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Community Briefs

October 9, 2003 | 8:00 pm

Local Jewish, Christian Leaders Join to Support Israel

"Sometimes the greatest blessings in the world have to do with showing up," said Rabbi Eli Herscher, senior rabbi at the Stephen S. Wise Temple referring to the more than 2,000 Jews and Christians who met at Oct. 2 at the Bel Air synagogue for a "solidarity gathering" to support Israel.

A cantor sang a pro-Israel tune made famous by Pat Boone. Beth Jacob Congregation's Rabbi Steven Weil asked for the help of God and the audience, "to protect little Israel." Stephen S. Wise's Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin received strong applause when he denounced the Los Angeles Times for its Israel coverage and use of the word "militant" to describe Palestinian terrorists.

"The Los Angeles Times absolutely refuses to call them terrorists," he said.

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, thanked Christian tourists, "who have gone consistently in good times and when times are not so good."

Speakers also said Israel's enemies are inhuman "barbarians" and that the Jewish State's current struggles are, "a fight for the future of civilization."

The interfaith event lasted more than three hours with busloads of people showing up, including hundreds of Christians just from The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, founded by pastor Jack Hayford. "We will not stand by passively," Hayford said, prompting a standing ovation. -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Brandeis Institute Volunteers Restore Mexican Chapel

When Scott Aaron walked around the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI) this summer, the last thing that he expected to find at the 3,000-acre Jewish retreat center in the Santa Susana Mountains were the ruins of an abandoned Catholic chapel.

"There was no roof. Just adobe wall. And on the back wall somebody carved out an enclosed alter area into the side of the mountain and built a chapel around it," said Aaron, who serves as the Director of the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI). "I was struck by the sanctity of the place, even in its ruin."

In search of further information, Aaron contacted Johnny Barbel, BBI's ranch manager and most seasoned employee. Barbel said that the chapel was built in 1949 by Eric Barclay -- the original owner of the ranch currently sitting on the property. Damaged in the 1994 earthquake, the site had been abandoned, except for an occasional visit by a member of the Mexican Catholic community that maintain and live on the grounds of BBI.

"It got me thinking about the people who live on the Brandeis property," Aaron said. "Our Mexican families are the heart and soul of this place."

But Aaron did more than just think. He recruited his BCI participants to restore the site as part of their summer avodah "service" requirement. Aaron hoped that the experience would teach BCI participants the meaning of sacred space, caring for others, and a sense of giving back to the community.

"We weren't making a synagogue out of it. It was about giving it to someone for their needs. Doing something selfless." he said.

Over the course of the summer, BCI participants worked alongside each other to remove a foot and a half of dirt and debris that covered the chapel's floor, upon which they discovered a completely tiled floor bearing a green mosaic cross. They also repaired walls and built benches.

"They had a real sense of indebtedness and gratitude to the people who work there," Laurie Hahn, the rabbinic fellow in charge of the project said of the BCI participants. "Most people at BCI have such a transformative experience and they wanted to feel like they were giving something back."

Upon completion, BCI participants hosted a bilingual ceremony in which they dedicated the chapel back to the Mexican community. Barbel, who speaks Spanish, was able to communicate with the Mexican community following the ceremony.

"It gave them a good sense of feeling that everyone respects them and their religion," Barbel said of their reaction. "If they want to have their own service or meditate, it gives them a great feeling that they have a place of their own." -- Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Efforts Planned to Woo Investors for Israel's Weakened Economy

Two Tel Aviv University MBA students recently returned to Israel after spending the summer under the mentorship of various Los Angeles business and government leaders as part of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles' Community Redevelopment Fellowship.

The new program, sponsored by the Economic Initiatives Committee of the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership, is part of an effort called "Genesis L.A.," which hopes to bring about the redevelopment of neighborhoods in Jaffa and south Tel Aviv via the exchange of public/private financing tools and urban development methodology.

Over the course of seven weeks the students, Aviad Arviv and Michael Gofman, interned at the Milken Institute, met with experts in real estate development, tax incentives, business improvement districts, low-income housing development, enterprise finance, the arts, and transportation, and visited a range of Los Angeles redevelopment sites.

Michael Schwartz, a partner at George Smith Partners, created an intensified training program to give the fellows an overview of the real estate finance industry. Interns sat in on meetings between capital providers and private real estate developers and were advised on procedures involved in obtaining capital flows into Tel Aviv for projects and real estate investments. Schwartz also helped Arviv and Gofman revise a slide show with which they hope to attract Los Angeles-based investors.

"Israel's economy is in the dumpster and we have to do what we can to attract non-Israeli money to induce foreign flow of capital into Israel for redevelopment," Schwartz said. "We helped make the slide show more in conformance to what real estate investors in the U.S. need to make an investment decision."

Glenn Yago, outgoing chair of the Economic Initiatives Committee, said that the program is only one of several initiatives that the group has spearheaded in the Jaffa area as part of Genesis Tel Aviv. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots, other projects have included issuing revenue bonds to finance public parking structures in Tel Aviv and environmental rehabilitation of the HaYarkon River.

"The goals of the project are three-fold," Yago said. "First, to try to carve a channel for partnership investment between the U.S. and Israel in order to help the Israeli economy. Second, to solve a long-standing social problem among the poverty-stricken areas of Jaffa through a private-public partnership. And third, to show how financial innovations developed in the U.S. can help finance Israel's future since the public budget has run out of money."--RB

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