L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move


A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.

Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.

BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.

But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.

The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.

“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.

But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.

Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.

Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.

“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”

Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.

“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.

Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.

The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.

“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people.  The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part.  But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”

Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.

“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”

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GOP pro-Israel campaign is the real deal — why the hysteria?


Sure, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has an agenda.
 The RJC wants Jews to become Republicans. So, the RJC buys ads in Jewish newspapers.
 
Why the unbridled hysteria?
Were the ads pornographic?
 
For some liberals, free
speech is selective. For them, (Jewish) community standards define the Republican Party as obscene. They don’t want to read what the other side has to say, and they do not want you to read it, either.
 
To be fair, some Republicans also blindly follow their political party. And I am not one of them. I don’t think the Republican Party is perfect. But on most issues, Republicans are a better fit for me.
 
For many in either party, party allegiance is based on gut feeling, for others, a multiplicity of issues that can be discussed another time. For now, let’s talk about the most controversial issue RJC confronted — Israel.
 
The message in the RJC ads sent some Democrats up the wall. Why take it out on the messenger? These angry Democrats had two intellectually defensible alternatives. They could have said that Israel is important to them and, also added: (a) “Other issues are more important to us than Israel,” or (b) “We have an Israel problem in our party, and we’ll work it out within the party.”
 
But party hacks are loyal to their party, not principle. And major Jewish Democrats, who could rise to the occasion, are in denial.
 
Let’s not pretend, as Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) does, that the RJC rhetoric somehow challenges a bipartisan coalition for Israel. Congressman Berman is a bright, honest, decent man who knows better. I respect Howard, but his political identity, vested in the Democratic Party, trumps his formidable IQ. It is not that he cannot, but he chooses not to see reality.
Bipartisan coalition? Anti-Semite Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) merely spoke more boldly than many of her African American colleagues in Congress, who are, I am sad to say, anti-Israel populists. The more patrician Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) publicly buys into the Jewish conspiracy line.
 
Then there is the “Southern gentleman” — then-Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who on the Senate floor blamed the Iraq War on Jews. I could go on and on (Lois Capps [D-Santa Barbara], Barbara Lee [D-Oakland], Fortney Pete Stark [D-Fremont] and Maxine Waters [D-Los Angeles] to name just a few more members of Congress).
 
Berman’s Jewish brethren in Congress are disingenuous. For years, if not decades, they have supported cuts in the size and scope of our intelligence community. Soft on defense, they also have consistently opposed U.S. strategic and tactical weapons systems.
 
Do Jewish Democrats like Sen. Barbara Boxer (California) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Los Angeles) really believe that an intelligence out-to-lunch and militarily weak United States can support an ostracized, isolated Israel? These politicians embarrass me.
 
Indeed, my friend (and Republican) Michael Medved’s political re-awakening came after he, as a young Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, organized opposition to the Lockheed C-5A as a boondoggle. A few years later (1973), those aircraft transported armaments that literally kept Israel alive during the Yom Kippur War.
 
Consider the “Democrats for Israel” ad in this newspaper (Sept. 29). It argued that 96 percent of congressional Democrats supported “Israel’s right to defend itself against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.” So did Saudi Arabia. Big deal. Besides, what about the most senior Democrat from Michigan, Israel-bashing Rep. John Dingell, who declared himself neutral between Israel and Hezbollah?
 
In most states in this country, you’ll have no problem getting a pro-Israel resolution at a Republican state convention. You won’t fare so well at a state convention of Democrats.
Why? For two reasons. Their party’s activists are allied with politically correct groups that are increasingly receptive to the anti-Israel theology. Increasingly, Palestinians are seen as a suffering group that must be supported by victims groups — African Americans, gays, feminists, immigrants.
 
And the second reason: That Democrat politicians reflect their base. Let’s talk reality. Polling data, as highlighted in the RJC ads, are conclusive (for example, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg). A majority of Republican voters support Israel; a majority of Democrat voters do not.
 
Since most Jews are Democrats, this would seem counterintuitive, because you would expect them to show up statistically. Until you realize that evangelical Christians who support Israel are disproportionately Republicans. And, conservative Republicans, as a group, generally see Israel as a worthy ally.
 
In contrast, many rank-and-file Democrats, including what James Carville might call “trailer trash,” buy into the Jewish-Zionist conspiracy. If you still don’t get it, look at Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Mass.) defeat. It wasn’t just Iraq. Look at the anti-Semitic ravings against him on liberal Web sites.
 
What of the distinguished Democrats? Former President Jimmy Carter has used his stature as a former president to travel the world attacking Israel. Former President Bill Clinton is hardly anti-Israel. But after the first Persian Gulf War, we had arguably the best opportunity for a negotiated peace. Yasser Arafat, discredited and isolated, was at his lowest point. What did Clinton do? He resurrected and legitimized him with an invitation to the White House, and the true moderates for a Mideast peace lost more than a decade.
 
What happens next month if the Democrats gain control of Congress? Anti-Israel John Conyers (D-Mich.) will chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Anti-Israel Dingell will chair the critical Energy and Commerce Committee. Anti-Israel David Obey (D-Wis.) will chair the key Appropriations Committee. This rogue’s gallery is far from complete.
 
Politicians pander to Jews on Israel. Does it matter whether Republicans remain in power?
 
If you still don’t get it, ask someone in Israel.
 

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst. He has written graduate texts on politics and media.

Americans fighters in Israel get overdue thank you


Grandfathers and grandmothers looked at the photos on the wall and saw themselves again as young, strapping soldiers, sailors and pilots, far from home andclose to the face of history.
 
They were the American and Canadian volunteers who had fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1947-1949 and manned the “illegal” Aliyah Bet ships carrying refugees to the Jewish state.
 
The veterans, their bodies aged but memories undimmed, brought their children and grandchildren to the University of Judaism last Sunday to inaugurate the first permanent West Coast exhibit to honor their services.
 
Film producer Lou Lenart and attorney Mitchell Flint marveled at the silhouettes of patched-up Mustangs and Messerschmitts from which they “bombed” Egyptian armies advancing on Tel Aviv with hand grenades lobbed out of their cockpits.Norman Zimmerman of Sun City, Ariz., and I saw again the jam-packed refugee ship Pan York, which had brought us from Marseilles to Haifa, despite a United Nations ban on the entry of men of military age.
 
The exhibit consists of cabinets framing eight large and eight small panels. In documents, graphics and text, the display documents the history of Zionism and American support, arms acquisition, recruitment of volunteers, Aliyah Bet and navy service and Machal (the Hebrew acronym for Volunteers from Abroad) service in the Israel Defense Forces.
 
One of the panels commemorates the 40 North Americans, among them seven Christians, who were killed in action. Another focuses on the specific contributions of some 450 volunteers from the West Coast, as well as of those who risked prison by smuggling desperately needed arms and aircraft to the embattled state.
 
The dedication program was exemplary in the brevity of its speeches, and the high spirits of the songs from the 1948 and 1967 wars, presented by vocalist Ayana Haviv and pianist Amir Efrat.
 
UJ President Robert Wexler welcomed the audience of 200 and said that the exhibit will remind future generations of the linked destiny between Israel and American Jewry.
 
Yaron Gamburg, Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, noted that the Machal spirit of 1948 was revived during the recent fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon, when his office was swamped with calls from volunteers seeking to help Israel.
 
Max Barchichat, president of the Los Angeles-based Machal West, lauded the service of his fellow volunteers by paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s tribute to the Royal Air Force that “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”Keynote speaker was Dean Ralph Lowenstein, director of the Machal Archives and Museum at the University of Florida, who created the original exhibit at his university’s Hillel House, with the support of the New York-based American Veterans of Israel.
 
He paid tribute to Jason Fenton, who initiated the West Coast version of the exhibition, Sharona Benami of Machal West and a Yom Kippur War veteran, and Iris Waskow of the University of Judaism.
 
Some 1,400 North American volunteers, mostly World War II veterans, participated in the War of Independence, and played particularly crucial roles in the nascent Israeli air force and navy, Lowenstein said.
 
A joyous dedication is usually not the time for critical analysis, but as a combat infantryman in World War II, a squad leader in an anti-tank unit in Israel, and an army editor during the Korean conflict, I ask the reader’s indulgence if I step out of my reportorial role.
 
Without diminishing the contributions of the volunteers from abroad and the arms “smugglers,” it must be said, first, that it was the Israelis who won the war itself and paid by far the highest price in military and civilian casualties.
 
Secondly, the role of the American Jewish community was perhaps the least glorious among the 43 nations who provided volunteers,In proportion to the size and power of their Jewish communities, every other English-speaking country sent much larger, and better prepared, contingents than the biggest Jewish community in the world, and it was one of the few to emerge from the war with greater strength than before.
 
The difference lay mainly in the communal attitude and civic courage of the different Diaspora communities. South Africa’s Jews, and Britain’s to a slightly smaller degree, set up their own selective service systems, complete with physical and psychological testing, and rallied fully behind their young men and women heading for the battlefield.
 
By contrast, organized American Jewry, fearful of accusations of double loyalty, generally averted its collective eyes and prayed silently that those crazy kids going over would not prove an embarrassment.
 
Happily, the flip side of this sorry record is that in the last half century, American Jewry has largely left behind the shameful timidity of the 1940s and the Holocaust era. It is my hope that should American Jewry ever face a challenge similar to 1948, we will acquit ourselves with greater honor.

The Lichtenstein Formula for a Jewish Paper


“The role of a Jewish newspaper is to connect the Jewish community, not to unify it,” said Gene Lichtenstein, founding editor of The Journal.

During his nearly 15-year tenure, which ended in 2000, Lichtenstein’s formula was to hire good, independent writers and columnists who could produce articles that raised the interest, and frequently the hackles, of both professional and peripheral Jews.

“I wanted stories that people would discuss and argue about the following day,” Lichtenstein said during a lengthy interview at his home near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This concept doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it went counter to the tradition of most American Jewish weeklies in decades past.

The purpose of those publications was precisely to unify their communities in material and moral support of their federations, which usually financed the papers, and other Jewish and Israeli causes. A basic rule was to avoid criticism and controversy.

In that sense, Lichtenstein was an odd, even risky, choice as editor, and his selection split the then Jewish Federation Council, he recalls.

When Lichtenstein visited Los Angeles in 1985 to court his future wife, Jocelyn, the city’s Jews had the unusual choice of three competing weeklies.

They were the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger, the maverick Heritage, both independently owned, and the Jewish Community Bulletin, the official Federation organ.

Much of The Federation’s leadership was dissatisfied with the coverage of all three papers and decided to explore a new format with a new editor to replace its own Bulletin.

At this point, Lichtenstein remembers, he was contacted by Ethel Narvid, a key player in Democratic and city politics, on behalf of a Federation committee appointed to find a new editor to shape a new paper.

Lichtenstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants, had a resume combining experience as psychologist, journalist and academic.

He had worked for The New York Times, Fortune, London Economist and as literary editor at Esquire, where his contributors included the likes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

On the academic side, he had served as chairman of the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island and taught courses in mass communications at USC and UC Berkeley.

Perhaps equally important for the position at hand, he had started a newspaper in the Boston area, the Jewish Journal of the Northshore.

As he recalls it, in his first interview with The Federation committee, chaired by attorney Richard Volpert, Lichtenstein outlined his concept for the new paper.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In addition, he would insist on good writing, and the contributions of columnists would be central to the paper.

After that presentation, Lichtenstein thought that his chances of getting the job were pretty slim, and he and Jocelyn went on a vacation trip to London.

To his surprise, “I got a midnight call from Volpert and he offered me the editorship,” Lichtenstein said.

Shortly afterward, Narvid gave a lunch at her home for some old friends, including Los Angeles Times labor editor Harry Bernstein and this reporter, to introduce Lichtenstein.

“Harry told me that I was kidding myself if I thought The Federation would let me put out an independent paper, and you backed him up,” Lichtenstein reminded me.

Despite the prediction, The Federation committee and larger Federation board of directors agreed, in the face of considerable internal opposition, to establish an independent Journal, to advance a $660,000 loan for its operation, and to pay a subsidy to mail the paper to each of its 52,000 donors.

There had been two other finalists for the editor’s job, Yehuda Lev, an outspoken, liberal journalist, and Marlene Adler Marks, a talented writer active in politics and feminist issues.

Lev and Marks were the first editor/reporters hired, soon joined by such early staffers as Tom Waldman, Sheldon Teitelbaum, Joe Domanick and Naomi Pfefferman.

The first slim issue of The Jewish Journal appeared on Feb. 28, 1986, with Volpert, whom the often-critical Lichtenstein praised for “a real standout job,” as the first publisher.

Early issues won kudos for lively writing, outraged criticism by some Federation leaders and Jewish organizations, and a weak response from advertisers.

Within one year, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded that in the future they approve all major stories and editorials. Lichtenstein refused and, in a committee vote, carried the day by a narrow margin.

However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of The Journal that The Federation invited Charles Buerger, publisher of six successful East Coast Jewish papers, to buy out The Journal.

Buerger made a “low- ball” offer, then raised the stakes, but “to my astonishment,” The Federation decided not to sell, Lichtenstein said.

Nevertheless, by June 1987, the paper had run through the $660,000 lent by The Federation and faced an early demise.

At his point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osiah Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, putting up their own money to repay the loan. The Journal lived to fight another day.

Brennglass took over as publisher for the next 11 years, the paper established a solid reputation and actually started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, became publisher in 1997.

However, by the year 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor-in-chief led to a parting point. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman.

Looking back on his 15-year tenure, Lichtenstein said he had “a wonderful time,” which included reporting trips to Israel, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.

“I think we put out a pretty good paper, though not as good as it could have been,” he reminisced. Part of the problem was a running conflict between himself and Federation leaders, which, he acknowledged, were partly his fault.

“I was really always an outsider, with one foot in the community, and one foot outside,” he said. In addition, “I believe that a Jewish weekly belongs to the editor and staff, and it is the editor’s job to make the staff realize that the paper belongs to them.

“That is hard for some organizational leaders to accept,” Lichtenstein added in an understatement.

His major contributions, Lichtenstein said, were to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists and insist, at all times, on good writing.

True to his initial inspiration, “I tried to put out a paper that was part of America and the world,” he said.

“I’ve met some Jews, very wealthy and powerful Jews, who embrace Jewish victimhood, who told me that you can never trust a gentile,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t champion that. I believe that the walls we build around ourselves are only in our minds.”

The “victim” mindset is encouraged by many Jewish organizations, Lichtenstein said, “which wave the flag of anti-Semitism to keep their members loyal and to raise funds.”

For Lichtenstein, there is a busy life after journalism. While he still writes, he has returned to his first profession as psychologist and is the director of mental health and social services for 26 clinics of the Aegis Institute, which specializes in the treatment of opiate addicts.

In addition, he has established a private practice, which includes family and marriage counseling.

He draws a distinction between core committed Jews, who go to synagogue and contribute to Jewish causes, and the “integrated” Jew on the periphery of the organized community.

“It is not the job of the American Jewish press to ‘convert’ the integrated Jew,” he said. “Our job is to open a dialogue with him.”

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, October 15

Joyous dance and celebration is at the heart of Russian American painter Ann Krasnow’s art. Take it in, and meet the artist in person at Solaris Gallery’s opening reception for “Ann Krasner: New Work.”

6-9 p.m. 9009 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 273-6935.

1114 by Ann Krasner 
“1114” by Ann Krasner. 

Sunday, October 16

Your favorite glass-eyed investigator gets honored by the American Cinematheque this weekend at their “Peter Falk In Person Retrospective.” Friday, see a double feature of “The In-Laws” and “Mikey and Nickey,” with a discussion in between films with Columbo himself. Saturday, see “Happy New Year,” or come later for “Wings of Desire” followed by a talk with Falk and director Wim Wenders. And wrap up the weekend with today’s screening of “A Woman Under the Influence.”

$6-9 (per feature or double feature). Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456.

 
(From left) Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and director Arthur Hiller.

Monday, October 17

In David Margolick’s new book, “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink,” a boxing match in the days leading up to World War II carried the weight of the world. Hear all about it, as Margolick reads from and signs his book tonight at Book Soup.

7 p.m. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.

Schmeling
Schmeling, a drenched Joe Jacobs at his side. Photo courtesy New York Daily News

Tuesday, October 18

The daughter of late British Jewish actor Laurence Harvey and supermodel Paulene Stone, Domino Harvey led a turbulent existence. Tony Scott’s new biopic, “Domino,” is loosely based on her life story as a drug- and adrenaline-addicted heiress turned bounty hunter. The film opens this week and stars Keira Knightley.

www.dominomovie.com.

Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley stars as model-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey. Pnoto by Daniela Scaramuzza/New Line Productions

Wednesday, October 19

“If Hitler had the atomic bomb first, we’d all be speaking German,” observes one World War II British agent in the PBS documentary “Secrets of the Dead: The Hunt for Nazi Scientists.” There’s plenty of derring-do behind enemy lines to track down Nazi nuclear and rocket scientists, and then to snatch them before the Russians could. Harrowing testimony by survivors detail the deaths of 10,000 slave laborers used in the German weapon project. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

8 p.m. on KCET. www.kcet.org.

 

Thursday, October 20

Theatrical readings along the theme of “In a Lonely Place” take place today at the Hammer Museum. Co-sponsored by Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard” project, readers include actress Dana Delaney and prototypical L.A. writers James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner.

7 p.m. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Bruce Wagner
Bruce Wagner

Friday, October 14

Recall the angst-ridden days of college application season in David T. Levinson’s new comedic play, “Early Decision.” The playwright may be more recognizable as the founder and chair of Big Sunday, Los Angeles’ largest volunteer day, but the Jewish community has a role in his play as well.

Oct. 9-Nov. 13. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-7327.

Early Decision
(From left) Susan Merson, Lara Everly, Brain Chase and Bob Neches star in “Early Decision.”

 

Roth’s ‘Kranky’ Little X-Mas


Tom Lehrer once noted that there were no American pop Chanukah tunes because Jewish composers were busy writing the nation’s sentimental Christmas and Easter favorites.

The observation came to mind when we talked to Joe Roth, about his movie “Christmas With the Kranks,” which opened Nov. 24.

Mr. and Mrs. Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) live on Hemlock Street, famed for its great annual Yuletide decorations. So when the empty-nester Kranks decide to skip the tradition and head for some balmy Caribbean island instead, the neighbors rise in indignation.

Roth, head of Revolution Studio and former chairman of the Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox studios, selected and directed the movie, based on the John Grisham novel, “Skipping Christmas.”

He is also one of Hollywood’s more prominent Jews, who was recently honored by the American Jewish Committee.

The first time he was in the news was as a 10-year-old boy whose parents sued his Long Island public school for requiring Joe and his brother to recite the daily prayer prescribed by the state Board of Regents.

“It was a traumatic experience,” Roth said. “We were ostracized and someone burned a cross on our lawn.”

However, the Christmas film, he maintained, has really nothing to do with religion.

“I see Christmas as a cultural and family holiday,” he said, while the movie itself carries two main messages. It’s first about the sense of family and community that supercedes any particular holiday. Secondly, it’s a satire on the over-commercialization of Christmas.”

Roth said the large Jewish presence in Hollywood makes little difference in what movies are made or how they’re presented.

“The major studios are owned by faceless conglomerates, which believe only in the bottom line,” he said.

“Remember, we make products for mass audiences, for the 97 percent of Americans and 99 percent plus of the world’s movie-goers who are not Jewish,” he added.

Then what accounts for the large number of movies dealing with the Holocaust and the Nazi era, his interviewer persisted. Would they be produced if most of Hollywood’s decision makers were, say, Albanians?

“I think they would,” Roth responded, “because they are simply compelling stories.”

Yet, Roth draws one line.

“I would never make a movie with the least hint of anti-Semitism,” he said. “The fact that I grew up in a Jewish home informs my entire outlook.”

Community Briefs


Hier: Gibson Is Insensitive

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has asked Mel Gibson to “speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism” and to “condemn the false charges of deicide leveled against the Jewish people.”

In a letter sent to the director of “The Passion of the Christ” on Monday, Hier criticized Gibson’s remarks reported in an upcoming issue of Reader’s Digest.

“Rather than showing understanding for what historians regard as the most telling example of man’s inhumanity to man in the history of civilization, you diminish the uniqueness of the Holocaust by marginalizing it and placing it along the horrors and of people caught up in conflict and famine,” Hier wrote.

Pointing to the influence of Christian theology in forming the Nazi mentality, Hier noted that during a 1958 war crimes trial in Germany, the Protestant pastor of an SS Einsatzkommando murder squad was asked how he could justify the extermination of the Jews.

The pastor replied that “These acts were the fulfillment of the self-condemnation which the Jews had brought upon themselves before the tribunal of Pontius Pilate,” Hier wrote. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Elmo Teaches Tolerance

Elmo was the face of anti-hate education at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) launch of the Miller Early Childhood Initiative at Los Angelitos Early Education Center on Jan. 13. Making his guest appearance, the red and furry Sesame Streeter greeted members of the ADL, Sesame Workshop, PRANA Foundation and children at the center.

The initiative, part of A World of Difference Institute, targets the youngest demographic in anti-bias training — preschoolers.

Amanda Susskind, ADL’s Pacific Southwest Regional director, explained that children as young as 3 are susceptible to hateful messages. “To unlearn it [prejudice] is much more difficult. The anti-bias program will give them the tools to critically analyze when they are confronted with an opportunity to learn hatred,” she said. The initiative involves 10 and a half hours of training, three and a half of which are follow-up, where teachers and parents learn through different scenarios how to combat hate in the classroom. Sesame Workshop was instrumental in tailoring the training to the preschool level.

ADL’s workshop is now available all over the United State through either fee for service or a grant. Due to the generosity of the PRANA Foundation, 300 educators and 150 family members in Los Angeles County benefited from the workshops.

Josemie Jackson, an educator for 18 years and the principal at Los Angelitos Early Education Center, said that preschoolers are curious about racial differences and an anti-bias training program is needed. “These workshops — we’ll be able to use them at teachable moments…it will give us techniques and strategies that we can use whenever it [prejudice] comes up,” she said. — Leora Alhadeff, Contributing Writer

Feds Pressure Krugel on Killing

Federal prosecutors are putting pressure on an imprisoned Jewish Defense League (JDL) activist in hope of solving the 19-year-old killing of an Arab American official.

The case involves Earl Krugel, the JDL’s former West Coast coordinator, and Alex Odeh, the former Western regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Odeh was killed in 1985 by a bomb that detonated when he opened the front door to his Santa Ana office.

In a separate case, Krugel pleaded guilty nearly a year ago to conspiring with JDL National Chair Irv Rubin to bomb an L.A. mosque and the field office of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issue (R-Vista), who is of Lebanese descent. Krugel and Rubin were arrested before the alleged plan could be carried out.

Over the years, the FBI has investigated several JDL members in connection with the Odeh murder, which has become a cause celebre in the Arab American community. No charges have ever been filed and the JDL has steadfastly denied involvement.

Under the terms on his plea agreement in the alleged mosque bombing conspiracy, Krugel promised to cooperate fully with federal investigators. However, the U.S. Attorney’s office now believes that Krugel is still withholding information in the Odeh killing and has asked U.S. District Judge Ronald S. Lew to rule that Krugel has violated the terms of his agreement, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The difference for Krugel, 61, could be a possible 45-year prison sentence, instead of the anticipated 13- to 16-year sentence under the plea agreement.

Krugel’s co-counsel, Peter Morris, told The Times that his client “has met all the obligations to the government under the plea agreement.” Morris accused the prosecution of “overreaching.”

Krugel’s sentencing and hearing on the plea agreement are scheduled for March 29.

Rubin, the dominant and most publicized JDL figure since founder Rabbi Meir Kahane emigrated to Israel, and its chairman since 1985, died in November 2002 in a Los Angeles federal prison, where he was being held on the alleged mosque bombing conspiracy.

Prison authorities and the FBI ruled that Rubin committed suicide by slashing his throat and jumping over a prison railing, but his family has contested the findings. — TT

Note to AIPAC: ‘Road Map’ Is Alive


The Bush administration is calling out the heavy hitters to
convince the American Jewish community that it won’t ignore Israel’s concerns
as it mounts a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

Five Bush administration officials addressed the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference this week,
including Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice. 

Some Israeli officials and U.S. Jewish leaders have worried
that the Bush administration will pressure Israel to make concessions to the
Palestinians in order to shore up international support for its war against Iraq
or to “pay back” Arab states that have supported, or at least tolerated, the
war. At issue is whether both Israel and the Palestinians are expected to move
forward simultaneously — or whether Israel will be pressed to make concessions
only after the Palestinians have shown that they are serious about ending
terrorism and moving toward peace. 

In a landmark policy speech on June 24, 2002, President Bush
expressed support for a future Palestinian state — but only after an end to
violence against Israel, a change in Palestinian leadership and significant
reforms in Palestinian governance. In contrast, America’s partners in the diplomatic
Quartet that authored the “road map” toward peace — the United Nations,
European Union and Russia –  expect both sides to make simultaneous
concessions. Current drafts of the plan envision a simultaneous process. 

The goal of the speakers at the AIPAC conference was to show
that the administration stands behind Bush’s original vision, and they
repeatedly invoked the June 24 speech.

“The road map is not an edict, it is not a treaty,” Powell
told the conference on Sunday, which drew some 5,000 activists from around the
country. “It is a statement of the broad steps we believe Israel and the
Palestinians must take to achieve President Bush’s vision of hope and the dream
that we all have for peace.” 

However, both Powell and Rice stressed that while the
administration welcomed Israel’s comments on the plan, it would not countenance
major changes. 

Though Bush is very popular among supporters of Israel, some
prominent Jewish organizational officials said they left the sessions concerned
about where the administration was headed. And AIPAC is leaving nothing to
chance: The group is lobbying Congress to pressure the White House to stick to
the June 24 parameters. 

The administration has been sending mixed signals on the
issue in recent weeks. Acknowledging that the road map was controversial in the
Jewish community, Rice told AIPAC participants Monday that the White House
“welcomed comments” from Israel and the Palestinians, but she said that “it is
not a matter of renegotiating the road map,” according to Jewish officials at
the session, which was closed to the media.

The speakers also made clear that the administration would
demand that Israel ease restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population as
part of Israel’s anti-terror operations, and freeze all settlement construction
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel and some of its American allies have been concerned
that the road map will deviate from the president’s vision, and that the plan —
which does not clearly demand an end to terror before negotiations began and
Israeli makes concessions — will be adopted by a U.S. government that seeks
European and Arab support for its policies elsewhere in the Middle East. Those
concerns were heightened last month, just days before U.S. forces attacked Iraq,
when Bush announced that he would distribute the road map to the Israelis and
Palestinians after the Palestinian Authority prime minister-designate, Mahmoud
Abbas, is confirmed with “real authority.” 

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has
major concerns about the road map, and has hoped to alter it.

The Palestinians, recognizing that the last draft of the
road map is more favorable to them than the Bush speech was, do not want to
allow changes. 

Both Powell and Rice quoted Bush’s call for Israel to freeze
all settlement building as the Palestinians make progress toward peace, an
ambiguous phrasing that the two sides may interpret differently. Israel hopes
to allow for “natural growth” of existing settlements, which critics say is a ploy
to continue building settlements. When Powell on Sunday called settlement
building “inconsistent with President Bush’s two-state vision,” he received
applause and a smattering of boos. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who also addressed
the conference Sunday night, met Monday with Powell, Rice and Vice President
Dick Cheney. Bush attended virtually the entire meeting with Rice, senior
Israeli officials said. Shalom’s meetings touched on U.S. military efforts in
western Iraq to ensure that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is not able to launch
missiles against Israel.

Though allied forces say they have had success in ensuring
that Iraq can’t attack Israel, Shalom said the Jewish State’s high alert will
remain in force for at least another week or two. The bulk of Shalom’s meetings
with U.S. officials apparently dealt with the road map, however. Shalom told
reporters Monday that there is a “great understanding” between Israel and the
United States on how to proceed on the Palestinian track, along the lines of
Bush’s June 24 speech. He dismissed questions suggesting that U.S. criticism of
Israeli settlements had grown unusually harsh. 

“If you check U.S. administrations in past decades, you’ll
find that their opposition to settlements was very similar,” Shalom said. The
current criticism “is not something that hasn’t been said in the past.” 

One Israeli official sought to square the circle by noting
that while the United States will demand Palestinian action first, the time
frame for Israel to respond with concessions of its own may be so compressed
that for all intents and purposes the two sides will be acting simultaneously. 

Meanwhile, AIPAC is working to shore up its position on
Capitol Hill. AIPAC delegates lobbied lawmakers to sign onto letters urging the
president to stick to the language of his speech and resist international
pressure to “short-circuit the process.” 

“The United States has developed a level of credibility and
trust with all parties in the region which no other country shares,” says the
House letter, which is sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House majority
whip, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “We are concerned that certain nations or
groups, if given a meaningful role in monitoring progress made on the ground,
might only lessen the chances of moving forward on a realistic path towards
peace.” 

Those sentiments were seconded Sunday night by Sen. Joseph
Lieberman (D-Conn.), who used a dessert reception to urge AIPAC supporters to
fight to minimize the role of America’s Quartet partners. 

In the Senate, a similar letter is being circulated by Sens.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

Lawmakers will be hearing this week from many Jews who
support the letters. Such sentiments aren’t universal in the Jewish community,
however. Several Jewish groups say AIPAC is using a delaying tactic in hopes of
scuttling the road map altogether. These groups support the road map and want
it to be imposed immediately. 

“The approach AIPAC is supporting is an approach we’ve tried
for two years, and it has never worked,” said M.J. Rosenberg, policy director
of the Israel Policy Forum. “Anyone who wants the peace process to succeed is
supporting the road map.” 

Stressing its support for the road map in front of the AIPAC
audience showed how serious the Bush administration is taking the issue,
Rosenberg said. 

Israeli Labor Party legislator Colette Avital also said
AIPAC and Sharon would try to delay the road map. 

“They’re going to do everything in their power to postpone,
to change, to turn this plan into an entirely dead story,” said Avital, who
also spoke at the policy conference. “Many people in AIPAC have similar
attitudes to the prime minister.” 

Avital praised the road map, saying it puts the onus on the
Palestinians to reform before requiring Israeli concessions. 

“Israel and AIPAC want 120 percent performance,” she said,
“something which, even if the Palestinians want, they are incapable of.” 

AIPAC officials dismissed the criticism.      

“Those who suggest that AIPAC opposes the road map that
implements the vision laid out by President Bush on June 24 are wrong,” said
Rebecca Needler, AIPAC’s spokeswoman. 

She said that there are several interpretations of the road
map, and that AIPAC is pushing for the one that closely resembles Bush’s speech
and Sharon’s policy. 

In addition to the road map, AIPAC is pushing Congress to
pass a supplemental war spending bill that includes $1 billion in military aid
for Israel and $9 billion in loan guarantees. Support for the money is strong
on Capitol Hill, and AIPAC is working to ensure that the money is not made
contingent on Israeli actions such as a settlement freeze, as some Arab
American and dovish Jewish groups have called for. JTA Managing Editor Michael
Arnold contributed to this story.  

To Become American


I’m 11-years-old, my world a patchwork of mixed identities and conflicting beliefs, my eyes searching for a horizon I cannot yet see but that I follow almost by instinct. It’s August in New York — a long and gray stretch of humidity and noise, people speaking to me in an accent I cannot understand, streets choked with traffic, shops overflowing with merchandise, buildings that block out the sun and cast permanent shadows upon the city. It’s the first of many visits I’ll make with my family to America, a small and tentative step along a journey that has begun long ago in my parents’ hearts.

Growing up in Iran, I’ve felt America’s presence like a thread woven into the texture of our language and thoughts and everyday realities. I’ve heard my teachers talk of the American president who forced the Russians out of Iran after the second World War, heard my grandparents talk of the American tanks that freed them, some twenty years later, from mobs of hostile Muslims sticking blades through the cracks in the doors of every Jewish house. I’ve seen mention of America in the newspaper my father reads every night, heard it in the music my sister listens to all day long, seen it in the eyes of my mother’s friends as they return from trips to New York and California, bearing trunk loads of clothes and shoes and little green bottles of creams ("hyper-allergenic, anti-aging, made for every skin-type and every weather") that they show my mother excitedly.

In New York that summer, I stand in endless lines at the Statue of Liberty and in Coney Island, eat lunch at McDonald’s, spend entire days waiting for my mother to finish shopping at Macy’s. We visit neighborhoods and schools, look at houses, discuss the advantages of living in one state or another. We drop in on the handfuls of Iranian families then living in America. I watch as the adults speak about a move that will, in essence, put an end to life as I’ve known it. It will be years before I can grasp the enormity of this move, the courage my parents showed in making it.

Five years later, we return to settle in America for good. We arrive the day Elvis dies, sleep the first night in sheets lent to us by an uncle who has come here as a child and never gone back. He lived in a church attic in Pasadena for years, opened a restaurant that he later lost in a fire, became a banker and married a girl from Iran. His first house in Pasadena had no roof and no electrical sockets. Now he drives around in a white Cadillac and takes us to Perino’s for dinner.

Through August that year, my sisters and I watch the Brady Bunch on television and eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast. We take driving lessons and dream of the day we can spend an entire afternoon at the mall. We wait for September when school starts.

At the end of the summer, my best friend from Iran writes to me to announce that our friendship is over. We can no longer be friends, she says, because we will soon have nothing left in common. Moving to America, she says, has made me different, unreachable, in effect, American.

Have I become American?

I’m a Jew from a country that’s predominantly Muslim, a girl from a culture that prizes mostly men. I have a French grandmother who believes above all in the love of Christ, a Kosher Jewish grandfather who traces his lineage back to Russian Lubavitcher rabbis. I speak four languages, have memories formed in half a dozen countries. I am not so naive as to assume that one’s nationality is derived from the color of her passport, her return address or the name of the country where she pays her taxes.

Have I become American?

In the years that follow the death of Elvis on that August day, I go to university, work a job, learn to act and sound less like a foreigner. I learn to appreciate living here, am grateful for the kindness of strangers — even those who may ignore me, patronize me or even resent me for being here, but who do not deny me the rights they themselves enjoy. Then revolution flares in Iran, American flags burn on the television screen, mobs of angry thugs wave their fists in the camera and take hostages. Sometimes now I see the rage in the eyes of Americans on the street who peg me immediately as a would-be hostage taker; feel the bitterness of the words of overly made-up, elegantly-dressed American women who chase me across the floor of expensive department stores in Westwood and Beverly Hills, wave their fingers in my face and tell me "we" should all go back to the desert we came from.

I couldn’t go back now even if I wanted to, I want to tell these women, wouldn’t go back even if I could. I came here because I chose America, because I –"we" — believed in America.

Have I become American?

You don’t become American by default, I know — because you can’t safely go home, or can’t think of another place to live.

One year becomes a decade, and a decade becomes two. I’ve lived the largest part of my life in America, raised my children here, buried family and friends and even a few dreams here. I’ve forgotten much about the old country, slowly fallen out of touch with family and friends from my past. I know the American national Anthem word for word, have abandoned the notion that I may willingly move elsewhere. I keep getting into trouble with other Iranians because of my "western" way of thinking, my refusal to observe certain — but not all — codes of conduct or speech so revered in the East. I even have an American flag, given to me as a gift, folded and placed on a shelf in my office.

Have I become American?

I have resigned myself to never feeling that I belong entirely in any one place. It’s the way of the future, I tell myself — a world without borders, without religion or nationalism or all the reasons that divide.

But then, the buildings crumble in a cloud of smoke and lives burn to ashes and suddenly, I find myself horrified and devastated and grieving a loss I cannot quite define. The images on television are too hard to bear. I listen to NPR all day and at night, cry at the mention of casualties, the heroism of the firemen who rushed toward death instead of away from it, the sorrow of survivors who have given up looking for loved ones amid ruins. I’m shocked by what’s happened, but not surprised. Growing up in a place where fear and uncertainty were a way of life, I’ve known better than to assume that any nation, any people, is immune to violence. I’ve also known — because I saw it first-hand, because I’ve spent the better part of my life studying it here in the United States — that religious fundamentalism, the kind of extremist philosophy that results, ultimately, in the acts we have witnessed, that this way of thinking does not limit itself to a single region, a single cause or target.

I know all this and yet I stare at the consequences of an act that feels personal and direct and tragic in a way I cannot comprehend.

I light candles in memory of the dead, donate money to the Red Cross and the Fallen Firemen’s Fund and every other organization set up in the wake of the disaster. I even take out the American flag that has sat for years on my bookshelf next to the pictures of my children and my favorite books, and hang it outside my house as a quiet expression of my sorrow and outrage. My Iranian friends call to say how devastated they feel at what has happened. My American friends call to say they worry about a possible backlash in this country against anyone from the Middle East.

"Have you been a target?" they ask, and I find myself stunned by the question — by the possibility that I would be considered anything but a party to this loss.

Have I become American?

Then it occurs to me, in the hours I spend awake at night trying to expel the memory of that Tuesday morning from my mind — it occurs to me that something deep and fundamental has changed: it isn’t that I feel any less Iranian than I ever have in the past. It’s that I, an Iranian Jew, feel a connection to this country, a connection to the people who have suffered in New York and those who are suffering still — I feel a connection to them that transcends my place of origin and theirs, my mother tongue and theirs, my childhood places and theirs.

You don’t become American, it is true, simply because you live here, because you speak the language, pay the taxes, vote in the elections.

You don’t become American because you break with a few traditions, move out of the church attic and buy a white Cadillac. Because you can find your way around Saks and Macy’s without trouble. Because you shed a tear, light a candle, raise a flag.

You "become" American when you feel in your heart the kindness of those who have opened their doors to you; the generosity of a place that has granted you rights and opportunities denied to you in your own country, the courage of a people that do not, by and large, require that you renounce your heritage and identity in order to belong here.

It’s not about being one thing or becoming another, I’ve learned. It’s about the bond you form with a place, a people, that have asked you for so little, withheld nothing, given so much.

Maybe this is what it takes, I think, to feel you belong.

Words of Solace


Rabbis in the L.A. area responded to the tragedies in New York and Washington D.C., by making common cause with Israel and finding lessons from Jewish history.

No retreat
by Harold M. Schulweis

From the American Jewish community perspective, this week’s terrorism creates at least two challenges.

First, we cannot think that the tragic bombing on American soil is a response to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for in that case, Israel becomes the scapegoat to the bombing.

We heard this too often in the media on the day of the bombing. On ABC, Peter Jennings explained that this happened because the United States is a strong ally of Israel. If you accept that, then the culprit is Israel, since without Israel there would be peace.

But we know this is not true. What’s being challenged by terrorism is Western civilization, with its ideals of democracy, individualism and freedom.

The targets of those who bombed the USS Cole and the Pentagon are not Israel. The mass media likes to localize and personalize, which is why the conflict is always explained as being part of the Middle East. We must resist this idea. The forces at work today are truly anti-democratic, and we must say so.

Second, we, of all people, cannot scapegoat the entire Muslim community, nor make an enemy of a million Muslims. The basic question is: What can faith do to transcend the divisiveness of the political partisanship of our day?

Judaism is one religion among the world’s great religions, and we Jews have an obligation to know the other great religions, most of which we’ve spawned. In October, my synagogue is inviting Dr. Nazir Khaja, who will speak on the Koran and other basic tenets of the Muslim faith. Frankly, it’s brave of him to come, to discuss his religion in a synagogue.

Jews and Muslims have had a wonderful golden period. Our leaders wrote in Arabic, notably Maimonides’ “Guide for the Perplexed.” The main point here is that there is a way out of even the most intractable struggle, if you do your part. There is no alternative but a constant effort to win people over. If you don’t believe in the possibility of dialogue, you are condemned to one end: war.

Harold M. Schulweis is spiritual leader of ValleyBeth Shalom in Encino.


America Joins Israel’s Nightmare
by Steven Z. Leder

Welcome to our nightmare, America! Welcome to terror that strikes the most sacred symbols of all that you believe in. Welcome to impotence — your planes grounded, markets shut down, the enemy dancing in the streets of Palestine as the call goes out from hospitals for blood. Welcome to not knowing if people you love are alive. Welcome to shock, anger, sadness, helplessness, orphaned children and scattered body parts. We Jews have been there a long time — thousands of years, really. Our nightmare’s most recent name is Intifada II. There have been others. Kishnev. Munich. Entebbe. Kristallnacht. Now, sadly, you have joined us with your own Day of Broken Glass and shattered lives.

This morning, Americans were stripped bare and brutalized. This morning, we grew up in ways both heartbreaking and inevitable. Will this cruelty reveal our capacity for reaching out? Will Americans who thought so little of Israel and her pain find greater sympathy in their hearts as on CNN they watch the next Palestinian suicide bomber’s carnage? Will the hundreds of ethnic minorities who live in Manhattan, like so many ants in a hill, see Israel’s plight as their own plight? Will the good people of the world, of which there are many, finally watch out for each other, care about each other, and protect each other? I hope so. Because then the terrorists will have failed. In tearing us apart, they will merely have brought us closer together.

Steven Z. Leder is associate rabbi of WilshireBoulevard Temple.


What the Past Teaches
by Yosef Kanefsky

So many of us are struggling to obtain some kind of perspective on the surreal events of Tuesday morning. How can we get our minds around a literally unbelievable event — one that we never imagined possible, and which represents the most dramatic triumph of evil that we have seen in a long time?

In this search, Jewish history is an important ally. I officiated at a bris at 8 that morning. In searching for words with which to place this celebration in the context of the still unfolding events on the East Coast, I found myself reaching into Jewish history. We Jews are not strangers to the unbelievable and the calamitous. We have looked on with disbelief at destruction of our holy places and, repeatedly, at the destruction of entire, innocent Jewish populations. The book of “Psalms” is filled with poems of sheer disbelief. Yet, never have we given up our commitment to bris. In the very midst of the events that we simply could not understand or explain, we intuitively knew that this was no time to suspend our commitment to the God of Abraham.

God had placed upon Abraham’s shoulders the responsibility to be a source of blessing for the world, and if anything, the hellish events around us only demanded an even more tenacious commitment to our covenant with God.

The perspective that we can obtain, then, is not one that can explain or justify the slaughter of innocents. It is rather one which provides us guidance as to what we are called upon to do now.

Kanefsky is spiritual leader of B’nai David-Judea inLos Angeles.


The Fragility of Life
by Steven Carr Reuben

I was startled out of my sleep at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday with a phone call from my daughter, who is living half a mile from the World Trade Center in New York.

“Oh my God!” she cried into the phone, “I’ve just witnessed the most horrible scene of my life!” With those few words, she seems to have captured the dread and horror that we all have felt ever since.

All Americans are in shock and numb, feeling more vulnerable to the blind hatred and fanaticism of terrorist than ever before in our history. We gasp in disbelief at the human carnage of thousands of innocent lives that can vanish in an instant of unleashed evil. The world, as we know it, has changed forever, and our souls lie burdened with doubt and grief.

Once again we know to the core how fragile life is, how unpredictable life is, how we are all linked by the common bonds of human frailty, fear, and longing for a better, safer world.

“The entire world is a very narrow bridge,” wrote Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, “and the essential thing above all is not to fear.”

Now is the time we need each other’s strength, each other’s courage, each other’s love.

We pray for the victims and their families, for the strength and resolve of our nation, and for the wisdom of our country’s leaders. These High Holy Days, every synagogue and every Jew will be looking for messages of hope amid fear, comfort amid grief, faith amid pain.

Steven Carr Reuben is rabbi of Kehillat IsraelReconstructionist Congregation in the Pacific Palisades, and president of theBoard of Rabbis of Southern California.


With Broken Hearts
by David Wolpe

Tuesday was a day of stunning calamity. Our tradition teaches us both how to deeply mourn, and how not to despair.

There is a part of us that wants the world to understand that this is the war that has been fought against the Jewish State. We always understood that underneath it was a war against not simply the state, but the freedom and faith that our tradition represents. The most important thing to say is that our hearts are broken, and we pray to God to give rest to the souls of those who have died, and comfort to those who are grieving. But we must also say that the taking of innocent human life for political ends will destroy this fragile garden we have been given. In the name of faith we must save, not kill. Those who do otherwise do not honor God, but rather imperil creation. May God bring justice upon those who have plotted murder and abetted slaughter. May God grant wisdom to those who hate, and turn their bitterness to love. And may God bless America.

David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple inWestwood.


Finding Comfort and Faith
by Laura Geller

One of my congregants called today to say how grateful she was that the High Holy Days are so close. At a time like this, she told me, when the world seems so out of control, it is a blessing to be part of a large and supportive community. And it is an even more powerful blessing to be part of a tradition that has walked in the valley of the shadow of death before, and has never lost its faith.

The magnitude of the terrorist attacks and the enormous tragedy of the human lives that have been lost does challenge our faith — in the security and intelligence systems of our government, in the belief that civilized people don’t attack innocent civilians, and in the notion that we are safe from terrorism in America. This act of evil must be condemned by all people of faith in the most unequivocal of terms.

As Jews who care about Israel, we now know firsthand what our Israeli friends have endured for a long time: the randomness of terror and the awareness of how difficult it is to find the appropriate response. We hope that Americans and the American government will understand more fully the pressures that Israel has faced and be more helpful in responding to Israel’s need for peace.

As Jews who have suffered discrimination, we hope that all Americans will be careful not to judge an entire group of people by the actions of some. And as human beings who have suffered the deaths of people we love, our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. We pray they find comfort and faith.

Laura Geller is spiritual leader of Temple Emanuelof Beverly Hills.

Sharing Hope for Peace


On Nov. 9, five years after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Milken Community High School students reached across 7,563 miles and 10 time zones to their sister school, Tichon Chadash, in Tel Aviv.

The 500 American students connected ostensibly via the modern – and, that day, slightly temperamental – miracle of transcontinental video technology. But, in truth, the connection goes back 3,500 years to Abraham, who, as Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise Temple pointed out, was promised a land by God. “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).

The connection was intensified three years ago, with an exchange program between the two schools that has deepened the American teenagers’ attachment to the land and, even more important, to the people. The program, sponsored by the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, pairs groups of 10th graders who spend three months in Los Angeles in the fall and three months in Israel in the spring, experiencing each other’s lives.

But on this day – the 11th of Cheshvan, Rabin’s yahrtzeit – the students, along with their teachers and many parents, gathered in the Margolis Theatre at Milken and the library at Tichon Chadash to honor Yitzhak Rabin. They gathered almost at the exact hour of Rabin’s death, dressed in white shirts, as Dr. Rennie Wrubel, Milken’s head of school, remarked, “to remember together, feel together and exchange ideas together.”

They traced Rabin’s legacy from decorated war hero to dedicated peacemaker, offering prayers, songs, testimonials and readings. They listened as Rabbi Herscher said, “Rabin knew Abraham’s vision. He understood the dangers of standing still, and he understood the risks of moving forward. Also, he understood that there was no alternative but to move forward.”

Rabin had reiterated this vision in his last speech, at the peace rally where he was murdered. “Peace entails difficulties. For Israel there is no path devoid of pain,” he said. “But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war… for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.”

The memorial served as an opportunity for the teens to voice their fears about this painful path, about the violence that has erupted between the Israelis and Palestinians and about the peace process that lies in shambles.

Roni Milo, Israeli minister of health, former mayor of Tel Aviv and a graduate of Tichon Chadash, speaking from Tel Aviv, tried to allay those fears. “We in Israel are trying very hard to achieve peace. We have plenty of strength to handle all these problems. We are going to have peace.”

But the American students didn’t seem mollified by his words. Penny Marmer asked, “If the violence in the Middle East continues, what are you going to do?”

“We shall overcome the difficulties, and we shall live in peace,” Milo answered.

There was talk about how American Jews can help. Israeli teenager Tal Goldenberg, who came to Los Angeles as an exchange student in 1998, asked, “How do American Jews feel about the situation in Israel, and what do you think you could and should do?”

Milken student Joshua Richmond answered the first part. “We all feel strongly that we don’t like the violence,” he said.

Yoav Ben-Horin, Milken teacher and director of the exchange program, responded to the second part. “What American Jews can do, and what American Jews do best, is not only direct support of Israel but, just as important, intense activity within this great nation that leads to wider interest in and support of Israel.”

But nowhere was there wider support of Israel than that demonstrated by the Milken students themselves, who visibly transmitted their love and concern to their Israeli friends. They clearly understood that they, in solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters, were continuing the difficult journey which Abraham began 3,500 years ago and for which Yitzhak Rabin, five years ago, sacrificed his life.

Mitzvah Day


Imagine the possibility of having restricted access to your own religion and culture without even realizing it, whether you attend synagogue and study sessions faithfully or not. Such a phenomenon actually exists, and it’s doing its disturbing work in our own Jewish community. I am referring to the inability to read and interpret the Hebrew language – the original mode of communication of the Torah, rabbis, biblical scholars and personas, and thousands of years of Judaism. I call this disability Hebrew/Jewish illiteracy.

The term illiteracy most often conjures up those stereotypical images of people far outside the walls of our own community. Prima facie, no one would associate this handicap with the People of the Book. Yet it is a fact that most Jewish Americans do not possess the bilingual skills necessary in which to truly live up to their name. Yes, being a fully expressed Jew actually does have something to do with the Hebrew language. Generally speaking, Jewish Americans, due to a language barrier, are incapable of fully connecting with the bread and butter of their faith – biblical and rabbinic texts. These repositories of our collective ancient wisdom and spirituality remain, for most, largely unapproachable, and yet they form the basis of what it means to be Jewish. And whereas the concept of Jewish literacy means much more than just reading and writing in a particular language, on the most fundamental level it certainly must start there.

You can’t just take somebody else’s word for what thousands of years of Judaism have to say. The availability of the many excellent English translations of classical Jewish writings simply does not do the job. First of all, for every English language Torah book, there remain thousands still available only in the original Hebrew. Buyer demand has created a steady supply of English Bibles, prayer books, Talmuds, philosophical guides, Rashis, etc. But try getting your hands on a sufficient number of the layers upon layers of classical commentaries in English that make the aforementioned works user-friendly and truly accessible. Commentaries, whose job is to elucidate, create access to the primary evidence they are interpreting. Lose the commentaries, and you lose real touch with the source material. Certainly, there are numerous modern scholars who offer valuable thoughts in English on the Bible, liturgy and Jewish law. But no collection of modern theories and formulas can take the place of centuries of Jewish thought and scholarship. At the current pace, we might never see the finish of the massive job of translating the necessary books of ages past.

Moreover, English translations are often, though not always, misleading, emphasizing a conceptual understanding rather than a literal one. The final product ends up being a processed explanation rather than a true and careful translation, so you end up studying the translator and not the original author. In addition, even if a given translation is extremely precise, each Hebrew word can mean different things to the various classical scholars. Since it is rare to find a complete consensus, a typical English Bible, let us say, will have to resort to something like offering one scholar’s view in its translation of one word and another sage’s opinion for a different term. Technically, such renditions, when viewed as a whole, do not satisfy any one opinion of those original biblical exegetes; instead they are a hodgepodge of them all. Only upon learning the Hebrew language can we effectively sift through all the evidence and see how Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, Rabbi David Kimchi, and the Maharal of Prague would each independently translate that same Bible.Finally, only a small percentage of the English-language Jewish books in publication today are dedicated to the task of translation at all. New-age authors have their own valuable ideas to communicate. Yet, somehow, year after year, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s 14th century magnum opus – the Tur, a compendium of Jewish law and the actual precursor to the monumental Shulchan Aruch – remains a mystery for the masses due to an ever-present language barrier.

The problem of Hebrew/Jewish illiteracy is by no means new, but it is particularly virulent in its modern form due to the dynamics of today’s Jewish landscape. The incredible availability of certain excellent Jewish works in English is really both a blessing and a curse in its propensity to solve one problem and exacerbate another. Fifty years ago, most of these books weren’t even available in English. Now we have little incentive to actually master the fundamentals of the Hebrew language. We are undoubtedly the first generation in history to produce individuals who have studied the entire Talmud and who cannot translate a single word of it. Today’s synagogues and Jewish institutions largely add to the problem by simply not acknowledging it – most rabbis, from Orthodox to Reform, give sound-bite oriented lectures, which demand zero textual skills on the part of their audiences. Jewish organizations continue to boast of their large constituencies who remain virtual outsiders when faced with the basic task of praying in Hebrew. (I make no attempt to use this phenomenon to measure anyone’s spirituality; I am addressing our potential for complete Jewish literacy.) And so it continues to be a world of haves and have-nots: Jewish children quickly surpass their own parents’ Hebrew ability, and Jewish adults continue to stare at the letters of the alef-bet as if it were hieroglyphics.

There is a viable solution. We need to adopt a more proactive attitude by demanding more opportunities for Hebrew language empowerment. We need to study Judaism more efficiently and learn how to learn. We, instead of the teacher, must be seated in the driver’s seat with an open book in front of us armed with the mission of improving our textual skills. For some, the answer may be as simple as signing up for an ulpan or a Hebrew grammar course; others may prefer the time-proven method of poring over the material with an advanced study partner (chavruta). All of this may seem hard at first, but as with any other skill, the reward is commensurate with the effort; the Talmudic giant Rabbi Akiba began his Hebrew linguistic adventure at age 40. I truly believe that Mark Twain’s words put many of these issues in proper perspective: “Don’t explain your author; read him right, and he explains himself.”

Free Hebrew Courses

North Valley JCC, the Jewish Home for the Aging, Westwood Kehilla and Jewish Learning Exchange are just a few of the Southland locations that will host a free Hebrew class during November for the Third Annual Read Hebrew America, a program organized by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP).The classes, designed for Jews with little or no background in Hebrew, will concentrate on the Hebrew alphabet and basic reading skills. A level-two program will be available for those interested in advancing their Hebrew reading and comprehension skills.

NJOP’s primer, “Hebrew Reading Crash Courses,” will be available in English, Russian and Spanish, and a French version will be published next year. As a bonus, students who complete this year’s course will receive a mezuzah designed by world-renowned artist Yaacov Agam.

NJOP, which also spearheads Shabbat Across America, estimates that more than 15,000 unaffiliated and marginally affiliated Jews will participate in this year’s classes nationwide. Since 1987, NJOP has taught more than 215,000 North American Jews to read Hebrew.

To find the location and date of the class nearest you, visit the NJOP Web site at www.njop.org or call (800) 44-HEBREW. – Staff Report

Majoring in Courage


These are tense days for the Los Angeles parents of Jewish students studying at Israeli universities and yeshivas. Their sons and daughters are among some 4,000 Americans studying in Israel this year in a wide range of programs. Major universities, yeshivas, kibbutzim, the Israel Defense Force are just a few of the institutions that offer American students programs in Israel. According to the Israel Aliyah Center, there are l00 students from Los Angeles currently studying in Israel.

With the escalation of violence engulfing the Palestinian territories, the parents of these children worry and ponder issues of safety and security while maintaining close daily contact with their sons and daughters by phone and e-mail. When the crisis intensified, it was expected that many students would return to their homes in the U.S. Instead, 97 percent of the students from the L.A. area have elected to stay in Israel, maintaining their studies and offering their moral and physical support to the embattled Jewish state.When it became clear that the cease-fire was not holding in the conflict, and alerts were issued to the students by the State Department, Dana and Gary Wexler told their daughter Miri, who is 20 and studying at Hebrew University, that they wanted her to return home.

“We have been very concerned for her safety,” Dana told The Journal. “We trust her judgment, but you never know when you might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ” But Miri chose to stay.”She loves Israel,” Dana said. “She’s thrilled being there. She knows the language. She took the ulpan and is very fluent.”

“This crisis brought me face to face with all the issues of my Jewish and Zionist ideology, of what would I do,” said Gary. “Would I take my child out if push came to shove? And I realized I would. My first priority as a Jewish parent is the concern for my child’s safety, not my responsibility to Zionist ideology. But my daughter chose on her own to stay.”

Asked how he felt about his daughter’s decision, Gary replied, “I’m frightened, I’m jittery. On the other hand, I’m proud of what Miri has chosen to do while she stays. She went and got herself a job at the YMCA kindergarten, which is a coexistence kindergarten of Jewish and Arab kids. Because she really believes that they need to learn to live together.”

Gregg and Merryl Alpert’s daughter, Sarra, 20, is also studying at Hebrew University and has also decided to remain in Israel. A literature major, Sarra won a national essay contest prize from Masorti, the Conservative movement in Israel, for an essay in which she wrote about her relationship to Israel.”We feel our primary job has been to support her in how she has worked through this decision,” Gregg said.

“We told her, of course, we’re concerned for her safety. But this was a decision she needed to make. We were there to advise her and to help her think it out and offer her whatever support she asked for. We wanted to make sure she knew she had our permission to get on a plane and come right home if she wanted to. I was proud of how she thought it through.” he said.

In Sarra’s prize essay, which was titled “The Lizard’s Tail,” she described the tension between the desire to seek the richness of life and the knowledge there are really frightening situations in the world. “And now, in Israel, there’s a classic example of that situation,” said her father.

Sol and Pearl Taylor’s son, Benjamin, 23, is studying at Darche Noam, a yeshiva in West Jerusalem. Benjamin graduated from UC Santa Barbara, majoring in political science, and had previously spent his junior year at Hebrew University. “We keep in touch daily,” Sol said. “I would prefer he be here, but if he feels he’s comfortable there, it’s okay.”

Sol described how Benjamin developed a strong feeling for Israel. “We come from an orthodox background,” Sol said. “Benjamin started going to an Orthodox shul, Shaarey Zedek, becoming shomer shabbos. He’s similar to his grandparents.They were founding members of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights.”

While Sol emphasized his family’s support for Israel, he too cited the Palestinian conflict as a source of unease. “Those Jewish settlements in Gaza: who would want to live in such a Godforsaken place? And they’re just another thorn in the side of the Palestinians living there.”

Yael Weinstock, who is 18 and planning to become a rabbi, is studying in Jerusalem on a program called Nativ, a United Synagogue project of yeshiva study for Conservative youth. Her parents, Alan and Judy Weinstock emphasize that Yael’s choice to stay in Israel was “her own decision.”

“We’ve been quite calm about it,” Alan said. “We have only asked her once if she felt a desire to come home. She said no. Each family has to make their own decision.”

For the Weinstock family, as for so many others, the Holocaust remains a cornerstone of their love of Israel and their belief in its importance. “My parents are survivors from Poland,” Alan said. “So when my daughter went to Israel, she could meet family and friends of my parents for the first time, people she’d heard about for many years. They were the real chalutzim of the country. So for my daughter, that connection to Israel is very strong.”

“We’re proud of her all of her life,” Alan continued. “She’s a very special young lady.”

Defusing Tension


While violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have captured the headlines in recent weeks, Jewish and Arab leaders in major American cities are working quietly to forestall confrontations between their communities.

Their efforts are marked by some common guidelines.

Don’t try to solve – or even discuss – the basic issues roiling the Middle East. Acknowledge deeply felt differences and go on from there. Condemn any act of violence by their co-religionists in the United States. Build on the trust established in previous years in joint battles against discrimination.

In Jewish communities, the efforts are spearheaded by both mainstream and liberal organizations and are most fully developed in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, cities with the largest Arab and Muslim populations.

“We started establishing contacts with the Arab community after the signing of the Oslo accords seven years ago,” says Allan Gale, assistant director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The area holds some 200,000 Arab Americans, twice the number of Jewish residents.

“We have worked on such issues as discriminatory immigration laws, racial stereotyping and ethnic profiling at airports.

“We’ve had some incidents and some vociferous Arab spokesmen, but on the whole relations are good,” add Gale. “The Arab community here is reticent to act in an unlawful manner.”

In Los Angeles, some 10 Jews and five Arabs met Oct. 17 in the sukkah of one participant. Although all were aware of the Mideast tensions, the meeting had been scheduled some time ago as one in a series of monthly meetings by the “Dialogue Group.”

The group was established more than a year ago, when representatives of the two communities signed a code of ethics in a public ceremony.

“We try to keep open our lines of communications open and learn about each other’s culture and faith,” says Elaine Albert, the urban affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The lines of communication do not include anything as dramatic as secure hotlines or red phones in case of threatening confrontations, “but we are constantly in touch with each other via e-mail or phone,” says Albert.

Jewish membership in the dialogue group include the mainstream Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, represented by Albert, and individual members of the Orthodox and Reform communities. Not surprisingly, the group has a strong liberal representation.

One member is attorney Gideon Kracov of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), who says, “We have a joint interest in dealing with hate crimes and maintaining an attitude of mutual respect.”

Douglas Mirell, the PJA president, observes that “we’re in a period when it’s easy to be carried away by emotions and to say things that we may come to regret later. We need to curtail the level of rhetoric here and the level of violence in the Mideast.”

Another liberal activist is Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue in Brentwood, who says, “We will experience more difficult times, but I’m optimistic that we can maintain a relationship of trust and respect with the Arab-American community.”

A leading Arab voice within the dialogue group and on the Los Angeles scene is Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

Al-Marayati tends to attract controversy. A year ago, his appointment to the National Commissions on Terrorism was rescinded under pressure from mainline national Jewish organizations, which described him as an apologist for terrorists.

Many Los Angeles Jews who have worked with al-Marayati took issue with this description, and his organization strongly condemned the recent destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus by rampaging Palestinians.

“Our dialogue with the Jewish community is working,” says al- Marayati. “We are both free communities, and if we can’t talk to each other, how can you expect Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other? At all times, we must show zero tolerance for violence and hate crimes.”

Phone calls to other leading Arab organizations in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Arab-American Institute, went unanswered.

Al-Marayati said that the lack of response did not indicate a reluctance to talk to the Jewish press, but simply that for the past few weeks, Arab spokesmen have been inundated by media calls. “I only get to answer one in 10 requests,” he said.

In New York, Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is one of the key figures in the “Coalition of Concerned Arab-Christians, Jews and Muslim New Yorkers.”The coalition will meet next Monday and recently released a statement, noting, “Although the tensions that currently exist in the Middle East can intensify emotions here in New York, we can not allow these events to divide our city.”

In addition, “isolated incidents must not be used as an excuse for scapegoating or reason to condemn entire communities,” the statement noted, adding,” By working cooperatively, this coalition can serve as a model for our children and a shining beacon guiding other groups toward resolving their differences.”

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