January 23, 2019

School Mural, Camp Fundraisers, AJCLA Hire

From left: Israeli Consul for Public Diplomacy Karin Pery; Consul General Sam Grundwerg; community organizer Sylvan De La Cruz; Artist 4 Israel CEO Craig Dershowitz; Arts Bridging the Gap’s Georgia Van Cuylenburg; LAPD Officer Julie Nony and Hollywood High School Principal Edward Colacion attend the unveiling of a new mural at Hollywood High School. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles

A new mural brightening a wall of Hollywood High School — the product of an effort between the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and two artist-focused nonprofits — was unveiled during a ceremony on Nov. 13. 

“We are happy to collaborate with these amazing community leaders as partners,” said Karin Pery, the Consulate General’s consul for public diplomacy and culture. “When we come together for the collective good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish, and we leave the world a little more beautiful than we found it.”

The mural, “Unifying Eternities,” painted by artist Don Rimx of Puerto Rico, depicts two faces that represent the diversity on the school’s campus and throughout Hollywood and Los Angeles. The work is located on an exterior wall near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Orange Drive. 

Capt. Cory Palka, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, said he hoped the mural could help decrease crime around the school. “We know statistics show that when you start beautifying a neighborhood, you see a reduction in crime,” he said.

The mural was painted over six days, with the LAPD bringing together people to help with the project, the Consulate General providing paint supplies, and the organizations Artists 4 Israel and Arts Bridging the Gap coordinating the painting. L.A. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office provided crews to help with the preparation work. 

Artists 4 Israel CEO Craig Dershowitz said he hoped the mural at Hollywood High School would inspire tolerance: “Today, as racism and anti-Semitism show their evil faces each day, it is our joy to paint a different picture.”

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles’ new assistant director Holly Huffnagle speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels on Jewish community security in Europe in
May 2017. Phoro courtesy of OSCE

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA) has announced the hiring of Holly Huffnagle as its new assistant director.

Huffnagle’s responsibilities at AJCLA will include overseeing international diplomacy and AJCLA programs related to monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, intolerance and discrimination; and overseeing the AJC ACCESS young professionals program, the organization said in its Nov. 19 announcement. 

Huffnagle joins a senior staff at AJCLA that includes Dganit Abramoff, acting chief of staff; Siamak Kordestani, assistant director; Melissa Saragosti, associate director of development; and Saba Soomekh, assistant director of interreligious and intercommunity affairs.

Huffnagle previously served as policy adviser to the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism at the U.S. State Department from 2015-17. From 2010-15, she was a researcher for the Mandel Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. 

AJC describes itself as the “leading global Jewish advocacy organization, with unparalleled access to government officials, diplomats and other world leaders.” Its three goals are to combat anti-Semitism and extremism, support Israel, and safeguard the rights and freedom of all people. 

From left: Steve Saltzman, Arnie Nelson and Bob Waldorf attended the Foundation for Camp Bob Waldorf annual Brunch and Family Day.
Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles

The Foundation for Camp Bob Waldorf (FCBW) held its annual Brunch and Family Day on Nov. 18 at Camp Bob Waldorf.

More than 150 community and businesses leaders and camp families attended the brunch, at which Stephen Saltzman received the Sydney J. Rosenberg Lifetime Achievement Award for his involvement as an active volunteer and board member for nearly 45 years.

The event also unveiled the camp’s new square, dedicated in honor of Arnie Nelson as a 90th birthday gift from his wife, Sherri Nelson. “The Arnie Nelson Camp Square will be an inviting, inclusive and central meeting space where the entire camp community can gather together,” the FCBW said in a statement. 

Arnie Nelson has served as a leader and supporter of the camp and its campers for decades and has served for 40 years on the board of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA), which owns and operates Camp Bob Waldorf.

Camp Bob Waldorf Director Zach Lasker welcomed guests into the new camp square.

“Now, more than ever, is a time when we need safe spaces where our next generation of children can form relationships with positive role models while cultivating a sense of self-respect and compassion to others,” Lasker said. “This coming summer we will welcome 1,000 diverse young people into our community and hope to nourish their minds, bodies and hearts.”

The camp serves children in need entering grades 4-10.

The Brunch and Family Day raised more than $380,000 for FCBW, exceeding the event’s goal by $50,000, the FCBW statement said. The funds raised will support a full renovation of the camp’s cabins, including new flooring, lighting, cabinets, security systems and window shades.

During the event, guests heard speeches from parents of campers and enjoyed activities that included a petting zoo, face painting and a rope course. 

“Camp is more than just two weeks of fun for kids in need. It is a support system for families and a beacon of hope for our community,” said JBBBSLA and FCBW CEO Randy Schwab. “For 80 years, Camp Bob Waldorf has been their safety net and, thanks to the Foundation, which provides perpetual funding for the camp, our kids know that we will always be there.”

From left: Camp Ramah in California honorees Sheila Baran Spiwak and her husband, Alan Spiwak, and Maya Aharon. Photo courtesy of Camp Ramah in California

Camp Ramah in California, the Ojai-based Conservative summer camp, held its 2018 gala celebration on Nov. 4 at Barad Hall at Sinai Temple in Westwood.

The event raised more than $800,000 and honored Sheila Baran Spiwak and her husband, Alan Spiwak, along with Maya Aharon, who received the Alumni Leadership Award.

The Baran and Spiwak families have supported Jewish causes locally, nationally, in Israel and around the world. Their areas of focus include Jewish education, children, the elderly, Holocaust survivors and people with special needs.

Aharon, director of teen experiential programs at the Builders of Jewish Education, has been involved in a number of Jewish organizations throughout her life. They include Camp Ramah, Hillel and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She graduated from Milken Community Schools in 2004 and earned her bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies at Indiana University in 2008.

John Magoulas, director of development at Camp Ramah in California, said the money raised would make camp more affordable for families. “The event seeded our affordability initiative endowment,” he said.

The 500 attendees at the sold-out event included Jay Sanderson, CEO and executive director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Magoulas said.

For the first time, the event was followed by an after-party at which more than 100 young adults enjoyed music, mingling and cocktails.   

Want to be featured in Movers & Shakers? Send us your highlights, events, honors and simchas. Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Celebrating Light and Hope in Our Time of Darkness

The last five weeks have pummeled us with horrific experiences of hate-filled violence, darkness of the soul and death. With our country already riven by bitter and hostile social and political differences, the shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue and a Thousand Oaks bar inflicted pain, outrage and darkness upon countless persons. Then, the Camp and Woolsey fires took dozens of lives (with hundreds still unaccounted for), destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and devastated community institutions. 

As we continue to sift through the physical and emotional rubble, and try to assess the financial and psychological damage, suddenly Hanukkah is upon us — a time to connect with family and friends in our homes in celebration of a storied miracle in which a flame burned longer than it was expected to. The dissonance is stark: Many among us have no homes to go to. Families have been fractured. Scores of people have lost everything to fires that could not be contained.

How do we celebrate the rededication of the Temple destroyed long ago, when we and our families, friends and neighbors are reeling from these urgent crises?

In the wake of the devastating fires, can we connect with the Festival of Lights and its images of a reconstructive flame? Is it possible to look at the light of the menorah and see illumination instead of destruction? 

The Journal posed these questions to local rabbis and leaders — some of whom are on the front lines of caring for victims — to help us understand. 

Fires of Destruction and Lights of Hope
Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Rabbi Julia Weisz, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas

This Hanukkah, Congregation Or Ami rededicates the temple, literally reconsecrating our Calabasas sanctuary during our first Shabbat since evacuating the synagogue during the fires. Through the Maccabean efforts of our Fire Remediation Task Force and our crisis manager, Joffe Emergency Services, the temple is (again) professionally cleansed. As we light our hanukkiah, ancient past and devastating present blend together.

By lighting eight candles that differentiate between fires of destruction and miraculous lights of hope, we:

1. Remember that we were targets, condemned equally by an evil king long ago and an enraged murderous shooter a few weeks ago, who hated that we seemed different and sought to erase our uniqueness from the polity.

2. Caution that angry sparks, set intentionally or not, quickly and easily burn out of control, creating targets among the innocent.

3. Seek to extinguish flames of hatred that burn to harm others.  

4. Encourage wide-eyed awareness and intentional responses to the statements, policies and actions that fan the flames of hatred and/or neglect to lock down weapons of destruction.

5. Retell the story of courageous Maccabean first-responders: firefighters, police and countless volunteers who faced flames or braved bullets to save countless people and properties.

6. Celebrate the vast communal response forged in the fires, and our role as one shamash within, that kindled deep partnership to shine light for the common good.

7. Sing praise that Nes Gadol Haya Sham … v’Poh (a great miracle happened there … and here), reflecting the blessings of the Holy One, who works through decidedly human but nevertheless holy people.

8. Rededicate our synagogue home as a center of learning and holy activism, committed to repairing our broken world. 

Becoming Part of the Rededication Miracle
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Am, Pico-Robertson

The much-beloved teaching by Rabbi David Hartman about what, indeed, was the miracle on the first night of Hanukkah, such that the holiday is eight days rather than seven (after all, the first day they did have enough oil, so what was ostensibly miraculous?), speaks directly and poignantly to this moment.  

To have hope, to begin to illuminate crushing darkness when there is no guarantee of what tomorrow brings, is the epitome of human resilience. It is what is called upon in moments of tragedy, whether personal, local, national or global. The conquering heroes lit that first night, rather than submit to understandable disconsolation. That was a miracle too — of heart, not of oil. In Rabbi Hartman’s words, inspired by our ancestors, we “ought to pour infinite yearnings even into small vessels.” 

In the Maccabean era, the fires of destruction came not only from the flames of enemies, but also from the burning civil discord in the face of incalculable emergency. Today, individuals and communities in our midst face devastating darkness. Let our generosity — of time, spirit and financial resources — be their first candle. Let our togetherness deter rancorous and divisive blame-games. Let us be part of their miracle of rededication. 

Reclaiming Shammai, Reducing the Flames
Rabbi Lori Shapiro, The Open Temple, Venice

The story of Hanukkah is a literary tale formed over several millennia, its origins spinning through the Book of Maccabees I and II, through Josephus, the Talmud, Maimonides and beyond. It’s a literary time machine. And if each evolving civilization imprints its own addition to this tale, might we look around at our times and ask, “What is our contemporary contribution to the telling?” Perhaps this year nothing is more important to illuminate than the Spirit of Machloket (disagreement), as most famously demonstrated in the mental sparring of Hillel and Shammai, the rabbis of the Talmud who respectfully preserved the minority opinion in matters of dissent.  

According to the house of Hillel, we begin with one light and increase the light each day until we have all eight illuminated. What if, this year, all of us reclaim the Shammai hanukkiah, in addition to our beloved Hillel hanukkiah (Shabbat Bavli, 21b)? Perhaps we should begin with a blaze, akin to the great fires in our city, state and nation, and reduce the flame for eight nights as a symbol of our humility, unity and oneness?  

This Hanukkah, The Open Temple shares this tradition at our annual “Hanukkah on the Canal Parade,” and we dedicate ourselves to the search for light in times of darkness. We hearken to the sounds of strangers and invite the Other into our hearts and homes as an eight-night meditation of reduced light to guide our return, until a singular candle, representing all of us, together and alone, becomes our sole companion. A singular light, reminiscent of the mystery and promise of creation. 

In the Darkness, Create Light
Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean, American Jewish University, Bel Air

In a remarkable demonstration of courage, the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, pouring faith into kindling light from one small flask of oil. We light candles counting upward, each night adding one more candle. The more light, says the Talmud, the more holiness.  

At a time of darkness and challenge, our response is to increase the light. Unlike any other time of year, during Hanukkah the lights are for the sole purpose of witnessing the shining brightness, finding in it the inspiration to create more light.

Lighting the Hanukkah candles invites us to take time to see our own soul’s light. In so doing, we are reminded that deep within us we hold the truly miraculous weapons of hope and faith that we can use to fight darkness, evil and pain.  

The Book of Proverbs says it best: “The light of God is the human soul.” It is this light that guides us to illuminate the darkest paths and leads us to kindle additional light deep in the holy souls of other people. 

Don’t Cancel Holidays: Celebrate the Will to Rebuild
Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah Synagogue, Mar Vista

Some of the people who frequent our synagogue were forced to evacuate their homes and/or lost their homes entirely in the recent Woolsey Fire. There may also be someone in our midst who is grieving a loved one lost in the Camp Fire’s destruction of the town of Paradise, the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks or the Tree of Life synagogue attack in Pittsburgh.

Everyone is shaken. The news cycle brings the catastrophes home to each of us. As a religious and spiritual community, we have to acknowledge the pain and trauma and guide people through it — how to grieve and how to console.  

But we don’t cancel holidays or turn them into rites of mourning. Some who have suffered grievous loss can have their spirits lifted by the wisdom, beauty and joy in our holidays. Perhaps for a brief time, they will want to be at one with the community and the tradition. 

It’s a fine line: being present for the grieving, but also trusting that our traditions have enough depth and wisdom for anyone at any time of life. This Hanukkah we are reminded of people who risked everything and many who lost everything. They asked us to celebrate their victory, their moment of rededicating that which had been desecrated. 

We are a tough people, with the vision and will to grieve, restore and rebuild. Let’s celebrate Hanukkah. 

Recognize the Candles in Our Families
Rabbi Nicole Guzik, Sinai Temple, Westwood

I recently read an odd but inspiring answer to the question: “How many candles do we light on Hanukkah?” The Mishneh Torah explains a rare tradition in which you light a candle for each family member, the following night it doubles, triples and so on. By the end of the eighth night, your home is filled with candle after candle, pinpoints of light that pierce the darkness. 

But it’s more than just an aesthetically pleasing sight. It is a plea to each of us that even within our own families, where disagreements and grudges can run high, we must push through our differences to find ways to see each other. There is no perfect family. Extending further, the Jewish nation has been filled with opposing opinions and ideologies for thousands of years. But to do God’s work of diminishing the darkness in this world of shadows, we must recognize the candles within our own family. Candles yearning to be lit. Candles yearning to be seen. 

No matter how much we disagree with those we love, they are family. See them. Perhaps one day, you will need their light.

Working Together, Rising From the Ashes
Jay Sanderson, president & CEO, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

For me, the definitive image of Hanukkah is a menorah radiating in the window of my family’s home. Those flames, burning brightly, symbolize our victory over tyranny and oppression. This past week I drove through the West San Fernando Valley, Conejo Valley and Malibu, parts of our Jewish community ravaged by our recent fires. I saw how flames can cause tremendous destruction and felt many emotions. But what I experienced rising from the ashes was the strength and resilience of our Jewish community. 

As we approach Hanukkah this year, I am deeply inspired. I recognize the long journey we have ahead to rebuild lives, homes and institutions, but I am emboldened by how our Federation staff, lay leaders, communal leaders and rabbis have selflessly stepped forward to do this essential work together.

Eight Bring-Light-to-the-Darkness Kavanot
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Pico-Robertson

The recent man-made and natural calamities have, for me at least, blended into a broader and deeper darkness that has served as their backdrop and soundtrack. This is the darkness produced by the incivility and indecency of our political and social discourse over the past number of years. When we can banish this darkness, we can be realistically optimistic that we can banish any darkness that may come our way. In this spirit, I offer these bring-light-to the-darkness kavanot (intentions) for our eight nights of Hanukkah.

Night 1: Let us speak only truth. Not what “might be” or “could be” or “who knows?” Just truth.

Night 2: Let us not abuse God’s gift of speech by using it to ridicule, mock or demean other human beings.

Night 3: Let us oppose all forms of bias and hatred, not only the ones that suit our politics. 

Night 4: Let us imagine what it would feel like to stand in the shoes of the other, before we espouse a position that impacts that other.

Night 5: Let us take to heart the strict Talmudic prohibition upon affixing nicknames to people.

Night 6: Let us respond to division by trying to heal it, not by exploiting it to our benefit.

Night 7: Let us remember that the only consequence to opening our ears more is that we will understand more.  

Night 8: Let us recommit to the idea that humility is not a weakness to be taken advantage of, but a virtue to be admired.

Federation’s Plans for the Worse Put in Action

The following is an excerpt of a conversation between Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa and Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The two talked for Suissa’s podcast at jewishjournal.com. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.

DAVID SUISSA: I can’t recall two weeks like this, from Pittsburgh, the elections, the Thousand Oaks [shooting], to the fires, to Gaza. 

JAY SANDERSON: Yeah. It actually looked like the two weeks were going to be worse. I was getting ready to buy a plane ticket to go to Israel on the weekend for a solidarity mission if the rockets kept going. So, I’m thanking God that the two weeks aren’t worse than they could have been.

DS:  Let’s start with Pittsburgh. Tell us what it was like as soon as you heard the news, and what did you do?

JS: First of all, I’ve been thinking about [a scenario like] this for seven years, which is why our federation was one of the first Jewish communities in North America to get into the security business and oversee all the community security in Jewish institutions throughout almost all of Southern California. I’m not surprised that it happened. But it was shocking.

DS: When you hear of an emergency like this, what is the first thing you do? Do you gather an emergency group?

JS: Each situation is different, and this was on Shabbos. Normally I would immediately have gathered community leaders together. So, I thought, “OK, what are the things we could be doing right away?” It’s to activate our community security initiative. That means there are bulletins and briefs that go out to every Jewish institution automatically. We also wanted to see if we could convene on the following Shabbat a national solidarity Shabbat.

DS: And it worked. It was unbelievable. 

JS: I know. It was unbelievable. And we’re convinced that more Jews were in shul on that Shabbat than ever. I was at Stephen Wise [Temple], and the place was packed with over 1,000 people. VBS [Valley Beth Shalom] — packed. Almost every local synagogue committed to it, and the same thing nationally. That was an opportunity for us to go back to shul, put our arms around each other and comfort each other, and say to the bad guys, “Hey, you’re not keeping us out of shul.”

“I’ve tried very hard to guide the federation to do the work we do, which is very evident today with the fires, and not get into that abyss of left/right politics — who wins, who loses.”

— Jay Sanderson

DS: We’re all on edge these days.

JS: We’re on edge. But in the Jewish community that edge, I think, is magnified. Some of it is based on people’s politics. Some of it is people think we’re in pre-Nazi Germany. Which, anybody who actually understands history knows that many of the things that happened in pre-Nazi Germany are not happening in America today.

DS: After that solidarity Shabbat — well, we were horrified by Thousand Oaks.

JS: There were Jews in that club. One of my staff’s brother was in the club. I said this at a gathering for Camp Shalom alumni campers the other night: “We are vulnerable. We feel vulnerable no matter where we are. What we have to do is everything we can to keep these places safe, but we have to go about living our lives.”

DS: And in the middle of these two mass shootings, these two disasters, we have what some people call the most consequential mid-term elections in our lifetime, which reminds us of our divisions. 

JS: So, I just say the political climate we’re in is toxic, divisive. I’ve tried very hard to guide the federation to do the work we do, and not get into that abyss of left/right politics — who wins, who loses. I’m very sympathetic to people on both sides who feel like their voices are being extinguished by the other side.

DS: Did you know [the fires were] going to be this bad? It started on a Thursday night, and by Friday morning it was Armageddon.

JS: I am blessed and cursed by access to minute-by-minute information. So I understood what was happening with the fires. 

DS: Tell us what you’re doing for the community, the kind of meetings you are having at the federation. 

JS: The first thing we do is we convene, so we have to reach out. You have synagogue rabbis, because in the affected areas are people who belong to the synagogues, who are evacuated, who lost their homes, who are suffering from trauma. So the rabbis are essential. Then you have the four major institutions that have been impacted. That is Ilan Ramon School in Agoura [Hills], which is basically burned down. There’s a few buildings left. You have Camp JCA, Shalom Institute — gone. And you have the two Wilshire Boulevard Temple camps — Hilltop, gone; and Hess Kramer pretty much gone. So, all those folks are on the phone.

DS: [These camps] were the heart and soul of our community.

JS: I believe the heart and soul of the community are the people. I said this also at the camp event. When people go to camp, their lifelong friends are the people they meet there. They don’t necessarily remember where the bunks are. This is physical damage, not human damage.

DS: There are so many memories.

JS: A hundred percent. I said this on a call this morning: There are layers on layers on layers [of memories], but at the end of the day, these camps will come back stronger, better. They’ll continue next summer. They’ll be beacons rising from these ashes. The school will be better, and we’ll try to do everything we can to make people stronger. There are many positives. You don’t want there to be a tragedy for positives, but I am overwhelmed by the commitment, the passion, the extraordinary leadership of the rabbis. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, I mean, everyone understands that — emanating from Rabbi Leder all the way down to the staff who run the camps. They’re fantastic professionals. 

DS: Did you have some emotional conversations during those 48 hours with people who were directly involved with the camps?

JS:  Look, the people who run these camps and work for these camps, they felt a tremendous personal loss. Bill Kaplan basically was a camper at Camp Shalom, right? Now his camp director was a camper. So, this is a major loss; and even though I stood up in front of everybody and said this is not about buildings, it’s about people, it’s easy for me to say. It’s a loss, and …  we’re a traumatized community. If you put [these disasters] together, there’s a lot of reason for us to feel unsafe, vulnerable and traumatized; and we have to address that and talk about it and be open about it. 

Jewish Federation Launches Hotline, Fundraiser After Wildfires

On Friday, Nov. 9, The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles launched a hotline for those affected by the fires so they can seek all forms of support.

Support can be anything related to housing, food, legal questions, insurance questions or just someone to talk to you.

“If somebody belongs to a synagogue a rabbi has connection to them. If they don’t belong to synagogue we only hear from them if they let us know,” Federation CEO Jay Sanderson told the Journal. “Getting word out to people…it’s wildfire emergency hotline. Someone will answer it between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days. As long as it is needed.”

Anyone who calls will speak to a staff member from the Federation. This includes members of the Jews in Need initiative who are trained in knowing specific issues.

The Federation has already received many calls over the weekend.

The non-profit also launched The Wildfire Relief Fund Monday, Nov. 12 where 100 percent of all money raised will go to victims of the fires and institutions that have received significant damage.

“We will be working with those institutions to help them raise additional funds, to help them with their planning go forward, whatever they need we are going to help them,” Sanderson said.

To donate, click here. To reach the Hotline, dial (323) 761 – 8100.

Community Gathers in Response to JCA Fire Losses

Photo by Aaron Bandler

Camp JCA Shalom, a program of the Shalom Institute is just one of the institute’s camps that is reeling from the fires that have ravaged Southern California since Thursday. Camp Hess Kramer also suffered extensive damage.

On Sunday, Nov. 11, Camp JCA Shalom held a community gathering at de Toledo High School in West Hills. It was an opportunity for people to come together, to grieve and support one another.

Attendees of all ages linked arms to sing camp favorites including, “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Lean on Me,” and to talk about their reactions to the fire.

Camp Director Joel Charnick told the packed auditorium of close to 100 people that while the full extent of the damage to the campsite has yet to be determined, “the news is not good. It’s a substantial amount of damage. It’s devastating.”

Charnick said the camp was evacuated early on the morning of Nov. 9. They managed to take all the animals, the Torah scrolls and some other equipment with them.  

Charnick said one of the Torah scrolls was similar to a tree he had been looking at before the camp grounds were evacuated. The tree had survived numerous fires, just like the Torah scroll had survived the Holocaust.

“Do we feel safe in our homes? Do we feel safe in our synagogues? Do we feel safe at all? We’re all a little bit more vulnerable.” — Jay Sanderson

And just like that tree and that Torah scroll, Charnick said the community would survive. He predicted that in 30 years, people wouldn’t be talking about the fire. “We’ll be talking about how our community came together and overcame,” he said.

Shalom Institute Executive Director Rabbi Bill Kaplan told attendees that personnel had gone to the campsite at 3 a.m. on Nov. 9 after the call for voluntary evacuations went out, and “moved into action” at 6 a.m. after they heard the fire had jumped the 101 Freeway.

Kaplan was confident that they would be back at the campsite shortly thereafter, but sheriff’s deputies called on everyone to evacuate. Decker Canyon was in flames shortly thereafter. “It was scary,” Kaplan said.

He thanked staff for helping with the evacuations and called the outpouring of support from all over the world “amazing. We will rebuild, we will come back,” Kaplan said.

Gil Breakman, president of the Shalom Institute, reminded everyone that despite the devastation, “Camp is not about buildings. It’s about community. For as long as I’ve been involved, the camp has never needed a community and a board like they need [it] today,” Breakman said.

Jewish Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson noted how the past couple of weeks have been tough for the Jewish community, especially in light of the Tree of Life synagogue shootings on Oct. 27 in Pittsburgh. “Do we feel safe in our homes? Do we feel safe in our synagogues? Do we feel safe at all?” Sanderson asked. “We’re all a little bit more vulnerable.”

Sanderson also reminded everyone that “at the end of the day, our lives are around the people we know and the people we love,” particularly those at Camp JCA Shalom.

He went on to say that eventually the time will come to transition from grieving to dreaming. “If you close your eyes and you dream about what camp could really be with a brand new kitchen and brand new bunks, this is the beginning of the next chapter of JCA Shalom, he said.

The Federation, he concluded, “plans to be in the front seat of the car that drives this camp to the next destination.”

1,500 Attend L.A. Vigil for Pittsburgh Shooting Victims

An estimated 1,500 people from all Jewish walks of life turned out to the vigil in Westwood for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Photo by Allie Levin

On Oct. 27, Shiva Mehrannia was observing Shabbat at the Young Sephardic Community Center in Pico-Robertson when someone stood up to announce that a terrible shooting had taken place at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Mehrannia could not believe her ears.

“I was very disturbed,” she recalled while attending a candlelight vigil at the West Los Angeles Federal Building in Westwood on Oct. 28, one day after alleged gunman Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill and shot at worshippers during Saturday morning services, killing 11 and wounding six.

L.A. Vigil for Tree of Life

The L.A. Community honors and remembers the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, October 29, 2018

An estimated 1,500 people — seeking comfort, answers and solace in the wake of what has been called the deadliest attack ever against American Jewry — came to the vigil that featured interfaith leaders, elected officials and Jewish community members of every denomination,

Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, was among the speakers.

“The truth is, 11 people died in that synagogue and a piece of all of us died in that synagogue, Jewish and not Jewish,” Sanderson said in a phone interview the day after the vigil. “We are all one community. We all go to a house of worship, a synagogue in this particular case, because we feel safe and want to pray and feel connected to God.”

“I remain heartbroken about the event,” he said.

Additional speakers and participants in the gathering included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Rabbis Sharon Brous, Jason Weiner, David Wolpe, Benjamin Ross and Susan Goldberg; Cantor Lizzie Weiss and organizer David Bocarsly.

“The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the people who were murdered in the shocking massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Grundwerg said. “On behalf of myself, the Consulate of Israel here in Los Angeles, the Government of Israel and the people of Israel, from the depth of our hearts, I send our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.” 

The event also featured Christian and Muslim religious leaders, including Pastor Carlos Rincon of Centro de Vida Victoriosa Church in East Los Angeles, the Reverend Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

“The breadth of people at this event — of all different ages, of all different religious backgrounds, standing with one another — it’s hugely powerful to our hearts and souls,” said Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro in an interview. “Just as people said ‘I am Charlie Hebdo,’ just as they said ‘I am Charleston,’ today the entire world is saying ‘I am Jewish,’ and it means the world to us.”

“Just as people said ‘I am Charlie Hebdo,’ just as they said ‘I am Charleston,’ today the entire world is saying ‘I am Jewish,’ and it means the world to us.”
— Rabbi Zach Shapiro

Wearing a T-shirt that said “Love is Love,” featuring an image of five Jewish stars forming a multicolored chain, Shapiro attended the vigil with his husband, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, who told the Journal the shooting in Pittsburgh “is a wake-up and a reminder we have so much work to do in this country.”

An estimated 1,500 people from all Jewish walks of life turned out to the vigil in Westwood for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Photo by Amira Alhassan

While the event aimed to be apolitical, the more than 75 groups organizing or endorsing the event included progressive groups such as Bend the Arc: Jewish Action and IfNotNow, which have criticized President Donald Trump’s rhetoric for emboldening extremists, including the Pittsburgh shooter. 

Aside from the occasional anti-Trump sign — one large sign held on the edge of the vigil called for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to go — the gathering focused on denouncing anti-Semitism and expressing Jewish pride. 

Addressing the crowd as they held memorial candles glowing in the darkness just after sunset, Temple Isaiah Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles turned to Proverbs 20:27.

“The soul of the person is the candle of God,” she said, before reading the names of the victims, leading the crowd in the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish and calling for a moment of silence. The chanting of “We are Jews” followed.

The vigil was one of several tributes held in Los Angeles in response to the attack in Pittsburgh. On Oct. 29, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held a private ceremony at its Beverly Grove headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. That evening, L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield held a vigil at L.A. City Hall and several Modern Orthodox synagogues held a prayer session at Beth Jacob Congregation.

The Federation and the American Jewish Committee also encouraged people to attend Shabbat services on Nov. 3 in solidarity with the victims of the attack.

At a vigil at the Wilshire Federal Building for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue, people brought along memorial candles to mourn those killed in the attack. Photo by Amira Alhassan

“We are convening nationally this ‘Solidarity Shabbat’ on Saturday to make sure every single synagogue in this community, as well as every synagogue nationally, gets to celebrate Shabbat but also recognize the tremendous loss of life in Pittsburgh,” Sanderson said.

Mehrannia said she did not need an organized initiative to compel her to go to synagogue. As the vigil crowd began to disperse, she said the only way the Jewish community can demonstrate that extremists like the Pittsburgh shooter have not won is to continue leading a Jewish life. 

“We’re Jews,” she said. “I feel connected to people all over the world, and I want to show [the anti-Semites] they can keep trying to kill us, but we’re united and we’re not scared. We’re going to continue going to synagogue and continue being together and loving each other and showing support.” 

Tel Aviv GA Sought to Bridge Israeli-Diaspora Gap

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, speaks at its General Assembly in Tel Aviv. Photo by Eyal Warshavsky/JFNA

Jay Sanderson has attended many a General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, but the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said this year’s gathering in Tel Aviv was different.  

“In previous GAs we talked about a lot of different issues,” Sanderson said during an interview with the Journal at the Oct. 22-24 conference, which attracted more than 2,000 North American and Israeli participants. 

“What was unprecedented about this GA was that we focused on one thing: How to build a new kind of bridge between Israel and the Diaspora that enables as many people as possible to cross from both sides.”

The theme for this year’s event, “Let’s Talk,” was a recognition that Israeli-Diaspora ties are strained, and that both communities need to come together and heal the rift before it becomes unbridgeable. 

Held in Tel Aviv for the first time, the annual conference acknowledged that Israelis and North American Jews have different priorities and agendas because they have fundamentally different life experiences.

“We’re like two ships passing in the night,” Sanderson said. “Israelis don’t have a full understanding of what’s important to North American Jewry,” including religious pluralism, assimilation, anti-Semitism and the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank.  

In Israel, he continued, “Pluralism isn’t high on the list.” Security is, and the fact that most Jewish Israeli 18-year-olds are drafted when they’re 18.  

“A rocket fell on a house in Beersheva and a mother heroically saved her three children. We don’t have rockets on our borders,” Sanderson said. 

Richard Sandler, who is concluding his term as chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that despite these differing priorities, “we share common traditions and a common value system. We need to focus on the things we have in common, which far exceed the things that divide us.” 

“A rocket fell on a house in Beersheva and a mother heroically saved her three children. We don’t have rockets on our borders.” — Jay Sanderson 

During and between sessions, some of the North Americans expressed their concerns about Israel’s new Nation-State Law, which codifies Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people but does not mention the rights of the country’s minority groups. They also expressed hope that Israel will do much more to ensure the equal treatment of non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism. 

Sandler said the North American-Israel relationship has shifted over the years, to the point where Israel — which once struggled to feed and house its citizens — now offers educational and logistical assistance to Diaspora communities and is seeking to expand that role. 

During the GA, Israeli leaders floated the idea of creating a “Reverse Birthright” that would bring young Israelis to Diaspora Jewish communities, and setting up programs to teach Hebrew to North American Jews.    

“When I grew up you had two things you don’t have going on today,” Sandler said. “Back then, Israel needed a large infusion of philanthropic dollars from the U.S. Israel didn’t have the strong economy it has now. Today, Israel doesn’t need our dollars to the same extent, though of course there are people still in need.” 

At a time when Israel still relies heavily on the federations’ help to fund numerous programs for the most disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society, Israeli officials are concerned about Jewish identity among North American Jews and are seeking ways to strengthen it. 

Sandler said this change in the Israel-Diaspora power dynamic has taken many Diaspora Jews by surprise. 

Referring to a presentation by the organization Israel Flying Aid, which is providing vital assistance to people in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, Sandler said, “I don’t think American Jews think of Israeli NGOs reaching out beyond their border and making a difference in the world, just as we try to make a difference in the world. It makes us proud.” 

Helene Siegel, a federation delegate from Orange County, said she was impressed by the strides Israeli nonprofits have been making in addressing coexistence. 

During a GA session, two organizations that bring Jewish- and Arab-Israeli children together presented their work. One of them, Kids 4 Peace, brings Arab and Jewish teens together to work on joint projects and celebrate each other’s holidays. Their parents also meet on an ongoing basis. The program is considered a major success. 

“For me, this was a highlight of the GA because I really believe that kids are our future,” Siegel said. “These kids make connections with one another and then bring those connections back to their parents and ultimately to their communities. Instead of seeing them as ‘the other,’ they learn that ultimately most people want peace.” 

Blossom Siegel, Helene’s mother and a former head of the Orange County federation, said the GA always provides something new and innovative. The Tel Aviv GA marked her 40th visit to Israel. 

“This year, it was all about bridging differences,” she said. “The Israelis are more openly protective of their children while we Americans take our safety, our standard of living, our ability to get jobs somewhat more for granted.” 

Blossom Siegel said she felt gratified that so many of the sessions focused on the integration of Israel’s Arab community and on programs “that help children from different backgrounds become more tolerant of one another.” 

“It won’t happen overnight,” she added, “but it will happen.” 

Ushpizin: Who Would You Invite Into Your Sukkah?

During Sukkot, we gather with in our temporary structures (sukkot) meant to recall those used by the children of Israel after they left Egypt and wandered the desert. 

One tradition suggests that, in addition to hosting family and friends, we invite specific Jewish historical figures as ushpizin (guests): Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. More recently, a new tradition has suggested adding Jewish historical women: Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther. Even more contemporary interpretations expand the list of potential guests to include relatives who have passed away and other important or inspiring figures from our lives.

We asked rabbis, community leaders, comedians and others to tell us which historical or living inspirational figures they would like to symbolically invite into their sukkah this year:

Rachel Grose, Executive Director, Jewish Free Loan Association
Anne Frank. Her ability to believe in people despite her desperate and terrifying situation is an inspiration for all of us to make the effort to see the best in everyone.

Joshua Holo, Dean of the Los Angeles Campus and Associate Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Legendary actor Archibald Leach once said of himself, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” Good company and lively conversation, purveyed under palm trees and lubricated with sacramental wine, enliven Sukkot’s moniker as “the season of our joy.” My dream ushpiz is one part self-examiner, perhaps a little hungover from the previous week’s introspection, and two parts conversationalist, suitable for public radio’s “The Dinner Party Download.” Who better to carry the banter in the sukkah than Cary Grant? Fabulous stories of a bygone age, threaded with mildly rueful self-discovery, all in real time. 

