Several times during my visit with Rabbi Karmi Gross at Maimonides Academy, coaches and kids came to pull balls out of the corner of his tiny office in a prefab building smack in the middle of the schoolyard. It didn't seem to bother Gross, who smiled at them as he did at the teachers and other staff who came in and out of the adjoining office just a few feet from his chair.
Gross knows the campus leaves something to be desired, but that, he says, is part of the school's charm. You know, he claims, that any family who comes to Maimonides does so not out of convenience or because they are impressed with the facilities, but because they want to be part of the school.
Tucked behind the Beverly Center and the Hotel Sofitel, Maimonides Academy straddles the border of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, with a cul-de-sac dissecting the school. Part of the campus is the old school building, built in 1985 when the school was still known as Sephardic Hebrew Academy (it was changed in 1992). Another building, added in 1994, is a converted nightclub, which explains the mirrored stairwell.
Maimonides, a Modern Orthodox day school, is filled to capacity with almost 500 students -- up from 300 10 years ago.
The school has architectural plans for a new campus at the site, and is working its way through the double municipal bureaucracies of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.
The capital campaign hasn't officially begun, but Gross isn't worried, because there are a lot of people who love the school, he says.
Gross has been at the school for five years, and has worked on revamping the Judaic curriculum, making sure that students in each grade have mastered what they learned before they move on. Judaic studies had been a weak point in the past, he acknowledges, and needed to be improved to keep up with the standards the school has set in being a warm place for families and producing menschy kids.
Gross loves his job, and knows his description of a stunningly dedicated parent body and kids who love the place sounds suspiciously too good to be true. But it's hard to question a principal's sincerity when he's willing to let his office double as a gym shed.
For information about Maimonides Academy, call (310) 659-2456.
Karla de Beer knows that it's a good thing that her 7-year-old daughter, Miranda-Max, is a little bit more calm and collected than her mother.
When Truffles, the family's year-old cocker spaniel, fell into a ravine at the back of the de Beer's Laurel Canyon home last April, de Beer did what any dog-loving woman would do. She tied a rope around her waist, fastened it to the fence above, and rappelled down the 20-foot mountainside to rescue the dog.
Problem was, she couldn't get back up.
Miranda-Max, then 6 and a member of Brownie Troop 1555, sponsored by the Temple Beth Hillel sisterhood, stood up above, holding on to the cell phone, ready to call for help. She heeded her mother, who instructed her to go inside and wait while she tried to get up. After a couple hours, she convinced her mother to let her call 911.
Throughout the whole time, even while she was all by herself, Miranda-Max wasn't afraid, and never cried.
"I just knew I was old enough," said Miranda-Max, now a second-grader at Temple Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village.
The fire department arrived soon after Miranda-Max made the call, and with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises both de Beer and Truffles were brought to safety.
At a Brownie troop meeting in November, Miranda-Max de Beer became only the second girl in her age group in the nation to receive the Girls Scout's Medal of Honor.
After the story was published in Temple Beth Hillel's newsletter, de Beer endured some ribbing. But she thinks it was worth if for what other kids can learn.
"This is something all children should know about -- how they have the ability to be helpful and do good things, even at a very young age," de Beer said.
For information on the Girl Scouts, call (800) 478-7248 or visit www.girlscouts.org. For information on Temple Beth Hillel, call (818) 763-9148 or visit www.tbhla.org.
Daughters of Torah
Mothers and daughters have a chance to bond over Torah study, art and good deeds at a six-week bat mitzvah prep program sponsored by Netivot: Women's Torah Study Institute.
Started a year ago, in part with a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, the program has graduated 35 pairs so far, ranging from Orthodox day school students to those who do not attend Jewish schools.
"It is a very warm, supportive environment that focuses on providing mothers and daughters an opportunity to learn together, and to connect to the strength and beauty of Jewish women in our heritage," Netivot President Irine Schweitzer said.
The next six-week session, designed for sixth- and seventh-grade girls and their mothers or grandmothers, begins Feb. 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The cost is $140 per pair. For more information, call (310) 226-6141 or visit www.netivot.org.
You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at firstname.lastname@example.org or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.