January 16, 2019

Class Pres and Special-Needs Advocate

While Jake Schochet volunteers with a variety of organizations, he said ETTA was his “gateway drug” that led to his involvement with other groups. 

Four years ago, the 17-year-old Valley Torah High School senior began volunteering with the nonprofit that provides a spectrum of services to people with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is the president of the ETTA youth board and spends his summers at Summer@ETTA, which offers recreational activities to intellectually and developmentally disabled people.

Schochet said the people who attend the summer program learn valuable independent living skills and he has come to know that the special needs community is capable of much more than is widely believed. 

“It just shows me that everyone has so much potential,” he said. “A lot of people think, ‘OK, they can’t necessarily do certain things, we’ll help them out,’ but you can have real conversations with them, and it just showed me everyone has so much potential and it’s sad they’re not necessarily given the opportunity to express it and to find themselves.”

Schochet also volunteers with Chai Lifeline, which works with children battling cancer and other serious illnesses. One evening a week, he spends time with the sibling of a Chai Lifeline child because parents cannot always give these siblings the attention they need. Schochet visits a family’s home and hangs out, does homework and talks with the sibling.

“When I see something that is not necessarily right and there should be a change, I’m not afraid to step up and try to make a difference.”

As the head of the North Hollywood chapter of Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth organization, Schochet promotes positive relationships between Israel and his peers. In March, he will take part in the Jerusalem Marathon on Team Shalva, raising awareness for the Israeli organization that serves people with developmental disabilities.

Schochet also is a blood drive coordinator for the American Red Cross. He has helped organize blood drives at his school and at Shaarey Zedek synagogue in Valley Village. 

“I think it is very important to give back to everyone because you never know who is going to need to give back to you one day,” he said.

At his school, Schochet is both class president and the founder of the Chesed (kindness) club. In 2017, he led an effort to ship toothbrushes, shampoo and toiletries to Hurricane Harvey victims. 

Next year, he plans to study at a yeshiva in Israel. Afterward, he will attend college and is considering a career as an early-intervention therapist for young people with developmental disabilities.

The youngest of five siblings, his mother is a teacher at Gindi Maimonides Academy and his father is an administrator at an assisted living facility. He grew up enjoying Friday night dinners with his family and taking surfing lessons with them in Santa Monica. 

Schochet credits his father, a certified emergency medical technician and a volunteer with the Jewish emergency response organization Hatzolah, and his grandmother, a former nurse, with instilling in him the importance of giving back to others.

“When I see something that is not necessarily right and there should be a change,” he said, “I’m not afraid to step up and try to make a difference.”

Read more about our 2019 mensches here.

Moving & Shaking: Holocaust Memories; Temple of the Arts Bash

From left: Remember Us Teen Board President Eva Suissa; Remember Us Director Samara Hutman; Samantha Lazaruk, Michele Rodri’s daughter-in-law; Remember Us Board Co-Chair Michele Rodri; and Remember Us Board Member and Child Survivors of the Holocaust Los Angeles President Lya Frank come together at a Yom HaShoah concert. Photo courtesy of Remember Us.

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.”

Holocaust survivor Itzhak (Ernie) Hacker and his wife, Niza, pose together at Zikaron Basalon, Hebrew for “Memories in the Living Room,” during which Hacker shared his story of survival. Photo by Ayala Or-El.

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

From left: Former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, Temple of the Arts Board President James Blatt and Temple of the Arts Founding Rabbi David Baron attend the Temple of the Arts 25th anniversary fundraising dinner. Photo courtesy of Temple of the Arts.

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.

Allen and Deanna Alevy. Photo courtesy of Bnei Akiva Los Angeles.

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.”

From left: JQ International honored (from left) Lynn Bider, Jacob Hofheimer and Maria Shtabsakya during its 2018 JQ Awards Garden Brunch. Photo by Anna Falzetta.

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.

Jewish Camp in Running Springs, Calif. ends session early in wake of salmonella outbreak

Moshava California, a Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles overnight camp in the San Bernardino Mountains currently in the midst of its first session, is concluding the session early after an outbreak of the salmonella virus.

“Recently, a group of 11 campers tested positive for salmonella. Salmonella, as you may know, is an illness that usually lasts 4 to 7 days, with most individuals recovering without treatment,” a statement released July 12 by Bnei Akiva says. “Thankfully, we have had no new cases since last week, and our affected campers are well on the road to recovery.”

The first session was originally scheduled to end on July 17, but will end instead on July 14, as instructed by the Department of Environmental Health of San Bernardino County to allow the site to be “cleared and cleaned,” according to the statement, which is signed by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles executive director Rabbi Menachem Hecht. The session began June 27. Approximately 180 campers are enrolled in the first session of camp, according to the camp administration office.

Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles is the local branch of the international religious Zionist youth movement. The camp is located in Running Springs, California, in San Bernardino County and serves boys and girls entering 3rd through10th grades.

The second session, slated to kick off on July 27, is scheduled to go on as planned, according to the statement.

“I look forward to a wonderful, safe, healthy and fun continuation of the summer during Session II at Moshava California,” the statement says.

Moshava California, formerly known as Moshava Malibu, previously operated on a property in Malibu. It relocated to Running Springs, in 2014 and changed its name prior to the start of this year's inaugural session. Chabad of California had previously owned the Running Springs property.

Activities at the camp include arts, swimming, horseback riding and more. Jewish content is incorporated into the everyday camp experience as well.

The rebirth of Running Springs

Just a few miles south of Lake Arrowhead, in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest, sits the small town of Running Springs — its center just a few blocks of touristy gift shops, a hardware store and ski rental outlet, some restaurants, gas stations and motels. It’s the sort of place that feels almost like a Hollywood set for a mountain resort; pine trees cover every undeveloped part of the landscape, many of the storefronts have the rustic look of log cabins, and, on a good day, the high elevation (6,000 feet above sea level) produces the type of fresh, crisp air that’s hard to come by in Los Angeles, just 80 miles west. 

And a few turns beyond the town’s center, off Seymour Road, you come to a sudden stop at two huge iron gates. Beyond those gates lie 70 acres of storied property that recently sold for more than $7 million: land first developed by a Hollywood star, later purchased by a scandal-ridden boarding school and, in 2005, bought by Chabad of California, which ran a camp and Jewish retreat there until 2011, when Pacific Mercantile Bank foreclosed upon the property.

After the foreclosure and until last summer, it seemed unimaginable that the Running Springs property would remain in the possession of a Jewish organization. Chabad’s chances of retaining the property were nil, even though it was fighting hard in court to make it difficult for Pacific to sell it. For three years, no other Jewish organization expressed interest or had sufficient capital to place a bid.

The camp at Running Springs was the subject of controversy and wild tales even before Chabad purchased the property in 2005.

Until one did — Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, the local branch of the international religious Zionist youth movement. Last June, Bnei Akiva launched a $10 million fundraising campaign for the purchase and restoration of the Running Springs property. This by an organization with an annual budget of only $500,000 that was already operating a new three-week summer camp in Malibu — albeit one bursting at the seams. 

By September, Bnei Akiva had raised enough money to purchase the property from the bank for $7.1 million. And now the site is bustling every weekday with contractors, inspectors and myriad workers hurrying to ready the campgrounds to open its season in June for the first-ever retreat at the new site, and in July for its summer camp, which will be open to children entering third through 10th grade.

But this is more than just a summer camp story with a happy ending. The camp at Running Springs was the subject of controversy and wild tales even before Chabad purchased the property in 2005. And for the last three years, before Bnei Akiva came in, Chabad’s legal battle with Pacific Mercantile Bank overlapped with another legal battle between Chabad and a Malibu widow whose husband Chabad buried on the camp grounds. 

The current scenario — allowing the property to remain in Jewish hands — was unimaginable at this time last year, when it was still mired in an acrimonious battle that, interviews and court documents suggest, was the result of Chabad’s willingness to pursue any legal avenue possible to freeze any sale on the foreclosed property for as long as possible. 

But now, as Bnei Akiva’s ambitious vision for Running Springs is taking shape, a place with a madcap history of burials, bankruptcy and dreams unrealized could end up becoming one of L.A. Jewry’s most valuable assets, religiously and financially.

Facilities left to deteriorate when Chabad left the campground at Running Springs include basketball and tennis courts as well as swing sets.

A few hundred feet inside the gates of the David Oved Retreat Center, just to the left of the camp’s main road and across from its main administrative office, a small patch of land is covered with dirt, stones and leaves. A chain-link fence stands on one side of the patch, and a wire attached to a few thin, green poles partially encloses some of the area.

Today, this tiny piece of the larger property looks totally unremarkable, but a little background knowledge reveals that the slightly elevated mound of dirt represents a significant piece of the convoluted story of the place. It’s where the bodies of Steven Panikoff and Edward Coe were once buried — until Pacific Mercantile Bank had them disinterred and relocated in 2012, not long after foreclosing on the property.

Before Panikoff died on Nov. 24, 2006, at the age of 59, he made plans to be buried on a peaceful, isolated plot in the San Bernardino Mountains — land that he wanted to become a legacy for his love and support of communal Jewish life.

Weeds consumed the tennis and basketball courts, and the large swimming pool next to the former Edward and Maxine Coe Children’s Center was empty.

He wanted most of all for the land to be an enduring testimony to his decades-long support of Chabad of California, which was established in 1965 by Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, who still runs the organization.

Panikoff decided in 2004 to make a major gift — although the amount was never disclosed — to Chabad to help the organization purchase the Running Springs site. 

Chabad closed on the land in 2005, and renamed it Kiryas Schneerson — Schneerson Town — for the late leader of the Chabad movement. Over the course of six years, Kiryas Schneerson served thousands of local Jews as a summer camp and weekend retreat center, until Pacific Mercantile Bank foreclosed upon the property in 2011 following Chabad’s failure to make its monthly payments.

In January 2009, a little more than two years after Panikoff’s death, and nearly three years before Chabad defaulted on the multimillion-dollar loan, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2011 by Coe's wife, Maxine, Coe, who was near death, and Maxine, met in a hospital with Boruch Shlomo Cunin and his son Levi, the co-director of Chabad of Malibu. 

Coe's suit ended in a sealed settlement with Chabad of California, so the validity of her accusations cannot be verified. In a phone interview with the Journal, Boruch Cunin declined to discuss any specifics of the case. Coe, now 87, is back living in her Malibu home, which she reclaimed in the settlement. She did not respond to several phone calls from the Journal.

A property of fame and notoriety

In September, a walk around Bnei Akiva’s newly acquired campus — now renamed the David Oved Retreat Center — felt, at times, like a walk into the past. Weeds consumed the tennis and basketball courts, and the large swimming pool next to the former Edward and Maxine Coe Children’s Center was empty. Inside the grand cabin that once served as Chabad’s staff headquarters, a coat of dust covered the wood floors, carpets and bunk beds, awaiting cleaning and restoration by Bnei Akiva’s contractor.

The bedrooms where staffers and guests will sleep were already furnished with chairs, night tables and neatly made beds left by Chabad — despite having been uninhabited for years.

In 1932, Academy Award-winning actor Walter Huston acquired the land and built an opulent three-story cabin there as a getaway from Hollywood. That cabin remains the centerpiece of the campsite, built into a mountain ledge overlooking the San Bernardino National Forest’s descent into Redlands and Yucaipa. Bnei Akiva plans to serve most of its summer camp meals in the lodge’s dining area, will utilize its game room and central lounge for programming, and will open up its 13 guest rooms for retreats.

A 1996 issue of Architectural Digest featuring the property described a workshop next to the cabin where, many decades earlier, Huston “could be found every morning at eight, working with the tools that gave such a smooth order to his day.”

Huston died in 1950, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the Running Springs property was bought by CEDU Educational Services, a company that operated boarding schools for troubled teenagers throughout the West. CEDU’s tenure at Running Springs initiated the site’s history of lawsuits and controversy —– in CEDU’s case, there were allegations of misconduct, neglect and abuse, many of which occurred at the Running Springs site. 

In 2012, author James Tipper, who was a student at CEDU in Running Springs from 1982 to 1984, published “The Discarded Ones,” a novel based on a composite of true stories about teenagers’ often-traumatic experiences at CEDU's schools in Running Springs and Idaho. Tipper, who now lives in West Hollywood, said in an interview that the CEDU school was so notorious that when he returned to the property a few years ago to scout it out for his novel, a Scottish rabbi who spotted him kicked him off the site after learning that he went to “that school for crazy people,” Tipper said.

After the controversies surrounding CEDU helped lead to its closure, in 2005, Chabad of California put up $4.3 million to purchase the property, which Boruch Cunin imagined becoming the center of L.A.’s Chabad and Orthodox communal life. In the six years Chabad owned the property, Running Springs was a popular attraction, but a somewhat smaller version of what Bnei Akiva envisions.

Families came year-round on weekends, and hundreds of Jewish campers spent summers there, but the strict separation of boys and girls, and the affiliation with Chabad, may have somewhat limited its appeal to the non-Chabad Orthodox community, and perhaps even more so to the even larger sector of non-Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles, many of whom already are served by well-established interdenominational camps, including Ramah in Ojai, Alonim in Simi Valley, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps and JCA Shalom in Malibu, and the Zionist Habonim Dror-Gilboa near Big Bear.

Losing Running Springs, sort of

Beginning in summer 2011, but accelerating into the fall, troubling signs emerged in Chabad’s management of Running Springs. According to Pacific Mercantile Bank, Chabad stopped making its monthly mortgage payments on the property in June 2011. (Late last year, Robert Sjogren, Pacific’s chief operating officer, agreed on behalf of the bank to discuss this history when the bank learned that Chabad’s attorney was speaking with the Journal, even though typically such information about client relations would have remained private.)

In September 2011, the bank filed pre-foreclosure documents on the site, officially putting Chabad of California on notice. Two months after that, it foreclosed, setting off a legal storm in which Chabad, through legal maneuvering, gained five more months, during which its associates stayed on the property, and years during which the grounds remained uninhabited but nearly impossible for the bank to sell.

Sjogren wrote in response to a list of questions submitted by the Journal that the bank lost more than $2 million on its $8.25 million loan, and that only six months after the loan was issued in December 2007, Chabad “stopped making payments in accordance with the terms of its loan agreement.” He said that between mid-2008 and November 2011, the bank and Chabad attempted to settle, and “when those efforts were exhausted,” the bank filed for foreclosure.

The content of the back-and-forth letters, legal briefs and oral arguments between 2011 and September 2014 suggest Chabad’s strategy was not so much to regain its property (there was little chance of that after default and foreclosure), but rather to hamstring the bank’s ability to sell the grounds to other buyers. On numerous occasions, Simkin wrote to the bank that Chabad would repurchase the Running Springs property for $4 million.

“You hold on until the very end,” Simkin said in an interview in his Century City office in September. “You never know what’s going to happen.” Cunin, in a telephone interview, said he believes that keeping Running Springs “on ice” from 2011 to 2014 helped ensure that it would remain an asset of the Los Angeles Jewish community. He also said the only reason Chabad discontinued its legal push to hold on to the site was because Bnei Akiva was the buyer.

“If this would have been a different group, I would not have stopped,” Cunin said. “There was a purpose holding on all these [years], so it didn’t end up … God knows what it could’ve been.”

It’s not clear from court documents, though, that holding out for another Jewish buyer was Cunin’s strategy from the beginning. The hundreds of pages of court documents and letters sent from Simkin to the bank’s attorneys at The Wolf Firm in Irvine and, later, Prenovost, Normandin, Bergh & Dawe in Santa Ana, suggest instead that Chabad hoped it would keep the property for itself. 

The court documents are public, and Simkin shared with the Journal many of his email correspondences with Pacific’s legal counsel.

Dana Ozols, an attorney who worked for The Wolf Firm on the Running Springs case in 2011 and 2012, and now has her own practice in Orange County, briefly discussed the case when reached by telephone. 

“We’ve all had weird cases come our way, but this was a particularly strange one,” Ozols said.

After Pacific Mercantile Bank served notice to Chabad on Dec. 6, 2011, to vacate within three days, Chabad refused, prompting the bank to file an unlawful detainer suit — a declaration that Chabad was illegally maintaining control of property that wasn’t theirs. Chabad held firm, and Simkin wrote to attorney Dean at The Wolf Firm warning that the property would cost the bank at least $33,000 per month to maintain, and saying it has “limited sale value,” so would take “many years to find a suitable buyer.” It was a prescient warning, realized at least in part because of Simkin’s and Cunin’s legal tactics. “This will be another anchor around [the bank’s] neck,” Simkin wrote, adding that a battle over the property would bring the bank “immeasurable adverse publicity.”

Alternatively, he continued, “Chabad is willing to compromise and settle all matters.” Chabad, Simkin wrote, was willing either to pay $5,000 in rent per month and have veto power over a sale or it would pay $4 million to purchase the land. The bank turned down both offers, believing the property was worth closer to $7 million, almost exactly the amount it ultimately received from Bnei Akiva in September 2014.

Sjogren told the Journal in September 2014 that Chabad’s purchase offer “was so far below a current appraised value that it was not deemed by the bank to be a reasonable offer that would compel us to engage in negotiations.”

After being evicted by the San Bernardino County sheriff in March 2012, and locked out of Running Springs after a summary judgment ruled in the bank’s favor, Simkin and Chabad worked furiously to make arrangements to collect the massive amounts of personal property still at the site, including chairs, mattresses, bunk beds, tables, industrial kitchen equipment, paintings, a trash compactor and hundreds of other items used to run a sleep-away camp or resort. Pacific set the terms for Chabad to retrieve its property (terms geared toward protecting the bank in the event of a mover getting injured), but Chabad never came to collect, failing to agree with Pacific on the terms.

Over the next several months, until the bank put the property up for auction in October 2012, Chabad and Pacific traded offers on how and when the personal property should be collected. Chabad wanted access to the land for several days; Pacific would grant only one day. The bank also demanded Chabad pay “storage fees” for leaving its personal property in the bank’s possession; Chabad objected. A letter dated April 13, 2012, suggests the bank was highly distrustful of Chabad and was apprehensive about allowing them to re-enter Running Springs.

At an Aug. 28, 2012, hearing in Superior Court in San Bernardino to adjudicate the legal requirements Pacific was placing upon Chabad to remove its personal property, Simkin took issue with the bank’s demand to approve the movers Chabad would use before allowing entry to the property.

“What criteria is the plaintiff going to use to approve? ‘Oh, I don’t like the length of your beard. I don’t like that you look out of shape. I don’t like that you’re whatever,’ ” Simkin said to Garza. “Your honor, I think item No. 5 is another example of the anti-Semitism by this bank.”

The final chapter in the personal property dispute appears finally to have been closed when Pacific Mercantile Bank listed the remaining Chabad property for public sale with an auctioneer in October 2012. An audio recording of the auction provided by Simkin identified one or two Chabad representatives bidding $100, even though the auctioneer announced an opening bid of $33,578 by the bank. The auction closed after a few minutes, and Pacific claimed ownership of the personal property.

Sjogren, the Pacific COO, defended the auction process, arguing that Chabad of California was given the opportunity to collect what it owned and forfeited its ownership by never agreeing to Pacific’s terms. “After a period of time, from a legal standpoint, the uncollected personal property was deemed to have been abandoned,” Sjogren wrote.

For nearly a year after the auction, documents indicate that the legal battle over Running Springs paused until July 2013. The reason for the apparent gap in communication is unclear. Although the property had a live-in caretaker, it was falling apart, with the combination of weeds, heat, cold, precipitation and sunlight slowly decimating the site.

In July, though, a state appeals court helped Chabad’s case by reversing the summary eviction ruling from early 2012. 

In its argument to the appeals court, Chabad alleged that the bank had unlawfully evicted Chabad in 2011 by failing to serve its onsite caretaker, Asher Asayag, with an eviction notice. That violation, Chabad argued, would require a trial in order to be resolved and should reverse the summary eviction that kicked out Chabad. The appeals court agreed that the trial court had erred in granting Pacific Mercantile Bank summary judgment in the eviction hearing in early 2012.

Chabad’s victory in this instance created a muddy and confusing legal scenario. It very well could have made it even more difficult for Pacific to sell the grounds because the appeals court’s ruling gave Chabad legal justification in arguing that it was unlawfully evicted from the property.

But at the same time, because Chabad had defaulted on a loan, even if Pacific had not followed proper procedures in evicting the organization, Chabad still had no substantial legal claim to Running Springs.

Bnei Akiva enters the fray 

For about two decades, until 2013, Modern Orthodox parents in Los Angeles and throughout the Western United States were severely limited in terms of camping choices for their children, since the closing of an Orthodox camp outside Big Bear. Every option required flying across the country, often to Wisconsin or the East Coast, or even to Toronto, if they wanted their children to attend a Modern Orthodox summer camp.

“I had one child who did not go to sleep-away camp because she didn’t want to get on a plane. It was too far,” said Ruth Berkowitz, a Bnei Akiva board member.

But in June 2013, Bnei Akiva brought Orthodox camping back to Los Angeles with Camp Moshava Malibu, a three-week camp during summer’s final weeks, run on the property of the Shalom Institute’s Camp JCA Shalom. In its first year, Moshava Malibu filled the bunks with nearly 170 campers at a price of about $1,000 per week. In 2014, with some increased capacity, 200 kids attended the camp, mostly from Los Angeles but also from cities such as San Francisco, Denver and Seattle.

In March 2014, Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles learned that Chabad’s former mountain camp property was still up for sale and that the bank was searching for buyers. That information may have not meant much to the organization in previous years, when Bnei Akiva was focused almost exclusively on things such as weekend Shabbat retreats, after-school activities, classes and activities at local synagogues, and leadership programs for high-school students.  

Also, Bnei Akiva already had its hands full with the Malibu property it leased for only three weeks per year, and the group was having difficulty raising the money it needed to provide the amount of scholarships it wanted.

But for Berkowitz and fellow board member Jonathan Gerber, both of whom, before Moshava Malibu, flew their kids across the country to attend Orthodox summer camp, the possibility of acquiring this type of asset only 90 miles away was too alluring to ignore.

“The cost of developing raw land into a camp site is somewhere around $25 million,” Gerber said in June, a few weeks after Bnei Akiva announced a $10 million fundraising campaign to finance the purchase and restoration for Running Springs. “Summer camps on the West Coast are typically nonprofit because lands are so expensive. You can’t find a decent piece of property on the West Coast for what you can on the East Coast.”

Rabbi Kenny Pollack, a Los Angeles native and the head of camp for Moshava Malibu, said because the rental costs and the annual practice of rendering the entire kitchen suitably kosher at the Shalom Institute’s site ate up such a large portion of the budget, the camp spent more time raising money to cover its annual deficit than it did fundraising for scholarships.

“This year, we had 15 kids drop out after they had accepted because we couldn’t offer them enough scholarships,” Pollack said. “They said, ‘Rabbi, my kid had a great time [last year], they would love to come back, we just can’t afford it, and you can’t possibly give enough scholarship money.” 

Running Springs could become what many believe a vibrant JCC in Los Angeles could be — a site shared by synagogues and schools of different denominations. A communal meeting ground, of sorts.

Ideally, Pollack said, the camp would try to commit to working with any family that wants to register a child for summer camp. But renting in Malibu made that financially impossible. “We can’t run our camp like that or we would be bankrupt,” Pollack said.

“A lot of the school systems in the area start school in the middle of August,” Gerber added, explaining why Moshava Malibu’s three-week operating window in August — after Camp JCA Shalom ends its sessions — limits the camp’s reach. “We only get traditional day schools. We want to grow beyond that.”

The question is: To where? Bnei Akiva envisions making available to the entire Jewish community a year-round retreat center at Running Springs, though it would be especially useful for the Orthodox, who require a strictly kosher kitchen and an eruv for carrying items in public areas on Shabbat. “The Orthodox community wouldn’t use Brandeis-Bardin without turning over the kitchen, which is a big ordeal,” Gerber said. “It’s not plug-and-play.” 

Gerber envisions Jewish schools and youth groups using Running Springs for weekend Shabbatons, and synagogues renting it for events such as hosting weekend scholars-in-residence. If this comes to be, Running Springs could become what many believe a vibrant JCC in Los Angeles could be — a site shared by synagogues and schools of different denominations. A communal meeting ground, of sorts.

“If Sinai Temple or Temple Beth Am had an interest in using the facility in aggregate or taking a room or two for families, [they’d be] welcome,” Gerber said, referring to two of the city’s largest Conservative synagogues. “If B’nai David” — a Modern Orthodox synagogue — “wanted to take over the site and have a scholar-in-residence weekend with one particular speaker who may not be appealing to the whole breadth of Orthodoxy, they would be welcomed and encouraged.”

Rabbi Menachem Hecht, Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles’ newly hired and first executive director, said he wants Running Springs to become a meeting point for “Jews across the spectrum” to interact with one another, and added that Bnei Akiva would consider opening the site to non-Jewish groups, as well, “to the degree that it allows us to maximize occupancy and be financially sustainable.”

Hecht wrote in an email that Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles will run its camp and youth programs according to Bnei Akiva’s national and international standards, but that “other groups will be welcome to maintain their own responsible policies in regards to dress and gender separation when running programs on the site.”

“This is set up ultimately for Orthodox groups, but by no means do we mean it to be exclusive for Orthodox groups,” Hecht, 33, said in a telephone interview from Manhattan, where he currently lives with his wife and newborn child. They plan to move to Los Angeles in a few months.

Last summer, before it became clear that Bnei Akiva would be able to raise enough money to buy Running Springs, and before Chabad took issue with Pacific Mercantile Bank for trying to sell the land prior to settling its dispute with Chabad, Gerber already spoke of Running Springs as a “Jewish asset” that the community should not let get away.

“It would be no different than boarding up a shul and selling it to a church,” he said.

From July until the sale to Bnei Akiva became final in September, Chabad objected to both the bank and Bnei Akiva when it learned a sale was in the works despite Chabad’s continued legal attempts to repurchase the land, recover its personal property or reach a settlement to resolve both of those issues.

Nevertheless, on Sept. 12, 2014, Bnei Akiva closed on the site for $7.1 million, and Cunin confirmed to the Journal that Chabad would not involve Bnei Akiva in any lawsuit regarding the real or personal property. 

“We really love Bnei Akiva, and I think the feeling is quite mutual,” Cunin said. “Our battle was with the bank and still is.” 

Coming in summer 2015

“The property is not the pristine, well-run property that was foreclosed upon. It’s dilapidated,” Gerber said in September. 

At two separate visits to the site — one in June and one in October — it was clear the property needed an immense amount of cleanup and restoration before its launch date on June 14.

Chabad’s belongings remained strewn around offices and closets in the main lodge. Board games, papers, kitchen appliances and a bevy of other items Chabad left behind had become Bnei Akiva’s property, for better or worse. And, because the site had barely been maintained since Chabad’s eviction in 2012, there was more significant damage, too: The large outdoor pool was bone dry and had huge cracks, the baseball field was infested with weeds, and the surface of the basketball court was broken up — not to mention that the hoops were rusted and without nets. 

Bnei Akiva’s challenge now is to transform the grounds from a ghost town into a modern-day camp and retreat in just a few months. 

Hecht said in early January that the restoration crew has been on site every day, deep cleaning every room and building and checking for structural integrity; utility crews are checking and bringing online the water, sewage and electrical systems, and staff have taken inventory and determined that, despite whatever belongings Chabad left behind, Bnei Akiva will have to purchase new most of the items needed for the camp and retreat center. Hecht added that “outdoor elements” — such as the pool and basketball court — will be repaired in the spring and that Bnei Akiva also plans to construct an outdoor prayer space and amphitheater. 

The first planned event is a two-week “Israeli summer camp,” June 14 to 28, run by the Israeli-American Council, a pluralistic, nondenominational group that provides educational, cultural and religious resources to Israeli-American Jews, secular and religious alike.

Bnei Akiva already has opened registration for its Moshava Malibu 2015 camp, which will be relocated from Malibu to Running Springs, with multiple age groups and sessions running at various points from July 13 to Aug. 10 — the group plans to expand the camp to as much as seven weeks in summer 2016.

Hecht, who has served in summer camp staff and administrative positions for 15 years, expects the reborn camp and its increased capacity to do something for young Jews that he feels no other institution can do.

“Every other kind of Jewish educational experience is much more fragmented. When you’re in school, you’re in school from morning until afternoon, and you go home to the rest of your life,” he said. “When you’re in summer camp, it’s a total environment. That’s something you really can’t [get] anywhere besides a camp.”

For Pollack, the opening first of Moshava Malibu, and now its relocation and expansion into Running Springs, is a story that has come full circle. Raised in Los Angeles, Pollack attended an Orthodox Moshava camp near Big Bear until high school, when that camp closed in the mid-1990s for financial reasons.

“I had a bunch of friends who went to Moshava Wild Rose [in Wisconsin], Moshava in Toronto, Catskills camps [in upstate New York],” Pollack said. He added, however, that “there’s definitely a level of comfort that a parent of a young kid has, living within an hour or two hours away.”

The upcoming summer and the “off season” after that may signal whether the future of Running Springs turns out much like the past, full of dreams unrealized, or if it will become what Bnei Akiva’s leadership thinks it can become — a transformational Jewish asset.

“We are hedging our bet,” Pollack said. “This project cannot fail.”

Update: Nov. 12, 2:00 p.m.

A previous paragraph pointing out that the details of Maxine Coe's lawsuit cannot be independelty verified because the suit was settled under a sealed agreement has been moved up in order to make clear that Coe's claim that she met with Boruch and Levi Cunin at the hospital cannot be verified by independent investigation or by the sources themselves.

Moving and shaking

Friendship Circle of Los Angeles celebrated its annual Walk 4 Friendship LA at Rancho Park on Sept. 14. Under a scorching sun, with highs in the mid-90s, completing the 3K was a definite feat for the more than 400 participating families.

Instead of a foghorn, Friendship Circle founder Rabbi Michy Rav-noy blew the shofar to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and to commemorate the start of the walk, which raised more than $160,000 for the nonprofit that provides programs and support to the families of individuals with special needs.

As fist-pumping techno music blasted through four QSC speakers, participants started checking in at 11:30 a.m. and received their uniforms: purple cotton shirts with the words “Walk With Your Heart” on them. During the opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m., Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz spoke of how he knows about Friendship Circle, as some of his dearest friends are parents of special-needs students.

Chanie Lazaroff, Friendship Circle’s Hebrew schoolteacher and recruitment director, gave a speech about how volunteers are responsible for the organization’s success. She later told the Journal that she has two daughters, ages 17 and 7, and a 12-year-old son, Tani, who has special needs. 

“Everybody in the family is involved, including my son who has special needs. He thinks he’s staff,” she said with a half-smile. “Not only do I work for Friendship Circle, but I’m also a client.”

Forty-five minutes after their departure, flush-faced walkers started trickling back to the festival’s lawn, where they were greeted by performers on stilts, a train, kosher barbecue, popcorn and cotton candy, a puppy-petting area, a rock-climbing wall, a shofar factory and more.

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Katsuji Tanabe, chef at Mexikosher and winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking competition, has partnered with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). 

Katsuji Tanabe, founder and executive chef of Mexikosher, L.A.’s only strictly kosher Mexican restaurant, is shown with Bryan Zlotnikova, a camper from Kibbutz Max Straus, on Aug. 7. Tanabe conducted a demonstration-based cooking class and lunch with teen campers attending the summer sleep-away camp, which is operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The social services provider recently announced a new cause-marketing partnership with Tanabe, who will advocate mentoring programs for observant Jewish youth.

On Aug. 7, Tanabe hosted a cooking demonstration and workshop for in-residence tweens (ages 7 to 15) at the JBBBSLA-sponsored sleep-away summer camp Kibbutz Max Straus, located in the Verdugo Hills. Although Tanabe is not Jewish (he’s of Japanese and Mexican descent), he’s a prominent figure in the kosher world and now a leading advocate for JBBBSLA, which pairs Jewish boys and girls ages 6 to 18 with upstanding Jewish men and women, respectively, for semimonthly outings and mentorship. 

Tanabe, who was born in Mexico City and runs the only glatt kosher Mexican restaurant in town, hopes his Pico-Robertson restaurant can serve as a go-to hangout for JBBBSLA participants. Mexikosher will host Monday Mentor Meet-Ups, where “littles” (youths aged 6-18) and “bigs” (adult volunteers) can convene. 

Tanabe even will concoct special menu items for mentors and mentees, using local produce grown in the greenhouse at JBBBSLA’s Camp Max Straus. The menu items will change according to available produce.

Tanabe’s efforts are particularly aimed at the shortage of mentors for Orthodox Jewish boys. Randy Schwab, CEO of JBBBSLA, said, “Chef Tanabe was undaunted by culinary naysayers, and he is equally undaunted by this latest challenge — finding more Jewish mentors for children within the Orthodox community. We are thrilled to have him join our cause.” 

As a father, Tanabe said he understands the importance of being a role model.

“Parenting and cooking are all about nurturing,” the chef said. “That’s what JBBBSLA’s mentoring programs do as well.”

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada veteran Rabbi Menachem Hecht has been named the first executive director of Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, effective Sept. 1. 

“Bnei Akiva of L.A. is in an exciting and dynamic growth stage that I am thrilled to be a part of,” said Hecht, 32.

He was formerly the assistant director of the national office of Bnei Akiva, helping to manage new initiatives and programs such as the opening of Moshava Ba’ir day camps in New Jersey and Toronto, the local Moshava Malibu overnight camp and two gap-year programs in Israel, Yeshivat Torah v’Avodah and Midreshet Torah v’Avodah, for boys and girls, respectively. 

Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada is one of the largest religious Zionist youth movements, running camps and educational programs for Jewish youths across the continent.

“I think the No. 1 challenge that the Jewish community collectively faces is how do we engage our youth to become passionate, inspired, committed,” Hecht said.  “Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles is uniquely poised to become a national model for how to make this work — how to build really outstanding year-round, informal educational programming that engages and inspires our youth to grow into committed Jews and Jewish leaders.”

Hecht’s experience includes time as a rosh moshava (Hebrew for “head counselor”) at the Orthodox Jewish summer camp Camp Stone in Sugar Grove, Penn., and as a rabbi and co-director of the Julian Krinsky Yesh Shabbat program in Philadelphia. He also taught Judaic studies at the Frisch School, a co-ed Jewish high school in Paramus, N.J.

Hecht received his doctorate in education and Jewish studies from New York University and studied for smicha (rabbinical ordination) at Yeshiva University. 

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer

Upward of 180 Angelenos flocked to The Phoenix Bar in Beverly Hills on Sept. 7 to partake in Mitzvahs and Martinis, a
fundraiser and end-of-summer mixer benefiting wounded Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. 

Attendees — largely a lively cohort of young Jewish professionals — came together for drinks, to enjoy one another’s company and to donate to the cause, raising a total of $3,000. Israeli-born Orly Star Setareh, the event’s organizer, worked in conjunction with the New York-based Dror for the Wounded foundation, a grass-roots nonprofit founded by Dror Dagan, to put on the event.

A former IDF soldier, Dagan sustained serious injuries requiring extensive surgery after apprehending a Hamas terrorist in 2004. After his experience, he realized the difficulties faced by the wounded and vowed never to leave a soldier behind. 

Setareh, an Israeli dance teacher by day, worked tirelessly to make the night a memorable one. After tapping in to her dancing roots and throwing a Zumbathon in August that raised $5,500 for IDF care packages, Setareh wanted to try something new. 

“I wanted to create a different fundraiser that was more social and attracted different people,” she said. 

From left: Jenny Applebaum, Orly Star Setareh, Desiree Goldbahar.

She enlisted the help of friends Jenny Applebaum, Desiree Goldbahar, Shelly Kamara, Helen Rosen and Jason Hecht

The first 50 guests to arrive at the trendy Beverly Hills watering hole received a free CD, a mix of Israeli music prepared by Setareh herself. A raffle was held for all those who donated. The prizes included a Pizza Rustica gift card, wine from Gil Turner’s and a fresh new pair of Ray-Bans donated by the office of Dr. Jack Rosen.  

“I’m honored to be a part of such a caring, generous community and beyond thrilled to have created an event for a great cause that was embraced by so many,” Setareh told the Journal. Although the event is over, donations are still being accepted at drorfoundation.org/mitzvahmartinis. 

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Bnei Akiva seals $7.1 million deal on massive campground east of Los Angeles

On Sept. 12, Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, the local chapter of an international religious Zionist youth group, purchased a 78-acre campground in Running Springs for $7.1 million.

The group has raised $8.5 million in a major capital campaign this year and plans to raise an additional $1.5 million to prepare Running Springs — which has been sitting dormant for three years — to become the only Orthodox Jewish summer camp and year-round retreat center in the western United States. 

The property was previously owned by Chabad of California, which purchased it for $4.3 million in 2005, only to lose it in foreclosure to Pacific Mercantile Bank after defaulting on an $8.25 million loan. The campground had served as collateral for the loan. 

Since November 2011, when the bank foreclosed on the property, the two parties have been engaged in 33 months of legal proceedings in San Bernardino. A victory in a state appeals court by Chabad in July 2013 temporarily set back Pacific’s attempts to sell the property. The court ruled that the bank improperly had evicted Chabad from Running Springs, although Chabad’s default was not in question.

Chabad of California’s leader, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, said the group plans to pursue legal action against the bank, with regard to the large amount of personal property still at the site — including bunk beds and expensive kosher kitchen equipment. Cunin said Chabad will not sue Bnei Akiva.

In 2013, Bnei Akiva opened the Moshava Malibu summer camp, renting land from the Shalom Institute. It was the first Orthodox summer camp in Los Angeles in nearly two decades, and local Bnei Akiva leaders said that the demand and need for Orthodox camping was a major reason for its purchase of Running Springs, which will replace Moshava Malibu, expanding the sessions for a summer-long camp.

Moshava returns to Los Angeles

It really bothered Jonathan Gerber, a 30-year-old financial adviser and resident of Pico-Robertson, that there was no Modern Orthodox sleep-away camp in Los Angeles. Ever since the Zionist youth group Bnei Akiva discontinued its Moshava Los Angeles camp in the mid-1990s, local kids had been forced to head East for a similar summer overnight experience.   

“Each summer, there’s a planeload of 48 students going to the East Coast,” Gerber said. 

And that’s not all. Hundreds of Orthodox kids are thought to leave Southern California for sleep-away camp every summer. Many Orthodox kids also attend the Conservative Camp Ramah in Ojai.

Gerber believed that a local option that matched the Modern Orthodox observance families practiced at home would give more kids a chance to have a summer experience that studies have shown can strongly impact Jewish identity.

So during a conversation in May with Ari Moss, his friend and then-president of the Shalom Institute in Malibu, Gerber floated the idea of borrowing the institute’s 220-acre campground and retreat facility for a two-week Modern Orthodox camp.   

His dream finally will take shape this summer in the form of Moshava Malibu (moshavamalibu.org), where officials hope to attract 150 boys and girls Aug. 11-25. Tuition is $2,000, with a special early-bird rate of $1,800 available until Jan. 1. Applicants must currently be in grades 3-9.