“Haman, so he could see that his plan backfired. I’d also make sure that all the fruit in my sukkah were hanging from the bamboo in tiny nooses.” — Elon Gold

Elon Gold, comedian and actor
Haman. I’d seat him at the kids’ table in my sukkah because he’s a big, stupid baby, and so he could see that his plan backfired and that we have lived on, generation after generation, flourishing, beautiful and strong as ever. I’d also make sure that all the fruit in my sukkah were hanging from the bamboo in tiny nooses. Just to remind him of the good old days and what happens to anyone who tries to wipe out our people. 

Also, Noah’s next door neighbor. Most people would want Noah himself to visit but I have a few questions for his neighbor: How annoying was all that construction morning, noon and night for all those years? Does he believe in climate change? Also, when you saw your neighbor building an ark, it didn’t pique your curiosity? Because if it were me, I’d be either kissing Noah’s ass big-time to get a couple seats on the ark or start building my own. 

And Golda Meir. I know a lot of comedians, all sharp, quick-witted and fun to be around. But every quote I’ve ever heard or read of Golda’s was laced with biting, brilliant humor. I would love nothing more than to hear her regale us with stories of Israel in its “Golda-en” age and get her take on the modern world. (I bet she’d figure out who wrote that anonymous New York Times op-ed). And then I’d ask her to share her thoughts on Haman and Noah’s neighbor, and then just sit back and laugh as she laces into them as only Golda knows how.

E. Randol Schoenberg, attorney and genealogist
I spend a lot of time working on genealogy, so there are naturally many ancestors I would really like to have met, especially my two grandfathers, the composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl. Their musical legacies continue to inspire me and so many others, but I would love to be able to just sit around a table and get to know them. The conversation wouldn’t have to turn to weighty topics, although I am sure their views would be fascinating and insightful. I’d really just like to enjoy their wit and sense of humor. The public tends to think especially of my grandfather Schoenberg as a stern lawgiver, sort of like the depiction of Moses in the Bible, but within our family he isn’t remembered that way at all. Probably Moses wasn’t so strict all the time, either. I’d like to get to know my famous grandfathers, not as famous people, but just as grandfathers. 

Naama Haviv, Director of Development and Community Relations, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
I’d love to share my sukkah with Leibel Fein (z”l), intellectual, journalist, activist, co-founder and editor of Moment magazine, and founder of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. I wonder especially what he would say about our place in the world as Jews now, in today’s ever more hyperpartisan atmosphere. When he founded MAZON, hunger was a safe, nonpartisan issue that everyone could get behind without political rancor. If stories from our staff and board who knew him are correct, he’d probe the question with immense curiosity and thoughtfulness, and with his trademark razor-sharp wit and charm. And we’d all be better people, better advocates and better Jews for it. 

Rabbi Adam Greenwald, Director, Miller Intro to Judaism Program, American Jewish University
Moses. OK, so that might seem like the most painfully “rabbi-ish” answer ever, but bear with me. The Talmud tells the story of Moses traveling through time to sit in Rabbi Akiva’s (50-135 C.E.) study hall. Moses can’t follow the discussions and begins to despair that he no longer recognizes those who are supposed to be his spiritual heirs. Finally, a student asks a question to which Rabbi Akiva responds, “Well, that is Torah that we received from Moses, our teacher,” and Moses’ mind was set at ease. If Moses was confused by the Judaism that followed him by just a thousand years, it’s hard to imagine what he would make of ours. Yet I wonder if he could come and sit with us in the sukkah, what would he recognize, and even knowing that so much would be profoundly unfamiliar, would we make him proud?

Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas, Valley Beth Shalom
There are so many people I’d like to invite, but if I’d have to choose one, I’d probably choose President Abraham Lincoln. I’d Iike to sit with the ol’ rail splitter and ask him to reflect on how we can bridge a very divided country today. I’d love for him to guide us to recover our civic virtue and help us find those “better angels of our nature.”  

Jay Sanderson, President and CEO, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
I would invite those who personify the leadership skills we sorely need today. My guests would be Moses (resilience), Mahatma Gandhi (sacrifice), David Ben-Gurion (determination), Martin Luther King Jr. (vision), Anne Frank (optimism), Abraham Lincoln (persistence) and Lillian Wald (idealism).

“Moses. I wonder what would he recognize, and even knowing that so much would be profoundly unfamiliar, would we make him proud?”
— Rabbi Adam Greenwald

Mayim Bialik, actress, writer, founder of GrokNation
I’m kind of wanting to invite whoever wrote that NY Times op-ed just because I’ve got so many questions, but I would invite Sacha Baron Cohen. His “Who Is America?” has blown my mind. 

Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Co-founder of Jewish World Watch, Chair of Beit T’Shuvah and of Jews United for Democracy and Justice
I would like to invite both Maimonides (Rambam) and Nechama Leibowitz into our sukkah on the same night. I have always seen Maimonides as one of the smartest, most open-minded and perhaps most influential Jewish thinkers of all time. His teachings on all aspects of Jewish thought, including the role of women in Judaism, permeate rabbinic education and Jewish learning. It surprised me that Maimonides, a progressive figure for his time, expressed the belief that women are biologically inferior to men and that a man ought not teach his daughter Torah. 

When Maimonides meets Nechama Leibowitz in our sukkah, he will certainly see that there is no biological inferiority and that there is great benefit to teaching one’s daughter Torah. Nechama Leibowitz, who died at 92 in 1997, is widely viewed as one of the most influential teachers of Torah of her generation. My family and I would enthusiastically welcome Rambam and Leibowitz and would relish being witness to their conversation, but since ushpizin is an idea that requires a certain degree of magical thinking, I would hope that, after experiencing Nechama Leibowitz and her brilliant Torah, Maimonides would go back and do a few corrections in his teachings and analysis and become an active advocate in favor of an inclusive role for women in all aspects of Judaism, thereby letting the women of the last millennium use their advocacy talents and energies to fight other battles. 

Annie Korzen, actress/humorist
I am a secular Jew, but I happily celebrate the holidays when someone invites me. I enjoy being in a room full of Jews, plus I never refuse free food. If I were hosting in a sukkah, my guest list would include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela and, to add a touch of levity, Mel Brooks. Sounds like a fun group to me.

Simms/Mann Think Tank Focuses on Children

KPCC’s Priska Neely (from far left) interviews 2018 Simms/Mann Institute Whole Child Award winners Matthew Melmed, Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, Dr. Patricia Kuhl and Dr. Thomas Boyce at the Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank on May 2.

It was an unusual day for Jay Sanderson. Rather than taking meetings and calls from his office on Wilshire Boulevard, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ president and CEO was attending the Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank conference at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

The conference, which took place on May 2, is an annual, daylong event on early childhood development that brings together world-renowned neuroscientists studying how the brain develops during the first three years of life with professionals who can translate new insights into best practices and then put them into action — pediatricians, OB-GYNs, social workers, educators and nonprofit leaders, among others.

Dr. Victoria Mann Simms, president of the Simms/Mann Family Foundation and Institute, and a child development specialist, told the Journal the think tank is designed to help close the information gap between researchers and practitioners so that more children and families can thrive in our high-pressure world.

Sanderson was among more than 500 people who signed up for the sold-out conference months in advance, to hear researchers talk about early factors that promote lifelong resilience. Presentations covered how parents can help their children feel less stressed; how involved fathers in particular can influence their children’s development of language and reading skills; and how helping children learn to recognize, understand and name their feelings from a very young age prepares them to successfully navigate the social and emotional challenges that crop up in adolescence and beyond.

“Every challenge that we face would be easier if we created healthy Jews,” Sanderson told the Journal after the event. “If we could start looking at a child’s health and well-being — as well as their Jewish connections — from birth, we would have fewer problems when they enter adulthood.”

“If we could start looking at a child’s health and well-being — as well as their Jewish connections — from birth, we would have fewer problems when they enter adulthood.” — Jay Sanderson

The Simms/Mann Institute partnered with Federation and Builders of Jewish Education in 2015 to pilot the First 36 Project, a fellowship program that teaches parent-and-me class facilitators about child development theory and cutting-edge neuroscience research. Thirty-six educators representing 18 early childhood centers ranging from Orthodox to Reform have participated to date, and the Simms/Mann Institute is now in conversation with organizations outside Los Angeles about expansion.

Rabbi Nicole Guzik, who works at Sinai Temple, spoke during a panel discussion at the General Assembly last November. She said that as a result of the training she received — which covered topics such as attachment, temperament, communication and empathy — she has felt more comfortable engaging other parents about the importance of early relationships and has incorporated more rituals and routines, which promote healthy brain development, into her family’s home life. In addition, she said the number of families engaged in Sinai’s Dor Chadash community for young families has increased dramatically in the past few years.

Another First 36 Project alum, Nicole Mevorakh, said the program gave her and a colleague the confidence they needed to launch a new class at Stephen Wise Temple and Schools. That class has recently doubled in size and has a waiting list for the summer.

“The First 36 Project is a proactive strategy to help create the strongest Jewish community by creating the strongest, most resilient Jews from the beginning,” Sanderson said.

“The work that we are doing, from the think tank to the First 36 Project to the CuddleBright Experience [a parenting tool the Simms/Mann Institute designed and produced to help parents and young children develop secure attachments and reduce anxiety during periods of separation] is about the power of relationships from birth,” Simms said. “If we can help people understand that our social, emotional and cognitive health are connected and interdependent, then we can improve the future of medicine and education, and we can improve lives.”

Dr. Pat Levitt, the Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, emceed the conference, while Simms handed out this year’s Simms/Mann Institute Whole Child Awards to exceptional leaders working in the early childhood fields. Pediatrician Thomas Boyce, I-LABS Co-Directors Dr. Patricia Kuhl and Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, and Zero to Three Executive Director Matthew Melmed were recognized in the areas of medicine, community education and visionary leadership, respectively.

“We now know that healthy bonds build healthy brains, but our society doesn’t prioritize or make room for deep connections,” Simms said. “There’s so much pressure to be perfect, but it’s important for parents to understand that long-term contentment is something one builds piece by piece. Creating a meaningful life is an active, not a passive, process. This is what we need to teach our children so that they value themselves more than things.”

Shayna Rose Triebwasser is a philanthropic adviser who consults for the Simms/Mann Family Foundation and Institute.

Moving & Shaking: Focus on Women’s Health; Bialik at UCLA

From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Board Chair Julie Platt, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin and L.A. Federation CEO Jay Sanderson attend the Federation’s community leaders’ Passover seder in Venice. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held its annual community leaders’ Passover seder on March 28 at the Israel Levin Center in Venice, bringing together elected and civic representatives from multiple faiths and backgrounds to celebrate the holiday.

Elected officials in attendance included Los Angeles City Council members Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and David Ryu; L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin; state Treasurer John Chiang; state Sen. Ben Allen; and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz​; ​Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) supporter ​Myrtle Sitowitz; ​Sheba Medical Center ​Dr. Romana Herscovici; FSMC Senior Vice President ​Ruth Steinberger; FSMC President Parham Zar; and FSMC Executive Director David Levy attend “Women’s Heart Health,” a salon-style discussion in Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) held its “Women’s Heart Health” salon on March 21 to discuss preventive measures against women’s cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death in women.

Nearly 100 people attended the sold-out gathering that featured Sheba Medical Center’s Dr. Romana Herscovici and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz speaking about heart health for women. The event was held at the Beverly Hills home of longtime FSMC supporter Myrtle Sitowitz.

Herscovici is spending two years as a research fellow at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, working under Bairey Merz’s mentorship in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center. Upon her return to Israel later this year, Herscovici will continue her work focusing on women’s heart health at Sheba Medical Center, which is the largest, most comprehensive medical center in Israel and the Middle East. Herscovici’s fellowship at Cedars-Sinai is an example of one of Sheba’s many global partnerships working to advance medicine worldwide.

“It was exciting to participate in such an important and informative conversation that affects all women and our families,” said Barbara Lazaroff, vice president of the FSMC board. “I am very proud of the partnership between Sheba Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai, knowing it will make a significant difference in women’s heart health across the globe.”

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Mayim Bialik, who has been selected to deliver the commencement address at UCLA in June. Photo courtesy of UCLA.

UCLA has selected actress Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” as its distinguished alumna speaker for the UCLA College commencement on June 15. Bialik holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA.

“Dr. Bialik embodies the values of a Bruin,” UCLA College Senior Dean Patricia Turner said in a statement. “Throughout her career, she has shown how hard work, determination and civic duty can lead to success. I know that our graduates will be inspired by her story as they set out to make their own mark in the world.”

Bialik will address both commencement ceremonies, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion.

Since 2010, she has appeared on the popular CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” playing Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist who is the fiancée of Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons.

Among her several acting roles as a youth, Bialik portrayed the title character in the 1990s sitcom “Blossom.” After that show ended its run, Bialik left acting and earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2000, with a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies. She earned her doctorate in neuroscience in 2007. Her thesis examined the role of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.

While at UCLA, Bialik was a student leader in UCLA Hillel, founding a women’s Rosh Chodesh group, chanting and blowing shofar for High Holy Days services, and conducting and writing music for UCLA’s Jewish a capella group.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and actress Mayim Bialik attend the Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, held at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem from March 19–21, drew foreign ministers, politicians and community leaders from around the world.

Actress Mayim Bialik, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, were among the attendees from Los Angeles.

Bialik delivered the keynote address, about her personal experiences dealing with anti-Semitism and her love for the State of Israel and its people.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Sixth Global Forum with leaders from around the world,” Grundwerg said. “It is critical to focus on the importance of fostering tolerance and the need to continue to fight anti-Semitism on every front. Having the opportunity to bring Mayim Bialik, a leading and courageous voice of moral clarity in the community, is one of the true highlights of my posting. Her passion, love of the Jewish people and strong message of support for Israel resonated deeply with all who were present, including myself.”

Panels at the event addressed, among other topics, anti-Semitism in European far-right movements, anti-Semitism in the intersectionality of the far-left, and cyberhate.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and Jewish Federation of North Americas Board Chair Richard Sandler appeared in conversation before major Federation donors. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Former President George W. Bush and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board of Trustees Chair Richard V. Sandler appeared in conversation on March 21 at the Conrad Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before 150 members of the JFNA Prime Minister’s Council.

Sandler, of Santa Monica, is the former board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In the conversation, Bush discussed the challenges of presidential decision-making, fatherhood, the 9/11 attacks, the need to help free people from tyranny and his decision to pursue painting after leaving the White House.

The JFNA Prime Minister’s Council is a group of families that have contributed more than $100,000 each to their local Federation annually or have made an endowment commitment to their Federation of $2 million.

From left: JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, Judy Levin, Alon Ben-Gurion, Victoria Davis and JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman attend a JNF breakfast in the San Fernando Valley. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund.

More than 400 people who attended the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Breakfast for Israel at the Woodland Hills Marriott on March 28 heard Alon Ben-Gurion recount stories about his grandfather — Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

“The historical, touching and humorous anecdotes were a wonderful way to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary,” said JNF spokeswoman Marina Brodetsky.

Alon Ben-Gurion, who served as a paratrooper during the Yom Kippur War, is a hospitality consultant who previously was a general manager for the Hilton hotel chain, including at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York from 1997-2004. In recent years, he has been focused on development issues in the Negev desert in Israel.

Attendees at the breakfast included JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, breakfast co-chairs Judy Levin and Victoria Davis, JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman, JNF supporters Marilyn and Allen Golden, and children from the MATI Israeli Community Center in Tarzana.

The nonprofit JNF, according to its website, is committed to ensuring a “strong, secure and prosperous Israel for the Jewish people everywhere.” Its programs include agricultural research farms in the Galilee, developing housing projects for young families in the Negev, and making Israel more inclusive for people with disabilities and special needs.

‘Now I Am a Builder’: Sanderson Reflects on How Federation Has Changed Him

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Eight years into his tenure as CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson says he is a changed man. Indeed, he seems more restrained, mature and reflective than the eager, young entrepreneur who succeeded John Fishel.

“People knew me before as very passionate, a guy who would make up things as I go along,” Sanderson said. “I walked around with a bomb in my pocket, ready to blow up things.”

A vastly different — but still passionate — Sanderson recently visited the Journal’s offices for a wide-ranging discussion with the staff.

He wrapped his personal journey into a tidy eight-word package: “Now I am a builder, not a destroyer.”

Federation has changed, too. “Our work is dramatically different from before,” he said.

Emphases and directions have changed.

“The Federation does not define Judaism, but it provides entryways and roadmaps into the Jewish community,” Sanderson said. “We are uniquely positioned. I want entryways to be meaningful not just to the person but to the Jewish community.”

Sanderson said he sought the CEO position because, “I was concerned about the future of the Jewish people.”

Federation in 2009 was “struggling and in decline,” he said. “When I started to dig in, it wasn’t at all what I had expected.”

“The Federation does not define Judaism, but it provides entryways and roadmaps into the Jewish community.” — Jay Sanderson

Today, he said, “the Federation is not what it used to be — an umbrella of beneficiary agencies. We used to run the Jewish Journal and Jewish Family Service.”

When he was hired, he said, the Federation board resembled the acutely partisan U.N. General Assembly, “which is tremendously dysfunctional.”

He likened his task to “turning around a battleship in a dry river — taking a 100-year-old-plus organization, making it limber and focusing on new goals.”

Sanderson believes he approaches his agenda differently than the CEOs of the other 140 federations across the United States.

“I look at the Jewish Federation locally and globally,” he said, “and I try to figure out what solutions we can bring. When you start thinking that way, everything changes.

“I look at the community as a big tent of many choices. You no longer are concerned about an individual, but about the Jewish community. Who you hire changes. How you invest money changes. How you raise money changes.”

As for hiring, Sanderson is not shopping for specialists. “I am not running a widget factory,” he said. “I want someone who can envision the whole automobile.”

