June 1, 2006
Davening for Dollars
Talmud teaches that a righteous act is its own reward. But if that's not inducement enough, a rabbi in Woodland Hills is offering $10 cash plus a Krispy Kreme doughnut to teens who attend his 7 a.m. minyan.
It started like this: In 1998 Rabbi Netanel Louie founded the Hebrew Discovery Center to promote Judaism in the West Valley. His center, next to a sushi restaurant on Ventura Boulevard, began by offering after-school Hebrew courses that fulfill the public schools' foreign language requirement.
Eighty Jewish teens, some of whom didn't know an alef from a bet, soon signed up to study modern Hebrew (in addition to the classes, the center schedules teen events, including kosher pizza parties and snow trips).
The first weekday teen minyan began in December 2005. How to get sleepy kids out of bed at dawn? Louie, ever pragmatic, had an idea: "Why don't we offer them something they can't refuse?"
Thus the $10 payments -- which continue for the first two months of each teen's attendance. Currently 110 teens are registered for the short Orthodox service, with about 35 showing up each day. Eleventh-grader Joni Fakheri, who had fallen away from observance, says the minyan has changed his life. After three years of not putting on tefillin and straying from kashrut, "it all came back."
Tenth-grader Elizabeth Benam, who sports a trendy diamond nose-stud and nails painted metallic turquoise, admits that "I used to never hang out with Jews." But now she's sold on the minyan, because "it gives you a good feeling inside."
Her cousin, Mor Pinto, agrees: "We don't do it for the money anymore."
Hebrew Discovery Center is located at 19819 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills. For more information, call(818) 348-4432 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. HDC also offers after school Hebrew classes at 11540 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 696-4432.