Waiters could barely navigate their way through the schmoozing, kvelling crowd packed into Sephardic Temple for the Bureau of Jewish Education's (BJE) June dinner honoring its executive director, Gil Graff.
A record 430 people attended the event, including about three-dozen rabbis (who didn't get up to speak).
They all came out of respect and gratitude for Graff, who is celebrating his bar mitzvah year as executive director of BJE.
Graff has been at BJE since 1985 and is credited with anticipating and meeting the needs of the 150 schools, 2,500 educators and 30,000 students in day schools and religious schools in the L.A. area. He was lauded as a hardworking professional, a mensch of true humility, and a brilliant scholar and administrator.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Graff has a law degree, a master's in Jewish studies, a master's in educational administration and a doctorate in Jewish history. That he chose to follow his passion and work in Jewish education is a source of amazement and gratitude to many who know him and care about Jewish education.
"Gil Graff is the most extraordinary education executive in the country," said Rabbi Jacob Pressman, who officiated at Graff's bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Am in 1965. "He has such a high level of intelligence, coupled with incredible organizational abilities. He is a humble person of major capacity."
Graff's grown children, Ari, Ilan and Talia, spoke of their father's dedication to teaching Jewish values, even through shows such as "Conan the Barbarian." They recalled his perseverance when he dove into the Mediterranean to retrieve his son's lost shoe, or his passion for work that caused him to pull into The Federation parking lot with his daughter, whom he was supposed to drop off at school, still in the back seat.
BJE President Elaine Lindheim presented Graff with a David Moss Haggadah. Emceeing the evening was BJE board member Dr. Mark Goldenberg. Board members Elisa Schoenfeld and Susan Baum co-chaired the event.
Running Smoothly at Running Springs
More than 100 campers and staffers enjoyed the ropes course, ceramics classes and white-water rafting at Camp Gan Israel's inaugural summer at Running Springs, a new Jewish overnight camp just west of Big Bear. The Chabad Lubavitch purchased the 70-acre facility near Big Bear last year, and 100 girls attended the first session in July. The same number of boys arrived late last week for the second session.
Camp Director Gershon Sandler was pleased with the way the staff -- mostly females from Chabad schools -- worked so well together, helping to integrate the campers who came from diverse backgrounds. Sandler says only about 10 percent of the campers came from Chabad homes. About half came from Los Angeles-area day schools, and the rest were recruited through Chabad's national network of Hebrew schools and synagogues.
Sandler said all the girls -- both from observant and non-observant homes -- looked forward to Shabbat, when the schedule was relaxed, wake-up was later, and the day was filled with walks, stories and singing.
"When you're busy with camp all week, you get to the point where you're tired and looking forward to some rest, and when part of the camp program is Shabbos, and you get all of that, the girls really enjoyed it," Sandler said.
For more information on Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, visit www.cgi.uphigh.com.
Keeping Kids Safe
Jewish Family Service's Aleinu program honored Mitch and Joleen Julis on June 5 at a reception at The Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills. The Julis family underwrote the development of Aleinu's new child safety program designed to reduce children's vulnerability to abduction, abuse and molestation. "We have successfully educated the Orthodox rabbinate and schools on the idea that even religious children from religious homes fall prey to vices and influences which are dangerous," said Debbie Fox, director of Aleinu Family Resource Center.
According to Fox, the Aleinu Halachic Advisory Board evaluated every aspect of the program and its materials to insure cultural sensitivity as well as the appropriateness and clarity of the message.
The Julis Child Safety Program will begin this fall in local Orthodox elementary schools in first through fourth grades. Orthodox schools throughout the United States and Canada are anxious to bring the program into their cities as well. The goal of the Julis family is to educate 10,000 children nationally in 2006-2007.
"Mitch and I are proud to have been instrumental in the development of this program," Joleen Julis said. "Abuse and exploitation are problems that cannot be swept under the carpet. We are impressed by the way Aleinu uses innovative ideas, hard work, and relentless dedication in responding to and meeting the needs of our community's children."
-- Julie Brown, Contributing Writer