September 22, 2019

Moving & Shaking: Tom Hanks reads ‘Night,’ San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel and more

About 1,000 people attended a reading of “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his experience during the Holocaust. The April 23 event at Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) was held in observance of Yom HaShoah, the first since Wiesel’s death in July.

“This afternoon’s reading is a wakeup call … a call to activism, to compassion, to understanding,” WBT Rabbi Susan Nanus, one of the event’s organizers, said during her introductory remarks.

Steven Z. Leder, WBT’s senior rabbi, was the first to read from the memoir. He was followed by readers who, among others, included actor Tom Hanks; talk show host Tavis Smiley; Rabbis David Wolpe, Karen Fox, Daniel Bouskila and Laura Geller; philanthropist Sharon Nazarian; Jewish Journal senior writer and columnist Danielle Berrin; and the consuls general of Germany and Israel in Los Angeles, Hans Jorg Neumann and Sam Grundwerg, respectively.

After the conclusion of the reading, which lasted about three hours, the audience in the synagogue’s Byzantine-revival sanctuary stood and observed a moment of silence and then recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

A video of the reading can be watched at

On the same day at Congregation Kol Ami, a West Hollywood Reform synagogue, Danny Maseng, chazzan and spiritual leader of Makom LA, recited prayers and lit memorial candles during a ceremony in commemoration of Yom HaShoah.

“Human spirit is the light of God,” Maseng said.

Attendees included David Straus, a board member of Jewish World Watch, and Rev. Keith Cox, spiritual leader at the Center for Spiritual Living Los Angeles.

—Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Doug Williams, Jewish National Fund Los Angeles board member; Sarita and Sam Grundwerg, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Shlomi Vayzer, a Jewish National Fund Israeli emissary in L.A. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

The inaugural San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was held March 30 and included a panel discussion on the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s 1967 reunification.

The annual breakfast, which the JNF holds most years at a location in the Los Angeles Basin, this time was moved to the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills to connect with the large Israeli community in the San Fernando Valley.

Film and television producer Howard Rosenman moderated the discussion, which featured panelists Yoel Rosby, JNF’s Ammunition Hill Liaison; Larry Russ, a lawyer and supporter of the Ammunition Hill Memorial Site; and Phillip Yankofsky, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veteran of the Six-Day War.

Ammunition Hill holds great significance in the formation of the modern Jewish state. In the 1930s, the British built a police academy in North Jerusalem and stored ammunition on the adjacent hill, which came to be known as Ammunition Hill. In the 1948 War of Independence, Jordanians captured the site and Jewish Jerusalem was split in two. The hill sat at a crossroads and was the centerpiece of defense. Heavily fortified with dozens of trenches terraced into the hill, it was an intimidating obstacle to overcome. It became the historic site of the battle for the reunification of Jerusalem.

Early on the morning of June 6, 1967, about 150 Israeli paratroopers attacked the hill believing, based on erroneous intelligence, that they outnumbered the Jordanians 3 to 1. In fact, the Jordanian forces also had about 150 soldiers. Fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued. By 8 a.m., the Israeli forces had taken the hill, but not without sustaining losses — 36 were killed and 90 were wounded. Seventy-one Jordanians died in the battle. On June 7, 1967, IDF commander Motta Gur announced, “Har HaBayit beyadeinu!” (“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”), the realization of a 2,000-year-old dream for Israelis.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg discussed how JNF is cultivating the land of Israel and enriching the lives of its people. He also provided an overview of the region and the changing realities in the Middle East, from the latest security threats to the newest security innovations.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


From left: Jeff Goldstein, general manager at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary; Professor Laurie Levenson; retired judge Burt Pines; UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Rabbi Gary Ezra Oren. Photo courtesy of AJU Whizin Center for Continuing Education

Nearly 500 people filled Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University (AJU) in Los Angeles on March 26 to take part in AJU’s 14th annual biblical trial, “The Book of Jonah: The People v. The Sailors for Attempted Murder.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino started the event by introducing the biblical text and the case for attempted murder against the sailors who threw Jonah overboard.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, prosecuted the sailors. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, acted as the sailors’ defense attorney. Levenson and Chemerinsky had participated as opposing counsel in the event’s previous years. Past cases included “The People v. Abraham,” “The People v. King David” and “The People v. Moses.”

Burt Pines, a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, presided over the mock trial, which included opening arguments, rebuttals and closing arguments.

“Where else will you find almost 500 Jews from all over Los Angeles gathered together on a Sunday morning to learn about our ancient texts?” said Rabbi Gary Oren, vice president and dean of AJU’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education.

After the two-hour program, a vote by the audience serving as the jury found the sailors not guilty. It was a familiar verdict, as defendants have been acquitted in all 14 of the biblical trials.

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary sponsored the event.

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer


From left: Samara Hutman, executive director of Remember Us; child survivors Henry Slucki, Eva Brettler and Marie Kaufman; and novelist Mona Simpson at Diesel, A Book Store in Brentwood. Photo by Deeana Goodman

Holocaust survivors and their families, friends and guests gathered on April 19 at Diesel, A Bookstore in Brentwood to celebrate the release of the second edition of “How We Survived: 52 Personal Stories by Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” a self-published book by the group Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles.

As evening fell, some two dozen participants gathered in the bookstore’s courtyard, surrounded by the illuminated windows of neighboring boutiques. Child survivors Eva Brettler, Henry Slucki and Marie Kaufman, the book’s lead editor, read passages from their accounts in “How We Survived.”

The new edition includes a foreword from Samara Hutman, executive director of Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project. Hutman, who helped organize the event, joined the survivors on a panel moderated by novelist Mona Simpson.

Slucki said that as the ranks of Holocaust survivors began to thin in the first decade of the 21st century, “it became an urgent matter for us to get this published before we couldn’t tell our stories any longer. No two stories are alike.”

A committee worked on the book for five years before its 2011 publication.

Kaufman said the book would impress on her descendants and those of other child survivors that they owe their lives to the kindness of strangers who protected Jews during the Holocaust.

“I want them to know why they are in this world — because of people who cared,” Kaufman said.

Brettler echoed that sentiment.

“The only way that 8-year-old could survive,” she said, referring to herself, “was through the compassion of strangers. And I am fortunate to have grandchildren who keep that compassion alive.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Tess Cutler. Photo by Lynn Pelkey.

Tess Cutler has joined the editorial staff of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles as a video producer.

Cutler will head the Journal’s efforts to produce original videos and will work with writers to add video content to their stories. Her position is made possible by a grant from the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund.

“Tess has been a longtime Jewish Journal contributing writer while she has been studying and working in video production,” Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said in a statement. “We are excited to have her on board full-time in her new role.”

Cutler interned at Tablet magazine in New York and attended Santa Fe University of Art and Design in New Mexico, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing/English literature.

“I’m ecstatic to flourish and grow with the Jewish Journal family,” Cutler said. “I think that’s what I’m most excited about, to turn my lens on or use my lens to capture the great community that we have.”

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