But as Passover 2000 drew near and Gekler did not call, JFS staff grew worried. When they discovered only days before the first night of Pesach that Gekler had passed away last December, the situation grew serious: how would they manage the monumental task of putting together the 100-plus baskets needed this year?
Then Irena Kertsburg, a JFS social worker, remembered the volunteers who helped pull together the aid for the Kosovo refugees last year.
"I immediately called Jackie Feldman and Bobbie Black (volunteers with Temple Judea and Temple Aliyah, respectively) and they started everything," Kertsburg said. "Without their help, our Iranian and Russian Jewish immigrants would have been without anything."
Black and Feldman quickly gathered contributions of market scrip from their own and other local congregations, including Temple Solael and Shomrei Torah. Then, with Maxine Meyer, special projects coordinator for the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, the volunteers visited Ralphs in Calabasas and Gelson's in Woodland Hills.
"The markets were wonderful," said Meyer. "Gelson's donated cases of gefilte fish and matzah meal, and Ralphs donated food for four families and then discounted everything else. We ended up having enough food to feed all 120 families."
Temple Aliyah's b'nai mitzvah class helped put together the baskets, which were then delivered to the JFS offices on Wilshire and distributed to JFS and Women's American ORT clients prior to the first seder April 19.
One client, Nina Morgulis, 46, moved here from Russia with her two sons, ages 17 and 5, only a few months ago. Her English is limited, but her joy at celebrating Passover in her new home and at receiving such a welcome from the local Jewish community was clear.
"It was a very good present: wine, fish and matzahs," she said. "It was very delicious."
Coordinators of the effort felt it was a fitting tribute to Gekler.
"It shows you can raise anything you want if you have an open heart and are willing to help others," said Kertsburg.
Pasadena City College's Committee For Inclusion, a multiracial and interreligious faculty group, will hold a Community Town Hall Meeting on Diversity on Tues., May 2, at 7 p.m.
Panelists such as the Honorable Bruce Einhorn, current head of the Valley's Anti-Defamation League, and Dr. Milton Brown, sociology professor at PCC and former president of Malcolm X College, will address the question of how racial, religious and gender groups can be seen outside of the stereotypical ways in which they are commonly viewed.
"We have decided not to follow the typical academic-style formula for panel discussions and have instead asked our panelists to speak from their hearts, to share their personal experiences, frustrations, and victories," said Marc Dollinger, a PCC professor and co-organizer of the event. "This is a rare moment for such a diverse group of people to communicate with one another in a personal way. We will also be inviting members of the audience to share their perspectives and experiences during an extensive 'open mike' period after the panelist presentations."
Co-sponsors for the evening include the Anti-Defamation League; the Altadena chapter of the NAACP; the Asian and Pacific American Faculty and Staff Association; the Armenian International Magazine; the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena; MEChA; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network; and the Southern California Board of Rabbis.
The event will take place at the lecture hall known as the Forum on the Pasadena campus. For more information call (626) 585-7738. -- W.J.M.