Less than a year after moving into new quarters in Van Nuys, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center (JCC) has announced it will shutter its doors in June.
Falling membership renewals, fewer facility rentals and declining donations have created a financial crisis that leaves the JCC “no option but to close at the end of the school year,” executive director Marla Minden wrote in a letter to the center’s community dated April 23.
“We tried to work it out from every angle, but there are too many variables,” Minden said in a telephone interview. “We were forced to make this sad decision, and everyone feels a sense of loss.”
The JCC, which moved to its current site on Friar Street from its longtime Sherman Oaks location on Burbank Boulevard last July, struggled to adapt to changes in revenue amid a faltering economy, Minden said.
The center did not have to pay rent at its former location, while the new site costs $17,500 per month. The JCC’s nursery school has been running at capacity with 75 children, but could support as many as 120 children at the old facility. Enrollment in the center’s after-school childcare program has dropped to 25 children, despite being licensed for 50.
The JCC’s board of directors had been counting on facility rentals to recoup operating costs, but few requests for rentals materialized as the recession hit, Minden said. At its former site, the JCC took in between $80,000 and $100,000 yearly from weddings, b’nai mitzvah and film shoots. “That weighed heavily on our decision,” she said.
Among those displaced by the JCC’s closure will be the school families already enrolled for the fall, the 40 to 60 seniors who attend free enrichment classes on site and several Jewish community groups that contract with the center to use its rooms.
Nursery school and child care will continue as usual through the end of the academic year, Minden said. The center will also continue its weekly Shabbat services and other holiday events until it closes its doors June 19.
The JCC relocated to Van Nuys last summer after a failed four-year quest to buy its Sherman Oaks site, which the center had used for almost 50 years. Board members had wanted to purchase the site after becoming an independent nonprofit in 2004, but the Jewish Community Centers Development Corp. instead sold the property to a local school, The Help Group, in 2007.
— Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer
Israeli Rabbis Advocate for Compassion and Inclusivity in Orthodoxy
Five Modern Orthodox synagogues participated in citywide Yom HaAtzamaut scholar-in-residence program last weekend with some of the top leaders of Israel’s religious Zionist rabbinate. Organized by the Religious Zionists of Los Angeles (RZLA), the Shabbaton brought L.A. Jews together to consider tough issues such as the Charedi stronghold over lifecycle rites and conversion in Israel, and how the Orthodox can interact with secular society in a more nuanced way to better evoke the compassion and inclusivity of Torah observance.
“The Dati Leumi [nationalist religious] community realizes it is part and parcel of a larger society called Israel, concerned not just with religion but with the entire community. That is what we were trying to impart,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, one of the event sponsors. Other participating congregations were Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, B’nai David-Judea and Mogen David in the Pico-Robertson area, and Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park.
The rabbis were: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, who for years has fought for a modern voice in Israel’s religious life; Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, who leads the Rambam synagogue in Jerusalem and is involved with Bet Morasha, an institute dedicated to meeting the modern world with Jewish values; Rabbi Seth Farber, who heads Itim, an institution that helps Israelis navigate past rabbinic roadblocks to lifecycle events and conversion; Rabbi Ari Berman, former rabbi of the Manhattan Jewish Center, now living in Israel; and Rabbi David Stav, leader of a religious Zionist yeshiva and a founder of Tzohar, an umbrella group for religious Zionist rabbis in Israel.
The rabbis each spoke at the synagogues, and then at panels Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. The event was widely lauded for its honesty and inspiring talks. Muskin hopes it is the first of a yearly citywide Yom HaAtzmaut scholar-in-residence program.
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer
Heschel Students See Another Butterfly
Culminating a yearlong project involving art, history, personal connection and social responsibility, students at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge unveiled a memorial wall where painted ceramic butterflies commemorate Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Students, parents, grandparents, faculty and supporters painted the 800 butterflies now perched amid words of affirmation on the “Wings of Hope” wall, part of a global project to memorialize the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.
Following the dedication of the wall, eighth-grade students presented filmed interviews they conducted with Holocaust survivors. With the help of Facing History and Ourselves, the students worked in groups of six with each survivor, asking them sensitive and probing questions about how one rebuilds a life in the aftermath of tragedy and what life lessons the survivors could share. The event honored the survivors, who were present to share their stories with the students.
“Adolescence is a time when students begin to think about the world and their relationship to it. By exploring history and the stories of individuals who were personally affected by the consequences of hatred and violence as well as by acts of courage and compassion, students see how personal choices make a difference,” said Marti Tippens Murphy, associate director of Facing History and Ourselves.
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer
Thousands Gather for Holocaust Remembrance
More than 3,000 Angelenos, including the mayor and other political leaders as well as survivors, their children and grandchildren, gathered near the Holocaust Monument in Pan Pacific Park on Sunday, April 26, for the annual remembrance of the six million murdered Jews.
There were songs of mourning and defiance, prayers, pledges of “Never again,” and tributes to the martyrs and to the relatively few who survived the slaughter.
Included were remarks by Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Theodore Bikel, Jona Goldrich, E. Randol Schoenberg, Richard Mahan, a reading by African American poet Jim White, and a memorable incident related by Israel Consul General Yaakov Dayan.
It was the winter of 1944, during the bitter fighting on the Eastern front, when a Soviet officer saw a running man, clad in a concentration camp uniform, Dayan said.
The officer told the man to stop, but he only ran faster. The officer kept repeating the command, but the man kept running, and eventually the officer caught up and told the breathless man, “Don’t be afraid, I am a Jew.”
“That’s a lie,” answered the man, “I am the only Jew left in the world.”
Dayan paused and then added, “That Soviet officer was my father, and the encounter in the forest haunted him for the rest of his life.”
Guest speaker Daniel Goldhagen, author of two penetrating books on the Holocaust, cited three prevalent myths about the Shoah:
The perpetrators were just the Nazis, not the ordinary Germans.
The perpetrators were only the Germans, not people of other European countries.
The extent and scale of the Holocaust could be achieved only through modern technology.
Goldhagen, whose upcoming book will deal with modern genocides, noted that close studies of such slaughters in Rwanda or Cambodia in no way lessen the horror of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust does remain unique, he added, because the perpetrators sought to exterminate every single member of the “target group” anywhere in the world.
Consuls representing a dozen countries attended the ceremony, which also included songs and music by Bikel, cellist Barry Gold and the TOVA Concert Singers.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Local Youths Remember
The Citywide Youth Commemoration on Wednesday, April 22 at Pan Pacific Park brought together more than 2,800 students from 25 Southern California-area elementary, middle, and high schools to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust.
The majority of the program featured student representatives from participating schools speaking about the history of the Holocaust and Nazi propaganda.
Students and faculty from Olive Vista Middle School in Sylmar have attended the event for four years, and this year four of their students read during the program. Leonard Goldberg, a teacher at Olive Vista, said that although the school is predominantly Latino and does not have a large Jewish population, it was important for the students to attend and learn to treat their fellow human beings with empathy and compassion.
The event was held in front of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument and the future site of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Jona Goldrich, who spearheaded the building of the monument and the museum, also helped to fund the youth event. During his remarks on stage he said, “We have to teach [the Holocaust] in schools so that this doesn’t repeat itself again.”
Rabbi Avi Navah of the Kadima Heschel West Middle School delivered the invocation and E. Randal Schoenberg, chairman of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust followed with the opening remarks. The Sinai Akiba Academy Choir and Cantor Yonah Kliger provided musical interludes. Also included in the program were remarks by Holocaust survivor Renee Firestone; poet, Jim White; Allyson Rowen Taylor from People Against Hate Speech; and Janice Kamenir-Reznik from Jewish World Watch.
Kamenir-Reznik stressed that the students must learn from the Holocaust and act now to change their world. She instructed the attendants to take out their cell phones and text “End the genocide in Darfur” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She added, “The youth of our community ... must feel responsible. Responsible for those in your school who are made fun of and ridiculed ... responsible for those anywhere in the world who are targeted by viciousness and bigotry.”
A traveling exhibition titled “No Child’s Play” from Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Art Museum brought to light the lives of the one and a half million Jewish children who were killed during the Holocaust and the mere thousands that survived.
— Jason Lipeles, Contributing Writer
Museum of Tolerance Highlights Iranian Threat
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, confronted the dangers of modern day anti-Semitism in his keynote address in the Yom HaShoah Commemoration at the Museum of Tolerance on April 21.
Hier weaved discussion of Iran’s threat and the myths of the Israel lobby with stories of Holocaust survivors. “Today, more than five million Jews live in the State of Israel. What took Hitler five years to implement through the final solution would take just a few hours to accomplish should Iran acquire nuclear weapons,” Hier said.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, gave a live-feed report from Geneva, Switzerland, where he was attending the Durban II conference. He described “tremendous emotion in the hall” when representatives from 27 nations left the room after Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an offensive comment about the Holocaust.
Previous to this live feed, the resiliency of Simon Wiesenthal, the famous “Nazi hunter” and the center’s namesake, was celebrated in a short video commemorating 100 years since Wiesenthal’s birth.
The event included performances by six European and Asian musicians who participated in the Ostracized Music Project, which teaches musicians from Germany and throughout Europe the music of Jewish composers whose lives were cut short by the Holocaust. Also on the program were remarks by Gil Artzyeli, deputy consul general for the Israeli Consulate; Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss; and Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance.
Afterward, the museum unveiled a bronze sculpture in honor of Yom HaShoah by Mexican artist José Sacal. A multimedia exhibition put together by five German high school students titled “Persecuted, Proscribed, Expelled — The Lives of Musicians During the Nazi Era” was also on display.
— Jason Lipeles, Contributing Writer
Threat of Attack on Hamilton High Found in Bathroom
Los Angeles School Police increased patrols at Hamilton High School last week after a message warning of an attack on the school was found in a boys’ bathroom.
