Call it a beach party without the beach. The pouring rain didn't stop Beverly Hills High School students from partying when they recently converged on the campus football field for an early evening bonfire. The up-tempo rally - which featured kosher hot dogs and school cheerleaders busting moves to the beat of a live band - was organized by Rabbi Hertzl Illulian, who, for seven years, has been organizing events at Beverly Hills High School.
Jewish and non-Jewish students alike attend Illulian's functions, and the Chabad rabbi said that the events he organizes are appreciated by Beverly Hills High's prominent and diverse Jewish student body. According to Illulian, half of the Jewish population at the public school is Persian or Israeli, and about 15 percent is Russian.
"They feel very privileged to be Jewish," said Illulian. "They have pride in themselves."
"I myself see people turning back to their roots," said former Beverly Hills High student Flora Salih, 20, who assists Illulian with events such as this, as well as Sukkot parties and Yom Kippur programming earlier this season. Illulian's teenage daughter, Brucha, was also on hand to help.
Michael "Micki" Weinberg, a 16-year-old senior and president of Shalom Club at Beverly Hills High School, believes events such Illulian's programs set a good example - not only to fellow Jews, but also to non-Jews.
"It shows that wherever Jews are around the world, we're able to unite as a cohesive group," said Weinberg. "And they see that a Jew doesn't fit a stereotype."
Junior Debbie Soroudi, 16, appreciates such activities, especially since she had to cancel her plans to join a Sephardic Educational Center mission to Israel because of the recent tensions there.
"Personally, I came from a Jewish school," said Soroudi. "To have that reinforced here at Beverly, it's great. It's comforting to meet other Jewish students and to know that we share the same beliefs."