Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
When the announcer introduced the players at the Los Angeles Kings season home opener at the Staples Center Oct. 18, 15-year-old Jared Tilliss was on the roster. Tilliss was chosen as the Kings Honorary Player of the Game, based on an essay he wrote describing his community service and his struggle to overcome disabilities caused by a seizure disorder.
As honorary player, Tilliss got to ride the Zamboni during intermission, meet the Ice Girls, and stand in the spotlight during the second period as the announcer described Jared’s struggles and accomplishments to the 18,000 hockey fans attendance.
“I think I was in shock when I was introduced just the same as one of the players and coaches,” Jared, a Kings fan since he was 8, wrote in an email interview. “I couldn’t believe that I was on the big screen at Staples. I was treated like a KING.”
Tilliss has a form of non-convulsive epilepsy that causes dozens of tiny seizure a day that erase parts of his memory. Jared showed symptoms in preschool but wasn’t diagnosed until he was 7. He has tried dozens of different medications and a surgery, but he still has seizures. Despite speech and language impairments and learning disabilities, he challenges himself daily, his mother, Stacy Tilliss, said.
“The beautiful thing about Jared is he fights through it and is still able to make progress and be successful. Professionals such as doctors, therapists and educational professionals don’t really know how he does it,” she said.
Jared says a positive attitude, a team of supporters, and a lot of hard work has kept him thriving, along with parents who believe in him and encourage him.
Tilliss is a student at Fusion Academy in Woodland Hills, which has a one-to-one teacher-to-student ratio, and values community service. He is a regular Friday volunteer at Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, stocking the food pantry and filling orders. Through his school, he volunteers at MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity), an organization that works with the impoverished.
Two years ago Tilliss celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Or
Ami in Calabasas, where he is an active member involved with the youth group and social action activities. Tilliss also attends the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah in Ojai, developing life skills and nurturing his connection to Judaism.
“Temple is very important to me it gives me a place to belong like a second home,” Tilliss said.
For his bar mitzvah, his teacher creatively transliterated each syllable so Tilliss could lead prayers, with his teacher by his side and Diet Coke at the ready, since caffeine, along with high doses of valium, help control his seizures.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes said he, along with nearly everyone else at Or Ami that morning, was moved to tears by Tilliss’s perseverance.
“I looked out at the crowd of family and friends. On their faces I saw utter amazement; reflected in their eyes was the wonder that this young man, in spite of all the challenges he faces, had led the prayer service so beautifully,” Kipnes wrote in a blog.
Tilliss is aware of his power to influence how those with disabilities view themselves, and how others view them, which is one of the reasons he was so thrilled to be chosen as honorary player at the Kings game.
“I want people in our community to know that even if you have a disability you can still make your life wonderful,” he said.
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October 29, 2011 | 2:31 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
Yesterday was the day I had been dreading. Every time I checked my itinerary: Friday, 8:45. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. I didn’t want to go. I really really didn’t want to go and I desperately needed to go all at once. I was a swirl of nervous anxiety walking up to the front door. What if it was just another tour, just another museum we shuffled through? What if I zoned out, hearing only with my brain and never settling into my heart? What if I, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, couldn’t cry?
And then the guide casually mentioned that the ramp we were walking on was just like the ones the Jews used to enter the gas chambers, and with chills, I reached for my Kleenex as the floodgates opened. It was power, overwhelming, informative and grotesquely beautiful.
Lost in my imagination, deep in my soul, the stark concrete walls that angled as if to close in upon us became my personal gas chamber. I couldn’t hear the guide, as the hoards of tourists suddenly were my fellow Jews herded into the trapped walls of our death. At one point, I stepped away from the exhibit, needing to catch my breath, needing to quell the panic, the suffocation.
I stepped away to remind myself of the miracle of Israel, the blessing of having my feet on Israeli soil even as I bore witness to the gapping wounding in our collective history, the climax of my ancestors history, the truth of my past.
This museum and the reality of the Holocaust is why I would stand as an Israeli citizen before all other nationalities. So that Never Again will there be no one to come for us. Never again will we have to perish alone. Never again will we be trapped without a home to go to. Never Again. Never Again.
October 28, 2011 | 12:00 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
UPDATED: The headline of this post has been changed from an earlier version (“J Street rejects ‘Unity Pledge’ on Israel, joining Right-wing groups”) at the request of J Street staff. According to J Street Director of Media and Communications Jessica Rosenblum, the organization has not yet decided whether to sign the pledge. When a decision is made, I will report it. -jl
When the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) put out a call for “bipartisan consensus on Israel” on Oct. 19, conservative groups critical of the Obama administration’s policies towards Israel were the first to object to what they saw as an attempt to silence them.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said in a statement that the AJC-ADL “National Pledge for Unity on Israel,” amounted to an “effort to stifle debate on U.S. policy toward Israel.” The Emergency Committee for Israel dismissed the pledge on similar grounds.
Count J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group that has frequently supported the Obama administration policies towards Israel, among those national Jewish organizations who
won’t be signing
may not sign the new pledge.
“I’ve signed the pledge for civility,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s founder and president said in an interview on Oct. 26. He was referring not to the recent ADL-AJC pledge for “unity” but to an earlier pledge, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ “Statement on Civility,” which was first circulated in November 2010 and has since been signed by over 1,000 American Jewish leaders, including the RJC’s Brooks.
But while he supports that earlier call for civil discourse among American Jews about Israel, Ben-Ami isn’t interested in downplaying any disagreement within the community of how to best show support for the Jewish state.
“You can have a unified support for Israel—for the state of Israel, for the concept of Israel, for its future and for its security—but a vehement disagreement about how you get there,” he said, “and that’s what we have.”
The RJC and the Emergency Committee, Ben-Ami said, align themselves with the Israeli settler movement, while J Street is charting a course that that is “grounded in a two state solution, grounded in the notion that security rests on a peace agreement.”
“It’s a totally different view,” Ben-Ami said, “but we both care deeply about Israel and we hope that there will be unified American support for the State of Israel.”
The ADL-AJC pledge, according to the Forward, has so far only been signed by a handful of Jewish leaders.
Responding to the conservative groups’ criticism, ADL National Director Abe Foxman said in a press release on Oct. 25 that the pledge was intended as a request that “participants in the political discourse ... avoid harsh and personal rhetoric or tactics in the form of attacks on political opponents’ positions on Israel.”
Foxman’s clarification didn’t appease the conservative critics, though. Jonathan Tobin wrote in Commentary that the pledge “should be amended to remove the line about ‘wedge’ issues or scrapped entirely.” In a posting on Twitter, the Emergency Committee said it “welcomes the ADL & AJC retraction of ‘unity pledge’ call to refrain from criticizing Obama admin’s Israel policy.” The pledge, as of Friday morning, was still featured on the ADL website.
But Foxman’s apparent backtracking was enough to mollify Ben-Ami’s reaction.
“You can disagree and still have civility, and as Abe Foxman clarified, they’re not asking that people don’t express their political disagreements,” Ben-Ami said. “But they’re asking that they do it in a way that reflects unified support for Israel—and that I have no problem with.”
October 27, 2011 | 5:20 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
I’m the dry-eyed one in the family. I’m the one who gives the eulogies at funerals because I can get through them without breaking down, the one who doesn’t need tissues to watch “Beaches” or “Terms of Endearment”. I come from a family who buys stock in Kleenex, going through travel packs like water at both happy and sad occasions, and I always feel left out, as if my lack of tears signifies that I don’t care. That’s never the case, but I just don’t cry almost ever.
Until I touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem this evening, put my hand on the edge of Hashem, gripped the stones and started praying for my life. Wedged in the farthest corner of the women’s side, I begged for blessings for my family, my friends, those close to my heart, and those whose suffering I do not know. I said thank you for so many blessings and whispered prayers for peace, healing and protection. But mostly, I pleaded for my life, for guidance, for a miracle. I kissed the stones, keeping one hand on the rocks of my heritage, the stones that Judaism is built upon, the smooth surface of faith. I could hear the cries and prayers of those around me, but louder than anything, shouting out all external distraction, I overheard my soul imploring G-d for a life with less cracks, a life at home in my skin wherever my feet may stand. Holding on to a crevice in the wall as if my father’s hand, I stuffed my corner of a piece of paper with my prayer into a semi-vacant spot and beseeched G-d to for a miracle, prayed to live each day fully awake.
Hashem, bless us, save us, cure us. Please don’t leave us. I need a miracle. We all need a miracle.
And there’s a reason they call it the Wailing Wall. I have to go buy more Kleenex…
October 27, 2011 | 2:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
This week, authorities in cities across the country began evicting the protesters that have gathered locally in support of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
The Occupy Los Angeles protest, which has taken over the entire park surrounding Los Angeles City Hall, could be next: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the L.A. Times on Wednesday that the protest “could not continue indefinitely.”
Anticipating that the crackdown taking place in Oakland, Atlanta and other cities wasn’t far off, I took a walk through the encampment on Tuesday morning, Oct. 25, to take stock of what is there, while it still is there. Talking to some of the occupiers, I came away with a few thoughts.
Occupy L.A., like the movement as a whole, is most clear in its generalized outrage at the inequitable distribution of wealth in the country. “We are the 99 percent,” many protesters’ signs read, expressing their frustration at the situation distilled in a Congressional Budget Office report released on Wednesday that showed that over the past 30 years, the top one percent of Americans have seen their incomes grow 275 percent, while the rest of the country’s earners have only experienced a growth of 65 percent.
But beyond that central plank, it’s hard to discern what the rest of the occupiers’ platform includes. The L.A. Weekly just published a long piece in which reporter Gene Maddaus entertained exactly this question.
Occupy L.A. is populated by Democrats, libertarians, socialists and anarchists — not to mention 9/11 Truthers, Oath Keepers, End the Fedders, sound-money guys, and a sizable contingent of homeless and mentally ill people looking for free food. What do they have in common? How can they grow into a powerful political force?
Against a backdrop where consensus is hard to find, the occupiers whose demands are clear stand out—and they mostly represent preexisting advocacy groups.
Within minutes of my arrival, Carlos Marroquin, a housing advocate who runs the website NoToHousingCrime.org, sought me out to give me a tour of the camp. The tour started at the very large marquee tent that his group had set up two days earlier to help counsel homeowners who had been victims of housing fraud. About 20 people had signed their guest book in that time.
The occupiers don’t much like the media—even the ones who are working with members of the media.
Gia Trimble, a volunteer who was trying to keep the remnants of an early morning shower from dripping into Occupy L.A.’s heavily wired media tent, put it simply. “At the end of the day, the media is a big part of the whole one percent,” she said.
Some of that frustration with the media may be due to reporters asking—repeatedly, and mostly without getting answers—what the Occupy protests are aiming to achieve. But many occupiers seem, at least for now, quite willing to continue, despite the outside world’s inability to understand their goals.
Patience is at the heart of the occupation model, protester Ryan Rice, 26, told me while he cleaned his teeth with a small disposable plastic brush on Tuesday morning.
“At some point, everyone on the planet will know why we are out here,” Rice said.
Rice, who had been involved in Occupy L.A. from the very beginning, said he had withdrawn from Chapman University where he was studying political science to join the protest. “I told my professors that I will return when the university is free,” he said.
Last: If the Occupy protests are harboring anti-Semites, they were in hiding when I visited Occupy L.A.
Jews, on the other hand, are easy to find. During Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, my colleague Ryan Torok reported on the Sukkah that was built at Occupy L.A. According to Josh Dunn, a 33-year-old protester from Palm Springs who was raised Jewish, the sukkah “has been the single way in which the religious community of Los Angeles has taken part in what we’re doing here.”
Dunn, who studied art at UCLA as an undergraduate and now runs the website TribalCommunistParty.org, said he was disappointed to see the lack of organized religious support for Occupy L.A.
Since he arrived nine days earlier, Dunn had been bedding down at “medical marijuana hill,” a space around the southwest corner of the Occupy L.A. encampment.
“They’re the most organized part of the entire camp,” Dunn said, smoking a hand-rolled tobacco cigarette. “By necessity, for years and years, they’ve had to remain organized.”
But, Dunn said, it would be a mistake to see the rest of Occupy L.A. as a near anarchy.
“Don’t let the chaotic surface confuse you,” he said, “because running through this entire camp are veins of collective agreement that still do manage to pull this movement in a genuine direction.”
The veins of agreement have been enough to establish organizations in the encampment. At the People’s Collective University on the east side of city hall, Max Funk, who shut down his successful startup in Silicon Valley in 2008 to devote himself to researching market equilibrium, was preparing to teach an economics class. A meal was being prepared at the nearby food tent, and people were perusing the books on offer at the library.
But true to Dunn’s observation, the only spiritual presence I saw at Occupy L.A.—aside from the uninhabited Sukkah frame—was a single tent with a sign that said, “Meditation Temple; No shoes, Silence please. Free Yoga @ 5 pm.”
October 25, 2011 | 5:44 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
The 22-year-old son of a teacher at Valley Torah High School died in a car accident on La Cienega Boulevard near Rodeo Road Monday afternoon.
Shimon Grama, the son of Rabbi Daniel and Ruth Grama, was heading home from the airport when he was involved in a major accident. He was brought to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the LAPD.
Grama was eulogized at a service at Beth Jacob Congregation on Tuesday afternoon and will be flown to Israel for burial, according to Yeshiva World News.
Rabbi Daniel Grama previously taught at YULA boys school and now teaches at Valley Torah High School for boys in Valley Village.
According to Yeshiva World News, Shimon Grama was invovled in various charitable organizations and volunteered last summer for Kids of Courage, which takes terminally ill children on week-long vacations.
October 25, 2011 | 5:11 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
“Up until 1948, the Jewish nation had no one at the other end of the 911 call, we were a nation without a home.” So explained the guide at the Israel Independence Museum in Tel Aviv as he described the situation of Holocaust survivors post-WWII. “How do you know the war is over? When you can pack and go home. The U.S. packed and went home. The British packed and went home. The Jews had nothing to pack and no home to go to.”
I shudder thinking about it. I’ve lived in four states and a different apartment every day since I left home to go to college, and yet, I always had a home base, a permanent address, a place to call in a crisis, a place to return. I’ve had apartments that became a home, and rooms that remained foreign. But no matter where I slept at night, I always knew I had a home with my family as a safety net. Hence the unbelievable meaning the David Ben Gurion’s declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. A Jewish Homeland. Not a land filled with housing and aid, but a land to call their own. Home. It’s where we are supposed to be safe and protected, cherished and loved.
Without a home lies only fear and vulnerability, isolation, and loneliness. So for the first time I get a glimpse of how Israel must have felt like the national parent for desperate immigrants. The replacement for a home destroyed and life erased. I get it a bit more, get a touch of the Zionist bug, understanding a little more why so many kiss the soil upon arriving in Israel.
Its the same reason why I kiss my parents when I go home to visit.
October 24, 2011 | 3:33 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
It’s like being 5 years old again where the only criteria for friendship come down to: “you like goldfish crackers? Me too! Lets be best friends!” Traveling with 400 fellow Los Angeles Jews to Israel for the Greater Los Angeles Jewish Federation Centennial mission, bonding is boiled down to “You’re on the Young adult bus too? Great! Let’s be friends!” We commiserate in the plane aisles during the 14-hour flight, stretching sore limbs and rubbing sleep-deprived eyes. But despite the fact that we arrived as strangers at LAX, by the time we’re in the air, I’ve found a circle of friends, a community, as we share this journey to Israel.
We’re a blend of seasoned travelers and, like me, Israel virgins who are waiting to see what the magic everyone speaks of when discussing Israel is all about. The Check-in agent grills me: How long am I traveling for? With whom? Why am I going? What’s the purpose of my trip? Answers like “touring with the Federation” don’t seem to cut it, so I give the only answer I have, the real answer to why I’m embarking on this trip for the first time at aged 31. “What’s the purpose of the trip? To fall in love with Israel.”
But despite my answer, I’m not feeling the expected excitement. I’m still stuck in pre-travel anxiety ranging from the long flight, the change in routine, and the worry about leaving my puppy behind. I kibbutz with new friends through the security line and waiting at the gate, but as I’m about the board, I lose my footing and instead make an emergency call to my mom in tears. “Mom, I’m freaking out. Tell me again why I want to go…” And my mother, who knows me better than any other, reminds me of what I already know. I’m going because I’ve been waiting to see Israel for 15 years, because its going to be the experience of a lifetime, because I’ll be fine once I’m there, and because, according to her, it’s the only place where it’s easy to be comfortable in your own skin. Because it’s the comfort of home despite being a strange land. She promises I’ll return begging for another trip back.
The wheels just touched down and I look over this homeland, this fought-over soil, this treasured history. I catch a glimpse of Israeli magic and I hope she’s right.