November 21, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Shul Merger, ADL Entertainment Dinner

From left: ETTA president Kambiz Babaoff, ETTA co-chairman Jaime Sohacheski, ETTA Executive Director Michael Held, state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, and Irina Schaeffer and George Schaeffer celebrate the opening of ETTA’s headquarters in North Hollywood. Photo by Steve Cohn Photography.

More than 200 supporters of ETTA, a provider of social services in Los Angeles for Jewish adults with special needs, gathered for the April 15 grand opening of ETTA’s new headquarters in North Hollywood, at 13034 Saticoy St.

While still retaining a presence in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood with its community-based adult day programs, which help clients feel more confident and independent in their communities, ETTA has consolidated its office operations in the North Hollywood location to better serve its clients and the greater community, said ETTA spokesman Harvey Farr.

The celebratory event, which coincided with ETTA’s 25th anniversary, paid tribute to husband-and-wife George and Irina Schaeffer, longtime ETTA supporters whose financial support made the new headquarters a reality.

Attendees included state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, ETTA President Kambiz Babaoff, ETTA Co-Chairman Jaime Sohacheski and ETTA Executive Director Michael Held.

Founded in 1993, ETTA serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families by providing residential housing, case management, employment training and placement, educational services and training.

The organization is an affiliate of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services.

From left: Rabbi Richard Flom and Rabbi/Hazzan Jason Van Leeuwen appeared at the Temple B’nai Hayim in association with Congregation Beth Meir installation ceremony. Courtesy of Temple B’nai Hayim in association with Congregation Beth Meir.

San Fernando Valley congregations Temple B’nai Hayim and Congregation Beth Meir have made their merger official, signaling a new chapter for the two congregations that have struggled financially and experienced declining memberships over the past several years.

The merger, effective Aug. 29, followed the nearly $1 million sale of the Beth Meir campus in Studio City in February 2017. On April 15, the merged temples celebrated the installation of Rabbi Richard Flom and Rabbi/Hazzan Jason Van Leeuwen. The ceremony drew 75 people to the community’s new home, Temple B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks.

“We’re off to a great start, with wonderful High Holiday services and continued Shabbat services Friday night and Saturday morning, well-attended,” Lenny Adelson, chair of the transitional board of Temple B’nai Hayim in association with Congregation Beth Meir, said in an email.

“It was hard to move out of our building in Studio City,” said Martin Lee, a longtime Beth Meir member who has been serving on the transitional board during the merger. “The building is iconic and its dome was built to resemble Rachel’s Tomb. It was established in 1957 and we had concerns about who was going to purchase it and what would be done with the place. In the end, once we put the building up for sale, our neighbor, who had a good relationship with our rabbi, offered to purchase it over the asking price because he wanted to extend his shopping mall. So it all worked out well.”

Adelson, originally of Temple B’nai Hayim, said the merger has proven beneficial for both congregations.

“We had known for years that we would need to merge with another temple,” he said. “I think that everyone in both congregations was satisfied. It was clear that neither congregation had the capital to sustain payments and go on. It was either merge or close the doors, and it worked out beautifully.”

With the combined membership, Temple B’nai Hayim in association with Congregation Beth Meir has about 100 members.

—  Ayala Or-El, contributing writer

From left: American Friends of Hebrew University honorees Gayle and Edward Roski, Patricia Glaser, Hebrew University President Asher Cohen and Richard Ziman attend the AFHU Scopus Award gala. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography.

The American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) Scopus Award gala, which honored wife-and-husband Gayle and Edward Roski Jr., was held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 19.

During the event, Roski, chairman and president of Majestic Realty Co., called Hebrew University a “shining example of the world’s best minds and research.”

With Gayle at his side, the real estate developer and philanthropist described the moving experience he had ascending Masada in Israel. Meanwhile, he expressed his support for the Jewish state.

“With all the changes happening around the world, it is more important than ever to support Israel,” Roski said.

He called the recent decision by President Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a “powerful form of recognition.”

The event drew 425 attendees and raised more than $1.6 million for AFHU, a national nonprofit that raises funds and awareness for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“We exist to connect the passions of Americans to the talent at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the world’s most distinguished academic and research institutions,” the AFHU website says.

The Scopus Award, named for Mount Scopus, where Hebrew University’s first cornerstones were laid in 1918, is the highest honor AFHU bestows — “awarded to individuals who demonstrate humanitarian concerns throughout their careers.”

Speakers included emcee Jonathan Anschell; attorney Patricia Glaser, vice chair of AFHU’s Western region; Richard Ziman, chairman of AFHU’s Western region; Mark Genender, president of AFHU’s Western region; and Hebrew University President Asher Cohen.

The Rev. Gregory Goethals delivered the benediction, and Rabbi Naomi Levy led the invocation.

A marching band from USC — Roski’s alma mater — kicked off the event by performing instrumental versions of songs including  “Uptown Funk.”

At the evening’s conclusion, Grammy winner Michael Bolton performed.

From left: Political scientist Fred Balitzer; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; Holocaust survivor Sol Teichman; and Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper participate in a dialogue at the Museum of Tolerance. Photo by Bart Bartholomew/Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has honored Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with its International Leadership Award, which it said marked the first time the Indian spiritual leader has been honored by a Jewish organization.

The SWC recognized Shankhar, founder of The Art of Living Foundation, an international nonprofit dedicated to fostering stress-free minds and violence-free societies, on April 16 at the Museum of Tolerance.

Shankar has partnered with SWC’s mission throughout Asia, including bringing “Courage to Remember,” the SWC traveling Holocaust exhibit, to cities including Delhi and Bangalore, India.

“Despite the obvious cultural and religious difference, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s global agenda is closely aligned to the goals the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance pursue every day,” said SWC Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “We are honored to have worked with the founder of Art of the Living in Israel, Indonesia, India and the U.S.”

Following the award presentation, Shankar, Cooper, political scientist Fred Balitzer and Holocaust survivor Sol Teichman participated in a discussion about the nexus between religion, terrorism and tolerance.

From left: ADL Entertainment Industry Dinner Co-Chair Jill Ratner; ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind; actor Rob Morrow; ADL honoree Nancy Dubuc; Regional Board Chair Ivy Kagan Bierman; and Entertainment Industry Dinner Co-Chair Michael Garfinkel attend the ADL 2018 Entertainment Industry Dinner. Photo by Michael Kovac.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honored Nancy Dubuc, chief executive officer of Vice Media, at the ADL 2018 Entertainment Industry Dinner on April 17 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Upon accepting her award, Dubuc, who previously was president of A+E Networks and whose hiring at Vice was announced in March, spoke of the importance of entertainment industry leaders using their pulpit to influence positive change.

“Entertainment is an incredibly powerful platform in our country’s culture,” she said, before asking her industry colleagues to use storytelling to “keep educating and elevating our understanding of one another.”

The event raised more than $500,000 for ADL efforts to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds.

Event emcee, actor Rob Morrow, said the ADL’s work was more important than ever at a time when anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred are increasing in the United States.

“Never before in my life has truth been under such assault,” Morrow said. “Never before has the venom of defamation had so many means to spread.”

Additional speakers included entertainment committee co-chairs Jill Ratner and Michael Garfinkel; Kern Oduro, assistant superintendent at the Chaffey Joint Union High School District in San Bernardino County; ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind; entertainment industry attorney and ADL Regional Board Chair Ivy Kagan Bierman; entertainment executive and ADL’s National Entertainment Advisory Council Chair Ben Silverman, and actress and director Shiri Appleby, who presented the honoree with her award.

“Nancy has used the power of media to advocate for some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time,” Appleby said. “She has used her influence, power and platform to bring out the best in us.”

[WATCH] A Very Special Love Story: Danielle and Shlomo

It’s been nearly four years since Danielle, 26, and Shlomo Meyers, 32, tied the knot. The couple, who have Down syndrome, met via a matchmaker in 2012. After two years of dating, Shlomo finally popped the question. Eight months later, they were married at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills, surrounded by hundreds of friends and family members. It was a hot June day, but they both agreed it was the best day of their lives.

Today, Danielle and Shlomo are your typical Orthodox couple living in the Pico-Robertson area. She wears a head covering, and he wears a yarmulke.

Both have jobs in the Jewish community, Shlomo as a physical education assistant at Maimonides Academy and Danielle as a preschool aide at Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu Academy. Danielle volunteers regularly at ETTA (a nonprofit that provides a wide spectrum of services for Jewish adults with special needs) – “because I grew up with them” – where she gets to teach Zumba at ETTA’s summer camp.  For Shlomo, who moved to Los Angeles to be with Danielle (his family lives in Chicago), he’s still adapting to life in the city. “I have to live far, far away from my own family,” Shlomo said. “It is hard to move away from your family. It’s bittersweet.” Shlomo hopes to pursue a career in public speaking and become even more connected with the local Jewish community this year, and Danielle hopes to teach more Zumba classes at ETTA’s summer camp this year.

As they steer through life, they serve as support for one another. “My favorite thing in life is to see her smile,” Shlomo said about Danielle, who was sitting beside him, beaming.

 

Moving & Shaking: ETTA Celebrates; Federation Honors Bruce Powell

From left: ETTA Board of Advisors member Davis Factor, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, ETTA Executive Director Michael Held, former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, state Sen. Ben Allen and ETTA board member Sam Yebri attend ETTA’s 24th annual gala. Photo courtesy of ETTA

ETTA, an organization that provides programs and services that help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independent lives, held its 24th annual gala on Nov. 29 at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

The event honored Jonathan and Miriam Istrin and Susie and Fred Toczek, who together announced a scholarship program — Summer@ETTA — for the ETTA summer camp. The program serves teens and adults with developmental disorders, including autism and Down syndrome.

Also feted were longtime ETTA staff members Leah Schachter, director of volunteer services and special events, and Josh Taff, director of the Isak Boruchin Adult Day Program, who received the inaugural “Etty” award for outstanding professional achievement. Eight ETTA youth board members received the Youth Leadership Award. The Pujols Family Foundation, a nonprofit that supports families living with Down syndrome, received the Community Philanthropy Award. And the Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation, which recently donated a van to the organization, received the Builders of Tomorrow award.

The 700 attendees included Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who turned out with his older brother, Champ, who has Down syndrome. Pederson accepted the award on behalf of the Pujols Family Foundation, which is named for Los Angeles Angels player Albert Pujols.

Dan Freeberg and James Geary accepted the award on behalf of the Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation. Actor Bradley Whitford (“The Post”) emceed. Actor Gary Cole (“Veep”) also attended.

Civic, political and community leaders in attendance included former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, state Sen. Ben Allen, L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, attorney and ETTA board member Sam Yebri, ETTA Board of Advisors member Davis Factor and ETTA Executive Director Michael Held.

Temple Beth Ami Cantor Kenny Ellis (far right) hosts a Christmas Eve screening of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts theater in Beverly Hills. Photo by Tish Laemmle

More than 1,500 people turned out for screenings of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Laemmle Theatres outlets across Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, marking the 10th consecutive year that the theater chain has shown Norman Jewison’s 1971 musical film about the shtetl of Anatevka on the night before Christmas.

“We totally rocked the shtetl at six venues with seven packed auditoriums,” said Laemmle Theatres spokesman Marc Horwitz.

As they have done every year, folks who turned out at Laemmle theaters in Beverly Hills, Encino, Pasadena, Santa Monica and elsewhere sang along with favorites “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” The screenings also feature a host who leads the crowd in “Fiddler” trivia before the start of the film.

The hosts were Temple Beth Ami Cantor Kenny Ellis, a comic and entertainer who recently appeared as a rabbi in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”; klezmer bandleader Gustavo Bulgach; actress Susan Edwards Martin; Jason Moss of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys; Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California; Cantor Phil Baron of Valley Beth Shalom; and Temple Beth Israel Cantor Paul Buch.

From left: ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind, ADL Regional Board Chair Ivy Kagan Bierman, ADL honoree Leah Weil, Bet Tzedek CEO Jessie Kornberg, retired U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, and Sarah and Joe Kiani attend the annual Anti-Defamation League gala. Photo courtesy of the ADLFoundation

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its 2017 annual gala celebration on Dec. 6 at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

The event honored Leah Weil, senior executive vice president and general counsel at Sony Pictures, with the Jurisprudence Award. Weil, the child of Holocaust survivors, said she has always been focused on pushing back against anti-Semitism, in part, because of her family history.

Additional honorees were husband and wife Joe and Sarah Kiani, who were presented with the Humanitarian Award by retired U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Joe Kiani is CEO and chairman of Masimo Corp., a medical technology company, and Sarah Kiani is a board member of the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare.

According to a press release, Sarah Kiani described the ADL as “our nation’s David, slinging rocks against the Goliath of prejudice and hate, and standing up for those who are voiceless.”

The event raised nearly $1.1 million to support ADL efforts combating racism and bigotry.

Attendees and participants included Los Angeles Assistant Supervising Deputy City Attorney Anh Truong; ADL National Youth Leadership Mission participant Haley Pak; comedian and actor Wayne Federman, who emceed; and songwriter Alan Bergman.

Stephen Jensen, Anthony Vinciquerra and Karen and Alan Weil co-chaired.

Howard Kaplan, incoming general manager at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries. Photo courtesy of Mount Sinai

On Feb. 1, Howard Kaplan will join Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries as its new general manager. For the past 13 years, Kaplan served as executive director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where he was instrumental in reviving its summer camp programs and spearheaded the 2011-15 renovation and expansion of its Erica J. Glazer Family Campus. Kaplan previously held key positions at Temple Aliyah and the Brandeis Bardin Institute.

Since its inception in 1964, the Mount Sinai general manager position has been held by only three people. Kaplan will succeed Leonard (Len) Lawrence, who is stepping down after 15 years to pursue new business opportunities. The mortuary praised Lawrence for promoting the importance of Jewish funeral traditions and for increasing the popularity of Mount Sinai’s park in Simi Valley.

“We are excited to have Howard Kaplan join this group of esteemed professionals who have led Mount Sinai for nearly 60 years and look forward to his continued leadership,” said Eric J. Diamond, chairman of Sinai Temple’s Cemetery Management Committee. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries is the largest exclusively Jewish mortuary and cemetery organization in California.

From left: YICC Leadership Award recipients Sabrina and Aric Zamel, YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Arthur Kranzler Keter Shem Tov Award honoree Rabbi Yisroel Baruch Sufrin, Tribute Award recipient Gil Goldschein, Ruhama Muskin and Tribute Award recipient Ilana Goldschein at the YICC Tribute Award Dinner. Photo by Steve Cohn Photography

Young Israel of Century City (YICC) synagogue celebrated its annual Tribute Award dinner on Dec. 17 at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.

About 400 guests joined in celebrating the completion of YICC’s new facility at 9315 W. Pico Blvd., which opened on Dec. 1 after 18 months of construction.

YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin paid tribute to all those who devoted their time and talent to making the new building possible.

The synagogue presented Rabbi Yisroel Boruch Sufrin, head of school at the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, with the YICC Arthur Kranzler Keter Shem Tov Award in appreciation of his allowing the synagogue to use the school’s facilities during YICC’s construction project.

The synagogue’s treasurer, Aric Zamel, and his wife, Sabrina, were honored with the Leadership Award for serving on the building committee and for their many years of commitment to the synagogue.

Synagogue President Gil Goldschein and his wife, Ilana, received the Tribute Award for their dedication in leading the congregation during the new building’s construction.

Bruce Powell (center), the outgoing head of school at deToledo High School, appears with deToledo High School faculty at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Global Teen Twinning Program 20th anniversary event. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Global Teen Twinning Program on Dec. 10 at Stephen Wise Temple.

The event acknowledged the impact the program has had on thousands of students and their families, and recognized Bruce Powell, the outgoing head of school at deToledo High School, for 20 years of leadership and support of twinning.

The Federation program connects 20 schools in Los Angeles with 20 schools in Tel Aviv and one in Vilnius, Lithuania, through jointly prepared curricula, teacher training and exchanges lasting 10 days or more.

The initiative has supported more than 60,000 middle and high school students, parents and faculty, some of whom attended the event.

Hayden Klein: YULA Student Picks His Cause

Hayden Klein.

When most 15-year-olds might choose to spend their summer going to camp or the beach or just hanging out with friends, Hayden Klein decided to do something more.

Klein, a sophomore at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles (YULA), chose to spend last summer working at a day camp with teenagers from ETTA, a Jewish nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Every year I would go to day camp, a sports camp, or hang out with my friends, but this year I wanted to do something a lot more meaningful, something bigger than just going to camp,” Klein said. “I wanted to get that great feeling that I was doing something important and something to benefit my community.”

ETTA, he said, was the perfect choice for him, because he’d heard wonderful things about the organization from his teachers and friends.

At a day camp at Shalhevet High School, Klein was paired with an ETTA teenager. They spent their days doing a variety of activities, from singing and dancing to taking trips to places such as Knott’s Berry Farm.

“I really bonded with all the participants there,” Klein said, not just the teenager he was paired with. “You get to see them as just human beings, without the label of being autistic or having Down syndrome.  They’re just like everyone else. They have goals and they want to succeed in life. They’re amazing people.

“I love seeing them outside of camp, too,” he added. “We say, ‘Hi’ and recall things that we did over the summer. It’s a really cool feeling.”

“I come from a very giving community. My grandmother worked in children’s education and I learned a lot from her.”

Klein said a lot of his desire to get involved in volunteer work comes from good examples he has observed.

“I come from a very giving community,” he said. “My grandmother worked in children’s education and I learned a lot from her [about giving back].”

Members of ETTA’s staff were so impressed with Klein’s work that, at the end of the summer, they asked him to join the organization’s Youth Board. As a board member, he helps organize fundraising events during the year, and he is pushing to expand to throughout the year the summer activities the participants enjoy.

“I was in shock when they asked me to join the board,” Klein said. “I’m one of the youngest kids there. It was a real honor.”

At its annual gala in November, ETTA also presented Klein and seven other high school students with its Moselle and Lazare Hendeles Youth Leadership Award.

YULA’s head of school, Rabbi Arye Sufrin, said Klein’s volunteerism goes beyond his work with ETTA. “He is on our flag football team where our coach, Dayvon Ross, is currently undergoing chemotherapy. The entire flag football team was involved in fundraising to help with medical bills by running a Hanukkah barbecue.”

Klein hasn’t decided what he wants to do when he graduates from high school — beyond visiting Israel and going to college. “But I’ll always stay involved and give back,” he said. “I just have that type of mindset.”

Nonprofits benefit from Jewish Community Foundation’s new grant program

Joseph Weiss, left, learns about tzitzit with volunteer Shalom Ber-Scheinfeld at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, one of four Next Stage grant recipients.

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has launched the Next Stage grant program, providing nearly $1 million in awards to four local Jewish nonprofits — Creative Community for Peace, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (JCC) and ETTA, an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Three of the recipients were awarded a $250,000 grant and Silverlake Independent JCC received $200,000, given out over the next two years. All four organizations had previously received the Foundation’s Cutting Edge grants.

The pilot program continues grants of more than $17 million awarded by the Foundation since 2006 to help nearly 100 programs and organizations.

“One of the biggest challenges that even the most innovative and best-run nonprofits confront is the path to achieving sustainability,” Elana Wien, vice president of the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, said. “Next Stage Grants was piloted to provide the assistive ‘tools’ — in the form of grant monies, but also professional coaching and other consultative resources — to better enable their success. The success of these nonprofits represents, in turn, a boon to the whole of our local Jewish community, now and in the future.”

A unique aspect of the selection process for these grants, Wien said, is that leaders from each grantee got a chance to discuss with the Foundation their potential involvement with the pilot program.

The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles helps about 120 children with special needs and their families through 20 programs with a volunteer network of more than 500 teens.

“We are thrilled to have the Foundation’s confidence and support to streamline and strengthen our organization, which will ultimately help the children with special needs, families and volunteers who depend on our vital services,” said Gail Rollman, Friendship Circle’s development director.

ETTA is planning to use the grant to expand its programs.

“The demand for programs to help adults with special needs is continually rising,” ETTA Executive Director Michael Held said. “This funding will contribute greatly to helping ETTA fulfill its mission of inclusion and independence for the clients we serve.”

The Creative Community for Peace provides support to artists so they can resist pressure from boycott groups in response to scheduled performances in Israel. The organization uses its broad network to educate artists who are touring in Israel and to mobilize a grass-roots social media response to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement protests.

The Silverlake JCC hosts an early childhood center, a Jewish learning center and community-led classes and programs, including East Side Jews and Culture Lab.

According to Wien, the Next Stage program is among the first by any Jewish community foundation in the United States offering “capacity-building support” of this scale to sustain nonprofits’ operations, growth and long-term viability. 

The priceless value of Meals on Wheels

Once a week, our 22-year-old son with developmental disabilities participates in a great mitzvah — he helps deliver food to the home of an elderly client of the Culver City Meals on Wheels (MOW) program. This gives the Meals on Wheels client a chance for some unconventional companionship as well as a nutritious meal, and it gives the adults with developmental disabilities the chance to be of service, instead of always being the recipient of someone else’s charity.

Volunteering with MOW is part of our son’s community-based day program at ETTA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit affiliated with OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. ETTA adult participants go out with staff members in small groups and rotate through various community service options, which include running a café at the Westside Jewish Community Center, helping with the student store at Shalhevet High School and volunteering at the National Council House, in addition to the MOW activity.

It truly boggles my mind that these programs, and the other 91 MOW programs in Los Angeles County, many affiliated with churches or local community groups, now face an uncertain financial future under the proposed Trump administration budget.

As part of the overall reduction in nonmilitary domestic spending, that budget eliminates two community development block grants received by states and cities, which, in turn, provide funding to many local Meals on Wheels programs. Because MOW is a network of thousands of independently run groups that receive different amounts of money from states and cities, it is unclear exactly what will happen in Los Angeles County. But if those block grants are gone, there will be less money for this lifeline program. Another big cut could come from the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is set to receive close to an 18 percent cut. Until all the details are known, it is unclear how these proposed federal cuts will affect Meals on Wheels programs in the region, but experts tell me there will be real human consequences.

I recently had the chance to hear Sister Alice Marie Quinn, founder and executive director of the St. Vincent Meals on Wheels Nutrition program, speak as part of its 40th year anniversary outreach. With a professional education as a registered dietician, Quinn came to Los Angeles originally as the assistant director of the dietary department of St. Vincent Medical Center. She realized that many poor and elderly people who lived near the hospital were not eating right, and she decided to help them by making stew for 83 seniors at a local church hall one evening in 1977. Over time, that program grew, becoming St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, which now is the largest Meals on Wheels program in the country, feeding close to 3,500 people a day.

She explained that MOW in America was modeled on a British program started after World War II, when many seniors couldn’t get out of their homes to go grocery shopping because their neighborhoods had been bombed so heavily. The British used hot bricks to keep the food warm on the journey from the central kitchen to the clients’ homes.

As good-humored as she is inspiring, Quinn talked about her fundraising strategy. She said her order, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, was founded in 1833 to help poor people in Paris. In order to fund their work, the founders asked the French royalty for donations.

“So, in Los Angeles, I decided that meant I needed to go to Hollywood,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Her latest celebrity connection is musician LL Cool J, who is working with the “Lip Sync Battle” TV show he hosts to help her raise funds. Although St. Vincent Meals on Wheels’ current budget of $7.6 million is privately funded by donations from a “robust direct mail” annual campaign, along with foundation and corporate grants, it still would be impacted by any government cuts, as other, smaller MOW groups more dependent on government funding would have to reduce their services, leading to more referrals and clients for St. Vincent MOW to serve.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) annually provides 9,500 homebound seniors and disabled adults with nutritious kosher frozen meals, which are microwavable and easy to prepare. This program, which gets significant funding from the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, would be hurt by the proposed government cuts. As Nancy Volpert, JFSLA’s director of public policy, said of the proposed cuts, “At the end of the day, less government funding will translate into fewer meals served.”

And as Quinn pointed out, “Sometimes the visits are even more important than the meals,” as volunteers or staff have the chance to interact daily with the elderly or disabled client and can observe if other medical or social services are needed.

For my son and his friends at ETTA, those weekly visits are as empowering for them as they are essential for the MOW clients.


MICHELLE K. WOLF is a special needs parent activist and nonprofit professional. She is the founding executive director of the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust. Visit her Jews and Special Needs blog at jewishjournal.com/jews_and_special_needs.

Special day for special needs

“Do you want to start or should I?” asked Shlomo Meyers, the more brazen of the two. His bashful wife, Danielle, gave him the go-ahead. 

“Why is it always me?” he laughed, but continued without hesitation. “We met two years ago, at camp in Pennsylvania.”

Typical to Orthodox relationships, it was a matchmaker who coordinated the meeting between the two. Today, more than four months after their wedding, Danielle and Shlomo are your typical 20-something Orthodox couple living in the Pico-Robertson area. She wears a head-wrap, and he wears a yarmulke

What separates them is the fact that they both have Down syndrome.

Historically, individuals with the genetic, chromosomal condition have been discouraged from pursuing romantic relationships. However, ETTA, a nonprofit that provides a wide spectrum of services for Jewish adults with special needs locally and offers direct support to the Meyerses, takes a different stance. 

“We support individuals to their fullest potential, and for those individuals who are prepared for marriage, we think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Michael Held, executive director of the ETTA Center in Los Angeles.

Both Shlomo and Danielle are assisted by ETTA life coaches who help them with day-to-day tasks that include household chores (such as cooking and cleaning), money management and appointment scheduling. 

“We have each other to help out, but of course we have to have somebody with us for some certain things — and I can’t say I don’t need it — but things I don’t need help with, I can get the help with my wife or my family,” Shlomo said.

Jason Druyan, an ETTA life coach who works with the couple, said he wants the newlyweds to be self-sufficient, so he doesn’t smother them with assistance. Instead, he helps them when absolutely necessary. 

“It takes a few minutes longer, but it’s better for them,” he explained.

Danielle and Shlomo are surrounded by support, whether it comes from ETTA, Danielle’s parents (who live two blocks away) or their local shuls (Aish HaTorah and Young Israel of Century City).

And both have jobs in the Jewish community, Shlomo as a physical education assistant at Maimonides Academy and Danielle as a preschool aide at Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu Academy. Both worked last year at ETTA’s summer day camp for Jewish teens and young adults with special needs, and Danielle — a certified Zumba instructor — hopes to teach classes at ETTA facilities in the near future.

When Shlomo first saw Danielle, he remembers thinking she looked like an angel.

“To me, she looked like a princess too,” he said. “When she was coming up, I was like, ‘Oh my God, is that for me?’ It turns out, it was.” 

After they met at camp in Pennsylvania, they returned to their respective cities — Chicago for him and Los Angeles for her. They dated for two years before sealing the deal. 

“I have to live far, far away from my own family,” Shlomo said. “It is hard to move away from your family. It’s bittersweet.” 

But maintaining a long-distance relationship was difficult for the two of them, who were constantly calling each other. While working at a school in Chicago, Shlomo was on the phone with Danielle when he heard an announcement over the intercom indicating he was needed in the office. 

“And then I thought, ‘Hello? I’m on the phone!’ ”

Eventually, he realized he had to take their relationship to the next level. As for his eventual proposal, Danielle had no idea it was coming. Last October, during the weekend of her grandfather’s second bar mitzvah, Shlomo finally popped the question.

“My parents took me to this park and that’s where Shlomo met me and he asked me to walk with him,” Danielle said. “I sat on a bench, and then he sang me a song out of nowhere!” 

The song — written by Shlomo — was called, “That’s My Girl Danielle.”

Eight months later, they were married at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills, surrounded by hundreds of friends and family members. It was a hot June day, but they both agreed it was the best day of their lives.

When asked what makes Shlomo a good husband, Danielle responded, “Just being there for me when I need it.” 

Shlomo had high praise for his wife and married life, as well: “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I know there is someone who tries to understand me. And she’s doing the best she can. Neither of us can do more than try.”

Just months into marriage, they’re already getting the hang of things. They even had some advice for others looking for love.

“Find someone fun to be with,” Danielle said. 

When asked for another tip, she paused for a couple of moments, and then Shlomo jumped in. 

“Should I try to help you out?” he asked. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure out things alone. That’s why I think we have each other — to help out.” 

Moving and shaking

Etta Ohel celebrated its 20th anniversary at its annual gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that honored a number of local contributors to the organization that provides services to people with special needs.

Michael Baruch, founder of Baruch Enterprises, received the Visionary Award in recognition of his longtime support for Etta. Michelle Wolf, a special needs parent activist, nonprofit professional and Journal blogger, was honored with the Professional Leadership Award at the Dec. 17 event. 

Additional honorees included Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance, and her husband, Ivor, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cardiologist. They were named Etta’s Champions. 

Moishe Bienenfeld, a young man who is diagnosed with autism, was honored with the Young Leadership Award.  

State Assembly members Richard Bloom and Adrin Nazarian, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. County Democratic Party chair Eric Bauman and state Senate candidate Robert Hertzberg were among the attendees. Comedian Mark Schiff served as emcee.

Hollywood talent manager David Lonner has been named to the board of Friends of Yemin Orde (FYO). The organization raises money to support the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, which is home to more than 500 children from around the world, and Yemin Orde Educational Initiatives.

“By giving children a connection to their roots and a safe and loving place to be educated and nurtured, Yemin Orde has produced exemplary citizens for the State of Israel,” Lonner said in a statement on the FYO Web site. 

Lonner, founder of management and production company Oasis Media Group, was voted unanimously to the lay leadership post during the FYO December 2013 biannual board meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. 

He brings experience working with Hollywood power players, including J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”), along with a passion for Israel, to the position. Lonner’s past efforts on behalf of the Jewish state include co-financing programs with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles taking Hollywood professionals there on trips. 

Friends of Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership regional board member Michele Stone and regional president Aaron Leff. 

Last month, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) drew hundreds of young professionals to its seventh annual Young Leadership gala and raised nearly $300,000 in the process. 

The Dec. 14 event at the Park Plaza Hotel drew FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles chairman Ari Ryan; FIDF Los Angeles founder Leo David; FIDF Western Region Executive Director Miri Nash and FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles president Aaron Leff. Additionally, David Siegel, the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, attended. 

Established in 1981, FIDF supports Israel Defense Forces soldiers currently serving in the military as well as the families of fallen soldiers. The Young Leadership division of FIDF Western Region helps with that mission, organizing programs for young professionals. 

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.