Hier Backs Schom

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Ambassador Thomas G. Borer, Switzerland’s point man in dealing with his country’s wartime legacy, accuses Schom of “McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics,” in an Op-Ed article in Wednesday’s (June 17) Los Angeles Times.

The head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has denied a wire service account that he has fired the author of a controversial report on Swiss anti-Semitic policies during World War II.

Dr. Alan Morris Schom

The report by Dr. Alan Morris Schom, commissioned by the center, has been harshly criticized by officials, Jewish leaders and the media in Switzerland.

In a more surprising move, famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal has also denounced the report.

“Professor Schom was hired specifically to write two reports on wartime Switzerland, his area of expertise, and this work has now been completed,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, in denying the firing account.

Hier said that there would be no further reports on Switzerland, and that his future focus would be on the alleged complicity of the Vatican, Great Britain and the United States in shielding high-ranking Nazis following Germany’s defeat.

A key allegation in Schom’s report is that Eduard von Steiger, the wartime Swiss minister of justice (and later his country’s president), had worked with a well-known Swiss anti-Semitic organization to choke off the entry of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe to Switzerland.

Schom also charged, based on his research of Swiss and German archives, that anti-Semitic and pro-fascist groups proliferated throughout Switzerland during the war.

The Schom report, as well as his earlier one, which alleged widespread mistreatment of Jewish refugees in Swiss labor camps during the war, has triggered a storm of denunciations in Switzerland.

Ambassador Thomas G. Borer, Switzerland’s point man in dealing with his country’s wartime legacy, accuses Schom of “McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics,” in an Op-Ed article in Wednesday’s (June 17) Los Angeles Times.

Joining in the criticism has been Simon Wiesenthal, founder of the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna. In an interview in a Swiss newspaper last Sunday, he attacked Schom’s credibility and techniques as a historian.

Wiesenthal was also quoted as saying that he had been assured by the Los Angeles center that Schom would never write for the center again. This statement was apparently the basis of a wire service account that Schom had been fired.

In response to the accumulating criticism, Hier vigorously defended the veracity of the Schom report and the documentation on which it was based. He granted, however, that the author’s conclusion could have been more specific in stating that no blanket condemnation of the entire Swiss people during World War II was intended.

Hier said that he had talked to Wiesenthal four times during the week and wondered why all the complaints and pressure about the report had come to Wiesenthal, rather than the Los Angeles center.

Wiesenthal’s criticism “doesn’t affect our relations with him…he is unquestionably a great man,” said Hier. Hier pointed out that he and Wiesenthal had disagreed before, notably in the center’s campaign against Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations secretary-general, for his wartime activities in the German army.

Schom himself is a resident of France and author of a number of books that deal primarily with French history and the Napoleonic era.

Although generally introduced as “professor,” his only teaching assignment, according to a personal conversation, was at UC Riverside between 1969 and 1976.

According to a brief biographical sketch, he graduated from UC Berkeley, received a doctorate from the School of Oriental Studies at Durham University in England, and was a fellow of the Hoover Institution between 1974 and1983.

At the time of his earlier report on Swiss labor camps, Schom said in a brief interview that he conducted his research mainly through secondary written sources, including a year of studying recently declassified documents in various national archives.

“As a historian, I fit together bits and pieces until I find a pattern,” he said.

Schom also noted that some of his cousins, from Germany and Lithuania, had tried to flee to Switzerland during the war but had been turned back by border guards and subsequently perished in the Holocaust.

Hier expressed his confidence in Schom’s research methods and said that Schom had initially contacted the Wiesenthal Center to present his findings in Swiss archives.

Setting Up (Summer) Camp

Orthodox parents and community leaders are looking for ways to bring the experience closer to home

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Camp Moshava, shown here in 1990, served the West Coast for 50 years until it closed last summer. Photo by Alex Fax

“It seems so silly to get on a plane and cross the country to go to camp,” says Fink, a mother of four.

Susan Fink didn’t mind sending her 13-year-old son, Hillel, to Camp Moshava in Wildrose, Wis., last summer.

Except for one thing: “It seems so silly to get on a plane and cross the country to go to camp,” says Fink, a mother of four.

For the thousands of Orthodox families in Los Angeles with camp-age children, accumulating frequent-flier miles is the only option. While Chabad operates a camp for about 250 children at Lake Arrowhead, with separate sessions for boys and girls, many in the Orthodox community are looking for an alternative.

Parents say that their community is mature enough and large enough to support its own coed Zionist, first-rate Modern Orthodox overnight camp — and that the larger Jewish community can benefit from its presence.

“It’s a shame that kids should have to go across the country for that type of experience,” says Jordan Lurie, a father of five. “I think there is enough interest out here among our elementary-school kids that we should be able to fill a camp.”

That’s why Lurie, along with Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City and some other interested parents, is working to lay the groundwork for such a camp, one they say can come to fruition within the next few years.

“I’m an 11-summer veteran of Camp Morasha [an East Coast camp]. My goal would be to establish a Morasha-type camp out here — a coed Torah and sports camp of the highest caliber,” Lurie says.

Lurie says that investors are already lined up to provide the funds — estimated in the millions– necessary to finance a camp; Muskin has the attention of an established East Coast camp interested in setting up a West Coast branch.

Muskin says that the camp probably will be a for-profit venture, since philanthropists in the Orthodox community are already overtaxed with demands for expanding yeshivas and the formal educational structure.

Research and anecdotal evidence indicate that camp, too, is an intensely powerful educational experience — for the youngest camper to the oldest counselor.

“An 8-to-4 day at school doesn’t capture the celebration of Shabbat, doesn’t capture any myriad of activities that are part of real life,” says Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education. “Camp is an opportunity to frame an image of what Jewish living in its fullest expression can be. That’s an educator’s dream.”

By forging bonds among the youth of the entire region, the camp experience helps build a stronger Jewish community, according to Graf. He also points to the year-round benefits for all age groups of having a facility for retreats and conferences.

Southern California is already home to several Jewish camps, most of which were founded about 50 years ago — when real estate was more affordable.

For more than 50 years, the Orthodox community was served by the California branch of Camp Moshava, run by B’nei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth group. But since the camp closed its Big Bear facility about 15 years ago, it’s been renting different sites, which makes it harder to build a loyal following. Over the past few years, Moshava has had difficulty finding an adequate site, especially one that could compete with East Coast camps which Californians are now frequenting.

As a nonprofit venture, Camp Moshava had no full-time director and was supported by a few families, at a heavy loss. The shaliach , or emissary from Israel, was part of the professional staff, but that position changed every few years.

This year, national B’nei Akiva cut off funding for emissaries, leaving the Los Angeles community to fend for itself. The B’nei Akiva board recently hired Rabbi Avraham Alfassi, an Israeli teacher at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, to serve as part-time shaliach, and the board is also looking to hire a director.

Allan Kandel, a member of the B’nei Akiva parent committee, says that the movement likewise has not given up on Moshava in California. A committee is currently looking for a site to rent or buy, and Kandel believes that the presence of two camps in the Los Angeles area will create a “critical mass” of children who view the West Coast as a viable summer camp option.

But, in the meantime, Moshava’s closure opened the door to others who didn’t want to compete with B’nei Akiva.

Lurie and Muskin say that the proposed camp will have a year-round director and professionally trained staff. Still to be worked out is how scholarships would be provided. Camp can cost as much as $500 a week.

Like B’nei Akiva, Lurie and Muskin have had a hard time finding a site to rent or buy, with camp real estate scarce and expensive in the Los Angeles mountain areas.

Ideally, the grounds would have to meet specific requirements, not the least of which are the camp memories of East Coast transplants who make up a good portion of the Modern Orthodox parent body. That means vast green acreage, a pool, tennis courts, clean bunks and eating areas, and — most importantly — a waterfront with lake activities.

But Lurie and Muskin are both confident that a top-rate camp will be established here — one that will even attract East Coasters, with promises of day trips to West Coast sites and none of the rain that usually ruins a good third to half of East Coast camp days.

“We’re going to do this,” Muskin says. “It’s going to take time; it’s not going to happen tomorrow. But the seeds are being planted for it to happen in the next year or two.”

Bring Shabbat to the Homebound

While it is true that Shabbat is best experienced in the home, for many homebound senior citizens, Shabbat is an especially lonely day. The Israel Levine Senior Adult Center, an affiliate of the Jewish Community Centers, is trying to remedy that by pairing seniors on the Westside with Shabbat visitors. The program, funded by the Jewish Community Foundation, will include training for a short Kiddush service — with candles, challah, grape juice and nosh — and a brush-up on resources available for seniors.

For applications or additional information, call Sherrie Berlin at (310) 396-0205. — J.G.F.

Remembering the Rebbe

Rabbi Laibel Groner, former personal secretary to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

It’s been four years since the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Chabad is commemorating the date with a “Farbrengen,” a Chassidic gathering of warmth and inspiration. Rabbi Laibel Groner, who, for 40 years, served as the personal secretary to the Rebbe, will deliver the keynote address. There is no charge for the speech or dinner.

