John Fishel’s e-mail box has been overflowing with some 150 messages protesting the elimination, for budgetary reasons, of special programs for the Russian Jewish community.
Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, on Monday confirmed the cut and the termination as of July 1 of Alla Feldman, the veteran liaison between the Bureau of Jewish Education and the immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
One missive came from Vitaly Faybisovich, a senior engineer with the Southern California Edison Company, who wrote that the special programs gave “Russian-speaking, but not religious, Jews the unique opportunity to educate themselves, their children and grandchildren about Jewish values.”
But the last word hasn’t been spoken on the subject.
On Monday morning, Eugene Levin, president of the Association of Soviet Jewish Émigrés and publisher of the Panorama Media Group, and two of his colleagues met with Fishel to figure out what could be salvaged.
Levin came out of the meeting hopeful that the long-standing program, which has focused on teaching Judaism and holiday observances, could survive on a reduced scale, and he anticipated a resolution within a week.
Fishel was less sanguine. He argued that what was needed was a shift in emphasis from familiarizing older Russian immigrants with Jewish religion and culture, to encouraging their children and grandchildren, including those born in the United States, to establish their own identity and institutions.
“In contrast to the Israeli and Iranian expatriate communities in Los Angeles, the Russians have so far established only a few local community organizations or institutions, Fishel said.
Estimates on the size of the local Russian Jewish community fluctuate widely, from the 100,000 cited by some expatriate spokesmen to the 50,000 “working number” cited by Fishel.
Fishel said he had asked Levin and his colleagues to prepare a long-range plan on the future of the Russian Jewish community in Los Angeles.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Foundation FundsFive Local Schools, Teacher Training
The Jim Joseph Foundation’s purpose is to propel young American Jews toward leading vibrant Jewish lives, and the foundation is putting its money where its mission is.
In two new initiatives, the San Francisco-based foundation has announced a challenge grant of $12.7 million to five local Jewish schools and a $3.2 million endowment for outstanding American Jewish educators to take part in a two-year program in collaboration with Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
The Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles (YULA) will recognize the foundation’s commitment to Jewish education at an inaugural endowment dinner on Monday, June 22, at the California Science Center.
Recipients of the $12.7 million grant are YULA Boys School, YULA Girls School, Milken Community High School, New Community Jewish High School and Shalhevet High School.
The purpose of the grant is to “both stabilize and incrementally increase the enrollment of students from middle-income families, as well as to build capacity in the schools to support day school education,” according to the foundation.
The foundation’s support is crucial at a time when Jewish schools are coping with the effects of the economic recession, said Rabbi Heshy Glass, head of YULA’s Boys School.
The other grant, for $3.2 million, will underwrite the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowships — Leading Educators Online Program, known as Fellows Program, for short.
Under the program, Jewish educators from schools, congregations, camps and community centers will be trained to lead online communities of their fellow professionals in various educational fields.
The Fellows Program “will change and enhance the way future Jewish educators around the world network, learn and grow,” said Shalom Berger, the program’s co-director.
A key resource for the program will be Bar-Ilan University’s Lookstein Center, which, among other academic activities, has been training Jewish educators in the Diaspora for 30 years.
During the two-year program, the 14 selected fellows will keep their present positions, but will also attend three retreats in the United States and two 10-day seminars in Israel.
The seminars will be held on the Bar-Ilan campus in the new $11.5 million Jim Joseph Building for Jewish Education and Values, which will be dedicated Oct. 20.
Jim Joseph was 4 years old when his family fled Austria shortly before the outbreak of World War II and settled in Los Angeles. During a successful business career, he acquired and developed commercial and residential properties, mainly in northern California.
Joseph established the foundation during his lifetime and devoted it to enhancing Jewish education in the United States.
Through its outreach activities, the foundation explores how young Jews in contemporary American society engage in Jewish learning and how that learning shapes their Jewish identity.
Joseph died in 2003 at the age of 68.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Initiative RaisingMoney for CaretakerSinge-Fathers
While many Angeleno families will be celebrating Father’s Day with brunches, beach trips and Sunday matinees, an unlucky few will be sitting at the bedside of a critically ill child. Although caring for sick children is difficult for any family, the emotional and economic burden can be particularly hard on single fathers.
This Father’s Day, the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation is collecting assistance for single-father families of children with life-threatening illnesses through its Dedications 2 Dads initiative. The foundation will be accepting anything that can help a single father in need, from money to a bag of groceries.
When the family of a critically ill child is hit with a financial crisis and lacks all other resources, social workers at affiliated hospitals send urgent requests to the foundation. This money covers foreclosures, medications or even a wig for a self-conscious teenager who is returning to school after chemotherapy. According to the foundation, $10 pays for a trip to the hospital; $150 brings a grandparent home to assist the father or care for other, perhaps neglected, siblings. This funding also allows a father to stay at home, free from financial concerns, at a time when his child needs him most.
Valerie Sobel founded the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation after her teenage son died suddenly and unexpectedly of a malignant brain tumor. Valerie’s husband, unable to live past the unveiling of his son’s tombstone, fatally shot himself exactly one year after his son’s death.
In the wake of her grief, Sobel became an advocate for parents of critically ill children who lack monetary resources. Her foundation focuses particularly on single-parent households in which a caretaker often must chose between work and being physically present at the bedside of a sick child.
“When a parent loses a beloved child, something inside changes,” Sobel said. “When our 19-year-old Andre died, in time I began to understand that to have had the love of my husband and financial resources was good fortune in the middle of our tragedy, and that not all families are this fortunate.”
Although donations do not entirely cure the pain, Sobel believes that charity is necessary because it enables a parent to worry only about what is important: physically being there for a suffering child’s journey.
Sobel, herself, is not unaccustomed to the generosity of strangers. Three days following her birth in Hungary in 1941, Sobel was taken in by a non-Jewish family and stayed in numerous safe houses after her father was taken to a Nazi labor camp. Sobel later fled communist Hungary with her parents in 1956.
“Mitzvot come full circle in the darkest circles of our lives,” Sobel said. “Not every instance of mitzvot is what we do, but many are what has been done for us, and that encourages us to pass it forward. Everything is connected.”
For more information or to donate, visit andreriveroflife.org and click on the Dedications 2 Dads icon.
— Laura Stampler, Contributing Writer