July 15, 2019

IKAR’s Safe Parking Program for the Homeless

IKAR’s parking spaces for the homeless. Photo courtesy of IKAR

Last December, IKAR became the first Jewish community organization to participate in Safe Parking LA (SPLA), a nonprofit initiative that provides those living in their cars with a safe place to park overnight, with access to a bathroom, water and electricity. It currently provides 10 spaces in its building’s parking lot on La Cienega Boulevard. IKAR also raised over $10,000 to fund month-to-month memberships at a local 24-hour health club for Safe Parking guests to have access to hot showers. 

Most nights, the spaces are used by Safe Parking “guests” who are “assigned to the IKAR lot for the period of time they need to be until they find housing or make some other decision, like leaving town,” said Brooke Wirtschafter, IKAR’s director of community organizing. 

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) 2018 Homeless Count, 15,749 people were living in cars, vans and RVs/campers in Los Angeles County. In 2019, that number was 16,528 — a 5% increase. 

Safe Parking guests are often taking care of disabled or sick family members, suffering trauma from job loss, divorce, domestic violence or are experiencing “a whole range of human suffering that leads them to this space,” Wirtschafter said. “You wouldn’t know if you passed them on the street. They’re wearing clean clothes; some have jobs. They could be serving you coffee or driving your Uber. … It’s an opportunity for us to really think about why we have this crisis of homelessness and what we are called to do about it.” 

Overall, homelessness numbers are up. According to this year’s count, 58,936 people were listed as homeless in L.A. County — an increase of 12% from 2018. And in the city of Los Angeles, that number is 36,300 — a rise of 16% since last year.   

But what these numbers don’t show is the “inflow and outflow” of homeless, as LAHSA calls it in its report on the count. While 133 people per day moved from homelessness into permanent housing in the county, 150 people per day became homeless, said Naomi Goldman, a new member of IKAR and communications consultant for LAHSA and the LA County Homeless Initiative over the past five years. This daily homeless figure, Goldman said, is due to economic issues like “skyrocketing rents, unjust evictions and a massive lack of affordable housing.” 

“It’s an opportunity for us to really think about why we have this crisis of homelessness and what we are called to do about it.” 

— Brooke Wirtschafter

IKAR is doing its part by funding Safe Parking LA through its own fundraising, Wirtschafter said, with a $500 per month stipend from SPLA. Students in IKAR’s after-school Hebrew school Limudim program provided shower supplies for Safe Parking guests, and IKAR holds a catered kosher vegetarian dinner for them (paid for by the stipend), along with IKAR community members twice a month. Over time, Wirtschafter predicted, many IKAR members will attend dinners or otherwise connect respectfully with Safe Parking guests.

“They all have different stories about how they got to where they are but there’s a lot of isolation and it’s meaningful for those folks, beyond getting a dinner, [to have] a chance to socialize with people,” Wirtschafter said. “It’s really important and impactful for IKAR members to learn about these people, their individuality and their stories. You break down stereotypes and barriers by getting close and talking with them.”

The Safe Parking dinners are “about individual lives, not statistics,” said Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, who is on the leadership team for the dinners. She calls the dinners a chance “to experience stories instead of stats, names instead of numbers.

“We hope the moments of conversation, connection, laughter and serious sharing help them feel a little stronger, a little more supported, a little more connected. Breaking bread together helps break stereotypes, too.” 

“It is our obligation to pursue social justice and to welcome the strangers in our midst,” said Rhoda Weisman, who stepped up to chair the initiative after hearing IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous speak passionately on behalf of the program. “It was time to elevate my life and give more. I wanted to connect our guests and our community and provide a neutral space where we could be human with
one another.” 

Goldman said that IKAR’s efforts — which include offering meals at People Assisting the Homeless; a veterans’ shelter in West L.A.; Laundry Love, monthly free laundry services to low-income and homeless families; and various advocacy campaigns and trainings — “provide a moral compass and channel the outreach into direct service as a reflection of our faith. The message that it sends is enormously powerful, inspiring and motivational to others who are trying to tackle something that seems like a huge issue. You might not be able to solve the whole problem
but here is the piece where we can make a difference.”

“Our city is in crisis because we can’t help all those experiencing homelessness who need us,” Weisman said.  “But we can all do something. And many somethings can create a great change.” 

IKAR currently is the only synagogue in Los Angeles running a Safe Parking program. Leo Baeck Temple had to suspend its program after the December 2017 Skirball Fire and hasn’t restarted it, Wirtschafter said.

IKAR will begin construction on its new building in a few years, including the parking lot where Safe Parking LA guests are staying at this time. 

“We are definitely thinking about how to incorporate some form of housing and direct service in what will become our permanent home,” Wirtschafter said. “We are hoping to be YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard). The community is moved by and cares about this effort and opportunity and wants to be a part of it.”  

To learn more, visit the Los Angeles Homeless Outreach Portal, a mobile-friendly web platform that empowers members of the public, first responders and service providers to provide information on homeless persons on the street and request outreach.  

Sharing LGBTQ Journeys at IKAR’s Pride Shabbat

Steve Byrnes (left), Jamie Mandelbaum and their daughters. Photo by Jon Gilbert Fox courtesy of Steve Byrnes

Ada Douglass realized she was a lesbian when she was 28. “It was like a revelation from heaven,” she said. “A deeply confusing revelation from heaven.”

Douglass was one of four IKAR members who shared challenging and uplifting moments at a Friday-night LGBTQ Shabbat dinner marking Pride month.

“I’ve been an out lesbian for four years and two days now,” Douglass said. “I’ve found community, both in the queer world and the Jewish world, and I’ve gotten married to a woman who thought she was straight when we started dating. Here I am. This is me.”

For Gina Rozner, defining identity “has been a life-long and fluid journey,” she said at the event.“The more comfortable I became with the gray and the unknown, [the more] people felt obliged to assign their own labels to my identity. When I walk into a room, I am assumed to be gay simply by the way I look. Assumptions like this have impacted the way I understand my queer identity.”

After her first relationship with a woman ended, “my world was turned upside down,” Rozner said. “Not only was I heartbroken, [I wondered] what did this mean for me? Was I gay? Was I still straight? Was I bi? None of these labels felt authentic. This was exhausting and painful as each label felt like it invalidated another part of my experience.”

Rozner said that now, “I most comfortably describe myself as a person who likes people who broadly understand my journey with gender identity and sexuality.”

The youngest storyteller, 18-year-old Levi Kessler, described his youth as a time where he lived “mostly in my head, not knowing what the future had in store.” He said the first time he felt like himself was at his bar mitzvah, when he “slayed the Torah portion and drash” before quoting “the great sage and prophet Taylor Swift, to be brave and to ‘speak now.’ ” He added that his parents made him an electric suit for his entrance dance to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” at his party. “That was truly a ‘coming out’ event,” he said.  “That was the moment where I felt okay and accepted.”

“In this temple, I have been surrounded by loving and accepting people who are supportive of me 100 percent.”

 — Levi Kessler

“In this temple, I have been surrounded by loving and accepting people who are supportive of me 100 percent. … I have learned along the way that this is not the way the greater world works. This community is a bubble,” he said, revealing that at a roller-skating rink with friends recently, someone called him and his friend “fag” and “queer.”

“I’ve learned from experience that the best way to handle ignorant, disgusting people is to spend time with those that spread love and acceptance,” he said. “We need to make our bubble bigger. We should build out this tent at IKAR and in LA at large.”

Steve Byrnes, the eldest speaker at the event, had words of wisdom to impart: “I have lived a life of miracles and wonders,” he said. “The 20-year-old me would’ve thought the life I have now was impossible  — more like science-fiction. Back then, coming out seemed like a form of death, ostracized from family and friends, wandering the Earth alone. Dramatic and Old Testament-ish, I know. But that’s exactly how it felt … . And some of my fears came true.”

Byrnes said his father disowned him when he came out in 1984, but over time, his father “went from disowning me to saying that Jamie [Mandelbaum] and I have the best marriage of his four children.”

Byrnes and Mandelbaum have been together for 35 years and have two daughters.

Byrnes echoed Kessler’s appreciation for IKAR, which he called “a pluralistic community where we all are seen and walk with dignity. I’m a man keenly aware of my blessings.”

Community Leaders Condemn Sri Lanka Easter Sunday Attacks

A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Los Angeles community leaders have condemned a string of Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that left at least 321 people dead and more than 500 injured.

“It’s an attack on everybody, 100%,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in a phone interview the day after the attacks. “An attack on any community that is deemed to be ‘other’ by the perpetrators. That’s really what it is about: ‘We don’t want you to be able to practice your faith here.’ ” 

Sri Lanka is a small, Buddhist-majority island nation off the southern tip of India. According to the Associated Press, nine bomb blasts, carried out by “seven suicide bombers from a local militant Muslim group,” the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, targeted Roman Catholic churches and luxury hotels on April 21.

Among the sites targeted were St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Catholic church, and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels. Eight of the blasts occurred in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital; in Negombo, a mostly Catholic town north of Colombo; and in the eastern town of Batticaloa. A ninth occurred while police were conducting a search at a suspected safe house in Dematagoda, on the outskirts of Colombo.

Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe called the attacks “heartbreaking.” In an email to the Journal, Wolpe said, “These bombings reflect the most savage and heartbreaking of modern fanaticisms — targeting innocent people at worship. We offer both our prayers and our promise: to struggle against those who seek to destroy, and to mourn and help heal those so cruelly attacked.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous of egalitarian community IKAR said in an email, “We were anguished and horrified to come back online after two days of Passover — celebrating our people’s liberation from oppression — to hear of the terror attacks targeting the Christian community of Sri Lanka. No people, anywhere, should fear violence while worshipping in their holy places. The fact that this happened on the holy day of Easter makes it even more devastating. In the face of these atrocities, we must reaffirm our commitment to love and compassion as a counter-testimony to the hatred and extremism that are tearing apart humanity across the globe today. We stand in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka and pray that these attacks, rather than fuel more hatred and division, help bring our communities of faith together.”

Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein wondered whether the world would ever learn to overcome hatred. “We’ve reached the 21st century, but we’re still plagued by medieval hatred. When will we ever learn?” Feinstein said in an email. His colleague, VBS Rabbi Noah Farkas, also denounced the attacks.

“These bombings reflect the most savage and heartbreaking of modern fanaticisms — targeting innocent people at worship.”
— Rabbi David Wolpe

Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue said, “It’s a horror that a coordinated attack took innocent lives in houses of worship and elsewhere. We pray with Jews, Muslims and Christians, all of whom have felt the body blows of terrorism.”

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Assistant Director for Policy and Communications Siamak Kordestani said, “Our hearts were broken by the news of the horrific attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. We reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka and our Christian friends around the world. We must work together to prevail in the fight against terrorism.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the attack was the latest example of “religious-inspired terrorism.” “The multiple simultaneous terrorist attacks on Easter that targeted churches and hotels, confirms that the scourge of religious-inspired terrorism remains a menace and threat to every civilized nation,” Cooper said in an email. “In 2019, Christian communities in places like Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia remain in the cross-hairs of those who seek to annihilate them.”

Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, also condemned the attacks.  “My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones in Sri Lanka,” Hasan said in an email. “Targeting people because of how they choose to worship is wrong. This is true whether it be churches in Sri Lanka, mosques in New Zealand, or a synagogue in Pittsburgh.”

“We are praying for our brothers and sisters who were killed this Easter morning in Sri Lanka,” Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gómez said in an April 21 statement. “May they know the promise of the Resurrection and may God bring comfort to their families and their loved ones. Only love can conquer evil and violence, so we ask Jesus this morning for the courage to love and we pray for the conversion of every heart that is hardened by hatred. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is our mother and the mother of mercy, console those who are suffering and watch over all of us. And may God grant us peace.”

And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) posted on twitter that he was “horrified” by the bombings. “These attacks on civilians and worshippers are cowardly and despicable,” he tweeted. “We will stand with Sri Lanka against terror.”

Three Rabbis Discuss Politics on the Pulpit

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, Young Israel of Century City’s Rabbi Elazar Muskin and Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Rabbi John Rosove.

Should rabbis wade into the political fray with their congregants?

That was the burning question at an April 10 forum at the American Jewish University (AJU) titled, “Politics on the Pulpit: Is There A Line and Where Do You Draw It?” 

The event was put on by Community Advocates, Inc.(CAI) and Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ). This event, co-presented by AJU was the 8th in the Community Conversations Series jointly founded by CAI and JUDJ.

Close to 400 people attended the event to hear IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, Young Israel of Century City’s Rabbi Elazar Muskin and Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Rabbi John Rosove.

Despite the fact that they spanned the political spectrum, with Muskin and Rosove taking the center-right and -left, respectively, and Brous representing the progressive viewpoint, the conversation — moderated by AJU’s Rabbi Elliot Dorff — remained civil. The rabbis also found much to agree on. They agreed on so much, at one point Muskin joked, “I thought we were going to argue.”

Which is not to say there weren’t points of dissension. Muskin was adamant that politics has no place on the pulpit, insisting that the bimah was “sacrosanct.” If you want to know his political opinion, he said, come to his study. The law, he said, teaches that scholars should “increase the peace, not preach positions that would divide.” 

Brous noted, “progressive rabbis talk a lot to progressive rabbis and Orthodox rabbis talk to Orthodox rabbis and rarely do the two meet.” She said she was glad to have a chance to change that. Her job, she said, is “not to unify [my community] but to teach them to love each other and sometimes, when we love each other, we disagree, fiercely, about important matters.”  

At IKAR, she continued, “We teach Torah. And we talk about core Jewish values of human dignity … particularly when the world’s on fire. We treat each other with love, with patience, with kindness and compassion — even more so than before. As the world gets crueler and uglier, it’s up to us to be even kinder and even more decent and more truthful.” 

Rosove said it is important to make a distinction between politics and partisanship. “[At Temple Israel] we don’t invite candidates to speak on the pulpit unless they’re in debate. The synagogue is not the place for that.” 

Quoting Rabbi Jill Jacobs (executive director of T’ruah, a rabbinical group focused on human rights), Rosove added, “The Torah is political because it lays out a vision for a just, civil society. … It is political because a liberation struggle stands at its core. It is political because it demands that those with more wealth take responsibility for those with less. It is political because it forbids those with more power from taking advantage of those with less.” 

“Immigration is not only an American issue, but a Jewish issue and it belongs everywhere. It belongs on the pulpit; it belongs in the beit midrash. It is a moral issue.” 

— Rabbi John Rosove 

On three issues, the rabbis were all more or less in agreement: education, Israel and immigration. 

They all said they believe that government should stay out of funding private schools. “I want my children to be educated Judaically,” Muskin said, “but that’s my pocketbook.” Brous, whose three children attend day schools, said she and her husband wrestled with the choice, in part because day school gives children a stilted view of the world and also because private religious education proliferated in America in response to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in schools. 

“Religious Jews have always sought out ways to provide religious, private education for their children,” Brous said, “but most private schools are built on a foundation of white supremacy.  That’s really a part of this conversation we can’t ignore.”

On the issue of Israel, Rosove said, “Israel has to remain democratic, pluralistic and Jewish.” The only way that can happen, he added, is through a two-state solution, but he was worried that the possibility might be slipping away. 

Brous said she is “aching for the State of Israel, which was built on such profound aspirations,” but worried that Israel is “essentially at war with itself.” She said she does not believe that Israel’s safety and security should keep it from “affirming and honoring the dignity of every single person” who lives there and in the Palestinian territories.  

Muskin said he will “never apologize for talking about Israel,” noting that it is the only country in the region with free, democratic elections and “we should all take pride in that.” 

On immigration, Rosove quoted Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” poem mounted on the inside of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” “This is a value we need to teach our children,” Rosove said. “It’s not only an American issue, but a Jewish issue and it belongs everywhere. It belongs on the pulpit; it belongs in the beit midrash. It is a moral issue.” 

Muskin said he feels sympathy for new immigrants, but the issue is illegality. “You can’t violate the law,” he said.

 Brous responded, saying it’s hard to legally emigrate from Central America and cited the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. “They had a land where the streets were paved with gold and they did not want to share it,” Brous said. “Any visitor that would come into their land would be subjected to incredible acts of cruelty to deter them from crossing the border.” She wondered how anyone could read that story and “not think it applies to what’s happening right now.” 

An audience member yelled out, “Are you running for office? Stick to the subject.” Brous responded, “We can’t shy away from discussing the issues.” The two other rabbis came to her defense, with Muskin saying, “Peace doesn’t mean uniformity. The debate has to be there.”

Two Civic Engagement Initiatives Awarded Lippman Kanfer Prize

Mary Kohav and Shawn Landres with their award for the CIVruta project. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Two Los Angeles-based initiatives, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ CIVruta program and IKAR’s Minyan Tzedek, were among seven winners of the Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom, awarded at the Jewish Funders Network Conference in San Francisco on March 18. 

The prize, funded by the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah with support from the Democracy Fund, celebrates applications of Jewish wisdom that help people live better lives and shape a better world. This year, the prize focused on democracy and civic engagement. 

CIVruta, which was recognized as a “new idea” received a $15,000 prize. It convenes community leaders from different backgrounds in a day-long “civic beit midrash” (“house of learning”) that encourages and equips them to bring Jewishly-informed democratic values to their service on local boards and commissions, said Mary Kohav, the Federation’s vice president of community engagement.

“The program will empower emerging civic leaders to take on roles in their communities, build and strengthen bridges in and outside of the Jewish communities, and engage Jewish and non-Jewish participants in Jewish wisdom,” Kohav said. “[This kind of] inclusion is core to a healthy democracy.”

CIVruta aims for diversity among participants, in terms of level of experience, religion, race and ethnicity, with 25 to 40 percent Jewish and the remainder non-Jewish, Kohav said. 

Several alumni of the Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project (NLP) are involved in the program, including Kohav and Shawn Landres, who serves on L.A. County and City of Santa Monica commissions. 

“This isn’t Civics 101,” Landres said. “It’s for people who understand they want to be on a board or commission and want some tools to bring Jewish values to the work of local government.”

He named Barbara Yaroslavsky, who died last December, as the kind of leader the program will serve, calling her “a connector and a bridge-builder.”

Kohav said the CIVruta team felt “validated and honored” to receive the prize, calling the program “repeatable and adaptable.”

 “There’s a lot of momentum and excitement about this program at the Federation and in our city’s civic world as a whole,” she said. 

IKAR’s Minyan Tzedek: Organizing for Social Change, received the $30,000 prize for an established program, is working to actively engage and cultivate a culture of social justice from a distinctly Jewish perspective rooted in Torah and the principles of community organizing. The goal is to become a 100 percent voting community.

“This is all replicable in other communities,” said IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban. “Our text, tradition and Jewish wisdom need to be involved in the work of government in thoughtful ways.” 

IKAR convenes “Know Your Representatives” conversations, distributes “know your reps” cards to members and asks people to contact their government representatives regarding specific campaign issues. 

“People are very confused [by the voting process] and are grateful to come to synagogue and learn about the issues — even if we’re not advocating a position — just to get informed,” said Brooke Wirtschafter, director of community organizing at IKAR. “We need to do more work to make sure people vote but also engage with elected officials.” 

IKAR runs its membership database against public voting records and works with local organization L.A. Voice to determine what percentage of its community gets to the polls. 

“No Jewish congregation in America has 100 percent voting,” Wirtschafter said. “It’s a misconception that we all vote. Running these numbers is a good eye-opener that people don’t vote in midterm and smaller municipal elections. … Being civically engaged means that people vote every time. We do need to ask our own community
to vote.”  

Purim, IKAR-Style

Members of IKAR Tribe, the congregation’s community of people in their 20s and 30s, turned out to “IKAR Noir: Purim Justice Carnival.” Photo by Steve Sherman Photography

Parodying “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” in a video segment, IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous pretends she is too sick to work. After her husband and children wish her well and head out, she wanders around her blissfully empty home in her bathrobe before calling L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who actually is sick at home.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” Brous says into the camera. 

A couple of scenes later, Brous and Garcetti are dancing to the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on location at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Garcetti in Wayfarer sunglasses and a hockey jersey — a ringer for Ferris’ BFF Cameron — partying like it’s, well, 1986.

Welcome to the spirited “IKAR Noir: Purim Justice Carnival,” where people drank, danced, listened to the Megillah and enjoyed a humorous Purim spiel.

The Mid-City-based IKAR held its Purim party at Candela La Brea on March 20, one of several Purim events happening around the city, from Pico-Robertson to Pico-Union, that evening.

This being IKAR, an egalitarian, social justice-oriented spiritual community, many wore politically left-leaning costumes. Brous was dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. IKAR Founder and CEO Melissa Balaban wore an all-white ensemble, an homage to the Democratic women in the 116th Congress. And a 20-something wore a sign around his neck that read, “Bro, do you even know who my father is?” Asked what he was supposed to be, he said, “A culturally appropriating frat boy.”

Some left politics behind, if only for one night. IKAR Cantor Hillel Tigay was dressed as “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges’ character from “The Big Lebowski,” shaggy hair, bushy beard, robe, flannel pants and all. 

Partygoers at the bar attempted to fulfill the Purim tradition of getting drunk enough to not know the difference between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordecai. Stacked in a pile on a nearby table were nonperishable food items, noisy enough to be used as groggers during the Megillah reading and to be donated to SOVA food pantry after the party.

The reading of the Megillah was interwoven with a video spoof of the documentaries about the botched Fyre Festival, the “luxury music festival” that never was. In IKAR’s video, people were planning Trybe Fest, where the challah was a couple of lousy pieces of matzo, there was not enough tefillin to go around and organizers faced more problems than the folks behind the latest Women’s March.

“So You Think Shushan Dance,” a live parody of the televised competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” followed. Stage right, a row of judges, including Brous, critiqued dance moves by actress Ayla Barreau, who portrayed Vashti.

After the spiel, volunteers cleared chairs for a dance floor. Attendee Jeremy Yanofsky, a congregant of Adat Ari El in Valley Village, wandered around the room, looking lost.

Yanofsky, one of the few to follow the noir theme, was dressed as a gumshoe detective, complete with overcoat and fedora. He literally followed the commandment of Purim and made an effort to turn his own world upside down. 

The 35-year-old drove all the way from the Valley to experience Purim in a new environment. “I just wanted to try something different,” he said.

Interfaith Solidarity in Wake of New Zealand Terror Attacks

Rabbi Sharon Brous and Edina Lekovic hug in a show of love and support between a rabbi and Muslim-American leader. Photo by Ryan Torok

After the deadly attacks at the Masjid Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week, Los Angeles interfaith leaders and elected officials quickly convened a press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) in Koreatown on March 15.

Close to 100 people attended the gathering, including Jewish LGBTQ leaders; members of modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea and egalitarian community IKAR; clergy from Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Beth Shir Shalom, and American Jewish University faculty and students.

“We are a city that is called ‘the City of Angels’ and today I feel those wings stretched out and joining together,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told attendees. “Our angels weep today as well for our brothers and sisters in New Zealand, for an attack on the most basic human impulse that we have — to talk to ourselves and to our God.”

IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous denounced the role Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry play in mass violence.

“Today we lift up all the survivors of violent hatred, from the Tree of Life to Sutherland Springs, to Mother Emanuel, to Oak Creek,” Brous said. “Today we lift up all the survivors and all of those who have lost loved ones to gun violence in this country and around the world, including some in our own family, who stand here today.”

ICSC Civic Liaison Hedab Tarifi said the way to prevent further acts of violence was for people of different faiths to unite. “We have no choice but to come together and work together in protecting the human family,” she said, “and working against and exposing that there is no one race that takes over and is supreme to the others. God created us all as one human family. It is our responsibility to protect that human family and keep the world safe for new generations.”

Tarifi added that she was annoyed after hearing that following the attacks, the mosques in New Zealand had been closed. “They need to come to L.A. to learn from example we have,” she said.

Tarifi made her comment after Los Angeles Police Department encouraged everyone to visit their various places of worship over the weekend to send a message that they will not let acts of hatred deter them from freely practicing their religions.

“The way we show the world our humanity, the way we show that this will not stand and the cowardliness of it, is by leaning into our faith, by leaning into our ability to demonstrate that the good of this world far outweighs the evil,” Moore said.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said pluralism has the power to combat hate. “We are calling on our congregants to stand tall against hate, stand together as one country and one people,” he said.

Beth Shir Shalom Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels chose to share his message via song, calling on everyone to fight hate with love. “Love, only love with all your heart; love, only love with all your soul,” he sang, finger picking the guitar strapped across his body.

“We needed that,” American Muslim leader Edina Lekovic said, thanking Comess-Daniels.

Rachel Simmons, a third-year rabbinic student at American Jewish University and a rabbinic intern at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, told the Journal that when she learned about the attack she cried. She then reached out to her teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, asking what to do.

Cohen, a professor of rabbinic literature at American Jewish University, told her about the gathering and they attended together. “The only way we to get through this is if we have each other’s backs,” Cohen told the Journal.

Simmons agreed. “For me, one of the holiest things you can do is accompany someone in their grief,” she said. “My duty is to show Muslims their pain is my pain.”

“See,” Cohen said. “She is my student.”

For many Jews, the gathering was also an opportunity to repay the favor after last year’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, when Muslim community members raised funds for the families of the 11 victims and even offered to stand guard outside synagogues on Shabbat.  

“For me, one of the holiest things you can do is accompany someone in their grief. My duty is to show Muslims their pain is my pain.” — Rachel Simmons 

“I saw the amount of support the Jewish community was shown with Pittsburgh,” Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) Cantor Lisa Peicott told the Journal, “and I just knew I had to be here to show the Muslim community we are in full support and we stand together against all kinds of hate and intolerance.”

“As Jewish people, we are standing up for those who are dealing with such horrible acts of violence, showing that we not only are thinking of them, but we are here standing and reaching out, as they have done with us,” WBT Rabbi Susan Goldberg said. 

And as Jewish communities come together to support their Muslim brothers and sisters, the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh currently is raising funds for families of the New Zealand victims. As of press time, it had raised nearly $16,000 of its $100,000 goal.

“We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence,” Tree of Life said in a statement. “We will continue to work toward a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”

Los Angeles-based NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change also issued a statement, saying, “As we begin another week here at NewGround, our team is thinking of the families mourning in New Zealand. We are also thinking about how our emphasis on understanding and plurality becomes more relevant by the day.”

Michael Jeser, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, also issued a statement saying, “Today, our Jewish community should say, unambiguously, that these acts of murder cannot be tolerated. Today, we reaffirm our core belief that the hate and bigotry that fuel such acts must be challenged, confronted and condemned in every corner of our society.”

What’s Happening: Jill Abramson, Yemen Blues, ‘Foxtrot’

FRI MAR 1

Beatles Shabbat
During Friday night services, Reform congregation Kol Tikvah sets popular Shabbat tunes to the music of The Beatles. Rabbi Jon Hanish, Rabbi Becky Hoffman, Cantor Noa Shaashua and rabbinic intern Esther Jilovsky lead services with a little help from their friends: the temple band Kolplay. Socializing, coffee and sweet treats follow. 6:30 p.m. Free. No RSVP necessary. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

Shabbat with Danny Lobell
Stand-up comedian Danny Lobell headlines “Stand Up Shabbat” at Knesset Israel of Beverlywood. Lobell’s performance follows Friday night services and a d’var Torah by Rabbi Jason Weiner. Jordana Wertheimer, director of student life and leadership at YULA Girls High School, emcees the show. A three-course glatt kosher meat dinner is included. Services 5:30 p.m., comedy show 6:30 p.m. $18 per person, $36 couples, $50 families. Knesset Israel of Beverlywood, 2364 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-4962.

Jill Abramson

An Evening with Jill Abramson
Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson discusses her controversial new book, “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,” which follows four major news organizations — the Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed and Vice Media — over a decade of radical changes and disruption in the news business. Abramson, in dialogue with Spectrum News political anchor Alex Cohen, explores the future of the free press. 7:30 p.m. $40 general admission plus book, $34 members plus book, without book, $25 general admission, $21.25 members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey

Peter & Paul
Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, the surviving members of the legendary folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary, sing many of their hits in concert at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. After the death of Mary Travers in 2009, Yarrow and Stookey continue to perform regularly. 8 p.m. $41–$66. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 449-2787.

IKAR’S First Friday
Young professionals and Jew-adjacent adults come together for IKAR’s TRIBE First Friday Feast, featuring a musical Shabbat service (plus scotch), followed by schmoozing, grooving, food and (more) booze. 6:30 p.m. services, 8 p.m. dinner. $8, free for first-timers. IKAR event space, 1729 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Tint Tot Shabbat
Shabbat-themed storytelling, music and singing highlight PJ Library and Temple Akiba’s Shabbat for tots up to 2 years old. Open to the community. 9 a.m. Free. Temple Akiba, 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. RSVP to Carly Rosenstein at nurseryschool@templeakiba.net or (310) 398-5783.

SAT MAR 2 

Jews and Disabilities 
ETTA Founder and Executive Director Michael Held discusses “A Vision for Including Jews With Disabilities,” following Shabbat morning services at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community. Established in 1993, ETTA serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Services 9:30 a.m., lecture 11:30 a.m. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246.

Lev Eisha Services 
Rabbi Toba August and cantorial soloist Cindy Paley lead a musical and joyous Shabbat celebration at Beth Shir Shalom. The Lev Eisha Shabbat begins at 9:30 a.m. followed by a Kiddush luncheon. Free. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 575-0985.

SUN MAR 3 

Einat Wilf
Former Israeli Knesset Member Einat Wilf, who previously represented the Labor and Independence parties from 2010–11 and 2011–13, respectively, speaks at Congregation Kol Ami. A leading intellectual and thinker on foreign policy, economics, education and Zionism, Einat is the author of six books. A Jerusalem native, she earned a BA in Government from Harvar, and a Ph.D in Political Science at the University of Cambridge. 5 p.m. Free. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996.

Sam Glaser 
Los Angeles musician Sam Glaser performs at Ner Simcha as part of the congregation’s “Simcha Series: A Celebration of Jewish Arts.” A resident of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, Glaser tours the world and serves as Ner Simcha’s cantor during the congregation’s High Holy Days services. 7–8:30 p.m. Free. Temple Ner Simcha, 880 Hampshire Road, Westlake Village. (818) 851-0030.

Are Jewish Values Unique?
Rabbi Stanley Davids explores “Is There Anything Unique About Jewish Values?” during Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s monthly “In Pursuit of Truth” series. Davids shows how the embrace of Jewish values enriches and brings meaning to people’s lives. Start your Sunday with coffee, discussion and enlightenment. 9:15 a.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

MON MAR 4

Ravid Kahalani

Yemen Blues
Blending Yemenite melodies and contemporary funk, Yemen Blues perform at The Pico-Union Project. Founded in Israel, Yemen Blues is led by Ravid Kahalani, a former cook and dancer. The group’s album “Insaniya” fuses jazz, blues, Latino and African beats. 7:30–10:30 p.m.  $20 advance, $30 door. The Pico-Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (213) 915-0084.

TUE MAR 5

Anti-Semitism and Hate
With much of the national discourse focused on the rise of anti-Semitism, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein attempt to provide clarity on the subject. They discuss “The State of Anti-Semitism and Hate,” a pertinent topic after October’s massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the more recent desecration of dozens of Jewish gravestones in France. 7:30 p.m. Free. Advance registration required. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (828) 788-0567.

THU MAR 7

“Foxtrot”

“Foxtrot”
The award-winning, controversial 2017 Israeli film “Foxtrot,” following a troubled family that must face the facts when something goes terribly wrong at their son’s desolate military post,
screens as part of Kehillat Ma’arav’s Jewish Film Series. Popcorn, candy and sodas served. Doors open 7 p.m., screening 7:30 p.m. $10. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

Dan Schnur
USC adjunct faculty member and Jewish Journal columnist Dan Schnur moderates the ongoing Wilshire Boulevard Temple series, “What Does it All Mean? Conversations With Smart People About Navigating Life in the 21st Century.” The topic is “Gender in the Workplace: What Comes After #MeToo?” 7:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd. (213) 388-2401.


Have an event coming up? Send your information two weeks prior to the event to ryant@jewishjournal.com for consideration. For groups staging an event that requires an RSVP, please submit details about the event the week before the RSVP deadline.

Update: Judge Grants Citizenship to Twin Son of Local Jewish Same-Sex Couple

On Feb. 21, a Los Angeles federal judge ruled that the son of a local Jewish same-sex couple previously denied U.S. citizenship will now be recognized as a U.S. citizen since birth.

Brentwood couple Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks filed a lawsuit against the State Department in January 2018 after one of their then year-old twin boys, Aiden, was given U.S. citizenship but the- other, Ethan, was not.

In his ruling, Judge John F Walter said the U.S. had no grounds to deny citizenship to Ethan, and that the State Department statute does not contain language “requiring a ‘blood relationship between the person and the father’ in order for citizenship to be acquired at birth.”

Los Angeles-born Andrew and Tel Aviv-born Elad, who works as IKAR’s development director, spoke with the Journal four days after the ruling.

“It’s been a really, really busy but an amazing last few days. We’re really, really thrilled with the news,” Andrew said.

And while the boys are only two-and-a-half and unable to fully grasp the magnitude of the decision, “We showed them the newspaper articles,” Elad said, “and Ethan saw his photo and said, ‘Ethan! Ethan!’

Despite their exuberance at the decision, the couple is still coming to terms with the toll their fight has taken on their entire family.

“It has been two sleepless years,” Elad said. “It was on our mind every single day. People can’t really understand what it is to live with the concern that you have twin boys and they’re treated differently. Though the decision that was made right now says Ethan was always a U.S. citizen since birth, no one can give us back these two years of worry or stress or sleepless nights.”

And on a practical level, Ethan’s undocumented status has not allowed the family to travel to Israel and visit Elad’s family, especially the boys’ great-grandparents, who are too old to travel to the States. Now, however, the couple has booked their tickets. “We’re going in August,” Elad said.

The couple’s saga began when Andrew and Elad decided to marry in 2010. They had hoped to do so in the U.S., but the Defense of Marriage Act was still in existence, so the couple moved to Toronto, where Andrew also has citizenship and gay marriage was legal.

The couple married in 2011 and knew they wanted a family. After finding a surrogate, they used sperm from both men, and the Dvash-Bankses were thrilled when their sons, Aidan and Ethan, were born. Aidan is Andrew’s biological son and Ethan is Elad’s biological son.

When same-sex marriage was finally legalized in the United States in 2015, the couple planned to move back to Los Angeles, with Andrew sponsoring Elad’s green card. They returned in August 2017 to Los Angeles.

However, immigration authorities demanded DNA testing for the twins, and determined that because Aidan was the only child biologically related to Andrew, he alone would be granted U.S. citizenship.

Andrew and Elad were shocked when they were asked to perform a DNA test on their children. They wondered if they had been a straight couple — an American husband and an Israeli wife — would they ever have been asked to perform a DNA test or questioned if they had used a surrogate?

While both men said they were hopeful and confident that the law was on their side and that Ethan would eventually be granted citizenship, “Of course, you worry,” Andrew said. “This is my child’s life. I never want to take that for granted or mess around with that.”

“I also felt pretty confident the decision would be in our favor,” Elad said, “just because the law is very clear. It’s so simple. The law doesn’t require a biological connection. But, like Andrew, I was concerned. What if something else happened in the meantime?”

The Dvash-Bankses also hope that their victory will help others.

“I really hope that other families don’t have to go through what we went through and that any child born abroad to an American citizen parent will be treated equally regardless whether they’re born from a man and a woman or two men or two women,” Andrew said.

Elad added, “We hope this decision is another step in the right direction to make sure all the policies of the different agencies and the government as a whole are equal and are fair to the LGBTQ community and that parentage is not assumed to be a man and woman only.”

The couple also plans on ensuring that their boys know their story. “We are always going to talk to them about this situation and this moment,” Andrew said. “We don’t want to keep anything from our children. We want to always stay honest with them. I really hope that our children see the love we have for them and we will always fight for their safety and security.”

In addition, Andrew and Elad have been writing to the boys since they were born. “We write emails to them all the time,” Elad said. “We established e-mail addresses for them both, and when they are old enough – maybe after their bar mitzvahs — we will give them the password and they will be able to see all the emails we’ve written to them through the years.”

The Dvash-Bankses are looking forward to being able to celebrate with their local community — IKAR — which will host a celebration for the family this Shabbat.

“The IKAR community has been so supportive,” Elad said. “There is no better community in Jewish LA to be part of at this moment. It’s one of the most progressive, social justice, supportive organizations out there and just to be an employee of such an organization and to work with Rabbi [Sharon] Brous who is a fighter for social justice and LGBT rights, is an honor.”

Beyond that, the Dvash-Bankses are just hoping to move on with their lives.

“All we’ve ever wanted is to be a happy, healthy family,” Elad said. “And not always in the public eye. We hope this [ordeal] is something we’ll be able to teach [the boys]: how to fight for yourself and fight for what’s right and stay a good person.”  

Does Tikkun Olam Divide Along Religious and Political Lines?

From left: Jonathan Neumann, Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Sharon Brous. Courtesy of Sinai Temple

Seated between Rabbi Sharon Brous and author Jonathan Neumann, Rabbi David Wolpe said, “My chair is exactly equidistant between our two participants.” 

Wolpe was referring to the role he was about to undertake as the centrist between two speakers with opposing viewpoints at a debate titled “Is Tikkun Olam Actually Good for the Jews?” 

Without missing a beat, Brous moved her chair closer to Wolpe’s. 

During the impassioned, good-humored discussion, held Feb. 5 at Sinai Temple, Brous — the founder and spiritual leader of progressive congregation IKAR — said her community’s emphasis on tikkun olam is informed by how prevalent a role the Exodus story plays in contemporary observance of Judaism. 

“Why has Jewish tradition so centralized this story?” she said. “This is the centerpiece of biblical legislation and it is the centerpiece of our liturgy as well. This story is the paradigm of human experience.” 

Neumann, author of the book “To Heal the World? How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel,” argued the American-Jewish community is overly embracing of tikkun olam, which, he said, is synonymous with left-wing politics.

“Tikkun olam is hegemonic in American Judaism,” he said. “It is there from cradle to grave. It’s there in books for infants, in elementary and high school curriculum, extracurricular activities, summer camps, campus initiatives. The great American philanthropies are dedicated to tikkun olam. Presidents talk about tikkun olam.” 

Neumann argued that if a synagogue makes tikkun olam core to its mission, it leads to the neglect of more Jewish-specific practices.

Brous denied this, pointing to IKAR congregants that organize for low-wage hotel workers and pray with equal devotion, denounce Trump’s policies targeting asylum-seekers with the same passion they study Torah. Caring about human rights and Judaism are not mutually exclusive, she said.

“I am seeing in the book and in the many people who have written about your book a reductionist claim that those who fight for universal rights have therefore abandoned our particular Jewish rituals, traditions and peoplehood,” Brous said. “My answer to that is come to IKAR and see how we daven and see how long Mussaf is — even though people are hungry for lunch, we have in no way abandoned our particular claims and have no intention to because they are all part of one conversation for us.”

Wolpe asked Brous and Neumann why the debate over the merits of tikkun olam divides Orthodox and Reform Jews and Republican and Democratic Jews.

Neumann disagreed with Wolpe’s question, arguing that his message has resonated with non-Orthodox people who are tired of hearing sermons about social justice in their non-Orthodox synagogues. Meanwhile, he said, there are those in the Orthodox movement who are active in social justice groups. He added that his book doesn’t argue that Judaism endorses either liberal or conservative politics. When Wolpe asked him to name a conservative position that Judaism rejects, he said, “Judaism doesn’t have a position on most of the issues that occupy American political discourse today.” 

Brous, who said she had read Neumann’s book carefully, cited how the commandment to welcome the stranger is mentioned at least 36 times in the Torah, “Completely disproportionate to any other mitzvah we read about in our Torah. So to my mind, this is not some made up, 20th-century invention of a bunch of feminists who wanted to eat pork, but instead is really a core message of our tradition.”


The Journal did not attend the event, but received a video recording of the debate from Sinai Temple. 

IKAR Brings Supplies to Migrant Shelter in Mexico

IKAR representatives pass out clothing to migrants at shelter.

“Be the first to greet every person.” — Rabbi Matya, the son of Charash

Mention the word “immigrant” and most people agree we have been subjected to an endless stream of facts, statistics and even falsehoods. 

Sometimes the only way to understand the truth is to witness it.

After reading and listening to the countless news stories — “There’s a crisis at the border” — on Jan. 12-13, my husband and I decided to follow our religious tradition and directive: help the stranger, and even go toward them, sharing what we had, just as our forefather Abraham did outside his tent.  

We drove our truck from our home in Los Angeles to Tijuana last weekend, towing a trailer stuffed with humanitarian supplies for a needy migrant shelter. 

Our plan was to share what our IKAR community had donated: diapers, toilet paper, towels, blankets, new socks and underwear, bags of rice and beans, detergent, personal care items and art supplies, and because our community is so generous, we had enough money for a new, heavy-duty washing machine.

We arranged to meet Pedro Rios, the program director for the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego. Rios is a quiet and kind man. As director of migrant programs for the San Diego Quaker community, he volunteered to serve as our guide and translator.   

Crossing the border was easy. The Mexican customs agents were curious about our items and X-rayed our entire truck as we watched from the sidelines. We rendezvoused with Rios at the Costco in Tijuana and loaded up the shiny new Samsung washing machine.  

It was a 15-minute drive to the Benito Juarez “Colonia,” a gritty, working-class neighborhood about a mile south of the border. We had barely put the truck in park before we were welcomed by the radiant smile of Leticia Herrera, the founder of Una Luz de Esperanza. Her shelter, a Light of Hope, is populated by migrants who made the long trek from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and southern Mexico, all of them hoping to gain asylum in the United States.  

That morning, there were 69 residents in the small shelter, the vast majority women, young children, toddlers and babies. A handful of men eagerly pitched in to unload the washing machine. 

The children hovering around our truck immediately touched our hearts, everyone keen to carry all our supplies to waiting tables. Herrera asked me to help hand out the socks, underwear and diapers to a growing line of patient residents. In less than an hour, everything had found a new owner.  All the women were smiling and laughing, embracing their colorful new socks and underwear. The children were busy drawing pictures with chalk and crayons or piecing together puzzles. Others waited patiently for their turn with a noisy toy car. 

Herrera instructed an older boy, whose job it was to ensure no child had a toy car for more than five minutes before passing it on to the next child. A group of children shared the art supplies without squabbling. Whatever tension, anxiety or fear these folks were carrying, they were enjoying a respite from their worries.

“We decided to follow our religious tradition and directive: help the stranger, and drove our truck to Tijuana, towing a trailer stuffed with humanitarian supplies for a needy migrant shelter.”

Herrera showed us where families were staying, opening a door to a large, unfurnished room. Mattresses lay on the floor — one per family. All migrants can stay as long as they need a place to stay.  

Every day, the shelter receives a phone call from the Mexican government informing it how many people seeking asylum have been processed. The government asks Herrera how many people she can shelter until United States immigration officials call their number for an interview. That afternoon alone, Herrera said she could accommodate an additional 15 migrants. It was hard to comprehend how 15 more souls could fit under her roof. “I love my people,” Hererra said, so she finds a way.  

As we prepared to leave, my husband and I vowed to return. The need is great and the situation precarious. We each must ask ourselves the question: Is this who our country is fearful of? If that’s the case, then we have a much bigger problem than we realize.  

Leaving Tijuana, looking at my photos of all the people we had helped make it through another day, I reflected on the emotional experience. I watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and felt calm.

But then a politician declared over the radio, “We are not a nation of immigrants. This is America!” He was referring to a recent change on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services webpage. An edit to the mission statement eliminated a phrase that has always defined our country as a nation of immigrants. 

I suppose politicians and revisionists can change words, but they cannot change history. I feel as if I exist in an Orwellian era. I prefer the truth I find every week at IKAR, the truth in our Torah.

And I will continue to run toward the stranger. 

Just like Abraham.


Cipra Nemeth is on the board of the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles. She has been honored by the L.A. City Council, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the city of West Hollywood and the Obama White House for her volunteer work. 

Heading Back to Camp… to Get Married

Jeremiah Levine and Rachel Light. Photo by Jimi Dava

When Rachel Light and Jeremiah Levine were planning their wedding for March of this year, there was no question about where they would tie the knot: Camp Ramah in Ojai. 

Light, 39, and Levine, 37, met at IKAR on Simchat Torah in 2015. However, it was Light’s parents who first met Levine, at an IKAR Shabbaton at Camp Ramah in 2014, and felt he was the perfect match for their daughter. So it was only fitting that their wedding took place at camp.

“We decided the greatest place we could imagine getting married would be at camp,” Light told the Journal. “Anyone who’s looking for an opportunity for their friends and family to come together and actually be together, camp takes the destination wedding to an extreme.”

Their celebratory weekend with 350 of their closest family and friends began with Shabbat services on Friday night. Following Shabbat morning services, the couple held a nonsense Olympics after lunch. “People competed to decide whether our last names would be Light-Levine or Levine-Light,” Light said. Light-Levine won.

“The nonsense Olympics people were dressed in crazy costumes,” she added. “A friend built a human foosball setup. There was a big kickball tournament. It was perfectly hilarious when one of my friends turned to me and said, ‘Is it OK if I show up to the wedding rehearsal dressed like a unicorn?’ Magic like that only happens at camp.”

“Anyone who’s looking for an opportunity for their friends and family to come together and actually be together, camp takes the destination wedding to an extreme.”

— Rachel Light

On Friday and Saturday night, guests slept in the camp’s bunks or at nearby hotels.

“Seeing my adult friends staying in a bunk together and loving it more than they ever could have imagined was a life-changing experience,” Light said. “I constantly feel like I have a competitive advantage in life because I went to summer camp. I feel like it taught me so much and it really helped me develop my identity. To be able to offer that experience to people, no matter what age they are is incredibly special.”

Camp also allowed the couple to navigate their families’ religious requirements, allowing everyone to be within walking distance on Shabbat. Light said it was amazing to see their friends put away their phones for the 24-hour Shabbat period. “I don’t think any of them had ever done that before,” she said.

On Saturday night, there was a talent show at the outdoor amphitheater. By the time the actual wedding took place on Sunday, everyone had developed an incredible bond.

“We renamed all of the buildings at camp so they all had meaning to us,” Light said. “The outdoor amphitheater where we got married we called Dodger Stadium. My husband had always dreamed of getting married at Dodger Stadium.” 

Rachel Light at her Camp Ramah wedding. Photo by Ryan Jesena @ Lush Photography

For the wedding itself, the couple brought their own flowers. “We purchased these oversized gigantic roses that people came down the aisle with and later became the centerpieces on all of the tables,” Light said. 

The camp catered all the food and was responsible for much of the support and organization. And guests also pitched in.

“We had friends who ran the nonsense Olympics and other friends who organized the talent show,” Light said. “I’m lucky to have multiple rabbis in my family (IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous is Light’s sister-in-law) who helped out with the services. It basically became a really big group effort of love to help plan it.”

She added that since their wedding, “We’ve been hearing nonstop from people that it was one of the best weekends of their life, which you don’t expect other people to say about your wedding.”

If someone is thinking about a camp destination wedding, Light said they should consider what kind of experience they are looking to create. “And if they are kids at heart, it’s a no-brainer.” 


Read more from the 2018 Chuppah Edition here. 

What’s Happening: ‘Judaism In an Age of Truthiness,’ Gad Elmaleh

Alisa Weilerstein

FRI NOV 9

Alisa Weilerstein
Acclaimed cellist Alisa Weilerstein performs all six of Bach’s solo cello suites in one evening. Weilerstein began playing the cello at the age of 4, debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra when she was 13, and received an esteemed MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” in 2011. She has entertained on four continents and performs on occasion with her parents — her father, a violinist and her mother, a pianist. 7:30 p.m. $45–$95. Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Bram Goldsmith Theater. 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 746-4000.


SUN NOV 11

IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous

“Judaism in an Age of Truthiness”
In the era of so-called fake news, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Symposium 2 explores the various ways that contemporary Jews, particularly liberal Jews, grapple with the concept of the truth. “These Truths We Hold: Judaism in an Age of Truthiness” spans two days, through Nov. 12, and features 24 panelists, including academics, rabbis, screenwriters and journalists. The symposium poses challenging questions, including whether the truth, in any universal sense, remains a worthwhile concept in America; and if so, on what grounds might liberal Jews lay claim to the truth? Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, are among the speakers. Glatt kosher meals served. Nov. 11: 8 a.m.–8:15 p.m. Nov. 12, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Early-bird registration for both days, $18–$200; for one day, $18–$100. Regular registration for two days, $36–$240; for one day $36–$130. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Temple Drive, Los Angeles.

“Understanding the Pittsburgh Attack”
British journalist and social conservative Melanie Philliconservative “Understanding the Pittsburgh Attack: Lessons of Europe and Britain,” a unity brunch reflecting on the recent massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue. Phillips, one of Europe’s most outspoken advocates for Israel, writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Chronicle of London and The Times of London. Organized by CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Jewish Journal readers can receive a discounted ticket price of $30 by entering the promotional code “Journal” on the event’s registration website:lacamerabrunch.eventbrite.com. Regular price $125. Space is limited. Reservations requested. Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City, 2151 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. (617) 377-6898. RSVP to Tracey Miller at tracey@camera.org.

“Blessings of the Earth” Concert
An interfaith concert of Jewish and Catholic musicians raises consciousness about global warming. Mixing Hebrew and Latin, the evening, called “Birkat Ha’Adamah/Beneficia Terrae,” features award-winning composer Maria Newman, Jewish songwriter Craig Taubman, Catholic composers Bob Hurd and Christopher Walker, and 250 choir members of the Catholic and Jewish faiths. Organized by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 7 p.m. Doors 6:30 p.m. Free. Donations welcome. Parking $10. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5200.


MON NOV 12

America and Jewish Citizenship
“American Democracy and the Responsibility of Jewish Citizenship” — a panel discussion featuring Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane; Michael Avi Helfand, associate dean for faculty and research at Pepperdine University; Tamara Mann Tweel, an instructor at Columbia University’s American Studies Department; and Joseph Lipner, an intellectual property negotiator — addresses the obligations of a Jewish citizen of the United States in today’s political environment, and other topics. Organized by Shalhevet Institute and Shalhevet High School. 7:45–9:45 p.m. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 930-9333.

TUE NOV 13

Dialogue with Israeli Navy Seal
Stephen Wise Temple Rabbi David Woznica interviews an American who left college to join one of Israel’s most elite military units, Shayetet-13. Every year, 20,000 young men try out to be in the unit — which has been compared to the U.S. Navy SEAL special operations force — but only 40 or fewer are accepted. The man being interviewed, known as “M,” discusses his personal journey, what serving in the storied unit was like, and how he uses the skills learned in the unit in his daily civilian life. 7:30 p.m. $20 general public, $15 temple members. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen Wise Temple Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.

Gad Elmaleh

Gad Elmaleh
Need a laugh? Gad Elmaleh, promoted as “the Jerry Seinfeld of French comedy” and “the Ben Stiller of France,” brings his Dream Tour to Los Angeles. The Casablanca native performs a show suitable for all ages and tells jokes in five languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Moroccan, French and English. 8 p.m. Doors open 7 p.m. $39.50–$49.50. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (323) 931-1277.


WED NOV 14

Giving Voice to Biblical Women
“Filling the Gaps: Giving Voice to Biblical Women Through Modern Midrash,” a University Women Lunch and Learn program, features author Michal Lemberger (“After Abel and Other Stories”), Jewish Journal book editor and author Jonathan Kirsch and author Paul Boorstin (“David and the Philistine Woman”). The three authors discuss writing fiction and nonfiction while using the Bible as their source material. Noon. $25 members, $36 general. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1283.

“American Jews and Israel”
David Suissa, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, discusses the relationship between Israel and American Jews during “American Jews and Israel: Why the Relationship Still Matters.” He appears in conversation with moderator Rick Entin, co-chair of Kehillat Israel’s Israel Matters Committee. Topics include internal Israeli politics, religious and civil rights, the peace process and the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. 7 p.m. Free. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

Lesley Wolman
Singer Lesley Wolman sings “The Great Canadian Songbook.” A Canadian native, she has been performing in local theater and television since she was a child. She was a featured soloist with the Tom DeMoraes Big Band. Her big break came when she was cast in the Toronto production of “Shenandoah” with Hal Linden. She has also acted on the soap operas “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” $35. 8 p.m. Also 8 p.m. Nov. 15 and Nov. 17, and 4 p.m. Nov. 18. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 838-3006.   


THU NOV 15

Woman to Woman Conference 
JVS SoCal’s sixth annual Woman to Woman Conference celebrates “Resilience: The Strength of Women.” Drawing young professionals, philanthropists and executives from a range of industries, the event kicks off with a breakfast networking reception, followed by a program and luncheon. Speakers include Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach for a Major League Baseball team; Michaela Mendelsohn, an entrepreneur and transgender activist; and Susan Feniger, master chef, restaurateur and bestselling author. Proceeds benefit JVS programs serving women in need. 8 a.m.–1 p.m., $200. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 306-4127.

Spanish Jews Lecture
Andrew Berns, assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina, discusses “The Foundation of the World: The Ecological Ideas of Post-Expulsion Spanish Jews in Italy and the Ottoman Empire.” He examines how Jews in the wake of their banishment from Spain in 1492 developed ideas about the use and abuse of land. 4–5:30 p.m. Free. UCLA, Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327.

American Israel Gap Year Fair 
The American Israel Gap Year Fair, the only cross-denominational event of its kind in the country, prepares future high school graduates for a life-changing year before college. More than 50 different Israel programs appealing to students of all backgrounds participate. Fair attendees are exclusively eligible for the Rosina Korda Israel Gap Year Scholarship. 6:30–9:30 p.m. Free. YULA Girls High School, 1619 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles.  

Gratitude for Judaism
Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe, who once wrote about the “Five Reasons Vampires Aren’t Jews,” discusses “The Top Five Reasons You Should Be Thankful for Judaism.” Organized for the young professionals of Atid. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

“Election 2018: It’s On!”
Join the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles for analyses of the midterm election results. The “Election 2018: It’s On!” conference features nine experts examining and drawing conclusions about how people voted. Speakers include CNN analyst Ronald Brownstein; Carla Marinucci of Politico; Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions and UCLA; Janet Clayton of Southern California Edison; Warren
Olney of KCRW; Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School; Darry Sragow of USC. 8:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m. $150 public. $50 Cal State L.A. faculty. Golden Eagle Ballroom, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles.  (323) 343-3770.


Have an event coming up? Send your information two weeks prior to the event to ryant@jewishjournal.com for consideration. For groups staging an event that requires an RSVP, please submit details about the event the week before the RSVP deadline.

Community Reactions to Pittsburgh Shooting

In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, the Journal asked leaders of our community to provide words of comfort, advice and inspiration, hoping their ideas will help us move forward with sensitivity, purpose and unity. 

Despite Differences, We Are One
The tragedy at Tree of Life is a stark reminder that, despite our Jewish community’s religious or political differences, we are, above all else, a family with a shared destiny. The shooter looked to harm Jews — not specifically Orthodox or Reform, religious or secular, Ashkenazic or Sephardic, conservative or progressive. When it comes to anti-Semitism, we are one. I pray that this tragedy will be a turning point for our community, in which we strive to always treat each other like the brothers and sisters that we are, regardless of how we vote, the views we hold, or how we practice our faith. Otherwise, the murder of our 11 family members will have been in vain.

Sam Yebri, president/co-founder, 30 Years After

Our Ancient Muscles Help Us Deal With Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is not about you or me. It is not your fault that they hate you. It is entirely theirs. Because, anti-Semitism is not really about Jews. We might be the object of hatred but we are not its true cause. Anti-Semitism is based on the ideas of scarcity and lack of control. Scarcity of resources, scarcity of grace and scarcity of power. It comes from a radical form of either/or thinking that says either “we” have all the power or “they” do. When “we” do not have power “we” do not have control. Anti-Semites externalize their loss of control to ask only, “Who did this to us,”; instead of the more important question, “What can I do differently?” It’s an easy way to distract them from deeper issues within a community. We as Jews know this type of anti-Semitism. We have two ancient muscles to deal with it. The first is pastoral: to open our hands and hearts to each other so we can, as Rav Kook said, conquer senseless hatred (sinat chinam) with boundless love (ahavat chinam). The other is prophetic: to make our Jewish values public. As it says in Micah, “What does the Lord require of you? To act with justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Finally, do not let anti-Semites define you. Do the work to define yourself. Remember, most of all, never apologize for loving your people. Never apologize for pursuing justice. Never apologize for loving Israel. Never, ever apologize for being a Jew.

Rabbi Noah Farkas, Valley Beth Shalom

Let the Tree of Life Guide Us
It is good in this moment to come together to comfort each other. We also come together to commit to making the memory of those who have been murdered a blessing. A blessing to stand against hate for our people, for all people, in all of its forms, rhetoric, and violence. We grab onto the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, and we hold it close and we let it guide the work of our hearts and our hands to make a better world.

Rabbi Susan Goldberg, Wilshire Boulevard Temple

Going High, in Memory of the Victims
“We go high when they go low.” “We have to answer hate with love.” That’s what many of our Jewish leaders are preaching. I so want to go there. And I will. But today that doesn’t feel like enough. It feels, well, naïve in the face of guns and pipe bombs. So, what do I want? I want rational gun laws. I want a leader who unequivocally demands civility from his followers and doesn’t wink at the extremists in his base with rhetoric that labels fellow Americans as “enemies”; a leader who does not joke about being a nationalist or there being “good people on both sides.” Maybe it’s only a dotted line from the White House to the three violent acts of hatred committed these past weeks, but as journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out, “People who hate Jews and immigrants and minorities believe that when they commit violence against these people, they are behaving as the followers their president wants them to be.” So, in memory of those murdered, I will try to go high. And I will vote.

Tzivia Schwartz Getzug, consultant and community activist

Faced with Hate, Lead with Love
Whether I speak as chair of the board of an organization that touches the lives of Jews in Los Angeles and around the world, or as a mother of five and grandmother of three, my reaction to the horrific events at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh is the same: when faced with hate, we must lead with love. When our hearts are broken because Jews are targeted by a senseless act of terror, we must heal them and stay strong. When the world goes crazy, we must turn to the teachings that are our birthright as Jews and persevere. We stand with Pittsburgh and we mourn the loss of life. And we stand together in Los Angeles to do all we can to stay safe and ensure a Jewish future for our children and grandchildren. That is the power of community. And we need it more than ever.

Julie Platt, chair of the board, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Jews Believe in the Worth and Dignity of Every Human Being
Perhaps the most remarkable fact to emerge in the assailant’s murderous violation of our sacred space, when a newly minted Jewish child was being named, was his special hatred for Jews due to our very essence as a people committed to immigrants. Proof? Torah’s holy triad of compassion, “the migrant, the widow and the orphan.” Yes, Mr. Bowers, I am a Jew. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being on this planet, the worth of the planet itself, all manifestations of a God of justice. I will never waver, for even a second from this truth, saturating our sacred texts and seared upon our minds and hearts by the prophets Amos and Jeremiah: Our treatment of the downtrodden, the economically disadvantaged and the despised of our society defines our relationship with God. You, Mr. Bowers, and your minions, will not replace us.

Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein, executive director, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice: Building a Just and Sacred Society

The Kedoshim (Holy Ones) of Pittsburgh Must Unite Us

Our sages teach that when two brothers’ blood is spilled as one, it eclipses the sun (Sukkah 29b). Pittsburgh is a total eclipse of our sun. The enormous tragedy of 11 Jews murdered in synagogue on Shabbat cannot be explained away, compartmentalized or forgotten. Our synagogues are meant to be places of holiness, not places defiled by hate. In spite of our tears, anger and fear, we must never let Pittsburgh divide the Jewish community. We are all coping with intense emotions, dealing with grief in our own ways. However, if we let Pittsburgh divide one Jew from another, the kedoshim of Pittsburgh will have died in vain. Rather, in their sacred memory let us become angels of lovingkindness, turning tragedy into blessing, anger into compassion, fear into fellowship. 

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, co-founder, Pico Shul, Deanna and Allen Alevy Family Senior Rabbi in Community Outreach

Helping Our Kids Face the Unfathomable
I find the metaphor of the lighthouse useful for parents and educators: a stable beacon of light in uncertain conditions; a reliable landmark; a place to feel safe in a storm. Perhaps we ourselves are shaken as we hear and process the news. We lament that this isn’t the world we want for our children. We want to do everything in our power to protect them. But we can’t make the waters calm or the rocky shore less rugged. They have to be ready for the world. What we can do is shine a light to illuminate the small steps we can take to navigate successfully in dark times: support one another, speak out against intolerance, stand up for righteousness, be appropriately vigilant, muster our collective courage, and be a light for others.

Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, national director of the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Building Relationships Creates a Safety Net for Us All
In these moments of vulnerability, we may feel the desire to close ranks. This natural impulse is being exploited, but sowing division makes us — Jews and everyone — less safe. This is the moment to reach out past the Jewish community to find the people who will stand with us, and with whom we will stand. When I arrived at the vigil for Tree of Life, I spotted my Muslim friend Umar Hakim at the edge of the gathering. A man had come with a flag and signs to protest the vigil. So had a young man wearing a “Punch Nazis” T-shirt. As I approached, I could see Umar gently separating the two men and escorting the protester away from attendees. As the young man turned toward me, I could see his whole body tense and shaking. I spoke with him until his body and voice relaxed. This moment reminded me how reaching out and building relationships creates a safety net for all of us.

Andrea Hodos, program co-director, NewGround: Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change

Continue to be Beacons of Faith
In the wake of this terrible massacre we need to do all that we can to strengthen our faith, rather than allow it to become diminished. At the same time, we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves against the terrible hatred that targets Jews. We must do these things so that we may continue to be beacons of faith in a world that denies the value of faith, so that the true light of God can inspire those who seek inspiration and give strength to those who might falter.

Rabbi Pini Dunner, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills Synagogue

Turn to Each Other, Tradition and the Polls
Eleven praying Jews murdered on Shabbat. The tragic news sent chills through every Jewish community in the country and reverberations around the world. Our first reaction has to be one of shock, horror and grief. But as the hours stretch into days, we recognize additional insights: that anti-Semitism has been permitted to spew in public, as has violence and scorn for women, people with special needs, people of color, Muslims, LGBT people and others. Bigotry unbottled at the highest levels will spread. Words encouraging violence and brutality turn easily into acts of terror and bloodshed, magnified by the refusal to regulate the possession of weapons of war. Where do we turn for courage and hope? To each other, to our ancient tradition of wisdom and resilience, to the Holy One who desires life. Where do we turn for change and safety? To the polls and to renewed engagement in the democratic process. What defines success? Ancient Jewish visions and depictions of a messianic dignity and unity for all.

Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson, Roslyn and Abner Goldstine Dean’s Chair & Professor of Philosophy, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University

Through Grief, Looking for Hope and Strength
Name a grief-related emotion and I’m feeling it. Anger and rage. Sadness and disgust. Confusion and dismay. Frustration and disbelief. Denial and despair. I want to blame it on Trump and then I feel stupid for wanting to blame it on Trump. I want to ignore it and then I feel shameful for being cowardly and thinking I could run from this. I want it to make sense, but then I remember: It doesn’t make sense. Grief never makes sense, and this kind of violence, perpetrated against innocents in a place of sanctuary, never makes sense. I miss innocence and peace. I miss my fantasies of this country, forged by my grandparents’ stories of escaping the Holocaust and arriving in a land where even Jewish immigrants could become anything. I miss this American dream that I was told to have before I’d even fully grasped what it really meant. Today my dreams became shadows of a nightmare that remains even when I am wide awake. As with grief, we get to move forward knowing that while our memories and the sadness will always be with us, so too our hope and strength can be our constant companions. Through compassion, dedication and truly being the change we wish to see in the world, we can have tikvah (hope) and shalom. Even though it seems so far away, it’s not. It’s been inside of all of us since the beginning of time.

Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist

Condemn Hatred, Send Love and Strength
Even as we struggle to hold the enormity of this tragedy, even as we grieve, we must be clear-headed and unequivocal in naming and condemning the disease of hatred that has permeated the culture of our nation that paved the way for this attack, as well as the fanatical obsession with guns that allows hatred to turn deadly. Pittsburgh did not happen in a vacuum — it was the inevitable outcome of racialized hatred and anti-Semitism being fed, fueled and funded by those with a political agenda that literally puts our lives on the line. Over the past few years, America has turned from a place with a constant but quiet undercurrent of anti-Semitism to a place in which anti-Semitism is public, unabashed and condoned from the highest offices. We also know that the spike in anti-Semitism in America today is part of a broader cultural trend of hatred and demonization many minority communities are facing, whether they be Jews, Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, LGBTQ folks, immigrants or refugees. That’s why our multifaith partners stood with us this week, and we stand with them. Arm in arm, side by side, reclaiming — through our tears and our conviction — an America that treats every one of us with love, respect and dignity.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR

What’s Happening: Erwin Chemerinsky, Ben Shapiro, BJE Service

The annual 2K walk 4 Friendship will take place at Shalhevet High School.

FRI OCT 19

 

Pride Shabbat Service
The community is invited to a Pride Shabbat service focusing on unity, equality and inclusion for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The service is led by Rabbi Jon Hanish, Rabbi Becky Hoffman and Cantor Noa Shaashua. Guest speaker is David Kazdan of JQ International, who will discuss “The Need for LGBTQ Role Models in the Jewish Community.” Coffee and dessert to follow. 6:30–8 p.m. Free. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

National Refugee Shabbat
Kehillat Israel Synagogue is one of many temples throughout Southern California participating in a nationwide Shabbat experience dedicated to refugees. Guest speaker is Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, director of education at HIAS. 7–8:30 p.m. Free. Kehillat Israel Synagogue, 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328. Visit ourki.org or hias.org.

Boomer’s Dinner with David Suissa
Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa participates in a community evening at modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea. 7–10 p.m. B’nai David-Judea. 8906 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. $30 members, $35 nonmembers. (310) 276-9269.

Erwin Chemerinsky

Weekend With Erwin Chemerinsky
Join lawyer and legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, the 13th dean of Berkeley Law School and former dean and professor at UC Irvine, Duke University and USC, for the Abner & Roslyn Goldstine Scholar-in-Residence Lecture Series at Sinai Temple. On Friday at 8:30 p.m., Chemerinsky speaks about “Free Speech on Campus.” Free. On Sunday morning, Oct. 21, Chemerinsky and Rabbi David Wolpe engage in a conversation on the topic of “We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the 21st Century.” Light breakfast provided, and book sales and signing available for Chemerinsky’s “Free Speech on Campus.”  9:30 a.m. Admission $33 at the door for Sinai Temple members, $40 for nonmembers. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. .

SAT OCT 20

National Refugee Shabbat Havdalah
Join members of IKAR, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Beth Am and other L.A.-area congregations for a special event at the close of National Refugee Shabbat. Guest speaker, Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer. Attendees are encouraged to bring diapers or school and art supplies for local refugee families supported by the Tiyya Foundation. 7–9:30 p.m. $15. RSVP required. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. Visit tbala.org or hias.org.

SUN OCT 21

BJE Day of Service Learning
Join Builders of Jewish Education, in partnership with Mountain Restoration Trust, for a family-friendly day of community service and learning at Malibu Creek State Park. Participants plant native plants, including purple needle grass and creeping wild rye. Other activities include mulching, weeding and watering new and young plants. Dress appropriately to work in the outdoors: closed-toe shoes, comfortable clothes, hats and sunscreen. Water and snacks provided. Parking is free. RSVP required to Millie Wexler at Mwexler@bjela.org or (323) 761-8631. 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Malibu Creek State Park, 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas.

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro at Politicon
Ben Shapiro is the keynote speaker at Politicon, which bills itself as the “Unconventional Political Convention.” The weekend event will feature panels, debates, town-hall discussions, art, podcasts, comedy, Q-and-A’s, book signings and more. Shapiro is editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” podcast, a New York Times best-selling author, a frequent speaker on college campuses and a Jewish Journal columnist. Speech, noon. $70. Children 12 and younger free with paid adult. Full convention, $70–$400. Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. (213) 741-1151.

The annual 2K walk 4 Friendship will take place at Shalhevet High School.

Walk 4 Friendship L.A.
This annual 2K walk raises vital funds and community awareness for the Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that brings joy and comfort to children with special needs and their families. Inflatables, Lego party, puppy party, games and drinks. Free. Food for sale. Registration and T-shirt pickup, 1:30 p.m. Opening ceremony, 2:45 p.m. Walk begins, 3 p.m. Concert, 4 p.m. Visit website to sponsor individuals or teams, and for parking tips. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 280-0955.

Klezmer Sounds
Homegrown chamber klezmer band Tribe makes its debut at Hollywood Temple Beth El. Formed by jazz stalwarts Dan Spector and Mike Werner, the sextet presents a mix of traditional klezmer and new klezmer sounds. Refreshments available. Two sets between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. $15. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150.

MON OCT 22

Jenna Fields

“What is Jewish about Breast and Ovarian Cancer?”
Jenna Fields, California regional director of Sharsheret, a nonprofit supporting Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer, gives a detailed presentation that provides tools for recognizing the disease and how to respond. 12:20–1:10 p.m. Free. Academy for Jewish Religion, California, UCLA Hillel building, 574 Hilgard Ave., Third Floor, Los Angeles. (213) 884-4133.

TUE OCT 23

Understanding the Nov. 6 Ballot
The Beach Cities League of Women Voters helps explain 11 statewide propositions in advance of the Nov. 6 election. 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Free. $5 for lunch following the program. Congregation Tikvat Jacob, 1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 546-3667.

“The Presence of Their Absence”
Fred Zaidman, a son of Holocaust survivors, tells his family’s wartime story in this 2018 documentary produced by Donna Kanter. Zaidman’s mother, Renate, spoke often of her lasting pain while his father, Wolf, was silent. In researching his family’s story, Zaidman received help he could not have anticipated, including when a Baptist minister from Atlanta led him to a cemetery in Poland. A post-screening Q-and-A features Zaidman, Kanter and minister Steven Reece. 8 p.m. $12 general admission. $8 students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

WED OCT 24

Symposium on Mortality 
“What Mortality Can Teach Us About Living” is the subject of an all-day symposium organized by Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains. Presenters include Dr. Ira Byock, a palliative care physician and Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn of B’nai David-Judea. Group discussion leaders are Rabbi Jason Weiner, director of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Spiritual Care Department; Rabbi Rochelle Robins, vice president and dean of the chaplaincy school at the Academy of Jewish Religion, California; Joel Kushner, director of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health; and Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein, executive director of Neshama. 9 a.m.­–5 p.m. $36, includes kosher lunch. RSVP mandatory. Academy for Jewish Religion, California, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 884-4133.

THU OCT 25

Saskia Keeley

“Love Thy Neighbor”
Four art exhibitions seek to raise awareness and inspire hope in “Love Thy Neighbor, the Refugee Experience.” Photojournalist Saskia Keeley brings together Orthodox Israeli women and Palestinian women for photo workshops in “Roots Non-Violence,” Jean Edelstein blends the sacred with crisis scenes in “Disaster Series,” IsraAID shows on-the-ground photographs of Syria’s civil war in “Stories of Courage and Resilience,” and artist Betty Green’s “Earth Rhythms” examines patterns in nature and the energy connecting all living forms. Exhibition opening 7–9 p.m. Through Dec. 20. Gallery hours 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday–Friday. Opening is free. Hillel at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.

Jews of China 
At a lunch-and-learn program, professor Xu Xin traces Jewish history in China from the 9th century to today’s Chinese Jews. Xin is the Diane and Guilford Glazer chair professor a Nanjing University, director of the Glazer Institute for Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University, and president of the Chinese National Institute of Jewish Studies. American Jewish University President Jeffrey Herbst provides introductory remarks. Noon. $10. American Jewish University Familian Campus, Berg Dining Hall, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1572.  

A Night for Singles
Seeking fresh paths for meeting your bashert? Try your luck at “Game Night & Mixer for Young Jewish Professionals.” Mingle with singles in their 30s and 40s, the evening promises an opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed environment. Tickets sold in advance only. Space is limited. 7:30–9:30 p.m. $20 plus a one-drink minimum. The Phoenix, 8480 W. Third St. (844) 454-7354.

Yom Kippur Yizkor: Lessons From Monty Hall

burning memorial candles on the dark background

Editor’s note: Below is a condensed version of a talk Sharon Hall gave before the Yom Kippur Yizkor service at IKAR. 

Ten days before my mother [Marilyn Hall] died last year, my sister, brother and I were gathered at her bedside singing the Beatles catalog. She strained to look at us as we  harmonized and she seemed to smile when we broke into “Here Comes the Sun.” One of her nurses pulled me aside and said, “You need to let her go. All the attention has her attention and she can see that you don’t want her to leave and she doesn’t want to disappoint you. So figure out a way to say goodbye.”  

This was a gut punch. I couldn’t do it. Neither could my siblings. I said, “Mom, we know that you’re still going to be the helicopter mother you’ve always been, you’ll just be
here in spirit. Pick your sign to let us know you’re still around. Are you going to be a random white feather? Flashing lights? Ringing bells?” She nodded her head and we leaned in.

“Lights,” she said weakly. And so it was settled. My mother’s presence would be known when lightbulbs flickered. 

A few days later, at her shivah, we asked Hillel Tigay, our chazzan at IKAR, to play some Beatles music during our silent prayer. My Orthodox cousin from Israel turned to his sister and asked, “Is this a shivah or a summer camp?” At that very moment, a string of fairy lights embedded in a hedge of ficus trees, lights that had not worked in eight years suddenly came alive. The bulbs flickered in glittering syncopation. Our entire family freaked out. We told the guests about my mother’s deathbed agreement. We were all in awe. If my Israeli cousin could have crossed himself, he would have.  

In the ensuing days and months, I became strangely attached to that hedge. There were more flashing-light moments. It was like a party trick. It got a little weird. I would embrace the ficus branches like Kevin Costner in his cornfield, trying to conjure her. 

Talking to the ficus had become my ritual. It wasn’t scary or depressing. It was about light and chlorophyll and oxygen and life. Even with no lights, it was a practice that created a space to see and feel Marilyn Hall’s presence — not her absence.    

“Many told me that dying on a Yom Kippur Shabbat was reserved for holy men. Now, Monty Hall was an amazing guy, but I think he chose that moment to go because he was trying to dodge Yizkor.

My father [Monty Hall] died exactly one year ago. On Shabbat. On Yom Kippur. Right after Rabbi [Sharon] Brous’ sermon. My phone blew up. I made my way past 1,300 Jews in white when it all faded to white. I don’t remember how I got to my father’s house to meet the mortuary van. I don’t remember much at all about that day.  

Monty and Marilyn Hall (Photo provided by Sharon Hall)

Many reached out to tell me that dying on a Yom Kippur Shabbat was reserved for holy men, for the pious and exalted. Now, Monty Hall was an amazing guy for lots of reasons, but if you want to know the truth, I think he chose that moment to go because he was trying to dodge Yizkor. 

My father was allergic to grief. He was from the “buck up” generation. I never heard him recite the Kaddish out loud. It barely escaped his lips as a whisper. He couldn’t metabolize his grief over the death of his beloved wife of 70 years. We understood but we were frustrated that this final chapter would be filled with denial and anger, and for him was devoid of spirituality.  

So when I was asked to stand here today, I thought, yes! I want to embrace this ritual. I want to take my dad’s yahrzeit as a day to make space for grief.

So, Dad, we’re not going to dodge Yizkor. You made this day all about you and so you will never miss it again. And you’ll get to see Mom, because at IKAR, Neilah always ends with a light show.


Sharon Hall is a television producer, mother of two sons, wife of Todd Ellis Kessler, and proud daughter of the incomparable Marilyn and Monty Hall.

‘Manifest’ Mixes Mystery, Drama and Spiritual Questions

Josh Dallas, Melissa Roxburgh, Jeff Rake, Executive Producer at the 'Manifest' Press Room (Photo by: Todd Williamson/NBC)

An airplane encounters severe turbulence midflight and lands safely. When the passengers disembark, they’re astonished to discover that five years have passed. This intriguing scenario is the premise of the new NBC drama “Manifest,” but it’s only one element in a series that creator, executive producer and showrunner Jeff Rake likens to “Lost” meets “This Is Us.” 

“It’s a serialized event mystery but also a grounded relationship drama,” Rake told the Journal. “I think people will see elements of both in ‘Manifest.’” 

Rake came up with the idea 10 years ago while on a family road trip. “I thought, ‘What if a family was traveling in two separate planes and one of them disappeared?’ I pitched it around town. Nobody bought it,” he said. Six years later, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished, “and my idea didn’t seem so outrageous after all.” When his series “The Mysteries of Laura” was canceled, he re-pitched the idea.

Although the pilot centers on passengers Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) and her brother Ben (Josh Dallas), “almost every episode presents a window into the life of a passenger we may not have met before,” Rake said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we meet some Jewish characters along the way.”

Michaela and Ben also represent opposite sides in an age-old debate: faith vs. science. “She believes that faith explains the mystery of the disappearance and return and the inexplicable things that are happening to them,” including the voices they hear compelling them to act, Rake said.

“Ben, on the other hand, is a mathematician, a man of science and is convinced that there must be an earthbound explanation for everything. In a very organized fashion, he starts breaking down who is and isn’t experiencing these callings, how they’re experiencing them and if there are similarities and differences. It’s one of the puzzles of the show but that question will be answered.”

Rake pointed out that although Michaela’s spiritual reference is the New Testament, “we’ll discover other people from other cultures and different faiths have their own explanations of what is happening to the passengers of this flight. Everyone in the series asks themselves the same question: how and why did this happen? We are not presenting one religious point of view, but offering the idea of faith in the most universal sense. It’s my intention that any person of faith has a way into this conversation,” he said.

“As a Jewish writer, I’m inspired by Jewish themes of redemption, second chances and tikkun olam,” he continued “We come to discover that the characters are flawed human beings who’ve been given a second chance, an opportunity to redeem themselves.”

Rake grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Los Angeles and hit the typical Jewish milestones: bar mitzvah, United Synagogue Youth, Camp Hess Kramer as a camper and counselor. He and his wife, Paulette Light, are founding members of IKAR, where her brother David’s wife, Sharon Brous, is the rabbi. Their four kids go to Camp Ramah, and the youngest will celebrate his bar mitzvah in February. “Judaism is a very important part of my life,” he said.

“I’m inspired by Jewish themes of redemption, second chances and tikkun olam. The characters are flawed human beings who’ve been given a second chance.” – Jeff Rake

Involved in speech and debate and drama in high school, Rake put creative interests aside to go to law school. Working for a law firm, he realized he’d made a mistake. He’d written a hip-hop musical about Elvis Presley and took a leave of absence from his job to mount the play at a theater in Hollywood. Soon after, “I quit my job and figured out how to write screenplays.”

He currently has a pilot in development with Warner Bros. for a Freeform show about a female assassin. “I’d love to get back to the theater some day,” he said. “I have a musical that I’d love to get off the ground. But right now it’s all ‘Manifest,’ all the time.”

Intricately plotted, high-concept shows are often hard to sustain and viewers are wary about getting attached to them. Rake acknowledged that fact but believes that “what ‘Manifest’ has going for it is it’s a triple hybrid: A combination of serialized event mystery, grounded relationship drama and procedural because there are closed-ended elements in most episodes that I think the audience will find satisfying as we inch along the mythology,” he said.

“Because we give a lot of real estate to emotional drama and procedure, it allows me to not have to burn through mythology so quickly. I think the serialized mysteries that haven’t worked petered out because they were so reliant on mythology that they had to burn through a lot of story very fast. That’s one pitfall we’ll be able to avoid.”

While the central mystery of the plane’s disappearance and return won’t be answered right away, “you have to turn cards over throughout the course of the series in order to make the audience feel rewarded,” he said. “A big card will be turned over in episode 13.” 

The initial order is for 13 episodes, with the option for nine more. “There will be goal posts along the way where we’ll make major revelations, but in every episode, there will be kernels of information,” Rake promised. “Putting aside the seemingly supernatural elements, I think the emotional drama is very compelling and reason enough to watch, but with the mystery, the procedure and the mythology, there’s something for everyone in this show,” he said. “I hope people will give it a watch and decide for themselves.”


“Manifest” premieres at 10 p.m. Sept. 24 on NBC.

The Complexity of Israeli Reality

Photo from Wikipedia.

I’ve never met Rabbi Sharon Brous. The spiritual leader of Los Angeles’ IKAR community thinks she knows me, though.

I am the “other side,” Rabbi Brous. Nice to meet you.

In a recent column in the Los Angeles Times, Brous writes about a trip she took with members of her family to the Jewish settlement of Hebron, a tiny, heavily fortified enclave abutting a large Palestinian city. Jewish tradition sees it as a holy city, where our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. In 1929, 67 unarmed Jews, including women and children, were butchered by rioting Arabs. Today it is the epicenter of what most Americans associate with the most extreme West Bank settlers.

“Trust me, Ima,” her daughter told her. “I love Israel. I need to see the other side with my own eyes.”

What she saw included the hardships that many Palestinians face there, as well as the frankly extremist views of some Jewish residents. One of them expressed support for the notorious murderer Baruch Goldstein, the physician and Hebron resident who, in February 1994, opened fire on a hall full of Muslim worshipers, killing 29. The resident called Goldstein’s victims “animals.”

Brous then goes on to extrapolate from Hebron to everything that bothers her about the Israeli government—the oversimplifications of pro-Israel messaging, the alienation of American Jews from Israel, and so on. When you see the most extreme counter-reality, she seems to be saying, you know that the government is encouraging a line that no American Jew with a conscience can abide.

It is a moving piece, in part because she prefaces it with the genuine love she shows for Israel—a love that includes not just reading the news, but taking her kids to Israel and making sure they’re in constant touch with family in Tel Aviv.

The visit to Hebron, she writes, was meant to teach them the “complexities” of Israel.

Here’s the thing. I’m a well-read, socially liberal, fairly secular, free-market, geopolitical hawk. I opposed the surrogacy law and support the Nation-State Law. I oppose Occupation, but am realistic about the impediments to a deal right now and the risks of unilateralism, and the need to learn lessons from the Oslo disaster. I’m likely to vote center-right, but I’m in nobody’s pocket.

I’m representative, in other words, of the actual Israeli “other side,” the kind of Israeli that Likud, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Kadima, Israel Beiteinu and Jewish Home are dying to reach. We are the silent majority of Israel, the answer to liberal American Jews’ endless bafflement at why Bibi keeps winning elections when everybody they know hates him.

Israel’s “other side” has virtually nothing to do with the people in Hebron—or at least, nothing that can be learned from a brief tour of it. If I want to show my kids the “other side” of America, I’m not taking them to a KKK rally.

And I sure wouldn’t have taken them to Hebron with Breaking the Silence—an organization whose credibility has been repeatedly called into question, and whose spokesperson, Dean Issacharoff, was caught fabricating his own purported beating of a Palestinian prisoner.

If you want your kids to understand the complexity of Israeli reality, challenge them for real.

Why do Israelis consistently vote for right-wing parties, when they clearly don’t share the views of the settlers of Hebron? Because the Left, very simply, failed them. Golda Meir failed them in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and in the disastrous economic policies of the 1970s. Rabin and Peres failed them in the calamitous Oslo accords in 1993, which led to none of the peace they promised and a lot of dead Israeli friends. Ehud Barak, Labor’s last Prime Minister, failed them with his flailing impotence to stop the Second Intifada.

Nothing like losing a loved one in a terror attack or a war to focus the mind on the consequences of your vote on election day.

Like it or not, the leadership of the Right has led to a prolonged period of relative economic and physical security. Israelis—both Jews and Arabs alike—feel safer, and have an easier time paying their bills, than ever before. They do not have the luxury of risking that in exchange for leaders who sound nice, who say the things Jews in America want to hear.

Brous is obviously right when she says that “to love a place… does not necessarily mean to love its government.” There’s plenty to love in Israel’s diverse, eclectic and resilient society. But real love is not an abstract thing. It’s about listening to the other—really listening. Hearing uncomfortable opinions, serious opinions, presented as compellingly as possible.

With the new generation of American Jews, it means challenging them to think. It means exposing them to Israel’s many flaws and mistakes, yes, but also to the most reasonable version of opinions and views they disagree with. It means exposing them to the full complexity of Israeli reality.

I don’t know you, Rabbi Brous, and I do not question your love for Israel. But if you want to hear more about the real Israeli “other side,” call me on your next trip.


David Hazony is an author and Executive Director of The Israel Innovation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Israeli culture in the world.

IKAR Becomes ‘Safe Parking’ Partner

Every Angeleno has seen the “tent cities”: homeless encampments under bridges, near parks and freeway entrances, and in long stretches of downtown streets. But what we may not have seen are the more than 15,000 people in Los Angeles who are dangerously close to becoming homeless. 

According to the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, 15,888 people spend nights in their cars, vans or RVs. Now, Safe Parking LA aims to work with community partners to provide a sense of safety for that vulnerable population. 

Last week, the South Robertson neighborhood council approved a bid by Westside spiritual community IKAR to become a Safe Parking LA partner. IKAR will allocate up to 10 spaces for vehicle dwellers in the lot of the property it recently purchased, on La Cienega Boulevard.

“IKAR is committed to living out the core values of our faith, including the belief that all people are created in God’s image, are deserving of dignity and worthy of love,” IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous said in a statement. The offer of a safe place to park is “a small but meaningful way for us to help our most vulnerable neighbors achieve a more dignified existence,” she added.

Safe Parking LA provides a port-a-potty and arranges for an overnight security guard. Host sites provide parking spaces, electricity, water and Wi-Fi. According to Safe Parking LA founder Dr. Scott Sale, “We welcome everyone.”

Sale started Safe Parking LA as a pilot program at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles, where he is a member, in April 2017. “Leo Baeck is the founding Jewish institution of Safe Parking,” Sale said.

IKAR will be Safe Parking’s fourth L.A. location. The other locations all opened this year, in Koreatown, at the Department of Veterans Affairs Campus in Westwood and in Hollywood. 

Some potential partners have expressed concern about community safety. But Sale said that participants are carefully vetted over the phone and in person before they are allowed access to a lot. He also invoked Safe Parking’s history in Santa Barbara and San Diego to allay concerns. 

“For the last 15 years, there have been 750,000 nights of safe parking between those two programs without one incident of vandalism,” Sale said. According to the Safe Parking LA website, San Diego had two instances of vandalism, but they were from people outside of the program. 

Sale is speaking with two Valley synagogues and a Hollywood synagogue as potential partners. And the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Valley College have approached Sale to talk about the program.

“Offering a safe place to park is a small but meaningful way for us to help our most vulnerable neighbors achieve a more dignified existence.”  — Rabbi Sharon Brous

Before IKAR’s program can start, the requested funding of $100,000 needs to be approved by 5th District L.A. City Council Member Paul Koretz. Safe Parking is listed under Koretz’s homelessness initiatives on his website. Sale said Safe Parking is always working on other sources of funding.

“We’re ready to go,” said Brooke Wirtschafter, IKAR’s director of community organizing. Wirtschafter also spoke about IKAR’s intention “to find connections and build community with the people who take advantage of the program, to find ways to build relationships and engage.”

JEN’s New Rabbinic Fellows

Members of Jewish Emergent Network’s inaugural rabbinic fellowship group, including Rabbi Nate DeGroot (top row, far right) come together. DeGroot has served as a rabbi at IKAR for the past two years as part of this rabbi-training fellowship. Photo courtesy of Jewish Emergent Network.

On July 1, Keilah Lebell, who will graduate this month from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, will become a Rabbinic fellow at IKAR, one of the most celebrated synagogues in Los Angeles.

Her fellowship will last two years, as part of her inclusion in the Jewish Emergent Network (JEN) program. JEN is an organization comprising seven independent spiritual communities around the country that trains early career rabbis to become leaders in the Jewish community, placing them in temporary rabbinical positions.

As part of the fellowship, each of the seven communities hires someone who has worked at a congregation for three years or less. The fellows will work in communities that serve, among others, young adults who are disengaged from Jewish life as well as families with young children. They will lead, revamp and tinker with the synagogues’ social justice, chesed (acts of kindness) and young professional programs in their attempt to appeal to these two sought-after demographics.

Lebell is a member of the second cohort of the JEN rabbinic fellowship. The inaugural cohort launched in 2016 and will conclude in June. Lebell will succeed IKAR’s previous JEN fellow, Rabbi Nate DeGroot.

Lebell, 32, told the Journal she was excited about beginning her fellowship and viewed it as a “residency.”

“You know how doctors have to do a residency after their actual training in school? This feel likes a residency to me; a two-year fellowship, an opportunity to work and be out in the field, but the expectation is that I am learning,” she said. “So I consider this a continuation of my learning, and I am so excited to grow during these next two years.”

IKAR is the only Los Angeles synagogue in JEN. The others are Kavana in Seattle; The Kitchen in San Francisco; Mishkan in Chicago; Sixth and I in Washington, D.C.; and Lab/Shul and Romemu in New York.

“To me, these rabbis who founded these emergent communities are my Jewish superheroes. They are redefining what is Jewish practice and Jewish life, and what Jewish community can really feel like.”   Keilah Lebell

The Jim Joseph Foundation is the largest financial supporter of JEN. In 2016, the grant-making organization provided a $3 million grant to JEN.

IKAR serves as JEN’s fiscal sponsor, accepting financial contributions on JEN’s behalf because JEN is not its own nonprofit entity.

JEN communities share a lot in common, including the fact that none of them pays dues to any major denomination. They are all independent communities.

Tarlan Rabizadeh is a Los Angeles native who grew up in the Persian-Jewish “Tehrangeles” community. As part of the fellowship, Rabizadeh will be serving at The Kitchen, a self-described Jewish startup in San Francisco. In a phone interview, the 32-year-old described the JEN shuls as “disruptors.”

“They remind me of Apple. They come up with a new audio plug and they disrupt the system and I have to go buy new headphones that match my phone,” she said. “They are making us rethink things.”

Although JEN shuls have no formal affiliation, the rabbis in the fellowship are graduating from a variety of rabbinical schools affiliated with the major denominations. Ziegler, from which Lebell will graduate, ordains Conservative rabbis. Rabizadeh is graduating from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, a Reform seminary.

After JEN’s conception in 2016, JEN Program Director Jessica McCormick said there were those who suspected the participating “spiritual communities” — a term often preferred over “synagogue” among these nontraditional shuls — were forming their own movement.

“A big misconception when they launched was they wanted to be a movement. I think they laid that to rest,” McCormick said. “They definitely don’t want to be a movement. I think they like being independent.”

McCormick, who works out of IKAR, said the network’s goal is to elevate the participating synagogues’ activity in order to impact their own communities, the rabbinic fellows and the world beyond their respective communities.

McCormick added that DeGroot’s contributions to IKAR during his two-year fellowship show the impact a JEN rabbinic fellow can have.

“Nate DeGroot breathed new life into the young adults program [Tribe] at IKAR. It hadn’t died, but it wasn’t cutting-edge anymore,” McCormick said. “IKAR had started to age, so the people who were once in Tribe had babies. He re-envisioned the whole thing, changed the face of Tribe and brought a lot of learning to the group.”

Other participants in the second cohort, beginning July 1, are:

• Emily Cohen, who has worked with senior citizens on Jewish environmental activism and will be working at Lab/Shul, an experimental Jewish community in New York;
• Jessie Palkin, who has worked as a rabbinic intern at the liberal organization New Israel Fund and will be serving at Washington, D.C.’s Sixth and I, a nondenominational, nonmembership and nontraditional synagogue;
• Jeff Stombaugh, who will receive rabbinic ordination as well as a certificate in Jewish nonprofit management from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He will work at Mishkan Chicago, a self-described “down-to-earth” synagogue;
• Josh Weisman, who before rabbinical school worked as a grass-roots organizer at various Jewish nonprofits and will be serving at Kavana, an independent community in Seattle.
Romemu, the seventh congregation in JEN, was still in the process of selecting a fellow as of press time.

The rabbinic fellowship has been JEN’s main program since its inception. However, JEN is about to expand its outreach to the larger community. On June 1-3, JEN will hold its inaugural, Shabbat-based conference, “(Re)vision: Experiments and Dreams From Emerging Jewish Communities.” The conference, taking place at IKAR, will introduce the community to JEN’s second cohort and will feature laboratories, galleries, interactive experiments, panels and guest speakers.

While Ziegler’s rabbinic leaders have been formative in Lebell’s Jewish development, the mother of two young children said the rabbis of the independent communities in JEN are like superheroes to her.

“To me, these rabbis who founded these emergent communities are my Jewish superheroes. They are redefining what is Jewish practice and Jewish life, and what Jewish community can really feel like,” she said. “It can feel deeply welcoming and open but also, they are offering a Judaism that demands a lot of the people who walk in.”

Melissa Balaban, executive director at IKAR and the chairwoman of JEN, concurred. She said IKAR and the other six communities in JEN ask a lot of the worshippers who walk into their prayer spaces.

“We share a passion for radical inclusivity, passion for rethinking Jewish models and engaging those who were not inclined to be engaged in Jewish life before,” Balaban said. “It’s not like, ‘People are not engaged in Jewish life, so let’s make it simple and easy.’ It is sometimes challenging. Our services aren’t short.”

Tales of Jewish Diversity

At “United Colors of Jews — A Storytelling Event,” members of the community got an opportunity to share stories of their diverse backgrounds and to meet their “multicultural mishpacha” at The Braid in Santa Monica.

The Jan. 31 event was organized by Next @ The Braid (the Jewish Women’s Theatre’s group for young performers) and Jews of Color and supported by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles Cutting Edge grant. It was co-hosted by IKAR, the egalitarian spiritual community.

“Jewish people come from everywhere and many are descendants of parents of mixed-heritage families,” said Abbe Meryl Feder, producer of Next @ The Braid. “Current events have brought diversity to the forefront, and many people from diverse backgrounds want to share their histories.”

According to GlobalJews.org, 20 percent of the U.S. Jewish population consists of persons of Africa American, Asian, Latin, Sephardic, Mizrachi and mixed-race descent.

The event’s charismatic emcee, Joshua Silverstein, a Jewish and Black performer who refers to himself as a “He-Bro,” was the first of the evening’s eight storytellers, each of whom stood before a photo of their family and presented intimate, moving, humorous and inspiring tales from their past and their current life. Silverstein shared his own sad story of his dysfunctional relationship with his father who, ever since Silverstein adopted his Jewish wife’s two children, has never wished his son a happy Father’s Day and still hasn’t met the kids, who are now 5 and 10 years old, respectively.

“More than half of the slaves stolen from Africa came from ancient Jewish tribes, so 50% of today’s blacks are their descendants.” — Benny Lumpkins

Marissa Tiamfook Gee, the product of a Jewish mother and a half-Black/half-Chinese father from the Caribbean, told how, after her mother died when she was 10, her father encouraged her Judaism. “It turned out my mom married a nice Jewish boy after all,” said Gee, who introduced her Ghana-born husband in the audience. (She noted that, for Hannukah, he had given her a handmade tallit made from his grandmother’s African tribal cloth.)

Another speaker, Benny Lumpkins, a black Jew, stated, “More than half of the slaves stolen from Africa came from ancient Jewish tribes, so 50 percent of today’s blacks are their descendants.” He spoke regretfully of leaving his synagogue after having been made to feel “that I was a unicorn.” He affirmed to the audience, “You are my family; I am a member of your tribe.”

Negin Yamini’s story, read by Eric Green, dealt with her Iranian Jewish parents’ bitter divorce, 16 years of no contact with her father, and then re-establishing a relationship with him after her mother’s death. As it turned out, her father’s very close best friend, a fellow security guard, was a Palestinian. “Some paradoxes cannot be explained; they can only be lived,” Yamini wrote.

Meridythe Amichai spoke about how she adored her grandmother and her grandmother’s lifestyle: “By 8 [years old], I knew that I loved the life of a senior citizen.” After her grandma’s death, Meridythe felt the woman returned in the form of a dove trapped in her home’s atrium.

Courtenay Edelhart told the audience she identifies as a Black Jewish liberal feminist single mother. She spoke with gratitude of one memorable Hanukkah in Bakersfield when an unusually generous stranger provided unexpected holiday gifts for her and her children that Courtenay would otherwise not have been able to afford.

Emily Bowen Cohen’s family story was about having a Jewish mother and an Native American father. After falling in love with an Orthodox Jew and throwing herself into that life, Cohen said she began feeling physical pain for not acknowledging her Native American heritage. So, she  searched out members of her father’s side of the family and made amends. “I stopped trying to be acceptable for other people’s comfort,” Cohen said.

Ingrid Gumpert — a psychologist who is Black, Jewish, Mexican and Indian — had a unique way of describing her diverse heritage. “I’m not fragmented; I contain multitudes,” she said. She noted that diversity has always been part of her life. At the rehearsal dinner for her wedding to her Jewish husband, a mariachi band played; and at their wedding they played Louis Armstrong’s version of “Sunrise, Sunset.”

“My superpower,” Gumpert said, “is seeing the divine nugget of potential in people.”


Mark Miller is a humorist, journalist and author of the humor essay collection “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

IKAR Taps Rabbi David Kasher for Associate Rabbi Post

IKAR, a progressive spiritual community in Los Angeles, has concluded its national search for an Associate Rabbi. Rabbi David Kasher, formerly of Berkeley, CA, will join the Rabbinic team in July, working alongside Rabbis Sharon Brous and Ronit Tsadok.

“We were deeply moved not only by Rabbi Kasher’s incredible rabbinic journey, but also by the depth of his Torah, the sensitivity of his rabbinic voice, his understanding of the IKAR vision and community, his kindness and his decency,” Brous told the Journal. “It felt to many of us that this was simply beshert (meant to be).”

“IKAR lives right at the intersection of the ethical and the spiritual, and that combination, I think, is the very essence of Judaism,” Kasher told the Journal. “It’s an incredible honor to be invited to join their rabbinic team – really a dream job in a dream community.”

Kasher was ordained by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York. “I went to an incredible rabbinical school, which is very much Modern Orthodox – and so was I, at the time. But it’s been over a decade since I was ordained, and my religious life has been constantly shifting and evolving in the meantime. I think that’s the nature of the religious life: dynamic, changing, growing in the search for God and meaning. I have a lot of love for Orthodoxy – it nurtured me for many years – but I wouldn’t say I strongly identify as Orthodox now. I think of myself as a religious Jew, an observant Jew – but not a denominational Jew. I feel most comfortable in a pluralistic setting, where all kinds of ideas and practices are welcome, and even celebrated.”

Kasher’s own family story contains different experiences. He was raised in the Bay Area by a progressive, secular mother, and spent summers in Brooklyn with his father, who re-married into the Satmar Hasidic community. After bouncing back and forth and trying to decide which world he belonged to, “I realized that I loved both, and didn’t want to give either one up. I’ve been trying to integrate them ever since.”

He has a doctoral degree from Berkeley Law, served on faculty at the Wexner Heritage Program, Reboot and BINA, and taught at Pardes, SVARA, The Hartman Institute, Dorot and at various Limmud conferences.

Kasher was part of the founding team, taught, and developed the pedagogical approach at Kevah, a non-profit aiming to deliver “the powerful energy of the Beit Midrash (study hall)” via small Torah study groups in people’s homes.

Kasher is passionate about Torah commentary, which he also covers in his blog and podcast, http://parshanut.com. Reading this text with its history of commentators is “like witnessing a continuously unfolding revelation,” he said.

“We have been reading this one book, over and over again, for thousands of years. Yet every time we look at it, something new emerges. That, to me, is wondrous, and a testament to the awesome power of this text. In the spaces between these little black letters, are centuries of theology, philosophy, law, ethics, mysticism, poetry and good old-fashioned storytelling.

At IKAR -“one of the most exciting spiritual communities in America,” he said –  Kasher hopes to amplify its culture of Torah study, and “help infuse it into everything they do.” After years of Torah study, “IKAR is giving me the opportunity to apply that Torah in the world,” he said.

Kasher is also excited about the move to L.A., where Jewish community exists alongside other vibrant communities and cultures.

“The power – and the challenge – of Los Angeles is that everyone is here, together, one city functioning as a microcosm of the globe, trying to figure out how to live together. I’m expecting to learn a lot from this city.”

David Light’s View of Zombies, Being Married to a Rabbi and the Trump Era

ZOMBIES - David Light, screenwriter. (Disney Channel/Edward Herrera)

David Light, 44, is a Los Angeles-based comedy writer whose first produced feature — Disney Channel’s “Zombies” — premiered last month to an audience of more than 10 million. Co-written with partner Joseph Raso, the song-and-dance musical tells the story of star-crossed high-school freshmen (a zombie and a cheerleader) who learn to love each other despite their differences.

Outside of Hollywood, Light is best known as the “rebbetzin” at IKAR, the politically progressive activist community founded by his wife, Rabbi Sharon Brous. “When I was going around for meetings when I first got to town, the idea that I was a comedy writer was not particularly interesting, but the fact that I was married to a rabbi was — and still is,” Light said. We caught up with him last week to discuss the relationship between Jews and Zombies, how Camp Ramah inspired his writing career and why Hollywood could be a vehicle for decency.

Jewish Journal: The last time I interviewed you was in 2007, for a story about what it’s like to be married to a rabbi. Now you’re a big Hollywood writer. Which job is harder?

David Light: (laughs) Don’t you mean which job is more fun?

JJ: “Zombies” is about a zombie and a cheerleader who are both outsiders. How does being Jewish give you insight into the marginalized, especially since American Jews today are so well integrated?

DL: Being Jewish makes you both an insider and an outsider, and we’re constantly balancing between those worlds. I grew up the Jewiest kid in public school, so navigating that taught me a lot and gave me experiences to draw from.

JJ: Can you elaborate on how being Jewish informs your writing?

DL: I went to Camp Ramah in the Poconos (in Pennsylvania), [and] there was ‘mail day,’ when you’d send a letter home to prove you were alive and surviving at camp. But I figured out how to game the system, since [the counselors] weren’t checking content; they just wanted an envelope. So I started to address empty envelopes and send them home, week after week. After like, six weeks, I finally got a “package” slip — and [I] opened it up and it was empty. My mom totally one-upped me. When I got home, I was grounded until I could write a letter for each week of camp. Out of that moment, I fell in love with writing.

“What I love about zombies is that they’re this working-class monster.”

JJ: “Zombies” incorporates the timeless appeal of people from different backgrounds being attracted to each other. How do you reconcile that cultural trope with the fact that you’re part of a tradition that discourages intermarriage?

DL: Ugh. [laughs] So you’re asking me to answer why ‘star-crossed lovers’ and make the case for not marrying out of the tribe?

JJ: I’m just curious how you square “loving the other” as a broad cultural value with the fact that Judaism discourages the intermingling of difference when it comes to romance.

DL: Look, I think we’re living in a profoundly indecent time. It just feels like the world is so polarized right now and we wanted to do a movie that values open heartedness and decency. And in the Disney canon, a movie about humanity makes sense; but right now, it feels countercultural. So we thought if our cheerleader could find a way to open her heart to a monster, that there’s real humanity to that.

JJ: Even if the monster is, say, the NRA?

DL: Oh, gosh. That’s the Rorschach you’re putting on this?

Some of us might have different ideas about who the monster is. So are we talking about being open-hearted to all monsters or to a certain kind of monster?

I don’t think being a card-carrying NRA member makes you a monster. But I do think we should hear more voices coming from those members who are more moderate about gun control and sensible reform. I keep wondering, where’s the law enforcement that’s in the NRA? How can they possibly want more assault rifles on the streets?

JJ: Movie monsters have often been a political or cultural metaphor for the prevalent fear of the moment. What do your zombies represent?

DL: Are you asking me, “Are the Israelis or the Palestinians zombies?” (laughs) What I love about zombies is that they’re this working-class monster. They don’t have the sex appeal of a vampire or the cool powers of a witch. They’re just relentless; they keep coming. The [Centers for Disease Control] even did a whole zombie-preparedness campaign because it helped people think about, “What if it all goes wrong? What if the apocalypse really does come?”

JJ: IKAR, the community your wife, Rabbi Sharon Brous, founded, and which you helped build, has developed a national reputation for political activism. How are things going during the Trump era?

DL: IKAR was founded during the (George W.) Bush years, so we were forged in the fires of resistance. I think there was a lot of core value alignment during the (Barack) Obama years and now we’re back to a moment of resistance and opposition.

IKAR Readies Its Next Chapter

Since 2015, IKAR has been holding services in the Shalhevet High School gymnasium. Photo courtesy of IKAR

After operating for nearly 15 years in temporary rental spaces, IKAR has purchased a permanent home.

On Jan. 22, the progressive egalitarian spiritual community closed escrow on a property on South La Cienega Boulevard, between West 18th and Airdrome streets, IKAR Board Chair Yoni Fife said in a Feb. 2 statement.

IKAR paid $6.9 million for the 21,000-square-foot storefront property, according to figures obtained by the Journal.

As the IKAR community prepares for a capital campaign to fund the construction and anticipated operating costs of its future home, IKAR also has begun the process of hiring an associate rabbi who would join the clergy team of IKAR Senior Rabbi and co-founder Sharon Brous and IKAR Associate Rabbi and Director of Community Learning Ronit Tsadok.

“We are looking for someone who can teach, preach and be a part of the IKAR community,” IKAR co-founder and Executive Director Melissa Balaban said.

Fife said IKAR has been searching for a permanent home since the fledgling days of the organization.

“It’s something we have been thinking about frankly since pretty close to Day One, giving ourselves a sense of permanency and long-lasting stability,” Fife said.

And Balaban said the purchase would serve IKAR’s longtime goal of becoming a center for progressive Jewish life in Los Angeles.

“We always had the idea of building something beyond a traditional shul — a hub of civic engagement, art and culture, and spirit.” — Melissa Balaban

“We always had the idea of building something beyond a traditional shul — a hub of civic engagement, art and culture, and spirit,” she said.

Founded in 2004 by a small group of Jewish leaders who were frustrated with the status quo in the local Jewish community and wanted to create a place that would accommodate experimental expressions of Judaism, the nondenominational, social justice-oriented community has operated in rented facilities since its establishment.

The Westside Jewish Community Center housed IKAR until it relocated to Shalhevet High School, its current home, in 2015.

Two IKAR families, which IKAR leaders declined to identify, donated the lead gifts to the community toward the purchase of the property.

The property includes several vacant buildings on three parcels of land. The only current tenant is Vanos Architects, now a tenant of IKAR. The property is located on the western side of South La Cienega Boulevard.

It could be years until IKAR moves into the building, but on Feb. 2, 65 people affiliated with Tribe, IKAR’s young professionals group, attended a Shabbat dinner at the purchased site, gathering in an empty warehouse on the northern end of the property. When the Journal visited the property several days later, a table with IKAR signs hanging above it remained inside the warehouse near the front entrance.

The congregation is conducting a study of construction costs and needs with the help of capital campaign consultants, board members and mentors, including Uri Herscher, founding president of the Skirball Cultural Center, Brous said.

“We want to be careful how we go about this massive fundraising effort,” Brous said. “Ultimately what matters is we’re able to run our community, our organization, our program for this space.”

Community support will be necessary for a successful fundraising campaign, Fife said.

“We now have a lot of work ahead as we move to the planning phases of a campaign to raise the funds we’ll need to design and construct a new building at the site,” Fife said. “We will need the full support of our community to make our dreams a reality.”

Even as IKAR, once a scrappy startup-like organization, grows, Balaban said IKAR would continue to commit itself to the qualities that have made it unique among Jewish organizations today.

“The fortunate thing of building something from scratch is you can put all your values into it, whether environmental, inclusion, etc. We can think through all of those aspects literally from the ground up and a lot of places don’t have that luxury because they are starting from something that already exists,” Balaban said.

One reason for the choice of location is it is geographically desirable for many IKAR members in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood who are Shabbat observant and do not drive on Shabbat.

“We drew a striking zone of about a two-mile radius from the heart of the Jewish neighborhood [when searching for a property],” Brous said. “We have a combo of walkers, who all live in that neighborhood.”

The new property also will allow IKAR to consolidate its operations in one location. Currently, it holds services and religious school at Shalhevet, has offices in the Mid-Wilshire district and runs an early childhood center on Venice Boulevard.

“There are a lot of pieces of the overall vision we haven’t been able to fully realize because we have been in multiple rental properties,” Brous said. “I think this will give us an opportunity to more fully manifest our dreams and visions for this organization.”

The move to a new home means Brous will be dedicating more of her time to fundraising than she has previously. And the evolving nature of Brous’ job, coupled with Tsadok taking on responsibility for IKAR education programs last year, has necessitated the hiring of an additional clergy member, Balaban said.

IKAR is seeking someone who has more than four years of experience for the clergy position. IKAR Vice Chair Rachel Waranch is leading the search committee.

“We’re putting it out to networks, to people in different fields,” Balaban said. “The Jewish rabbinic community is smaller than one would think.”

IKAR is also in the process of interviewing individuals to succeed its two-year Jewish Emergent Network rabbinic fellow, Rabbi Nate DeGroot, whose fellowship concludes this year.

IKAR’s membership comprises more than 600 households. Among them are Dan Messinger, who runs a kosher café on Pico Boulevard, and his wife, Deena, a Pressman Academy teacher, who live in Pico-Robertson with their two sons. The family walks more than 35 minutes to attend IKAR services at Shalhevet, located at West Olympic Boulevard and South Fairfax Avenue.

IKAR’s move to its new location will reduce the Messingers’ walk by more than 20 minutes, he said.

“They are moving a few blocks from where I live, so I feel like everything is working out according to my master plan,” Messinger said.

While his older son, Max, 11, will likely have his bar mitzvah at the current IKAR site, Messinger said he anticipates his younger son, Isaac, 8, will become a bar mitzvah at IKAR’s new home.

“There is always a long time between when the announcement is made and when the ribbon is cut, so to speak, but it is great for IKAR,” he said, “and I think it will be great for L.A.”

Oh baby, baby: Five options for dealing with babies on the High Holy Days

Photo by Deposit Photos.

New parents have a lot to figure out: how to get their baby to sleep through the night; when to introduce food; how to binge-watch Netflix while being sleep deprived. The High Holy Days present one more thing for new parents to figure out: how to atone for your sins while taking care of your baby.    

While most synagogues offer a plethora of childcare options for children who can walk and talk, most new parents are trying to decide what the best option may be for their babies. Here are just a few helpful suggestions for new parents to consider.

Find services made for young families

Many synagogues offer High Holy Days services specifically designed for young families during which crying, nursing and screaming not only are tolerated, but expected. These services are often under an hour and free. For instance, Temple Judea in Tarzana offers a “Tot High Holiday” service where clergy appear in costume and put on “a fun and wild show,” according to Ellen Franklin, Judea’s executive director. “It’s entertaining but with some traditional prayers.”

At Sinai Temple, there is a 45-minute volunteer-organized “Shofar Blast” service that is “by kids, for kids,” according to Rabbi Nicole Guzik. The service features a “highlight reel” of prayers including Avinu Malkeinu and the mourner’s Kaddish and leads into the synagogue’s “Torah-in-the-Round” family-friendly service for those who choose to stay for a fuller High Holy Day experience.

During Shofar Blast, “you’ll get a message from the rabbi and a puppet show,” said Guzik, who noted that the service is not designed for parents to chitchat but really to connect to their kids and to the spirit of the holiday.

Be there but be flexible: Go to adult services

For many parents with babies, attending regular adult services is still an option. While some synagogues explicitly discourage babies from adult-only High Holy Days programming, others are fine with infants so long as parents follow the implicit rules of High Holy Days decorum.

When Betsy Uhrman’s children were babies, she would transport them in a carrier and follow her synagogue’s  “unspoken etiquette” of sitting in the back or near an exit.  If her baby started making noise, Uhrman simply stepped out, which happened often. “I was happy to have them there but I wasn’t actively present in services,” she said.

This year IKAR, the spiritual community located in Mid-City, is setting up a “Pray-ground” with toys for children younger than 4 in the balcony overlooking the space where their main services are being held. There will be a closed-circuit feed for parents to hear the full service, including the sermon. 

“We are trying to create space that makes parents feel part of the service even if they are not in the room,” IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban told the Journal.

It takes a village: Attend services with family and friends

Childcare doesn’t need to be a one- or two-person task during the High Holy Days. Many new parents choose to attend services with their support networks to divide the childcare responsibilities.

Last year, Tova Leibovic Douglas, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, wanted to spend some of her time in services actually praying — not just watching over her 18-month-old daughter, Eve.

For the High Holy Days, Tova and her husband, Austin, split their time between their home shul and the synagogue where Tova’s extended family was attending services.

“It made it easier for us,” she said. “Instead of Austin or me being the ones to have to watch Evie, we got to split the responsibility among ourselves, my parents and my sisters.” Austin added that in addition to being helpful, “going to services with my in-laws was a good opportunity for them to spend time with Evie,” adding that “it made services more enjoyable for everyone.”

Stephanie Steingold Bressler’s village of support wasn’t family members but other congregants at her synagogue. “When my kids were too young to go to official child care, I let rebellious teens, who were already in the lobby, take turns hanging with my kids,” she said.

Parents’ night out: Get a baby sitter

For some parents, the important work of accounting of the soul is more easily done when the kids are not around at all, so they choose to hire a baby sitter. 

Betsy Uhrman, who does attend most services with her children, always hires a baby sitter on Kol Nidre. “It is really rare that my husband and I carve out time for our own spiritual reckoning,” Uhrman told the Journal, “so on Kol Nidre, it’s important that we are both present.”

Uhrman chose Kol Nidre as the time for a baby sitter because of how “powerful” the service tends to be as well as for the importance of maintaining bedtime for her kids.

Synagogues on occasion make accommodations for baby-sitting young children. Wilshire Boulevard Temple offers baby-sitting to member families that preregister for children at least 3 months old, and at Sinai Temple families can request caregiver passes — which enables nannies to enter the building to watch over children without having to purchase tickets.

Bowing out: Staying home

For some new parents, the right answer for their High Holy Days experience is to stay home with their children and observe the holidays in other ways.

For Jenny Platt, taking her 16-month-old son, Sawyer, to services last year was going to be too big of an ordeal.

“I read Rosh Hashanah books with him and he watched a video of shofar blowing on the computer,” she said. An unconventional solution, but Platt said she was grateful that she could still celebrate the holiday with her son.

For some parents with young kids, staying home feels like the only option. “When you have an infant and a 2-year-old that wants to run around and there is no programming for them, you stay home,” according to Tamar Raucher, whose husband, Noam, is the head Rabbi at Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. When her kids were too young for formal programming, she said, “the day became about celebrating with friends afterward at Rosh Hashanah lunch.”

Interfaith L.A. vigil decries Charlottesville hate march

Photo courtesy L.A. Mayor's office.

A diverse crowd of several hundred Angelenos filled the pews of Holman United Methodist Church in mid-city to condemn white nationalist violence rocking the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

A collection of the city’s faith leaders and faith-based organizations banded together Aug. 13 to organize the “Love Transcends Hate” interfaith prayer vigil. Local congregation IKAR, whose Miracle Mile area sanctuary sits just across the 10-freeway from Holman’s, was one of the co-sponsors for the event.

Holman Pastor Kevin Sauls welcomed guests, including dozens of Jews in attendance, explaining that a national conference call with Christian leaders the day prior sparked the idea to hold vigils across the country. He and others reached out to a citywide base of interfaith leaders and organized their own event in under 24 hours.

“The coming together of our faith leaders, elected officials and all of you sends a powerful message,” he said, surveying the packed church. “It says that truly love is more powerful than hate.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson looked on from the front row. IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous sat next to Mayor Garcetti.

After Pastor Saul’s opening remarks, a troupe of Holman women in colorful dresses adorned with ringing chimes danced on stage and through the aisles. A lively drumbeat accompanied the performance as guests clapped along. An organ player and the Holman choir also led the audience in a rendition of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”.

Speeches from elected officials and faith leaders followed. Rabbi Brous delivered a brief speech that referenced Israel’s ancient port city of Jaffa, which neighbors Tel Aviv.

“[Jaffa] is a place where Jews and Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, secular and religious all find a way to live together as equals in harmony, which is very challenging for many people in a region that’s seething with polarization,” she said. “A few years ago a group extremists came to sow division and hatred in this precious town and to break the delicate balance. But the citizens of that town stood together, arm in arm, blocking the arteries and shouting, ‘Hell no. Not in this place. We reject your violent rhetoric. We reject your racist screed.’ They created a sanctuary of love and justice, which is precisely what we are here to do today across this nation.”

Councilmember Dawson, who is African-American, shook his head in disbelief after Brous’ speech.

“Only in Los Angeles does the rabbi come in to a black church and preach like nobody’s business,” he said, eliciting laughs from Jews and many of Holman’s African-American congregants.

In his speech, Mayor Garcetti, who had just returned from a weekend in New Orleans holding meetings with mayors of other major American cities, took digs at the Trump administration for not placing sole blame on white supremacists for the troubling events in Charlottesville. He directly addressed President Trump’s comments made during a recent press conference in which the president doled out blame to “many sides” for the “hatred, bigotry and violence”.

“There is still, I believe, good and bad, right and wrong, truth and lies,” Garcetti said. “There are not always two sides to a story. To my fellow ancestors who died because they were Jewish, there wasn’t another side to the story.”

Yalley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas, Temple Beth Hillel Senior Rabbi Sarah Hronsky and Jewish attorney Wendy Heimann, who co-founded “RiseUp LA”, a grassroots sociopolitical movement committed to protecting progressive values, also spoke.

Farkas, who was one of the event’s organizers, delivered  closing remarks. He told the assembly that, “the best way to respond to organized hate is with organized love.”

38-year-old Adam Overton, a young religious leadership fellow at Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) who attended and wore a yarmulke, said Holman was the perfect setting for the vigil.

 

Photo courtesy of L.A. Mayor’s office.

“It was very special to be with everybody in the space and to just really feel the power of Holman United Methodist Church, which is really a ground zero for a lot of social justice in Los Angeles,” he said. “I found myself feeling really connected to the history of social justice throughout this country.”

Leonard Muroff, a community rabbi who mainly specializes in hospice care, wore a blue Dodgers shirt with “Dodgers” spelled out in Hebrew. He will be traveling to Virginia Tech University’s Hillel next month to help out with High Holy Day services. The Blacksburg, Virginia campus is about a two and a half hour drive from Charlottesville.

“I will be there standing with those against hate,” he said. “Hearing the mayor tonight was very instructive. I just want to bring strength and love and peace to Virginia when I’m there.”

More than 200 liberal U.S. rabbis want Israel to lift travel ban on BDS leaders

Ben Gurion Airport courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

More than 200 rabbis from the liberal movements of American Judaism signed a letter opposing Israel’s travel ban on leaders of the boycott movement against Israel.

The rabbis signing Wednesday’s letter were responding to an incident last month in which Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, was prevented from boarding an Israel-bound airplane leaving Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.

Four other people traveling to Israel as part of an interfaith delegation, including two other Jews, a Christian and a Muslim, were also prevented from boarding the flight at the request of the Israeli government.

“We hold diverse opinions on BDS. Even though many of us have substantive differences with Rabbi Wise and other rabbinic colleagues who support the BDS movement in some or all of its forms, we believe that the decision to bar Rabbi Wise from visiting Israel is anti-democratic and desecrates our vision of a diverse Jewish community that holds multiple perspectives,” read the letter, which had been signed by 212 rabbis as of late Wednesday morning.

“Boycotts are a legitimate nonviolent tactic that have been used both in our own country and around the world in order to create justice for marginalized and oppressed communities. Whether we support boycott is a controversy for the sake of heaven. It endures because we struggle together and debate how we can create peace, justice, and equality for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the letter said.

The signers included Rabbi Sharon Brous, of the independent IKAR congregation in  Los Angeles; Rabbi Amy Eilberg of Los Altos, California, the first women ordained by the Conservative movement; and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

In March, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, amended the Law of Entry to prevent leaders of the BDS movement from being allowed into Israel. The amendment applies to organizations, as well as the leadership and senior activists of those groups, that take consistent and significant action against Israel through BDS and threaten it with material harm.

JVP said at the time of the incident that it was the first time the amendment had been enforced before passengers boarded their flights to Israel and the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their support of BDS.

An anti-BDS bill making its way through Congress would expand existing law that bans boycotts imposed by foreign governments to include those imposed by international organizations like the European Union and the United Nations.

L.A. rabbi arrested in Washington for protesting health care bill

Rabbi Sharon Brous being arrested July 18 in the Russell Senate Office Building. Photo courtesy of Sharon Brous

Rabbi Sharon Brous of the Los Angeles congregation IKAR was arrested July 18 with about a dozen other faith leaders outside the Washington, D.C., office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) while protesting Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Brous and the other clergy members were arrested for refusing police orders to disperse, according to United States Capitol Police. They were singing, praying and giving speeches before they were arrested, Brous said.

“I did find it to be ironic that it is illegal to stand in the hallway of the Senate building and it’s not illegal to plot how to make cancer patients lose their chemotherapy,” Brous told the Journal in a phone interview.

Brous said she traveled to the nation’s capital to protest Republican health care legislation because she felt obligated as a person of faith, but also because both of her parents are cancer survivors and another close relative is fighting cancer, and she believes proposed bills would deny vital services to cancer patients and others facing grave illnesses.

The most recent Congressional Budget Office review of Republican health care legislation estimated that the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act of 2017 would result in 32 million people losing health care. As Senate majority leader, McConnell is responsible for steering Republican efforts to pass the legislation.

“As people of faith, we are called to operate in a way that is just and right and compassionate in all cases, but we’re asked to have special care for the most vulnerable,” Brous said. “And this does exactly the opposite.”

Brous said the protest was organized by members of the interfaith Auburn Senior Fellows program, including the Rev. William Barber II of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

Among those also arrested was Rabbi Alana Suskin of Americans for Peace Now, a group that opposes Israeli military control of Gaza and the West Bank.

Brous said there will be more demonstrations if Republicans persist with their efforts. The July 18 arrests came as one of several waves of protest. At least 11 faith leaders were arrested five days earlier, also in front of McConnell’s office.

“You call yourself religious people and you put your hands on a Bible when you swear the oath of office,” she said of Republican lawmakers. “And you’re undermining everything that we as people of faith hold to be true.”

She and the other protesters arrested with her were released the same day after paying a $50 fine, according to Capitol Police.

Moving & Shaking: Garcetti inauguration, LAMOTH vigil, AFMDA gala

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous delivers the invocation at the inauguration ceremony for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The gathering at Los Angeles City Hall marked the start of Garcetti’s second mayoral term. Photo by the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous delivered the invocation at the inauguration ceremony for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s second term.

“Holy One, protect and strengthen our mayor, who wears the clothes of a politician but has the heart of a prophet,” Brous said on July 1 at Los Angeles City Hall.

Garcetti, 46, the city’s first elected Jewish mayor, took office in 2013. He was re-elected in June. Because of a shift in the city’s election calendar, Garcetti’s second term will last 5 1/2 years instead of the standard four-year term.

Garcetti’s father, former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, is Mexican American with Spanish, Native-American and Italian ancestry. His mother, Sukey Roth, is the granddaughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

Garcetti regularly studies Torah with Brous. The two co-starred in a comedy sketch titled “Clergy in Cars Getting Coffee” — a takeoff on a similar Jerry Seinfeld internet video series — for the 2016 IKAR Purim spiel.

The inauguration ceremony also featured the swearing-in of newly elected and re-elected L.A. City Councilmembers, including L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Brous highlighted how local elected officials have fostered religious unity during polarizing times:

“Our mayor and our city leaders have turned this city into a holy hot spot, an oasis of love and justice, a place where Jews and Christians and Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists and Hindus and Catholics and atheists stand together against hate crimes, form holy alliances to fight homelessness and combat racism, work side-by-side to strengthen and support our immigrant communities, declare our commitment to protecting one another and our fragile planet.”


From left: Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, AJC Los Angeles Director Dan Schnur and Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev commemorate 25 years of friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan. Photo by Anna Rubin

Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and the Consulate General of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev commemorated 25 years of friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan on June 7 at Sinai Temple.

The event featured Grundwerg and Aghayev in a conversation moderated by Dan Schnur, director of the L.A. office of American Jewish Committee, a global advocacy organization.

Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe opened the event by recalling his trip to Azerbaijan in 2015 with 50 members of his congregation, which sponsored and delivered a Torah to the mountain Jews of Baku.

Grundwerg and Aghayev discussed their backgrounds, their respect for each other and the friendship between their two countries. “Israel was one of the first countries that recognized Azerbaijan following its independence in 1991,” Grundwerg said. The two countries have been diplomatic partners ever since.

Aghayev highlighted his Muslim-majority country’s history with the Jewish people. “The Jewish people have been in Azerbaijan for more than 2,000 years,” he said, adding: “The Jewish people have been safer in Azerbaijan than anywhere else in the Middle East.”

Chinedu Nwogu, a Nigerian foreign exchange student at Cal State Northridge, attended the event and said he found the discussion encouraging. “It was inspirational to attend this event and see the strong friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan, despite the country’s Muslim majority, and it gives me hope that one day such a friendship will exist between Israel and Nigeria,” Nwogu said.

Additional attendees included philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff; former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles Akira Chiba and Consul General of Germany in Los Angeles Hans Jörg Neumann.

The Shalhevet High School choir sang a rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold,” recognizing the 50-year anniversary of Jerusalem’s 1967 liberation in the Six-Day War.

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer


CNN International anchor Isha Sesay. Photo courtesy of CNN

CNN International anchor Isha Sesay spoke about her experiences reporting on women’s rights violations, particularly the terrorist group Boko Haram’s April 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the Chibok region of Nigeria, when she addressed a group of about 50 people after the Beverly Hills Jewish Community’s June 24 Shabbat services at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She emphasized the moral imperative to mobilize against such global atrocities.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Civil Society, introduced Sesay and described his own activism against the torture of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS in Iraq. Berkowitz has worked with Chaldean Christian groups to advocate for the Yazidi girls to the United Nations and the White House. He said he became passionate about the cause after he learned of it from the news and, as the father of four girls, felt he could not stand idly by.

“I recalled the phrase from Psalms: ‘Karati, v’ein oneh’ — ‘I called, and there was no answer,’ ” Berkowitz said. “It seemed that the world heard the Yazidi girls and did not answer. We as a Jewish community have an obligation not only to help our own, but wherever and whenever there’s injustice and suffering.”

Sesay related her passion for international women’s rights to her upbringing in Sierra Leone, where she said 90 percent of women are subject to genital mutilation. She said she hoped to balance journalistic objectivity in her news reports with her personal commitment to human rights activism.

“It is not enough as a journalist to sit at the desk and read a prompter,” Sesay said. “Some stories cannot be left at the studio door. You must use every tool at your disposal to keep the story alive.”

Sesay, who currently is writing a book about the Boko Haram kidnappings, urged congregants to be “upstanders” rather than bystanders, and to engage with nonprofit organizations already working to empower women in developing countries.

Sesay’s appearance was sponsored by the Jewish Journal and organized by the Jewish Platform for Advocacy and Community Engagement, and the Beverly Hills Jewish Community’s speaker initiative.

— Gabriella Kamran, Contributing Writer


Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz appears at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust for a vigil commemorating the refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939. Photo by Jill Brown/Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) held a community vigil to commemorate the refugees aboard the ocean liner St. Louis in 1939. The St. Louis was full of Jewish refugees when it was turned away by the United States after leaving Nazi Germany.

At the June 11 event, the 85 attendees remembered those who were killed after being sent back to Europe, while LAMOTH highlighted the importance of helping present-day refugees. Those who attended came from various synagogues and organizations, including University Synagogue, Cool Shul, Temple Sinai of Glendale, Kehillat Israel, Leo Baeck Temple, USC, HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), IKAR, the Anti-Defamation League, Temple Beth Am and Temple Isaiah.

LAMOTH Director of Education Jordanna Gessler said it was important for the museum to hold the event because lessons of the Holocaust are relevant today, and important for members of the Jewish community to come together to “learn about the past, reflect on the present and change the future.”

LAMOTH was founded in 1961 by a group of Holocaust survivors whose narratives are at the core of the museum’s galleries and education.

Henry Slucki, a Holocaust survivor, was a participant at the commemoration who spoke about his experiences of being a refugee. Slucki said his family was assisted by HIAS, which for 130 years has protected refugees and helped them rebuild their lives.

L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz also spoke at the event about his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor and refugee.

Beth Kean, LAMOTH executive director and a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and refugees, discussed honoring the memory of those who died as a result of the events surrounding the St. Louis.

— Caitlin Cohen, Contributing Writer


From left: Actress and activist Sharon Stone, Magen David Adom (MDA) Chief Operations Officer Ori Shacham, new MDA Chairman of the Board Rabbi Avraham Manela, MDA paramedic Naty Regev and American Friends of MDA Western Region President Dina Leeds. Photo by Orly Halevy

American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) held a June 21 luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills to mark the launch of its Iron Dome Protectors of Israel Women’s Division for Magen David Adom (MDA) in L.A.

The event featured a discussion with actress and peace activist Sharon Stone and philanthropist and businessman Michael Milken.

Organized by AFMDA Western regional chair Dina Leeds, the Jewish National Fund and Israel Bonds, the event drew more than 200 women in support of the Eshkol region of Israel, which has been a target of terrorist groups’ rocket and mortar attacks in recent years, and is not protected by Israel’s Iron Dome.

“We want to offer love and resources to our brothers and sisters in Israel who need it most due to the high-risk parts of the country they live in,” Leeds said. “Where there is no literal Iron Dome anti-missile system, we will be their ‘Iron Dome’ of emotional and lifesaving support.”

The event also raised funds to purchase two ambulances for the emergency-response efforts MDA performs in Israel and around the world.

“We unite people of Israel, of all ethnicities, backgrounds and religions,” Leeds said. “We have paramedics who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim, all serving the singular task of saving lives.”

Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse participated in the event via video.

“I commend each and every one of you for being such strong and determined women, each of you leading by example and making a difference,” Bosse told the attendees.

Carolyn Ben Natan, director of public affairs for the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, also attended.

“We stand on the shoulders of those righteous and fearless biblical women of the Exodus,” Natan said, “and now we have modern Israeli women on the world stage, and there is a direct line from Golda Meir to Gal Gadot.”

Other attendees included Beny Alagem, owner of the recently opened Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media/Jewish Journal; philanthropist Gina Rafael; Susan Azizzadeh, president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation; Jodi Marcus, associate director of the Jewish National Fund in Los Angeles; Yossi Mentz, AFMDA Western region director of major gifts; and Gadi Yarkoni, mayor of the Eshkol region.

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer


With this issue, the Jewish Journal is proud to announce our newest columnist, Ben Shapiro.

Ben Shapiro. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

Shapiro, 33, was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he attended Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School. He went on to UCLA, where he graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa at age 20, with a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2007 and subsequently practiced law at Goodwin Procter LLP. Today, he runs a Los Angeles independent legal consultancy firm, Benjamin Shapiro Legal Consulting.

Shapiro, who lectures widely on college campuses across the United States, has written seven books, including 2004’s “Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth.” He currently writes a column for Creators Syndicate and is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire. He is the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the media watchdog group Truth Revolt and former editor-at-large of Breitbart News. He resigned from Breitbart after what he felt was the website’s insufficient support of its reporter Michelle Fields after she was allegedly assaulted by Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager.

In a March 1, 2016, cover story for the Jewish Journal, “Why the Republican Party Is Dying,” Shapiro decried the candidacy of now-President Trump.

Shapiro’s other books include “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV” and “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans,” which appeared on The New York Times’ best-seller list.   

He married Mor Toledano, an Israeli citizen of Jewish-Moroccan descent, and lives in Los Angeles. They have two children and belong to an Orthodox congregation.

Shapiro’s column will appear in the Journal twice monthly, alternating with Marty Kaplan.

The Journal is devoted to presenting a pluralistic forum for the many strong, divergent voices in the community, and we are thrilled that Shapiro’s voice now will be among them.

We also want to thank Dennis Prager, who contributed loyally to this publication over the years. He will continue to contribute occasional columns as his time and schedule permit.

— Rob Eshman, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief


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

Moving and Shaking: HUC benefit gala, Schoenberg and IKAR come of age

The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education recognized Valley Torah Girls High School students Adina Ziv (third from left), Meital Shafgi (fourth from left) and Aviya Gaviel (fifth from left) on May 18. Photo courtesy of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) fourth annual benefit gala, held at the Skirball Cultural Center on May 16, honored Peachy Levy, Rhea Coskey, Rochelle Ginsburg and other women leaders of the Western region.

Levy sits on the board of overseers of the HUC-JIR Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. Coskey became involved with HUC-JIR when her daughter, Laurie, entered rabbinical school, and she went on to mentor students and chair the school’s advisory board. Ginsburg is the chair of the HUC-JIR’s national school of education advisory council.

Sally Priesand, an HUC-JIR ordinee who in 1972 became the first woman rabbi to be ordained in America, was featured in the ceremonies.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion honored (from left) Peachy Levy, Rhea Coskey and Rochelle Ginsburg at its fourth annual benefit gala. Photo by Edo Tsoar

The more than 430 attendees included Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Laura Geller; Leo Baeck Temple Rabbi Ken Chasen; Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger; Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin and his husband, Temple Akiba Rabbi Zachary Shapiro; Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback; and Shana Penn, executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture.

“It was our biggest turnout ever,” HUC-JIR Public Affairs Associate Joanne Tolkoff told the Journal.

Proceeds from the event benefit HUC-JIR students and faculty.

Founded in 1875, HUC-JIR is a Reform seminary focused on academic, spiritual and professional leadership development, with campuses in Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati and Jerusalem.


“From Generation to Generation,” a community celebration concert, was held May 25 at Sinai Temple on the occasion of Joseph Schoenberg becoming a bar mitzvah. Approximately 1,200 people attended.

His parents, Pamela and Randol Schoenberg, sponsored the event, which was held in memory of Joseph’s great-grandfathers, composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl.

Participants in the musical program included conductor Nick Strimple, associate professor of choral and sacred music at the USC Thornton School of Music and an expert on the works of composers persecuted by the Nazis. Strimple led the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale. Additional participants were Los Angeles Voices, the BodyTraffic dance company, and London-based pianist and organist Iain Farrington.

BodyTraffic, which included new addition Natalie Leibert, performed to liturgical works for chorus and organ by Schoenberg and Zeisl, and a newly commissioned work for chorus and organ by composer Samuel Adler.

Randol Schoenberg is an honorary director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. He is an attorney who has worked to retrieve artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, as was depicted in the film “Woman in Gold.”

Joseph, whose bar mitzvah was May 27, volunteered with Food Forward, which saves local produce that otherwise would go to waste, leading up to his bar mitzvah. He donated produce from his bar mitzvah weekend to hunger-relief agencies and, through the website reusablecenterpieces.org, had environmentally friendly centerpieces at his luncheon. 


celebration and fundraiser held in honor of the 13 years since the founding of the egalitarian spiritual community IKAR was held May 21 at Playa Studios in Culver City.

The “bat mitzvah” event raised about $370,000 and drew a crowd of more than 375 founders, members and supporters, including Richard and Ellen Sandler, Marvin and Sandy Schotland, and actress Lisa Edelstein.

The party had a 1980s theme, with music from that decade playing throughout the event. Attendees viewed a video retrospective on IKAR’s place in the community and were treated to a classic b’nai mitzvah-style candlelighting ceremony.

Attendees dressed in costumes that featured neon tights, blue eye shadow and other staples of ’80s fashion, with some guests invoking Ferris Bueller, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Mini Rubik’s Cubes, slap bracelets and centerpieces featuring jellybeans, malted milk balls, Reese’s Pieces and Good & Plenty candy adorned the tables. IKAR members Shelley and Steph Altman, who own Playa Studios, donated use of the venue, and Diana Kramer designed the interior theme, which featured full-size video game machines and other era-appropriate décor.

The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, director of clergy organizing with PICO National Network, the largest grass-roots, faith-based organizing network in the United States, offered words of welcome. “History is past, present and future all at the same time. We are all one people,” he said.

“It took a lot for us to get this thing off the ground, none of it with any assurance of success,” IKAR founding Rabbi Sharon Brous said. “Thank you for casting your lot with us. This is about fighting for civil society.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) West Region held community events on May 16 and 18 at the Westside Jewish Community Center.

On May 16, the CIJE Co-Ed Engineering Conference featured SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub as its keynote speaker. Addressing approximately 150 teenagers, Winetraub discussed how his organization is aiming to make Israel the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon. Additional speakers included Sari Katz, Western Region director for Rambam hospital in Israel. Katz announced a partnership between Rambam and CIJE that would provide a scholarship to students who develop an outstanding biomedical device in 2018.

Students from day schools in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle and Dallas attended.

“Nobody knows precisely what jobs will be around when you all graduate from college within the next eight to 10 years,” CIJE President Jason Cury told the students. “Which is why it’s so important to develop the skills which will be required, and to be prepared for whatever challenges and opportunities that present themselves.”

From Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine, students Mika Ben-Ezer, Zeke Levi and Julian Wiese received the Award for Innovation for their “Sonic Jacket,” which serves the visually impaired. Harkham-GAON Academy in Los Angeles students Aliza Leichter, Oze Botach and Shani Kassell won the Award of Social Value for designing a car seat that detects when a child is alone in the vehicle. And the Award for Best Visual Display went to Mendy Sacks, Aryeh Rosenbaum and Daniel Jackson from YULA Boys High School for a digital portable piano teacher known as “Teachapii.”

CIJE Vice President Jane Willoughby gave the closing remarks.

The May 18 Girls Engineering Conference drew students from YULA Girls High School and Valley Torah Girls High School.

In the keynote address, engineer Yvette Edidin discussed how “the different fields of engineering need and would benefit from more women,” a CIJE press release said.

Valley Torah’s Adina Ziv, Meital Shafgi and Aviya Gaviel were awarded Project of the Year for their sensor that detects when automobile drivers are getting sleepy and alerts them using a vibrating device.


At the 2017 ADL Entertainment Industry dinner, “Big Bang Theory” co-creator and ADL honoree Bill Prady (second from left) joins (from left) award presenter Wil Wheaton, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and event emcee Joshua Malina. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honored Bill Prady, co-creator and executive producer of “The Big Bang Theory,” at the 2017 ADL Entertainment Industry dinner on May 24 at the Beverly Hilton.

Actor Joshua Malina (“Scandal”) served as master of ceremonies and actor Wil Wheaton, a recurring guest star on “The Big Bang Theory,” presented the award to Prady.

“While preparing my remarks for this evening, I emailed Bill and asked him if it will be honest and accurate to tell you that Bill is an outspoken voice for the most vulnerable among us,” Wheaton said. “And Bill said, ‘There is no sentence that begins with, Bill has been vocal about — that is not true.’ ”

Prady, in his speech, talked about his childhood in Detroit.

“Anti-Semitism was a pretty abstract idea. I knew what it meant only from a distance,” he said. “I knew it from the punchline from a Woody Allen movie. Growing up in my Jewish Detroit suburb, I didn’t know anti-Semitism. And it’s not only that. For me, racism was something in social studies class. And hatred of immigrants? I never heard of such a thing. My world was filled with immigrants, so many that I thought that when you grow up, you have an accent. But I know all these things now. We hear it on the news, from our politicians, online.”

Prady explained why he is a supporter of the ADL, which was established in 1913 to combat hate and bigotry.

“After the election, I made a decision to change my personal focus from politics to the front line. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was battling the attack on freedom, and Planned Parenthood was fighting for women reproducing rights, but who was fighting to dig out the weed of hate that had taken root in modern technology? It was the Anti-Defamation League,” Prady said. “So I called them up and I asked what I can do to help. And they said to do this, and I said, ‘It’s going to be a pretty boring night.’ So, I called the Barenaked Ladies.”

The Canadian band, which wrote and recorded “The Big Bang Theory” theme song, provided the evening’s entertainment.

Additional speakers included An Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants and an ADL National Youth Leadership delegate.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


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