The Social Justice Vision at Stephen S. Wise Temple

Our congregation will see Social Justice as a calling that derives from our sense of God and the imperative of Jewish Tradition. The Stephen S. Wise Temple community will use our influence, power and compassion to be a force for positive, meaningful and effective change in the quality of life on behalf of all the citizens of Los Angeles and the world.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Stephen S. Wise Elementary students reflect on their Experience with LA's Best

LA's Best is an after school enrichment program that takes place in specific LAUSD schools. The Israel Consulate has joined with the Mayor's office to develop partnerships between LA Jewish schools and LA's Best participating schools. The goal is to build stronger relationships between the LA Jewish community and the Latino community. As indicated elsewhere on this blog our relationship with the Boyle Heights Community of Dolores Mission and our work with them on Immigration Reform all reflect this strategic priority of the Jewish Community. Enjoy the reflections of our Elementary School 5th Grade class!

Justin Leff

(a recent addition)

At the end of January, the fifth grade students went on a field trip to Victory Elementary School, a public school with mostly Hispanic students. There we learned about their culture and did activities with them. When we arrived, the students of Victory Elementary School welcomed us in the auditorium with bottles of water and cereal bars. We sat across from the students. My friends and I started a conversation with the kids across from us. We talked about favorite movies, favorite sports, the daily school schedule, and favorite school subjects. We told them that they will be coming to our Purim Carnival and taught them how Purim became a holiday. They told us about the language they learn at school and we told them about Hebrew and Judaic studies. Later we got to sing songs with Mrs. Jeser, dance with special guests, and paint hands on one of the walls of their school with Mrs. Navah. Before we came, we made leaves with poems, beads, and pictures on it; every kid there got one. Victory School’s students made everyone little pocket books with pictures on them. Everyone learned that even though we are different religions, we are the same because we are all people. We are looking forward to seeing Victory School at the Purim Carnival -- playing games, going on rides with them, and teaching them about the history of Purim.

Bailey Share Aizic
My name is Bailey and I am a fifth grader who went on the field trip to Victory Elementary School. I think that meeting Hispanic students and learning about their culture was a very good way to learn about diversity. It was also important to learn that people who are different from us in language, background, culture or religion can be our friends. I hope that the students at Victory felt the same way.

Our day at Victory Elementary started off in large groups sitting at a table, having a snack and getting to know each other. I hit it off with a girl named Jackie. Then we were off to the murals. Our wonderful art teacher, Ms. Navah, painted a big tree and branches on one of the walls at Victory School. Each of us took a sponge in the shape of a hand, dipped it in paint, and added it to the “tree.” Then all of us learned and sang Tu B’Shvat songs with Mrs. Jeser. For our last activity, we all learned a dance. We exchanged handmade gifts, and then it was time to go. I was sad when I had to leave my new friends.

Amanda Hartstein

Our field trip to Victory Elementary School was very sweet and touching. For me to meet Hispanic students was very interesting. I learned a lot from them. I learned some of their language and dance. I learned what they like to do in and out of school. To learn and interact with the kids from the LA's Best program was a new experience for me and everyone in are grade. We did fun activities with them and completed a "Tree of Friendship." I do think they could have included activities that involved some teamwork so we could interact with the kids even more.
I think they learned a lot from us. They also learned some things we like, some of are language, and some songs that we sing. I think the kids had a lot of fun just like we did. Overall I think it was a vert nice and interactive trip wanted me to know more about them. The way they decorated the auditorium for us was so nice and it touched me and made me open my heart more. They were kids with very good manners and were very polite toward us. All of the LA's Best kids have great hospitality I have to say.
The media at the trip did a very nice job and the Israeli Consulate people are very wise and smart to organize these special trips. Overall this trip was very fun and very well put together. I am so happy the kids will be coming to out Purim Carnival!

Kobi Hekmat-Niaz
Meeting and interacting with the Hispanic students from Victory Elementary was fun and interesting. We learned what other schools were like, and we went out into the world, seeing what the world was like apart from our Stephen S. Wise community. Some of us made friends with some of the kids from their school. They weren't much different from us, although Victory is a public school. They had sports and P.E. They had art, music, and many of the subjects we do. We learn the Hebrew language, and they learn Spanish. The students at Victory Elementary were welcoming and kind. The activities we did together were fun, but they were not very bonding. We sang and had a music class, we danced a Native American dance, and we created a beautiful mural called "The tree of Friendship." It was a painting of a tree. Every single student took a hand-shaped sponge, chose a color, and put the handprint on the tree. Those were the leaves of the tree. This was a very meaningful activity.

Next time, I would suggest a sports activity because team sports are bonding, and can create great friendships. Working as a team would be an interesting activity. From our experiences, and theirs, I think we learned many things. First, that our schools are alike in many ways. Second, that when we work together, we can achieve goals beyond imagination. For example, planting many trees for Tu B'shvat, and helping the environment. And third, that this was a great experience. I think we should do something similar to this again.

Sawyer Kroll
I think that it was a great experience for both cultures. Many kids at Stephen S Wise were probably thinking that Hispanics and public schools were all messes full of gangs, which is the stereotype. The kids from the other school probably thought that Jews were crazy people so I thought that it was a great experience to see their school to prove the stereotypes wrong. It was always probably a great experience for the Hispanic school to see that Jews were good people and make new friends and tight bonds. I thought that the activities that we did weren't the most bonding of activities. I thought it would be better to play a sport where you don't look to see if the person that you are passing to is Hispanic or a Jew, you just look to see if the person is on your team. All in all I thought it was a great bonding and learning experience.

Andie Gilder

I hopped off the bus at Victory Elementary School, excited to meet my new friends. I suddenly got nervous. I have to confess that one thought kept running through my mind. What if one of these new friends didn't like me? But then I thought, I'm fun - creative - athletic and caring….what's not to like? So I tried to look at this situation as though my cup was half full. Now I am thinking of what types of projects we were going to do? What were we going to learn about their heritage? I was now excited to find out what that was.

The Victory students were setting up for the event in their auditorium. Once we entered the room, a nice woman wearing a sparkly outfit (which symbolized something I had no clue about), greeted us with a big smile.

The teaching assistants seated us into three designated groups. The Stephen S. Wise students were scattered all over the auditorium. I looked around the room, and thought how nice it was seeing all of the Hispanic children organized, sitting at tables with us. One group was green, another was blue, and my group was red.

I was lucky! I had a great group. I sat next to Adam, Julio, and Logan. So I tried to be conversational. I learned Julio's favorite movies were: Step Brothers and Pineapple Express, Adam wanted to be an archeologist, and Logan was hoping to make it into the NBA one day. Some of the boys from Stephen S. Wise jumped right in on that conversation.

But what struck me the most was when Adam asked us how to say "Hello" in Hebrew. We say "Shalom" and tell them that it has a few meanings: Hello, Goodbye, and Peace. We were having more fun by the second, and time started to fly by.

We moved from station to station and ended up in Mexican Dancing! The performers were banging on their instruments while the students and teachers danced. This was really interesting for me because I have never seen Mexican dancers dance before.

I was really excited when I found out that we were going to be able to perform the routines the dancers just did. I tried my best, it was fun, but it definitely didn't turn out the way I had planned.

We finally headed over to the music room and waited for our music teacher Mrs. Jesser to begin, so we could sing our song to our new friends. The song we sang was "Todah" Thank you! It seemed like the perfect song to sing since they were such great hosts.

The greatest part was the Victory students joined in too, and the whole auditorium was singing our song. It was awesome to see the Hispanic children singing a Hebrew song with us Jewish kids. It was pretty impressive how they caught on in just a few minutes.

This field trip taught me a lot about the Hispanic culture, and how to appreciate the differences and similarities in all of us. I enjoyed seeing how they danced, played their instruments, and most of all I loved spending time with some new kids. I don't have a clue, why I was worried.

The following paragraphs are excerpted from longer essays: (Thanks to Ms. Baker!)

Rachel Sarrafzadeh:

On January 27 we were invited to Victory Elementary. When we first got there, we were introduced to our buddies. Ours were Ashley, Vanessa, and Leslie. They told us about their school and we told them about our school. It was kind of like an interview. We learned a lot about each other. We learned their favorite songs, T.V. shows, websites, and some of the hobbies they like to do in their free time. I really liked this field trip because we got to learn about another culture and meet new people: tow people coming together and making a difference!

Navid Rodd:

We sang some Tu BiShVat songs and painted a mural. We taught each other our languages. We taught them how to shout, "Hello," and how to scream, "Come together," in Hebrew. They taught us how to say those things in Spanish. Most of them were shy but some weren't shy at all. I met a boy named Nicholas who was a big fan of sports. His favorite sport was baseball. They taught us about LA's Best. It is an afternoon program where kids can go and play sport, do homework, and more.

Lindsey Rosenblatt:

At the closing ceremony, we heard a new song written for us by the writer of the Power Ranger song. It is now our song. It was amazing! I loved it! It sounded better than most of the music I listen to. Before we left, we yelled, "Goodbye and thank you!" They were very nice and I had fun. Working together makes bigger things.

Autria Mashian:

When we got to Victory Elementary School, we asked the fourth and fifth graders questions while we ate snacks…..We ended the day by giving them leaf key chains and getting small, hand-painted purses back. I had a great day; two backgrounds became one!

Daniella Cohensedgh:

On January 27th the whole fifth grade from Stephen S. Wise went to Victory Elementary for a cultural exchange. We sang a lot of exciting songs and a few Hebrew songs. At first we led the songs, but the Victory students happened to be louder and more enthusiastic! After that, we went back to the auditorium and the Consul General from Israel spoke and told us that there would be trees planted in Israel for every fourth and fifth grade student at Victory and every fifth grader at Stephen S. Wise. We were surprised by a song written just for us about how everyone is the same and we are all one. This was a spectacular experience for me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Editorial in Immigration Reform from the Forward and Ha'aretz


U.S. Jews and Latinos form unlikely bond over immigration policy
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward

Even as health care reform twists in the wind, immigration policy looms as the next big political debate, and Hispanics and Jews are moving to the forefront in a burgeoning political alliance.

The next three months are seen as critical in the fight for immigration reform, but the weakening of the Democrats, grip on Congress with the recent loss of a key Massachusetts Senate seat does not bode well for the passage of reform legislation.

The Jewish-Latino alliance on immigration issues builds on the heritage and experience of the Jewish community and on the enthusiasm and urgent needs of the Hispanic community, which has a strong interest in issues of family unification and the status of the some 12 million illegal immigrants, most of them from Latin America.

But Jewish activists also see the joint work as an opening for cooperation with the Hispanic community on other issues, such as Israel.

"If we want to engage with the Latino community on issues that are of concern for us, including Israel, we need to engage on issues that bother their community," said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. "We want to create growing bonds with the Latino community, and we cannot create these bonds if we are indifferent to the issues that are of concern to them."

Alliance: Luis Gutierrez (left) and Charles Schumer are trying to drive reform through Congress. Some advocates view the ethnic backgrounds of the two key lawmakers leading the drive for immigration reform as symbolic of the growing alliance on the issue. In the House, the main immigration reform bill was presented Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, and in the Senate it is expected that New York's Senator Charles Schumer will soon present his version of immigration reform legislation.

The Gutierrez bill has been praised by advocates for immigrants as providing answers to most of the concerns of the Hispanic community, but so far it has failed to gain any Republican support.

Schumer's bill, now in the making, is expected to have more bipartisan appeal, by taking a nuanced approach to the thorny issue of providing a path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants.

While Democratic-backed health care reform legislation was uniformly opposed by Republicans and now seems to be stuck in Congress, advocates agree that immigration reform stands no chance of passage without bipartisan support.

But immigration advocates believe that the blow suffered by health care reform supporters following the Massachusetts Senate election does not necessarily dictate the same fate for immigration reform. Indeed, said HIAS’s Aronoff, it might even help the cause, due to increased pressure on lawmakers to show progress on key issues. "All Americans have seen the gridlock in Washington and are very frustrated with it” he said. “Now the president and Congress need to show that they can solve problems for Americans."

But with the political clock ticking, supporters of reform fear that major legislation is becoming harder to pass, and so they set the first half of 2010 as a desired deadline for passing legislation. "Every day we get closer to the elections, the harder it becomes," said Richard Foltin, director of national and legislative affairs at the American Jewish Committee, referring to upcoming congressional elections.

Jewish communal support for immigration reform is organized around several principles, including the need for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants; a mechanism for dealing with future immigration waves; speeding up work on family unification; integrating new immigrants into American society; and finding, as Jewish immigration advocates put it, an "effective and humane" way of enforcing immigration laws and border control.

This last point seems to be a growing concern within the Jewish community, said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs based in Chicago. Ramsey, whose organization has been working closely with Hispanic groups, stressed that while both communities strongly support immigration reform, there is still a need to instill in members of the Jewish community the importance of the issue, which for most Jews carries a symbolic, not personal, importance.

"Our community is one step removed," she said, "and therefore it is very important to make it real for people by interacting with the Latino community."

While the Jewish organizational world is essentially united on this issue, some have argued that the Jewish rank-and-file is not on entirely the same page as communal leaders.

The supposed divide between religious leaders of various stripes and their rank-and-file was the focus of a recent survey, sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that opposes granting illegal immigrants a path to legalization and instead argues that many will return to their home countries if immigration laws are better enforced. That poll, which was conducted online by Zogby International in December, found that Jews were roughly equally divided between those who prefer a stepped-up enforcement approach and those who prefer granting legal status with a path to citizenship.

Jewish immigration advocates have questioned the survey's methodology, but they agree that there are diverse opinions within the community. Yet the CIS poll also found that Jews were still considerably more likely than members of other religious groups to support granting legal status to illegal immigrants, a finding that immigration advocates say rings true.

The organized Jewish community is more committed than ever to immigration reform. A letter supporting immigration reform, which will be sent out to all Senate offices in early February, was signed by dozens of national Jewish organizations.

Joining forces with the Hispanic community has been a longstanding goal for Jewish groups. But what seems to be a rare chance to reform immigration laws has helped galvanize the relationship.

At a January 10 roundtable in Durham, N.C., Jewish and Latino activists shared their immigration experiences and looked for ways to work together in support of the legislation. "We broke into groups and spoke about the similarity between our grandparents' immigration and their experience nowadays," said Stephanie Grosser, who has been coordinating outreach efforts for HIAS.

One of the issues activists from both sides discussed was hate and hostility directed at immigrants, both past and present-day, whether they were Jewish newcomers at the turn of the 20th century or Latinos in recent decades. "After we talked about why the Jewish community cares about immigration, two Latino women from the crowd came up and hugged me," Grosser recalled.

Cooperation between the two communities goes beyond the issue of immigration reform and includes many joint programs on the local level. On the national level, Jewish and Latino groups are part of broader coalitions organizing a Washington rally in March in favor of immigration reform, which will be preceded by advocacy work in congressional districts during the February congressional recess.

Jewish groups bring to the table their experience and well-established network of political contacts, a contribution highly appreciated by Hispanic organizers.

"For us, as newcomers to the society, this experience is extraordinary," said Gutavo Torres, president of Casa Maryland, a Hispanic group active in the metropolitan Washington area. "They know how to work through the system, how to lobby, how to advocate. The Jewish community has a lot of experience and a lot of power."

Jewish organizations have been increasing their efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community for several years, and most national groups have established joint programs and sponsored Jewish-Hispanic events. With the rapid growth of the Hispanic community and with its rising political clout, Jewish groups see added value in building bridges to the community.

"We are working on immigration, because it is the right thing to do, because it is part of our values," said the AJC's Foltin. "But the dialogue also creates better understanding for the needs of our community."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Breaking News on Immigration Reform

Latinos seek more support for immigration reform

Illinois congressman tells L.A. protesters that he needs more votes for a reform bill.

By Teresa Watanabe

11:06 PM PST, February 1, 2010

A leading Latino lawmaker asserted Monday that Latinos, angered at President Obama for his failure to push immigration reform legislation, could stay home from the polls this year.

"People are angry and disillusioned," U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in an interview.

Gutierrez criticized the Obama administration for not pushing harder for legislation that would provide an opportunity for legalization for some immigrants. But he conceded that he lacks the votes in the House to pass the bill he backs.

Aiming to revive the immigration reform effort, Gutierrez flew to Los Angeles to headline a town hall meeting Monday evening at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, known as "La Placita," which has long declared itself a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

With pro-reform banners and chants, hundreds of immigrants and their supporters turned out at the forum, which featured elected officials, labor leaders and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

The diverse slate of speakers included the Rev. Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who said Latinos and African Americans share a common interest in fighting "slave wages."

One Korean illegal immigrant described his drive to excel as a graduate of UC Santa Barbara who dreams of contributing to the country as a professor.

And Beck drew cheers and a standing ovation when he declared, "A person's immigration status alone is not the business of the Los Angeles Police Department."

Earlier, Gutierrez told The Times that Obama's failure to push immigration reform was symbolized by his State of the Union address last Wednesday, when he devoted 38 of about 7,300 words to the issue.

The "throwaway line," Gutierrez said, was the final straw for many activists who have been perturbed by the continued deportations and other enforcement actions without real progress on reform legislation.

Removals of illegal immigrants have increased under the Obama administration. In fiscal 2009, they grew to 387,790 from 291,060 in 2007 under the Bush administration, government data show.

Asked to respond to Gutierrez's remarks, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said in a written statement that the administration remained "committed to confronting this problem" through administrative and enforcement tools, along with working with Congress toward a solution.

Gutierrez said he was short at least 18 votes in the House to pass his legislation, which would legalize most of the nation's 12 million illegal migrants, provide more family visas, increase worker protections and offer other reforms.

He acknowledged that selling the bill to the American public at a time of double-digit unemployment would not be easy.

But he and Los Angeles labor leader Maria Elena Durazo argued that legalizing undocumented immigrants would help the nation's economic recovery by raising their wages and allowing them to spend more consumer dollars.

To revive the issue's visibility, immigrant rights supporters are organizing a national mobilization on March 21 to take 100,000 people to Washington, D.C.

Without progress, the congressman warned that many Latinos would stay home from the polls.

According to exit polls, Obama received 70% of the Latino vote in 2008, boosting him to victory in the swing states of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida.

A poll last December by Latino Decisions, a research team specializing in the Latino vote, found that significant numbers of Latino voters would defect without passage of immigration reform.

"Democrats have to be very careful that they don't push Latinos from frustration to an active attitude of punishing them for inaction," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan public policy analysis organization.

Gonzalez said 1,000 Latino leaders from 15 states who recently met in Texas agreed to launch an "accountability campaign" to publicize whether House and Senate members support immigration reform and withhold votes from those who do not.

But Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican who publishes a nonpartisan analysis of California elections, questioned whether Latinos would defect from Democrats.

"What are they going to do, vote for Republicans who won't even bring up the topic?" he asked.

"The shrillness of Republican rhetoric on immigration reform has more of an impact on Latino voting behavior than the lack of a rapid response from the Obama White House."