The recent massacre at the Mercaz Harav seminary in Jerusalem prompted young community leaders to galvanize support for Israel with a nondenominational, nonpartisan rally on March 17 at Sinai Temple in Westwood. Standing in Unity, an inclusive effort of 14 Jewish institutions and grass-roots organizations, including StandWithUs, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and JConnectLA, brought together a diverse network of several hundred young professionals.
The convergence of leaders from the Reform, Orthodox and Conservative movements -- Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts, Rabbi Yitz Jacobs of Aish HaTorah Los Angeles and Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple -- shared one bimah at the event to underscore the importance of Jewish unity. While the circumstances surrounding the show of solidarity were fraught with grief, each of the five speakers, including Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan and event organizer Elannah Cramer -- who hopes to launch Standing in Unity as an issues-oriented advocacy group focused on connecting leading Jewish organizations with the next generation of leadership -- seized on the opportunity to strengthen ties in a modern, but divided Jewish community.
"There are differences in our community, but there is something larger we can focus on that transcends our differences and that is Jewish lives," Jacobs said.
Dayan emphasized the value of Jewish education to better understand the history that has led to the current clash of cultures in the Middle East.
"No matter if it's Haman or Ahmadinejad or Hitler, the Jewish people will always confront its enemies because of our values, because of our education," he said. "We should always speak in one, clear voice because if we stand united, we will prevail -- the State of Israel will prevail."
After a video montage of photographs from the massacre was projected onto the walls of the sanctuary, quiet sobs were heard. Young leaders from sponsoring organizations lit a candle commemorating each one of the eight yeshiva students killed and an estimated $5,500 was raised for the Israel in Crisis Fund, which will be donated to the victims of the attack.
"We are all one mishpacha," Baron said. "We have a role to play both politically and religiously, a responsibility to remind the world who did the killing."
Drawing on the message of the Purim holiday, Wolpe had a different message.
"Acknowledging the character of the enemy doesn't force you to acknowledge your own purpose. And the story of Purim is not the recognition of what is done against us but the recognition of what we must do," he said. "That's the challenge of Purim -- it's not whether we recognize that they're evil, it's whether we become good."
Although the suggested methods for unified support for the State of Israel varied -- from political action to education to character development -- each speaker countered the culture of death with the Jewish affirmation of life, reminding the crowd that with the blessing of life comes a responsibility to remember those whose lives have been taken.
In the end, the crowd rose and sang "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav," their voices as one.
-- Danielle Berrin, Contributing Writer
Federation Board Faces Restructuring Vote
The first measure in Stanley P. Gold's plan to refocus and revitalize The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will be voted on Tuesday, March 25, by the very board of directors that effectively would be dissolved after the measure's passage.
The proposed bylaw changes call for paring the current board -- an organizational behemoth of 133 members -- to at most 43, with a "speedboat" executive committee of at least 14.
"General Electric, which is about 1,000 times larger, has a working board of about 13," Gold said this week. "In order to be nimble and actually get things done in an efficient way, you need a smaller board."
The proposed changes also would create a Community Leadership Congress of up to 125 members that would serve as part think-tank, part forum for communal concerns; increase the frequency of meetings for general Federation members to a minimum of two per year; and designate five "pillar planning and program committees": community, Israel and overseas, Jewish education, leadership development and serving the vulnerable.
Also, no longer would the 20 agencies The Federation heavily supports -- such as Jewish Family Service or the Bureau of Jewish Education or Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters -- have guaranteed seats on the board of directors. (To be sure, the attendance of many of these representatives has been rare.)
"I'm looking for a board that is supportive of Klal Yisrael, not people who support specific interests but who want to do meaningful work for the entire Jewish community," Gold said.
He later stated that agency representatives would be welcome on the board.
"But nobody gets in because of some divine right," he said.
This has caused some concern that member agencies might end up ostracized from The Federation's decisions.
"It's not clear just where they will sit in this structuring," said Gerald Bubis, founding director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who was enthusiastic about the proposed restructuring but told Gold it needs to ensure open communication with support agencies. "Historically, The Federation was created by the agencies. But now you've got a flip where the child has become the father."
Dena Schechter, president of Jewish Family Service, which receives about $3 million of its $27 million annual budget from The Federation, said officials of the social service provider were assured by Gold that their input would be sought after and welcome.
"Who is in the board room is really not our issue," Schechter said. "And we expect to continue working with The Federation in an ongoing and collegial manner."
Before taking over as Federation chair on Jan. 1, Gold said the central focus of his two-year tenure would be making The Federation, to which donations have been at best flat for 15 years, relevant.
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