February 18, 2020

Moving & Shaking: NewGround Honors; Teens’ Relief Work

From left: NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan; NewGround honoree Sadegh Namazikhah; Muslim Public Affairs Council President Salam Al-Marayati and NewGround honoree David Myers attended the NewGround Trailblazer Award Dinner. Photo by Salim Lakhani

The nonprofit interfaith organization NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change honored David Myers, Sadegh Namazikhah, Julia Meltzer and the Zeno family during its Suzy Marks and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award Dinner on Feb. 13 at the Iman Cultural Center.

The honorees represented a cross section of the Muslim and Jewish world.

Myers is the president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History in New York City and a professor of Jewish history at UCLA. He is involved with the NewGround Change-Makers fellowship and teaches about anti-Semitism to participants of the program.

Namazikhah is the founder of the Iman Cultural Center and has supported NewGround since its inception.

Meltzer is an American-Jewish film director who partnered with Mustafa Zeno, a Syrian-American Muslim, on a film about members of Zeno’s family displaced by the Syrian conflict. The film, “Dalya’s Other Country,” which premiered on PBS in June, follows a Muslim teenager and her mother as they acclimate to life in the United States.

Attendees included former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; NewGround’s Executive Director Aziza Hasan and its Program Co-Directors Andrea Hodos and Tasneem Noor; Muslim Public Affairs Council President Salam Al-Marayati and Director of Policy & Public Programming Edina Lekovic; and Rabbis Jonathan Klein and Aryeh Cohen.

NewGround was established to improve relations between Muslims and Jews through a professional fellowship, high school leadership council and public programming. The Trailblazer Award is named after Suzy Marks and her late husband, Wally Marks Jr., who provided seed funding to NewGround when the organization was in its infancy.

From left: David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates; Temple Israel of Hollywood Senior Rabbi John Rosove; former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin; and former Congressman Mel Levine discuss “The Challenges of Trump’s America.” Photo by Robert Lurie

President Donald Trump is dangerous for American Jews, Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin said during a Feb. 20 appearance at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH).

“When I’m asked, ‘Is Trump so bad?’ Of course he is so bad,” Rubin said while participating on a panel titled “The Challenges of Trump’s America: A Conservative’s View on Trump.” “He has undermined the basis for American democracy and with that the greatest protection, the greatest support, the greatest freedom the Jewish people in the Diaspora have ever experienced.”

The panel also featured former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine and former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. TIOH Senior Rabbi John Rosove moderated the discussion, the third program in a series called Community Conversations.

Sponsors of the event included Community Advocates, the Jewish Journal, Jews United for Democracy and Justice, Stephen Wise Temple and Valley Beth Shalom.

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback was among those in the audience.

“Why is the Republican Party enabling this man to the extent they are doing it?” Levine said.

Rubin, a former TIOH member, was visiting L.A. from Washington, D.C., where she writes the Post’s “Right Turn” column. Her opinions could have come from Trump’s strongest critics on the left. She characterized the president as an authoritarian who “does not understand what America is about and what it means to be an American.”

“Without that basic understanding, without the appreciation of what America is and what defines America and what the Israel-and-America relationship is built on, we are in very, very deep trouble as Americans and as Jews,” Rubin said.

From left: Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) CEO Rabbi Dave Sorani, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and JGSI COO Rabbi Matt Rosenberg attend the Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Photo by Ari Praw

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) held its seventh annual Jewish Executive Leadership Conference on Jan. 28 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica.

The conference, which drew more than 360 Jewish graduate students and young professionals, featured keynote speaker Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, along with approximately 50 other top executive panelists from various industries. During the conference, the graduate students and young professionals learned from the industry leaders and exchanged contact information in the hopes of keeping in touch to help empower their careers.

“This year’s conference was undoubtedly our best ever,” said  JGSI Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Matt Rosenberg. “Each panel room was filled to capacity with standing room only, all of the speakers were fantastic, and we had hundreds of young Jewish professionals networking with one another throughout the day.”

Additional speakers included Scott Adelson, co-president and global co-head of corporate finance at Houlihan Lokey; Michael Kohn, general counsel at Dick Clark Productions; Doug Mankoff, CEO of Echo Lake Entertainment; Jana Winograde, West Coast president of business operations at Showtime Networks; and Lee Zeidman, president of the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. Live.
The conference also featured a networking hour showcasing nonprofits — including the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and Moishe House — whose representatives presented volunteering and leadership opportunities to conference participants.

“We are quite excited at the fast-paced growth of this conference,” said Rabbi Dave Sorani, CEO of JGSI. “It is the only event of its kind in the country. We see it growing bigger and bigger each year. And we are extremely proud of its success.”

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

Tzedek America’s teen disaster response team, including Avram Mandell, founding executive director of Tzedek America (back row, far left), deconstructs a house in Port Arthur, Texas. The house was flooded during Hurricane Harvey and the water rose to four feet high in the home. Photo courtesy of Tzedek America

Fifteen teenagers from Los Angeles traveled with Tzedek America to Houston and spent several days engaged in relief efforts benefiting Hurricane Harvey victims.

Tzedek America’s Teen Disaster Response Team organized the Feb. 15-19 trip.

“The trip was a huge success,” said Avram Mandell, founding executive director of Tzedek America, a Los Angeles-based Jewish gap-year and social justice program. “We gave over 350 hours of service to the cities of Port Arthur and Houston, Texas. The teenagers worked tirelessly without complaining and celebrated Shabbat with the Jewish community of Beaumont, Texas.

“At the conclusion of the five days, the teenagers said it was a great trip and they only wished they could have had more sleep,” Mandell added. “They are eager to do more service work. They feel that helping people is part of being Jewish, and being part of the Tzedek America Teen Disaster Response Team was a great way to do that.”

The teens spent two days demolishing two houses in Port Arthur and a day rebuilding a house in Houston. They represented three synagogues — Kehillat Israel, Leo Baeck Temple and Temple Israel of Hollywood — all of which are active in social justice work. Two of the teens were unaffiliated, Mandell said.

One of the partners on the project was Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster, which in February kicked off its rebuilding project in Houston.

“Just thinking about the fact that there are still tens of thousands of houses that stand in disrepair, almost all belonging to poor and elderly people with nowhere else to go, saddens my heart,” said one of the participants, Noam Ginsburg, a 17-year-old junior at Westview Academy. “But I am so grateful that Tzedek America was able to help me help others.”

A Feb. 10 gala at Shomrei Torah Synagogue honored Shomrei Torah Rabbi Richard Camras (second from left). He is joined by his wife, Carolyn (third from left), and flanked by their children, Talya, left, and Noah. Photo courtesy of Shomrei Torah Synagogue

Conservative community Shomrei Torah Synagogue honored its Rabbi Richard Camras on Feb. 10 during a “Hamilton”-themed gala at its West Hills campus.

“It was an overwhelming experience being honored and recognized for the 18-years-plus that I have served my community,” Camras said in an email. “While I know that I am deeply valued by the members of Shomrei Torah Synagogue, and together we have accomplished so much over the years, it was incredibly meaningful to experience and comprehend the deep appreciation the membership has for their rabbi.”

More than 475 guests attended — including gala chair Judy Groner; the synagogue’s Cantor Ron Snow, Cantorial Soloist Jackie Rafii and President Rob Schreiber; and Camras’ wife, Carolyn, and their children, Talya and Noah — to celebrate Camras, who has served as Shomrei Torah’s rabbi since 1999.

“In just 18 years,” Groner said, “Rabbi Richard Camras has experienced a rabbinic evolution, from taking on his first senior pulpit rabbinic position at Shomrei Torah to becoming a passionate, wise, religious leader, both within our congregation and in the greater Jewish community.”

Moving and Shaking: New Gaza film screening, local olympian celebrated, TIOH Rabbi announces retirement

From left: Claudia Puig, president of the L.A. Film Critics Association; Robert Magid, producer of “Eyeless in Gaza;” Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Rezner and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa. Photo courtesy of Roz Wolf.

“Eyeless in Gaza,” a documentary that attempts to show how Israel suffered from biased media coverage during its 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, had its Los Angeles premiere on Feb. 6 at the iPic Theaters in Westwood.

The film incorporates news footage of the war, including that of a media company capturing on camera Hamas fighters setting up rocket-launch sites in densely populated Gaza neighborhoods. Israel has long maintained that this is standard practice by Hamas and that it is part of the reason why Israel inflicts high civilian casualties on Gaza in the event of violent conflicts with the anti-Israel terrorist organization.

The 50-minute film also incorporates original interviews with Hamas officials; Israeli-Canadian journalist and author Matti Friedman, who formerly served in the Israel Defense Forces and pro-Israel attorney Alan Dershowitz. It delves into the history of Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip, beginning with Israel’s 2005 withdrawal and its dismantling of settlements in the region.

During the 2014 war, mainstream media depicted Israel as using disproportionate force against the Gaza people. Reporters cited the uneven death toll — 1,483 Palestinian civilians killed compared to five Israeli civilians, according to gazadeathtoll.org, which cites the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — as evidence of Israel’s brutality.

The film explains that Israel’s Iron Dome defense prevented Israel from suffering higher casualties despite the constant rocket fire on Israel from Gaza.

About 60 people attended the screening, including pro-Israel philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff.

A post-screening panel featuring the film’s producer, Robert Magid; Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Renzer; and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa examined the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Los Angeles Film Critics Association President Claudia Puig moderated the panel.

The film will be available Feb. 28 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime and Vimeo.

From left: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinsky; Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) Executive Director Rabbi Dave Sorani; NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; and JGSI Director of Operations Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg attend the Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Photo courtesy of Jewish Graduate Student Initiative.

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) on Jan. 29 drew the largest crowd ever to its Jewish Executive Leadership Conference, which was held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

More than 400 Jewish graduate students and recent college graduates attended the conference that featured 50 panelists and three keynote speakers.

The goal of the conference was “to create a forum for Jewish graduate students and young professionals to interact with high-level Jewish executives who share insights into their careers and industries while impacting upon them the importance of philanthropy and community leadership,” said Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg, JGSI director of operations. “Participants are then introduced to volunteering opportunities with a full range of L.A.’s premier Jewish nonprofits.”

The featured speakers addressed a variety of topics, including real estate, finance, law and the entertainment industry. The three keynote speakers were Scooter Braun, founder of the entertainment and media company SB Projects; Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal; and Elaine Wynn, co-founder of Wynn Resorts.

“This year was our best-attended and most successful conference ever, with our best lineup of speakers to date,” Rosenberg said. “We look forward to hosting an even bigger and better event next year and getting even more young people involved in their Los Angeles Jewish community.”

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

World Swimming Championships XOlympic champion swimmer Anthony Ervin, a native of Valencia, is among inductees elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2017.

Ervin captured a pair of gold medals at last year’s Olympics in Brazil in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter relay. His performances were a near repeat of his gold- and silver-medal-winning efforts in the same events at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. He now resides in Florida.

The other inductees to the hall of fame include two Americans, a Canadian, a Hungarian, an Israeli, a New Zealander and a Russian.

One of the Americans, who among all the inductees arguably has had the longest impact on spectator sports, was the late Albert Von Tilzer, a New Yorker who wrote the immortal baseball anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in 1908. The other American, Thelma “Tybie” Thall-Sommers, was a two-time world champion in table tennis. In 1948 she paired with Richard Miles to become the first Americans to win the world mixed doubles title. In 1949, as a member of the U.S. team, she won world championships in singles and doubles. She also won several national titles during her career.

The other inductees are:

The late Hy Buller of Canada, a National Hockey League star who played for the New York Rangers. He set a rookie record in 1951-52 for scoring the most goals, and ranked second for most goals among all NHL defensemen in three consecutive seasons.

The late Joszef Braun, who joined the MTK Budapest soccer club in 1916 at age 15 and three years later was named Hungary’s “Player of the Year.” His team won nine national championships through 1924. Braun perished in a Nazi forced labor camp in 1943.

Israel’s Lee Korzits, a four-time world sailing champion, who won her first Mistral-class title in 2003. After a long layoff due to injuries, the Hadera native won world gold medals in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

New Zealand sailing champion Jo Aleh, who won gold medals (with Olivia Powrie) in the women’s 420 Class event at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and at the 2007 and 2013 world championships.

