July 15, 2019

Recycling & Spaceships

Yesterday morning as I headed out to the farmer’s market, I came across a man rummaging through my garbage. He looked up as I approached, made direct eye contact, and said good morning. I said good morning in return, and kept walking. It was a little awkward and I wasn’t sure what to do, so I carried on. When I got in my car I noticed a water bottle in my cup holder, so I grabbed it and went back to the trash. I approached the man and gave him the bottle for his recycling.

He thanked me for the bottle, told me I was a nice lady, and said he hoped I had a good day. I felt an odd need to speak with him, so I asked if he was having a profitable morning. He explained he had been out collecting for a couple hours and was doing fine. He said he believed in recycling, but appreciated when people forgot to recycle and he came across a lot of bottles. He said he was surprised people don’t recycle better, seeing as we were in the state of California.

We ended up speaking for about ten minutes and it was really interesting. We talked about the weather, the president, cruelty to animals, and how important a good pillow is for your neck. It was a little strange, but also lovely. At the end of the day we were the same. Two people who work hard, have opinions, and have value. It was enlightening and I felt connected to a stranger, which doesn’t happen often, but is always a possibility. Our time together somehow felt important.

I told him it was nice speaking with him and asked if I could give him some money to get something to eat. The question immediately changed his demeanor and I felt that he was now irritated. I panicked a bit and told him I didn’t mean to offend him in any way, and was sorry. He looked confused and closed his eyes. I was now a little frightened and told him it was okay and de didn’t need to take the money. He then thanked me for the offer and asked if he could save the money.

I told him he could do whatever he wanted with it. I explained it was a gift and he could spend it, save it, or give it away, because it was his money. I reached out and passed him $10.00. He thanked me with sincerity, smiled, and was relaxed again. He then told me he would save it and eat on his next visit because he didn’t have time to eat as he was worried he would miss the spaceship that was coming to pick him up. I smiled in return and wished him well with his work and his travels.

I haven’t stopped thinking about him since we met. I’m glad we spoke and even though in retrospect it was perhaps dangerous to have engaged, if I’m scared to talk to strangers, my life would be very different. I like people. I particularly like people with stories, so I will always talk to strangers and always try to help those less fortunate. It is who I am, and who I have always been. We are all just one space ship ride away from crazy, so we should just be kind and keep the faith.

Jewish Heart: How Jewish Communities are Giving Back

Being good stewards of the land and offering good will towards man represents genuine Jewish values. Perhaps this is one reason Israel recycles more than other countries around the world, including the United States. Now, there are a number of ways members of the Jewish community give back, and the following are some worth pointing out.

Give to the Poor


Members of the Jewish community, specifically practicing Jewish people, seem to be more generous than those who do not practice the religion. The obvious way these people donate is through their religious organizations, but that has changed in today’s modern age. People also donate to their favorite charities online and some use apps to do this. This is probably happening more because most people, not only members of Jewish communities, hold their revenue digitally rather than in cash.

The group that donations seem to be directed at the most is poor. This should show Americans that there are a lot of values worth adopting that are safely tucked within Jewish communities. It is hard to see the good in other communities, especially during today’s racially toxic environment, but this should show just how much beauty is left to be shared across cultures or religions.

Recycling is Holy Duty


Active Jews or family members raised by individuals who believe the commandments set by holy texts know that it is their duty to protect the earth. This could be one reason many Jewish people consider themselves environmentalists. Some of these individuals would probably point to Tikkum Olam to prove that protecting the earth is their duty. Tikkum Olam says it is the duty of humanity to fix the world.

It should be noted that the Bal Tash’chit commandment also exists and tells individuals that the willful destruction of the world is not allowed. This is one reason why many members of the Jewish community are doing their best to help people recycle. Some have taken up the idea of composting at home while others go online to sell laptop so that gadgets continue to be reused in a productive way. Others are getting rid of their old cars by either donating the vehicle or by simply calling a junkyard to ensure it is taken care of properly.

Community Growth


There does not seem to be a shortage of goodwill towards humanity and towards each other within Jewish communities around the country. There is one trend that is definitely worth pointing out, and it is the efforts some Jewish neighborhoods are taking to jumpstart community gardens. These have proven successful in several communities, and the trend is set to continue growing.

A positive thing about these community gardens is that most of the food grown is organic. The organic trend is pretty big, not just within the Jewish community but within American culture, so this move should not surprise many. It is probably not surprising that some of these communities have decided to donate some of their surplus food to the poor, which makes sense. No one is saying this particular move is going to save people from starvation, but it is nice to see that some communities are doing the right thing.

These are just some ways Jewish communities across the country are shining brighter than ever. This type of shine is sorely needed, and hopefully, it is bright enough to attract people who do not know how to embrace their humanity by giving forward. There are probably a number of other ways to help humanity just waiting to be discovered by individuals.

In feisty Israeli campaign, even Netanyahu’s wife’s recycling is a target

Forget the deadlocked Palestinian peace process or the Iranian nuclear program. The latest political fracas in Israel is over whether the prime minister's wife kept the deposit when she recycled bottles from state functions.

Even by the notoriously feisty standards of Israeli politics, the campaign for parliament on March 17, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fourth term, has been particularly bruising.

With opinion polls predicting a close race between Netanyahu's Likud party and a center opposition alliance, the focus has been on personalities and allegations of wrongdoing rather than substance.

“This is a mudslinging war,” declared Hanan Crystal, a well-regarded political analyst on Israel Radio.

“Where all the negativity will lead, nobody knows.”

An early target has been Netanyahu's wife, Sara, a psychologist and former flight attendant who seldom speaks in public but has often been the butt of criticism in the press for her perceived imperiousness.

Israeli newspapers are full of accusations about Sara failing to return to national coffers the refunds gained from recycling bottles used at the prime minister's official Jerusalem residence, the argument being that taxpayers paid for the beverages so the state should get the refund.

The Netanyahus' lawyers have said the money was used as petty cash by household staff, and that the family did pay funds back. But that has not helped quell a storm, compounded by old allegations about the state having paid for the Netanyahus' garden furniture at their private home.

The prime minister has denied the allegations and called on the media to focus on him rather than his wife, while also taking to Facebook to accuse his political rivals of “orchestrating a harmonious media onslaught of recycled, humiliating and false” charges against him.


With the election so tight – the latest polls suggest the center alliance will win 24 or 25 seats in the 120-member Knesset, one or two ahead of Likud – personality politics is seen as a key driver of swing votes. The polarizing figure of Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader since state founder David Ben-Gurion, makes him fair game.

The center slogan is: “It's us or him.” Netanyahu's slogan is: “It's us or them.”

Generally, security is the dominant issue in Israeli elections, which have always resulted in coalition governments. But since Netanyahu is perceived as strong on that front, the opposition has looked elsewhere for leverage.

“There has been an extreme process where people care more about personalities and less about parties and ideologies than they did before,” said Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at Hebrew University. “That's how we wind up with all these personal attacks.”

While the Netanyahus have been on the receiving end of most of the mudslinging so far, the center is not unsullied.

Likud has accused the opposition of a rules breach by receiving funds from the United States to finance advertisements urging Israelis to vote for “Anyone but Netanyahu”.

Since Israeli law allows political parties to accept foreign contributions, police and other legal authorities have not opened an investigation.

Cardboard bicycle can change the world, says Israeli inventor

A bicycle made almost entirely of cardboard has the potential to change transportation habits from the world's most congested cities to the poorest reaches of Africa, its Israeli inventor says.

Izhar Gafni, 50, is an expert in designing automated mass-production lines. He is an amateur cycling enthusiast who for years toyed with an idea of making a bicycle from cardboard.

He told Reuters during a recent demonstration that after much trial and error, his latest prototype has now proven itself and mass production will begin in a few months.

“I was always fascinated by applying unconventional technologies to materials and I did this on several occasions. But this was the culmination of a few things that came together. I worked for four years to cancel out the corrugated cardboard's weak structural points,” Gafni said.

“Making a cardboard box is easy and it can be very strong and durable, but to make a bicycle was extremely difficult and I had to find the right way to fold the cardboard in several different directions. It took a year and a half, with lots of testing and failure until I got it right,” he said.

Cardboard, made of wood pulp, was invented in the 19th century as sturdy packaging for carrying other more valuable objects, it has rarely been considered as raw material for things usually made of much stronger materials, such as metal.

Once the shape has been formed and cut, the cardboard is treated with a secret concoction made of organic materials to give it its waterproof and fireproof qualities. In the final stage, it is coated with lacquer paint for appearance.

In testing the durability of the treated cardboard, Gafni said he immersed a cross-section in a water tank for several months and it retained all its hardened characteristics.

Once ready for production, the bicycle will include no metal parts, even the brake mechanism and the wheel and pedal bearings will be made of recycled substances, although Gafni said he could not yet reveal those details due to pending patent issues.

“I'm repeatedly surprised at just how strong this material is, it is amazing. Once we are ready to go to production, the bike will have no metal parts at all,” Gafni said.

Cardboard Bike

Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni rides his cardboard bicycle in Moshav Ahituv, Israel, on Sept. 24. Photo by REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Gafni's workshop, a ramshackle garden shed, is typically the sort of place where legendary inventions are born. It is crammed with tools and bicycle parts and cardboard is strewn everywhere.

One of his first models was a push bike he made as a toy for his young daughter which she is still using months later.

Gafni owns several top-of-the-range bicycles which he said are worth thousands of dollars each, but when his own creation reaches mass production, it should cost no more than about $20 to buy. The cost of materials used are estimated at $9 per unit.

“When we started, a year and a half or two years ago, people laughed at us, but now we are getting at least a dozen e-mails every day asking where they can buy such a bicycle, so this really makes me hopeful that we will succeed,” he said.

A ride of the prototype was quite stiff, but generally no different to other ordinary basic bikes.


Nimrod Elmish, Gafni's business partner, said cardboard and other recycled materials could bring a major change in current production norms because grants and rebates would only be given for local production and there would be no financial benefits by making bicycles in cheap labour markets.

“This is a real game-changer. It changes … the way products are manufactured and shipped, it causes factories to be built everywhere instead of moving production to cheaper labour markets, everything that we have known in the production world can change,” he said.

Elmish said the cardboard bikes would be made on largely automated production lines and would be supplemented by a workforce comprising pensioners and the disabled.

He said that apart from the social benefits this would provide for all concerned, it would also garner government grants for the manufacturers.

Elmish said the business model they had created meant that rebates for using “green” materials would entirely cancel out production costs and this could allow for bicycles to be given away for free in poor countries.

Producers would reap financial rewards from advertisements such as from multinational companies who would pay for their logo to be part of the frame, he explained.

Cardboard Bike Construction

Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni demonstrates how he makes his cardboard bicycle in his workshop in Moshav Ahituv, Israel, on Sept. 24. Photo by REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“Because you get a lot of government grants, it brings down the production costs to zero, so the bicycles can be given away for free. We are copying a business model from the high-tech world where software is distributed free because it includes embedded advertising,” Elmish explained.

“It could be sold for around $20, because (retailers) have to make a profit … and we think they should not cost any more than that. We will make our money from advertising,” he added.

Elmish said initial production was set to begin in Israel in months on three bicycle models and a wheelchair and they will be available to purchase within a year.

“In six months we will have completed planning the first production lines for an urban bike which will be assisted by an electric motor, a youth bike which will be a 2/3 size model for children in Africa, a balance bike for youngsters learning to ride, and a wheelchair that a non-profit organisation wants to build with our technology for Africa,” he said.


The bicycles are not only very cheap to make, they are very light and do not need to be adjusted or repaired, the solid tyres that are made of reconstituted rubber from old car tyres will never get a puncture, Elmish said.

“These bikes need no maintenance and no adjustment, a car timing belt is used instead of a chain, and the tyres do not need inflating and can last for 10 years,” he said.

A full-size cardboard bicycle will weigh around 9 kg (about 20 lbs) compared to an average metal bicycle, which weight around 14 kg.

The urban bicycle, similar to London's “Boris bikes” and others worldwide, will have a mounting for a personal electric motor. Commuters would buy one and use it for their journey and then take it home or to work where it could be recharged.

He said that as bicycles would be so cheap, it hardly mattered how long they lasted.

“So you buy one, use it for a year and then you can buy another one, and if it breaks, you can take it back to the factory and recycle it,” he said.

Gafni predicted that in the future, cardboard might even be used in cars and even aircraft “but that is still a way down the road.”

“We are just at the beginning and from here my vision is to see cardboard replacing metals … and countries that right now don't have the money, will be able to benefit from so many uses for this material,” he said.

Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Paul Casciato

Think green: Celebrate 40 years of Earth Day

Every two weeks, Americans wear out nearly 50 million pounds of rubber on their tires. This is enough rubber to manufacture 3.25 million new tires. To lessen this, inflate your tires to the correct pressure. This preserves the life of the tires and saves gas, which ultimately saves money.

Newspaper recycling info:

Typically, newspaper can be recycled five to seven times.

If all newspapers were recycled, we could save about 250 million trees each year.

Recycle this magazine when you are done.

We use more than 80 billion Aluminum soda cans every year.

About 1 percent of U.S. landfill space is taken up by disposable diapers, which require 500 years to decompose.

How long it takes to break down

… plastics: 500 years

… aluminum cans: 500 years … organic materials: 6 months

… cotton, rags, paper: 6 months

For more tips on how you can MAKE your house green, visit:


In a 2009 survey,the city of Los Angeles had the highestrecycling rate among the 10 largestU.S. cities.

Bring a cloth bag when you shop

Plastic bags are not biodegradable BECAUSE They do not decompose fully.

Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to POWER a television for three hours.

Stop Junk Mail

The junk mail Americans receive in just one day is not only a nuisance but could produce enough energy to heat a quarter of a million homes! If each person saved up unwanted junk mail for one year,  it would be the
equivalent of 1.5 trees, which would add up to 100 million trees every year in just the United States. To help stop junk mail, write to: Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, 11 W. 42nd St., PO Box 3861, New York, NY 10163-3861.

By writing to this organization, you can reduce junk mail by up to 75 percent. You can recycle the rest of the junk mail you receive.

Question:  How much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere each day?

Answer:  70 million tons

No food will be wasted if Joseph Gitler has his way

In the city of Ra’anana, in the center of Israel, the corporate cafeteria at the publicly traded Amdocs high-tech company is full of young executives and IT specialists finishing up their lunch break.

The cafeteria is the size of a fancy Las Vegas hotel buffet, with countless stalls dedicated to hot and cold salads, grilled meats, starches and even classic home cooking — enough choice and quantity to satisfy the high-tech employees throughout their long workday.

But a kitchen worker pushes a cart back into the kitchen full of untouched filets of beef laden with gravy.

“You see what perfectly good meat this is?” remarked Joseph Gitler, founder of Table to Table, an Israeli food rescue organization. “To think that would go to waste.”

Rescuing excess food from Israeli corporate cafeterias on a daily basis is just one of the projects Gitler conceived about five and a half years ago when, as a new immigrant to Israel, he decided he must do something about the disturbing reports of poverty in Israel. He took time off from his job as a marketing executive at an Israeli high-tech company to spend time in soup kitchens and other charitable food providers, only to find they often didn’t have enough food to provide.

“No one was thinking big on how to rescue food en masse,” Gitler told The Journal from the cafeteria as Amdocs employees and visitors from London voluntarily packaged chicken and rice for transport via the Table to Table truck. “I simply opened the yellow pages, called catered events, and asked if they have extra food they’d be willing to donate. Most of them responded favorably. Actually, it was more than ‘yes.’ It was: ‘Where have you been?'”

The 33-year-old New York native initially went on a private mission to gather the unused food, packing it in refrigerators at his home in Ra’anana, where he lives with his Canadian-born wife and four children. He looked to City Harvest in New York and Second Harvest in Toronto as models of large-scale organizations dedicated to rescuing food.

“Within two weeks, the amount of quality food available was very self-evident, and I put a posting on local English internet listings saying ‘this is what I’m doing, who wants to join me?'” he said. “And it ran from there.”

Today, Table to Table is the largest organization of its kind in Israel, operating on an annual budget of $2.2 million, funded mostly through anonymous donors. Altogether 35 employees and some 4,000 monthly volunteers now work to collect food from weddings and b’nai mitzvah, corporate cafeterias and army bases, as well as neglected agricultural fields. For every dollar spent, Gitler estimates Table to Table saves $5 worth of food, not to mention uncalculated costs in energy consumption. On average it rescues 12,000 to 14,000 meals (defined as a protein and two sides) and 40 to 50 tons of produce per week. From the warehouse in Ra’anana, the food gets channeled through 106 nonprofit charitable organizations.

But, Gitler said, Table to Table has not yet tapped resources in northern and southern Israel, and recent poverty statistics have given him the impetus to expand.

According to a report put out last month by Israel’s Welfare and Social Services Ministry, close to one-third of Israel’s population cannot afford to buy essential food items, while 24,000 people eat in soup kitchens and 22,500 families turn to others to feed them. In Israel, food costs have risen by 6 percent in the last year. The push to get food to the needy is particularly strong right before a Jewish holiday. With Passover approaching, Table to Table is working with farmers to gather food required for the seder table.

“We got farmers who want to donate specifically for Pesach — particularly lettuce. Lettuce is very expensive this year with because of shmita” (the practice of allowing fields to lie fallow every seven years), said Mark Eilim, the director of Project Gleaning, or Leket in Hebrew. Leket also attracts farmers who must abandon fields out of economic efficiency or who must leave-over fruit and vegetables not suitable for sale due to size or minor imperfections.

Leket started four years ago at the grass-roots level when Eilim, then a driver for Table to Table, was approached by a farmer who had persimmons he couldn’t sell.

“He offered to let us take some off the floor,” Eilim said. “There was nothing wrong with them. They just weren’t the right size.”

Together with some volunteers, Eilim gathered 25 tons of persimmons over a few nights. Today he oversees thousands of volunteers monthly — including Birthright Israel participants, schoolchildren and even prisoners — who harvest fields throughout Israel. high-tech companies turn to Table to Table for uplifting afternoon company outings.

At a large strawberry field in Hod HaSharon flanked by residential high-rises, a few dozen employees from the Israeli high-tech company worked to pick perfectly ripe, red and delicious strawberries in a field belonging to second-generation farmer, Efraim Yosef.

“I would have shut off the sprinklers, dried up the field,” Yosef said. “Since I know people are coming, I continue to irrigate it.”

So far his fields have yielded 9,000 baskets of strawberries for families for whom the fruit is a luxury. According to Eilim, most farmers donate a portion of their fields as an act of charity.

“If I could cause a child to smile when he sees strawberries in his refrigerator or on the table,” Yosef said. “It gives me a lot.”

Recycling on the fashion runway

Ever since the nonprofit organization Earth Pledge teamed up with Barney’s in 2005 during New York’s renowned fashion week to demonstrate that sustainable fashion and style can coexist, eco-fashion activists have been quipping that “green is the new black.” Almost overnight, environmentally conscious designs shed their reputation of looking like burlap sacks made for hippies and were transformed into stylish, chic and fashionable clothes.

On the New York runway, Richie Rich’s striking yellow-and-pink skirt, made out of corn fiber, was topped off with a flashy silver bustier made from recycled polyester. And Linda Loudermilk’s luxury eco line has an express goal of giving eco-glamour “a fabulous look and a slammin’ attitude that stops traffic and shouts the message: Eco can be edgy, loud, fun, playful, feminine (or not) and hyper-cool.”

Levi’s recently released a line of “green” jeans made from 100 percent organic cotton and fashion icons such as Oscar de la Renta and Proenza Schouler hail the use of sustainable materials. Even celebrities are taking part in the growing global trend; Bono launched a new line of eco-fashion titled “Edun.”

New, organic raw materials that are both sustainable and grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or insecticides are more widely available too. Far beyond just organic cotton and hemp, contemporary eco-fashion designers can now choose between bamboo, soy and corn fibers, cottagora, eco-fleece, organic wool, linen, silk, tencel and ecospun — to name just a few. Eco-friendly, low-impact dyes and responsible manufacturing processes (employing people in good working conditions with fair wages close to home) are also part of the “reuse, recycle and renew” philosophy that define eco-fashion, according to the Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP).

The widespread international movement has not escaped fashion designers in Israel, more and more of who are starting to incorporate eco-friendly principles into their own creative, unique styles.

But there have been bumps in the road. Organic fabrics are almost impossible to find in Israel and have to be imported at great expense. But for some young Israeli designers, this is an opportunity rather than a detriment. Instead of bringing in costly fabrics from abroad, they look for ways to use inexpensive materials that already exist at home.

For Irit Vilensky, the fabric of choice is plastic. By recycling the ubiquitous plastic bags that litter Israeli beaches and parks, she makes an uber-chic, colorful line of accessories called: Satik.

“I wanted to create something beautiful out of what everyone already has at home, so I decided to make things out of plastic bags,” she said.

Each one-of-a-kind bracelet, wallet and purse is handmade, and Vilensky says that the concept of using noxious non-biodegradable plastic bags, already banned in many countries due to their widespread damage to the environment, serves two purposes: to reuse waste and to rid the world’s landfills of a few more plastic bags.

Elanit Neutra was heavily influenced by environmental concerns in Toronto, where she studied film production. Two years ago she began using the inner tubes of black rubber tires to make her stylish, soft leather-like accessories.

“I have always been a collector, taking things from the street to make new things, and when I saw the tires, I decided to try and make something nice from the raw material,” she said.

Although the process of finding material and cleaning the rubber is long and difficult, Neutra said part of what makes her work original is that she maintains the texture and any imperfections.

“Each piece is handmade, and I spend a lot of time looking for the right composition and shaping the rubber into something elegant,” Neutra said.

Gili Ben-Ami makes brightly colored necklaces by stringing together car fuses, and Ayala Froindlich recycles comic books, inflatable pool floats and even encyclopedias to make her eco-friendly handbags. Artist Ossi Yalon paints new scenes on vintage clothing in order to refurbish the old.

“Today’s society, especially women, is obsessed with buying new clothing all the time and throwing everything away,” she said. “I am trying to point out that the same therapeutic endeavor can be accomplished by recycling the old and rejuvenating it.”

Recycled plastic bottles filled with colored water are crushed into funky toothbrush holders, mugs and vases in Doron Sar-Shalom’s designs for the home, and Zohar Yarom puts leftover sofa fabric samples to good use in her unique handbags.

“Each bag is reversible and designed to last for many years,” she said. “Part of the unique thinking in Israel requires reinventing ourselves and using what we have available, because importing is not as good for the environment, and materials from abroad are more expensive.”

Despite the greater challenges that pro-environmentalists face in Israel, such as the Israeli government’s lackadaisical interest in efforts to be more environmentally friendly in the fashion industry, some stores are still finding ways to create eco-fashion.

Cotton is an eco-friendly clothing chain in Israel founded in 1992 that now has 12 branches across the country. It is owned by fashion designer Galit Broyde and her husband Erez Moded, and Broyde designs all of Cotton’s stylish and comfortable clothing out of organic materials that are easy to clean and durable. The company adheres to environmentally friendly local production, sells reusable shopping bags, and tries to promote education in Israel.

“For us, green fashion is not a trend; it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that we always did at home, but we started to do more in Cotton in recent years,” Broyde said. “We do everything we can, but no one is ever 100 percent green. For that, we’d all have to go back to caves.”

According to Nirit Sternberg, the owner of Le’ela, a design store that sells exclusively Israeli creations, the number of designers exhibiting eco-friendly work in the store has seen a tremendous increase in recent years — so much so that she was able to put on an eco-design exhibit with more than 35 creators this February. Nevertheless, she points out that it’s still not as popular in Israel as one might expect: “Eco-fashion is still just beginning here. The awareness is not there yet.”

British immigrant and organic baby clothing designer Sohpie O’Hana agrees. She started her own line, called Tinok Yarok (green baby), about a year ago, after searching futilely in Israel for eco-friendly baby clothing.

The Circuit

Tu B’Shevat Time

All over Los Angeles, Jewish groups were finding innovative ways to commemorate Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, which is the New Year for trees.

At Adat Ari El Early Childhood Center’s community garden, the preschoolers got down and dirty and planted citrus trees. The teachers at the Valley Village school use the garden to teach the children about the agricultural meaning behind many Jewish holidays, and as a source of learning about horticulture and growth, recycling and composting, and the Earth’s relationship to and reliance upon plants. Next up at the garden — growing horseradish and parsley for Pesach.

At the Westside Jewish Community Center (Westside JCC), hundreds flocked to their Feb. 8 festival, which featured a moon bounce, tree planting, kosher hot dogs and fresh roasted corn. The Gilbert Table Tennis Association, which is now housed at the Olympic Boulevard center, offered free lessons and playing time on its many professional tables. The Westside Symphonette gave a free concert, where world-renowned pianist Vivian Florian played “classics to klezmer.”

“This was a great day,” said festival co-chair Beatrice Germain, a former Westside JCC nursery school parent and current Westside JCC board member. “We are thrilled about the wonderful diversity of people from the community who came together for this event and the enthusiastic audience for the concert. It’s great to see the community together again — and our new lemon tree looks really nice in the courtyard.”

Over in Malibu, the Shalom Nature Center had 2,000 people show up at its festival, its biggest turnout ever. They even ran out of parking spaces! Different organizations came to work with the Nature Center staff, including groups from Temple Adat Shalom, Temple Ramat Zion, Congregation B’nai Brith in Santa Barbara, Temple Judea, Heschel West Day School, Temple Beth Am, Young Judaea and Beth Chayim Chadashim. Altogether, people planted more than 300 native plants and a few coastal live oaks at the event.

As fun as it is to celebrate Tu B’Shevat in one place, the Jewish Agency for Israel decided to do something more daring; to have a worldwide Global Tu B’Shevat seder using the wonders of interactive technology. Hagar Shoman-Marko, the Israel education emissary for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles oversaw the event on the West Coast, which included 120 students from Milken Community High School, Shalhevet Middle and High schools and Sinai Akiba Academy, who joined their peers around the world by participating in the seder. They sat around tables with offerings of fruit, sang songs, recited blessings and interacted with their peers in Jerusalem, New Jersey, Atlanta and Toronto. A sedar highlights was a tree-planting ceremony at which students in Jerusalem planted trees on behalf of the participating schools in the Diaspora. A moving moment occurred when Sinai Akiba dedicated its tree to David Wolpe, wishing him a refuah shlema (a complete recovery), and teens all over the world responded with amen.

