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More young Los Angeles Jews get free trips to Israel

Hundreds more Jewish young people from Los Angeles will be able to take free educational trips to Israel because of a $700,000 donation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to the Birthright Israel Foundation, the two organizations have announced.

The gift from the federation also leveraged a 2-to-1 match by the Adelson Family Foundation, making a total of $2.1 million available to help buy down the popular Birthright program’s long wait list of Los Angeles applicants. Since the program began in 1999, about 220,000 young people from around the world have traveled to Israel under its auspices.

Jay Sanderson, who has just begun his stint as president of the local Jewish federation, said Los Angeles sends more students on the Birthright trips than other regions of the U.S. but also tends to have the longest waiting lists. After the donation, however, “the waiting list for 2010 is almost completely wiped out,” he said.

Sanderson said studies show that Birthright’s fully funded trips, which take 18- to 26-year-olds on a 10-day journey through Israel, significantly strengthen participants’ feelings about their Jewish identity, which he says continues to be a challenge for younger generations.

“These are young people just beginning their lives,” Sanderson said. “It’s the perfect time for them to have this extensive experience. Everyone that I’ve met, it’s impacted them.”

This winter, Birthright Israel will take about a third of the nearly 1,900 applicants from the Los Angeles area. The new funds will provide an additional 700 spots on trips this summer and next winter, said Robert Aronson, president of the Birthright Israel Foundation.

“It’s a big deal; it’s the first time this has happened,” Aronson said.

The cost to send each participant is about $3,000 and includes airfare, food, hotels, lectures and visits to some of Israel’s most significant historical, religious and contemporary sites. The current session of trips will conclude in March, with the summer round beginning in May.

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California has been ranked 35th overall in a national report that asks: “How Religious is Your State?”

The analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life used polling data to rank the states on four measures: the importance of religion in people’s lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God or a universal spirit. The results were then combined to come up with an overall ranking.

The study showed that on each measure, Californians tended to be less religious than the nation as a whole, although relatively similar to residents of other Western states, including our nearest neighbors. Arizona and Nevada ranked 33rd and 34th overall, for example, just above California on the list, and Washington was 36th, just below. Oregon came in at 40th.

“California tends toward the lower end on most of these measures, although there are a number of states that are substantially lower,” said Greg Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Forum. Still, he said, about a third of Californians say they attend religious services at least once a week and more than half say they pray at least once a day.

The analysis found Mississippi to be the most religious state, with several other Southern states also ranking very high. New Hampshire and Vermont, which were combined because of the small size of their samples in the polling data, were considered the least religious, with several other New England states and Alaska also near the bottom.

More information about the report is available at https://pewforum.org/docs/? DocID=504.

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It may be one of the more unusual film festivals around.

Sponsored by the Claremont School of Theology, a graduate school that is affiliated with the Claremont Colleges, this annual event features top international films chosen in an uncommon way.

Each film selected for the school’s Whitehead International Film Festival, which begins Friday, is chosen not only on the basis of artistic excellence but also for its contribution to the common good, its cultivation of hope for creative transformation and other criteria, its organizers say.

The festival is named for British philosopher and theologian Alfred North Whitehead, who developed the school of thought known as process theology, which holds that everything is interdependent and that everyone is responsible for the common good.

“Films are the common language of people around the world,” festival director Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, who is co-director of the school’s Center for Process Studies, said in a statement. “We share our cultures through film. We share our perceptions of what it is to be human, our trials and our transformations.”

Among the selections for this year’s festival, which runs through Jan. 18, is “Departures,” a Japanese film that won the 2009 Academy Award for best foreign language film. Others are from Argentina, China, the Bahamas, Canada, Israel/Palestine, Pakistan and Rwanda. The festival is open to the public and tickets are $5 per film. More information is available at https://whitehead filmfestival.org

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

rebecca.trounson@ latimes.com


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