December 16, 2018

JFLA Increases Cap for Fire Victims

The nonprofit Jewish Free  Loan Association (JFLA) of Los Angeles has increased its personal emergency loan cap to $15,000 for those affected by the Woolsey Fire, while small business impacted by the fires can apply for up to $30,000 in loans. JFLA has been offering interest-free loans to Los Angeles and Ventura County residents on a nonsectarian basis since 1904.

“Jewish Free Loan is pretty well positioned to help in emergency situations, whether it’s fire, an earthquake, a medical issue, any emergency,” Executive Director Rachel Grose told the Journal.  

JFLA quickly got the word out about their availability to help following the fires. However, once the organization grasped the depth of the losses, it raised its regular $5,000 personal loan cap.  

“People need to rebuild,” Grose said. “And a lot of times, even if insurance is going to cover everything, there’s a lag time. They still need clothing and basic essentials: pots and pans, sheets, blankets. They are out-of-pocket for those items, and not everyone has the savings to cover that.”

Among those the JFLA has already helped since the November fires is a 77-year-old widow whose mobile home burned. “Everything she owned was destroyed, so we gave her a loan to help with moving expenses and to purchase everything new,” Grose said. 

 “We’re going to be here as long as people need [loans] for the fires.” 

— Rachel Grose

Another woman, whose house survived but was left without power, had to stay in a motel. She received a JFLA loan to pay that out-of-pocket, short-term expense.

Grose said despite many people’s immediate needs, they aren’t necessarily emotionally ready to move forward. “They need to absorb the shock, assess what they need and understand what their insurance is going to pay for,” she said. “One of the things that we’ve been hearing is that a lot of the insurance plans don’t help with smoke damage.”

Fire victims can apply for a JFLA loan by filling out the pre-loan application at Intake staff will then call them to go over the details. 

After that, applicants will meet with a loan analyst to discuss their budget, what they need and what kind of loan they can afford.

“Normally the clients come in and meet with a loan analyst, but in some cases the borrowers don’t have transportation because of the fire,” said JFLA Outreach Manager Batya Ordin. “We’re willing to do the interview over the phone or Skype when that’s necessary.”

Applicants will need guarantors for their loans and once all the paperwork is in order, the information will be presented at the weekly loan committee meeting. “The loans are reviewed, the checks are issued and the clients are notified,” Grose said. “They can come in and pick up their check or we can mail it to them.”

JFLA currently has nearly $11 million in microloans out in the community, ranging from $500 to $50,000.  Loans are available for a variety of needs including life events, home healthcare, fertility treatments and adoption, post-high school education, children with special needs and women fleeing domestic violence. JFLA loans accrue neither fees nor interest.

“Our underlying goal is to make these loans to help people,” Grose said. “We’re going to be here as long as people need [loans] for the fires and afterwards for all their other needs.”  

Ayelet Shaked: Mideast Peace Plan Should Wait

MK Ayelet Shaked presented Natalie Sopinsky of Rescuers Without Borders with an award for excellence at Beth Jacob Congregation. Courtesy of Sopinsky

Israel Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been a major force behind the ascent of the Jewish Home party, the third most powerful party in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition, which maintains a slim one-seat majority in the Israeli Knesset.

The Jewish Home party, known in Hebrew as HaBayit HaYehudi, is to the political right of Netanyahu’s Likud party, with its support of Israeli settlements and opposition to creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank, among other positions.

Hoping to raise awareness of her message and connect with Diaspora Jewry, Shaked, 42, visited Los Angeles on Nov. 29 for a day that included meetings with local Jewish leaders, a community address at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills and an interview with the Journal at the Koreatown office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

During the interview, Shaked stated her views on why now is not the time for a Middle East peace plan, the security challenges facing Israel, her journey from secular Jew to a leader in a conservative religious Zionist party, her political aspirations and the relationship between young American Jews and Israel. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

Jewish Journal: What are some of the greatest challenges currently facing Israel?

Ayelet Shaked: From a security perspective, of course, Iran. And we are very happy with [President Donald Trump’s] decision to back off from the Iranian deal. This is something we are definitely supportive of and happy with. And we have huge challenges in the north regarding Hezbollah, which is working on getting precise missiles that can reach everywhere in Israel. And we have a challenge that Iran now is trying to entrench itself into Syria, and we are not going to let it happen. Of course, in the south, with Hamas in Gaza [it is also a challenge]. We are in a pretty good diplomatic period. We are strengthening the relationship with the moderate Sunni countries in the Middle East, and the economy is good.

JJ: You recently said that a proposal from the Trump administration for peace in the Middle East is a “waste of time.” What conditions on the ground would have to change for you to welcome a peace proposal from the U.S.?

AS: I want to say that I really appreciate the effort that the [Trump] administration is doing to promote peace, because we want peace and this administration is very friendly to Israel. We definitely appreciate the efforts. To be realistic, I think the gap between the Palestinians and Israel is much too big in order to be bridged, but we will wait and see what will be the proposal. I can tell you that my party and I are against a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. We did this experiment once in Gaza, and we are not going to do this experiment again in Judea and Samaria. But let’s wait and see what the administration has to offer.

JJ: What’s your current relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? It is rumored you may one day be prime minister. Is that something you are interested in?

AS: We are working together on a daily basis. Everything is fine. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be the prime minister after the next election. It is a well [-known] fact. With every poll you see, there is a right [-wing] majority in Israel, so I believe there will be a coalition with Netanyahu as the prime minister. The question is what will be the coalition. And I do hope to be part of the government after the next election, which will be in 2019, but we don’t know when.

JJ: What are your personal political aspirations?

AS: Right now I am in the Ministry of Justice and I am doing a lot of work. It is a very powerful and important ministry in Israel, and I want to stay in the office for the next election. After that, in politics it is hard to predict the future.

JJ: Can you try?

AS: No, I think it is really hard. I’ve said many times I think, after Netanyahu, [Jewish Home chair] Naftali Bennett is the most suitable person to lead Israel.

JJ: Can you talk about your personal journey? You worked in tech and are from a secular background, and now you are in politics and one of the most visible faces of a religious Zionist party. How did that happen?

AS: I was always interested in politics. When I was in the army in the Golani troops, I served with Zionist and modern Orthodox guys and I became friends with them. I was always a right-wing girl as far back as I can remember. I went to study electronic engineering and computer science because I was good at math and my father told me it is a very good profession. And so I did it, although it wasn’t really my passion. Then I went to work at Texas Instruments. But after the [2005] disengagement from Gaza, I felt I needed to be where the decisions were being made, and I left Texas Instruments and I joined Netanyahu to work with him. Then I met Naftali Bennett and the rest is history.

JJ: What are some of your passions besides politics?

AS: I have no life, just work and family. It is very tough work, and I have two little kids, so I try to be with them every time I am not at work. So I am just left with work, my kids and books.

JJ: What kind of books?

AS: Actually I am in the middle of a very interesting book. “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter” by Scott Adams, about President Trump.  Have you heard about it? Very interesting. I recommend reading it. I started to read it on the airplane here.

JJ: What role does Judaism play in your life?

AS: I was raised in a traditional family and my father arrived from Iran. He is Iraqi, but arrived in Israel from Iran. My mother was in Israel for five generations, they came on the first aliyah to Israel, and we were a very Zionist home.

JJ: Does your mother’s family history have a lot do with your Zionist beliefs today?

AS: Maybe, but my father is also very Zionist, he came from Arab countries and those weren’t the best place to live in. Although when he was living in Iran it was a very good period under the shah.

JJ: What are some of your goals pertaining to the relationship between American Jewish youth and Israel?

AS: We definitely want to strengthen the relationship of the youth with Israel. It is very important to us. I think the youth here in the U.S. need to understand that around the world and in the very liberal communities to be anti-Semitic it is not politically correct. But to be anti-Israel is super in [vogue], and the anti-Israeli movements are just another shape of anti-Semitism today. I hope the Jewish community and also the liberal community will understand that; and they will understand they will always have two homes, one here and one in Israel. 

Germany Criticized for Not Leading Support of Israel

From left: mayor of Jordan Valley Regional Council David Elhayani, mayor of Frankfurt Uwe Becker, Palestinian human rights activist Basem Eid and Elie Pierpz. Photo courtesy of Jordan Valley Regional Council

Although Germany has developed a reputation as one of Israel’s strongest allies in the European Union, keynote speakers at the fifth Israel Congress recently held in Frankfurt criticized the host country’s recent failings on several fronts.

More than 3,000 people from across Europe attended the Nov. 25 event in one of the continent’s strongest displays of grassroots support for Israel. 

Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Gilad Erdan, the highest-level Israeli official to address the gathering at the Frankfurt Convention Center, struck a conciliatory tone as the grandson of Auschwitz survivors, but he then rebuked Germany for funding nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) hostile to Israel and for clinging to the Iran deal.

As he expressed optimism for strong Israel-German relations, Erdan said his grandmothers “never imagined their grandson would be standing here in Frankfurt celebrating Israel and Germany’s friendship.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he added, “has been clear in rejecting attempts to delegitimize Israel, and the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), as you know, has labeled BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) coarse anti-Semitism.”

However, Erdan also called on Germany to lead the European Union in withholding funding of NGOs that indirectly support BDS efforts that seek to delegitimize Israel. 

“Germany can and should lead such a reform in the [European Union] because German taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for BDS,” he said. “German government funds are also still going, unfortunately, to [United Nations] bodies that openly promote the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.”

Keynote speaker Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, chastised Merkel’s government for joining anti-Israel regimes in voting for eight recent anti-Israel resolutions put forth by the U.N. General Assembly’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee. The resolutions condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and called on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria. 

“When we speak about the challenges of human rights today at the United Nations, it’s time for us to ask our leaders — and here in Germany — to ask [German foreign affairs minister] Heiko Maas and the government: It’s time to stand up for the true principles of human rights and not those that are distorted by dictatorships and their apologists.”

Maas sought to justify Germany’s U.N. voting record on Israel, particularly in the wake of criticism from fellow German parliament members, by saying Germany’s engagement softened the language of the resolutions. 

Neuer mocked Maas’ justification. “Maybe Mr. Maas will help Israel more and support 100 resolutions against Israel. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Ladies and gentlemen, this is nonsense,” he said to applause.

Maas has also been leading efforts to salvage the Iran Deal by finding workarounds against the United States’s renewed sanctions. In his address, Erdan emphasized Iran’s financing of terrorism in both Israel and Europe as well as Iran’s repeated death threats against Israel. 

“It simply cannot be that, from the point of view of Germany, it is business as usual with Iran. Germany should join the American sanctions on Iran,” Erdan said to applause. “Rather than trying to get around them —because as I said Germany is a leader in Europe, and Germany, especially Germany, must show moral leadership on this issue.”

Unlike at the last Israel Congress two years ago, Merkel sent a video greeting, in which she praised Israel’s diversity and friendship, saying “preserving the memory of the betrayal of Germany of all civilized values that was the Shoah, and learning lessons for a good and peaceful co-existence is the enduring responsibility of Germany.”

“Germany can and should lead … reform in the European Union because German taxpayers should not be footing the bill for BDS.” — Gilad Erdan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likewise sent a video greeting, saying German-Israel relations were stronger than ever. “We remember horrors,” he said. “We will never forget them, but despite the horrors of the past, we’ve transformed our relationship into a warm and constructive relationship.”

A highlight of the conference was a speech given by the former Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan, who made waves when she posed with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant. Idan, who called for peace between the people of both countries, voiced her most political statements yet, despite the string of death threats she continually receives from anti-Israel Iraqis.

Idan described the relentless anti-Israel bias she experienced while growing up in Baghdad. “They injected us with lies and fueled us with fear. It’s that same fear that won’t allow us to grow, and the same lack of trust that will keep us at war,” she said. 

Idan moved to the Los Angeles area in 2009 after working as a translator for the U.S. army in Iraq. She traveled to Israel for the first time this summer.  

“First, we must acknowledge vital facts, like the purpose behind every terrorist organization like Hamas or ISIS and the fact that they don’t care about a cause or a soul, and how we can stop them. That being said, Israel has a huge task — as well as Palestine, as well as the rest of the world — and that is to fight those who promote hatred and violence,” she said. “It may be hard to convince Arabs to accept people they’ve resented for ages, to co-exist, but I don’t think it’s impossible.”

Idan believes change can happen in Palestinian society, especially should Israel invest in educating Palestinians against hate and helping them improve their lives. “Slowly, but eventually, we are building a less violent generation,” she said.

For the first time, the Congress showcased products from Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, which are labeled as such by the European Union. Members of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, representing a region and agricultural industry tended by Israelis and Palestinians, sponsored a booth featuring wine, dates, treats and beauty products from the region. 

Erdan raised a toast at the booth. 

“In this region, both Jews and Palestinians live and work together in harmony,” he said. “It’s important for our friends in Europe to realize that the key to peace, stability and good neighborly relations between nations begins with economic development, especially in the joint industrial zones. Furthermore, the European continent has already suffered the effects of the ill-fated boycotts against Jewish products, and therefore should be wary and resist anti-Semitic actions of the BDS movement.”

Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. 

I am Grateful: WSGT November News 2018

Nov News 2018 with We Said Go Travel:

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday and time with the people who are important to you. My aunt and uncle hosted 48 family members for a wonderful dinner with not one, not two but three turkeys! Thank you to everyone who has asked about my mother, she continues to recover amazingly quickly from her fall and has a great attitude!


Ms Magazine Polar Bears Can't Vote So You Have toThank you to Ms. Magazine for publishing two more of my stories:

  • Polar Bears Can’t Vote, So You Have To!

    Dr. Stephen Petersen, head of conservation and research at Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, has only one word of advice for the environmentally conscious this week: “Vote.” …. Polar bears are at the top trophic level of the food chain, and climate change is having a massive impact on their lives. As their environments evolve, Petersen is calling for more marine protected areas and doing work to protect the denning areas where polar bears have their babies. But there are many species that need to be protected—birds in Papua New Guinea, orangutans in Indonesia and polar bears in the Arctic among them.

  • Are You Ready for the Feminine Revolution?

    I have been told that I am too sensitive or too emotional. I’ve been told that I use too many capital letters. I have been told repeatedly that my emails scared someone, that I should tone it down to appear professional. (I was even named “Most Likely to Clap Her Hands for No Reason” in my high school yearbook.)

    It’s true: I have always been enthusiastic and had more obvious feelings than others in a room. That’s why I loved reading The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better Worldby Catherine Connors and Amy Stanton, which flipped the narrative—and encouraged women like me to reframe old standards that have claimed that “traditional” feminine traits are weak or bad.

I am honored to write for this incredible magazine. My first print story for Ms. Magazine will be in the Winter issue.


Are You Ready for the Feminine Revolution? Ms. Magazine by Lisa Niver

Thank you to Mike Wreyford for having me on his radio show, The Good Life, for my 3rd visit. Listen to us here: Talking Travel on The Good Life.

Thank you to everyone who entered our 2018 Travel Photo Award. As soon as my tech wizard gives me the okay, I will start publishing the fantastic photos!

Walking with Polar Bears by Lisa Niver with Churchill Wild near Hudson Bay

Walking with Polar Bears by Lisa Niver with Churchill Wild near Hudson Bay

Recent Travels to Canada and Vegas:

Did you see all of my stories and videos from my Adventures in Canada with Churchill Wild:
Part OneDo You Want to Walk with Polar Bears?
Part TwoAre You Ready for an Adventure? Walk with Polar Bears
Part ThreeHow Do You Get To Churchill Wild?
and my time in Winnipeg: Are You Ready to Discover Wonderful Winnipeg?

Lisa Niver private tour at Bellagio Fountains

Have you always wanted to go behind the scenes at the Bellagio Fountains? Join me for a private daytime fountain tour:
VIDEO: Join Me Behind the Scenes at the Bellagio Fountains
Learn more about my Vegas adventures with Virtuoso when I stayed at ARIA this summer:



Here is the link to my video channel on YouTube where I have over 842,627 views on YouTube! Thank you for your support! Are you a subscriber? I hope you will join me and subscribe!

Recent video from Nashuva Band: Happy almost Chanukah! May your holiday season be filled with music and light.
Thank you! I am so proud of all I have accomplished this year. Thank you for watching my videos, reading my stories, following along on social media and asking me about booking your travels!

I am now planning and booking travel! Where do you want to wander? Find more information about me and my luxury travel advising as an independent affiliate of CRUISE and RESORT, Inc with Virtuoso Luxury Travel Network on my new microsite!

My fortune cookies said:

“Don’t be afraid to take that big step.”  And

Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising every time we fall.

I hope your entire year will be filled with celebrations!
Thank you for your all of your support. Lisa

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at My social media following is now over 140,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Niver's selfie with a Polar Bear with Churchill Wild

Lisa Niver’s selfie with a Polar Bear with Churchill Wild

Chief Rabbinate’s List Has Glaring Omissions

This week, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, for the first time in its history, published an official list of non-Israeli rabbinical courts whose authority it accepts for the purposes of conversion to Judaism and divorce. The list’s publication resulted from a near-daily battle waged by the organization I founded and direct — ITIM: The Jewish Advocacy Center. In the past six years, ITIM has held meetings, filed legal petitions, initiated Knesset hearings and more to pressure the Chief Rabbinate to make its decision-making — which affects the lives of thousands of Jews in Israel and around the world — transparent to the public it is supposed to serve.

I welcomed news of the list’s publication. But within moments of reviewing it, I was hit with the reality: Yes, there is now a list, but it again shows the Chief Rabbinate’s incompetency, even as it tries to be more transparent.

The list of 70 Orthodox rabbinical courts approved for conversion and 80 approved for divorce is out of date and inconsistent. Some of the rabbis listed no longer reside in the communities they are meant to serve. Others appear twice. Although the list purports to be comprehensive, there are major American rabbinical courts that have been omitted.

But the real flaw isn’t about who is or isn’t on the list. Rather, it is the glaring lack of concern that the list demonstrates for the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Jews whose rabbis “don’t make the cut,” according to the Chief Rabbinate. Rather than embracing Jews — particularly Jews by Choice — the Chief Rabbinate is dismissing and excluding them. This is a biblical prohibition: Our tradition teaches us to love the convert, certainly not to persecute him or her. 

As I write this, my inbox is teeming with emails from people around the world who converted through rabbis not on the list. “Where does this leave me?” they are asking.  I don’t yet know how to answer.

And what about Los Angeles? The Chief Rabbinate’s list of approved rabbis consists of four rabbinical court directors in Los Angeles: Rabbis Avraham Teichman, Avrohom Union, Shmuel Ohana and Nissim Davidi. And although another seven rabbis are included, it is unclear whether their conversions will be accepted without approval of one of the four directors.

Moreover, there are prominent Los Angeles Orthodox rabbinical courts that have been operating for decades but have been left off the list. Who will speak up for their hundreds of converts? What about the hundreds of conversions that took place more than two decades ago, when virtually none of the rabbis on the list was performing conversions?

“Our tradition teaches us to love the convert, certainly not to persecute him or her.” 

The list makes a travesty of halachic [Jewish legal] thinking and drives a further wedge between Jews in Israel and around the world. The Chief Rabbinate’s deliberate politicization of conversion — by choosing some rabbis and not others — highlights its attempt to extend its monopoly on Jewish life beyond the borders of Israel into the rest of the Jewish world, where, frankly, it isn’t wanted or needed. With both intermarriage rates and religious extremism on the rise, the Rabbinate ought to be a body that promotes moderation and diversity rather than one that espouses fundamentalism and exclusion — the very things the list demonstrates.

In the coming weeks, ITIM will take every possible step to rectify the situation. It will file petitions on behalf of rabbinical courts that wish to be included on the list, and will assist individuals concerned about their official Jewish status in Israel. As ITIM does this, I will be thinking back to January 2016, when I stood in a Jerusalem municipal court as Justice Naava Bar Or demanded the Chief Rabbinate make a list of acceptable rabbinical courts available to the public. She concluded by dressing down the director of the Chief Rabbinate’s Personal Status Division. “Your office is acting with no moral or Jewish values,” Bar Or told him.

And I will be thinking back to July 3, 1950, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion spoke in the Knesset on the issue of “Who is a Jew?” He said, “The State of Israel is not a Jewish state merely because the majority of its inhabitants are Jews. … It is a state for all the Jews wherever they may be and for every Jew who so desires.”

Rabbi Seth (Shaul) Farber is the director of ITIM: The Jewish Advocacy Center. He lives in Raanana, Israel, with his wife, Michelle, and their five children.

Will Mars Landers Save Us From The Firestorms?

Smoke from the fires in Butte County completely obscure the hills that would normally be visible in this photo. Photo by Susan Barnes

On Monday this week, I was driving to lunch when I heard, live on the radio, the last few minutes of the landing of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars. It was a suspenseful few minutes, and I could hear the emotion in the voices of the announcers as the good news started to come in. The heat shield successfully separated. The telemetry looked good. The lander located the ground and approached at a reasonable speed.

Unexpectedly, I found my eyes growing misty. Human beings had, once again, against stiff odds, managed to do something that would have been impossible in my parents’ childhood. A lander had been deployed on another planet, and it gave me great hope about what we can accomplish when smart people work together to find a solution to a complex problem.

On Wednesday last week, I was grateful for the rain that finally cleared out the dense smoke and debris from the air that was plaguing the community where I live since shortly after the wildfire in Butte County started. It made my eyes water, it made my chest feel tight, and it kept me indoors, even more than usual for an indoors type like me.

The three largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last 12 months. Many of us believe these large wildfires have been caused, at least in part, by climate change, with fuel loads increased after the recent long drought in the state.

Last Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report that states, “Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts.” In other words, climate change is here to stay.

Is it any wonder, then, that after seeing the devastation of these recent wildfires, and the release of this report that seems to say they’re only going to get worse while the President continues to deny the need to do anything about it, that I got a bit emotional about the triumph of human endeavor over long odds embodied in the InSight Mars landing?

In Breshit (Genesis) 1:26 we read, “And God said, ‘Let us make a human in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.’”

Some say this passage means that since God gave the world to us to rule over, we have every right to do anything we want with it, including causing mass extinctions and climate change. Others say this passage means that, since we were made in God’s image, we are responsible for trying to behave like a benevolent ruler, and are tasked with taking great care of the earth and all the living beings on it.

Given the evidence I’ve seen over the last 20 years or so, I’m not overly optimistic that we’re going to have the will to try to stop climate change before it gets much worse than it already is. I’m even less certain that we’ll ever find a way to reverse it, and return the earth to a pre-industrial “normal.”  I have long thought the only way to save humankind may be to find a way to get off this planet, to colonize elsewhere, so our descendants can learn from our mistakes and do better on other worlds in our solar system and others.

So part of my emotion about the success of the Mars landing is not just about the triumph of mind over matter. It’s also a hope, however small, that it will be followed by a viable, self-sustaining human colony on Mars, as a first step toward human colonization on other planets in other star systems. It may seem like a far-fetched thing, but I fear that if we don’t soon change course, it may be our only hope for the human species to thrive, rather than to just try to survive trapped on a harsh, weather-beaten earth.

Man Arrested for Allegedly Trying to Run Over Jewish Men

A 32-year-old man was arrested over the weekend for allegedly attempting to run over two Jewish men in Los Angles.

The man, reportedly identified as Mohamed Mohamed Abdi, can be seen on security footage making a sudden U-turn before attempting to run over two Jewish men, ages 37 and 57, leaving Bais Yehuda Shul at La Brea Avenue and Oakwood Avenue; the victims say that Mohammed put the car in reverse to strike them.

Video also shows Abdi driving through a stop sign and then striking another car, where he was arrested and taken into custody. No one was injured.

One of the victims said Abdi was shouting “F***ing Jews!” before attempting to run them over.

“Why he chose us?” one of the victims told CBS Los Angeles. “Probably because of the yarmulkes on our heads.”

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said in a Monday press conference that the incident has been classified as a hate crime and they found a knife in Abdis car; they also found no evidence that he was inebriated. The police believe that he acted alone.

City Councilman Paul Koretz said during the press conference that he was thankful for law enforcement’s prompt response to the matter.

“This type of hate and violence will not stand, ” Koretz said. “My colleagues and I will do everything in our power to make sure that our communities are protected and secure. We will continue to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry and we continue to shine light on the darkness of hate.”

Ivan Wolkind, chief operating and financial officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, told the Journal in a phone interview that “this is our new normal” and urged Jewish community members to take precautionary measures.

“When you leave a place of worship, when you leave a school, when you’re in public, just be conscious of congregating in groups in areas by a street that could be vulnerable to this kind of attack,” Wolkind said.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind said in a statement, “We are appalled by the allegations of this potentially-deadly assault targeting Jews, particularly in the aftermath of the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.”

“According to the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics Act report, there was a 17 percent rise in hate crimes in 2017, including a 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes against Jews. ADL’s internal audit, which includes anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents, paints an even starker image with a 57 percent increase in the same period,” Susskind added. “We applaud LAPD Chief Michel Moore and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey for their prompt investigation and hate crime charges.”

Abdi was originally born in Somalia but is currently a United States citizen who had been living in Seattle before coming to Los Angeles about a week prior to the incident. It is not known why Abdi decided to come to Los Angeles.

He is currently being held on $55,000 bail.

This article has been updated.

‘Come From Away’ Lands in L.A.

Photo courtesy of Centre Theater Group

When United States airspace was closed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, 38 planes were ordered to land in Gander, Newfoundland, increasing its population of 10,000 by 7,000 overnight. The story of how the town’s residents opened their homes and hearts to strangers from all over the world is the subject of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Come From Away,” which opens Nov. 28 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

Guitarist Adam Stoler was with the show on Broadway and segued to the touring company in October. He’s part of the band of onstage musicians who perform the music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. 

“Not only are we onstage for the entire show, we’re in costume and we get to interact with the cast,” he told the Journal. “I love it because I didn’t get into this business to sit in a pit. I wanted to be part of the action.”

Stoler wasn’t familiar with the story before he came on board, but he loves its message. “It’s about the Ganderites who took these people in and housed them and fed them. It’s about the relationships that were forged between the Ganderites and the passengers. It’s about treating people with love and respect and helping each other,” he said. “There are little things that we all can do every day to be kind to each other. Little things can make a big impact.”

The characters are based on real people, many of whom have seen the show multiple times. One, an American Airlines pilot, is planning to bring a large group to see it in L.A., Stoler said. “Two of the characters, passengers from different planes, met and ended up getting married.”

For Stoler, who was living in Manhattan during 9/11, the show “brought back memories of my own experience. I woke up that morning to a phone call from my brother saying, ‘I’m still alive.’ He was getting off a bus in front of the World Trade Center as the first plane hit and narrowly escaped with his life. So the show is very cathartic for me. There are parts that are very difficult, but in general, it’s a very uplifting show. You should feel good when you leave the theater.”

Stoler grew up in a musical family. His father played guitar, bass and piano and introduced him to music. “I had my first guitar at 5 and by 10 I was taking lessons,” he said. “I knew instantly that it was what I wanted to do.”

After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in jazz performance and composition from New York University, where jazz and world music artist Richard Bona became his mentor, Stoler toured the world with Bona. “It was an extremely formative experience,” he said. “It also opened a lot of doors for me.”

His itinerary included Israel, where he’d visited twice before. “I got to perform in Tel Aviv at Philharmonic Hall. It was a wonderful experience. I cannot wait to go back. My wife hasn’t been there and wants to go.”

Of German and Russian Jewish heritage, Stoler grew up in a “Conservative, somewhat observant kosher home. I had a bar mitzvah and can still read Hebrew, but can’t understand it,” he said. “I’m less observant these days but [Judaism] is still a significant part of my identity. I like to think it makes me more open to different types of music. I’ve always been interested in world music, music from the Middle East, and music from our prayers are influenced by that. My heritage has broadened my perspective.”

In “Come From Away,” “a lot of the music has a traditional Irish vibe to it because that’s what a lot of the culture is in Gander,” Stoler said, calling it a “very challenging score.” He plays several differently tuned acoustic and electric guitars during the show. “There’s a lot of back and forth and fast changes between scenes.”

He has a one-year contract, “but they’re already booking this production into a third year. I’m going to take it one year at a time and see how it goes,” Stoler said. So far, he’s enjoying life on the road. “It’s a luxury situation compared to what I’ve had touring with solo artists and bands. We’re in L.A. for six weeks. It’s really nice. You feel like you’re living in the city and really get to see the place. Our spouses are able to come out for portions of the tour. My wife came to Seattle and will come to L.A.”

Stoler loves the city and is looking forward to hitting Venice Beach, trying restaurants in different neighborhoods and “exploring outside of L.A., hiking and doing other outdoorsy stuff.”

Although Broadway “wasn’t something that I was particularly going after, it fell in my lap in a wonderful way,” Stoler said. But he continues to compose and record his own material with the mobile recording equipment he takes with him on the road. 

“Each experience brings new challenges and I enjoy bouncing back and forth to keep things interesting. I see myself continuing to do Broadway, my own music and music for other artists,” he said. “I’ll probably do some of that while I’m in L.A. After the show is over, I’ll be out the door and in Hollywood.”

“Come From Away” runs Nov. 28-Jan. 6 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Read more from the 2018 Holiday Arts & Entertainment Edition here.

What’s Happening: Boyle Heights, ‘GI Jews’ and Distant Cousins

Distant Cousins


Amos Oz — Shabbat Lunch and Learn
The work of Amos Oz, one of Israel’s best-known living authors, is the subject of the latest Shabbat Lunch and Learn class at Sephardic Temple, part of the series called “Masters of Prose: Great Israeli Writers.” 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Free. Sephardic Temple, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. To RSVP, call (310) 475-7000 or email  

“Remembering Boyle Heights”
“Remembering Boyle Heights” — an audience participatory, immersive and theatrical celebration — brings to life the early history, stories and memories of Boyle Heights, once the heart of the Jewish community of Los Angeles, while revealing the mythical and human dimensions of the neighborhood that was called the “Ellis Island of the West” Panel discussions follow select performances. Through Dec. 16. Fridays and Saturdays, 7:45 p.m.; Sundays, 4:45 p.m. Tickets $15, $17, $19.99. Tickets with dinner or desert $19.99, $29.99, $39.99. Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. First St., Los Angeles. (323) 263-7684.


Hanukkah Drum Circle
Make Hanukkah crafts and enjoy sweet holiday treats with South Bay families at the JKidz Club Hanukkah drum circle and gathering at Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach. 3–5 p.m. $10 family admission. Polliwog Park, 1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (424) 543-4648.


JNF Breakfast for Israel
Alon Ben-Gurion, grandson of Israel founding father David Ben-Gurion, speaks at the Jewish National Fund’s annual Breakfast for Israel. Ben-Gurion is committed to seeing his grandfather’s dream of making the Negev desert bloom a reality and uses his hospitality business to promote development in the Negev. Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also delivers a greeting. 7:30–9 a.m. Free. The Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 964-1400, ext. 966.

“Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East”
A panel discussion on “Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East: Power, Politics and Regional Threats” examines nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East in light of the recent U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran. Speakers are former UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, a specialist in arms control and national security; Chen Kane, director of the Middle East Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies; and David Menashri, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University. UCLA School of Law professor Kal Raustiala moderates. 6–7:45 p.m. Free. UCLA Fowler Museum, Lenart Auditorium, 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646.

“Home is Where the Heart Is: A Biological Reunion”
Thirty years after being taken away from her parents and given up for adoption, singer-songwriter Jenni “Cami” Alpert began searching for her birth father, Don. When she found him, he was a homeless, toothless drug addict. Their reunion forms the basis of this concert and presentation, which they lead. Actress Mayim Bialik (“Big Bang Theory”) moderates a Q-and-A. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.

“When the World Comes Crashing Down”
Sinai Temple Rabbi Sam Rotenberg addresses the young professionals of Sinai Temple’s Atid program about “When the World Comes Crashing Down” — what Judaism teaches in regard to surviving, and even thriving, in a violent time. Attendees are encouraged to donate to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ L.A. Wildfire Relief Fund. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Free. For people in their 20s and 30s. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

L.A. Jewish Symphony Kids Concerts

L.A. Jewish Symphony Kids Concerts
Culminating a two-month education outreach program, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, with conductor Noreen Green and soloist Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, presents an interactive concert for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at Valley Beth Shalom Day School. The one-hour performance celebrates Jewish-Spanish music and history. 11 a.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom Day School, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino; Another concert takes place on Dec. 3 at Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 646-2844.


“Conversations With God”
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, vice president of American Jewish University, tackles the question, “What difference does God make in a human life?” during “Conversations with God,” a series that runs for eight Wednesday evenings at Valley Beth Shalom. VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein hosts the series — open to rabbis, scholars and thinkers — which continues through Jan. 9. 7–9 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

“Myth Makers and Breakers”
How did Israel shape Israeli music? How has Israeli music changed Israel? A musical celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday features Daniel Stein Kokin leading an exploration of seven iconic Israeli songs: three myth makers, three myth breakers and one that takes off in a new direction. The professor of Jewish literature from Germany, who is a visiting professor at UCLA, also highlights the songs’ original artists with film clips of their performances. 7 p.m. $15. American Jewish University’s Familian Campus, Sperber Jewish Community Library, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572.


Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked

Ayelet Shaked
[UPDATED DATE] Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at Beth Jacob Congregation about the “Internal and International Challenges of the Jewish People.” A computer engineer, Shaked is the only secular woman in the leadership of the Jewish Home party, which is to the political right of Netanyahu’s Likud party and is opposed to any evacuation of West Bank settlements. 7:30–9 p.m. Free. Beth Jacob Congregation, Shapell Sanctuary, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911.

“Shabbat in Your Home”
Adat Ari El Senior Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard leads a monthly workshop for parents of school-age children designed to bring the rituals and philosophy of Shabbat into the home. Gatherings are hosted in homes of participants. If interested in participating and/or hosting, contact Diana Weinberg at 7:30–9:30 p.m. Free. RSVP required. (818) 766-9426.

G.I Jews

“GI Jews”
The PBS documentary “GI Jews: Jewish Americans in WWII” — which tells the story of American Jewish troops who fought against fascism, helped save European Jews and assisted survivors of Nazi concentration camps — screens at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. After years of struggle, these soldiers emerged transformed, determined to continue the fight for equality at home. 7:30–9:30 p.m.  Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Westside Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.  (213) 388-2401.

Distant Cousins

Distant Cousins
Los Angeles-based folk-pop trio Distant Cousins perform songs exploring the group members’ deep connections and a variety of musical genres. Their original music is the collaboration of its members, Ami Kozak, Dov Rosenblatt and Duvid Swirsky. They appear at The Mint. Zev the Wolf opens. Ages 21 and over. Doors 7:30 p.m. Show 8 p.m. $12 in advance, $15 day of show. The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 954-9400.

NewGround Shares Muslim and Jewish Stories

Six Jewish and Muslim leaders read stories about taking risks during the NewGround storytelling event. Photo by Ryan Torok

Ralph Fertig was a Jewish freedom rider who challenged the segregation on public buses during the civil rights era. 

This year, on Nov. 14, Fertig sat not on a bus but in a wheelchair in the front row of the IMAN Cultural Center in Los Angeles as Leo Baeck Temple member Gary Stern read a passage from Fertig’s memoir, “A Passion for Justice: One Man’s Dedication to Civil Rights,” detailing Fertig’s experience as a white man standing up for African Americans.

It was an evening demonstrating the power of disparate groups standing up for each other and featured six Jewish and Muslim storytellers sharing stories of taking risks. The event was part of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change’s annual Spotlight Storytellers event. NewGround is a community-building organization that creates, connects and empowers Jewish and Muslim change-makers in America. 

Around 200 people attended the event, where the readers spoke about their experiences as NewGround Change-Makers in 2017, a NewGround program for those 25 and older to engage in topics including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Among those who read at the event was Samara Hutman, the former executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, who has a background in Holocaust education. She shared a story of how a Muslim in her group helped her come to terms with previous experiences of sexual harassment. Hutman addressed the power of the #MeToo movement and detailed her experience going to a #MeToo Shabbat service together with her Muslim peer. 

Another of the storytellers, Ramy El-Etreby, spoke about being a gay Muslim and how he came into conflict with a Jewish person over gay rights in Israel and surrounding countries. He said they both eventually came to better understand each other.

Daisy Khan read an excerpt from her memoir, “Born with Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman.” The wife of an imam, she described herself as one of the most empowered Muslim women in the world who has grappled with whether to use her privilege to help other Muslim women find their voices. She is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, which convenes and promotes solidarity among Muslim women leaders so they can collectively pursue social change.

Gabriela Böhm, a documentary filmmaker from Buenos Aires, talked about being the daughter of émigré refugee parents who survived the Holocaust and her challenges in making a life for herself in the United States.

Finally, Seema Ahmad told a moving story about being a lawyer for undocumented citizens and the struggle to stay dispassionate when she feels her clients are being treated unfairly in the courtroom. She discussed a specific incident in which she had to keep all of her emotions at bay as a judge berated her client. 

Punctuating the evening was Ani Zonneveld, who took the stage and sang the song “Prayer of Life.”

“O Allah! Grant me the light in my heart, light in my grave, light in front of me,” Zonneveld sang over soothing music.

In essence, the evening was about giving people the chance to use their voices, said Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround, who introduced the readers to the crowd and spoke of her own family’s experience being uprooted from their homes in the Middle East and their difficulty in finding a place to belong. 

If just for one night, everyone felt like they belonged.

Shootings, Elections and Dust in the Wind

There are certain weeks in the news business when the pressure becomes almost unbearable. Last week was one of them.

First, there was the continuing shock of the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history, when 11 Shabbat worshippers were shot dead by a neo-Nazi at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. This was not an event that we could just grieve over and move on. This was a communal trauma. The shock lingered. The questions multiplied. The grieving stayed.

Virtually every synagogue in the world honored the 11 victims on the Shabbat following the massacre. If you’re looking for signs of Jewish peoplehood, consider that Exhibit A.
A few days later, on Nov. 6, all eyes were on what some called the “most consequential midterm election of our lifetime.” That night at the Journal, we extended our print deadline to midnight so we could include an initial take of the results in the Nov. 9 print edition.
In the aftermath of those two major events, our online staff was tested. Day after day, they posted stories and analyses on both Pittsburgh and the elections, including videos and special podcasts.

For this week’s cover story, our plan was to do a deep dive into the election results.
Then, before we could catch our breath, another mass shooting grabbed our attention late on Nov. 7, this one at a bar in Thousand Oaks that left 12 people dead.
We managed to get in touch with one of the survivors, Ben Ginsburg, who put into words the story of his nightmare, which you can read in this week’s issue.
Then, the next night, all hell broke loose as vicious Santa Ana winds unleashed their rage across large swaths of Malibu, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Agoura Hills, Calabasas and surrounding areas, forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to evacuate and wreaking devastation over the next two days that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and some Jewish institutions.

