Debbie Simmons earns her living as a CPA in Brentwood. But evenings, weekends and every other spare minute during the holidays and many other free moments during the year find Simmons shopping for bargain toys and wrapping paper, scanning the shelves or standing in checkout lines at Toys 'R' Us, Target, the 99 Cents Only store and Party World. She's buying Power Rangers and Barbie dolls a dozen at a time and picking up donated wrapping paper 50 rolls at a clip.
In a historic address to the Board of Rabbis of Southern California last week, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, called for the elimination of centuries of Catholic and Christian anti-Semitic teaching and a new era of Catholic-Jewish understanding and cooperation.
For most of this century, Los Angeles has been a city of twoelites -- one predominately WASPish, the other predominately Jewish. Although they occasionally collaborated on projects such as the MusicCenter, the two worlds remained largely separate and indifferent toeach other, living in a ruling-class version of institutional apartheid.
Before there was "Ellen," Chastity Bono, Rock Hudson's death from AIDS, or AIDS itself, there was Beth Chayim Chadashim. The year was 1972, and most lesbians and gay men were deep in the closet. For four gay Jews who showed up for a rap session at Metropolitan Community Church in LosAngeles, there was no other place to seek spiritual solace. But, as welcoming as Rev. Troy Perry was, MCC was still a Christian place of worship. Many gay and lesbian Jews felt deeply alienated from thesynagogues in which they had grown up, but there were no shuls where they felt comfortable to be who they were and love who they loved.
Orli is the first to admit that she had everythinggoing for her while growing up in Brentwood: loving parents who tookher around the world, a top-flight Harvard education.
In a move that many see as a turning point for the future of Jewish education in Los Angeles, the Jewish Federation ofGreater Los Angeles board agreed last week to almost double the amount that the Federation gives to Jewish day and Hebrew schools.
The peace process is stalled, pluralism issues remain unresolved and the Netanyahu government is in turmoil. But organizers of a major, star-studded 50th anniversary tribute to Israel later this year are focusing their attention on celebration, not contention. Indeed, a rare in-gathering of major Hollywood celebrities, Jewish communal officials and organizational leaders has come together to mark Israel's first half century.
"I know your relatives all think you're crazy, but we're gladyou're here," our tour guide, Zvi Lev-Ran, said as 36 tired Angelenospiled onto a bus after a 13-hour flight aboard a chartered El Al747-400 from Los Angeles. We were part of the largest mission eversponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. More thanhalf of the 430 participants were first-timers, including myself.Having been born almost exactly one year after the birth of Israel,in 1948, it seemed fitting that I participate in this mission, whichwas timed to coincide with festivities launching the Jewish state'sgolden anniversary celebration.
When Sanford Gage was asked to be general chair of the JewishFederation Council of Greater Los Angeles' United Jewish Fund, hewanted to know one thing: Could he make a difference?
"That was the burning question for me," he said during a recentinterview at a restaurant near his law offices in Beverly Hills. "IfI couldn't contribute something of value, why would I do it?"
What rights would a yarmulke-wearing child have in a public school that decides to prohibit hats on campus? What about a group of Jewish inmates who want to light Chanukah candles when a regulation clearly bans fire of any kind inside a prison? Or a synagogue or church that wishes to build or expand in a restricted area?
In every picture, Melissa Kahn is smiling -- whether covered with mud at the Dead Sea, riding a donkey up Mount Canaan or hiking from the Mediterranean to Lake Kineret. Kahn, 16, a junior at Harvard-Westlake School, mused recently about the eight weeks shes pent in Israel last summer on the Bureau of Jewish Education's Los Angeles Ulpan program.
The Jewish Community Library is used to catering to the literaryneeds of groups of school children, Yiddish scholars and day-schoolteachers. But seldom does it get a call for Talmudic texts to gracethe set of a sitcom. That changed a few weeks ago when librarydirector Abigail Yasgur received a request from the "Seinfeld" artdepartment to borrow a set of the sacred books. The 29-volume redSoncino Talmud filled the bill. The books, borrowed for a week, willappear in an episode scheduled to air next Thursday (Oct. 9) on NBC.
Thousands of Los Angeles-area youngsters participate in hands-on workshops.
Quick, what's a kosher animal with horns that can be used to makea shofar?
Uh, well, everyone knows the answer to that. A ram, right?
