December 14, 2018

Congregation Or Ami Continues Camp for Support and Community

As the two wildfires continue to grow in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, so does the need for support. In response, Congregation Or Ami on Nov. 9 opened to the entire Jewish community the “day camp” it set up for its members.

Children and adults who are impacted by fire are welcome at the camp, which is being held at de Toledo High School. They have activities for the kids, support for the adults, coffee and food. It will be open on Nov. 10, 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. until at least 3 p.m.

“If you are tired, strung out, if your kids need a place, if you need support, come to our camp,” Rabbi Paul Kipnes told the Journal via phone.

Arthur Rozenberg of Fat Sal’s in Encino brought lunch on Friday.

Kipnes and his team spent Nov. 8 reaching out to anyone in their congregation within 20 to 30 miles of the Thousand Oaks bar shooting, which occurred the night before when a gunman killed 12 patrons, to offer support and programing. After the news broke about the fire around 3:30 p.m., they shut it down and evacuated. Or Ami Rabbis Kipnes and Julia Weisz, along with rabbinic interns Elana Nemitoff and Meir Bargeron, then got to work on setting up the camp. 

“Congregation Or Ami has set up a “day camp” at de Toledo High School for those impacted by the wildfires.”

“Having learned from the flood down in Houston (after Hurricane Harvey) and the fires up in Santa Rosa, we immediately set to work to open a camp for kids who don’t have school and for adults who just need a place to gather together,” Kipnes said.What we learned from the other two places is that the need grows as this disaster continues.”

As far as Kipnes can tell, about 70 percent of the congregation either has been mandatory or voluntarily evacuated. “People are overwhelmed,” he said. “Thankfully a number of them have been talking to the therapists who have been here.”

Eden Bookman, 3rd grade, and Nathan Dashevsky, 1st grade, at Or Ami’s “camp.”

The smaller crowd on Nov. 9 enabled the Or Ami team to get systems up and running. They expect more people in the coming days now that they’ve opened. 

Or Ami has partnered with other synagogues and the Jewish Federation, and has received support from the Union for Reform Judaism and Camp Newman. Arthur Rozenberg of Fat Sal’s in Encino saw what was going on and brought over lunch on Nov. 9.

When asked how the community is responding, Kipnes said, “The kids like having older teens to play with. There are some adults who have nowhere else to go and are just hanging out.

“It’s been really meaningful to be together,” he said.

Ventura County fire officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for several areas including the Malibu Canyon area, Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Westlake Village.

Detailed fire and shelter information can be found at  vcemergency.com.

Awed by Days of Awe? Keep the Holiness Going

The Open Temple, a Jewish community in Venice that blends arts and Judaism, was one of three L.A. nonprofits to win an UpStart Accelerator grant. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Lori Shapiro

At Open Temple’s break-the-fast meal in Venice, a young man introduced himself.  

“I’m not Jewish, but I’ve been on a six-day fast and I saw that your Yom Kippur Urban Retreat was happening at the same time,” he said. “I attended your entire observance and want you to know that I feel that this has really deepened my cleanse and what I was hoping to get out of it.  Thank you so much. You inspired me to want to keep it going. Yom Kippur is awesome!”

Indeed, the Days of Awe are exactly that — awesome. We emerge with a sense of wonderment about our bodies, our place in the universe and connection to community. After experiencing this outsider’s expression of his natural Jewish high, I wondered: How can we keep this party going?

In a part of town where every corner along Abbot Kinney Boulevard offers a different cold-pressed juice option to cleanse our bodies, I return to the fundamentals of Jewish ritual life and the way Judaism invites all of us to experience regular cycles of individual and communal catharsis, cleansing and renewal.

This year, Open Temple offers an invitation to all into the “Yom Kippur Katan” observance, an opportunity for us to “turn and return” inward monthly to our Yom Kippur awareness and rededicate our lives and our bodies to their purest forms.  

Yom Kippur Katan, a 16th century innovation, originated in the mystical city of Safed. Rabbi Moses Cordovero (aka the Ramak, an organizer of Kabbalistic thought) is credited with beginning this observance, which is first cited in Isaac Luria’s “Seder ha-Tefillah.”  This observance occurs the day before Rosh Hodesh each month (with the exceptions of Chesvan, Tevet and Iyar because of Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Nissan observances), or the Thursday before, if the day of observance falls on Shabbat.

“Following the custom of the very pious, one must repent and make restitutions both in money and personal acts, in order that one may enter the new month as pure as a newborn infant,” said Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (aka the Shelah haQaddosh).  

Yom Kippur Katan is like an invisible track keeping us steadily moving forward through the spiral journey of the Jewish year.  

Liturgically, we recite Selichot during the afternoon (when tallit and tefillin are also ritually worn). If engaging in communal observance, a reading from Exodus is included. We listen as Moses pleads for God’s compassion: “Why, God, should Your anger flare up against Your people, whom You have taken out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand?” (Exodus 32:11). We are asked to role-play as stand-ins for Moses in the modern era — fast and pray, with liturgical recitations from the Viduii and Avinu Malkeinu — and then return to our lives bearing a deepened awareness of our hand in the maelstrom of corruptive destruction and redemptive potential.    

What will the High Holy Days of 5780 look like if we spend a year dedicating ourselves to this observance? How can we transform our communities, our families, ourselves?

While it’s fairly easy to purchase bottles of greens or charcoal water to ingest every two hours, what might it mean to press some deeper meaning into the cocktail?

Los Angeles is filled with “After Burns” — communal post-Burning Man gatherings. Yom Kippur Katan is the yearlong cycle of After Burns for the Jewishly curious.  

A Blessing for 5779:  May we deepen our observance of the revelatory High Holy Days experience with an awe-awareness spanning the next 11 months — and may our skin be all the brighter from it.

Yom Kippur Katan Calendar, 5779
For each Yom Kippur Katan observance, choose whether to engage in communal or private ritual. Choose to fast with no water, with water or with a juice cleanse. Keep a journal to check in each month: set goals, name challenges, monitor personal growth.

Oct. 8: Rosh Hodesh Chesvan (no observance): Schedule an hour to journal and reflect upon the High Holy Days experience.
Nov. 7: Rosh Hodesh Kislev.
Dec. 6: (no observance): Rosh Hodesh Tevet. Light hanukkiah and meditate upon the light.
Jan. 6: Rosh Hodesh Sh’vat.
Feb. 4: Rosh Hodesh Adar I
March 6: Rosh Hodesh Adar II (bonus this year!)
April 4: Rosh Hodesh Nissan
May 2: Rosh Hodesh Iyar (no observance; no fasting in Nissan): Reflect upon freedom and civil liberties in our lives.
June 3: Rosh Hodesh Sivan
July 2:  Rosh Hodesh Tamuz
Aug. 1: Rosh Hodesh Av
Aug. 29: Rosh Hodesh Elul


Rabbi Lori Shapiro is the founder and artistic director of The Open Temple in Venice.

Richard Greene: How One or Two Words Can Change Your Life

One of the world’s leading experts on public speaking, Richard Greene, explains why people fear public speaking more than death, and discusses the abuse of language in the era of Trump. Visit his website.

Follow David Suissa on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Check out this episode!

Rob Long: Hollywood Writer Talks Trump

Award-winning Hollywood showrunner Rob Long talks about happiness, craziness and, of course, Donald Trump.

Follow Rob and Ricochet on Twitter 

Check out this episode!

Salvador Litvak: Can Talmud change your life?

Hollywood filmmaker and Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak recounts his journey of how one moment of learning Talmud led to a million followers on Facebook.

“What we learn from the students of Hillel is that you should be able to state the opinion of your opponent in a way your opponent will say, ‘yes, that is my opinion.’ When you do that, you are opening a door for him to say ‘I feel heard. Now I am willing to hear what you have to say.” -Salvador Litvak

Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak

From left: David Suissa and Salvador Litvak

Check out this episode!

Widows, Orphans, and Strangers at the Border

“You will not undermine the justice due to a stranger or an orphan and you will not seize the widow’s garment as collateral.” Deuteronomy, 24:17

“Fathers and mothers have been humiliated among you, strangers have been cheated in your midst, orphans and widows have been wronged among you.” Ezekiel 22:7

“There is no greater or more glorious joy than bringing joy to the heart of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers.” Maimonides, Hilchot Magila v’Hanukah, 2:17

On June 11, U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions ordered immigration judges to cease granting asylum in the United States to fugitives from domestic abuse and gang violence. This act should shock the conscience of every American, but for Jews it is a particular outrage.

Why does our Torah, echoed by our prophets and sages, exhort us repeatedly to care for the orphan, widow, and stranger and warn of catastrophes for those who ignore the call? In the patriarchal society of the ancient Hebrews, widows, orphans, and strangers were people without protection. They were socially naked, vulnerable, and, according to Jewish values, owed the community’s help.

Vulnerability is no shame in Judaism. We are all “the weak.” We are temporary, puncturable, fleshy creatures, puny even by mammalian standards. We are not made, as tigers are, to hunt alone. We are made to form communities, to speak, and to care. Our founding story of slavery and redemption reminds us of that mutual dependence and obligation which offers whatever glory humans can attain.

Women and children who live in countries where domestic abuse and violence are not taken seriously by authorities and where everyone but the most privileged is subject to impressment by brutal gangs are “members of a particular social group” with a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The Geneva Convention of 1951 and U.S. law allow such people to find asylum here.

Yet, when such families present themselves at the border of our country, they have been pulled apart. Children are yanked out of their parents’ arms and forced into detention without explanation, often by people who cannot communicate in the child’s language. They are kept away from parents for months at a time, inflicting trauma that will reshape their brains and wound their hearts for a lifetime. This has been happened to all border-crossers and asylum-seekers since May when Attorney General Sessions declared a “zero tolerance” policy for every person who is caught or who presents themselves without documents at our borders. Previously, such families could remain together until the parents could make their case in court. This brutality does not reflect ‘how things have always been,’ it is a terrible new policy of the current administration.

Now Attorney General Sessions has said that women who have been beaten, raped, mutilated, or threatened with death by domestic partners and been routinely ignored by authorities in their birth countries don’t count as persecuted people who need our help. He has said that teens who have been threatened with torture, including sexual violence, if they themselves do not aid the perpetrators of such violence cannot count on us either.

We American Jews cannot allow this to stand. The fugitives from patriarchal violence who arrive at our borders are the widows, orphans, and strangers of our day. They are precisely the people we are commanded to help—those who, because of their position in society, are denied the political means to defend themselves where they are. We whose ancestors found sanctuary here are obliged to be the welcoming neighbors for whom those ancestors prayed.

There is much we can do. We can support a bill introduced by our state’s Senator Diane Feinstein, the Keep Families Together Bill along with the Help Separated Children Act (S2937) and S2468, which provides free counsel for children in immigration court. We can call and write the office of the U.S. Attorney General. Every day. We can march today with Families Belong Together.

We learn in Gittin 61a that, “The Rabbis taught, we support the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, and visit the non-Jewish sick with Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, because of the ways of peace.” We also act on behalf of the widow, orphan, and stranger, no matter where they are from.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin: curiosity and other values

Prolific author Joseph Telushkin discusses some of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world, including a need for more curiosity.

“If people are only going to read things that reinforce what they believe… they’re going to end up demonizing the people that disagree with them.” -Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

From left: David Suissa and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Check out this episode!

Seeing the Whole Community

This is my 18th issue of the Jewish Journal as editor-in-chief, and, I have to say, these past few months have been exhilarating. One, I’ve never worked harder, and two, the reaction throughout the community has been incredible —  better than I could have imagined. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve heard a similar refrain, “I love what you’re doing with the Jewish Journal.”

Of course, when I hear that, I have to say (as I wrote about last week), “poo, poo, poo.” But I also like to ask: “What is it that you like?” I’ve done this countless times with readers from across the spectrum — religious, secular, left wing, right wing, young, old, Jewish, non-Jewish, everyone.

So, in honor of our “chai” issue, I thought I’d recap the thinking behind the reimagining of your community paper, a paper I have always loved and am working to build upon.

First, we’re here to cover the whole community. That means I can’t allow content biases to get in the way. This easily can happen in publishing. If an editor-in-chief, for example, favors religion and spirituality, you’ll see too much of it. If the editor favors news and opinion, or culture and the arts, or community reporting, or Israel and political coverage, same thing — you may see too much of it.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism. If we’re going to live up to our promise to “connect, inform and inspire” the whole community, we must keep everyone in mind and cover as much of the Jewish buffet as possible. If we focused more on the news, we would mostly inform; if we focused more on religion, we would mostly inspire; and if we focused more on the local community, we would mostly connect.

We must do all three equally. That’s why you see such a broad diversity of coverage.

You may see a pro-and-con debate on abortion, gun control or the Iran nuclear deal, but also a spiritual poem on the Garden of Eden.

You’ll see a dark story on neo-Nazis or the rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, but also one on the uplifting message of Hanukkah.

You’ll see reporting on Jewish outreach at the Sundance Film Festival, but also a cri de coeur from a Mexican “Dreamer” afraid of being separated from her family.

You’ll see hard coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, but also a dialogue between a Reform and Orthodox rabbi on the true meaning of tikkun olam.

In other words, it is diversity, above all, that is imperative.

Does every page in the paper appeal to everybody? Of course not.

Some people like our ethereal poem page, others prefer our political analysis and commentary. Some like reading about the local Persian gay community, others prefer a story on how the Jews of Puerto Rico fared during the hurricane.

Some people like our Israel coverage, others are just tired of anything Israel and prefer local stories. Some like to see coverage of a new film, others prefer a commentary on how that film connects to Jewish values.

Our mission, then, is to reach everyone in a meaningful way. That also means a great diversity of voices. Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page. We’ve gone out of our way to add more Sephardic and millennial voices. With op-eds, we look for opinion pieces that provoke thought, not anger.

But diversity is not enough if you don’t enjoy reading the paper. That’s why we’ve redesigned the paper to make it more visually engaging. We’ve also added a few special sections like “Image of the Week” and “20 (or 30) Years Ago in Jewish Journal.”

Online, we’ve increased our coverage of daily news on our website and launched the global newsletter “Roundtable,” which provides “fresh takes on hot issues” every morning.

Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page.

In recent months, we’ve produced more than 20 online videos, ranging from interviews with Jewish leaders to light-hearted clips on the Jewish holidays. We’re now in the process of building a sound studio in our offices to produce a podcast network.

While we’re excited about all the new things we’re doing online, we never forget that the community paper is our pride and joy. There’s no substitute for a paper you can pick up at a local synagogue or café. You can feel the whole community as you flip through the pages. It’s hard to capture that feeling on an iPhone screen.

One comment I’ve been getting consistently is that the paper “looks great.” Why is that important? Because in publishing, beauty is more than skin deep. Clean, attractive layouts engage the readers with your content. This is smart business: If we make the content more visually appealing, you’ll be more likely to read the articles, and we’ll be more likely to connect, inform and inspire you.

Poo, poo, poo.

Did Larry David Cross a Line? …You Betcha!

By now I’m guessing much of the US Jewish population has a strong opinion about #LarryDavid’s opening monologue on SNL. I’m also guessing very few actually watched the skit. I did, and it made me squirm. Then I started reading the pushback from the community which I found to be just as offensive. “David’s a self-hating Jew”. “He’s an idiot”, “He should be boycotted” “Send him to a concentration camp” – which led me to watch his piece once again.

“It’s not just supposed to make you laugh,

good comedy challenges, makes you think”

This time I found his piece to be equally offensive, AND I had a new found respect for the power of comedy – it’s not just supposed to make you laugh, good comedy challenges, makes you think. And Larry David, has done just that. His joke wasn’t about the Holocaust; it was about objectifying women. His joke was not about Jews being evil, it was about Jews being human. “I don’t like when Jews are in the headlines for notorious reasons. I want ‘Einstein discovers the theory of relativity,’ ‘Salk cures polio.”

That’s not self-loathing, that’s raw honesty. How many Jews are talking about their Judaism on TV? Could he have been more nuanced? Maybe, or maybe Erma Bombeck said it best, “there’s a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt”.

Did Larry cross the line? It seems for many Jews, yes!  For this Jew, I’d rather he keep his right to push buttons and boundaries,  and I keep my right to laugh or dismiss him. And if you don’t agree with me, that too is ok.

That’s the power of the arts. That’s the beauty of America.

 

Two Jews, Three Opinions by Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

Varied community/congregation at the Western wall

Two Jews, Three Opinions by Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

There’s an old joke that underscores our almost impish impulse for our streams of Judaism to deviate no matter what: One pious Jew was stranded on a desert island and built two synagogues. When rescued, the crew members asked, “There was only you and your limited resources, so why two  places to worship?” The Jew answered, “One was for me to pray in. The other one I wouldn’t be caught dead in.” Hmm, maybe the “other congregation” had a different way of handling the Mourner’s Kaddish. I have been reciting it for my father who died last December. In some synagogues, only the mourners rise to recite it, while in others everyone stands and says it to support the mourners or to say it for those who passed but have no survivors to say it for them.

I have said this prayer in both kinds of congregations, and I have mixed feelings about each procedure. On the one hand, if a few other people and I rise to say it, I feel acknowledged that yes, I am stepping through the peculiar passage of my first year without my father. Anyone who still does not know I had lost an immediate family member can later ask who I am mourning for and potentially become an additional source of support. On the other hand, I feel self-conscious drawing such attention to myself, like a scarlet “M” has sprouted on my forehead.

In the “other” synagogue, I feel more protected and less vulnerable as mourners and non-mourners alike participate in this ritual. But I feel that this dilutes my feelings or minimizes them as they are “distributed” across the group. What do you non-mourners know about my feelings and those of the others grieving? The intention, of course, is fine, but it reduces the significance of the ritual for me. If everyone is carrying it out, then I am not doing anything special to mark my relationship with the deceased or to drive home yet again to myself the reality of the loss. I feel deprived of the power of this ritual.

If I and some other hapless survivors of another ship wreck had joined the Jew stranded on that desert isle, as a rabbi I would have instituted the following compromise: Everyone rises but only the mourners actually say the prayer.

But wait, I hear an objection from the Chair of the Board of Trustees: “That’s not the way to do it! Everyone recites, but only the mourners rise.” Alas, we will need two synagogues after all.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. For more details including reviews, you can go to the publisher’s page or to amazon.com. There is also an audio version of Encountering the Edge: the Audiobook. Comments to the author are welcome by email or via her blog, Offbeat Compassion. She has recently authored a second book, Curiosity Seekers which is gentle science fiction about an endearing couple in the near future (Paperback or Kindle).

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Words Matter…Dammit!

The violence in Charlottesville was scary, upsetting, vile and – unfortunately not surprising. 

The United States has become a country deeply divided by wealth, education, color, religion, opportunity and politics. It should not be surprising that people feel threatened by the stranger they do not know. The more separate we are from each other, the more fearful and suspicious we have become of the other.

It doesn’t help when our President spends so much time defining what is real and what is fake news, rather than condemning obvious hatred. He is better than this and this is a distraction we can ill afford. The stakes are too high for us to make a mockery of justice and the freedoms that our constitution guarantees us.

The book of Genesis teaches us to be like Abraham and embrace the stranger – whatever the price.

Our Jewish legacy is that we are a people of the book, a book that reminds us that words matter. The beginning of the book (i.e. Genesis) teaches us to be like Abraham and embrace the stranger – whatever the price. Today is the day to break down the boundaries between us and them.

When we started the Pico Union Project four years ago, I sensed it was time to bring multiple faiths and cultures together under one roof. I had no idea how critical it would be to create a space for people to get to know each other, without judgement or fear. This is what I’ve learned:

  • We can do better
  • Anything is possible.
  • We can say yay when everyone else is saying nay
  • It’s better to focus on service than ‘serve us’
  • Upward mobility is not just a dream, it’s achievable.
  • We are honored when we honor all of creation.

The American way – the Pico Union Project way, begins with YOU and includes all of US.  If you have yet to check us out, The PUP doors are always open -and our eternal light is always on!


Craig Taubman

The Pico Union Project is a multi-faith, multi-cultural center committed to living the principle to “love your neighbor as you want to be loved.” We recognize that in order to love, you must first get to know your neighbor.  We use spirituality, arts, and a deep commitment to community activism as tools to draw individuals together, deepen a sense of self-awareness, and open eyes, minds, and souls to the value and potential of our community.

 

Can we change the Swastika to mean something different?

Recently, I came across a commercial charging humanity to change the Nazi symbol into a symbol of peace by a T-shirt company called Teespring and KA Designs. They suggested this symbol we have come to know as a symbol which reflects hate, devastation, tragedy, and murder can be redesigned by repurposing it for a symbol of tranquility and love just by coloring it a multitude of pastel pink, green and blue colors and willing it so.

My first reaction to this suggestion was visceral. It was filled with pain and disgust. It felt like I was being manipulated versus inspired. I have learned that when I get that feeling that lives deep inside my gut, that feeling which tells me something is wrong or untrue, I should listen to it.

I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my negative reaction to this suggestion. After all am I not a self evolved person who has the ability to transform hatred into kindness if I wish it so? Am I not evolved enough to see this suggestion as a transformation versus a disfiguration? Is it really so bad that a group of folks want to redirect our thinking when seeing the Swastika to reflect peace versus hatred and murder? After all, the Nazis took an innocent Eastern symbol which originally meant “Good Fortune” in Hinduism and Buddhism, when turned clockwise, and twisted it to mean hatred and anti semitism.  Why can’t we turn this back around to a new meaning of peace and love? Isn’t it just a symbol, aren’t symbols what we choose to make them, and how we choose to give them meaning? Is it so radical to think we cannot rededicate the most radically perverted symbol in the world to mean something different- to mean love?

The way we communicate with one another is complex and nuanced. We use words, eye contact, gestures, body language and symbols to create tone and to tell our stories. Yes, a symbol is the meaning we dictate it. A symbol carries with it stories, lives, human narrative and communicates our deepest selves. A symbol showcases history and human connection. The suggestion that a symbol which stood for lives being broken, ended, gassed, burnt, wiped out and destroyed can suddenly be erased to mean something different is erasing the very stories affected by that symbol as well. We don’t transform ourselves because we change what that symbol means, we merely lose ourselves. Transformation is the ability to take something and change it, shift it, redesign it, not delete, obliterate or ERASE it.

The suggestion that the Swastika could represent love when it was designed to represent hatred is preposterous and not because of what it is asking from us, but because of what it is taking from  us. While I applaud those who want to switch the meaning, you cannot switch a meaning without erasing the first one. You are not asking us to transform, you are actually asking us to regress. By asking us to erase it’s original meaning, you are asking us to erase the stories that assembled because of and in spite of that symbol.

Essentially, you are asking us to forget. And that’s why my gut turned. Because you are asking too much. I imagine the Eastern originators of the Swastika symbol felt the same way- like their stories had been hijacked by a black cause that created suffering versus the enlightened meaning it was meant to inhabit. When the Nazis stole their symbol, they stole and erased their stories as well – just as you are asking to steal and erase ours.

