November 18, 2018

Moving & Shaking: March for Our Lives, Big Brothers Seder

From left: Temple Judea members Sheldon and Marilyn Fishbein, Temple Judea member Barbara Weintraub, Carol Siembeida of Congregation Or Ami and retired business owner Larry Weintraub show their support for the March for Our Lives at a “sibling” rally in Studio City. Photo by Ryan Torok.

A March for Our Lives “sibling” rally in studio City drew about 200 participants to Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Avenue on March 24, including members of the Jewish community.  It was held in support of the main March for Our Lives rally that took place the same day in Washington, D.C.

One of the participants, Marilyn Fishbein of Woodland Hills, a congregant of Temple Judea in Tarzana, carried a sign that said, “Enough.”

“This is a movement that is not just for today,” Fishbein said, referring to the marches and demonstrations organized nationwide in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and faculty members. “It is for always.”

“We need the members of Congress to do their jobs, to wake up and realize this has to happen,” Fishbein said. “We don’t want any more incidents. We want action, and we want it now.”

She said she would like to see the Jewish community respond more strongly to the high levels of gun violence in the United States.

“I’d like to hear more, much more. I’d like to see temples really involved. Our temple got together to do the march today — they actually got organized — but I think one day is not enough. We have to be consistent, and we have to keep going,” she said.

Additional attendees of the 9 a.m. rally, which lasted an hour, included retired business owner and Temple Judea congregant Larry Weintraub. Weintraub, who ran Randy’s Donuts for several decades with his brother, said he supported the right to own guns, but he called on legislators to ban assault weapons.

“I’m appalled by what is going on,” Weintraub said. “They should be able to do away with assault rifles. I’m not for taking people’s guns away, but I think we need to do something about that.”

The Studio City rally was one of several March for Our Lives demonstrations in Los Angeles on March 24, the largest of which took place in downtown L.A. Those who attended the downtown rally included Rabbi Naomi Levy, who along with members of her Nashuva congregation, participated in a prayer service at the start of the rally, and Rabbi Joel Simonds, executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice.

From left: Yaara Segal, director of public diplomacy at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; firefighter Elan Raber; Michelle Moreh, director for academic affairs at the consulate; Karin Pery, consul for public diplomacy; and firefighter Bert Salazar come together at the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Encino Station. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The public diplomacy team at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles toured the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Encino Station 83 on March 20.

The consulate general team — including Yaara Segal, director of public diplomacy; Michelle Moreh, director for academic affairs; and Karin Pery, consul for public diplomacy — met with the station’s firefighters, including Elan Raber, a member of the Emergency Volunteer Project, an organization that provides emergency backup to Israel in the case of war or a major fire.

Additional firefighters who met with the Israeli representatives on the tour included Bert Salazar.

Brad, a Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) mentor, and Lidor, a mentee, celebrate a Passover seder with other members of the JBBBSLA community. Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) held its annual Passover seder on March 25 at Temple Judea in Tarzana, drawing a record turnout of 220 guests, including families, mentees and mentors, many of whom may not have otherwise experienced a seder this year.

Attendees participated in a variety of Passover-themed activities, including decorating seder plates and making matzo covers.

There were five winners in the afikomen competition. “This is the only seder I get to go to,” said 9-year-old Rebecca. (JBBBSLA is not allowed to give out last names of minors in its program.) It was fun learning about the Exodus story, and even more fun that I got to share my own story!”

Temple Judea’s rabbinic intern, Lillian Kowalski, from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, led the seder.

The organization’s CEO, Randy Schwab, said he was especially pleased with the event.

“Each year, we invite our community to be a part of this fun and engaging Passover seder. The attendance this year was impressive, and it was encouraging to see so many of our matches bond over a shared Jewish experience,” Schwab said. “This is the only event of the year where we are also able to include the families of the mentees. It truly was an unforgettable seder and we were lucky to host it at our new Valley home, Temple Judea.”

Founded in 1915, JBBBSLA provides children with mentoring, camp and scholarship programs. It also operates Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, a 112-acre residential camp and retreat center in Glendale’s Verdugo Hills.

From left: Jason Perel, Matthew Blumkin, Michael Helscher, Ron Altman, Mark Hamermesh, Tom Keefer, Aric Browne, Jordan Esensten and event chair Michael Persky enjoy the Los Angeles Jewish Home Longest Day of Golf. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Jewish Home.

The Los Angeles Jewish Home held its Longest Day of Golf on March 19 at Woodland Hills Country Club.

Nine golfers — Jason Perel, Matthew Blumkin, Michael Helscher, Ron Altman, Mark Hamermesh, Tom Keefer, Aric Browne, Jordan Esensten and event chairman Michael Persky — asked friends and family to sponsor them to play golf all day.

The event raised nearly $100,000 for the Los Angeles Jewish Home, one of the leading senior health care systems in America, serving 6,000 seniors every year.

From left: Susan Azzizadeh, president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, state Assembly member Richard Bloom and state Assembly member Adrin Nazarian attend a Persian New Year celebration at the state Capitol in Sacramento. Photo by Karmel Melamed.

More than 50 Iranian Americans of various faiths from across California gathered to celebrate the Persian New Year of Nowruz at an official event held at the state Capitol in Sacramento on March 19.

During the event, state Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) presented a resolution for statewide recognition of Nowruz for the fifth consecutive year in the legislature.

Nowruz is the ancient Persian secular holiday marking the beginning of spring and calling for friendship, peace and tolerance among all people.

At the event, Susan Azizzadeh, president of the West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, presented Nazarian with her organization’s plaque for his efforts in fostering good relations among and with Iranian Americans in California.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to Mr. Nazarian for promoting the great aspects of Iranian culture in the mainstream and presenting our community as one that embraces one another regardless of our religions,” Azizzadeh said.

Also in attendance was acclaimed Iranian-Jewish artist Kamran Khavarani of Los Angeles, who received a state proclamation for his artistic accomplishments.

Nazarian, who is not Jewish but is of Armenian background, said he wanted to shed light on the significant contributions Iranian Americans have made to California.

“By celebrating Nowruz in the Assembly, we honor the Persian community because they have been an incredible asset to the state for more than 30 years, and account for a lot of our continued success,” Nazarian said. “I’m also honored, as an Iranian-American immigrant, to be able to recognize Nowruz on a state level.”

Other official local Nowruz celebrations included a March 23 event at the Los Angeles City Council Chambers with Mayor Eric Garcetti and a March 25 Persian cultural gathering in Westwood Village attended by various local elected officials.

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

A Prayer for the March

People take part in a "March For Our Lives" demonstration demanding gun control in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

We will march
For our children’s sake
We will march
Because standing still is not an option
We will march
Because a new day is coming
We will march
Young and old, hand in hand
We will march
Like the Children of Israel at the foot of
the sea
We will march
Until the raging waters part before us
We will march
Until our leaders act
We will march
In honor of the innocent souls we have lost
We will march
Turning the prayers of our hearts
into action
We will march
“Praying with our feet”
We will march
To the beat of a mournful lament
We will march
With our heads held high
We will march
To finally end the madness
We will march
And we will win, by God,
We will win.


Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of Nashuva, a Los Angeles-based Jewish community.

Parkland Students Share Their Stories

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Hayley Licata and Mia Freeman. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple.

When an armed gunman came onto her campus last month and began shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior Hayley Licata didn’t know what to do.

Speaking in front of students on March 23 at Shalhevet High School, the 16-year-old said, “I was in disbelief and my body just froze.”

Eventually, Licata ran home, but she couldn’t eat or sleep that night. Social media kept reminding her of the tragedy, so she put away her phone. But a text came through telling her that her friend Nicholas Dworet had died.

“I felt guilty for walking out of that school in one piece,” Licata said. It was a story she would repeat later that day at similar assemblies at de Toledo High School and Milken Community Schools.

Licata’s visit and appearance, together with her classmate Mia Freeman, 17, were arranged by Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and Rabbi Melissa Zalkin Stollman, director of lifelong learning at Congregation Kol Tikvah, the largest Reform congregation in Parkland, Fla., where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High is located. They also flew out Licata’s mother, Caren.

Licata and Freeman also took part in the downtown Los Angeles March for Our Lives rally the following day, one of 800 such demonstrations that took place across the country and around the world.

The Feb. 14 shooting claimed the lives of 17 people while sparking a nationwide movement for reforming gun laws, led by student activists.

In the days following the attack, Licata said she went to as many funerals of the shooting victims as she could. She found comfort playing Uno with friends and in petting comfort dogs brought to the school.

Wearing a sweatshirt that read “Douglas Strong,” Licata told Shalhevet students, “This may not be normal, but it’s our normal.”

For Licata’s mother, Caren, that “normal” is something she wishes her child didn’t have to adapt to. She fears her daughter will forever be identified with the school massacre.

“I don’t want that for my child,” Caren said, tears welling in her eyes. “I want her to go to school and be one of the many, not, ‘Oh, you’re from Parkland.’ ”

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Parkland students Hayley Licata and Mia Freeman and Caren Licata.

Nonetheless, Licata and Freeman spoke openly about their experiences and took questions from students regarding how they felt about arming teachers and how they have handled being the center of media attention in the wake of the shooting.

“As horrible and unspeakable and tragic as the shooting was, it has freed a movement.” — Hayley Licata

“I don’t agree with arming teachers,” Freeman said. “I don’t think the teachers should have to worry about being armed.”

Licata said the media attention has not been easy. “I would turn away every camera that came into my face.”

However, she acknowledged how the aftermath of the shooting and the intense media scrutiny have created something powerful. Connecting the nationwide response to the tragedy to the Passover story, Licata said, “Passover represents when God freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. As horrible and unspeakable and tragic as the shooting was, it has freed a movement.”

Hayley Licata (second from left), Amy Schumer (center) and Mia Freeman (fourth from left).

Following the assembly, Shalhevet senior Maia Zelkha told the Journal, “I think they’re really brave and have a lot of courage for sharing what they went through. To go up there and speak about it and relive it is traumatic in its own way.”

Licata and Freeman then visited de Toledo and Milken before rushing to CNN’s Los Angeles studio on Sunset Boulevard for an interview. Afterward, they came into the green room and had a few minutes to eat In-N-Out burgers before doing radio interviews over the telephone.

They had their largest audience at the March for Our Lives rally in downtown L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti joined the girls onstage as they delivered abridged versions of the remarks they had given at the schools.

Zweiback praised Licata and Freeman, saying they were engaging in a Jewish act of remembrance by sharing their stories.

“That feels very Jewish to me,” he said. “Bearing witness and remembering is core to how we make sense of what happens to us in this world.”

My Shabbat March

Samantha Fuentes.

Shabbat ha-Gadol means the Great Shabbat, and for me, this past Shabbat was truly great.

Many shomer Shabbat teens wanted to take part in the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives. So they organized a full program and arranged for home hospitality for the many guests.

Last Friday night, I joined the teens for Shabbat dinner. The following morning, they led a special youth service. I was called to the Torah and honored with the reading of the haftarah. I was deeply moved when I came to the final verse: “Ve-heishiv Lev Avot al Banim: The hearts of the parents will turn toward their children (Malachi 3:24).

After services, we began our 7-mile trek to the march. Although large parts of Washington are covered by an eruv, there is a gap of around 10 blocks that is not covered. The teens suggested we connect with a church that might be able to help us and allow us to store our food. Rev. Thomas Bowen of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office connected us with Rev. Darryl Roberts of the 19th Street Baptist Church.

When we arrived at the church, many of its members came out to greet us.  Rev. Roberts and I embraced and we discovered that we live four houses apart. I know that we will develop a close friendship moving forward.

I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification.

Our synagogue community gathered on the steps of the church with other local churches and we shared powerful words of reflection, prayer and song, led by the children of our respective communities. One of our members told Rev. Roberts that the church was formerly a synagogue and his grandfather had been the rabbi. The church has retained the Stars of David throughout the building as a way of demonstrating respect for the builders of the community. I felt the spirituality of yet another connection with this very special community.

Rev. Roberts and I walked together for the next 3 miles toward the march and bonded over a shared passion to serve as religious leaders. There is so much darkness that has come to the world as a result of gun violence, but if two communities and a rabbi and a pastor can come together, it represents a brighter path for the future.

I don’t remember exactly which speaker made me cry at the rally, but tears ran down my face multiple times. The most moving moment was watching Samantha Fuentes, one of the Parkland shooting survivors, excuse herself to throw up onstage.   But as the crowd cheered her on, she immediately bounced back and continued her speech. I felt inspired by her dedication and commitment to never give up.

Following the march, we gathered at a local building for snacks. J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, arranged for us to have a room to hold afternoon prayers and Torah study, and he took part in our study session. The topic was “Pesach and Civil Disobedience.” The teens spoke passionately about the need to raise a voice when there is an unjust law. I felt inspired to be in the presence of such an amazing group of teens. I know now, more than ever, that our future is bright.

The Shabbat ha-Gadol Torah portion speaks of how Moshe had to place the blood of an offering on the toe of his brother, Aaron, the Kohen Hagadol (High Priest). One of the teens, Coby Melkin, said this was to show that true service of God sometimes requires walking to do a mitzvah. I felt that every step we took was a mitzvah and a sanctification of the far too many souls who have been brutally murdered as a result of gun violence.

The grim statistics about gun violence are scary and depressing. But I left this Shabbat ha-Gadol excited and inspired. We have a new day in D.C. The parents are turning toward the children. The future is bright.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is the rabbi of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.