Thursday, February 28, 2013

Save the Date! San Diego Celebrates Israel April 21!

Federation is a Mitzvah Making Machine!

Federation made front page news of the San Diego Jewish Journal with it's groundbreaking program The Mitzvah Makers!

A Mitzvah Making Machine
By Jessica Hanewinckel, Editor, San Diego Jewish Journal

Hebrew school classes and one-on-one tutoring sessions. Torah study. Choosing a Torah portion and Haftorah portion. Setting a ceremony date. Preparing speeches for the child and parents. Selecting outfits for the big day. Planning the logistics of the service. Mailing invitations. Planning the big party and the Kiddush luncheon. With so much to do in the year before a bar or bat mitzvah, both the child and his or her parents can easily feel overwhelmed. It’s no wonder parents and kids can be tempted to postpone the mitzvah project longer than they should or neglect to give it the attention and time it deserves. That’s especially true when the children don’t have a structured mitzvah project program through their synagogue to help guide them, or when the family decides it wants to embark on a particularly unique, personal or complex mitzvah project that they’d have to contribute significant family time and resources to accomplish.

“A lot of families feel overwhelmed at doing their own mitzvah project,” says Karen Grossman, director of The Mitzvah Makers, a program of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County that seeks to address this issue. “A lot of people realize, ‘I don’t know how to get started,’ or ‘I don’t know how to find a project.’ It’s also very difficult for kids to find a volunteer project at the age of 12 or 13.”
About a year ago, a local family offered the seed money for the program, which began in the Women’s Philanthropy arm of Federation. According to Grossman, who was already a member of Women’s Philanthropy when she was hired to manage The Mitzvah Makers, the program was created out of the belief that “the b’nai mitzvah journey is so much richer when the children step out of themselves and try to take on a mitzvah project that has more depth than things they’ve been doing all their lives,” she says. “It really helps them learn about an issue and see how they can help solve the problem and make a difference in someone’s life. It’s an added dimension to the experience of learning Torah and standing before the community, and it’s an affirmation [that the children are becoming adults in the Jewish community]. … It’s important that kids make it part of their b’nai mitzvah experience.”

The program can best be summarized as a concierge service that helps local children — free of charge to the families — successfully complete a mitzvah project, with as little or as much assistance as they need. The programs offerings are expansive. The Mitzvah Makers can assign kids their own URL and help them design a customized donation page on The Mitzvah Makers’ Web site, which gives local and international friends and family a safe, trusted way to donate to the child’s chosen charity (with 100 percent of the donations going to the intended recipients). There’s no managing checks or credit card numbers for Mom or Dad, and it centralizes donations and makes it easier to get them to the charity. Grossman can also work with kids to learn about their interests and research suitable organizations toward which they can focus their project (if they don’t know where to begin) and put them in touch with those entities. The kids can also count on organizational support, leadership development, fundraising assistance and skill development, education about the needs in and out of the Jewish community, assistance in finding volunteer opportunities, suggestions for ways they can become activists for their causes in their own synagogues and schools, and mentoring and guidance throughout the entire process, with as much or as little involvement from the child’s family as they’d like.

Adds Grossman, children don’t necessarily have to raise funds for their projects, if volunteerism or some other aspect of tzedakah is more their preference. The Mitzvah Makers just requires that the project benefits a 501(c)3 and has some sort of Jewish element to it, to keep in line with Federation’s mission to enhance the well being of Jews locally and worldwide. To date, they’ve worked with nearly 20 children and have facilitated mitzvah projects benefiting more than a dozen nonprofits. Friends and family of b’nai mitzvah kids have donated more than $25,000 through the kids’ pages on The Mitzvah Makers Web site.
“We’re trying to be flexible,” Grossman says, adding that at just a year in, it’s still a growing and evolving program. “We’re trying to work with the needs of the families and what they want to do. We’ve been learning with each student. … I try to be as helpful as I can and take the pressure off for the parents. … Every bar or bat mitzvah student is invited to participate in the program. We want to make it as welcoming as possible.”

They’re also trying to work with local rabbis, Grossman says, considering many work directly with students in their Hebrew schools and often already have their own mitzvah project curriculum established.

Congregation Beth Am is one of those synagogues that has its own well-structured mitzvah project curriculum for its b’nai mitzvah students, but that didn’t stop Rabbi Matthew Earne from eagerly agreeing to partner with The Mitzvah Makers. (At Beth Am, the curriculum allows students two pathways: to participate in monthly mitzvot assigned by Rabbi Earne, or, alternatively, to take on a yearlong mitzvah project on their own, which is where The Mitzvah Makers could be helpful.)

