More than 1,500 Jewish students in Los Angeles public and secular private schools attended a weekly Jewish club during lunch hour this year, thanks to the Jewish Student Union (JSU), an independent organization dedicated to bringing a Jewish experience to unaffiliated high school students.
JSU offers free food to entice kids to come to the club, where they might hear a Holocaust survivor, engage in dialogue with Muslim students, pack gift baskets for the ill or simply engage in games or discussions around Jewish themes led by a JSU adviser.
"Most of the kids who are not involved Jewishly are not making a choice to be uninvolved -- they just don't know. So our goal is to teach them enough so they can actually make decisions and choose to be involved," said Jason Ciment, national JSU chairman.
Ciment, who is being honored for his work by the Orthodox Union this month, says that getting kids Jewishly involved in high school ups the chances that they will seek out a Jewish experience in college and after.
Ciment, a Los Angeles businessman, got involved on the ground floor with JSU in 2002. That was when Rabbi Steven Burg, then the West Coast director and now the national director of the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth, took on leadership of a handful of clubs the Bureau of Jewish Education had inherited from the Jewish Community Centers.
From those four original clubs, the organization has grown to 170 clubs serving 6,000 students in 23 cities across North America. JSU is supported by a growing number of federations across the country -- including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Orthodox Union and private foundations, such as the Rachel and Jack Gindi Foundation and Peter and Janine Lowy.
For more information about JSU, visit www.jsu.org.
Limmud LA Conference on the Calendar
A lay-led effort to bring the Limmud Conference to the West Coast gained momentum this month when leaders hired an executive director to help organize the multidisciplinary, multidenominational, multicultural Jewish conference scheduled for next President's Day weekend.
"I hope Limmud will really bring together the Jewish community in L.A.," said Ruthie Rotenberg, the new executive director. "It can play a huge part in building a community where people respect each other's differences but know how to work together."
Founded in England more than 25 years ago, Limmud conferences, usually lasting three to four days, bring together Jews of all denominations, interests and backgrounds for classes, concerts, prayers, art workshops, food and a cohesive Jewish experience. Over the past 10 years, the model -- part conference, part camp, part college -- has been spreading across the globe.
Limmud LA, slated to take place at the Costa Mesa Hilton Feb. 15-18, 2008, was seeded by a matching grant from the Schusterman Foundation. Since last year, about 80 volunteers have been involved in fundraising, marketing, programming and logistics, under the leadership of co-chairs Shep Rosenman and Linda Fife. The group has raised $100,000 toward a $400,000 goal needed to supplement the registration fees, and several grant proposals are pending.
Rotenberg, who previously worked in development at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, sees herself as coordinating and supporting the volunteer effort.
She says the hearty show of voluntarism encourages participants to go back to their own home communities and start other projects, especially once they've been infused with the energy, knowledge and networking opportunities Limmud provides.
So far, presenters include bibliodrama director Peter Pitzele; David Solomon, who has patented an "in-one-hour" (actually, 90 minutes) approach to topics, such as all of Jewish history, the whole Bible or kabbalah; and master teachers Arna Poupko Fischer and Pardes' Rabbi Danny Landes. Local teachers, artists and performers are encouraged to contact Limmud.
Many synagogues, the Chai Center, the Jewish Community Library and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California are supporting the program.
For more information or a weekly podcast on the Torah portion, visit www.limmudla.org or contact email@example.com.
Teen Rocker on a Winning Streak
Sixteen-year-old Jordan Goldstein has taken top honors two years running at Teensong, the Bureau of Jewish Education's (BJE) teen songwriting contest. A graduate of Sinai Akiba, Goldstein is an 11th-grader at Milken Community High School, where he plays jazz piano in the school jazz ensemble and plays electric bass and sings lead vocal in his rock band, Axis. For this year's winning song, "Watch Over Us," with liturgical lyrics set to rock rhythm, Goldstein wrote the song, sang the vocals and played all of the instruments himself, then mixed the parts on his computer to create the final product. Goldstein donated back to the BJE the savings bond he was awarded.
To hear Jordan's song or for more information visit www.myspace.com/jordangsongs or www.bjela.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=57488.
Free Washington Trip for Teens
The Anti-Defamation League has its sights on Los Angeles-area high school students interested in fostering understanding among diverse groups. Students who will be juniors in the fall of 2007 are eligible to apply for the Grossfeld Family National Youth Leadership Mission to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which takes place in November.
The program brings 115 high school students to the nation's capital to learn about the Holocaust and ways to fight prejudice in schools and communities.
Students who attend the Youth Leadership Mission are required to participate in ADL's Dream Dialogue Program, an anti-bias youth education program that includes six meetings per year and a community service project.
Dream Dialogue is open to all high school students who wish to bond across ethnic groups, develop leadership skills, lead discussions in valuing diversity and initiate a community social action project of their choosing.
Applications are due June 1.
For more information, call Shelley Reece at (310) 446-8000, ext. 232, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer School at New Jew
New Community Jewish High School is offering a summer session at its West Hills campus from June 20 to July 24. Acceleration, enrichment and remediation courses will be offered in math, science, Hebrew, Spanish, history and art.
For information, contact Eric Sloate at (818) 348-0048 or visit www.ncjhs.org.