Avi and Dorit Rodan have been the emissaries of Bnei Akiva, based in Tarzana, since August 2013, when they arrived from Israel to establish a first-time presence in the San Fernando Valley. Now, two years later, Avi Rodan considers the changes he has seen in his neighborhoods. “When my wife and I came to Tarzana we knew it would be completely different from our work in Israel. The Tarzana community was so new when we came. It was just a small group of friends but the community has defined itself and there is new leadership and this is why more people have moved here. The Eruv has just opened and this helps the community grow in observance. New shuls have opened and we encourage this and we help whereever possible.
“There is a unique flavor to the Israeli community in this neighborhood as well. We soon noticed that the adults spoke to us in Hebrew but their kids only used English. That was a shock. The kids are very different from Israeli kids. The cultural gap between parents and kids is great. I can relate as I had the same experience with my father. I lost my English which was my first language, because I was not using it. Language is a certain boundary.”
Bnei Akiva has now created an entire program in the Valley. Rodan explained, “We have opened several new programs and activities for kids and adults, and they take place at a variety of locations. In some ways, I feel a connection to Avraham Aveinu who dug wells in the desert. We have a spread of new programs and people are trusting us to bring a quality of Jewish activity that is interesting and supportive of Jewish values. California culture is different to Israeli culture. Here, you are very spontaneous and there is an open minded cultural identity which lends itself to new things.
“I see that Israel has become a major theme of American Jewish identity and people connect to Israel as part of their Jewishness. We want to strengthen two values with the events we hold; we want to know there are strong Jewish values and strong Zionists values. The two values crossover, more for some people than for others. When we train the madrichim, our counselors, we enthuse them with a connection to Israel.
“Shabbat activities are necessary. The city has events in Hancock Park and Beverly Hills and we now have afternoon games and activities for elementary school kids at Shaarey Zedek shul in Valley Village and in Tarzana. We focus on bringing neighbors together. Last year, we held a 300 people event at Eretz Cultural Center where we had a group davening and we read tehillim for Israel, during the height of the recent terrorist attacks. That event was really meaningful. After Sukkot we held another event at Emek Hebrew Academy and community members came from all over the Valley. We also hold Erev Shira evenings which are sing-a-longs with Jewish and Israeli music. These take place at people’s home on a weekday and during the holidays. We also have a summer camp at Camp Moshava in Running Springs that is a big success.
“Our style is to do something good for orthodox Jewish identity. We deal with a lot of community members who all have a different take and connection to their Jewishness. The students are from grades 1 – 8 and they come from a broad variety of schools but we enjoy firing them up to connect to the Jewish value system.
“I was blessed to enjoy the birth of our youngest son last week. Here was a presentation of the difference in culture between Israel and America. At the birth of my eldest two children we were at an Israeli shomer Shabbat hospital, Shaarey Zedek, which was hectic but wonderful. Now, in Tarzana, we enjoyed a hospital that seemed to function more like a hotel. It was very calm and organized and there was room service. Tarzana has a lot to offer!”