White supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas, JTA.

Hate in Charlottesville: The day the Nazi called me Shlomo

The white supremacists, for all their vaunted purpose, appeared to be disoriented.

Some 500 had gathered at a park here Saturday to protest this southern Virginia city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the park. Pressured by the American Civil Liberties Union, Charlottesville had allowed the march at Emancipation Park — or Lee Park, the protesters’ preferred name.

That worked for an hour or so, and then the protesters and counterprotesters started to pelt one another with plastic bottles — it was unclear who started it. Gas bombs — mildly irritating — seemed to come more from the white supremacists. Finally the sides rushed each other headlong and there were scuffles.

So Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and, heeding the police, the white supremacists filed out of the park and started walking, north, but to where no one seemed sure. There was talk of meeting at a parking lot, but which parking lot, no one was sure. As they approached the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, a bucolic hill overlooking an overpass, they sputtered to a stop for consultations and did what marchers on a seasonably warm day do: They sat on the grass, sought shade and chatted.

I had been following at a distance with a handful of journalists and folks who were there not so much to counterprotest but to deliver an alternative message. Zelic Jones from Richmond bore a poster with a saying by Martin Luther King Jr., “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I climbed the hillock to see if anyone would be willing to talk. On the way, the marchers had studiously ignored reporters, but I thought, at rest, they might be more amenable. It was not to be. One man, wearing black slacks, a white shirt, sunglasses and black baseball cap, shadowed me. He moved to stand between me and anyone I had hoped to interview.

I looked him directly in the eye.

“How’s it going, Shlomo?” he asked.

“My name is Ron,” I said. I hadn’t identified myself as Jewish.

“You look like a Shlomo.”

“You want to talk?” I offered.

“I don’t talk to the press,” he said. “They just lie.” He scampered away.

The exchange was jarring in how personal it was. I’ve been hated directly for many things (try being a journalist, anywhere), but it had been a while — I’d have to cast back to early childhood — since I’d faced visceral hatred just for, well, looking Jewish.

A year ago I had attended at a hotel in Washington, D.C., the unveiling of the “alt-right,” convened by one of its lead theorists, Richard Spencer, who also was in attendance in Charlottesville. That news conference — an expression of white supremacy argued in plummy tones that disguised its hateful content — was at a remove from the hatred stalking the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday. Spencer was polite and helpful after the fact. His ideas are toxic, but in the airless corridors of a Washington hotel, they seemed denuded of malice; they seem to be the imaginings of an intemperate toddler.

Here in Charlottesville, the hatred was present and real and would before the day ended apparently kill someone, when a car driven by a 20-year-old Ohio man plowed through counterprotesters.

Among the 500 white supremacists were men and women bearing signs like “Goyim know!” (Know what?) and “Jews are satans children.” There were Nazi flags. There were men all in black, T-shirts and slacks and army boots and helmets, jogging along with plastic shields. There were the men who sang of “blood and soil” as they marched to the Emancipation Park event. And when the white supremacists got their act together and gathered in McIntire Park, they shouted “Jew” every time the name of Charlotteville’s Jewish mayor, Michael Signer, was mentioned.

Of course, the hostility was not confined to Jews: As targets, Jews were not even preeminent; blacks were. There were the “White lives matter” T-shirts. Marching along McIntire Road, the white supremacists shouted the N-word at drivers passing by. More prominent than the Nazi flags were the Confederate flags and their variants.

The focus on Jews was anomalous: This was supposed to be about the Confederacy and Southern heritage, and defenders of the Southern cause are not always identified with hostility toward Jews. About an hour’s drive away, Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, a Confederate monument, has a carefully tended Jewish section.

And yet here it was, the chants of “Jews will not replace us” (as?). I had two more personal encounters. At the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, a man wearing a floppy beige sunhat started following me and explaining the lie of the Holocaust, the evil of the Jews, the value of DNA in determining purity. I retreated as he ran after me, screaming, “My mother says I’m a Jew! My MOTHER! Does that mean I’m entitled to something?” (I resisted replying, “Your mother’s love.”)

And earlier, filing out of Emancipation Park, a group of youths surrounded and shouted at me, “Take that wall in Israel down! An open border for everyone!” — a reference to a popular theory on the far right that Jews are engineering open borders to bring the United States to ruination while keeping Israel pure. They moved on.

Anomalies like these tend to bemuse, at least me. What the racists believe to be hurtful jibes come across more as non sequiturs, as mouthings of the deluded or the possessed. Why Shlomo of all names? What was that about DNA? A wall in Israel?

And then the car rammed the crowd, and there was a fatality, and some 35 injured, including five critically, and it was harder to pick out the absurd and use that as a way of keeping an emotional distance from the hate speech. I counted the wounded, rushed by stretchers into the back of ambulances, the less seriously injured patched up with torn cloths, leaning on friends’ shoulders and wincing.

I retreated to a cafe that was open only to clergy and the media dispensing free water and beer. I filed a story, and on the large wall TV, CNN said President Donald Trump was ready to speak.

The cafe fell silent. There was, it seems, even among this crowd of liberal clergy, a thirst for a message of unity from a president who has pledged, and more often than not failed, to lead us all.

Trump engaged in some throat clearing about the Veterans Administration, and then began, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred bigotry and violence, on many sides.” At “on many sides” the room erupted into shouts of anger. On cue, Trump repeated, “On many sides.”

There was only one side visibly and overwhelmingly gripped by hate on Saturday in Charlottesville.

As the day wore on, the White House refused to retreat from Trump’s many sides comment, and the president’s tweets didn’t add clarity.

“Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!” was his last tweet of the day.

President Donald Trump on Feb. 28. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters

There is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism

The actual percentage is yet to be exactly known, but it is already clear that a serious number of the major anti-Semitic incidents taking place — such as defacing Jewish graves, painting swastikas on Jewish students’ dorm room doors, and calling in bomb threats to Jewish institutions — are being perpetrated by leftists who wish to perpetuate the belief that Donald Trump’s election victory has unleashed a national wave of anti-Semitism.

The same seems to hold true for post-Trump anti-Muslim and anti-Black incidents.

I could cite dozens of examples. Here are a few:

Last week, it was reported that a Black, left-wing journalist was arrested for phoning in bomb threats to the ADL and half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

On Feb. 27, the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined: “Racist graffiti found at Lakeville South High School.”

The article began: “Swastikas, racial epithets and other racist graffiti were found etched on bathroom stalls at Lakeville South High School on Monday.”

It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a non-white student: “A ‘non-Caucasian’ Minnesota high school student has been disciplined after it was determined he was responsible for racist and antisemitic graffiti found in a school bathroom. The scribblings included a picture of a lynching, the phrase ‘Hail the Ku Klux Klan,’ the ‘N’ word, and a swastika” (The College Fix, March 2).

On March 1, the Toronto Sun headlined: “Bomb threats targeting Muslims close Concordia buildings.”

The article continued: “ … a group threatened to detonate ‘small artisanal explosive devices’ once a day until Friday in order to injure Muslim students. The group, which described itself as a chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada, or C4, complained about Muslim prayer services on campus.”

The next day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported: “The man charged in connection with Wednesday’s bomb threats at Concordia University, Hisham Saadi, was a PhD student in economics there. … Saadi is of Lebanese origin.”

The College Fix, which accumulates data on these hoaxes, reported that “At Massachusetts’ Williams College, two students admitted to trashing the school’s Griffin Hall with a ‘red wood-stain substance resembling blood’ and spelled out ‘AMKKK KILL.’ ” The college newspaper, The Williams Record, later reported that the two students did it “to bring attention to the potential impact of the presidential election on campus.”

At Bowling Green State University on the day after the election, a Black student alleged three white males clad in ‘Trump’ shirts called her a racial slur and threw rocks at her. ABC News reported shortly thereafter that the police concluded she made up the story.

MSNBC posted a tweet that contained what appeared to be a video of a female Muslim student beating up a ‘racist’ male pupil at Washburn High School. “Don’t mess with Somali girls in Minnesota,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell announced. “The dude tried to knock her hijab (headgar) [sic] off, she gave him a hard lesson.”

The video, titled “Welcome to Washburn,” went viral after it was posted to Facebook, with more than 6.5 million views, more than 161,000 shares and more than 29,000 comments.

But the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared the footage a “hoax” and a “play fight” intended as a joke. And school staff confirmed the alleged incident never happened.

Another anti-Muslim incident that was widely reported was proven to be a hoax. A female Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette alleged that right after the election, two white men, one of whom was wearing a Trump cap, attacked her and stole her wallet and the hijab she was wearing. Her story prompted the ACLU of Louisiana to issue a statement denouncing both the incident and Donald Trump; the FBI launched an investigation; and the story was covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN.

The Muslim student later admitted to police that she made up the whole story.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco man who raised a Nazi flag on the roof of his home right after the election was a left-wing Trump-hater.

There are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.

The entire notion of a Trump-inspired crime wave is fake news spread by the mainstream media. For more examples, see “There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave In ‘Trump’s America.’ ”

Donald Trump is no more anti-Semitic than the columnists of this newspaper. Nor is Breitbart.com anti-Semitic. And there is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America.

This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria — like heterosexual AIDS in America; the “rape culture” on campuses; the alleged crisis of racist cops wantonly killing innocent Blacks; and global warming threatening life on earth.

Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Nicholas Melvoin. Photo from nickmelvoin.com

Melvoin: ‘New blood, new ideas’ and charter schools

Nicholas Melvoin, a 31-year-old Harvard graduate running for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) District 4 board seat, has a law degree, social justice credentials and Southern California good looks. He is also ambitious, charming and, at present, unattached.

“On the campaign trail, I meet a lot of grandmothers that want to set me up with their Jewish granddaughters,” Melvoin confessed with a sly smile. “Until they realize what the school board pays” — a modest $45,000 a year — “and then they’re like, ‘Nope. Sorry.’ ”

Melvoin is one of three challengers fighting to oust school board President Steve Zimmer, 46, a two-term incumbent, to represent a wide swath of Angelenos from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley. The others are public relations specialist Gregory Martayan and Allison Holdorff Polhill, an attorney who has taught on the high school level. The primary is March 7, and if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers compete in a May 16 runoff.

[Zimmer: District headed in the right direction]

With spiky blonde hair and blue eyes, Melvoin looks more like an actor or agent than a guy who started his career teaching at a middle school in Watts. On the day we met in Beverly Hills, he wore a sport coat accented with a red pocket square and left the top buttons of his shirt undone in the calculated style of Bernard Henri-Levy. Melvoin’s image is an accessory to his political ethos; he presents himself as the suave, idealistic change-maker who will reanimate the financially struggling school district with new ideas and needed reforms.   

Part of his challenge is to unseat an incumbent with whom he has much in common: Melvoin and Zimmer are Jewish, Democrats and adjunct college professors, and both got their start in public education working for the nonprofit Teach for America.

“Me and Steve could be brothers,” Melvoin said. “We’re both these bleeding hearts.”

Yet, despite his professed admiration for Zimmer, Melvoin doesn’t hesitate to argue that Zimmer has failed to improve the district.

“Steve’s weakness is that he’s had eight years,” Melvoin said. “District finances are in shambles, student achievement is not improving, and charter schools keep cropping up. Despite what I think are very good intentions on Steve’s part, there just haven’t been results.”

Through the most recent reporting period, Melvoin has raised more than $296,000 to Zimmer’s $93,000; he’s also won endorsements from the Los Angeles Times, former Los Angeles Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan and the California Charter Schools Association.

Zimmer has received strong financial support from two of the city’s most powerful unions: United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.      

Although Melvoin and Zimmer hold some shared values, there is a sharp contrast in their approach to dealing with LAUSD’s most pressing issues: a potential $1.5 billion budget deficit, with an additional $13.6 billion in unfunded pension liabilities; the exodus of 100,000 students from public schools to charter schools over the past decade; and ever-sensitive issues regarding teacher tenure and accountability. 

In fact, they sharply disagree on just how much they disagree.

“I’m torn,” Melvoin admitted, “because I like Steve a lot as a person.

“Do Steve and I want the same thing at the end of the day? Yes. My thing is not anti-Steve at all. It’s new blood, new ideas.”

“I appreciate the compliment,” Zimmer said in response, when reached by phone. “But you know, when you make the decision to challenge a reasonably well-liked and reasonably successful incumbent, the only way to do that is to unleash a ferociously negative campaign. [Nick] made the decision to do this, and that just raises some questions about how deep that respect really runs.”

At play in the struggle between them is nothing less than a debate about the state of LAUSD itself: Is it a flawed agency getting incrementally better under Zimmer? Or a broken institution, owing to years of failed leadership? To win, Melvoin will have to prove that youthful idealism is enough to surmount an entrenched bureaucracy.

“One of the reasons I’m so passionate about education is that the whole promise of America, which was true for my family and lots of Jewish immigrant families, is that in spite of where you started, you will succeed — because we have free public education,” Melvoin said.

Melvoin considers himself a beneficiary of public education even though he only briefly attended public school growing up in Brentwood. With two successful, working parents — his father is a television writer and producer; his mother, a photojournalist —  Melvoin attended elite prep school Harvard-Westlake then earned his undergraduate degree in government and English at Harvard University.

After graduating, he was hired by Teach for America for a two-year fellowship at Markham Middle School in Watts. The disparity between his background and that of his students’ was stark: “When I got there, there had been five principals in 3 1/2 years; only 4 percent of eighth graders were proficient in algebra and 6 percent in English. I thought, ‘How are they supposed to succeed?’ ”

Melvoin was laid off twice in the two years he taught at Markham, both times due to budget cuts. The district’s policy of seniority — known as “Last In, First Out”— protects teachers who have tenure, which means that new, young hires are generally the first to lose their jobs. When nearly 70 percent of Markham’s teaching staff was laid off, Melvoin felt the layoffs disproportionately affected low-income population schools such as Markham, so he partnered with the ACLU in 2010 to bring a lawsuit, Reed v. California and L.A. Unified.

“We argued that it was unconstitutional that these layoffs disproportionately impacted poor students of color and violated their right to a quality education,” Melvoin said. The case was settled in 2014, with the promise of new investment into 37 LAUSD schools.

Zimmer, a teacher for 17 years, and Melvoin sharply disagree on issues of teacher tenure and accountability. Melvoin asserts Zimmer is so beholden to the teachers union that he is reluctant to enforce performance measures that could weed out underperforming teachers. Zimmer paints a more complicated picture.

“We have dismissed more ineffective teachers in the last five years than in the previous 25 years combined,” Zimmer said.

Melvoin decided after the ACLU lawsuit that he could have a greater impact on education through policy than teaching in a classroom. He received a full scholarship to study civil rights law at New York University and spent the next three summers burnishing his credentials with various internships — including with the ACLU, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and finally, the Obama White House.

But his friendly disposition toward charter schools — something he shares with new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — has led some to compare Melvoin with Trump’s White House. And not in a good way: Zimmer criticized Melvoin for supporting a 2015 plan from philanthropist Eli Broad that some regarded as an effort to privatize public education. “That would be the end of the LAUSD school district,” Zimmer said.   

Melvoin said the financially troubled district has no business turning away philanthropic investment. “It’s not like Eli Broad, an 87-year-old with $6 billion, is making money off his investments in public schools. That is just a conspiracy theory that doesn’t hold,” Melvoin said of Broad, who has contributed to his campaign. “The negative motive the union and Steve ascribe to these people is really toxic. It’s kind of like Trump-like.”

Melvoin said he supports charters “as long as they’re outperforming district schools and parents want them.” He points to 107,000 kids in LAUSD charter schools, 16 percent of total enrollment — with another 40,000 on a wait list — as the clearest “indictment of a failed school district.”

But even though charters provide a better option for some students in the district, it remains the province of the district’s public schools to protect the integrity of a public educational system that is often the only path forward for countless students, especially those from low-income or minority communities.

At Markham, Melvoin said he saw firsthand what happens when schools do not adequately prepare students for their future. “The one chance [some of these kids have] to get on their feet is a good school,” Melvoin said. “We [can’t mess] that up.”

Lyndon B. Johnson as U.S. Senator in the 1950s.

Preserving the barrier between church and state

Lyndon Baines Johnson is undoubtedly rolling over in his grave. For more than six decades — with bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic presidents and members of Congress — a landmark law has stood as a bulwark against using public funds to breach the wall separating church and state. The so-called Johnson Amendment — authored by LBJ during his Senate tenure (but passed by a Republican-majority Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower) — prevents all tax-exempt entities, including religious organizations, from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaigns on behalf of, or opposed to, any candidate. At the risk of losing this tax-exempt status, the Johnson Amendment expressly forbids all rabbis, ministers and imams from using their pulpits as partisan political platforms.

Spurred on by his evangelical right-wing base, President Donald J. Trump has now pledged to “get rid of and totally destroy” this decades-long, common sense legislation. Fortunately, the Jewish community understands the dangers posed by such a radical revision. In a strongly worded statement issued the day Trump uttered his vow at the National Prayer Breakfast, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said a repeal of the Johnson Amendment “would result in government support — through the tax code — for religious speech in a manner contrary to binding interpretations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.” And if applied to all tax-exempt organizations, the AJC properly warned that such a change “would threaten to drag civil society more broadly — from museums and other charitable organizations, to national, communal and religious groups of every sort — into the political arena.” Joining the AJC in expressing immediate outrage was the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, noting that “politicizing churches does them no favors.”

Trump’s obsequious effort to pander to Christian conservatives’ desire to “totally destroy” a law that has well served the principle of church-state separation cannot be accomplished by means of a mere executive order. Only Congress can change the tax code. Unfortunately, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) quickly quipped that he had “always supported” such a repeal. Moreover, the day before Trump’s speech, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) separately introduced House and Senate bills to accomplish this goal. And Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has introduced unsuccessful repeal legislation in every session of Congress since 2001, hopefully declared, “This is the best opportunity we’ve had.”

Meanwhile, even if Congress declines to repeal the Johnson Amendment, the same functional result may be achieved if Trump directs the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the law. Indeed, since 2008, more than 2,000 mostly evangelical clergy have dared the IRS to do its job by holding “Pulpit Freedom Sundays,” during which their sermons incorporate political views; only one such case has ever been investigated and no one has been punished.

Beyond encouraging the unseemly spectacle of religious leaders pontificating about partisan political campaigns, any actions that undercut the efficacy of the Johnson Amendment will allow churches to spend their congregants’ tax-exempt 501(c)(3) donations to support political campaigns. This scenario poses at least two problems. First, there is no reason why we should allow tax-free dollars to be used to support or oppose candidates for public office. If individuals want to spend their money on political campaigns, they should do so with after-tax dollars, rather than asking other taxpayers to subsidize their partisan electoral choices.

Second, nonprofit organizations such as religious groups do not have the same federal tax reporting obligations as those required of PACs. If campaign funding were funneled through houses of worship, political spending could become even less transparent than it already is. In the words of David Herzig, a Valparaiso University tax law professor, “If you allow churches to freely allow political activity … you’ve turned those into Super PACs.”

As with many of the hot-button campaign issues that the Trump presidency has now moved to the front burner to the delight of his die-hard supporters (such as building a Mexican border wall,  barring refugees and deporting immigrants), the broader American public opposes the philosophical basis for repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment. In 2015, Lifeway, a Christian polling firm, found that 79 percent of Americans thought that religious leaders should not endorse politicians from the pulpit. Now that the Trumpian gauntlet has been thrown down, it will be up to this silent majority to ensure that the church-state wall remains in place and that tax deductible donations are not used to support political campaigns. And so long as the Johnson Amendment remains the law of the land, the IRS should not render it a dead letter through coerced non-enforcement.

Douglas Mirell is an attorney and board member of the ACLU and ACLU Foundation of Southern California. As a volunteer attorney, he has litigated numerous church-state separation and other First Amendment cases. He can be reached at dmirell@hmafirm.com

Federal judge rules small cross on L.A. County seal is unconstitutional

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the First Amendment when it decided in 2014 to reinstate a tiny cross to the county's seal.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder said in a 55-page ruling that the Board of Supervisors, by depicting a cross on the seal, “Necessarily lends its prestige and approval to a depiction of one faith's sectarian imagery.”

The American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Southern California office sued the Board of Supervisors following its 3-2 decision in 2014 to place a cross on top of the depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the seal. Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Mike Knabe, both Republicans, argued at the time that having a cross on the seal is historically accurate. They were joind by Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat, and opposed by Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, both Democrats.

This is just the latest development in a sort of saga that has been ongoing since 2004, when the Board of Supervisors was threatened with a similar lawsuit and voted 3-2 to remove a depiction of the cross floating above the Hollywood Bowl that had been there since 1957.

On Thursday, Antonovich released a statement saying that depicting the San Gabriel Mission without its cross “ignores historical and architectural reality,” and said he would support an appeal.

“The court failed to see that the Board corrected the inaccurate depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the seal with an architecturally accurate version that featured a small cross,” Antonovich said. 

Father’s Day: The lesson of free speech

Dean Okrand is an Emmy-winning sound re-recording mixer, husband and father of two adult daughters. His own father was Fred Okrand, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California for more than 60 years, and its first legal director. Fred, born in 1917, died in 2002 at 84. 

“My father definitely inspired my own political life. He was extremely fair-minded and socially conscious. When World War II started, he fought against the internment of Japanese-Americans. When he returned from the service, he was able to get citizenship reinstated for those of Japanese ancestry who had lost that during the war. I remember at Christmastime, flowers would show up on our doorstep from Japanese-American people he represented. And when we were in Little Tokyo, people would stop to thank him.

My father took on many unpopular issues. When he walked down the street near his office in downtown L.A., there were people who crossed to the other side to avoid him.

Since the ACLU couldn’t pay him very well, he made extra money by representing gangsters — always in civil liberties cases. When Mickey Cohen was being harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department, he hired my father. Dad said if they wanted to arrest somebody, they needed evidence; they couldn’t just hassle the person. I remember a guy would come to our house at night with a brown paper bag filled with cash to pay my father. My mom would take my brother and me to the back of the house because she was afraid of the gangsters.

I remember Dad working hard at home, writing and doing research for his cases. But he always had time for the family. At my Little League games, he not only rooted for me, but also for kids on the other team, to get a hit.  That’s the kind of guy he was. He just wanted everyone to have a good time.

Through his whole life, my father was fighting for the underdog, and that influenced how I look at things — that people of privilege have enough, and we should make sure others have their fair share.”

Read more Father's Day stories.

Woman with Saudi and Jewish ancestry wins $40K in racial profiling settlement

An American woman of Saudi and Jewish descent has reached a settlement with Frontier Airlines and the U.S. government after being pulled off an airplane, detained and strip-searched.

Under the settlement, Shoshana Hebshi will receive $40,000 from the federal government as compensation for the “severe humiliation she suffered,” according to a news release issued by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Hebshi, a mother of two who was detained at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The ACLU charged that Hebshi was singled out because of her Middle Eastern name and appearance.

In addition, Frontier said it will amend its employee handbook and training to “more clearly state its zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.”

“I filed this lawsuit because I didn’t want others to experience the kind of unnecessary trauma that I did, and it has given me faith that the justice system can work to protect constitutional rights,” Hebshi said in the news release.

“People do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they step onto an airplane,” said Rachel Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, in the news release. “This settlement sends that critical message, and will help protect future passengers from having to endure what Shoshana went through.”

DNA patent ruling could aid women

When the Supreme Court decided on June 13 that unaltered human DNA cannot be patented, it was more than a victory for cancer patients and corporate rivals in the field of genetics; it was a reason to celebrate for Dr. Wayne Grody, a professor at UCLA School of Medicine who assisted in the case that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought against Myriad Genetics.

“I’ve been involved with this case for about five years, since the beginning, and I’ve been giving lectures on it,” said Grody, 61, director of the Diagnostic Molecular Pathology Laboratory within the UCLA Medical Center.

“Actually, I was about to start another lecture on this [in Portland], when I got to the podium and about 10 people held up their iPhones to show me that the decision had been reached. I was blindsided and had to improvise the rest of the evening. Maybe the timing wasn’t great, but the news absolutely was.”

The court’s unanimous decision overturned U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policy and invalidated current patents on genes, thereby ending the monopoly of certain genetic tests, including those for types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer that affect a disproportionately large percentage of Ashkenazic women.

Until this decision, roughly 20 percent of human genes were patented, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This meant that the holder of the patent could effectively prevent anyone from studying, testing or looking at the gene, which caused great concern among many in the medical community, according to Grody. 

“We never felt comfortable with this idea and tried for many years to get around it — receiving numerous cease-and-desist letters from companies unhappy that we were doing medical genetic tests on genes they had patented,” he said.

When a company patents a gene and has an exclusive right to a test related to it, not only can it set the cost of the test as high as it wishes, but it makes it impossible for someone to get a second opinion. Patients must rely on a single test and hope it is done correctly.

“Many people don’t even know you could patent genes and were shocked when they found out it was possible,” Grody said.

This particular Supreme Court case was filed against Myriad Genetics, a company based in Utah. The genes and tests in question were mutation-location tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which act as significant markers for the likelihood of developing certain types of aggressive breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Because the Ashkenazic gene pool is less varied than that of the general population, due to the historical pattern of marrying within the faith, three mutations within the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are nearly five times more likely to appear in Ashkenazic women than in the general population, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Grody, an Ashkenazic Jew himself who was an expert scientific witness in the Supreme Court case and helped craft various aspects of the ACLU’s legal argument, said Myriad Genetics wasn’t targeted because of any problems within its testing record.

“They’re a first-rate lab. We chose Myriad because breast cancer is such a highly visible disease,” Grody said. “However, the price for the full mutation screening is between $3,500 and $4,000 without insurance. Even if you only have to pay 20 percent, it’s still too much for some people. And until recently, they had no other choice but to test through Myriad.”

Often, the tests are used to decide whether a woman will take prophylactic measures to avoid getting cancer — drastic medical procedures such as a double mastectomy (like the one actress Angelina Jolie underwent recently) and removal of one’s ovaries. Both procedures are irreversible, so many women would like to be able to pursue a second opinion.

Now they can. 

Although it will take many years for companies to build the kind of extensive genetic database that Myriad Genetics has, it’s the beginning of a new era for the genetic testing market — one that’s been decades in the making.

“By the end of the trial, which I had the honor of being able to attend, I felt like the justices really felt uncomfortable with the idea of patenting genes,” Grody said. “And although I was relatively confident that they’d rule in our favor, it was a relief to know that, yes, they did truly understand.”

Secularism: Great for government, destructive to everything else

Most non-Orthodox Jews venerate secularism. Virtually every movement and organization advancing secularism in the United States has been founded or led by Jews, and Jews are disproportionately active in these movements.

The initials ACLU are loved and respected by most American Jews, primarily because the organization fights every public expression of religion. Secular Jews have spearheaded the movement to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.”

But secularism is endangering us Jews, just as it is endangering our country and the countries of Western Europe, and it is dulling the souls of individual Americans and Europeans.

Secularism is great for government. But it is destructive to everything else.

Among many other things, it shatters meaning, marriage and even the desire to sustain a society through reproducing its members.

If there is no God, life is inherently devoid of meaning. DNA provides no ultimate meaning. Evolution tells us that all life is random. And, of course, nothing higher cares about us because there is nothing higher than us.

But because people who do not believe in God don’t want to go crazy, they make up meanings. Often these made-up meanings — work, family, self-sacrifice for the country and for freedom — are noble. On the other hand, too often the search for meaning leads to horrific ideals. Fascism and communism gave their adherents as much meaning as Judaism gives the believing Jew, and as Christianity gives the believing Christian. Likewise spreading and imposing sharia law and killing infidels gives many Islamists meaning.

Throughout American history, Judeo-Christian religions gave the vast majority of Americans meaning. As these religions have lost their hold, Americans have looked elsewhere for meaning. And many — including many Jews, members of the most secular group of all — have found meaning and purpose in substitute religions such as Marxism, socialism, feminism, environmentalism and myriad other movements, nearly all of them leftist. Leftism, which became the most dynamic religion in Europe with the breakdown of Christianity after World War I, has become the source of meaning in the United States, too.