Tuesday, June 23, 7:30 p.m., Bais Menachem Chabad House, Chabad of the Valley, 18181 Burbank Blvd., Tarzana. Call (818) 758-1818. — J.G.F.

Community Briefs

New Preschool in Santa Clarita

The Santa Clarita Valley, encompassing such communities as Saugus, Newhall, and Valencia, has modern conveniences and good schools. It also has a handful of synagogues. What it doesn’t have is a full-service preschool dedicated to serving the needs of Jewish families. But that’s about to change.

Santa Clarita’s Congregation Beth Shalom (affectionately known as CBS) has just broken ground for its state-of-the-art Early Childhood Education Center, which is slated to open this fall. The facility will accommodate children from age 2 1/2 to 5 in both full-day and half-day programs. Because in so many Santa Clarita households, both parents work outside the home, early morning drop-off and late afternoon drop-off will be available. The school brochure also promises amenities like “afternoon discovery classes” and computer instruction; naturally, an emphasis on Jewish holidays and customs will be a significant part of the mix.

Congregation Beth Shalom is a Conservative synagogue that currently houses about 200 member families. There are 150 children in its religious school, and a vibrant branch of Los Angeles Hebrew High School has been meeting on the premises. But Rabbi Jacob Pressman, who has been serving as the congregation’s interim spiritual leader for the past six months, feels that as development in the area explodes, the need for support systems among Jewish families will continue to grow. He estimates that there are currently 3,000 Jewish homes in the Santa Clarita Valley, and predicts that the number could nearly double as new upscale housing tracts continue to mushroom.

Synagogue president Dan Goetz reports that registration for the new school is in full swing. For information, call (805) 254-2411. — Beverly Gray, Education Editor

Focusing on Israel’s Future at Unity ’98

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance recently tolerated an influx of the young and the Jewish for a special symposium, “Unity ’98: The Next 50 Years.” The panel discussion and dessert reception aimed to connect the 300 attendees — mostly in their 20s and 30s –with young leadership divisions of several high profile philanthropic associations. The attendees successfully connected with each other, as the evening resembled something of a de facto singles event.

Organizations like the Jewish Federation’s singles outreach program ACCESS; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Congressional Club; Jewish National Fund’s Future Leadership Group; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Young Associates; Jewish Big Brothers’ JBB Allstars; and State of Israel Bonds New Leadership Division all distributed information to those present.

Leaders of the participating youth divisions honored Israeli Consul Ido Aharoni for his efforts in supporting the various new leadership programs. Also taking to the podium was Consul General Yoram Ben Ze’ev, who underlined the crucial obligation for young Jews to keep Israel strong.

“We’re not allowed to be indifferent,” stressed Ze’ev. “We must take a stand.”

Moderated by corporate consultant Teri Cohan Link, the panel discussion featured Rabbi Susan Laemmle; photographer Micha Bar Am; and Bennett Zimmerman of the Israel Emerging Growth Fund, L.P.

The question and answer session that was to follow the panelists’ speeches never really ignited. After a couple of audience questions, attendees hurried back to the reception area, where they partook in what was clearly the unspoken objective of the evening — more eating and socializing. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

Photographs from An Amazing Life

Dr. Ruth Gruber’s amazing life makes those of us who grumble about the impossibility of “having it all” feel a little silly. Gruber, 87, a famed author, photographer and foreign correspondent, appears to have been everywhere the action was this century: witnessing Nazi rallies while pursuing a Ph.D. in Cologne, Germany in the early 1930s; becoming the first foreign correspondent to enter the Soviet Arctic at age 23; escorting 1,000 refugees past the Nazis to freedom at the behest of the U.S. Secretary of Interior; and photographing the displaced persons camps in Germany, British interment camps in Cyprus, the voyage of the Exodus 1947 and Israel’s War of Independence. The author of 14 books, she also married and had two children while in her 40s. Gruber’s experiences and photos provided much of the material used in the 1998 Oscar-winning documentary, “The Long Way Home.”

An exhibit of Gruber’s work, “Photographs as Witness: 1946-1950, From Liberation to Palestine,” is on display through July 26 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust’s Gallery 140. Gruber herself will be honored by the museum Monday, June 22, at a dessert reception in the gallery, located at 5700 Wilshire Blvd. Gruber will speak at the event, which is free to the public.

The exhibit is open Thursdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment. For more information, or to RSVP for the reception, call (213) 761-8170. — Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer