Big Sunday, which has morphed from an annual Sunday event into a full weekend of volunteer opportunities, once again thrived on May 3 and 4. Organizers say that this year the number of volunteers again reached about 50,000, working at about 325 projects from Santa Barbara to Orange County to the Inland Empire and throughout Los Angeles. The efforts ranged from tours for homeless teens at a Hollywood prop-rental facility to rehabilitating inner-city gardens, to primping rescue dogs, to dancing with seniors in homes for the aged, as the signature Big Sunday T-shirts became the ubiquitous fashion statement of the day.
Big Sunday founder, David Levinson, as always, shared the credit with every participant, even as he was dubbed "volunteerism's reluctant rock star" on the national "NBC Nightly News."
-- Staff Report
Former Weiss Deputy Enters 5th District Race
When Adeena Bleich was in grade school, her mother sat her down and told her, "You are a Jewish factor, and everything you do matters. Everything you do will reflect the Jewish world and the greater world as well."
These early memories inspired Bleich, 30, to run in March 2009 for the 5th District City Council seat currently occupied by Jack Weiss, who plans to run for city attorney.
But Bleich wasn't always political. She wanted to help people directly, volunteering at old-age homes, in soup kitchens, trying to make a difference. "I never thought I would want to run for office. I voted and cared about the world but I was more of an activist," she said.
But when the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida caused the final results of the election to be decided by the Supreme Court, she changed her thinking -- she had always thought that every vote counted, she said, and Bush vs. Gore really upset her. But then she realized she didn't know how politics and the government actually worked -- so she decided to become more involved. She left her job at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) and spent the next four years working for Jack Weiss, first as a field deputy -- mainly as the Jewish community liaison. Next she served as Bob Hertzberg's director of communications when he ran for mayor, and for the last three years she has been the Los Angeles director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
With the ongoing debate over traffic flow on Pico and Olympic boulevards, she says the time has come for her to run for the 5th district City Council seat, against four other candidates also in the race -- former Assemblyman Paul Koretz, attorney Ron Galperin, activist Robyn Ritter Simon and businessman David T. Vahedi. Although Bleich does not have a position on the plan, she calls the way it was handled "divisive."
Having lived in Sherman Oaks, Bel Air and Pico Robertson -- all neighborhoods in the district -- Bleich said, "This is my home, and the decisions being made today will affect us in 20 years. I want to have a direct positive effect for my children and all the neighborhood children."
-- Amy Klein
Angelenos Remember Holocaust, Honor Survivors
As the Holocaust's survivors age, an urgency to remember the 6 million Jews who perished underscored the citywide Holocaust Remembrance Day at Pan Pacific Park on May 4. Marking 70 years since Kristallnacht, an impressive list of city and state officials and religious leaders joined nearly 3,000 community members, including hundreds of survivors, in the public commemoration.
Surrounded by hundreds of police officers, firefighters and security details, the crowd packed into a blue-and-white striped tent circled by Israeli flags, where prominent voices vowed to remember the millions murdered but also emphasized using the Holocaust as a lesson to decry global violence and injustice whenever it occurs.
"We know that the source of history's greatest crime is rooted in the silence," said L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has attended the event every year since the mid 1990s and was accompanied by California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Councilman Tom LaBonge
"On Yom HaShoah, we come together to say 'Never again,' and we must make these words more than a simple promise to be repeated as a matter of ceremony," Villaraigosa said, urging action on behalf of current global crises like the food shortage and genocide in Darfur. "We must state in one clear voice that in times of crisis and injustice, silence is never an acceptable response."
Survivor Jona Goldrich, who sponsors the annual commemoration and donated $1 million to build a new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust on the same site, shared the mayor's sentiments.
"We relied on God too much," Goldrich said about the crippling silence during World War II. "Now the responsibility lies with the second and third generations to carry forward the lesson."
Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan shared a personal story about his grandparents, who escaped the Holocaust but live with its memories every day of their lives.
Performances by Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra cellist Barry Gold and the TOVA Concert Singers, who sang the prayer for Israel, "Avinu Shebashabayim" and "When You Believe," from the film the "The Prince of Egypt," complemented the powerful tone of the ceremony.
"The Shoah is such a powerful experience, such an unprecedented happening in the history of humanity that there is a temptation to use it for something else," said Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe, who delivered the keynote address. "We remember, because those who died deserve to be remembered."
-- Danielle Berrin, Contributing Writer
Wiesenthal's 'Interactive' Office Dedicated
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also observed Yom HaShoah at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The two were joined by the center's officials and trustees and other guests to dedicate the Museum of Tolerance's interactive installation recreating Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal's office in Vienna.
The Museum of Tolerance includes artifacts transported from Austria from Wiesenthal's office -- his desk, books and many of the awards and honors he received for his work that contributed to the capture and successful prosecution of more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann; Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka death camp; and Karl Silberbauer, the Nazi who arrested Anne Frank. The exhibition was made possible by a grant from Alan and Susan Casden.-- Staff Report
Sinai Temple Acknowledges Rescuers
In his Yom HaShoah presentation at Sinai Temple, Douglas Greenberg, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, focused not only on the victims of the Holocaust but also on their rescuers.
Even before the Holocaust, "murdering Jews had become a participant sport in Christian Europe," Greenberg said.
Nonetheless some 20,000 people are known to have helped to save Jews, prompting the question: "Why did anybody rescue Jews?"
Greenberg identified four major reasons. First, some rescuers were paid for their services. Others were motivated by "authentic Christian values." This group was comprised largely of Catholic priests and nuns, many of whom hid children and even entire families in monasteries and convents. A third group was partisans, who welcomed Jews into their ranks. It is generally known that many of those who fought the Nazis with the underground throughout Eastern Europe as well as with the "Maquis" in France were Jewish. Similarly, communists and other groups who themselves were hunted by the Nazis also took in Jews. Finally, for some felt simply that they must help.
In response to Rabbi David Wolpe's question "How does one instill moral courage?" Greenberg answered that it develops in families where children see the right thing being done.
-- Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer
Get Protection Before Marriage
Mazal Tov! You're getting married! You've gotten the flowers, the liquor, the orchestra and pictures (FLOP), but have you prepared for the get? Yes, the Jewish divorce.
The upcoming conference on May 18, "Wedding Preparations for the Orthodox Marriage: What Every Bride and Groom Must Have Before the Chuppah: Gett Protection" will address the question of why it is necessary for Orthodox couples to think about divorce while preparing for a wedding.
The four-hour conference, sponsored by JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance ), will be broken into three sessions. First, there will be a screening of "Mekudeshet," a documentary film following three women in Israel each trying to obtain a get. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, founding chief rabbi of Efrat, will discuss how the agunah problem came to be, about the "chained" women who cannot obtain a Jewish divorce.
The third session, titled, "How Can We Protect Ourselves, Our Families and Our Community Before the Wedding Ceremony?" will be presented by local attorney Alexandra Leichter, a longtime agunah activist, and Susan Aranoff, a professor of economics and a founder of AGUNAH International Inc.
"All the issues basically come with kedushin,"said JOFA board member Gail Katz, referring to the Jewish wedding ceremony.
The activists will discuss possible prenuptial agreements that might make obtaining a get easier. The conference is not just for potential brides and grooms, but the entire community. "A prenup needs communal support," said Katz, noting that in a community where couples get married young, they rely on their families, educators and rabbis. "It's hard to put the boundary [only] on that couple."