The Conejo Valley community gathered at the new home of Valley Outreach Synagogue on April 15 for “Music and Memory,” a Yom HaShoah concert that was the vision of Asher Mehr when he became a bar mitzvah last July.
For his bar mitzvah project, Mehr participated in Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project, during which he came to know Michele Rodri, a survivor and Remember Us co-president. Mehr decided he wanted to help bring the memory of Rodri’s beloved brother, Maurice Rosenberg, who died in Auschwitz, back into communal memory and into the hearts and minds of his friends and family, said Remember Us Director Samara Hutman.
The concert featured pianist David Kaplan, cellist Kevan Torfeh and vocalist Rabbi Ron Li-Paz. The musical program included Beethoven’s “Appassionata,” for which Kaplan received a standing ovation.
“Like me, Maurice loved music, especially Beethoven,” Mehr said in the program notes. “Because Maurice loved Beethoven, I felt it was crucial that Beethoven be part of this afternoon.”
Mehr also performed “La Mer,” a 1946 song written by French composer, lyricist and singer Charles Trenet that was Rosenberg’s favorite song.
“I think music can reach where words cannot and that art can offer healing,” Mehr said. “I wish for survivors to be able to find a place together in music that can lift spirits from a time of vulnerability and rawness. I hope this concert to honor Maurice will provide an opportunity for community, light and comfort.”
Itzhak (Ernie) Hacker, born in Austria in 1929, had a happy childhood until the day the Nazis invaded his small village and ordered the Jews to pack up and leave.
“I still can’t imagine how a government can be so cruel,” said Hacker, 89, his voice trembling some 70 years since the Holocaust took place. “It’s unimaginable.”
Hacker was one of a dozen survivors who shared their stories in private homes across Los Angeles on April 9, two days before Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), as part of the annual Zikaron Basalon (“Memories in the Living Room”) project.
Established eight years ago in Israel, Zikaron Basalon, which provides Holocaust survivors the opportunity to share their stories in intimate settings, has grown into an international event. This year in Los Angeles, Zikaron Basalon was organized by the Israeli-American Council and held in several locations, including at the Woodland Hills home of Rakefet and Arye Aharon, where 180 guests listened to Hacker’s story in the Aharons’ spacious living room.
“Once we had arrived in Auschwitz,” Hacker continued, “the doors were opened [to the freight-train cars] and the SS officers started barking at us: ‘Schnell! Schnell!’ [German for “Quickly!”] We were separated into two groups — in one, the men, and in the other, the women, young children and old people. One of the first things I noticed was the smoke coming out of the crematorium. At first, I had no idea what was the meaning of it, but after a couple of days, I’d realized that those were my brothers and sisters who were going up in smoke.”
Hacker, who lives in Tarzana with his wife, Niza, was a teenager during the Holocaust. His memories of Auschwitz include a tattooed man who was murdered because an SS officer’s wife had taken a liking to his tattoo and wanted to use his skin for a new purse, and another man who tried to escape and had his testicles cut off as punishment.
Hacker also remembered acts of kindness in a place where humanity had ceased to exist.
“I was very thin and weak, but I missed my mom so much,” he recalled. “I wanted to see her and let her know I was still alive. So I wrote a note and walked to the fence, which separated the two blocks between the women and men sections. At the fence, I saw a Hungarian woman. I asked her if she knew where my mother was, but she shook her head. Still, I threw the note to her so she could give it to my mom. She picked it up and then took something out of her pocket and threw it toward me. It was a small piece of bread. If you gave me today $1 million, it wouldn’t mean as much to me. I asked her for her name and she said, ‘Agnes Genz Fried.’ I have never forgotten it.”
— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer
Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts honored its founders and board of directors at an April 10 fundraising dinner, which also celebrated the synagogue’s 25th anniversary.
The evening at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills recognized Temple of the Arts’ founding rabbi, Rabbi David Baron, as well as the 10 members of the synagogue’s board of directors and the 10 members of the board of the Beverly Hills Performing Arts Center, both of which operate out of the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.
“We had a very successful event,” Baron said. “We exceeded our target goal by 20 percent, which is always great, and we had a great celebration.”
Beverly and Robert Cohen, owners of the Four Seasons, chaired the gala, which drew about 190 guests. Among those in attendance were Burt and Mary Hart Sugarman, who dedicated the synagogue’s new dressing room and green room; former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, who presented the synagogue with a proclamation on behalf of the city of Beverly Hills; and Temple of the Arts President James Blatt, who presented the honorees with their awards.
Temple of the Arts was founded in 1992 with 50 members. Today, the synagogue has 1,400 members and continues its mission of connecting people to Judaism through music, drama, arts, dance and film, Baron said.
“We are an address for those who relate to art and religion, but we’re not conventional denominational Jews,” Baron said. “I feel we have carved out that niche.”
The synagogue purchased the Saban Theatre, an art deco building and a Beverly Hills historic landmark, in November 2005.
“By owning and operating our own venue, which is a historic theater, we are able to attract that part of the community,” Baron said. “That’s very gratifying.”
Temple of the Arts plans to open a preschool in a building it purchased recently on South Hamilton Drive, behind the Saban Theatre. The preschool is scheduled to open in September 2019 and is expected to serve about 60 children, Baron said.
The synagogue is in the process of searching for an assistant rabbi whose responsibilities will include working in the preschool, he said.
Religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles has renamed its Modern Orthodox Zionist camp in Running Springs, Calif.
The new name, Moshava Alevy, became effective April 9. The camp was previously known as Moshava California, and before that as Moshava Malibu.
The renaming is “in gratitude to the generosity of Mr. Allen and Mrs. Deanna Alevy … in memory of their parents Norton and Sylvia Alevy,” the organization stated on its website.
Allen Alevy is an entrepreneur, futures trader and real estate investor who has provided funds to a variety of Jewish causes designed to strengthen Jewish connection, identity and longevity.
When the camp was launched in 2013, in partnership with the Shalom Institute, a nondenominational organization in Malibu, Bnei Akiva named its camp Moshava Malibu. When Bnei Akiva acquired its own site in Running Springs in 2014, it renamed the camp Moshava California.
The name change marks a new chapter for the camp and for Bnei Akiva, which, operating in the United States and Canada, is the self-described “premier religious Zionist youth movement dedicated to growing generations of Jews committed to building a society devoted to Torah and the Jewish people in the State of Israel.”
The 2018 JQ Awards Garden Brunch was held on April 15 at the Beverly Hills home of Dr. Jamshid Maddahi and Angela Maddahi.
JQ honored philanthropist Lynn Bider with the Community Leadership Award; Jacob Hofheimer, JQ’s first teenage and transgender honoree, with the Trailblazer Award; and Maria Shtabsakya, an LGBTQ leader and wealth management adviser, with the Inspiration Award.
The gathering, JQ International’s signature event, honored the work of prestigious LGBTQ and ally Jews in Southern California.
Other attendees included JQ Executive Director and Co-Founder Asher Gellis, JQ Assistant Director Arya Marvazy, and JQ board member Todd Shotz.
JQ International, which operates a variety of programs and services for the LGBTQ community, holds inclusion training for institutions, conducts workshops, runs a speakers bureau, has a Jewish Queer Straight Alliance for teens across Los Angeles, operates a JQ Helpline, and more.
Comedian Dana Goldberg served as host for the event, which drew 250 people and raised more than $140,000.