August 18, 2019

Jewish Groups Denounce U.S. Immigration Policies at Tisha b’Av Rally

On Tisha b’Av, hundreds of Jewish community members turned out for a rally outside the Metropolitan Detention Center. They expressed their support for undocumented immigrants. Photo by Ryan Torok

Hundreds of Jewish community members convened on Aug. 11 outside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in downtown Los Angeles for a Tisha b’Av prayer service and rally to denounce President Donald Trump’s administration’s immigration policy as well as opposition to the detention centers on the U.S. southern border, where immigrants who entered the country without legal permission are being held.

Protesters chanted “Defund ICE!” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and carried signs that included  “Reform Jews Welcome Immigrants,” and “Never Again Means Never Again for Everyone.” 

The gathering was one of more than 50 events Jewish groups staged across the country this past weekend. Outside the MDC, attendees participated in traditional Tisha b’Av rituals: reciting the Amidah and the mourner’s Kaddish. They read also from the Book of Eicha (Lamentations), which describes Jerusalem under siege during the destruction of the First Temple. They sat on the sidewalk as if in mourning. Several people also blew a shofar. 

“Today is Tisha b’Av, which is one of the most important fasts of the year and commemorates trials and tragedies that happened to the Jewish people over the centuries, from the [destruction of the] temple to the Holocaust,” Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, rabbi-in-residence at Bend the Arc told the Journal. “And today, one of the tragedies we as citizens of the United States are participating in is what’s happening on the borders with the camps and the way we treat migrants and asylum-seekers when they come into the country.” 

Bend the Arc was among the organizations that coordinated the rally along with IKAR, T’ruah, HIAS, Leo Baeck Temple, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

“It’s great to see the Jewish community coming out,” Polo Morales, political director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said. “I think it’s an issue that’s gotten a hell of a lot more attention as white supremacy has hit the ground running this year, and we can only expect it’s going to get worse.”

The rally was “a modern approach to Tisha b’Av,” said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the LGBTQ synagogue and an advocate for economic justice.

Sarah Benor, professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, told the Journal, “It feels like it’s my responsibility as a Jew to protest against the lack of compassion of this administration.” 

 “It feels like it’s my responsibility as a Jew to protest against the lack of compassion of this administration.” — Rabbi Sarah Benor

Ellen Dubois, a congregant of Ahavat Torah in West L.A. and a professor emeritus at UCLA, attended the rally with her fiancé, Arnold Schwartz. She said, “This is what Judaism means to me — crusading for justice, attaching to people who care about the displaced, refugees, strangers. I’m proud most American Jews stand on the right side of this and other liberal issues. I’m determined to make that case. I’m proud to stand with my people.”

Father-and-son Eric and Aaron Stockel attended an Aug. 11 rally on Tisha b’Av in support of undocumented immigrants. Photo by Ryan Torok

Dubois added she gave up her other religion — yoga —  to attend the rally. 

Santa Monica College student Jordana Owens learned about the event through Facebook. She said she wanted to go somewhere where she could express her opposition to current immigration policies while also being “connected to Judaism.”

The rally was peaceful except for one man across the street carrying a megaphone and wearing a “Make American Great Again” cap. Identifying himself as an “American Jewish Latino” who “stands with ICE,” he said the protestors were making a mockery of Judaism.

At the rally, the protester recorded his interactions with the demonstrators on his cellphone, including with Klein; Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, a board member of T’ruah; and with Los Angeles Police Department officers. At one point, the protester repeatedly said, “Shame” into the megaphone, prompting demonstrators across the street to chant, “Love.” 

Kathy, a social worker who declined to give her last name, said, “It’s a wonderful thing to be gathered like this but for the MAGA guy to be louder than this is just stupid. It’s important for Jews to be heard in this.”

Rabbi Susan Goldberg, a member of the national board of Bend the Arc and founder of the forthcoming community Nefesh, said she was heartened by the strong turnout.

“I’m moved by how many people showed up, how many Jewish organizations were involved,” she said. “To have this many people here on Sunday morning to do Tisha b’Av is beautiful. The fact that this many people are here to take further steps to support immigrants is moving.”

August 12: Cocktails and Conversation with Nicole Dennis-Benn

Join Ms. for Cocktails and Conversation with Nicole Dennis-Benn!

Join us for the Summer 2019 meeting of #MsBookClub, featuring Lamba Literary Award-winning author Nicole Dennis-Benn and Ms. Managing Digital Editor Carmen Rios in conversation with attendees about her new novel PATSY. The event will feature a reception with custom cocktails, a reading by the author and a book signing.

Join us on August 12, 2019
6 PM: Doors Open + Reception Begins
7 PM: Q&A Begins
8:30 PM: Book Signing Begins

…at the Ms. Offices
433 S Beverly Drive
Los Angeles, CA

FREE for Lifetime Members | $10 for Ms. Members | $20 for Non-Members

Non-member tickets include admission to the reception and book signing and a one-year membership to Ms.—including print and digital access to the magazine and discounted access to future Ms. events.

About Nicole

Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of the novel PATSY and her debut novel, HERE COMES THE SUN. Dennis-Benn is a Lambda Literary Award winner and a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Grant and has previously taught in the writing programs at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU, Sarah Lawrence College and City College; and has been awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Lambda, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Hurston/Wright, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She holds a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.

About the Book

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s PATSY follows two characters: Patsy, who immigrates to the United States for opportunity and to join the woman she loves, and Tru, the child Patsy leaves behind in Jamaica who is mourning the absence of her mother, as well as reckoning with how her community misgenders her.

“Because I am a queer woman, sometimes other queer people ask me if it’s safe to visit Jamaica,” author Alexia Arthurs wrote in her review of the book for Ms. “To many, Jamaica appears to be one of the most homophobic places on Earth, but every place is more than the headlines we’ve read or what we’ve been told. PATSY reminds us of this.”

Nicole will be signing books on-site.  Click here to purchase the book and part of your purchase will support Ms.!

What’s Happening: Tisha b’Av and Tu b’Av Events, Shabbat Outdoors


“Shabbat by the Shore”
A seaside sunset with prayer and music highlight Stephen Wise Temple’s annual “Shabbat by the Shore” at Crescent Bay Park in Santa Monica. Bring a blanket, beach ball, Frisbee and picnic basket and arrive early to stake out space for the service, led by Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and Cantor Emma Lutz. 6:30 p.m. service. Crescent Bay Park, 2000 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 476-8561.

Shabbat Under the Stars
Mendel and Rachey Simons hold a kabbalat Shabbat evening in the backyard of their Beverly Hills home, where 100 young Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s enjoy a four-course dinner, open bar and the opportunity to make new friends. Evening attire requested. 7 p.m. $60-$80. Online sales only. No door tickets. Beverly Hills address emailed day of event.


Rabbi Nachman of Breslav
The latest monthly Shabbat “Lunch and Learn” at Sephardic Temple focuses on Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, one of the most illustrious figures in Jewish history, particularly for Chasidim. The conversation explores Nachman as a “Soul-Healer and Kabbalistic Story-Teller.” From Nachman’s death at age 39 in 1810 through the present, his grave in Uman, Ukraine, is a must-visit site for Chasidic Jews. Noon-2 p.m. Free. Sephardic Temple, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7000.

“Death Over Dinner”
If you are looking for a unique way to mark Tisha b’Av, participate in “Death Over Dinner,” an intimate discussion over the final meal before the fast. Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park organizes the event. “The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation,” Temple Beth Israel Rabbi Jason Rosner said. “The ritual of breaking bread puts us in touch with our humanity.” 6:30-7:45 p.m. “Death Over Dinner” meal and discussion. 7:45-8:15 p.m. “What’s the Deal With Tisha b’Av?” miniclass. 8:15-9:30 p.m. Havdalah and Eicha service. Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, 5711 Monte Vista St., Los Angeles. (323) 745-2474.

Tisha b’Av Evening
In the spirit of solemnity that marks the arrival of Tisha b’Av and fasting, guest speaker Steven Windmueller discusses “The Rise of Anti-Semitism in America: Examining How Political Extremism Is Contributing to a New Age of Hate.” The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion professor emeritus examines the current threats and how they parallel tragedies in Jewish history. Adat Ari El and Valley Beth Shalom co-organize this evening, “Tisha b’Av: An Evening of Tefilah and Learning.” RSVP requested. 8 p.m. Ma’ariv and Havdalah. 8:30 p.m. Windmueller lecture. 9:30 p.m. Eicha (Lamentations). Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Homelessness and Tisha b’Av
Promising a Tisha b’Av service that is unique to Los Angeles, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in California (RAC-CA) connects ancient Jewish texts with the problem of homelessness facing the city. In coordination with the RAC-CA, members of five synagogues assemble at Stephen Wise Temple to recall Jews’ history of displacement while pledging to follow the imperative of ending homelessness of others. Congregation Kol Ami, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Temple Beth Hillel, Kol Tikvah and Beth Shir Shalom participate. 7-10 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.

Inclusive Tisha b’Av
In collaboration with IKAR and Shtibl Minyan, Beth Chayim Chadashim holds an inclusive Tisha b’Av service of depth, reflection and community. All are welcome and no Hebrew or particular background is necessary. Bring a pillow or low chair if you would like to sit on the floor as is traditional. Chairs will be available. You may want to bring a discreet reading aid since the lights are dim to allow for contemplation. 7:45 p.m. study and melody and Ma’ariv. 8:45 p.m. Eicha (Lamentations). Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6090 Pico Blvd. (323) 931-7023.


“Hippie Woman Wild”
Why would a not-so-nice Jewish girl, expelled from the Yale School of Drama, surrender her acting dream to follow the man she loves to life in a remote Oregon commune? The answer is “Hippie Woman Wild,” not only a Jewish Women’s Theatre performance by actress-writer Carol Schlanger but also the title of her memoir, which she will read from and act out. Schlanger’s fans include Henry Winkler, her Yale classmate, who says she cannot utter one sentence without making you laugh. The event includes a performance, light brunch, discussion and Q&A session. 10 a.m.-noon. $25. The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., No. 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400.


“The Damascus Cover”
Author Howard Kaplan discusses his 1977 spy thriller “The Damascus Cover” which was adapted into a film by the same name 41 years later. Kaplan, who has taught at UCLA and worked as a day trader, also presents his latest novel, “To Destroy Jerusalem,” which he started in the early 1990s. 7:30 p.m. $5 donation. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. RSVP at the link above..


Tamar Ilana
Inspired by her childhood touring the world with her mother, a Jewish ethnomusicologist from Montreal, powerhouse vocalist and dancer Tamar Ilana fronts the Toronto-based Ventanas. Their Los Angeles debut at the Skirball Cultural Center reimagines Mediterranean melodies and flamenco grooves. Ilana sings about migration and identity in Ladino, Spanish, Bulgarian, Hebrew, French, Romani and Arabic. Early arrivals enjoy a DJ set by Glenn Red of Afro Funké and La Junta. 6:30 p.m. doors and DJ set. 8 p.m. show. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Family Staycation
San Fernando Valley families enjoy a staycation before school resumes. Organized for children and adults, the event at Valley Beth Shalom includes swimming, toddler pools, waterslides, plenty of food and the screening of two movies, “Despicable Me 3” and “The Jungle Book,” over four hours. Bring swimsuits, water shoes and towels. 4-8 p.m. $20 per family, includes snacks, activities and movies. Dinners for purchase by L.A. Kosher. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Inside Raid on Entebbe
Former Israel Defense Forces commando Sassy Reuven takes his audience inside Operation Thunderbolt, the daring raid on Entebbe, Uganda, 43 years after the rescue of 102 Jewish passengers on a hijacked Air France flight. All proceeds from his discussion benefit the Canavan Research Foundation, which raises funds for a rare genetic disease that without gene therapy prevents children from walking, talking, seeing and often living past the age of 10. 6:30-8:30 p.m. $36. Aish Community Shul, 9100 W. Pico Blvd. (424) 354-4130. For tickets, click on the link above.

Wisestock: Two Nights of Shalom and Music
Bummed about the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival being canceled? The community is invited to celebrate Woodstock’s golden anniversary with “WiseStock: Two Nights of Shalom and Music,” organized by Stephen Wise Temple. Held in a different setting each evening, the gatherings feature hits by artists who performed at Woodstock in the summer of 1969 and brings together all community voices to entice more peace, love and music into the world. On Thursday evening in the Beverly Cañon Gardens in Beverly Hills, Wise clergy and musicians lead a singalong with Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch. Back on the Wise campus for Shabbat, songs that helped make Woodstock historic inspire services. Thursday: 6 p.m. Free. Beverly Cañon Gardens, 241 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. Friday: 6:15 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.




Celebrate the Jewish Valentine’s Day at Lovefest, which, given the Pico Shul’s declared mission of creating love and caring in the world, makes Tu b’Av a perfect shidduch for the Pico-Robertson shul. The synagogue celebrates the Jewish holiday of love by inviting young professionals to Lovefest. Join Rabbi Yonah Bookstein for this special full-moon summer night and bring more love, joy, care and unity to the Jewish community. Mingle at an exclusive garden party overlooking the city, sip signature cocktails, enjoy romantic live music and delight in a wonderful evening on Mulholland Drive with food and an open bar. 8-11 p.m. $36. Private residence, Mulholland Drive.


Tu b’Av on Venice Pier
At the Open Temple, Tu b’Av is the Jewish Midsummer’s Night, so celebrate the night of sensual awakening on the Venice Pier. The event is more special than usual this year because the holiday of love falls on Shabbat. Everyone is invited to learn about various sensual aspects of intimacy. 7 p.m. Free. Meet just south of the Venice Pier. (310) 821-1414.


Tu b’Av Third Meal
Young professionals in their 20s and 30s from Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Oakland celebrate Tu b’Av over delicious food, singing and community. The event is organized by Happy Minyan, which is guided by the belief that being happy is a mitzvah. 6:30 p.m. Mincha, 7-8:30 p.m. seudah shelishit, 8:30 p.m. Ma’ariv and Havdalah. $20-$25. Happy Minyan, 9218 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

Tu b’Av-dalah
Spend Tu b’Av at a community Havdalah service organized by Kehillat Ma’arav in Santa Monica. Feel free to bring friends. RSVP online. 7 p.m. Free. Virginia Park, 2200 Virginia Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

Jewish Singles Get-Together
Celebrate Tu b’Av with author, speaker and artist Siona Thacker, who lectures on the spiritual aspects of love and life. The evening in the San Fernando Valley includes drinks, snacks, karaoke and the opportunity to make new romantic and friendship connections. Bourekas, cookies and nonalcoholic drinks will be available for purchase. 9 p.m. $12. Tickets available at the door. Unique Pastry Kosher Bakery & Cafe, 18381 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 757-3100.

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

L.A. Orgs Announce Grants That Will Aid Jewish Help for the Homeless

Tents and tarps erected by homeless people are shown along the sidewalks in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles, California. MIKE BLAKE June 04, 2019 10:47pm EDT

Homelessness in the city of Los Angeles is up 16% from last year, while L.A. County numbers are up 12%. However, new grants from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center will provide funding to organizations supporting services for homeless people and new housing models aimed at creating affordable shelter. 

On July 16, JCFLA announced $600,000 in General Community Grants to three organizations that provide housing to homeless individuals and families. The organizations, Brilliant Corners, LA Family Housing (LAFH) and The People Concern, will each receive $200,000. The overall amount represents a 22% increase in the foundation’s funding to homelessness related organizations from last year. 

Foundation President and CEO Marvin I. Schotland said in a press release that his organization expects the grants will provide hundreds of people the opportunity to transition to permanent housing and “bring further attention to this pressing issue affecting us all, and encourage other funders and community leaders to step forward and work together to address it.”

He added, “We recognize that homelessness is a large-scale, complex problem that requires the kind of bold thinking and innovative interventions reflected by this year’s General Community Grant recipients to whom we are proud to provide our support.”

On Aug. 5, the foundation announced its Cutting Edge Grants to seven innovative local initiatives focused on transforming Jewish Los Angeles, including Safe Parking LA (SPALA), which provides safe parking options and supportive services for individuals living in their vehicles. SPALA will receive $300,000 over three years to engage synagogues and members. The Journal has covered IKAR’s involvement in this program. SPALA co-founder and Executive Director Scott Sale said in the release that the new grant will be able to expand the program beyond IKAR “into other synagogues within Los Angeles City and County as it attempts to provide refuge and connect the 15,000 persons presently living in vehicles.”

“We recognize that homelessness is a
large-scale, complex problem that requires the kind of bold thinking and innovative interventions reflected by this year’s General Community Grant recipients.” — Marvin I. Schotland

Through its Motel Conversion Project, Brilliant Corners will renovate a Mid-City L.A. motel and provide housing for dozens of homeless individuals. It plans to scale the project by providing technical assistance to other housing providers so that hundreds more individuals can be housed. 

The People Concern is partnering with Flyaway Homes for a Scalable Permanent Supportive Housing for Homeless Individuals program by leveraging private investment dollars and modular construction to reduce the cost and time it takes to develop permanent supportive housing. 

The LA Family Housing grant will support its Shared Family Interim Housing project as it purchases, renovates and converts three San Fernando Valley houses into shared interim housing for homeless families, giving them access to schools, parks and supportive services. 

Cedars-Sinai is contributing $15 million — up from $5.9 million last year — to 108 nonprofit programs and organizations that foster housing stability, provide sustainable programs for the homeless and build clinical and financial capacity at community clinics, according to a press release. The grants, announced in July, will support mental health training, services for LGBTQ+ and veterans’ groups, and a range of social services provided by several Jewish organizations including the Jewish Free Loan Association, which will receive $500,000 over five years to establish the Cedars-Sinai Housing Stability Loan Fund, designed to provide immediate housing assistance to stabilize those on the verge of homelessness.

According to the release, Cedars-Sinai also is making grants to Jewish Family Service, Sharsheret and Bet Tzedek to serve a range of social, education, homeless and legal needs. 

“We take our role in the community as seriously as we take patient care, research and education,” Cedars-Sinai President and CEO Thomas M. Priselac said in the release. “We are driven by a strategic focus on improving access to care and addressing social determinants of health. Ultimately, we are working to break down barriers that affect tens of thousands of people within the safety net.”

Westside JCC Maccabi Teens Bring Home Gold From Atlanta

JCC Maccabi Games girls soccer team. Photo courtesy National Geographic

Both the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) under-16 girls’ and under-16 boys’ soccer teams brought home the gold from the recently completed JCC Maccabi Games in Atlanta. The girls defeated the host team, 4-2, in the final, while the boys also beat the Atlanta team in the finals in a 3-1 penalty shootout after a 2-2 tie. 

The annual games were held in Atlanta from July 26-Aug. 2 and in Detroit from Aug. 2-9. One hundred and seventy five Westside JCC athletes from ages of 12 to 16 participated, thanks to the JCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which also sent 30 volunteer coaches to the games. A total of 3,000 participants attended the games from throughout the United States, as well as Israel, Hungary, England, Mexico, Panama and parts of Canada. 

After the under-16 boys’ win, JCC Maccabi Games Head Soccer Coach Lee Turnbull told the Journal, “The reason I volunteer for Maccabi is because I want to be an influence in these kids’ lives. I was a much worse kid than these kids are [when I was their age] and [because of] a sprinkle of good influences that I luckily found, I turned out OK. I want to give [my players] incredible memories. I want them to not get so stressed about schoolwork and realize it’s OK just to take a break here and there and breathe. I try and help the kids to be critical thinkers.” 

Los Angeles Westside JCC Director of Experiential Learning and Maccabi Games Delegation Head Ari Cohen the Journal, “As a program, our goal is to [create] an impactful Jewish experience for our teens by being connected to Jews from across the religious spectrum, denominational spectrum, socioeconomic and geographical boundaries of Los Angeles, as well [as] the world. By connecting them to all these different types of Jews and the global Jewish world, we see that our kids have a greater desire to stay connected to the Jewish community for their teen years and beyond.” 

Turnbull, a former animal behaviorist, said receiving Instagram messages from his players about how he’s “influenced them and given them a new perspective on life, [makes me] want to scream from the rooftops because I feel like I’ve already achieved everything I’ve ever wanted to achieve in this world. It’s all I yearn to do.”

As a program, our goal is to [create] an impactful Jewish experience for our teens by being connected to Jews from across the religious spectrum, denominational spectrum, socioeconomic and geographical boundaries of Los Angeles, as well [as] the world.”

 — Ari Cohen

As a values-based program, JCC Maccabi stresses principles of community, learning, friendship, health and wellness, inclusiveness, family and repairing the world, Cohen added. The games, he said, replicated an Olympic-style “opening ceremony and serious competitive structure. Beyond that, the things that make it special are that our opening ceremony always [includes] a tribute to the Israeli athletes who were killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972 [and] we have an athlete and spectator pledge to uphold the values of the JCC Maccabi Games.”

The Munich tribute is so impactful because the participants “connect immediately to these athletes, and therefore Israel, global Judaism and the Jewish world,” Cohen said. “We see a lot of tears at [the] opening ceremonies every single year.”

Aside from the opening ceremony and competitive sports, other activities, workshops and icebreakers were offered throughout the week to encourage participants to meet new people and learn about Israel and Jewish values. 

“Every day our kids [participate in] a huge activity together, which is something that’s different than most athletic experiences,” Cohen said. “Kids who are playing against each other at one moment really intensely are the same kids that are hanging out at the night activity,” he said. “We also make sure [that] every team is involved in a tikkun olam experience to give back to the community that is hosting us.”

Indeed, 13-year-old Ben Escobar, who played on the Westside JCC’s under-14 baseball team in Atlanta, said, “I enjoyed the nighttime activities and having fun with my teammates. I also loved hanging out with four other baseball players from all over the country at my host family’s house. We played lots of pingpong and watched baseball together. The opening ceremonies were very welcoming and made me feel like I was part of a greater Jewish community. It also made me excited for the week.”

Cohen said he hoped the teens had an “exposure to the greater Jewish world and the increased pride they have in their own Jewish identity. The other thing that’s very important to us is to give them a really great athletic experience and have high-quality coaching … and at the same time, to be great Jewish mentors so they begin to understand and reconnect with the fact that sports can be something that gives them a stronger sense of self and teaches [them] positive human values. 

“Maccabi,” he said, “creates a community. Once you’re in it [you’ll] do whatever [you] can to [expand] that community.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

Honoring Julian Katz, Cycling King of Hermosa Beach

Julian Katz

You usually need to be famous to get a street named after you. Really famous. Consider the recent renaming of Los Angeles’ Rodeo Road in the Crenshaw neighborhood as Obama Boulevard. 

Julian Katz’s name recognition doesn’t come close to that of former President Barack Obama, but in his longtime hometown of Hermosa Beach, Katz was something of a celebrity and, by all accounts, a universally beloved one. So earlier this summer — on the one-year anniversary of his death at the age of 88 — the South Bay city honored Katz by naming a 1.3-mile sharrow the Julian Katz Bike Lane.

Dozens of friends, acquaintances and fellow cycling enthusiasts came out for the official unveiling of street signs for the shared lane markings along Hermosa Avenue. Royal blue was Katz’s favorite color, thus the signs’ bright blue background. The color also was chosen as a nod to his love of sailing, while the curlicue design at the top is evocative of his trademark mustache.

It’s a fitting honor for the late aerospace engineer who traveled everywhere and anywhere he could by bicycle, and did volunteer work for many years to make Hermosa Beach and the surrounding communities more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. He did so motivated by concern for the environment, his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and wanting to get others out of their cars, off their screens, and exercising and engaging with the world.

“He could be incredibly persistent about the things he believed in. But he was never self-righteous.” — Jeff Duclos

“This idea of making our city more bike friendly, adding dedicated bike lanes, it’s not easy,” said city councilman and former mayor Jeff Duclos. “He was the voice. That’s a really difficult position to be in, going against the status quo, trying to bring about a change but you don’t have a position of authority. He was the first person to get the city to dedicate a street as a shared roadway.” 

Katz’s efforts included having boldly painted bicycle symbols and arrows on the street. “[This] was important because, just that marker on the roadway, we have learned over the years, changes the behavior of people driving their cars,” Duclos said.

Katz also was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the South Bay Bikeway Master Plan, an ambitious undertaking still in the works that aims to nearly triple the network of bikeways in seven South Bay cities (the new Julian Katz Bike Lane is part of this network).

For Katz’s widow, chaplain Gila Katz, the bike lane naming and attendant fanfare have brought a lot of emotion.

“The truth of the matter is, it’s all mixed feelings,” the Israeli native said. “On the one hand, there’s tremendous happiness and pride in all that he was able to accomplish. And then it’s very painful because he’s gone. There’s tremendous appreciation for the love and care this community has shown to Julian, and the fact they are committed to continuing this work and committed to continuing to put in bike paths in Hermosa and the other cities.”

Calling her late husband a “really unusual man,” Gila added, “One of the things that was so unusual about him is that he could convince people to do things. He had a great sense of humor. He was very gentle. He didn’t quit. He had such a nice way about him.” 

Locals held Katz in such high esteem that one of the South Bay Bike Coalition leaders, Jim Hannon, adopted a well-known acronym and attributed it to Katz.

“WWJD,” Duclos said. “What Would Julian Do? I think he had that impact on people. He did it the right way. He could be incredibly persistent about the things he believed in. But he was never self-righteous. He was never preachy. He lived his life in a way that was not just admirable but to be emulated.”

Persian Senior Supports LGBTQ Jewish Community

Photo courtesy of Nora Rakow

Editor’s note: Nora Rakow was nominated for our seniors’ edition. However, the person who nominated her didn’t realize Rakow was too young to make our 80-plus cut. Nevertheless, her story is so inspiring, we decided to devote a page to her in our regular community section.

Married at 16 in Tehran, Nora Rakow moved to Los Angeles in 1986 to start a new life. Today, she continues to be successful through her passion for volunteer work with UCLA, Sinai Temple, Hadassah and JNF at “78 years young.”

In 1958, two months after their wedding, Rakow and her husband moved from Tehran to Hamburg, Germany, where their three children were born and raised. Rakow later followed her daughters to Los Angeles, where she received a green card and became a real estate agent.

Ever since her granddaughter Amanda became heavily involved with JQ International, a nonprofit that works to create community and advance greater inclusion of LGBTQ Jews and allies, Rakow has become a proud supporter of the LGBTQ community and has attended multiple events with her granddaughter.

“I admire this young, vibrant group because of the tremendous job they have done when bringing Persian-Jewish families together,” Rakow said. “Many parents don’t initially accept their children coming out as LGBTQ+ and families start to fall apart. [JQ International] has found a way to bring parents and children together and has taught parents how to accept their children, be proud of them and help them to prosper. I think that is a very powerful step they have made in the Persian-Jewish community. Instead of families falling apart, they have bound families together, who are now happy families.”

“Many parents don’t initially accept their children coming out as LGBTQ+ and families start to fall apart. [JQ International] has found a way to bring parents and children together.” — Nora Rakow

After retiring, Rakow realized that aside from spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she “[gets] the most enjoyment out of giving back to my community and giving back to Israel,” she said. “I inherited my charitable heart and my love for Israel from both my beloved parents.”

As a volunteer on the executive board at Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Rakow works to raise funds for Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. At Sinai Temple, she is an executive board member of the Sisterhood, where she raises funds to support conservative rabbinical students. She also volunteers at the main information desk at UCLA and collaborates with the rabbi in the Spiritual Care unit at UCLA’s health center.

Rakow always has been involved in Hadassah and JNF. When Israel planned to develop the Negev desert, Rakow envisioned “the Persian-Jewish community in Los Angeles could be helpful in this development. I started a new movement in the Persian-Jewish community that if [someone’s] loved one passed away, instead of sending flowers to their grave, they could plant a tree [in Israel] in the memory of [their] loved one. They can also send a tree certificate in honor of someone as a gift for a special occasion.” To date, enough money has been collected to develop almost four forests on the outskirts of Beersheba.

Rakow said her goal for the future is to continue to expand the forests in the Negev. “My slogan is ‘Together, we make the desert bloom,’ ” she said.  

Rakow advises others to follow their hearts. “Be passionate about your dreams and beliefs, and do your best to make them happen,” she said. “Don’t let anyone stop you.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.  

Honoring the Deborahs of Los Angeles

While Jewish women share a common history with Jewish men, their stories are less known. In the Tanakh, the great stories focus on the actions of men, but woven through these stories are the actions of remarkable women: Miriam the prophetess, Deborah the Judge and Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim. These women were Judaism’s earliest agents of change, not because they bore the title of leader, but because they used courage and wisdom to do what they knew to be right.

This is why I was excited to work on an exhibit highlighting the special contributions of Los Angeles Jewish women to their communities, from the first settlers to today. The exhibit, Being Deborah, is in recognition of Jewish American Heritage Month, presented by the City of Los Angeles with event co-chairs Councilmembers David Ryu and Bob Blumenfield.

Deborah is known for issuing authoritative and fair judgments over an entire nation and earning the highest respect from the Jewish people. Likewise, the Jewish women presented here are leaders because of their courage and consciences. Jewish women in Los Angeles have rich histories of leading change, often in the face of opposition. These women paved the way for an equality of gender, equality of intellect and equality of compassion, which has created a foundation for a better world.

Los Angeles Jewish women pushed the boundaries of patriarchy as early as the first Jewish settlers in 1850. Joseph Newmark, a lay rabbi, began conducting informal Sabbath services, establishing the Congregation B’nai B’rith (today’s Wilshire Boulevard Temple). However, his wife, Rosa, did not sit idly by, content to mother the couple’s six children. Instead, in 1870, Rosa Newmark founded the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society in Los Angeles. The charities afforded by that organization originally were devoted to Jewish women and children, but the society was available to help others. The acclaimed Jewish Family Services traces its beginnings to the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society. She died in 1875 at age 67.

Hannah Greenebaum Solomon stands out as one of the most impressive Original Disrupters. Solomon refused to let her sex dictate her fate. In 1893, dissatisfied with being asked to serve coffee like a waitress at the men’s World Parliament of Religions, Solomon founded the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), an action she knew the Jewish community would challenge. Solomon said, “To join an organization of women, not ladies — and one which bore the title ‘club’ rather than ‘society,’ was itself a radical step.” She died in 1942 at age 84.

The NCJW has enjoyed a long history of catalyzing social and political change to improve the quality of life for women, children and families. In 1909, Rachel Kauffman heeded Solomon’s call to action and recruited 15 progressive women to start the NCJW Los Angeles. Today, NCJW LA programs provide education and advocacy on issues that impact women and children in economic justice, human trafficking, reproductive justice and gender-related violence.

Also in the early 1900s, Dr. Sarah Vasen broke the glass ceiling in medicine. Vasen studied obstetrics and gynecology at a time when women were not encouraged to build careers in the medical profession. Vasen became a practicing physician at Kaspare Cohn, which later became Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She was the first Jewish female to practice medicine in Los Angeles and the first Jewish woman to hold a supervising position at the hospital. Vasen died in 1944 at age 74.

Los Angeles Jewish women pushed the boundaries of patriarchy as early as the first Jewish settlers in 1850.

Two Jewish women, entertaining audiences through both comedy and drama, stand out as change makers in the entertainment industry: Fanny Brice and Carmel Myers. Brice, whose comedic and vocal talents were showcased in the Ziegfeld Follies and on radio, proved women can be funny in a remarkable way. Portraying Brice on Broadway (1964) and later in an Oscar-winning turn in the film “Funny Girl” (1968) launched the career of singer and actress  Barbra Streisand. Brice died in 1951 at age 59.

Carmel Myers proved to the world a woman could be Jewish and a Hollywood bombshell. Myers told Samuel Goldwyn (formerly Goldfish) in 1915 that if her career depended “… upon hiding the fact that I was born a Jew, I’d rather not have one.” According to Jewish Women’s Archives, she acted in “more than 70 films, was an early television talk-show host, led a production company that packaged radio and television shows, held a patent for an electronic synchronizer that controlled studio lights, and imported and distributed French perfume.” She died in 1980 at age 81.

World War II impacted the lives of Jewish women and men. At age 10, Bea Abrams Cohen relocated to the United States from Romania. She later joined the U.S. war effort, working in a factory. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Pfc. Abrams arrived in Great Britain, where, according to the website Women of World War II, she mimeographed top-secret documents and worked KP duty. Cohen spent 70 years supporting military and Jewish charities, including dedicating 35 years to the National Ladies Auxiliary of the Jewish War Veterans, assisting children who had cerebral palsy. She died in 2015 at age 105.

As a young woman in 1944, Holocaust survivor Frida Berger was loaded onto a wagon and taken to the Sevlus ghetto from Comlausa, Romania. Not long after, the Nazis transferred her to Auschwitz. American troops liberated her from Salzwedel on April 14, 1945. In 1966, she moved with her family to Los Angeles, where she and her husband bought a meat market. Today, she cooks for hundreds of homeless and people in need.

As life returned to normal after the war, interest in athletics returned. However, many disapproved of a career in sports for women. Thelma “Tiby” Eisen was not discouraged. Eisen grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, playing softball, and by age 14, was participating at the semi-professional level. Eisen joined the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, where she quickly became one of the league’s top players. Eisen died in 2014 at 92.

Around the same time, Rosalind “Roz” Wiener Wyman became the youngest person elected to the Los Angeles City Council at 22 years old and only the second woman elected. Wyman’s presence challenged the male-dominated council to hear the perspective of a young woman on equal terms. Her strong will and intelligence changed Los Angeles for the better. Wyman was instrumental in bringing the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958, and to this day, Dodger Stadium is described as “the house that Roz built.”

As Wyman was inspiring women in Los Angeles to pursue public life, Ruth Handler’s iconic toy, the Barbie doll, was inspiring legions of young girls to imagine they could be whomever they wanted. Coinciding with the women’s rights movement, women in the 1960s and 1970s were outspoken in their demands for equal rights, opportunities and greater personal freedom. Barbie debuted in 1959.

In the 1900s, men dominated the anthropology field, tending to interview mostly other men. In the 1970s, Barbara Myerhoff shifted this paradigm. The 1976 Academy Award-winning documentary short “Number Our Days” turned the camera on her, as she explored a community of elderly Jews living in Venice, Calif. Myerhoff died in 1985 at 49.

In 1973, Barbi Weinberg became the first woman to oversee a major federation when she was elected to lead the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. In 1984, she co-founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which today — according to the Institute — is the largest research institute devoted exclusively to the study of U.S. interests in the Middle East. 

Sherry Lansing made headlines in 1980 when she became the first woman to lead 20th Century Fox. In 1992, she became chairperson of Paramount Pictures, a title she held until 2005. Six of the 10 highest-grossing Paramount films were released during her tenure and 80 percent of the films under her tenure were profitable, a track record unmatched by any other long-term studio management leader. 

Carolyn Leighton caught the inequity of women in tech as early as the mid-1980s when she launched Criterion Research, a technology and aerospace consultancy. The stories of frustration she heard from the brilliant, well-educated women in the companies she worked with inspired her to launch Women in Technology International (WITI) in 1989, just as the internet and digital revolution swept through California. WITI began as an email network but soon grew to a global organization reaching more than 2 million people. The powerful advocacy of Leighton opened the door to future generations of women in technology. “It cheats all of us, and our country, out of innovation,” she said of the tech industry’s neglect of female talent.

Leading a movement of inclusivity, Rabbi Denise L. Eger set a new path forward as the first female and openly gay rabbi to be chosen president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. She is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami. Eger has worked extensively with people with HIV/AIDS, and is an expert on Judaism and LGBTQ civil rights. In 2008, Eger officiated at the first legal wedding for a lesbian couple in California. 

Donna Bojarsky uses her intellect, influence and drive to bring together communities of Los Angeles, catalyzing change in her hometown. She is the founder of Future of Cities: Leading in LA, promoting innovative leadership in Los Angeles; founder of the New Leaders Project, designed to support young Jewish leaders; and co-founder of LA Works, the city’s largest volunteer action network.

In 1973, Barbi Weinberg became the first woman to oversee a major federation when she was elected to lead the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.

Gloria Allred continues to move mountains in the legal sphere. Over the course of her 43-year legal career, Allred has won numerous honors for her legal work on behalf of women’s rights and minority rights. Her firm, Allred, Maroko &  Goldberg, handles more women’s rights cases than any other private firm in the nation. In September 2019, she will be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Talented individuals in the entertainment industry have unparalleled opportunities to change the narrative around women and their capabilities. Two female Jewish trailblazers are Mayim Bialik and Israeli actress Noa Tishby. Bialik played a neurobiologist for nine years on “The Big Bang Theory” and holds a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA. She leads a green and holistic life, and is raising two sons, whom she seeks to teach the principles of being the change we wish to see in the world.

Actress and activist Tishby broke ground as a producer selling the first Israeli show to HBO, creating a strong connection between the Israeli entertainment industry and Hollywood. Tishby also founded Act for Israel, which focuses on distributing truths and combating falsehoods about Israel through social media. 

Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT) was founded to give voices to Jewish women through theater. The company, led by artistic director Ronda Spinak, debunks the stereotypes of Jewish women. JWT is the first company to put the stories of both Iranian Jews in America on stage as well as stories of Los Angeles-based female rabbis. JWT has collected the stories of other female rabbis from around the world. 

Sharon Nazarian’s role as the senior vice president of international affairs for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) places her in contact with heads of state, foreign ministers and leaders of Jewish communities across the globe. Passionate about her Iranian heritage, Nazarian launched the Nazarian Initiative — an initiative designed to familiarize young Jews with Persian culture and society − through the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Chava Shervington is an advocate for dialogue about racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community. Shervington realized the only way to address the issues Jews of color faced — isolation, exclusion and often omission from the entire Jewish narrative — was to actively educate the larger community about diversity in Judaism. A past president of the Jewish Multiracial Network, Shervington co-planned the first Jews of Color National Convening, consults with Jewish organizations, and has been featured in media such as the Chicago Tribune, JTA and the Jewish Channel, discussing intersections of Judaism, race and racism.

Tabby Refael is an Iranian American Jew. As a young girl, she fled post-revolutionary Iran to the United States with her family. In 1989, the U.S. granted her refugee asylum. Refael, whose writing has appeared in the Journal, co-founded 30 Years After, an agency that empowers Iranian-American Jews to embrace civic responsibilities as engaged Americans.

As more Jewish women stand up to be heard, we acknowledge one final Jewish woman who led the way for others and truly represents the spirit of Deborah: Barbara Yaroslavsky, who died at age 71 in 2018.

Yaroslavsky was an inspired public servant who committed her life to helping others. She married Zev Yaroslavsky in 1971 and, while he pursued a career in public office, Barbara left her mark on the Jewish community as well as on nonprofit and social-service agencies involved in education and health care.

Yaroslavsky is remembered for her work with the Los Angeles Commission on Communities and Family Services, which lifts poverty-stricken families into self-sufficiency. She held a board seat on the Friends of the Saban Community Clinic and the Jewish Community Relations Council, which serves as the local Jewish voice on government policy for Israel and world Jewry. She also served on the Medical Board of California and spent three years as the board’s president. When she died, she was serving on the California Board of Registered Nursing. Barbara Yaroslavsky’s life inspired many and continues in her memory.
There are many more women around us who work unrecognized to better their communities, but we hope this list inspires everyone to honor the work Jewish women do to make the world more equitable for all.

Dylan Kendall founded Hollywood Arts and now runs the home goods business Dylan Kendall Home. Find out more at

Caring for an Aging Parent

Photo by Pexels.

The telephone rings and I immediately feel the frustration and sadness on the other end — a daughter or son whose life has been turned upside down by the parent who once took care of them and now can no longer take care of themselves. Their stories are accompanied by tears, exasperation and a vast array of emotions. 

They need someone on the other end to listen to their story and offer any intelligent insight as to their next steps. Raise your hand if you’re one of the 60-somethings reading this who has one or more living parent who’s 80-plus-years-old.  

I am not a geriatric care manager or a social worker. I have spent the past 15 years as a senior living advocate, providing a compassionate ear and expertise to the Los Angeles assisted living world. It is complicated; most callers need an objective source that will take the time to listen to the problem and point them in the right direction. The vast majority are sons and daughters of the elderly.

These adult children struggle with a duality of their feelings — their love for their parents, their sense of obligation, their difficulty in coping with their own needs, with their families and jobs, and their fears about their future. 

My conversation with Alan, who has lived in Israel since his early teens, comes to mind. His mother, a Holocaust survivor living in Las Vegas, was in failing health after her husband died. She was living in a board-and-care home for the elderly in Las Vegas.  There were issues with her care. There were no family members in the area.

“The memory of my parents inviting an elderly individual who had no family to our dinner table remains with me to this day.”

Alan flew to her side and, within 48 hours I helped him find an appropriate facility for her needs in Los Angeles, where she would be near a stepson. Alan arranged for her transportation to L.A. Alan said his mother was unable to care for him as an infant. He moved from foster home to foster home. He was 62 years old and never had lived with his mother. He tearfully said he still felt the need to make sure she was safe and has proper care.  

Even if your parents were not June and Ward Cleaver, most children want to do the right thing for their parents. We are all reminded of the fifth of the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother.” Rabbi Michael Schwab aptly stated, “Our obligation in regard to parents was considered by the Torah to be extremely important. The logic seems to be that they helped give us life, so we owe them whatever we can give.”

Lillian B. Rubin, author of “60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in the Twenty-First Century,” said, “Parents commonly resist their children’s attempts to intervene, but they are often in denial about the depth of their decline and can’t or won’t see what’s plain to others: They need help.”

On the other hand, children don’t want to admit that a parent is declining and needs help. They may resist accepting that familial roles are starting to reverse and that they need to step in, either helping a parent themselves or lining up support.

Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman said, “Judaism offers a perspective on relationships between adult children and their parent that can provide us with compassionate, pragmatic moral guidance. Our tradition urges respectful, attentive care but also recognizes and supports what adult children can do.” It is fully appropriate to find assistance, whether in-home or a senior living community, which enables the child to work and take care of his or her own family needs. This can be seen as a mode of personal service, of demonstrating honor and respect.”

A career in journalism and public relations in the cruise industry didn’t prepare me for this work. I adored my grandmother and we remained extremely close until she died. The memory of my parents inviting an elderly individual who had no family to our dinner table remains with me to this day.

When my kids were entering high school and I found myself seeking a new career, I decided to follow my passion. Although I am blessed with an active and vibrant 88-year-old mother, when the time comes, I will need the advice I give in this article. There are no words to describe the personal satisfaction I get on a daily basis knowing I have had some part in bringing some solace and peace to adult children and their elderly parents.

Sandra Heller, a senior living advocate and placement specialist, is the owner
of Compassionate Senior Solutions in Los Angeles. 

How Apartheid Cost a South African Television Writer His Judaism

Mthunzi Ramphele

Television writer Mthunzi Ramphele is living the American dream. With two animated TV pilots sold to major production companies, he’s achieved more than some of his most wealthy and well-connected counterparts in Hollywood have in a lifetime.

Ramphele is not up-and-coming; he has arrived.

As someone of Jewish descent, you’d think the television scribe (like anyone who’s seen “Seinfeld”) would be trying to use his Jewishness to help him make connections in Hollywood. However, as Ramphele goes in and out of studios, he’s trying to use Hollywood to connect to his Jewishness.

Ramphele was born in Johannesburg in 1993, one year before apartheid ended. In the midst of intense segregation, his mother, who was a nurse at a hospital serving whites, went into premature labor while at work. Although authorities wanted to transport her to a hospital that served blacks, it was too risky. So Ramphele entered this world with an act of defiance, not waiting for a permit or permission.

At a time when white and black people were forbidden to share the same side of the street, baby Ramphele did not break merely his mother’s water, but his country’s deepest boundaries. Now, as he brings to American audiences fantastical tales that subvert expectations of race, mental health and ostracization, Ramphele is unpacking the many costs of apartheid back home in Africa.

“I have been befriended by lots of Jewish people in South Africa, but they refuse to acknowledge me as part of the community because of how I look.”

— Mthunzi Ramphele

His birth country’s institutionalized racism stole many things from his family, he said, including Judaism. “My great-grandpappy escaped the Holocaust by moving to South Africa. There, he fell in love with this black woman.”  The two married before the passage of the 1950 Immorality Act, a law that made interracial marriage illegal in the country. “The government said this is a law now, so your options are to leave your black spouse and all is forgiven, or to stay with your black spouse, but then you lose your status as a white man — which means you lose all your wealth, lose all your property. You basically lose everything. He was one of the few people to stay.”

Suddenly impoverished, Ramphele’s ancestors lost access to one facet of whiteness few would never expect: their Judaism. “In South Africa, we are separated by race lines, not by religious lines,” Ramphele said. Those lines encircled synagogues, which were whites-only spaces. Because his great-grandfather was no longer considered white, he was banned. “We were forced to separate from our Jewish identity.” Forcibly estranged from Judaism, the Ramphele family did what it could to hold on to its history. His father read Kaddish for his grandfather after his grandfather’s death. But because Jewish education was unavailable, so were many ways to meaningfully connect to it.

Now, as a screenwriter, Ramphele is living out Jewish values through questioning the somewhat arbitrary need of humans to divide ourselves into hierarchies. His hyper-commercial worlds of monsters and magical creatures wander on the foundation of his lived experiences of being a second-class citizen. Watching classism replace racism in South Africa and in Hollywood, Ramphele has come to a realization: “As soon as we can create a hierarchy, we will. And if we can oppress them, we will.”

As Ramphele, having lived out his dream in Hollywood, pursues his goal of recovering his Judaism, these arbitrary rules continue. “I have been befriended by lots of Jewish people in South Africa but they refuse to acknowledge me as part of the community because of how I look,” he said. He noted this is a product of South Africa’s racial divide, but his struggles to be considered a Jew, or even an ally to Judaism, continue in the United States.

Ramphele recalled a particularly uncomfortable experience with an African American Uber driver in Los Angeles. “The driver obviously didn’t know what my vibe is. First and foremost, he’s being very homophobic and sh—- and just assumes I’m going to be on his team. The next thing he says is that black people were the first Jewish people and I mean, if you’re talking about in Israel, they’re not black, but fine. But now he starts talking about the ‘new Jewish people.’ He tries to erase that history and starts saying all this anti-Semitic stuff. I’m like, why are we trying to separate suffering?”

Ramphele stands strongly against pitting minorities against one another. Regardless of who acknowledges it, he embodies a Jewish spirit in his love of provocative storytelling, both in person and on screen. Among the most interesting of his questions is: “Suffering is suffering. Why do I need to compare my suffering to yours? Why do I need to erase your history for my history to be relevant?”

Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist, and won the 2019 Bluecat Screenplay Competition. 

One Million Views on YouTube: July 2019 WSGT News

July News 2019 with We Said Go Travel:

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Did you read my article in about Scottsdale Fairmont Princess? SAVING OUR SEAS by Lisa Niver

Here is my most recent for Saving our Seas: One Staghorn Coral at a Time
VIDEO: Do You Want To Save Our Seas? Visit Angler’s Reef With Me
Thank you to Los Angeles Press Club. It was an honor to a be a finalist for the SoCal Journalism Awards for the 3rd year in a rowI was a finalist in category I-10 Lifestyle feature for Television or Film Broadcast, including online and cable TV, produced in Southern California for my segment on KTLA about Ogden, Utah.
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Lisa Niver at Los Angeles Press Club Awards 2019

Lisa Niver at Los Angeles Press Club Awards 2019, Photo by Liz H. Kelly

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Thank you to everyone who entered our 2018 Travel Photo Award.
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Katie McCormick

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Syed Mahabubul Kader

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Greg Jackson

Jase Wilson

Eduardo Armas

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Remi Bumstead

Michelle M Stephens

Lori Moreno

Jeana Schreiber

Maha Ram

Alex Gill

Ishaan Bhide

Donnie Sexton

Ivan Baxarias Doñaque

Tim Harris Jr.

Cassidy Bickmore

Saileene Marga Yu Mon

See their photos: Part one and Part two

Click here to see all the published entries. I plan to announce the winners in September 2019.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated and to our four judges!

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Lisa Niver at the Press Club Awards 2019

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Justice Ball, Friends of Sheba and CUFI

From left: Professor Michal Schnaider-Beeri from Sheba Medical Center, Soraya Nazarian, Jean Friedman and Jerry Friedman. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer

On July 14, more than 80 guests attended a sold-out breakfast salon for Friends of Sheba Medical Center at Los Angeles’ Hillcrest Country Club. 

The event featured professor Michal Schnaider-Beeri, a world leader in the study of Alzheimer’s disease and the director of the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Research Center at Sheba Medical Center.

Philanthropists Jean and Jerry Friedman, supporters of Friends of Sheba Medical Center, a Beverly Hills-based nonprofit that raises awareness and funds for Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer, hosted the breakfast. 

The gathering celebrated Sheba’s recognition by Newsweek magazine as one of the top 10 hospitals in the world.

Schnaider-Beeri’s keynote presentation focused on how Israel is positioned to become the source of preventing Alzheimer’s disease. A major focus of her research is how diabetes and the metabolic syndrome trigger dementia and Alzheimer’s. She also addressed the critical role new technologies play in the early detection of the disease. 

Guests included Dina Leeds, Soraya Nazarian, Myrtle Sitowitz, Rosalie Zalis and Alexandra Gleysteen, executive producer of Shriver Media and Maria Shriver’s Alzheimer’s nonprofit, The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.

Also attending were members of Friends of Sheba’s board of directors, including Jean Friedman, Marianne Berman, Helene and Ben Boston, Parvin Djavaheri, Dr. Harry Green, Barbara Lazaroff, Adrian Miller, Judy Flesh Rosenberg, Agi Schwartz, Judy and Aron Shapiro, Judie Stein and Lynn Ziman. 

Rising members of Friends of Sheba’s young leadership division, Sheba 2.0, joined the event, too, to learn and lend their support.

Yifat Mukades, the new Hebrew school director at Sephardic Temple. Photo courtesy of Sephardic Temple

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel has welcomed Yifat Mukades as its Hebrew school director. 

Mukades brings more than 20 years of experience in Jewish education according to the Westwood-based community.

“We are excited to announce that we have selected Yifat Mukades as our new Hebrew school director,” a statement from the congregation said. “Yifat has a master’s degree in Jewish education [from American Jewish University], with a concentration in Israel education. She has extensive experience in teaching Judaic studies and Hebrew, and will be joining our Hebrew school full of energy, out of the box ideas, and love for teaching our children.”

Born and raised in Israel, Mukades previously spent 20 years working in advertising as a media director for large companies around the globe. For the past three years, she has served as the assistant director of Valley Beth Shalom’s Etz Chaim Learning Center.

“She always brings her Israeli upbringing and experience to bear when teaching her students,” the Sephardic Temple website says.

She currently resides in Thousand Oaks.

From left: Reverend Peter De Jesus and Karmel Melamed.
Photo courtesy of Sephardic Temple

More than two dozen Latino Christian pastors and leaders gathered on July 15 at the Latin American Bible Institute college in La Puente for the first in a series of pro-Israel speaking events organized by Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest pro-Israel organization in the country.

The event, titled “Why Israel?” was led by CUFI’s National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator, Rev. Peter De Jesus, who said the gathering was just the first in a series of events that was geared toward encouraging Southern California’s Latino Christian community to support Israel and fight growing anti-Semitism in the country. 

 “Together, we shared why it is imperative that we Christians stand in solidarity with the State of Israel and the Jewish people in Israel, the U.S. and beyond amidst the growth of anti-Semitism in the Middle East, our own nation, and around the world,” De Jesus said. 

Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist Karmel Melamed also spoke to the crowd about the violent anti-Semitism Iranian Jewry has faced at the hands of Iran’s ayatollahs since 1979 and the growing threats to Israel and America’s security from the Iranian regime.

De Jesus said CUFI will host the group’s second annual bilingual “Night to Honor Israel” in late September at a Compton church where both Jewish community and multiethnic Christians in the Los Angeles area will be invited to celebrate their common support for Israel.

— Karmel Melamed

Calabasas teenager Lindsay Lipman was named a recipient of the Jewish Sports Heritage Association’s (JSHA) Michael Freedman Outstanding Jewish High School Athlete of the Year Award.

Lipman, a 2019 graduate of Viewpoint School, was a four-year starter on her
school’s varsity soccer team. She was the captain as a junior and senior, and her
team won the league title two consecutive years. This fall, she will play for
NCAA Division III Washington University in St. Louis.

The JSHA educates about the role Jewish men and women play in sports. Its 2020 Jewish High School Athletes of the Year, announced last month, also include Estee Ackerman of Yeshiva University High School for Girls in New York.

The two will receive their awards during the JSHA 2020 induction ceremony on April 26 at Temple Israel of Lawrence in New York.

From left: Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council Executive Committee members Alex Menenberg, Ari Stiller, Kim Chemerinsky, David Mark, Harry Rimalower, Ava Badiee, and Andrew Hendel. Photo by Tiffany Koury/ABImagescil

Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council hosted the 23rd annual Justice Ball on July 13 at Poppy in West Hollywood. 

More than 400 young professionals spent the night on the dance floor entertained by guest DJs Denise Love Hewett, Madame Gandhi, Classixx and Fred Matters. 

The event raised more than $125,000 to benefit Bet Tzedek’s work to provide free legal services to Los Angeles’ most vulnerable individuals. “Bet Tzedek attorneys and advocates help people of all communities and generations secure life’s necessities,” according to the Bet Tzedek website. “Wherever people are in crisis, Bet Tzedek’s core services and rapid response programs provide stability and hope.”

Attendees included Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council Executive Committee members Alex Menenberg, Ari Stiller, Kim Chemerinsky, David Mark, Harry Rimalower, Ava Badiee and Andrew Hendel.

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Engaging Emerging Jewish Professionals

Bradley Caro Cook founded Career Up Now to engage emerging professionals ages 18-26 through career advancement, unique experiences and social good. He holds daily back-to-back meetings with potential partners, active collaborators, philanthropists and friends about their shared passions: entrepreneurship, Israel, Los Angeles and the Jewish people. 

Born in Atlanta, Cook moved to Israel in 2012 and then returned to the United States, settling in Los Angeles in 2015. His limitless enthusiasm is a necessity, given the depth and breadth of his work. He also leads Birthright Israel trips; is an adviser for IsraAid; designed the Masa Innovation Forum; launched Women of Wisdom gender equity programs; and partnered with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a healthcare and medicine cohort with support from Glazer Philanthropies, among other things.

Cook says Career Up Now has engaged 2,000 people in Los Angeles over the past three years and is growing its programs in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. And, yes, that “Caro” in his name is a nod to Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the “Shulchan Arukh,” the codification of Jewish law, and his ancestor.

Jewish Journal: You’re very proud of your connection to Rabbi Yosef Caro. How have you been impacted by this connection?

Bradley Caro Cook: I read the “Kitzur Shulchan Arukh” (the abbreviated code of Jewish law codified by Caro) and found such power in the words there that it lit up my soul. I felt this eternal, soulful connection to waking up with gratitude and saying Modeh Ani (the morning prayer). [After reading it] I had a direct link to my ancestor. It was like an angel came down and gave over that Torah and I was actually living it. My core motivation is to make an impact for the Jewish people and for Israel. Caro did so much good for the Jewish people and I’m using Career Up Now as a vehicle to bring good into the world.  

JJ: What was the founding goal of Career Up Now? Has it changed?

BCC: Career Up Now was just focused on college students connecting with industry leaders. Now the question is how do we manage a community that’s over 3,000 people with just that one person? We’ve adopted an intentional community model through Hazon’s Hakhel three-year incubator initiative. We’re shifting the local bases and turning them into intentional communities at the intersection of career advancement, Jewish learning and mentorship.

Growth hacking is a strategy used by high-tech companies to rapidly acquire new users for their products. It’s worked so well for them, I decided that we should use this approach to strengthen Jewish engagement.


JJ: Can you share an example of a successful Career Up Now project?

BCC: We got a grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to do a cohort in Beverly Hills at the intersection of civic responsibility and applied Jewish wisdom. The project that came out from the student leaders of that cohort is what is now the City of Beverly Hills Entrepreneurship Incubator. Now we’re in our fourth cohort.  

JJ: What is growth hacking and how have you used it to grow Career Up Now?

BCC: Growth hacking is a strategy used by high-tech companies to rapidly acquire new users for their products. It’s worked so well for them, I decided that we should use this approach to strengthen Jewish engagement. I first dabbled in growth hacking when I created a program for Birthrighters to extend [their time] in Israel to have informational interviews with Israeli industry leaders. I had three months to recruit 200 mentors. I sent hundreds of LinkedIn messages and recruited 300 industry leaders within a month and a half. That program was adapted to a U.S.-based program and became Career Up Now. 

When I arrived in L.A., I knew no one and had to recruit 150 industry leaders in a three-month period for a micro-grant we received from the Jewish Federation. I put on my growth hacker hoodie, jumped on LinkedIn to see who was interested in serving on nonprofit boards, wrote advanced Boolean searches to see who was Jewish and got a 25% positive response rate. I’ve been able to recruit 1,600 members to join as mentors. Now I have organizations asking me locally and globally if I can do the same thing for them. It’s opened up a lot of doors to collaborate and do good.  

JJ: As Career Up Now’s sole full-time staff person, how do you find time to oversee all of these initiatives?

BCC: I have to give credit to my co-founder, Rabbi Adam Grossman, who operates quietly part time behind the scenes, and my wife, Tanya Freeman, who coaches local communities. The truth is, it’s my disability that enables me to do so much. I was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) at 5 years old. So, I rely a lot on technology and automation to streamline what I do. The key for me is to stay occupied in many different things and devote small periods of time to each. I operate by jumping from project to project to project, working quickly and getting it all done. 

JJ: What’s changed for you since you started Career Up Now?

BCC: My mission and vision is: How can I impact millions of people in a positive way?  So now I’m creating technologies around how to help Jewish and Israeli nonprofits through growth hacking. I made a promise to God that I’d dedicate the rest of my life to serving the Jewish people and Israel, and our people need help. 

JJ: How do you measure the impact of Career Up Now?

BCC: We measure impact by surveying how our community members incorporate Jewish wisdom into their lives and how they interact with the Jewish community. One student from our environmental and sustainability cohort, who self-identified as having “no current Jewish engagement,” wrote, “I learned at CUN that the value of not taking credit for what’s good was a Jewish value. That’s what every day guides my environmental engineering work. Now every day when I’m at work, I feel I’m Jewish all the time, and that’s a huge statement as an atheist of Jewish descent.” 

Because of his time with CUN, he’s holistically pursuing his passions through his Judaism. Through growth hacking, we are able to engage those deemed unreachable and have an immediate impact on Jews who now feel connected Jewishly. And that’s huge. We hope to work with more Jewish organizations on this approach. It’s very effective and easy to do.

Middle Eastern Jews Respond to Former Miss Iraq’s Support for Israel

Rabbi Reif Melhado, Rabbi at Kahal Joseph Congregation, an Iraqi synagogue pictured with Sarah Idan, right, Miss Iraq 2017

Former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan found herself embroiled in controversy when she posted a photo of herself and Miss Israel  — Adar Gandelsman  — on Instagram during the November 2017 Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas. The caption read: “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.”  

Idan subsequently fled her home in Iraq after receiving death threats. A dual American-Iraqi citizen, Idan currently resides in the United States. However, now the Iraqi government is considering rescinding her Iraqi citizenship after Idan spoke last month at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, advocating Iraq make peace with Israel. 

In the 1950s, the Iraqi government stripped 150,000 Iraqi Jews of their citizenship, which forced virtually all of them to flee. In Los Angeles, it’s difficult to walk three steps without crossing paths with some of the most active and loyal Israel advocates, and many of them, like Idan, hail from the Middle East. So how do these locals feel about Idan’s pronouncements?

Jimmy Delshad, former mayor of Beverly Hills, who was born in Iran, was surprised that Idan put her life in jeopardy to show her support for peace with Israel. “I am very proud of her. I commend her [for having] so much courage to do what she did,” he said. “It’s not easy … I salute her.” 

He added, “It’s really not surprising that [the Iraqi government] wants to punish her because they want to punish anyone that shows closeness to Israel.” 

Delshad, who lived in Israel for a year when he was 16, and whose wife, Lonnie, was born in Israel, said that he visits frequently and has a lot of family there. “I loved Israel, I still do.”

He said people should encourage non-Israelis and non-Jews to be vocal because of organizations like J Street, which, he said, “pretend to be friends of Israel.”  He added that having non-Jewish advocates for Israel shows more credibility and creates more “noise.” 

Isaac Dayan, a first-generation American whose father was born in Iran and whose mother was born in Israel to Iranian parents, is the former vice president of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Santa Monica College (SMC), and the former internal vice president of SSI at UCLA. He said, “No matter how much noise we make — and we can make noise — we could never reach the ears of the international community and make as deep of an impact [without them].” 

He also spoke of the importance of having non-Jewish and even Muslim advocates for Israel. At UCLA, his committee had to handle an altercation at a joint SMC and UCLA event titled “Indigenous People Unite.” Dayan said Students for Justice in Palestine members stormed the event forcing the SSI students to shut down the gathering.

“As a Persian Jew, I feel it is important for our community to get more involved with advocacy in the pro-Israel movement,” he said.  “We are one of the most recent examples of what happens to us when our host country turns its back against us.” 

Hirmand Daniel Sarafian, a Persian-Kurdish Jew, was also surprised by Idan’s advocacy for peace with Israel. Sarafian, who was the National SSI Activist of the Year in 2018 and the former SSI president at UCLA, said, “To have someone on the global stage acting as a face for a country that doesn’t even recognize the existence of Israel advocate for peace with Israel isn’t exactly a normal occurrence.” 

“Israel was founded on the basis of people needing a safe place to go where they would not be persecuted, imprisoned and killed based on their identity. Granting Ms. Idan asylum [there] would certainly bring things full circle.” — Isaac Dayan

YULA Girls High School graduate Devorah Balakhaneh is an ardent Israel advocate, having studied Israel advocacy in high school and then spent a year in Israel after her graduation volunteering at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem. While studying at Santa Monica College, she kick-started the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, where she said the students are predominately Sephardic/Persian.  

While Balakhaneh was born here, her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Iran with her two older sisters. “I’m floored when I hear anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from governmental bodies but I also grew up hearing stories of the anti-Semitism my parents faced while living in Iran,” she said. “My parents were forced to leave their home country because of their religion and beliefs but [they] carry the tradition and language.” 

Rabbi Raif Melhado of the majority-Iraqi congregation at Kahal Joseph Congregation in Westwood said he was not surprised by Idan’s advocacy for peace with Israel. “Despite what the naysayers argue … who wouldn’t be moved by the joyful return of an oppressed people to their ancestral homeland?” he said.

The Illinois-born rabbi is of Portuguese descent, but he stressed the similarity between his ancestors and the Iraqi Jews that came to the U.S. Although Melhado’s children are seventh-generation Americans, he has strong connections to the history of the Jewish people, specifically Sephardic Jews. 

Melhado met Idan at an event called “The Untold Stories: Jewish Refugees From Arab Lands and Iran” at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in December, a tribute to the Nov. 30 date established in 2014 by the Israeli government to commemorate the exile of Sephardic Jews from Arab countries and Iran. Melhado introduced his Baghdadi congregants to Idan and said they spoke to one another peacefully in Arabic. “This is what most people want to be able to do,” Melhado said.

Although Idan currently lives in California, Dayan said Israel should provide her with a safe haven if she so desired. “Israel was founded on the basis of people needing a safe place to go where they would not be persecuted, imprisoned and killed based on their identity,” he said. “Granting Ms. Idan asylum would certainly bring things full circle.”

Michelle Naim is a senior studying English with a concentration in journalism at Stern College for Women in Manhattan and a Jewish Journal summer intern.

Local Jewish Organizations Prepare for Earthquakes

Following Southern California’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 4 and a 7.1 earthquake on July 5, Jewish schools, synagogues and organizations around Los Angeles are taking extra precautions to prepare for additional temblors and other natural disasters. 

American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Emergency Preparedness Educator and Public Information Officer Naomi Goldman told the Journal, “We can’t predict or prevent all these natural disasters, but there are things people can do to make them better prepared to survive a disaster.” 

The Red Cross proposes three simple steps to prepare for emergency disasters: 

1. Put together a kit containing supplies for at least three days, including a gallon of water per person per day, nonperishable food, a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, medications and copies of important documents, such as identification papers, bank account records and insurance policies. 

2. Make a plan in case you’re separated from your family and propose what to do if you need to evacuate. 

3. Be informed about possible disasters and emergencies that may occur depending on where you live and work, and take first aid, CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) courses to be prepared if help is delayed. 

“We are overdue for a large earthquake and we have no real meaningful predictor to know when it’s going to happen,” Goldman said. “All I can say is use the time you have now [to prepare].”

The Journal also spoke with a number of local Jewish organizations to see what steps they have undertaken in preparation for the “big one.” 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

“This federation and our building on Wilshire Boulevard were devastated in the [1994 Northridge] earthquake,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson said. “The building, when it was rebuilt, was seismically retrofitted and [it’s] as safe as any building could be in the city during an earthquake. Over seven years ago, our federation created the Community Security Initiative (CSI), which is designed to keep the Jewish community safe from all kinds of threats, and as part of that initiative, we created an early-warning system and a communications system. Earthquake preparedness is unique because it’s connected to the structure in which you work. [It’s] something that you have to build in.” 

To protect the 300 people who work in the building on any given day, Sanderson ensures staff participate in periodic training and “we have taken all the steps that we could when we built this [new] building to make it as safe as possible.”

Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) 

“We worked hard on establishing an emergency response procedure that includes earthquakes … and [we do] trainings with students, children and staff on what the procedure is, how to prepare, what to do in case of an earthquake,” Westside JCC Executive Director Brian Greene said. “It’s part of being in school; it’s very natural for them.” 

In case of emergency, the JCC has established multiple advanced security measures, such as “a building-wide public address system, a communications system to be able to reach parents — it’s a web-based system, so we can get to it from anywhere — and an emergency texting system to all of our staff,” Greene said.  “You can’t live in Southern California and not put a high priority on earthquake preparedness.” 

Temple Beth Am

To protect the 500 people in its building throughout the day, Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld said, “We have an active safety and security team … and they are thinking about the entire campus and its readiness for all sorts of emergencies. While living in California, you’re always nervous about potential earthquakes. It hasn’t been on the radar so much in the last few years, yet the last set of earthquakes has raised our attention to it and it’s going to be a focus moving forward — listening to best practices out there for securing a building and also specifically what to do when the building is most full. We’re at the cusp of beginning to explore that.” 

B’nai David-Judea 

“After this recent [earthquake], we notified the congregants via email of the authority guidelines that are out there in multiple documents — stop, drop and cover — and we made them applicable to our facility,” Security Committee Chairman Lawrence Handman said. “We have professional security guards, numerous physicians [in our congregation], first aid kits around the building, and [volunteers who will] notify what’s happening, assess the circumstances and lead [evacuations if necessary].

“We have mobile phones in strategic locations in the building. We’re an Orthodox synagogue so many people don’t carry their phones. And we do have evacuation drills from time to time.” 

Milken Community Schools

“We continuously maintain and monitor our emergency preparedness supplies and the structural integrity of our facilities,” Director of Operations and Safety Nathan Humphreys said in an email. Humphreys added that it’s crucial to “[solidify] a communications and emergency response plan in order to swiftly and deliberately respond in an emergency. Having emergency supplies on hand to sustain students, staff, faculty and the campus in a disaster is paramount. Periodic inspections of these supplies are conducted as items expire.” 

With a total of 950 people in the building per day, Milken ensures that preparedness drills are conducted on a consistent basis to engage students and faculty in the safety of the school, but “we will be increasing the frequency [of] our education efforts regarding earthquake preparedness,” Humphreys said. 

Shalhevet High School

“We undertook a project to make sure we have enough emergency supplies in the event of an earthquake for [the 280] students and faculty who could be on campus during such an event,” Chief Operating Officer Sarah Emerson said in an email. The supplies, which include emergency lighting, food, water, hygiene and comfort supplies, “are kept in accessible areas and are monitored for expiration,” Emerson added. In the new Shalhevet building, earthquake, fire and lockdown drills are conducted regularly. “In light of the most recent earthquakes, we plan to include earthquake education in our faculty orientation programming,” Emerson said. “[We] are constantly looking for ways to improve our security in consultation with experts.” 

YULA Boys High School 

“In response to the two earthquakes that recently took place, we’re thankful that no one was hurt here, and our leadership team is revisiting our emergency protocol to make sure that everything is up to date,” Head of School Rabbi Arye Sufrin said. “We’re increasing our emergency supplies and making sure that [they] have not expired. This year at orientation, there will be a focal point on making sure that everyone is up to date on our emergency procedures. … The ideal plan is that we should only ever have to practice these drills.” 

For more information from the Red Cross on how to build an emergency kit, visit the website. 

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

Message to Immigrants: ‘You Aren’t Alone’

An overcrowded fenced area holding families at Border Patrol McAllen Station is seen in a still image from video in McAllen, Texas, on June 10, 2019. Picture pixelated at source. Office of Inspector General/DHS/Handout via REUTERS

The rideshare dropped me off 15 minutes early at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles. Already, there were hundreds of people standing in witness. There would be thousands by the Lights for Liberty vigil’s end.

A voice filled the air, that of a black woman backed by a choir: “Won’t let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. Won’t let nobody turn me around, got to keep on walking, keep on talking, marching to the freedom land.”

The light began to turn ruddy, caressing our faces with its blush. We were there for the people held in the tower behind us and in camps at the border and deep within our country; for children who don’t understand why they are not allowed to brush their teeth, why they are always hungry, why their parents no longer come when they call. For the children who have stopped calling.

We heard the testimony of a young woman whose parents had come to this country in desperation, without documentation, who is now an immigration attorney giving back through our justice system. We heard a teenage boy who said he did not know that he could be as cold as he became all those nights sleeping on a concrete floor, curled around his younger brother, trying to keep the child warm. This young man whose family found him and who is now in school has his own dream of becoming a lawyer — or, perhaps, a U.S. fighter pilot.

This testimony touched stories and memories within my Jewish soul.

We heard from a child psychiatrist who assured us that the brains of traumatized children will always be marked. They will never be the people they might have been had they not endured the bewildering terror of being herded into packed pens of human beings; of inhaling for days and weeks the smell of human beings denied sufficient water to wash or sanitary napkins to contain their blood; of learning to accept hunger as a constant, nights of fitful, haunted sleep, and the realization that it’s better not to complain, because complaining could mean that someone will take away some meager comfort, like a Mylar blanket that had been given provisionally, not for care but for something to lose. She spoke of people handled and warehoused like detritus to be stored in advance of disposal.

This testimony touched stories and memories within my Jewish soul.

It was Friday, so Shabbat was approaching. Just before sundown, in those last hours when public grief was permitted, my friend Rabbi Susan Goldberg invited us to let in the truth. To allow the horror and outrage, the pain that right then reverberated out of the detention center, out of the camps, to touch our souls. To feel the loss of each of the 24 human beings who have died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since President Donald Trump took office. Muslim writer Sarah Alkutb spoke the names of each of the dead, and we responded:

Roxana Hernandez. Presente!

Kamyar Samimi. Presente!

