January 27, 2020

New Rabbi at Sinai, Lawmakers in Israel

From left: Greg Smith, Josef Avesar and Barry Steiner discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Westwood Kehilla.

A July 16 panel discussion at Westwood Kehilla on the Israel-Palestinian conflict — featuring two lawyers and a retired political science professor with distinctly different viewpoints — was billed as a peace program but ended, fittingly, with the participants in a rhetorical deadlock. 

Barry Steiner, who retired in 2017 after 49 years as a political science professor at Cal State Long Beach, said that despite the deep-rooted reluctance by Israel and the Palestinians to compromise, their historic estrangement is “bridgeable.”

Lawyer Josef Avesar, author of the book “Peace: A Case for an Israeli-Palestinian Confederation,” argued for each side to retain a measure of autonomy with a parliament that would act on respective pieces of public policy legislation, while a third government would be created “for both states.” Both present governments would remain intact, Avesar said.  

Lawyer Greg Smith, one of the founders of Westwood Kehilla, said he and his fellow panelists were flashing their chutzpah by suggesting policy to governments 12,000 miles away. “I am in favor of any solution that will work,” he said. 

— Ari L. Noonan, Contributing Writer

A bipartisan delegation of California state legislators visited Israel the week of July 24 to explore bilateral collaboration opportunities.

A bipartisan delegation of California state legislators visited Israel the week of July 24 to explore bilateral collaboration opportunities. 

The group, chaired by Assemblyman Marc Levine, participated in dialogues and briefings organized by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Project Interchange. 

“I hope to share the connection the Jewish people have with Israel, the innovation and entrepreneurship Israelis bring to the world, including water conservation and technology, and the collaborative partnership Israel and California share,” Levine, a Democratic leader in Marin County and chair of the Legislative Jewish Caucus, said in a statement before the meetings.

Project Interchange is an educational institute of AJC. 

The delegation traveled to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Israel’s northern border with Syria and its southern border with Gaza. The visit included a stop to explore Israel’s newest agricultural and water management innovations at the Agricultural Research Organization of the Volcani Center in Rishon LeZion. The group also traveled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian experts in the Palestinian Authority.

“California and Israel share similar challenges with respect to natural resources and an appetite for innovative solutions,” said Robin Levenston-Kudisch, executive director of AJC Project Interchange. “The meetings and briefings with Israeli experts will provide a fitting setting for great minds to share information, discuss partnerships, and explore opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration between California and Israel.”

Participants included Assembly members Mike Gipson of Compton, Al Muratsuchi of Torrance, and Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park; state Sen. Ricardo Lara of Los Angeles; and AJC Los Angeles Assistant Director Siamak Kordestani.

Rabbi Sam Rotenberg has joined Conservative congregation Sinai Temple’s clergy team.

“I’m thrilled to be part of such a vibrant and diverse community, to be part of a synagogue that has been in Los Angeles for so long,” Rotenberg, 28, said in a phone interview.

A July 20 Shabbat service welcomed him to the congregation, located in Westwood. 

Recently ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, Rotenberg will have several areas of focus at Sinai Temple, including its teen and young professionals groups, religious school, and social action and the adult b’nai mitzvah programs.

“I am really excited to work in the religious school and with ATID young professionals. Those are two age groups I like working with,” he said. “And I am excited about rebooting the adult b’nai mitzvah program. That’s a lot of fun for me, to imagine what the class would look like.”

Rotenberg began at Sinai Temple on July 1, succeeding Rabbi Jason Fruithandler, who took a position in New York. 

Rotenberg joins Sinai Temple Rabbis David Wolpe, Nicole Guzik and Erez Sherman. 

He and his wife, Rabbi Keilah Lebell, an IKAR rabbinic fellow, are the parents of two children, Meir and Della.

The rabbi, a jazz-trained pianist, said he is passionate about infusing the study and teaching of Jewish text with music.

“I love using music in education settings in the religious school,” he said. “I like identifying pieces where music can actually enhance the learning instead of just teaching kids about the month of the Jewish calendar and putting it to a song. I am trying to teach them about tefilot and putting that to a song, and to uplift the prayer experience.”

Rabbi Jim Rogozen has joined the Los Angeles-based Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) as the director of the BJE Center for Excellence in Early Childhood and Day School Education, effective July 16.

Rogozen, who grew up in Los Angeles’ Pico-Robertson neighborhood, began his career in the high school programs department of BJE before becoming a head of school for 29 years, most of which were in Cleveland. He also served as the chief learning officer at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in New York.

Betty Winn, who previously held the director position, has transitioned into the role of senior consultant with the department.

In a phone interview, Rogozen, who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said he is looking forward to collaborating with schools to help meet their needs.

“There are a whole lot of things we do — some of it being responsive to schools and hearing what they need,” he said. “Rather than a top-down model, it is a collaborative model.”

He said he was happy to be returning to BJE, an organization dedicated to strengthening Jewish educational experiences.

“I’m very impressed with the people who work at BJE,” he said. “They are top-notch, wonderful people, who are doing great things for the families and educators here in L.A.”

Jewish Home resident Freddie Miller (right) marched on behalf of separated immigrant families.

Activists come in all ages,
as evidenced by the seniors at the Los Angeles Jewish Home who marched on July 20 on behalf of immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Jewish Home resident Freddie Miller organized the rally. She saw coverage in the media of immigrant families being separated and felt she had to do something. 

“Children are my thing,” she said. 

Her daughter, Jennifer Tidstrand, added, “My mom is incredibly bright, politically astute, and she has a big heart for children.”

Miller suggested the idea to the resident council of the Jewish Home and the panel  embraced the idea wholeheartedly. 

“We are a family at the Jewish Home,” Council President Robert Lehman said. “It was such collective support.”

More than 30 residents made signs, wore badges and marched around the Eisenberg Village Campus. Skilled nursing residents joined them by waving flags and singing “God Bless America” along their marching route. 

Facing a nationwide outcry, President Donald Trump’s administration reversed its policy of separating undocumented families, but Ida Franklin joined the march because there are parents and children who have not been reunited. 

“I think it’s good to keep it alive until they get everything taken care of,” the Jewish Home resident said.

Marilyn Weiner was happy to march, too.

“I just hope we make a difference,” she said.