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."The alternative is a slow dissipation," he said after his appointment was approved. "I'm not going to let that happen."
The priorities he outlined then, from streamlining the board of directors to focusing The Federation's energy on a few key programs, are latent in the proposed bylaw changes.
"One of the great misconceptions since Stanley and I got involved is that we want to change everything," said Richard Sandler, The Federation's new vice chair, who drafted the plan with Gold. "There is a tremendous amount of good going on at The Federation and we want to retain it. But in 2008, there is a lot that needs to be done anew. And if we are going to do that, we want to make sure we have the right structure."
Sent to board members last week, the proposal has been received optimistically by many.
"It is a very healthy process he is looking to undertake and definitely should be given a shot," said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair who led the nominating committee that selected Gold.
Added board member Sharon Janks: "It's about time [The Federation] was run like a proper business and not just a mom and pop."
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
JCC Shooting Victims Get $2.25 Million
Five children hurt in a Los Angeles-area JCC shooting have been awarded a total of $2.25 million.
The children -- Ben Kadish, Joshua Kadish, Joshua Stepakoff, James Zidell and Nathan Powers -- all under 10 years old at the time, were injured physically and emotionally when parolee Buford O. Furrow Jr., 46, fired more than 70 rounds at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999.
Under a settlement reached last week, the Washington State Department of Corrections will pay the families who had filed a $15 million claim against the agency for not properly supervising Furrow, who had been amassing firearms, The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. Furrow, a self-avowed white supremacist, had tried to commit himself to a psychiatric hospital in Washington state in 1998 but threatened staff members with a knife. He was arrested and served 5 1/2 months in prison for assault with a deadly weapon.
The gunman told police the JCC attack was a "wake-up call to America to kill Jews," according to the Times.
Furrow also shot a mail carrier to death at point-blank range immediately following his JCC rampage. He is serving a life sentence in prison.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
So Long to Swig
Future Jewish leaders sharpened their skills at Camp Swig in Saratoga (but didn't necessarily cut their hair). Among those who went on to leadership positions are: Top row, far left: Steve Makoff, Camp Swig Director, 1970s Fourth row, far left: Michael Zeldin -Director of the Hebrew Union College Rhea Hirsch School of Education Third row, far left: Debbie Friedman, Internationally known singer and songwriter Third row, second from left: Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood Bottom row, 4th from left: Laurie Nussbaum (maiden name Robinow) , Los Angeles Lay Leader
Alumni from around the country will converge on Camp Swig in Saratoga, April 6, to bid farewell to the towering redwoods and art-covered buildings that served Reform youth from 1953 to 2003.
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), which owns the camp, is in the process of selling the site to a Methodist group. Swig has been closed since 2003 because of issues involving the grounds, including scarcity of water and being located right near the San Andreas Fault.
For several years prior to its closing, campers from Swig had been gradually transferred to Camp Newman, a URJ camp a few hours away in Santa Rosa. Now in its 13th year, Newman has about 1,400 kids a summer -- the largest program of URJ's 12 sites, which served 9,000 kids last summer. The newest URJ site, Camp Kalsman in northern Washington state, opened last summer with 250 kids and is expecting 400 this summer.
Next month's Fond Farewell event offers alumni a chance to conjure their own Swig days of everyone dressed in white for Shabbat, campfire singalongs and prayers in the woods.
"I think a lot of parts ignited for me Jewishly at Swig," said alumna Laurie Nussbaum, who is active in Jewish Family Services of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and at Stephen S. Wise Temple.
Swig alumna Michelle November, chair of the Farewell event, points out that many Jewish leaders spent time at Camp Swig as campers or staffers.
Among those who attended Camp Swig are Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood; Rabbi Jim Kaufman of Temple Beth Hillel; Rabbi Robert Gan of Temple Isaiah; Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea; Rabbi Barry Lutz of Temple Ahavat Shalom; Rabbi Leah Kroll of Milken Community Middle School; Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple; Cantor Wally Schachet-Brisken of Leo Baeck Temple; Michael Zeldin, director of the school of education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles; and Reform singing icon Debbie Friedman.
"Camp played such an incredible role in so many people's lives and inspired us for our careers," said November, who has served as a professional at Heschel West Day School and Stephen S. Wise Temple. "It was a really safe place to be Jewish and a kid and a teenager, as you were trying to figure out who you were going to be."
She hopes to bring people back to those moments at the Fond Farewell, through camp tours, arts and crafts, a kumsitz and a slide show with about 1,000 images of years past.
A ceremony will also mark the removal of sacred -- and mundane -- art from the camp, from the Holocaust memorial, to mezuzot to counselor plaques. A team of experts is marking anything that can be moved, and those items will be rededicated in their new location at Camp Newman in a ceremony July 26.
For more information, visit http://www.urj.org/camps/swigfarewell.
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor