November 21, 2018

17-Year-Old Wins Grant for Holocaust Survivor Project

Rex Evans and other students in his group interviewed Sam Stone, a World War II veteran. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

A 17-year-old who came up with an innovative way to connect teenagers with Holocaust survivors has received a $1,500 grant for his project from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rex Evans, a junior at Santa Monica High School, was one of several recipients of a Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant for his project, Teen-Survivor Connections.

Evans interned at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) over the summer, which inspired him to join its 2018-2019 teen board. But it was through volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) with his 15-year-old sister, Gracie, and listening to survivors’ testimonies that sparked the idea for his project: Find ways for teenagers and Holocaust survivors to bond. 

“With the testimonies, you’re just sitting there in an audience,” Evans told the Journal. “The survivor is telling you their story, and it’s not really reciprocal. [Holocaust survivors] have a ton to teach you, and I learn a lot every time I talk to them.” 

Being able to have teens interact with survivors is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he added. “It’s sad to say, but [survivors] are getting older and there aren’t going to be too many opportunities left. [And] for older generations, it’s great to interact with younger generations, especially if they’re lonely and don’t really have a ton of fun activities to do.”

In formulating his project, Evans approached his supervisor at MOT and put together an event in March, which brought teen volunteers and survivors together. This fall, wanting to expand his project, Evans applied for the grant.

“The students have to fill out an application, which describes their project, why they think the community needs this and also their strategic plan,” explained Jordanna Gessler, LAMOTH director of education. 

As Evans’ mentor for the grant, Gessler said, “I think it’s exciting to have intergenerational dialogue. It’s quite remarkable to have Rex stand up and say, ‘I recognize that there’s an opportunity here that’s not being created.’ ”

Evans’ first event, since receiving the grant at the end of September will take place at MOT on Nov. 11. His sister came up with the theme of finding ways for teens and survivors to bond through music. They will begin with asking questions of survivors, including what sort of music they listened to as children and how important music was in their families growing up. Then, teens will perform. Rex plans to use some of the grant money to buy a portable keyboard. He also hopes to upload Yiddish songs on YouTube with lyrics so everyone can sing along. 

Evans has ideas for additional events, including one at LAMOTH that is still in the planning stages. He is toying with the idea of having survivors showcase their art and then working on an art project with teenagers. Other ideas include intergenerational games and puzzles.

“Music night, puzzle night, doing board games [and] art. I think it shows young people that their interests and passions can be reflected in someone who is four times their age,” Gessler said. “One of the beautiful things about history and also passing down tradition is you see that, at the end of the day, we’re all very much the same in what we’re passionate and excited about.”

Gessler added that she hopes that Evans’ project will surprise both the teens and the survivors by showing “how much fun they had or how much they learned, or really drawing connections with one another that go across age, years, countries, [origins], gender and identity.” 

Moving & Shaking: CNN’s Blitzer Honored by LAMOTH, Tour de Summer Camps, FIDF Gala

From left: CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer, who was honored by the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust; L.A. Museum of the Holocaust Executive Director Beth Kean and L.A. Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum attend the museum’s gala dinner. Photo by Gina Cholick

Wolf Blitzer accepted an honor from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) on Nov. 5 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. The CNN anchor discussed what his late Holocaust-survivor parents from Poland experienced before coming to the United States.

Blitzer’s mother, Cesia, was a forced laborer in an ammunition factory in Germany. She secretly distorted the bullets she made in the hope that the bullets would misfire and kill Nazis instead of Allied soldiers.

“That was how she survived the war,” Blitzer said. “She was a very powerful woman.”

In Munich after the war, Blitzer’s father, David, observed people standing in a long line. He didn’t know what they were waiting for but assumed it must be good since so many people were doing it.

After a half-hour of being in the line, his father asked a woman in front of him what everyone was waiting for, Blitzer said.

“‘America. They are giving visas for America,’” Blitzer said the woman responded. “My dad says, ‘Visas for America?’ It did not enter his mind he could come to America.”

LAMOTH President Paul Nussbaum presented Blitzer with the museum’s honor. During his acceptance speech, Blitzer, 69, said he thought of his parents as he reported on Nazis marching in the streets in Charlottesville, Va., shouting, “Jews will not replace us.”

“As I was reporting the news about that on CNN, I thought of my mom and dad, who would’ve been so stunned to hear those words shouted here in the United States of America. They wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “This was a country they loved so much. They would never have believed in this day and age they would have heard slogans like that in the U.S.”

The hundreds of attendees included LAMOTH’s Executive Director Beth Kean and Education Director Jordanna Gessler; filmmaker Aaron Wolf and more than 70 survivors.

Manijeh Nehorai, founder and director of ETTA’s Iranian American Community Division, is honored at the organization’s 20th anniversary gala. Photo courtesy of ETTA

The Iranian-American Community Division of ETTA, which serves the housing and social services needs of disabled adults in the Los Angeles Jewish community, held a gala on Oct. 25 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel that celebrated 20 years of fundraising. The ceremony honored Manijeh Nehorai, founder and director of the Iranian-American Division for more than 22 years, and featured a congratulatory message from Farah Pahlavi, the former empress of Iran.

“It was a great privilege to be recognized by ETTA,” Nehorai said. “Over my more than 20-year association with ETTA — along with the board, staff and volunteers — we have worked hard to provide much-needed programs and services to individuals with special needs. The growth of ETTA continues to be phenomenal, and it is gratifying to be part of such an influential and important organization.”

More than 550 people attended the event that also included a fashion show by Iranian native and acclaimed designer Simin Couture, featuring ETTA clients and ETTA Young Professionals.

“Recognizing Mrs. Nehorai is long overdue,” said ETTA Executive Director Michael Held. “We are thrilled the Iranian Division board of directors, along with the greater Iranian community, will have the opportunity to express their gratitude for all she has done, and continues to do. Through her vast experience, professional training and dedication, she has changed the hearts and minds within the Iranian community and bettered the lives of the many Iranian clients and their families we serve.”

Throughout the past 20 years, the Iranian-American Division has been assisting ETTA, an affiliate of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, in providing programs and services to aid people with disabilities and their families.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

From left: Jeffrey Kaplan and Rodney Freeman participate in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ fifth annual Tour de Summer Camps. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted its fifth annual Tour de Summer Camps on Oct. 29, starting at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin campus of the American Jewish University in Simi Valley.

More than 650 cyclists and hikers who participated in the communitywide event raised a record-breaking $1.2 million for scholarships for kids to attend Jewish summer camps.

“The entire community has embraced this special event,” said ride master Rodney Freeman. “Tour de Summer Camps has become a day to celebrate the good in our community, which has resulted in almost $6 million raised over five years to benefit Jewish camping scholarships. My dream is that every child with the desire to attend Jewish summer camp will be able to do so, regardless of their family’s financial capabilities.”

The fundraiser, which had four bike routes of different lengths, had some new additions this year, including three hiking routes, a live band, a fun zone with a rock wall and lawn games, and a personalized bike plate.

“This event is incredibly supported and attended by the community, because we all know that Jewish summer camp is one of the greatest drivers of Jewish identity,” said Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

“Together As One,” an interfaith concert, featured clergy and attendees of all faiths and backgrounds. Photo by Farzana Ali

An interfaith concert at University Synagogue in Brentwood on Oct. 29, titled “Together as One,” had people dancing in the aisles to the music of the Yuval Ron Ensemble.

The nearly 180 attendees contributed canned or dried foods, underwear, socks and grocery store gift cards for homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Seated onstage below four Torah scrolls, the Yuval Ron Ensemble played traditional Middle Eastern music rooted in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. A mystical whirling dervish — a person doing a devotional dance — performed during two selections. Vocalists sang in Hebrew and Arabic, with a Spanish-language singer joining in for a heartfelt, multilingual version of “Imagine” by John Lennon.

The evening’s finale included a blessing over the donated food and clothing by clergy members from multiple faiths, including University Synagogue’s Rabbi Morley Feinstein and Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro. The ensemble, joined by members of the University Synagogue choir and the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, then performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” beneath a quote from Isaiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The event, a Days of Compassion service project organized through the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, was sponsored by University Synagogue congregant Barry Silverman, the Agha Khan Council for the Western United States, Safe Place for Youth, Ward AME Church, and the St. Joseph Center.

Daniel Tamm, the mayor’s Westside representative and interfaith liaison, took part in welcoming guests.

Scarlet Michaelson, Contributing Writer

From left, back row: David Foster, Seal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cheryl and Haim Saban and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg attend the annual FIDF western region gala with IDF soldiers. Photo by Alexi Rosenfield

A record $53.8 million was raised at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region gala on Nov. 2 at The Beverly Hilton hotel. FIDF national board member and major supporter Haim Saban conducted the fundraiser during the sold-out event that drew 1,200 guests. It didn’t take Saban long to raise the record amount of donations, thanks in large part to Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison, who didn’t attend but donated $16.6 million.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, donated more than $5.5 million. Over the years, Eckstein has donated a total of $40 million to FIDF. Among the gala attendees were Guess founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who also donated millions to the FIDF.

Among the celebrities attending the event were Gerard Butler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joanna Krupa, Katharine McPhee and Gene Simmons. Simmons, a member of the rock group Kiss and a regular guest at the FIDF gala, performed Kiss’ signature song “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

“Year after year, the support from the Los Angeles community for this remarkable event continues to amaze me, and this year’s gala is no exception” Saban said. “[My wife] Cheryl and I are grateful for the outpouring of support for these great causes and deeply honored by this year’s record-breaking donations.”

The gala featured the screening of a video called “Heroes of the IDF,” which told the stories of women combat soldiers. Today, 95 percent of IDF jobs are open to women, who serve as pilots, infantry soldiers, artillery combat soldiers, electronic warfare specialists, and anti-aircraft and naval officers. About 11 percent of combat soldiers drafted into the IDF each year are women.

Among the 17 active-duty soldiers attending the gala was border policewoman Cpl. Ravit Mor, whose life was saved by the late border policewoman Hadar Cohen, 19, after she was attacked by a male terrorist in February 2016. After being stabbed several times, Cohen shot the perpetrator but she was then attacked from behind by another terrorist and died. Mor later told the Jewish Journal about the close relationship she formed with Cohen’s parents: “It’s amazing how they supported and embraced me during that time, even though they were in pain for losing their daughter. This experience had made me stronger and taught me how to appreciate every moment in life.”

Also in attendance was Noam Gershony, the former IDF pilot whose helicopter crashed as he was heading to rescue troops during the 2006 Lebanon War. Gershony broke nearly every bone in his body, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He emerged from a deep depression not only to be rehabilitated, but to win a gold medal and share a bronze medal in wheelchair tennis at the 2012 Paralympic Games. When Gershony came on stage walking with the assistance of crutches, he was received with a standing ovation. Addressing the audience, Gershony jokingly said: “Now I can finally go out with a beautiful girl in Tel Aviv — or even a few.”

Presiding as the evening’s master of ceremonies was Israeli actress Moran Atias. The event featured special performances by singer Seal, The Tenors and David Foster & Friends.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Schoenberg parts With LAMOTH, citing problems with new management

E. Randol Schoenberg. Photo from Twitter

A week before Rosh Hashanah, philanthropist and world-renowned litigator E. Randol Schoenberg shocked the Los Angeles community when he announced on Facebook that he was withdrawing his support from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park (LAMOTH), an institution he has supported since 1996 and which he helped transform into a leading Holocaust education destination.

In a Sept. 14 Facebook post, Schoenberg, a former president of the museum, signaled that his decision was the result of friction with the institution’s current leadership.

“I am sad to say I have decided I can no longer support the new management of Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and therefore cannot continue to be involved with or support the museum,” Schoenberg wrote. “Thank you to everyone who has supported the museum during the 21 years I have been there. I am very proud of what we accomplished together.”

Within minutes, dozens of comments piled up on Schoenberg’s Facebook page expressing shock and confusion over what had gone wrong at the institution where he once played such an integral role.

“The obvious question is why you made this decision,” one woman wrote. “Not lightly, I’m sure. And to announce this so publicly on Facebook adds extra weight to your words. … Please don’t drop this bombshell without explaining it. Not fair to your legion of fans or the museum.”

But Schoenberg provided no further explanation on social media.

In an interview with the Journal, Schoenberg denied that he simply is having a hard time allowing the new leadership to take charge and suggested something more dysfunctional than change is poisoning the atmosphere at one of the city’s most prized Jewish institutions.

“The last month has been very difficult for me,” Schoenberg said. “Change is always difficult. But that isn’t what this was about.”

Schoenberg declined to get into the details but indicated that the last year has been full of friction.

When reached for comment, LAMOTH President and CEO Paul Nussbaum said he was “personally saddened” by Schoenberg’s decision.

“Randy was the one who recruited me to come onto the board of directors, so there’s a personal loss to me,” said Nussbaum, a former banking and wealth management executive. “I had looked to Randy for institutional knowledge and support, counsel and advice early on.”

LAMOTH President Paul Nussbaum

Schoenberg’s decision to distance himself from the very leadership he helped install left many wondering how a relationship that began in mutual respect and trust had soured.

“Change is traumatic, and sometimes change is most traumatic for people who are founders or significant contributors to the development of an enterprise,” Nussbaum said.

By the time Shabbat arrived on Sept. 15, Schoenberg’s name had been scrubbed from the LAMOTH website’s list of honorary directors. Next, the museum issued a statement from the Goldrich Family Foundation — the museum’s other major benefactor — affirming support for the leadership that Schoenberg couldn’t tolerate.

“The Goldrich family and the Goldrich Family Foundation strongly support the current management team at the Museum and have been in active consultation with the management team as it has implemented changes over the last few years to support the Museum’s growth and continued vitality,” the statement said.

For years, Schoenberg and Jona Goldrich, a real estate developer and Holocaust survivor who died last year at 88, worked together as the most significant and passionate supporters of the museum. He also was one of the lead donors for the museum’s permanent building in Pan Pacific Park.

One of his daughters, Andrea Goldrich Cayton, now serves as LAMOTH vice president.   

Goldrich’s other daughter, Melinda Goldrich, who is a museum board member, wrote to the Journal, “Both my sister and I feel that the museum, through its current staff and supportive board members, has come a long way from its early days of inception. Though it is a young museum in its current form, its evolution is ongoing and as the primary donors to the operation, we couldn’t be more pleased to see these changes.”

Schoenberg first joined the LAMOTH board in 1996, nearly a decade before he won a landmark art-heist lawsuit that made him an international celebrity. With the case, Republic of Austria v. Altmann, Schoenberg restored a group of Gustav Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis to their rightful Jewish owner, Maria Altmann.

The case was popularized by the 2015 film “Woman in Gold,” starring Helen Mirren as Altmann and Ryan Reynolds as Schoenberg. In 2005, the lawsuit reached the United States Supreme Court, and by early 2006 Austria agreed to remove the paintings from the country’s museums and turn them over to Altmann.

After the five Klimt paintings were recovered and sold at auction for an estimated $327 million, Schoenberg, who reportedly received 40 percent of the proceeds, became a wealthy man. In addition to the leadership role he assumed in December 2005 as president of LAMOTH, which was founded by a group of Holocaust survivors in 1961, he also was in a position to help fund the expansion and operation of the museum.

During the decade he served as LAMOTH president, Schoenberg led a $20 million capital campaign to expand the museum into an eco-friendly, state-of-the-art building in Pan Pacific Park. It opened its doors in 2010, at a ceremony attended by city officials and Jewish community leaders.

In addition to fundraising, Schoenberg was meticulous in overseeing the new building’s details, including designing its permanent exhibitions, curating its award-winning audio guides and dreaming up the centerpiece exhibition, “Tree of Testimony,” a data-visualization art project featuring 52,000 survivor testimonies.

Since 2006, Schoenberg, who is guarantor for the museum’s line of credit, has contributed about $7.7 million to the museum, he said.

But last summer a reshuffling of museum leadership led to some unexpected changes, triggering a turbulent series of events.

In August 2016, the museum’s then-executive director, Samara Hutman, whom Schoenberg supported, began an abrupt and unexplained leave of absence. As word quietly spread among the L.A. Jewish community, many were surprised that a woman who had served the museum for three years and was credited with improving its programming and raising its public profile disappeared from her desk.

Around that same time, Nussbaum, who previously had served as board treasurer, took over as president and former president Beth Kean assumed the position of executive director.

Three months passed before a formal announcement was made on the museum’s website, explaining that Hutman was leaving the museum and returning to the Remember Us organization, a Holocaust engagement program for teens.   

When reached by phone, Hutman declined to comment on the reasons for her departure. So did Schoenberg. Nussbaum also declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Once Nussbaum and Kean took over the management of LAMOTH, they initiated changes that affected the operation of the organization and its staff. Schoenberg played a periodic role, stepping in on an as-needed basis — sometimes by request and sometimes through personal initiative. Eventually, conflict arose about the way museum business was handled.

In interviews, Schoenberg insisted he offered a helping hand for the health of the museum. Nussbaum defended the new ways.

“The museum is in incredible shape,” Nussbaum said. “It is thriving. We’re in the greatest fiscal health that this organization has ever been in, and our programs and our galleries are teaching tens of thousands per year about the Holocaust. This year, we’ll have 20 percent more visitors than we had the year before.”

He added, “That should put your questions in context.”

When asked if Schoenberg’s departure was related to a personality conflict, Nussbaum responded: “I’m not going to enter into that discussion.”

He also declined to be specific about how the loss of Schoenberg’s financial contributions would impact the museum.

“At this point, if you’re talking only about financial support, we are not facing the loss of a significant supporter on a yearly basis,” Nussbaum said. “This is about change. All it’s about is about change.”

Schoenberg rejected the notion that he was having a hard time letting go, explaining that he always had planned to step out of the way and hand the reins to a successor.

“This was a very tough decision for me to make,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve put a lot into the museum and I’m very proud of what we accomplished because it was a team effort. Unfortunately, many members of that team are no longer there.”

Asked what he’ll do next, Schoenberg said he is about to publish a book of correspondence between his grandfather, composer Arnold Schoenberg, and writer Thomas Mann. Titled, “The Doctor Faustus Dossier,” it reveals the dispute between Mann and Arnold Schoenberg after Mann used the composer as the model for the title character of his novel “Doctor Faustus” — a character who sells his soul to the devil.

Schoenberg also is devoted to the study of Jewish genealogy and continues to advocate for the restoration of Nazi-looted art to its lawful owners.

“I always keep busy,” he said. “I’m not gonna be twiddling my thumbs.”




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

CNN International anchor Isha Sesay. Photo courtesy of CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Gabriella Kamran, Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Caitlin Cohen, Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

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

Ben Shapiro. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Rob Eshman, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

LAMOTH makes Holocaust personal with ‘Names Instead of Numbers’

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

In early 1945, when a Russian-Jewish soldier rode in on horseback to help liberate Auschwitz-Birkenau, 21-year-old Renee Firestone was there, barely alive. Her mother and sister, victims of Nazi atrocities, weren’t so lucky. With odds heavily stacked against her, Firestone began life anew.

“Without a penny in my pocket, not even underwear, wooden Dutch clogs on my feet, emaciated and with my shaved head, I re-entered the world, the same world that put me in [Auschwitz] 14 months ago,” Firestone, now 92, said, addressing a crowd of nearly 800 at Pan Pacific Park as part of the 25th annual Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) Yom HaShoah commemoration on April 23.

“How does one become a human again?” Firestone asked, as the audience, which included 50 other Holocaust survivors, sat in silence.

Universal lessons of shared humanity was a prominent theme as survivors, community leaders and special guests honored the 6 million Jews lost in the Holocaust.

One of the featured survivor artists was 87-year-old Eva Zuckerman-Warner, who spoke to a small group that included her grandson Jerry. As a young girl who designed clothes for her own dolls, Zuckerman-Warner longed to attend art school. Hungarian anti-Jewish laws prevented her from doing so.

“I think I was born without a left brain,” she joked. “I only got the right brain. I’ve always been this way.”

Zuckerman-Warner sat beside one of her 20 sculptures, a life-size clay-molded face with a gaping mouth crying out in agony. She said the work is a tribute to the nameless, faceless Jews who perished in the concentration camps, an example of how the tragedies of her past dominate her work and often help her cope.

“For me, art is a way to reflect on the trauma of the Holocaust, the horrors I experienced,” she said. “This came from my heart. I wear my heart on the outside.”

Guests were invited to visit a new international traveling exhibition, “Names Instead of Numbers.” An in-depth look inside Dachau concentration camp, it features artifacts, letters, photographs and personal testimonies both from LAMOTH’s collection and from the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany.

“What’s really unique about this exhibit is that it shows the personal experiences of people who were persecuted by the Nazis,” Jordanna Gessler, LAMOTH’s director of education, told the Journal. “Each part of the exhibition is curated to highlight these individual stories.”

One of those individual stories is that of a young Polish man identified on a dilapidated, 1948-issue German driver’s license as Idel Aleksander. After his liberation from Dachau, he drove around Germany looking for surviving family members. He found none. Now 94, Joseph Alexander stared at his old driver’s license on display.

“I like that it’s here. I like that people will see it,” Alexander said. “It’s important that we share personal stories like mine in this way. There are still deniers out there in the world. I’m the living proof; so are these documents. People need to know these things happened to me. We have to keep talking about it.”

Paul Nussbaum, president of LAMOTH and a child of Holocaust survivors, opened the ceremony by reading aloud a letter sent by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He then delivered a fiery speech in which he spoke not just of a need to look back into tragic parts of history like the Holocaust, but also to recognize similar historical patterns forming today.

“We must bear witness now, because as I look across the landscape of Europe, Great Britain and — shamefully, I must admit — our beloved United States, the seeds of otherness have sprouted and are being fertilized by the sowers of hate, fear and intolerance,” he said.

John Emerson, the U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2013 until early this year, and his wife, Kimberly Emerson, a lawyer and human rights activist who now sits on the board of Human Rights Watch, served as keynote speakers. Both touched on the importance of Holocaust education to prompt change in future generations and to eradicate genocide in all forms. John Emerson made his point by illustrating the difference between history and memory.

“Historians conduct research, they fix dates and interpret the significance of events,” he said. “But memories are kept alive through storytelling, through teaching, sensitive writing, commemorations, even judicial proceedings, and especially at places such as this that are devoted to preserving survivors’ stories.”

Pairs of survivors and young grandchildren lit commemorative candles. A quartet of teenage classical musicians from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts performed “Tracks,” a melancholic composition written by Noah Daniel, a Milken Community Schools student. Alyssa Jaffe, a Santa Monica High School student, sang the U.S. national anthem and “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. A delegation from the Knesset looked on.

In her speech, Israel’s minister for social equality, Gila Gamliel, said, “The difference between today and some 75 years ago is that today we have a strong State of Israel. This is our pledge. This is our bond. This is our unbreakable link. This is our ‘never again.’ ”

Firestone plays her part by traveling the globe as a public speaker. She told the crowd she felt compelled to take control over the tragedies of her past by sharing her story. A longtime Los Angeles-based fashion designer, she capped her speech by offering advice and hope.

“To parents, I say speak to your children and teach them to respect each other and help each other,” she said. “To the schoolteachers, on the other hand, I tell them to tell their students to put their cellphones in their pockets. This way, they may just find out that most of them want to live in peace, and by learning to respect and care for each other, maybe — maybe — we can make that happen.” n

High school pupils enact scenes from survivor stories

Santa Monica High School students act out a scene from Erika Fabian’s story on March 22. Photo by Eitan Arom.

“David Lenga?”

Gavin Graham, 17, stood up.

“I am David,” he said.

The other student, playing a Nazi trooper — a tall, bespectacled girl in an overcoat with a felt swastika band around the upper arm — looked him over.

“Run,” she said. “Just run and don’t come back.”

It would have been a tense scene to act out in any theater — perhaps the most fraught moment in the Holocaust story of a man who never saw his younger brother again after being sent away, mysteriously, miraculously, from the deportation center where they were being held.

But the scene was made all the more nerve-racking for the teenagers bringing it to life due to the fact that there, in the second row, among the almost 150 who gathered in the theater of the Santa Monica High School (Samohi) Humanities Center to watch the show, sat David Lenga, in the flesh.

“It was definitely a ton of pressure,” Graham said after the show.

The “Voices of Survivors” performance on March 22, the first of its kind in Los Angeles, was the culmination of an eight-week collaboration between Samohi’s theater department and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). The project paired four Holocaust survivors with groups of students who acted out scenes from their harrowing stories of survival.

“It was heart-wrenching,” said Lenga, a spry 89, of watching his story performed. “When I saw it depicted here, it really all came back.”

But he said it was worth it, for the sake of teaching the students to be vigilant against the creeping signs of dictatorship and tyranny even in the modern age. And in the end, despite the minimal props and stage elements and the students’ lack of acting experience, he felt they did well.

“I had my doubts they could carry it out, because it’s so difficult and so wrenching,” he said, holding a bouquet of flowers they presented to him after taking their final bow. “But they really did a good job. They really did.”

Preparation began eight weeks earlier when the 35 students in Samohi’s introductory acting class, most of whom are  not Jewish, visited the museum to learn about the Holocaust and how to interview survivors. The following week, over three days, they met with the four survivors — Lenga, Avraham Perlmutter, Edith Frankie and Erika Fabian — to hear  their accounts.

“As a high school teacher, I very rarely see that kind of silence from students,” Samohi theater director Kate Barraza said of the encounter.

LAMOTH furnished educational material while a mentor from Writer’s Room  Productions, a writing education organization, assisted each of the four groups in scripting their scenes. Students wrote, directed and eventually performed each story, handling the details down to lighting
and sound.

“It really came entirely from the students’ hearts,” LAMOTH creative programs director Rachel Fidler, who headed up the museum’s participation, said at the event.

The performances drew on some of the more tense scenes from each survivor’s account, such as Fabian unsuccessfully trying to cross the border from communist  Czechoslovakia into Austria after World War II with her mother and sister, and Perlmutter jumping from a moving van to escape Nazi captivity.

The program was meant to have students not just hear from survivors but also engage with their stories.

“You can see the numbers and the pictures, but to have the guy in front of you that it happened to — that’s really an experience,” Graham said.

Frankie, 85, is so used to telling her tale to students and other groups, that it didn’t faze her to see it performed.

“It was pretty true to my story,” she said of the performance.

Clutching the bouquet the student performers had presented to her, she sat outside the theater with LAMOTH special projects coordinator Michael Morgenstern dutifully manning her wheelchair as she waited for her son to drive her home.

“I always say, ‘If I touched only one student with my story, then I did my  purpose.’”

Moving and Shaking: VBS students dance, ADL honors law enforcement, new leadership at LAMOTH

Orly Star Setareh (far right), a dance specialist, leads VBS students in dance at The Music Center. Photo courtesy of the Music Center.

About 40 Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School fifth-graders were among the 18,000 elementary school students who participated in the 47th annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, a free arts education initiative held Feb. 28 at The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Nancy Herbst, director of general studies at the day school, was among the adults accompanying the VBS students, who attended a performance by the Ailey II dance company in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before they performed a synchronized dance inspired by Ailey II in The Music Center plaza.

Blue Ribbon is the self-described “premier women’s support organization of The Music Center.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards ceremony was held March 14 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The event honored law enforcement officials who have played a role in fighting hate in Southern California.

Among the honorees were Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Yadira Perez, who helped apprehend an arsonist responsible for setting a mosque ablaze in Coachella in December 2015, and Cindy Cipriani, senior management counsel and director of community outreach in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, who “has dedicated her life’s work to advancing the values of unity and understanding with humility and compassion,” the ADL statement said.

Perez recalled her decision to pursue the arsonist after spotting him while off-duty: “At that point,” she said, “I felt the risk to public safety outweighed the risk of me catching him.”

LAPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and L.A. city attorneys, who were honored for their takedown of a white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley, come together with Joseph Sherwood (seated, front row) and his son, Howard (crouching, far right) at the Anti-Defamation League’s Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards event.

LAPD and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators and L.A. city attorneys, who were honored for their takedown of a white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley, come together with Joseph Sherwood (seated, front row) and his son, Howard (crouching, far right) at the Anti-Defamation League’s Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards event.

The fire at the mosque was seen as a vengeful reaction to the killing of 14 people and wounding of 22 earlier that month at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino by perpetrators who claimed terrorist allegiances.

In addition, the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Division, its Orange County Resident Agency, the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California were honored as a group for thwarting “two Anaheim individuals planning to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS,” the ADL said. One of the individuals had planned to fly from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv to join terrorist fighters in the Middle East.

The event’s additional group honoree was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ L.A. field division, the L.A. City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division, which were honored for removing a “stronghold of San Fernando Valley Peckerwoods, a white supremacist gang,” the ADL said.

The more than 250 attendees included Ayelet Feiman, an L.A. city attorney prosecutor who was honored with the Sherwood Prize in 2013 for her efforts on a case involving swastikas drawn in maple syrup outside the home of a Jewish family in Northridge; Joseph Sherwood and his son, Howard; ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind; L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and others.

The event also celebrated Joseph Sherwood’s 100th birthday, on March 12.

The Sherwood family launched the prize in 1996 as a way to bring attention to the positive contributions of law enforcement.

From left: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Tuchin, Richard Pachulski and Patricia Glaser attend the American Friends of Hebrew University Torch of Learning Award Dinner, which honored Tuchin and Pachulski. Photo courtesy of AFHU.

From left: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Tuchin, Richard Pachulski and Patricia Glaser attend the American Friends of Hebrew University Torch of Learning Award Dinner, which honored Tuchin and Pachulski. Photo courtesy of AFHU.

The March 1 American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) Harvey L. Silbert Torch of Learning Award Dinner at the Beverly Hilton honored Richard Pachulski, a corporate restructuring attorney, and Michael L. Tuchin, a founding member and co-manager of Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern.

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who often writes about events pertaining to Israel and has spoken out against President Donald Trump despite being a conservative, was the guest speaker. He discussed what makes America great, noting the disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners who are Americans, many of whom are immigrants. Additionally, he said HU, with its diverse student population of Arab, secular and religious students, embodies what is best about Israel.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is described by an AFHU press release as “the honorees’ longtime friend,” presented Pachulski and Tuchin with their awards.

The event raised $1.2 million for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law.

Attendees included Patricia Glaser, event chair and the AFHU western region vice chair; Michael Karayanni, dean of the Hebrew University Faculty of Law; Richard Ziman, vice chairman of the AFHU board of directors; and Brindell Gottlieb, president of AFHU’s western region.

AFHU raises awareness of and support for Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Dr. Shlomo Melmed, Isabelle Szneer and Cedars-Sinai Dr. Charles Simmons commemorate Szneer’s donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Dr. Shlomo Melmed, Isabelle Szneer and Cedars-Sinai Dr. Charles Simmons commemorate Szneer’s donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The family of the late Leopold Szneer, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor and former Congregation Mogen David cantor, has provided a $250,000 gift to the Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease program.

A dedication and luncheon to celebrate the donation, given in Szneer’s memory and in the memory of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust, was held Jan. 17 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Szneer, who died in 2016, was imprisoned in Dachau during the Shoah, fled on the Kindertransport to Belgium in 1938 and experienced numerous challenges before immigrating to Los Angeles in the 1950s.

He went on to serve as a cantor, his longtime dream, at Congregation Mogen David in Pico-Robertson, for more than 20 years.

Isabelle Szneer, his wife since 1947 and also a Holocaust survivor, provided the gift in her husband’s memory. “He was a much loved man in the city,” she said.

Attendees at the event included Congregation Mogen David Rabbi Gabriel Elias; Dr. Shlomo Melmed, executive vice president of academic affairs at Cedars-Sinai; and Dr. Charles Simmons, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai.

Beth Kean

Beth Kean

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), which describes itself as the oldest survivor-founded Holocaust museum in the country, has named Beth Kean its executive director and Paul Nussbaum its president, according to a March 14 announcement.

Kean, who became the museum’s president in January 2016, had also been serving as interim executive director since November, following the departure of the museum’s previous executive director, Samara Hutman. Nussbaum previously served as the museum’s treasurer. Jamie Rosenblood, a current board member at LAMOTH and museum docent who has a background in finance, is succeeding Nussbaum in that role. 

Paul Nussbaum

Paul Nussbaum

The leadership transition is part of “an unprecedented five-year plan to expand [the museum’s] mission of teaching the dangers of genocide and promoting empathy, tolerance and understanding through history, shared knowledge, and personal experience,” the announcement says.

Kean, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, has been involved in various leadership roles on the museum’s board for more than a decade. Her husband, Jon, is a filmmaker whose work includes the documentary films “Swimming in Auschwitz” and “After Auschwitz.”

“The relevance and urgency of our mission has never been more critical than it is in today’s environment,” Kean said in the announcement. “We are creating a strategic plan that will ensure that we continue to provide free educational programming, opportunities for dialogue with Holocaust survivors, and substantially grow our audience while teaching them the relevance of becoming stewards of this important history.”

The museum expects to draw more than 60,000 visitors in 2017, an increase from the 48,000 visitors it had in 2016, according to the announcement.

In the announcement, Nussbaum, the son of Holocaust survivors, expressed optimism about the museum’s continued success.

“We’re aware that we’ve become one of the most cherished cultural assets not only in Los Angeles but in the country,” Nussbaum said. “Our intent now is to establish a roadmap to guide LAMOTH on its journey toward continued growth and awareness.”

From left: Rabbis Elie Spitz, Naomi Levy, Stewart Vogel and Reuven Taff — all of California — received honorary doctorates from Jewish Theological Seminary. Photo by Jewish Journal Staff.

From left: Rabbis Elie Spitz, Naomi Levy, Stewart Vogel and Reuven Taff — all of California — received honorary doctorates from Jewish Theological Seminary. Photo by Jewish Journal Staff.

During a March 2 ceremony at Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan, New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) awarded honorary doctorates of divinity degrees to 55 rabbis, including five California rabbis, all of whom are members of the Rabbinic Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis.

The honorees have served the Jewish community for 25 years or more, on the pulpit, in the classroom and elsewhere.

The local rabbis were Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, who was ordained at JTS in 1988; Naomi Levy of Nashuva in Los Angeles, who was a member of the first class of women to attend JTS’s rabbinical school, in 1984; Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, who was ordained in 1988; Neal Scheindlin of Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles, who was ordained in 1986; and Reuven Taff of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, who studied at JTS and was ordained in 1988 at a seminary in Israel.

Levy gave remarks on behalf of those being honored.

— Jewish Journal Staff

CORRECTION – 3/28/17: The original version of this story misidentified Orly Star Setareh.

Calendar: March 17-23, 2017

Scene from "Settlers" premiering March 17 at the Laemmle Theaters.



This documentary by Shimon Dotan offers a provocative look at the controversial Israeli settlement movement. Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and West Bank during the Six-Day War. The hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have moved into the West Bank have made reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians much more complex. “The Settlers” examines residents ranging from opportunistic families seeking less costly living conditions to Western-style hippies, messianic religious extremists to idealistic farmers, settler “patriarchs” to new converts. Israeli intellectuals, politicians and academicians weigh in on the issues. Laemmle’s Monica Film Center, 1332 Second St., Santa Monica. (310) 394-9744.


The Young Jewish Professionals of Los Angeles presents an opportunity to connect with a diverse group of 100 career-minded peers while enjoying a four-course meal and open bar. Hosted by Mendel and Rachey Simons. 6:30 p.m. $60; tickets available at; no tickets at the door. Shefa Melrose, 7275 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.



The JFed Players Community Theater Ensemble presents “Curtains,” the final collaboration between Kander and Ebb, creators of “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” Set in 1959, this clever musical features murder, music, mystery, comedy and romance. 8 p.m.  $25; discounts available. Tickets available at Through March 26 on select dates. The Clarke Center, 401 Rolyn Place, Arcadia. (626) 445-0810.



The Conejo Valley Chapter of the Brandeis National Committee presents “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman will discuss in detail the case of serial killer Lonnie Franklin, known as the Grim Sleeper, who was charged with the murder of 10 women from 1985 to 2007. This well-publicized trial concluded in May 2016. 1 p.m. $20; $22 at the door. RSVP to Jessie: or Frona: Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks.


Join Young Adults of Los Angeles’ post-undergrads (ages 22-26) for a 90-minute introductory course on the Israeli self-defense techniques of krav maga. 1:30 p.m. $10; ticket sales close at noon March 17; no tickets available at the door. Krav Maga Worldwide, 11400 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.


Greek poet and Holocaust survivor Iossif Ventura is one of the last members of the Jewish community in Crete. Ventura survived World War II as a child in hiding and has used poetry to transform his trauma into words. He has published six books of poetry and his works have been translated into six languages. 3 p.m. Free. RSVP to Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704.


cal-korzenComedian Annie Korzen returns to the Whizin Center stage. Q-and-A to follow. 5 p.m. $25. American Jewish University, Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572.


Leading cantors from across Los Angeles will perform in a concert to benefit the next generation of Southern California cantors. Proceeds from the Cantors Benefit Concert will fund scholarships for cantorial students at the Miller School of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. Featured cantors include  Nathan Lam, Marcus Feldman, Lisa Peicott, Don Gurney, Seth Ettinger, Phil Baron, Hillary Chorny, Judy Dubin Aranoff, Ira S. Bigeleisen and Alexander Berkovich. 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.



Join Temple Menorah and the Islamic Center of the South Bay for a Women’s Freedom Seder. Learn how the Exodus is understood in different faiths and how that message teaches the value of freedom. Come with your focus on unity, tolerance and respect for all faiths and people, and to promote freedom. 7 p.m. $25. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444.


cal-snyderTimothy Snyder, the Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale, is an expert on 20th-century European history. Snyder warns us that in the 1920s and ’30s, many European democracies didn’t believe their countries ever could succumb to Nazism, facism or communism. He wrote a practical handbook called “On Tyranny,” a guide to knowing the signs of authoritarianism. “On Tyranny” provides 20 tips on preserving our freedom. Snyder will be in conversation with Jonathan Kirsch, author, attorney and the book editor of the Jewish Journal. 7:30 p.m. $20. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills.



Enjoy an evening of original student theater based on the life stories of four Holocaust survivors. The performance is the culmination of an eight-week collaborative project between the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Santa Monica High School’s theater department. The students in Santa Monica’s acting class participated in the museum’s “Voices of History” theater workshop, learning about the Holocaust, interviewing survivors and working with mentors to write, direct and stage the event. 7 p.m. Suggested donation: $10; $5 for students. Santa Monica High School, 601 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (323) 651-3704.



Presented by the Whizin Center and University Women: Coffee & Conversation, author Susan Silverman will discuss her book “Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World.” Silverman, the older sister of irreverent comic Sarah Silverman, grew up with parents who were atheists. She shocked everyone when she became a rabbi and moved to Israel. The author will discuss her funny and moving memoir about her unique family that will resonate with anyone who has struggled to find a place in the world and to understand the significance of that place. Silverman will be joined by Jewish Journal columnist Danielle Berrin. 7:30 p.m. Free. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles.


Israeli television icon Assi Azar will give a motivational presentation in Hebrew. 8 p.m. $25. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 451-1179.


Young professionals in every field are invited to the annual Emet After Party, featuring an appearance by honoree Albert Z. Praw. Emet, which means “truth” in Hebrew, is an active community of Jewish attorneys and other legal professionals in their 20s and 30s. 9 p.m. $30; $40 at the door; free with the purchase of ticket to the Legal Division Dinner. Business attire. The Beverly Wilshire Hotel, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

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

Moving and Shaking: LAMOTH fundraiser, Hummus Festival, Israel-Asia Community Summit and more

About 600 supporters of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) attended its annual fundraiser Nov. 6 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, which honored deceased Holocaust survivor Jona Goldrich and film producer Gary Foster for his film “Denial.”

Historian Deborah Lipstadt — the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, and author of the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier,” upon which “Denial” is based — was the guest of honor and presented Foster with his award.

“When I learned that David Irving, the leading Holocaust denier, was suing me for libel, my first reaction was to laugh,” Lipstadt said. “This was a guy who claimed more people died in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than in the Holocaust. But the burden of proof was on me to prove the truth of what I [wrote], and we did that. The man was left destroyed, and much of the foundation of hardcore Holocaust denial was destroyed too.”

In accepting his award, Foster said he was inspired to make a film about Holocaust denial after hearing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran, publicly deny the Holocaust. Foster began researching the topic and happened upon Lipstadt and her book, “History on Trial,” pretty much by accident. Once he discovered Lipstadt, he said, he knew he had to turn her story into a movie.

Lipstadt said she was skeptical: “I told him, ‘I’m ready to sign [the film contract] but you’ve got to understand this story is about truth. This movie has got to be accurate.’ ”

From left: Israeli American Council Los Angeles co-chair Tamir Cohen, Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Nancy Krasne, Beverly Hills Recreation and Parks Commissioner Frances Bilak and Maya Kadosh, consul for public diplomacy, culture, media and public affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles served as judges at the Hummus Festival. Courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles

Despite sporadic rainfall, nearly 300 individuals crowded the Beverly Hills Farmers’ Market on Oct. 30 for the inaugural Hummus Festival. The goal was to not only indulge in the popular Middle Eastern dipping sauce but to partake in Israeli food, music and the arts.

The event sponsors included the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, City of Beverly Hills and the Israeli-American Council (IAC).

“This festival is a part of the historic partnership agreement signed last year between the Israeli government and the city of Beverly Hills to increase the cultural exchanges between Israel and the city, as well as offer locals exposure to rich Israeli food, Israeli music, the arts, film and music,” said Maya Kadosh, Israeli Consul for Public Diplomacy, Culture, Media and Public Affairs.

Kadosh and four local culinary experts were on hand to recognize the best-tasting hummus produced from among nearly a dozen local restaurants, food manufacturers and food trucks. It was a tie for first place between Rose Kemp and Rachid Rouhi.

“We thought Beverly Hills would be a natural fit for this event because of the large Jewish population and Israeli population in the city, and when you bring in food and culture to a place like the Farmers’ Market, it is a win-win situation for everyone,” said Dikla Kadosh, senior director for the IAC’s community center and events.

Young children at the festival took part in an Israeli dance competition and families enjoyed a band as well as DJ playing popular Israeli music. Also on hand for the event were local Israeli artists, jewelry makers, clothing vendors and even a booth offering visitors a virtual reality tour of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, using the latest in high-tech Israeli electronic goggles.  

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

ADL, museum have Holocaust-based lesson for police

Nineteen police officers sat in four rows of plastic chairs in the second-floor library of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), the spines of books with names of authors like Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel peering down on them from shelves on four sides.

The officers’ eyes were fixed on Jordanna Gessler, the museum’s director of educational programs. Gessler stood in front of a screen, slowly cycling through projections of black-and-white photographs: a Berlin patrolman accompanied by an SS officer; police searching apartment blocks in a historically Jewish neighborhood; officers in Berlin marching a couple through the streets with a sign reading, in German, “I am a race defiler.”

As the last picture came on the screen, Gessler asked the officers for their thoughts. One officer in the back row spoke up.

 “Most people never meet politicians, so for them, law enforcement is the government,” he said. “So when they see that, that tells them that this [race mixing] is not OK, because the government is sponsoring that it’s not OK.”

The slideshow was part of a Sept. 13 training program led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in collaboration with LAMOTH, examining police complicity in Nazi atrocities. The program was titled “Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust.”

The half-day training asked officers from the Beverly Hills Police Department and Los Angeles World Airport Police to reflect on their roles and consider what they can learn about their profession from the Jewish genocide.

 “Some people come into this assuming we’re trying to compare law enforcement to the Nazis,” Matthew Friedman, ADL’s associate director for the Pacific Southwest Region, told the officers. “I want to make absolutely clear that we’re not doing that. … We could do a similar training with any profession and see how they were co-opted.”

After watching a short film on the origins of Nazi rule, the officers toured the circuit of exhibits in the museum’s low-slung, concrete building in Pan Pacific Park. Two groups of officers, most of them in uniform, milled past the personal effects of victims, survivor testimony videos and World War II-era newspaper articles.

 “I read just about every one of the newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times,” an officer in a suede sports coat said during a reflection period after the tour. (The officers were not permitted to give their names for privacy reasons.) “And whoever was writing those articles was extremely well-informed about what was going on prior to the start of World War II.”

He added, “It seemed as if no one was caring, or no one was paying attention.” 

After the historical slideshow, the program shifted from content analysis to reflection. Friedman asked the officers to name stereotypes normally applied to police, with Ariella Schusterman, his co-regional director at ADL, recording the answers on a whiteboard.

 “We’re racist,” offered a female officer with a pink-lettered airport police badge on her shoulder.

 “Uneducated,” added a small woman with short-cropped hair.

 “Don’t care about the community we serve,” said a man in a short-sleeved shirt.

Then, Schusterman drew a line down the board and started a new column.

 “How do you want to be perceived?” Friedman asked.

These answers came more quickly: honest, hard-working, professional.

 “The exact opposite of everything on the right side,” the officer in the suede sports coat summarized.
As the program wound down, Friedman suggested that while laws and ethics codes stand as important bulwarks against abuse of power, police complicity during the Holocaust shows that those codes can be subverted or simply left by the wayside.

 “Constitutions are just words on a page, but these core values of law enforcement that you gave today are really what make you different,” Friedman said.

ADL’s training, a program begun in 1998 in Washington, D.C., was conceived as a partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital. Since then, more than 100,000 law enforcement officers have gone through the program, including officers in St. Louis, Texas, Florida and, as of last summer, Los Angeles.

Since the program launched in Southern California in June 2015, it has trained more than 120 officers from local police departments and law enforcement agencies, including police from Torrance, Santa Monica, Long Beach and UCLA.

Preparing to send the officers on their way, Friedman added to his reflections a note of gratitude.

 “Some of you have said that [police work is] thankless,” he said. “Well, we’re thanking you. We thank you every day.” 

Masha Loen, the last living founder of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, dies

Masha Loen, the last living founder of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), the oldest Holocaust Museum in the United States, died peacefully in the care of her loving son, David yesterday. She was a champion of LAMOTH since 1961, and a force to be reckoned with.

Mariashka Sapoznikow Loewenberg (she became Masha Loen upon her arrival in America) was born in Lithuania, and loved to tell everyone that a Litvak was an “Emeser Yid” (Real Jew). Her grandfather was a rabbi, and her early childhood warm and safe. After a period in the Ghetto, her family was deported. She survived the infamous Stutthof concentration camp, three additional labor and concentration camps, a death march, and two rounds of typhus (which she jokingly referred to as The Typhuses) before finally being liberated. She was in a pile of dead bodies, but managed to move her arm up and down to signal that she was still alive. She met her husband Cornelius, who was working for the Allies after the war in Germany. He spoke several languages, and was considerably older and more sophisticated. He was smitten the first time he saw her, and she with him. They were married 70 years, and totally devoted to one another. We lost Cornelius several months ago.

I never discovered her true age, but she was “about 70” when I met her 20 years ago working for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation). She was an interviewer for the project, and a some-time volunteer at the Foundation’s headquarters in trailers on the back lot at Universal Studios. I was assigned to do quality assurance on a few of her interviews, and we spoke often. When I became the Executive Director of LAMOTH in 2001, I inherited her as my secretary, a term she thought much more glamorous then the word assistant, which she insisted I not use. Masha taught me more about managing people than any advanced degree ever could. She taught me how to dress (“You are my director, look like it!”), how to ask for what I wanted, and how to take a stand for the institution I was charged with running, without fear.

Though she couldn’t type, use the computer, and often could not tell the difference between the fax machine and the printer (“But it’s coming out like a fax” she used to yell at me daily), she was by far the most tenacious, loyal and brazen employee I will ever have. Masha’s passion for the Museum knew no bounds. I witnessed her confront wealthy philanthropists fearlessly, once tearing what she considered a measly donation check to her beloved institution in half. “You can do better than that” she said, looking the donor square in the eye. “Double it and bring it back tomorrow!” He did. She worked tirelessly for the Federation for a myriad of Survivor causes in Los Angeles over the years, as a lay member and on the payroll when the Museum was an agency of Federation. She felt betrayed when the then-leadership of the Federation tried to shut her Museum down. She wasn’t afraid to confront this upsetting issue, once pointing her finger in the face of the CEO at the time, and telling him he should be ashamed of himself. She was right.

Her sense of humor, like her tenacity, also knew no bounds. Once, when we attended the Remembrance Ceremony at the Lodzer synagogue, a couple who had received honorary doctorates at an Israeli University was called forth as Dr. and Dr., to light a candle. In what can only be described as the loudest stage whisper in history, she tartly noted “So if I was a millionairess, I should be Dr. Masha Loen.” But her true gift was talking to children who came to the Museum about the Holocaust, meeting each child on their own level. She shared her story, and the story of each artifact in the Museum, including the last photo of her mother ever taken, holding her infant sister. Children loved her, their parents and teachers loved her, and we would often get requests from all over the Southland requesting that Masha be at the Museum when they returned.

You probably had never heard of Masha. She wasn’t wealthy, or scholarly, or what many in the Jewish community in Los Angeles considered to be an important person. She was however, one of the brave women that helped to build the Jewish community in post-war LA. She owned her own business, raised her (wonderful) son David, and gave her time, her money and her energy to the Survivor community in LA. We are losing our Survivor community is a phrase we all hear regularly from the directors of our organizations. It’s a phrase used as a fundraising tool, or to inspire you to become involved, or to teach, and for a plethora of other reasons, all valid. But these Survivors are not merely living history lessons. They were and are people, with flaws and gifts, who made 20th century Jewish America what it is today. Each loss is profound in a unique sense. They are irreplaceable. Masha is irreplaceable. Years ago, I wrote a piece eulogizing the death of a Survivor and founding member of the LAMOTH board, Freddy Diament z’l. Masha liked what I wrote, and asked me if I would write her eulogy someday. I promised her I would. “Call it Masha’s Eulogy” she told me. “And be sure to write it good!”

Rachel Lithgow is the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City. From 2001-2007, she was the Director of the LA Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH).

‘Pokémon Go’ capturing Jewish hearts and sites around L.A.

With “Pokémon Go” suddenly a craze across the world, it was only a matter of time before the augmented reality game’s creatures started showing up at Jewish sites across Los Angeles.

The impact was felt almost immediately at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), much to the dismay of the museum’s executive staff. The site was designated a PokeStop, a real-world location incorporated into the gameplay where players can collect items.

“We expressed to the folks at the game company we didn’t think the … museum was an appropriate place for the game to be played out because of the sensitivity of the material being presented and educated,” LAMOTH Executive Director Samara Hutman said in a phone interview. 

But like the rest of the country — the game has been downloaded more than 30 million times in the United States, according to SurveyMonkey Intelligence — Hutman said she’s intrigued by the possibilities such technology presents.A Pidgey, a type of Pokemon, appears outside the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Photo by Joey Schoenberg

“I think if I had to sum it up, I would say we like to think organizationally we retain a curiosity about emergent ways of connections,” she said.

Elsewhere in the city, Pokémon are making their presence felt — from the purple, snake-like Ekans discovered at the Museum of Tolerance, a PokeStop, to the cute, yellow Pikachu who has made appearances at Pan Pacific Park outside LAMOTH, to the wild Mankey this reporter found in his Jewish Journal cubicle. 

A number of local synagogues also serve as PokeStops, including Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown, Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino and Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. While this might make visiting temple more attractive to some, the end result might not always be positive.

“It’s become enough of a concern that now we’re going to place a sign out on Shabbat asking people not to play during services,” said Elana Vorspan, director of marketing and communications at VBS. 

She wrote this in an email on July 22 after spotting a Pidgey, a tiny bird Pokémon, in one of the social halls, and a Zubat, a poisonous bat Pokémon, in the hallway.

A Graveler shows up outside of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Photo by Ryan Torok

“Pokémon Go,” available on iPhone and Android devices, fuses smartphone and GPS technology to create what has been described as an augmented reality gaming experience. Game characters are set against real-world environments so that a Pokémon appears in a real location and a player can interact with it. Developed by the Pokémon Company International and software company Niantic, “Pokémon Go” was released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand on July 7 and has since become available in many other countries. 

Represented in the game by avatars, players walking around town are charged with capturing the virtual creatures and collecting items essential to training and powering up their Pokémon. A vibration alerts one to a Pokémon nearby — whether it’s an Ekans curled up on the sidewalk across from Pat’s kosher restaurant in Pico-Robertson or, a few blocks away, a yellow Sandshrew across the street from Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy. 

Rosanna Tornel, 25, was walking her pug, Fiona, and playing “Pokémon Go” recently when the Sandshrew appeared. She said she’s been playing the game with her Mexican-Jewish fiancé, Dan, and both have been enjoying the experience. 

“I think when ‘Pokémon’ came out, the TV show, I was 9 years old and loved it as a little girl … and I think it’s a fun game,” she said. “You need to go and walk around, and I know all the Pokémon.”

Tornel said her fiancé has more powerful Pokémon and that he frequents “Pokémon Go” gyms, places where players battle other players. Young Israel of Century City (YICC), despite being under construction, has been designated a gym by the game. 

Yoel Rubin, 23, was walking to YICC on Friday before Shabbat when this reporter discovered an Ekans on the sidewalk. 

“It’s a waste of time, if you ask me,” he said, a black tefillin carrier bag hanging from his shoulder. “People are spending so much time on their phones, not with their families.” 

Temple Beth Torah Cantor Sarah Fortman Zerbib-Berda is among those in the Jewish community who have been won over by the game after initially being unsure. She said the game has helped her keep her exercise routines, among other reasons. 

“When the “Pokémon Go” game first came out, I was skeptical and guffawed like a lot of the world, but now I’m a true believer that going outside to play this game has more positive elements to it than negative,” said Zerbib-Berda, whose Ventura synagogue is a PokeStop. “It’s getting autistic children to be social, and agoraphobes and those with other mental illness such as anxiety and depression to feel like going outside and interacting with the world for the first time in a long time, if ever.”

The IKAR community has been playing the game, according to Meredith Hoffa, its media and communications manager. She said IKAR Rabbi Ronit Tsadok even delivered a recent Shabbat sermon about how the game’s augmented reality is its appeal. 

“Real-world life is challenging and crapola right now,” Hoffa wrote in an email, “so it’s not surprising that millions of people are opting for an overlay of adventure and fun to deal with it all.” 

Zerbib-Berda agreed, saying the release of the game came just in time, on the heels of tragic shootings involving African-Americans and police officers. 

“The game came out at the end of a horrible week and it was good timing,” she said. “We needed to have people out enjoying life together and meeting each other, making the world smaller and less scary.”

While some synagogues are concerned about the potential distraction of the game, other rabbis are reacting with nothing but good humor. 

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul said his synagogue’s name sounds like a character from the game. (Probably the most famous character is the lovable, yellow Pikachu.) 

And his wife, Pico Shul rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein, said, “I do think it’s very cool for our neighborhood and certainly for the neighborhood kids, or the grown-ups who play the game, that synagogues are on the map, or are Poke-destinations.” 

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback said in an email that having a Pokémon at temple might even help make services possible, though he hadn’t seen any at the Bel-Air Reform synagogue as of press time. 

He offered a halachic question: “If you’re short one person for a minyan, will a Pokémon count?”

Prosecuting the Holocaust: A personal and legal history

It is not often that a book comes along so vital to our understanding of human rights law that it becomes recommended reading for American presidents. But that is precisely what happened after French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy reviewed “East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ ” by international human-rights attorney Philippe Sands in The New York Times Book Review. Levy suggested that U.S. presidents “would be well advised to move [it] to the top of their reading lists.”  

A nonfiction work of both personal and international history, “East West Street” describes the Jewish origins of international rights-based law and its relationship to the Holocaust. Sands does so through an account of four interrelated biographies that ultimately intersect at the Nuremberg trials when Nazi war criminal Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and governor general of Poland, is tried and hanged. Through that prism, the book introduces us to two lesser-known Jewish figures — Hersch Lauterpacht, who invented the concept of crimes against humanity, which protects the individual; and Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, which protects groups. Those two fundamental ideas provided the legal basis for the prosecution of Nazi war crimes. 

On June 9, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park hosted a panel discussion with Sands, Hans Frank’s granddaughter Franziska Frank and UCLA Jewish History professor David N. Myers to discuss the book’s implications. 

Below is an excerpt from that conversation.

Danielle Berrin: Since there’s a lot of talk that your book reads like a John le Carre thriller, and I hear Hollywood is eager for the rights, can you give us your movie-pitch synopsis of the storyline?

Philippe Sands: It’s the story of one city, two crimes and four men. 

It began 6 1/2 years ago, in spring 2010, when I was invited to deliver a public lecture in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, on the work that I do as a litigating attorney and professor of law on crimes against humanity and genocide. 

I accepted the invitation because my grandfather was born in the city of Lviv in 1904. I grew up in a family where no one talked about what happened. And as a child, you respected that; you knew there were no-go areas. [So] I wanted to go [to Lviv] and I wanted to find my grandfather’s house.

I was astonished to discover, in preparing the lecture, that Raphael Lemkin, the man who developed the concept of genocide, who coined [the term] for the first time in November 1944, [had] studied at the very law school that had invited me to give the lecture. And the law faculty was unaware of that fact.

Then I discovered [Lauterpacht], the man who put the concept of crimes against humanity into the Nuremberg Statutes, also studied at the same law school. And they also did not know he had studied there. 

So what became a quest to understand what happened to my grandfather became a bigger quest to find out what happened in that city that caused those two men to do what they did.

Then there emerges a fourth man, Hans Frank — Adolf Hitler’s personal lawyer and governor general of occupied Poland, [who] links the three families — [mine, the] Buchholzes, the Lauterpachts and Lemkins. Frank arrives in Lemberg (what Lviv was called during the war) in August 1942 and announces the implementation of the Final Solution in that city; 125,000 people were killed within the next two to three weeks, including the entirety of the Lauterpacht family, Lemkin family and every single member of my grandfather’s family. 

Lauterpacht and Lemkin, who invented the two concepts, are [later] appointed to the prosecution teams in the famous Nuremberg trial, and they discover that the man they are prosecuting, Hans Frank, is the man most closely connected with the murder of their entire families. 

DB: Franziska, what was it like learning that your grandfather, Hans Frank, was a central figure in the Nazi regime? And how did you deal with the public shame surrounding your family’s past?

Franziska Frank: Ever since I was a child, it was clear to me who my grandfather was. My father was very vocal about it, and very clearly distanced himself from his father. The other four siblings were defensive; they were saying, “It’s not true, he was lovely, he was a great father, he didn’t do anything wrong.” In 1986, my father published a book called “My Father: A Reckoning,” in which he hugely, aggressively attacks his father. He was attacked for the book because he was so rude against his father, and [it was thought] you shouldn’t be rude against your parents regardless of the fact that they were war criminals and had killed millions of people. Ten or 15 years later, he published a book about his mother [because] he wanted to show the role of women in the second world war, that the women actually pushed their men, that they weren’t innocent victims. They were active and equally evil, but typically not brought to justice. So [the family history has] always been in the public. 

DB: Franziska, in the documentary film “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy,” which serves as a companion to Philippe’s book, your father says of his father, “[He] loved Hitler more than his own family.” How did your father’s emotional damage from his upbringing impact the kind of parent he was to you?

FF: My father was 7 years old when my grandfather was hanged, the youngest of the five children. His father had once chased him around a table and called him fremde, stranger, because he suspected that [my father] Nicholas wasn’t his son. Later it became quite clear from the way my father looks that he is his son, but that gave my father, I think, quite a healthy sense of distance. 

Growing up the son of a war criminal [wasn’t] the worst thing in postwar Germany; he found that most people loved it. But when he wrote his book, it became very clear there was nothing to love about his father. And he made the quite correct decision that his trauma was just absolutely unimportant in comparison to what had happened [to the victims of the Holocaust]. The pictures of the corpses and the concentration camps made it quite easy for him not to be traumatized, because he knew who was rightfully traumatized, and that was not him. 

DB: David Myers, from your perspective as a Jewish studies scholar, tell us why this book is significant and what sets it apart from the ample literature on the World War II/Holocaust period.

David Myers: One of the things Philippe teaches us is that no detail is too insignificant, too small, to be ignored. 

In one way, this book is the chronicle of an obsession, an absolute obsession. It’s an absolutely spellbinding read. It has an extraordinary novelistic quality to it; it is massively researched; it is historically rich; and it makes an extremely important point about today. That combination of qualities is unsurpassed, and I say that with an immense dose of admiration and a slight element of envy. It is a kind of unfolding series of biographies of these four extraordinary individuals — Philippe’s grandfather, these two great Jewish jurists, and [Hans Frank]. It is, at the same time, the biography of the city of Lemberg, and recalls for us the extraordinary cosmopolitanism of a relatively small east-central European city in the waning days of the great imperial era and then into the post World War I nation-state. And it is a biography of two competing and central ideas of international law [crimes against humanity and genocide], two conceptions that have undergirded so much of our understanding of the international order. 

PS: At the heart of it, [the book addresses] the most fundamental question that all of us ask, which is: Who am I? Am I an individual? Or am I a member of a group? And if you’ve picked up in the book, you know I can’t make up my mind.

DM: And I want you to!

PS: The great question, of course, that we all have is: How could these things have happened? It’s the question I ask myself if I’m involved in a case in Yugoslavia or Congo or Rwanda or Chile or in Iraq: ‘How can people be so bloody terrible to each other?’ In the summer of 1942, Hans Frank receives a letter from his childhood sweetheart that her son is lost on the eastern front, and would he intercede? This is the woman he wanted to marry, but her parents [rightly thought] he wasn’t good enough. So they have an affair; Hans Frank decides he wants to divorce [his wife], Franziska’s grandmother, and move in with Lilly [his childhood sweetheart]. And what’s the argument he comes up with? He tells his wife that he’s about to get involved in something that is so terrible that it would be better if she got divorced so she would not be tainted by the horror in which he was about [to commit himself]. 

In other words, he’s using the Final Solution to get a divorce! Why is that interesting? I think we’ve tended to avoid the personal details in trying to understand [the Holocaust]. It wasn’t [only] about master plans and projects, it’s human weakness and slipping. One thing leads to another. 

DB: As someone who has spent a lifetime in international law studying crimes against humanity and genocide, what do you see as different or distinctive about the Holocaust?

PS: I oscillate on that question. There’s a part of me that thinks it is distinctive, and there’s another part of me, faced with 3 million killed in the Congo between 1998 and 2003 — 3 million human beings killed in five years — [that wonders] is that so different from what happened from 1933 to 1945? 

I think the human capacity to do absolutely terrible things is not an inherently German thing; I think that the Germans did it in a particular way. They left records and other things, but they don’t have a monopoly on horror. 

Nor do Jews have a monopoly on being victims. I think every example of mass killing is unique, and I think we have to be really careful about creating hierarchy. I learned from each of these horrors that there’s a common strand that runs through, and the common strand is this: In every single one of these cases, what emerges is a “them” and “us” scenario: They’re not human, they’re untermenschen; they’re cockroaches; they’re rats. And what happened in the Holocaust is that it was done on an industrial scale of efficiency, which probably distinguishes it from others, and it was done with a base of records that is literally unparalleled. 

But, of course, that has its own difficulties [because] people have learned from that; and leaders now who want to exterminate large numbers of people learn from the diaries of Hans Frank not to keep diaries — not to put things on paper. And then it becomes impossible to prove that mental intent [in a court of law]. 

What happened between 1933 and 1945 touches me personally, directly. I live with it on a daily basis, with people in my life bearing the legacy of that. But I refrain from saying [the Holocaust] is special because to say that it’s special is to say to the 3 million in Congo or the million in Rwanda or the hundreds of thousands in Chile and Argentina, “You’re different.” I just have difficulty doing that.

DB: David Myers, do you agree?

DM: I would say each event of mass murder is unique. The Holocaust may be the prototypical or paradigmatic act of mass murder of the 20th century, and the event that actually inspired Lemkin to think about categorizing. In addition to [Nazi] efficiency, there are a number of qualities present that made it as successful and destructive as it was — a charismatic leader; an efficient and willing state mechanism; a powerful and potent ideology; technological sophistication; and the millennial hatred of the Jews. 

FF: The reason the Holocaust is somewhat different has something to do with the German character. In the Globe Study [Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness], Germany scored lowest of all 62 countries [studied] in something called “humane orientation.” 

It doesn’t mean we’re all evil, but it means that in Germany, you divide hugely between personal life and professional life. That means that if you go to work, you’re not interested whether the person sitting next to you had a nice weekend. You do your duty. Germans are very good at task obedience; we’re very good at mission control. 

DB: Franziska, your grandfather was hanged before you were born, but if you could go back in time and meet your grandfather, what would you say to him?

FF: I do something in the decision-making process called “ex anta ex post” — so when I try to work out whether I’m behaving properly, I’m thinking, “What do I want?” If I see myself as an 80-year-old looking back at my life, what should I do now? And I wish my grandfather would have done that. Because then, every single step he took could have been reversed. He could have said, “Do I want to get to be 80 years old?” And, “What would I need to decide so I can look myself in the eye at 80 years old?” 

I think it could do the German nation a lot of good to look at themselves objectively. 

Adam Yaron: Uniting people through a universal language

HIGH SCHOOL: Harvard Westlake
GOING TO: USC Thornton School of Music

Given that Adam Yaron will be attending the prestigious USC Thornton School of Music in the fall, it might seem surprising that he didn’t always see music in his future. He thought about studying medicine, working in a lab or finding a profession with a tangible effect. 

“I think what I realized is that music can make an impact and can make a difference,” said Adam, 17, who has just graduated from Harvard Westlake. But, he said, “What I realized is that this is what I’ve always done. This is what I’m good at, what I want to pursue.”

He grew up in a musical family. His mother teaches piano, and his brothers play drums and bass. Adam plays piano and guitar and sings. 

Music, he said, has always been a constant in his life: “As I kept playing and kept singing, I realized, wow, this is something that I love and something that I wanted to pursue.”

Adam took music lessons and participated in musical theater at Harvard-Westlake. His favorite productions included “Grease,” in which he played Doody, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” in which he played the lead, Bobby, his most difficult role. 

In his senior year, Adam played Tony in “Westside Story,” his dream role.

What distinguishes him from most teen music lovers, though, is his desire to connect his passion for music with teaching about the Holocaust. 

In seventh grade, Adam participated in the inaugural Righteous Conversations program at his school, a program that connects students with Holocaust survivors, facilitating dialogue, social action and creative collaborations. According to Cheri Gaulke, a visual arts teacher at Harvard Westlake who worked with Adam on the project, he was the youngest student to participate. For his project, Adam created a short film about being a responsible consumer. 

Last summer, Adam assisted in piloting a new composition workshop within the Righteous Conversations program; he helped to score the films created by the students and the survivors in the program. 

“My first time scoring for any film setting,” he said. “I had written songs [before], but not really composition. That was a very cool opportunity for me.”

On Yom Hashoah this year, he participated in the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust’s (LAMOTH) annual ceremony in Pan Pacific Park by singing a song titled “Misheu.” 

“That was a very cool experience to be able to give back [to] that LAMOTH community,” Adam said.

“You reach out to him, and he’s up for anything,” Gaulke said. “He’s a kind-hearted and generous person. … [He has a] sense of caring about the greater good, being open to whatever that means. He was wonderful to work with.” 

With his high school choir, Adam traveled to Germany and Poland, a trip that included visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau. 

“Outside of Birkenau gates, we came out and sang a prayer for peace, ‘Sim Shalom,’ ” Adam said. To stand “outside of the camp singing, what so many in there couldn’t, was very powerful for me.”

Adam enjoys spending time with his family, sometimes even playing in a band with his brothers. Because all of his extended family lives in Los Angeles, he said he cherishes his weekly Shabbat dinners at his grandmother’s house — especially her chicken soup. When he attends USC in the fall, he hopes to continue this tradition. 

He also served as a prefect for his senior class, planning activities and fundraisers.

In college, he hopes to study scoring, performance and songwriting. 

“In a world with so many people who speak so many different languages and come from so many different backgrounds, there is one language that we can understand, and it’s music,” Adam said.

A Bar Mitzvah with 1.2 million guests

I rarely pay attention to walls when I’m in a synagogue. I’m usually more focused on the people, the prayers and the rabbi’s sermon.

On a recent Shabbat, though, I couldn’t stop looking at the walls. I was at a bar mitzvah service for my friend Steve Kessler’s son, Benny, with about 80 other guests. The service, led by Rabbi Lori Shapiro of the Open Temple in Venice Beach, featured some beautiful rituals I had never seen before, because I usually pray in more traditional synagogues.

And yet, as meaningful and poetic as the service was, what really blew me away was what I saw on the walls: 1.2 million little holes, each one representing a Jewish child who perished in the Holocaust.

The service was held at the open-air Goldrich Family Foundation Children’s Memorial, which is part of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) in Pan Pacific Park.

The holes are the sort of inspired design element that bridges architecture with storytelling. Instead of trying to imagine the loss of 1.2 million souls, you actually get to see 1.2 million holes.

Those tiny, little holes, of varying sizes, riveted me, because Benny Kessler had chosen to honor one of them.

He was sharing his bar mitzvah with a Dutch boy named Hijmie Bachrach, who was 7 when he was murdered at Auschwitz along with his parents and two sisters. A faded black-and-white photo of Hijmie (pronounced “Hymie”) lighting a menorah was on the cover of the program, right beneath a color photo of Benny doing the same.

Benny spoke movingly about Hijmie during the service. He had invited Hijmie’s first cousin, Avraham Perlmutter, who’s now 89 and living in Los Angeles, and wished him, “Mazel tov on the occasion of your cousin’s bar mitzvah.”

Perlmutter had always referred to his cousin as Hijman (“Hyman”). But when he contacted surviving family members in The Netherlands to let them know about the event, the family asked if Benny could use the more endearing Hijmie, which is how they remember him. They also sent photos of the boy, which found their way into Benny’s program.

As the service unfolded, the little hole that represented Hijmie became a little story. Here was a cute, rambunctious Jewish kid from Den Haag (The Hague) whose life was brutally terminated in 1943 before he had a chance to have his own bar mitzvah. And now, 73 years later, a Jewish kid in California was bringing that child and that story to life.

Hijmie Bachrach during a kindergarten Chanukah celebration in 1942 in The Hague, Netherlands.  He was killed in Auschwitz the following year.

Just as he lit a menorah in his own photo, Benny was now lighting one of the 1.2 million souls represented on the wall.

Benny’s special morning was the first such event to be held at the Children’s Memorial, which is a story in itself. My friend Steve knew about the idea of twinning b’nai mitzvah kids with children of the Holocaust, as he had seen two of my kids do it. When he and his son attended a school trip to the museum earlier this year, during which they visited the Children’s Memorial, they fell in love with the idea and the venue.

So they asked Samara Hutman, executive director of LAMOTH, if it would be possible to hold the service inside the memorial, and she said, “Of course!” Hutman used to run Remember Us, the organization that arranges the twinnings, before she merged it with the museum when she was named executive director there a few years ago. The program still holds a special place in her heart.