You are insulting us by assuming evil could be erased. You are not asking us to redesign our thinking,  you are asking us to stop thinking, to stop communicating our stories and who we are because of- rather- in spite of that symbol. Because that symbol carries with it the stories of those times, and by erasing those stories, you erase those people, my people. You are asking us to forget them. You are asking us to discredit them.

A symbol carries the weight we associate to it. And in this case, it carries the stains that bleeds on it as well. If you want to change thinking, create a different symbol that carries with it a new weight and reflection of that communication of peace, don’t insult us to believe our stories associated with that horrid symbol can merely become erased just because we will it so.

The Nazis chose to steal this symbol. It was hijacked. It cannot be reinvented without hijacking the stories behind the symbol as well. You are asking us to have our truths stolen away, to have our history expunged, to have our records erased into oblivion. You are asking us to change the symbol’s meaning, which essentially pirates our stories just as the Nazi’s stole the originator’s stories.  The end doesn’t always justify the means. Changing the swastika meaning doesn’t change the result that occurs because the action is well intentioned. In this case, the result is  the feeling of having our narratives deleted, our truths and lives inconsequential all over again.

When healing from pain, we can’t negate it’s existence to become enlightened, we must acknowledge the pain first, then reposition ourselves around it, and redesign something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to reflect the lessons learned and the knowledge acquired out of the ashes. We don’t pretend the pain never existed by coloring it a pretty pink and willing it so.

Four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society

Betzalel Smotrich, perhaps the most right-wing member of the current Knesset, caused a storm when he endorsed the idea that Arabs and Jew should be segregated in Israel’s maternity rooms.

Smotrich was responding to a report on the Israel Broadcast Authority that several hospitals practice de facto segregation of maternity rooms — placing Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs. Such segregation is prohibited by law.

“There are mental gaps, and it’s more comfortable for both sides to be with themselves,” Smotrich, a member of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, tweeted on April 5. “It’s really not racism.”

In a subsequent tweet he wrote that it’s “natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby, who may want to kill her baby 20 years from now.”

Smotrich’s remarks were panned by lawmakers from left and right, including Naftali Bennett, the leader of Jewish Home. Responding to Smotrich, Bennett tweeted a rabbinic passage about man being created in God’s image, adding, “Every man. Jew or Arab.”

Jews and Arabs are afforded equal rights under Israeli law. But in many ways, the two sectors live in separate societies — attending different schools, living in different cities, reading different newspapers and espousing different political ideals.

Unlike the prescribed, top-down segregation supported by Smotrich, much of this separation stems from longstanding structural factors like language, culture and religion.  

“In most places, there’s no problem. The Arab population lives in totally Arab villages,” said Nachum Blass, a senior researcher at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

But the divisions between Israeli Jews and Arabs, who represent 20 percent of the population, have also contributed to economic disparities between them. And despite laws meant to prevent discrimination, Arabs point to studies showing persistent disparities in education, social services, income and political participation.

“There’s definitely discrimination in every aspect” of Israel’s education system, Taub said.

Nongovernmental organizations and government bodies have worked to promote a “shared society” in economic development, higher education and the labor market.

Here are four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society.

Jews and Arabs attend separate schools.

Israel’s schools are separated by both religion and race. Jewish students attend either secular, religious or haredi Orthodox schools, while the Arabs attend separate Muslim, Christian and Druze systems taught in Arabic. Of the 1.6 million total students in grades 1 through 12 last year, fewer than 2,000 attended the handful of joint Jewish-Arab schools.

The split education system, where students are taught in their own language and according to their own cultural norms, according to Blass, “answers the [Arab] community’s needs.” But it has also led to lower educational achievement among Arab Israelis.

In 2012, two-thirds of non-haredi Jews qualified for university, as opposed to less than half of Arab students. Israel’s universities are more integrated, but Arabs make up a low proportion of students. In 2012, Arabs made up only 12 percent of bachelor’s degree students, and 4 percent of doctoral students, according to Sikkuy, an organization that aims to foster Jewish-Arab coexistence.

Jews and Arabs live in separate towns.

In addition to studying separately, Israeli Jews and Arabs mostly live in separate cities. Two of the country’s largest cities, Jerusalem and Haifa, have substantial Arab populations, but even those cities are often separated by neighborhood. Nearly all of Jerusalem’s Arab residents live in the eastern half of the city.

Aside from a handful of other mixed Israeli towns, most of the country’s cities are more than 90 percent Jewish or Arab. Though Arabs make up nearly 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, Israel’s largest, is nearly 95 percent Jewish.

The Jewish-Arab division is also marked by economic gaps. Arab cities have higher poverty rates and, in general, worse municipal services than their Jewish counterparts. Eight of Israel’s 10 poorest towns are Arab. The richest 30 are Jewish.

“It’s not a problem in principle to live in different places,” said Rawnak Natour, co-director of Sikkuy. “There needs to be a possibility to live together, that there will be [cultural] symbols and the ability to encompass the different cultures.”

Their political leaders rarely work together.

Israel often points to its Arab-Israeli lawmakers as proof of the country’s democratic chops. Arabs hold 16 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and the body’s third-largest party, the Joint List, is Arab. Arabs have also risen to the top of other branches of government, including sitting on Israel’s Supreme Court.

But Israeli Arabs’ political leadership perpetually sits in the Knesset’s opposition, and few politicians in the government are Arab, such that the two communities’ agendas rarely align. The only Arab in Israel’s political leadership is the deputy minister of regional cooperation, Ayoub Kara, who is part of the Druze minority.

Arabs are barely present in Israel’s mainstream media.

Lucy Aharish, the young Arab co-host of a morning show on a leading Israeli TV station, speaks accent-less Hebrew, has gained admirers for her forthrightness and was even honored with a role at the country’s official torch-lighting ceremony on Independence Day.

But she’s one of the few Arab faces and voices Israelis will see and hear on their TVs and radios. Israeli Arabs have their own active press, but they are vastly underrepresented in mainstream Israeli media, comprising fewer than 3 percent of total interviews on leading Israel stations in January and February, according to a study by Sikkuy and the Seventh Eye, a media watchdog.

The number drops even lower when it comes to news segments not directly related to Israeli Arabs. Aharish’s Channel 2, for example, spoke to only 11 Arabs out of more than 5,500 total such interviews in January.

“You have low representation, and the moment you have it, it’s about specific topics and a very specific framing, which is crime and the conflict,” Natour said. “The way they’re interviewed is a negative framework that perpetuates the stigmas about the Arab population in the state.”

Ben Yehuda’s nightmare

In Israel, every crappy situation can be turned into an opportunity.  A gunman on the loose in central Tel Aviv allows me to spend several extra hours at home with my three kids, only one of whom demands to return immediately to the U.S., where the shootings in our neighborhood are typically of a drug-related nature–and we made sure to stay on good terms with those guys.  When my friend Rafi fell asleep in the middle of a sentence (mine), I could have taken offense or helped myself to the homemade kubeh his Iraqi mother supplied him with for the week.  Instead, I looked forward to the discussion I planned to initiate when he woke up, about the recent advances in neuroscience that have led to the ability to turn off our nightmares like a light switch, but at the cost of simultaneously snuffing out our dreams. 

“Mr. Levy fell asleep,” I said when Rafi’s eyes opened.  A new immigrant to Israel with limited Hebrew, I knew the word for dream, but not nightmare. 

“Did you fall asleep too?” Rafi asked.

“I didn’t fall asleep,” I said, the conjugation of that tricky Hebrew verb nearly complete. 

So we had a grammar lesson instead of a science one, my thoughts of the day thwarted by the unavailability of a dictionary in the room.  I tried to convince myself that was simply a lateral move, and hoped that Rafi would stop accommodating his other friend Inbal’s Reverse Sleep Disorder schedule–which compelled her to stay awake at night and conk out during the day–and start paying more attention to mine.  But Inbal is a Sabra, and speaks in complete sentences.  On Rafi’s birthday she wrote him a card, while I gave him chocolates.     

When we lived in Virginia and my youngest son was in first grade, his teacher taught the class a poem which, had the gist of it been, We may have different colored skin, but inside we’re all the same, would have been bad enough.  But that wasn’t the gist; those were the actual words.  Until that bright idea, my son had never noticed different colored skin.  Now, suddenly, Adin’s friend Hector’s arms were decidedly brown.  I cursed all bad poetry that day, and when my own words fell short while stuttering something to Adin about the benefits of public school but the superfluity of first grade, I cursed those too.  

Last week I went to Jerusalem to visit an artist friend who is so absorbed by images, he can’t walk two steps without stopping to study something. (For most Jerusalemites, it usually takes three.)  After contemplating a nut that had fallen from a tree next to an ancient tomb on Alfasi Street, Ilan asked if I wanted to see his portfolio of furniture that he designed while studying at Bezalel.  What a question!

A new immigrant to Israel with limited Hebrew, I was looking forward to sitting in complete silence and letting my eyes feast on what I could not find the language to praise.  Encouraged by the widening of my pupils, Ilan spent the next half hour describing the structural frames of his chairs, the grain patterns on his coffee tables that folded into stools, the steam box he used to create waves in the wood for his kick-ass bookshelves.  Or something along those lines.  I can’t say for sure.  I was having a bad Hebrew day.

And then he grew quiet, and closed the portfolio.

“The last piece I designed was for a friend who replaced me when I was called up for reserve duty and couldn’t come in,” he said.  “It was during the Second Lebanon War.”

“And what did you make?”

“A prosthetic leg.”

It is known that Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, yelled at his wife when he overheard her crooning a Russian lullaby to their infant son.  “The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation,” he wrote in 1881, a statement I couldn’t agree with more.

Lucky for me, a new immigrant to Israel with minimal Hebrew, the people of this land are a restful, resourceful bunch, prone to extralingual communication and improvisation.  Give them a dead language, and they will write a dictionary to resurrect it.  Put them in a pickle, and they will fight their way out of it until they have discovered how to convert a table into a chair, a piece of metal into a leg that can later run marathons, which Ilan’s friend does every year.

There are some situations that require the aid of a dictionary, and some words that can’t be found in one.  Ilan and I went for a walk then, stopping outside a photography store that featured a blown up, black and white portrait of a Jewish family from Poland, where Ilan’s great-grandfather, a rabbi, perished for refusing to vacate his synagogue before it was set on fire.   

“Tistakli,” Ilan said.  Look.

Emergency room: A city, in all its cruelty and kindness

Mr. Twenty-Something is obviously in pain.  His face is contorted and his right shoulder doesn’t look like his left. He’s wearing a tank top, and the complex and colorful tattoos across his upper torso don’t conceal the deformity of the top of his right arm. Where the left shoulder had the expected dome of muscle extending from the edge of his collarbone, his right one is flat. Grimacing, he clutches his right hand to his body to prevent it from moving even a millimeter. 

As a gray-bearded emergency doctor, I recognize an anterior shoulder dislocation—while rushing past the open curtain on my way to see a 74-year-old woman with severe abdominal pain. It doesn’t take any longer than that; I have seen dislocations so many times by now. 

I used to love the mystery and intrigue of a challenging diagnosis. I thought it was thrilling to order X-rays and tests and use complicated maneuvers to arrive at the truth of what was ailing my patients. Not anymore. I am running my whole shift. I don’t have time to play House. At the county hospital in Salinas, California, that sort of self-gratification is a rare luxury. We are busy tonight; it is always busy. Very busy.  There are 20 patients waiting to be seen; crying babies in the hallway; prisoners surrounded by guards to my right; and a sweet, little old lady to my left who I know has kidney cancer. She does not know yet.  Neither does her frail little husband sitting nervously at her bedside. His eyes are flitting around the mayhem, not given privacy by a flimsy, open curtain. I will tell them when I get a chance.

