More than 300 people attending the annual candle-lighting and Chanukah celebration at the JCC at Milken on Dec. 22 witnessed what many consider an extra miracle: the announcement that the JCC is seeking bids on the work necessary to reopen its Olympic-size pool.
In addition to restoring the pool, the showers will be rebuilt and the health and fitness center relocated and revamped.
In making the announcement, Steve Rheuban, JCC board chair, said he expects the pool to be completed by June in time for the summer camp program.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles closed the pool on April 25, 2007, in response to a $250,000 JCC deficit. It offered a one-time $350,000 allocation in return for the JCC giving up its right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Community Campus in West Hills. The JCC rejected the offer and continued to work toward rebuilding its programs and membership, one-third of whom left when the pool closed.
The JCC hired Paul Frishman, a 22-year veteran of the Jewish community center movement, to serve as executive director, in September 2008.
Hanna Livni, former Early Childhood Center director at Kadima Hebrew Academy, will take over as the JCC's early childhood education director on Jan. 12.
"I'm overjoyed," said Earl Lewis, 80, a JCC member for more than 18 years who used to swim a mile a day, three to five times a week. "I think this will breathe new life into the center, and I think most of the members we lost will come back."
Chai Lifeline Makes Wishes Come True
As Chanukah wish lists go, this one was formidable. The teenage girl wanted Ugg boots, a Juicy sweatsuit and tickets for "Wicked."
But when Randi Grossman and Esther Magna read it over, they were determined to get the girl what she wanted. She was, after all, going through psychologically and physically harrowing treatment for brain cancer.
Magna is a volunteer and Grossman executive director at Chai Lifeline West Coast Sohacheski Family Center, which provides auxiliary services for families of children with life-threatening or life-altering conditions. For the past five years, its Chanukah Angels program has solicited wish lists from sick children and their siblings -- anything from "Star Wars" Legos to Strawberry Shortcake pajamas to new bedding to iPods -- and Chai Lifeline finds donors to fulfill those wishes.
Grossman's office becomes a warehouse as the gifts collect, until a volunteer shuttle delivers them for Chanukah.
Magna, a parent at Sinai Akiba Academy who spearheads the Chanukah Angels project, wasn't worried about finding someone to fulfill the teenage girl's list. She has taken the program from just a handful of angels to nearly a hundred this year, mostly by word of mouth in the Sinai community.
And sure enough, at a PTA meeting for the Sinai preschool, Magna announced that she was looking for more angels. A woman stepped up and offered to participate -- at a level that was more than enough to cover the boots, sweatsuit and theater tickets.
Magna said that she has never had trouble finding volunteers -- even a 104-year-old member at Sinai stepped forward. While the donors never meet the patients because of privacy concerns, the family receives a profile of the child, along with the wish list, and often goes to great lengths not only to procure the specific items on the list but to package them in a personalized way. One family glued jewels all over each pink-wrapped gift so it would look like a treasure for the recipient -- a little girl with lymphoma.
That kind of effort and connection is what donors say makes the project so meaningful for them.
"I want them to associate this time of year with getting together with our cousins and our havurah and doing Chanukah together -- we have gelt, and dreidels, and we give a gift to a Chai Lifeline child. That is the connection I want them to make," said Magna, who has two small children.
And it gives her something, as well.
"It's my way of coping with the blessings in my life. I feel so appreciative for my children, that the only way I can deal with my appreciation is by helping Chai Lifeline."
For more information on Chai Lifeline, visit http://www.chailifeline.org.
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer
Immigration From Teens' Point of View
In September, Talma Shultz, a program associate with Facing History and Ourselves, along with photojournalist Rick Nahmias, invited 11th-grade history classes at Carson High School and New Tech High School to create a photography exhibition about immigration.
The result, "The Way We See It: L.A. Teens on Immigration," is on view at the Skirball Cultural Center through Jan. 25. Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit with an extensive program of Holocaust education, focuses on teaching students about the connection between history and today's choices.
Sixteen teams produced one photo each, and a blog documents the immigrant experiences and the student's interaction with their subjects. Eight students also participated in a community conversation about immigration with National Public Radio host Scott Simon.
The students' inspiration came from their own families and neighbors. For example, Dane Ferrari-Esas and Gizelle Claudio chose to focus on Claudio's father for their photo, titled, "Forgotten Service," which shows a trash bag being handed off and tells the story of a man who served his country in the Navy for 20 years, supporting his family in order to bring them to the United States from the Philippines. After his retirement from the Navy, he tried to find work but was rejected every time due to a lack of experience. He now works as a trash collector.
"It's a privilege to be able to work with the students at Carson and New Tech High School ... and to really see how the students are developing your own stories," Shultz told the students. "It's really a privilege to watch you grow in that area."
-- Aldrin Carreon, Contributing Writer