The annual OU West Coast Convention took place in Los Angeles on December 7th through December 11th. The theme of the convention was, The Jew in Galut: The Secret to Our Survival. With thirteen participating member synagogues and various events throughout the city, the convention touched thousands of people.
The OU Convention opened on December 7th at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills with a keynote sponsors’ dinner, followed by the keynote address for the community by Mr. Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The topic of Mr. Hoenlein’s address was, The World After the Elections: Challenges to American and World Jewry. Speaking to hundreds of attentive listeners, Mr. Hoenlein debunked the lies and distortions presented by the media concerning the State of Israel. He said that many countries today are increasing their ties to Israel. International airlines are adding seats to flights to Israel. These countries are discovering that Israel is the source of stability in the Middle East and their only reliable ally. Mr. Hoenlein told of an Arab leader who had said to him privately, “We pray for Israel. We condemn them, but we realize that Israel is our only hope against the enemy, [Iran].” Mr. Hoenlein enumerated the latest archeological discoveries in Israel, explaining that every stone testifies to its Jewish history. “Being rooted firmly in the past will give us the ability to face the challenges of today,” said Mr. Hoenlein.
On December 8th, the OU Convention held two events at YULA Boys High School: a legal seminar and a parenting conference. The legal seminar, entitled Navigating Jewish Life in a Secular Legal Climate, was attended by about thirty local Jewish lawyers. Mr. Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President of OU, introduced the program by discussing the history of legal cases where government and religion intersect, and how they were reconciled over the years. Then Professor Avi Helfand spoke about the challenges the Orthodox Jewish community is facing today, especially in regards to our relationship with the LGBT community. He addressed the legal, ethical, and Jewish issues, explaining that Jewish institutions can be held legally accountable for their treatment of LGBT people. Since Jewish institutions receive federal funds through the Department of Homeland Security Credits, they are subject to the laws of discrimination and can potentially face a lawsuit if they turn down an LGBT couple from, say, holding a bar mitzvah for their child. It is important for the Jewish community to be aware of these issues.
Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn addressed the attorneys next, speaking about the need for lawyers to form a partnership with the local rabbinate. Then Sarah Nissel, Esq., Director of the Jewish Divorce Assistance Center of Los Angeles, spoke about community support for individuals going through a divorce. She advocated for schools providing more support for children from divorced homes, as well as for more community education about divorce in general.
Louis J. Shapiro, a criminal defense lawyer who sponsored dinner and assisted in assembling the panel, developing the topics for the night, and moderating the evening, says that the event participants expressed interest in learning more about the issues. “These issues are not spoken about much, but they need to be addressed,” he says. “At first, it’s uncomfortable, but the sooner we address these issues the better for the community in the long term.”
The parenting conference, entitled The Challenges of Parenting in the 21st Century, featured a panel discussion made up of Dr. David Pelcovitz and Mrs. Sarah Robinson. In their introductory remarks, Dr. Pelcovitz spoke about instilling values in our children, and Mrs. Robinson spoke about finding one’s unique voice as a parent. The remainder of the program was made up of a panel discussion moderated by YULA Boys High School Head of School Rabbi Dov Emerson. The questions were submitted online by parents in advance.
In addition to the public sessions, the convention speakers also visited four local high schools, served as scholars-in-residence at twelve local synagogues, held separate conferences for rabbis and rebbetzins, participated in Shabbat meals and a Friday night tisch at Congregation Adas Torah, spoke at two melaveh malkah events, and held a Sunday morning Annual Memorial Beit Midrash in memory of two sisters, Dr. Beth Sharon Samuels, a”h and Dr Rana Lynn Samuels Ofran a”h.
Also on Sunday morning, Rabbi Hershel Schachter gave a lecture at the LINK Kollel and Shul entitled Chanukah – The Festival of Our Rededication. Rabbi Schachter discussed the intricacies in the halachah of lighting the Chanukah menorah, pointing out that different areas of halachah are closely intertwined.
Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, Director of OU West Coast, says that the annual OU conventions strengthen the ties between the OU and its member synagogues and the community at large. “After being around for more than two decades, the convention still has strength, longevity, and community interest,” he says. Mr. Scott Krieger, President of OU West Coast, says that the convention was well attended and adds, “It was great to see all of the community supporting the convention, with all the OU member synagogues hosting events.”
Mr. Shlomo Fried, a member of the OU West Coast board, came to the OU Convention from Denver. He enjoyed all aspects of the convention. “The speakers came from different backgrounds, hashkafos, and personalities, but they blended well with each other,” he says. “The convention was a very successful event that made a big impact on the overall community.”