Jewish Journal


November 27, 2003

The Circuit


Saving American Jews

Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah and Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York put their heads and hearts together for a forum on "How Can We Save American Jewry?"

The two rabbis were brought together Nov. 15 by B'nai David-Judea Congregation, which also hosted Weiss for a Shabbaton, and Congregation Mogen David, which hosted the event.

Introducing the two, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B'nai David called Finley "the most creative rabbi in Los Angeles" and hailed Weiss' efforts to establish a more open, moderate Orthodoxy through his new rabbinic seminary, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

The two rabbis had met before, but this was the first time they connected on a deeper level. They spoke of the need to do away with old models that were never successful in making Judaism relevant and meaningful to people and agreed that only through paying more attention to the inner life of spirituality -- and through getting that message out -- will Jewish leaders succeed in keeping Jews Jewish.

The two rabbis, both of whom have created hugely successful communities, dispensed with hand wringing and clichés and spoke with eloquence, intelligence and passion.

"We are fighting anti-Semitism with a slingshot," Weiss told the 150 people in attendance.

"It takes an evangelistic determination," Finley said of engaging intermarrieds and other marginalized Jews. "We believe in it, and we have to want to share it with other people." -- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Gary's Grant

There is money in education after all. The Echoing Green fund recently awarded San Fernando Valley resident Gary Kosman, 25, a $60,000 fellowship for his America Learns tutoring initiative, which is an Internet-based program designed to empower tutors and tutoring program managers by streamlining administrative processes.

"America Learns is setting a new standard for tutor monitoring, evaluation and support by turning these traditionally separate processes into a single process," Kosman said. "By enabling administrators to focus on tutor quality and student learning, we are dramatically increasing the impact of tutor-driven academic assistance programs."

Kosman designed America Learns with feedback from more than 120 active volunteer tutors, program managers, parents, teachers and professors. Already, 25,000 tutors in 27 states have told Kosman that they want to use America Learns upon its national launch.

Kosman's organization was one of 10 to receive the 2003 Echoing Green fellowships. There were nearly 1,000 applicants from 60 countries.

Echoing Green is a global social venture fund that provides seed capital and support to emerging leaders with bold ideas for social change.

Cheder Days

Cheder Menachem Lubavitch, the Chabad boys elementary school, decided to give Rabbi Moshe Drazin a birthday party with a difference. Drazin, who turned 90 on Oct. 31, is something of an icon in the Los Angeles Chabad community. He studied Torah in the underground cheders and yeshivot of communist Russia in the early years of the 20th century. He was sent by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad rebbe, to bring Judaism to Providence, R.I.

For Drazin's 90th birthday, the 210 students of Cheder Menachem dedicated a day of Torah learning to him to give Drazin spiritual strength for his 90th year. The students also held an assembly at which they sang songs and said psalms, where Drazin related stories about growing up and learning in the Russian cheders.

For more information about Cheder Menachem or to dedicate a day of learning there for a birthday or yahrtzeit, call (323) 769-8200.

Chai Lifeline's Boom

By now Boomers Amusement Park in Irvine is used to the fact that come Succot, the park gets Judaicized with kosher food and sukkahs to accommodate the many people who drive down from Los Angeles to have fun at Boomers and for Chai Lifeline's Sukkas Family Extravaganza.

This year, 2,000 people found their way to Boomers on Oct. 15 and then proceeded to climb the rock wall, play miniature golf, ride go-karts, play video games, watch the magic and bubble shows and enjoy a ventriloquist.

The day was co-chaired by Helena Kornwasser Usdan and Corinne Kin and sponsored in part by Mark and Sonia Kornwasser.

Chai Lifeline West Coast Sohacheski Family Center is an organization that provides a network of services to families who have children with life-threatening or life-long pediatric illnesses. It also operates Camp Simcha, the only kosher, medically supervised camping program for children with cancer and hematological illnesses, and Camp Simcha Special, the first medically supervised overnight camp for children with serious chronic and genetic conditions.

For more information about Chai Lifeline and its services call, (310) 274-6331.

Shabbat Shalom

Three-hundred Southern California college students crammed the University of Judaism (UJ) on Nov. 14 for the Los Angeles Hillel Council's biggest ever Ellie and Mark Lanier Regional Shabbat. To accommodate everyone's religious beliefs, students and Hillel professionals led Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and alternative Shabbat services.

Students were also treated to a mikvah exhibit, a lecture on ethics in the Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli dancing, Shabbat dinner, mocktails and dessert.

Those students who were Shomer Shabbat stayed the night at the UJ and participated in a full day of services, meals and Jewish learning, led and sponsored by KOACH.

Hana's Suitcase

In March 2001, a suitcase arrived at the Tokyo Holocaust Educational Resource Center with the words, "Hana Brady, May 16, 1931" and with "waisenkind," the German word for orphan, written on it in white paint.

Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tokyo center, set out to solve the mystery of the suitcase and uncover its owner's identity. Ishioka used records at the Terezin ghetto archives to locate Hana's brother, George Brady, who survived Terezin and Auschwitz and now lives in Toronto. Hana perished in the Holocaust.

Author Karen Levine's story of the suitcase became a bestselling book, and the suitcase has become part of an international exhibition designed to teach students about the Holocaust.

On Nov. 12, 100 students from Pressman Academy, Los Angeles International School and Ridgecrest Intermediate School visited the Museum of Tolerance, where they met Ishioka, Brady and Levine, and viewed the suitcase.

The local students were joined via satellite by 100 students from Quebec School, Yavneh Day School, Phoenix School and John XXIII Catholic School in Cincinnati.

At the event, Ishioka told the story of the suitcase, and students questioned Brady about his feelings on his sister's death. They also talked to Ishioka about her efforts to educate the Japanese about the Holocaust.

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