Community Briefs

Spiwak Resigns From UJF; Bernstein FromFederation

The faces of The Jewish Federation’s main fundraisers are changing.

Leo Spiwak, the lay campaign chair of the United Jewish Fund (UJF), has resigned after 3 1¼2 months on the job. A group of past campaign chairs will take over until the end of the year. Laurie Konheim, vice chair of the campaign, has been tapped to become campaign chair for 2004.

Spiwak said he decided to leave because of his busy schedule, which includes extensive travel and serving on five boards. He also said he thought now was a good time to leave UJF because he had successfully overseen many of the year’s major fundraising events, including Super Sunday and the Hineni Event for $100,000 donors.

Meanwhile, The Federation’s campaign director plans to step down this summer. Bill Bernstein, an eight-year veteran, has accepted the position as chief executive of The Jewish Federation in Boca Raton, Fla. Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel said he was sorry to see him go, but understood Bernstein’s reasons for leaving.

“He’s a young guy with a lot on the ball, and this is a great opportunity for him,” Fishel said.

A replacement has yet to be named.

Despite a troubled economy, The Federation has raised $24.7 million since January, $300,000 more than the same period a year ago, Fishel said. Those figures exclude one-time and directed-giving gifts. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

FBI Report Calls LAX Shooting’Terrorism’

The shooting deaths of two Israeli Americans at Los Angeles International Airport last year was an act of terrorism, but the Egyptian-born killer had no links to Islamic extremist groups, according to a final FBI report on the case.

The FBI findings came more than nine months after the July 4 shooting rampage at an El Al ticket counter by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, which claimed the lives of Yaacov (Jacob) Aminov, 46, a jewelry importer, and Victoria (Vicky) Hen, 25, a ticket agent.

Standing in the El Al passenger line, Hadayet suddenly opened fire with a .45-caliber handgun, killing the two victims, and was himself shot and killed by an El Al security guard within seconds.

After waffling for months over Hadayet’s motives and whether to classify the attack as terrorism — to the frustration of the victims’ families and Israeli officials — the FBI concluded that the Egyptian immigrant had methodically planned the killings to express his anger over Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

A devout Muslim, Hadayet had “told people close to him that he believed in violent jihad and also believed in targeting of innocent civilians,” Los Angeles FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said Friday.

“It appears clear, with El Al being a government-owned Israeli airline, that he was launching an attack against that government,” McLaughlin added.

In the weeks before the shooting, which occurred on Hadayet’s 41st birthday, he had closed several bank accounts, bought guns and sent his family on vacation to Egypt.

However, the FBI concluded that Hadayet had acted alone.

“There was absolutely no indication that he had an affiliation with any terrorist organization or person,” McLaughlin said.

Moshe (Mike) Bachar, the brother of Aminov’s widow, Anat, said that he welcomed the FBI’s concluding report, but that it didn’t change anything for his sister and “won’t bring her husband back.”

Bachar added that Anat Aminov, mother of five children ranging in age from 2 to 10, found herself in difficult financial circumstances and he hoped that some government assistance would now be forthcoming.

Members of the Hen family could not be reached for comment.

Attorneys for the Aminov and Hen families have filed claims totaling $58 million against the City of Los Angeles, charging insufficient security at the airport, late police response and inadequate medical care. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Time Out for a Peaceful Meal

Egyptians and Jews breaking matzah together — who would have thought?

About 80 people, mostly from the Los Angeles Muslim community, attended a special Passover event, “Breaking the Silence: a Passover Celebration Seeking Peace and Reconciliation,” at Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills on April 11.

Hosts Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah and Dr. Najir Khaja of the Islamic Center of Southern California said they hoped the evening would help change the Jewish and Muslim communities’ troubled relationship, which has been exacerbated in the last few years by the second intifada in Israel and the fallout from the Sept. 11 tragedies.

Guests at the celebration read from a haggadah created by Jacobs and Khaja especially for the occasion, sampled charoset and maror, sang traditional Pesach songs like “Dayenu” accompanied by Kol Tikvah’s Cantor Caren Glasser, then shared a standard seder meal of brisket and kugel.

Attorney Rohida Kahn, a director of a Los Angeles women’s shelter, was just one of the many Muslim women in traditional-looking dress (beautifully woven dresses and shawls) who attended the event. Like most of the guests, she acknowledged this was her first visit to a synagogue. She said she felt compelled to come, especially in light of the recent war in Iraq.

“The more we do [events like] this, the more peace there will be in the world,” Kahn said. But she also commented that “unless the problems of Israel and the Palestinian people are solved, it will be difficult to have this type of relationship between Muslims and Jews.”

Barbara Caveleri, a longtime member of Kol Tikvah, said she was surprised to find that she and the seder guests at her table had so much in common.

“We talked a lot about the food. They don’t eat pork, they don’t eat shellfish and their foods are prepared in a kosher way, the same as in Judaism,” she said.

The haggadah’s theme centered less on Pharoah and Egypt and more upon the story of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. There were also many prayers and pleas for unity.

“Tonight we ask for the release of cynicism, of prejudice and of all these thing that have kept us divided,” Khaja said before leading the crowd in a responsive reading. He prayed for a more universal Islam “instead of the narrow view that has been taught to the masses…. The world is asking for justice, the world is asking for peace, and we are being asked to boldly look to our traditions for answers.”

Dr. Maher Hathout, an Egyptian-born cardiologist and spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, lightened some tension in the room when he joked that even Egyptians aren’t crazy about Pharoah.

About one-quarter of the tables remained empty, and several synagogue members mentioned they decided to come at the last minute. Still, Jacobs did not seem troubled by the low turnout of Jewish families. He said he hoped the event would be the first of many such ceremonies shared by local Muslims and Jews.

“Los Angeles may be vast, but it acts as a community,” he said. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer