Community Briefs

A Call for Passion

Young Jewish professionals will gather Jan. 25 in downtown Los Angeles at a Jewish Federation-allied conference emphasizing increased activism in Southern California’s problems and politics.

“It was a very intentional, narrow focus on people who are engaged in the city, in the civic life of the city,” said Andrew A. Cushnir, co-coordinator of the conference.

“The Return to Passion: A Call to Action” will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

“There were times when the Jewish community was more passionately involved in civic affairs,” said Cushnir, a Federation fundraising executive. “Young leaders are equally passionate, but they haven’t been able to find the vehicles to express their voice.”

Organizers expect about 200 at the conference, the latest work of the New Leaders Project (NLP), an adjunct program with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Prior NLP activities have included mural projects and cross-cultural contacts, but this year’s 23 NLP participants created the conference as their major activity. The event includes a panel discussion with five Jewish leaders in environmental, after-school, job-training and other nonprofit ventures.

“It’s about action; it’s about getting accomplished people who are behind civic activism — who they are, how they got to be leaders,” said political consultant Donna Bojarsky, NLP co-chair with Richard Volpert. “It’s people who have made things happen.”

With money from the Jewish Community Foundation and Saban Family Foundation, conference sessions will address issues such as education, civil rights, race relations, transportation and land use. Seminars will include “Making Your Passion a Reality,” “Jewish Ethical Values in the Halls of Power” and “The Future of Jewish Political Power.”

Panel speakers will include Bojarsky, Democratic political consultant Steve Barkan, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Bruce Bialosky and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, plus Los Angeles City Councilmembers Wendy Greuel, Alex Padilla, Antonio Villaraigosa and Jack Weiss.

Clergy participants will include Conservative Rabbi Elliott Dorff of the University of Judaism; Reform Rabbi Harvey Fields, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and Conservative Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom. Academics will include Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson and USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky.

For more information, e-mail , or call (323) 761-8160. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Six File New Holocaust InsuranceSuits

Six more Holocaust survivors in California have joined a growing list of plaintiffs who charge that a large Italian life insurance company has reneged on payments for policies taken out before World War II by parents and relatives who perished in Nazi concentration camps.

In their lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, the survivors claim that Assicurazioni Generali, one of Europe’s largest insurers, has stonewalled their requests for payouts for up to 55 years or fobbed them off with meager settlement offers.

One plaintiff is Manny Steinberg, 78, of West Hills, who was a 14-year-old in Radom, Poland, when he was assigned to a munitions factory for forced labor. Later he survived a death march, Auschwitz and a Dachau satellite camp. His mother and a brother perished in the Holocaust, while his father and another brother survived.

“I still remember when I was a young child the Generali agent coming to my father’s ladies custom tailoring store every two weeks to collect $2 or $3 in insurance premiums,” Steinberg said. “And while we were in camp, my father kept reminding me, ‘If we get out, there is an insurance policy waiting.'”

After six years of correspondence, Generali informed Steinberg that it is still auditing his records. Generali told survivors George Brown of Tarzana and Ebi Gabor of West Hills that it could not find any records of policies purchased by their parents. Also participating in the suit are Jean Greenstein, Tarzana; Alexander Nasch, Los Angeles; and Lillian Schaechner, Oakland.

The six survivors are seeking damages and an injunction against Generali’s allegedly unfair business practices. They are represented by attorney William Shernoff, who over the last three years has filed similar suits on behalf of 12 other survivor families.

All the cases, as well as a number of class-action suits on Holocaust reparations, have been transferred to a federal court in New York, where they are under review. Shernoff expects that the current litigation will also be moved to the New York court.

Complicating the matter is that all insurance claims against Generali and other European insurance companies have been assigned to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Peter Simshauser, Generali’s attorney in Los Angeles, said the company had paid $100 million to ICHEIC for its operations and to settle insurance claims against Generali.

“Some individual claimants have received in excess of $500,000,” Simshauser said.

He also pointed to a letter sent last week by Generali Director General Meir Lantzman to Israel’s Knesset, which stated that the company had paid $45.5 million to 2,751 individuals.

Shernoff said that the current value of policies held by survivors and heirs of Holocaust victims totals more than $1 billion. “It’s a joke,” Shernoff said. “Generali is paying out less than 10 cents on the dollar.”

The ICHEIC has been under heavy criticism by survivor organizations, state insurance directors and some congressmen. It has been accused of foot-dragging and bureaucratic red tape.

Last September, three Los Angeles-area survivors, including Steinberg, filed a suit against ICHEIC, claiming that it served as a front for Generali.

The deadline for submitting claims to ICHEIC expired Dec. 31. In filing the latest suit against Generali after the deadline, Shernoff said he wanted to make it clear that those who had not yet sent in a claim or believed that they had been given the runaround by ICHEIC or Generali could still stake their claims through lawsuits. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Mars Mission’s Technion Triumph

As NASA celebrates the success of the Mars rover, Spirit, Israel is taking pride in its own high-tech contribution to the mission. Three Israelis who worked at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto co-developed an algorithm that allows photos and scientific data to be sent back to Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with startling clarity, accuracy and cost-efficiency.

The developers, all who graduated from Technion University in Haifa, were able to create a basis for state-of-the-art data compression systems that was less complex than anything else available. “That makes it extremely cheap to implement,” said Guillermo Sapiro, a co-developer who now works as a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Sapiro, Gadiel Seroussi and Marcelo Weinberg — each emigrates to Israel from Uruguay — completed the algorithm, LOCO-I (Low Complexity Lossless Compression for Images), in 1999. It ensures that information can be sent from Mars, currently 106 million miles from Earth, with minimal or no data loss.

It functions much the same way Zip applications do for Windows on PCs or StuffIt does on a Macintosh computer. Compressing the data makes the file’s overall size smaller, thus cutting down the time it takes to download it from Spirit.

By using compression based on LOCO-I as one of two modes of data retrieval, NASA is able to use smaller, cheaper hardware to both transmit and receive data. Compression will “save billions of dollars,” Zvi told The Jerusalem Post. “If the data is compressed, the number of antennas and the amount of space they cover is much smaller.”

The images being sent from Spirit are the best NASA officials have ever seen of Mars. Scientists hope the photos will help them pinpoint the best areas to look for signs of water and evidence that life once existed on the Red Planet.

The space agency is also retrieving images via a “lossy” data compression — the system upon which JPEGs and streaming media are based. Unlike lossless compression, lossy purposefully loses information along the way, but the final image comes close enough to the original to be considered useful. However, lossless compression like LOCO-I is the only way to ensure error-free data.

“An image you want to show to the public, you can do that lossy,” Sapiro said. “But if you spent $800 million on this mission, you want to make sure that your analysis is using the correct data. If you analyze a rock, you want to make sure that the person doing the analysis is not making a mistake because of the compression.” — Adam Wills, Associate Editor