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Jewish Journal

Donor Dilemma

A shortage of Jewish eggs frustrates women andfertility clinics

by Naomi Pfefferman

May 14, 1998 | 8:00 pm

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

A Strong Voice

The Board of Rabbis' new executive vicepresident, Rabbi Brad Artson, will be more involved with high-levelJewish Federation affairs

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Home Is Where the HearthIs

Four generations of Friedmans pride themselveson quality at the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery

By Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

Community Briefs

DonorDilemma

A shortage of Jewish eggs frustrates women andfertility clinics

By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer

Jewish women 22-33 sought for couple as eggdonors. Extremely rewarding emotionally and financially. Help acouple's dream come true. -- An ad,recently placed by The Egg Donor Program, which elicited not a singleresponse.

Shelley Smithof The Egg Donor Program. Photo by PeterHalmagyi

There is desperation in Leah's* voice. She is a44-year-old professional woman who longs to have a child. But inorder to conceive at her age, the doctors have told her, she willrequire an ovum donated by a younger woman.

Leah has made peace with the fact that the childwill not bear her genes. But at the very least, she hopes, the infantwill look like her, share a common heritage. Thus she has beensearching for a Jewish donor. But after months of looking, she hasfound nary a one. Even the donors who share her brown hair andalmond-shaped eyes don't share other features, she laments.

How her baby looks will be more than skin-deep,Leah insists. When she strolls down the street with her babycarriage, she does not want passersby to stare, to assume the infantis adopted. "I want my child to feel like my child," sheexplains. "I don't want him to question who his parents are, or tofeel he does not belong."

Leah is prepared to pay the $15,000 to $20,000cost per donor cycle, which includes the $2,500 to $3,500 donor fee.But her doctor has already warned her that there are few Jewishdonors.

In fact, the dearth of Jewish donors, and thedesire for them, has been noted by health care professionals sincethe technology became widely available some five years ago.

Always, the first question a Jewish couple asksis, "Who do you have that's Jewish?"

Ironically, Jewish law prefers a non-Jewish donor,lest a child grows up and inadvertently marries a half-sibling (seesidebar). Synesiou suggests that her Jewish clients discuss thematter with their rabbi. But many remain "very resistant" toselecting a non-Jewish donor, she says.

It's harder to pinpoint the reason for the dearthof Jewish donors. Actually, finding donors in general is "a full-timejob," says Synesiou, who spends $350,000 a year on newspaper andmagazine ads. Shelly Smith of The Egg Donor Program, the other majoregg donation agency in town, spends tens of thousands of advertisingdollars per year.

Why don't Jewish women respond to the ads? "Ithink it's because intermarriage is frowned upon, and because rabbisdiffer about whether Jewish women should be doing this," Smithsays.

Synesiou recently had a Jewish donor drop out whenher father offered her money to do so. "Jews aren't open to havingtheir genetic child raised in another family," she says. "And notonly in the area of egg donation. I've rarely seen a Jewish womanbecome a surrogate mother or give up her baby to adoption."

Still other women may not want to commit to therigorous, six-to-eight week donation process. First there are lengthyapplications to fill out; then extensive interviews and psychologicalexams. Counselors ask what support a woman would have from herfamily; what she would tell her own children; how she would feel ifthe child wants to meet her someday. For Synesiou, a red flag occurswhen an applicant says she will keep the donation a secret. ForSmith, it's when a prospective donor implies she is "doing it justfor the money."

After a couple selects a donor, she takes drugsthat make her lapse into artificial menopause. More drugs cause herto develop 4 to 20 eggs for harvesting. With a fine catheter, thedoctor extracts her eggs, upon which they become the property of theprospective parents, according to a previously-signedcontract.

The eggs are subsequently fertilized with thehusband's sperm and several embryos are implanted in the prospectivemother. Even a healthy woman past age 60 may conceive in this manner;the overall conception rate is about 60 percent. The major risk tothe donor is that her ovaries could become hyperstimulated; there mayalso be some increased chance of stroke, heart attack or ovariancancer, says renowned Conservative movement bioethicist Rabbi ElliotDorff.

Donors are paid $2,500 to $3,500 in L.A. and up to$5,000 in New York, which has stirred a national debate. Smith, forone, says, "We keep our fees set to prevent the process from becomingcoarse and unethical. You're coercing the donor if she isparticipating for the wrong reasons. And the couple is alreadyfeeling so desperate. They feel a biological imperative, a longing soprofound they'll do anything to have a baby. When they can'tconceive, they feel broken. I think the process is even harder onJewish couples because of the importance placed upon the Jewishfamily."

Lynn,* 40, a financial analyst, is all toofamiliar with the longing. For the past four years, she and herhusband, David*, have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying tohave a baby. Lynn endured six cycles of artificial insemination,including daily shots of ovary-stimulating drugs.

After all the expense and discomfort, she receiveddevastating news two years ago: At the age of 37, she was on theverge of menopause, the fertility specialist told her. She could onlyconceive with a donor egg, he added.

Lynn, with the help of a therapist, cried andgrieved for the biological child she would never have. She wrote aletter to the imaginary child, who would have had her slim build anddark eyes, she mused. Lynn silently recited the kaddish as she buried the letterin her parents' backyard. She planted a gardenia upon the spot, and,after a while, she was ready to move on.

Because Lynn and David keep a Conservative Jewishhome, they initially insisted upon a Jewish donor. But six months ofslim pickings changed their minds. So did a conversation with RabbiDorff, who believes Judaism considers the gestational mother to bethe true mother (see sidebar).

"If I had had my druthers, I would have liked aJewish donor," admits Lynn, who has just started her second in vitroprocess, using a non-Jewish donor. "But ultimately, I realized wewould be raising our child Jewish anyway. In the end, I think Davidand I are just ready to be parents."

*not their real names

The Rabbinic View

In "Fertile Ground," the latest page-turner byOrthodox mystery writer Rochelle Krich, an Orthodox Jewish couplevisits an upscale Brentwood fertility clinic. Rabbi Baruch and NaomiHoffman go through the in-vitro fertilization process, using her ovaand his sperm. After a time, they are elated to learn that Naomi ispregnant. But before long, they are aghast to discover that someonemay be switching eggs at the clinic; that Naomi's twins may not beher own.

Krich, who interviewed several rabbis as researchfor her book, says her characters are hysterically upset because mosthalachicauthorities looks askance at the use of donor eggs.

The process is not prohibited, the authoritiessay, but it's not within the spirit of Jewish law.

The problem is, rabbis disagree about whether themother is the woman who provides the DNA or the one who provides thewomb. The confusion disturbs many rabbis, because so many Jewish lawsdepend on who your parents are, says pre-eminent halachic authorityRabbi Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University in New York.

If a couple is absolutely set on using a donoregg, the donor should be non-Jewish, lest the child grows up andinadvertently marries a half-sibling. If either the biological orgestational mother is non-Jewish, many rabbis will require that thechild is converted to Judaism, sources say.

If a baby is conceived via sperm or egg donation,he or she is not considered a mamzer (illegitimate), because"You can't commit adultery with a syringe," Tendler says. You neverwant a sister to donate an egg, Tendler adds, because of theincestuous overtones.

A better option is adoption or in-vitrofertilization, using the husband's sperm and the wife's egg. Ashomer shouldsupervise every step of the process to ensure there are no mix-ups,sources say.

Renowned Conservative movement bioethicist RabbiElliot Dorff, for his part, believes that Judaism considers the"real" mother to be the gestational mother and that "Judaismultimately allows the donor egg process."

As for the prospective Jewish donor, Dorff writes,she "may take on the risks of egg donation, but not repeatedly, andonly if she is assured by physicians ... that she personally can doso without much danger to her own life or health. [A donor's health]clearly takes precedence in Jewish law to the good of enabling aninfertile couple to have children, as great a good as thatis."-- N.P.

Tales of Two Shuls

L.A. 5758

Fight Continues To Keep Tujunga ShulOpen

Emotions are running high over merger ofVerdugo Hills and Pasadena synagogues

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

It wasn't easy for Max and Sarah Segal to admitthat the shul they had helped build was dying. After pouring nearly50 years of their lives into the Verdugo Hills Jewish Center inTujunga, the last thing they wanted was for the doors toclose.

But at 90, Max is a realist.

"As much as I'd like to see it the way it was whenwe had 250 families, there's nothing left but oldsters. Everyone hasmoved away or died out," says Segal.

Everyone, that is, but the 20 or 30 mostly elderlypeople who aren't ready to let go. Michael Taubman, for instance, isa 77-year-old retired baker who has been a member of Verdugo Hillsfor 40 years, lately providing challah and cake for kiddushes.

He doesn't understand why nine months ago he wassuddenly told he could no longer attend services at the shul, alsocalled Shomrei Emunah.

Taubman was one of a group of angry petitionerswho filed suit to keep the Verdugo Hills Jewish Center open after amajority of the membership voted to merge with the Pasadena JewishTemple and Center, also a Conservative congregation. The mergereffectively closes the doors of the only Jewish house of worship inthe Crescenta Valley, on the Eastern edge of the San Fernando Valley,north of North Hollywood. A Glendale judge recently dismissed thesuit, allowing the merger to go forward.

Emotions and invective are running high in thisshrinking Jewish community, with accusations of financial foul play,personal vendettas and plain old name calling.

For Segal, who was a board member for many yearsand until recently led services regularly, it simply comes down tohaving a place to daven.

"My heart was in that place," Segal says ofVerdugo Hills. But the merger was "a matter of necessity, not ofchoice," he says.

"Now we have a rabbi and a cantor and a place toworship with my children and grandchildren, and mygreat-grandchildren can go to [Hebrew] school," he says.

Butplaintiff attorney Robert Deutsch, who plans to appeal the decision,says members like Segal were manipulated, that the entire mergerprocess is riddled with legal and ethical problems.

The merger plan with Pasadena, which was acceptedover proposals from several other shuls, provides Verdugo Hillsmembers with reduced membership fees on a sliding scale, free Hebrewschool tuition, two seats on the board and transportation betweenTujunga and Pasadena, a 15 mile trip.

In exchange, Pasadena receives ownership of thebuilding, valued at about $800,000, five Torah scrolls, prayer books,Bibles and other assets. The Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, whichjust completed a $2 million reconstruction of its sanctuary, plans tosell the building on Tujunga Canyon Blvd.

Deutsch, a Verdugo Hills member for four years whois working on a pro-bono basis, says the plan is a windfall forPasadena and tragedy for the Jews of the Tujunga-Sunland area, whoare now left with no place to pray within about 15 miles.

"The question is why do this to the Jewishcommunity in this area?" asks Deutsch, 48, a passionate andpersistent man who seems to have found his cause in rallying theelderly members to push this case forward.

He turned down two settlement offers to keep theshul open until it was sold, with Torahs and prayer books on loan fora nominal fee of $1 a month. One offer also included a $1,500 a monthstipend for maintenance.

Deutsch says his clients, members for years,deserve more than a consolation prize.

The definition of who is a member lies at theheart of Deutsch's suit, since he claims members were not informed ofthe merger vote. He counts about 200 members, saying the bylaws ofthe synagogue provide that a person loses membership only if theboard votes that person out.

But attorney Julie Bisceglia, who is representingthe defendants, puts the count at about 85, saying the custom inpractice was that only dues paying members who file an annualapplication are considered members. The judge apparently agreed withBisceglia, of the Century City law firm where Robert Shapiro is apartner.

Deutsch claims that the executive board ledmembers to believe that the synagogue was teetering on financialcrisis, when in reality, he says, the shul had $100,000 in the bankand no debt.

But executive board members involved in the mergersay that money would have been eaten up quickly, since income was notcoming in fast enough to support the approximately $5,000 a monthneeded for maintenance, insurance and minimal office staff. (That$100,000 has now gone to pay legal fees defending against Deutsch'ssuit.)

"It came to a point where basically the situationwas we could continue minimal offices, lay services on Friday andSaturday, no adult education, no rabbi, no Hebrew school, no outingsand limp along like a person on life support, or take action andlocate another congregation that has services to offer," says LewSnow, a past president of the board who was involved with the merger.In any case, he adds, even with minimal services, the synagogueprobably would not have been able to remain alive more than anothersix months.

Snow, who is in his mid 40s, and others involvedin the merger say they were simply not willing to watch the templedie, and they are fed up with Deutsch and his following, who they saydid nothing to save the synagogue when it was drowning.

"Where the hell were they?" he asks over andover.

For now, those holding out for a local service inTujunga have met once in a member's home, for which they borrowed aTorah scroll and prayer books from Knesset Israel in Hollywood. Now,they are considering an offer to use a room in the Catholic churcharound the corner free of charge.

About 15 families, including a handful of VerdugoHills founders, have gone over to Pasadena, where they have jumpedright into shul activities, according to its President BrianMark.

For Max Segal, who says he and his family arehappy at Pasadena, it is still a bittersweet ending.

"Every time I go by [the Verdugo Hills JewishCenter] it gives me a tickle. My kids were born and raised there," hesays. "But what can I do? Nothing can go on forever. I know I won't.I'm 90, and I have a few years left, and at least I have atemple."

Attorney Robert Deutsch, who represents groupof angry petitioners who filed suit to keep the Verdugo Hills JewishCenter open, stands in front of the now-closed synagogue.

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

The Valley

Out of the Depths

Members join together to support financiallystrapped Kol Tikvah

By Wendy J. Madnick, Valley Editor

If a single act could stand for everything thatwent wrong -- and so right -- at Kol Tikvah synagogue, it is JessicaTurk's money management of late.

Turk is a 13-year-old teacher's assistant at theWoodland Hills synagogue's religious school, earning a small stipendfor her labors. When she heard that her temple was on the verge ofbankruptcy, she went to the rabbi and handed him back her paycheck. Aweek later, she did it again.

The story of Kol Tikvah provides a cautionary taleof near-destruction and redemption for every struggling synagogue inLos Angeles. Confronted with a half-million dollar debt and lingeringresentments over a 5-year-old merger, the congregation could easilyhave disbanded. Instead, temple members chose to stay and fighton.

The Reform synagogue has never been a large one.It began in 1993 with the merger of two West Valley congregations.Shir Chadash was a growing congregation meeting at a local church.Temple Emet had a beautiful Ventura Boulevard facility but adwindling membership. It seemed like a shidduch made in heaven.

But the merger proved to be just the beginning ofthe serious financial problems that crested this year.

"No mergers areever easy," said Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Kol Tikvah's spiritual leader."Even when both parties share the same view of Judaism, synagoguemergers are just plain difficult."

Rabbi Janet Marder, executive director of thePacific Southwest Council of the Union of American HebrewCongregations, agreed, pointing out that many synagogues treat amerger as a panacea to their financial ills -- only to find just theopposite is true.

"Often, the congregations contemplating a mergerare already experiencing financial difficulties," she said. "So whenthe two [groups] join together, the problems intensify."

According to Jacobs, those problems includedleftover debts from both congregations, and more than $100,000 inscholarships and subsidies for temple membership and Hebrew-schooltuition that Kol Tikvah's administrators doled out, far beyond thetemple's budget. A membership shortfall left the temple another$100,000 deficit. Combined with the mortgage and other fixedexpenses, Kol Tikvah, come January, was $500,000 in debt.

The economy didn't help matters.

"There were a number of people who, throughdownsizing and even the 1994 Northridge earthquake, lost their jobsor their homes and simply could not cover their dues," Jacobs said."We tend to forget how many people really suffered."

Because of Jacobs' reluctance to turn awaycongregants who could not afford to pay, the temple continued toprovide subsidies that it couldn't afford.

"If it could be said that we mismanaged ourfinances, I would say that it's true," Jacobs said. "But we did itout of goodness."

Although a few people interviewed mentioned thatsome affluent members left not long ago to form their owncongregation, possibly because of disputes with the rabbi, mostcredit Jacobs for the congregation remaining intact.

"Rabbi Jacobs is very charismatic. Many peoplefollowed him for years and will continue to do so," said formerTemple Emet member Peter Blau, owner of California Money, anequipment leasing and business financing company. "He's proven to bea great strength, and his idealism is an inspiration to me. He's theglue that keeps the temple together -- without him, at this time thetemple would disappear."

In January, when the financial crisis peaked,Jacobs called a meeting of about 50 "core families," members who,through their money and time, had shown a serious commitment to thesynagogue in the past.

"We approached the problem openly," Jacobs said."People were angry and critical; at one point during the evening, Iactually felt that was it, we're closing down. But then I asked themif they really cared enough to keep the doors open, and the answerwas overwhelmingly positive."

One longtime member who attended that firstmeeting was Ann Waksher, who followed Jacobs from Shir Chadash.Waksher, a trust accountant, said that she was not entirely surprisedto hear about the synagogue's financial difficulties.

"There is always a time when there's not enoughmoney; that's just synagogue life," she said. "But in the past ninemonths, I became aware that our situation had become acute."

Waksher said that while the "core group" waswilling to come through with pledges of $200,000, they wanted thedonation contingent on receiving matching pledges from the balance ofthe congregation.

"In any organization, there are certain people whomake an effort to give support beyond their means, some other peoplewho give support within their means, and some who can only give alittle," Waksher said. "But then there's a small group of people Icall the 'can but won't,' and that's where the frustrationwas."

Jacobs agreed that such a commitment wasnecessary. "When we started dealing with this problem, that week'sparasha wasabout how [each Israelite] had to bring his own gift to build thesanctuary. So we followed that biblical connection."

The "core group" asked for a minimum assessment of$500 per family for the remainder of the congregation. Some memberseven took out loans to meet the commitment. By March, enough familiescame through to ensure close to $400,000 in pledges for thesynagogue.

In addition to the pledges, the board appointed astrategic planning committee to oversee the synagogue's finances. Thecommittee, which includes attorneys, financial planners andaccountants, implemented changes to put the temple in turn-aroundmode: raising dues, cutting staff and salaries, eliminating thefull-time position of executive director, and renegotiating thetemple's mortgage. A planning subcommittee is also conducting a"spiritual audit" on the congregation, surveying members about whichprograms they think are important and can attract new members and howthe board can be more responsive.

Though some of these steps echo the downsizingrippling through corporate America, UAHC's Marder said that KolTikvah should be commended for taking charge of its problems andusing the crises as an opportunity for improvement.

"Nowhere is it written that a synagogue needs tobe run inefficiently. It is quite possible for a synagogue to be runin a way that is financially responsible and still true to Jewishvalues," she said.

The next few years, acknowledge members, will bedifficult. "Right now, we have a lot of enthusiasm and energy," saidBlau, "but will that remain two years from now?"

Jacobs remains optimistic, pointing again to thecongregation's amazing response to the crises -- a response thatextends all the way to the children.

In addition to Turk returning her paycheck, therewas the 15-year-old boy who took $500 out of his bar mitzvah moneyand insisted on contributing it. The temple had always been there forhim when he needed it, he said, so he wanted to be there for thetemple.

Asked why she felt so strongly about making hercontribution, Turk said, "I didn't feel right taking money frompeople who were in difficulty. I know $100 isn't much, but it is whatI can give."

Kol Tikvah's Rabbi StevenJacobs. Photo by Willy Leon

 

 

Gelfand's Gala

At a well-attended diner, the Federationhonors its outgoing president for his vision and manyaccomplishments

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

After two years as the active and outspokenpresident of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, HerbGelfand says that he's tired and ready to hand over the reins to hissuccessor, Lionel Bell.

But at a gala dinner given in his honor by theFederation's Real Estate and Construction Division last week, Gelfandappeared full of energy as crowds of well-wishers surged around him,offering hugs and handshakes.

More than 900 people showed up at the BeverlyHilton, including Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Lt. Gov. GrayDavis, a regular at a number of Federation events this year. MontyHall, a close friend of Gelfand and wife Beverly, emceed the eventand narrated a short slide and film presentation that showed thelighter side of the Federation president: Herb sporting a pompadouras president of his ninth-grade class in Detroit; Herb on safari;Herb relaxing in a spa; Herb impersonating Eric von Stroheim in thefilm "Sunset Boulevard." But it was Gelfand's achievements in theunpaid but visible post as Federation president that led to thesentiments of praise that were heaped upon him.

"He's one of the most memorable and effectivepresidents we've ever had," said Bell, agreeing that Gelfand, whoseterm ends on June 28, will be a tough act to follow.

"He's done things that other presidents have notdone," said Federation Women's Division Chair Inez Gelfand, who isunrelated. "He wasn't afraid to try something new."

Being president at the time of Israel's 50thanniversary afforded Herb Gelfand a number of opportunities to helpspearhead programs most important to him. Among them was the recentCBS television special that commemorated the Jewish state's 50th,taped last month at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium.

Other causes Gelfand championed and/or helpedachieve:

* Pushing for and achieving a $1 million increasein Federation funding for local Jewish day- and Hebrew-schooleducation.

* Increasing numbers -- and financial support --of teens and college-age adults participating in Israel Experienceprograms as part of an overall push to fund programs to deal with theproblem of Jewish continuity.

* Leading the fight against Israel's conversionbill, including meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu andthe Israeli Knesset to represent non-Orthodox American Jews'opposition to the measure.

* Leading 400 Angelenos on the Golden AnniversaryMission to Israel last November.

Gelfand prided himself on reaching out to LosAngeles' Orthodox community, which has been traditionally estrangedfrom the Federation. The Shrine event was jointly sponsored with theSimon Wiesenthal Center, an organization with a large Orthodoxmembership on whose board Gelfand sits.

Federation Executive Vice President John Fishel,who helped implement many of the programs Gelfand supported, praisedthe president for being "the right guy at the right time. There wasreally nothing Herb set out to do that he didn't accomplish," Fishelsaid.

A successful lawyer and real estate developer,Gelfand is chief operating officer of DeAnza Corporation, a nationaloperator of mobile home parks. Being Federation president has beenone of the highlights of his life, he said. "It's been incrediblychallenging and intellectually stimulating.... I recommend it toeverybody."

The Real Estate and Construction Division hasabout 110 members, making it one of the Federation's largerdivisions. At the dinner, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple provokeda rash of check writing when he spoke of the wealth of those presentas being a gift they received by virtue of the life they were borninto. "You could live in Rwanda and work just as hard and getnowhere," he said. The evening's most generous gift of $100,000 camefrom 92-year-old Lilian Nesburn, given in honor of Gelfand.

 

A Strong Voice

The Board of Rabbis' new executive vicepresident, Rabbi Brad Artson, will be more involved with high-levelJewish Federation affairs

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

At one time, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson set hissights on a career in politics. He was president of the DemocraticClub at Harvard, an intern for U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston and Rep. JohnBurton, and a legislative aide to California Assembly Speaker WillieBrown (who's now San Francisco mayor). Artson hoped to build a basefor a run for public office.

But, says Artson, his love for Judaism "swept meoff my feet and took me on a different path." That path has led to adistinguished 10-year-career as rabbi of Congregation Eilat, aConservative synagogue in Mission Viejo, and national renown as awriter and lecturer. It has also led to his selection as executivevice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California,following an extensive national and local search by the board'sexecutive search committee.

The retirement of Rabbi Paul Dubin, who held thepost for more than 20 years, enabled the board and John Fishel,executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles (of which the Board of Rabbis is a committee), to redefinethis staff position and expand its scope. The executive director hashistorically worked with the board's president -- its lay leader --to create programming for the rabbis, served as rabbinical adviser tothe Federation agencies and committees, supervised the chaplaincyprogram, and provided information and referrals on religiousissues.

The biggest change, Fishel said, will be to makethe new executive vice president a member of Federation seniormanagement -- Artson will attend top executive and board meetings,ensuring that a strong rabbinical voice will be heard within theFederation.

"It deepens the links between the Board of Rabbisand the Federation," as well as those between the Federation and thesynagogue community, Fishel said.

The 39-year-old Artson expressed great joy andanticipation at the appointment, which he said represents a kind of"homecoming" for him. "I get to do politics for the sake of God andTorah and the Jewish people," he said.

Artson believes that his role will beunprecedented not only at the Los Angeles Federation but amongfederations elsewhere. "I don't know of any board of rabbis that hasthis type of involvement at the top level of Federation," hesaid.

Rising tensions and misunderstandings among thedifferent streams of Judaism are a major reason for the Board ofRabbi's expanded role. "The Jewish community has spent a great dealof time yelling at each other," and he hopes to provide "a voice forunity," Artson said. "I think we all share much more than whatdivides us."

Another reason for the Federation's desire toincrease the visibility of the Board of Rabbis is the umbrellaorganization's growing recognition that the core of the Jewishcommunity is its synagogues, and that "without a commitment to Jewishreligion in all of its rich variety, the federations are unable tofulfill their missions," Artson said.

Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, halfway through histwo-year term as president of the Board of Rabbis, said he was"elated" that a man of Artson's national stature and caliber had beenselected as executive vice president. As a lay leader in a positionthat rotates among rabbis of the four denominations (Goldmark isReform, and his predecessor, Rabbi Abner Weiss, is Orthodox),Goldmark said he expected that he and Artson would use common senseand a "team approach" to speaking out on controversial issues thatmight divide the 250 members of the board. Neither leader is likelyto make statements that might cause dissension among the board,Goldmark said.

Artson was selected, from a large pool ofcandidates, because he struck the search team as someone who was "agood listener, [with] the intellect to understand complex interestsand the organizational skills to work with colleagues to buildconsensus," Fishel said.

Artson also will provide pastoral counseling tothe rabbis, offering programming and other opportunities that fostercamaraderie and intellectual exchange.

Artson's broad background as a pulpit rabbi,author, teacher and lecturer is likely to serve him well in his newpost, which begins officially on July 1.

A San Francisco native and cum laude graduate ofHarvard, he was ordained with honors at the Jewish TheologicalSeminary of America. During his 10 years at Congregation Eilat,membership grew from 200 families to about 500. He is the author of"Love Peace and Pursue Peace: A Jewish Response to War and NuclearAnnihilation" and, most recently, "It's a Mitzvah! Step-By-Step toJewish Living," widely used in religious schools and conversioncourses. Active in interfaith activities and Jewish community work,he has converted more than 200 people through his Introduction toJudaism classes.

Artson has authored more than 85 publishedarticles and is associate editor of the Jewish Spectator and acontributing editor to Tikkun, for which he writes a regular column.A founding chair of the Special Publications Committee of theRabbinical Assembly and a member of the University of Judaism'sRabbinic Cabinet, he is a scholar-in-residence at Camp Ramah's FamilyCamp Week in Ojai and a member of the faculty of the Wexner HeritageFoundation.

Artson plans to move with his wife, Elana, and5-year-old twins, Shira and Jacob, to the Pico-Robertson area of LosAngeles to be within walking distance of Orthodox, Conservative andReform congregations.

Seymour Friedman and son, Richard, offerAngelenos a bite of the Big Apple. Photoabove by Brian Davis Photography

Home Is Where the Hearth Is

Four generations of Friedmans pride themselveson quality at the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery

By Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

Call him a rebel. Seymour Friedman insists thatthe best bagels are made by hand.

While certain ubiquitous chain bagel shops insiston employing the cost effective cheat of shoving bagel dough on metalpans into ovens and dousing them with steam injection, Friedmaninsists that this process compromises taste, texture, and,ultimately, creates a bread that resembles a bagel, but is not abagel.

Friedman should know. He founded the BrooklynBagel Bakery in 1953. And if Seymour is a rebel, he is not the firstFriedman with an independent streak.

In fact, Friedman's very establishment is a grandact of mutiny from the way California bagel shops do business.Brooklyn Bagel Bakery is, in essence, a bagel factory, and perhapsthe only outlet in town adhering to the old school, New York-style ofbagel-making. At Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, they do it the hard way, evencreating a separate dough for its onion bagels.

Friedman prides himself on this attention toquality. The store's legend says it all: "Home of the Hearth BakedWater Bagel," an allusion to the method of baking bagels directly ona stone-surfaced oven.

You can trace Brooklyn Bagel Bakery's roots backto turn-of-the-century Russia where, at the age of 13, Seymour'sfather, Louis, bolted from school and left his shtetl for the nearby town ofBerdichev.

It was in this village that Louis met a woman whotrained him to make bagels and paid him handsomely, to the delight ofhis struggling mother, a widow raising six children.

In 1904, Louis and some fellow Jewish boys learnedof a pogrom about to take place in Berdichev. Brandishing guns(illegal for Jews), Louis and his band curtailed the pogrom, scaringoff the invaders. As a result, Louis was hauled into a policestation, where he was intentionally shot and wounded, and then throwninto a Kiev prison, where he remained until a rich uncle bailed himout. Once free, the relative, fearing for Louis' life, gave hisnephew the means to emigrate to America. Upon arriving in New York,Louis landed a job making bagels in Harlem and organized Local 338, aunion for bagel laborers.

Cut to 1941. A 22-year-old Seymour was married andunemployed when he decided to enter his father's business. Seymourstarted out as a "third hand" rolling the dough strips and quicklyrose through the ranks, becoming a professional beiglemacher by hismid-20s.

In 1949, Seymour Friedman moved his family toCalifornia to accommodate wife Frances' asthma condition. After fouryears working for Goldstar Bakery, he took over a failing bakery onAdams Boulevard with a $4,000 loan from his father, and converted itinto the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery.

"For nine months, I didn't stop [working] untilone day, I almost blacked out," he recalls. "I worked day and night.I used to go solicit [business] after I spent the daydelivering."

Photo by Peter Halmagyi

By 1965, the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery moved to itspresent location near downtown. Seymour Friedman's daughter, Ellen,approached her brother, Richard, about taking over the familybusiness. Richard agreed to manage the bakery with Ellen as a silentpartner.

"Richard had no knowledge [of the bagel industrywhen he began]," says Friedman of his son. "He only knew how to eat abagel."

But Richard was a quick study and swiftly learnedthe ropes.

"Richard is a workaholic," says Friedman. "He doeseverything now."

Since taking over day-to-day operations, Richardhas expanded the family business exponentially. He recently hired hisdaughter, Jennifer, a recent college graduate, to work in the office.And over the years, Richard has accommodated changes in times andtaste, cultivating a retail front that sells two dozen varieties ofbagels spanning from salty (garlic, rye) to spicy (jalapeño)to fruity (banana nut), not to mention variations like cheese bagels,bialys, energy bars, and extras like coffee and spreads -- a far crysince the days where variety consisted of water and egg.

Today, Brooklyn Bagel Bakery is not only saturatedwith the aroma of bagels, but the scent of Old New York. The datedphotos of bagel makers and Jewish personages on the walls are nocalculated marketing flourish. These are actual photographs taken ofthe Friedman family and their employees through the years. TheFriedmans' love for the Brooklyn Dodgers is also on display, from thewall reserved for the 1955 World Series champions to the style oftheir logo font.

Seymour Friedman is one of a few men who can boastabout carrying on not only a family tradition, but a specificallyJewish tradition. But one question remains: Just which flavor ofbagel is his favorite?

"Water bagel," he answers withouthesitation.

Nevertheless, Friedman can't deny the public ofwhat it wants, now that the bagel is an American institution --appealing to Jew and non-Jew alike -- and flavors likejalapeño have become one of their big sellers.

Says Friedman: "If you can sell it, make it. Ifyou can't sell it, forget it."

Friedman's bagels are available at Factors,Nate 'n Al's, Art's, and many other delicatessen outlets, or can bepurchased directly from the Brooklyn Bagel Factory, 2217 W. BeverlyBlvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 413-4114 or(800) 78-4BAGELS.

 

Community Briefs

Politics, but Thanks

RepresentativeJane Harman's recent introduction in the House of Representatives ofa resolution that honored the foreign volunteers who served inIsrael's War of Independence is obviously a welcome gesture. That itcomes this close to California's June 2 gubernatorial primary hasgiven cynics a story to pounce upon.

The resolution by Democrat Harman notes that theinternational corps of volunteers, known as Machal, included 1,500Americans. These volunteers served in 14 branches, supplying thefledgling Israel Defense Forces with its first pilots, navalcommanders, radar technicians and tank commanders.

Of the Machalniks, 119 were killed in action,among them 19 of the 33 pilots who lost their lives fighting forIsrael.

Harman, who is, of course, currently running forgovernor, read the resolution at the Israel 50th anniversary festivalin the Pan Pacific Park last week and then presented a copy toMaurice Commanday, an Air Force veteran and Machal leader.-- Tom Tugend,Contributing Editor

Stained-Glass Judaica

When you think of stained-glass windows, Jewishthemes do not inevitably spring to mind. The historical connectionmore likely leads back to medieval times and cathedrals.

That hasn't daunted two Santa Rosa-based Jewishartists, Michelle and David Plachte Zuieback. They have blithelycreated a series of windows for Valley Beth Shalom and KehillatMa'arav, and in the process are fast becoming known as creators ofJewish stained-glass art.

The Plachte-Zuiebacks have become adept at combingthe Torah and the Kabbalah for visual images, such as the dove andthe pomegranate, as ways of conveying the tenets of Jewish faith.Their latest installation -- on May 3 -- was the dedication of a newbeit midrash atJoshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, where they unveiled sixteenbrilliantly colored stained-glass windows, all depicting Jewishthemes. The beit midrash was named in honor of Shirley Levine,founding director.

"One thing that's special about the Heschelwindows is that they speak especially to children," said DavidPlachte-Zuieback. "They're not made to be mysterious...they're madeto communicate to children, to say things that children canunderstand." -- BeverlyGray, EducationEditor

The Metuka Effect

Anyone who hasmet Metuka Benjamin knows that she is a force to be reckoned with.She does not suffer fools silently or gladly. Nor, we have learned,does she have much time for those whose political opinions on Israeldiffer from hers.

But come Sunday, May 17, at the Beverly HiltonHotel, we suspect that the Israeli-born educator will pause for atleast a moment and accept, with grace, the kudos and commendationsthat will come her way.

The occasion is the Stephen S. Wise Temple'sGolden Anniversary Gala, and friends and congregants expect her tostand still long enough to let them honor her.

In her 34 years at Stephen S. Wise, Benjamin hashelped launch and direct a whole range of educational programs, fromthe early childhood center to the preschool, day school and theMilken Community High School, as well as a religious-school program.Currently, some 1,500 children are taking advantage of theeducational system.

There is what looks like a standing line ofdignitaries at the ready to sing her praises: Roni Milo, Mayor of TelAviv; Yoram Ben Ze'ev, Israel's Consul General in Los Angeles; UriHerscher, the head of the Skirball Cultural Center; and Rabbi IsaiahZeldin of Stephen S. Wise. The emcee is no slouch, either: He is CNNtalk-show host Larry King.

For information, call Harriet Zolan at (310)889-2232. -- Beverly Gray,Education Editor

Educator Metuka Benjamin

Big Thoughts

No one canaccuse Michael Levine of thinking small. The Beverly Hills publicistand author has just launched Round 2 of his popular public seminar,The Thought Forum: Religious Personalities on Contemporary Issues. Ifthe title sounds like a live take on the late and lamented KABCTalkRadio program "Religion on the Line," with Dennis Prager, itshould. When that show was canceled by station management, Levine setoff to re-create it. He couldn't get his friend Prager, but he hassucceeded in attracting some of the best and brightest clergy fromacross the spectrum. The schedule: May 21, "The Afterlife"; June 11,"Healing Addictions"; June 25, "God, Family and Marriage." Thediscussions, which include plenty of audience Q&A, run from 7:30to 9:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism. Call (310) 476-9777, ext.246, for tickets and information. -- StaffReport

Michael Levine

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