Others find meaning in accomplishment. Hence the great contemporary emphasis on career. Even women, who throughout history have found primary meaning in marriage, family and children, now, for the first time, often seek meaning first and foremost in career. Many eventually regret having made that choice, but by the time they do, it can be too late to make a family.

Just this week, Erin Callan, one of the most successful businesswomen in the United States, the former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, wrote a column in The New York Times describing her great regret at having devoted her life to career. She forsook having children, paid considerably less attention to her husband than to her work and ended up a major financial and career success — but with no children and eventually no marriage.

A few years ago she realized what she had done: “I have spent several years now,” she wrote, “living a different version of my life, where I try to apply my energy to my new husband, Anthony, and the people whom I love and care about. But I can’t make up for lost time. Most important, although I now have stepchildren, I missed having a child of my own. I am 47 years old …”

Compare her life to that of Orthodox Jews, practicing Mormons, Evangelical Christians and religious Catholics. They all believe that marriage, having children and making a home are vital. 

In this regard, the very same week, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote this about Jews:

“Nationwide, only 21 percent of non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 are married. But an astounding 71 percent of Orthodox Jews are married at that age. And they are having four and five kids per couple. In the New York City area, for example, the Orthodox make up 32 percent of Jews over all. But the Orthodox make up 61 percent of Jewish children.”

Secular academics tell us that the reason Europeans and Americans are having so few children is that as people become affluent they choose not to have more than one or two children.

They are mostly wrong. The primary reason is secularism, not affluence. Affluent Orthodox, Jews, affluent Mormons, affluent Evangelicals and Catholics have many children. Secularism gives you no reason to perpetuate your nation, no reason to marry, and no reason to have children. Indeed, other than better government, it gives you nothing. 

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Danny Goldberg: Hangin’ with the ‘geniuses’ of rock ‘n’ roll

No one ever said the life of a rock ‘n’ roll star was easy, and if you’re the one responsible for their success, keeping an artist both successful and happy can be no less daunting.

Danny Goldberg gives us a good taste of life in the music biz in his new memoir, “Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business” (Gotham, $26). Now 58, Goldberg takes us back to his early roots as a teen in the ’60s and then spans the last four decades, during which he bumps into some well-known musicians, resulting in a fascinating look at the rock ‘n’ roll life.

Goldberg was brought up in New York City in a liberal, secular Jewish household and always had a great interest in music. He was inspired by the civil rights movement and organized marches against the war in Vietnam. He also was an enormous fan of the political folk musicians of the ’60s, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs. Like Dylan, Goldberg eventually plugged into the rock scene and began to connect with the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and The Who.

At the impressionable age of 19, Goldberg was writing a column for the weekly trade magazine Record World. His big desire was to learn all he could about the industry, but he found that being a little lucky didn’t hurt. Among his first breaks included securing a press pass to the Woodstock Festival in 1969; the 1970s found him working for Led Zeppelin, first as their publicist and later as the vice president of their record company. Goldberg also helped launch Stevie Nick’s solo career during the height of Fleetwood Mac’s popularity, and he was responsible for helping to reignite Bonnie Raitt’s career in 1990, when she won four Grammys for her album, “Nick of Time.”

Not surprisingly, Goldberg is constantly asked about Nirvana, Seattle’s biggest musical claim to fame in the ’90s. He managed Kurt Cobain and Nirvana during the height of their success with their chart-topping album, “Nevermind.” He also played a pivotal role in the career of Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, and her band, Hole, during the years leading up to Cobain’s 1994 suicide.

And let’s not forget Goldberg’s association with Warren Zevon. Zevon became a symbol of success and sadness in 2004, when he finally got the recognition he deserved as a notable songwriter, even as he approached death from cancer.

But it’s not only the tales themselves that make “Bumping Into Geniuses” a great read; it’s how Goldberg tells the stories. You really get the feeling that he loved every moment. He appears to have learned as much from his minor setbacks as he did from his major successes.

Ironically, this book detailing the ins and outs of the rock ‘n’ roll business is Goldberg’s second memoir. Goldberg has spent a great deal of his life mixing it up in politics. His first book, “Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit” (Miramax, 2003), reads like a last plea to Democrats to get their voices heard. And, not surprisingly, Goldberg has also used music to try to influence politics. His association with John Hall, a co-founder of the band Orleans (“Dance With Me,” “Still the One”) and now successful congressman from upstate New York, led to the organization of the 1979 “No Nukes” concert that featured Raitt, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen. Goldberg is also a founding member of the board of advisers for the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union. He recalls, “When I lived in Los Angeles, I was very active with the ACLU, helping them with fundraising, especially.” His interest in politics also involved the 2008 presidential election. He has attended musical rallies by the Old ’97s to help raise funds for the Obama campaign in Ohio, being a big believer that musicians can influence politics in a positive way.

These days, Goldberg represents a slew of musicians who run the gamut from the flamboyant, cock-sure rock romp of the Swedish band, The Hives, to the more politically motivated musical statements by Rage Against the Machine and singer-songwriter Steve Earle. In addition to running Gold Village Entertainment in New York and raising two teenagers, Goldberg expressed the hope that he’d find time to write another book or two along the way. On behalf of anxious music lovers everywhere, let’s cross our fingers that it happens sooner rather than later.

Robert Plant and Danny Goldberg 1975 Chicago. Photo by Neal Preston

Briefs: Three plead guilty in SoCal terror plot; Report says UCI acted properly

Three Plead Guilty in Terror Plot

Three members of an Islamic terrorist cell who were on the verge of attacking the Israeli consulate, an El Al ticket counter and two synagogues, face up to 20 to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court to conspiring to levy war against the United States.

The carefully planned plot was discovered by chance in July 2005. Authorities say it was closer to going operational than any other terrorist plan since Sept. 11 and engaged a joint task force of 350 federal, state and local investigators.

Kevin Lamar James, 31, and Levar Haley Washington, 28, entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana last week, and a third defendant, Gregory Vernon Patterson, 27, entered his plea with the court on Monday.

A fourth cell member, Hammad Riaz Samana, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial and is undergoing psychiatric care at a federal prison, federal prosecutors say.

James founded the cell as Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), translated as Assembly of Authentic Islam, from his jail cell in 1997 and then recruited fellow Black Muslim converts at the New Folsom prison near Sacramento.

Torrance police stumbled on the cell when they arrested Washington and Patterson in a string of gas station robberies intended to raise money for the planned attacks.

A search of Washington’s apartment yielded “jihadist” literature, a cache of weapons, a target list and a lead to James as the JIS leader. A search of the latter’s cell produced the draft of a press release to be issued after the first attack, which included a warning to “sincere Muslims” to avoid potential targets, including “Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of an Israeli state.”

Listed as planned targets were National Guard and military installations and a range of Jewish targets, such as the “Headquarters of Zion,” followed by the address of the Israeli consulate, an unexplained “Camp site of Zion,” and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport — the site of a murderous rampage in 2002, which killed two Israeli Americans — and two synagogues.

Ehud Danoch, Israeli consul general here in 2005, recalled the threatened attack on his office and staff as the tensest days in his three-year tenure during a recent farewell interview.

The two synagogues, which were likely to be assaulted during Yom Kippur services, have never been officially identified, but are located in the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson neighborhood of the city.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind praised the work of law enforcement agencies in the case and reaffirmed that ADL will continue to monitor extremism in prisons, the radicalization of Islam, and domestic terrorist threats.

The successful conclusion of the case reversed a string of setbacks by the U.S. Justice Department in trying to convict alleged terrorists in American courts, such as last week’s refusal by a federal jury in Miami to convict seven indigent men, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Report Finds UCI Acted Appropriately

A federal civil rights investigation has cleared University of California, Irvine administrators of allegations that they systematically turned a blind eye to intimidation and harassment of Jewish students over a four-year period.

The ruling by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco, made public Dec. 12, was in response to a complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

The complaint cited a long series of incidents in which Muslim and Arab students and extremist Muslim speakers had vilified Jews and incited against “Zionists” and Israel, without appropriate response by campus administrators.

Among the cited incidents were threats against students wearing Star of David and pro-Israel T-shirts, vandalism of a Holocaust memorial exhibit and a one-hour speech in which a Muslim cleric attacked “the apartheid state of Israel” and its “Nazi behavior,” as well as “American imperialism” and “the Zionist-controlled media.”

The federal ruling, which closed a three-year probe, found that while such acts were “offensive to Jewish students,” the incidents were “based on opposition to the policies of Israel,” and not on the “national origin” of the Jewish students.

UCI Chancellor Michael Clark welcomed the report and asserted that “we remain firmly committed to freedom of speech and open discourse … and equally committed to maintaining a safe, non-threatening environment for all members of our community.”

Manuel Gomez, who as UCI vice chancellor for student affairs dealt with the issue on an ongoing basis, said that he was particularly pleased by the report’s finding that the “university responded in a prompt and effective manner” to campus incidents.

A different reaction came from Susan B. Tuchman, director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice in New York, who said that she was “obviously disappointed and outraged.

“This was a difficult case, but the evidence was clear that Jewish students had been harassed and that the university had not responded adequately,” she said.

Tuchman had drafted the ZOA complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, she said, defined Jews not only as a religious but also an ethnic group under the “national origin” clause.

She blamed a change in leadership at the Office of Civil Rights, shortly after she filed the complaint in October 2004, for narrowing the protection afforded Jewish plaintiffs.

Tuchman warned that the federal decision “sent a very depressing message that the agency will not afford protection to Jewish students and this will embolden the perpetrators of hate actions on campuses.”

She added that ZOA was now weighing its options to pursue the matter.

At the time ZOA filed the complaint, some local Jewish officials characterized it as a misguided effort by outsiders.

Kevin O’Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Orange County/Long Beach, said that he remained skeptical that the ZOA action had been an effective way to deal with the campus administration.

Briefs: Local nonprofits named ‘most innovative;’ Molestation arrest at Valley shul; ACLU backs Samm

‘Slingshot’ Cites Innovative Nonprofits

Jewish World Watch and IKAR were among a handful of L.A. nonprofits included last week in an annual guidebook of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations.

“The organizations listed in Slingshot ’07-’08 are among the most forward thinking and innovative that North America has to offer,” said Sharna Goldseker, director of 21/64, the division of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies that published the Slingshot guidebook. “By shining the spotlight on their creative work, Slingshot gives undercapitalized nonprofits due recognition for their achievements.”

This is the third year the guide has been published. It was created to survey the landscape of Jewish nonprofits for donors interested in giving to more revolutionary organizations, including the Foundation for Jewish Camping and the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Other L.A.-based nonprofits included were MAZON, the Jewish Television Network and Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“As innovative Jewish programs emerge in record numbers across the U.S. and Canada, the opportunity to fund these programs and make a direct impact through philanthropy has never been greater,” Dr. Debbie Findling, deputy director at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and one of 25 Slingshot evaluators, said in a statement. “The challenge for funders is finding the gems that are out there, and then determining which ones are a strategic fit for their giving.”

The Slingshot guidebook can be downloaded for free or ordered in hard copy at http://www.2164.net/slingshot.html.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Israeli ‘Transient’ Held in Alleged Molestation

Eyal Magid, a native of Israel, was arrested on Thursday, Oct. 4, at Chabad of Sherman Oaks for allegedly molesting a 7-year-old girl.

During the morning kiddush of the Shimini Atzeret holiday, synagogue members told the girl’s parents that they had seen Magid, 28, lead the child down the stairs of the shul. After the parents questioned the girl, they immediately called the police, according to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lipskier, assistant director of Chabad of Sherman Oaks.

Police have charged Magid with kidnapping with the intent to molest, which could carry a stricter sentence than kidnapping, an LAPD spokesman said. As of press time Tuesday, Magid was still being held with bail set at $600,000.

Magid was a “transient,” Lipskier said. “He hung out a few months here, but he’s kind of homeless.” Magid had lived in Florida and Chicago, but “there were no concerns” about him, the rabbi said he found out after the incident.

Although the community already has in place education for parents and children about child safety, they are working with experts in the field for community education and preparedness, Lipskier said. “These are community issues — and they’re national issues.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

ACLU Finds Violation at Chapman

Chapman University violated students’ free speech and association rights by banning the activities of an historically-Jewish fraternity on campus, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Orange County office. In an Oct. 2 letter to University President James L. Doti, ACLU Orange County Director Hector Villagra asked Chapman to restore the students’ constitutional rights and expunge any punitive measures from their disciplinary records.

Sigma Alpha Mu members say they were told not to wear T-shirts bearing their Greek letters after administrators refused to recognize the fledgling group during fraternity expansion in February 2006, adding that they were also ordered to stop advertising and meeting on campus and to remove their Chapman Facebook Web page.

Despite the 2006 ruling, the fraternity receives support from its national organization and has continued to meet and hold events off campus, calling itself the Orange County chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu. The chapter currently has 20 students.

ACLU’s Villagra said he hopes to resolve the matter amicably but did not rule out litigation.

“We had no intention of making the university angry or provoking them,” said Sigma Alpha Mu President Pascal de Maria at an Oct. 3 press conference at the ACLU Orange County headquarters. “We just wanted a culturally based fraternal experience.”

Neither the students nor the ACLU take issue with Chapman’s refusal to recognize the group, but claim they are the subjects of restrictive rules that do not apply to other unrecognized groups.

“When only one group’s members can’t wear their letters, can’t meet on campus and can’t advertise their activities, then Chapman, we have a problem,” Villagra said.

Chapman spokeswoman Mary Platt dismissed the T-shirt allegation as false.

“The shirts the students were wearing at the news conference [bearing the name Sigma Alpha Mu] are the same ones they’ve been wearing all semester with no action taken,” she said, adding that the administration doesn’t object to the shirts as long as they don’t mention the university.

Chapman officials declined further comment citing federal student privacy regulations. The university is a party to a federal investigation into alleged student privacy violations by the U.S. Department of Education stemming from Kertes’ and Hutchison’s Sept. 22, 2006 letter.

— Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer

ACLU Dispute Shows Tension Among Interfaith Friends

As local pro-Israeli and pro-Arab groups hold ever larger and more heated demonstrations, relations among Los Angeles Muslim and Jewish groups threaten to go into a deep freeze. In one reflection of the changing climate, a longtime Jewish member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has blasted the group’s local chapter for planning to honor a Muslim activist whom he characterizes as an anti-Israeli propagandist.

The dispute at the ACLU began July 20, when 30-year member Joel Bellman, press deputy to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, sent a blistering e-mail to ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston, in which he vehemently questioned the group’s plan to honor Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), with a prestigious Religious Freedom Award at the upcoming 43rd annual ACLU Garden Party. Bellman wrote that he intends to boycott the Sept. 10 event, and he will encourage other ACLU members to do so as well.

“I’m not sure when [Al-Marayati] and MPAC would legitimately deserve such recognition,” Bellman wrote, “but it most certainly is not at a time when MPAC is falsely blaming Israel for defending herself in a two-front war launched without provocation by Islamic terror organizations with the support and sponsorship of two rejectionist nations.

“I’ve known Salam personally for nearly 20 years,” Bellman continued. “Under ordinary circumstances, I can tolerate his posturing on MPAC’s behalf as the voice of ‘moderate’ Islam, although his actual political positions are scarcely distinguishable (except in tone) from those of most of the anti-Israel Muslim world.”

When told of Bellman’s e-mail by a reporter, Al-Marayati responded that Bellman’s attack on MPAC is wholly unjustified and off-target. MPAC is a mainstream Islamic advocacy group, he said, and it accepts a two-state solution, condemns suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks and has long acted as a leading voice in interfaith relations.

“When Hamas and Hezbollah commit terrorism, we condemn that,” Al-Marayati said, “and when the state of Israel violates the human rights of the Palestinian people, we condemn that as well.”

Upon first learning of Bellman’s claims from the reporter, Al-Marayati reacted with stunned silence. The Muslim activist said he wished Bellman, whom he called a friend, had called him personally to share his concerns.
MPAC board member Nayyer Ali defended Al-Marayati, saying he is a man of “high ethical and moral standards” who wants justice and freedom for All peoples, regardless of their religious backgrounds.

Bellman also said he objects to Religious Freedom Awards to be given to Rabbi Leonard Beerman and the Rev. George Regas at the September event, because the pair, along with Al-Marayati, recently appeared in an MPAC-sponsored rally to end Israel’s occupation in the territories. The interfaith event took place at the Islamic Center of Southern California on July 16, just after three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, one by terrorists in Gaza and two by Hezbollah, in Lebanon.

Beerman, the retired founding rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles, said he, Al-Marayati and Regas “have always been united in our quest for peace.”
He said he believes the “excessive” use of military force by Israel can only exacerbate the crisis and that he cares deeply about the survival of the Jewish state.

Ripston, who is Jewish, said the local ACLU’s plans to honor Al-Marayati, Beerman and Regas are based upon their work on the issue of the separation of church and state and represent a move to celebrate religious diversity. Their positions on the conflict in the Middle East “have nothing to do with this,” Ripston said. The Garden Party event was planned months before current hostilities, she said.

Bellman’s missive so angered Ripston that she said she called both him and his boss, Yaroslavsky, to discuss the letter. During her conversation with Yaroslavsky, Ripston mentioned that Bellman had used a county computer in writing one of the two e-mails he had sent to her office.

Bellman said he wrote his original letter of protest on his home computer. He said he wrote a follow-up e-mail, a response to a note sent by Ripston’s communications director, on a county computer during his lunch break.
“He did nothing wrong, and I think many people in the Jewish community would agree with what [Bellman] wrote,” Yaroslavsky said.

In an interview, Bellman questioned Ripston’s motives for “attacking one of its own members in good standing in his place of employment for a political position he took in his own time.”

Ripston said she supports Bellman’s right to free speech and only talked to Yaroslavsky to “smooth everything out.” She said she has no plans to cancel or alter the gathering.

The Circuit

Dual Appointments

It was a busy few days for attorney Andrew Friedman. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed him fire commissioner and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors nominated Friedman to serve as commissioner of the L.A. County Judicial Procedures Commission.

In introducing the new commissioner, Villaraigosa said, “I am pleased to appoint attorney Andrew Friedman, a good friend of mine, to the Fire Commission.” Villaraigosa then noted that Friedman served the city of Los Angeles for many years, including as a member of the Los Angeles Charter Commission and has been active in numerous community organizations, including being president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

Friedman, whose 85-year-old father is a Holocaust survivor and escaped from Hungarian communism in 1956, told the crowd, “During these times of international terrorism and natural disasters it is important that we have a strong Fire Department. I will work on the commission to make sure that all Angelenos are properly served.”

His other board, the L.A. County Judicial Procedures Commission is in charge of recommending changes in the judicial system that will result in a more efficient judicial administration. It works in cooperation with the courts and the California Judicial Council on issues of mutual interest.

Networking Women

Rina Bar-Tal, Israel Women’s Network (IWN) chair, and Avital Shachar, executive director of IWN, were back in Los Angeles recently sharing IWN accomplishments during the past year and discussing the challenges still ahead. Participants attended a reception and movie screening of “Two States of Mind.”

For more information on Israel Women’s Network, contact Rivka Dori at (818) 535-0533.


The weather cooperated Sunday afternoon, delivering a magnificent day for the ACLU’s annual garden party at the home of Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum in Brentwood. Almost 700 people turned out to participate in the festivities as the ACLU honored Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); actress Alexandra Paul; Maria Elena Durazo; Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 11, president, and, in memoriam, her husband, Miguel Contreras, for their work in social activism and preserving civil liberties.

Supporters and celebrities including Edward Asner and Mike Farrell turned out to nibble on stuffed grape leaves and other assorted goodies as they watched L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa present the award to Durazo and reaffirm his commitment to the ACLU.

“I am proud to have been a part of the ACLU; and I call upon all of you and your friends to be willing to stand up and continue the fight no matter what the consequences,” Villaraigosa said.

West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land and husband, Martin, noted, “There has never been a more important time to support the ACLU and fight to protect civil liberties with a president and Congress trying to take them away from us.”

In her introduction of Villraigosa, Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC), said. “It is a true privilege to honor this year’s recipients. The ACLU/SC has always fought for the freedom to express one’s beliefs and bring issues of social disparity to the forefront of our awareness. Sen. Boxer, Alexandra Paul, Maria Elena Durazo and Miguel Contreras have all demonstrated an enormous commitment to stand up for what is right and we are proud to honor them.”

The ACLU/SC presented Birdie Reed with the Chapter Activist of the Year Award. Reed has been an ACLU/SC member since the 1960s and is currently the president of the Orange County chapter.

For information on the ACLU, call (213) 977-9500.

A Golden Volunteer

Nearly 400 community leaders, family members and friends attended a gala dinner on Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Beverly Hills Hotel honoring Ruth Shuken for her more than 50 years of volunteer service with Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, one of the nation’s leading child welfare agencies.

Shuken, who celebrated her 95th birthday this past July 4, serves as chair of Vista’s Board of Ambassadors, and has been a member of the agency’s board of directors for more than 35 years — she is currently a vice chair of the board. She also serves on Vista’s Legislative Advocacy Committee and is a 40-plus year member of the Associates, the organization’s oldest support group, which sponsored the event.

The Look of Langer

Architect Naomi Langer was recently feted for her work on the new look of B’nai David-Judea Congregation. The award, which was given by Faith and Forum magazine and the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, honors design achievements for new, renovated and restored religious buildings. B’nai David-Judea is unique in that it is housed in the building that was originally the art deco Stadium Theater built in 1931. A planned renovation was to provide equal access and safety for children in an inspirational ambience.

“The challenge entailed infusing life and spirituality into the sanctuary while respecting the historical building,” Langer said.

Renovations included: linking the spaces to a hydraulic elevator, adding accessible bathrooms to the lobby, which was extended, existing bathrooms, offices, banquet hall and lobby were refurbished.

The exterior was repainted a five-color palette and lined in Jerusalem stone. Exterior doors were retrofitted with translucent glass and windows were replaced. Original Art Deco details were maintained to maximize natural light. Langer said the design of the sanctuary involved three main components: introducing natural light, dividing the space into two equal parts according to Orthodox tradition and adding handicapped accessibility.

Geiderman Gives Back

Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, has been appointed by President Bush as vice chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Geiderman has served as a council member since 2002, and was appointed to the museum’s executive committee in 2003.

“Dr. Geiderman’s appointment as vice chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council reflects his deep commitment as both a physician and son of a Holocaust survivor to the art and science of healing — a mission that both Cedars-Sinai and the Holocaust Memorial Museum share,” said Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

As the child of a Holocaust survivor, Geiderman decided early in life that he wanted to go into a profession where he could help people, and chose a career in medicine.

“I have said that the most formative experience in my life occurred during a period that spanned six to 12 years before I was born,” Geiderman said. “Ever since I became aware of and understood what happened during the Holocaust, I resolved that I needed to do something meaningful with my life.”

Book on Nimmer

David Nimmer, lawyer and long time Bureau of Jewish Education board member, was appointed the new chair of the the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles Sept. 15.

Serving of counsel to Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles, he was a visiting professor at UCLA Law School and distinguished scholar at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. He has published a series of articles on the subject of U.S. and international copyright.

HUC-JIR Happenings

Joshua Holo was recently appointed to the faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) as the director of the Louchheim School of Judaic studies, collaborating with USC to coordinate the undergraduate Jewish Studies curriculum. He has also been appointed as associate professor of Jewish history and is currently working on his first book, “Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

Sharon Gillerman is newly appointed director of Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies at HUC-JIR, where she also serves as associate professor of Jewish history. She received her doctorate in history from UCLA and wrote her dissertation on the crisis of the Jewish family during the Weimar Republic.

Her other research interests include gender and Jewish history, the history of the family, and the history of Berlin. She has published articles on the German Jewish family, German Jewish history, the History of Holocaust education, and Holocaust memorialization. She is currently completing a book titled, “Germans Into Jews: Remaking the Jewish Social Body in the Weimar Republic.” The professor has also taught at Brandeis University, UCLA, Harvard and the University of Hamburg.

Matt Albert was recently appointed regional director of admissions and recruitment at HUC-JIR. Albert received his doctorate from UCLA, a master’s in political science from Columbia University and a bachelor of arts in political science from UCSD. He spent nine years at Milken Community High School in, where he most recently served as assistant principal.


Both Sides of Seal Debate to Fight On

It came from Redlands like a fever: one of the most divisive religious battles to hit Los Angeles in years.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), fresh from successfully challenging the Redlands city seal a month earlier, set its sights on removing a Christian cross from the Los Angeles County seal in late May, claiming that it represented government endorsement of a religion. County supervisors acquiesced. Nearly 7,000 angry calls and letters promptly poured in, and approximately 2,000 people assembled before the supervisors’ offices. Right-wing radio hosts and columnists marshaled crowds.

Though religious issues are always emotionally charged, in this case the conservative media whipped its supporters into a veritable frenzy. In his column, journalist Dennis Prager proclaimed: "What we have here is an American version of the Taliban," regarding the ACLU.

"It will have to go to the Supreme Court, which is perhaps where it belongs," Prager told The Journal.

The road to the uproar passed through four Board of Supervisors votes. First, a 3-2 vote, (Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina and Yvonne Burke against Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich), favored a settlement with the ACLU. That was followed by two identical 3-2 rejections of a proposal to entertain litigation offers from anti-ACLU law firms and a bid to estimate the costs of replacing the seal, a difficult exercise since the ACLU agreed to a gradual phaseout of the seal, not immediate removal. The fourth vote blocked Antonovich’s proposal to put the entire issue to a November referendum.

"Our own county [attorney] opined that we would lose this case if we defended it because our seal was unconstitutional based on a half a dozen [similar] cases," Yaroslavsky said.

Yaroslavsky’s office bore the brunt of the complaints, including accusations that he was anti-Christian.

"If the court cases allowed for religious symbols on government seals, even though I didn’t agree with them, I would live with it," Yaroslavsky said. "We are a nation of laws, not of men. That’s what we buy into as Americans. The rule of law on this issue is clear."

"Since when do county supervisors vote on what they think will happen in a courtroom?" Prager countered. "Those on the left are trying to destroy the fact that this is a country founded on one specific religion –Christianity — and one specific value system, called Judeo-Christian."

Prager has publicly vowed not to drop the issue.

Supporters of the cross on the seal employed a combination of historical and religious arguments to bolster their position, simultaneously claiming that the cross is no more a religious symbol than the Greek goddess Pomona (also on the seal), but also that the seal represents a Christian legacy of the United States that should not be erased.

Bruce Einhorn, Pacific-Southwest chair of the Anti-Defamation League, saw the debate differently.

"Those who argue for [no cross on the seal] are those who believe that religion should be left alone, that government involvement in religion is not only unconstitutional but unproductive," Einhorn said. "It’s almost like a Faustian bargain to let government endorse religious symbols, because in return our religions can become dependent on government and weakened."

Supporters of the cross on the seal tried to stress the unique relationship between Christianity and Judaism in forming American values.

"It is almost mind-numbing that Jews watching European anti-Semitism, seeing how America alone is supportive of Israel, would ever want America’s value system to change," Prager said.

That emotional argument, however, also faced opposition.

"When I hear the phrase ‘Judeo-Christian,’ my experience has been that it has always been used to defend uniquely Christian symbols," Einhorn said. "That doesn’t mean that I’m offended by the cross, I just don’t understand how it enhances my religious tradition."

For its part, the ACLU has tried to avoid appearing anti-Christian or offensive. "We become involved when people in the community contact us," said Tenoch Flores, an ACLU spokesman. "I think there’s been a misunderstanding there — people thinking we’re going around collecting notches on our belt."

It appears that this round of the county seal fight is drawing to a close. Opponents of the ACLU vow to collect enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot, but time to do that is short.

In the meantime, there are four other counties and 11 cities in California with some sort of religious symbol on their seals.

L.A. County Supervisors are set to gradually replace the cross with a picture of a Catholic Spanish mission, including an homage to the Native Americans who built those missions.

That compromise, however, is unlikely to satisfy everyone.

"How do I know it’s not a Taco Bell?" asked Prager when informed that there will be no cross on the building.