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JewishJournal.com

January 30, 2003

The Circuit

http://www.jewishjournal.com/circuit/article/the_circuit_20030131

From Russia With Love

In an unprecedented event, 650 of the most successful members of Los Angeles' Russian Jewish community gathered under the banner of Judaism and Israel. The American Russian Medical and Dental Association and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined forces to stage the first-ever gala for Los Angeles' Russian-Jewish community. Proceeds from the banquet, held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, will go toward the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, which aids Israeli victims of terror.

Boris Gorbis presented the honorees, all of whom have been loyal contributors and supporters of Los Angeles' Russian Jewry: Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Blazer Communications founder Phil Blazer, Southern California Council for Soviet Jews' Si Frumkin, Vladimir Davidovich, Dr. Samuel Fain, Michael Landver, Kira Macagon, producer Sid Sheinberg and the Consulate General of the State of Israel.

The honorees on this special occasion were all aflutter. Frumkin thanked "my lovely wife, Ella, my bonus for being involved with Soviet Jewry." Yaroslavsky commended Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society efforts to help 4.5 million Russian refugees internationally find safe haven. He told the Russian-Jewish audience, "You are a living testament to the success to that movement."

Olga Yegorov, a teacher at the high school where the teenage Russian Jewish victims of the Dolphinarium bombing attended, delivered an emotional tribute to her lost pupils.

"Those 21 children are our children," she said. "You and I could have been there."

Also delivering an impassioned speech to drum up support for Israel's victims of terror was Rabbi Leonid Feldman, who returned to his former city to witness this landmark gala. Now based in Miami Beach, Feldman was the first Russian-speaking Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles. He ran the Russian department of The Federation-affiliated Bureau of Jewish Education in the early '80s.

"I look around and I see 600 successful members of our community here for Israel," Feldman told The Circuit. "I think it's just spectacular."

However, Feldman added that he would like to see the Russian Jewish community challenge themselves more Jewishly. He asked how many in the room actually go to synagogue, have visited Israel or have children in Jewish day schools.

Nevertheless, Feldman realized that the event he was at was a major first step for this immigrant community, which came from a society that left them at a cultural disadvantage.

Dr. Ludmilla Bess, who chaired this event, delivered the opening and closing remarks. Federation President John Fishel greeted the dinner crowd, as did Rep. Brad Sherman's (D-Sherman Oaks) policy adviser Joel Tashjian, who provided some greetings from Washington.

Also in attendance: Panorama publisher Eugene Levin and his wife, Helen Levin, executive director of the Russian Community Center in West Hollywood; The Federation's Russian community liaison Maya Segal; former director of The Federation's Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Fredi Rembaum; and Miriam Prum Hess, the first person to run The Federation's Russian immigrant acculturation department, now run by Feldman's cousin, Alla Feldman.

Dressed in a black outfit with caped tails and sounding like the Russian Eartha Kitt, Liama Vakule sang numbers in a range of styles from lounge to pop. Daniel Shindaryev performed some classical music. And Mikhail Shufutinsky, sounding in places like a Russian-language Serge Gainesbourg, crooned an exuberant pair of songs.

Another entertainer, singer and cantor Svetlana Portnyanskaya, who came to Los Angeles from Moscow 12 years ago, performed the American and Israeli national anthems as well as a closing set.

"It's amazing to see so many people who want to contribute their efforts to the State of Israel," Portnyanskaya said. "It shows that we're not apart with Israel and that we want to be together."

In her dozen years living among Los Angeles' Russian-Jewry, Portnyanskaya said that she has observed a community that has "become more solid, more strong. We have a lot of successful people."

On Jan. 12, Yeshiva University Boys' High School (YULA) dedicated its new $12.6 million, 50,000-square-foot Jack and Gitta Nagel Family campus. The celebration, attended by hundreds of people included traditional dancing with Torah Scrolls as well as mezuzah dedications. A special dedication luncheon followed at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Since its establishment in 1979 (the post high school division was opened two years earlier in 1977), Yeshiva University Boys' High School has become one of the premiere modern Orthodox Jewish High schools in the United States.     YULA's 360 students are immersed for four years in an intensive program of Torah and secular studies in the sciences and humanities, as well as extracurricular programs from sports to volunteerism to drama to social activism.  

Arc de Tree-umph!

To mark both this year's Tu B'Shevat and Earth Day, a number of organizations and volunteers joined together to plant 100 trees in Sylmar Park, sowing the seeds to create additional shade and beauty in a Los Angeles park area. Participating organizations include the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, TreePeople, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Hadassah, Jewish National Fund, Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and Los Angeles Conservation Corps. The trees planted included the California Sycamore, the Valley Oak, the Coast Live Oak, the Big Leaf Maple, the Cape Chestnut and the Tulip Tree.

The Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) welcomed the new year in high style with their installation dinner at the elegant Four Seasons Hotel on Jan. 11. The fun included The Harry Newmark Band and an array of martinis. After presenting a check for $1.32 million to JHA Chair Earl Greinetz, Leo Spiwak, outgoing Guardians president was honored by the JHA and The Guardians for his two years of service. Incoming president Robb Greenspan, who comes from a long line of Guardian supporters, spoke about what The Guardians has meant to his family as his mother, Helen Greenspan, proudly listened. The Guardians also welcomed several vice presidents for 2003: Harvey Alpert, Arnold Anisgarten, Randy Banchik, Barry Goldstein, Charles Hershson, Steven Kipper, Jon Konheim, Bradley Mindlin and Gerald Niznick.

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