November 16, 2018

Here’s how to fix the Jewish community

Thousands of people typically gather for music, food and more at the Celebrate Israel festival. Photo by Linda Kasian Photography

Today, the collective strength of the Jewish people may be greater than at any other time in our history. We have an independent Jewish state with a booming economy and one of the world’s most powerful militaries. The American Jewish community has reached the heights of success in politics, business, arts and culture, and science, becoming perhaps the most influential Jewish diaspora community in history.

Yet, despite our strength, the challenges facing global Jewry are growing and multifaceted—in some cases posing an existential danger to our future as a people. Anti-Semitism is rapidly rising on the right and the left. Assimilation and intermarriage threaten to dramatically shrink the global Jewish population in the diaspora. The now infamous Pew Study, titled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” found that approximately two-thirds of American Jewish millennials do not feel a strong connection to Israel, and a recent Brandeis University found that fewer than half of Jewish college students could correctly answer even the most basic questions about Israel. The American Jewish community and Israel—the two great centers of global Jewish life—face an increasingly complex and in some cases, strained relationship.

In the last decade, a new force has come roaring into the Jewish world that has shown the potential to be a game-changer in advancing solutions to each of these challenges: the Israeli-American community. As an American organization rooted in a profound and rich connection to Israel, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) is able to unlock many of the doors that separate Jewish Americans from their connection to Israel, through a multifaceted and rich concept we call “Israeliness.”

Israeliness incorporates many elements. It’s Israeli culture, Jewish values, and Hebrew, the language of our religion for thousands of years. It’s tremendous pride in Jewish tradition, our history, and Israel’s ability to overcome overwhelming odds—from wars and political conflicts, to a lack of wealth and natural resources. It’s the courage to take risks, learn from failures, and move on to success. It’s a deep belief in Zionism. And it’s a commitment to the idea “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh,” “All the people of Israel are responsible for one another.” Sharing our rich tradition with the next generation will further help them connect to Israel.

How can Israeli-Americans and the broader idea of Israeliness be leveraged to advance solutions for the Jewish people? This is the question that Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Jewish Journal/Tribe Media President David Suissa, and I will discuss at an upcoming panel on Sept. 6.

There are at least three ways that Israeli-Americans and Israeliness can be—and already are—game-changers.

First, Israeli-Americans can be leveraged as a bridge—both within the American Jewish community and between Israel and the American Jewish Community. The fact that we speak both “Israeli” and “American” has positioned us as a translator and facilitator of dialogue between the two communities. A prime example of this is the IAC National conference in Washington, D.C., an event where top civic, political, and business leaders from both countries come together every year.

Too many within the Jewish community take news media about Israel at face value— internalizing the negative stereotypes about our homeland and the Israeli people—which often leads to an inability to see the necessity of a Jewish state. Israelis then react to Jewish Americans’ disregard in a typically Israeli way: declaring that they do not need Jewish Americans and stubbornly refusing to engage in a gentler, American-style discourse. Israeli-Americans can bridge the gap.

Second, Israeliness can be used as a tool for the crucial task of engaging the next generation. Israeliness opens up a whole new world for young American Jews, many of whom have been conditioned to believe that Jewish identity must be centered on attending Jewish schools and synagogues. In discovering the people and culture of their homeland, young Jews are able to discover a piece of themselves.

The great success of many programs, such as Masa Israel, Gap Year, and in particular, Birthright—with its half a million alumni—illustrate how visiting, exploring and experiencing the people Israel makes a transformative difference in their lives. The best possible follow-up for these programs is to help their alumni reconnect with Israeliness through integration with the Israeli-American community.

Furthermore, Israel’s success is rooted in the young country’s willingness to take risks—in an understanding that failure is nothing shameful, but merely an opportunity to learn and move on to your next success. Being able to bounce back after failures is a crucial skill for young people to develop to handle life’s many challenges. The next generation can learn much from Israeliness.

Third, Israeli-Americans and Israeliness can be a powerful tool in fighting anti-Semitism and the BDS Movement. Israeli-Americans defend Israel by drawing on personal experience. Moreover, Israeliness means being proud to be who we are—and having the courage to stand up for what we believe in. We must communicate to the next generation that tremendous pride and willingness to stand up, speak out, and when necessary, fight back to protect ourselves when our faith, our values and our homeland are under attack.

The challenges facing the Jewish community are complex. Israeliness is a secret sauce that can help ensure that our people will not only survive, but continue to thrive.

Adam Milstein is the Chairman of the Israeli-American Council, a real estate entrepreneur, and the president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation. 

On Sept. 6, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, David Suissa, and Adam Milstein will discuss the untapped potential of Israeliness on September 6, 2017 at 7:00pm at the IAC. This event is free for IAC Supporters and those registered to attend the IAC National Conference. The general public can buy pre-sale tickets for $10 at, or pay $15 at the door.

Jewish leaders applaud arrest of Israeli-American teen in bomb threat case

The Westside JCC, which was targeted with two bomb threats. Photo by Ryan Torok

The director of the Westside Jewish Community Center today welcomed the arrest of an Israeli-American teenager on suspicion of perpetrating more than 100 bomb threats against a variety of Jewish institutions in the United States, even though it remained unclear whether the individual was responsible for the recent threats against the Westside JCC and the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach.

“I’m hopeful that this brings closure to what has been a very difficult ordeal for Jews and Jewish community centers across North America,” Brian Greene said.

The Westside JCC received two threats, one on Feb. 27 over the phone and another on March 9 via email. The JCC in Long Beach received two threats as well, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 27.

FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller said in an email to the Journal that it is too soon to say if the suspect had a role in the threats against the local JCCs.

“They [the investigators] have not yet provided a breakdown, and are presumably still working through that,” she stated.

Since Jan. 4, there have been more than 160 threats against Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions. The threats have been a mix of live and prerecorded phone calls and emails.

An FBI national spokesperson said the arrest occurred around midnight Eastern Time.

“Early this morning in Israel, the FBI and Israeli National Police worked jointly to locate and arrest the individual suspected for threats to Jewish organizations across the United States and in other parts of the world. The FBI commends the great work of the Israeli National Police in this investigation,” an FBI statement says. “Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI and we will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provided a few details about the suspect in a statement.

“Israeli police and the FBI arrested an 18-year-old Israeli-American suspect after a months-long undercover investigation, saying the man had used advanced technologies to hide his identity. The suspect holds dual American-Israeli citizenship, according to authorities.”

According to media reports, the arrest took place at the suspect’s home in Ashkelon, and the suspect’s father, who reportedly knew of his son’s activity, was arrested as well.

While JCC Association of North America President and CEO Doron Krakow applauded law enforcement in a statement, he said there was something about the arrest that was distressing.

“We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish community centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all — is reportedly Jewish,” he stated.

Even if the suspect is Jewish, the actions nevertheless amount to a hate crime, as they involved the intentional terrorizing of Jewish communities, according to ADL Senior Associate Director Alison Mayersohn.

“We don’t know what motivated the alleged perpetrator, but when a perpetrator targets an institution specifically because it is a Jewish institution, that’s a hate crime, and we consider the act anti-Semitic. The ADL does not believe the perpetrator’s religion or nationality is relevant,” she said.

Los Angeles Dodgers sign Israeli in Major League first

Dean Kremer became the first Israeli to sign a contract with a Major League Baseball team.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Kremer, a 20-year-old Israeli-American Tuesday. The team drafted the right-handed pitcher in the 14th round of this month’s 2016 MLB draft.

Kremer, a Stockton, California native born to Israeli parents, was drafted last year in the 38th round by the San Diego Padres but did not sign with the team. He transferred from San Joaquin Delta College to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he went 4-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 12 starts.

He was the first Israeli to be drafted by an MLB team.

Kremer played for Israel’s national baseball team for the past three years. He was named the European baseball championship’s most valuable pitcher each of the last two years and led Israel out of the tournament’s C-pool into the stronger B-pool last year.

“I was born here in the United States, but I go back and practically live [in Israel] for two months out of the year in the summer, so it’s definitely home,” Kremer told the Las Vegas Review Journal in February.

Kremer will play this summer for the Dodgers’ Rookie League team, the first of six leagues he will have to progress through to make it onto the major league roster, Haaretz reported.

Hebrew books to help Israeli-Americans preserve their heritage

Naomi Western, who works with the Jewish Agency for Israel, worries that her two young children may lose the connection to their Israeli heritage once they start attending local public schools.

Joining more than 2,000 other families nationwide, Western has enrolled her family in Sifriyat Pijama B’America to keep her children connected to the Hebrew-speaking culture she grew up with.

“I want my children to feel connected to something bigger than themselves,” she said. “Jewish culture is very rich and full of good values.”

The Sifriyat Pijama program, modeled after PJ Library, mails one Hebrew-language children’s book, or sometimes a music CD, per month to families with at least one Hebrew-speaking parent or guardian. The books and CDs are intended for children between the ages of 3 and 6. The program is free, and the families keep the books.

Sifriyat Pijama B’America is sponsored by the Israeli-American Leadership Council, the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Avi Chai Foundation.

In the past months, Sifriyat Pijama B’America began a new initiative to add readings and book-related activities to its program. These events will take place at Jewish schools and are meant to get families more involved in the schools through the reading program. The “school initiative” will continue next year, and the program founders hope to reach 6,000 families in the 2012-2013 school year with the help of the new initiative.

In late May, Yavneh Day School in Los Gatos and Kadima Day School in West Hills each hosted registration events for families to enroll in the program. More such events will be occurring over the next month at various Jewish Days schools in Southern California; all are open to members of the wider community or by signing up online at

Sifriyat Pijama B’America is inspired by the Sifriyat Pijama Program in Israel, through which children are given free books at school. That program, in turn, was based upon the PJ Library program in Boston begun by Harold Grinspoon, which mails English-language books with Jewish themes to Jewish families once a month. While PJ Library is aimed at American Jewish families, Sifriyat Pijama B’America founder Adam Milstein is targeting Israeli families living in the United States whose children are in danger of losing their Jewish heritage. Although the program is for Israeli-Americans, Milstein said in an e-mail that the books the program sends are not about Israel, but about Jewish values such as “appreciation, courage, dignity, freedom, justice, friendship, cherishing the elderly, hope and humility.”

Sharon Barkan, who was born in Israel, speaks Hebrew at home with her children, ages 4 and 2, and wants them to be connected with the food, music, culture and language of her homeland.

“How am I supposed to live in a house where I am part of one world, and my children are not at all connected to that world?” she said.

Barkan read about Sifriyat Pajama B’America in an Israeli newspaper and enrolled about a year ago. She says it has been an amazing experience, and that the books are a great way to keep her language and culture in her children’s lives.

Families interested in the program can register online or at the events at Jewish day schools. The school events, which include readings from the books and other children’s activities, are meant to entice families to become more active in the Jewish community.

“In order to be Jewish, you have to be proactive,” Milstein said. “You cannot be passive and be Jewish.”

The next event takes place at Kadima Day School in West Hills on June 26. For more information, visit

Israeli American couples finesse fusion of cultures

“Thou art sanctified unto me with this ring, in the tradition of Moses and Israel,” Eyal Giladi said in Hebrew as he slipped a smooth, unadorned ring onto the finger of his veiled bride, Orit Shachar.

Guests crowding the chuppah on a warm evening in August erupted in vigorous applause and cheers. Young, sharply dressed and already tipsy from the pre-ceremony reception, the guests were mostly unmarried Israeli transplants who had befriended the couple since they arrived in Los Angeles five years ago.