“People will die on April 24,” the graffiti began. “Be prepared! Mostly Jews.”
April 24 came and went without incident, but the message, whose author is unknown, still disturbed many on campus and in the community, school police Lt. Julio Lima said.
“Obviously we have a student who has problems, may have some anti-Semitic inclinations,” Lima said. “But, more likely, I think we are dealing with a kid who knows what buttons to push and knows this is going to upset a lot of people.”
Mid- to late-April has been a time of heightened anxiety on school campuses since 12 students and a teacher were killed on April 20, 1999, by two disturbed students at Columbine High School. That day also happens to be Hitler’s birthday, a cause for celebration among white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremist groups.
“We never had a palpable threat,” Lima said, “but we wanted to make sure we had extra patrol on the campus and extra counselors available to deal with whatever fear this may arouse in students or staff.”
— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
The Next American Israeli Idol
Last week a handful of yordim (Israelis who “descended” to America) were given the rare opportunity to make aliyah; that is, to rise back up to Israel — and to stardom. “Kochav Nolad” (“A Star is Born”), Israel’s “American Idol” knock-off, came to Hollywood, literally, to scout talent for its seventh season. After stops in New York, Florida and Atlanta, the show’s director, host and two judges held a round of auditions at the Vanguard nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard for Israeli ex-pats aspiring to become Zion’s Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood but whose Hebrew accents would probably horrify “Idol” judge Simon Cowell.
Auditions were advertised in the American Israeli press, and singers were asked to prepare two songs — at least one in Hebrew — along with a Hebrew song written specially for the show. The Hollywood leg of the tryouts culminated in an Independence Day party hosted by DJ Eliran and DJ Tal at Vanguard on April 23, where the top five L.A. contenders auditioned live on stage for a few hundred of the show’s fans. For the record, this reporter was among the unsuccessful auditioners.
The party was an Israeli pop culture fest with nary an English word heard amid a techno version of the hora and other Israeli disco tunes, although the dance floor only reached a quarter capacity — probably due to the hefty $35 entrance fee.
Nevertheless, toward midnight, the crowd managed to squish together near the stage to watch Tzvika Hadar, Israel’s Ryan Seacrest, (although much more round and informal than the “Idol” host), move along the audition. The show’s veteran judges, Israeli singer Margalit “Margol” Tzanani and journalist-filmmaker Gal Uhovsky, raked the talents with true Cowell severity, choosing only two potential “stars” from the batch. The evening ended with a classically tacky tribute to America with Tzanani singing a dance remix of Springstein’s “Born in the USA.”
Footage of the American auditions will be aired as part of the program in the summer, broadcast in the United States on the Israeli Channel. Israeli Angelenos who made the cut have good reason to exile their Hollywood dreams to the Holy Land. Kochav Nolad has been a ratings hit from the start — a favorite among the tweens — launching successful careers of several pop and television stars, including Ninette Tayeb, Shiri Maimon and Harel Skaat.
— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer
Parliamentarians Encourage Jewish Muslim Dialoguein Britain
The good news is that Europe is not about to be taken over by fanatical Muslims, who would consign Jews to ghettos, or worse.
That fearsome view may have some currency in the United States, but not in the United Kingdom, according to Lord Parry Mitchell, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, whose grandfather arrived in England as a poor tailor from a Polish shtetl.
His Lordship was in town last week with fellow peer Baroness Kishwer Falkner, a Muslim, to lunch with American representatives of both faiths at the Omar Ibn Al Khattab mosque and later to talk about coexistence at USC’s Center for Muslim Jewish Engagement.
Though on his business card, emblazoned with the House of Lords crest, he is Lord Mitchell, the jovial peer democratically invited a lowly member of the Fourth Estate to “just call me Parry.”
The two peers traveled here on behalf of the Coexistence Trust of the United Kingdom, chaired by Mitchell and founded in 2005 with the aim to “promote discussion, cooperation and good relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities” in England and throughout the world.
With that goal in mind, parliamentarians from the House of Lords and House of Commons hold dialogues with Jewish and Muslim students in joint meetings at British universities.
As at American colleges, there have been emotional confrontations between Jewish and Muslim students in England, but the main problem is that they don’t talk to each other at all, in Mitchell’s view.
“Mutual engagement is the key,” said Mitchell, who is the Labor Party’s key advisor on information technology.
While Muslims are more integrated in the American economy than in Britain, the reverse is true for political representation.
Kishwer, a native of Pakistan and the self-described “policy wonk” for the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, noted that 10 Muslims sit in the House of Lords and four in the House of Commons, contrasted to only two Muslim congressmen in Washington.
Jews, who make up one-third of one percent of the British population, do even better, fielding some 60 members among the House of Lord’s 630 lifetime peers (there are an additional 90 hereditary, spiritual and law peers), Mitchell said.
In contrast to their more outspoken American cousins, British Jews have traditionally avoided making waves in public, but that, too, is changing.
“It’s true that up to the 1960s we preferred to keep a low profile,” he said, “but we are now considerably more assertive.”
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor