November 19, 2018

What’s Happening: ‘Judaism In an Age of Truthiness,’ Gad Elmaleh

Alisa Weilerstein

FRI NOV 9

Alisa Weilerstein
Acclaimed cellist Alisa Weilerstein performs all six of Bach’s solo cello suites in one evening. Weilerstein began playing the cello at the age of 4, debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra when she was 13, and received an esteemed MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” in 2011. She has entertained on four continents and performs on occasion with her parents — her father, a violinist and her mother, a pianist. 7:30 p.m. $45–$95. Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Bram Goldsmith Theater. 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 746-4000.


SUN NOV 11

IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous

“Judaism in an Age of Truthiness”
In the era of so-called fake news, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Symposium 2 explores the various ways that contemporary Jews, particularly liberal Jews, grapple with the concept of the truth. “These Truths We Hold: Judaism in an Age of Truthiness” spans two days, through Nov. 12, and features 24 panelists, including academics, rabbis, screenwriters and journalists. The symposium poses challenging questions, including whether the truth, in any universal sense, remains a worthwhile concept in America; and if so, on what grounds might liberal Jews lay claim to the truth? Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, are among the speakers. Glatt kosher meals served. Nov. 11: 8 a.m.–8:15 p.m. Nov. 12, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Early-bird registration for both days, $18–$200; for one day, $18–$100. Regular registration for two days, $36–$240; for one day $36–$130. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Temple Drive, Los Angeles.

“Understanding the Pittsburgh Attack”
British journalist and social conservative Melanie Philliconservative “Understanding the Pittsburgh Attack: Lessons of Europe and Britain,” a unity brunch reflecting on the recent massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue. Phillips, one of Europe’s most outspoken advocates for Israel, writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Chronicle of London and The Times of London. Organized by CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Jewish Journal readers can receive a discounted ticket price of $30 by entering the promotional code “Journal” on the event’s registration website:lacamerabrunch.eventbrite.com. Regular price $125. Space is limited. Reservations requested. Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City, 2151 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. (617) 377-6898. RSVP to Tracey Miller at tracey@camera.org.

“Blessings of the Earth” Concert
An interfaith concert of Jewish and Catholic musicians raises consciousness about global warming. Mixing Hebrew and Latin, the evening, called “Birkat Ha’Adamah/Beneficia Terrae,” features award-winning composer Maria Newman, Jewish songwriter Craig Taubman, Catholic composers Bob Hurd and Christopher Walker, and 250 choir members of the Catholic and Jewish faiths. Organized by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 7 p.m. Doors 6:30 p.m. Free. Donations welcome. Parking $10. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5200.


MON NOV 12

America and Jewish Citizenship
“American Democracy and the Responsibility of Jewish Citizenship” — a panel discussion featuring Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane; Michael Avi Helfand, associate dean for faculty and research at Pepperdine University; Tamara Mann Tweel, an instructor at Columbia University’s American Studies Department; and Joseph Lipner, an intellectual property negotiator — addresses the obligations of a Jewish citizen of the United States in today’s political environment, and other topics. Organized by Shalhevet Institute and Shalhevet High School. 7:45–9:45 p.m. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 930-9333.

TUE NOV 13

Dialogue with Israeli Navy Seal
Stephen Wise Temple Rabbi David Woznica interviews an American who left college to join one of Israel’s most elite military units, Shayetet-13. Every year, 20,000 young men try out to be in the unit — which has been compared to the U.S. Navy SEAL special operations force — but only 40 or fewer are accepted. The man being interviewed, known as “M,” discusses his personal journey, what serving in the storied unit was like, and how he uses the skills learned in the unit in his daily civilian life. 7:30 p.m. $20 general public, $15 temple members. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen Wise Temple Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561.

Gad Elmaleh

Gad Elmaleh
Need a laugh? Gad Elmaleh, promoted as “the Jerry Seinfeld of French comedy” and “the Ben Stiller of France,” brings his Dream Tour to Los Angeles. The Casablanca native performs a show suitable for all ages and tells jokes in five languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Moroccan, French and English. 8 p.m. Doors open 7 p.m. $39.50–$49.50. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (323) 931-1277.


WED NOV 14

Giving Voice to Biblical Women
“Filling the Gaps: Giving Voice to Biblical Women Through Modern Midrash,” a University Women Lunch and Learn program, features author Michal Lemberger (“After Abel and Other Stories”), Jewish Journal book editor and author Jonathan Kirsch and author Paul Boorstin (“David and the Philistine Woman”). The three authors discuss writing fiction and nonfiction while using the Bible as their source material. Noon. $25 members, $36 general. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1283.

“American Jews and Israel”
David Suissa, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, discusses the relationship between Israel and American Jews during “American Jews and Israel: Why the Relationship Still Matters.” He appears in conversation with moderator Rick Entin, co-chair of Kehillat Israel’s Israel Matters Committee. Topics include internal Israeli politics, religious and civil rights, the peace process and the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. 7 p.m. Free. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

Lesley Wolman
Singer Lesley Wolman sings “The Great Canadian Songbook.” A Canadian native, she has been performing in local theater and television since she was a child. She was a featured soloist with the Tom DeMoraes Big Band. Her big break came when she was cast in the Toronto production of “Shenandoah” with Hal Linden. She has also acted on the soap operas “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” $35. 8 p.m. Also 8 p.m. Nov. 15 and Nov. 17, and 4 p.m. Nov. 18. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 838-3006.   


THU NOV 15

Woman to Woman Conference 
JVS SoCal’s sixth annual Woman to Woman Conference celebrates “Resilience: The Strength of Women.” Drawing young professionals, philanthropists and executives from a range of industries, the event kicks off with a breakfast networking reception, followed by a program and luncheon. Speakers include Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach for a Major League Baseball team; Michaela Mendelsohn, an entrepreneur and transgender activist; and Susan Feniger, master chef, restaurateur and bestselling author. Proceeds benefit JVS programs serving women in need. 8 a.m.–1 p.m., $200. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 306-4127.

Spanish Jews Lecture
Andrew Berns, assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina, discusses “The Foundation of the World: The Ecological Ideas of Post-Expulsion Spanish Jews in Italy and the Ottoman Empire.” He examines how Jews in the wake of their banishment from Spain in 1492 developed ideas about the use and abuse of land. 4–5:30 p.m. Free. UCLA, Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327.

American Israel Gap Year Fair 
The American Israel Gap Year Fair, the only cross-denominational event of its kind in the country, prepares future high school graduates for a life-changing year before college. More than 50 different Israel programs appealing to students of all backgrounds participate. Fair attendees are exclusively eligible for the Rosina Korda Israel Gap Year Scholarship. 6:30–9:30 p.m. Free. YULA Girls High School, 1619 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles.  

Gratitude for Judaism
Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe, who once wrote about the “Five Reasons Vampires Aren’t Jews,” discusses “The Top Five Reasons You Should Be Thankful for Judaism.” Organized for the young professionals of Atid. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

“Election 2018: It’s On!”
Join the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles for analyses of the midterm election results. The “Election 2018: It’s On!” conference features nine experts examining and drawing conclusions about how people voted. Speakers include CNN analyst Ronald Brownstein; Carla Marinucci of Politico; Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions and UCLA; Janet Clayton of Southern California Edison; Warren
Olney of KCRW; Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School; Darry Sragow of USC. 8:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m. $150 public. $50 Cal State L.A. faculty. Golden Eagle Ballroom, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles.  (323) 343-3770.


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

Trump Beverly Hills Visit Prompts Protest

An inflatable Trump holding a KKK hood was the centerpiece of an anti-Trump demonstration in Beverly Hills on Tuesday.

About 300 people descended on Beverly Hills on Tuesday to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump, who was in the neighborhood for a fundraiser.

The protest took place at Beverly Gardens Park, at Beverly Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, beginning around 5 p.m. and concluding at 8 p.m.

A large, inflatable Trump, holding a Ku Klux Klan hood, stood at the southeast edge of the park. Music by rapper Kendrick Lamar played on a loudspeaker, competing with the chants of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA.”

A couple of women wore pussy hats, which were ubiquitous during the Women’s March. A terrier wore a sign across its body reading, “Dogs Against Trump.”

Terrier against Trump.

Protestors carried signs denouncing the president’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The signs read, “Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine. Palestine Will Win!”

A protestor carries a sign denouncing the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

 

Janice Batzdorff, a congregant of independent egalitarian community Movable Minyan who carried a sign reading, “Make America Kind Again,” also expressed concern with the president’s decision on Jerusalem.

“I have mixed feelings about it, but I don’t think it is the president’s position unilaterally to make that change,” the North Hollywood-based librarian said.

Batzdorff denounced the president’s stance on “environmental issues; his hatefulness toward immigrants and the way he did not condemn the anti-Jewish sentiment of that march in Charlottesville. And he is going into talks with [North Korean Supreme Leader] Kim Jong-Un without having any experts on Korea in his administration.”

Janice Batzdorff and Pearl Ricci attended the anti-Trump rally together.

Sandy, 83, a retired attorney who declined to provide his last name, held a sign reading, “Dump Trump, Fake President,”

Sandy, who has previously been active with the Jewish Federation, called the president “a disaster for the country, the world and the good people who live here.”

The president’s rhetoric surrounding immigration was disturbing, he said.

“The immigrants who live here are good people,” he said. “We want them here.”

Helen Hoffman, who attends Stephen Wise Temple High Holy Days services, expressed her displeasure with the president, “the as*hole in the White House,” she said. “I can’t say his name because it makes my stomach content rise up to the top.”

Based in the San Fernando Valley, Hoffman turned out with several members of Swing Left, an organization focused on regaining progressive Democratic seats in the 2018 House elections. She said she was hoping to help elect Democrats to represent California’s 25th and 21st districts, which are currently represented by Republicans.

Additional protestors spoke on behalf of labor workers, including members of Teamsters Local 396, a Covina-based union representing UPS, waste and recycling workers.

“The values we hold as Californians are not the same the president holds,” Union spokesperson Adan Alvarez, 30, said.

Dozens of Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) officers were on the scene. While a BHPD lieutenant said there were no reports of violent incidents at the protest, Gregg Donovan, a former employee of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau who carried a sign expressing support for the president, said somebody tried to knock his hat off.

“I heard the president was going to be in Beverly Hills and wanted to welcome him,”  Donovan said.

Other than the hat incident, Donovan said the event was peaceful.

“This is the safest place on earth,” he said of Beverly Hills.

A protestor in costume alludes to Trump going to jail one day for his alleged collusion with the Russians to win the White House.

 

 

 

How Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin Transformed Jewish Education in Los Angeles

Photo from Facebook

Congregants at Stephen S. Wise Temple will remember Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, who died last week at 97, as the rabbi who celebrated with them, mourned with them, officiated at their weddings, presided at b’nai mitzvah, and was present at countless moments in their religious lives. Indeed, he was a rabbi who was larger than life and whose generosity of spirit, time and love permeated his entire being. Family members will remember him as Grandpa Shy, the grandfather who lovingly listened, cared, gave sage advice, adored and was filled with pride. And many remember his legacy of Judaism and Jewish education.

I was neither a congregant nor a student. I may have been one of the few people at Zeldin’s funeral who was neither a relative, friend, nor someone with a personal connection to the glorious institutions he built.  I’m a historian and, for the past three years, have devoted my research to the history of Jewish education in Los Angeles. My doctoral dissertation focused on the development of day schools in Los Angeles. And in that story, Zeldin stands out as one of the greatest figures.

Many people are familiar with the almost mythical story of how Zeldin took 35 families from Temple Emanuel to form a new congregation. While people describe that journey in matter-of-fact terms — from first using space in a church, then eventually making their way to the hilltop where Stephen S. Wise Temple sits today.

But it wasn’t only a remarkable feat, but the manifestation of a vision. This new institution would bridge the city’s Jews by being a midway point between the city and the San Fernando Valley. It would offer much more than just prayer services. The “shul with a pool” would provide programming for the youngest children, the elderly, and every age group in between.

Perhaps most importantly to Zeldin, it educated thousands of students in its day schools (not to mention its religious schools and other educational programs) at a time when Reform day schools were just starting to emerge and few non-Orthodox day schools existed in Los Angeles. That the Reform movement did not officially support day schools until 1985 did not hinder Zeldin’s determination.

Zeldin was a pioneer, a social entrepreneur before the phrase even existed. He saw a need and he filled it. He had a conviction and he made it a reality. And yet Zeldin was no wizard. He did not hide behind curtains. He was present at the board meetings, the staff meetings, the dinner meetings and everything else. He delivered reports, shared his dreams and offered words of Torah. He lived and breathed not only his institution but everything he believed it stood for.

The grandeur that Zeldin built cannot be measured in acreage or in dollars raised. It cannot be understood even through the staff he hired or the educators he trained. Using the word visionary to describe him isn’t an exaggeration, nor is it cliché. And while there is plenty of evidence to describe Zeldin’s success, there is little evidence to aid in understanding it. As Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback said in his eulogy, Zeldin simply willed institutions into being, whether it was his synagogue, the West Coast branch of Hebrew Union College or his many schools.

Zeldin was the last of a generation of giants — rabbis who transformed the face and the fate of the Los Angeles Jewish community and whose commitment to, and passion for, Jewish education drove their every move. These leaders — among them Rabbi Jacob Pressman and Rabbi Harold Schulweis — dismissed denominational differences in the interest of Jewish continuity. They collaborated on projects, sought advice from one another and built the institutions that anchor Los Angeles’ Jewish community today.

Zeldin was a pioneer, a social entrepreneur before the phrase even existed. He saw a need and he filled it.

In the late 1980s, one of the city’s two non-Orthodox Jewish high schools, Golda Meir Academy, was struggling. In contrast, Zeldin’s elementary and nursery schools had been flourishing for over ten years. When the Golda Meir board and the Bureau of Jewish Education brought Zeldin into the discussions about the future of the school, he became a partner in the communal effort, eventually bringing the school under the umbrella of Stephen S. Wise’s Temple, which even assumed its financial burden. Within a few years, he had turned around the fate of the school, today known as Milken Community Schools. The politics (denominational and otherwise) were almost irrelevant. He had secured his own dream of educating Jewish children in a day school from nursery through twelfth grade.

So while congregants and family will hold memories of Zeldin near, this historian will also remember Zeldin as larger than life. Truly, Zeldin was an institution builder, a risk taker and change maker, a giant with a prescient ability to understand a community.

Yehi Zichrono Baruch. May his memory be a blessing.


Sara Smith is Assistant Dean of the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at American Jewish University.

Stephen Wise Temple Founder, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, dies at 97

Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple

Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, a Reform Judaism leader who founded and guided Stephen Wise Temple from modest beginnings to one of the world’s largest Reform congregations, died Friday evening (Jan. 26) at his home in Palm Springs, CA, surrounded by his family. He died of natural causes at 97.

Born and raised in Brooklyn (New York), the son of a respected scholar and ardent Zionist, he moved to Los Angeles in 1954 to establish the California branch of Hebrew Union College and served as the 11-state regional director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

In 1964, he and a nucleus of 35 families founded Stephen Wise Temple on a striking 18-acre mountain site situated between the city’s two largest Jewish population centers, the Westside and San Fernando Valley.

To prepare the site, contractors literally had to move a mountain by lowering its height, Zeldin told the Journal in a 2004 interview. “We had no place for the dirt, so I invited the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University), which was then on Sunset Blvd, to buy the property next door. And we pushed a million cubic yards of dirt into the hole to make it a leveled piece of property.”

As his lasting legacy, Zeldin left a thriving congregation and school system, now numbering some 4,800 members and students. The congregation is guided by five rabbis and two cantors.

The impact of his personality and organizing skill ranged well beyond the Jewish community and the Los Angeles area. Close friends, including former California governor Gray Davis, described Zeldin as combining the abilities of a committed educator, hard-driving business executive and nonpareil persuader, who believed that a synagogue had to serve its members from pre-birth to post-death.

After meeting Zeldin in 1981, Davis, though a Catholic, was so taken by the rabbi’s personality that he attended High Holiday services at Stephen Wise Temple for 34 straight years.

Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback observed, “I was amazed and inspired by Rabbi Zeldin’s impact on the lives of so many members of our community. His commitment to and love for his congregation and his deep passion for finding creative ways to inspire in them a love of Judaism, Jewish community and Israel filled me with awe. What he did for our congregation, for the Los Angeles community, and, more broadly, for the Jewish people, was truly extraordinary.”

One of Zeldin’s closest collaborators for half a century was Metuka Benjamin, now president of the Milken Community Schools, who joined the rabbi in establishing an extensive day school system in a Reform setting, consisting of a pre-school, elementary school and community high school.

In an extended interview, Benjamin described Zeldin as possessing “an iron fist in a silk glove. He was, in effect, the head of a corporation as well as a prodigious fundraiser – nobody ever said no to him.”

He was also a hands-on boss, from always picking up stray pieces of trash on campus to driving a bus to the temple’s camp.

From the beginning, Zeldin emphasized that schools were on the frontlines of Jewish continuity and at Stephen Wise, he said, “We built the school before we built the temple.”

