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Unity and Decorum: A Shabbat Experience for 3,000

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Friday night, October 23rd, provided many Shabbat firsts for me: the first time that I walked freely and safely on Pico pavement normally reserved for hundreds of speeding cars, trucks, and buses; the first time that I heard kiddush over kosher wine under the few stars that twinkled in the sky between the sushi restaurant and the dry cleaners on a major street; and the first time that I enjoyed Shabbat dinner with 2,999 local Jews that filled the streets with an air of unity and community that I have only previously witnessed in the narrow streets of Israel.

LA’s inaugural “Shabbat Project 3,000” indeed lived up to its name. The brainchild of Josh Golcheh, an Iranian-American Jewish young professional, and executed by dozens of caring individuals, the event was sold out of all 3,000 street seats and drew an additional 500 attendees after the dinner program. As I poured some bottled water over my hands (during a makeshift Netilat Yadayim pre-bread prayer) and into a trash bin on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Glenville Drive, overlooking the kosher restaurants, Judaica shops, and supermarkets, a few observations came to mind:

LA’s Blessing was a Blessing

The fact that Los Angeles–its elected officials, law enforcement, local businesses, and much more–gave their blessing to this incredible event was a blessing itself. It demonstrates unbelievable passion and professionalism on behalf of the organizers, and invaluable coordination and support and  on behalf our city. One can’t help but wonder how much local city council and institutional support Jewish organizers would have received if they had attempted such an event in the suburbs of Paris or Brussels today, or perhaps even American cities two to three decades ago.

We Truly Take Our American Freedoms and Safety for Granted

As I watched the faces of thousands of attendees, many of them Iranian-American Jews, I knew that most were blissfully not contemplative of the fact that such a massive, public gathering of Jews would have been impossible, or at least, inarguably dangerous–a near suicide mission, in fact–in the towns and cities where they were raised in Iran and elsewhere ranging from Yemen to Morocco. Yet how utterly energizing to have seen thousands of free Jews practicing Jewish customs freely, sheltered under the shade of America’s religious freedom, ensured protection, and benevolent asylum. Attendees rejoiced in the streets in cheerful dance, waved large Israeli flags, and recited kiddush under the LA night sky. As an Iranian-Jewish refugee that was redeemed many years ago by the U.S., I was deeply moved and grateful, and I wished my great-grandparents, who had been born and died in Tehran, and been alive to have witnessed 3,000 Jews freely celebrating Shabbat in an American street.

If You Had Security Concerns, You Weren’t Alone

In light of the recent attacks against Jews all over Israel–random, hideous, vicious attacks featuring knives, meat cleavers, guns, and more–it was no wonder that Jews in Los Angeles and all over the world have been slightly on edge at public outings and gatherings. And there was no larger gathering of Jews in Los Angeles in the past few weeks than at Shabbat 3000, where logic would have dictated that attendees would have been literal sitting ducks, celebrating Shabbat and enjoying dinner right in the middle of the street. Each of us seemed to know at least one individual or family that had skipped the event due to reasonable security concerns. Half-truths and speculations in the days and weeks leading up to the dinner either underestimated safety measures or in some cases, exaggerated them, as when rumors began to circulate that there would be snipers on the roofs of nearby businesses and residences to keep attendees extra safe.  In the end, the event was safe, civil, and peaceful, due of course to strict entrance policies, hired security personnel, local law enforcement, and good old-fashioned prayer and faith on the part of attendees.  shabbat3000

Compliance Over Complaints

Nowhere else in Los Angeles could thousands of people have congregated for a community-wide event without so much as a loudspeaker or microphone. Event coordinators, let alone outside observers, would have found it unfathomable to have held such a gathering without at least one commanding voice emanating from a stage, directing attendees, reviewing guidelines, and at least uttering a community call to break bread. A few attendees even expressed frustration over the palpable lack of one grand voice emanating from a Rabbi to lead kiddush or a community leader to welcome everyone to the event. Yet that was precisely what made Shabbat 3000 more than a community dinner or simply another chance for young Jews to mingle in Los Angeles; part of earning its namesake was that the event complied with Shabbat and the regulations that Jews have observed in similar fashions for thousands of years. No loudspeaker or microphone needed. Compliance trumped complaints.

As mentioned, Josh Golcheh was joined by passionate community leaders in bringing the program to life. The following is a brief interview with Golcheh:

Tabby Refael (TR): What was your involvement with “Shabbat Project 3,000?”

