January 15, 2019

Jacksonville Shooter Kills Two, Injures Nine

REUTERS/Joey Roulette

At least two are dead and nine others were injured in a shooting today in Jacksonville, FL.

The shooting occurred at the Good Luck Have Fun Game Bar, which was hosting a Madden 19 video game tournament. The alleged shooter, identified as 24-year-old David Katz of Baltimore, was reportedly one of the participants and losers in the tournament. He killed himself by a gunshot wound.

Katz, who typically played under the names “Bread” or “RavensChamp,” has been described by witnesses as being livid after he lost the tournament, although an official motive has not been given. People who knew him have said he typically kept to himself. Katz previously won the Madden Bills tournament in 2017.

The deceased victims have been identified as Elijah Clayton and Taylor Robertson.

“Jacksonville is mourning,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said. “We have faced an occurrence that is all too common.”

Legally Blind Photographer Comes Into New Focus

David Katz. Photo by Danielle Shitrit.

Throughout his career as a photographer, David Katz has snapped portraits of political and entertainment industry titans. The list of those seen through his lens is impressive: Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II, to name a few.

But what’s more impressive is the fact that he did it all while legally blind.

At 3 months old, Katz was diagnosed with ocular albinism, a genetic condition characterized by a lack of pigmentation in the iris. He also suffers from astigmatism, nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) and strabismus (eye misalignment that affects balance).

“Just to say the words ‘legally blind’ is really difficult for me.”– David Katz

An ardent soccer fan, Katz discovered as a child that he could watch games better by using binoculars, since the lens curbed some of the problems arising from his impairment. At age 15, he returned from a family vacation in Israel to his home in the Ilford district of London and showed his father the photos he had taken. Impressed, his father said he had real talent and promised to buy him a professional camera. Later that year, his father died and Katz secured his first photography job at his local newspaper.

While still in his teens, Katz went on to work for famed British tabloids such as The Mirror and the Daily Mail, launching a decadeslong career. He would later become the personal photographer of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who loved the fact that Katz always showed up early and in a suit.

Yet through it all, no one but Katz’s closest friends and family had a clue about the condition of his eyes. Even today, more than a year after Katz made the decision to “come out of the closet,” as he terms it, he still finds it hard to express himself.

“Just to say the words ‘legally blind’ is really difficult for me,” he said.

Katz always operated from the belief that if the truth were discovered, his career would be over. Competition in the industry is notoriously fierce and he figured his peers would take his blindness as a “golden egg” to topple him.

So to make up for his shortcoming, Katz studied his craft with unwavering diligence. He developed a reputation for risk-taking — always at the front lines of the action instead of hanging back with a long lens. 

“I needed to create a situation where no one could ever say to me, ‘You missed that because you didn’t see it,’” he said.

He also conjured “tricks” so his peers and bosses would never find him out. When digital cameras replaced film — a concern for Katz because it necessitated the use of a computer — he memorized everything about how to use Photoshop in case he was forced to demonstrate something.

Nevertheless, Katz remains proud of his disability, claiming he’s a better photographer because of it, not in spite of it. He said he always knew he eventually would let the world know because he wanted to motivate other people to pursue their dreams, no matter how unattainable they seemed. It was a message hammered into him from an early age by his supportive mother, who insisted, “There’s no such word as ‘can’t.’ ”

“Everything was leading up to this point [of revelation],” he said. “But I needed to reach a certain level before I could have the platform that I have now.

“Otherwise, I’m just another guy with a camera.” 

David Katz chronicled his journey in a documentary which can be seen here. His website is http://throughmylenses.org/

American Jews stay in the game with Israeli sports

Forget all the jokes you’ve heard. On Feb. 25, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted a panel of accomplished Jewish athletes to share stories about competing internationally and, in the process, debunk the myth that Jews can’t jump. 

Just ask 35-year-old Los Angeles native David Blu (formerly Blumenthal), a former USC basketball standout and Maccabi Tel Aviv star, who headlined the panel. The 6-foot-7 Blu was joined by Marlee Galper, a Santa Monica product who captained the Emerson College women’s lacrosse team before playing for the Israeli national team in the 2015 ELF European championships. Representing the baseball world was Aric Weinberg, a Huntington Beach native who played in the minors before leading the Israeli national baseball team to a third-place showing in the European baseball championship.  

David Katz, the founder and CEO of

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After top-down transformation, Hillel 818 shows signs of growth

When David Katz, the new executive director of Hillel 818 — the organization that serves Jewish students on three San Fernando Valley campuses — was being courted away last year from his position leading Hillel at the University of Pittsburgh, he wasn’t exactly given the most attractive hard sell. He recalls being told the following by Hillel International’s leadership:

“This Hillel has a quarter of the staff size that you’re used to, maybe a third of the budget that you’re used to and the potential to reach three times as many students as you’re used to.”

Nevertheless, Katz, 34, accepted the challenge, which also meant coming into a Hillel with a new board after an upheaval led by its primary funding source, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

“This is a Hillel that has the potential to engage 6,000 students throughout all the different campuses that we serve,” Katz said during a recent interview at Hillel 818’s Northridge headquarters. He was referring to Cal State Northridge (CSUN), as well as two community colleges, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College, all of which are under Hillel 818’s umbrella. “We want to be able to prove that we can engage alumni, engage community members and eventually start building an endowment.”

Katz’s arrival in April followed a de facto takeover and reorganization in late 2014 by L.A. Federation, led by President and CEO Jay Sanderson, who told the Journal a year ago that Hillel 818’s leadership was mismanaged, unable to support itself financially, and not reaching enough Jewish students. “For many, many, many years, those students did not get adequate support,” Sanderson told the Journal in 2015. “There’s not one person who can tell you that that was an effectively run Hillel.”

Sanderson said in a recent interview that he thinks the organization is now on track. “Now there’s a strong board with a strong board chair [Howard Grobstein],” he said. “Eighty percent of the board is new people who are connected and committed to the campus.” Katz said there’s also a minimum board contribution for each member of $2,500 a year.

While Hillel 818 remains heavily dependent on Federation, Katz said it is on a path toward financial self-sustainability. Its annual budget has increased 54 percent, from $278,000 in 2014-15 to $430,000 in 2015-16, with just under half of this year’s funding from Federation — $214,000 —  whereas Federation previously funded two-thirds of Hillel 818’s budget.

It’s also reaching more students. Hillel’s goal at the start of the 2015-16 school year, Katz said, was to interact with 900 individual Jewish students during this academic year; it finished the first semester reaching 464 individuals. He estimates that last year, Hillel 818 reached only 300 individual students in the entire academic year.

In addition, Katz said, last year Hillel 818 offered only one Shabbat dinner per month. It now opens its door for Friday night dinner every two weeks, including a Kabbalat Shabbat service beforehand, attracting about 30 to 40 students each time. Another priority of Hillel 818 under Katz’s leadership has been to increase its students’ representation on Birthright trips to Israel. He said in the year before he came, in April 2015, Hillel 818 sent only three students on Birthright, a number that increased to 15 over winter break. He hopes to see 30 more go on the summer trips.

Another of Katz’s goals is to increase the percentage of non-Federation funding sources and to expand Hillel 818’s footprint beyond its CSUN core, increasing engagement at Pierce, where Hillel 818 already has some presence, and making an impact at L.A. Valley College, which he said Hillel 818 has barely touched for three years. One of Hillel 818’s three staffers will be on the Pierce campus once a week, and Katz said he and his team are “still figuring out how we best meet and serve the needs of L.A. Valley College.”

The Federation-led reorganization didn’t come without its share of controversy. It started in September 2014, when Sanderson told the then-standing board that it needed to dissolve itself or else Federation would cut off its funding, effectively crippling the organization. One month earlier, executive director Judy Alban had resigned after learning that her grant requests to Federation were being denied because Federation disapproved of her having been promoted from the interim director post just a few months earlier. So a new director had to be found as well.

Jody Myers, CSUN professor of religious studies and coordinator of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program and one of the few prior board members to remain after the transition, said she disapproved of Federation’s tactics at the time of the reorganization, and she believes Federation’s reduced funding under Alban and its dissolution of the board hurt Jewish students on campus who would have benefited from a vibrant Hillel in the 2014-15 year.

“Once they fired Judy … I was considering not being on the board, but my board members said, ‘No, you have to be there,’ ” Myers said.

She acknowledges improvements at Hillel 818 since Katz took over and that Federation has ramped up its funding, but for Myers, that still doesn’t justify the process. “Things are very positive. I’m very happy with how David is functioning,” she said. “The fact that he’s working out well now does not justify the manner in which it was done.”

Jonathan Goldenberg, a CSUN junior, Hillel intern and head of CSUN Students for Israel, believes the reorganization and leadership change last year directly improved the pro-Israel group’s effectiveness.

“I kind of got to experience the change in leadership that happened firsthand,” Goldenberg said. “I went from being on my own to having a full staff to help me and the board plan events.”

He said Katz “has really brought life back to a Hillel that used to seem as if it wouldn’t [have] any potential.

“I’ve seen an incredible improvement both just in how Hillel itself functions and also how David really works with the various student groups that are under Hillel’s banner,” Goldenberg said.

This is not to understate, however, the long road to self-sustainability that Hillel 818 is just beginning. One sign of its ongoing dependency on Federation is that the more than $200,000 Federation gave to Hillel 818 for the 2015-16 school year is not grant-based funding, but “core” funding that’s not attached to specific programs — a rarity for Federation.

“Hillel 818, right now, is not self-sustaining and we have to help it get there,” Sanderson said, explaining the exception. “We’re invested in making sure this Hillel is the focal point of Jewish life on these three campuses, and to do that we have to provide, during this transition period, core support to make that happen.”

Sanderson said there’s no “formal timeline” for when he expects Hillel 818 to be financially self-sustaining — which would involve a mix of fundraising from its board, alumni, grants and parents of current students. He said he expects the process could take about three years:

“They started from way below sea level. The board they had before was not helping them raise money. We’re very, very happy. Everything we wanted to happen is happening, and our expectations so far have been exceeded.” 

ROI local: The SoCal community members

If you’re involved in the Los Angeles Jewish community, you’ve probably already encountered the work of local ROI Community members: They’re artists, communicators, community-builders, innovators and entrepreneurs working at many of our community programs and organizations, and on behalf of their own projects, all over the city. (This list represents a small number of the ROIers in L.A., many of whom are close friends of mine.)

Martin Storrow, former director of leadership development for Moishe House, now an independent consultant on leadership and talent-development projects, had always considered ROI to be the “Holy Grail of the Jewish gathering.” When he arrived for his first summit last June as one of 150 participants, he was “blown away by the scope and the scale. Every moment had been planned very mindfully and intentionally: where we were physically in the space, who was around, the flow of the program, the use of technology,” he said, referring in particular to an app that enabled ROIers to schedule “brain dates” with their fellow participants. 

ROI first-timer Aaron Henne, founder of L.A.-based Theatre Dybbuk, quickly realized at June’s summit that “there was a master plan” with a “focus on creativity.” 

“I met people from all over. In facilitated discussions, and brain dates, I felt I had touch points with a wide variety of people. The summit’s last night featured a party with food, drink and dancing. I had been in serious brain mode for 72 hours straight with very little downtime; I appreciated the ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos that created a real community.” 

ROIers don’t always stay in the same place or organization after their summit experience, but bring a spirit of creativity and innovation to whatever they do. Rabbi Sarah Bassin was the executive director of New Ground: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change when she attended ROI in 2013; today she is associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Micah Fitzerman-Blue attended the 2013 summit as a comedy writer and co-founder of East Side Jews; now he’s on the Emmy Award-winning writing team for the critically acclaimed Amazon Prime show “Transparent.” Josh Feldman, formerly of the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Artists and a co-organizer of the Asylum Arts: International Jewish Artist Retreat (a Schusterman Connection Points gathering), is now director of the Institute for Jewish Creativity and the assistant dean of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education at American Jewish University. 

And when it comes to the membership benefits of the ROI Community, every ROIer identifies something different and personally specific. 

David Katz (Sherman Oaks, 2009 and 2010 summits), former director of J’Burgh, a community for Pittsburgh’s Jewish grad students and young adults, said that access to the Schusterman Foundation Job Hub was what “ultimately led me to my role here in Los Angeles as the new executive director for Hillel 818.” 

Janelle Eagle, (Toluca Lake, 2012 summit), a freelance TV producer and co-creator of 2wice Blessed (a project curating positive images and stories about LGBTQ Jews), is most appreciative of the micro-grants providing “access to potentially cost-prohibitive opportunities to stay engaged with the Jewish world.” She said that ROI’s “global Jewish mafia” provided her the opportunity to “interact with Jews from so many different parts of the world who are experiencing a completely different Jewish identity than my own.” Eagle remembered one discussion with a Chabad Jew about whether tradition or inclusion was more effective in ensuring the Jewish future. “Despite his better judgment, I think he heard me, and I gained an appreciation for his passion for the Jewish people.” 

Judith Prays (Pico-Robertson, 2013 summit), an artist who creates fresh, engaging, meaningful Jewish experiences, remembered “meaningful conversations,” and said that “meeting big-minded people raises the bar for what is possible, and the grants further this empowerment in turning ideas into reality.” 

“ROI has connected me to so many incredible individuals from all over the world,” said Chari Pere (Pico-Robertson, 2009 and 2010 summits), a freelance cartoonist and president and founder of Hey Yiddle Diddle Productions. “Nothing can replace the in-person networking and shared experiences.” Pere discovered the West Coast ROIer support system when she moved from New York to Los Angeles after she was married. Pere added that her collaboration with Israeli ROIer Inbal Freund on the ROI-funded Unmasked Comics for Social Change project “set the bar for what a healthy, creative collaboration should be.” The duo created a three-page comic about Ariella Dadon, an agunah who was denied a get (Jewish divorce) by her abusive, unfaithful husband. “Her inspirational true story still brings us recognition online every year, and our dream is to turn this story into a full-length graphic novel,” Pere said.

Sam Heller (Westwood, 2009 summit), owner of Sam Heller Communications, echoed Eagle, Prays and Pere on the value of the interactive, international network, and added, “I have become more familiar with social justice issues in a variety of Jewish communities while learning innovative approaches and ideas from my colleagues.” 

Eileen Levinson (Pico-Robertson, 2007 and 2010 summits), founder of ” target=”_blank”>custom&craft.org, both of which use design to create tools for contemporary, personalized engagement in Jewish ritual, highlighted the Asylum artists retreat (one of the first Connection Points gatherings). 

“It was the first time that there was an opportunity to let Jewish artists connect on their own terms, without a top-down vision of what it meant to be Jewish or creative, and showed an understanding that the needs of artists are different than the needs of organizations or organizational leaders. This showed a high level of sophistication in the ROI Community’s thinking,” Levinson said. 

“What ROI has done better than virtually every other program is blend the maker community and the context community effectively,” said Shawn Landres, Jumpstart Labs co-founder and UCLA Luskin Civil Society Fellow, noting that Schusterman’s way of operation “left me very impressed.” 

“Watching how a program is laid out, how staff interact with one another, how leadership puts itself out there — that certainly has had an impact on how I view organized communities,” he said. 

“You can be critical of different choices or processes, you can be frustrated with not getting the answers or decisions you want, but at the end of the day, when I see how well people treat each other within the foundation’s organization and networks, I am left with the fundamental impression that the broader Jewish community, which otherwise feels quite dysfunctional, could actually work if we treated each other with more respect and dignity,” Landres said.

New director for Hillel 818

Hillel 818 has undergone a major facelift in the past year, culminating in the April arrival of executive director David Katz, who trekked across the country from Pittsburgh with the hope of bringing a fresh start to Jewish life on three Valley college campuses. 

Hillel 818 works with an estimated 8,000 Jewish students, serving Pierce College, Los Angeles Valley College and CSU Northridge, where it is located near campus. Katz comes from a similar situation, having previously served as assistant director for the Hillel in Pittsburgh, which serves Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University.

The 33-year-old arrived here in the wake of controversy after Hillel 818’s board dissolved in September at the insistence of its single-largest funder, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. But Katz has high hopes moving forward and discussed everything from combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to the importance of having a good kitchen.

ON SERVING MULTIPLE COLLEGES: 

The challenge is the proximity of the three campuses and figuring out how, with a limited staff, we spend time on all three campuses. But there is also this amazing opportunity, and that is these are commuter students who have the ability to really come together in not the traditional college campus setting. The goal for us is to … be a Hillel that’s on campus, in the building, but also throughout the entire Valley. 

DEALING WITH ANTI-ISRAEL SENTIMENT: 

Students … should expect to see a much stronger proactive approach to Israel advocacy on campus with the goal of building relationships among a number of student organizations — not just Jewish student organizations — to help them gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground in Israel. The goal is how do we pre-emptively stop a BDS resolution from coming about. 

DEALING WITH CONTROVERSY:

While this is a Hillel that has seen controversy, the mission of the organization remains the same, and that is to engage every Jewish student on campus. I think that as a community we need to focus on moving forward … and understanding that our goal is to get out there and have a positive impact on campus. The past is the past. This in a lot of ways is a new Hillel with a new approach to how we are doing our work, and I’m excited to get moving along. 

FINDING FUNDING:

Other than the Federation, yes, I would say Hillel 818 is looking for investors throughout the Valley who … care about supporting Jewish student life on campus. … These are students we have invested in — from preschool to summer camps and Israel travel — and that investment needs to continue to their time on college campus. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A GREAT KITCHEN:

We received a grant for $50,000 to make some much-needed renovations in our kitchen. As we know, just as the kitchen is the heart of a Jewish household, the kitchen is a key engagement tool for reaching students on campus, and it is just going to help us do everything, from Friday night Shabbat dinners to building a thriving Challah for Hunger chapter. 

LOOKING AHEAD: 

I’m really looking forward to … having the opportunity to work with students of multiple identities — in particular, our Russian students, our Persian students and our Israeli students. It is exciting to see how many different ways we are going to be able to celebrate Judaism. 

Moving and shaking: Sinai Akiba Academy, JFS Family Violence Project, Hillel 818 and more

Sinai Akiba Academy in Westwood honored longtime faculty member Rivka Shaked, as well as Luiza and Andrei Iancu, alumni parents who have held various leadership positions over the years, during its annual event and auction Jan. 24.

Honoree Rivka Shaked and Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple. Photo courtesy of Sinai Akiba Academy

Shaked, who taught Judaic studies at Sinai Temple and Sinai Akiba Academy for 46 years, received the Torch of Learning Award, and the Iancus received the Akiba Leadership Award. Sinai’s Head of School Sarah Shulkind and board Chairman Gary Lainer presented the awards, both of which were given for the first time.

The sold-out event at Sinai Temple attracted about 470 people and raised more than $400,000. More than $100,000 of the proceeds raised were for a new program at the school called J-STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math with a Jewish approach. 

A silent auction was held throughout the evening and offered more than 200 items, including a weekend in San Francisco and a chance for a child to be Sinai Akiba’s head of school for half a day. Bidding began online for many of the items a few days before the live auction. 