Carlos Bonilla. Presente! Abel Reyes-Clemente, Medina Leon, Mariee Juarez … they are here!

Then it was time to call in Shabbat. Goldberg asked me to light the candles. All those gathered raised our candles high (battery powered candles for safety). And something extraordinary happened. Through the slits of window in the tower that rose above our heads, we saw lights flickering in answer. “No estan solos,” we cried, “You are not alone!”

Later, a group of Jews circled to pray the Shema and the Mourner’s Kaddish and to share why we were there. Each of us had an ancestor who had come to the U.S. as a migrant or refugee, fleeing pogroms or the Shoah or simply poverty. One man’s grandfather had been born in a detention camp just after World War II. We remembered the MS St. Louis, a boatload of Jewish refugees from the Shoah who were denied entry and sent back to Europe to die.

We prayed to be the neighbors our ancestors had prayed to find.

Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches Jewish thought at California State Long Beach. 

Anti-Semitism ‘Call to Action,’ IAC Networking Event

From left: Israelis Lati Grobman, Dani Menkin and Alon Aboutboul discussed their professional Hollywood experiences during an event convened by the Israeli American Council. Photo by Pal Photography

The Israeli American Council (IAC) Arts and Entertainment Network, a new group of Israeli and Jewish Americans who work in the film industry, held a July 2 event at Sam Gonen’s Hollywood home, allowing industry professionals to mingle, get to know one another and discuss possible collaborations.

The three speakers at “From Israel to La La Land” were Israeli producer Lati Grobman, Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul and Israeli writer-director Dani Menkin. They shared their Hollywood stories with a group of some 40 eager listeners.

Aboutboul was a successful actor in Israel before moving to Los Angeles 10 years ago. Since then, he has appeared in a few big-budget films, including “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Body of Lies.”

The 54-year-old noted how the industry had changed since he started his career as a young actor.

“I went to this party last night and there was an 18-year-old producer with some impressive credits to his name. The world is evolving and changing,” he said. “Today, kids with smartphones are making movies — and good ones, too.”

Grobman told the new filmmakers in town, “Be humble. One of the mistakes some actors make is that they feel they deserve it all, that the world revolves around their dreams to become a star, and it deters people from wanting to help them. I’m always happy to help people and open doors to those I feel connected with. What they do with it, it’s their own decision and journey.”

Menkin, who also has directed documentaries in Israel, said that “moving to Hollywood made me grow as a writer and director. It’s moving to see the success of my fellow Israeli filmmakers here. We all want to succeed for ourselves, but I also feel like we are ambassadors to the place we came from.”
— Ayala Or-El

Rabbi Joel Nickerson

Rabbi Joel Nickerson has joined the clergy team of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT), according to a July 5 announcement by the congregation.

Nickerson previously served as an associate rabbi at Temple Isaiah, where, through creative, contemporary approaches to Judaism such as hip-hop-inspired Shabbat services, “he developed an enthusiastic and devoted congregation over the past eight years,” the WBT announcement said. 

Prior to his stint with Temple Isaiah, he served as rabbi and senior Jewish educator at the University of Pennsylvania, a rabbinic intern at Valley Beth Shalom and as Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow at the Hillel at Stanford University.

Nickerson, who with his wife, Julia, has three daughters, holds a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a Reform seminary.

His first Shabbat with WBT was on July 5, where he joined Cantor Lisa Peicott for the community’s open-air Shabbat service. The two have announced “Rooftop Ruach,” a “casual, open-air Shabbat and dinner,” which will held at WBT’s Glazer campus in Koreatown on July 26 and Aug. 16., according to the WBT website. 

“Joel is a caring and experienced rabbi, an engaging and personable leader whose innovative approach to prayer, programming and small-group organizing will be powerful additions to the temple’s offering,” the WBT announcement said. “He will establish programs and build relationships throughout the temple’s many communities with an initial focus on the Glazer Campus schools, adult learners and worship.”

The fifth annual Tomchei Golf Classic and Dinner was held on July 1 at Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The event featured a golf tournament, giveaways, contests, raffles and a gourmet barbecue lunch, along with a wine tasting, entertainment and an open bar.

The gathering benefited Tomchei LA, which helps the Jewish needy of Los Angeles “by providing a variety of
family services with the utmost level of dignity and discretion,” the organization’s website says.

Attendees included Tomchei President Yona Landau, Tomchei Chief Financial Officer Yosef Manela and Tomchei Executive Director Schneur Braunstein. Manela, who runs the professional accounting corporation Manela & Company, sponsored the event.

“Thank you, Yossi Manela, for being our title sponsor,” a Tomchei statement said. “None of this could happen without you and we are truly so grateful for all that you do! Thanks for being such a huge part of Tomchei LA!”

Tomchei, which was founded in 1978, provides food assistance to families every week the day before Shabbat.

CPA Yosef Manela (center) was the main sponsor of the fifth annual Tomchei
Golf Classic and Dinner.
Photo from Facebook

The Sinai Temple Israel Center and American Friends of Tel Aviv University, in partnership with Sinai Temple’s Men’s Club, held a discussion on July 2 at the synagogue titled “Fighting Anti-Semitism and Racism: A Call To Action.”

The speaker was Dina Porat, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University (TAU), head of the TAU Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry and the chief historian of Yad Vashem.

Addressing more than 150 attendees, Porat spoke about the importance of Holocaust remembrance at a time of increased anti-Semitism.

“With anti-Semitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten,” she said.

Sinai Temple Men’s Club acting President Farshad Rafii delivered the welcoming remarks.
Rayna Zborovsky

Tel Aviv University Professor Emeritus Dina Porat (center) spoke about anti-Semitism at Sinai Temple. Photo by Star Sargenti

The Sinai Temple Israel Center and American Friends of Tel Aviv University, in partnership with Sinai Temple’s Men’s Club, held a discussion on July 2 at the synagogue titled “Fighting Anti-Semitism and Racism: A Call To Action.”

The speaker was Dina Porat, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University (TAU), head of the TAU Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry and the chief historian of Yad Vashem.

Addressing more than 150 attendees, Porat spoke about the importance of Holocaust remembrance at a time of increased anti-Semitism.

“With anti-Semitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten,” she said.

Sinai Temple Men’s Club acting President Farshad Rafii delivered the welcoming remarks.
Rayna Zborovsky

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Jazz Singer Jesse Palter Leaves ‘Paper Trail’ With Debut Album

Jesse Palter; Photos by Anna Webber

Jewish jazz and pop singer-songwriter Jesse Palter has just released her debut jazz-folk-pop album, “Paper Trail.” The singer, who admits to being “30-something,” said the album is an objective she’s been working toward for nearly two decades. 

“Clearly, I’m an overnight sensation,” she joked. “I’m just now finally starting to get to my next phase of my career and get to make music that I believe in.”

Bitten by the performance bug at a young age, the Detroit-area native said her parents have always supported her — through rehearsals and voice lessons, and acting as her cheering squad during school productions. By the time she turned 13, they realized her passion for music was more than a “cute little hobby.”

Palter started writing songs and performing covers and original music in historic venues large and small throughout Detroit. She caught the attention of the late singer-songwriter Andrew Gold (known for the 1970s hits “Lonely Boy” and “Thank You For Being a Friend”), who took her under his wing. 

Whether she was singing in Detroit or performing as a cantorial soloist at her synagogue, Palter said she did whatever she could to absorb music history and experiences. While most kids her age were spending time at the mall, Palter said, “I was performing jazz in clubs that the Funk Brothers and Martha Reeves performed at. I wasn’t old enough to drink yet. [My mom and I] would be the only two Jewish women in the Eastern Market [area of Detroit] singing jazz music at 3 in the morning.”

As she grew musically, Palter had the opportunity to perform with Grammy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer, jazz bassist Christian McBride, Israeli jazz musician Avishai Cohen and jazz trumpeters Sean Jones and Marcus Belgrave.

She also connected with the Detroit music producing team Mark and Jeff Bass. Rather than sign with the Bass Brothers (who helped groom Detroit rapper Eminem), she turned down their offer and enrolled in the music program at the University of Michigan.

“Paper Trail” album cover

“I wanted to be a credible musician,” Palter said. “I didn’t want to be just another chick singer. It was important to me to be respected and have musical theoretical knowledge.”

Palter eventually went on to perform bigger gigs and connected with songwriter-producer Sam Barsh, known for writing over 100 songs for musicians including Aloe Blacc, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak and Logic. Together, they created Palter Ego productions to continue their jazz careers together before moving to Los Angeles in 2010.  

 “I wanted to be a credible musician. I didn’t want to be just another chick singer. It was important to me to be respected and have musical theoretical knowledge.” — Jesse Palter

“It made sense for us to be in a city — working together, collaborating together — that didn’t feel like it had a ceiling to it,” Palter said. “Detroit is an amazing place to grow up and be a musician and I got all the amazing training. As far as connecting the dots with career moves, there’s still a ceiling, so Los Angeles was the right move.”

Palter said the pressure to succeed crept up on her countless times and she would be lying if she said she hadn’t thought about quitting. 

“It’s truly, truly hard. At the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I don’t think I picked being a singer or a songwriter or an artist — I think it chose me. I sometimes think, ‘Maybe I should try something a little more stable,’ but there are ups and downs and I’ve known that since I was a teenager. … It’s how I navigate my life; it’s how I process what I’m going through. You just have to figure out how to make it work.”

But once she moved to L.A., Palter said her music network grew exponentially. She had a solid stream of jazz gigs around L.A., even singing alongside actor and jazz enthusiast Jeff Goldblum. That led to her opening for her idol, Carole King. 

Meeting King was a pivotal moment for Palter, who was raised on King, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.

Palter said “Paper Trail” was heavily influenced by “Carole King, Joni Mitchell, all the great singer-songwriters, the people who were really crafting songs and stories and there were no throwaways, nothing was gimmicky. It was about the stories and the melodies and the lyrics and the chord changes. They all worked in tandem to create a beautiful song.” 

One of the songs on her album that she cites as being close to her heart is “Goodbye My Friend,” because of its bittersweet backstory.

“The day that I signed my record deal, my aunt, who was a brilliant, brilliant artist, she took her own life,” Palter said. “That was really hard on me. ‘Goodbye My Friend’ was written about my friend who was struggling with alcoholism and I had a dream that he died. …When I went to record it, it became very much about what I was going through with my aunt and I was extremely emotional. … We were recording it one take through, completely live, and you can even hear at the end my voice cracked.” 

In addition to letting her music be her therapeutic guide, Palter also goes to therapy and wants to incorporate mental illness and trauma into her music so that the stigma behind it can disappear. 

“I think we’d all be better off if we could talk about it,” she said. “My journey, even to trying to make it in the music industry, I wouldn’t have been able to do if I wasn’t totally open with what I was going through. I gotta throw it all into the music.”

“Paper Trail” is available on Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. Learn more on her website.

The 80-Plus Generation

The 16 seniors profiled in these pages are inspiring examples of how to stay active and engaged as we age. When putting this issue together, we received an overwhelming response from the community. Unfortunately, we could not feature everyone, but those selected reflect a wide cross section of our amazing Jewish senior citizens in Los Angeles. — Ryan Torok

Click on the links below to read about our 16 amazing Jewish senior citizens:

Trudie Strobel, 82 

Martin Sturman, 86

Bertha Schneider, 87 

Lester Helmus, 90

Eileen Greene, 90

Stanford Sanoff, 93

Joe Witt, 82

Caroline Rauchwarger, 95 

Rabbi Israel Hirsch, 86

Dorothy Salkin, 84

George Epstein, 92

Jackie Fromm, 96

Asher Aramnia, 83

Jean Katz, 87

Hy Arnesty, 96

Margie Monroe, 80 

Combining Discussion with Dessert

Dorothy Salkin. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Salkin

Dorothy Salkin, 84

Dorothy Salkin has been an integral part of the Los Angeles Jewish community for almost 60 years. She sits on Women & Philanthropy at UCLA board and is vice president of the Women’s Guild Cedars-Sinai. 

“I have always wanted to devote my life to something for the Jewish community, for helping other people and for tikkun olam, making the world a better place,” Salkin said.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Salkin was voted “the busiest girl in the senior class” in high school and was elected vice mayor of Cincinnati during Girls Week.

After receiving her master’s degree in social work from Ohio State University, Salkin worked for the Cincinnati Jewish Center as the director of its teenage program. It was during a staff trip to the Centro Deportivo Israelita (the Jewish Sports Center) in Mexico in 1961 that she decided to visit family in Los Angeles. During her stay, her aunt and uncle encouraged her to go out and meet people, so she attended a lecture on jurisprudence by tax attorney Bruce Hochman and found herself sitting next to “a gorgeous, tall, dark, handsome hunk named Avram Salkin, and the rest is history.”

“We are seven months down the road and have had a ChaiVillageLA discussion and dessert with really interesting subjects, ranging from politics to sex.”

They married in1962 and had two children, Valerie, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, and Ken, who has blessed them with twin grandchildren. “I never dreamed in a million years that I would end up in California and have the privilege of having such a wonderful husband, my soul mate, my love, and successful children and be able to do what I’ve been able to do in the community,” Salkin said.

A member of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, it was Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron who suggested she get involved with  ChaiVillageLA, which allows people to remain in their homes and communities as they age.

“This is really a fine program and it does something for older adults that is really interesting, and I thought I could be helpful,” Salkin said.

She met with Temple Emanuel Rabbi Laura Geller and the ChaiVillageLA program chairs and proposed a program called “Discussion and Dessert,” which would take place one Sunday a month in a different home. Each host would choose the subject and Salkin would find a speaker for each event. 

“We are seven months down the road and have had a ChaiVillageLA discussion and dessert with really interesting subjects, ranging from politics to sex,” Salkin said. 

This year, Salkin and her husband will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary, and they’re looking forward to the b’nai mitzvah of their grandchildren in 2020.

Salkin continues to take everything in stride. “You make time for what is important to you, and for a Jewish person, I am happy that I have the energy and the desire and the excitement of doing this,” she said.  “It is a pleasure and a joy and I hope that I can do it to 120.”

The Jewish Chaplain

Rabbi Israel HIrsch. Photo by Shawn Rodgers

Rabbi Israel Hirsch, 86

For over 40 years, Rabbi Israel Hirsch has served as a chaplain, helping police officers and their families in the Los Angeles area.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1933 (the year Hitler came to power), Hirsch’s family left the country after his father was taken to a concentration camp on the night of Kristallnacht and detained for a month. In 1939, two weeks before World War II began, Hirsch, together with his mother and three siblings, escaped to England and were in London during the Blitz. They were evacuated to the countryside, where they lived with an Anglican priest and his wife.

