Posted on July 15, 2003
Los Angeles

Note to parents from group leader Billy Planer:

We got to the city of angels in time to play in a park before our scheduled tour of the Museum of Tolerance. I had fun watching the teens just play and have to remind myself that play is an important part of this journey too.

The theme of Los Angeles was power. We discussed what the students thought power was, we also discussed who has it in America, who doesn’t, how you get it and what happens when people don’t feel they have access to it.

The Museum of Tolerance was wonderful. We spent 3.5 hours there and we got a lot out of it. After the museum we went to Hollywood where we saw Manns Chinese Theater and walked down the Hollywood Strip. To say it has seen its better days is an understatement. We ended the night by seeing Jason Alexander and Martin Short in “The Producers”. It was great and the kids loved it. We did have some interesting discussions on the dichotomy of exploring a museum dedicated to the educating about the Holocaust and Tolerance in the afternoon and then laughing at a play about Hitler at night. I taught the kids that part of moving through the grieving and coping process is being able to think back on painful memories and smile instead of always feeling intense grief.

The next day started with the students roaming around colorful Venice Beach. They wee given video cameras and they went around interviewing the locals about their political beliefs. This was a definite highlight of the summer. The teens really enjoyed this and were exposed to some wonderful personalities… and lived to tell about them!

After Venice Beach, we went to USC and got a walking tour of parts of South Central Los Angeles and discussed the Rodney King riots and some of the reasons why the city burned. South Central is not a burned out housing project, rather, it is a decent looking lower income neighborhood and this threw some of the kids for a loop. It led us to discuss how looks can be deceiving. It may look nice, but, the residents still live below the poverty level and feel disenfranchised. We then discussed race relations with a Professor at USC. This was interesting. The night proved to be powerful. We went to Beit Teshuvah, a synagogue for recovering drug addicts and former prisoners. We heard from a Detective on the Juvenile Narcotics Agency of the LAPD. He spoke about why he does not support legalization. The Rabbi of the shul, himself a recovering addict and former prisoner, then spoke about why addiction happens and how special each person is. It was very moving and a talk the teens will not forget soon. We had dinner at the synagogue and the teens got to meet in small groups with some of the congregants of Beit Teshuvah. Their stories were eye opening for the teens..