Josh Golcheh (JG): I was the Event Director, led by my organization, United Nation of Hashem (UNOH). Dara Abaei of Jewish Unity Network (JUN) was my partner. I was in charge of the oversight and management of the program. Josh Banaf and Daniel Braum (both of UNOH) were in charge of operations.

TR: What motivated you to get involved? Why was this important to you, and why did you feel it would be important for our community?

JG: I love the idea of the entire Jewish population keeping Shabbat together in unison. Even if you typically don’t keep Shabbat, just accept to keep this one Shabbat; it’s a beautiful idea. I did a program last year that drew 1,000 people. That was amazing on its own, however we had limited capacity and unfortunately had to turn many people away. I wanted to be able to provide an event that would truly be able to include the entire community and host 3,000 people. After realizing there is no venue large enough, I decided to seek street closure. I think the community has too much separation (i.e. Sephardic and Ashkenazi). It’s about time we start doing things together, and be united with our brothers and sisters. What better way of uniting than sharing a Shabbat dinner together. I love Jewish unity, and would do anything I can to present a forum that would allow for it.

TR:  What was your experience working with everyone from local law enforcement to elected officials to local businesses?

JG: We had a lot of opposition from many different people, including shuls, politicians, and retails stores (not to mention countless individuals). I want to thank Councilmember Paul Koretz for his support of the project. He was a key political member that ensured our permit. The police were very cooperative as well.

TR: Were you happy with the end result, and will the event be held next year?

JG: I was extremely happy with the result. Deborah Yeroshalmi was very helpful in ensuring the organization of the event. Sharon and Simon catering provided delicious food in abundance and served at the tables, to avoid lines and frustration. All in all, I think we planned every detail necessary for a successful event. I was very pleased with the outcome. The police authorities on staff were extremely impressed to see such a large body of people acting with such high decorum. It was a definite Kiddush Hashem, and sanctification of Hashem. We are planning next year’s event to hopefully be “Shabbat Project 5,000.” Details to follow.shabbis

 

 

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Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer. She previously served as Executive Director of 30 YEARS AFTER.

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IsraAID is launching the Humanitarian Professionals Network (IHPN) in Los Angeles and Bay Area

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 World-renowned Israeli Humanitarian and disaster relief organization expands presence in U.S. by offering Americans training andopportunities for Disaster relief deployment

Los Angeles, CA – On January 10, 2019, in Los Angeles, disaster relief NGO IsraAID will launch its new aid initiative, The IsraAID Humanitarian Professionals Network (IHPN), an elite program that trains doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers and mental health professionals in disaster response and deploys them around the world to helpsave lives.

IHPN members become part of a network of likeminded professionals at the top of theirfields, joining a robust roster of professionals in Israel, and have a chanceto share Israel’s humanitarian ethos with communities in need. Current IsraAID missions span disasters such as the wildfires in California, refugee crises in Greece, Kenya, Bangladesh, violence in Uganda, and cyclones in Vanuatu.

“IsraAID draws on Israeli social innovation and expertise to benefit people in need around the world. We are now leveraging our organization’s unique capabilities to train professionals in the U.S. interested in developing life-saving skills and joining humanitarian relief missions globally, hand in hand with professionals from Israel” said Seth H. Davis, Executive Director of IsraAID U.S. “IHPN will equip skilled individuals in hands-on disaster relief experience and provide enhanced capacity if local disaster were too strike.”

The first event, entitled “What You Need to Know About Humanitarian Aid,” will feature speaker Tim Burke, MA, MPH, who lead IsraAID’s work in South Sudan for five years, where he oversaw programs in public health and post-conflict development. Subsequent speakers include atmospheric physicist Colin Price and refugee crises expert Dr. Nir Boms.

With deployment in 49 countries, and currently active in 19 countries, IsraAID is an expert in training professionals to deploy. In the U.S. alone in the last year, IsraAID has provided humanitarian relief in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, California, and Puerto Rico.

“IsraAID will make Los Angeles more secure by leveraging their unique expertise in disaster response to train professionals in our community,” said [Paul Koretz]. “I look forward to working with IsraAID to help them rollout their IHPN program in California”

Professionals interested in attending should RSVP here  and/or learn more and join the network here.

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About IHPN: The IsraAID HumanitarianProfessionals Network (IHPN) is an exclusive network of professionals at thevanguard of global aid relief activities. Members of IHPN receive expert briefings, emergency-preparedness training, access to enrichment with field leaders,and priority access to deploy on IsraAID missions.

About IsraAID: IsraAID is anon-governmental organization that provides lifesaving emergency relief andlong-term, sustainable solutions for populations affected by natural disasters, epidemics and post-conflict situations. Our teams leverage Israeli innovation,work in full collaboration with local partners, and educate the public and professionals on disaster prevention and relief. IsraAID (US) Global Humanitarian Assistance, Inc. is an independent 501c(3)organization.

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Nothing Matters More Than This

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We live in a world where FOCUS is even MORE important than your INTELLIGENCE.

From our never-ending Facebook feed, to our freshly-updated YouTube subscription page, to our email inbox, we live in an abundant world of information.

However, is it really necessary to consume all of this general information?

Will it ever be useful? Will it ever make any difference in your life?

No. Most likely not.

Learning a little about a lot of different things doesn’t really amount to much.

Instead, you should FOCUS.

Focus on learning and applying ONE skill as intensely and deeply as possible.

Focus is where mastery kicks in.

Kobe Bryant wasn’t the best basketball player that ever played because he was the best all-around person.

Kobe Bryant was world-class because he was absolutely great at ONE thing and one thing only: playing basketball.

So instead of consuming as much general information as you possibly can… instead FOCUS.

FOCUS on one topic. FOCUS on one task. FOCUS on one goal.

Because today, more than ever, focus is way more important than your intelligence.

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New Initiative Launched to Restore Memories and a Legacy

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On Tuesday January 30th, Thirty Years After (30 YA) hosted the Legacy Launch, one of their largest, most innovative and interactive projects to date, at the Ahyra Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.

Sam Yebri, President of Thirty Years After, explains the Legacy Project, “The Project is a grassroots initiative that will help preserve and honor the Iranian  Jewish experience through video for future generations,  and provide an opportunity for every family to capture their parents’  and grandparents’ most compelling memories and anecdotes before it is  too late.”

Doors opened to guest at 7:00 pm where they were greeted with smiles from 30 YA volunteers and staff members. The lobby was packed with guests who were treated to wonderful Iranian street food not often seen or eaten in the United States. The delicious cuisine included Labu (beets baked in their own juice, and typically served steaming hot in a street cart during the dead of winter), Baghali (beans topped with spices, typically served the same way as Labu), Dizi (a meat mash/stew– usually made with lamb, but made with beef and chickpeas at our event), Shohleh Zard (saffron rice pudding), Chos-e-fil (otherwise known as popcorn) and Mahi-Cheh Polo (herbed rice with beef shanks).

The large number of attendees was a testament to the genuine and unprecedented support for the new generation of leaders of the Los Angeles Iranian-American Jewish community.  The printed program for the event listed over 25 generous families and businesses that supported the Legacy Launch and congratulated 30 YA on celebrating their 10 year anniversary.

This event was magical because of the broad range of emotions experienced just by being shoulder to shoulder with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins born in Tehran. Sadness is one emotion that could have been felt while standing in the room, because of all of the untold stories that were not recorded, told or heard. How many stories have we “missed out” on because family members have passed away, younger generations have gone off to college, or simply because we took time for granted? At the Legacy Launch, time stood still for a few hours for the sake of a community recording the past, but very aware of time, embracing beloved memories on video, but also progressively moving toward the future.

Yebri explained, “Our history informs our present and powers our future. This is especially true when our families and community have such a rich legacy of inspiring memories and experiences in Iran and during our exodus to America.  30 Years After  is thrilled to launch ‘The Legacy Project’ as part of the organization’s 10th anniversary celebration.”

Bobby Zolekhian, former President of Nessah Young Professionals expressed, “It was one of the most inspirational events I have been to. I am recruiting people to share their stories. This is something extraordinary!”

Featured guest speakers during the screening included Mrs. Susan Azizzadeh, President of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Dr. Saba Soomekh, Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs at AJC, Megan Nemandoust, Margalit Rosenthal, Liora Simozar and 30 YA President, Sam Yebri.

The dynamic presentation of the screening and its intimate interviews clearly validated that the second and third generations of Iranian Jews growing up in the United States are confidently embracing their unspoken responsibility to record the stories of generations before them for a purpose with a greater cause– maintaining their identity, culture, and traditions.

Learn more about preserving your legacy with 30 YA at https://legacy.30yearsafter.org/

 

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november, 2019

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