“So, which nightmare to put on the cover?”

Nightmare was following nightmare.

On Saturday morning, Nov. 10, as I walked out of synagogue on Pico Boulevard, I could smell the burn. Shifting winds had brought smoke and tiny flakes of ash from those distant fires to our cozy Jewish neighborhood, creating a reddish haze that hovered in the distance. We felt the pain of our faraway neighbors through the dust in the wind.
Dark stories were colliding and overlapping. Some of the families touched by the Thousand Oaks shooting had to evacuate their homes because of the fires. A rabbi from the area, Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who had written a poem of mourning for the shooting victims, now wrote a special prayer for these “fire-filled days.”

So, which nightmare to put on the cover? I had already asked our columnist Ben Shapiro to write a cover story on how to deal with the madness of mass shootings. But we couldn’t ignore these apocalyptic fires, which have touched everyone in the greater City of Angels (not to mention all those in Northern California).

“Dark stories were colliding and overlapping. Some of the families touched by the Thousand Oaks shooting had to evacuate their homes because of the fires.”

As you can see, we decided to feature both events on the cover and give each story top billing. Shapiro analyzes the complexity of the mass-shooting phenomenon, and what we can do to address the epidemic of gun violence; and the Journal’s reporting staff and editors cover the devastation of the fires and the compassionate response from our community.

We also have a column from Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles head Jay Sanderson on how he and his team dealt with the crises over 72 hours.
And, as if all that weren’t enough, the winds of war were blowing again in Israel, with nearly 500 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza within a few days. (As I write this, it looks like a ceasefire is in the works.)

One of the cruel aspects of journalism is that it doesn’t allow much time for emotion. We hear about a horrible event and, almost instantly, we have to think about getting you the story, and how quickly and accurately we can do so.
As we continue our coverage during these nerve-wracking times, I’m tempted to come up with words that will make us all feel better, or at least help us cope. Beyond the usual cliches, I don’t really have any.

My only wish is that we will be blessed, very soon, with a few weeks free of human tragedies.

Obituaries: Dave Lux, Holocaust Survivor, 85

Dave Lux, Holocaust survivor and Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust community member, died on Oct. 29. He was 85.

Lux was born on April 12, 1933, in Negrovec, Czechoslovakia, to Mordechai and Esther Pinkasovic, and had an older brother, Yaakov. In March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and soldiers forced the Lux family to flee its home. The family resettled in a crowded building with other refugee families.

While living there, Lux said a woman approached the refugee parents to ask who was willing to entrust her with their children. Lux said his parents were the only ones. As he and Yaakov were led away from his parents, Lux recalled the confusion he felt as a 5-year-old, at the sight of his mother crying inconsolably.

What Lux didn’t know at the time is that he and his brother were being sent on the Kindertransport to live in England indefinitely without their parents. The brothers spent the war years in England, where, through limited correspondence, they learned that their parents had a third son, Irwin. However, all correspondence eventually stopped, and after the war ended, the brothers realized that their family had most likely perished in the Shoah.

In 1949, Dave and Yaakov moved to Israel, where Dave served in the military. In 1958, he moved to the United States, where he married Helene, and they had three children, and eventually five grandchildren.

Lux never fully understood the details of his rescue until 50 years afterward, in 1989, when he attended a Kindertransport reunion in England. At the reunion, he discovered that the woman who approached his mother in the resettlement area had been working for Nicholas Winton, the British stockbroker who arranged for the rescue of 669 children from Czechoslovakia to England.

Although Lux had few memories of his parents, and could barely even picture them, he always remembered that his mother was a strong woman, and that his father had a sharp sense of humor. In the last few years of his life, Lux frequently told his story to honor the courage and sacrifice of his brave parents.

Lux is survived by his wife, Helene; daughter Beverly; sons Steve, Danny and his wife, Andrea; and five grandchildren. 

After the Fires, I Got a Lesson in Repairing the World

The great poet Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I am proud to say that my school, de Toledo High School, has been home to so many this past week. Fires damaged and devastated many homes and several Jewish communities throughout the Calabasas, Thousand Oaks and the Malibu area. Although in recent days, so many communities were shattered or even destroyed, I saw how the Jewish community came together as one — like a family.

The combined efforts, unity and hard work by students and staff from my high school as well as the Jewish Federation, Hillel 818, Temple Aliyah, Temple Or Ami, Ilan Ramon School, PJ Library and C Teen have made it possible for there to be a day camp for children and a gathering place for families at de Toledo High School for as long as needed. 

There have been more than 50 volunteers on campus ready to give back to the Jewish community of greater Los Angeles. Within us all is the drive to restore the kehillah together. Ranging from middle school students to rabbis and other clergy, the efforts from all volunteers have been remarkable. “I am here because I was taught the importance of giving back when I am fortunate enough to do so,” said 17-year-old Juliette from Oak Park High School. She went on to describe the “human drive my Jewish and non-Jewish friends have to help.” 

“The community has mobilized so quickly, so many people are stepping forward, we have more volunteers than we could have imagined. It is beautiful,” Rabbi Ben Goldstein of Temple Aliyah said. Smiles and laughs are prominent around campus today. Students smile as they walk past young toddlers playing in the grass; a friendly game of basketball in the gym has players from all ages, happy and engaged. 

“From the moment we realized we were displaced, de Toledo High School opened its doors to our community as well as to others,” Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami said. “Their answers to our requests were not just ‘yes,’ but ‘what else do you need?’ The space, resources  and comfort that de Toledo High School is providing is the true definition of community.”

“The community has mobilized so quickly, so many people are stepping forward, we have more volunteers than we could have imagined.” — Rabbi Ben Goldstein

The relationships we have formed help those who were affected by the fires but also heals those who were able to reach out and help. “It has been our honor and privilege to open our campus to the various impacted organizations,” said Mark H. Shpall, Head of School at de Toledo High School. “The ability of de Toledo High School to open its arms wide allows us to put our mission statement of ‘raising the next generation of Jewish leaders’ into practice. As leaders, our students are engaged in meaningful acts of giving to those affected. In addition, the tremendous outpouring of resources, love and tangible support from the Jewish community for the affected synagogues, camps and day schools has been awe-inspiring.” 

For my entire life, I’ve been taught the value of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and in a time of great brokenness, the Los Angeles Jewish community has shown me the power in repairing together. We built a home together because that is who we are as a Jewish community.

Ariela Zweiback is a student at de Toledo High School.

Police Arrest L.A. Man Suspected of Grabbing Wigs Off Orthodox Jewish Women

Screenshot from YouTube.

An unidentified man was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly grabbing the wigs off of Orthodox Jewish women.

One of the victims, a 36-year-old who identified herself as Chaya, told ABC7 that the man followed her as she was walking out of a synagogue in the North Hollywood area on Yom Kippur, then tore off her wig and then threw it back to her.

The man also is suspected of tearing the wig off an 80-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman earlier that day and of doing the same to a 58-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman on Tuesday, both of which also occurred in the North Hollywood area.

In the latter case, the man reportedly gave a sarcastic apology when he tore off the wig  and then tossed it on the ground.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said in a statement that the man was likely engaging in these actions to humiliate Orthodox Jewish women.

“Orthodox Jewish women often wear wigs, scarfs or hats to cover their hair as a symbol of modesty,” the LAPD said.

LAPD Detective Martin Contreras told ABC7 that police arrested the man at his Sherman Oaks residence; police believe that there may have been more victims that haven’t been reported yet.

The man is believed to be somewhere in the 25- to 30-year-old age range.

Prayer for a Sunday Morning

Divine wisdom,
Please show me how
To breathe
When the smell of hatred
Is hot and dank against my cheek
Blowing across the country
From my childhood home.

To walk
Into a synagogue today
In Los Angeles
When Squirrel Hill,
Sweet shtetl that raised me,
Is no longer safe.

To look
Into the eyes of my students and colleagues,
Friends and strangers
In solidarity with what they
Have always known
In shame for having forgotten
To grieve
The litany of losses
Private and public
Named and unnamable
Across the whole wide wailing world
Without crumbling to dust.

To plant
Flowers, when bullets rain
Words, to bandage wounds
Hope, when shadows grow
Long and dark across our faces
Faith that dawn will come
To act
As a bridge
A balm
A beacon,
A source of healing in the dark
Please show me how to add
To the sum of light
When the night looms so large
And my one flame
so small.

Deborah Elder Brown is an award-winning poet and journalist who lives in L.A. and was raised in Squirrel Hill.

Crest Theater to be Renamed Honoring Leonard Nimoy

The old Crest Theater on Westwood Boulevard will become the UCLA Leonard Nimoy Theater. The UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and its performing arts program, the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA purchased the venue with funds from the actor’s widow Susan Bay Nimoy and an anonymous donor, and will use it as an off-campus performing arts space.

“As a long-standing supporter of the Center for the Art of Performance and its inspired artistic director, Kristy Edmunds, I am thrilled to help provide UCLA with a long-awaited state-of-the-art theater,” Nimoy said. “My late husband and I admire Kristy’s passion for the art of performance, her out-of-the-box imagination, razor-sharp intellect, and her vision for what the UCLA Nimoy Theater will bring to Los Angeles.”

The UCLA Nimoy Theater will return the Crest Theater to its roots as a performing arts venue. The space originally opened in December 1940 as the Westwood Theater, a live performance hall. It underwent a renovation in 1987 when the Walt Disney Company replaced the façade. The city of Los Angeles designated the theater as a historic-cultural landmark in 2008.

Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role as Mr. Spock on “Star Trek,” died at 83 of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Feb. 27, 2015.

Diversity Is Highlight of 32nd Israel Film Festival

Still from “Working Woman”

A diverse lineup of features, documentaries and short films will be presented at the 32nd Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, kicking off Nov. 6 with an opening night gala at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that will honor Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher and “Halloween” producer, Jason Blum.

More than 40 films and television series will screen at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts and Town Center 5 theaters over a two-week period ending Nov. 20.

“We have close to 30 guests coming — Israeli stars, directors and producers” who will participate in Q&A discussions following their films, IFF founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein told the Journal. 

In addition to new films, including many award winners and nominees, the festival will pay tribute to six Israeli filmmakers with screenings of their classic movies, including Moshe Mizrahi and Menahem Golan’s “I Love You Rosa”, Uri Barbash’s “One of Us” and Assi Dayan’s “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer.”

On Nov. 13, four family-friendly films will be shown at the Skirball Cultural Center in a program called “Jewish Identity Through Israeli Films,” starting with the TV comedy “The New Black,” about four rather un-Orthodox Yeshiva students. 

Other selections also deal with religion, including Nesher’s opening night film “The Other Story” and Eliran Malka’s “The Unorthodox.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the subject of the documentaries “Foreign Land,” “A Land Without Borders,” and “The Oslo Diaries,” which premiered on HBO in September and whose directors will attend its screening. “It’s an important film because we need to look back to look to the future,” Fenigstein said.
There are films about musicians (“Redemption,” “Here and Now’), people with special needs (“Shoelaces,” “On the Spectrum”), transgender issues (“Family in Transition”) and sexual politics (“Working Woman,” “Fractures”).

Documentaries include “Touching the Sky,” about female Israeli Air Force pilot trainees; “To Err is Human,” about medical mistakes and how doctors are endeavoring to prevent them; and a revealing look “Inside the Mossad,” with former spies from the Israeli intelligence agency.

“The Cakemaker,” which played at the IFF last year, is making a return appearance. “We want to help it go to the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes,” Fenigstein said.

He noted that the Annenberg Foundation joined this year’s group of sponsors, which will fund a prize to the IFF winners. “We’re going to give almost $100,000 in post-production funding to the winner of best feature and best documentary audience choice awards,” he said.

“Working Woman”
A dream job turns into a nightmare for Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) in Michal Aviad’s timely “Working Woman.” Seemingly inspired by #MeToo, its screenplay actually dates back to 2012. It’s about a married woman who endures sexual advances from her boss (Menashe Noy) because her family needs the money, but suffice it to say that she becomes empowered in the end. 

“All my films are about women’s issues, from a woman’s point of view — issues that concern society,” Aviad said. In this film, “I really wanted to understand why women don’t leave or complain. What makes men continue this kind of behavior? What makes women put up with it? Can women and men work together? All this has been going on forever. Women need to work to provide for our families and we want to have a career but we can’t pay this kind of price. It’s time we tell this to everybody and to ourselves.”

Aviad, who studied literature and philosophy in Israel before getting her graduate degree in the United States, lived in San Francisco for 10 years before returning to Israel, where she’s now on the film department faculty at Tel Aviv University. Having specialized in documentaries like “Dimona Twist” and “Jenny and Jenny,” “Working Woman” is her second scripted feature. 

A secular Jew of Sephardic-Italian heritage on her mother’s side and of Ashkenazi-Hungarian ancestry on her father’s, Aviad documented her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust in “For My Children.” “My father got out before the war and went back to fight with the British army, and my mother and her family went into hiding,” she said. 

Aviad is troubled by the Israeli Culture Ministry’s new edicts that deny funding to artists who criticize the government. “I’m worried that democracy is losing its ground, step by step,” she said. On the other hand, recent steps toward progress in the women’s movement encourage her. “Maybe there’s a beginning of a change,” she said. 

A Still from “Fractures”

Arik Lubetzky’s “Fractures” has a different take on sexual misconduct, focusing on a renowned professor (Shmuel Vilozni) who faces public shaming and marital implosion when he’s accused of coercing a graduate student into an intimate relationship. No one escapes unscathed. 

“These situations are very complicated,” Lubetzky said, noting that in this case, “Everybody is a victim, including the children. These things can destroy a family. We have to look very carefully about these cases and not be so judgmental because we don’t know all the details of what happened. I want the audience to understand that and dig deeper and see it from a different perspective.”

Lubetzky said that he is drawn to stories “about the nature of the human being [whether it’s] a police drama, a Holocaust drama, or a situation like [‘Fractures’].” He may be best known for his film “Apples From the Desert,” which won the IFF audience award in 2015. “I’m not religious at all but I made a film about a religious girl who ran away from her Orthodox family and has a clash with her father,” he said.  

His next project has conflict as well: it’s about two couples, immigrants from Russia, whose lives cross and clash.

A heartwarming story about the complicated relationship between an aging, ailing father (Doval’e Glickman) and his adult son (Nevo Kimchi) who has special needs, “Shoelaces” is particularly personal for director Jacob Goldwasser. “I have a son with special needs. The story is not our story, but it’s very personal to me because I identify with the characters very deeply,” he told the Journal.  He confided that he’d avoided the topic for many years “because I was afraid to be so close to my pain,” but he reconsidered with encouragement from actor Kimchi.

Goldwasser realized that he could use the film to promote awareness of special needs people, “that I could change attitudes in the public and increase understanding,” he said. His efforts resonated with Israeli audiences and critics, earning seven Ophir (Israeli Film Academy) Award nominations, including best film and best director, and a best-supporting actor win for Glickman

“Rescue Bus 300”
What starts out as a tense hostage drama about a bus hijacking turns into a shocking cover-up in Rotem Shamir’s “Rescue Bus 300,” a true story that the director calls “a scar on our history.” It chronicles an April 1987 incident in which four armed terrorists commandeered a bus en route from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon, and it combines re-enactments and interviews with the hostages, reporters and military officials. 

“It was an opportunity to dive into a very dire and tense character-driven situation. I love portraying characters in high-octane situations because they bring out the best and worst in people,” Shamir said.

He had to research the details of the takeover and takedown, but he knew the infamous story about its aftermath. The Israeli public was told that all four terrorists died in a shootout, “But photographs reveled the truth,” Shamir said. “There was a direct order from the Shin Bet to kill the two terrorists who had survived. It was just the beginning of a cover-up that went all the way to the Prime Minister. It took two or three years for the whole thing to come out of the woodwork. Nobody went to jail for this. But the public’s perception changed a lot from that point on.”

Shot over four cold days in February 2017 for the reenactment and one more day for the interviews, “Rescue Bus 300” aired on Israeli TV in May, but Shamir is hoping for a theatrical or streaming release here. Meanwhile, he’s gearing up to shoot the third season of the acclaimed drama “Fauda,” which streams on Netflix. 

“We have a great story that’s different from the first two seasons that takes it to the next level. It’s more complicated in the sense that it’s not just about two men going head-to-head, which was the case of both seasons of the show,” he said. “It’s more of an ensemble season. Doron (Lior Raz) is still leading the group, but not everything revolves completely around him. There are new female characters on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side is completely new.”

Shamir, who has been making movies since he took a filmmaking class in high school at 14, has his next project lined up: a sci-fi series set in a dystopian future, shot in Hebrew and Arabic. “I hope we can get some international support distribution-wise and take it to the next level,” he said.

The Israel Film Festival runs Nov. 6–20. Visit for schedules and information.

Happy Birthday to Me: Oct News 2018

Oct News 2018 with We Said Go Travel:

Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes! I am so proud of all I have accomplished this year. Thank you for watching my videos, reading my stories, following along on social media and asking me about booking your travels! I was LIVE on the 1pm KTLA NEWS!

Did you see me? Click here to see it AGAIN! 

Happy Birthday Lisa Niver 2018

Lisa Niver on an Arctic Safari with Churchill Wild finding polar bears!

Thank you to Ms. Magazine for publishing my story: “Reverse Mentoring with GenMaverick: The Five Best Lessons I Learned From Teen Feminists.” I was honored to be asked to be a mentor/catalyst for Maverick. This story is from the Maverick Live Summit in April 2018.

“At the inaugural Maverick Live Summit in Los Angeles, teens took the stage to celebrate the new app’s intent to empower young girls to use their voices—and shared honest stories about their paths to incredible accomplishments. From being on “Grown-ish” to being the first African-American woman ever to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speed skating team, the passionate young women who gathered in Los Angeles for the summit showed the crowd of teens that anything is possible and encouraged them to be creative and empowered.

Collectively and individually they told each other and the crowd: “Take risks! Dream big. Let your voice be heard!”


Lisa Niver's article for Ms. Magazine

My Travel Photo Award is open until November 1, 2018. Thank you to everyone who participated in all of my writing competitions and the first photo award. Submit your photo for our current Photo Award THIS MONTH!

We Said Go Travel Photo Award 2018

Did you see all of my Africa stories and videos from my trip to Tanzania and Kenya with Abercrombie and Kent?

Part 1: Where Did I Travel on My First African Safari?

Part 2: Are You Ready? Today We Are Going to the Serengeti!

Part 3: What is the Best Way to Travel from Tanzania to Kenya?

Part 4: How can you see Black Rhino, Maasai Warriors and Hula Hoops?

Part 5: Do You Love The Animals of Africa?

Thank you to Abercrombie and Kent for sharing so many of my photos from our East African safari on their Facebook page:

Travel expert and writer, Lisa Ellen Niver, recently returned from a safari in East Africa with A&K. Here she shares some of the highlights from her recent adventure.We Said Go Travel

Posted by Abercrombie & Kent USA on Thursday, October 11, 2018



Here is the link to my video channel on YouTube where I have over 826,000 views on YouTube! Thank you for your support! Are you a subscriber? I hope you will join me and subscribe!

Recent videos from walking with Polar Bears in Canada with Churchill Wild:

I am now planning and booking travel! Where do you want to wander? Find more information about me and my luxury travel advising as an independent affiliate of CRUISE and RESORT, Inc with Virtuoso Luxury Travel Network on my new microsite!

My fortune cookies said:  “Don’t be discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward,” and “Courtesy costs nothing.”

I hope your birthday and entire year will be filled with celebrations!
Thank you for your all of your support. Lisa

Discover more on my social media accounts:  InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube, and at My social media following is now over 135,000 and I am verified on both Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Niver is BRAVE

Lisa Niver at the opening summit for Maverick Live, April 2018

Remembering Anit Berger, 29

The Los Angeles Jewish community was rocked by the tragic death of actress/producer/activist Anit Berger, who died Oct. 18, a day after she was struck in a hit-and-run accident. She was 29.

The Israeli-born actress was remembered at a service on Oct. 21 at the Pico Shul, where friends, family and collaborators recalled a woman who lived not only for herself, but, as Rabbi Yonah Bookstein put it, had “a serial impact on everyone” who came into contact with her. As more than one person noted, Berger put the idea of Tikkun Olam into action every day of her life.

Israeli audiences knew Berger through her role in the hit TV series “The ’80s,” but Bookstein said those who met her — even once — came away impressed not only by her beauty and charisma, but by the “enormous joy” she brought to life, and her “passion to make everything happen.” 

Although she had struggled and raised herself since the age of 15, she was dedicated to helping the downtrodden. Pico Shul member and Berger’s friend Marcus J Freed said this was not just a pose, but something she put into practice. In his case, it was Berger showing up in the ICU every day after he suffered a traumatic brain injury after he, too, was struck by a car last year. 

Berger made such an indelible impression on people that Shlomo Alerga, a blogger for The Times of Israel, who met her only once at a post-Shabbat Kiddush at Pico Shul, wrote that “within those few minutes I could tell there was something special about her.”  

A common thread among the speakers at the memorial was Berger’s indomitable and infectious enthusiasm.  She was, her friend Aaron Kemp said, a combination of “a peacock, an alley cat and a holy unicorn who let nothing stand in her way.” She was “a brilliant teacher about life,” who “just had a light about her.”

“Anit was a combination of a peacock, an alley cat and a holy unicorn who let nothing stand in her way.” — Aaron Kemp

Her mother-in-law, Robin Blumenthal, remembered Berger as an amazing soul, and that if people wanted to really honor her life, they should follow her example and “be a giver, a humanitarian, to take each moment and life it to the fullest.” A newlywed, she and her husband Bret Blumenthal lived on a boat, waiting to see where the waters would take them.

Along with her husband, Pico Shul’s Rabbi Bookstein has started a GoFundMe campaign ( to help Berger’s mother, who is in ill health in Israel, and working two jobs to support herself. 

Berger’s husband left a message on his wife’s Facebook page; “You touched more lives than I could have ever imagined. You brought Happiness and light to every corner of darkness. You didn’t walk into the room, You were the room. Your passion for life and each and every one of G-d’s Creations, especially your love of the Jewish community was unrivaled. You were the first to action when somebody needed help, you were the first to give when somebody was in need. Your dream was to give, give give; to your family, to your community, to those that were poor and suffering. It’s heartbreaking and Heartwarming at the same time to see just how much you were loved and how many lives you touched. … It was both an honor and a privilege to be your husband. I love you, very, very much. And I miss you. we ALL miss you. This place will not be the same without your insatiable love of live and adventure. … We all know that if Anit had a last will and testament she would say: ‘Please take care of my mom!’ If she knew her family is ok, she can rest in peace.”

Talking to Teens About Drug Use

Photo by Leslee Komaiko

Vaping, Juuling, BHO, CDB, 710, e-juice. If those terms and abbreviations sound unfamiliar, there’s a good reason. It’s a new world when it comes to marijuana and nicotine, with an entirely new language. 

Last weekend, the LA Jewish Teen Initiative, a program of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, sponsored a workshop designed to educate parents on the new language and to help them better communicate with their teens about drugs and drug use.

The free two-hour workshop, held at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, was led by Linda Gingras, director of addiction and prevention services at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

Gingras began the program with a quote from rabbi and psychiatrist Abraham Twerski: “The first step is awareness. As long as we believe the problem is not ours, we will do nothing.” 

She then dove into the difference between the marijuana of 30 years ago, which had a THC percentage of around 1 percent (THC is the psychoactive component that delivers the high), and the marijuana of 2018, which averages around 15 percent THC, though some strains, she said, are testing closer to 30 percent. Combine this significantly increased potency with new delivery methods that are easier, cleaner and more discreet, and “this doesn’t feel like drugs,” Gringas said. “It doesn’t have the paraphernalia attached to it. So it feels safer. That’s a real dangerous place.”

To illustrate her point, Gingras showed a picture of various marijuana edibles widely available today. Lollipops, she said, are especially popular. But there are also chocolate bars and gummy candies. One might guess that one chocolate bar or a handful of gummy candies might equal one “dose” (10 mg of marijuana). But in fact, more often, it’s just one little square of a chocolate bar or a single gummy candy that delivers a dose sufficient to get someone high, she said. Gingras also noted, “Who eats just one gummy bear?” In addition, because the effects of these edibles can be delayed, there is temptation to consume more and more.

So what’s a concerned parent to do? According to Gingras, talk. Talk to your teens about how they can make good choices. Ask open-ended questions. “The goal is not just to be heard,” Gingras said, “but to be understood and to interact. So often our reaction may be to preach or moralize, to yell or be punitive. But is this keeping the communication open? Or am I just being reactive because I am scared?”

“The teen brain is geared to have that sense of immortality. Impulse control and rational decision-making is the last part of the brain that develops.” — Linda Gingras

Gingras suggested establishing a clear family position on alcohol and drugs and communicating it to your teens. For some families, this might be zero tolerance. Others may have specific rules about when alcohol and pot can be used and where. 

“So often parents say, ‘we didn’t think it would be a problem with our kids,’” Gingras said. “So they don’t talk about it, ever. Others have a meaningful conversation with their 13-year old and never bring it up again.”

She also recommended talking through various scenarios and discussing strategies for coping with situations before they happen. For example, you’re at a party and you drank too much and you’re afraid to call home. Gingras mentioned that while most teens now have Uber or Lyft on their phones, having another trusted adult whom they can call besides their parents can be helpful.

“The teen brain is geared to have that sense of immortality,” Gingras said. “Impulse control and rational decision-making is the last part of the brain that develops. Help them think it through. After the fun, what could happen? And it may not be physical things.” For example, she said, “If someone posted a picture of you drunk on social media, how would that affect your life?”

Don’t wait until something happens to have these conversations. “Start early,” Gingras counseled. “The more you are having the conversation, the more they are going to know you are aware.”

Can California Embrace Israeli Water Technology?

Even on the heels of California’s historic drought, water use has steadily returned to pre-drought levels, particularly in affluent Southern California communities. In response, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills into law — SB 606 and AB 1668 — earlier this year, requiring cities and water districts to set permanent water conservation rules. Cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts now must meet strict annual water budgets, facing fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies.

Cultural differences aside, Israel and California have many similarities — chief among them an arid Mediterranean climate, topography, seawater access and a wetter north supplying a drier south. Aided by strong trade relations, Sacramento has turned to Jerusalem for drought-management solutions, and private-sector partnerships continue to materialize. 

In 2014, Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement to facilitate joint projects and research in water conservation and agricultural technology. The following year, Israeli desalination giant IDE Technologies opened the Carlsbad desalination plant just north of San Diego, the biggest facility of its kind in the Western hemisphere. It produces more than 50 million gallons of water per day, supplying San Diego County with 7 percent of its potable water needs. 

California-Israel water partnerships make sense, perhaps more than with any other U.S. state, according to Guy Gutterman, trade officer and director of business development for the Israel Economic Mission of the West Coast. 

“When I talk to the state of Washington on this topic, they just tell me they have no reason to be interested,” Gutterman told the Journal. “I hear that a lot. Not in California.”  

Part of Israel’s Ministry of Economy, the Israel Economic Mission of the West Coast facilitates trade and investment between the Western United States and Israel. Forty similar branches exist around the world, including four stateside. Gutterman covers the water and agriculture sectors across 17 states. 

“We collaborate with our partners, who are Israeli industry startups or rising stars in the water and agriculture sectors, anyone in that ecosystem,” Gutterman said. “We connect them with large corporations for partnerships, utilities, municipalities, venture capital firms — whoever’s interested in Israeli tech. We provide the avenues to partner with them, whether that’s participation in conferences or consumer electronic shows. What’s good is the Israeli water brand is helping us and them gain access, especially in California.” 

Gaining access is a start in a heavily regulated California water distribution system where success is hard to measure, Gutterman said. Bringing Israeli private-sector water innovation to California, no matter how effective, isn’t as simple as it might sound.  

Israel has one water authority — Mekorot — that supplies Israel with 90 percent of its drinking water and operates a cross-country supply network dubbed the National Water Carrier. California has more than 400 water districts, thousands of water agencies, complicated jurisdiction laws, and strict oversight and regulation. 

“There’s a lot of blurring of the lines,” Gutterman said. “That’s why privatization and innovations that come with it are having trouble gaining a foothold. It’s a California industry not known for its innovation. It’s not Google, where you have departments dedicated to innovation.” 

“While this generation might not be able to shift the global consciousness, really, if we want to save the world, so to speak, we have to focus on the next generation.” — Micah Smith

Municipal utilities can be reticient to invest in innovation because doing so puts taxpayer dollars at risk.

David Nahai, former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the largest municipal utility in the U.S. with more than 4 million residents, didn’t mince words when speaking with a Journal reporter about those challenges. 

“At LADWP, we had our mantra: We don’t want to be first,” he said. “The utility is accountable to its ratepayers, its governance structure, to City Council members. So there is a responsibility to the public that is taken very seriously, and that brings with it a reticence about taking gambles with taxpayer money. And I think emerging companies that want to do business with entities like LADWP need to be cognizant of that.”

Like a herd of wildebeest pondering a river crossing, one must lead and the others may follow. California, and the U.S. as a whole, is a fragmented water marketplace with more than 56,000 water agencies. In California alone, there are thousands, ranging from miniscule mobile-home parks to Nahai’s former agency. There are also more than 900 public wastewater treatment plants in operation statewide. The potential for shouldering risk on the part of utilities is compounded by the difficulty water and agricultural technology companies face in navigating how to market products in such tricky terrain.  

Still, Gutterman and Nahai can tout success stories. Nahai, now an environmental lawyer, activist and private-sector water consultant, serves on various boards, including the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a nonprofit with a downtown campus funded in part by LADWP that helps clean-technology companies and other entrepreneurs accelerate the commercialization of new products. Nahai has long been a proponent of engaging with Israeli companies, leading research trips to Israel for California leaders and lawmakers during his LADWP tenure. 

“That was always done with the thought of increasing this collaboration and exchanges of ideas between California and Israel, particularly with respect to the water sector,” Nahai said. “In terms of progress, there has been a tremendous amount, but I think we still have a ways to go in terms of increasing the integration of Israeli water technologies in the California water picture.”

Several Israeli companies have benefited from LACI’s offerings. That and other resources, such as entertaining joint ventures or subcontract agreements with entrenched market players helps Israeli companies gain an initial foothold. A prime example is IDE and the partnership it entered with Poseidon Water, an American company, to make the Carlsbad desalination plant a reality. 

“The opportunities and the demand are so rich and expansive that Israeli companies mustn’t be deterred in bringing their capabilities to California.” — David Nahai 

Even in “Sustainable Nation,” Israeli startup Phytech is shown making inroads with its products that conduct direct plant sensing — enabling farmers to improve decision-making, optimize production and reduce risk. But that progress often comes with one farmer at a time. Starting small, getting involved with pilot programs and proving the value of Israeli tech is often a part of the journey. 

Also in the film, Omer Guy, Phytech’s chief agronomist, brings his advanced algorithms to an almond farmer in the Central Valley. The plant sensors monitor the breathing — yes, breathing — of crops, reducing farmers’ guesswork in how to distribute water, a terribly competitive resource in the state’s agricultural hub. 

After incorporating Phytech sensors, the almond farmer in the film increases his crop yield and reduces his water use by 300 gallons per acre. Water for agricultural use accounts for 40 percent of water consumption across California. Imagine a landscape where that type of tech is instituted statewide. 

“The opportunities and the demand are so rich and expansive that Israeli companies mustn’t be deterred in bringing their capabilities to California,” Nahai said. 

James Perry and Utilis, the Israeli company he serves as vice president of business development, remain steadfast in their commitment to the California water marketplace. They even opened offices in San Diego. In 2013, the company’s chief technology officer and co-founder was working with a grant from NASA to search for water on Mars and Venus using remote sensing, a satellite-based technology that sent microwave transmissions long distances through space and cloud-covered gasses. Now, Utilis uses that same deep-space tech to help cash-strapped utilities improve leak detection and maintenance. 

Micah Smith, director of “Sustainable Nation”
Photo courtesy of Jerusalem University

“There are over a quarter of a million breaks in U.S. pipes alone, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are lost every single year,” Perry told the Journal. “To put that in perspective, there’s enough water lost in the U.S. piping systems to flow over Niagara Falls for a year. It’s just staggering.”

It all points to a vicious cycle. Over 20 percent of power generated across California goes into water systems that lose vast quantities of water for urban use and agriculture. Metal and PVC piping wasn’t meant to last as long as it has been deployed, Perry said. Utilities are scrambling, allocating maintenance services only when leaks are reported. 

“Most utilities are just overwhelmed with the number of breaks and work orders,” Perry said. “That’s where we come into play, with informed zoning technology that tells them where leaks are coming in instead of blindly waiting for them to surface and trying to go through every single inch of the system. That often takes them to places where they don’t have leaks. We send them to zones where they do have leaks. It’s more efficient and utilizes limited resources. It’s cost effective where the only other options are heavy capital expenditures and you don’t need to do anything special with us. Our services will do it.” 

Perry cites some of the same reasons Gutterman and Nahai bring up as barriers to entry in the California marketplace. He offered a simplification in the vein of Nahai’s old LADWP mantra. “I think what it really boils down to on the side of utilities,” Perry said, “are you willing to bet your career on adopting this new tech?”

He also mentioned special interest groups such as metal companies responsible for outdated piping opposing change in uprooting the system and reporting water losses. However, increased transparency through legislative measures, like a recently signed California Senate bill that, for the first time, will require public utilities to report water losses, may help turn the tide. 

“It’s going to take more innovation on the federal and state level so that utilities are being held accountable and the price of water meets its value. “The fact is it hasn’t, and water has been horribly undervalued,” Perry said. 

Cultural differences aside, Israel and California have many similarities — chief among them being a shared arid Mediterranean climate, topography, seawater access and a wetter north supplying a drier south.

Still, Utilis is being used to analyze thousands of miles of piping in Northern California with the East Bay Municipality Utility District based in the Oakland area, and in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and Cleveland. 

Utilis also has just completed a 12-month pilot program with the city of Duarte, which borders the jurisdiction of LADWP, and will publish results on cost savings, power generation savings and leaks detected early next year.

The elephant in the room is, of course, desalination and the drawing from a seemingly limitless source — the Pacific Ocean. Even Carlsbad’s desalination plant, though a success on many levels, presents ample legitimate environmental concerns, namely the issue of brine disposal. It also required heavy upfront investment and the water it produces costs at least double compared with other sources. 

“That’s exactly why we have so few [desalination plants],” Nahai said. “Water is a very local issue. It’s a global crisis, but solutions have to be found locally. I firmly believe Israel had no choice but to turn to the Mediterranean, and it has done so with enormous success. But Israel did that only after achieving very enviable rates of conversation, after recycling 90 percent of wastewater and exhausting many other avenues. We in Los Angeles haven’t exhausted those avenues. We can do better with conservation, wastewater recycling, aquifer reclamation, storm water recapture and various steps I’ve outlined throughout my career. We haven’t yet fully explored them.” 

But Nahai won’t rule out desalination as the eventual answer to California’s water problems. 

“It may be that, in the future, we’ll have no choice but to exploit the Pacific, as Israel was left no choice but to turn to the Mediterranean. But that day, for us in Los Angeles, is not today.”

In “Sustainable Nation,” Israeli startup Phytech is shown making inroads with its products that conduct direct plant sensing — enabling farmers to improve decision-making, optimize production and reduce risk. 

Until that day comes, Smith said he’s hopeful Israeli tech will continue to find its way into his home state. 

“As a Californian and Israeli, it feels like the perfect match. It’s also good diplomacy. It definitely tickles my Zionist funny bone to see Israeli tech making its way there, helping solve the California water crisis.”

Smith did offer a tongue-in-cheek downside to Israeli assistance.

“It will mean more Israelis moving there to work in the water sector,” he said, laughing. “Californians should be ready for that.”

Read More: How Israel Is Helping the Worldwide Water Shortage

Satirical Semite: Ode to My Silicon Soul

Photo from Flickr

I wanted The Full American Experience so I can understand your ways, your cultural depths and the achievements of your nation-made-great-again. So I visited a plastic surgeon.

Last month in England, I saw my great aunt and uncle, both in their mid-90s and in love after 60 years together. I got the sense that they don’t look at each other and say, “Wow, you are smoking hot,” but see beyond the surface layer. This is not the Los Angeles way.

England is not obsessed with cosmetic dentistry and plastic surgery. It is not better, just different. When an Englishman “gets some work done,” he is usually having a kitchen remodeled or the toilet unblocked. In L.A., it is a whole other ball of silicon.

I had my appointment with the surgeon in Beverly Hills. He is Jewish. What are the chances of finding a Jewish doctor in Los Angeles? Clearly, this was a sign from God.

My skull was scarred after being hit by a car and undergoing two brain surgeries at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. It was a horrible experience because they shaved my hair when I’d just had a great haircut. My potential career as a Vogue model was derailed, although I was more eligible for the cast of “Game of Thrones.”

Surgery left me with a 14-inch scar. Not that I am bragging, but my scar is huge.

Logically, if I got reconstructive surgery elsewhere on my head, then it might distract people from my scar, although this logic may be mildly affected by the now-healed brain damage.

I briefly considered a nose job, to get my nose enlarged so I can look more Jewish.

Jennifer Grey famously got her nose done after “Dirty Dancing.” Could he fuse her trimmings onto my proboscis? It may improve my dancing, nobody would put me in the corner and I’d have the time of my life.

Since “a rising tide lifts all boats,” every L.A. resident maximizes their aesthetic potential. The 28th California constitutional amendment is that “a rising tide lifts all faces, bottoms and other bits.”

The newly-facelifted Los Angeles International Airport terminal now requires visitors to walk through a spray-tanning machine before leaving passport control.

One of my doctors said that something in our human DNA can detect if someone has had cosmetic surgery even if we don’t know what they had done. Subconsciously, we can focus on people’s modifications rather than focus on who they are. There is nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery but it raises a rabbinic question. On seeing beautiful people at the beach, should one say the talmudic “beauty” blessing from Tractate Brachot 58b, “Baruch atah HaShem … shekahcha lo baolamo” (“God … has such things in his universe!”)? If there is a double portion of silicon should one say it twice? Does Rabbi Hillel bless right to left and Rabbi Shammai bless left to right? I am too holy and modest to even think about these things.

My time at Cedars-Sinai had some benefits. Its staff is so beautiful that to get hired there, they are interviewed by HR and a casting director.

Doctors resemble models and nurses are drop-dead gorgeous, although I was grateful not to drop dead during surgery.

