For most, it was a first visit to Israel; for Assemblyman Mike Feuer, it was a return after 22 years to the Jewish state. But for each of the seven state assemblymembers who have just returned from a legislators' mission led by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, during which they visited the Dome of the Rock, met with the parents of kidnapped Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser and talked to California students studying independently abroad, the goal was to introduce them to an Israel they didn't know.
"A lot of these people who go on this trip are well read and follow international issues. But to be there and see where Gaza is and how close it is to Sderot and to see how far Gaza is from the West Bank -- one of our legislators didn't realize that. You can read about those things, but to be there firsthand really solidifies it," Caron Spector, The Federation's director of government relations, said.
Co-sponsored by the San Francisco JCRC, the seven-day delegation included assemblymembers Feuer (D-Los Angeles), Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Sally Lieber (D-San Jose), John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Ted Lieu (D-El Segundo), Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) and Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles).
Each legislator came back with a different story, chronicled at The Federation's JCRC page at jewishla.org. Several said they wanted to work toward a solution for students from the University of California and California State University who for the past five years have had to drop out of school to study abroad in Israel. (The UC Office of the President has made efforts to improve this process, and some of the UC Regents have voiced a similar concern.) Others brought home ideas from the world's largest desalination plant. And some were just in awe at the challenges of Israeli daily life.
"Huddling this afternoon atop a watchtower less than a football field away from the turmoil of the Gaza Strip -- an IDF blimp perched in the sky to provide neighboring schoolchildren ninety seconds of warning of incoming Hamas rockets -- brought home how fragile, and nerve-wracking, life in the world's only Jewish state can seem," Feuer wrote.
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
PLP Scholarships for MBAs
The Professional Leaders Project (PLP) made available Nov. 15 another round of graduate fellowships for young professionals wanting to work in the Jewish community.
A three-year-old nonprofit that seeks to develop future lay and professional leaders, PLP will offer up to 10 fellowships at any of the top 30 programs offering a master's in business administration or public administration.
"We expect the PLP Fellows to galvanize the American Jewish community, and to challenge the status quo," Arianna Jeret, executive director of the PLP Academic Fellows program said in a statement. "We are not content to merely train competent professionals; we want to develop successful leaders."
The first fellow to graduate was recently hired as executive director of Hillel at the University of Miami. The incoming class of fellows is studying business, education and administration at Brandeis, Yale, New York University, Baruch College and Southern Methodist University.
For an application, visit http://www.jewishleaders.net/web/guest/initiatives/academic-fellowships, or for more information contact Jeret at (310) 544-4120 or Arianna@jewishleaders.net.
Book Fest, Authors Draw Crowds
American Jewish University's (AJU) "Celebration of Jewish Books" drew nearly 5,000 people to the Mulholland campus for a weeklong festival celebrating Jewish literature and its authors during the week of Nov. 6-11.
Beginning with a conversation with the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and culminating with a lavish Sunday book fair, the event organized by Gady Levy, AJU's vice president in charge of the Whizin Department of Continuing Education, attracted some of the biggest celebrities in contemporary Jewish literature. They included Michael Chabon, Anita Diamant, Daniel Handler (of Lemony Snicket fame), Judith Viorst and Naomi Ragen. Others included Kirk Douglas, Larry King and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
Large tents covered the parking lot, where musicians and dancers entertained audiences; a specialty Borders bookstore sold 3,000 books; and crowds waited on lines to have their tomes autographed. Inside, more than 30 celebrity authors engaged in lively conversations about how their Jewish identity has impacted their writing. KorehLA, a literacy program sponsored by The Jewish Federation, collected 270 children's books donated by attendees that will be given to Los Angeles schools in need.
"I am thrilled with the success of 'Celebration of Jewish Books,'" Levy said. "I feel this a very solid beginning for a tradition we expect to continue for many years, one that is much needed in the Los Angeles Jewish community.
-- Danielle Berrin, Circuit Editor
Makom Ohr Shalom, a renewal community in Tarzana, held an interfaith service of prayer and thanksgiving on Friday, Nov. 16, inviting the various groups who pray at their host building, St. Paul's United Methodist Church, for Shabbat services.
"This has been a season of gratitude," said Rabbi Debra Orenstein.
During the High Holy Days she delivered some five sermons about the issue of gratitude, and members of her community have formed "gratitude partners," where pairs study, pray and give thanks together.
"We have so many spoken and unspoken complaint partners, so we decided to deliberately have a gratitude partner," she said.
During the summer, Orenstein and the Rev. Kaye Barre held a "Clergy Swap," where each led the other's congregation and discussed the topic of justice. For the Thanksgiving prayer service, they also invited Muslims, including Jahan Stanizai, a psychotherapist who is president of Culver City Interfaith Alliance and a member of the "Cousins Club," an interfaith group of Jews and Muslims at Makom Ohr Shalom.
About 150 people attended the interfaith Thanksgiving weekend, and in addition to Shabbat services, people talked gratitude -- what it means to give and receive, how to wake up to our blessings and what to do with the blessings in one's life."There are two kinds of interfaith work," Orenstein said. The first is dialogue, where members talk about deep issues and work for public policy. The other, like this Thanksgiving service, is more celebratory.
"We immerse ourselves in an experience that creates community, where we really feel a bond to each other," she said. "I know there will be more opportunities like this when we share a value like justice and gratitude. There are many more such things that we share."
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor