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Briefs: Newsweek ranks the rabbis, ‘Passover in a Box’

by Amy Klein

April 17, 2008 | 6:00 pm

Los Angeles wins again on Newsweek's two new top rabbi lists ("Is Your Rabbi Hot or Not?") with locals heading the 25 Top Pulpit Rabbis in America (No. 1: Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai) and the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America (No. 1: Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for the second year in a row).

No surprise there as the list makers -- Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Television Network and JTN Productions; Michael Lynton, chair and CEO of Sony; and Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of News Corp -- are all Angelenos.

Which also might be why five out of the 25 top pulpit rabbis hail from Los Angeles: In addition to Wolpe, there's Sharon Brous, Ikar, (9); Yosef Kanefsky, B'nai David-Judea, (11); Ed Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom, (20); and Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah, (24).

And why 13 out of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis are also from Los Angeles: Hier, (1); Robert Wexler, president of American Jewish University, (3); Uri D. Herscher, founder and CEO of Skirball Cultural Center, (6); Yehuda Berg, Kabbalah Centre, (11); Wolpe, (12); Harold M. Schulweis, Congregation Valley Beth Shalom, (19); Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center, (25); Brous, (30); Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, (31); Elliot Dorff, American Jewish University, (35); Nachum Braverman, Aish HaTorah, (38); Naomi Levy, Nashuva, (41); and Steven Leder, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, (49).

Wolpe and Brous are two of the eight rabbis that appear on both lists. Of the 10 new additions to last year's inaugural list of 50 Most Influential Rabbis, three are from Los Angeles (Brous, Leder and Artson).

No doubt there are many other ways to analyze the lists (denomination, gender, other regions) and no doubt in the year to come, many rabbis and their followers will try.

'Passover in a Box'

Rabbi Pearl Barlev will ensure that patients at UCLA Medical Center have the opportunity to celebrate Passover.

Barlev, who is in her first year as Jewish chaplain in the hospital's multifaith Spiritual Care department, along with volunteers, will distribute 50 units of "Passover in a Box" to patients during bedside visits.

"Passover in a Box" is this holiday's version of "Shabbat in a Box," which Barlev developed and distributes each week to some 20 patients (there are more Jewish patients, she said, but that's all her limited resources allow). Each Shabbat box contains a set of electric candles, challah, grape juice, a wine glass and a copy of the traditional blessings in Hebrew and English.

"It serves different needs for different patients -- some need it to actually practice Shabbat, while for some it pulls on an emotional memory," Barlev said. "It's a way to touch base and to enhance for those who want to observe."

The Passover box will include enough matzah for the first two nights of Passover, kosher macaroons and a Passover information sheet (including a haggadah). Barlev said she hopes the boxes will "help patients feel as though they've had a relationship with the holiday."

Jewish teachings can be meaningful for patients struggling with illness, she said, and she turns to these as she prepares her written texts.

For the Passover box, Barlev wrote about Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for Egypt whose root means "narrow places."

"While in the hospital, we may be in our most narrow places, but the story contains inspiration that I hope people can gain."

To volunteer or donate to the "Shabbat in a Box" program, contact Barlev at (310) 794-0542.

-- Anita K. Kantrowitz, Contributing Writer

A While for Weil

Steven Weil, senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, has been offered the position of executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), which serves as the education, outreach and social service organization for Orthodox synagogues.

As of press time, Weil had not yet decided whether he was going to accept the position, which would require relocating his family to New York by June 2009, when the OU's current executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, leaves the position to continue on as emeritus for three more years.

This week Weil will be negotiating with OU officials before making his decision.

Ohr HaTorah Moving to Mar Vista?

Ohr HaTorah synagogue is trying to raise $3.8 million in the next 45 days in order to purchase a building in Mar Vista as its new home, congregation officials announced April 10.

The nondenominational synagogue, which was founded in 1994 by Rabbis Mordecai and Meirav Finley and a small group of families, now has 300 member families. It currently meets in the Faith Tabernacle Church in West Los Angeles; the church recently decided not to renew the synagogue's lease.

The building, located on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Barrington Avenue, was the home of Beth Torah, a Conservative congregation that recently merged with Adat Shalom of Westwood. Although the original asking price of the facility was $4.75 million, Ohr HaTorah was able to reach an agreement price of $3.8 million -- with the added bonus that the land already is zoned for religious use.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to provide a much needed home for Jewish life in the south Santa Monica/Venice/Mar Vista area," the memo said.

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