Monterey County is a microcosm of the United States in 2015. You have on the coast Tiffany & Co. jewels, Pebble Beach, movie stars, and Rolls-Royces. There are services, order, and plenty. In Salinas, we have open-air drug markets, mass homelessness, multiple families living in tiny abodes, scabies, mentally ill people running into the street, and children who threaten and swear at their protectors and authorities.  

But we also have young parents literally breaking their backs stooped over in the fields working to improve their children’s lives. Community workers come into our emergency department in the middle of the night to counsel gunshot victims and show them the way to a better life. We have law enforcement officers risking their lives to protect the weak and innocent. We have agricultural leaders donating huge amounts of money for medical equipment rather than taking that money as profit. We have EMS workers running non-stop for 12 or 24 hours to save the lives of people who spit, vomit, and urinate on them (and sometimes take swings at them). We have fire fighters running into fires and toxic spills to haul out people they never met and who will never know their names. And we have young men with dislocated shoulders giving up their emergency department waiting-room chairs to pregnant women with small children.

Salinas is a crucible. We have the best and the worst of human experience. The heat and pressure generated by the poverty, deprivation, conflict, and abandonment separate the gold of human kindness from the filth of human evil, making each clearly visible.

To work in the emergency department in Salinas is to watch all the behaviors, the pure metal and the dirty dross, swirl around each other.

So, I really needed to get to this dude’s shoulder. He has a shot of pain medicine in him now, but he’s still in a world of hurt. The quick and easy way to get the arm bone back into the shoulder joint doesn’t work.  I write all the orders to get him sedated, fold up sheets to wrap around him to provide traction and counter-traction to his shoulder, and get him hooked up to the monitor. My awesome nurse and respiratory therapist are standing by.  Showtime…

Then an announcement blares out of the loudspeaker:  “CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 7.  CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 7.”  Damn! Sorry, shoulder guy. Gotta go.

As we scramble to pull on plastic gowns, shoe covers, face shields, and gloves, we hear from another nurse, “ETA 5 minutes.  Twenty-something male, motor vehicle crash, 100 miles-per-hour, ejected from open convertible, no seatbelt, unresponsive, EMS trying to get vital signs.” Gulp. Minutes later I am placing a breathing tube down the man’s throat when we here from the overhead again, “CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department —Room 6. CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 6.” And from the nurse, “It’s the driver from the same wreck. ETA 3 minutes.”

It is a Sunday evening in Salinas. The orange glow from the ambulance bay doors down the hall suggests another beautiful Pacific sunset. The other emergency doctor on duty with me has just been told by his methamphetamine-and-alcohol-intoxicated patient that he and his family will be murdered. I get back to the shoulder guy’s little slot. His is next to the little old lady now, everyone having been shuffled around to make room and order from chaos. She and her husband know about the kidney mass now.  He stares blankly at the floor. She flashes me a little smile as I dash past.

I say to Mr. Twenty-Something, “Sir, I am so sorry that you have had to wait so long!” 

He gives me a pained smile as he says, “That’s okay doc, I know those guys needed you more.”

Craig Walls is an emergency doctor in Salinas, California.

This essay is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and The California Wellness Foundation.

Ghosts in the classroom: A Yom Kippur message

There are ghosts in our classrooms.  Listen closely, and you can hear the generational echoes reverberating. 

The grandfather of a second grader struggling with math was a renowned professor at MIT. The child who dances at the Kotel on his eighth grade class trip remembers his grandmother’s stories of Theresienstadt. The nephew of a great composer plays in our school orchestra at the Israel festival. A first generation American learns that his daughter was accepted to the city’s most elite high school. The mother who chose Judaism listens to her son proficiently lead the Pesach Seder. The first grade teacher who struggled to read as a child helps her class unlocks the magic code of words and sounds. The ghosts are there, and our students feel their presence.  

Likewise, Yom Kippur is a sort of reckoning with our individual and communal ghosts. Sociologist Mircae Eliade researched religions’ understanding of sacred space and time and found that holy days are often an opportunity for us in the present to relive sacred moments experienced by our ancestors in the past. This is one reason that Yom Kippur’s confessional, the Vidui, is in the plural: it’s a communal acknowledgement of our mutual sins and the sins of those before us. We chant it together, we establish a spiritual connection with the past, and we hear the echoes of ghosts. 

In the educational landscape, those echoes are ever present, especially in the encounters between parents and teachers. As parents and teachers, our conversations are, as Sara Lawrence Lightfoot writes in The Essential Conversation, “shared by [our] own autobiographical stories and by the broader cultural and historical narratives that inform [our] identities, [our] values and [our] sense of place in the world.” (My daughter’s kindergarten teacher and I recently sat down to discuss my daughter. Thirty seconds into the meeting we found ourselves discussing our own childhoods and our conscious efforts not to project this narrative onto our children. And then we laughed, acknowledging the futility of this effort. Our autobiographies, of course, become intertwined with theirs.) 

The challenge is to acknowledge and honor the echoes of the ghosts while working collaboratively—parents, teachers and students—to build a better understanding of each other in the present. Jewish day school is, by design, an arena in which social and cultural dramas are played out and worked through. At our school, students practice democracy and citizenship; they grapple with the opportunities and challenges of being part of a culturally, economically, and religiously diverse community; and, they weigh the competing priorities of their families and the community as a whole. 

And while Yom Kippur is our annual reckoning with ghosts, the other effect of the plural Vidui and Al Chet is a reflection on the present community: the idea that we stand as one to share in each others’ shortcomings, failures, challenges and deepest desire to return to our true and best selves.

May the New Year and Yom Kippur bring you closer to the wisdom of our ancestors as well as to those around you in the present. If you ever need a little inspiration, stop by our school and listen to the ghosts of our collective past and the joyful voices of our hopeful future.

Gmar Hatimah Tovah.

SARAH SHULKIND, ED.D  HEAD OF SCHOOL, SINAI AKIBA ACADEMY

This Week in Jewish Farming: The community thing

Folks in the food scene love to talk about how farms build community. It’s a trope that always makes me roll my eyes a little, both because sardonicism is generally my default setting, but also because I’m skeptical that any kind of thick communal ties are likely to arise between people who happen to shop at the same farmers market or subscribe to the same Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. I also find it a bit depressing to think we now have to engineer something that for most of human history just happened.

Whatever it is, somewhere along the line, I started using this language myself. When my parents’ synagogue asked me to come give a talk about the farm, I went on a little riff about the sweet Jewish couple who ran the small family farm in Vermont and the epic Shabbat dinners they hosted for a motley crew of locals and random itinerants. I heedlessly issued invitations to come visit the farm with highfalutin talk about closing the “psychic gap” between field and fork. And I made much of the fact that running a CSA was a values decision, not merely a marketing preference.

I remain somewhat dubious that these kinds of bonds amount to something deserving of the title community, but it’s undeniable that there’s a gravitational pull to what we’re doing. When I decided to sell my members a weekly share of landlord Joe’s farm-fresh eggs, the shares sold out in hours. When I was looking for some worthy local nonprofit to whom I could donate my market surplus, a single phone call had a woman in an SUV at the farm the same day. Almost weekly, someone stops by the market stall to tell me they read my blog posts or met my parents somewhere or saw the article on me in the Hartford Courant. I’ve been invited to speak on panels and had my photo hung in a gallery of Connecticut Jewish farmers. Even as I’m writing this, an email popped up with a link to a blog post about a flower chat I had with a market customer last week.

There’s an energy around the farm right now that seems magnetic. I don’t know that all this equals the vaunted “community” we’re supposedly so hungry to build. My ties to these people, and they to the farm, are for the most part tenuous and thin. And maybe expanded connectivity is inevitable when you move to a new place and start a new business.

Either way, I’ve never had the experience of putting so many balls in the air, let alone seeing so many of them take flight. It has all felt so effortless — not farming, that part is really hard. But the connection part. That side has been a breeze. Perhaps it’s just easier to extend a hand when there’s something delicious to eat in it.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.

 

UCLA student court hears case against students who accepted Israel trips

The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) campaign against UCLA’s pro-Israel movement became even more heated last week as the school’s undergraduate judicial board heard arguments in a case brought by SJP against two members of UCLA’s student government who had taken sponsored trips to Israel.

Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh, neither of whom is Jewish, traveled to Israel in 2013 — Rogers with Project Interchange, a project of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and Singh with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

SJP filed a complaint in April alleging those trips created a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof, for the two students, and asked the judicial board to consider nullifying votes by Rogers and Singh last February against a resolution that had called upon UCLA to divest from Israeli companies that do business in the West Bank.

The divestment resolution, which both Rogers and Singh opposed, was defeated 7-5.Sunny Singh defending himself against an SJP complaint.

The May 15 hearing, which was held in a classroom, was entirely devoid of the passion and anger that has accompanied so many of the campus political debates surrounding the Israelis and Palestinians.

Aside from the informal dress of the participants, the 4 1/2-hour hearing felt like a court case. Each side made opening statements and was granted time for cross-examination — of Rogers, Singh and witnesses — before offering closing statements.

SJP’s main student legal representative, Dana Saifan, grilled Singh about the contents of a liability clause ADL asked him to sign before his trip, questioning why he didn’t submit into evidence his entire ADL trip application. Singh said that his application was filled out on an old laptop that he no longer had in his possession.

From left to right: Sunny Singh, Katie Takakijan, and Ian Cocroft watch as SJP's Dana Saifan cross-examines Lauren Rogers.

The court further questioned Singh about a gala he attended and who the attendees were, trying to establish if connections he made there could have created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Laila Riazi, the other SJP member who argued in front of the court, said that the issue at hand was whether there was actual conflict of interest, or even merely a perceived one. “It is about limiting the perception of conflicts of interests,” she said, adding though, “The council member may have felt obliged to pay them back.”

Chief Justice Matt Satyadi repeatedly challenged SJP’s legal representatives, Saifan and Riazi, asking how a quid pro quo would work, given that Rogers and Singh had both voted by a secret ballot. “How they voted doesn’t matter,” Satyadi said. Because Rogers and Singh cannot be compelled to reveal their votes on the divestment resolution, it’s doubtful that the court could invalidate their votes even if it determined there was a conflict of interest.

Satyadi also questioned SJP’s suggestion that Singh’s free invitation to an ADL gala could cause a conflict of interest.

“Just because he gets a dinner doesn’t mean he has to vote for that person,” Satyadi said.

Katie Takakijan, Singh’s and Rogers’ main legal representation, warned the judicial board that SJP’s complaint could entirely change the dynamic of student trips abroad.

“What does that say to future students? Don’t apply for any educational programs abroad,” Takakijan said. “Don’t try to serve your student body by applying to be a member of USAC [student government]. Don’t do both together because you could have your entire reputation slandered and sit in a judicial board hearing and be crucified.”

Counsel for both Rogers and Singh called as witnesses ADL regional director Amanda Susskind and immediate past national board chair of Project Interchange Robert Peckar in an effort to establish that ADL and AJC did not expect Rogers and Singh to vote a certain way on divestment as a result of their involvement. 

SJP’s counsel cross-examined Susskind and Peckar, attempting to show that there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

On May 16, the day after the hearing, Saifan said on Twitter, “Pretty much just took the Israel lobby to court. Bye bye ADL and AJC.” 

This hearing is only the latest in a flurry of legislative and judicial actions by SJP’s many campus branches in California, some of which have been victories, all of which have thrown the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the campus spotlight.

Last week, 18 of 30 candidates for positions in UCLA’s student government signed a pledge not to take trips to Israel that are sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the ADL and Hasbara Fellowships. 

UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin, added that an additional four candidates did not sign the letter but said they would not attend such trips. 

The May 9 elections for the student government’s 13 open positions (10 contested) saw the Bruins United Party take six seats. Each of the party’s candidates refused to sign the pledge.

Five student groups had a hand in drafting the pledge: SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim Student Association, the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association. 

On May 16, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement insisting that although the pledge falls “squarely within the realm of free speech,” he is troubled that it could “reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints” by only targeting AIPAC, ADL and Hasbara.

UC President Janet Napolitano issued a similar statement on the same day, echoing Block’s concern that sponsored trips to Israel are being selectively targeted and criticizing students who circulated the pledge for violating “the principles of civility, respect and inclusion.”

William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell University, has followed the anti-Israel campus movement for years, documenting it on his blog, legalinsurrection.com. He said that the tack SJP is taking at UCLA is different from anything he’s seen thus far around the country.

“Because sponsored trips are such a big part of the Jewish educational experience, particularly for college students, this will make people who want to go into student government hesitant to take such trips,” Jacobson said, adding that he thinks SJP’s ultimate goal is to “alter the composition of student government” by intimidating students who don’t want to be singled out for supporting Israel into not running at all.

On May 8, the student government at UC Davis debated a resolution that would have called on university administrators to divest from many companies that do business in Israel. That resolution ended in a 5-5 tie, and therefore failed to pass.

In late April, student governments at San Diego State University, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside (UCR) all held similar votes. Only UCR’s resolution passed. In 2012 and 2013, divestment resolutions passed at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. 

In February, after a contentious all-night debate, UCLA’s student government voted 7-5 against a divestment resolution. The fate of that resolution would be in question if the judicial board invalidates Rogers’ and Singh’s votes.

The five student judges are required to issue their decision by May 29. As of press time, no decision had been made.

A taste of summer camp for young Jewish Russians

Several agencies are coming together in the hope that Russian-speaking children will begin their journey of Jewish self-discovery at Camp Gesher, a new overnight camp that caters to what it perceives to be a unique community.

Gesher — an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) and Genesis Philanthropy Group, a grant-making organization that aims to develop Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide — advertises itself as the “only overnight camp on the West Coast designed specially for kids ages 9 to 14 who come from Russian-speaking Jewish families.”

Time is running out to apply, though. As of press time, more than half of the 60 available openings in the camp had been filled, with additional applications being processed, according to Jenny Gitkis-Vainstein, a regional representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The camp’s inaugural — and only — session this summer will take place July 30 through Aug. 10 at JBBBSLA’s Camp Max Straus in Verdugo Hills. 

The cost of attending Camp Gesher (jbbbsla.org/campmax/campgesher) is $690. 

Gitkis-Vainstein, who develops programming for Russian Jews, told the Journal that the camp faces a number of challenges in balancing Judaism and this audience.

Rooted in the former Soviet Union, where religion was distrusted and persecuted, Russian Jews tend to be averse to programs that emphasize religious observance. So, despite offering Jewish content, the camp’s practices will be decidedly non-religious, Gitkis-Vainstein explained.

“Russian-Jewish families usually doesn’t send kids to Jewish camp … usually they are afraid of religious propaganda and brain-washing. For them, in America, Judaism is less about religion and more of a cultural experience and an understanding or a philosophy, so they don’t feel safe sending their kids to a regular Jewish camp, and they also don’t see value in it,” she said. “When they [the parents] were young, they didn’t have a Jewish camp, so for them the whole value is not exactly clear.”

Camp Gesher (“bridge” in Hebrew) aims to change that mentality.

Camp Max Straus assistant director Eric Nicastro said in an interview that part of the camp’s mission is bringing Russian kids closer to the Jewish community. The session will run simultaneously with the general overnight camp, Kibbutz Max Straus, and some activities will bring campers from both camps together. This mission inspired the name of the camp, Nicastro said.

“The goal is that [the Russian campers] will matriculate to [non-specific] Jewish summer camps,” Nicastro said. “Every report talks about Jewish engagement in the community and how Jewish summer camp is still a heavy-hitter that keeps them engaged. This is that bridge for the community.” 

Gitkis-Vainstein said that Camp Gesher is essentially a program of Kibbutz Max Straus. She described it as “a camp within a camp.”

Meanwhile, helping to keep the cost of camp affordable, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has provided approximately $30,000 in subsidies for Camp Gesher camperships as part of a larger grant that it provides to Kibbutz Max Straus.

Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president of Federation, expressed excitement about a summer camp that builds Jewish identity in the Russian community.

“We’re thrilled that this new opportunity is coming for Russian Jews in L.A….This is our sweet spot because it’s two things [engaging Russian Jews and summer camp] that we care deeply about,” Cushnir said.

Gitkis-Vainstein said reaction so far has been very positive and parents from all over California are signing their kids up for the new camp.

“What is good about this, a West Coast camp, is that there will be kids from L.A., Silicon Valley, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County,” she said. “We hope to have kids from all over the West Coast.”

Moving and Shaking: Irwin Field honored, Rabbi Ari Segal elected, Breed Street Shul Project ceremony

Irwin Field

Former Jewish Journal publisher and board chair Irwin Field was honored by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles on June 25 with the organization’s Tocqueville Legacy Award. The honor from  the local division of the anti-poverty organization came during its 25th Alexis de Tocqueville Awards, held at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The ceremony featured a performance by actress and musician Tia Carrere and remarks from Tocqueville member and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.

Field, who remains a Journal board member and is CEO of Liberty Vegetable Oil, helped initiate the Tocqueville Society at United Way of Greater Los Angeles in 1988 while serving as board chair of the latter. According to the nonprofit’s Web site, the Tocqueville Society was created “to deepen individual understanding of, commitment to and support of United Way’s work.” The society acknowledges individuals who contribute a minimum of $10,000 to United Way and has raised more than $350 million since its inception. 


Mid City West community council board members includes new appointee Rabbi Ari Segal of Shalhevet School (second from right). Courtesy of Steven Rosenthal.

Rabbi Ari Segal, head of school at Shalhevet High School on Fairfax Avenue, was recently elected to the Mid City West (MCW) Community Council as a religious representative. Board members unanimously elected Segal during a June 12 meeting at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles council house.

The MCW council helps give neighborhoods a voice in policymaking and influence over city government, according to its Web site. 


From left: Stephen Sass, board president of the Breed Street Shul Project; husband-and-wife Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky; East Side Jews' Jill Soloway; and Uri Resnick, deputy consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. Photo by Joel Lipton.

The Breed Street Shul Project honored Jill Soloway and Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky during a ceremony last month. The June 23 event, “Praise for Our Past, Raise for Our Future,” took place at the Autry National Center. The evening included a private showing of the ongoing Autry exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.”

A writer-director whose first feature film, “Afternoon Delight,” screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Soloway is a founding member of East Side Jews, a nondenominational collective of Jews on Los Angeles’ East Side that holds monthly events at unlikely venues. 

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has served as an elected official for more than 35 years and is well known for his social-action activities on behalf of Soviet Jews and other Jewish causes. He has decided to leave public office at the end of his term in 2014.

His wife, Barbara, an ardent activist devoted to community and civic engagement, has lent her expertise to organizations such as the Zimmer Children’s Museum and Koreh L.A. and has participated in Latino-Jewish dialogue efforts. 

Established in 1999, the nonprofit Breed Street Shul Project has overseen the rehabilitation of the Boyle Heights-based Breed Street Shul. It works to bring together Jewish, Latino and other communities in Los Angeles. 


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Jewish War Veterans honor more than 20 World War II veterans in Culver City on Sunday, June 23. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) last month joined the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America (JWV) at the latter’s 75th annual statewide convention, where more than 20 World War II veterans were honored. The event took place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Culver City on June 23.

Lisa Zaid, Western region major gifts associate at USHMM, delivered a message of gratitude and hope to the World War II Jewish veterans on behalf of the nation’s living memorial to the Holocaust. Zaid also presented specially designed USHMM commemorative pins to each veteran. 

JWV provides nonsectarian assistance to veterans and advocates on behalf of Jewish issues. The USHMM in Washington, D.C., celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It hosts programs, lectures, traveling exhibitions and more in Western cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and Shaking: Chris Silbermann, Morton Schapiro and Lawrence Trilling honored

From left: Saban Free Clinic CEO Jeffrey Bujer, producer Andy Friendly, ICM Partners founding partners Chris Silbermann and Bob Broder and producer David Friendly. Photo by Christianne Ray. 

The Saban Free Clinic, a medical clinic for the underserved, honored Chris Silbermann, founding partner of talent agency ICM Partners, during its 18th annual Golf Classic last month. 

The tournament was held at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana on June 3. It is one of the largest fundraisers for the clinic, which has raised nearly $230,000 in funds this year and more than $3.5 million to fund medical, dental and behavioral health services since its inception.

Event chairs and co-chairs included music industry executive Irving Azoff, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chairman Rob Friedman, producers Andy Friendly and David Friendly, entertainment lawyer John Frankenheimer, NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert and Marcia Steere.


Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro addresses Valley Torah High School's annual trustees dinner. Photo by Yehuda Remer.

Valley Torah High School honored Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro with its inaugural Education Leadership Award last month, in recognition of Schapiro’s encouragement of religious tolerance and sensitivity on the Evanston, Ill., campus.

Under his leadership, “Northwestern has changed its climate, attitude and atmosphere … and is attracting more high school graduates from Jewish communities throughout America,” Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, Valley Torah’s dean, said in a statement.

Schapiro received the award during the Valley Torah annual trustees dinner on June 6, which took place at a private home in Valley Village. The dinner featured Schapiro addressing “The Role on Faith in Secular Universities.” Valley Torah alumni Rabbi George and Lisa Lintz chaired the dinner, which also promoted a scholarship fund of the Valley Village Orthodox school.

Recently, the mainstream media has spotlighted Valley Torah graduate Aaron Liberman, who played on Northwestern’s basketball team last year as a freshman. The team has accommodated the religious practices of Liberman, who is Orthodox. Lenard Liberman, Aaron’s father, was in attendance at the Valley Torah dinner.


Bend the Arc honoree and board member Lawrence Trilling with wife Jennifer Kattler Trilling and children, Jonah, Lyla, and Dahlia. Photo by Amy Tierney.

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice honored television producer Lawrence Trilling (“Parenthood”) during its Pursuit of Justice gala last month.

Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle. Photo by Amy Tierney.

Appearing at the June 9 dinner at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Trilling — a board member of the social justice organization — described himself as “a storyteller who tries to ennoble the people portrayed in stories and expand the capacity for empathy in people watching them. Those are Jewish values, and tonight I’m honored to be in a room full of people who live those values.” 

Trilling’s TV credits also include “Alias,” “Felicity,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Damages.” 

A nonprofit, Bend the Arc advocates for progressive positions on issues such as immigration, tax reform and more. 

Approximately 400 supporters of Bend the Arc turned out for the event. Bend the Arc CEO Alan van Capelle and Serena Zeise, Bend the Arc’s new Southern California regional director, delivered remarks. 

In addition to celebrating Trilling, the gala recognized the California Domestic Workers Coalition, which has fought for fair labor standards for the state’s domestic workers since 2006. Bend the Arc is a partner of the coalition. 


Julia Cosgrove, joined by her family, submits Pages of Testimony to Debbie Berman, manager of the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project. Courtesy of Remember Us. 

During a visit to Israel last month, Los Angeles teen Julia Cosgrove submitted pages of testimony memorializing her grandfather’s family members who died in the Holocaust to the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims’ Name Recovery Project.

Organized by the Jerusalem-based institute, which is devoted to the research, documentation and education of the Holocaust, the worldwide project is part of an effort to recover the names of millions of Holocaust victims that remain unidentified.

Cosgrove’s grandfather, Gabriel Legmann, lost his three brothers and mother in the Shoah. Only Legmann and his father survived. The family was from Reteag, Romania.

Cosgrove, a student at the Harvard-Westlake School, is a participant of the Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project. Run by Los Angeles nonprofit Remember Us, the project involves boys and girls remembering lost children from the Shoah during their b’nai mitzvah. Additionally, it has partnered with Yad Vashem to advance the work of the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project in Los Angeles.

Cosgrove becomes a bat mitzvah this August, at Sinai Temple.    


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and shaking: City Hall Passover, Shalhevet School crowned champs, Beit T’Shuvah runs

Los Angeles City Hall held its first-ever Passover celebration, which was organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The March 19 festivities took place on the City Hall forecourt, adjacent to the Spring Street steps. It brought together city leaders and clergy, including Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; L.A. City Council Members Jan Perry, Paul Krekorian, Dennis Zine, Bill Rosendahl and Joe Buscaino. Rabbi Joshua Hoffman of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) led the ceremony. Jonathan Freund, interim executive director of the Board of Rabbis; Rabbi Judith HaLevy, of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, who is president of the Board of Rabbis; Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El; Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue; and David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also participated. Cantor Phil Baron of VBS led a chorus of sixth-graders from VBS Day School, and additional music was performed by kindergarteners and transitional-kindergarteners of Beth Hillel Day School.


Ryan Dishell. Photo courtesy of BBYO, Inc.

 

 

 

Pacific Palisades teenager Ryan Dishell, a student at Crossroads School, has been elected to serve as the international vice president of programming of the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) leadership program and high school fraternity, Aleph Zadik Aleph. Dishell, who was elected to the board of the worldwide pluralistic teen movement during BBYO’s international convention this past February, will hold the post for a yearlong term beginning in July.


Shalhevet School's Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University's annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams. Photo courtest of Yeshiva University.

After beating the Frisch School Cougars of Paramus, N.J., 62-53, in a basketball game on March 11, the Shalhevet School’s Firehawks were crowned the champions of Yeshiva University’s annual Red Sarachek, a prestigious tournament for Jewish high school basketball teams.


Run

Beit T'Shuvah resident Noah Mann completes the L.A. Marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 26 seconds. Photo courtesy of Beit T'Shuvah.

Culver City’s Beit T’Shuvah, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, participated in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 17. As part of team Run to Save a Soul, 54 runners, including Beit T’Shuvah residents, board members and alumni, completed the 26.2- mile race. This is the fourth year that Beit T’Shuvah has participated in the marathon, with residents training for six months leading up to it. As of March 22, the rehab center’s team had raised $125,500, surpassing its goal by $500, to help fund the cost of care for residents of Beit T’Shuvah.


Michel Jeser. Photo Courtesy of Marvin Steindler Photography.

 

 

Michael Jeser, executive director of Hillel at USC, will move to become executive director of Jewish World Watch (JWW) in mid-June, USC Hillel Foundation board chair Howard Schwimmer announced on March 20. Jeser will replace JWW interim director Lois Weinsaft. JWW was founded in 2004 to fight genocide, and its education and advocacy work is done through a coalition of synagogues, churches, individuals and partner organizations. JWW’s ground-breaking solar cooker program has helped women in the Sudan and Congo to cook without having to leave their camps to search for firewood, which had previously left them vulnerable to rape and assault.


Suzy and Stephen Bookbinder and Leora and Gary Raikin were honored March 17 at Kadima Day School’s annual gala, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. Suzy Bookbinder, president of the school’s board of trustees, is chief development officer for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, while Stephen is a senior high-definition video editor at Technicolor. Leora Raikin has a passion for African folklore embroidery and lectures, exhibits and teaches workshops throughout the United States, while Gary is a CPA. A Special Lifetime Achievement Award from the school, which is now in its 42nd year, went to Ronit and Amnon Band.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com

Rabbi David Hartman’s learned students remember their rebbe

An Advocate for Divine Honesty

David Hartman was sui generis; he was a unique individual who was very excited about ideas and at the same time pragmatic. Who believed that believing is best expressed in behavior. To believe is to behave.

This is very clear in his latest book, “The God Who Hates Lies.” It was his opportunity to express the great hope that he had for a renaissance of Jewish life in the State of Israel, and his frustrations at the people who were returning to an ideological, self-centered kind of life that was very disillusioning to him.

His great teacher was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and he told me as he was working on this book, “I have to break with Soloveitchik.” In his treatment of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Soloveitchik said this was the glory of a divine absurdity; the act of being about to do something that is against logic itself. 

Hartman chastised Soloveitchik for this. He said that this is not what we need; we need divine truthfulness and honesty.

He literally gathered hundreds of rabbis, gathered them together and enabled them to speak together without any of their insularity — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist were able to speak, to present, without hostility and without denigration.

He had a remarkable, charismatic approach to the teaching of Judaism. When he was on, it was sheer idealism and enthusiasm. From my point of view, it’s a monumental loss in the Jewish community. He was able to see within Orthodoxy a liberation. 

— Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, as told to Susan Freudenheim


‘The crown has fallen from our head’ — Lamentations 5:16

There was a man and he is no more.

A thinker, a teacher and a lover of humanity. My teacher and friend, Rabbi David Hartman.

He was larger than life: a dynamic force; a public figure with an international following. But when you became his student, he attached himself to you; he became your rebbe. I was privileged to be one of his students for almost 35 years. He was my rebbe. He was my mentor. He shaped my thinking, and he touched my soul.

My mother passed away just over a month ago. Losing David Hartman feels like I’ve lost my intellectual and spiritual father. 

What made David Hartman so special was that he was a yeshiva bocher who gained enlightenment but never stopped being a yeshiva bocher. And so he was at the same time both critical and loyal. He encouraged us to boldly challenge the tradition but never stop loving it. He gave us the greatest gift that a teacher can bequeath: the freedom to inquire, to ask, to probe and to speculate. He accompanied us on the journey — he wrestled with us — all the while reminding us that our personal growth was bound up in a collective responsibility. He so loved the Jewish people. And he loved humanity.

When I first met R’ Duvid, as I fondly called him, he asserted that the most serious religious question that the Jewish people had to confront was how to rule over a minority as Jews. It was the critical question back in 1978, and it continues to be the most vexing moral issue that we face. 

That’s why I became David Hartman’s student, and that’s why he will always be my rebbe. 

— Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Executive Director, UCLA Hillel


The Holiness of Now: A Memory of David Hartman

Torah commands: “You shall follow after the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 13:5) So the Talmud asks: “God is a consuming fire! How is it possible to follow after God?” It answers: Follow the ways of God. My teacher David Hartman offered a different answer: Become the fire! Reflect God’s passion, God’s rage, God’s vision into the world. He was a blazing fire, and learning with Hartman was always an adventure. He thundered. He raged. He wept. Torah meant that much to him.

Hartman’s passion rose from his belief in the singular spiritual significance of this moment in Jewish history. For Hartman, our emergence from the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel initiated a new stage in the unfolding covenantal drama of the Jewish people. There was Sinai, the revelation of the Written Torah, expressed in the language of Mitzvah. There was Yavneh, the revelation of the Oral Torah, expressed in the language of Midrash. And now there is Israel, the revelation of a Living Torah, expressed in the textures and rhythms of Jewish life reborn in its land. Our return to sovereignty in Israel redefines the collective Jewish project. It reshapes our relationship to God. Israel redefines what it means to be a Jew. The holiness of this moment was his Torah. And his fire was our blessing, bringing new life to the soul of the Jewish people. 

— Rabbi Ed Feinstein


A Mensch

Rabbi David Hartman told it like it is. He didn’t mince words. He argued with Maimonides, as if he were living and shouting back.

When he spoke of his love for Israel and the challenges it faces, his words were strong and backed up through action — by educating the Israeli community and military. He didn’t hesitate to share his ambivalences with Orthodox Jewry as we know it; he welcomed women into the Bet Midrash at the Shalom Hartman Institute over 25 years ago. I’m so grateful to have studied with him every other year for those 25.  

A Man, a Mensch, a Visionary.

— Rabbi Karen L. Fox, Wilshire Boulevard Temple


Hartman and the Orthodox Discourse

Figures of great influence and authority within contemporary Orthodoxy, (such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on religious pluralism and Rabbi Yehuda Amital z’l on non-messianic Zionism) have shared ideas that Rabbi David Hartman had developed years earlier. His intellectual legacy is broad within Orthodoxy and his ideas are easy to find. But it is harder to find the voice of Rabbi Hartman himself. There is much to celebrate in his legacy after such a productive and rich life, but for the Orthodox community, the absence of Rabbi David Hartman from our communal discourse is a warning for the future.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton University. Excerpted from “Reflections on Rabbi David Hartman z’l.” The full text can be read on the Morethodoxy blog.


A Voice That Was Freed — and Now Is Silent

Rabbi David Hartman has gone to his eternal rest, but not before making a monumental contribution to Jewish life and Jewish thought.

Best known for his pioneering work as founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute,  an innovative and original think tank and teaching center of pluralistic religious Zionist thought and perhaps Israel’s leading institution for  teaching Torah to Diaspora leadership, both rabbinic and lay. In all its programs, and especially within teacher-training programs, it conveys the majesty of tradition, and its many texts [speak] to students often alienated from those traditions and put off by the parochialism of Israel’s religious establishment and by the extremism of some of the most vocal religious voices. It engages modern thought and contemporary thinkers, offering them the insights of traditional learning and engaging traditional scholars with the finest of contemporary thought. For that alone, David Hartman must be revered.

Yet Hartman never aspired to be an institution builder. He wanted most of all to be known as a Jewish philosopher.

For most of his career, he paid homage to his masters. His work on Maimonides was less a pristine work of scholarship than a work of dialogue between a 20th century thinker wrestling with 20th century problems and grappling with the ethos and the thought of the pre-eminent 12th century Jewish philosopher. His treatment of Yehuda Halevi was an extended essay on the Jewish encounter with history: Hartman in dialogue with Yehuda Halevi. His work on his own teacher conveyed the brilliance of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, mediated through the inquisitive mind of one of his most gifted pupils. A protector of his teacher’s honor, he defended his thought against all critics until … until he could no longer defend it.

As he approached 80, and as illness forced him to confront his own mortality, he began to speak in his own voice, accepting some basic categories of modernity, including the transformed role of women, the empowerment of the Jewish people in Israel, an acceptance of the dignity and decency of non-Jews and an overwhelming desire for a synthetic religious worldview. Unlike the Charedi world of his youth, he would not withdraw from the modern world. Unlike Modern Orthodoxy, which seems to want a faith untainted by modernity and a modernity untouched by faith, Hartman looked for integration between life and faith. And unlike Conservative Judaism, he did not make history paramount and push the halachic worldview to the side. A generation ago, he would have been heralded within his own community for that attempt at synthesis and harmonization. Not so today.

He continued to grow to the very end. One can only celebrate his achievements, yet deeply regret his untimely passing, for there was much that he left unsaid, once he was free to speak out.

Read the full text of this reflection.

— Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering  Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics, American Jewish University


Remembering David Hartman

As I enter the courtyard of the Hartman Institute, I am always moved first by the warmth and beauty of its welcoming presence and then by the excitement and challenge of its covenantal drama.   

Rabbi Dr. David Hartman was a master of haknassat orchim — welcoming and gathering countless Jewish — and non-Jewish — guests into his pluralistic beit midrash.

He was also a master of intellectual haknassat orchim.  With passion and drama and humor, he knew how to bring learners to the table so that they would “feel intellectually empowered to participate in Judaism’s ongoing interpretive tradition.”  

On the one hand, he championed the modern virtues of creativity, interpretive freedom and self-assertion, proclaiming: “A discussion concerning Jewish tradition is open-ended.”

On the other hand, in his beit midrash, you felt claimed by the voices and concerns of significant others, who engaged your own limited perspectives and challenged you to deepen your dignity and expand your covenantal responsibility.  

— Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Rabbinic Director, Milken Community High School

Union workers celebrate at Dodger Stadium

LAX workers were the first to begin the cheers.

“Obama! Obama! Obama!”

It didn’t take long for others to follow when the news broke out at Dodger Stadium on election night that Barack Obama had been re-elected president. That’s where hundreds of supporters gathered as part of a party organized by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”

The crowd at the Stadium Club, a bar and dining area that overlooked the lit-up stadium, looked up eagerly at flat-screen TVs to take in the news. Union workers, community leaders and Obama supporters didn’t have to wait long to get worked into a frenzy. News outlets called the election for the incumbent just 15 minutes after the party started at 8 p.m.

Then Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, addressed the group, speaking from a podium and denouncing “the super rich and powerful.”

“Their money is nothing compared to the power of firefighters, teachers … and truck drivers, and nurses,” she said.

What Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, expected to be a long night ended rather quickly. He tipped his hat to Florida Jews, saying that Obama carried Jewish counties in Florida by huge margins.

“Jewish voters by-and-large stood with the president,” he said. “This is a great victory for us today.”

Still, when Bauman took the stage later he reminded the crowd that the presidency wasn’t the only important contest up for grabs.

He didn’t have to tell Lowell Goodman, director of communications for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents 80,000 public employees in Southern California, including librarians, nurses, social workers and trash collectors.

Goodman said he had been out since 1 p.m. knocking on doors to mobilize people to vote against Proposition 32, which proposed reforming California’s campaign finance rules and banning the use of employee payroll deductions for political purposes. Union leaders opposed it, arguing it would limit their ability to participate effectively in the political process.

“Yes on 32 silences the voices of our 80,000 members, and what it says is the only ones who should have a voice in politics in California are the 1 percent,” he said.

Goodman, whose children attend preschool at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, lives near the stadium in Angelino Heights in Echo Park. Asked if he was going to walk home, he answered:

“If it’s a good night, I’ll stumble home.”

Etta Israel Center gets help from new partner

When the Etta Israel Center was hit by the recent economic downturn, its leaders weren’t satisfied with simply surviving the crisis, as they sought to provide services, including group homes, to local people with special needs. They wanted to grow.

Now, thanks to a recent merger with the East Coast nonprofit OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, the North Hollywood-based organization hopes to do just that.

“We could open up homes for at least another 100 people tomorrow. We have that many people waiting,” said Sharon Levine, co-president of the new joint board of directors that will oversee Etta. “Now, together, we can go to certain funding sources … and now that we’re a national organization, they’re interested in us. Before, they were not interested in us.”

On Nov. 14, officials from both organizations will gather at the California Science Center for Etta’s annual gala dinner to celebrate the merger, which was completed Sept. 18, and to honor the group’s cohort of young professionals. The joint board will have its first meeting the following day.

Now 19 years old, Etta is the only Jewish agency providing group homes for people with special needs in the Los Angeles area, according to Dr. Michael Held, founding executive director.

It operates four homes — the most recent of which opened in August — that serve 24 residents. Etta also provides adult case management, a summer day camp and year-round programming. It runs a self-contained classroom for students with learning disabilities and has an outreach program targeting the local Iranian community.

Its new partner is much larger in terms of scale and services. OHEL, which means “tent” in Hebrew, is based in New York and has offices in New Jersey and South Florida. Founded as a foster-care agency in 1969, it has grown to include help for senior citizens, mental-health patients and, like Etta, individuals with developmental disabilities and other special needs, said CEO David Mandel.

The two organizations were brought together when Etta became frustrated in its efforts to expand and began searching for help.

“There’s a long waiting list of people who contact us on a regular basis looking for a solution. … To me, that’s a crisis. It may not be so much of a crisis when the individual is 21, but it becomes a crisis when that person is 40, because, correspondingly, the parents are aging,” said Held, who has a doctorate in psychology. “The question that we came to experience is how do we keep growing? Four years ago, we realized that we kind of hit a wall.”

The country’s economic meltdown and cuts in government funding didn’t help, while the need for services continued to mount. What began as a consultation with OHEL grew, over the course of a year, into the decision to merge, Held said.

For Etta, a $2.5 million agency, it meant access to a bigger, more experienced organization with a knowledge base and infrastructure that could help in government relations and other important areas.

“They have a lot of expertise where we lack expertise,” Held said. “They’re the largest in the country, so they understand scale. They understand what it’s like to work with people who are in residential care over a lifetime.”

For OHEL, which operates a camp on a national level, the merger offers an entree to the West Coast and a chance to collaborate with another lay-driven organization that shares the same values, desire for growth and dedication to serving those with disabilities, Mandel said.

“We have been approached over the years by numerous organizations with the concept of consultation or a merger or to co-brand with OHEL,” he said, adding that the idea of a merger was never really entertained until now. “This made sense. It was an organization that had a vision that was similar to ours [and] provided some services that we have been providing.”

The new board, with co-presidents representing each organization, is structured to include seven members selected by Etta and eight by OHEL. However, if the question of changing Etta’s name or selling its property ever came up, any decision would require the approval of a majority of the Etta board members, Levine said.

Both sides agree that there is no plan at the present time to expand the scope of what Etta does to match OHEL’s.

“In the short term, what’s most important is to continue Etta’s focus on its current population,” Mandel said. “We certainly are not looking to bring services that are not Etta’s current focus or that in any way will diminish what its current mission is.”

Instead, Etta remains focused on pursuing proposals now pending approval by the Westside Regional Center and the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center. They would enable Etta to become a vendor for providing customized, independent living skills and supportive living services to adult clients. That could mean anything from helping them use transportation and navigate the community to teaching them how to bank or do chores. 

There are secular programs that take on similar challenges, but it’s not the same as making it a Jewish undertaking, Held said.

“It’s really identical or parallel to the same way the Jewish community has invested huge sums of money in Jewish day school education and Jewish camping,” he said. “Being part of Jewish programs, or programs under Jewish auspices, is something that builds identity, builds self-worth and adds value to the Jewish community.”

Levine said the merger has re-energized and rejuvenated many aspects of Etta, strengthening it for a long and promising future.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I feel like this is what’s actually going to ensure the longevity of the organization. With the backing of OHEL, we are absolutely here to stay. … Now we have the assurance that we will definitely be able to keep those homes open until every single resident doesn’t need them anymore.”

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder fights money in politics

Wearing a T-shirt that read “Stamp Money Out of Politics,” Ben Cohen, co-founder of ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, unveiled a grass-roots campaign in North Hollywood on Oct. 11 denouncing the influence of money in politics.

The campaign, Stamp Stampede, encourages supporters to participate in the guerrilla tactic of stamping currency with messages that argue against money’s use in politics.

“Stamping money is petitions on steroids,” Cohen said. “It’s people saying what they want. … For individuals, this is a way for people to make their money talk.” 

The campaign is a collaboration between Cohen, a member of the steering committee of the Movement Resource Group — which has served as a liaison between funders and the national Occupy movement and is now refocusing its attention on getting money out of politics — and Move to Amend, a national coalition dedicated to amending the U.S. Constitution to say that corporations should not have human rights and money is not free speech.

The move comes in response to a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in particular the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has allowed corporations an increasing role in influencing the electoral process, thereby reducing the power of ordinary voters, according to Ashley Sanders, a community organizer and member of the Move to Amend executive committee.

The Stamp Stampede campaign’s Web site is selling stamps, at cost, with messages such as, “Money is not free speech,” “Not to be used for bribing politicians” and “The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed.” The hope is that people will stamp and then spend the currency, thereby spreading the message. 

The tactic of money-stamping is legal, according to the Stamp Stampede Web site, as long as it does not ruin or deface bills to the extent that they are unrecognizable. 

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sept. 29 – Oct. 5, 2012

[SAT SEPT 29]

MUSEUM DAY LIVE!

Smithsonian magazine hosts a free day at participating museums, including the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, The Grammy Museum, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Autry National Center. Zimmer Children’s Museum, which is closed on Saturdays, will be open for Museum Day on Sunday, Sept. 30. Sat. Free (registration required, ticket information on Web site). Various times, locations. smithsonianmag.com/museumday.


[SUN SEPT 30]

 SUKKOT PICNIC

Join the Israeli Leadership Council, MATI and Mitchabrim — organizations dedicated to strengthening the Israeli-American community — at this folksy Sukkot festival. Arts and crafts, Israeli folk dancing, sukkah decorating, kids’ activities and more make it a can’t-miss event for the entire family. Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free. Warner Center Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 466-6454. jewishla.org.

11TH ANNUAL WEST HOLLYWOOD BOOK FAIR

West Hollywood’s celebration of the written word features more than 220 authors and artists. Speakers include “Saturday Night Live” alum Rachel Dratch (“Girl Walks Into a Bar”) and comedy writer David Misch (“Funny: The Book”); Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky (“Inventing L.A.”); political commentators Robert Scheer (“The Great American Stickup”) and Nancy L. Cohen (“Delirium”); novelists David Brin (“Existence”), Seth Greenland (“The Angry Buddhist”), Tod Goldberg (“Living Dead Girl”), Gregg Hurwitz (“The Survivor”), Stephen Jay Schwartz (“Beat”) and Jerry Stahl (“Pain Killers”); and children’s writers Amy Goldman Koss (“Side Effects”) and Eugene Yelchin (“Breaking Stalin’s Nose”). Attend writer’s workshops, poetry readings and performances, and peruse more than 75 exhibitor booths featuring publishers, booksellers and writing groups. Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free (includes admission, shuttle and parking). West Hollywood Library and West Hollywood Park, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood. westhollywoodbookfair.org.


[MON OCT 1]

“VOICES UNITED”

Comedian Sarah Silverman joins actor Russell Brand and singer-songwriters Catie Curtis and Mary Gauthier in headlining this Americans United concert in support of church-state separation. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $25 (standing room), $50 (rear orchestra), $100 (front orchestra). El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. au.org/voices-united-la-tickets.


[TUE OCT 2]

MAC MILLER

YouTube clips of the Pittsburgh native effortlessly freestyling are viral classics, and his records — including debut album “Blue Slide Park” — showcase Miller’s knack for lacing his rhymes with humor. The 20-year-old rapper makes a stop in Los Angeles as part of his Macadelic Tour. Hip-hop act Travis Porter and rapper YG also perform. Tue. 8 p.m. $30-$35. Nokia Theatre, L.A. Live, 777 Chick Hearn Court, Los Angeles. (213) 763-6030. nokiatheatrelalive.com.


[THU OCT 4]

“IS ALTRUISM A WONDER DRUG?”

David Levinson, Big Sunday executive director and author of “Everybody Helps, Everybody Wins,” joins bioethicist Stephen Post (“The Hidden Gifts of Helping”) and Stanford University School of Medicine neurosurgery professor James Doty in a discussion about the latest in medical science and altruism. They draw on recent studies that found that frequent volunteering among older adults led to reduced risk of an early death, and that nonvolunteers were more likely than volunteers to experience a major illness. Moderated by Lisa Aliferis, editor of KQED health policy and public health blog “State of Health.” Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. zocalopublicsquare.org.

“RECOVERED VOICES”

L.A. Opera music director James Conlon’s concert series restores two generations of composers that were wiped off the map by the Third Reich. Tonight’s chamber music concert features performances of lost works by Austrian composers Alexander von Zemlinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schreker; and Czech composer and pianist Erwin Schulhoff. Pacific Trio and friends accompany Conlon. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $37-$65. Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.com.

