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Jewish Journal

Circuit

by Gaby Wenig

December 2, 2004 | 7:00 pm

The Aviva Way

The Aviva Platinum Associates held its second annual luncheon in Beverly Hills on Nov. 3 at the home of board member Susan Casden.

The Platinum Associates is a group of dynamic L.A. women dedicated to helping change lives of Aviva High School's at-risk teens. Each of the Platinum Associates donates at least $1,000 a year to the school and assist in other ways – either by teaching the girls a class at the residential treatment center; sponsoring a party, cultural event, or outing for the girls; or sourcing clothes, toys and computers to be donated to Aviva.

The sumptuous luncheon, organized by board chair Robin Broidy, featured models from Saks Fifth Avenue roamed around the room showing off haute couture that could be purchased from Saks with a portion of the proceeds going to Aviva.

Toward the end of the lunch, the crowd heard from Irene Phan, a former resident of Aviva, who spoke of how Aviva turned her life around. Phan had been living on the streets, and thanks to the love and intervention showed by Aviva, is now training to be an emergency medical technician.

The hallways of Aviva look like any other school, but inside the classrooms it's clear that this school is different. The classes have a maximum of 12 students and the school features an elaborate system that rewards students for accomplishments and withdraws privileges for infractions. Even though most of the students have families that live in Los Angeles, the students go to their own dormitory room at the end of the day.

Most of Aviva's students are there under mandated court order, having acted out, used drugs or alcohol, skipped school or violent and contentious relationships with their parents.

The small classrooms are designed so that the students can get the specialized attention they need. The rewards and punishments reinforce the fact that everything that happens in life – every choice they make – has consequences, and they need to be responsible for those consequences.

"Girls who come here all have serious difficulties – they are suicidal, on the streets, not going to school, coming from a series of foster homes that haven't worked for them, in gangs – they are a high-risk, vulnerable group of kids," said Andrew Diamond, president and CEO of the Aviva Center. "We operate on a two-tiered approach – a therapeutic environment and program, and a strong behavioral program. We really do a balance, and that is what makes a difference, and that is why when you go into the classroom, you see the kids are focused, and they are understand that they are safe. The girls get a feeling of self-esteem from a feeling of accomplishment, and that is the beauty of this place."

In addition to the school, Aviva Family and Children's Services also operates a whole range of social services designed to help high-risk teens and their families. They have a foster family agency, a vocational training and independent living program and community-based mental health service, among other programs.

For more information about Aviva visit www.avivacenter.org. For more information about becoming a Platinum Associate, call Robin Broidy at (310) 470-4573 or Andrew Diamond at (323) 876-0550, ext. 100.

A Romanian Affair

Nearly 120 people enjoyed Romanian wine and appetizers, such as icre and cascaval, at the Beverly Hills Country Club during the Oct. 14 book reading by Romanian American writer Irina Eremia Bragin, author of "Subterranean Towers: A Father-Daughter Story" (iUniverse).

"It's not really just about Romania," said Bragin, a Beverly Hills tutor who has taught writing and literature at UCLA, the University of Judaism and Shalhevet High School. "It's about a man. What he really discovered was his own soul."

The book is about her father, one-time Romanian general Ion Eremia, who died last year. Earlier in life, Eremia had publicly denounced communism and was imprisoned from 1959 to 1965.

After cocktails on the club's terrace, the book party moved inside where Bragin read from her book. Afterward, Fountain Theatre artistic director Simon Levy and actress Sarah Demeestere performed portions of "The Manuscript," a play that Bragin wrote about her father.

Attending the event were Austrian and Hungarian diplomats plus Claudiu Lucaci, Romania's Los Angeles Consul General. Lucaci, who brought the consulate's staff to the event, has made a point of reaching out to Southern California's Romanian Jewish community since he arrived here a year ago.

At the end of the reading, the country club's staff distributed copies of Bragin's book as guest gifts. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Happy Birthday, Chabad

Oct. 24 marked the fifth anniversary of Chabad of Studio City, so they decided to celebrate in style, with a dinner cruise on the Regent Sea Yacht in Marina del Rey.

In 1999, Rabbi Yossi and Chanie Baitleman founded Chabad of Studio City, which has its home in a small storefront on Ventura Boulevard. The Chabad offers Shabbat services, Sunday morning "Bagels and Tefillin," Hebrew school for children, Jewish Learning Institute for adults, programs for women and is also is the home of a Friendship Circle, which provides services for children with special needs.

The fifth anniversary celebration honored Joanna and Joe Breckner, real estate agents at Coldwell Banker in Studio City, who have provided critical emotional and financial support to Chabad over the years.

For more information about Chabad of Studio City, call Rabbi Yossi Baitleman on (818) 508-6633 or visit www.chabadsc.com.

Sephardim on Film

Sephardic Jews honored their own Nov. 14 at the start of the seventh annual Los Angeles Sephardic Jewish Film Festival. The opening night dinner, silent auction and screening was hosted by Paramount Pictures' at the studio lot on Melrose Avenue, where "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding" mama Lainie Kazan held court as emcee.

The dinner kicked off the weeklong festival, which attracted about 2,000 patrons, compared to about 1,000 last year, according to festival co-chair and immigration attorney Neil Sheff.

The opening night Cinema Sepharad honorees were actor and "The Simpsons" star Hank Azaria, and Al Ovadia, Sony Pictures consumer products executive vice president, renowned for his merchandising work on the "Spider-Man" films. Because he was performing in a play back East, Azaria was not there to accept the award, and instead sent a thank-you video. His sister, Elise Lane accepted the honor on Azaria's behalf in front of the 500-person crowd.

The opening night film, "A Secret Passage," portrayed a 16th-century Spanish family keeping their Judaism secretly alive after forced conversion to Catholicism who finally finds refuge in the Ottoman Empire. The name of the fictitious family in the film, Benveniste, resonated with the audience.

"There were 50 people in the audience – at least 50, if not more – whose family name or relations had that last name," Sheff said. "Half the crowd were people whose families [date back] to the Ottoman Empire."

Other highlights of the night included Rabbi Benito Garzon, receiving the festival's Maimonides Lifetime Achievement Award. Garzon flew in from his home in Madrid to accept the honor. The event also marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Sephardic Educational Center in Westwood, with the fundraiser attracting about 20 young couples who met at the center and later married. The gala affair also capped off that weekend's North American Sephardic young adult convention, attended by 200 people. – DF

Noshin' Up

Angelenos have a chance to hear about the latest characters in the whimsical Yiddish-inspired "Matzah Ball" book series this Sunday, Dec. 5.

Author and illustrator Anne Marie Asner will reading from "Shmutzy Girl" and "Noshy Boy" (about, respectively, a girl who learns to love herself even though she is very "shmutzy," and a boy who keeps "noshing" away) at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center at 10:30 a.m.

For more information, visit www.matzahballbooks.com.

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