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Jewish Journal

Up Front

January 1, 2004 | 7:00 pm

A Shushan Social

Two party planners are not fazed by the logistics of recreating a fifth century B.C.E. capital where the Purim story took place.

Cathy R. Jasper and Sheila Stopnitsky, mothers of students who attend Irvine's Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School, are reviving the walled city of Shushan, now modern-day Iran, as a thematic platform for a glitzy gala to replenish the school's nearly $1 million scholarship fund. The annual $500-per-couple event on Jan. 25 honors local benefactors Susan and Henry Samueli and salutes the 80th birthday of Irving Gelman, the school's founder. Last year's affair netted $250,000 toward scholarships.

Being held for the first time on school grounds rather than a hotel, Shushan will take more than a week to erect on a patio beside the upper school. A ballroom-sized, 4,000-square-foot tent will get a makeover fit for a sheik: chandeliers, fabric lining, an artist's depiction of the walled city's palace and a Persian-style menu by Encino's Starlight Caterers.

"We want people to come to the campus," said Jasper, of Mission Viejo, who has three children attending the school. "I'm interested in keeping it going and making sure it's here in 20 years."

Organizers anticipate a smaller crowd as the school dropped its mandatory participation policy this year to ensure participants receive a tax deduction for the scholarship portion of the cost.

Every student enjoys a partial subsidy as tuition alone does not fully cover expenses, Stopnitzky said.

"There isn't enough money for all the children who want to come," she said.

Thirty percent of the school's 600 students receive some aid toward tuition, which varies by grade level between $10,000 and $13,000 annually.

From Home to JCF

Michele Shugarman's first lesson in philanthropy was supplied by her grandmother, who one day emptied one of a dozen tzedakah boxes that lined her kitchen windowsill into the hands of a bearded, kippah-wearing man. When she inquired about the curious transaction, Fannie Labovitz told the child someone in the community needed help.

"This one's for you," her grandmother said, giving the 4-year-old a coin-filled jar.

After counting and sorting, the child deposited half with her grandmother to replenish the empty box.

"The lesson learned has never gone away from me," said Shugarman, a 31-year Orange County resident, who for the last four years raised research funds in four counties for the Israel-based Weizmann Institute.

This month, Shugarman starts as development director of O.C.'s Jewish Community Foundation, which last year distributed $4.5 million in gifts from its donors.

She succeeds Linda S. Weingarten, 53, who resigned after less than two years in the director's post because of the job's after-hours demands. This month, she plans to marry Jean Stern, 58, an Irvine museum director, who travels regularly.

"This is not a life for a newly wed couple," Weingarten said before her departure.

Hank Schrimmer, the foundation's president, called the parting amicable.

"It's not a divorce," he said.

An agricultural economist who moved to Irvine in 1993 to work for an avocado cooperative, Weingarten remains emotionally tied to charity work, which enriched her life.

"It was something I never knew should be so important; I knew it, but I wasn't living it," she said.



A Neighborly Chat

Even though Irvine homeowners filed suit to halt construction of a new Jewish community building, informal talks took place last month to address concerns about the building's height and neighborhood impact. Supporters of the Jewish campus expect to continue negotiations with residents in January.

"It was viewed as a very positive gesture," said Said Mehdi, whose home on Sierra Rojas is overshadowed by the multistory facility for the Jewish Community Center and other Jewish agencies. Even so, he described a proposal made in the talks as "mediocre" as it would not adequately screen the site from homes below. "We know we have new neighbors, but they need to understand they've intruded on our lives," he said.

City officials spurned talks after Turtle Rock residents in October filed suit against the government and JCC, seeking to halt construction and the completion of an impact study. Such a study was omitted when the permit was granted in September 2001.

"We're trying to be good neighbors," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who chairs the committee that has raised $21 million toward the building. "We want to do as much as we can though we have limited resources."

Neither side has more than "vague proposals," he said. "We're trying to figure out a way to get our arms around the issues." These include noise, lighting and hours of operation, in addition to landscaping.

"Residents want a complete package," Mehdi said.

Ecumenical Exchange

The biblical passage about Abraham readying his only son as a sacrifice established two central axioms of the Jewish faith, early commentators suggest. These are the extent of man's capacity to love, fear and serve God; and that God communicates His will to man.

The same story seen through Christian theology, however, is a foreshadowing of the trinity, where the son sacrificed by the father is not Isaac, but Jesus.

Just such comparative teaching underpins an innovative, interfaith study session taught by both a rabbi and a priest, which began last fall at Santa Ana's Temple Beth Sholom. The 16-student class happened to be evenly divided among Jews and Christians, and included three nuns.

Class ground rules included consciously leaving persuasion, proselytizing and primacy at the door.

A second five-week, session built around biblical themes such as salvation, messianism and festivals is to start Feb. 1 at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, 1309 Sycamore, Tustin. The cost is $75.

"This has been a rare, if not unique opportunity for Jews and Christians to not only engage in dialog but to study sacred texts together," said Rabbi Michael Mayersohn, of Seal Beach. His teaching partner is the Rev. John McAndrew, who he met in 1990 when also sharing a dais as guest speakers for a junior college discussion on sex and religious values.

Mayersohn quit the pulpit of Temple Beth David in Westminster last year to pursue teaching. He hopes to recruit more students for the second session from the county's various interfaith councils.

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