leadership.”
She succeeds Russell Kern as board chair.
After a three-year absence, Rabbi Barry Diamond has returned to Temple Adat Elohim (TAE), a Reform congregation in Thousand Oaks, effective July 1.
“We are thrilled to have Rabbi Diamond and his wife, Sandy, back to TAE and we welcome them with open arms,” TAE President Sandy Greenstein said in a statement. “He is well known here for his warmth, humor, and inspiring sermons that interpret the Torah through a contemporary lens. Rabbi Diamond made a tremendous impact on our community when he was here before, creating novel programs that encouraged members of all ages to form tighter connections to Adat Elohim, and inspiring greater participation in social action including the homeless shelter that we host weekly during the winter months.”
Diamond expressed enthusiasm about rejoining TAE to serve as its spiritual leader after previously serving as its interim rabbi from 2013–15. He said he was “honored to return to Temple Adat Elohim, this time for the long term. It is my mission to create circles of community that are the setting for exploring our sense of responsibility to each other and the world,” he said. “It is through caring connections around shared interests that we gain insight into God and feel called upon to repair our fractured world.”
Diamond has been the interim rabbi for the past two years at Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, N.J.
He was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.