Benny’s bar mitzvah teacher, Shapiro, loved the idea of the unusual venue, and she brought along her cantor/musician and created a soulful and uplifting service.

I couldn’t help suggesting to Hutman during the lunch that maybe she and the rabbi should start a b’nai mitzvah program at the memorial for unaffiliated families looking for something different. They can call it “A B’nai Mitzvah for 1.2 Million Kids.” 

What better way for Jewish kids to connect to their ancestors and to Jewish peoplehood than to share their most special day with a Jewish kid who could never have one?

They could hold a service every week for the next 500 years and still have plenty of Jewish souls left on the wall.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

A painful but important Holocaust remembrance

Two weeks before his bar mitzvah, Henry Oster was deported from his German home and, eventually, taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After surviving the Holocaust, he vowed never to return to his native land — but then something changed his mind.

“When people ask me to give one reason why I would go back … I have to show Germany that 70 years after deporting Jews, it still hasn’t worked … show them that despite the best-laid plans of atrocity, 75 years later, I am still around,” he said, addressing a crowd assembled May 1 at Pan Pacific Park as part of the 24th annual Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) Yom HaShoah commemoration.

Every year, LAMOTH holds a community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day event with survivors, Jewish community leaders and others coming together for speeches, activities and museum tours. According to museum officials, an estimated 1,200 people attended this year’s ceremony, which occurred a few days before Yom HaShoah officially began the night of May 4.

“We gather here to remember the victims and to honor the survivors,” Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin said. “I pray we do the victims’ memory justice, that we deny Hitler a posthumous victory not by existing despite his memory but by living with joy, by infusing the world with a greater sense of justice and by expelling hatred with the overwhelming power of love.”

Appearing onstage beside an Israeli flag and an American flag, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described the Holocaust as a “lesson for humanity.” He also spotlighted the importance of a partnership between Los Angeles and Israel.

“The friendship between Los Angeles and Israel means no voices will ever be forgotten, and today we can be strong as a people and as two nations,” Garcetti said.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel, appearing at his final local Yom HaShoah event before his term expires, evoked the talmudic saying that taking away one life is like taking away an entire world.

“Every person who was murdered was an entire universe lost forever. We honor their memories and their legacies, and we learn the stories of those who perished and those who survived because it is these stories that we can teach ourselves and our children,” Siegel said.

Simon Rubinstein, nephew of survivor, businessman and philanthropist Max Webb, told the Journal before the program began that LAMOTH serves as an important counterpoint to the anti-Semitism college students experience on their respective campuses.

“What the kids get on college campuses — you get Holocaust deniers. Here, you have survivors telling true stories,” he said.

“It’s important for the next generation and the generation thereafter to remember. Otherwise, history repeats itself,” he said in an interview before the program.

Among the survivors in attendance was Max Stodel, 93, who was interned at a labor camp in the Netherlands during the war. He displayed the tattoo on his arm as he walked around the lobby of the museum, where 18 Torah scrolls rescued during the Holocaust were on display as part of an exhibition titled “Rescued Czech Torah Scrolls in Our Community,” running through May 9.

Adult children of survivors were also among the day’s many attendees, including Liz Talpalatsky, a member of Congregation Beth Am in San Diego. She attended the event with her husband and son, Ben, who is about to have a bar mitzvah.

“It’s three weeks before his bar mitzvah. I really don’t have the day to do it, but I thought it was important,” Talpalatsky, whose mother, Edith Palkowitz, is from Budapest and survived Auschwitz, said.

Attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, former LAMOTH president and the subject of its exhibition “The Recovery of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” which focuses on his efforts to help recover artwork stolen by Nazis, said interest in commemorating the Shoah extends beyond the survivor and Jewish community.

“For a while, I think we were too close to it to  realize it belonged in this historical pantheon of events that have to be learned by every human being to be part of the human race and be part of Western civilization, if you want to call it that, and now the Holocaust is like that,” Schoenberg told the Journal. “So, you find the Holocaust is not just something for survivors, it’s not just something for Jews. It’s something that all people want to learn about, want to remember and want to commemorate.”

The official ceremony featured LAMOTH Executive Director Samara Hutman, Memorial Scrolls Trust Chair Jeffrey Ohrenstein and others discussing the importance of commemorating the 6 million Jews who died during the Shoah. Survivor Jack Lewin and Sarah Moskovitz, a psychologist who specializes in child survivors, led a reading of Holocaust-themed Yiddish poetry.

Among the notables who attended were L.A. City Council members Paul Koretz and David Ryu, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, LAMOTH President Beth Kean, and consul generals from the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy.

“It is painful to remember this dark period in history but we must continue to teach this lesson to our younger generations to ensure they grow up in a humane and just society where prejudice and racist behavior are not tolerated,” Kean said.

Still, the focus was on the survivors themselves. Today, Oster, now 87, lives in Woodland Hills with his wife, Susie. Oster never ended up having that bar mitzvah, but, his wife said, with “everything that has happened to him, he had his bar mitzvah, but in a different way.”

Czech Torahs reunite at Holocaust Museum

One day in 1965, Ruth Shaffer opened the front door of the Westminster Synagogue in London to find David Grand, an Orthodox Jew with a long beard and a tenuous grasp on the English language.

Es gibt Torot?” he asked in Yiddish. “Do you have Torahs?”

Grand was a soffer, a biblical scribe, lately arrived from Jerusalem in search of employment repairing Torah scrolls — and he was in luck. On a morning not long before, in February 1964, a pair of trucks had pulled up to the synagogue while members waited anxiously in the damp to unload more than 1,000 scrolls, a collection believed to be the largest ever gathered under one roof.

“One by one they were carried into the synagogue and placed on the chequered marble floor of the hall,” congregation trustee Philippa Bernard wrote in a 2005 book on the scrolls. “Higher and higher the pile rose, spreading out across the floor like shrouded bodies, treated with the reverence that such bodies deserved.”

The lot of 1,564 Torahs had lately been discovered in a rundown warehouse in Prague. In the early 1940s, the Nazi occupiers of former Czechoslovakia had forced Jewish archivists to bring together the scrolls from the districts of Bohemia and Moravia and catalogue them. At one point, they demanded a showing curated for SS officers. The Zentralmuseum der Juden was planned as an exhibit on an extinct race.

Many of the scrolls were partially burned or bloodstained and most were in dire need of care. The soffer spent much of the next 30 years repairing the scrolls, readying them to be shipped for ritual use or memorial display around the world, according to Bernard’s book, “Out of the Midst of the Fire.”

The majority of the Torahs followed European-Jewish émigrés across the Atlantic, finding new homes in the United States. Several scrolls ended up in Southern California, and in an exhibition continuing through May 9, dozens of those scrolls will be on display at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH).

The scrolls began to gather in the museum’s lobby area on April 15, the same Sunday morning more than 3,000 Angelenos marched through neighboring streets for the annual Walk to End Genocide. Several groups who came in to drop off their Torahs were still wearing team T-shirts from the walk.

Despite never before having seen one of the scrolls, or even hearing of them, museum volunteer Edith Umugiraneza, a devout Christian, regarded them with a sense of familiarity.

In common with the scrolls, she too had been through a holocaust: A Tutsi, she is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, having lost most of her family when she was just 17, she immigrated to Los Angeles. She now worships at the West Angeles Church on Jefferson Boulevard

For Umugiraneza, the Torahs tell of “how God created us and what suffering the people of God went through when they were in Egypt and the roads they were given to follow.”

She is all too familiar with woe and redemption. Tutsis, she said, were seen by Hutu genocidaires as ethnically Ethiopian and, therefore, Israelites.

“They said they were going to exterminate all Tutsis like they did the Jews,” she said. “That was idea.”

Adam Siegel arrived at the museum that recent Sunday in shorts and a baseball cap; he came with a group of housemates from Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish addiction treatment center where he serves as a chaplain. They came to drop off a Torah the house uses weekly for services. For this community, the scrolls speak to the many different ways of attaining holiness, Siegel said.

“As much as each Torah is identical with the same words and the same text, each one is also individual — it has an individual sacredness to it,” he said.

The Torahs are indeed a motley mix. The text in each is identical down to the proportions: Lines are no longer than three times the length of the longest word, l’mishpachotechem [to your family], according to Bernard’s book. Ten letters are written larger than the rest. But much like the members of Siegel’s community, each scroll has a perfectly unique set of blemishes and imperfections.

“We all share common struggles as humans,” he said, shortly before hopping into the driver’s seat of a large white van full of Beit T’Shuvah residents. “We each have an individualized sense of our holiness.”

The Torah housed at Beit T’Shuvah is logged as “Scroll No. 773” in the records of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, an organization that grew out of the Westminster Synagogue to care for and distribute the scrolls. It comes from the Strašnice area of Prague and was written in 1850. That information is recorded on audio guides available for public use while viewing the scrolls, which are displayed on stands in the museum lobby.

Not many other details exist about the Strašnice Torah, though the trust is raising funds to digitize its records and make available what information it has.

Although the scrolls were saved, miraculously and ironically, by the Czech Nazi administration, they were collected under fraught circumstances from the Czech countryside and Prague’s many synagogues while the war raged around them. Sorted and logged by a Jewish staff subject to close Nazi supervision and continually being thinned out by deportation, they were sometimes labeled haphazardly or in bulk, which means identifying information is hard to come by. In some cases, the ID tag fell off entirely, rendering those Torahs anonymous, or so-called “orphan” scrolls.

One of these orphans ended up in the care Rabbi Stan Levy, founding rabbi of the B’nai Horin congregation in Los Angeles. In 1991, Shaffer sent a Torah from London to Southern California aboard Air New Zealand, shipping it express freight in response to Levy’s request on behalf of his young congregation. He said Shaffer, who died in 2006, told him it was the first scroll she’d sent out knowing it was meant for regular ritual use.

The scroll arrived the morning of the last day of the Jewish year.

“We had it at High Holy Days that evening,” Levy said. “And of course the congregation went ballistic that we got it for erev Rosh Hashanah.”

B’nai Horin’s orphan scroll is among those on display at LAMOTH.

Rabbi Stan Levy of B’nai Horin with his congregation’s Torah scroll rescued from Czechoslovakia during World War II.

When the soffer showed up at Westminster Synagogue, the idea that one day someone would be gathering tattered scrolls for a museum exhibition must have seemed inconceivable.

In the early 1960s, the synagogue had gotten wind of the scrolls via a member who collected art in Europe. Congregation elders sent a biblical scholar, Chimen Abramsky, to Prague to investigate. Arriving at the dank and broken hull of the Michle Synagogue in a Prague suburb, he found a “heartrending” sight, Bernard wrote in her book.

“On wooden shelves from floor to ceiling were hundreds upon hundreds of Sifre Torah, untouched for twenty years, still in their wrappings as the Jewish workers had tenderly laid them. He was not ashamed to weep.”

The scrolls, she wrote, were in various states of disarray. Some were tied shut with prayer shawls, and two were secured with women’s corsets. Seven had been buried at some point. When the soffers who initially worked on the project began examining the Torahs back in London, a note fell out of one that read, “Please God help us in these troubled times.”

The synagogue took ownership of the entire lot of them from the cash-strapped government of the Czech Republic in exchange for just $30,000. As the massive restoration effort got underway, it turned out that acquiring the scrolls had been the easy part.

In London, the multiple soffers didn’t seem to be able to get along, and the repairs went along haltingly until Grand arrived. Shaffer later called him “the answer to all our prayers,” according to the book.

But in the meantime, the demand for Torahs was dizzying from congregations of European Jews who had settled around the world.

“They needed scrolls — they didn’t have them,” said Jeffrey Ohrenstein, chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

Since 1964, all but 130 scrolls have found new homes with congregations, schools, museums and other Jewish organizations, most of them in the United States, with the balance being housed in a small museum in London.

One is in the care of Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Library. Others have been sent to Mexico, the Channel Islands, Brazil, Crete and Ireland. Fifty went to Israel. Trust records show that California received 103 scrolls, 81 of them in Southern California.

The spiritual practice around the Torah varies as widely as the congregations where they are housed.

University Synagogue in Los Angeles uses a 19th-century scroll from Boskovice for a traditional Reform service called confirmation, wherein teenagers receive the legacy of the Five Books, according to its rabbi, Morley Feinstein. Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills only uses its scroll during bar and bat mitzvahs of those descended from Holocaust survivors; the Torah sits on rollers still tagged with an archive number from the Zentralmuseum. The congregation hired local soffer Ron Siegel for a repair job that finished in 1996.

Even after years of restoration, the Torahs remain in varying conditions. Some were sent by the trust more or less ready for ritual use, while others are meant only for memorial purposes. Others, though technically possul, or non-kosher, are nevertheless used by less-observant congregations.

Unrolling a scroll he was lending to LAMOTH for the show — Scroll No. 1255, from the village of Dobris — Cantor Richard Bessman of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, a Reform congregation, unrolled the Torah and scrutinized the intricate letters, turned reddish-brown by years of oxidation.

He remarked on the clarity of the writing, but pointed to a letter that was unintelligible, rendering the entire Torah technically unfit for ritual use.

“It doesn’t negate any of the wonderfulness of it,” he quickly added.

Some local synagogues have undertaken projects to restore the scrolls on their own, hiring soffers and involving the community in their efforts.

Levy oversaw the restoration of the B’nai Horin Torah. Some of the bindings where individual pieces of parchment are woven together had come loose, so the congregation hired a scribe who “carefully brushed it and tightened all the pages.”

The congregation fashioned a yad, or pointer, using quartz crystals found on top of Mount Sinai by a member on a camping trip, and built a portable Holy Ark — the B’nai Horin congregation eschews a permanent facility to save on dues for members. Now, the scroll is used only for bar and bat mitzvahs for which the reading is in or near Deuteronomy to prevent wear and tear on the 225-year-old scroll.

“Think of all the lives they’re impacting,” LAMOTH Director Samara Hutman said, standing in front of the museum’s own Czech Torah, rolled open and encased in glass.

Like human survivors of the Holocaust, the scrolls represent for her “all the people who came before them and all the people who come from them.”

Inspired originally by her daughter’s bat mitzvah, in which she chanted using B’nai Horin’s orphan Torah, Hutman conceived of the idea for the exhibition and contacted Ohrenstein, who helped put her in touch with the Torahs’ current homes.

In honor of its 24th annual Yom HaShoah celebration, the museum is using videos and “the visual stories and oral stories of the people and communities who steward these scrolls and their mournful and remarkable histories,” she said.

Following the exhibition of 18 scrolls this year — the Jewish number representing life — Hutman intends for the museum to gather an additional 18 scrolls every year from California and the neighboring area, and to illuminate each of their histories.

For his part, Ohrenstein, Westminster Synagogue’s chairman, spends a lot of time these days getting in touch with “scroll-holders” who may not be familiar with their Torah’s history.

In addition, he’s become “a bit of a detective,” tracking down scrolls that go missing when a synagogue shuts its doors or merges with another one. He’s also encouraging synagogues that have Czech Torahs to create webpages with information about them so that he can assemble the links into a single, centralized database to keep from losing track of any more scrolls.

When he visits the United States, Ohrenstein, a bald man with a white beard who is also Westminster Synagogue’s trust chairman, looks out for displaced Torahs and sometimes gives them a ride home.

Recently, while in St. Louis for a bar mitzvah, he found a rabbi who had come into possession of a scroll but didn’t need it. Ohrenstein agreed to bring it back to London in a metal golf case provided by the rabbi.

“It fit in perfectly,” he said. “I’ve got the golf case in the museum — we need to use it again.”

After carefully packing the Torah and wrapping the package in duct tape, he put it in the underbelly of a plane. When it arrived on the luggage conveyer belt in the United Kingdom, it was covered in stickers where American customs officers had cut it open.

Ohrenstein chuckled, “They must have had a shock when they looked inside.”

LAMOTH expands Memoir Project with call for more

Gary Steinberg, son of a Holocaust survivor, recently donated to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) signed copies of his father’s memoir.

Steinberg’s father, Manny, died this year at the age of 90, shortly after completing a memoir that had sat, unfinished, in a box for all of Steinberg’s childhood.

So the question that interests Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director, is how many more memoirs and manuscripts written by Los Angeles Holocaust survivors continue to sit in boxes, collecting dust?

And on May 1, at the museum’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration, Hutman plans to announce the museum’s expansion of the Remember Us Memoir Project, which connects high school and college students across Los Angeles with specific memoirs and Holocaust narratives, giving the students an opportunity to personally identify with individual survivors. As part of the project, students meet with the authors or, if they are no longer living, they meet with the survivors’ relatives.

“I know there are many, many more boxes of incomplete manuscripts in closets and garages and storage areas around Los Angeles that risk invisibility if they are not preserved and archived,” Hutman said in an interview.

To expand its Remember Us collection, LAMOTH is inviting donations of Holocaust memoirs from survivors and their families. She said the museum currently has between 75 and 100 memoirs but wants to collect hundreds more.

“Every day, somebody is cleaning out their garage and giving books away, and those precious gems are possibly being given to stores and maybe even meeting worse ends,” Hutman said.

The expansion of the project already has gotten seed funding of $20,000 from LAMOTH board member and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, whose memoir, “Nothing to Lose But My Life,” is currently used in the Remember Us curriculum by students at Milken Community High School and at Loyola Marymount University.

The funds will be used for staffing and for materials needed to archive new memoirs and manuscripts, including shelving, cataloguing and digitizing. The current collection can be seen in the museum’s atrium, and the expanded collection will be accessible in the museum’s library and archives. Portions will also be shown on rotation in the museum’s bookstore and memoir library.

Hutman said LAMOTH will accept self-published books in any condition and any quantity, including manuscripts (partial and completed), notes and documents written by survivors and immediate family members with connections to Los Angeles. She added that the museum hopes ultimately to digitize its entire memoir collection, with the permission of the authors, families or other copyright holders. And for memoirs penned in a language other than English, and those that need further editing, Hutman said LAMOTH will work with translators and editors to “capture the essential soul and ineffable voice of the author.”

Dana Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor from Lvov, Poland, who lives in Beverly Hills and is on LAMOTH’s Survivor Advisory Board, said she remembers first realizing the scope of personally written Holocaust memoirs in the early 1980s, when she attended meetings of local Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust.

She said one of the women in the group gathered up as many personal writings as she could and put them into a spiral notebook to show to the other group members. 

“Many in that community began writing about their experiences,” Schwartz said. “Amazing memories in poetry and stories. It led many to publish or self publish books.”

Schwartz was struck by how much material from Holocaust survivors remains unknown to the outside world, and she hopes that LAMOTH’s expansion of Remember Us will help bring some of those manuscripts out of storage.

“Many of the books were passed among friends and later discarded by future generations, or given to libraries. I have personally seen many of these discarded books in bins to be rummaged through. Many which had a small printing are disappearing,” Schwartz said. “We, the survivors, have many which will hopefully find a home.”

On May 1, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Yom HaShoah commemoration will be held in Pan Pacific Park at 2 p.m. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will have tables with staff and volunteers who can answer questions about the memoir expansion and be able to accept memoir donations. 

Moving and shaking: Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate, Israel68 Award and more

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon and awards ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center on March 8.

During the event, the ADL recognized the Los Angeles Police Department’s work on a community safety partnership program; the California Attorney General’s Office, the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s Office, the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for their work on a human trafficking investigation that led to hate crime allegations; and 14 law enforcement agencies, first responders and investigators for work on the Dec. 2 San Bernardino terrorist shooting. 

San Bernardino Police Department Lieutenant Travis Walker accepted the award on behalf of the agencies honored for their work on the San Bernardino incident.

Additionally, the ADL recognized Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s public affairs manager Carrie Braun “for going well beyond her duties to establish and foster relationships with diverse groups across Orange County.” 

The event marked the 20th anniversary of the Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate, which “goes to law enforcement personnel who go above and beyond the call of duty to fight hatred and protect the community from hate-motivated violence,” according to the ADL. 

Philanthropist and award namesake Joseph Sherwood — who established the award with his late wife, Helene — celebrated his 99th birthday during the gathering, 

“We’re all heartbroken that 14 innocent people were killed. But the way you handled the situation — it made San Bernardino famous all over the world,” he said, as quoted by the ADL. 

Additional attendees included ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

The Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) eighth annual gala at the Beverly Hilton on March 13 drew 1,100 people, raised $17 million, and sparked a few laughs in the process, with comedian and TV host Howie Mandel emceeing the evening.

Comedian and T.V. host Howie Mandel emceed the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) eighth annual gala at the Beverly Hilton. Photo by Leonato August

Mandel joked that he had trouble explaining to his friends why he had to decline their dinner invitations for the evening in Beverly Hills. “They don’t understand!” Mandel said. “It’s hard to tell them I’m raising money for Jews.”

One of the largest and fastest growing young Jewish groups in the United States, the IAC didn’t bring in quite as much money as it did at last year’s gala, but then again, $10 million of last year’s haul of $23.4 million was for the purchase of a property in the San Fernando Valley to use as an Israeli-American community center.

IAC co-founder and board member Shawn Evenhaim was the evening’s honoree, in recognition of his role in establishing the IAC and helping it expand nationwide. 

From left: IAC Los Angeles chairwoman Miri Shepher, IAC co-founder, board member and honoree Shawn Evenhaim and IAC National board member Naty Saidoff. Photo by Leonato August

Musical guests included Israeli singer David D’Or and flamenco guitarist Chico Castillo. Dignitaries in the crowd included casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, and Congressmen Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Tony Cardenas (D-Calif). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered prerecorded video messages.

— Jared Sichel, Senior Writer

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) has appointed Beth Kean, a third-generation Holocaust survivor, as president of its board of directors. Kean succeeds E. Randol Schoenberg, who filled the post for the past decade and who will continue to serve as a nonvoting member of the board.

L.A. Museum of the Holocaust executive board members are (from left) Vice President Andrea Cayton, President Beth Kean, Treasurer Paul Nussbaum and Secretary Paulette Nessim. Photo courtesy of L.A. Museum of the Holocaust 

Joining Kean on the board are Vice President Andrea Cayton, the daughter of Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Jona Goldrich; Secretary Paulette Nessim; and Paul Nussbaum, who replaces Kean in the role of treasurer.

The new officers, who were elected on Dec. 13, convened March 3 for the first board meeting since their election.

The museum has seen attendance increase over the past three years, according to Schoenberg. The museum in Pan Pacific Park is set to draw an estimated 50,000 attendees by the year’s end, a 7.5 percent increase from 2014, he said.

“I am really very excited about the new officers and that this transition has gone so smoothly,” the outgoing president said.

Samara Hutman, executive director at LAMOTH, echoed Schoenberg, saying, “This is a historic transition.”

The Israel Bonds organization honored Los Angeles residents Beverly and Robert Cohen with the Israel68 Award on Jan. 31 at the International Prime Minister’s Club Dinner in Boca Raton, Fla. The organization recognized 13 honorees “for exemplary efforts on behalf of Israel and their respective communities,” according to an Israel Bonds statement.

From left: Israel Bonds President and CEO Israel Tapoohi, Israel Bonds Chairman Richard Hirsch, Israel Bonds honoree Beverly Cohen and Israel Bonds campaign Chairman Fred Zeidman. Photo by Shahar Azran

Attendees included Beverly Cohen; Israel Bonds National Campaign Advisory Council Chairman Fred Zeidman; Israel Bonds President and CEO Israel Tapoohi; Israel Bonds board Chairman Richard Hirsch; and event host and actress Fran Drescher.

The evening featured a video message from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating Israel Bonds for exceeding $1 billion in sales for the third consecutive year.

Launched in 1951, Israel Bonds is the broker-dealer and underwriter for securities issued by the State of Israel in the United States, allowing both individuals and Jewish organizations to invest in Israel and in their respective financial futures.

“Proceeds from the sale of bonds,” the Israel Bonds website says, “have played a decisive role in Israel’s rapid evolution.”

The second annual Jewish Disability Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM) community-wide event was held Feb. 28 at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. 

The second annual Jewish Disability Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM) community-wide event featured sensory-friendly activities, including arts and crafts using play dough, for all ages. Photo by Jared Hasen-Klein 

More than 300 members of the community attended, according to Miriam Maya, director of Caring for Jews in Need at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The community event featured Israeli dance, singing, bingo and more. It was co-organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and HaMercaz Partners, a group of professionals from 18 organizations.

“The day,” Maya said in an email, “had something for everyone.”

A Feb. 11 Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Harold M. Schulweis Day School Bible Blast, organized for the Encino day school’s families, featured the seven biblical foods species, a live camel and more.

From left: Valley Beth Shalom Day School teachers Margery Feld, Rachel Edelman, Nurit Milstein-Tzafrir and Claudine Elkrief attended Bible Blast. Photo courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom 

“The Bible Blast is an interactive, all-school event meant to bring the Torah to life through song, dance, a taste of the seven biblical food species and a visit to our biblical tent,” Tamar Raff, director of Judaic studies at the day school, said in a statement.

The activity-filled event drew approximately 500 attendees, including students and parents, according to VBS Day School communications manager Tal Barak.

An opening ceremony led by the school’s sixth-graders was among the event highlights, according to Barak.

Every year, the school holds a large event designed for all of the school’s families.

Last year’s event was the Book Bash.

“Moving and Shaking” highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

How two survivors found romance

In a way, their relationship began like so many others: a workplace romance.

Gabriella Karin, 85, was a docent at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH); Robert Geminder, 80, who goes by Bob, was on the museum’s board of directors.

His wife, Judy, died four years ago. Her husband, Ofer, passed away two years later. Neither one expected to love romantically again, but both seemed to understand that their long and fruitful marriages marked them as romantics.

“Is the pope Catholic?” Bob said. “I didn’t stay married for 52 years and she didn’t stay married for 64 years for no reason.”

Both are Holocaust survivors, deeply committed these days to a post-retirement career transmitting their stories to young people.

“We were trying to make menschin [upright citizens] out of young people,” he told the Jewish Journal. “We spoke in schools all the time — I did, Gabriella did — way before we even knew we existed.”

On Feb. 17, they’ll celebrate their first anniversary as a couple, on a speaking tour in Baltimore.

It started innocently. The two have known about each other for half a decade. They got to know each other a little better on the March of the Living, the annual youth pilgrimage to Poland and Israel, listening to the other’s stories of surviving the war.

(Both of their life stories have been recorded by Jane Ulman in the Journal’s Survivor series and can be read in full at

Soon, they began to notice each other at LAMOTH events they both attended.

“He asked me to save a place next to me when we went to some meeting, so I saved a place,” Gabriella explained. “Next time, he saved a place.”

Then came the act of fate.

At the 2014 annual LAMOTH Chanukah party, E. Randol Schoenberg, then the chair of the museum’s board, persuaded Gabriella to buy a raffle ticket. Sure enough, she won: two tickets to an opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.

“I sit down with the ticket, and I ask him, ‘You want to go with me?’ ” she said. “He said, ‘Let me see.’ So he looks in his phone. ‘Yeah, I have time this day. Good!’ So he says, ‘OK, you have tickets, I’m taking you out to dinner.’ ”

The dinner at Bottega Louie on Grand Avenue was the first in a series of dinner dates leading up to Feb. 17, the day of their first kiss.

Since then, they’ve been visiting each other a couple of times a week or on the weekends. Mostly, he drives to her place from his home in Palos Verdes — where he walks his dog past the golf course he says is too expensive to play on but nice to look at.

She lives in the Fairfax neighborhood, close to LAMOTH’s home in Pan Pacific Park on Beverly Boulevard. They have no plans to move in together, instead cherishing the space and time they each need for their busy lives: “It’s great this way,” she said.

Last year, they traveled as a couple to Poland and Israel with the March of the Living youth trip, and they are going back in May for this year’s pilgrimage. They intend to go a week early, so each can tour the areas where the other rode out World War II.

Over a recent Saturday lunch, each waited patiently while the other dutifully shared stories of the Holocaust. Each has done this umpteen times.

Bob clammed up and stared fixedly at his lap while Gabriella told her story. She recounted in soft, accented English how she hid first in a convent and then in a one-bedroom apartment in Slovakia with her mother, father, aunt, two uncles and two family friends — across the street from the regional Gestapo headquarters, miraculously escaping notice.

While the Nazis and their collaborators thinned the ranks of Bratislava’s Jews, Gabriella watched her mother commit acts of daring for the Slovakian underground, accompanying her to warn Jewish families when their names appeared on deportation lists.

Bob cautions against drawing parallels between survivor stories, saying that each is unique.

But he also played eyewitness to his mother’s intuition and courage that mark her as the hero of his story. She sneaked him out of the ghetto on the way to work by hiding him under her skirt, while his brother scampered underneath her girlfriend’s skirt.

“Nobody saw that there were a couple of extra feet under the skirts,” he said.

Another parallel emerges: In both stories, a young couple proves a pivotal agent of survival.

The cramped one-bedroom apartment where Gabriella quietly hid for nine months belonged to her aunt’s boyfriend, Karol Blanar, a young lawyer whom she later successfully nominated to receive Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations award. Blanar brought food for the family and books for Gabriella to read so she wouldn’t fall behind in her education.

For Bob, it was a man who his widowed mother met in the ghetto who proved integral to arranging a place to stay in occupied Warsaw. Emil Brotfeld would later become Bob’s stepfather when he married Bob’s mother at a displaced persons camp in West Germany after the war.

Neither Bob nor Gabriella put much stock in the idea of fate, or in things turning out as they were somehow meant to.

Bob prefers instead to refer to luck: It was luck, he says, that resulted in his being at the back of the crowd at the Jewish cemetery in Stanislawow (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine) during the Nazi mass murder of Oct. 12, 1941. If he had been in the front, he might have been among the 14,000 who were assassinated, rather than the 6,000 who lived.

“We were in the first trucks — who knows why?” he said. “It’s not that we were smart to get on the first few trucks — we were pushed on.”

Bob is the talkative one of the two. Gabriella chimes in intermittently to add a detail or to gently correct him, and he treats her graciously.

“I never want to take more time than Gabriella,” he said. “When we speak together, she always gets the extra two minutes.”

“He’s just polite,” she said.

Bob has a curious habit of interspersing his survivor story with jokes. Describing how he scavenged raw eggs to survive while stowed away at a farm near Krakow, he pointed to his full head of hair that, despite his age, has not thinned out.

“Usually at this point I try to find a guy in the audience who’s bald-headed and say ‘See? Raw eggs,’” he said.

He doesn’t joke around to make light of his story, but rather to make it easier for his listeners to stay tuned in.

“It’s such a tense, terrible story for both of us,” he said, before launching back into the recollection. “Not that I want to add humor — I just want to add relief, so people can breathe and listen again.”

If he’s the funny one, she’s the creative one.

Gabriella had a career as a fashion designer before turning to sculpture and illustration, focusing her artwork on themes related to the Holocaust. (Her work can be found at She dressed for lunch in a gossamer blue blouse with matching pants and a necklace of her own making.

The two are not affectionate in public, but Bob seems to enjoy doting on her. When somebody set down a bowl of strawberries in front of the two, he turned to Gabriella.

“You don’t want any of these, I know,” he said.

“I’m allergic to strawberries,” she explained.

Later, he tried to pick the marzipan truffle from a box of chocolates to share with Gabriella but picked the caramel one instead.

“That’s not marzipan, Gabriella, I’m sorry,” he said. “We’ll put this one back. I didn’t eat it.”

On the second try, he successfully picked the sweet and split it with her.

Gabriella and Bob don’t exactly buy into the idea of a soul mate. But others who know them aren’t so skeptical.

Samara Hutman, executive director of LAMOTH, waxes poetic when talking about the new couple. She played a key role in their introduction.

“My mother always taught me there’s a lid for every pot,” she told the Journal. “They’re just the perfect lid for each other’s pot — just a perfect fit.”

She admits to getting a little warm and fuzzy about Gabriella and Bob’s relationship. For her, it speaks to the possibility of a second chance at love. But on a personal level, she’s proud of the museum’s role in bringing them together.

“Every time I see them together, my heart smiles like I’m an old lady, like they’re my kids,” she said.

In fact, Hutman was the architect of the raffle that first brought them together for dinner. (“Everything’s better with a raffle,” she said.)

She had known Gabriella for years, because Gabriella got involved with Hutman’s Righteous Conversations project, now under the LAMOTH umbrella, which brings together young people and survivors.

She remembers watching Gabriella care for her late husband when he took ill, after he had for years enthusiastically supported her work as a survivor-storyteller.

“He was as excited about her second career as she was, and when I would go there to visit, he would always give me a flower and a smile,” Hutman recalled. “He was just one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known; their relationship was just so beautiful.”

Hutman hadn’t known Bob all that well until he offered to drive her to the airport on her way to Jerusalem for work.

During that car ride, he unburdened himself to her about how his five-decade marriage had left him a student of loving devotion toward “a really special person,” and to keep her eye out in case she might come across such a person.

“He was kind of putting his soul out to the universe, to me on this drive,” she said.

Hutman is careful not to take too much credit for the relationship. But she said LAMOTH provides a loving community built around Holocaust education that contributed to their meeting. She wouldn’t say if she’s heard of other couples that have met through the museum.

“Are you asking if we’re running a dating service at LAMOTH?” she joked. “I’m not at liberty to say.”

Bob and Gabriella emphasize it was their shared mission of education, of teaching kids about resilience and respect for their fellow humans, that first bound them to each other.

A retired electrical engineer, Bob earned his teaching credential at the age of 70 and now teaches math as a substitute in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He recalled a moment when a student in his math class at a southeast L.A. high school told him he’d heard Bob’s story before in another classroom.

“He’s sitting in class, and he shows me a picture of he and I two years ago,” Bob said. “Do you think he’s going to remember algebra?”

When the lunch wound down, Bob stepped outside and escorted Gabriella to his car, a silver 2016 Corvette Stingray with the dealer plates still on.

“A present to myself for my 80th birthday,” he said.

Bob held the door as Gabriella slid into the passenger seat of the two-door convertible. They waved and then, with a roar of the engine, tore off under a cloudless Los Angeles sky.

Survivors and mementos with meaning

When she arranged to meet and photograph the Holocaust survivors of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Café Europa, Barbara Mack gave them only one instruction: Bring something of personal value.

Most of the subjects complied, arriving with a hodgepodge of items that included a musical instrument, a Kiddush cup, a spoon, a T-shirt and a photograph.

Rina Drexler

Sylvia Bernhut

“If they didn’t have something from the past, they could bring something from the present,” said Mack, whose 80 black-and-white portraits were compiled in two books and for exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). “Not everybody brought objects, but for all those people who were carrying something, it made this exhibit a little different from most Holocaust survivor exhibits. Each time you look at it, you think, ‘OK, why is this here?’ It adds a little bit of mystery to the pictures.”

The mysteries are unshrouded in captions accompanying the photographs of “Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry,” on display at LAMOTH through Feb. 29. The books, also published by LAMOTH, go into even greater detail, with Mack and her co-authors Jane Jelenko (for volume I) and Pamela Wick (volume II) spreading each survivor’s story across a full page of text.

The lined and hugely expressive faces of these 80 men and women seem to tell stories all by themselves, but the objects add an entirely new dimension. During an interview at LAMOTH, Mack pointed to the thin cotton garment draped over the arm of Sophie Zeidman Hamburger, which rested next to the number tattoo she was given as a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She wore the garment when she broke off from a death march and fled into the forest.

Sophie Zeidman Hamburger

“It’s only the top half. The bottom half was too dirty, and she had to cut it off,” Mack said. “She didn’t want to keep it.”

In another photo, twin sisters Rita Sigelstein Kahane and Serena Sigelstein Rubin hold up the broken mezuzot they discovered in an elegant abandoned German house. After the liberation, the sisters entered the house looking for food and were astounded to discover that it had obviously been the home of a Jewish family. They also found a tiny key that now hangs from a chain around Serena’s neck — without knowing what the key unlocked.  

“They started telling me things about their objects,” said Mack, who retired from a career as a clinical psychologist before turning to photography, “And I thought, ‘Oh, this has to be written down.’ ”

That sentiment fit the goals of LAMOTH, which looks to preserve important stories and continue the discussion about events of the past. Even the Café Europa members who were photographed without an object are “carriers” of their own history.

Lazlo Vardi

“Many survivors have written their memoires, but so many have not because it’s a huge undertaking,” said Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director. “That their history can live on in the context of this exhibit is a very powerful thing for this city because it’s a part of the education not only of Jewish students in this city but of all students.”

Susie Forer-Dehrey, executive vice president of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) said Mack has provided an incredible legacy.

“These survivors live in our community, and they deserve to have their stories retold. The survivors will not always be here, but the idea is that when you hear the story you become a witness. Through the exhibit and the books, the stories will live on and we can share them with generations to come.”

Seven years ago, Forer-Dehrey approached Mack about doing some volunteer work with the participants of Café Europa, a social club that brings Holocaust survivors together to build relationships and share activities. Forer-Dehrey came up with the idea of having Mack take portrait photos of the Café Europa participants.

Albert Rosa

Mack quickly agreed. In addition to the artistic challenge, she said the subject struck a chord personally, as well. Mack’s Hebrew name is Toba in honor of her paternal great-grandmother Toba Machlovitz, who was fatally shot, along with many Jews in Mielec, Poland, during the Holocaust.

“I was so close to my grandfather, and he always used to tell me about his mother and what happened to her,” Mack said. “So every time I was doing this, I thought of her and I thought of my grandfather and I was very inspired by that.”

Mack began photographing the Café Europa members who met in Los Angeles at the Westside Jewish Community Center. In 2010, after seeing the photographs in JFSLA’s annual report, LAMOTH President E. Randol Schoenberg requested some of the photographs for the museum’s permanent collection in its new location in Pan Pacific Park. The museum published the first volume of “Portraits in Black and White” in book form and displayed the portraits in a 2011 exhibition.

Ultimately, members of the San Fernando Valley Café Europa requested their own photographs, and Mack took up her Hasselblad camera and black-and-white film once again. The current exhibition includes portraits from both city and Valley Café Europa sessions, as well as several that Mack placed on silkscreen. In the seven years since she started this project, several of the subjects have died.

For the second round of photographs, Mack asked the survivors whether their experiences during the Holocaust changed their views of God and Judaism. A selection of their responses can be found at the end of volume II. They range from “I cannot believe in a God who would allow the Holocaust to happen” to “God was with me in Auschwitz and all over.”

“Many of these survivors never had their stories told and never wanted to. Part of the way they made a new life for them was to put it behind them,” Mack said. “It was very courageous of them to tell their stories. There were a lot of tears, but they did it.”

Celebrating Aristides de Sousa Mendes, diplomat and Holocaust hero, who saved 10,000 Jews

Los Angeles Jews will celebrate the life and moral courage of a devout Catholic beginning Jan. 22, with the world premiere of an oratorio, an exhibition, film screenings and a memorial service.

The honoree is the late diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who in 1940, while serving as Portugal’s consul general in Bordeaux, France, saved the lives of some 10,000 Jewish refugees by issuing entry visas to his country.

He did so in defiance of his government and paid for his humanitarian disobedience by losing his position and standing and dying in poverty.

Descendants of some of these Jews, and of 20,000 non-Jews saved my Sousa Mendes, will be among those in attendance at a series of special events organized by the Sousa Mendes Foundation and coordinated with the observance of International Holocaust Memorial Day.

On Jan.  24 at 3 p.m., American Jewish University will host the world premiere of the oratorio “Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides,” composed by Neely Bruce and produced by Marilyn Ziering.

“Circular 14” refers to an order issued by Portuguese wartime dictator Antonio Salazar to deny visas to all refugees seeking to escape Nazi-occupied Europe by way of Portugal.

The concert will feature artists from Los Angeles Opera, with actor Michael Gill of TV’s “House of Cards” as narrator.

“Aristides de Sousa Mendes was one of the genuine heroes of the Holocaust, a diplomat whose deeds made all the difference between life and death,” noted Michael Berenbaum, director of the AJU’s Sigi Ziering Institute. “A musical presentation of the man provides us with a brilliant tool to understand human decency and to celebrate a man who acted with nobility and moral clarity.”

In parallel, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) in Pacific Park is presenting the exhibition “Visas to Freedom: Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the Refugees of World War II,” opening Jan. 22 and continuing through March 1. Admission is free.

The exhibition emphasizes Sousa Mendes’ time in California. He served as Portugal’s consul general in San Francisco in the 1920s, and some of his children were born or settled in the state.

LAMOTH will also host screenings of two films on Jan. 23, starting with “With God Against Man” at 11 a.m.  The title refers to the diplomat’s statement when punished by his government: “I would rather stand with God against man than with man against God.”

“Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story” will screen at the museum at 2 p.m. Tickets for each of the screenings are $5 and are available at the door.

In addition, LAMOTH will host an evening memorial service and reception on Jan. 23. Among the speakers will be Sebastian Mendes, a grandson of the diplomat; Lissy Jarvik, who received a life-saving visa in 1940, and LAMOTH executive director Samara Hutman. The event is by invitation only.

Sousa Mendes died in 1954, and, 12 years later, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem named him as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” said Olivia Mattis, president of the foundation bearing the diplomat’s name. Twelve members of her paternal family were saved through Sousa Mendes’ intercession.

In 2013, descendants of the original visa recipients made a pilgrimage to Sousa Mendes’ hometown in Portugal. In an article on the visit, the ” target=”_blank”>

BBYO teens on front lines of the last survivor generation

Michele Rodri was 7 years old when a pair of Nazi storm troopers plucked her out of a game of hopscotch outside her Paris home. 

Telling her story to a group of Southern California teens at Shabbat dinner on the evening of Nov. 6, Rodri lifted her plastic plate to demonstrate the ease with which they hoisted her into the back of a truck.

“I can only tell you that I grew up very quickly at that point,” she said.

Rodri’s childhood could hardly be more different from that of the young adults sitting around her in the mess hall of Camp Alonim kicking off a retreat for the Jewish youth organization BBYO.

The 160-some teens, who spent the weekend on the Simi Valley campus, are boisterously Jewish. After dinner, they loudly recited prayers peppered with joke lyrics picked up over years of practice. The 16 Holocaust survivors who joined them that night were infants when the war broke out and had had no such luxury.

These survivors were mostly old hands on the Los Angeles lecture circuit, although Samara Hutman, executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), noted a few new faces.

The events, a partnership between BBYO and LAMOTH, dropped the classroom setting in favor of more informal interaction. Survivors joined the high-schoolers for a challah bake, followed by dinner and a group discussion. Millennials of varying denominations hung out with Jews several generations apart from them.

Rodri’s dark recounting — “The kids that were sick, they wouldn’t bother with them, they would just shoot them” — brought from her audience mostly shocked silence and exclamations of “Oh my God!” but the silences were hardly awkward ones.

After her story and a dinner of boiled carrots and chicken drenched in barbecue sauce — camp food — a slight girl in a hoodie came over from another table just to give Rodri a hug. They had met earlier while braiding challah.

“See how they react?” Rodri said after her new friend walked away. 

The event was a ritual closing of the circle between “the future of the Jewish people and the elders of the Jewish story,” Hutman said.

Dinner was followed by an induction service. Formalities were recited, during which teen leaders invoked the “power vested in us” to endow the survivors with honorary membership “to the BBYO family.”

Teens and nonagenarians threw their arms over each other’s shoulders for renditions of “Hinei Mah Tov” and “Shehecheyanu.”

Survivor Betty Cohen holds hands with a high-schooler during an after-dinner panel.

The evening was an exercise in Holocaust memory that sought to impress something more powerful, though more fleeting, than stories recorded in books and videos. Some of the survivors have recorded their stories with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation; they play continuously on a wall of monitors at LAMOTH’s Pan Pacific Park campus.

But the teens came for something more than just a historical account: a face-to-face connection with a rapidly receding past.

One teen, Gillian Shapiro, compared the evening’s events with her visit this past summer to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

“Even that didn’t relate with seeing you guys here tonight,” she told a panel of survivors that convened after dinner.

Tenth-grader Liam Cohen had also traveled to Amsterdam, recalling that nobody was able to point him to the Holocaust museum, despite being directly in front of it.

“I think people should be taught and should know what that building is,” he told the audience, speaking into a microphone. 

The event proceeded with a frank acknowledgement that these were among the last teens who might have the opportunity to interact with living Holocaust survivors.

“We’re going to leave you in not too long — not too short, I hope,” one survivor, Dana Schwartz, told the audience. “Where are you going?” another interrupted before allowing her to finish.

“I’m having a heck of a time here,” Schwartz said.

Survivor Dana Schwartz (center) prepares challah with BBYO teens. 

The teens recognize the responsibility assigned to them.

“Being a part of the last generation that will ever hear Holocaust survivors speak, we have to be active in that,” said Justin Willamson, one of the two Southern California presidents of BBYO.

During a group photo-op, a volunteer photographer brandished her iPhone and called out, “This one’s for Snapchat!” 

The irony was palpable, at least for the teens who know how the app works. Picture messages sent out over the social media platform disappear almost as quickly as they are viewed — savored in the moment, and then gone.

But despite the shrieks and jeers of teenagers in their element, the ethos of the night was not lost on the seniors.

“We are thrilled to see your joy, your exuberance and your Jewishness,” Schwartz said. “We all thought we were the only ones to survive — and here you are.”

 “The Jewish people have to stay together, because we lost 6 million people,” Rodri told her half-dozen dinner companions, emphasizing the importance of interacting with and ultimately marrying other Jews. 

 “I’m not saying you have to make 6 million more Jews,” she said, letting the sentence trail off. 

As the night came to an end, Rodri gravitated back to Hutman, the museum director, with whom she’d gotten a ride earlier from Santa Monica through legendary Friday traffic on the 405 Freeway.

 “You see? You walk in, you don’t know anybody,” she told Hutman. “You walk out, you have a ton of friends.”

Moving and shaking: Janet and Jake Farber honored; Aziza Hasan appointed by Obama and more

The inaugural Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award Gala honored Janet and Jake Farber on Oct. 1 at the Skirball Cultural Center. The award was in recognition of their setting the “highest bar for philanthropy and leadership in our community,” according to a Federation statement. 

Jake Farber, a World War II veteran, is a former Federation chairman, and his wife is a former president of Builders of Jewish Education in Los Angeles. Their daughter is Federation Valley Alliance Chairwoman Rochelle Cohen

The event raised approximately $1.2 million for Federation’s new L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative, a figure that includes a dollar-for-dollar matching grant courtesy of the Jim Joseph Foundation, according to Mitch Hamerman, Federation senior vice president of campaign management and communications.

Among the evening’s 450 attendees were Federation leaders Jay Sanderson, CEO and president; board Chairman Les Bider, who presented the award to the Farbers, and Julie Platt, general campaign chairwoman. Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard of Adat Ari El, where the Farbers are members, was on hand as well.

Laurie Davis Gray and Steven Gordon; Amy and Harold Masor; Jill and Steven Namm; Virginia and Frank Maas; and Sharon and Leon Janks co-chaired the evening.  

Next year’s honorees will be Dorothy and Ozzie Goren, according to Federation.

Los Angeles interfaith pioneer Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, has been appointed to President Barack Obama’s third Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, according to a Sept. 24 White House statement. 

Aziza Hasan Photo courtesy of Aziza Hasan

“It is an honor to serve in this capacity,” said Hasan, who is Muslim, in a Sept. 25 email. She works to bring together Muslim and Jewish teenagers through NewGround, the award-winning organization she co-founded.

Hasan said she learned it is possible for people of different faiths to work together during her childhood.

“In many ways, my upbringing prepared me to join a team of change-makers to collaborate in building NewGround into the incredible organization that it is,” she said. “Striving to build a future where Muslims and Jews transform communities through the power of lasting partnerships.” 

The president’s council is charged with advising the government on issues related to “the work of faith-based and neighborhood organizations” according to Currently, there are 18 members on the council, including Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

In a statement, Obama said all of the appointees would work together to affect positive change: “I am confident that these outstanding men and women will serve the American people well, and I look forward to working with them.”

About 60 people, including members of the Latino community and members of the egalitarian congregation IKAR, turned out to Proyecto Jardin, a community garden in Boyle Heights, for a festive Aztec-influenced Sukkot celebration Oct. 4. 

“It’s a wonderful thing to see different people participating,” said Alisa Schulweis Reich, co-chair of the IKAR Green Action team, which is part of the IKAR Minyan Tzedek program and which co-organized the event. “It just has morphed in three years of doing it from an exercise in cultural diversity to feeling like a family coming together.”

Marcia Brous, mother of IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous, blew a shofar at the event, which also featured live dancing by Danza Tlaltekuhtli. Other activities included creating Sukkot decorations, reciting blessings in English, Spanish and Hebrew, and the passing around of the lulav and etrog. 

Marcia Brous blows a shofar Oct. 4 at a festive Aztec-influenced Sukkot celebration. Photo courtesy of IKAR Green Action team

Erica Huerta, captain of the Danza dance team and a Mexican Jew, discussed traditions and values shared by both Jews and Aztecs, such as a commitment to “social justice, equality and care of the earth,” Schulweis Reich said in an email. 

Other attendees included Devorah Brous, Rabbi Brous’ sister, who is founding executive director of food justice organization Netiya.

IKAR is a synagogue that emphasizes social action. The synagogue’s Green Action team and Proyecto Jardin are frequent collaborators, according to Schulweis Reich. 

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) President Randy Schoenberg offered a crash course in genealogy research Oct. 11 as part of an event organized by 3G @ LAMOTH. 

L.A. Museum of the Holocaust President Randy Schoenberg leads a recent genealogy workshop. Photo by Ryan Torok

Schoenberg, an attorney who won a famous case involving a Gustav Klimt masterpiece that was stolen by Nazis from a Jewish family during World War II, addressed a crowd of approximately 50 people and reviewed a variety of genealogy websites that help people build family trees. The websites include,, and more. These sites offer assistance to those interested in discovering their roots in Poland, Hungary, Russia and elsewhere. 

Among those in the audience were Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director, and Jordanna Gessler, director of LAMOTH education programs. Gessler, a third-generation survivor, serves as co-chair of the 3G executive board. 

The event kicked off with sushi and wine in the museum’s atrium, with attendees gathering underneath the permanent exhibition, “Tree of Testimony,” which hangs on the wall in the lobby. Schoenberg’s lecture followed and lasted about an hour.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

Passing an art legacy on to the next generation

During the lengthy visits she would have with her great-uncle and great-aunt, David and Rivka Labkovski, at their home in South Africa, Leora Raikin — who was a young girl at the time — recalls these relatives being a bit eccentric.

David owned one pair of shoes, and Rivka — the sister of Raikin’s grandmother Zlata Spektor — had but two dresses. Husband and wife wanted herring with every meal, a carryover from the frugal ways they lived during the years they spent in a Siberian prison camp during the Holocaust. 

“He used to take my face in his hands and say, ‘Do you want to be smart or do you want to be pretty?’ and I would say, ‘Can’t I be both?’ ” Raikin said. “With Rivka, it was all about knowledge, intellectual ability and learning something new every day. She always wanted to know, ‘What have you learned today?’ ”

David Labkovski had been an artist in his native Vilna, Lithuania, and during eight years in a Siberian prison camp, where he served as a sketch and tattoo artist. After the war, he resumed his artistic career in Israel, where he lived in the artist colony of Safed from 1958 until his death in 1991.

Labkovski would sometimes give Raikin a painting or a sketch as a present. She always hoped the gift would be “one of the happy ones,” such as a picture of flowers. 

Not all of Labkovski’s work was so upbeat. 

His imagery covers a spectrum, from images of his homeland, including scenes of everyday life in Vilna and its Nazi occupation during the war and its destruction during the Holocaust. Labkovski returned to Vilna in 1946 and met with survivors, capturing their memories on canvas. He also produced a series of works portraying the characters of Sholem Aleichem.

Works spanning Labkovski’s career are represented in the exhibition “The Art and Life of David Labkovski,” on display at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) through June 14. The LAMOTH exhibition marks the first time a comprehensive collection of Labkovski’s work will be seen in the United States. His family regained possession of the collection nearly three years ago, after a lengthy court dispute in Israel over ownership of the works. 

During his lifetime, Labkovski’s views on the placement of his art were as complex and conflicted as the man himself. He wanted the work seen in the Diaspora, but only when the viewers — particularly the next generation — were ready for it. He refused to sell his work, and, after a 1959 exhibition of his work in Israel, he and Rivka concluded that the time was not right, according to Raikin. 

“The audiences in Israel were not ready to confront the horrors of the Holocaust. It was an Old World thing — they wanted to move forward,” Raikin said. “David and Rivka had this absolute belief that one day a generation will come along that will appreciate this life that was lost, the enormity of it.”

According to Raikin, after the deaths of her great-aunt and great-uncle, the artwork was left to the city of Safed. A small museum was badly maintained and eventually fell into disarray, and the art eventually fell under court conservatorship, Raikin said. By the time the court case was settled and the art came to Raikin’s mother and her siblings, more than 20 years had passed. 

An artist herself, Raikin wanted the work to be seen, and she found people of like minds in Connie Marco and Lisa Lainer-Fagan, both of whom are parents of students at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills. Marco, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, also volunteered at LAMOTH and worked closely with the museum’s executive director, Samara Hutman. 

