GO WEST, YOUNG COUPLE
There are some new faces at UCLA. Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan were recently hired to be the Torah educator couple for the Orthodox Union's Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC). The Kaplans flew out to Los Angeles from Teaneck, N.J., to replace Rabbi Uri and Julie Goldstein, who will be returning home to the East Coast after three years in Los Angeles.
The JLIC serves to encourage and enhance the observance, commitment and education of Orthodox students and to increase the Torah knowledge of the general Jewish student community on campus.
The Kaplans see their role as salespeople, as well as teachers and counselors, and they plan on making the rounds of Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles "to get the word out about what exists at UCLA in terms of the kosher opportunities, the learning opportunities and the Shabbat opportunities," Aryeh Kaplan said. "We want families of prospective UCLA students to know that they don't have to leave Los Angeles to have a rich Orthodox life as part of their college education."
For more information, visit www.ou.org.
RETURN TO AUSCHWITZ
Auschwitz is one of the most notorious places of Jewish history – synonymous with gas chambers, slave labor and mass graves. Yet few people know that before Auschwitz became the ultimate symbol of the Holocaust, it was a normal town in Poland known as Oswiecim, which had a thriving Jewish community. During World War II, all Jewish life in Oswiecim was obliterated, except for one synagogue.
In 2000, the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation restored the synagogue, purchased the property adjacent to it and established the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
The center, which is just minutes away from the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, is now the only permanent Jewish presence in Auschwitz. The building functions as a synagogue for people to reflect, pray and say Kaddish.
Since its opening, the center has hosted thousands of visitors from all over the world, and it has also established a number of educational programs and scholarships to educate people about the Holocaust and Jewish life in Poland before World War II.
Now, the center is raising money to transform the Klieger House, the home of the last remaining Jew in Oswiecim, into the first Jewish historic house museum in Eastern Europe to provide a deeper experience and a more profound understanding of what Jewish family life was like before the war.
On July 22, Mark Schurgin, chair of the West Coast division of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, and Ron Spire hosted a cocktail reception at Spago in Beverly Hills to inaugurate the West Coast division.
Guest speakers were Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor who was featured in the documentary, "The Last Days," and is now a lecturer at the Musuem of Tolerance, and Klara Firestone, founder and president of Second Generation of Los Angeles.
There was also a presentation by Dr. Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of theology at the University of Judaism.
This month, the Auschwitz Jewish Center will host a mission to Poland and Amsterdam, during which participants will visit the future site of Klieger House.
For more information on the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, visit www.ajcf.org.
Your days may be for working, but your nights can be for mitzvahs, if you attend Congregation Beth Meier's new young professionals program, Mitzvah Nights, a series of dinners designed to promote social bonds and give Los Angeles young professionals an opportunity to give back to the community. The first mitzvah night is on Oct. 15, and will feature guest speaker Adlai Wertman, the CEO of Chrysalis, the Los Angeles based nonprofit devoted to helping economically disadvantaged individuals gain self-sufficiency through employment.
"Beth Meier's mission is to construct community with love for humanity and closeness to Torah," said Rabbi Aaron Benson of Beth Meier Synagogue. "The work of Chrysalis beautifully embodies these values and we are proud to help them in their noble mission.
Other upcoming Mitzvah Night speakers include, Judea Pearl of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, David Suissa of OLAM magazine, and Ari Zev of the Shoah Foundation.
For more information about Mitzvah Nights, call at (818) 769-0515. Beth Meier Synagogue is located at 11725 Moorpark St., Studio City.
MONEY FROM CHOCOLATE
About 250 fans of Israeli education attended the Sept. 18 chocolate-themed fundraiser for the American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU), with an evening event held at the one-time Beverly Hills home of mobster Bugsy Siegel.
The host of Chocolate Affaire was AFHU Western Region scholarship chair Renae Jacobs-Anson, who told those assembled that "the new wave of Zionism is our support for education."
The event attracted Jacob-Anson's childhood friends, such as Kim Gladstone, who flew in from Detroit.
"It's a great way to combine higher education and support for Israel," said Gladstone, a nonprofit executive.
"I knew Renae when I was 8," said Susan Feinstein, a Valley Village food processing executive. "I gave a big donation so now I come to all the events. Actually, it's the only charity I've given to so far."
Actress Renee Taylor of "The Nanny" walked through the party barefoot since her shoes were being auctioned along with a chinchilla coat that fetched $2,300 and a $3,500 private jet weekend getaway to Las Vegas.
The event's honorary chair, Richard Ziman of Arden Realty, said the AFHU's $10 million Campaign for Students was critical because budget cuts and exhaustive counterterrorism measures mean the Israeli government now is funding less than 30 percent of Hebrew University's budget, compared to 62 percent in more peaceful years.
"There is no institution equal to the Hebrew University outside of perhaps [schools in] the United States," Ziman said.
The $150-per-ticket evening included gift bags from Gay Jacobs, the host's sister-in-law who included all manner of things chocolate, even chocolate chip cookie-scented cologne, chocolate-scented massage oil and soap, a copy of Chocolatier magazine and most, fittingly, a slim volume titled "The Great Book of Chocolate." – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
West Hollywood's expansive Pacific Design Center hosted the Liberty Film Festival Oct. 1-3, where Jewish Republicans joined their fellow conservatives in watching decidedly politically incorrect films such as the comedy short, "Greg Wolfe: Republican Jew" and three documentaries dissecting filmmaker Michael Moore.
The festival ended on a Jewish note with a rare print screening of Cecil B. DeMille's Bible blockbuster "The Ten Commandments," which was to movie ticket sales in 1959 what Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ, was to this year's box office.
"If there has ever been a sure-fire box office formula, it's the religious epic. How can this mighty engine of popular culture that flourishes beyond these walls ignore that?" said radio talk show host Michael Medved, who flew in from his Seattle home on his 56th birthday to introduce the DeMille epic.
KABC radio talk show host Larry Elder, a fixture at the annual Israel Independence Day festival in the Valley, received a standing ovation for his anti-Moore film, "Michael and Me," about the Second Amendment. Similar standing praise was given to Jewish screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd's "Celsius 41:11," which included Medved as a talking head. Besides the Moore films, the festival hosted the pro-Israel documentary "Relentless" and the 1942 drama "Desperate Journey," starring Ronald Reagan.
In its maiden voyage, the festival received support from conservative scribe David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the local chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition and RJC leader and Santa Monica dentist Dr. Larry Strom and his wife, Holly. – DF