“I really like how Karen has balanced the needs of our synagogue’s mitzvah program with the needs of Federation,” says Rabbi Earne, who says eight to 10 of his own students have taken advantage of The Mitzvah Makers. “I think it’s a wonderful model.”

Though The Mitzvah Makers has partnered with eight local synagogues and two Jewish day schools, the b’nai mitzvah students who seek its services don’t necessarily have to be a member or student at any of them — unaffiliation, or affiliation with another school or synagogue, are fine — and Grossman says she’s working to build partnerships with more local and international agencies to spread the word about the program and create ties that might lead to mitzvah projects for kids who enter the program in the future.

“We hope our teens, who are the future of our community, understand that Jewish philanthropy is of paramount importance,” Grossman says, “and we hope that through their positive experience with being a mitzvah maker and seeing the impact they’ve had on someone’s life, that they will carry that with them through their life and they’ll want to continue to support Jewish philanthropy. That’s really important to us.”

A year ago, when the program was newly founded and still nameless, Grossman worked with San Diego Jewish Academy to conduct a focus group with seventh grade students there and do Project Afghanistan with the students, to send Passover treats and cards to Jewish members of the U.S. military stationed in Afghanistan.

“It’s who we are as a school in terms of tikkun olam activities,” says SDJA upper school principal Jeffrey Davis, who worked closely with Grossman when she came to SDJA in the program’s early stages. “We pride ourselves on the fact that by the time our kids graduate, they get it. They understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. It’s the other way around. They understand their commitment to community, to their family, to making the world a better place. When [Grossman] came in with this idea, it was such a natural fit for our school to have her come to us with this program.”

It wasn’t long before b’nai mitzvah students sought out the program for assistance with their own mitzvah projects. To date, eight SDJA students have worked with The Mitzvah Makers on their mitzvah projects.

Jacob Kornfeld, now an eighth grader at SDJA, was the first bar mitzvah student to take advantage of The Mitzvah Makers’ services, when the program was still becoming formalized. In honor of his October 2011 bar mitzvah, he chose to raise funds (he ultimately raised $17,000) for Save a Child’s Heart, a Israeli nonprofit that brings needy children to Israel for lifesaving cardiac surgeries. After Kornfeld decided on his cause, he sought out The Mitzvah Makers to help him make it a reality.

“[Raising funds] was a lot cleaner,” Kornfeld’s mother Teresa Dupuis says of working with The Mitzvah Makers, “because Save a Child’s Heart doesn’t have any representation in San Diego, so people were able to make their checks out to Federation and make the donations with a credit card online through Federation, so we didn’t have to deal with any of the funds. … their help was a huge relief because I didn’t have to worry about gathering cash and getting credit card numbers and everything else.”

Mitzvah Maker Jake Kornfeld
Adds Kornfeld, who is an example of a student who needed only minimal assistance, “They were super helpful the whole time, and I probably couldn’t have done it as well as I did without them.”

Unlike Kornfeld, Mia Harris really took advantage of all of the assistance The Mitzvah Makers could offer in advance of her November 2012 bat mitzvah. And she was a unique case; she chose to partner on her mitzvah project with her good friend Madison Henkin. Both girls, who knew they loved art, had been volunteering locally for a non-sectarian organization that helps student artists create pieces that are donated to local hospitals and community health centers to brighten sterile-white rooms. Karen Grossman researched similar organizations and found Havuret, an Israeli organization that brings pairs of art students into hospital wards to do art projects with the patients. When the girls were able to meet Havuret’s founder when she happened to be in San Diego a short time later, they knew it was a match.

“I never would have found out about it if it weren’t for Karen and The Mitzvah Makers,” says Naomi Harris, Mia’s mother. “[Havuret] had a bigger meaning and impact to [Mia] just because the founder was such a deep person. She offered all these other ways in the future the girls can continue helping her organization by collaborating with the art students long distance, so I think there are really limitless possibilities for the collaboration to continue, which is also very exciting.”

Another unique situation came when bat mitzvah student Julia Price, a student at SDJA, came to The Mitzvah Makers for help with her mitzvah project. According to mom Cheryl Rattner Price, Julia wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for her project, but when she began looking at options suggested to her by The Mitzvah Makers, she couldn’t decide on just one — so she chose four: Remember Us (a child Holocaust remembrance program); The Friendship Circle, where she donated art supplies and still volunteers with the disabled children there; Special Delivery (meal delivery to the needy); and Jewish National Fund, for the indoor playground it funded in Sderot.

“I think Karen really encouraged me,” says Rattner Price. “I felt like we were just going to do something simple, like make a poster board. I was just really busy and needed support, and I think I felt really supported that this was an organized community system I could plug into. It helped me to nail it down and get it done. It didn’t cost me anything and it was really available to make it organized. It’s just a fun way for kids to make a difference.”

Audrey Jacobs, whose son Gabriel Jacobs raised money to give three iPads to autistic children through The Friendship Circle, found that her son’s mitzvah project was greatly enhanced through The Mitzvah Makers.

“It was truly a godsend to have Federation and The Mitzvah Makers,” Audrey says. “We reached out to Federation … and they went above and beyond our expectations. There’s no way we could have done this on our own. … I wanted the opportunity for my son to have a sense of ownership on his own and for people to feel comfortable and safe in how they donated their money. … Without any cost to the family, they did so much, and my son and I and our whole family are very grateful to the Federation for creating a way for his bar mitzvah to leave a legacy.”

According to Rattner Price, the service The Mitzvah Makers provides benefits more than just the child, the child’s family or the child’s charity of choice.

“I think [The Mitzvah Makers] is really valuable for our community,” she says. “I think the mitzvah project is the most important part of the bar or bat mitzvah. It makes the kid who’s becoming a young adult feel like they have some power to contribute to make the world a better place.”

For more information, visit or call Karen Grossman directly at (858) 876-7527.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Meet San Diego’s Visiting Delegation from Sha’ar HaNegev

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County is proud and excited to welcome a group of visitors from our sister-city, Sha’ar HaNegev, to our community in March.

Over 14 years ago, San Diego’s Jewish community began its partnership with Sha’ar HaNegev (“SHN”), a 6,000 person region located on the Gaza border. Through personal relationships, the sister-city bond grew, and in 2011, San Diego formalized its relationship through the Partnership2Gether program. This program has facilitated the blossoming of San Diego and Sha’ar Hanegev’s relationship through programs such as the Jewish Peoplehood Project, the Small Business Loan Fund directed at the 10 kibbutzim in the region, the Center for Entrepreneurship which creates an economic incubator model that supports business development in the SHN region, and the Cinematic Bridge film festival connection program.

A direct result of San Diego’s participation in Partnership2Gether, 16 delegates from Sha’ar HaNegev, including Mayor Alon Schuster and high school Principal Aharale Rothstein, will be coming to San Diego from March 1 - March 6, 2013 to continue to strengthen relationships in the Jewish community, help foster a sense of Jewish peoplehood, and learn about youth exchanges and business development opportunities. 

Mayor Alon Schuster, Andrew Viterbi, Larry Acheatel and Claire Ellman

The delegates’ visit will be packed with visits to the San Diego Jewish Academy, the KEN, the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, and local synagogues and businesses. Both SHN residents and select San Diego community members will participate in Jewish Peoplehood conversations, Israel dialogue, a youth exchange programming session, and brainstorming on the Jewish future. The SHN delegation’s trip will culminate in a very special dinner and evening program with Dr. Marc Dollinger, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University and editor of California Jews.

JOIN US and Meet the Delegation! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013, 1pm – 4pm at San Diego Jewish Academy 

Exploring Jewish Identity in Israel and North America: Study with Rabbi Graubart 

Congregation Beth El and Aharale Rothstein, Principal of Sha’ar HaNegev Regional High School

RSVP with your attendance

Monday, March 4, 2013, 6:30pm – 8:30pm at Congregation Beth El 

Religious Pluralism: Understanding American and Israeli Judaism and What we Can Learn from Each Other

A Panel Discussion with Rabbi Yael Ridberg, Congregation Dor Hadash; Rabbi Phil Graubart, Congregation Beth El; Yossi Sussana, Sha’ar HaNegev Adult Educator; Aharale Rothstein, Sha’ar HaNegev High School Principal

RSVP with your attendance 

If you are interested in getting involved with our Sha’ar HaNegev Partnership2Gether, please email Debbie Kornberg or call her at (858) 737-7122. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Slingshot San Diego Inspires Discussion of Personal, Community Values and Innovation

Federation President and CEO Michael Sonduck
How quickly do you think you could identify the top value that underscores your work, life, philanthropy, and volunteerism? How long would it take to collaborate with 5-6 other people from various backgrounds and experiences to come up with a collective list of three values?

Last night at the Slingshot San Diego “90-Minute Slingshot Fund” event, 50 people from across the community, including local rabbis, Jewish professionals, funders, and lay-leaders, had to do just that, but in a matter of minutes. Slingshot, a national organization that serves as a catalyst for innovation in the Jewish community, facilitated a 90-minute version of the process they hold each year with a group of young Jewish philanthropists to help identify values that are important, relevant, and which Jewish organizations exist that promote those values.

During the evening, attendees learned about local recipients of Federation’s Innovation Grants as well as projects and organizations that have been nationally recognized by Slingshot as some of the most innovative in the country in the annual publication of the Slingshot Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation. The evening became highly hands-on and interactive, as tables of mixed demographics, professions, and backgrounds chose values from a deck of values cards and attempted to identify which local and national projects promoted those values. Tables then delivered brief pitches of one local project and one national project before the entire room voted where to grant a total of $10,000 in combined funding provided by the San Diego Federation and the Slingshot Fund.

Julie Finkelstein from Slingshot
Julie Finkelstein, the Program Director at Slingshot who traveled to San Diego to lead this workshop, promised that every person there would leave the evening having learned something new. This proved successful, as those in attendance spoke up about organizations they had never heard of or values they did not realize were important to them. “We’re excited to help raise the profile of innovation in San Diego,” commented Finkelstein, “this is a new community for us to be working with. This is an incredible opportunity to expose people to what is working in Jewish life both here and on the national scene. We hope that the professionals here tonight continue to be inspired to further innovation and collaboration.” Finkelstein is happy to welcome San Diegans into the Slingshot network, and hopes to see more San Diego organizations make it into the national Slingshot Guide in the future. 

Dovi and others discuss Jewish values and innovation
Dovi Kacev, active in the local Moishe House (an organization that is categorized as a Slingshot Standard Bearer), led the discussion as his table. “San Diego has been so innovative in the last 10 years,” he said, “it is great to get a better understanding of where we are and where we’re going. For Moishe House, we want to hear what people here think is important and continue catering to the needs of our San Diego community.”

Federation CEO Michael Sonduck emphasized the wonderful mix of people in the room, from native San Diegans to newcomers, young adults to seniors, professionals and lay-leaders. Commenting on the Innovation Grants, Sonduck reminded everyone that “Federation has been part of the Jewish life in San Diego for 77 years, and we morph as the community changes.” Sonduck continued to call attention to the fact that innovation is the life blood of a community. “Not for its own sake, but for furthering the work that speaks to our values.”

Director of Federation’s Community Planning & Innovation Department Lisa Haney spoke to the crowd, saying she hoped people concluded the evening “with optimism for the future of the Jewish community nationally and in San Diego.”

Lisa Haney and Lee Wollach
Surveying the room, the result of the evening far exceeded Haney’s expectations. Tables were engaged in conversation, at times heated debate, and deep questioning of personal and communal values. One table chose “community, pleasure, tradition” as their collective three values, while another picked “family, community, integrity.” Still one more opted for “community, passion, responsibility.”
After a round of rapid fire project pitches, individuals were able to vote which local organization would receive $5,000 and which national organization would receive the same. The room burst into applause as they announced that Chesed Home: A Project of Hope Village San Diego would be awarded the funds. Challah for Hunger, an organization run out of Texas with chapters across the country on college campuses, was the winner of the national funds.

At the end of the evening, Stuart Starr, who is involved in Tarbuton, the San Diego grantee which was recognized in the Slingshot Guide in 2012-2013, was impressed at the diversity in the room. “It was wonderful sitting with people from different backgrounds and age groups to discuss Jewish life.”

The evening was a huge success, and as people filed out of the host venue Temple Beth Israel, there was still an audible buzz of conversation on the exciting work happening in San Diego and throughout the country.

To learn more about Slingshot, visit or click here to see issues of the Slingshot Guide. To learn more about Federation’s work with local Innovation Grantees, contact Lisa Haney at 619.737.7140 or

San Diego Jewish Film Festival Opening Weekend Success

Young Jewish professionals gathered on Sunday afternoon for the annual FlixMix event, a social mixer held prior to the Film Festival screening of Dorfman, a film featuring actors Sarah Rue and Elliot Gould. This year’s FlixMix was hosted by CJC In the Mix and co-sponsored by YAD and JDC Entwine.

Shelley Neiman and Stacy Parselany, co-chairs of the Center for Jewish Culture’s (CJC) “In the Mix” program for Jews in their 20s, 30s, and 40s were excited to welcome so many new faces. “This is our fourth In the Mix: FlixMix, and every year we get bigger and have more film choic
es,” said Neiman. “Now [In the Mix] has a staff person, a full budget, and a full calendar of events, but the Film Festival is our anchor and a big draw.”

CJC In the Mix hosts cultural events, including an event at the Book Fair and a series called Taboo Talks, which has featured topics including Jews with tattoos. The next Taboo Talk is on Jews and pornography, looking at Jews who participate in the adult entertainment industry. The risqué topic may be too hot to handle for some, but it’s the perfect type of conversation to attract young Jews who may not typically attend Jewish sponsored events. Neiman expressed that every single event has a cultural angle of some sort, there are no parties without content. She event noted that In the Mix attracts all types, including couples and non-Jews. “It’s really important that people can bring their friends and everyone can feel comfortable,” Neiman said. Their very next event is Passover Secrets from the Shiksa in the Kitchen, featuring the blogger and Jew-by-choice Tori Avey.

People at the party were having a good time, noshing on vegetarian sandwiches and enjoying wine and beer. The candy bar was a stroke of brilliance, where people could fill bags with candy to enjoy during the film.

Carly Ezell and Margalit Rosenthal
“We’re thrilled to partner again with our long-standing friends and community partners the JCC and CJC,” commented Carly Ezell, the Federation’s YAD Program Manager. “It’s wonderful to see so many young adults interested in Jewish culture.” 

A new community partner this year was JDC Entwine, the new young adults division of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Jonathon Goldstone, the West Coast Entwine programmer, emphasized how important it was to JDC in San Diego to partner on this event. “As Entwine, not only are we working to connect young adults to a global Jewish world, but also to their local Jewish community. It’s great to see them come out and bridge the generational divide by attending the Film Festival,” said Goldstone. “As recipients of Leichtag Foundation grants, it is great to be a part of other Leichtag endeavors [like the Film Festival.] The Foundation is truly working to establish San Diego as a place to be for young Jews.”

YAD San Diegans with Gary Hellerstein. one of the Producers of "Dorfman",
Ilene Tatro, CJC Program Manager, is responsible for In the Mix, among other CJC programs. She explained that the In the Mix committee screened multiple potential films before voting on Dorfman, which will have a wider release later in the year under the title Dorfman in Love. “This is the only time the film is playing during the Festival,” she noted, “we’re responsible for this film having a screening here in San Diego, and it is the best selling film in the whole Festival.” Indeed, Dorfman, which screened in three separate theaters at the Clairemont Reading, was sold out earlier in the week.

Yashar Koach to CJC In the Mix, YAD, and JDC Entwine on a fantastic community partnership and spectacular showing at the San Diego Film Festival!

San Diego JCRC Director joins Community Leaders in Washington to Advocate on Behalf of Jewish Community and Vulnerable Populations

Representatives from Jewish Federations and Jewish Family Service agencies across the country convened with government professionals and other lay leaders in Washington last week to learn strategies to advocate on a range of national issues, during the Government Affairs Institute (GAI) hosted by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), in collaboration with the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AJFCA).

The conference, which ran Tuesday to Thursday (Feb. 5-7, 2013), included speakers and briefings from members of the media, leaders in academia, White House officials, and members of Congress and their staffs. Participants also met with officials of government agencies such as the Administration for Community Living in the Department of Health and Human Services. Between all the participants, there were 75 meetings on Capitol Hill. Highlights of the conference included lunch in the U.S. Capitol with members of Congress and the opportunity to meet individually with Congressional representatives and staff to discuss key issues affecting the Jewish community.

Alan Krueger
Notable speakers included: Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; Jonathan Greenblatt, Special Assistant to the President and director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation at the Domestic Policy Council; Racquel Russell, Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs and Economic Mobility; and Keith Fontenot, Associate Director for Health at the Office of Management and Budget.

Community leaders advocated for domestic issues such as: reauthorizing the Older Americans Act and including social service support for Holocaust Survivors; conveying the devastating effect that sequestration would have on people in need; authorizing the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, which would enable community mental health centers to better access electronic medical records; protecting charitable giving incentives; and the Community First Choice option, which allows Medicaid beneficiaries to receive more comprehensive services at home or in their communities, improving their heath and quality of life.

JFNA Testifies at Congressional Hearing to Protect Charitable Tax Deduction

Any effort to curb tax deductions for charitable contributions would “cripple” charities and hurt the needy they serve, according to William Daroff, vice president for Public Policy at The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Daroff made the comment during testimony he presented to the House Committee on Ways and Means as part of its continuing deliberations on comprehensive tax reform. The charitable tax deduction is essential to ensure that charities are able to raise the funds necessary to help the vulnerable among us, Daroff maintained.

The Ways and Means Committee invited Daroff to testify at its hearing on Tax Reform and Charitable Contributions. Its leadership said it wants to “hear directly from the charitable community” before considering any proposals that might affect that community’s ability to “obtain the resources they need to fulfill their mission.”

Jewish Federations form the second largest philanthropic network in the nation, collectively raising almost $1 billion in annual giving, as well as an additional $1.2 billion annually in planned giving and endowments.

In unequivocal terms, Daroff told members the impact of limits on the deduction would be significant. Donors’ contributions are the “lifeblood” of the Jewish Federation system and “essential for us to fulfill our charitable mission,” Daroff said. Proposals to limit the deductibility of charitable contributions would result in “less giving and therefore cripple charities that strive to remain at the forefront of the fight to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.”

William Daroff, JFNA VP of Public Policy
While citing studies that show a potential loss of $3 billion in charitable contributions from changing the deduction, Daroff called the debate by tax economists “largely an academic exercise.” The true measure of the impact, he said, “is the tens of thousands who benefit from our services every day.” When government programs such as Medicaid are operating at a loss, philanthropic dollars are what keep the doors open, he added. 

Daroff singled out for special mention the importance of protecting donor-advised funds and supporting organizations, known as participatory funds, which encourage family philanthropy and build endowment assets. He called on the committee to allow these funds to flourish “with a minimum of regulatory burdens” as it considers changes in the charitable deduction.

The JFNA system raises and allocates funds for almost 1,000 affiliated agencies that provide critical services to almost 1 million people across the country. JFNA also “inspires members of the Jewish community to fulfill our religious duty to be charitable (tzedakah) and to fulfill our collective responsibility to build community and improve the world (tikkun olam)," Daroff told the Committee.

The JFNA office in Washington, D.C., has been a leader in advocating for the protection of charitable tax deductions since proposals first were discussed to limit them in 2009.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Film Festival Welcomes International Guests for A Day in the Negev

In between sold-out films and VIP receptions on a full Sunday of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival (SDJFF), the Federation and Center for Jewish Culture hosted a unique collection of films as well as some very interesting guests. A Day in the Negev was a collection of clips from films created by film students at Sapir College in Israel. A project of Partnership 2Gether, this cinematic and cultural exchange invited San Diegans to take a glimpse into what life is like in Israel’s Negev (desert) as well as in Sha’ar HaNegev, San Diego’s sister-city. 

“This is a great project to bring San Diego and Sha’ar HaNegev together,” said Debbie Kornberg, Director of Israel & Overseas Center at the Federation. “This program is a direct outcome of the Cinematic Bridge project funded by Partnership 2Gether.”

At a reception prior to the screening, Film Festival attendees were treated private and one-on-one conversations with Dr. Avner Faingulernt, a professor at Sapir College’s School of Audio and Visual Arts, as well as Evgeny (“Jenia”) Uretsky, one of the students whose film was featured in the collection. “I’m excited to be here, it was very surprising!” exclaimed Jenia. “Maybe by meeting people here, we can have more films in the festival, my work and other students’.” 

Dr. Avner Faingulernt

Dr. Avner Faingulernt was clearly very proud of his students and the work they were screening at the Film Festival. “It is a great honor and a pleasure to be here, enjoying San Diego and meeting people, getting to know each other,” he said. “Cinema is something important to both Sha’ar HaNegev and San Diego.” Faingulernt added that he looks forward to exploring further opportunities for partnership, and what we can learn from each other, “I wish people who come from San Diego will find that film festivals are a great opportunity to learn more about Israel, especially the parts of Israel beyond Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Tzfat.” 

Michael Sonduck, newly appointed CEO of the Federation, explained how the project came to be. “Sandra Kraus [SDJFF Producer] visited Sapir College and the students and faculty of the film department.” The Federation’s Partnership 2Gether program and the Center for Jewish Culture (who host the SDJFF) were able to put together a massive collaboration. “I think the really cool thing about this program is that it is a collaborative effort among these programs based on Sandra’s idea.” Sonduck noted that both San Diego and Sapir College host among the largest film festivals in their respective countries, and they hope this project will grow and foster more student exchange.

Following the reception, approximately 200 people enjoyed A Day in the Negev, featuring six short films directed by six different talented film students. Dr. Avner Faingulernt and Jenia Uretsky followed the films with a discussion.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Table Captain Appreciation Event Generates Buzz for Men’s Event 2013

On Wednesday night, February 6, the Men’s Event table captains were treated to a blast from the past. All 114 table captains from the 2012 Men’s Event were invited to an appreciation dinner at an amazing private auto collection. The thank-you event was generously underwritten by Andy Ratner. Chuck and Amy Spielman, the owners of the collection, kindly opened their doors to show their appreciation to the Federation volunteers.

A 1964 Pontiac GTO, 1959 Bat Wing Chevrolet, a Shelby Cobra, and even an old Good Humor Ice Cream truck were just a few of the automobiles that served as the backdrop for the table captains to enjoy hamburger sliders and fries provided by Felicia G catering and Ballast Point beer donated by the brewery. Happy to be there to show appreciation for the table captains, 2012 co-chair Todd Kirschen said that he was “extremely grateful for the support and dedication of the table captains. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to reach as many people in San Diego.”

Chuck Spielman, owner of the collection, said he recognized how crucial the table captains were to the success of the Men’s Event and when Claire Ellman, Federation Board President, said they needed to thank them, he readily agreed. “I thought it was a great idea,” Spielman commented, “and this is a great place for guys.”

Throughout the night, you heard how crucial the table captains are to the success of Men’s Event. These volunteers work together and individually to recruit their network of family, friends, and colleagues to sign up and, most importantly, show up. As financial supporters of the event, their actions also encourage others to donate and support the great work of the Federation. Thanks to 114 table captains, over 800 men attended the 2012 Men's Event, over half of whom had never been before. Also notable, over 150 new participants were ages 20-40, working towards the goal of reaching out to new and younger Jewish community members. Together, they raised nearly $400,000.

“I thought the Men’s Event was great, and it brought out a lot of people who wouldn’t normally come to Federation events,” noted Andy Ratner, Wednesday evening’s underwriter. “I wanted to continue the enthusiasm, and I think this is a great way to do that and to show our appreciation.”

The table captains seemed to agree, as they took private tours of the main room of 1960s cars and a side room with gleaming vehicles from the 1930s, including an old fire truck. Memorabilia from the decades lined the walls, from Coca-Cola signs to shoe advertisements. A separate room was dedicated to showcasing Spielman’s war memorabilia, which he became interested in after serving our country in Vietnam.

Enthusiasm for the cars mixed with enthusiasm and excitement for Men’s Event 2013. Steve Mizel and the Mizel Family Foundation, who generously underwrote Men’s Event 2012, have agreed once again to underwrite the annual celebration, ensuring that Jewish men of all ages across San Diego County will be able to participate. New co-chairs were also announced; Jack Maizel, Daniel Ellman, and Ron Zollman will join Ira Feinswog in planning the programming and recruitment for what will surely be another incredible Men’s Event in 2013.

Daniel Ellman, Jack Maizel, Ron Zollman, Ira Feinswog and Chuck Spielman
“It’s a great event,” said Jack, “and this year, it’s tremendously important to grow on the achievements of last year. Thanks to the generosity and foresight of the Steve Mizel, the community is coming together and coalescing more than ever before.” Recognizing the increased numbers in men ages 21-40 who attended this last annual event and the ages of the new co-chairs, Mizel recognized that “Our great community is on its way to becoming exceptional, and Men’s Event is a huge stepping stone.”

The planning of Men’s Event 2013 is already underway, and after last night, table captains are sure to sign up once again to volunteer. If you are interested in learning more about Men’s Event and how you can get involved, contact Mandy Danzan at (619) 737-7123 or

A HUGE Federation THANK YOU to Chuck and Amy Spielman for hosting an incredible evening.

For more great pictures of beautiful cars and dashing mensches, click here.

YAD Goes Urbn

Coordinators Miki Lamm, Joel Blumenfeld, Dina Itelson
Over 60 Jewish young professionals gathered on Thursday, February 7 for the first YAD Happy Hour of 2013. Men and women in their 20s and 30s milled around URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park to enjoy craft beer, artisan pizzas, and specialty cocktails while they chatted with old friends and newcomers to the area.

YAD Happy Hour Cluster coordinators Joel Blumenfeld, Dina Itelson, and Miki Lamm organized the event, just the first of a series of happy hours in 2013 that will bring San Diego’s Jewish young professionals together to mix, mingle, and learn about future events with Federation’s YAD (Young Adult Division). “We get together as young Jewish professionals once a month to connect, meet new people, and be involved in the community,” said Dina, one of the coordinators.

Miki Lamm, another coordinator, added that the happy hours “give us the opportunity to network with other young adults, and for them to network with each other.” Thursday’s event marked the one year and one month anniversary of the group. 

The happy hour came at a good time of year, attracting many newcomers to San Diego. Ashley Carber, who recently moved back to San Diego from Los Angeles, said that “after moving back to San Diego after 10 years living elsewhere, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the Jewish community.” 

The event was also the perfect time to re-entice people who had maybe only been to one or two previous YAD events. “It's my second event,” commented Dominic Sandrik, “it's a great time here at YAD, a lot great people.”

As attendees got to know each other, YAD Program Manager Carly Ezell walked around greeting everyone and promoting future events like a Newcomers’ Brunch and an upcoming Purim Party. The happy hour was also the perfect opportunity to welcome the newest member of the YAD team, Alex Leverant, who just started work this week as the YAD Program Associate. “I'm so excited to be part of the YAD family,” said Alex.

All Jewish young professional who are new (or returning) to San Diego are invited to attend the Newcomers’ Brunch on February 24, please contact Carly Ezell for details. The entire YAD community and their friends are invited to a Totally 80’s Purim Party on March 2.

The Young Adult Division organizes themed, peer-run clusters, such as dining out, book clubs, or outdoor activities. For more information, visit or contact Carly Ezell at (619) 737-7128 or

To see more great pictures of the event, click here.

Federation Partner JFS to Host Heart and Soul Gala March 16

Jewish Family Service of San Diego’s annual Heart & Soul Gala will be held Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 6:30pm at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla. This year’s theme, Make an Impact, celebrates the accomplishments of Mitzvah Honorees Barbara Bry for Girls Give Back; Judy and Mike Feldman for Pachie's Place; and Charitable Adult Rides & Services, Inc. (CARS), including CARS CEO Rick Watkins, Board of Directors, and Partners. The gala is chaired by Joyce Axelrod and Leslie Fastlicht Russo, with Auction Chairs April Fink and Karin Toranto. Last year, more than 600 guests enjoyed the festivities, with all proceeds benefiting the programs of Jewish Family Service. Joyce Axelrod said, “Heart & Soul has become an important mainstay of the Jewish social scene, a very special evening filled with old and new friends, great food and entertainment with all proceeds benefitting the vital programs of JFS.” 

To purchase tickets or for more information, call (858) 637-3034 or visit

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sha'ar HaNegev is Blooming

Federation friend Varda Goldstien, Resource Development Director of the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council sent us this note and these great pictures from our sister city in the Negev.

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you the experience that occurs in Sha'ar Hanegev. Every year in February the western Negev blossoms and flower with million anemones. Thousands of people from all over the country come to participate in the Festival "East is red"(Drom Adom").

The days are quiet, and without rocket fire - we are so happy.

Hugs to you and yours,

Varda Goldstein
Resource Development Director
Sha'ar HaNegev regional council

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Film Premiere: A Day in the Negev - February 10

A Day in the Negev provides an opportunity to examine life and events in San Diego's sister city, Sha'ar HaNegev, located in the southern region of Israel. You will meet distinguished visiting guests from the Negev and see the work of film students at Sapir College. The films we have selected to exhibit were culled from more than 30 shorts created by these students and screened at Cinema South film festival. The students were challenged to give creative shape to everyday life as it is experienced in their region. We know you will find a connection between our community and theirs through
this cinematic bridge.

Special Guests:
Dr. Avner Faingulernt 
School of Audio and Video Arts
Chair of Sapir College
Founder of Cinema South Festival

Mr. Evgeny Uretsky
Film Student of Sapir College

MOVIE TICKETS: Or Call 858.362.1348

Friday, February 1, 2013

Soille Hebrew Day School Students Make Their Collective Mark on the San Diego Jewish Community

Soille Hebrew Day School middle school students conducted their first ever A.C.E. Community Service Program- Day of Volunteerism, led by the Reuben Klamer ‘Game of Life’ Youth Leadership Council. A.C.E. stands for Achieving Chesed and Excellence, and ties in to the school-wide character development program, Successful Me. The A.C.E. Community Service Program is the students’ response to President Obama’s call for a National Day of Community Service.

The sixty students of Soille Hebrew Day School’s middle school broke into groups and fanned out in four different directions to volunteer throughout the San Diego Jewish Community. One group of students headed to Seacrest Village where they enjoyed time with residents of the home, playing board games, dancing, and decorating. The second and third groups headed to the JCC campus to work within very different venues. The second group worked in the quiet environs of the Astor Judaic Library, cataloging, shelving, and organizing valuable archives and information, giving great attention to every detail. The third group interacted warmly with the adorable preschoolers of the Nierman Preschool, assisting the wonderful staff and parents in running a creative Tu B’shvat program. The student volunteers ran stations and interacted with the children in  pecial activities of reading books to kids, cutting out materials in an arts and crafts projects, performing improv theater, teaching poems, and even helping out at the worm composting station. The fourth group made an appreciable difference right on their own school campus. Beginning in the Abraham Hurlich Memorial Library, the students fixed shelving, organized new books and dusted and rebound older ones. Then they worked in the school’s Beit Midrash, pouring care and attention into bringing it to the splendorous condition befitting a home of Torah. 

At the end of the day, a true sense of accomplishment and purpose was shared amongst the student body. The students were invigorated, having made a real difference in the lives of others, and had a new and more profound understanding of how capable they are of making a meaningful service contribution to their community. Kudos to the entire administration and staff of Soille Hebrew Day School, whose organization and support made this important day possible. Most especially, bravo the middle school students and their Morah- Malka Weiser, the Student Leadership Council Coordinator, whose heartfelt service made a positive impact on the San Diego Jewish Community! Soille Hebrew Day school is supported by your Federation.