August 18, 2019

Heritage Month Bash, Bialik Honored

Iconic women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred receives an award from L.A. City Councilman David Ryu in commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles City Photography

A commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Los Angeles City Hall drew more than 400 people. 

The offices of L.A. City Councilmembers David Ryu and Bob Blumenfield co-chaired the May 29 celebration, which highlighted the accomplishments of Jewish women.

Honorees included Iranian Jewish women Gina Nahai, Sharon Nazarian and Tabby Refael; iconic women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred; Holocaust survivors Sidonia Lax and Frida Berger; black Orthodox Jew Chava Shervington; educator Stephanie Wolfson; Donna Bojarsky, founder of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ New Leaders Project; and Marlene Bane, who has been a political fundraiser. 

The theme of this year’s celebration was “Being Deborah: A History of Jewish Women Creating Change in Los Angeles.” An exhibition of the same name curated by Dylan Kendall and on display at City Hall highlighted the contributions of L.A. Jewish women including former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing; Israeli actress Noa Tishby and Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger.

Attendees at the event included L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer; L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz; City Controller Ron Galperin; Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi John Rosove; and Adeena Bleich, deputy chief of staff for Ryu.

In the City Hall rotunda, Galperin highlighted the impact the Jewish community has had on Los Angeles.

“The Jewish community in Los Angeles is a mosaic that’s linked to every community,” Galperin said. “Jewish American Heritage Month is a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate exceptional people, like Sidonia Lax, and to recognize how we are so intertwined with Los Angeles’ social, economic, political and cultural fabric.”

 Jewish Women’s Theatre and the Shalhevet High School ChoirHawks provided entertainment at the gathering.


From left: Doug, Michelle and Jill Friedman, Elaine Hall and Robia Rashid attend the Miracle Project’s “Evening of Miracles.” Photo courtesy of the Miracle Project

More than 200 people attended The Miracle Project’s “Evening of Miracles” on May 23 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

Celebrating the organization’s more than 14 years of serving individuals with autism and other disabilities, the evening honored community philanthropists Doug and Jill Friedman, their daughter, Michelle, as well as Robia Rashid, creator and showrunner of Netflix’s “Atypical.” 

The “Evening of Miracles” also premiered a new Miracle Project, “Identity: the Musical,” an original show created by and starring many individuals with autism and other developmental differences.

“Many individuals with developmental disabilities and neurological differences are made to believe that their potential roles in society are limited and have been predetermined by their diagnosis,” said Elaine Hall, founder and executive artistic director of The Miracle Project. “Individuals with autism are so often labeled for what they cannot do instead of what they can do. This musical is an allegory [about] if everyone was labeled that way.”

The Miracle Project describes itself as “an inclusive theater, film and expressive arts program focused on building communication, self-esteem, and job and social skills for individuals with autism and all abilities.” Primarily serving the Jewish community, The Miracle Project was started 14 years ago by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and is supported in part by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rashid received the Entertainment Angel award for her work transforming the way the world sees and understands disability. “Atypical” cast members Brigette Lundy-Paine and Fivel Stewart as well as Miracle Project participants Naomi Rubin, Spencer Harte and Domonique Brown, who have all starred on the show, presented Rashid with the award.

“ ‘Atypical’ gave each of us an opportunity to represent ourselves, to show the world that autism … makes us stronger,” Brown said.

Among the honorees was 24-year-old Michelle Friedman, one of the inaugural members of The Miracle Project’s new Miracle Masters Internship program, for which the organization received a Cutting Edge Grant in 2018 from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. 

In her speech, Friedman told the crowd, “This program and my year as a Miracle Masters intern has helped me discover my own passion and career path in teaching. Each day, The Miracle Project continues to help talented, driven and, most importantly, brave individuals with disabilities become more than what their diagnosis is.” 


From left: Dr. Ruth Feldman, Dr. Victoria Simms, Leslie Silverstein and Phil Liff-Grieff attended a graduation ceremony for the First 36 Project. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Last month, the parenting development program First 36 Project celebrated the graduates of its latest cohort and welcomed its new fellows embarking on an 18-month fellowship.

A program of the Simms Mann Institute in collaboration with the Builders of
Jewish Education and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the First 36 Project provides Parent and Me facilitators with a professional development opportunity. Drawing on neuroscience research for children from birth to age 3, it offers access to the latest child development theories and helps parents form healthy connections with their children.

The May 20 celebration at the  Federa-tion’s offices on Wilshire Boulevard
included a keynote address by Dr. Ruth Feldman,  an Israel-based neuroscientist
and expert in early brain development. Her address was titled “How Can We Foster Empathy and Values In Young Children?”


From left: JFLA Board President Jordan Lurie; actress and JFLA honoree Mayim Bialik; JFLA Executive Director Rachel Grose and JFLA board member Alan Spiwak. Photo by Marvin Steindler Photography

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) honored actress Mayim Bialik at its “Big Bang Extravaganza.”

Bialik, one of the stars of “The Big Bang Theory,” the hit CBS sitcom that aired its final episode just three days before the JFLA event, is also a best-selling author and entrepreneur. She was presented with a philanthropic leadership award by JFLA at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on May 19.

The evening brought together about 300 guests, including young and seasoned professionals from various industries, to honor Bialik, a JFLA board member, and learn more about the organization’s mission.

“JFLA is responsible for giving interest-free loans to people of all backgrounds,” Bialik said. “They are among the first responders when people need help in emergencies. This year alone, JFLA has helped veterans, foster youth, homeless students and victims of the recent fires. JFLA is there to provide funds to families and individuals that are affected often by circumstances they can’t control.”

“The Big Bang Theory” co-creator, executive producer and writer Bill Prady
presented Bialik with her award. She also was honored with a proclamation from the City of Los Angeles, presented by L.A. City Councilman David Ryu. And Bialik’s “Big Bang” co-star Kevin Sussman, who played Stuart on the show, led a Q&A session with the actress.

Attendees included event co-chairs Abby Kohn, a Hollywood screenwriter (“I Feel Pretty,” “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “How To Be Single”) and Alan Spiwak, a JFLA board member; actress and blogger Busy Philipps and her husband, Marc Silverstein; and Bialik’s family.

“The incredible Mayim Bialik has been a dedicated supporter of Jewish Free Loan for almost 20 years,” JFLA Executive Director Rachel Grose said. “We were thrilled to honor her with the JFLA Leadership Award at our ‘Big Bang Extravaganza.’ No one is more deserving.”

Debra Eckerling, Contributing Writer

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Year in Review 2018: Top Stories

Photo courtesy of

The Jewish community and Jewish Journal were busy this year. Take a look back to see what we were reporting on in 2018.

Photo courtesy of

“Zioness Movement Joins Women’s March” By Kelly Hartog Jan. 17

Well-wishers place mementos the day students and parents arrive for voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the coming Wednesday’s reopening, following last week’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Angel Valentin

“So, What The Hell Do We Do Now?” By Ben Shapiro Feb. 15


“Before Insulting Israel, Natalie Portman Should Have Done Her Homework”
By David Suissa April 19



“Lucia, Survivor / 24415”
The last Holocaust survivor in Rhodes, Greece.

“Photographer Trains Her Eye on Vanishing Jewish Communities”
By Danielle Berrin May 16


Photo by Pexels

“How My Graduation Was Ambushed” By Morin Zaray May 22


“Why Tikkun Olam Can’t Fix American Judaism” By Gil Troy July 18



“Dear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” By Karen Lehrman Block Aug. 15



Linda Sarsour speaking onstage during the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, D.C, Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

“Sarsour: American Muslims Shouldn’t ‘Humanize’ Israelis”
By Aaron Bandler Sept. 6



From left: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Roseanne Barr and David Suissa discuss “Is America a Forgiving Nation?”
(Photo courtesy of World Values Network)

“Roseanne: Between the ‘Sacred and the Profane’” By Ryan Torok Sept. 26



Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

“My Name Is Jew, and I Want My Name Back” By Rabbi Zoe Klein Miles Oct. 28



Photo courtesy of Gin & July; Instagram: ginandjuly

“Weekend Chuppah in the Midst of a Fire” By Debra L. Eckerling Nov. 12


“Silent Pain: Depression Within the Persian Community” By Tabby Refael Dec. 14


See more from our Year in Review here.

Angry Persian Grandmas

Screenshot from YouTube.

As I was giving a talk for hundreds of people at a local Purim program last year, I was nearly booed off the stage by some elderly Persians who wanted to hear only a classical Persian musical concert. One old woman stood up and screamed “Baseh!” (“Enough!) so many times that it seemed as though I was subjecting her to torture in a North Korean prison.

The strangest part of the incident was that seemingly none of the younger audience members, who were seated way in the back, understood that the front half of the room wanted to pelt me with rotten cucumbers because it had not realized that the program would feature remarks as well as live music.

In a well-intentioned gesture that went terribly wrong, one of the young musicians onstage behind me thought it would be a good idea to play haunting notes on her violin to accompany my heartfelt words and throw some support my way. This only emboldened the now-shouting older men and women, who believed that even the musicians were trying to tell me to get the hell off the stage.

In my 15 years of public speaking, I never thought I’d be yelled at by a bunch of Persian grandmothers, and I was grateful that my family had not accompanied me that evening. They would have thrown a cucumber at the head of the woman who had shouted the first, “Baseh!” And not a Persian cucumber — one of those mighty English ones.

When my anger and humiliation subsided, I realized that the people who had shouted at me were just being old Persians.

When my anger and humiliation subsided, I realized that the people who had shouted at me were just being old Persians. That did not exonerate them for their rudeness, nor did it reduce their behavior to patronizing stereotypes, but it did comfort me, because it served as a reminder that many a grumpy, sassy old Persian still lived in this city, and no doubt had incredible stories to tell, if anyone only bothered to ask.

Elderly Persians are incredibly endearing — old women with names such as Elaheh (“Goddess”) and Ehteram (“Respect”), and old men with names such as Jahangir (“Conqueror of the World”) and Farzin (“One Who Is Learned”). Their great-grandchildren have names like Jayden and Madison.

I love these folks — the men who gather every day at the picnic tables at La Cienega Park to play backgammon and reminisce about a time when they were young and Iran was free; the women at the Persian kosher supermarkets who look for the “good” cucumbers for minutes on end, because there is no one back home to care for anymore and, to their great heartbreak, they now have all the time in the world.

These men and women possess the kind of resilience that I could only hope for. Their stories and sacrifices humble me when I think that I’m so impressive because I know how to use a Walgreens app to order photo prints.

It’s imperative that younger generations of Iranian-American Jews engage their elders, whether their grandparents, who are often ignored at Shabbat meals in preference of Instagram scrolls, or even reaching out to older ones who they have never met. I have derived immeasurable meaning from simply visiting a few Iranian-Jewish elder care facilities in West Los Angeles on Friday afternoons bearing flowers, grape juice, challah and gratitude. The residents’ appreciation makes me happy to be alive.

I recount the story from last Purim not to foment anger or stereotypes against my community, but to show readers that, like Purim itself, there are beauties hidden in our midst, and sometimes those beauties include the charmingly undiplomatic ways of a generation that is slipping through our fingers.

And perhaps one day, a few decades from now, I will give a public address to a new generation of Iranian-American Jews that has little knowledge of the heartbreaking struggles and beautiful survival of its great-grandparents, a generation that will tap on its iPhone XXXVs, tune me out and instruct its driverless cars to be ready once my soporific speech is over.

At that point, I will pause my remarks, look sternly into the eyes of this young, selfie-obsessed audience and shout, “Baseh!”

Tabby Refael was born in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution. She previously served as executive director and co-founder of 30 Years After, a group whose goal is to promote civic action and leadership among Iranian-American Jews.