Zeldin was a committed Zionist, a friend of Israeli prime ministers and other leaders, who enjoyed impressing Israeli visitors by the Jewish knowledge and fluent Hebrew of his students.

Among the many financial patrons recruited by Zeldin, none played a larger role than Lowell Milken, co-founder and chairman of the Milken Family Foundation.

In an interview, Milken described the rabbi as “The most transforming individual I have met in my lifetime…He had the ability to make others share in his vision and thus transform vision into reality.

“He was great at lightening your wallet but in such a way that in the end you considered it an honor.”

As a lay leader at Stephen Wise Temple, business executive David Smith was closely involved in bringing its educational goal to fruition.

“Rabbi Zeldin always had a clear picture where he wanted to go,” Smith said. “Some people complained that he didn’t listen to what they were saying. However, he did listen, though he was never sidetracked from where he was going.”

One piece of advice Zeldin passed on to Smith was “Never call for a vote unless you know the outcome…The board (of directors) has only one decision to make, whether to keep me or to fire me.”

Zeldin transferred his acumen to his champion-level chess game (“I try to think three moves ahead,” he used to say) and his vigor and enthusiasm to the golf course.

Friends on a first-name basis with Zeldin always addressed his as “Shy,” derived from Yeshayahu, the Hebrew name for Isaiah, and frequently shortened to the nickname Shy. From that it followed that insiders referred to the temple’s hilltop location as “Mount Shynai,” as a tribute to its founding rabbi.

Zeldin retired as senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple in 1990, but remained actively involved with the congregation throughout his life.

Florence Zeldin, who was married to the rabbi for 68 years, died in 2012.

Services will be held Monday (Jan. 29) at 11 a.m. at Stephen Wise Temple, with Rabbi Eli Herscher, who served as Zeldin’s immediate successor as Wise Temple’s senior rabbi, will deliver a eulogy. Interment will be at Eden Memorial Park.

Shiva will be held at Monday at the Temple at 7 p.m., followed by services and a reception.

Zeldin is survived by his children Joel Zeldin (Karen) and Michael Zeldin (Terry); brother Bernard Zeldin; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, mourners may wish to make donations to Stephen Wise Temple and Schools to establish the Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin Rabbinic Chair. Or to Hebrew Union College, to establish a scholarship fund in his name.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden at Stephen Wise Temple

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden at Stephen Wise Temple

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleBuilding A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleOn Thanksgiving, I want to share my gratitude for Stephen Wise Temple where my family has found a spiritual home. During the recent dedication of Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden, Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback asked us: “How can we adequately give thanks for the countless blessings we acknowledge today?He shared that in order to truly give thanks you need to pay it forward. “You will say “thanks” most fully with your efforts to make our world a place where everyone can feel at home, where everyone can feel loved and protected. A world built on kindness, hessed, on dignity, kavod, on love, ahavah…we’ll join together to build a world that’s just a little bit better than it was before. And that’s how we give thanks.”

VIDEODedication Ceremony of Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden

Please enjoy these remarks that Leandro Tyberg shared at the dedication for the building which he helped turn from an idea into a reality.

On this hilltop…here we stand…together as a community.  Together as friends.  Together as a people who take care of…and look out for…each other.  Together as a people who recognize our obligation to make the world a better place, to repair the world, and to plant seeds in a garden that will bear fruit for the generations to come.

Like many of us here on this hilltop…my family came to Wise and found sanctuary.  My parents, Rosita and Juan, brought us to this country in 1977 from Argentina, and we became members a few years thereafter.  My sister Barbara and I were enrolled here at Wise and spent year after year on this hilltop surrounded by a community who cared for us, nurtured us, and helped lay the foundation of what would become our Jewish and moral Identity.

Leandro Tyberg speaking at dedication of Katz Family Pavilion

Leandro Tyberg speaking at dedication of Katz Family Pavilion

As a kid, under the rafters of Hershenson Hall…we played tag, drank Mitz Tapuchim, had camp sleepovers, learned Hebrew, played duck-duck-goose, did musical theater, sang songs, had our spring dances, and grew up.  Here under the rafters of Hershenson Hall, I made out with my first girlfriend.

Here on this hilltop, Barbara and I learned under the tutelage of Rabbi Zeldin, Metukah Benjamin, Cantor Lam, Rabbi Hersher and countless others. 

In fact, Rabbi Hersher officiated at my Bar Mitzvah, at my sister’s wedding, my cousins wedding…both of his weddings in fact…he was there inside my Chupah when I stomped on a cup and married my beautiful wife Lori, he was there for my daughter Francesca’s baby naming, my son Roan’s Brit Milah, for most of my family’s proudest moments…but he was also there for life-cycle events that were painful and heart rending.  He was there for me when as a kid in 5th grade here at Wise, he came to tell me that and my best friend Andy Lipin was dying, and he was there to comfort our whole class after he passed.  He has always been there for me when I needed him, as he has been there for so many of us gathered here on this hilltop.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleSo when he called me 5 years ago to ask me to chair the Building Committee, it was an easy decision. 

Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.  As I was shaped by the hard work and dedication of those who built this community over the last 50 years, it was clear that the time had come for us to band together and form a team of people who would continue to shape this hilltop for the years to come.

Our Committee has been guided by the wisdom of Ken Ruby…who taught us the histories of the previous building committees, what it took to get us here, and what to consider as we moved forward.  We have also been inspired, led, and shepherded by our other Cte Members:  Alex Moradi, Kenneth Lee, and Benjamin Soleimani.

As a Committee, and in tremendous partnership with the Wise Board of Directors, the Wise Staff, and the Wise Clergy, we have been privileged to assemble and collaborate with people who take great pride in their work.  People who understand this is more than just a typical construction project, who respect the spirit and intent of what we wanted to shape here on this hilltop:

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleOur brilliant, inspired and incredibly talented architect, Michael Lehrer. Michael who can see around corners; Michael who designs places that leave an emotional effect on you; Michael who combined our history and our culture, and married that with the finest principals architecture can offer.  The word Architect comes from the Greek Archi Tekton, meaning Master Builder.  Master Builder indeed.

Michael’s team helped execute his vision, and were our key collaborators, compatriots, and sometimes conspirators, along the way = the talented and very insightful Roberto Sheinberg and Alex Clark. 

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleThe Shalom Garden, The Great Commons, the hard-scape and landscape has been thoughtfully and meticulously designed by the office of Mia Lehrer and Associates.  Mia Lehrer, and Matt Lysne, have helped create a serene, contemplative and joyous space, that invites you to participate, to engage, to reflect, and to be inspired.  You have left an indelible impression in our hearts and minds, and as Khalil Gibran once said “your work is your love made visible.

We’ve also been led by our detailed and tireless Construction Management team at Searock Stafford.  Led by David Stafford and Alex Grosjean.  Shaping a project of this magnitude is a tremendous feat, and their commitment, hard work and tenacity are deeply appreciated, as has been their friendship and counsel along the way.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleWe’ve benefitted greatly from our partnership with Del Amo Construction, our general contractors for this project.  Passionately led by Steve Donahue, whose company worked on other projects here on this campus in the 1980’s, and who has treated this project as something very personal, and very special. 

The Del Amo team also consisted of Dennis Billings, Nancy Gutierrez, Bennet Akker, and of course Gene Postert, whom the children affectionately call “Builder Gene! Builder Gene!”   

I would like to say that they are some of the most talented, caring and amazing contractors we’ve ever worked with…I’d like to say that…but we still have a few change orders to settle up on, so I don’t want to say that publicly just yet.

And over us all, are the torch bearers, the dreamers, the idealists, the hand holders, the visionaries of Wise…that we look to for leadership, governance and guidance, as we terraformed, drilled into bed rock, and erected this art work…inside the heart of an active and vibrant campus:

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise Temple

Judi, Lisa and Frank Niver at Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden Dedication

Thank you to the amazing Board of Directors of Stephen Wise Temple, led by Steve Fishman, and his predecessor Glenn Sonnenberg;

It’s impossible to name everyone at Wise who contributed of their time, sweat, wit, wisdom, assistance and hard work.  All are appreciated, and no matter how large or how small your contribution, you represent the fabric of what keeps us together.

Our maintenance crews, our event coordinators, our security teams,

Our technical wizards, led by Marc Entous.

Our athletics dept. who rally under Coach Ryan Hosler

Our talented Director of Development = Jessica Lebovitz, If she hasn’t called you yet for a contribution, just wait…she will;

Our partner-in-all-things = Executive Director & COO Sharon Spira-Cushnir,

Our brilliant, tireless, passionate and loving Head of School = Tami Weiser,

And our beloved friend and guiding light = Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback;

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise TempleSo here we are on this hilltop,

shaped by the memories,

and in honor of,

the people who made us who we are,

secure in the knowledge that the work we do here at Wise will have a lasting impact,

on the lives of our grandparents, parents, our children,

and our children’s children. 