OK. Right. But name another kosher animal with horns good formaking a shofar.
Bzzzzzz! Your time is up.
But the several thousand Los Angeles-area day- and Hebrew-schoolchildren participating in Chabad's Traveling Shofar Factory know theanswer: The long, spiraling horns of the male kudu, a type of Africanantelope, are often used to make the shofarim employed in Sephardicsynagogues.
Three generations of Grahams. Is there such a thing as a "typical" Jewish grandparent in America? When I thought about this impossibly broad question, I turned to my own extended family for examples. Were they typical? Stereotypical?
It turns out that there are more Jews in the South Bay than many had imagined -- about 45,000, according to a just-released population study by the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.
If there's an image of the South Bay, it's this sun-drenched vision of perpetual summer and youth. But does this picture contain anyJews? For years, the myth has been that it didn't, or, if there were any, they were passing as something else
It turns out that there are more Jews in the South Bay than many had imagined -- about 45,000, according to a just-released population study by the Jewish Federation Council of Greater LosAngeles.
The Federation had received only four cancellations -- a total of seven people who decided not to go because of the twin blasts -- according to Evy Lutin, mission co-chair. More than 350 people are signed up for the 10-day mission, which celebrates the kickoff of Israel's 50th-anniversary year. About 500 people are expected to make the trip.
Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Mizrachic, or just out for a good time -- whatever their background, Jews poured into the Skirball Cultural Center last Sunday for the first annual Sephardic Arts Festival. The event was a success beyond its organizers' wildest dreams. Attendance, estimated at more than 4,000, was more than double the anticipated turnout, making it the largest audience for any one-day event since the Skirball opened in April 1996. Despite long lines for shuttle buses and food, the mood of participants -- a mix of generations and ethnicities -- was festive and good-humored. Many people bumped into relatives and friends -- often literally -- while searching for seats, program notes or restrooms.
After Shabbat services at a Conservative temple recently, one Los Angeles fund-raiser for the Jewish Federation Council was confronted by an angry congregant who has long been a generous donor to Israel.
"They're letting the Orthodox dictate," said the man, who, with his wife, annually earmarks large contributions to fund rescue and resettlement efforts in the Jewish state. They were now having second thoughts.
Amid a blizzard of Spanish-language signs for passport photos, discount shoes and wedding gowns, Langer's Delicatessen & Restaurant sits proudly at the corner of Alvarado and 7th streets, the location it has occupied for the past 50 years. The hours are shorter -- 8 to 4, Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays -- and the price for a pastrami on rye is certainly higher -- $7.50, versus a quarter in 1947. The conversation emanating from the brown naugahyde booths is as often in Spanish as in English. And the Ramparts police substation across the street keeps a close watch on the multiethnic parade of humanity that mills about the busy intersection, once the hub of a lively Jewish neighborhood, second only to Boyle Heights.
They are your brother, your cousin, your lawyer, your best friend, or possibly yourself. Yet, while there are as many gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the Jewish community as in any other, they often feel like outcasts in their own faith, afraid that they can't be open about their sexuality and a committed Jew as well.
The ad, which pictures a small child with a worried expression, is one way the UJF is trying to tackle the unfolding "Who is a Jew?" debate in Israel and to limit its impact among American donors to the UJF.
Do the Jewish communities of Los Angeles and Tel Aviv have much in common beyond their religious designation? Can they share ideas and expertise and form a useful partnership in the future? Following a week-long visit to the Southland by a small delegation of Tel Aviv civic leaders, the answers to these questions appear to be "yes," but it will take a lot of work to make it all happen.
As the son of Holocaust survivors, Adi Liberman grew up, as many second-generation children did, with a sense of profound loss. He knew that he had no grandparents, that his mother, a hidden child during the war, had lost her parents at age 5, and that his father's father died before the war and his father's mother in Auschwitz.
If you're a young Jewish leader who would like to know more about Los Angeles civic life, or if you're a young civic leader who wants to be more in step with the Los Angeles Jewish community, the New Leaders Project might have a place for you. NLP, sponsored in Los Angeles by the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation Council, is currently seeking applications for its fourth class.
It could have been a wedding or a bar mitzvah: A lively klezmer band played as several hundred people munched kosher turkey sandwiches and sipped fruit punch at tables scattered outside a giant white tent. This scene was set against a picturesque landscape of boulder-studded, tree-dotted green hills.