During this period, Hirsch’s father made it to the United States and wanted his family to join him. Unfortunately, the U.S. was not allowing many immigrants in, so Hirsch’s mother wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt and somehow managed to get 200 Orthodox Jews onto a troop ship in the middle of the war. 

After arriving in New York, the family spent three days on Ellis Island. “I was 9 years old at the time and considered an enemy alien by the FBI and we were interrogated,” Hirsch said.

“I happen to be a Jewish chaplain and I do Jewish funerals for officers but I am required to serve all officers and their families.”

Hirsch later attended college, where he minored in contemporary Jewish studies and psychology. He decided to become a rabbi in 1949 after traveling to Israel and learning in a seminary in Jerusalem.

In 1954, Hirsch was drafted into the U.S. Army and served for two years. Because he spoke German, he was sent to Germany and worked as an interrogator for military intelligence. 

Hirsch met his wife, Phyllis, in 1966. They married in 1967, moved to Los Angeles, had four children and today have 26 grandchildren. 

After retiring in the 1980s, Hirsch became part of the L.A. Crisis Response Team started by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It was during this time that someone suggested he become a chaplain. “I wanted to give back to the community and thought it was a nice idea as I can also help out Jews,” he said. 

In 2006, Hirsch became attached to the North Hollywood police station. Since then, he has become part of the police advisory board for chaplains and is involved mostly with ceremonial duties, including graduations of police officers. “As a chaplain, it has to do not only with Jewish police officers. I happen to be a Jewish chaplain and I do Jewish funerals for officers, but I am required to serve all officers and their families,” Hirsch said. 

Since becoming a chaplain, Hirsch has received many accolades, including the Los Angeles Police Department’s Saint Michael Award for Chaplain of the Year. And he seems in no hurry to slow down. “Thank God I am healthy,” he said. “As long as I can, I’d like to continue doing this because once you retire and you sit and do nothing, you go downhill.”

SOLIKA’s Modest Fashions

Chaya Israily, left, and Sarah Elharrar. Photo courtesy of SOLIKA

Sarah Elharrar and Chaya Israily, both 27, always have been interested in fashion. The Los Angeles friends grew up in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and worked at Bais Chaya Mushka Chabad in Pico-Robertson, running extracurricular and after-school programs.

While they enjoyed their work, they became Increasingly frustrated by the lack of modest and fashionable items available to them in stores. Then, in 2013, after tweaking their clothing and making their own designs for years, they decided it was time to go into business on their own and launch their modest women’s clothing line, SOLIKA. 

Today, they sell their dresses and separates in 50 stores around the world as well as online. The Journal caught up with the designers to talk about their success and the vision for their brand. 

Jewish Journal: Can you expand a bit on how SOLIKA came about?

Sarah Elharrar: I’d go to stores and buy two of the same dress, put them together, and make one modest dress. I designed my own bat mitzvah dress. I loved sketching during class, creating designs and putting fabrics together. Chaya and I would always wear matching clothes.  

Chaya Israily: We both had a love for fashion and also good taste and a good eye. [In 2013], there was nothing in the modest community. Now there are so many modest Jewish brands. Back then people were wearing shells (a type of shirt Orthodox women wear under their clothes) and skirts under their clothes. Because we liked classy minimalistic clothing, we didn’t want to wear those or compromise on looking trendy. 

SE: We went to downtown L.A.’s fashion district and we saw this guy on the street. We had no clue who he was but we asked him where we could get a pattern done. We followed him for 15 minutes and he took us to this building, up to the ninth floor, knocked on the door and walked away. This amazing woman, a patternmaker, opened the door. She helped us make a 15-piece collection. We had different pop-up events and trunk shows in L.A. and then New York. Now we wholesale to 50 stores throughout the states, online and out of the country.

CI: We work with influencers and bloggers. We didn’t even have a business plan, so what we’ve been able to do in the past few years has been incredible. It’s a lot of blessings and we have incredible customers. We’ve focused on wholesale but really miss having those personal connections with our customers, so we want to possibly launch a pop-up in the fall in L.A. We hope to go to the East Coast and do that as well. We’re coming out with a really cool, exclusive collection then. 

We appeal to all women of faiths. We were in Utah a year ago and all our customers were Mormon. It was beautiful. They believe in the same kind of things and stay strong in their faith. We were in a Muslim fashion show in Irvine. We have plans to scale way bigger and sell to all people. 

JJ: What does SOLIKA mean? 

CI: Solika was a Moroccan woman. The prince wanted to marry her but she didn’t because it would be against her faith. He punished her greatly. He paraded her around the streets. She pinned her clothing to her body because she didn’t want to be immodest before she was put to death. This story taught us that modesty is a beautiful thing. Sometimes people think it’s annoying with its rules and regulations. I look at it as deeper than that. It makes a woman stronger. When a woman walks into a room dressed modestly, you notice her personality and more of who she is. That’s the message we’re trying to give to our customer. It’s not about covering up but allowing your true self to be shown. Some women think the fewer clothes you wear, the more attention you’ll get or [the more] attractive you’ll be. We think it’s the opposite. When you dress modestly and look good, people see the real you. 

JJ: Do you sell to just Jewish women?

CI: We appeal to all women of faiths. We were in Utah a year ago and all our customers were Mormon. It was beautiful. They believe in the same kind of things and stay strong in their faith. We were in a Muslim fashion show in Irvine. We have plans to scale way bigger and sell to all people. 

JJ: What is your ultimate goal for SOLIKA?

SE: We’d love to get into department stores and more boutiques. Maybe we could get into European stores, because people tell us our style is very European. 

JJ: Do you hope the modest clothing trend continues to grow?

CI: It’s in right now, which is great because we’re in the business of modest fashion. But when it goes out, which it probably will, we’ll still be here.

SE: We have a core group of customers who need this product. 

JJ: Are you married? Do you have children?

SE: I’m married and I just had a baby. 

CI: I am not yet married, but soon I will be, please God. 

JJ: Who inspires you? 

SE: We grew up in Chabad schools learning about the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson]. He taught that you should take your God-given talents and utilize them for good. That’s a big driving force behind our brand. The Rebbe is our biggest inspiration.

CI: We never met her, but people say the Rebbe’s wife, Chaya Mushka, was extremely aristocratic and that she looked beautiful. We really believe you can look fantastic and amazing and dress modestly. Looking good and looking put together shouldn’t be a contradiction to living a frum, religious life. n

IKAR’s Safe Parking Program for the Homeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Brooke Wirtschafter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Should Lead on Paid Family Leave 

Photo from Flickr.

One day, my then-4-year-old daughter asked me, “Daddy, why are you always at home with us?”

For 2 1/2 years, I had the most amazing job in the world: raising my kids as a stay-at-home dad. It was an unexpected job but one that I loved and taught me so much about who I am as a person.

As a stay-at-home dad, I helped to build the Los Angeles Dads Group, part of a national organization dedicated to helping fathers socialize and support one another.

Our most valuable asset is that Los Angeles is one of the best places in the United States, if not the world, to raise kids. Incredible weather, great outdoor opportunities from surfing on the beach to hiking in the mountains, cultural events and venues that are unrivaled, an incredibly diverse Jewish community and an ethos focused on family and enjoyment of life rather than work.

There is, however, one thing that makes L.A. a very difficult place to raise a family: the cost of living. L.A. consistently ranks as one of the most expensive places to live, and the cost of raising children only adds to it.

The United States is among a handful of countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave. California has, so far, been a leader in this effort, creating the first paid family leave program in the United States, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to expand it. Since 2002, Paid Family Leave has been a lifeline for working families, enabling a mother or father, grandparent or guardian to take time off to bond with a new child or for family caregiving.

“L.A. consistently ranks as one of the most expensive places to live, and the cost of raising children only adds to it.”

The problem is that the structure of the program, which covers 60% to 70% of a worker’s take-home salary for up to six weeks, is fundamentally inequitable. Many families are already living paycheck to paycheck, and simply can’t afford to take a 30% to 40% cut in their salary to utilize the program. And for those like me who work in the nonprofit sector, that additional salary helps put food on the table.

We know that nearly 40% of all Angelenos are liquid asset poor, meaning they’re three paychecks away from losing the roof over their heads. We know L.A.  has one of the highest costs of living in the country, and the cost of childcare now outpaces the cost of in-state college tuition. We know that paid parental leave policies work to decrease unemployment, increase participation among women in the workforce and reduce the pay gap between men and women. And we know that more bonding time improves the health and development of young children, reduces infant mortality rates by as much as 10% and results in higher rates of well-baby care, improved mental health, and increased long-term achievement for children.

Developed and underdeveloped countries around the world have read the writing on the wall and implemented robust paid parental leave programs. In Israel, for instance, a worker is entitled to 14 weeks of parental leave after working for their respective place of work for at least 12 months. In L.A., we have a unique opportunity to address this persistent inequity and investing in the next generation of Angelenos by covering that wage gap with a citywide, fully paid leave program for new and expecting parents for up to 18 weeks.

I was lucky to have the love and support of my wife and family and the financial stability to spend the time at home raising my young kids. I wouldn’t give back that time for any amount of money. But I was fortunate. For many families, spending time with a new child remains a financial obstacle. But as a city, this is within our reach — and something we can ensure for all L.A. families. Together, we can make paid family leave whole — and we must if we want L.A. to continue to be one of the best places in the world to raise a child.

Eli Lipmen is a nonprofit consultant, commissioner for the city of Los Angeles’s Neighborhood Council System, co-organizer of the L.A. Dads Group, and father of three.

Chabad of Century City Rabbi Tzemach Cunin, 43

Asked what it was like to grow up with Rabbi Tzemach Yehoshua Cunin, who died suddenly on July 5, his brother Rabbi Chaim Cunin told the Journal, “He was the youngest of our brothers but he was the biggest younger brother I could ever have. He was a complete angel in physical form.”

Tzemach, 43, the founder and co-director of Chabad of Century City, was an easily recognizable figure in the neighborhood, where he could be seen walking and “spreading the light of Torah mitzvot,” his brother said. It was a role that came naturally to Tzemach. His father, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, and his mother, Miriam, were among the first to bring Chabad to the West Coast, and his brothers also joined the Rabbinate. 

Tzemach was a man of grand vision, able to handle large projects for the Chabad Center, which he established in 1999, and he built Beis Chaya Mushka, a Chabad-Lubavitch school for girls in Los Angeles.

 He was equally adept at dealing with his congregation’s members on a one-to-one basis. Chaim said the family has been overwhelmed by the stories that were told during shivah for Tzemach. 

Tzemach recently discovered that a family had fallen behind on its day school tuition and personally paid the $4,000 owed. Asked how he could afford to do this, Tzemach said, “We’ll figure all that out later. This child needs to be back at a Jewish school.”

The day before he died, Tzemach was scheduled to appear at an event marking the 25th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He called his brother to tell him he wasn’t feeling well and might be late. Even so, Chaim said Tzemach spent the next few hours texting and making phone calls, reminding others to attend. 

But no matter how busy he was, Tzemach’s family always came first. If one of his children needed him, he was there. “No matter how small the event,” Chaim said, “it was the most important thing in the world to him.”

Tzemach is survived by his parents; his wife, Ada; his five children, Mendel, 17, Goldie, 16, Levi, 13, Chaya Mushka, 6, and Chana Bluma, 5; four brothers and seven sisters. A fund has been established to help the family.

Rabbis Speak at Rallies for Migrant Families

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen speaks at the immigration rights rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Aryeh Cohen

Five days after President Donald Trump threatened to round up and deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants, close to 300 people gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles on June 23 for a rally organized by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles to protest immigration laws and the separation of migrant families at the southern border. Last June, a similar rally was held in front of City Hall. 

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, of Temple Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, told the Journal the rally was prompted by the “threatened roundup and immediate deportation of hundreds, if not thousands, of people nationwide who are living in this country [without] full documentation.”

Although Trump backtracked on his promise on June 22, stating on Twitter that he would delay the deportations by two weeks, Comess-Daniels said, “We were also protesting the situation at the border, which is governmentally organized and forced upon families and individuals fleeing trauma, chaos and violence in their own countries, [including] the separation of children from their parents, overcrowded and unhealthy conditions, sleep deprivation and more.” 

Addressing the crowd at the rally, Comess-Daniels spoke about how the Torah demands strangers and citizens to be treated in a similar manner. 

“We have a law in the Torah, a commandment, that tells us there’s supposed to be one law for stranger and citizen alike and that is not how this administration is operating,” Comess-Daniels told the Journal in a phone interview after the rally. “The Torah mentions 36 times that we are not to abuse the stranger … because we were strangers in the land of Egypt and that’s the lens through which we, as Jews, see the world.”

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen of Bend the Arc also spoke at the rally, comparing his Jewish ancestors who ended up in the foreign land of Egypt to the strict immigration policies of the Trump administration. 

“My message was that Abraham, our father [and] ancestor, was actually sent out as an immigrant from Haran by God and wandered and ended up in Egypt,” Cohen told the Journal in a phone interview after the rally. “When [the Israelites] were in Egypt, the Pharaoh decided that they were a dangerous group. Obviously, there’s a resonance to what’s going on nowadays [with Trump]. In order for us to get back on the path of righteousness, we should send doctors and social workers, [instead of] sending the Army to the borders, to find out how we can be a refuge and asylum for these people who are fleeing violence and poverty.” 

Cohen added that he believes the public united two weekends ago because of the repetitive “stories of abuses under the care of Homeland Security and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the terror that ICE is [bringing] into our community.” The protesters, he said, are determined to stop the abuses so that “Los Angeles and the country as a whole [can] return to or start [becoming] a welcoming country as we are supposed to be. I have a personal stake in having a society [that] is just and righteous, and in my name, people are being persecuted and directly killed or dying by neglect.” 

Other speakers included State Sen. María Elena Durazo and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago. Teen DACA recipient Liliana García spoke about how her cousin went missing in El Salvador in 2013 on his way to school. 

A second demonstration was held on July 1, when the protesters walked from La Placita on Olvera Street to the Metropolitan Detention Center  “to bring to life and amplify the fact that people are dying,” Cohen said.  “Everybody should call their representatives and their senators and tell them to not approve any budget increases for the Department of Homeland Security because that money goes to funding hate,” he said. “There is an obligation on Jewish communities to give asylum to those who are fleeing oppression.”

For advice on how to take action for asylum seekers, visit HIAS at

 Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

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Lisa and Ben as super heros kayaking Salt River

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My fortune cookies said:

“You have the ability to undertake and complete anything you desire.”
and “Your kindness will lead you to success.”
Lisa in a floating bean bag chair in the spa pool on the roof at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Lisa in a floating bean bag chair in the spa pool on the roof at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

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View from hiking at Tom's Thumb in Scottsdale

View from hiking at Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale by Lisa Niver

Young L.A. Innovators Join Global ROI Summit in Jerusalem

Eight local innovators are among the 145 young Jewish activists from 30 countries currently taking part in ROI’s 13th global summit in Jerusalem.

The summit, which runs June 23 to 27, is the flagship program of ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. ROI Community consists of “over 1,300 Jewish activists, entrepreneurs and innovators in their 20s and 30s who are enhancing Jewish engagement and fostering positive social change globally,” according to ROI’s website.

“ROI means both a return on investment, in terms of the Jewish community investing in its young leaders and also a play on the Hebrew word ‘roi,’ for shepherd, in that ROI Community is preparing the young leaders of tomorrow,” ROI Community associate executive director No’a Gorlin told the Journal. 

For this year’s 13th gathering, ROI realized the number 13 signifies “the Jewish coming-of-age year,” Gorlin said. “At 13, we enter the age of responsibility.” Through the theme of responsibility, “the summit will push participants to examine their relationships with different realms of responsibility in their personal and communal lives,” Gorlin said.

Out of roughly 650 applicants, 153 participants were selected after undergoing “a rigorous review process,” Gorlin said. “We seek creative thinkers who are clearly motivated to generate positive change. But beyond that, we look for applicants who demonstrate a collaborative spirit — those who show that they are willing to not only take from the network, but to give back as well.”

The eight participants from Los Angeles are Laurel Hunt, Heather Wilk, Becky Tahel Bordo, Arya Marvazy, Ron Weinreich, Deanna Neil, Lauren Taus and Shani Rotkovitz. The Journal caught up with each of them ahead of the summit.

Laurel Hunt, 29
Hunt attends graduate school at UCLA. As the executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) at UCLA, her career path “highlights my ability to implement sustainability strategies through advocacy, coalition-building and policymaking … and I’ve learned how important it is to plan with people and not just for them,” Hunt told the Journal.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with Jewish activists, innovators and entrepreneurs across the globe,” she said. “I want to be a part of a group that runs with the vision and sets the agenda for the young-professional Jewish movement.”

Heather Wilk, 33
This is Wilk’s second summit, having attended in 2011. This year, she will be an alumni representative. “I’m hoping what I’ll do is be a great educator and simply a first form of contact for people who are coming for the first time,” she said.

Wilk runs the nonprofit Straight But Not Narrow, which provides refurbished laptops and cell phones to isolated or homeless LGBTQ youth. She said she hopes “to be able to share openly and honestly my experiences, successes and failures to help others.”

(left to right) Ron Weinreich, Becky Tahel Bordo, Lauren Taus, Laurel Hunt, Deanna Neil, Heather Wilk, Arya Marvazy and Shani Rotkovitz from Los Angeles at ROI Summit in Jerusalem. Photo by Snir Kazir

Becky Tahel Bordo, 32
The head writer and producer at advertising agency Icon Media, Bordo was born in Israel, grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago. Bordo said she is eager to grow as a writer, producer and person of impact.

“The only way I find myself doing that is with other people, especially people better than me, who have different wisdom than me,” she said. “We need each other for that reflection and growth, so I’m really excited to meet other people around the world who are doing incredible things …  Shared experiences are the currency that drive us all. There’s a lot of healing, shifting and elevating that needs to happen with the [Jewish community].”

Arya Marvazy, 33
Managing director of JQ International, a nonprofit that works to create community and advance greater inclusion of LGBTQ Jews and allies, Marvazy applied for the summit because of “the opportunity to meet Jewish individuals from around the world that are working on different big ideas, and to be able to essentially build up partnerships and collaborations that I know will expand the success of all of our work, but most importantly expand [and strengthen] Jewish identity, community and continuity,” he said.

Marvazy has friends who are attending the summit, but he hopes to emulate this year’s theme of responsibility by “[pushing] myself and [embracing] the responsibility to connect to all, and each person’s inherent value, at the conference without relying too heavily on that comfort zone.”

Ron Weinreich, 33
Born in Israel, Weinreich grew up on the East Coast, moved back to Israel to serve in the IDF, and has been living in Los Angeles for the past seven years. In the 2006 Lebanon War, Weinreich was paralyzed after a building collapsed on his tank during a Hezbollah strike.

He currently is working on establishing a rehabilitation center in Israel through the Healing Dove Children’s Fund, a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) that raises money to promote peace and healing so children can afford to travel to Israel to receive treatment.

He dreams of “giving people with chronic disabilities the access to live really extraordinary lives. I created that life for myself, by the grace of God … I don’t allow my disability to stop me in any way, and I really want to make that available to the millions and millions and millions of people who are suffering around the world.”

About attending the ROI summit, Weinreich said, “The way that I think I can emulate [responsibility] is to listen [to the] other people there and whatever they’re responsible for … . I’m excited to discover them. I’m excited to see what other people are up to.”

Deanna Neil, 38
Born in Chicago, Neil said she moved to Los Angeles in 2009 for “love and entertainment.” She is a writer, singer, Jewish spiritual leader and educator.
“I work a lot in Jewish education and I also do a lot of music and a lot of learning, and the way that I learn and work is through networking anyway,” she said. “I think that people always have something interesting they can offer.”

To succeed at the Summit, Neil believes in applying “the arts to your Jewish life and allowing yourself to have the freedom to make mistakes and [thinking] of rituals you build on your own or with your community … that you can explore and experiment with if the traditional setting isn’t satisfying.”

She added, “You don’t know what your role is ultimately in this world. Just try to plow forward, do your best, be a good person … . You don’t know who’s in that room and who’s going to take something that can then expand it and grow it outward.”

Lauren Taus, 37
A clinical therapist, yoga teacher, activist, podcast host and speaker, Taus said that at the summit, she “hopes to deepen my connections in the Jewish world and expand my global network to support my vision.”

Taus recently launched her podcast INbodied Life, which, she said, “widens the space for important, hard conversations with Israelis and Palestinians with the intention to inspire reflection, compassion and more inclusion everywhere.”

She added she will emulate the summit’s theme of responsibility by being “conscious of what is happening around me and [stepping] into leadership [throughout] the week. Judaism is a conscious practice of doing what is right in the world.”

Shani Rotkovitz, 39
Rotkovitz is the client finance associate director at Media Arts Lab, an advertising agency in Playa Vista.

“ROI is about community engagement at its very core,” she said. “This is about bringing personal experiences to the forefront in an effort to help innovate the world at large.”

She believes that at the summit, there will be “a large collective knowledge base to share with each other, and the more you engage, the more you can do. It’s about recognizing the box, believing there’s something outside the predefined edges you’re used to and figuring out, with the help of others, how to get there.”

Gorlin is just as excited as the summit participants. “We believe that the participants are the content,” she said. “Summit participants have a wealth of knowledge to convey to their fellow attendees. Change-making can be a lonely business and we hope that at the summit, participants feel reassured that they are not alone in their work. They have a global community supporting them, should they choose to tap into it. Together, their potential for impact is unparalleled.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

1989: Putin, the Professor and Prejudice

On June 16, 1989, four Jews arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Italy, where they had waited for months after having escaped post-revolutionary Iran.

This month marks 30 years since my father, mother, sister and I arrived in the United States, although it took me another nine years to become an American citizen. I didn’t mind the wait; I knew I was an American the first time a teacher at my public school was kind to me without knowing I was a Jew. In fact, she didn’t seem to care what religion I practiced. 

If this is America, I thought while enjoying some miraculous concoction called a Slurpee, I’ll be happy and well-fed.

In 1989, George H.W. Bush was president. Vladimir Putin was a 37-year-old KGB officer stationed in Dresden who asked Moscow for backup against demonstrators at the office of the East German secret police but received a fateful message from headquarters that permanently changed his views about the Soviet Union. 

The message? “Moscow is silent.”

In 1989, Bernie Sanders was finishing an eight-year term as mayor of Burlington, Vt., and Donald Trump was on the cover of Time magazine, holding an ace of diamonds playing card. The headline read, “This man may turn you green with envy — or just turn you off.” 

How little some things have changed.

As a 7-year-old in 1989, I wasn’t concerned with politicians or real estate moguls. I figured that the world was ruled by incompetent men (my belief had sprouted in Iran), so I focused on something far more important: pop culture icons. 

For a newly arrived refugee from of one of the world’s most oppressive countries, the U.S. in 1989 was a glorious place and time of learning and acculturation, even if my father threw himself over furniture in a rush to turn off the radio as soon as the song “Me So Horny” came on. 

“For a newly arrived refugee from of one of the world’s most oppressive countries, the U.S. in 1989 was a glorious place.”

It was on television — the bastion of security that Homer Simpson once called, “Mother! Teacher! Secret lover!” — that I learned one of the most important truths about America: In this country, people will hold you accountable for your hatred. 

In May 1989, rap group Public Enemy was condemned after one of its members, Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin), said in an interview in The Washington Times that Jews are responsible for “the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe.”

I had been in the U.S. only a few weeks when the controversy blossomed, but I was familiar with Public Enemy. 

I pieced together enough English from the evening news to understand that someone from the group didn’t like Jews. 

And? I wondered. We simply called that a Tuesday back in post-revolutionary Iran. 

And then it happened. The group ousted Professor Griff over his anti-Semitism. Just like that, he was gone. 

If this is America, I thought as I dipped a french fry in some glorious goo called “barbecue  sauce,” I’ll be safe and well-fed. 

And 30 years later, as I begrudgingly drink some liquified spinach leaves, I wonder if my realization still holds true. 

In 2019, President Donald Trump is the ruler of the free world, and although I’m grateful for his support of Israel, as far as nearly every other policy is concerned, I sometimes wonder whether the cards up his sleeve came from the wrong deck. 

Putin is trying to ensure that those once impotent words about Moscow are never repeated, although his silence over Russian election interference in the U.S. is loud and clear.

And Professor Griff lives in Atlanta, gives lectures on world politics, and teaches classes on “The 7 Hermetic Principles for Self-Mastery.” From time to time, he performs with Chuck D. (born Carlton Ridenhour) and other members of Public Enemy. 

As for me, I’m a strict devotee of the “Homeric” principles: Love thy beer and thy TV. And give of yourself for every blessed and free day that you’ve been in this country.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker. 

State Set to Allocate Funds for Decimated Jewish Summer Camps

In April, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division members, Jewish summer camp leaders and Jewish Public Affairs Committee representatives visited Sacramento. They lobbied for state funds to rebuild Jewish camps destroyed in the 2018 Woolsey fire and the 2017 Tubbs fire. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Following advocacy efforts by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a budget deal allocating $23.5 million in state funding to three California Jewish summer camps destroyed in the 2018 Woolsey and the 2017 Tubbs fires.

The funds are part of a larger $214.8 billion budget passed by the California State Legislature on June 13. The $23.5 million is earmarked for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) camps Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop; the Shalom Institute Camp and Conference Center’s JCA Shalom; and Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman in Santa Rosa in Northern California.

During a June 14 interview at Federation’s offices, CEO and President Jay Sanderson said his organization coordinated the efforts to secure state funding for the camps, working with Jewish California lawmakers including State Sens. Ben Allen, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Henry Stern and Bob Hertzberg, and Assembly members Richard Bloom and Jesse Gabriel, vice chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

“From the very beginning, we created this multipronged strategy of how to get these camps [funding] going forward, using all of our assets and all of our resources and all of our relationships for [bringing] all of this together for hopefully the successful conclusion when the governor signs this budget for this piece of the rebuilding process,” Sanderson said.

Gabriel told the Journal the aim was to have the money distributed equitably among the camps. “We felt these are such important institutions for the community, both in Southern California and Northern California, and so we went to bat … [and] made it clear to our colleagues and to the legislature that this is important to the Jewish community and broader community, as well.” 

“The allocation of state money for the camps is a jumping-off point for greater fundraising efforts needed for the camps to eventually reopen at their former homes.”

Prior to the November 2018 Woolsey fire, WBT’s Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop camps shared a Malibu property and Shalom Institute’s Camp JCA Shalom also was based in Malibu. The camps are still working with the California Coastal Commission and other agencies to clean up the debris left by the fire.

The rebuilding effort will require major fundraising, Federation Senior Vice President of Community Engagement Alisa Finsten said, adding that the allocation of state money for the camps is a jumping-off point for greater fundraising efforts needed for the camps to eventually reopen at their former homes.

This summer, Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop will hold its programs at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo, and the JCA Shalom camp will take place at Gold Creek Center in the Angeles National Forest.

Sanderson, whose daughter attended camp at Gindling Hilltop, said the state funding was about more than gaining financial assistance for rebuilding. Camp, he said, is the single most impactful way to ensure a young person stays engaged in Jewish life as an adult.

“We believe one of the most essential building blocks to a strong Jewish community is having strong, vibrant Jewish summer camps, and we have been supporting the camps and families going to camp for a very long time,” Sanderson said. “And if camps go down, that doesn’t help this. So our job is to help the camps get back up. 

“We don’t want to rebuild these camps as they were,” he added. “We want to rebuild them as they should be.”

Federation also has provided office space in the San Fernando Valley for the Shalom Institute in the wake of the Woolsey fire and has helped bring in a dining hall for JCA Shalom to use at its temporary site this summer. It also has provided resources for the WBT camps’ supplies for archery, baseball, football and other activities.

Barri Worth Girvan, deputy chief of staff for Hertzberg, began attending Camp JCA Shalom when she was 9 years old and remained involved with the camp for 13 years. She said the state allocation of funds was the rare example of many different elements of the Jewish community coming together. She said the community initially requested $35 million from the state and that it was unusual for such a large portion of that initial amount to
be granted.

“We’re pretty ecstatic the way numbers have shaken out,” Girvan said regarding the potential allocation of $23.5 million, “and I’m excited to see the rebuilding start.”

As of the Journal’s press time, Gov. Newsom had not yet signed off on the funding, nor was their any indication on how the money would be divided among the camps.