Here we are, shaped by the belief,

that what we have all accomplished here together,

as a community, matters. It matters very much. 

We Shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”.

Indeed.

Thank you.

Building A New City on the Hill: Katz Family Pavilion at Stephen Wise Temple

First published on We Said Go Travel

#MeToo: No More To Violence and Degradation

Rabbi Yoshi ZweibackRabbi Yoshi Zweiback granted me permission to share his moving and meaningful #MeToo sermon from Friday, October 20, 2017 at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, California:

“This is the line of Noah: Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.”

It was good that Noah walked with God. It was good that he was blameless in his age. It was good that he was a righteous man.

Because no one else was.

According to our tradition, Noah was the only righteous man of his generation. Everyone else was pretty much disgusting.

Our Torah portion this week tells us in fact that the whole world had become corrupt.

The great medieval commentator, Rashi, tells us that the Hebrew word “וַתִּשָּׁחֵ֥ת” refers to a particular type of corruption – ערווה, usually translated as “liscentiousness” – sexual depravity.

WATCH: Soulful Shabbat Service Oct 20 2017 with Rabbi Yoshi’s sermon

Rashi notes that according to the midrash, ערווה so offends God that it leads ultimately to indiscriminate punishment, the “end of all flesh,” a punishment that is meted out on good people and bad people alike. It, in the words of the midrash, is something that הוֹרֶגֶת טוֹבִים וְרָעִים – it kills both the righteous and the wicked.

What a parasha for this week.

Like many of you I’m sure, I’ve been reading one #metoo story after another on facebook.

Friends, classmates, colleagues sharing horrifying stories of aggression, discrimination, degradation, humiliation, and violence.

Details of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and the degree to which so many were complicit in it continue to emerge. There is a corruption, a type of ערווה in this town, in the entertainment industry, and – more broadly – in our world, that is gross, disgusting, nauseating.

How should we respond? What should we do? How can we make things better?

Although I had a mother and I have a sister, a spouse and three daughters, it is very difficult for me to relate personally to so many of the stories I read.

I’ve found it helpful, though, to simply try to listen to the experiences of others.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Margaret Renkl shared a moving piece about her own experiences. A few years back, she found herself sitting around her kitchen table with her sons. The subject of travel came up and her boys asked her why she hadn’t backpacked around Europe like their father had.

Here’s what she shared with them:

“It’s dangerous for a woman to camp alone,” I finally said at the table that night. “There are women who do it, but I’m not that brave.”
My children grew up with stories of their father’s adventures. They did not grow up with stories of mine. I didn’t tell them the story of the 16-year-old family “friend” who babysat while his parents and mine went out to dinner the year I was 11, how he followed me around the apartment, tugging on my blouse and telling me I should take it off, pulling at the elastic waistband of my pants and telling me I should take them off, how I finally locked myself in my bedroom and didn’t come out till my parents got home.

I didn’t tell my children the story of walking with my friend to the town hardware store when we were 14. I didn’t tell them that my friend used her babysitting money to buy a screwdriver and a deadbolt lock to keep her older brother out of her room at night.

I didn’t tell my children the story of my first job, the job I started the week I turned 16, and how the manager kept making excuses to go back to the storeroom whenever I was at the fry station, how he would squeeze his corpulent frame between the counter and me, dragging his sweaty crotch across my rear end on each trip…

There is nothing unusual about these stories. They are the ho-hum, everyday experiences of virtually every woman I know, and such stories rarely get told. There will never be a powerful social-media movement that begins, ‘Today I ate breakfast’ or ‘Today my dog pooped and I cleaned it up’ or ‘Today I washed my hair with the same shampoo I’ve been buying since 2006.’ We tell the stories that are remarkable in some way, stories that are surprising, utterly unexpected. The quotidian doesn’t make for a good tale.

And maybe that’s why the avalanche of stories on Twitter and Facebook this week has been so powerful. It started on Oct. 5, when The New York Times first broke the story of accusations of sexual harassment against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but it became a juggernaut 10 days later, when the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within minutes the hashtag #MeToo was all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — over 500,000 times on Twitter and 12 million times on Facebook in the first 24 hours alone — and the deluge shows no sign of slowing. The numbers keep ticking up as women tell the stories of men who used their power to overwhelm or coerce them.” (“The Raw Power of #metoo “-NY Times, Oct 19, 2017)

There is a terrible corruption in this world.

In this week’s Torah portion, God gets so fed up with humanity that She decides to start over, to destroy Her creation and begin again.
Our parasha tells us that Noah was indeed righteous.

But he is criticized by the rabbis who contrast Noah’s behavior with the behavior of Abraham. When Noah is told that God wishes to destroy the world, he says nothing. He builds the ark and saves his own family but he does nothing to address the core issue, the fundamental problem, the corruption that so angered God.

And maybe that’s one of the lessons for us. It’s not enough to be upright in your own behavior. Of course each of us at work and in our interactions with others wherever we are should behave according to the highest standards of our tradition and be particularly careful not to degrade, humiliate or harass – ever. But our tradition requires us to go farther: we have to actively work to build communities where the norms and standards of upright behavior in this regard are widely embraced so that we can build a world where 14 year old young women don’t need to put deadbolts on their bedroom doors.

On a closed facebook page for Reform rabbis, I read many stories of female colleagues across the country who have felt uncomfortable in their own shuls because congregants or co-workers had made comments about their dress and their appearance. They shared stories of being hugged or kissed at the oneg when they didn’t feel comfortable with that type of touch.

We can and we must do better. And we have to help each other as a community to do better.

If you didn’t hear Rabbi Knobel’s powerful and moving High Holy Day sermon about gender violence, you can find the video of it on our website (https://youtu.be/B5S2opBM_Ss). And if you heard it, watch again and think about it in the light of what we’ve seen over the past two weeks.

And I invite you, if you feel comfortable doing so, to share any of your experiences and any suggestions you have about how we can make this sacred space more comfortable for you and about how we can work together to change things in our City of Angels where so many of those awful, awful stories we’ve been reading took place. And then we must change things more broadly so that the violence and degradation, the terrible corruption that led God to want to destroy the whole wide world will become a distant memory so that no woman or man will ever again have to say “#metoo.”

Thank you to Rabbi Yoshi and Stephen Wise Temple for all you do: 

“We make meaning and change the world.”

אנחנו יוצרים משמעות ומשנים את העולם.

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback’s Rosh Hashanah sermon: We Need Each Other

Maybe it’s because she grew up in a very small Jewish community – El Dorado, Kansas was home to about ten Jewish families. Maybe it was because of her deep love for Jewish values, traditions and teachings. Whatever inspired it, my mother absolutely delighted in discovering that the perfect stranger with whom she was sitting on the airplane or whom she happened to begin speaking with in the museum or concert hall at intermission was, like her, a Jew.

If one of her kids was nearby, she’d shoot us a knowing look and stage-whisper, “He’s JEWISH.” Sometimes it was obvious. A star of David around the neck. A hamsa. Maybe it was the name – David Shapiro was an easy one. Rochel Leah Rabinowitz – a no brainer. Shmuel Cohen – a gimmee. But mom could also find the Jewish Maureen O’Malley, too.

Then it was time for some Jewish geography. Before you knew it, mom had found a connection. Maybe through an acquaintance, a distant cousin – some Rabbi we knew in common.

When I entered Rabbinical school, it got worse. Here’s how it played out:

  • Step one: Identify the Jew.
  • Step two: Chat up the Jew.
  • Step three: Discover some type of personal connection to the Jew.
  • Step four: Seize the opportunity to announce proudly to her new best friend that her son is studying to be a rabbi.

Once on a family vacation, as we sat down for our first dinner, a member of the staff approached me and said, “I hear you’re a rabbi – would you be willing to help us light the Chanukah candles tomorrow night in the lobby? Your mom said you’d love to!”

I don’t want you to think that her ability to identify and connect with Jews was flawless – sometimes her “Jew-dar” was off. Once, on a phone call with mom when I was in college, I mentioned that I was going to a Bruce Springsteen concert with some friends. “You know he’s a self hating Jew, don’t you?” She said. “I mean, he never talks about his Jewish identity, he’s not raising his kids as Jews – he hasn’t ever performed in Israel.”

“Mom,” I noted. “We’ve talked about this before. Bruce Springsteen is not, I repeat, NOT a self hating Jew. Do you know why that is, mom? It’s ‘cuz he’s NOT A JEW AT ALL. Yes, his name ends in ‘Steen’ and he’s from Jersey but HE’S NOT A JEW.”

There was a pause.

“Still,” she said, “he could be more supportive.”

My parents taught us that we were part of a community, a People – Members of a Tribe. They were devoted to our synagogue. Mom was president of the Temple sisterhood, an active lifelong learner, forever volunteering for things like the outreach committee, the book drive, and taskforces of all types. Dad was honored to be named the volunteer of the decade at our local Jewish Community Center.

For us kids, attending religious school through Confirmation was a requirement. Mom insisted that we all try Jewish summer camp and youth group. We loved it so much that we went back year after year.

And my parents walked the walk with their tzedakah dollars as well supporting the Temple, our local Federation, and a host of Israel related activities.

Their example, the way they modeled the importance of being part of Jewish community, shaped me in the most profound ways, leading me ultimately to the rabbinate, to devoting my professional life to Jewish community, education, and values. It’s what inspired me to move to Israel to study and that’s there I met my wife, the mother of our three daughters – by far the best outcome of all.

My life has meaning and purpose because of these experiences. I have a deeper sense of my small role in the cosmos because of it. Being part of this tribe, this people Israel, has helped me to feel a sense of connection in a time of increasing alienation and division. And – most importantly – it is through my community that the values of our People have been transmitted to me: a way of life that points us towards justice and righteousness and inspires us to make ourselves and the world better.

This sense of connection to a people with a shared history, destiny and set of values provides us with what the great sociologist, Peter Berger, calls a “plausibility structure.” A system of meaning which helps us to make sense of our world and understand our place in it.

But for so many people today, not just Jews, the “plausibility structure” of community itself is being undermined in profound ways.

Marc Dunkelman, a professor at Brown University, writes about this in his recent book, “The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community.”

Dunkelman describes what he calls “middle-ring” relationships. These involve people who are not family or close friends but not as distant as mere acquaintances. Over the past few decades, these middle-ring relationships have all but disappeared in America and as a result, people feel less and less connected to their neighbors, their towns, and, even more broadly, their country. An additional consequence of this alienation is a narrowing of our world-views.

Dunkelman notes that middle-ring relationships are best “suited to pierce our much-bemoaned filter bubbles” – the increasingly precise way we get our news and are exposed to the ideas of others through the various feeds, tightly controlled by ever-monetized algorithms, that limit the ideas, people and – ultimately – experiences to which we are exposed.

Before the deterioration of these “middle-ring” relationships, “a left-wing academic might talk with a conservative banker while in line at Blockbuster — if that’s how we still rented movies. An activist could explain the benefits of paid leave to a skeptical businesswoman on the sidelines of the P.T.A. meeting — if that were how we spent our Tuesday nights. Experiments that compel ordinary people to discuss a fraught topic face-to-face have illustrated that those conversations quite frequently lead participants to think differently. But without middle-ring relationships, those sorts of thoughtful, substantive interactions have become all too rare.”

And, sadly, tragically even, our ability to connect deeply with what was once not a “middle-ring” relationship but rather a kin/familial relationship, namely, to Jewish community, has also been compromised.

Locally, nationally, and internationally, our Jewish community has become more fragmented and divided politically, ethnically, and religiously. Right versus Left. Ashkenazi versus Sephardi. Orthodox versus Reform.

And, more globally, there has been a most unfortunate distancing between the two major centers of Jewish life today: Israel and America. This past summer, divisions between Israel and the Diaspora surfaced in deeply troubling ways. The Kotel controversy and the debate over a new conversion bill in the Knesset, inspired headlines in Jewish newspapers including this one that should send chills down our spines: “Netanyahu to Millions of Jews – we don’t really want you.” The author of that piece, David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, argued that the Prime Minister’s decision to freeze the Western Wall compromise plan that had been labored over for more than three years was a “blow to the heart and soul of world Jewry.”

And just a few weeks ago, in the middle of the month of Elul – our countdown to repentance – the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem said publicly that Reform Jews are worse than Holocaust deniers.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Rabbi, don’t be so naive! Isn’t this how it has always been?”

Indeed, my own grandfather used to tell me about how the German Jews in Omaha used to look down on the Shtetl Jews – my family – who had immigrated more recently from Poland.

And what about the old adage, “two Jews, three opinions”? This one is beautifully illustrated by the joke about the Jew who is shipwrecked on a desert island. The crew of a passing ship notices his campfire and comes to his aid. When the captain of the ship comes ashore, the Jew thanks him profusely and offers him a tour of his little island. He shows him the fire pit where he cooks his food, the hammock where he sleeps, and the little synagogue he built so he could offer his prayers to God. On the way back to the ship, the captain notices a second synagogue. The captain is confused. “I don’t understand,” the captain asks, “why on earth did you go to the trouble to build two synagogues!?!? You are the only Jew on this island!” “Vell,” replies the Jew, “da first shul, dat’s where I go to daven! Dis shul? I would never set foot in dis shul!”

It’s funny. And it’s awful. And it’s a rather apt metaphor for human life on this planet today – or where we might be headed.

Each of us all alone on our own little islands. Like the two couples I saw the other night out for the dinner – all four of them on their smartphones, not talking to one another, not even looking at each other.

All alone on our islands – one Jew with two synagogues, or, even worse, one Jew actively choosing to absent himself from every synagogue, from the community itself. Each one of us an island – experiencing the world, filtering our news and our friends and the values we embrace, all on our own.

And here is why this conversation is so urgent, why it matters so much, right now: Communities transmit values and a sense that, whatever the challenge, we can confront it more successfully together.

Think about the extraordinary images we’ve seen over the past few weeks of the devastation caused by hurricanes and earthquakes. Neighbors rescuing neighbors right along side professionally trained first-responders.

Friends – now, as ever, we need each other. Whatever our differences, the challenges we’re facing confront us all. Climate change, North Korean nukes, stagnant wages, social disruptions, a worldwide refugee crisis – no one is immune. Gay, straight, transgender – whether we were born in this country, immigrated here with all the proper papers, or came as an infant in the arms of a parent dreaming of a better life – we are all in this together. Only through a shared commitment to our best values will we be able to survive, to thrive, to hope for and realize a brighter tomorrow for ourselves, our children, and our world.

So the challenge is bigger and the sense of urgency is more pronounced but here’s the good news: the solution hasn’t really changed at all. It’s ultimately a matter of choice. We have a simple decision to make: Are the privileges and benefits of communal membership generally and, more particularly for us as Jews as members of this tribe, this People, worth the efforts required? If we conclude that they are, then it’s all about commitment.

And, make no mistake, it’s always been a matter of choice. In Talmudic times, there was a robust competition amongst the Jewish, Christian, and Pagan communities for the hearts and minds of the masses. The rabbis – two thousand years ago – had to make a case for Jewish community.

First, they laid out the obligations the community has toward the People. In short, the community had to provide for the physical, intellectual, and spiritual needs of everyone – no small task. Soup-kitchens for the poor; funding, and matchmakers, to make sure that orphans could marry; assistance for widows; burial societies and cemeteries for life’s end. Schools for learning. Synagogues for worship. Emissaries to represent the interests of the community to the Gentile authorities. The community would provide everything. (Sanhedrin 17b)

But the relationship must be reciprocal. The individual has obligations to the community as well.

Here’s how the Midrash puts it: “The person who asks, ‘Why should I trouble myself for the community? What’s in it for me to involve myself in their problems? Why should I care about what they say? I’m fine all by myself!” This person, says the Midrash, “מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם – destroys the world. (Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim 2:2)

An example of Rabbinic exaggeration? Perhaps. Destroying the world might be putting it a bit too strongly.

And yet, and yet. The one who thinks, “I’ll just worry about myself and my needs alone,” doesn’t this way of thinking, ultimately, lead not merely to the disintegration of one’s local community but to the disintegration of society, of civilization itself?

And here’s what makes affiliation in Jewish community in particular and the energy we expend to strengthen it more than a provincial, self-centered act. Communal affiliation is generative. The act of connecting more deeply to our particular community, leads us to a deeper sense of obligation to and concern for the broader community. Our affiliation with and affection for members of our tribe does not have to lead us to being “tribal” in a parochial, narrow, xenophobic fashion. In fact, our tribal tradition wants our particular, personal experience to be a doorway to a more expansive sense of connection and responsibility for others who, while not MOTs, are part of our broader, human family.

As the great theologian and scholar, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, argues, “our particular religious vision is also profoundly and inseparably universal.” Our People’s master narrative of our slave ancestors being redeemed at the Shores of the Red Sea, leads us to understand in a personal and profound way, the universal value of liberation and national dignity for all people.

In a time when our nation is so deeply divided and so much in need of healing, our commitment to Jewish community and the values it upholds can help us to be better Americans for, as Jews, we have always cared for more than just “our own.” As the great sage Hillel put it 2000 years ago:

״וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי?״

״If we are only for ourselves, what are we?”

For our Rabbis, the “case” for community is existential: without it, the whole world is destroyed. We depend upon community for our very survival – physical and spiritual as well for communities transmit values.

And our spirits, our souls, need the core values of our tradition especially right now.

In the face of hatred and violence, neo-Nazis and klansmen marching in our streets, our tradition reminds us (Lev 19:17):

לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ

Hatred is a sin.

In the face of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia – our tradition reminds us that God created humanity through a common ancestor for the sake of peace –

מִפְּנֵי שְׁלוֹם הַבְּרִיּוֹת

so that no man or woman could ever say: אַבָּא גָּדוֹל מֵאָבִיךָ! My father is better than yours! (Sanhedrin 37a)

We are all children of the same loving God. We are all connected.

In a time of “alternative facts” – our tradition reminds us that there is such a thing as truth and that, indeed, the integrity of the world depends on it.

In a time in our country when disagreements about our deeply held beliefs increasingly move from what should be vigorous, healthy debates to scenes of chaos and violence, our tradition reminds us that, no matter how hard, our job is to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:15)

בַּקֵּ֖שׁ שָׁל֣וֹם וְרָדְפֵֽהוּ

I could go on all day – but I won’t.

But do indulge me just one more: In a time of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety, our tradition teaches us that “the whole world is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid!” In the face of the very real and frightening challenges of our lives, our tradition reminds us never to lose hope, never to give in to our fears. And being part of a community helps us to cross the bridge despite those fears.

In my own experience, the gifts I receive from being part of this community, this People Israel, far outweigh what is required of me. I get so much more than I give.

And I know this is true for so many of you here today. You’ve told me story after story about how – right here, maybe in our parenting center – you met the closest friends who have supported you throughout your life. You’ve told me about how, right here – maybe at Torah study or as a regular in Shabbat services – you’ve found meaning and strength through life’s most challenging times. You’ve told me about how our clergy have been there for your family through simchas as well as through life’s tsuris. You’ve shared how you’ve found a deeper sense of purpose as a volunteer in one of our Tikkun Olam programs.

You’ve told me – again and again – that you have received more than you’ve given.

We’re lucky – so lucky – to be part of a vibrant, established Jewish community. My mom and her family had to drive to Wichita from El Dorado to attend Shabbat services. Now, truth be told, it’s only 40 miles which took them less time than it does to get to Stephen Wise from Santa Monica on a Friday evening but still, still – it took some effort. She could hardly imagine, as a young woman, a Jewish community like ours numbering in the hundreds of thousands, boasting synagogues and day-schools and Jewish institutions of all shapes and sizes. She couldn’t imagine a shul with a pool.

My mom grew up in a town that didn’t have any Jewish institutions and barely enough Jews to make a minyan. It’s probably why she was always searching, always on the look-out for other MOTs, Members of the Tribe.

It’s part of what inspired her to give so much time and energy to her community. But I know that – ultimately – she received as much or more as she contributed.

When she died, much too young, hundreds and hundreds of members of our community were there to honor her and to support us, to carry us in our grief.

This is the commitment, this is the support, this is the sense of belonging and meaning and purpose that we all need. And it’s what our our nation and our world needs right now, too.

To get there – we’ll all need to step up. It’s hard, I know. We’re busy – pulled in a thousand directions. But it’s important. So in this New Year of 5778, let’s all commit to doing more for each other.

I’m not going to ask you to devote yourself 24 X 6 to the Temple – although you’re welcome to do so. But what if we could each commit to doing one additional act of kindness every month for our community? It might be attending a shiva minyan or showing up to pack lunches for homeless folks in our city. Maybe it’s reaching out and bringing a friend to a class or a service. Maybe it’s helping to raise funds for a special project that will bring more meaning and hope into our world. Maybe it’s volunteering to serve on a committee or help with a program. Whatever it is, let’s commit ourselves to doing more to strengthening our tribe, our community and in so doing, we’ll strengthen our city, our nation, and our world.

Friends – we need each other. Desperately. Joyfully. Eternally.

 

We know what we stand for; it’s time to say it

A woman writes a message on the street commemorating the victims at the scene of the car attack on a group of counter-protesters during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 14, 2017. Photo by Justin Ide/REUTERS.

The image of a poster from the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this past weekend sent chills down my spine.

It reminded me of what I saw at a museum in Berlin over the summer: propaganda from the 1930s and 1940s designed to inspire hatred towards Jews and other non-Aryan peoples. News coverage of the march in Charlottesville led me to recall the terrifying photographs of Nazi rallies and book burnings that led ultimately to much greater violence and evil.

In the face of hatred, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and indifference, we must respond forcefully by expressing vigorously and unapologetically the values we cherish most deeply.

Our sages understood this well. They repudiated this type of hatred and xenophobia two thousand years ago. Our rabbis asked why God chose to create humanity through a common ancestor.  Answered our teachers: “For the sake of peace among all peoples so that no person can say to his friend, ‘My father is greater than your father.’” (Sanhedrin 37a)

From the perspective of our tradition, racism is a grave sin and an offense not just against humanity but, ultimately, also against God. Our rabbis condemned it unconditionally. We must do so as well and we must demand the same moral clarity from our leaders today.

For now, white supremacists and neo-nazis constitute a tiny minority of our great nation. Here is what must be remembered: a nation’s greatness is demonstrated ultimately by the values it upholds.

As Jews and as Americans, we know what we stand for. It’s time once again, unequivocally and proudly, to say so.

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback is senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple.

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years

In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.


Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.


Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.


Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.


Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.


Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.


Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!


Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

geller2

[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.


Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.


Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader

glaser-patty-hi-res

Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.


Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center

brian-greene

My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.


Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.


Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.


Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles

hutman

Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.


Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.


Kosha Dillz

Rapper

kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.


Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at Groknation.com

esther

I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.


Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  


Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.


Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.


Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.


David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA

myers

 

I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.


Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.


Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.


Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.


Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?


Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.


Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.


Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.


Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.


Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?


Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.


Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

Moving and Shaking: Remembering Shimon Peres, Angel of Peace Awards gala and more

About 400 people at Stephen Wise Temple in Bel Air attended an Oct. 6 memorial service for former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, who died Sept. 28 at age 93.

Among the evening’s speakers, actress Sharon Stone fought back tears as she remembered her unlikely friend, Peres, with whom she worked in engaging Arab youth through the YaLa Young Leaders program.

“He wouldn’t want me to waste my time being sad, but I am heartbroken,” said the actress known for roles in such films as “Basic Instinct” and “Casino.”

Stephen Wise Temple’s senior rabbi, Yoshi Zweiback, said Peres balanced optimism and pessimism in his approach to Israel’s ongoing conflicts with the Arab world. “As hopeful and optimistic as Peres was,” Zweiback said of the Nobel laureate, “he was neither naïve nor impractical.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ CEO, Jay Sanderson, emphasized Peres’ connection to Los Angeles. “He was a great man who loved Los Angeles and Los Angeles loved him,” Sanderson said.

Sam Grundwerg, Israel consul general in Los Angeles, said Peres, “much like Israel itself, was the connection between tradition and modernity.”

Other participants in the program included Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Israeli-American Council regional council member Tamir Cohen, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, Stephen Wise Temple Cantor Nathan Lam, Yiddish performer Mike Burstyn and singer Ninet Tayeb.

The event began with attendees writing notes of remembrance as they entered the temple’s sanctuary. It concluded with attendees singing Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah” (The Hope).


L.A. Inner City Mass Choir members sing at the 2016 Angel of Peace Awards gala of the Violence Prevention Coalition at the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy of Violence Prevention Coalition. Photo courtesy of Violence Prevention Coalition

The Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, a leader in the movement to frame violence as an issue of public health rather than criminal justice, celebrated its 2016 Angel of Peace Awards gala on Sept. 21 at the Japanese American National Museum by honoring the leadership of Los Angeles Police Department Officer Stinson Brown, Larry Cohen of Prevention Institute and Peter Long of the Blue Shield of California Foundation. Andy Vasquez was named winner of the Tony Borbon Youth Scholarship Video Contest. The event, attended by 180 guests, featured a performance by the L.A. Inner City Mass Choir and opening remarks by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

— Jewish Journal staff 


From left: Fruma Ita Schapiro and Ilana Ribak

The Milken Family Foundation has announced the recipients of its 2016 Jewish Educator Awards.  

They are: Fruma Ita Schapiro, a Torah studies teacher and extracurricular activities coordinator at Ohel Chana High School; Ilana Ribak, a Judaic studies kindergarten and Hebrew immersion teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy; Rabbi Chaim Trainer, a fourth-grade Judaic studies teacher at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn; and Tammy Shpall, a history teacher, ninth-grade dean and dean of all levels at de Toledo High School.

In announcing the recipients, the foundation said Schapiro “engages her students and develops pride in their roots by connecting history and tradition to daily life,” and Ribak “immerses her students in creative Hebrew language instruction that is both rigorous and playful.” Trainer created a conflict-resolution curriculum called Project Resolve that “focuses on behavior modification to address bullying, fighting and other conflicts,” the foundation said, and Shpall “seamlessly infuses Jewish values, wisdom and community.”

From left: Rabbi Chaim Trainer and Tammy Shpall. Photos Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation

The awards were presented by Richard Sandler, the foundation’s executive vice president, and Gil Graff, executive director of Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), during surprise ceremonies at the four schools.

The award, which includes a $15,000 cash prize, honors “K-12 teachers, administrators and other education professionals who are making outstanding contributions to the Jewish and secular education of students in BJE-affiliated day schools across Greater Los Angeles.”


About 100 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students from Weizmann Day School in Pasadena, B’nai Simcha Jewish Community Preschool in Pasadena, Saint Mark’s School in Altadena and New Horizon School in Pasadena came together at Weizmann Day School on Oct. 6 to participate in the 15th annual Daniel Pearl World Music Days program.

The program is an international network of concerts that was launched in 2002 by the family of Wall Street Journal reporter and amateur musician Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered that same year by Pakistani terrorists. This year’s concerts take place throughout October.

His parents, Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, attended the event, described as “the only multicultural, multi-elementary school performance registered with … [the] World Music Days program.” The event’s 300 attendees included Weizmann Head of School Lisa Feldman, B’nai Simcha Preschool Director Judy Callahan, New Horizon Head of School Amira al-Sarraf, and Saint Mark’s School Head of School Jennifer Tolbert.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Why join a synagogue?

Why join a temple? When a b’nai mitzvah or a funeral comes along, why not just “rent a rabbi”? After all, you save the dues and you “pay only for what you need.” The problem, of course, is that in this complex world, troubling news and a search to find meaning, “what we need” is a whole lot more than a once- or twice-a-year relationship can provide. 

In 2000, Robert Putnam lamented in “Bowling Alone” that Americans were becoming increasingly isolated in a society that no longer valued community. The data clearly show that we are moving away from community and increasingly into our own self-created bubbles. And in these bubbles we read and digest opinions that mostly agree with our own, without meaningful interchange and debate. Putnam’s metaphor for the devolution of communal participation was the plethora of bowling leagues in America in the 1950s and how they had disappeared over time, replaced by people bowling alone.

In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that only 31 percent of people who identify as Jews are affiliated with a synagogue. And for those of us in positions of synagogue leadership, I can tell you that these numbers are not static. They are moving — the wrong way! Fewer and fewer people are maintaining memberships in synagogues nationwide.

One reason for abandoning the communal experience is that familiar institutions, be they bowling leagues or synagogues, were unable to keep up with the times and no longer offered meaningful experiences. We became trapped in institutions that were in an endless loop of repetition. Lost were creativity, flexibility and collective joy. 

In the 1990s, I delivered a High Holy Days sermon each year to a makeshift congregation composed of unaffiliated young Jews looking for a meaningful experience outside of the formal congregational structure. This group had concluded early on something that many of us would later discover — that the traditional model of a synagogue did not offer sufficient meaning and purpose to maintain its relevance and attractiveness to people striving for more.

Eventually, however, it became clear that to raise a family with Jewish values and a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves required commitment to a congregation. My wife and I found such a place in Stephen Wise Temple, with a rich menu of social justice activities, learning and celebration. Now I am president of that congregation, and I find myself explaining that it’s not about how much you use a temple, but how well you use what it offers and, importantly, how critical it is that we support the institution for the benefit of all those we serve.

I love Stephen Wise Temple, our spiritual home, but there is no shortage of other temple options in Los Angeles. To that congregation of the unaffiliated and others who have eschewed temple membership in the past, I urge you to “come home” to an ongoing, continuous relationship with your people. It is time to return to the greater Jewish community and acknowledge that to live a Jewish communal life is not an episodic experience. To learn and live Jewish values every day is to enhance one’s life.

Another disturbing extension of this “bowling alone” challenge to a vibrant and meaningful Jewish community is the “rent a rabbi” movement. Why not be tutored at home, learn a passable minimum and consummate the event with a big party? Parents are choosing b’nai mitzvah experiences devoid of interaction with other families engaged on the same journey; it’s all about me and not about us.

Don’t get me wrong — better to do something, anything, than not provide your child the singular experience of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. But the “do-it-yourself” model takes a sacred rite of passage and turns it into “Jewish performance art.” It is devoid of context and community. My message to these young families is the same. Come home.

I can attest to the quality of the old, makeshift High Holy Days congregation, its warmth and sense of belonging. But like the carnival pulling into town each year, it picks up stakes, not to reveal itself again until the following autumn. I also have little doubt that the rabbis for hire produce an excellent “product.” But here’s the secret:  Synagogue life is changing. People are reading our ancient texts in ways that are life affirming and relevant to a world drowned in a cacophony of voices that increasingly are turning up the volume. People are working on meaningful social action projects that engage us with changing the city of L.A. and the world around us. One can find meaning and change the world in exciting ways through the strength of numbers.

It is not by accident that our people organized their communities into congregations. Through a congregation, one’s Jewish life experience is enhanced and expanded from an episodic relationship to a partnership with a community that is lasting and offers a rich menu of experiences throughout the year — experiences in personal development, education and in changing the world. But it is also enhanced by having clergy and a congregation to help when one is challenged by the vicissitudes of life. I had one of these moments when my father died, when my community was there to celebrate his life, just as it was there to celebrate happier events.

Within the context of a congregation, one can follow up on High Holy Days celebrations with adult education, Torah study, book clubs, visiting scholars and a variety of other activities. But one also benefits from celebrations throughout the year — dining together in a sukkah, dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, studying into the evening on Shavuot, experiencing Havdalah by candlelight. 

Temples have evolved to be so much more than simply being there to mark the passage of the seasons and holidays. Valley Beth Shalom gave birth to Jewish World Watch, fighting genocide in Africa. Stephen Wise Temple gave birth to a network of three summer “Freedom Schools,” teaching literacy and providing enrichment for inner-city children, while providing meaningful volunteer experiences for more than 100 Jewish teens each summer. (Full disclosure: My wife is the executive director of this independent nonprofit.) And as our community struggles with the appropriate response to the Iran agreement, it is in synagogues — and not on Facebook or in endless email blasts — where a multitude of voices are heard and where contrary views are shared and debated, all with the sensitivity and shared compassion only face-to-face interactions can provide.

Perhaps it is time for the “nonjoiners” to rethink whether there might be greater meaning and greater support through a congregational experience. I understand there is a cost to membership, but most temples accommodate people at whatever level they can afford.

Perhaps now is a time when the idea of a more permanent relationship with our people might be a powerful addition to your life. Our temple stands for two principles that describe the mission of most temples, namely, making meaning and changing the world. We must resist the temptation to disconnect from others. The loss to the individual is profound. The emptiness of a rent-a-clergy experience, of a “go-it-alone” Jewish existence creates a disconnection from what has been for thousands of years the core Jewish experience, namely, community.

The holidays approach. The time to join with your people in new and exciting ways awaits. Don’t go through life alone, in a bubble, disconnected. Sure it can be fun to bowl alone, but how much more stimulating and exciting to bowl with friends, in community. So come home to a temple near you. Find meaning. Change the world. We have been here waiting for you. 

Glenn Sonnenberg, an attorney, is president of Latitude Real Estate Investors and president of Stephen Wise Temple. He sits on the boards of Bet Tzedek, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Para Los Ninos, USC Gould School of Law and Wise Freedom School Partners. He is passionate about creating an inviting Jewish communal life for our children and grandchildren.

Moving and shaking: LAPD show up for Torah-dedication, Far West USY reunion and more

A Torah-dedication ceremony at the ultra-Orthodox Hancock Park synagogue Kollel Yechiel Yehuda drew about 400 people on Aug. 11 — including a number of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers.

“It’s important to tap into the ultra-Orthodox community,” LAPD officer Adam Deckel, 31, said during a phone interview afterward. 

Deckel, whose father is Moroccan and whose mother worked in ultra-Orthodox Jewish education, identifies as Modern Orthodox and is a member of Em Habanim Sephardic Congregation in North Hollywood. Previously, he taught at Milken Community Schools.

“Being from the Modern Orthodox community … a lot of people know me and trust me, and building trust is huge, especially with what’s going on nationwide with police,” Deckel said.

Other LAPD attendees included Cmdr. Horace Frank; officer Shawn Alexander, a Muslim community member who serves as liaison between the LAPD and the Muslim community; and Lt. Lonnie Tiano. Together, they gave out police badge stickers to some of the children.

Deckel’s supervisor, Deputy Chief Michael Downing, who was the featured speaker at the 2015 Anti-Defamation League annual High Holy Days security briefing Aug.11, said Deckel has been instrumental in the police department’s efforts to build relationships with the Jewish community.

“Whenever they have issues or challenges or just want representation or access, he is there in the Jewish community,” Downing said.


For the first time in the history of the Far West United Synagogue Youth (USY), generations of alumni gathered for a reunion. The event drew more than 200 people who were members of Far West USY classes from the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s to Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge on July 11.

Multiple generations attended the Far West United Synagogue Youth reunion event at Temple Ramat Zion on July 11. Photos courtesy of Far West United Synagogue Youth region

“The reunion was long overdue,” Merrill Alpert, regional director of youth activities, said in an email. 

Among those who turned out were Rabbi Stephen Weiss, 1978 regional president and current rabbi at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in suburban Cleveland; writer and early ’80s alum Gary Rotto of San Diego, who wrote a first-person article about the event titled “A Return to the Birthplace of His Jewish Activism”; and Leor Alpern, a 1991 alum and president emeritus of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles. Recent USY graduate and San Diego resident Melanie Ross showed a montage video she created that included a tribute to alumni who have died.

USY is a part of the United Synagogue Conservative Judaism movement. The Far West region includes Los Angeles and other chapters in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. There are 34 Far West chapters, according to Alpert.


The Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County (JFFS) board of directors has named Lauren Gavshon its interim president and chief executive officer, according to a July 22 announcement. She succeeds Shalom Elcott, who continues as strategic adviser to JFFS board Chairman Daniel Koblin.

Lauren Gavshon, interim president and CEO of Jewish Federation & Family Services-Orange County. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation & Family Services-Orange County

Gavshon previously served as JFFS’ director of clinical services and began at the organization in 2011, following a stint in a top leadership position at the John Henry Foundation and Miramar Health Inc.

“Dr. Gavshon and her family have been involved in the local Jewish community for over 20 years, and she is well-positioned to take on this expanded role,” Koblin said in the release. “At JFFS, Dr. Gavshon has repeatedly demonstrated sound and innovative leadership. Her prior success in establishing and reorganizing clinical programs to improve efficiencies and to create long-term profitability has earned her widespread respect and support.”

As for Elcott, the board of directors issued a statement calling his work transformative: “Shalom’s ability to grow significant donor support in challenging times, and his collaboration with different religious streams, allowed JFFS to provide vital support to numerous organizations, locally and globally.”

JFFS is a grant-making social service organization that focuses on providing resources to elderly people in need, combating anti-Israel attitudes on Orange County-based college campuses and more, according to its website.

The next step for JFFS will be working with a national search firm to review options for a permanent CEO.


More than 100 rabbis and rabbinical students from across all denominations gathered Aug. 10 at Stephen Wise Temple to learn, reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days as part of a conference sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. 

“The day was filled with the learning and community that is the hallmark of the conference,” Jonathan Freund, a vice president of the Board of Rabbis, said in an email.

Erica Brown, a leading Orthodox educator and the conference’s first female keynote speaker, led a two-hour session, “A Spiritual Workout: Personal Growth During the High Holy Days Season.” 

From left: Rabbi Joshua Hoffman, Rabbi Morley Feinstein, Rabbi Jonathan Jaffee Bernhard, keynote speaker Erica Brown, Rabbi Sarah Hronsky and Rabbi Jason Weiner. Photo courtesy of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California

A diverse set of community leaders, rabbis and others participated, including Stephen Wise Temple Rabbi Ron Stern; Temple Beth Hillel Rabbi Sarah Hronsky, vice president of the Board of Rabbis and chair of the conference; Leo Baeck Temple Rabbi Ken Chasen; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Rabbi Jason Weiner, vice president of Board of Rabbis; Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger; and Adat Ari El Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard

The panel “Why Is This Anti-Semitism Different From All Other Anti-Semitisms?” was moderated by Rabbi Morley Feinstein, University Synagogue rabbi and Board of Rabbis president. Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Amanda Susskind; Santa Barbara Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Evan Goodman; and Michael Berenbaum, director of American Jewish University’s Sigi Ziering Institute and a Journal contributing writer, joined him, according to Freund. 

The Board of Rabbis is a rabbinic membership organization affiliated with Federation.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email  ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Toppling the Chanukah Bush

Rabbi Eli Herscher is leading a discussion about the December holidays with about two dozen participants of Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Holiday Workshop Series. The class attracts a good number of intermarried couples and those considering conversion, but they are not the only ones who squirm over the topic.

The rabbi begins this session by asking participants whether they have any concerns about the upcoming holidays. It is a young couple’s turn to respond. Both are Jewish. The wife speaks first. “I don’t have any concerns,” she says.

Then her husband speaks. “I’m concerned that Christmas is my favorite day of the year.”

“OK, I do have concerns,” corrects the wife.

So begins another exchange for Herscher, who has led this session of the Holiday Workshop Series for the past 24 years.

After listening to the class members voice concerns ranging from how — and whether — to celebrate Christmas with non-Jewish relatives, to how to combat the materialistic spin of the holiday, Herscher goes straight for the jugular. He begins with the Christmas tree.

First he explains that the tree represents the wood of the cross. And while some Jews may feel that the tree no longer carries any religious symbolism and is merely a beautiful, fragrant decoration, Herscher poses this question to test such a conviction: if you saw a tree on the bimah of a synagogue, would you think it was out of place? If it doesn’t belong in a synagogue, it doesn’t belong in a Jewish home, he argues.

Herscher suggests that more often than not, parents’ insistence that their children will feel left out if they can’t celebrate Christmas is actually “an adult issue.”

“I can love the tree and the decorations; but they’re not mine,” he says. Herscher goes on to tell that he would explain Christmas to a child by comparing it to a friend’s birthday.

“You may look at your friend opening presents and you may feel a little jealous… but you know it’s not your birthday. And you know there’s going to be another day when it is your birthday… It’s kind of like that with Christmas. It doesn’t belong to us,” he says. If the child still objects, says Herscher, then it’s time for the parents to just say “no.”

A class member remains unconvinced. She explains that her husband is not Jewish, although they have agreed to raise their children as Jews. “It’s my husband’s tradition,” she says, asking whether it’s fair to deprive children of their father’s customs. Herscher responds by saying that celebrating both holidays is often confusing to children. As evidence, he holds up three Rosh Hashanah cards produced by children in the temple’s religious school. They say “Happy New Year,” but all three are illustrated with Christmas trees.

While Herscher draws the line at celebrating Christmas within a Jewish home, he sees no problem with sharing the holiday with non-Jewish relatives or friends. In many intermarried families, for example, one set of grandparents will celebrate Christmas. “The grandparents should be celebrating it,” he says. Herscher says parents need to be clear in explaining that while their family does not celebrate Christmas, the grandparents do, and they get pleasure by sharing the celebration with their grandchildren.

Nor is it a crime to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas, says Herscher, who admits that he likes most Christmas carols and takes his kids for drives to admire Christmas lights. As a child, he even helped decorate a friend’s tree.

But no Christmas trappings “cross the threshold” of his home, Herscher says. “[American] culture has a lot we can enjoy without it being mine.”

For this reason, Herscher suggests declining invitations to celebrate Christmas with other Jews, unless it is necessary to preserve family relationships.

As for the commercialism of Chanukah, Herscher feels that gift giving is not necessarily bad if it is done in a context where it does not overshadow the message of the holiday. He recommends that presents not be opened until after the candles burn down, and that the time in between be used for singing, playing Chanukah games or telling the Chanukah story. Gifts need not be lavish, and one night the gift should be a gift to charity, suggests Herscher.

The rabbi readily admits that, taken on its own, Chanukah cannot compete with Christmas. But he stresses that when a family celebrates the Jewish holidays throughout the year “as they’re meant to be,” then Chanukah won’t need to compete. Herscher contends that regularly making Shabbat and celebrating the other Jewish holidays will provide children with moments of celebration, family closeness and memories that are much richer than anything a Jew can get from celebrating Christmas. “And,” he boasts, “I’d hold a sukkah up to a Christmas tree any day.”