In line with this year’s theme, “A Night in Tel Aviv,” the dinner and ballroom decor was Mediterranean style. A live band played at the event and attendees danced late into the night, with the last person leaving around 1:30 a.m.

— Leilani Peltz, Contributing Writer


Nina C. Leibman, once an up-and-coming scholar of film and television teaching at UC Santa Cruz and Santa Clara University, was murdered by her husband nearly 20 years ago, but she lives on thanks in large part to her family — her two children, Phil Donney and Journal calendar writer Laura Donney; her mother, Joan Leibman; and her twin sister, Abby J. Leibman, CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger — who continue to honor Nina through their support of the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS). 

From left: Present for the dedication were Abby Leibman, Phil Donney, Sheila Kuehl, Debby Barak, Laura Donney and Paul Castro. Photo courtesy of JFS 

On Jan. 28, the family joined with a small group of close friends to dedicate the Family Violence Project Counseling Center Conference Room at JFS’s facility in Sherman Oaks in her memory. Among those who attended were Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, former L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood and his wife, Barbara Rosove, a MAZON board member. JFS President and CEO Paul Castro, Jewish World Watch President and co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik and Debby Barak, chair of the JFS board of directors, were there as well.

The JFS Family Violence Project operates two 30-day emergency shelters, one transitional housing shelter, a counseling center, and two emergency hotlines for survivors of domestic violence and their children. As in past years, Abby Liebman, who also is a JFS board member, used their shared birthday to honor her twin and support the project. 

Susan Freudenheim, Executive Editor 


Hillel 818 has named David Katz, 33, as its new executive director. Currently assistant director of the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, he will begin his duties here in April.

David Katz. Photo courtesy of David Katz

Serving an estimated 8,000 students at CSUN, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College, Hillel 818 announced Katz’s hiring on Jan. 22. He succeeds Hillel 818 interim director, Rabbi David Komerofsky.

“I think what I’m very excited about is the diversity of the community that exists, understanding that there are all types of Jewish students with different Jewish identities, from the Persian community to the Russian community to the Israeli community, and I really believe there is a great opportunity to utilize those Jewish identities and engage a large number of Jewish students,” Katz said in a phone interview. 

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Katz has called Pittsburgh home since 2005, according to an online biography. He previously worked as a congregational youth director and at J’Burgh, a program for young professionals under the aegis of the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh.

Katz told the Journal he hopes to bring new energy to Hillel 818’s board of directors and to “enhance the vibrancy of Jewish life in the Valley.”


Aasif Mandvi of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” appeared at the Skirball Cultural Center Jan. 28 and read a passage from his new comedic memoir, “No Land’s Man.” He also appeared in conversation with scholar of religion Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

From left: Aasif Mandvi and Reza Aslan. Photo by Ryan Torok

Mandvi’s recently published book — about an awkward immigrant teenager who goes on to become “senior Muslim correspondent” of Stewart’s popular and influential satirical news program — was the focus of the evening.

At 7:30 p.m., Mandvi walked onto the stage and delivered a reading of the book’s chapter, “You Can’t Be Michael Jackson All the Time,” which explains how the late singer’s album “Thriller” had a profound effect on him as a teenager living in Tampa, Fla. As an immigrant ignorant about life in the States, Mandvi said he expected classes to be held on the beach, to become best friends with a dolphin and to see girls in bikinis everywhere. The audience of approximately 400 was in stitches. 

Mandvi, who was born in India and spent his childhood in England before the family moved to the United States, does more than comedy: He was a cast member in the Pulitzer-winning drama “Disgraced.” During a Q-and-A, Jordan Elgrably, executive director of the Levantine Cultural Center, asked if audiences were “ready to have diverse and high-brow representation of Muslim characters,” such as the one that Mandvi portrayed in the play. Mandvi replied that once Muslims secure more jobs in production and writing, then audiences will see more Muslim characters in popular entertainment. 

Book Soup sponsored the event. 

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