Jewish Journal

A Day of Mitzvot and Meaning

Community Briefs

by Ruth Stroud

Posted on Nov. 6, 1997 at 7:00 pm

Young Mitzvah Day volunteers clean-up Taft High School inWoodland Hills.

A Day of Mitzvot and Meaning

The annual Valley event provides social-action projects andopportunity for community involvement

Mitzvot, acts of loving kindness or just plain charity:Whatever you call them, Jews are commanded to do more than simplypray for good things -- they have to do good themselves in order tohelp repair what is wrong in the world.

For the third year, this idea of tikkun olam (repairing the world)has become a rallying cry for Mitzvah Day, a community-wide day ofvolunteerism that this year is expected to bring together a smallarmy of more than 3,000 do-gooders from across the five-valley areaserved by the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance. Members of 37synagogues and other organizations from the San Fernando, Conejo,Simi, Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys will participate in morethan 100 projects during the event, which takes place on Nov. 16 andis coordinated by the Valley Alliance's Jewish Community RelationsCommittee (JCRC).

JCRC Director Barbara Creme views Mitzvah Day as acommunity-building tool. "It's an incredible way of bringing thesynagogue and organizational community together," she said. "It's awonderful way for people to get together and do something meaningful,lasting and that feels good." The goal of the day is not simply to dogood for a single day but to kick off ongoing projects.

One of the most ambitious projects this year, a tree-planting atLake Balboa, will take only a few hours, but the fruits (well,foliage anyway) of the effort will last a lifetime and beyond. TempleJudea, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Ahavat Shalom and Heschel Day Schoolwill join together with the TreePeople to plant 100 24-gallon-sizetrees as part of a major beautification project. The resulting smallforest will be aptly named the Mitzvah Grove.

Stephen S. Wise itself has 40 projects, ranging from volunteersmaking sandwiches for homeless-shelter residents, to youngstersdecorating 200 photo albums to give to foster children, who will fillthem with their own pictures (a disposable camera will be included).

Diane Kabat, the temple's social-action chair, said that thesynagogue is also engaged in ongoing mitzvot, such as donatingvegetables from its community garden to the Valley Shelter in NorthHollywood, and conducting monthly bingo games at the Jewish Home forthe Aging.

She expects about 1,000 people from the congregation to donateabout 3,000 mitzvah hours on Nov. 16.

Other highlights of the day include:

* A swim-a-thon for teens at the West Valley Jewish CommunityCenter to benefit Jewish AIDS Services, the American Cancer Societyand the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

* A knit-a-thon at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center toaid nursing homes and a blood drive.

* Wheels for Humanity has teens repairing wheelchairs, also at theWest Valley JCC.

* A sports day and barbecue for less privileged children at theGuadeloupe Community Center in Canoga Park is sponsored by the B'naiB'rith Reunion Chapter.

Conejo Valley, which has one of the fastest-growing Jewishpopulations, is getting into Mitzvah Day in a big way this year, withthe efforts of four synagogues (Temples Beth Haverim, Adat Elohim,Etz Chaim and Or Ami), the Conejo Valley JCC, B'nai B'rith, HeschelWest Day School and Chabad of the Conejo. Among the projects: a blooddrive, bubbes and zaydes reading to children, a sing-along at aseniors home, a trail cleanup in the Santa Monica Mountains and akosher tour of Bristol Farms.

For the first time, Mitzvah Day has a logo, the result of acontest among religious- and day-school students. Vanessa Le Winter,a Milken Community High School student and Temple Beth Hillel member,created the design, which shows a Band-Aid affixed to a blue andgreen world that is encircled by children linking hands and hearts.

Many of the mitzvah projects benefit non-Jews, and that is not byaccident, said Candice Stein, who is chairing Mitzvah Day for thesecond year. "It's important for the community to know that Jews careabout it and do give back to it," she said. This is particularly truein some areas of the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Fernandovalleys, where there have been recent anti-Semitic incidents, Steinsaid. "We need to do outreach and create some relationships that willcontinue."

For information about taking part in Mitzvah Day, call the ValleyAlliance JCRC at (818) 587-3219. -- Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

No Accidental Tourists

Nearly 400 Angelenos travel to Israel as part of the Federation'sGolden Anniversary Mission

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Three hundred ninety-eight Angelenos took off for Israel lastSaturday evening with an itinerary planned by the Jewish FederationCouncil of Greater Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, some departed withgreat hopes and memories, few with fears, and everyone with a senseof excitement.

"I'm really interested to see what it's like since we were therelast," said Arthur Mishler, who last visited Israel, with his wife,Susan, 18 years ago. "I know there have been lots of changes, andIsrael has become a very modern society."

The Mishlers are riding on the Temple Beth Am bus, one of 11 thatare ferrying the large contingent on a tour of the Holy Land. Amongthe other travelers are top Federation officials, including PresidentHerb Gelfand, Executive Vice President John Fishel and newlyappointed 1998 United Jewish Fund General Campaign Chair SanfordGage, as well as representatives from major Federation departments,agencies, the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, and the Westside andSouth Bay regions.

Also making the trip are several California legislators,representatives from Mayor Richard Riordan's office, seven rabbis(Ronald Shulman of Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes;Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am; Rabbi Ed Feinstein of ValleyBeth Shalom and wife, Rabbi Nina Feinstein; Rabbi Donald Goor ofTemple Judea; Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz of Sinai Temple; and Rabbi JudithHaLevy of the Malibu Center and Synagogue) and a cantor (Stephen S.Wise's Nathan Lamm).

The largest group -- close to 50 -- was recruited by the IranianAmerican Jewish Federation (IAJF), an umbrella organization for about16 nonprofit Iranian interests. Unlike more than half of thetravelers -- who are first-time visitors to Israel -- most of theIranian-American Jews have been there before, said IAJF PresidentSolomon Rastegar, who has led previous missions but will be aspectator on this one. Many Iranian-American Jews have relatives inIsrael. "We want to go there to see what was created out of nothingin the short time of 50 years," Rastegar said.

The Federation's 10-day Golden Anniversary Mission, in the worksfor more than a year, was scheduled to coincide with celebrationskicking off the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel. It was onNov. 29, 1947, that the United Nations endorsed the partition ofPalestine, which led to the final withdrawal of the British and thecreation of an independent Israeli nation on May 15,1948.

Participants of this mission began their trip by joining in acelebration of Israel's 50th on the steps of Tel Aviv's IndependenceHall. Splitting up into separate traveling groups with tailoreditineraries, most of the visitors will trek to the Galilee and GolanHeights. Many will meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and membersof the Knesset. There will be visits to Yad Vashem, Yitzhak Rabin'sgrave on Mount Herzl, the Western Wall and possibly Masada. Abouthalf of the contingent is continuing on to Jordan to visit MountNebo, the Roman city of Jerash, Amman and Petra, a city carved out ofa red-stone canyon.

At the last of three pre-mission educational meetings, held atStephen S. Wise Temple two weeks before departure, most people seemedinterested in discovering what the weather was like, how much luggagethey should bring, and how to extend their trip after the mission.Few seemed worried about security despite recent bombings, dissensionover the faltering peace process and the "Who Is a Jew?" issue inIsrael, and new tensions between Israel and Jordan.

"I think it's critical that people go to Israel, especially now,when there are issues concerning pluralism, the terrorists and thepolitical situation," said Michael Scott, who is co-captain of theFederation's Access (young leadership) traveling group. "Many peoplewho disagree with Netanyahu, including myself, want to go and showour support to Israel."

The trip is not primarily a political trip, said Gelfand, althougha small group of participants will meet with Knesset members todiscuss the pending conversion bill, which would grant the Orthodoxrabbinate the exclusive right to perform conversions within Israel --a status quo situation that has angered many non-Orthodox outside theJewish state.

"The fact is that we take every opportunity we can to let themknow how we feel," Gelfand said. "But the main purpose of the missionis to begin the celebration of the 50th anniversary."

Evy Lutin, who is co-chairing the mission along with her husband,Marty, and is also Michael Scott's mother-in-law, noted that ifIsrael were celebrating its 60th anniversary instead of its 50th,"there would not have been a Holocaust," because the Jewish homelandwould have welcomed refugees from the Nazis who were spurnedelsewhere. Her father, who emigrated from Russia to the United Statesat the turn of the century, lost all nine brothers and a sisterduring the 1930s. "They couldn't get out," she said. "If there hadbeen an Israel then, they would have."

Ruth Stroud is traveling with the Federation mission to Israeland Jordan and will report about the trip.

Headline News

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

The Jewish Federation Council's mission to Israel was greeted byThe Jerusalem Post with a Tuesday front-page story under the headline"L.A. Jews here to fight conversion bill."

The Post quoted Federation President Herb Gelfand as saying:"Although there is more unhappiness with Israel among American Jewsthan I've seen in my lifetime, there is still wholehearted supportfor Israel.

"But, today, one thing is certain: We feel Israel is our countrytoo. It belongs to all Jews; therefore, all Jews everywhere have aright to speak up on what happens there."

During their meetings with government and spiritual leaders,mission members "plan to express their worry and frustration over theconversion bill," The Post reported.

The English-language daily further quoted Gelfand as saying: "Whatwe're hoping to do is attempt to make them understand what theconversion [bill] means to us. We know it's not on top of the agendaof most Israelis, but we have to tell them that in the U.S., where 90percent of Jews are Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, manyof us feel that we, our children and grandchildren, have beendelegitimized."

He added that "a small minority" of American Jews are withholdingtheir contributions to the Federation in protest, "but only becausethey feel that is the only way they can communicate the way theyfeel."

The delegation also intends to strengthen its "twin cities" tieswith Tel Aviv during the visit.

John Fishel, the Federation's executive vice president, told ThePost: "We plan to work for a deeper, more intensive relationshipbetween various social programs, schools and individuals in LosAngeles and Tel Aviv. I think both sides understand there has to bemore to Israel-Diaspora relationships than just philanthropy." 

Do we need a permanent international tribunal, like theNuremberg body in 1946 (below)? Above, Jews, like everyone else, areburied in Sarajevo city parks. Lower photo from the NationalArchives. Sarajevo photo from "Survival in Sarajevo" by EdwardSerotta.

War Crimes and Punishment

"War Crimes: Individual or Collective Responsibility?"

That was the topic explored at a symposium held at Sinai Templelast week. Sponsored by Bet Tzedek Legal Services and moderated byNational Public Radio talk-show host Kitty Felde, the questionresonated with the three panelists as well as the sizable audience inattendance.

The speakers brought impressive credentials. There was theHonorable Richard J. Goldstone, justice of the Constitutional Courtof South Africa and former chief prosecutor for the United NationsBosnian War Crimes Tribunal; Professor William Eckhardt, chiefprosecutor for the Vietnam War-related My Lai cases; and Dr. MichaelBerenbaum, the president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah VisualHistory Foundation.

Perhaps the most ardent advocate for a permanent internationaltribunal was Goldstone. Quoting a statistic that claimed that 175million people have been murdered by their own governments in thiscentury, Goldstone stressed the dire need for such a judicial systemto enforce what he called "good policing" on a worldwide level. Headded that as the world enters the 21st century, human rightsviolations may proliferate as technology further refines theefficiency of mass murder. "What happens in every country is thebusiness of the rest of the world," he said. "The closing of the 20thcentury will see the beginning of international justice."

Eckhardt provided a U.S. perspective, evoking My Lai, in whichAmerican soldiers were indicted after the fact for a wartime incidentinvolving the looting, raping and pillaging of a Vietnamese village.Since 90 percent of the participating soldiers were already undercivilian status by the time of the trial, they could not be tried,due to a technicality that allowed only uniformed soldiers to beprosecuted. Eckhardt singled out the United States' failure to pursuejustice and accept accountability in this case as shameful. "If wecannot do that, taking the next step may be impossible," he said.

Meanwhile, Berenbaum discounted any notions of granting amnesty tothose coerced into committing atrocities. When the topic turned tothe celebrated case of a Bosnian soldier tried in the Hague forreluctantly executing 70 war prisoners after his superiors hadthreatened to kill his family, Berenbaum turned to Jewish law andtenaciously embraced the Talmudic concept of martyrdom. He cited anobligation to God that precedes familial obligations, pointing outthat the Torah is absolutely clear on the three violations warrantingmartyrdom (the shedding of blood, unsanctioned intercourse and theworship of false gods); included within this realm are crimescommitted under duress.

"If there are things in life worth living for, there must bethings in life worth dying for. Taking a life is such a case,"Berenbaum said.

As for the Nuremberg Trials, Berenbaum considered the landmarkrulings more important as legal "theater" than as jurisprudenceprecedent, for they failed to effectively and responsibly administerfull culpability to the Nazis. To illustrate his point, Berenbaumcriticized their failure to try the creators of the gas chambers aswell as the operators.

By the conclusion of the program, the panel addressed thesemantics of terrorism, drawing a clear distinction between theJewish resistance fighters of World War II and present-day Arabextremists. Summarizing the need for a world court, Berenbaum said,"[During the Holocaust], the law itself was the instrumentation ofdestruction. [The Nazis] were technically correct when they said theydid not break the law. That's why we must go to a higher law." --Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

VBS' 'Crossroads to Equality'

Valley Beth Shalom is known for its groundbreaking "VBS Response,"a 5-year-old support group for Jewish gays, lesbians, bisexuals,their families and friends.

And, on Nov. 16, the Encino temple will host a conference, "At theCrossroads to Equality," which will explore a variety of gay andlesbian issues.

More than 300 participants are expected to attend seminars ontopics such as gay/lesbian parenting; homophobia in the workplace;making synagogues inclusive; and parents of gays "coming out of thecloset."

Among the speakers will be Nancy McDonald, the national presidentof Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG); entertainmentconsultant Chastity Bono; The Advocate editor-in-chief Judy Wieder;and Steve Sass, senior vice president/business affairs for NBCStudios (and the president of the Jewish Historical Society ofSouthern California).

LAPD officer Lisa Phillips will receive an award for her effortsin promoting tolerance, and the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus willperform.

The goal is ambitious, says VBS Rabbi Jerry Danzig, the Responsehead. "We view this conference as a first step in creating a bridgebetween gays, lesbians, their families and friends, and the communityat large."

For registration information, call VBS at (818) 788-6000. -- NaomiPfefferman, Senior Writer

Community Brief




For Jewish educators, the annual Milken Family Foundation EducatorAwards are a double blessing. The five winners receive $10,000 each.And all Jewish educators benefit from the increased public awarenessand acknowledgment of their contribution to the community.

This year's recipients are Marianne Siegel of Kadima HebrewAcademy in Woodland Hills; Dr. Joseph Hakimi of Sinai Akiba Academy;Tova Baichman Kass of Pressman Academy; Lynn Karz of Ohr Eliyahu inCulver City; and Chaya Shamie of Bais Yaakov.

Now in their seventh year, the Milken Awards honor educators whoexhibit innovative methods and curricula, "an outstanding ability toinstill students with self-confidence and sound values," and personalinvolvement in the Jewish and secular communities. "Theresponsibility of keeping alive both the Jewish faith and the Jewishculture in our young people often lies with our educators," saidfoundation Executive Vice President Julius Lesner. "These awards aresimply to thank the finest of those educators for the wonderful workthey do." -- Staff Report

Top, from left, Dr. Joseph Hakimi of Sinai Akiba Academy; LynnKarz of Ohr Eliyahu in Culver City; and Chaya Shamie of Bais Yaakov;above, Dr. Julius Lesner with Marianne Siegel of Kadima HebrewAcademy in Woodland Hills; and below, Lesner presents an award toTova Baichman Kass.


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