The nurses’ beauty literally took my breath away, but possibly because I had a collapsed lung.

I made a new friend at Cedars, who I called “Cathy the Catheter.” She was intense but the discomfort was offset by a lovely 28-year-old, blue-eyed Texan nurse who withdrew the catheter. Who needs JDate when there is ICU?

L.A.’s worst cosmetic adjustments are displayed in shul every Shabbat morning, an 11th plague of men older than 45 who douse their hair in boot polish, unaware the color tone mismatches their beard. 

My cosmetic surgeon gave me wonderful advice: “Grow your hair and focus on inner happiness regardless of looks.” I’ll do that, but when the time comes, I’ll also visit my hairdresser Roxanne to get a smoothly blended tint. Thank God for hairdressers.

Marcus J. Freed is a Los Angeles-based actor. His website is

Meet Ashley Powell, The Jewish Millennial Running for Santa Monica City Council

Photo courtesy of Ashley Powell

Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) has always played a large role in Ashley Powell’s life. For as long as she can remember she has volunteered with her family, helped the homeless in Santa Monica and on Venice Beach and has been civically active since the first time she voted at 18.

This year, the fourth-generation Angeleno/Santa Monica native is not only focused on repairing the world as a whole, but she’s also on the ground, going door-to-door, campaigning to be Santa Monica’s first Jewish millennial city council member.

The 29 year old attributes her success and stride to her “new spine.”

Last year she underwent spinal reconstruction surgery, her fifth surgery since she was 14. While she was recovering she started planning and getting involved with several nonprofits.

One of the campaigns she worked on was for Harley Rouda, who switched to the Democratic party in order to run against Dana Rohrabacher, who had been in office since 1989 — the year Powell was born.

After spending a day walking around for 10 miles in Orange County, Powell decided she not only had the skills to run a campaign, she now had the endurance.

“I got really into it like I’d never done before,” Powell said. “I remember… I told my surgeon in New York I couldn’t have done anything that I’ve done in the past year if I didn’t have basically a new spine.”

A month later she decided to run for city council.

Many took notice when Powell entered the race. Rather than looking at her experience — which includes being an an alumnus of Santa Monica Community College, Occidental College, the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC, working on various campaign trails and being the youngest board member of United in Harmony nonprofit organization — it was her age that many chose to  recognize.

“I have been ridiculed from the beginning for being the youngest person running, that I’m inexperienced, which is not true…which is not fair because they don’t really say that about men,” she said. “Yesterday I was told that I was too arrogant and I just laughed because I was really insecure growing up. I just changed my mindset that my lack of confidence came from my illness and now I take all these things and I go harder every day.”

For the past year, Powell said she has been listening to the needs of her community by utilizing her social work experience to win this campaign.

She’s also said she is passionate about social rights for everyone and reducing the number of homeless people on the street by increasing outreach programs for those in need.

According to Powell, 70 percent of Santa Monica residents are renters so she also plans to “build affordable housing so we can all afford to live in Santa Monica.”

“There’s no changemaker running,” Powell said. “Look, I’m from Santa Monica I’ve been involved in social justice from a young age and the same issues are still [here] from when I was young… I saw a post from Nextdoor basically saying ‘we gotta get the incumbents out of office who have been there since I was in elementary school.’”

Though Powell considers herself to be a Democrat, this election is nonpartisan. She spent a large portion of her campaign registering both Angelenos and Santa Monicans to vote in the Nov. 6 election.

“I think something about this race is that it’s non-partisan, it doesn’t matter about what party you are, it’s who you are as a person and what you are fighting for.”

Ashley Powell is running in the 2018 Santa Monica City Council race against fellow newcomers Geoffrey Neri, Greg Morena and Scott Bellomo, as well as incumbents Pam O’Connor, Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich.

With Special-Needs Education, One Menu Doesn’t Fit All

Photo by CHLOE.

I recently saw an advertisement for The Lemon Tree Kids and Family Restaurant in Koreatown. Intrigued, I Googled it, to see if “family friendly” meant a play space, pizza and sugar, and indeed it didbut with a twist. The main menu consists of authentic Korean food; the pizzas and paninis are alternatives.

Ever the education-analogy-geek, I wondered about this as a model of inclusion. If you’re in Koreatown for Korean food and you have kids, and/or pizza loving friends, or if you’re looking for a place to have a quiet meal while your kids empty the contents of the ball pit, this is for you. People with differing taste buds can dine together, having their mozzarella or spicy noodles and eating them too.

This, the food court model of different classes for different needs, does not  – yet – exist in Jewish day schools in Los Angeles. Instead, we aspire to include students with needs in our mainstream set-up. Sure, they may be pulled out for resource, but there is no “special day class.”  Ideally, as Dr. Bruce Powell suggested in a recent interview with the Jewish Journal, we should include everyone, and not just accommodate, but “replace the word ‘accommodate’ with ‘embrace’:

‘If you’re coming to my home and you tell me you’re a vegetarian, I accommodate you,” he said by way of explanation. “You’re the other, [but] if I’m going to really embrace you, I’m going plan a meal that looks the same. And nobody [will know] which one is meat and which one is vegetarian.’”

“What if you have 20 students in a classroom and five of them need accommodations, or in Powell’s terms, embracings? Is it possible?”

Rather than be embarrassed with an obviously special meal, you can blend into the gathering. This may be manageable with guests in the home, but what if you have 20 students in a classroom and five of them need accommodations, or in Powell’s terms, embracings? Is it possible?

You might stay up all night adding secret ingredients to make a lesson palatable for Sam, Molly, Jacob and Annabelle, but you’ll be exhausted – maybe resentful – when it comes to serving it up. And believe me, the kids you’re struggling to embrace will pick up on your mood. Children with special needs sometimes have the cognitive and/ or sensory equivalent of allergies that give them rashes, or that exclude them from activities in which they long to participate. This can cause them to hide under tables, hit, scream, or run from the room. How can a teacher simultaneously embrace students with “big feelings” and students with their, or their parents’, big academic dreams?

When you’re at a restaurant in Los Angeles, you often hear customers ask for adaptations to a dish. Maybe you do it yourself. Sometimes it’s because you just have a preference for a mixture of two different dishes. That’s child-centered education. Sometimes it’s because you have a health condition that makes a dish with nuts or butter a no-no. That’s a series of meetings and carefully drafted goals for a child with special needs, otherwise known as an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

No matter how much you try to make your accommodations, or embracings, subtle and well-meaning, the mainstream is the mainstream, with its focus on language skills. We Jews prioritize language. Not just because of the way education is designed, but because of the very underpinnings of the Jewish tradition. We talk; we question; we opine. And it’s divine. After all, didn’t God create the world with words? Didn’t the commentators have at their fingertips every verse of Torah? What does that mean for a child with a language disorder?

The Lemon Tree is unusual. Usually, if you walk into an Italian restaurant wanting Korean food, you’ll be sent away. If you’re lucky, you’ll be pointed in the direction of a really good Korean place right around the corner.

Most of us wouldn’t think of going into a Korean restaurant and demanding fish and chips. If we own an Italian restaurant, we wouldn’t think twice about gently sending away a customer asking for spicy noodles. So why do we do this in education? Why do we seat, and keep seated, students we cannot feed, because even if we embrace them in our hearts we don’t have the resources to provide a dish that will nourish them? If they want a different menu and it’s elsewhere, let’s direct them with compassion to the appropriate establishment. And let’s become familiar with, and talk to, the establishments in our extended community, so that we know where to send the students we just cannot keep.

As Jewish institutions, we might worry that by denying our children kosher sustenance, we’re sending them into the abyss of an un-hechshered establishment. This is why the model to which we should aspire is perhaps a hechshered Lemon Tree. If you can handle the main menu, that’s great. If you want an alternative, something that’s familiar to you, it’s here— with chefs on staff who know how to prepare it. And when it comes to the jungle gym at the heart of the restaurant, we can all hang together.

Orley Garber is the founder of Builder Bees.

Report: 72% of L.A. Religious Hate Crimes Targeted Jews In 2017

The latest report from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations shows that 72 percent of hate crimes against religion in the county were against Jews in 2017.

Following Jews on the list were Muslims, Catholics and Protestants:

The number of hate crimes targeting Jews increased by 4 percent from 2016, from 71 to 68 percent.

Among all targeted groups, Jews were third at 14 percent, behind the LGBT community (21 percent) and blacks (25 percent).

Some examples of hate crimes targeting Jews in the Los Angeles area includes graffiti on a wall in Van Nuys in May 2017 stating “Hitler did nothing wrong” and white supremacist symbols spray-painted on the garage in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) building in West Los Angeles, according to the ADL.

Screenshot from Twitter.

Hate crimes overall rose by 5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the commission’s report.

“We feel particularly fortunate to have LA County as a partner in our work to reduce hate crimes and increase public awareness of the impact of these message crimes,” ADL Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind said in a statement. “The LA County Hate Crime Report is a reminder that the important work of ADL is still needed.”

Read the full report here.

Trick Or Treat. Or Sukkah.

Photo by PxHere

In November 2014, I moderated a panel on the future of American Jewry at 30 Years After’s fourth biennial Civic Action conference at the Skirball Cultural Center. Only this time, the topic was the future of Iranian-American Jews, and a heated conversation began that, for me, actually foretold the future of our community with tangible clarity.

Simon Etehad, former president of Nessah synagogue, passionately argued that Iranian-American Jews ought to focus more on their Jewish identities than their Persian or American ones. Writer and Jewish Journal contributor Gina Nahai said she saw nothing wrong with our community practicing Persian and American customs.

At one point, Etehad said something I’ll never forget. His voice resonating with frustration, he demanded to know why, at that time of the year, there were so many Halloween decorations on the front lawns of local Iranian Jews and so few sukkahs. 

His question was met with thunderous applause from half of the audience. Nahai then reminded everyone that our community was Persian, so why would we want to shed the proud, millennia-old heritage that made us so distinct? Besides, we were in America now. 

Her response, too, was met with wild applause from half of the room, which consisted of roughly 800 Persian Jews between the ages of 21 and 60.

There you had it. Two Persian Jews, both immersed in their local community in Los Angeles, albeit in different ways, literally arguing over whether Persian Jews had any business putting up fake skeletons on their front lawns when they should have erected sukkahs.

I was enthralled by both the audience’s embrace or rejection of their assertions. Half of the Persians in the room wanted something like Halloween because they believed they could compartmentalize their identities —Iranian, American and Jewish — while still not losing anything. The other half was clearly concerned that such an ancient Jewish community was at risk of losing itself by embracing very non-Jewish practices. 

“Iranian-American Jewish families who enthusiastically embrace very non-Jewish, but very American, traditions like Halloween should ask themselves whether their kids exude as much excitement over Jewish traditions.”

I had to admit that I never once heard of my ancestors dressing up like vampires. My paternal grandfather was famous for the joy he derived from setting up his sukkah in Tehran each fall, and my great-grandparents were too busy suffering in Iran’s Jewish ghettos to pass out candy to children in costumes. 

Before I began to observe Shabbat roughly six years ago, I attended a Halloween party on a Friday night, hosted by one of my young Persian Jewish friends. It was October 2008, and I came dressed as Sarah Palin. Since I would always be home with family on Friday nights, I felt a little strange to be pushing my way through hundreds of other young Persian Jews who, like me, had clearly chosen Halloween over Shabbat. I knew that their butts also should have been back home, fighting over rice. 

And then I realized that the young party guests had enjoyed Shabbat dinner with their families and then left for the party. They, like me, had tried to dip a toe into both worlds. 

But at the end of the day, we don’t pass down costumes, but customs. 

Our children learn by watching our values in action. They can either see us sweating over getting the sukkah just right (or lamenting that we don’t have room for one) or watch us struggle to put fake witches on the front lawn. 

For Iranian-American Jewish families who enthusiastically embrace very non-Jewish, but very American, traditions like Halloween (which I used to love as a kid), I implore that they ask themselves whether their kids exude as much excitement over Jewish traditions. 

I don’t know if it’s too late. Perhaps more than a toe has been dipped; perhaps the entire foot is now in the cauldron.  

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

Volunteer Opportunities for Students in Los Angeles

Photo provided by Big Sunday.

The concept of helping others — the widow, the poor, the orphan — is ingrained in the Jewish faith. When children learn the value of service to others from a young age, it becomes part of who they are. There are plenty of places where they can make a difference in Los Angeles.

Family Volunteering

Westside Food Bank provides food to social service agencies on the Westside of Los Angeles. It needs volunteers to organize and box food received during food drives. It’s a great family-friendly opportunity for all ages.
Location: Santa Monica

Heal the Bay is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds of greater Los Angeles safe, healthy and clean. On the third Saturday of the month (except December) it holds a beach cleanup bonanza from 10 a.m. to noon at various L.A. County beaches. All ages are welcome.
Location: Santa Monica

Big Sunday offers more than 2,000 ways for people to help others through a variety of opportunities and projects. Participants of all ages, backgrounds and abilities come together to improve lives, build community at weekly and monthly programs, and at special events. Big Sunday is located on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, where it holds its Monthly on Melrose workshops, collections, performances, parties, meals and special events to benefit its nonprofit partners. It also has the End of the Month Club food drive, and service project meetings at 10 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. Explore its website and check out the Big Calendar for a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities.
Location: Hollywood

Other Opportunities 

The My Stuff Bags Foundation addresses the needs of children entering foster care who must leave everything behind when they are rescued from abuse, neglect or abandonment, or who must flee with their mothers to the safety of a battered women’s home. These children enter shelters with little more than the clothes on their backs.

