Deep in Coldwater Canyon, an area rife with prime real estate, there is a four-acre plot of land dedicated to the earth. TreePeople, Los Angeles' environmental nonprofit, opened the TreePeople Center for Community Forestry on Oct. 2, a $10-million educational campus that will teach the community how to act green in an urban setting. Actress Annette Bening attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, where she was joined by schoolchildren and public officials. One day after TreePeople founder and president Andy Lipkis led a Rosh Hashanah meditation hike in Temescal Canyon, he announced his intention to "transform our region into one that is safe, healthy and sustainable."
The Benefits of Shul Hopping
The High Holy Days are the one time of year most American Jews (and for that matter, Jews the world over) are doing the same thing: going to synagogue. The High Holy Days, after all, are supposed to be about religion -- our collective consciousness filled to the brim with thoughts of reflection, repentance and God -- but in another way, this time of year engenders the kind of excitement for getting dressed and seeing everyone you know the way the red carpet does.
With the requisite fashions, the ubiquitous schmoozing and all the big machers getting their aliyot during the binding of Isaac, the High Holy Days are the Jewish world's version of the Oscars -- unequivocally the biggest social event of the Jewish calendar.
There is a particular vantage point, however, from which the social aspect becomes especially manifest. I call it "shul hopping." In a city like Los Angeles where there are myriad options for where and how and with whom you can spend your holiday, more and more people are taking up the trend of diversifying their synagogue lives the same way they would diversify mutual funds.
This year, here's how it went for me: Erev Rosh Hashanah at Sinai Temple, Rosh Hashanah Day One at IKAR and Rosh Hashanah Day Two at Nashuva. Total cost: $180. The holiday began with something of a rock-concert vibe and a congregation of almost 2,000 people. It continued with a six-hour davening spree (just like those long Academy Awards broadcasts) with drumming, chanting and a very intense series of "ay-yay-yays." It ended after a morning hike, in a Mount Sinai-type setting, with services in a meadow nestled between mountains.
As a "shul hopper," one is not limited to a single synagogue for community. Some might argue that you cannot fully integrate into any community without the proper investment of time and commitment. But, on the other hand, the opportunity to experience a dramatically varied and rich spectrum of Jewish worship, rabbinic leadership and peoplehood instills a broader sense of what Jewish community can be. You don't "belong" to a synagogue. You belong to a community of shared values.
I felt myself pretty lucky to have friends in all three places. I didn't have to worry about wearing the same outfit twice (I even got to wear tennis shoes to Nashuva) and best of all, I had the privilege of learning from Rabbis David Wolpe, Brian Schuldenfrei, Ahud Sela, Sharon Brous and Naomi Levy all in the span of 48 hours. (See? It really is like the Oscars!)
This year was also the first time I didn't spend at least one holiday with my family in Miami, Fla., but with three amazing communities here, I still felt at home.
Dems for Israel Gather in the Garden
Coming off the heels of an energized Democratic National Convention, Democrats for Israel Los Angeles threw a party of their own. One-hundred pro-Israel activists gathered for the annual Garden Party on Sept. 7 in Cheviot Hills, where California State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) was honored alongside L.A. County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman. After the requisite schmoozing, organizers galvanized support for the Obama-Biden ticket by soliciting volunteers to do outreach in political battleground states like Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Ohio.
Pinwheels for Peace
In honor of the International Day of Peace, elementary school students from Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy joined children around the globe wishing for "whirled peace." About 250 children at the Temple Beth Am day school took part in "Pinwheels for Peace" on Sept. 21, a yearly international art project.
Pressman Academy students made paper pinwheels in art classes, then "planted" them on school grounds using sticks and pipe cleaners. The vivid pieces feature personal pleas -- in English and Hebrew -- for peace in Israel, an end to the war in Darfur and an end to hunger, to name a few.
"The idea was to write down their hopes, wishes, prayers and aspirations for peace in the new year," said Jill Linder, Judaic studies principal at Pressman Academy. "We thought this sounded like a really interesting project."
So interesting, in fact, that the school got Magen, an elementary school in Tel Aviv, to participate as well. Pressman and Magen have been partners for the past 12 years through The Jewish Federation's Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership, which pairs schools in each city for cultural exchange projects.
Pinwheels for Peace's popularity has nearly spun a worldwide phenomenon since the program's 2005 founding by two Florida art teachers. Last year, more than 1.2 million pinwheels were spinning in more than 2,500 locations, in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
"We're always trying to teach students that they're part of a larger community," Linder said. "This got them to think about how they can take a role in making the year better for themselves and for other people."
-- Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer
Photo: (From left) Assemblyman-nominee John A. Perez, L.A. County Democratic Chair (and honoree) Eric Bauman and DFI-LA President Andrew Lachman.