Set in the backyard of their San Fernando Valley home, Giladi and Shachar’s wedding hosted 85 guests, eight of whom were parents and siblings from Israel. The small but boisterous group was not the typical modern Israeli wedding, which often boasts a 400-guest reception.

The couple, whose names have been changed for this article, decided to keep their wedding intimate and in Southern California, rather than travel to Israel for an excessively large ceremony that would include everyone from close relatives to a brother’s co-worker.

“I really didn’t want to be greeting people I’ve never even met at my wedding,” said Giladi, a statuesque man with a long ponytail.

For Israeli immigrants like Giladi, 27, and Shachar, 30, there are a variety of reasons why saying “I do” so far from their birthplace is preferable. Financial and logistical considerations can play a major role in the decision, but another important factor is the immigration status of the couple. Some Israelis work and live in Los Angeles without proper government authorization from the United States.

But even if a couple resolves to hold a wedding ceremony in the Southland, it can be tricky to blend Israeli expectations with American realities.

Shachar always thought she would get married in Israel, even after immigrating to Los Angeles with Giladi in 2002. They briefly considered the possibility, particularly because their parents were pushing for an Israeli wedding.

When Giladi proposed to Shachar on her birthday one year ago, leaving the country wasn’t an option. The couple has actively pursued permanent residency status, but their expired tourist visas would not allow them to return to the United States if they traveled to Israel.

“It made it easy to decide where to get married,” Shachar said. “There was actually nothing to decide. We couldn’t go to Israel. End of discussion.”

It makes perfect sense to event planner Ada Doron, who has been living in the United States for more than 20 years, that so many Israeli immigrants are choosing to get married where they live rather than where they were born and raised.

“They’ve established a new life here. They’ve lost connection with their Israeli friends back home and they’ve made new friends here,” said Doron, the owner of Fleur Creations, a party-planning service. “It’s also more convenient to plan a wedding here. To plan a wedding in Israel, you would need a family member to coordinate everything or you would have to fly there a few times before the wedding. Who has the money to do that?”

If the possibility exists that an Israeli couple might return to Israel, they want to make sure their marriage will be recognized by the Jewish state. In order for the unions to be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, a marriage between Jews must be officiated by an Orthodox rabbi. Dozens of Israeli couples looking for an Orthodox rabbi find their way each year to Rabbi Amitai Yemini, director of the Chabad Israel Center on Robertson Boulevard.

In addition to officiating at the ceremony, Rabbi Yemini assists Israeli couples with tasks unique to their situation, such as registering their marriage with Israel’s Ministry of the Interior and the rabbinate.

A Los Angeles County marriage license has no residence or citizenship status requirements. A bride and groom must present proof-of-identity and age documents, such as a driver’s license or passport, according to the Los Angeles County’s Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Web site. However, the county will also accept a birth certificate and accompanying photo ID, even if it’s in another language, as long as there is an accompanying English translation prepared by a certified translator.

The Chabad Israel Center also helps couples by easing the red tape guests from Israel might face when applying for a conditional temporary visa to the United States. A wedding invitation and a letter from the Chabad Israel Center can often expedite the process, Yemini said.

Giladi and Shachar, who found a rabbi through an Orthodox friend, said the problems they encountered in planning their wedding were not necessarily of the variety a rabbi could help them with. Instead, the differences between Israeli and American wedding cultures provided a few stumbling blocks for the couple.

For instance, outdoor weddings are popular in Israel, and there are many gardens and similar sites to choose from that have kosher amenities. But in Los Angeles, most outdoor locations don’t feature a kosher kitchen — a requirement of Orthodox rabbis who officiate at weddings.

In Israel, wedding venues are typically one-stop shops with a rental price that includes decorations, food and entertainment. Here, the couple had to look for each of these services individually.

Perhaps the most daunting difference of all, at least for Shachar, was the style of wedding gowns.

“There is no comparison,” she said. “Wedding dresses in Israel are so unique and so elaborate.”

She described the latest trend of two-piece dresses with a flowing skirt that can be removed after the ceremony and replaced with a more fitted, dance-friendly bottom.

Shachar ultimately found a dress, but was surprised to find out that most Americans buy their dresses. In Israel, brides rent a gown.

Giladi said the decision to have a small wedding had nothing to do with cost. The couple spent what the average American spends on a wedding, about $30,000. While they saved money by having the celebration at home, they splurged on elaborate decorations, high-end kosher catering and abundant spirits.

Against the advice of their wedding planner, Giladi and Shachar bought enough alcohol for a traditional Israeli party with several-hundred guests. Long before the police arrived after 1 a.m., Giladi actually sent a few friends out to get more alcohol.

Local Israelis dig glossy ‘zine

“Anachnu Beh America!” “We’re in America!” proclaims the title of the nine-month-old Hebrew-language monthly glossy aimed at Los Angeles’ Israeli community.

The magazine, which averages around 40 to 50 pages, is eye-catching. The February issue shows a boy kissing a girl holding a rose; December had a large white dreidel on the cover; last September, the second issue, showed Israeli supermodel Noah Tishby.

Inside, the pages are also splashed with colorful headlines, bright photos and cartoony illustrations.

B’America is being distributed to more than 200 locations locally, targeting where Israelis shop, dine, learn and gather. An employee at Super Sal, an Israeli grocery store on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, said they receive weekly deliveries of about 100 to 150 magazines on Wednesday, and by Friday the waist-high stack of free glossies just outside the main doors vanishes.

David Mashiah, a 28-year old Israeli who works in private security, explains what compels him to pick up the magazine nearly every month.

“First, it catches your eye because of the colors,” he said. “Second, it’s interesting to read and it offers something that the Israeli newspapers here don’t offer. Articles that are easy and fun to read. They’re lighter than newspaper articles.”

“This magazine is not about Israel,” said Ori Dinur, Anachnu’s editor-in-chief. “It’s about Israelis that live here in America.”

Dinur has a background in theater and has been living in Los Angeles for seven years; she said the target audience has been living in the United States for more than six months — people who are building careers and families here and have no immediate plans of returning to their homeland.

Articles have included coverage of the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, advice on how to be a successful salesperson, a calendar section called “Poking Your Nose Out of the House,” a regular feature answering immigration-related questions and a first-person narrative about a failed intermarriage.

“Our contributors write from their hearts about very personal things that Israelis here can relate to,” Dinur said. Most of the magazine’s regular contributors (there are 17 listed on the masthead), live in Los Angeles. They are not paid for their contributions and most have never been published elsewhere. Despite this, and the fact that the masthead lists a staff of just four, with only Dinur on the editorial staff, the magazine does not appear amateurish.

“We wanted to do everything top of the line,” said Eddie Grimberg, one of the founders and owners of the publication. A Russian-born Israeli who has been living in the United States for 20 years, he said the magazine was not a commercial venture.

“We’re doing this as a service to the Israeli community,” he said. “We’re filling a need.”
Grimberg is very active in the Jewish community and is this year’s chair of this Sunday’s Israeli Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park.

“Our purpose is to entertain, educate, touch and improve people’s lives., ” said Dinur. And with characteristically Israeli passion, she added, “It’s my baby! I’m in love with it!”

For more information, visit


Yiddish curtain rises at the University of Judaism

In a showbiz career that has spanned nearly six decades, Israeli American actor Mike Burstyn has played everyone from Al Jolson and Tevye to Nathan Detroit and P.T. Barnum.

But for the one-time child actor who grew up in the Yiddish theater with actor parents Pesach Burstein and Lillian Lux, nothing compares to performing “On Second Avenue.”