Establishing and nurturing relationships is a fascinating component of his agenda.

“We are bringing organizations to the table that do similar things but never talk to each other,” he said.

But Federation is not recruiting marching bands or posting billboards to declare victories. “The best advocacy is advocacy that is neither seen nor heard,” he said.

Asked what most exasperated him, Sanderson said: “I always am frustrated with national and international issues.”

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reportedly popular on a large number of college campuses, is hugely overblown, Sanderson asserts. “It certainly is not the No. 1 issue on campuses, not as big as the yelling and screaming have made it out to be.”

As for Federation’s more neutral role, Sanderson said, “We meet you where you are. We greet you. We embrace you.”

When Sanderson talked about how the rewired Jewish Federation is called on to make “Solomon-esque decisions,” he cited two specific categories.

“More Holocaust survivors are alive today than expected — thank God — but we have fewer resources to serve them.

“For people who are struggling, we are a safety net for the Jewish community.”

With significant Medicaid cuts potentially on the horizon, “we are feeling pressured,” Sanderson said. Even after placing impoverished people with a social worker, reaching resolutions is more complicated than this formula may sound.

Sanderson proudly noted that his Federation was the first in the country to commit to a partnership with Honeymoon Israel, the Birthright-like group that sends couples in the first five years of their relationship to Israel. Now it “has a massive waiting list,” he said.

Asked about the state of Judaism in contemporary America, Sanderson said, “My job is to make it more relevant” — a colossal task in any Jewish community, but especially in Los Angeles, where Federation’s territory covers 5,000 square miles.

Although Sanderson spoke about his third major restructuring across a disparate community with many disconnections, some rudiments remain permanently in place.

“The Federation is the 9-1-1 for Jews in trouble, whether it’s people who can’t pay their rent or institutions that are not raising enough money,” said Sanderson, who spends considerable time advising both public and private organizations.

As for the future, “Twenty-five years from now, our Jewish community is going to be drastically different. Among the non-Orthodox, the strong, large synagogues will survive the change. I don’t think the small and medium-sized will be around, though.”

What will replace them? Sanderson spoke of “seeing new kinds of sacred spaces. My generation has more resources than our parents’ generation. But the next generation will not.”

Sanderson made it a priority to address Jewish life on college campuses, leading Federation into a new relationship with Hillel. The partnership infused major sparks of Jewish life into three San Fernando Valley campuses: Cal State Northridge, Pierce College and Valley College. Twice as many Jewish students attend those colleges as USC and UCLA, he said.

At the outset, he was told he was entering the loneliest job of his life. Not so, “but it has been the most frustrating,” he said.

In his ninth year, Sanderson is growing.

“Open as I am, this job has taught me I have to be much more strategic, much more thoughtful than I ever thought I would be,” he said.

“I believe more in the Jewish people than I did before. I believe we have a future. I am more committed to the community than I was eight years ago. I also am far more worried than I was about how to get from here to there.”

Moving & Shaking: JQ and Kadima galas; LAMOTH student film showcase

From left: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Board Chair Julie Platt; Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman; Jewish Federation Valley Alliance Chair Jill Namm; and Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson come together at “It Takes a Woman,” an event for Federation supporters.

JQ International, an organization serving Los Angeles’ LGBTQ Jews, held its annual JQ Awards Garden Brunch May 7 at the Beverly Hills home of Angela and Jamshid Maddahi.

“It was a gorgeous day honoring three amazing role models who inspire each of us with their work advocating for the LGBTQ Jewish community,” JQ International founder and Executive Director Asher Gellis said in an interview.

The outdoor event honored community leader Courtney Mizel with the Community Leadership Award, Hollywood producer Zvi Howard Rosenman (“Father of the Bride,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) with the Trailblazer Award and image therapist Liana Chaouli with the Inspiration Award.

Presenting Mizel with her award, Esther Netter, CEO of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, called Mizel “a human in tune and a LinkedIn site all her own … she is fluid in her thinking and intensely present.”

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Jewish Journal President David Suissa presented Rosenman with the Trailblazer Award.

“I was a gay Jew before there were Jewish queers,” Rosenman said, sharing his story of what it was like growing up gay and Orthodox and how he made a name for himself in Hollywood.

From left: JQ International Assistant Director Arya Marvazy; JQ International honorees Courtney Mizel, Zvi Howard Rosenman and Liana Chaouli; and JQ International Executive Director Asher Gellis supported the LGBTQ community at the JQ Awards Garden Brunch. Photo courtesy of JQ International

Amanda Maddahi, JQ’s director of operations, presented the Inspiration Award to Chaouli, her aunt, after sharing moving remarks about growing up in the very house where the event was held.

JQ provides programs, services and education to Los Angeles’ LGBTQ Jews and allies. Its social programming and support services include the JQ Helpline, JQ Speakers Bureau, Inclusion Consulting and support groups.

“Together,” Gellis said, “we are changing hearts and minds, and making our Jewish community more inclusive for all.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Kadima Day School honorees Avi Kobi, Ami Fridman, Michaela Fridman and Sivan Kobi attend the day school’s annual gala fundraising event.

West Hills-based Kadima Day School’s April 2 gala at the Hyatt Regency Westlake in Westlake Village honored school supporters Michaela and Ami Fridman, and Sivan and Avi Kobi, and recognized longtime educator Sara Goren with the Excellence in Education Award.

Michaela Fridman and Sivan Kobi serve on the executive committee of Kadima Day School as Parent Teacher Organization co-presidents.

Goren is the Hebrew coordinator and a Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Kadima.

Attendees included businessman and philanthropist Naty Saidoff, who pledged $50,000 to the school; Shawn Evenhaim, namesake of the school’s Evenhaim Family Campus; and Scott Abrams, district director for U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), in whose district the school is located.

Kadima Day School operates a preschool, elementary school and middle school.

From left: Remember Us Director Samara Hutman; survivor Eva Nathanson; filmmaker Naja Butler and LAMOTH’s Rachel Fidler attended the “Voices of Hope” student film showcase. Photo by Ryan Torok

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) partnered with the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and Jewish World Watch in holding the April 30 student film showcase “Voices of Hope” at the LAMOTH campus at Pan Pacific Park.

The event featured the screening of 12 student films and immediately followed the Jewish World Watch Walk to End Genocide in Pan Pacific Park.

Attendees included LAMOTH Creative Programs Director Rachel Fidler, who led a panel with the student filmmakers after the screening; Naja Butler, director and star of one of the films, “An American Girl”; Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival Director Hilary Helstein; singer-songwriter, activist and educator Jaclyn Riva Beck; Samrina Vasani, an alumnus of a NewGround program bringing high school-age Jews and Muslims together; and Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us and The Righteous Conversations Project.

The museum received about 500 film submissions from students in sixth through 12th grades around the nation.

The screened films tackled “social justice issues and human stories that matter,” Fidler said in an email. The films addressed issues such as bullying in schools, challenges facing young American Muslims, the subverting of gender stereotypes, and the importance of storytelling in carrying on the memory of the Holocaust.

The gathering, attended by about 30 people, was held in the museum’s upstairs library.

From left: PJTC Rabbi Noam Raucher, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu; Rabbi Marvin Grossman and USC lecturer Peter Braun attended a presentation by Chu at PJTC. Photo courtesy of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.

The newly formed social justice committee of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC) kicked off its programming with an April 20 appearance at the synagogue by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), whose district includes Pasadena.

PJTC Rabbi Noam Raucher introduced the congresswoman to the approximately 300 temple members in attendance.

After Chu’s opening remarks, Peter Braun, a synagogue member and University of Southern California lecturer in leadership and management, moderated a Q-and-A session with the audience. Discussion topics ranged from Israel to tax policy and health care.

As the event concluded, Rabbi Marvin Gross, a former nonprofit director and chair of PJTC’s social justice committee, presented Chu with a sign reading “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome, We Must Not Stand Idly By … ”

The sign was part of a campaign launched by members of the social justice committee, who distributed 250 signs in Pasadena and the surrounding area.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

At The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ annual “It Takes a Woman” (ITAW) event on May 10, Olympic gold-medal gymnast Alexandra “Aly” Raisman discussed what it meant to represent the United States and the Jewish people in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

Federation’s Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy group at the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance organized the event at the Skirball Cultural Center, which drew more than 400 female attendees.

In an onstage interview with Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson, Raisman discussed her experiences at the two Olympics, the challenges of being a female athlete and how she is now using that experience to teach younger generations about confidence, kindness and positive body image.

Raisman, 22, is a two-time captain of the Olympic gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team and the second most-decorated American female gymnast in the history of the sport. She has earned six Olympic medals, including three gold.

ITAW is focused on introducing women to the work of Federation. Women are the fastest-growing segment of donors within Federation, with gifts made by women in their own names comprising 25 percent of its annual fundraising campaign, according to Federation’s website.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

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

A deafening silence from the Jewish Federation

Los Angeles Jewish Federation building

For at least the past half century, Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.

Today, that is not the case.

The Jewish community’s umbrella organization, the Jewish Federation, remains deafeningly silent on an issue that is high on the list of major concerns of most Jews—the actions and words of the Trump administration.

We know that if there is any group in society that should be wary of a leader who exhibits the traits of Trump, it is us. The history of the twentieth century sets off our antennae and ought to make action natural, reflexive and immediate. 

Over past decades, the authors of this piece were active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances that were meaningful benchmarks on the path to Los Angeles becoming the diverse, vibrant and accepting environment that it is. Avoiding tough issues, running from controversy, or fearing internecine backlashes were not how we operated.

Whether it was engaging minority communities in contentious, but civil, debates over affirmative action and preferences in the 1970s or reaching out to neighbors and allies to cobble together opposition to police abuse and the resurgent Klans and Aryan Nations in the 1980s and 1990s, or creating roundtables and coalitions with Muslims, Latinos and African Americans in the 1990s and 2000s—we knew that our fate was intertwined with those of others; parochial self-absorption was not the prevailing ethos, for us, or for others.

It was not without thought that in the early 90s, as Operation Desert Storm began, Jewish leaders (at a time when passions related to the war and Muslims were high) spoke out against potential hate that “might” be directed at our Muslim neighbors. Some in our community were unhappy (“what’s the need?”) but it was the right and proper thing to do and we did it; to remain silent was seen as an abdication of our leadership responsibility.

There is little doubt that were a politician to have surfaced over the past forty years who pilloried minority groups, maligned immigrants as racists and thugs, promoted conspiracy theories that historically were the stock-in-trade of racists and bigots, and scorned reason, data and facts—-protests from the Jewish community would have been thunderous in warning of the danger to our democracy, to the fabric of the community and to ourselves. The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition. 

Today, the absence of a unified Jewish community leadership protesting President Trump’s incendiary comments on myriad topics, including his targeting of minority groups and immigrants, is shocking.

The Jewish Federation in particular, the community umbrella, has remained appallingly silent on Trump’s order restricting the admission of refugees [ironically, they answer critics by pointing out what they did on behalf of Jewish refugees] and his manifest contempt for civility, reasoned arguments and facts.

Whether it is due to Trump’s perceived support for Israel’s prime minister, or a fear of angering conservative major donors, the silence is inexplicable (nearly ¾ of Jews supported Clinton nationally, considerably higher locally).

Leadership demands that one take a stand on vital issues that may not be perceived as essential to one’s mission—protesting on core issues is easy; that’s self-preservation, not leadership. Leadership asks that you recognize threats where others may not see them and then act, even if at a cost.

Where is the overarching community voice willing to condemn the blatant lying, paranoia, undermining of decency, consorting with bigots and bigotry, and targeting of minorities that will, ultimately, harm us all? Do we get lulled into indolence because we are not today’s target? Why are LA’s Jews compelled to start new grass roots organizations to protest Trump (such as Jews United for Democracy and Justice which garnered over 2,200 supporters in just a few weeks) when the armatures for action already exist?

The silence from “6505” is deafening especially in a week when three leading conservative pundits have all parted company with the prevaricator-in-chief and described him as either “irrational bordering on mental illness”(Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal), or as the “most reckless, feckless, and malevolent president in the country’s history” (Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine), or admonished Republicans to not “define lunacy down” (Michael Gerson, The Washington Post).

Stephens, Sullivan and Gerson all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nonetheless.

In Los Angeles there is no over-arching Jewish community voice speaking clearly and unambiguously about the all too obvious dangers, just a troublesome silence. The warning signs are everywhere, where is the leadership?


David Lehrer is president of Community Advocates Inc., a Los Angeles-based human relations organization, and headed the Anti-Defamation League in L.A. from 1986 to 2002. George T. Caplan was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles president from 1988 to 1990. Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, headed Federation’s Community Relations Committee (CRC) from 1985 to 1995. Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, was director of the American Jewish Congress in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1994. Michael Hirschfeld headed the CRC from 1994 to 2003.

Innovative Jewish center moves forward on the Venice boardwalk

A rendering by Belzberg Architects shows the planned renovation to the Israel Levin Center on the Venice boardwalk. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles plans to create an innovative Jewish space just steps from the beach in Venice after winning approval Feb. 8 from the California Coastal Commission.

The commission’s approval was the final hurdle toward redeveloping an underused senior facility on the Venice boardwalk, transforming it into what Federation expects to be a one-of-a-kind space for intergenerational encounters.

Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson said the organization plans to break ground before the end of the year on a project that will transform the aging Israel Levin Center into a modern, three-story complex that will include a kosher kitchen, rooftop deck and Moishe House youth living space.

“This is going to be an architectural masterpiece on the boardwalk unlike anything that’s there,” he said.

Sanderson told the Journal that the project reimagines the center as a place not only for senior programming, such as the regular Shabbat dinners held there, but also to bring young Jews into the orbit of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. The renovation seeks to capitalize on the increasing number of young Jews working in Venice’s burgeoning tech scene, he said.

Sanderson called the planned space, “a brand new model of Jewish engagement for Jews of all ages. Think of it as a Jewish community center for the 21st century.”

The task of developing that model falls to NuRoots, a grass-roots engagement program within Federation that seeks to create innovative spiritual and communal experiences for young Jews. As part of her role as assistant director of the NuRoots Community Fellowship, Jenn Green has shared coffee with hundreds of Venice-area young adults “on the outskirts of Jewish life.”

“A lot of them are telling me they feel untethered or they’re feeling lonely, they’re new to L.A., they’re working really long hours,” she told the Journal. “A lot of them want to do something meaningful and want to give back.”

Meanwhile, just blocks away from where these coffee dates are taking place, the seniors who frequent the Israel Levin Center are bursting with life advice to share and an eagerness to engage with the next Jewish generation.

“I would hear all the time from the seniors, ‘There’s no way young people want to come and hang out with us,’ ” Green said. “And that is absolutely not the case at all.”

Jason Leivenberg, vice president of NuRoots, said the organization is looking into unique gathering spaces in Los Angeles like the co-working space WeWork and the exclusive Soho House social club to learn how young people come together. He emphasized that NuRoots is just one of the stakeholders that would put on programming at the renovated Venice location.

Federation is looking to raise between $7 million and $8 million for the renovation and programmatic endowments, and already has raised about half of that, Sanderson said. He estimated the renovations will be completed before the end of 2018.

Though the building will be closed during renovations, Federation plans to offer an alternate site in the area for seniors to access services.

The planned renovation would add more than 1,000 square feet and more than double the height of the current single-story building.

A community room would occupy the bulk of the first floor, while the second floor would contain administrative offices and a sun deck, with a 1,300-square-foot residential space on the top floor.

The top-floor apartment will be administered by Moishe House, a Jewish co-living organization that offers reduced rents to young Jews, who host engagement programs in exchange. The two to three residents will host some programs, while the rest will be put on by Federation staff, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and members of the Venice Jewish community, according to Federation.

“[The building is] a brand new model of jewish engagement for Jews of all ages. Think of it as a Jewish community center for the 21st Century.”

— Jay Sanderson, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO

Sanderson said the space would be unique because it would be modular, with movable walls and furniture able to accommodate diverse needs.

“Most Jewish buildings and institutions, whether they’re [Jewish community centers] or synagogues, they’re built for specific purposes, but they’re not open model,” he said. “This is being designed as an open model.”

The center was built in 1927 as a cafe and then served as a dance hall and later an apartment house. It was deeded to a predecessor organization to Federation in 1964.

But by the time Federation filed for permits to renovate in 2015, a planning firm it hired wrote that “Jewish institutions in the area are minimally attended and the facilities available for Jewish community gatherings are out of date.” 

Federation estimates some 45 to 50 seniors visit the center each week.

Sanderson said he’s drawing on a previous experience renovating a residential drug rehab facility on the boardwalk five blocks south of the senior center, now called Phoenix House.

He imagines the Venice redevelopment as a starting point rather than the finish line.

“Our dream is to create places like this throughout the city,” he said.

Federation stays neutral on Trump refugee order, despite pressure

A protest against President Donald Trump's immigration policy in New York City on Feb. 12. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters

In the days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions to the United States, a long list of Jewish organizations authored fiery statements condemning the new measures. Notably missing from their ranks was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from taking a clear position on the executive order raised questions about whether it should make any political statements at all, hearkening to a similarly bitter debate about the Iran nuclear agreement. And while disagreements on that point simmered behind closed doors, the Federation has signaled that it would continue to abstain from taking sides on the day’s issues.

In a Feb. 2 email titled “Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson addressed the executive order without criticizing it: “I want you to know that we have heard your concerns and feel the anxiety of our community,” he wrote.

For some, Sanderson’s email fell short, failing to express solidarity with impacted communities and carrying a fundraising pitch some saw as tone deaf. Within the organization’s circle of stakeholders, volunteers and employees, many raised concerns privately over whether Federation should take a stronger stand on the issue.

In a private letter obtained by the Journal, 36 alumni of Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project strongly criticized Sanderson’s email for being too passive it its approach.

“We must express our profound disappointment — for some of us, even anger and shame — at ‘Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,’ ” they wrote, adding their voice to a chorus of donors and community members airing their grievances internally.

Addressing themselves Feb. 6 to Sanderson and Julie Platt, chair of Federation’s board of directors, the young leaders asked Sanderson to reconsider his statement. His email, they wrote, “neither specifies the policies against which so many Jewish leaders are battling, nor identifies by name the Muslim and immigrant communities with which we are standing together. In standing silently by, the communication betrays our values as Jews, as Americans, as Angelenos, and as civic ambassadors for the Jewish Federation.”

The authors noted that their “continued voluntary and philanthropic involvement” in Federation programs would be impacted by the response they received.

The letter prompted a Feb. 13 meeting between more than a dozen young leaders and top Federation officials, including Sanderson, Platt and Richard Sandler, chair of the board of trustees for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and former L.A. Federation board chairman.

Jay Sanderson

Jay Sanderson

The following day, the letter’s signatories and Federation leadership issued a joint statement to the Journal.

“While we don’t agree on everything, we all believe that we must continue to engage with each other honestly and openly and to find more ways to help those in need,” they said in the statement. “Working together in ways that reflect our shared Jewish values, we will find new and meaningful opportunities to stand with our community and with all Angelenos.”

According to those present, the meeting was a productive and cordial one.

“We had a group of very committed passionate leaders come, and we listened, and we talked about how we can be proactive,” Sanderson told the Journal on Feb. 14. Unlike other Jewish organizations, he said, “we’re not in the statement business.”

He stood by his Feb. 2 email, saying, “We’re a mission-driven organization that lets our work make the statement.” He made this point in the original note to the community: “Our Federation’s statement on immigration was made 104 years ago when we made the rescue and resettlement of immigrants — like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — a top priority,” he wrote.

He said that of the people who have responded to the email, the vast majority were positive responses.

“Oftentimes people in the community get fixated on statements,” he said, “and what I’ve learned in my career is the most successful advocacy oftentimes happens quietly, oftentimes happens behind closed doors.”

Sandler told the Journal he supported the L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from issuing a statement on the executive order.

“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said, adding that political statements inevitably upset some Federation donors.

Some Jewish Federations decided to weigh in anyway, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which submitted an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking it to uphold a lower court’s ruling that blocked Trump’s executive order. But JFNA, the umbrella organization for all North American Federations, remained silent on the issue.

Sandler praised Sanderson’s Feb. 2 email as “very measured” adding that “it talks about what Federations do: that we don’t ignore these issues but we’re not going to get involved in the debate.”

The conversation around Sanderson’s letter mirrored an earlier one, from July 2015, when a Federation statement opposing the Iran nuclear agreement met with backlash from community members who supported it. The Iran deal statement raised similar questions over when, if at all, it is appropriate for a body catering to the entire L.A. Jewish community to make political pronouncements.

“That statement was a learning process for us.… It made us look at who we are and what our role in the community is, and our role in the community is to be out front and doing the work,” Sanderson told the Journal.

Protocols in place now require a statement to be reviewed by the L.A. Federation’s board prior to being released. Since Sanderson’s email was not a statement, but rather a regular bi-weekly update to community members, those protocols did not apply, he said.

But one notable difference has been the full-throated opposition with which the organized Jewish community met the refugee order, while opinions on the Iran deal straddled both sides. The letter from young Federation leaders noted “the broad consensus we have already seen from Reform and Orthodox Jews” on the refugee order and which, in theory, would have given Sanderson political cover to come out in opposition.

“This was a case where I thought you’d have fairly strong unanimity of thinking here,” said Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an expert on Jewish political life.

Sanderson said the L.A. Federation will continue to abstain from political debates.

“We’ve been asked to make public policy statements in the last month five times, including positions from the right and positions from the left,” he said. “We would be a whirling dervish if we reacted to all those things.”

Moving and Shaking: ‘Laughing Matters’ fundraiser, Nick Mermell retires and more

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ fifth annual “Laughing Matters” event on Nov. 1 at the Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip raised nearly $70,000 for the agency’s efforts to assist homeless families as well as battered women and their children.

Performers included comedienne Rita Rudner, a regular on the Las Vegas circuit; comedian Michael Kosta; and 14-year-old Southern California singer-songwriter Molly Bergman.

In a joint statement, event co-chairs Linda Levine and Wendy Silver described the evening as a success: “We are grateful to everyone who supported ‘Laughing Matters’ not only to see a great comedy show, but to help survivors of domestic violence.”

Rosenfeld meet in front of Chabad of Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple

When Nick Mermell retired after four decades at Sinai Temple, this is how he did it: He came to my office and handed me a note. It read: “Moses served forty years and so have I. Thank you and Sinai for everything.” Then Mermell, who at 89 was Sinai’s longest-serving and oldest employee, left without allowing even a farewell party, slipping quietly into his home life with Margaret.

That combination of modesty and humor explains why, each year, Evan Schlessinger organizes a group from the Sinai minyan to make an annual pilgrimage to Chabad of Beverly Hills to daven with Mr. Mermell and take him to breakfast. Now 97 years old, celebrating 66 years with Margaret, this survivor of several camps is still vigorous and funny. He was born in Munkatch, in Czechoslovakia, and was taken by the Nazis for two years, mostly digging trenches before being liberated by the Russians.

The most painful memory of that entire time, he told me, was “coming home and seeing an empty house.” His parents and siblings were murdered, except for one sister who died a few weeks ago at 100 years of age.

Mermell first went to Israel, then Canada and finally to Los Angeles, where he applied for the job of shammes, or ritual director, at Sinai. Also certified in air-conditioning repair, for some years he did both jobs.

Mermell brought a friendly but also formal touch to the minyan, and was deeply loved. I remember the first day I came there in my shirt and tie. “Rabbi, did you leave your jacket in the car?” he asked. No, I answered, it is in my office. “May I get it for you?” I got my jacket and wore it to every minyan with Mr. Mermell from that day forward.

He still goes to minyan every morning, but now it is closer to where he lives, at Chabad of Beverly Hills. There, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman greeted us all and with a smile explained, “These are the bodyguards from Sinai for Reb Nick.”

For 40 years as shammes, he taught and comforted and was a symbol of our shul. For a generation, “minyan” meant Mermell. We remember very well, and are very grateful.

—Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple 

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Beth Kean (second from left) is also serving as the museum’s interim executive director until a permanent executive director is hired. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

​Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Beth Kean has been appointed interim executive director of the museum in the wake of the departure of Samara Hutman, who was hired as executive director in 2013.

“Ms. Hutman is leaving the museum and returning to the Remember Us organization where she served as executive director before joining LAMOTH three years ago,” an Oct. 31 statement on the LAMOTH website says.

Hutman told the Journal: “I’m really, really excited to be reconnecting with the core work of Remember Us, because that’s my love.” 

Kean, a third-generation Holocaust survivor, has been serving as interim executive director since August. She said the work of the museum would not be affected as its leadership conducts a search for a permanent executive director.

“Our mission is still the same: commemoration and education about the Holocaust, providing free Holocaust education to all our visitors and thousands of students who come through,” Kean said. “We have a rich collection of artifacts and a variety of programs we offer to a very diverse group of students. In that sense, nothing has changed.”

From left: Michelle Moreh, director of academic affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; gap year fair student speaker Ethan Youssefzadeh; Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs at Stand With Us; Phyllis Folb, executive director of the American Israel Gap Year Association; and student speakers Aliza Benporat and Sarah Katchen.The American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) held its fourth annual Los Angeles Israel Gap Year Fair at B’nai David-Judea on Nov. 17. The fair is sponsored by Masa Israel Journey and endorsed by the American GAP Association. Photo courtesy of American Israel Gap Year Association

More than 400 public- and private-school students and parents from across the denominational spectrum attended the event, which featured more than 50 Israel program representatives of a variety of gap year cultural and educational experiences.

The gap year, also known as the “bridge year,” is the year between the completion of high school and the first year of college.

“The goal of AIGYA is to advocate for the gap year to be reidentified as a ‘bridge’ and solidifying factor of the student’s post-secondary-school Jewish education. Experiencing Israel’s strength and challenges as a resident, not just as a tourist, builds a deep relationship to Israel and one’s Jewish identity,” AIGYA Executive Director Phyllis Folb said.

Folb explained that colleges are starting to encourage students to take a gap year as it makes them more likely to finish college in four years, more likely to stay at the same school at which they begin their collegiate career and more likely to achieve overall levels of academic success.

“It’s really exciting,” Folb said. “There are countless programs for these students to choose from, from traditional learning to internships, to arts programs and army service programs. It allows them to find their own niche and take ownership of their Jewish identity in both traditional and nontraditional ways.”

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer 


BDS on campus: A response to Jay Sanderson

Last week, I was driving through La Verkin, Utah on my way back to Los Angeles after three peaceful days of hiking and camping in Zion National Park. We turned a corner and my phone lit up, buzzing and beeping after being disconnected. Amid the text messages and emails, a headline caught my eye about a Jewish leader in Los Angeles who had criticized the the Israeli government’s approach to combatting BDS on campus.

I read through the article and tried to make sense of it. Jay Sanderson’s comments, detailed by Haaretz columnist Judy Maltz, did not fit the impression that I had of the conservative-leaning Los Angeles Jewish community. I was encouraged to see a Jewish leader speaking out about his disagreements with the Israeli government, and calling for pro-Israel advocacy that includes the questions and visions of students.

As soon as I got home, I drafted a response to Mr. Sanderson, thanking him for his leadership and for speaking candidly about the polarizing debates over BDS that many students experience on campus. I was disappointed to see that Sanderson later regretted his initial comments, following them up with remarks that put him more in line with the same non-nuanced Israel advocacy he initially criticized. While he insists that his comments were taken out of “context,” it’s hard to believe that Haaretz would have printed his comments inaccurately. I’m left wondering what caused such a significant shift in Sanderson’s position from the first article to the second.

Initially, Sanderson rightly pointed out that efforts against BDS on campus have only helped to “stoke the fire” of the polarized debates over BDS and drive young Jews away from Israel and the Jewish community altogether. As an alternative, he called for less noise and more nuance in conversations about Israel. His comments are an important call to action to create more space for young people, like Sanderson’s own 22-year-old daughter, who returned from trips to Israel with many concerns about the direction of the country, to ask questions.

Like Sanderson’s daughter and many other Jewish college students, I have serious questions about the direction that Israel is headed and the policies of the Israeli government. Thousands of young people across the country see continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank threatening the viability of a two-state solution, and we are worried for Israel’s future. We see that the occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has gone on for almost fifty years, and we feel deep concern for the rights of Palestinians.

Our questions and principles have led us to Israel advocacy rooted in support for diplomatic solutions and opposition to policies and rhetoric that perpetuate and escalate the conflict. And they have led us to oppose the BDS movement on campus, because of its failure to advocate for a practical solution that would address the needs of both peoples.

I was so heartened to read that Sanderson recognized that our community needs to find more meaningful ways to engage young people. But he should have gone farther. The truth is, an obsession with “combating BDS” is often a distraction from the real issues in front of us and from our real questions. BDS fights often serve to reinforce the non-nuanced dialogue against which Sanderson initially spoke out.

Traditional approaches define “pro-Israel” on campus as simply opposing BDS resolutions and reading off pre-approved talking points – leaving out any commitment to working to support solutions and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we want this to change, we need help from our communal institutions.

Unfortunately, these institutions have largely been failing us – advancing an unhelpful, overly combative and one-sided approach. It’s true the hard-line messaging against BDS advocated by the Israeli government is, to some extent, responsible for driving students away from the Jewish community. But the Federations should also take responsibility for themselves.

There are many ways that Jewish Federations and other important communal institutions around the country can move forward positively. They can heed J Street U students’ call to ensure that their policies and practices recognize the Green Line, a vital component of showing true support for a two-state solution. They can make clear that they do not support the settlement enterprise and the ideology of those who work towards permanent Israeli control of the West Bank. Most importantly, they can listen carefully to students’ questions and take our concerns into account.

In the past few years, important voices throughout our community have begun to speak out about the dangers of occupation, and to call for a broader conversation about Israel that can honestly and successfully engage concerned young people. These include leaders from the Reform movement, which I am proud to call myself a part of.

I was pleased to see Sanderson taking a step in the right direction. But this is not the first time an American Jewish leader has expressed concern over the flight of young people from our community – and it won’t be the last.

We need more than just words. These concerns must followed up with real action – and a real willingness to improve upon strategies that are not working.

Lizzie Stein is a senior at Occidental College and is the Vice President for the Southwest on the J Street U National Student Board.

Point: What work must be done on our college campuses?

Over the past few days, I have done a great deal of soul-searching, and would like to share with you some of my feelings and in a public way reintroduce myself to you. 

I will start by saying my interview with Haaretz was a mistake. Haaretz ran a headline that distorted what I was saying and enraged many readers, and the article missed the context of my comments. Combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been and continues to be a priority of mine and of our Federation. We work closely with our partners on college campuses, at City Hall, in Sacramento and across our city and country to do this critical work. We have and will always support a strong and safe Israel.

My interview never intended to criticize the government of the State of Israel. Rather, I was asking that this newly public government initiative consider that our campus leaders know our campuses and our students and their challenges best.

I talk to my colleagues a great deal about “context,” and clearly “context” was missing from my interview. I rarely make our very important work about me, but the results of this interview have done exactly that. This has become about me, and clearly without context the concerns that I tried to express have become lost by many.

I took this job more than 6 1/2 years ago because I am deeply committed to Israel and the Jewish community. I believe that from my first interview, the leadership of our Federation saw that commitment and also saw that I am passionate and that I have a voice. I have loved and supported Israel and been a highly committed Jew my entire life. Permit me to tell you a little about myself so I can put my personal commitment in context.

My father died unexpectedly before my fifth birthday, and my very strong mother moved us to be closer to my grandparents. Until I graduated from high school, we lived as the only Jewish family in a rough housing project outside of Boston. My grandparents were immigrants from Russia and Hungary. They were religious, so I had an Orthodox upbringing. As you can imagine, I was not a popular kid in my neighborhood. I experienced anti-Semitism in a very real way almost every day of my adolescence, and not long after my bar mitzvah, three older kids dug a hole and buried me alive. I laid there screaming for many hours until finally someone heard me and saved my life.

My rabbi thought that I needed to find a new way to feel good about the Judaism that had become so challenging for me to express, and so I received a scholarship from the Boston Federation. I was accepted on a Jewish Agency-sponsored high school trip to Israel. On the trip, I realized that not only did the community take care of me, but the Jewish Agency softened the rules and allowed me to participate even though I was a year younger than the required age.

My first trip to Israel changed my life. For the entire summer, I felt free as a Jew, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was home. One morning, four of the hundreds of kids from around the world were chosen to have breakfast with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. I had never felt chosen before and was overwhelmed by being selected. As we were leaving our breakfast, I felt an arm pulling me away from the group. It was him. He looked at me and said, “Take care of Israel for me.”

Several years later, I was a college student at Syracuse University. I, like many of my friends, was focusing on everything but Judaism. I tried Hillel but just couldn’t connect. As a film student, I learned about a nearly completed documentary, “The Palestinian,” produced and narrated by actress Vanessa Redgrave. It was 1978 and I felt like I needed to do something, so I started a group called Israel on Campus. With a dozen students, we began an organization that set up student-led picketing of the film on campuses across the country.

There are many who believe this was the first pro-Israel advocacy effort on college campuses.

In 1984, I found a way to combine my media experience and my love for Israel and became the head of the Jewish Television Network (JTN) and JTN Productions. I created hundreds of hours of television and web content seen by millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world. During the summer of the Second Intifada, I lived in Israel, spending weeks with families whose lives were shattered by suicide bombings, and produced a powerful documentary, “No Safe Place.” I also produced the PBS series “The Jewish Americans” and the film “Worse Than War,” which put an exclamation mark on “never again” by documenting genocide in our time.

Six years ago when I began here at Federation, I made combatting BDS both a local and a national priority. I am proud of my leadership role in the creation of the Israel Action Network, a national grass-roots initiative. I’m equally proud of the work my staff is doing locally, especially at UCLA after the incident last spring, engaging and empowering the students on that campus to be leaders.

So now that you know me and my “context” a little better, you understand how this work is deeply personal to me.

I have found it very challenging to be a Jewish leader and have a voice during this increasingly polarizing time. I understand the issues now surrounding my recent Haaretz interview and take full responsibility for the concerns it has raised.

I know that both those who have commended me and those who have challenged me share a deep love for and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.

For me, the last paragraph was what I truly want us to grapple with. It relates to an ongoing conversation I am having with my 22-year-old daughter, a recent college graduate. She, like me, loves Israel, but she does not feel considered or heard, and worse, she, like thousands of her contemporaries, feels alienated.

We need to take a step back and look at the whole campus picture as we do our anti-BDS work. There have been great successes on college campuses led by highly impactful organizations even as the battles rage on. What will we accomplish if we don’t prioritize our young people and their individual and collective Jewish journeys? Can’t the growing number of organizations doing this work sit together and look at how we can consider those young people as we do this work in a more collaborative, strategic way?

I never intended to criticize any advocacy organization or minimize the challenges posed by the incendiary BDS movement. I believe we can bring our young people closer to us and to Israel if we do a better job of listening to them and considering engaging their Jewish journeys with Israel as a key component, but not the only component. We can bring them closer to us and truly ensure Israel and our Jewish community’s future.

I continue to be committed to this work. Thank you for your understanding and continued support. 

Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A plan to make Jewish life flourish on Venice Beach

The stretch of boardwalk in front of the Israel Levin Senior Center is fairly unremarkable. Tourists and locals amble by, the air smelling of sea salt and marijuana smoke. Across the pavement, an emaciated dog dozes on a sand bank, its leash looped around an office chair that has seen some dewy nights.

The low-slung building itself is equally nondescript. By the standards of colorful Venice, the deep hues of the Marc Chagall-inspired wraparound mural fit in.

But a planned renewal by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles aims to transform the concrete beach-front building — which is owned by Federation and operated by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles — into a one-of-a-kind Jewish destination.

“Our vision for this renovation is to create a true, multigenerational space — a contemporary beach house that will be one of the most compelling destinations for Jewish life in Los Angeles,” Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president, wrote in an emailed statement.

A large hall with white tiles takes up most of the square footage, adjoining a stage and office. It is home to regular Friday dinners. There are few windows to let in the warm Venice sunshine during the daytime, though.

That could change, thanks to plans submitted to the Los Angeles Office of Zoning Administration, which show a sun-drenched space that includes a rooftop deck, a kosher kitchen and a residential unit for on-site building managers. The planned renovation would add more than 1,000 square feet to the beach-front site.

A rendering of the renovated center. Courtesy of Belzberg Architects

Sanderson said in the statement that in addition to the senior services currently offered at the site, it would play host to community events, such as workshops, yoga, lectures, media exhibitions, holiday celebrations and volunteering.

Despite local support, some red tape stands between the upgraded community center and its current reality. In November, the renovation plan received unanimous approval from the Venice Neighborhood Council, but it appears to have languished for months at Los Angeles City Hall.

In December, Dana Sayles, a representative of the planning firm hired by Federation, wrote to a zoning administration official that the plan “has been sitting on a shelf in ZA’s office since June.”

“Given that the community has been so supportive of this, we are anxious to move this project forward,” she wrote.

She noted it would still require a review by the California Coastal Commission after winning approval from the city.

The official, associate zoning administrator Jack Chiang, wrote in response that the office would aim to schedule the project for a formal hearing this month.

In its application to the city for a permission called a “coastal development permit,” the planning firm, three6ixty, wrote that the project would help vitalize Jewish life on the beach front as well as the boardwalk itself.

“The Jewish institutions in the area are minimally attended and the facilities available for Jewish community gatherings are out-of-date,” it wrote. “This renovation will create a state-of-the-art facility, available as a community center for all of Venice.”

According to the permit documents, the building was originally built in 1927 as a cafe, serving for some time as a dance hall and an apartment house.

In 1964, Israel Levin gifted it to the Jewish Community Council of the Bay Cities, which later merged with Federation, under the condition that the building “consider the benefit and welfare of senior citizens as its primary purpose.”

Today, it’s flanked by a bike shop and beach-front apartments.

Kirsten Hudson, the managing director of Open Temple in Venice, said she hopes the new space will be a boon for local synagogues — but also draw in the community at large.

“Those congregations represent the people that live here and for whom it would be a much more meaningful space,” she said. “But I hope it’s something also that greater Los Angeles is interested in.

“The beach sort of has that universal appeal, and is sort of universally used in the way that other places are not,” she added.

On that point, Sanderson was optimistic: “We intend to create a space that our community deserves, in one of the most exciting areas of L.A.”

The Forward’s CEO salary survey: Good statistics, questionable economics

Are the salaries of Jewish nonprofit CEOs too high, too low or just right? Is there gender discrimination when it comes to the salaries of female CEOs of Jewish nonprofits?

Each year, The Forward newspaper surveys the salaries and gender composition of the CEOs of some of the nation’s largest and most impactful Jewish nonprofit organizations, and when Matt Brooks. Photo by Republican Jewish Coalition

Jay Sanderson of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was listed as earning a salary of $460,870, and as being overpaid by 600 percent.

After these numbers had already zinged around the Internet for a few hours and sparked discussion and anger in online comment forums, The Forward corrected the glitch back to its original assessment of overpayment to 125 percent for Brooks and 6 percent for Sanderson. 

The larger and more important issue, however, and separate from the website glitch, is whether The Forward’s two key conclusions are accurate. The report — assembled by Eisner, Forward research editor Maia Efrem and University of Pennsylvania statistician Abraham Wyner — states that many CEOs of Jewish nonprofits are overcompensated (The Forward uses the term “overpaid”), and says many of these nonprofits discriminate against women in terms of position and pay.

These judgments are very serious accusations against the boards of many of the Jewish community’s premier nonprofits. The Forward asserted, for example, that the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier (2014 salary: $784,155) is “overpaid” by 103 percent; that Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America ($440,440) is “overpaid” by 53 percent; and that, overall, female CEOs are paid just 80 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Rabbi Marvin Hier. Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage

“Their analysis looks kosher — very kosher,” said sociologist Steven M. Cohen, a research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who has analyzed several other polls and studies for the Journal. The Forward’s formula showing a correlation between CEO salaries and the budget and staff size of a corporation is statistically sound, he said. That the output (salary) correlates with those two inputs (budget and staff size) among The Forward’s sample nonprofits is a mathematical fact.

But the economics, and the inputs and variables used for The Forward’s studies, may not be fair. UCLA economist Lee Ohanian cautioned that CEO salaries of businesses, whether nonprofit or for-profit, depend on a multitude of factors, and to determine what a salary should be based solely on the company’s budget and staff size would be simplistic.

Even Wyner, in a ” target=”_blank”>2005 study.

“Women are indeed concentrated in smaller organizations,” Wyner noted in his 2013 analysis, and “were leading organizations with average expenses of less than half” of large organizations. “Women’s pay seems to be converging with men’s, and will hopefully reach parity in the very near future,” Wyner wrote.

“If you look more broadly at issues like women’s compensation levels or women’s earnings relative to men’s, you get numbers like 80 cents on the dollar. The more adjustments you make, the more those numbers come in line,” Ohanian said in terms of the broad policy debate regarding the wage gap, referring to adjustments such as the number of hours worked, industry and the trade-off between working full time or part time and raising children.

In other words, the statistics and the number-crunching provoke a useful conversation, but the lack of inputs makes the topics of those conversations far from clear-cut.


Correction (Dec. 16, 11:40 a.m.): This article previously stated that the formula The Forward used to estimate its judgment of overpayment was flawed, which resulted in a glitch showing percentages of overpayment as 100 times what they should have been. It was in fact a temporary computer coding error — not a formula — that led to the inflated estimation of overpayment.

The future of Federation takes the stage

At 33, London-born Ben Winston, the executive producer of “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” is the youngest showrunner in the history of late-night television. 

He is charming, quick-witted and has ties to One Direction — the full package. But what keeps things running smoothly outside of work for a man succeeding in such a cutthroat industry? 

“Growing up, my father worked long hours in a laboratory. But no matter what, he was always home for Shabbat. That type of consistency really grounded us,” Winston told over 400 Jewish young professionals who packed the Fonda Theatre on Dec. 1. “I still observe Shabbat to this day. It makes my life better. It makes my marriage better. 

“We think in this business we’re the most important people in the world. But when I turn off my phone on Friday, I’m not thinking about the business. I’m with my wife and our dog. We don’t have kids yet.”

Winston joined an impressive lineup of speakers from the entertainment and high-tech worlds as part of MainStage 2015, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ first fundraiser for 20- and 30-somethings. 

Speakers included Mitch Hurwitz, creator of the TV series “Arrested Development”; Sean Rad, founder and CEO of the dating app Tinder; Susanne Daniels, head of original content at YouTube; Ben Silverman, former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment; and Ben Maddahi, a music manager/producer behind the hits of some of the world’s biggest pop stars. Comedian Ben Gleib, who emceed proceedings, quipped about being the least successful Ben onstage. 

Jay Sanderson, Federation president and CEO, told the Journal the event represented an evolution in the organization.

“This is the Federation of today. This isn’t your grandfather’s Federation of yesterday,” he said. “One of our top priorities is engaging young Jews in Jewish life. We want events associated with the Federation to be cool for young people.”

The event’s price tag, with tickets starting at $75, didn’t deter the noticeably youthful crowd, dispelling the notion that millenials don’t give back — $50 of each ticket went directly to Federation. Event chairs Shahrad Nahai and Marlyse Phlaum spoke to the crowd about the group’s work to provide scholarships for teens to visit Israel, home and health care assistance for Holocaust survivors, and Federation’s work locally with the Black and Latino communities. 

Mitch Hamerman, Federation’s senior vice president of campaign management and communications, said the event netted $20,000 in donations from ticket sales. “Our current mindset is to do it again next year,” he said.

Silverman, the first speaker of the night, was visibly touched by the turnout and spirit of the event. “The Federation has been such a huge part of so many of our lives. It’s so great to see people here to give back,” he said. 

One of the key creative forces behind hit     NBC shows such as “The Office,” Silverman captivated Dunder Mifflin fans by detailing the iconic comedy’s path from initial conceit all the way to air. He concluded his time onstage by imploring storytellers in attendance to not shy away from their Jewish heritage in their work. 

“We wrote the oldest book in the history of the world and now we find ourselves losing our narrative. I mean, who will write and make the next ‘Exodus’?” Silverman asked of the crowd, referencing the 1958 Leon Uris novel, eventually adapted into the 1960 film starring Paul Newman.

The evening had special significance for Gleib, a frequent contributor on “Chelsea Lately,” who now has his own show called “Idiotest” on GSNTV. 

“Tonight was really cool for me — just honored to be asked to be here,” the normally dry, sarcastic comic told the Journal. “I’m someone who normally likes to operate separate from religion. This was one of the first times I’ve really felt like a part of the Jewish community. Besides, all those guys who were onstage with me are doing stuff I love and want to do one day. It was pretty awesome.” 

Chanukah gets hip

On the night of Dec. 6, the group known as NuRoots is kicking off the Chanukah party to end all Chanukah parties: 35-plus events taking place over eight days all over the Los Angeles region, from Venice to downtown to Woodland Hills. 

And while there will be latkes and candle lighting — the name of the event, after all, is Infinite Light — the festivities will bear little resemblance to your bubbe’s celebration. Instead, think dinner by the L.A. River, a holiday-themed alternative comedy performance, an evening of yoga to nourish participants’ inner light and even a glow-themed party at a Pico Boulevard tavern where, according to the Infinite Light website (infinitelight.la), “You might leave with fluorescent body paint.”

This is by far the most ambitious event ever hosted by NuRoots, which focuses on engaging young adults in their 20s and 30s and is part of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — the hippest part, you might say. In the past, NuRoots has offered up smaller, more intimate events, such as a meditation workshop for the Jewish New Year. But Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson thought it was time for the 2-year-old program to do something big, according to Scott Minkow, vice president for NuRoots Grants and Partnerships at Federation.

A scene from a Rosh Hashanah dinner held in the courtyard of a NuRoots fellow’s apartment complex in West Hollywood. NuRoots is expanding its reach with “Infinite Light.”

“Jay’s concept was we have dozens of organizations that we bring together for a monthly NextGen Engagement Initiative breakfast, a network of over 70 organizations and individuals who work with young adults,” Minkow said. “We have this successful fellowship program. What could we do that is NuRoots flavored?”

Over the summer, Sanderson, Minkow and half a dozen or so of NuRoots’ core partners, including representatives from the spiritual communities IKAR and Open Temple, sat down to brainstorm what that might be. They talked about doing something for Sukkot, but Chanukah bought them a bit more time and, ultimately, made more sense. 

“Young adults are looking for opportunities to get out and do something fun during the holidays,” Minkow said. “Every young-adult group around town does their own Chanukah event. What if we gave an incentive [to participating organizations] and curated a festival that highlighted all the opportunities around town? What if we shine a spotlight? What does that spotlight look like? It’s about light, miracles, wonder. We decided to title it Infinite Light.” 

In fact, the word Chanukah doesn’t even appear on the Infinite Light home page. Nor is it on the cover of the 5,000 brochures that have been distributed in synagogues, yoga studios, coffee houses and juice bars. This was a deliberate decision to make the event more universal and to appeal to an audience that wants to “create their own Jewish experience … and chart their own course,” Minkow said, adding that “we also know that people bring their friends who are not Jewish.”  

Once the group decided on the Infinite Light name, the NuRoots leaders put out an appeal to their partners. They offered micro-grants of up to $2,000 to organizations whose events made the cut to offset the costs of hosting the events. Minkow had figured they’d have 15, maybe 18 events in the end. But the response was tremendous, with organizations submitting event ideas well into November. 

Some of the events on the Infinite Light calendar are carryovers from past years. For example, Temple Beth Am’s latkes and vodka potluck is an annual event. And last year, the Louis & Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University (AJU) joined forces with Worthy of Love, which hosts blowout monthly group birthday parties for the youth residents at Union Rescue Mission downtown, to throw a Chanukah bash. 

According to Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of the Miller Program at AJU, partnering with Infinite Light for this year’s Chanukah party gave them “the chance to think bigger and more creatively,” as well as “broadcast to a broader audience.” This is exactly what NuRoots intended.

“The idea behind putting this all under one umbrella … is that every event will rise in profile because of the sheer mass of people looking at it. Everyone will get more attention,” Minkow said. 

“We have inspired more than 15 events to take place that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” he said. These include a Tunisian-style Shabbat dinner hosted by YALA (Young Adults of Los Angeles) and Petit Takett; a fashion show starring regular folks modeling outfits they have purchased at the National Council of Jewish Women thrift stores; and a miracles-themed “Kinda-Jewy Holiday Show” courtesy of Mortified, which regularly hosts riotous storytelling performances in which adults share their very real and very embarrassing diary entries, love letters and poems from childhood.

Infinite Light’s official launch event on the first night of Chanukah, Dec. 6, at Sambar in Culver City, is organized by Dinating, which does ticketed dinners at local foodie favorite eateries and donates a portion of funds. Dinating usually supports SOVA, but on this night, 100 percent of the $50-per-person cover will go to “Federation programs that support the most vulnerable and needy,” Minkow said. The menu, by Sambar chef-owner Akasha Richmond, is a mash-up of Indian and Jewish dishes and includes vegetable pakoras (a fried snack), sweet potato and butternut squash latkes, and Baghdadi Jewish biryani (Basmati rice with vegetables, golden raisins and pistachios). There will also be specialty cocktails — some inspired by chocolate gelt and others made with
etrog liqueur.

Many of the events, including two in conjunction with PJ Library and aimed at families, are free. Some cost between $10 and $20. NuRoots is also offering an all-inclusive festival pass for $100 per person. But Minkow expects most attendees to go the à la carte route. All events require an RSVP.

Not surprisingly, given the target audience for the bulk of Infinite Light events, social media have played a big part in getting the word out. “So excited for this super RAD Shabbat Dinner,” reads the Facebook page for the Tunisian feast.

“We’re asking all our partners to participate,” Minkow said. “Their agreement gives them a social media guide. You should be tagging, Instagramming, linking. And one of our partners, Eastside Jews, is running an Instagram scavenger hunt.”

Minkow said the barometer of success for Infinite Light will be organizations seeing new faces at its events — “folks who are not their core constituency.” Also: “Are people experimenting and trying new things? Some people will be able to tell via social media. Are people tagging? What are [attendee] numbers for these events? And, really, do our partner organizations feel positive about the experience? Are we providing a range of options for people to experience Chanukah? And I think we already are giving new attention to a holiday that can often be about lighting a candle and eating a latke, showing people there are a variety of ways to celebrate, that L.A is diverse. 

“We want it to be a positive experience for everybody. Just thinking about the potential to ignite and partner with a variety of organizations gives us real excitement.”

Should Federation take sides?: Moving forward together

If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve heard me say, “I have the best job in the world.” I work with an incredibly talented and dedicated staff and with the most extraordinary group of lay leaders and donors. Together, we are supporting and sustaining this Jewish community and ensuring our Jewish future. These are not slogans or catchphrases. It is in our Federation’s DNA.

Los Angeles is the most dynamic, diverse and exciting Jewish community in the world. Our Federation is committed to working with our partners from every religious, ethnic, cultural and political perspective to accomplish our shared goals and realize our common dreams.

Having the best job in the world does not mean it is not complicated or that it is not messy.

As you can imagine with more than 600,000 Jews, there are many strong and differing opinions and many voices that want and need to be heard. From my first day, I have heard and listened to the many voices in our community.  

In January of 2010, two weeks after I started, my wife and I were at an event when an older man approached me and, inches from my face, started yelling at me in Farsi. While I did not understand what he was saying, I felt his anguish and pain.

Our Federation is not reactive, but we are thoughtful and driven by careful consideration and sound strategic thinking. The next day, I told our senior staff the story and we began to discuss the challenges facing our large Persian-Jewish community. We committed ourselves to broadening our outreach locally, and we reached out to our global partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to better understand the plight of the more than 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. We went back to the Persian community and we listened.

We may never know why that man was so angry but his outburst helped make positive communal change. This is how our Jewish Federation works.

We also listen to the tens of thousands of voices of those whose lives we touch and change together. Exactly a year ago, as rockets flew overhead, our deeply dedicated board chair, Les Bider, and I were sitting with traumatized Israelis in a bomb shelter not far from the Gaza border. We listened to their pain, and this summer we began providing critical psychological and social services to thousands of Israelis, including children and seniors, throughout Israel.

This summer, we also are listening to the hundreds of children enjoying camp at our growing number of amazing Jewish summer camps. Many of these children are at camp for the very first time and many come from financially challenged families.

Our reach covers every corner of our community, from the Conejo Valley to the South Bay. Our work has no boundaries.  We are working with thousands of young adults and have played an integral role in the creation and development of many of our community’s most progressive and inclusive enterprises, from East Side Jews/Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and JQ International to Moishe House and IKAR.  

We are working closely with our growing Orthodox community and we continue to provide much-needed financial aid to hundreds of day school students and their families.

We care and are concerned for the safety and security of our Jewish community and for the safety and security of the State of Israel.

We respect our communal organizations and the outstanding professionals and rabbis who lead them. We encourage those who agree and those who disagree to talk with us and with each other from a place of respect and work with us as we move forward together.

We understand that there are times when decisions we make and positions we take will be challenged and our Federation will come under fire. We ask that we all be respectful and civil. We are steadfast in our commitment to our mission and our work. These challenges make us stronger and our work more effective.

We should not be judged by any one thing. We should be supported for the impact we make each and every day in every corner of our community and in Jewish communities around the world.

Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Hillel 818 starts anew following Federation-led transformation

On Sept. 3, 2014, Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, met with the board of Hillel 818 at the home of a Hillel board member and gave an ultimatum:

Fire yourselves and allow Federation and Hillel International to help select new board members and a new director or Federation won’t fund Hillel 818 for the upcoming school year.

As Hillel 818’s largest single donor, Federation annually supplied about $215,000 of Hillel 818’s nearly $300,000 budget, according to Tal Gozani, senior vice president for young adult engagement at Federation. To lose that would be financially crippling for a Hillel that serves Jewish students at CSUN, Pierce College and Valley College — a four-year university and two two-year community colleges, with an estimated combined population of 8,000 Jewish students.

One month earlier, on July 31, Hillel 818’s director Judy Alban had resigned only a few months after being promoted by her board from the post of interim director. She left when she learned the reason Federation wasn’t approving any of her grant requests was because Federation officials disapproved of her promotion and had decided they wouldn’t give Hillel 818 any more money until she departed.

Faced with the prospect of Hillel 818 losing its biggest donor just before the start of a new school year, Alban resigned, and, despite the hesitation of some board members to go along with Federation’s plan, the board agreed to dissolve in September, with Federation allowing only a few members to join the new board. 

Among those who remained on the board after the turnover is Jody Myers, a Jewish studies professor at CSUN and coordinator of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program. She confirmed in a phone interview what Alban told the Journal via email, that Hillel 818’s transformation — which began with Alban’s resignation and reached another milestone last week with the hiring of a new director — was orchestrated by Federation and assisted by Hillel International. 

Myers said she saw no good reason for Federation to force out Alban, who she said collaborated well with key groups at CSUN, including the university’s administration, the Associated Students group (which controls much of CSUN’s funding for student groups), and Chabad. “She was honest, hardworking, and liked and respected by students,” Myers said. “She raised funds; she sought advice from experts. There was no misbehavior. There were no mismanaged funds. There was no crisis.”

But Sanderson said in an interview on Jan. 22 that Hillel 818 was mismanaged, couldn’t support itself financially and was not serving nearly enough of the approximately 8,000 Jews from the combined colleges in the Valley.

“For many, many, many years, those students did not get adequate support,” Sanderson said. “There’s not one person who can tell you that that was an effectively run Hillel.”

Hillel 818’s annual budget has been about $300,000, according to Rabbi David Komerofsky, who served as Hillel 818’s interim director during the six-month transition. He believes it should be three times as much.

The bottom line from Sanderson and Federation was, according to Myers, that “the board was told ‘you need to fire yourselves.’ And so we did. We didn’t have a choice.”

Myers said Sanderson warned at the Sept. 3 meeting that Federation would establish its own alternative leadership if Hillel 818’s board didn’t disband.

“[We were told] by Jay Sanderson that Hillel 818 will be shown more generosity by Federation in the future if you do this,” Myers said. But even after the summer turnover, Hillel didn’t receive any money from Federation until December, when it got $60,000, and then another $60,000 in January, in addition to the $30,000 that Federation paid Hillel International for Komerofsky’s services and travel expenses. Hillel 818 had to run only on whatever was already available in the meantime. “We had money left over, because Judy Alban actually raised some money and ran a very tight ship,” Myers said.

Komerofsky, who lives in San Antonio and is Hillel International’s associate vice president for advancement, has traveled to Los Angeles about once every two weeks since September. On Jan. 22 Hillel 818 announced David Katz as the new executive director. Katz is finishing his tenure as the assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Hillel. Komerofsky will continue in a part-time role until Katz arrives in April.

“This past semester has been difficult without a permanent on-site executive director; there wasn’t the kind of stability for success,” Komerofsky said. “There were events and activities, but they were not reaching enough people.”

According to students who work at Hillel 818, since the beginning of the spring semester at CSUN, attendance already has markedly increased, with at least 30 students attending most events, significantly more than the average attendance at fall semester events, perhaps a promising sign of things to come.

Emma Collosi, a CSUN senior and a student representative on Hillel 818’s board, said she was surprised when she was informed last summer of Alban’s departure, but believes Federation’s involvement will ultimately help the organization. “I feel like we’re bouncing back from the loss of Judy, and we’re coming back stronger.”

But for the first half of the school year, the story was different. Hillel 818 was staffed only by an Israel fellow, a few interns and 23-year-old program director Kevin Gobuty, who had come to Hillel 818 in January 2014 and was thrust into the position of de facto day-to-day director after only a few months on the job. Gobuty declined to comment for this story.

He resigned on Jan. 21, the day before Katz was introduced as the organization’s new executive director. Katz previously served as assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillel, where he also worked with Jewish students at two other universities in Pittsburgh, a similar dynamic to what he’ll face in trying to engage Jewish students from the affiliated commuter schools across the San Fernando Valley.

Rob Goldberg, Hillel International’s vice president, said that Hillel International had worked “hand in glove” with the L.A. Federation since early 2013 in planning the transformation of Hillel 818. “It’s been an extraordinary model of cooperation between Federation and Hillel in terms of how we strengthen Jewish life on campus,” Goldberg said in a phone interview.

Although Hillel International has helped transform other campus Hillels, including those at Cornell, Pennsylvania State and Tulane universities, Goldberg said that in-depth cooperation with a local Jewish Federation is less common.

“This one at 818 went faster than almost any that I’ve seen or been a part of,” Goldberg said. “I think it’s because of the model. Jay [Sanderson] and [Hillel International CEO] Eric [Fingerhut] were in sync.”

In the last semester, though, without a director and with acting staff, Hillel 818’s programming at CSUN was far below normal levels. 

“The whole leadership change, in general, put a lot of stress on the staff, and it wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been,” said Zohar Achiasaf, a sophomore and an intern at Hillel 818. She said that, over the last several months, Federation has worked on-site at CSUN through Megan Kanofsky, Federation's campus activities coordinator. Kanofsky attended many events and helped by collaborating with students and staff.

Myers characterized the previous semester as a “crisis” created by the leadership gap that Federation imposed on Hillel 818.

“All sorts of things have not been happening, even though we get Federation help and Hillel International help,” Myers said, listing a number of items that had fallen through in the fall semester. There was supposed to be a Birthright trip in January, but that didn’t happen; Shabbat dinners were less frequent than normal; the website and server were down for weeks at a time; and the Facebook page was rarely updated.

Goldberg said that Hillels in transition often experience a temporary slowdown in terms of programming, but that he prefers to take the “long view.”

“The long view is let’s strengthen the infrastructure, let’s get the right personnel, let’s make sure there’s financial stability, let’s put together a group of volunteer leaders to serve as a board who will help advance the organization,” he said. “The program will follow. It all really rests on having a great director.”

Sanderson said he took what he called an uncharacteristic “personal interest” in overseeing the changes at Hillel 818, discussing with Hillel International’s Fingerhut throughout the process how to move forward. He said, however, that “the board of directors at Hillel 818 chose to reconstitute itself and recognized that they did not have appropriate professional leadership.” 

“I feel like the leadership needed to come from the top,” Sanderson said of his involvement.

Sanderson said Hillel 818’s previous leadership “did not understand the needs” of its students. He did not explicitly name Alban, but rather cited “personnel doing the job” as not succeeding in reaching Jewish students at three commuter schools. Alban said she did not recall ever speaking with or meeting Sanderson.

“We have partnerships with organizations, and we’re responsible for donor money, and we’re responsible for the community,” Sanderson said. “So we don’t invest in places where we question how the organization is being run.”

“Hillel 818 has been underfunded,” Komerofsky said. “It’s kind of a cycle that you can’t reach enough students because there’s not enough money to hire the staff to be able to reach them, and then, conversely, there’s not that compelling story to talk about how you’re able to reach so many students — that raises more dollars.”

“We’re trying to get Hillel 818 off of that treadmill.”

Myers said some of Hillel 818’s troubles in raising enough money to support a larger program stem from the fact that CSUN is a commuter school, and the majority of its students do not come from wealthy families.

“People give to the Hillels where their kids are students,” she said. “Well, CSUN has a student population whose parents typically do not have those excess funds.” And with that handicap, she said, Federation’s policy of “not sufficiently” supporting “core” operating expenses, like salaries and overhead, only makes things harder.

The ideal, Myers said, would be for Hillel 818 to be able to raise more money from parents of current students and from alumni, but she said that, at least this year, that’s not a feasible way to raise the money it needs.

Sanderson said Hillel 818 should rely more on alumni and less on Federation, and he hopes that, in 20 years, the group will have developed the types of relationships it needs with alumni.

Myers, though, countered that building an alumni donor base is made difficult when there isn’t money to pay for employees whose primary job is to fundraise.

“Who’s going to pay for the fundraiser or for the person in the office to reach alumni? Who’s going to do that? That’s an operational expense,” Myers said. 

Until about four years ago, local Hillels were funded by the Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), a now-defunct group that gave Hillels core, lump-sum donations — as opposed to grants for specific programs, in large part through Federation support. 

Between 2008 and 2010, every dollar of Federation’s $2.7 million in campus funding went to LAHC. That dissolution overlapped with a major transition in how Federation funds Jewish groups, a transition process completed by the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year that now requires groups to apply for grants for specific programs in line with Federation’s goals. 

Although the new grant policy creates a method for innovative and new programs to find capital, Myers said that it nevertheless makes it difficult to fund good programs that don’t need change, as well as to raise money for more staff that could, for example, focus on fundraising.

Myers emphasized that she looks forward to working with Katz, the new executive director, and to “seeing more generosity” from Federation, which she said Sanderson promised in September. 

Still, what she’s seen since summer 2014 concerns her: “Does the Federation know enough to engineer our specific campus programs? It’s the job of the new director and the Hillel 818 Board to do that, with the support of the community.”

And while she’s hopeful about Hillel 818’s potential for future growth, she regards this past fall semester as a sort of lost one, and one that didn’t serve the needs of Jewish students at Hillel 818’s three main campuses.

“I feel really badly for our students,” Myers said. “I think they deserve more.”


For the record: 

A previous version of this story implied that David Komerofsky's trips to L.A. ended upon the hiring of Hillel 818's new executive director, David Katz. Komerofsky will in fact be continuing in a part-time role as interim director until Katz begins in April.

-Hillel 818's significant increase in program attendance is since the beginning of spring semester in mid-January, not since the beginning of fall semester.

-Kevin Gobuty started at Hillel 818 in Jan. 2014, not Jan. 2013.

Q&A with Federation head Jay Sanderson

At the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly (GA), held this year in National Harbor, Md., Nov. 9-11, thousands of Jewish professional and lay leaders filled a conference center and hotel to listen to famous and powerful Jews, including two Supreme Court justices and the Israeli prime minister (via telecast), sit through breakout sessions and, most important, network with one another and share ideas that have been tested at Jewish Federations across the country.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson came here this year with seven staff members and 17 lay leaders; for him, this year’s GA caps a year in which the L.A. Federation’s leadership predicts it will reach its fundraising goal of $50 million and its outreach goal of 20,000 donors by Jan. 1.

In two interviews with the Journal during the GA, Sanderson spoke with his usual candor about what the GA does and doesn’t offer, about the L.A. Federation’s successes and shortfalls in 2014, and his frustration at the inability of Israeli Americans in Los Angeles and the local Federation to create a partnership that will help further integrate Israeli Americans into the local Jewish community.

Jewish Journal: What do you see as the goal of the GA?

Jay Sanderson: This is the one time that the Federation system can tell its story to national and international lay and professional leaders.

JJ: What’s the story?

JS: There’s no organization in the world like the Federation system. There just isn’t. There hasn’t been. You’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. You’re talking about the establishment of the State of Israel, the rescuing of Soviet Jews, of Ethiopian Jews. That’s done through the Federation collective.

JJ: Is Federation losing relevance as Jews become increasingly disengaged from Jewish communal life?

JS: There are more Jews involved in Federation in L.A. today than there were 10 years ago. OK? That’s factually correct, not anecdotal — based on number of donors and number of people in leadership, and meaningful leadership. Those are things you can measure, and we have a dramatic, and growing, increase in engagement and involvement. 

Now that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of Jews are not — in your generation for sure — are not disengaged; they are disengaged from institutional life, not Federation life. They are disengaged from synagogues, they are disengaged from the Anti-Defamation League and [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] — they are disengaged. We have a majority of Jews disengaged in institutional organizational Jewish life. That is a communal challenge, that’s the Pew [Research Center] report. 

I can say in Los Angeles that we are focused on addressing that. I’d say most organizations say it, but we have strategies to do it. So the GA is — right now you’re going to meet mostly the people who drank the Kool-Aid, some of the people who make the Kool-Aid, some of the people who bathe in the Kool-Aid. You’re not going to see a lot of people here who think there’s too much sugar in Kool-Aid.

JJ: Changing topics: 2014 is almost done. What’s a goal L.A. Federation has accomplished that you’re proud of, and what’s an area where you came up short?

JS: One accomplishment was we wanted to make the Federation a better place to work. We’ve started all these programs for people to feel more engaged, and we’ve given a lot of people opportunities to do other things. So there’s been a lot of people that work at the Federation that are moving into new opportunities within the building. 

JJ: Where have you come up short in 2014?

JS: NuRoots, our initiative for young adults, is behind — timing-wise — where it should be. I thought we’d be further along in NuRoots. We launched the fellows program, we had four engagement fellows working in the community, building micro-communities in four geographic locations, and we are moving in other directions. But I think we are six to nine months [behind] where I thought we would be now. It’s gone slower than I had hoped in terms of development of the project. 

I wish we were further along in our relationship with the Israeli-American community in Los Angeles. We’ve had a lot of fits and starts trying to work with the [Israeli-American Council], and they are growing nationally and they are very successful, but I feel like there’s not the kind of partnership with the Jewish community that I was hoping for when I started this job. I think some of it is cultural challenges between the two institutions, and I don’t think it’s a big enough priority.

JJ: For either side?

JS: Maybe for either side. I think it needs to be a bigger priority for both sides.

Sultan’s new Sharia laws prompt Jewish groups to shun Beverly Hills Hotel

Some of Southern California’s largest Jewish organizations plan to stay away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, suspending future events at the landmark venue owned by the state-run Brunei Investment Agency.

Their boycott was spurred by recent Sharia additions to the tiny Muslim country’s penal code, including the threat of execution of homosexuals, adulterers and anyone who insults the Quran or Muhammad.

The pink stucco luxury hotel is owned by the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel operator that belongs to Brunei’s government, and is therefore an asset of Hassanai Bolkiah, the sultan and absolute ruler of the tiny, oil-rich, South Asian country. Dorchester also owns the Hotel Bel-Air, a smaller luxury hotel in nearby Bel-Air.

At the same time, one Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, announced that it will continue its relationship with the hotel. The Orthodox synagogue has held Shabbat and holiday services in the hotel for the past 15 years.

A popular location for high-end dinners, fundraisers and galas, the Sunset Boulevard hotel last week faced protests and announcements that it will be shunned by many local nonprofits and associations as well as celebrities.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los 

Angeles, told the Journal on May 7 that the Federation will not plan any events there.

“The values of the owner of that hotel and the country in which he has power goes against everything we believe in as Jews and as Americans,” Sanderson said, adding, though, that he is not calling for a general boycott. “It’s one of these situations where, right now, given the public stand, I think it would be very difficult for any community organization to do an event there.”

Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist Pacific Palisades synagogue, has relocated a large May 20 event that would have been at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire. Mike Lurey, Kehillat Israel’s president, wrote in an email to the congregation that the event had to be moved “if we are to be true to the values upon which our synagogue was founded,” even at the risk of losing the synagogue’s nearly $100,000 deposit. 

Protesters outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

“That is a small price to pay for the importance of taking a firm stand against such atrocities,” Lurey wrote.

Aviva Family and Children’s Services already has announced that it also will change  the venue of its May 31 gala from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Beverly Wilshire, posting on its website that it made the decision “in light of recent reports concerning the decision to adopt Sharia Law by the property’s owner.” 

The Jewish Free Loan Association announced that its June 11 gala will move from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Luxe Hotel, just a few miles west on Sunset Boulevard.

Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray said in a statement that widespread event cancellations would hurt the Beverly Hills Hotel’s 650 employees, saying that the hotel has already lost $2 million in canceled events and alleging its employees could lose about $8 million in gratuities from functions held at the hotel.

“We question why the Beverly Hills Hotel is being singled out,” Cowdray’s statement said, pointing out that many Muslim governments that impose Sharia have interests in American brands.

Although the sultan announced the new legislation in October 2013, its first stage was implemented on May 1, introducing fines and jail terms for offenses such as pregnancy outside marriage and failure to attend Friday prayers. The second phase, which will be rolled out in one year, will impose whipping and amputations for theft and alcohol consumption by Brunei’s Muslim citizens.

By 2016, Brunei’s citizens could be subject to execution for adultery and for insulting the Quran or Muhammad. Although 80 percent of Brunei’s 400,000 citizens are Muslim, many of the sultan’s decrees will also apply to the country’s substantial Christian and Buddhist minorities, in particular a prohibition against proselytization.

In the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, strict Islamic law also governs many elements of society, but Brunei is the only South Asian country to have adopted the criminal element of Sharia.

Beverly Hills Hotel employees during a public hearing where the Beverly Hills City Council voted on a resolution to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel in Beverly Hills on May 6. Photo by David McNew/Reuters

Bolkiah, 67, has been Brunei’s absolute ruler since 1967. Head of an oil-rich country that is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter of natural gas, he was named by Forbes in 2007 the world’s wealthiest royal, worth $22 billion. He is, all at once, Brunei’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister and head of religion.

A British protectorate until 1984, Brunei joins a long list of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, that impose brutal punishments such as amputations for theft and execution for adultery and homosexuality. 

Brunei’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was among recent protesters in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and his presence helped the issue go viral. Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Osbourne had previously announced on Twitter that they would not stay at either of the sultan’s local properties until his new laws are repealed. Then, last weekend, the Feminist Majority Foundation canceled its planned May 5 annual event at the hotel, instead leading a protest across the street, holding the event later that evening at the Hammer Museum.

Leno’s wife, Mavis, chairs that foundation’s campaign for Afghan women, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Taliban. Appearing alongside protesters on May 12, Jay Leno said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We get so upset when a team owner says something inappropriate,” referring to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Here are people being killed, stoned to death … it’s just a matter of priorities.”

Activist Dolores Huerta, left, protesting Brunei's new strict Sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Feminist Majority Foundation Executive Vice President Katherine Spillar told the Journal in an interview on May 8 that she does not support a general boycott of the hotel, and said the sultan’s Los Angeles properties are just the current target in the group’s broader fight against anti-female laws in nations such as Brunei, Afghanistan and Iran. She termed the new laws in Brunei as “Taliban-like,” rather than as Sharia.

“We don’t have an issue with the hotel,” Spillar said. “We have an issue with the Sultan of Brunei.” Although the Feminist Majority Foundation won’t be holding any events at the hotel in the foreseeable future, Spillar expressed her gratitude to the hotel for refunding the group’s $70,000 non-refundable deposit for the event.

Jewish groups that have canceled their events told the Journal they are still in discussion with Beverly Hills Hotel about refunds.

Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union that has butted heads for years with the formerly unionized Beverly Hills Hotel, also participated in the picketing. Shortly after its purchase by the sultan in the late 1980s, the hotel closed down and renovated, reopening in 1995, with a non-unionized staff.

Charlie Carnow, a research analyst with the union, said that, in addition to raising awareness about laws forbidding homosexuality and condoning marital rape, Local 11 has previously raised red flags surrounding the sultan’s relationship with Iran, his refusal to recognize Israel and his support of Iran’s nuclear program.

“We are calling for a boycott of both properties,” Carnow said of the Dorchester Collection’s two local hotels. “The best way forward is for these hotels to be sold so they can be returned to be properties that people feel comfortable going to.”

The Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

On May 6, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a legally non-binding resolution urging Brunei’s government to “divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.” Hotel staff attended the meeting in uniform and opposed the council’s resolution, highlighting how a boycott of the hotel could hurt their livelihoods.

One local Jewish organization, the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, a congregation led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin, a Chabad rabbi, plans to continue its weekly Shabbat services inside the hotel, which they have held there for more than a decade.

“Never will you feel uncomfortable in that hotel as a practicing Jew,” Cunin said. “They do a terrific job for travelers all over the world who come to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel who are shomer Shabbos

“We have had our shul there for more than 10 years,” Cunin continued, “and have had nothing but respect and cooperation from the hotel.”

Federation’s Sanderson also conceded that the situation is not simple when considering the local impact.

“It’s not so black-and-white when you have our neighbors who work in the hotel,” Sanderson said. “It’s a business in Beverly Hills, and it employs people. It’s a very complicated problem.”

Local Birthright offerings feature niche trips

Registration began this week for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the program offering free 10-day trips to Israel for Jews ages 18-26 that was created to connect young people to their heritage. This year, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is co-sponsoring a variety of opportunities: With nine trips and room for 40 people on each, there are 360 spaces available, however many trips fill up quickly.

Designed to serve a cross-section of young adults in the local Jewish community, these trips are inclusive and “low-barrier” to join, said Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president. They cater to a wide variety of participants: Jews of all denominations, LGBT Jews, Iranian Jews and Jews in recovery from substance abuse.

L.A. Way —“the flagship program for L.A. community trips,” according to Michael Gropper, program director of Birthright Israel at Federation — includes visits to Masada, the Dead Sea, the Old City in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The original Los Angeles community Birthright trip, L.A. Way, offers two trips this summer, for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers of the same age will accompany the group for the entire 10 days. 

Another option, Tlalim-Israel Outdoors, is for the more adventurous soul, with treks across the Holy Land, visits to cultural and historical sites, and more. As with L.A. Way, IDF soldiers accompany participants for the entire 10 days. Three of these trips will be offered this summer — one for ages 18-22 and two for ages 22-26.

Niche trips that the Federation is involved with include the L.A. LGBT & Ally Trip. It takes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults as well as their friends and family — ages 22-26 — on an exploration of arts and culture of Israel’s LGBT community. Participants also learn about Israeli gay rights and visit classic Israeli sites, and the trip concludes with the Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade. JQ International, an LGBT Jewish movement, co-organizes the trip.

The LGBT trip “seeks to layer participants’ Jewish identities and LGBT identities in a whole new way with Israel as a setting for this process,” according to absolutelyisrael.com. 

Meanwhile, L.A. Way’s Recovering Israel trip, intended for individuals in addiction recovery, delves into programs helping Israelis who struggle with substance abuse. It also provides a drug- and alcohol-free environment in which to learn about Israel’s culture, history and politics. Beit T’Shuvah, the Culver City-based residential treatment center, co-organizes the trip, which is for ages 18-26.

Lastly, L.A. 2 Israel — Persian Style brings Los Angeles’ Iranian community on a tour of Israel’s most famous attractions. Inaugurated this past winter, the trip is run by provider Sachlav — also known as IsraelOnTheHouse — which has a reputation for appealing to the Iranian community. Its two trips are intended for ages 18-22 and 22-26, respectively.

Registration for Birthright trips began on Feb. 13, and many close within a week, according to a Birthright official. For more information or to register, visit birthrightisrael.com.

Federation officials hope that the trips are just one step in Birthright participants’ continued engagement with the Jewish community. It has two fellowships through which former trip leaders and participants organize and promote events that keep their Birthright peers connected long after the trips are over.

All of this is part of Federation’s goal of making Birthright more meaningful than simply a free trip to Israel, Sanderson said. 

“For us, Birthright begins when someone applies, and the experience doesn’t end,” he said. 

Super Sunday’s fundraising and activism

More than 450 people took part in fundraising and community service activities Feb. 10 as part of Super Sunday, during which The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance raised $1,942,736 as part of its annual fundraising campaign.

“Super Sunday was an enormous success,” Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an e-mail sent out to the Los Angeles community. “Together we raised [nearly $2 million], which will make a significant impact on our Federation’s work caring for Jews in need, engaging with the community and ensuring the Jewish future.”

A yearly tradition, this installment of Super Sunday represented several firsts, including one new location, a more targeted phone-banking strategy, greater transparency, more experienced fundraisers and the use of cell phones instead of landlines. 

Still, the basics of Super Sunday — phone-a-thons in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to raise funds for The Federation — did not change.

“We like to tell people: You’re not raising money for [people like] yourself, you’re raising money for the people The Federation helps,” said James Felton, Valley Alliance campaign co-chair. “And it’s easy to fundraise when you’re thinking about those people.” 

Approximately 225 individuals signed up to be callers this year, said Mitch Hamerman, senior vice president of marketing at The Federation. 

Money raised during Super Sunday benefits Holocaust survivors, college students needing tuition assistance, the elderly, the hungry and others. It also funds programs that fall under the auspices of The Federation’s initiatives related to engaging the community, ensuring the Jewish future and caring for Jews in need.

Federation volunteers picked more than 3,500 pounds of fresh produce for donation to local food pantries.  Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As usual, the event extended across the city, with Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters serving as a venue for an all-day phone-a-thon. For the first time, Temple Judea in Tarzana served as the Valley site with phone-banking taking place in the sanctuary. Super Sunday in the Valley used to be held at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, but The Federation sold that property to New Community Jewish High School.

In the past, Federation reports of how much it raised on Super Sunday included money that had been donated to it throughout the year. This year, The Federation’s figure was limited strictly to what was raised exclusively on the one day. This was meant to increase transparency about Super Sunday, Sanderson said.

Additionally, phone-bankers limited calls to first-time donors and those who have contributed less than $5,000 in the past. As for those who have donated more than $5,000, The Federation will take the time to develop personal relationships with them, Sanderson said. 

Making calls from a new location did not appear to hinder Valley volunteers. Spirits high, volunteers such as Joel Volk placed calls from their cell phones and made their pitches.

“Are you interested in supporting The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles? It’s really about having a cohesive community here in Los Angeles,” the Thousands Oaks resident said to one of the dozens of people he called on Sunday. 

Cell phones were used instead of telephones because it was not cost-effective to bring the phones in, Sanderson said. Phone chargers for all kinds of cell phones were available to volunteers; donated cell phones were on hand for those who did not have their own, and volunteers who preferred to keep their phone numbers private dialed a special code before making each call.

Federation volunteers spruced up Friendship Circle’s new campus and helped prepare for its upcoming Purim party. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rhonda Seaton, communications director at the Valley Alliance, said Super Sunday has taken a quality-over-quantity approach over the past couple of years, reaching out to fewer — albeit more experienced — volunteers to make phone calls. This year’s phone-bankers included Federation lay-leaders and members of Federation networking and philanthropic groups, such as Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA), Jewish Business Leaders and the Sylvia Weisz Women’s Campaign.

Volunteers used Instagram, an online photo-sharing tool, to take photographs of themselves placing calls, and they updated their Twitter feeds throughout the day.

“We want to connect with people in every way possible,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson traveled back and forth between the Wilshire Boulevard and Valley sites. Around 1:30 p.m., he and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of The Federation, arrived at Temple Judea just as David Melnick and Marcy Tajkef, co-chairs of the Valley Alliance Super Sunday, announced Valley phone-bankers had raised $346,693. The highest fundraisers will receive tickets to a taping of “American Idol,” an Amazon Kindle and other prizes, the co-chairs said.

The phone-a-thon is just one part of Super Sunday. This was the third consecutive Super Sunday that included a service component, and it is critical to The Federation’s mission, said Neuriel Shore, community and government affairs manager at The Federation.

“What’s The Federation there for? It’s there as a convener; it’s there to bring together the Jewish community in a way that community services does,” Shore said.

In the morning, Shore said he was expecting 250 people to participate in community service projects organized by The Federation throughout Los Angeles County. At one of these projects, volunteers, under the guidance of Food Forward, picked oranges at a grove adjoining a private residence in Agoura Hills. The nonprofit harvests the fruit on homeowners’ trees and donates the bounty to food pantries and food banks. 

Jeff Silverman, a 47-year-old sales manager from Woodland Hills, was happy to participate. As opposed to something insular — like “knitting yarmulkes for young Jews in Brooklyn” — Food Forward helps a broad population, he said. It also helps create community. Growing up in Highland, Ind., Silverman was the only Jewish student at his high school. Days like these help him connect with Jews in Los Angeles, he said.

Community service projects appealed to a variety of interests. Volunteers helped the Friendship Circle, an organization for families with special-needs children, prepare for its Purim party and beautify its new campus on Robertson Boulevard; others took a bus to a military base in Los Alamitos, where they prepared lunch for and shared a meal with military personnel; and in celebration of Purim and Presidents Day, YALA created patriotic-themed mishloach manot (“sending of portions”) to give to Jewish veterans.

Additionally, more than 200 high school students gathered at Temple Judea to do arts projects, assemble bags of food for Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program and learn about global issues. Sherut L’Olam, which provides environmental and social justice education to teenagers, led the initiative.

Super Sunday may be about soliciting donations, but it is also about letting people know The Federation is there for them, Melnick said. When he spoke to someone on the phone who was unemployed, he told him about Federation programs that might be able to help. Given that he was doing this inside of a sanctuary, Melnick said it felt like “sacred work in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.”

LaunchBox: Federation releases tool kit for Jewish journey

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has released LaunchBox, the winner of its Next Big Jewish Idea contest in 2011, the first in an effort to garner community ideas to strengthen Jewish life. LaunchBox was one of more than 300 submissions to the contest. 

Federation awarded $100,000 in funding, plus office space, mentoring and support services at the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters to the winner, Los Angeles educator Batsheva Frankel, who created the winning tool kit intended to help people on their Jewish journey.

Families with teens and young adults are the intended audience for the first LaunchBox installment, titled “Life: What’s the Big Idea?” which contains games, a comic book, music and prompts for creating an ethical will. 

“We tried to speak to them [teens and young adults] in a language they’re participating in, which is games, a comic book, music as well as the more heavy stuff,” Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson said. 

Frankel will continue to work at Federation offices until June 2013, further developing her concept, and, during that time, one more box will be released. The theme of the next box has yet to be determined, but it will likely be geared toward a similar age group, according to Scott Minkow, vice president of Partnerships and Innovation for Federation.

The contents of the current box explore such topics as the afterlife, ethics, the meaning of existence – big topics on the minds of teens and young adults, Sanderson said.  According to Federation leaders, conversations, testing and focus groups helped determine what should be in the box, and ultimately the box’s content is intended to engage topics “that have direct connections to Judaism and our faith,” Sanderson said. 

One thousand boxes were produced and are available for free by signing up on Federation’s Web site, jewishla.org. 

Contained in a cardboard box, the LaunchBox includes the Competing High Priorities Game, a chips-and-card game that asks players to respond to real-life predicaments by determining which priority — such as family, stability or love — should be considered when dealing with a particular predicament; a five-page comic book that discusses the afterlife; a CD compilation of songs about life, legacy and the afterlife by Jewish songwriters; and more. The official LaunchBox Web site, launchbox-la.org, includes online companion material. 

Federation expects to send out all of its boxes, but Minkow said it will measure the project’s success based on how the boxes are used, not just on how many are distributed. 

To get the feedback it needs, the Federation is asking everyone who signs up for a box to fill out an online survey. “I think success looks like people are engaging in types of conversation that they’re not normally having,” Minkow said.

This is Federation’s first effort to directly create a curriculum for Jewish learning. Federation also has been helping Frankel plan how to make LaunchBox sustainable beyond the summer of 2013.

“We believe in her and believe in the project,” Sanderson said.

From Madoff to Sandy and on eve of GA, federations retool when crisis hits

The national headquarters of the Jewish Federations of North America could not have been in a worse location when Sandy struck.

Except, maybe, if it were located on the Jersey Shore.

The Jewish Federations’ building in lower Manhattan lost power amid Hurricane Sandy’s winds and the surge of seawater that inundated the neighborhood. For nearly 48 hours last week, the organization’s servers were down, its email, computers and phones offline and inaccessible.

The organization's annual General Assembly, scheduled for Nov. 11-13 in Baltimore, was less than two weeks away. Worse, the head office of the country’s largest aid and welfare network was out of commission at a time of crisis for New York, the nation’s largest Jewish community.

But then the Jewish Federations came back.

First using Facebook to communicate and later shifting to texts, emails and phones once server access was restored, the organization kicked into action, opening a hurricane relief fund that raised more than $68,000 by week’s end.

Farther uptown, the federation system’s largest member, UJA-Federation of New York, announced a week after the storm that it was making available $10 million in emergency relief aid to its network agencies and synagogues in the New York area.

“In times of crisis — whether after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Israel’s North or this — federations are able to mobilize resources to respond in bold ways,” said John Ruskay, the CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. “While everyone extends themselves in the ways they can, federations are uniquely positioned.”

Four years ago, Jewish federations were facing a much different sort of crisis.

The U.S. economy was in a tailspin. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme had dealt a crippling blow to a host of Jewish foundations, agencies, donors and even universities. The need for aid was rising rapidly, fundraising dollars were in decline and federations were struggling with how to offer additional help while tightening their belts.

So federations began changing the way they did business. Staffs were downsized. Programs were cut. Two federations in New Jersey merged. Fundraising became even more tailored to donors. In some cities, overseas funding was sacrificed in favor of local welfare programs.

Four years on, these changes are still reshaping the federation landscape even as federation fundraising and programming are coming back.

“All of these are important changes and practical changes that the economic collapse didn’t necessarily lead to, but created the momentum that led to them finally being made,” said Louis Feldstein, former chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and now the CEO at Dynamic Changes Solutions, a management consulting firm.

“The key question is are they major changes or just dancing around the edges. The challenge is that you can’t cut yourself to growth, particularly in the nonprofit sector.”

In Los Angeles, where the recession saw a spike in Jewish poverty, the federation has recalibrated toward serving a more Jewish clientele rather than a nonsectarian one. The federation also has focused more on vocational services.

“We’re doing our work differently and focusing far more on serving Jewish clients because there are so many more to serve,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In New York, the federation established seven regional centers as part of a new program called Connect to Care that partnered with synagogues and other Jewish community institutions to provide everything from vocational counseling to emergency loans.

Like many federations, however, fundraising is still down in New York. While its annual campaign has picked up in the last couple of years, it’s still bringing in less than before the recession.

“We’re on the road back, but we’re not quite back where we were,” Ruskay said.

At the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland in Oregon, fundraising is still down about 25 percent from pre-2008 levels, even though it has grown by 8 percent in each of the last two years. Last year the federation raised about $3.3 million, down from a high mark of $4.2 million before the recession.

“The storm lasted longer than people thought it would,” said Marc Blattner, who became president and CEO of the federation two years ago. “We kept with the mindset that we have to ride this out and stay focused and on message.”

Sanderson says the upcoming General Assembly is a good time to retool and refocus.

Jewish Federations says it expects some 3,500 people in Baltimore for the GA — assuming that the continuing fallout from Sandy doesn't keep too many New Yorkers from getting the trains or gasoline they need to get there.

“We did the best we could to maintain momentum and keep everything moving,” Susan Sherr-Seitz, associate vice president, special projects/GA at Jewish Federations, told JTA after the storm. “A lot of things are out of our control here. We really are hoping that everyone is doing OK and will be able to come.”

The GA has a special message to convey in this time of challenge, Sherr-Seitz said: “Come together, celebrate together getting through the storm, feel together and feel the power of community.”