 

“UNAUTHORIZED: THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN PROJECT”

Documentarian Barry Avrich’s latest film offers an unflinching portrait of Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of the Weinstein Co. and Miramax Films. Avrich turns to Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, John Irving and others to examine the influence that Weinstein holds in Hollywood. A post-screening Q-and-A with Avrich follows. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $10 (general), $7 (LACMA members, seniors, students). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000. lacma.org.

Stories of Jewish Conversion: Frank Siciliano

Hearing the name Frank Siciliano, you would probably not immediately think “Orthodox Jew.” But this Jew by Choice, who has lived in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for the past three years, is as passionate about his religion and his people as one can get. 

Siciliano, a 30-year-old insurance broker, is a born-and-bred Italian from New York. His family was Roman Catholic, and with that came trips to church every Sunday, and celebrating the religious aspects of the mainstream holidays. Christmas was about Jesus, as was Easter. There was “no real ‘pressure’ to keep the faith, as it is assumed you just will,” he said. “You went to church, [and] that was the end of it.”

However, Siciliano said, he never quite clicked with his inherited religion. “You don’t start your studies with the New Testament,” he said. “You start with Genesis, Exodus, etc. I couldn’t reconcile that if you started with all these books in the first half, why did God change His mind in the second half? If Christianity teaches that God is infallible, why would He have to adjust His rules in a whole new set of books?”

His lack of enthusiasm for Catholicism, and an ever-growing zeal for Judaism, emerged after college, when Siciliano began working at his uncle’s grocery store in the Five Towns of Long Island, where there is a strong presence of Orthodox Jewish life. “I learned that the delivery truck had to be loaded by 1 p.m. on Friday,” he said. “As my exposure to Judaism and frum communities grew more and more, I started to say to myself that this makes sense, and where I’m at does not. I wasn’t sure how to proceed with all of that, but I knew that was where I wanted to wind up.”

At the grocery store, Siciliano learned the rules of kashrut, which would help him later on. After he left the store and found a new employer, he met Kelila Green, a co-worker who lived nearly 3,000 miles away, in California. Green, as it turns out, was Jewish. He fell in love, packed his bags for the West Coast a year later, and moved to Wooster Street in West Los Angeles to be closer to his future wife. “I had been with a few girls, and they just weren’t right for me,” he said. “Kelila made sense. Judaism made sense. And, luckily I had a supportive enough community to make that happen.”

As Green and Siciliano’s relationship blossomed, the topic of conversion came up. “I wanted to make sure [Frank] was doing it for himself and not for me, so I didn’t really say much at the beginning,” Green, now a stay-at-home mom, said, adding that they “were planning on getting married whether he converted or not; we knew it would be difficult, but we also knew we were meant to be together. When I realized he was serious about converting, it was like a weight was lifted, and we both knew that a life together with kids was going to be much easier coming from the same beliefs.” 

While settling into his new neighborhood, attending his first Shabbat dinners and going through a full festival cycle, Siciliano decided to meet with Rav Yosef Kanefsky at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox shul, to discuss what he needed to do to convert. After a few meetings, Kanefsky became his sponsor and introduced him to Beit Din Los Angeles. The whole process was put into motion soon after he set foot on California soil, in March 2009, and by the end of the year he would be able to apply for conversion. “The L.A. beit din asked me how serious I was and why I was there,” he said. “They laid out a very detailed syllabus and told me what I needed to know. Conversion, I’ve learned, is not a finish line. It’s getting to the starting line.”

Daily exercises Siciliano was required to learn included saying the brachot (blessings), which Green taped to the walls; keeping kosher; and, of course, studying. He took private lessons and a course with Judaica teacher Adaire Klein. Early in the process, Siciliano and Green got into a car accident on Shabbat, which they interpreted as a sign to end their driving on the day of the rest. 

To this day, the act of wrapping tefillin still trips Siciliano up, he said, and Hebrew has been hard for him to grasp (along with any foreign language, for that matter, he said). Going from praying once a week for 45 minutes at church to praying every day was not easy to schedule at first, either. 

“Along the way, as anxious as I was to finish, and as important as I knew it was to take my time, the predominant feeling was, ‘This is right,’ ” he said. “Not once did I think I was headed in the wrong direction. I was determined to make this work. Every Shabbat, every yontif, every meeting with the rabbis was one step closer, and I’d take as many steps as was needed to get it right.”

During the conversion process, the rituals and practices became second nature, and Siciliano blended into the community. “You have to change a lot, and you want to get it changed in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “I put the cart before the horse many a time. Patience was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. I wanted to get it all done quickly, and that’s just not smart.”

As Siciliano grew into his newfound lifestyle, Green, for her part, was coming back to Orthodox Judaism. As a child she had attended an Orthodox day school, though she was raised in a Conservative/Reform household. “I remember many times learning something in school and being confused as to why we didn’t do that at home,” she said. “The Modern Orthodox lifestyle and beliefs always made sense to me; I just needed a push in that direction.” During the process, the couple learned from each other. Green’s strength was Hebrew, and Sicilano’s kashrut. 

They scheduled their wedding for Aug. 29, 2010 — that was, if everything went according to plan. “The mikveh was set for Aug. 24,” Siciliano said. “A successful conversion would have resulted in a wedding, and a failed one would have resulted in a funeral. Our families would have killed me if they had to come out to a wedding that wasn’t happening.”

On Aug. 24, 2010, Siciliano sat before the L.A. beit din and was tested and asked to respond to their questions. They could see that he was committed. Afterward, he went into the mikveh and came out a Jew.

Transitioning from the life Siciliano used to know into one of an observant Jew did not come without its difficulties. “My family was, daresay, apathetic about the whole thing,” he said. “Obviously, they weren’t in a celebratory mood. They were relieved I was still in a God-fearing position, and my dad reassured me that ‘there wasn’t going to be any garment rending’ over my conversion.”

However, Siciliano said he always feels particularly welcome when he and his wife visit his uncle’s home. “When we are back on the East Coast, my father’s younger sister, the wife of my uncle who has the store, is so on top of Shabbat that by the time we get to their house, the food that she bought from the glatt kosher joint in Cedarhurst is there. Kelila knows where her candles go. My aunt has cleared out a space for our stuff. It borders on convenient.”

Green said her parents were happy either way, as long as their grandchildren were raised in a Jewish household. But when she told them that her partner was converting, “They were overjoyed, especially knowing how much easier it would be for everyone. When I told them he was converting through the Orthodox beit din, I think they were still thrilled, but there have been some challenges that we have all had to deal with — mainly stemming from a lack of knowledge or understanding of the halachah (Jewish laws).” 

Of course, throughout the process, Siciliano’s biggest cheerleader was, and still is, Green. Today, they have one child, Yoella, who is 15 months old. They continue to attend B’nai David-Judea, and Siciliano, who calls himself “the guy with the hat” at shul, is just as, if not more so, excited about Judaism as he was when he first dove into the conversion process. “When you love your job, you feel like you never work a day in your life,” he said. “It’s kind of like that.”

Once dreaming of a Hebrew charter school, now only Mandarin is offered

When the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEA) opened in August 2010, part of the draw for parents was the chance for students at the Santa Clarita charter middle and high school to study Hebrew. 

Since then, AEA backers have submitted petitions to set up elementary schools in the Newhall School District, Los Angeles Unified School District and Ventura Unified School District, without success. In August 2012, a revised version of its twice-rejected petition for an elementary charter was submitted to the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita. Among the changes in the newest version was eliminating offering Hebrew at the school, at least initially. 

“We will offer only one second language at the beginning; it will be Mandarin,” Shannon Perches, the principal and lead petitioner for the proposed elementary school, told the Saugus district’s board of governors at a well-attended public hearing on Sept. 19. 

In denying an earlier version of the charter petition, the board expressed concerns about the proposed school’s financial plan and its ability to accommodate students with special needs, as well as those whose first language is not English. 

As for teaching a second language, a central element of AEA’s unique curriculum, the board’s objection wasn’t to offering Hebrew, per se. 

The board’s concern was focused on how the proposed elementary school would go about teaching multiple foreign languages. 

“The AEA petition fails to state how students would be assigned to either Hebrew or Mandarin instruction, or whether there would be any consideration of the child’s ability to learn either language,” states a report by the Saugus district staff adopted by the board when it rejected the second version of the charter petition in April 2012. 

Hebrew may yet return to the proposed school’s curriculum, according to Jeffrey Shapiro, the executive director of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEALAS) Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization designed to support and develop AEA schools. 

“In future years, we intend to add additional languages,” Shapiro said. 

Other public schools in California teach Hebrew, including public charter elementary schools. At the AEA high school, 80 students are enrolled in Hebrew classes this year, the vast majority of them new learners of the language, and not all of them Jewish. 

“It’s like a miracle,” said Nehama Meged, head of the school’s Hebrew department. On the wall in her classroom are half a dozen framed photographs of her students on a school trip to Israel taken after the end of the 2011-12 academic year. 

Twenty students traveled through Israel on an itinerary that featured both Jewish and Christian historical and holy sites; five of the students were not Jewish, Meged said. 

“The kids, who had zero knowledge not just about the language, but the place, the people learned so much, and they care about Israel,” she said. 

Taking Hebrew out of the AEA Saugus elementary petition is just the most recent step in a long process that has dramatically reduced the prominence of Hebrew language instruction in AEA schools. 

In order to get the high school’s charter petition approved by the William S. Hart Union High School District, the backers of the AEA high school dropped a curriculum that would have offered Hebrew-immersion instruction. That change led the Hebrew Charter School Center, the leading organization dedicated to developing Hebrew-language charter schools, to cut ties with AEA. The school also abandoned their plan to locate in a newly planned Jewish community center building.

The school was, from the first, the vision of Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, and Blazer spoke publicly to parents, officials and the media during that initial AEA charter approval effort. He has since taken a much lower profile, though he remains president of the board of the AEALAS Foundation. Blazer attended the Sept. 19 hearing but left before the proceedings began.

Jewish Home to expand to West L.A.

Challenged by an 18-month waiting list numbering 400 people, the Jewish Home of Los Angeles has announced that it will add another campus — this time on the west side of Los Angeles. On Sept. 7, the Jewish Home closed escrow on a 2.5-acre site in Playa Vista.

The Gonda Healthy Aging Westside Campus, as the senior care community will be known, will be located at The Village in Playa Vista. It will offer independent living, assisted living and memory care, supplementing the Jewish Home’s two existing campuses in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. 

“Our goal is to be spread geographically so that we can serve both in the Valley and West L.A.,” Molly Forrest, president and CEO of the Jewish Home, said on Sept. 11. “Some people would like to stay at home. Others will need skilled nursing. We are trying to present in West L.A. an opportunity to serve almost 600 seniors in a variety of settings.”

Now in its centennial year, the Jewish Home cares for more than 1,000 seniors in-residence, and it assists 1,600 more through community-based programs. Half of those waiting to get into the Jewish Home live on the Westside.

The expansion is being funded in large part by the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Foundation and the Saul Brandman Foundation. At its core will be the Gonda Campus, with a 176-unit continuing care community for independent seniors and 24 units dedicated to assisted living and memory care. Forrest said the goal is to open the campus within four years.

This is part of a bigger plan. Forrest said that the Jewish Home aims to purchase a skilled nursing facility in the area and find a Westside site for a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The federal program, known at the Jewish Home as the Brandman Centers for Senior Care, provides a full range of health-care services for seniors living independently in the community in order to allow them to remain in their homes. This can include anything from meals and therapy to medical care and transportation.

Forrest said the move to West L.A. reflects the Jewish Home’s aspirations to serve 5,000 people by 2015. Already, it is the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles.

“It’s a huge step forward for us,” Forrest said.