Like many Jewish students, Jenny Lester likes to argue -- so she joined the debate team at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. But even if she qualifies for next year's statewide tournament, the junior won't be able to compete because it begins on April 19 -- the first night of Passover.
Lester's debate coach at Taft, Doug Lasken, has been trying since early June to get the tournament moved from seder night -- an important family rite and the most observed ritual on the Jewish calendar. But letters from the Los Angeles and San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Councils have not convinced the California High School Speech Association (CHSSA) to change the date, which has been on the calendar since last September.
The tournament, scheduled to take place this year at Santa Clara University, attracts thousands of students, coaches, parents and judges, who stay in area hotels for three days of competition in impromptu speaking, debates and prepared speeches.
CHSSA President Sharon Prefontaine says the group is already locked into contracts with the university and several area hotels. In addition, CHSSA's bylaws require the state tournament to be held on one of the last two weekends in April, and the Santa Clara venue was not available on the later date.
"It is not CHSSA's reluctance, but its contractual and ethical commitments that are the key factors preventing it from changing the dates of the state tournament," Prefontaine wrote in a letter to The Jewish Journal.
Prefontaine says no one on the committee objected to the dates when they were finalized over three meetings last year, when it would have been procedurally appropriate and change may have been feasible.
"I feel very responsible for this," said Neil Barembaum, CHSSA's treasurer and a debate coach at a downtown L.A. high school. "As the Jew most active on the council, I certainly should have caught the problem back in September."
Barembaum has given CHSSA a long-term calendar, and says the issue may arise again in 2016.
"The fact that we have made the CHSSA aware of the issue, and they have noted the dates of Pesach in future years in order to avoid future conflicts, is a success," said Caron Spector, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Spector, along with Jackie Berman of the San Francisco JCRC, sent letters to Prefontaine in early June, hoping to get the dates changed, but CHSSA, which operates on an academic calendar and shuts down for the summer, never responded.
Spector said that while it seems clear the dates will not be moved, the Jewish community should still make its voice heard.
Lasken doesn't think that will be a problem.
"I think there is going to be so much more outrage in the fall when we get back to school and everyone sees the schedule," Lasken said
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor
Republican Jews Rally at Reagan Library
In a library named after the American president who helped topple communism, former Soviet political prisoner and retired Knesset member Natan Sharansky spoke Sunday about the legacy of President Ronald Reagan and the battle between radical Islam and Western values.
"The leader of the free world, who called a spade a spade, who called the Soviet Union [an evil empire], we knew that the Soviet Union would be doomed," Sharansky, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, said at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.
Speaking at the annual banquet of the California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group that's grown in the past four years from 1,500 to 8,500, Sharansky said many Jews oppose policies that would benefit Israel, such as taking a hard stance against Iran, simply because the policies originated in the White House. Conservative support for Israel is the top issue driving the Republican Jewish base.
"I'm not a one-issue voter, but I'm close," said Rick Richman, a West L.A. tax attorney. "What they do right about Israel is they support it. And you've got a president who recognizes that Israel is on the frontline of the war on terror, whose future will set the course of the 21st century."
Richman was among more than 600 Republican Jews willing to drop $125 each to hear Sharansky speak about his friend Reagan and moral courage, no matter how unpopular it is. Conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt closed the evening by speaking about the challenges Republicans will face in the 2008 presidential election.
"The Republicans are going to be saying a very hard thing to hear: 'We are locked into an existential struggle for our existence ... that it is going to be a long and difficult and often bloody 20 or 30 years ahead of us," Hewitt said.
"That is a very difficult message to sell in 60 seconds."
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Weiss Office Vandal Sentenced
Adonis A. Irwin, who posted swastikas on the Sherman Oaks office of Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss, was sentenced on July 3 to nine months in jail and three years probation. Irwin, 32, also was ordered to participate in psychological counseling after pleading no contest to the May 3 vandalism of Weiss' office.
Irwin epoxied three red-and-black printed swastikas onto the doors and left an incoherent mini-manifesto that said "Hail Weiss!! Mein Fuhrer."
Weiss, who is Jewish, represents the city's most heavily Jewish district -- from Century City to Fairfax to the Valley hills. He was in a meeting at the Israeli consulate when notified of the vandalism.
Fakheri Steps Down as President of Eretz-SIAMAK
After nearly 28 years of volunteer work in the local Iranian Jewish community, Dariush Fakheri has resigned as president of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. Fakheri, 58, cited personal reasons for stepping down from his leadership post in April and only recently publicly acknowledged his new plans.
"I wanted to give the new generation the opportunity to contribute and lead," Fakheri said. "I will stay on as a consultant for the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center and all the Jewish organizations in L.A. -- sharing my experiences with them, if asked."
Fakheri was one of the founders of the Iranian American Jewish Association, also known as SIAMAK. The group was formed after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to help new Iranian Jewish immigrants reconnect with one another. Under Fakheri's leadership, SIAMAK was heavily involved in Iranian Jewish youth activities and community outreach, helping to subsidize the food and living expenses of nearly 100 impoverished Iranian Jewish families not being helped by any other local Jewish groups. He has received both praise and condemnation from Southern California Iranian Jews for his frank and often bold criticisms of other local Iranian Jewish leaders, whom he accused of coddling up to the wealthy rather than providing social programs for troubled youth and struggling low-income families.
"We at our organization did a lot of firsts that benefited so many and changed our community's norm," Fakheri said.
In 2004, Fakheri's SIAMAK organization merged with the Eretz Cultural Center and Neria Yomtoubian Organization to form the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, now the largest Iranian Jewish organization in the San Fernando Valley.
Fakheri said he will continue to support the efforts of the Israeli Macabee Games within the Iranian Jewish community and to work as editor-in-chief of the nonprofit Iranian Jewish Chronicle magazine (http://www.ijchronicle.com), which he helped establish nearly 18 years ago.
-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Award Honors Jewish Contributions
The deadline is Aug. 1 for this year's Cohon Award, a $15,000 grant established by Baruch J. Cohon and Claire S. Cohon in honor of Rabbi Samuel S. Cohon and A. Irma Cohon, and given annually to an individual who has benefited Jews, either "by bringing unity to diverse factions of Jews, by education which includes using the arts, or by bringing rescue to those in danger."
Previous winners include the Koppel Family of Cleveland, Ohio, who independently compiled an annual library-oriented reference guide to all Jewish publications; Henry H. Sapoznik of New York, who was a leader in bringing back Klezmer music to Jews and the world; and in 2006, Glenn Richter of New York City and Simon Frumkin of Studio City, California, leaders in the Soviet Jewry movement.
Information and applications can be found at www.cohonaward.com or by contacting The Rabbi Samuel S. and A. Irma Cohon Memorial Foundation, Box 35092, Los Angeles, CA 90035.
-- Staff Report
BBYO Campers Get Busy in L.A.
For two weeks, 40 Jewish teens from across the country will spend their summer days serving people in Los Angeles instead of shopping at the mall or swimming in the pool. The two-week community-service program, a project of BBYO (formerly affiliated with B'nai Brith), began Monday.
Participants in Nitzotz, a BBYO Inc., program in partnership with Jewish Funds for Justice, will tutor students at Hazeltine Elementary School, create and administer a "mini-summer camp" for children involved with LA Family Housing and work with Tree People on environmental beautification.
"The magic of Nitzotz is that it provides the participants the opportunity to experience the core Jewish value of tikkun olam on a meaningful, personal level," said Matthew Grossman, executive director of BBYO. "The notable increase in participation in Nitzotz leading to the launch in LA confirms that today's teens are committed to hands-on service work and making a difference in the world around them."
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