Moving & Shaking: Defending Israel, Standing Up for DACA
More than 1,000 people attended the Bet Tzedek annual gala on Feb. 1 at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, which raised more than $2.2 million for the pro bono legal aid agency.
Bet Tzedek provides free, comprehensive legal services for low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles.
Honorees included Kim Selfon, who received the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award; the law firm of Latham & Watkins, which received the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award, presented by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to the firm’s vice chair, Ora Fisher; John Ly, who received the Rebecca Nichols Emerging Leader Award, presented by Brian Sun, partner-in-charge at the Los Angeles office of the Jones Day law firm; and E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney and former president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, who received the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award, presented by David Lash, managing counsel for pro bono work at the O’Melveny & Myers law firm.
“The Bet Tzedek annual gala dinner is a powerful statement that ensuring equal justice for all is not just a tagline, it’s an ongoing commitment of our community to provide free legal services to those that need them most,” said Bet Tzedek President and CEO Jessie Kornberg.
After the gala, more than 100 young professionals gathered at The Mixing Room at the JW Marriott for the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council After Party, which raises funds for, and awareness of, the work of Bet Tzedek.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeared at Young Israel of Century City (YICC) on the evening of Feb. 6 for a wide-ranging discussion on immigration, homelessness, mental illness and Israel.
Addressing about 60 people in the YICC social hall, Becerra called himself a “strong ally and supporter of Israel.”
“We endanger the fight for Israel if we make it a partisan issue in the U.S.,” he said to applause.
Asked about Democrats’ sometimes critical views of Israel, Becerra, a Democrat said Republicans were to blame for turning Israel into a partisan issue.
“Most of the Democrats I know have been strongly supportive of Israel,” he said.
Becerra began the evening with a discussion of immigration, saying the term “sanctuary cities” is a term of art. With no official legal definition, “sanctuary cities” generally describes cities whose law enforcement agencies do not cooperate with, but do not interfere with, federal law enforcement in identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants, he said.
An American of Mexican descent, Becerra became California’s chief law officer in 2017, after his predecessor Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate.
During a Q-and-A after the presentation, an audience member, who said his brother had a mental illness, asked Becerra what elected officials were doing to help people like his brother.
Becerra acknowledged the dearth of services for the mentally ill but did not have an answer. Instead, he drew a connection between untreated mental illness and the rise in homelessness.
Notable attendees at the event included YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin, YICC Past President Mark Goldenberg and Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.
More than 100 Jews gathered Feb. 6 for a rally in support of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, outside the West Los Angeles office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein at Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards.
“Let my people stay,” the protestors chanted.
The lively rally, organized by Leo Baeck Temple, the secular Sholem Community and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, drew Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, part-time rabbi-in-residence at Bend the Arc; Cohen’s wife, Andrea Hodos, program co-director at NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change; Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Rachel Sumekh, founder of Swipe Out Hunger; Hillel at UCLA Director Emeritus Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller; and Marcia and Rick Brous, the parents of IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous.
While Marcia Brous banged a bongo drum, Rick Brous held a sign that read, “Republican for Dreamers.”
“I’m an American before I’m a Republican, and I can’t stand our current president,” Rick Brous said. “I think it is important for everybody to support Dreamers, not just Jews. It is the right thing to do.”
Sumekh, for her part, said she felt good being around likeminded people.
“Normally, I feel this when I’m listening to my podcasts, and now I get to feel this rage with hundreds of people,” she said.
Sumekh said she empathizes with young, undocumented immigrants because her mother fled Iran at the age of 21 “with a dream.”
On the morning of Feb. 4, Super Bowl Sunday, about 200 people turned out for a different kind of food-centered tradition: the second annual LA Kids Challah Bake at The Majestic Downtown in Los Angeles.
Event organizer Brocha Yemini said “people who affiliate with the Jewish religion” were invited to participate. She added that she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the attendees and heartened by the number who had never before attempted to make challah.
“That was one of our goals,” said Yemini, director of Camp Gan Israel, one of the event’s sponsors.
She said she hoped that many of the newbies would now feel confident enough to attempt making challah at home.
“Challah is delicious,” she said. “It’s something that is loved by all. We want to have unity through challah.”
She and her sister, Rochie Yemini, were inspired to start the event in December 2016 by a similar, albeit larger program in New York. They held the inaugural bake event at the Chabad Israel Center on South Robertson Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. While they considered that event a success, they wanted to make sure everyone — affiliated Jews, unaffiliated Jews and interfaith families — felt welcome. So, they sought out a nonreligious venue for this year’s festivities.
Sarah Klegman, a writer and co-founder of Challah Hub, a local artisan challah delivery company, and Whitney Fisch, director of counseling at Milken Community School’s upper-school campus and creator of the Jewhungry blog, served as hosts and kept the proceedings lively with a competitive challah trivia game. But when they asked about the mitzvah of separating the challah, the hafrashat challah, the otherwise rambunctious crowd that included many school-age children grew quiet. The practice involves separating a small piece of dough after the flour, yeast and wet ingredients have been combined but before the dough is braided. Historically, these olive-size pieces of dough were offerings to temple priests, but these days the practice is to burn them.
Brocha Yemini said that when everyone joined together in blessing the challah, with their eyes closed, it was “a special moment.”
Then it was on to the braiding. Every child made a challah to take home and a second one to be delivered the following day to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, whose representative, Kitty Glass, spoke to the crowd about the organization’s work.
Not surprisingly, given the age of the young bakers, chocolate chips and sprinkles proved to be the challah toppings of choice. Raisins, not so much.
— Leslee Komaiko, Contributing Writer
More than 200 Angelenos filled the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Feb. 6 for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFSLA) sixth annual “Laughing Matters” fundraiser, which features well-known stand-up comedians and benefits the organization’s domestic violence services.
“We are so grateful for the support of our community who came together to make this ‘Laughing Matters’ a night to remember,” JFSLA President and CEO Eli Veitzer told the Journal.
Originally founded in 1854 as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, JFSLA offers a broad range of services, including financial assistance and emotional support services for Holocaust survivors, mental health and addiction counseling, and citywide food drives.
This year’s lineup of comedians included Orny Adams, Preacher Lawson and John Mendoza, who performed their sets but also took time to stress the importance of assisting survivors of domestic violence.
The headliner was actor, comedian and talk show host Arsenio Hall, best known for hosting “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
Over the previous five annual events, proceeds from tickets, donations and auctions have raised more than $300,000.
This year, Veitzer said, “Thanks to our co-chairs, Linda Levine and Wendy Silver, we raised over $75,000 to support domestic violence services provided by JFS Hope, formerly known as the Family Violence Project.”
Tickets were $200 per person.
With counseling centers in North Hollywood and Pico-Robertson, two crisis hotlines and three residential shelters, JFSLA offers a continuum of care, from counseling and case management to housing assistance and job-readiness skills for survivors of domestic violence.
The evening also included a light dinner buffet and a live auction.
— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer