85 Years Young
Rabbi Jacob Pressman is the rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth Am and a veritable Los Angeles institution himself. In addition to serving Beth Am as rabbi, Pressman was also influential in founding the University of Judaism, Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Akiba Academy, Herzl Schools, Camp Ramah, Los Angeles Hebrew High School, Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy (Beth Am's day school, which was named for him on his retirement) and is the founder-president of the Beverly Hills Maple Counseling Center. Pressman is also musically gifted and is known for his penetrating and insightful sermons. He published two books in the past two years – "Dear Friends: A Prophetic Journey Through Great Events of the 20th Century," and "This Wild and Crazy World as Seen From Beverly Hills."
On Oct. 26, Beth Am honored Pressman on the occasion of his 85th birthday, with a gala evening at Temple Beth Am chaired by Judy and Alan Bunnage and Tobie and Larry Schwimmer. "Live at 85," as the event was called, featured performances from Theodore Bikel, John Gabriel, Michele Lee, Craig Taubman, Mare Winningham, Monty Hall and Pressman himself.
Hall and Jokes
The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) threw a 100th anniversary birthday party for itself at the St. Regis Hotel on Nov. 7, and more than 500 of the nonprofit agency's closest friends showed up to celebrate.
Attendees, who paid $250 per ticket, feasted on fish and beef, laughed at emcee Monty Hall's jokes and paid homage to some of JFLA's biggest supporters. The agency recognized longtime benefactor Sylvia Weisz, who launched an interest-free entrepreneurial fund in 1997; Karen and Frank Wurtzel, the founders of an emergency loan fund, and JFLA's COO Evelyn Schecter for her nearly quarter-century of service in the Jewish community.
"I am very excited to have so many community representatives here showing their support for Free Loan," said JFLA Executive Director Mark Meltzer, as he surveyed the crowd at the sold-out event.
Ticket sales from and donations surrounding the gala helped JFLA reach its goal of raising nearly $1 million for its 18 loan programs.
At the centennial event, JFLA executives regaled the crowd with stories about the agency's humble beginnings and evolution over the years. Founded in 1904 by a small group of businessmen, JFLA made loans to the unemployed and the indigent. A few small loans went to aspiring entrepreneurs to purchase pushcarts to sell fruits and vegetables and to tailors to buy sewing machines.
Today, JFLA has total assets of $9 million, employs seven full-time and four part-time workers and makes more than 1,200 loans annually.
"Our mission is to offer people a hand-up instead of a handout," Schecter said. –Marc Ballon, Senior Writer
There was a changing of the guard at the Israeli Bank Leumi earlier this month. On Nov. 3, hundreds of Bank Leumi customers, friends and staff gathered at the Biltmore Hotel to bid farewell to outgoing COO Dr. Zalman Segal, and to welcome new CEO Uzi Rosen. Segal has been with Bank Leumi for 45 years, including 15 in the United States, and Rosen just completed a long-term service as Bank Leumi's manager in Britain.
The Hidden Torah
Observant Jews who lived in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin were often forced to practice their religion in secret, or suffer the elongated torture of life in the gulags. On Nov. 7, Chabad of Calabasas renewed and rededicated a Sefer Torah that had been written in the Soviet Union in 1920. It was a Torah that was written in secret, and the scribe who wrote it risked his life with every stroke of the pen. For years, the Torah had resided in Israel, but it had not been used for years because some letters had faded, rendering it unkosher for liturgical use. Recently, Chabad of Calabasas purchased the Torah, and set about restoring it. Now, fully restored, it will be used as their regular, weekly Torah.
At the dedication ceremony, which took place at Chaparral Elementary School, Calabasas Mayor Michael Harrison offered words of tribute to the Torah and its new home in Calabasas' Jewish community.
The Jovial Journalist
Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi was in good spirits during his Nov. 13 lecture at B'nai David-Judea Congregation in the Pico-Robertson area. Klein spoke about the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"Yasser Arafat has been an indispensable part of our consciousness ... a kind of shadow prime minister of Israel for 40 years," Klein Halevi told the nearly 300 people who attended the talk in the Orthodox shul's recently renovated sanctuary. "With the re-election of Bush, the Palestinians have their lost hope, or their fantasy, of being rescued from the outside. Arafat's legacy, at least in the short term, is scorched earth. What the Palestinians have lost is really poetic justice."
With an American president he favored re-elected, and a Palestinian leader he despised now dead, Klein Halevi's 54-minute lecture was more upbeat than his speech last March 4 to some 100 people at the UCLA Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center.
Back then, the Jerusalem Post and New Republic columnist was sad and spoke depressingly of Israel's far-right and far-left extremists; here, he looked rejuvenated, viewing Arafat's death as a triumph for the PLO leader's greatest foe, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Sharon in his old age emerged as the unlikely embodiment of our national consensus," he said. "He made the trade-off; suppressing Sharon the settlement builder to play Sharon the consensus builder. I wish Sharon political longevity."
The B'nai David-Judea talk was sponsored by several prominent members of the L.A. Jewish community, including Museum of Tolerance director Liebe Geft, Rabbi Mark S. Diamond of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, B'nai David-Judea's Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, StandWithUs executive director Roz Rothstein and Orthodox Union West Coast director Rabbi Alan Kalinsky – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Lets Go Ride a bike
Four Los Angeles residents donned their helmets and cycled away in the four-day Wheels of Love charity bike ride that raised funds for ALYN Hospital in Israel. ALYN specializes in the active and intensive rehabilitation of children, regardless of religion or ethnic origin, with a broad range of physical disabilities, and is the only facility of its kind in Israel.
From Oct. 24-28, 250 bikers cycled through the Negev on a 245-mile ride that ended up in Jerusalem. Each of the participants committed to raising $2,000 for ALYN (see story on page 37).
On Nov. 14, Brentwood's University Synagogue hosted the 21st anniversary fundraiser of the Office of the Americas (OOA), a nonprofit organization, founded in 1983 in Los Angeles, dedicated to furthering the cause of justice and peace through broad-based educational programs.
"I'm wearing a peace symbol tonight," actor Ed Asner, one of the group's 2004 honorees, said to about 500 people on the night before his birthday. His speech supported the evening's anti-Bush tone; OOA founder Blase Bonpane repeatedly condemned the president.
Leonard Beerman, Leo Baeck Temple founding rabbi, talked ominously of the Bush administration, alluding first to pre-war Nazi Germany, then Buchenwald and then speaking of what he believed are today's "great dark birds of history."
With a guitar singalong led by folk singer Ross Altman, Asner's fellow honorees were Cleveland's Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich and American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California executive director Ramona Ripston. – DF
Laura the Leader
On Valentine's Day of this year, 11-year-old Heschel West student Laura Miller received the news that she had Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes. On hearing the news, Miller spent five days in hospital, learned how to prick her finger to test her blood sugar and give herself insulin shots two to three times a day. On Oct. 26, Miller decided that she was going to do something more to help herself. She rallied her family and friends together, beseeched them to open their wallets and their hearts and got them to join her at the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Walk for a Cure at Oxnard State Park. Miller raised more than $9,000, which will go toward helping find a cure for diabetes.
"I face many challenges every day," she said. "Diabetes is not something I can pull out for show and tell and then forget. I have to live with it every minute of the day."