Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ari Emanuel, is a Hollywood superagent


Up until Rahm Emanuel was offered the Chief of Staff position in Barack Obama’s cabinet, his younger brother Ari, the cantankerous Hollywood talent agent, was considerably better known. Most famously — or perhaps infamously — Ari Emanuel is said to be the inspiration for the abrasive, determined Ari Gold character on HBO’s Entourage, played by Jeremy Piven.

“With Ari, it’s all about the bottom line,” said writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of the television drama “The West Wing,” whom Ari Emanuel represents.

“In a business deal, he’s going to try to kill for you, and its just going to be about putting as much money in your pocket as he can, until you tell him that there’s something else that’s important to you.”

The fictional Ari Gold’s renegade style is, at least, based on fact: In March 1995, Emanuel and three other International Creative Management agents were caught plotting to start their own agency. When an assistant was discovered removing company files, ICM Chairman Jeff Berg promptly fired Emanuel. In what could have ruined any promising career, Emanuel went on to create his own boutique agency, Endeavor, now considered of the most powerful in Hollywood, with an estimated $100 million in revenue each year.

But those close to the real-life agent say he is not just a TV stereotype.

“While Ari does speak fast and is in no way cowardly when he’s talking to you, he’s not a cardboard cut out — he’s massively smart and genuinely a good guy,” said Sorkin. “That’s why clients don’t leave him. You’re not going to find anybody who used to be a client of Ari’s.”

And, like his brother Rahm, Ari Emanuel sees his position as an opportunity to influence public discourse.

“I represent people that are doing things and saying things that can affect change in the way people see things and the way people talk about things,” he told Charlie Rose in June 2008.

Representing the likes of Michael Moore and Martin Scorsese, Emanuel is among the best-connected in the business, and is known for leveraging his influence for public advocacy. After Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic tirade in July 2006, Emanuel publicly castigated the actor/director and called upon Hollywood to blacklist him. Politically, Ari Emanuel and Endeavor frequently host Democratic fundraisers, which have included a $2,300-a-plate dinner for Barack Obama, at Emanuel’s home. With the appointment of his brother to White House chief of staff, Hollywood and Washington just got a lot closer.

“Rahm has been a very powerful guy in government for a long time, and Ari has been a guy that cares about things for a long time and is connected to people who can help with money,” Sorkin said. “There have been any number of fundraisers Ari has thrown on behalf of Rahm or the DCC, or for any cause that Ari feels passionate about.”

The strength in the brothers’ relationship (they speak several times a day) is the product of a tight-knit family upbringing. The three Emanuel brothers credit their parents with fostering fraternal closeness nurtured at the family dinner table, where the brothers were schooled in the art of argumentation. Keeping abreast of politics, culture and history was expected, and verbal aggression was not seen as harmful, or as Rahm told Rose, “Normally a swear word is associated with epithets — in our house, it’s a term of affection.”

Ari remembered his mother admonishing the boys not to fight: “She would always say, ‘Don’t fight. The world can’t get along if the kids can’t get along.'”

Former Jewish Agency head tapped as Israel’s next ambassador to U.S.


One of Sallai Meridor’s first acts as chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency for Israel was to deliver relief to a Muslim country, Albania.

The delivery of food and medicine to refugees from the Kosovo crisis in April 1999 was a first for the organization best known for rescuing Jews — and was a sign that the scion of one of Israel’s founding families had a perpetual yearning for a wider diplomatic role.

A little more than a year after Meridor shocked the Jewish world by quitting the agency before his term ended, telling friends he hankered for a diplomatic role, his wish is about to come true: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nominated him on Oct. 4 to be Israel’s next ambassador to Washington.

The one sentence statement from the Prime Minister’s Office simply said Olmert and Livni “decided that Mr. Sallai Meridor will be appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Washington in place of Danny Ayalon, who is completing his four-year term.”

Meridor, 51, still faces confirmation by the Cabinet and must be cleared by the Foreign Ministry’s legal team. But with Livni and Olmert in agreement — and they are at odds on just about everything else recently — his appointment is a sure thing.

Sources said he is set to start in January.

Meridor’s appointment comes at a critical time. The U.S.-Israel relationship has arguably never been stronger, but the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace that both countries had embraced has been crumbling amid chaos among the Palestinians and growing regional threats from Iran and Iraq.

It also comes after Olmert’s political fortunes were severely hampered by the damage Israel suffered this summer during its war with Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Israeli prime minister is hoping to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Traditionally, Israel’s ambassador to Washington goes beyond the role of intermediary between Jerusalem and Washington, with the ambassador often involved in helping to set Israeli policy.

Meridor had already been seen as a shoo-in because of his decades-old friendship with Olmert.
Both men are “princes” of the Likud Party establishment who have moderated their hawkish views. Olmert now leads the centrist Kadima Party, which broke away from the Likud last year.

That friendship is probably the critical element explaining Meridor’s appointment, according to Jewish leaders who have known both men for decades.

“The most important thing for an ambassador to the United States is to have the confidence of the prime minister, and they go back many years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Meridor also has a reputation for integrity, rolling back the Jewish Agency’s notoriety for patronage during his 1999-2005 term, and cutting its expenses.

The Jewish Agency, involved in the rescue and absorption of Jewish immigrants to Israel as well as Jewish education around the world, is the primary overseas recipient of North American federation funds.

As head of the agency, he pushed for the accelerated immigration of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia, and the establishing of MASA — a program to bring thousands of Diaspora youth to Israel for long-term study and visits. He advocated aliyah from Western countries and established a partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helped boost immigration to Israel from North America and most recently, England.

He is well-known — and praised by American Jewish officials of both political and philanthropic organizations.

Sallai has a tremendous intellect and the capacity to multitask at the highest level of detail,” said Jay Sarver, the chairman of the agency’s budget and finance committee. “He has a deep, deep Jewish identity and neshama, and a deep belief in Zionist action.”

Stephen Hoffman, the president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the former president of the United Jewish Communities, worked closely with him during his term at the agency.

“He is a good listener and he is articulate in English as well as Hebrew,” Hoffman said. “He thinks strategically and looks at a lot of different angles, is cautious and gathers a lot of opinions before he makes a move.”

Friends say that the more recent role at the helm of the Jewish Agency obscures his talents as a diplomat. As an adviser to Moshe Arens, who served as foreign minister and defense minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he cultivated a friendship with James Baker. That was exceptional because Baker, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was not known for friendly relations with Israel.

Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator and diplomat, worked for Baker at the time. Meridor knows how to explain Israel’s needs, he knows how to work effectively with American administrations, he knows how to see the big picture,” Ross said. “Israel could not have made a better choice.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, said they looked forward to working with someone with solid Washington experience.

“He is a highly effective advocate, is well-acquainted with the ways of Washington, D.C., and will surely bring his considerable talents to bear in his new post,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Meridor has often straddled two worlds – as a West Bank settler who lives in Kfar Adumim, a settlement near Jericho likely to be dismantled in the withdrawals that Olmert has advocated.
His dual majors at Hebrew University were in the history of Islamic peoples and the history of the Jews. He speaks Arabic.

“Sallai has the ability to take people, to appeal to people from the right and the left and make people feel comfortable whether he agrees with their opinions or not,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who admires Meridor despite their disagreements on last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “In this kind of job, that’s an important trait.”

Klein noted Meridor’s profound affection for the whole biblical land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.

Summer Tours to Israel Rerouted, But Not By Much


Most summers, the trip to the Naot Sandal factory on a kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border is a highlight of the teen tours run by United Synagogue Youth (USY). But this summer, with the north under constant threat of rocket attacks, the 400 USYers stayed in the central and southern part of the country, and Naot came to them, with a special sale near USY’s base in Jerusalem.

That was one of the easier adjustments to a constantly changing itinerary for USY kids and the other estimated 6,000 American teens on tours in Israel this summer.

“All of us that have kids in Israel are trying to make the best of the situation,” said Jules Gutin, international director for USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, which has about 50 California teens in Israel this summer. “We want the experience to be worthwhile and positive, as well as safe.”

So while kids may be missing out on trips to the Golan Heights, to the kabbalistic city of Tsfat, the Banias natural pools or Maimonides’ grave in Tiveria, tours are making up for it with extra time in Jerusalem and challenging hikes through the Negev.

Few Kids Have Returned Home

Most tours departed the United States before the violence escalated in Israel, and most of the teens have stayed. USY reports that as of early this week, three kids went home, and Young Judaea has a similar count, with six kids out of 470 being summoned home. Three of the 390 students on NCSY’s Europe and Israel trip did not continue on from Europe to Israel.

The Orthodox Union canceled a trip scheduled to leave this week with its Yad b’Yad program, where 15 developmentally and physically disabled adults were to be accompanied by 35 teenage counselors on a four-week tour of Israel.

Administrators worried about heightening participants’ anxiety, and about difficulties rerouting the group, or moving it quickly in case of emergency. The day before the trip, it was recast as a West Coast tour.

Israel Experience, the educational tourism arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, coordinates programming and security for most of the trips that leave from North America.

“Trips are being rerouted based on the current situation, and it’s an hour-by-hour reevaluation,” said Rachel Russo, director of marketing for Israel Experience.

IDF, Police, Jewish Agency Monitor Tourist Itineraries

Israel Experience adjusts the groups’ schedules according to recommendations it gets from a situation room staffed by representatives from the Israeli army, the Israeli police, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish Agency. Each teen tour group that signs up with Israel Experience — and most do — is tracked by GPS.

“They are really fluid in moving the groups when they need to move,” said Russo, whose daughter is in Israel with Ramah Seminar this summer.

Program operators have also been working overtime to keep in constant communication with parents. Young Judaea is sending out three email updates daily, in addition to photos and journals on its Web site. USY increased updates from the usual weekly to daily, and someone is available to answer parents concerns at all times.

Most teens also have cell phones with them, so parents are kept in the loop. So far, while parents have expressed concern, few are panicking. And by all reports, the kids themselves seem to be having a great time.

Bonnie Sharfman, whose 16-year-old, Zach, is on a trip with Nesiya, says she hopes the visit will have a lasting impact.

“We are choosing to look at this situation as an amazing learning experience for Zach and hope that he will return home in a month with much to say regarding the social, political and economic realities of Israel and the region,” she said.

— JGF

Requests Swamp Israel Trip Program


Birthright Israel has received many more applications for its upcoming trips than it has spaces available. Approximately 14,000 young Jews applied for 8,000 spots in the program’s spring/summer trips this year in just the first 12 hours of registration Feb. 8.

The organization provides free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26. In the six years since its founding, Birthright has brought 98,000 people from 45 countries to Israel. The upcoming trip will include the program’s 100,000th participant.

“The level of demand is unprecedented and well exceeds our financial capability to accommodate the majority of those who currently wish to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips,” said Susie Gelman, Birthright Israel Foundation chair.

Taglit is the Hebrew name for the program.

“As Taglit-Birthright Israel grows rapidly and develops into a community-supported organization, we hope that our friends will support us in enabling more young Jews to participate in the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience, so that we can send the 100,000th participant and plan for the next 100,000,” Gelman said.

AF Academy’s New Religion Rules Hit


The U.S. Air Force last week introduced revised guidelines on religious tolerance and practices at its training academy, and they are widely regarded as a step backward.

A number of Jewish leaders say their efforts to change the Air Force Academy’s position on Christian proselytizing were overmatched by the evangelical community, which fought any move to restrict religious discussion on campus. Critics have accused the academy of imposing a Christian environment on campus and allowing proselytizing by senior officers and cadets.

Some see the new guidelines as more permissive of religious discussion than were the interim guidelines issued last August. Air Force officials acknowledge that the guidelines were revised following an angry response from Christian groups and from 72 members of Congress who sent a letter to President Bush last month.

“We didn’t like what came out in August, but this is a public retreat from where they were before,” said Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who is suing the school for allegedly violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Jewish leaders said more efforts are needed to counterbalance the evangelical Christian community.

“We have not galvanized Congress, but we will have to,” said Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director

Others, however, say the new guidelines contribute toward ridding the military of religious intolerance.

The academy has been under scrutiny since reports surfaced of an overtly Christian environment that permitted Christian prayer and proselytizing by senior officers and did not accommodate minority religious practices. The new rules allow for public prayer, stating only that it “should not imply government endorsement of religion and should not usually be part of routine official business.”

The previous guidelines outlawed public prayer in official settings but allowed for a “brief nonsectarian prayer” at special ceremonies or events.

The new guidelines also focus on reaffirming senior officers’ rights to free exercise of religion, while warning that superiors need to be “sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official or have undue influence on their subordinates.”

“There is enough leeway in these guidelines to permit proselytizing,” Foxman said.

August’s guidelines went further toward highlighting the need for sensitivity from senior officers.

“The more senior the individual, the more likely that personal expressions may be perceived to be official statements,” the former guidelines read.

Maj. Gen. Charles Baldwin, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, told the Washington Post that the new guidelines came about as a result of criticism from evangelicals. Several organizations flooded administration officials with complaints, calling the August report a violation of freedoms of speech and religion.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said the guidelines had been augmented after feedback, especially where the “original language had been misunderstood.”

“After a reasonable amount of time, the secretary will likely deem this set of guidance as the final version, but the Air Force will need experience with how the guidelines work in practice before deciding on the finalization date,” Jennifer Stephens wrote in a written response to questions.

The Jewish community’s view on the new guidelines is not unanimous. The American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism issued a joint press release Feb. 9 commending the Air Force’s effort to address problems of religious accommodation.

 

Russian City Gets New JCC


At a time when Jewish Community Centers in the West frequently struggle to survive in prosperous communities with lots of Jews, the small Russian port city of Arkhangelsk near the Arctic Circle is on the verge of getting a brand-new JCC. A local businessman had pledged to build and fund the facility for a Jewish community of fewer than 2,000 people.

The current JCC building is located on the edge of town — one floor above a blood transfusion clinic. It is tiny and in disrepair; building materials and a few wheelchairs dusty from neglect clutter a hallway connecting its five small rooms. This space houses a library that doubles as a kitchen, two offices and a meeting room.

Anatoly Obermeister, a local Jewish businessman, decided to improve the situation. “We need something that we can call our own and a place where we know we will always be able to stay,” he said.

Obermeister, president of the construction and development firm ASTRA, plans to offer the ground floor — about 6,000 square feet — of a new housing project in the center of town for use as a Jewish community center that could include a restaurant, clinic, school and other social services.

Nothing is left of the two synagogues that were built after the arrival of Jewish merchants and soldiers in the army during the 19th century. The wooden buildings fell into ruin and were scrapped after their closures during communist times.

Outside funding assistance for the new JCC would be welcomed for consideration, but Obermeister prefers that the community should not have to rely on outside sources to support itself — something that rarely happens in Jewish communities anywhere in Russia, where Jewish life still largely relies on the generosity of foreign donors.

In recent years, the Arkhangelsk Jewish community has seen an involvement of international Jewish organizations. Like almost everywhere across the region, Chabad, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel have all assumed some role in this remote Russian Jewish community.

This involvement means an increase in Jewish social support and cultural life for Arkhangelsk’s Jews. However, the increase in Jewish identification also has led many local Jews to emigrate.

Since the Jewish Agency first opened a center here in 1998, the community has seen a heavy flow of Jews moving to Israel, said Lilya Martinova, coordinator for the St. Petersburg department of the Jewish Agency, which handles communities in northwestern Russia.

“Ten to 15 people make aliyah to Israel every year from the Arkhangelsk area,” said Igor Prober, director of the local Hesed Avraham welfare center.

For a community the size of Arkhangelsk, that is a considerable number.

The Arkhangelsk Jewish community is a branch of the Federation of Jewish Communities — a Chabad-sponsored organization. It, along with the JDC and local donors, helps fund various educational and social programs, including a tiny Sunday school of about 15 participants and a youth club.

Although the JDC-operated Hesed Avraham is thriving in its work of assisting the elderly, local Jewish leaders don’t think the future of the small Jewish community has much of a chance.

Yet, though Jewish activity should be declining, it may, in fact, be gaining momentum. Many Jews are leaving, but many are also coming out of the woodwork. Those with some Jewish heritage are finding their way to the evolving community and are becoming active participants.

“When they become interested in their identity, the half- and quarter-Jews become very active in Jewish cultural life — usually much more active than the full-blooded Jews,” Prober said.

 

Deep Throat: Not a Jew


President Nixon was wrong on Deep Throat’s Jewishness.

A former FBI agent who outed himself as the “Deep Throat” of the Watergate scandal is not Jewish, though Nixon and his aides believed he was. Mark Felt, 91, revealed himself to Vanity Fair this week as the best-known anonymous source of the last century. Nixon, who had clashed with Felt over the FBI’s refusal to use questionable means to track down leaks, came to suspect Felt — J. Edgar Hoover’s right-hand man — of leaking information.

In a 1972 conversation recorded on the Nixon tapes, top aide H.R. Haldeman tells the president that Felt is Jewish. Nixon expresses shock that a Jew could have reached such a senior post, and speculates that Felt might be leaking information because he is Jewish. In fact, Felt, born in Idaho, is of Irish ancestry and claims no religious affiliation.

 

A Nanny’s Story


There are a thousand stories in the naked city of Los Angeles, but when it comes to nannies, there are at least a million – nannies who have a free reign of the household, nannies who make good salaries, nannies who get help from their employers to buy cars or put a down payment on a house. But there are the other stories as well – the nanny who works long hours for little pay, with no holidays, no sick days, no breaks. “I knew when I was here without papers, I didn’t deserve to be here,” says nanny Carmen Davis, “but still, that didn’t mean I deserved to be treated without respect.”

Davis, 33, from Colima, Mexico, is registered with Nana’s World, “the best professional service for all your domestic needs,” in Sherman Oaks, owned and operated by Esther Matalon, a Sephardic Jew from Chile. Matalon is a straight talking, tough-minded businesswomen who has built her agency from the ground up, placing Latinos, Israelis and east Europeans in well-off families from the Valley to Pacific Palisades; about half her clients are Jewish. Since she started in business 14 years ago, she has seen her employees walk a thin line between the good, the bad, and the ugly – between trust and mistrust, between closeness and contempt.

“There should be a code of respect for nan-nies,” she says. “If [an employer] trusts a nanny enough to take care of his children, then he should trust [her] as a person. They should treat her like a human being,” Matalon says in a challenge to her clients.

The story about Davis is a happy one, although she admits it wasn’t always that way. Through Matalon, she worked for three years with a Jewish family in Agoura Hills, one of the best job experiences she ever had.From day one, Carmen’s employers (who wished to remain anonymous for this article) tried to make Carmen feel at home. “They really cared about me, always asking about my family, always nice and polite about the way they treated me,” Davis says. “If I got sick and needed to have a day off, or whatever, they understood.”

Davis’ employer felt the same way. “I hired her because her attitude was upbeat and because of her philosophy – that the child was the most important thing. We developed a really close bond. She gave my [child] a real comfort zone – safe and secure. My wife never worried once when she was at work.”Davis, who is married with no children, began her day at 5:30 a.m. to arrive at work by 7:30 a.m. She started right in. “I would feed the baby, change her diaper, play with her, take her for a walk,” Davis recounts. “When she was growing up, we would go to the park. We made a lot of friends there.”

In the park, Davis and her young charge would find five to seven other nannies with young children to play with. The majority of the nannies Davis met were Latino live-ins who worked for Jewish families. Most were without papers and spoke little English. Their situation was different from Davis’, who had a car, spoke English and insisted on time off to go to school (she is studying child development and English).These nannies worked from early in the morning until late at night, often getting up during the middle of the night to care for children. They had no time for themselves, no paid sick days, no holidays off and no privacy. They were expected to clean the house as well. All for $30 to $50 a day.

One of the women in particular, Davis says, was staying on, not because she liked the family, but because she didn’t want to leave the children. “The family didn’t treat her bad, but they didn’t really care for her. They didn’t even realize how good she was. If I was the mom, I wouldn’t even be able to pay for the love and care she put into those kids.”

How much, then, does a good nanny cost? Matalon reveals that a typical salary for a nanny who owns a car and has papers ranges from $500 to $750. For nannies without papers and with little English, a typical salary can fall as low as $150 to $250 a week. (Matalon’s minimum is $200.)

Davis commanded the top-of-the-line salary. For her friends at the park, though, she realized their options were limited, as hers had once been.

“Once I worked for a lady [when I was first here and spoke little English]… I said, ‘You know what, you make a lot of mess in the morning when you make breakfast; you make a lot of mess at noon when you make lunch (and I wasn’t making this up either) and you eat dinner really late; I can’t stay up this late and get up really early, so we have to have a schedule here.’

“She said, ‘Well, I hired you as a live-in nanny,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I know, but I don’t have to stay up this late.’

She got really upset and told me if I didn’t like this job I could go look for something else. I said, ‘Okay, if that’s the way you want it.’ I went to my room, and less than an hour later, she [knocked on my door] and said, ‘You know, I’m sorry, you were right.’ “

Davis contemplates a few unalienable rights she would like to see granted to nannies, even if they don’t have papers or speak English.

“Give us a separate room. Provide for us food. Make a schedule for the nanny. Just because you have a live-in nanny doesn’t mean she is available 24 hours a day. We should have sick days, a paid vacation. Why not? Nannies like holidays, too.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re trapped. Employers should have flexibility. Once I worked for a woman who wouldn’t let me do anything. I asked her if I could go for a walk after I had finished my work. She said ‘No. I might need you.’ I told her, ‘Once I put the kids to bed, it’s my own time. You know what, I’m not a slave.'”