The title conjures up the heyday of the theater during the first half of the 20th century, when a dozen Yiddish stages dotted the storied avenue on the Lower East Side of New York. After earning two Drama Desk nominations in 2005, the off-Broadway revival of “On Second Avenue” starring Burstyn will begin a one-week run at the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium, starting Feb. 20.

A production of Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, one of the oldest troupes in the country, “On Second Avenue” goes back farther than the past century to the origins of Yiddish theater in “a cellar in Romania” in the 1870s. The revue combines music, comedy and reminiscence to recreate the entire history of the Yiddish theater.

However, Burstyn does not think of it as a show.

“It’s a homecoming. It’s a love letter,” he said, adding that it’s a chance to honor not only the theater that nourished him but also his parents.

Near the end of the performance, Burstyn plays a video of his father singing a rendition of one of his famous songs, after which Burstyn sings the same tune. The homage is all the more poignant since Burstyn’s mother died last year.

Burstyn cites Yiddishkayt Los Angeles and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music for keeping the mama loshen, or mother tongue, alive in Southern California. It’s part of a renaissance around the world that includes Yiddish clubs in Florida condominiums and Sephardic students in Israeli public schools signing up for Yiddish classes.

Still, Burstyn does not pretend that a show performed entirely in Yiddish would work in this country. “On Second Avenue” features narration in English, songs in Yiddish and supertitles in English above the proscenium. That such packaging has worked all these centuries for opera suggests that Yiddish could have a future with American audiences.

“On Second Avenue” runs Feb. 20-25 at the Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism. For information and tickets, call (877) 733-7529.

2002 terror attacks

Jan. 15 Palestinian gunmen kill an elderly Israeli American who drives into the Bethlehem area.

Jan. 17 Six Israelis are killed and 33 injured when a Palestinian terrorist with an assault rifle attacks guests at a bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera.

Jan. 22 A Palestinian terrorist opens fire in downtown Jerusalem, killing two women and wounding dozens of others, before being shot and killed by police.

Jan. 25 A Palestinian suicide bomber detonates explosives in a crowded pedestrian shopping mall in Tel Aviv killing 24 bystanders.

Jan. 27 A female suicide bomber strikes in Jerusalem, killing one man and wounding more than 100 people.

Feb. 6 A mother and her 11-year-old daughter are murdered in their Jordan Valley home by a terrorist disguised in an IDF uniform.

Feb. 16 A suicide bomber kills three teenagers and wounds 27 people in an attack on a shopping mall in a West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron.

Feb. 18 A Palestinian kills an Israeli policeman and himself when he detonates a car bomb. That same day, three Israelis are killed and four injured during a Palestinian ambush in the Gaza Strip.

Feb. 22 A Palestinian tries to set off a bomb in an Efrat supermarket, but he is killed by civilians.

Feb. 25 Two Palestinian terrorists wound at least 10 Israelis when they open fire in northern Jerusalem. Palestinian terrorists shoot dead two Israelis and wound two others in an attack on motorists near Bethlehem.

Feb. 27 Three Israeli police officers are wounded when a female Palestinian suicide bomber blows up her car at a West Bank checkpoint near the border with Israel.

March 2 A suicide bomber kills 10 Israelis, among them six children in the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Beis Yisroel, near Mea Shearim.

March 5 A Palestinian terrorist opens fire on two Tel Aviv restaurants, killing three Israelis and wounding dozens. In Afula, a suicide bomber blows himself up on a bus at the central bus station, killing one person and wounding 10. Near Bethlehem, an Israeli woman is killed and her husband moderately wounded when shots are fired at their car.

March 7 Five Israeli teenagers are killed and 23 others wounded by a Palestinian terrorist in a Gaza settlement.

March 9 Two Palestinian terrorists shoot dead two people and injure about 50 others in Netanya’s hotel district. Eleven Israelis are killed and at least 54 injured in a suicide bombing at Cafe Moment in Jerusalem.