Swimmer Semyon Belits-Geiman, a Moscow native who broke 67 Soviet national freestyle records, set a world 800-meter freestyle record in 1966, and the same year won two gold medals at the European championships. In 1999, he and his wife moved to Stamford, Conn.

The election results were announced in December by the hall of fame’s co-chairmen, Alan Sherman of Potomac, Md., and R. Stephen Rubin of London. Formal inductions are slated for July 4 at the hall of fame’s museum on the Wingate Institute campus in Netanya, Israel.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

emple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) Senior Rabbi John Rosove has announced his plan to retire from TIOH and become the Reform synagogue’s rabbi emeritus, effective June 30, 2019.

By the time he retires, Rosove will have served as senior rabbi at TIOH for 30 years and “will have completed 40 years of service to the Jewish people since my ordination” at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, in 1979, Rosove said in a Feb. 8 statement.

“Though my retirement is still two-plus years away, I am announcing now to give our Temple leadership the time necessary to thoughtfully establish a process that will ensure the best and wisest selection of my successor as Senior Rabbi,” he said.

Rosove assumed the position of senior rabbi at TIOH in 1988. The Los Angeles native graduated from the UC Berkeley in 1972.

He is the board chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America; holds a seat on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; serves as a Jewish Agency for Israel committee member; recently was national co-chair of the rabbinic cabinet of J Street, a left-leaning, pro-Israel organization and more.

From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community. Photo by Eitan Arom.

From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community.
Photo by Eitan Arom.

In middle school, Micha Thau wanted to live what he called “the Jewish Orthodox American dream” — a future with a house in Beverlywood with a Honda Odyssey in the driveway, four kids and a pretty wife eight years his junior. When he realized he was gay, in eighth grade, “it spit in my face, robbed me of all motivation.”

Now a senior at Shalhevet High School, Thau spoke at Westwood Village Synagogue on Feb. 8 as part of a panel called “Modern Orthodoxy and LGBT: Navigating a Complex Reality,” alongside Shalhevet head of school Rabbi Ari Segal; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; a clinical psychologist, and moderator Alexander Leichter.

In high school, Thau was ready to come out to his community. “It came to the point where staying in the closet was so much more painful than anything that could happen outside of it,” he explained to about 50 people who gathered at the synagogue, upstairs from Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Westwood.

Something clicked for Segal when he realized Thau had spent years worrying if Shalhevet would ostracize him for being gay. “I made a decision at that moment,” he said. “We were going to have a [gay-straight alliance], we were going to stop pretending that we don’t have gay kids at the school.”

After that, Segal wrote an editorial for Shalhevet’s newspaper calling LGBT acceptance “the biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.” With Thau at the helm, Shalhevet issued a pledge Jewish schools can sign to commit themselves to supporting gay students. So far, Shalhevet is the only school to have signed it, Segal said.

Gold, an observant Jew, played a gay father in the web series “Bar Mitzvah.” He spoke about his brother, Ari, who came out at the age of 18. To this day, his brother doesn’t feel comfortable within the Orthodox community, Gold said. “He is a very proud Jew,” he said. “He just feels like he can’t stay observant. It’s too conflicting.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

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

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative is preparing tomorrow’s leaders

A program aimed at connecting graduate students with area Jewish nonprofits in the hopes of creating future leaders for the organizations has received a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) that amounts to nearly $100,000 over the next three years. 

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative’s (JGSI) Center for Ethics and Fellowship, a semester-long program set to commence in January, will bring together approximately 40 area graduate students, chosen from a pool of applicants, for weekly discussions with Jewish executives and community leaders. 

For this program specifically, an alliance has been formed among three outside organizations: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Anti-Defamation League and Bet Tzedek, an organization that provides free legal services for the needy. Each organization has a young leadership program, and representatives from each will meet with the students. 

The goal, according to Rabbi David Sorani, JGSI founder and executive director, is that by creating meaningful connections between the students and these organizations now, these students — many of them working on law or master’s degrees — will be ready to assume leadership roles by the time they graduate. It’s a model the decision-makers at JCFLA found both innovative and rife with potential. 

“We seek to sustain social entrepreneurs and initiatives which will help shape the future of Jewish Los Angeles,” Marvin I. Schotland, JCFLA president and CEO, wrote in an email to the Journal. “Specifically, the idea of connecting 40 sharp, eager Jewish minds on the cusp of embarking on their professional careers with the leaders of Los Angeles’ most respected Jewish nonprofit institutions is compelling. 

“By giving them access and insights that they might not otherwise be afforded, this program has the prospective power to be both highly transformative and make an indelible impact on the fellows’ lives …” he continued. “We hope the fellows’ participation will spark a life-long connection. Similarly, these individuals have enviable leadership skills themselves which this program conceivably will nurture and, in turn, spur others to service.” 

The program also promises to be a boon to the participating nonprofits. After all, today’s stressed-out, nose-in-the-books, overachieving grad student might just be tomorrow’s dynamic, committed, Jewish community leader. That’s certainly the way Sorani sees it. 

JGSI was born out of the personal experience of Sorani, 32, a Brooklyn native who now resides in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Upon completion of his rabbinical studies in New York, he moved to Los Angeles to attend law school. During his first year, he sorely missed being part of a Jewish community. He also realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. 

Sorani got a job as a rabbi at a local Jewish educational center, and with memories of law school still fresh, he started visiting local universities and reaching out to graduate students, hoping to give them some semblance of the connection he himself had yearned for. 

In 2011, he left the educational center and JGSI became his full-time gig. Last year, nearly 1,300 Los Angeles and Orange County students participated in its diverse programming. 

Sorani sees graduate school as a key opportunity — perhaps the last chance to engage young adults. “It’s right before they start real life,” he said. 

“Maybe a small percentage will get involved in Hillel or go on Birthright, but then there’s this huge demographic. Eighty percent of American Jews are completely untapped. This is where we come in. If we can successfully engage law and MBA students, and other graduate students while they are still in graduate school, we can absolutely help build the next generation of leaders.” 

JGSI’s approach, Sorani said, is to be “pushy but not too pushy. We don’t do politics. We’re not too religious. We’re very much middle of the road. We’re not really out there. We have a very good medium for what a graduate student needs. We have been successful at engaging that 80 percent.” 

It is worth noting that according to a recent survey, half of JGSI’s program participants had never before been part of any Jewish programming. 

“That blew us away,” Sorani said. 

So what, exactly, is JGSI doing to draw these disaffected 20-somethings from campuses, including UCLA, USC, Pepperdine and Loyola, as well as several Orange County schools? For one thing, it hosts an annual Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Next year’s will be on Feb. 8 in Santa Monica. The conference brings high-level Jewish executives, who are also community leaders, together with an audience of students and young professionals. JGSI also offers a generously subsidized annual trip to Israel for MBA students and facilitates an MBA mentorship program. 

But perhaps its most popular programming is the Jewish Executive Leadership Speaker Series. This was how Steven Sabel, 26, was introduced to the group. The third-year UCLA law school student learned about JGSI through UCLA’s Jewish Law Student Association, and last year he attended his first event, a dinner at a local kosher restaurant, along with about a dozen fellow graduate students. There were two speakers, he recalls: “a real estate legend and a very impressive attorney.” 

“They spoke about their experience: how they got to where they are; how, if at all, their Jewish faith played a role in their success; what role does it play now in their life,” Sabel said. “A lot of law is about networking. The fact that I am in school, I might not know what the business side or the client side is like. You can’t teach that. To be able to have a small dinner and connect and talk, it’s a fantastic opportunity. 

“In the past two years,” he added, “I have gone to more religious things than in probably the five years prior.” This includes Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations with JGSI, in addition to the speaker series events. 

Sorani believes that programs such as the Center for Ethics and Fellowship offer a high likelihood of future success. 

“I was struggling with how to ensure that these students are going to get involved, how am I going to do something different that will show organizations we’re going to make a hand-off,” he said, employing a football metaphor. “We want the success of a hand-off. We’re not doing a Hail Mary here. I think we’ll have a few touchdowns.”