Hello Cello

On Feb. 8, Netivot held a desert reception at the home of Jason and Sari Ciment. Netivot is Los Angeles’ first and largest center of women’s Torah learning, and it has programs that encourage women to channel their artistic talents in a spiritual direction. The event honored Netivot’s teachers for strengthening women’s learning in Los Angeles, and it featured a performance by the renowned cellist, Alexander Zhirov.

Cheder Chic

On Jan. 26, Cheder Menachem Lubavitch held its second annual trustees dinner at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel. At the beginning of the school year, the cheder went through a financial crisis, and the school was uncertain whether it would have enough funds to open again. The trustees took it upon themselves to ensure that the cheder continues teaching Torah to the young boys of Los Angeles.

The trustees banquet was a sumptuous affair with enormous and lavish flower arrangements on every table and a gourmet dinner that put those rubber-chicken evenings to shame. Rabbi Josh Gordon of Chabad in the Valley emceed the event, and 5th District L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss spoke about how much the Waring Avenue school is contributing to the community.

Cheder Menachem is one of the few old-style Jewish learning institutions in Los Angeles. The boys elementary school teaches students Chumash and Gemara (Talmud) like they did in cheders of old. Most of the day is dedicated to learning Torah, with the boys repeating every Hebrew phrase after their teacher in a singsong voice. The school is also big on positive reinforcement. At Cheder Menachem, reprimands aren’t caustic. Instead, they are encouraging invitations to do better next time around.

More than 200 trustees attended the event, including Motti and Mechal Slodowitz, Yerachmiel and Danielle Forer, Carmen Tellez, Rabbi Chaim Nochum Cunin and Yocheved and Reuven Sherman.

Recycle Mania

We all know that it is better for the planet — and ultimately ourselves — if we separate our plastics and our paper. Yet, sometimes we need a little push to keep us on the recycling track. At Emek Hebrew Academy second-grade boys teacher Marci Lewis and assistant Shawn Moritz decided to get the students excited about recycling with an innovative project. For two weeks, students brought recyclable materials to class, and were assigned to create original inventions out of them, which they displayed in an “Inventors Showcase.”

Adam Sieger, one of the second-graders at Emek, said, “Recycling is important, and it helps the environment because the less trash we throw away, the cleaner the world will be.”

It’s a Kosher World Out there

If you keep kosher, any new kosher product that you see on the supermarket shelf is likely to give you a slight thrill. That is why the Kosher World Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center was such an exciting three-day event. There were aisles of new kosher items that were free for the sampling. Yummy treats included the nondairy Jackie Mason cheesecakes, Campbell’s new kosher vegetarian vegetable soup, Jerusalem 2 Pizza and the Old City Cafe Burritos. The expo had 3,380 attendees from 18 countries and 25 states.

The expo gave a lot of the smaller exhibitors a chance to expand their business. Event organizers set up meetings with the exhibitors and the buyers from big supermarket chains like Ralphs and Gelson’s, which proved to be a godsend for businesses trying to get a toehold in the market.

“We are a small company, in business for less than two years, and we needed an opportunity to bring our products to the attention of some major buyers,” said Sandy Calin of Debbie & Sandy’s Homemade. “We really wanted to add one major market to our distribution. Not only did we receive an actual order, in writing, from Gelson’s at the show, but we also got commitments from Ralphs and Albertsons.”

Ambassadors for Israel

The emissaries of the education department of the Jewish Agency for Israel have been busy these days.

On Feb. 10, the agency held a mini-Israel festival at The Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. The event opened with a memorial ceremony for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. It intended to expose secular and religious Jewish teens to Israel, and show them that the Jewish state is a democracy with a rich cultural and art-oriented society that has a world-class high-tech sector. More than 100 teens participated in the event.

At the end, the teens proclaimed that they would be “advocacy ambassadors for Israel” in their schools and youth groups.