It helped that the nondenominational Shalom Institute, which hosts the Big Jewish Tent events as well as its own camp and retreats, was interested in engaging the Modern Orthodox community. 

Gerber next reached out to Bnei Akiva — which runs camps and programs throughout North America and Israel and has a strong presence in Los Angeles — and offered it the opportunity to bring a Moshava camp back to Los Angeles. 

Moshava — a moshav is a cooperative agricultural settlement in the State of Israel — has become synonymous in the Modern Orthodox community with popular sleep-away camps that promote religious Zionism, aliyah (immigration to Israel) and outdoor experiences. 

Another draw of Moshava is the emphasis on youth leadership, according to Shimi Baras, shaliach (emissary) for Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles. 

“This is the only place where programs are run by high school kids. There’s no professional staff,” he said. “There’s a lot of independence … high-schoolers are the counselors; a lot of them later get management and leadership positions and say they learned the leadership in Bnei Akiva.”

Until now, other Moshava camps, such as Wild Rose in Wisconsin or Camp Stone in Pennsylvania, have benefited from the leadership provided by Los Angeles youths. 

Rabbi Kenny Pollack, an L.A. native and Moshava veteran who was hired to be the director of Moshava Malibu, said the approach to camping is experiential.

“In terms of a sleep-away camp, it’s very unique in that you’re running a tochnit — a program — that’s Zionistic and experiential in education. We’re not going to offer Torah out of a book. … Instead of learning about olive oil and grape juice, we’ll be making it.” 

The camp also will feature traditional summer activities — swimming, archery, hiking, organic farming, a ropes course and other outdoor fun. 

While this first session will run for two weeks, the camp hopes to expand eventually. 

“Ultimately, within the next five years, the goal would be to have a full summer program — two four-week sessions — and a week-long winter camp,” Gerber said.

And while a full summer session might require Moshava Malibu to get its own space, Gerber hopes to continue the model of leveraging the current infrastructure.  

“This is a great model of combining three teams: the Shalom Institute, which has the actual facility; Bnei Akiva of North America, which is providing registration services and programming and hiring of staff; and then Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles,” which is doing recruitment and helping in other ways.

Baras also hopes that the camp will help position Los Angeles as a West Coast Bnei Akiva center. In the last year or two, he has reached out to Jewish communities in the West like San Francisco, Denver and even Mexico for Shabbatons and retreats, and he is stepping up his outreach in advance of Moshava Malibu registration. 

The stakes are high for Gerber, who sees camping as an effective, low-cost tool to keep young Jews impassioned and connected. 

“Take a look at the Ramah community, which is keeping Conservative youth so impassioned,” he said.

Besides providing an enriching camp experience, the directors hope to transform the L.A. landscape with committed, leadership-oriented young Jews. Pollack predicted that down the road, having a Moshava camp here could increase the number of homegrown Jewish educators at local day schools.

The L.A. camp director, who lives and works as a teacher in Cleveland during the school year, called Moshava, “a camp incubator of educators.” He said that many of his fellow teachers in Cleveland went through the Moshava camps and were trained early to become leaders and educators.  

“We are all products, and that model is where L.A. could be,” he said.

The Circuit

Special Prayers

Approximately 80 people attended a memorial service July 13 at Beth Jacob Congregation to remember the two Israeli Bnei Akiva counselors murdered in Hebron, in the Gaza Strip, by Fatah terrorists on June 24. Avihai Levy, 17, and Aviad Mansour, 16, were walking in the southern Hebron Hills area of Beit Hagai when they were shot to death.

“Open your own wallets and look at your kids and grandchildren,” said Roz Rothstein, national director of the Israel advocacy and education group, StandWithUs, which co-sponsored the memorial with Beth Jacob Congregation and Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles.

Rothstein, joined at the bimah by StandWithUs National President Esther Renzer, noted that “as a child, I belonged to Bnei Akiva, too. As a teen, I was a madricha, a counselor, and then I became a local chapter leader. Good Zionist youth movements like Bnei Akiva teach responsibility for Israel and give real meaning to the phrase, ‘If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem.’ I credit Bnei Akiva for making this connection in my own life. A little bit of each of us has been lost when these two teens were murdered.”

A large, color photo of each young man framed the Orthodox synagogue’s bimah. Seated in the audience was Yaron Gamburg, the new deputy consul general at the Consulate General of Israel. Eulogizing the slain teenagers were Beth Jacob Rabbi Steven Weil and Bnei Akiva’s West Coast representative Dani Yemini.

“Violence is not our way, violence will not help, not in London, not in Netanya, not in New York,” said Yemini, who was followed by short speeches by teenagers Amanda Lazar and Ben Greenfield, then music and prayers by Cantor Avshalom Katz.

Eat for a Cause

If you feed them they will come … and if you add charitable endeavor to the list they will come in droves. This was the case Saturday night when the Concern Foundation held its annual tasting fundraising event on Paramount studios backlot. Hordes of happy people wandered about selecting from the delicious array of foods, pastries and beverages. The event for the Concern Foundation, which benefits cancer research — and the donations — keep growing every year.

Appointment Time

The North Hollywood – Valley Community Clinic (VCC), a longtime local provider of free and low-cost health care, has named Paula Wilson its new top executive, succeeding veteran CEO Ann Britt.

Wilson, VCC’s current vice president of planning and development, has served in various fundraising capacities for the clinic since 1992. Earlier this year, she served as CEO pro-tem during Britt’s California Wellness Foundation-awarded five-month sabbatical.

Wilson will spearhead the growth of youth and pediatric services at VCC and oversee its new standing as a community clinic designated to receive federal dollars.

A resident of the San Fernando Valley for more than two decades and a wife and the mother of a school-age son, she is a member of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County and the California Primary Care Association, as well as local chambers of commerce.