My Stuff Bags are bright blue individual duffels filled with much-needed items (brand new, age- and gender-appropriate toys; books; a stuffed animal; school supplies; clothing; personal toiletries and a security blanket) to help the children adjust to their new surroundings.  

The foundation needs volunteers to help stuff bags, make blankets and help with other needs. Volunteer hours are available most weeks, Mondays through Thursdays from  10 a.m. to noon. The organization also accommodates student schedules with a volunteer hour at 3:30 p.m. and occasionally makes other times available. For more information, call ahead: (818) 865-3860. 

Ages: The organization welcomes volunteers ages 10 and older (check website for guidelines) and provides ideas for activities that younger children can do at home.
Location: Westlake Village

Best Friends Animal Society brings together animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals dedicated to making Los Angeles a no-kill city. Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events and runs two pet adoption centers in L.A. The Mission Hills location includes a newborn kitten nursery, a pet adoption center and a spay/neuter clinic, while the West L.A. location features a boutique-style pet adoption experience with dogs, cats, puppies and kittens from the No-Kill LA Coalition. Volunteers can help with a variety of tasks, ranging from animal care to cleaning at the centers or at events. Volunteers are asked to commit to a minimum of five hours a month for at least six months.

Ages: Volunteers must be at least 12 years old. Those of ages 12 to 15 need to be with a parent or guardian (who must also be a volunteer). Those older than 16 can volunteer on their own. Minimum age may vary, depending on the opportunity.
Location: Mission Hills, West Los Angeles

Ride On teaches adaptive horseback riding to children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities. It also provides physical, occupational and speech therapy, using the movement of the horse to improve specific medical conditions. Ride On has given more than 100,000 safe, effective and individualized lessons and therapy treatments, and serves 200 individuals each week. 

Ride On needs volunteers to groom and tack horses, and to lead and walk beside horses with disabled riders with poor balance. No previous experience with horses or disabilities is required. Ride On provides all volunteers with a basic training session to learn horse care, safety procedures and disability awareness. The volunteer training is normally scheduled once a month and lasts about three hours.

Ages: The minimum age for volunteering in the arena is 14. Prospective volunteers ages 12 to 14 are eligible to volunteer in the barn.
Locations: Chatsworth, Newbury Park

This story appeared in the 2018 Education Guide edition of the paper. 

Milken’s Middle School Builds on Future of Education

A teacher and students in an X-Learning class at Milken Middle School. Photo by Andrea Smith

How should students in the 21st century be educated? It’s a question that Milken Community Schools educators are taking seriously, particularly in their Middle School curricula.  

“Traditional education worked for hundreds of years. It doesn’t anymore,” Milken’s middle school Principal Limor Dankner told the Journal. “We’re preparing students for jobs that haven’t been imagined yet. Studies have shown that everything we’re doing now will be obsolete by the time these [middle-school] children [graduate] from university,” she said. “So the only thing we can give them are those life tools that they can then adapt to whatever situation they’re in.”

For Dankner, that meant creating the school’s X-Learning program. Now in its sixth year, X-Learning is a blend of traditional and progressive teaching practices that allows students to connect what they learn to their interests, address real-world problems, engage in action and cultivate their problem-solving skills.

“We are anchored in those core tenets,” Dankner said, “but we keep tweaking [the approach], based on feedback [and] the shifts in the needs of students.”

At the heart of the X-Learning philosophy is that creativity is learned, immersive learning is key, curiosity must be reignited, innovation requires risk-taking and rigor, and design is at the center of it all.

When kids are very young, they often don’t hesitate to ask questions, Dankner said. However, she added: “As they get older, schools teach children to stop asking questions and to start answering them. They are so accustomed to giving the right answer, they are stumped when you ask them a question and say, ‘There isn’t an answer. You have to be a divergent thinker, you have to think out of the box, you have to work with other people, you have to keep iterating, you have to persevere if you’re ever going to come up with an answer to this question.’ ”

An example of Milken’s X-Learning approach can be seen in how it goes beyond traditional geometry classes. Geometry students are put into teams to build and test bridges, because that’s one of the real-world application of geometry. “They are immersed, creative, engaged,” Dankner said. “They’re owning their learning.”

There are four components of the X-Learning process:

Identification: Allowing students to pursue curiosities they have about their world.

Exploration: Interviews, research, collaboration, team-building, articulation, writing and speaking.

Purposeful Play: For students to be successful, they have to experiment in a space that is low-stakes/no grades

Connection: Learning to connect with content, areas of study, peers and adults.

“Ultimately, middle-schoolers are defined by the connections that they make or fail to make,” Dankner said. “Those are so important to shaping their identity. We want them to find like-minded people their age and older in the community. We want them to find areas of study or things in the world that are meaningful to them, because that’s what’s going to motivate them to do something.”

Every year, Milken participates in The X Project. The first semester is skill-building and the second semester is spent in exploration and research. Every middle-schooler identifies something they want to know more about or a problem that they want to solve. In March, they turn the entire campus into a conference center to showcase their work. Students have started businesses, developed apps and created gadgets, Dankner said. 

 “Not only are we fulfilling the curricula, but we’re

 going over and above the requirements.”

 — Limor Dankner

However, although innovation is key, Milken still teaches the basics.

“It’s not that we’re not teaching geometry, algebra or U.S. history,” Dankner said. “Not only are we fulfilling the curricula, but we’re going over and above the requirements. It’s the way in which we are reaching [and engaging] students that makes the material relevant, that gives them choice, that puts them in the driver’s seat and equips them with those skills that they will need to then utilize in future years.”

The students’ high standardized test scores and assessments indicate the school’s methods are working. “We keep raising the bar [in terms of academic rigor], and they keep rising to the occasion,” Dankner said. “And the test results are blowing us away. The more these kids are engaged in what feels like [and is] playful learning, the better they are doing academically.”

X-Learning also applies to Milken’s Jewish Studies department, too. 

“Our whole spiritual practice and our holiday programming is designed with X-Learning in mind. So, it’s student-driven. It’s student-generated and there’s ample choice,” Dankner said. “We don’t herd all 200 students for a Friday morning Kabbalat Shabbat or prayer. We have multiple minyanim and multiple choices for students, which they have self-identified as relevant and inspirational.”

Milken also has developed an entire course on Israel, called Innovation Nation.

“The course tracks the history of Israel, but looks at it from the perspective of Israelis as innovators,” Dankner said. “The students are not only learning about Israel’s history, culture and philosophy, but they’re understanding it in a very relevant way. They are looking at California innovations and where those innovations are aligned with Israeli innovations.”

Dankner said she gets requests from other schools in Los Angeles to share Milken’s X-Learning information. “They want to send their teams here, they want to learn more about it,” she said. “We’re definitely making a name for ourselves. People are recognizing the value in this.”

However, if other schools look at this type of teaching as an adjunct or extracurricular process, it’s never going to work, Dankner said: “We don’t teach anything here in addition to, we just teach students, and this is how we teach them,” she said.

 “You won’t find the Jewish Studies teachers doing their own shtick while the humanities teachers are doing theirs,” Dankner said. “Everyone is talking about how to integrate, how to present situations where students see the world as interrelated and not as separate compartments. It’s been an incredible ride.”

This story appeared in the 2018 Education Guide of the paper. 

AJU Halts Incoming Undergraduate Admissions

American Jewish University (AJU) announced Friday afternoon its decision to pause undergraduate admissions as they are changing how they look at the current undergraduate curriculum.

AJU will also establish a working group to explore and design upcoming academic initiatives that will fit the diversity of the Los Angeles location and the university’s ethical and moral foundations.

The decision means the university will no longer recruit for the upcoming school year and is not accepting applications at this time. There is no timeline set for when enrollment will start back up.

“Our students come first, and we have notified them of these plans,” Jeffrey Herbst, president of AJU since summer 2018, said. “Over the next few days we will be holding open forums to address the questions they have and have appointed an academic affairs liaison to provide ongoing support for these students.”

The university, which opened in 1947, also plans to cease recruiting for its undergraduate program effective immediately, but assures the current undergraduate enrolled classes, roughly 70 students, that will continue to be able to complete their education.

AJU’s board of trustees met earlier this week to review and approve the plan. There will be no faculty layoffs associated with this action.

The university also wants the community to know that no other divisions within the school will be affected by this change. Those departments include the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies, Graduate Center for Jewish Education and the Graduate School of Nonprofit Management.

“A vibrant 21st-century university is an entity that provides educational and cultural resources to a wide range of individuals in the communities it serves on a year-round basis,” Herbst said. “While undergraduate education is a core element for most universities, it is not the only element.”

Herbst said he hopes the new changes provide “unique academic and cultural” experiences to its young-adult demographic.

“As an educator, the chance to devise a new undergraduate program from a blank page is a once-in-a-career opportunity,” Herbst said. “My colleagues and I are excited about the prospect of developing a cutting-edge program … and we view this opportunity as a unique chance for a university to fully engage in fresh thinking regarding undergraduate education.”

The Jewish Journal will provide updates as we get them.

A Prayer for Geshem is More Than Just Asking for Rain

Photo provided by National Park Service

On Shemini Atzeret, we not only celebrate the eighth day following Sukkot, and remember our loved ones during yahrzeit, we also pray for rain. Rain— for those who have not seen it in months or even years— is water that falls from the sky in copious amounts. It quenches our thirst, hydrates our agriculture and cools us off on sweltering hot days

Los Angeles and its residents might not be as familiar with the concept of rain, but we are no strangers to the heatwaves that hit us daily. After experiencing (and surviving) my first summer living in the valley, I wondered how anyone could bear to live like this. I’d like to thank my A/C for being there in my time of need.

The dry, intense heat was nice to my frizzy curls, but not kind to my demeanor. I found myself more agitated by my friends; short-tempered to random strangers and even snapped at those I loved. I wondered where my bubbly midwestern personality went. Then it dawned on me: I was angry because I was hot and hadn’t seen or felt a cool rain in months.

Brian Lickel, a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, once said that when people are hot they tend to get cranky.

“It makes people more prone to anger,” he said. “It makes people more frustrated, and it makes decision making more impulsive. And that can lead to altercations that escalate to more extreme levels of aggression.”

Though it seems obvious, when temperatures climb, and rain is nowhere in sight, we tend to become “hot-headed.” Rain, or lack of it, has an impact on us.

My heat-driven anger made me think of Spike Lee’s 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing.” It’s set during one of the hottest days of the year where heat is used to turn the anger up to an ultimate high. Fights break out, gunshots are fired and chaos fills the screen, all because social tensions were met with rising temperatures. Lee isn’t the first person to use this cinematic trope but he did make a lasting impression with it.

Heated arguments can not only turn ugly faster but stay with a person forever.

It’s why this holiday aligns so nicely with the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur allow us to start fresh with a clean slate, help us forgive and ask for forgiveness. Sukkot lets us enjoy the harvest and the outdoors by gathering with family and friends.

Shemini Atzeret lets us pray for the rain that will tend to the earth and help us when we will need the most: spiritually and literally.

Growing up, my Bubbie always told me that we needed the rain whenever we got it.

“Look, it’s feeding the plants, it makes them feel good,” she would say while offering me another piece of Mandel bread.

She loves the rain because it floods (no pun intended) her home with color. I think she liked the rain because it gave her a break from watering her large and beautiful backyard garden.  

Rain is able to cool us off so we can think more clearly.  It’s a wet, heavy blanket that falls and hits us right on the head to make us work through our current emotions.

It can nourish us while lending the strength to move forward in the new year.

We ask God for rain where rain is not seen. Rain isn’t seen where there is tension. Rain is not always seen on the days we forget our 5779 resolutions.

This year we will be angry, hurt and want to hold a grudge. It’s unavoidable because we’re imperfect human beings.

It’s why we need to listen to my Bubbie and enjoy the rain when it comes — and pray for more of it everywhere.

Of course, here in Los Angeles, we might only get an inch of rain while many around the world will get hit with disastrous amounts. This year while asking for raindrops, we should let Shemini Atzeret remind us to cool off when we get too hot.

When we feel like yelling, causing a scene, or about to do things we will regret, take a deep breath. Stay present. Imagine a cold front with rain clouds sweeping in to bring our inner temperature down, granting us to resolve the conflict.   

On Monday when many go to shul they will say or hear a prayer for geshem (rain in Hebrew). The importance of this prayer is not just to rejuvenate the world, it’s to symbolically rejuvenate us.

Erin Ben-Moche is a Los Angeles journalist and the digital content manager at The Jewish Journal.