Mensches: Our third annual salute to big-hearted Angelenos
“It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone ‘a real mensch,'” writes Leo Rosten in “The Joys of Yiddish.”
The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation — “person” — with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.
So, why not just call such people saints or angels?
Because, as the stories below will demonstrate, these people have no such airs. They are people, like you, like us, who in the course of schedules no less hectic and demanding than our own, manage to reach out and help others, make the world a better place, day in and day out. They are doing what we all should, and what we all can do, despite the fact that most of us don’t. They are just people — menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural — who understand the power and possibility of what just one person can do.
So, we are delighted to introduce you to The Journal’s third annual List of Top Ten L.A. Mensches.
We received a far greater number of worthy nominations than could make this list, but these all stood out — in many different ways.
Thank you to all our mensches and to all who offered up names. Maybe next year we’ll all be candidates for the list….
Bea Chankin Weisberg: Decades of Devotion to Early Childhood
by Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer
“God couldn’t be everywhere, so she created bubbies,” reads a mug on the desk of Bea Chankin Weisberg. But the short-statured and soft-spoken Weisberg, 81, is more than just a bubbie.
She is an example of a retiree who just can’t stop working. When she officially stepped down from her job as director at the Institute of Jewish Education and Early Childhood Center in 1997, she continued to volunteer there two or three days a week and as the need grew so did her involvement, to the point that now she’s once again sharing her vast educational skills full time — only now she’s not getting paid.
Weisberg’s official title at the Early Childhood Center is vice president of education, but that doesn’t capture the hands-on nature of her work. She regularly meets with the school’s director and assists with child evaluations and teacher workshops, among her many tasks.
Weisberg’s history in early childcare in L.A. runs deep, over a half century. She had a hand in creating home-care programs through Valley Cities Jewish Community Centers as well as assisting Los Angeles preschools to obtain accreditation from the Bureau of Education and the state of California. She received a prestigious Ezra Award from the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles in 1989 for her pioneering work in Jewish education, though it’s a sign of her modesty that she only recently found the award while cleaning her apartment. “I hadn’t looked at it in ages,” she said.
In the early 1980s, Weisberg was also the consultant for all of the JCC’s early childhood programs in Los Angeles. During that time, she pitched a program that would cater to mothers who wanted to go back to work but needed to care for their infants. Weisberg’s proposal was initially rejected by the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center and generated much animosity, she said, because some administrators felt it was more important for mothers to stay at home with their children than to work. In 1979, Adat Ari El in Valley Village accepted the proposal, and a full-day nursery school got its start.
She is especially proud of the Bea Chankin Jewish Family Child Care Association, a full-day home-care program for infants and toddlers who are too young to attend nursery school. The home-care program, sponsored by the JCC association, started in about 12 private homes and is currently operating in more than 20 homes, the majority in the Valley.
With her office door wide open at the Early Childhood Center, Weisberg said, she loves to hear the sound of children playing in the adjacent sandlot and playground. “I’m just happy that when I wake up in the morning my brain is functioning, and I am able to do this.” As a full-time volunteer, Weisberg fancies herself a “dollar-per-year person,” though in order to keep herself afloat with the high cost of Los Angeles living, she continues to do some freelance consulting and teacher training for preschools. “When you raise five children,” she said, “you learn how to live without the frills.”
On a separate front, she serves as executive director of [the Los Angeles Chapter of] Ameinu, which is located in the same building as the Early Childhood Center, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance, and is co-chair of the Pre-Kindergarten program of Koreh L.A., a literacy program of The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. Explaining that public education in L.A is not great, Weisberg is happy to see Koreh L.A. giving kids the opportunity to better themselves and to help parents accept the uniqueness of their children. “Love, identification and pride starts early.”
Waving her hands as if blessing the Shabbat candles, she said, “Who I am is all bound together with my Judaism, Zionism and the way I parent.”