December 10, 2019

Moving & Shaking: Wise School, “Jerusalem of Gold,” and Gene Simmons

Nitzan Stein Kokin, who completed her final year of studies at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University (AJU) in Los Angeles, became the first graduate of Zacharias Frankel College in Berlin on June 18, making her the first Conservative rabbi to be ordained in the country since before World War II.

“The training at the Zacharias Frankel College really enhanced me intellectually and spiritually,” Kokin said in a statement. “I am looking forward to serving the Jewish people and spreading the word of Masorti Judaism in Germany and Europe.”

The 4-year-old rabbinical seminary of the Masorti/Conservative movement in Germany is under the religious auspices of the Ziegler School. The two share a dean and vice dean, Rabbi Bradley Artson and Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, respectively. Both took part in the ceremony at the Great Hall of the Jewish Community Center in Berlin.

From left: Nitzan Stein Kokin, the first graduate of Zacharias Frankel College, and Fredi and husband Rabbi Joel Rembaum attend Kokin’s ordination ceremony at Zacharias Frankel College in Berlin. Photo by Tobias Brains

During the ceremony, which was held in a venue that was one of Germany’s grand synagogues prior to Kristallnacht in 1938, Artson described Kokin as one of “the student pioneers who have had faith to walk with us in this new enterprise and its future,” according to Fredi Rembaum, a retired Jewish community professional and wife of Rabbi Joel Rembaum, both of whom attended. Rabbi Rembaum, a Ziegler School lecturer in history who has spent multiple semesters in Berlin teaching Jewish law to Frankel students, bestowed a priestly blessing with Rabbi Harvey Meirovich upon Kokin.

Kokin, 42, grew up in a Protestant household in a small town in southwest Germany. Her ordination culminated a journey that began when she converted to Judaism in 1999. She had been interested in the ministry and felt an exploration into Judaism would deepen her appreciation of Christianity. She eventually embraced Judaism wholeheartedly and made aliyah to Israel. She moved to Germany around 2010 after her husband, a Los Angeles native and former graduate student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, took a job there.

Jeffrey Levine, chairman of the board at the Ziegler School; L.A.-based husband and wife Benjamin and Irma Breslauer, who helped establish ties between Zacharias Frankel College with the Ziegler School; and Barton Kogan, a Ziegler board member, were among those who attended the ceremony.

Founded in cooperation with the Leo Baeck Foundation, the Zacharias Frankel College operates at the University of Potsdam. The school, named for Rabbi Zacharias Frankel, an intellectual progenitor of the Conservative movement, is attempting to rejuvenate Jewish life in a country that saw its Jewish population essentially wiped out during the Holocaust.

On Memorial Day Weekend, Wise School students traveled to Michigan and participated in the world finals of Odyssey of the Mind, an international problem-solving competition.

The Jewish day school’s fifth-grade team took on the technical “Odd-a-Bot” problem and placed eighth out of the top 52 teams in the world.

The school’s fourth-grade team took on the Classics problem and earned third place while competing against 67 teams.

Wise School, associated with Stephen Wise Temple, was the only Jewish day school to participate in Odyssey of the Mind, which involves teams of seven students from schools around the world selecting a problem and developing creative solutions to solve it. The competition showcases student teamwork, artistic abilities and engineering aptitude.

Jason Meth, project studio specialist at Wise School, served as the program coordinator and the head coach. Additional coaches were Rachel Mitzman and Edina Hartstein. Benjamin Goldenstein and Raisa Effress were the student assistant coaches, and Allison Ross was the coach of the third-grade team, which placed first at regionals and third at the state championship.

“Our Odyssey teams winning at a world-level competition is a tangible example of deep learning and extreme creativity,” Wise School Head of School Tami Weiser said.

Fela Shapell (center) and her family lead a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Research Center of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum dedicated its new David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center on April 24 during a ceremony that attracted Holocaust survivors and supporters from around the country.

The center is named for the late David Shapell, who died in 2015, and for his wife, Fela, who lives in Los Angeles with her family. David Shapell was a Los Angeles real estate developer and philanthropist.

The 80,000-square-foot center with specialized laboratories, equipment and climate-controlled environments will house and preserve the Washington, D.C., museum’s growing collection of media and artifacts.

In 2014, the Shapells gave $15 million to the museum to help with “the construction of a massive repository for Holocaust artifacts,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The ceremony for the center, located in Bowie, Md., coincided with Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Fela Shapell, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, attended the ceremony.

Michael Grunberger, director of the museum’s National Institute for Holocaust Documentation, welcomed the center’s opening.

“We are building the collection of record on the Holocaust, a collection that belongs to the nation,” Grunberger said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to ensure that it is preserved for posterity and its truth made accessible to the world.”

From left: American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV) Chairman Leonard Wilf; Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons; ASYV honoree Rita Spiegel; “Denial” producer Gary Foster; and ASYV Director Ron Meier attend the ASYV Generation to Generation 2017 Gala. Photo by Vince Bucci

The American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV) celebrated its Generation to Generation 2017 Gala on June 14 in a packed ballroom at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. The organization dedicated to advancing Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, honored Gene Simmons of the rock band Kiss and his mother, Holocaust survivor Flora Klein; the family of the late Edita and Abraham Spiegel, represented by their daughter, Rita Spiegel; and Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff, producers of the film “Denial.”

“My name is Chaim Witz,” Simmons said in Hebrew when he took the stage, his voice choked with emotion. “I am an Israeli. I am a Jew.”

Simmons, dressed in a dark jacket and wearing his trademark sunglasses under a pile of jet-black hair, repeated the same phrase in Hungarian, then in German, before translating it into English. Simmons’ mother, at age 14, was sent to Auschwitz, where she saw her mother, brother and entire extended family killed. She survived and moved to Haifa, where Simmons was born in 1949. Simmons credited his mother, who remained at her home on Long Island, for his drive, toughness and hopefulness: “ ‘Any day above ground is a good day,’ she always says.”

Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson presented Rita Spiegel and the Spiegel family with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Adelson said Rita’s father, who survived Auschwitz with Rita’s mother, inspired him to get involved in Jewish philanthropy. 

Also in attendance were Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Leonard Wilf, chairman of ASYV; gala chair Karen Sandler; Remember Us Director Samara Hutman; The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President Jay Sanderson; former Wynn Las Vegas President Marilyn Spiegel and her husband, Tom; ASYV Executive Director Ron Meier; J Media Group CEO Jess Dolgin; philanthropist Jake Farber; and Paul Stanley, Simmons’ Kiss bandmate.

The event raised approximately $800,000 for Yad Vashem.

— Jewish Journal Staff

From left: “Jerusalem of Gold” organizer Ari Bussel; Reverend Father John Bakas, dean of Saint Sophia Cathedral; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz; and Pastor Timothy Hinkle from Sacramento attend “Jerusalem of Gold.”
Photo by Michelle Mivgan

Fifty years after Israel Defense Forces soldiers raised the Israeli flag over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, nearly 700 Christians, Jews and others gathered at Neman Hall at Temple Beth El in West Hollywood and declared, There is no other place like Jerusalem, ‘Jerusalem of Gold,’ the city of God.”

A group of Israeli and American community members, including Jews and Christians unaffiliated with any organization, organized the June 7 event, titled “Jerusalem of Gold,” commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem.

“We were a group of people who care about Jerusalem and wanted to celebrate that special day,” said Ari Bussel, an event organizer. “We didn’t have any celebrities attending the event. The only name that drew people was the name of the city Jerusalem.”

Additional participants included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean and Founder Rabbi Marvin Hier; and Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse, the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland.

Bosse presented Holocaust survivors in attendance with a special proclamation: “Just like we vow never to forget Jerusalem, we vow never to forget you.”

Among the survivors was Mireille Wolf, a philanthropist who shared her moving story with the audience.

“I am a survivor,” Wolf said. “I have stories of evil to tell. I also have stories of survival and of the joys of being alive with family, tradition and a life well lived in freedom. We should commemorate the memory of the Holocaust by listening to those survivors who still have stories to tell us as we celebrate each day of our survival and of Israel.”

The event featured performances and appearances by the Christian Fellowship Chorale; the Leaves of Healing Tabernacle worship team; Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Herschel Fox; Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin; musician Sam Glaser; Sephardic Temple Cantor Haim Mizrahi; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Cantor Lizzie Weiss; musician David Yakobian; and Israeli singers Gilat Rapaport and Liel Kolet.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

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