This past Sunday, the 10th Annual Holy Land Democracy Project Student Awards Ceremony took place in a church which was once was a temple – and is now both. The music was inflected with hints of gospel and ecstatic Chassidut while the cuisine was definitively Mexican. The inscriptions beneath the exquisite 100-year-old Jewish stained glass windows at the Pico Union Project were in Welsh and the whole environment was entrancing. But, as always, the stars of the show were the students; and the celebrants came from Torrance, Montebello, Sun Valley, Glendale and Gardena.
The Federation’s Holy Land Democracy Project (HLDP) brings Israel education to charter, private and religious schools throughout Southern California. As part of the curriculum, non-Jewish students learn an exciting 5-lesson course about Israel from their teachers, who’ve all traveled throughout the land with HLDP staff. The students then submit creative works reflecting on their learning to a judging committee composed of members of the Holy Land Advisory Council, which has the challenging task of picking winners from hundreds of quality works.
Top prize winners in art, poetry and essays were chosen from hundreds of submissions. All of the submitted student art work was displayed at the back of the sanctuary for guests to admire. Excerpts from the first-place essay were read, and Glendale High School student Christina Hanna’s message from her winning entry was inspiring and challenging. Of the ongoing conflict over the Jewish return to the Promised Land she wrote:
They have been constantly shunned and forced to leave …
Granted a place of worship after years of hatred and dismay
Now everyone’s angry?
Did they not deserve a land where they can be free?
The ceremony was held this year, for the very first time, at Craig Taubman’s Pico Union Project. The change in venue sparked dynamic developments in the program for the HLDP, and exciting new epiphanies for the Pico Union Project. The gospel singer/speaker Stuart K. Robinson came bounding down the aisle early in the ceremony, took a wedding ring off his finger, held it aloft and asked the packed house, “What does this thing do?” In an interactive 10 minutes of gospel-style preaching and singing from the piano, he and the students came up with inspiring answers. Dr. Daniel Lieber, who is the Chair and Founder of the HLDP, was perhaps inspired biblically by the setting. He spoke movingly about how the lessons from 10 years of HLDP echoed in the Book of Ecclesiastes. And Craig Taubman gathered a diverse audience of 150 parents, students and teachers from 20 different parts of the city at the foot of the stage to end the evening. Together we all sang:
“Every second/every minute/ every hour/every day/Where you stand/Where you love/All of life is Holy Ground.”
The Holy Land Democracy Project is a program of The Jewish Federation’s Community Engagement Strategic Initiative, which mobilizes the Los Angeles Jewish community to pursue an inclusive society that reflects the best of American and Jewish values, a strong Jewish future and a safe and vibrant Israel. For more information on HLDP, contact Rabbi Hal Greenwald at HGreenwald@JewishLA.org or (323) 761-8150.