Hutman studied the Labkovski collection — the haunting self-portraits, the vibrant depictions of market scenes and shtetl life — and immediately knew that she would put the paintings on display. 

“There was something incredibly prescient in the mind of the artist,” Hutman said, “to sort of hold his body of work together to keep the integrity of the collection and of the vision and to save it for when the time is right.

“The work is magnificent, and I think there’s something in really incredible alignment for us to exhibit this work,” she added. “It has a lot of symmetry with the narrative of the museum. It is all about finding these little shards and remnants of a world that was blown apart by the Holocaust, and now we’re all in this work of recovery and excavation and redignification.” 

The more people who saw Labkovski’s work and heard Raikin’s story, the more his great-niece was encouraged to get the art displayed, and the more the circle of support grew. A smaller version of the exhibition had an initial stop at the school, where a group of art students co-curated the exhibition under the guidance of art instructor Benny Ferdman.

Labkovski’s work resonated not only with the art students, but with a spectrum of departments across the NCJHS campus. In addition to the eight co-curators — who argued and debated which works should be included — two film students are assembling a documentary about the Labkovski experience. Students have written poetry that accompanies the work at the school and at LAMOTH, and a student sang a song in Yiddish about Vilna at the openings.

This was the first time such a cross-department art display had come together at the school, said Ferdman, arts director and artist-in-residence at NCJHS.

“When you look at an artist’s work over time and place, that kind of turns the work into an artifact as well,” Ferdman said. “Beyond its aesthetic value, it becomes the witness to a time and place. It was like a little time machine from the past coming to us now.”  

Wherever the journey next takes Labkovski’s art after LAMOTH, Raikin feels that by passing through young hands, the work has found its place again.

“I think we all feel it’s our responsibility to make sure this next generation cares,” Raikin said. “That the [NCJHS] students were so involved and vested, that superseded any dream I possibly could have had. It would have made David and Rivka so, so happy to have seen these students so interested. I can walk away and say I feel safe. I feel that these kids get it. They can pass it on.” 

For more information on “The Art and Life of David Labkovski,” visit

Moving and shaking: Shimon Peres, Father Patrick Desbois and more

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Feb. 11 King David Society gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel featured Shimon Peres, Israel’s former longtime president and two-time prime minister. He appeared in conversation with Sharon Nazarian, an adjunct professor for political science at UCLA and the founder of the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

“I think it was one of the most important events that our Federation has been a part of,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson told the Journal during a phone interview that followed. 

The evening was put on for L.A. Federation donors who pledge more than $25,000. 

“I ask you now to make an increased gift to the 2015 campaign, so we can take care of every Jew in here, and every Jew out there,” Julie Platt, the organization’s general campaign chair, said, addressing the approximately 300 community members and leaders in attendance. Her audience included Rabbi Robert Wexler, American Jewish University president; and Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue and Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am. Nazarian’s parents, Younes and Soraya Nazarian, were there as well.

Event chairs were Alison and Gary Diamond, Laurie Gray and Steve Gordon, Sheila and Aaron Leibovic, and Ellen and Richard Sandler

Philanthropist Eli Broad had been scheduled to introduce Peres, but Broad and his wife, Edythe, did not attend due to the former feeling “under the weather,” according to Federation chairman Les Bider, who introduced Peres in Broad’s place. 

“This is a man whose personal story is deeply interwoven with the story of the State of Israel … if Israel were to have a Mount Rushmore, certainly he would be on it,” Bider said of Peres.

For more about Peres’ appearance, read the story on p. 27.

“We are here because it’s not finished. The disease is still here. Genocide is a disease.” 

French Catholic priest Patrick Desbois spoke to an audience of more than 100 people Feb. 11 at the United States premiere of “Holocaust by Bullets,” presented by Yahad-In Unum and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). The exhibition features photographs, maps and eyewitness testimonies representing 10 years of investigative research carried out by Yahad-In Unum, founded by Desbois, that resulted in identifying more than 1,380 mass graves, documenting the systematic murders of Jews between 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and 1944, and interviewing more than 3,800 local non-Jewish witnesses. More than 2 million Jews were killed in this way.

Father Patrick Desbois at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.  Photo by Gina Cholick

After LAMOTH Executive Director Samara Hutman welcomed the guests, who included Poland’s Consul for Public Affairs Ignacy Zarski and Consul General of Hungary Laszlo Kalman, Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe introduced Desbois, calling him one of the righteous people of the nations of the world. 

Southern California resident Steven Teitelbaum also spoke about his family’s emotional journey, with the help of Yahad-In Unum, in researching the fate of his great-grandparents in Wielopole, Poland, and traveling there to visit their former home, interview witnesses and say prayers at the murder site.

Desbois, who was accompanied by Yahad-In Unum’s Director of Research Patrice Bensimon, urged the audience to become involved. “What is dangerous is when we begin to sleep,” he said.

“Holocaust by Bullets” runs through March 15. For more about the exhibition, read the story on p. 25.

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Two Valley Reform congregations — Temple Judea in Tarzana and Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge — sang their way into the night during recent Broadway-themed concerts.

Temple Judea hosted its evening of song, “Lullaby of Broadway 2” Jan. 29 in memory of Patty Wells, daughter of temple members Alan and Nancy Wiener. Broadway actors Jodie Langel, Jose Llana and former Broadway actor Jay Winnick, as well as Temple Judea’s Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot, who previously worked as an actress in New York and London, performed various pieces centered on the theme of the redemptive power of music. Elizabeth Woolf, a former student of Rabbi Cantor Wissot, also performed.

From left: Jose Llana, Jodie Langel, Jay Winnick, Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Elizabeth Woolf. Photo by Aly Blue Photography

“The whole experience of hearing two superior Broadway stars in such an intimate and personal experience, it basically blew the roof off,” Wissot said.

Event chairs were Judy Rutt, Bill Harris and Sandee Greene.

The TAS concert on Jan. 31, which raised around $25,000, was titled “Songs About Life, Love and Other Necessities.” The program featured 17 Broadway and pop songs. 

Cantor Jen Roher, Cantor Emerita Patti Linsky and cantorial intern Lily Tash performed during the concert, accompanied by jazz pianist Chris Hardin, bassist Kirk Smith and drummer Dan Schnelle. One of many highlights for the 270-member audience was Roher’s dance to “The Music and the Mirror” from “A Chorus Line.”

Wendy Krowne and Jan Saltsman co-chaired the event. TAS plans to host another concert in February 2016 as part of its yearlong celebration of the synagogue’s 50th anniversary, which will begin in August.

— Leilani Peltz, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

‘Holocaust by Bullets’ Reveals mass killing sites

As is often the case with an idea that becomes a movement, Father Patrick Desbois’ interest in seeking out the dead originated with a personal quest. His grandfather Claudius Desbois was a French soldier who was deported during World War II and held as a prisoner of war in Rawa Ruska, a small village on the border dividing Poland and Ukraine. After his return, Desbois’ grandfather never spoke of his experiences.

So, as an adult, Father Patrick Desbois traveled to Rawa Ruska and began asking questions. 

“First it was a family investigation, and I realized there were no Jews buried in the village to which he was deported,” Desbois said. Yet, he discovered that “they had killed 18,000 Jews” there. “Afterward, people said, ‘Why don’t you go to the Ukraine. Why don’t you go to Belarus.’ In effect, it’s a criminologist’s investigation now, but we’re not trying to find the killers. We’re trying to find the victims.”

Desbois is not looking for Jews murdered in the notorious gas chambers of Auschwitz, but rather for evidence of mass shootings of Jews in villages and towns throughout Eastern Europe. Evidence of his horrific findings is on display at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) in Pan Pacific Park, where the exhibition “Holocaust by Bullets” continues through March 15. Co-presented with Desbois and his nonprofit organization Yahad-In Unum, the exhibition charts 10 years of research into the Nazis’ systematic massacre of Jews, that began in June 1941,  before the creation of extermination camps, on-site mass killings that continued to the end of World War II. More than 2 million Jews were exterminated in this way. 

Our Sherlock Holmes in this instance is a somewhat unlikely figure: a bespectacled French Catholic priest with a 5 o’clock shadow who has devoted his life and career to Holocaust research, combating anti-Semitism and furthering the relationship between Catholics and Jews. Desbois has been honored by the U.S. States Department of State, and he has won the B’nai B’rith International Award for Outstanding Contribution to Relations With the Jewish People, among other accolades. 

The work of Yahad-In Unum (combining the Hebrew word yahad meaning “together” and the Latin phrase in unum meaning “in one”) is part of a groundswell, according to LAMOTH Executive Director Samara Hutman. 

“We saw global activity after the [Adolf] Eichmann trials, in much the same way that people come out of the woodwork after a woman files a rape charge on a college campus,” Hutman said. “There is a domino effect, and Father Desbois is opening a window on this whole field of study.” 

From 2004 to 2014, Desbois and his investigative team conducted more than 4,000 interviews. They have turned up more than 1,380 mass gravesites, in many cases paving the way for descendants of the dead to return and erect monuments. 

“Families come to us and ask us, ‘In which mass grave is my father? In which mass grave is my rabbi?’ ” Desbois said. “If we can reconnect them with a village, they can go there and say Kaddish for the first time.”  

“Holocaust by Bullets” shows the faces and recorded words of the mostly non-Jewish survivors who witnessed German soldiers rounding up Jews and preparing them for mass executions. Some watched from their nearby farms or climbed trees to gain a better view. Others were enlisted to dig mass graves or to fill them in once the killings had concluded. Whether in printed accounts or on tape, the memories are graphic and disturbing, intended to make the visitor a direct witness to the crime as well, according to Desbois. 

The exhibition maintains that the Nazis’ mobile killing units swept across Eastern Europe, in each village employing the same five-step process (arresting, transporting, undressing, shooting, looting), from country to country. Photographs of the shootings — selected from approximately 400 snapshots Desbois’ researchers have recovered — were often used as propaganda or sent by German soldiers to their wives and girlfriends, Desbois said. 

“It was very public, and that’s why it’s strange that nobody seemed to know about the killings,” Desbois said. “My hypothesis is that the more people show violence, the less people want to know. For me, a secret is not something you don’t know. It’s something you don’t want to know.” 

In addition to the potential of Yahad-In Unum’s work to help descendants of the victims gain information and heal, “Holocaust by Bullets” has an anthropological function. Those mobile death units have continued to serve as a model for genocidal practices throughout the world, from Cambodia to Rwanda, from Syria to Darfur. 

“Even non-Jews who come see this exhibition will recognize that this is something that happened in another mass crime as well,” said Marco Gonzalez, director of Yahad-In Unum. “Hopefully, people will be better aware that this is happening elsewhere and can end up as genocide.”

Desbois chronicled his work in the 2009 book “The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews.” A teaching guide accompanies the exhibition, and Desbois emphasizes that even after a decade, Yahad- In Unum’s work is far from finished. He estimates that documentation of the deaths of close to 1 million Jews, mostly from Russia,  is still missing, and the window for finding living, credible witnesses to these mass exterminations — even the children who saw what happened 60 years ago — is quickly closing. 

“There is a responsibility we have to teach the next generation,” Desbois added. “We are not building an Auschwitz now, but ISIS is shooting and bombing, killing people one by one and showing the images. There is a connection between the responsibility for yesterday and the responsibility for today. Otherwise, which world are we building?”

“Holocaust by Bullets,” through March 15

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

100 S. The Grove Drive

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Son’s postcard to Lodz Ghetto resurfaces 72 years later

Almost 73 years ago, on March 21, 1942, Stefan Prager wrote a postcard from Sweden to his parents, who had been deported from their native Berlin to the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.

He wrote about his recently celebrated 18th birthday, adding, “I’m feeling healthy and the winter passed well. How are you doing?”

Prager never got a response or heard from his parents.

Now, as Prager approaches his 91st birthday, the postcard has resurfaced within the extensive digitized archives of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). The postcard’s discovery has led, in turn, to new inquiries and some answers about his parents’ fate.

Stefan Prager was born in Berlin, the son of Ruth Prager and her husband, Ernst Wolfgang Prager, who was wounded three times fighting in the German army during World War I.

The boy attended a Jewish school in Berlin for four years, and in March 1939, the parents sent their 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter on a Kindertransport (children’s transport) to Sweden.

Stefan, a big-city boy, spent the war years with a farmer in a remote forest area, living in a house without electricity, a toilet or running water, feeding the livestock and chopping down large trees in the icy winter. He kept writing to his parents in Berlin until they were deported in October 1941.

This was the time of Hitler’s greatest victories, and as the German armies came closer and closer to Sweden, Stefan wondered, “Where would I go to hide?” he told the Journal in a recent interview.

“In the [Swedish] village where my sister lived, there were several known Nazis who would tell [the Germans that she was Jewish].”

Thus the story — like those of millions of other Holocaust victims — might have ended, but for the resilience of this postcard, which eluded destruction through all the upheavals.

In late 2011, Edward Victor, a retired Los Angeles lawyer, donated to LAMOTH an unusual collection of Nazi-era mementos that he had acquired and organized during a 30-year period. It consisted of some 2,000 stamps, letters, identification cards, visas, school records and currency receipts, which frequently traced the fate of a given Jewish family from the beginning of the Nazi era in 1933 to its bloody end in 1945.

At LAMOTH, Vladimir Melamed, director of Archives, Library and Collections, integrated the material in the Archon Platform-LAMOTH, the museum’s online archive, which now holds close to a million document pages (

In December, Melamed received an email from Stefan Prager, who was living in Stockholm as a retired manager at SGS, a company that provides inspection, testing and certification services, primarily for international shipping.

“A relative of mine found a postcard at your museum which I sent to my parents from Sweden to the Lodz Ghetto in 1942. … I never heard from them,” Prager wrote.

Melamed and his staff went to work and tracked down the postcard in one of his digitized files labeled “Correspondence to and from Lodz Ghetto.”

No one knows how the card survived, but Prager speculates that “it was found at the Jewish administration office [in Lodz] among lots of similar stuff following the total evacuation of the ghetto to Auschwitz.”

With the recovered postcard as a lead, Melamed contacted the State Archive in Lodz for details on Prager’s parents’ fate. Last month, he received copies of handwritten entries by a Nazi official to the effect that Ernst and Ruth Prager were deported from Berlin Oct. 27-29, 1941, to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto (German for Lodz).

The next paper is an “Announcement” from the ghetto’s “Eldest of the Jews,” dated May 22, 1942, that Ruth Prager, now widowed, was being moved from the one room where she lived with her husband to another room shared with three other persons.

The last notice, dated Oct. 13, 1942, simply stated that Ruth Prager had vacated her room the previous day. Under “Reason for the Move,” an official entered “Death.”

LAMOTH president E. Randol Schoenberg noted that “the recovery of the Prager postcard reinforces the point that even 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, there are still undiscovered documents, still descendants of families searching for the fates of Nazi victims and still large gaps in our knowledge of concentration camps.

“For instance, who has heard of the Maly Trostenets extermination camp near Minsk? Yet, 65,000 Jews were murdered there.

“We owe it to the generosity of collectors like Edward Victor and the dedication of archivists like Dr. Melamed and his staff that large parts of the still unknown history of the Holocaust are coming to light.” 


LAMOTH remembers 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

It’s been 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, but it’s essential to remember that the horrors of anti-Semitism live on, according to Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel.

“This is not ancient history; it is right now,” Siegel said during a Jan. 27 speech. “So, words and remembrance without deeds are empty; they are hollow. Governments must stand up against anti-Semitism. They must prevent and act against Holocaust deniers and take on radical Islamist governments that endanger Jews and endanger society at large.”

Siegel spoke to a crowd of approximately 100 people who attended a Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) event in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date was designated by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. 

Siegel’s remarks looked back in honor of all those who perished, paying tribute to the approximately 25 survivors and camp liberators in the audience, while looking forward to the future of world Jewry, particularly in light of the recent deadly shootings in France.

E. Randol “Randy” Schoenberg, LAMOTH president, was also one of the many speakers. He described Auschwitz as a “man-made hell.”

“I begin by saying how unfathomable Auschwitz and the Holocaust is, and, for me, being the president of the museum has also been a learning experience,” he said. “I think it’s natural for people who were not there to have a certain skepticism about the stories, to say that couldn’t have happened that way, that shouldn’t have happened that way, how could that have happened that way — and, it’s a process, I think, becoming comfortable enough with the facts to accept that [these] things happened.”

Commemoration was on the mind of community member Beth Kean, a third-generation Holocaust survivor, as she discussed her grandmother, a survivor who was interned at Ravensbruck. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website describes it as the “largest concentration camp system for women in the German Reich … second in size only to the women’s camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.” 

“My body became numb when I saw the numbers [of how many died at Ravensbruck], because I had no idea that they were so grim,” Kean said. “How in the world did my grandmother survive?” 

The many survivors in attendance included Robert Geminder, who was 6 when he witnessed a mass shooting in Stanislawow, Poland, during the war. Today, he is a LAMOTH board member who hopes that Holocaust commemorations don’t fade with the passing of survivors. 

“I am hoping 50 years from now, there will be something for the 120th anniversary, when all the survivors are gone, because that’s what is important — to make sure we keep the memory of those 6 million people alive and make sure they didn’t die for nothing. That’s what truly counts to me,” he said in an interview with the Journal. “That’s why I speak at this museum, that’s why I speak at the Museum of Tolerance — to make sure that the young people know what happened.”

Auschwitz survivors Helen Freeman and Elisabeth Mann also attended. Freeman recently inspired Milken Community Schools students to create a mural that was on display at the museum. There was artwork by Mann as well.

The event featured musical performances by students who are part of the LAMOTH Young Pianist Showcase and Musical Ambassadors program. Samara Hutman, the museum’s executive director, was in Poland at the time of the commemoration, visiting Auschwitz on behalf of LAMOTH; the museum’s director of community support, Samira Miller, read remarks on Hutman’s behalf.